One the Way to Moscow
Gleb and I sat in the open door of the boxcar, dangling our legs over the edge. The train was moving slowly through the still leafless hardwood forests of central Russia . Our destination was Vologda , the large junction of the main railway lines running east-west and north-south about 225 miles north of Moscow. We had left Petrozavodsk and the prison with its stench and barred windows a few days ago.
Bidding our good matron good-bye, I had impulsively kissed her wrinkled face. "Thank you, milaya, for everything." And she had quickly turned away while her hand passed furtively across her eyes.
Most of the women had dispersed. The actress stayed in Petrozavodsk to look for work. The mother with her two daughters had sought permission to go to Petrograd, or Leningrad , as they called it now. There she had grown up and there she might have a better chance to adjust to the new way of life. With a heavy heart she had made the decision, for it meant leaving her husband, whom she might never see again, to save their children.
On the day after our release the rest of us had gone in search of a place to eat and had found a dining hall where the ration cards that had been given us were accepted. It was a dingy, dirty place full of people and the smells of greasy cooking and stale tobacco smoke. Here, unexpectedly, I ran into Nina Aleksandrovna. She told me that she and the other wives of their party had been set free a few days after their arrival at the concentration camp. Two other women were with her now, one of whom, to my surprise, addressed me in Swedish:
"Hello there! Heard of you long before we left Archangel , knew you were Swedish!" Her voice was loud and rasping. "How does this kind of life strike you? Dirt and smells! Heh! Nothing to eat! Ha-ha-ha!"
The words tumbled out of her mouth as if a response was of no particular significance to her. Her laughter was as strident as her speech, and the expression on her face suggested plainly that she considered her own situation a big joke.
Olga Stepanovna Kusnetskaya was tall and dark. Her movements, like her figure, were angular, yet with a certain bold and easy swing that disclaimed awkwardness. Her dark hair was smoothly brushed back from the white expanse of her forehead, allowing only a few frizzy curls to escape at the temples. Laughing, her brown eyes, like two peppercorns, darted around expectantly, seeking applause. Her air of mocking insolence discredited at the same time as it enhanced her personality. At close range a whiff of some kind of drug was noticeable. Ether? Yes, perhaps it was ether.
"This is Zinaida Vasilievna Smirnova," she said, introducing the third woman. "What's your name again? Oh, yes Kirilina. First names? Luisa Oskarovna! I'll call you Luisa. Well, you know the Smirnovs, of course, Archangel Reserves, the crack regiment, tana- ram, tarraram! We're staying at the same place—won't you come too? Of course, we'll all be leaving with our men tomorrow."
Her questions came fast and breathlessly, giving me no time to utter a word. Besides, her last sentence left me stunned.
Seeing my look of consternation, she said, "Oh, didn't you hear? They're all being sent to Moscow by way of Vologda . We've already got permission to go with the transport. It's so easy—just smile, flirt, joke, and they do anything you ask. Ha-ha-ha!"
She went on: "Didn't you meet him, Ivan Zernov, the Cheka commissar? I'll take you over to him as soon as we've eaten." Her voice carried to the most remote corner of the dining room and by now people were beginning to look in our direction. Someone might understand Swedish and could be spying on us.
We finished the gritty buckwheat porridge that, with a slice of black bread, was the only course offered on the menu. Zinaida Vasilievna led the way out, her high heels clicking against the dirty floor. Her finely pointed face was lightly powdered and rouged, her lips carefully traced with scarlet lipstick. Upon her mound of blonde curls perched a small modish hat. I wondered what had prompted her to grab for that hat on the helter-skelter flight from Archangel . The heavy-faced proletarians looked up as her dainty figure passed between the tables and their jaws dropped. A long time had passed since they laid eyes upon such an apparition.
Brushing everybody aside, Olga Stepanovna burst in upon the commissar without ceremony, and I followed, worried and nervous. Nonchalantly she stationed herself on the corner of the great one's desk and forthwith went to the attack. Wheedling and demanding by turns, she was brazen, haughty, and coy. She flattered and ant amused him. And with a half-self-conscious, half-patronizing smile, he finally succumbed to her persuasion. He reached out for a piece of paper, scribbled something on it, stamped it, and gave it to her. She grasped it and glanced through it carefully.
"Good! Luisa, there you are! Well, thank you." Her long slender hand brushed her forehead in a mock salute. "See you in Moscow !"
