Alexander McArthur.

The leveller online

. (page 2 of 13)
Online LibraryAlexander McArthurThe leveller → online text (page 2 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Isaac's shining across the river, the blue of
the sky above, and Louboff, adorably lovely
in her muffling furs was stamped forever
on his memory.


''Kismet, kismet," he said to himself as
Louboff and he entered the great red building

Michel ran up the steps after them and laid
a detaining hand on his sister's arm.

"Do not forget," he said in Hebrew, his
face white in its earnestness.

A shiver of horror passed over Louboff
as she caught the cunning and elation of her
brother 's glance and realized its cause. Nihil-
ism in theory sounded all right, and there
were moments when revenge prompted her
to any action moments when the wrongs
committed against her race raised her
indignation and fury. But Nihilism in

She drew her breath hard and in very pain
at the thought. Once, in the Nevsky, she had
seen a bomb thrown at a Minister in his car-
riage, and the bits of torn flesh, the dismem-
bered limbs, the smell of blood and powder
had been an object lesson which haunted her
memory frequently.

Yet this was about to happen again and
perhaps through her agency. For a moment
faintness overcame all her senses and the
shadows of impending disasters seemed to
gather thick about her.


1 ' Oh, the mystery of the cruelty of things ! ' '
she thought despairingly, as the truth of the
English poet's line beat itself maddeningly
into her reason and left her sick in mind and


Very much agitated, nervous always, yet
excited and pleased by turns, Boris Alexan-
derowitch began a tour of the show-cases in
the Corps des Mines. He opened by telling
LoubofF that it was one of the most wonderful
collections in the world, second only to that
of the British Museum.

Finding that she was listening, all attention
and interest, he warmed to his subject, and
began to discuss learnedly on the values and
qualities of beryls and tourmalines and the
beauty of the most complete collection of tur-
quoises to be found anywhere.

" There," he added, his blue eyes twinkling
with patriotism, "we beat the British Museum
out and out."

When they paused before the great nugget
of gold from the mines on the eastern slopes
of the Ural, he was well pleased to see that it
failed utterly to impress her, scarcely seemed
to interest her. It seemed to him another
proof of her un-Jewish temperament. She
gave one careless glance at it and continued
talking of the supposed qualities of ill or



good luck attributed to certain stones and
professed a great belief in the pretty super-

"You see," she said, baring a lovely hand,
"I always wear a turquoise. "

"You have luck in love? Does it bring it to
you?" he asked anxiously.

"No," she replied with a coquettish flash of
her eyes that electrified him. "But I hope it
will some day."

Two hours passed easily. Boris found she
had read her brother's text-books to advan-
tage and had read them thoroughly. She was
interested in all the subjects that interested
him, and could match opinions with him

Only when the last of the collection had
been thoroughly criticized and scrutinized did
they think of going; but on reaching the en-
trance hall Michel was nowhere to be found.
Boris sent an attendant through the building
to search for him, and when the man returned
to report failure, Louboff said laughingly :

"Well, Boris Alexanderowitch, it looks as
if my dear brother has deserted me, so I sup-
pose I must trouble you to take me home."

"Your brother is evidently a very
good " began the young Eussian gal-


lantly. Then he paused awkwardly, horrified
at the fact that he was about to call a Jew

Louboff looked up at him suddenly and the
change in his face and its perturbation gave
her a keen pang. Boris just then hailed a
passing iswostschik and was about to make a
bargain, when Louboff said pleadingly : ' * Let
us walk ; the air is good and my fur shoes are
light. We can cross the river at St. Isaac's."

Quite close to them stood the official who
had followed her earlier in the day from St.
Isaac's, and Boris noted the malice in her
tones and wondered if she wanted to punish
him by this proposition of walking, having
understood why he had hesitated in calling
Michel friend.

He determined not to let her see he under-
stood her manoeuvre and, although like all
Eussians he hated walking, he said affably :

"As you please, Louboff Antonivna. I
shall be delighted."

The matter being settled, Boris smiled
down at her in a way that made her heart
beat quicker and caused her to glance away
hastily over the river because of the deepen-
ing flush in her face.

