Petlyura’s forces parade through the streets of Kiev and onto St. Sofia’s Square. This celebration will be marked not only by a march and music but also several murders…
Find out more in Chapter XVI below. Enjoy the read!
‘Long may he live. Long may he live. Lo-o-ong li-i-ive…’ sang the nine basses of Tolmashevsky’s famous choir.
‘Long may he li-i-i-ive…’ rang out the crystalline descant.
‘Long may… long may… long may…’ the soprano soared up to the very dome of the cathedral.
‘Look! Look! It’s Petlyura ‘Look, Ivan…’
‘No, you fool, Petlyura’s out in the square by now…’
Hundreds of heads in the choir-loft crowded one on another, jostling forward, hanging down over the balustrade between the ancient pillars adorned with smoke-blackened frescoes. Craning, excited, leaning forward, pushing, they surged towards the balustrade trying to look down into the well of the cathedral, but could see nothing for the hundreds of heads already there, like rows of yellow apples. Down in the abyss swayed a reeking, thousand-headed crowd, over which hovered an almost incandescent wave of sweat, steam, incense smoke, the lamp-black from hundreds of candles, and soot from heavy chain-hung ikon-lamps.
The ponderous gray-blue drape creaked along on its rings and covered the doors of the altar screen, floridly wrought in centuries-old metal as dark and grim as the whole gloomy cathedral of St Sophia. Crackling faintly and swaying, the flaming tongues of candles in the chandeliers drifted upwards in threads of smoke. There was not enough air for them. Around the altar there was incredible confusion. From the doors of side-chapels, down the worn granite steps, poured streams of gold copes and fluttering stoles. Priestly headdresses, like short violet stovepipes, slid out of their cardboard boxes, religious banners were taken down, flapping, from the walls. Somewhere in the thick of the crowd boomed out the awesome bass of Archdeacon Seryebryakov. A headless, armless cope swayed above the crowd and was swallowed up again; then there rose up one sleeve of a quilted cassock, followed by the other as its wearer was enrobed in the cope. Check handkerchiefs fluttered and were twisted into plaits.
‘Tie up your checks tighter, Father Arkady, the frost outside is wicked.
Please let me help you.’
Like the flags of a conquered army the sacred banners were dipped as they passed under the doorway, brown faces and mysterious gold words swaying, fringes scraping along the ground.
‘Make way, there…’ ‘Where are they going?’
‘Manya! Look out! You’ll be crushed…’
‘What are they celebrating? (whisper:) Is it theUkrainian people’s republic?’
‘God knows’ (whisper).
‘That’s not a priest, that’s a bishop…’ ‘Look out, careful…’
‘Long may he live…!’ sang the choir, filling the whole cathedral. The fat, red-faced precentor Tolmashevsky extinguished a greasy wax candle and thrust his tuning-fork into his pocket. The choir, in brown heel-length surplices with gold braid, the swaying choirboys whose cropped fair hair made their little heads look almost bald, the bobbing of Adam’s apples and horse-like heads of the basses streamed out of the dark, eerie choir-loft. Thicker and thicker, jostling through all the doors, like a swelling avalanche, like water gushing from drainpipes flowed the murmuring crowd.
From the doors of the sacristy floated a stream of vestments, their wearers’ heads wrapped up as if they all had toothache, eyes anxious and uneasy beneath their toylike, mauve stovepipe hats. Father Arkady, dean of the cathedral, a puny little man, wearing a sparkling jewelled mitre above the gray check scarf wrapped around his head, glided along with little mincing steps. There was a desperate look in his eyes and his wispy beard trembled.
‘There’s going to be a procession round the cathedral. Out of the way, Mitya.’
‘Hey, you – not so fast! Come back! Give the priests room to walk.’ ‘There’s plenty of room for them to pass.’
‘For God’s sake – this child is suffocating…’ ‘What is happening?’
‘If you don’t know what’s happening you’d better go home,where there’s nothing for you to steal…’
‘Somebody’s cut the strap of my handbag!’
‘But Petlyura’s supposed to be a socialist, isn’t he? So why areall the priests praying for him?’
‘Give the fathers twenty-five roubles, and they’ll say a mass for the devil himself
‘We ought to go straight off to the bazaar now and smash in some of the Yids’ shop windows. I once did…’
‘Don’t speak Russian.’
‘This woman’s suffocating! Clear a space!’
