The Secret of the Night
In the dining-room it was Thaddeus Tchnichnikoff's turn to tell hunting stories. He was
the greatest timber-merchant in Lithuania. He owned immense forests and he loved
Feodor Feodorovitch* as a brother, for they had played together all through their
childhood, and once he had saved him from a bear that was just about to crush his skull
as one might knock off a hat. General Trebassof's father was governor of Courlande at
that time, by the grace of God and the Little Father. Thaddeus, who was just thirteen
years old, killed the bear with a single stroke of his boar-spear, and just in time. Close ties
were knit between the two families by this occurrence, and though Thaddeus was neither
noble-born nor a soldier, Feodor considered him his brother and felt toward him as such.
Now Thaddeus had become the greatest timber-merchant of the western provinces, with
his own forests and also with his massive body, his fat, oily face, his bull-neck and his
ample paunch. He quitted everything at once - all his affairs, his family - as soon as he
learned of the first attack, to come and remain by the side of his dear comrade Feodor. He
had done this after each attack, without forgetting one. He was a faithful friend. But he
fretted because they might not go bear-hunting as in their youth. 'Where, he would ask,
are there any bears remaining in Courlande, or trees for that matter, what you could call
trees, growing since the days of the grand-dukes of Lithuania, giant trees that threw their
shade right up to the very edge of the towns? Where were such things nowadays?
Thaddeus was very amusing, for it was he, certainly, who had cut them away tranquilly
enough and watched them vanish in locomotive smoke. It was what was called Progress.
Ah, hunting lost its national character assuredly with tiny new-growth trees which had
not had time to grow. And, besides, one nowadays had not time for hunting. All the big
game was so far away. Lucky enough if one seized the time to bring down a brace of
woodcock early in the morning. At this point in Thaddeus's conversation there was a
babble of talk among the convivial gentlemen, for they had all the time in the world at
their disposal and could not see why he should be so concerned about snatching a little
while at morning or evening, or at midday for that matter. Champagne was flowing like a
river when Rouletabille was brought in by Matrena Petrovna. The general, whose eyes
had been on the door for some time, cried at once, as though responding to a cue:
"Ah, my dear Rouletabille! I have been looking for you. Our friends wrote me you were
coming to St. Petersburg."
*In this story according to Russian habit General Trebassof is called alternately by that
name or the family name Feodor Feodorovitch, and Madame Trebassof by that name or
her family name, Matrena Petrovna.- Translator's Note.
Rouletabille hurried over to him and they shook hands like friends who meet after a long
separation. The reporter was presented to the company as a close young friend from Paris