A Russian Experience
July 30 ,
TO-DAY I went to the Jewish detention camp in Kieff, with the wife of the French Consul here. She called for me in her limousine. As I think of it now, it was all so strange — the smoothrunning car with two men on the box, and ourselves in immaculate white summer dresses. The heat was intense, but we were well protected. Through the windows we saw others sweating and choking in the dust of the hot streets.
‘I’m afraid I’ve brought you here on a very hot morning,’ said Mme.
In spite of my curiosity I believe that I felt a distaste of the detention camp on such a day. A crowd is always depressing, and doubly so in the heat. But we stopped at a door cut in a high board-fence, and passed the sentinel into the enclosure where the Jews were penned while awaiting the next stage of their journey.
Hundreds of faces turned toward us; hundreds of eyes watched our approach. There were old men with long white patriarchical beards flowing over their dirty black gowns; there were younger men with peaked black caps and long black beards; and there were women who had pushed back their black shawls for air, and who held soreeyed, whining babies listlessly on their knees. Bits of old cloth stretched over poles afforded shade to some. Others tried to get out of the burning sun by huddling against the walls of the tenements that enclosed the yard on three sides. The ground was baked hard as iron and rubbed smooth by the shuffle of numberless feet.
As we approached, the Jews rose and bowed low. Then they settled back into their former immobility. Some stared at us vacantly; others lowered their eyelids and rubbed their hands together softly, with a terrible subservience. If we brushed close to one, he cringed like a dog who fears a kick. Yellow, parchment-like faces, all with the high-bridged curving noses and the black animal-like eyes. I was as definitely separated from them as though there were tangible iron bars between us. We seemed to be looking at each other across a great gulf.
‘They are human beings,’ I said to myself. ‘I am one with them.’ But their isolation was complete. I could not even begin to conceive the persecution and suffering of ages that separated us. ‘“All people are born free and equal,” indeed! ’
I turned away.
‘This camp is run on communistic principles,’ Mme. C-was explaining. ‘The Jewish Ladies’ Benevolent Society provides a certain amount of meat and vegetables and bread, which is cooked and served by the Jews themselves. Here is the kitchen.’ We spoke French among ourselves, which seemed to put us further away from the dumb, watchful Jews behind us. ‘ If it was n’t for us, they would starve. The government allows them eight kopeks a day. But who could live on that? Besides, most of the Jews here
pay the eight kopeks to the overseer, to avoid his displeasure. He makes a good revenue.’
Two rooms in one of the houses had been converted into a kitchen. A dozen or so Jewish women were paring and cutting up potatoes and cabbages and meat into huge soup-boilers. They were stripped to their shirts, and their bodies were drenched with perspiration. They curtsied to us and went on preparing dinner.
A blast of scorching heat puffed out from an open oven. Two women, with long, wooden handles, pulled out big round loaves of black bread and laid them on a shelf to cool.
The warm fragrance of cooking attracted some white-faced Jewish children. They edged into the kitchen and looked up at the food, their eyes impenetrable and glittering like mica. A woman cut up some bread and gave them each a piece, and they slunk outdoors again, sucking their bread. ‘The food is scientifically proportioned to give the greatest possible nutriment,’ Mme. C-said.
We went out. After the kitchen heat the air of the courtyard was cool. ‘This is the laundry. A certain number of the Jews here wash and iron the others’ clothes. They are kept as clean as possible.’
The laundry was gray with steam. A dozen or so women were bending over wash-tubs. Like the women in the kitchen, they were stripped to their shirts. The wet cloth stuck to their sweating bodies and outlined their ribs and the stretch of muscles as they scrubbed and wrung out the clothes. When the water became too black, some young boys threw it out-of-doors, and the women waited for the tubs to be filled again, their red parboiled hands resting on their hips, in the way of washerwomen the world over. We crossed the mud before the washhouse, on planks, and went into a house across the courtyard.
‘This is the tailoring establishment,’ Mme. Ccontinued. ‘The tailors among them mend and cut over old clothes that we collect for them, so that every Jew may start on the next stage of his journey in perfectly clean and whole clothes. My husband and son complain that they will have to stay in bed soon, I have taken so many of their suits. And here are the shoemakers.’
