Produced by David Widger
CELEBRATED CRIMES, COMPLETE
BY ALEXANDRE DUMAS, PERE
IN EIGHT VOLUMES
About the end of the reign of the Emperor Paul I - that is to say, towards
the middle of the first year of the nineteenth century - just as four
o'clock in the afternoon was sounding from the church of St. Peter and
St. Paul, whose gilded vane overlooks the ramparts of the fortress, a
crowd, composed of all sorts and conditions of people, began to gather in
front of a house which belonged to General Count Tchermayloff, formerly
military governor of a fair-sized town in the government of Pultava. The
first spectators had been attracted by the preparations which they saw
had been made in the middle of the courtyard for administering torture
with the knout. One of the general's serfs, he who acted as barber, was
to be the victim.
Although this kind of punishment was a common enough sight in St.
Petersburg, it nevertheless attracted all passers-by when it was publicly
administered. This was the occurrence which had caused a crowd, as just
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mentioned, before General Tchermayloff's house.
The spectators, even had they been in a hurry, would have had no cause to
complain of being kept waiting, for at half-past four a young man of
about five-and-twenty, in the handsome uniform of an aide-de-camp, his
breast covered with decorations, appeared on the steps at the farther end
of the court-yard in front of the house. These steps faced the large
gateway, and led to the general's apartments.
Arrived on the steps, the young aide-de-camp stopped a moment and fixed
his eyes on a window, the closely drawn curtains of which did not allow
him the least chance of satisfying his curiosity, whatever may have been
its cause. Seeing that it was useless and that he was only wasting time
in gazing in that direction, he made a sign to a bearded man who was
standing near a door which led to the servants' quarters. The door was
immediately opened, and the culprit was seen advancing in the middle of a
body of serfs and followed by the executioner. The serfs were forced to
attend the spectacle, that it might serve as an example to them. The
culprit was the general's barber, as we have said, and the executioner
was merely the coachman, who, being used to the handling of a whip, was
raised or degraded, which you will, to the office of executioner every
time punishment with the knout was ordered. This duty did not deprive
him of either the esteem or even the friendship of his comrades, for they
well knew that it was his arm alone that punished them and that his heart
was not in his work. As Ivan's arm as well as the rest of his body was
the property of the general, and the latter could do as he pleased with
it, no one was astonished that it should be used for this purpose. More
than that, correction administered by Ivan was nearly always gentler than
that meted out by another; for it often happened that Ivan, who was a
good-natured fellow, juggled away one or two strokes of the knout in a
dozen, or if he were forced by those assisting at the punishment to keep
a strict calculation, he manoeuvred so that the tip of the lash struck
the deal plank on which the culprit was lying, thus taking much of the
sting out of the stroke. Accordingly, when it was Ivan's turn to be
stretched upon the fatal plank and to receive the correction he was in
the habit of administering, on his own account, those who momentarily
played his part as executioner adopted the same expedients, remembering
only the strokes spared and not the strokes received. This exchange of
mutual benefits, therefore, was productive of an excellent understanding
between Ivan and his comrades, which was never so firmly knit as at the
moment when a fresh execution was about to take place. It is true that
the first hour after the punishment was generally so full of suffering
that the knouted was sometimes unjust to the knouter, but this feeling
seldom out-lasted the evening, and it was rare when it held out after the
first glass of spirits that the operator drank to the health of his
The serf upon whom Ivan was about to exercise his dexterity was a man of
five or six-and-thirty, red of hair and beard, a little above average
height. His Greek origin might be traced in his countenance, which even
in its expression of terror had preserved its habitual characteristics of
craft and cunning.
When he arrived at the spot where the punishment was to take place, the
culprit stopped and looked up at the window which had already claimed the
young aide-de-camp's attention; it still remained shut. With a glance
round the throng which obstructed the entrance leading to the street, he
ended by gazing, with a horror-stricken shudder upon the plank on which
he was to be stretched. The shudder did not escape his friend Ivan, who,
approaching to remove the striped shirt that covered his shoulders, took
the opportunity to whisper under his breath -
"Come, Gregory, take courage!"
