Read CHAPTER III of The Boy Nihilist / Young America in Russia, free online book, by Allan Arnold, on ReadCentral.com.

A frightened and enraged rascal

When Prince Mastowix returned to his room from ordering the guard to pursue and recapture William Barnwell, the first thing he did was to seek for the paper he had left upon his table when the alarm of escape rang out so startlingly in the courtyard, the very paper that the young American had placed in his hands only a few moments before, and which Tobasco, the secret spy of the government, had secured during the confusion incidental to Barnwell’s escape, and in which he had acted a friendly part.

He started and looked wildly around. Then he felt in his pockets to see if he had not placed it there in his excitement. Then he looked hastily into several drawers where he possibly might have placed it in the moment of hurry, and even upon the floor, where it might have fallen.

But nowhere could he find it, and his excitement grew until it was almost uncontrollable.

Where was that fatal document?

Again and again he went through his pockets and drawers, but all to no purpose the paper could not be found.

He struck a bell savagely, and a clerk came hastily from an inner room.

“Huon, has any person from your room been in here within the last few minutes?”

“No, Excellency, no one,” replied the clerk.

“Are you certain of that?”

“I am, for I am seated by the door, and I never allow anyone to enter your Excellency’s chamber unless you summon them.”

“And have you seen any person here?”

“No one, Excellency.”

“Will you swear to that, or shall I work the knout in order to bring out the truth?” demanded the prince.

“I swear it by my religion.”

“Down on your knees and swear!” thundered the prince, and the trembling wretch obeyed like a true Russian slave.

“Return,” added the tyrant, pointing the way, and the next instant he was alone.

“Perdition catch me, but this is dreadful. What can have become of that document?” he mused, as he threw himself into his chair. “Who could have taken it? I have only one person about me who can read English, and he is not here to-day,” and again he began searching for the fatal paper.

All to no purpose, though, of course, and he finally convinced himself that it was neither in his office nor about his person.

“Curses on my luck, for if that correspondence is found out, it means death or Siberia to me. Could that American have regained it without my seeing him do it? Great Scott!” he suddenly exclaimed, and hurried to the Bastile.

The possibility of Barnwell’s having secured the document did not make the prince’s case any the better. Indeed, it was probably worse, for the captain of the Bastile may have searched him and secured it himself.

Such fears as these hurried him onward, until he reached the prison where Barnwell was confined, and he instantly summoned the captain.

“The prisoner I sent here but now?”

“He is in a cell down below.”

“Did you search him?”

“I did.”

“What did you find?” he asked, anxiously.

“A passport, a quantity of money, some jewelry, and letters.”

“Let me see the papers,” and they were promptly shown to him. He looked them over eagerly, but there was no trace of the fatal document from Zobriski.

“Are these all you took from him?”

“All, Excellency.”

“Who searched him?”

“One of the guards.”

“Did you see him do it?”

“It was done under my own eyes.”

“And you will swear that these comprise all the papers he had on his person?”

“I swear it, Excellency.”

The prince was more confused at this than he was before, for if he had not taken it at the time of his arrest who could have done so?

He dared make no explanation to the jailer, for he knew him to be a loyal man, and one of the fiercest persecutors of the Nihilists in the Czar’s official household. And yet he half believed that he had secured the correspondence, and was withholding it for a purpose against him.

Finally he said:

“Conduct me to the prisoner’s cell.”

“This way, Excellency,” and he led him to the stout and heavily-grated door.

“Now leave us,” and the officer retired.

Prince Mastowix glanced up and down the dimly-lighted corridor to make sure that no one was in sight, and then he spoke.

“William Barnwell,” and the young man quickly leaped to his feet and went to the bars.

“Who is it?” he asked, eagerly.

“The man who sent you here.”

“Then you are a rascal,” replied Barnwell; and it was fortunate for the tyrant that he was protected by the iron grating, or he would have been clutched by the throat.

“Careful, young man. I may have acted hastily in your case.”

“Yes, and unjustly.”

“Well, wrongs may be righted.”

“Then let me out of this horrible dungeon.”

“I will, on one condition.”

“Name it.”

“That you tell me whether you took that paper again which you brought me from New York.”

“No, sir; I never saw it after I gave it to you,” replied Barnwell. “You held it in your hand when I was dragged from your office.”

The prince now remembered that this was true, and it made the mystery even greater than before.

He turned to go.

“But your promise?” said Barnwell.

“Bah!” was the only reply he received, and the next moment he was alone again.

A mocking laugh came from the opposite cell-door grating, and naturally the abandoned youth looked in the direction.

But the face he saw between the bars was hideous enough to make his blood almost curdle.

How old that face was, of what nationality, of what grade of intellect, he could not tell, for his face was in the shade of that dark place.

Again came the mocking laugh, as young Barnwell stood looking and wondering.

“Who are you?” he finally asked.

That laugh again, and Barnwell concluded that the person must be a lunatic, although he could but shudder at the thought that he might have been driven to madness by the very same imprisonment which enshackled him, and so turned away.

