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

Chapter 7


The Decision

At this time it happened that I had to move out of the apart ment that Mother had sublet. This lack of a home of our own was soon to pose unexpected problems for us.

When Mother heard of Gleb's arrival, she came to Stockholm and she and I moved in with an aunt. In her small flat there was no room for Gleb. In a city overcrowded with refugees, all I had been able to get for him on such short notice was a miserable room on a noisy downtown street.

The joy of being together again, the love and the trust that had brought him miraculously through deathly dangers back to me and tenderly expressed in every glance and word, were soon to be severely tested. His position as a penniless refugee and yet my fiance pro­ foundly disturbed him. He realized my relatives' unuttered dis­approval of the rash engagement; he felt frustrated by his inability to fulfill the demands placed upon him, not only by them but by his own standards of pride and honor, based on family tradition and his military education. The relatives' invitations to lunches and dinners to celebrate the occasion intensified his discomfort by focusing on the incongruities of the present state of affairs. And my efforts to shield him, to withdraw him from these well-meant social obligations proved futile and ineffective. If we could only be left alone!

In an effort to escape during the early part of the day, we went for long walks in the parks surrounding the city, where there was peace and privacy and we could be ourselves. On the leaf-strewn paths ripe with the pungent autumn fragrances we found a measure of solitude and a blessed chance of intimate communion. There where the sun broke through the clouds and played upon the frosty dew gathered on the dead grasses, making them glitter like a thou­ sand stars, we found a bench. In disjointed fragments, piecemeal, Gleb laid down before me the entire story of his past life, that in my keeping it might find its continuance.

The exclusive town of Tsarskoe Selo, the tsar's village, once full of happy homes and young laughter, of bright uniforms and shining horses pulling dashing troikas in winter, had centered around the resplendent court of the tsar. For centuries it had been the cherished place of leisure, recreation, and retirement of the Russian rulers, with their crowds of courtiers and attendants and hangers-on moving like kaleidoscopic figures around its tree-lined streets and in its pic­ turesque parks. Here the famous palace of Catherine the Great stretched its elongated yellow facade amid gardens with artificial lakes and sparkling fountains, a gorgeous monument to Russia 's most prominent empress. Its architecture, its priceless paintings and in­ terior decorations bore witness to the old imperial splendor. Not far from it, and surrounded by another immense park, Nikolai H's favorite palace raised its columned front, its white walls shining even on days when the sun was concealed. Its simplicity gave it an air of severe dignity.

Elsewhere scattered around the town were the spacious barracks of the famed regiments of the Imperial Guards, into whose safe­keeping the lives of the tsar and his family were entrusted. Most of the men living in the town belonged to these regiments, as did the men of the Kirilin family. Their whole existence was steeped in regimental traditions, in the life of splendor and gaiety of the im­ perial garrison with its jingling spurs, its resplendent military trap­pings, and its inevitable entourage of feminine flutter.

Now the barracks lay deserted. The portals of their once sacred military citadel stood unguarded. The colorful historical traditions of the regiments were lost in a vast oppressive emptiness. Gone the echoes of sharply shouted commands, the songs of the soldiers full of dashing rhythm and wistful sadness. Gone all the evidence of the disciplined Russian soldiers' amiable subservience to their keen and pleasure-loving officers and to their "little father," the tsar.

In the white palace a captive dethroned ruler had lived with his frightened family not so long ago, an imperial prisoner accepting (lie adverse turn of his fortunes with the nobility of a gentleman and the temperance of a martyr. In his magnificent palace park he had moved with tranquil dignity surrounded and guarded by disrespect­ful and uncouth soldiers. And his fate, like that of so many of his officers, had hung precariously in the balance of the capricious power of the populace. Then he, too, was gone, sent into exile with his family, as had so many exiles before him been sent by a stroke of his own unwilling pen.

