Category Archives: fiction

Leon de Tinseau, “A Beautiful Nihilist” (fiction, 1892)


From the French of Leon de Tinseau; V.E.T., Chateau Bange, Bordeaux.

In 187-, somewhat before the tragic death of the least Czar, one of the most notable men of the Russian Empire was Prince Michael ——-, whose family name, an illustrious one, reasons of the highest importance forbid our giving. During a visit to France after the war, while at one of the receptions of the Princesse Lise, he met that superb daughter of General de Contremont, whom the Parisian world, springing to life again from its ashes, knew already as “la belle Madeleine,” a girl as poor as she was lovely. Michel was subjugated in spite of his forty years, his avowed intentions of celibacy, and the case with which, for fifteen seasons, he had resisted the attacks of all the maidens and young widows of the Russian aristocracy. All their efforts produced as little effect as though they had opened fire on an ironclad with bouquets of lilies and roses; but now, he surrendered at a glance.

“Mother,” said Madeleine one evening to the window of the hero of Gravelotte,” will you be satisfied if I become a princess?”

“Not completely, for you are beautiful enough to be a queen.”

And as a fact, I do not remember ever having met so completely perfect a type of human beauty, I see her yet, adorable creature, a certain night at the opera, a few weeks after her marriage. There were in the orchestra fifty spectators who were, or had been, more or less desperately in love with her. You can imagine how they listened to the music. Mireille could have been given instead of the Huguenots, without one of them perceiving the substitution. That was, and. will be, probably the most memorable evening of Madeleine’s youth. She felt revenged, as it were, upon a sex who inspired her only with rancor. Among those men who now would have impoverished themselves for her smiles, not one but formerly would have found her too poor to become his life companion.

Alone in the vast stage box with her husband, proud, scarcely smiling, but in reality vibrating in every nerve with the excitement of triumph, sparkling with admiration as her diamonds sparkled in the light, she was a living superlative, for she could say to herself: “I see here twenty-five women who are beautiful, but it is I who am the most beautiful.”

That evening an American woman, wealthy in the millions but not pretty, exclaimed in her loge: “I do not ask to be like the Princess Michel—that would be expecting too much—but only to own her teeth. I would give my hotel of the Champs-Elyses with all its contents, even to my jewel casket. “With such teeth as those one does not need to be pretty. One smiles or one yawns, according to circumstances, and the world at is one’s feet.”

“That is to say, at the feet of your teeth,” added an old diplomat, “ and I greatly fear that the Princess is destined to yawn more than to smile. His Excellency, her husband, looks anything but amusing or easy to manage. More than once in her life la belle Madeleine will regret Paris.

The Prince, truly, was not easy to manage, not even at first, and several I years after his marriage still less tractable, as the Princess learned to her cost. To the coquetry of his wife he owed his becoming jealous as a tiger, and to the favor of the Czar he owed his post of Minister of the Police. It must be acknowledged that these two qualifications are not calculated to make a man amicable. Nevertheless, he found means to utilise his public functions in the service of his private jealousy. It is thus, in France: A young attaché of the ministry sends a cuirassier armed to the teeth, and even higher, to notice the favor two seats at the hippodrome.

It was not cuirassiers that Prince Michel employed, though he had any number at his disposition. He found it more simple to choose, among the most expert of his detectives, the coachman who drove his wife, and the door-keeper of his hotel. Then, to make matters quite sure, he had his department where all suspected letters were opened and investigated. At first, the unfortunate minister had read by dozens passionate declarations addressed to his wife, in every note of the scale of love. Then these letters became somewhat less frequent, not that the Princess grew less seductive, but the lovers become suspicious that all was not as it should be. Those who had confided to his Majesty’s postal service their hopes and fears, had almost always seen bad luck follow their every step thereafter under the most unexpected forms and in unaccountable ways. It was said the victims were enough to make one believed the Princess had “the evil eye,” or the Prince had eyes too good.

