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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Secret Of The Night - Chapter III - THE WATCH
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The Secret Of The Night - Chapter III - THE WATCH Post by :imcaffmngr Category :Long Stories Author :Gaston Leroux Date :April 2011 Read :2826

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The Secret Of The Night - Chapter III - THE WATCH

She went out to caution the servants to a strict watch, armed to
the teeth, before the gate all night long, and she crossed the
deserted garden. Under the veranda the schwitzar was spreading a
mattress for Ermolai. She asked him if he had seen the young
Frenchman anywhere, and after the answer, could only say to herself,
"Where is he, then?" Where had Rouletabille gone? The general,
whom she had carried up to his room on her back, without any help,
and had helped into bed without assistance, was disturbed by this
singular disappearance. Had someone already carried off "their"
Rouletabille? Their friends were gone and the orderlies had taken
leave without being able to say where this boy of a journalist had
gone. But it would be foolish to worry about the disappearance of
a Journalist, they had said. That kind of man - these journalists
- came, went, arrived when one least expected them, and quitted
their company - even the highest society - without formality. It
was what they called in France "leaving English fashion." However,
it appeared it was not meant to be impolite. Perhaps he had gone
to telegraph. A journalist had to keep in touch with the telegraph
at all hours. Poor Matrena Petrovna roamed the solitary garden in
tumult of heart. There was the light in the general's window on
the first floor. There were lights in the basement from the
kitchens. There was a light on the ground-floor near the
sitting-room, from Natacha's chamber window. Ah, the night was
hard to bear. And this night the shadows weighed heavier than ever
on the valiant breast of Matrena. As she breathed she felt as
though she lifted all the weight of the threatening night. She
examined everything - everything. All was shut tight, was perfectly
secure, and there was no one within excepting people she was
absolutely sure of - but whom, all the same, she did not allow to
go anywhere in the house excepting where their work called them.
Each in his place. That made things surer. She wished each one
could remain fixed like the porcelain statues of men out on the
lawn. Even as she thought it, here at her feet, right at her very
feet, a shadow of one of the porcelain men moved, stretched itself
out, rose to its knees, grasped her skirt and spoke in the voice
of Rouletabille. Ah, good! it was Rouletabille. "Himself, dear
madame; himself."

"Why is Ermolai in the veranda? Send him back to the kitchens and
tell the schwitzar to go to bed. The servants are enough for an
ordinary guard outside. Then you go in at once, shut the door,
and don't concern yourself about me, dear madame. Good-night."

Rouletabille had resumed, in the shadows, among the other porcelain
figures, his pose of a porcelain man.

Matrena Petrovna did as she was told, returned to the house, spoke
to the schwitzar, who removed to the lodge with Ermolai, and their
mistress closed the outside door. She had closed long before the
door of the kitchen stair which allowed the domestics to enter the
villa from below. Down there each night the devoted gniagnia and
the faithful Ermolai watched in turn.

Within the villa, now closed, there were on the ground-floor only
Matrena herself and her step-daughter Natacha, who slept in the
chamber off the sitting-room, and, above on the first floor, the
general asleep, or who ought to be asleep if he had taken his
potion. Matrena remained in the darkness of the drawing-room,
her dark-lantern in her hand. All her nights passed thus, gliding
from door to door, from chamber to chamber, watching over the watch
of the police, not daring to stop her stealthy promenade even to
throw herself on the mattress that she had placed across the
doorway of her husband's chamber. Did she ever sleep? She herself
could hardly say. Who else could, then? A tag of sleep here and
there, over the arm of a chair, or leaning against the wall, waked
always by some noise that she heard or dreamed, some warning,
perhaps, that she alone had heard. And to-night, to-night there is
Rouletabille's alert guard to help her, and she feels a little less
the aching terror of watchfulness, until there surges back into her
mind the recollection that the police are no longer there. Was he
right, this young man? Certainly she could not deny that some way
she feels more confidence now that the police are gone. She does
not have to spend her time watching their shadows in the shadows,
searching the darkness, the arm-chairs, the sofas, to rouse them,
to appeal in low tones to all they held binding, by their own name
and the name of their father, to promise them a bonus that would
amount to something if they watched well, to count them in order to
know where they all were, and, suddenly, to throw full in their
face the ray of light from her little dark-lantern in order to be
sure, absolutely sure, that she was face to face with them, one of
the police, and not with some other, some other with an infernal
machine under his arm. Yes, she surely had less work now that she
had no longer to watch the police. And she had less fear!

