Paul Dukes.

Red dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia online

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again by a third who said something totally at variance

A typical peasant "bourgeois-capitalist







with the first two, and how the enthusiasm would in-
crease proportionately to the bewilderment as to who
was actually right. The crowds were just like little
children. Totally unaccustomed to free speech, they
appeared to imagine that anybody who spoke must
ipso facto be right. But just when the people, after the
Bolshevist coup d'etat, were beginning to demand reason
in public utterance and deeds for promises, down came
a super-Tsarist Bolshevist censorship like a huge candle-
snuffer and clapping itself on the flame of public criti-
cism, snuffed it out altogether.

Public demonstrations, however, were made an im-
portant item in the curriculum of the Bolshevist ad-
ministration, and soon became as compulsory as military
service. I record the above one not because of its in-
trinsic interest (it really had very little), but because it
was, I believe, one of the last occasions on which it was
left to the public to make the demonstration a success
or not, and regiments were merely "invited."

I made my way to Stepanovna's in the hope of meeting
Dmitri. He came in toward the close of the afternoon,
and I asked him if he had enjoyed the demonstration.

"Too cold," he replied, "they ought to have had it
on a warmer day."

"Did you come voluntarily?"

"Why, yes." He pulled out of the spacious pocket
of his tunic a parcel wrapped up in newspaper, and un-
wrapping it, disclosed a pound of bread. "We were
told we should get this if we came. It has just been
doled out."

Stepanovna's eyes opened wide. Deeply interested,
she asked when the next demonstration was going to be.

"Why didn't more soldiers come, then?" I asked.


"Not enough bread, I suppose," said Dmitri. "We
have been getting it irregularly of late. But we have a
new commissar who is a good fellow. They say in
the regiment he gets everything for us first. He talks
to us decently, too. I am beginning to like him. Per-
haps he is not one like the rest."

"By the way, Dmitri," I said, "do you happen to
know who those people were for whom we demonstrated

From the depths of his crumb-filled pocket Dmitri
extracted a crumpled and soiled pamphlet. Holding
it to the light he slowly read out the title: "Who were
Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg?"

"We were each given one yesterday," he explained,
"after an agitator had made a long speech to us. No-
body listened to the agitator — some Jew or other — but
the commissar gave me this. I read little nowadays,
but I think I will read it when I have time."

"And the speakers and the guy?" I queried.

"I didn't notice the speakers. One of them spoke
not in our way — German, someone said. But the guy!
That was funny ! My, Stepanovna, you ought to have
seen it! How it floated up into the air! You would
have cracked your sides laughing. Who was it sup-
posed to represent, by the way?"

I explained how the revolution in Germany had re-
sulted in the downfall of the Kaiser and the formation
of a radical cabinet with a Socialist— Scheidemann —
at its head. Scheidemann was the guy to-day, I said,
for reasons which I presumed he would find stated in
" Who were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg f"

"But if the Kaiser is out, why do our Bolsheviks burn
— what's his name ?"


"Ah, but, Dmitri," I put in, "if you had understood
the German speaker to-day, you would have heard him
tell how there is shortly to be another revolution in
Germany like that which happened here in November,
1917, and they will set up a soviet government like

As our conversation proceeded, Stepanovna and Varia
stopped their work to listen, their interest grew apace,
and at last they hung on to every word as if it were of
profound significance. When I repeated the substance
of Otto Pertz's predictions, all three of my companions
were listening spellbound and with mouths agape. There
was a long pause, which at length Stepanovna broke.

"Is it really possible," she exclaimed, slowly, and ap-
parently in utter bewilderment, "that the Germans —
are — such — fools ? ' '

"Evasive, Doctor, very evasive," I said, as we sat
over tea and a few dry crust-biscuits the Doctor had
procured from somewhere. "Yesterday evening he
gave me some interesting information about industrial
developments, alteration of railway administration, and
changes in the Red fleet; but the moment Melnikoff is
mentioned then it is, 'Oh, Melnikoff? in a day or two
I think we may know definitely,' or 'My informant is
out of town,' and so on."

"Perhaps there is a hitch, somewhere," suggested
the Doctor. "I suppose there is nothing to do but
wait. By the way, you wanted a passport, didn't you?
How will that suit you?"

