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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Book Of All-power - Chapter 12. In The Prison Of St. Basil
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The Book Of All-power - Chapter 12. In The Prison Of St. Basil Post by :Florence Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :2063

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The Book Of All-power - Chapter 12. In The Prison Of St. Basil

CHAPTER XII. IN THE PRISON OF ST. BASIL

The temporary prison called by Boolba "St. Basil," was made up of four blocks of buildings. All save one were built of grey granite, and presented, when seen from the courtyard below, tiers of little windows set with monotonous regularity in discoloured walls. The fourth was evidently also of granite, but at some recent period an attempt had been made to cover its forbidding facade with plaster. The workmen had wearied of their good intent and had left off when their labours were half finished, which gave the building the gruesome appearance of having been half skinned. Flush with the four sides of the square was an open concrete trench, approached at intervals by flights of half a dozen stone steps leading to this alley-way.

Malcolm Hay was pushed down one of these, hurried along the alley-way, passing a number of mailed iron doors, and as many barred windows, and was halted before one of the doors whilst the warder who all the time smoked a cigar, produced a key. The door was unlocked, and Hay was thrust in. Malinkoff followed. The door slammed behind them, and they heard the "click-clock" of the steel lock shooting to its socket.

The room was a medium-sized apartment, innocent of furniture save for a table in the centre of the room and a bench which ran round the walls. Light came from a small window giving a restricted view of the courtyard and a barred transom above the doorway. An oblong slit of ground glass behind which was evidently an electric globe served for the night.

There were two occupants of the room, who looked up, one--a grimy, dishevelled priest--blankly, the other with the light of interest in his eyes.

He sat in his shirt-sleeves, his coat being rolled up to serve as a pillow. Above the "bed" hung a Derby hat--an incongruous object. He was short, stout, and fresh coloured, with a startling black moustache elaborately curled at the ends and two grey eyes that were lined around with much laughter. He walked slowly to the party and held out his hand to Malcolm.

"Welcome to the original Bughouse," he said, and from his accent it was impossible to discover whether he was American or English. "On behalf of self an' partner, we welcome you to Bughouse Lodge. When do you go to the chair--he's due to-day," he jerked his thumb at the crooning priest. "I can't say I'm sorry. So far as I am concerned he's been dead ever since they put him here."

Malcolm recognized the little man in a flash. It was his acquaintance of London.

"You don't remember me," smiled Malcolm, "but what is your particular crime?"

The little man's face creased with laughter.

"Shootin' up Tcherekin," he said tersely, and Malinkoff's eyebrows rose.

"You're--Beem--is that how you pronounce it?"

"Bim," said the other, "B-I-M. Christian name Cherry--Cherry Bim; see the idea? Named after the angels. Say, when I was a kid--I've got a photograph way home in Brooklyn to prove it--I had golden hair in long ringlets!"

Malinkoff chuckled softly.

"This is the American who held up Tcherekin and nearly got away with ten million roubles," he said.

Cherry Bim had taken down his Derby and had adjusted it at the angle demanded by the circumstances.

"That's right--but I didn't know they was roubles. I _should excite my mentality over waste paper! No, we got word that it was French money."

"There was another man in it?" said Malinkoff, lighting a cigarette--there had been no attempt to search them.

"Don't let that match go out!" begged Cherry Bim, and dug a stub from his waistcoat pocket. "Yes," he puffed, "Isaac Moskava--they killed poor old Issy. He was a good feller, but too--too--what's the word when a feller falls to every dame he meets?"

"Impressionable?" suggested Malcolm.

"That's the word," nodded Cherry Bim; "we'd got away with twenty thousand dollars' worth of real sparklers in Petrograd. They used to belong to a princess, and we took 'em off the lady friends of Groobal, the Food Commissioner, and I suggested we should beat it across the Swedish frontier. But no, he had a girl in Moscow--he was that kind of guy who could smell patchouli a million miles away."

Malcolm gazed at the man in wonderment.

"Do I understand that you are a--a----" He hesitated to describe his companion in misfortune, realizing that it was a very delicate position.

"I'm a cavalier of industry," said Cherry Bim, with a flourish.

"Chevalier is the word you want," suggested Malcolm, responding to his geniality.

