Trishka and Troshka
IN a few short hours, between sunrise and sunset, the ‘dark people’ had succeeded in shattering the power of an age-long dynasty. But they were to find that another power, the rule of habit, was not so easily broken. And even under the new order of things, the habits of the old — habits of thought, word, and deed — still persisted below the surface of life, ready to spring up and reassert themselves at unexpected moments.
Discipline was no light matter in the army of the Tsar. It was a thing to be lived and breathed — not to be lightly put on or off with one’s uniform. And habits bred in barracks or on the drillground were not soon forgotten.
First came the captain, ordering ‘Attention!’ Springing to their feet, his men, they clicked their heels together and turned to stone, arms tense at their sides, chins thrown up convulsively, eyes fastened on a point in the angle of the ceiling.
The colonel entered. ‘Hail, Children!’ he said. And his ‘ children,’ — his men of stone, — thinking to express the measure of their loyalty in the noise of their voices, and still gazing fixedly at the point in the angle of the ceiling, made the barracks rock with the concussion of their response: ‘ HEALTH WE WISH YOU, MASTER COLONEL!’
A strange custom, was it not? But yet as much a part of their daily life as is the simple salute our doughboy accords to his officer. And it was thus, no doubt, that the subjects of Artaxerxes and of Esar-haddon were wont to shout, ‘O king, live forever!’ above the rumble of their chariot-wheels, rolling through the teeming streets of Shushan or of Nineveh. ‘So. But that would have been to-
There lived in Moscow during the first year of the Bolsheviki two sons of an aristocratic house, Trífon Ivánich Zhédrinskoy and Trofím Ivánich Zhédrinskoy. The elder got his given name from good St. Tryphon, on whose festival he had first appeared in this troubled world: the younger had been born on the day sacred to St. Trophimus. Hence it came about that these two unlike brothers started life with two very like names, Trífon and Trofím, familiarized by established custom into Tríshka and Tróshka.
We recall the elder of the two, during the hot summer days, going about in a cream-colored satin blouse that buttoned under one ear and hung down openly over his sleek thighs, gathered at the waist with a crimson cord with tassels. He had held some sort of commission in the Imperial forces, and had looked very handsome indeed in his well-cut uniform.
Tróshka, the younger, although he too had been an officer, was still only an awkward youth in frame and carriage. He was tall and thin and stoop-shouldered, with great hands hanging out of his short coat-sleeves. In spite of aristocratic traditions, clothes, to him, were merely something that had to be bought once in a while — and paid for.
His habitual mood was quiet and his speech slow, while his elder brother talked much, and in many languages.
One night in August young Tróshka came in tense with alarm. A friend in the government printery had secretly told him that ‘ in a few days’ time they would post an order requiring all former officers to report in person at the Lafortevski Hospital.’
No doubt that meant arrest! Already many of their acquaintance had been suspected of counter-revolutionary plotting, had been seized and imprisoned.
‘It cannot be,’ said the elder, not wishing to believe it.
‘May God smite me! It will be,’ was the reply.
‘But what to do, then?’ — the elder turned to him appealingly.
Tróshka had already outlined a plan in his mind — to Petrograd, and thence across the nearby frontier into Finland. There the friendly White Guards were in possession; there they would be comparatively safe. But it was needful to set off at once, before these notices were posted — after that the Red Guards would be watching at the stations and prevent their getting into any train.
‘Yes, and they’ll prevent even today,’ interrupted the elder. ‘Without passes they won’t give access now; and if an ex-officer go and ask for a pass — O Lord my God! It can’t be done.’
But it was done.
At the station barrier Tróshka, in the crush of a throng of travelers, presented two board-bills impressively receipted with a rubber stamp. The Red Guard held them upside down, studied the purple imprint dumbly, and frowned a helpless assent as the surging crowd swept the pair past him. And by racing to the train and fighting their way through a car, they got an upper berth in a two-passenger compartment, while the tide of humanity, sweeping along under them, left five on the seat below.
There they lay wedged in side by side on their narrow shelf as the train clattered noisily over the neglected rails.
