The Man From Archangel

He gazed at me for a moment as if hardly able to realise what I said, and then with a wild cry he ran away from me with prodigious speed and raced along the sands towards my house. Never before or since have I seen a human being run so fast. I followed as rapidly as I could, furious at this threatened invasion, but long before I reached the house he had disappeared through the open door. I heard a great scream from the inside, and as I came nearer the sound of a man’s bass voice speaking rapidly and loudly. When I looked in the girl, Sophie Ramusine, was crouching in a corner, cowering away, with fear and loathing expressed on her averted face and in every line of her shrinking form. The other, with his dark eyes flashing, and his outstretched hands quivering with emotion, was pouring forth a torrent of passionate pleading words. He made a step forward to her as I entered, but she writhed still further away, and uttered a sharp cry like that of a rabbit when the weasel has him by the throat.

“Here!” I said, pulling him back from her. “This is a pretty to-do! What do you mean? Do you think this is a wayside inn or place of public accommodation?”

“Oh, sir,” he said, “excuse me. This woman is my wife, and I feared that she was drowned. You have brought me back to life.”

“Who are you?” I asked roughly.

“I am a man from Archangel,” he said simply; “a Russian man.”

“What is your name?”


“Ourganeff! — and hers is Sophie Ramusine. She is no wife of yours. She has no ring.”

“We are man and wife in the sight of Heaven,” he said solemnly, looking upwards. “We are bound by higher laws than those of earth.” As he spoke the girl slipped behind me and caught me by the other hand, pressing it as though beseeching my protection. “Give me up my wife, sir,” he went on. “Let me take her away from here.”

“Look here, you — whatever your name is,” I said sternly; “I don’t want this wench here. I wish I had never seen her. If she died it would be no grief to me. But as to handing her over to you, when it is clear she fears and hates you, I won’t do it. So now just clear your great body out of this, and leave me to my books. I hope I may never look upon your face again.”

“You won’t give her up to me?” he said hoarsely.

“I’ll see you damned first!” I answered.

“Suppose I take her,” he cried, his dark face growing darker.

All my tigerish blood flushed up in a moment. I picked up a billet of wood from beside the fireplace. “Go,” I said, in a low voice; “go quick, or I may do you an injury.” He looked at me irresolutely for a moment, and then he left the house. He came back again in a moment, however, and stood in the doorway looking in at us.

“Have a heed what you do,” he said. “The woman is mine, and I shall have her. When it comes to blows, a Russian is as good a man as a Scotchman.”

“We shall see that,” I cried, springing forward, but he was already gone, and I could see his tall form moving away through the gathering darkness.

For a month or more after this things went smoothly with us. I never spoke to the Russian girl, nor did she ever address me. Sometimes when I was at work in my laboratory she would slip inside the door and sit silently there watching me with her great eyes. At first this intrusion annoyed me, but by degrees, finding that she made no attempt to distract my attention, I suffered her to remain. Encouraged by this concession, she gradually came to move the stool on which she sat nearer and nearer to my table, until after gaining a little every day during some weeks, she at last worked her way right up to me, and used to perch herself beside me whenever I worked. In this position she used, still without ever obtruding her presence in any way, to make herself very useful by holding my pens, test-tubes, or bottles, and handing me whatever I wanted, with never-failing sagacity. By ignoring the fact of her being a human being, and looking upon her as a useful automatic machine, I accustomed myself to her presence so far as to miss her on the few occasions when she was not at her post. I have a habit of talking aloud to myself at times when I work, so as to fix my results better in my mind. The girl must have had a surprising memory for sounds, for she could always repeat the words which I let fall in this way, without, of course, understanding in the least what they meant. I have often been amused at hearing her discharge a volley of chemical equations and algebraic symbols at old Madge, and then burst into a ringing laugh when the crone would shake her head, under the impression, no doubt, that she was being addressed in Russian.

She never went more than a few yards from the house, and indeed never put her foot over the threshold without looking carefully out of each window in order to be sure that there was nobody about. By this I knew that she suspected that her fellow- countryman was still in the neighbourhood, and feared that he might attempt to carry her off. She did something else which was significant. I had an old revolver with some cartridges, which had been thrown away among the rubbish. She found this one day, and at once proceeded to clean it and oil it. She hung it up near the door, with the cartridges in a little bag beside it, and whenever I went for a walk, she would take it down and insist upon my carrying it with me. In my absence she would always bolt the door. Apart from her apprehensions she seemed fairly happy, busying herself in helping Madge when she was not attending upon me. She was wonderfully nimble-fingered and natty in all domestic duties.