"It's all one," said the other cheerfully. "It means crook, I guess? Don't think," he said seriously, "don't you think that I'm one of those cheap gun-men you can buy for ten dollars, because I'm not. It was the love of guns that brought me into trouble. It wasn't trouble that brought me to the guns. I could use a gun when I was seven," he said. "My dad--God love him!--lived in Utah, and I was born at Broke Creek and cut my teeth on a '45. I could shoot the tail-feathers off a fly's wing," he said. "I could shoot the nose off a mosquito."

It was the deceased Isaac Moskava who had brought him to Russia, he said. They had been fellow fugitives to Canada, and Isaac, who had friends in a dozen Soviets, had painted an entrancing picture of the pickings which were to be had in Petrograd. They worked their way across Canada and shipped on a Swedish barque, working their passage before the mast. At Stockholm Issy had found a friend, who forwarded them carriage paid to the capital, whereafter things went well.

"Have you got any food?" asked Cherry Bim suddenly. "They starve you here. Did you ever eat _schie_? It's hot water smelling of cabbage."

"Have you been tried?" asked Malinkoff, and the man smiled.

"Tried!" he said contemptuously. "Say, what do you think's goin' to happen to you? Do you think you'll go up before a judge and hire a lawyer to defend you? Not much. If they try you, it's because they've got something funny to tell you. Look here."

He leapt up on to the bench with surprising agility and stood on tiptoe, so that his eyes came level with a little grating in the wall. The opening gave a view of another cell.

"Look," said Cherry Bim, stepping aside, and Malcolm peered through the opening.

At first he could see nothing, for the cell was darker than the room he was in, but presently he distinguished a huddled form lying on the bench, and even as he looked it was galvanized to life. It was an old man who had leaped from the bench mumbling and mouthing in his terror.

"I am awake! I am awake!" he screamed in Russian. "_Gospodar_, observe me! I am awake!"

His wild yells shrunk to a shrill sobbing, and then, with a long sigh, he climbed back to the bench and turned his back to the wall. Malcolm exchanged glances with Malinkoff, who had shared the view.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Come down and I'll tell you. Don't let the old man hear you speak--he's frightened."

"What did he say?" he asked curiously.

Malcolm repeated the words, and Cherry Bim nodded.

"I see. I thought they were stuffing me when they told me, but it's evidently true. He's a Jew," he went on. "Do you think them guys don't kill Jews? Don't you make any mistake about that--they'll kill anybody. This old man has a daughter or a granddaughter, and one of the comrades got fresh with him, so poor old Moses--I don't know his name but he looks like the picture of Moses that we had in our Bible at home--shot at this fellow and broke his jaw, so they sent him to be killed in his sleep."

"In his sleep?" repeated Malcolm incredulously, and Cherry Bim nodded.

"That's it," he said. "So long as he's awake they won't kill him--at least they say so. I guess when his time comes they'll settle him, asleep or awake. The poor old guy thinks that so long as he's awake he's safe--do you get me?"

"It's hellish!" said Malcolm between his teeth. "They must be devils."

"Oh, no, they're not," said Cherry Bim. "I've got nothing on the Soviets. I bet the fellow that invented that way of torturing the old man thinks he's done a grand bit of work. Say, suppose you turned a lot of kids loose to govern the United States, why Broadway would be all cluttered up with dead nursery maids and murdered governesses. That's what's happening in Russia. They don't mean any harm. They're doing all they know to govern, only they don't know much--take no notice of his reverence, he always gets like this round about meal times."

The voice of the black-coated priest grew louder. He stood before the barred window, crossing himself incessantly.

"It is the celebration of the Divine Mystery," said Malinkoff in a low voice, and removed his cap.

"For our holy fathers the high priests Basil the Great, Gregory the Divine, Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, for Peter and Alexis and Jonas, and all holy high priests," groaned the man, "for the holy wonder workers, the disinterested Cosmas and Damiauns, Cyrus and John, Pantaleon and Hermolaus, and all unmercenary saints...!

"By the intercession of these, look down upon us, O God!"

He walked back to his seat and, taking compassion upon this man with a white, drawn face, Malcolm went to him.

"Little father," he said, "is there anything we can do for you?"

He produced his cigarette case, but the pope shook his head.