She thanked the young reporter for that. Where was he? Did he
remain in the pose of a porcelain statue all this time out there
on the lawn? She peered through the lattice of the veranda shutters
and looked anxiously out into the darkened garden. Where could
he be? Was that he, down yonder, that crouching black heap with an
unlighted pipe in his mouth? No, no. That, she knew well, was the
dwarf she genuinely loved, her little domovoi-doukh, the familiar
spirit of the house, who watched with her over the general's life
and thanks to whom serious injury had not yet befallen Feodor
Feodorovitch - one could not regard a mangled leg that seriously.
Ordinarily in her own country (she was from the Orel district) one
did not care to see the domovoi-doukh appear in flesh and blood.
When she was little she was always afraid that she would come upon
him around a turn of the path in her father's garden. She always
thought of him as no higher than that, seated back on his haunches
and smoking his pipe. Then, after she was married, she had suddenly
run across him at a turning in the bazaar at Moscow. He was just
as she had imagined him, and she had immediately bought him, carried
him home herself and placed him, with many precautions, for he was
of very delicate porcelain, in the vestibule of the palace. And in
leaving Moscow she had been careful not to leave him there. She
had carried him herself in a case and had placed him herself on the
lawn of the datcha des Iles, that he might continue to watch over
her happiness and over the life of her Feodor. And in order that
he should not be bored, eternally smoking his pipe all alone, she
had surrounded him with a group of little porcelain genii, after
the fashion of the Jardins des Iles. Lord! how that young Frenchman
had frightened her, rising suddenly like that, without warning, on
the lawn. She had believed for a moment that it was the
domovoi-doukh himself rising to stretch his legs. Happily he had
spoken at once and she had recognized his voice. And besides, her
domovoi surely would not speak French. Ah! Matrena Petrovna
breathed freely now. It seemed to her, this night, that there were
two little familiar genii watching over the house. And that was
worth more than all the police in the world, surely. How wily that
little fellow was to order all those men away. There was something
it was necessary to know; it was necessary therefore that nothing
should be in the way of learning it. As things were now, the
mystery could operate without suspicion or interference. Only one
man watched it, and he had not the air of watching. Certainly
Rouletabille had not the air of constantly watching anything. He
had the manner, out in the night, of an easy little man in porcelain,
neither more nor less, yet he could see everything - if anything
were there to see - and he could hear everything - if there were
anything to hear. One passed beside him without suspecting him,
and men might talk to each other without an idea that he heard
them, and even talk to themselves according to the habit people
have sometimes when they think themselves quite alone. All the
guests had departed thus, passing close by him, almost brushing
him, had exchanged their "Adieus," their "Au revoirs," and all
their final, drawn-out farewells. That dear little living domovoi
certainly was a rogue! Oh, that dear little domovoi who had been
so affected by the tears of Matrena Petrovna! The good, fat,
sentimental, heroic woman longed to hear, just then, his
reassuring voice.

"It is I. Here I am," said the voice of her little living familiar
spirit at that instant, and she felt her skirt grasped. She waited
for what he should say. She felt no fear. Yet she had supposed he
was outside the house. Still, after all, she was not too astonished
that he was within. He was so adroit! He had entered behind her,
in the shadow of her skirts, on all-fours, and had slipped away
without anyone noticing him, while she was speaking to her enormous,
majestic schwitzar.

"So you were here?" she said, taking his hand and pressing it
nervously in hers.