The next morning Olga Stepanovna had us bag and baggage down alongside the train of boxcars that stood waiting on a siding many hours ahead of the supposed departure time. Zinaida Vasilievna had demurred at the early hour, but Olga Stepanovna had insisted:
"These trains may leave at any hour and we don't want to miss this one, do we?"
She spoke from long and varied experience. More than a decade before, she had been a young barmaid in a Finnish cafe 1 when a Russian general had fallen in love with her. Many years her senior, he had promptly married her and carried her off to live in Russia . At the time of the Revolution she was a widow with a school-aged son. When things became too difficult, she and the boy went to live with her mother in Sweden . There she met Boris Pavlovich Kusnet sky. After their marriage she went with him to Archangel , where she served as a nurse at the military hospital. Life had its points, she conceded. And that was true enough. But she was not one of those who just sat and waited for things to happen and then lamented when they went wrong. She had a strong predilection for the assist ing action, the push, and a talent for organization.
In the short time available to us before we left Petrozavodsk, she managed to unearth from the caches and cellars of smugglers and speculators enough food supplies to last us for a few days. By means of secret and hard bargaining, she had acquired bully beef, cereal grains, and bread, which we divided between us. Afterward, along the way, we expected to pick up additional supplies from the people always to be found around the stations, looking for opportunities to barter foodstuffs for goods.
When the prisoners at last arrived, Olga Stepanovna's husband, unable to contain himself, rushed up to her, trying to catch her in his arms. But she evaded him and instead set upon the Red officer in charge of the convoy. She applied the same tactics that she had used on the commissar to extort from him the privileges she had in mind. Responding to her banter with hearty guffaws, he allowed our four husbands to ride with us. There was plenty of room, as only a score of Danish prisoners were assigned to share the boxcar with us. These men had served as volunteers on the Archangel front and after its collapse had been taken prisoners by the Reds at Onega.
Boris Pavlovich, tall and distinguished-looking, with an aquiline nose and fluid brown eyes, followed his wife's every move with an adoring gaze. Every so often he lunged at her to capture a kiss. But she only brushed past him, laughing, too busy arranging, organizing, unpacking their belongings in a carefully chosen corner of the upper shelf.
With Gleb's arms around me for the moment, the world was shut out. The train ran smoothly along the wide tracks, the sun shone warmly upon us. The ground was bare, only here and there in deeply shaded places a few patches remained of honeycombed crys tallizing snow forming tiny droplets as it melted. Last year's grasses, flattened under the winter's heavy carpet of snow, were drying. Tender shoots of new green grass and the budding heads of spring flowers were pushing through into the light. The fragrances of rotting vegetation and promised blossoms reached us in elusive whiffs. A wayward spark from the engine had set a small grass fire alight near the tracks. Blue smoke curled into the air, tiny flames licked at the dry grass and twigs, but the sun stole their shine away and they fizzled out in the melting snow water.
"Isn't she bewitching?" Gleb spoke dreamily, addressing himself rather than me, but I knew what he meant. Then thoughtfully he began to speak, pausing often between sentences. And this monol ogue, together with the fragrances, the gentle motion of the slow- running train taking us into the heart of Russia , and the warmth of the sun, formed at this moment a strangely complete solitude.
"I've been thinking over things a great deal these weeks in prison," he began, "about my childhood, those wonderful days in Tsarskoe Selo, our family—affectionate, dose, the happiest family—and our life so simple and unpretentious. Sunshine every day, it seems to me now." He smiled. "Then the years at Petrograd when my father was the head of the Military Academy and Volodya was in the Corps des Pages." He passed his hand across his eyes as if to recall more vividly these cherished memories. "Volodya was the one of us most like Mother, gentle, affectionate, sensitive, submissive. Boris and I were at school, Marie was just a baby.
"And then came the time for Boris and me to enroll in the Corps des Pages. Boris was handsome. And headstrong too. He did all right, but I wasn't much of a success." He chuckled softly. "I didn't like the swagger and arrogance of the seniors. The discipline seemed unnecessarily rigid. I would refuse to submit and got punished, of course, always in disgrace. I despised the professors for their favoritism and their fawning attitudes." He lost himself in thought.
