“The White Guard”, Chapter VI – Weekly Reads
With each turn of the page, “The White Guard” moves closer to an armed clash. The Whites are trying to rally the young generation to fight against the Bolsheviks. And they will fight. But their experience is lacking… In the words of Malyshevsky, of one hundred and twenty cadets, eighty do not know how to hold a rifle in their hands. Do they have any chance against a “red attack”?
Find out in Chapter VI below! Enjoy the read!
Madame Anjou’s shop, Le chic parisien, was in the very center of the City, on Theater Street, behind the Opera House, on the first floor of a large multi-storied building. Three steps led up from the street through a glass door into the shop, while on either side of the glass door were two large plate-glass windows draped with dusty tulle drapes. No one knew what had become of Madame Anjou or why the premises of her shop had been put to such uncommercial use. In the left-hand window was a colored drawing of a lady’s hat with ‘Chic parisien’ in golden letters; but behind the glass of the right-hand window was a huge poster in yellow cardboard showing the crossed-cannon badge of the artillery. Above it were the words:
‘You may not be a hero – but you must volunteer.’ Beneath the crossed cannon it read:
‘Volunteers for the Mortar Regiment may enlist here.’
Parked at the entrance to the shop was a filthy and dilapidated motor- cycle and sidecar. The door with its spring-closure was constantly opening and slamming and every time it opened a charming little bell rang – trrring- trrring – recalling the dear, dead days of Madame Anjou.
After their drunken evening together Alexei Turbin, Mysh-laevsky and Karas got up next morning almost simultaneously. All, to their amazement, had thoroughly clear heads, although the hour was a little late – around noon in fact. Nikolka and Shervinsky, it seemed, had already gone out. Very early that morning Nikolka had wrapped up a mysterious little red bundle and creaking on tiptoe out of the house had set off for his infantry detachment, whilst Shervinsky had returned to duty at General Headquarters.
Stripped to the waist in Anyuta’s room behind the kitchen, where the geyser and the bath stood behind a drape, Myshlaevsky poured a stream of ice-cold water over his neck, back and head, and shouted, howling with the delicious shock; ‘Ugh! Hah! Splendid!’ and showered everything with water for a yard around him. Then he rubbed himself dry with a Turkish towel, dressed, anointed his head with brilliantine, combed his hair and said to Alexei:
‘Er, Alyosha… be a friend and lend me your spurs, would you? I won’t be going home and I don’t like to turn up without spurs.’
‘You’ll find them in the study, in the right-hand desk drawer.’
Myshlaevsky went into the study, fumbled around, and marched out clinking. Dark-eyed Anyuta, who had returned that morning from staying with her aunt, was flicking a feather duster over the chairs in the sitting room. Clearing his throat Myshlaevsky glanced at the door, made a wide detour and said softly:
‘I’ll tell Elena Vasilievna’, Anyuta at once whispered automatically. She closed her eyes like a condemned victim awaiting the executioner’s axe.
Alexei Turbin appeared unexpectedly in the doorway. His expression turned sour.
‘Examining our feather duster, Viktor? So I see. Nice one, isn’t it? Hadn’t you better be on your way? Anyuta, remember in case he tells you he’ll marry you, don’t believe it – he never will.’
‘Hell, I was only saying hullo…’ Myshlaevsky reddened at the undeserved slight, stuck out his chest and strode clinking out of the drawing- room. At the sight of the elegant, auburn-haired Elena in the dining-room he looked uncomfortable.
‘Good morning, Lena my sweet. Err… h’mmm’ (Instead of a metallic tenor Myshlaevsky’s voice came out of his throat as a low, hoarse baritone), ‘Lena, my dear,’ he burst out with feeling, ‘don’t be cross with me. I’m so fond of you and I want you to be fond of me. Please forget my disgusting behaviour yesterday. You don’t think I’m really such a beast, do you?’
So saying he clasped Elena in an embrace and kissed her on both cheeks. In the drawing-room the feather duster fell to the ground with a gentle thud. The oddest things always happened to Anyuta whenever Lieutenant Myshlaevsky appeared in the Turbins’ apartment. All sorts of household utensils would start slipping from her grasp: if she happened to be in the kitchen knives would cascade to the floor or plates would tumble down from the dresser. Anyuta would look distracted and run out into the lobby for no reason, where she would fiddle around with the overshoes, wiping them with a rag until Myshlaevsky, all cleft chin and broad shoulders, swaggered out again in his blue breeches and short, very low-slung spurs. Then Anyuta would close her eyes and sidle out of her cramped hiding-place in the boot- closet. Now in the drawing-room, having dropped her feather duster, she was standing and gazing abstractedly into the distance past the chintz curtains and out at the gray, cloudy sky.
‘Oh, Viktor, Viktor,’ said Elena, shaking her carefully-brushed diadem of hair, ‘you look healthy enough – what made you so feeble yesterday? Sit down and have a cup of tea, it may make you feel better.’
‘And you look gorgeous today, Lena, by God you do. That cloak suits you wonderfully, I swear it does’, said Myshlaevsky ingratiatingly, his glance darting nervously back and forth to the polished sideboard. ‘Look at her cloak, Karas. Isn’t it a perfect shade of green?’
‘Elena Vasilievna is very beautiful’, Karas replied earnestly and with absolute sincerity.
‘It’s the electric light that makes it look this color’, Elena explained. ‘Come on, Viktor, out with it – you want something, don’t you?’
‘Well, the fact is, Lena dearest, I could so easily get an attack of migraine after last night’s business and I can’t go out and fight if I’ve got migraine…’
‘All right, it’s in the sideboard.’
‘Thanks. Just one small glass… better than all the aspirin in the world.’
With a martyred grimace Myshlaevsky tossed back two glasses of vodka one after the other, in between bites of the soggy remains of last night’s dill pickles. After that he announced that he felt like a new-born babe and said he would like a glass of lemon tea.
‘Don’t let yourself worry, Lena,’ Alexei Turbin was saying hoarsely, ‘I won’t be long. I shall just go and sign on as a volunteer and then I shall come straight back home. Don’t worry,*there won’t be any fighting. We shall just sit tight here in the City and beat off “president” Petlyura, the swine.’
‘May you not be ordered away somewhere?’ Karas gestured reassuringly.
‘Don’t worry, Elena Vasilievna. Firstly I might as well tell you that the regiment can’t possibly be ready in less than a fortnight; we still have no horses and no ammunition. Even when we are ready there’s not the slightest doubt that we shall stay in the City. The army we’re forming will undoubtedly be used to garrison the City. Later on, of course, in case of an advance on Moscow…’
‘That’s pure guess-work, though, and I’ll believe it when I see it…’
‘Before that happens we shall have to link up with Denikin…’
‘You don’t have to try so hard to comfort me’, said Elena. ‘I’m not afraid.
