THE Mikulas scarred hull nudged creaking against the dock. At first the gathering of people on the quay was small, but as word of the ship's arrival spread, the crowd increased. I stood at the ship's rail and stared at the moving figures, looking for the one I yearned to see. But he was not there. Attracted by the excitement, more people came running down the riverbank. They came in small groups, officials, soldiers. I scrutinized each face and with each new group my hope rose afresh.
Standing beside me, Montrichard asked, "He isn't here?"
I could not trust myself to speak.
Behind me I heard Aleksandr Ivanovich's low voice: "Well, we didn't exactly keep to the regular timetable, did we?" I couldn't help smiling.
Both of them stood there ready to help me over this last obstacle. But I told them I was going ashore and that the time had come to say good-bye. We shook hands, and they must have seen in my eyes my special feeling for them, my appreciation of their kindness, my deep gratitude for their help and protection throughout this extraordinary journey.
The air was crisp and clear above the sixty-fourth parallel. Strange odors, strange sounds, broken sentences of Russian dialects surrounded me. Men in fur caps, turned sideways across their heads; men in long fur coats, tanned side out, pinched at the waist and the bottom slapping against high boots. Uniformed officials. A few women, dark kerchiefs framing round faces.
Hesitantly I made my way up the steep hill to the street above. Rounded cobblestones underneath the hard snow made the walking rough. To the left the cathedral with its gleaming golden roof and domes dominated all that could be seen. A broad thoroughfare ran parallel with the river. Footsteps were hollow and distinct against its raised wooden sidewalks. But unmet and alone, I could not form any coherent impression of this strange place. My long-anticipated arrival was a desolate anticlimax.
I looked up, amazed, and recognized one of Gleb's friends from Horserad, Lieutenant Smith. Breathlessly, I asked for Gleb. "Is he at the front?"
"Well, I think he's at the front—at least I heard he was going."
So Gleb was gone. Why couldn't he have waited for me, asked for compassionate leave, something—anything—so he could be here when I arrived? He knew I was coming. Wasn't the arrival of his wife after such a long and difficult journey important enough for a few days' delay? Was I not, after all, as important to him as he was to me?
He saw my distress, and took my arm. "Don't worry, Luisa Oskarovna, we'll soon find out. I'll take you to Gleb's friends the Kovalevskys. They'll know where he is."
We turned off the main thoroughfare into a spacious side street. We came to a yellow frame house with white-painted corners set in a grove of trees.
There was no bell or knocker at the door; we just walked in. We found ourselves in a large disorderly room. Many people were obviously using it as a living room, dining room, and work room, with never enough time to tidy it. A large table was pushed against a wall with many windows. On it stood a brass samovar that had long since stopped simmering. Glasses and cups were scattered on the table, some of them still filled with dear tea.
Natalia Ivanovna Kovalevskaya came toward us. Of all the large group of people in that house, I remember only her very clearly. Neither her figure nor her dress was remarkable. She was short and thin and her old gray frock was worn and shabby, but her face was arresting. Perhaps it was only the expression on her face that was striking, for feature by feature she was neither unusual nor beautiful.
Her large brown eyes had remarkable depth, hinting at the detached, compassionate patience of one who has achieved comprehension through the chastening effects of deep sorrow.
"So you've arrived." Her voice was strangely toneless. She merely stated a fact.
The smile that lit her face briefly gave the impression of being a rare thing. "Gleb Nikolayevich will be glad."
Her words softened the edge of my feelings. "Where is he? Is he at the front?"
"No, he's here."
My relief was unspeakable. Natalia Ivanovna disappeared into the hallway. We heard her speaking on the telephone.
"He's been so worried something would happen to the ship in the ice. He expected you much sooner."
A fleeting thought of the ship the Mikula had rescued and what might have happened to its passengers and crew crossed my mind. Nothing more was said, and the silence was pleasant and tranquil.
A car roared down the street, then stopped. The front steps creaked under long leaps. Gleb stood in the doorway, tall and tanned. His cap was in his hand, and his hair was smooth on his well-shaped head. His eyes shone with a strange wild happiness. He strode over to Natalia Ivanovna, kissed her hand, then turned to me. And I could no longer doubt that with the coming of his wife his happiness was complete.
