Paul Dukes.

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

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40 RED DUSK AXD THE MORROW

morning had made me very cautious, and I was care-
ful to enter the house as though I were making a
mistake, the easier to effect an escape if necessary.
But the house was as still as death. I met nobody on
the stairs, and for a long time there was no reply to
my ring. I was just beginning to think seriously of
the hoarding round the Kazan Cathedral when I
heard footsteps, and a female voice said querulously
behind the door, "Who is there?"

"From Ivan Sergeievitch," I replied, speaking just
loud enough to be heard through the door.

There was a pause. "From which Ivan Sergeievitch? "
queried the voice.

I lowered my tone. I felt the other person was
listening intently. "From your Ivan Sergeievitch,
in Viborg," I said in a low voice at the keyhole.

There was another pause. "But who are you?"
came the query.

"Do not be alarmed," I said in the same tone.
"I have a message to you from him."

The footsteps receded. I could hear voices con-
ferring. Then two locks were undone, and the door
was partially opened on a short chain. I saw a middle-
aged woman peering at me with fear and suspicion
through the chink.

I repeated what I had already said, adding in a
whisper that I myself had just come from Finland
and would perhaps be going back shortly. The chain
was then removed and I passed in.

The woman who opened the door, and who proved
tu be the housekeeper spoken of by Ivan Sergeievitch,
closed it again hastily, locked it securely, and stood
before me, a trembling little figure with keen eyes



FIVE DAYS 41

that looked me up and down with uncertainty. A few
paces away stood a girl, the nurse of Ivan Sergeievitch's
children who were in Finland.

"Ivan Sergeievitch is an old friend of mine," I
said, not truthfully, but very anxious to calm the
suspicions of my humble hostesses. "I knew him
long ago and saw him again quite recently in Finland.
He asked me, if I found it possible, to come round and
see you."

"Come in, come in, please," said the housekeeper,
whom I shall call Stepanovna, still very nervously.
"Excuse our showing you into the kitchen, but it is
the only room we have warmed. It is so difficult to
get firewood nowadays."

I sat down in the kitchen, feeling very tired. "Ivan
Sergeievitch is well and sends his greetings," I said.
"So are his wife and the children. They hope you
are well and not suffering. They would like you to
join them but it is impossible to get passports."

"Thank you, thank you," said Stepanovna. "I
am glad they are well. We have not heard from them
for so long. May we offer you something to eat — ?"

"Ivan Pavlovitch is my name," I interpolated,
catching her hesitation.

"May we offer you something to eat, Ivan Pavlo-
vitch?" said Stepanovna kindly, busying herself at
the stove. Her hands still trembled. "Thank you,"
I said, "but I am afraid you have not much yourself."

"We are going to have some soup for supper," she
replied. "There will be enough for you, too."

Stepanovna left the kitchen for a moment, and the
nursing maid, whose name was Varia, leaned over to
me and said in a low voice, "Stepanovna is frightened



42 RED DUSK AND THE MORROW

to-day. She nearly got arrested this morning at the
market when the Reds came and took people buying
and selling food."

I saw from Varia's manner that she was a self-pos-
sessed and intelligent girl and I resolved to speak to
her first regarding my staying the night, lest I terrified
Stepanovna by the suggestion.

"When I went to my home this afternoon," I said,
"I found it locked. I expect the housekeeper was out.
It is very far, and I wonder if I may stay the night
here. A sofa will do to lie on, or even the floor. I am
dreadfully tired and my leg is aching from an old
wound. Ivan Sergeievitch said I might use his flat
whenever I liked."

"I will ask Stepanovna," said Varia. "I do not
think she will mind." Varia left the room and, re-
turning, said Stepanovna agreed — for one night.

The soup was soon ready. It was cabbage soup, and
very good. I ate two big platefuls of it, though
conscience piqued me in accepting a second. But I
was very hungry. During supper a man in soldier's
uniform came in by the kitchen door and sat down
on a box against the wall. He said nothing at all,
but he had a good-natured, round, plump face, with
rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes. With a jack-knife
he hewed square chunks off a loaf of black bread, one of
which chunks was handed to me.

"This is my nephew Dmitri," said Stepanovna.
"He has just become a volunteer so as to get Red
army rations, so we are better off now."

