Paul Dukes.

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

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— er— the Chief."

Feeling very foolish I stuttered assent and fol-
lowed. As we proceeded through the maze of stair-
ways and unexpected passages which seemed to me
like a miniature House of Usher, I caught glimpses of
treetops, of the Embankment Gardens, the Thames,
the Tower Bridge, and Westminster. From the sud-
denness with which the angle of view changed I con-
cluded that in reality we were simply gyrating in one
very limited space, and when suddenly we entered a
spacious study — the sanctum of " — er — the Chief"
— I had an irresistible sentiment that we had moved
only a few yards and that this study was immediately
above the colonel's office.

It was a low, dark chamber at the extreme top of the
building. The colonel knocked, entered, and stood
at attention. Nervous and confused I followed,


painfully conscious that at that moment I could not
have expressed a sane opinion on any subject under
the sun. From the threshold the room seemed bathed
in semi-obscurity. The writing desk was so placed
with the window behind it that on entering everything
appeared only in silhouette. It was some seconds
before I could clearly distinguish things. A row of
half-a-dozen extending telephones stood at the left of
a big desk littered with papers. On a side table were
numerous maps and drawings, with models of aero-
planes, submarines, and mechanical devices, while a
row of bottles of various colours and a distilling outfit
with a rack of test tubes bore witness to chemical
experiments and operations. These evidences of scien-
tific investigation only served to intensify an already
overpowering atmosphere of strangeness and mystery.

But it was not these things that engaged my atten-
tion as I stood nervously waiting. It was not the
bottles or the machinery that attracted my gaze.
My eyes fixed themselves on the figure at the writing
table. In the capacious swing desk-chair, his shoul-
ders hunched, with his head supported on one hand,
busily writing, there sat in his shirt sleeves

Alas, no! Pardon me, reader, I was forgetting!
There are still things I may not divulge. There are
things that must still remain shrouded in secrecy.
And one of them is — who was the figure in the swing
desk-chair in the darkened room at the top of the
roof-labyrinth near Trafalgar Square on this August
day in 1918. I may not describe him, nor mention
even one of his twenty-odd names. Suffice it to say
that, awe-inspired as I was at this first encounter,
I soon learned to regard "the Chief" with feelings of the


deepest personal regard and admiration. He was a
British officer and an English gentleman of the finest
stamp, absolutely fearless and gifted with limitless
resources of subtle ingenuity, and I count it one of the
greatest privileges of my life to have been brought
within the circle of his acquaintanceship.

In silhouette I saw myself motioned to a chair. The
Chief wrote for a moment and then suddenly turned
with the unexpected remark, "So I understand you
want to go back to Soviet Russia, do you?" as
if it had been my own suggestion. The conversation
was brief and precise. The words Archangel, Stock-
holm, Riga, Helsingfors recurred frequently, and the
names were mentioned of English people in those places
and in Petrograd. It was finally decided that I alone
should determine how and by what route I should regain
access to Russia and how I should despatch reports.

"Don't go and get killed," said the Chief in con-
clusion, smiling. "You will put him through the
ciphers," he added to the colonel, "and take him to the
laboratory to learn the inks and all that."

We left the Chief and arrived by a single flight of steps
at the door of the colonel's room. The colonel laughed.
"You will find your way about in course of time,"
he said. "Let us go to the laboratory at once . . ."

And here I draw a veil over the roof -labyrinth.
Three weeks later I set out for Russia, into the un-

I resolved to make my first attempt at entry from
the north, and travelled up to Archangel on a troop-
ship of American soldiers, most of whom hailed from
Detroit. But I found the difficulties at Archangel
to be much greater than I had anticipated. It was


600 miles to Petrograd and most of this distance would
have to be done on foot through unknown moorland
and forest. The roads were closely watched, and
before my plans were ready autumn storms broke and
made the moors and marshes impassable. But at
Archangel, realizing that to return to Russia as an
Englishman was impossible, I let my beard grow and
assumed an appearance entirely Russian.