His own misery was quite enough for him, and just then he was in no humor to listen to another’s.

“Ha, ha, ha! So you are in the trap, eh?” asked the mysterious prisoner.

“What trap?” asked Barnwell.

“The rat-trap of the great Russian Empire.”

“I don’t know. Who are you?”

“Nobody; for the moment a person gets into the great political rat-trap he loses his identity, and is simply known by a number. I am Number Nineteen; you are Number Twenty.”

“How do you know?”

“I can see the number of your cell, as you can, of course, see mine.”

“What were you brought here for?”

“For fancying that I was a man, and that I had rights in the world. I was thrown into this dungeon it must be three months ago for throwing down the horse of a nobleman who attempted to drive over me. I have had no trial, and expect none. I am as dead to the world as it is to me. I am simply Number Nineteen, and when this prison gets too full of the victims of tyranny, I shall be hustled off to Siberia, to make room for new victims.”

“It is dreadful. But in my case I did nothing against the law. I simply brought a letter from America to Prince Mastowix, and he at once threw me into this place.”

“Ah! he is the same who threw me into this dungeon, because I resented being run over.”

“And for that you think you will be sent to Siberia?” asked Barnwell.

“I am sure of it.”

“For so slight an offense?”

“Many a slighter one has consigned better men than I am to the mines of Siberia for life. As for you, you have somehow offended the tyrant.”

“I cannot understand how. I brought a letter to him from a man in New York.”

“What man?”

“One Paul Zobriskie.”

“Paul Zobriskie!” exclaimed the man, clutching the bars that grated the window of his door. “Do you know him?”

“No; I was simply on the point of sailing for Europe when he approached and asked me to deliver a letter to Prince Mastowix. I did so, and you know the rest.”

“Paul Zobriskie is the greatest terror that Russian tyranny knows. He is a bugbear; but why should he be in correspondence with Prince Mastowix?”

“I know nothing about it.”

“There is a mystery somewhere,” mused the man.

“If there is, I know nothing about it.”

“Were I at liberty, I would take pains to find out what this mystery is.”

“But how can they hold me?”

“By the right of might; just as they hold me. Once in their clutches, there is no escape. Even were you known to be innocent of any crime, it would make no difference. The innocent and the guilty are treated alike in Russia. There is no liberty no justice in the land. But the time will come when the Nihilists will shake the tyranny out of the empire with dynamite!” said he, fiercely.

“Silence, slaves!” cried a rough voice near by, and the next instant the burly form of a keeper stood between them. “Nineteen, you have already made trouble enough. You must have the knout,” and unlocking the door of his cell, he seized him by the hair of the head and dragged him out and down through the corridor.

Two minutes later the blood was almost curdled in Barnwell’s veins by the shrieking of that same poor wretch, undergoing punishment.

But he was not brought back to his cell, and what became of him Barnwell never knew.

His thoughts, however, were soon turned from the wretched stranger to himself, and to wondering what his own fate would be.

One thing he felt certain of, and that was that Prince Mastowix would never assist him in regaining his liberty.

The letter he had so accommodatingly brought from New York undoubtedly contained something of great importance, but why he should suffer on account of it he could not see.

Could he but make his case known to the American minister, he would undoubtely be given his liberty, but this he could not do, and it was the prince who prevented him.

He had resolved that the young American should be sent to Siberia, even knowing that he was guilty of no wrong; and even Tobasco, with all the proofs of the prince’s perfidy in his possession, paid no attention to Barnwell, although he knew him to be simply a victim. Liberty or life was nothing to him so long as he could make a point with the prefect of police and secure unsuspected game. Such is the Russian sense of right and justice.

Day after day dragged its slow length along, and all the while Prince Mastowix was in a dreadful state of uncertainty. No trace had been found of the missing paper; and after preferring a charge of assault against William Barnwell, who was described as a spy of the Nihilists, a form of trial was gone through with, as with others who were not allowed to be present, and a verdict rendered up against him, condemning him to Siberia during the pleasure of the government.

That is the way the tyrants of Russia serve people, whether guilty or innocent, if they happen to incur their displeasure in any way.

Is it any wonder that they revolt, or that they resort to secret intrigue, to dynamite, and all other means, however bloody the unthinking world may regard them, to give back some of the terror which they have dealt out for centuries? No, it is no wonder at all.

Two weeks William Barnwell languished in the filthy cell of that Bastile, when he was finally marched out into the courtyard one day, in company with some fifty other wretches who had been sentenced to exile.

And what a change those two weeks had produced in that handsome American youth! Unwashed, unkempt, dazed by the light of day he had been kept from so long, his most intimate friends would not have known him.

The detail was ready, and outside of the prison were hundreds of loving ones, waiting to take a last farewell of fathers, brothers, lovers, whom they would probably never see again. But Barnwell had no one waiting for him, and it seemed that life, hope, ambition, everything was crushed out of him.