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chose another means of escape for herself and little

I opened the door and we went out into the


" compound," talking loudly, so that others could
hear, of the result of our examination.

I returned with the sergeant to the captain's
office, and verified the report of Drs. Grazinski and

He gave me a cigarette, and we once more fell into
desultory conversation. I think he was pleased to
have some one to talk to ; and he asked me many
questions about my intended journey to the Amurs
and China. So that when I rose to say good-bye, I
ventured to ask permission to call on him again, and
he requested me to come the next day, as they were
to march on the day after ; and so I took my leave
of him.



Outside the captain's quarters I met the sergeant
again. He was polite and communicative, and
walked with me to the entrance of the camp.

" How do you like this sort of life, sergeant ? " I

" Well, doctor," he answered, " I have been in
service for fourteen years, and I should not know
what to lay my hand to if I gave up soldiering."

*' Then you like taking prisoners to Siberia ? "

" No, no, doctor ; it is dirty work. This is only
my second trip with a convoy."

" But you do your work with zeal, of course," I

" I don't know about that. We obey orders."

" I suppose it happens now and then that prisoners
manage to escape — what do you do then ? "

"We bring them back, doctoi-, if we can find
them ; and if not, then they are marked down on
our reports as dead."

"Oh," I said, "I always understood that if you
let a convict escape you had to take his place."

The sergeant laughed at the idea.

" That would be a pretty state of affairs ! " he ex-
claimed. "All the escort would soon be prisoners


in Siberia ; for there is not a prisoner but tries to
escape at the first opportunity."

" How is it that your prisoners are not chained ? "
I asked. " I was told that all Siberian convicts had
chains on their legs."

" So they have, doctor, so they have. Look at
them over there."

He pointed to a group of men in a corner of the
camp which I had not before observed. They were
all chained.

" Those are the common prisoners," he explained,
" criminals and poor ' politicals.' The gentry whom
you saw this morning are treated with more con-
sideration than the common folk. It is as the cap-
tain orders."

He hesitated for a moment as though he would
say something more, and finally made up his mind
to risk it.

'* I will tell you a secret, doctor," he said confi-
dentially. " I don't believe that some of those high-
born gentlemen will ever reach their destination."

" Do you mean that they will kill themselves, as
that miserable woman did ? " I asked.

" God knows," he replied, with a twinkle of amuse-
ment in his eyes. " But if ever they get to the
penal settlements they are greater fools than I take
them to be. As to killing, I don't think they mean
to do it for themselves ; and, so far as I am con-
cerned, I never yet could get a rifle to shoot straight
at such men as they are, and yet I am considered a
good shot. Do you understand me, doctor ? "

I replied that I grasped his meaning perfectly.


and appreciated the humane sentiments which he
entertained for the prisoners under his charge.

" Some day you will be recompensed for your
humanity," I said.

" Oh, yes," he answered, " I can always get a
begging certificate when I am unfit for further ser-

" I hope," I said, " that it will not be so bad as

" We had better not talk of it," said the sergeant

We had now arrived at the limits of the camp,
beyond which the sergeant could not pass.

" I have been much interested in our conversa-
tion," I said, " and I should like to continue it at
some other time. Could you meet me somewhere on
the road near here this evening ? "

He expressed himself delighted at the prospect
of further talk with me. He would be off duty at
nine o'clock and would walk down the road to meet
me. So we parted.

When I returned to the widow's house I found
the old lady arrayed in her best clothes, a white
cloth was on the table, and the samovar awaited me.

Ivan was not looking altogether happy. His in-
structions from his master had been to watch over
me, and he was uneasy when I was out of sight.
Petrus, too, was unhappy because the widow's
youngest daughter, Soinia, had been at the camp
all day, whilst he was compelled to stay at home.

The widow questioned me on the result of my
visit to the camp, and I told her the arrangements


which I had made with my friend, by which he was
to receive communications from me through her
daughters, and wait for word from them before he
attempted to escape. She approved of my arrange-
ment, and then informed me of the steps which she
had taken. She had examined the long disused
subterranean chamber and passage, and found them
in working order. She had sent Petrus oif with
the horses and droshha to a stable a verst away.
Petrus could go over there twice daily to look after
the horses ; but it would not do to have them on
the premises.