Failing in Archangel I travelled down to Helsingfors
to try my luck from the direction of Finland. Hel-
singfors, the capital of Finland, is a busy little city
bristling with life and intrigue. At the time of which
I am writing it was a sort of dumping-ground for every
variety of conceivable and inconceivable rumour, slan-
der, and scandal, repudiated elsewhere but swallowed
by the gullible scandalmongers, especially German
and ancien regime Russian, who found in this city a
haven of rest. Helsingfors was one of the unhealth-
iest spots in Europe. Whenever mischance brought
me there I lay low, avoided society, and made it a
rule to tell everybody the direct contrary of my real
intentions, even in trivial matters.

In Helsingfors I was introduced at the British
Consulate to an agent of the American Secret Service
who had recently escaped from Russia. This gentle-
man gave me a letter to a Russian officer in Viborg,
by name Melnikoff. The little town of Viborg, being
the nearest place of importance to the Russian fron-
tier, was a hornet's nest of Russian refugees, counter-
revolutionary conspirators, German agents, and Bol-
shevist spies, worse if anything than Helsingfors.
Disguised now as a middle-class commercial traveller
I journeyed on to Viborg, took a room at the same hotel


as I had been told Melnikoff stayed at, looked him
up, and presented my note of introduction. I found
him to be a Russian naval officer of the finest stamp
and intuitively conceived an immediate liking for him.
His real name, I discovered, was not Melnikoff, but
in those parts many people had a variety of names to
suit different occasions. My meeting with him was
providential, for it appeared that he had worked with
Captain Crombie, late British Naval Attache at
Petrograd. In September, 1918, Captain Crombie was
murdered by the Bolsheviks at the British Embassy
and it was the threads of his shattered organization
that I hoped to pick up upon arrival in Petrograd.
Melnikoff was slim, dark, with stubbly hair, blue eyes,
short and muscular. He was deeply religious and was
imbued with an intense hatred of the Bolsheviks —
not without reason, since both his father and his
mother had been brutally shot by them, and he him-
self had only escaped by a miracle. "The searchers
came at night," he related the story to me. "I had
some papers referring to the insurrection at Yaroslavl
which my mother kept for me. They demanded access
to my mother's room. My father barred the way,
saying she was dressing. A sailor tried to push
past, and my father angrily struck him aside. Sud-
denly a shot rang out and my father fell dead on the
threshold of my mother's bedroom. I was in the
kitchen when the Reds came and through the door
I fired and killed two of them. A volley of shots was
directed at me. I was wounded in the hand and only
just escaped by the back stairway. Two weeks later
my mother was executed on account of the discovery
of my papers."


Melnikoff had but one sole object left in life — to
avenge his parent's blood. This was all he lived for.
As far as Russia was concerned he was frankly a mon-
archist, so I avoided talking politics with him. But
we were friends from the moment we met, and I had
the peculiar feeling that somewhere, long, long ago,
we had met before, although I knew this was not so.

Melnikoff was overjoyed to learn of my desire to
return to Soviet Russia. He undertook not only to
make the arrangements with the Finnish frontier
patrols for me to be put across the frontier at night
secretly, but also to precede me to Petrograd and make
arrangements there for me to find shelter. Great
hostility still existed between Finland and Soviet
Russia. Skirmishes frequently occurred, and the fron-
tier was guarded jealously by both sides. Melnikoff
gave me two addresses in Petrograd where I might find
him, one at a hospital where he had formerly lived,
and the other of a small cafe which still existed in a
private flat unknown to the Bolshevist authorities.

Perhaps it was a pardonable sin in Melnikoff that he
was a toper. We spent three days together in Viborg
making plans for Petrograd while he drank up
all my whiskey except a small medicine bottle full
which I hid away. When he had satisfied himself
that my stock was really exhausted he announced
himself ready to start. It was a Friday and we arranged
that I should follow two days later on Sunday night,
the 24th of November. [Melnikoff wrote out a password
on a slip of paper. "Give that to the Finnish patrols,"
he said, "at the third house, the wooden one with the
white porch, on the left of the frontier bridge."

At six o'clock he went into his room, returning in


a few minutes so transformed that I hardly recognized
him. He wore a sort of seaman's cap that came right
down over his eyes. He had dirtied his face, and this,
added to the three-days-old hirsute stubble on his chin,
gave him a truly demoniacal appearance. He wore
a shabby coat and trousers of a dark colour, and a muffler
was tied closely round his neck. He looked a perfect
apache as he stowed away a big Colt revolver inside
his trousers.

