Paul Dukes.

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

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gentleman the "Banker," though that was not his
profession, because he had left his finances in his
charge. When I visited him I found him to be a man
of agreeable though nervous deportment, very devoted
to Marsh. He was unable to supply me with all the
money I required, and I decided I must somehow get
the rest from Finland, perhaps when I took Mrs.
Marsh away.

The Banker had just returned from Moscow, whither
he had been called with an invitation to accept a post
in a new department created to check the ruin of in-
dustry. He was very sarcastic over the manner in
which, he said, the "government of horny hands"
(as the Bolsheviks frequently designate themselves)
was beginning "to grovel before people who can read
and write." "In public speeches," said the Banker,
"they still have to call us 'bourzhu (bourgeois) swine'
for the sake of appearances, but in private, when the
doors are closed, it is very different. They have even
ceased 'comrading' : it is no longer 'Comrade A.' or
'Comrade B.' when they address us — that honour they
reserve for themselves — but 'Excuse me, Alexander
Vladimirovitch,' or 'may I trouble you, Boris Kon-
stantinovitch.'" He laughed ironically. "Quite 'po-
gentlemensky,'" he added, using a Russianized expres-
sion whose meaning is obvious.

"Did you accept the post?" I asked.

"I? No, sir!" he replied with emphasis. "Do I
want a dirty workman holding a revolver over me all
day? That is the sort of 'control' they intend to
exercise." (He did accept it, however, just a month


later, when the offer was renewed with the promise of
a tidy salary if he took it, and prison if he didn't.)

On the following day I brought the money to Zo-
rinsky, and he said he would have it transferred to
the investigator at once.

"By the way," I said, "I may be going to Finland
for a few days. Do not be surprised if you do not
hear from me for a week or so."

"To Finland?" Zorinsky was very interested.
"Then perhaps you will not return?"

"I am certain to return," I said, "even if only on
account of Melnikoff."

"And of course you have other business here," he
said. "By the way, how are you going?"

"I don't know yet; they say it is easy enough to
walk over the frontier."

"Not quite so easy," he replied. "Why not just
walk across the bridge?"

"What bridge?"

"The frontier bridge at Bielo'ostrof."

I thought he was mad. "What on earth do you
mean?" I asked.

"It can be fixed up all right — with a little care,"
he went on. "Five or six thousand roubles to the
station commissar and he'll shut his eyes, another
thousand or so to the bridge sentry and he'll look the
other way, and over you go. Evening is the best
time, when it's dark."

I remembered I had heard speak of this method in
Finland. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
It was the simplest thing in the world, but it wasn't
sure. Commissars were erratic and not unf earful of
burning their fingers. Furthermore, the Finns some-


times turned people back. Besides, Mrs. Marsh
would be with me — I hoped — and of that Zorinsky
must know nothing.

"That is a splendid notion," I exclaimed. "I had
never thought of that. I'll let you know before I

Next day I told him I had decided not to go to
Finland because I was thinking of going to Moscow.

"Madame Marsh has not been moved from No. 2
Gorohovaya," declared the little Policeman as I sat
opposite him in his fetid den. "Her case is in abey-
ance, and will doubtless remain so for some time.
Since they learned of Marsh's flight they have left her
alone. They may perhaps forget all about her. Now,
I think, is the time to act."

"What will they do to her if her case comes on
again r

"It is too early yet to conjecture."

It was shortly before Christmas that the Policeman
began to grow nervous and excited, and I could see
that his emotion was real. His plan for Mrs. Marsh's
escape was developing, occupying his whole mind and
causing him no small concern. Every day I brought
him some little present, such as cigarettes, sugar, or
butter, procured from Maria, so that he should have
fewer household cares to worry over. At last I became
almost as wrought up as he was himself, while Maria,
whom I kept informed, was in a constant state of
tremor resulting from her fever of anxiety.

December 18th dawned bleak and raw. The wind
tore in angry gushes round the corners of the houses,


snatching up the sandy snow, and flinging it viciously
in the half-hidden faces of hurrying, harassed pedes-
trians. Toward noon the storm abated, and Maria
and I set out together for a neighbouring market place.
We were going to buy a woman's cloak, for that night
I was to take Mrs. Marsh across the frontier.