After supper I told Ivan that I was going out
again, but that I should not require him to come
with me as I was bent on an entirely peaceful
undertaking. By nine o'clock I was on the road,
walking slowly in the direction of the camp.

I had not gone far before I heard footsteps ap-
proaching me. I stopped in the shadow of the trees
to see who it might be, and in another moment the
sergeant came up.

" Good evening, sergeant," I said, going up to

*' Good evening, doctor."

I glanced up and down the road, and listened,
but I could neither see nor hear any one.

" Shall we sit down by the roadside and talk?"
I suggested.

We sat down side by side at the edge of the

" Tell me, sergeant," I said, " if I were to place a
fifty rouble note on your eye could you see ? "


" No, doctor. I should not be able to see with
that eye ; but I could see out of the other."

'* Oh, you could ! Well then fifty roubles on your
other eye would make you totally blind ? "

" Yes, doctor, I should be blind for life. There
are so many colours in a lOO rouble note that it
is impossible to see through it I am told."

"Yes," I said; "the colours in a lOO rouble
note resemble the flesh of the back of a thinking
man when the Cossacks have been at him with their

" That is very true, gospodin, very true."

" Now let us come to an understanding. I place
a fifty rouble note on each of your eyes, and you are
blind. Now supposing that I place another upon
your mouth, would you lose your power of speech ? "

"A man cannot speak with his mouth full of
paper, gospodin. You are a doctor who knows well
the medicine to prescribe for every disease."

"Very good," I said. " Now when you are blind
and speechless, what are you going to do ? "

" You may leave that to me, doctor. All I want
to know is which are the birds, and how many are
to be turned into the woods ? You shall have as
many as you wish ; but you must remember that we
have only a little more than 600 of them, and there-
fore, gospodin, you will not ask for 700 birds."

" Good heavens, no ! " I only want four or five at
the outside," I exclaimed, astounded by the potency
of the medicine I had prescribed.

" Only five ! " said the sergeant, " then you can
take off fifty roubles."


" No, I shall not take any off; but if you make a
good job of it I will add another fifty. So you will
have 200 roubles."

" Boje moi, Boje moi ! I shall be rich. The devil
take soldier's service when I have 200 roubles ! "

" To-morrow morning I will come up to the camp,
and when I leave the captain's quarters you can
follow me, and I will tell you which men I want.
Shall you work it single-handed ?"

" There is a man whom I can trust," said the
sergeant. " I shall warn him for escort duty to-
morrow, and I will give him something for his

" When you let them go turn them into the
woods, as you suggested. They will be looked after
there," I said, thinking of the widow's daughters.

" Very good, doctor ; and as soon as they are
gone I shall raise a hue and cry, and fall in the
guard and start in pursuit ; but we shall take the
opposite direction, and we shall not find them."

" And they will be returned as dead," I said,
remembering the conversation of the morning.

*' Eventually, they will be returned as dead," the
sergeant assented, " but not until we have given up
all hope of finding them. It would be advisable for
you to continue to visit the captain in camp for as
long as we remain here."

"You can leave that to me," I answered, and we
rose from the ground.

" Then I will say good-night to you, gospodin."

I gave him a note for twenty-five roubles before
we parted.


" You are a business man, doctor," he exclaimed,
pocketing the note.

"Business is business," I answered, and turned
towards the widow's house, well satisfied with my
interview with the sergeant.

I had hardly gone a dozen yards when I heard
footsteps in the wood moving parallel with me.
There could be no question that somebody was
watching me. Perhaps he had overheard the whole
of my conversation with the sergeant — and what
then ? I pulled out my pistol and called out :
" Who is there ? "

"It is I, Bareen," said Ivan, emerging from the
cover of the trees on to the road.

" What are you doing at my heels ? " I demanded,
for I had told him to stay within the house ; and I
was a little ashamed of myself for being frightened
into drawing my pistol.

Ivan was as imperturbable as ever, and made no
apologies ; he simply gave his explanation.

