Hetman Skoropadsky hastily flees Kiev under the guise of an injured German soldier, an escape set to have a discouraging effect on the Mortar division. And the fate of the city you may ask?
Find out in Chapter VII below! Enjoy the read!
The coal-black gloom of the darkest night had descended on the terraces of the most beautiful spot on earth, St Vladimir’s Hill, whose brick-paved paths and avenues were hidden beneath a thick layer of virgin snow.
Not a soul in the City ever set foot on that great terraced mound in wintertime. Still less was anyone likely to climb the hill at night, especially at times like these, which were grim enough to deter the bravest man. There was no good reason for going there and only one place that was lit: for a hundred years the black, cast-iron St Vladimir has been standing on his fearful heavy plinth and holding, upright, a twenty-foot-high cross. Every evening, as soon as twilight begins to enfold the snowdrifts, the slopes and the terraces, the cross is lighted and it burns all night. From far away it can be seen; from thirty miles away in the black distance stretching away towards Moscow. But here on the hilltop it lights up only very little: the pale electric light falls, brushing the greenish-black flanks of the plinth, picking out of the darkness the balustrade and a stretch of the railings that surround the central terrace. And that is all. Beyond this – utter darkness. Out there stand strange trees capped with snow, looking like chandeliers wrapped in muslin, and neck-deep snowdrifts all around. Terrifying.
Obviously no one, however courageous, is going to come here. Chiefly because there is nothing to come for. The City, though, is another matter. A night of alarm, of military decision. Street-lamps shining like strings of beads. The Germans asleep, but with half an eye open. A blue cone of light suddenly flashes into life in one of the City’s darkest streets.
Crunch… crunch… Helmeted soldiers, with black ear-muffs, walking down the middle of the street… Crunch… Rifles not slung, but at the ready. The Germans are not in a joking mood for the moment. Whatever else may be in doubt, the Germans are to be taken seriously. They look like dung-beetles.
A cone from the flashlight…
A big shiny black car with four headlamps. No ordinary car, because it is followed at a brisk canter by an escort of eight cavalrymen. The Germans are not impressed, and shout at the car:
“Where to? Who? Why?’
‘General Belorukov, commanding general.’
That is another matter. Proceed, general. Deep inside, behind the glass of the car’s windows, a pale moustached face. Faint glimmer reflected from general’s shoulder-straps. The German helmets saluted. Secretly they didn’t care whether it was General Belorukov, or Petlyura, or a Zulu chief-it was a lousy country anyway. But when in Zululand, do as the Zulus do. So the helmets saluted. Courtesy is international, as the saying goes.
A night of martial deeds. Rays of light slanting out of Madame Anjou’s windows, with their ladies’ hats, corsets, underwear and crossed cannon. A cadet marched back and forth like a pendulum, freezing cold, tracing the tsarist cypher in the snow with the tip of his bayonet. Over in the Alexander I High School the arc-lights shone as though at a ball. Fortified by a sufficient quantity of vodka Myshlaevsky tramped around the corridors, glancing up at Tsar Alexander, keeping an eye on the switch-box. There at the school things might have been worse: the sentry-posts armed with eight machine-guns and manned by cadets – not mere students… and they would fight. Myshlaevsky’s eyes were red as a rabbit’s. He was unlikely to get much sleep that night, but there was plenty of vodka and just enough tension in the air for excitement.
Provided it got no worse life in the City was tolerable in this state. If you had nothing on your conscience you could keep out of trouble. True, you might be stopped four times, but if you had your papers on you there was nothing to hold you up. It might look odd that you were out so late at night, but still – pass, friend…
Crazy as it might seem, there were people out on St Vladimir’s
Hill despite the icy wind whistling between the snowdrifts with a sound like the voice of the devil himself. If anyone were to climb up the Hill it could only be some complete outcast, a man who under no matter what government felt as much at home among his fellow men as a wolf in a pack of dogs – in a word, one of Victor Hugo’s ‘miserables’. The sort of man who had good reason not to show himself in the City, or if so then at his own risk. If he were in luck he might evade the patrols; if not, then it would be just too bad. If a man like that found his way up on to the Hill one could only feel sorry for him out of sheer human pity. The wind was so icy, one wouldn’t send a dog out – after five minutes up there he would be back home and whining to be let in. But…
‘Onlyfive o’clock. Christ, we’ll freeze to death…’
The trouble was that there was no way into the Upper City past the Belvedere and the water-tower because Prince Belorukov’s headquarters was installed in the monastery building on Mikhail-ovsky Street, and cars with cavalry outriders or mounted machine-guns were passing by all the time…
‘Damned officers, we’ll never get through that way!’
And patrols everywhere.
