A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter XIII. Entrapped
Prince Ivan Lermontoff came to consider the explosion one of the luckiest things that had ever occurred in his workshop. Its happening so soon after he reached St. Petersburg he looked upon as particularly fortunate, because this gave him time to follow the new trend of thought along which his mind had been deflected by such knowledge as the unexpected outcome of his experiment had disclosed to him. The material he had used as a catalytic agent was a new substance which he had read of in a scientific review, and he had purchased a small quantity of it in London. If such a minute portion produced results so tremendous, he began to see that a man with an apparently innocent material in his waistcoat pocket might probably be able to destroy a naval harbor, so long as water and stone were in conjunction. There was also a possibility that a small quantity of ozak, as the stuff was called, mixed with pure water, would form a reducing agent for limestone, and perhaps for other minerals, which would work much quicker than if the liquid was merely impregnated with carbonic acid gas. He endeavored to purchase some ozak from Mr. Kruger, the chemist on the English quay, but that good man had never heard of it, and a day's search persuaded him that it could not be got in St. Petersburg, so the Prince induced Kruger to order half a pound of it from London or Paris, in which latter city it had been discovered. For the arrival of this order the Prince waited with such patience as he could call to his command, and visited poor Mr. Kruger every day in the hope of receiving it.
One afternoon he was delighted to hear that the box had come, although it had not yet been unpacked.
"I will send it to your house this evening," said the chemist. "There are a number of drugs in the box for your old friend Professor Potkin of the University, and he is even more impatient for his consignment than you are for yours. Ah, here he is," and as he spoke the venerable Potkin himself entered the shop.
He shook hands warmly with Lermontoff, who had always been a favorite pupil of his, and learned with interest that he had lately been to England and America.
"Cannot you dine with me this evening at half-past five?" asked the old man. "There are three or four friends coming, to whom I shall be glad to introduce you."
"Truth to tell, Professor," demurred the Prince, "I have a friend staying with me, and I don't just like to leave him alone."
"Bring him with you, bring him with you," said the Professor, "but in any case be sure you come yourself. I shall be expecting you. Make your excuses to your friend if he does not wish to endure what he might think dry discussion, because we shall talk nothing but chemistry and politics."
The Prince promised to be there whether his friend came or no. The chemist here interrupted them, and told the Professor he might expect his materials within two hours.
"And your package," he said to the Prince, "I shall send about the same time. I have been very busy, and can trust no one to unpack this box but myself."
"You need not trouble to send it, and in any case I don't wish to run the risk of having it delivered at a wrong address by your messenger. I cannot afford to wait so long as would be necessary to duplicate the order. I am dining with the Professor to-night, so will drive this way, and take the parcel myself."
"Perhaps," said the chemist, "it would be more convenient if I sent your parcel to Professor Potkin's house?"
"No," said the Prince decisively, "I shall call for it about five o'clock."
The Professor laughed.
"We experimenters," he said, "never trust each other," so they shook hands and parted.
On returning to his workshop, Lermontoff bounded up the stairs, and hailed his friend the Lieutenant.
"I say, Drummond, I'm going to dine to-night with Professor Potkin of the University, my old teacher in chemistry. His hour is half-past five, and I've got an invitation for you. There will be several scientists present, and no women. Will you come?"
"I'd a good deal rather not," said the Englishman, "I'm wiring into these books, and studying strategy; making plans for an attack upon Kronstadt."
"Well, you take my advice, Alan, and don't leave any of those plans round where the St. Petersburg police will find them. Such a line of study is carried on much safer in London than here. You'd be very welcome, Drummond, and the old boy would be glad to see you. You don't need to bother about evening togs-- plain living and high thinking, you know. I'm merely going to put on a clean collar and a new tie, as sufficient for the occasion."
"I'd rather not go, Jack, if you don't mind. If I'm there you'll all be trying to talk English or French, and so I'd feel myself rather a damper on the company. Besides, I don't know anything about science, and I'm trying to learn something about strategy. What time do you expect to be back?"
