Two days later Robson, an English merchant who had been one of the mos_ntimate of Godfrey's acquaintances, and to whom he had confided the trut_bout his arrest, said to him:
"You are not looking quite yourself, lad."
"Oh, I am all right!" he said; "but it is not a pleasant thing having had suc_ close shave of being sent to Siberia; and it isn't only that. No doubt th_olice feel that they owe me a grudge for having been the means of thi_ellow, whoever he was, slipping through their fingers, and I shall be _uspected person for a long time. Of course it is only fancy, but I am alway_hinking there is some one following me when I go out. I know it is nonsense, but I can't get rid of it."
"I don't suppose they are watching you as closely as that," Mr. Robson said,
"but I do think it is likely that they may be keeping an eye on you; but i_hey are they will be tired of it before long, when they see that you go you_wn way and have nothing to do with any suspected persons. You want a change, lad. I have an invitation to join a party who are going up to Finland to shoo_or a couple of days. It is more likely than not that we shall never have _hance of firing a shot, but it will be an outing for you, and will clear you_rain. Do you think you would like it?"
"Thank you very much, Mr. Robson, I should like it immensely. Petrovytch wa_aying this morning that he thought I should be all the better for a holiday, so I am sure he will spare me. I am nothing of a shot, in fact I never fired _hot at game in my life, though I have practised a bit with the rifle, but _m sure it will be very jolly whether we shoot anything or not."
"Very well, then, be at the station to catch the seven o'clock train in th_orning. It is a four hours' railway journey."
"Is there anything to bring, sir?"
"No, you can take a hand-bag and sleeping things, but beyond a bit of soap an_ towel I don't suppose you will have need of anything, for you will mos_ikely sleep at some farm-house, or perhaps in a woodman's hut, and there wil_ot be any undressing. There are six of us going from here, counting you, bu_he party is got up by two or three men we know there. They tell me some o_he officers of the regiment stationed there will be of the party, and the_ill have a hundred or so of their men to act as beaters. I have a spare gu_hat I will bring for you."
The next morning Godfrey joined Mr. Robson at the station. A Mr. White, who_e knew well, was one of the party, and the other three were Russians. The_ad secured a first-class compartment, and as soon as they started they rigge_p a table with one of the cushions and began to play whist.
"You don't play, I suppose, Godfrey?" Mr. Robson said.
"No, sir. I have played a little at my father's, but it will be a long tim_efore I shall be good enough to play. I have heard my father say that ther_s better whist at St. Petersburg than in any place in the world."
"I think he is right, lad. The Russians are first-rate players and ar_assionately fond of the game, and naturally we English here have had to lear_o play up to their standard. The game is similar to that in England, but the_core altogether differently."
The four hours passed rapidly. Godfrey sometimes looked out of the window a_he flat country they were passing through, but more often watched the play.
They were met at the station by two of Mr. Robson's friends, and found tha_ledges were in readiness and they were to start at once.
"We have ten miles to drive," one of them said. "The others went on early; they will have had one beat by the time we get there, and are then to assembl_or luncheon."
The road was good and the horses fast, so that the sledges flew along rapidly.
Most of the distance was through forest, but the last half-mile was open, an_he sledge drew up at a large farm-house standing in the centre of the cleare_pace, and surrounded at a distance of half a mile on all sides by the forest.
A dozen men, about half of whom were in uniform, poured out from the door a_he four sledges drew up.
"You are just in time," one of them said. "The soup is ready and in anothe_inute we should have set to."
The civilians all knew each other, but the new-comers were introduced to th_ussian colonel and his five officers.
"Have you had any luck, colonel?" Mr. Robson asked.
"Wonderful," the latter replied with a laugh. "A stag came along and every on_f us had a shot at it, and each and every one is ready to take oath that h_it it, so that every one is satisfied. Don't you call that luck?"
Mr. Robson laughed. "But where is the stag?" he asked, looking round.
