One evening a fortnight later Godfrey went with two young Englishmen to _asked ball at the Opera. It was a brilliant scene. Comparatively few of th_en were masked or in costume, but many of the ladies were so. Every other ma_as in uniform of some kind, and the floor of the house was filled with a ga_aughing crowd, while the boxes were occupied by ladies of the highest rank, several of the imperial family being present. He speedily became separate_rom his companions, and after walking about for an hour he became tired o_he scene, and was about to make his way towards the entrance when a hand wa_lipped behind his arm. As several masked figures had joked him on walkin_bout so vaguely by himself, he thought that this was but another jest.
"You are just the person I wanted," the mask said.
"I think you have mistaken me for some one else, lady," he replied.
"Not at all. Now put up your arm and look as if I belong to you. Nonsense! d_s you are told, Godfrey Bullen."
"Who are you who know my name?" Godfrey laughed, doing as he was ordered, fo_e had no doubt that the masked woman was a member of one of the families who_e had visited.
"You don't know who I am?" she asked.
"How should I when I can see nothing but your eyes through those holes?"
"I am Katia, the cousin of your friend Akim."
"Oh, of course!" Godfrey said, a little surprised at meeting the musi_istress in such an assembly. "I fancied I knew your voice, though I could no_emember where I had heard it. And now what can I do for you?"
The young woman hesitated. "We have got up a little mystification," she sai_fter a pause, "and I am sure I can trust you; besides, you don't know th_arties. There is a gentleman here who is supposed to be with his regiment a_oscow; but there is a sweetheart in the case, and you know when there ar_weethearts people do foolish things."
"I have heard so," Godfrey laughed, "though I don't know anything about i_yself, for I sha'n't begin to think of such luxuries as sweethearts for year_o come."
"Well, he is here masked," the girl went on, "and unfortunately the colonel o_is regiment is here, and some ill-natured person—we fancy it is a rival o_is—has told the colonel. He is furious about it, and declares that he wil_atch him and have him tried by court-martial for being absent without leave.
The only thing is, he is not certain as to his information."
"Well, what can I do?" Godfrey asked. "How can I help him?"
"You can help if you like, and that without much trouble to yourself. He is a_resent in the back of that empty box on the third tier. I was with him when _aw you down here, so I left him to say good-bye to his sweetheart alone, an_an down to fetch you, for I felt sure you would oblige me. What I thought wa_his: if you put his mask and cloak on—you are about the same height—it woul_e supposed that you are he. The colonel is waiting down by the entrance. H_ill come up to you and say, 'Captain Presnovich?' You will naturally say, 'B_o means.' He will insist on your taking your mask off. This you will do, an_e will, of course, make profuse apologies, and will believe that he has bee_ltogether misinformed. In the meantime Presnovich will manage to slip out, and will go down by the early train to Moscow. It is not likely that th_olonel will ever make any more inquiries about it, but if he does, some o_resnovich's friends will be ready to declare that he never left Moscow."
"But can't he manage to leave his mask and cloak in the box and to slip awa_ithout them?"
"No, that would never do. It is necessary that the colonel should see fo_imself that the man in the cloak, with the white and red bow pinned to it, i_ot the captain."
"Very well, then, I will do it," Godfrey said. "It will be fun to see th_olonel's face when he finds out his mistake; but mind I am doing it to oblig_ou."
"I feel very much obliged," the girl said; "but don't you bring my name int_t though."
"How could I?" he laughed. "I do not see that I am likely to be cross- questioned in any way; but never fear, I will keep your counsel."
By this time they had arrived at the door of the box. "Wait a moment," sh_aid, "I will speak to him first."
She was two minutes gone, and then opened the door and let him in. "I a_reatly obliged to you, sir," a man said as he entered. "It is a foolis_usiness altogether, but if you will enact my part for a few minutes you wil_et me out of an awkward scrape."
"Don't mention it," Godfrey replied. "It will be a joke to laugh ove_fterwards." He placed the broad hat, to which the black silk mask was sewn, on his head, and Katia put the cloak on his shoulders.
"I trust you," she said in a low voice as she walked with him to the top o_he stairs. "There, I must go now. I had better see Captain Presnovich safel_ff, and then go and tell the young lady, who is a great friend of mine—it i_or her sake I am doing it, you know, not for his—how nicely we have manage_o throw dust in the colonel's eyes!"
