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value of the vaunted bravery which is purchasable
for 80 few roubles.

As we were still talking to the captain Sergeant
Solobov came in covered with dirt and perspiration,
and apparently fagged out. He had come to report
that the three prisoners had not yet been caught ; but
that he had obtained information from two sources
that they had been seen going towards the south.

" They are making for the Chinese border," said
the captain. " We must head them off from that.
You must make for the Yenesei, Sergeant Solobov,
and don't come back until you have found them.
Ah, that scamp, Yankevitch ! I always had my fears
about him with his gold glasses on his nose. He is
at the bottom of it, I'll be bound. But wait until I
get him back, and I will decorate him with chains in
accordance with his deserts."

Sergeant Solobov had various reasons to bring
forward for postponing the pursuit until the next
day. The horses were tired ; the men had not fed.
But the real reason he did not see fit to mention,
namely, that he was expecting to meet me quietly in


the evening to receive payment for his day's work.
In the end, he prevailed upon the captain to wait
until the next morning before despatching a force to
cut off the fugitives. At this point I said good-bye
to the captain and withdrew, followed by the pope.

When I had gone half-way across the camp I
noticed that the pope was still at my side. He
seemed to have developed a great fondness for me
and a desire to remain in my company. He positively
would not let me go until I had contributed some-
thing to his privy purse. There is no more syste-
matic beggar in the world than a Russian priest, and
this one was no exception to the rule. I had given
all my small change to the prisoners in the morning,
and I had nothing less than a rouble, and I gave it
to him to rid myself of his company.

I don't think he had expected more than five
kopeks, for when he saw the rouble he crossed him-
self a dozen times, and, giving me his blessing, hurried
off towards the village with his prize.



I LOST no time in returning to the widow's bouse,
and there I was met by the widow, her shifty, little
eyes dancing with triumphant cunning.

" You can go to your friends, Bareen, as soon as
you please," she said.

I walked straight through the house to the little
bedroom at the back, followed by the old lady. To-
gether we removed the bed and she prised up the
boards. A wooden step led down to the chamber
beneath, and in a moment I was surrounded by the
three men. There is no need to dwell on the mutual
rejoicings and congratulations which followed. I
will only say that, for my part, I felt happier than I
can ever remember feeling before or since. By the
light which penetrated from the hole in the floor
above us, I could see that the widow had spread
matting on the floor of the chamber, and there were
the remains of a substantial meal still visible on
plates and dishes.

After the first greetings were over I told them of
my experiences at the camp.

' ' The captain takes your escape very badly,"
I said. " He sent a special message to you,


Mr. Yankevitch ; when he catches you he will decorate
you with chains in accordance with your deserts."

Yankevitch smiled grimly through his glasses, but
said never a word. He was a lawyer, and knew well
when to speak and when to hold his tongue. It
would serve no good purpose to argue about a con-
tingency so improbable as his immediate recapture,
and therefore he was silent.

Then I drew Kolka aside and consulted with him.
I told him about Anatovitch, and how I had met
him in Tomsk, and suggested that I should send
Ivan to him with the news ; and that Ivan should
then go on to Vyatka and tell the good tidings to
the old doctor. When this was arranged I left them
for awhile^ and, putting two hundred rouble notes
into an envelope, I strolled down the road towards
the camp.

I had not far to go before I met my man ; he was
waiting for me at the roadside. Without a word I
handed him the envelope, and he placed it in his
boot and crossed himself.

" Thanks be to the Holy Mother," he said. " This
will make me the proprietor of a l-harchevna."

•* When will the convoy be on the move ? " I
asked, when he had disposed of his money satisfac-

" I do not think that we shall march before
Monday, doctor," he replied. " The captain is in a
great taking about the escape of the prisoners. To-
morrow morning I have orders to start in pursuit of
them to the Yenesei. I shall return with my men
in the evening ; and when the captain understands


that they cannot be found that will be the end of
the matter. But I do not think that he will order
the camp to be moved until Monday. But you must
keep your birds caged for some time to come, doctor.
Do not let them out until we have left the camp for
at least a week. They will be safe enough then."

I promised to be discreet, and we said good-bye.

