THE BOY NIHILIST, or, Young America in Russia
By ALLAN ARNOLD.
THE UNSUSPECTING TRAVELER.
The steamship Baltic was on the point of sailing from America to Europe.
The usual scenes were visible on the wharf—the rushing on board of belated freight and baggage—the crush of passengers and their friends on deck, or down in the cabins, where partings were being drunk in wine; the crowd of steerage passengers forward, trying to keep out of the way of the sailors, and at the same time to salute or converse with their friends on the dock; the rattle and bustle all around; the blow of steam from the impatient boilers; the sharp, brisk orders of the junior officers; the rush of carriages with passengers, and the shouting of draymen anxious to get their loads aboard—all these sights and sounds were both felt and visible as a bright-looking young man, distinctly American to all appearances, alighted from a cab and walked up the steamer's gang-plank, followed by a porter and the driver with trunks and parcels.
He was indeed a bright-looking youth, such as you will find in New York oftener than anywhere else, and as he reached the deck his hand was grasped by several young and enthusiastic friends who had come aboard to see him off.
This was William Barnwell, a young New Yorker, slightly over twenty-one years of age, who had recently inherited quite a fortune from a deceased relative, and he was now on the point of starting on a tour which he intended should encompass the globe.
He was now alone in the world, so far as relations were concerned, although he had a large circle of friends to whom he was greatly attached, as they were to him.
From boyhood up he had always been an enthusiast in almost everything, but more especially in politics and revolution, as shown in national struggles, and the pride of his life was the history of the American Revolution, and the success of the patriots in that cause.
But outside of his being an enthusiast and a lover of liberty, he was not known, and had never taken any prominent part in any of the social or political movements of the day, beyond sympathizing with the struggles of the working men and women of the world in their struggles to better themselves.
These facts were not only known to his friends, but to many men belonging to the secret societies of Ireland, Germany, and Russia. That is to say, they knew him only as a bright young fellow, possessing brains and pluck, together with enthusiasm, which, if rightly directed, would make him a valuable member of any secret organization having the liberty of the people at heart. But beyond this nothing particular was known of him.
His friends gathered around and wished him a prosperous voyage and a happy return, and with refreshments and flowers they expressed themselves as only New Yorkers do on such occasions.
And as he stood there on deck, surrounded by his friends, he looked indeed like a representative American young gentleman.
He was light-complexioned, nearly six feet in height, and proportioned like an athlete; bright, smart, and intelligent.
And while the excitement of "sailing-day" was at its height, and young Barnwell was in the midst of his friends, a strange man approached and tapped him on the shoulder.
The young man turned to see who it was, but he did not know him.
"Can I speak a word with you?" the stranger asked, with a strong foreign accent.
"Certainly. Excuse me a moment, my friends. I will join you presently," said Barnwell, walking away with the stranger, a little way forward of the main hatch, out of the crowd.
"You are William Barnwell, I believe?" said the stranger.
"Yes, that is my name," said Will.
"I was sure of it. You are going abroad for pleasure, I understand?"
"You are an American?"
"I am proud to acknowledge it," said Will, drawing himself up to his full height.
"And let me tell you, young man, I know you thoroughly—know you for a thorough-bred American gentleman."
"You would do almost anything in the cause of human liberty?"
"I wish I had known you before."
"I might have bound you closer."
"The heart of human liberty."
"What do you mean?"
"I cannot tell you now. But when will you go to St. Petersburg, Russia?"
"Well, I did intend to go there at once, and from there visit the different capitals."
"And will you go to St. Petersburg?"
"And will you do me a favor—will you do it in the cause of human liberty?" asked the stranger, catching hold of his hand.
The stranger appeared like a Russian or a Polish Jew, but there was something about him that seemed to interest Barnwell.
"Can I trust you beyond a doubt?"
"I think you can in ordinary matters. Why do you ask?"
"For very good reasons. And when you know that the lives and liberty of hundreds of brave men and women depend upon your trust and faith, will you swear to be true?"
"I will swear, sir," said Barnwell, earnestly, for he was becoming more strongly interested.
The stranger appeared to hesitate as though not daring to trust the entire importance of the business to the young man. But he finally concluded what to do, evidently, and drawing Barnwell still further away from the throng, he took a large brown envelope from the breast-pocket of his coat.
"Everybody in St. Petersburg knows Prince Mastowix, and it will be an easy matter for you to find and approach him, seeing that you have your passport all right. Will you swear to me to place this envelope in his hand, allowing no one else to see or handle it?" asked the stranger, with great earnestness.
"I will swear to do so if you will tell me your name, and assure me that I shall not be breaking any law of my country by so doing."
"Paul Zobriskie is my name," said he, after hesitating an instant, and gazing sharply at the brave youth before him.
"I think I have heard the name before, in connection with socialistic matters," mused Will.
"Very likely; but keep that to yourself, for it will be better for you not to know me in Russia. As to the other, I assure you that you will break no law, social, moral, or political, in giving this to Prince Mastowix."
"Very well. On those conditions I will convey the packet to him," said he, taking it.
"Good; and the prince will be of great service to you during your stay in Russia, and perhaps furnish letters which will assist you in many other capitals."
"Thanks. That is just what I require, as I have no letters of introduction anywhere beyond my passport, and shall be a stranger everywhere," said Barnwell, evidently delighted with such a prospect.
"Good speed to you," said Zobriskie, shaking him cordially by the hand.
"Thank you," and they parted, Barnwell thrusting the envelope into his breast-pocket.
He returned to his waiting friends and apologized for his protracted absence.
"Do you know that man, Billy?" asked one of his friends.
"Well, not particularly. He wanted me to deliver a letter for him, that's all."
"Well, keep an eye on yourself."
"That man is an exiled Nihilist, and there may be danger in what you are doing," said he.
"Oh, I guess not. It is only to deliver a letter to a certain man in St. Petersburg," replied Barnwell, carelessly.
"Well, in these times, anything that is connected in the remotest way with the city of the Czar is suspicious. Have an eye to yourself, Billy," he added again.
"Oh, never fear. I shall at least do that. But come, I have some good cheer waiting for you in my cabin. Friends, follow me," said he, leading the way through the crowd to the cabin stairway.
And there they gathered to receive his cheer, and to wish him all the fortune and good luck that could wait on mortal man.
But while all this was going on there was a pair of small black eyes fastened upon him, as his own shadow might cling to him—fastened from the moment Paul Zobriskie drew him aside to converse.
Those eyes belonged to one Tobasco, a Russian detective, stationed in New York, and he knew his business thoroughly, having been intrusted with the duty of watching the Nihilists who were fermenting plans against the empire on this side of the Atlantic.
He had overheard but little that had passed between Paul Zobriskie and the unsuspicious young American, but while his eyes appeared directed in some other way, he saw the well-known Russian Nihilist deliver him a parcel, knowing him to be going to St. Petersburg (for this much he had overheard), and it at once became his duty to shadow this young man and ascertain the nature of his mission, even though he did not know it himself.
So he at once took measures to provide himself with a passage, and going on shore, he purchased a few necessaries which he had not time to get from his lodgings, and he wrote a letter to his landlord, informing him of his unexpected departure, together with instructions regarding his personal effects.
Only a few moments after his return to the steamer's deck, the cry "All ashore!" was heard, and young Barnwell came on deck with his companions to take a final leave of them, as dozens of others were doing with the groups of friends surrounding them.
It is at such a time as this that the feelings of friendship come out the strongest.
Those who have taken passage, even on ever so large and staunch a ship, seem like ants on a piece of driftwood, especially when the number of shipwrecks is considered, and that among the first-class steamships; and when friend parts with friend each understands the danger and uncertainty of ever meeting again, and consequently the partings are more pathetic, the handshakes more intense, embraces more fervent and sensational than they would be under other circumstances.
But those embraces were exchanged, those earnest handshakes indulged in, and everybody not going to Europe was ordered ashore. What partings, what expectations!
The gang-plank is finally drawn ashore, the last lines loosened from cleats and spiles, the engineer's bell rings, and the black hull of the Baltic moves slowly from her pier.
Friends on the dock give cheers to those on board, and they, in return, wave their handkerchiefs, kiss their hands—aye, from the cabin to the steerage-passengers, and the forecastle (those not employed), all waft their good-by greetings to those who are left behind, not knowing whether they may be the more fortunate or not.
William Barnwell stood on the after-deck waving his hat to the friends he had just parted with, and in spite of the dangers of the deep, of which he never thought, wondering how long it would be before they would meet again.
The secret police agent stood near the main-hatch, and watched him narrowly.
Darkness was just closing in when the gallant steamer, with her nose pointed to the southeast, passed the Sandy Hook light, and began to lay her course towards England.
THE SPY AND THE VICTIM.
The noble steamer Baltic plowed her way through the buffeting bosoms of the blue Atlantic oceanward.
There was no land, in sight, there was no moon to light the waves, but their own phosphorescence made the bounding billows visible to those who came on deck. The sky above was clear, and the stars twinkled in the blue above like diamonds in sapphire setting.