Under their snow shoes the frozen and


caked snow crunched and crackled, and the
frosty air made their noses tingle. They
walked several yards without speaking, then
all at once Louboff plunged into a conversa-
tion anent the persecution of her race, and
Boris turned and looked at her, startled, won-
dering if she could be a mind reader, trying to
answer the many cruel and ignoble questions
just then puzzling his brain. It was mar-
velous, he told himself, and at first he listened
impatiently, with that impatience born of in-
credulity; then he grew half angry. He was
too polite to say he disbelieved her, so he
answered in derisive "oh's," and "all's"
until Louboff taxed him openly with discredit-
ing her assertions.

"Oh, no; oh, no," he replied with an evi-
dent show of irritation, * ' but there are always
two sides to a question, and you only see your

"Let me make it plain to you," she pleaded,
"and I will gladly hear your answer. I will
tell you only of things within my own knowl-
edge of things I know, things that happen
constantly in my own house."

He shrugged his shoulders. "But what
good will it do! What good have words ever


' ' A great deal, ' ' she replied spiritedly. ' ' If
my judgment is right and you are the man I
think you are well "

Her tone was flattering; her voice danger-
ously sweet and seductive. Her glance alone
would have vanquished a man far less gener-
ous in sentiment than he, as she paused,
watching him intently.

"I am listening," he murmured with
averted eyes.

Several times her voice broke in its earn-
estness as she related how her father, a mer-
chant of the second guild, was ,at all times
subjected to impositions. She told him how
officials came to him with demands when-
ever they saw fit for one thousand roubles or
ten thousand roubles, as the case might be,
and how he was forced to pay and keep silence
or lose all chance of doing business. When
she had finished she looked up at him, and the
glance of his eyes, stony and hard, met hers

"Well, Louboff Antonivna, your father
must be very rich, and if he pays this tribute,
he knows his business. He must have some
good reason for paying it; he must gain his
wealth through usury."

Expecting a totally different answer, she


flushed with disappointment and chagrin.

"It may be; I don't know," she faltered.

Boris noticed the flush and smiled. At once
a picture of her father, a lean and hungry
Jew, rose up before his mind's eye.

"Oh, the beast!" he thought vindictively.
"Of course he is a usurer; all Jews are
usurers. Which of them ever gave us Chris-
tians quarter? Don't they squeeze us and
harass us to death when they have the
chance?" and instead of sympathizing with
Louboff over her father's persecution, he felt
glad of it.

Then he told her of his father's grievances.

They walked slowly and more slowly,
wrapped up in themselves and their subject.

Louboff listened to his frank and open de-
nunciation of her race, her lovely face grow-
ing more and more troubled, till finally Boris
caught the expression and stopped short in
the middle of a sentence.

"Oh, what does it matter!" he said with a
nerveless laugh. "What have you and I to
do with so deep a question? See how beauti-
ful the world is about us."

"Oh, but we have. We have," she broke in
tragically, "we ought to do what we can to
straighten it."


She winced as he said quickly, again becom-
ing serious:

''Straighten it? No. There is no way to
straighten it, believe me, dear Louboff An-
tonivna. There is not room in Eussia for our
two races; that is all."

"You would banish us as a people?"

"Yes, as a people all but you, Louboff
Antonivna. ' ' The rich tones of his voice soft-
ened and quavered. l ' I would keep you. ' '

The earnestness of youth was in the added
sentence, and despite the fact that it could
have been uttered as a polite compliment,
banal and meaningless, to her sex and beauty,
Louboff felt he meant it, as for one brief sec-
ond they gazed breathlessly into each other's

Then slowly the implied compliment to her-
self was forgotten and only the insult to her
race remained. She bent her head to hide
the tears of vexation that rose to her eyes.

Boris saw them and grew sorry. He
blinked his eyes and bit his lips, in anger at

"But why," he went on in a tone that he
meant to be gay, but which sounded over-
strained and false, "need we worry over such
things? When .Tews and Eussians are alike


forgotten, the world will still go on. Forgive
me, Louboff Antonivna," he added, bending
toward her tenderly, "I spoke too candidly.
Why do you care?"

"Because," she ejaculated quickly and with
a passion Oriental in its abandon, "I hate to
belong to a race despised. I hate it ! I hate
it! The humiliation, the senseless misunder-
standing, the injustice. Why should you hate,
despise us, loathe us? I don't hate Chris-
tians. I am too liberal or too foolish," she
added bitterly.