We looked into the adjoining room, where the cobblers sat cross-legged, sewing and patching and pegging shoes.
‘It’s very hard to find the leather. But it is so important. If you could see how they come here — their feet bleeding and swollen and their shoes in tatters. And many of them were rich bankers and professors in Galicia and Poland, used to their own automobiles like the rest of us. I think I would steal leather for them.’
The workers were different from the waiting Jews in the courtyard. Perhaps it was work that gave them importance in their own eyes, and took away that dreadful degrading subserviency — degrading to us as much as to themselves. The whirring noise of the sewing-machines, the click of the shears, the bent backs of the workers, and the big capable hands, formed by the accustomed work! The trade of every man could have been known by his hands! My heart was warm toward them.
‘It’s splendid, I think,’ I said to Mme. C-.
As though she guessed my thoughts, she replied, ‘They are grateful for being allowed to work.’
‘For being allowed to work.’ Those words damn much in the world. What hindrances we erect in the way of life!
And I looked out into the courtyard again, at the apathetic faces of the waiting Jews. Waiting for what? The white dead faces, with the curved noses and hard bright eyes, all turned toward us. Were they submissive or expectant, or simply hating us? They say the Galician Jews turn traitors and act as spies for the Austrians. But surely not these! What could these broken creatures do? How near to death they seemed!
The courtyard burned like a furnace. The shade was shrinking from moment to moment. The heat rose in blinding waves. I was sickened. The courtyard smelled of dirt and waste and sickness. It was unreal — the whole thing unreal. Those working at usual, necessary tasks as well as those furtive, watchful ones in the burning sunlight! Death was in them all!
I went out into the courtyard, walking slowly in the scorching heat. There was no shade or coolness anywhere. My attention was drawn to a pregnant woman who had evidently been sitting in a thin strip of shade by the fence, but now the sun was beating down on her bare head. She sat with her arms hanging along her sides, the palms of her hands turned upwards. A baby hardly a year old twisted fretfully on her lap, fumbling at her breast with a little red hand. But she looked steadily over the baby’s round head, a curiously intent expression in her dark eyes, as though she were looking at something so far away that she must concentrate all of herself in it so as not to lose it from view.
Under a canopy made from an old blue skirt lay a sick boy. His face was like a death-mask already, the yellow skin stretched tightly over the bones of his face, and his mouth unnaturally wide, with parched, swollen lips. From his hollow eye-sockets his eyes looked out unwinking, as though the lids had been cut off. He held himself halfway between a reclining and an upright position. No normal person could hold himself that way for long, but the sick boy kept himself motionless with maniacal strength. The flies hung over him like a cloud of black cinders. One of his friends attempted to keep them away with a leafy branch which he had found, Heaven knows where! I could see no other sign of green in the place. As we passed, I noticed the branch sweep back and forth over the sick boy’s face, touching the skin. And still the fixed stare continued, uninterrupted— that blind gaze straight out into emptiness!
At the farther end, an opening between two of the tenements led into a garden. This space, too, was crowded with waiting Jews.
‘But where do they sleep?’ I asked. ‘Is there room for all those people in the houses?’
‘No,’Mme. C-replied; ‘not when so many come through as came this last time. But fortunately, these summer nights are fine; earlier, we had much rain, and you can picture the suffering. Then there was no shelter for them at all. They were simply herded into a pen, and many died from the exposure. Now, however, we have made conditions better for them.’
There was more reality here in the garden, where there was a suggestion of growing grass and a thin leaf shade. The Jews lay on the ground as if trying to get some coolness out of the earth. Up and down the paths walked a number of spectacled men, who were brought up to me and introduced as Professors So-and-so, and Doctors Soand-so. They were constantly trying to get in touch with friends in Kieff or Moscow or Petrograd, or colleagues in medicine or other sciences, or relatives who could help them. They worked through the society. By the payment of certain amounts they could bribe
the overseers to let them stay on in the Kieff detention camp, or even have the liberty of the city. One man, a rich banker from Lvov, had been officially ‘sick’ for several months, but as his money had almost given out he was in danger of being sent on to Tomsk in the near future. He lived in the hospital, where he had better quarters and food. These professors and doctors, men of wide learning and reputation, who are recognized as leaders in their professions, and are constructive, valuable forces in society, were herded together with the others, allowed to disappear into Siberia, where their minds and bodies will be wasted, and their possible future activity will count as nothing.
