Read CHAPTER XII of The Land of Thor , free online book, by J. Ross Browne, on ReadCentral.com.

A MYSTERIOUS ADVENTURE.

The police of Moscow are not an attractive class of men, considering them in the light of guardians of the law. With a good deal of pomposity and laziness, they mingle much filth and rascality. The emperor may have great confidence in them, based upon some knowledge of their talents and virtues not shared by casual tourists; but if he would trust one of them with ten kopeks, or agree to place the life of any intimate personal friend in their keeping, in any of the dark alleys of Moscow, his faith in their integrity and humanity must be greater than mine. Indeed, upon casting around me in search of a parallel, I am not quite sure that I ever saw such a scurvy set of vagabonds employed to preserve the public peace in any other country, except, perhaps, in Spain. The guardians of the law in Cadiz and Seville are dark and forbidding enough in all conscience, and unscrupulous enough to turn a penny in any way not requiring the exercise of personal energy; and the police of Barcelona are not inferior in all that constitutes moral turpitude, but they can not surpass the Moscovites in filthiness of person or any of the essential attributes of villainy.

I have it upon good authority that they are the very worst set of thieves in the place, and that they will not hesitate to unite with any midnight prowler for the purpose of robbing a stranger. True, they did not rob me, but the reason of that is obvious. I gave them to understand at the start that I was connected with the press. You seldom hear of a writer for newspapers being robbed; and if such a thing ever does happen, the amount taken is never large.

As a consequence of this proclivity for ill-gotten gains on the part of the guardians of the law, it is unsafe for a stranger to go through the less frequented streets of Moscow at night. Should he chance to be stopped by two or three footpads and call for help, he will doubtless wake up some drowsy guardian of the law, but the help will be all against him. Instances have been related to me of robberies in which the police were the most active assailants, the robbers merely standing by for their share of the plunder. Should the unfortunate victim knock down a footpad or two in self-defense, it is good ground for an arrest, and both robbers and policemen become witnesses against him. A man had better get involved in a question of title to his property before the courts of California than be arrested for assault and battery, and carried before any of the civil tribunals in Russia. There is no end of the law’s delays in these institutions, and his only chance of justice is to get his case before the emperor, who is practically the Supreme Court of the empire. Otherwise the really aggrieved party must pay a fine for defending himself, and support the assaulted man, whose nose he may have battered, during an unlimited period at the hospital, together with physician’s fees for all the real or imaginary injuries inflicted. I met with a young American who was followed by a stalwart ruffian one night in returning from one of the public gardens. The man dogged his footsteps for some time. At length, there being nobody near to render aid, the robber mustered courage enough to seize hold and attempt to intimidate his supposed victim by brandishing a knife. He came from a country where they were not uncommon, and, besides, was an adept on the shoulder. With a sudden jerk he freed himself, and, hauling off a little, gave his assailant a note of hand that knocked him down. I am not versed in the classics of the ring, or I would make something out of this fight. The pad dropped like a stricken ox, his knife flying picturesquely through the silvery rays of the moon. Next moment he was on his feet again, the claret shining beautifully on his cheeks and beard. Throwing out his claws like a huge grizzly, he rushed in, gnashing his teeth and swearing horribly. This time our friend was fairly aroused, and the wretch promptly measured his length on the ground. Thinking he had scattered it on rather heavy, the American stooped down to see how matters stood, when the fellow grasped him by the coat and commenced shouting with all his might for the police “Help! help! murder! murder!” There was no remedy but to silence him, which our friend dexterously accomplished by a blow on the os frontis. Hearing the approaching footsteps of the police, he then concluded it was best to make his escape, and accordingly took to his heels. Chase was given, but he was as good at running as he was at the noble art of self-defense, and soon distanced his pursuers. Fortunately, he reached his quarters without being recognised. This was all that saved him from arrest and imprisonment, or the payment of a fine for the assault.