The corner of the Kuznetchny Pereulok and the
Yladimirovsky Prospect has been a busy place for
"speculators" ever since private trading was prohib-
ited. Even on this bitter winter day there were the
usual lines of wretched people standing patiently, dis-
posing of personal belongings or of food got by for-
aging in the country. Many of them were women
of the educated class, selling off their last possessions
in the effort to scrape together sufficient to buy meagre
provisions for themselves or their families. Either
they were unable to find occupation or were here in
the intervals of work. Old clothing, odds and ends
of every description, crockery, toys, nick-nacks, clocks,
books, pictures, paper, pots, pans, pails, pipes, post-
cards — the entire paraphernalia of antiquarian and
second-hand dealers' shops, could here be found turned
out on to the pavements.

Maria and I passed the people selling sugar by the
lump, their little stock of four or five lumps exposed
on outstretched palms. We also passed the herrings,
and the "bread patties" of greenish colour. Passers-by
would pick up a patty, smell it, and if they did not
like it, would put it back and try the next. Maria
was making for the old clothing, and as we pushed
through the crowd we kept eyes and ears open for
warning of a possible raid, for from time to time bands
of guards would make a sudden dash at the "specu-


lators," arrest a few unlucky ones, and disperse the

Maria soon found what she wanted — a warm cloak
which had evidently seen better days. The tired eyes
of the tall, refined lady from whom we bought it
opened wide as I immediately paid the first price
she asked.

"Je vous, remercie Madame,"" I said, and as Maria
donned the cloak and we moved away the look of scorn
on the lady's face passed into one of astonishment.

"Don't fail to have tea ready at five, Maria," I
said as we returned.

"Am I likely to fail, Ivan Ilitch?"

We sat and waited. The minutes were hours, the
hours days. At three I said: "I am going now,
Maria." Biting her fingers, Maria stood trembling
as I left her and set out to walk across the town.

The dingy interior of the headquarters of the Extraor-
dinary Commission, with its bare stairs and passages,
is an eerie place at all times of the year, but never is
its sombre, sorrow-laden gloom so intense as on a
December afternoon when dusk is sinking into dark-
ness. WTiile Maria and I, unable to conceal our
agitation, made our preparations, there sat in one of
the inner chambers at No. 2 Gorohovaya a group of
women, from thirty to forty in number. Their faces
were undistinguishable in the growing darkness, sit-
ting in groups on the wooden planks which took the
place of bedsteads. The room was over-heated and
nauseatingly stuffy, but the patient figures paid no
heed, nor appeared to care whether it be hot or cold,


dark or light. A few chatted in undertones, but most
of them sat motionless and silent, waiting, waiting,
endlessly waiting.

The terror-hour had not yet come — it came only
at seven each evening. The terror-hour was more
terrible in the men's chambers, where the toll was
greater, but it visited the women, too. Then, every
victim knew that if the heavy door was opened and
his name called, he passed out into eternity. For
executions were carried out in the evening and the
bodies removed at night.

At seven o'clock, all talk, all action ceased. Faces
sat white and still, fixed on the heavy folding door.
When it creaked every figure became a statue, a
death-statue, stone-livid, breathless, dead in life. A
moment of ghastly, intolerable suspense, a silence
that could be felt, and in the silence — a name. And
when the name was spoken, every figure — but one —
would imperceptibly relapse. Here and there a lip
would twitch, here and there a smile would flicker.
But no one would break the dead silence. One of
their number was doomed.

The figure that bore the spoken name would rise,
and move, move slowly with a wooden, unnatural gait,
tottering along the narrow aisle between the plank
couches. Some would look up and some would look
down; some, fascinated, would watch the dead figure
pass; and some would pray, or mutter, "To-morrow,
maybe, I." Or there would be a frantic shriek, a
brutal struggle, and worse than Death would fill the
chamber, till where two were, one only would be
left, heaving convulsively, insane, clutching the rough
woodwork with bleeding nails.


But the silence was the silence of supreme compas-
sion, the eyes that followed or the eyes that fell were
alike those of brothers or sisters, for in death's hour
vanish all differences and reigns the only true Com-
munism — the Communism of Sympathy. Not there,
in the Kremlin, nor there in the lying Soviets — but
here in the terrible house of inquisition, in the Com-
munist dungeons, is true Communism at last estab-
lished !

