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Title: Knight Without Armour (1933)
Author: James Hilton
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eBook No.: 1000051.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2010
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Title: Knight Without Armour (1933)
Author: James Hilton




PART I



PROLOGUE


"There died on the 13th inst. at Roone's Hotel, Carrigole, Co. Cork,
where he had been staying for some time, Mr. Ainsley Jergwin Fothergill,
in his forty-ninth year. Mr. Fothergill was the youngest son of the
Reverend Wilson Fothergill, of Timperleigh, Leicestershire. Educated at
Barrowhurst and at St. John's College, Cambridge, he was for a time a
journalist in London before seeking his fortune abroad. Since 1920 he
had been closely associated with the plantation rubber industry, and was
the author of a standard work upon that subject."

So proclaimed the obituary column of _The Times_ on the morning of
October 19th, 1929. But _The Times_ gets to Roone's a day and a half
late, and Fothergill was already beneath the soil of Carrigole
churchyard by then. There had been some slight commotion over the
burial; an English priest had wired at the last moment that the man was
a Catholic. This seemed strange, for he had never been noticed to go to
Mass; but still, there was the telegram, and since most Carrigole folk
were buried as Catholics anyway, the matter was not difficult to
arrange.

There was also an inquest. Fothergill had apparently died in his sleep;
one of the maids took up his cup of tea in the morning and actually left
it on his bedside table without knowing he was dead. She told the
district coroner she had said--"Here's your tea, sir," and that she
thought he had smiled in answer. Nobody found out the truth till nearly
noon. Then a doctor who happened to be staying at the hotel saw the body
and said it must have been lifeless for at least ten hours.

Just in time for the inquest a London doctor arrived to testify that
Fothergill had consulted him some weeks before about a heart complaint.
It was the sort of thing that might finish off anyone quite suddenly, so
of course all was clear, on the evidence, and the verdict 'Death from
natural causes' came in with record speed.

The whole affair provided an acute though temporary sensation at Roone's
Hotel, which, though the season was almost over, chanced to be fairly
full at the time owing to a cruiser in harbour. Roone himself was rather
peeved; he was just beginning to work up his place after the many years
of 'trouble,' and it certainly did him no good to have guests dying on
him in such a way. He was especially annoyed because it had all got into
the Dublin and London papers--that, of course, being due to Halloran,
Carrigole's too ambitious journalist, who would (Roone said) sell his
best friend's reputation for half a guinea.

As for the dead man, Roone could only shrug his shoulders. Rather
crossly he told the occupants of his crowded private bar how little he
knew about the fellow. Never set eyes on him till the September, when he
had arrived from Killarney one evening with a small suitcase. Evidently
hadn't meant to stop long, and at the end of a week had sent to London
for more luggage. Very quiet sort, civil and all that, but somehow not
the kind of chap a fellow would naturally take to...Yes, practically
teetotal, too--nearly as bad for business as the Cook's people who came
loaded with coupons for all they took and drank nothing but water.
"Although, by the way," Roone added, "he did come in here for a nightcap
the evening before--I remember serving him."

"Yes, I remember too," put in a plus-foured youth. "I made some casual
remark to him about something or other just to be polite, that was
all--but he hardly answered me. Rather surly, I thought at the time."

At which Mrs. Roone intervened, tartly: "Of course it was easy to see
what he was stopping on here for, and more shame to him, I say."

Everyone in the bar nodded, for everyone had been waiting for that
matter to be mentioned. There had been an American girl staying at the
hotel with her mother; the two had been the only guests with whom the
dead man had struck up any sort of acquaintance. He had gone for drives
and picnics with them; he had taken his meals at their table; he had
sometimes danced with the girl in the evenings. He was after her, Mrs.
Roone said, bluntly, and as he had plenty of money the artful old mother
was trying to hook him.

"Oh, so he had money, then?" enquired the youth in plus-fours.

"Money? Why do you suppose that London doctor came all the way here to
give evidence at the inquest if it wasn't for, a fine fat fee? As a
matter of fact, there were some people here a few weeks ago who said for
sober truth they knew he was worth half a million--all made out of
rubber, so they said." Mrs. Roone's voice rose to a shriek as she added:
"Half a million indeed, and old enough to be the girl's father, as well
as liable to drop dead at any minute! Disgraceful, I say!"

"D'you think the girl was after him too?"

"Maybe she was. Girls will do anything for money these days."

Here a youthful, red-cheeked naval lieutenant interposed. "Personally,
Mrs. Roone, I think I'd give her the benefit of the doubt--the girl, I
mean. I spoke to her once or twice--danced with her once, too--and she
seemed to me a very quiet, innocent sort of kid."

He spoke rather shyly, and a colleague, who had drunk quite enough,
shouted: "Innocent? Too dam' innocent for you, eh, Willie?"

"Anyhow," answered Mrs. Roone, with final truculence, "the way they both
cleared off was quite enough for me. The very afternoon that we were all
fussed and bothered about finding the man dead, up comes the old woman
to have her bill made out in a hurry--must get away--catching the boat
at Queenstown, or something or other. Disappointed, I suppose, because
her k trick hadn't worked in time. I didn't see the girl before they
left."

"Well, well, she's had a narrow escape," said Roone, drinking, "though
maybe not the narrowest she ever will have if she's going to go about
dancing with young naval lieutenants, eh?"

They all laughed. Just then _The Times_ arrived, and somebody in the
bar, opening the paper casually, discovered Fothergill's obituary. They
all crowded round and read it through with growing exasperation--it told
so little that they would have liked to know. The son of a country
parson, a public-school neither good nor quite bad, Cambridge,
journalism, rubber. What could anyone make of it? The youth in
plus-fours fully expressed the general opinion when he commented:
"Doesn't sound a particularly exciting career, does it?"

"And it says nothing about a wife," said Roone, "so I suppose he never
married."

That was doubtfully accepted as a probable conclusion.

"Well, well," added Roone, pouring more whisky into his soda, "he wasn't
my kind of chap, and I don't care who hears me say so. Neither a good
Catholic nor a good Protestant nor a good anything else, I should say."

Which seemed the end of a rather unpleasant matter.



PART II


Ainsley Jergwin Fothergill was born in 1880. He had five brothers and
four sisters, and his father's living yielded seven hundred a year. His
mother died in 1881, having never quite got over her most recent
contribution to the family, and the Reverend Wilson, left to keep house
with ten children, wandered helplessly about his parish as if he were
the last person on earth responsible for his own situation. He was a
large, heavily-built man, with fat hands and a bald head; he did his job
in a dull, conscientious way, and thrashed his elder children
irregularly and without relish. He was an Evangelical and a Gladstonian
Liberal; he disliked Dissent, had hated the Oxford Movement, and had a
superstitious horror of Rome. It was his habit to preach hour-long
sermons explaining the exact meaning of Greek and Hebrew words to a
congregation largely composed of farm-labourers.

A widowed sister came to keep house for him in due course; her husband
had been an army officer, accidentally killed in India in an age when
few officers of either service ever died of anything more exciting than
cirrhosis of the liver. Aunt Nellie never tired of boasting of her
unique bereavement, and it was she who had principal charge of Ainsley.
She had been a school teacher in earlier life, and along with two of his
sisters the boy obtained from her a fairly complete grounding in
reading, writing, simple arithmetic, and the sort of geography that
consists in knowing what belongs to England. Barbara and Emily, fifteen
months and two and a half years older than their brother respectively,
had no aptitude for learning anything of any kind; Ainsley, even by the
age of five, had far outstripped them. He was, indeed, a bright, fairly
good-looking child--dark-eyed, dark-haired, well-moulded, but perhaps
(Aunt Nellie thought, doubtfully) 'a little foreign-looking.'

Timperleigh was a dull village in the midst of passable hunting country,
and the Reverend Wilson, despite his small income, managed to hunt once
a week during the season. It meant that the elder children could not be
sent to a good school, but that did not trouble him. He hunted in the
same joyless, downright manner as he preached and thrashed. Sometimes
the hunt would meet in the rectory drive and the children would run
about among the horses and dogs and have their heads patted by high-up
gruff voiced men in scarlet coats. Ainsley liked this, but not quite so
much as he enjoyed having tea in the kitchen with Cook. She was called
Cook, but she was really only a good-natured person of middle age who,
being also mentally deficient, had been willing for years to do all the
rough work of the household in return for a miserably poor wage. Ainsley
was fond of her, and the look of the large rectory kitchen, with the
window-panes slowly changing from grey to black and the firelight
flickering on all the pots and dish-covers, gave him a comfortable
feeling that he was certain only Cook could share. And her talk seemed
far more thrilling than any fairy-story; she had been born in
Whitechapel, and she made Whitechapel seem a real place, full of real
people and real if horrible happenings; whereas Capernaum, which his
father talked about in Sunday sermons, and Gibraltar, which Aunt Nellie
insisted belonged to England, were vague, shadowy, and impossible to
believe in.

When Ainsley was seven, his father was killed in a hunting mishap. Aunt
Nellie, behind a seemly grief, was again rather thrilled; next to being
trampled to death on an Indian polo-ground, to die on the hunting-field
was perhaps the most socially eligible of all earthly exits. The boy,
quite frankly, felt no grief at all; he had had hardly anything to do
with his father, having not yet attained the age of chastisement. Nor
was he old enough to realise the problem presented by the existence of
himself and his nine brothers and sisters. There was practically no
money, not even an insurance; the family, in terms of hard cash, was
scarcely better off than that of a deceased farm-labourer. Fortunately
the Reverend Wilson had been one of as large a family as his own, and
communication was soon and inevitably opened up with uncles and aunts,
many far distant and some almost mythical. After long and peevish
negotiations, the family was divided somehow or other amongst such
relatives, until only the two youngest remained Then, in sheer
desperation, a letter was written to Sir Henry Jergwin, whose wife had
been Aunt Helen, and after whom the youngest Fothergill had been
hopefully but so far fruitlessly named. Could Sir Henry do anything for
Barbara, aged eight, and for Ainsley Jergwin, aged seven? The great man
commanded the children to visit him at his London house; they were taken
there by Aunt Nellie and solemnly exhibited. After a week he decided; he
would have the boy, but not the girl. So Barbara, after further
struggles, was pushed on to one of the other uncles, while Ainsley came
to live at a big Victorian house in Bloomsbury already inhabited by his
uncle, a secretary, a butler, a cook, a coachman, three maids, and a
gardener.

Sir Henry, in fact, was tolerably rich. He had always cultivated
influential friendships in the City, and he was also editor and
proprietor of the _Pioneer_, a weekly paper of Liberal views.
Sixty-three years of age, with a vigorous body, an alert mind, a mellow
booming voice, and an impressively long and snow-white beard, he was
almost as well known as he wished to be. He entertained; he was invited
to speak at public dinners; he knew everybody; Garibaldi had stayed a
night at his house; Gladstone had knighted him. Besides all this, his
reputation as a man of letters stood high--and curiously high, for he
had written nothing that could be considered really first-rate. Only,
all along, he had had the knack of making the most of everything he did;
even a very mediocre poem he had once composed had managed an entry into
most of the anthologies. Somehow, too, he had got himself accepted as an
authority on Elizabethan literature; he had edited the Hathaway edition
of Shakespeare, and thousands of schoolchildren had fumbled over his
glossaries. Surmounting and in addition to all else, the man was a
character; should any big controversy arise in the Press, he was always
asked for his opinion, and always, without fail, gave it. His views,
though unexciting, stood for something that still existed in far greater
proportions than the brilliant youngsters realised--a certain slow and
measured solemnity that flowed in the bloodstream of every Englishman
who had more than a thousand pounds in Consols.

Sir Henry had begotten no children; he took Ainsley in the spirit of a
martyr bearing his cross, and in the same spirit engaged a German
governess. This capable person added history and music to the list of
things the boy was supposed to have been taught; later on a beginning
was made with French and German. The great Sir Henry rarely saw either
him or her; sometimes, however, Ainsley was conducted into the library
'to see the books' and to be called 'my little man' and smiled at.
"These," explained Sir Henry, on more than one such occasion, sweeping
his arm towards the rows of shelves, "are my best friends, and some day
you will find them your best friends also." Ainsley was never quite
certain whether this was a promise or a threat.

When he was twelve, Sir Henry sent him to Barrowhurst.

Barrowhurst was not a very old foundation; Liberal and Evangelical in
tendency, it had several times entertained Sir Henry as its Speech Day
guest of honour. Situated in wild moorland country, it provided a vast
change from the atmosphere of governesses and Bloomsbury gardens. At
first Ainsley revelled in the freedom suddenly offered him; for the
first time in his life he could walk about on his own, read books of his
own choosing, and make friends without the frosty surveillance of
grown-ups. He did not, however, make many friends. He was rather shy and
reserved in manner; amongst the school in general he was for a long time
hardly known, and the masters did not care for him, because he soon
displayed that worst sin of the schoolboy--an indisposition to fit into
one or other of the accepted classifications. He was not exactly
troublesome, and his work was always satisfactory; only, somehow or
other, he was difficult to get on with; he was apt to ask questions
which, though hardly impertinent, were awkwardly unanswerable; he
wouldn't respond, either, to the usual gambits of schoolmasterly
approach. For some reason he hated games, yet he wasn't by any means the
too brainy, bookish youngster; on the contrary, he was physically strong
and sturdily built, and soon became actually the best swimmer and
gymnast the school had known for years.

There was another Fothergill at the school, of a different family, and
Ainsley, to avoid mistakes, always signed his papers with a very large
and distinguishable 'A.J.' This became such a characteristic that he
began to be called 'A.J.' by his friends, and the initials finally
became an accepted nickname.

In his third year he suddenly startled everybody by leading a minor
rebellion. There was a master at the school named Smalljohn who had a
system of discipline for which A.J. had gradually conceived an
overmastering hatred. The system was this: Smalljohn stood in front of
the class, gold watch in hand, and said, "If the boy who did so-and-so
does not declare himself within twenty-five seconds, I shall give the
whole form an hour's detention." One day, after confessing himself,
under such threat of vicarious doom, the author of some trivial misdeed,
A.J. calmly informed his fellows that it was the last time he ever
intended to do such a thing. Couldn't they see that the system was not
only unfair but perfectly easy to break down if only they all tackled it
the right way? And the right way was for no one ever to confess; let
them put up with a few detentions--Smalljohn would soon get tired of it
when he found his system no longer worked. There are a few Barrowhurst
men who will still remember the quiet-voiced boy arguing his case with
an emphasis all the more astonishing because it was the first case he
had ever been known to argue.

He carried the others with him enthusiastically, and the next day came
the test. He was whispering to a neighbour; Smalljohn heard and asked
who it was. Silence. Then: "If the person who whispered does not confess
within twenty-five seconds, the whole form will be detained for an
hour." Silence. "Fifteen seconds more....Ten seconds...Five...Very well,
gentlemen, I will meet the form at half-past one in this room."

After that afternoon's detention Smalljohn announced: "I am sorry indeed
that thirty-three of your number have had to suffer on behalf of a
certain thirty-fourth person, whose identity, I may say, I very strongly
suspect. I can assure him that I do not intend to let a coward escape,
and I am therefore grieved to say that until he owns up I shall be
compelled to repeat this detention every day."

It was nearing the time of house-matches and detentions were more than
usually tiresome. A.J. soon found his enemies active, and even his
friends inclined to be cool. After the third detention he was, in fact,
rather disgracefully bullied, and after the fourth he gave in and
confessed. He had expected Smalljohn to be very stern, and was far more
terrified to find him good-humoured. "Pangs of conscience, eh,
Fothergill?" he queried, and A.J. replied: "No, sir."

"No? That sounds rather defiant, doesn't it?"

A.J. did not answer, and Smalljohn, instead of getting into a temper,
positively beamed. "My dear Fothergill, I quite understand. You think my
system's unfair, don't you?--I have heard mysterious rumours to that
effect, anyhow. Well, my boy, I daresay you're right. It is unfair. It
makes you see how impossible it is for you to be a sneak and a
coward--it brings out your better self--that better self which, for some
perverse reason, you were endeavouring to stifle. To a boy who is
really not half the bad fellow he tries to make out, my system is
perhaps the unfairest thing in the world...Well, you have been punished,
I doubt not--for apart from the still small voice, your comrades, I
understand, have somewhat cogently expressed their disapproval. In the
circumstances, then, I shall not punish you any further. And now stay
and have some cocoa with me."

"If you don't mind, sir," answered A.J. not very coherently, "I'm afraid
I must go. I've got a letter 'to finish--"

"Oh, very well, then--some other evening. Goodnight."

And the next morning Smalljohn, whose worst crime was that he thought he
understood boys, recounted in the common-room how magnanimity had melted
young Fothergill almost to tears--how with shaking voice the boy had
declined the cocoa invitation and had asked to be allowed to go.

It had been A.J.'s first fight, and he fully realised that he had lost.
What troubled him most was not Smalljohn's victory but the attitude of
his fellows; if they, had only stood with him, Smalljohn could have been
defeated. Yet they called him a coward because in Rugby football, which
he was compelled to play although he disliked it, he sometimes showed
that he didn't consider it worth while to get hurt. At the end of his
third year the headmaster's report summed him up, not too unreasonably,
as: "A thoughtful boy, with many good qualities, but apt to be obstinate
and self-opinionated. Is hardly getting out of Barrowhurst all he
should."

A.J. had two adventures at Barrowhurst altogether; the first was the
Smalljohn affair, which was no more than a nine days' wonder and
certainly did not add to his popularity; but the second was in a
different class: it established his fame on a suddenly Olympian basis,
and passed, indeed, into the very stuff of Barrowhurst tradition. Two
miles away from the school is the tunnel that carries the Scotch
expresses under the Pennines. It is over three miles long, boring under
the ridge from one watershed to another. A.J. walked through it one
school half-holiday. Platelayers met him staggering out, half-deafened
and half-suffocated, with eyes inflamed, soot-blackened face, and hands
bleeding where he had groped his way along the tunnel wall. He was taken
to the school in a cab, and had to spend a week in bed; after which he
was thrashed by the headmaster. He gave no explanation of his escapade
beyond the fact that he had wanted to discover what it would be like. He
agreed that the experience had been thoroughly unpleasant.

A.J.'s fourth year was less troubled. He was in the sixth form by then,
preparing for Cambridge, and was left to do pretty much as he liked. The
tunnel affair had given him prestige of an intangible kind both with
boys and masters, and he spent much of his time reading odd books on all
kinds of subjects that form no part of a public-school curriculum. He
cycled miles about the moorland countryside, picking up fossils and
making rubbings of old brasses in churches; he also (and somehow
quite incidentally) achieved an official Barrowhurst record by a
long jump of twenty feet. His sixth-form status carried prefecture
with it, and rather to everyone's surprise he made an excellent
prefect--straightforward, firm, and tolerant.

He went to Cambridge in the autumn of 1898; his rooms at St. John's
overlooked the river and the Backs, being among the best situated in the
University. Sir Henry made him a fairly generous allowance, and began to
hope that the boy might prove some good after all, despite the tepid
reports from Barrowhurst. A.J. liked Cambridge, of course. He didn't
have to play games, there were no schoolmasters with their irritating
systems, he could read his queer books, listen to string quartets, and
wield a geologist's hammer to his heart's content. The only thing he
seemed definitely disinclined for was the sort of work that would earn
him a decent degree. Sir Henry encouraged him to join the Union, and he
did so, though he never spoke. He made one or two close friends, and was
well liked by those who knew him at all. (He was still called
'A.J.'--the nickname had followed him to Cambridge through the agency of
Barrowhurst men.) Most of the vacations he spent in Bloomsbury; of late
years he had seen less and less of his brothers and sisters, several of
whom had emigrated. He also travelled abroad a little--just to the usual
places in France, Germany, and Switzerland.

He had no particular adventures in Cambridge, and left no mark on
university history unless it were by the foundation of a short-lived
fencing club. He had picked up a certain skill with the foils in
Germany; it was a typically odd sort of thing to capture his enthusiasm.

He took a mediocre pass degree in his third year and then wondered what
on earth came next. Sir Henry was disappointed and made it very clear
that he did not intend to support him any longer. A.J. fully agreed; he
did not want to be supported; he would certainly find something to do of
some kind or other, but he was completely vague about it, and there were
so many jobs which, for one reason or another, were impossible. He did
not care for the services; he had no vocation for the church; his degree
was not good enough for school-mastering or for diplomacy or for the
law. Clearly then, very little remained, and when, in the summer of
1901, he left Cambridge for good, it was understood that he was to
become a journalist and that Sir Henry would 'find him something.' In
August he went abroad for a month, and it was while he was doing the
conventional Rhine tour that he received a typewritten letter signed
'Philippa Warren' and conveying the information that Sir Henry's former
secretary, a Mr. Watts, had died of pneumonia and that she had been
appointed instead. He thought little of it, or of her, except to reflect
that Sir Henry's choice of a female secretary would probably be based on
dignity rather than elegance. At the beginning of September he returned
to London and found there was to be a big dinner-party on his first
evening, which annoyed him slightly, as it meant he had to unpack
everything in a hurry so as to dress. Sir Henry's sister, a Mrs.
Holdron, was hostess; she said--"Oh, Ainsley, will you take in Miss
Warren?"--and he smiled agreement and tried vaguely to associate the
name with any particular one of the dozen or so strangers to whom he had
been perfunctorily and indistinctly introduced. He had completely
forgotten the Philippa Warren who had written to him.

The reception room was on the first floor, overlooking the square, and
all its windows were wide open and unshuttered to admit the soft breeze
of a September night. He felt an arm slipped into his and guiding him
rather than being guided through the plush-curtained archway into the
long and rather gloomy corridor that led to the dining-room, Almost
simultaneously they both made the same banal remark about the weather,
whereupon she laughed and added, with a sort of crystal mockery: "I said
it first, Mr. Fothergill." He laughed back, but could not think of an
answer.

In the dining-room that looked on to the typical brick-walled oblong
garden of London houses, he glanced at her curiously. She was young, and
full of a vitality that interested him. Her dark, roving eyes gave
poise, and even beauty, to a face that might not otherwise have seemed
noteworthy. Her nose was long and well-shaped, but her lips were perhaps
too small and thin, just as her forehead looked too high. She certainly
was not pretty. Not till half-way through the meal did he realise that
she must be Sir Henry's new secretary.

It was a distinguished gathering, in a small way--professors and
professors' wives, a Harley Street surgeon, a titled lawyer,
journalists, a few M.P.'s--all, of course, dominated by the patriarchal
figure of Sir Henry himself. He was now seventy-seven, broad-shouldered,
straight-backed, with leonine head and flashing eye--a truly eminent
Victorian who had survived, wonderfully preserved, into the new reign.
He had long ago reached the age when people said that he 'still' did
things. He still owned the _Pioneer_, which, after a stormy career in
the 'sixties and 'seventies, had settled down, like Sir Henry himself,
to an old age of ever-slightly-increasing respectability and
ever-slightly-diminishing circulation.

The odd part of it (to A.J.) was the way Philippa Warren had suddenly
fitted herself into Sir Henry's scheme of things. She seemed already to
take both him and his views equally for granted; she was at once casual
and proprietary, like a guide displaying a museum piece; she realised
quite simply that Sir Henry had become an institution and that visitors
liked to hear him gossip in an intimate way about great names that were
already in the history books. She would give him conversational cues,
such as--'That's rather what Matthew Arnold used to tell you, isn't it,
Sir Henry?'--or--'Sir Henry, I'm sure Mr. So-and-so would like to hear
about your meeting with Thackeray.' She rarely expressed opinions of her
own, but she knew exactly, like a well-learned lesson, the precise
attitude of Sir Henry towards every topic of the day. It was almost
uncanny, and from the beginning A.J. found himself queerly fascinated.
She had a clear, icy mind; she could compress her ideas into an epigram
where others might have needed to employ a speech. On hearing about the
Barrowhurst and Cambridge nickname she immediately called him 'A.J.' and
expected him to call her 'Philippa'; he was certain, from the first
half-hour of the dinner-party, that they were destined for the most
intimate of friendships.

After a week he was less positive, and after a month he was frankly
puzzled and doubtful. He seemed so early to have reached an
unsurmountable barrier; she would talk about anything and everything
with the utterest frankness, yet somehow, after it all, he felt that it
had no connection with getting to know her. Sir Henry, of course, never
ceased to sing her praises. She was the model secretary; how he had ever
managed so many years with that fellow Watts, he could hardly think. The
scene in the library every morning at ten o'clock when Philippa arrived
to begin work was almost touching. Sir Henry, stirred to a gallantry
that had never been his in earlier days, would greet her with a benign
smile, pat her shoulder and ask after her health, and, if he imagined or
chose to imagine that she looked tired, would ring for a glass of
sherry. And she on her side grudgingly yet somehow gratefully permitted
time to be wasted on such courtesies.

A.J. agreed that she was marvellous. Her merely physical effect on the
old man was remarkable; there came a sparkle into his eyes and a
springiness into his walk that had not been seen since the first
Jubiles. A.J. judged, too, that she did other things; Sir Henry's
occasional articles in the Press (writing was one of those things he
'still' did) became more frequent, more varied, and--if that were
possible--more characteristic of him than ever. Once A.J. glanced over
her shoulder when she was working; she was preparing notes, she said,
for some centenary article on Elizabethan literature that Sir Henry had
promised to write. In neat, verbless phrases she had selected just the
material he would need--'Marlowe in his worst moments grandiloquent and
turgid'--'_Fairy Queen_ a monument of literary atavism'--'_Titus
Andronicus_ probably not Shakespeare's'--and so on. Sir Henry did the
rest, and how well he did it, too, and with what a sublime flavour of
personality! A.J. kept the article when it appeared, underlining such
sentences as--'I do not think it can be denied that in his less happy
moments Marlowe was occasionally guilty of a certain grandiloquence of
phraseology--almost, I might say, turgidity'--'I cannot but think that
the _Faerie Queene_, regarded from a strictly literary viewpoint, is in
some sense atavistic'--and--'I have yet to discover any arguments that
would lead me to suppose that _Titus Andronicus_ was, in its entirety, a
work by the master-hand that penned _Lear_ and _Othello_.'

A.J. was kept fairly busy during the years that followed. Sir Henry got
him reviewing jobs on the _Comet_ and other papers, besides which he
wrote occasionally for the _Pioneer_ and was also understood to be at
work upon a novel. But the plain truth soon became apparent that he was
no good at all as a journalist. He was too conscientious, if anything;
he read too carefully before he reviewed, and he gave his opinions too
downrightly--he had none of Sir Henry's skill in praising with faint
damns. Nor had he the necessary journalistic flair for manufacturing an
attitude at a moment's notice; he would say 'I don't know' or 'I have no
opinion' far oftener than was permissible in Fleet Street. He even,
after several years, gave up his projected novel for the excellent but
ignominious reason that he could not make up his mind what it was to be
about. But for the fact that Sir Henry was behind him, his journalistic
career would hardly have lasted very long. Aitchison, the _Comet_
editor, could never use more than a fraction of the stuff he sent in,
though personally he liked the youth well enough and was sorry to see
him slaving away at tasks for which he had so little aptitude.

Meanwhile, at the Bloomsbury house, A.J.'s friendship with Philippa
continued and perhaps a little progressed. Gradually and at first
imperceptibly a warmer feeling uprose on his side, but there was nothing
tumultuous in it; indeed, he chaffed himself in secret for indulging
something so mild and purposeless. He had certainly nothing to hope for;
apart from his own lack of prospects, she had so often, in the course of
their talks, conveyed how little she cared for men and for the
conventional woman's career of marriage and home life. Nor, for that
matter, had A.J. any particularly domestic dreams. In a way, that was
why she attracted him so much; she was so unlike the usual type of girl
who fussed and expected to be fussed over.

Then suddenly something quite astonishing happened. It was rather like
the Smalljohn episode at Barrowhurst; it occurred so sharply and
unexpectedly, and to the completest surprise of those who thought that
A.J. was, if anything, too sober a fellow. Philippa, he discovered, was
an ardent supporter of the woman's suffrage movement, though, in
deference to Sir Henry's views on the matter, she kept her ardours out
of the house. She was not a militant, but Sir Henry made no distinctions
of such a kind; he was genuinely and comprehensively indignant over the
burnings, picture-slashings, and other outrages of which the newspapers
were full. Philippa realised how hopeless it was to convert him, while
as for A.J., she probably did not consider his support even worth the
trouble of securing. Yet, without effort, it was secured. A.J., in fact,
dashed into the movement with an enthusiasm which even his greatest
friends considered rather fatuous; there was no stopping him; he went to
meetings, walked in processions, and wasted hours of his time writing
propagandist articles which Aitchison turned down with ever-increasing
acerbity. He really was caught up in a whirl of passionate indignation,
and neither Sir Henry's anger nor Philippa's indifference could check
the surge of that emotion.

The whole thing ended in quite a ridiculous fiasco; he got himself
arrested for attacking a policeman who was trying to arrest a
suffragette who had just thrown a can of paint into a cabinet minister's
motor-car. The magistrate seemed glad to have a man to be severe with;
he gave A.J. seven days, without the option of a fine, and, of course,
the case was prominently reported in all the papers.

At Brixton jail A.J. thought at first he would hunger-strike, but he
soon perceived that hunger-striking during a seven-days' sentence could
not be very effective; the authorities would merely let him do it. He
therefore took the prison food and spent most of his time in rather
miserable perplexity. He had, he began to realise, made a complete ass
of himself.

When he was discharged at the end of the week he hoped and rather
expected that Philippa, at any rate, would have some word of sympathy
for him. Instead of that, she greeted him very frigidly. "What an
extraordinary thing to do!" was all she commented. Sir Henry was far
from frigid; he was as furious as a man of eighty dare permit himself to
be. He had A.J. in the library for over an hour telling him what he
thought. A.J. must clear out--that was the general gist of the
discourse; Sir Henry would no longer permit their names to be connected
in any way. If A.J. chose to emigrate (which seemed the best solution of
the problem), Sir Henry would give him a hundred pounds as a final
expression of regard--but it was to be definitely final--no pathetic
letters begging for more. A.J. said: "You needn't fear that, anyhow." In
the midst of the rather unpleasant discussion, Philippa entered the
library, fresh and charming as usual, whereupon Sir Henry, his mood
changing in an instant, remarked: "Perhaps, my dear, we had better tell
Ainsley our piece of news."

She barely nodded and Sir Henry went on, more severely as he turned to
A.J.--"Philippa has done me the honour of promising to be my wife."

A.J. stared speechlessly at them both. He saw the green-shaded desk-lamp
spinning round before his eyes and the expanse of bookshelves dissolving
into a multi-coloured haze. Then he felt himself going hot, shamefully
hot; he managed to stammer: "I--I must--congratulate you--both."

Philippa was not looking at him.

His eyes kept wandering from one to the other of them; she was so
beautiful, he perceived now, and Sir Henry, with all his sprightliness,
was so monstrously old. He had never noticed before how hideous were
those rolls of fat between his chin and his neck, and how he very
slightly slobbered over his sibilants.

"Yes, I congratulate you," he repeated.

He went out for lunch, paced up and down in Regent's Park during the
afternoon, and spent the evening at a restaurant and a music-hall.
Towards midnight he went to the _Comet_ office and asked to see
Aitchison. Aitchison, a hard-bitten Scotsman of sixty, smiled rather
cynically when A.J. suggested being sent abroad as a foreign
correspondent; he guessed the reason, and personally thought it not at
all a bad idea that A.J. should live down his notoriety abroad. There
was, of course, no moral stigma attached to a seven-day sentence for
trying to rescue a suffragette, but the boy had made a fool of himself
and one can be laughed out of a profession as well as drummed out. The
foreign correspondent notion, however, was hopeless; A.J. would be as
useless, journalistically, abroad as at home. Aitchison knew all this
well enough, and when A.J. further went on to suggest being sent out to
the Far East to report the Russo-Japanese War which had just begun, he
laughed outright. It was impossible, he answered; jobs like that
required experience, and A.J. possessed none; reporting a war wasn't
like writing a highbrow middle about the stained-glass at Chartres.
Besides, it would all be far too expensive; the _Comet_ wasn't a wealthy
paper and probably wouldn't have a correspondent of its own at all. To
which A.J. replied that, as for money, he had a little himself and was
so anxious to try his luck that he would willingly spend it in
travelling out East if the _Comet_ would give him credentials as its
correspondent and take anything he sent that was acceptable. Aitchison
thought this over and quickly reached the conclusion that it was an
ideal arrangement--for the _Comet_. It was, to begin with, a way of
getting rid of A.J., and it was also a way by which the _Comet_ could
obtain all the kudos of having a war-correspondent without the
disagreeable necessity of footing the bill for his expenses--though, of
course, if A.J. did send them anything good the _Comet_ would be
delighted to pay for it. And in haste less A.J. should see any flaw in
this most admirable scheme, Aitchison accepted, adding: "Naturally
you'll bear in mind the policy of this paper--we don't much care for the
Russians, you know. Not much use you sending us stuff we can't print,
especially when it'll cost you God knows how much a word to cable."

A.J. left for Siberia at the beginning of April. Sir Henry declined
either to approve or to disapprove of the arrangement; all he made clear
was that A.J. could not expect any more chances, and that, if he wanted
the hundred pounds, he must go abroad as one of the prime conditions.
Siberia was undoubtedly abroad; its prospects for the emigrant were
A.J.'s affair entirely. During the last week of hectic preparation that
preceded the departure A.J. saw rather little of the old man, and the
final good-byes both with him and with Philippa were very formal.

No one saw him off at Charing Cross, and he felt positive relief when, a
couple of hours later, the boat swung out of Dover Harbour and he saw
England fading into the mist of a spring morning. Two days afterwards he
was in Berlin; and two days after that in Moscow. There he caught the
Trans-Siberian express and began the ten-days' train journey to Irkutsk.

The train was comfortable but crowded, and most of the way he studied a
Russian grammar and phrase-book. Every mile that increased his distance
from London added to a certain bitter zest that he felt; whatever was to
happen, success or failure, was sure to be preferable to book-reviewing
in Bloomsbury. His trouble had always been to know what to write about,
and surely a war must solve such a problem for him. It was an adventure,
anyway, to be rolling eastward over the Siberian plains. He met no
fellow-countryman till he reached Irkutsk, where several other
newspaper-correspondents were waiting to cross Lake Baikal. They were
all much older men than he was, and most of them spoke Russian fluently.
They seemed surprised and somewhat amused that such a youngster had been
sent out by the _Comet_, and A.J., scenting the attitude of superiority,
preferred the companionship of a young Italian who represented a Milan
news agency. The two conversed together in bad French almost throughout
the crossing of the lake in the ice-breaker. It was an impressive
journey; the mountains loomed up on all sides like steel-grey phantoms,
and the clear atmosphere was full of a queer other-world melancholy.
Barellini, the Italian, gave A.J. his full life-history, which included
a passionate love-affair with a wealthy Russian woman in Rome. A.J.
listened tranquilly, watching the ice spurt from the bow of the ship and
shiver into glittering fragments; the sun was going down; already there
was an Arctic chill in the air. Barellini then talked of Russian women
in general, and of that touch of the East which mingled with their
Western blood and made them, he said, beyond doubt' the most fascinating
women in the world. He quoted Shakespeare--'Other women cloy the
appetites they feed, but she makes hungry where she most
satisfies'--Cleopatra, that was--Shakespeare could never have said such
a thing about any Western woman. "But I suppose you prefer your English
women?" he queried, with an inquisitiveness far too childlike to be
resented. A.J. answered that his acquaintance with the sex was far too
small for him to attempt comparisons. "Perhaps, then, you do not care
for any women very much?" persisted Barellini, and quoted Anatole
France--'De toutes les aberrations sexuelles, la plus singulière, c'est
la chasteté.' "For thousands of years," he added, "people have been
trying to say the really brilliant and final thing about sex--and there
it is!"

Barellini was very useful when they reached the train at the further
side of the lake. There was a curious and rather likeable spontaneity
about him that enabled him to do things without a thought of personal
dignity (which, in fact, he neither needed nor possessed), and when he
found the train already full of a shouting and screaming mob, he merely
flung himself into the midst of it, shouted and screamed like the rest,
and managed in the end to secure two seats in a third-class coach. He
had no concealments and no embarrassments; his excitableness, his
determination, his inquisitiveness, his everlasting talk about women,
were all purified, some-how, by the essential naturalness that lay
behind them all. The train was full of soldiers, with whom he soon
became friendly, playing cards with them sometimes and telling stories,
probably very gross, that convulsed them with laughter. The soldiers
were very polite and gave up the best places to A.J. and the Italian;
they also made tea for them and brought them food from the station
buffets. When A.J. saw the English correspondents bawling from
first-class compartments to station officials who took little notice of
them, he realised how much more fortunate he had been himself The hours
slipped by very pleasantly; as he sat silent in his corner-seat
listening to continual chatter which he did not understand and watching
the strange monotonous landscape through the window, he began to feel a
patient and rather comfortable resignation such as a grown-up feels with
a party of children. The soldiers laughed and were noisy in just the
sharp, instant way that children have; they had also the child's
unwavering heartlessness. One of them in the next coach fell on to the
line as he was larking about, and all his companions roared with
laughter, even though they could see he was badly injured.

Harbin was reached after a week's slow travelling from Irkutsk. At first
sight it seemed the unpleasantest town in the world; its streets were
deep in mud; its best hotel (in which Barellini obtained accommodation)
was both villainous and expensive; and its inhabitants seemed to consist
of all the worst ruffians of China and Siberia. Many of them were, in
fact, ex-convicts. A.J. was glad to set out the next day for Mukden, in
which he expected to have to make his headquarters for some time. The
thirty-six hours' journey involved another scrimmage for places on the
train, but he was getting used to such things now, and Barellini's
company continued to make all things easy. He was beginning to like the
talkative Italian, despite the too-frequently amorous themes of his
conversation, and when he suggested that they should join forces in
whatever adventures were available, A.J. gladly agreed.

A.J. had no romantic illusions about warfare, and was fully prepared for
horrors. He was hardly, however, prepared for the extraordinary
confusion and futility of large-scale campaigning between modern armies.
Nobody at Mukden seemed to have definite information about anything that
was happening; the town was full of-preposterous rumours, and most of
the inhabitants were rapidly growing rich out of the war business. All
the foreign correspondents were quartered in a Chinese inn, forming a
little international club, with a preponderance of English-speaking
members. A.J. found the other Englishmen less stand-offish when he got
to know them better; several became quite friendly, and gave him
valuable tips about cabling his news, and so on. The trouble was that
there was so little news to cable.

The ancient Chinese city wore an air of decay that contrasted queerly
with the sudden mushroom vitality infused by the war. A.J. had plenty of
time for wandering about among the picturesque sights of the place;
indeed after a week, he knew Mukden very much better than he knew Paris
or Berlin. Then came the sudden though long-awaited permission for
war-correspondents to move towards the actual battle-front. Barellini
and A.J. were both attached to a Cossack brigade, and after a tiresome
journey of some sixty miles found themselves courteously but frigidly
welcomed by General Kranazoff and his staff The general spoke French
perfectly, as also did most of his officers. He obviously did not like
the English, but he talked about English literature to A.J. with much
learning and considerable shrewdness.

During that first week with the Cossacks nothing happened, though from
time to time there came sounds of gun-fire in the distance. Then one
morning, about five o'clock, a servant who had been detailed to attend
on him woke A.J. to announce that a battle was beginning about four
miles away and that if he climbed a hill near by he might perhaps see
something of it. While he was hastily dressing, Barellini, who had been
similarly wakened, joined him, and soon the two were trudging over the
dusty plain in the fast-warming sunlight.

They climbed the low hill and lay down amongst the scrub. For several
hours nothing was to be seen; then suddenly, about nine o'clock, a
violent cannonade began over the next range of hills and little puffs of
white smoke a couple of miles away showed where shells were bursting. A
staff officer approached them and explained the position; the Russians
were over here, the Japanese over there, and so on. It was all very
confusing and not at all what A.J. had imagined. The sun rose higher and
the cannonade grew in intensity; Russian batteries were replying.
Barellini talked, as usual, about women; A.J. actually dozed a little
until another staff officer ran to tell them to move off, as the Russian
line was beginning to retreat. They obeyed, descending the hill and
walking a mile or so to the rear. By this time they were dog-tired and
thirsty. A Chinese trader on the road offered them some Shanghai beer at
an extortionate figure; Barellini beat him down to half his price and
bought four bottles, which they drank there and then with great relish.

And that, by pure mischance, was all that A.J. saw of the actual
Russo-Japanese War, for the beer had been mixed with foul water, and
that same evening, after sending a long cable to the _Comet_, he fell
violently ill and had to be taken to the base hospital. There his case
was at first neglected, for it was hardly to be expected' that the
doctors, in the after-battle rush of work, should pay much attention to
a foreign war-correspondent with no visible ailment. Later, however,
when his temperature was a hundred and four and he was in the most
obvious agony, they changed their attitude and gave him good nursing and
careful attention. For a fortnight his life was in danger; then he began
to recover. The hospital was clean and well-managed, though there was a
shortage of drugs and bandages. Barellini, on whom the bad beer had had
no ill effects at all, visited him from time to time, as also did some
of the other correspondents. It was universally agreed that he had met
with the most atrocious luck. Afterwards, however, he looked back upon
his period in hospital as the time when he really began to know Russia
and the Russians. To begin with, he made great progress with the
language. None of the nurses or patients could speak any English and
after his third week in hospital he found himself beginning to converse
with them fairly easily. What struck him most was the general eagerness
to help him; he could not imagine a foreigner in a London hospital being
so treated. Both men next to him were badly wounded (one in the stomach
and the other with both legs amputated), yet both took a keen delight in
teaching him new words. They were middle-aged, with wives and families
thousands of miles west; they accepted their lot with a fatalism that
was bewildered rather than stoic. One of them always screamed when his
wounds were being dressed, and always apologised to A.J. afterwards for
having disturbed him. Neither could read or write, yet when A.J. read to
them, very haltingly and with very bad pronunciation, from a book by
Gogol, they listened enthralled. They were devoutly religious and also
very superstitious. They had not the slightest idea why their country
was fighting Japan, but they assumed it must be God's will. The one with
the amputations did not seem to worry very much; his attitude seemed
chiefly one of puzzlement. It had all happened so quickly, almost as
soon as he had gone into battle; he had had no time to fight any of the
enemy; indeed, it was as if he had travelled seven thousand miles merely
to have his legs blown off. He could not get rid of a dim feeling that
the Japanese must have been personally angry with him to have done such
a thing. He felt no vindictiveness, however. There was a badly wounded
Japanese in the ward; the men treated him very courteously and often
spoke sympathetically to one another about him. As they did not know a
word of his language nor he a word of theirs, it was all that could be
done.

Both A.J.'s neighbours told him all about themselves and showed the
frankest curiosity about his own life. They thought it very strange that
people in England were so interested in the war that they would send out
men especially to describe it for them, and they were amazed when A.J.
told them how much his journey had cost, the price of his cables to the
_Comet_, and so on. They listened with great interest to anything he
told them about English life, English politics, and so on, though such
matters were difficult to compress within the confines of his still
limited Russian. They always showed their appreciation with the most
childlike directness, often giving him articles of food which he really
did not want, but which he could not refuse without risk of hurting
their feelings.

The effect of his weeks in hospital was to give him an extraordinarily
real and deep affection for these simple-hearted men as well as a bitter
indignation against the scheme of things that had driven them from their
homes to be maimed and shattered in a quarrel they did not even
understand. The fact that they did not complain themselves made him all
the more inclined to complain for them, and the constant ingress of
fresh wounded to take the place of men who died had a poignantly
cumulative effect upon his emotions. He had already cabled Aitchison
about his illness, promising to resume his job as soon as he could; now
he began to feel that his real message might be sent as appropriately
from a bed in hospital as from a position near the lines. After all, it
was the tragic cost of war that people needed to realise; they were in
no danger of forgetting its excitements and occasional glories. In such
a mood he began to compose cables which a friendly nurse despatched for
him from the local telegraph-office. He described the pathos and heroism
of the Russian wounded, their childlike patience and utter lack of
hatred for the enemy, their willingness to endure what they could not
understand. After his third cable on such lines a reply came from
Aitchison--'Cannot use your stuff advise you return immediately sending
out Ferguson.' So there it was; he was cashiered, sacked; they were
sending out Ferguson, the well-known traveller and war-correspondent who
had made his name in South Africa. A.J. was acidly disappointed, of
course, and also (when he came to think about it) rather worried about
the future. There was nothing for it but to pack up and return to Europe
as soon as he was fit to leave hospital--to Europe, but not to England.
The thought of London, of the London streets, and of Fleet Street,
especially, appalled him in a way he could not exactly analyse. He had a
little money still left and began to think of living in France or
Germany as long as it held out, and as the most obvious economy he would
travel back third-class. He left hospital at the beginning of August and
caught the first train west. The discomfort of sleeping night after
night on a plank bed without undressing did not prevent him from
enjoying the journey; the train itself was spacious and the halts at
stations were long and frequent enough to give ample opportunity for
rest and exercise. His companions were nearly all soldiers, most of them
returning to their homes after sickness or wounds, and their company
provided a constant pageant of interest and excitement. The long pauses
at places he felt he would almost certainly never visit again and whose
names he would almost certainly never remember, gave an atmosphere of
epic endlessness to the journey; and there was the same atmosphere in
his talks to fellow-travellers, with some of whom he became very
intimate. Sometimes, especially when sunset fell upon the strange, empty
plains, a queer feeling of tranquillity overspread him; he felt that he
wanted never to go back to London at all; the thought of any life in the
future like his old Fleet Street life filled his mind with inquietude.
And then the train would swing into the dreaming rhythm of the night,
and the soldiers in the compartment would light their candles and stick
them into bottles on the window-ledges, and begin to sing, or to laugh,
or to chatter. Siberia surprised him by being quite hot, and sometimes
the night passed in a cloud of perfume, wafted from fields of flowers by
the railside. Then, early in the morning, there would be a halt at some
little sun-scorched station, where the soldiers would fetch hot water to
make tea and where A.J. could get down and stretch his legs while the
train-crew loaded wood into the tender. Often they waited for hours in
sidings, until troop trains passed them going east, and for this reason
the return journey took much longer than the eastward one.

At a station a few hundred miles from the European frontier A.J. got
into conversation with a well-dressed civilian whom he found himself
next to in the refreshment-room. The man was obviously well educated,
and discussed the war and other topics in a way that might have been
that of any other cultured European. He made the usual enquiries as to
what A.J. was doing and who he was; then he congratulated him on his
Russian, which he said was surprisingly good for one who had had to
learn so quickly. The two got on excellently until the departure of the
train; then they had to separate, since the Russian was travelling
first-class.

At the next halt, three hours later, they met again in a similar way,
and the Russian expressed surprise that A.J. should be travelling so
humbly. A.J. answered, with a frankness he saw no reason to check, that
he was doing things as cheaply as possible because he had so little
money. This led to further questions and explanations, after which the
Russian formally presented his card, which showed him to be a certain
Doctor Hamarin, of Rostov-on-Don. He was, he said, the headmaster of a
school there; his pupils came from the best families in the district. If
A.J. wished to earn a little money and was not in any great hurry to
return to England (for so much he had gathered), why not consider taking
a temporary post in Russia? And there and then he offered him the job of
English master in his school. A.J. thanked him and said he would think
it over; he thought it over, and at the next station jumped eagerly to
the platform, met Hamarin as before, and said he would accept.

So he settled down at Rostov. It was a pleasantly prosperous city, with
a climate cold and invigorating in winter and mild as the French Riviera
in summer; it was also very much more cosmopolitan than most places of
its size, for, as the business capital of the Don Cossack country, it
contained many Jews, Armenians, Greeks and even small colonies of
English, French, and Germans. Picturesquely built, with many fine
churches, it was interesting to live in, though A.J. had no initial
intention of staying in it for long. He did, in fact, stay there for two
years, which was about four times his estimate. His work was
simple--merely to teach English to the sons and daughters of Rostov's
plutocratic rather than aristocratic families. He made a successful
teacher, which is to say that he did not need to work very hard; he had
plenty of leisure, and during holidays was able to take trips into the
Caucasus, the Crimea, and several times to Moscow and Petersburg.. With
a natural aptitude for languages, he came to talk Russian without a
trace of foreign accent, besides picking up a working knowledge of
Tartar, Armenian, and various local dialects. He was moderately happy
and only bored now and again. A physical change became noticeable in
him; he lost, rather suddenly, the boyish undergraduate air that had
surprised the other war-correspondents when they had first seen him. He
was liked by his pupils and respected by their parents; he moved a
little on the fringe of the better-class town society, which was as high
as a schoolmaster could well expect. He soon found that his profession
carried with it little dignity of its own. During his first week at
school the daughter of one of Rostov's wealthiest families, in sending
up a very bad English translation exercise, enclosed a ten-rouble note
between the pages, clearly assuming that it would ensure high marks.

At the close of his first year he saw in a literary paper that Sir Henry
Jergwin, the celebrated English critic, editor, and man of letters, had
died suddenly in London whilst replying to a toast at the annual dinner
of a literary society.

Hamarin pressed him to stay another year at Rostov, and he did so
chiefly because he could not think of anything else to do or anywhere
else to go. It was during this second year that he began to gain insight
into the close network of revolutionary activity that was spread
throughout the entire country. Even bourgeois Rostov had its secret
clubs and government spies, and there seemed to be an ever-widening gulf
between the wealthier classes and the workpeople. When occasionally he
went into better-class houses to give private English lessons he was
often amazed at the way servants were bullied by everyone, from the
master of the house even down to the five-year-old baby who had already
learned whom he might kick and scratch with impunity. One youth, the son
of a wealthy mill-owner, went out of his way to explain. "You see,
they're all thieves and rogues. We know it, and they know we know it.
They steal everything they can--they have no loyalty--they lie to us a
dozen times a day as a matter of course. Why should we treat them any
better than the scum that they are? It's their fault as much as ours."

A.J. became quite friendly with this youth, who had travelled in Germany
and France, and looked at affairs from a somewhat wider standpoint than
the usual Rostov citizen. His name was Sergius Willenski, and he was
destined for the army. He had no illusions about the country or its
people. "You simply have to treat them like that," he often said. "It's
the only basis on which life becomes at all possible."

"And yet," A.J. answered, "I have met some of the most charming folk
among the common people--ignorant soldiers whom I would certainly have
trusted with my life."

"A good job you didn't. They may have been charming--quite likely--but
they were rogues, I'll wager, and would probably have killed you for a
small bribe. Our people have no morals--only a sort of good humour that
impresses foreigners."

A.J. went to the Willenskis' twice a week to teach English to the two
girls, aged fifteen and seventeen respectively. Neither learned
anything, except in the dullest and least intelligent way; neither
considered that life held any possible future except a successful
marriage. The older girl would have flirted with him if he had been
inclined for the diversion. The younger girl was the prettier, but had a
ferocious temper. She boasted that she had once maimed for life a man
who had come to the house to polish the floors. It was his custom to
take off one of his shoes and tie a polishing cloth round his stockinged
foot so that he could polish without stooping. The girl, then aged
eleven, had flown into a temper because he had accidentally disturbed
some toy of hers; she had seized a heavy silver samovar and dropped it
on to his foot, breaking several bones. "And it wasn't at all a bad
thing for him," she told A.J., "because father pays him something every
now and then and he doesn't have to polish the floors for it."

A.J. sometimes went to parties at the Willenskis' house; monsieur and
madame (as they liked to be called) were hospitable, and refrained from
treating him as they would have done a native teacher. Once he met
Willenski's brother, who was a publisher in Petersburg. Anton Willenski,
well known to all the Russian reading public, took considerable interest
in the young Englishman and, after an hour's conversation, offered him a
post in his own Petersburg office. "You are far too good a scholar to be
teaching in a little place like Rostov," he said. The post offered was
that of English translator and proof-reader, and the salary double that
which Hamarin paid. A.J. mentioned his contract at the school, but
Willenski said: "Oh, never mind that--I'll deal with Hamarin," and he
did, though A.J. could only guess how.

So A.J. left Rostov and went to Petersburg. That was in 1907, when he
was twenty-seven. The change from the provincial atmosphere to the
liveliness and culture of the capital was immeasurably welcome to him.
The gaiety of the theatres and cafés, the fine shops on the Nevsky, the
splendour of the Cathedral and of the Winter Palace, all pleased the eye
of the impressionable youth whose job left him leisure for thinking and
observing. He had been to Petersburg before, but to see it as a visitor
had been vastly different from living in it. His rooms were across the
river in the Viborg district; from his windows he could see, at sunset,
the Gulf of Finland bathed in saffron splendour, and there was something
of everlasting melancholy in that pageant of sky and water ushering in
the silver northern night. Before he had been long in Petersburg he
received other impressions--the glitter of Cossack bayonets and scarlet
imperial uniforms, and in the darker background, the huge scowling mass
of misery and corruption through which revolutionary currents ran like
threads of doom. It was fascinating to watch those ever-changing scenes
of barbaric magnificence and sordid degradation--to cheer the imperial
sleigh as it swept over the snow-bound boulevards, to gaze on the weekly
batches of manacled prisoners marching to the railway station en route
for the Ural convict-mines, to see the crowds of wild-eyed strikers
surging around the mills of the new industrialism. His work at
Willenski's office was easy; he had to superintend the translation of
English works into Russian and to give them final proof-reading. It was
also expected that he should make suggestions for new translations, and
it was over this branch of his work that, after a successful and
enjoyable year, he came to sudden grief. At his recommendation a certain
English novel had been translated, printed, published, and sent to the
shops; it was selling quite well when all at once the police authorities
detected or pretended to detect in it some thinly-veiled allusions to
the private life of the Emperor. Willenski was thus put in a most
awkward position, since he supplied text-books to the government schools
and had a strictly orthodox reputation to keep up; his only chance of
escaping business ruin and perhaps personal imprisonment was by laying
the entire blame on his subordinate. As he told A.J. quite frankly: "It
just can't be helped. They won't do anything to you, as you're English.
If you were Russian they'd probably send you to Siberia--as it is, they
can only cancel your permit."

