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The Secret of the Night

13. The Living Bombs
At random - because now he could only act at random - he returned to the datcha. Great
disorder reigned there. The guard had been doubled. The general's friends, summoned by
Trebassof, surrounded the two poisoned sufferers and filled the house with their bustling
devotion and their protestations of affection. However, an insignificant doctor from the
common quarter of the Vasili-Ostrow, brought by the police, reassured everybody. The
police had not found the general's household physician at home, but promised the
immediate arrival of two specialists, whom they had found instead. In the meantime they
had picked up on the way this little doctor, who was gay and talkative as a magpie. He
had enough to do looking after Matrena Petrovna, who had been so sick that her husband,
Feodor Feodorovitch, still trembled, "for the first time in his life," as the excellent Ivan
Petrovitch said.
The reporter was astonished at not finding Natacha either in Matrena's apartment or
Feodor's. He asked Matrena where her step-daughter was. Matrena turned a frightened
face toward him. When they were alone, she said:
"We do not know where she is. Almost as soon as you left she disappeared, and no one
has seen her since. The general has asked for her several times. I have had to tell him
Koupriane took her with him to learn the details from her of what happened."
"She is not with Koupriane," said Rouletabille.
"Where is she? This disappearance is more than strange at the moment we were dying,
when her father - O God! Leave me, my child; I am stifling; I am stifling."
Rouletabille called the temporary doctor and withdrew from the chamber. He had come
with the idea of inspecting the house room by room, corner by corner, to make sure
whether or not any possibility of entrance existed that he had not noticed before, an
entrance would-be poisoners were continuing to use. But now a new fact confronted him
and overshadowed everything: the disappearance of Natacha. How he lamented his
ignorance of the Russian language - and not one of Koupriane's men knew French. He
might draw something out of Ermolai.
Ermolai said he had seen Natacha just outside the gate for a moment, looking up and
down the road. Then he had been called to the general, and so knew nothing further.
That was all the reporter could gather from the gestures rather than the words of the old
servant.
An additional difficulty now was that twilight drew on, and it was impossible for the
reporter to discern Natacha's foot-prints. Was it true that the young girl had fled at such a
moment, immediately after the poisoning, before she knew whether her father and mother
were entirely out of danger? If Natacha were innocent, as Rouletabille still wished to
 
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