"Yet, you know, I was very proud to belong to that famous exclusive college. And when I was chosen as Kammerpage to the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich, I was elated and flattered. My first assignment to the Winter Palace was at a gala dinner for the Persian shah. We pages looked so smart in our gold-braided tunics. We wore white pants that had to be drawn on wet so they'd fit skintight without a wrinkle. The patent-leather boots reached above the knee. Yes, we looked very smart. In every looking glass I passed, I remember, I admired my reflection." He chuckled softly. "Standing at attention behind the chair of my grand duchess was boring. So I amused myself with fantasies about anyone I thought looked strange or funny, and it helped the time pass. I dubbed the shah le chat, the cat. He looked like one." He laughed again.
"But then I began to think more seriously about all this ... the pompous ceremonies, the people crowding in the anterooms of the tsar, the flattery, the glib talk. And the insincerity of it struck me. I didn't think the tsar should be kept so remote from the people behind this barrier of courtiers and selfish advisers. And the ap palling extravagance! I felt it was wrong. It was false, the ideas at the bottom of the whole grand ritualism were distorted. Yet I couldn't define my objections. The contrast between the life of the aristocracy and the life of the common people had not yet occurred to me, simply because it was part of Russian life, always had been since the beginning of history. But I had a secret longing to find the truth about all this. It had really nothing to do with politics, but with the arts, the culture, the traditions, the land of the Russian people." For many minutes he sat looking at the passing landscape, a half-smile playing about his eyes as he gazed into the distance.
"Nothing thrilled me more at this time of my life than bravery ... recklessness. I longed for the opportunity to do brave deeds. My father, grandfather, uncles, all were officers, and bravery was a part of the military traditions of our family. When the time came for me to join a regiment, I had set my heart on joining the Fourth Fusiliers, considered the smartest regiment of the Imperial Guards. Volodya belonged to it. But my father would not hear of it. I was furious.
"Then the war broke out. Suddenly things moved quickly. I found myself in a world of gallantry and courage. The old regimental traditions were put to the test." Gleb sat lost in the memories of those bloody days, Galicia, his comrades falling all around him, Volodya killed and he himself badly wounded on the same battlefield. And he learned what war was, this monstrous brutality mankind perpetuates upon itself, spurred by the most primitive of all passions—greed and hate.
"And they stood the test," he went on. "Then came the debacle, my family broken, destroyed. The Revolution shattered everything in my life—future, faith, the very foundation of our world uprooted and overthrown. I feel like a man who has fallen through the ice and is clutching desperately and in vain with his bare hands at the life-saving edge. All that my education and training commanded me to cherish and to fight for is subverted or wiped out. Now I am wondering—I am in doubt. Did the old traditions actually destroy themselves? Why should the whole structure of history— experience added upon experience—suddenly crumble? Why should the loyalties we grew up with and learned to honor be disparaged? And we ourselves be debased to useless encumbrances, doomed to total liquidation?" His voice was suddenly low and bitter. "Are these new standards actually any better, any more realistic, more adequate, or more viable than the old ones? I'm confused, Lisa! Which way leads out of the wilderness?" He fell into a brooding silence. It was some time before he spoke again:
"I know the change is inevitable. Why it is inevitable I don't know. But the old ways and the old style of living must change. There is no other way. Tolstoi recognized it long ago. The old system has lost its purpose and meaning, it has no longer any validity as the fundamental direction for Russia and our people to follow. Too narrow. The base must be broader, it must take in more people. Thinking, attitudes, and goals must change, and I want to work for it ... for the creation of a new Russia . Kerensky saw that change must come. Autocracy was denounced and a new way of democratic rule devised. But the result was too vague, too superficial, too closely attached to the old. It could not, it did not arouse the neces sary confidence. And so it was quickly smothered.
"Only exceptional men succeed in turning a vision into reality. Kerensky was not one of them. Perhaps he lacked the imaginative idealism and the iron-willed statesmanship. I don't know. Besides, history has shown that the initiation of drastic social change by an uprising against a long-established order too easily turns into a blood bath."
Deeply immersed in thought, he sat silent until in the end a lovely smile illuminated his face.
"Spring," he mused softly, "springtime, the birth of new life!"
For a long blissful week we traveled across Russia ; we saw it starved, ravaged, bleak, yet full of the special enchantments that belong to pristine nature and are indestructible. The warm weather, the soft sunshine, and our happiness at being together every minute of those unforgettable days took the sting out of the lice, the inadequacy of the rations, even the presence of the guards. In our car the social atmosphere was easy and congenial, like that of a large family bent on roughing it together with good cheer. Friendly even with the guards, we lost some of the sense of captivity.