Let it be well understood that the replies to these letters passed also under inspection, and His Excellency was thus convinced that he was the husband of a desperate coquette, but nothing worse, which gave him but slight satisfaction. It is a relief for one who hears the cry of fire in his house to learn that a badly swept chimney is the only difficulty. The poor Prince had no time, however, to play chimney-sweep, for preserving the life of his Czar from the Nihilists gave him quite as much anxiety as the Princess and her adorers. Judge, therefore, of his stupefaction when he read, one day, the following letter in a handwriting he knew but too well, although, it was signed by a single initial only:

“It appears that the Emperor will leave for Warsaw sooner than was thought. Be ready, therefore, to start on the first intimation, for who knows when we shall again find such an occasion. I have not hidden from you the difficulties of the undertaking; in consequence, make your arrangements to succeed at once and without hesitation. You will present yourself at my home as a friend of my family, travelling in Russia for pleasure. Go to see your mother before leaving: she will give you some sort of commission for me that will serve you as an introduction, if needful.”

The unhappy prince fell his brain reel on finishing this horrible reading. This conspiracy that he was combatting day and night by irons, prison and exile; this war, without pity, of a whole army of monsters against one man, was found sheltering at his own fireside. It was his own wife, his beautiful Madeleine, who said to the assassin: “It is the hour, be ready!”

Of what use to struggle longer? What fatality armed against his unfortunate sovereign even a woman from another country? That woman had everything for her own—youth, beauty, luxury, admiration. She a Nihilist! Why? What wrongs had she to avenge? What drove her, even her, to commit such a crime, at the risk of bruising her lovely form on a dungeon-bed of straw, of a cord to gall that ivory throat, of Siberian snows to freeze her little feet, white even as they?

“Ah!” thought the unfortunate man, “I have not known how to make her happy! I have shown jealousy too often. She hates me, and her hatred has found this refinement of torture, sublime in its impossible horror!”

What must he done? He thought of killing his wife, himself after, letting the public believe it was some love trouble—his wife faithless—for the loyal subject preferred even that dishonor to the other. Then he longed to throw himself at the Emperor’s knees and tell him all, after which he would disappear forever with the guilty woman. A sense of duty alone prevented this course. He held the thread of a plot; he must unravel it, and for that it sufficed to let the letter go to its destination. The assassin would then deliver up himself. Already the Minister had the name of this man—Nicholson, some Englishman, or American, perhaps, expert in the use of dynamite, or simply a Russian student having taken a false name. The letter was sent, and that evening the prince and princess, in their box, listened to un opera—he pale, consumed with fever, aged many years since morning: she more charming and more surrounded than ever.

“Are you ill, Michel”” said Madeleine, smiling at her husband in the carriage which bore them home.

“Why do you say that?” said he in a strangely sombre tone.

“Why? Because you have not been jealous once this evening! “

At the end of a week the Minister of Police said to his wife, without seeming to attach the slightest consequence to his remark:

“It is Thursday that the Czar leaves St. Petersburg?”

“Really,” said she, scarcely affected by what she heard; the newspapers give another date.”

He replied, deceiving with design, the accomplice of Nicholson, for he had his plan: “Yes, they wish to frustrate those who may have guilty projects.”

Then he spoke of other matters, while forced to admire the strength of character of the despicable creature. The same day he knew his ruse had succeeded for the telegraph company communicated to him this dispatch, addressed by the princess to Nicholson; “It is for Thursday. Be punctual.”

Of course Thursday passed by without either the Czar or his Minister having left the Capital. Madeleine became suddenly very anxious on learning of this pretended change. On the morrow, in the afternoon, a personage, richly attired and ornamented with a large button-hole rosette presented himself at the palace of Prince Michel.

“What do you wish, sir?” asked, with a very low bow, the doorkeeper loaned by section 5.

“To pay my respects to the princess, and give her a message from her mother. I am Dr. Nicholson.”

“Very well, sir,” said the man; “you are expected, but my lady, the princess, is paying a visit to a friend, and left orders that we conduct you to her. In five minutes the carriage will be ready.”

