A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter XVII. A Fellow Scientist
In this position Jack slept off and on, or rather, dozed into a kind of semi-stupor, from which he awoke with a start now and then, as he thought be heard again the mingled cries of devotion and malediction. At last he slept soundly, and awoke refreshed, but hungry. The loaf lay beside him, and with his knife he cut a slice from it, munching the coarse bread with more of relish than he had thought possible when he first saw it. Then he took out another cigarette, struck a match, looked at his watch, and lit the cigarette. It was ten minutes past two. He wondered if a night had intervened, but thought it unlikely. He had landed very early in the morning, and now it was afternoon. He was fearfully thirsty, but could not bring himself to drink from that stream of death. Once more he heard the bolts shot back.
"They are going to throw the poor wretches into the sea," he muttered, but the yellow gleam of a lantern showed him it was his own door that had been unlocked.
"You are to see the Governor," said the gaoler gruffly. "Come with me."
Jack sprang to the floor of his cell, repressing a cry of delight. Nothing the grim Governor could do to him would make his situation any worse, and perhaps his persuasive powers upon that official might result in some amelioration of his position. In any case there was the brief respite of the interview, and he would gladly have chummed with the devil himself to be free a few moments from this black pit.
Although the outside door of the Governor's room stood open, the room was not as well illumined as it had been before, for the sun had now gone round to the other side of the island, but to the prisoner's aching eyes it seemed a chamber of refulgence. The same lamp was burning on the table, giving forth an odor of bad oil, but in addition to this, two candles were lighted, which supplemented in some slight measure the efforts of the lamp. At the end of the table lay a number of documents under a paper-weight, arranged with the neat precision of a methodical man. The Governor had been warming his hands over the brazier, but ceased when Lermontoff was brought up standing before him. He lifted the paper-weight, took from under it the two letters which Lermontoff had given to the steward on the steamer, and handed them to the prisoner, who thus received them back for the second time.
"I wish to say," remarked the Governor, with an air of bored indifference which was evidently quite genuine, "that if you make any further attempt to communicate with the authorities, or with friends, you will bring on yourself punishment which will be unpleasant."
"As a subject of the Czar, I have the right to appeal to him," said the Prince.
"The appeal you have written here," replied the Governor, "would have proved useless, even if it had been delivered. The Czar knows nothing of the Trogzmondoff, which is a stronghold entirely under the control of the Grand Dukes and of the Navy. The Trogzmondoff never gives up a prisoner."
"Then I am here for a lifetime?"
"Yes," rejoined the Governor, with frigid calmness, "and if you give me no trouble you will save yourself some inconvenience."
"Do you speak French?" asked the Prince.
"Then," continued Lermontoff in German, "I desire to say a few words to you which I don't wish this gaoler to understand. I am Prince Ivan Lermontoff, a personal friend of the Czar's, who, after all, is master of the Grand Dukes and the Navy also. If you will help to put me into communication with him, I will guarantee that no harm comes to you, and furthermore will make you a rich man."
The Governor slowly shook his head.
"What you ask is impossible. Riches are nothing to me. Bribery may do much in other parts of the Empire, but it is powerless in the Trogzmondoff. I shall die in the room adjoining this, as my predecessor died. I am quite as much a prisoner in the Trogzmondoff as is your Highness. No man who has once set foot in this room, either as Governor, employee, or prisoner, is allowed to see the mainland again, and thus the secret has been well kept. We have had many prisoners of equal rank with your Highness, friends of the Czar too, I dare say, but they all died on the Rock, and were buried in the Baltic."
"May I not be permitted to receive certain supplies if I pay for them? That is allowed in other prisons."
The Governor shook his head.
"I can let you have a blanket," he said, "and a pillow, or a sheepskin if you find it cold at first, but my power here is very limited, and, as I tell you, the officers have little more comfort than the prisoners."
"Oh, I don't care anything about comfort," protested Lermontoff. "What I want is some scientific apparatus. I am a student of science. I have nothing to do with politics, and have never been implicated in any plot. Someone in authority has made a stupid mistake, and so I am here. This mistake I am quite certain will be discovered and remedied. I hold no malice, and will say nothing of the place, once I am free. It is no business of mine. But I do not wish to have the intervening time wasted. I should like to buy some electrical machinery, and materials, for which I am willing to pay any price that is asked."