There were a goodly number of passengers on deck, both cabin and steerage, and the hum of voices could be heard above the "clang-clang" of the engines, the "whurr" of the propeller, and the long lines of foam which shot away to larboard and starboard like streaks of silver gave food for reflection and conversation.
Billy Barnwell was on deck, and in a very short time a conversation sprang up between him and an aged gentleman, by whose side sat a young lady with a veil over her face.
Her voice was full and sweet, and the old gentleman's voice was that of a man who was perfectly balanced, showing in all respects a person of more than ordinary conditions in life—a refined gentleman.
But in the uncertain light of the cabin skylights Barnwell could not see plainly enough to distinguish faces, although the voice of both the old man and the young lady were so impressed upon his mind that he could not forget them.
Tobasco was also on deck, as it was his province to be, and he watched young Barnwell, of course, and also the people with whom he was conversing.
Indeed, he seldom allowed them out of his sight during the entire voyage.
It seemed strange to them, but on meeting the next morning on deck, all three of them recognized each other at once, not-withstanding they had only met each other in the dim and uncertain light thrown into the darkness by the lights from the cabin skylights.
But neither of them seemed in the least surprised, the old gentleman was just such a person as young Barnwell judged him to be, and the young man was in no way different from what he had esteemed him. But to Barnwell's mind the young lady was far more beautiful and attractive than her voice had led him to think the night before.
She was about eighteen years of age, well-developed, bright and beautiful, and he was not long in learning that they held the relationship of father and daughter; and after a mutual introduction brought about in this sea-going way, it proved that the old gentleman, whose name was Clark, had been an old-time friend of Barnwell's father, and this brought them into very close relationship while on the voyage.
He was wealthy, a widower, and with his only child was going abroad for pleasure; and before their arrival at London the young couple had become more than ordinary friends, and parted there with an arranged meeting a month hence at Berlin, after which they were to travel in company.
The spy, Tobasco, meanwhile, never allowed Barnwell to escape his observation; and when he set out for St. Petersburg it was only because Barnwell was going there also.
He was one of the keenest spies in the employ of the prefect of police, and had been sent to America to watch the movements of Socialists, who were in active sympathy with the terrible Nihilists of Russia, under the leadership of Paul Zobriskie.
And watching this Nihilist so closely accounts for his being on board the steamer where we first met him, and of his sailing away in the manner he did. He had long suspected Prince Mastowix of infidelity to the Czar, notwithstanding the trust that was reposed in him; and overhearing Zobriskie mention his name in connection with the giving the letter to Barnwell, he suddenly determined to find out whether or not his suspicions were correct.
Arriving at St. Petersburg, Barnwell was driven to a good hotel, intending while there to finish his visit and deliver the letters meantime, that, however, being only of a slight consideration; for, although he understood that it was a message of importance, it, so far as he was concerned, was only a slight, friendly obligation in the delivering of it to Prince Mastowix, after which he would be free to do as he liked.
Indeed, his mind for the most part was filled with pleasant thoughts of beautiful Laura Clark, and the pleasure he should enjoy when they met at Berlin, never to part again if he could have his way about matters which agitated his heart, and to which he knew she was not at all indifferent, if she really were not quite as willing as he was.
Tobasco also took quarters at the same hotel, yet so guarded had he kept himself aloof during all the time, there was not the slightest danger of Barnwell's ever knowing that he had been a fellow-passenger, but he never relinquished his watchfulness for a moment, for if young Barnwell was in his apartments he knew it, and if he was abroad he was sure to be almost as near as his shadow.
The third day after his arrival, and after he had learned how to reach Prince Mastowix, he set out for his palace.
But how little the young man knew of the ways of Russian aristocracy!
Arriving at the prince's palace, he found it guarded at every point by police, and when he made known to them that he had private and important business with his highness, he at once became an object of more than ordinary interest, especially when it was learned that he was an American.
Tobasco, now in the disguise of a Russian peasant, was close at hand, watching everything, while pretending to be a subject for alms.
An officer took Barnwell's name in to the prince, and finally returned, saying that he was empowered to receive any communication the stranger might have for Prince Mastowix, and was astounded almost when the young American told him that he must see the prince in person.
In those Nihilistic days such a proceeding as that would never do, and after further consultation with the prince, the detectives and officers were ordered to search the stranger for concealed weapons.
"No, sir, I refuse," said Barnwell. "I am a simple American citizen, with a message for Prince Mastowix, and if that is not sufficient I will retire."
This was unheard-of audacity; but one of the officers volunteered to say to the prince what the young American had said, all the while believing that the youngster would ordered under arrest for his presumption.
Contrary to expectations, however, the prince ordered stranger to be admitted to his presence, and he was accordingly conducted thither.
"Well?" said the prince, looking at him inquiringly.
"Are you the Prince Mastowix?" asked Barnwell, calmly.
"I am. Who are you?"
"William Barnwell, of New York, United States of America," said he proudly.
"Well, what have you to do or say to me?" asked the prince, haughtily.
"Only this, prince, and a very little. On the eve of leaving New York I was approached by one Paul Zobriskie—-"
"Silence!" shouted the prince, and after waiting a moment, as though to recover himself, he waved his attendants from the room. Then, turning to Barnwell, he beckoned him approach nearer. "What did you say?" he asked, in a lower key.
"Simply what I said, sir; and to finish the business between us, allow me to deliver you this letter," said he, presenting to him, feeling somewhat aggrieved on account of the arrogant manner in which he was received both by the prince and his attendants.
The prince took the letter, and Barnwell was about to retire.
"Wait!" said the Prince, severely.
"My mission is fulfilled, sir."
"Wait until we see whether it is or not," replied the haughty aristocrat, and he proceeded to open the letter.
Whatever it contained, it suddenly made a change in facial expression of the prince, who glanced from it to Barnwell.
"Do you know this Paul Zobriskie?" he asked, earnestly.
"No. I never met him until I saw him on the steamer, and he asked me to deliver this letter to you," said he.
"Are you sure of that?"
"And know nothing about him?"
"Nothing further than hearing of him as a socialistic agitator."
"And you know nothing of the contents of this letter?"
"Nothing whatever. He told me nothing further than that it was important, and that I must give it to no one but you."
"What are you?"
"A simple American citizen, sir."
"Do you belong to any secret society?"
The prince regarded him a moment, and then turned to read more of the letter, wondering at the same time why Zobriskie should have trusted such a fatal document to any but a tried and trusted Nihilist.
The conclusion he arrived at was that there was treachery somewhere, or that there was a possibility of such a contingency, and to guard himself he resolved to put the unsuspecting stranger under arrest.
Without a word further, he touched a bell, and in an instant three gendarmes presented themselves.
"This man is a prisoner; remove him to the castle for further disposition," said he.
Young Barnwell started in surprise. What did it mean?
The officers approached him, when he turned to the prince.
"What is the meaning of this, sir?" he demanded indignantly.
"State prisoners are not always allowed to know State reasons."
"But I am no State prisoner; I am an American citizen, and I demand to know why I am arrested."
"You may learn in time."
"I will appeal to the American Minister, to the Czar of Russia even."
"No, you will not. Away with him!" said the prince, determined above all things that he should make no such an appeal or have a chance to do so.
"Do you really mean this outrage?"
"Call it what you like, but wait and see," he replied, waving him away.
The officers knew nothing but duty, and in spite of young Barnwell's protests and struggles, he was overpowered and dragged away in the direction of the Bastile.
Tobasco followed closely after them. What he had seen and heard confirmed his suspicions that the prince was a traitor, and that he had ordered Barnwell's arrest through fear.
As for Barnwell, he, of course, saw that it was an outrage of the deepest dye, and he had no idea of submitting to it.
His American blood was up, and, knowing his own great strength, he watched his opportunity as the guards led him from the prince's quarters towards the Bastile. He suddenly wrenched himself away, and knocked one of them sprawling upon the courtyard flags.
Quick as thought almost, he sent another of them toppling against the wall of a building.
A third was on the point of firing at him with his musket, when Tobasco dealt him a stinging blow from behind, that sent him sprawling on top of his comrades.
"Quick, young man! Escape by the gate yonder, and fly to the American minister for protection," said Tobasco; and without waiting for an explanation he fled, and in an instant more was on the street, while Tobasco quickly secreted himself in a deep doorway, for his work was not done yet.
Recovering from their stunned condition, the gendarmes raised an alarm in the courtyard, which quickly brought out the prince's followers, and even the prince himself rushed from his room into the courtyard, to ascertain the cause of the alarm.
Flitting like a shadow almost, Tobasco ran from his hiding-place into the office that the prince had hurriedly left; and seeing the paper and envelope lying upon his table, hastily secured it and again returned to his hiding-place.
It did not take Prince Mastowix but a moment to find out that the young American had escaped from his guard, and he was wild with rage.
"After him, laggards! What are you standing here for? Retake him, or I'll have every rascal of you knouted!" he roared.
But this exhibition on his part only made the confusion greater for a moment.
Finally, without any attempt at order, a rush was made by servants and soldiers for the gate to join in the pursuit.
Tobasco, looking more like a peasant servant than anything else, mingled in the rush, shouting the loudest of any of them in urging the pursuit, and in this way, escaped from the palace without exciting the least suspicion.
