Paul Dukes.

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

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for a few onlookers who watched the scene from a dis-
tance, the roadway was deserted.

From fifty to sixty soldiers filed slowly into the shed
and a few others, with rifles ready, hurried now and
again round the outside of the building. A fiendish din
arose with the entry of the soldiers. The shrieking,
howling, hooing, cursing, and moaning sounded as if
hell itself had been let loose! It was an uncanny con-
trast — the silent square, and the ghastly noise within
the shed!

Stepanovna muttered something, but the only word
I caught was "devils." Sacks and bundles were being
dragged out by the guards and hoisted on to trucks and
lorries. At one door people were let out one by one
after examination of their clothes and papers. The
women were set at liberty, but the men, except the old
and quite young boys, were marched off to the nearest

"What does it all mean?" I exclaimed, as we moved
off along the Zabalkansky Prospect.

"Mean, Ivan Pavlovitch? Don't you see? 'Let's
grab!' 'Down with free trading!' 'Away with specu-


lators!' That is what they say. 'Speculation' they
call it. I am a 'speculator,' too," she chuckled. "Do
you think I ever got any work from the labour bureau,
where I have been registered these three months? Or
Varia, either, though we both want jobs. The money
Ivan Sergeievitch left us is running out, but we must
live somehow, mustn't we?"

Stepanovna lowered her voice.

"So we have sold a sideboard. . . . Yes," she
chuckled, "we sold it to some people downstairs.
'Speculators,' too, I expect. They came up early in the
morning and took it away quietly, and our house com-
mittee never heard anything about it!"

Stepanovna laughed outright. She thought it a huge

For all your furniture, you see, was supposed to be
registered and belonged not to yourself but to the com-
munity. Superfluous furniture was to be confiscated in
favour of the working man, but generally went to decor-
ate the rooms of members of the committee or groups of
Communists in whose charge the houses were placed.
Sailor Communists seemed to make the largest demands.
"Good morning," they would say on entering your
home. "Allow us please to look around and see how
much furniture you have." Some things, they would
tell you, were required by the house committee. Or a
new 'worker' had taken rooms downstairs. He was a
'party man,' that is, he belonged to the Communist
party and was therefore entitled to preference, and he
required a bed, a couch, and some easy chairs.

It was useless to argue, as some people did and got
themselves into trouble by telling the "comrades"
what they thought of them. The wise and thoughtful


submitted, remembering that while many of these men
were out just to pocket as much as they could, there
were others who really believed they were thus distribut-
ing property in the interests of equality and fraternity.

But the wily and clever would exclaim; "My dear
comrades, I am delighted! Your comrade is a 'party
man'? That is most interesting, for I am intending to
sign on myself. Only yesterday I put some furniture
by for you. As for this couch you ask for, it is really in-
dispensable, but in another room there is a settee you
can have. And that picture, of course, I would willingly
give you, only I assure you it is an heirloom. Besides,
it is a very bad painting, an artist told me so last week.
Would you not rather have this one, which he said was
really good?"

And you showed them any rotten old thing, prefer-
ably something big. Then you would offer them tea
and apologize for giving them nothing but crusts with
it. You explained you wished to be an "idealist"
Communist, and your scruples would not permit you
to purchase delicacies from "speculators."

Your visitors were not likely to linger long over your
crusts, but if you succeeded in impressing them with
your devotion to the Soviet regime they would be less
inclined to molest a promising candidate for comrade-

But Stepanovna possessed no such subtlety. She
was, on the contrary, unreasonably outspoken and I
wondered that she did not get into difficulties.

Stepanovna and Varia often used to go to the opera,
and when they came home they would discuss intelli-
gently and with enthusiasm the merits and demerits of
respective singers.


"I did not like the man who sang Lensky to-night,"
one of them would say. " He baa-ed like a sheep and his
acting was poor."

Or, "So-and-so's voice is really almost as good as
Shaliapin's, except in the lowest notes, but of course
Shaliapin's acting is much more powerful."

"Stepanovna," I once said, "used you to go to the
opera before the revolution?"

"Why yes," she replied, "we used to go to the
Narodny Dom." The Narodny Dom was a big theatre
built for the people by the Tsar.

"But to the state theatres, the Marinsky opera or

"No, that was difficult."