A man in a soiled white coat came up, looked us ovdr with little blinking pig eyes, and addressed a few words to Mme. C-in Polish.
‘That is the overseer,’ Professor A-said to me in English. ‘He takes every kopek away from us. But he is no worse than the rest. All along the way it is the same thing. One is bled to death.’ He shrugged indifferently. ‘We most of us could have gathered together a little money. But what will you? It was all so sudden. We had no time. Here we are, en tout cas. And after all, in the end —’
I might have been talking with the professors on the campus of their own university. They exerted themselves to be attentive and entertaining, as if they were our hosts.
One doctor said to me in French, ‘I have seen your wonderful country. It is amazing. I would like to see it again. I have been asked to lecture. Perhaps, after the war—’
He broke off abruptly. In a flash the end of his life came up to me. His work and ambitions, then the cleavage in his career; the sharp division in his life; the preparation of years, and then, instead of fulfillment, an exile to a country where life was a struggle for the bare necessities of the body — food and shelter. I looked at his hands — thin and white and nervous. What hideous, despairing moments he must know!
I asked him a question. His eyes blazed suddenly.
‘Do not speak of these things! They are not to be spoken of, much less to you.’ He looked as though he hated me. ‘I beg your pardon, I am nervous. You must excuse me.’ He went away hurriedly.
‘Poor chap!’ Professor A-said. ‘It is hard for us all in this heat. And, yes, some of us have more imagination than others.’
A man in a uniform came into the garden. He walked to a tree in the centre, and stood in the shade, a long sheet of paper in his hand. There was a stir among the Jews. Those lying down got up and approached him. The women, with their children, dragged themselves nearer. Every one stopped talking. The apathy and indifference gave place to strained attention. There was a kind of dreadful anxiety on every face — a tightening of the muscles round the eyes and mouths, as if the same horrible fear fixed the same mark there. I have never seen a crowd where personality was so stamped out by a single overmastering emotion. The gendarme began to read in a singsong voice.
‘What is he saying?’ I whispered. ‘The names of those who are to leave this afternoon,’ Mme. Creplied. The garden was absolutely still except for the monotonous voice and the breathing of the crowd. Oh, yes, and the flies! It was not that I forgot the flies, only their buzzing was the ceaseless accompaniment to everything that happened in the camp.
‘How horrible this is!’ Mme. C-observed. ‘They all know it must come, but when it does, it is almost unbearable. It is truly a list of death, Many of them here cannot survive another stage of the journey in this heat. And yet they must be moved on to make place for those who are pressing on from behind. In this very crowd were five old men who were killed on the way here, by the soldiers, because they could n’t keep up with the procession. How could these civilians be expected to endure such hardships? They are townspeople, most of them having lived indoors all their lives, like you or I.’
‘Like you or I!’ No, no. It was unbelievable. I could not put myself in their place. I could not imagine such insecurity — that lives could be broken in the middle in this way.
‘How useless it all seems!’ I said.
‘Useless. You think so?’ Mme. Ctook me up. ‘Do you realize that whole Galician towns have been moved into Siberia this summer? Part of the way on foot, part in baggagecars, where they stifled to death in the heat and for lack of water and food. One carload was n’t listed, or was forgotten by some careless official, and when it was finally opened it was a carload of rotting flesh. The bodies were thrown into the river by the frightened official, but a soldier reported him and he was court-martialed. One crowd of several thousand was taken to Siberia. They reached Tomsk. Then the government changed. What was the need to transport these Galician Jews, the new minister argued. A useless expense to the government. A waste of money and time. Let them go back to their homes. So the Jews were taken back over the same route, many more dying on the return journey, in the jails, and camps, and baggage-cars, or by the roadsides. They found themselves once more back in their pillaged towns, with nothing to work with, and yet with their livelihood to bo earned somehow. They began to dig and plant and take up the routine of their lives once more. They began to look on themselves as human again. The grind of suffering and hopelessness began to let up and they had moments of hope. And then the reactionaries came into power with their systematic oppression of the Jews. Back to Siberia with them! This in midsummer heat. I saw them as they passed through Kieff for the third time, a few weeks ago. Never shall I forget them as I saw them last. The mark of the beast was on them. You could n’t call them living or suffering or martyrs any more. They were beyond the point where they prayed to die.'
