Paul Dukes.

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

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the Village Poor to start a Commune on.

Committees of the Village Poor were bodies from
which were excluded all such as by enterprise, in-
dustry, and thrift, had raised themselves to positions
of independence. Staffed by the lowest elements of
stupid, illiterate, and idle peasants, beggars and
tramps, these committees, endowed with supreme
power, were authorized to seize the property of the
prosperous and divide it amongst themselves, a portion
going to the Government.

The class of ''middle" peasants, that is, those who
were half way to prosperity, incited by agitators,
sided at first with the poor in despoiling the rich,
until it was their turn to be despoiled, when they
not unnaturally became enemies of the Bolshevist
system. The imposition of a war tax, however,
finally alienated the sympathies of the entire peas-


antry, for the enriched "poor" would not pay because
they were technically poor, while the impoverished
"rich" could not pay because they had nothing left.
This was the end of Communism throughout nine
tenths of the Russian provinces, and it occurred when
the Bolsheviks had ruled for only a year.

"Uncle Egor," I said, "you say your district still
has a Committee of the Poor. I thought the com-
mittees were abolished. There was a decree about
it last December."

"What matters it what they write?" he exclaimed
bitterly. "Our 'comrades' — whatever they want to
do, they do. They held a Soviet election not long
ago and the voters were ordered to put in the Soviet
all the men from the Poor Committee. Now they
say the village must start what they call a 'Commune,'
where the lazy will profit by the labour of the indus-
trious. They say they will take my last cow for the
Commune. But they will not let me join, even if I
wanted to, because I am a 'fist.' Ugh!"

"When they held the election," I asked, "did you

Uncle Egor laughed. "I? How should they let
me vote? I have worked all my life to make myself
independent. I once had nothing, but I worked
till I had this little farm, which I thought would be
my own. Vasia here is my helper. But the Soviet
says I am a 'fist' and so I have no vote!"

"Who works in the Commune?" I asked.

"Who knows?" he replied. "They are not from
these parts. They thought the poor peasants would
join them, because the poor peasants were promised
our grain. But the Committee kept the grain for


themselves, so the poor peasants got nothing and are
very angry. Ah, my little son," he cried, bitterly,
"do you know what Russia wants? Russia, my son,
wants a Master — a Master who will restore order,
and not that things should be as they are now, with
every scoundrel pretending to be master. That is
what Russia wants!"

A "master" — now one of the most dangerous words
to use in Russia, because it is the most natural!

"Do you mean — a 'Tsar'?" I queried, hesitatingly.
But Uncle Egor merely shrugged his shoulders. He
had said his say.

That night I slept on the rickety wooden bedstead
side by side with Uncle Egor and covered with the
same coverlets and quilts. There were long whisper-
ings between him and my Finnish guide before we
retired, for early in the morning we were going on to
Petrograd, and arrangements had to be made to drive
to the nearest station by such devious routes as not
to be stopped on the way. I was nearly asleep when
Uncle Egor clambered in by my side.

It was long before dawn when we rose and prepared
to set out. Uncle Egor, one of his daughters, the
Finn, and I made up the party. To evade patrols
we drove by side ways and across fields. Uncle Egor
was taking his daughter to try to smuggle a can of
milk into the city. What he himself was going to do
I don't know. He wouldn't tell me.

We arrived at the station at four in the morning,
and here I parted from my Finnish guide who was
returning with the sledge. He positively refused to
take any reward for the service he had rendered me.

Our train, the only train of the day, was due to


start at six, and the station and platform were as
busy as a hive. While the young woman got tickets
we tried to find places. Every coach appeared to be
packed, and the platform was teeming with peasants
with sacks on their backs and milk cans concealed
in bundles in their hands. Failing to get into a box-
car or third-class coach, where with the crush it would
have been warmer, we tried the only second-class
car on the train, which we found was not yet full
up. Eventually there were fourteen people in the
compartment intended for six.

