Sunday, 21 December 2014

Chapter 7

Arkadi awoke later, at sunset. Scraps of blue showed through a sky closed in by white and leaden clouds scuttling off to the west. A difficult case had kept him sitting up until dawn opposite silent, tight-mouthed Maria Pavlovna, whose glance was direct when it fell on you, yet evasive when you tried to catch her eye, and that brute Terentiev, with his fat blond face and his disgusting way of licking his chops and of pulling his upper lip back over his bright red gums when he laughed. The file on the Schwaber case had been passed on from one hand to another. Terentiev indicated the examining magistrate’s conclusion with the black-rimmed nail of his sausage-like finger: “guilty and dangerous.” But what if they were telling the truth, these Schwabers? The father, the mother, the older son and daughter all stubbornly gave the same story, which sometimes seemed strikingly sincere and at other times like an absurd denial in the face of the obvious. The spy had lived with them. They had passed on letters to third parties, received messages for him, lied to cover his indiscretions, kept a suitcase containing his code. They insisted they knew nothing about it; that it was all simple; that they had thought they were dealing with an ordinary, rather pleasant man. Who were they? None of the three judges had ever seen them. Arkadi pored over their signatures with a strange inner tension. Under hers, the girl had written in a schoolgirl scrawl: “I swear before the Virgin we are all innocent, Olga Schwaber.” This evocation of the Virgin made Terentiev’s lip curl.
“So,” he said, “that would make four coincidences!”
“Four coincidences,” repeated Maria Pavlovna with raised eyebrows.
“They were duped,” said Arkadi.
“One coincidence per head: nineteen years old, twenty-one (student at the Institute of Technology, Catholic), forty-four (graduate of the school for the Daughters of the Nobility, religious, monarchist), fifty-three (noble, rentier, former landlord, member of the Constitutional-Democratic Party…).” Rich religious nobles, “class enemies throughout every fibre of their beings,” wrote the examining magistrate. “By the way, who was the magistrate?” “Zvereva.”
“Ah, yes, that ugly little woman – still young, always well dressed, zealous.”
“But atill,” replied Arkadi, “the suitcase with the code, without which there would be no case: they brought it out themselves at the end of the search. Babin was ready to leave, without having seized anything.”
Terentiev broke out in a deep loud laugh:
“But that was their ultimate ploy! They were convinced we knew everything from Procope. How do you explain Procope’s report?”
“Procope is an interested party.”
Here Maria Pavlovna broke in. Her voice was thoughtful, almost distant:
“Procope is a swine, that’s true. But up to now he has always been a reliable agent. And he is supervised by Zachary.”
“You know very well that Zachary is a bigger swine.”
It was the eleventh case to be judged that night. Dawn showed at the window. Maria Pavlovna said:
“I’m calling for a vote. Terentiev?”
“Death.”
“Arkadi?”
Arkadi stared down at the blue-covered file and felt the weight of two pairs of eyes pressing in on him – one glance was sensual, mocking, revolting, like a rude nudge; the other cold, severe sad – detecting, perhaps in his indecision, a sign of weakness, of nervous fatigue, of unconscious revulsion against the task. The word was wretched out of his mouth before he was fully conscious of it and fell onto the file like an invisible seal:
“Death.”
“Death.” Said Maria Pavlovna impassively.
“I’ll sign.”
Terentiev countersigned.
It was over, the inner nightmare subsided. Maria Pavlovna proposed adjourning the next cases until Wednesday’s meeting. They rose. Terentiev, apathetic again, was now nothing more than a big red-faced slob with sparse, nearly colourless eyebrows. He appeared to droop slightly, staring out the window at the white roofs and, in answer to Maria Pavlovna’s friendly inquiring glance, he murmured: “My youngest boy has scarlet fever.”
Arkadi, before going home, wandered for a short while around the vast deserted square, bathed in a strange, extremely pale blue dawn glow. The great calm of the stones, the snow, and the dawning day seemed to enter him from every pore. Like the cool of the water when the swimmer dives in, his skin burning. Reassured, he thought: Tomorrow I’ll go see Olga. Then he realised that a coincidence of names had weighed on his powers earlier. Olga. He thought about her as he got into bed in his messy room where Daghestan weapons with beautifully etched silver scabbards lay tossed on the divan. Olga. He had only to close his eyes and she was present. This was a different freshness than that of the dawn in the square: a bland freshness as calm and luminous as the late-afternoon sun reflected on the windowpanes.
