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The Continental Classics, Volume XVIII., Mystery Tales Including Stories by Feodor Mikhailovitch Dostoyevsky, Jörgen Wilhelm Bergsöe and Bernhard Severin Ingemann online

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falling into an armchair. "I swear to you on my honor, I begin to
believe that I am a genius! Listen, devil take us all! It is funny,
and it is sad. We have caught three already - isn't that so? Well, I
have found the fourth, and a woman at that. You will never believe who
it is! But listen. I went to Klausoff's village, and began to make a
spiral round it. I visited all the little shops, public houses, dram
shops on the road, everywhere asking for safety matches. Everywhere
they said they hadn't any. I made a wide round. Twenty times I lost
faith, and twenty times I got it back again. I knocked about the whole
day, and only an hour ago I got on the track. Three versts from here.
They gave me a packet of ten boxes. One box was missing. Immediately:
'Who bought the other box?' 'Such-a-one! She was pleased with them!'
Old man! Nicholas Yermolaïyevitch! See what a fellow who was expelled
from the seminary and who has read Gaboriau can do! From to-day on I
begin to respect myself! Oof! Well, come!"

"Come where?"

"To her, to number four! We must hurry, otherwise - otherwise I'll
burst with impatience! Do you know who she is? You'll never guess!
Olga Petrovna, Marcus Ivanovitch's wife - his own wife - that's who it
is! She is the person who bought the matchbox!"

"You - you - you are out of your mind!"

"It's quite simple! To begin with, she smokes. Secondly, she was head
and ears in love with Klausoff, even after he refused to live in the
same house with her, because she was always scolding his head off.
Why, they say she used to beat him because she loved him so much. And
then he positively refused to stay in the same house. Love turned
sour. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.' But come along! Quick,
or it will be dark. Come!"

"I am not yet sufficiently crazy to go and disturb a respectable
honorable woman in the middle of the night for a crazy boy!"

"Respectable, honorable! Do honorable women murder their husbands?
After that you are a rag, and not an examining magistrate! I never
ventured to call you names before, but now you compel me to. Rag!
Dressing-gown! - Dear Nicholas Yermolaïyevitch, do come, I beg of
you - - !"

The magistrate made a deprecating motion with his hand.

"I beg of you! I ask, not for myself, but in the interests of justice.
I beg you! I implore you! Do what I ask you to, just this once!"

Dukovski went down on his knees.

"Nicholas Yermolaïyevitch! Be kind! Call me a blackguard, a
ne'er-do-weel, if I am mistaken about this woman. You see what an
affair it is. What a case it is. A romance! A woman murdering her own
husband for love! The fame of it will go all over Russia. They will
make you investigator in all important cases. Understand, O foolish
old man!"

The magistrate frowned, and undecidedly stretched his hand toward his
cap.

"Oh, the devil take you!" he said. "Let us go!"

It was dark when the magistrate's carriage rolled up to the porch of
the old country house in which Olga Petrovna had taken refuge with her
brother.

"What pigs we are," said Chubikoff, taking hold of the bell, "to
disturb a poor woman like this!"

"It's all right! It's all right! Don't get frightened! We can say that
we have broken a spring."

Chubikoff and Dukovski were met at the threshold by a tall buxom woman
of three and twenty, with pitch-black brows and juicy red lips. It was
Olga Petrovna herself, apparently not the least distressed by the
recent tragedy.

"Oh, what a pleasant surprise!" she said, smiling broadly. "You are
just in time for supper. Kuzma Petrovitch is not at home. He is
visiting the priest, and has stayed late. But we'll get on without
him! Be seated. You have come from the examination?"

"Yes. We broke a spring, you know," began Chubikoff, entering the
sitting room and sinking into an armchair.

"Take her unawares - at once!" whispered Dukovski; "take her unawares!"

"A spring - hum - yes - so we came in."

"Take her unawares, I tell you! She will guess what the matter is if
you drag things out like that."

"Well, do it yourself as you want. But let me get out of it," muttered
Chubikoff, rising and going to the window.

"Yes, a spring," began Dukovski, going close to Olga Petrovna and
wrinkling his long nose. "We did not drive over here - to take supper
with you or - to see Kuzma Petrovitch. We came here to ask you,
respected madam, where Marcus Ivanovitch is, whom you murdered!"

"What? Marcus Ivanovitch murdered?" stammered Olga Petrovna, and her
broad face suddenly and instantaneously flushed bright scarlet. "I
don't - understand!"

"I ask you in the name of the law! Where is Klausoff? We know all!"