"That is more than any one can tell you. He went straight on, and carried of_ur twelve bullets. Captain Fomitch here, and in fact all my officers, ar_eady to swear that the deer is enchanted, and they have all been crossin_hemselves against the evil omen. Such a thing was never heard of before, fo_eing such crack shots, all of us, of course there can be no doubt about ou_ach having hit the stag when it was not more than a hundred yards away at th_utside; but come in, the soup smells too good to wait, and the sight of tha_nchanted beast has sharpened my appetite wonderfully."
Godfrey entered with the rest. Large as the farm-house was, the greate_ortion of the ground-floor was occupied by the room they entered. It wa_ntirely constructed of wood blackened with smoke and age. A great fire burne_n the hearth, and the farmer's wife and two maids were occupied with severa_arge pots, some suspended over the fire, others standing among the brands.
The window was low, but extended half across one side of the room, and wa_illed with small lattice panes. From the roof hung hams, sides of bacon, potatoes in network bags, bunches of herbs, and several joints of meat. _able extended the length of the room covered with plates and dishes that fro_heir appearance had evidently been brought out from the town, and differe_idely from the rough earthenware standing on a great dresser of darkened woo_xtending down one side of the room. At one end the great pot was placed, th_loth having been pushed back for the purpose, and the colonel, seizing th_adle, began to fill the earthenware bowls which were used instead of sou_lates.
"Each man come for his ration before he sits down," he said. "It would b_etter if you did not sit down at all, for I know well enough that when m_ountrymen sit down to a meal it is a long time before they get up again, an_e have to be in the forest again in three-quarters of an hour."
"Quite right, colonel," one of the hosts said; "this evening you may sit a_ong as you like, but if we are to have another drive to-day we must waste n_ime. A basin of soup and a plate of stew are all you will get now, with a cu_f coffee afterwards to arm you against the cold, and a glass of vodka o_ümmil to top up with. No, colonel, not any punch just now. Punch in th_vening; but if we were to begin with that now, I know that there would be n_hooting this afternoon."
"What are the beaters doing?" Mr. Robson asked as they hastily ate thei_inner.
"They have brought their bread with them," the colonel said, "and our friend_ere have provided a deer almost as fine as that which carried off the twelv_ullets. It was roasting over a fire in the forest when we went past, and _aw some black bottles which I guessed were vodka."
"Yes, colonel, I ordered that they should have a glass each with their dinner, and another glass when they had done this afternoon."
"They would not mind being on fatigue duty every day through the winter o_hose terms," the colonel said. "It is better for them than soldiering. W_ust mind that we don't shoot any of them, gentlemen. The lives of the Czar'_oldiers are not to be lightly sacrificed, and next time, you know, the whol_f the bullets may not hit the mark as they did this morning."
"There really is some danger in it," Mr. Robson said to Godfrey, who wa_itting next to him; "in fact, I should say there was a good deal of danger.
However, I fancy the beaters all throw themselves down flat when they hear th_rack of the first rifle."
"I see most of them have got a gun as well as a rifle."
"Yes, there is no saying what may come along, and, indeed, they are mor_ikely to get birds than fur. I was told there are a good many elk in th_orest, and the peasants have been bringing an unusual number in lately. _riend of mine shot two last week; but as our party did not get one in thei_irst drive they are not likely to get any afterwards. Occasionally in thes_ig drives a good many animals are inclosed, but as a rule the noise th_oldiers make as they move along to take up their places is enough to frighte_very creature within a couple of miles. I told you you were not likely t_ave to draw a trigger. Expeditions like this are rather an excuse for _ouple of days' fun than anything else. The real hunting is more quiet. Me_ho are fond of it have peasants in their pay all over the country, and if on_f these hears of a bear or an elk anywhere in his neighbourhood he brings i_he news at once, and then one or two men drive out to the village, wher_eaters will be in readiness for them, and have the hunt to themselves.
"I used to do a good deal of it the first few years I came out, but it i_itter cold work waiting for hours till a beast comes past, or trying to craw_p to him. After all, there is no great fun in putting a bullet into _reature as big as a horse at a distance of thirty or forty yards. But there, they are making a move. They are going to drink the coffee and vodka standing, which is wise, for after standing in the snow for four hours, as they hav_een doing, they are apt to get so sleepy after a warm meal that if we were t_top here much longer you would find half the number would not make a start a_ll."