On the contrary, I approve of what you’re doing.’
Elena sounded genuinely bold and confident; from her expression she was already absorbed with the mundane problems of daily life: sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
‘Anyuta,’ she shouted, ‘Anyuta dear, Lieutenant Myshlaevsky’s dirty clothes are out there on the verandah. Give them a good hard brush and then wash them right away.’
The person who had the most calming effect on Elena was the short, stocky Karas, who sat there very calmly in his khaki tunic, smoking and frowning.
They said goodbye in the lobby.
‘God bless you all’, said Elena grimly as she made the sign of the cross over Alexei, then over Karas and Myshlaevsky. Myshlaevsky hugged her, and Karas, his greatcoat tightly belted in at the waist, blushed and gently kissed both her hands.
‘Permission to report, colonel’, said Karas, his spurs clinking gently as he saluted.
The colonel was seated at a little desk in a low, green, very feminine armchair on a kind of raised platform in the front of the shop. Pieces of blue cardboard hat boxes labelled ‘Madame Anjou, Ladies’ millinery’ rose behind him, shutting out some of the light from the dusty window hung with lacy tulle. The colonel was holding a pen. He was not really a colonel but a lieutenant colonel, with three stars on broad gold shoulder-straps divided lengthwise by two coloured strips and surmounted by golden crossed cannon. The colonel was slightly older than Alexei Turbin himself- about thirty, or thirty-two at the most. His face, well fed and clean shaven, was adorned by a black moustache clipped American-style. His extremely lively and intelligent eyes looked up, obviously tired but attentive.
Around the colonel was primeval chaos. Two paces away from him a fire was crackling in a little black stove while occasional blobs of soot dripped from its long, angular black flue, extending over a partition and away into the depths of the shop. The floor, both on the raised platform and in the rest of the shop, was littered with scraps of paper and green and red snippets of material. Higher still, on a raised balcony above the colonel’s head a typewriter pecked and clattered like a nervous bird and when Alexei Turbin raised his head he saw that it was twittering away behind a balustrade almost at the height of the shop’s ceiling. Behind the railings he could just see someone’s legs and bottom encased in blue breeches, but whose head was cut off by the line of the ceiling. A second typewriter was clicking away in the left-hand half of the shop, in a mysterious pit, in which could be seen the bright shoulder-straps and blond head of a volunteer clerk, but no arms and no legs.
Innumerable people with gold artillery badges milled around the colonel. To one side stood a large deal box full of wire and field-telephones, beside it cardboard cases of hand-grenades looking like cans of jam with wooden handles; nearby were heaps of coiled machine-gun belts. On the colonel’s left was a treadle sewing-machine, while the snout of a machine-gun protruded beside his right leg. In the half-darkness at the back of the shop, behind a curtain on a gleaming rail came the sound of a strained voice, obviously speaking on the telephone: ‘Yes, yes, speaking… Yes, speaking… Yes, this is me speaking!’ Brrring-drring went the bell… ‘Pee-eep’ squeaked a bird-like field-telephone somewhere in the pit, followed by the boom of a young bass voice:
‘Mortar regiment… yes, sir… yes…’ ‘Yes?’ said the colonel to Karas.
‘Allow me to introduce, sir, Lieutenant Viktor Myshlaevsky and Doctor Turbin. Lieutenant Myshlaevsky is at present in an infantry detachment serving in the ranks and would like to be transferred to your regiment as he is an artillery officer. Doctor Turbin requests enrolment as the regimental medical officer.’
Having said his piece Karas dropped his hand from the peak of his cap and Myshlaevsky saluted in turn. ‘Hell, I should have come in uniform’, thought Turbin with irritation, feeling awkward without a cap and dressed up like some dummy in his black civilian overcoat and Persian lamb collar. The colonel briefly looked the doctor up and down, then glanced at Myshlaevsky’s face and army greatcoat.
‘I see’, he said. ‘Good. Where have you served, lieutenant?’
‘In the Nth Heavy Artillery Regiment, sir’, replied Myshlaevsky, referring to his service in the war against Germany.
‘Heavy artillery? Excellent. God knows why they put gunnery officers into the infantry. Obviously a mistake.’
‘No, sir’, replied Myshlaevsky, clearing his throat to control his wayward voice. ‘I volunteered because there was an urgent need for troops to man the line at Post-Volynsk. But now that the infantry detachment is up to strength…’
‘Yes; I quite understand, and I thoroughly approve… good’, said the colonel, giving Myshlaevsky a look of thorough approval. ‘Glad to know you… So now – ah yes, you, doctor. You want to join us too. Hmm…’
Turbin nodded in silence, to avoid saying ‘Yes, sir’ and saluting in his civilian clothes.
‘H’mmm…’ the colonel glanced out of the window. ‘It’s a good idea, of course, especially since in a few days’ time we may be… Ye-es…’ He suddenly stopped short, narrowed his eyes a fraction and said, lowering his voice: ‘Only… how shall I put it? There is just one problem, doctor… Social theories and… h’mm… Are you a socialist? Like most educated men, I expect you are?’ The colonel’s glance swivelled uncomfortably, while his face, lips and cajoling voice expressed the liveliest desire that Doctor Turbin should prove to be a socialist rather than anything else. ‘Our regiment, you see, is called a “Students’ Regiment”,’ the colonel gave a winning smile without looking up. ‘Rather sentimental, I know, but I’m a university man myself.’
Alexei Turbin felt extremely disappointed and surprised. ‘The devil… why didn’t Karas tell me?’ At that moment he was aware of Karas at his right shoulder and without looking at him he could sense that his friend was straining to convey him some unspoken message, but he had no idea what it was.
‘Unfortunately,’ Turbin suddenly blurted out, his cheek twitching, ‘I am not a socialist but… a monarchist. In fact I can’t even bear the very word “socialist”. And of all socialists I most detest Alexander Kerensky.’
The colonel’s little eyes flicked up for a moment, sparkling. He gestured as if politely to stop Turbin’s mouth and said:
‘That’s a pity. H’mm… a great pity… The achievements of the revolution, and so on… I have orders from above to avoid recruiting monarchist elements in view of the mood of the people… we shall be required, you see, to exercise restraint. Besides, the Hetman, with whom we are closely and directly linked, as you know is… regrettable, regrettable…’
As he said this the colonel’s voice not only expressed no regret at all but on the contrary sounded delighted and the look in his eyes totally contradicted what he was saying.
