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

A Victory dearly bought

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and the attack was so sudden and unexpected that Barnwell was completely off his guard at the moment.

One of the fiercest wolves, hungry, huge and gaunt, sprang at his throat and bore him to the earth.

Seizing the brute by the throat with both hands, he with almost superhuman strength dashed him away long enough to rise to his knees and to pull his revolver, the other wolves having by this time joined savagely in the attack.

Unable to get upon his feet, he poked the muzzle of his pistol straight into the mouth of the now risen wolf, as he again came towards him, and fired.

It was a fatal shot, and the wolf fell dead.

Still he was pinioned by others, and for a long time he was so placed that he could reach only one of them with his weapon, but this one he sent to the shades quickly.

Then one after another he dispatched them, although, unlike the generality of wolves, they fought until the last one was dead, being undoubtedly nearly starved.

Meantime his clothing and flesh had been dreadfully torn, and the blood was flowing from at least a dozen ragged wounds, and he was so overcome with exhaustion that he could scarcely rise to his feet.

But the first thing he did was to refill the chambers of his trusty revolver, in case he might be attacked again.

His next thought was to attend to his wounds, but finding these required a surgeon, he made his way sorely back to the tavern, and dispatched his servant for one.

After relating the story of his adventure to the landlord while waiting the surgeon’s coming, that individual said:

“I should have told you about it, sir, but you men of the world do not believe in such things.”

“What things wolves?” asked Barnwell, between his groans of agony.

“Well, sir, not that exactly. In fact, I hardly know how to explain myself to you, since I know nothing save by hearsay, and what mountaineers say.”

“About what?”

“Well, it has become folklore in these parts that there is a cave somewhere in the Hardt Bergs, containing a vast amount of stolen gold, every coin of which is spotted with human blood, that is guarded by a pack of fierce wolves placed there by the devil. It has been said that desperate men have tried to reach the treasure, but that they have always been slain and eaten by the guardian wolves.”

“Nonsense. Simply a story told in the twilight to frighten children, who after growing up come to believe it true.”

The landlord shook his head.

“I see you also believe it. Well, I will not dispute or argue with you regarding the legend, but you must see that I did not come upon that particular cave, since I killed the wolves and am here with but a few scratches.”

“Rather hard scratches, sir.”

“But I shall survive them, and neither this nor the danger of coming upon the real devil-guarded cave will deter me from visiting the hills whenever I like.”

“You are a brave man, sir.”

“No; simply a sensible one. I am not superstitious, nor do I believe in such legends. I would be ashamed to do so.”

“Well,” replied the landlord, shrugging his shoulders, “you can afford to do as you please, but you are sure to have no company when you go hunting in that direction.”

“And I want none at least, not the company of persons who believe in such nonsense.”

“Ah, the surgeon has come.”

“Hurry him here, for my wounds pain me exceedingly,” said Barnwell.

The surgeon was soon at his side, and proceeded to dress his wounds, exchanging only sufficient words to learn the cause of them, for he was a man of medicine, not words.

“When will you come again?” asked Barnwell.

“When your hurts need redressing.”

“And that will be?”

“To-morrow.”

“How long will I probably be laid up?”

“A week,” and he went away.

Barnwell experienced great relief from the skillful dressing his wounds had received, and he was presently able to collect his thoughts.

And naturally enough they ran back to the wolf’s den, where he had found the starting point that corresponded with Batavsky’s diagram, and the legend which the landlord had told him of. What a startling coincidence it was, to say the least of it!

Of course, he did not for a moment believe the supernatural part of it, but it certainly was strange that he should have been met by a pack of hungry wolves just as it seemed that he was on the threshold of success.

But the more he thought the matter over, the more reasonable did it seem to him that, even if that were the location of Batavsky’s buried treasure, it was only natural that wolves should rendezvous there. But how superstition should locate money there was more than he could understand.

Then the thought came to his mind what if that gold had been discovered by someone and removed? In what other way could the legend of bloody gold have come into existence?

But speculation was not congenial to his temper just then. He had gone, so far, and nothing short of success or failure would satisfy him now.

That night his wounds pained when he lay down, and he slept but little. Indeed, it was nearly morning before anything like sound slumber fell upon his eyelids.

And even then he dreamed wild, exciting dreams, occasioned, of course, by the events of the day before. But in one of them he thought he saw Batavsky, and he smiled upon him, and while uttering no word, encouraged him by his looks to persevere. With this he awoke, and the thread of the dream ran through his mind again.

“This will never do,” said he, calling his servant to light a candle. “There is something in the very air of mountainous Germany that is not real, and that kindles superstition. I will read until morning.”

But after reading awhile on a drowsy romance he fell asleep again, and the sun was shining in at the lattice when he awoke.

When the surgeon had dressed his wounds again that day, he felt so much better that he was assisted to a chair that stood under a broad linden-tree, where, a part of the time, he read and restudied Batavsky’s queer diagram until it was fairly burned into his memory.

Then he would smoke, and make glad the landlord’s heart by indulging in a bottle of wine, and again employ his servant in setting up targets for him to practice upon with his pistol.

Already he had become somewhat famous for his eccentricities, but when the landlord and his one or two guests saw with what ease he shot a hole through the Ace of Spades at fifty paces, they were unbounded in their applause.

Barnwell was indeed a wonderful shot, both with a rifle and a pistol, having won several prizes in shooting tournaments at home, and it seemed as though the experiences he had gone through during the previous two or three years had toughened his muscles and steadied his nerves to a remarkable degree.

And thus he employed his time for five days, all the while impatient at the delay, and on the sixth he was so far recovered that he could walk with the assistance of a cane, and he celebrated the event by telling his servant to hold a lighted cigar in his fingers at the distance of fifty paces, and from it he shot the ashes so deftly that the bullet scarcely raised a spark of fire.

This convinced him apparently that he was all right again, and in the afternoon he and his servant went out to ride.

This servant of his was a Russian, to whom he had been introduced by Vola, and he was a character for fidelity and secretiveness. His name was Ulrich, and Barnwell had saved him from going to prison by paying a fine that he would never have been able to pay, and he at once became attached to his new master by all the ties that bind a lesser intellect and fortune to the two degrees higher.

He never questioned, never told Barnwell’s affairs, even if he knew them, and was ever quick to know his slightest wants.

He was a Nihilist, and knew in a general way that his master was one, from seeing him so much with Vola, and so he silently worked and waited, fully believing that he would in time do good work for the downtrodden of his native land.

On the afternoon of the sixth day Barnwell seeing to be almost wholly recovered, and Ulrich drove him out, going in the weird hills once more.

This time he was armed with two revolvers, and his rifle was ready to hand in the body of his wagon, the peculiarity in the build of which has been mentioned before, and which consisted principally in a strong iron box, incased by a fancy wooden one which was fashioned for a seat.

It was slightly odd in its build, but it was admired by everybody for the superiority of its make, and generally regarded simply as a tourist’s carriage, made on purpose and in a superior manner.

Arriving at the end of the road that led up into the hills, they halted.