Monday, 2 February 2015

Chapter 11



THE 1ST Esthonian Regiment went over to the Whites on May24. The 3rd Infantry of the Second Brigade turned traitor on May 28. This 3rd Battalion, accompanied by the brigade commissar, Rakov, was bivouacking in Vyra. At dawn, a former guards officer (now a Communist Party member) backed by a detachment of soldiers, had all the Communists arrested. Rakov defended himself alone in a thatched hut, fought desperately, and saved the last bullet from himself. The other Communists were massacred. Five women were later shot in a damp field in their nightgowns. A general arrived in the morning. After the killings, the men had taken an hour to remove their red stars and sew on nationalist cockades. Then they paraded behind the band for their new commanders like troops in a military tableau. A few days passed. Below Gatchina, at the gates of the city, a defensive front was established by one regiment. Hastily called reinforcements gradually filed up, without ammunition, without food, without shoes, without clothes. An inspection team was sent out from Fort Hill, which rounds out the Kronstadt defence perimeter on the south side of the Finnish Gulf, and made a most reassuring report: “Conscious and disciplined garrison, no sign of mutiny.” The starving troops, the huge, restless factories, the population decimated by typhus and cholera (which the newspapers were under orders not to mention) all needed to be fed. The announced supply trains never arrived, either because they had never left or because they were stopped by the starving cities along the way. The Council of Defence unofficially authorised requisitioning of food in the surrounding countryside. The peasants armed themselves with scythes, unearthed old machine guns, brought sawed-off rifles out of hiding, and chased away the detachments of workers when they didn’t disembowel the agitators during the night. The priests announced the end of the Anti-Christ. People gathered at evening vigils to read appeals from the White Army, which promised order, peace, respect for property, punishment for the Jews, and hand outs of white bread. Round white loaves brought back from the front passed from hand to admiring hand. Lists of suspects to be denounced on the arrival of the Whites were drawn up in every village. Anyone who had accounts to settle with a neighbour made sure his name was set down. The Greens controlled whole regions. They obeyed a single headquarters, manned by trained commanders. These deserters, who refused to fight for either party, and, being neither Whites nor Reds, took the colour of the forest, their refuge, had managed to form an army as regular as the others and tended to coordinate their actions with the Whites against the Reds, since the former were still stronger. Four thousand Greens occupied the Velikiye Luki region. There were probably 15,000 in the region around Pskov. They engaged in full-scale battles. Naturally they executed the Communists.

Enemy aircraft flew over Kronstadt, dropping pretty glistening bombs ringed with red copper. Huge white flowers of explosions burst out of the ground and in the May sky. A big British submarine attacked some Red torpedo boats on June 4 and was sunk. Fifty men in Davy Jones’s locker – Olde England- and among them jolly Ted, who sang so merrily to a Negro melody:
“Every ship will go to the bottom
Sixty fathoms deep!
Who gives a damn! Who gives a damn!”

The incident was completely hushed up. It spoiled the Lord High Admiral’s breakfast one morning. The city learned mysteriously that Fort Grey Horse, Fort Obruchev, and Fort Hill had gone over. The breeze carried gasps of cannon fire in from the sea. Alongside little white posters announcing free rations for children appeared brief placards signed by the head of internal defence.
OUTLAWED – Under Pain of Death- Will Be Shot Without Trial. Death crept into every dwelling. Men bowed their heads before these fresh placards, sensing rifles lowering slowly over them. The commander of the place, surrounded by telephones, called his staff assistant to report in. Comrade Valerian – peppery moustache cut American-style, fleshy nose, close-cropped hair – aimed a frank gaze into the eyes of the commander (“pretty clever, nonetheless, for an ex-machinist promoted to non-com after fifteen months at the front”) and recited:
“Two cruisers returning enemy fire at the front. The Communist battalions are confined to barracks. The Committees of Three and of Five of the Evacuation and Destruction Services are in permanent session. The aircraft factory can be destroyed in seven hours. I will supervise that operation personally.”

