"The dickens he does !" thought I ; for Mr. Dickson,
Odessa agent of Bailey & Co., corn merchants,
was a bit of a Tartar, as I had learned to my cost.
"What's the row now?" I demanded of my fellow-
clerk; "has he got scent of our Mcolaieff escapade,
or what is it ?"
"No idea," said Gregory; ''the old boy seems in a
good humor; some business matter, probably. But
don't keep him waiting." So summoning up an air
of injured innocence, to be ready for all
contingencies, I marched into the lion's den.
Mr. Dickson was standing before the fire in a Briton's
time-honored attitude, and motioned me into a
chair in front of him. "Mr. Robinson," he said, "I
have great confidence in your discretion and common-
sense. The follies of youth will break out, but I
think that you have a sterling foundation to your
character underlying any superficial levity."
"I believe," he continued, "that you can speak Russian
I bowed again.
"I have, then," he proceeded, "a mission which I
wish you to undertake, and on the success of which
your promotion may depend. I would not trust it
to a subordinate, were it not that duty ties me to my
post at present."
"You may depend upon my doing my best, sir," I replied.
"Right, sir ; quite right ! What I wish you to do is
briefly this : The line of railway has just been opened
to Solteff, some hundred miles up the country. Now,
I wish to get the start of the other Odessa firms in
securing the produce of that district, which I have
reason to believe may be had at very low prices. You
will proceed by rail to Solteff, and interview a Mr.
Dimidoff, who is the largest landed proprietor in the
town. Make as favorable terms as you can with him.
Both Mr. Dimidoff and I wish the whole thing to be
done as quietly and secretly as possible in fact, that
nothing should be known about the matter until the
grain appears in Odessa. I desire it for the interests
of the firm, and Mr. Dimidoff on account of the
prejudice his peasantry entertain against exportation.
You will find yourself expected at the end of your
journey, and will start to-night. Money shall be
ready for your expenses. Good-morning, Mr. Robinson ; I
hope you won't fail to realize the good opinion
I have of your abilities."
"Gregory," I said, as I strutted into the office, "I'm
off on a mission a secret mission, my boy ; an affair
of thousands of pounds. Lend me your little port-
manteau mine's too imposing and tell Ivan to
pack it. A Russian millionaire expects me at the end
of my journey. Don't breathe a word of it to any
of Simkins's people, or the whole game will be up.
Keep it dark!"
I was so charmed at being, as it were, behind the
scenes, that I crept about the office all day in a sort
of cloak-and-bloody-dagger style, with responsibility
and brooding care marked upon every feature; and
when at night I stepped out and stole down to the
station, the unprejudiced observer would certainly
have guessed, from my general behavior, that I had
emptied the contents of the strong-box, before starting,
into that little valise of Gregory's. It was
imprudent of him, by the way, to leave English labels
pasted all over it. However, I could only hope that
the "Londons" and "Birminghams" would attract no
attention, or at least that no rival corn merchant
might deduce from them who I was and what my
errand might be.
Having paid the necessary roubles and got my
ticket, I ensconced myself in the corner of a snug
Russian car, and pondered over my extraordinary
good fortune. Dickson was growing old now, and if
I could make my mark in this matter it might be a
great thing for me. Dreams arose of a partnership
in the firm. The noisy wheels seemed to clank out
"Bailey, Robinson & Co.," "Bailey, Robinson & Co.,"
in a monotonous refrain, which gradually sunk into a
hum, and finally ceased as I dropped into a deep sleep.
Had I known the experience which awaited me at the
end of my journey it would hardly have been so
I awoke with an uneasy feeling that some one was
watching me closely; nor was I mistaken. A tall
dark man had taken up his position on the seat opposite,
and his black, sinister eyes seemed to look
through me and beyond me, as if he wished to read
my very soul. Then I saw him glance down at my
"Good heavens!" thought I, "here's Simkins's
agent, I suppose. It was careless of Gregory to leave
those confounded labels on the valise."
I closed my eyes for a time, but on reopening them
I again caught the stranger's earnest gaze.
"From England, I see," he said in Russian, showing
a row of white teeth in what was meant to be an
"Yes," I replied, trying to look unconcerned, but
painfully aware of my failure.
"Traveling for pleasure, perhaps ?" said he.
"Yes," I answered, eagerly. "Certainly for pleasure;
"Of course not," said he, with a shade of irony in
his voice. "Englishmen always travel for pleasure,
don't they? Oh, no; nothing else."
His conduct was mysterious, to say the least of it.