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Olga clapped her hands when he entered.
“I knew you would come today. I knew it! See, I was waiting.”
She placed her hands on his shoulders, looked into his eyes, and said:
“I woke up at four o’clock last night. I felt you were thinking about me. Tell the truth: did you think about me at four o’clock?”
It was too dark for her to be able to detect the somewhat forced smile with which he answered, believing he was lying:
“Yes.”
Olga clapped her hands again.
“I knew it! I knew it!”
He held her off with a gesture as she was about to throw herself into his arms. She could see his smile better. She felt his suppleness and his toughness. His soul as strong as his muscles, whose least movement had a masterful precision. He dropped himself onto the divan, crossed his legs – tall boots glistening- and said:
“Let me look at you, I feel so good.”
“I’ll make some tea,” she answered.
She was happily aware of the red glow of his cigarette in the semidarkness. She loved to move about in the invisible light of eyes following her from the far end of a dimly lighted room. Nowhere in the world could anyone ever give this man a greater feeling of calm, a more secure rest, a surer joy. She knew this. And the warmth of his gaze resting on her, soft at first, then imperious like a magnet, enveloped her wholly, imparted new suppleness to her movements. Somewhere, deep inside, her whole being cried out that this was an immense happiness. When she was sure that he couldn’t make out her face, she laughed silently with all her pretty teeth, with her depthless, shining eyes. Then she shut them for a moment, motionless, content with the single thought – he is here- ecstatic in delicious anticipation of hands ready to touch her.
She was tall and lissom, glowing all over with the multiple lustre of her eyes, whose long golden lids were always blinking as if to veil the brilliance of her gaze, of her sleek hair in which a touch of sunlight seemed to be captured forever, of her slender neck. Arkadi smoked. This female form filled his eyes and, far beyond his eyes, his mind, which forgot itself. And within him a wild-animal heat slowly came to life.
For her, he emerged from a darkness too frightening even to think about. There reigned a law of blood, incomprehensible yet necessary, since he was fulfilling it; he who was so pure, so strong, so calm after the mysterious labour of his nights. (She had only tried to question him once. He took her head between his hands: “Not a word about all that, my dove. Never. We are making Revolution. It’s a great, great thing…” Olga repeated: “A great, great thing.” Those words were engraved on her mind. Whatever she learned, whatever anyone told her, she repeated it to herself to regain her confidence. There was great deal of silence between them…)
“I promised Fuchs we would see him together. He has drawn a huge map, imagine…”
“Let’s go,” he said joyfully.
Arkadi was feeling light and vibrant, as when, at eighteen, in his village of Adjaris-Tskhahi, he would bound into the circle of clapping hands, one hand on his hip, the other on the back of his neck, with his dagger held tight at his waist, and dance – lighter, nimbler, and with greater endurance than anyone else.
The visiting card tacked to the door of the neighbouring room read:
JOHANN APPOLINARIUS FUCHS
ARTIST
Under the ancien regime, old Fuchs had lived rather well by his modest talents. The best dealers knew their way to his studio. His works could be found in the homes of patrons of the arts. Rasputin had liked them. Fuchs was the originator of those bathing girls with airy gestures who moved in or out of the waves as if offering themselves to love, wearing just enough to be more naked than they would have been if entirely nude, borne on the light, smiling and sensual. He had spent twenty years painting them over and over again, aware of his mediocrity and good workmanship, conscious that the shoulder which he finished off with a last touch would hold the eye and kindle, in older men, certain furtive sparks whose appearance he watched for, in the prudent gaze of his visitors. “Ah, signore,” he would say to himself, rubbing his hands together, “this too is an art.”