‘Aha, so that’s how the land lies’, Turbin thought to himself. ‘Stupid of me… and this colonel’s no fool. Probably a careerist to judge from his expression, but what the hell.’
‘I don’t quite know what to do in your case… at the present moment’ – the colonel laid heavy stress on the word ‘present’ – ‘as I say, at the present moment, our immediate task is the defence of the City and the Hetman against Petlyura’s bands and, possibly, against the Bolsheviks too. After that we shall just have to see… May I ask, doctor, where you have served to date?’
‘In 1915, when I graduated from university I served as an extern in a venereological clinic, then as a Junior Medical Officer in the Belgrade Hussars. After that I was a staff medical officer in a rail-borne mobile field hospital. At present I am demobilised and working in private practice.’
‘Cadet!’ exclaimed the colonel, ‘ask the executive officer to come here, please.’
A head disappeared into the pit, followed by the appearance of a dark, keen-looking young officer. He wore a round lambskin fur hat with gold rank- stripes crosswise on its magenta top, a long gray coat like Myshlaevsky’s tightly belted at the waist, and a revolver. His crumpled gold shoulder-straps indicated that he was a staff-captain.
‘Captain Studzinsky,’ the colonel said to him, ‘please be kind enough to send a message to headquarters requesting the immediate transfer to my unit of Lieutenant… er…’
‘Myshlaevsky,’ said Myshlaevsky, saluting.
‘… Lieutenant Myshlaevsky from the second infantry detachment, as he is a trained artillery officer. And another request to the effect that Doctor… er?’
‘… Doctor Turbin is urgently required to serve in my unit as regimental medical officer. Request their immediate appointment.’
‘Very good, colonel’, replied the officer, with a noticeable accent, and saluted. ‘A Pole’, thought Turbin.
‘There is no need for you, lieutenant, to return to your infantry outfit’ (to Myshlaevsky). ‘The lieutenant will take command of Number 4 Battery’ (to the staff-captain).
‘Very good, sir.’ ‘Very good, sir.’
‘And you, doctor, are on duty as of now. I suggest you go home and report in an hour’s time at the parade ground in front of the Alexander I High School.’
‘Issue the doctor with his uniform at once, please.’ ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Mortar Regiment headquarters?’ shouted a deep bass voice from the pit. ‘Can you hear me? No, I said: no… No, I said…’ came a voice from
behind the screen.
Rrring… peep, came the bird-like trill from the pit. ‘Can you hear me?’
‘Voice of Liberty, Voice of Liberty! Daily paper – Voice of Liberty!’ shouted the newsboys, muffled up past their ears in peasant women’s headscarves. ‘Defeat of Petlyura! Black troops land in Odessa! Voice of Liberty!’
Turbin was home within the hour. His silver shoulder-straps came out of the dark of the desk drawer in his little study, which led off the sitting-room. White drapes over the glass door on to the balcony, desk with books and ink- well, shelves of medicine bottles and instruments, a couch laid with a clean sheet. It was sparse and cramped, but comfortable.
‘Lena my dear, if I’m late for some reason this evening and someone comes, tell them that I’m not seeing anyone today. I’ve no regular patients at the moment… Hurry, child.’
Hastily Elena opened the collar of his service tunic and sewed on the shoulder-straps… Then she sewed a second pair, field-service type, green with black stripes, on to his army greatcoat.
A few minutes later Alexei Turbin ran out of the front door and glanced at his white enamel plate:
Doctor A. V. Turbin Specialist in venereal diseases 606-914
Consulting hours: 4 pm to 6 pm.
He stuck a piece of paper over it, altering the consulting hours to: ‘5 pm to 7 pm’, and strode off up St Alexei’s Hill.
‘Voice of Liberty!’
Turbin stopped, bought a paper from a newsboy and unfolded it as he went:
THE VOICE OF LIBERTY.
A non-party, democratic newspaper. Published daily.
December 13th 1918.
The problems of foreign trade and, in particular of trade with Germany, oblige us…
‘Come on, hurry up! My hands are freezing.’
Our correspondent reports that in Odessa negotiations are in progress for the disembarkation of two divisions of black colonial troops – Consul Enno does not admit that Petlyura…
‘Dammit boy, give me my copy!’
Deserters who reached our headquarters at Post-Volynsk described the increasing breakdown in the ranks of Petlyura’s bands. Three days ago a cavalry regiment in the Korosten region opened fire on an infantry regiment of nationalist riflemen. A strong urge for peace is now noticeable in Petlyura’s bands. Petlyura’s ridiculous enterprise is heading for collapse. According to the same deserter Colonel Bol-botun, who has rebelled against Petlyura, has set off in an unknown direction together with his regiment and four guns. Bolbotun is inclined to support the Hetmanite cause.
The peasants hate Petlyura for his requisitioning policy. The mobilisation, which he has decreed in the villages, is having no success. Masses of peasants are evading it by hiding in the woods.
‘Let’s suppose… damn thiscold… Sorry.’
‘Hey, quit pushing. Why don’t you read your paper at home…’ ‘Sorry.’ We have always stressed that Petlyura’s bid for power…
‘Petlyura – the scoundrel. They’re all rogues…’
Every honest man and true Volunteers – what about you? ‘What’s the matter with you today, Ivan Ivanovich?’
‘My wife’s caught a dose of Petlyura. This morning she did a Bolbotun and left me…’
Turbin grimaced at this joke, furiously crumpled up his newspaper and threw it down on the sidewalk. Then he pricked up his ears.
Boo-oom, rumbled the guns, answered by a muffled roar from beyond the City that seemed to come from the bowels of the earth.
‘What the hell?’
Alexei Turbin turned sharply on his heel, picked up his scrap of newspaper, smoothed it out and carefully re-read the report on the first page:
In the Irpen region there have been clashes between our patrols and groups of Petlyura’s bandits…
All quiet in the Serebryansk sector. No change in the Red Tavern district.
Near Boyarka a regiment of Hetmanite cossacks dispersed a fifteen- hundred strong band. Two men were taken prisoner.
Boo-oo-oom roared the gray winter sky far away to the south west. Suddenly Turbin opened his mouth and turned pale. Mechanically he stuffed the newspaper into his pocket. A crowd of people was slowly moving out of the boulevard and along Vladimirskaya Street. The roadway was full of people in black overcoats… Peasant women started filling the sidewalks. A horseman of the Hetman’s State Guard rode ahead like an outrider. His large horse laid back its ears, glared wildly, walking sideways. The rider’s expression was perplexed. Occasionally he would give a shout and crack his whip for order, but no one listened to his outbursts. In the front ranks of the crowd could be seen the golden copes of bearded priests and a religious banner flapped above their heads. Little boys ran up from all sides.