Once free from the palace-gate, young Barnwell had no idea whatever of the best way to go, but being determined to escape at all hazards, he shot off to the right and ran like a deer.
But he had only time to gain a block or so ahead before the mob of soldiers and retainers rushed out and caught sight of him.
Then the pace was quickened. Barnwell glanced over his shoulder, and saw them coming after in the shape of a howling mob, and he plunged onward at still greater speed, going he knew not where, nor caring either, so long as he got away, and could find direction to the American Minister's residence.
He asked several as he ran for direction, but no one seemed to understand his language, and the mob at his heels, augmented by the police and citizens, was growing larger and larger every moment.
But still he kept the lead, and paid no attention to several shots fired after him.
He was a stranger in the city, and not knowing which way to go, was finally captured, roughly taken in charge, and handcuffed.
In the meantime, Tobasco made his escape complete, but stopped to see the soldiers drag the young American back to the prison to which tyranny had consigned him.
The excitement among the populace ran high, and rumor had it that the authorities had captured an important Nihilist official; and this, of course, roused that numerous and much-dreaded body of secret destroyers to learn, if possible, through their agents, all the particulars of the case.
William Barnwell was thrown into a dark and loathsome dungeon, from whence the body of many a poor prisoner had been borne after death, produced by torture and starvation.
"Curses on my luck!" he muttered, after collecting his thoughts for a moment. "It must be that I have been betrayed by that Paul Zobriskie into the hands of the Russian authorities. But what could have been his motive, when I was an innocent stranger, and only did what I did to accommodate him? What will be the result if I cannot communicate with the American Minister? I am evidently taken for a Nihilist, and goodness only knows what the end of it all will be. Am I destined to die in this horrible place, without having a chance to communicate with my friends? The thought is dreadful! It must not, shall not be; but—stay. What has been the fate of other good men who have fallen into the hands of this despotic government? That fate may be mine, and I sent to Siberia without even a trial. Oh, the thought will drive me mad!" he cried, and bowed his head, as he sat there on the filthy straw of his unlighted dungeon.
A FRIGHTENED AND ENRAGED RASCAL.
When Prince Mastowix returned to his room from ordering the guard to pursue and recapture William Barnwell, the first thing he did was to seek for the paper he had left upon his table when the alarm of escape rang out so startlingly in the courtyard, the very paper that the young American had placed in his hands only a few moments before, and which Tobasco, the secret spy of the government, had secured during the confusion incidental to Barnwell's escape, and in which he had acted a friendly part.
He started and looked wildly around. Then he felt in his pockets to see if he had not placed it there in his excitement. Then he looked hastily into several drawers where he possibly might have placed it in the moment of hurry, and even upon the floor, where it might have fallen.
But nowhere could he find it, and his excitement grew until it was almost uncontrollable.
Where was that fatal document?
Again and again he went through his pockets and drawers, but all to no purpose—the paper could not be found.
He struck a bell savagely, and a clerk came hastily from an inner room.
"Huon, has any person from your room been in here within the last few minutes?"
"No, Excellency, no one," replied the clerk.
"Are you certain of that?"
"I am, for I am seated by the door, and I never allow anyone to enter your Excellency's chamber unless you summon them."
"And have you seen any person here?"
"No one, Excellency."
"Will you swear to that, or shall I work the knout in order to bring out the truth?" demanded the prince.
"I swear it by my religion."
"Down on your knees and swear!" thundered the prince, and the trembling wretch obeyed like a true Russian slave.
"Return," added the tyrant, pointing the way, and the next instant he was alone.
"Perdition catch me, but this is dreadful. What can have become of that document?" he mused, as he threw himself into his chair. "Who could have taken it? I have only one person about me who can read English, and he is not here to-day," and again he began searching for the fatal paper.
All to no purpose, though, of course, and he finally convinced himself that it was neither in his office nor about his person.
"Curses on my luck, for if that correspondence is found out, it means death or Siberia to me. Could that American have regained it without my seeing him do it? Great Scott!" he suddenly exclaimed, and hurried to the Bastile.
The possibility of Barnwell's having secured the document did not make the prince's case any the better. Indeed, it was probably worse, for the captain of the Bastile may have searched him and secured it himself.
Such fears as these hurried him onward, until he reached the prison where Barnwell was confined, and he instantly summoned the captain.
"The prisoner I sent here but now?"
"He is in a cell down below."
"Did you search him?"
"What did you find?" he asked, anxiously.
"A passport, a quantity of money, some jewelry, and letters."
"Let me see the papers," and they were promptly shown to him. He looked them over eagerly, but there was no trace of the fatal document from Zobriski.
"Are these all you took from him?"
"Who searched him?"
"One of the guards."
"Did you see him do it?"
"It was done under my own eyes."
"And you will swear that these comprise all the papers he had on his person?"
"I swear it, Excellency."
The prince was more confused at this than he was before, for if he had not taken it at the time of his arrest who could have done so?
He dared make no explanation to the jailer, for he knew him to be a loyal man, and one of the fiercest persecutors of the Nihilists in the Czar's official household. And yet he half believed that he had secured the correspondence, and was withholding it for a purpose against him.
Finally he said:
"Conduct me to the prisoner's cell."
"This way, Excellency," and he led him to the stout and heavily-grated door.
"Now leave us," and the officer retired.
Prince Mastowix glanced up and down the dimly-lighted corridor to make sure that no one was in sight, and then he spoke.
"William Barnwell," and the young man quickly leaped to his feet and went to the bars.
"Who is it?" he asked, eagerly.
"The man who sent you here."
"Then you are a rascal," replied Barnwell; and it was fortunate for the tyrant that he was protected by the iron grating, or he would have been clutched by the throat.
"Careful, young man. I may have acted hastily in your case."
"Yes, and unjustly."
"Well, wrongs may be righted."
"Then let me out of this horrible dungeon."
"I will, on one condition."
"That you tell me whether you took that paper again which you brought me from New York."
"No, sir; I never saw it after I gave it to you," replied Barnwell. "You held it in your hand when I was dragged from your office."
The prince now remembered that this was true, and it made the mystery even greater than before.
He turned to go.
"But your promise?" said Barnwell.
"Bah!" was the only reply he received, and the next moment he was alone again.
A mocking laugh came from the opposite cell-door grating, and naturally the abandoned youth looked in the direction.
But the face he saw between the bars was hideous enough to make his blood almost curdle.
How old that face was, of what nationality, of what grade of intellect, he could not tell, for his face was in the shade of that dark place.
Again came the mocking laugh, as young Barnwell stood looking and wondering.
"Who are you?" he finally asked.
That laugh again, and Barnwell concluded that the person must be a lunatic, although he could but shudder at the thought that he might have been driven to madness by the very same imprisonment which enshackled him, and so turned away.
His own misery was quite enough for him, and just then he was in no humor to listen to another's.
"Ha, ha, ha! So you are in the trap, eh?" asked the mysterious prisoner.
"What trap?" asked Barnwell.
"The rat-trap of the great Russian Empire."
"I don't know. Who are you?"
"Nobody; for the moment a person gets into the great political rat-trap he loses his identity, and is simply known by a number. I am Number Nineteen; you are Number Twenty."
"How do you know?"
"I can see the number of your cell, as you can, of course, see mine."
"What were you brought here for?"
"For fancying that I was a man, and that I had rights in the world. I was thrown into this dungeon—it must be three months ago—for throwing down the horse of a nobleman who attempted to drive over me. I have had no trial, and expect none. I am as dead to the world as it is to me. I am simply Number Nineteen, and when this prison gets too full of the victims of tyranny, I shall be hustled off to Siberia, to make room for new victims."
"It is dreadful. But in my case I did nothing against the law. I simply brought a letter from America to Prince Mastowix, and he at once threw me into this place."
"Ah! he is the same who threw me into this dungeon, because I resented being run over."
"And for that you think you will be sent to Siberia?" asked Barnwell.
"I am sure of it."
"For so slight an offense?"
"Many a slighter one has consigned better men than I am to the mines of Siberia for life. As for you, you have somehow offended the tyrant."
"I cannot understand how. I brought a letter to him from a man in New York."
"One Paul Zobriskie."
"Paul Zobriskie!" exclaimed the man, clutching the bars that grated the window of his door. "Do you know him?"
"No; I was simply on the point of sailing for Europe when he approached and asked me to deliver a letter to Prince Mastowix. I did so, and you know the rest."
"Paul Zobriskie is the greatest terror that Russian tyranny knows. He is a bugbear; but why should he be in correspondence with Prince Mastowix?"
"I know nothing about it."
"There is a mystery somewhere," mused the man.
"If there is, I know nothing about it."
"Were I at liberty, I would take pains to find out what this mystery is."
"But how can they hold me?"
"By the right of might; just as they hold me. Once in their clutches, there is no escape. Even were you known to be innocent of any crime, it would make no difference. The innocent and the guilty are treated alike in Russia. There is no liberty—no justice in the land. But the time will come when the Nihilists will shake the tyranny out of the empire with dynamite!" said he, fiercely.
"Silence, slaves!" cried a rough voice near by, and the next instant the burly form of a keeper stood between them. "Nineteen, you have already made trouble enough. You must have the knout," and unlocking the door of his cell, he seized him by the hair of the head and dragged him out and down through the corridor.
