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imbued with an intense hatred of the Bolsheviki — not without reason, since both his father and his mother had been brutally shot by them, and he himself had escaped only by a miracle. 'The searchers came at night,' so he told the story to me. 'I had some papers referring to the insurrection at Yaroslavl, which my mother kept for me. The searchers 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. Suddenly 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 kitchen 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 parents' blood. This was all he lived for. So far as Russia was concerned, he was frankly a monarchist; 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. Melnikoff gave me two addresses in Petrograd where I might find him — one of a hospital where he had formerly lived, and the other of a small cafe that 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 Melnikoff 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 twenty-fourth 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 color, 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 observed in Russia in the olden days, friends sit down at the moment of parting, and maintain complete silence for a few instants, while each wishes the others a safe journey and prosperity. Melnikoff and I sat down opposite each other. With what fervor I wished him success on the dangerous journey he was undertaking for me!
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 saw Melnikoff only once more after that, for a brief moment in Petrograd, under dramatic circumstances. But that comes later in my story.
I rose early next day, but there was not much for me to do. As it was 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 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 was a sight, indeed, and in England or America should doubtless have been regarded as a thoroughly undesirable alien.
On Sunday an officer friend of MelnikofFs came to make sure that I was ready. I knew him by the Christian name and patronymic of Ivan Sergeievitch. He was a pleasant fellow, kind and considerate. 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; 'theyhave the Bolshevist 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 are stigmatized by the Bolsheviki as speculators who indulge in the private sale or purchase of foodstuffs or clothing. They suffer severely, but it is better to be a speculator than a spy.
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 traveling with one who was known to be a Russian officer.
'And remember, Pavel Pavlovitch,' said Ivan Sergeievitch, 'to 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 Viborg and sat at opposite ends of the compartment, pretending not to know each other. When Ivan Sergeievitch got out at his destination, 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 hcec olim meminisse juvabit,' 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 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. It was still half a mile to the frontier. I made my way along the rails in the direction of Russia, and down to the wooden bridge over the little frontier river Sestro. Great hostility still existed between Finland and Soviet Russia. Skirmishes frequently occurred, and the frontier was guarded jealously by both sides. 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, but 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 signaled to me to enter.
'Come in,' he said. 'We were expecting you. How are you feeling?'
I did not tell him how I 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 anyone been over since?' I queried, affecting a tone of indifference.
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, cadaverouslooking fellow. He led me into a tiny eating-room, where three more Finns 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 among 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 him with some heat.
'Melnikoff is a chuckle-headed scatterbrain,' 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 Redskins are searching for him everywhere in Petrograd, 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 would n'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 eight hundred or a thousand 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. Zinovieff 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 over five hundred of the bourgeoisie at a stroke, — nobles, professors, officers, journalists, teachers, men and women, — and a list was published of another five hundred who would be shot at the next attempt on a commissar's life.
I listened patiently, regarding the bulk of these stories as the product of Finnish imagination. 'You will be held up frequently 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 eleven o'clock. About three 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 anyone to cross, so the Redskins don't watch it. Besides, being open, we can see if there is anyone 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 that 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 three o'clock they will probably be asleep.'
There remained only the preparation of 'documents 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 that 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 cadaverous man.
'Oh, any,' I replied. 'Better, perhaps, let it have a slightly non-Russian smack. My accent —'
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 typewriter 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 boxful 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 Bielo'ostrof' — '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 Bolshevist authorities of official'documents,' with prominent seals or stamps. Multitudinous stamped papers of any description were a great asset in traveling, but a big colored seal was a talisman that leveled all obstacles. The wording of the document, even the language in which it was written, was of secondary importance. A friend of mine once traveled from Petrograd to Moscow with no other passport than a receipted English tailor's bill. This 'document 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 Bolsheviki 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 heading: —
Extraordinary Commission of the Central Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Red Armymen's Deputies.
Then followed the text: —
This is to certify that Joseph Bitch Afirenko is in the service of the Extraordinary Commission 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 thing.
'Why not?' said the cadaverous man coolly; 'what could be safer?'
I burst into laughter as I realized the grim humor of pretending to belong to the institution that employed all the paid hirelings of the Tsar's secret police to suppress the last vestiges of the liberty of the revolution!
'Now for the signatures and seal,' said the Finn. 'Tihonov and Friedmann used to sign these papers, though it does n't mal ter 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 Commission. 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 official.
'Have you a photograph?' asked the cadaverous man.
I gave him a photograph I had had taken at Viborg. Cutting it down small,