The gendarme had finished his list. The tension relaxed. Some of the Jews settled back into their former apathy; others gathered in excited groups, pulling their beards and scratching their heads; still others walked up and down the paths, restless, like so many caged animals.
A man and a woman with two children approached the gendarme deprecatingly. The man asked a question, indicating the woman and children. The gendarme shook his head. The man persisted. The gendarme refused again, and started to move away. The man detained him with a hand on his arm. Another man approached. He spread out both hands, his shoulders up to his ears. All three men spoke Polish in loud, excited voices.
‘What are they saying?’ I asked.
‘The gendarme has just read the names of the woman and children, who are to leave this afternoon. The father’s name is not with theirs. Naturally, he wants to be with his wife and children to protect and care for them as best he can. If they are separated now they can never find each other again in Siberia — if they live till they get there. The third man is alone. He is willing to give up his place to the father, but the gendarme refuses. “His name is written. Yours is not. It is the order,” he says.’
The gendarme now left the garden. The woman was sobbing in her husband’s arms. He was patting her hair. The children hung at their mother’s skirt, crying and sucking their fingers.
As I left the camp, the Jews were gathering about their rabbi. He stood in his long black robes, one hand raised.
Lately, our conversation at table has been suppressed by the appearance of a young woman whom the rest suspect of being a spy. She is dark, and never utters a word. All through dinner she keeps her eyes on her plate. I said something in French to her the other day, but, apparently, she did not understand. Across the table, the Morowski boys laughed at me. I suspect that they, too, had tried to speak to her, for she is pretty, and had been snubbed like me. I don’t know how the idea of her being a spy got round. She may have been sent here to keep her eyes on the Polish refugees in the pension.
Her room is in our corridor, and this morning Marie saw, through the open door, Panna Lolla and Janchu talking to her. It appears that Janchu had been inveigled in by bon-bons, and Panna Lolla had gone in after him. Panna Lolla said the young woman was so lonely. She is a Pole and wants to leave Russia. She hates it here. But she has no passport. She showed Panna Lolla an old one that she wants to fix up for the police authorities. But she can’t speak Russian, and is very frightened. She asked Panna Lolla if she knew any one who could write Russian. Marie forbade Panna Lolla to go near the woman again. It is just as well, for Panna Lolla likes excitement, and is capable of saying anything to keep it going.
August. We were arrested four days ago — and you will wonder why I keep on writing. It relieves my nerves. Ever since the revision Marie and I have gone over and over the same reasoning, trying to get at why we were arrested. To write it all out may help the restlessness and anxiety and — yes — the panicky fear that rises in my throat like nausea. Life is so terribly insecure. I feel as if I had been stripped naked and turned out into the streets, with no person or place to go to.
It was four o’clock, and we had just finished dinner. In an hour and a half we were leaving for Odessa. All our trunks and bags were packed, and our traveling suits brushed and pressed. And suddenly the door of our apartment opened. Six men came into the room, two in uniform, the other four in plain clothes. It never occurred to me that they had anything to do with me. I thought that they had mistaken the door. I looked at Marie questioningly. There was something peculiar about her face.
The four plain-clothes men stood awkwardly about the door, which they had closed softly behind them. The two men with white cord loops across the breast of their uniforms went over to the table on the right and put down their black leather portfolios. They seemed to make themselves at home, and it angered me.
‘What are these people doing here?’ I asked Marie sharply.
She addressed the officer in Polish, and he answered curtly.
‘It’s a revision,’ she replied.
‘A revision,’ she repeated.
I remember that I consciously kept my body motionless, and said to myself, ‘There is nothing surprising in this. There is nothing surprising in this.’
Everything had gone dark before my eyes. My heart seemed to have stopped beating.
Marie laughed and the sound of her cracking, high-pitched laugh came to me from far off.
The officer said something to her, and she stopped abruptly as if some one had clapped a hand over her mouth.
