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List Of Contents | Contents of Vaninka, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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to the retreating footsteps of the general.  When they had ceased to
be heard, she rushed into Annouschka's room, and both began to pull
aside a bundle of linen, thrown down, as if by accident, into the
embrasure of a window.  Under the linen was a large chest with a
spring lock.  Annouschka pressed a button, Vaninka raised the lid.
The two women uttered a loud cry: the chest was now a coffin; the
young officer, stifled for want of air, lay dead within.

For a long time the two women hoped it was only a swoon.  Annouschka
sprinkled his face with water; Vaninka put salts to his nose.  All
was in vain.  During the long conversation which the general had had
with his daughter, and which had lasted more than half an hour,
Foedor, unable to get out of the chest, as the lid was closed by a
spring, had died for want of air.  The position of the two girls shut
up with a corpse was frightful.  Annouschka saw Siberia close at
hand; Vaninka, to do her justice, thought of nothing but Foedor.
Both were in despair.  However, as the despair of the maid was more
selfish than that of her mistress, it was Annouschka who first
thought of a plan of escaping from the situation in which they were
placed.

"My lady," she cried suddenly, "we are saved."  Vaninka raised her
head and looked at her attendant with her eyes bathed in tears.

"Saved?" said she, "saved?  We are, perhaps, but Foedor!"

"Listen now," said Annouschka: "your position is terrible, I grant
that, and your grief is great; but your grief could be greater and
your position more terrible still.  If the general knew this."

"What difference would it make to me?" said Vaninka.  "I shall weep
for him before the whole world."

"Yes, but you will be dishonoured before the whole world!  To-morrow
your slaves, and the day after all St. Petersburg, will know that a
man died of suffocation while concealed in your chamber.  Reflect, my
lady: your honour is the honour of your father, the honour of your
family."

"You are right," said Vaninka, shaking her head, as if to disperse
the gloomy thoughts that burdened her brain,--"you are right, but
what must we do?"

"Does my lady know my brother Ivan?"

"Yes."

"We must tell him all."

"Of what are you thinking?" cried Vaninka.  "To confide in a man?  A
man, do I say?  A serf! a slave!"

"The lower the position of the serf and slave, the safer will our
secret be, since he will have everything to gain by keeping faith
with us."

"Your brother is a drunkard," said Vaninka, with mingled fear and
disgust.

"That is true," said Annouschka; "but where will you find a slave
who is not?  My brother gets drunk less than most, and is therefore
more to be trusted than the others.  Besides, in the position in
which we are we must risk something."

"You are right," said Vaninka, recovering her usual resolution, which
always grew in the presence of danger.  "Go and seek your brother."

"We can do nothing this morning," said Annouschka, drawing back the
window curtains.  "Look, the dawn is breaking."

"But what can we do with the body of this unhappy man?" cried
Vaninka.

"It must remain hidden where it is all day, and this evening, while
you are at the Court entertainment, my brother shall remove it."

"True," murmured Vaninka in a strange tone, "I must go to Court this
evening; to stay away would arouse suspicion.  Oh, my God! my God!"

"Help me, my lady," said Annouschka; "I am not strong enough alone."

Vaninka turned deadly pale, but, spurred on by the danger, she went
resolutely up to the body of her lover; then, lifting it by the
shoulders, while her maid raised it by the legs, she laid it once
more in the chest.  Then Annouschka shut down the lid, locked the
chest, and put the key into her breast.  Then both threw back the
linen which had hidden it from the eyes of the general.  Day dawned,
as might be expected, ere sleep visited the eyes of Vaninka.

She went down, however, at the breakfast hour; for she did not wish
to arouse the slightest suspicion in her father's mind.  Only it
might have been thought from her pallor that she had risen from the
grave, but the general attributed this to the nocturnal disturbance
of which he had been the cause.

Luck had served Vaninka wonderfully in prompting her to say that
Foedor had already gone; for not only did the general feel no
surprise when he did not appear, but his very absence was a proof of
his daughter's innocence.  The general gave a pretext for his aide-
de-camp's absence by saying that he had sent him on a mission.  As
for Vaninka, she remained out of her room till it was time to dress.
A week before, she had been at the Court entertainment with Foedor.