The sledges were brought up, and there was a three miles drive through th_orest. Then the shooters were placed in a line, some forty or fifty yard_part, each taking his station behind a tree. Then a small bugler sounded _ote. Godfrey heard a reply a long distance off. Three-quarters of an hou_assed without any further sound being heard, and then Godfrey, who had bee_tamping his feet and swinging his arms to keep himself warm, heard a confuse_urmur. Looking along the line he saw that the others were all on the alert, and he accordingly took up his gun and began to gaze across the snow. Th_ight-hand barrel was loaded with shot, the left with ball. Presently a sho_ang out away on his right, followed almost immediately afterwards by another.
After this evidence that there must be something in the forest he watched mor_agerly for signs of life. Presently he saw a hare coming loping along. Fro_ime to time it stopped and turned its head to listen, and then came on again.
He soon saw that it was bearing to the left, and that it was not going to com_ithin his range. He watched it disappear among the trees, and two minute_ater heard a shot. Others followed to the right and left of him, an_resently a hare, which he had not noticed, dashed past at full speed, almos_ouching his legs. He was so startled for the moment that the hare had go_ome distance before he had turned round and was ready to fire, and he was i_o way surprised to see it dash on unharmed by his shot. When there was _ause in the firing the shouting recommenced, this time not far distant, an_e soon saw men making their way towards him through the trees.
"It is all over now," Mr. Robson shouted from the next tree. "If they have no_one better elsewhere than we have here the bag is not a very large one."
"Did you shoot anything, Mr. Robson?"
"I knocked a hare over; that is the only thing I have seen. What have yo_one?"
"I think I succeeded in frightening a hare, but that was all," Godfre_aughed. "It ran almost between my legs before I saw it, and I think i_tartled me quite as much as my shot alarmed it."
The bugle sounded again, and the party were presently collected round th_olonel. The result of the beat was five hares, and a small stag that ha_allen to the gun of Mr. White.
"Much cry and little wool," Mr. Robson said. "A hundred beaters, twenty guns, and six head of game."
Another short beat was organized, resulting in two stags and three more hares.
One of the stags and the three hares were placed on a sledge to be taken bac_o the farm-house, and the rest of the game was given to the soldiers. A glas_f vodka was served out to each of them, and, highly pleased with their day'_ork, the men slung the deer to poles and set out on their march of eigh_iles back to the town.
"They will have done a tremendous day's work by the time they have finished,"
Godfrey said. "Eight miles out and eight miles back, and three beats, whic_ust have cost them four or five miles' walking at least. They must have gon_ver thirty miles through the snow."
"It won't be as much as that, though it will be a long day's work," th_olonel said. "They came out yesterday evening and slept in a barn. Anothe_ompany come out to-night to take their place."
It was already dark by the time the party reached the farm-house, and after _up of coffee all round they began to prepare the dinner. They were like _arty of school-boys, laughing, joking, and playing tricks with each other.
Two of them undertook the preparation of hare-soup. Two others were appointe_o roast a quarter of venison, keeping it turning as it hung by a cord i_ront of the fire, and being told that should it burn from want of bastin_hey would forfeit their share of it. The colonel undertook the mixing o_unch, and the odour of lemons, rum, and other spirits soon mingled with tha_f the cooking. Godfrey was set to whip eggs for a gigantic omelette, and mos_f the others had some task or other assigned to them, the farmer's wife an_er assistants not being allowed to have anything to do with the matter.
The dinner was a great success. After it was over a huge bowl of punch wa_laced on the table, and after the health of the Czar and that of the Queen o_ngland had been drunk, speeches were made, songs were sung, and stories told.
While this was going on, the farmer brought in a dozen trusses of straw. Thes_is wife and the maids opened and distributed along both sides of the room, laying blankets over them. It was not long before Godfrey began to feel ver_rowsy, the result of the day's work in the cold, a good dinner, the heate_ir of the room and the din, and would have gladly lain down; but his movemen_o leave the table was at once frustrated, and he was condemned to drink a_xtra tumbler of punch as a penalty. After that he had but a confused idea o_he rest of the evening. He knew that many songs were sung, and that everyon_eemed talking together, and as at last he managed to get away and lie down o_he straw he had a vague idea that the colonel was standing on a chair makin_ final oration, with the punch-bowl turned upside down and worn as a helmet.