I have forgotten the precise wording of the paper he
handed me, for I had to destroy it later, but it was an


ordinary certificate of identification, in the name of
Alexander Vasilievitch Markovitch, aged 33, clerical
assistant at the head Postal-Telegraph Office. There
was no photograph attached, but in view of the strict
requirements regarding passports, which included their
frequent renewal (except in certain cases no passports
might be made out fcr more than two months), and the
difficulty of getting photographs, the latter were drop-
ping out of general use.

"Shura procured it," the Doctor explained. "A friend
of his, by name Markov, arrived recently from Moscow
to work at the Telegraph Office. A week later he
heard his wife was seriously ill and got special permission
to return. A week in Petrograd was enough for him
anyway, for living is much better in Moscow, so he
doesn't intend to come back. Shura asked him for his
passport and after Markov had got his railroad pass
and paper showing he was authorized to return to
Moscow, he gave it him. If they ask for it in Moscow,
he will say he has lost it. He would have to have a
new one anyway, since a Petrograd one is useless there.
My typewriter at the hospital has the same type as
this, so we altered the date a little, added 'itch' to the
name — and there you are, if you wish, a ready-made
postal official."

"What about clothing?" I said. "I don't look much
like a postal official."

"There is something more important than that.
What about military service?"

From my pocket I produced a new pamphlet on the
soviet system. Opening a pocket of the uncut leaves
at a certain page, I drew forth my blank exemption cer-
tificate and exhibited it to the Doctor.


"What are you, a prestidigitator?" he asked admir-
ingly. " Or is this another gift from your friend Z. ? "

"The certificates were born twins," I said. "Zorin-
sky was accoucheur to the first, I to the second."

In an hour I had filled in the blank exemption form
with all particulars relating to Alexander Vasilievitch
Markovitch. Tracing the signatures carefully, and
inserting a recent date, I managed to produce a docu-
ment indistinguishable as regards authenticity from the
original, and thus was possessed of two sets of docu-
ments, one in the name of Krylenko for the benefit of
Zorinsky, the other in that of Markovitch for presenta-
tion in the streets and possible registration.

Considering once more the question of uniform I re-
called that at my own rooms where I had lived for
years I had left a variety of clothing when last in Petro-
grad six or eight months previously. The question
was: how could I gain admittance to my rooms, dis-
guised as I was and with an assumed name? Further-
more, a telephone call having elicited no response, I had
no idea whether the housekeeper whom I had left was
still there, nor whether the apartment had been raided,
locked up, or occupied by workmen. All these things
I was curious to know, quite apart from obtaining

I enlisted the services of Varia as scout. Varia was
the first person to whom I confided my English name,
and doing it with due solemnity, and with severe cau-
tionings that not even Stepanovna should be told,
I could see that the girl was impressed with my confi-
dence in her. Armed with a brief note to my house-
keeper purporting to be written by a fictitious friend of
mine, and warned to turn back unless everything were


precisely as I described, Varia set out on a voyage of

She returned to impart the information that the front
door of the house being locked she had entered by the
yard, had encountered nobody on the backstairs, and
that in answer to persistent ringing a woman, whom I
recognized by the description as my housekeeper, had
opened the kitchen door on a short chain, and, peering
suspiciously through the chink, had at first vehemently
denied any acquaintance with any English people at
all. On perusing the note from my non-existent
friend, however, she admitted that an Englishman of
my name had formerly lived there, but she had the
strictest injunctions from him to admit nobody to the

Pursuing my instructions, Varia informed the house-
keeper that my friend, Mr. Markovitch, had just ar-
rived from Moscow. He was busy to-day, she said, and
had sent her round to enquire after my affairs, but
would call himself at an early opportunity.

The one article of clothing which I frequently
changed and of which I had a diverse stock was head-
gear. It is surprising how headdress can impart charac-
ter (or the lack of it) to one's appearance. Donning
my most bourgeois fur-cap, polishing my leather
breeches and brushing my jacket, I proceeded on the
following day to my former home, entering by the yard
as Varia had done and ringing at the back door. The
house appeared deserted, for I saw no one in the yard,
nor heard any sounds of life. When, in reply to per-
sistent ringing, the door was opened on the chain, I saw
my housekeeper peering through the chink just as Varia
had described. My first impulse was to laugh, it seemed


so ridiculous to be standing on one's own back stairs,
pretending to be some one else, and begging admittance
to one's own rooms by the back door.