"Good-bye," he said, simply, extending his hand;
then stopped and added, "let us observe the good old
Russian custom and sit down for a minute together."
According to a beautiful custom that used to be ob-
served in Russia in the olden days, friends sit down at
the moment of parting and maintain a moment's
complete silence while each wishes the others a safe
journey and prosperity. Melnikoff and I sat down
opposite each other. With what fervour I wished him
success on the dangerous journey he was undertaking
for me! Suppose he were shot in crossing the frontier?
Neither I nor would any one know! He would just
vanish — one more good man gone to swell the toll of vic-
tims of the revolution. And I? Well, I might follow!
'Twas a question of luck, and 'twas all in the game !

We rose. "Good-bye," said Melnikoff again. He
turned, crossed himself, and passed out of the room. On
the threshold he looked back. "Sunday evening,"
he added, "without fail." I had a curious feeling I
ought to say something,* I knew not what, but no
words came. I followed him quickly down the stairs.
He did not look round again. At the street door he
glanced rapidly in every direction, pulled his cap still
further over his eyes, and passed away into the dark-


ness — to an adventure that was to cost him his life.
I only saw him once more after that, for a brief moment
in Petrograd, under dramatic circumstances — but that
comes later in my story.

I slept little that night. My thoughts were all of
Melnikoff, somewhere or other at dead of night risk-
ing his life, outwitting the Red outposts. He would
laugh away danger, I was sure, if caught in a tight
corner. His laugh would be a devilish one — the sort
to allay all Bolshevist suspicions! Then, in the last
resort, was there not always his Colt? I thought of
his past, of his mother and father, of the story he had
related to me. How his fingers would itch to handle
that Colt!

I rose early next day but there was not much for me
to do. Being Saturday the Jewish booths in the
usually busy little market-place were shut and only
the Finnish ones were open. Most articles of the
costume which I had decided on were already procured,
but I made one or two slight additions on this day and
on Sunday morning when the Jewish booths opened.
My outfit consisted of a Russian shirt, black leather
breeches, black knee boots, a shabby tunic, and an old
leather cap with a fur brim and a little tassel on top,
of the style worn by the Finns in the district north of
Petrograd. With my shaggy black beard, which by now
was quite profuse, and long unkempt hair dangling over
my ears I looked a sight indeed, and in England or
America should doubtless have been regarded as a
thoroughly undesirable alien!

On Sunday an officer friend of Melnikoff's came to
see me and make sure I was ready. I knew him by
the Christian name and patronymic of Ivan Sergeie-


vitch. He was a pleasant fellow, kind and consider-
ate. Like many other refugees from Russia he had no
financial resources and was trying to make a living
for himself, his wife, and his children by smuggling
Finnish money and butter into Petrograd, where both
were sold at a high premium. Thus he was on good
terms with the Finnish patrols who also practised this
trade and whose friendship he cultivated.

"Have you any passport yet, Pavel Pavlovitch?"
Ivan Sergeievitch asked me.

"No," I replied, "Melnikoff said the patrols would
furnish me with one."

"Yes, that is best," he said; "they have the Bol-
shevist stamps. But we also collect the passports of
all refugees from Petrograd, for they often come in
handy. And if anything happens remember you are
a 'speculator'."

All were stigmatized by the Bolsheviks as speculators
who indulged in the private sale or purchase of food-
stuffs or clothing. They suffered severely, but it was
better to be a speculator than what I was.

When darkness fell Ivan Sergeievitch accompanied
me to the station and part of the way in the train,
though we sat separately so that it should not be seen
that I was travelling with one who was known to be a
Russian officer.

"And remember, Pavel Pavlovitch," said Ivan
Sergeievitch, "go to my flat whenever you are in need.
There is an old housekeeper there who will admit you
if you say I sent you. But do not let the house porter
see you — he is a Bolshevik — and be careful the house
committee do not know, for they will ask who is
visiting the house."


I was grateful for this offer which turned out to be
very valuable.