A note bearing the seal of the Central Special Commission brought news of the greatest gravity. The counterrevolutionary Centre Right organization could count on 146 confederates in the city, organised in groups of five, and a thousand sure sympathisers. These forces could be mobilized in a single night.  According to a plan marked with blue circles seized during a raid in Moscow, the organisation planned to occupy about twenty strategic points from within as soon as the Whites outside were ready to threaten the city directly. The Regional Committee of the Centre Right was allegedly presided over by an older man, known as the Professor, perhaps an actual professor (check university circles and the former Theology Academy). An intercepted letter indicated that an emissary had arrived from the south with important messages and was still in the city.
File No. 42, the Centre Right case, was in the hands of Comrade Zvereva, a rather ugly little woman, always well dressed, under the supervision of Special Commission members Terentiev and Arkadi. At two in the morning, as Zvereva was getting undressed in front of the mirror, as was her custom, caressing her flabby breasts with a distracted smile, the telephone on her night table began ringing insistently:
“Hello! The President here. You’re not in bed? Can you come over here, Room 12?”
Never before had the President spoken directly to Zvereva. She snapped to attention, overwhelmed by self-esteem mingled with anxiety. This narrow-eyed, broad-hipped little woman, tormented by desire, pride, and scruples, saw every man as a male, didn’t know how to give herself to anyone of them, and lived by haunted carnal hunger. She powdered herself quickly but lightly, so that it wouldn’t show, checked the finishing touches on the imperceptible dark traces lining her eyelids, hesitated a moment between her black dress with the straight pleats, which made her look thin, and the military tunic she put on for interrogations, but decided on the dress. She was sorry she didn’t meet anyone in the long red-carpeted hallway, for no one could have failed to realise from her mien that affairs- secret affairs- of the highest importance still occupied her at this hour of the night.
The President was wearing an old smoking jacket, worn at the elbows. Thick strands of pearl silk hung from the collar of his broad-checked shirt. From close up, his head appeared very large and swollen. He had puffy eyes with thick lids, and a little pink pimple on the edge of one nostril.
“Sit down, Comrade. You’re in charge of the Centre right case? Well, what about this plot?”
His voice was low and casual, as was his glance, which wandered around the little white sitting room. He had the air of someone getting on with a bit of unimportant business. The chandelier was burning, although it was broad daylight on the square outside, where an equestrian statue with a winged helmet was visible.
“All right. Get this case moving. You know the situation. Bring me a detailed report on Monday at four o’clock.”
Zvereva bent forward, her eyes shining, happy to shake that flabby hand. “Very well, very well. It will be taken care of, comrade.”
She put on the uniform tunic which moulded her figure and ran to the Commission. The great palace-lined square was immense at that hour. Every paving stone stood out with perfect sharpness like a piece of inlaid parquetry. Footsteps rang out. Their echo was strangely loud. A group of Communists, doubtless on their way to a house-by-house search, turned the corner. A sailor walked at the head, talking animatedly to a working girl in a white kerchief. Then came an old man in a sport coat, a cigarette dangling from his lips and a rifle slung over his shoulder. A couple of young men brought up the rear. Zvereva was struck by their apparent gaiety. Rosy hues spread across the sky above the huge gilt dome of St. Isaac’s. a magnificent purity descended over the city.
The electric lights were nonetheless burning at Commission Headquarters. A few decrepit trucks, some motorcycles, and a black limousine were lined up at the entrance. Two soldiers passed Zvereva in the stairway; they were leading out a tearful old lady whose hair had come undone. At the end of a hall there was a mound of typewriters piled one on top of another. Some were upside down like huge crustaceans lying on their backs, showing the bizarre mechanism of their bellies. An odour of phenol floated in the air; a wounded man emerged from Room 25 and made his way toward the toilet, leaning on the wall for support. Through the window Zvereva noticed white coffins lined up in a courtyard. She opened the safe and took out File No.42.
Almost no hard facts. The Central Commission didn’t know what it was reporting. – A decentralised organisation. A first-class double agent had failed to get beyond the lowest echelon. He only knew three men, who were as ignorant as he was – two ex-officers, a druggist, and their group leader, whom he thought it would be useless to arrest: he was too firm a character and wouldn’t spill anything unless he were put to torture. Zvereva had suggested the latter method to Terentiev, who passed it on to the Commission: in vain, prejudice was too strong. – What else? At most two new pieces of information might be placed in File No. 42: the report of another informer who, on the say-so of his mistress, a prostitute, announced the presence in the city if a young officer recently arrived from the south where he had witnessed horrible executions of Red prisoners. The description of this officer was fairly precise. His name began with a D. a denunciation signed by “Johann Appolinarius Fuchs, artist loyal to the Revolution,” gave details which agreed in every particular, obviously taken from the same source. “D: Damien, Daniel, David, Demid, Denis, Dimitri, Dosifei…”
Arkadi, consulted, smiled at the name of Fuchs. “Have the group we know about arrested tomorrow at the latest. I will sit in on the interrogations. Try to find this D., even though the information doesn’t seem very solid. No lead should be neglected. Send his description to every reliable man on the House Committees, and get it out to the leaders of the house-by-house search patrols.”

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