Godfrey had not touched the wine at dinner, knowing that he would be expecte_o take punch afterwards, and he had only sipped this occasionally, except th_lass he had been condemned to drink; and when he heard the colonel shout in _tentorian voice "To arms!" he got up and shook himself, and felt ready fo_nother day's work, although many of the others were sitting up yawning o_busing the colonel for having called them so early. However, it was alread_ight. Two great samovars were steaming, and the cups set in readiness on th_able. Godfrey managed to get hold of a pail of water and indulged in a goo_ash, as after a few minutes did all the others; while a cup or two of tea an_ few slices of fried bacon set up even those who were at first least incline_o rise.
A quarter of an hour later the sledges were at the door, and the part_tarted. The hunt was even less successful than that of the previous day. N_tag was seen, but some ten hares and five brace of grouse were shot. At thre_'clock the party assembled again at the farm-house and had another heart_eal, terminating with one glass of punch round; then they took their place_n their sledges and were driven back to the town; the party for St.
Petersburg started by the six-o'clock train, the rest giving them a heart_heer as the carriage moved off from the platform.
"Well, have you enjoyed it, Godfrey?" Mr. Robson asked.
"Immensely, sir. It has been grand fun. The colonel is a wonderful fellow."
"There are no more pleasant companions than the Russians," Mr. Robson said.
"They more closely resemble the Irish than any people I know. They have _onderful fund of spirits, enjoy a practical joke, are fond of sport, and hav_oo a sympathetic, and one may almost say a melancholy vein in thei_isposition, just as the Irish have. They have their faults, of course—all o_s have; and the virtue of temperance has not as yet made much way here.
Society, in fact, is a good deal like that in England two or three generation_ack, when it was considered no disgrace for a man to sit after dinner at th_able until he had to be helped up to bed by the servants. Now, White, yo_ave got the cards, I think."
Godfrey watched the game for a short time, then his eyes closed, and he kne_othing more until Mr. Robson shook him and shouted, "Pull yourself together, Godfrey. Here we are at St. Petersburg."
Three days later, when Ivan Petrovytch came in to breakfast at eleve_'clock—for the inmates of the house had a cup of coffee or chocolate and _oll in their rooms at half-past seven, and office work commenced an hou_ater—Godfrey saw that he and his wife were both looking very grave. Nothin_as said until the servant, having handed round the dishes, left the room.
"Has anything happened?" Godfrey asked.
"Yes, there is bad news. Another plot against the life of the Czar has bee_iscovered. The Nihilists have mined under the road by which he was yesterda_vening to have travelled to the railway-station. It seems that some suspicio_as felt by the police. I do not know how it arose; at any rate at the las_oment the route was changed. During the night all the houses in the suspecte_eighbourhood were searched, and in the cellar of one of them a passage wa_ound leading under the road. A mine was heavily charged with powder, and wa_onnected by wires to an electric battery; and there can be no doubt that ha_he Czar passed by as intended he would have been destroyed by the explosion.
It is terrible, terrible!"
"Did they find any one in the cellar?" Godfrey asked.
"No one. The conspirators had no doubt taken the alarm when they heard tha_he route was changed, and the place was deserted. It seems that the sho_bove was taken four months ago as a store for the sale of coal and wood, an_he cellar and an adjoining one were hired at the same time. There was also _oom behind the shop, where the man and woman who kept it lived. They say tha_rrests have been made all over the city this morning, and we shall no doub_ave a renewal of the wholesale trials that followed the assassination o_eneral Mesentzeff, the head of the police, last autumn. It is terrible! Thes_isguided men hope to conquer the empire by fear. Instead of that, they wil_n the end only strengthen the hands of despotism. I have always been incline_o liberalism, but I have wished for gradual changes only. For large change_e are not yet fit; but as education spreads and we approach the wester_tandard, some power and voice ought to be given to all intelligent enough t_se it; that is to say, to the educated classes. I would not—no one in hi_enses would—give the power of voting to illiterate and ignorant men, wh_ould simply be tools in the hands of the designing and ambitious; but th_eoples of the great towns, St. Petersburg, Moskow, Kieff, Odessa, and other_hould be permitted to send representatives—men of their own choice—to th_rovincial councils, which should be strengthened and given a real, instead o_ nominal, voice in the control of affairs.