We approached the end of the journey, but this time the prospect of impending separation did not seem so frightening as before. The fact that, instead of being dispatched to some peripheral region where in these days prisoners were often shot "by mistake," our men were being transferred to Moscow, the center, was a highly reassuring circumstance. We felt strong and in good spirits. Our capacity to deal with difficulties had improved considerably. Once the final investigations began, we hopefully believed, the end of our separation would surely not be too long delayed.
The train slowed down for a stop at a small station and across the flat landscape the low outline of Vologda was etched against the horizon. An old peasant woman stood by the tracks with a large round loaf of bread in her arms. As Gleb spotted her, he quickly took the green scarf I held out to him, jumped off before the train stopped, and raced to her. For a moment they were locked in argument. A minute later Gleb triumphantly reboarded the car with the freshly baked crusty loaf of bread held tightly in his hands.
What a prize! A large piece for Gleb to take with him and a smaller one for me would fill our greatest needs for the next few days. I got a knife to cut it.
"Wait, Lisa, let me!" Gleb grasped the knife, cut the loaf of bread in half, and before my unbelieving eyes offered the Danish lads one of the halves.
He cut me short. "Here," he said to the Danes, "take this, divide it among yourselves." Then he turned to me. "Would it be right for us to keep all this bread to ourselves?" he asked simply. "These men are starving." And I had no answer.
As the train rumbled into the railway yard of Vologda , to avoid running into any inquisitive police, we four wives prepared to leave the train. One by one we slipped from the slowly moving car and the men pushed our baggage out after us. For a moment I stood looking after their car, jolting over the switch away from us. And then, stumbling across tracks and ties, we eventually made it safely into the town. There, somewhere, Nina Aleksandrovna had a friend who might be able to find us a place to stay.
Passion Week! In the midst of a pagan revolution, Vologda appeared strangely pious. The peel of numerous bells, large and small, made the warm air of the evening vibrate. And from the many churches, their golden domes glimmering in the rays of the setting sun, the notes of ancient hymns carried their Easter message across the town and out over the land beyond.
In the open door of a church we lingered for a while, listening to the chimes. From within wafted chilly air laden with incense.
Under the arches we could see the blue smoke issuing and diffusing from the swinging censers. In the background the golden iconostasis gleamed dimly through the haze and mitered priests in rich black and silvered robes moved solemnly around the altar. Here and there along the walls and around the pillars halo-crowned icons, once jewel- studded, shone with a tempered glow within their circles of flickering candles. Shadowy worshipers moved softly from one icon to the next to offer it a kiss and place a lit candle securely into an empty socket. Men and women stood or knelt on the ice-cold stone floor. Others, gripped with emotion, prostrated themselves several times, humbly touching the floor with their foreheads. There was hushed gentle movement, a constant coming and going in and out of the wide-open doors. The priests' monotonous chanting and the resonant voices of the hidden choir filled the holy room.
We found Nina Aleksandrovna's friend without difficulty. It so happened that she was a member of the House Committee, the inquisitive agency set up to handle the affairs of each house, whose members decided who should and who should not share the severely rationed living space in the building. Without undue publicity she was able to put us up in a small room, undoubtedly a hazardous gesture of hospitality on her part.
Our room boasted few more conveniences than the boxcar we had just left. Two twisted bedsteads represented all the furniture. They resisted every effort to straighten them out, so again we had to bed down on the bare floor. Nevertheless, the place was a refuge. It was clean and afforded us a measure of privacy. We succeeded in prying open one of the tightly nailed windows to let in the fresh air and the sweet smell of the budding linden trees along the avenue.
The next morning exacting tasks lay ahead of us, including finding out where our husbands were and securing permission to visit and to bring them food parcels. Since we had no ration cards, we had to search out illicit food outlets, an operation we were to find exceedingly risky.
In the process of social equalization the Soviet authorities had made a brilliant success of eliminating the bargaining power of money. According to graded scales in the order of their importance to the state, labor and political activities were now being rewarded by the direct provision of essential goods, including tobacco. At the same time, the calamitous scarcities caused by the prolonged war and by the drastic social changes of the Revolution effectively defeated all efforts to provide the people with the barest necessities. But the instincts of self-preservation demanding satisfaction at any price were uncontrollable. In secret and sometimes quite openly, speculation and the smuggling of food and other things flourished. The attempts of the government, though ruthless and often brutal, proved powerless to suppress the black market. At this epoch of Soviet history, the rulers, in possession of nothing but empty hands, in vain appealed for cooperation and true party spirit.
