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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Book Of All-power - Chapter 18. The Monastery Of St. Basil The Leper
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The Book Of All-power - Chapter 18. The Monastery Of St. Basil The Leper Post by :Florence Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :2993

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The Book Of All-power - Chapter 18. The Monastery Of St. Basil The Leper


He gave an order to the soldiers, and the barrier was removed, then he struck a match and lit a flare which burnt a dazzling red flame for half a minute.

"A signal," said Malinkoff, "probably to notify our capture."

A few minutes later, with a soldier on either footboard, and the officer sitting beside the chauffeur, the car sped through the night, checking only before it came to the cross-roads which Malinkoff had sought for. Turning to the left, the car swung into a road narrower and less comfortable for the passengers.

"I wonder if they will catch our brave friend," said the girl.

"They will be sorry if they do," replied Malcolm dryly. "Cherry will not be caught as we were."

Ahead of them and to the right apparently, on a hill by their height, a dozen fires were burning, and Malinkoff judged that the camp they were approaching was one of considerable size. He guessed it was a concentration camp where the Reds were preparing for their periodical offensive against the Ukraine. It must be somewhere in this district that the Polish Commissioners were negotiating with the Supreme Government--an event which had set Moscow agog.

An eerie experience this, riding through the dark, the figures of the soldier guards on either footboard gripping to the posts of the car. Bump, bump, bump it went, swaying and jolting, and then one of the guards fell off. They expected him to jump on the footboard again, for the auto was going at a slow pace, but to their surprise he did not reappear. Then a similar accident happened to the man on the other footboard. He suddenly let go his hold and fell backwards.

"What on earth----" said Malcolm.

"Look, look!" whispered the girl.

A foot and a leg had appeared opposite the window, and it came from the roof of the car. Then another foot, and the bulk of a body against the night.

"It's Cherry!" whispered the girl.

Swiftly he passed the window and came to the side of the officer, whose head was turned to the chauffeur.

"Russki," said Cherry, "_stoi_!"

"Stop!" was one of the four Russian words he knew, and the chauffeur obeyed, just at the moment when the car came to where the road split into two, one running to the right and apparently to the camp, the other and the older road dipping down to a misty valley.

The Red officer saw the gun under his nose and took intelligent action. His two hands went up and his revolver fell with a clatter at the chauffeur's feet. Deftly Cherry relieved him of the remainder of his arms.

By this time Malcolm was out of the car, and a brief council of war was held.

To leave the man there would be to ask for trouble. To shoot him was repugnant even to Cherry, who had constituted himself the official assassin of the party.

"We shall have to take him along," said Malinkoff. "There are plenty of places where we can leave him in the night, and so long as he does not know which way we go, I do not think he can do us any harm."

The Red officer took his misfortune with the philosophy which the chauffeur had displayed in similar circumstances.

"I have no malice, little general," he said. "I carry out my orders as a soldier should. For my part I would as soon cry 'Long live the Czar!' as 'Long live the Revolution!' If you are leaving Russia I shall be glad to go with you, and I may be of service because I know all the latest plans for arresting you. There is a barrier on every road, even on this which you are taking now, unless," he added thoughtfully, "it is removed for the Commissary Boolba."

"Is he coming this way?" asked Malcolm.

"You saw me fire a flare," said the man. "That was a signal to the camp that you were captured. The news will be telegraphed to Moscow, and Boolba will come to sentence the men and take back his wife."

He evidently spoke in the terms of his instructions.

"What road will he take, little soldier?" asked Malinkoff.

"The Tver road," said the man. "It is the direct road from Moscow, and we shall cross it very quickly. At the crossing are four soldiers and an under officer, but no barricade. If you will direct me I will tell them a lie and say that we go to meet Boolba."

"We're in his hands to some extent," said Malinkoff, "and my advice is that we accept his offer. He is not likely to betray us."

The car resumed its journey, and Cherry, who had taken his place inside, explained the miracle which had happened.

"I saw the first lot of soldiers we passed," he said, "and when the car stopped suddenly I knew what had happened. I took off my boots and climbed on to the roof. I only made it just in time. The rest was like eating pie."

"You didn't shoot the soldiers who were standing on the footboard, did you?" asked Malcolm. "I heard no shots."

Cherry shook his head.

"Why shoot 'em?" he said. "I had only to lean over and hit 'em on the bean with the butt end of my gun, and it was a case of 'Where am I, nurse?'"

Half an hour's drive brought them to the cross-roads, and the four apathetic sentries who, at the word of the Red officer, stood aside to allow the car to pass. They were now doubling back on their tracks, running parallel with the railroad (according to Malinkoff) which, if the officer's surmise was accurate, was the one on which Boolba was rushing by train to meet them. So far their auto had given them no trouble, but twenty miles from the camp both the front tyres punctured simultaneously. This might have been unimportant, for they carried two spare wheels, only it was discovered that one of these was also punctured and had evidently been taken out of use the day on which they secured the car. There was nothing to do but to push the machine into a field, darken the windows and allow the chauffeur to make his repairs on the least damaged of the tubes. They shut him into the interior of the car with the Red officer who volunteered his help, furnished him with a lamp, and walked down the road in the faint hope of discovering some cottage or farm where they could replenish their meagre store of food.