So Willenski made a great show of dismissing with ignominy a subordinate
who had disgracefully let him down, and managed, by such strategy, to
escape with a severe warning so far as he himself was concerned. As for
A.J., he received a polite note from police headquarters informing him
that he must leave Russia within a week.

He felt this as a rather considerable blow, for in the first place he
was sorry to have brought so much trouble on Willenski, whom he had
grown to like; and besides, he had his own problems to solve. He did not
wish to return to England. He had no idea of anything that he could do
if he did return; he had no specialist qualifications except a knowledge
of Russian, which would be hardly as useful in London as was a knowledge
of English in Petersburg. Journalism was hopeless; he could realise now,
over the perspective of several years, what a complete failure he had
been in Fleet Street. Teaching, of which he had had some experience,
would be impossible in any good English school owing to his poor degree,
while as for the other professions, he neither inclined towards them nor
had any hope that they would incline towards him.

Beyond even this he had grown to like Petersburg. He had lived in it now
for over a year, had seen it in all its climatic moods; and now it was
April again and the sledge-roads on the frozen Neva would soon be
closing for the thaw. The prospect of summer had been alluring to him
more than he had realised; he had been looking forward to many a swim at
Peterhof and many an excursion into the flower-decked woods that fringed
the city on so many sides.

His permitted week expired on Easter Tuesday and on Easter Eve he
strolled rather sadly along the Nevski and watched the quaint and
fascinating ceremonial. Thousands of poor work-people had brought their
Easter suppers to be blest, and the priests were walking quickly amongst
the crowds sprinkling the holy water out of large buckets. The food was
set out on glistening white napkins on which stood also lighted tapers,
and there was a fairy-like charm in that panorama of flickering lights,
vestmented priests, and rapt, upturned faces. A.J. had seen it all the
previous year, but it held additional poignancy now that it seemed
almost the last impression he would have of the city. He was observing
it with rather more than a sight-seer's interest when a well-dressed man
in expensive furs, who happened to be pushed against him by the pressure
of the crowd, made some polite remark about the beauty of the scene.
A.J. answered appropriately and conversation followed. The man was
middle-aged and from his speech a person of culture. He was not, A.J.
judged, an Orthodox believer, but he showed a keen sympathy and
understanding of the religious motive, and was obviously as fascinated
by the spectacle as A.J. himself.

The two, indeed, soon found that they had a great many common ideas and
interests, and talked for perhaps a quarter of an hour before the
stranger said: "Excuse my curiosity, but I'm just wondering if you're
Russian. It isn't the accent that betrays you--don't think that--merely
a way of looking at things that one doesn't often find in this country.
At a venture I should guess you French."

"You'd be wrong," answered A.J., smiling. "I'm English."

"Are you, by Jove?" responded the other, dropping the Russian language
with sudden fervour. "That's odd, because so am I. My name's Stanfield."

"Mine's Fothergill."

They talked now with even greater relish, and though Stanfield did not
say who he was, A.J. surmised that he had some connection with the
British Embassy. They, discussed all kinds of things during the whole
four-mile walk down the Nevski and back, after which Stanfield said:
"Did you ever go to midnight Mass at St. Isaac's?" A.J. shook his head,
and the other continued: "You ought to--it's really worth seeing. If
you've nothing else on this evening we might go together."

They did, and the experience was one that A.J. was sure he would never
forget. They arrived at the church about eleven, when the building was
already thronged and in almost total darkness. Under the dome stood a
catafalque on which lay an open coffin containing a painted
representation of the dead Christ. Thousands of unlighted candles marked
the form of the vast interior, and Stanfield explained that they were
all linked with threads of gun-cotton. There was no light anywhere save
from a few tall candles round the bier.

Soon the members of the diplomatic corps arrived, gorgeously uniformed
and decorated, and took up their allotted positions, while black-robed
priests began the mournful singing of the Office for the Dead. Then
followed an elaborate ritual in which the priests pretended to search in
vain for the Body. Despite its touch of theatricalism the miming was
deeply impressive. Then sharply, on the first stroke of midnight, the
marvellous climax arrived; the chief priest cried loudly--'Christ is
risen!' while the gun-cotton, being fired, touched into gradual flame
the thousands of candles. Simultaneously cannon crashed out from the
neighbouring fortress, and the choir, led by the clergy (no longer in
black but in their richest cloth of gold), broke out into the triumphant
cadences of the Easter Hymn. The sudden transference from gloom to
dazzling brilliance and from silence to deafening jubilation stirred
emotions that were almost breath-taking.

Afterwards, amidst the chorus of Easter salutations the two men
sauntered by the banks of the river. A.J. said how glad he was to have
seen such a spectacle, and Stanfield answered: "Yes, it's one of the
things I never miss if I happen to be here. I've seen it now at least a
dozen times, yet it's always fresh, and never fails to give me a
thrill."

Something then impelled A.J. to say: "I'm particularly glad to have seen
it, because I don't suppose I'll ever have the chance again."

"Oh, indeed? You're only on a visit? You spoke Russian so well I
imagined you lived here."

"I do--or rather I have done for some time--but I'm going away--very
soon, I'm afraid--for good."

"Really?"

A.J. was not a person to confide easily, but the difficulty of his
problem, combined with Stanfield's sympathetic attitude and the
emotional mood in which the Cathedral ceremony had left them both, made
it easy for him to hint that the circumstances of his leaving Petersburg
were not of the happiest. Stanfield was immediately interested, and
within half an hour (it was by that time nearly two in the morning) most
of A.J.'s position had been explained and explored. Once the process
began it was difficult to stop, and in the end A.J. found himself
confessing even the ridiculous suffragette episode which had been the
immediate cause of his departure from England four years before.
Stanfield was amused at that. "So I gather," he summarised at last,
"that you're in the rather awkward position of having to leave this
country and of having no other country that you particularly want to go
to?"

"That's it."

"You definitely don't want to return to England?"

"I'd rather go anywhere else."

"But you must have friends there--a few, at any rate. Four years isn't
such a tremendous interval."

"I know. That's why I'd rather go anywhere else."

"Don't you think you're taking the suffragette affair rather too
seriously? After all, most people will have forgotten it by now, and in
any case it wasn't anything particularly disgraceful."

"Yes, but--there are other reasons--much more important ones. I--I don't
want to go back to England." He gave Stanfield a glance which decided
the latter against any further questioning in that direction. "Besides,
even if I _were_ to go back there, what could I do?"

"I don't know, do I? What _are_ your accomplishments?"

A.J. smiled. "Very few, and all of them extremely unmarketable. I can
speak Russian, that's about all. Oh yes, and I can swim and fence, and
I'm a bit of a geologist in my spare time. It doesn't really sound the
sort of thing to impress an employment agency, does it?"

"Do you fancy an outdoor life?"

"I don't mind, provided it isn't just merely physical work. It may sound
conceited, but I rather want something where I have to use a small
amount of brains. Yet I wouldn't care for a job at a desk all the time.
I'm afraid I'm talking as though I were likely to be given any choice in
the matter."

"What about danger--personal danger? Would that be a disadvantage?"

"I'd hate the army, if that's what you mean."

"No, that isn't what I mean. I meant some kind of job where you had
occasionally to take risks--pretty big risks, in their way--playing for
high stakes--_that_ sort of thing."

"I'm afraid your description doesn't help me to imagine such a job, but
as a guess I should say it would suit me very well."

Stanfield laughed. "I can't be more explicit. How about the money?"

"Oh well, I'd like enough to live on and a little bit more. But isn't it
rather absurd to be talking in this way, since I shall be very lucky to
get any sort of job at all?"

"On the contrary, it's just possible--yes, it is just possible that I
might be able to put you in the way of the kind of job you say you would
like. And here in Petersburg, too."

"You forget that I have to leave. My police permit expires on Tuesday."

"No, I don't forget that at all. I am remembering it most carefully."

"I don't follow."

"Let me explain. But first, I must pledge you to the strictest secrecy.
Whether or not you and I can come to terms, you must give me that
assurance."

"I do, of course."

"Good. Then listen."

Briefly, Stanfield's suggestion was that A.J. should become attached to
the British Secret Service. That sounded simple enough, but an
examination of all that it implied revealed a network of complication
and detail. Stanfield, relying on A.J.'s promise of secrecy, was as
frank as he needed to be, but no more so. British diplomacy, he
explained, had its own reasons for wishing to know the precise strength
and significance of the revolutionary movement in Russia. It was
impossible to obtain reliable information from official channels,
whether British or Russian; the only sources were devious and
underground. "Supposing, for instance, you decided to help us, you would
have to join one of the revolutionary societies, identify yourself with
the cause, gain the confidence of its leaders, and judge for yourself
how much the whole thing counts. I think you'll agree with me that such
a job calls for brains and might well involve considerable personal
risks."

"I should be a spy, in fact?"

"In a way, yes, but you would not be betraying anybody. You would merely
make your confidential reports to our headquarters--you would not be
working either for or against the revolutionaries themselves. We take no
sides, of course--we merely want to know what is really happening."

"I see. And the danger would be that the revolutionaries would find me
out and think I was betraying them to the Russian police?"

"The danger, my friend, would be twofold, and I'm not going to try to
minimise it in the least. There would be, of course, the danger you
mention, but there would be the even greater danger that the Russian
police would take you for a genuine revolutionary and deal with you
accordingly. And you know what 'accordingly' means."

"But in that case I suppose I should have to tell them the real truth?"

"Not at all--that is just what you would not have to do. You would have
to keep up your pretence and accept whatever punishment they gave you.
If you _did_ tell them the truth, the British authorities would merely
arch their eyebrows with great loftiness and disown you. I want you to
be quite clear about that. We should, in the beginning, provide you with
passport and papers proving you to be a Russian subject, and after that,
if anything ever went wrong, you would have to become that Russian
subject--completely. Do you see? We could not risk trouble with the
Russian Government by having anything to do with you."

"It seems rather a one-sided arrangement."

"It is, as I can say from experience, having worked under it for the
best part of my life. On the other hand, it has certain advantages which
probably appeal to people like you and me rather more than to most
others. It is interesting, adventurous, and quite well paid. It is also
emphatically a job for the Cat that Walks by Itself--you remember
Kipling's story?--and I should imagine both of us are that type of
animal."

"Maybe."

"Mind you, I don't want to persuade you at all--and I do want you to
have time to think the whole thing over very carefully before coming to
a decision. Unless, of course, you feel that you may as well say 'No'
straight away?"

A.J. shook his head. "I'll think it over, as you suggest."

"Then we'd better meet again to-morrow." He gave A.J. an address, and
the arrangement was made. A.J. did not sleep well that night. When he
tried to look at the future quite coolly, when he asked himself whether
his ambition really was to be a Secret Service spy in a Russian
revolutionary club, the answer was neither yes nor no, but a mere gasp
of incredulity. It was almost impossible to realise that such an
extraordinary doorway had suddenly opened into his life. It was not
impossible, however, to grasp the fact that if he did not accept
Stanfield's offer he would have to leave Russia in two days' time, with
very poor and uncertain prospects.

He called in the morning at the address Stanfield had given him--a
well-furnished apartment in one of the better-class districts. Stanfield
was there, together with another man, introduced as Forrester. "Well,"
began Stanfield, "have you made up your mind?"

A.J. answered, with a wry smile: "I don't feel in the least like jumping
at the job, but I'm aware that I must either take it or leave Russia."

"And you're as keen as all that on not leaving Russia?"

"I rather think I am."

"That means you'll take on the job."

"I suppose it does."

Here Forrester intervened with: "I suppose Stanfield gave you details of
what you'd have to do?"

"More or less--yes."

"You'd have to be the young intellectual type--your accent and manner
would pass well enough, I daresay. But what about enthusiasm for the
cause--can you act?" He added, slyly: "Or perhaps you would not need to
act very much, eh?"

"As an Englishman in Russia," answered A.J. cautiously, "I have always
felt that I ought to avoid taking sides in Russian politics. You can
judge from that, then, how much I should have to act."

Forrester nodded. "Good, my friend--a wise and admirable reply. I should
think he would do, wouldn't you, Stanfield?"

The latter said: "I thought so all along. Still, we mustn't persuade
him. It's risky work and he knows some of the more unpleasant
possibilities. It's emphatically a game of heads somebody else wins and
tails he loses."

"Oh yes," Forrester agreed. "Most decidedly so. The pay, by the way,
works out at about fifty pounds a month, besides expenses and an
occasional bonus."

"That sounds attractive," said A.J.

"_Attractive?_" Forrester turned again to Stanfield. "Did you hear that?
He says the pay's attractive! You know Stanfield, it's the money that
most people go for in, this job, yet I really do believe our friend here
is an exception! He only admits that the money's attractive!" With a
smile, he swung round to A.J. "I'm rather curious to know what it is
that weighs most with you in this business. Is it adventure?"

"I don't know," answered A.J. "I really don't know at all."

So they had to leave that engrossing problem and get down to definite
talk about details. That definite talk lasted several hours, after which
A.J. was offered lunch. Then, during the afternoon, the talk was
resumed. It was all rather complicated. He was to be given a Russian
passport (forged, of course, though the ugly word was not emphasised)
establishing him to be one Peter Vasilevitch Ouranov, a student. He must
secure rooms under that name in a part of the city where he was not
known; he must pose as a young man of small private means occupied in
literary work of some kind. To assist the disguise he must cultivate a
short beard and moustache. Then he must frequent a certain bookshop (its
address would be given him) where revolutionaries were known to
foregather, and must cautiously make known his sympathies so that he
would be invited to join a society. Once in the society, it would be his
task to get to know all he could concerning its aims, personnel, and the
sources from which it obtained funds; such information he would transmit
at intervals to an agent in Petersburg whose constantly changing address
would be given him from time to time. It would not be expected, nor
would it even be desirable, that he should take any prominent or active
part in the revolutionary movement; he must avoid, therefore, being
elected to any position of authority. "We don't want you chosen to throw
bombs at the Emperor," said Forrester, "but supposing anyone else throws
them, then we do want to know who he is, who's behind him, and all that
sort of thing. Get the idea?"

A.J. got the idea, and left the two men towards evening, after Stanfield
had taken his photograph with an ordinary camera. That night and much of
the next day he spent in packing. He had told the porter and the woman
who looked after his room that he might be leaving very soon, so they
were not surprised by his preparations for departure. In the evening,
following instructions, he gave the two of them handsome tips, said
good-bye, and drove to the Warsaw station. There he left his bags in the
luggage office, giving his proper name (which was, in fact, on all the
luggage labels as well). After sauntering about the station for a short
time he left it and walked to Stanfield's address. There he handed over
to Forrester his English passport and luggage tickets. He rather
expected to see Forrester burn the passport, but the latter merely put
it in his pocket and soon afterwards left the house. Stanfield smiled.
"Forrester's a thorough fellow," he commented. "He doesn't intend to
have the Russian police wondering what's happened to you. To-night, my
friend, though it may startle you to know it, Mr. A.J. Fothergill will
leave Russia. He will collect his luggage at the Warsaw station, he will
board the night express for Germany, his passport will be stamped in the
usual way at Wierjbolovo and Eydkuhnen, but in Berlin, curiously enough
if anyone bothered to make enquiries, all trace of him would be lost.
How fortunate that your height and features are reasonably normal and
that passport photographs are always so dreadfully bad!"

After an hour or so Forrester returned and informed A.J. that he was to
stay with them in their apartment for a fortnight at least, and that
during that time he must consider himself a prisoner. The rather amusing
object of the interval was to give time for his beard and moustache to
grow. A.J. rather enjoyed the fortnight, for both Forrester and
Stanfield were excellent company, and there was a large library of books
for him to dip into. The two men came in and went out at all kinds of
odd hours, and had their needs attended to by a queer-looking
man-servant who was evidently trustworthy, since they spoke freely
enough in front of him.

At the end of the fortnight, by which time A.J.'s face had begun to give
him a remarkably different appearance, Forrester again photographed him,
and a few days later handed him his new passport and papers of identity.
It gave him a shock, at first, to see himself so confidently described
as 'Peter Vasilevitch Ouranov,' born at such and such a place and on
such and such a date. "You must get used to thinking of yourself by that
name," Forrester told him. "And you must also make it your business to
know something about your own past life. Your parents, of course, are
both dead. You have just a little money of your own--enough to save you
from having to work for a living you are a studious, well-educated
person, at present engaged in writing a book about--what shall we
say?--something, perhaps, with a slightly subversive flavour--political
economy, perhaps, or moral philosophy. Oh, by the way, you may permit
yourself to know a little French and German--as much, in fact, as you
_do_ know. But not a word of English. Remember that most of all."

The next morning A.J. was made to change into a completely different
outfit of clothes. He was also given three hundred roubles in cash, a
small trunk-key, and a luggage ticket issued at the Moscow station.
After breakfast he said good-bye to Forrester and Stanfield, walked from
their apartment to the station, presented his ticket, received in
exchange a large portmanteau, and drove in a cab to an address Forrester
had given him. It was a block of middle-class apartments on the southern
fringe of the city. There chanced (or was it chance?) to be an apartment
vacant; he interviewed the porter, came to terms, produced his papers
for registration, and took up his abode in a comfortable set of rooms on
the third floor. There he unlocked the portmanteau, and found it
contained clothes, a few Russian books, a brass samovar, and several
boxes of a popular brand of Russian cigarettes. These miscellaneous and
well-chosen contents rather amused him.

Thus he began life under the new name. He was startled, after a few
days, to find how easy it was to assume a fresh identity; he
conscientiously tried to forget all about Ainsley Jergwin Fothergill and
to remember only Peter Vasilevitch Ouranov, and soon the transference
came to require surprisingly little effort. Forrester had cautioned him
not to be in any great hurry to begin his real work, so at first he
merely made small purchases at the bookshop whose address he had been
given, without attempting to get to know anyone. Gradually, however, the
youthful, studious-looking fellow who bought text-books on economic
history (that was the subject finally fixed on) attracted the attention
of the bookseller, a small swarthy Jew of considerable charm and
culture. His name was Axelstein. A.J. had all along decided that, if
possible, he would allow the first move to be made by the other side,
and he was pleased when, one afternoon during the slack hours of
business, Axelstein began a conversation with him. Both men were
exceedingly cautious and only after a longish talk permitted it to be
surmised that they were neither of them passionate supporters of the
Government. Subsequent talks made the matter less vague, and in the end
it all happened much as Forrester had foreshadowed--A.J. was introduced
to several other frequenters of the shop, and it was tacitly assumed
that he was a most promising recruit to the movement.

A few days later he was admitted to a club to which Axelstein and
many of his customers belonged. It met in an underground beer-hall
near the Finland station. Over a hundred men and women crowded
themselves into the small, unventilated room, whose atmosphere
was soon thick with the mingled fumes of beer, makhorka tobacco,
and human bodies. Some of the men were factory-workers with hands
and clothes still greasy from the machines. Others belonged to
the bourgeois and semi-intelligentsia--clerks in government offices,
school teachers, book-keepers, and so on. A few others were university
students. Of the women, some were factory-workers, some stenographers,
but most were just the wives of the men.

A.J. allowed himself to make several friends in that underground
beer-hall, and the reality of its companionship together with the
secrecy and danger of the meeting, made a considerable impression on
him. Often news was received that one or another member had been
arrested and imprisoned without trial. Police spies were everywhere;
there was even the possibility, known to all, that some of the members
might themselves be spies or agents provocateurs. Caution was the
universal and necessary watchword, and at any moment during their
sessions members were ready to transform themselves into a haphazard and
harmless group of beer-drinking and card-playing roisterers.

It was only by degrees that A.J. came to realise the immensity of the
tide that was flowing towards revolution. That club was only one of
hundreds in Petersburg alone, and Petersburg was only one of scores of
Russian cities in which such clubs existed. The movement was like a
great subterranean octopus stirring ever more restlessly beneath the
foundations of imperial government. An arm cut off here or there had
absolutely no effect; if a hundred men were deported to Siberia a
hundred others were ready to step instantly into the vacant places.
Everything was carefully and skilfully organised, and there seemed to be
no lack of money. The Government always declared that it came from the
Japanese, but Axelstein hinted that most of it derived from big Jewish
banking and industrial interests.

A.J. became rather friendly with an eighteen-year-old university student
named Maronin. He was fair-haired, large-eyed, and delicate-looking,
with thin, artistic hands (he was a fine pianist) and slender nostrils;
his father had been a lawyer in Kieff. The boy did no real work at the
university and had no particular profession in view; he lived every
moment for the revolution he believed to be coming. A.J. found that this
intense and passionate attitude occasioned no surprise amongst the
others, though, of course, it was hardly typical.

Young Alexis Maronin interested A.J. a great deal. He was such a kindly,
jolly, amusing boy--in England A.J. could have imagined him a popular
member of the sixth-form. In Russia, however, he was already a man, and
with more than an average man's responsibilities, since he had
volunteered for any task, however dangerous, that the revolutionary
organisers would allot him. Axelstein explained that this probably meant
that he would be chosen for the next 'decisive action' whenever that
should take place. "He is just the type," Axelstein explained calmly.
"Throwing a bomb accurately when you know that the next moment you will
be torn to pieces requires a certain quality of nerve which, as a rule,
only youngsters possess."

Regularly every week A.J. transmitted his secret reports and received
his regular payments by a routine so complicated and devious that it
seemed to preclude all possibility of discovery. He found his work
extremely interesting, and his new companions so friendly and agreeable,
on the whole, that he was especially glad that his spying activities
were not directed against them. He was well satisfied to remain
personally impartial, observing with increasing interest both sides of
the worsening situation.

One afternoon he was walking with Maronin through a factory district
during a lock-out; crowds of factory workers--men, women, and
girls--were strolling or loitering about quite peaceably. Suddenly, with
loud shouts and the clatter of hoofs, a troop of Cossacks swept round
the street-corner, their lithe bodies swaying rhythmically from side to
side as they laid about them with their short, leaden-tipped whips. The
crowd screamed and stampeded for safety, but most were hemmed in between
the Cossacks and the closed factory-gates. A.J. and Maronin pressed
themselves against the wall and trusted to luck; several horsemen
flashed past; whips cracked and there were terrifying screams; then all
was over, almost as sharply as it had begun. A girl standing next to
Maronin had been struck; the whip had laid open her cheek from lip to
ear. A.J. and Maronin helped to carry her into a neighbouring shop,
which was already full of bleeding victims. Maronin said: "My mother was
blinded like that--by a Cossack whip,"--and A.J. suddenly felt as he had
done years before when he had decided to fight Smalljohn's system at
Barrowhurst, and when he had seen the policeman in Trafalgar Square
twisting the suffragette's arm--only a thousand times more intensely.

Throughout the summer he went on making his reports, attending meetings,
arguing with Axelstein, and cultivating friendship with the boy Alexis.
There was something very pure and winsome about the latter--the power of
his single burning ideal gave him an air of otherworldliness, even in
his most natural and boyish moments. His hatred of the entire
governmental system was terrible in its sheer simplicity; it was the
system he was pledged against; mere individuals, so far as they were
obeying orders, roused in him only friendliness and pity. The Cossack
guards who had slashed the crowd with their whips were to him as much
victims as the crowd itself, and even the Emperor, he was ready to
admit, was probably a quite harmless and decent fellow personally. The
real enemy was the framework of society from top to bottom, and in
attacking that enemy, it might and probably would happen that the
innocent would have to suffer. Thus he justified assassinations of
prominent officials; as human beings they were guiltless and to be
pitied, but as cogs in the detested machine there could be no mercy for
them.

About midnight one October evening A.J. was reading in his sitting-room
and thinking of going to bed when the porter tapped at his door with the
message that a young man wished to see him. Such late visits were
against police regulations, but the chance of a good tip had doubtless
weighed more powerfully in the balance. A.J. nodded, and the porter
immediately ushered in Maronin, who had been standing behind him in the
shadow of the landing.

As soon as the door had closed and the two were alone together A.J.
could see that something was wrong. The boy's face was milky pale and
his eyes stared fixedly; he was also holding his hand against his chest
in a rather peculiar way. "What on earth's the matter?" A.J. enquired,
and for answer Alexis could do nothing but remove his hand and allow a
sudden stream of blood to spurt out and stain the carpet.

A.J., in astonished alarm, helped him into the bedroom and laid him on
the bed, discovering then that he had been shot in the chest and was
still bleeding profusely. The boy did not speak at first; he seemed to
have no strength to do anything but smile. When, however, A.J. had
tended him a little and had given him brandy, he began to stammer out
what had happened. He had, it seemed, fulfilled a secret task given him
by revolutionary headquarters. He had shot Daniloff, Minister of the
Interior. He had done it by seeking an interview and firing point-blank
across the minister's own study-table. Daniloff, however, had been quick
enough to draw a revolver and fire back at his assailant as the latter
escaped through a window. A ladder had been placed in readiness by an
accomplice, and Alexis had been descending by it when Daniloff's bullet
had struck him in the chest. He had hurried down, unheeding, and had
mingled--successfully, he believed--with the crowds leaving a theatre.
He had been in great pain by then, and knew that he dare not let himself
be taken to a hospital because in such a place his wound would instantly
betray him. The only plan he had been able to think of had been a flight
to his friend's apartment, and though that was over a mile from
Daniloff's house, he had walked there, despite his agony, and even in
the porter's office had managed to make his request with-out seeming to
arouse suspicion. Now, in his friend's bedroom, he could only gasp out
his story and plead not to be turned away.

There was no question of that, A.J. assured him; no question of that.
"You shall stay here, Alexis, till you are well again, but I must go out
and find a doctor--I have done all I can myself, I'm afraid."

The boy shook his head. "No, no, you can't get a doctor--he'll ask
questions--it's impossible. But I have a friend--a medical student--I
will give you his address--to-morrow you shall fetch him to me--he will
take out the bullet--and say nothing..."

"Tell me where he lives and I will fetch him now."

"No, no--the police would stop you--they will be all everywhere
to-night--because of Daniloff." He added: "I am sorry to be such a
bother to you--I wish I could have thought of some other way. If only I
had taken better aim I might have killed him instantly."

"Don't talk," A.J. commanded, huskily. "Try to be quiet--then in the
morning I will fetch your friend."

"Yes. I shall be all right when the bullet is taken out."

"Yes--yes. Don't talk any more."

He held the boy in his arms, that boy with the face of an angel, that
boy who had just shot a government minister in cold blood; he held him
in his arms until past one in the morning, and then, very quietly and
apparently with a gradual diminution of pain, the end came.

Till that moment A.J. had felt nothing but, pity for his friend; but
afterwards he began to realise that he was himself in an extraordinarily
difficult and dangerous situation. How could he explain the death of the
boy that night in his apartment? What story could he invent that would
not connect himself with the attack on Daniloff? The deep red stain in
the midst of his sitting-room carpet faced him as a dreadful reminder of
his problems. He had no time to solve them, even tentatively, for less
than a quarter of an hour after the boy's death he heard a loud
commotion in the street outside and a few seconds later a vehement
banging on the door of the porter's office. Next came heavy footsteps up
the stairs and a sudden pummeling on his own door. He went to open it
and saw a group of police officers standing outside, with the porter in
custody.

"We understand that a young man visited you a short time ago," began one
of the officers, with curt precision.

"Yes," answered A.J.

"Is he here now?"

"Yes."

"We must have a word with him."

"I am afraid that will be impossible. He is dead."

"Ah--then, if you will permit us to see the body."

"Certainly. In there."

He pointed to the bedroom, but did not follow them. One of the officers
stayed behind in the sitting-room. After a few moments the others
returned and their leader resumed his questioning. "Now, sir," he said,
facing A.J. rather sternly, "perhaps you will be good enough to explain
all this."

A.J. replied, as calmly as he could: "I will explain all I can, which I
am afraid isn't very much. I was sitting here just over an hour ago,
about to go to bed, when the young man was brought up to see me--"

"The porter brought him up?"

"Yes."

"Continue."

"I invited him to come in, and as he looked ill, I asked him what was
the matter. Besides, of course, it was peculiar his wanting to see me at
such a late hour."

"Very peculiar indeed. You must have been a very intimate friend of
his."

"Hardly that, as a matter of fact. He used to drop and see me now and
again, that was all."

"Continue with the story."

"Well, as I was saying, I asked him what was the matter, but he didn't
answer. He was holding his hand to his chest--like this." A.J. imitated
the position. "Then he suddenly took his hand away and the result
was--that." He pointed to the stain on the carpet. "Then he collapsed
and I took him into my bedroom. I discovered that he had been shot, but
I could not get him to explain anything at all about how it had
happened. I made him as comfortable as I could and was just about to
send for a doctor when he died. That's all, I'm afraid."

"You say he told you nothing of what had happened to him?"

"Nothing at all."

"And you could make no guess?"

"Absolutely none--it seemed a complete mystery to me during the very
short time I had for thinking about it."

"You know who the young man is?"

"I know his name. He is Alexis Maronin."

"And your name?"

"Peter Vasilevitch Ouranov."

"How did you come to know Maronin?"

"We met in connection with some work I am engaged upon. I am writing a
book of history and Maronin was interested in the same period. We used
to meet occasionally for an exchange of ideas."

"What was he by profession?"

"A student, I rather imagined. He was always very reserved about himself
and his affairs."

"Were you surprised to see him an hour ago when he came here?"

"I certainly was."

"You know it is against police rules for strangers to be admitted at
that hour?"

"Yes."

"Had the porter ever admitted visitors to your apartment at such a time
before?"

A.J., from the porter's woebegone appearance, guessed that he had
already made the fullest and most abject confession, so he replied:
"Yes, he had--but not very often."

"Had he ever admitted Maronin before at such a late hour?"

"I believe so--once."

"Why, then, were you surprised to see him when he came to-night?"

A.J. answered, with an effort of casualness: "Because on that last
occasion when he paid me a call after permitted hours I gave the boy
such a scolding for breaking rules and leading me into possible trouble,
that I felt quite sure he had learned a lesson and would not do so
again."

"I see...And you still say that you have not the slightest idea how
Maronin met with his injury?"

"Not the slightest."

"May we examine your passport?"

"Certainly."

He produced it and handed it over. While it was being closely inspected
two police officers carried the boy's body to a waiting ambulance below.
Finally the leading officer handed the passport back to A.J. with the
words: "That will be all for the present, but we may wish to question
you again." The police then departed, but A.J. was under no illusion
that danger had departed with them. When he looked out of his
sitting-room window he could see and hear the march of a patient watcher
on the pavement below.

He drank some brandy to steady his nerves and spent the rest of the
night in his easiest armchair. He did not care to enter the bedroom. Now
that the police had left him, personal apprehensions were again
overshadowed by grief.

He had fallen into a troubled doze when he was awakened by the sound of
scuffling on the landing outside, punctuated by shrill screams from the
woman who usually came in the mornings to clear up his room and prepare
breakfast. She was evidently being compelled to give up her keys, and a
moment later the door was unlocked and two police guards strode into the
room. They were of a very different type from those of the previous
visit. Huge, shaggy fellows, blustering in manner and brutal in method,
A.J. recognised their class from so many stories he had heard in that
underground beer-hall. "You are to come with us immediately," one of
them ordered gruffly. "Take any extra clothes and personal articles that
you can put into a small parcel." A.J. felt a sharp stab of panic; the
routine was dreadfully familiar. "By whose orders?" he asked, feeling
that a show of truculence might have some effect with men who were
obviously uneducated; but the only reply was a surly: "You'll find that
out in good time."

The men were armed with big revolvers, apart from which they were of
such physique that resistance was out of the question. A.J. gathered
together a few possessions and accompanied his two escorts to a
pair-horse van waiting at the kerbside. This they bade him enter, one of
them getting inside with him, while the other took the reins. The inside
was almost pitch dark. After a noisy rattling drive of over half an hour
the doors were opened and A.J. was ushered quickly into a building whose
exterior he had no time to recognise. The two guards led him into a
large bleak room unfurnished except for a desk and a few chairs. A
heavily-built and dissipated-looking man sat at the desk twirling his
moustache. When A.J. was brought in the man put on a pair of
steel-rimmed spectacles and stared fiercely.

"You are Peter Vasilevitch Ouranov?" he queried; and to A.J.'s
affirmative, merely replied: "Take him away."

The guards continued their _Journey with him along many corridors and
across several courtyards. He knew that he was in a prison, though which
one out of the many in Petersburg he had no idea. At last one of the
guards unlocked and opened a door and pushed him into a room already
occupied by what at first seemed a large crowd. But that was because, in
the dim light admitted by a small and heavily-barred window, it was
difficult to distinguish the inhabitants from their bundles of clothing.

They had seemed asleep when A.J. entered, but as soon as the guards
retired and the door was relocked they all burst into sudden chatter.
A.J., dazed and astonished, found himself surrounded by gesticulating
men and youths, all eager to know who he was, why he had been sent
there, and so on. He told them his name, but thought it wiser to say
that no charge had been made against him so far. They said: "Ah, that is
how it very often happens. They do not tell you anything." They even
laughed when he asked the name of the prison; it amused them to have to
supply such information. It was the Gontcharnaya, they said.

Altogether there were a score or more inhabitants of that room. About
half were youths of between seventeen and twenty-one. One of them told
A.J. he had already been imprisoned for two months without knowing any
charge against him, and there was a steady hopelessness in his voice as
he said so. "These people are not all politicals," he went on,
whispering quietly amidst the surrounding chatter. "Some are
criminals--some probably government agents sent to spy on us--who
knows?--there is always that sort of thing going on. A fortnight ago two
fellows were taken away--we don't know where, of course--nothing has
happened since then until you came."

Considering their plight the majority of the prisoners were cheerful;
they laughed, played with cards and dice, sang songs, and exchanged
anecdotes. One of them, a Jew, had an extensive repertoire of obscenity,
and whenever the time fell heavily somebody would shout: "Tell us
another story, Jewboy." Another prisoner spent most of his time crouched
in a corner, silent and almost motionless; he was ill, though nobody
could say exactly what was the matter with him. He could not take the
prison food, and so had practically to starve. The food was nauseating
enough to anyone in good health, since apart from black bread it
consisted of nothing but a pailful of fish soup twice a day, to be
shared amongst all the occupants. A.J. could not stomach it till his
third day, and even then it made him heave; it smelt and tasted vilely
and looked disgusting when it was brought in with fish-heads floating
about on its greasy surface. It was nourishing, however, and to avoid it
altogether would have been unwise. There were no spoons or drinking
vessels; each man dipped his own personal mug or basin into the pail and
took what he wanted, and the same mugs, unwashed, served for the tea
which the men were allowed to make for themselves.

At night they slept on planks ranged round the wall a foot from the
floor. The cracks in the planks were full of bugs. Most of the men were
extremely verminous; indeed, it was impossible not to be so after a few
days in such surroundings. A smell of dirty clothes and general
unwholesomeness was always in the air, mixed with the stale fish smell
from the soup-pail and other smells arising from the crude sanitary
methods of the place.

The warders were mostly quite friendly and could be bribed to supply
small quantities of such things as tea, sugar, and tobacco (to be
chewed, not smoked). The entire prison routine was an affair of curious
contrasts--it was slack almost to the point of being good-humoured, yet,
beyond it all, there was a sense of complete and utter hopelessness. One
felt the power of authority as a shapeless and rather muddled monster,
not too stern to be sometimes easy-going, but quite careless enough to
forget the existence of any individual victim. Most hopeless of all was
the way in which some of the victims accepted the situation; they did
not complain, they did not show anger, indignation, or even (it seemed)
much anxiety. When the warders unlocked the door twice a day their eyes
lifted up, with neither hope nor fear, but with just a sort of slow,
smouldering fever. And when the man in the corner grew obviously very
ill, they did what they could for him, shrugged their shoulders, went on
with their card playing, and let him die. After all, what else was
possible? Only in the manner and glances of a few of the youngsters did
there appear any sign of fiercer emotions.

One of the prisoners, a political, had a passion for acquiring
information on every possible subject. Most of the others disliked him,
and A.J., to whom he attached himself as often as he could, found him a
great bore. "I am always anxious to improve my small knowledge of the
world," he would say, as a preface to a battery of questions. "You are a
person of education, I can see--can you tell me whether Hong Kong is a
British possession?" Something stirred remotely in A.J.'s memory; he
said, Yes, he believed it was. "And is Australia the largest island in
the world?" Yes, again; he believed so. "Then, sir, if you could further
oblige me--what is the smallest island?" A.J. could never quite decide
whether the man were an eccentric or a half-wit. He afterwards learned
that he had aimed a bomb at a chief of police in Courland.

All this time A.J. was immensely worried about his own position, which,
from conversation with other prisoners, he gathered might be very
serious. There were, apparently, few limits to the power of the police;
they might keep arrested persons in prison without trial for any length
of time, or, at any moment, if they so desired, they might send them
into exile anywhere in the vast region between the Urals and the Far
East.

For five weeks nothing happened; no one either left or joined the
prisoners. Then, on the thirty-eighth day (A.J. had kept count) one of
the warders, during his morning visit, singled out A.J. and another
prisoner to accompany him. From the fact that the two were ordered to
carry their bundles with them, the rest of the prisoners drew the
likeliest conclusion, and there were many sentimental farewells between
friends. The jailer obligingly waited till all this was finished; he did
not mind; time was of little concern to him or to anyone else at the
Gontcharnaya. Then, with a good-humoured shrug of the shoulders, he
relocked the door and led the two prisoners across courtyards and along
corridors into the room that A.J. had visited on first entering the
prison. The same man was there behind the desk, twirling his moustache
upwards almost to meet the bluish pouches under his eyes.

He dealt first with the other prisoner, verifying tree man's name and
then declaring, with official emphasis: "You are found guilty of treason
against the government and are sentenced to exile. That is all." The man
began to speak, but a police guard who was in the room dragged him
roughly away. When the shouts of both had died down in the distance, the
man behind the desk turned to A.j. "You are Peter Vasilevitch Ouranov?
You too are found guilty of treason. Your sentence is exile--"

"But what is the charge? What am I accused of? Surely--"

"Silence! Take him away!"

A police guard seized him by the arms and dragged him towards the door
and out into the corridor. A.J. did not shout or struggle; he was
suddenly dumbfounded, and into the vacuum of bewilderment came slowly,
like pain, the clutchings of a dreadful panic. Although he had had exile
in mind for weeks, it had been a blow to hear the word actually
pronounced over him.

Outside in the corridor the rough manners of the police guard changed
abruptly to a mood of almost fatherly solicitude. "I wouldn't worry so
much if I were you," he remarked soothingly. "Personally, I should much
prefer exile to being herded in jail with criminals and such-like. I
always think it is a great scandal to mix up decent fellows like
yourself with that scum." He went on to give A.J. some practical advice.
"As an exile you are entitled to a fair amount of luggage, though the
authorities will try to do you out of your privileges if they can. I
suggest that you make out a list of everything you want to take with
you, and I will see that the things are collected from where you have
been living."

A.J. was too tired and depressed at that moment to consider the matter
with any zest, and the guard continued, with a curious mixture of
friendliness and officialdom: "Ah, I see--you are upset--perhaps, then,
you will be so good as to tell me and _I_ will make out the list. Oh
yes, I can write--I am a man of education, like yourself. Come now,
there is no time to lose. You will want heavy winter clothes, the usual
cooking utensils, blankets, and things like that. Oh yes, and books--you
are permitted by the regulations to take books with you. You are a
reader, of course? Ah, education is a wonderful thing, is it not?
Perhaps you would like me to have your books packed up and sent with the
other things?"

"There are too many of them," A.J. answered dully. "Far too many to
carry."

"But you would be allowed to take a dozen or so. Do you mean that you
have more than a dozen books? You are perhaps a professor, then, eh? Ah
well, I will ask them to send on a dozen for you, anyhow."

And in due course the pertinacious fellow, whose name was Savanrog,
compiled his list and the bureaucratic machine, with numerous clankings
and rumblings, got to work upon it. Savanrog was delighted when, a few
days later, the complete assortment of articles arrived. By that time
A.J. had grown more resigned to his fate, a few days of solitary
confinement in a comparatively clean and comfortable cell having helped
considerably towards such a state. "You see," Savanrog exclaimed, taking
both A.J.'s hands in his and shaking them, "I have managed it all for
you! Oh yes, I do not let anything slip past me. It is the turn of
fortune that has brought us together, Peter Vasilevitch--I have done my
duty--and as for our acquaintance, it has been a thing of delight. I
have always counted it a privilege to make myself known to eminent
politicals like yourself."

"But surely I am not an eminent political?" A.J. answered, half-smiling.

"Ah, you are too modest. Were you not the friend of Maronin, who killed
Daniloff, Minister of the Interior?"

A.J. let the question pass. It was the first intimation he had had that
his offence was reckoned as 'friendship' with the boy-assassin. He had
sometimes feared that he would be ranked as an accessory to the crime
itself; in which case, of course, his status would have been that of a
criminal, not a political. Savanrog's chatter was, in its way,
reassuring.

At last the morning came when he was ordered to prepare for the journey.
Savanrog, at the final moment, shook hands with him, kissed him on both
cheeks, and gave him a black cigar. "It will be a breach of regulations
to smoke it, until you are across the Urals," he told him, with a last
spasm of official correctitude. Then, leading A.J. into the corridor, he
marched him into a courtyard in which a hundred or so other prisoners
were already on parade, and with a great show of blustering brutality,
pushed him into line. A.J. did not recognise any of the faces near him.
He was ordered to separate his luggage into two bundles, a personal one
to carry on his back, and a larger one consisting of things he would not
require until the end of the journey, wherever and whenever that might
be. The larger bundles of all the prisoners were then collected into a
van and carried away. Afterwards the men themselves were divided up into
two detachments, and here came the final welcome proof that A.J. was a
political; he was not put into the group of those who had to wait for
the blacksmith to manacle their wrists together. Finally the whole
melancholy procession was led out through the prison-gate into the
street. It was only a very short distance to the railway station, and
the throngs on the pavements stared with just that helpless,
half-compassionate, half-casual curiosity which A.J. had observed on so
many previous occasions when he had himself formed part of them.

After marching into a goods yard beyond the station and halting beside a
train, the manacled prisoners were pushed into cattle-trucks, but the
politicals were allowed to choose their own places in ordinary
third-class rolling-stock, passably clean and comfortable. A.J. found
himself cordially welcomed by the men of his compartment. There were
five of them, with one exception all young like himself. The exception
was a very ancient fellow with a huge head and a sweeping beard. Even
before the train moved off A.J. was told a good deal about his
fellow-passengers. The old man's name was Trigorin--just Trigorin--he
seemed to possess no other. His offence had been the preaching of
roadside sermons in which had occurred certain remarks capable of
seditious interpretation. He had been exiled once before for a similar
offence. "I am an old man," he said, "and nothing very dreadful can
happen to me now. But of course it is different for you youngsters."

The journey to Moscow took two days, and then there was considerable
delay while the prison-train was shunted round the city and linked up
with other coaches from different parts of the country. Finally the
complete train, by this time very long, set out at a slow pace on its
tremendous eastern journey. To many of the prisoners there was something
ominous in the fact that they were now actually on the track of the
Trans-Siberian, and spirits were low during the first few hours. A.J.,
however, did not share the general gloom; he remembered Siberia from his
previous visit, and the name did not strike any particular terror into
his mind. When some of the young men spoke with dismay of the possible
fate in store for them, he felt strongly tempted to tell them that parts
of Siberia, at any rate, were no worse than many parts of Europe.
Trigorin, however, saved him from any temptation to recount his own
experiences. Trigorin described how conditions had improved since the
opening of the railway; during his first exile, he said, he had had
actually to walk three thousand miles from railhead at Perm, and much of
the way through blinding rain and snow. He gave lurid and graphic
descriptions of the horrors of the old forwarding prisons at Tiumen and
Tomsk, and of the convict barges on the rivers, and of the great
Siberian highway along which so many thousands of exiles had been driven
to misery and death. "Things are much better now," he said, with sadly
twinkling eyes. "We politicals are pampered--no floggings, hospitals if
we fall ill--what more can we expect, after all? You youngsters, whose
knowledge of Siberia comes from Dostoievski's book and a few lurid
novelettes, can't realise what a good time politicals have nowadays. We
die, of course, but only of loneliness, and a man may die of that in bed
in his own home, may he not?"

A mood of curious fatalism sank upon A.J. during those days and nights
of travel. The journey was not too arduous; the food was coarse, but
sufficient in quantity and fairly nourishing; the military guards were
easygoing fellows, especially after all the politicals had given parole
that they would not attempt to escape during the train-journey. The
future, of course, loomed grimly enough, but A.J. did not seem to feel
it; his mind had already attuned itself to grimness. He kept remembering
his interviews with Stanford and Forrester, and their repeated
assurances that the game was one of 'heads somebody else wins and tails
you lose.' Well, he had lost, and he could not complain that he had not
been amply warned of the possibility. He felt, however, that he had had
distinctly bad luck; it had been pure misfortune, and not any personal
carelessness or stupidity of his own, that had led to his present
position. But for his friendship with Maronin all would have still been
well. Yet he did not regret that friendship. It was, on the contrary,
one of the few things in his life that he prized in memory.

He remembered one of Stanfield's remarks: "If anything goes wrong, you
will have to become a Russian subject completely." That seemed of
peculiar significance now that things _had_ gone wrong, and it was true,
too, that whether he willed it so or not, he was becoming Peter
Vasilevitch Ouranov in a way he had certainly never been before. He
wondered frequently whether by this time the Secret Service people knew
all about his trouble. Most probably information had reached them, by
their own secret channels, within a few hours of his arrest. He could
picture their attitude--a shrug of the shoulders, a vaguely pitying
look, and then--forgetfulness. Perhaps Stanfield might have commented to
Forrester or Forrester to Stanfield: "Well, _he_ didn't last long, eh?
Still, we warned him. Wonder if he'll play the fool by trying to make
out he's English?"

A.J. had no intention of so playing the fool. It was not merely that he
had given his word, but that his common sense informed him how utterly
useless it would be. Apart from his knowledge of the English language,
there was nothing at all he could advance in support of any claim he
might make to be other than the Peter Vasilevitch Ouranov set out with
authentic-looking detail on his passport and papers of identity. And
even supposing he managed to persuade the authorities to enquire into
his case, the result could only mean a communication to the British
Embassy, with what result he had been warned. "The British authorities
would merely arch their eyebrows with great loftiness and disown you,"
had been Stanfield's way of putting it. No, there was nothing to be
gained by attempting the impossible; the only course was simple
endurance for the time being, and later, if he could manage it, escape.
Henceforward he was doomed to be Peter Vasilevitch Ouranov without
qualification, and, rather curiously, he now began to feel what he had
hardly felt before--a certain pride in his new identity. He _was_ Peter
Vasilevitch Ouranov, exiled to Siberia for a political offence; and he
felt that same quiet, unending antagonism towards the imperial
authorities that the other exiles felt; he began to understand it, to
understand them, to understand why they were so calm, why they so rarely
roused the sleeping fury in their souls. They were saving it, as
themselves also, for some vaguely future day.

He began, too, to breathe with comfort and comprehension the vast
easy-going laziness of the country; he perceived why no one ever
hurried, why trains were always late, why the word 'sichass'
('presently') was so popular and universal; after all, if people were
merely waiting for something to happen, there could be no special
urgency about things done in the meantime. And they were waiting for
something to happen--the exiles, the soldier-guards, the criminals in
their chains, the railway-workers, the prison officials--a calm,
passionless anticipation gleamed in their eyes when one caught them
sometimes unawares. As the train rumbled eastwards this sense of
anticipation and timelessness deepened immeasurably; life was just
sunrise and sun-setting; food, drink, talk; the train would pull up in a
siding; when would it move out again? 'Sichass,' of course; that might
be in an hour or two, or perhaps the next day; nobody knew--nobody very
much cared. When the train stopped, the prisoners sometimes climbed out
and walked about the country near the track, or else lay down in the
long grass with the midday sun on their faces. The nights were cold, but
no snow had fallen yet. At Omsk, Krasnoiarsk, and other places, some of
the men left the train, in charge of Cossack guards. Trigorin explained
that they were the milder cases--men who had not definitely committed
any crime, but were merely suspected of being 'dangerous' or of having
'dangerous opinions.' "It is clear," he declared comfortingly, "that
something much more serious is in store for all of us. We shall know
when we reach Irkutsk."

They reached the Siberian capital three weeks after leaving Moscow; the
busy city, magnificently situated at the confluence of two rivers,
gleamed brightly in the late autumnal sun. The exiles were marched from
the station to the central forwarding prison and there split up into
several groups. Trigorin was sent off almost immediately; he was bound
for Chita, near the Manchurian frontier, and was to travel there with a
contingent of local criminals. The other politicals were immensely
indignant about this; it was against all the rules to put a political
along with criminals, and much as they hated the penal code, such a
breach of it stirred them to punctilious anger. The prison governor
apologised; he was very sorry, but he could not help it; Trigorin must
go with the criminals, but he would be given a separate railway coach.
"Besides," he explained, reassuringly, "they are only local
murderers--not bad fellows, some of them." Trigorin himself did not
object at all, and actually rebuked his friends for their uncharitable
championship. "Let us not forget," he said, "that the only person to
whom Christ definitely promised paradise was a criminal. He, the
greatest of all political prisoners, was actually crucified between two
of them."

A.J.'s other fellow-passengers were also sent away, but whither, he
could not discover. He himself was kept at Irkutsk. It was a better
managed prison than the Gontcharnaya at Petersburg, but after the
easy-going train-journey the return to routine of any kind was irksome.
A.J. found most of his fellow-prisoners in a state of depression and
melancholy that soon began to affect him also, especially when the
freezing up of the river and the first big snowstorm of the season
marked the onset of Siberian winter.

The prison governor was a good-tempered, jovial fellow who liked to make
the days and nights pass by as pleasantly as possible for Himself and
mankind in general. Every morning he would tour the prison and greet the
men with a bluff, companionable--"Good morning, boys--how goes it?" He
was always particular about their food and the warmth of their rooms,
and he would sometimes pay a surprise visit to the kitchens to sample
the soup that was being prepared for them. He seemed a little in awe of
some of the politicals, but he was on friendly terms with most of the
criminals, and enjoyed hearing them give their own accounts of their
various crimes. The more bloodthirsty and exciting these were, the
better he liked them; he would sometimes, at the end of a particularly
thrilling recital, clap a man on the back and exclaim: "Well, you _are_
a fellow, and no mistake! To think of you actually doing all that!"

Naturally, the criminals invented all kinds of incredibilities to please
him.

A.J. soon found that the only way to keep his mind from descending into
the bitterest and most soul-destroying gloom was to think of the only
inspiring possibility open to a prisoner--that of escape. Together with
another political he began to plan some method of getting away, not
immediately, but as soon as the spring weather should make the open
country habitable. This task, with all its complications, helped the
winter days to pass with moderate rapidity. Unfortunately a
fellow-prisoner who was a government spy (there were many of these,
sometimes unknown even to the prison authorities) gave the plan away,
and A.J. and his co-conspirator were summoned before the governor. His
attitude was rather that of a pained and reproachful guardian whose
fatherly consideration has been basely rewarded. "Really, you know," he
told them, "that was a very foolish thing to do. Your attempt to escape
has already been reported to Petersburg, and it will only make your
eventual punishment more severe. The original idea was to exile you to
Yakutsk as soon as the season permitted, but now heaven knows where you
will be sent." And he added, almost pathetically: "Whatever made you act
so unreasonably?"

So the position seemed rather more hopeless than ever. Soon, too, the
easy-going governor was sent away to another prison. The Petersburg
authorities transferred him to Omsk, and in his place was sent a
different type of man altogether--a small, dapper, bristling-moustached
martinet, whom everyone--prisoners and prison officials alike--detested
with venomous intensity. It was he who, the following May, sent for A.J.
and barked at him in staccato tones: "Ouranov, your case has been
reconsidered by the authorities in view of your recent attempt to
escape. Your revised sentence is that of banishment for ten years to
Russkoe Yansk. You will go first to Yakutsk, and then wait for the
winter season. You will need special kit, which you will be allowed to
purchase, and I am instructed to pay you the customary exile's
allowance, dated back to the time of your entry into Siberia. Perhaps
you will sign this receipt."

A fortnight later the journey commenced. A.J. had spent part of the
interval in making purchases in the Irkutsk shops; the two Cossack
guards who were to accompany him to his place of exile advised him what
to buy and how much to pay for it. They were big, simple-hearted,
illiterate fellows and could give him few details about Russkoe Yansk,
except that the journey there would take many months. A.J. suspected
that with the usual Siberian attitude towards time, they were merely
estimating vaguely; he could not believe that even the remotest exile
station could be quite so inaccessible. The first stage was by road and
water to Yakutsk. Along with hundreds of other exiles, including a few
women, the trek was begun across the still frost-bound country to
Katchugo, near the source of the Lena. This part of the journey was made
in twenty-mile stages and lasted over a week. The nights were spent in
large barn-like sheds, horribly verminous, and well guarded by sentries
on all sides.

At Katchugo the entire detachment was transferred to barges, and
resigned itself to a two months' meandering down the river to Yakutsk,
which was reached towards the end of July. The horrors of that journey,
under a sky that never, during the short summer, darkened to more than
twilight, engraved still more deeply the mood of fatalism that had
already descended on most of the prisoners. A.J. was no exception. He
did not find himself worrying much, and he was not nearly so
low-spirited as he had been amidst the comparatively comfortable
surroundings of the Irkutsk prison. He felt scarcely more than a growing
numbness, as if a part of his brain and personality were losing actual
existence.

Yakutsk was almost pleasant after the barges, and the remaining weeks of
the summer passed without incident. Prison regulations, owing to the
remoteness of the settlement, were lax enough, and A.J. made several
acquaintances. One of them, an educated exile who had been allowed to
set up as a boot-repairer, had even heard of Russkoe Yansk. It was on
the Indigirka river, he thought, well beyond the Arctic Circle. It could
only be a very small settlement and it was years since he had heard of
anyone being sent there. "Perhaps they have made a mistake," he
hazarded, with dispassionate cheerfulness. "Or perhaps the place does
not exist at all and they will have to bring you back. That _has_
happened, you know. There was a man sent to one place last year and the
Cossacks themselves couldn't find it. They looked for it all winter and
then had to hurry back before the thaw began." He laughed heartily. "I'm
not inventing the story, I assure you. Some of those Petersburg
officials don't know their own country--they just stare at a map and
say--'Oh, we'll send him here--or there'--and maybe the map is wrong all
the time!"