"Yes, yes. I have watched you closing the house. It is a task
well-done, certainly. You have not forgotten anything."

"But where were you, dear little demon? I have been into all the
corners, and my hands did not touch you."

"I was under the table set with hors-d'oeuvres in the sitting-room."

"Ah, under the table of zakouskis! I have forbidden them before
now to spread a long hanging cloth there, which obliges me to kick
my foot underneath casually in order to be sure there is no one
beneath. It is imprudent, very imprudent, such table-cloths. And
under the table of zakouskis have you been able to see or hear

"Madame, do you think that anyone could possibly see or hear
anything in the villa when you are watching it alone, when the
general is asleep and your step-daughter is preparing for bed?"

"No. no. I do not believe so. I do not. No, oh, Christ!"

They talked thus very low in the dark, both seated in a corner of
the sofa, Rouletabille's hand held tightly in the burning hands of
Matrena Petrovna.

She sighed anxiously. "And in the garden - have you heard anything?"

"I heard the officer Boris say to the officer Michael, in French,
'Shall we return at once to the villa?' The other replied in
Russian in a way I could see was a refusal. Then they had a
discussion in Russian which I, naturally, could not understand.
But from the way they talked I gathered that they disagreed and
that no love was lost between them."

"No, they do not love each other. They both love Natacha."

"And she, which one of them does she love? It is necessary to tell

"She pretends that she loves Boris, and I believe she does, and yet
she is very friendly with Michael and often she goes into nooks and
corners to chat with him, which makes Boris mad with jealousy. She
has forbidden Boris to speak to her father about their marriage, on
the pretext that she does not wish to leave her father now, while
each day, each minute the general's life is in danger."

"And you, madame - do you love your step-daughter?" brutally
inquired the reporter.

"Yes - sincerely," replied Matrena Petrovna, withdrawing her hand
from those of Rouletabille.

"And she - does she love you?"

"I believe so, monsieur, I believe so sincerely. Yes, she loves me,
and there is not any reason why she should not love me. I believe
- understand me thoroughly, because it comes from my heart - that
we all here in this house love one another. Our friends are old
proved friends. Boris has been orderly to my husband for a very
long time. We do not share any of his too-modern ideas, and there
were many discussions on the duty of soldiers at the time of the
massacres. I reproached him with being as womanish as we were in
going down on his knees to the general behind Natacha and me, when
it became necessary to kill all those poor moujiks of Presnia. It
was not his role. A soldier is a soldier. My husband raised him
roughly and ordered him, for his pains, to march at the head of the
troops. It was right. What else could he do? The general already
had enough to fight against, with the whole revolution, with his
conscience, with the natural pity in his heart of a brave man, and
with the tears and insupportable moanings, at such a moment, of his
daughter and his wife. Boris understood and obeyed him, but, after
the death of the poor students, he behaved again like a woman in
composing those verses on the heroes of the barricades; don't you
think so? Verses that Natacha and he learned by heart, working
together, when they were surprised at it by the general. There
was a terrible scene. It was before the next-to-the-last attack.
The general then had the use of both legs. He stamped his feet and
fairly shook the house."

"Madame," said Rouletabille, "a propos of the attacks, you must
tell me about the third."

As he said this, leaning toward her, Matrena Petrovna ejaculated a
"Listen!" that made him rigid in the night with ear alert. What
had she heard? For him, he had heard nothing.

"You hear nothing?" she whispered to him with an effort. "A

"No, I hear nothing."

"You know - like the tick-tack of a clock. Listen."

"How can you hear the tick-tack? I've noticed that no clocks are
running here."

"Don't you understand? It is so that we shall be able to hear the
tick-tack better."

"Oh, yes, I understand. But I do not hear anything."