‘Voice of Liberty!’ shouted a newsboy and dashed towards the crowd.
A group of cooks in white, flat-topped chef’s caps ran out of the nether regions of the Metropole Restaurant. The crowd scattered over the snow like ink over paper.
Several long yellow boxes were bobbing along above the crowd. As the first one drew level with Alexei Turbin he was able to make out the rough charcoal inscription on its side:
Ensign Yutsevich. On the next one he read:
Ensign Ivanov. And on the third:
Suddenly a squeal arose from the crowd. A gray-haired woman, her hat pushed on to the back of her head, stumbled and dropping parcels to the ground, rushed forward from the sidewalk into the crowd.
‘What’s happening? Vanya!’ she yelled. Turning pale, a man dodged away to one side. A peasant woman screamed, then another.
‘Jesus Christ Almighty!’ muttered a voice behind Turbin. Somebody nudged him in the back and breathed down his neck.
‘Lord… the things that happen these days. Have they started killing people? What is all this?’
‘I know no more than you do.’
‘What? What? What? What’s happened? Who are they burying?’ ‘Vanya!’ screamed the voice in the crowd.
‘Some officers who were murdered at Popelyukha’, growled a voice urgently, panting with the desire to be first to tell the news. ‘They advanced to Popelyukha, camped out there and in the night they were surrounded by peasants and men from Petlyura’s army who murdered every last one of them.
Every last one… They gouged out their eyes, carved their badges of rank into the skin of their shoulders with knives. Completely disfigured them.’ ‘Was that what happened? God…’
Ensign Herdt -more yellow coffins bobbed past. ‘Just think… what have we come to…’ ‘Internecine war.’
‘What d’you mean…’
‘Apparently they had all fallen asleep when…’
‘Serve ’em right…’ cried a sudden, black little voice in the crowd behind Alexei Turbin and he saw red. There was a melee of faces and hats. Turbin stretched out his arms like two claws, thrust them between the necks of two bystanders and grabbed the black overcoat sleeve that belonged to the voice. The man turned round and fell down in a state of terror.
‘What did you say?’ hissed Turbin, and immediately relaxed his grip. ‘Sorry sir’, replied the voice, shaking with fright. ‘I didn’t say anything. I
didn’t open my mouth. What’s the matter?’ The voice trembled.
The man’s duck-like nose paled, and Turbin realised at once that he had made a mistake and had grabbed the wrong man. A face of utter loyalty peered out from behind the duck-bill nose. It was struck dumb and its little round eyes flicked from side to side with fright.
Turbin let go the sleeve and in cold fury he began looking around amongst the hats, backs of heads and collars that seethed about him. He kept his left hand ready to grab anything within reach, whilst keeping his right hand on the butt of the revolver in his pocket. The dismal chanting of the priests floated past, beside him sobbed a peasant woman in a headscarf. There was no one to seize now, the voice seemed to have been swallowed up by the earth. The last coffin marked ‘Ensign Morskoy’ moved past, followed by some people on a sledge.
‘ Voice of Liberty!’ came a piercing contralto shriek right beside
Alexei Turbin’s ear. Senseless with rage he pulled the crumpled newspaper out of his pocket and twice rammed it into the boy’s face, grinding his teeth and saying as he did so:
‘There’s your damned Voice of Liberty! You can damn well have it back!
With this his attack of fury subsided. The boy dropped his newspapers, slipped and fell down in a snowdrift. For a moment he pretended to burst into tears, and his eyes filled with a look of the most savage hatred that was no pretence.
‘What’s the matter with you? Who d’you think you are, mister? What’ve I done?’ he snivelled, trying to cry and stumbling to his feet in the snow. A face stared at Turbin in astonishment, but was too afraid to say anything. Feeling stupid, confused and ashamed Turbin hunched his head into his shoulders and, turning sharply, ran past a lamp-post, past the circular white walls of the gigantic museum building, past some holes in the ground full of snow-covered bricks and towards the huge asphalt square in front of the Alexander I High School.
‘Voice of Liberty! Paper! Paper!’ came the cry from the street.
The huge four-storey building of Alexei Turbin’s old school, with its hundred and eighty windows, was built around three sides of an asphalted square. He had spent eight years there. For eight years, in springtime during breaks between classes he had run around that playground, and in the winter semester when the air in the classrooms was stuffy and dust-laden and the playground was covered by the inevitable cold, solid layer of snow, he had gazed at it out of the window. For eight years that brick-and-mortar foster- mother had raised and educated Alexei Turbin and his two younger friends, Karas and Myshlaevsky.
And precisely eight years ago Turbin had said goodbye to the school playground for the last time. A spasm of something like fear snatched at his heart. He had a sudden feeling that a black cloud had blotted out the sky, that a kind of hurricane had blown up and carried away all of life as he knew it, just as a monster wave will sweep away a jetty. Ah, these eight years of school! There had been much in them that as a boy he had felt to be dreary, pointless and unpleasant – but there had also been a lot of sheer fun. One monotonous classroom day had plodded after another – ut plus the subjunctive, Caius Julius Caesar, a zero for astronomy and an undying hatred of astronomy ever since; but then spring would come, eager spring and somehow the noise in the school grew louder and more excited, the high school girls would be out in their green pinafores on the avenue, May and chestnut blossom and above all the constant beacon ahead: the university, in other words – freedom. Do you realise what the university means? Boat trips on the Dnieper, freedom, money, fame, power.
And now he had been through it all. The teachers with their permanently enigmatic expressions; those terrible swimming baths in the math problems (which he still dreamed about) always draining themselves at so many gallons per minute but which never emptied; complicated arguments about the differences in character between Lensky and Onegin, about the disgraceful behaviour of Socrates; the date of the foundation of the Jesuit order; the dates of Pompey’s campaigns and every other campaign for the past two thousand years.
But that was only a beginning. After eight years in high school, after the last swimming bath had emptied itself, came the corpses in the anatomy school, white hospital wards, the glassy silence of operating theatres; then three years in the saddle, wounded soldiers, squalor and degradation – the war, yet another ever-Mowing, never-emptying pool. And now he had landed up here again, back in the same school grounds. He ran across the square feeling sick and depressed, clutching the revolver in his pocket, running God knew where or why: presumably to defend that life, that future on whose behalf he had racked his brains over emptying swimming-pools and over those damned men, one of whom was always walking from point ‘A’ and the other walking towards him from point ‘B’.