Early in September the Lena, miles wide, began to freeze over, and soon
the whole visible world became transfixed in the cold, darkening glare
of winter. The two guards who had left Irkutsk in charge of A.J. and who
had spent the summer amusing themselves as well as the amenities of
Yakutsk permitted, now indicated that the time for the resumption of the
journey had arrived. From now _onwards it became a much more personal
and solitary affair--almost, in fact, a polar expedition, but without
the spur of hope and ambition to mitigate hardship. The three men,
heavily furred, set out by reindeer sledge into the long greyness of the
sub-Arctic winter. Two of them carried arms, yet the third man,
defenceless, was given the place of honour on all occasions--at
night-time in the wayside huts, usually uninhabited, and during the day
whenever a halt was made for rest and food. The temperature sank lower
and lower and the sky darkened with every mile; they crossed a range of
bleak mountains and descended into a land of frozen whiteness unbroken
anywhere save by stunted willows. For food, there were birds which the
guards shot or snared, and unlimited fish could be obtained by breaking
through the thick ice in the streams. The fish froze stiff on being
taken out of the water; they had to be cut into slices and eaten raw
between hunks of bread. A.J.'s palate had by this time grown much less
fastidious, and he found such food not at all unpleasant when he was
hungry enough. The cold air and the harsh activity of the daily travel
bred also in him a sense of physical fitness which, at any other time,
he would have relished; as it was, however, he felt nothing but a grim
and ever-deepening insensitiveness to all outward impressions. He
imagined vaguely the vast distance he had already travelled, but it did
not terrify him; it was merely a memory of emptiness and boredom, and
though he knew that the end of the journey would mean the end of even
the last vestige of changefulness, he yet longed for it, because, for
the moment, it seemed a change in itself.

One evening, thirteen weeks after leaving Yakutsk, the three men were
crossing a plain of snow under the light of the full moon. At the last
settlement, ten days previously, they had exchanged their reindeer
transport for dogs, and since then had been traversing this same white
and empty plain. There seemed, indeed, no obvious reason why the plain
and the journey might not go on for ever. The temperature was fifty
below zero. A.J. had noticed that for some hours the guards had been
muttering to each other, which was unusual, for in such cold air it was
painful to speak. Suddenly, out of the silver gloom, appeared the hazy
shapes of a few snow-covered roofs; the guards gave a cry; the dogs
barked; a few answering cries came from the dimness ahead. They had
reached Russkoe Yansk.

It was smaller and more desolate than he had imagined. There were only
four Russians in exile there, none of them educated men; the rest of the
population consisted of a score or more natives of very low
intelligence. The native men, under the direction of the guards, began
to dig an entry through the snow into an unoccupied timber hut that was
to belong to the new exile; there were several of these deserted huts,
for the settlement had formerly been larger. The natives looked on in
amazement when A.J. began to unpack the bundle that he had not been
allowed to touch since leaving Petersburg; they had never before seen
such things as books, writing-paper, or a kerosene-lamp. The Russians
looked on also with a curiosity scarcely less childlike; they had seen
no strange face for years, and their eagerness bordered on almost
maniacal excitement. A.J. addressed them with a few cordial words and
they were all around him in a moment, shaking his hands and picking up
one after another of his belongings; they had evidently been half afraid
of him at first. One of them said: "This shows that the Government has
not forgotten us--they know we are still here, or they would not have
sent you."

A fire was made, and the two Cossack guards stayed the night in the hut.
The next morning they hitched up their dog teams, shook hands cordially
enough, and began the long return journey. A.J. watched them till the
distance swallowed up their sleigh and the hoarse barking of the
animals. Then he set to work to make his habitation more comfortable.

Russkoe Yansk was close to but not actually on the Arctic Ocean; the
nearest settlements, not much larger, were four hundred and four hundred
and fifty miles to west and east respectively. There was no
communication of any regular kind with the civilised world; sometimes a
fur-trapper would take a message and pass it on to someone else who
might be going to Yakutsk, but even in most favourable circumstances an
answer could scarcely arrive in less than twenty months. The nearest
railway and telegraph stations were over three thousand miles away.

The year was composed of day and night; the day lasted from June to
September only. In winter the temperature sometimes fell to seventy
below zero, and there were week-long blizzards in which no living human
being could stir a yard out of his hut. During the short summer the
climate became mild and moist; the river thawed and overflowed, causing
vast swamps and floodings that cut off the settlement from the world
outside even more effectively than did the winter cold and darkness.

A.J. had brought a fair supply of tea and tobacco, and with small gifts
of these he could secure the manual services of as many natives as he
wanted, apart from the four Russians, who would have lived their whole
lives as personal slaves in his hut if he had wished it. He did not feel
particularly sad, but he did begin to feel a strange Robinson-Crusoe
kind of majesty that was rather like an ache gnawing at him all the
time. He was the only person in Russkoe Yansk who could read, write,
work a simple sum, or understand a rough map. The most intelligent of
the Russians had no more than the mind of a peasant, with all its
abysmal ignorance and with only a touch of its shrewdness. The others
were less than half-witted, perhaps as a result of their long exile.
They remembered the names of the villages from which they had been
banished, but they had no proper idea where those villages were, how
long their banishment had lasted, or what it had been for. Yet compared
with the native Yakuts, even such men were intelligent higher beings.
The Yakuts, with their women and families, reached to depths of
ugliness, filth, and stupidity that A.J. had hardly believed possible
for beings classifiable as mankind. Their total vocabulary did not
comprise more than a hundred or so sounds, hardly to be called words. In
addition to physical unpleasantness (many were afflicted with a
loathsome combination of syphilis and leprosy), they were abominable
thieves and liars; indeed, their only approach to virtue was a species
of dog-like attachment to anyone who had established himself as their
master. With a little of the most elementary organisation they could
have murdered all the exiles and plundered the huts, but they lacked
both the initiative and the virility. Life to them was but an unending
struggle of short summers and long winters, of snow and ice, blizzard
and thaw, of fishing in the icy pools and trapping small animals for
flesh and fur, of lust, disease, and occasional gluttony. They had never
seen a tree, and knew timber only as material providentially floated
down to them on the spring-time floods. Even when he had picked up their
rudimentary language, A.J. could not interest them by any talk of the
outer they were incapable of imagination, and the only thing that
stirred them to limited excitement was the kerosene-lamp, which, after
some experimenting, he made to burn with certain kinds of fish-oil.

Now especially he had cause to be grateful to Savanrog, the enterprising
and sympathetic prison-guard at the Gontcharnaya. For the luggage,
packed according to the latter's instructions, included all kinds of
things that A.J. would never have thought of for himself, but which now
were found to be especially useful. With them, and with the
miscellaneous articles he had purchased in Irkutsk, he was not badly
equipped. He had his twelve books, chosen apparently at random from his
shelves in Petersburg; the only one he would have thought of selecting
himself was a translation of _Don Quixote_, but the others soon grew to
be odd but no less faithful companions. One was a school text-book in
algebra, another an out-of-date year-book; another was Dickens's _Great
Expectations_--of course in Russian. Mr. Pumblechook and Joe Gargery
became the friends of all his waking and sleeping dreams, and before
them alone he could relax and smile.

Besides his few books his luggage contained several other things never
seen in Russkoe Yansk before. He had a watch and a clinical thermometer,
a few bottles and jars of simple medicines, and a pair of scissors; he
had also (he was sure) the only boot-trees north of the Arctic Circle.
The police in Petersburg, with typical inconsequence, had packed them
inside a pair of field-boots.

Oddly, perhaps, the time did not seem to pass very slowly. There was
always so much to be done--the mere toil of getting food, of repairing
and improving the hut, of keeping himself well clothed to withstand the
almost inconceivable cold. He did a little amateur doctoring whenever he
found anything he fancied he could cure amidst that nightmare of disease
and degradation. He made notes, without enthusiasm, yet somehow because
he felt he must, about the customs and language of the natives. He even
tried to teach the least stupid of the Russians to learn the Russian
alphabet. And whenever, during the long winter, or while day after day
of blizzard kept him a prisoner in the hut, he felt pangs of loneliness
or disappointment piercing to his soul, he would slip into a coma of
insensibility and wait. The waiting was not often for long. When, after
the grey night of winter, the sunlight showed again over the frozen
earth, at first so very timidly, he welcomed it with a smile that no one
saw. Sometimes at midsummer he sailed clown the swollen river in a small
boat; once, with a couple of natives, he reached the open Arctic and
made a rough sketch-map of fifty miles of coast-line. He hardly knew why
he did such things--certainly not from any idea of ultimate escape.
There was nothing at all to prevent his making such an attempt, except
the knowledge of its utter hopelessness. His stern jailers were the
swamps in summer and the icy wastes in winter; and even if by some
miracle, he could pass them by, there was no place of safety to be
reached. It would have been more hopeful to make for the North Pole than
for the semi-civilised places in Siberia.

His first winter at Russkoe Yansk was that of 1909-10.



PART III


In the late spring of 1917 a small party of Cossacks set out from
Yakutsk by reindeer and dog sledge. They were seven in number and
travelled swiftly, visiting each one in turn of the remoter settlements.
Russkoe Yansk was almost the last.

They reached it in the twilight of a May noontide, and at the sound of
their arrival the entire native population--some dozen Yakut
families--turned out of their huts to meet them, surrounding the
clog-teams and chattering excitedly.

At length a tall figure, clad in heavy furs, approached the throng; and
even in that dim northern light there was no mistaking leadership of
such a kind. One of the soldiers made a slight obeisance and said, in
Russian: "Your honour, we are from Yakutsk."

A quiet, rather slow voice answered: "You are most welcome, then. You
are the first to visit us for three years. Come into my hut. My name is
Ouranov."

He led them a little distance over the frozen snow to a hut rather
larger than the rest. They were surprised when they entered, for it was
so much better furnished than any other they had seen. The walls were
hung with clean skins, and the stove did not smoke badly, and there were
even such things as tables, chairs, a shelf of hooks, a lamp, and a
raised bed. Ouranov motioned the men to make themselves comfortable.
There was something in his quiet, impersonal demeanour that made them
feel shy, shy even of conveying the news that they had brought with
them. They stood round, unwilling to sit in those astonishing chairs;
most of them in the end squatted on the timber floor.

Ouranov was busying himself with the samovar. Meanwhile the soldiers
could only stare at one another, while the still shouting and chattering
Yakuts waited outside the hut in a tempest of curiosity. At last the
spokesman of the party began: "Brother, we are the bearers of good news.
Don't be too startled when you hear it, though it certainly is enough to
send any man such as yourself out of his wits for joy. At Kolymsk that
did actually happen to one poor fellow, so you will understand, brother,
why we are taking such a long time to tell you."

Then Ouranov turned from the samovar and smiled. It was a curious smile,
for though it lit up his face it seemed to light up even more the
grimness that was there. "Whatever news it is," he said, "you may be
sure I shall not be affected in that way."

"Then, brother, it is this. You are a free man. All exiles everywhere
are now released and may return to their homes, by order of the new
revolutionary government. Think of it--there has been a revolution in
Petrograd--the Emperor has been deposed." And as if a hidden spring had
suddenly been touched, the soldiers all began to talk, to explain, to
shout out the good news, with all its details, to this man who knew
nothing. They had told the same story at each one of the settlements,
and every time of telling had made it more marvellous to them. Their
eyes blazed with joy and pity, and pride at having the privilege of
conveying the first blessings of revolution to those who stood most in
need of them. But if only Ouranov had been a little more excited, they
would have been happier. He handed them tea so quietly, and after they
had all finished talking he merely said: "Yes, it is good news. I will
pack my things."

The soldiers again 'stared at one another, a little awed, perhaps even a
little chilled; they had enjoyed such orgies of hysteria at the other
settlements, but this man seemed different--as if the Arctic had entered
his soul.

He said, rather perceiving their disappointment: "It is very kind of you
to have come so far to tell me. As I said before, there has been no news
for three years. There were four other exiles here then, but that same
winter three died of typhus, and another was drowned the following
summer."

"So for over a year you have been altogether alone?" said one of the
soldiers.

"Oh, no. There have been the Yakuts." And once more that grim smile.

They fell to talking again of the revolution and its manifold blessings,
and after a little time they noticed that Ouranov seemed hardly to be
listening; he was already taking his books from the shelf and making
them into a neat pile.

Two days later eight men set out for the south. There was need to hurry,
as the warmer season was approaching and the streams would soon melt and
overflow.

As they covered mile after mile it was as if the earth warmed and
blossomed to meet them; each day was longer and brighter than the one
before; the stunted willows became taller, and at last there were trees
with green buds on them; the sun shone higher in the sky, melting the
snows and releasing every stream into bursting, bubbling life, till the
ice in the rivers gave a thunderous shiver from bank to bank; and the
soldiers threw off their fur jackets and shouted for joy and sang songs
all the day long. At Verkhoiansk there was a junction with other parties
of released exiles, and later on, when they had crossed the mountains,
more exiles met them from Ust Viluisk, Kolymsk, and places that even the
map ignores.

Yakutsk, which was reached at the end of July, was already full of
soldiers and exiles, as well as knee-deep in thick black mud and riddled
with pestilence. Every day the exiles waited on the banks of the Lena
for the boat that was to take them further south, and every hour fresh
groups arrived from the north and north-east. Food and money were
scarce; sick men and women staggered into the settlement with stories of
others who had died during the journey; a few were mad and walked about
moaning and laughing; every night the soldiers drank themselves into
quarrelsomeness and careered about firing shots into the air and falling
off the timbered paths into the thick mud; every morning dead bodies
were pushed quietly into the Lena and sent northwards on their icy
journey. Yet beyond all the misery and famine and pestilence, Yakutsk
was a city of hope.

Ouranov had little money, but he did not go hungry. The seven soldiers
of his escort had taken a curious fancy to him. They called him their
captain, and saw to it that he always had food and shelter. There was
much in him that they did not understand, but also something that
attracted them peculiarly. During the first part of the southward
expedition he had naturally taken command, for he knew the land far
better than they, and was in less danger of losing the track. After that
it had seemed natural that he should go on telling them when and where
to halt, where to stay for the nights, and so on. They let him do that,
in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that they thought him a
little mad. They had a nickname for him which meant 'The man who has
forgotten how to talk.' It was an obvious exaggeration, since he did
talk whenever there was need for it; yet even on such occasions it was
as if he were thinking out the words, and as if each word cost him
effort. They told one another that this was because he had been exiled
by himself and had been left alone so long. By the time of reaching
Yakutsk the legend had grown; Ouranov, they were saying, had been such a
dangerous revolutionary that, by the ex-Emperor's personal order, he had
been sent to the remotest and most terrible spot in all Siberia. And
after a week of gossip in Yakutsk it was easy to say and believe that he
had been ten years utterly alone in Russkoe Yansk, and that he had not
spoken a word during the whole of that time. So now, when the soldiers
saw him reading a book or making pencil notes on paper, they said he
must be learning language over again.

At last came the long-awaited steamer, an old paddle-boat, built in
Glasgow in the 'seventies, towing behind it a couple of odorous and
verminous convict-barges. Fifteen hundred persons crammed themselves
into the boat and another thousand into the barges. There was nowhere to
sleep except on the bare boards of the deck or in the foul and
pestilential holds; men and women sickened, died, and were dropped
overboard during that month of weary chug-chugging upstream through a
forlorn land.

By August the exiles were in Irkutsk. The city was in chaos; its
population had been increased threefold; it was the neck of the channel
through which Siberia was emptying herself of the accumulated suffering
of generations. From all directions poured in an unceasing flood of
returning exiles and refugees--not only from Yakutsk and the Arctic, but
from Chita and the Manchurian border, from the Baikal mines and the
mountain-prisons of the Yablonoi. In addition, there were German,
Austrian, and Hungarian war-prisoners, drifting slowly westward as the
watch upon them dissolved under the distant rays of Petrograd
revolution; and nomad traders from the Gobi, scraping profit out of the
pains and desires of so many strangers; and Buriat farmers, rich after
years of war-profiteering; and Cossack officers, still secretly loyal to
the old régime: Irkutsk was a magnet drawing together the whole
assortment, and drawing also influenza and dysentery, scurvy and typhus,
so that the hospitals were choked with sick, and bodies were thrown,
uncoffined and by scores, into huge open graves dug by patient Chinese.

On a warm August afternoon A.J. wandered about the Irkutsk railway
depot, threading his way amongst the refugees and listening for a few
odd moments to various political speeches that were being made by
soldiers. He was dressed in a nondescript, vaguely military uniform
which he had acquired at Yakutsk as soon as the cold weather had begun
to recede; he might have been taken for a Russian soldier, though not,
at a second glance, for a very ordinary one. His fine teeth, spare
figure, and close-cropped hair and beard, would all have marked him from
a majority. His features, lined and rugged, were not without a look of
gentleness and pity; but as he wandered about the station and
freight-yards he seemed really to have no more than the shadow of any
quality; all was obscured by a look of uncomprehendingness that did not
quite amount to bewilderment.

The seven Cossacks who had been with him for so many weeks were also on
the platform, very dejected because they had been ordered east, while
he, of course, must take the first train in the other direction, He
joined them for a final meal of tea and black bread before their train
arrived. "You must go to Petrograd," one of them told him earnestly.
"All the exiles are going there to work for the new government; Kerensky
will find you a job--perhaps he will make you an inspector of taxes."

"No, no," interrupted another. "Our brother is surely fitted to be
something better than an inspector of taxes. He has books--he must be a
great scholar; I should think Kerensky might make him a postmaster, for
a postmaster, after all, has to know how to read and write."

They argued thus until the train arrived, and A.J. stayed with them,
smiling at their remarks occasionally, but saying very little. There was
a great rush for seats on the train, and when at last the seven soldiers
had all crowded into a coach they leaned out of the open window and
kissed him--their captain, their legend, the man whom they would
remember and wonder at until the end of their lives. And he, when their
train had gone, strolled away still half smiling.

He lay at night, like thousands of others, in any sheltered corner he
could find, with a little bundle of all his possessions for a pillow.
After three more days a train came in from the east; it was grotesquely
full already, but he managed to find a place in a cattle-truck.

The train was very long, and between the first coach next to the engine
and the last cattle-truck at the rear the whole world lay in mad
microcosm. For the first coach was a dining-car, smooth-running and
luxurious; you could look through the windows and see military officers,
spattered with gold braid, picking their teeth after fried chicken and
champagne, while attendants in evening-dress hovered about them
obsequiously. Next came the first-class coach in which these magnates
lived when they were not eating and drinking; and next the second-class
coaches, containing those who were not fortunate enough to be high
military officers; they were not allowed to use the dining-car, but the
attendants would sometimes, at an extortionate price, supply them with
food and drink. After that carne the third-class coaches, crammed with
soldiers of the Revolution, who bought or commandeered food at wayside
stations; and last, comprising two-thirds of the whole train, were the
cattle-trucks, packed from floor to roof with refugees and peasants and
returning exiles--folk who had spent their last paper rouble on a
railway ticket, or else had smuggled themselves on board with no ticket
at all, and who had nothing to eat except the food they could bargain
for, or the ghastly tit-bits they could rake out of rubbish-bins behind
the station refreshment-rooms.

A.J. spent hours in his corner of the truck, watching through the slats
the constant procession of miles. He was half oblivious of those about
him, of babies who screamed and were sick, of women who moaned with
hunger, of men who chattered or quarrelled or were noisily
companionable. In a similar way he half noticed the changes that had
taken place since he had last moved over the scene--the extraordinary
evidences of a new Siberia that had sprung up ribbon-like along the thin
line of the railway, the new factories and freight-yards, the trams in
the streets of Omsk, the steel bridges that had replaced wooden ones.

The journey was tiring, but worse for others than for himself, for his
body, like his mind, seemed only capable of half-sensations. For years
he had been unaware of this, but now, in a world of men and women, he
perceived and was puzzled by it; he found himself doing things in a
curious dream-like way, as if part of him were asleep and were obeying
the other part automatically. Even when he talked, he heard his own
voice as if it were another person speaking; and when he felt tiredness,
or hunger, or a physical ache, the sensation came to him slowly,
incompletely, almost at secondhand.

A fellow-exile tried to converse with him, but received little
encouragement. The man was an ex-university professor named
Tribourov--fat, pompous, and tremendously eager to reach Petrograd
because he knew many people in the government and felt sure of a good
appointment. He was also extremely annoyed that he had not been able to
find a place for himself and his wife in the second-or first-class
coaches. "Really, the government ought to arrange things better," he
complained continually.

Madame Tribourov, a thin and rather delicate-looking woman, who had
shared the professor's exile for five years, was suffering acutely from
illness and hunger; she could not eat any of the rough food that was the
only kind obtainable at wayside stations, and every day she grew weaker
and nearer to collapse. Tribourov himself, dreaming bureaucratic dreams,
paid little attention to her beyond an occasional word of perfunctory
encouragement; she would be all right, he kept saying, as soon as they
reached the end of the journey.

One morning the train stopped to load fuel in the midst of forest
country, far from any station or settlement, and some of the men, glad
of the chance to stretch their legs, climbed out of the trucks and
walked about. A.J. and Tribourov were together, and Tribourov, as usual,
talked about himself and his future importance and the iniquity of his
having to travel in a cattle-truck. His complaining increased when they
had strolled along the track as far as the dining-car and could sec its
occupants talking, laughing, and guzzling over an excellent lunch. Seen
through the window from the track-level, the dining-car presented a
vista of large, munching jaws, glittering epaulettes, and the necks of
wine-bottles. One man was gnawing the leg of a fowl, another was lifting
champagne to his lips, another was puffing at a cigar in full-stomached
contentment. At the far end of the car was the little kitchen-compartment
where the food was cooked and stored; the window was open and on the
shelves could be seen rows of bottles as well as canned foods, cheeses,
and boxes of biscuits. "All that stuff comes from Japan and America,"
Tribourov explained. "They load it on board at Vladivostok and it lasts
all the way to Moscow and back. Excellently organised, but the scandal
is--" And he resumed his usual complaint and continued until the
engine-whistle warned them to hasten back to their truck.

That night, when it was almost pitch-dark and his fellow-travellers were
mostly asleep or half-asleep, A.J. climbed out on to the footboard and
began to feel his way cautiously along the length of the train. His
hands and mind were functioning automatically; half of him was
asking--'What on earth are you doing?'--and the other half was
answering--'I am going to the dining-car to steal some food for Madame
Tribourov.' He did not know why he was doing so; he cared nothing at all
for Madame Tribourov; it was no feeling of chivalry, or of compassion,
or of indignation. It was rather a chance idea that had entered his
half-mind--just an idea that loomed unwontedly large in a void where
there were no other ideas.

The train was travelling at a moderate speed--not more than twenty miles
an hour; the night was cloudy and the fringe of swamps to the side of
the track was only to be dimly perceived. Little could be done by eye as
he made his way from truck to truck; his hands groped for the slats and
his feet for the buffers between one truck and the next. It was not
particularly dangerous progress, provided one kept one's nerve, and A.J.
kept his easily enough; or rather, in another sense, he had no nerves at
all--he was simply unaware of fear, terror, joy, triumph, and all other
excitations. His hands and feet did what was required of them, while his
brain looked on with mild incredulity.

Soon he reached the second-class coaches, in which candles were
glimmering in bottle-necks; and he could see the occupants
asleep--wealthy traders, bound on this business or that--well-dressed
women, wives or mistresses of high officials--a few military officers of
lower rank. He passed them all and then swung himself over the
buffer-boards to the first-class coach, which rolled along less noisily
on well-greased bogies. Here the compartments were well upholstered, lit
by electricity, and provided with window-blinds. Many of the latter were
not drawn, however, and A.J. could see officers of high rank, partially
undressed, lying on the cushions with their mouths gaping in obvious
snores. The coach was not crowded; no compartment held more than two
occupants, and some only one. An especially luxurious coupé with a large
red star pasted on the windows contained a small table and a comfortable
couch on which a man sprawled in sleep. A military tunic hung on a hook
above his head, and in the far corner of the coupé there was a compact
lavatory-basin and water-tank. Such details fastened themselves with
curious intensity on A.J.'s mind as he made that slow hand-over-hand
journey from window to window. At last he passed on, over the last set
of buffers, to the object of his pilgrimage--the dining-car. It was a
long, heavy vehicle belonging to the international company, and at three
in the morning it was, naturally, deserted, with only a glimmer of light
showing from the further end where the attendants slept in their bunks.
A.J. continued his way along, but this final stage was more difficult
because of the increasing volley of sparks from the engine-chimney. When
he reached the tiny kitchen compartment he was quite prepared for a
climb through the window, with all the risks it involved of waking the
attendants; but fate, at that last moment, was unexpectedly kind. The
window was still open, and rolls of white bread, tins of American pork
and beans, and wine-bottles lay so accessibly that he could reach them
merely by putting in a hand. He did so as quickly as he could, filling
his pockets, and then beginning the backward crawl by the same route. It
had taken him, he reckoned, twenty minutes to reach the dining-car from
the truck at the far end of the train, but he could not hope to
accomplish the return journey so quickly, for his hands were a little
numbed and his swollen pockets impeded movement.

He reached the first-class coach and swung himself on to it, but the
effort, employing a different set of muscles, made him wince; and when
he reached the footboard in safety he paused to regain strength.
Suddenly he realised that he was standing opposite the window of the
coupé and that the occupant of the couch was sitting up and staring at
him. He began to move on hurriedly, but before he could reach the next
compartment the door of the coupé was flung open and strong hands seized
his wrists. It was impossible to struggle; the slightest attempt to do
so would have meant his falling backwards to the track, and his arms,
too, were aching after those successive swings from coach to coach. At
first he thought the man was trying to push him off the train, but soon
he realised that the intention was to drag him inside the coupé. As he
could not free himself and as to be dragged inside was better than to be
flung off, he yielded and the next minute found himself sprawling on the
couch with the door closed and the man above him flourishing a revolver.
He was a tall man with a trim beard and moustache and an exceedingly
good set of teeth; just now he was snarling with them and punctuating
his words with waves of the revolver. "So!" he cried venomously. "You
try to assassinate me, eh? You creep along by the windows and shoot
while I am asleep, perhaps, eh? Your friends in Omsk have heard of my
promotion and they send you to execute revenge, no doubt? But instead,
it is I who turn the tables, my friend! Now let me relieve you of your
weapons." He felt in A.J.'s bulging pockets and pulled out, not the
revolver he had expected, but a bottle of wine. "So!" he snarled,
flinging it aside. "A little celebration after the deed, eh? How
disappointed your friends will be! And especially when they hear you
have been shot, also. For, mistake not, my friend, I will have you shot
at the next station. Assassin! Do you hear that?" He rapidly went
through A.J.'s other pockets, pulling out, to his increasing surprise,
nothing but long rolls of white bread, pieces of cheese, and tins of
food.

All this time A.J. had not spoken a word, but now he judged it expedient
to confess nothing less than the simple truth. "You see I am not armed,"
he began. "I am not an assassin, and I had no intention of making any
attack on you. I have no friends at Omsk, and I did not even know you
were travelling on this train. I am an exile, returning to Russia, and
all I wanted was food. I took these things from the dining-car and was
on my way back with them to the truck in which I have been travelling
from Irkutsk."

The other seemed scarcely mollified by this explanation. He obviously
believed it, but the revelation that he had been made to suffer such
shock and inconvenience by a mere petty pilferer angered him, if
anything, more than the idea of being assassinated. "A thief, indeed?"
he cried harshly. "You are only a thief, do you say? And you were only
crawling along in the middle of the night to steal food from the
dining-car? Do you know that the food is all required for high officers
of the government? You do, no doubt; but that did not deter you. Very
well, you will find that the penalty for thieving is just the same. We
behave with fine impartiality, you will find--thief or assassin, it does
not matter--all face the firing squad."

"Some of the refugees in the trucks are starving," said A.J. slowly.

"Are they, indeed? Then let them starve. Why do they all want to come
crowding on the trains at a time like this? Let them starve--the
scum--the country could well manage with a few millions less of them.
And as for these things--after your dirty hands have touched them they
are clearly no use at all." And with childish rage he began to pick them
up and throw them out of the window--first the bottle of wine, then the
rolls, then the cheese, and lastly the tins.

Something jerked forward in A.J.'s mind at that moment. As the other
stooped to pick up the last tin, he suddenly hurled himself at the
sneering face and flashing teeth, while his right hand caught hold of
the revolver by the barrel and twisted it back. A.J. was still in a
dream, but it was a different dream, a rising, billowing nightmare. He
saw and heard the revolver slip to the floor, and then he felt both his
hands move to the red, mottled neck in front of him; he saw the eyes
bulge in terror and the snarl of the teeth transfix into something
glittering and rigid.

A moment later he stood by the side of the couch looking down upon its
curious occupant. There was no life now in the staring eyes and in the
twisted limbs.

All at once it occurred to him: he had killed the fellow. He had not
intended to--or _had_ he? Yet no--there was hardly such a thing as
intention in him. It had just happened; the sight of the food
disappearing through the window had set up some unwonted electrical
contact between mind and body.

He tried to think what to do next, and his mind worked with icy
clearness, as in a vacuum. The dead man had clearly been a person of
importance, and that meant certain death for his slayer. Assuming, of
course, that the latter were discovered. But need he be? Was there a
chance of escape? No one had seen him so far; the blinds of the windows
next to the corridor were drawn and the corridor-door was fastened on
the inside. He must, of course, hasten back to the cattle-truck and
feign sleep; his absence might or might not have been particularly
noticed, but perhaps he would be safe if he could return unobtrusively.
At the next station, he knew, there would be a huge commotion, with
probably the most minute examinations and cross-questionings of
everybody in the train.

He was just about to open the door of the coupe and begin a swift return
journey along the footboards, when he heard a tap at the corridor-door.
"Tarkarovsk in fifteen minutes' time, sir," came the voice of the
train-attendant. After a pause the message was repeated, and then A.J.
managed to stammer out "All right." He heard the attendant move away and
tap at other doors along the corridor with the same message--"Tarkarovsk
in fifteen minutes' time, sir."

And that, unfortunately, settled it. He could not return to the truck;
it had taken him twenty minutes to make the forward journey, and it was
impossible to think of doubling his rate on the way back. Besides, the
train attendant's warning would waken the passengers in the
compartments; they would be sitting up and yawning, and would certainly
see him if he passed their windows. The only alternative seemed to be a
risky jump off the train and an escape across country, though his
position would be desperate enough even then. Tarkarovsk was dangerously
near; the body would be discovered quite soon; within an hour the
surrounding country would be swarming with armed searchers. Nor, among
those open, desolate swamps, could a fugitive hope to elude pursuers for
long.

Then suddenly his mind alighted on a third possibility--fantastic,
almost incredible, yet not, in such circumstances, to be rejected too
scornfully. After all, one way, and perhaps the best way, in which a
culprit might avoid discovery was by contriving that his crime should
not be discovered either. A.J. looked at the dead man, then at the tunic
hanging above him; and all at once his mind began arranging the future
with astonishing precision. Yet there was no astonishment in the way he
accepted every detail of an amazing scheme. He was cool, almost slow, in
his movements. First he stripped the body of the dead man. Next he
undressed himself and put on the dead man's clothes. After that he
dressed the body in his own discarded garments. Then opening the door of
the coupé, he hurled the clothed body as far away from the track as he
could. With luck it might sink into a swamp and never be discovered at
all, but even without luck, it was hardly likely to attract much
attention in such circumstances as he would arrange. Refugees and
peasants often fell out of trains; several bodies had been noticed on
the way from Irkutsk, but no one had thought of stopping to identify or
examine them.

After reclosing the door of the coupé, he washed in the lavatory-basin
and completed his toilet. The other man's uniform fitted him very well
indeed, as did also the military top-boots. The brakes were already
grinding on the wheels as he pulled down the window-blinds, half lay
down on the couch, took up a magazine that was on the table, and closed
his eyes. If anyone opened the door from the platform it would appear
that he had fallen asleep whilst reading.

The rest of his scheme was comparatively simple, if only he could escape
attention at Tarkarovsk. Between Tarkarovsk and the next station there
was almost sure to be some suitable spot where, before dawn, he could
jump from the train and slip away across country. The disappearance of a
high officer would create a stir, but only eventually; it would be more
natural first of' all to assume that any one of a dozen minor mischances
could account for it.

The train jerked and jangled to a standstill--Tarkarovsk--Tarkarovsk. A
sound of shouting reached him from outside and then the scurry of
footsteps running along the platform as the train halted. He did not
think Tarkarovsk was a very large place, but of course even the smallest
stations were crowded with refugees. Suddenly sharper cries pierced the
general din, and the door of the coupé opened violently to admit an
intruder very different from any A.J. had anticipated. He was of small
stature and corpulent, was dressed in a black frock-coat and trousers,
and carried a rather shabby top-hat. "Welcome, sir!" he cried, making a
profound bow. "As chairman of the local council of Khalinsk, I bring you
the town's most gracious felicitations." A.J. rose in astonishment,
whereupon the other, smiling and still bowing, took hold of his hand and
gave it a tremendous shaking. The dream in which A.J. had been living
for so long turned a corner now and swept into the infinite corridors of
another dream. Somehow or other he found himself stepping out of the
train; porters immediately entered it and began lifting out quantities
of luggage. Other men in frock-coats and top-hats were presented to him,
and he heard the little man saying sweetly: "The cars are waiting
outside, sir, if you are ready." He walked across the platform and out
into the courtyard, where a huge Benz was waiting. He got in; several
frock-coats followed him; the luggage was packed into a second car
behind. Then the two cars lurched forward along a dusty uneven road. He
did not speak, but his companions, evidently thinking he was very
sleepy, commiserated with him on the inconvenience of arriving at a
country railway station at half-past three in the morning. Soon the road
widened into the typically Siberian town of Tarkarovsk. The cars pulled
up outside the small hotel, and A.J. was informed that a room had been
engaged for him and that he could take a rest, if he chose, until
breakfast, after which the journey to Khalinsk would be resumed. He gave
rather vague thanks and said the arrangement would suit him very well.
The frock-coats conducted him upstairs to his room with obsequious
gestures and then went drown again, he guessed, to have many drinks and
much gossip about himself.

_About himself_--that was the question. Who was he? Who was he supposed
to be? Why was he being taken to Khalinsk? And why the finery of a
frock-coated railway station reception at such an hour? Then, alone in
the rather dingy bedroom as the first light of dawn paled against the
edges of the window-blinds, it occurred to him that the contents of his
pockets might afford a clue. He examined them; he found a thick wallet
containing a large sum in paper money and several official documents.
One was a letter from Petrograd addressed to a Colonel Nikolai
Andreveff, of Krasnoiarsk, appointing him Commissar of the town and
district of Khalinsk, Western Siberia. And another was from the local
council of Khalinsk, tendering their best respects and expressing
sincere appreciation of' the privilege conferred on them by the
Petrograd government. A.J. read them through, put them back in the
wallet, and then sat on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands.
He was still in his dark dream, and he dared not try to waken. There was
no help for it; from the moment the frock-coat had entered the train at
Tarkarovsk, a third identity had descended on him like a sealed doom.

So he became Nikolai Andreyeff, Commissar of Khalinsk, and he began to
wonder whether he would be fortunate enough to arrange an escape before
he was found out. As it chanced, it became increasingly impossible to
arrange an escape; but then, on the other hand, he was not found out.
Both time and place were, in fact, especially favourable to the
impersonation; Khalinsk was a small town, well away from the main
avenues of Siberian communication, and too remote at first even to be
affected seriously by the Revolution itself. Most of its inhabitants,
some ten thousand or so in number, were quietly and prosperously
bourgeois; the surrounding district provided abundant food, and though
the usual exchange of exports and imports with European Russia had been
impeded, that had meant to the folk of Khalinsk no greater privations
than a shortage of cotton-thread and Ford motor parts, and the necessity
to use their best butter as axle-grease for farm-wagons. Khalinsk,
indeed, was a little island of normality in the midst of a rising sea of
chaos, and its new Commissar fitted into its peaceful scheme of things
without much difficulty. Everyone agreed that he was a 'queer' man with
'queer' ways, but most were glad, in their bourgeois hearts, that
Petrograd had not sent them a fire-eater. About a week after his arrival
news came that his wife and child had died of typhus in Vladivostok, and
Khalinsk people felt much sympathy for the quiet, rarely-speaking man
who had to sit in his office signing travel-passes while his family were
buried at the other end of a continent. When someone ventured to express
that sympathy, all he received was a patient 'Thank you--it is most kind
of you'--courteously given, but somehow not an encouragement to
continue.

Once a visitor to Khalinsk who had known of Colonel Andreyeff in
Krasnoiarsk commented that he would hardly have recognised him for the
same man. "He was a wild fellow in those days--always ready to crack a
joke--or another man's head, for that matter. And now look at him!"

Khalinsk looked at him quite often, for the commissary office was in the
centre of the town, adjoining the court-house and the prison, and the
Commissar walked between his office and his hotel four times a day. In
the hotel he had rooms of his own and took all his meals in private. But
Khalinsk people could see him in their streets, and behind his desk
whenever they had business with him; he presided, too, in the local
courthouse, and paid official visits to the prison. His justice was
firm, and the town's young bloods soon learned that they could play no
tricks with the new ruler; yet it was noticed and commented upon that in
court he always looked as if he were only half attending and didn't
really care what happened.

His subordinates respected him, with the possible exception of Kashvin,
the assistant commissar. Kashvin, a local youth of considerable
intelligence, felt that the Petrograd authorities had needlessly
superseded him in bringing Andreyeff from Krasnoiarsk, and he was the
more antagonistic to his superior because he could not, with all his
shrewdness, understand him. The two men, indeed, were complete
opposites. Kashvin was cordial, unscrupulous, an astute observer of
politics, and an impassioned orator. Probably, too, he was clever enough
to foresee that power at Petrograd would eventually pass into the hands
of extremists. During the autumn the normally easy-going life of
Khalinsk did very rapidly deteriorate; a garrison of soldiers arrived
from Europe with new and wilder doctrines; they were hardly willing to
obey their own officers, much less a local commissar. Great excitement,
also, had been caused by the establishment, in custody, of the
ex-Emperor and his family at Tobolsk, a few hundred miles away.
Throughout October conditions grew more and more turbulent, and it was
clear that the situation in Petrograd was already slipping out of the
hands of the moderates. Then in November came news of the Bolshevik
revolution, and an immediate acceleration in Khalinsk and all such
places of the trend already in progress.

Even Kashvin found it increasingly difficult to keep his balance on the
political tight-rope. Following a custom beginning to be prevalent, the
soldiers had got rid of their officers and had elected others from their
own ranks; unfortunately, however, they obeyed their elected superiors
no better than anyone else. Kashvin's loudest oratory could not persuade
them to cease their plundering raids into the town shops. Andreyeff did
not try the oratorical method; he collected a few personal supporters
and made arrests. Sternness succeeded for a while, until, quite
suddenly, the blow was struck. While the Commissar was sitting at the
courthouse one morning in January, the building was surrounded by
soldiers and a spokesman entered to deliver an ultimatum. The soldiers,
he announced, wished to choose their own commissar as well as their own
officers; they had been in communication with Petrograd and had received
official support; so would, therefore, the Commissar kindly consent to
consider himself no longer a commissar until a vote had been taken? Most
observers expected Andreyeff to give a sharp answer, but, to general
surprise, he merely smiled (which he so rarely did) and replied:
"Certainly--with pleasure." The vote was taken there and then, and
Kashvin was elected Commissar, with Andreyeff as his civilian assistant.
Again it was expected that the latter would indignantly refuse to serve
under his recent subordinate, but Andreyeff continued to give surprise
by his easy acceptance of the situation. And, indeed, the reversal of
position made more difference in theory than in fact. Kashvin, though
nominally in authority, was completely at the mercy of his military
supporters, while Andreyeff, exactly as before, continued his patient
work of issuing ration-cards, arranging for the distribution of food and
fuel, and making out travel-passes.

During the early months of the new year the position at Khalinsk was
still worsening. The nearness of Tobolsk, with its illustrious
prisoners, brought to the district a heavy influx of revolutionary and
counterrevolutionary spies, German and Allied secret agents, and
freelance adventurers of all kinds. Tobolsk was their goal, but Khalinsk
was a safer place for plotting. Half the pedlars and market-dealers were
in the service of one or other organisation, and every day brought new
and more startling rumours. In March a regiment of the new Red Army
arrived from Ekaterinburg to relieve the older men who had already
served through most of the Siberian winter. Many were criminals freshly
released from European prisons; the best of them were miners and
factory-workers lured into the army by generous pay and rations. They
were all completely undisciplined and changed their officers with
monotonous regularity.

Towards the end of March the long succession of rumours did at length
culminate in something actual. Late one night the telephone-bell rang in
the commissary office; A.J., who was there working, answered it; the
call came from a post-house half-way between Khalinsk and the railway.
The message reported that there were rumours that the Trans-Siberian
line had been cut by White guards, assisted by Czecho-Slovak
prisoners-of-war.

A.J., tired after a long day of wrestling with the complications of a
new rationing system, took no particular notice, since such scare
messages arrived almost regularly two or three nights a week. But a
quarter of an hour later another message came--this time from
Tarkarovsk; no train, it said, had arrived from the east since noon, and
there were rumours that counterrevolution had broken out at Omsk. A.J.
rang through to the garrison but could get no answer; Kashvin, he
guessed, would be in bed and asleep; he walked, therefore, a mile or so
over the hard snow to the soldiers' barracks. He found the place in a
state of utter chaos and pandemonium, with all the officers more or less
drunk and incapable. Most of the men were in a similar condition; it was
a saint's day, and by way of celebration they had looted several
wine-cellars in the town. A.J. tried to make known the dangerous
possibilities of the situation, and while he was actually in
the officers' room there came a further telephone message from
Pokroevensk, ten miles away, conveying the brief information that
counter-revolutionary bands had occupied and plundered a neighbouring
village. At this a few of the officers struggled to rouse themselves,
and men were hastily sent to the armoury for rifles and ammunition.
Meanwhile orders were given for a general turn-out, but out of nearly a
thousand men only two hundred could be equipped for whatever emergency
might arise. Hundreds were so drunk that they could not stir from the
floors on which they had collapsed; many also were sleeping with women
in the town and could not be reached at all.

A.J. himself took a rifle and a belt of cartridges, and soon after
midnight the detachment, in charge of an officer, set out along the
gleaming snow-bound road. The cold air soon cleared the drink-sodden
heads of the men, and they stepped out at a good pace in the direction
of Pokroevensk. Ruffians though most of them were, A.J. found them
almost pathetically companionable and full of amazement that he, a
civilian commissar, should be accompanying them. Surely, as a government
official, it was his privilege--his perquisite, as it were--to keep out
of all serious danger?

He smiled and answered that he had come because he knew the district
very well--the roads, directions, and so on. It would not matter his
temporarily deserting the office-desk; there was Kashvin in charge. And
at this the men laughed. Though they loved to let themselves be stirred
by Kashvin's eloquence, a moment such as this brought out their secret
contempt for the man whose tongue was so much mightier than his sword.

During the first hour the men sang songs--not spirited marching songs,
but dragging, rather melancholy refrains that seemed to be known by all.
One was 'Far away and over the marshes'--a weird recitative about exile;
another favourite was 'A Soldier lays down his Life.' Into these slow,
crooning tunes the men somehow contrived to insert a strange ghost of
rhythm, hardly noticeable to the listener, yet sufficient to keep them
in rough, plodding step. After the first few miles, however, A.J.
suggested that they had better march in silence, since voices carried
far in that still, cold atmosphere. The men obeyed him, not instantly as
from a military order, but with a gradual trail of voices from high
melody to the faintest murmur amongst themselves. The officer who should
have had the wit to give the order was staggering along, still very
drunk. The men said tranquilly that it was because he was not satisfied
to get drunk like other men; he dosed himself with a sort of yeast-paste
which produced more permanent effects.

The remaining events of that night might serve as a model for much that
was happening and that was yet to happen throughout the vast territory
between the Pacific and the Vistula. All the typical ingredients were
present--confusion, rumour, inconsequence, surprise. To begin with, at
Pokroevensk, which was reached about three in the morning, the officer
in charge suddenly collapsed and died. A.J. telephoned the news to
Khalinsk and gathered that the town was in the wildest panic; rumours of
an overwhelming White advance along the line of the Trans-Siberian were
being received, and the garrison was already preparing to evacuate the
town. This seemed to A.J. the sheerest absurdity as well as cowardice,
but he could not argue the matter over the wire with a person who, from
the sound of his voice, was still half-drunk. He determined, if the
soldiers were willing (for of course he had no real authority over
them), to march on to the railway and tear up a few lengths of line--the
usual and most effective way of delaying an advance. The men agreed to
this plan, and were just about to leave Pokroevensk, when a mortifying
discovery was made. The ammunition that they carried would not fit the
rifles, the former being of French pattern, while the latter were
Japanese. Similar mistakes, the men said, had often been made during the
war against the Germans. It meant, of course, that the detachment was
practically unarmed, and A.J. could see nothing for it but to return to
Khalinsk as quickly as possible. But then something else happened. In
the grim light of dawn a band of White guards swept suddenly into the
village along the frozen road from the west; there were several hundred
of them, all fully armed and all in a mood to wreak terrible havoc upon
a small village. They were not, however, prepared for A.J. and his
couple of hundred men. Still less was A.J. prepared for them. He
realised that a fight would be hopeless, and rather than have all his
followers shot to pieces he would prefer to surrender; he had none of
the more spectacular heroic virtues, and conceived that a soldier's aim
should be to preserve his own life at least as much as to destroy his
enemy's. As it chanced, however, the White captain thought similarly,
and was, moreover, a little quicker in action. He surrendered to A.J. a
few seconds before the latter could possibly have reversed the
compliment. It was amusing, in a way, to see four or five hundred
well-armed Whites surrendering to less than half as many Reds who could
not, if they had tried, have fired a shot. The White captain explained
that he was not really a very convinced White; he had always, in fact,
inclined to be a little pink. Some of the White soldiers raised cheers
for the Soviets. A.J. nodded gravely; the procedure was very familiar.

More important than the White soldiers was a party of civilians whom
they had been escorting. These were various personages, more or less
illustrious, who had escaped from European Russia and were hoping to
cross Siberia and reach America. They had travelled disguised as far as
Tarkarovsk and had there given themselves into the hands of a White
detachment which, in return for an enormous bribe, had undertaken to get
them through to Omsk.

A.J. was in no doubt as to his proper course of action. Such a
distinguished party must be conveyed to Khalinsk and held as hostages.
He arranged this promptly, after arming his men with the rifles taken
from the White soldiers. Khalinsk was reached by noon, and by that time
the atmosphere was completely changed; the Whites had everywhere been
defeated, and Red reinforcements were already arriving from
Ekaterinburg. A.J.'s prisoners were examined and locked away in the town
jail, with the exception of most of the soldiers, who were permitted to
join the Red army. In the reaction that followed the excitements of the
whole episode A.J. felt a certain bewildered helplessness; all was such
confusion, incoherence, chaos--a game played in the dark, with Fate as a
blind umpire. The chapter of accidents found itself interpreted as a
miracle of intrepid organisation, with A.J. as the hero of the hour.
Even Kashvin congratulated him. "I would have accompanied you myself,"
he explained, "but as Commissar, it would have been improper for me to
leave the town. Now tell me, Andreyeff, do you think it would be better
to ask for Japanese ammunition to fit he rifles or for French rifles to
fit the ammunition?" He then showed A.J. a few reports he had drafted
and which were to be telegraphed away immediately. They were all
circumstantially detailed accounts of atrocities committed by White
guards--women raped, babies speared on the ends of bayonets, wounded men
tortured to death, and so on. Kashvin seemed extremely proud of the
collection. "But surely," A.J. said, "you can't have received proof of
all this in so short a time?" Kashvin replied cheerfully: "Oh no--they
are my own invention entirely; don't you think they read very well?
After all, since we have no rifles and ammunition for the present, we
must do what we can with moral weapons."

And, as it further chanced, the Whites _had_ committed atrocities,
though less ingeniously than Kashvin had imagined. The Reds, too, were
not without a natural lust for vengeance. Hundreds of prosperous local
inhabitants were thrown into prisons on charges of having been in
sympathy with the White insurrectionists; wholesale raids and arrests
were made, and the Khalinsk prison was soon quite full. Meanwhile in the
town itself all semblance of civilian authority vanished. A strongly Red
local Soviet was appointed by the soldiers; Kashvin, despite prodigies
of oratory and private manoeuvre, was deposed from office and a Jewish
agitator named Baumberg took his place. A.J. was allowed to remain as
assistant-commissar because he was personally popular and because nobody
else either wanted or was capable of performing his various jobs. These
jobs now vastly increased, especially as food grew less plentiful and
disease broke out in the overcrowded prison and barracks. Baumberg was a
loud-voiced, heavy-featured Pole whose ferocity in public was only
rivalled by an uncanny mildness in private life. At the age of twenty he
had been accused (falsely, he said) of killing a gendarme; he had
thenceforward spent twenty years in a military fortress and twenty more
in exile at Missen, in the desolate tundra region of North Russia. Now,
at sixty, he was being given his opportunity for revenge, and he was
having no mercy. His ruthlessness gratified the soldiers, and his
speeches, sincerer if no more extreme than those of Kashvin, were
constant incitements to violence. Yet he was a pleasant person compared
with the military commandant, an ex-railwayman named Vronstein.
Vronstein was a psycho-pathological curiosity; he, too, had been long in
exile, and its results had been an astounding assortment of perversions.
Even his sadism was perverted; when prisoners were punished or shot he
would never watch the scene himself, but would insist that a full and
detailed report, complete with every horror, was submitted to him in
writing. Over such reports he would savagely and secretly gloat for
hours. Baumberg openly despised him, but there was a sinister power
about the fellow which gave him considerable hold over the soldiers.

Among the commissary duties was that of visiting the prison and prison
hospital, which were now under the control of the local Soviet. Both
were small and crammed with White prisoners, most of whom were sullenly
resigned to whatever fate might be in store for them. A few were
defiant, exulting in the still-expected breakdown of the Revolution.
Almost every day fresh arrivals were brought in by Red guards, and--as
it were, to make room for them--others were removed by Baumberg's
orders, taken to the military camp, and shot. Baumberg never explained
on what system he selected his victims; perhaps, indeed, he had no
system at all. His ferocity was coldly impersonal; when he had done his
day's duty, including perhaps the ordering of half a dozen shootings for
the morrow, he would go home to his daughter, who kept house for him,
and play noisy capering games with his fatherless grand-children.

The White prisoners included a score or more women, who were lodged
separately in a large overcrowded room. This was a thoroughly
unsatisfactory arrangement, since the room was badly needed as a
supplementary hospital ward for the male prisoners, many of whom were
sick and wounded. Baumberg, though he would have scorned any idea of
sex-distinction, did not in fact have any of the women shot, and was
willing enough to allow the majority of them to be transferred to Omsk,
where the prison was larger. This only stipulated exceptions were the
two most distinguished captives, whom he wished to keep at Khalinsk, and
who, after the departure of the rest, were transferred to separate
cells. Both had been captured by A.J.'s men in the affair at
Pokroevensk. The Countess Vandaroff was one, and A.J., who had the job
of visiting her from time to time, soon recommended her transference to
hospital, since she was clearly going out of her mind. The other woman
prisoner was the Countess Marie Alexandra Adraxine. She was of a
different type; calm, exquisitely dignified, she accepted favours and
humiliations alike with slightly mocking nonchalance. When A.J. first
visited her, she said: "Ah, Commissar, we have met before, I think? That
morning at Pokroevensk--I dare say you remember?"

He said: "I have come to ask if you have any particular complaints--is
your food satisfactory, and so on?"

"Oh, fairly so, in the circumstances. My chief wish is that there were
fewer bugs in my mattress."

"I will try to see that you have a fresh one, though of course I cannot
promise that it will be perfectly clean."

"Oh, I'm not fastidious--don't think that." She went to the narrow
mattress by the wall of the cell and gave it a blow with her clenched
fist. After a second or so a slowly spurting-red cascade issued from
every rent and seam. "You see?" she said. "It's the trivial things that
really bother one most, isn't it?"

The second time he paid her cell an official visit she thanked him for
having replaced the mattress by a comparatively unverminous one. Then
she said: "Have you any idea what is going to happen to me, Commissar?"

He shook his head. "It is altogether a matter for others to decide."

"You think I shall be shot?"

"No women have been shot as yet."

"Nevertheless, it is possible?"

"Oh, perfectly."

"Would you approve?"

"I should not be asked either to approve or to disapprove."

She seemed amused by his attitude. After that he did not again visit her
alone, for he did not care to be asked questions which he could not
answer.

As spring advanced it could be foreseen that events in the district were
hastening to a further crisis. Along the whole length of the
Trans-Siberian the Czecho-Slovak prisoners-of-war, whom the Petrograd
government had promised a safe journey to Vladivostok, had seized trains
and station depots. This comparatively small body of men, stretched out
in tenuous formation for four thousand miles, was practically in
possession of Siberia, and there was talk that the Allies, instead of
letting them proceed across the Pacific, intended to use them to break
the Soviets and re-form the eastern front against Germany.
Simultaneously the forces of counter-revolution were again massing for
an attack. In April the Reds began to send important political prisoners
away from the endangered districts; the ex-Emperor was removed from
Tobolsk for an unknown destination. From Khalinsk there would doubtless
have been a big exodus but for a dispute between the district commissars
of Tobolsk and Ekaterinburg as to who held authority over the town.
Baumberg favoured Ekaterinburg; Vronstein preferred Siberian rule. A hot
quarrel arose between the two officials, broken only by intermittent
shootings that both could agree upon.

At last came news that Omsk itself had been taken by the
counter-revolutionaries. Khalinsk was then caught up in another sudden
scurry of panic; military and civilian authority both made preparations
to evacuate the town; stores and ammunition were packed and sent away
west; and Baumberg's speeches grew more and more tumultuous. Kashvin's
invented atrocity stories now began to trickle back with many
elaborations; they drove the Red garrison to the highest pitch of fury,
and this, in the absence of any convenient battlefield enemy, was vented
upon the White captives in the prison.