We divided ourselves into two parties of operation. Olga Stepa novna, bold and astute, together with Nina Aleksandrovna, who was not without her share of shrewdness, were detailed to find a jobber who dealt in valuables, so we could sell some of our trinkets. Among the four of us we did not own a kopek, and money, though in credibly inflated, was still useful in the black market. This mission obviously had to be carried out with utmost discretion. In addition, they were to approach the camp commander with a view to getting us into his good graces, not the easiest of tasks.
Meanwhile, Zinaida Vasilievna and I prepared to go to the black market. In these open-air bargaining centers, everything from bread and salt to Oriental rugs and exquisite antiques was sold for a price. So we collected shirts and sweaters suitable for barter, hid them under our coats, and set out.
In the former farmers' marketplace, Vologda 's illegal commerce prospered. Evil-smelling throngs milled around a few ramshackle stands. Faces shone with sweat in the warm spring sun. Bearded peasants in belted sheepskin coats sat by their sacks filled with grain and flour, which had been brought out of hiding to provide them and their families with the supplementary supplies they so sorely needed. Broad-hipped babushkas, their wide skirts bulging over their clumsy felt boots, kerchiefs slipping off their foreheads in the heat of barter, loudly proclaimed the merits of their sour cream and cottage cheese. Behind them, dressed in tattered clothes to mask her gentle origin, a former lady timidly held out for sale in apologetic hands a golden chain of exquisite workmanship. A gang of Red soldiers, shamelessly bent on the same illicit errand as the rest of us, elbowed their way through the crowd jostling the lady. A streak of spittle landed in the dust at her feet. She merely turned her head away.
Keeping close together, hesitantly at first, Zinaida Vasilievna and I mixed with the crowd. "We must not get separated," she whispered anxiously. She took out a sweater while I held out one of Gleb's shirts. Presently a peasant came up and thumbed my shirt with grimy hands. His small eyes gleamed under his bushy brows.
"How much?" he asked gruffly.
"What have you got?" I parried.
A protracted argument ensued about the superiority of my shirt against the imperfections of his eggs, and vice versa. Tempers began to grow hot over the issue. Neither one wished to cede one inch. At length the peasant left in disgust. I wondered if I had been too insistent. But a few minutes later he was back again, edging up closer, trying to look nonchalant. Now the advantage was on my side. I set the price: thirty eggs for my shirt. Another vehement protest: "Are you crazy?" followed by a threat to leave. But the allure of the shirt was too powerful. With a musty oath the man produced the eggs, and Gleb's shirt disappeared behind the stiff folds of his old sheepskin coat.
That day luck was with us. Laden with bread, sour cream, eggs, butter, and cottage cheese, we had just reached the avenue bordering the marketplace on our way home when suddenly wild cries resounded from one end of the crowded place to the other.
"Oblava, ei, oblava!"
"A raid! The police!" cried Zinaida Vasilievna, her face pale. Shouts, shrieks, a storm of stomping feet, and a torrent of humanity poured madly toward the houses edging the square. Dropping a piece of clothing here, a loaf of bread there, men and women looked grotesquely funny as they ran, dodging, trying frantically to clutch, save, tuck away the damning evidence of their illicit operations. And on the crest of the peripheral shock wave of this tumultuous commo tion, the two of us let ourselves be carried out of harm's way.
A glance back and the dust was settling on the empty marketplace again. A policeman walked across the vacant space. He picked up a flat loaf of black bread lost in the scramble. He broke off a good- sized piece, pushed it into his broad mouth, tucked the rest into the top of his boot, beside his spoon and knife, and sauntered on. In another hour the square would once again be bustling.
When we arrived home, Nina and Olga were already there, waiting. They had found a safe jobber with whom we could do business in the morning. They had also found the camp and met the commandant. And, amazingly, he had granted us permission to visit with our husbands in his office that afternoon, and every afternoon until further notice. Greatly encouraged, we chatted and laughed happily at Olga's vivid, always slightly smutty comments on their experiences, while we busily prepared a meal for ourselves and food parcels for our men.
The visiting hour passed in a happy mood. Gleb said that the prisoners were not confined to the barracks, so he spent most of the time outside sitting in the sun, dreaming of happier tomorrows. He spoke of visions of freedom and a life for us together, attuned to Russia 's new aims and ideas. "The sooner we get to Moscow ," he said, "the better."