‘What did he say?’ I managed to articulate. My own language seemed to have deserted me.
‘He says it is a matter for tears, not laughter.’
Her voice was sharp and anxious. I was relieved at the spite and vanity in his words. They made the situation more normal. I felt myself breathing again, and my stomach began to tremble uncontrollably.
Janchu began to cry from the bedroom, and Marie got up to go to him. Quickly a plain-clothes man with hornrimmed spectacles slipped in between her and the door. The officer who had now seated himself behind the table, raised his hand.
‘Let no one leave the room,’ he said in German.
‘But my baby is crying,’ Marie began.
‘Let him cry!’ And he busied himself pulling papers out of his portfolio.
An army officer entered and spoke to the head of the secret service. He wore a dazzling, gold-braided uniform and preened himself before us, looking at us curiously over his shoulder. When he had gone, the head told us that we were to have a personal examination in the salon of the pension.
A secret-service man escorted each of us, and we walked down the corridor, past the squad of soldiers with their bayonets, and so into the salon, where we were delivered into the hands of two women spies. They undressed us, and we waited while our clothes were passed out to the secret-service men outside. When we were given our clothes again, we went back to our apartment.
The rooms were in confusion. All our trunks and bags were emptied, one end of the carpet rolled back, the mattresses torn from the beds. The secretservice men were down on their knees before piles of clothes, going over the seams, emptying the pockets, unfolding handkerchiefs, tapping the heels of shoes; every scrap of paper was passed over to the chief, who tucked it into his portfolio. I watched him, hating his square, stolid body which filled out his uniform so smoothly. His eyes were long and watchful like a cat’s, and his fair moustache was turned up at the ends, German-fash ion; in fact, there was something very German about his thick thighs and shaved head and official importance. As I have learned since, he is a German and the most bitterly hated man in Kieff for his pitiless persecution of all political offenders. They say that he has sent more people to Siberia than any six of his predecessors. They also say that every hand is against him, even to the spies in his own force.
I trembled to spring at him and claw him and ruffle his composure some way. Instead, I sat quietly, my hands folded, and watched the spies ransacking our clothes. Every card and photograph I tried to catch a glimpse of before it went into the black portfolio. And suddenly I saw the letter about the Jewish detention camp, which I had forgotten all about. I saw the close lines of my writing, and it seemed as if the edge of the precipice crumbled and I went shooting down. A cold sweat broke out over me.
‘But why are we arrested?’ I heard Marie ask in German.
’Espionage,’ the chief answered shortly.
‘But that is ridiculous. We are American citizens.’
‘Can we leave for Odessa to-night?’
Marie stopped her questions.
' What money have you ? Come here while I count it,’ one of the spies said to me.
He slipped me one hundred roubles on the sly, before turning the rest over to the chief. I held it openly in my hand, too dazed to know what to do with it, till he whispered to me to hide it.
’You may want it, later,’ he said.
‘Frau Pierce will go with us,’ the chief said, closing his portfolio; and I understood by this that the revision was finished. ‘Frau Gcan stay here under room-arrest, with her little boy.’
As a matter of course, I went into the other room and changed into my traveling suit.
’May I take my toilet things?’ I asked the chief.
' You ’d better make a bundle of bedclothes,’ the spy who had given me the money whispered to me.
I rolled up two blankets and a pillow with his help.
’I’m ready,’ I said. ‘May I send a few telegrams?’
The chief’s manner suddenly became extremely courteous.
I wrote one to our Ambassador in Petrograd, one to Mr. Vopeka in Bucharest, one to the State Department in Washington, and one to Peter. I wrote Peter that I was delayed a few days. I was afraid that he might come on and be arrested, too. My hand did not tremble, although it struck me as being very queer to see the words traced out on the paper — almost magical. My imagination was racing, and I could see myself already being driven into one of those baggage-cars bound for Tomsk.
‘Keep your mind away from what is going to happen,’ I said to myself. ‘You’ll have time enough to think in prison. Things are as they are. You are going to walk out of this room, just the way you’ve done a hundred times. Are you different now from what you have always been? Keep your mind on things you know are real.’
I tried to move accurately, as if a false move would disturb the balance of things so that I should walk out of the room on my hands like an acrobat.