One night the quarrelling between Baumberg and Vronstein came to a head.
Difficulties had arisen over the provision of transport for sending
certain of the prisoners to safer places--safer, that was, from White
capture. Rather than run the risk of any being rescued by their friends,
Vronstein was for a wholesale massacre; but this was too much for
Baumberg. The two stormed and threatened each other, Vronstein declaring
in the end that he would march at the head of his soldiers and take the
prison by storm. As soon as he had left the commissary office, Baumberg
turned to A.J. in his suddenly normal and placid way and said: "I do
believe the fellow means it. He'll have them all murdered before the
night's out. Andreyeff, I think you ought to go to the prison and get
out the two women. Petrograd will be furious if they are slaughtered by
those drunken hogs." He added, a little pompously: "The women are both
very important links in the chain of evidence against the enemies of the
Revolution, and I have already received strict orders that they are to
be taken care of. When the counterrevolution has been crushed, they are
to be put on trial in Petrograd--I tell you that in confidence, of
course."

It was almost midnight when A.J. reached the prison. Even so soon there
was in the atmosphere a queer feeling of impending terror; the
prison-guards were nervous and inclined to question his authority. It
was obvious that most of them, if only to save their own skins, would
join with the soldiers in whatever bloodthirsty orgy was to ensue. A.J.
sought Countess Vandaroff first; she was kept in an outlying part of the
prison under semi-hospital conditions. As soon as the warder unlocked
her door she sprang screaming out of bed and crouched in the furthest
corner of the cell. A.J. began: "Do not alarm yourself, Countess, but
get ready to move away at once. You are to be taken elsewhere." Then, as
he saw the warder's eyes upon him, he knew that he had blundered. In the
hurry of the moment he had called her 'Countess'. Commissars had been
degraded and private soldiers shot, he knew, for less than that.
Perturbed by the possible results of his slip, he went on to the other
woman's cell. She was asleep and had to be awakened. He gave her the
same message, but with careful omission of the forbidden word.

Waiting in the prison-hall for the two women to present themselves, he
could hear the sound of shouting and rifle-fire from the barracks not
far away. Intense nervousness had by this time communicated itself to
warders and prisoners alike; all were wide awake and chattering, and
A.J. wondered what might be in store for them during the next few hours.

Countess Adraxine appeared first; she had put over her shoulders a light
travelling cloak that still retained a trace of its original
fashionableness, and she carried a few personal belongings in a small
bundle. In the presence of the guards he did not speak to her; they
waited for a moment in silence, and then he despatched one of the guards
to fetch Countess Vandaroff. A little later the guard returned with the
astonishing news that the woman was dead. A.J. rushed to her cell; it
was true. Mad with terror at the thought that she was to be taken away
and shot, the woman had killed herself by a desperate and rather
difficult method: she had stabbed herself repeatedly in the throat with
an ordinary safety-pin, and had died from shock and loss of blood.

A.J. was a little paler when he rejoined the other prisoner. There was
no time to be lost, and accompanied by guards the two hurried out of the
prison and across the town-square to the commissary office. Baumberg was
waiting; he had heard of the suicide by telephone and was in a fine
fury. The Petrograd authorities would hold him responsible; how was it
that the woman had been allowed to have in her possession such a
dangerous weapon as a safety-pin; and much else that was extreme and
absurd. Then, with one of those sudden returns to mildness that were
such an odd trait in his character, he handed his assistant a sheaf of
papers. "You are to take the remaining prisoner to Moscow, Andreyeff;
there you will hand her over to the authorities. Two guards will go with
you. Here are all the necessary papers; you will board the first train
west from Tarkarovsk. The horses are waiting outside--you must set out
instantly, for the latest news is that the Whites are advancing quickly
along the line from Omsk."

In the courtyard of the office building stood a couple of
tarantasses--the ordinary Siberian conveyance which, badly sprung and
yoked to relays of horses, would sometimes accomplish the journey to
Tarkarovsk in five or six hours. There was a small moon shining, and a
sky of starlight. The roads, after the grip of winter, were on the point
of thawing; in a few days they would be choked with mud. A.J., clad in a
heavy soldier's greatcoat and fur cap, superintended the stowing away of
the luggage into the first vehicle, which, driven by one of the guards,
pulled out into the deserted street and clattered away south towards one
o'clock in the morning. A few minutes later the second tarantass
followed; A.J. and the woman sat together in the back of the swaying,
rickety vehicle, while the other guard drove.

In the commissary yard A.J. had spoken a few words to his
prisoner--formal courtesies and so on, but as soon as the journey began
he relapsed into silence. He was, to begin with, physically tired; he
had been working at more than normal pressure for weeks, and now
reaction was on him. Apart from that, the stir of Countess Vandaroff's
death and the sudden unfolding of a new future gave him a certain
weariness of mind; he felt too mentally fatigued to realise what was
happening. Fortunately, fatigue drove away anxiety; he felt again as if
he were living in the midst of some vague and curious dream, full of
happenings over which he had no control and with which, in any major
sense, he was completely unconcerned. He was, he supposed, bound for
Moscow, yet how and even whether he would ever get there did not seem in
the least important. He had a pocketful of documents stamped with all
the official seals and signatures Baumberg had been able to commandeer,
but he had no confidence that they were worth more than the paper they
were written on. The ex-Emperor, it was rumoured, had been seized by the
local Soviet at Ekaterinburg in defiance of official orders; things like
that were constantly happening; anything, indeed, might happen. The only
course was to drift onwards, somehow or other, inside this busy dream,
always ready, in an emergency, to grope into a wakefulness that was but
another dream of another kind.

Steadily through the night the horses galloped over the softening earth.
Only once was anything said, and that was at Pokroevensk, where the
horses were changed and rumours were shared with the local telegraph
official. The latest report was that Tarkarovsk had already fallen to
the Whites. A.J., with better knowledge of distances, did not credit
this, but it was futile to argue. As the journey was resumed, the woman
said: "So you are going on to Tarkarovsk, Commissar?"

"Yes."

"But if the Whites hold the place, that means we shall be running into
them?"

"Yes. Only I don't believe they do hold it."

"What would happen if they did?"

"You would be freed and I should be shot, most probably."

"Whereas, if all goes well and we get to Moscow safely, it is _I_ who
will be shot?"

"Possibly."

"You strike the Napoleonic attitude rather well, Commissar."

"Pardon me, I am not striking any attitude at all. I am merely very
tired--really too tired to talk."

After that she said nothing.

He was right; Tarkarovsk was still Red, though the town and district
were being rapidly prepared for evacuation. The two jolting vehicles
drove up to the railway station towards dawn, after a journey of
nightmare weariness. Hour after hour the Commissar and his prisoner had
been bumped along over the interminable Siberian plain, and now, at the
station, with limbs sore and aching, they had to begin the next and
perhaps more arduous task of finding scats on the train. The station was
swarming with refugees from the surrounding country, most of them in a
pitiable condition, and all frantically anxious to be out of the way
when the White troops should enter. There had been no trains since the
previous evening, though several were rumoured to be on their way. The
stationmaster bowed respectfully when A.J. presented his papers; yes, he
should certainly be given a compartment in the next train, but would
there be any next train--that was the real question? "I cannot, you see,
invent a train, Commissar--not being God, that is to say." A.J. detected
a slight impertinence behind the man's outward obsequiousness. Of course
the Whites were coming and the Reds were leaving; the fellow was
adroitly trimming his sails to catch the new wind.

Throughout the hardships of the journey and now amidst the throng and
scurry of the railway platform, the woman prisoner preserved a calm that
had in it still that same slight touch of mockery. Of course it was not
her place to worry about the train or the White advance; if the latter
arrived before the former, the advantage would all be hers. She could
afford to watch with equanimity and even exultation the growing
congestion of the station precincts and the increasing anxiety on the
faces of the two Red guards. Yet for all that, her attitude was no more
than calm; it was as if she were neither hoping nor fearing anything at
all. She sat on her bundle of possessions and watched the frantic
pageant around her with a sleepy, almost mystical detachment. Even when,
at three in the afternoon, the stationmaster came shouting the news that
the train was arriving after all, she did not move or betray by a murmur
that the matter concerned her; and this attitude, because it so queerly
accorded with his own, stirred in A.J. a slight and puzzled attention.

The train arrived at half-past four, already full, with Red soldiers and
refugees crouching between and on the roofs of the coaches. The two
guards, doubtfully assisted by the stationmaster, opened the door of a
second-class compartment (there was no first-class on the train) and
drove its occupants on to the platform at the point of the revolver.
They were refugees from Omsk, and pity for them was tempered with
indignation at the horrible state in which they had left the
compartment. They had ripped up the cushioned seats to make puttees to
wind round their legs; they had scattered filth of every description all
over the floor; and they (or some previous occupants) had also stripped
the compartment bare of every detachable object. The two guards worked
for half an hour to make the place habitable, and even then its interior
atmosphere was still unpleasant.

The train left Tarkarovsk about dusk and crawled slowly westward. A.J.,
his prisoner, and the guards made a frugal breakfast of coffee and black
bread. Both guards were huge fellows--one of a typical peasant type, and
the other of superior intelligence but less likeable. As for the
prisoner, her attitude remained exactly the same. At the first station
west of Tarkarovsk news came that the Whites were on the point of
entering that town; the train had apparently escaped by only the
narrowest of margins. Yet the woman betrayed no suspicion of
disappointment. She obeyed all A.J.'s requests with unassuming calmness;
she sat where he told her to sit, ate when he told her to eat, and so
on. He had now time to notice her appearance. She was perhaps under
thirty years of age, though her type was that whose years are difficult
to guess. Her hair was smooth and jet-black, framing a face of
considerable beauty. Her lips had the clean, accurate curvings of the
thoroughbred, and her eyes, when they were in repose, held a rather
sleepy, mystical look. And she was not only calm; she was calming.

Towards evening the train reached Ekaterinburg. The Ural mountain city,
noted for its extreme brand of revolutionary sentiment, was in a state
of wild excitement, and for two reasons--the White advance along the
railway, and the murder of the ex-Emperor that had taken place a few
nights before. The station was packed with Red soldiers, and from their
looks as the train sailed past their faces to a standstill, A.J. did not
anticipate pleasant encounters. The first thing that happened was the
invasion of the compartment by a dozen or so of them, extravagantly
armed and more than half drunk. The two guards wisely made no attempt to
resist, but A.J. said, authoritatively: "I am a Commissar on my way to
Moscow on important government business. This compartment is reserved
for me." His manner of speaking was one which usually impressed, and
most of the invaders, despite their ruffianism, would probably have
retired but for one of them, a swaggering little Jew about five feet
high, who cried shrilly: "Not at all--nothing is reserved, except by
order of the Ekaterinburg Soviet. Besides, how do we know you are what
you say? And who is this woman with you?" A.J. pulled out his wallet of
documents and displayed them hopefully. They were so magnificently
sealed and stamped that most of the men, who could not read, seemed
willing enough to accept their validity. But again the Jew was
truculent. He read through everything very carefully and critically
examined the seals. Then he stared insolently at the woman. "So you are
taking her to Moscow?" he remarked at length. "Well, I'm afraid you
can't. Khalinsk has no authority over Ekaterinburg and we refuse you
permission to pass. I must see Patroslav about this. Meanwhile, you
fellows, stand here on guard till I come back."

He jumped down to the platform and disappeared amidst the throng. The
soldiers remained in the compartment, talking among themselves and
getting into conversation with the two Khalinsk guards. One of the
latter talked rather indiscreetly but A.J. did not think it wise to
interfere.

After a few moments the little Jew returned, accompanied by another
obvious Jew, taller and rather fine-looking. Without preamble he
addressed himself to A.J.

"You are the Assistant-Commissar at Khalinsk?"

"Yes."

"And this woman was formerly the Countess Marie Alexandra Adraxine?"

"Yes."

"Then we cannot permit you to pass--either of you. In fact, you are both
arrested."

A.J. argued with sudden and rather startling vehemence: the central
government wanted this woman; she was to supply evidence which would be
wanted at a full-dress trial of all the counter-revolutionary
ringleaders; there would be a tremendous row if some local Soviet were
to interfere with such intentions. A.J. ended by an astute appeal to the
men personally--"You two are doubtless ambitious--you would perhaps like
to see yourselves in higher positions than a local Soviet? Do you think
it will help you to countermand the orders of the central government?
Whereas if, on the other hand--" It was pretty bluff, but he played it
well, and the two Jews were reluctantly impressed. At last the man
called Patroslav said something to his colleague in a language A.J. did
not understand, and a lively and evidently acrimonious argument
developed between them. Then Patroslav swung round on his heel and went
off. The other Jew turned to A.J. "You are to be allowed to proceed with
your prisoner," he announced, with sullen insolence. "But your guards
must return to Khalinsk--we will replace them by two others. And your
prisoner will travel in a third-class compartment with the guards--we do
not allow privileges of any kind to enemies of the Revolution. You
yourself, being a government official, may remain here."

"On the contrary, I shall go wherever the prisoner goes, since I am
still in charge and responsible."

"As you prefer."

It was all, A.J. perceived, a scheme of petty annoyance, and on the
whole he was glad to be escaping from Ekaterinburg with nothing worse.
During the whole of the delay the woman had not spoken a word, but as
they walked down the platform to change their compartment she said: "I
am sorry, Commissar, to be inconveniencing you so much. If I give my
parole not to escape, would you not prefer to stay in comfort where you
were?"

"There is little difference in comfort between one place and another,"
he answered.

But there was, for the third-class coaches were filthy and verminous,
and there was neither time nor opportunity to make even the most
perfunctory turnout.

The night had a brilliant moon, and the hills, seen through the windows
of the train, upreared like heaving seas of silver. There was no light
in the compartment save that of a candle-stump fixed in the neck of a
bottle. The heavy bearded faces of the guards shone fiercely in the
flickering light. They were Ukrainians and sometimes exchanged a few
husky words in their local dialect. A.J. had a slight understanding of
this, but the men talked so quietly that he could not catch more than a
few words here and there.

Suddenly the train came to a jangling standstill, and after some delay a
train official walked along the track with the information that a bridge
had been blown up just ahead and that all passengers must walk on
several miles to the next station, where another train would be waiting.
A.J., his prisoner, and the two guards, climbed down to the track, which
ran in a wide curve through densely wooded country. One of the guards
declared that he knew the spot quite well, and that there was an easy
short-cut to the station across country. A.J. doubtfully agreed and they
set off along a wide pathway that met the railway at a tangent. They all
walked in silence for a few minutes, with the voices of the other
passengers still within hearing; but soon they were amongst tall
pine-trees, and A.J. imagined, though he could not be certain, that the
path was veering too far to the north. He said to the guards: "Are you
quite sure that this is the way?"--and one of them answered: "Oh
yes--you can hear the engine-whistle in the distance." A.J. listened and
could certainly hear it, but it sounded very remote.

They all walked on a little further, with the two guards chattering
softly together in Ukrainian. A.J.'s acute sense of direction again
warned him, and a somewhat similar feeling of apprehension must have
seized on his prisoner, for she said "Don't you think we should have
done better to keep to the railway line?"

At last even the guards seemed to be undecided; they had been walking a
little ahead and now stopped and began arguing together in excited
undertones.

"_Don't_ you think it would have been better?" she repeated.

"Possibly," he answered, in a whisper. "It was certainly foolish to let
them lead us into this forest."

"You think they have lost the way?"

"Maybe--or maybe not."

"Ah," she answered. "So you too are wondering?"

"Wondering what?"

"What they are chatting about so quietly."

He said quickly: "I have a revolver. I am keeping a look-out."

He was, in fact, beginning not to like the appearance of things at all.
Had the two guards led them deliberately astray, and if so, with what
intention? In the train he had heard them chattering together, but they
could hardly have been plotting this particular piece of strategy since
the blown-up railway bridge could not have been foreseen. Perhaps,
however, the idea had come to one of them as a quick impromptu, a
variant upon some less immediate scheme that they had had in mind.

One of the guards approached him with a measured deliberation which, in
the moonlight, seemed peculiarly sinister. "If you will both wait here
with me," he began, "my friend says he will find out where we are and
will come back to tell us."

At first it seemed an innocent and reasonable suggestion, involving the
somewhat lessened danger of being left alone with one possible enemy
instead of two. But then A.J. recollected an ancient ruse that bandits
sometimes played on their victims in Siberian forests; they said they
were going away, but they did not really do so; they crept back and
sprang on their enemies from behind. "No," he answered, with sudden
decision. "It doesn't matter--we'll go back to where we began and then
walk along the track. I think I can remember the way."

He began to walk in the reverse direction with the woman at his side and
the two guards following him at a little distance. They seemed rather
disconcerted by his decision, and continued to exchange remarks in
whispers.

After a few moments A.J. said quietly to his companion: "I want you to
be on your guard. I don't trust those fellows."

"Neither do I. What do you think their game is?"

"Robbery. Perhaps murder. This going back to the railway has upset their
plans--I can gather that from the way they're talking."

"What can we do?"

"Nothing--except keep our heads. Have you good nerve?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Then take this revolver and use it if necessary, but not otherwise." He
handed it to her quickly as they passed into the shadow of dark trees.

For the next few moments there came no sound except the crunch of four
pairs of footsteps over the fir-cones. Neither A.J. nor the woman spoke,
and the two guards also had ceased their whispered conversation.

A.J.'s eyes were searching ahead for any sign of the railway as well as
preparing for any lightning emergency in the rear. The silence and
darkness of the forest were both uncanny, and though he listened acutely
for any repetition of that distant engine-whistle, he heard nothing.
After walking for some ten minutes, by which time he estimated that the
railway ought to have come into view, the track narrowed and began to
twist uphill. He whispered suddenly: "I've lost my way."

"What does that mean?"

"It means we may have to spend the rest of the night in the forest with
these ruffians." A moment later he added: "They're talking
again--they're guessing we're lost, and I'm afraid it suits them only
too well. I think I'd rather have it out with them than go on like
this."

He stopped abruptly, facing the guards so quickly that they had not time
to conceal the revolvers in their hands. "Gentlemen," he said calmly, "I
think you must find it a burden to carry those weapons as well as our
luggage. Suppose you hand them over to me--I can guard the party if we
are attacked."

The very unexpectedness of the request might have succeeded with one of
the men, had not the other, with a snarl of rage, flung himself all at
once upon A.J. The other then went to his companion's assistance, and
the three men were soon engaged in a desperate struggle in which
darkness seemed an extra enemy of them all. One powerful pair of arms
gripped A.J. round the neck, while another seized his right arm and
sought to wrest away the revolver. Both assailants were exceedingly
strong, and though A.J. was strong also, he could not have held out for
long against such odds. Suddenly one of the guards managed to wrench his
own revolver free and aimed it full in A.J.'s face; and simultaneously a
second revolver swung on to the scene and glinted in a shaft of
moonlight. The two triggers were pressed almost together, but there was
only one report. The guard's weapon misfired, and a second later its
owner collapsed to the ground. A.J. turned to deal with the second
guard, but with a sharp movement the latter drew back and plunged wildly
into the undergrowth and away.

A.J. was left, revolver in hand, peering down at a huddled body. The
woman stood close to him, also holding a weapon, but hers was smoking.

He stooped and said, after a pause: "He's dead."

"Is he? I did it."

"Probably saving your own life as well as mine."

"Yes, I daresay. But what has to be done now?"

"This--before anything else."

He dragged the body to one side of the path and pushed it into the midst
of thick undergrowth.

"Was the other fellow hurt?" she then asked.

"No--only terrified. He'll soon find his way to the nearest village and
tell everybody. There'll be a pretty big fuss."

"But we were being attacked--it was self-defence, surely?"

"In a way, yes, but he's hardly likely to say so, and nobody's likely to
take our word for it against his. Probably he'll say we're
counter-revolutionary spies and that we seized the chance of a train
hold-up to lure our two guards into the forest and attack them."

"But you have your papers to prove who you are?"

"You saw for yourself how doubtfully they were accepted in Ekaterinburg.
After the stories that fellow will spread about us, they'll count even
less."

"Then it looks as if we'd better move on."

"Yes. Instantly."

"Do you know which way to go?"

"Away from the nearest village. That means, almost certainly, uphill."

Then they discovered that they were both quite breathless. All about
them were the dark pillars of tree-trunks, with here and there a
delicate pattern on the undergrowth where moonlight spilled through. He
began to gather up the various bundles that the two guards had thrown
down. Then they hurried away. They climbed in silence for some time,
till at last she asked, in a very ordinary casual voice, what he was
thinking about. He answered: "To be exact, about a packet of chocolate I
left on the seat in the train."

She laughed softly. "Never mind. I have some. Shall we share it?"

"Not yet. Better get on further."

They went on climbing amongst the trees, stopping only now and then to
listen for any distant sound. But none could be heard distinctly, though
once, from the very edge of the world, it seemed, there came what might
have been the wail of a train-whistle. As they climbed higher, the trees
thinned out into the open, and suddenly they reached a high curving
summit outlined against the moonlight like a knife-edge. The air, after
the cool forest depths, was warm, and they themselves were again
breathless. "Keep in shadow," he ordered, and they took a few backward
steps into a little hollow full of dead leaves. A squirrel scampered
past them as they halted. "Now for your chocolate," he said.

They sat down on a leafy slope and shared the chocolate and also a hunk
of black bread that he had brought from Tarkarovsk. There was nothing to
drink, but he had a water-bottle and they could find a stream as soon as
it grew daylight. They ate ravenously and were still hungry when they
had finished. Then it was necessary to make plans, tentatively, at any
rate, for the future.

A.J. was not disposed to minimise the seriousness of the situation. The
story that the runaway guard would doubtless tell was just as credible
as theirs--perhaps more so to those he would be addressing. A man
supposed to be a Siberian assistant-commissar, supposed also to be
escorting to Moscow a dangerous female counter-revolutionary and member
of the aristocracy; the doubts that the Ekaterinburg officials had had,
and their precautionary escort of two Red guards; the shooting of one of
these guards in the middle of a forest--such a story would not seem
difficult either to believe or to interpret in a district notorious for
its 'redness.' And as for the wallet-full of assorted stamps and seals,
A.J. began to feel that their presence might be a danger quite as much
as a safeguard.

If they could only make their way to another district, across country,
say, to the northern railway at Perm, they could there continue their
journey to Moscow incognito, as it were. A.J. was fairly sure that his
story would be credited at headquarters, especially as the Moscow
authorities had had so much trouble themselves with the turbulent
Uralian provinces. Anyhow, all that remained in the less immediate
future; the more pressing problem was to avoid detection by
search-parties who might soon be scouring the forests.

Fortunately for their chances of escape, the surrounding country was
full of wanderers, refugees driven from their homes by the press of war
or famine, seeking friends or relatives in distant parts of the country,
or else tramping vaguely from village to village in default of anything
more definite to do. Even in the forest country there were folk of this
kind to be met with, and A.J. could not think of any better disguise
than for the two of them to appear to be such wanderers. His own attire
was reasonably suitable as it stood, but he realised that it would take
a certain amount of adjustment to make his prisoner look like anything
but a former aristocrat. Her clothes, though old and shabby, were hardly
such as a peasant would ever have possessed, and her shoes, even after
repeated patchings, were still recognisably foreign. He dared not allow
her to be seen until these incongruities were removed, and he explained
the matter to her briefly. "We shall have to be particularly careful
during the next twenty-four hours," he insisted. "As soon as it is
daylight I will leave you in some arranged spot and try to get clothes
for you. If there is a village anywhere within a few miles I ought to be
able to manage it."

After their short rest he climbed the hill while she remained more
prudently below. The moon was now fast sinking over a distant ridge, and
while he crouched in the long grass trying to get his bearings he saw
the first whiff of dawn creeping over the eastern horizon. Soon he could
see the forests turning from black to green and the sky from grey to
palest blue; then, very slowly, the mist unrolled along the floor of the
valley. But there was no sign of any village. It was, he knew, a
sparsely populated district, and quite possibly the nearest settlement
might be a score or more miles away. If that were so, he and his
prisoner must hide in the forest during the day and push on as fast as
they could when night fell.

By the time he rejoined her it was quite light, and the clear cloudless
sky showed promise of a hot day. He took off his coat and then looked
around for a stream from which to fill his water-bottle. Cautiously he
descended the slope, skirting the hill in a wide curve, with the first
rays of sunlight splitting joyously through the foliage. How lovely the
world seemed, but for human beastliness, and how disgusting to wish that
the birds were not singing so loudly, because they made it difficult to
listen for anyone approaching in the distance. Yet behind a certain
quiet rage and perturbation, excitement was on him, and when at last he
found a stream, bubbling crystal-clear over pearl-grey rocks, he knelt
to it and, dashing the icy water over his face and head, felt what was
almost a new sensation--happiness.

After filling his water-bottle he looked up and saw something that gave
him a sudden shock. It was a timbered roof half-hidden among the trees
no more than a hundred yards away, yet even so close it would have been
easy to miss it. Probably a woodman's cottage, he thought, and with
still cautious steps approached a little nearer to find out. Then he saw
a thin wisp of smoke curling up amidst the treetops that screened the
tiny habitation. The loneliness of the place as well as its look of cosy
comfortableness lured him to an even closer examination; he worked his
way through the trees towards a side which no window overlooked. In
another moment he was standing against the outside wall and listening
carefully--but there were no sounds of voices or of movement from
within. Then he turned the corner and, crouching near the window, slowly
lifted his head and peered over the sill. It was the usual one-roomed
habitation of the peasant, very dirty and untidy; two persons, man and
woman, were sleeping on a heap of straw and rags in a corner, and from
their attitude and state of attire, A.J. guessed it to be a sleep of
drunkenness. With greater interest, however, he saw the heap of clothes
on the floor which the couple had thrown off. That settled it; it seemed
that fortune had given him a chance which it would be far bigger folly
to miss than to take. With his revolver in one hand he lifted the
door-latch with the other; as he had hoped and expected, the door was
not locked. He simply walked in, picked up the litter of clothes, walked
out, closed the door carefully behind him, and climbed the hill through
the trees. Nothing could have been easier, and he was glad that, from
their appearance, the couple would still have many hours to sleep.

His prisoner laughed when he threw down the heap of clothes in front of
her. Then she took grateful gulps of water from the bottle he offered.
"You are very kind, Commissar," she said. "But you had better not make a
habit of leaving me alone as you did just then. I warn you that I shall
escape at any suitable opportunity."

"Naturally," he answered, with a shade of irony. "But for the present
remember that we are both escaping."

"Yes, that's queer, isn't it? You are taking me to Moscow, where I shall
probably be put on trial and shot; but for the time being I haven't to
think about that--I must only bother about preserving my life during the
next twenty-four hours."

"Well?"

"I'm afraid it all strikes me as rather illogical. If I am to be killed
anyhow, does it matter very much who does the job?"

"That, of course, is for you to decide. Personally, if I were in your
place, I should rather think it _did_ matter."

She suddenly put a hand on his sleeve. "Commissar, I can lose nothing,
can I, by asking a question? Just this--must you really take me to
Moscow and hand me over? Hasn't my own--our own--our rather unusual fate
so far--given you a hint of anything else? To me it almost seems as if
fate were asking you to give me a chance. Briefly, Commissar, I have
friends abroad--influential friends--who would make it considerably
worth your while if you would take me somewhere else instead of Moscow.
Odessa, shall we say--or Rostov? You would have earned the reward by
your courtesy alone, and as for me, how can the Revolution suffer
because one poor woman takes ship for a foreign country?"

He looked at her for a moment in absolute silence. Then he merely
replied: "You are mistaken in me--I am not bribable. And also, by the
way, you must remember in future not to call me 'Commissar.'"

"I see." And after a pause she added: "You are quite incorruptible,
then?"

"Quite."

She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "Well, anyhow, let's not quarrel
about it. Perhaps, after all, you think I deserve to be shot?"

"No, I don't say that. I don't think anything at all about it. You are
my prisoner and I am taking you to Moscow. That is all." He went on,
more quickly: "Will you please put on these clothes without delay? We
_must_ get on--every minute increases the danger."

"Are they clean?"

"I don't know--I hadn't time to look. Probably not, but you must wear
them, anyhow."

She laughed and their serious conversation ended by tacit agreement. She
was amused at having to dress herself in a peasant's long skirt and
coarse coloured blouse, and she was still further amused when he told
her how he had obtained them. Her own clothes they buried in a
hiding-place under a heap of dead leaves; it was safer, he decided, than
trying to burn them. Then he cut his beard and moustache, transforming
his appearance to an extent that caused her a good deal of additional
amusement. Next their joint luggage was carefully sorted out and all
articles that might seem suspicious were also hidden away under the
leaves. Finally he slit open the lining of his coat and carefully
concealed all his commissary papers and a few government banknotes of
large denomination.

These preparations took some time, and it was after eight o'clock when a
fairly typical pair of peasant wanderers made their way down the hill to
the valley on the far side of it. The man was tall and well-built, with
a thin stubble of beard round his chin (he had not dared to give himself
a close shave because of the deep tan that covered the rest of his face).
The woman, slighter in build and pale even in the sunlight, trudged
along beside him. They did not converse a great deal, but the man
exchanged cheerful greetings with fellow-peasants passing in the
opposite direction.

Arrangements had been reached about other matters. They had given each
other names that were common enough, yet not suspiciously so; he was
Peter Petrovitch Barenin, of the imaginary village of Nikolovsk, in the
province of Orenburg; she was his daughter Natasha (called 'Daly'). They
were trying to reach Petrograd, where he had a brother who had formerly
been a workman in the Putilov factory. They were both poor people, he a
simple-minded peasant who could neither read nor write, but his
daughter, thank God, had had an education and had spent some years as
lady's maid in an aristocratic family. (Hence her accent and soft
hands.) But they had both fallen lately on evil times--she, of course,
had lost her job, and he had had his cottage burned down by White
brigands. It was all just the sort of ordinary and quite unexceptionally
pathetic case of which there were probably some millions of examples at
that time throughout the country.

The morning warmed and freshened as the couple wound their way along the
valley road. They met few people, and none save humble travellers like
themselves; from one of these peasant wayfarers A.J. bargained a loaf of
bread. With this and a few wild strawberries gathered by the roadside
they made a simple but satisfactory meal, washed down with icy
mountain-water from a stream.

Throughout the day they did not see a solitary habitation or come within
rumour of a village. All about them stretched the lonely forest-covered
foothills of the Urals, dark with pine-trees and soaring into the hazy
distance where a few of the peaks still kept their outlines hidden in
mist. The air was full of aromatic scents, and by the wayside, as they
trudged, high banks of wildflowers waved their softer perfumes.

Towards evening they met an old bearded peasant of whom A.J. asked the
distance to the nearest village. "Three versts," he answered. "But if
you are travellers seeking a night's shelter, you had better not go
there." A.J. asked why, and the man answered: "A band of soldiers have
been raiding the place in search of someone supposed to have murdered a
Red guard in the forests. The soldiers are still there, and if you were
to arrive as a stranger they might arrest you on suspicion. You know
what ruffians those fellows are when they are dealing with us simple
folk." A.J. agreed and thanked the man; it was a fine night, he added,
and it would do himself and his daughter no harm to rest in the forest.
"Oh, but there is no need to do that," urged the other.

"You can have shelter at my cottage just away up yonder hill. I am a
woodcutter--Dorenko by name--but I am not a ruffian like most
woodcutters. As soon as I saw you and your daughter coming along the
road I thought how tired she looked and I felt sorry for her. Yes,
indeed, brother, you are fortunate--not many woodcutters are like me. I
have a kind heart, having lost my wife last year. Perhaps I may marry
again some day. I have a nice little cottage and it is clean and very
comfortable, though the cockroaches are a nuisance. Come, brother, you
and your girl will enjoy a good meal and a night's rest under a roof."

A.J., thinking chiefly of the soldiers in the neighbouring village,
accepted the invitation, and the three began to walk uphill, turning off
the road after a short distance and entering again the steep and already
darkening forest. A.J. told the old man the barest facts about himself;
and was glad to note that they were accepted quite naturally and without
the least curiosity. "I, too, had a daughter once," said Dorenko, "but
she ran away and I never heard of her afterwards. She was not so
good-looking as yours."

After a quarter of an hour's hard climb they came to another of those
forest cottages, timber-built, and completely hidden from any distant
view. The interior was not particularly clean and comfortable, despite
Dorenko's contrary opinion, and though also, after his warning, they
were prepared for cockroaches, they had hardly imagined such a plague of
them as existed. They swarmed over everything; they were on walls and
roof, and in every crack and corner; they had to be shaken off the bread
and skimmed out of liquids; they crackled underfoot and fell in soft
sizzling pats on to the smouldering hearth. "Yes," admitted Dorenko,
tranquilly, "they are a nuisance, but I will say this for them--they
never bite."

Dorenko was certainly hospitable. He made his guests an appetising meal
of soup and eggs; barring the cockroaches, there would have been much to
enjoy. He talked a good deal, especially about his late wife and his
loneliness since she had died. "Yes, indeed, I may marry again some day.
I am on the lookout for the right sort of person, as you may guess. And,
of course, it would not be a bad match in these days for a girl to marry
an honest woodcutter who has his own cottage and perhaps a little money
hidden away, too." He leered cunningly. "You see I am trusting you,
Peter Petrovitch. I know you are not the kind that would rob an honest
woodcutter. But it is a fact, I assure you--I have hundreds of silver
roubles buried in the ground beneath this cottage. Think of it--and you
are, without doubt, a poor man!"

"I am a poor man, it is true, but I certainly would not rob you."

"I know that, brother. As soon as I saw you coming along the road I
thought--Here comes an honest man. And honest men are rare in these
days--nearly as rare as gold roubles, eh? Or shall we say nearly as rare
as a good-looking woman?"

A.J. conversed with him amiably for a time and then, as it was quite
dark and Dorenko possessed no lamp, suggested settling down for the
night. He was, in fact, dead tired, and he knew that Daly (as he had
already begun to think of her) must be the same. He arranged for her to
have the best place--near the fire and for that reason not so popular
with the cockroaches; he and Dorenko shared the ground nearer the door.
He was so sleepy that he felt almost afraid of going to sleep; he
guessed that in any emergency he would be hard to awaken. However,
Dorenko seemed trustworthy and there was always the revolver at hand. He
lay down with it carefully concealed beneath the bundle of clothes that
formed his pillow. Neither he nor Daly undressed at all, but Dorenko
took off his outer clothes and performed the most intimate ritual of
toilet quite frankly and shamelessly in the darkness. A decent, honest
fellow, no doubt.

A.J. went to sleep almost instantly and knew nothing thenceforward till
he felt himself being energetically shaken. "What's the matter?" he
cried, rubbing his eyes and groping for his revolver. It was still dark
and all was perfectly silent except for the scurry of cockroaches
disturbed by his sudden movement. "It's only me, brother--Dorenko the
woodcutter," came a hoarse whisper a few inches from his right ear. "I
waited till your daughter was asleep so that we could have a little talk
together in private."

"But I'm really far too sleepy to talk--"

"Ah, but listen, brother. You are a poor man, are you not?"

"Certainly, but does it matter at this time of night?"

"It matters a great deal when you have to tramp the roads with a poor
sick daughter. She looked so very tired and ill to-night, brother--it's
plain she isn't used to walking the roads."

"Of course she isn't--as I told you, she's been used to a much more
delicate life."

"In a fine house no doubt, eh, brother? Ah, that's it--it's a home she
wants--a roof over her head--not to be tramping the roads all day long.
And you--wouldn't you be able to get to Petrograd quicker without her?
After all, a man can rough things, but it's different when he has a girl
dragging along with him." He added in a fierce whisper: "Brother,
haven't you ever thought of her getting married to some decent
hardworking fellow who, maybe, has a comfortable house and a bit of
money put away? I'm a good fellow, I assure you, though I am only a
woodcutter, and to tell the truth, your daughter's just the kind of
woman I've been looking out for ever since my poor wife died. And you
shall have a hundred silver roubles for yourself, brother, if you give
her to me."

A.J. was still too sleepy to be either amused or annoyed. He said
merely: "Dorenko, it's quite out of the question. My daughter, I know,
wouldn't consider it."

"But if, as her father, you ordered her to?"

"She wouldn't, even then."

"She would disobey you?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Ah, I sympathise. My own daughter was like that--disobedient to her own
father. It is a dreadful thing to have children like that. All the same,
brother, I will make it a hundred and fifty roubles for you if you could
manage to persuade her."

"No, Dorenko, it's no use--it's impossible."

"Not because I am only a woodcutter?"

"Oh no, by no means. Not in the least for that reason."

"Ah, Peter Petrovitch, you are a good fellow like myself, I can see. It
is a pity we could not have come to some arrangement. However, perhaps
it is God's will that I should look elsewhere. Good-night--Good-night."

A.J. was soon asleep again and did not wake till the sunlight was
pouring through the narrow window. Dorenko was already up and preparing
a breakfast meal. He did not refer to the matter he had broached during
the night, and after a homely meal the two travellers thanked him and
set out to continue their journey. A.J. would have liked to offer him
money, but that such generosity would not have suited the story of being
poor.

Dorenko had given them directions before starting, telling them how they
might travel so as to avoid the village which the soldiers had raided,
and reach another less dangerous one by the end of the day. The route
led them through the forest for several miles and then along a narrow
winding track amidst the hills. It was again very hot in the middle of
the day. They slept for a time in the shade of the pines, and then,
towards evening, walked into a small town named Saratursk, whose
market-place was full of Red soldiers, bedraggled and badly disciplined
after long marches. It was hardly likely that they could be bothering
about a casual forest murder, for much more serious events had happened
during the past twenty-four hours. The Whites and the Czecho-Slovaks,
acting together, had crossed the Urals and were reported in rapid
invasion; the entire Revolution seemed in danger. All day long a
steadily increasing stream of refugees had been entering Saratursk from
the east; A.J. and Daly were but two out of thousands, and quite
inconspicuous. They found it impossible to obtain any food except black
bread at an extortionate price, and every room in the town was full of
sleepers. Fortunately the night was warm, and it was not unpleasant to
spread out one's bundle on the cobbled stones and breathe the mountainy
air. Sleep, however, was interrupted by the constant noise and shouting;
fresh detachments of soldiers were entering the town from the west and
south and reuniting with their comrades already in possession. They were
a fierce-looking crowd, all of them, dressed in shabby, tattered, and
nondescript uniforms--dirty, unkempt, heavy with fatigue. They had no
obvious leaders, but throughout the night they held meetings in the
market-square to elect new officers. There was much fervid oratory and
cheering. The news of the White advance had put them in considerable
consternation, for they themselves were badly armed--only one man in
five or six possessing a rifle. The rest carried swords, knives, and
even sticks. Some of them had been dragged out of hospitals too soon,
and still wore dirty red-stained bandages. This curious, slatternly
throng was, for the moment, all that stood between Moscow and
counter-revolution.

All night long the hubbub proceeded, and soon after dawn something--but
it was not clear exactly what--was decided upon. A few squads of men
marched out of the town to the east; the rest, apparently, were to
follow later. But shortly afterwards came a sharp outbreak of rifle-fire
among the hills behind the town, and in less than an hour the original
squads returned in a condition bordering on panic. The hills, they
reported, were already in the hands of White outposts; Saratursk must be
abandoned instantly. Whereupon soldiers, civilians, and refugees
immediately gathered up as many of their personal possessions as they
could and took part in a furious stampede to the west. The road was
narrow--no more than a mere track--and military wagons jammed and
collided into an immovable obstruction during the first quarter-mile.
The wagons were full of ammunition and other military equipment, and
after a vain attempt to disentangle the chaos the soldiers unloaded the
stores and carried them forward on their backs. The sun rose blindingly
on weary men staggering ahead with glazed and desperate eyes, straining
the utmost nerve to put distance between themselves and a relentless
enemy. Some of them, tired of scuffles in the roadway, took to the open
fields and blundered on, with no guide to direction save the blaze of
the sun on their backs. All through the morning came intermittent bursts
of rifle-fire, each one rather nearer, it seemed; and there was a fresh
outbreak of panic when a small child, fleeing with her parents, was
struck and slightly injured by a spent bullet. Towards noon the rout was
already becoming more than many could endure; refugees and even soldiers
were collapsing by dozens along the roadside, throwing themselves face
downwards in the dust and writhing convulsively. Some of them seemed to
be dying, and there were rumours that White spies in Saratursk had put
poison in the drinking-water from which many of the fugitives had filled
their bottles.

A.J., hastening onwards, felt suddenly very ill himself. Severe internal
pains gripped him, and at last he guessed that he was on the verge of
collapse. He staggered and fell, tried to rise again, but could not; all
the earth and the wide sky swam in circles before his eyes. He had to
say: "I can't go on any further. I'm ill." And to himself he added that
Fate, after all, was giving her the chance she had been wishing for; she
could escape now, quite easily, and he had no power to stop her.

He knew that she was raising his head and staring into his eyes. "Is
there anything I can do?" she asked.

"Nothing at all for me. But for yourself--well, you have only to go back
into Saratursk and meet your friends."

"They'll find me here if I stay."

"Yes, but in that case they'd find me, too, and I don't fancy being
taken prisoner. Besides, there's bound to be firing along this road.
Take the papers out of my coat--they'll prove who you are."

"And yourself?"

"I shall manage, I daresay, with luck."

"You want me to leave you here?"

"I think you ought to take the chance that offers itself. If you stay,
there'll only be greater danger to both of us. So go now--and hurry.
Don't forget the papers."

"You are letting me go, then?"

"Circumstances compel me, that's all."

"It--it is--good of you. I hope you manage yourself all right."

"Most probably I shall if I'm not found with you. Take the papers."

"Good-bye."

"Yes, but the papers--the papers--in the lining of my coat."

He felt her hands searching him; he heard her say something, but he
could not gather what--he was fast sinking into unconsciousness. Ages
seemed to pass; at intervals he opened his eyes and heard great
commotion proceeding all around and over him. Successive waves of pain
assaulted and left him gasping with weakness. It was dark when he
finally awoke. Pain was ebbing by then, and his strength with it. Queer
sounds still echoed in his ears--murmurs as of distant shouting, distant
rifle-fire. The starlight shone a pale radiance over the earth; he saw
that he was lying in a sort of gully and that, a few yards away, there
was something that looked like another man. He called 'Hello!' but there
was no answer. Perhaps the fellow was asleep. He was suddenly anxious to
meet somebody, to speak a word to somebody. There had been a battle, he
guessed, and it would be interesting to learn whether the Whites or the
Reds had been victorious. It hardly seemed to matter very much, but,
just out of curiosity, as it were, he would like to know. And Daly, his
prisoner, had she by now been safely received and identified by her
friends?...God, how thirsty he was--he would offer that man some money
in return for a drink of anything but poisoned water. Slowly, and with
greater difficulty than he had expected, he crawled along the gully
towards the huddled figure. Then he perceived that the man was
dead--killed by a smashing blow in the face. That, for all that he had
seen so many dead bodies in his time, unnerved him a little; he stared
round him a little vaguely, as if uncertain how to interpret the
discovery. Then he rose unsteadily to his feet and began to stagger
about. He climbed on to the roadway and up the sloping bank on to the
pale stubble fields. He walked a little way--a few hundred yards--and
then saw another dead man. Then another. A man with his head nearly
blown off at close range. A man huddled in the final writhings of a
bayonet-thrust through the stomach. A man covered with blood from a
drained and severed artery. Most of the dead, from their uniforms, were
Reds; a few only could have belonged to the other side. Sickly qualms
overspread him as he wandered aimlessly among these huddled figures.
Then he suddenly heard a cry. It seemed to come from a distance; he
turned slightly and heard it again. "Brother!" it called. He walked
towards it. "What is it?" he whispered, and the reply came: "Are you not
wounded, brother?"--"No," he answered, and the voice rejoined: "Neither
am I. Come here."

He approached a prostrate form that proved to be a Red soldier whose
face was ghastly with congealed blood. Only, as the man explained with
immediate cheerfulness, it was not his own blood. "Brother," he said, "I
am an old soldier and I know from experience what war is like. It is all
very fine if you are winning easily, but it is unpleasant when you are
being attacked by a much stronger enemy. The best thing to do at such a
time, in my opinion, is to fall down and pretend to be dead. Then, if
you are lucky, the enemy doesn't bother about you. I have saved my life
three times by this method--twice with the Germans and once again today.
I suppose you too, brother, did the same?"

"No," answered A.J. "I fell ill in the morning and that's all I
remember."

"Ah, yes, it happened to so many of our poor fellows. Some White spy
poisoned the water in Saratursk--a disgusting way of carrying on war, I
call it. Not that I'm tremendously against the Whites--I believe they
give their soldiers very good pay. For myself, I have a great mind to go
into Saratursk to-morrow and join them. Do you feel like coming with me,
brother?"

"No, thanks."

"Mind you, I wouldn't do it if the Reds were as generous. I really
_prefer_ the Reds, really. But a soldier's job, after all, is to fight,
and if he gets good food and pay, why should he bother what side he
fights on? It isn't for him to pick and choose. That's how I feel about
it. Would you like something to eat, brother?"

"I should indeed."

"Then sit here with me. I have some bread and a sausage. I'm afraid I
was rather scared at first when I woke up and saw you walking about. I
thought you were a ghost--they say there are ghosts that haunt
battlefields, you know. Yes, it was a sharp little fight, but our men
stood no chance at all--every man on the other side had a rifle and
ammunition. It was ridiculous to make a stand."

"Where are the Whites now?"

"Still chasing our poor fellows, I expect. Whereas you and I, my friend,
have had the sense to let them pass over us. We are all right. Two
hours' walk and we shall be in the woods, and an army corps wouldn't
find us there. Do you know this part of the country?"

"Not very well."

"Then after our little meal I will take you along. Perhaps, after all, I
need not be in any hurry to enlist with the Whites. A few days' rest
first of all, anyhow. We have three hours vet before dawn. If we hurry
we shall reach the woods in good time."

They ate quickly but with enjoyment, and then began the walk over the
stubble fields. During the first mile or so they passed many dead
bodies, but after that the signs of battle grew less evident. They
avoided the road, along which White military wagons were still tearing
westward in the rear of the pursuing army. A.J. wondered if there were
not some danger of their being found and taken prisoner, but his
companion, whose name was Oblimov, seemed quite confident of being able
to reach the hills in safety. He had thrown away his soldier's cap and
the rest of his clothing was certainly so nondescript that it could
convey little to any observer. "Besides," he said, "if anyone questions
us, we can say we are White refugees returning to our homes."

They skirted Saratursk on the north side, working their way through
orchards and private gardens, and passing within sight of several big
houses in which lights were visible. In one of them the blinds had not
been lowered, and they could sec that a party of some kind was in
progress. White officers were drinking and shouting, and there carne
also, tinkling over the night air, the sound of women's laughter. A.J.
wondered if his former prisoner were there, or in some other such house,
celebrating her freedom and rescue. Oblimov said: "They will soon drink
away their victory." It certainly looked as if many of the White
officers had preferred Saratursk to the continued pursuit of the enemy.

They reached the lower slopes of the hills just as the first tint of
dawn appeared, and by the time the sun rose they were high amongst the
woods. A.J. was by now beginning to feel very comfortable amongst the
pine trees; he liked their clean, sharp tang and the rustle of fir-cones
under his feet. He was tired, however, after the climb, and also, beyond
his relief, rather depressed. The world seemed a sadly vague and
pointless kind of place, with its continual movement of armies and
refugees, and its battles and tragedies and separations. He kept
wondering how his prisoner had fared. He did not particularly regret her
escape; he had done his best, but Fate had out-manoeuvred him.
Nine-tenths of life seemed always to consist of letting things happen.

Oblimov was an excellent and resourceful companion. He made a fire and
boiled tea, and while A.J. slept in the dappled sunshine he raided a
woodman's cottage in the valley and came back with bread and meat. He
also brought some coarse tobacco, which he smoked joyously during the
whole of the afternoon. He was a great talker and looked on life in a
mood of pleasant fatalism. Soldiering was doubtless the worst job in the
world, but what else was there for a man of his type? He had no home; he
couldn't settle down. And soldiers did, in a sense, see the world. They
met people, too--people they would never have met otherwise--"like
yourself, brother. We came across each other on the battlefield,
surrounded by dead men, and now we are yarning in a wood with our
bellies full and the blue sky over us. To-morrow, maybe, we shall say
good-bye and never see each other again. But is it not worth while? And
will you ever forget me, or I you?"

He went on to tell of his many experiences; he had been fighting, he
said, for years--ever since he had been a young man. He had fought for
the Serbs in the first Balkan War and against the Serbs in the second
Balkan War, and in the Great War, of course, he had fought the Germans.
But that war had not pleased him at all, and after a year of it he had
allowed himself to be taken prisoner. Fie admitted it quite frankly; his
view of war was a strictly professional and trade union one: if soldiers
were not treated properly, why should they go on performing their job?
Two years in a German prison-camp had not been pleasant, but they had
been preferable, he believed, to what he might have had to endure
otherwise. The return of the prisoners to Russia after the Treaty of
Brest-Litovsk had brought him back again to normal life--that of
ordinary, rational soldiering. "A soldier does not mind occasionally
risking his life," he explained, "nor does he object to a battle now and
again or a few tiring marches across country. But to stand in a frozen
trench for weeks on end is another matter--it isn't fair to ask such a
thing of any man." The warfare between Reds and Whites was much more to
his taste--the localness of it, its sudden bursts of activity, its
continual changes of scene, and its almost limitless chances of loot and
personal adventure--all agreed with him. He did not much care on which
side he fought; lie had already fought on both and would doubtless do so
again. "But personally," he added, "I am a man of the people."

His completely detached attitude towards life and affairs prompted A.J.
to confide in him more than it was his habit to confide in
acquaintances. He told him briefly about the 'daughter' with whom he had
been wandering and from whom he had become separated during the
excitements of the day before. What was really on his mind was whether
she was likely to have been decently treated by the White soldiers
before the proving of her identity. To Oblimov, of course, he merely
expressed his anxieties as a father. Oblimov was sympathetic, but hardly
reassuring. "What will happen to her depends on what sort of a girl she
is," he declared concisely. "If she is pretty and not pure she will have
a very good time. If she is pure and not pretty she will be left alone.
But if she is pretty and wishes to remain pure..." He left the sentence
unfinished. "Women," he added, "are really not worth worrying about,
anyway, and evidently you think so too, else you would be searching
Saratursk for your daughter at this present moment instead of enjoying
the sunshine." A.J. was a little startled by this acuteness. Oblimov
laughed and went on: "Brother, you cannot deceive an old soldier. I
believe she is not your daughter at all, but your wife or mistress, and
you are more than half glad to be rid of her! Don't be offended--I know
you think you are very fond of her and are worried about her safety. But
I can see that deep down in your heart you do not care."

He went on talking about women in general, and A.J. went on listening
until both occupations were suddenly interrupted by a sound that came to
them very clearly across the valley. It was the sharp rattle of
machine-gun fire. Oblimov, all his professional instincts aroused,
scented the air like a startled hound. "It looks as if the battle's
moving back on the village," he said. "Let's go down a little and see if
we can judge what's happening."

They picked their way amongst the trees till they reached a small
clearing whence could be seen the whole of the valley. Machine-gun and
rifle-fire was by that time intense, and a thin chain of white smoke
ringed the town on the further side. Already a few cavalry wagons were
leaving Saratursk by the mountain road. By late afternoon the battle was
over and its results were obvious; the Reds had retaken the town and the
Whites were in full retreat to the east. "Now," advised Oblimov, "we had
better move along ourselves. If the Whites are pursued too hard, some of
them may hide in these woods, and it would be just as well for us not to
be found with them." So they descended the hillside and walked boldly
into Saratursk. There was no danger of their being noticed or
questioned; the recaptured town was in far too much uproar and chaos.
The earlier victory of the Whites had been due largely to the poisoning
of the water that the Red soldiers had drunk; many more men had died of
that than of battle-wounds, and the survivors were disposed to take
revenge. The whole place, they said, was White in sympathy, and it was
certainly true that the more prosperous shopkeepers and private citizens
had loaded gifts upon White officers. Now they wished they had been more
discreet. As the victorious Reds lurched into the town, drunk with that
highly dangerous mixture of triumph and fatigue, the shopkeepers put up
their shutters and made themselves as inconspicuous as possible. All the
omens were for an exciting night.

Oblimov soon joined his soldier companions, but A.J. preferred to mingle
with the crowd that surged up and down the main street. It was a hot,
swaying, tempestuous, and increasingly bad-tempered multitude. The
market-place, packed with wounded Reds for whom there was no hospital
accommodation and hardly any but the most elementary medical treatment,
acted as a perpetual incitement to already inflamed passions. Amidst
this acre of misery the town doctor and a few helpers worked their way
tirelessly, but there was little that could be done, since the
retreating Whites had commandeered all medical supplies--even to
bandages and surgical instruments. This was bad enough, but even worse
to many was the fact that the Whites seemed also to have drunk the whole
town dry. There was not a bottle of beer or a dram of vodka in any of
the inns, and the litter of empty bottles in all the gutters told its
own significant tale. The first 'incident' was caused by this. A few
soldiers, refusing to believe that there was absolutely no drink to be
had at all, insisted on inspecting the cellar of one of the inns. There
they found a couple of bottles of champagne. They drank without much
enthusiasm, for they preferred stronger stuff, and then wrecked the
inn-keeper's premises. The news of the affair soon spread and led to a
systematic search, not only of inns, but of private houses. In many
cases the terrified occupants handed over any liquor they possessed;
where they did not, or had none to hand over, the soldiers usually went
about smashing pictures and furniture amidst wild shouts and caperings.
All this time the town was becoming more crowded; soldiers were still
pouring in from the west, and these later arrivals, having endured more
prolonged hardships, were in fiercer moods. Towards eight o'clock the
rumour went round that a certain local lawyer had been responsible for
the poisoning of the water-supply the day before. The man, who was
hiding in his house, was dragged out into the middle of the street and
clubbed to death. This only whetted appetites; between eight and
midnight, perhaps a dozen citizens, mostly shopkeepers and professional
men, were killed in various ways and places. Then the even more exciting
rumour gained currency that a whole houseful of Whites, including
high-born officers and ladies, were in hiding about a mile out of the
town, their retreat having been cut off by the Reds' rapid advance. The
village schoolmaster saved his life by giving details of this
illustrious colony; it included, he said, no less a personage than the
Countess Marie Alexandra Adraxinc, well known in pre-Revolution
Petersburg society, and distantly connected with the family of the
ex-Emperor. She had been passing as a peasant, continued the informative
schoolmaster, and had caused a great sensation among the White officers
by declaring and establishing her true identity. Many of them had known
her in former times, and a great party had been held both in her honour
and to celebrate the glorious White victory of Saratursk. And it was the
effects of this and similar parties that had helped towards the equally
glorious Red victory that had so immediately followed.