When Gleb returned home, the face of Tsarskoe Selo was gray and lifeless. Not even the loveliness of the advancing springtime could hide the disfigurement of the neglected parks, the grass worn by the footprints of the liberated people, and the gutters filled with dead leaves unswept from past autumns. In the all but empty street a man hurried furtively past him. He peered into the drawn face marked with the refinement that no poverty, no humiliation or beggar's clothes could erase entirely, but he did not recognize it. And then he came to the corner of the wide avenue, and with a pang of excitement he saw once again the stone wall that still kept futile guard around his once graceful home. He opened the unhinged gate and went in.

The meeting between the aged father and the lost son was filled with tremendous shock for both of them. Standing aside, awaiting their turn, his sister Marie, a very shy young girl, and their faithful nanny cried softly.

For the past year these three had lived here together in one room to conserve heat. The rest of the house stood empty. Except for the few pieces they had crowded into the one room to make it more livable, most of the furniture was gone. Gone were all the pictures and the bibelots, objects tied by memory and affection to the entire history of the family. Gleb found the few things that still remained piled into a corner of the bare and cold dining room, like goods in a junk shop awaiting disposal. And soon they too would be gone, one by one, in a forlorn effort to keep scanty meals on the table.

Gleb had had no illusions about his homecoming. The hard­ ships of the war and the three years in German prison camps had prepared him for a blighted world. He had returned to this new life fully aware of the irrelevancy of former comfort. He deplored the change, but he did not permit himself the luxury of nostalgia. With two empty hands he set about to support his reduced family amid the ruins of what once had been.

"If I could only tell you, Lisa, how I felt! If I could only explain my hopes, my conclusions, my understanding of these events! I see the revolution as a logical, an unavoidable sequence of all that had taken place before. The decay of the old! I see it now so clearly. It had gone too far, much too far. The injustices, the oppression . . . It's now up to us to adapt to the change, to work with it, not against it. When a great revolution meets a rigid resistance, a violent rebound and corrupting excess is a logical result."

He paused. "At least that's the way I look at it. And I also know that to become involved in politics in Russia is and always has been extremely dangerous. What I want to do is take a nonpartisan stand on the side of justice and work for the creation of a true democracy, for something that is right and totally beneficial and well balanced. Surely, after the tearing down, after all that is finished with, the restoration of a new social order should become possible."

I knew that Gleb was not alone in his attitude. A great many young people like Gleb, who belonged to the former privileged classes, who had not yet been touched by the poisons of a divided allegiance, were only too willing to share with the less privileged the personal discomforts and hardships that were unavoidable in the violent clash between two sharply diverging social ideas striving for dominance for the sake of a fair solution of the problem. But the irresistible momentum of the revolutionary forces that strove to sweep away the old was impossible to stop, and it destroyed them.

Gleb was unable at this time to assess the violence of the Russian Revolution. Besides, his first concern was to find some rational means of making a living. He met with little success. Meanwhile, he sold some of the remaining pieces of furniture. With this money he would walk miles into the countryside to buy a bag of potatoes and carry it home on his back. He went days without food himself that the others might eat. Finally, by sheer luck, he ran into an old friend who secured for him work with an organization caring for repatriated prisoners of war. This meant that he was now in possession of an invaluable worker's certificate that entitled him to rations. And he stayed with the work patiently for as long as it lasted.

Then, without warning, the organization was dissolved. Gleb sold some more precious possessions, a few pieces of good clothing lie had found in a cupboard; none of it brought much. Gradually he became aware of a menacing change in the attitude of the author­ ities. The protection given returned veterans was eroding fast. Cuts in rations, enforced registration undermined the already precarious position of anybody belonging to the intelligentsia, regardless of war service. Sudden alarming disappearances became the order of the day. People were arrested by the secret police at night; the wait for the awful nocturnal rap on the door turned life into a nightmare. Without work, Gleb, as a former officer, became markedly vulnerable. But he refused to hide his true identity, nor would he wave a con­ venient red flag.