Even today, in this humble little room where a few carpets and some unsalable knickknacks in the worst of Viennese taste barely recalled better times, ex-dealers, ruined naturally, living off illicit trafficking, still sometimes came to ask him for “a red-haired bather, something a la Rubens, you understand?” for a mysterious client. – For, on the other side of the river, at the end of an empty street, in a vast frozen apartment, an aged man who, in order to feed the last of his great Danes, the only living being he had left with him, was selling his ex-mistress’ old-fashioned dresses, was waiting anxiously for “the red-haired bather a la Rubens” as formerly he waited for a living woman.
Fuchs, who had been busy painting the emblem of Labour surmounted by a figure of “Revolution” with the straight nose of a Greek goddess for the flag of the Porcelain Makers’ Union, immediately changed easels. He painted from memory now. One of his models had had precisely the Rubens complexion, but he had seen her for the last time back in 17, stouter and sunburned, wearing the uniform of the Women’s Battalion whose sorry end at the hands of the sailors on the night of the victorious insurrection is now legend. – Another, a thin brunette who used to pose for his Sevillanas, walked the central prospect every night, between the Fontanka Bridge, guarded by its noble horse tamers, and Caravan Street. She was often alone on that little-used sidewalk. On the other side you could see the red, rectilinear fa├žade of Anichkov Palace, its corner topped by the delicious golden bulb of its chapel.
Fuchs accosted her as she strolled along, kissing her hand a little farther up than necessary. She lived in a small inside room on the top floor of an ordinary biggish apartment house. The furniture was covered with worn lace. Pictures of young officers leaned against empty cologne bottles. She still had fairly clean underthings, which she herself washed in the kitchen; she didn’t remove her high-laced boots to make love – that would take to long; on the other hand, she was good at spurring her males gently above the calf… Fuchs rather fancied this Lyda.
A knock came at the door. Fuchs quickly turned the Rubens-skinned girl to the wall. Olga and Arkadi filled the room with a virile grace. Arkadi, completely relaxed, a friendly smile revealing his fine teeth, scrutinised the fussily attentive old man. Short in stature, small-featured, a white goatee like an old faun.
“This comrade,” said Olga, “is interested in your chronicle of the Revolution…”
“I’m thinking of the future,” said Fuchs seriously.
Each day he would go out and get the newspapers, which was not an easy task since very few were for sale. Crafty and cautious like a thief, he sometimes had to peel the freshly posted pages off the walls, a risky undertaking. He studied them. It was his favourite job each day, the one which gave meaning to his daily existence. He cut out clippings, underlining with a ruler and red and blue pencils the significant parts of his chosen passage, which he then pasted into the large pages of his monthly classifiers.
Fuchs had to stoop to retrieve his clipping books from a trunk. Olga and Arkadi exchanged identical amused smiles. The little man stood up again and said, all of a sudden:
“The greatest happiness for a man is to live during a great epoch.”
“That is true,” said Arkadi.
“That is true, “ repeated Olga more quietly.
“…even,” Fuchs continued, “if it’s hard, even…”
Three minds stopped short on the threshold of something repeating that uncompleted “even…”
“That is true,” said Arkadi in the serious voice he used for passing sentence at the Special Commission.
“Here’s my new map,” said Fuchs.
Europe was divided between two colours, white and red. Red Europe was spilling over into white Europe. Red pincers encircled the Mediterranean. Italy, still white, was crisscrossed with red arrows; red arrows in Morocco, Algeria, Triplo, Egypt – red arrows!
“The arrows,” Fuchs explained, “indicate revolutionary movements which have not yet triumphed.”
Red countries covered the whole east, from the mouth of the Pechora on the White Sea to the gates of the Crimea, to Odessa, reconquered from the French and Greeks, to Daghestan, divided down the middle by a border of blood. The red countries, each bearing its date, spread out to the heart of Europe. Bavaria, a Socialist republic since April 7, 1919. Galicia, Soviet republic since April 25, 1919. Hungary, Soviet republic since March 22, 1919. Serbia – Serbia cut into the Balkans like a tooth- Socialist republic since April 14, 1919. Asia Minor pushed forward its red head like a snub-nosed pachyderm: Turkey, Socialist republic since April 19, 1919.
“Look here,” observed Arkadi, “the island of Crete is red too.”
“There has been a telegram from the Rosta Agency!”
Red arrows were exploding in Germany. Scattered red arrows were pointed at Paris, Lyon, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Barcelona.