Regarding the matter as a capital joke, Godfrey went down-stairs and made hi_ay to the entrance, expecting every moment to be accosted by the irascibl_olonel. No one spoke to him, however, and he began to imagine that th_olonel must have gone to seek the captain elsewhere, and hoped that he woul_ot meet him as he went down the stairs with Katia. He walked down the step_nto the street. As he stepped on to the pavement a man seized him fro_ehind, two others grasped his wrists, and before he knew what had happened h_as run forward across the pavement to a covered sledge standing there an_lung into it. His three assailants leapt in after him; the door was slammed; another man jumped on to the box with the driver; and two mounted men too_heir places beside it as it dashed off from the door. The men had agai_eized Godfrey's hands and held them firmly the instant they entered th_arriage.
"It is of no use your attempting to struggle," one of the men said, "there i_n escort riding beside the sledge, and a dozen more behind it. There is n_hance of a rescue, and I warn you you had best not open your lips; if you do, we will gag you."
Godfrey was still half bewildered with the suddenness of the transaction. Wha_ad he been seized for? Who were the men who had got hold of him? and why wer_hey gripping his wrists so tightly? He had heard of arbitrary treatment i_he Russian army, but that a colonel should have a captain seized in thi_xtraordinary way merely because he was absent from his post without leave wa_eyond anything he thought possible.
"I thought I was going to have the laugh all on my side," he said to himself,
"but so far it is all the other way." In ten minutes the carriage stopped fo_ moment, there was a challenge, then some gates were opened. Godfrey ha_lready guessed his destination, and his feeling of discomfort had increase_very foot he went. There was no doubt he was being taken to the fortress. "I_eems to me that Miss Katia has got me into a horrible scrape of some kind,"
he said to himself. "What a fool I was to let myself be humbugged by the gir_n that way!"
Two men with lanterns were at the door of a building, at which the carriage, after passing into a large court-yard, drew up. Still retaining their grip o_is wrists, two of the men walked beside him down a passage, while severa_thers followed behind. An officer of high rank was sitting at the head of _able, one of inferior rank stood beside him, while at the end of the tabl_ere two others with papers and pens before them.
"So you have captured him!" the general said eagerly.
"Yes, your excellency," the man who had spoken to Godfrey in the carriage sai_espectfully.
"Has he been searched?"
"No, your excellency, the distance was so short, and I feared that he migh_rench one of his hands loose. Moreover, I thought that you might prefer hi_eing searched in your presence."
"It is better so. Take off that disguise." As the hat and mask were remove_he officer sprang to his feet and exclaimed, "Why, who is this? This is no_he man you were ordered to arrest; you have made some confounded blunder."
"I assure you, your excellency," the official said in trembling accents, "thi_s the only man who was there in the disguise we were told of. There, you_xcellency, is the bunch of white and red ribbons on his cloak."
"And who are you, sir?" the general thundered.
"My name, sir, is Godfrey Bullen. I reside with Ivan Petrovytch, a merchan_iving in the Vassili Ostrov."
"But how come you mixed up in this business, sir?" the general exclaime_uriously. "How is it that you are thus disguised, and that you are wearin_hat bunch of ribbon? Beware how you answer me, sir, for this is a matte_hich concerns your life."
"So far as I am concerned, sir," Godfrey said, "I am absolutely ignorant o_aving done any harm in the matter, and have not the most remote idea why _ave been arrested. I may have behaved foolishly in allowing myself to tak_art in what I thought was a masquerade joke, but beyond that I have nothin_o blame myself for. I went to the Opera-house, never having seen a maske_all before. I was alone, and being young and evidently a stranger, I wa_poken to and joked by several masked ladies. Presently one of them came up t_e. I had no idea who she was; she was closely masked, and I could see nothin_f her face." He then repeated the request that had been made him.
"Do you expect me to believe this ridiculous nonsense about this Captai_resnovich and his colonel?"
"I can only say, sir, what I am telling you is precisely what happened, an_hat I absolutely believed it. It seemed to me a natural thing that a youn_fficer might come to a ball to see a lady who perhaps he had no othe_pportunity of meeting alone. I see now that I was very foolish to allo_yself to be mixed up in the affair; but I thought that it was a harmles_oke, and so I did as this woman asked me."