"Do you understand electricity?" questioned the Governor, and for the first time his impassive face showed a glimmer of interest.
"Do I understand electricity? Why, for over a year I have been chief electrician on a war-ship."
"Perhaps then," said the Governor, relapsing into Russian again, "you can tell me what is wrong with our dynamo here in the Rock. After repeated requisition they sent machinery for lighting our offices and passages with electricity. They apparently did not care to send an electrician to the Trogzmondoff, but forwarded instead some books of instruction. I have been working at it for two years and a half, but I am still using oil lamps and candles. We wired the place without difficulty." He held up the candle, and showed, depending from the ceiling, a chandelier of electric lamps which Lermontoff had not hitherto noticed, various brackets, and one or two stand lamps in a corner, with green silk-covered wire attached.
"May I see your dynamo?" asked Lermontoff.
The Governor, with one final warming of his hands, took up a candle, told the gaoler to remove the shade from the lamp and bring it, led the way along a passage, and then into a room where the prisoner, on first entering, had heard the roar of water.
"What's this you have. A turbine? Does it give you any power?"
"Oh, it gives power enough," said the Governor.
"Let's see how you turn on the stream."
The Governor set the turbine at work, and the dynamo began to hum, a sound which, to the educated ear of Lermontoff, told him several things.
"That's all right, Governor, turn it off. This is a somewhat old-fashioned dynamo, but it ought to give you all the light you can use. You must be a natural born electrician, or you never could have got this machinery working as well as it does."
The dull eyes of the Governor glowed for one brief moment, then resumed their customary expression of saddened tiredness.
"Now," said Jack, throwing off his coat, "I want a wrench, screwdriver, hammer and a pair of pincers if you've got them."
"Here is the tool chest," said the Governor, and Jack found all he needed. Bidding the Governor hold the candle here, there and elsewhere, and ordering the gaoler about as if he were an apprentice, Jack set energetically to work, and for half an hour no one spoke.
"Turn on that water again," he commanded.
The Governor did so, and the machine whirred with quite a different note. Half a dozen electric lamps in the room flooded the place with a dazzling white glow.
"There you are," cried Jack, rubbing the oil off his hands on a piece of coarse sacking. "Now, Tommy, put these things back in the tool chest," he said to the gaoler. Then to the Governor:
"Let's see how things look in the big room."
The passage was lit, and the Governor's room showed every mark on wall, ceiling and floor.
"I told you, Governor," said Jack with a laugh, "that I didn't know why I was sent here, but now I understand. Providence took pity on you, and ordered me to strike a light."
At that moment the gaoler entered with his jingling keys, and the enthusiastic expression faded from the Governor's face, leaving it once more coldly impassive, but he spoke in German instead of Russian.
"I am very much indebted to your Highness, and it grieves me that our relationship remains unchanged."
"Oh, that's all right," cried Lermontoff breezily, "If it is within your power to allow me to come and give you some lessons in electricity and the care of dynamos, I shall be very glad to do so."
To this offer the Governor made no reply, but he went on still in German.
"I shall transfer you to cell Number One, which is not only more comfortable, but the water there is pure. Did you say you spoke English?"
"Yes, quite as well as I do Russian."
The Governor continued, with nevertheless a little hesitation: "On the return of the steamer there will be an English prisoner. I will give him cell Number Two, and if you don't talk so loud that the gaoler hears you, it may perhaps make the day less wearisome."
"You are very kind," said Jack, rigidly suppressing any trace of either emotion or interest as he heard the intelligence; leaping at once to certain conclusions, nevertheless. "I shan't ask for anything more, much as I should like to mention candles, matches, and tobacco."
"It is possible you may find all three in Number One before this time to-morrow;" then in Russian the Governor said to the goaler:
"See if Number One is ready."
The gaoler departed, and the Governor, throwing open a drawer in his table, took out two candles, a box of matches, and a packet of cigarettes.
"Put these in your pocket," he said. "The cell door opens very slowly, so you will always know when the gaoler is coming. In that case blow out your light and conceal your candle. It will last the longer."
The gaoler returned.
"The cell is ready, Excellency," he said.
"Take away the prisoner," commanded the Governor, gruffly.