" It was my master's order, Bareen, that I should
protect you with my life, if necessary, and therefore
I followed you out this evening."

" You might have upset all my plans by coming,"
I protested.

" The Bareen will lose nothing through my inter-
ference," he answered with perfect respect, and no
show of temper.

We walked back to the house together.

The old dame was on pins and needles to hear how
the affair was progressing. I told her that the
arrangements were made, and that all she had to do


was to lay in a plentiful supply of food, as there
would be several additional mouths to be filled, and
to warn her daughters to be on the look-out on the

" You may depend upon the girls, Bareen," she
asserted. " They are steady as rocks."

Then I went to bed ; but I could not sleep. Over
and over again I reviewed every detail of the scheme,
and tried to picture the fulfilment of it. Kolka
would tell the girls how many I was to expect ; the
girls would tell me ; and I would tell the sergeant.
Then the sergeant would find some pretext for
marching them into the woods under escort, and the
prisoners would escape and be taken in charge by
the widow's daughters and conducted to the house.

Yes, so far it all seemed simple enough, providing
no mistake were made in the transmission of the

And then I began to wonder what I should do if
the plan failed. I felt very certain that, if necessary,
I could bribe the captain of the escort to let them
go. But I did not wish to place myself under any
obligation to a man of the captain's stamp. Besides,
the failure of the first attempt would make it very
difficult for the captain to save his face if they
managed finally to escape ; and supposing that the
escape came off successfully, but that afterwards the
hiding-place was discovered — what then ?

All through the night the doubts and dangers of
the undertaking presented themselves with the per-
sistency of the recurring decimal. Here I will make a
confession. I hoped and believed that I should


attain my object by peaceable means, but if any man
stood in the way of its fulfilment, I was determined
to use my pistol rather than fail. I leave it to
ethical philosophers to decide in what category my
intention should be classed.

Then the day broke, and I went to the open
window and looked out. The morning was cool, and
the silence of the forest profound. The first rays of
the sun shimmered on the dense foliage and
penetrated amongst the giant stems of the trees.
Soon the other inmates of the house began to move
about, and going to the door I bade the widow bring
in the samovar.



How I managed to pass the time until ten o'clock
I do not know. The hours seemed interminable.
At last I would wait no longer and set out for the

It was about eleven o'clock when I arrived. The
sergeant was on the look-out for me, and took me
straight to the little room where the bodies of the
woman and her child were still lying awaiting burial.
Again he went and called the names of Dr. Bogdano-
vitch and Dr. Grazinski. I was grateful to the
sergeant for giving me this opportunity of speaking
to them, and thereby avoiding any misunderstanding
which might have arisen had it been necessary to
use the widow's daughters as the medium of our

Kolka and Grazinski came in almost immediately,
and the sergeant shut the door on us as he had done
on the previous day.

"Well," I said, "everything is ready — how many
is it to be ? "

" Yankevitch, Grazinski, and myself," said Kolka.
" There were two others whom I asked, but they
prefer to wait until they get to Irkutsk, where they
have relations who will help them out of the country


and supply them with money. So they have decided
to remain."

" We shall be certain to meet them in London or
in Paris in eighteen months' time," said Grazinski.

" Very well," I said, " all you have to do is to obey
the sergeant's orders, and look out for the girls with
the baskets, and follow them when the time comes."

We cut the interview as short as possible ; and
then we tenderly carried out the bodies of the woman
and her child for interment, so that all might see for
what purpose we were together. We placed them on
rough stretchers outside the building and covered
them over with some pieces of sacking.

Then Kolka and Grazinski walked away and the
sergeant came up to me.

" There will only be three," I told him, " Yanke-
vitch, Grazinski, and Bogdanovitch."

" Only three ! But what a pity that the others
will not go ! "

I told him the reason.

" Well," he said, " I owe them to you, and they
shall have no trouble when they are ready to go."

" When the birds are free, I will come again and
settle up with you," I said.

He was quite satisfied.