" If you are in KharkofF, doctor, in a year's time,
I hope you will patronise my hhmxhevna," said the
sergeant, and he turned towards the camp.

I returned to the house and again took counsel
with my proteges.

I gave Kolka his passport and ckorosho povidenia,
which were already made out for him in his
own name. I had only one blank passport and
cliorosho j^ovidenia left, and I filled them up for
Yankevitch. Grazinski, for the time being, could
make use of the passport of Dr. Denmanovitch,
which I still kept, until an opportunity arrived of
procuring a new one for him. I laid great stress on
the necessity of all of them remaining in hiding for
a week after the departure of the 7'ota from the
halting-station, and for as long as they remained in
the neighbourhood. Then I wrote a long letter to
Anatovitch, and when it was finished I summoned

" I am going to send you on a long journey by
yourself, Ivan," I said ; " are you prepared to go ? "

" I shall do whatever the Bareen orders," he an-
swered ; and I could not gather from his words or
face whether he was pleased to go or not. I thought,
perhaps, he might have had some scruples about


leaving me ; but the strict obedience of orders was
to him the first duty of man.

" You will start to-morrow morning and take this
letter to Dr. Anatovitch," I said, handing him the
unaddressed envelope. " You must give it to him
privately, and he will tell you whether you are to
return here or to go to Vyatka."

I was determined that old Dr. Bogdanovitch should
hear the news as soon as possible ; but I left it for
Anatovitch to decide whether he would send on Ivan
or a man of his own.

Early the following morning Ivan left on horse-
back for Tomsk, and there was nothing for us to
do but wait developments.

To avoid suspicion I went to see the captain at
the camp. He seemed surprised that I was making-
such a prolonged stay on the road to Irkutsk ; but I
told him that my horses needed a rest, and that I
preferred the quiet beauty of the country to life in
the towns, and so I had decided to spend a few days
in the neighbourhood whilst my horses recovered
their condition. I also told him that the opportuni-
ties which he had given me of inspecting the prisoners
at the camp had been a source of great interest to
me, and that I appreciated his kindness and com-
panionship. May Heaven forgive me !

The captain was still greatly perturbed about the
escape of the prisoners, and he sent out patrols on the
Friday and Saturday to intercept the fugitives. But,
at last, he gave up the search as hopeless, and
ordered the march for Monday morning.

I was there to see them start, and a pitiable


spectacle the poor wretches presented as they filed
out from the camp on to the road, with their mounted
escort to urge them forwards and their heavy chains
to keep them back.

The captain bade me an aftectionate farewell, and
hoped that I would visit his relations if I returned
by Moscow. And so they clanked off miserably
down the road, and I watched them depart with a
feeling of great relief mingled with pity.

Two weeks passed, and still Ivan did not return.
The three boys enjoyed life to the fullest extent that
their restricted circumstances permitted. All day
long they would play like rabbits round a certain
tree in the forest which marked the entrance of their
burrow, prepared at the approach of any man to
bolt into their hole. At night they slept in the
little chamber under the floor rolled up in rugs on
the ground.

The widow's house stood alone in the forest, and
the village was three or four versts away, con-
sequently we saw very few people beyond a casual
traveller or tramp on the road now and then. I do
not think that my presence in the widow's house
was known to any one outside of it.

The restless spirit of the party was Yankevitch.
He was always fretting to be gone, and found the
restraint on his freedom very trying. Once I had
to assert my authority, as leader of the party, to
prevent him starting for Tomsk on foot. Kolka and
Grazinski backed me up, and Yankevitch was reluc-
tantly compelled to remain where he was.

There was one member of the party who was


supremely happy — and that was Petrushka. Twice
daily he went off to the old shed where the horses
were stabled to look after them ; the rest of the day
he spent in the company of the widow's daughters,
showing a marked preference for Soinia, the youngest.
He was a very simple-minded fellow, and he
would have been quite contented to spend the rest
of his days in the forest home of his Soinia.

