This is the author’s most famous story and it has spread his fame over many lands, having been translated into many foreign languages.
IN the suburbs of Moscow, at the end of the seventeenth century, Ruric Nevel, aged twenty-three, a gunmaker, and his mother, Claudia, lived in a small cot. Ruric was in love with Rosalind Valdai, a ward of the Duke of Tula.
One stormy night a fat monk, habited like the black monks of St. Michael, asked Ruric for a night’s lodging. He said his name was Vladimir. The inhabitants of the cot thought they had seen his face before. When the monk went away he told Ruric if he could ever do a deed of kindness for him it would give him joy.
That afternoon two young men, Count Conrad Damonoff and his friend Stephen Urzen, went to see Ruric. The former wanted Ruric to sign a paper stating that he renounced all claims to the hand of Rosalind Valdai. He had come from the Duke. Ruric declared that only the Emperor could make him sign that paper. The Count struck him, and Ruric knocked him down.
The next morning Ruric went to see Rosalind. Her companion, Zenobie, was with her. Ruric asked Rosalind if Count Damonoff was a suitor for her hand, and she said that he had asked for her hand, but the Duke had refused his consent. Then he told her of the scene of that morning with the Count and his friend. She said the Duke and the Count both claimed the estates of Drotzen. Ruric thought it likely that the Duke had sent Damonoff to him in order to provoke a duel, thinking that the Count would be killed. But he spoke not of this to Rosalind. She promised her lover that she would not consent to marry anyone selected by the Duke.
Stephen Urzen came to see Ruric with a challenge from the Count. Ruric sent him to his friend, Alaric Orsa. The duel was fought and the Count was badly wounded. Members of the Imperial Guard took Ruric to the Emperor Peter. Urzen and the Duke of Tula were there, also the surgeon who had attended the Count at the duel.
The Emperor had been informed of the duel before the Duke came demanding justice, and saying that his young friend, Count Damonoff, had been brutally murdered by Ruric Nevel. The Emperor then sent for Alaric and Ruric.
Urzen accused Ruric of taking an unfair advantage of the Count in the duel. Alaric suggested that the Emperor should judge for himself by a trial of Ruric’s skill with Demetrius, the Greek master-at-arms.
The Greek brought the swords. The thrusts were made with skill and force. Finally the haft of his sword was wrenched from Demetrius’s handit struck the vaulted ceiling with a dull clangand, descending, Ruric Nevel caught it fairly by the hilt!
The Emperor thereupon exonerated Ruric from taking ad-vantage of the Count and told him he was at liberty.
Soon after this the Duke of Tula asked Rosalind to be his wife, and when she refused he said that he would possess her whether she became his wife or not.
Later, when closeted in his private room, the Duke conversed with Savotano, a hunchbacked priest. Savotano told him the Count was recovering. The Duke said he must die, as he, the Duke, was in need of money, and wanted the estate of Drotzen, claimed by the Count. He had hoped the gunmaker would kill the Count in the duel. He asked Savotano to mix the Count’s medicine with poison, and the priest agreed to do as he wished. Then the Duke said Ruric must also be got rid of, for Rosalind loved him, and the Duke wanted to marry her himself on account of her vast estates. Savotano agreed to get rid of Ruric in such a way that no suspicion should fall on the Duke. The Duke next asked Savotano if he knew anything of the black monk, and Savotano replied that he thought he was a spy of the Pope.
Count Damonoff was said to be dying. Ruric went to see him and asked his forgiveness. The Count forgave him, and in turn asked Ruric to pardon him for the part he had taken in the plot against the gunmaker, and said that if he recovered he would lead a very different life. Ruric told him his suspicions of the Duke in the affair, and added that he suspected the Count’s relapse was due to poison. He thought Savotano was implicated.
Kopani, the surgeon, came in. He gave the Count an emetic, and took away the medicines that he might analyze them. He found them to contain arsenic, opium, and other poisons.
On leaving the Count’s house Ruric was accosted by a man who told him that Alaric Orsa had fallen and hurt himself, and had sent for him. Ruric followed the man through many streets to an old house. Another man with a lantern opened the door. Ruric was conducted down-stairs. Suddenly he received two blows, and then was bound with ropes, and taken to a small dark room, where his assailants left him.
Ruric’s mother, Claudia Nevel, went to see Rosalind some time later, in great agitation, and told her she had not seen Ruric for three days.
“Oh! God have mercy!” ejaculated the young Countess.
At this moment there was a rap upon the door, and the black monk, Vladimir, demanded admittance. He came to ask news of Ruric. He would save him if he could. The Duke of Tula strode into the room.
