"Take a look at that now, young Mr. Fandorin, right up there on the front page, where you can't possibly miss it!
The latest American corset
constructed from the most durable of whalebone
for a truly manly figure
An inch-thin waist and yard-wide shoulders!
"And yard-high letters to suit. And way down here in tiny little print we have:
The Emperor departs for Ems
"But of course, how could the person of the emperor possibly rival the importance of 'Lord Byron'!"
Xavier Grushin's entirely good-natured grousing produced a quite remarkable effect on the young clerk. He became inexplicably embarrassed; his cheeks flushed bright red, and his long, girlish eyelashes fluttered guiltily. While we are on the subject of eyelashes, it would seem appropriate at this point to describe Erast Fandorin's appearance in somewhat greater detail, since he is destined to play a pivotal role in the astounding and terrible events that will shortly unfold. He was a most comely youth with black hair (in which he took a secret pride) and blue eyes (ah, if only they had also been black!), rather tall, with a pale complexion and a confounded, ineradicable ruddy bloom on his cheeks. We can also reveal the reason for the young collegiate registrar's sudden discomfiture. Only two days previously he had expended a third of his first monthly salary on the very corset described in such vivid and glowing terms and was actually wearing his Lord Byron for the second day, enduring exquisite suffering in the name of beauty. Now he suspectedentirely without justificationthat the perspicacious Xavier Grushin had divined the origin of his subordinate's Herculean bearing and wished to make him an object of fun.
Grushin, however, was already continuing with his reading.
Turkish Bashi-Bazouk atrocities in Bulgaria
"Well, that's not for reading just before lunch. . . .
Explosion in Ligovka
Our St. Petersburg correspondent informs us that yesterday at six-thirty in the morning a thunderous explosion occurred at the rental apartment house of Commercial Counselor Vartanov on Znamenskaya Street, completely devastating the apartment on the fourth floor. Upon arrival at the scene the police discovered the remains of a young man, mutilated beyond recognition. The apartment was rented by a certain Mr. P., a private lecturer at the university, and it was apparently his body that was discovered. To judge from the appearance of the lodgings, something in the nature of a secret chemical laboratory had been installed there. The officer in charge of the investigation, Counselor of State Brilling, conjectures that the apartment was being used to manufacture infernal devices for an organization of nihilist terrorists. The investigation is continuing.
"Well, now, thanks be to God our Moscow's not Peter!"
Judging from the gleam in his eyes, the youthful Mr. Fandorin would have begged to differ on that score. Indeed, every aspect of his appearance was eloquently expressive of the idea that in the real capital people have serious work to do, tracking down terrorist bombers, not writing out ten times over papers which, if truth were told, contain nothing of the slightest interest in any case.
"Right, then," said Xavier Grushin, rustling his newspaper. "Let's see what we have on the city page.
First Moscow Astair House
The well-known English philanthropist Baroness Astair, through whose zealous and unremitting efforts the model refuges for boy orphans known as Astair Houses have been established in various countries of the world, has notified our correspondent that the first institution of such a type has now opened its doors in our own golden-domed city. Lady Astair, having commenced her activities in Russia only last year, and having already opened an Astair House in St. Petersburg, has decided to extend her support and assistance to the orphans of Moscow . . .
Excerpted from The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin Copyright© 2003 by Boris Akunin. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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