"That was all I and thousands like me ever wished for in the present, but i_ould have been the first step towards a constitution which the empire, whe_he people become fit for it, might enjoy. That dream is over. These men, b_heir wild violence, have thrown back the reforms for half a century at least.
They have driven the Czar to war against them; they have strengthened th_ands of the men who will use their acts as an excuse for the extremes_easures of repression; they have ranged on the other side all the moderat_en like myself, who, though desirous of constitutional changes, shrink wit_orror from a revolution heralded by deeds of bloodshed and murder."
"I quite agree with you," Godfrey said warmly. "Men must be mad who coul_ounsel such abominable plans. The French Revolution was terrible, although i_egan peacefully, and was at first supported by all the best spirits o_rance; but at last it became a hideous butchery. But here in Russia it seem_o me that it would be infinitely worse, for it is only in the towns tha_here are men with any education; and if it began with the murder of the Czar, what would it grow to?"
"What, indeed!" Ivan Petrovytch repeated. "And yet, like the Frenc_evolution, the pioneers of this movement were earnest and thoughtful men, with noble dreams for the regeneration of Russia."
"But how did it begin?"
"It may be said to have started about 1860. The emancipation of the serf_roduced a sort of fever. Every one looked for change, but it was in th_niversities, the seminaries, and among the younger professional men that i_irst began. Prohibited works of all kinds, especially those of Europea_ocialists, were, in spite of every precaution at the frontier, introduced an_idely circulated. Socialistic ideas made tremendous progress among the clas_ speak of, and these, by writing, by the circulation of prohibited papers, and so on, carried on a sort of crusade against the government, and indee_gainst all governments, carrying their ideas of liberty to the most extrem_oint and waging war against religion as well as against society.
"In the latter respect they were more successful than in the former, and _egret to say that atheism made immense strides among the educated class. The_ad some profound thinkers among them: Tchernyshevsky, Dobroluboff, Mikhailoff, besides Herzen and Ogareff, the two men who brought out th_Kolokol_ in London in the Russian language, and by their agents spread i_roadcast over Russia. The stifling of the insurrection in Poland strengthene_he reactionary party. More repressive edicts were issued, with the usua_esult, that secret societies multiplied everywhere. Then came the revolutio_nd commune in Paris, which greatly strengthened the spread of revolutionar_deas here. Another circumstance gave a fresh impetus to this. Some tim_efore, there had been a movement for what was called the emancipation o_omen, and a perfect furore arose among girls of all classes for education.
"There were no upper schools or colleges open to them in Russia, and they wen_n enormous numbers to Switzerland, especially to Zurich. Girls of the uppe_lasses shared their means with the poorer ones, and the latter eked out thei_esources by work of all descriptions. Zurich, as you know, is a hotbed o_adicalism, and those young women who went to learn soon imbibed the wildes_deas. Then came a ukase, ordering the immediate return home of all Russia_irls abroad. It was undoubtedly a great mistake. In Switzerland they wer_armless, but when they returned to Russia and scattered over the towns an_illages, they became so many apostles of socialism, and undoubtedl_trengthened the movement. So it grew. Men of good families left their homes, and in the disguise of workmen expounded their principles among the lowe_lasses. Among these was Prince Peter Krapotkine, the rich Cossack Obuchoff, Scisoko and Rogaceff, both officers, and scores of others, who gave u_verything and worked as workmen among workmen.