“How beautiful!” exclaimed Fuchs.
Arkadi answered:
“I don’t think Bavaria will hold much longer. They say Toller has been killed at an outpost.”
Fuchs flipped through a stack of clippings.
“What about this?” he said triumphantly.
Istanbul, April 27. The Executive Central Committee of the Moslem Revolutionaries of Turkey, Arabia, Persia, Hindustan, Algeria, Morocco, and Constantinople announce with profoundest joy that the Republic of the United States of the East will soon be proclaimed in Constantinople. The struggle is being carried forward vigorously. A soviet revolutionary corps of 2,000 men has been formed in Odessa.
The Turkish Consul at Odessa
Akhu-Ato-Bakh-Eddin
Arkadi burst into laughter.
“Your Akhu-Ato-Bakh-Eddin looks like a joker to me. I think…. I think the wisest thing would be to lock him up.”
“Really?”
J.A.Fuchs’s eyes went back and forth from his visitor to the map, whose veracity was suddenly being undermined. “So you think I should erase all this?”
“All of this” meant the red arrows piercing Mediterranean Africa from Suez to Casablanca.
“No. No. There’s no doubt about the revolutionary ferment in the colonies. See the Manifesto of the Third International.”
When his visitors had departed, Fuchs wrote (in pencil so as to be able to erase it later) in the corner of the map, in neat little characters:
“Cf. Manifesto of IIIrd Intern.”
They had only a few steps to take to be back in their room. But even before, in the dark corridor, as Olga turned toward Arkadi to say “He’s a character, isn’t he?” she felt his masculine breath against her lips, and he did not answer. He enveloped her waist in an iron grip. She melted against him and it was as if he was carrying her away toward an unknown happiness.
Arkadi could never stay long. His nights of work began early. He departed, leaving behind him, in the room still full of the odour of his cigarettes, a cloudy wake of joy, confusion, and strength; but in that wake Olga’s soul and flesh felt emptied. A strange desert of worn lips and slack nerves… she dozed. The bell rang twice. “For me!... Who could it be?”
She felt, as the tanned young soldier entered, a mixture of surprise and unease:
“You? You? How is it possible?”
Nonetheless they kissed each other’s cold cheeks.
“Little sister, I’m exhausted. I’ve come from Rostov, the long way round. Makhno’s men took me prisoner on the way. I told them I was practically an anarchist. They only took my fur coat and a thousand rubles. No importance.”
“… You’re a soldier? A major?...”
On his shoulder, a red star.
“No. Yes. Whatever you like. How’s Mama? Can I sleep at your place? Is this house safe? My papers aren’t in order.”
“…not in order? Why?”
“You wouldn’t understand, little sister. Don’t worry about it. Where do you think I could stop for a few days?”
“I don’t know, Kolia. Maybe at Andrei Vassilievich’s. Or at Professor Lytaev’s.”
“How things change, little sister. My name is now Danil…”
He sat. He drank the tea which Arkadi had not touched. How mature he had become. His hands were those of a worker. As Olga listened to him laughing and talking, her uneasiness grew.
“I’m dirty, huh? What you smell on me is the peculiar odour of trains. Yet I’ve washed. Four weeks on trains, little Olga. And what trains, you couldn’t imagine. No windows, smashed in on every side, stinking like pigsty’s…. I even rode on the roof! Listen to this one, little sister, you’ll laugh. In Kharkov, in a little hotel full of fat bedbugs (they were fat from their habitual diet of government officials), I ran into some Frenchmen coming from God knows where, an old Socialist crank, Durand-Pepin, bringing us his life’s work, a complete outline for the organisation of the new society….”
The idea made him laugh so hard that he had to put down his teacup and bend over choking.
“He wanted to teach rational culture to the Ukrainian peasants by showing them little coloured pictures….”
Olga laughed too, infected. “When he saw that the peasants were more interested in stopping trains to at night to rob the passengers and hang the Jews, he declared he had to leave for home right away because of his heart disease. But they made him a member of a non-existent Academy, and gave him a set of Aluminium cookware, so he stayed… And his pretty niece, little sister, was worried whether she had enough dresses to appear in Kharkov society! Kharkov society! The biggest collection of bandits you could ever find…”

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