A common practice, as I was informed, is to arrest a stranger for some alleged breach of the law, such as smoking a cigar in the streets, or using disrespectful language toward the constituted authorities. Not being accustomed to the intricacies of a Russian judiciary, it is difficult, when once the matter comes before a tribunal of justice, for a foreigner to rebut the testimony brought against him; and if he be in a hurry to get away, his only course is to bribe the parties interested in his detention. It would be unjust to say that this system prevails universally throughout Russia. There is a small circle around the imperial presence said to be exempt from corruption; and there may possibly be a few dignitaries of the government, in remote parts of the empire, who will not tell an untruth unless in their official correspondence, or steal except to make up what they consider due to them for public services; but the circle of immaculate ones is very small, and commences very near the Czar, and the other exceptions referred to are exceedingly rare. Thieving may be said to begin within gunshot of the capital, and to attain its culminating excellences on the confines of Tartary. The difference is only in degree between the higher and the lower grades of officers. Hence, although it is quite possible to obtain full reparation for an injury before the Czar, through the intervention of a consul or a minister, it is a vexatious and expensive mode of proceeding, and would only result at last in the transportation of some miserable wretch to the mines of Siberia. Of course no man with a spark of feeling would like to see a poor fellow-creature go there. For my part, I would rather suffer any amount of injustice than be the cause of sending a fellow-mortal on so long and dreary a journey.

The whole bearing of which you will presently discover. I am going to tell you a very singular adventure that befell me in Moscow. Do not be impatient; it will all come in due time. A few dashes of preliminary description will be necessary, by way of introduction, otherwise it would be impossible to comprehend the full scope and purpose of my narrative. If you be of the rougher mould, cherished reader, just cast yourself back somewhere at your ease, take this most excellently printed book deftly between your fingers, with a good cigar between your teeth; throw your legs over your desk, a gunny-bag, a fence-rail, or the mantel-piece of the bar-room, as the case may be; give me the benefit of your friendship and confidence, and read away at your leisure. But if you be one of those gentle beings placed upon earth to diffuse joy and happiness over the desert of life, I pray you consider me a serf at your imperial foot-stool; bend on me those tender eyes; and with the mingled respect and admiration due by all men to female loveliness, I shall proceed at once to tell you (confidentially of course)

A MYSTERIOUS ADVENTURE

It so happened in Moscow that I fell in with a very pleasant and sociable party of Americans, several of whom were in the railway service, and therefore might reasonably be regarded as fast young gentlemen, though far be it from me to imply any thing injurious to their reputation. Beyond an excessive passion for tea, acquired by long residence in Moscow, I do not know that a single one of them was at all dissipated. When I first called at the rooms of these lively countrymen, they immediately got out their tea-urns, and assured me that it would be impossible to comprehend any thing of Russian life till I had partaken freely of Russian tea, therefore I was obliged to drink five or six glasses by way of a beginning. Having freely discussed the affairs of the American nation at one room, we adjourned to another, where we had a fresh supply of tea; and then, after settling the rebellion to our common satisfaction, adjourned to another, and so on throughout the best part of the day. Sometimes we stopped in at a traktir and had a portion or two, dashed with a little Cognac, which my friends assured me would prevent it from having any injurious effect upon the nervous system. In this way, within a period of twelve hours, owing to the kindness and hospitality of these agreeable Americans, who insisted upon treating me to tea, in public and in private, at every turn of our rambles, I must have swallowed a gallon or two of this delicious beverage. The weather was exceedingly warm, but these experienced gentlemen insisted upon it that Russian tea was a sovereign antidote for warm weather, especially when dashed with Cognac, as it drove all the caloric out of the body through the pores of the skin. “Don’t be afraid!” said they, encouragingly; “drink just as much as you please it will cool you! See how the Russians drink it. Nothing else enables them to stand these fiery hot summers after their polar winters!” Well, I didn’t feel exactly cool, with thirty or forty tumblers of boiling hot tea, dashed with Cognac, in my veins, but what was the use of remonstrating? They lived in Moscow they knew better than I did what was good for strangers so I kept on swallowing a little more, just to oblige them, till I verily believe, had any body stuck a pin in me, or had I undertaken to make a speech, I would have spouted Russian tea.

