In a very short time the local authorities had assembled, a candle had been lit, two armed Cossacks stood as sentries at the door, and the preliminary investigation had begun. The Chief of Police sat at the table and wrote rapidly on a sheet of foolscap. The investigation showed that two shots had been fired from a revolver, and two bullets were found imbedded in the wall. All those who had been present, and some who knew nothing of the incident except by hearsay, were duly examined. Our opponents always assumed that my friend had been the assailant, in spite of his protestations to the contrary, and more than once the words pokyshenie na ubiistvo (attempt to murder) were pronounced. Things looked very black indeed. We had the prospect of being detained for days and weeks in the miserable place, till the insatiable demon of official formality had been propitiated. And then?
When things were thus at their blackest they suddenly took an unexpected turn, and the deus ex machina appeared precisely at the right moment, just as if we had all been puppets in a sensation novel. There was the usual momentary silence, and then, mixed with the sound of an approaching tarantass, a confused murmur: “There he is! He is coming!” The “he” thus vaguely and mysteriously indicated turned out to be an official of the judicial administration, who had reason to visit the village for an entirely different affair. As soon as he had been told briefly what had happened he took the matter in hand and showed himself equal to the occasion. Unlike the majority of Russian officials he disliked lengthy procedure, and succeeded in making the case quite clear in a very short time. There had been, he perceived, no attempt to murder or anything of the kind. The station-keeper and his two post-boys, who had no right to be in the traveller’s room, had entered with threatening mien, and when they refused to retire peaceably, my friend had fired two shots in order to frighten them and bring assistance. The falsity of their statement that he had fired at them as they entered the room was proved by the fact that the bullets were lodged near the ceiling in the wall farthest away from the door.
I must confess that I was agreeably surprised by this unexpected turn of affairs. The conclusions arrived at were nothing more than a simple statement of what had taken place; but I was surprised at the fact that a man who was at once a lawyer and a Russian official should have been able to take such a plain, commonsense view of the case.
Before midnight we were once more free men, driving rapidly in the clear moonlight to the next station, under the escort of a fully-armed Circassian Cossack; but the idea that we might have been detained for weeks in that miserable place haunted us like a nightmare.
IN THE NORTHERN FORESTS
Bird’s-eye View of Russia—The Northern Forests—Purpose of my Journey—Negotiations—The Road—A Village—A Peasant’s House—Vapour-Baths—Curious Custom—Arrival.