It was only explainable upon two hypotheses he was
either a madman, or he was the agent of some firm
bound upon the same errand as myself, and determined
to show me that he guessed my little game.
They were about equally unpleasant, and, on the
whole, I was relieved when the train pulled up in the
tumble-down shed which does duty for a station in
the rising town of Solteff Solteff, whose resources I
was about to open out, and whose commerce I was to
direct into the great world's channels. I almost expected
to see a triumphal arch as I stepped on to the platform.
I was to be expected at the end of my journey, so
Mr. Dickson had informed me. I looked about among
the motley crowd, but saw no Mr. Dimidoff. Suddenly
a slovenly, unshaven man passed me rapidly,
and glanced first at me and then at my trunk that
wretched trunk, the cause of all my woes. He disappeared
in the crowd, but in a little time came strolling past
me again, and contrived to whisper as he did
"Follow me, but at some distance," immediately
setting off out of the station and down the street at
a rapid pace. Here was mystery with a vengeance!
I trotted along in his rear with my valise, and on
turning the corner found a rough drosky waiting for
me. My unshaven friend opened the door, and I
"Is Mr. Dim " I was beginning.
"Hush!" he cried. "No names, no names; the
very walls have ears. You will hear all to-night;"
and with that assurance he closed the door, and, seizing
the reins, we drove off at a rapid pace so rapid
that I saw my black-eyed acquaintance of the rail-
way carriage gazing after us in surprise until we were
out of sight.
I thought over the whole matter as we jogged along
in that abominable springless conveyance.
"They say the nobles are tyrants in Russia," I
mused; "but it seems to me to be the other way
about, for here's this poor Mr. Dimidoff, who evidently
thinks his ex-serfs will rise and murder him
if he raises the price of grain in the district by
exporting some out of it. Fancy being obliged to
have recourse to all this mystery and deception in
order to sell one's own property! Why, it's worse
than an Irish landlord. It is monstrous! Well, he
doesn't seem to live in a very aristocratic quarter
either," I soliloquized, as I gazed out at the narrow,
crooked streets and the unkempt, dirty Muscovites
whom we passed. "I wish Gregory or some one was
with me, for it's a cut-throat-looking shop! By
Jove ! he's pulling up ; we must be there !"
We were there, to all appearance; for the drosky
stopped, and my driver's shaggy head appeared
through the aperture.
"It is here, most honored master," he said, as he
helped me to alight.
"Is Mr. Dimi " I commenced; but he interrupted me again.
"Anything but names," he whispered; "anything
but that. You are too used to a land that is free.
Caution, oh, sacred one!" and he ushered me down
a stone-flagged passage, and up a stair at the end of
it. "Sit for a few minutes in this room," he said,
opening a door, "and a repast will be served for
you;" and with that he left me to my own. reflections.
"Well," thought I, "whatever Mr. Dimidoff's
house may be like, his servants are undoubtedly well
trained. 'Oh, sacred one!' and 'revered master!'
I wonder what he'd call old Dickson himself, if he
is so polite to the clerk! I suppose it wouldn't be
the thing to smoke in this little crib ; but I could do
a pipe nicely. By the way, how confoundedly like
a cell it looks!"
It certainly did look like a cell. The door was
an iron one, and enormously strong, while the single
window was closely barred. The floor was of wood,
and sounded hollow and insecure as I strolled across
it. Both floor and walls were thickly splashed with
coffee or some other dark liquid. On the whole, it
was far from being a place where one would be likely
to become unreasonably festive.
I had hardly concluded my survey when I heard
steps approaching down the corridor, and the door
was opened by my old friend of the drosky. He
announced that my dinner was ready, and, with
many bows and apologies for leaving me in what he
called the "dismissal room," he led me down the
passage, and into a large and beautifully furnished
apartment. A table was spread for two in the centre
of it, and by the fire was standing a man very little
older than myself. He turned as I came in, and
stepped forward to meet me with every symptom of
"So young and yet so honored!" he exclaimed;
and then seeming to recollect himself, he continued,
"Pray sit at the head of the table. You must be
fatigued by your long and arduous journey. We
dine tete-a-tete, but the others assemble after-
"Mr. Dimidoff, I presume?" said I.
"No, sir," said he, turning his keen gray eyes upon
me. "My name is Petrokine; you mistake me perhaps
for one of the others. But now, not a word of
business until the council meets. Try our chef's
soup; you will find it excellent, I think."