Suddenly, the chief, who had been talking in a corner with the other man in uniform, wheeled about.
‘Frau Pierce may stay here under room-arrest. Good-day.’
He clicked his heels together and bowed slightly. His spies clustered about him, and they left the room.
All at once my bones seemed to crumble and my flesh to dissolve. I fell into a chair. Marie and I looked at each other. We began to laugh. ‘We must n’t get hysterical,’ we said, and kept on laughing.
The room was so dark that we looked like two shadows. Panna Lolla had come after Janchu and taken him into Count S-’s room. We imagined the excited curiosity of the rest of the pension.
‘ I ’ll wager that that woman was a spy, after all.’
‘But why — why should we have a revision?’
‘Anyway, they could n’t have found much. We’ll be set free in a few days,’ Marie said.
‘They found my letter about the Jews,’ I replied.
‘What letter? Oh, my dear, what did you say?’
‘I forget. But everything I saw or heard, I think.’
We began to laugh again.
‘Will they send our telegrams?' — ‘Will Peter come on?’ — ‘What shall we do for money ? ’
The room was pitch-dark except for the electric light from the street. We heard the creak and rattle of the empty commissariat wagons which were returning from the barracks. We all fell silent, feeling suddenly very tired and lethargic.
‘Where is Janchu? It’s time for his supper,’ Marie said, without moving. I started out of the room to call him, and fell across a dark figure sitting in front of the door. He grunted and pushed me back into the room.
‘I want Janchu,’ I said in perfectly good English, while he closed the door in my face.
‘There’s a spy outside our door,’ I whispered to Marie.
Panna Lolla came in with Janchu and turned on the light.
‘There’s a man outside our door, and two secret service men at the pension door, and two soldiers downstairs,’ she whispered excitedly in one breath. ‘No one can leave the pension, and they take the name and address of every one who comes here. And that woman was a spy. Antosha saw the chief go into her room and heard them talking together. And she left when they did.’
I lay all night, half-asleep, halfawake, hearing the street noises clearly through the open windows. I cried a little from exhaustion and nerves, and then controlled myself, for my head began to ache, and who knew what would happen the next day. I had to keep strength to meet something that was coming. I had no idea what it was, but the uncertainty of the future only made it more ominous and threatening. That letter — In the darkness I could see the chief’s watchful, narrow eyes, and the horn-rimmed spectacles of the friendly spy, and the stuffed portfolio.
Later, Nothing has happened yet. We have our meals brought to us by Antosha, who tries to comfort us with extra large pickled cucumbers and portions of sour cream. We arc allowed to send Panna Lolla down town for cigarettes and books from the circulating library. Thank Heaven for books! With our nerves stretched to the snapping-point and a pinwheel of thoughts everlastingly spinning round in our heads, I think we should go mad except for books. It is very hot, but my body is always cool and damp, because I can’t eat much, I suppose, and I lie on a chaise longue motionless all day long. I can feel myself growing weak, and there is nothing to do but sit and wait.
Marie and I go over and over the whole thing, and finish at the point where we began. ‘But why?’ We think it may be because Marie came to Bulgaria to visit me and brought me back here, and now we want to leave Russia together. The papers say that Bulgaria already has German officers over her troops. But I can’t believe it. She is too independent. They say that she will certainly go with the Central Powers. That, too, is inconceivable. Perhaps, however, if it is true, and already known by the Russian authorities, the secret service is suspicious of our going back there, and of Marie’s intention of sailing home from Dedeogatch, via Greece. What else could it be? How this uncertainty maddens us! Yet we are thankful for every day that passes and leaves us together. What will happen when they translate my letter? Baje moy ! I hear a step outside the door, and my heart simply ceases to beat.
Pan Lzudesky to-day tiptoed into our room when the spy was having his lunch. He whispered to us that he had seen the English Consul, Mr. Douglas, and told him about our case. He begged us not to be discouraged, and to eat. He said that he almost wept when he saw our plates come back to the kitchen, untouched. How flabby and livid he looked, his vague, blurred eyes watery with tears! Yet we could have embraced him. He is the only person who has spoken to us.