Ever since the day of Gleb's homecoming, his father had not been well. The return of the only remaining son had been a shock as well as a great joy. It had freed him from the responsibility of the family. And suddenly age descended upon the old man and bowed his erect soldierly figure. Deep lines of sadness furrowed his face. His eyes, filled with a faraway dreamy light, looked upon the ruins of his world without bitterness. He had begun to withdraw from it three years earlier, when his wife had killed herself. He no longer belonged to this harsh world. He was ill only a week. Gleb and Marie buried him beside his wife and his two sons under the simple white headstone of the Kirilins in the once well-kept Tsarskoe Selo cemetery. After the funeral Gleb found tucked under his father's pillow one of his mother's bloodstained stockings, taken from her injured foot as she lay dying.

Now that their father was gone, there was no reason for the brother and sister to stay in the old home. Gleb was rapidly be­ coming convinced that the new regime had no room for people like himself. He felt the network of relentless terror closing in upon him. And his presence jeopardized Marie's safety. So they arranged for her to go and live with their aunt, an unpretentious and very kind person who lived on a side street behind the Kazan Cathedral in Petrograd . She was fond of Marie and heartily welcomed her. There, Gleb felt, the young girl would be sue and at least have enough to eat.

As for himself, he was young, and the hope of the young is not easily killed. He wanted to live and to live without shame. Rumors kept circulating about significant events taking place in the south.

The name of Denikin had sprung into prominence, a leader fighting not for the revival of the old regime with all its deplorable mistakes, but for a people's democratic government in opposition to the Bol­ sheviks' bloody dictatorship with its class hatred and its brutalities, and this appealed to him. And finally he reached the portentous decision of which he had written in his last letter. Cautiously and surreptitiously he began to search for a way to get to the south. Underground activities were rapidly becoming organized. He needed help. One of the men with whom he had worked procured for him a travel permit as a war invalid going to a convalescent hospital south of Moscow .

For the last time Gleb replaced with fresh flowers the wilted ones on the four graves. For the last time the old nanny prepared for him a scanty meal in his childhood home. And as he left her, with tears running down her withered cheeks, she touched with her lips the shoulder of the tall man she had nursed as a child in her arms. The house was hers, he had given it to her; belonging to the proletariat, she would be safe there.

At the dirty, crowded railroad station in Moscow Gleb boarded the train for the last and most dangerous part of the journey. He took his place in a coach with other invalids southward bound. The air was heavy with odors of sweaty clothes and tobacco. The men sat tightly wedged side by side on the hard wooden seats. Nobody spoke. Tension was in many faces, mistrust and fear. Suddenly loud voices broke the silence of the crowded coach. Like lightning word spread that Red soldiers were coming aboard in search of deserters. The counterrevolutionary activities in the south had sharp­ ened the vigilance of the Reds. A small detachment of khaki-clad police burst noisily into the coach. Their ruddy faces shone under helmets made from rough fabric with a large red star splashed in front. Long greatcoats flapped against their booted legs. Revolvers hung in holsters from black leather belts.

Gleb's papers were not accepted. With several others under sus­ picion he was arrested and taken to the Cheka prison hospital for further investigation.

The dingy dormitory reeked of disinfectants, stale tobacco, and sick humans. On a low cot pushed against the wall Gleb faced the end of his trail. "It had to come," he muttered. He turned against the wall, found his knife, and bared his wrist.

But he could not do it.

He rose from his cot and glanced around. Taking nothing with him, he slowly walked out of the suffocating dormitory, down the corridor, into the unswept vestibule. Hands in his pockets, he walked past the sentry, down the front steps, out into the crowded street. Nobody stopped him.

Tense with excitement, he kept on walking down the street. A plan of escape began to take shape in his mind. Back to Petrograd — somehow. Back to get the visa for Sweden . Across the Siestra Rieka into Finland . Oh, God, would it be possible to get as far as that?

He walked down the long Miasnitskaya Street to the Nicolayevsky Station. He hid until the train for Petrograd was due. Without any papers or ticket, just as the train began to move out, he leaped on behind the back of a soldier guard. Throughout the whole of that nightmarish journey he dodged the men of the Cheka. He sneaked behind their backs, clung to the rods, crawled under the benches, hid in the toilet. As the train, with brakes screaming, steamed into stations, he jumped off and caught it again as it laboriously gathered speed beyond. He never missed, never made a miscalculated move. When the train slowing down on a curve clattered into the outskirts of Petrograd , he jumped off, rolled into a deep ditch, and fell asleep, exhausted.