We boarded the train at Yiborg and sat at opposite
ends of the compartment, pretending not to know each
other. When Ivan Sergeievitch got out at his des-
tination he cast one glance at me but we made no sign
of recognition. I sat huddled up gloomily in my
corner, obsessed with the inevitable feeling that
everybody was watching me. The very walls and seats
seemed possessed of eyes! That man over there, did
he not look at me — twice? And that woman, spying
constantly (I thought) out of the corner of her eye!
They would let me get as far as the frontier, then they
would send word over to the Reds that I was coming!
I shivered and was ready to curse myself for my fool
adventure. But there was no turning back! Forsan
et haec olim meminisse jurabif, wrote Virgil. (I used
to write that on my Latin books at school — I hated
Latin.) "Perhaps some day it will amuse you to
remember even these things" — cold comfort, though,
in a scrape and with your neck in a noose. Yet these
escapades are amusing — afterward.

At last the train stopped at Rajajoki, the last station
on the Finnish side of the frontier. It was a pitch-
dark night with no moon. Half a mile remained to
the frontier, and I made my way along the rails in the
direction of Russia and down to the wooden bridge
over the little frontier river Sestro. I looked curiously
across at the gloomy buildings and the dull, twinkling
lights on the other bank. That was my Promised Land
over there, but it was flowing not with milk and honey
V»ut with blood. The Finnish sentry stood at his post
at the bar of the frontier bridge and twenty paces


away, on the other side, was the Red sentry. I left
the bridge on my right and turned to look for the house
of the Finnish patrols to whom I had been directed.

Finding the little wooden villa with the white porch
I knocked timidly. The door opened, and I handed in
the slip of paper on which Melnikoff had written the
password. The Finn who opened the door examined
the paper by the light of a greasy oil lamp, then held
the lamp to my face, peered closely at me, and finally
signalled to me to enter.

"Come in," he said. "We were expecting you. How
are you feeling?" I did not tell him howl was really
feeling, but replied cheerily that I was feeling splendid.

"That's right," he said. "You are lucky in having
a dark night for it. A week ago one of our fellows
was shot as we put him over the river. His body fell
into the water and we have not yet fished it out."

This, I suppose, was the Finnish way of cheering me
up. "Has any one been over since?" I queried,
affecting a tone of indifference. "Only Melnikoff."
"Safely?" The Finn shrugged his shoulders. "We
put him across all right — a dalshe ne znayu . . .
what happened to him after that I don't know."

The Finn was a lean, cadaverous looking fellow.
He led me into a tiny eating-room, where three men
sat round a smoky oil lamp. The window was closely
curtained and the room was intolerably stuffy. The
table was covered with a filthy cloth on which a few
broken lumps of black bread, some fish, and a samovar
were placed. All four men were shabbily dressed and
very rough in appearance. They spoke Russian well,
but conversed in Finnish amongst themselves. One of
them said something to the cadaverous man and


appeared to be remonstrating with him for telling me
of the accident that had happened to their colleague
a week before. The cadaverous Finn answered with
some heat. "Melnikoff is a chuckle-headed scatter-
brain," persisted the cadaverous man, who appeared
to be the leader of the party. "We told him not to be
such a fool as to go into Petrograd again. The Red-
skins are searching for him everywhere and every detail
of his appearance is known. But he would go. I
suppose he loves to have his neck in a noose. With
you, I suppose, it is different. Melnikoff says you are
somebody important — but that's none of our business.
But the Redskins don't like the English. If I were
you I wouldn't go for anything. But it's your affair,
of course."

We sat down to the loaves and fishes. The samovar
was boiling and while we swilled copious supplies of weak
tea out of dirty glasses the Finns retailed the latest
news from Petrograd. The cost of bread, they said,
had risen to about S00 or 1000 times its former price.
People hacked dead horses to pieces in the streets.
All the warm clothing had been taken and given to
the red army. The Tchrezvichaika (the Extraordinary
Commission) was arresting and shooting workmen as
well as the educated people. Zinoviev threatened to
exterminate all the bourgeoisie if any further attempt
were made to molest the Soviet Government. When the
Jewish Commissar Uritzky was murdered Zinoviev shot
more than 500 at a stroke; nobles, professors, officers,
journalists, teachers, men and women, and a list of
a further 500 was published who would be shot at the
next attempt on a Commissar's life. I listened pa-
tiently, regarding the bulk of these stories as the product


of Finnish imagination. "You will be held up fre-
quently to be examined," the cadaverous man warned
me, "and do not carry parcels — they will be taken from
you in the street."