"Well, then, why do you abuse the Bolsheviks who
make it easy for you to go to what used to be the Im-
perial Theatres and see the very best plays and actors?"

Stepanovna was stooping over the samovar. She
raised herself and looked at me, considering my question.

"H'm, yes," she admitted, "I enjoy it, it is true.
But who is the theatre full of? Only school children
and our 'comrades' Communists. The school children
ought to be doing home-lessons and our 'comrades'
ought to be hanging on the gallows. Varia and I can
enjoy the theatre because we just have enough money
to buy food in the markets. But go and ask those who
stand in queues all day and all night for half a pound of
bread or a dozen logs of firewood ! How much do they
enjoy the cheap theatres? I wonder, ah?"

So I said no more. Stepanovna had very decided
notions of things. If she had been an Englishwoman
before the war she would have been a militant suffragist.

It was at the beginning of February that I saw Stepa-


novna for the last time. My acquaintance with her
ceased abruptly, as with other people under similar cir-
cumstances. Varia, it transpired, got into trouble through
trying to communicate with Ivan Sergeievitch in Finland.

Before going to Stepanovna's flat I always 'phoned
and asked, "Is your father any better?" — which meant,
May I come and stay the night? To which she or Varia
would reply, "Quite well, thank you, and he would like
you to go and see him when you have time."

On the last occasion when I called up, Stepanovna
did not at once answer. Then in a voice full of inde-
cision she stammered, "I don't know — I think — I will
ask — please wait a moment." I waited and could hear
she had not left the telephone. At last she continued
tremblingly, "No, he is no better, he is very bad indeed
— dying." There was a pause. "I am going to see
him," she went on, stammering all the time, "at eleven
o'clock to-morrow morning, do — do you understand?"

"Yes," I said, "I will go too and wait for you."

Wondering if we had understood each other, I
stationed myself at the corner of the street a little
before eleven, and watched from a distance the en-
trance to Stepanovna's house. One glance, when
she came out, satisfied her I was there. Walking
off in the other direction, she followed Kazanskaya
Street, only once looking round to make sure I was
behind, and, reaching the Kazan Cathedral, entered
it. I found her in a dark corner to the right.

"Varia is arrested," she said, in great distress.
"You must come to our flat no more, Ivan Pavlovitch.
A messenger came from Viborg the day before yester-
day and asked Varia, if she could, to get out to Finland.
They went together to the Finland Station and got


on the train. There they met another man who was
to help them get over the frontier. He was arrested
on the train and the other two with him."

"Is there any serious charge?" I asked. "Simply
running away is no grave offence."

"They say the two men will be shot," she replied.
"But Varia only had some things she was taking to
Ivan Sergeievitch's wife."

I tried to reassure her, saying I would endeavour
to discover how Varia's case stood, and would find
some means of communication.

"I am expecting a search," she went on, "but of
course I have made preparations. Maybe we shall
meet again some day, Ivan Pavlovitch. I hope so."

I felt very sorry for poor Stepanovna in her trouble.
She was a fine type of woman in her way, though
her views on things were often crude. But it must
be remembered that she was only a peasant. As I was
crossing the threshold of the cathedral, something
moved me to turn back for a moment, and I saw
Stepanovna shuffle up to the altar and fall on her
knees. Then I came away.

I was resolved to get the Policeman on the job at
once to find out the circumstances of Varia's case,
which I felt sure could not be serious. But I was
not destined to make this investigation. I never
saw either Varia or Stepanovna again, nor was it
possible for me to discover what ultimately became
of them. Tossed hither and thither by the caprice
of circumstance, I found myself shortly after sud-
denly placed in a novel and unexpected situation, of
which and its results, if the reader have patience
to read a little further, he will learn.



Staraya Derevnya, which means "the Old Village,"
is a remote suburb of Petrograd, situated at the mouth
of the most northerly branch of the River Neva, over-
looking the Gulf of Finland. It is a poor and shabby
locality, consisting of second-rate summer villas and
a few small timber-yards and logmen's huts. In
winter when the gulf is frozen it is the bleakest of
bleak places, swept by winds carrying the snow in
blizzard-like clouds across the dreary desert of ice.
You cannot tell then where land ends and sea begins,
for the flats, the shores, the marshes, and the sea lie
hidden under a common blanket of soft and sand-like
snowdrifts. In olden times I loved to don my skis
and glide gently from the world into that vast expanse
of frozen water, and there, miles out, lie down and
listen to the silence.