Who Mr. Petrokine or the others might be I could
not conceive. Land stewards of DimidofFs, perhaps;
though the name did not seem familiar to
my companion. However, as he appeared to shun
any business questions at present, I gave in to his
humor, and we conversed on social life in England
a subject in which he displayed considerable knowl-
edge and acuteness. His remarks, too, on Malthus
and the laws of population were wonderfully good,
though savoring somewhat of Radicalism.
"By the way," he remarked, as we smoked a cigar
over our wine, "we should never have known you
but for the English labels on your luggage; it was
the luckiest thing in the world that Alexander noticed
them. We had no personal description of you ;
indeed, we were prepared to expect a somewhat older
man. You ai'e young indeed, sir, to be intrusted
with such a mission."
"My employer trusts me," I replied; "and we
have learned in our trade that youth and shrewdness
are not incompatible."
"Your remark is true, sir," returned my newly
made friend; "but I am surprised to hear you call
our glorious association a trade. Such a term is
gross indeed to apply to a body of men banded together
to supply the world with that which it is
yearning for, but which, without our exertions, it
can never hope to attain. A spiritual brotherhood
would be a more fitting term."
"By Jove !" thought I, "how pleased the boss would
be to hear him ! He must have been in the business
himself, whoever he is."
"Now, sir," said Mr. Petrokine, "the clock points
to eight, and the council must be already sitting.
Let us go up together, and I will introduce you.
I need hardly say that the greatest secrecy is
observed, and that your appearance is anxiously
I turned over in my mind as I followed him how
I might best fulfil my mission and secure the most
advantageous terms. They seemed as anxious as I
was in the matter, and there appeared to be no
opposition, so perhaps the best thing would be to
wait and see what they would propose.
I had hardly come to this conclusion when my
guide swung open a large door at the end of a
passage, and I found myself in a room larger and
even more gorgeously fitted up than the one in which
I had dined. A long table, covered with green baize
and strewn with papers, ran down the middle, and
round it were sitting fourteen or fifteen men
conversing earnestly. The whole scene reminded me
forcibly of a gambling hell I had visited some time
Upon our entrance the company rose and bowed.
I could not but remark that my companion attracted
no attention, while every eye was turned upon me
with a strange mixture of surprise and almost servile
respect. A man at the head of the table, who
was remarkable for the extreme pallor of his face
as contrasted with his blue-black hair and moustache,
waved his hand to a seat beside him, and I sat down.
"I need hardly say," said Mr. Petrokine, "that
Gustave Berger, the English agent, is now honoring
us with his presence. He is young indeed, Alexis,"
he continued to iny pale-faced neighbor, "and yet
he is of European reputation."
"Come, draw it mild!" thought I, adding aloud:
"If you refer to me, sir, though I am indeed acting
as English agent, my name is not Berger, but Robinson
Mr. Tom Robinson, at your service."
A laugh ran round the table.
"So be it, so be it," said the man they called
Alexis. "I commend your discretion, most honored
sir. One can not be too careful. Preserve your
English sobriquet by all means. I regret that any
painful duty should be performed upon this auspicious
evening; but the rules of our association must
be preserved at any cost to our feelings, and
a dismissal is inevitable to-night."
"What the deuce is the fellow driving at ?" thought
I. "What is it to me if he does give his servant
the sack? This Dimidoff, wherever he is, seems to
keep a private lunatic asylum."
"Take out the gag!" The words fairly shot
through me, and I started in my chair. It was
Petrokine who spoke. For the first time I noticed
that a burly, stout man, sitting at the other end of
the table, had his arms tied behind his chair and a
handkerchief round his mouth. A horrible suspicion
began to creep into my heart. Where was It
Was I in Mr. DimidofPs? Who were these men,
with their strange words 2"
"Take out the gagl" repeated Petrokine; and the
handkerchief was removed.
"Now, Paul Ivanovitch," said he, "what have you
to say before you go ?"
"Not a dismissal, sirs," he pleaded; "not
a dismissal ; anything but that ! I will go into
some distant land, and my mouth shall be closed forever.
I will do anything that the society asks, but pray,
pray do not dismiss me."
"You know our laws, and you know your crime,"
said Alexis, in a cold, harsh voice. "Who drove us
from Odessa by his false tongue and his double face ?
Who wrote the anonymous letter to the governor?
Who cut the wire that would have destroyed the
arch-tyrant? You did, Paul Ivanovitch, and you
must die !"
I leaned back in my chair and fairly gasped.
"Remove him!" said Petrokine; and the man of
the drosky, with two others, forced him out.