Seventeen days after his departure Ivan returned,
bringing a letter from Anatovitch. He implored me
to keep my charges in order, and on no account to
allow them to break loose or to do anything to
jeopardise their safety. He recommended that they
should be sent in two parties into Tomsk, where he
had arranged a safe quarter for them as they arrived,
and he would dispose of them one at a time. He
would send back the horses when the first two
arrived, and I was to follow with the third. He had
sent his own servant to Vyatka with my letter to
Dr. Bogdanovitch, as he thought that I should pre-
fer to have Ivan with me. He further informed me
that my Tartar friend, the hotel proprietor, was
counting the days to my return.

There was no signature to the letter, and the
names of Dr. Bogdanovitch and Vyatka were repre-
sented by initial letters only.

Ivan stood before me as I read it, silently awaiting
orders. And again I was conscious of the strens^th
of his personality. The quiet confidence of the man
made itself felt by those with whom he came in

I thanked him for the successful accomplishment


of the mission on which I had sent him. He saluted
gravely, and his eyes smiled almost imperceptibly,
just enough for me to see that he appreciated my
thanks. I questioned him about his journey, which
had not been altogether uneventful ; but he made
nothing of the difficulties which he had encountered.
He was a man who was made to combat and sweep
away opposition, and it seemed only natural that
obstacles which would prove insurmountable to the
ordinary man should sink into insignificance before
him. There are other men of his stamp in Russia,
and some day they will have to be reckoned with by
the Powers that be, unless they enlist them on their

I sent Ivan away to get food and rest, and went
with my letter to the little bedroom at the back of
the house where the floor-boards were movable.
There we held a consultation.

When I announced that two of them could start
for Tomsk in the droshha the following day, it was
interesting to watch the effect of the news upon them.
Yankevitch at once began to make all the arrange-
ments. Grazinski and himself would start at six
o'clock in the morning, and Kolka and I could follow
after. Feeling ashamed that his anxiety to get away
had led him to thrust forward his claims unduly he
suggested that Kolka and I should go first. Gra-
zinski left the matter entirely in my hands. Kolka
expressed his intention of remaining behind with me
whilst the other two went on. I settled the matter
by making them draw lots. It fell out that Gra-
zinski and Kolka were to be the first to go. To the


fortunes of the ballot I insisted on all adhering,
though I think Kolka would have preferred to wait
behind with me.

Accordingly, the next morning the droshJca and
pair were waiting on the road with Ivan to drive.
I dared not trust them with the worthy Petrushka,
good fellow as he was. But with Ivan I felt they
were safe ; so we bade farewell to Kolka and Gra-
zinski, with a word to Ivan not to spare the horses,
but to return as soon as possible. They disappeared
down the road in a cloud of dust and to the cracking
of Ivan's whip, and Yankevitch and I returned to
the widow's house.



It was now near the end of September. The days
were beginning to shorten perceptibly. Morning
and evening there was a touch of cold in the air,
and the forest took on a gloomy aspect as the days
drew in and the leaves of the hardwood trees littered
the ground.

Yankevitch and I made gallant efforts to possess
our souls in patience until Ivan could return for us
with the horses ; but we knew that at least three
weeks must elapse before he arrived, and it might be
longer if Anatovitch saw good reason for delay, or
had difficulty in procuring fresh horses.

Our enforced intimacy gave us the opportunity of
becoming mutually well acquainted with one another.
I found in the restless, versatile Yankevitch a thinker
and philosopher of no mean order. We passed our
days in discussions and arguments, often of an
abstruse nature. On many subjects we differed
widely in opinion, and wrangled over our respective
convictions until we became very good friends. He
was essentially a pessimist — and no wonder. For my
part, I am inclined to optimism, outside of Russia
and the countries of the Serb, and our differences
led to many friendly arguments.


One day, about a week after the departure of
Kolka and Grazinski, the widow shuffled into the
little back room where we were at our tea and asked
permission to speak to me. I told her to proceed
without ceremony ; and with some confusion she told
her story.

*' You see, Bareen," she explained, " I am a poor
widow with my four children." Then she corrected
herself. " No, Bareen, I am no longer poor, thanks
to the Holy Mother and to you."

I begged her to couple my name with no ladies,
and to come to the point.

"When you came here we did not know what
happiness was. Ah, how hard we used to work ! —
Myself and the girls and the jialtchik (Httle boy) —
and we could scarcely make a living selling things in
the village and to the convicts at the camp. It was
hard, Bereen, very hard ! Then you came with your
two servants." She paused, and once more became
covered with confusion.