When he awoke it was night. He rose stiffly and walked cautiously into the city. For several days he hid with friends, moving con­ stantly, carefully preparing for the escape into Finland . He did not dare get in touch with Marie. But somehow he had to get the visa. He prayed for his luck to hold. He crept along the narrow street behind the Swedish embassy and finally slipped through the door when the janitor opened it. Elsa gave him the visa.

At last, in the darkness of a moonless November night, creeping from one bush to another, Gleb reached the famous Siestra Rieka. Red soldiers were on guard continually along the creek. He hid, watching, preparing himself for the last precarious dash.

Cautiously he crawled closer to the water's edge. Slowly, so as not to make a splash, he waded into the open stream, until only his head was above water. Under his cap he carried his wallet with a little money, his cherished Maltese cross, and the Swedish visa. He prayed his foot would not slip.

At last, with his heart pounding against his ribs, he reached the other shore. Slowly, deliberately, stopping every so often to flatten himself against the brown earth, he crept up the low bank. He reached cover and flopped panting into the sanctuary of a fragrant yew, his teeth chattering from cold and nerves.

He lay there for a long time unable to move. On the Russian side he heard the twitterings of a small flock of birds and an aching nostalgia clutched at his heart, tears rose in his throat. And then— Finland ! And the thought of the alien land was sweet.

Gleb's tale held me spellbound. His hairbreadth escapes, the awful risks seemed logical and natural. His presence made it seem a normal, inevitable sequence of events. The single thought that he was alive overwhelmed me—the full meaning of the nerve-racking suspense he had undergone, the cost of his daring, of his courageous and single-minded effort to extricate himself from the dragnet that had threatened to destroy him, was elusive. I found it strange that the relief of his being safe in Sweden , instead of giving him peace of mind, should so soon affect him with a distressing restlessness.

Gleb had tasted life in the raw. Trivialities, commonplaces had no further hold on him. Only one significant decision remained: What role should he play in the civil war now tearing Russia apart? But to realize fully what these experiences had done to him, where they were leading him, how drastically his values had changed under the pressure of these extraordinary events, was very difficult for me to comprehend—as difficult as it was for my mildly scandalized rela­ tives to accept him willingly, immediately, without question, as my future husband.

When I ventured to suggest to him that it might be better to change his half-military attire for civilian clothes while he was in Sweden , he took it as an insult. His frayed tunic was a garment he wore proudly, for it represented his profession, and because it at­ tested to the hardships he had endured. But finally, to satisfy my relatives' ideas of propriety, he let himself be persuaded to change into civilian clothes. He accompanied me to the family parties that uncles and aunts arranged for us. We danced, and they said we looked nice together. When Mother offered a toast to our future happiness, he kissed her hand that held the glass of red wine with a natural grace. And they all smiled.

Gleb's heart was torn by conflict. He hated being a fugitive, pre suming to talk of marriage with no security to offer his bride, and dung tenaciously to the hope that there would be a solution contain­ ing both the love that had come to him and the fulfillment of his duty to his country. His trust, his tenderness told me his needs and gave me the assurance necessary to help and support him. Often he was tormented by guilt. He had left Marie, the beloved sister. Somehow the authorities might link his name with hers and endanger her security. He was secure, eating and drinking in plenty while she might be starving. Where would he go? What should he do? He was homesick, and he had closed the doors of his homeland behind him, perhaps forever.

Meanwhile, he paid frequent visits to the Russian consul, and I gladly accompanied him. The courteous man with the sad brooding face in the shabby consular office had by his own request been offi­ cially deposed by the Soviets, while he surreptitiously continued to serve the Russian refugees in the name of the old regime. And here Gleb hopefully reached for the one straw upon which he felt he could build an honorable future. He could not accept the sterile lot of the refugee. With his nightmare escape from Moscow he had bought a new lease on life at the price of continued service to Russia in whatever capacity remained open to him. Russia was his mother; he could not abandon her.