When at last I could speak again, I asked Gleb to take us to our room.
"No, Lisa, I have a room but it's not fit for you, and there's no room in it for both of us. You'll have to stay here tonight, but to morrow we'll find a place where we can be together."
I looked at him incredulously, and he must have realized my unhappiness, for his eyes became troubled.
"Lisa, please, don't forget, this is wartime," he pleaded quietly. "It's difficult to find rooms in Archangel . I wanted us to look for one together."
"Oh, Gleb!" I squeezed his hand, smiled at him. "Let's go and see your room!" To be alone—just for one moment to be alone with him! Then I thought of my trunks; they had to be taken off the ship as soon as possible.
"Seven trunks?" Gleb looked at me wide-eyed.
Natalia Ivanovna came to his rescue. Such a small matter, she'd take care of them. She began collecting the cups and glasses from the table.
Gleb's room was far out at the other end of the city in a low block of houses. The landlady, plump and jovial, greeted us at the door. "Oy, oy, what a day we've had! God be with you, Gleb Nikolayev ich, is this your wife?"
Her pale flabby face gleamed with sweat and goodwill. Her upper lip was adorned with an astonishingly luxuriant black moustache. It was easy to smile and to assure her that I was very happy to be in Russia .
The room was at the back and could be reached only by going through the whole of the landlady's crowded and untidy apartment. At Svensksund we had closets bigger than that room. Yet the land lady obviously thought that while renting it she could quite properly also use it as an extra storeroom. One corner was piled high with her unsightly belongings. Only the table and the narrow bed looked as if they belonged to Gleb, for they were covered with his own blankets, the table with a fine green plaid one that Mother had given him. The view from the window was dreary, a dirty gray uninviting backyard.
"Lisa, let's not look at this—just look at me!"
And in a flash I regained my full equilibrium and with that all my courage. Now even the small inglorious room seemed a wonderful place, and all I wanted was to stay there.
"Yes, darling, stay if you wish and I'll go somewhere else." Gleb laughed. "Here there isn't even room enough for me to stretch out on the floor, much less in that bed. Feel how hard it is! Do you think you can sleep on it?"
He looked at me quizzically. The bed was hard, it had no spring, no mattress, just bare boards laid loosely on the frame. But if he had been able to sleep on it, so could I.
"But where will you go?" I was suddenly full of concern.
He told me that Trebinsky had arrived from Copenhagen not very long ago, and he was now Gleb's superior. He had a large com fortable room where Gleb, alas, would be far more comfortable than I would be here.
"But tomorrow, Lisochka, we'll find a place where we can stay together!" And that was all that really mattered.
It took me a long time to fall asleep after Gleb left. Thoughts tame tumbling into my mind, thoughts of Mother and the family and the home in Sweden , of the long journey that now at last was only a memory. The change was complete. Now I had nobody but Gleb—this boyish man, so tender, so impractical, so gallant, this strange being whose quaint sensibilities were so different from mine, whose bewildering and irresistible charm would tie me to him forever. I had chosen to share his life with enthusiasm, and whatever this choice might bring, so be it.
Feeling the hard boards under my body, I caught a glimpse of the special character that enabled him to accept life without complaint, without opposition. The thought brought hot tears to my eyes. Sobbing into his rough pillow, sleep caught me unawares.
Archangel, strange city of northern Russia , must have looked quite different from its original aspect in these days of Allied occupation and civil war. The low contours of its buildings, the breadth of its streets and avenues, the widening river coursing between the steep eroded banks suggested limitless space. Now an air of disrepair and abandonment adhered to its public buildings and to the former residences of its rich lumbermen and merchants. Indifference and neglect defaced the ornate elegance that in other days had made Archangel an attractive and prosperous port city.
From the Troitsky Prospekt, the main street, the town spread fan- wise to the north and east. Here along the broad streets nestled small frame houses surrounded by trees and picket fences, some painted yellow and some unpainted and shining silvery gray from the harsh treatment of weather and wind. This part of the town gave the impression of unabashed penury, quite acceptable to the people under the circumstances because it was, on the whole, a natural and largely unalterable consequence of climate and locality.