Half an hour's walking brought them to a straggling building which they approached with caution.

"It is too large for a farm," said Malinkoff; "it is probably one of those monasteries which exist in such numbers in the Moscow Government."

The place was in darkness and it was a long time before they found the entrance, which proved to be through a small chapel, sited in one corner of the walled enclosure. The windows of the chapel were high up, but Malcolm thought he detected a faint glow of light in the interior, and it was this flicker which guided them to the chapel. The door was half open, and Malinkoff walked boldly in. The building, though small, was beautiful. Green malachite columns held up the groined roof, and the walls were white with the deadly whiteness of alabaster. A tiny altar, on which burnt the conventional three candles, fronted them as they entered, and the screen glittered with gold. A priest knelt before the altar, singing in a thin, cracked voice, so unmusically that the girl winced. Save for the priest and the party, the building was empty.

He rose at the sound of their footsteps, and stood waiting their approach. He was a young and singularly ugly man, and suspicion and fear were written plainly on his face.

"God save you, little brother of saints!" said Malinkoff.

"God save you, my son!" replied the priest mechanically. "What is it you want?"

"We need food and rest for this little lady, also hot coffee, and we will pay well."

Malinkoff knew that this latter argument was necessary. The priest shook his head.

"All the brethren have gone away from the monastery except Father Joachim, who is a timid man, Father Nicholas and myself," he said. "We have very little food and none to spare. They have eaten everything we had, and have killed my pretty chickens."

He did not say who "they" were, and Malinkoff was not sufficiently curious to inquire. He knew that the priests were no longer the power in the land that they were in the old days, and that there had been innumerable cases where the villagers had risen and slaughtered the men whose words hitherto had been as a law to them. A third of the monasteries in the Moscow Government had been sacked and burnt, and their congregations and officers dispersed.

He was surprised to find this beautiful chapel still intact, but he had not failed to notice the absence of the sacred vessels which usually adorned the altar, even in the midnight celebration.

"But can you do nothing for our little mama?" asked Malinkoff.

The priest shook his head.

"Our guests have taken everything," he said. "They have even turned Brother Joachim from the refectory."

"Your guests?" said Malinkoff.

The priest nodded.

"It is a great prince," he said in awe. "Terrible things are happening in the world, Antichrist is abroad, but we know little of such things in the monastery. The peasants have been naughty and have broken down our wall, slain our martyred brother Mathias--we could not find his body," he added quickly, "and Brother Joachim thinks that the Jews have eaten him so that by the consecrated holiness of his flesh they might avert their eternal damnation."

"Who is your prince?" asked Malcolm, hope springing in his breast.

There were still powerful factions in Russia which were grouped about the representatives and relatives of the late reigning house.

"I do not know his name," said the priest, "but I will lead you to him. Perhaps he has food."

He extinguished two of the candles on the altar, crossing himself all the while he was performing this ceremony, then led them through the screen and out at the back of the chapel. Malcolm thought he saw a face peering round the door as they approached it, and the shadow of a flying form crossing the dark yard. Possibly the timid Father Joachim he thought. Running along the wall was a low-roofed building.

"We are a simple order," said the priest, "and we live simply."

He had taken a candle lantern before he left the chapel, and this he held up to give them a better view. Narrow half-doors, the tops being absent, were set in the face of the building at intervals.

"Look!" he said, and pushed the lamp into the black void.

"A stable?" said Malinkoff.

He might have added: "a particularly draughty and unpleasant stable." There were straw-filled mangers and straw littered the floor.

"Do you keep many horses?"

The priest shook his head.

"Here we sleep," he said, "as directed in a vision granted to our most blessed saint and founder, St. Basil the Leper. For to him came an angel in the night, saying these words: 'Why sleepest thou in a fine bed when our Lord slept lowly in a stable?'"

He led the way across the yard to a larger building.

"His lordship may not wish to be disturbed, and if he is asleep I will not wake him."

"How long has he been here?" asked Malcolm.

"Since morning," repeated the other.

They were in a stone hall, and the priest hesitated. Then he opened the door cautiously, and peeped in. The room was well illuminated; they could see the hanging kerosene lamps from where they stood.

"Come," said the priest's voice in a whisper, "he is awake."

Malcolm went first. The room, though bare, looked bright and warm; a big wood fire blazed in an open hearth, and before it stood a man dressed in a long blue military coat, his hands thrust into his pockets. The hood of the coat was drawn over his head, and his attitude was one of contemplation. Malcolm approached him.

"Excellenz," he began, "we are travellers who desire----"

Slowly the man turned.

"Oh, you 'desire'!" he bellowed. "What do you desire, Comrade Hay? I will tell you what _I desire--my beautiful little lamb, my pretty little wife!"

It was Boolba.

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CHAPTER XIV. IN THE HOLY VILLAGE"Preopojensky, but by a circuitous route," said Malinkoff, speaking across the chauffeur. "What about the wires?" He looked up at the telegraph lines, looping from pole to pole, and Malcolm thrust his head into the window of the limousine to communicate this danger to the sybaritic Mr. Bim, who was spraying himself with perfume from a bottle he had found in the well-equipped interior of the car. "Stop," said Cherry. "We're well away from Moscow." At a word from Malinkoff the chauffeur brought the car to a standstill and Cherry slipped out, revolver in hand. Then