It was not long before I discovered that her suspicions were well founded, and that this man from Archangel was still lurking in the vicinity. Being restless one night I rose and peered out of the window. The weather was somewhat cloudy, and I could barely make out the line of the sea, and the loom of my boat upon the beach. As I gazed, however, and my eyes became accustomed to the obscurity, I became aware that there was some other dark blur upon the sands, and that in front of my very door, where certainly there had been nothing of the sort the preceding night. As I stood at my diamond-paned lattice still peering and peeping to make out what this might be, a great bank of clouds rolled slowly away from the face of the moon, and a flood of cold, clear light was poured down upon the silent bay and the long sweep of its desolate shores. Then I saw what this was which haunted my doorstep. It was he, the Russian. He squatted there like a gigantic toad, with his legs doubled under him in strange Mongolian fashion, and his eyes fixed apparently upon the window of the room in which the young girl and the housekeeper slept. The light fell upon his upturned face, and I saw once more the hawk-like grace of his countenance, with the single deeply-indented line of care upon his brow, and the protruding beard which marks the passionate nature. My first impulse was to shoot him as a trespasser, but, as I gazed, my resentment changed into pity and contempt. “Poor fool,” I said to myself, “is it then possible that you, whom I have seen looking open-eyed at present death, should have your whole thoughts and ambition centred upon this wretched slip of a girl — a girl, too, who flies from you and hates you. Most women would love you — were it but for that dark face and great handsome body of yours — and yet you must needs hanker after the one in a thousand who will have no traffic with you.” As I returned to my bed I chuckled much to myself over this thought. I knew that my bars were strong and my bolts thick. It mattered little to me whether this strange man spent his night at my door or a hundred leagues off, so long as he was gone by the morning. As I expected, when I rose and went out there was no sign of him, nor had he left any trace of his midnight vigil.

It was not long, however, before I saw him again. I had been out for a row one morning, for my head was aching, partly from prolonged stooping, and partly from the effects of a noxious drug which I had inhaled the night before. I pulled along the coast some miles, and then, feeling thirsty, I landed at a place where I knew that a fresh water stream trickled down into the sea. This rivulet passed through my land, but the mouth of it, where I found myself that day, was beyond my boundary line. I felt somewhat taken aback when rising from the stream at which I had slaked my thirst I found myself face to face with the Russian. I was as much a trespasser now as he was, and I could see at a glance that he knew it.

“I wish to speak a few words to you,” he said gravely.

“Hurry up, then!” I answered, glancing at my watch. “I have no time to listen to chatter.”

“Chatter!” he repeated angrily. “Ah, but there. You Scotch people are strange men. Your face is hard and your words rough, but so are those of the good fishermen with whom I stay, yet I find that beneath it all there lie kind honest natures. No doubt you are kind and good, too, in spite of your roughness.”

“In the name of the devil,” I said, “say your say, and go your way. I am weary of the sight of you.”

“Can I not soften you in any way?” he cried. ” Ah, see — see here” — he produced a small Grecian cross from inside his velvet jacket. “Look at this. Our religions may differ in form, but at least we have some common thoughts and feelings when we see this emblem.”

“I am not so sure of that,” I answered.

He looked at me thoughtfully.

“You are a very strange man,” he said at last. “I cannot understand you. You still stand between me and Sophie. It is a dangerous position to take, sir. Oh, believe me, before it is too late. If you did but know what I have done to gain that woman — how I have risked my body, how I have lost my soul! You are a small obstacle to some which I have surmounted — you, whom a rip with a knife, or a blow from a stone, would put out of my way for ever. But God preserve me from that,” he cried wildly. “I am deep — too deep — already. Anything rather than that.”

“You would do better to go back to your country,” I said, “than to skulk about these sand-hills and disturb my leisure. When I have proof that you have gone away I shall hand this woman over to the protection of the Russian Consul at Edinburgh. Until then, I shall guard her myself, and not you, nor any Muscovite that ever breathed, shall take her from me.”

“And what is your object in keeping me from Sophie?” he asked. “Do you imagine that I would injure her? Why, man, I would give my life freely to save her from the slightest harm. Why do you do this thing?”

“I do it because it is my good pleasure to act so,” I answered. “I give no man reasons for my conduct.”

“Look here!” he cried, suddenly blazing into fury, and advancing towards me with his shaggy mane bristling and his brown hands clenched. “If I thought you had one dishonest thought towards this girl — if for a moment I had reason to believe that you had any base motive for detaining her — as sure as there is a God in Heaven I should drag the heart out of your bosom with my hands.” The very idea seemed to have put the man in a frenzy, for his face was all distorted and his hands opened and shut convulsively. I thought that he was about to spring at my throat.

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