"You remember your promise?" replied the culprit, with an indefinable
expression of entreaty.
"Not for the first lashes, Gregory; do not count on that, for during the
first strokes the aide-de-camp will be watching; but among the later ones
be assured I will find means of cheating him of some of them."
"Beyond everything you will take care of the tip of the lash?"
"I will do my best, Gregory, I will do my best. Do you not know that I
"Alas! yes," replied Gregory.
"Now, then!" said the aide-de-camp.
"We are ready, noble sir," replied Ivan.
"Wait, wait one moment, your high origin," cried poor Gregory, addressing
the young captain as though he had been a colonel, "Vache Vousso
Korodie," in order to flatter him. "I believe that the lady Vaninka's
window is about to open!"
The young captain glanced eagerly towards the spot which had already
several times claimed his attention, but not a fold of the silken
curtains, which could be seen through the panes of the window, had moved.
"You are mistaken, you rascal," said the aide-de-camp, unwillingly
removing his eyes from the window, as though he also had hoped to see it
open, "you are mistaken; and besides, what has your noble mistress to do
with all this?"
"Pardon, your excellency," continued Gregory, gratifying the aide-de-camp
with yet higher rank, - "pardon, but it is through her orders I am about
to suffer. Perhaps she might have pity upon a wretched servant!"
"Enough, enough; let us proceed," said the captain in an odd voice, as
though he regretted as well as the culprit that Vaninka had not shown
"Immediately, immediately, noble sir," said Ivan; then turning to
Gregory, he continued, "Come, comrade; the time has come."
Gregory sighed heavily, threw a last look up at the window, and seeing
that everything remained the same there, he mustered up resolution enough
to lie down on the fatal plank. At the same time two other serfs, chosen
by Ivan for assistants, took him by the arms and attached his wrists to
two stakes, one at either side of him, so that it appeared as though he
were stretched on a cross. Then they clamped his neck into an iron
collar, and seeing that all was in readiness and that no sign favourable
to the culprit had been made from the still closely shut window, the
young aide-de-camp beckoned with his hand, saying, "Now, then, begin!"
"Patience, my lord, patience," said Ivan, still delaying the whipping, in
the hope that some sign might yet be made from the inexorable window. "I
have a knot in my knout, and if I leave it Gregory will have good right
The instrument with which the executioner was busying himself, and which
is perhaps unknown to our readers, was a species of whip, with a handle
about two feet long. A plaited leather thong, about four feet long and
two inches broad, was attached to this handle, this thong terminating in
an iron or copper ring, and to this another band of leather was fastened,
two feet long, and at the beginning about one and a half inches thick:
this gradually became thinner, till it ended in a point. The thong was
steeped in milk and then dried in the sun, and on account of this method
of preparation its edge became as keen and cutting as a knife; further,
the thong was generally changed at every sixth stroke, because contact
with blood softened it.
However unwillingly and clumsily Ivan set about untying the knot, it had
to come undone at last. Besides, the bystanders were beginning to
grumble, and their muttering disturbed the reverie into which the young
aide-de-camp had fallen. He raised his head, which had been sunk on his
breast, and cast a last look towards the window; then with a peremptory
sign; and in a voice which admitted of no delay, he ordered the execution
Nothing could put it off any longer: Ivan was obliged to obey, and he did
not attempt to find any new pretext for delay. He drew back two paces,
and with a spring he returned to his place, and standing on tiptoe, he
whirled the knout above his head, and then letting it suddenly fall, he
struck Gregory with such dexterity that the lash wrapped itself thrice
round his victim's body, encircling him like a serpent, but the tip of
the thong struck the plank upon which Gregory was lying. Nevertheless,
in spite of this precaution, Gregory uttered a loud shriek, and Ivan
At the shriek, the young aide-de-camp again turned towards the window;
but it was still shut, and mechanically his eyes went back to the
culprit, and he repeated the word "One."
The knout had traced three blue furrows on Gregory's shoulders. Ivan
took another spring, and with the same skill as before he again enveloped
the culprit's body with the hissing thong, ever taking care that the tip
of it should not touch him. Gregory uttered another shriek, and Ivan
counted "Two." The blood now began to colour the skin.