A few days after I had parted from Stepanovna in
the Kazan Cathedral, I sat in one of the smallest and
remotest huts of Staraya Derevnya. It was eleven
o'clock of a dark and windless night. Except for the
champing of a horse outside, the silence was broken
only by the grunting and snoring of a Finnish con-
trabandist lying at full length on the dirty couch.
Once, when the horse neighed, the Finn rose hurriedly
with a curse. Lifting the latch cautiously, he stole
out and led the animal round to the seaward side of



the cottage, where it would be less audible from the
road. Having recently smuggled a sleigh-load of
butter into the city, he was now returning to Finland —
with me.

It was after midnight when we drove out, and, con-
ditions being good, the drive over the sea to a point
well along the Finnish coast, a distance of some forty-
odd miles, was to take us between four and five hours.
The sledge was of the type known as drovny, a wooden
one, broad and low, filled with hay. The drovny,
used mostly for farm haulage, is my favourite kind
of sledge, and nestling comfortably at full length under
the hay I thought of long night-drives in the interior
in days gone by, when some one used to ride ahead
on horseback with a torch to keep away the wolves.

In a moment we were out, flying at breakneck speed
across the clear ice, windswept after recent storms.
The half inch of frozen snow just gave grip to the
horse's hoofs. Twice, suddenly bumping into snow
ridges, we capsized completely. When we got going
again the runners sang just like a saw-mill. The
driver noticed this too, and was alive to the danger of
being heard from shore a couple of miles away; but
his sturdy pony, exhilarated by the keen frosty air, was
hard to restrain.

Some miles out of Petrograd there lies on an island
in the Finnish Gulf the famous fortress of Cronstadt,
one of the most impregnable in the world. Search-
lights from the fortress played from time to time
across the belt of ice, separating the fortress from
the northern shore. The passage through this narrow
belt was the crucial point in our journey. Once past
Cronstadt we should be in Finnish waters and safe.


To avoid danger from the searchlights, the Finn
drove within a mile of the mainland, the runners
hissing and singing like saws. As we entered the
narrows a dazzling beam of light swept the horizon
from the fortress, catching us momentarily in its
track; but we were sufficiently near the shore not to
appear as a black speck adrift on the ice.

Too near, perhaps? The dark line of the woods
seemed but a stone's throw away! You could almost
see the individual trees. Hell! what a noise our
sledge-runners made!

"Can't you keep the horse back a bit, man?"

"Yes, but this is the spot we've got to drive past
quickly ! "

We were crossing the line of Lissy Nos, a jutting
point on the coast marking the narrowest part of the
strait. Again a beam of light shot out from the
fortress, and the wooden pier and huts of Lissy Nos
were lit as by a flash of lightning. But we had passed
the point already. It was rapidly receding into the
darkness as we regained the open sea.

Sitting upright on the heap of hay, I kept my eyes
riveted on the receding promontory. We were nearly
a mile away now, and you could no longer distinguish
objects clearly. But my eyes were still riveted on the
rocky promontory.

Were those rocks — moving? I tried to pierce the
darkness, my eyes rooted to the black point!

Rocks? Trees? Or — or

I sprang to my feet and shook the Finn by the
shoulders with all my force.

"Damn it, man! Drive like hell — we're being


Riding out from Lissy Nos were a group of horse-
men, five or six in number. My driver gave a moan,
lashed his horse, the sleigh leapt forward, and the
chase began in earnest.

"Ten thousand marks if we escape!" I yelled in
the Finn's ear.

For a time we kept a good lead but in the darkness
it was impossible to see whether we were gaining or
losing. My driver was making low moaning cries, he
appeared to be pulling hard on the reins, and the sleigh
jerked so that I could scarcely stand.

Then I saw that the pursuers were gaining — and
gaining rapidly! The moving dots grew into figures
galloping at full speed. Suddenly there was a flash
and a crack, then another, and another. They were
firing with carbines, against which a pistol was useless.
I threatened the driver with my revolver if he did
not pull ahead, but dropped like a stone into the hay
as a bullet whizzed close to my ear.

