Table of contents Louise de Kiriline Lawrence
  Another Winter, Another Spring
A Love Remembered

Chapter 24


Petrograd - Leningrad

I had learned nothing. But Menzhinsky had been conspicuously evasive. Perhaps there were reasons, perhaps Gleb was still alive. General unrest, combined with pressures from abroad, might well force the Bolsheviks to suppress new excesses, at least temporarily. Their hold on power was precarious and the foreign party members were quite critical of a great many of the conditions they had acci­ dentally discovered in the Soviet Union . Moreover, the authorities were constantly being faced with gigantic problems in their efforts to reorganize the whole economic structure of a continent, to feed the starving and placate the discontented. The favor of the masses is fickle, and their power is overwhelming unless they are kept strictly cowed into submission. Gleb might still be alive! And I must wait for another chance to find out. And if he was alive, I must wait for him to come back to me.

But not here in Moscow. I would wait in Leningrad with Gleb's sister, Marie. Gleb and I had planned this, if the worse came to the worst. He would know that I would go to her. And if he did not come back, Marie and I would go in search of him.

Having reached this decision, I could not leave Moscow fast enough. The Linderoths arranged for me to travel to Leningrad in comfort and security as an international delegate. Thus, in a first-class coach and in the same sleeping compartment with three Communist officials, I traveled in complete safety.

On a drizzly November morning I walked out of the station into Gleb's beloved city. The air, the streets were shrouded in dull gray humidity, but I had become so inured to the gray monotony of the Soviet environment that it did not greatly disturb me. As I found myself in surroundings easily recognized from his vivid descriptions, always dramatically colored with his intense nostalgia, Gleb's presence seemed very close.

A shaggy isvostchik, huge in his voluminous coachman's robes, pulled his gaunt horse to a stop in front of me.

"Where can I take you, barenya?" he asked genially, leaning down from his high perch. I looked at him in surprise. I had not thought of taking a droshky, but the man's kindly voice addressing me by the intimate second-person pronoun, calling me barenya, that word of simple Russian courtesy I had not heard for a long time, filled me with warmth. So we settled on a suitable fare and drove off to Marie's address.

Many of the wooden blocks with which the streets were originally paved to soften the noise of the traffic had rotted, leaving potholes and making our progress very bumpy. The streets were almost empty and the few people about in the former proud Russian capital looked ragged and more resigned than the people in Moscow.

As the vehicle swung slowly into the Nevsky Prospekt the marvelous dimensions of the city swept away all other impressions. What generosity of outline! What great open distances! Surely the majestic plan of this city, built upon millions of pilings driven deep into the marshy lands around the broad mouth of the river Neva, crisscrossed by natural channels and manmade canals, vividly reflected the largess of its famous builder, Peter the Great.

We crossed the Fontanka Bridge , guarded at each end by a pair of mighty prancing horses cast in bronze. On the left stretched the long yellow facade of the palace formerly occupied by Russia 's most beloved tsarina in her retirement, Maria Feodorovna, of Danish birth and the sister of Britain 's Queen Alexandra. It seemed lifeless and abandoned.

The Gostinaya Dvor with its curving arcades of once-famous boutiques, now empty and shuttered, lay brooding with an air of heavy nostalgia. At its far end a gigantic bust of a revolutionary hero mocked the sad remains of Peter's city. Daringly cut in hard gray granite, it stood on its still unfinished pedestal, a symbol of stark realism and the new order.

My friendly coachman turned off the Nevsky onto a short street well hidden behind the towering dome of the Kazansky Cathedral. Before a low two-story house we came to a halt.

There was a Soviet dining room on the ground floor. The janitor, an aged man, directed me across a cobblestoned courtyard. I climbed a flight of well-scrubbed stairs and knocked at a door. And in the dimly lit hallway I met Gleb's sister.

Marie's resemblance to her brother was striking. Of elegant build, she had the same features, the small head, the steady gray eyes, the sensitive mouth. Too soon this eighteen-year-old girl had been torn away from the security of her childhood home and thrown into the harsh world of social upheaval. The impact had been severe. The nervous way she spoke and the restless movements of her hands betrayed the emotional shock she had suffered. And this underlined the fundamental difference between brother and sister.

Marie, I soon learned, had acquired none of Gleb's serenity, nor the calm detachment with which he had absorbed change and sought its natural and logical explanation. One could probably not expect this. Instead she had mentally enclosed herself in a shiny armor of immunity against tears and sorrow. She had made up her mind that she had done with suffering. She would no longer allow anything to touch her. She had built between herself and disaster an impenetrable wall. And the effort had left her slightly tremulous and breathless.

It was therefore natural that Gleb's fate should not touch her poignantly. To her his disappearance meant only that the long-expected end of her family was now a fact. Gleb had left her, and in the course of the two years since he went away she had become quite accustomed to the thought. She had seen the same thing happening to so many of her friends. Most of their families had now been dissolved. Her youth bade her to live entirely independently from the past, with new goals, new ties, new dreams, and fresh longings.

A year passed.