It was no good trying to creep down the hillside terraces to the Lower City either, firstly because Alexandrovsky Street, which wound its way around the foot of the hill, was lit by rows of street-lamps, and secondly because it was heavily patrolled by the Germans, damn them. Maybe someone might be able to slip down that way toward dawn, but by then they would be frozen to death. As the icy wind whistled along the snowbound avenues there seemed to be another sound too – the mutter of voices somewhere near the snowbound railings.
‘We can’t stay here, Kirpaty, we’ll freeze to death, I tell you.’
‘Stick it out, Nemolyaka. The patrols will be out till morning, then they turn in and sleep. Once we can slip through to the Embankment we can hide at Sychukla’s and warm ourselves up.’
There was a movement in the darkness along the railings as if three shadows blacker than the rest were huddling against the parapet and leaning over to look down at Alexandrovsky Street stretched out immediately below. It was silent and empty, but at any moment two bluish cones of light might appear and some German cars drive past or the dark blobs of steel-helmeted troops, casting their sharp, foreshortened shadows under the street-lamps… and so near, they might be within reach…
One shadow broke away from the group on the Hill and his wolfish voice grated:
‘Come on, Nemolyaka, let’s risk it. Maybe we can slip through…’
Something equally bad was afoot in the Hetman’s palace, where the activity seemed oddly out of place at that hour of night. An elderly footman in sideburns scuttled like a mouse across the shiny parquet floor of a chamber lined with ugly gilt chairs. From somewhere in the distance came the jerky ringing of an electric bell, the clink of spurs. In the state bedroom the mirrors in their gloomy crowned frames reflected a strange, unnatural scene. A thin, graying man with narrow, clipped moustaches on his foxy, clean-shaven, parchment-like face was pacing in front of the mirrors; he was dressed in a fancy Circassian coat with ornamental silver cartridge-cases. Around him hovered three German officers and two Russian. One of the latter wore a Circassian coat like the central figure, the other was in service tunic and breeches whose cut betrayed their tsarist Chevalier Guards origin despite the officer’s wedge-shaped Hetmanite shoulder-straps. They were helping the foxy man to change his clothes. Off came the Circassian coat, the wide baggy trousers, the patent-leather boots. In their place the man was encased in the uniform of a German major and he became no different from hundreds of other majors. Then the door opened, the dusty palace drapes were pulled aside and admitted another man in the uniform of a German army medical officer carrying a large quantity of packages. These he opened and with the contents skilfully bandaged the head of the newly-created German major until all that remained visible were one foxy eye and a thin mouth open just wide enough to show some of its gold and platinum bridgework.
The improper nocturnal activity in the palace continued for some time. A German came out of the bedroom and announced in German to some officers loafing around in the chamber with the giltchairs and in a nearby hall that Major von Schratt had accidentally wounded himself in the neck while unloading a revolver and must be taken urgently to the German military hospital. A telephone rang somewhere, followed by the shrill bird-like squeak of a field-telephone. Then a noiseless German ambulance with Red Cross markings drove through the wrought-iron gates of the palace to a side entrance and the mysterious Major von Schratt, swathed in bandages and wrapped in a greatcoat, was carried out on a stretcher and placed inside the ambulance. The ambulance drove away with a muffled roar as it turned out of the gates.
The bustle continued in the palace until the morning, lights burned on in gilded halls lined with portraits, the telephone rang frequently; a look something like insolence came over the expressions of the palace servants and their eyes glinted cheerfully…
In a cramped little room on the first floor of the palace a man in the uniform of an artillery colonel picked up the telephone after carefully closing the door of the little whitewashed room. He asked the unsleeping girl on the exchange for number 212. When she had connected him he said ‘merci’, frowned hard and asked in a low, confidential voice:
‘Is that the headquarters of the Mortar Regiment?’
Alas, Colonel Malyshev was not fated to be able to sleep until half past six, as he had assumed. At four o’clock in the morning the telephone bell in Madame Anjou’s shop squealed with extreme insistence and the cadet on duty was obliged to waken the colonel. The colonel woke up with remarkable speed. He grasped the situation as quickly and perceptively as though he had never been to sleep at all, and did not reproach the cadet for having interrupted his rest. Soon afterwards he drove away in the motorcycle and sidecar, and when the colonel returned to Madame Anjou at five o’clock his eyebrows were contracted in as deep a military frown as had crossed the forehead of the colonel at the palace who had called up the Mortar Regiment.
On the field of Borodino at seven o’clock that morning, lit by the great pink globes, hunched against the pre-dawn cold, buzzing with talk, stood the same extended string of young men which had marched up the staircase towards the portrait of Tsar Alexander. A little distance away, Staff Captain Studzinsky stood silent among a group of officers. Strangely enough his eyes had the same uneasy gleam of anxiety that Colonel Malyshev had shown since four o’clock that morning. But anyone who had seen both the staff captain and the colonel on that fateful night would have been able to say at once and with certainty where the difference lay: the anxiety in Studzinsky’s eyes was one of foreboding, whereas Malyshev’s was a certainty – the anxiety founded on a clear realisation that disaster was complete. A long list of the names of the regiment’s complement was sticking out of the long turned-up cuff of the sleeve of Studzinsky’s greatcoat. He had just finished calling the roll and had discovered that the unit was twenty men short. This was why the list was crumpled: it bore the traces of the staff captain’s fingers.