"Go on, sir," the general said in a tone of suppressed rage.
"There is little more to tell, sir. I went up with this woman to the box sh_ad pointed out, and there found this Captain Presnovich as I believed him t_e. I put on his hat, mask, and cloak, walked down the stairs, and was leavin_he Opera-house when I was arrested, and am even now wholly ignorant of havin_ommitted any offence."
"A likely story," the general said sarcastically. "And this woman, did you se_er face?"
"No, sir, she was closely masked. I could not even see if she were young o_ld; and she spoke in the same disguised, squeaking sort of voice that all th_thers that had spoken to me used."
"And that is your entire story, sir; you have nothing to add to it?"
"Nothing whatever, sir. I have told you the simple truth."
The general threw himself back in his chair, too exasperated to speak farther, but made a sign to the officer standing next to him to take up th_nterrogation. The questions were now formal. "Your name is Godfrey Bullen?"
Godfrey gave the address.
"How long have you been in Russia?"
"What is your business?"
"A clerk to Ivan Petrovytch."
"How comes it that you speak Russian so well?"
"I was born here, and lived up to the age of ten with my father, John Bullen, who was a well-known merchant here, and left only two years ago."
"That will do," the general said impatiently. "Take him to his cell and searc_im thoroughly."
Naturally the most minute search revealed nothing of an incriminatin_haracter. At length Godfrey was left alone in the cell, which contained onl_ single chair and a rough pallet. "I have put my foot in it somehow," he sai_o himself, "and I can't make head nor tail of it beyond the fact that I hav_ade an ass of myself. Was the whole story a lie? Was the fellow's nam_resnovich? if not, who was he? By the rage of the general, who, I suppose, i_he chief of the police, it was evident he was frightfully disappointed that _asn't the man he was looking for. Was this Presnovich somebody that gir_atia knew and wanted to get safely away? or was she made a fool of just as _as? She looked a bright, jolly sort of girl; but that goes for nothing i_ussia, all sorts of people get mixed up in plots. If she was concerned i_etting him away I suppose she fixed on me because, being English and a new- comer here, it would be easy for me to prove that I had nothing to do wit_lots or anything of that sort, whereas if a Russian had been in my place h_ight have got into a frightful mess over it. Well, I suppose it will all com_ight in the end. It is lucky that the weather has got milder or I should hav_ad a good chance of being frozen to death; it is cold enough as it is."
Resuming his clothes, which had been thrown down on the pallet, Godfrey dre_he solitary rug over him, and in spite of the uncertainty of the position wa_oon fast asleep. He woke just as daylight was breaking, and was so bitterl_old that he was obliged to get up and stamp about the cell to restor_irculation. Two hours later the cell door was opened and a piece of dark- coloured bread and a jug of water were handed in to him. "If this is priso_are I don't care how soon I am out of it," he said to himself as he munche_he bread. "I wonder what it is made of! Rye!"
The day passed without anyone coming near him save the jailer, who brought _owl of thin broth and a ration of bread for his dinner.
"Can't you get me another rug?" he asked the man. "If I have got to stop her_or another night I shall have a good chance of being frozen to death."
Just as it was getting dark the man came in again with another blanket and _lat earthenware pan half full of sand, on which was burning a handful or tw_f sticks; he placed a bundle of wood beside it.
"That is more cheerful by a long way," Godfrey said to himself as the man, wh_ad maintained absolute silence on each of his visits, left the cell. "N_oubt they have been making a lot of inquiries about me, and find that I hav_ot been in the habit of frequenting low company. I should not have had thes_ndulgences if they hadn't. Well, it will be an amusement to keep this fir_p. The wood is as dry as a bone luckily, or I should be smoked out in n_ime, for there is not much ventilation through that narrow loophole."
The warmth of the fire and the additional blanket made all the difference, an_n a couple of hours Godfrey was sound asleep. When he woke it was broa_aylight, and although he felt cold it was nothing to what he had experience_n the previous morning. At about eleven o'clock, as near as he could guess, for his watch and everything had been removed when he was searched, the doo_as opened and a prison official with two warders appeared. By these he wa_onducted to the same room where he had been first examined. Neither of th_fficers who had then been there was present, but an elderly man sat at th_entre of the table.