A few days after Easter, word came that the prisoners were being sent to Moscow . Olga Stepanovna immediately tried to secure permission for us to travel with the transport, but the commandant categorically refused to consider her request, and all her cajoling and wiles were of no avail.
"I can do nothing for you, citizeness."
This sudden inflexible attitude worried me; it was not a good sign. Had the ruling anything to do with our getting closer to the center of Soviet Russia? Was the central soviet more to be feared than the local ones? Yet Moscow was the only place where, after all, there was any hope that the conditions of the surrender terms signed at Sumskiy Posad were eventually to be fulfilled. Upon those centered all our expectations, our faith in the future. For what other reasons had they taken the trouble to move this large number of prisoners across half of Russia ? What would have been the sense?
The commandant went on, "But I will do this for you; I will arrange for you and your friends to travel to Moscow . That's all I can do."
This was actually a far greater concession than we could have expected from this man. To go to the station and to buy tickets and just take off was not possible. Travel was free, but for ordinary people to acquire a permit was a time-consuming and difficult process. This was especially true of people who had no legitimate jobs, partly because "essential" travelers, such as party members and officials, took precedence over all others, and partly because all transportation was in a general state of disorganization. Apart from this, it was of no advantage for this man to put himself out for two or three wives of political prisoners; rather the contrary. But there is to be found in the Russian character a certain spontaneous warmth of heart, an inclination toward compassion, often met when least expected.
When I told Gleb of our failure to get permission to travel with the transport, he said nothing but he looked disturbed. I hastened to reassure him. This arrangement was probably not bad, possibly even better, as we would arrive in Moscow ahead of them, and perhaps be at the station to meet them. On the trip nothing much could happen to us, traveling as we would be on Soviet passes. All three of us (Nina Aleksandrovna had decided to return to Archangel) had friends in Moscow.
"Be sure you go to see Nikolai Leonidovich," Gleb urged me. He was one of Gleb's best friends at Horserod and I, too, knew him well. I repeated the address: apartment 7 , Myasnitskaya 18.
"Time is up, Lisa," Gleb whispered. He made the sign of the cross above my head. "Que Dieu te benisse!" And as he embraced me a look of unexplained apprehension haunted his gray eyes.
If I had hitherto considered touring Russia in boxcars the most uncomfortable way of traveling, it was because I had not yet tried a fourth-class coach on a regular passenger run during post-revolutionary days. We boarded the train at noon. To say that it was crowded would be a gross understatement. Not only were all the seats occupied by more people than they were made for, but men, women, and children filled every passage and compartment, tightly pressed together, sweating, panting in the stifling atmosphere of makhorka mixed with the exudations of unwashed humanity. Hugging our bundles dose to us, we could only abandon ourselves limply to the mauling of the crowd. Transported by the convulsive movements of the multitude, our immobilized bodies gradually gravitated toward the center of the car.
The pressure of the crowd reached its height at the stops. Cursing and screaming, people wanting to get off pushed toward the exits. Faces shone purple from exertion, excitement, and wrath. Only when the train stopped for several minutes was there the slightest chance for anybody to get off. Not infrequently many were carried, protesting and fighting, far past their destinations.
Between stations the passengers fell into a morose silence, broken only by an occasional outburst of cursing or a sudden frantic fight for a space to breathe. To get to the toilet was impossible.
Hunger and thirst assailed everybody, but none of us dared to open our food parcels lest we be robbed of the little we had. No one dared get off to fetch a pailful of water at the stations for fear of being left behind. Someone might occasionally voice a random call for water through an opened window, on the chance that some kind soul might respond by handing a pail full of water to the caller, and when someone did, it was sei2ed upon with such alacrity that the water splashed over the loudly protesting fellow passengers.
Toward nightfall the pressure of the crowd eased somewhat and miraculously we found ourselves pushed into a compartment with two empty seats. Once we were seated, conditions seemed more endurable. We took turns lying down, somehow managing to wedge a body in behind the backs of the other two. Our spirits rose and Olga Stepanovna's jocularity returned. In French she treated us to rude jokes about our fellow passengers and their imperfections. With clumsy irony she praised the paradisiac conditions of the USSR until, weary and hungry as we were, Zinaida Vasilievna and I burst into hysterical laughter. Brown eyes darting highly gratified from face to face, Olga Stepanovna joined with her own hearty guffaws.
