The Secret of the Night
12. Pere Alexis
Koupriane jumped into his carriage and hurried toward St. Petersburg. On the way he
spoke to three agents who only he knew were posted in the neighborhood of Eliaguine.
They told him the route Rouletabille had taken. The reporter had certainly returned into
the city. He hurried toward Troitski Bridge. There, at the corner of the Naberjnaia,
Koupriane saw the reporter in a hired conveyance. Rouletabille was pounding his
coachman in the back, Russian fashion, to make him go faster, and was calling with all
his strength one of the few words he had had time to learn, "Naleva, naleva" (to the left).
The driver was forced to understand at last, for there was no other way to turn than to the
left. If he had turned to the right (naprava) he would have driven into the river. The
conveyance clattered over the pointed flints of a neighborhood that led to a little street,
Aptiekarski-Pereoulok, at the corner of the Katharine canal. This "alley of the
pharmacists" as a matter of fact contained no pharmacists, but there was a curious sign of
a herbarium, where Rouletabille made the driver stop. As the carriage rolled under the
arch Rouletabille recognized Koupriane. He did not wait, but cried to him, "Ah, here you
are. All right; follow me." He still had the flask and the glasses in his hands. Koupriane
couldn't help noticing how strange he looked. He passed through a court with him, and
into a squalid shop.
"What," said Koupriane, "do you know Pere Alexis?"
They were in the midst of a curious litter. Clusters of dried herbs hung from the ceiling,
and all among them were clumps of old boots, shriveled skins, battered pans, scrap-iron,
sheep-skins, useless touloupes, and on the floor musty old clothes, moth-eaten furs, and
sheep-skin coats that even a moujik of the swamps would not have deigned to wear. Here
and there were old teeth, ragged finery, dilapidated hats, and jars of strange herbs ranged
upon some rickety shelving. Between the set of scales on the counter and a heap of little
blocks of wood used for figuring the accounts of this singular business were ungilded
ikons, oxidized silver crosses, and Byzantine pictures representing scenes from the Old
and New Testaments. Jars of alcohol with what seemed to be the skeletons of frogs
swimming in them filled what space was left. In a corner of this large, murky room,
under the vault of mossed stone, a small altar stood and the light burned in a hanging
glass of oil before the holy images. A man was praying before the altar. He wore the
costume of old Russia, the caftan of green cloth, buttoned at the shoulder and tucked in at
the waist by a narrow belt. He had a bushy beard and his hair fell to his shoulders. When
he had finished his prayer he rose, perceived Rouletabille and came over to take his hand.
He spoke French to the reporter:
"Well, here you are again, lad. Do you bring poison again to-day? This will end by being
found out, and the police..."
Just then he discerned Koupriane's form in the shadow, drew close to make out who it
was, and fell to his knees as he saw who it was. Rouletabille tried to raise him, but he
insisted on prostrating himself. He was sure the Prefect of Police had come to his house