Two minutes later the blood was almost curdled in Barnwell's veins by the shrieking of that same poor wretch, undergoing punishment.
But he was not brought back to his cell, and what became of him Barnwell never knew.
His thoughts, however, were soon turned from the wretched stranger to himself, and to wondering what his own fate would be.
One thing he felt certain of, and that was that Prince Mastowix would never assist him in regaining his liberty.
The letter he had so accommodatingly brought from New York undoubtedly contained something of great importance, but why he should suffer on account of it he could not see.
Could he but make his case known to the American minister, he would undoubtely be given his liberty, but this he could not do, and it was the prince who prevented him.
He had resolved that the young American should be sent to Siberia, even knowing that he was guilty of no wrong; and even Tobasco, with all the proofs of the prince's perfidy in his possession, paid no attention to Barnwell, although he knew him to be simply a victim. Liberty or life was nothing to him so long as he could make a point with the prefect of police and secure unsuspected game. Such is the Russian sense of right and justice.
Day after day dragged its slow length along, and all the while Prince Mastowix was in a dreadful state of uncertainty. No trace had been found of the missing paper; and after preferring a charge of assault against William Barnwell, who was described as a spy of the Nihilists, a form of trial was gone through with, as with others who were not allowed to be present, and a verdict rendered up against him, condemning him to Siberia during the pleasure of the government.
That is the way the tyrants of Russia serve people, whether guilty or innocent, if they happen to incur their displeasure in any way.
Is it any wonder that they revolt, or that they resort to secret intrigue, to dynamite, and all other means, however bloody the unthinking world may regard them, to give back some of the terror which they have dealt out for centuries? No, it is no wonder at all.
Two weeks William Barnwell languished in the filthy cell of that Bastile, when he was finally marched out into the courtyard one day, in company with some fifty other wretches who had been sentenced to exile.
And what a change those two weeks had produced in that handsome American youth! Unwashed, unkempt, dazed by the light of day he had been kept from so long, his most intimate friends would not have known him.
The detail was ready, and outside of the prison were hundreds of loving ones, waiting to take a last farewell of fathers, brothers, lovers, whom they would probably never see again. But Barnwell had no one waiting for him, and it seemed that life, hope, ambition, everything was crushed out of him.
Retribution does not always go with justice, however, as in this case, notably.
William Barnwell was hurried away to exile, for reasons the reader fully understands; but even then Prince Mastowix felt far from secure. The unaccountable absence of that correspondence haunted him day and night.
But not for long, however, for that treasonable document was in the hands of General Walisky, prefect of police, and by him presented to the Czar and his ministers, together with all the particulars in the case.
Action was at once taken and search made for the young American who had innocently acted as the messenger.
But the spirit of the fiend was soon shown, for Mastowix had destroyed every trace of the American's individuality, blending it with others who, like him, were simply known by numbers.
From the moment a political prisoner is thrown into prison in Russia, he loses his identity, although the authorities keep a secret roll containing the names and other particulars regarding the unfortunate wretches, but that roll is never seen by the outside world.
In the fortress-like Bastile over which Prince Mastowix held sway, he had charge of this fearful secret record; but the better to blot his existence out, should inquiries ever be made, he applied a false name to the "No. 20"; described him as a Russian, a Nihilist, who had been caught in holding correspondence with Paul Zobriskie, and who had also assaulted Prince Mastowix.
But he was arrested and taken before the tribunal, where in the most defiant manner, he demanded to know why a person of his distinguished title and record as a servant of the czar was now a prisoner.
"Prince Mastowix," said the president of the tribunal, "it ill becomes a traitor to the State to exhibit such arrogance."
"Who dare say I am a traitor—who dare say it lies in his throat!" hissed Mastowix, although he felt in his heart that something dreadful was impending.
"Silence! Here is a document addressed to you from New York, by Paul Zobriskie, in which he addresses you in unmistakable terms of fraternity, and refers to other correspondence, together with certain other information which he had received, and which could never have reached him save through you. What have you to say?"
It required all the nerve the traitor had to prevent him from falling to the floor. The members of the tribunal watched him narrowly, and saw that he grew very pale.
But finally he found strength to speak.
"It is false both in matter and spirit," he said; but the next uppermost question in his thoughts was—what spy could have obtained possession of the document?
"And you plead?"
"Not guilty!" he replied, aggressively.
"Call Tobasco," said the president, and a guard soon produced the police spy, and he was sworn.
"Do you recognize that document?" the president asked, handing him Zobriskie's letter?
"Give us the history of it."
"I first saw it in New York, in the hands of Paul Zobriskie, on board the steamer Baltic, then about to sail. I was watching Zobriskie, and saw him approach a young man and ask him if he was going to St. Petersburg, and on being informed that he was, asked him if he would deliver this letter to Prince Mastowix, at the same time enjoining him to be very careful and not let it reach another's hands."
"It is false, vile spy!" roared the prince.
"Silence!" shouted the president. "Proceed!"
"The young American agreed to do as directed, and having had occasion to suspect that Prince Mastowix was a Nihilist leader in disguise, I resolved to follow the bearer of the letter, although I could not learn that he was a Nihilist. I did so, and watched him closely. I saw him visit the prince, and contrived to follow in the disguise of an attendant. I saw him give him the letter, and for doing so he was arrested. The boy struggled and finally escaped. During the confusion in the courtyard the prince ran out to learn what it was about, and I then contrived to steal the letter, which still lay upon his table, and to escape with it without detection. I took it to the prefect of police."
Mastowix was so completely staggered at this that he sat glaring wildly at the spy, unable to move or speak.
The members of the tribunal consulted for only a moment.
Finally the president spoke:
"Prince Mastowix that was, Peter Mastowix that is, this document and the evidence has been placed before our imperial master, the Czar, and by his orders you have been brought here for trial and condemnation. The tribunal adjudges you guilty of treason to the State, and sentences you to death. Remove the prisoner!"
Bowed and completely broken, the guilty wretch, the petty tyrant who had heaped wrong, misery and death upon so many others, was taken from the inquisition, crushed and broken.
Three days later he was led out into the yard of the very prison over which he had long and cruelly held rule, and shot to death by the guard, the very men whom he commanded oft before.
There is neither justice nor pity among the Russian nobles, and no remorse in the hearts of the peasant soldiery who have been brutalized for a thousand years. So this guard shot their late commander as they would have fired upon a dog; indeed, if there was any feeling in their breasts, it was one of revenge for the many brutal wrongs they had suffered at his hands.
It was a severe blow to the Nihilists of Russia, this discovery and death of Mastowix, but as no cause was assigned for it, they were left to conjecture, although they feared the worst.
Mastowix was ambitious; he even had the hardihood to look to the extinction of the royal family at the hands of this powerful order, and trusted to chance to place himself high in power, if not on the very throne of a new dynasty.
And he was of great service to the Nihilists, for he could keep them well posted continually. But that fatal letter cut him off, while yet his hope was in the bud, as well as other prominent members of the order, for eight others whose names were mentioned by Zobriskie were also arrested and sentenced to exile in the terrible mines of Siberia.
A glance at the map will show the geographical location of far-away Siberia, but no map, no book will tell you what a hell on earth this northernmost arm of the Russian Empire is.
But little is known of it in Russia itself, not even by the members of the autocratic political family, beyond the fact of its being a dreary, frozen land of political exile, a region without light or hope for the banished.
The people shudder at the mention of it, for they have heard much of it from the broken wretches who have been fortunate enough to escape, after years of toil and suffering. They know that the innocent as well as the guilty are liable to be sent there; that thousands upon thousands have died or been murdered there by the autocrat's petty tyrants, placed there to guard and work them, and that their bones molder or bleach upon the inhospitable shores, where wolves lay in wait for the bodies of victims which are thrown where they can reach them, and thus save the trouble of burial.
A large portion of the penal colony is honey-combed with mines, which the prisoners are forced to work for the benefit of the government that has exiled them there; and thousands of poor wretches, when once forced into them, never again see the light of day, but drag out a miserable existence hundreds of feet underground.
The serfs have been nominally freed; but slavery of the most horrible and degrading kinds is rampant in Russia to-day. The press is gagged and suppressed, and no man is free to speak his opinion regarding the tyrants and their doings.
Is it any wonder the people meet in secret conclave and resort to dynamite?
After a long and dreary passage, William Barnwell was landed, with his companions in misery, not one of whom could speak English, in Siberia, more dead than alive.
They had been treated worse than cattle during transportation, and now their fortunes were on the eve of being made even worse.
However guilty the others of his party may have been, his case was one of the grossest injustice, and one that the United States would have been quick to demand satisfaction for had there been an opportunity of finding it out.
As before stated, there is no such a thing in Russia as justice. All is selfish tyranny and inborn ingratitude.
They—the members of the secret tribunal—knew that the important letter which enabled the government to arrest dangerous and wholly unsuspected enemies had been brought over by a young American gentleman, and also that his identity had been blotted out, and he sent to Siberia; but whether he was innocent or guilty, they never gave themselves the trouble to think, and so, virtually, that was the end of him, so far as they were concerned or cared; not even thanks enough for the result he had innocently brought about to inquire into his case at all.