"Who told you?" Olga Petrovna asked in a low voice, unable to endure
Dukovski's glance.

"Be so good as to show us where he is!"

"But how did you find out? Who told you?"

"We know all! I demand it in the name of the law!"

The examining magistrate, emboldened by her confusion, came forward
and said:

"Show us, and we will go away. Otherwise, we - - "

"What do you want with him?"

"Madam, what is the use of these questions? We ask you to show us! You
tremble, you are agitated. Yes, he has been murdered, and, if you must
have it, murdered by you! Your accomplices have betrayed you!"

Olga Petrovna grew pale.

"Come!" she said in a low voice, wringing her hands. "I have
him - hid - in the bath house! Only for heaven's sake, do not tell Kuzma
Petrovitch. I beg and implore you! He will never forgive me!"

Olga Petrovna took down a big key from the wall, and led her guests
through the kitchen and passage to the courtyard. The courtyard was in
darkness. Fine rain was falling. Olga Petrovna walked in advance of
them. Chubikoff and Dukovski strode behind her through the long grass,
as the odor of wild hemp and dishwater splashing under their feet
reached them. The courtyard was wide. Soon the dishwater ceased, and
they felt freshly broken earth under their feet. In the darkness
appeared the shadowy outlines of trees, and among the trees a little
house with a crooked chimney.

"That is the bath house," said Olga Petrovna. "But I implore you, do
not tell my brother! If you do, I'll never hear the end of it!"

Going up to the bath house, Chubikoff and Dukovski saw a huge padlock
on the door.

"Get your candle and matches ready," whispered the examining
magistrate to his deputy.

Olga Petrovna unfastened the padlock, and let her guests into the bath
house. Dukovski struck a match and lit up the anteroom. In the middle
of the anteroom stood a table. On the table, beside a sturdy little
samovar, stood a soup tureen with cold cabbage soup and a plate with
the remnants of some sauce.

"Forward!"

They went into the next room, where the bath was. There was a table
there also. On the table was a dish with some ham, a bottle of vodka,
plates, knives, forks.

"But where is it - where is the murdered man?" asked the examining
magistrate.

"On the top tier," whispered Olga Petrovna, still pale and trembling.

Dukovski took the candle in his hand and climbed up to the top tier of
the sweating frame. There he saw a long human body lying motionless on
a large feather bed. A slight snore came from the body.

"You are making fun of us, devil take it!" cried Dukovski. "That is
not the murdered man! Some live fool is lying here. Here, whoever you
are, the devil take you!"

The body drew in a quick breath and stirred. Dukovski stuck his elbow
into it. It raised a hand, stretched itself, and lifted its head.

"Who is sneaking in here?" asked a hoarse, heavy bass. "What do you
want?"

Dukovski raised the candle to the face of the unknown, and cried out.
In the red nose, disheveled, unkempt hair, the pitch-black mustaches,
one of which was jauntily twisted and pointed insolently toward the
ceiling, he recognized the gallant cavalryman Klausoff.

"You - Marcus - Ivanovitch? Is it possible?"

The examining magistrate glanced sharply up at him, and stood
spellbound.

"Yes, it is I. That's you, Dukovski? What the devil do you want here?
And who's that other mug down there? Great snakes! It is the examining
magistrate! What fate has brought him here?"

Klausoff rushed down and threw his arms round Chubikoff in a cordial
embrace. Olga Petrovna slipped through the door.

"How did you come here? Let's have a drink, devil take it!
Tra-ta-ti-to-tum - let us drink! But who brought you here? How did you
find out that I was here? But it doesn't matter! Let's have a drink!"

Klausoff lit the lamp and poured out three glasses of vodka.

"That is - I don't understand you," said the examining magistrate,
running his hands over him. "Is this you or not you!"

"Oh, shut up! You want to preach me a sermon? Don't trouble yourself!
Young Dukovski, empty your glass! Friends, let us bring this - What are
you looking at? Drink!"

"All the same, I do not understand!" said the examining magistrate,
mechanically drinking off the vodka. "What are you here for?"

"Why shouldn't I be here, if I am all right here?"

Klausoff drained his glass and took a bite of ham.

"I am in captivity here, as you see. In solitude, in a cavern, like a
ghost or a bogey. Drink! She carried me off and locked me up,
and - well, I am living here, in the deserted bath house, like a
hermit. I am fed. Next week I think I'll try to get out. I'm tired of
it here!"

"Incomprehensible!" said Dukovski.

"What is incomprehensible about it?"

"Incomprehensible! For Heaven's sake, how did your boot get into the
garden?"

