Paul Dukes.

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

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the Extraordinary Commissar of the Central Executive
Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Red
Armymen's Deputies in the capacity of office clerk, as the
accompanying signatures and seal attest.

"In the service of the Extraordinary Commission?"
I gasped, taken aback by the amazing audacity of the

"Why not?" said the cadaverous man coolly,
"what could be safer?"

What, indeed? What could be safer than to purport
to be in the service of the institution whose duty it
was to hound down all — old or young, rich or poor,
educated or illiterate — who ventured to oppose and
sought to expose the pseudo-proletarian Bolshevist
administration? Nothing, of course, could be safer!
S rolkami zhitj, po voltchi vitj, as the Russians say.
"If you must live amongst wolves, then howl, too, as the
wolves do ! "

"Now for the signatures and seal," said the Finn.
"Tihonov and Friedmann used to sign these papers,
though it don't matter much, it's only the seal that
counts." From some Soviet papers on the table he
selected one with two signatures from which to copy.
Choosing a suitable pen he scrawled beneath the text
of my passport in an almost illegible slanting hand,
"Tihonov." This was the signature of a proxy of the
Extraordinary Commissar. The paper must also be
signed by a secretary, or his proxy. "Sign for your
own secretary," said the Finn, laughing and pushing


the paper to me. "Write upright this time, like this.
Here is the original. 'Friedmann' is the name."
Glancing at the original I made an irregular scrawl,
resembling in some way the signature of the Bolshevist

"Have you a photograph?" asked the cadaverous man.
I gave him a photograph I had had taken at Viborg.
Cutting it down small he stuck it at the side of the
paper. Then, taking a round rubber seal, he made
two imprints over the photograph. The seal was a
red one, with the same inscription inside the periphery
as was at the. head of the paper. The inner space of
the seal consisted of the five-pointed Bolshevist star
with a mallet and a plow in the centre.

"That is. your certificate of service," said the Finn,
"we will give you a second one of personal identifi-
cation." Another paper was quickly printed off with
the words, "The holder of this is the Soviet employee,
Joseph Hitch Afirenko, aged 36 years." This paper
was unnecessary in itself, but two "documents" were
always better than one.

It was now after midnight and the leader of the
Finnish patrol ordered us to lie down for a short rest.
He threw himself on a couch in the eating-room.
There were only two beds for the remaining four of us
and I lay down on one of them with one of the Finns.
I tried to sleep but couldn't. I thought of all sorts
of things — of Russia in the past, of the life of adventure
I had elected to lead for the present, of the morrow,
of friends still in Petrograd who must not know of my
return — if I got there. I was nervous, but the dejection
that had overcome me in the train was gone. I saw
the essential humour of my situation. The whole ad-


venture was really one big exclamation mark! Forsan
et haec olim. . . .

The two hours of repose seemed interminable. I
was afraid of 3 o'clock and yet I wanted it to come
quicker, to get it over. At last a shuffling noise ap-
proached from the neighbouring room and the ca-
daverous Finn prodded each of us with the butt of
his rifle. "Wake up," he whispered, "we'll leave in
a quarter of an hour. No noise. The people in the
next cottage mustn't hear us."

We were ready in a few minutes. My entire bag-
gage was a small parcel that went into my pocket, con-
taining a pair of socks, one or two handkerchiefs, and
some dry biscuits. In another pocket I had the medi-
cine bottle of whiskey I had hidden from Melnikoff,
and some bread, while I hid my money inside my shirt.
One of the four Finns remained behind. The other three
were to accompany me to the river. It was a raw and
frosty November night, and pitch-dark. Nature was
still as death. We issued silently from the house, the
cadaverous man leading. One of the men followed up
behind, and all carried their rifles ready for use.

We walked stealthily along the road the Finn had
pointed out to me on paper overnight, bending low
where no trees sheltered us from the Russian bank. A
few yards below on the right I heard the trickling
of the river stream. We soon arrived at a ram-
shackle villa standing on the river surrounded by trees
and thickets. Here we stood stock-still for a moment
to listen for any unexpected sounds. The silence was
absolute. But for the trickling there was not a rustle.