Some of the crowd were for marching on the house and storming it, but
the Red leader, a shrewd, capable fellow, was impressed by the political
importance of the prisoners and anxious to act with due circumspection.
Let a few local shopkeepers be butchered by all means, but countesses
and highly-placed White officers were too valuable to be wasted on the
mob. Besides, being a person of good memory and methodical mind, he
seemed to recollect that there had already been some bother about that
particular countess; she had been captured in Siberia, hadn't she, and
had been on her way to Moscow in charge of some local commissar when,
somehow or other, the two had escaped from the train and had not been
heard of since? The beautiful countess and the susceptible
commissar--what a theme for a comic opera! General Polahkin, whose
victory over the Whites had been due partly to military ability but
chiefly to the sudden and almost miraculous repair of a couple of
machine-guns, smiled to himself as he gave orders that the house should
be surrounded, arid that, if its occupants gave themselves up, they
should be conducted unharmed to the town jail.

This operation was carried out without a hitch, and towards three
o'clock in the morning the little procession entered the town. There
were about a dozen White officers, whose resplendent uniforms and
dejected faces contrasted piquantly with the shabby greatcoats and
triumphant faces of their guards. There were five women also--dressed in
a weird assortment of clothes, some of them walking painfully in
ballroom slippers, and all rather pale and weary-looking. All except one
gave occasional terrified glances at the jeering crowds that lined the
streets to the prison entrance. The exception was the woman whose name
everyone now knew--the woman who (according to a story that was being
improved on, saga-Eke, with every telling) had beguiled a commissar into
escaping with her and had then, somehow or other, escaped from him! The
crowd were not disposed to be too unfriendly towards such a magnificent
adventuress, and if she had only played the actress well enough, they
were quite drunk enough to have cheered her. But she did not act the
right part, and her appearance, too, was disappointingly unromantic. She
gazed ahead with calm and level eyes, as if she were not caring either
for them or for anything in the world.

When the captives were safely locked in the prison, the crowd, suffering
a kind of reaction, began a systematic looting of the shops. They were,
in truth, disconcerted by the tameness of what had promised to be highly
exciting, and now worked out their spleen as best they could. Po did not
object; loot was, after all, the perquisite of the poorly-paid soldier.
By dawn the town presented a forlorn appearance; every window in the
main street had been smashed and the gutters were full of broken glass
and miscellaneous articles that had been stolen, broken, and then thrown
away. Some of the local peasants, professing violently Red feelings, had
taken part in the looting, and they, perhaps, had made most out of it,
since they had homes in which they could store whatever they took. One
small cottage attracted attention by having the end of a piano sticking
out of the doorway; the acquirer could not play, but banged heavily with
his fists to indicate his delight.

The following day was to some extent anti-climax; the revellers were
tired and spent most of the time sleeping off the effects of the
carousal. In the afternoon, however, fresh Red reinforcements arrived
from the west--men of even more violent temperament than those already
in possession, and accompanied, moreover, by several fluent and
apparently professional orators who harangued the crowd in the
market-place with unceasing eloquence. Polahkin, it soon appeared, was
unpopular with these new arrivals; they doubted his 'redness,' and were
particularly incensed because he had permitted the White captives to
retain their lives.

A.J., mingling during the day with the crowds in the town and sleeping
at nights on the bare boards of an inn-floor, could sense the keying of
the atmosphere to higher and more dangerous levels. He did not feel any
particular apprehension, still less any indignation; he had seen too
many horrors for either. Every barbarism perpetrated by the Reds could
be balanced by some other perpetrated by the Whites; the scales of
bloodshed and cruelty balanced with almost exquisite exactness. There
was also a point of experience beyond which even the imagination had no
power to terrify, and A.J. had reached such a point. What he felt was
rather, in its way, a sort of selfishness; out of all the chaos and
wretchedness that surrounded him he felt inclined to seize hold of
anything that mattered to him locally and personally in any way. And so
little, when he came to think of it, _did_ matter to him. Up to now he
had been a blind automaton, letting Fate push him whither it chose and
calmly accepting any task that was nearest. He had not cared; at
Khalinsk he had been kind and wise and hard-working, but he had not
cared. Yet now, for the first time, he felt a curious uprise of
personality, a sort of you-be-damnedness entering his soul as he paced
the streets and observed, still quite coldly, the wreckage of a world
that cared as little for him as he for it.

Only very gradually did he perceive that he wanted the woman to escape.
To any normally-minded person it would have seemed an absurd enough
want, for the prison was strongly and carefully guarded. But A.J., just
then, was not normally-minded. The more he tried to reconcile himself to
the fact that his former prisoner would eventually he shot, like
hundreds of other pleasant and possibly innocent persons, the more he
felt committed to some kind of personal and intrepid intervention. But
how, and when? He guessed that the revolutionary ardour of the soldiers
would soon boil over and lead to the overthrow of Polahkin and the
massacre of the White prisoners; he had seen that sort of thing happen
too often not to recognise the familiar preliminary portents. Whatever
was to be done must be done quickly--yet what could be done? He did not
know in which part of the prison she was kept, nor even whether she were
alone or with others. No doubt, wherever she was, she was being well
guarded as one of the star-turns of some future entertainment.

At the prison entrance there was always a Red soldier on guard, and it
was through these men alone that A.J. fancied he could accomplish
anything. He silent many an hour furtively watching them and speculating
which of them might be most likely to be useful for his purpose. At last
he singled out a rough, fierce-looking fellow whom, about midnight, when
the street was fairly quiet, he saw accept a small package from a
passing stranger and transfer it guiltily to his own pocket. A.J. took
the chance that thus offered itself.

"Good-evening, comrade," he began, walking up to the man a moment later
and looking him sternly between the eyes. "Do you usually do that sort
of thing?"

It was a blind shot, but a lucky one. The guard, for all his fierce
appearance, was a coward as soon as he thought himself discovered. He
obviously took A.J. for an official spy who had been set deliberately to
watch him, and A.J. did not disabuse him of the notion. He soon drove
the fellow to an abject confession that he had been systematically
smuggling tobacco into the prison for the benefit of the White officers.
"Only tobacco, your honour," he insisted, and produced from his pocket
the little packet he had just received. "You know, your honour, how hard
it is for a poor soldier to make a living in these days, and the White
officers who are going to be shot very soon, promised me twenty roubles
for this little packet. After all, your honour, I don't have the chances
that some of our men get--I had to be here on duty all that night when
they were looting the shops."

"That was unfortunate," said A.J. dryly. "All the same, you must be
aware of the penalties for smuggling things into the prison?"

"Yes, your honour, but surely you wouldn't wish to get a poor man into
serious trouble--"

And so on. After a quarter of an hour or so A.J. felt he had succeeded
pretty well. He had learned all about the positions and arrangements of
the prisoners, their daily habits, and the way in which they were
guarded; and, most important of all, he had given the guard a note to be
delivered secretly to the Countess. He wrote it in French; it merely
said that he was on the spot and ready to help her to escape, and that
she must be prepared to do her share in any way and at any time he
should command. He told the guard it was merely a family message. "I am
a Red," he added, "but I do not see what harm there can be in treating a
woman prisoner with ordinary courtesy. No more harm, anyway, than in
smuggling tobacco for the men." The guard agreed eagerly. "You are quite
right, your honour--and I have said the same, even to my comrades. Why
not be more civil and polite to people before you shoot them? It is not
the shooting that makes so much bad feeling but treating people like
dogs."

The next time the guard was on duty A.J. received back his note together
with an answer. It was a verbal one--merely a conventional 'Thank you,'
which, though not very enlightening, seemed, in the circumstances,
sufficient. He felt, anyhow, that something was being accomplished. He
knew that she was in a ground-floor cell overlooking a yard which was
patrolled by sentries day and night. Any romantic escapade with ropes
and ladders was thus out of the question. The tobacco-smuggling guard,
whose name was Balkin, had stressed how carefully she was watched, and
after much thought and the formation of many tentative plans, A.J.
reached the conclusion that escape could only take place, if at all,
during some general commotion that would temporarily upset the prison
routine. This, as clays passed, seemed more likely to happen, for the
clamour of the extremists increased and there were strong rumours that
at any moment Polahkin's writ might cease to run. Then no doubt, there
would be a brief civil war, culminating in a mob-attack on the prison
and the massacre of its occupants.

A.J. argued thus: the attack on the prison would probably take place at
night, if only because at such a time men's spirits were always most
inflamed with speechmaking and drink. The prison-guards might or might
not attempt any resistance, but in either case it was unlikely that the
regular routine of the sentry-patrol would remain unaffected. Most
likely there would be either fighting or hilarious fraternisation. In
the darkness a good many of the invaders would not know where they were,
or where to look for the prisoners; there would be confusion of all
kinds. Most fortunately, as it happened, the Countess's cell was among
the last that could be reached, being the end one in a long corridor.
And let into the corridor wall close by was an ordinary unbarred window
overlooking the yard. If only the prisoner were once outside her cell,
it would not be too difficult to climb out through that window. A.J. did
not wish to rely too much on Balkin's assistance, for he did not seem a
man of either trustworthiness or intelligence; the only promise to be
exacted was that, as soon as there might be any hint of trouble, he
should slip a small revolver through the bars of the cell. "You sec,
Balkin, you are a kindhearted fellow, and I don't mind telling you the
truth--the poor creature wishes to kill herself rather than fall into
the hands of the soldiers. Personally, I sympathise with her in that,
and you also, I am sure, will feel the same. Is it not enough that she
should die, without being torn to pieces to amuse a crowd? Let her have
a decent death--the sort that a soldier, if he could choose, would ask
for." Balkin, greatly stirred, put his hand sentimentally on A.J.'s
shoulder. "You are quite right, your honour. It is only fair that she
should die properly. Why, I will shoot her myself rather than let her
fall into the hands of those ruffians!"

"No, no--all you need do is to give her the revolver. She is no coward,
and would rather do the job in her own way. It is more dignified--more
seemly. Do you not understand?"

Balkin at length and with great melancholy admitted that he did
understand; and he agreed also to take a further message to the woman.
A.J. wrote it out and handed it over with the revolver.

That was in the morning; from all outward indications the crisis was
likely to develop that night. Polahkin had already been openly insulted
in the streets, and a brutal loutish Jew named Aronstein had been
haranguing the crowd all afternoon. The actual _coup d'état_ took place
about seven o'clock. Polahkin was arrested and Aronstein duly 'elected'
in his place. One by one all the official buildings in the town went
over to the extremist party, and at last came the inevitable attack on
the prison. Aronstein had promised the attackers that not a single
counter-revolutionary life should be spared, and in such a mood of
anticipated blood-lust the mob surged round the building. The guard at
the entrance-gate offered no resistance, and within a few moments the
invaders were pouring into the inner courtyard.

A.J., in a narrow lane behind the prison, waited with keen anxiety. At
first it seemed that the whole affair was being conducted far too
methodically, but soon the traditional chaos of all insurgency began to
be evident. He could hear the shouts of the crowd; then he saw the
sentries suddenly run from their posts in the prison-yard, from which
the lane was separated only by tall iron railings. That was his signal
for action. He walked along the railings quickly till he reached a
certain spot; then he halted and listened. There was a loud commotion
proceeding inside the prison--shoutings and screamings and
revolver-shots; it was difficult to judge exactly the right moment.
However, the lane looked quite deserted, and in the darkness it would be
hard to see him in any case. He got hold of two of the iron railings and
lifted them out of their sockets. He knew from previous observation
that those particular railings were loose, for he had seen the sentries
lift them out to admit women into the yard.

He waited for several minutes, refusing rather than unable to draw
conclusions from what he could hear; he knew that noise could mean
anything and everything; he knew also that Balkin was stupid and perhaps
unreliable, that he might do the totally wrong thing, or else just
nothing at all, either from error, slackness, or malice. He knew that
the chance he had planned for was fantastically slender, that at a dozen
points there were even odds of disaster. And he knew, too, that even if
the miracle did happen, there were still further miracles to be
accomplished in leaving the town and reaching comparative safety.

Then suddenly he saw a dim and shadowy figure rushing across the yard.
He gave a loud cough; the figure stopped for a fraction of a second,
changed its direction slightly, and came rushing towards him. He said
softly: "Here--here--through here. Wait--T must put them back
afterwards. Take this coat--I have another underneath. Quickly--but keep
calm. Are you hurt at all?"

"No."

"You managed it all right?"

"Yes--I had to fire into the lock three times--it's surprising how
little damage a bullet can do." She laughed quietly.

"Don't laugh. Don't talk either, now. Put your collar up. If we meet
anybody, we must be drunk. There are clothes hidden in a field for you."

The greatcoat was useful in making her look, at any considerable
distance, like an ordinary Red soldier; at any nearer encounter the
semblance of drunkenness would give them their best chance. A Red
soldier, half tipsy, taking a half-tipsy woman towards the outskirts of
the town was not an unusual sight, and for the woman to be wearing a
soldier's coat was common enough in days when currency depreciation was
making payment in kind increasingly popular.

They passed several people on their way and the stratagem seemed to
succeed. One of the passers-by, a soldier, called out to ask what was
happening in the town; A.J. replied, with fuddled intonation, that he
rather thought the prison was being attacked. "Ah," answered the other,
laughing, "but I see you've evidently got something more important to do
than join in, eh?" A.J. laughed, and the woman laughed too, and they
passed on.

They reached the end of the town and climbed over the roadside into the
fields. Hidden in a ditch were the clothes he had carefully obtained and
carefully placed in position an hour before; it was a relief to find
them, for there had always been the possibility of their being found and
stolen in the interval. The clothes consisted of a more or less complete
military outfit, including top-boots and a shabby peaked cap such as
soldier or civilian might equally be wearing.

"Well?" she whispered, as he showed them to her. "So I am to be your
obedient prisoner once again?"

He did not answer, except to urge her to dress quickly. Her own clothes,
as she discarded them, he rolled into a bundle--it would not be safe to
leave them behind. She was very calm; that was a good thing, yet he
wondered if she realised that difficulties were beginning rather than
ending, and that in a short while hundreds of blood-drunken searchers
would be scouring the district for the escaped White countess. One thing
he was sure of--the peasant disguise would never work a second time near
Saratursk. Everyone knew that she had escaped as a peasant before;
everyone would be prepared for the same disguise again. There was only
the slender chance that as two soldiers they might escape through the
cordon into safer country.

"Please hurry," he said again. "And we had better not talk much."

"I'm ready now, except for the boots."

"Let me do them."

He knelt on one knee and laced them quickly.

She whispered, looking down at him in the darkness: "You are very, very
kind."

"It will be safer not to talk just yet--your voice, you know. And when
you do talk, you must call me 'Tovarish'--it's the word the soldiers
use. We must be very careful, even in details."

"Yes, of course. I understand. Now I'm ready."

"Good. We must try to get a long way into the forests by daylight."

"Still _en route_ for Moscow, I suppose?"

He answered, shouldering his bundle and helping her quickly over the
uneven ground: "No. I have decided to accept your suggestion and will
try to get you to the coast, where you can take ship for abroad. Now
don't answer me--don't talk at all just save all your strength for the
long journey."



PART IV


He stood on the summit of the first low ridge that lifted out of the
long level of the plains. Dawn was creeping over the horizon; distant
and below lay the clustered roofs of the town. He and his companion had
stopped for but a moment, to share bread and water together; she was so
tired that she was already half asleep on the springy turf.

He stared strangely upon that refreshing August dawn, yet in his own
mind, for some reason, he saw another picture--a frozen Arctic river
under sunshine, all still and stiff, and then suddenly the splitting
shiver of the ice-crust and the surge of water over the quickening land.
He felt as if something like that were happening within himself. "Come
now," he said, picking up the bundles. She was asleep and he had to
waken her. She smiled without a word and stumbled forward.

He dared not have allowed more than that moment's halt, for though they
had had good fortune so far, there was still danger, and perhaps the
greatest of all now that daylight had come. They plunged on and on as
the glow in the eastern sky deepened and became glorified by sunrise;
over pine-covered ridges and down into little lonely valleys, through
swishing gullies of dead leaves and round curving slopes whence
Saratursk, glimpsed between tree-trunks, seemed ever further away yet
ever dangerously near. By ten o'clock they had covered seven or eight
miles, and were already deep in the foothill forests; but she was so
tired that she could not take another step. There was nothing for it but
to rest for at least a few moments. They sat on a fallen tree-trunk and
she was asleep again instantly, with her head leaning forward into her
hands.

He was tired himself and after a short time, being afraid of falling
asleep also, he got up and moved about. Ten minutes--a quarter of an
hour--might be enough to give her just the needful strength to scramble
a few miles further. Even during those few minutes, he guessed, pursuers
would be gaining on them. He had no illusions or false optimism; he knew
that the escape must have been discovered within a few hours, at most,
of its taking place, and that immense efforts would certainly be made to
recapture such a fugitive. He had seen the whole routine carried through
so often before--a price upon some prisoner, dead or alive--a whole army
setting out on perhaps the cruellest and therefore the most
intoxicatingly thrilling game in the world--a man-hunt. And a woman-hunt
would be even a degree better than that. Then suddenly, even while he
was pondering over it, he heard, very faintly in the distance, a shrill
whistle, and, a few seconds later, a still fainter whistle answering it.
The hunt had begun already.

He touched the woman on the shoulder, but it was no use--he had to shake
her thoroughly to get her awake. He said quietly: "We must hide for a
time--I think searchers are somewhere in the woods." She answered in a
dazed way: "All right. I'm ready." He helped her to her feet and they
moved away, he with eyes alert for a good hiding-place.

He was fortunate in finding one quite soon. A steep valley ended in a
lame and desolate tract of undergrowth amidst whose tangle there seemed
a good chance of escaping notice. Even if pursuers ever reached it, they
would not be likely to give every thicket the attention it deserved. He
plunged eagerly into the bushes and for ten minutes, out of sight of the
world around them, they both wriggled further and deeper into the dense
undergrowth. At last the seemingly perfect spot revealed itself--a
little hollow hidden behind thick brambles and knee-deep in litter of
twigs and leaves. "Here," he cried, with sudden satisfaction. He stared
thankfully about him at the protecting foliage, and then upwards at the
blue sky just visible through the lacery of branches. Then he heard once
again, but a little nearer, that shrill whistle and its answer.

He laid her gently on the ground and yet again she fell asleep
instantly--so instantly that he smiled a rather rueful smile, for he had
intended to give her some cautionary advice. No matter; it could
probably wait. He would not think of wakening her. And then as the
moments passed and he watched her sleeping, a feeling of tenderness came
over him, like a slow warmth from another world, and he did something he
had never done before in all his life--he put his arm round a woman and
drew her gently towards him. She would sleep more comfortably so. He
gazed on her with quiet, almost proprietary triumph; all the way from
Khalinsk he had not ceased to guard her, through all manner of
difficulty and peril, and here she was still, by miracle, under his
protection. He was hungry and thirsty and tired and anxious, yet also,
in a way he had never known before, he was satisfied.

The thicket was noisy with buzzing insects, but every few moments over
the distant air came the whistling--now quite distinctly nearer. His
heart beat no faster for it; he felt: We are here, and here is our only
chance; we must wait and take whatever comes...The nearest of the
pursuers, he judged, must be perhaps half a mile away; there were
others, too, not far behind, and probably hundreds already combing the
forests on the way from Saratursk. Soon the whistling became less
intermittent and seemed to come from north and south as well as west;
once, too, he thought he heard voices a long way off. Hunger and thirst
were now beginning to be importunate, but he dared not satisfy them,
since it might be night before he could risk leaving the thicket in
quest of any fresh supplies.

Then he saw that her eyes were wide open--dark, sleepy eyes staring up
at him. She whispered, half smiling: "How uncomfortable you must
be--with me leaning on you like this!"

"All the better," he answered, with a wry smile. "It helps me to keep
awake."

"I think it is your turn to sleep now."

"No, no--you go on sleeping."

"But I _can't_." Her voice dropped agonisingly. "I've kept my nerve
pretty well up to now, but I'm afraid--I'm beginning to be
just--terrified."

"Terrified? Oh, no need for that."

"Those whistles that keep on sounding--we're being hunted--that's what
they mean, don't they?"

"They're looking for us, of course. That was to be expected. But it
doesn't follow that they're going to find us."

"Promise me--promise me one thing--that you'll kill me rather than let
them get me again!"

"Yes, I promise."

"You mean it?"

"Absolutely."

A whistle suddenly shrilled quite close to them--perhaps two or three
hundred yards away, on the edge of the undergrowth. Even he was
startled, and he felt her trembling silently against him. He whispered:
"Keep calm--they're a long way off yet--they might easily come within
ten yards and not see us in a place like this. Don't worry."

All she could muster, amidst her fear was: "You have your revolver? You
remember?"

"Yes, of course."

His arm tightened upon leer; he whispered: "Poor child, don't give up
hope." Then they both waited in silence. It seemed an age until the next
whistle--an answering one that appeared to come from about the same
distance on the other side. What was happening was not very clear;
perhaps the two searchers were passing along the edges of the
undergrowth and did not intend to make any detailed search amongst it.
He could imagine their condition--tired, hot, thirsty, and probably
bad-tempered after the so far fruitless search. The prickly brambles
would hardly tempt them. On the other hand, there was the big reward
that had most likely been offered--men would do most things for a few
hundred roubles.

After a short time it was evident that the searchers numbered far more
than two; whistling proceeded from every direction, and sounded rather
as if fresh searchers were coming up at every moment. Then came echoes
of shouting and talking, but voices did not carry very well and he could
not catch any words. He judged, however, that some sort of a
consultation was in progress. Next followed a chorus of whistling and
counter-whistling from both sides, the meaning of which was only too
easy to guess.

"They're coming through!" she gasped.

He whispered: "I daresay they've got the sense to realise that this is a
good place to hide. And so it is, too. There are so many of them there's
bound to be over-lapping and confusion. Keep calm. We've still a good
chance." The approach of almighty danger gave him a feeling of
exaltation as difficult to understand as to control. He went on, a
moment later: "Leaves--these leaves. A childish trick, but it might
work. I want you to lie down in this hollow and let me cover you up."

"Yes, if you wish."

He placed her so that, with the leaves over her, there seemed no break
in the level ground. The whistling by this time was very much nearer,
and there could be heard also the tearing and breaking of twigs as some
of the searchers broke through. He whispered: "Keep still--don't move or
say a word. And whatever happens, trust me and don't be surprised.
Whatever happens, mind." A moment afterwards the tousled head of a Red
soldier, streaked with dirt and perspiration, pushed itself through the
undergrowth a few yards away. A.J. did not wait to be accosted. Wiping
his forehead with his sleeve and kicking up some of the litter of twigs,
he shouted: "Hallo? Found anything yet? There's nothing here."

The man answered: "Nor here either, Tovarish. It's my belief she didn't
go into the forest at all. And if she did, she wouldn't have got so far
as this. It's a terrible job, searching through this sort of country on
a hot day."

A J. agreed sympathetically. "You're right, my friend--its the devil's
own job. And I've lost my whistle too, confound it."

The other laughed. "Never mind, I'll whistle for you." He gave two
mighty blasts. "That'll show we've done _our_ duty, anyway. Have a drink
with me, Tovarish, and It's get out of this muddle."

A.J. accepted the offer by no means ungratefully, for he wanted the
drink badly enough. The soldier seemed a simple, good-natured fellow,
with a childishness, however, that was quite capable of being dangerous.
"You were with the other lot, I suppose?" he queried, and A.J. nodded.
They struggled through the thickets and reached at last the open ground.
There a few other soldiers were already gathered together, evidently
satisfied that they had performed their share of the search. They were
all rather disgruntled. It was a ticklish moment when A.J. joined them,
but his highest hopes were realised; there had been a tremendous amount
of confusion and no man expected to know his neighbour. The chief
concern of all was the food and drink due to arrive from the forests
below.

A.J. found them a friendly lot of men, behind their temporary
ill-humour; he soon learned that they had been promised a large reward
for the discovery of the escaped Countess, and that the latter, if
captured alive, was to be accorded a solemn full-dress execution in the
market-place at Saratursk. "She will be hanged, not shot," said one of
the men, rolling a cigarette between grimy fingers. And he added
contemplatively: "It is a pity, in some ways, to hang a woman, because
their necks are made differently. I am a hangman by profession, and I
can speak from knowledge."

Soon a few men came toiling up the valley with sacks of bread and
buckets of thin potato-soup. The searchers greeted them boisterously,
relieved them of their burdens, and began to eat and drink ravenously.
A.J. and his tousled companion, whose name was Stephanov, managed to
secure a loaf of black bread between them, as well as a large can of
soup. Stephanov was not astonished that A.J. knew none of the men. "That
is the worst of the army nowadays," he said. "They shift you about so
quickly that you never get to know anybody. It was different in the old
days when there were proper regiments." He went on chatting away in a
manner most helpful to A.J. "I suppose all the others have got
lost--that's what usually happens. I only know one of the fellows here
by name. That's little Nikolai Roussilov over there. Do you see him?
That man snoring against that tree-trunk." A.J. looked and observed. "I
can tell you a secret, Tovarish, about that man--and though you'll
hardly believe it, I assure you it's the heavenly truth and nothing
less." He dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper. "That man was once
kissed by the Emperor."

A.J. made some surprised and enquiring remark and Stephanov went on,
pleased with his little sensation: "Ah, I guessed that would startle
you! Well, you see, it all happened like this. Nikolai was doing sentry
duty one night outside a railway train in which the Emperor was
sleeping. The train was drawn up in a siding, and it was Easter Sunday
morning--in the old clays, of course. You know the custom--you kiss the
first person you meet and give the Easter greeting. Well, Nikolai was
the first person the Emperor met that morning when he stepped out of the
train, so the Emperor kissed him. Isn't that remarkable? And you would
hardly think it to look at him, would you?"

Many of the men had already fallen to dozing in the shade, but
Stephanov's conversation showed no signs of early abatement. A.J. was
not wholly sorry, for the man's garrulous chatter gave him much
information that he guessed might be of value in the immediate future.
At last, towards the late afternoon, an officer appeared on the edge of
the scene and gave leisurely instruction to the half-sleeping men. They
were to form themselves into detachments and march back to Saratursk.
Evidently the search, for that day, at any rate, was being abandoned.

A.J.'s problem, of course, was to escape from the soldiers without
attracting attention, and there were many ways in which he hoped to be
able to do so. Having, however, been given such incredible good fortune
so far, he was determined to take no unnecessary risks, and he saw no
alternative to accompanying the men for some distance, at least, on
their march back to the town. He and Stephanov walked together, or
rather, Stephanov followed him with a species of dog-like attachment
which threatened to be highly inconvenient in the circumstances. The
retreat began about six o'clock and dusk fell as the stragglers were
still threading their way amongst the pine-trees. From time to time as
they descended, other parties of soldiers joined them--all tired and
rather low-spirited. But for the too pertinacious Stephanov, it would
have been a simple matter to slip away in the twilit confusion of one or
other of these encounters. At last, however, when the last tint of
daylight had almost left the sky, an opportunity did come. Stephanov
halted to take off his boot and beat in a protruding nail; A.J. said he
would go ahead and see how far they had still to go. He went ahead, but
he did not return, and he hoped that Stephanov would realise that, in
the darkness, nothing was more likely than that two companions, once
separated, should be unable to find each other again.

A.J. waited till the last faint sounds of the retreating men had died
away in the distance; some were singing and could be heard for a long
time. Then he took deep breaths of the cool pine-laden air and tried to
induce in himself a calm and resourceful confidence. He took careful
note of his bearings; the stars and the rising moon and the slope of the
ground were all helpful guides. His Siberian experiences had made him
un-cannily expert at that sort of thing; with a night lasting for nine
months it had been necessary to train the senses to work efficiently in
the dark. Still, it was not going to be an easy task to locate the exact
whereabouts of that valley wilderness. During the journey with Stephanov
he had tried to memorise the ground passed over, and he had counted five
successive ridges that they had crossed.

Cautiously he climbed to the summit of the first ridge. There moonlight
helped him by showing a vague outline of the next one. He paused a
moment to munch a little bread he had managed to save; there was still
some left. At the next stream he filled his water-bottle to the brim. On
the top of the second ridge he saw cigarette wrappings that had been
thrown away by the soldiers, and that was heartening, for it showed that
he was in the right direction. Twice after that he imagined he was lost,
and the second time he had just decided to stay where he was until dawn,
when he caught a distant glimpse of a pale clearing that seemed somehow
familiar. He walked towards it, and there, glossy under the moonlight,
lay that steep valley with the wilderness of thickets like a dark velvet
patch at the upper end of it. He stumbled over the turf with tingling
excitement in his blood, and all at once and surprisingly for the first
time the thought came to him that she might not be there. What if she
were not? If she had grown tired or terrified of waiting--if she had
wildly sought to escape on her own--if she had lost hope of his ever
returning? He gave a low whistle across the empty valley, and at once a
hundred voices answered, so that he shivered almost in fear himself.
Then he smiled; they were only owls. He reached the edge of the thickets
and plunged into them, not caring that the brambles tore at his clothes
and face and hands. In a little while he dared to speak--he shouted
softly: "I'm coming--don't be afraid--I'm coming. Tell me where you
are." And a voice, very weary and remote, answered him.

When he came at last to that little hollow of dead leaves she sprang up
and clung to him with both arms, sobbing and laughing at the same time.
"Darling--darling," she whispered hysterically, and he felt all the ice
in his soul break suddenly into the flow of spring. "Were you thinking I
wouldn't come?" he stammered, dazed with the glory of her welcome. She
could not answer, but she was all at once calmed. Then he stooped and
kissed her lips, and they were like the touch of sleep itself. "You must
be so tired," she said, and he answered: "I am--yes, I am." There was a
curious serenity about her that made him feel a child again--a child to
whom most things are simple and marvellous.

They shared food and water and then lay down together on the bed of
leaves until morning.

The chorus of birds awoke him at sunrise; he looked up and saw the blue
sky between the branches and then looked down and saw her sleeping. He
memorised her features as he might have done the contours of some
friendly, familiar land; he saw her wide, round eyelids, and her slender
nose, and her lips a little parted as she slept. He wondered if she were
really beautiful, as one may wonder if a loved scene is really
beautiful; for to him, as she lay there, she meant so much more than
beauty. He saw her as the centre of a universe, and all else--those
years of exile and loneliness and wandering--dissolved into background.

Then, as if aware that he was thinking about her so intensely, she
wakened and smiled.

They finished what remained of the food and then talked over what was to
be done next. Their immediate aim, of course, was to get as far away as
possible from Saratursk, and for this the soldier disguise seemed the
safest, though later it might be advisable to drop it. Even more
pressing might soon be problems of food and shelter, since they could
not expect to leave the forest for several days and the warm and dry
weather had already lasted exceptionally.

As they set out under the trees that early morning they talked as they
had never done before--about themselves, She told him of her family, of
which, she believed, she might be the only survivor: her mother was
dead; her father and two brothers had certainly been killed by the Reds;
and among other relatives there were few whom she could be sure were
still alive. They had all, of course, lost their money and possessions.
Almost as an afterthought she told him that she had been married, and
that her husband had been killed in Galicia fighting the Austrians.
"Almost as soon as the war began, that was. We had been married four
years, but we had no children. I am glad."

She continued: "I stayed on our estates as long as I could; I never
believed our old servants would turn against me, but they did, in the
end--they were intimidated, no doubt. Then there seemed nothing left but
to clear out of the country altogether, which my friends had been urging
me to do for a Ion, while. A few of them who were plotting against the
Reds asked for my support, and I gave it to some extent, but my real
desire was to get away--out of it all--utterly. When I was taken
prisoner I was terribly disappointed at first, as you can imagine. Then
a mood came on me in which nothing seemed to matter at all. Even when I
tried to bribe you and you refused, I didn't find myself caring very
much. But now I'm beginning to care again--a little--and it hurts--it's
really more convenient not to have any hopes and fears. But I want to
live--oh, I do want us both to live--we _must_--mustn't we?"

"Yes," he replied, and the word, as he uttered it, seemed a keystone set
upon his life. Then he began to tell her, quite simply and
dispassionately, of his own years of exile, though not of anything
previous to that. As it was, the accounting was like turning old keys in
rusty locks; to no one ever before had he spoken of those bitter years
that had frozen his soul with their silence just as hers had been numbed
by grief.

All morning they trudged from ridge to ridge, skirting Saratursk at a
wide radius, and then making in a southwest direction. He kept a
continually watchful look-out, for he thought it more than possible that
the Reds would resume their search of the forests. Nobody, however,
appeared within sight until mid-afternoon, when they saw, far off on a
hillside, a man gathering small timber for fuel. They were so hungry by
then that A.J. took the risk of walking up to him and, posing as a
soldier who had lost his way, asking to buy food and drink. The man was
quite cordial, and took A.J. to his tiny cottage half a mile away, where
he lived with his wife and a large family amidst conditions of primitive
savagery. It seemed a pity to take food from such people, but the man
was glad to sell eggs, tea, and bread at the prices A.J. offered. It was
hard, indeed, to escape from his good-natured friendliness, and
especially from his offer to show the way in person for few had been
made when A.J.'s desire to be unaccompanied almost offensively clear,
the man's puzzlement changed to a gust of amusement. "Ah, I begin to see
how it is, comrade," he chuckled. "You have a woman waiting for you out
there in the woods, eh? Oh, don't be afraid--I shan't say anything!
You're not the first soldier who's deserted the Red army and taken to
the hills with a woman. But I'll give you this bit of advice--if you do
happen to meet anyone else at the same game, be careful--for they shoot
at sight. They're wild as wolves, many of' em."

A.J. thanked the fellow and was glad to walk away with an armful of food
and nothing worse than a roar of laughter behind him. When he rejoined
his companion they continued their walk for a mile or so and then sat
down to eat, drink, and rest. It was already late afternoon and they had
had nothing since the few crusts of bread at early morning. A.J. now
gathered sticks for a small fire, on which he boiled eggs and made tea.
The resulting meal lifted them both to an extraordinary pitch of
happiness; as they sat near the smoking embers while the first mists of
twilight dimmed the glades, a strange peacefulness fell upon them, and
they both knew, even without speaking, that neither would have chosen to
be anywhere else in the world. All around them lay enemies; to-morrow
might see them captured, imprisoned, or dead; there might be horror in
the future to balance all the horrors of the past; yet the tiny oasis of
the present, with themselves at the core of it, was a sheer glow of
perfection.

They were so tired that they did not move before darkness came, and then
merely lay clown on the brown leaves. The evening air was chilly, and
they clung together for warmth with their two great-coats huddled over
them. All the small and friendly sounds of the forest wrapped them
about: an owl hooted very far away; a mouse rustled through the near
undergrowth; a twig broke suddenly aloft and fell with a tiny clatter
to the ground. She kissed him with a grave, peaceful passion that seemed
a living part of all the copious, cordial nature that surrounded them;
they hardly spoke; to love seemed as simple and as speechless as to be
hungry and thirsty and tired. That night he could almost have blessed
the chaos that had brought them both, out of a whole world, together.

On the fifth day they fell in with a peasant who told them of a quick
way into the plains. He was a bent and gnarled fellow of an age that
looked to be anything between sixty and eighty, and with the manner of
one to whom Bolshevism and revolution were merely the pranks of a young
and foolish generation. He was full of chatter, and told A.J. all his
family affairs, besides pointing to a small timbered roof on a distant
hillside that was his own. He had left a sick daughter alone in that hut
with five small children; her husband was a soldier, fighting somewhere
or other--or perhaps dead--no news had been received for many months.
"Of course he will never come back--they never do. She has had no baby
now for over two years--is it not dreadful? And she would make a good
wife for any man when she is in good health--oh yes, a very good wife."

A.J. made some sympathetic remark and the old man continued: "But what
are young men nowadays? Mere adventurers pretending to want to see the
world! What is the world, after all? When you have seen one forest you
have seen them all, and one field is very much like another. I myself am
quite happy to have been no further than Vremarodar, seventy versts
away." He chuckled amidst the odorous depths of a heavy matted beard and
still continued: "I don't suppose you'd ever guess my age, either,
brother. I'm a hundred and three, though people don't always believe me
when I tell them. You see my youngest daughter's only thirty-five, and
people say it's impossible." He chuckled again, "but it isn't impossible,
I assure you--I'm not the sort of fellow to tell you a lie. Why, look at
me now, still fit and hearty, as you can see, and if there was a pretty
woman about, and my honour as a man depended on it, I don't know but
what..." His chuckles boiled over into resonant laughter. "Mind you, I'm
not what I used to be, by a long way, and I think it's a girl's duty to
look after her father when he lives to be my age, don't you? She's not a
bad girl, you know, but she's inclined to be lazy and I have to thrash
her now and again. Not that I like doing it, but women--well, you know
all about them, I daresay. Ah well, there's your path--it leads out into
a long valley and at the end of that there are the plains as far as you
can sec. Good-day to you, brother, and to you too, madam."

The next day they reached the edge of the forests and saw the plains
stretching illimitably into the hazy distance. But before descending, it
was necessary to make arrangements. It was certain that they would meet
man'' strangers once they left the hillsides, and with the prospect,
too, of colder weather, they could no longer rely on sleeping out of
doors. A soldier's disguise, for the woman especially, seemed therefore
likely to be a source of danger, and A.J. decided that it would be
Better for them to resume their peasant roles. In his own case the
change was inconsiderable, since so many peasants wore army clothes
whenever they could acquire them; and as for Daly, she had only to
change into the female attire that she had been carrying with her all
the way from Saratursk.

The change was made, and on the seventh day, very early in the morning,
they left the forests. The sky was fine, but clouds were already massing
on the horizon for a thunderstorm that would doubtless Tiring to an end
the long spell of fine weather. It was still hard to make more than the
sketchiest plan of campaign. Amidst those lonely Ural foothills there
had been an atmosphere of being out of the world, removed from many of
its bewilderments and troubled by nothing more complicated than the
elemental problem of the hunted eluding the hunter. In the plains,
however, all problems were subtler and more intricate--as intricate, at
least, as the political and military situation of the country generally.
At Saratursk, before the escape, A.J. had tried to visualise what was
happening as a whole, and not merely locally, but it had been difficult
owing to the wildness of the rumours that gained credence. Every morning
there had come a fresh crop of them--that the German Kaiser had
committed suicide, that Lenin had been shot in Moscow by a young girl,
that a British army was invading from Archangel, that the Japanese were
approaching from the east along the line of the Trans-Siberian; there
had been no lack of such sensational news, much of which was always more
likely to be false than true. It seemed, however, fairly probable that
Czecho-Slovak detachments were by this time in full occupation of great
lengths of the Trans-Siberian, and it was also possible (as rumour
alleged) that they had pushed up the Volga and captured Sembirsk and
Kazan. The repulse of the Whites from Saratursk would appear, in that
case, to have been a merely isolated and local affair--as local, in
fact, as the Red Terror that had followed it. But then, all Russia was
seething with such local affairs, and the history of the whole country
could scarcely be more than the sum-total of them. A village here might
be Red, or there White, and a stranger could hardly tell which until he
took the risk of entering it. The Czechs, despite their imposing
position on the map, held merely the thin line of the railway; a few
versts on either side of the track their sway ended, and the brigandage
of Red and White soldiery went on without interruption.

So much A.J. had in mind, though there was little he knew for certain.
If there had been any fixed battle-line between Red and White, it would
have been a straightforward task, despite the danger of it, to make for
the nearest point of that line and cross over. As it was, however, there
could be no advantage in joining up with some small and local White
colony which, in a few days or weeks, might surrender to the Reds and be
massacred.

The two of them talked the matter over during that early morning descent
to the plains, and she said at length, putting it far more concisely
than he would care to have done: "The whole question is really--am I to
escape alone, or are you to come with me? You are to come with me, of
course, and that means we must go right away--out of the whole area of
these local wars." Then she looked at him and laughed rather queerly.
"Oh, it all comes to this, I suppose, that what I want more than
anything in the world is to be with you. Can't You believe me? In a way
I'm enjoying every minute of all this--it's an adventure I don't want
ever to end; but if it must end, then let anything end it rather than
separation. Promise that wherever we go and whatever happens to us, it
will be together!"

"That is all I hoped you would say," he answered. "We will make south
for the railway, then, and take a train, if there are trains, towards
Kazan. And there, if the situation remains the same, we can join the
Czechs."

The hill country ended with disconcerting abruptness; by noon they were
crossing land so level that it looked like a sea, with the horizon of
hills as a coastline in the rearward distance. It was dizzily hot; the
threatened storm had passed over with a few abortive thunderclaps. The
earth was caked and splitting after weeks without rain; dust filled eyes
and nostrils at the slightest breath of wind; the crops were withering
in the unharvested fields.

As distance increased between themselves and the mountains, they found
tracks widening into roads, and roads becoming more frequented. Every
side-track yielded its stragglers, most of whom were peasants carrying
all their worldly goods on their backs. Where they had come from and
where they were bound for were problems that were no more soluble after,
as often happened, they had unburdened their secrets to the passing
stranger. But many were too ill and dejected even to give the usual
greeting as they passed, and some showed all the outward signs of
prolonged hardships and semi-starvation.

For every passer-by in the opposite direction there were at least a
dozen, bound, like themselves, for the railway twenty miles to the
south. The chance of getting aboard a train did not, in such
circumstances, seem very promising, and still less attractive was the
prospect of camping out for days or weeks on the railway platforms, as
thousands of refugees were doing. A.J. learned this from a youth with
whom, along the road, he effected an exchange of a couple of eggs in
return for a small quantity of butter made from sunflower-seeds. The
boy--for he was scarcely more--seemed so knowledgeable and intelligent
that A.J. was glad enough to agree when he suggested pooling resources
for a small roadside meal. The stranger hardly got the better of the
bargain, since his own provender included white bread (an almost
incredible luxury) and part of a cooked chicken; but he only laughed
when A.J. apologised. He was a merry, pink-checked youth, eager to treat
A.J. with roguish bonhomie and the woman with a touch of gallantry. He
was eighteen, he said, and his life had been fairly adventurous. At
sixteen he had been a cadet in an Imperial training-school for officers,
but the Revolution had happened just in time to fit in conveniently with
his own reluctance to die in a trench fighting the Germans. He seemed
also to have quarrelled with his family, for he said he neither knew nor
cared what had happened to them. He had joined the revolutionaries at
the age of seventeen, doubtless to save his own skin, and in a single
year had risen to be a military commissar. But even that, in the end,
had become too tedious and exacting, for in his heart he had always
pined for something more individually adventurous. Presently the had
found it. He had become a train-bandit. He admitted this quite frankly,
and with a joyous taking of risks in so doing. "It suits me," he
explained, "because I'm a bad lot--I always was."

It appeared that he had been the leader of a group of bandits operating
on the Cheliabinsk-Ufa line before the advance of the Czechs had put an
end to such enterprise. His colleagues had since dispersed, and he
himself was now at a loose end, but he rather thought there was a good
chance of successful banditry on the Ekaterinburg-Sarapul line, which
was still to a large extent in the hands of the Reds. All he needed were
'a few suitable companions; the rest would be easy. There was a steep
incline not far away where west-bound trains always slowed down. One man
could jump into the engine-cab and make the driver pull up; the others
would then go through the train, coach by coach and compartment by
compartment. It was the usual and almost always successful method. A.J.
expressed surprise that the passengers, many of whom were doubtless well
armed, did not put up a fight. The boy laughed. "You must remember that
it's in the middle of the night, when most of them are asleep and none
of them feel particularly brave. Besides, some of them do try their
tricks, but we try ours first. If you shoot straight once you don't
often have any trouble with the rest." He spoke quite calmly, and not
without a certain half-humorous relish. "After all," he then went on, as
if feeling instinctively some need to defend himself, "it's not a bad
death--being shot. Better than starvation or typhus. A good many people
in this country, I should reckon, have got to die pretty soon, and the
lucky ones are those that get a bullet through the heart." Looked at in
such a way, the situation undoubtedly showed him in the guise of a
public benefactor. And he added: "I suppose you don't feel you're the
sort of fellow to join forces with me?"

When A.J. smiled and shook his head, the boy smiled back quite amicably.
"That's all right--only I thought I'd just put it to you. You look the
sort of man I'd like to work with, that's all. Anyhow, I can help you
with a bit of advice. There's not a thousand to one chance of your
getting on board a train at Novochensk. The station's already cram-full.
But if you go about three versts to the east you'll come to that incline
I was talking about--where the trains all slow up. There you might
manage it."

"I suppose the trains are full too."

"Absolutely, but they'll make room for you and your lady if you shout
that you've got food. Show them a loaf of bread and they'll pull you
into the cars even if they murder you afterwards."

A.J. thanked him for the excellent-sounding advice, and after a little
further conversation the eighteen-year-old bandit shouldered his bundle
and departed. Following his suggestion, they reached the railway late
that evening at a point a few miles east of the railway station. It was
too dark to see exactly where they were, and they were just preparing to
sleep on the parched ground until morning when, from the very far
distance, came the sound of a train. It was a weird noise amidst the
silence of the steppes--rather like the breathing of a very tired and
aged animal. Once or twice, as the wind veered away, the sound
disappeared altogether for a time, and they listened for it
intermittently for nearly half an hour before they first saw the tiny
sparkle of a headlight on the horizon. They perceived then that they
were on the ridge of some low downs, which the train would have to
surmount--that, presumably, being the incline they had been told about.
And soon, to confirm this assumption, the breathing of the engine became
a kind of hoarse pant as the rising gradient was encountered. More and
more asthmatic grew the panting, until, with a sudden sigh, it ceased
altogether, and a sharp jangle of brakes showed that the train was
locked at a standstill.

"Let's walk down," A.J. said, rapidly gathering up the bundles. "They
might take us on board--at any rate, we can try."

They walked along the track down the noticeable slope; evidently the
builders of the line had been unable to afford the evening out of the
gradient by means of cutting and embankment. The train, as they
approached it, looked in some commotion, and to avoid being seen too
clearly in the glare of the headlight they made a detour into the fields
and returned to the track opposite the third vehicle. They could see now
that the train was composed of some dozen box-cars of refugees and a
single ordinary passenger-coach next to the engine.

Scores of heads peered at them through the slats of the cars, and
several occupants, evidently taking A.J. for some wayside railway
official, enquired why the train had stopped. A.J. said he thought it
was because the engine could not manage the hill, and then, feeling that
nothing was to be lost by broaching the matter immediately, added: "I
have a little bread and some tea and sugar--could you make room for just
the two of us?"

"We cannot," answered several, which did not sound unreasonable in view
of the fact that men were even perched on the buffers between the cars.
One or two voices, however, began to ask how much tea and sugar he had.

The whole colloquy was then sharply interrupted by the sound of shots
proceeding from the passenger-coach. At once women began to shout and
scream, and a few of the men standing on the buffers actually dropped to
the ground and hid themselves beneath the cars. Other shots followed in
rapid succession; then suddenly a group of men appeared out of the
darkness, brandishing weapons and shouting. One carried a lantern and
flashed it in A.J.'s face, exclaiming in had Russian: "What are you
doing here? Didn't you hear the order that no one was to get out?"

A.J. explained with an appropriate mixture of eloquence and simplicity
that they hadn't got out, and that, on the contrary, they were a couple
of poor peasants trying their best to get in.

Another man then joined in the argument; he was clearly for shooting the
two of them out of hand, but first man restrained him with some
difficulty. "They are only peasants," he said, and turning to A.J.,
added: "You say you were only looking for a place on the train?"

A.J. assured him that this was so, and just as he had finished, a soft,
rather plaintive voice from the car above them cried out: "Yes, he is
speaking the truth, your honour--they were offering us tea and sugar if
we would make room for them."

The man with the lantern grunted sharply. "Tea and sugar, eh? Come
on--hand them over." Obedience seemed advisable in the circumstances,
and A.J. yielded up his precious commodities; after which the men, with
a few final shouts, hurried away into the darkness, leaving the couple
standing there by the side of the train, unharmed, but bereft of their
most potent bargaining power.

After a judicious interval the occupants of the train took courage and
set up a chorus of loud and indignant protests. The engine-whistle began
a continuously ear-piercing screech, while from the passenger-coach
sprang half a-dozen Red soldiers, armed with rifles and fixed bayonets.
It soon became known that the bandits had run off with a large quantity
of money and had also killed two Red guards on the train. The survivors,
to excuse themselves, estimated the number of bandits at twenty, but
A.J. did not think there could have been more than half that number.

Rather oddly the crowd of harassed and scared refugees were now inclined
to show sympathy towards A.J. and his companion. "They were going to
share their tea and sugar with us," said the man with the plaintive
voice. And another man said: "It's all very well to kill the soldiers
and steal the money, but to take away a poor man's food is something to
be really ashamed of. Climb up, friends, and we'll make room for you
somehow."

So A.J. and Daly got aboard the train after all. There was hardly a
square foot of space, and they were huddled together against the
dirtiest and most odorous fellow-travellers, but there they were, as
they had dreamed of being for many days--on board a train that would
take them a further stage on their journey.

It was dawn, however, before the train started. In despair of
surmounting the hill from a standstill, the engine-driver reversed for a
mile or so and tried to take the gradient by storm. The manoeuvre
failed, and the train was again reversed. This time the order was given
for all able-bodied men to get out and push the cars over the crest of
the rise, and by this means, with many snortings and splutterings, the
train did finally crawl over the summit. There was then a further long
wait while the pushers regained their places, and it was not till an
hour after sunrise that the train steamed into Novochensk station, less
than three miles from the scene of the hold-up.

A first view of Novochensk proved to A.J. how fortunate, after all, had
been the boy-bandit's advice. The station was packed from end to end of
its large platforms and freight-yards, and the train, as it entered,
seemed to push a way through the crowd like a vehicle threading through
a fair-ground. Added, of course, to the normal pandemonium that the
arrival of any train would have caused, was the extra sensation arising
out of the hold-up. There was much agitated shouting and gesticulation
among the railway officials as the bodies of the shot soldiers were
removed from the train. The remaining soldiers had already revised their
earlier estimate of the number of attackers; it was now reckoned about a
hundred.

Scarcely any of those waiting at Novochensk succeeded in getting a place
on the train, and those already in occupation dared not move for fear of
losing their own places. The station, too, was without food, and many of
the refugees had had nothing to eat for several days. Even water was
scarce, owing to the prolonged drought, and when buckets were handed
into the cars, there was barely enough to give each occupant a single
quick gulp.

The train left Novochensk shortly before midday, and amidst the drowsy
torpidity of the afternoon A.J. had plenty of time and opportunity to
observe his fellow-passengers. There were perhaps fifty or sixty of them
squatting on the floor of the box-car; many were leaning against each
other and trying to sleep, and the whole effect was rather that of a
litter of old rags. There was just enough talk and movement, however, to
indicate that the litter was alive, and there was certainly ample
liveliness of another kind. A.J. and Daly, whose clothes had been fairly
clean on entering, shared the common misfortune during the first
half-hour.

Here and there, and from time to time, some isolated phenomenon detached
itself from that jumble of rags, chatter, and drowsiness; a baby cried;
a woman opened her blouse and exposed a drooping shrunken breast-' man
groaned heavily as he stirred in sleep; the train lurched over a bad
patch of line and drew a sigh, a curse, or a muttered exclamation from
every corner of that strange assembly. The sunlight, shining through the
wooden slats, made a flickering febrile patchwork of the whole picture,
showing up here a piece of gaudy-coloured cloth, there a greasy,
dirt-stained face, and everywhere, like a veil drawn in front of
reality, the smoke rising from the men's coarse tobacco and the myriad
particles of dust.

The speed of travel was very slow--never more than ten miles an hour,
and oftener no more than five; nor could anything be seen outside save
that vast, vacant expanse of brown earth, on which the horizon seemed to
press like a heavy, brazen rim. Miles passed without sight of a
habitation, while nothing moved over the emptiness save swirls of dust
and curlews scared by the train.

Actually she whispered to him as she leaned against the curve of his
arm: "Oh, I'm happy--I'm happy. I'm beginning to have hope. When do you
think we shall reach Kazan?"

"In two or three days, at this rate. Are you hungry?"

"Very, but I don't mind. We had a good meal yesterday."

"I'll try to get you some water to drink at the next stop."

"Yes, if you can. And for yourself too."

"Oh, I'm all right. Are you tired?"

"Just a bit."

"Then go to sleep now, if you like. At night it may be chilly and you'll
be kept awake."

She gave him a single quick glance that somehow expressed the utter
simplicity of their relationship. Their lives had been knit together
perfectly and completely; to have shared hunger and thirst and
tiredness, to have hidden in dark thickets from enemies, to have washed
in mountain streams and slept under high trees--all had built up, during
those few hurried weeks, a tradition of love as elemental as the earth
on which they had lain together.