On the first day of their arrival they were assigned to different gangs for different mines, and on the second, to give the newcomers an idea of what insubordination brought about, they were treated to the revolting sight of the punishing of prisoners with the knout.
There were nearly fifty of them, but what their crimes had been Barnwell had no means of knowing, as he could not understand the Russian language.
But the poor, miserable wretches were unmercifully flogged on their bare backs with that terrible weapon of torture, the knout; and while some of them sent up piteous cries as the cruel whip tore their flesh, others received their punishment in stolid silence, as though disdaining to let the tyrants know that they suffered, while still others paid back every lash with a curse.
It was one of the most terrible sights that young Barnwell had ever conceived of even, and being forced to witness it he became sick and faint at heart. He had read of such things but until now he never believed them possible. He could not believe that anything wearing the human form could be so fiendishly cruel. Indeed, it seemed to be a holiday treat to those bearded beasts who wielded the thongs, and whenever a particular case was administered upon they would look at the newcomer with mocking leers.
Finally to Barnwell's infinite horror a young Russian girl was brought out bared to the waist.
She could not have been above twenty years of age and under different circumstances would have been beautiful and evidently belonged to a grade higher than the peasants.
"Zera Vola!" he heard the governor's officer call as the girl was led out for punishment.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Barnwell, "are they going to flog her? I had rather die myself than see it!"
He looked around, but no one appeared to understand him, although he noted the horror and disgust on the faces of the new exiles.
The girl was blushing deeply at this forced exposition of her person, but she seemed otherwise firm and undaunted.
The wretch with the knout grinned, and made some insulting remarks, which his fellow-brutes appeared to enjoy very much.
Then she was placed in position and forced to bow her head so that her beautiful back might be rounded up for the cruel blows. And yet she did not flinch, and Barnwell saw red scars that told of previous castigations.
The grinning rascal raised his knout to strike her, when young Barnwell, mad with indignation, leaped into the arena.
With one powerful blow he felled the burly rascal like a log, and seizing his knout, placed his foot upon him and raised it as if to strike.
The movement was so sudden and so bold that the officers were for a moment paralyzed and stood looking at him.
"Wretches, to strike a woman! Flog me if you must vent your brutality, but if you claim to be men, don't harm that girl!" he cried.
She was the only one present who understood the English language.
"Oh, sir," said she, "they will kill you for this!"
"Let them; I had rather die than witness such horrible brutality."
The next instant he was seized, or an attempt was made to seize him, but before they succeeded in doing so, at least six of them felt his powerful blows and went down under them.
Quick orders were given, and his clothes were stripped from him, and he was held in position while the executioner rained blow after blow upon him to revenge the one he had received.
And then he was hurried away and thrust into a cold, damp dungeon, his lacerated flesh bleeding copiously, but with his heart still unbroken.
William Barnwell suffered terribly during the next forty-eight hours after his terrible flogging, for having resented the punishment of a girl, for during all that time he was left without his clothes and without food.
But his clothes were finally thrown into his cell, together with half a loaf of black bread, dry and moldy.
He had never known what hunger was before, but now he seized that disgusting loaf and ate it with avidity, and while doing so he dressed himself, but without having a chance to wash his lacerations, the blood of which had dried upon his back.
But he had suffered much from the cold, and his clothes were welcome indeed.
What would be the next move?
He realized that he was a Russian victim, and that in all probability he would never leave Siberia alive, and that his friends would never know his fate.
Indeed, he understood now that exile to Siberia was like suddenly sinking into the earth or the sea, never to be seen or heard of again.
The particulars of his case were, however, reported to the secretary of the governor of Siberia, and through him to the governor, who, for some reason or other, became interested to such a degree that he ordered the presumptuous prisoner brought before him.
When taken from his loathsome cell, young Barnwell did not know, did not care what his fate was to be. He was so stiff that he could scarcely walk, and the doing so caused him great pain.
He was marched to the governor's palace by two armed guards, and presently taken into his presence.
But he was far from being the handsome-looking youth he was before he fell into the hands of Russian tyrants, although, in spite of his badly lacerated back, he still maintained his erect carriage and independent bearing.
The governor looked at him for a moment and then spoke to him in Russian, but Barnwell shook his head. Then he spoke German, but he did not understand that.
"English," said he.
"Oh, you are an Englishman—eh?" asked the governor, who appeared to be the master of many languages.
"No, sir; I am an American," replied Barnwell indignantly.
"What brings you here?"
"Fraud, deceit, and Russian tyranny."
"What did you do?"
"Simply brought a letter from New York, from Paul Zobriskie, without knowing what its contents were—simply to oblige a stranger—and this is my reward," said he bitterly.
"Paul Zobriskie! To whom directed?" the governor asked cautiously.
"Ah! he has been lately executed."
"Thank God!" exclaimed Barnwell.
"And you knew nothing of the contents of the letter?"
"Nothing; but it is evident that he thought I did, and when I assured him that I was not a Nihilist, he ordered my arrest, and here I am in cursed Siberia."
"You speak too strongly."
"Because I have been outraged."
"You struck one of the guard."
"Yes; because he was about to strike a lady on her bare back with his cruel knout, which act my American blood revolted at," replied Barnwell.
"That is the way we punish refractory prisoners."
"Well, it is the way of brutes and fiends."
"You are altogether too outspoken, sir."
"Why should I not be? I owe no allegiance to the Czar," replied Barnwell, quickly.
"But you owe respect to me, sir."
"As the kid owes respect to the wolf in whose power it is."
"Be cautious, I advise you. If what you say of yourself is true, why did you not appeal to the American Minister at St. Petersburg?"
"I was not permitted to do so, sir, but was thrown into a dungeon."
"Did you know Zobriskie was a Nihilist?"
"I did not. He accosted me when on the eve of sailing, and asked me as a favor to hand the letter to Prince Mastowix. I did so without suspecting that I was in any danger."
"But it appears that you were in danger, and as I learn from St. Petersburg, that letter by some means or other got into the hands of the authorities, he was arrested, brought before the tribunal, proven to be a Nihilist in disguise, and executed. It is very strange," he added.
"But I am not to blame, and why should I suffer for the faults of others?"
"Well, you should not."
"Then send me back to St. Petersburg," said Barnwell, eagerly.
"That I cannot do without an imperial order. But I will forward the particulars of your case to the authorities, and then, if they see fit to act favorably towards you, I will send you back again with pleasure," replied the governor, who was not altogether bad at heart.
"How long will it take?"
"That I cannot say."
"And what of the money that was taken from me, and my passport, and not returned?"
"Well, sir, if you succeed in establishing your innocence, they will be restored to you. Was your passport franked by the American Minister?"
"Yes; and that should enable him to establish both my identity and my innocence."
"But it might take him a long time to show the Imperial Government that you are not an enemy to Russia."
"But it can be shown."
"We shall see."
"And in the meantime must I remain in that dungeon?"
"No, I will remand you to the guard-house until I can find employment for you."
"Thank you for this much, governor. I have lately inherited a fortune, and had just set out on a tour around the world, when this unexpected occurrence stopped me. I am also engaged to be married to a lovely girl, who knows nothing of me since I parted with her in London for the sole purpose of delivering this unfortunate letter, and if you can forward matters any, you will not only win a substantial reward, but the gratitude of loving hearts."
"I will see what can be done," said he, waving him away.
"Take him to the guard-house and treat him as a prisoner of the second class until you hear from me again," said the governor to the guard, speaking in Russian.
And William Barnwell was marched away by them with a somewhat lighter heart.
The governor of Siberia sat meditating for some time after being left alone.
He had been a schoolmate of Paul Mastowix, and well remembered that even as a boy his chief characteristic was hypocrisy, and even in after years he had many times suspected the loyalty of the man, and was not at all surprised to learn that he was an active Nihilist behind a mask of loyalty.
And it was so strange that the innocent cause of his sudden downfall should now come under his charge. The fact gave him an interest in the young man which he would not otherwise have had, for he evidently believed his story.
So he set to work to think of a place where he could put him until such time as he could make sure regarding him, and after consulting with the superintendent, he concluded to put him into the general reception-room, to act as an assistant in receiving new convicts sent to Siberia.
And the following day he was installed there. In the meantime, however his wounds had been dressed by one of the surgeons—a rare condescension to a prisoner.
It was a strange place, but there was little to do, save when a new batch of prisoners arrived; and as he had already gone through with the prisoner part of the business, the place after all did not seem so strange to him.
There were altogether about a dozen men belonging to this department, and for the most part they were exiles for life, or long terms, who had become blunted and reconciled-men whose hopes and ambitions were gone, and who only lived because they could not die—men whose time had not yet come.
The employees in this department seldom spoke to each other. Some of them were old men, some actually tottering and evidently longing for the grave, and when young Barnwell was put among them he was not received with favor, hardly with prison civility.
"He is a spy," said one.
"Put here to watch us," said another.
"But what can he learn? We have no secrets, no desires but to die," remarked a third.
"Yet there must be some reason for this young man's being placed here; keep an eye on him," whispered a fourth.