‘But if they did n’t seize us in Moscow,’ continued the elder, in English, ‘they will in Petrograd. And if not in Petrograd, then on the Finnish line — ’
‘But am I not telling you — if we stayed in Moscow, we should be seized just the same?’ returned Tróshka.
morrow, or the day after, or the day after that. Many wonderful things can happen before the day after to-morrow!' And the elder gazed dreamily out of the window. The patrol brought the two brothers just inside the rear door and halted them. They had not handcuffed them, nor did they keep them in their grasp. They seemed content to stand by, with bayonets fixed on their long rifles. And in the dimly lighted room, no longer afraid of showing their features, the pair raised their heads and looked round. Another prisoner — the only one remaining besides themselves—was being brought forward. He too, Tróshka noted, was a political suspect.
Toward evening of the next day the train pulled into the shed at Petrograd. As before, Tróshka got them both past the guard at the barrier and out into the deserted streets of the city. They hurried off to an obscure tea-room that he remembered, where they could stay in hiding until nightfall.
‘If one reached Finland,’ continued the elder, ‘it would be needful to eat all the same. But who would give us to eat, now? ’ (Just then, a black cat, darting out of an alley, scurried across the street in front of them.) ‘There, look! ’ he went on, crossing himself. ’Did n’t I say we should never have come?’
‘The English have a proverb, Trishka—“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” ’ (The Zhedrinskoys claim a Scottish ancestor somewhere back on their tree.)
‘So,’ answered his brother. ‘And there’s a Russian proverb — “ God suffered too: and ordered mankind so to do. ” For my part, to try to get away like this — this is tempting Providence.’
It was a sorry time for ex-officers in Petrograd. The commissary Yuritsld had just been assassinated, a new reactionary plot had been unearthed, and the patrols were suspicious of all men who looked as if they might have held commissions under the Tsar. And as these two were hurrying out of the city under cover of the night, a patrol halted them.
Passes — did they have passes?
Troshka, by a sudden inspiration, found himself explaining that his companion was a deaf-mute. (This would come as a complete surprise to his brother, he knew.)
‘Yes, to be sure,’ he went on. ‘There are passes for us both. Read, please!’ And he handed over the little papers that had served so well at the railroad station.
But this soldier, unfortunately, did read. And what were these that were offered?
Tróshka very much excused himself — a stupid mistake — one little minute, and he would show the right ones; while in his inside he struggled against a weakening feeling of nausea.
As we know, he did not find the right ones. He could n’t imagine whither they had fallen through; but they were gone. And the Red Guard — he was sorry to detain them; he would like to believe they had had the passes; but they would understand, no doubt, that it was his duty under the circumstances. And he and his patrol marched them off in the direction of the commissariat.
‘Nichegó,’ thought Tróshka, as they trudged along. ‘At least Tríshka understands that he’s a deaf-mute. And a hundred things he would n’t have told by this time had he had the chance — giving us both away, no doubt.’
And the elder, for his part, seemed both willing and eager to take his brother’s surprising suggestion — he would have taken anything except the initiative.
The shadowy room of the commissariat was lighted by a solitary kerosene lamp on the desk of the examining officer.
This officer, Comrade Weinstein, had a pleasant face, if not a Russian one. His cheeks were rosy. His lower lip was more prominent than is common to the Slavs. And he shrugged his shoulders and gestured much with his hands as he talked.
The others around him were certainly Russians; and their eyes watched him and their ears followed his voice constantly. When he smiled, they smiled; and they nodded their heads with approval at his decisions.
At this point a messenger came and called the rosy-cheeked, smiling young man off to some special meeting, convoked no doubt to act on the new conspiracy just disclosed. And he went away, leaving his commissariat in charge of a deputy — one of the Russians.
Tróshka’s active mind took in every detail concerning their guard — concerning the others in the room.
From their fragmentary uniforms, and even more from certain unforgettable little habits they showed, it was evident that they too had served — and served long — in the army of the Tsar. And all of them, even those at present in command, judged by the remnants they wore, had been only ‘simple soldiers.’ Their present discipline was informal enough, quite lacking; but these were the early days of the new freedom — the old discipline was shattered; the new had not yet been established.