"Godfrey Bullen," he said, "a careful investigation has been made into you_ntecedents, and with one exception, and that not, for various reasons, a_mportant one, we have received a good report of you. Ivan Petrovytch tells u_hat you work in his office from breakfast-time till five in the afternoon, and that your evenings are at your own disposal, but that you generally din_ith him. He gave us the names of the families with which you are acquainted, and where, as he understood, you spend your evenings when you are not at th_kating Club, where you generally go on Tuesdays and Fridays at least. W_earn that you did spend your evenings with these families, and we hav_earned at the club that you are a regular attendant there two or three time_ week, and that your general associates are:" and he read out a list whic_ncluded, to Godfrey's surprise, the names of every one of his acquaintance_here. "Therefore we have been forced to come to the conclusion that you_tory, incredible as it appeared, is a true one. That you, a youth and _oreigner, should have had the incredible levity to act in the way yo_escribe, and to assume the disguise of a person absolutely unknown to you, upon the persuasion of a woman also absolutely unknown to you, well-nig_asses belief. Had you been older you would at once have been sent to th_rontier; but as it is, the Czar, to whom the case has been speciall_ubmitted, has graciously allowed you to continue your residence here, th_estimony being unanimous as to your father's position as a merchant, and t_he prudence of his behaviour while resident here. But I warn you, Godfre_ullen, that escapades of this kind, which may be harmless in England, ar_ery serious matters here. Ignorantly, I admit, but none the less certainly, you have aided in the escape of a malefactor of the worst kind; and but fo_he proofs that have been afforded us that you were a mere dupe, th_onsequences would have been most serious to you, and even the fact of you_eing a foreigner would not have sufficed to save you from the hands o_ustice. You are now free to depart; but let this be a lesson to you, and _ost serious one, never again to mix yourself up in any way with persons o_hose antecedents you are ignorant, and in future to conduct yourself in al_espects wisely and prudently."
"It will certainly be a lesson to me, sir. I am heartily sorry that I was s_oolish as to allow myself to be mixed up in such an affair, and think I ca_romise you that henceforth there will be no fault to be found in my conduct."
In the ante-room Godfrey's watch, money, and the other contents of his pocke_ere restored to him. A carriage was in waiting for him at the outer door, an_e was driven rapidly to the house of the merchant.
"This is a nice scrape into which you have got yourself, Godfrey," Iva_etrovytch said as he entered. "It is lucky for you that you are not _ussian. But how on earth have you got mixed up in a plot? We know nothin_bout it beyond the fact that you had been arrested, for, although a thousan_uestions were asked me about you, nothing was said to me as to the charg_rought against you. We have been in the greatest anxiety about you. All sort_f rumours were current in the city as to the discovery of a plot t_ssassinate one of the grand-dukes at the Opera-house, and there are rumour_hat explosive bombs had been discovered in one of the boxes. It is said tha_he police had received information of the attempt that was to be made, an_hat every precaution had been taken to arrest the principal conspirator, bu_hat in some extraordinary manner he slipped through their fingers. But surel_ou can never have been mixed up in that matter?"
"That is what it was," Godfrey said, "though I had no more idea of havin_nything to do with a plot than I had of flying. I see now that I behaved lik_n awful fool." And he told the story to Petrovytch and his wife as he ha_old it to the head of the police. Both were shocked at the thought that _ember of their household should have been engaged, even unwittingly, in suc_ treasonable affair.
"It is a wonder that we ever saw you again," the merchant's wife exclaimed.
"It is fortunate that we are known as quiet people or we might have bee_rrested too. I could not have believed that anyone with sense could be sill_nough to put on a stranger's mantle and hat!"
"But I thought," Godfrey urged, "that at masked balls people did play al_orts of tricks upon each other. I am sure I have read so in books. And it di_eem quite likely—didn't it now?—that an officer should have come up to meet _oung lady masked whom he had no chance of meeting at any other time. I_ertainly seemed to me quite natural, and I believe almost any fellow, if h_ere asked to help anyone to get out of a scrape like that, would do it."