The dark windows were grim and silent, a silence revealed at a glance as utterly lifeless. Strange, that here in the center of the City, amidst all the disintegration, uproar and bustle this great four-storey ship, which had once launched tens of thousands of young lives on to the open sea, should now be so dead. No one seemed to be in charge of it any longer; there was not a sound, not a movement to be found any longer in its windows or behind the yellow-washed walls dating from the reign of Nicholas I. A virginal layer of snow lay on its roofs, covered the tops of the chestnut trees like white caps, lay evenly like a sheet over the playground, and only a few random tracks showed that someone had recently tramped across it.
And most depressing of all, not only did nobody know, but nobody cared what had become of the school. Who was there now to come and study aboard that great ship? And if no one came to school-why not? Where was the janitor? What were those horrible, blunt-muzzled mortars doing there, drawn up under the row of chestnut trees by the railings around the main entrance? Why had the school been turned into an armory? Whose was it now? Who had done this? Why had they done it?
‘Unlimber!’ roared a voice. The mortars swung round and moved slowly forward. Two hundred men sprang into action, ran about, squatted down or heaved on the enormous cast-iron wheels. There was a confused blur of yellow sheepskin jerkins, gray coats and fur caps, khaki army caps and blue students’ caps.
By the time Turbin had crossed the vast square four mortars had been drawn up in a row with their muzzles facing him. The brief period of instruction was over and the motley complement of a newly-formed mortar troop was standing to attention in two ranks.
‘Troop all present and correct, sir!’ sang out Myshlaevsky’s voice.
Studzinsky marched up to the ranks, took a pace backwards and shouted:
‘Left face! Quick-march!’
With a crunch of snow underfoot, wobbling and unsoldierly, the troop set off.
Among the rows of typical students’ faces Turbin noticed several that were similar. Karas appeared at the head of the third troop. Still not knowing quite what he was supposed to do Turbin fell into step beside them. Karas stepped aside and marching backwards in front of them, began to shout the cadence:
‘Left! Left! Hup, two, three, four!’
The troops wheeled toward the gaping black mouth of the school’s basement entrance and the doorway began to swallow litem rank by rank.
Inside, the school buildings were even gloomier and more funereal than outside. The silent walls and sinister half-light awoke instantly to the echoing crash of marching feet. Noises started up beneath the vaults as though a herd of demons had been awakened. The rustling and squeaking of frightened rats scuttling about in dark corners. The ranks marched on down the endless black underground corridors shored up by brick buttresses, until they reached a vast hall feebly lit by whatever light managed to filter through the narrow, cob webbed, barred windows.
The silence was next shattered by an infernal outbreak of hammering as steel-banded wooden ammunition boxes were opened and their contents taken out- endless machine-gun belts and round, cake-like Lewis gun magazines. Out came spindle-legged machine-guns with the look of deadly insects. Nuts and bolts clattered, pincers wrenched, a saw whistled in a corner. Cadets sorted through piles of store-damaged fur caps, greatcoats in folds as rigid as iron, leather straps frozen stiff, cartridge pouches and cloth-covered waterbottles.
‘Come on, look lively!’ Studzinsky’s voice rang out.
Six officers in faded gold shoulder-straps circled around like clumps of duckweed in a mill-race. Myshlaevsky’s tenor, now fully restored, bawled out something above the noise.
‘Doctor!’ shouted Studzinsky from the darkness, ‘please take command of the medical orderlies and give them some instruction.’
Two students materialised in front of Alexei Turbin. One of them, short and excitable, wore a red cross brassard on the sleeve of his student’s uniform greatcoat. The other was in a gray army coat; his fur cap kept falling over his eyes, so he was constantly pushing it back with his fingers.
‘There are the boxes of medical supplies,’ said Tubirn, ‘take out the orderlies’ satchels, put them over your shoulder and pass me the surgeon’s bag with the instruments… Now go and issue every man with two individual field-dressing packets and give them brief instructions in how to open them in case of need.’
Myshlaevsky’s head rose above the swarming gray mob. He climbed upon a box, waved a rifle, slammed the bolt open, noisily charged the magazine, then aimed out of a window, rattled the bolt and showered the surrounding cadets with ejected cartridges as he repeated the action several times. After this demonstration the cellar began to sound like a factory as the cadets rattling and slamming, filled their rifle-magazines with cartridges.
‘Anyone who can’t do it – take care. Cadets!’ Myshlaevsky sang out, ‘show the students how it’s done.’
As straps fitted with cartridge pouches and water-bottles were pulled on over heads and shoulders, a miracle took place. The motley rabble became transformed into a compact, homogeneous mass crowned by a waving, disorderly, spiky steel-bristled brush made of bayonets.
‘All officers report to me, please’, came Studzinsky’s voice.
In a dark passageway to the subdued clink of spurs, Studzinsky asked quietly:
‘Well, gentlemen, what are your impressions?’
A rattle of spurs. Myshlaevsky, saluting with a practised and nonchalant touch of his cap, took a pace towards the staff-captain and said:
‘It’s not going to be easy. There are fifteen men in my troop who have never seen a rifle in their lives.’
Gazing upwards as though inspired towards a window where the last trickle of gray light was filtering through, Studzinsky went on:
Myshlaevsky spoke again.
‘Er, h’umm… I think the students were somewhat put off by
the sight of that funeral. It had a bad effect on them. They watched it through the railings.’
Studzinsky turned his eager, dark eyes on to him. ‘Do your best to raise their morale.’
Spurs clinked again as the officers dispersed.
‘Cadet Pavlovsky!’ Back in the armory, Myshlaevsky roared out like Radames in Aida.
‘Pavlovsky… sky… sky!’ answered the stony walls of the armory and a chorus of cadets’ voices.
‘Were you at the Alexeyevsky Artillery School?’ ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Right, let’s smarten things up and have a song. So loud that it’ll make Petlyura drop dead, God rot him…’
One voice, high and clear, struck up beneath the stone vaults:
‘I was born a little gunner-boy…’ Some tenors chimed in from among the forest of bayonets:
‘Washed in a shell-case spent…’
The horde of students seemed to shudder, quickly picked up the tune by ear, and suddenly, in a mighty bass roar that echoed like gunfire, they rocked the whole armory:
‘Christened with a charge of shrapnel, Swaddled in an army tent!
The sound rang in their ears, boomed among the ammunition boxes, rattled the grim windows and pounded in their heads until several long- forgotten dusty old glasses on the sloping window ledges began to rattle and shake…
‘In my cradle made of trace-ropes The gun-crew would rock me to sleep.’