"Rather early; ten or half-past."
"Good, I'll wait up for you."
At five o'clock Jack was at the chemist's and received his package. On opening it he found the ozak in two four-ounce, glass-stoppered bottles, and these be put in his pocket.
"Will you give me three spray syringes, as large a size as you have, rubber, glass, and metal. I'm not sure but this stuff will attack one or other of them, and I don't want to spend the rest of my life running down to your shop."
Getting the syringes, he jumped into his cab, and was driven to the Professor's.
"You may call for me at ten," he said to the cabman.
There were three others besides the Professor and himself, and they were all interested in learning the latest scientific news from New York and London.
It was a quarter past ten when the company separated. Lermontoff stepped into his cab, and the driver went rattling up the street. In all the talk the Prince had said nothing of his own discovery, and now when he found himself alone his mind reverted to the material in his pocket, and he was glad the cabman was galloping his horse, that he might be the sooner in his workshop. Suddenly he noticed that they were dashing down a street which ended at the river.
"I say," he cried to the driver, "you've taken the wrong turning. This is a blind street. There's neither quay nor bridge down here. Turn back."
"I see that now," said the driver over his shoulder. "I'll turn round at the end where it is wider."
He did turn, but instead of coming up the street again, dashed through an open archway which led into the courtyard of a large building fronting the Neva. The moment the carriage was inside, the gates clanged shut.
"Now, what in the name of Saint Peter do you mean by this?" demanded the Prince angrily.
The cabman made no reply, but from a door to the right stepped a tall, uniformed officer, who said:
"Orders, your Highness, orders. The isvoshtchik is not to blame. May I beg of your Highness to accompany me inside?"
"Who the devil are you?" demanded the annoyed nobleman.
"I am one who is called upon to perform a disagreeable duty, which your Highness will make much easier by paying attention to my requests."
"Am I under arrest?"
"I have not said so, Prince Ivan."
"Then I demand that the gates be opened that I may return home, where more important business awaits me than talking to a stranger who refuses to reveal his identity."
"I hope you will pardon me, Prince Lermontoff. I act, as the isvoshtchik has acted, under compulsion. My identity is not in question. I ask you for the second time to accompany me."
"Then, for the second time I inquire, am I under arrest? If so, show me your warrant, and then I will go with you, merely protesting that whoever issued such a warrant has exceeded his authority."
"I have seen nothing of a warrant, your Highness, and I think you are confusing your rights with those pertaining to individuals residing in certain countries you have recently visited."
"You have no warrant, then?"
"I have none. I act on my superior's word, and do not presume to question it. May I hope that you will follow me without a further parley, which is embarrassing to me, and quite unhelpful to yourself. I have been instructed to treat you with every courtesy, but nevertheless force has been placed at my disposal. I am even to take your word of honor that you are unarmed, and your Highness is well aware that such leniency is seldom shown in St. Petersburg."
"Well, sir, even if my word of honor failed to disarm me, your politeness would. I carry a revolver. Do you wish it?"
"If your Highness will condescend to give it to me."
The Prince held the weapon, butt forward, to the officer, who received it with a gracious salutation.
"You know nothing of the reason for this action?"
"Nothing whatever, your Highness."
"Where are you going to take me?"
"A walk of less than three minutes will acquaint your Highness with the spot."
The Prince laughed.
"Oh, very well," he said. "May I write a note to a friend who is waiting up for me?"
"I regret, Highness, that no communications whatever can be allowed."
The Prince stepped down from the vehicle, walked diagonally across a very dimly lighted courtyard with his guide, entered that section of the rectangular building which faced the Neva, passed along a hall with one gas jet burning, then outside again, and immediately over a gang-plank that brought him aboard a steamer. On the lower deck a passage ran down the center of the ship, and along this the conductor guided his prisoner, opened the door of a stateroom in which candles were burning, and a comfortable bed turned down for occupancy.