Why is it that the moment any body wants to render you a service, or manifest some token of friendship, he commences by striking at the very root of your digestive functions? Is it not exacting a little too much of human nature to require a man to consider himself a large sponge, in order that hospitality may be poured into him by the gallon? When a person of pliant and amiable disposition visits a set of good fellows, and they take some trouble to entertain him; when they think they are delighting him internally and externally not to say infernally with such tea as he never drank before, it is hard to refuse. The moral courage necessary for the peremptory rejection of such advances would make a hero. Thus it has ever been with me I am the victim of misplaced hospitality. It has been the besetting trouble of my life. I remember once eating a Nantucket pudding to oblige a lady. It was made of corn-meal and molasses, with some diabolical compound in the way of sauce possibly whale-oil and tar. I had just eaten a hearty dinner; but the lady insisted upon it that the pudding was a great dish in Nantucket, and I must try it. Well, I stuffed and gagged at it, out of pure politeness, till every morsel on the plate was gone, declaring all the time that it was perfectly delicious. The lady was charmed, and, in the face of every denial, instantly filled the plate again. What could I do but eat it? And after eating till I verily believe one half of me was composed of Nantucket pudding, and the other half of whale-oil and tar, what could I do but praise it again? The third attempt upon my life was made by this most excellent and hospitable lady; but I gave way, and had to beg off. Human nature could stand it no longer. The consequence was, I wounded her feelings. She regretted very much that I disliked Nantucket pudding, and I don’t think ever quite forgave me for my prejudice against that article of diet, though her kindness laid me up sick for two weeks. Nor is this an isolated case. I might relate a thousand others in illustration of the melancholy fact that hospitality has been the bane of my life. When I think of all the sufferings I have endured out of mere politeness though by no means accounted a polite person tears of grief and indignation spring to my eyes. Old John Rogers at the stake never suffered such martyrdom. But there is an end of it! The tchai of Moscow finished all this sort of thing so far, at least, as the male sex is concerned. I would still eat a coyote or a weasel to oblige a lady, but as to drinking two gallons of strong tea per day, dashed with Cognac to reduce its temperature, to oblige any man that ever wore a beard, I solemnly declare I’ll die first. The thing is an imposition an outrage. Every man has a right to my time, my purse, my real estate in Oakland, my coat, my boots, or my razor nay, in a case of emergency, my tooth-brush but no man has a right to deluge my diaphragm with slops, or make a ditch of Mundus of my stomach.

At the Peterskoi Gardens we had a little more tea, dashed with vodka, to keep out the night air. As soon as the fire-works were over we adjourned to the pavilion, and refreshed ourselves with a little more tea slightly impregnated with some more vodka. Now I don’t know exactly what this vodka is made of, but I believe it is an extract of corn. In the Russian language voda is water, and vodka means “little water.” There certainly was very little in what we got, or the tea must have been stronger than usual, for, notwithstanding these agreeable young gentlemen protested a gallon of such stuff would not produce the slightest effect, it seemed to me though there might have been some delusion in the idea, arising from ignorance of Russian customs that my head went round like a whirligig; and by the time I took my leave of these experienced young friends and retired to my room at the Hotel de Venise, it did likewise occur to me though that too may have been a mere notion that there was a hive of bees in each ear. Upon due consideration of all the facts, I thought it best to turn in, and resume any inquiries that might be necessary for the elucidation of these phenomena in the morning.

[Here, you perceive, I am gradually verging toward the adventure. The heroine of the romance has not yet made her appearance, but depend upon it she is getting ready. You should never hurry the female characters; besides, it is not proper, even if this were all fiction instead of sober truth, that the heroine should be brought upon the stage just as the hero is tumbling into bed.]

But to proceed. Sleep was effectually banished from my eyes, and no wonder. Who in the name of sense could sleep with forty tumblers of Russian tea to say nothing of the dashes that were put in it simmering through every nook and cranny of his body, and boiling over in his head? There I lay, twisting and tumbling, the pillow continually descending into the depths of infinity, but never getting any where the bed rolling like a dismantled hulk upon a stormy sea the room filled with steaming and hissing urns a fearful thirst parching my throat, while myriads of horrid bearded Russians were torturing me with tumblers of boiling-hot tea dashed with vodka thus I lay a perfect victim of tea. I could even see Chinamen with long queues picking tea-leaves off endless varieties of shrubs that grew upon the papered walls; and Kalmuck Tartars, with their long caravans, traversing the dreary steppes of Tartary laden with inexhaustible burdens of the precious leaf; and the great fair of Nijni Novgorod, with its booths, and tents, and countless boxes of tea, and busy throngs of traders and tea-merchants, all passing like a panorama before me, and all growing naturally out of an indefinite background of tea.