At length the train rumbled off. Wedged in tight
between Uncle Egorand his daughter, I sat and shivered.
The train was searched by Red guards on the journey,
and it was found that quite half the supposed cans
of "milk" carried by the peasants were packed to the
brim with matches! There was no end of a tumult as
the guards came round. Some people jumped out of the
windows and fled. Others hid under the train till the
compartment had been searched and were then hauled
in again through the windows by willing hands from

The Bolshevist Government, you see, had laid a spe-
cial embargo on matches, as on many things of public
use, with the result that they were almost unobtainable.
So that when you did get them from "sackmen," as
the people were called who smuggled provisions into
the city in bags and sacks, instead of paying one copeck
per box, which was what they used to cost, you paid
just one thousand times as much — ten roubles, and felt
glad at that. The design, of course, was to share such
necessities equally amongst the populace, but the
soviet departments were so incompetent and corrupt,


and so strangled by bureaucratic administration, that
nothing, or very little, ever got distributed, and the
persecuted "sacknien" were hailed as benefactors.

At one moment during the journey one of the other
peasants bent over to Uncle Egor, and, glancing at me,
asked him in an undertone, "if his companion had come
from 'over there'" — which meant over the frontier; in
reply to which Uncle Egor gave him a tremendous kick,
which explained everything, and no more was said.

I had one nasty moment when the train was searched.
Despite mishaps I still clung to the little parcel of shoes
for Maria. As they were tied round my waist I did not
lose them even when I tumbled into the stream. Some
people got up when the searchers came, but having no
milk-can or sack I moved into the corner and sat on the
parcel. "When the soldier told me to shift along to let
him see what was in the corner I sat the shoes along with
me, so that both places looked empty. It was lucky
he did not make me get up, for new shoes could only
have come from "over there."

At nine we reached the straggling buildings of the
Okhta Station, the scene of my flight with Mrs. Marsh
in December, and there I saw a most extraordinary spec-
tacle — the attempted prevention of sackmen from en-
tering the city.

As we stood pushing in the corridor waiting for the
crowd in front of us to get out, I heard Uncle Egor and
his daughter conversing rapidly in low tones.

"I'll make a dash for it," whispered his daughter.

" Good," he replied in the same tone. " We'll meet at

The moment we stepped on to the platform Uncle
Egor's daughter vanished under the railroad coach and


that was the last I ever saw of her. At each end of the
platform stood a string of armed guards, waiting for the
onslaught of passengers, who flew in all directions as
they surged from the train. How shall I describe the
scene of unutterable pandemonium that ensued! The
soldiers dashed at the fleeing crowds, brutally seized
single individuals, generally women, who were least able
to defend themselves, and tore the sacks off their backs
and out of their arms. Shrill cries, shrieks, and howls
rent the air. Between the coaches and on the outskirts
of the station you could see lucky ones who had escaped,
gesticulating frantically to unlucky ones who were still
dodging guards. "This way! This way!" they yelled
wildly, "Sophia! Marusia! Akulina! Varvara! Quick!

In futile efforts to subdue the mob the soldiers dis-
charged their rifles into the air, only increasing the
panic and intensifying the tumult. Curses and execra-
tions were hurled at them by the seething mass of fugi-
tives. One woman I saw, frothing at the mouth, with
blood streaming down her cheek, her frenzied eyes pro-
truding from their sockets, clutching ferociously with
her nails at the face of a huge sailor who held her pinned
down on the platform, while his comrades detached her

How I got out of the fray I do not know, but I found
myself carried along with the running stream of sack-
men over the Okhta Bridge and toward the Suvorov
Prospect. Only here, a mile from the station, did they
settle into a hurried walk, gradually dispersing down
side streets to dispose of their precious goods to eager

Completely bewildered, I limped along, my frost-


bitten feet giving me considerable pain. I wondered in
my mind if people at home had any idea at what a cost
the population of Petrograd secured the first necessities
of life in the teeth of the "communist" rulers. Still
musing, I came out on the Znamenskaya Square in front
of the Nicholas Station, the scene of many wild occur-
rences in the days of the Great Revolution.

You could still see the hole in the station roof whence
in those days a machine gun manned by Protopopoff's
police had fired down on the crowds below. I had
watched the scene from that little alcove just over there
near the corner of the Nevsky. While I was watching,
the people had discovered another policeman on the
roof of the house just opposite. They threw him over
the parapet. He fell on the pavement with a heavy
thud, and lay there motionless. Everything, I remem-
bered, had suddenly seemed very quiet as I looked
across the road at his dead body, though the monoto-
nous song of the machine gun still sounded from the
station roof.