" Well," I said, " go on, matushka."

" Of course Ivan is like ice; but Petrushka "

" What about Petrushka ? "

" Petrushka," said the old lady, crumpling up the
corner of her apron. " Petrushka wants to marry my
daughter, Soinia, and I have come to ask your
permission, and your blessing."

" I don't see that my blessing would be of much
use to them," I answered ; " and as to my permission,
Petrus is not really my servant, though he is serving
me for the time beino^. He is a dentchik to an
officer in Tomsk."


" That is what Petrushka told my Soinia," said
the widow triumphantly. I think she was gratified
to find that Petrushka was a man of truth.

" If they are both satisfied," I continued, "I do
not suppose that his master will resent it, and I will
undertake that he gives his permission."

There was an inclination on the part of the widow
to throw herself on the ground and kiss my feet
again ; but this I sternly repressed, much to the
amusement of Yankevitch. Then I sent for Petrus
and his fiancee, who came in looking thoroughly
ashamed of themselves. I asked Petrus what he
proposed to live on when he was married. He drew
a delightful picture of wedded bliss, in which he still
figured as a dentchih in the service, whilst his wife
s>o\dfulkas (rolls) at a stall in the market-place. He
had already amassed a fortune of eighteen roubles
by careful hoarding of gratuities received whilst in
service, and this he referred to as a " start in life."
Neither of them knew of the lOO roubles which
fell to Soinia as her share of the reward for assistingf
in the rescue of Kolka and his companions, and I did
not mention it to them. But I promised Soinia a
wedding present of fifty roubles.

" Will it be hisj too ? " she asked doubtfully.

" Certainly," I answered. " It will be yours and

" I would not like to have it if it would not
belong to Petrushka as well as to me," she explained
simply. " But since the Bareen says that it will
belong to both of us, may the Holy Mother bless
him for his goodness."


Petrus joined tearfully in her benediction, and
they left the room together in a state of delirious
happiness at the prospect before them.

** How little it takes to make the simple-minded
happy," I said to Yankevitch, when they had gone.

" Oh, yes, my friend, they are happy enough," he
answered, " as the beasts of the field are happy.
Ignorance may be bliss, but I would rather have
knowledge with bitterness. God knows that I and
my friends have drunk deep enough of the cup. We-
may yet be compelled to drain it to the last drop ;
but so long as it is spiced with the leaves of the
tree of knowledge we shall not thrust it aside."

When I looked out of my window the next
morning the sky was overcast with heavy clouds.
A cold north wind drove them down upon the
forest and moaned through the branches of the
stooping trees. It swept in shrieking gusts over
the roof of the house, which groaned and rattled
beneath the blast. And then, in its violence, it tore
the filmy lining of the clouds and dashed the flakes
of snow in whirling myriads to the earth.

In an hour's time the snow lay piled in drifts
against hillocks, banks, and tree trunks. The wind
moderated ; but still the snow fell thick, lying in
even purity on the ground, and splashing the dark
verdure of the firs with clinging patches of white-

I found Yankevitch in the depths of despair.

" It will be weeks before Ivan can return if the
weather holds like this," he grumbled.

" On the contrary," I said. " He will come witli


a sledge in half the time that he would take with
the droshka,"

" The road must settle first," Yankevitch objected.
" A thaw may come any day and spoil it."

He was justified in his prognostications. For a
week the weather remained unsettled, so that a man
starting on a long journey by road would not know
whether to take carriage or sleigh for his purpose,
and would judiciously delay his departure until the
weather declared itself. For a sleigh on a bare road
is as useless as a carriage in a snow-drift.

So we waited impatiently for Ivan's return until
the end of October. One day he presented himself
in his pelshuhka and heavy boots, a thorough Russian,
and with a respectful greeting handed me a letter
from Anatovitch.

I told Ivan to get his dinner and rest, and sent
Petrus to attend to the horses and sleigh, for there
was no longer any doubt about the state of the road,
and Anatovitch had sent a large sleigh with a high
back and noble expanse of splash-board.