On my first day in Archangel Gleb got off duty early. Walking down the Troitsky Prospekt in search of a room, we met a motley crowd. Soldiers and officers in a variety of Allied uniforms pushed past us. A short French zouave, pinch-waisted and dashing, seemed curiously out of place in the pale northern sunlight. A pair of English Tommies in blue hospital denim with broad red ties, on a pleasure jaunt downtown, eyed a slightly overdressed Russian woman who responded by clicking her high heels disdainfully on the wooden planks of the sidewalk.
Out in the street fast-trotting horses pulling droshkyes moved freely under their arched dugas, only slightly checked by the reins held in the coachman's stiffly outstretched hands. On the other side of the tramline, where the snow still lingered, three reindeer pulled an open sleigh. Their driver, covered from head to toe by a hooded parka, rode comfortably in his nest of hay. He must have spent days traveling from the northeast over still frozen swamps to do his business here in the coastal town.
A detachment of soldiers marched by with a prisoner between them, his hands tied behind his back.
"Is that a Bolshevik?"
"An enemy, a spy up for questioning. Remember, Lisa, this is not an ordinary war. This is civil war—brother against brother. This man probably knows every nook and corner of Archangel. Freed, he'd instantly vanish from sight. Many hiding places would be opened to him, many friends and relatives would be eager to save him. Harsh treatment? Do you know what would happen to any of us if we were taken prisoner? Dead bodies of our comrades have been found with nails driven into their shoulders, one for every star on their epaulets. Atrocities—hatred breeds atrocities. If you've never before experienced life stark naked, here you're not likely to escape it. And it's a kind of agonizing triumph." Gleb smiled as if contemplating an inner vision, but I did not fathom his meaning at all.
What he had said, however, filled my mind with forebodings. Until now the risks Gleb had been running since his return to Russia from Horserod had become known to me only after he had escaped from them. From now on, anticipation would be my anguish.
"And I also want to tell you this, Lisa, so that you will understand. Here in Archangel we can never count on the loyalty of the civilians. All of them speak the same language, all are natives of the same land, all know every road and hidden trail. Politically they belong neither to the Reds nor to the Whites. A wife sneaks across the lines to see her husband, a son his mother. This traffic is impossible to check. Fear, the need for security, and very often greed sway their loyalties. Natural, perhaps. As a result, riots sometimes break out unexpectedly. One did not so long ago, and two British officers were killed."
Having known nothing but security all my life, I had difficulty grasping that such things could happen. Gleb's story shocked me into a better understanding of the situation. It was like walking on quicksand. Only one solid point remained—we were together.
"I asked you to come here, Lisa, because I truly believed this was the only place where you really wanted to be. Isn't it?" His question cut in upon my somber reflections almost apologetically. His eyes sought mine anxiously. "Besides," he added in a soft voice, "I need you." His face lit up with a lovely reassuring smile, confident and unafraid. He took my arm. "And now let's look for that house. Oh, there it is! Sadovaya fifteen! How do you like it from the outside?" Laughing, he threw a critical eye upon the house before he led me through the little gate in the white picket fence. The small yellow bungalow stood back from the street in a grove of tall trees that soon would be turning green.
The landlady, a middle-aged woman with a gentle look, came shuffling to the door in soft felt boots. She stood there with her hands folded under her apron.
"A room to rent?" she said slowly. "Most certainly, baren. If you please, this front room."
When I entered the room, I thought at first that it was a small conservatory. Tall palms and fig plants stood in large green-painted tubs on the floor in front of the windows. More green plants were enthroned upon homemade stands. The room was bright, for it was blessed with an extraordinary number of windows for its size. Except for the plants, all but the barest necessities had been removed from the room. A narrow crippled bedstead leaned against one wall and a spindly sofa against the other. Neither one suggested comfortable repose, but everything was spotlessly clean.
These details I noticed only later. At the moment I was en tranced with the brightness of the small room. "This place will be light enough on the white nights in the summer," Gleb remarked dryly. And indeed it was, for at that time of year one day just eased into the next through three nighttime hours of vague twilight.
"Do the two of you propose to stay here?" the landlady inquired.
"I've no other bed," she added defensively. Clearly she was not pleased by the military decree that forced her to have strangers in the house.
Gleb laid his hand on her shoulder, smiling. "Don't worry, matushka, it doesn't matter. We'll manage. Perhaps you could spare us a table and a small chair?"