Out of the crowd of greatcoats, bayonets and machine-guns, Studzinsky selected two pink-faced ensigns and gave them a rapid, whispered order:
‘Assembly hall… take down the drapes in front of the portrait… look sharp…’ The ensigns hurried off.
The empty stone box of the school building roared and shook in march time, while the rats lurked deep in their holes, cowering with terror.
‘Hup, two, three, four!’ came Karas’ piercing voice. ‘Louder!’ shouted Myshlaevsky in his high, clear tenor. ‘What d’you think this is – a funeral!?’
Instead of a ragged gray mob, an orderly file bristling with bayonets now marched off steadily along the corridor, the floor groaning and bending under the crunch of feet. Along the endless passages and up to the second floor marched the detachment straight into the gigantic assembly hall bathed in light from its glass dome, where the front ranks had already halted and were beginning to fidget restlessly.
Mounted on his pure-bred Arab charger, saddle-cloth emblazoned with the imperial monogram, the Arab executing a perfect caracole, with beaming smile and white-plumed tricorn hat cocked at a rakish angle, the balding, radiant Tsar Alexander I galloped ahead of the ranks of cadets and students. Flashing them smile after smile redolent of insidious charm, Alexander waved his baton at the cadets to show them the serried ranks of Borodino. Clumps of cannon-balls were strewn about the fields and the entire background of the fourteen foot canvas was covered with black slabs of massed bayonets.
As the gorgeous Tsar Alexander galloped onwards and upwards to heaven, the torn drapes which had shrouded him for a whole year since October 1917 lay in a heap around the hooves of his charger. ‘Can’t you see the Emperor Alexander? Keep that cadence!
Left, left! Hup, two, three, four!’ roared Myshlaevsky as the file mounted the staircase with the ponderous tread of Tsar Alexander’s foot- soldiers, past the man who beat Napoleon, the battery wheeled to the right into the vast assembly hall. The singing broke off as they formed into an open square several ranks deep, bayonets clicking. A pale, whitish twilight reigned in the hall and the portraits of the last tsars, still draped, peered down faint and corpse-like through the cloth.
Studzinsky about-faced and looked at his wrist-watch. At that moment a cadet ran in and whispered something to him. The nearby ranks could hear the words ‘… regimental commander.’
Studzinsky signalled to the officers, who began dressing the tanks.
Studzinsky went out into the corridor towards the commanding officer.
Turning and glancing at Tsar Alexander, his spurs ringing, Colonel Malyshev mounted the staircase towards the entrance to the assembly hall. His curved Caucasian sabre with its cherry-red sword-knot bumped against his left hip. He wore a black parade-dress service cap and a long greatcoat with a large slit up the back. He looked worried.
Studzinsky marched rapidly up to him, halted and saluted. Malyshev asked him:
‘Have they all got uniforms?’ ‘Yes, sir. All orders carried out.’ ‘Well, what are they like?’
‘They’ll fight. But they’re completely inexperienced. For a hundred and twenty cadets there are eighty students who have never handled a rifle.’
A shadow crossed Malyshev’s face, but he said nothing.
‘Thank God, though, we’ve managed to get some good officers,’ Studzinsky went on, ‘especially that new one, Myshlaevsky. We’ll make out somehow.’
‘I see. Thank you, captain. Now: as soon as I have inspected the battery I want you to send them home with orders to report back here in time to be on parade at seven o’clock tomorrow morning, except for the officers and a guard detachment of sixty of the best and most experienced cadets, who will mount guard over the guns, the armory and the buildings.’
Paralysed with amazement, Studzinsky glared at the colonel in the most insubordinate fashion. His mouth dropped open.
‘But sir…’ – in his excitement Studzinsky’s Polish accent became more pronounced -‘… if you’ll allow me to say so, sir, that’s impossible. The only way of keeping this battery in any state of military efficiency is to keep the men here overnight.’
Instantly the colonel demonstrated an unsuspected capacity for losing his temper on the grandest scale. His neck and cheeks turned a deep red and his eyes flashed.
‘Captain’, he said in a furious voice, ‘if you talk to me like that again I will have an official notice published that you no longer rank as a staff-captain but as an instructor who regards it as his job to lecture senior officers. This will be most unfortunate, because I thought that in you I had an experienced executive officer and not a civilian professor. Kindly understand that I am in no need of lectures, and when I want your advice I shall ask for it. Otherwise it is your duty to listen, to take note – and then to carry out what I say!’
The two men stared at each other.
Studzinsky’s face and neck turned the color of a hot samovar and his lips trembled. In a grating voice he forced himself to say:
‘Very good, colonel.’
‘Now do what you’re told. Send them home. Tell them to get a good night’s sleep; send them home unarmed, with orders to report back here by seven o’clock tomorrow morning. Send them home – and what’s more, make sure they go in small parties, not whole troops at a time, and without their shoulder-straps, so that they don’t attract any unwelcome attention from undesirable elements.’
A ray of comprehension passed across Studzinsky’s expression and his resentment subsided.
‘Very good, sir.’
The colonel’s tone altered completely.
‘My dear Studzinsky, you and I have known each other for some time and I know perfectly well that you are a most experienced regimental officer. And I’m sure you know me well enough not to be offended. In any case, taking offense is a luxury we can hardly afford at the moment. I apologise for showing you the rough side of my tongue – please forget it; I think you rather forgot yourself, too ‘
Studzinsky blushed again. ‘Quite right, sir. I’m sorry.’
‘Well, that’s in order. Let’s not waste time, otherwise it will be bad for their morale. Everything depends on what happens tomorrow, because by then the situation will be somewhat clearer. However, I may as well tell you now that there’s not much prospect of using the mortars: there are no horses to pull them and no ammunition to fire. So as of tomorrow morning it’s to be rifle and shooting practice, shooting practice and more shooting practice. By noon tomorrow I want this battery to be able to shoot like a Guards regiment. And issue hand-grenades to all the more experienced cadets. Understood?’
Studzinsky looked grim as he listened tensely. ‘May I ask a question, sir?’
‘I know what you’re going to ask, and you needn’t bother. I’ll tell you the answer straight away-it’s sickening. It could be worse – but not much. Get me?’
‘Right then.’ Malyshev raised his voice: ‘So you see I don’t want them to spend the night in this great stone rat-trap, at an uncertain time like this, when there’s a good chance that by doing so I would be signing the death warrant of two hundred boys, eighty of whom can’t even shoot.’
Studzinsky said nothing.
‘So that’s it. I’ll tell you the rest later on this evening. We’ll pull through somehow. Let’s go and have a look at ’em.’
They marched into the hall. ‘Atten-shun!’ shouted Studzinsky. ‘Good day, gentlemen!’