"Bah!" was the general expression, for they knew there was no occasion to watch them, and if there was they would not be there, but down in the gold mines, hundreds of feet below, where they now suffered with the cold.
And so it passed into a matter of indifference with them. They regarded themselves as favored above the general run of exiles, and they would not, dared not, question the appearance of the newcomer.
As before stated, there was but little to do; in fact. It was little better than a hospital for favored or dying ones, and so they wondered for a little while, and then resolved themselves into the same idiotic company they had become to be.
Barnwell comprehended the situation, and resolved to fit himself to it, for he was buoyed up with a hope of release which the others might once have had, but which they did not have now.
He tried to speak with them, but not one of them appeared to understand English; and after his first day in this department he began to lose heart, and had it not been for the hope which buoyed him up, he might have fallen as low as any of the others there.
On the third day he was given the position of servant to the surgeon, and as he spoke some English, he found it comparatively easy to get along with him, although, of course, he had great difficulty in any position, on account of his not being able to speak the abominable Russian.
The hospital for dying or disabled exiles was a most barbarous place, more like a black hole than a hospital, its principal object being, it seemed, to hurry prisoners out of the world, after they had become incapacitated by age, sickness, or accident for working in the mines.
There were hundreds of those miserable wretches there, in all states of conditions, and dozens a week were carted away, and to whom death was a welcome change.
Barnwell was horrified by the sights which met his eyes, and the sounds which racked his ears; but the thought that he would not have to remain there long gave him strength to bear up and endure the pitiful sights.
The surgeon took quite a fancy to him, and did all he could to teach him the Russian language, so that he might be more useful. But not having the time to devote, he sent him to an old man by the name of Batavsky, who spoke both English and Russian.
"He will teach you if he likes you, but if not he will not speak a word," said he.
"Who and what is he?" asked Barnwell.
"Peter Batavsky has been here over thirty years—sent here for conspiracy against Czar Nicholas. He has worked in the mines until within the last fifteen months, since which time he has gone mad, and the governor ordered him here."
"Taking lessons of a madman!"
"Well, I am not certain he will give you any at all. He is rational enough at times to do so if he happens to take to you; if not, he will not notice you at all."
"It is a strange situation, but as I am anxious to learn the Russian language, why, I will take almost any chance to do it, and to oblige you, doctor."
And with this understanding Barnwell went to the cell of old Peter Batavsky.
He found him indeed a character, even if he was insane at times.
He was at least seventy years of age, bent and bowed by hard work and long imprisonment.
His thin hair was white, and his skin like old parchment, but his eyes were bright, and even in his age showed the fires of youth, as well as a high-born nature, all of which had not yet been crushed out of him by misfortune.
But in youth he must have been a magnificent specimen of physical manhood, standing at least six feet in height, and the surgeon had told him that he belonged to a wealthy and influential family up to the time of his apostacy.
He occupied a narrow cell, in which he secluded himself almost continually, holding no intercourse with his fellow-unfortunates.
To this cell young Barnwell made his way, armed with the surgeon's request, which he at once made known to him.
The old man looked him all over in the most scrutinizing manner, for his great hallucination was that he was beset with spies who were bound to bring him before the secret tribunal.
But there was something about the old lunatic which attracted the young American, and there seemed to be a counter attraction between them.
STRANGE TUTOR OF RUSSIAN.
"And the surgeon wishes me to teach you the Russian language, does he?" asked old Batavsky, reclining on his miserable couch.
"Yes, sir, if you will be so good," replied Barnwell, politely.
"That is what he said, sir."
"You are English, eh?"
"I speak nothing but English, although I am an American."
"Oh, an American, eh? You must be the only American in Siberia."
"I certainly hope so, sir."
"And so do I; but he wants to have you learn it so as to become a more useful slave. How long have you been here?"
"I came with the last consignment."
"Are you a Nihilist?" asked the old man, after a moment's silence, during which he looked at him sharply.
"No, sir; but I think the Russian police authorities will drive me to being one."
The old man rose quickly to a sitting position.
"What were you sent here for?"
"I was sent here by the treachery of one who has since been executed."
"Who was it?"
"Mastowix!" exclaimed Batavsky, and this time he tottered to his feet.
He was trembling violently, and his eyes, before half closed, were now wide open and glaring at Barnwell strangely.
"Prince Mastowix, did you say?"
"Yes, sir; the governor of the Bastile."
"Executed, did you say?"
"Heaven be praised!" cried the old man, falling heavily upon his couch.
Barnwell watched him in surprise for two or three minutes, and then he spoke:
"Did you know him, sir?"
"Know him! Do my thirty-five years of exile, slavery, despair, know him? Yes, it was his treachery that consigned me here, and he was rewarded by Alexander with a title for his work. Oh, do I know him? And he is dead? Tell me all about it—he was executed—stay a moment. What is your name?" he asked excitedly.
"William Barnwell, sir."
"Good; now tell me all about it."
"It is a long story, sir."
"Give me every word of it, boy—every word!"
He seemed indeed like a maniac now, and under some circumstances Barnwell would have been afraid of him.
But it seemed the news he had brought had given him a favorable footing in the old man's estimation.
So he began with the story, first with his meeting Zobriskie on the steamer, and so on until he was landed in Siberia.
Batavsky listened with the utmost attention, and at points showed much excitement, trembling violently and scarcely able to restrain himself.
"And the villain Mastowix had become a Nihilist?" said he.
"It would seem so, sir."
"Then he did it to betray the society, provided he could not rise higher with it."
"Very likely, sir."
"Oh, I know him well! Oh, he was a very fiend! But he is dead?"
"Oh, my son, this barren waste, those deep-down mines yonder have been peopled by his victims. Aye, the very wolves have gnawed the bones of his victims until they have come to know him as a benefactor, I'll dare be sworn. But he is dead—he has been executed! Thank Heaven!" and with another wild laugh he sank upon his couch and buried his face in the straw.
Barnwell stood gazing at him with awe and wonder.
"What a terrible history must be his," he thought, as he regarded him.
It was some moments before the old man regained sufficient composure to command himself.
Barnwell could say nothing, and so he waited for the old man to resume.
Presently, with a sigh, he roused himself and sat upright on his couch.
"How is it with you, sir?"
"I—I hardly know, my son," he replied, after a pause, during which he looked earnestly at him. "I am supposed to-that is, the surgeon has been so good as to ask me to teach you the Russian language. You have been outraged."
"Yes, sir; but not to the extent that you have been," said Barnwell, taking his hand.
"My son, I like you," said he, returning the pressure of his hand. "There is something about you that fills a long vacant place in my heart. I will do all I can to teach you the Russian language, but at the same time, if I find you apt, I will teach you even more than that, for there is much more to be learned, my son."
"And I hope I may be found worthy, for I will admit that I like you much more than words can express. I was told something of the time you have slaved here, and also that you were now insane, but it does not seem so."
The old man was silent a moment.
"Well, my son, I will not say but you have been rightly informed, for there are times when I do not know myself, and it may be that I am then insane. But what would you or any man be, suffering all I have suffered?"
"It is a wonder that you are alive, my dear sir," said Barnwell.
"I wonder at it myself, but I have clung to life for the sake of revenge—for the hope I had of one day escaping from this frozen place and killing the villain whose treachery consigned me here. And now you come and tell me that other means have taken away my revenge! I—I feel a great change creeping over me. Yes, yes—but I will do all I can to teach you the Russian language."
"But, from what I have told you, you can understand that I have not long to remain here, and probably but little use for the language."
"Poor boy!" moaned the old man, shaking his bowed head sadly.
"Why do you so exclaim?"
"You hope to escape?"
"Ah! do not lay that flattering unction to your immortal soul, my son."
"Why not? The governor assured me that he would present my case to the authorities."
"But he never will."
"Or if he does it, will never be acted upon. Oh, how many have I known in the thirty-five years that I have toiled and suffered here, who held hopes just as bright, and whose unredeemed and unclaimed bones now whiten on Siberian snows! I do not wish to dishearten you, nor do I wish to buoy you up with false hopes."
"But my case is different, my dear sir."
"It may be, as one-half differs from another; but remember that once a name is obliterated and the owner of it is transported to Siberia, there is no power on earth to reclaim him."
"But I am an American, and no criminal,"
"True; but who is to find that out, and who bring it to the notice of those powerful enough to demand an investigation? No; when once a person is disposed of in Russia in this way, that closes his career."
"Do you really think so, sir?" asked Barnwell, feeling his heart sink within him.
"Have I not had evidence enough of it. The police are too busy at home to notice even the recommendations of the Governor of Siberia. The authorities send all here—they call none back under any circumstances."
"Is that so?"
"Yes; guilty or innocent."
"And you believe that I am destined to drag out my life here?"
"Yes, unless you escape."
"Can it be done?"
"I don't know. It may have been done, although I could never do it. There have been several mysterious disappearances during my time here, but we could never learn whether they escaped or died, or were tortured to death."
"And would you have me abandon hope?"
"Yes, of pardon and reinstatement."
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Barnwell, bowing his head abjectly.
"I give you no false hopes. I would that I could be sure of your escape," he mused.
"That is, if I found you worthy."
