WE settled once more in Thonon, taking lodgings with our former hostess, Madame Sansaux. A brother of my wife, who was dying of consumption, and had come to Switzerland, joined us.
I never saw such numbers of Russian spies as during the two months that I remained at Thonon. To begin with, as soon as we had engaged lodgings, a suspicious character, who gave himself out for an Englishman, took the other part of the house. Flocks, literally flocks of Russian spies besieged the house, seeking admission under all possible pretexts, or simply tramping in pairs, trios, and quartettes in front of the house. I can imagine what wonderful reports they wrote. A spy must report. If he should merely say that he has stood for a week in the street without noticing anything mysterious, he would soon be put on the half-pay list or dismissed.
It was then the golden age of the Russian secret police. Ignátieff's policy had borne fruit. There were two or three bodies of police competing with one another, each having any amount of money at their disposal, and carrying on the boldest intrigues. Colonel Sudéikin, for instance, chief of one of the branches, -plotting with a certain Degáeff, who after all killed him, - denounced Ignátieff's agents to the revolutionists at Geneva, and offered to the terrorists in Russia all facilities for killing the minister of the interior, Count Tolstóy, and the Grand Duke Vladímir; adding that he himself would then be nominated minister of the interior, with dictatorial powers, and the Tsar would be entirely in his hands. This activity of the Russian police culminated, later on, in the kidnapping of the Prince of Brattenberg from Bulgaria.
The French police, also, were on the alert. The question, "What is he doing at Thonon?" worried them. I continued to edit-"Le Révolté," and wrote articles for the "Encyclopedia Britannica" and the "Newcastle Chronicle." But what reports could be made out of that? One day the local gendarme paid a visit to my landlady. He had heard from the street the rattling of some machine, and wished to report that I had in my house a secret printing-press. So he came in my absence and asked the lady to show him the press. She replied that there was none and suggested that perhaps the gendarme had overheard the noise of her sewing-machine. But he would not be convinced by so prosaic an explanation, and actually compelled the landlady to sew on her machine, while be listened inside the house and outside to make sure that the rattling he had heard was the same.
"What is he doing all day?" he asked the landlady.
"He cannot write all day long."
"He saws wood in the garden at midday, and be takes walks every afternoon between four and five." It was in November.
"Ah, that's it! When the dusk is coming on?" (A la tombée de la nuit?) And be wrote in his notebook, Never goes out except at dusk."
I could not well explain at that time this special attention of the Russian spies; but it must have had some connection with the following. When Ignátieff was nominated prime minister, advised by the ex-prefect of Paris, Andrieux, be hit on a new plan. He sent a swarm of his agents into Switzerland, and one of them undertook the publication of a paper which slightly advocated the extension of provincial self-government in Russia, but whose chief purpose was to combat the revolutionists, and to rally to its standard those of the refugees who did not sympathize with terrorism. This was certainly a means of sowing division. Then, when nearly all the members of the Executive Committee had been arrested in Russia, and a couple of them had taken refuge at Paris, Ignátieff sent an agent to Paris to offer an armistice. He promised that there should be no further executions on account of the plots during the reign of Alexander II., even if those who bad escaped arrest fell into the hands of the government; that Chernyshévsky should be released from Siberia ; and that a commission should be nominated to review the cases of all those who had been exiled to Siberia without trial. On the other side, he asked the Executive Committee to promise to make no attempts against the Tsar's life until his coronation was over. Perhaps the reforms in favor of the peasants, which Alexander III. intended to make, were also mentioned. The agreement was made at Paris, and was kept on both sides. The terrorists suspended hostilities. Nobody was executed for complicity in the former conspiracies; those who were arrested later on under this indictment were immured in the Russian Bastille at Schlüsselburg, where nothing was heard of them for fifteen years, and where most of them still are. Chernyshévsky was brought back from Siberia and ordered to stay at Astrakhan, where be was severed from all connection with the intellectual world of Russia, and soon died. A commission went through Siberia, releasing some of the exiles, and specifying terms of exile for the remainder. My brother Alexander received from it an additional five years.
While I was at London, in 1882, I was told one day that a man who pretended to be a bona fide agent of the Russian government, and could prove it, wanted to enter into negotiations with me. "Tell him that if he comes to my house I will throw him down the staircases," was my reply. Probably the result was that while Ignátieff con sidered the Tsar guaranteed from the attacks of the Execu tive Committee, he was afraid that the anarchists might make some attempt, and wanted to have me out of the way.