But on this December afternoon the terror-hour
was not yet. There were still three hours' respite,
and the figures spoke low in groups or sat silently
waiting, waiting, endlessly waiting.

Then suddenly a name was called. "Lydia Marsh!"

The hinges creaked, the guard appeared in the
doorway, and the name was spoken loud and clearly.
"It is not the terror-hour yet," thought every woman,
glancing at the twilight through the high, dirt-stained

A figure rose from a distant couch. "What can it
be?" "Another interpellation?" "An unusual hour!"
Low voices sounded from the group. "They've left
me alone three days," said the rising figure, wearily.
"I suppose now it begins all over again. Well, d

The figure disappeared in the doorway, and the
women went on waiting — waiting for seven o'clock.

"Follow me," said the guard. He moved along
the corridor and turned down a side-passage. They
passed others in the corridor, but no one heeded.
The guard stopped. Looking up, the woman saw
she was outside the women's lavatory. She waited.
The guard pointed with his bayonet.


"In here?" queried the figure in surprise. The
guard was silent. The woman pushed the door open
and entered.

Lying in the corner were a dark green shawl and &
shabby hat, with two slips of paper attached. One
of them was a pass in an unknown name, stating that
the holder had entered the building at four o'clock
and must leave before seven. The other had scrawled
on it the words: "Walk straight into St. Izaac's

Mechanically she destroyed the second slip, ad-
justed the shabby hat, and wrapping the shawl well
round her neck and face passed out into the passage.
She elbowed others in the corridor, but no one heeded
her. At the foot of the main staircase she was asked
for her pass. She showed it and was motioned on.
At the main entrance she was again asked for her pass.
She showed it and was passed out into the street. She
looked up and down. The street was empty, and
crossing the road hurriedly she disappeared round the

Like dancing constellations the candles flickered
and flared in front of the ikons at the foot of the huge
pillars of the vast cathedral. Halfway up the columns
vanished in gloom. I had already burned two can-
dles, and though I was concealed in the niche of a
pillar, I knelt and stood alternately, partly from im-
patience, partly that my piety should be patent to
any chance observer. But my eyes were fixed on
the little wooden side-entrance. How interminable
the minutes seemed. Quarter to five!

Then the green shawl appeared. It looked almost
black in the dim darkness. It slipped through the


doorway quickly, stood still a moment, and moved irres-
olutely forward. I walked up to the shrouded figure.

"Mrs. Marsh?" I said quietly in English.


"I am the person you are to meet. I hope you will
soon see your husband."

"Where is he?" she asked, anxiously.

"In Finland. You go there with me to-night."

We left the cathedral and crossing the square took
a cab and drove to the place called Five Corners.
Here we walked a little and finding another cab drove
near to "No. 5," again walking the last hundred
yards. I banged at the door three times.

How shall I describe the meeting with Maria! I
left them weeping together and went into another
room. Neither will I attempt to describe the parting,
when an hour later Mrs. Marsh stood ready for her
journey, clad in the cloak we had purchased in the
morning, and with a black shawl in place of the green

"There is no time to lose," I said. "We must
be at the station at seven, and it is a long drive."

The adieus were over at last, and Maria stood
weeping at the door as we made our way down the
dark stone stairs.

"I will call you Varvara," I cautioned my com-
panion. "You call me Vania, and if by chance we
are stopped, I am taking you to hospital."

We drove slowly to the distant straggling Okhta
station, where lately I had watched the huge figure of
Marsh clamber on to the roof and disappear through
the window. The little Policeman was on the plat-
form, sincerely overjoyed at this happy ending to


his design. I forgot his ways, his dirtiness, his messy
quarters, and thanked him heartily, and as I thrust
the packet of money Marsh had left for him into
his hand, I felt that at this moment, at least, that
was not what was uppermost in his thoughts.

"Come on, Varvara!" I shouted in Russian, rudely
tugging Mrs. Marsh by the sleeve and dragging her
along the platform. "We shan't get places if you
stand gaping like that! Come on, stupid!" I hauled
her toward the train, and seeing an extra box-car
being hitched on in front, rushed in its direction.

"Gently, gently, Vania!" cried my companion in
genuine distress as I lifted her bodily and landed her
on the dirty floor.