"Of the trust I would repose in some true heart," said the old man, sadly.
"You speak vaguely, sir."
"Well, I may be able to speak more plainly by and by. But in the meantime I will take particular pains to teach you the Russian language."
"I thank you, but mournfully, since you lead me to believe that my only use for it will be here in Siberia."
"I would not banish hope."
"Of your ultimate escape from here."
"That will be a future consideration."
"But do you believe there is a chance?"
"Yes. While the springs and muscles of youth are potent, there is always a chance—always a hope."
"I will dare anything; but I am a stranger here, and know not, how to move."
"Then possess your soul in peace for a while. You have not the strength of a lion, but you may have the cunning of a fox. Assume to be contented with your lot, and learn all you can of your surroundings. Learn well the road away from here. It may take years, as it has in my case, and you may never succeed, as I have not, but it behooves a brave man to be always ready to take advantage of circumstances. You have not been sent here as a dangerous criminal, and will not be so closely guarded as I have always been, the proof of which is that the governor assigns you here for hospital duty. But the proof that there is a very remote probability of your ever being recalled by the powers that consigned you here is this wish on the surgeon's part for you to learn the Russian language so as to become more useful here."
"I will not learn it," said Barnwell, with a sudden burst of indignation.
"Walt a moment. Will you take me for a guide?"
"With all my heart I will."
"Then do all in your power to learn the language, and at the same time to appear to be reconciled. More follows."
"I will obey you, sir."
"I see you are both brave and sensible. Force does not work here, save to oppress. Be cunning, be sly, and, after you have mastered the language and the situation, then there will be more hope for you. And, when you are strong enough, I will tell you the story of my life."
"Yes; for it will take more than ordinary strength to stand it. But I feel a great change since meeting you. The ambition and rage for revenge has been toned down, and now a relapse may follow it."
"This hope of revenge on Mastowix has buoyed me up during all these years; but now that I find that you have been the innocent cause of bringing retribution upon him, I feel that my life's object, my object for living, no longer exists, and a relapse from that high excitement is coming on, and I may die at any moment; but, thank goodness, perfectly sane."
"Oh, do not talk so, please. You are the only friend I have in all this vast expanse of human misery. Do not think of dying, I beg of you," said Barnwell, greatly excited.
"Goodness knows how long the time may be; but do not leave me, my son, do not leave me. I have a premonition of death, and that must not be until I have transferred a great secret into some worthy hands."
"And you still trust me?"
"I will. I feel that I can. Come and see me again to-morrow to—mind you—to take still further lessons in the Russian language."
"I will come."
THE RUSSIAN LANGUAGE AND A STORY.
The next day, and for several days, William Barnwell visited the cell of old Peter Batavsky for the purpose of receiving lessons in the Russian language.
The poor old exile was undoubtedly right when he said that the surgeon of the hospital wanted him to learn it so that he would become a more valuable slave.
But at the same time he had convinced him that it was best for him to learn it, and so he applied himself with all diligence, greatly to the delight of the hospital surgeon, who, having taken a fancy to the American youth, without stopping to think or to care about the cruel tyranny that had taken him there, wanted him to become even more useful, as he undoubtedly could be by learning to speak Russian.
And old Batavsky had learned to love him during the time. But as his excitement over the death of Prince Mastowix subsided he became more and more rational.
His whole intent now seemed to be to teach Barnwell the language, and then to confide to him not only the story of his eventful life, but the pith of it, which covered a great secret.
And the young exile had also learned to have a most profound respect for Batavsky, whom he found to be a highly educated man of more than ordinary ability, and how he could be thus consigned to such a dreadful place for life was more than he could understand, knowing but little of the dark deeds and ways of Russian tyrants.
But in spite of what the old man had told him regarding the improbability of his ever being released, he still hoped that the governor would make good his word, and that his case would in time reach the American Minister at St. Petersburg, and that his government would interfere and demand his release.
And so he struggled on and hoped, learning rapidly all the while, and making himself more and more valuable to the chief surgeon. And, too, he was becoming hardened somewhat, and used to the suffering which he saw in the hospital, and which was so revolting to his nature at first.
Week after week, month after month, went by without bringing him any word of hope, and he was not permitted to see the governor for the purpose of asking him if he had sent his case back to St. Petersburg as he agreed.
He could do nothing but labor, wait and hope. Every month or so there would come a batch of prisoners from St. Petersburg or Moscow, and official dispatches, but nothing came for him; no word, no suggestion that he was even remembered in any way.
Hope began to die in his heart, where he had nursed it so long.
Was he, then, really doomed for life?
And what of the beautiful girl of whom he was so fond, and whom he promised to meet at Berlin?
Would she not forget and condemn him for failing to keep his word, not knowing why did did not keep it?
One day when he went to the cell occupied by old Batavsky, he found him unexpectedly low and evidently very ill; in fact, he was nearly unconscious.
Barnwell at once sprang to his side.
"Are you ill, sir? Speak to me."
The old man opened his eyes slowly when he caught him by the hand, but he did not speak, and Barnwell went at once and reported the case to the chief surgeon, and asked for some brandy for him.
"No; let him die! he cannot live much longer anyway," was the brutal reply.
"But I am getting along so nicely in learning the language of him—-"
"Oh, well, take him some brandy, then."
Without losing a moment he hastened back to the old man with a cup of brandy.
"Here, sir, take some of this, and it will make you feel better," said he, raising his head tenderly, so as to enable him to do so.
Batavsky allowed him to place the cup to his lips, and he drank several swallows of the strong liquor, after which he lay down again.
"Thank you, my son."
"Do you feel better, sir?"
"Yes; it warms my old blood a trifle. It was very kind of you to get it for me, but I shall not tax your kindness much longer," he said, with a sigh.
"It is no tax to do a helpless person a kindness," replied young man.
"True, but I am so unused to kindness. Yet I am glad you came to me to-day, for knowing I have but a short time to live, I wish to confide a secret to you."
"Are you strong enough to talk? Take another sip of the brandy."
"Thank you, my son; keep it, for it may enable me to tell my story through, but I could not do so without it. The secret I am about to transmit to your keeping has been my secret for nearly forty years. I have hoped and hoped for thirty-five of those years that I should escape in some way, but the hope is finally dead in me, and I transfer it to you, who are full of life, youth, strength, and hope.
"After I am dead, be it the ambition of your life to get away from this accursed place."
"Doubt not it shall be, sir."
"And should it be your misfortune not to be able to do so, promise me that before you die you will transmit the secret to some intelligent Nihilist, in the hope that he may succeed."
"I promise you, sir, and I will exact a like promise from him if you wish it."
"It shall be yours to judge, my son. As I have stated to you at different times, I was betrayed by Mastowix, with whom I was engaged with others in a plot against Nicholas, Czar of Russia. I was worth a million of rubles, and the whole of it I pledged to the cause of human liberty in Russia. Mastowix knew this, and he also knew that other members of the society had large sums thus pledged. After a while I half suspected him, and so secreted my gold in a place known only to myself."
"A million of rubles!" mused Barnwell.
"Yes, my son, gold rubles. Well, Mastowix, when he thought the time ripe for his villainy, betrayed us all, with the understanding that he was to have one-half of all the government could find belonging to us, together with an office in which he could rise to ennoblement. Nicholas accepted his proposition, and we were banished to Siberia. All of my companions are dead, and all these years Mastowix has reveled in their money and the smiles of the autocrats. But he failed to find my rubles, as I intended he should do, for no eye saw the spot where I secreted it. And all these long weary years I have waited and hoped to escape, so I might secure that money and put it to the use I originally dedicated it to. Now, my son, will you see that this money is recovered and turned against tyranny?"
"Yes, if I ever escape. Every ruble of it shall help crush a tyrant," said he resolutely.
"Spoken like the brave youth I know you are."
"But if I never succeed in escaping, then the money will molder and still be as useless as it has been during your long imprisonment," he replied sadly.
"True, but you must escape. You have youth on your side, and can afford to bide your time. Again, you have an advantage that I never had. You will probably never be sent into the mines where I have slaved my life away, never, but once a year, seeing the light of day, and this will give you opportunities for escape which I have never had. Play your cards so as to win the confidence of your superiors, and when the right time comes manage somehow to escape. How, I will not undertake to tell you. That you must work out yourself. But shape your course for the German frontier, and once across the border you will be safe."
"So far away?"
"Yes, for there is liberty and safety nowhere short of there. If you succeed, the money is yours, to do with as you like, only assure me that a portion of it shall eke your revenge, and mine."
"I promise you, sir."
"Good. If you live to reach Germany, make inquiries for the village of Mertz. Once there, become familiar with the place and its mountainous surroundings, after which this diagram will assist you in finding the cave where the gold is hidden," and he took from his breast, next to his poor old wrinkled flesh, a strip of folded parchment, which, when unfolded, was about eight inches square.
Barnwell took it with hands that trembled fully as much as the old man's did.
"On it is a map which you can easily study out and decipher, and which will surely lead you to the hidden treasure. It is a wild and uninhabited part of the town, only about five miles from the frontier border. That red dot there marks the spot where it is secreted, and you notice that all lines on the diagram lead to it. Mark the line leading up from the old post-road, and on it are marked the—-"
At that instant a servant entered the cell and announced that the surgeon wanted "No. 1000," which was Barnwell; and remembering how long he had been absent, he hastily thrust the parchment under his shirt.