Behind Malyshev’s back Studzinsky waved his arm like an anxious stage director and with a roar that shook the windowpanes the bristling gray wall sang out the Russian soldier’s traditional response to their commanding officer’s greeting.
Malyshev swept the ranks with a cheerful glance, snapped his hand down from the salute and said:
‘Splendid!… Now gentlemen, I’m not going to waste words. You won’t find me at political meetings, because I’m no speaker, so I shall be very brief. We’re going to fight that son of a bitch Petlyura and you may rest assured that we shall beat him. There are cadets among you from the Vladimir, Constantine and Alexeyevsky military academies and no officer from any of these institutions has ever yet disgraced the colors. Many of you, too, were once at this famous school. Its old walls are watching you: I hope you won’t make them redden with shame on your account. Gentlemen of the Mortar Regiment! We shall defend this great city in the hour of its assault by a bandit. As soon as we get Petlyura in range of our six-inchers, there won’t be much left of him except a pair of very dirty underpants, God rot his stinking little soul!’
When the laugh from the ranks had died down the colonel finished: ‘Gentlemen – do your best!’
Again, like a director off-stage, Studzinsky nervously raised his arm and once more the Mortar Regiment blew away several layers of dust all around the assembly hall as they gave three cheers for their commanding officer.
Ten minutes later the assembly hall, just like the battlefield of Borodino, was dotted with hundreds of rifles piled in threes, bayonet upwards. Two sentries stood at either end of the dusty parquet floor sprouting its dragon’s teeth. From the distance came the sound of vanishing footsteps as the new recruits hastily dispersed according to instructions. From along the corridors came the crash of hobnailed boots and an officer’s words of command –
Studzinsky himself was posting the sentries. Then came the unexpected sound of a bugle-call. There was no menace in the ragged, jerky sound as it echoed around the school buildings, but merely an anxious splutter of sour notes. On the landing bounded by the railings of the double staircase leading from the first floor up to the assembly hall, a cadet was standing with distended cheeks. The faded ribbons of the Order of St George dangled from the tarnished brass of the bugle. His legs spread wide like a pair of compasses, Myshlaevsky was standing in front of the bugler and instructing him.
‘Don’t blow too hard… look – like this. Fill your cheeks with air and blow out. No, no, hopeless. Now try again-sound the “General Alarm”.’
‘Pa -pa-pah -pa-pah’, shrieked the bugle, reducing the school’s rat population to terror.
Twilight was swiftly advancing over the assembly hall, where Malyshev and Turbin stood beside the ranks of piled rifles. Colonel Malyshev frowned slightly in Turbin’s direction, but at once arranged his face into an affable smile.
‘Well, doctor, how are things? Is all well in the medical section?’ ‘Yes, colonel.’
‘You can go home now, doctor. And tell your orderlies they can go too, but they must report back here at seven o’clock with the others. And you… (Malyshev reflected, frowned)… I should like you to report here tomorrow at two o’clock in the afternoon. Until then you’re free. (Malyshev thought again) And there’s one other thing: you’d better not wear your shoulder-straps. (Malyshev looked embarrassed) It is not part of our plans to draw attention to ourselves. So, in a word, just be back here at two o’clock tomorrow.’
‘Very good, sir.’
Turbin shuffled his feet. Malyshev took out a cigarette case and offered him a cigarette, for which Turbin lit a match. Two little red stars glowed, emphasising how much darker it had grown. Malyshev glanced awkwardly upward at the dim white globes of the hall’s arc-lamps, then turned and went out into the passage.
‘Lieutenant Myshlaevsky, come here, please. I am putting you
in full charge of the electric light in this building. Try and get the lights switched on as quickly as possible. Please have it organised so that at any moment you can not only put all the lights on, but also switch them off. Responsibility for the lighting is entirely yours.’
Myshlaevsky saluted and faced sharply about. The bugler gave a squeak and stopped. Spurs jingling – ca-link, ca-link, ca-link – Myshlaevsky ran down the main staircase so fast that he seemed to be skating down it. A minute later the sound of his hammering fists and barked commands could be heard from somewhere in the depths of the building. This was followed by a sudden blaze of light in the main downstairs lobby, which threw a faint reflected glow over the portrait of Alexander I. Malyshev was so delighted that his mouth even fell open slightly and he turned to Alexei Turbin:
‘Well, I’m damned… Now there’s an officer for you! Did you see that?’
A figure appeared at the bottom and began slowly climbing up the staircase. Malyshev and Turbin were able to make out who it was as he reached the first landing. The figure advanced on doddering, infirm legs, his white head shaking, and wore a broad double-breasted tunic with silver buttons and bright green lapels. An enormous key dangled in his shaking hand. Myshlaevsky was following him up the staircase with occasional shouts of encouragement.
‘Come on, old boy, speed it up! You’re crawling along like a flea on a tightrope.’
‘Your… your’, mumbled the old man as he shuffled along. Karas emerged out of the gloom on the landing, followed by another, tall officer, then by two cadets and finally the pointed snout of a machine-gun. The white- haired figure stumbled, bent down and bowed to the waist in the direction of the machine-gun.
‘Your… your honor’, muttered the figure.
The figure arrived at the top of the stairs, and with shaking hands, fumbling in the dark, opened a long oblong box on the wall from which shone a white spot of light. The old man thrust his hand in, there was a click and instantly the upper landing, the corridor and the entrance to the assembly hall were flooded with light.
The darkness rolled away to the ends of the corridor. Mysh-laevsky immediately took possession of the key and thrust his hand inside the box where he began to try out the rows of black switches. Light, so blinding that it even seemed to be shot with pink, flared up and vanished again. The globes in the assembly hall were lit and then extinguished. Two globes at the far ends of the corridor suddenly blazed into life and the darkness somersaulted away altogether.
‘How’s that?’ shouted Myshlaevsky.
‘Out’, several voices answered from downstairs. ‘O.K.! On!’ came a shout from the upper floor.
Satisfied, Myshlaevsky finally switched on the lights in the assembly hall, in the corridor and the spotlight over the Emperor Alexander, locked the switchbox and put the key in his pocket.
‘All right, you can go back to bed now, old fellow,’ he said reassuringly, ‘all’s well now.’
The old man’s near-sighted eyes blinked anxiously:
‘But what about the key, your… your honor… Are you going to keep it?’
‘That’s right. I’m going to keep the key.’
The old man stood trembling for a few moments longer then began slowly going downstairs.
A stout, red-faced cadet snapped to attention beside the switch box.
‘You are to allow only three people to have access to the box: the regimental commander, the executive officer and myself. And nobody else. In case of necessity, on the orders of one of those three officers, you are to break open the box, but carefully so as not to damage the switchboard.’