"What boot?"

"We found one boot in the sleeping room and the other in the garden."

"And what do you want to know that for? It's none of your business!
Why don't you drink, devil take you? If you wakened me, then drink
with me! It is an interesting tale, brother, that of the boot! I
didn't want to go with Olga. I don't like to be bossed. She came under
the window and began to abuse me. She always was a termagant. You know
what women are like, all of them. I was a bit drunk, so I took a boot
and heaved it at her. Ha-ha-ha! Teach her not to scold another time!
But it didn't! Not a bit of it! She climbed in at the window, lit the
lamp, and began to hammer poor tipsy me. She thrashed me, dragged me
over here, and locked me in. She feeds me now - on love, vodka, and
ham! But where are you off to, Chubikoff? Where are you going?"

The examining magistrate swore, and left the bath house. Dukovski
followed him, crestfallen. They silently took their seats in the
carriage and drove off. The road never seemed to them so long and
disagreeable as it did that time. Both remained silent. Chubikoff
trembled with rage all the way. Dukovski hid his nose in the collar of
his overcoat, as if he was afraid that the darkness and the drizzling
rain might read the shame in his face.

When they reached home, the examining magistrate found Dr. Tyutyeff
awaiting him. The doctor was sitting at the table, and, sighing
deeply, was turning over the pages of the _Neva_.

"Such goings-on there are in the world!" he said, meeting the
examining magistrate with a sad smile, "Austria is at it again! And
Gladstone also to some extent - - "

Chubikoff threw his cap under the table, and shook himself.

"Devils' skeletons! Don't plague me! A thousand times I have told you
not to bother me with your politics! This is no question of politics!
And you," said Chubikoff, turning to Dukovski and shaking his fist, "I
won't forget this in a thousand years!"

"But the safety match? How could I know?"

"Choke yourself with your safety match! Get out of my way! Don't make
me mad, or the devil only knows what I'll do to you! Don't let me see
a trace of you!"

Dukovski sighed, took his hat, and went out.

"I'll go and get drunk," he decided, going through the door, and
gloomily wending his way to the public house.



VSEVOLOD VLADIMIROVITCH KRESTOVSKI


_KNIGHTS OF INDUSTRY_


I

THE LAST WILL OF THE PRINCESS


Princess Anna Chechevinski for the last time looked at the home of her
girlhood, over which the St. Petersburg twilight was descending.
Defying the commands of her mother, the traditions of her family, she
had decided to elope with the man of her choice. With a last word of
farewell to her maid, she wrapped her cloak round her and disappeared
into the darkness.

The maid's fate had been a strange one. In one of the districts beyond
the Volga lived a noble, a bachelor, luxuriously, caring only for his
own amusement. He fished, hunted, and petted the pretty little
daughter of his housekeeper, one of his serfs, whom he vaguely
intended to set free. He passed hours playing with the pretty child,
and even had an old French governess come to give her lessons. She
taught little Natasha to dance, to play the piano, to put on the airs
and graces of a little lady. So the years passed, and the old nobleman
obeyed the girl's every whim, and his serfs bowed before her and
kissed her hands. Gracefully and willfully she queened it over the
whole household.

Then one fine day the old noble took thought and died. He had
forgotten to liberate his housekeeper and her daughter, and, as he was
a bachelor, his estate went to his next of kin, the elder Princess
Chechevinski. Between the brother and sister a cordial hatred had
existed, and they had not seen one another for years.

Coming to take possession of the estate, Princess Chechevinski carried
things with a high hand. She ordered the housekeeper to the cow house,
and carried off the girl Natasha, as her daughter's maid, to St.
Petersburg, from the first hour letting her feel the lash of her
bitter tongue and despotic will. Natasha had tried in vain to dry her
mother's tears. With growing anger and sorrow she watched the old
house as they drove away, and looking at the old princess she said to
herself, "I hate her! I hate her! I will never forgive her!"

Princess Anna, bidding her maid good-by, disappeared into the night.
The next morning the old princess learned of the flight. Already ill,
she fell fainting to the floor, and for a long time her condition was
critical. She regained consciousness, tried to find words to express
her anger, and again swooned away. Day and night, three women watched
over her, her son's old nurse, her maid, and Natasha, who took turns
in waiting on her. Things continued thus for forty-eight hours.
Finally, on the night of the third day she came to herself. It was
Natasha's watch.

"And you knew? You knew she was going?" the old princess asked her
fiercely.