At that moment the sledge suddenly swung round.
The driver had clearly had difficulty with his reins,
which appeared to get caught in the shaft, and before
I realized what was happening the horse fell, the
sledge whirled round and came to a sudden stop.

At such moments one has to think rapidly. What
would the pursuing Red guards go for first, a fugitive?
Not if there was possible loot. And what more likely
than that the sledge contained loot?

Eel-like, I slithered over the side and made in the
direction of the shore. Progress was difficult for
there were big patches of ice, coal-black in colour, which
were completely windswept and as slippery as glass.
Stumbling along, I drew from my pocket a packet,


wrapped in dark brown paper, containing maps and
documents which were sufficient, if discovered, to
assure my being shot without further ado, and held
it ready to hurl away across the ice.

If seized, I would plead smuggling. It seemed
impossible that I should escape! Looking backward
I saw the group round the sledge. The Reds, dis-
mounted, were examining the driver; in a moment they
would renew the pursuit, and running over the ice I
should be spotted at once.

Then an idea occurred.

The ice, where completely windswept, formed great
patches as black as ink. My clothes were dark. I ran
into the middle of a big black patch and looked at my
boots. I could not see them!

To get to the shore was impossible anyway, so this
was the only chance. Jerking the packet a few yards
from me where I might easily find it, I dropped flat
on the black ice and lay motionless, praying that I
should be invisible.

It was not long before I heard the sound of hoofs
and voices approaching. The search for me had begun.
But the riders avoided the slippery windswept places
as studiously as I had done in running, and, thank
heaven! just there much of the ice was windswept.
As they rode round and about, I felt that someone
was bound to ride just over me! Yet they didn't,
after all.

It seemed hours and days of night and darkness
before the riders retreated to the sledge and rode off
with it, returning whence they had come. But time is
measured not by degrees of hope or despair, but by
fleeting seconds and minutes, and by my luminous


watch I detected that it was only half past one. Pro-
saic half past one!

Was the sombre expanse of frozen sea really deserted?
Cronstadt loomed dimly on the horizon, the dark line
of woods lay behind me, and all was still as death —
except for the sea below, groaning and gurgling as if
the great ice-burden were too heavy to bear.

Slowly and imperceptibly I rose, first on all fours,
then kneeling, and finally standing upright. The
riders and the sledge were gone, and I was alone.
Only the stars twinkled, as much as to say: "It's all
over! 'Twas a narrow squeak, wasn't it? but a miss is
as good as a mile!"

It must have been a weird, bedraggled figure that
stumbled, seven or eight hours later, up the steep
bank of the Finnish shore. That long walk across
the ice was one of the hardest I ever had to make,
slipping and falling at almost every step until I got
used to the surface. On reaching light, snow-covered
regions, however, I walked rapidly and made good
progress. Once while I was resting I heard footsteps
approaching straight in my direction. Crawling into
the middle of another black patch, I repeated the
manoeuvre of an hour or two earlier, and lay still.
A man, walking hurriedly toward Cronstadt from the
direction of Finland, passed within half a dozen paces
without seeing me.

Shortly after daylight, utterly exhausted, I clam-
bered up the steep shore into the woods. Until I
saw a Finnish sign-board I was still uncertain as
to whether I had passed the frontier in the night or
not. But convincing myself that I had, though
doubtful of my precise whereabouts, I sought a quiet


spot behind a shed, threw myself on to the soft snow
and fell into a doze.

It was here that I was discovered by a couple of Fin-
nish patrols, who promptly arrested me and marched
me off to the nearest coastguard station. No amount
of protestation availed to convince them I was not a
Bolshevist spy. The assertion that I was an English-
man only seemed to intensify their suspicions, for
my appearance completely belied the statement.
Seizing all my money and papers, they locked me up
in a cell, but removed me during the day to the office
of the Commandant at Terijoki, some miles distant.