Eagerly Gleb watched the development of the White armies and waited for a call to arms. He had heeded the battle cry from the south not so long ago. Now the circle around the Bolshevik citadel appeared to be slowly closing. With the help of the Allied Forces, General Miller had occupied the important northern ports of Archangel and Murmansk and was pushing south toward the heart of Russia and east to Siberia. In Estonia, General Nikolai Yudenich, the hero of Erzerum, was calling upon exiled Russians to create a front aimed at Petrograd .

For a short while Gleb hesitated between joining the northern White Army and joining Yudenich's forces in Estonia. The idea of marching to the immediate deliverance of Tsarskoe Selo was tempting. The aura of heroism and military skill surrounding Yudenich's name seemed to forecast a speedy success for the general's enterprise. Finally, however, taking into consideration the better organization of the northern Russian fronts and the sustained support of the Allies, he decided to apply for a commission there.

This decision wrought a complete change in Gleb's world. At last he had a foothold in the one direction in which he wished to go. Soon he would have a place of his own and an engrossing task to perform. He was no longer a refugee. And beyond this, he en­ visioned the creation of a true democratic rule of Russia and all her peoples.

We were to be married as soon as Gleb got his papers. If circumstances permitted, I would join him later in Archangel . So we arranged for the banns to be read on the next three consecutive Sundays in Mother's parish church. Meanwhile, during the time of waiting, we decided to spend Christmas with Mother and Ebba in Copenhagen .

We set out in a happy holiday mood. On the way south we stopped over in Helsingborg , across from Helsingar, where Grandmaman Wendela had gone to live after her husband's death. She received Gleb with spontaneous warmth and unquestioning acceptance. The easy simplicity with which she adopted him made him feel for the first time completely at home. We spent two wonderfully relaxed and happy days with her in her beautiful penthouse apartment with its lovely view over the treetops across the water of the sound.

But in Copenhagen , with nothing to do but wait, the old anxieties assailed Gleb again. The prospect of marriage was no palliative whatsoever, rather the contrary. Fears of all kinds invaded his mind. The limit set upon his stay in Sweden worried him. What was he to do if the papers from Archangel did not come in time?

One day we visited some of Gleb's old friends from Horserod. When the camp had been closed they had remained in Denmark , and they were now living meagerly in a dismal room in the east end of the city. They talked, and very soon the loneliness and hopeless­ ness that possessed these lost men imparted themselves to Gleb. After we left them, he stopped beside the canal, gripped the balustrade with his hands so that his knuckles shone white. Sick at heart, he looked down into the murky water. "I should never have left Russia ."

Feeling desperately guilty and unnecessary, I could only protest weakly, "But Gleb, you'd have been shot! You didn't leave of your own free will."

"That would have been better than this!"

I tried to cover his nervous hand with mine, but he wrenched it free and faced me, eyes blazing. "Can't you understand, Lisa? Can't you see? Not here—but over there in my own land in its hour of torment—that's where I should be! And Marie, she may be in danger at this very moment— how do I know? She may be starving. What do you know about hunger and hardship?" He said this as if that experience were of priceless merit.

"And I hate these damned clothes." Strained and intense, his voice rose. "I don't recognize myself in them. This is not me." His hand traveled over the gray coat. "I'm a soldier—I've been a soldier all my life. I should be in uniform—over there—fight­ ing. . . ." His voice trailed off into a hoarse whisper. "Imagine if something happened to prevent me from going to Archangel ." He looked at me accusingly. "Lisa, you understand then I couldn't marry you, a man without home or future, without means of support. I couldn't drag you into that kind of life. I couldn't live on charity —my wife's least of all. I'd rather be dead, drown myself in these waters."

By this time I too was shaking with emotion. This was something far more devastating than I had ever faced before. Fear mingled with my heartache, my feelings of jealousy and compassion. Then suddenly I said, and I shall never know how I uttered the words, "Let's stop the marriage banns, let's send a wire to the pastor now, at once! There's a telegraph office over there."