The girl started, unable at first to collect her thoughts, and looked
up frightened. The dim flicker of the night light lit her pale face
and golden hair, and fell also on the grim, emaciated face of the old
princess, whose eyes glittered feverishly under her thick brows.

"You knew my daughter was going to run away?" repeated the old woman,
fixing her keen eyes on Natasha's face, trying to raise herself from
among the lace-fringed pillows.

"I knew," the girl answered in a half whisper, lowering her eyes in
confusion, and trying to throw off her first impression of terror.

"Why did you not tell me before?" the old woman continued, even more
fiercely.

Natasha had now recovered her composure, and raising her eyes with an
expression of innocent distress, she answered:

"Princess Anna hid everything from me also, until the very last. How
dare I tell you? Would you have believed me? It was not my business,
your excellency!"

The old princess shook her head, smiling bitterly and incredulously.

"Snake!" she hissed fiercely, looking at the girl; and then she added
quickly:

"Did any of the others know?"

"No one but myself!" answered Natasha.

"Never dare to speak of her again! Never dare!" cried the old
princess, and once more she sank back unconscious on the pillows.

About noon the next day she again came to herself, and ordered her son
to be called. He came in quietly, and affectionately approached his
mother.

The princess dismissed her maid, and remained alone with her son.

"You have no longer a sister!" she cried, turning to her son, with the
nervous spasm which returned each time she spoke of her daughter. "She
is dead for us! She has disgraced us! I curse her! You, you alone are
my heir!"

At these words the young prince pricked up his ears and bent even more
attentively toward his mother. The news of his sole heirship was so
pleasant and unexpected that he did not even think of asking how his
sister had disgraced them, and only said with a deep sigh:

"Oh, mamma, she was always opposed to you. She never loved you!"

"I shall make a will in your favor," continued the princess, telling
him as briefly as possible of Princess Anna's flight. "Yes, in your
favor - only on one condition: that you will never recognize your
sister. That is my last wish!"

"Your wish is sacred to me," murmured her son, tenderly kissing her
hand. He had always been jealous and envious of his sister, and was
besides in immediate need of money.

The princess signed her will that same day, to the no small
satisfaction of her dear son, who, in his heart, was wondering how
soon his beloved parent would pass away, so that he might get his eyes
on her long-hoarded wealth.


II

THE LITHOGRAPHER'S APPRENTICE


Later on the same day, in a little narrow chamber of one of the huge,
dirty tenements on Vosnesenski Prospekt, sat a young man of ruddy
complexion. He was sitting at a table, bending toward the one dusty
window, and attentively examining a white twenty-five ruble note.

The room, dusty and dark, was wretched enough. Two rickety chairs, a
torn haircloth sofa, with a greasy pillow, and the bare table at the
window, were its entire furniture. Several scattered lithographs, two
or three engravings, two slabs of lithographer's stone on the table,
and engraver's tools sufficiently showed the occupation of the young
man. He was florid, with red hair; of Polish descent, and his name was
Kasimir Bodlevski. On the wall, over the sofa, between the overcoat
and the cloak hanging on the wall, was a pencil drawing of a young
girl. It was the portrait of Natasha.

The young man was so absorbed in his examination of the twenty-five
ruble note that when a gentle knock sounded on the door he started
nervously, as if coming back to himself, and even grew pale, and
hurriedly crushed the banknote into his pocket.

The knock was repeated - and this time Bodlevski's face lit up. It was
evidently a well-known and expected knock, for he sprang up and opened
the door with a welcoming smile.

Natasha entered the room.

"What were you dreaming about that you didn't open the door for me?"
she asked caressingly, throwing aside her hat and cloak, and taking a
seat on the tumble-down sofa. "What were you busy at?"

"You know, yourself."

And instead of explaining further, he drew the banknote from his
pocket and showed it to Natasha.

"This morning the master paid me, and I am keeping the money," he
continued in a low voice, tilting back his chair. "I pay neither for
my rooms nor my shop, but sit here and study all the time."

"It's so well worth while, isn't it?" smiled Natasha with a
contemptuous grimace.

"You don't think it is worth while?" said the young man. "Wait! I'll
learn. We'll be rich!"

"Yes, if we aren't sent to Siberia!" the girl laughed, "What kind of
wealth is that?" she went on. "The game is not worth the candle. I'll
be rich before you are."

"All right, go ahead!"

"Go ahead? I didn't come to talk nonsense, I came on business. You
help me, and, on my word of honor, we'll be in clover!"

Bodlevski looked at his companion in astonishment.