"Ne zievai! " I cried. " Sadyis! Na, beri mieshotchek !
Don't yawn! Get in! Here, take the bag!" and
while I clambered up, I handed her the packet of sand-
wiches made by Maria for the journey. "If any-
thing happens," I whispered in English when we were
safely ensconced, "we are 'speculators' — looking for
milk; that's what nearly everybody here is doing."

The compact seething mass of beings struggling
to squirm into the car resembled a swarm of hiving
bees, and in a few moments the place was packed
like a sardine-box. In vain late arrivals endeavoured,
headforemost, to burrow a path inward. In vain
some dozens of individuals pleaded to the inmates to
squeeze "just a little tighter" and make room "for
just one more." Somehow the doors were slid to,
and we sat in the pitch darkness and waited.

Though the car must have held nearly a hundred
people, once we were encased conversation ceased
completely; scarcely any one spoke, and if they did it


was in undertones. Until the train started, the silence,
but for audible breathing, was uncanny. Only a
boy, sitting next to my companion, coughed during
the whole journey — coughed rackingly and incessantly,
nearly driving me mad. After a while a candle was
produced, and round the flickering light at one end
of the car some Finns began singing folk-songs. A
few people tumbled out at wayside stations, and four
hours later when we arrived at Grusino, the car was
only three quarters full.

It was nearly midnight. Animality surged from
the train and dispersed rapidly into the woods in all
directions. I took my companion, as Marsh had di-
rected, along a secluded path in the wrong direction.
A few minutes later we turned, and crossing the rails
a little above the platform, took the forest track
that led to Fita's house.

Fita was a Finn, the son of a peasant who had been
shot by the Bolsheviks for "speculation." While Fita
was always rewarded for his services as guide, his
father's death was a potent incentive to him to do
whatever lay in his power to help those who were
fleeing from his parent's murderers. Eventually he
was discovered in this occupation, and suffered the
same fate as his father, being shot "for conspiring
against the proletarian dictatorship." He was only
sixteen years of age, very simple and shy, but cour-
ageous and enterprising.

We had an hour to wait at Fita's cottage, and while
Mrs. Marsh lay down to rest I took the boy aside to
speak about the journey and question him as to four
other people, obviously fugitives like ourselves, whom
we found in his house.


"Which route are we going by," I asked, "north
or west?"

"North," he answered. "It is much longer, but
when the weather is good it is not difficult walking
and is the safest."

"You have the best sledge for me?"

"Yes, and the best horse."

"These other people, who are they?"

"I don't know. The man is an officer. He came
inquiring in these parts three days ago and the peasants
directed him to me. I promised to help him."

Besides the Russian officer, clad in rough working
clothes, there was a lady who spoke French, and two
pretty girls of about 15 and 17 years of age. The
girls were dressed rather a la tureque, in brown woollen
jerkins and trousers of the same material. They
showed no trace of nervousness, and both looked as
though they were thoroughly enjoying a jolly ad-
venture. They spoke to the officer in Russian and
to the lady in French, and I took it that she was a
governess and he an escort.

We drove out from Fita's cottage at one o'clock.
The land through which the Russian frontier passes
west of Lake Ladoga is forest and morass, with few
habitations. In winter the morass freezes and is
covered with deep snow. The next stage of our
journey ended at a remote hut five miles from the
frontier on the Russian side, the occupant of which,
likewise a Finnish peasant, was to conduct us on
foot through the woods to the first Finnish village,
ten miles beyond. The night was a glorious one.
The day's storm had completely abated. Huge white
clouds floated slowly across the full moon, and


the air was still. The fifteen-mile sleigh -drive from
Fita's cottage to the peasant's hut, over hill and
dale, by sideways and occasionally straight across the
marshes when outposts had to be avoided, was one
of the most beautiful I have ever experienced — even
in Russia.

In a large open clearance of the forest stood three or
four rude huts, with tumbledown outhouses, black,
silent, and fairy-picturesque, throwing blue shadows
on the dazzling snow. The driver knocked at one of
the doors. After much waiting it was opened, and we
were admitted by an old peasant and his wife, obviously
torn from their slumbers.

We were joined a quarter of an hour later by the
other party, exchanging, however, no civilities or
signs of recognition. When the peasant had dressed
we set out.