But next day a new song was sung in the hearts of the
people, a song of Hope and a song of Freedom. Justice
shall now reign, said the people! For it was said,
"The Tsarist ways, and the Tsarist police are no more!"

To-day, two years later, it was just such a glorious
winter morning as in those days of March, 1917. The
sun laughed to scorn the silly ways of men. But the
song of Hope was dead, and the people's faces bore the
imprint of starvation, distress, and terror — terror of
those very same Tsarist police! For these others, who
did not make the Revolution, but who were encouraged
by Russia's enemies to return to Russia to poison it —
these others copied the Tsarist ways, and, restoring the


Tsarist police, made them their own. The men and
women who made the Revolution, they said, were
the enemies of the Revolution ! So they put them back
in prison, and hung other flags up. Here, stretched
across the Nevsky Prospect, on this winter morning there
still fluttered in the breeze the tattered shreds of
their washed-out red flags, besmirched with the catch-
words with which the Russian workers and the Russian
peasants had been duped. There still stood unremoved
in the middle of the square the shabby, dilapidated,
four-months-old remains of the tribunes and stages
which had been erected to celebrate the anniversary of
the Bolshevist revolution. The inscriptions every-
where spoke not of the "bourgeois prejudices" of
Liberty and Justice, but of the Dictatorship of the Pro-
letariat (sometimes hypocritically called the "brother-
hood of workers"), of class war, of the sword, of blood,
hatred, and world-wide revolution.

Looking up from my bitter reverie I saw Uncle Egor,
from whom I had got separated in the scramble at the
railway station. I wanted to thank and recompense
him for the food and shelter he had given me.

"Uncle Egor," I asked him, "how much do I owe


But Uncle Egor shook his head. He would take no

"Nothing, my little son," he replied, "nothing. And
come back again when you like." He looked round,
and lowering his voice, added cautiously, "And if ever
you need ... to run away ... or hide
. . . or anything like that . . . you know, little
son, who will help you."



I never saw Uncle Egor again. I sometimes wonder
what has become of him. I suppose he is still there,
and he is the winner! The Russian peasant is the ulti-
mate master of the Russian Revolution, as the Bolsheviks
are learning to their pain. Once I did set out, several
months later, to invoke his help in escaping pursuit, but
had to turn back. Uncle Egor lived in a very inacces-
sible spot, the railway line that had to be traversed was
later included in the war zone, travelling became diffi-
cult, and sometimes the trains were stopped altogether.

There was a cogent reason, however, why I hesitated
to return to Uncle Egor except in an emergency. He
might not have recognized me — and that brings me back
to my story.

Traversing the city on this cold February morning,
I sensed an atmosphere of peculiar unrest and subdued
alarm. Small groups of guards — Lettish and Chinese,
for the most part — hurrying hither and thither, were
evidence of special activity on the part of the Extraordi-
nary Commission. I procured the soviet newspapers,
but they, of course, gave no indication that anything
was amiss. It was only later that I learned that during
the last few days numerous arrests of supposed counter-
revolutionists had been made, and that simultaneously
measures were being taken to prevent an anticipated
outbreak of workers' strikes.



By usual devious routes I arrived in the locality of
my empty flat "No. 5." This, I was confident, was the
safest place for me to return to first. From here I
would telephone to the Journalist, the Doctor, and one
or two other people, and find out if all was fair and
square in their houses. If no one had "been taken ill,"
or "gone to hospital," or been inflicted with "unex-
pected visits from country relatives," I would look them
up and find out how the land lay and if anything par-
ticular had happened during my absence.

The prevailing atmosphere of disquietude made me
approach the flat with especial caution. The street
was all but deserted, the yard was as foul and noisome
as ever, and the only individual I encountered as I
crossed it, holding my breath, was a hideous wretch,
shaking with disease, digging presumably for food in the
stinking heaps of rubbish piled in the corner. His jaws
munched mechanically, and he looked up with a guilty
look, like a dog discovered in some overt misdeed.
From the window as I mounted the stairs I threw him
some money without waiting to see how he took it.