Suddenly her eyes, meeting his, became almost friendly. "Huh!" she grunted. "I'll see." And she ambled out through the flimsy double doors.
While she was gone I mentally refurnished the room. "The table, when and if we get it, goes here, and the chair goes there. We can put one of the trunks against this wall and it can serve as a side board." We laughed happily. Gleb caught me up in his arms and said with gay mockery in his eyes, "Though I'm not all you imagined, Lisinka, please don't speak badly of me about town!" He was to say that often, and this whimsical saying of his, sometimes breaking through the clouds of impossible situations, never ceased to delight us and light up the dark.
The possibility that he might have to leave me and go to the front entirely slipped my mind. We were too happy. This was, at last, our real honeymoon.
With great aplomb I stepped into my new role of housewife, arranging our garden room with the table and chair the landlady found for us, and with rugs, cushions, and good china. I took over the management of Gleb's clothes, sewing on buttons, darning socks, and laying them out for him. We decided against taking part in the family ritual of daily ablutions at the washstand in the corner of the kitchen. Instead, I bought at the marketplace a large earthenware mixing bowl, meant to be used for making sourdough, and at night placed it on one of the trunks to serve as our bath. The modesty of existence in our garden room gave to our life during those few precious days in the shadow of war and disaster a certain indescribable luster.
We both worked, Gleb at his motorized unit and I at the American Military Mission, where I had secured a good position as a translator. The requirements of translating military orders, news bulletins, and intercepted enemy reports from Russian into English far exceeded my mastery of both languages. But I struggled with them, sometimes almost in tears, if only to try to justify the Americans' patience, leniency, and generous wages.
At lunchtime Gleb and I met at the Russian Officers' Club. Here we encountered many of our old friends from Horserod, who, like Gleb, had flocked to join Miller's White Army in the north and thereby earn the right, they hoped, to a tolerable existence when the civil war was at an end. Gleb had also come across boyhood friends from Tsarskoe Selo, linked to him by family and school ties. By means and routes too sensitive to be mentioned, they too had been attracted to Archangel to give their support to the Allied intervention. Among them was Sergei Vasilyevich.
The quality of this man was like the hard spark struck at the break of an electric current. Tall, slim, and broad-shouldered, he was handsome enough. His eyes were nut-brown, flashing. A rich, well- trimmed black beard encircled his lips, and the supercilious smile that sometimes played around his mouth revealed a set of even white teeth. His right sleeve was empty and tucked into his pocket. Several ribbons decorated his tunic and a group of wound stripes adorned his sleeve. But his undisguised arrogance and the sarcasm of his utterances seemed to negate both bravery and good looks.
"Lisa, will you permit Sergei to have lunch with us? He used to live in Tsarskoe Selo too. He's a marvelous soldier, was decorated with the Cross of St. George for bravery on the battlefield. Many a female heart has lain palpitating at his feet."
Gleb laughed heartily at his characterization of his friend as Sergei Vasilyevich blandly acknowledged the introduction. Quite obviously, these two knew and understood each other well. With his left hand Sergei Vasilyevich struck a match, but before lighting his cigarette he let it go out deliberately. Gleb struck another one for him.
I had a sudden feeling that Sergei Vasilyevich did not approve of Gleb's marriage. The brown eyes regarded me with mocking ap praisal.
"Luisa Oskarovna sounds German," he said slowly. "Are you German?"
I tried to subdue my rising irritation. With some heat I denied the accusation. Was it an accusation?
"No, I'm Swedish!"
Gleb and Sergei exchanged amused glances. The name of Poltava flashed before my mind. They began talking about Tsarskoe Selo and the war, and I felt myself being rudely pushed outside the circle of their friendship.
By the middle of May spring had not yet arrived. The streets of Archangel were still muddy with half-melted snow that froze during the night. But the sun broke through the clouds capriciously to shine with some warmth upon the polyglot crowd on the Troitsky Prospekt. The onion domes of the cathedral transformed the sunlight into golden suns of lesser magnitude, and the daylight noticeably increased.