October. There is the most careful avoidance of any official responsibility here in trying to find out where our passports are and who is to return them. We have already unraveled yards of red tape, and still there is no end. Of course, ever since Peter came he has followed a schedule of visits — one day to the English Consul; another day to the secret police, then to the Military Governor, the Civil Governor, the Chief of Staff, and back, in desperation, to the English Consul. There is an American vice-consul here, but he is wholly ineffectual since he has not yet been officially received. His principal duty consists in distributing relief to the Polish refugees. Mr. Douglas, the English Consul, is our one hope, and he is untiring in his efforts to help us. If we ever do get out it will be due to him.
The English government stands behind its representatives here in a way; the American State Department does not. I suppose that this is partly because America has no treaty with Russia, on account of the Jew clause. At any rate, one might just as well be a Fiji Islander as an American, for all the consideration one gets from officialdom.
I went to the secret police the other day with Mr. Douglas. It is located in the opposite end of the town, down a quiet side street — an unobtrusive, onestoried brown house that gives the impression of trying to hide itself from people’s notice.
We rang the bell. While we waited, I was conscious of being watched, and glancing up quickly, I saw the curtain at one of the windows fall back into place. The door opened a crack, and a white face with a long, thin nose, and horn-rimmed spectacles with smoky glass to hide the eyes, peered out at us furtively. Mr. Douglas handed the spy his card and the door was shut softly in our faces.
In about three minutes the door was opened again and a gendarme in uniform ushered us into a long room thick with stale tobacco-smoke. He gave me a’chair, and while we waited I looked about at the walls with the brightly colored portraits of the Czar and the Czarina and the Royal family, and the ikon in one corner. ‘Give up all hope all ye who enter here.'
And then the chief came in, accompanied by two spies with black portfolios under their arms. When he saw us he grew white with anger. He looked like a German, spurred and booted, with square head and jaw and steellike eyes and compressed, cruel lips. He was the only well-dressed one in the crowd, but his livery was the same as theirs. He was their superior, that was all; and how I loathed him!
‘He’s angry because they brought us in here,’ Douglas whispered under his breath.
The chief turned his back on us. The spies scribbled away furiously, their noses close to their paper, not daring to look up.
We were taken into another room, a small back room, bare except for a table and sofa and a tawdry ikon in the farthest corner. And there we waited fully fifteen minutes in absolute silence. How silent that house was, full of invisible horrors!
Suddenly the chief came into the room, closing the door carefully behind him. He was quite calm again. He looked at Douglas. ‘What do you want?’
Douglas explained how anxious we were to get out of Russia, how insufficient for cold weather was the money we had, how my husband’s business called for his immediate presence, and so forth, all of which we had gone over at least three times a week since my arrest, and all of which was a matter of entire indifference to the secret police. They had failed to find any proof of espionage, which was their charge against us, and my letter, their only evidence, had been passed on and was snarled up somewhere in official red-tape. Now they washed their hands of me.
‘We can do nothing. It is out of our hands.’ He was extremely courteous, speaking German for my benefit. ' It is unfortunate that Frau Pierce should have written the letter. I was obliged to send it on to the General Staff. You should have a reply soon.’
There was nothing more to be said. Douglas was conciliatory, almost ingratiating. My nerves gave way.
‘A reply soon!’ I burst out. ‘I’m sick of waiting. If we have the liberty of the city, surely there can’t be anything very serious against us. It’s an outrage keeping our passports. I ’m an American and I demand them.’ I was almost crying.
‘You must demand them through your ambassador, meine Frau.’
I knew that he knew that we had been telegraphing him since our arrest, and my impotence made me speechless with rage. Douglas took advantage of my condition to beat a hasty retreat.
As we were going through the doorway, the chief said carelessly, ‘By the way, how did you happen to find this house?’
‘I have been here before,’ Douglas replied.
‘Thank you. I was only curious.’
I could feel the spies’ eyes on my back as we went down the path.
‘ Mrs. Pierce — Mrs. Pierce, you must n’t lose your temper that way.’
‘I don’t care! ’ I cried. ‘I had no way to express what I felt.’
‘I know,’ Douglas agreed thoughtfully.