Shoulder to shoulder, unable to turn, from the side chapels, from the choir-lofts, down step after step the crowd slowly moved out of the cathedral in one heaving mass. On the wall frescoes the brown painted figures of fat- legged buffoons, of unknown antiquity, danced and played the bagpipes. Half suffocated, half intoxicated by carbon dioxide, smoke and incense the crowd flowed noisily out of the doors, the general hum occasionally pierced by the strangled cries of women in pain. Pickpockets, hat brims pulled low, worked hard and with steady concentration, their skilled hands slipping expertly between sticky clumps of compressed human flesh. The crowd rustled and buzzed above the scraping of a thousand feet.
‘Oh Lord God…’
‘Jesus Christ… Holy Mary, queen of heaven…’
‘I wish I hadn’t come. What is supposed to be happening?’
‘I don’t care if you are being crushed…’
‘My watch! My silver watch! It’s gone! I only bought it yesterday…’
‘This may be the last service in this cathedral…’
‘What language were they holding the service in, I didn’t understand?’
‘In God’s language, dear.’
‘It’s been strictly forbidden to use Russian in church any more.’
‘What’s that? Aren’t we allowed to use our own Orthodox language any more?’
‘They pulled her ear-rings off and tore half her ears away at the same time…’
‘Hey, cossacks, stop that man! He’s a spy! A Bolshevik spy!’ ‘This isn’t Russia any longer, mister. This is the Ukraine now.’ ‘Oh my God, look at those soldiers – wearing pigtails…’ ‘Oh, I’m going… to faint…’
‘This woman’s feeling bad.’
‘We’re all feeling bad, dear. Everybody’s feeling terrible. Look out, you’ll poke my eye out – stop pushing! What’s the matter with you? Gone crazy?’
‘Down with Russia! Up the Ukraine!’
‘There ought to be a police cordon here, Ivan Ivanovich. Do you remember the celebrations in 1912? Ah, those were the days…’
‘So you want Bloody Nicholas back again, do you? Ah, we know your sort… we know what you’re thinking.’
‘Keep away from me, for Christ’s sake. I’m not in your way, so keep your hands to yourself…’
‘God, let’s hope we get out of here soon… get a breath of fresh air.’ ‘I won’t make it. I shall die of suffocation in a moment.’
Like soda-water from a bottle the crowd burst swirling out of the main doors. Hats fell off, people groaned with relief, crossed themselves. Through the side door, where two panes of glass were broken in the crush, came the religious procession, silver and gold, the priests breathless and confused, followed by the choir. Flashes of gold among the black vestments, mitres bobbed, sacred banners were held low to pass under the doorway, then straightened and floated on upright.
There was a heavy frost, a day when smoke rose slowly and heavily above the City. The cathedral courtyard rang to the ceaseless stamp of thousands of feet. Frosty clouds of breath swayed in the freezing air and rose up towards the belfry. The great bell of St Sophia boomed out from the tallest bell-tower, trying to drown the awful, shrieking confusion. The smaller bells tinkled away at random, dissonant and tuneless, as though Satan had climbed into the belfry and the devil in a cassock was amusing himself by raising bedlam. Through the black slats of the multi-storied belfry, which had once warned of the coming of the slant-eyed Tartars, the smaller bells could be seen swinging and yelping like mad dogs on a chain. The frost crunched and steamed. Shocked by noise and cold, the black mob poured across the cathedral courtyard.
In spite of the cruel frost, mendicant friars with bared heads, some bald as ripe pumpkins, some fringed with sparse orange-colored hair, were already sitting cross-legged in a row along the stone-flagged pathway leading to the main entrance of the old belfry of St Sophia and were chanting in a nasal whine.
Blind ballad-singers droned their eerie song about the Last Judgment, their tattered peaked caps lying upwards to catch the sparse harvest of greasy rouble bills and battered coppers.
Oh, that day, that dreadful day, When the end of the world will come.
The judgment day…
The terrible heart-rending sounds floated up from the crunching, frosty ground, wrenched whining from these yellow-toothed old instruments with their palsied, crooked limbs.
‘Oh my brethren, oh my sisters, have mercy on my poverty, for the love of Christ, and give alms.’
‘Run on to the square and keep a place, Fedosei Petrovich, or we’ll be late.’
‘There’s going to be an open-air service.’