Then, a week later, it was suddenly spring. As if to make up for lost time, the sun in a passion of heat melted all the snow in one day. Overnight the leaves sprouted and through the wet soil the grass sent up green shoots. On the weather map of the north the magic metamorphosis occurred exactly at the designated time. Soft south erly winds broke down the lingering opposition of the northerly flow of cold air and turned the frosty landscape into a spectacle of tender glistening verdure and blue flowers.
That glorious day Gleb and I met as usual at the Officers' Club. Spring's abrupt arrival had an intoxicating effect upon the spirit. We laughed, joked, and were very happy. Gleb leaned forward, and I expected another joke. But he covered my hand with his and his face suddenly turned very serious.
"Lisa, I'm going to the front the day after tomorrow."
I sat motionless, his words falling like a crushing weight.
A small sharp voice rang in my ears unrecognizable: "Are you ordered out?"
"No, I volunteered."
My voice grew shrill: "You asked to go?"
Gleb nodded. "Lisa, listen. I didn't come to Archangel to stay safely at headquarters. I came here to fight—to fight for Russia . You knew that. Do you want a coward for a husband? Sergei is going too—and with only one arm! We're going to the Pinega front. I've already stayed here too long in safety. Would you really approve of my staying behind when crippled men don't hesitate to volunteer?"
"So it's Sergei who talked you into this!" Choking with fury and despair, I rose blindly from the table and, without waiting for an answer, left him sitting there.
Gleb followed me to the office. He asked my chief to let me off for a day, until he had left for the front.
"Lisa, come home with me!"
There was something in his manner that did not brook opposition.
Then, in our sweet garden room where only a few hours before we had been so happy with the brilliant spring sunshine streaming in, we tore at each other in a frenzy of wounded feelings and conflicting viewpoints. With all the passion of his sensitive pride, Gleb was distraught at the mere idea of hiding from the dangers of the front behind the skirts of a woman. Once again Russia was claiming him with all the irresistible force with which she always enslaved those who loved her well and belonged to her. His duty was clear and indivisible. He must go.
Anger and fear blinded me. I could not fathom that this fearless dedication represented the virtue that had captured my love that bound me to him, that had made me willing and eager to leave everything in order to share his life. My love was too inexperienced, too untried. And this confused every issue except the sudden intense hurt of being powerless to keep him dose to me. The realization that Russia, this enigma, this abstract concept, had such power and influence over him, far stronger than mine, made me ache with impotent jealousy.
So, like two overgrown children, we fought over our conflicting rights until, finally, exhaustion with a conciliatory hand touched our wounded hearts. Gleb sat down on the bed beside me and put his arm around my shoulders.
"Lisa, please don't cry. We can't alter the situation. Please don't make it so hard for me. Help me! We have tomorrow. Just one day, Lisa, of our own! Let's go out into the country and enjoy the springtime. Let's look at the flowers and the green leaves and breathe. Just for tomorrow let's forget the war, let's forget I have to leave you. One day, let's live only for each other. Come on, Lisa, please!"
I had longed to spend this springtime with Gleb—one month was all I asked. His offer of only one day brought another flood of tears. In the end, exhausted, I could not resist his plea for the gift of tomorrow.
Our single day of spring we spent far out in the open country at the small homestead of a Russian peasant, the father of one of Gleb's soldiers. In its rural peacefulness and simplicity, it was a day full of sun and the fragrance of flowers and the warming brown earth. We went for a long walk, walking slowly toward the distant horizon amid the delicate blossoms of the subarctic prairie, magically lured forth overnight, a mat of colors. We sat down together on the already dry ground, speaking little, just being together with a fierce intensity. When dinnertime came, we walked slowly hand in hand back to the house, where our hosts invited us to share their delicious meal of pirogi, cottage cheese, and sour cream. And it was good to be in their tranquil laconic company under the ancient icon.
Our one day, meant to exclude everything except the fleeting present, became a day that left us spent by its intensity.
The next day, in the dry heat of the noonday sun, I stood on the quay, watching Gleb and Sergei embark for the front. I could not speak; the hurt in my heart made me dumb. I had no words for either Sergei or Gleb. I could not lift my arms to embrace him or bring myself to return his kiss, because my mind could feel nothing except the dread that this might be for the last time.
Before the boat put out from the dock, with Gleb standing at the railing, I turned and walked away without looking back.