"They ask the consent of your Highness," answered the head of police, "to their forming a special corps and being placed in the front of the first sortie."
"Yes," replied the Grand Duke with an emotion which he did not seek to hide, "these exiles are Russians, and it is their right to fight for their country!"
"I believe I may assure your Highness," said the governor-general, "you will have no better soldiers."
"But they must have a chief," said the Grand Duke, "who will he be?"
"They wish to recommend to your Highness," said the head of police, "one of their number, who has distinguished himself on several occasions."
"Is he a Russian?"
"Yes, a Russian from the Baltic provinces."
"Is Wassili Fedor."
This exile was Nadia's father. Wassili Fedor, as we have already said, followed his profession of a medical man in Irkutsk. He was clever and charitable, and also possessed the greatest courage and most sincere patriotism. All the time which he did not devote to the sick he employed in organizing the defense. It was he who had united his companions in exile in the common cause. The exiles, till then mingled with the population, had behaved in such a way as to draw on themselves the attention of the Grand Duke. In several sorties, they had paid with their blood their debt to holy Russia--holy as they believe, and adored by her children! Wassili Fedor had behaved heroically; his name had been mentioned several times, but he never asked either thanks or favors, and when the exiles of Irkutsk thought of forming themselves into a special corps, he was ignorant of their intention of choosing him for their captain.
When the head of police mentioned this name, the Grand Duke answered that it was not unknown to him.
"Indeed," remarked General Voranzoff, "Wassili Fedor is a man of worth and courage. His influence over his companions has always been very great."
"How long has he been at Irkutsk?" asked the Duke.
"For two years."
"And his conduct?"
"His conduct," answered the head of police, "is that of a man obedient to the special laws which govern him."
"General," said the Grand Duke, "General, be good enough to present him to me immediately."
The orders of the Grand Duke were obeyed, and before half an hour had passed, Fedor was introduced into his presence. He was a man over forty, tall, of a stern and sad countenance. One felt that his whole life was summed up in a single word-- strife--he had striven and suffered. His features bore a marked resemblance to those of his daughter, Nadia Fedor.
This Tartar invasion had severely wounded him in his tenderest affections, and ruined the hope of the father, exiled eight thousand versts from his native town. A letter had apprised him of the death of his wife, and at the same time of the departure of his daughter, who had obtained from the government an authorization to join him at Irkutsk. Nadia must have left Riga on the 10th of July. The invasion had begun on the 15th of July; if at that time Nadia had passed the frontier, what could have become of her in the midst of the invaders? The anxiety of the unhappy father may be supposed when, from that time, he had no further news of his daughter.
Wassili Fedor entered the presence of the Grand Duke, bowed, and waited to be questioned.
"Wassili Fedor," said the Grand Duke, "your companions in exile have asked to be allowed to form a select corps. They are not ignorant that in this corps they must make up their minds to be killed to the last man?"
"They are not ignorant of it," replied Fedor.
"They wish to have you for their captain."
"I, your Highness?"
"Do you consent to be placed at their head?"
"Yes, if it is for the good of Russia."
"Captain Fedor," said the Grand Duke, "you are no longer an exile."
"Thanks, your Highness, but can I command those who are so still?"
"They are so no longer!" The brother of the Czar had granted a pardon to all Fedor's companions in exile, now his companions in arms!
Wassili Fedor wrung, with emotion, the hand which the Grand Duke held out to him, and retired.