Little bursts of smoke arose into the chilly air of the assembly hall as some of the officers smoked.
On the stroke of seven o’clock Colonel Malyshev appeared on parade to be greeted, as on the previous day, by a roar of greeting from the ranks in the hall. As on the previous day the colonel was wearing his sabre, but for some reason the chased silverwork of its scabbard no longer flashed with a thousand reflections. On the colonel’s right hip his revolver lay in its holster, which with a carelessness quite untypical of Colonel Malyshev, was unbuttoned.
The colonel took up his position in front of the regiment, put his gloved left hand on the hilt of his sword and with his ungloved right hand resting gently on his holster he spoke the following words:
‘I want all officers and men of the Mortar Regiment to listen carefully to what I have to say to them! Last night a number of sudden and violent changes took place which affect us, which affect the army as a whole – and which, I venture to say, affect the entire political situation of the Ukraine. I therefore have to inform you that this Regiment is disbanded! I propose that each one of you should remove all insignia and badges of rank, take anything from the armory you may want and which you can carry away and go home, stay there without showing yourselves and wait there until you are recalled to duty by me.’
The colonel stopped, and his abrupt silence was emphasised even more by the absolute stillness in the hall. Even the arc-lights had ceased to hiss. Every man in the room was staring at one point – the colonel’s clipped moustache.
He went on:
‘I shall issue orders for your recall as soon as there is the slightest change in the situation. But I must tell you that the hopes of any such change are slim… I can’t predict how events will develop, but I think the best that every,… er… (the colonel suddenly yelled the next word) loyal man among you can hope for is to be sent to join General Denikin’s forces on the Don. So my orders to the whole regiment – with the exception of the officers and those who were on sentry-duty last night – are to dismiss and return immediately to your homes!’
‘What? What?!…’ The incredulous murmur ran down the ranks and the bayonets dipped and swayed. Bewildered faces gazed around them, some were plainly relieved, some even delighted…
Staff Captain Studzinsky stepped forward from the group of officers. Bluish-white in the face, squinting, he took a few paces towards Colonel Malyshev, then glanced round at the officers. Myshlaevsky was not looking at Studzinsky but was still staring at Colonel Malyshev’s moustache. From his expression he looked exactly as if he was about to indulge in his usual habit of breaking out in obscene abuse. Karas stupidly put his arms akimbo and blinked. In the separate group of young ensigns there suddenly came the rustling sound of the rash, dangerous word ‘arrest’…
‘What was that?’ muttered a deep voice from the ranks of the cadets. ‘Arrest!’
Studzinsky suddenly gave an inspired look upward at the electric light globe above his head, then glanced down at the butt of his holster and barked:
‘Number 1 Troop!’
The first rank broke up, several gray figures stepped forward. A strangely confused scene ensued.
‘Colonel!’ said Studzinsky in a thin, hoarse voice, ‘you are under arrest!’ ‘Arrest him!’ one of the ensigns suddenly shrieked hysterically and
moved toward the colonel.
‘Stop, gentlemen!’ shouted Karas, who although his mind did not work fast had firmly grasped the import of the situation.
Myshlaevsky leaped swiftly forward, grabbed the impetuous ensign by the sleeve of his greatcoat and pulled him back.
‘Let me go, lieutenant!’ shouted the ensign, grimacing with fury.
‘Quiet!’ The colonel’s voice rang out with complete self-assurance. Although his mouth was twitching as much as the ensign’s and his face was mottled with red, there was more calm and confidence in his expression than any of the other officers could muster at that moment. All stood still.
‘Quiet!’ repeated the colonel. ‘I order you all to stay where you are and listen to me!’
Silence reigned, and Myshlaevsky became sharply attentive. It was as if a sudden thought had occurred to him and he was now expecting some news from the colonel that was considerably more important than that which he just announced.
‘I see,’ said the colonel, his cheek twitching, ‘that I would have made a fine fool of myself if I had tried going into battle with the motley crew which the good Lord saw fit to provide me with. Obviously it was just as well that I didn’t. But what is excusable in a student volunteer or a young cadet, and possibly just excusable in an ensign is utterly inexcusable in you, Staff Captain Studzinsky!’
With this the colonel withered Studzinsky with a look of quite exceptional virulence, his eyes flashing with sparks of genuine exasperation. Again there was silence.