" I shall give them their chance at about four
o'clock," said he, " and I hope it won't be necessary
for me to kick them out of the camp ! "

" I don't think so, sergeant," I answered, and with
that I left him and went to the captain's quarters.

The captain was busy writing reports, I was told
by the orderly ; and not wishing to interrupt him in


his duties, I went off towards the part of the camp
where the criminal prisoners were quartered.

The poor creatures all begged for a few kopeks.
They were a miserable assortment of degraded
humanity, with dull, brutish faces, on which crime
and suffering had indelibly set their stamp. I left
them and went to the women prisoners, and there I
found the same state of things as I had seen in Tomsk
— only their bread was better. They, too, begged
of me, poor souls, and I gave them a few roubles.

Whilst I was still standing amongst them an
orderly came up and saluted. The captain, he
informed me, would like to see me. I followed him
back to the captain's office, and found that gentle-
man on the point of departure for the next halting-
station — I suppose to ascertain that the camp there
was in order for his caravan — and wishing to say
good-bye to me before he left.

" Is there anything I can do for you, doctor ? " he

With the laudable intention of misleading him I
asked if he could give me a letter of introduction to
any one in Irkutsk. He sat down and wrote a
letter to the principal officer there and handed it to

" I was interested in examining the general health
of your prisoners just now," I said, " I hope that I
was not doing wrong ? "

" Not at all ! Not at all ! " the captain repHed. " I
hope you will do so as much as you like. I will
send an orderly round with you."

Then he wished me a hearty farewell, and I left


him in his office making his final preparations before
starting and followed the orderly into the camp.

I made a very careful examination of a number of
the prisoners, prolonging my inspection as much as
possible, for the reason that I did not wish to leave
the camp until five o'clock or later.

I found one woman so badly aftected with sarcoma,
that I sent a note to the captain that she ought to
be removed from the other prisoners. The captain
had not left the camp and my note delayed him still
further. He sent an order back that the woman
was to be left behind.

Just after three o'clock I was called upon to exer-
cise my skill in midwifery ; and helped to bring a
wretched mortal into a world of misery. So there
was another woman to be left behind. But, to my
surprise, she requested not to be left ; and here was
another matter to be referred to the captain. There
seemed to be a fate against his leaving the camp
that afternoon.

Then I was present at the funeral of the woman
and child whose tragedy had been my opportunity.
A pope from the neighbouring village conducted the
funeral service, and when it was over I walked back
with him. He was a sleek-faced, dirty individual,
with a rotund stomach and familiar manner.

Just as we reached the main road there was a
clatter of horses' feet, and hoarse shouts of command,
followed almost immediately by a fusillade of rifle
fire. We stopped short on the road, and the pope^
green with fear, and his teeth chattering in his head,
laid hold of my arm for support.


" Don't move ! " he cried, " or we shall be hit by
a stray bullet."

I was laughing inwardly at the din and racket
which the sergeant was providing for my money.
And since the pope refused to move either one way
or the other, I was glad to have him holding on
to my arm — it gave me quite an air of distinction
to have the Holy Russian Church under my pro-

Certainly the sergeant was an excellent stage-
manager, and I was enjoying the farce which he had
produced with so much effect. " Alarums and excur-
sions " were never more faithfully presented ; and a
very fair amount of the Tsar's powder was expended
on the entertainment.

Whilst we were still standing on the road my
sergeant dashed up at full gallop, and reined in his
horse within a few feet of us.

" Holy father," he exclaimed in accents of con-
sternation, addressing himself to the pope, " three
hrudjagas have escaped from the camp and run
away. It is a terrible affair ! I am thankful that
the captain had not left the camp, and I reported
the affair to him as he was going out. I am sure I
don't know what the world is coming to ! Yesterday
a woman killed her child and herself, and to-day
three prisoners break loose."

*' But had they not chains on ? " asked the pope,
leaving his hold on my arm and assuming an air of

" No, father," the sergeant answered.

** How was that ? " he demanded.


" The captain thought that they were men to be
trusted, and had ordered their chains off."

" Then you can go back and tell your captain to
light a candle for them " — a Kussian saying that
implies ** irretrievably lost " — " you will never see
them again, that is certain."