"There is nothing, my son" he replied in a weary voice, which he did not raise above one monotonous tone, "unless you can find the means of bringing Boolba to this cell. Oh, for an hour of the old life!" He raised his hand and his voice at the same moment, and the colour came to his cheeks. "I would take this Boolba," he said, "as holy Ivan took the traitors before the Kremlin, and first I would pour boiling hot water upon him and then ice cold water, and then I would flay him, suspending him by the ankles; then before he was dead I would cut him in four pieces----"

"Phew!" said Malcolm, and walked away.

"Did you expect to find a penitent soul?" asked Malinkoff dryly. "My dear fellow, there is very little difference between the Russian of to-day and the Russian of twelve months ago, with this exception, that the men who had it easy are now having it hard, and those who had to work and to be judged are now the judges."

Malcolm said nothing. He went to the bench and making himself as comfortable as possible he lay down. It was astounding that he could be, as he was, accustomed to captivity in the space of a few hours. He might have lived in bondage all his life, and he would be prepared to live for ever so long as--he did not want to think of the girl, that sweeper of Boolba's.

As to his own fate he was indifferent. Somehow he believed that he was not destined to die in this horrible place, and prayed that at least he might see the girl once more before he fell a victim to the malice of the ex-butler.

To his agony of mind was added a more prosaic distress--he was ravenously hungry, a sensation which was shared by his two companions.

"I've never known them to be so late," complained Cherry Bim regretfully. "There's usually a bit of black bread, if there's nothing else."

He walked to the window and, leaning his arms on the sill, looked disconsolately forth.

"Hi, Ruski!" he yelled at some person unseen, and the other inmates of the room could see him making extravagant pantomime, which produced nothing in the shape of food.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon, and Malcolm was dozing, when they heard the grate of the key in the lock and the slipping of bolts, then the door opened slowly. Malcolm leapt forward.

"Irene--your Highness!" he gasped.

The girl walked into the cell without a word, and put the big basket she had been carrying upon the table. There was a faint colour in the face she turned to Malcolm. Her hands were outstretched to him, and he caught them in his own and held them together.

"Poor little girl!"

She smiled.

"Mr. Hay, you have made good progress in your Russian since I met you last," she said. "General Malinkoff, isn't it?"

The general stood strictly to attention, his hand at his cap--a fact which seemed to afford great amusement to the gaoler who stood in the doorway, and who was an interested spectator.

"It was Boolba's idea that I should bring you food," said the girl, "and I have been ordered to bring it to you every day. I have an idea that he thinks"--she stopped--"that he thinks I like you," she went on frankly, "and of course that is true. I like all people who fly into danger to rescue distressed females," she smiled.

"Can anything be done for you?" asked Malcolm in a low voice. "Can't you get away from this place? Have you no friends?"

She shook her head.

"I have one friend," she said, "who is in even greater danger than I--no, I do not mean you. Mr. Hay"--she lowered her voice--"there may be a chance of getting you out of this horrible place, but it is a very faint chance. Will you promise me that if you get away you will leave Russia at once?"

He shook his head.

"You asked me that once before, your Highness," he said. "I am less inclined to leave Russia now than I was in the old days, when the danger was not so evident."

"Highness"--it was the priest who spoke--"your magnificence has brought me food also? Highness, I served your magnificent father. Do you not remember Gregory the priest in the cathedral at Vladimir?"

She shook her head.

"I have food for you, father," she said, "but I do not recall you."

"Highness" he spoke eagerly and his eyes were blazing, "since you go free, will you not say a prayer for me before the miraculous Virgin? Or, better still, before the tomb of the holy and sainted Dimitry in the cathedral of the Archangel! And, lady," he seized her hand in entreaty, "before the relics of St. Philip the Martyr in our Holy Cathedral of the Assumption."

Gently the girl disengaged her arm.

"Father, I will pray for you," she said. "Good-bye!" she said to Malcolm, and again extended both her hands, "till to-morrow!"

Malcolm raised the hands to his lips, and stood like a man in a dream, long after the door had slammed behind her.

"Gee!" said the voice of Cherry Bim with a long sigh. "She don't remember me, an' I don't know whether to be glad or sorry--some peach!"

Malcolm turned on him savagely, but it was evident the man had meant no harm.

"She is a friend of mine," he said sharply.

"Sure she is," said the placid Cherry, unpacking the basket, "and the right kind of friend. If this isn't caviare! Say, shut your eyes, and you'd think you were at Rectoris."

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