Nicholson had barely time to admire several fine paintings, which decorated the reception room, and he was a connoisseur, before he was asked to get into a coupe, which the man who had received him entered also, and sat down beside him without even asking permission.

“Strange custom,” thought Nicholson “he might have gone outside with the driver.”

It is needless to say that a quarter of an hour later the supposed doctor was in the best, which means the strongest, prison of St. Petersburg, and that if he were expected there, it was not by the princess.

In a dreary sort of office, lined on all sides with armed policemen, a person unknown to him, but who was the prince himself, questioned poor Nicholson with a roughness of manner to which he was unaccustomed.

“This is infamous!” said he, indignantly. “I arrived from Paris this morning only. I have not said three words to any one, and, when I present myself at the hotel of the princess, I am picked up and carried off like a thief!”

“You know the princess,” coldly questioned the Minister.

“Do I know her? Why, almost from her birth! Here is a letter from her mother, the widow of a great general; besides, I am an American citizen, and I protest——”

“Search this man thoroughly,” interrupted the high functionary without seeming to have heard, “and with all precaution.”

Nothing suspicious was found upon Nicholson save a very pretty little box carefully enveloped.

An engineer from the Torpedo School, attached to the Ministry for such occasions, opened the box with all the caution and precautions prescribed by science. The greater number of those present wee more or less uneasy, expecting some terrible explosion. Nothing abnormal occurred, but the engineer had a singular smile when he held out the open box to the prince, who, after a hasty glance, hurried it into his pocket, then addressing Nicholson, he said: “So you are——”

“An American dentist, sir, and much pressed for time. I wish to return to Paris as soon as possible. My patients need me.”

Five minutes after, Nicholson was once I more in the coupe, having this time as his companion the prince, who overwhelmed him with apologies.

“But,” said the husband of “la belle Madeleine,” “ how is it that I never noticed anything?”

“If your Excellency had perceived the least thing,” proudly replied the American, “the Nicholson Artificial Teeth would be unworthy of their reputation.”

“Then the teeth of the princess are——-”

“All false, Prince. When very young, Mademoiselle do Contremont was thrown from her horse, and shattered her jaw. I then made for her one of the finest sets of teeth that ever left my office. Everything, however, wears out in time, and I came, during your absence, to adjust for her a new set.”

The details of this adventure have never before been made public. It has nevertheless, been remarked that the prince appears less in love. O, human heart!

Geelong Advertiser no. 14,047 (March 5, 1892): 2.

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A Hunt to Death (1892)


A Beautiful Nihilist’s Contrivance to Elude Justice.

I had settled myself in my corner and the train was already swinging at a good pace down the “Golden Valley” before I noticed, first, that I was not alone, and, second, that I was not in a smoking compartment.

My fellow-traveler was a lady, clothed from head to foot in a traveling ulster with a deep cape, and closely veiled. I wanted a smoke very badly, and so I ventured to ask her if she had any objection.

Imagine my astonishment when, instead of replying to my question, she sobbed out something utterly incoherent and burst into tears. This was startling enough, but when I saw that she made no attempt to take out a handkerchief to dry her eyes, but simply sat still with her hands folded under her cape, surprise very quickly gave place to bewilderment.

In such a situation a man does not reason; he simply acts on instinct

In a moment I was at the other end of the carriage begging her in a clumsy, masculine fashion to tell me what was the matter with her. For an answer she suddenly parted her cape, and held up two tiny clasped and daintily-gloved hands. As she did so, I heard the clink of steel, and something bright shone in the lamplight

My fair traveling companion was handcuffed!

Before she attempted any explanations, she opened her right hand, and showed me one of the regulation screw-keys which alone will open the steel bracelets that restrain the exuberance of the unruly or dangerous criminal.

“Please unlock these horrible things for me, and thou I will tell you everything,” she said, and the request vas supplemented by a beseeching glance from a pair of tear-dewed eyes to whoso witchery many an older man than myself would have succumbed.

