The Secret of the Night
4. The Youth Of Moscow Is Dead
Rouletabille let himself be led by Matrena through the night, but he stumbled and his
awkward hands struck against various things. The ascent to the first floor was
accomplished in profound silence. Nothing broke it except that restless moaning which
had so affected the young man just before.
The tepid warmth, the perfume of a woman's boudoir, then, beyond, through two doors
opening upon the dressing-room which lay between Matrena's chamber and Feodor's, the
dim luster of a night-lamp showed the bed where was stretched the sleeping tyrant of
Moscow. Ah, he was frightening to see, with the play of faint yellow light and diffused
shadows upon him. Such heavy-arched eyebrows, such an aspect of pain and menace, the
massive jaw of a savage come from the plains of Tartary to be the Scourge of God, the
stiff, thick, spreading beard. This was a form akin to the gallery of old nobles at Kasan,
and young Rouletabille imagined him as none other than Ivan the Terrible himself. Thus
appeared as he slept the excellent Feodor Feodorovitch, the easy, spoiled father of the
family table, the friend of the advocate celebrated for his feats with knife and fork and of
the bantering timber-merchant and amiable bear-hunter, the joyous Thaddeus and
Athanase; Feodor, the faithful spouse of Matrena Petrovna and the adored papa of
Natacha, a brave man who was so unfortunate as to have nights of cruel sleeplessness or
dreams more frightful still.
At that moment a hoarse sigh heaved his huge chest in an uneven rhythm, and
Rouletabille, leaning in the doorway of the dressing-room, watched - but it was no longer
the general that he watched, it was something else, lower down, beside the wall, near the
door, and it was that which set him tiptoeing so lightly across the floor that it gave no
sound. There was no slightest sound in the chamber, except the heavy breathing lifting
the rough chest. Behind Rouletabille Matrena raised her arms, as though she wished to
hold him back, because she did not know where he was going. What was he doing? Why
did he stoop thus beside the door and why did he press his thumb all along the floor at the
doorway? He rose again and returned. He passed again before the bed, where rumbled
now, like the bellows of a forge, the respiration of the sleeper. Matrena grasped
Rouletabille by the hand. And she had already hurried him into the dressing-room when a
moan stopped them.
"The youth of Moscow is dead!"
It was the sleeper speaking. The mouth which had given the stringent orders moaned.
And the lamentation was still a menace. In the haunted sleep thrust upon that man by the
inadequate narcotic the words Feodor Feodorovitch spoke were words of mourning and
pity. This perfect fiend of a soldier, whom neither bullets nor bombs could intimidate,
had a way of saying words which transformed their meaning as they came from his
terrible mouth. The listeners could not but feel absorbed in the tones of the brutal victor.