After supper we sat down to discuss the plans of
crossing. The cadaverous Finn took a pencil and paper
and drew a rough sketch of the frontier.

"We will put you over in a boat at the same place
as Melnikoff," he said. "Here is the river with woods
on either bank. Here, about a mile up, is an open
meadow on the Russian side. It is now 10 o'clock.
About 3 we will go out quietly and follow the road that
skirts the river on this side till we get opposite the
meadow. That is where you will cross."

"Why at the open spot?" I queried, surprised.
"Shall I not be seen there most easily of all? Why
not put me across into the woods?"

"Because the woods are patrolled, and the outposts
change their place every night. We cannot follow
their movements. Several people have tried to cross
into the woods. A few succeeded, but most were either
caught or had to fight their way back. But this
meadow is a most unlikely place for any one to cross,
so the Redskins don't watch it. Besides, being open
we can see if there is any one on the other side. We
will put you across just here," he said, indicating a
narrow place in the stream at the middle of the meadow.
"At these narrows the water runs faster, making a
noise, so we are less likely to be heard. When you get
over run up the slope slightly to the left. There is a
path which leads up to the road. Be careful of this
cottage, though," he added, making a cross on the paper
at the extreme northern end of the meadow. "The


Red patrol lives in that cottage, but at 3 o'clock they
will probably be asleep."

There remained only the preparation of "certificates
of identification" which should serve as passport in
Soviet Russia. Melnikoff had told me I might safely
leave this matter to the Finns who kept themselves
well informed of the kind of papers it was best to carry
to allay the suspicions of red guards and Bolshevist
police officials. We rose and passed into another of
the three tiny rooms which the villa contained. It was
a sort of office, with paper, ink, pens, and a typewriter
on the table.

"What name do you want to have?" asked the ca-
daverous man.

"Oh, any," I replied. "Better, perhaps, let it have a
slightly non-Russian smack. My accent "

"They won't notice it," he said, "but if you pre-
fer "

"Give him an Ukrainian name," suggested one of
the other Finns, "he talks rather like a Little Russian."
Ukrainia, or Little Russia, is the southwest district
of European Russia, where a dialect with an admixture
of Polish is talked.

The cadaverous man thought for a moment.
"'Afirenko, Joseph Hitch,'" he suggested, "that
smacks of Ukrainia."

I agreed. One of the men sat down to the type-
writer and carefully choosing a certain sort of paper
began to write. The cadaverous man went to a small
cupboard, unlocked it, and took out a box full of rubber
stamps of various sizes and shapes with black handles.

"Soviet seals," he said, laughing at my amazement.
" We keep ourselves up to date, you see. Some of them


were stolen, some we made ourselves, and this one,"
he pressed it on a sheet of paper leaving the imprint
Commissar of the Frontier Station BieWostroj, "we
bought from over the river for a bottle of vodka."
Bielo'ostrof was the Russian frontier village just
across the stream.

I had had ample experience earlier in the year of the
magical effect upon the rudimentary intelligence of Bol-
shevist authorities of official "documents" with prom-
inent seals or stamps. Multitudinous stamped papers
of any description were a great asset in travelling, but
a big coloured seal was a talisman that levelled all ob-
stacles. The wording and even language of the docu-
ment were of secondary importance. A friend of
mine once travelled from Petrograd to Moscow with no
other passport than a receipted English tailor's bill.
This "certificate of identification" had a big printed
heading with the name of the tailor, some English
postage stamps attached, and a flourishing signature
in red ink. He flaunted the document in the face of
the officials, assuring them it was a diplomatic passport
issued by the British Embassy! This, however, was
in the early days of Bolshevism. The Bolsheviks
gradually removed illiterates from service and in the
course of time restrictions became very severe. But
seals were as essential as ever.

When the Finn had finished writing he pulled the
paper out of the typewriter and handed it to me for
perusal. In the top left-hand corner it had this head-

Extraordinary Commissar of the Central Executive Com-
mittee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Red Army-
men's Deputies.


Then followed the text:


This is to certify that Joseph Afirenko is in the service of

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 2 of 22)