Arriving at No. 5, 1 listened intently at the back door.
There was no sound within. I was about to knock,
when I recalled the poor devil I had seen in the yard.
An idea occurred — I would give him another forty
roubles and tell him to come up and knock. Mean-
while, I would listen at the bottom of the stairs, and if
I heard unfamiliar voices at the door I would have time
to make off. They would never arrest that miserable
outcast anyway. But the fellow was no longer in the
yard, and I repented that I had thrown him money and
interrupted his repast. Misplaced generosity! I re-
mounted the stairs and applied my ear to the door,


Thump — thump — thump! Nothing being audible,
I knocked boldly, hastily re-applying my ear to the
keyhole to await the result.

For a moment there was silence. Impatient, I
thumped the door a second time, louder. Then I heard
shuffling footsteps moving along the passage. Without
waiting, I darted down the steps to the landing below.
Whoever came to the door, I hurriedly considered,
would be certain, when they found no one outside, to
look out over the iron banisters. If it were a stranger,
I would say I had mistaken the door, and bolt.

The key squeaked in the rusty lock and the door was
stiffly pushed open. Shoeless feet approached the ban-
isters, and a face peered over. Through the bars from
the bottom I saw it was the dull and unintelligent face
of the boy, Grisha, who had replaced Maria.

"Grisha," I called, as I mounted the stairs, to prepare
him for my return, "is that you?"

Grisha's expressionless features barely broke into a
smile. "Are you alone at home?" I asked when I
reached him.


Grisha followed me into the flat, locking the back door
behind him. The air was musty with three weeks' un-
impeded accumulation of dust.

" Where is Maria? See ! I have brought her a lovely
pair of brand-new shoes. And for you a slab of choco-
late. There!"

Grisha took the chocolate, muttering thanks, and
breaking off a morsel slowly conveyed it to his mouth.

"Well? Nothing new, Grisha? Is the world still
going round?"

Grisha stared and, preparatory to speech, laboriously


transferred the contents of his mouth into his cheek.
At last he got it there, and, gulping, gave vent some-
what inarticulately to the following unexpected query:

"Are you Kr-Ki-Kry-len-ko ?"

Krylenko! How the deuce should this youngster
know my name of Krylenko — or Afirenko, or Marko-
vitch, or any other? He knew me only as " Ivan Hitch,"
a former friend of his master.

But Grisha appeared to take it for granted. Without
waiting he proceeded:

"They came again for you this morning."


"A man with two soldiers."

"Asking for 'Krylenko'?"


"And what did you say?"

"What you told me, Ivan Hitch. That you will
be away a long time and perhaps not come back at

"By what wonderful means, I should like to know,
have you discovered a connection between me and any-
one called Krylenko?"

"They described you."

"What did they say? Tell me precisely."

Grisha shifted awkwardly from foot to foot. His
sluggish brain exerted itself to remember.

"Tall — sort of, they said, black beard . . .
long hair . . . one front tooth missing . . .
speaks not quite our way . . . walks quickly."

Was Grisha making this up? Surely he had not
sufficient ingenuity! I questioned him minutely as to
when the unwelcome visitors had first come and made
him repeat every word they had said and his replies.


I saw then, that it was true. I was known, and they
were awaiting my return.

"To-day was the second time," said Grisha. "First
they came a few days ago. They looked round and
opened the cupboards, but when they found them all
empty, they went away. ' Uyehal — departed,' said one
to the others. 'There's nothing here, so it's useless to
leave anyone. When will he return?' he asks me.
'There's no knowing,' I tell him. 'Maybe you'll never
come back,' I said. Early this morning when they came
I told them the same."

A moment's consideration convinced me that there was
only one line of action. I must quit the flat like light-
ning. The next step must be decided in the street.

"Grisha," I said, "you have acquitted yourself well.
If ever anyone asks for me again, tell them I have left
the city for good, and shall never return. Does Maria

"Maria is still at the farm. I have not seen her for
two weeks."