We descended to the water undercover of the tumble-
down villa and the bushes. The stream was about


twenty paces wide at this point. Along both banks
there was an edging of ice. I looked across at the op-
posite side. It was open meadow, but the trees loomed
darkly a hundred paces away on either hand in the back-
ground. On the left I could just see the cottage of
the Red patrol against which the Finns had warned

The cadaverous man took up his station at a slight
break in the thickets. A moment later he returned
and announced that all was well. "Remember,"
he enjoined me once in an undertone, "run slightly
to the left, but — keep an eye on that cottage." He
made a sign to the other two and from the bushes
they dragged out a boat. Working noiselessly they
attached a long rope to the stern and laid a pole
in it. Then they slid it down the bank into the

"Get into the boat," whispered the leader, "and
push yourself across with the pole. And good luck!"

I shook hands with my companions, pulled at my
little bottle of whiskey, and got into the boat. I
started pushing, but with the rope trailing behind
it was no easy task to punt the little bark straight
across the running stream. I was sure I should be
heard, and had amidstreams the sort of feeling I should
imagine a man has as he walks his last walk to the
gallows. At length I was at the farther side, but it
was impossible to hold the boat steady while I landed.
In jumping ashore I crashed through the thin layer
of ice. I scrambled out and up the bank. And
the boat was hastily pulled back to Finland behind

"Run hard!" I heard a low call from over the water.


Damn it, the noise of my splash had reached
the Red patrol! I was already running hard when
I saw a light emerge from the cottage on the left.
I forgot the injunctions as to direction and simply
bolted away from that lantern. Halfway across the
sloping meadow I dropped and lay still. The light
moved rapidly along the river bank. There was shout-
ing, and then suddenly shots, but there was no reply
from the Finnish side. Then the light began to move
slowly back toward the cottage of the Red patrol,
and finally all was silent again.

I lay motionless for some time, then rose and pro-
ceeded cautiously. Having missed the right direct
tion I found I had to negotiate another small stream
that ran obliquely down the slope of the meadow.
Being already wet I did not suffer by wading through
it. Then I reached some garden fences over which
I climbed and found myself in the road.

Convincing myself that the road was deserted I
crossed it and came out on to the moors where I found
a half-built house. Here I sat down to await the dawn
— blessing the man who invented whiskey, for I was
very cold. It began to snow, and half-frozen I got
up to walk about and study the locality as well as I
could in the dark. At the cross-roads near the station
I discovered some soldiers sitting round a bivouac
fire, so I retreated quickly to my half-built house and
waited till it was light. Then I approached the sta-
tion with other passengers. At the gate a soldier was
examining passports. I was not a little nervous when
showing mine for the first time, but the examination
was a very cursory one. The soldier seemed only to
be assuring himself the paper had a proper seal. He


passed me through and I went to the ticket office and
demanded a ticket.

"One first class to Petrograd," I said, boldly.

"There is no first class by this train, only second
and third."

"No first? Then give me a second." I had asked
the Finns what class I ought to travel, expecting
them to say, third. But they replied, First of course,
for it would be strange to see an employee of the Ex-
traordinary Commission travelling other than first
class. Third class was for workers and peasants.

The journey to Petrograd was about twenty-five
miles, and stopping at every station the train took
nearly two hours. As we approached the city the
coaches filled up until people were standing in the
aisles and on the platforms. There was a crush on
the Finland Station at which we arrived. The ex-
amination of papers was again merely cursory. I
pushed out with the throng and looking around me
on the dirty, rubbish-strewn station I felt a curious
mixture of relief and apprehension. A flood of strange
thoughts and recollections rushed through my mind.
I saw my whole life in a new and hitherto undreamt-of
perspective. Days of wandering in Europe, student
days in Russia, life amongst the Russian peasantry,
and three years of apparently aimless war work
all at once assumed symmetrical proportions and
appeared like the sides of a prism leading to a com-
mon apex at which I stood. Yes, my life, I suddenly
realized, had had an aim — it was to stand here on the
threshold of the city that was my home, homeless,
helpless, and friendless, one of the common crowd.
That was it — one of the common crowd! I wanted not


the theories of theorists, nor the doctrines of doc-
trinaires, but to see what the greatest social experi-
ment the world has ever witnessed did for the common
crowd. And strangely buoyant, I stepped lightly out
of the station into the familiar streets.