"But, Louboff Antonivna, I don't hate
you." He dwelt on the pronoun lingeringly,
fondly, and looking up she met his eyes, earn-
est and sincere. Her own dropped quickly
and confusedly.

"Yes, yes; what does it matter!" she said
nervously, as she laughed a laugh that ended
in a sob. A tear had frozen on her long
lashes, and taking his handkerchief out, he
brushed the frozen particle away.

"You will forgive me?" he begged anx-

"Why, of course," and the smile that she
gave him was adorable in its coquetry and
also its humility.

They had reached the crossing of the Neva,


and together they went down the wooden
steps to where the sleighs stood awaiting pas-
sengers. Boris helped her into the first and
a moment later a swift skater from behind
was pushing them along.

As custom permits and enjoins in St. Pet-
ersburg, Boris put his arm about Louboff to
keep her steady and safe in the sleigh. When
she felt herself in his clasp she nestled closer,
and as they sped along, the frosty air biting
their faces, he felt angry with himself. She
was so fragile and lovely, almost a stranger
to him; why should he annoy and harrow
her feelings ? So he whispered as well as he
could in the teeth of the wind:

"I have enjoyed our walk immensely. "

She smiled and nodded. The swiftness of
their pace made talking impossible.

Arrived at the other side, Louboff looking
back, saw the same official getting out of his
sleigh. "He has tramped," she thought
gladly. ' 'I can see his teeth chattering. And
he will tramp again." So she proposed to
Boris that they continue their walk, and he,
nothing loath to prolong a tete-a-tete that he
was finding more and more delightful, ac-
quiesced with evident satisfaction.

Night had fallen, and with the street lights


shining on it, the snow glittered and sparkled

brilliantly. The picturesque troikas of the

richer classes, with their blue and green snow

nets, bells a-jingle, the horses harnessed in

silver, gave color and movement to the


Boris was determined not to let their con-
versation grow serious, so he began to talk of
music and plays and therefore found out that
Louboff had graduated from the Conserva-
torium and was a pupil of Rubinstein.

"Oh, yes," she said modestly, "I play. A
piano house here is arranging a series of con-
certs for me in Germany, and I may go. I
have already given concerts in St. Peters-
burg, Moscow and Warsaw. Rubinstein
wishes me to play in Berlin."


"Next month. I dread the ordeal."

Boris could not understand the sudden
sense of dejection that came over him.

1 ' Michel does not want me to go, ' ' she went
on in her soft, melodious voice. "If I were
only sure of success."

' ' Success ! You need only look at your au-
dience and you will be sure of it, unless they
are blind," Boris thought quickly; saying in-
stead, "If Rubinstein wants you to go, you


may be sure of success. But are you not
going to play here first? I shall never rest
now till I hear you."

"Well, that is very easy. You will dine with
me to-night," she said hospitably, "and after-
wards I will play to you all the Chopin Noc-
turnes and Preludes, or anything else
you like Schubert, Schumann, Beethoven,
Brahms or Bach."

The Chopin Preludes and Nocturnes ! The
enchanting music of the Polish tone poet
swept through his memory, and then he recog-
nized the haunting something that had puz-
zled him in her beauty. Yes; the Preludes
and the Nocturnes. These were what she re-
minded him of.

' ' Delighted, but " His scattered senses

returned, and out of his bewilderment there
came caution. He hesitated. For nothing on
earth, he decided, could he eat at the table of
a Jew. He tried to think of an excuse.

"I have to dine at the house of my uncle,
Count d'Annenkoff, but if you will permit
me to come later?"

"I will be charmed to have you," she said,
smiling cordially, and again the Chopin
themes and melodies chased each other
through his brain.


They had reached the door and she gave
him her hand. He bent over it and was about
to raise it to his lips, thought a moment, and
then dropped it with a bow.


Just as Michel left Louboff with Boris and
turned into Line Four, a tall man, wearing a
long squirrel-lined cloak, or shouba, of black
cloth, with a heavy astrakhan collar and cap
to match, each hand thrust through the
sleeve of his coat, came up behind him and
murmured laconically:

"Number Fourteen!"

"I listen," replied Michel, not without a
start of surprise.



The next moment the stranger had passed
him and Michel continued on his way to his

Traktir Glouboff. He knew the place well
a den in the Wasily OstrofF, where the mem-
bers of his society met occasionally, only very
occasionally at most half a dozen times in
the year, for some of them were watched, and
to congregate in any number at any known
rendezvous was to court arrest.