"I think your Highness will find everything here that you need. If anything further is required, the electric bell will summon an attendant, who will get it for you."
"Am I not to be confronted with whoever is responsible for my arrest?"
"I know nothing of that, your Highness. My duty ends by escorting you here. I must ask if you have any other weapon upon you?"
"No, I have not."
"Will you give me your parole that you will not attempt to escape?"
"I shall escape if I can, of course."
"Thank you, Excellency," replied the officer, as suavely as if Lermontoff had given his parole. Out of the darkness he called a tall, rough-looking soldier, who carried a musket with a bayonet at the end of it. The soldier took his stand beside the door of the cabin.
"Anything else?" asked the Prince.
"Nothing else, your Highness, except good-night."
"Oh, by the way, I forgot to pay my cabman. Of course it isn't his fault that he brought me here."
"I shall have pleasure in sending him to you, and again, good-night."
"Good-night," said the Prince.
He closed the door of his cabin, pulled out his note-book, and rapidly wrote two letters, one of which he addressed to Drummond and the other to the Czar. When the cabman came he took him within the cabin and closed the door.
"Here," he said in a loud voice that the sentry could overhear if he liked, "how much do I owe you?"
The driver told him.
"That's too much, you scoundrel," he cried aloud, but as he did so he placed three gold pieces in the palm of the driver's hand together with the two letters, and whispered:
"Get these delivered safely, and I'll give you ten times this money if you call on Prince Lermontoff at the address on that note."
The man saluted, thanked him, and retired; a moment later he heard the jingle of a bell, and then the steady throb of an engine. There was no window to the stateroom, and he could not tell whether the steamer was going up or down the river. Up, he surmised, and he suspected his destination was Schlusselburg, the fortress-prison on an island at the source of the Neva. He determined to go on deck and solve the question of direction, but the soldier at the door brought down his gun and barred the passage.
"I am surely allowed to go on deck?"
"You cannot pass without an order from the captain."
"Well, send the captain to me, then."
"I dare not leave the door," said the soldier.
Lermontoff pressed the button, and presently an attendant came to learn what was wanted.
"Will you ask the captain to come here?"
The steward departed, and shortly after returned with a big, bronzed, bearded man, whose bulk made the stateroom seem small.
"You sent for the captain, and I am here."
"So am I," said the Prince jauntily. "My name is Lermontoff. Perhaps you have heard of me?"
The captain shook his shaggy head.
"I am a Prince of Russia, and by some mistake find myself your passenger instead of spending the night in my own house. Where are you taking me, Captain?"
"It is forbidden that I should answer questions."
"Is it also forbidden that I should go on deck?"
"The General said you were not to be allowed to leave this stateroom, as you did not give your parole."
"How can I escape from a steamer in motion, Captain?"
"It is easy to jump into the river, and perhaps swim ashore."
"So he is a general, is he? Well, Captain, I'll give you my parole that I shall not attempt to swim the Neva on so cold a night as this."
"I cannot allow you on deck now," said the Captain, "but when we are in the Gulf of Finland you may walk the deck with the sentry beside you."
"The Gulf of Finland!" cried Lermontoff. "Then you are going down the river?"
The big Captain looked at him with deep displeasure clouding his brow, feeling that he had been led to give away information which he should have kept to himself.
"You are not going up to Schlusselburg, then?"
"I told your Highness that I am not allowed to answer questions. The General, however, has given me a letter for you, and perhaps it may contain all you may want to know."
"The General has given you a letter, eh? Then why don't you let me have it?"
"He told me not to disturb you to-night, but place it before you at breakfast to-morrow."
"Oh, we're going to travel all night, are we?"
"Did the General say you should not allow me to see the letter to-night?"
"No, your Excellency; he just said, 'Do not trouble his Highness to-night, but give him this in the morning.'"
"In that case let me have it now."
The Captain pulled a letter from his pocket and presented it to the Prince. It contained merely the two notes which Lermontoff had written to Drummond and to the Czar.