I hadn't time to laugh, however, The moment my
housekeeper saw the apparition on the stairway she
closed the door again promptly and rebolted it, and it
was only after a great deal of additional knocking and
ringing that at last the door was once again timidly
opened just a tiny bit.

Greeting the woman courteously, I announced my-
self as Mr. Markovitch, close personal friend and school
companion of the Englishman who formerly had occupied
these rooms. My friend, I said, was now in England
and regretted the impossibility of returning to Russia
under present conditions. I had recently received a
letter from him, I declared, brought somehow across
the frontier, in which, sending his greetings to Martha
Timofeievna (the housekeeper), he had requested me
at the earliest opportunity to visit his home and report
on its condition. To reduce Martha Timofeievna's
suspicions, I assured her that before the war I had been
a frequent visitor to this flat, and gave numerous data
which left no doubt whatsoever in her mind that I was
at least well acquainted with the arrangement of the
rooms, and with the furniture and pictures that had
formerly been in them. I added, of course, that on the
last occasion when I had seen my friend, he had spoken
of his new housekeeper in terms of the highest praise,
and assured me again in his letter that I should find
her good-mannered, hospitable, and obliging.

The upshot was that, though Martha Timofeievna
was at first categorical in her refusal to admit anyone
to the flat, she ultimately agreed to do so if I could show


her the actual letter written by "Monsieur Dukes,"
requesting permission for his friend to be admitted.

I told her I would bring it to her that very afternoon,
and, highly satisfied with the result of the interview,
I retired at once to the nearest convenient place, which
happened to be the Journalist's, to write it.

"Dear Sasha," I wrote in Russian, using the familiar
name for Alexander (my Christian name according to
my new papers), "I can scarcely hope you will ever

receive this, yet on the chance that you may etc.,"

— and I proceeded to give a good deal of imaginary
family news. Toward the end I said, "By the way, when
you are in Petrograd, please go to my flat and see

Martha Timofeievna etc.," and I gave instructions

as to what "Sasha" was to do, and permission to take
anything he needed. "I write in Russian," I concluded,
"so that in case of necessity you may show this letter to
M. T. She is a good woman and will do everything for
you. Give her my hearty greetings and tell her I hope
to return at the first opportunity. Write if ever you
can. Good-bye. Yours ever, Pavlusha."

I put the letter in an envelope, addressed it to
"Sasha Markovitch," sealed it up, tore it open again,
crumpled it, and put it in my pocket.

The same afternoon I presented myself once more
at my back door.

Martha Timofeievna's suspicions had evidently
already been considerably allayed, for she smiled amia-
bly even before perusing the letter I put into her hand,
and at once admitted me as far as the kitchen. Here
she laboriously read the letter through (being from the
Baltic provinces she spoke Russian badly and read with
difficulty), and, paying numerous compliments to the


author, who she hoped would soon return because she
didn't know what she was going to do about the flat
or how long she would be able to keep on living there,
she led me into the familiar rooms.

Everything was in a state of confusion. Many of
the pictures were torn down, furniture was smashed,
and in the middle of the floor of the dining room lay a
heap of junk, consisting of books, papers, pictures,
furniture, and torn clothing. In broken Russian Mar-
tha Timofeievna told me how first there had been a
search, and when she had said that an Englishman had
lived there the Reds had prodded and torn everything
with their bayonets. Then a family of working people
had taken possession, fortunately, however, not expell-
ing her from her room. But the flat had not been to
their liking and, deserting it soon after, they took a good
many things with them and left everything else upside

Between them, the Reds and the uninvited occupants
had left very little that could be of use to me. I found
no boots or overclothing, but among the litter I dis-
covered some underclothing of which I was glad. I
also found an old student hat, which was exactly what
I wanted for my postal uniform. I put it in my pocket
and, tying the other things in a parcel, said I would send
Varia for them next day.