"Innumerable arrests were made, and at one trial a thousand prisoners wer_onvicted. So wholesale were the arrests that even the most enthusiastic sa_hat they were simply sacrificing themselves in vain, and about 1877 the_hanged their tactics. The prisons were crowded, and the treatment there o_he political prisoners was vastly harder than that given to those condemne_or the most atrocious crimes, as you may imagine when I tell you that in th_ourse of the trial of that one batch I spoke of, which lasted four years, seventy-five of the prisoners committed suicide, went mad, or died. Then whe_he authorities thought Nihilism was stamped out by wholesale severity th_atter assumed another phase. The crusade by preaching had failed, and th_ihilists began a crusade of terror. First police spies were killed in man_laces, then more highly placed persons, officers of the police, judges, an_fficials who distinguished themselves by their activity and severity. Then i_he spring of last year Vera Zasulitch shot at General Trépoff, who ha_rdered a political prisoner to be flogged. She was tried by a jury, and th_eeling throughout the country was so much in favour of the people who ha_een so terribly persecuted that she was acquitted. The authorities wer_urious, and every effort was made to find and re-arrest Vera; and a verdic_f the court acquitting many of the accused in one of the trials was annulle_y the Czar.
"Well, you know, Godfrey Bullen, I am not one who meddles with politics. Yo_ave never heard me speak of them before, and I consider the aims of these me_ould bring about anarchy. An anarchy that would deluge the land with bloo_eems to me detestable and wicked. But I cannot but think the government ha_ade a terrible mistake by its severity. These people are all enthusiasti_anatics. They see that things are not as they should be, and they woul_estroy everything to right them. Hate their aims as one may, one must admi_hat their conduct is heroic. Few have quailed in their trials. All preserve _almness of demeanour that even their judges and executioners cannot bu_dmire. They seem made of iron; they suffer everything, give up everything, dare everything for their faith; they die, as the Christian martyrs died i_ome, unflinching, unrepentant. If they have become as wild beasts, severit_as made them so. Their propaganda was at first a peaceful one. It is cruelt_hat has driven them to use the only weapon at their disposal, assassination.
"One man, for example, in 1877, Jacob Stefanovic, organized a conspiracy i_he district of Sighirino. It spread widely among the peasants. The priests, violating the secret of the confessional, informed the police, but these, although using every effort, could learn no more. Hundreds of arrests wer_ade, but nothing discovered. Learning that the priests had betrayed them th_easants no longer went to confession, and to avoid betraying themselves in _tate of drunkenness abstained from the use of brandy; but one man, tired an_ithout food, took a glass. It made him drunk, and in his drunkenness he spok_o the man who had sold him spirits. He was arrested, and although he did no_now all, gave enough clue for the police to follow up, and all the leader_nd over a thousand persons were arrested. Two thousand others, who wer_ffiliated to the society, were warned in time and escaped. You can guess th_ate of those who were captured.
"Last year, three months before you came here, General Mezentsoff, the head o_he police, was assassinated, and since then we know that it is open wa_etween the Nihilists and the Czar. The police hush matters up, but they ge_broad. Threatening letters reach the Czar in his inmost apartments, and it i_nown that several attempts have been made to assassinate him, but hav_ailed.
"One of the most extraordinary things connected with the movement is tha_omen play a large part in it. Being in the thick of every conspiracy they ar_he life and soul of the movement, and they are of all classes. There are _core of women for whose arrest the authorities would pay any money, and ye_hey elude every effort. It is horrible. This is what comes of women going t_witzerland and learning to look upon religion as a myth and all authority a_ateful, and to have wild dreams of an impossible state of affairs such a_ever has existed in this world. It is horrible, but it is pitiable. Th_risons in the land are full of victims; trains of prisoners set off monthl_or Siberia. It is enough to turn the brain to think of such things. How it i_o end no one can say."
But it was only in bated breath and within closed doors that the discovery o_he Nihilist plot was discussed in St. Petersburg. Elsewhere it was scarcel_lluded to, although, if mentioned, those present vied with each other in th_iolence of their denunciation of it; but when society from the highest to th_owest was permeated by secret agents of the police, and every word was liabl_o be reported and misinterpreted, a subject so dangerous was shunned b_ommon consent. It was known, though, that large numbers of arrests had bee_ade, but even those whose dearest friends had suddenly disappeared said n_ord of it in public, for to be even a distant acquaintance of such a perso_as dangerous. Yet apparently everything went on as usual: the theatres wer_s well filled; the Nevski as crowded and gay.