The Secret of the Night
6. The Mysterious Hand
After the departure of Matrena, Rouletabille turned his attention to the garden. Neither
the marshal of the court nor the officers were there any longer. The three men had
disappeared. Rouletabille wished to know at once where they had gone. He went rapidly
to the gate, named the officers and the marshal to Ermolai, and Ermolai made a sign that
they had passed out. Even as he spoke he saw the marshal's carriage disappear around a
corner of the road. As to the two officers, they were nowhere on the roadway. He was
surprised that the marshal should have gone without seeing Matrena or the general or
himself, and, above all, he was disquieted by the disappearance of the orderlies. He
gathered from the gestures of Ermolai that they had passed before the lodge only a few
minutes after the marshal's departure. They had gone together. Rouletabille set himself to
follow them, traced their steps in the soft earth of the roadway and soon they crossed onto
the grass. At this point the tracks through the massed ferns became very difficult to
follow. He hurried along, bending close to the ground over such traces as he could see,
which continually led him astray, but which conducted him finally to the thing that he
sought. A noise of voices made him raise his head and then throw himself behind a tree.
Not twenty steps from him Natacha and Boris were having an animated conversation.
The young officer held himself erect directly in front of her, frowning and impatient.
Under the uniform cloak that he had wrapped about him without having bothered to use
the sleeves, which were tossed up over his chest, Boris had his arms crossed. His entire
attitude indicated hauteur, coldness and disdain for what he was hearing. Natacha never
appeared calmer or more mistress of herself. She talked to him rapidly and mostly in a
low voice. Sometimes a word in Russian sounded, and then she resumed her care to
speak low. Finally she ceased, and Boris, after a short silence, in which he had seemed to
reflect deeply, pronounced distinctly these words in French, pronouncing them syllable
by syllable, as though to give them additional force:
"You ask a frightful thing of me."
"It is necessary to grant it to me," said the young girl with singular energy. "You
understand, Boris Alexandrovitch! It is necessary."
Her gaze, after she had glanced penetratingly all around her and discovered nothing
suspicious, rested tenderly on the young officer, while she murmured, "My Boris!" The
young man could not resist either the sweetness of that voice, nor the captivating charm
of that glance. He took the hand she extended toward him and kissed it passionately. His
eyes, fixed on Natacha, proclaimed that he granted everything that she wished and
admitted himself vanquished. Then she said, always with that adorable gaze upon him,
"This evening!" He replied, "Yes, yes. This evening! This evening!" upon which Natacha
withdrew her hand and made a sign to the officer to leave, which he promptly obeyed.
Natacha remained there still a long time, plunged in thought. Rouletabille had already
taken the road back to the villa. Matrena Petrovna was watching for his return, seated on