Dmitri smiled at being mentioned, but said nothing.
After two platefuls of soup I could scarcely keep my
eyes open. So I asked where I might spend the night



FIVE DAYS 43

and was shown into the study, where I threw myself
on the couch and fell fast asleep.

When I awoke I had such a strange sensation of
unaccustomed surroundings that I was completely
bewildered, and was only brought to my senses by
Varia entering with a glass of tea — real tea, from
Dmitri's Red rations.

Then I recalled the previous day, my adventurous
passage across the frontier, the search for Marsh and
Melnikoff, the secret cafe, and my meeting with my
present humble friends. With disconcerting brusque-
ness I also recollected that I had as yet no prospects
for the ensuing night. But I persuaded myself that
much might happen before nightfall and tried to
think no more about it.

Stepanovna had quite got over her fright, and when
I came into the kitchen to wash and drink another
glass of tea she greeted me kindly. Dmitri sat on
his box in stolid silence, munching a crust of bread.

"Been in the Red army long?" I asked him, by
way of conversation.

"Three weeks," he replied.

"Well, and do you like it?"

Dmitri pouted and shrugged his shoulders dispar-
agingly.

"Do you have to do much service?" I persisted.

"Done none yet."

"No drill?"

"None."

"No marching?"

"None."

Sounds easy, I thought. "What do you do?"

"I draw rations."



44 RED DUSK AND THE MORROW

"So I see," I observed.

Conversation flagged. Dmitri helped himself to
more tea and Stepanovna questioned me further as
to how Ivan Sergeievitch was doing.

"What were you in the old army?" I continued
at the first opportunity to Dmitri.

"An orderly."

"What are you now?"

"A driver."

"Who are your officers?"

"W T e have a commissar." A commissar in the army
is a Bolshevist official attached to a regiment to super-
vise the actions of the officer staff.

"Who is he?"

"WTio knows?" replied Dmitri. "He is one like
the rest," he added, as if all commissars were of an
inferior race.

"What is the Red army?" I asked, finally.

"Who knows?" replied Dmitri, as if it were the
last thing in the world to interest any one.

Dmitri typified the mass of the unthinking prole-
tariat at this time, regarding the Bolshevist Govern-
ment as an accidental, inexplicable, and merely tempo-
rary phenomenon which was destined at an early date
to decay and disappear. As for the thinking prole-
tariat they were rapidly dividing into two camps, the
minority siding with the Bolsheviks for privilege and
power, the majority becoming increasingly discontented
with the suppression of liberties won by the revolution.

"Have you a Committee of the Poor in this house?"
I asked Stepanovna. "Yes," she said, and turning
to Dmitri added, "Mind, Mitka, you say nothing
to them of Ivan Pavlovitch."



FIVE DAYS 45

Stepanovna told me the committee was formed of
three servant girls, the yard-keeper, and the house-
porter. The entire house with forty flats was under
their administration. "From time to time," said
Stepanovna, "they come and take some furniture to
decorate the apartments they have occupied on the
ground floor. That is all they seem to think of. The
house-porter is never in his place in the hall" (for
this I was profoundly thankful), "and when we need
him we can never find him."

Varia accompanied me to the door as I departed.
"If you want to come back," she said, "I don't think
Stepanovna will mind." I insisted on paying for
the food I had eaten and set out to look again for
Melnikoff.

The morning was raw and snow began to fall.
People hurried along the streets huddling bundles
and small parcels. Queues, mostly of working women,
were waiting outside small stores with notices printed
on canvas over the lintel "First Communal Booth,"
"Second Communal Booth," and so on, where bread
was being distributed in small quantities against
food cards. There was rarely enough to go round, so
people came and stood early, shivering in the biting
wind. Similar queues formed later in the day outside
larger establishments marked "Communal Eating
House, Number so-and-so." One caught snatches of
conversation from these queues. "Why don't the
'comrades' have to stand in queues?" a woman would
exclaim indignantly. "Where are all the Jews? Does
Trotsky stand in a queue?" and so on. Then, re-
ceiving their modicum of bread, they would carry
it hastily away, either in their bare hands, or wrapped



46 RED DUSK AND THE MORROW

up in paper brought for the purpose, or shielded under
the shawls which they muffled round their ears and
neck.