At a large junction halfway down the line a detail of railway police invaded our car, searching for "speculators," checking documents and baggage. They were looking for people who had gone into the country to buy up food from the farms with the intention of reselling it on the black market. A suspiciously bulky woman sat in a corner surrounded by her bundles. They pounced on her, seized all she had, and dragged her away, yelling, cursing, and kicking.
We sat in suspense, waiting for our turn to come. What if they discovered that some of our things were of foreign make?
The officer in charge reached our corner. He was a fair young fellow with blue eyes and smooth cheeks. His Russian-style blouse, khaki-colored like his trousers, was neatly gathered at the back under his black belt. He looked smart enough to have begun his military career in the old army of the tsar.
"Your papers, citizenesses!"
We gave him our passes.
"Personal belongings only?" he inquired. We said yes, and he went on to the next passenger. We sank back marveling at our incredibly good luck and at the magic power of the Soviet rubber stamp.
The night and the next day dragged on interminably. We were exhausted, uncomfortable, and hungry, and our tempers began to wear thin. We flared up at each other without cause. Even Olga Stepanovna's hilarity and free banter were silenced. She and Zinaida Vasilievna sat whispering together, and, feeling left out, I withdrew from them with rising ill humor.
All my fierce hatred of the Bolsheviks returned suddenly with full impact. The sufferings we were compelled to endure on this ghastly trip were their fault. They obliged people to live like pigs. They herded them like cattle and robbed them of every civilized right and amenity. No one, I raved in mute impotence, had any right to expose people to this sort of barbarous abuse. Never before had I found myself so closely surrounded and pressed and jostled by strangers, most of them unkempt and surly—as unkempt and surly as I was by this time.
Could this really be the people to whom Gleb belonged and whom he loved with all the passion of his Russian nature? Could these be the men and women for whom he was ready to lay down his life and whose destiny he had no greater desire than to share? No, these were merely the dregs stirred up by the agitations of the Revolution, risen like scum to the surface. These were ... In this feeling of frenzied detestation, neither charity nor compassion nor good judgment had any part.
We reached Moscow toward the evening of the next day. Like sheep pouring from a fold, the released passengers tumbled out onto the platform of the Nikolayevsky Station.
The vast dimensions of the station at first impressed me. But then I perceived the degradation of the formerly luxurious building. Filling every inch of the platforms and the handsome waiting rooms, people sprawled, lolled, a motley crowd of peasants, riffraff, re spectable citizens, northerners, southerners, all in dirty drab clothing; a huge congestion of would-be travelers assembled to wait hours and days for a chance to force their way onto a train. Here this mass of people camped, slept, ate, jostled each other with no sanitary facilities whatsoever. We had to make our way across these pulsating throngs of people, trying not to trample directly upon human flesh.
When we got outside at last, Olga Stepanovna urged me to come with them. But still feeling hurt, I told them to go on, I would be all right, I would find my own friends.
"But I don't like to leave you like this!" she insisted, and her tone was genuinely concerned. But I would not give in, and reluctantly they left me standing there. They found an izvostchik, a cab driver lording it over a scrawny hack. For several minutes they haggled over the fare before they piled their bundles and themselves into the sagging vehicle. I watched them drive off, mercilessly jounced on the rough cobblestones of the wide avenue.
So this was Moscow, the center of Russia ! I looked around and found none of the bright golden domes so often shown in pictures of Moscow. Only a statue occupied the center of the circle in front of the station, covered by rough boards effectively concealing, I later found out, the likeness of one of Russia's mighty tsars. Beyond it monotonously rectangular buildings, some softly yellow, others drab gray, all sadly in need of repairs, lined spacious avenues and broad streets, fanning out endlessly in all directions. Wagons rattled over the cobblestones and the hoofs of the horses gave off hollow echoes. An occasional motor vehicle of ancient vintage chugged past with a leather-coated, red-star-helmeted driver at the wheel. A few gray- faced men and women in worn clothing, their eyes unfriendly, passed without offering the stranger a glance. And I myself, soured in mind, in my worn leather coat and dirty boots, in a hat and dress sewn together in the prison out of some brownish-gray material Mother had sent me, must have appeared as threadbare and hostile as any of these others.
Strapping together the bundle and the brown duffel bag for easier carrying, I slung them across my shoulders and went in search of Myasnitskaya 18.