I took the key, and after a little fumbling about the strangely-contrived locks, set free the dainty little hands that were stretched so appealingly towards me.

Not knowing exactly what to do with the handcuffs, I slipped them for the time being into the side pocket of my ulster.

As soon as she got her hands free she unbuttoned her ulster, and threw it back a little. As she did so, I noticed that she wore a strikingly curious brooch at the neck of her dress. It was formed of two thick gold serpents, coiled as if ready to spring, with their heads thrust forward side by side, and their emerald eyes gleaming with an unpleasantly life-like expression.

It was a pitiful tale, and to a great extent one which the newspapers have of late years made all too commonplace. Forced by social and pecuniary considerations into a marriage with a man old enough to be her father, and possessing no single taste in common with her, she had, under sore temptation, broken her forced troth, and fled from his house.

Too proud to follow her himself, and yet mean enough to punish her by making her submit to an unheard-of-indignity, be had put a private detective on her track, told him she was tainted with a dangerous mania, and given him strict orders to bring her back to London, when caught, handcuffed like a felon.

The detective, when he overtook her at Hereford, had given her a letter from her husband in which ho told her that if she did not submit to his instructions he would prosecute her for stealing one or two articles of jewelry—the brooch that she was wearing among them—which she had unwittingly taken away with her in the hurry of her flight To avoid the disgrace and public shame, she had submitted to the brutal but private tyranny of his revenge.

At Gloucester her escort had got out to telegraph to her husband to meet them, and had lost the train through a porter telling him that the stop was five minutes instead of three, and she had just seen him run on to the platform as the train left the station.

As she looked round the carriage in which she now found herself free, but shackled, she saw the key of her handcuffs, which must have fallen from his ticket-pocket as he jerked his overcoat on. She tried hard to open the locks, but of course had been unable to do so.

Didcot and Swindon were passed as she told her tale; we conversed upon the strange occurrences of the night, and the only stop before Paddington was now Reading. Here my traveling companion decided to leave the train, as by no other means could she avoid running into her husband’s arms at the terminus.

Despite her gentle, winning manner, I felt instinctively that persuasions would be useless, and so I opened the door, got out, and helped her to alight from the carriage, and with a few murmured words of repeated thanks she was gone.

When I got back into the carriage I lit a cigar and lay back on the cushions to think over my adventure. By the time the train drew into Paddington I had exalted my beautiful unknown into a heroine of romance, and, I regret to say, myself into something like a knight errant of the days of chivalry.


“This is it, twelve-ninety. Are you there, Fred?” The train had stopped, and a lamp flashing into the carriage woke me up from my day dream to hear these strange words, and to see a couple of men in police uniform and a railway inspector peering into the compartment.

“Hullo! This must be wrong; they aren’t hero, and yet this is the right number. Excuse me, Sir; how far have you come in this carriage?”

“From Stroud,” I replied, a bit dazed by drowsiness and my strange reception.

“Have you come all the way alone?”

Some mad idea connected in a confused way with the beautiful woman whose soft, clinging clasp I could still feel on my hand, stopped the truth that rose to my lips, and instead uttered the foolish lie:

“Yes; I have been alone in the carriage all the way.”

A moment later I would have given all I possessed to have recalled my words; for, as I uttered them, the railway inspector turned his lamp under the seat opposite to me, and said in a hoarse whisper:

“Good heavens! what’s that?”

My eyes followed the glare of the lamp, and I saw the too of a man’s boot on the floor of the carriage a few inches back from the front of the seat

A minute later and the corpse of a somewhat undersized man, whose face was still drawn in the agony of a violent death, was dragged out, lifted up, and laid upon the seat

Of course I spent the night in the cells; for if I could have procured bail to any amount it would not have been accepted.