When she was asleep he stared at the slowly passing landscape till he
was drowsy himself. A little man next to him, who had been sleeping,
then awoke and produced a small plug of chewing tobacco which he asked
A.J. to share. A.J. thanked him but declined, and this led to
conversation. There was something in the little man's soft lilting voice
that sounded vaguely familiar, and it soon appeared that it was he who
had shouted down to the bandits in confirmation of A.J.'s own account of
himself. As this intervention had quite probably saved the situation,
A.J. felt grateful to him, though his appearance was far from pleasant.
He was dirty and very verminous, and had only one eye; the other, he
declared proudly, had been knocked out by a woman. He did not explain
when or how. He was full of melancholy indignation over the cowardice of
the others in dealing with the bandits. "Nobody but me had the courage
to say a word to them," he kept repeating, and it was undoubtedly true.
"Just me--little Gregorovitch with the one eye--all the rest were afraid
to speak." A man some distance away shouted to him to stop talking, and
added, for A.J.'s benefit: "Don't listen to him, brother. He's only a
half-wit. The other half came out with his eye." There was laughter at
that, after which the little man fell into partial silence for a while,
muttering only very quietly to himself. A.J. was inclined to believe the
diagnosis correct; the man's remaining eye held all the hot, roving
mania of the semi-insane.

Later the little man began to talk again. He seemed to have something on
his mind, to be nourishing some vast and shadowy grievance against the
world in general, and from time to time he would scan the horizon
eagerly with his single eye. His talk was at first so idle and
disjointed that A.J. had much difficulty in comprehending him; it was as
if the man's brain, such as it might be, were working only fitfully. But
by degrees it all worked itself out into something as understandable as
it ever would be. He had been a soldier, conscribed to fight the
Germans; he had fought them for two years without being injured--the eye
(once again his plaintiveness soared momentarily into pride) was not a
war-wound, but the work of a woman. (And once again, also, he forbore to
explain when or how.) After the Revolution he had tried to get back
home, but he had lost his papers, and apparently nothing could be done
without papers. All he knew was his own name--Gregorovitch--and the name
of his village--Krokol; and these two names, it appeared, hadn't been
enough for the authorities. With rather wistful indignation he described
his visit to a government office in Petrograd, whither he had drifted
after the collapse of the battle-fronts. "I should be glad," he had
said, "if you could tell me my full name and how I can get home. I am
little Gregorovitch with the one eye, and I live at Krokol."

"Krokol?" the clerk had said. (The little man imitated the mincing,
educated tones of the bureaucrat with savage exaggeration.) "Krokol?
Never heard of it? How do you spell it?"

"I don't spell it," Gregorovitch had replied.

"Don't spell it? And why not?"

"Because I don't spell anything. But I can describe it to you--it is a
village with a wide street and a tiny steepled church."

"I am afraid," the clerk had then answered, "we can do nothing for you.
Good-day."

The little man's eye burned with renewed fever as he recited this
oft-told plaint. "Is it not scandalous," he asked, "that in a free
country no one can tell you who you are or where you come from?"

That had taken place a year before, and since then Gregorovitch had been
travelling vaguely about in search of Krokol. He had just got on trains
anywhere, hoping that sometime he might reach a place where Krokol was
known. Occasionally he left the trains and walked, and always he hoped
that just over the horizon he would come across the little steepled
village.

A.J. was interested enough to question him minutely about Krokol, but it
was soon obvious why the clerk at Petrograd had been so impatient.
Gregorovitch could give nothing but the vaguest description that might
have applied to a thousand or ten thousand villages throughout the
length and breadth of the country. Even the name, without a spelling,
was a poor clue, since local people often called their villages by names
unidentifiable in maps or gazetteers. Nor had Gregorovitch a notion
whether Krokol was near or far from the sea, near or far from any big
city, near or far from any railway or river. All he could supply was
that repeated and useless mention of the wide street and the steepled
church.

A.J. questioned him further about his family, but again his replies were
valueless; he could only say that he had a brother named Paul and a
sister named Anna. Of any family name he was completely ignorant, and
was, indeed, completely convinced that it was unnecessary. "Is it not
enough," he asked, "that I am little Gregorovitch with the one eye?
Everyone in Krokol knows me."

He went on quietly protesting in this way until the train came to a slow
standstill in the midst of the burning steppe. The halt was for no
apparent reason save the whim of the engine-driver and fireman, who
climbed down from their cab and lazed picturesquely on the shady side of
the train. The air, motionless as the train itself, soon became hot and
reeking inside the car, and those whose heads chanced to be in sunlight
twitched and fidgeted under the glare. Movement, with its own particular
discomforts, had somehow kept at bay the greater tortures of hunger and
thirst; but now these two raged and stormed in a world to themselves.
Water--bread--the words became symbols of all that a human being could
live and die for. A scuffle suddenly arose at one end of the car; a man
was drinking out of a bottle and his neighbour, unable to endure the
sight, attacked him with instant and ungovernable fury. For a few
seconds everyone was shouting at once, till at last the assailant was
overborne, and was soon sobbing to himself, aware that he had behaved
shamefully. And the others, beyond their anger, seemed not unwilling to
be sorry for him. Then, with a sharp lurch, the train began to move
again and the resulting breath of air took away the keener pangs for
another interval.

Towards evening they reached a small station called Minarsk, where they
were shunted into a siding and given water, but no food. The
satisfaction of thirst, however, put everyone in a good humour for a
time; chatter became quite animated, and noisy fraternisation went on
between the occupants of the car and the swarming refugees from the
station. A.J. was now beginning to know the circumstances and
personalities of many more of his fellow-travellers. Besides the little
man with one eye, there was a large family of exiles returning from
Irkutsk and hoping to reach Kharkoff; there were others seeking family
or friends, some whose villages had been destroyed in the fighting
between Reds and Whites, some who travelled in the despairing belief
that any place must be better than the one they had left. One old
pock-faced and long-limbed Tartar confessed to a passionate love of
travel for its own sake; his home had been on the Kirghiz plains, but he
had never, in those old days, been able to afford the luxury of a
third-class ticket. Since the Revolution, however, it had become
increasingly easy to board trains without a ticket at all, and his life
had become correspondingly and increasingly enjoyable. He had already
(he told A.J.) been as far north as Archangel, as far east as Tomsk, and
as far south as Merv. Now he was taking a westward trip; he hoped to
visit Kiev and make a pilgrimage to the monastery there. He was quite
happy. He chewed a little tobacco, but had had no food for days and did
not seem greatly to mind hunger, thirst, or any other physical hardship.

The train remained in the siding until dawn, by which time cheerfulness
had sunk to zero again, for the night air had been bitterly cold. To
most had come the realisation that summer was practically over, and that
to hunter and thirst would soon be added that more terrible
enemy--winter. The transition between the seasons was always very short
in that part of the country, so that when, soon after dawn, the sun did
not appear and the cold wind still blew, it seemed as if winter had come
in a single night.

Then the train moved out and resumed its slow jog-jog over the
badly-laid track. Towards noon the weather, which till then had been
merely cold and cloudy, turned to rain, which at first was greeted with
joy, for it removed all fears of a water-shortage. It was, plainly, the
end of the long drought, and such torrents were falling within an hour
that the thirsty had only to hold their tin cups through the slats to
have them, after a few moments, half-filled. But the removal of thirst
served only to accentuate hunger, from which many, especially the women,
were already suffering torments.

A.J. had slept intermittently during the night and had tried to shelter
Daly with his great-coat; she, too, had slept, but he was concerned by
the way she had felt the cold. Throughout the morning the weather
worsened in every way, and by late afternoon everyone (except the
Tartar) was in the lowest depth of misery and depression. The roof of
the car leaked water on the huddled occupants, and a slanting wind cut
in like knives. It was sad to remember that twenty-four hours before men
had been shielding their faces from the sun; for now the sun seemed a
last good friend who had deserted them. No one could draw comfort from
the grey and empty desolation of those plains that stretched mile beyond
level mile until all was hazy in rain-swept distance.

Again and again the train came to sudden jangling stops, till at last
the occupants were too tired and disspirited to say anything, even to
ask each other why; they just lay where they were, crouching away from
the wind, and trying not to listen to the tattoo of rain on the roof.
But after one particularly long wait the engine-driver and fireman carne
walking together along the track and to a few dismally enquiring faces
announced that the train could proceed no further; a heavy storm just
ahead had caused part of the line to subside. As for how long it would
take to repair the damage, they could only shrug their shoulders and
mutter 'Nichevo.' Where were they?--someone asked; and the same answer
came--'Nichevo'--neither the driver nor the fireman had had any previous
knowledge of that line. After which, cursing the rain that was drenching
their thin clothes, they returned to the warmth and dryness of the
engine-cab.

For the passengers in the box-cars, however, such consolations were not
available. They were wet, cold, miserable, ravenous with hunger, and
stranded in an unknown land. It was the little one-eyed man, who, still
dreaming of Krokol, gave them their first lift of hope when, for a few
seconds, the rain slackened. During that interval he alone chanced to be
searching the horizon with his single eye and saw the towers and roofs
of a town in the far distance. It gave him no thrill, for the place
was decidedly not Krokol, but the others, when he told them, were
swept into a flurry of anticipation. A town--perhaps a large
town--food--shelter--warmth--their cravings soared dizzily as they began
in frantic haste to gather up their bundles and clamber out of the
train. How even a large town could instantly supply the wants of a
thousand starving and penniless refugees was a question that did not, in
that first intoxicating moment, occur to them.

A.J. shared, though more soberly, the general jubilation, but he had the
more reason to, since money was in his pocket and he could buy if there
were anything at all to be bought. Daly, tired and chilled, summoned all
her strength for the effort, and they climbed out of the train with the
others and began the dismal trek over the fields. To those already weak
and feverish, it was a perilous journey. The rain continued to fall in
heavy slanting swathes, through which, from time to time, the distant
town showed like a mocking mirage; and the dry brown dust of the steppes
had been transformed to a jelly of squelching mud, into which the feet
sank ankle-deep with every pace. After the first mile the procession had
thinned out into a trail of weary, mud-smeared stragglers, floundering
along at scarcely a mile an hour.

It was dark when A.J. and Daly reached the outskirts of the town, and he
had had to lift her practically every step during that last half-mile.
She was so obviously on the verge of collapse that when he saw a large
barn not far away he made for it eagerly, anxious to reach any place
where she could rest out of the rain. There were already several
shelterers in the barn--women and children, mostly, to whom weariness
had grown to mean more than hunger, cold, or any other feeling. He laid
her gently on a heap of sodden straw; the others were too tired to
speak, and so was she. "Wait here till I come back," he whispered, and
she gave him a faintly answering smile.

Then, bracing himself for the renewed buffeting of rain and wind, he
struggled on into the town. It seemed fairly large, but he looked vainly
for shop-signs or public notices from which he might learn its name. The
streets were deserted in the downpour, but it was good, anyhow, to leave
the mud and reach the firm foothold of paved roads. And he had roubles
in his pocket--that, in the circumstances, was the most cheering thing
of all.

He walked so quickly that he arrived at the apparent centre of the town
well ahead of the others, many of whom had committed the tactical error
of knocking at the first habitations they came to and begging for food.
The cottagers, fearing invasion by a seemingly vast rabble, had replied
by barricading their doors and refusing even to parley. A.J. had guessed
that this would happen, and his own plan was based on it, though perhaps
it was not much of a plan in any event. He passed the church and the
town-hall, noticing that most of the shops were closed and shuttered and
that even those whose windows were on view looked completely empty of
foods. Soon he came to a district of small houses such as might belong
to better-class artisans or factory-workers. He turned down a deserted
street, passing house after house that looked as if it might be equally
deserted, till at length he saw one whose chimney showed a thin curl of
ascending smoke. He tapped quietly on the front door. After a pause it
was opened very cautiously by an elderly respectable-looking woman, but
his hopes fell heavily as he observed her. The too vivid eyes and
jutting cheek-bones told the tale he had feared most, and her first
words, in answer to his question, confirmed it. The whole town, she told
him quite simply, was half-starving. Factories had closed down; men
scoured the countryside every day in quest of food which became ever
scarcer and dearer; food-shops opened only twice a week, and there were
long queues for even the scanty allowance permitted by the new rationing
system.

A.J. mentioned that he had a little money and was prepared to pay
generously for food and shelter for himself and his wife, but the woman
shook her head, "We _have_ no food," she said "no matter what you were
to offer us for it We haven't had a meal since the day before yesterday
and as soon as the rain stops my daughters and myself are going to take
turns in the bread-queue. The shop opens to-morrow morning but to be in
time for anything we shall have to wait all night."

He thanked her and went on to another house a little further along the
street. There he was told a similar tale. He entered another street. In
all he tried nearly a dozen houses before he found one whose occupants,
very cautiously and grudgingly, offered a little bread and a promise of
shelter in return for a quite fantastic sum of money. He gave them
something on account, took a piece of the bread, and hastened back to
the other side of the town. There he found rioting already going on
between the invading refugees and the local inhabitants; several persons
had been seriously hurt. He reached the barn where women were still
sheltering, took Daly in his arms, helped her to her feet, and almost
carried her across the town. He dared not offer her the bread until they
were well away from the others.

At last, at last, he had her safely under the roof of the cottage, and
its occupiers, with a promise of more money, were lighting a fire.

They were curious people, and he could not at first place them. There
seemed to be a mother, two sons, and two daughters, all living in four
small rooms; their name was Valimoff. They had much better manners and
cleaner habits than were usual amongst working people; they were
secretive, too, about their personal affairs, though inquisitive enough
about A.J.'s. When later in the evening news reached them of the rioting
at the other end of the town, Madame Valimoff asked A.J. if he were one
of the refugees from the train. He said yes, he was. She replied
severely: "We should have had nothing to do with you if we had known
that. Why can't you wretched people stay in your own towns, the same as
we have to stay in ours?"

But soon a small wood fire was burning in the hearth and a scanty meal
of black bread and thin soup was being prepared. The two travellers ate,
drank, and dried themselves as well as they could, but A.J. s pleasure
at such comparative good fortune was offset by anxiety about Daly. She
seemed to have taken a bad chili, and he promised a further bribe to one
of the daughters of the house in return for the loan of dry clothes. The
daughter, a clean and neatly-dressed girl, helped him to prepare a bed
near the fire, and Daly, by that time feverishly tired, was helped into
it. She was soon asleep. He sat up for a time by the fire, and towards
midnight the girl entered the room and brought him a small tumbler of
vodka. The gift was so unexpectedly welcome that he was profuse in his
thanks, and he was still more astonished when she went on: "You see,
sir, I think I know who you are. You are Count Adraxine."

"What?" he cried, and was about to make an indignant denial; then he
checked himself and added more cautiously: "Why, whatever makes you
think that?"

"I remember the Countess, sir. I used to be a maid at Baron
Morvenstein's house in Moscow, and I remember her quite distinctly."

He still stared in bewilderment, and she continued: "You need not be
afraid, sir--we are all very happy to be of service to you and the
Countess."

The revelation had been so sudden that, coming with the vodka after all
the hardships and adventures of the day, it made him a little dizzy.
Then, before his uncertain eyes, a curious pageant was enacted. The rest
of the household, which till then had been rather unfriendly and had
bargained greedily for every rouble, came into the room and were
solemnly and separately presented to him by the girl, whose name was
Annetta. They all bowed or curtseyed, and stared hard at the woman
asleep in bed. Then they said polite things, and he said (or thought he
said--he was too dazed to be sure of it) polite things in return. And
afterwards, which was more to the point, Annetta brought him a second
glass of vodka.

She told him that they had all been servants in big houses until the
Revolution; the men had been footmen and the girls lady's-maids. Madame
Valimoff had been a housekeeper. They had all saved money, so that the
loss of their jobs had not meant instant poverty; besides, their masters
and mistresses had been generous with farewell gifts. But much more
important than money, Annetta confessed, was the fact that they had
managed to hoard up supplies of food.

After she had gone, A.J. sat for another hour in front of the fire. The
vodka had set the blood tingling in his veins; his mind was still
bewildered. He partly undressed and lay down in the bed beside Daly; he
went to sleep and awoke to find himself somehow in her arms. She was
asleep then, and fever-hot; the fire in the hearth was smouldering; rain
was still falling outside. How fortunate was their lot compared with
that of the night before...Then she awoke and he told her all that had
happened. She was quietly astonished and confirmed the one fact
confirmable--that she had, on several occasions before her marriage,
visited Baron Morvenstein's house in Moscow. He listened to her, yet all
the time he was thinking of something rather different; he was thinking
how strange, yet how natural, that they should both be lying together,
he and she, ex-commissar and ex-countess, there in a workman's cottage
in a town whose name they did not yet know. (Which reminded him that he
must ask Annetta in the morning.) He said: "Of course, they take me for
the Count--which is funny, in a way."

She shivered with laughter. "Isn't it _all_ funny? Isn't everything
rather a bad joke? Everything except--" And she cast over him again the
spell of her own dark and sleepy passion.

In the morning they both rose late, the household evidently preferring
not to waken them. As soon, however, as they were up and dressed,
Annetta appeared with a pot of steaming coffee, fresh rolls made of
white flour, and cherry jam. It was miraculous, and they guzzled over it
like children at a party.

Thus, for the time, they settled down with the Valimoffs in that
once-prosperous town (whose name, by the way, was Novarodar). Daly, as
A.J. had suspected, had caught a severe chill, and only very slowly
recovered. But the Valimoffs did not appear to mind the delay; on the
contrary, they showed every sign of wishing it to continue. Nor, now
that they knew or thought they knew the identity of their guests, would
they accept a single rouble in payment. A.J. was grateful, but he found
it perplexingly difficult to like them for it all. Their obsequiousness
got on his nerves, and he was a little disconcerted, at times, by the
utter ruthlessness of their attitude towards their less fortunate
neighbours. The cottage was certainly a treasure-trove; it contained
sacks of white flour, dozens of tins of meat, fruit, and vegetables, and
large quantities of wines and spirits. Knowing what servants were, A.J.
was of the opinion that most of it had been systematically thieved
during the decade preceding the Revolution. Anyhow, it was there;
fortunately, in the house of the Valimoffs, stowed away carefully in
wardrobes and cupboards, while the rest of the town raked for potato
peelings in rubbish-heaps. A.J. had ample evidence of this, for the took
many walks about the streets. Sometimes, fresh from an almost luxurious
meal, he would pass the bread-queue, stretching its unhappy length for
nearly a quarter of a mile along the main street. He saw women who had
been waiting for many hours faint and shriek hysterically when they were
told that nothing was left for them. The Valimoffs were careful never to
give any cause of suspicion to their neighbours; they took turns in the
bread-queues themselves, and they banged the door relentlessly on every
beggar--more relentlessly, indeed, than they need have done. They seemed
quite confident that A.J. could be trusted with their secret; they had
his secret in return, and doubtless felt it to be sufficient security.
What puzzled him most was why they should trouble to be so generous; he
hardly thought it could be because they hoped for future favours, for
they probably knew how slender were the chances of the old aristocracy
ever getting back their former possessions. He knew, too, that it could
not be from any altruistic notion of helping a stranger, since before
they had identified him they had been eager to drive the hardest of
bargains. In the end he was forced to the conclusion that their motive
was one of simple snobbery--they were just delighted to be in a position
to help a Count and Countess. They had lived so comfortably (and perhaps
thieved so comfortably too) in a world of superiors and inferiors that
now, when that world seemed completely capsized, they clung to any
floating shred of it with a fervour born of secret panic.

Novarodar was Red, but not as Red as many other places; its geographical
position had kept it so far out of the battle area, and also, owing to
its small importance as a railway centre, it had escaped Czecho-Slovak
occupation. The Valimoffs, of course, dreamed secret dreams 'of the day
when they should see the Revolution overthrown, the Imperial flag
floating again over the town hall, and strings of leading Reds lined up
in the market square before a firing squad. Perhaps, too, they envisaged
a certain bitter prestige appertaining to them when all Novarodar should
learn that they, the Valimoffs, had given shelter to two such
illustrious persons as Count and Countess Adraxine.

That day, remote as it seemed, looked infinitely more so after an event
which took place in mid-September. That was the capture of Kazan by the
Bolsheviks. The new army, under Trotsky, drove out the Czechs after a
two-day fight, thereby changing the entire military and political
situation. With the Czechs in retreat down the Volga it was no longer
likely that the pincers would close and the British troops from
Archangel link up with the Czech drive from the south. The news of the
fall of Kazan caused great commotion in Novarodar, for it was hoped that
the Bolshevist victory would mean the release of quantities of food that
had been hitherto held up. Its first effect, however, was
disappointingly contrary. Hundreds of White refugees, many belonging to
wealthy families, streamed into the town from Kazan, where they had been
living for some time under Czech protection. The whole situation was
further complicated by exceptionally heavy rainfall, which had flooded
the surrounding country and made all the roads to the south of the town
impassable. Many White refugees, caught between the floods and the
Bolsheviks, preferred to remain in the town and come to terms with its
inhabitants, whose redness did not preclude the acceptance of large
bribes for temporary shelter. Thus Novarodar actually received more
mouths for feeding instead of more food to feed them, and the plight of
those who had little money became much worse than before.

To A.J., living through those strange days while Daly slowly
recuperated, it seemed impossible to state any sort of case or draw any
sort of moral from the chaos that was everywhere. It was as if the
threads of innumerable events had got themselves tied up in knots that
no historian would ever unravel. The starved townspeople, the wealthy
refugees, the poverty-stricken refugees, the youths of seventeen and
eighteen in civilian clothes who had obviously been Imperialist cadets,
the streams of ragged, famished, diseased, and homeless wanderers who
passed into the town as vaguely and with as little reason as they passed
out of it--all presented a nightmare pageant of the inexplicable.
Novarodar's small-town civilisation had crumbled instantly beneath that
combined onslaught of flood, famine, and invasion; all the niceties of
metropolitan life--cafés, cinemas, electric light, shop-windows--had
disappeared in quick succession, leaving the place more stark and dreary
than the loneliest village of the steppes.

Daly grew gradually stronger, though the strain of recent weeks had been
more considerable than either A.J. or herself had supposed. A.J. was
divided between two desires--to give her ample time to rest and recover,
and to continue the journey. He did not like the way events were
developing in Novarodar, especially when, towards the end of the month,
came further news that the Bolshevik army had taken Sembirsk. At last,
to his great relief, Daly seemed well enough again to face the risks of
travel--so much the more formidable now that the cold weather had
arrived. Their plans were of necessity altered owing to the Czech
retreat; indeed, it had been a bitter disappointment to have to stay in
Novarodar day after day and know that every hour put extra miles between
themselves and safety. The nearest city now at which they could hope to
link up with the Whites was Samara, some two hundred miles distant.

Meanwhile affairs at Novarodar very rapidly worsened. As the inflowing
stream of refugees continued, the last skeleton organisation of the town
collapsed; bread-riots took the place of the bread-queues, and the main
streets were the scenes of frequent clashes between Red police and bands
of White fugitives. It looked, indeed, as if the latter were planning a
_coup d'état_; so many had entered the town that they stood a good
chance, if they were to try. The inhabitants, starved and dispirited,
were hardly in a mood to care what happened, so long as, somehow or
other, they received supplies of food.

Then came news that the Bolsheviks were moving down the Volga towards
Samara. This sent a wave of panic amongst the White refugees, for,
unless they got away quickly eastward, there was every possibility of
their being trapped. Yet eastward lay the floods, still rising, that had
turned vast areas into lakeland and swamps. Some took the risk of
drowning and starvation and set out, but for most there began a period
of anxious tension, with one eye on the floodwater and the other on the
maps which showed the rapid Red advance. A shower of rain was enough to
plunge the town in almost tangible gloom, and groups of White cadets, a
little scared beyond their boyish laughter, climbed the church tower at
all times of the day and scanned impatiently that horizon of inundated
land. Even the local inhabitants were beginning to be apprehensive.
Their position was a ticklish one, and the worried expression on the
faces of local Soviet officials was wholly justified. Was it wise to
have been so complacent with the White refugees? The latter were too
numerous now to be intimidated, but at first, when they had begun to
enter the town, would it not have been better to have been more severe?
Troubled by these and similar misgivings, and with their eyes fixed
feverishly on the war-map, the Novarodar Soviet, from being mildly pink,
flushed to deep vermilion in almost record time.

A.J. and Daly, like the rest, were waiting for the floods to subside.
They were both keen to get away, and even the hospitality of the
Valimoffs, so unstintingly given, would not induce them to stay an hour
longer than had to be. The Valimoffs assured them that Novarodar was
quite safe whatever happened, but A.J. did not think so. At last a day
came when the floods showed signs of falling. He had made all
preparations for departure, had accepted supplies of food from the still
generous Valimoffs, had thanked them, and pressed them in vain to take
some money in return for all their gifts and services; and then, just as
he was tying up a final bundle, one of the young men rushed in from the
street with the news that Samara had fallen.

All Novarodar was in instant uproar. With Samara in Bolshevik hands the
last hope that the Czech retirement was only temporary disappeared.
Worse still, the White line of retreat was cut off; Novarodar was now
ringed round on three sides by Red troops, and the fourth and only line
of escape was waterlogged. White refugees were gathering in little
excited groups to discuss the matter; some set out across the swamps,
and later on that very day a few stragglers carne back, mud-caked from
head to foot, to report catastrophes as horrible as any that were to be
feared.

Once again A.J.'s plans suffered a blow. There seemed little hope now of
ever catching up with the recreating Czechs. A.J. and Daly talked the
whole question over with the Valimoffs; the latter, of course, thought
that the best plan would be for them to stay, disguised as they were, in
Novarodar. But A.J. was still all for movement; he felt instinctively
that every moment in Novarodar was, as it were, a challenge flung to
Fate. He talked of making for the Don country, where White troops, under
Denikin, had already driven a northward wedge to within a few score
miles of Voronesk. His eagerness increased as he computed the chances of
the plan. Denikin's army, he argued, was more likely to advance than to
retreat, since, unlike the Czechs, it had a solid backing of support
from the local populations. And it was an advantage, too, that the way
towards Denikin was the way towards the Black Sea ports. Had he and Daly
succeeded in reaching the Czechs, their sole line of escape would have
been by the long and tedious Trans-Siberian journey, during which
anything might have happened, and with the chance of being held up
indefinitely in the Far East. But to reach Denikin's army was to reach
at once a far simpler gateway to the outer world.

In the end it was agreed that the southward plan should be tried; it
was, in fact, the only practical alternative to remaining in Novarodar.
"We shall trust to our disguise," A.J. said, "and work our way, by
trains, if we can find any, through Kuszneszk and Saratof." He agreed,
however, in view of the change of plans, to postpone departure to the
following morning.

The Valimoffs were keenly interested in the adventure, and, though
discouraging at first, soon came to regard it with tempered enthusiasm.
In particular the mention of Saratof roused them to a curious
interchange of looks amongst one another which A.J. did not fail to
notice. That evening, after the excellent dinner with which he and Daly
were always provided, Madame Valimoff humbly presented herself and
craved an interview. He treated her politely, as he always did, but with
reserve. Daly was more cordial, and this cordiality, natural as it was
in the circumstances, had often given him a feeling which he could only
diagnose as petulance. The fact was that Madame Valimoff, behind her
obsequious manners, was an exceedingly strong-willed person and had, he
was sure, acquired a considerable influence over Daly, whether the
latter was aware of it or not. He had no reason, of course, to believe
that this influence was for the bad, yet somehow, though he could not
explain it, he had misgivings.

Madame Valimoff, with many apologies for troubling them, soon came to
the point. Before the Revolution, she said, she and two of her sons had
been servants in Petrograd at the house of the Rosiankas. Prince and
Princess Rosianka had been murdered by the Reds at Yaroslav; there was a
large family, all of whom had been massacred with their parents except
the youngest--a girl of six. This child, the sole survivor of the family
and inheritor of the title, had been hidden away by loyal servants and
taken south. It had been intended to smuggle the child abroad, but,
owing to increased Bolshevist vigilance, it had not been possible to
reach the Black Sea ports in time. The two servants, a former butler
named Stapen and his wife, who had been a cook in the same household,
were now living in Saratof, and the child was still with them there.

Madame Valimoff then produced a letter from this ex-butler, written some
weeks previously and delivered by secret messenger. It conveyed the
information that the child was in fairly good health, and that Stapen
was constantly on the watch for some chance of sending her south,
especially now that Denikin was advancing so rapidly. It was a risky
business, however, and the person to be trusted with such a task could
not be selected in a hurry. "You see," Madame Valimoff explained, after
A.J. and Daly had both examined the letter, "the Bolshevists have
photographs of all the persons they are looking out for, and the little
princess is of course one of them. So many escapes have been made lately
that the examination is now stricter than ever."

Briefly, Madame's suggestion was that he and Daly, when they reached
Saratof, should call at Stapen's house and take the princess with them
into safety. She was sure they were the right sort of people to carry
through such a dangerous enterprise successfully. She gave them Stapen's
address and also a little amber bead which, she said, would convince him
of their bona-fides, even if he did not recognise them. "But he probably
will," she added. "Butlers have a good memory for faces, and I'm sure
you must sometime or other have visited the Rosiankas."

Daly admitted that she had.

After Madame Valimoff had gone, A.J. was inclined to be doubtful.
Madame's dominant personality, the delivery of Stapen's letter by secret
messenger, and various other significant details, had all made him
gradually aware that Madame was a person of some importance in the
sub-world of counter-revolutionary plotting. He did not himself wish to
be drawn into White intrigue; his only aim was to get himself and Daly
out of the country, and he had no desire to jeopardise their chances of
success for the sake of a small child whom they had neither of them ever
seen. "If the child is safe at Saratof," he argued, "why not let her
stay there?"

All that Daly would say was that there could be no harm in promising the
Valimoffs to do what they could. "Our plans," she said, "may have to be
altered again, so that we may never go anywhere near Saratof. We can
only give a conditional promise, but I think we might give that--we
really owe them a great deal, you know."

It was true, beyond question, and later that evening A.J. assured Madame
Valimoff that he would certainly call on Stapen if it were at all
possible. Privately he meant the reservation to mean a great deal.

Very early next morning he bade farewell to his hosts, to whom he felt
immensely grateful, even though he had not been able to like them as
much as he felt he ought. He could not imagine how Daly and himself
would have managed without them; they had provided food and shelter just
when it had been most of all needed, and now they were prodigal to the
last, making up bundles of well-packed and artfully disguised food
supplies for them to take with them on their journey. A.J. thanked them
sincerely, yet was never more relieved than when he turned the corner of
the street.

Only a few moments afterwards a loud boom sounded from the distance,
together with a shattering explosion somewhere over the centre of the
town. The streets, which till then had been nearly empty, filled
suddenly with scurrying inhabitants, all in panic to know what had
happened, while a few youths, White cadets, rushed by in civilian
clothes, hastily buckling on belts and accoutrements as they ran. A.J.
did not stop to make enquiries, but he gathered from overheard question
and answer that the White refugees had organised a _coup d'état_ during
the night, had killed the Soviet guard, taken possession of all
strategic points, and were now preparing to defend the town against the
approaching Red army. The latter, however, had evidently learned of
these events, and were bombarding the town (so the rumour ran) from an
armoured train some miles away.

A.J.'s first idea was to get as far from the danger-zone as possible,
and with this intention he hurried Daly through the rapidly thronging
streets. At intervals of a few minutes came the boom of the gun, but the
shells were bursting a safe distance away. Daly was not nervous--only a
little excited; and on himself, as always, the sound of gun-fire
exercised a rather clarifying effect. He began to reckon the chances of
getting well out of the town before the real battle began. There was
irony in the fact that for weeks his aim had been to reach some place
that was held by the Whites, and that now, being in such a place, his
chief desire was to get out of it. It would be the most frantic folly,
he perceived, to trust himself to this local and probably quite
temporary White success, for his judgment of affairs led him to doubt
whether the White occupation could last longer than a few days at most.

Disappointment faced him when he reached the outskirts of the town,
where an iron bridge spanned the swollen river. White guards were
holding up the crowd of fugitives who sought to cross, while other
guards were hastily digging trenches on the further bank. They were all
in an excitable, nerve-racked mood, aware of unwelcome possibilities,
and prepared to act desperately and instantly. Not a single refugee,
they ordered, must leave the town; this was to prevent spies from
reporting to the Reds the preparations that were being made for the
town's defence. The ban applied to women and children as well as to men,
and was being enforced at every possible exit.

There was nothing to be gained by arguing the point, apart from which,
A.J. was anxious that both he and Daly should remain as inconspicuous as
possible. He felt that their best chance of safety lay with the crowd of
dirty, ailing, poverty-stricken wretches who, merely because nobody
cared about them at all, were usually exempt from too close attention by
either side. Most of them were squatting miserably in doorways along the
road back to the town, nibbling precious fragments of food, or
rebandaging their torn and blistered feet.

It was an anxious morning for Novarodar. Shells fell every ten minutes
or so on the centre of the town, but many did not burst, and even the
others were of poor construction and caused little damage. Once one
realised that the likelihood of being hurt by the long-range bombardment
was considerably less than that of catching typhus from the town's
water-supply, it was possible to ignore the intermittent booming and
crashing. But such philosophic detachment was not possible to everyone,
and towards midday there was evidence that many of the White defenders
were themselves losing nerve. Already rifle-fire was being exchanged
between the White trenches and advanced Red scouting-parties. During the
afternoon the leaders of the local Soviet were dragged out of prison by
White guards, lined up in the market-square, and ceremonially
machine-gunned before a public for the most part too apprehensive of its
own immediate future to be either repelled or elevated by such an
entertainment.

During most of the morning A.J. and Daly sat patiently in a side-street
with a crowd of other refugees. But in the afternoon, shortly after the
shooting of the Soviet leaders, White guards toured the town in motor
cars and rounded up all who were out of doors. Those who had no homes
were lodged in some of the big rooms of The town-hall.

Thus it happened that the refugees had a sort of grand-stand view of the
entry of the Bolsheviks into Novarodar, which took place about five
o'clock in the afternoon, after a sharp and bloodthirsty battle at the
town outskirts. At some points the Whites had resisted to the last, but
at others they had run away into the town and sought refuge in houses.

Mysteriously and marvellously there appeared a dazzling array of red
flags to greet the invaders. The actual march into the town was an
almost suspiciously quiet affair. Not a rifle-shot, nor a cheer, nor a
lilt of a song disturbed the march of those squads of hard-faced,
bearded veterans and grinning, wild-eyed boys, caked with mud and blood,
badly clothed, flushed with bitter triumph, helping their wounded along
or carrying them in improvised stretchers made of great-coats. The Red
leader, a keen-looking youth of not more than twenty, halted his troops
in the market-square and read a proclamation declaring the friendliest
intentions of the invaders towards all who had not given assistance to
the Whites.

From the large windows, mostly broken, of that first-floor room in the
town-hall, history could be seen enacting itself at a prodigious rate.
The first task after the reading of the proclamation was to deal with
the White prisoners actually captured in the trenches outside the town.
These men, battered and mud-stained as their captors, were lined up and
machine-gunned from a roof on the opposite side of the square--not very
copiously, however, for there seemed to be a shortage of ammunition.
Their bodies, some still twitching, were then dragged away and piled in
a heap in a side-street.

The Reds were quite convinced that the shot prisoners represented only a
very small fraction of the Whites who had held the town, and as night
approached, the rage of the invaders grew into a very positive
determination to root out all Whites who might be in hiding. Then began
a house-to-house search by groups of blood-maddened soldiery. The
market-square was the scene of some of the worst incidents, for in it
were the larger houses and shops in which Whites might be expected to
have found sympathisers. Terrified wretches were dragged out of doorways
and clubbed to death; several were flung out of high windows and left
broken and dying on the pavements. Firing sounded from all over the
town, with now and then the sharp patter of a machine-gun. Later on
vengeance became more extended and took in the entire bourgeois element
among the townspeople; shops were looted and better-class citizens
seized in their houses, accused vaguely of having assisted the Whites,
and butchered there and then on their own thresholds.

Some of the refugees screamed hysterically at the sights that were to be
seen from the town-hall windows, and many covered their faces and
refused to look. A few, however, of whom A.J. was one, gazed on the
scene almost impassively, and this either because they were already
satiated with horrors, or because their minds had reached that calm
equilibrium, born of suffering, in which they saw that market-square at
Novarodar as but a tiny and, on the whole, insignificant fragment of a
world of steel and blood. To A.J. the latter reason applied with
especial force; and more than ever, as the moments passed, his mind
clung to what was all in his life that counted--the woman there at his
side. The rest of the world was but a chaos of cancelling wrongs, and to
offer pity for it was as if one should pour out a single drop of water
upon a desert. He felt, as he gazed down upon all the slaughter, that it
could not really matter, or it would not be happening.

He was pondering and feeling thus, when a man near him, who had also
been watching the scene quite calmly; began to talk to him. He was a
thin, ascetic-looking man, middle-aged, with deep-set eyes and a lofty
forehead. His voice and accent were educated.

"If I may read your thoughts," he said quietly, "you are wondering just
how much and how little all this can mean."

A.J. was unwilling to betray himself by any too intelligent answer, so
he merely half-nodded and let the other continue talking, which he was
more than willing to do. He had been a professor of moral philosophy, he
confided, and was now penniless and starving. Probably also (though he
did not say so) he was a little mad. He expounded to A.J. a copious
theory of the decadence of Western civilisation and the possible
foundation of a new and cruder era based on elementals such as hunger,
thirst, cruelty, and physical uncleanliness. "No man," he said
oracularly, "has really eaten until he has starved, or been clean until
he has felt the lice nibbling at him, or has lived until he has faced
death." He also praised civil war as against war between nations,
because it was necessarily smaller and more personal. "It is better, my
friend," he said, "that I should kill you for your wife, or for the
contents of your pockets, than that we should stand in opposing trenches
and kill each other anonymously because a few men in baroque armchairs a
thousand miles away have ordered us to."

Conversation was several times interrupted by gusts of machine-gunning;
once a spray of bullets shattered the already broken windows and several
refugees were cut by falling glass.

About two in the morning there was a sudden commotion in the building
below, and a Red officer, armed with two revolvers, rushed into the room
with the brusque order that all refugees were to form up in the square
outside for inspection, since it was believed that many White guards and
bourgeois sympathisers were hiding in disguise amongst them.

The whole company, numbering between five and six hundred, were
marshalled in long lines facing the town-hall front, where other groups
of refugees were already drawn up. The procedure had a certain ghastly
simplicity. Red officers, carrying lanterns, peered into the faces of
each person, searching for any evidences of refinement such as might
cast suspicion on the genuineness of identity. Hands were also carefully
inspected. When A.J. observed these details he felt apprehensive, not on
his own account, but on Daly's. The examining officers, shouting
furiously to those who from weakness or panic could not stand upright,
were certainly not in a mood to give the benefit of any doubts. Those
whose faces were not seared deeply from winds and rains, or whose hands
were not coarse and calloused, stood little chance of passing that
ferocious scrutiny. Slowly the group of suspects increased; the
ex-professor of philosophy was among the first to be sent to join it.
The officer who was examining those near A.J. was a coolheaded, trim
young fellow much less given to bullying his victims than the rest, but
also, A.J. could judge, much less likely to be put off by a plausible
tale. He did not linger more than a few seconds over A.J.--that grim,
lined face and those hands hardened by Arctic winters were their own
best argument. At Daly, however, he paused with rather keener interest.
A.J. interposed with the story he had prepared for the occasion--that
she was his daughter, a semi-invalid, and that he was taking her to some
distant friends by whom she might be better looked after. The officer
nodded but said: "Let her speak for herself." Then he asked her for her
name, age, and place of birth--all of which had been agreed upon between
A.J. and herself for any such emergency. She answered in a quiet voice
and did not seem particularly nervous. That clearly surprised the
questioner, for he asked her next if she were not afraid. She answered:
"No, but--as my father has just said--I am ill and would like to be
allowed to finish my journey as soon as possible."

While the youth was still questioning her, another officer approached of
a very different type. He was a small, fat-faced, and rather elderly
Jew, glittering with epaulettes and gold teeth and thick-lensed
spectacles. One glance at the woman was apparently enough for him.
"Don't argue with her, Poushkoff," he ordered sharply. "Put her with the
suspects--I'll deal with her myself in a few moments."

Poushkoff saluted and then bowed slightly to Daly. "You will have to go
over there for a further examination," he said, and added, not unkindly,
to A.J.--"Don't be alarmed. You can go with her if you like."

They walked across the square, and on the way A.J. whispered: "Don't be
alarmed, as he said. We've come through tighter corners than this one, I
daresay." She replied: "Yes, I know, and I'm not afraid."

The second examination, however, was brutally stringent. The Reds were
determined that no White sympathiser should escape, and it was
altogether a matter of indifference to them whether, in making sure of
that, they slaughtered the innocent. The fat-faced Jew, who appeared to
be the inquisitor-in-chief, made this offensively clear. He took the
male suspects first, and after a sneering and hectoring
cross-examination, condemned them one after another. He did not linger a
moment over the professor of philosophy. "You are a bourgeois--that is
enough," he snapped, and the man was hustled away towards a third group.
When this grew sufficiently large, the men in it were arranged in line
in a corner of the square and given over to the soldiery, who, no doubt,
took it for granted that all were proved and convicted Whites. Then
followed a scene which was disturbing even to A.J.'s hardened nerves.
The men were simply clubbed and bayoneted to death. It was all over in
less than five minutes, but the cries and shrieks seemed to echo for
hours.

Many of the waiting women were by that time fainting from fear and
horror, but Daly was still calm. She whispered: "I am thinking of what
he said--that one hasn't lived until one has faced death. Do you
remember?"

The Jew adopted different tactics with the women. He wheedled; he was
mock-courteous; doubtless he hoped that his method would make them
implicate one another. With any who were even passably young and
attractive he took outrageous liberties, which most of the victims were
too terrified to resent, though a few, with ghastly eagerness, sought in
them a means of propitiation. When Daly's turn came, he almost oozed
politeness; he questioned her minutely about her past life, her parents,
education, and so on. Then he signalled a soldier to fetch him
something, and after a moment the man returned with a large book
consisting of pages of pasted photographs and written notes. The Jew
took it and began to scrutinise each photograph with elaborate care,
comparing it with Daly. This rather nerve-destroying ordeal lasted for
some time, for the photographs were numerous. At last he fixed on one,
gazed at it earnestly for some time, and then suddenly barked out: "You
have both been lying. You are not a peasant woman. You are the
ex-Countess Alexandra Adraxine, related to the Romanoffs who met their
end at Ekaterinburg last July. Don't bother to deny it--the photograph
makes absolute proof."

"Nevertheless we _do_ deny it!" A.J. exclaimed, and Daly echoed him. "It
is absurd," she cried, with well-acted emphasis. "We are two poor people
on our way to visit our friends, and you accuse me of being someone I
have never even heard of!"

The Jew laughed. "I accuse you of being the person you are," he said,
harshly. "Stand aside--we can't waste all night over you."

The sensation of the discovery had by this time reached the ears of the
soldiers, and had also attracted the attention of a small group of
officers, among whom was the youth who had conducted the earlier
interrogation. He hurriedly approached the Jew and whispered something
in his ear, and for several moments a muttered discussion went on
between them. Meanwhile the rank and file, fresh from their slaughter of
the first batch of suspects, were waiting with increasing impatience for
the next. "Let's have her!" some of them were already shouting. The Jew
seemed anxious to conciliate them; he said, loudly so that they might
all hear him: "My dear Poushkoff, it would not be proper to treat this
woman any differently from the rest. Women have betrayed our cause no
less than men--especially women of high rank and position. The prisoner
here may herself, if the truth were known, be responsible for the lives
of hundreds of our soldiers. Are we to quail, like our predecessors,
before a mere title?"

Poushkoff answered quietly: "Not at all, Bernstein--I merely suggest
that the woman should not be dealt with before she is definitely proved
guilty. After all, she _may_ be speaking the truth, and it would be too
had if she were to lose her life merely because of a slight resemblance
to one of those exceedingly bad photographs that headquarters have sent
us."

"Slight resemblance, eh? And bad photographs? My dear Poushkoff, look
for yourself."

He handed the book to the other, who examined it and then went on:
"Well, there seems to me only a slight resemblance such as might exist,
say, between myself or yourself and at least a dozen persons in this
town if we took the trouble to look for them. Frankly, it isn't the sort
of evidence on which I would care to condemn a dog, much less a woman.
And we have this fellow's statement, also--he sounds honest."

"About as honest as she is, if you ask my opinion. We'll attend to him
afterwards."

"I merely suggest, Bernstein, that the matter should be deferred for
further investigation."

"But, my dear boy, where's the need of it? Surely we are entitled to
believe the evidence of our own eyes?"

"Photographs aren't our own eyes--that's just my point. If this woman is
really the Countess, it could not be very difficult to have her
identified by someone who knew her formerly. There is bound to be
somebody, either at Sembirsk or Samar, who could do it."

"But not at Novarodar, eh? How convenient for her!" The soldiers here
began a renewed clamour for the prisoner to be surrendered, and
Bernstein, with a shrug of the shoulders, exclaimed: "You see,
Poushkoff, what the men are already thinking--they believe we are going
to favour this woman because of her high rank."

Poushkoff replied, still very calmly: "I beg your pardon, Bernstein--I
thought the point was whether she is guilty or not. If it is merely a
matter of amusing the men, doubtless she will do as well as anyone
else."

Bernstein snorted angrily. "Really, Poushkoff, you forget yourself! The
woman, to my mind, is already proved guilty--guilty of having conspired
against the Revolution and against the lives of the Red army."

"Quite, if you are positive of her identity. That is my point."

"Your point, eh? You change your point so often that one has an infernal
job to keep up with you! No, no, my dear boy, it won't do--we've proved
everything--the Countess is guilty and this woman is the Countess. There
is no shadow of reason for any delay."

"I am afraid I do not agree."

"Well, then, you must disagree, that is all. The responsibility, such as
it is, rests with me."

"Take note, then, that I protest most strongly."

"Oh, certainly, my dear Poushkoff, certainly."

"And in any case, since she is a woman, I suggest that she should be
treated mercifully."

"And not be handed over to our young rascals, you mean, eh?" He laughed.
"Well, perhaps you deserve some small reward for your advocacy. Arrange
the matter as you want--you were always a lady's man. But remember--the
penalty is death--death to all enemies of the Revolution. You may gild
the pill as much as you like, but the medicine has to be taken."

After this sententiousness Poushkoff saluted and signed to A.J. and Daly
to accompany him. He led them into the town-hall through a small
entrance beneath the portico. He did not speak till at length he opened
the door of a basement room in which a number of soldiers were smoking
and drinking tea. "Is Tamirsky here?" he asked, and an old and
grey-bearded soldier detached himself from the group. Poushkoff took him
out into the corridor and whispered in his ear for a few moments. Then,
leading him to Daly, he began: "Do you know this woman?"

Tamirsky gave her a profound stare from _head to foot and finally shook
his head.

"You are prepared to swear that you have never seen her before?"

"Yes, your honour."

"And you were--let me see--a gardener on the estate of Count Adraxine
before the Revolution?"

"I was."

"So that you often saw the Countess?"

"Oh, very often indeed, your honour."

"Thank you. You are sure of all this, and are ready to swear to it?"

"Certainly."

"Then come with me now." To A.J. he added: "Wait there with the soldiers
till I return."

They waited, and in that atmosphere of stale tobacco-smoke and heavy
personal smells, Daly's strength suddenly gave way. She collapsed and
would have fallen had not A.J. caught her quickly. The soldiers were
sympathetic, offering tea, as well as coats for her to rest on. A.J.
began to thank them, but one of them said: "Careful, brother--don't tell
us too much about yourselves."

After a quarter of an hour or so Poushkoff and Tamirsky returned
together, and the former signalled to the two prisoners to follow him
again. Outside in the corridor several Red guards, fully armed, were
waiting. Poushkoff said: "Sentence is postponed. You are to be taken to
Samara for further identification. The train leaves in an hour; these
men will take you to the station." He gave an order and went away
quickly.

A few minutes later, thus escorted, they were hastening through the dark
streets. Scattered firing still echoed over the town, but all was fairly
quiet along the road to the railway. Dawn was breaking as they passed
through the waiting-hall; the station was crowded with soldiers, many
asleep on the platforms against their packs. The line, A.J. heard, had
just been repaired after the recent flood-damage. A train of teplushkas,
already full, lay at one of the platforms, and on to it a first-class
coach, in reasonably good condition, was being shunted. As soon as this
operation was complete, A.J. and Daly were put into one of the
compartments, with two soldiers mounting guard outside. The inevitable
happened after that; the two fugitive-prisoners, weary and limp after
the prolonged strain of the day and night, fell into almost instant
sleep. When they awoke it was broad daylight; snow was falling outside;
the train was moving slowly over an expanse of level, dazzling white;
and in the compartment, quite alone with them, was Poushkoff. He smiled
slightly and resumed the reading of a book.

A.J. smiled back, but did not speak. He felt a sort of bewildered
gratitude towards the young officer, but he was not on that account
disposed to be incautious. The youth's steel-grey eyes, curiously
attractive when he smiled, seemed both a warning and an encouragement.
If there were to be conversation at all, Poushkoff, A.J. decided, should
make the first move.

Several times during the next quarter of an hour Poushkoff looked at
them as if expecting one or the other to speak, and at last, tired of
the silence, he put down his book and asked if they were hungry.

They were, quite frantically, having eaten scarcely anything for
twenty-four hours, despite the fact that their bundles, miraculously
unconfiscated, were bulging with food. A.J. said 'yes,' and smiled;
whereupon Poushkoff offered them hard, gritty biscuits and thin slices
of rather sour cheese. They thanked him and ate with relish.

"We are due to reach Samara late this evening," he said, after a pause.

"A slow journey," A.J. commented.

"Yes, the line is shaky after the floods. When the train stops somewhere
I may be able to get you some tea."

"It is very kind of you."

"Not at all--we are condemned to be fellow-travellers--is it not better
to make things as comfortable as we can for one another?"

So they began to talk, cautiously at first, but less so after a while.
There was something very likeable about Poushkoff; both A.J. and Daly
fought against it, as for their lives, but finally and utterly
succumbed. Its secret lay perhaps in contrast; the youth was at once
strong and gentle, winsome and severe, shy and self-assured, boyish yet
prematurely old. Like most officers in the new Red army, he was scarcely
out of his teens; yet his mind had a clear, mature incisiveness that was
apparent even in the most ordinary exchange of polite conversation.
After about ten minutes of talk that carefully avoided anything of
consequence, he remarked reflectively: "The curse of this country is
that we are all born liars. We lie with such simple profundity that
there's nobody a man dare trust. You, for instance, don't trust
me--obviously not. And I, just as naturally, don't trust you. Yet, once
granting the initial untrustworthiness of both of us, we shall probably
get on quite well together."

"We learn by experience how necessary it is to be cautious," said A.J.

"Oh, precisely. Don't think I'm blaming you in the least."

Then Daly, who had not so far spoken, interposed: "Still less are we
blaming you, Captain Poushkoff. On the contrary, we owe you far more
than we can ever repay." A.J. nodded emphatically.

"Not at all," Poushkoff courteously replied. "Yet even that, now you
mention it, is a case in point--it could not have happened without hard
lying."

Daly smiled. "On our part, Captain?"

"Well, no--I was rather thinking of Tamirsky. He lies so
marvellously--it is a pure art with him. And so faithfully, too--his
lies are almost more steadfast than the truth. You certainly owe your
life to him, Madame."

"And why not also to you, Captain, who told him what lie to tell?"

"Oh no, no--you must not look at it in that way. My own little lie was
only a very poor and unsuccessful one compared with Tamirsky's."

"What was your lie, Captain?"

He answered, rather slowly, and with his eyes, implacable yet curiously
tender, fixed upon her: "I said, Madame, that in my opinion the
photograph bore only a slight resemblance to you. That was my lie. For
the photograph, in fact, was of you beyond all question."

She laughed. "Nevertheless, don't suppose for one moment that I shall
admit it."

"Of course not. Your best plan is so clearly a denial that I don't find
your denial either surprising or convincing." He suddenly smiled, and as
he did so the years seemed to fall away and leave him just a boy. "But
really, don't let's worry ourselves. Quite frankly, I don't care in the
least who you are."

A.J. had been listening to the conversation with growing astonishment
and apprehension. There was such a charm about Poushkoff that he had
been in constant dread of what Daly might be lured into saying; yet an
almost equal lure had worked upon himself and had kept him from
intervening. Even now he was waiting for her answer with curiosity that
quite outdistanced fear. She said: "That leads up to a rather remarkable
conclusion, Captain. You believed I was really the Countess, yet you
made every effort to save my life."

"Yes, perhaps I did, but I don't see anything very remarkable in it."

They sat in silence for some time, while the train-wheels jog jogged
over the uneven track, across a world that was but a white desert
meeting a grey and infinite horizon. A.J. was puzzled still, but less
apprehensive; it was queer how the fellow's charm could melt away even
deepest misgivings. More than queer--there was something uncanny in it;
and he knew, too, that Daly was aware of the same uncanniness. He
glanced at her, and she smiled half-enquiringly, half-reassuringly. Then
she said, all at once serene: "Captain, since you do not care who I am,
there is no reason why we should not all be the greatest of friends."
And turning to A.J. she added: "Don't you think we might share our food
with the Captain?"

A.J., after a moment's hesitation, returned her smile; in another moment
one of the bundles that had been so neatly and carefully packed at the
Valimoffs' cottage was being opened on that shabby but only slightly
verminous compartment-seat. There was a tin of pork and beans, a tin of
American mixed fruits, shortbread, chocolate, and--rarest delicacy of
all--a bottle of old cognac. As these treasures were displayed one after
another, Poushkoff showed all the excitement of a well-mannered
schoolboy. "But this is charming of you!" he exclaimed rapturously, and
then, with swift prudence, rushed to lock the door leading to the
corridor and pull down the blinds. "It will be best for us not to be
observed," he laughed, and continued: "And to think that I offered you
my poor biscuits!"

"We were very grateful for them," Daly said, with a shining sweetness in
her eyes.

Then began a most incredible and extraordinary picnic. Zest came over
them all, as if they had been friends from the beginning of the world,
as if there were no future ever to fear, as if all life held nothing but
such friendship and such joyous appetite. Poushkoff's winsomeness
overflowed into sheer, radiant high spirits; Daly laughed and joked with
him like a carefree child; A.J. became the suddenly suave and perfect
host, handing round the food as gaily as if they had all been on holiday
together. It was like some strange dream that they were all, as by a
miracle, dreaming at once. They shouted with laughter when Poushkoff
tried to open the tin of fruit with the knife-blade and squirted juice
over his tunic. They had to eat everything with their fingers and to
drink the brandy out of the bottle--but how wonderful it all was, and
how real compared with that unreal background of moving snowfields and
flicking telegraph-poles! They did silly inconsequential things for no
reason but that they wanted to do them; Poushkoff made a fantastic
impromptu after-dinner speech; A.J. followed it by another; and Daly
exclaimed, in the midst of everything: "Captain, I'm sure you speak
French--wouldn't you like to?" And they all, in madness to be first,
began gabbling away like children.