I can not distinctly remember how long I tossed about in this way, beset by all sorts of vagaries. Sometimes I fancied sleep had come, and that the whole matter was a ridiculous freak of fancy, including my visit to Moscow that Russian tea was all a fiction, and vodka a mere nightmare; but with a nervous start I would find myself awake, the palpable reality of my extraordinary condition staring me in the face. Unable to endure such an anomalous frame of mind and body any longer, I at length resolved to go down and take an airing in the streets, believing, if any thing would have a beneficial effect, it would be the fresh air. Acting upon this idea, I hastily dressed myself and descended to the front door. The Hotel de Venise is situated in a central part of the city, at no great distance from the Kremlin. It stands back in a large open yard, with a very pretty garden to the right as you enter from the main street. The proprietor is a Russian, but the hotel is conducted in the French style, and, although not more conspicuous for cleanliness than other establishments of the same class in Moscow, it is nevertheless tolerably free from vermin. The fleas in it were certainly neither so lively nor so entertaining as I have found them at many of the Spanish ranches in California, and the bugs, I am sure, are nothing like so corpulent as some I have seen in Washington City. I throw this in gratis, as a sort of puff, in consideration of an understanding with the landlord, that if he would refrain from cheating me I would recommend his hotel to American travelers. It is very good of its kind, and no person fond of veal, as a standard dish, can suffer from hunger at this establishment so long as calves continue to be born any where in the neighborhood of Moscow.

The porter, a drowsy old fellow in livery, whose only business, so far as I could discover, was to bow to the guests as they passed in and out during the day, at the expense of a kopek to each one of them for every bow, napping on a lounge close by the front door. Hearing my footsteps, he awoke, rubbed his eyes, bowed habitually, and then stared at me with a vacant and somewhat startled expression. It was not a common thing evidently for lodgers to go out of the hotel at that time of night, or rather morning it must have been nearly two o’clock for, after gazing a while at what he doubtless took to be an apparition or an absconding boarder whose bill had not been settled, he grumbled out something like a dissent, and stood between me and the door. A small fee of ten kopeks, which I placed in his hand, aided him in grasping at the mysteries of the case, and he unlocked the door and let me out, merely shaking his head gravely, as if he divined my purpose, but did not altogether approve of it in one of my age and sedate appearance. In that, however, he was mistaken: I had no disposition to form any tender alliances in Moscow.

The streets were almost deserted. An occasional drosky, carrying home some belated pleasure-seeker, was all that disturbed the silence. I walked some distance in the direction of the Kremlin. The air was deliciously cool and refreshing, and the sky wore a still richer glow than I had noticed a few hours before at the gardens of the Peterskoi. The moon had not yet gone down, but the first glowing blushes of the early morning were stealing over the heavens, mingled with its silvery light. I took off my hat to enjoy the fresh air, and wandered along quite enchanted with the richness and variety of the scene. Every turn of the silent streets brought me in view of some gilded pile of cupolas, standing in glowing relief against the sky. Churches of strange Asiatic form, the domes richly and fancifully colored; golden stars glittering upon a groundwork of blue, green, or yellow; shrines with burning tapers over the massive doors and gateways, were scattered in every direction in the most beautiful profusion. Sometimes I saw a solitary beggar kneeling devoutly before some gilded saint, and mourning over the weariness of life. Once I was startled by the apparition of a poor wretch lying asleep I thought he was dead a crippled wreck upon the stone steps his eyes closed in brief oblivion of the world and its sorrows, his furrowed and pallid features a ghastly commentary upon the glittering temples and idols that surround him. For above all these things that are “decked with silver and with gold, and fastened with nails and with hammers that they move not,” there is One who hath “made the earth by His power and established the world by His wisdom;” man is but brutish in his knowledge; “every founder is confounded by the graven image; for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.” Such extremes every where abound in Moscow magnificence and filth; wealth and poverty; a superstitious belief in the power of images in the midst of abject proofs of their impotence. And yet, is it not better that men should believe in something rather than in nothing? The glittering idol can not touch the crippled beggar and put health and strength in his limbs, but if the poor sufferer can sleep better upon the cold stones in the presence of his patron saint than elsewhere, in charity’s name let him,

“O’erlabored with his being’s strife
Shrink to that sweet forgetfulness of life.”