At the third stroke several drops of blood appeared; at the fourth the
blood spurted out; at the fifth some drops spattered the young officer's
face; he drew back, and wiped them away with his handkerchief. Ivan
profited by his distraction, and counted seven instead of six: the
captain took no notice. At the ninth stroke Ivan stopped to change the
lash, and in the hope that a second fraud might pass off as luckily as
the first, he counted eleven instead of ten.
At that moment a window opposite to Vaninka's opened, and a man about
forty-five or fifty in general's uniform appeared. He called out in a
careless tone, "Enough, that will do," and closed the window again.
Immediately on this apparition the young aide-de-camp had turned towards
his general, saluting, and during the few seconds that the general was
present he remained motionless. When the window had been shut again, he
repeated the general's words, so that the raised whip fell without
touching the culprit.
"Thank his excellency, Gregory," said Ivan, rolling the knout's lash
round his hand, "for having spared you two strokes;" and he added,
bending down to liberate Gregory's hand, "these two with the two I was
able to miss out make a total of eight strokes instead of twelve. Come,
now, you others, untie his other hand."
But poor Gregory was in no state to thank anybody; nearly swooning with
pain, he could scarcely stand.
Two moujiks took him by the arms and led him towards the serfs' quarters,
followed by Ivan. Having reached the door, however, Gregory stopped,
turned his head, and seeing the aide-de-camp gazing pitifully at him, "Oh
sir," he cried, "please thank his excellency the general for me. As for
the lady Vaninka," he added in a low tone, "I will certainly thank her
"What are you muttering between your teeth?" cried the young officer,
with an angry movement; for he thought he had detected a threatening tone
in Gregory's voice.
"Nothing, sir, nothing," said Ivan. "The poor fellow is merely thanking
you, Mr. Foedor, for the trouble you have taken in being present at his
punishment, and he says that he has been much honoured, that is all."
"That is right," said the young man, suspecting that Ivan had somewhat
altered the original remarks, but evidently not wishing to be better
informed. "If Gregory wishes to spare me this trouble another time, let
him drink less vodka; or else, if he must get drunk, let him at least
remember to be more respectful."
Ivan bowed low and followed his comrades, Foedor entered the house again,
and the crowd dispersed, much dissatisfied that Ivan's trickery and the
general's generosity had deprived them of four strokes of the
knout - exactly a third of the punishment.
Now that we have introduced our readers to some of the characters in this
history, we must make them better acquainted with those who have made
their appearance, and must introduce those who are still behind the
General Count Tchermayloff, as we have said, after having been governor
of one of the most important towns in the environs of Pultava, had been
recalled to St. Petersburg by the Emperor Paul, who honoured him with his
particular friendship. The general was a widower, with one daughter, who
had inherited her mother's fortune, beauty, and pride. Vaninka's mother
claimed descent from one of the chieftains of the Tartar race, who had
invaded Russia, under the leadership of D'Gengis, in the thirteenth
century. Vaninka's naturally haughty disposition had been fostered by
the education she had received. His wife being dead, and not having time
to look after his daughter's education himself, General Tchermayloff had
procured an English governess for her. This lady, instead of suppressing
her pupil's scornful propensities, had encouraged them, by filling her
head with those aristocratic ideas which have made the English
aristocracy the proudest in the world. Amongst the different studies to
which Vaninka devoted herself, there was one in which she was specially
interested, and that one was, if one may so call it, the science of her
own rank. She knew exactly the relative degree of nobility and power of
all the Russian noble families - those that were a grade above her own,
and those of whom she took precedence. She could give each person the
title which belonged to their respective rank, no easy thing to do in
Russia, and she had the greatest contempt for all those who were below
the rank of excellency. As for serfs and slaves, for her they did not
exist: they were mere bearded animals, far below her horse or her dog in
the sentiments which they inspired in her; and she would not for one
instant have weighed the life of a serf against either of those
Like all the women of distinction in her nation, Vaninka was a good
musician, and spoke French, Italian, German, and English equally well.