"You may do it in England or in France, but it doesn't do to take part i_nything that you don't know for certain all about here. The wonder is the_ade any inquiries at all. If you had been a Russian the chances are that you_amily would never have heard of you again from the time you left to go to th_pera. Nothing that you could have said would have been believed. Your stor_ould have been regarded by the police as a mere invention. They would hav_onsidered it as certain that in some way or other you were mixed up in th_onspiracy. They would have regarded your denials as simple obstinacy, and yo_ould have been sent to Siberia for life."
"I should advise you, Godfrey," Ivan Petrovytch said, "to keep an absolut_ilence about this affair. Mention it to no one. Everyone knows that somethin_as happened to you, as the police have been everywhere inquiring; but ther_s no occasion to tell anyone the particulars. Of course rumours get about a_o the action of the Nihilists and of the police, but as little is said a_ossible. It is, of course, a mere rumour that a plot was discovered at th_pera-house. Probably there were an unusual number of police at all th_ntrances, and a very little thing gives rise to talk and conjecture. Peopl_hink that the police would not have been there had they not had suspicio_hat something or other was going to take place, and as everything in our day_s put down to the Nihilists, it was naturally reported that the police ha_iscovered some plot; and as two of the grand-dukes were there, people mad_ure it was in some way connected with them.
"As nothing came of it, and no one was, as far as was known, arrested, i_ould be supposed that the culprit, whoever he was, managed to evade th_olice. Such rumours as these are of very common occurrence, and it is quit_ossible that there is not much more truth in them this time than there i_enerally; however, of one thing you may be sure, the police are not fonde_han other people of being outwitted, and whether the man for whom they wer_n search was a Nihilist or a criminal of some other sort you certainly aide_im to escape. You are sure to be watched for some time, and it will be know_o the police in a very few hours if you repeat this story to you_cquaintances; if they find you keep silence about it, they will give yo_redit for discretion, while it would certainly do you a good deal of harm, and might even now lead to your being promptly sent across the frontier, wer_t known that you made a boast of having outwitted them.
"There is another reason. You will find that for a time most of your friend_ere will be a little shy of you. People are not fond of having as thei_ntimates persons about whom the police are inquiring, and you will certainl_ind for a time that you will receive very few invitations to enter the house_f any Russians. It would be different, however, if it were known that th_rouble was about something that had no connection with politics; therefore, _hould advise you, when you are asked questions, to turn it off with a laugh.
Say you got mixed up in an affair between a young lady and her lover, an_hat, like many other people, you found that those who mingle in such matter_ften get left in the lurch. You need not say much more than that. You migh_o anything here without your friends troubling much about it provided it ha_othing to do with politics. Rob a bank, perpetrate a big swindle, run awa_ith a court heiress, and as long as the police don't lay hands on you nobod_lse will trouble their heads about the affair; but if you are suspected o_eing mixed up in the most remote way with politics, your best friends wil_hun you like the plague."
"I will take your advice certainly," Godfrey said, "and even putting aside th_anger you point out, I should not be anxious to tell people that I suffere_yself to be entrapped so foolishly."
For some time, indeed, Godfrey found that his acquaintance fell away from him, and that he was not asked to the houses of any of the Russian merchants wher_e had been before made welcome. Cautious questions would be asked by th_ounger men as to the trouble into which he got with the police; but he turne_hese off with a laugh. "I am not going to tell the particulars," he said,
"they concern other people. I can only tell you that I was fool enough to b_umbugged by a pretty little masker, and to get mixed up in a love intrigue i_hich a young lady, her lover a captain in the army, and an irascible colone_ere concerned, and that the young people made a cat's-paw of me. I am no_oing to say more than that, I don't want to be laughed at for the next si_onths;" and so it became understood that the young Englishman had simply go_nto some silly scrape, and had been charged by a colonel in the army wit_unning away with his daughter, and he was therefore restored to his forme_ooting at most of the houses that he had before visited.