‘They’re going to pray for victory for the revolutionary people’s army of the Ukraine.’
‘What victory? They’ve already won.’
‘And they’ll win again!’
‘There’s going to be a campaign.’
‘They’ll never make it.’
‘What did you say? Say that again! Hey, lads, listen to what this Russian’s saying!’
‘I didn’t say anything!’
‘Arrest him! Stop, thief!’
‘Run through that gateway, Marusya, otherwise we’ll never get through this crowd. They say Petlyura’s in the square. Let’s go and see him.’
‘You fool, Petlyura’s in the cathedral.’
‘Fool yourself. They say he’s riding on a white horse.’
‘Hurrah for Petlyura! Hurrah for the Ukrainian People’s Republic!’
Bong… bong… bong… tinkle – clang-clang… Bong-clang-bong… raged the bells.
‘Have pity on an orphan, Christian people, good people… A blind man… A poor man…’
Dressed in black, his hindquarters encased in leather like a broken beetle, a legless man wriggled between the legs of the crowd, clutching at the trampled snow with his sleeves to pull himself along. Crippled beggars displayed the sores on their bruised shins, shook their heads as though from tic douloureux or paralysis, rolled the whites of their eyes pretending to be blind. Tearing at the heart-strings of the crowd, reminding them of poverty, deceit, despair, hopelessness and sheer animal misery, creaking and groaning, they howled the refrain of the damned.
Shivering dishevelled old women with crutches thrust out their desiccated, parchment-like hands as they moaned:
‘God give you good health, handsome gentleman!’ ‘Have pity on a poor old woman…’
‘Give to the poor, my dear, and God will be good to you…’
Capes, coats, bonnets with ear-flaps, peasants in sheepskin caps, red- cheeked girls, retired civil servants with a pale mark on their cap where the badge had been removed, elderly women with protruding bellies, nimble- footed children, cossacks in greatcoats and shaggy fur hats with tops of different colors – blue, red, green, magenta with gold and silver piping, with tassels from the fringes of coffin-palls: they poured out on to the cathedral courtyard like a black sea, yet the cathedral doors still gave forth wave upon wave.
Heartened by the fresh air, the procession gathered its forces, rearranged itself, straightened up and glided off in an orderly and proper sequence of heads wearing check scarves, mitres, stovepipe hats, bareheaded deacons with their long flowing hair, skullcapp-ed monks, painted crosses on gilded poles, banners of Christ the Saviour and the Virgin and Child and a host of ikons in curved and wrought covers, gold, magenta, covered in Slavonic script.
Now like a gray snake winding its way through the City, now like brown turbulent rivers flowing along the old streets, the innumerable forces of Petlyura made their way to the parade on St Sophia’s Square. First, shattering the frost with the roaring of trumpets and the clash of glittering cymbals, cutting through the black river of the crowd, marched the tight ranks of the Blue Division.
In blue greatcoats and blue-topped astrakhan caps set at a jaunty angle the Galicians marched past. Slanting forward between bared sabres two blue and yellow standards glided along behind a large brass band and after the standards, rhythmically stamping the crystalline snow, rank on rank of men marched jauntily along dressed in good, sound German cloth. After the first battalion ambled a body of men in long black cloaks belted at the waist with ropes, with German steel helmets on their heads, and the brown thicket of bayonets crept on parade like a bristling swarm.
In uncountable force marched the ragged gray regiments of Cossack riflemen and battalion on battalion of haidamak infantrymen; prancing high in the gaps between them rode the dashing regimental, battalion and company commanders. Bold, brassy, confident marches blared out like nuggets of gold in a bright, flashing stream.
After the infantry detachments came the cavalry regiments riding at a collected trot. The excited crowd was dazzled by rank on rank of crumpled, battered fur caps with blue, green and red tops and gold tassels. Looped on to the riders’ right hands, their lances bobbed rhythmically like rows of needles. Jingling gaily, the bell-hung hetmen’s standards jogged along among the ranks of horsemen and the horses of officers and trumpeters strained forward to the sound of martial music. Fat and jolly as a rubber ball, Colonel Bolbotun pranced ahead of his regiment, his low, sweating forehead and his jubilant, puffed-out cheeks thrusting forward into the frosty air. His chestnut mare, rolling her bloodshot eyes, champing at the bit and scattering flecks of foam, reared now and again on her hind legs, shaking even the 200-pound weight of Bolbotun and making his curved sabre rattle in its scabbard as the colonel lightly touched her nervous flanks with his spurs.