"I told you my Princess Anna was going to run away. She's gone! And
her mother has cut her off from the inheritance," Natasha continued
with an exultant smile. "I looked through the scrap basket, and have
brought some papers with me."

"What sort of papers?"

"Oh, letters and notes. They are all in Princess Anna's handwriting.
Shall I give them to you?" jested Natasha. "Have a good look at them,
examine them, learn her handwriting, so that you can imitate every
letter. That kind of thing is just in your line; you are a first-class
copyist, so this is just the job for you."

The engraver listened, and only shrugged his shoulders.

"No, joking aside," she continued seriously, drawing nearer Bodlevski,
"I have thought of something out of the common; you will be grateful.
I have no time to explain it all now. You will know later on. The main
thing is - learn her handwriting."

"But what is it all for?" said Bodlevski wonderingly.

"So that you may be able to write a few words in the handwriting of
Princess Anna; what you have to write I'll dictate to you."

"And then?"

"Then hurry up and get me a passport in some one else's name, and have
your own ready. But learn her handwriting. Everything depends on
that!"

"It won't be easy. I'll hardly be able to!" muttered Bodlevski,
scratching his head.

Natasha flared up.

"You say you love me?" she cried energetically, with a glance of
anger. "Well, then, do it. Unless you are telling lies, you can learn
to do banknotes."

The young man strode up and down his den, perplexed.

"How soon do you want it?" he asked, after a minute's thought. "In a
couple of days?"

"Yes, in about two days, not longer, or the whole thing is done for!"
the girl replied decisively. "In two days I'll come for the writing,
and be sure my passport is ready!"

"Very well. I'll do it," consented Bodlevski. And Natasha began to
dictate to him the wording of the letter.

As soon as she was gone the engraver got to work. All the evening and
a great part of the night he bent over the papers she had brought,
examining the handwriting, studying the letters, and practicing every
stroke with the utmost care, copying and repeating it a hundred times,
until at last he had reached the required clearness. At last he
mastered the writing. It only remained to give it the needed lightness
and naturalness. His head rang from the concentration of blood in his
temples, but he still worked on.

Finally, when it was almost morning, the note was written, and the
name of Princess Anna was signed to it. The work was a masterpiece,
and even exceeded Bodlevski's expectations. Its lightness and
clearness were remarkable. The engraver, examining the writing of
Princess Anna, compared it with his own work, and was astonished, so
perfect was the resemblance.

And long he admired his handiwork, with the parental pride known to
every creator, and as he looked at this note he for the first time
fully realized that he was an artist.


III

THE CAVE


"Half the work is done!" he cried, jumping from the tumble-down sofa.
"But the passport? There's where the shoe pinches," continued the
engraver, remembering the second half of Natasha's commission. "The
passport - yes - that's where the shoe pinches!" he muttered to himself
in perplexity, resting his head on his hands and his elbows on his
knees. Thinking over all kinds of possible and impossible plans, he
suddenly remembered a fellow countryman of his, a shoemaker named
Yuzitch, who had once confessed in a moment of intoxication that "he
would rather hook a watch than patch a shoe." Bodlevski remembered
that three months before he had met Yuzitch in the street, and they
had gone together to a wine shop, where, over a bottle generously
ordered by Yuzitch, Bodlevski had lamented over the hardships of
mankind in general, and his own in particular. He had not taken
advantage of Yuzitch's offer to introduce him to "the gang," only
because he had already determined to take up one of the higher
branches of the "profession," namely, to metamorphose white paper into
banknotes. When they were parting, Yuzitch had warmly wrung his hand,
saying:

"Whenever you want anything, dear friend, or if you just want to see
me, come to the Cave; come to Razyeziy Street and ask for the Cave,
and at the Cave anyone will show you where to find Yuzitch. If the
barkeeper makes difficulties just whisper to him that 'Secret' sent
you, and he'll show you at once."

As this memory suddenly flashed into his mind, Bodlevski caught up his
hat and coat and hurried downstairs into the street. Making his way
through the narrow, dirty streets to the Five Points, he stopped
perplexed. Happily he noticed a sleepy watchman leaning leisurely
against a wall, and going up to him he said:

"Tell me, where is the Cave?"

"The what?" asked the watchman impatiently.

"The Cave."

"The Cave? There is no such place!" he replied, looking suspiciously
at Bodlevski.

Bodlevski put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some small change:


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Online LibraryVariousThe Continental Classics, Volume XVIII., Mystery Tales Including Stories by Feodor Mikhailovitch Dostoyevsky, Jörgen Wilhelm Bergsöe and Bernhard Severin Ingemann → online text (page 14 of 28)