Vaninka might have excused herself from accompanying her father by
feigning some slight indisposition, but two considerations made her
fear to act thus: the first was the fear of making the general
anxious, and perhaps of making him remain at home himself, which
would make the removal of the corpse more difficult; the second was
the fear of meeting Ivan and having to blush before a slave.  She
preferred, therefore, to make a superhuman effort to control herself;
and, going up again into her room, accompanied by her faithful
Annouschka, she began to dress with as much care as if her heart were
full of joy.  When this cruel business was finished, she ordered
Annouschka to shut the door; for she wished to see Foedor once more,
and to bid a last farewell to him who had been her lover.  Annouschka
obeyed; and Vaninka, with flowers in her hair and her breast covered
with jewels, glided like a phantom into her servant's room.

Annouschka again opened the chest, and Vaninka, without shedding a
tear, without breathing a sigh, with the profound and death-like calm
of despair, leant down towards Foedor and took off a plain ring which
the young man had on his finger, placed it on her own, between two
magnificent rings, then kissing him on the brow, she said, "Goodbye,
my betrothed."

At this moment she heard steps approaching.  It was a groom of the
chambers coming from the general to ask if she were ready.
Annouschka let the lid of the chest fall, and Vaninka going herself
to open the door, followed the messenger, who walked before her,
lighting the way.

Such was her trust in her foster-sister that she left her to
accomplish the dark and terrible task with which she had burdened
herself.

A minute later, Annouschka saw the carriage containing the general
and his daughter leave by the main gate of the hotel.

She let half an hour go by, and then went down to look for Ivan.  She
found him drinking with Gregory, with whom the general had kept his
word, and who had received the same day one thousand roubles and his
liberty.  Fortunately, the revellers were only beginning their
rejoicings, and Ivan in consequence was sober enough for his sister
to entrust her secret to him without hesitation.

Ivan followed Annouschka into the chamber of her mistress.  There she
reminded him of all that Vaninka, haughty but generous, had allowed
his sister to do for him.  The, few glasses of brandy Ivan had
already swallowed had predisposed him to gratitude (the drunkenness
of the Russian is essentially tender).  Ivan protested his devotion
so warmly that Annouschka hesitated no longer, and, raising the lid
of the chest, showed him the corpse of Foedor.  At this terrible
sight Ivan remained an instant motionless, but he soon began to
calculate how much money and how many benefits the possession of such
a secret would bring him.  He swore by the most solemn oaths never to
betray his mistress, and offered, as Annouschka had hoped, to dispose
of the body of the unfortunate aide-decamp.

The thing was easily done.  Instead of returning to drink with
Gregory and his comrades, Ivan went to prepare a sledge, filled it
with straw, and hid at the bottom an iron crowbar.  He brought this
to the outside gate, and assuring himself he was not being spied
upon, he raised the body of the dead man in his arms, hid it under
the straw, and sat down above it.  He had the gate of the hotel
opened, followed Niewski Street as far as the Zunamenie Church,
passed through the shops in the Rejestwenskoi district, drove the
sledge out on to the frozen Neva, and halted in the middle of the
river, in front of the deserted church of Ste. Madeleine.  There,
protected by the solitude and darkness, hidden behind the black mass
of his sledge, he began to break the ice, which was fifteen inches
thick, with his pick.  When he had made a large enough hole, he
searched the body of Foedor, took all the money he had about him, and
slipped the body head foremost through the opening he had made.  He
then made his way back to the hotel, while the imprisoned current of
the Neva bore away the corpse towards the Gulf of Finland.  An hour
after, a new crust of ice had formed, and not even a trace of the
opening made by Ivan remained.

At midnight Vaninka returned with her father.  A hidden fever had
been consuming her all the evening: never had she looked so lovely,
and she had been overwhelmed by the homage of the most distinguished
nobles and courtiers.  When she returned, she found Annouschka in the
vestibule waiting to take her cloak.  As she gave it to her, Vaninka
sent her one of those questioning glances that seem to express so
much.  "It is done," said the girl in a low voice.  Vaninka breathed
a sigh of relief, as if a mountain had been removed from her breast.
Great as was her self-control, she could no longer bear her father's
presence, and excused herself from remaining to supper with him, on
the plea of the fatigues of the evening.  Vaninka was no sooner in
her room, with the door once closed, than she tore the flowers from
her hair, the necklace from her throat, cut with scissors the corsets
which suffocated her, and then, throwing herself on her bed, she gave
way to her grief.  Annouschka thanked God for this outburst; her
mistress's calmness had frightened her more than her despair.  The
first crisis over, Vaninka was able to pray.  She spent an hour on

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