The Commandant, whom I had seen on the occasion
of my last visit to Finland, would, I expected, release
me at once. But I found a condition of things totally
different f ro u that obtaining six weeks earlier. A
new commandant had been appointed, who was
unpersuaded even by a telephone conversation con-
ducted in his presence with the British representatives
at the Finnish capital. The most he would do was to
give me a temporary pass saying I was a Russian
travelling to Helsingfors: with the result that I was
re-arrested on the train and again held in detention
at the head police office in the capital until energetic
representations by the British Charge d'Affaires secured
my release, with profuse apologies from the Finnish
authorities for the not unnatural misunderstanding.

The reader will, I hope, have become sufficiently
interested in my story to inquire what were the cir-
cumstances which led to my taking this sudden journey
to Finland. They were various. Were I writing a
tale of fiction, and could allow free rein to whatso-
ever imagination I possess, I might be tempted at


this point to draw my story to a startling climax
by revealing Zorinsky in the light of a grossly mis-
understood and unappreciated friend and saviour,
while Stepanovna, the Journalist, or the Doctor would
unexpectedly turn out to be treacherous wolves in
sheep's clothing, plotting diabolically to ensnare me
in the toils of the Extraordinary Commission. As
it is, however, fettered by the necessity of recording
dull and often obvious events as they occurred, it
will be no surprise to the reader to learn that the
wolf, in a pretty bad imitation of sheep's clothing
(good enough, however, to deceive me), turned out
actually to be Zorinsky.

It was the day after I had parted from Stepanovna
that the Doctor told me that Melnikoff's friend Shura,
through sources at his disposal, had been investigating
the personality of this interesting character, and
had established it as an indisputable fact that Zorinsky
was in close touch with people known to be in the
employ of No. 2 Gorohovaya. This information,
though unconfirmed and in itself proving nothing (was
not the Policeman also in close touch with people
in the employ of No. 2 Gorohovaya?), yet following
on the news of Melnikoff's death and Zorinsky's
general duplicity, resolved me to seek the first oppor-
tunity to revisit Finland and consult Ivan Sergeievitch.

There were other motives, also. I had communi-
cated across the frontier by means of couriers, one of
whom was found me by the Doctor, and another by
one of the persons who play no part in my story, but
whom I met at the Journalist's. One of these couriers
was an N. C. O. of the old army, a student of law,
and a personal friend of the Doctor: the other a Rus-


sian officer whose known counter-revolutionary pro-
clivities precluded the possibility of his obtaining
any post in Soviet Russia at this time. Both crossed
the frontier secretly and without mishap, but only one
returned, bearing a cipher message which was all
but indecipherable. Sending him off again, but
getting no reply, I was in ignorance as to whether he
had arrived or not, and, left without news, it was
becoming imperative that I repeat my visit to the
Finnish capital.

Furthermore, with passage of time I felt my po-
sition, in spite of friends, becoming not more secure
but rapidly less so. What might suddenly arise out
of my connections with Zorinsky, for instance, no
one could foresee, and I determined that the best
thing would be to disappear completely for a short
period and, returning, to start all over afresh.

I learned of the ice-route to Finland from my courier,
who came back that way, and who returned to Finland
the following night on the same sledge. Discreet
inquiries at the logman's hut produced the information
that the courier's smuggler, granted that he had safely
reached Finland, was not due back for some time, but
another one had arrived and would take anyone who
was willing to pay. The sum demanded, two thousand
marks, when converted into foreign exchange was
about twenty pounds. But the Finn thinks of a
mark as a shilling.

As ill-luck would have it, I found on arrival in
Finland that Ivan Sergeievitch was in the Baltic
States and no one knew when he would return. But
I saw his wife, who had sent the indiscreet message to
Petrograd leading to Varia's arrest. She was morti-


fied when I broke this news to her, but was unable
to throw any light on Zorinsky. I also met several
other Russian officers, none, however, who had known
Melnikoff, and I thus got no further information.

The Doctor, of course, had denounced Zorinsky as
a 'provocateur, but there was as yet little evidence
for the charge. Zorinsky might be an extortionist
without being a provocateur. Wild charges are
brought against anybody and everybody connected
with Sovdepia on the slightest suspicion, and I myself
have been charged, on the one hand, by the Bolshe-
viks with being a rabid monarchist, and, on the other,
by reactionaries with being a ''subtle" Bolshevik.
However, my aversion to Zorinsky had become so in-
tense that I resolved that under no pretext or con-
dition would I have anything more to do with him.

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 12 of 22)