Then I eagerly tore open the letter and read it
aloud to Yankevitch. Anatovitch had been delighted
to receive my guests in safety. Dr. Grazinski was
already on the way to Warsaw, where he was to
pass the frontier at night and await me at Konigs-
berg. Kolka, he said, was as safe with him in
Tomsk as he could be anywhere, and he would stay
there until we joined him. He had sent a fresh
pair of horses and a sleigh for us, and hoped we
would start as soon as possible. He had given
Ivan fur coats and felt-over boots for us all, so


that we should keep warm on the journey. The
letter ended with expressions of congratulation and

" Dear soul ! " Yankevitch exclaimed, when I had
finished reading.

" Yes," I answered, " he is a dear soul, with a
noble nature."

" Two qualities which are out of place in this
country, and which will eventually land him in a
penal settlement," said Yankevitch.

" I hope not," I replied, " for much as I admire the
fine woodland scenery of Siberia, I am not anxious
to follow up my researches in pathology in this part
of the world again."

The snow was still deep on the road, and there
had been very little traffic as yet to tread it down ;
and Ivan recommended that we should wait three
days before setting out, to rest the horses and give
the road a chance of improvement.

Yankevitch chafed at the delay ; but there were
several things to be done before we could leave.
Another small sleigh must be procured from the
village for Petrus and the third horse ; and a
marriage ceremony was due to be performed, which
would add another passenger to the second sleigh.

The widow was quite satisfied that Soinia and
Petrushka should be married before our departure ;
and though the good Petrus had some qualms about
marrying without the consent of his master, I took
the responsibility on myself, and started oft' in the
snow to fetch my friend the pope from the village.

The priest was mightily surprised to see me again.


I told him that I was on my return journey, and had
called to see him on business. His holiness liked
the sound of the word. It was suggestive of more
roubles. So he washed down the last mouthful of the
kolhash, which he was eating, with a glass of vodka
and turned a beaming countenance towards me.

^^Eh, paltcliik moia ! " he exclaimed. " What can
I do for you ? "

I requested him to be kind enough to come
with me and perform a marriage ceremony. He was
delighted at the prospect.

' ' That is right, my iKdtchik, that is right ! Marriage
is ordained by Heaven."

"Is that where the roubles come from, batushka ? "
I asked irreverently, digging my fist into his fat ribs.

" Oi, 01, paltcliik," he grunted. "You have a
strong fist."

" Well, then, to business. I want you to marry
a couple of poor villagers, and I shall pay the costs."

" It is good, my paltchik, to help the poor. The
Holy Mother will reward you tenfold."

" That may be," I answered; " but I never received
a kopek from the Holy Mother for that rouble which
I gave you some time ago."

The pope shook his head reproachfully, and the
greasy tresses of his long hair flopped against his

"We must not expect to receive the rewards of
our good works in this world, paltcliik," he protested.

" Then, when I ask you to marry this poor couple,
am I to refer you to the next world for payment ? "

" The rich should pay for the poor," said the holy


man thoughtfully, "and therefore you pay me for
the ceremony, and the Holy Mother will pay you
back in the next world."

And on that understanding we started out for the
widow's house.

" The quicker you perform your business and clear
out of the house the higher your pay will be," I
assured him, as we neared our destination.

It was a quaint entertainment. The widow
and her children, dressed in their best, kissed the
garments of the pope when he entered, and ranged
themselves stiffly against the wall of the room.
Ivan was present, looking more serious than ever.
Petrushka was awkward and shy. Soinia was
perfectly composed.

Mindful of my admonition the pope lost no time
in the despatch of the ceremony. And having given
them his blessing and drunk a couple of glasses of
vodka, he hurried out, taking care to notice that I
followed him. I thrust three roubles into his palm,
and may the blessings which he bestowed on me fall
on his own head !

After he had taken his departure, Alexai Yanke-
vitch, attorney-at-law, emerged from his hiding-place
underground and joined in the congratulations to the
happy pair.

There was nothing now to detain us longer in the
widow's house. The road was in good condition and
the horses fit for the journey. So we bade farewell
to the widow and her family, who were all in tears
at our departure, and on the 4th of November started
back to Tomsk.

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Online LibraryCarl JoubertRussia as it really is → online text (page 16 of 18)