"Well, tell her the same — because it's true. Good-

Arriving in the street, I began to think. Had I not
better have told Grisha simply to say nobody had come
back at all? But Grisha was sure to bungle the moment
he was cross-questioned and then they would think him
an accomplice. It was too late, anyway. I must now
think of how to change my appearance completely and
with the minimum of delay. The nearest place to go
to was the Journalist's. If he could not help me I would
lie low there till nightfall and then go to the Doctor's.

Limping along painfully, half covering my face with
my scarf as if I had a toothache, I approached the


Journalist's home. He lived on the first floor, thank
heaven, so there would be only one flight of stairs to

From the opposite side of the street I scrutinized the
exterior of the house. Through the glass door I could
see nobody in the hall and there was nothing to indicate
that anything was amiss. So I crossed the road and

The floor-tiling in the hall was loose and had long
needed repair, but I tiptoed over it gently and without
noise. Then, with one foot on the bottom stair, I
stopped dead. What was that disturbance on the first
landing just over my head? I listened intently.


There must be two or three people on the first landing,
conferring in low tones, and from the direction of the
voices it was clear they were just outside the Journalist's
door. I caught the word "pick-lock," and somebody
passed some keys, one of winch seemed to be inserted
in the lock.

Thieves, possibly. But robbery was becoming rare
in these days when the bourgeoisie had scarcely any-
thing more to be relieved of, and anyway why should
the Journalist's flat particularly be selected and the
theft perpetrated in broad daylight? It was far more
likely that the dwelling was to be subjected to a sudden
search, and that the raiders wished to surprise the
occupant or occupants without giving them time to
secrete anything. In any case, thieves or searchers,
this was no place for me. I turned and tiptoed hur-
riedly out of the hall.

And very foolish it was of me to hurry, too! for I
should have remembered the flooring was out of repair.


The loose tiles rattled beneath my feet like pebbles,
the noise was heard above, and down the stairs there
charged a heavy pair of boots. Outside was better than
in, anyway, so I did not stop, but just as I was slipping
into the street I was held up from behind by a big burly
workman, dressed in a leathern jacket covered with
belts of cartridges, who held a revolver at my head.

It is a debatable point, which tactics is more effective
in a tight corner — to laugh defiantly with brazen
audacity, or to assume a crazy look of utter imbecility.
Practised to an extreme, either will pull you through
almost any scrape, granted your adversary displays a
particle of doubt or hesitancy. From my present be-
draggled and exhausted appearance to one of vacant
stupidity was but a step, so when the cartridge-bedecked
individual challenged me with his revolver and de-
manded to know my business, I met his gaze with terri-
fied blinking eyes, shaking limbs, slobbering lips, and
halting speech.

"Stand!" he bawled, "what do you want here?"
His voice was raucous and threatening.

I looked up innocently over his head at the lintel of
the door.

"Is — is this No. 29?" I stammered, with my fea-
tures contorted into an insane grin. "It is — I — I mis-
took it for No. 39, wh-which I want. Thank you."

Mumbling and leering idiotically, I limped off like a
cripple. Every second I expected to hear him shout
an order to halt. But he merely glared, and I remem-
bered I had seen just such a glare before, on the face of
that other man whom I encountered in Marsh's house
the day of my first arrival in Petrograd. As I stumbled
along, looking up with blinking eyes at all the shop- and


door-lintels as I passed them, I saw out of the corner of
my eye that the cartridge-covered individual had low-
ered his revolver to his side. Then he turned and re-
entered the house.

"The blades are pretty blunt, I am afraid," observed
the Doctor, as he produced his Gillette razor and placed
it on the table before me. "They still mow me all
right, but I've got a soft chin. The man who smuggles
a box-full of razor-blades into this country will make his
fortune. Here's the brush, and soap — my last piece."

It was late in the afternoon of the same day. I sat
in the Doctor's study before a mirror, preparing to per-
form an excruciating surgical operation, namely, the
removal with a blunt safety-razor of the shaggy hirsute
appendage that for nearly six months had decorated
my cheeks, chin, and nether lip.

The Doctor, as you see, was still at liberty. It was
with some trepidation that I had approached his house
on this day when everything seemed to be going wrong.
But we had agreed upon a sign by which I might know,
every time I called, whether it were safe to enter. A

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 14 of 22)