One of the first things that caught my eye as I
emerged from the station was an old man, standing
with his face to the wall of a house, leaning against a
protruding gutter-pipe. As I passed him I noticed he
was sobbing. I stopped to speak to him.

"What is the matter, little uncle?" I said.

"I am cold and hungry," he whimpered without
looking up and still leaning against the pipe. "For
three days I have eaten nothing." I pushed a twenty-
rouble note into his hand. "Here, take this," I said.

He took the money but looked at me, puzzled.
"Thank you," he mumbled, "but what is the good of
money? Where shall I get bread?" So I gave him
a piece of mine and passed on.

There was plenty of life and movement in the streets,
though only of foot-passengers. The roadway was
dirty and strewn with litter. Strung across the street
from house to house were the shreds of washed-out red
flags, with inscriptions that showed they had been hung
out to celebrate the anniversary of the Bolshevist
coup d'etat a few weeks earlier. Occasionally one
came across small groups of people, evidently of the
educated class, ladies and elderly gentlemen in worn-
out clothes, shovelling away the early snow and slush
under the supervision of a workman, who as taskmaster
stood still and did nothing.



Crossing the Liteiny Bridge on my way into the city
I stopped, as was my wont, to contemplate the marvel-
lous view of the river Neva. No capital in Europe
possesses so beautiful an expanse of water as this city
of Peter the Great. Away on the horizon the slender
gilded spire of the cathedral of St. Peter and St.
Paul rose from the gloomy fortress. By force of habit
I wondered who was now incarcerated in those dark
dungeons. Years ago, before the revolution, I used
to stand and look at the "Petropavlovka," as the for-
tress is popularly called, thinking of those who pined
in its subterranean cells for seeking the liberty of the
Russian people.

My first destination was the house of an English
gentleman, to whom I shall refer as Mr. Marsh. Marsh
was a prominent business man in Petrograd. I did
not know him personally, but he had been a friend of
Captain Crombie and until recently was known to be
at liberty. He lived on the quay of the Fontanka, a
long, straggling branch of the Neva flowing through
the heart of the city. Melnikoff knew Marsh and had
promised to prepare him for my coming. I found the
house and, after assuring myself the street was clear and
I was not observed, I entered. In the hall I was con-
fronted by an individual, who might or might not have
been the house-porter — I could not tell. But I saw at
once that this man was not disposed to be friendly. He
let me in, closed the door behind me, and promptly
placed himself in front of it.

"Whom do you want?" he asked.

"I want Mr. Marsh," I said. "Can you tell
me the number of his flat?" I knew the number
perfectly well, but I could see from the man's mam


iier that the less I knew about Marsh, the better for

"Marsh is in prison," replied the man, "and his
flat is sealed up. Do you know him?"

Devil take it, I thought, I suppose I shall be arrested,
too, to see what I came here for! The idea occurred
to me for a moment to flaunt my concocted passport
in his face and make myself out to be an agent of the
Extraordinary Commission, but as such I should
have known of Marsh's arrest, and I should still
have to explain the reason of my visit. It wouldn't do.
I thought rapidly for a plausible pretext.

"No, I don't know him," I replied. "I have never
seen him in my life. I was sent to give him this
little parcel." I held up the packet containing my
trousseau of socks, biscuits, and handkerchiefs. "He
left this in a house at Alexandrovsky the other night.
I am an office clerk there. I will take it back."

The man eyed me closely. "You do not know Mr.
Marsh?" he said again, slowly.

"I have never seen him in my life," I repeated,
emphatically, edging nearer the door.

"You had better leave the parcel, however," he said.

"Yes, yes, certainly," I agreed with alacrity, fear-
ful at the same time lest my relief at this conclusion
to the incident should be too noticeable.

I handed him over my parcel. "Good-morning,"
I said civilly, "I will say that Mr. Marsh is arrested."
The man moved away from the door, still looking hard
at me as I passed out into the street.

Agitated by this misfortune, I turned my steps in the
direction of the hospital where I hoped to find Meln-
ikoff. The hospital in question was at the extreme


end of the Kamenostrovsky Prospect, in the part of
the city known as The Islands because it forms the
delta of the river Neva. It was a good four-mile
walk from Marsh's house. I tried to get on to a street-
car, but there were very few running and they were so
crowded that it was impossible to board them. People
hung in bunches all round the steps and even on the
buffers. So, tired as I was after the night's adven-
ture, I footed it.