Two days after his release a note was slipped into Godfrey's hand by a boy a_e went out after dinner for a walk. It was unsigned, and ran as follows:—
"Dear Godfrey Bullen, my cousin is in a great state of distress. She wa_eceived by a third person, and in turn deceived you. She has heard since tha_he story was an entire fiction to enable a gentleman for whom the police wer_n search to escape. She only heard last night of your arrest and release, an_s in the greatest grief that she should have been the innocent means of thi_rouble coming upon you. You know how things are here, and she is overwhelme_ith gratitude that you did not in defence give any particulars that migh_ave enabled them to trace her, for she would have found it much mor_ifficult than a stranger would have done to have proved her innocence. Sh_nows that you did say nothing, for had you done so she would have bee_rrested before morning; not improbably we might also have found ourselve_ithin the walls of a prison, since you met her at our room, and the mer_cquaintanceship with a suspected person is enough to condemn one here. By th_ay, we have moved our lodging, but will give you our new address when we mee_ou, that is, if you are good enough to continue our acquaintance in spite o_he trouble that has been caused you by the credulity and folly of my cousin."
Godfrey, who had begun to learn prudence, did not open the letter until h_eturned home, and as soon as he had read it dropped it into the stove. He wa_leased at its receipt, for he had not liked to think that he had been dupe_y a girl. From the first he had believed that she, like himself, had bee_eceived, for it had seemed to him out of the question that a young musi_istress, who did not seem more than twenty years old, could have been mixe_p in the doings of a desperate set of conspirators; however, he quit_nderstood the alarm she must have felt, for though his story might have bee_elieved owing to his being a stranger, and unconnected in any way with me_ho could have been concerned in a Nihilist plot, it would no doubt have bee_astly more difficult for her to prove her innocence, especially as it wa_nown that there were many women in the ranks of the Nihilists.
It was a fortnight before he met either of the students, and he then ra_gainst them upon the quay just at the foot of the equestrian statue of Pete_he Great, opposite the Isaac Cathedral. They hesitated for a moment, but h_eld out his hand cordially.
"Where have you been, and how is it I have not seen you before?"
"We were afraid that you might not care to know us further," Akim said, "afte_he trouble that that foolish cousin of mine involved you in."
"That would have been ridiculous," Godfrey said. "If we were to blame ou_riends for the faults of persons to whom they introduce us, there would be a_nd to introductions."
"Everyone wouldn't think as you do," Akim said. "We both wished to meet you, and thank you for so nobly shielding her. The silly girl might be on her wa_o Siberia now if you had given her name."
"I certainly should not have done that in any case. It is not the way of a_nglishman to betray his friend, especially when that friend is a woman; but _hought even before I got your letter that she must in some way or other hav_een misled herself."
"It was very good of you," Petroff said. "Katia has been in great distres_ver it. She thinks that you can never forgive her."
"Pray tell her from me, Petroff, that I have blamed myself, not her. I ough_ot to have let myself be persuaded into taking any part in the matter. _ntered into it as a joke, thinking it would be fine fun to see the ol_olonel's face, and also to help a pair of lovers out of a scrape. It woul_ave been a good joke in England, but this is not a country where jokes ar_nderstood. At any rate it has been a useful lesson to me, and in future youn_adies will plead in vain to get me to mix myself up in other people'_ffairs."
"We are going to a students' party to-night," Petroff said. "One of our numbe_ho has just passed the faculty of medicine has received an appointment a_obolsk. It is a long way off; but it is said to be a pleasant town, and th_ay is good. He is an orphan, and richer than most of us, so he is going t_elebrate it with a party to-night before he starts. Will you come with us?"
"I should like it very much," Godfrey said; "but surely your friend would no_ish a stranger there on such an occasion."
"Oh, yes, he would! he would be delighted, he is very fond of the English. _ill answer for it that you will be welcome. Meet us here at seven o'cloc_his evening; he has hired a big room, and there will be two or three dozen o_s there—all good fellows. Most of them have passed, and you will see the arm_nd navy, the law and medicine, all represented."
Godfrey willingly agreed to go. He thought he should see a new phase o_ussian life, and at the appointed hour he met the two students. Th_ntertainment was held in a large room in a traktar or eating-house in a smal_treet. The room was already full of smoke, a number of young men were seate_long two tables extending the length of the room, and crossed by one at th_pper end. Several were in military uniform, and two or three in that of th_avy. Akim and Petroff were greeted boisterously by name as they entered.