I wandered on. Soon the cupolas of the mighty Kremlin were in sight, all aglow with the bright sheen of the morn. Passing along its embattled walls, which now seemed of snowy whiteness, I reached the grand plaza of the Krasnoi Ploschod. Standing out in the open space, I gazed at the wondrous pile of gold-covered domes till my eyes rested on the highest point the majestic tower of Ivan Veliki. And then I could but think of the terrible Czar the fourth of the fierce race of Ivans, who ruled the destinies of Russia; he who killed his own son in a fit of rage, yet never shook hands with a foreign embassador without washing his own immediately after; the patron of monasteries, and the conqueror of Kazan, Astrakan, and Siberia. This was the most cruel yet most enlightened of his name. I am not sure whether the tower was built to commemorate his fame or that of his grandfather, Ivan the Third, also called “the Terrible,” of whom Karasmin says that, “when excited with anger, his glance would make a timid woman swoon; that petitioners dreaded to approach his throne, and that even at his table the boyars, his grandees, trembled before him.” A terrible fellow, no doubt, and thoroughly Russian by the testimony of this Russian historian, for where else will you find men so terrible as to make timid women swoon by a single glance of their eye? Not in California, surely! If I were a Czar this soft summer night (such was the idea that naturally occurred to me), I would gaze upon the fair flowers of creation with an entirely different expression of countenance. They should neither wilt nor swoon unless overcome by the delicacy and tenderness of my admiration.

From the green towers of the Holy Gate, where neither Czar nor serf can enter without uncovering his head, I turned toward the Vassoli Blagennoi the wondrous maze of churches that gathers around the Cathedral of St. Basil. Not in all Moscow is there a sight so strange and gorgeous as this. The globular domes, all striped with the varied colors of the rainbow; the glittering gold-gilt cupolas; the rare and fanciful minarets; the shrines, and crosses, and stars; the massive steps; the iron railing, with shining gold-capped points surely, in the combination of striking and picturesque forms and colors, lights and shades, must ever remain unequaled. The comparison may seem frivolous, yet it resembled more, to my eye, some gigantic cactus of the tropics, with its needles and rich colors, its round, prickly domes and fantastic cupolas, than any thing I had ever seen before in the shape of a church or group of churches. While I gazed in wonder at the strange fabric, I could not but think again of Ivan the Terrible; by whose order it was built; and how, when the architect (an Italian) was brought before him, trembling with awe, the mighty Ivan expressed his approval of the performance, and demanded if he, the architect, could build another equally strange and beautiful; to which the poor Italian, elated with joy, answered that he could build another even stranger and more beautiful than this; and then how the ferocious and unprincipled Czar had the poor fellow’s eyes put out to prevent him from building another.

But this is not the adventure. I have nothing to do at present with the Church of St. Basil or Ivan the Terrible except in so far as they affected my imagination. The business on hand is to tell you how the dire catastrophe happened.

Bewildered at length with gazing at all these wonderful sights, I turned to retrace my steps to the hotel. A few droskies were still plying on the principal thoroughfares, and now and then I met gay parties trudging homeward after their night’s dissipation; but I soon struck into the less frequented streets, where a dreary silence reigned. There was something very sad and solitary in the reverberation of my footsteps. For the first time it occurred to me that there was not much security here for life, in case of a covert attack from some of those footpads said to infest the city. I began to reflect upon the experience of my young American friend, and regret that it had not occurred to me before I left the hotel. You may think this very weak and foolish, good friends, surrounded as you are by all the safeguards of law and order, and living in a country where men are never knocked on the head of nights with occasional exceptions; but I can assure you it is a very natural feeling in a strange, half-barbarous city like Moscow, where one doesn’t understand the language. Had I been well versed in Russian, the probability is I should not have felt the least alarmed; but a man experiences a terrible sensation of loneliness when he expects every moment to be knocked on the head without being able to say a word in his own defense. Had my guide, Dominico, been with me, I should not have felt quite so helpless though I never had much confidence in his courage for he could at least have demanded an explanation, or, if the worst came to the worst, helped me to run away. The fact is and there is no use attempting to disguise it I began to feel a nervous apprehension that something was going to happen. I was startled at my own shadow, and was even afraid to whistle with any view of keeping up my spirits, lest something unusually florid in my style of whistling might lead to the supposition that I was from California, and therefore a good subject for robbery.