Not only was I charged with the most terrible of all crimes, but the charge was supported by prima facie evidence that looked practically conclusive. The handcuffs had been found in my pocket, and I was accused of procuring the escape from justice of the notorious Marie S——-, the wife of a member of the Nihilist Inner Circle, then serving a life sentence in Siberia.

No fewer than four murders had been traced to her, and now I was charged with complicity in a fifth, that of well known English detective who had sought to make a brilliant coup by taking her alone.

She seemed to have the power of fascinating men with her beauty till they became her slaves, and then striking them dead by some terrible and mysterious agency that loft no trace save death behind it

Once she had actually been seen to use this horrible power, whatever it was. A wealthy young Frenchman, whom she had enslaved in Paris for political purposes, escorted her home from the theater one evening, and was seen by her maid to lean forward to admire a curious brooch she wore as he took his leave of her in the salon.

As he did so Marie drew herself up a little, and suddenly the man uttered a choking scream and foil back writhing to the floor. The horrified girl fell down in a fit, and when she recovered the murderess had vanished and left no trace behind her.

There is no need to dwell on the horrors of the time that followed my arrest. Everything that money and skill could do for me was done, but I was committed for trial on the circumstantial evidence to answer the charge of murder. While I lay in jail awaiting my trial the search for Marie S—— became an absolute hunt to death.

Despite all this, so perfect was her skill in disguise and so unlimited her fertility of resource that she might have evaded pursuit, after all, had it not been for one of those slips that the cleverest of criminals seem to make sooner or later.

A smart young chemist’s assistant at a fashionable watering-place one evening on the pier made the acquaintance of a very pretty girl, who said that she was studying chemistry for the science and art examinations.

This turned the conversation on chemicals, and she ended by asking him to get her a quantity of a very poisonous substance, which she wanted for an experiment, and which she could not buy because she was a stranger in the town.

The chemist’s assistant was a sharp young fellow, and he saw the chemical she asked for was not in the syllabus of the science und art department

He told his employer of the occurrence the next day, and in the evening took the girl some crystals of a harmless salt, which resembled what she had wanted somewhat closely.

“This is not what I asked you for,” she said as soon as she looked into the packet.

“No, you can’t make prussic acid out of that, miss, but it’s safer to play with,” coolly replied the youth, and as he spoke, a man who had been leaning over the rail of the pier a few yards away moved silently up behind the girl, pinioned her arms to her side and held her down to the seat.

The detective called a cab on the esplanade, and the three got in and drove to the police station, pulling up the windows to avoid any possible observation as they went through the streets.

When the cab reached the station there was no sign or sound of movement inside it. The cabman got down and opened the door, and as ho did so ho staggered back, and fell gasping for breath to the pavement

Inside the cab, Marie S——- sat with her two would-be captors—dead, and on the face of each corpse there was the same expression that there was on the features of the dead man who was taken out of the carriage at Paddington.

When the clothing of Marie S—— came to be searched, the mystery was solved by the discovery of one of the most infernally ingenious contrivances that over served the purpose of murder. Inside the dress, just above the waistband on the right-hand side, were found two small rubber-ball pumps, such as are used for ordinary spray producers. From these two tubes led up to a bottle suspended around the neck.

This had two compartments, and two necks closed by rubber corks, through which ran thin tubes, which ouded in the mouths of the two golden serpents coiled in the form of a brooch.

The horrible apparatus was so arranged that, on working the ball-pumps by pressing the right arm against the side two jets of vapor could be projected from the serpents’ mouths. These jets when united formed what was practically a vapor of prussic acid, which would be blown directly in the face of any one within a couple of foot of the brooch, and would of course kill them almost instantly.

To the wearer of the brooch there would be little or no danger, provided she held her breath for a couple of minutes and moved quickly away, as the gas mixes very rapidly with the air, and is soon lost. In a confined space like the cab the atmosphere could soon be so saturated that it would be death to breathe it

All this was, of course, told to me after my release, which was effected immediately after the mystery was cleared up.

The National Tribune (Washington, DC) 11 no. 50 (Thursday, July 14, 1892): 3.

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