For our headmen are with us, Shoulder to shoulder Alongside as brothers… chorused the bold haidamaks as they trotted along, pigtails jogging.
With their bullet-torn yellow-and-blue standard fluttering and accordions playing, rode the regiment of the dark, moustached Colonel Kozyr-Leshko mounted on a huge charger. The colonel looked grim, scowling and slashing at the rump of his stallion with a whip. The colonel had cause to be angry – in the misty early hours of that morning the rifle-fire from Nai- Turs’ detachment on the Brest-Litovsk highway had hit Kozyr’s best troops hard and as the regiment trotted into the square its ranks had been closed up to conceal the gaps in them.
Behind Kozyr came the brave, hitherto unbeaten ‘Hetman Mazeppa’ regiment of cavalry. The name of the glorious hetman, who had almost destroyed Peter the Great at the battle of Poltava, glittered in gold letters on a sky-blue silk standard.
Streams of people flowed around the gray and yellow walls, people pushed forward and climbed on to advertisement-hoardings, little boys clambered up the lamp-posts and sat on the crossbars, stood on rooftops, whistled and shouted hurrah…
‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’ they shouted from the sidewalks.
Faces crowded behind glassed-in balconies and window-panes.
Cab-drivers climbed unsteadily on to the boxes of the sleighs, waving their whips.
‘They said Petlyura’s troops were just a rabble… Some rabble. Hurrah!’
‘Hurrah! Hurrah for Petlyura! Hurrah for our Leader!’
‘Look, Manya, look! There’s Petlyura himself, look, on the grayhorse.
Isn’t he handsome…’
‘That’s not Petlyura, ma’am, that’s a colonel.’
‘Oh, really? Then where is Petlyura?’
‘Petlyura’s at the palace receiving the French emissaries fromOdessa.’
‘What’s the matter with you, mister, gone crazy? What emissaries?’
‘Pyotr Vasilievich, they say Petlyura (whisper) is in Paris, did you know?’
‘Some rabble… there’s a million men in this army.’
‘Where’s Petlyura? If they’d only give us one look at him.’
‘Petlyura, madam, is on the square at this moment taking the salute as the parade marches past.’
‘Nothing of the sort. Petlyura’s in Berlin at the moment meeting the president to sign a treaty.’
‘What president? Are you trying to spread rumors, mister?’
‘The president of Germany. Didn’t you know? Germany’s been declared a republic.’
‘Did you see him? Did you see him? He looked splendid… He’s just driven down Rylsky Street in a coach and six horses.’
‘But will they recognise the Orthodox Church?’
‘I don’t know. Work it out for yourself…’
‘The fact is that the priests are praying for him, anyway…’
‘He’ll be stronger if he keeps the priests on his side…’
‘Petlyura. Petlyura. Petlyura. Petlyura…’
There was a fearsome rumbling of heavy wheels and rattling limbers and after the ten regiments of cavalry rolled an endless stream of artillery. Blunt-muzzled, fat mortars, small-caliber howitzers; the crews sat on the limbers, cheerful, well-fed, victorious, the drivers riding calmly and sedately. Straining and creaking, the six-inch guns rumbled past, hauled by teams of powerful, well-fed, big-rumped horses and smaller hard-working peasant ponies that looked like pregnant fleas. The light mountain artillery clattered briskly along, the little guns bouncing up and down between their jaunty crews.
‘Who said Petlyura only had fifteen thousand men? It was all a lie. Just a rabble, they said, no more than fifteen thousand and demoralised… God, there are so many I’ve lost count already. Another battery… and another…’
His sharp nose thrust into the upturned collar of his student’s greatcoat, Nikolka was shoved and jostled by the crowd until he finally succeeded in climbing up into a niche in a wall and installed himself. A jolly little peasant woman in felt boots was already in the niche and said cheerfully to Nikolka:
‘You hold on to me, mister, and I’ll hang on to this brick and we’ll be all right.’
‘Thanks,’ Nikolka sniffled dejectedly inside his frozen collar, ‘I’ll hold on to this hook.’
‘Where’s Petlyura?’ the talkative woman babbled on. ‘Oh, I do want to see Petlyura. They say he’s the handsomest man you’ve ever seen.’