‘Very good, sir.’
Myshlaevsky walked over to Alexei Turbin and whispered: ‘Did you see him – old Maxim?’
‘God, yes, I did…’ whispered Turbin.
The battery commander was standing in the entrance to the assembly hall, thousands of candle-power sparkling on the engraved silver of his scabbard. He beckoned to Myshlaevsky and said:
‘Lieutenant, I am very glad you were able to join our regiment. Well done.’
‘Glad to do my duty, sir.’
‘One more thing: I just want you to fix the heating in this hall so that the cadets on sentry-duty will be kept warm. I’ll take care of everything else. I’ll see you get your rations and some vodka -not much, but enough to keep the cold out.’
Myshlaevsky gave the colonel a charming smile and cleared his throat in a way that conveyed tactful appreciation.
Alexei Turbin heard no more of their conversation. Leaning over the balustrade, he stared down at the little white-haired figure until it disappeared below. A feeling of hollow depression came over Turbin. Suddenly, leaning on the cold metal railings, a memory returned to him with extreme clarity.
… A crowd of high-school boys of all ages was rushing along that same corridor in a state of high excitement. Maxim, the thickset school beadle, made a grab at two small dark figures at the head of the mob. ‘Well, well, well’, he muttered. ‘The school inspector will be pleased to see Mr Turbin and Mr Myshlaevsky, today of all days, when the school governor is visiting. He will be pleased!’ Needless to say Maxim’s remark was one of crushing sarcasm. Only someone of perverted taste could have gained any pleasure from the contemplation of Mr Turbin and Mr Myshlaevsky, especially on the day of the school governor’s visit.
Mr Myshlaevsky, gripped in Maxim’s left hand, had a split upper lip and his left sleeve was dangling by a thread. Mr Turbin, a prisoner of Maxim’s right hand, had lost his belt and all his buttons – not only on his tunic but his fly-buttons as well, revealing a most indecent display of underwear.
‘Please let us go, kind Maxim’, begged Turbin and Mysh-laevsky gazing beseechingly at Maxim with bloodstained faces.
‘Go on, Max, wallop him!’ shouted the excited boys from behind. ‘That’ll teach him to beat up a junior!’
Oh God, the sunshine, noise and bustling of that day. And Maxim had been very different from this white-haired, hunched and famished old man. In those days Maxim’s hair had been as thick and strong as a black boot-brush, scarcely touched with a few threads of grey, Maxim’s hands had been as strong as a pair of steel pincers and round his neck he had worn a medallion the size of a wagon-wheel… Yes, the wheel, the wheel of fate had gone on rolling from village ‘A’, making ‘x’ number of turns on the way . . and it had never reached village ‘B’ but had landed up in a stony void. God, it was cold. Now they had to defend… But defend what? A void? The sound of footsteps?… Can you save this doomed building, Tsar Alexander, with all the regiments of Borodino? Why don’t you come alive and lead them down from the canvas? They’d smash Petlyura all right.
Turbin’s legs took him downstairs of their own volition. He wanted to shout ‘Maxim!’, but he hesitated and then finally stopped. He imagined Maxim down below in the janitors’ quarters in the basement, probably sitting huddled over his stove. Either he would have forgotten the old days, or he would burst into tears. And things were bad enough without that. To hell with the idea -sentimental rubbish. They had all ruined their lives by being too sentimental. So forget it.
Yet when Turbin had dismissed his medical orderlies he found himself wandering around one of the empty, twilit classrooms. The blackboards looked down blankly from the walls, the benches still stood in their ranks. He could not resist lifting the lid of one of the desks and sitting down at it. It felt difficult, awkward and uncomfortable. How near the blackboard seemed. He could have sworn that this was his old classroom, this or the next one, because there was that same familiar view of the City out of the window. Over there was the huge black, inert mass of the university buildings, there was the lamplit avenue running straight as an arrow, there were the same boxlike houses, the dark gaps in between them, walls, the vaulted sky….
Outside it looked exactly like a stage set for The Night Before Christmas, snow and little flickering, twinkling lights… ‘I wonder why there is gunfire out at Svyatoshino?’ Harmless, far away, as though muffled in cotton wool, came the dull boo-oom, boom…
‘Enough of this.’
Alexei Turbin lowered the desk-lid, walked out into the corridor and through the main lobby, past the sentries and out of doors. A machine-gun was posted at the main entrance. There were hardly any people out on the streets and it was snowing hard.
The colonel spent a busy night, making countless journeys back and forth between the school and Madame Anjou’s shop nearby. By midnight the machinery of his command was working thoroughly and efficiently. Crackling faintly, the school arc-lights shone with their pinkish light. The assembly hall had grown noticeably warmer, thanks to the fires blazing all evening and all night in the old-fashioned stoves in the library bays of the hall.
Under Myshlaevsky’s command several cadets had lit the white stoves with bound volumes of literary magazines of the 1860’s, and then to a ceaseless clatter of axes had fed the flames by chopping up the old school benches. Having swallowed their ration of two glasses of vodka (the colonel had kept his promise and provided them with enough to keep the cold out – a gallon and a half), Studzinsky and Myshlaevsky took turns as officer of the guard. They slept for two hours, wrapped in their greatcoats, lying on the floor beside the stove with the cadets, the crimson flames and shadows playing on their faces. Then they got up, moving from sentry-post to sentry-post all through the night inspecting the guard. Relieved every hour, four cadets, muffled in sheepskin jerkins, stood guard over the broad-muzzled six-inch mortars.
The stove at Madame Anjou’s glowed infernally, the draught roaring and crackling up the flue. A cadet stood on guard at the door keeping constant watch on the motor-cycle and sidecar parked outside, while four others slept like logs inside the shop, wrapped in their greatcoats. Towards midnight the colonel was finally able to settle down at Madame Anjou’s. He was yawning, but was still too busy on the telephone to go to sleep. Then at two o’clock in the morning a motor-cycle drove hooting up to the shop. A military man in a gray coat dismounted.
‘Let him pass. It’s for me.’
The man handed the colonel a bulky package wrapped in cloth, tied criss-cross with wire. The colonel personally deposited it in the little safe at the back of the shop and locked it. The gray man drove off again on his motor-cycle. The colonel mounted to the balcony, where he spread out his greatcoat and put a bundle of rags under his head. Having ordered the duty cadet to waken him at precisely 6.30 a.m., he lay down and went to sleep.
Source: “The White Guard”, Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Michael Glenny, with an epilogue by Viktor Nekrasov, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Great Britain, 1971, 70-140252 08844