Melnikoff, it appeared, was a relative of one of the
doctors of this hospital, but I did not find him here. The
old woman at the lodge said he had been there one
night and not returned since. I began to think some-
thing untoward must have occurred, although doubt-
less he had several other night-shelters besides this
one. There was nothing to do but wait for the after-
noon and go to the clandestine cafe to which he had
directed me.

I retraced my steps slowly into town. All around
was shabbiness. Here and there in the roadway lay
a dead horse. The wretched brutes were whipped to
get the last spark of life and labour out of them
and then lay where they fell, for the ladies who were
made to sweep the streets were not strong enough to
remove dead horses. Every street, every building,
shop, and porch spoke to me of bygone associations,
which with a pang I now realized were dead. A few
stores remained open, notably of music, books, and
flowers, but Soviet licenses were required to purchase
anything, except propagandist literature, which was
sold freely at a cheap price, and flowers, which were
fabulously dear. Hawkers with trucks disposed of
second-hand books, obviously removed from the shelves


of private libraries, while a tiny basement store, here
and there peeping shamefacedly up from beneath the
level of the street, secreted in semi-obscurity an un-
appetizing display of rotting vegetables or fruits and
the remnants of biscuits and canned goods. But every-
thing spoke bitterly of the progressive dearth of things
and the increasing stagnation of normal life.

I stopped to read the multifarious public notices
and announcements on the walls. Some bore reference
to Red army mobilization, others to compulsory labour
for the bourgeoisie, but most of them dealt with
the distribution of food. I bought some seedy-looking
apples, and crackers that tasted several years old. I
also bought all the newspapers and a number of pamph-
lets by Lenin, Zinoviev, and others. Finding a cab
with its horse still on four legs, I hired it and drove to
the Finland Station, where upon arrival in the morning
I had noticed there was a buffet. The condiments
exhibited on the counter, mostly bits of herring on
microscopic pieces of black bread, were still less ap-
petizing than my crackers, so I just sat down to rest,
drank a weak liquid made of tea-substitute, and read
the Soviet papers.

There was not much of news, for the ruling Bol-
shevist* class had already secured a monopoly of the
press by closing down all journals expressing contrary
opinions, so that all that was printed was propaganda.
While the press of the Western world was full of talk
of peace, the Soviet journals were insisting on the

*In March, 1918, the Bolsheviks changed their official title from "Bol-
shevist Party" to that of "Communist Party of Bolsheviks." Throughout
this book, therefore, the words Bolshevik and Communist are employed, as
in Russia, as interchangeable terms.


creation of a mighty Red army that should set Europe
and the globe aflame with world-revolution.

At three o'clock I set out to look for Melnikoff's
cafe, a clandestine establishment in a private flat on
the top floor of a house in one of the streets off the
Nevsky Prospect. When I rang the bell the door
was opened just a wee bit and I espied a keen and sus-
picious eye through the chink. Seeing it was immedi-
ately about to close again I slid one foot into the
aperture and asked quickly for Melnikoff.

"Melnikoff?" said the voice accompanying the eagle
eye. "What Melnikoff?"

"N ," I said, giving Melnikoff's real name.

At this point the door was opened a little wider and I
was confronted by two ladies, the one (with the eagle
eye) elderly and plump, the other young and good-

"What is his first name and patronymic?" asked the
younger lady. "Nicolas Nicolaevitch," I replied.
"It is all right," said the younger lady to the elder.
"He said someone might be coining to meet him this
afternoon. Come in," she went on, to me. "Nicolas
Nicolaevitch was here for a moment on Saturday and
said he would be here yesterday but did not come. I
expect him any minute now."

I passed into a sitting room fitted with small tables,
where the fair young lady, Vera Alexandrovna, served
me to my surprise with delicious little cakes which
would have graced any Western tea-table. The room
was empty when I arrived, but later about a dozen
people came in, all of distinctly bourgeois stamp, some
prepossessing in appearance, others less so. A few of
the young men looked like ex-officers of dubious type.