A clumsy hand let fall a rifle-butt to the floor. Involuntarily every man straightened to ‘attention,’ and then, recalling himself, smiled shamefacedly at thought of his unwilling act.
Tróshka’s fancy sped back to the days when these habits had been formed when he had gone the rounds with his colonel, and when the colonel’s ‘children,’ jumping to their feet, had clicked their heels together and turned to stone.
How readily these ‘children’ might slip back into that old routine again, thought Tróshka. A sudden familiar sound, a sharp authoritative command — His brain was quick to see the possibilities, and behind a wistful face it worked hard.
The deputy’s new authority did not ride easily on his broad shoulders. As he sat in his chief’s chair and continued the examination, his eyes wandered frequently toward the door through which that self-assured young man had departed. Particularly now, for the suspect before him was a forceful personality, and appeared to be crossexamining the examiner, rather than himself submitting to a questioning. And the others, recognizing superior wit and will, followed the dialogue absorbedly, secretly enjoying the embarrassment of their former swaggering messmate.
Meanwhile a plan was taking shape in Tróshka’s mind.
He gauged his distance from the open, shadowy entrance — not a halfdozen steps. He noted, over his other shoulder, perhaps a dozen steps away, a high cupboard standing well out into the room, and making a capacious dark corner between its far side and the wall.
Now the little prisoner, like that greatest of propagandists, Paul, saw in his chains only an added opportunity to preach his own particular gospel of political perfection. And his present inquisitors, true to type, — tolerant, and always ready ‘to hear some new thing,’ — gave attention.
Our logical world looks upon ideals as things to be accomplished, and progresses from one ideal attained to a higher one. To these in the commissariat, however, an ideal was food only for contemplation — a conception of perfection itself, never to be realized in this imperfect life. And the Utopia the speaker pictured was so beautiful, so impossible of attainment, as to command their unqualified respect and interest.
Tróshka checked his calculations and tried his vocal cords cautiously. If only Tríshka did n’t get enthralled by this idealism, he thought to himself.
Tróshka took one more searching look around — and God was good, for it was evident that every last one was now under the spell of the speaker’s magnetic personality. Under the sway of his eloquence, time, place, responsibility — all the actualities of this lame world—were clean forgot. And the two men guarding our pair pushed forward a pace in their eagerness to hear.
When suddenly — too suddenly! the entire room was snatched back to reality again.
'’Ten-tion! ’ rang a familiar command, in a tone of authority.
Instantly they reacted — to a man; clicked their heels together and turned to stone, arms tense at their sides, chins thrown up convulsively, eyes fastened on a point in the angle of the ceiling. Even the deputy himself — another old soldier — sprang to his feet and became rigid, waiting.
’Hail, children! ’ sounded the expected greeting in their ears. (And Tróshka reached for his brother’s hand to lead him.)
Like the roll of heavy guns they bellowed the response — with lifted chins and fixed gaze they shouted it:
‘HEALTH WE WISH YOU, MASTER COLONEL!.’
Then, the frenzy over, they came to. There was no colonel; nor was there any captain. Colonel and captain had long since ceased to be — they remembered now. And they challenged one another’s eyes and grinned sheepishly.
Then someone noticed — the brothers were gone. Chort voz’mí!
All eyes sought the spot where the two had stood. All minds took in the ridiculously short distance from there to the open door. All active legs started off pellmell in the one direction.
Benches were upset and tables overturned as they crowded through the doorway into the street. Even the examiner leaped from behind his desk and joined in the pursuit. Only a solitary guard remained to watch the eloquent prisoner.
‘Now!’ said Tróshka; and, followed by his brother, he sprang from their hiding-place behind the cupboard, leaped on the back of the lone soldier and sent him spinning like a hummingtop. Then he and his brother and their astonished fellow suspect bound their victim hand and foot, and gagged him with the crimson banner from the bar of justice — effectively, as Tróshka did all things.
‘Now look!’ said the brother, tapping their new companion on the shoulder. ‘ How are n’t we the clever ones, we two?’
‘Later!’ cut in Tróshka. ‘For now we will hurry away.’
‘Not thither, fool!’ he whispered after, ‘or they’ll mistake us for the fugitives. We’ll run with the crowd — not away from them.’