October. I gained admittance to the Military Governor the other day. He is the successor of that over-cautious governor who prematurely moved all his household goods during the German advance, and was then relieved of office. His palace, set back from the street behind a tall iron fence, is guarded by soldiers w ith bayonets, and secret-service men. I laughed, recognizing my old friends the spies.
Upstairs, the Governor was just saying good-bye to Bobrinsky, former Governor of Galicia, and we stood to one side as they came out of an inner office, bowing and making compliments to each other. Gold braid and decorations! These days the military have their innings, to be sure! I wonder how many stupid years of barrack-life go to make up one of these men? Or perhaps so much gold braid is paid for in other ways.
The Governor was an old man, carefully preserved. His uniform was padded, but his legs, thin and insecure, gave him away, and his standing collar, although it came up to his ears, failed to hide his scrawny neck where the flesh was caving in. He wore his gray beard trimmed to a point, and inside his beak-like nose was a quantity of grayish-yellow hair which made a very disagreeable impression on me. All the time I was speaking he examined his nails. When he raised his eyes finally, to reply, I noticed how lifeless and indifferent they were, and glazed by age. I could see the bones of his face move under the skin as he talked, especially two little round bones, like balls, close to his ears.
‘I have nothing to do with the case. It has been referred to the General Staff, I believe. You will have to wait for the course of events.’
He turned his back, went over to the window and began to play with a curtain-tassel. An aide bowed me to the door.
I am just back from the General Staff, where the mysterious rotation of the official wheel landed me unexpectedly into the very sanctum sanctorum of the Chief of the Staff, and to see him I had to wait only five hours with Mr. Douglas in the ante-room! Mr. Douglas has just left me to go to his club, exhausted, and ready to devour pounds of Moscow sausages, so he said.
The ante-room of the General Staff was as Russian as Russian can be. I suppose I shall never forget the dingy room, with its brown-painted walls and the benches and chairs ranged along the four sides of the room, and the orderlies bringing in glasses of tea, and the waiting people who were not ashamed to be unhappy. In the beginning Mr. Douglas and I tried to talk, but after an hour or so we relapsed into silence. I looked up at the large oil paintings of deceased generals which hung about the room. At first, they all looked fat and stupid and alike in the huge, ornate gilt frames. But after much study they began to take on differences — slight differences which it seemed that the painters had caught in spite of themselves, but which made human beings of even generals.
Shortly afterward, Douglas and I were admitted to the Chief of Staff.
The walls of his office were covered with large maps, with tiny flags marking the battle-fronts, and he sat at a large table occupying the centre of the room.
When we entered he rose and bowed, and after waving me to a chair, reseated himself. lie was rather like a university professor, courteous, with a slightly ironical twist to his very red lips. His pale face was narrow and long, with a pointed black beard, and a forehead broad and high and white. While he listened or talked, he nervously drew arabesques on a pad of paper on the table.
‘I have your petition, but. since I have just been appointed here I am not very familiar with routine matters.’ Here he smiled slightly. ‘Yours is a routine matter, I should say. How long have you waited for an answer — four months? We’ll see what can be done. I have sent to the files and I should have a report in a few minutes.’
An aide brought in a collection of telegrams and papers, and the Chief glanced through them. Then he looked at me searchingly and suddenly smiled again.
‘From your appearance I should never imagine that you wrere as dangerous as these papers state. Are you an American?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘and I assure you that I am dangerous only in the official mind. I have no importance except what they give me.’
‘Mrs. Pierce is an American and unused to Russian ways,’ Douglas said apologetically.
‘Well, your case has been referred to General IvanofF and I will wire him again at once. If you come back next Thursday I will give you a definite answer.’
We went out. It was a gray, winter day, with a cold wind from the river, but I felt glowing and stimulated and alive, seeing the future crystallize and grow definite again. You can’t imagine the wearing depression of months of uncertainty.
‘That Chief of Staff is the first human official I’ve met,’ I said to Douglas.
‘Give him time, give him time,’ Douglas replied. ‘Did n’t you hear him say he was new to the job?’
November. At home I found a summons from the police to appear with Marie at the local police bureau to-morrow at nine, to receive our passports. I telegraphed Peter through Douglas. Now that our affair is settled I feel no emotion — neither relief nor joy.