They laughed loudly, talked in raucous voices, and
seemed to have plenty of money to spend, for the
delicacies were extremely expensive. This cafe, I
learned later, was a meeting-place for conspirators,
who were said to have received funds for counter-
revolutionary purposes from representatives of the

Vera Alexandrovna came over to the table in the
corner where I sat alone. "I must apologize," she
said, placing a cup on the table, "for not giving you
chocolate. I ran out of chocolate last week. This is
the best I can do for you. It is a mixture of cocoa and
coffee — an invention of my own in these hard times."
I tasted it and found it very nice.

Vera Alexandrovna was a charming girl of about
twenty summers, and with my uncouth get-up and gen-
eral aspect I felt I was a bad misfit in her company.
I was painfully conscious of attracting attention and
apologized for my appearance.

"Don't excuse yourself," replied Vera Alexandrovna,
"we all look shabby nowadays." (She herself, how-
ever, was very trim.) "Nicolas Nicolaevitch told me
you were coming and that you were a friend of his —
but I shall ask no questions. You may feel yourself
quite safe and at home here and nobody will notice
you." (But I saw four of the loud-voiced young
officers at the next table looking at me very hard.)

"I scarcely expected to find these comforts in hungry
Petrograd," I said to Vera Alexandrovna. "May
I ask how you manage to keep your cafe?"

"Oh, it is becoming very difficult indeed," complained
Vera Alexandrovna. "We have two servants whom we
send twice a week into the villages to bring back flour


and milk, and we buy sugar from the Jews in the Jew tsfa
market. But it is getting so hard. We do not know
if we shall be able to keep it going much longer. Then,
too, we may be discovered. Twice the Reds have
been to ask if suspicious people live in this house,
but the porter put them off because we give him

Vera Alexandrovna rose to attend to other guests.
I felt extremely ill at ease, for it was clear I was at-
tracting attention and I did not at all like the looks of
some of the people present.

"Ah, ma chere Vera Alexandrovna ! " exclaimed a
fat gentleman in spectacles who had just come in,
kissing her hand effusively. "Here we are again!
Well, our Redskins haven't long to last now, I'll be
bound. The latest is that they are going to mobilize.
Mobilize, indeed! Just a little push from outside, and
pouf ! up they'll go like a bubble bursting!"

At once one of the four young men rose from the
next table and approached me. He was tall and thin,
with sunken eyes, hair brushed straight up, and a
black moustache. There was a curious crooked twitch
about his mouth.

"Good afternoon," he said. "Allow me to introduce
myself. Captain Zorinsky. You are waiting for
Melnikoff, are you not? I am a friend of his."

I shook hands with Zorinsky, but gave him no en-
couragement to talk. Why had Melnikoff not told
me I should meet this "friend of his"? Had this Zo-
rinsky merely guessed I was waiting for Melnikoff,
or had Vera Alexandrovna told him — Vera Alex-
androvna, who assured me no one would notice me?

"Melnikoff did not come here yesterday," Zorinsky


continued, "but if I can do anything for you at any
time I shall be glad."

I bowed and he returned to his table. Since it was
already six I resolved I would stay in this cafe no longer.
The atmosphere of the place filled me with indefinable

"lam so sorry you have missed Nicolas Nieolaevitch,"
said Vera Alexandrovna as I took my leave. "Will
you come in to-morrow?" I said I would, fully deter-
mined that I would not. "Come back at any time,"
said Vera Alexandrovna, with her pleasant smile; "and
remember," she added, reassuringly, in an undertone,
"here you are perfectly safe."

Could anybody be more charming than Vera Alex-
androvna? Birth, education, and refinement were man-
ifested in every gesture. But as for her cafe, I had
an ominous presentiment, and nothing would have in-
duced me to reenter it.

I resolved to resort to the flat of Ivan Sergeievitch,
Melnikoff's friend who had seen me off at Viborg.
The streets were bathed in gloom as I emerged from the
cafe. Lamps burned only at rare intervals. And
suppose, I speculated, I find no one at Ivan Sergeie-
vitch's home? What would offer a night's shelter — a
porch, here or there, a garden, a shed? Perhaps one
of the cathedrals, Kazan, for instance, might be open.
Ah, look, there was a hoarding round one side of the
Kazan Cathedral! I stepped up and peeped inside.
Lumber and rubbish. Yes, I decided, that would do
splendidly !

Ivan Sergeievitch's house was in a small street at
the end of Kazanskaya, and like Vera Alexandrovna's
his flat was on the top floor. My experience of the

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 3 of 22)