‘Well, now’, went on the colonel, ‘I have never attended a meeting in my life, but it seems that I shall have to start now. Very well, let’s hold a meeting! Now I agree that your attempt to arrest your commanding officer does credit to your patriotism, but it also shows that you are, er… how shall I put it, gentlemen?… inexperienced! Briefly – I have no time left and nor, I assure you,’ the colonel said with baleful emphasis, ‘have you. Let me ask you a question: whom are you proposing to defend?’
‘I’m asking you: whom do you mean to defend?’ the colonel repeated threateningly.
His eyes burning with interest Myshlaevsky stepped forward, saluted and said:
‘We are in duty bound to defend the Herman, sir.’
‘The Hetman?’ the colonel questioned in return. ‘Good. Regiment – atten- shun!’ he suddenly roared in a voice that made the entire regiment jump to attention. ‘Listen to me! This morning at approximately 4 a.m. the Hetman shamefully abandoned us all to our fate and ran away! Yes, he ran away, like the most miserable scoundrel and coward! This morning too, an hour after the Hetman, our commanding general, General Belorukov, ran away in the same way as the Hetman – in a German train. In no more than a few hours from now we shall be witnesses of a catastrophe in which the wretched people like yourselves who were tricked and involved into this absurd escapade will be slaughtered like dogs. Listen: on the outskirts of this city Petlyura has an army over a hundred thousand strong and tomorrow… what am I saying, tomorrow – today!’ and the colonel pointed out of the window to where the sky was beginning to pale over the City, ‘the isolated, disorganised units formed from officers and cadets, abandoned by those swine at headquarters and by those two unspeakable rogues Skoropadsky and Belorukov, who should both be hung, will be faced by Petlyura’s troops who are well armed and who outnumber them by twenty to one… Listen, boys!’ Colonel Malyshev suddenly exclaimed in a breaking voice, although his age made him more of an elder brother than a father to the rows of bayonet-toting youths in front of hirn – ‘Listen! I am a regular officer. I went through the German war, as Staff Captain Studzinsky here will witness, and I know what I’m talking about! I assume full and absolute responsibility for what I’m doing! Understand? I’m warning you! And I’m sending you home! Do you understand why?’ he shouted.
‘Yes, yes’, answered the crowd, bayonets swaying. Then loudly and convulsively a cadet in the second rank burst into tears.
To the utter surprise of the regiment and probably of himself, Staff Captain Studzinsky crammed his gloved fist into his eyes with a strange and most un-officer like gesture, at which the regiment’s nominal roll fell to the floor, and burst into tears.
Infected by him several more cadets began weeping, the ranks disintegrated and the disorderly uproar was only stopped when Myshlaevsky, in his Radames voice, roared an order to the bugler:
‘Cadet Pavlovsky! Sound the retreat!’
‘Colonel, will you give me permission to set fire to the school building?’ said Myshlaevsky, beaming at the colonel.
‘No, I will not’, Malyshev replied quietly and politely.
‘But sir,’ said Myshlaevsky earnestly, ‘that means that Petlyura will get the armory, the weapons and worst of all -‘ Myshlaevsky pointed out into the hallway where the head of Tsar Alexander I could be seen over the landing.
‘Yes, he’ll get all that’, the colonel politely agreed. ‘You can’t mean to let him, sir?’
Malyshev turned to face Myshlaevsky, stared hard at him and said: ‘Lieutenant, in three hours’ time hundreds of human lives will fall to
Petlyura and my only regret is I am unable to prevent their destruction at the cost of my own life, or of yours. Please don’t mention portraits, guns or rifles to me again.’
‘Sir,’ said Studzinsky, standing at attention in front of the colonel, ‘I wish to apologise on my own behalf and on behalf of those officers whom I incited to an act of disgraceful behavior.’
‘I accept your apology’, replied the colonel politely.
By the time the morning mist over the town had begun to disperse, the blunt-muzzled mortars on the Alexander High School parade ground had lost their breech-blocks and the rifles and machine-guns, dismantled or broken up, had been hidden in the furthermost recesses of the attic. Heaps of ammunition had been thrown into snowdrifts, into pits and into secret crannies in the cellars, while the globes no longer radiated light over the assembly hall and corridors. The white insulated switchboard had been smashed by cadets’ bayonets under Myshlaevsky’s orders.
The reflection in the windows was blue sky. The two last men to leave the school building – Myshlaevsky and Karas – stood in the sunlight on the square.
‘Did the colonel warn Alexei that the regiment was going to be disbanded?’ Myshlaevsky asked Karas anxiously.
‘Yes, I’m sure he did. After all, Alexei didn’t turn up on parade this morning, so he must have been told’, replied Karas.
‘Shall we go and see the Turbins?’
‘Better not by daylight, as things are. It won’t be safe for officers to be seen congregating in groups… you never know. Let’s go back to our apartment.’
Blue skies in the windows, white on the playground and the mist rose and drifted away.
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