The brandy passed round again, and Poushkoff made cigarettes out of the
coarse army tobacco, and they puffed away furiously as they chattered.
It was brilliant chatter, for the most part; Daly and Poushkoff were
perfect foils for each other, and the queerest thing of all was that
they talked in an intricate, intimate way that somehow needed neither
questioning nor explaining on either side. A.J., not talking quite so
much, was nevertheless just as happy--with a keenness, indeed, that was
almost an ache of memory, for he felt the had known Poushkoff not only
before but many times before. Then Poushkoff interrupted one of his own
fantastic speeches to thank them both with instant tragic simplicity. "I
suppose," he said, "we shall not see one another again after we reach
Samara. That is a pity. The French say--'Faire ses adieux, c'est mourir
un peu'--but in this country it is 'mourir entièrement.' We have all of
us died a thousand deaths like that during these recent years." He
seized Daly's hand and pressed it to his lips with a strange blending of
gallantry and shyness. "Oh, how cruel the world is, to have taken away
my life far more than it can ever take away yours..." Then he suddenly
broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. They were astounded and moved
beyond speech; Daly put her arm round the boy and drew his head gently
against her breast. He went on sobbing, and they could not step him; his
whole body shook as if the soul were being wrenched out of it. Then, as
quickly as it had begun, it was all over, and he was looking up at her,
his eyes swimming in tears, and saying: "I humbly beg your pardon. I
don't know what you must think of me--behaving like this It was the
brandy--I'm unused to it."

They both smiled at him, trying to mean all they could without speaking,
and he took up his book and pretended to read again. A.J., for something
to do, cleared away the remains of the meal and repacked the bundle,
while lolly stared out of the window at the dazzling snow. A long time
passed, and at length came the same cairn, controlled voice that they
had heard first of all in the market-place at Novarodar. "Do you know
Samara?" he was asking.

"I've been through it, that's all;" A.J. answered.

Poushkoff continued: "It's a fairly large town--much larger than
Novarodar. As you know, our army has just taken it from the Czechs. Its
full of important people--all kinds of people who were all kinds of
things before the Revolution. There are bound to be many who knew
Countess Adraxine personally."

Daly said still smiling: "And no Tamirskys, eh?"

"Probably not. The perfect Tamirsky is the rarest of all creatures."

"I see So you are warning us?"

"Well, Hardly so much as that. But I am rather wondering what is going
to happen to you."

"Ah, we none of us know that, do we?"

"No, but I thought you alight possibly have something in mind."

She looked at A.J. enquiringly and said: "I'm afraid we just do what we
can, as a rule, don't we?"

"You mean that you just take a chance if it comes along?"

"What else is there we can do?"

"Do you think you will manage it in the end--what you are trying to do?"

"With luck, perhaps."

"And you have had luck so far?"

She said: "Wonderful luck. And the most wonderful of all was to meet
you."

"Do you think so?"

"I would think so even if to-morrow sees the end of us, as it may do."

Every word of speech between them seemed to have infinitely deeper and
secondary meanings. He said, without emotion: "You are the most
astonishing woman I have ever met. I altogether love you, as a matter of
fact. I loved you from the minute I saw you last night. Am. I being very
foolish or impertinent?"

"No, no, I'm sure you're not."

"You mean that?"

"Absolutely."

"Ali, how perfect you are!" He stared at the pages of the book for
another short interval. Then he turned to A.J. "I wonder if I might be
permitted to have a little more of that excellent cognac? It would be
good for me, I think--I feel a trifle faint."

A.J. unpacked the bottle for him, and Daly said, warningly: "Remember
now--you said you were unused to it."

Poushkoff answered, taking a strong gulp and laughing: "I promise it
won't have the same effect again." Then he leaned back on the cushions
and closed his eyes. The train rattled on more slowly than ever; snow
had stopped falling; it was nearly dusk. Neither A.J. nor Daly disturbed
the strange silence through which the boy appeared to sleep. Suddenly he
opened his eyes, yawned vigorously, and strode over to the window. "I
think I can see a church in the distance," he said, in perfectly normal
tones. "That must be Tarzov--we have to change to another train there.
Pick up your luggage and come out with me to the refreshment buffet--I
may be able to get you some tea."

In a few moments the train ground down to an impotent standstill at a
small, crowded platform of a station. It looked an odd place to have to
change; there was no sign of any rail junction, or of any other train,
and Tarzov, seen through the gathering dusk, had the air of a very
second-rate village indeed. There was the usual throng of waiting
refugees, with their usual attitude of having come nowhence and being
bound no-whither; and there was the usual shouting and bell-jangling and
scrambling for places. Poushkoff led them through the crowd to the
refreshment buffet, which, by no means to A.J.'s surprise, was found to
be closed. The boy, however, seemed not only surprised but depressed and
disappointed to a quite fantastic degree--he had so wished, he said, to
drink tea with them once, before they separated. "You see," he said,
"the next station is Samara, only thirty versts away, and of course the
authorities there have been notified about you by telephone, and there
will be an escort waiting, and oh well, it is all going to be very
difficult and complicated. Whereas here we can still be friends." He led
them some distance along the platform, away from the crowd, to a point
whence there was a view of the village--a poor view, however, owing to
the misty twilight.

He seemed anxious to talk to them about something--perhaps about
anything. "Tarzov," he said, "is only a small place--it is on the Volga.
If you go down that street over there you come to the river in about ten
minutes. There is a little quay and there are timber-barges usually, at
this time of the year. They take the rafts downstream during the
daytime, and tie up at the bank for the nights. Of course the
passenger-boats have been stopped since the civil war, but I believe the
timber-barges sometimes take a passenger or two, if people have the
money and make their own arrangements with the bargemen. Some of the
bargemen are Tartars--fine old fellows from the Kirghiz country." He
added, almost apologetically: "This is really a most interesting part of
the world, though, of course, you don't see it at its best at this time
of the year."

Suddenly, as if remembering something, he exclaimed: "Excuse me, I must
go back to the train a moment--I shan't be long." He dashed away into
the midst of the still scurrying crowd before they could answer, and in
the twilight they soon lost sight of him.

"He looked ill," Daly said.

A.J. answered: "He drank nearly all that brandy."

"Did he? Poor boy! Do you like him?"

"Yes."

"So do I--tremendously. And he's only a boy."

It was very cold, waiting there with the wind blowing little gusts of
snow into their faces.

A.J. said: "It's rather curious, having to change trains at a place like
this. There doesn't seem to be any junction, and if it's only thirty
versts to Samara, where else can the train be going on to?"

"Perhaps it isn't going on anywhere."

"Then why is everybody crowding to get into it?"

She clutched his arm with a sharp gesture. "Do you realise--that we
could _escape_--_now_? It's almost dark--there's a mist--we should have
a chance."

He answered, his hand tightening over her wrist: "Yes--yes--I believe
you're right!" But he did not move. "Yes, it's a chance--a chance!" Yet
still he did not move, and all at once there came the splitting crack of
a revolver-shot. It was not a sound to attract particular attention at
such a place and at such a time--it would just, perhaps, make the
average hearer turn his head, if he were idle enough, and wonder what it
was. A.J. wondered, but his mind was grappling with that more insistent
matter--_escape_. Yes, there would be a chance, and their only chance,
for, as Poushkoff had told them, Samara was close, and Samara meant
armed escorts and prison-cells. Yes, yes,--there was no time to
lose--Poushkoff would be back any minute--they must think of
themselves--they must go _now_--_instantly_....But no--not for a
minute--a little man with a ridiculously tilted fur cap was pacing up
and down the platform; he would pass them in a few seconds, would reach
the end, turn, pass them again, and then would come their chance...Yet
the man in the fur cap did not pass them. He stopped and remarked,
cheerfully: "Exciting business down there, comrade," and jerked his head
backward towards the crowd. "Officer just shot himself. Through the
head. Deliberately--everybody saw him. Not a bad thing, perhaps, if they
all did it eh?" He laughed and passed on. A.J. stared incredulously; it
was Daly who led him back to the crowd. "We must see," she said. "We
must make sure." When they reached the crown, soldiers were already
carrying a body into the waiting-room; it was she again who pressed
forward, edging her way in what doubtless seemed mere ghoulish
curiosity. When she rejoined A.J. it was only to nod her head and take
his arm. They walked slowly away. Then she began to whisper excitedly:
"Dear, I'm just understanding it--that's what he _wanted_ us to do--all
that talk about the road to the river, and the bargemen who might take
us if we offered them money--Dear, we _must_ do it--think how furious
he'd be if he thought we hadn't had the sense to take the chance he gave
us!"

"Yes. We'll do it."

They came to the end of the platform, but did not stop and turn, like
other up-and-down walkers. They hastened on through the darkness, across
the tracks and sidings, in between rows of damaged box-cars, over a
ditch into pale, crunching snowfields, and towards the river.

They skirted the village carefully, keeping well away from the
snow-covered roofs, yet not too far from them, lest they should lose
themselves in the mist. But A.J. had sound directional instinct, and
despite the mist and the deep snow it was no more than a quarter of an
hour before they clambered over a fence and found themselves facing a
black vastness which, even before they heard the lapping of the water,
reassured them. They stopped for a few seconds to listen; as well as the
water, they could hear, very faintly, the lilt of voices in the
distance. They walked some way along the path, their footsteps muffled
in snow. Then a tiny light came into view, reflected far over the water
till the mist engulfed it; the voices became plainer. Suddenly A.J.
whispered: "The timber-barges--here they are!"--and they could sec the
great rafts of tree-trunks, snow-covered and lashed together, with the
winking light of the towing barge just ahead of them. Voices were
approaching as well as being approached; soon two men passed by,
speaking a language that was not Russian, though it was clear from sound
and gesture that one of the men was bidding farewell to the other. They
both shouted out a cheerful 'Good-night' as they passed, and a moment
later A.J. heard them stop and give each other resounding kisses on both
cheeks. Then one of them returned, overtaking the two fugitives near the
gang-plank that led down at a steep angle to the barge itself. They
could not see his face, but he was very big and tall. He cried out a
second cheerful 'Good-night,' and was about to cross the plank, when
A.J. asked: "Are you the captain of this boat?"

The man seemed childishly pleased at being called 'captain,' and
replied, in very bad Russian: "Yes, that's right."

"We were wondering if you could take us along with you?"

"Well, I might, if you were to make it worth my while."

To accept too instantly would have looked suspicious, so A.J. went on:
"We are only poor people, so we cannot afford very much."

"Where do you want to go to?"

"A little village called Varokslav--it is on the river, lower down."

"I don't think I know it at all."

A.J. was not surprised, for it was an invented name.

"It t is only very small--we would tell you when you come to it."

"But how can we settle a price if I don't know how far it is?"

To which A.J. answered: "Where is it you are bound for, Captain?"

"Saratof. We are due there in three weeks."

"Very well, I will give you twenty gold roubles to take us both to
Saratof."

"Thirty, comrade."

They haggled in the usual way and finally came to terms at twenty-four.
Then the bargeman, whose Russian became rapidly imperfect when he left
the familiar ground of bargaining, conveyed to them with great
difficulty the fact that accommodation on the barge was very poor, and
that there was only one cabin, which he himself, his wife, and five
children already occupied, and which the passengers would have to share.
A.J. said that would be all right, and they did not mind. Then the
bargeman confided to A.J. that his name was Akhiz, and A.J. returned the
compliment. Having thus got over the introductions, Akhiz gave A.J. two
very loud kisses as a token of their future relationship and invited
both passengers to come on board immediately. It was beginning to snow
again, for which A.J. was thankful, since their tracks would soon be
covered. As they crossed the steep plank there came, very faintly over
the white fields, the sound of a train puffing out of Tarzov station.

Akhiz was a Tartar from Astrakhan--a young, genial, magnificently strong
and excessively dirty monster, six feet five in height and
correspondingly large in face and mouth. His perfectly spaced teeth
glittered like gems whenever he smiled, which was fairly often. His
wife, small, fat, and of the same race, was less genial, but almost more
dirty, and their five children, ranging from a baby to a six-year-old,
were noisy, good-looking, and full of ringworm.

The position of Akhiz in the scheme of things was simple enough. He went
up and down the Volga with his timber-barge. He had been doing so for
exactly twenty-six years--since, in fact, the day he had been born on
just a similar barge on that same Volga. He was not a man of acute
intelligence; he could handle the rafts and work the small steam-engine
and strike a bargain and play intricate games with dice, but that was
almost all. Above everything else, he was incurious--as incurious about
his two passengers as he was about the various excitements and
convolutions that had interfered with the timber trade during recent
years.

A.J. and Daly settled down effortlessly to the tranquil barge life; they
had been travelling so long and so far and so cumbrously that the large,
spacious existence in swollen mid-stream seemed the most perfect and
enchanting rest. Even the stuffy cabin, swarming with children and
fleas, did not trouble them, though there was no privacy in it, and
Akhiz and his family conducted themselves at all times with completely
unembarrassed freedom.. They rather liked Akhiz, however, and soon found
it possible to behave before him with no greater restraints than before
some large and good-humoured dog.

Every evening, at dusk, the barge drifted in to the bank and was moored
for the night. Akhiz was aware of every current and backwater, and
showed great skill in manoeuvring the rafts into place. It was typical
of him that he knew practically nothing of the land beyond the banks; he
did not know even the names of most of the villages that were passed.
With an instinct for adapting himself to circumstances without
understanding them, he managed somehow or other never to be short of
food, even though the country near by was famine-stricken; fortunately,
he and his family could eat almost anything--queer-looking roots and
seeds that A.J. would have liked to know more about, if Akhiz had been
intelligent enough to be questioned. A.J. and Daly still had ample food
for themselves; at first they were afraid of what Akhiz might deduce
from their luxurious provender, but they very soon realised that it was
the way of Akhiz to notice as little as possible and never to make any
kind of deduction at all. Once they went so far as to share with him a
tin of corned beef; he was hugely delighted, but completely and almost
disappointingly indifferent as to how they had come to possess such a
rarity.

It was so restful and satisfying to be on the barge that during their
first night aboard they hardly gave thought to the dangers that might
still be ahead. Dawn, however, brought a more dispassionate outlook; it
was obvious then to both of them that their escape would soon be
discovered and that efforts would be made to recapture them. A.J.'s
immediate fear was of Samara, which they must reach during the first
day's journey; it seemed to him that the authorities there were likely
to be especially vigilant and would probably suspect some method of
escape by river. During that first day, as the wooded bluffs passed
slowly by on either side, he debated in his mind whether he should take
Akhiz somewhat into his confidence. Daly favoured doing so, and A.J.
accordingly broached the matter as delicately as he knew how. But
delicacy was quite wasted on Akhiz; he had to be told outright that his
two passengers were escaping from enemies who wanted to kill them, and
that anywhere, especially at Samara and the big towns, he might be
questioned by the authorities. They half expected Akhiz to be furious
and threaten to turn them ashore, but instead he took it all in with a
comprehension so mild and casual that they could only wonder at first if
it were comprehension at all. "I don't think he really understands what
we've been getting at," A.J. said, but there he certainly did Akhiz an
injustice, for about an hour later the huge fellow, beaming all over his
face, drew them to the far end of the barge and showed them a small and
inconspicuous gap which he had arranged amongst the piled tree-trunks.
"If anyone comes to ask for you, my wife will say nobody here," he
explained, in broken Russian. "You will go in there--see?--and I will
put the logs back in their places--so. Plenty of room for you in behind
there." He grinned with immense geniality and bared his arms to show
them his bulging muscles. "Nobody move those logs but me," he declared
proudly, and it was satisfactory to be able to believe it.

The presence of such an improvised hiding-place for use in an emergency
gave them a feeling of comfort and security, and to A.J.'s further
relief the barge did not even put in at Samara, owing to high
dock-charges, but went on several miles below the town to a deserted and
lonely reach, where no stranger came on board and no suspicious
inspection seemed to be taking place from either bank.

They reached Syzran on the fifth day, passing under the great steel
railway bridge on which, but a few yards above them, Red sentries were
keeping guard, and reaching the end of the long river-loop. The air
turned colder, but there was no further snowfall, and during the
day-time the sun shone with a fierceness that was quite cheerful, even
though it did not lift the temperature much above freezing-point.
Already round the edges of the backwaters ice had begun to form. A.J.
and Daly used sometimes to choose a sheltered and sunny place among the
tree-trunks from which to watch the slowly-changing panorama; it was
bitterly cold in the open air, but for a time that was preferable to the
fetid atmosphere of the cabin. The river was so wide that they were safe
from observation, and the country, especially on the left bank, so
lonely that often whole days passed without sound or sight of any human
existence on land. Compared with the chaos of which their memories were
full, the barge-life seemed a kind and leisurely heaven. A.J.'s normally
robust health benefited a great deal from the rest and the cold, keen
air; at dusk and dawn he sometimes helped Akhiz with the rafts, and was
amused to give proof that his own personal strength was not so very much
inferior to that of the Tartar monster.

He would, indeed, have been very happy but for renewal of his anxiety
about Daly's health; the strain of the journey seemed again to be
weighing heavily on her. Yet she was very cheerful and full of optimism.
They began now to talk as they had hardly dared to do before--of their
possible plans after reaching safety. Denikin's outposts, A.J. believed,
could not be much more distant than a few days' journey from Saratof; it
would probably be best to leave the river there and cross that final
danger-zone on foot and by night. Then it seemed to occur to them both
simultaneously that they would be passing through the town of Saratof,
and that somewhere in it lived the ex-butler and the little princess of
whom the Valimoffs had so carefully informed them. Should they take the
trouble and incur all the possible extra risks that a visit might
involve? A.J. decided negatively, yet from that moment they began to
feel that the ex-butler and the child were really living people, not
merely abstractions talked about by somebody else. They even began to
imagine what the girl might be like--dark or fair, pretty or plain,
well-bred or spoilt.

One cold sunny afternoon, as they sat together on the timber with no
sound about them save the swish of the water and the occasional distant
cry of a curlew, A.J. told her, quite suddenly and on impulse, that he
had been born in England and had lived there during early youth. She was
naturally astonished, and still more so when he told her the entire
story of his early life and of the affairs that had led to his loss of
nationality and subsequent exile. "But you are really English for all
that?" she queried, and he replied that he was not sure how the
technical position stood--there was little he could prove after so many
years. "Perhaps I am as I feel," he said, "and that is no nationality at
all."

It was curious how their life in the future, that was to be so strange
and different from any life they had known together so far, seemed as
much an end as a beginning. They tried not to admit it, yet the feeling
was there with them both; it was so hard to think of a world that did
not consist entirely of the dangers of the next hour and mile, of a life
in which most things could be bought for money, in which day after day
would bring peaceful, prophesiable happenings, and every night a bed and
sleep. She said to him once: "Dear, what shall we do? Shall we live in
Paris? Would you like to live in Paris?"

"I think I would like to live anywhere."

"Anywhere with me?"

"I meant that. I can't imagine life without you."

"Can you imagine life without all this worry and adventure?"

"Hardly--yet. I don't know."

"How long will it take--the rest of the journey--it we have luck?"

"We shall be in Saratof within a week or so. Allow another week for
reaching the Whites. I suppose then we could get through to Rostov or
Odessa, and there are boats from those places to Constantinople, but we
might have to wait some time to get one. There would be passport
formalities and all that sort of thing."

"And from Constantinople?"

"That again depends. Don't let's look too far ahead. At present I've got
my mind on Saratof."

"Saratof and our little princess."

"No." He smiled. "I don't propose to have anything to do with her royal
highness. And in any case she isn't _ours_."

"Nevertheless, I shall always think of her as ours, even if we never see
her."

One evening in mid-November when the barge tied up near a small village,
A.J. heard a few men talking to Akhiz. They were saying that the war in
Europe was over and that Germany had surrendered to the French and
British, but the information did not create the expected sensation.
Akhiz was unaware of a European war as distinct from any other war; the
world, seen from his timber-barge, seemed always full of fighting, and
he was entirely uninterested in details.

They passed Volshk on the fourteenth day, but by that time the clearing
horizon of the future was dimmed again, for Daly was ill. It was the
cold, she confessed abjectly, and bade A.J. not to worry about her; she
would be all right again when they reached a warmer climate. In former
times, she said, she had never been able to endure the Russian winters;
she had always gone either abroad or to the Crimea. Besides, she had
possessed furs in those days--"and now," she added, half-laughing, "only
Red generals dare show them." She was still very cheerful, and inclined
to joke about her own weakness, but A.J. was uneasy, because he knew
that the cold was not excessive for the country and the time of the
year, and that there were at least five hundred miles to be traversed
before they could expect warmer weather.

The trouble was that the only alternative to the open air was the
atmosphere of the cabin, which was always so sickening that it was quite
as much as they could do to sleep in it during the nights.

They reached Saratof on the twentieth day, in the midst of a heavy
snowstorm. A.J. had been a little apprehensive of the landing, which was
just as well, for it enabled him to spy out Red soldiers, suspiciously
armed and eager, waiting on the quay at which the barge was to berth. He
saw them out of the cabin window, and there was just time to warn Akhiz
and hurry Daly and himself to the arranged refuge amongst the timber.
Akhiz fulfilled his part to perfection, pulling a huge log back to cover
up the entrance to the hiding-place. It was all accomplished in good
time and without mishap; again A.J.'s chief fear was for Daly, who
shivered in his arms with an unhappy mingling of fear and cold. A.J.
whispered to reassure her; it was only a precaution, he said; the
soldiers on the quay might not be in search of them at all; and in any
case, there was no reason yet to be alarmed--they had come successfully
through many worse crises. But Daly would not or could not be comforted;
she whispered: "Oh, my darling, I'm sorry--I'm sorry--I haven't any
nerve left at all--I can't help it--I'm just more terrified than I've
ever been!"

They felt the barge bumping against the quayside; they heard sharp
voices questioning Akhiz and the latter's slow, good-tempered answers;
then they heard footsteps scampering on deck and over the piled timber.
A.J. could not hear much that was said, but from the whole manner of the
proceeding he guessed that a search was, after all, to be made.

About a quarter of an hour later voices came quite near to them. One
said: "Well, you know, this may be all right as far as we've seen, but
look at all this timber--anyone could hide amongst it."

A.J.'s arm tightened round Daly, and from her sudden stillness he
thought she must be half-fainting.

Another voice said: "Yes, of course, that's true. And this fellow's been
putting in for nights at all kinds of lonely places--nothing at all to
stop anybody from coming aboard while he's been asleep."

Akhiz said: "Timber very heavy to move."

"She had a man with her."

Akhiz repeated: "Timber very heavy."

"Yes, you fool, you've said it once."

Then from various sounds and movements it was apparent that a few of the
men were trying to move some of the logs.

Later a voice said: "Well, how _do_ you move the stuff then?"

"Big crane comes along," said Akhiz.

"Well, keep a look-out when you unload, that's all. I don't suppose
anyone can be here, but still, as I say, keep a look-out."

After which the voices and footsteps disappeared. That was during the
afternoon, and Akhiz did not release his prisoners until dusk. By that
time they were stiff with cramp and chilled to the bone. "Very heavy,
eh?" whispered Akhiz, beaming at them, when he had pushed the log a foot
or so out of place. He seemed delighted at his own share in the
escapade, though still incurious as to what it was all about. The quays
were quite dark; the whole town, which in daylight had looked so
important and flourishing, was now an overmastering stillness. Akhiz
gave them scalding tea in his cabin; A.J. then gave Akhiz the
twenty-four roubles agreed upon, plus another six for his extra services
in outwitting the searchers, plus a small tin of American baked beans.
Then they bade good-bye to their faithful host and saviour, who kissed
A.J. with tremendous fervour, and even then, at that last moment,
forbore to ask where they were going or what they were intending to do.
Finally Akhiz went on deck to see if the quays were clear for them.
There were sentries patrolling around, on the look-out for pilfering,
but it was not very difficult to choose a safe moment to cross the
litter of railway tracks and reach one of the steep alleys leading up
from the docks to the town.

When they carne to the less deserted streets they were able to judge
that Saratof was in a scarcely happier condition than Novarodar. The
shop-windows were empty; the cafés closed and shuttered; no trams were
running. It was all depressing enough, except for the fact that it was,
after all, Saratof--the last important stage-point on their long journey
from danger into safety. The Whites were but a few score miles away,
which, after reckoning for so long in terms of hundreds of miles, seemed
next to nothing at all; Denikin's army, too, might have been advancing
and have made the interval even less. As he trudged over the crunching
snow, A.J.'s spirits rose as he contemplated the future.

But there was a more immediate future to be decided. Refreshed and
abundantly fit after the river-journey, he would have pushed on that
very night, and Daly also was anxious to avoid delay. For a time they
talked of reaching some village perhaps ten miles or so out of Saratof
and seeking accommodation there. Villages were safer than towns; the
people in them were usually more kindly, less terrified of the
authorities, and less likely to be inquisitive about passports and
travel-permits.

But before they reached the suburban fringe of the town this plan became
suddenly impossible, for Daly was clearly on the point of collapse. It
was obvious that she could not walk another mile, much less the unknown
distance to the nearest village, and there was nothing for it but to
contemplate the risks of seeking shelter in Saratof itself. The town was
noted for its strongly Red sympathies, and A.J. did not feel happy at
the prospect of spending a night in it. He tried a few cottages, playing
the part of the wandering but not quite penniless working-man who could
pay a small sum for a bed for himself and his wife until the morning;
but in every case he was turned away. One haggard housewife told him
that nobody was allowed to take in strangers, and that if he wanted
accommodation he had better apply to the Labour Bureau at the
commisariat offices of the local Soviet. When he reached Daly, whom he
had left a little distance away, he found her lying on the snow-covered
pavement. He picked her up; she was shivering and trying to smile, but
incapable of speech and only able to stagger along with great
difficulty. There remained one last resource, which he had not wished to
be driven to--the address of the ex-butler. He mentioned it, and she
nodded agreement. Then he called at another house and enquired the way;
by good fortune it was in the same quarter of the town, quite close.

A few moments later he was tapping at the door of a small
workman's-cottage. An elderly, white-haired man appeared, to whom he
said: "Does Stapen live here?" At that the man's face took on an
expression of sudden terror. "Stapen?" he exclaimed, acting very badly.
"No, there is no one here of that name." Then A.J. realised the fears
that might be in the man's mind, and added: "I was sent here by the
Valimoffs, of Novarodar." The old man stared incredulously and, after a
pause, asked them inside. He had been almost dumb with fear, and now was
in the same condition with astonishment. A.J. talked a little to
reassure him, while Daly sank into a chair, too weak to take any part in
the conversation.

In the end their identities were satisfactorily established, and the old
man admitted that he was himself Stapen, the ex-butler. He was also more
than willing to help them, though he had very little food and no money.
His wife was out at that moment, trying to get bread. Life was terrible
in Saratof, and he prayed that Denikin's army might arrive soon.

Daly recovered a little in front of the fire, and Stapen recognised
her--or so he said--he had seen her in the old days in Moscow. Daly also
said (but perhaps from mere politeness) that she thought she remembered
him.

It was soon apparent that Stapen's mind was obsessed with some other
matter which he was afraid to mention until Daly broached it first. She
said: "Well, and have you the little girl with you still?" Stapen's
voice dropped then to a throbbing whisper, he was evidently delighted
that the strangers knew all about it, yet at the same time awestruck to
be discussing it with them. He replied: "Yes, the princess is upstairs.
She has been ill--she has had typhus--but she is now getting well. You
would wish to see her, eh? Or no--she may be asleep--perhaps to-morrow
will be better. You are going to take her with you when you go?" He
turned to A.J. and added: "Ah, I knew the Valimoffs would make a good
choice--how I have been longing for the day when I should hand her over
to someone such as yourself!"

His sincerity and devotion were beyond suspicion, but A.J. at that
moment was hardly in a mood to be appreciative. He felt, indeed, a
little impatient with the fellow. Did nothing matter except the rescue
of a princess? He realised again how difficult and complicated would be
the escape to Denikin's lines if he and Daly were to be burdened with a
small and illustrious child.

"For the present," he answered, rather coldly, "we can hardly look ahead
as far as that. My wife is ill and needs rest."

Stapen bowed, controlling his excitement like a well-trained servant who
allows it to be supposed that he had momentarily forgotten himself.
Within a short time he had prepared a bed and Daly was being put into
it. She whispered, as A.J. laid her head on the pillow: "Dear, why are
you so angry with people like Stapen? You were angry with the Valimoffs
too." He answered: "I'm not really angry with them--I'm everlastingly
grateful in most ways. It's just that they seem to think other things
matter more than you."

"Well, don't they?"

"Possibly, but I can't be expected to agree to it."

"I don't think you care, then, for this little princess?"

"Not a bit. I hate her, even, because I see in her a possible danger to
you. It's all very selfish, I know, but I can't help it. I won't even
try to help it. The world is so full of misery that one cant--one
daren't--one's eyes to it all. The most to be done is to make sure of
what one loves and never to let it go. All the rest must be put
outside--entirely."

"Do you think Poushkoff felt like that?"

"Probably. He loved you too."

She smiled and closed her eyes, and he went down to talk to Stapen. Her
words, however, had made him rather more friendly towards the old man,
who proved, on acquaintance, the pleasantest and simplest of types. His
wife, who came in later in the evening after failing to secure any
bread, was very different, but perhaps necessarily so in order to strike
a balance with a husband of such benignity. She was a shrewd and rather
embittered woman, who gave A.J. hut the chilliest of welcomes. A
fruitless four-hour wait in a bread-queue had put her into a mood of
outspokenness that her husband sought in vain to check; she almost began
by saying: "Well, if Denikin's men are on the way, let hem bring some
food with them. For my part, I don't care whether we are governed by
Reds or Whites, so long as working people can get enough to eat."

Afterwards Stapen apologised for her with stately courtesy. "She was
always like that," he said. "Many's the time that my dear old master,
Prince Borosil, said to me--'Stapen, you should whip her!'--and I
promised I would. But, somehow, I could never bring myself to do it."

In the morning Daly seemed much better, and A.J.'s hopes began to be
optimistic again. It was all, of course, a little more difficult now
that they had met Stapen. The fellow assumed so completely that they
intended to take the child along with them when they made their dash for
safety; it was a dream he had been dreaming for months, and now it
seemed about to be accomplished he could only build pretty details all
around it. Would they take her to Paris? Or to Rome? Or to London? There
were royalties and semi-royalties all over Europe who, it appeared,
would be delighted to extend unlimited hospitality to such an exalted
babe. For she was, Stapen explained in a whisper, within measurable
distance of being heir to all the Russias. The Bolsheviks had killed so
many of the ex-Emperor's family and relatives--far more than anyone
could estimate exactly--and the careful, systematic process of
extermination was still being carried out. "That is why they are always
on the watch for the princess," he added, "but so far I don't think they
have the slightest idea where she is. They have her photograph, of
course, but it is bound to be an old one, and she is different now,
especially after her illness."

A.J. and Daly were solemnly presented to the princess that morning. She
was a thin and sad little thing, wasted by fever and obviously very
weak. Stapen treated her with rather absurd decorum, while his wife
treated her exactly as if she had been her own child; and the princess
showed unmistakable affection for them both.

But the more Stapen outlined the child's social and dynastic importance
the more unwilling A.J. was to encumber himself with her. Yet it became
increasingly difficult to convey this to Stapen. It was not only that
A.J. did not wish to offend the fellow, but rather that no means existed
by which Stapen could be brought to conceive A.J.'s point of view. "He
won't see that we have our own future to think of," A.J. told Daly.
"Frankly, I'm not interested in dynastic intrigues--it doesn't matter a
jot to me that the child's a princess, next in succession, and so on.
All I care about in the world is getting you to safety, and I won't
agree to anything that will lessen the chance of it."

She smiled. "Very well, then, we shall have to tell Stapen that we can't
take her."

"Yes, and the sooner the better. I'll tell him in the morning."

But in the morning Daly was ill again, after being sick and feverish
during the night. Their departure looked as if it must be postponed for
another day or two, and so, in the circumstances, there did not seem any
particular need to present Stapen with the arranged ultimatum.

By noon the whole situation was changed utterly and for the worse, for
Daly was by this time very ill indeed, and A.J., with fair experience of
such matters, diagnosed typhus. It was not really astonishing, and yet,
for some reason, it was a mischance that he had never even considered.

There was no doctor to attend her; there had been none for the little
princess, either. There was no private doctor, in fact, in the whole
town. Typhus, spread by the war and nourished by the famine, had
overwhelmed Saratof to an extent that A.J. had hardly realised during
his few days in the place. The hospitals were full, with patients lying
on stretchers between the beds; emergency hospitals were also full, and
more were being hastily built; yet still the disease raged and spread,
and the death-rate had been steadily and appallingly on the increase for
weeks. All the hospitals were being managed by skeleton staffs of
doctors and nurses, and it had lately become so difficult to give
patients proper attention that many who stayed in their homes with no
professional doctoring at all had probably an equal, if not a superior
chance of recovery. Stapen evidently thought so, and urged A.J. not to
try to get Daly into one of the hospitals. It would have been quite
impossible, in any case, for they were State institutions and every
patient entering had to pass through a sieve of official enquiries. The
same reason had prevented Stapen from trying to find a hospital-bed for
the princess, and now, as he comfortingly explained to A.J., he was very
glad of it. "The countess will be far better here, just as the princess
was," he assured him, and A.J.'s heart warmed towards the old man for
showing such willingness to share the burden of this extra misfortune,
though in fact it was Stapen's wife on whom the burden mostly fell.

A.J., fortunately, was at his best in an emergency of such a kind. He
had a fine instinct for doctoring, and had acted as amateur doctor for
so long and with such success during a part of his life that he felt
none of that vague helplessness that afflicts the complete layman when
faced with medical problems. He had also a particular knowledge of
typhus itself; he had often diagnosed cases, and was quite familiar with
the normal course of the disease. Apart from which, he possessed the
proper temperament for living through anxious moments; he was calm,
quiet, soothing, and never despondent. Stapen, he soon found, was no use
at all except as an amiable figurehead to surround the whole affair with
an atmosphere of benignity and goodwill; it was his wife who did and was
everything. This hard-faced, dour, and rather truculent woman soon drew
from A.J. the deepest admiration; he perceived that it was she, and she
alone, who had saved the child's life. And she tackled this additional
job of nursing Daly with an apparent grudgingness which concealed, net
so much a warm heart, as a thoroughly efficient soul. J, could well
imagine the sort of cook she had been, and be cold also well imagine the
sort of butler Stapen had been.

So Saratof, which was to have been but a stage on a final dash to
freedom, became instead a last prison closing them round. To A.J.,
sitting at the bedside, nothing remained but love. He realised, now as
never before, how dear she was, and how utterly beyond beauty to him.
His mind glowed and throbbed with a hundred memories of her; he saw her
dark eyes opening at dawn, and heard her deep tranquil laughter echoing
amongst the boles of great trees; he felt again the slumberous passion
that had seemed to wrap them both in unity with every little rustling
leaf. From his first notice of her in the prison-cell at Khalinsk,
everything had had the terrible, lovely reality of a child's fairy-tale.

A good deal of the time she was in delirium and talked ramblingly, but
sometimes her mind cleared for a few moments and she would beg him to
look after himself and try not to take the disease from her. She often
said: "Oh, I'm so sorry just at the end of our journey--I do feel I
ought to be ashamed..."

He comforted her by relating how Denikin's army was advancing, thus
lessening the distance between themselves and safety even while she lay
in bed.

Often, in her delirium, she called his name, appealing to him to protect
her from shadowy terrors, but sometimes even her delirium was calm and
she would talk serenely about all kinds of things. She constantly
mentioned the girl, calling her 'our little princess' in the way they
had joked about her during the barge journey.

About a week after the onset of the fever she appeared to become very
much better, and A.J. began to hope that the crisis was passing. She
talked to him that day quite lucidly about their plans for escape; the
Whites, he told her, were now only forty or fifty miles to the south, so
that they might count themselves fortunate, even in the delay. Then she
asked suddenly: "Where can we be married, do you think?"

He answered: "In Odessa, perhaps or Constantinople, at any rate."

She smiled, and seemed very happy in contemplation of it. After a pause
she went on to ask if he had yet told Stapen that he did not intend to
take the child with them.

He answered that he hadn't, but that he would do so whenever the matter
became urgent.

She said: "I suppose we can't possibly take her with us?"

"Do you want to?" he asked; and she replied: "I would like to, if we
could, but of course it's for you to decide. It's you who'd have all the
bother of both of us, isn't it?"

"It isn't bother I'd mind. It's danger--to you."

"Do you think there would he much danger?"

"More than I'd care to risk."

"I know. I agree. We won't have her."

"I wish we could, for your sake."

"Oh no, it doesn't matter. I don't quite know why I'm worrying you so
much about it."

"You're really keen on having her, then, if we could?"

She answered then, almost sobbing: "Terribly, darling--_terribly_. And I
don't know why."

A few hours later the sudden improvement in her condition disappeared
with equal suddenness, and the fever, after its respite, seemed to
attack her with renewed venom. To A.J. the change was the bitterest of
blows, and all the old iron rage stalked through his veins again. He
could not look at the rapidly recovering child downstairs without a
clench of dislike; but for her, he worked it out, they would never have
called at Stapen's house, and Daly would never have been ill. (Yet that,
he knew in his heart, was far from certain; the whole district was
typhus-ridden, and it was impossible to establish how and from whom
contagion had been passed.)

On the tenth day he knew that the crisis was approaching; if she
survived it, she would almost certainly recover. He was at her bedside
hour after hour, helping in ail the details of nursing; Stapen's wife
and himself, though they rarely exchanged more than sharp question and
answer, were grimly together in the struggle. And it was not only a
struggle against disease, for every day the search for the barest
essentials of food was a battle in itself. Only rarely could milk be
obtained, while nourishing soups and other invalid delicacies were quite
beyond possibility. The last of the food that he had brought with him
from Novarodar had long since been consumed, so that now he too was
relying on the acquisitive efforts of Stapen's wife. Sometimes she went
out early in the morning, with the temperature far below freezing-point,
and came back at dusk, after tramping many miles--with nothing. A.J.
never offered her copious sympathy, as Stapen did, yet there was between
them always a secret comprehension of the agonies of the day. When he
looked up from Daly's flushed and twitching face it was often to sec
Stapen's wife gazing from the other side of the bed with queer,
companionable grimness.

Once while Daly was sleeping they held a curious whispered conversation
across the bed. She asked him how he intended to proceed when Daly was
better, and then, after he had explained to her his plans, she said:
"You'll find the child a nuisance--perhaps a danger, too. There's a very
strict watch on all the frontiers."

"I know that."

"I wonder you bother to take her with you at all."

"Oh?" He was surprised, and waited for her to continue. She said, after
a pause: "Look after your own affairs--that would be my advice, if you
asked for it."

"And the child?"

"She can stay here."

"For how long?"

"For always, if necessary. I don't see that it matters whether she's
here or in a king's palace, so long as she's happy. And the way the
world is just now, princesses haven't much chance of happiness."

"What would your husband say to that, I wonder?"

"Oh, _him?_"

She uttered the monosyllable with such overwhelming emphasis that it was
not even contemptuous.

Neither of them pursued the argument farther. Yet it was strange how the
problem of the child was growing in importance; hardly an hour passed
now without some delirious mention of it by Daly. It seemed to be on her
mind to the exclusion of all other problems. On the twelfth day she
suddenly became clear-headed and told A.J. that she was going to get
better. Then, with her next breath, she said: "But if I don't, you
_will_ take the girl with you alone, won't you?"

That word 'alone'--his first glimpse into another world--sank on his
heart till he could scarcely reason out an answer of any kind.

She went on: "will you promise that--to take her with you alone--if--if
I don't--"

"But You are--oh, you _are_ going to get better!"

"Darling, yes, of course I am. But still, I want your promise."

He could do nothing but assent. But a moment later he said: "She would
be all right, you know, left here--the Stapens would give her a good
home."

"But she's ours--the only thing we can call ours, anyway. I'm pretending
she belongs to us--I want somebody to belong to us. Do you understand?"

He nodded desperately.

"And so you _do_ promise, then?"

"Yes, yes. You can trust me."

She seemed to be suddenly calmed. In a few moments she went to sleep,
and slept so peacefully that A.J.'s hopes surged again as he watched
her. Then about midnight she woke up and touched his hand. "Dear," she
whispered, "I am quite happy. It has all been wonderful, hasn't it?" He
laid his cheek against her arm, and when he looked up she had closed her
eyes. She never opened them to consciousness again. She died at a few
minutes to one on that morning of the fourth of December nineteen
hundred and eighteen.

A.J. took the child with him and set out from Saratof. There was a look
of nothingness in his eyes and the sound of nothingness in his voice.
Bitter weather had put a stop to Denikin's advance, and the fugitives
who passed him by along the roads were freezing as well as starving. He
neither feared nor hoped; he pushed on, mile after mile over the
snowbound, famine-stricken country; he was an automaton merely, and when
he reached the Bolshevik lines the same automatism functioned to plan
the necessary details of the final adventure. But it was no adventure,
after all; he crossed over without a thrill, and was soon heading for
the coast through a country harried by White Cossacks as well as by
universal foes that knew and cared for no frontiers.

Soon, in some city full of White generals, his course of action should
have been fairly simple. An interview at headquarters, the production of
certain papers of identification with which Stapen had provided him, and
the child would doubtless be taken off his hands and placed in the
exalted groove to which her birth and the circumstances of the times
entitled her. He had no relish for the task of surrender and
explanation, nor yet was he reluctant to perform it; he cared simply
nothing for the child, and as little for any praises that might be
awaiting him as her deliverer.

The long journey from Saratof had been full of hardships, and the child,
barely recovered from her earlier illness, was soon ailing again.
Suddenly one morning, waking up in a small-town inn where they had both
slept huddled together on the floor, A.J. knew that he was ill himself.
He had scarcely strength to move, and fell in the roadway outside when
he tried to resume the journey southward.

There was an American Relief detachment stationed in the town--a tiny
fragment of the teeming wealth of the Far West, transferred bodily, as
if by some miracle, to become an object of amazement on the stricken
plains of Russia. The detachment had built itself hutments on the
outskirts of the town; there were large hospital-wards, cleansing
stations, and distributing depots for food and clothing. Outside the
huts all was age-old and primeval; inside them, the white-coated
surgeons and their enthusiastic helpers bustled about in a constant
whirr of hygiene and efficiency. When A.J. and the child were carried
into the examination room, particulars concerning them were neatly taken
down by a Harvard graduate and filed away in an immense card-indexing
cabinet. A.J. gave his assumed name, and when he was asked for an
address he shook his head. He was then asked other questions--his age,
profession, and where he had come from--but he was too ill to answer in
detail, even if he had wished to. When, however, a separate card was
filled in for the child and the latter was assumed to be his, he made an
effort to explain something, but the Harvard graduate, knowing Russian
imperfectly, did not fully comprehend, and A.J., seeing a whole world
swimming round about him in vast circles of incredibility, was barely
coherent. At last the Harvard man said: "You mean that the girl is not
your child?" A.J. nodded. "Who is she then?" But he could only shake his
head in reply, and they asked him no further questions. An hour later,
when he was being undressed, the papers in his pocket were discovered,
examined, found incomprehensible, and placed efficiently in the
fumigating oven alongside his clothes and bundle of possessions. After a
complete cleansing the whole lot were then made into a paper parcel,
neatly ticketed, and put aside. The parcel was handed to him a month
later when he left hospital after as near a death from typhus as two
cheerful nurses from Ohio had ever watched for.

During delirium the had suddenly astonished these nurses by murmuring a
few phrases in English, and this, on being reported to the higher
authorities, had caused some little sensation. The Harvard graduate went
even so far as to take a card from the filing-cabinet, inscribe in the
'profession' column the words 'speaks a little English--perhaps a
waiter,' and then replace the card in the filing-cabinet. When, after
his delirium, the patient recovered consciousness, the nurses naturally
addressed him in English; he would not answer at first, but on being
told of his ravings, admitted that he knew the language. He would not,
however, tell them anything more about himself, and firmly declined to
converse. He soon gained a mysterious reputation, and several doctors,
including one very eminent psycho-analyst from Boston, paid him special
visits. The psycho-analyst said that he must have been blown up in the
war, and specified the exact sections of his brain that had suffered
most damage.

Once during Isis illness he had enquired about the child, but his
questions could not be answered, being outside the province of the
hospital staff. They assured him, however, that all children received by
the relief detachments were splendidly looked after and that he had
nothing at all to worry about. He was not worrying, as it happened. When
he left the hospital he called at the relief headquarters to make
further enquiry; the Harvard graduate turned up his card in the
filing-cabinet, turned up the girl's card, and declared, with
business-like promptness, that she had been sent away. Then, seeing his
own note on the man's card, he added: "Ah, you're the chap who speaks a
little English, aren't you? You won't mind if I drop the Russian, then,
eh?"

"I don't mind," A.J. said.

So they talked, or rather the Harvard graduate talked, in English. He
explained that all orphaned children were being transferred to a big
children's camp in the Crimea, run by the Americans in connection with
several American charitable organisations. There the children were being
housed, fed, clothed, and looked after at American expense, and an
attempt was even being made to get certain families in America to adopt
individual children. "So far the response has been very gratifying,"
declared the young man, toying with his horn-rimmed spectacles. "Of
course it depends on our State Department how many are allowed to go,
but I believe permission has already been given for the first batch."

A.J. nodded.

"It would be possible, no doubt," continued the young man agreeably, "to
trace any particular child."

"Yes, I see. But that would take time."

"You are in a hurry?"

"No--not really--but I must get away."

"Where to?"

"I don't know."

The Harvard man stared at the desk, thinking how typically Russian the
reply was--so like a piece out of a Chekov play--in fact, to be candid,
more than a little imbecile. Contenting himself with a final rally of
his official self, he rejoined: "I trust there has been no mistake of
any kind. We have it noted here that you came with the child, that you
denied that you were the child's father, and that you indicated that the
child was without parents. That being so--"

"Oh yes, quite," answered A.J., taking up his paper parcel. "It doesn't
matter, I assure you."

And, after all, it didn't matter. Nothing mattered. He was just passing
out of the office after a perfunctory good-day, when the other called
him back. "Just a moment. I don't know whether--you see, you said you
didn't know where you were going to--"

"Yes?"

"Well, perhaps in that case you'd consider staying on here for a little
while?"

"Why?"

"Well, you'd be pretty useful as an interpreter. The pay would be a
dollar a day, and you could feed and sleep here, of course."

"Thanks. I'll stay."

Such an instant acceptance seemed rather to disconcert the young man,
but he managed to express his pleasure, and soon afterwards set A.J. to
work on a pile of letters waiting to be deciphered from the Russian.

Thus A.J. became part of the American Relief detachment at Pavlokoff.
His jobs, besides the translating and answering of letters, included the
receiving and questioning of applicants for assistance, and he was also
called for by anybody and everybody in all linguistic emergencies of
every kind. He worked hard and was rather a success. Yet at the end of
six months nobody knew him any better than at the beginning. The Harvard
graduate, as well as many of the doctors and nurses, made innumerable
efforts to break down the harrier and become intimate; hut, though
always polite, A.J. never yielded an inch. They all concluded that he
must be slightly mad, yet they all trusted him to a degree oddly
inharmonious with such a conclusion.

One day in April the Harvard man approached him with an item of news
that he evidently felt sure would lead to confidences. "Oh, I put
through an enquiry," he began, trying to appear very official, "about
that young girl you were interested in. It seems she was in the first
batch sent over to America. She must be there by now. Very lucky for
her--I don't think they're intending to send any more."

A.J. made no comment, and the other went on: "Yes, that's right--she
must have crossed on the _Bactria_ some weeks ago. She hadn't any name
that our people knew of, so she was given one--'Mary Denver'--Denver
being the city she was to be sent to on arrival the other side. Of
course that's only provisional--doubtless she'll eventually take the
name of the family that adopts her. I could find out who they are, I
daresay though strictly speaking it would be against the rules."

"Oh, it doesn't matter," was all that A.J. said.

In the summer of 1919 the American Relief detachment was ordered home.
A.J. had by that time saved up two hundred and fifty American dollars.
When the time approached for the break-up of the organisation, he was
rather surprised to find that he disliked the prospect of wandering
vaguely about the earth again, even with American money in his pocket;
he had grown so used to the clean, orderly rhythm of events with the
Americans, to the daily baths, and the breakfast cereals, and the
card-indexing system. Decadence, perhaps, but excusable. He felt too
tired to break out of the comfortable groove, too uninterested ever
again to find his own way about the world; he wanted just to be told
quietly to do certain things, and to be given regular meals and a bed in
return for doing them.

He applied for permission to go to America with the others, but though
the heads of the medical staff strongly supported his application, it
was turned down because of his supposedly Russian nationality. Then he
told them, suddenly communicative after all those months of reticence,
that he was not Russian but English by birth and parentage, and that his
real name was Fothergill. The psycho-analyst doctor, who had all along
been deeply interested in his case, was more than ever interested now.
He questioned him further, about his birth, education, family, and so
on, and to every question A.J. gave full and simple, answers, no longer
wishing to conceal anything if concealment were to mean being flung back
into the chaos of the world around.

All these particulars, together with the doctor's earnest
recommendation, were sent to the American Embassy at Constantinople,
with the request that the hitherto mysterious but now elucidated
Fothergill should be given a visa and allowed to proceed with the Relief
detachment to America, where his services would continue to be of value.
After a week or so came a somewhat curious reply. The visa could not be
granted, but one of the attachés had been so interested in the case that
he had got into touch with a friend of his in a British Military
Mission. This friend knew the Fothergill family, it appeared, and knew,
further, that one of them, presumably a brother of the applicant, had
been an officer in Palestine during the War, and was now, he believed,
stationed in Cairo awaiting demobilisation.

The American doctor informed A.J. of this, and suggested that he should
proceed to Cairo on the trail of the long-lost brother. A.J. agreed,
willing enough for anything, and after some further delay was provided
with a _visa_ from the British authorities at Constantinople.

He left Odessa on August 11th, 1919, and arrived in Cairo a week later.
Captain William Fothergill had been informed, and the two men met at
Shepheard's Hotel. Neither, of course, could recognise the other, but by
the time the second cocktail appeared they were in no doubt as to their
proved brotherhood. As befitted Englishmen in such an emergency, they
were restrained almost to the point of being embarrassed. "I suppose you
must have had all sorts of adventures, living in Russia throughout the
Revolution?" Captain William Fothergill remarked, with one finger
running down the wine-list; and A.J. answered: "Oh yes, a few."

Captain Fothergill was apt to be equally cursory about his own personal
affairs: he owned rubber and coconut plantations in Sumatra which he had
had to leave in the hands of a 'damned artful Dutchman' during the
period of his war service. Now, of course, he was only waiting for
demobilisation to be off to Singapore by the first available boat.
"Seems to me you might as well come along too, if you're at a loose
end," he said, and A.J. replied: "Yes, all right, I don't mind. Will
there be any job for me?"

"Oh Lord, yes, I can find you plenty to do. Ever looked after niggers'"

"No."

"I don't mean real niggers--just Chinks and Malays, you know. Queer
fellers--all right as long as they've got someone to keep a strict eye
on 'em. If you can do that, you'll be worth your weight in gold on any
rubber plantation."

Captain Fothergill's demobilisation papers arrived before the end of the
month, and the two brothers caught a boat for Singapore, by way of
Colombo, at the beginning of October.



PART V


From the "Golden Arrow" at Victoria there stepped a man whom the
porters, even on that plutocratic platform, singled out, attracted not
so much by a leather handbag plastered with foreign hotel-labels as by a
certain unanalysable but highly significant quietness of manner. And the
voice was equally quiet. "Taxi--yes, and there are a trunk and two large
suit-cases in the van. The name is Fothergill." To the driver a few
moments later he said merely: "The Cecil." It was the only hotel he
could remember from the London of his youth.

They gave him a lofty bedroom overlooking the dazzling semicircle of the
Embankment, and he spent the first few minutes gazing down at the trams
and the electric advertisements across the river. He was a little tired
after the journey, and a little thrilled by the sensation of being in
London again. He changed, though not into evening clothes, and dined in
the grill-room, chatting desultorily with the waiter. Then he smoked a
cigar in the lounge and went up to his room rather early. In bed with a
novel, he heard Big Ben chime several successive quarters; then he
switched off the light and tried to believe that this small,
comfortable, well-carpeted, and entirely characterless hotel bedroom was
somehow different from all the dozens of similar ones he had occupied in
other cities.

In the morning he breakfasted in bed, enjoyed a long hot bath, made
himself affable with the hotel-porter, and strode out into the cheerful,
sunny streets. There were so many little odd jobs to do--some of which
he had been saving up for a long time. He saw his lawyer, and made an
appointment to see a Harley Street doctor later on in the week. He
called at a firm of publishers and heard that his book _Rubber and the
Rubber Industry_ had crept into a second edition. The publisher asked
him to dinner the following evening; he accepted. Then he bought some
tics and handkerchiefs and a hat of rather more English style than the
one he was wearing. By that time, as it was noon and he was in the
Strand, he stepped down to Romano's Bar for a glass of sherry and
exchanged a few words with the dark-haired girl who served him. He
liked, when he could, to obtain the intimacy of talking to people
without the bother of knowing them, and that, of course, was always more
easily accomplished with one's so-called inferiors. The barmaid at
Romano's was a type he liked--pretty, alert, friendly, and fundamentally
virtuous. He asked her what were the best shows to see, and she gave him
the names of several which he imagined he would be sure to detest
exceedingly. Then she asked if this were his first visit to London, and
he rather enjoyed answering: "My first for twenty-three years. I used to
live here." Afterwards he lunched at Rule's in Maiden Lane--the first
place he found that seemed to him very little changed since the old
days. In the afternoon he took a 'bus to the Marble Arch and walked
through the September sunshine to Hyde Park Corner and the Green Park,
just in time for tea at Rumpelmayer's. And after that there was nothing
to do but return to the Cecil, change into dinner clothes, and begin the
journey out to Surbiton.