"I come," said he in Russian, and the slave went away. "I will see you again at the first opportunity. Drink the remainder of the brandy," and he almost pressed it to his thin lips.
"Be on your guard, my son; for from this hour your watchfulness must begin. Farewell."
"Farewell; and I shall hope to find you better when I come again," said Barnwell.
"But do not be surprised to find me dead."
"Cheer up, your time is not yet come, I hope; and, besides, I want further instructions."
He did not wait for a reply, but hurried to the surgeon's office.
THE DEAD EXILE.
On reaching the chief surgeon's quarters he found that irritable petty tyrant possessed of much temper on account of his long absence.
"If you don't pay more attention to your duties, I will have you sent into the mines."
"Pardon me, sir, but I found the old man very low, and, tried to comfort him," said Barnwell, respectfully.
"Curse him, let him die. He only lingers from pure obstinacy to make trouble here. The wolves are waiting for his carcass. Go and bring my dinner!"
Barnwell hurried from the presence of the brute; but he could have choked the life out of him for what he had said.
But, brute that he was, he fell upon the food that was soon placed before him, and after gorging himself and washing it down with fiery Russian brandy, he showed more of his brute instincts by becoming more peaceable, and finally going to sleep in his chair.
Barnwell removed the wreck of the feast as noiselessly as possible, and left him alone, not daring, however, to go far away, for fear of again exciting his ire, knowing that he had the power to consign him to the underground mines, or even to kill him like a dog. And so he sat and waited his pleasure.
But his anxiety was hardly to be mastered, for he wanted a few more words with Batavsky regarding the solution of the diagram he had given him, not knowing whether he would be alive when he might see him next.
What new thoughts crowded themselves into his mind now!
And although his desire to escape was no greater than ever, yet the possibilities that would now attend it were overwhelming, almost.
But how was he to give force to all this—how could he escape from that closely-guarded colony, with armed sentinels at every turn, and trained bloodhounds ready to follow any scents even if he escaped from the guards. He would be sure to be missed, and the guards knowing nothing of his whereabouts, let it be supposed, those savage brutes would be started out in every direction until they found his scent, and then run him down to death from their fangs or for an easy capture.
He had seen too much of it during the terrible year he had lived in Siberia. Many a wretch, ambitious to be free, he had known to set his life upon the hazard of a chance, and attempt to escape into the Ural mountains, only to be run to bay by those terrible hounds, and either killed by them or dragged back into the captivity sure to be made worse than before.
And he had seen men have their flesh stripped from their naked backs with the cruel knout, in the hands of unfeeling wretches.
And had he not been buoyed up by hope of one day escaping, he would surely have taken his own life as he had actually seen others do when hope failed them.
The situation was a dreadful one, even to a criminal; but what was it to an innocent man like William Barnwell? But, after all, it gave nerve to his heart.
While cogitating thus, Kanoffskie, the chief surgeon, awoke with a snort.
He glared wildly around the room in a startled way.
Barnwell looked at him inquiringly.
"Did you see anything?" he finally asked.
"Nothing unusual, sir."
"Did you hear anything?"
"Did I cry out in my sleep?"
"No, sir, not that I heard."
"It must have been a nightmare, but it was dreadful," mused Kanoffskie.
"They are sometimes very horrid, sir."
"Very strange. How is old Batavsky?"
"I have not seen him since, sir."
"I thought in my dream that he had me by the throat, and was strangling me with his bony fingers. And I thought he hissed in my ear that he was going to take me with him. I was powerless in his dreadful grasp, and I thought he dragged me down, down, through some huge volcano's crater, sulphurous and suffocating, growing hotter and hotter all the while as we plunged downward, until finally I saw the blue and yellow flames dart up as though to meet and welcome us, and heard the agonized cries of anguished beings far below! Anon I could see them writhing in their fiery torment, and I recognized many faces there that I had seen on earth. As I drew nearer they seemed to forget their agonies, and joined in a glad, wild chorus of imprecating welcome to me. Fiends came at me with blazing swords and fiery prongs, and in my extreme terror I awoke. Oh, it was dreadful!" he added, hiding his face in his hands.
"It surely must have been, sir, and I have read of such sleeping agonies. But, after all, it was but a dream," said Barnwell.
"Oh, but such a dream! Barnwell, I would not go through the agony of such a dream again for Alexander's crown. You are an educated, well-read man. Tell me, do you believe there is such an awful place?" he asked, and he seemed to have forgotten all his old hauteur.
"Our common religion teaches us that there is."
"Oh, Heaven, forgive and keep me from it," said he, bowing his head abjectly.
"My dear sir, you lay too much stress on an ugly dream. Remember that you went to sleep after eating a hearty dinner and they often cause ugly dreams," said Barnwell, for thought it would best serve his purpose to attribute it to it might be, rather than to what it probably was—a warning of the future.
"Oh, if I could only think so I would abandon the sin of gluttony at once. But that terrible face, those bony fingers, which seemed to penetrate my neck like eagle's claws!" and involuntarily he placed his hand upon his neck, as if he really expected to find lacerations there, showing that he was greatly frightened.
"Barnwell, go and see how Batavsky does," he added.
"I will, sir."
"And hurry to let me know."
Barnwell withdrew, and Kanoffskie bowed his head upon the table before him, repeating a simple prayer of the Greek Church which he had not quite forgotten.
The young man made haste to Batavsky's cell, but there the old exile, dead, with his eyes staring wide and glassy.
He had died alone, without a friendly hand to close his eyes with a prayer.
In truth, his death at any moment was not unexpected by Barnwell, but coming as it did at the very moment of Kanoffskie's dream, made it seem more strange and horrible.
Indeed, there seemed to be something horribly supernatural about it.
He stood for a moment gazing upon the rigid features of the poor old man, hardly daring to return and tell Kanoffskie of his death.
"But it serves him right," he thought; and covering the dead man's face with a blanket, he returned to the surgeon's office.
"Well?" he asked, with quick anxiety.
"The old man is dead, sir."
"Dead—dead, say you?" shrieked Kanoffskie, springing to his feet, trembling and pale.
"Yes, sir, he is dead."
"How—how long since, do you think?" he asked, in a choked voice.
"Probably fifteen or twenty minutes; he is scarcely cold yet."
"Heavens!" he exclaimed, and sank back in his chair.
"It might have been expected, sir."
"Yes, but in connection with my dream! Barnwell, my dream! It must have come simultaneously with it!" and the wretched man seemed scarcely able to sit in his chair, so greatly did he tremble, while great beads of perspiration stood out upon his forehead.
Barnwell hastened to set a glass of wine before him, which he tremblingly bore to his mouth and swallowed at a gulp.
"More!" he gasped, and Barnwell poured him out another.
"That will revive you, sir, I hope."
But the surgeon made no reply. He sat there glaring at vacancy for fully five minutes, and neither of them spoke a word.
Finally he pointed to the empty glass, and again Barnwell filled it with brandy, which he drank.
He was evidently trying to nerve himself up.
"What a strange coincidence, Barnwell."
"Very strange, indeed, sir; but do not let it weigh too heavily on your mind, I beg of you. Regard it as simply a strange coincidence, nothing more."
"Oh, Barnwell, it must be something more! I have ill-treated that man, and even his death may be laid to my door and I have abused others even to death—those whose faces I saw in that deep-down, horrid hole—they who welcomed me with such fiendish and exultant shouts," said he, with his head bowed low.
There could be no doubt but that he spoke the truth, and this made it seem all the more strange. He had always been a tyrant in his office, and many a poor wretch had he sent to his long home after he became useless to the government.
He had never been credited with possessing either fear or a heart, but now he showed that he was a moral as well as a physical coward, and was racked by most agonizing fears.
"Barnwell," he finally said, "see that the old man is decently buried, and a prayer said over his grave. Yes, be sure and bury him decently in a coffin, and a grave so deep that the worms may not reach it, and then come to me again. But see that you bury him tenderly, and say nothing of this to any person living."
"You shall be obeyed, sir," said Barnwell, hurrying from the room, glad to carry out such an order in the dead old exile's behalf.
It was a mournful pleasure to William Barnwell to be able to place the body of poor old Batavsky in a respectable coffin and see it given a Christian burial, instead of being thrown, like hundreds of others, into a ravine, for the wolves to devour and fight over.
And it caused no little comment and speculation among those employed about the hospital, for they had become so used to seeing the dead barbarously disposed of, that it was an event to see one given Christian burial.
Some said Batavsky was an exiled nobleman, and that he had been thus buried by order of the governor, but no one suspected for a moment that it was at the orders of the surgeon-in-chief, whose dream had frightened him into the semblance of a human being.
When all had been done, and the grave marked with Batavsky's prison number, Barnwell returned, as ordered, to Kanoffskie.
"Is he buried?" was his first question.
"He is, sir."
"As a Christian should be buried, sir."
"And a prayer was said?"
Kanoffskie vented a sigh of relief, but he was a frightened and an altered man.