Her features had developed in harmony with her character. Vaninka was
beautiful, but her beauty was perhaps a little too decided. Her large
black eyes, straight nose, and lips curling scornfully at the corners,
impressed those who saw her for the first time somewhat unpleasantly.
This impression soon wore off with her superiors and equals, to whom she
became merely an ordinary charming woman, whilst to subalterns and such
like she remained haughty and inaccessible as a goddess. At seventeen
Vaninka's education was finished, and her governess who had suffered in
health through the severe climate of St. Petersburg, requested permission
to leave. This desire was granted with the ostentatious recognition of
which the Russian nobility are the last representatives in Europe. Thus
Vaninka was left alone, with nothing but her father's blind adoration to
direct her. She was his only daughter, as we have mentioned, and he
thought her absolutely perfect.
Things were in this state in the-general's house when he received a
letter, written on the deathbed of one of the friends of his youth. Count
Romayloff had been exiled to his estates, as a result of some quarrel
with Potemkin, and his career had been spoilt. Not being able to recover
his forfeited position, he had settled down about four hundred leagues
from St. Petersburg; broken-hearted, distressed probably less on account
of his own exile and misfortune than of the prospects of his only son,
Foedor. The count feeling that he was leaving this son alone and
friendless in the world, commended the young man, in the name of their
early friendship, to the general, hoping that, owing to his being a
favourite with Paul I, he would be able to procure a lieutenancy in a
regiment for him. The general immediately replied to the count that his
son should find a second father in himself; but when this comforting
message arrived, Romayloff was no more, and Foedor himself received the
letter and carried it back with him to the general, when he went to tell
him of his loss and to claim the promised protection. So great was the
general's despatch, that Paul I, at his request, granted the young man a
sub-lieutenancy in the Semonowskoi regiment, so that Foedor entered on
his duties the very next day after his arrival in St. Petersburg.
Although the young man had only passed through the general's house on his
way to the barracks, which were situated in the Litenoi quarter, he had
remained there long enough for him to have seen Vaninka, and she had
produced a great impression upon him. Foedor had arrived with his heart
full of primitive and noble feelings; his gratitude to his protector, who
had opened a career for him, was profound, and extended to all his
family. These feelings caused him perhaps to have an exaggerated idea of
the beauty of the young girl who was presented to him as a sister, and
who, in spite of this title, received him with the frigidity and hauteur
of a queen. Nevertheless, her appearance, in spite of her cool and
freezing manner, had left a lasting impression upon the young man's
heart, and his arrival in St. Petersburg had been marked by feelings till
then never experienced before in his life.
As for Vaninka, she had hardly noticed Foedor; for what was a young
sub-lieutenant, without fortune or prospects, to her? What she dreamed
of was some princely alliance, that would make her one of the most
powerful ladies in Russia, and unless he could realise some dream of the
Arabian Nights, Foedor could not offer her such a future.
Some time after this first interview, Foedor came to take leave of the
general. His regiment was to form part of a contingent that
Field-Marshal Souvarow was taking to Italy, and Foedor was about to die,
or show himself worthy of the noble patron who had helped him to a
This time, whether on account of the elegant uniform that heightened
Foedor's natural good looks, or because his imminent departure, glowing
with hope and enthusiasm, lent a romantic interest to the young man,
Vaninka was astonished at the marvellous change in him, and deigned, at
her father's request, to give him her hand when he left. This was more
than Foedor had dared to hope. He dropped upon his knee, as though in
the presence of a queen, and took Vaninka's between his own trembling
hands, scarcely daring to touch it with his lips. Light though the kiss
had been, Vaninka started as though she had been burnt; she felt a thrill
run through her, and she blushed violently. She withdrew her hand so
quickly, that Foedor, fearing this adieu, respectful though it was, had
offended her, remained on his knees, and clasping his hands, raised his
eyes with such an expression of fear in them, that Vaninka, forgetting
her hauteur, reassured him with a smile. Foedor rose, his heart filled
with inexplicable joy, and without being able to say what had caused this
feeling, he only knew that it had made him absolutely happy, so that,
although he was just about to leave Vaninka, he had never felt greater
happiness in his life.