I kept in close contact with several of the wives of Gleb's comrades. New rumors continued to arise, keeping us constantly on edge and our hopes tormentingly alive. Whispers reached us of an iso lated concentration camp at the Solovietsky Monastery on a bleak island in the White Sea , where political prisoners considered particular ly dangerous were being held. Might not the Kholmogory prisoners have been sent there? If so, a message would come through sooner or later. Then someone heard of trains full of prisoners near Murmansk and of dark columns of men marching by night some­ where in the north. Perhaps some of our men might be among them. Frantically we grasped at every rumor. But each one melted away like mists before the morning sun, leaving nothing but this weird uncertainty that begot and sustained hope.

Early in 1921 a revolt broke out among the naval units at the fortress of Kronstadt, just outside Leningrad in the Gulf of Finland. At the same time there were wild rumors of riots in the factories, of spreading unrest and mass movements of troops. Against the rapidly deteriorating conditions and the hungry people's cries for bread, the Kronstadt cannon roared in protest. Once again our hopes soared. We listened tense, half unbelieving, yet hoping against hope for a favorable outcome of the revolt, filled with fervid visions of the downfall of the Bolsheviks and the immediate release of all political prisoners.

One day a man with a familiar face passed me on the Nevsky Prospekt. To my surprise he turned and, not looking at me, walked beside me just long enough to whisper quickly, "Luisa Oskarovna!"

He strode ahead of me, then slowed so that I was soon abreast of him again.

"Dmitri Grigorievich!" I recognized him with a shock—Gleb's fellow officer who had given me his pair of spare breeches on that first day out of Archangel . The last time I had seen him had been at the Ivanovsky camp. Had he escaped from Kholmogory?

"Careful, I am being followed. Where do you live?"

"Oldenburg Children's Hospital, Ligovka, second floor, first door left," I said without turning my head, and continued walking. The next instant he was gone.

I hurried back to the hospital where I had been working ever since I arrived in Leningrad. Was I to hear and know at last? Dmitri Grigorievich was obviously desperate for a place to hide. Nowhere would he be safer than at the hospital. My room was easily accessible and separate from the living quarters of the rest of the staff. I waited for him.

At dusk a soft knock on my door announced his arrival. Quickly and silently he slipped inside. No one had seen him.

I asked, "Where have you come from?" and for an instant I could hardly breathe.

" Moscow. I was released there." My heart dropped like a stone.

I prepared some food—all I had to offer—and set it on the table. The work gave me time to recover. For many hours we sat undisturbed and talked in low whispers about Archangel, about the mad adventure, and all that had happened since then.

"And then I was set free," he concluded, "and ever since I have been living in hell. To be a prisoner, or to be free under constant surveillance—which is worse, I don't know! A prisoner enjoys a certain security." He gave a short laugh. "I have been hounded from place to place, hardly daring to visit friends for fear of causing them trouble. They are after me now," he shrugged his shoulders lightly, "but who cares! Perhaps I'll be able to lose them. . . . But this, Luisa Oskarovna, is a blessed respite." An engaging, almost confident smile flitted across his face.

His clean-cut features, the reckless glint in his eye brought a warm vision of Gleb alive before me. Proud, always courageous, this man as I knew him and Gleb as I remembered him that last time, standing erect in the old monastery garden, seemed to me the prototypes of Russia's fair beleaguered youth at bay. Pour out the wine, comrades, God only knows what the future will bring!

We sat for a while in silence. From the other end of the corridor came a child's cry. The soft footsteps of the night nurse passed my door. She had nothing for the child—no extra blankets, no food, not even enough bandages to change the dressing on an aching wound. She had nothing but water and her own soft hands and gentle voice. The baby's cries stopped.

Suddenly on the wind we heard the thunder of the cannon at Kronstadt. We sat listening tensely.

"Tonight, Luisa Oskarovna, the situation is critical. Tonight the outcome will be decided."

At midnight Dmitri Grigorievich stole away. I never saw him again.

After he had gone, I sat for a long time and listened to the guns. Gradually the booming detonations diminished. Finally they stopped.

The next morning the news reached us that the Kronstadt revolt had been successfully crushed by the ancient ruse of the Trojan horse.

I walked alone slowly through the narrow streets of the Petro gradskaya Starana. On the Troitsky Bridge I stood leaning against the parapet, looking out over the broad slow-flowing river Neva. To the right the squat jagged walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress mir­ rored themselves in the quiet waters. Suddenly a puff of white woolly smoke mushroomed from the wall of the fortress and the noon-hour gun boomed. A split second later its echo resounded against the dark-red walls of the Winter Palace and the long line of palatial former foreign embassies and luxurious homes strung along the Nabersynaya.

The thought of security in a free land beyond the dosed borders played in my mind. To sit once again at a well-appointed table and eat one's fill, to dress once more in fine clothes, to speak one's mind without fear, to be able to visit friends without risk of being caught in a dragnet of persecution after the unfortunate friend was arrested seemed blessings beyond ordinary imagination.

Yet how could I, in all sincerity, wish myself away from all that Gleb had lived for and loved with the most intense feelings of belonging and passion? Strange how Russia had gradually become part of my own life and being, this land, this people, this culture that were his very essence. Give me only a week of soft living outside, and I would break my heart to come back to this air, these sights, the wide perspectives, the smells, the insecurity, the hunger, the despair—to Russia!


Table of contents