"For myself, I think I hear the tick-tack all the time since the
last attempt. It haunts my ears, it is frightful, to say to one's
self: There is clockwork somewhere, just about to reach the
death-tick - and not to know where, not to know where! When the
police were here I made them all listen, and I was not sure even
when they had all listened and said there was no tick-tack. It is
terrible to hear it in my ear any moment when I least expect it.
Tick-tack! Tick-tack! It is the blood beating in my ear, for
instance, hard, as if it struck on a sounding-board. Why, here
are drops of perspiration on my hands! Listen!"

"Ah, this time someone is talking - is crying," said the young man.

"Sh-h-h!" And Rouletabille felt the rigid hand of Matrena Petrovna
on his arm. "It is the general. The general is dreaming!"

She drew him into the dining-room, into a corner where they could
no longer hear the moanings. But all the doors that communicated
with the dining-room, the drawing-room and the sitting-room
remained open behind him, by the secret precaution of Rouletabille.

He waited while Matrena, whose breath he heard come hard, was a
little behind. In a moment, quite talkative, and as though she
wished to distract Rouletabille's attention from the sounds above,
the broken words and sighs, she continued:

"See, you speak of clocks. My husband has a watch which strikes.
Well, I have stopped his watch because more than once I have been
startled by hearing the tick-tack of his watch in his
waistcoat-pocket. Koupriane gave me that advice one day when he
was here and had pricked his ears at the noise of the pendulums,
to stop all my watches and clocks so that there would be no chance
of confusing them with the tick-tack that might come from an
infernal machine planted in some corner. He spoke from experience,
my dear little monsieur, and it was by his order that all the clocks
at the Ministry, on the Naberjnaia, were stopped, my dear little
friend. The Nihilists, he told me, often use clockworks to set off
their machines at the time they decide on. No one can guess all
the inventions that they have, those brigands. In the same way,
Koupriane advised me to take away all the draught-boards from the
fireplaces. By that precaution they were enabled to avoid a
terrible disaster at the Ministry near the Pont-des-chantres, you
know, petit demovoi? They saw a bomb just as it was being lowered
into the fire-place of the minister's cabinet.* The Nihilists held
it by a cord and were up on the roof letting it down the chimney.
One of them was caught, taken to Schlusselbourg and hanged. Here
you can see that all the draught-boards of the fireplaces are
cleared away."

*Actual attack on Witte.

"Madame," interrupted Rouletabille (Matrena Petrovna did not know
that no one ever succeeded in distracting Rouletabille's attention),
"madame, someone moans still, upstairs."

"Oh, that is nothing, my little friend. It is the general, who has
bad nights. He cannot sleep without a narcotic, and that gives him
a fever. I am going to tell you now how the third attack came about.
And then you will understand, by the Virgin Mary, how it is I have
yet, always have, the tick-tack in my ears.

"One evening when the general had got to sleep and I was in my own
room, I heard distinctly the tick-tack of clockwork operating. All
the clocks had been stopped, as Koupriane advised, and I had made
an excuse to send Feodor's great watch to the repairer. You can
understand how I felt when I heard that tick-tack. I was frenzied.
I turned my head in all directions, and decided that the sound came
from my husband's chamber. I ran there. He still slept, man that
he is! The tick-tack was there. But where? I turned here and
there like a fool. The chamber was in darkness and it seemed
absolutely impossible for me to light a lamp because I thought I
could not take the time for fear the infernal machine would go off
in those few seconds. I threw myself on the floor and listened
under the bed. The noise came from above. But where? I sprang to
the fireplace, hoping that, against my orders, someone had started
the mantel-clock. No, it was not that! It seemed to me now that
the tick-tack came from the hed itself, that the machine was in the
bed. The general awaked just then and cried to me, 'What is it,
Matrena? What are you doing?' And he raised himself in bed, while
I cried, 'Listen! Hear the tick-tack. Don't you hear the
tick-tack?' I threw myself upon him and gathered him up in my arms
to carry him, but I trembled too much, was too weak from fear, and
fell back with him onto the bed, crying, 'Help!' He thrust me away
and said roughly, 'Listen.' The frightful tick-tack was behind us
now, on the table. But there was nothing on the table, only the
night-light, the glass with the potion in it, and a gold vase where
I had placed with my own hands that morning a cluster of grasses
and wild flowers that Ermolai had brought that morning on his return
from the Orel country. With one bound I was on the table and at
the flowers. I struck my fingers among the grasses and the flowers,
and felt a resistance. The tick-tack was in the bouquet! I took
the bouquet in both hands, opened the window and threw it as far
as I could into the garden. At the same moment the bomb burst with
a terrible noise, giving me quite a deep wound in the hand. Truly,
my dear little domovoi, that day we had been very near death, but
God and the Little Father watched over us."