Which, by the way, puts me in mind of a remarkable fact, well worth mentioning. The State of California owes me, at the least calculation, two hundred dollars, paid in sums varying from six kreutzers up to a pound sterling to hotel-keepers, porters, lackeys, and professional gentlemen throughout Europe, exclusively on the ground of my citizenship in that state. In Paris in Spain in Africa in Germany (with the exceptions of the beer-houses and country inns), I had to pay a heavy percentage upon the capital invested in my gold mines solely on the presumption that no man could come from so rich a country without carrying off a good deal of treasure on his person, like the carcass that carried the diamonds out of the rich valley for Sinbad the Sailor. Yet I never could forego the pleasure of announcing myself as an embassador to foreign parts from that noble state, commissioned by the sovereigns generally to furnish them with the latest improvements in morals, fashions, and manners for the public benefit an extremely onerous and responsible duty, which I have executed, and shall continue to execute, with the most rigid fidelity.

After walking quite far enough to have reached the hotel, I became confused at the winding of the streets. The neighborhood was strange. I could not discover any familiar sign or object. The houses were low, mean, and dark looking; the street was narrow and roughly paved. I walked a little farther, then turned into another street still more obscure, and, following that for some distance, brought up amid a pile of ruined walls. There could no longer be a doubt that I had missed the way, and was not likely to find it in this direction. It was a very suspicious quarter into which I had strayed. Every thing about it betokened poverty and crime. I began to feel rather uneasy, but it would not do to stand here among the ruins as a mark for any midnight prowler who might be lurking around. Turning off in a new direction, I took a by-street, which appeared to lead to an open space. As I picked my way over the masses of rubbish, a dark figure crossed in front, and disappeared in the shadow of a wall. I was entirely unarmed. What was to be done? Perhaps the man might be able to tell me the way to my lodgings; but I could not speak a word of Russian, as before stated, and, besides, was rather averse to making acquaintance with strangers. After a moment’s reflection, I walked on, cautiously and distrustfully enough, for the notion was uppermost in my mind that this fellow was not there for any good purpose. As I passed the spot where he had disappeared, I looked suspiciously around, but he did not make his appearance. With a few hasty strides I readied the open space a vacant lot, it seemed, caused by a recent fire. The houses were burnt down, and nothing but a blackened mass of beams, rafters, and ashes covered the ground. The only exit was through a narrow alley. Before entering this, I looked back and saw the same figure stealthily following me. On I went as rapidly as I could walk. Closer and closer came the figure. He was a man of gigantic stature, and was probably armed. Soon I heard the heavy tramp of his feet within a few paces. It was evident I must either run or stand my ground. Perhaps, if I had known what direction to take, or could have placed more reliance upon my knees, which were greatly weakened by tea, I might have chosen the former alternative, inglorious as it may seem; but, under the circumstances, I resolved to stand. Facing around suddenly, with my back to the wall, I called to the ruffian to stand off, as he valued his life. He halted within a few feet, evidently a little disconcerted at my sudden determination to make battle. His face was the most brutal I had over seen; a filthy mass of beard nearly covered it; two piercing white eyes glistened beneath the leaf of his greasy cap; a coarse blouse, gathered around the waist by a leather belt, and boots that reached nearly to his hips, were the most striking articles of his costume. For a moment he gazed at me, as if uncertain what to do; then brushed slowly past, with the design, no doubt, of ascertaining if I was armed. I could not see whether he carried any deadly weapons himself; but a man of his gigantic stature needed none to be a very unequal opponent in a struggle with one whose most sanguinary conflicts had hitherto been on paper, and who had never wielded a heavier weapon than a pen.

Proceeding on his way, however, the ruffian, after going about a hundred yards, disappeared in some dark recess in among the houses on one side. I continued on, taking care to keep in the middle of the alley. As I approached the spot where the man had disappeared, I heard several voices, and then the terrible truth flashed upon me that there must be a gang of them. I now saw no alternative but to turn back and run for my life. It was an inglorious thing to do, no doubt, but which of you, my friends, would not have done the same thing?