“Meddling monk,” he cried, “how. dare you drag your de-testable form hither! Out, reptile, out!”
Count Damonoff soon grew better and presently began to sit up. Savotano went to see him. He then went to the Duke to tell him of the improvement in the Count’s condition. He told the Duke he thought the Count suspected the truth, and that Ruric had had a hand in opening his eyes. For this reason he should be despatched without delay. The Duke told him to let the work be done at once. “Kill this man for me,” was his command.
In a small subterranean room were seated six men, including the monk, Vladimir, and all but he were masked. Four men then entered, leading two prisoners. These were questioned regarding Ruric, and they answered that they knew nothing of his whereabouts. They were then tortured with the thumb-screw, and at last confessed that Ruric was in the Duke’s old bath-house, on the pass of Tula.
Ruric thought he had been imprisoned about four days, when his door was opened. He first saw Savotano and felled him to the ground. But there were four other men, who had come to conduct him out of the place. He reached the top of the stairs when he received a blow, and his arms were pinioned behind him. Two men then took him by either arm and led the way to a large circular apartment. While one placed his lantern on a broken column, the other took up a large club. Ruric saw that they meant to murder him. The man advanced, with the club threateningly raised, when Ruric, with all his force, planted his foot in the pit of the man’s stomach. Ruric then overturned the lantern. Suddenly, while the desperate struggle was in progress, the glare of a flaming torch lightened the gloom. Vladimir appeared, followed by a dozen men, and called to Ruric. Our hero rushed forward and embraced his deliverer.
Zenobie now persuaded Rosalind to leave the Duke’s palace to seek the assistance of the Emperor. But in the mean while the Duke had told the Emperor that Ruric was at the head of a band of desperadoes. The Emperor had Demetrius file an order for Ruric’s arrest.
“Remember,” said Peter to the Duke, “you must bring this man before me.”
On leaving the palace the Duke met Savotano and told him to send three men at once to arrest Ruric; they must make him angry, and when he resisted, they must kill him. At that moment Rosalind with her companion, Zenobie, passed them. The Duke caught Rosalind by the arm, and dragged them both back to his palace.
The next morning. Demetrius drove to the gunmaker’s cot and took Ruric away with him, thereby preventing Savotano’s men from finding him.
The Duke told Savotano he meant to be married to Rosalind that afternoon.
Vladimir went to visit the Countess. She told him in despair that the Duke would have the marriage ceremony per-formed whether she consented or not, and begged him to save her.
The Duke suddenly entered the room and called his servants to seize the monk. Vladimir drew a pistol. The Duke hastily moved to one side. Thereupon the monk passed out and disappeared through a secret passageway.
The Duke sent immediately for the Countess. She and Zenobie descended to the drawing-room, and found the Duke and Savotano already there. The priest mumbled a prayer. The Duke made Rosalind kneel. At this moment the door was thrown open and Ruric, Vladimir, Claudia, and Paul entered the room. The ceremony was stopped. At a signal the Duke’s servants rushed in. “Kill these intruders,” he shouted.
“Hold!” cried Vladimir, in a voice different from any they had heard the fat monk use before. The Duke started. ” Olga Duke of TulaI am thy master!” and throwing off the black robe and a pile of wadding, the mysterious monk stood revealed.
“It is the Emperor!” gasped Savotano.
The Duke fell on his knees and begged for mercy. Peter told him he knew of all his wickedness; he should be the Duke of Tula no longer; Ruric Nevel should henceforth bear the title.
As Peter ceased speaking he waved his hand to his officers, and they bore the prisoners from the room. The priest said not a word; but the Duke cursed loudly and bitterly.
When the dark villains had gone Peter stepped forward and took Rosalind’s hand. There was a tear in his bright eye, and his nether lip trembled.
“Fair cousin,” he said, in a low, soft tone, “I could not promise thee that thou shouldst not wed with the Duke of Tula, for I had even then planned that you should do that thing. But it will not be very hard, will it?”
The Countess gazed up, and a murmur of thanks was upon her lips; but the gushing flood of tears started forth anew, and she could only look the joyful blessings she could not speak. Peter imprinted a kiss upon her pure brow, and then gave her hand to Ruric, and as he did so he said, with a warm smile:
“You must be her guardian hereafter, and should you tire of your duty your Emperor will be ever ready to grant her the asylum she needs.”
Olga was soon after convicted of treason and sent to Siberia, but died of a broken heart on the way. Savotano was executed as a common murderer. But Ruric Nevel, the Gun-maker of Moscow, was knighted by the Emperor, and married on the same day to Rosalind Valdai.