I heard the footsteps pass down the passage and
then a door open and shut. Then came a sound as
of a struggle, ended by a heavy, crunching blow and
a dull thud.
"So perish all who are false to their oath," said
Alexis, solemnly; and a hoarse "Amen" went up
from his companions.
"Death alone can dismiss us from our order," said
another man further down; "but Mr. Berg Mr.
Kobinson is pale. The scene has been too much for
him after his long journey from England."
"Oh, Tom, Tom," thought I, "if ever you get out
of this scrape you'll turn over a new leaf. You're
not fit to die, and that's a fact." It was only too
evident to me now that by some strange misconception
I had got in among a gang of cold-blooded
Nihilists, who mistook me for one of their order.
I felt, after what I had witnessed, that my only
chance of life was to try to play the role thus forced
upon me until an opportunity for escape should
present itself; so I tried hard to regain my air of
self-possession, which had been so rudely shaken.
"I am indeed fatigued," I replied; "but I feel
stronger now. Excuse my momentary weakness."
"It was but natural," said a man with a thick
beard at my right hand. "And now, most honored
sir, how goes the cause in England 2"
"Remarkably well," I answered.
"Has the great commissioner condescended to
send a missive to the Solteff branch ?" asked Petfokine.
"Nothing in writing," I replied.
"But he has spoken of it ?"
"Yes; he said he had watched it with feelings of
the liveliest satisfaction," I returned.
" 'Tis well! 'tis well!" ran round the table.
I felt giddy and sick from the critical nature of my
position. Any moment a question might be asked
which would show me in my true colors. I rose and
helped myself from a decanter of brandy which stood
on a side-table. The potent liquor flew to my excited
brain, and as I sat down I felt reckless enough to be
half amused at my position, and inclined to play with
my tormentors. I still, however, had all my wits
"You have been to Birmingham ?" asked the man
with the beard.
"Many times," said I.
"Then you have, of course, seen the private work-
shop and arsenal?"
"I have been over them both more than once."
"It is still, I suppose, entirely unsiispected by the
police ?" continued my interrogator.
"Entirely," I replied.
"Can you tell us how it is that so large a concern is
kept so completely secret ?"
Here was a poser; but my native impudence and
the brandy seemed to come to my aid.
"That is information," I replied, "which I do not
feel justified in divulging even here. In withholding
it I am acting under the direction of the chief commissioner."
"You are right perfectly right," said my original
friend Petrokine. "You will no doubt make your report
to the central office at Moscow before entering
into such details."
"Exactly so," I replied, only too happy to get a lift
out of my difficulty.
"We have heard," said Alexis, "that you were sent
to inspect the Livadia. Can you give us any
particulars about it?"
"Anything you ask I will endeavor to answer," I
replied, in desperation.
"Have any orders been made in Birmingham concerning it?"
"None when I left England."
"Well, well, there's plenty of time yet," said the
man with the beard "many months. Will the bottom
be of wood or iron ?"
"Of wood," I answered at random.
" 'Tis well !" said another voice. "And what is the
breadth of the Clyde below Greenock ?"
"It varies much," I replied ; "on an average about eighty yards."
"How many men does she carry?" asked an
anemic-looking youth at the foot of the table, who
seemed more fit for a public school than this den of murder.
"About three hundred," said I.
"A floating coffin!" said the young Nihilist in a
"Are the store-rooms on a level with or underneath
the state-cabins?" asked Petrokine.
"Underneath," said I decisively, though I need
hardly say I had not the smallest conception."
"And now, most honored sir," said Alexis, "tell us
what was the reply of Bauer, the German Socialist,
to Ravinsky's proclamation ?"
Here was a deadlock with a vengeance. Whether
my cunning would have extricated me from it or not
was never decided, for Providence hurried me from
one dilemma into another and a worse one.
A door slammed downstairs, and rapid footsteps
were heard approaching. Then came a loud tap out-
side, followed by two smaller ones.
"The sign of the society!" said Petrokine; "and
yet we are all present ; who can it be ?"
The door was thrown open, and a man entered,
dusty and travel-stained, but with an air of authority
and power stamped on every feature of his harsh but
expressive face. He glanced round the table, scanning
each countenance carefully. There was a start
of surprise in the room. He was evidently a stranger
to them all.
"What means this intrusion, sir?" said my friend with the beard.
"Intrusion!" said the stranger. "I was given to
understand that I was expected, and had looked forward
to a warmer welcome from my fellow-associates.