"I will talk to you presently," Akim shouted in reply to various invitation_o take his seat. "I have a friend whom I must first introduce to Alexis." H_nd Petroff took Godfrey up to the table at the end of the room. "Alexis,"
Akim said, "I have brought you a gentleman whom I am sure you will welcome. H_as proved himself a true friend, one worthy of friendship and honour. Hi_ame is Godfrey Bullen."
There was general silence as Akim spoke, and an evident curiosity as to th_tranger their comrade had introduced. The host, who had risen to his feet, grasped Godfrey's hand warmly.
"I am indeed glad to meet you, Godfrey Bullen," he said.
"My friends, greet with me the English friend of Akim and Petroff."
There was a general thumping of glasses on the table, and two or three o_hose sitting near Alexis rose from their seats and shook hands with Godfrey, with a warmth and cordiality which astonished him. Room was made for him an_is two friends at the upper end of one of the side tables, and when he ha_aken his seat the lad was able to survey the scene quietly.
Numbers of bottles were ranged down the middle of the tables, which were o_are wood without cloth. These contained, as Petroff told him, wines fro_arious parts of Russia. There were wines similar to sherry and Bordeaux, fro_he Crimea; Kahetinskoe, strongly resembling good burgundy, from the Caucasus; and Don Skoe, a sparkling wine resembling champagne, from the Don. Beside_hese were tankards of Iablochin Kavas, or cider; Grushevoi Kavas, or perry; Malovinoi, a drink prepared from raspberries; and Lompopo, a favourite drin_n the shores of the Baltic. The conversation naturally turned on studen_opics, of tricks played on professors, on past festivities, amusements, an_uarrels. No allusion of any kind was made to politics, or to the matters o_he day. Jovial songs were sung, the whole joining in chorus with grea_nimation. At nine o'clock waiters appeared with trays containing th_ndispensable beginning of all Russian feasts. Each tray contained a larg_umber of small dishes with fresh caviar, raw herrings, smoked salmon, drie_turgeon, slices of German sausage, smoked goose, ham, radishes, cheese, an_utter. From these the guests helped themselves at will, the servants handin_ound small glasses of Kümmel Liftofka, a spirit flavoured with the leaves o_he black-currant, and vodka.
Then came the supper. Before each guest was placed a basin of stehi, a cabbag_oup, sour cream being handed round to be added to it; then came rastiga_atties, composed of the flesh of the sturgeon and isinglass. This wa_ollowed by cold boiled sucking pig with horse-radish sauce. After this cam_oast mutton stuffed with buck-wheat, which concluded the supper. When th_able was cleared singing began again, but Godfrey stayed no longer, excusin_imself to his host on the ground that the merchant kept early hours, and tha_nless when he had specially mentioned that he should not be home until late, he made a point of being in between ten and eleven.
He was again surprised at the warmth with which several of the guests spoke t_im as he said good-night, and went away with the idea in his mind that amon_he younger Russians, at any rate, Englishmen must be much more popular tha_e had before supposed. One or two young officers had given him their cards, and said that they should be pleased if he would call upon them.
"I have had a pleasant evening," he said to himself. "They are a jolly set o_ellows, more like boys than men. It was just the sort of thing I could fanc_ big breaking-up supper would be if fellows could do as they liked, only n_ead-master would stand the tremendous row they made with their choruses.
However, I don't expect they very often have a jollification like this. _uppose our host was a good deal better off than most of them. Petroff sai_hat he was the son of a manufacturer down in the south. I wonder what h_eant when he laughed in that quiet way of his when I said I wondered that a_is father was well off he should take an appointment at such an out-of-the- way place as Tobolsk. 'Don't ask questions here,' he said, 'those fellow_anding round the meat may be government spies.' I don't see, if they were, what interest they could have in the question why Alexis Stumpoff should go t_obolsk.
"However, I suppose they make a point of never touching on private affair_here any one can hear them, however innocent the matter may be. It must b_ateful to be in a country where, for aught you know, every other man you com_cross is a spy. I daresay I am watched now; that police fellow told me _hould be. It would be a lark to turn off down by-streets and lead the spy, i_here is one, a tremendous dance; but jokes like that won't do here. I got of_nce, but if I give them the least excuse again they may send me off to th_rontier. I should not care much myself, but it would annoy the governo_orribly, so I will walk back as gravely as a judge."