The relief on Gleb's face, shocking as it was, gave me wings. And quickly so that I would not falter I took him by the hand. We ran.

In the drab telegraph office we wrote our message to the pastor with blue ink on yellow paper. And the act relieved some of our tension.

A few days later the pastor's reply came. The banns could not be interrupted. They would be in effect for three months, after which, should no marriage take place, they would be canceled automatically.

Just before Christmas Gleb received his papers from Archangel. He was now recruited into the White Army of Northern Russia with the rank of lieutenant. His orders were to proceed to Archangel as soon as he obtained a visa that would permit him to travel through Norway . At last he had the assurance of action, of a future, a course to pursue. He crushed me to his heart. For the solution contained not only a way to fulfill a duty but the prerogative of a love to cherish and maintain.

At noon on the third day after Christmas we were married in the Swedish Church in Copenhagen . Although our marriage opened the last gates through which Gleb would enter the unknown without me, in my heart there was room for nothing but happiness.

Far out on Langelinie, past the Mermaid resting on her gray rock washed by the sea, we drove to the modest church. There were no flowers and no elegant guests. No bridesmaids in pretty gowns preceded me to the altar, no best man stood up for the groom. I walked up the aisle on Gleb's arm in the simple mauve suit I had worn to the captain's party at Horserod. To witness the ceremony only the old gray beadle stood beside my handsome, tall, white-haired uncle. My mother's tearful eyes followed me.

On either side of the choir two Christmas trees illuminated the young pastor, splendidly arrayed in the full vestments of the Lutheran church, very rarely worn. With tactful deference to the rituals of Gleb's Orthodox faith, the pastor had seen fit to don them today. For all its frugal simplicity, our wedding thus had a singular aura of solemnity.

The next evening Gleb and I left for Stockholm. There was to be another ceremony in the Russian Orthodox church to satisfy the Orthodox requirements, but a fasting period caused a delay of two weeks. Out of these days of grace we stole our honeymoon. We stayed at a small cheap hotel on a narrow street. Starched lace cur­ tains fell across the windows of our room. Yellow antimacassars adorned the red plush chairs crowded into the small space left by the ample iron twin beds with their shiny brass knobs.

Time was pitifully short. The minutes fled desperately fast and became days, and each day ended was a day less. We clung with greedy determination to our small measure of bliss, which was to strengthen the tie between us, carry us over the immediate inevitable parting, and endure into the uncertain future.

When the day of the Orthodox wedding came, the deposed Rus­ sian ambassador sent a bouquet of fragrant white lilacs and asked me to carry them. Gleb, having forever shed the detested civilian clothes, was comfortable and relaxed. He stood there before me in our small room elegant in his new well-tailored breeches, polished military boots, and his old beloved tunic, dry-cleaned and pressed, with the white Maltese cross shining on the left breast pocket. His eyes gleamed mischievously. "Just imagine, Lisa," his arms were tight around me, "if suddenly I were to fly like a bird out the church window! Can you imagine the looks on the faces of your disapproving aunts and cousins, the ambassadors and the consuls?"

Gleefully I followed his flight of fancy. Amid bursts of merri­ment he continued: "Oh, Lisa, can you see them bursting through the doors, running down the street in frantic pursuit after the dis­appearing bridegroom, skirts flying, ties flying, holding on to their hats—aunts, ambassadors . . ." His imagination knew no bounds. We rocked with laughter.

At the church the fragrant bouquet was taken from my hand and replaced by a lighted candle decorated with orange blossoms and flowing white ribbons. Above our heads, held in turn by our four groomsmen, hovered two enormous golden crowns. The prolonged ritual left nothing undone that could have cast doubt upon its binding solidity. Our rings on a small tray were blessed at the altar and my ring was placed on Gleb's finger and his on mine, and then reversed. We drank wine from the same goblet. And when the priest with his gray beard halfway down his chest at last gave us his stole to hold, and led us around the altar three times, symbolizing our way together through life in marriage, I clung tightly to the hand of my twice-wedded husband, lest he might, like the bird of his fantasy, fly out the window never to return.


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