I am personally unknown to you, gentlemen, but I
am proud to think that my name should command
some respect among you. I am Gustave Berger,
the agent from England, bearing letters from the
chief commissioner to his well-beloved brothers of
One of their own bombs could hardly have created
greater surprise had it been fired in the midst of
them. Every eye was fixed alternately on me and
upon the newly arrived agent.
"If you are indeed Gustave Berger," said Petrokine,
"who is this?"
"That I am Gustave Berger these credentials will
show," said the stranger, as he threw a packet upon
the table. "Who that man may be I know not ; but if
he has intruded himself upon the lodge under false
pretences, it is clear that he must never carry out of
the room what he has learned. Speak, sir," he added,
addressing me ; "who and what are you ?"
I felt that my time had come. My revolver was in
my hip-pocket; but what was that against so many
desperate men ? I grasped the butt of it, however, as
a drowning man clings to a straw, and I tried
to preserve my coolness as I glanced round at the cold,
vindictive faces turned toward me.
"Gentlemen," I said, "the role I have played tonight
has been a purely involuntary one on my part.
I am no police spy, as you seem to suspect ; nor, on the
other hand, have I the honor to be a member of your
association. I am an inoffensive corn-dealer, who by
an extraordinary mistake has been forced into this
unpleasant and awkward position."
I paused for a moment. Was it my fancy that
there was a peculiar noise in the street a noise as of
many feet treading softly ? No, it had died away ; it
was but the throbbing of my own heart.
"I need hardly say," I continued, "that anything
I may have heard to-night will be safe in my keeping.
I pledge my solemn honor as a gentleman that not one
word of it shall transpire through me."
The senses of men in great physical danger become
strangely acute, or their imagination plays them
curious tricks. My back was toward the door as I
sat, but I could have sworn that I heard heavy breathing
behind it. Was it the three minions whom I had
seen before in the performance of their hateful functions,
and who, like vultures, had sniffed another victim ?
I looked round the table. Still the same hard,
cruel faces. Not one glance of sympathy. I cocked
the revolver in my pocket.
There was a painful silence, which was broken by
the harsh, grating voice of Petrokine.
"Promises are easily made and easily broken," he
said. "There is but one way of securing eternal silence.
It is our lives or yours. Let the highest among us speak."
"You are right, sir," said the English agent ; "there
is but one course open. He must be dismissed."
I knew what that meant in their confounded jargon,
and sprang to my feet.
"By Heaven !" I shouted, putting my back against
the door, "you shan't butcher a free Englishman like
a sheep ! The first among you who stirs drops !"
A man sprang at me. I saw along the sights of my
derringer the gleam of a knife and the demoniacal
face of Gusfave Berger. Then I pulled the trigger,
and, with his hoarse scream sounding in my ears, I
was felled to the ground by a crushing blow from
behind. Half-unconscious, and pressed down by some
heavy weight, I heard the noise of shouts and blows
above me, and then I fainted.
When I came to myself I was lying among the
debris of the door, which had been beaten in on the
top of me. Opposite were a dozen of the men who
had lately sat in judgment upon me, tied two and two,
and guarded by a score of Russian soldiers. Beside
me was the corpse of the ill-fated English agent, his
whole face blown in by the force of the explosion.
Alexis and Petrokine were both lying on the floor
like myself, bleeding profusely.
"Well, young fellow, youVe had a narrow escape,"
said a hearty voice in my ear.
I looked up, and recognized my black-eyed
acquaintance of the railway carriage.
"Stand up," he continued: "you're only a bit
stunned; no bones broken. It's no wonder I mistook
you for the Nihilist agent, when the very lodge
itself was taken in. Well, you're the only stranger
who ever came out of this den alive. Come down-
stairs with me. I know who you are, and what you
are after now ; I'll take you to Mr. Dimidoff. Nay,
don't go in there," he cried, as I walked toward the
door of the cell into which I had been originally
ushered. "Keep out of that ; you've seen evil sights
enough for one day. Come down and have a glass of liquor."
He explained as we walked back to the hotel that
the police of Solteff, of which he was the chief, had
had warning and been on the lookout during some
time for this Nihilist emissary. My arrival in so
unfrequented a place, coupled with my air of secrecy
and the English labels on that confounded portmanteau
of Gregory's, had completed the business.
I have little more to tell. My socialistic acquaintances
were all either transported to Siberia or executed. My
mission was performed to the satisfaction of my employers.
My conduct during the whole business has won me promotion,
and my prospects for life have been improved since that horrible
night, the remembrance of which still makes me shiver.