Scarcely had I started under full headway when three or four men rushed out in pursuit. I will not attempt to disguise the fact that the ground passed under my feet pretty rapidly; and the probability is, the hostile party would have been distanced in less than ten minutes but for an unfortunate accident. It was necessary to cross the ruins already described. Here, in the recklessness of my flight, I stumbled over a beam, and fell prostrate in a pile of ashes. Before I could regain my feet the ruffians were upon me. While two of them held my arms, the third clapped his dirty hand over my mouth, and in this way they dragged me back into the alley. As soon as they had reached the dark archway from which they had originally started, they knocked at a door on one side. This was quickly opened, and I was thrust into a large room, dimly lighted with rude lamps of grease hung upon the walls. When they first got hold of me, I confess the sensation was not pleasant. What would the Emperor Alexander say when he heard that a citizen of California had been murdered in this cold-blooded manner? My next thought was, in what terms would this sad affair be noticed in the columns of the Sacramento Union? Would it not be regarded by the editor as an unprovoked disaster inflicted upon society? My fears, however, were somewhat dispelled upon looking around the saloon into which I had been so strangely introduced. Several tables were ranged along the walls, at each of which sat a group of the most horrible-looking savages that probably ever were seen out of jail the very dregs and offscourings of Moscow. Their faces were mostly covered with coarse, greasy beards, reaching half way down their bodies; some wore dirty blue or gray blouses, tied around the waist with ropes, or fastened with leather belts; others, long blue coats, reaching nearly to their feet; and all, or nearly all, had caps on their heads, and great heavy boots reaching up to their knees, in which their pantaloons were thrust, giving them a rakish and ruffianly appearance. A few sat in their shirt-sleeves; and, judging by the color of their shirts, as well as their skins, did not reckon soap among the luxuries of life. Several of these savage-looking Mujiks were smoking some abominable weed, intended, perhaps, for tobacco, but very much unlike that delightful narcotic in the foul and tainted odor which it diffused over the room. They were all filthy and brutish in the extreme, and talked in some wretched jargon, which, even to my inexperienced ear, had but little of the gentle flow of the Russian in it. The tables were dotted with dice, cards, fragments of black bread, plates of grease, and cabbage soup, and glasses of vodka and tea; and the business of gambling, eating, and drinking was carried on with such earnestness that my entrance attracted no farther attention than a rude stare from the nearest group. No wonder they were a little puzzled, for I was covered with ashes, and must have presented rather a singular appearance. The three ruffians who had brought me in closed the door, and motioned me to a seat at a vacant table. They then called for tea, vodka, and quass, together with a great dish of raw cucumbers, which they set to work devouring with amazing voracity. During a pause in the feast they held a low conversation with the man who served them, who went out and presently returned with a small tea-pot full of tea and a glass, which he set before me. They motioned to me, in rather a friendly way, to drink. I was parched with thirst, and was not sorry to get a draught of any thing even the villainous compound the traktir had set before me; so I drank off a tumblerfull at once. Soon I began to experience a whirling sensation in the head. A cold tremor ran through my limbs. Dim and confused visions of the company rose before me, and a strange and spectral light seemed shed over the room. The murmur of voices sounded like rushing waters in my ears. I gradually lost all power of volition, while my consciousness remained unimpaired, or, if any thing, became more acute than ever. The guests, if such they were, broke up their carousal about this time, and began to drop off one by one, each bowing profoundly to the landlord, and crossing himself devoutly, and bowing three times again before the shrine of the patron saint as he passed out. It was really marvelous to see some of these ruffians, so besotted with strong drink that they were scarcely able to see the way to the door, stagger up before the burnished shrine, and, steadying themselves the best they could, gravely and solemnly go through their devotions.

But I see you are beginning to yawn, and, notwithstanding the most exciting part of the adventure is about to commence, it would be extremely injudicious in me to force it upon you under circumstances so disadvantageous to both parties. You will therefore oblige me by finishing your nap, and, with your permission, we will proceed with our narrative as soon as it may be mutually agreeable. In the mean time, I beg you will regard what I have already told you as strictly confidential. My reputation, both for veracity and general good character, is involved in this very extraordinary affair, and it would be unfair that either the one or the other should be prejudiced by a partial exposition of the facts.