Michel felt elated. Boris was safe with
Louboff, and although Louboff, with her artis-



tic temperament and refined tastes, might not
prove as tractable or easily influenced as a
woman of coarser fibre, still he flattered him-
self that when it came to a climax she would
stand by him to the end and give every assist-
ance in her power.

He hurried along to his studies, completed
these to his own satisfaction, ate a scanty
dinner, and then sallied forth to his rendez-
vous at the Traktir Glouboff, which was to
take place between six and seven the dinner
hour in St. Petersburg the one hour in the
day, as the conspirators well knew, when the
police were the most likely to relax their

Night had fallen, and Michel shuffled along
in his heavy fur-lined rubber boots, hardly
making a sound. He had a bashlik or hood of
light brown woolen cloth tied down over his
peaked student's cap, the long ends doubled
over his mouth and tied back of his neck ; this
with two motives: the one and most impor-
tant, to conceal his features ; and the other to
keep his ears, chin and forehead from freez-
ing, the cold being intense.

The sky above was leaden hued ; not a star
was visible, and there was a flurry of snow
in the air. The other side of the river with


its churches and palaces, its throng of gaily
caparisoned horses, its troikas and equipages,
its numerous electric lights, was always a
brilliant picture at night, but in the dimly lit
streets of the Wasily Ostroff things were
gloomy and cheerless, and there was always
little life and less movement. The farther
Michel went down the Line the poorer and
more desolate grew the aspect of the streets.
Tall factories grew frequent, and the lodging
houses of the students gave place to the
meaner houses of the working classes and the

Except for an occasional janitor wrapped
in his sheepskin and half asleep on his wooden
stool by the door, Michel met no one. Through
the double windows of the houses the young
Jew caught many a glimpse of humble but
happy interiors; of women, buxom, cheery
and laughing, their brilliant kerchiefs tied
over smoothly parted straw-colored hair; of
men in red blouses belted over velveteen
breeches, their bull-like necks showing ruddy
under thick locks that looked as if they had
been cut under a bowl; children were every-
where, and the whole family, from the young-
est to the oldest, sat by the stove, sipping tea
out of long glasses or eating black bread.


Michel again and again caught the glow of
the red lamps hung before the ikons or holy
pictures, without which no Orthodox home
exists in Eussia, and the sight of these and of
the people uniformly contented and happy
angered him and disgusted him.

"The devil take them," he murmured to
himself. "They are satisfied. They are as
pigs wallowing in their own mire ; they pray
to their saints and their images for their so-
called * little father,' the Tsar, and if they
were free to-morrow to what purpose would be
our sacrifices ! What slaves they are ! Slav !
How truly their name befits them."

He reached the tavern, passed within, and,
ordering a glass of tea, sat down to wait.
Again he noticed the contented and jovial
countenances of the men about him, and he
scowled. They were drinking and telling
stories. Hoarse shouts of laughter rang in
the smoke-filled room, and the mien of all
bespoke at least contentment. In repose some
of the faces were sad. But they were a well-
fed, warmly clothed lot. They had their tea,
their pipes; some of them their balilakas
an instrument of the mandolin order to ac-
company their songs ; Michel, studying them,
communed with himself, and his wrath grew.


He finished his tea and was lighting a
cigarette when a stout man, evidently dif-
ferent in calibre to the frequenters of the
place, entered. This man sat down opposite
Michel and after a while apparently dropped
into conversation with him, as one wonld with
a stranger. He, too, ordered tea, and when
bending over the table to get a piece of sugar,
said sotto voce and in French:

' Look out for the moujik near tne door. He
has a wig on. and I think is Tretiakoff, of the
Secret Police."

After a while Michel turned round and gave
a swift glance at the moujik.

"Yes," he replied by a nod of his head,
and a downward blink of his eyelids.

* ' I thought so. Well, leave now and return
fifteen minutes later. Come in by the back
door, to the room upstairs."

Michel stood up at once, paid the few
kopecks owing, and left. A quarter of an
hour later, to the second, he had entered a
hallway in a house on the next street, and,
reaching the Traktir Glouboff by a covered
passageway, went direct to a room on the
second floor.