The sergeant, whose face showed signs of great
determination and zeal for the recovery of the run-
aways, turned his horse and rode off, and as he
turned he gave me a knowing wink.

When he had gone I proposed to the pope that
we should walk up to the camp together and see
the disturbance. And we arrived a few minutes

All the prisoners in the " compound " had their
chains on now, and the "politicals" had been con-
fined in the cells and were behind iron bars.

We went to the captain's quarters, and before we
arrived at the entrance we could hear his voice. His
language was powerful, and would only bear com-
parison with the remarks of an American travelling
salesman who has missed his train. But when he
saw the pope and me approaching he at once changed
his tone, and, coming out to meet us, bowed his head
before the holy man.

"My son," said the pope, "what means all this
confusion ? "

" This is an unfortunate affair for me, batushka,"
the captain answered. " A week ago six prisoners
escaped and broke their chains and only one of them
was recaptured — and he is dead, as he deserves —
the tramp ! "


" My son," said the pope with reproof, " knowest
thou not that the dead are holy ? "

"I ask your pardon, batusaka," the captain
answered. " I spoke in haste. And now, not an
hour ago, three ' poUticals ' break loose and escape
into the woods. The criminals are not of much
importance ; but the Government cannot stand the
loss of political prisoners."

" How did they manage to get away ? " asked the
holy man.

" Here is the report of the affair as I have taken
it down from the sergeant's lips," said the captain,
picking up a sheet of paper from the table and hand-
ing it to the pope. I read it over his shoulder, and
it stated that, shortly after four o'clock, Sergeant
Solobov, with five soldiers as an escort, took out
the prisoners Grazinski, Bogdanovitch, Yankevitch,
Demidov, and Sapoznikoff into the woods to gather
certain plants for medical purposes for the benefit of
the other prisoners, with the consent of the captain.

Grazinski, Bogdanovitch, and Yankevitch became
separated from the other^two men and the escort,
though they were still within sight. Suddenly the
three men, Grazinski, Bogdanovitch, and Yankevitch
were seen to throw down the plants which they had
collected and run off into the forest in a southerly
direction. Sergeant Solobov and two men at once
started in pursuit, leaving Demidov and Sapoznikoff
in charge of the other three men of the escort, who
marched them straight bock to camp and gave the
alarm. Sergeant Solobov and the two men with
him were unable to overtake the fugitives.


Then followed a note of the steps which the
captain had taken m the matter. He had at once
ordered all the prisoners to be locked up, and had
despatched twenty men to assist Sergeant Solobov,
and to bring in the escaped prisoners, dead or alive.
Sergeant Solobov returned to make his report when
the reinforcements reached him.

The pope handed the paper back to the captain,
who folded it and put it away.

" The three hrudjagas will be brought in before
the morning, and they shall march in irons for the
rest of the journey," he asserted, with a valiant
attempt to carry oiF the incident as lightly as
possible. Then he added less confidently : " Dead
or alive they must be found, if I have to postpone
the march to-morrow."

" I trust, my son, that you will recover them,"
said the pope. " The neighbourhood is already
terrorised by these vagabonds who have escaped
from their rotas. They steal anything that they
can lay hands on. It was brought to my notice
only a few days ago that a begach (escaped convict)
called at a house in the district and demanded food,
and, when it was refused him, he murdered the un-
fortunate householder and made off with everything
he could carry from the house. To this day he has
not been caught. Now, my son, we have three more
to contend with," he concluded reproachfully.

The captain turned to me in despair.

" You see how we have to earn our pay and pro-
motion," he exclaimed. " You have no such state
of things in your country, doctor."


"No, indeed!" I answered sympathetically. "I
can see what hardships you have to face."

" It is the hardships," said the captain grandilo-
quently, " that make our soldiers the best in the

"Hear! hear!" said the fat priest, clapping his
hands. "Nasha Russki Mallatchi! " (Our Russian
bravery !)

It is the catch phrase of the Russian army, and I
could only smile inwardly when I thought of the

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Online LibraryCarl JoubertRussia as it really is → online text (page 15 of 18)