And Matrena Petrovna made the sign of the cross.

"All the windows of the house were broken. In all, we escaped with
the fright and a visit from the glazier, my little friend, but I
certainly believed that all was over."

"And Mademoiselle Natacha?" inquired Rouletabille. "She must also
have been terribly frightened, because the whole house must have

"Surely. But Natacha was not here that night. It was a Saturday.
She had been invited to the soiree du 'Michel' by the parents of
Boris Nikolaievitch, and she slept at their house, after supper at
the Ours, as had been planned. The next day, when she learned the
danger the general had escaped, she trembled in every limb. She
threw herself in her father's arms, weeping, which was natural
enough, and declared that she never would go away from him again.
The general told her how I had managed. Then she pressed me to
her heart, saying that she never would forget such an action, and
that she loved me more than if I were truly her mother. It was all
in vain that during the days following we sought to understand how
the infernal machine had been placed in the bouquet of wild flowers.
Only the general's friends that you saw this evening, Natacha and
I had entered the general's chamber during the day or in the evening.
No servant, no chamber-maid, had been on that floor. In the
day-time as well as all night long that entire floor is closed and
I have the keys. The door of the servants' staircase which opens
onto that floor, directly into the general's chamber, is always
locked and barred on the inside with iron. Natacha and I do the
chamber work. There is no way of taking greater precautions. Three
police agents watched over us night and day. The night of the
bouquet two had spent their time watching around the house, and the
third lay on the sofa in the veranda. Then, too, we found all the
doors and windows of the villa shut tight. In such circumstances
you can judge whether my anguish was not deeper than any I had known
hitherto. Because to whom, henceforth, could we trust ourselves?
what and whom could we believe? what and whom could we watch?
From that day, no other person but Natacha and me have the right to
go to the first floor. The general's chamber was forbidden to his
friends. Anyway, the general improved, and soon had the pleasure
of receiving them himself at his table. I carry the general down
and take him to his room again on my back. I do not wish anyone
to help. I am strong enough for that. I feel that I could carry
him to the end of the world if that would save him. Instead of
three police, we had ten; five outside, five inside. The days went
well enough, but the nights were frightful, because the shadows of
the police that I encountered always made me fear that I was face
to face with the Nihilists. One night I almost strangled one with
my hand. It was after that incident that we arranged with
Koupriane that the agents who watched at night, inside, should stay
placed in the veranda, after having, at the end of the evening,
made complete examination of everything. They were not to leave
the veranda unless they heard a suspicious noise or I called to
them. And it was after that arrangement that the incident of the
floor happened, that has puzzled so both Koupriane and me."

"Pardon, madame," interrupted Rouletabille, "but the agents, during
the examination of everything, never went to the bedroom floor?"

"No, my child, there is only myself and Natacha, I repeat, who,
since the bouquet, go there."

"Well, madame, it is necessary to take me there at once."

"At once!"

"Yes, into the general's chamber."

"But he is sleeping, my child. Let me tell you exactly how the
affair of the floor happened, and you will know as much of it as
I and as Koupriane."

"To the general's chamber at once."

She took both his hands and pressed them nervously. "Little friend!
Little friend! One hears there sometimes things which are the
secret of the night! You understand me?"

"To the general's chamber, at once, madame."

Abruptly she decided to take him there, agitated, upset as she was
by ideas and sentiments which held her without respite between the
wildest inquietude and the most imprudent audacity.

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