A man outside the door admitted him, and
he found himself in a long, low-ceilinged room


of unpainted wood, roughly and scantily
furnished. His friend of the Traktir, known
as Number Ten, was there before him with
some half dozen others.

On entering the room, Michel, whose sense
of proportion and distance was keen, looked
about him somewhat dazedly. The room was
the bedroom of one of the party known as
Number Four, a room Michel often visited;
but on this occasion it seemed strange,
smaller, and he looked about him in wonder.

Around and about he glanced inquiringly,
puzzled. Everything seemed as it had al-
ways been, and yet he could not shake off the
feeling of there being something different.
Then the party settled down to business and
he quickly forgot his first sensations in the
discussion that ensued. It was conducted in
earnest tones, and Number One, the leader,
spoke in acrid accents of their utter failure in
reaching the Tsar.

"Well," said one of those present as he
balanced his cigarette between the first and
second fingers of his left hand. "What would
you have us do? Kill the Tsaritsa?"

"God forbid," said Number One.

"Then what can we do? She never leaves
him. He was, as you say, driving unattended


on the Quay of the Nobles, but she was with
him. She was with him on every occasion
and she will continue to be with him."

''Except on this journey to Moscow."

It was Michel who spoke, and his voice
vibrated with enthusiasm and excitement.

"Yes, except on this journey to Moscow,"
echoed Number One. "But that takes place

"I think I can find out."

All eyes were directed toward Michel.
Then in rapid, uneven accents he formulated
his plans and told of his hopes.

Number One stroked his beard. "It seems
possible," he said quietly, as he began tearing
several lengths of paper. These he put in
a bag handed to him by Number Four, and
silently those assembled drew one each.

Michel was the last, and he drew the only
one of great length.

As he gazed at the slip his face grew
ashen pale, then changed to a deep scarlet,
and the pulse in his throat beat so that Num-
ber One, facing him, could see it.

"Your nerve fails you, little one I" asked
the latter, half tauntingly, half playfully.

1 ' No, by the God of my fathers, no ! " cried
Michel, standing up, his eyes flashing. "Give


me your orders now now," he repeated.

"I am ready."

"But circumstances are not." The cold,
clear tones of Number One 's voice penetrated
Michel's brain dimly and dampened his
enthusiasm. Michel dropped back into his
seat and for a moment the room reeled about
him and great beads of perspiration gathered
on his forehead. With an effort, he fumbled
for his cigarette case, chose a cigarette, and
managed to light it with an unsteady hand.

The others were watching him closely. One
of the members gave a great sigh. The boy
looked so young, so fragile; it was hardly
possible he could realize the promises he had
made. Then Number One, who had mean-
while been pondering ways and means, be-
gan to give his directions; short, clear and

There would be no further meeting for
Michel. Number Four was to bring a bomb to
Michel's lodgings and Michel was to use it
as he saw fit.

The meeting terminated informally. Num-
ber Four brought forth a bottle of vodka, dis-
tributing small glasses to each of his guests.
He filled these glasses, then, lighting cigar-
ettes, the guests went away one by one, hav-


ing first called to the doorman who stood out-

This latter individual, when all were away,
went about putting the chairs in order; then
he cautiously tiptoed to the landing, thor-
oughly scrutinized the badly lighted, evil-
smelling stairs, for any loiterers, and return-
ing to the room he drew his hand uncertainly
along one side of the wall.

There was a creaking sound; part of the
wooden partition moved backward, and out
of the aperture stepped two distinguished
individuals in plain clothes, their faces grim
but contented two men known through the
length and breadth of all Russia as tlie clev-
erest and most daring emissaries of the
Tsar's Secret Police.

"VasMprevoskaditeltsvo," said the door-
man with a low obeisance, "the way is clear,
your servant has done his duty. ' '

Taking a fifty-rouble note from his pocket,
the older of the two men flung the blood
money at the head of the bowing traitor.


Boris Alexanderowitch dined well, and
much to his surprise was cordially welcomed
by his uncle. Several important members of
the government, with that informality which
is characteristic of Russian hospitality, hap-
pening to have been in conference with Count
d'Annenkoff, had been invited, and had
accepted that invitation which is invariably
extended to those whom chance or purpose
finds in Russian homes at the dinner hour, so

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryAlexander McArthurThe leveller → online text (page 2 of 13)