While I was disentangling with my housekeeper's
aid the heap of stuff on the floor I came upon my own
photograph taken two or three years before. For the
first time I fully and clearly realized how complete was
my present disguise, how absolutely different I now
appeared in a beard, long hair, and glasses. I passed
the photo to Martha Timofeievna.


" That is a good likeness," I said. " He hasn't altered
one bit."

"Yes," she replied. "Was he not a nice man? It is
dreadful that he had to go away. I wonder where he is
now and what he is doing?"

"I wonder," I repeated, diving again into the muck
on the floor. To save my life I could not have looked
at Martha Timofeievna at that moment and kept a
straight face.

Failing to obtain an overcoat from the remnant of
my belongings, I searched the markets and from a
destitute gentleman of aristocratic mien procured a
shabby black coat with a worn velvet collar. In this
and my student hat I was the "complete postal official."
I adopted this costume for daytime purposes, but before
every visit to Zorinsky I went to "No. 5," where I kept
what few belongings I possessed, and changed, visiting
Zorinsky only in the attire in which he was accustomed
to see me.

As the end of January approached my suspicion that
Zorinsky would not secure Melnikoff's release grew.
Once or twice he had not even mentioned the subject,
talking energetically in his usual vivacious manner
about other things. He was as entertaining as ever,
and invariably imparted interesting political news,
but if I broached the subject of Melnikoff he shelved it
at once.

So I resolved, in spite of risks, to see if I could obtain
through the Policeman information as to Melnikoff's
case. I had not seen the Policeman since I had returned
from Finland, so I told him I had been delayed in that
country and had only just come back. Without telling
him who Melnikoff wr ", I imparted to him the data re-


garding the latter's arrest, and what I had learned
"through accidental channels" as to his imprisonment.
I did not let him know my concern, lest he should be
inclined purposely to give a favourable report, but
charged him to be strict and accurate in his investiga-
tion, and, in the event of failing to learn anything,
not to fear to admit it.

About a week later, when I 'phoned to him, he said
"he had received an interesting letter on family mat-
ters." It was with trepidation that I hurried to his
house, struggling to conceal my eager anticipation as I
mounted the stairs, followed by the gaze of the leering

The little Policeman held a thin strip of paper in his

"Dmitri Dmitrievitch Melnikoff," he read. "Real
name Nicholas Nicholaievitch N ?"

"Yes," I said.

"He was shot between the 15th and 20th of January,"
said the Policeman.



Meanwhile, as time progressed, I made new acquaint-
ances at whose houses I occasionally put up for a night.
Over most of them I pass in silence. I accepted their
hospitality as a Russian emigrant who was being
searched for by the Bolsheviks, a circumstance which in
itself was a recommendation. But if I felt I could trust
people I did not hesitate to reveal my nationality, my
reception then being more cordial still. I often re-
flected with satisfaction that my mode of living resem-
bled that of many revolutionists, not only during the
reign of Tsarism, but also under the present regime.
People of every shade of opinion from Monarchist to
Socialist-Revolutionary dodged and evaded the police-
agents of the Extraordinary Commission, endeavouring
either to flee from the country or to settle down unob-
served under new names in new positions.

One of my incidental hosts whom I particularly re-
member, a friend of the Journalist and a school in-
spector by profession, was full of enterprise and enthu-
siasm for a scheme he propounded for including garden-
ing and such things in the regular school curriculum of
his circuit. His plans were still regarded with some
mistrust by those in power, for his political prejudices
were known, but he none the less had hope that the
Communists would allow him to introduce his innova-
tions, which I believe he eventually did successfully.



The Journalist was promoted to the position of
dieloproizvoditel of his department, a post giving him a
negligible rise of salary, but in which practically all offi-
cial papers passed through his hands. At his own initia-
tive he used to abstract papers he thought would be of
interest to me, restoring them before their absence could
be discovered. Some of the things he showed me were
illuminating, others useless. But good, bad, or indiffer-
ent, he always produced them with a sly look and with
his finger at the side of his nose, as if the information
they contained must be of the utmost consequence.