The young man left dreaming golden dreams; for his future, be it gloomy
or bright, was to be envied. If it ended in a soldier's grave, he
believed he had seen in Vaninka's eyes that she would mourn him; if his
future was glorious, glory would bring him back to St. Petersburg in
triumph, and glory is a queen, who works miracles for her favourites.
The army to which the young officer belonged crossed Germany, descended
into Italy by the Tyrolese mountains, and entered Verona on the 14th of
April 1799. Souvarow immediately joined forces with General Melas, and
took command of the two armies. General Chasteler next day suggested
that they should reconnoitre. Souvarow, gazing at him with astonishment,
replied, "I know of no other way of reconnoitring the enemy than by
marching upon him and giving him battle."
As a matter of fact Souvarow was accustomed to this expeditious sort of
strategy: through it he had defeated the Turks at Folkschany and
Ismailoff; and he had defeated the Poles, after a few days' campaign, and
had taken Prague in less than four hours. Catherine, out of gratitude,
had sent her victorious general a wreath of oak-leaves, intertwined with
precious stones, and worth six hundred thousand roubles, a heavy gold
field-marshal's baton encrusted with diamonds; and had created him a
field-marshal, with the right of choosing a regiment that should bear his
name from that time forward. Besides, when he returned to Russia, she
gave him leave of absence, that he might take a holiday at a beautiful
estate she had given him, together with the eight thousand serfs who
lived upon it.
What a splendid example for Foedor! Souvarow, the son of a humble
Russian officer, had been educated at the ordinary cadets' training
college, and had left it as a sub-lieutenant like himself. Why should
there not be two Souvarows in the same century?
Souvarow arrived in Italy preceded by an immense reputation; religious,
strenuous, unwearied, impassible, loving with the simplicity of a Tartar
and fighting with the fury of a Cossack, he was just the man required to
continue General Melas's successes over the soldiers of the Republic,
discouraged as they had been by the weak vacillations of Scherer.
The Austro-Russian army of one hundred thousand men was opposed by only
twenty-nine or thirty thousand French. Souvarow began as usual with a
thundering blow. On 20th April he appeared before Brescia, which made a
vain attempt at resistance; after a cannonade of about half an hour's
duration, the Preschiera gate was forced, and the Korsakow division, of
which Foedor's regiment formed the vanguard, charged into the town,
pursuing the garrison, which only consisted of twelve hundred men, and
obliged them to take refuge in the citadel. Pressed with an impetuosity
the French were not accustomed to find in their enemies, and seeing that
the scaling ladders were already in position against the ramparts, the
captain Boucret wished to come to terms; but his position was too
precarious for him to obtain any conditions from his savage conquerors,
and he and his soldiers were made prisoners of war.
Souvarow was experienced enough to know how best to profit by victory;
hardly master of Brescia, the rapid occupation of which had discouraged
our army anew, he ordered General Kray to vigorously press on the siege
of Preschiera. General Kray therefore established his headquarters at
Valeggio, a place situated at an equal distance between Preschiera and
Mantua, and he extended from the Po to the lake of Garda, on the banks of
the Mencio, thus investing the two cities at the same time.
Meanwhile the commander-in-chief had advanced, accompanied by the larger
part of his forces, and had crossed the Oglio in two columns: he launched
one column, under General Rosenberg, towards Bergamo, and the other, with
General Melas in charge, towards the Serio, whilst a body of seven or
eight thousand men, commanded by General Kaim and General Hohenzollern,
were directed towards Placentia and Cremona, thus occupying the whole of
the left bank of the Po, in such a manner that the Austro-Russian army
advanced deploying eighty thousand men along a front of forty-five miles.
In view of the forces which were advancing, and which were three times as
large as his own, Scherer beat a retreat all along the line. He destroyed
the bridges over the Adda, as he did not consider that he was strong
enough to hold them, and, having removed his headquarters to Milan, he
awaited there the reply to a despatch which he had sent to the Directory,
in which, tacitly acknowledging his incapacity, he tendered his
resignation. As the arrival of his successor was delayed, and as