Deserting the track-roadway almost immediately,
we launched into the deep snow across the open ground,
making directly for the forest. Progress was re-
tarded by the soft snowdrifts into which our feet
sank as high as the knees, and for the sake of the
ladies we had to make frequent halts. Winding in
and out of the forest, avoiding tracks, and skirting
open spaces, it seemed an interminable time before we
arrived anywhere near the actual frontier line.

Mrs. Marsh and the French lady patched up a
chatting acquaintance, and during one of our halts,
while the girls were lying outstretched on the snow,
I asked her if the French lady had told her who our
companions were. But the French lady, it appeared,
would not say, until we had actually crossed the frontier.

I was astonished at the manner in which Mrs. Marsh


stood the strain of our night adventure. She had
been in prison nearly a month, living on the scanty and
atrocious prison food, subjected to long, nerve-racking,
and searching cross-examinations, yet she bore up
better than any of the other females in our party, and
after rest-halts was always the first to be ready to
restart. There were ditches to cross and narrow,
rickety bridges to be traversed. Once our guide,
laden with parcels, suddenly vanished, sinking com-
pletely into an invisible d : , ke which had filled with
snowdrift. He scrambled up the other side all wet
from the water into which he had plunged through
the thin ice. The snow was so soft that we could
find no foothold to jump, and it looked as if there
were no means of crossing except as our poor guide
had done, until the idea occurred to me that by sprawl-
ing on my stomach the snowdrift might not collapse.
So, planting my feet as deeply as I could, I threw my-
self across, digging with my hands into the other side
till I got a grip, and thus forming a bridge. Mrs.
Marsh walked tentatively across my back, the drift
still held, the others followed. I wriggled over on my
stomach, and we all got over dry.

At last we arrived at a dyke about eight or ten
feet broad, filled with water and only partially frozen
over. A square white-and-black post on its bank
showed that we were at the frontier. "The outposts
are a mile away on either hand," whispered our peasant-
guide. "We must get across as quickly as possible."

The dyke lay across a clearance in the forest. We
walked along it, looking wistfully at the other bank
ten feet away, and searching for the bridge our guide
said should be somewhere here. All at once a black


figure emerged from the trees a hundred yards behind
us. We stood stock-still, expecting others to appear,
and ready, if attacked, to jump into the dyke and reach
the other bank at all costs. Our guide was the most
terrified of the party, but the black figure turned out
only to be a peasant acquaintance of his from another
village, who told us there was a bridge at the other
end of the clearance.

The "bridge" we found to be a rickety plank, ice-
covered and slippery, that threatened to give way
as each one of us stepped on to it. One by one we
crossed it, expecting it every moment to collapse,
and stood in a little group on the farther side.

"This is Finland," observed our guide, laconically,
"that is the last you will see of Sovdepia." He used
an ironical popular term for Soviet Russia constructed
from the first syllables of the words Soviets of Deputies.

The moment they set foot on Finnish soil the two
girls crossed themselves devoutly and fell on their
knees. Then we moved up to a fallen tree-trunk some
distance away and sat down to eat sandwiches.

"It's all right for you," the peasant went on, sud-
denly beginning to talk. "You're out of it, but
I've got to go back." He had scarcely said a word
the whole time, but once out of Russia, even though
"Sovdepia" was but a few yards distant, he felt he
could say what he liked. And he did. But most of
the party paid but little attention to his complaints
against the hated "Kommuna." That was now all

It was easy work from thence onward. There
was another long walk through deep snow, but we could
lie down as often as we pleased without fear of dis-


covery by Red patrols. We should only have to
report to the nearest Finnish authorities and ask
for an escort until we were identified. We all talked
freely now— no longer in nervous whispers — and
everyone had some joke to tell that made everybody
else laugh. At one of our halts Mrs. Marsh whis-
pered in my ear, "They are the daughters of the
Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovitch, the Tsar's uncle,
who was imprisoned the other day."

The girls were his daughters by morganatic mar-
riage. I thought little of them at the time, except
that they were both very pretty and very tastefully
dressed in their sporting costumes. But I was re-
minded of them a few weeks later when I was back in

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Online LibraryPaul DukesRed dusk and the morrow; adventures and investigations in red Russia → online text (page 8 of 22)