I persuaded him to sell off some of his books as a
subsidiary means of subsistence, and we called a Jew in,
who haggled long and hard. The Journalist was loth
to do this, but I refused ever to give him more than the
cost of his fuel, over which also I exerted a control of
Bolshevist severity. He had no conception whatever
of relative values, and attached though he was to me
I thought I sometimes detected in his eye a look which
said with unspeakable contempt: "You miserly Eng-
lishman ! "

I was unfortunate in losing Maria as a regular com-
panion and friend. She returned to Marsh's country
farm in the hope of saving at least something from
destruction, and visited town but rarely. In her
place there came to live at the empty flat "No. 5" the
younger of the two stable boys, a dull but decent youth
who had not joined the looters. This boy did his
best no doubt to keep things in order, but tidiness and
cleanliness were not his peculiar weaknesses. He could
not understand why glasses or spoons should be washed,
or why even in an untenanted flat tables and chairs
should occasionally be dusted. Once, the tea he


had made me tasting unusually acrid, I went into the
kitchen to investigate the tea-pot. On removing the
lid I found it to be half full of dead beetles.

Stepanovna continued to be a good friend. Dmitri's
regiment was removed to a town in the interior, and
Dmitri, reluctant though he was to leave the capital,
docilely followed, influenced largely by the new regi-
mental commissar who had succeeded in making him-
self popular — a somewhat rare achievement amongst
commissars. Even Stepanovna admitted this unusual
circumstance, allowing that the commissar was a
poriadotchny tcheloviek, i. e., a decent person, "although
he was a Communist," and she thus acquiesced in
Dmitri's departure.

It was in Stepanovna's company that I first witnessed
the extraordinary spectacle of an armed raid by the
Bolshevist authorities on a public market. Running
across her in the busy Sienaya Square one morning I
found she had been purchasing meat, which was a rare
luxury. She had an old black shawl over her head and
carried a bast basket on her arm.

" Where did you get the meat? " I asked. " I will buy
some too."

"Don't," she said, urgently. "In the crowd they are
whispering that there is going to be a raid."

"What sort of a raid?"

"On the meat, I suppose. Yesterday and to-day the
peasants have been bringing it in and I have got a little.
I don't want to lose it. They sav the Reds are com-

Free-trading being clearly opposed to the principles
of Communism, it was officially forbidden and de-
nounced as "speculation." But no amount of restric-


tion could suppress it, and the peasants brought food
in to the hungry townspeople despite all obstacles and
sold it at their own prices. The only remedy the
authorities had for this "capitalist evil" was armed
force, and even that was ineffective.

The meat was being sold by the peasants in a big
glass-covered shed. One of these sheds was burnt down
in 1919, and the only object that remained intact was an
ikon in the corner. Thousands came to see the ikon
that had been "miraculously" preserved, but it was
hastily taken away by the authorities. The ikon had
apparently been overlooked, for it was the practice of
the Bolsheviks to remove all religious symbols from
public places.

I moved toward the building to make my purchase,
but Stepanovna tugged me by the arm.

"Don't be mad," she exclaimed. "Don't you real-
ize, if there is a raid they will arrest everybody?"

She pulled me down to speak in my ear.

"And what about your . . I am sure . . .
your papers . . . are . . ."

"Of course they are," I laughed. "But you don't
expect a clown of a Red guard to see the difference, do


I made up my mind to get rid of Stepanovna and
come back later for some meat, but all at once a com-
motion arose in the crowd over the way and people be-
gan running out of the shed. Round the corner, from
the side of the Ekaterina Canal, appeared a band of
soldiers in sheepskin caps and brown-gray tunics, with
fixed bayonets. The exits from the building were
quickly blocked. Fugitives fled in all directions, the
women shrieking and hugging their baskets and bundles,


and looking back as they ran to see if they were pur-

Stepanovna and I stood on a doorstep at the corner
of the Zabalkansky Prospect, where we could see well,
and whence, if need be, we could also make good our

The market place was transformed in the twinkling
of an eye. A moment before it had been bristling with
life and the crowded street-cars had stopped to let their
passengers scramble laboriously out. But now the
whole square was suddenly as still as death, and, but

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 11 of 22)