"There is a good electric service from Waterloo," she had written in her
letter to him, and the sentence echoed in his mind with fatuous
profundity all the time he was fixing his collar and tie in front of the
bedroom mirror. It was strange to be visiting a person whom you had not
seen for twenty-three years. It had been on impulse that he had written
to her, and he was not sure, even now, that the impulse had been wise.
She had married, of course, a second time--that was something. She had
even a nineteen-year-old daughter. And, if one chanced to think of it,
she had the vote--that vote for which in the past she had clamoured so
much. She would be forty-eight--his own age. Her letter had really told
him very little except that her name was now Newburn, that she would be
delighted to see him, and that there was that good electric service from
Waterloo.


When he arrived at Surbiton station an hour later he declined a cab and
enquired the way from a policeman. The walk through placid suburban
roads gave him a chance to meditate, to savour in full the rich
unusualness of the situation. He lit a cigarette, stopped a moment to
watch some boys playing with a dog, kicked a few pieces of orange-peel
into the gutter with an automatic instinct for tidiness; it was past
seven before he found the house. It looked smaller than he had expected
(for, after all, hadn't she inherited the bulk of old Jergwin's
fortune?); just a detached suburban villa with sham gables and a
pretentious curved pathway between the garden-gate and the porch. The
maid who opened the door to his ring took his hat and coat and showed
him into a drawing-room tastefully if rather depressingly furnished. He
stood with his back to the fire-grate and continued to wonder what she
would look like.

She came in with her daughter. She was rather thin and pale and eager,
and the daughter was a large-limbed athletic-looking girl who moved
about the room as if it were a hockey-pitch.

"Isn't it romantic, Ainsley, for you to have come back after all these
years?"

He found himself shaking hands and being presented to the girl. "I
suppose it is," he answered, smiling. Rather to his astonishment he felt
perfectly calm. He began to chatter pointlessly about the journey.
"Found nay way quite easily--as you said, the service is very good.
Didn't think I'd be here half so quickly. You must be pretty far out of
town, though--twenty miles, I should guess."

"Twelve," the girl corrected.

They began to discuss Surbiton. Then the maid brought in complicated and
rather sugary cocktails. They continued to discuss Surbiton. By that
time he was beginning to anticipate the arrival of Mr. Newburn with
almost passionate eagerness, and was rather surprised when they
adjourned to the dining-room without waiting for the gentleman. "Is Mr.
Newburn away?" he asked, noticing that places were only laid for three.
The girl answered, with outright simplicity: "Father died two years
ago."

Well, that was that, and there was nothing for it but to look
sympathetic and change the subject. So, to avoid at all costs the
resumption of the Surbiton discussion, he began to talk about Paris,
Vienna, and other cities he had lived in during recent years. The girl
said: "Mother told me you were in Russia during the Revolution. Do tell
us about it!" He smiled and answered: "Well, ell, you know, there was a
revolution and a lot of shooting and trouble of most kinds--I don't know
that I can remember much more." She then said: "I suppose you saw Lenin
and Trotsky?"--and he replied: "No, never--and neither of them. I'm
rather a fraud, don't you think?"

Then Philippa chatted about various causes and enterprises she was
connected with; they ranged from a hospital for crippled children and a
birth-control clinic to Esperanto and Dalcroze eurhythmics. He listened
tolerantly, but shook his head when she offered to show him authentic
photographs of slum children suffering from rickets. "I'll willingly
subscribe to them," he said, "but I never care to have my feelings
harrowed after a good dinner." The girl choked with laughter. "I don't
blame you," she said. "I think they're horrible photographs, and mother
_will_ show them to everybody." Philippa replied: "I show them because
they _are_ so horrible--people ought to realise the horrible things that
go on in the world." He felt suddenly sorry for her then, and said:
"It's a splendid cause, I'm sure, and I didn't mean to make fun. You
will let me send you a cheque, won't you?"

But he soon perceived that his compassion had been unnecessary. She was
tough; she was thick-skinned; she was obviously used to all kinds of
gibes. When she told him that it was her habit to stand at
street-corners lecturing about birth-control, he felt that he need no
longer be afraid of hurting her feelings. He was more sorry, then, for
the girl; she was such an ordinary, straightforward, averagely decent
girl.

They took coffee in the drawing-room, and when they were comfortably
smoking, Philippa suddenly said: "My husband isn't really dead--my
daughter had to tell you that because the maid was there and that is
what we tell _her_. The truth is, he left me."

"Really?"

Then she launched into a detailed account of the catastrophe of her
second marriage. The man had been a labour organiser, and he had run off
with a girl secretary. He had also speculated with his wife's money and
lost most of it. It was all a rather pathetic story, taking so long to
tell that by the time it was nearly over he was having to look at his
watch and make hints about a return train. Then followed the usual
conventionalities. It had been a most charming evening, he assured
her--delightful to have seen her again. She urged him to stay the night,
but he said he thought he wouldn't--all his things at his hotel, and so
on. She said she hoped they would meet again soon. She told him that she
ran a little informal literary circle that met on alternate Wednesdays
in her drawing-room. "We read each other papers, you know--not
necessarily on literary subjects--sometimes we get strangers to talk to
us--Mr. Wimpole, for instance, gave us a most fascinating chat about old
English silver last week. I was wondering, you see, whether you would
care to tell us a few of your experiences in Russia; if you would, I am
sure--"

But he replied, smiling and shaking his head: "My dear Philippa, none of
my Russian experiences were nearly so dreadful as the one you are
suggesting." The girl again laughed. "I'm afraid I'll have to
refuse--that sort of thing really isn't in my line at all."

It was raining and the girl went to the telephone to ring for a taxi.
While she was away, Philippa contrived a word or two _tête-à-tête_; she
said: "You know, Ainsley, I do hope you'll soon he conning again and
then you must arrange to stay at least for a week-end. I dare-say
'you've found it rather odd, meeting me and my daughter together like
this--there have been restraints, I know--lots of things I haven't cared
to tell you in front of her. And perhaps you too--what have you been
doing, really, since I saw you last? We must meet again soon and tell
each other _everything_." Hearing the girl approaching, she added:
"Anyway, now that you're intending to make a home in England, we shall
simply insist on getting to know you."

But he was not intending to make a home in England, he reflected a few
moments later, as he sat in the corner of the cab.

In his hotel bedroom that night he felt a slow and rather comfortable
disappointment soaking into him. Subconsciously he knew he had been
expectant over this meeting with Philippa; now he realised, not without
relief, that all such expectancy had vanished. It wasn't only she who
had failed him, but he who had failed himself. He didn't want to know
anybody in that eager, confidential way; he had no energy for it; he
would rather chat with a stranger in a train whom he would never sec
again. It had been a mistake to go to Surbiton; perhaps it had been a
mistake even to come to England.

The next morning, after he had talked to the girl in Romano's Bar-about
some theatres he was intending to visit, she said: "You seem to go about
a lot by yourself. Haven't you any friends?"

"Not in London," he replied. "A few people the other side of the
world--mostly Chinamen. That's all." He liked to see her eyebrows arch
in astonishment.

"I say! Fancy being friends with Chinamen! But you must know _somebody_
in London, if you used to live here?"

"A few business acquaintances, but I don't count them. Oh, and two
people in Surbiton. I went to see them last night, but I don't suppose I
shall go again."

"Why not? Weren't they nice to you?"

"Oh yes. Rather nicer, perhaps, than I was to them."

"Then why--"

He laughed. "Never mind. I hardly know myself. But you can fill me up
another glass of sherry and have one with me."

"Righto, and thanks, though mine's a gin, if you don't mind...Well,
here's luck to you, anyway."

Once he toyed with the idea of asking her out to some theatre or
music-hall, but he decided, on reflection and without any sort of
snobbishness, that the perfection of their relationship depended on the
counter between.

He staved in London over a week, and on the whole he enjoyed himself. He
dined at his publisher's town house and met there a man on the staff of
_The Times_ who promptly commissioned from him a series of articles on
the future of the rubber industry. It gratified and perhaps slightly
surprised him to realise that his book had become, in its own field,
something of a classic.

He also vent to theatres, cinemas, exhibitions; he walked in the parks;
he listened to the open-air speakers near the Marble Arch; he lunched
and dined in any hotel or restaurant that chanced to catch his eye; he
sat in the Embankment gardens and pencilled drafts of his _Times_
articles; he had casual and agreeable chats with policemen and
bus-conductors. Philippa wrote to him, inviting him to Surbiton for any
week-end he liked and he wrote back thanking her, but fearing that his
arrangements would so soon be taking him temporarily out of London that
he could not settle anything just yet. He enclosed, however, five
guineas for her slum children, and hoped she would forgive him.

Then one morning he went to Harley Street to be examined and overhauled
by a specialist. He went quite calmly and came away equally so. It was
about noon, and he took a taxi back to the hotel, where he found a
letter awaiting him--one he had been expecting. After reading it through
he said to the bureau-clerk: "I shall be leaving to-morrow." Then he
stepped out into the sunshine and walked across the Strand to Romano's
Bar. The dark-haired girl placed his sherry before him with a smile.
"Here again," she said. "You're becoming one of our regulars."

"Not for long, I'm afraid," he answered. "I'm off to-morrow."

"Where?"

"Ireland."

"Business?"

"In a way, yes."

"Going for long?"

"Don't know, really."

"It's queer, seems to me, the way you don't know anybody and don't seem
to know even things about yourself. Fact is, I'm beginning to think you
must be a queer one altogether."

He laughed. "I had a queer sort of adventure this morning, anyway. Went
to a doctor and was told I ought to give up smoking and drinking, go to
bed early every night, and avoid all excitements. What would you do,
now, if your doctor told you that about yourself?"

"I don't suppose I'd take any notice of it."

"Quite right, and I don't suppose _I_ shall either."

"Go on!" she laughed. "You don't look ill! I don't believe you went to
any doctor at all--you're just having me on!"

"Honestly, I'm not. It's as true as those Chinese friends of mine."

He joked with her for a little longer and then went to lunch at
Simpson's. Afterwards he returned to the hotel, wrote a few letters, and
began to pack his bags in readiness for the morrow. Then he went out for
a stroll; he walked up to Covent Garden Market, where there were always
interesting scenes, and then westward towards Charing Cross Road, where
he liked to look at the bookshops. But he felt himself becoming very
tired long before he reached this goal, so he turned into the familiar
Maiden Lane for a drink and a rest at Rule's. But it wanted a quarter of
an hour to opening time, he discovered, when he reached the closed door,
and as his tiredness increased, he entered the little Catholic church
almost opposite and sat down amidst the cool and grateful dusk.

He felt refreshed after a few minutes and began to walk round the
church, examining the mural tablets; in doing so, without looking where
he was going, he almost collided with a young priest who was also
walking round. Apologies were exchanged, and conversation followed. The
priest, it appeared, was not attached to the church; he was merely a
sightseer, like Fothergill himself. He was from Lancashire, he said, on
a business visit to London; when he had time to spare he liked going
into churches--"a sort of 'busman's holiday," he added, with a laugh. He
was a very cheerful, friendly person, and Fothergill, who liked casual
encounters with strangers, talked to him for some time in the porch of
the church as they went out. Then it suddenly occurred to both of them
that there was no absolute need to cut short a conversation that had
begun so promisingly; they walked down Bedford Street to the Strand,
still talking, and with no very definite objective. The priest, whose
name was Farington, said he was going to have a meal somewhere and take
a night train back to Lancashire; Fothergill said he was also going to
have dinner. Farington then said that he usually took a snack at Lyon's
Corner House, near Charing Cross; Fothergill said, all right, that would
do for him too. So they dined together inexpensively and rather
uncomfortably, surrounded by marble and gilt and the blare of a too
strident orchestra.

Yet Fothergill enjoyed it. He liked Farington. He liked Farington's type
of mind--intellectual, sincere, interested in all kinds of matters
outside the scope of religion, worldly to those who saw only the
surface, spiritual to those who guessed deeper. He was emphatically not
the kind of man to insist on rendering to God the things which were
Caesar's. During the meal Fothergill chanced to mention something about
rubber plantations, and Farington said immediately: "I say, didn't you
tell me your name was Fothergill? I wonder, now you're talking about
rubber, whether you're the Fothergill who used to be at Kuala Simur?"

"Yes, I am."

"That's odd. It means I know quite a lot about you--Father Richmond and
I are great friends--we were at Ware together."

"Really? Oh yes, I remember him very well. Where is he now?"

"Still at Kuala Simur. He had a great opinion of you--especially after
that small-pox epidemic."

"Oh, that wasn't much."

Farington laughed. "It's too conventional to say that, surely? I wish
you could sec some of Richmond's letters about you, anyway--he almost
hero-worshipped."

"I hope not."

"He did. His great dream, I think, was to convert you some day."

"Well, he didn't come far short of doing so."

"Oh?"

"We used to argue a good deal about religion and so on--and I used to
joke with him and say I should end by becoming a Catholic. At least,
perhaps he thought I was joking, but all the time, in a sort of way, I
meant it. Then my brother died and all the rubber estates fell to me,
and I got suddenly fed up with everything and sold out. That just
happened to be right at the top of the rubber boom in 'twenty-five,
which is why I'm more or less a rich man now. I sold out to an
Anglo-Dutch syndicate, packed up, and pottered about Europe from then
till now. The syndicate, incidentally, paid me about five times what the
place is worth to-day."

"That must have been very good for your bank account."

"Better than for my soul, perhaps, eh? To come back to that, the rather
curious thing is that all the time I was at Kuala Simur I felt a sort of
conversion going on--if you can call it that--I know of course that
nothing really counts until you're definitely over the line. Probably if
I'd had much more to do with your friend Richmond, whom I liked
exceedingly, he'd have pushed me over."

"I wish that had happened."

"Oh well, I pushed myself over a year later, so perhaps it didn't
matter."

"So you _are_ a Catholic?"

"I was received into the Church in Vienna three years ago. I'm not sure
that I'm entitled to call myself a Catholic now, though. Slackness, I
suppose. All very unsatisfactory from your point of view, I'm afraid."

"And from yours too, surely?"

"Well, perhaps--perhaps."

They talked on for some time, and Fothergill found it strangely and
refreshingly easy to be intimate with the young man. Farington's train
was due to leave at midnight, and towards nine o'clock Fothergill
suggested that they should adjourn to his hotel for a smoke. They walked
along the crowded Strand to the Cecil and were soon snugly in the
lounge. There and then conversation developed as if all barriers had
suddenly been destroyed. Fothergill said: "You know, Farington, there
was one thing I never told Richmond and that was the whole truth about
my life."

"I know. He used to grumble about that in his letters to me. He said he
was sure you had some mysterious and grisly past which you never
breathed a word about to anybody."

"Really? He guessed that? How curious!"

"Well, we priests aren't such simpletons, you know."

Fothergill laughed. "I'll bet he never guessed the sort of past it had
been, though. I daresay I'd have told him if I hadn't known him so well.
As a matter of fact, I knew he liked me and I liked him to like me, and
I didn't want to see my stock going down with a bump...You see, I seem
to have broken so many of the commandments."

"Most of us have."

"Yes, but I've gone rather the whole hog. I've killed men, for
instance."

"If you walked out now into the Strand you could find hundreds of
middle-aged fellows who've done that."

"Oh, the war--yes, but my affairs weren't in the war--at least, hardly.
One of them was pretty cold-blooded murder. And then there are other
matters, too. I never married, but I lived with a woman--once."

"That, again, is nothing very unusual."

"I daresay not, but if my soul depended on it, I couldn't say I was
sorry. It's the one thing in my life which I feel was fully and
definitely right."

"Of course, without knowing the circumstances--"

"If You've time, and if you think you wouldn't be bored, I'll tell You
how it all happened."

"I wish you would."

"Splendid." And he began at the day he left England twenty-three years
before. About three-quarters of an hour later, when he came hoarsely to
an end, Farington said: "Well, that's really a most astonishing story.
How relieved you must be to have told it to somebody!"

"Yes, that's just what I'm feeling. Relieved and rather tired."

"Not too tired to continue our chat for another half-hour or so. I
hope?"

"Provided you do most of the talking."

"Oh, I'll engage to do that." He kept his word, and the conversation
continued until it was absolutely necessary for him to leave to catch
the train. Fortunately his bag was at the station, so that he could
proceed there directly. Fothergill, strangely eager despite his
tiredness, accompanied him in the taxi, and their talk lasted until the
moment the train began to move. "We probably shan't meet again,"
Fothergill said, as they shook hands, "but I shall never forget how--how
_reasonable_ you have been. Does that sound a rather tepid word in the
circumstances?"

"Not at all. Just the right one, I should like to think. Though there's
no reason why we shouldn't meet sometime--you have my address--it's only
a train-ride out of Manchester."

"I hate tram-rides and I'm sure I should hate Manchester." He laughed
excitedly, and was aware of the silliness of the remark. He added, more
soberly: "In my old age I'm beginning to attach great value to
comfort--just comfort."

"Old age, man--nonsense! You're not fifty yet!"

"One is made old, not by one's years, but by what one has lived through.
That's sententious enough, surely--another sign of age." The train began
to move. "I shan't forget, however. Good-bye."

"I must make the most, then, of your rubber articles in _The Times_.
Good-bye then." They laughed distantly at each other as the train
gathered speed.

He drove back to the hotel with all his senses warmed and glowing. On
what trifles everything depended--if he had not made for Rule's that
evening and been those few minutes too early!

In a corner seat of a first-class compartment on the Irish Mail the next
morning, he had leisure to think everything over. So much had happened
the day before. But the interview with the Harley Street man hadn't
surprised him; he had been suspecting something of the sort for several
months, and wasn't worrying; there was no pain--at worst a sort of
tiredness. He would take a few but not all the precautions he had been
recommended, and leave the rest to Fate.

He opened a small attaché-case on the seat beside him and took out
letters and papers. The proofs of his first _Times_ article--how well it
looked--'by Ainsley Jergwin Fothergill, author of _Rubber and the Rubber
Industry_'! He seemed to be staring appreciatively at the work of
another person--the hardworking, painstaking person who had spent five
years in Kuala Simur. Five years of self-discipline and orderliness,
with the little rubber trees all in line across the hillside to typify a
certain inner domestication of his own soul. He had liked the plantation
work; it had given him grooves just when most of all he had wanted
grooves. To save himself he had plunged into rubber-growing with a
fervour that had startled everybody, especially poor William; he had
worked, read, written, thought, and lived rubber for five years. And the
result, by an ironic twist of fortune, had come to be two things he had
never known before--a status and a private income.

He turned over a few letters. One from his publisher, enclosing a cheque
for six months' royalties and suggesting a small 'popular' book in a
half-crown series to be called just 'Rubber'--something rather chatty
and not too technical--could he do it?...It would be rather interesting
to try, at any rate...A letter from Philippa, thanking him for his
subscription to her slum children, and hoping he would manage a visit
soon--he could come any time he liked and stay as long as he
liked--"both Sybil and I are looking forward so much to seeing you
again."

He would never, in all probability, see either of them again.

A letter from a firm of enquiry agents in New York City, dated several
months back and addressed to him in Paris: "With reference to your
recent enquiry, we regret that up to the present we have found it
impossible to obtain any information. We are, however, continuing to
investigate, and will report to you immediately should any development
occur."

Another letter, some weeks later: "_Re_ Mary Denver, we are at last able
to report progress. It appears that the child was adopted by a family
named Consett, of Red Springs, Colorado, middle-class people of English
descent, moderately well-off. Mr. Consett died in 1927. We have had
difficulty in tracing the rest of the family since then. They left Red
Springs, and are believed to have gone to Philadelphia. We are
continuing our enquiries." A third letter, dated three weeks back:

"We are now able to inform you that Mrs. Consett and daughter crossed
the Atlantic in November of last year and spent Christmas at Algiers.
Our European representative, to whom we have cabled instructions, will
take the matter in hand as from there." A fourth letter, from this
European representative, conveying the information that the Consetts had
left Algiers with the intention of touring in France, Germany, and the
United Kingdom. Pretty vague, that, but a fifth letter had narrowed it
down to 'England and Ireland,' and a sixth letter--the one that had
arrived only the day before--had stated, with admirable definiteness: "I
understand that Mrs. and Miss Consett left Stratford-on-Avon on Tuesday
last and crossed to Ireland. They are now believed to be staying at the
Shelburne Hotel, Dublin."

He gathered the letters into a pile and took them into the dining-car
with him when he went to lunch. He was on the right-hand side of the
train, whence he could see the North Wales coast, blue sea and sandy
shore, streaming past the window like a cinema-film. Crowds of
holiday-makers, pierrot entertainers, bathers bobbing up and down in the
water, a sudden jangle of goods-yard, a station, a tunnel, the sea and
shore again, deserted for an odd half-mile or so; then bungalows,
boardinghouses, a promenade, a bandstand, bathing-huts, crowds, a jangle
of goods-yard, a station--on, on, beyond the soup to the fish and the
underdone roast beef of that very English and mediocre train-lunch.

He arrived in Dublin at seven that night, and drove straight to the
Shelburne. The Consetts, he learned from the hotel porter, had gone on
to Killarney two days before. "Americans, sir. See Killarney and
die--you know the kind of thing? After that, I expect they'll be rushing
to kiss the Blarney Stone."

He stayed at the Shelburne for the night and caught the morning express
to Killarney. The porter at the Shelburne had given him the names of
some of the more likely hotels, and it was easy to drive from one to
another making enquiries. At a third asking he discovered that the
Consetts had left that morning for Carrigole, Co. Cork, where they were
almost bound to be staying at Roone's Hotel.

There was no railway to Carrigole, so he hired a car to drive him the
forty-odd miles over the hills. It was a marvellous summer afternoon,
just beginning to fade into the soft glow of evening; by the time he
reached the top of the pass and the driver pointed out Carrigole harbour
in the distance, all the world seemed melting into a rarefied purple
dusk. After the metropolitan bustle of Dublin and the stage-Irishry of
Killarney, this, he felt, was the real Ireland, and immediately, in a
way he hardly understood, he felt kinship with it. Successive days of
travel had increased his fatigue, but the calm, tranquil mountain-air
was uplifting him, giving him satisfaction, almost buoyancy.

It was dark when he reached Roone's, and the yellow oil-lamps were lit
in the tiled hall and under the built-out verandah. Somehow by instinct,
as he took his first step into that cool interior, lie knew that he
would have to go no further, and for that reason he did not ask about
the Consetts when he booked a room. All that would come later; he must
give himself the pleasure of doing everything sweetly and with due
proportion. "May I have dinner?" he enquired, and was directed to a room
whose windows, ranging from floor to ceiling along one side, showed the
still darkly glowing harbour with the mountains brooding over it as in
some ancient, kindly conspiracy.

The room was fairly full, but he had a table to himself, and the dinner
was good. The faces of others glowed yellow-brown in the lamplight; the
night was full of talking and laughing, the bark of a dog, the hoot of
cars entering the drive; yet permeating it all, in a queer way, there
was silence--silence such as seemed to rise out of the very earth and
sea to meet the sky.

He chatted to the waiter; it was his first visit to Carrigole, he
explained, or, for that matter, to Ireland at all. "You seem pretty
full--the height of the season, I daresay?"

"Just a little past it, sir. We get a lot of American tourists in July
and August, but most of them are beginning to go back by now."

"Ah yes. I suppose, though, a few of the people here now are Americans?"

"Oh yes, quite a number. Most of them come on from Killarney and stay
here a night or so on their way to Cork."

He did not enquire further, but that evening, after dinner, the problem
became merely one of identification. For he was asked to sign the hotel
register, and as he wrote "A.J. Fothergill--London--British" he glanced
up the column of names and read in plain round handwriting a few inches
above--"Mrs. and Miss Consett, Philadelphia."

He lit a cigar and took coffee in the lounge and wondered who they might
be among the faces that passed him by. It would be simple, of course, to
enquire directly, to approach them with equal directness, to introduce
himself remarkably and dramatically, to talk till midnight about the
exceeding singularity of the fate that had linked, then sundered, and
now linked again his life and the girl's. Yet he shrank from it; his
mind was sore from drama, aching for some quieter contact, for something
at first and perhaps always remote. He wanted everything to be peaceful,
gradual, even if it were additionally intricate; he wanted to preserve
some path of secret retreat, so that at any moment, if he grew too
tired, he could escape into forgotten anonymity. Yet, on the other hand,
there was an urgency in the matter that he could not avoid, for the
Consetts might not be staving at Carrigole for long, and he could not
undertake to follow them all over the world.

Chance came to his aid. The post arrived at Roone's rather late; he saw
the bundle of letters brought in by the cyclist-postman and handed
across the counter to Mrs. Roone, who began to sort them. A cluster of
people gathered around, and suddenly he heard a girl's voice asking if
there were anything for Mrs. Consett.

There was, and she took a letter, studying its envelope as she walked
away across the tiled hall to a table under the verandah where a woman
sat reading a magazine.

For a moment he did not look at either of them; all had happened so
calmly and comfortably. Then he suddenly knew that his heart was beating
very fast. That would never do. He must see them; he must know what they
were like. He got up and strolled deliberately by, puffing at his cigar
and appearing to stare through the windows at nothing. The woman was
plump, cheerful, talkative, fairly attractive; but the girl was less
ordinary. She was quiet, rather well-featured, with calm brown eyes that
were looking at him before his dared to look at her. That was curious,
he thought, that she should have stared first.

He went to bed, slept well, and was down early for breakfast. The
Consetts came in later, but to a table at the other end of the room.
During the meal the waiter asked him if he would care to join an
excursion to visit an ancient hermitage some score miles away over the
hills. "It is quite interesting sir," he recommended, "and if you have
nothing else in mind, it would make a pleasant trip."

"Are most of the others going?"

"Practically everybody, sir, except the fishing gentlemen."

"I don't want to have a lot of walking to do."

"There is hardly any--you just drive right there by car."

"All right, I daresay I'll go."

It was a chance, he realised, and perhaps a better one than many others.

Four large five-seater touring-cars were drawn up outside the hotel. The
excursionists arranged themselves as they chose, usually, of course,
manoeuvring to be with their friends. It was natural that he should wait
rather diffidently until most had taken positions, and that, as an odd
man, he should be fitted into the back seat of one of the cars with two
other persons. Partly by luck and partly by his own contrivance, those
two compulsory fellow-passengers were the Consetts. He was at one side
of the car, Mrs. Consett at the other; the girl sat in between them. The
driver and a large picnic-hamper shared the seat in front.

The convoy set off at eleven o'clock through lanes full of wildflowers
and spattered with sunshine from a dappled sky. The harbour, reaching
out into the long narrow inlet, gleamed like a sword-blade; the hills
were purple-grey and a little hazy in the distance. He passed some
merely polite remark about the weather, and the girl answered him in the
same key. But the woman, seizing the opportunity, began to talk. She
talked in a strong, copious stream, with never-flagging zest and
ever-increasing emphasis. Wasn't Ireland lovely?--had he visited
Killarney?--had he been on the lake and un to the Gap of Dunloe? _They_
had--a most beautiful and romantic excursion, but the flies had been a
nuisance during the picnic-lunch, and the food from the hotel had been
just _awful_. It was a curious thing, but the hotels over this side
seemed to have no idea...etc., etc.

He listened, occasionally venturing some remark. He said, in response to
questioning, that he had never been to America, but had travelled a
little in Europe. That opened further flood-gates. He received a full
and detailed account of the Consett odyssey from the very day it had
begun at Philadelphia. Paris, Interlaken, the Rhine, Münich, Innsbruck,
Rome, Algiers, Seville (for Easter), Biarritz, Lourdes, Chartres,
Ostend, the battlefields, London, Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-on-Avon,
Dublin...how much they had seen, even if how little! They had loved it
all, of course, and Mrs. Consett added, across the girl, as it were:
"Mary is just eighteen, you see, and it is _such_ an impressionable age,
I think, and I _do_ so want her to see the world when she is young,
because later on, you know, one can never be sure of getting such
chances--in America so many women live narrow, self-centred lives after
they marry--they think they're seeing the world if they spend a week in
New York. My own brothers and sisters, for instance, who live in
Colorado, have _never_ travelled further than Los Angeles, and even _I_
never saw Europe till Mary and I landed last fail. And now, though I'm
_terribly_ ashamed to think of what I'd missed for so long, Vet I'm just
glad to now that Mary's seeing all these marvellous places at an age
when everything means most--the Coliseum at Rome, for instance, and
Westminster Abbey, and Shakespeare's _dear_ little house, and those
_quaint_ little jaunting-cars they have at Killarney--have you been on
them? We had a most amusing driver to take us--so amusingly Irish--I
quite intended to make notes of some of his remarks when I got back to
the hotel, but I was just _too_ tired after the long drive, and it was
_such_ a beautiful drive--rather like parts of Virginia..." And so on,
and so on.

They reached the hermitage about noon; it was a collection of ruins on
an island off the shore of a lake--the latter overshadowed by gloomy
mountains and reached by a narrow, twisting road over a high pass. The
island was still a place of pilgrimage, and many of the arched cells in
which the hermits had lived were littered with tawdry votive
offerings--beads, buttons, lead-pencils, pieces of ribbon--a quaint
miscellany for the rains and winds to disintegrate. The tourists made
the usual vague inspection and turned with relief to the more exciting
business of finding a place for lunch. Fothergill still remained with
the Consetts; indeed, rather to his private amusement, he realised that
it would have been difficult to be rid of them in any case. Mrs. Consett
had by that time given him the almost complete history of her family and
was engaged on a minute explanation of the way in which her husband had
made money out of steam-laundries. From that, as the picnic-lunch
progressed, she passed on to a sententious discussion of family life in
general and of the upbringing of children in particular. At this point a
sudden commotion amongst the rest of the party gave the girl an excuse
to move away, for which Fothergill did not blame her, though it left him
rather unhappily at the mercy of Mrs. Consett. Soon, however, an
opportunity arose for himself also; the men of the party began to pack
up the hampers and carry them to the cars. He attached himself to their
enterprise for a sufficiently reasonable time, and then strolled off on
his own, deliberately oblivious of the fact that Mrs. Consett was
waiting for him to resume his rôle of listener. He walked towards the
lake and across the causeway to the island--a curious place, of interest
to him because, with its childlike testimonies of faith, it reminded him
of things he had seen in Russia. Was it too fanciful, he wondered, to
imagine a spiritual kinship between the countries? He was thus
reflecting when he saw the open doors of a small modern chapel built
amidst a grove of trees; and inside the building, which was scarcely
bigger than the room of a small house, he caught sight of the girl. She
heard his footsteps and turned round, smiling slightly.

"I didn't notice this place when we first went round," he remarked,
approaching.

"Neither did I. It's really so tiny, isn't it?--quite the tiniest I've
ever seen. And isn't it terribly ugly?"

It was--garishly so in a style which again reminded him of Russia. The
comparison was so much on his mind that without any ulterior motive he
added: "I've seen the same sort of thing abroad--especially in Russia.
Simple people always love crude colours and too much ornament."

She seized on that one vital word. "You know Russia, then?"

"Fairly well. I used to live there."

"Did you like it?"

"Very much, in some ways."

"I wish mother and I could have gone there, but I suppose it isn't
really safe for tourists yet."

"I daresay it would be safe enough, but I should think it would hardly
be comfortable."

"Oh, then it wouldn't do at all." She laughed in a way which Fothergill
liked instantly and exceedingly--a deep fresh laugh as from some
spring-like fountain of humour. "Mother hates hotels where you don't get
a private bathroom next to your bedroom."

"She can't be very keen on Roone's, then."

"I don't think she is, but I just love it. I'd hate to find everything
exactly like the Plaza at New York. Besides, I don't think it _really_
matters if you miss the morning bath once now and again."

"No, I don't think it really does." And they smiled at each other,
sharing their first confidence.

As they left the chapel he was surprised to see her genuflect; so she
was a Catholic, then. That set him thinking of the profound
reasonableness of Catholics in holding their faith in reverence while at
the same time being free to call one of their churches ugly if it _were_
ugly; and that, in turn, set him thinking of the reasonableness of
Father Farington, and of that long conversation in London before he
left...

She was saying: "What _is_ your name, by the way?"

"Fothergill."

"Ours is Consett. I don't know whether you knew."

"I did, as a matter of fact. I overheard you asking for letters last
night."

"Oh, did you? That must have been before you passed us on the verandah,
then? I noticed you particularly because--I daresay you'll smile at
this--you looked what in America we should call 'typically English.'"

"'Typically English,' eh?" And for the first time for some years he was
thoroughly astonished. To be called _that_, of all things!

She said: "The quiet way, I suppose, that Englishmen have--a sort of
look of being rather bored by everything, though really they're not
bored at all. Perhaps I oughtn't to have said it, though--you don't look
very complimented."

He smiled. "'Would _you_ be complimented if I were to describe you as
'typically American?"

She paused a moment and then gave him a look of amused candour. "That's
rather clever of you, because I wouldn't. And, anyhow, in my own case--"
She stopped hurriedly, and he said, holding open the wicket-gate for her
to pass from the island on to the causeway: "Yes, what were you about to
say?"

"I was really going to say that I'm not an American at all."

"Oh?"

There was rather a long interval .until she went on: "It's queer to be
telling you all this after knowing you for about five minutes--I don't
know what mother would think. But, as it happens, you once lived in
Russia, so perhaps that's an excuse. I'm Russian."

"Indeed?"

"Yes. I came over with the refugees in 1919. That sounds a bit like
coming over with the Pilgrim Fathers, doesn't it, but it's really not
quite so illustrious. There were just a few hundred refugee orphans who
were allowed into America before the government woke up and decided it
didn't want any more of them. They were all adopted into families in
various parts of the country. I was six when I came over."

"That makes you how old now?"

"Just eighteen."

"I don't suppose you remember much of your life in Russia."

"Hardly anything. Sometimes I dream of things which I think might have
something to do with it. I wonder if that's possible?"

"It might be."

"Here comes mother to meet us. I think I'd better tell her how much I've
told you."

The confession was made, and Mrs. Consett, after hearing all the
circumstances, bestowed her magnanimous approval. It enabled her to
continue the conversation with Fothergill on rather more intimate lines,
and this she did all the way during the drive back to Roone's. "So
curious that we should all be learning about one another so quickly,
isn't it? But there, I always think that one should take all the chances
one can of making friends wherever one goes--I'm sure Mary and I have
already met some _charming_ people during our trip--there was a most
_delightful_ man in the hotel at Naples--a Swiss--only a commercial
traveller, I surmised--but still, who are we to be snobbish? I'm sure I
never try to conceal the fact that my husband made his money out of
other people's washing. But this Swiss man, as I was saying, was such a
pleasant companion--he went to Pompeii with us to see those wonderful
Roman ruins--and lie was most helpful, too, when we wanted to buy
anything in the shops. I should think he saved us quite a lot of money,
for, as you know, the Italians think every American must be a
millionaire, though, as a matter of fact, we're not really very
well-off--we've been saving up for this trip for quite a time, haven't
we, Mary?" And so on.

When they all reached Roone's again it was quite settled that they
should arrange with the waiter to have a larger table, so that they
could take meals together. They dined that night, the three of them, by
the side of the large window, through which the harbour burned with
little dark specks on it that were the row-boats bringing the fishermen
ashore by dusk. After the out-door air and the long drive over the
mountains he felt tired, yet in a way that gave him a certain rich
serenity, breaking only into fitful astonishment that she should be
there, that he should have found and spoken with her after so many
years. But it was she herself who astonished him most of all. The
lamplight touched the ivory white of her face with a glow of amber, and
there were five lamps, hung on chains from the ceiling, making islands
of light in the huge dark room. Her eyes were like pools that might have
been in a forest, and the creamy sweep of her neck against that
background reminded him of some old brown Vandyke painting. Contentment
closed over him as he looked at her; Mrs. Consett's continual talking
echoed in his ears, yet somehow was not heard; all about the room was
chatter, rising to the roof and hovering there, yet to him it was no
more than a murmur--as if, he thought fantastically, some monster choir
at an immense distance were intoning Latin genitive plurals.

So began a week of purest holiday. The Consetts, it appeared, had no
definite plans; they just stayed in one place as long as they liked, and
Roone's was apparently suiting them, despite the lack of private
bathrooms. The weather, too, held out in a blaze of splendour just
beginning to be autumnal; every morning when Fothergill rose and saw
through his window the grey-green mountains across the harbour he felt a
surge of happiness that reminded him, not of his own childhood, but of
some remoter and more marvellously recollected childhood of the world.
Then after breakfast came plans for the day--delightful arguments in
the verandah-lounge, while Mrs. Roone was packing sandwiches for them,
and Roone was tapping the barometer and prophesying fine weather. It was
always Mrs. Consett who seemed to make the plans, yet always Fothergill
who did the real work of organising--finding the route on road-maps,
seeing that food was sufficient, arranging terms with motor-drivers.
Then they would set out under the long avenue of just fading leaves,
swing down the winding hill through the village, and up the further hill
to the mountains. He felt the years falling away from him as he rose
into that zestful air, and when they halted for picnic-lunch at some
lonely vantage-point, with the valleys like clouds beneath them, he was
a child again in his enjoyment. He loved the fire-making routine--the
collecting of sticks on the hillsides, with the girl but calling
distance away from him, and her mother dozing in the car a hundred feet
below; the finding of large stones to build a hearth; the careful
watching till the kettle boiled at last. Once, tempted by a glorious
sunset, they stayed late round a fire they had made at tea-time and
talked till the flames seemed to bring all the darkness suddenly over
their heads. As she stirred the fire to a last blaze before they left
it, the girl remarked on the heat of the big stones, and he said: "If I
were going to camp here for the night I should wrap one of those stones
in a piece of blanket and use it instead of a hot-water bottle. That's
always a good dodge if you're sleeping out."

"Have you ever slept out?"

"Oh, often."

"You seem to have done all kinds of things."

"_Many_ kinds of things, perhaps."

"I wish you'd tell some of your adventures."

"I might, some time."

Yet he continually put it off. Partly, of course, because it was always
easier to do so; Mrs. Consett's chatter was a strong current that could
be swum against, but it was far less trouble to relax and let it carry
one along. And partly, too, because he felt a curious reluctance to
break the tranquillity of those simple days, and what tranquillity or
simplicity could remain after he had told his entire story?

He had, in fact, few chances of talking to the girl alone, and he could
not, he felt, tell her the final secret--her own identity--at any other
time.

One night, after dinner, someone brought a gramophone into the tiled
hall and put on dance records. The girl asked him if he danced and he
replied, smiling: "I'm afraid I don't--I never learned, and I'm too old
now." She said: "I'll teach you, then," and as other couples were by
that time moving from their seats, he replied, with sudden decision:
"Will you? All right." He found it easy; she was a good pilot, and he
himself had a sure sense of rhythm. "As if you were too old to learn,"
she whispered, reproachfully, as they drifted in amidst the lamp-lit
shadows. "I don't think you're really too old for anything."

"Although I'm nearly three times your own age?"

"That doesn't matter. You don't _feel_ old, do you? And if anyone saw
you when you were making a fire for a picnic, they'd think you were only
a boy."

"Really?"

"Yes. I was watching you this afternoon. You were enjoying it, weren't
you?"

"Absolutely, I admit."

"So was I. I don't think I've ever got to know anybody so quickly
as I have you. It seems rather an awful thing to say, but
sometimes--sometimes I wish mother wasn't quite so--so _everywhere_--and
_always_; she's a dear, but she does chatter terribly, doesn't she?"

"Just as well, perhaps, because I'm not much of a talker myself."

"Neither am I, yet I'd rather like to give ourselves a chance. By the
way, were you once a rubber planter out in the Malay States?"

"Sumatra, it was. But how did you know?"

"Oh, mother seems to have been finding out all about you. She happened
to see an article in the London _Times_, and thought it must be you,
from the name and initials. Then someone else told her--some people
staying here, but I think they've gone now--that you'd been a planter
out there and had made heaps of money."

"It depends how much you mean by heaps."

She laughed. "Personally, I'm not very curious, but mother seems to
think you're a millionaire travelling incognito, or something of that
sort."

He laughed also. "You can contradict the rumour," he assured leer.

They went on dancing. They danced, in fact, with hardly a pause until
nearly midnight, and when they finally rejoined Mrs. Consett he said,
with eyes and cheeks glowing: "Your daughter is a most charming teacher.
I hope we haven't been allowing the lesson to last too long?"

"Oh, not at all--not at all." Indeed, she seemed quite pleased.

He was tired that night when he went to bed, but it was the sort of
tiredness to be expected after a day on the mountains and an evening of
fox-trots. Curiously, in a way, he felt much better since he had begun
the more strenuous life of Roone's; it seemed to tire him far less to
scramble up a mountain in search of fuel for a picnic-fire than to take
leisurely strolls along city pavements.

The girl and he had more time together during the second week; there
were occasions when Mrs. Consett professed fatigue and said she would
write letters in the lounge while they, if they cared, took a walk.
Roone's was growing emptier; the eight months' season of slack business
was approaching and the first gales of autumn had already laid bare the
trees in the woods. As an offset to the general exodus of visitors, a
light cruiser came to anchor in Carrigole Bay for a few days' visit.
Most of the officers and men carne ashore to Roone's; bluejackets
swarmed into the public bar, while the hall and the long verandah
terraces were filled with shouting and laughing naval officers. Every
night they kept up their merriment to a late hour, and most of the day a
group of them hung about the counter in the hall, chatting and joking
with the Roones.

One morning Fothergill and the girl made the ascent of the Baragh, a
steep, cone-shaped peak that rose a thousand feet at the back of the
hotel. An hour of scrambling through heather brought them to the summit,
whence could be seen the roofs of Carrigole and the long bay stretching
westward into the sunlit sea.

NOW, he felt, as he sat on a rough stone with the sweep of sea and
mountain all around him and the girl seated on another stone somewhat
below,--_now_ was just his chance. He could talk without interruption;
he could begin at the beginning and tell all that was to be told.

Yet he didn't even begin to tell. Another thought carne to him--that in
all the world she was probably the only person he would ever meet who
had ever known Daly--the sole surviving contact with all in his own life
that had mattered most. And that dark passion of his, subdued for years,
spilled over now in a little tender flood of affection for the girl.

Suddenly she said: "Do you remember I told you I sometimes had dreams
that might have something to do with the time before I left Russia?"

He nodded.

"I had a dream of that sort last night. Too queer to be remembered,
really, but the queerest part was that you were mixed up in it somehow."

"_I_ was?"

"Yes. We seemed to be going somewhere all the time--just one place after
another--and at night we slept out in the open and used hot stones for
water-bottles." She laughed. "Isn't it curious the way everything gets
mixed up in dreams?"

The chance to tell her was again full on him, yet once again he forbore.
He was still wrestling with memories of those old and epic days. He
said, abruptly: "Are you happy in America? What do you do there? Tell me
the kind of life you have."

She looked amused. "I rather thought mother had told you everything you
ever wanted to hear about our home life. As a matter of fact, we really
_do_ have a good time and get on splendidly together. We play a little
bridge and tennis (though we're both very bad), and we just have money
enough to travel now and again and go to theatres and have friends to
stay with us. I shall have to earn my own living, of course, for which
I'm rather glad--I think it's a mistake to do nothing but idle about and
wait to be married by somebody."

"Don't you wish you'd been born rich, or high up in the world--a
princess, say?"

"I wouldn't mind if I'd been born rich, though I don't suppose it would
have made me any happier. And as for being a princess, when I feel
romantic I sometimes try to kid myself that I _am_ one--after all,
nobody knows who I really am, do they?"

"I suppose not."

"Though I daresay I wouldn't really like it if I were. It must be very
tiresome having to be important all the time. It would stop me from
doing things like this, wouldn't it?"

"Like this?"

"Yes. Scrambling up a mountain with you."

He laughed--a sudden almost boyish laugh that startled the mountain
silences. "Yes, you're right. You're happier as you are, no doubt."

"I _know_ I am. Oh, it _has_ been such fun, travelling all over Europe
ever since nearly a year ago, and the strange thing is, it all somehow
seems to have been leading up to this. I mean this--here--now--just
_this_." She looked at him quickly and then stared far across the
distance to the furthest horizon. "I like these mountains ever so much
better than the Swiss ones, don't you? I suppose it's heresy to say so,
but the Alps rather remind me of wedding-cake."

And all the time and all the way down as they descended he was thinking
of something else--of gilded salons and baroque antechambers, of
consulates and embassies and chancelleries, of faded uniforms and
tarnished orders, of intrigues and plottings and counter-plottings, of
Paris cafés where Russian _émigrés_ passed their days on a treadmill of
futile anticipation, of Riviera hotels where the very waiters were
princes and expected extra tips for so being, of dark and secret
assassinations, of frontiers stiff with bayonets, of men in Moscow
council-rooms ruthless, logical, and aware. That madly spinning world
lay so close, and it was in his power to thrust her into the very vortex
of it.

That night he took out of a sealed envelope certain curiously-marked
papers. They were twelve years old; time and a fumigating oven had
considerably faded them. He looked them through and then replaced them
in the envelope. It was late, past midnight; the sailors had returned to
their ship; even the Roones had gone to bed, and the lamps in the
corridor were all out. He groped his way downstairs and found the
drawing-room. There were the remains of a fire just faintly red in the
grate; he knelt on the hearth-rug and fanned the embers till they glowed
into flame. Then he placed the envelope on the top and watched it burn
with all its contents. He waited till the last inch was turned to ashes
and he could break and scatter them with the poker. Then he went back to
his room and to bed.

But he did not sleep too well. If one problem had been settled, another
remained; if he had not traced her in order to tell her who she was, why
had he traced her at all? What need was there to stay at Roone's any
longer? And so, bewitching and insidious, came again the memory of the
past; she was a shadow, an echo, reminding him that he was still young,
and that the Harley Street man might have made a mistake. And the idea
came to him that he might tell her some day, not about her own identity,
which did not matter, but about himself and Daly.

The next morning began a chaotic interlude of travel; he wired to his
London lawyer and the two arranged a half-way meeting at the railway
hotel at Fishguard. The dignified elderly solicitor, obviously flustered
by such hectic arrangements, scratched away for an hour in a private
sitting-room; then Fothergill signed; and two hotel servants acted as
witnesses and were suitably rewarded. The lawyer saw his client off on
the Rosslare boat and parted from him full of misgivings. "It is not for
me to offer criticism, Mr. Fothergill," he said, accepting a drink in
the saloon before the gangways were lowered, "but I do hope you have
given all this your most careful consideration." Fothergill assured him
that he had, and added: "Anyhow, I hope I'm not going to die just
yet--it's only a precaution." To which the lawyer replied: "I must say I
think you're looking very much better than when I saw you in London,"
and Fothergill answered: "My dear chap, I really don't think I ever felt
better in my life. It's the Irish climate--it seems to suit me."

He was at Roone's again by the afternoon of the next day, with Mrs.
Consett immensely curious about his lightning dash to England.
"Business," he told her, and she was satisfactorily impressed; her idea
of the successful business man was perfectly in accord with such
fantastic journeys on mysterious errands.

Back at Roone's he yielded again to the spell of magic possibility.
Could he tell her about their earlier meeting when she was but a child;
could he thus make fast to his own life this new and charming fragrance
that might otherwise fade away?

So he perplexed himself, but that Saturday night as he saw her talking
to a young naval sub-lieutenant he came to sudden decision. He saw her
smiling at the pink-checked and handsome boy; he heard their laughter
together; then they danced, and all at once, as he watched them, he felt
old again and knew that he was old; and when Mrs. Consett began her
usual chatter, he felt: We are a couple of old folks, watching the
youngsters amuse themselves...

But half an hour later she came up to him, having left her partner, and
said: "Don't you want to dance tonight, Mr. Fothergill? I suppose you're
tired after the journey?" And he was up in a moment, ready to whirl
through the world with her, old or young.

She said, as they danced: "That was a nice boy, if he wasn't so silly."

"I thought he looked a very attractive young fellow."

"Yes--but silly. I suppose most girls like it and I'm the exception. I
never could get on very well with boys of that age."

"_That_ age, indeed? I wouldn't be surprised if he's half a dozen years
older than you."

"Yes, I know--it's strange, isn't it? Perhaps the silliness is in me,
after all."

"In you?"

"Why not? Probably I'm old for my years. I've a sort of theory that I
aged a good deal before I was six and that now I'm anything between
thirty and forty."

"That would put you nearer me."

"Yes, wouldn't it?"

Her calm, friendly eyes were looking up at him, and he had to exert
every atom of will-power to prevent himself from yielding to the call of
so rich a memory. His brain reeled and eddied; he began to speak, but
found his voice so grotesque and uncertain that he broke off and tried
to fix himself into some kind of temporary coherence; he heard her
saying: "I don't think you're dancing very well to-night--you look as if
your mind's on something else all the time."

"As a matter of fact, it just is."

"Shall we stop, then? _I_ don't mind. Perhaps you feel tired?"

"I never felt less tired in my life. What I'd just like now is to go out
and climb the Baragh."

"Really? Do you mean it--really?"

He hadn't at first, but he did then, suddenly. "Yes," he said.

"Well, we could, couldn't we? It's bright moonlight and we know the way.
It's quite early--we should be back before the others begin clearing off
to bed. I love doing odd things that most people would think quite mad."

They slipped out through the verandah and began, hatless and coatless,
the steep scramble through the woods, drenched with dew, and then up the
rough, boulder-strewn borcen to the summit. They climbed too swiftly and
breathlessly for speech, and all the way he was dizzily making up his
mind for all the things he would say when they reached the topmost
ridge. He imagined himself telling her: "Dear child, you are all that
means anything in my life, and I want to tell you how and why--I want
you to know how I missed my way in life, over and over again, yet found
in the end something that was worth it all. You see, I want us always to
be friends--great friends--you and I, not just as if we were chance
travellers and had taken to each other. Much more than that. And it's
all so strange that I want you to try to understand." And other
confessions equally wild and enchanting. But when lie stood finally on
that moonlit peak, with the sky a blue-black sea all around him, he
could not think of anything to say at all. She stood so still and close
to him, thrilling with rapture at the view, pointing down excitedly to
the tiny winking lights of the cruiser, and then swinging round to peer
into the silver dimness of the valley on the other side. "I shall never,
never forget this as long as I live," she whispered. "It's far more
wonderful than in the day-time when we climbed before."

Then suddenly he realised why, or perhaps one reason why, he was not
speaking. He was in pain. He felt as if a bar of white-hot steel were
bending round his body and being tightened. Yet he hardly felt the pain,
even though he knew it was there; it was as if the moonlight and the
thoughts that swam in his mind were anaesthetising him. He opened his
mouth and tried to speak, but could only hear himself gasping; and lie
felt, beyond the knowledge of pain, an impotent fury with his body for
spoiling such a moment. He smiled a twisted smile; he had been too
venturesome, too defiant; he had climbed too fast. And all at once, just
then, the thought came to him: Supposing I were to drop dead, up
here--poor child, what a shock it would be for her, and what a lot of
damned unpleasant fuss for her afterward...

"You _are_ tired," she said, staring at him intently. "Shall we go
down?"

He nodded slowly and hoped she did not see the tears that were filling
his eyes.

They began the descent, and after a few yards she took his arm and
helped him over the rough places. Half-way down he felt better; the pain
was beginning to leave him. "I'm sorry," he said.

"Sorry? For what? I enjoyed it ever so much, but it tired you, I could
see--we mustn't do such mad things again."

"Except that I like mace things just as much as you do."

She smiled, and he smiled back, and with her arm still linked in his he
felt a marvellous happiness enveloping him, especially now that the pain
was subsiding with every second.

"I'm not so bad for my age," he added. "I suppose I oughtn't to expect
to be able to skip up and down mountains like an eighteen-year-old."

"Your age?" she said quietly. "I never think of it, or of mine either.
What does it matter?"

He laughed, then; he was so happy; and now that the pain had all gone he
could believe it had been no more than a fit of breathlessness after the
climb--a warning, no doubt, that he must avoid such strenuous risks in
future. His only big regret was that he had missed the chance of telling
her what had been in his mind, but it was too late now--the lights of
the hotel were already glimmering through the trees. As they entered
along the verandah he said: "I really _am_ sorry for being such an old
crock--sorry on my own account, anyway, because I'd rather wanted to
have a particular talk with you about something."

"Had you? And you'd stage-managed it for the top of a mountain in
moonlight--how thrilling! But it will do somewhere else, surely?"

He laughed. "Of course. The question is when rather than where."

"Why not to-morrow morning? We could go out on the harbour in the
motor-boat--mother wouldn't come with us--she hates sailing."

"Good idea. That'll do fine."

"Directly after Mass, then. I think they'll be having it in the hotel
to-morrow--I heard Roone saying something about it. That'll save the
walk down to the village and we can have a longer time on the water."

"Splendid."

"And I'm so thrilled to wonder what you have to tell me."

"_Are_ you?" He looked at her with piercing eagerness; yet he could not,
_could_ not read what was in her mind.

But later, after she had said good-night and gone to bed, his mood of
perplexity changed. Beyond a certain natural fatigue he felt himself no
worse for the mountain adventure, but to brace himself after the strain
he did what he had not often done at Roone's--he went into the bar for a
night-cap. The Roones were there with a few naval men and a fishing
youth in plus-fours; they tried to get him into conversation, but he
said little and stayed only for a few minutes. The fact was, he could
not even think of anything but the talk he would have on the morrow.

Then he took his candle (Roone's was old-fashioned enough for that) and
went to his room on the first floor. He would get up early, he decided,
and go to Mass--his first for so long--too long. He saw the moon and the
clear sky through the window, promising another fine day. He saw the
cruiser's masthead light shimmering softly over the harbour. He
undressed and got into bed and closed his eyes--the whisky had made him
drowsy--and suddenly, falling asleep, he felt most magnificently and
boyishly certain of everything, and especially that he had loved, in all
the possible ways of love.



THE END



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