Again I tracked across the river and up the long
Kamenostrovsky Prospect to Melnikoff's hospital,
but again he had not returned and they knew nothing
of him. Wandering irresolutely about the city I
drifted into the district where I had formerly lived,
and here in a side-street I came unexpectedly upon
a window on which a slip of paper was pasted with
the word "Dinners," written in pencil. This, I
could see, was no "communal eating-house." With-
out a ticket I could not go to a communal eating-
house, so I peered cautiously into the door of the little
establishment and found that a single room on the
ground floor, probably once a store, had been cleared
out and fitted with three tiny tables, large enough
to accommodate half a dozen people in all. Every-
thing was very simple, clearly a temporary arrange-
ment but very clean. The room being empty, I
entered.

"Dinner?" queried a young lady, appearing from
behind a curtain. "Yes, please." "Will you sit
down a moment?" she said. "It is rather early, but
it will be ready soon."

Presently she brought a plate of gruel, small in
quantity but good. "Bread, I am afraid, is extra,"
she observed when I asked for it. "Can I get dinner
here every day?" I enquired. "As long as they do
not close us down," she replied with a shrug. I drew
her into conversation. "We have been here a week,"
she explained. "People come in who have no food
cards or who want something better than the communal



FIVE DAYS 47

eating-houses. My father used to keep a big restau-
rant in Sadovaya Street and when the Bolsheviks shut
it he went into a smaller one in the backyard. When
that was closed, too, we moved in here, where one of
father's cooks used to live. We cannot put up a sign,
that would attract attention, but you can come as
long as the paper is in the window. If it is not there,
do not enter; it will mean the Reds are in possession."

For second course she brought carrots. Three
other people came in during the meal and I saw at
once that they were persons of education and good
station, though they all looked haggard and worn.
All ate their small portions with avidity, counting out
their payment with pitiful reluctance. One of them
looked a typical professor, and of the others, both
ladies, I guessed one might be a teacher. Though
we sat close to each other there was no conversation.

Purchasing three small white loaves to take with me
I returned in the afternoon to Stepanovna's. My
humble friends were delighted at this simple contri-
bution to the family fare, for they did not know white
bread was still procurable. I telephoned to Vera
Alexandrovna, using a number she had given me, but
Melnikoff was not there and nothing was known of him.

So with Stepanovna's consent to stay another night
I sat in the kitchen sipping Dmitri's tea and listening
to their talk. Stepanovna and Varia unburdened
their hearts without restraint, and somehow it was
strange to hear them abusing their house committee,
or committee of the poor, as it was also called, com-
posed of people of their own station. "Commissars"
and "Communists" they frankly classed as svolotch,
which is a Russian term of extreme abuse.



48 RED DUSK AND THE MORROW

It was a prevalent belief of the populace at this
time that the allies, and particularly the British, were
planning to invade Russia and relieve the stricken
country. Hearing them discussing the probability
of such an event, and the part their master Ivan
Sergeievitch might take in it, I told them straight out
that I was an Englishman, a disclosure the effect of
which was electric. For a time they would not credit
it, for in appearance I might be any nationality bul
English. Stepanovna was a little frightened, but
Dmitri sat still and a broad smile gradually spread over
his good-natured features. When we sat down about
nine I found quite a good supper with meat and po-
tatoes, prepared evidently chiefly for me, for their
own dinner was at midday.

"However did you get the meat?" I exclaimed as
Stepanovna bustled about to serve me.

"That is Dmitri's army ration," she said, simply.
Dmitri sat still on his box against the kitchen wall, but
the smile never departed from his face.

That night I found Varia had made up for me the
best bed in the flat, and lying in this unexpected
luxury I tried to sum up my impressions of the first
two days of adventure. For two days I had wandered
round the city, living from minute to minute and hour
to hour, unnoticed. I no longer saw eyes in every wall.
I felt that I really passed with the crowd. Only now and
again someone would glance curiously and perhaps en-
viously at my black leather breeches. But the breeches
themselves aroused no suspicions for the commissars all
wore good leather clothes. None the less, I resolved I
would smear my breeches with dirt before sallying forth
on the morrow, so that they woui


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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 4 of 22)