‘Yes,’ Nikolka mumbled vaguely into the beaver fur, ‘so they say…’ (‘Another battery… God, now I understand…’)
‘Look, there he goes, driving in that open car… Didn’t you see?’
‘He’s at Vinnitsa’, Nikolka replied in a dry, dull voice, wriggled his freezing toes inside his boots. ‘Why the hell didn’t I put felt boots on? Hellish cold.’
‘Look, look, there’s Petlyura.’
‘That’s not Petlyura, that’s the commander of the bodyguard.’
‘Petlyura has a palace in Belaya Tserkov. Belaya Tserkov will be the capital now.’
‘Won’t he come to the City, then?’
‘He’ll come in his own good time.’
‘I see, I see…’
Clang, clank, clank. The muffled boom of kettledrums rolled across St Sophia’s Square; then down the street, machine-guns thrust menacingly from their gun-ports, swaying slightly from the weight of their turrets, rolled the four terrible armored cars. But the enthusiastic, pink-cheeked Lieutenant Strashkevich was no longer inside the leading car. A dishevelled and far from pink-cheeked Strashkevich, waxy-gray and motionless, was lying in the Mariinsky Park at Pechyorsk, immediately inside the park gates. There was a small hole in Strashkevich’s forehead and another, plugged with clotted blood, behind his ear. The lieutenant’s naked feet stuck out of the snow and his glassy eyes stared straight up into the sky through the bare branches of a maple tree. It was very quiet round about, there was not a living soul in the park and scarcely anyone was to be seen even on the street; the sound of music from St Sophia’s Square did not reach as far as here, so there was nothing to upset the complete calm on the lieutenant’s face.
Hooting and scattering the crowd, the armored cars rolled onward to where Bogdan Khmelnitzky sat and pointed northeastwards with a mace, black against the pale sky. The great bell was still sending thick, oily waves of sound over the snowbound hills and roofs of the City; in the thick of the parade the drums thumped untiringly and little boys, maddened with excitement, swarmed around the hooves of the black Bogdan. Next in the parade was a line of trucks, snow-chains clanking on their wheels, carrying choirs and dancing groups in Ukrainian costume -brightly colored embroidered skirts under sheepskin tunics, plaited straw wreaths on the girls’ heads and the boys in baggy blue trousers tucked into their boot-tops…
At that moment a volley of rifle-fire came from Rylsky Street. Just before it there had been a sudden whirlwind of peasant women screaming in the crowd. There was a shriek and someone started running, then a staccato, breathless, rather hoarse voice shouted:
‘I know those men! Kill them! They’re officers! I’ve seen them in uniform!’
A troop of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, waiting their turn to march into the square, forced their way into the crowd and seized a man. Women screamed. The man who had been seized, Captain Pleshko, cried out weakly and jerkily:
‘I’m not an officer. Nothing of the sort. What are you doing? I’m a bank clerk.’
Beside him another man was arrested, white-faced and silent, who wriggled in the soldiers’ grip.
Then the crowd scattered down the street, jostling each other like animals let out of a sack, running away in terror, leaving an empty space on the street that was completely white except for one black blob – someone’s lost hat. A flash and a bang, and Captain Pleshko, who had thrice denied himself, paid for his curiosity to see the parade. He lay face upward by the fence of the presbytery of St Sophia’s cathedral, spreadeagled, whilst the other, silent man fell across his legs with his face to the ground. Just then came a roll of drums from the corner of the square, the crowd surged back again and the band struck up with a boom and a crash. A confident voice roared: ‘Walk-march!’ Rank upon rank, gold- tasselled caps glittering, the 10th Cavalry Regiment moved off.
Quite suddenly a gray patch between the domes of the cathedral broke open and the sun burst through the dull, overcast sky. The sun was bigger than anyone had ever seen it in the Ukraine and quite red, like pure blood. Streaks of clotted blood and plasma flowed steadily from that distant globe as it struggled to shine through the screen of clouds. The sun reddened the dome of St Sophia with blood, casting a strange shadow from it on to the square, so that in that shadow Bogdan turned violet, and made the seething crowd of people look even blacker, even denser, even more confused. And gray men in long coats belted with rope and waving bayonets could be seen climbing up the steps leading up the side of the rock and trying to smash the inscription that stared down from the black granite plinth. But the bayonets broke or slithered uselessly away from the granite, and Bogdan wrenched his horse away from the rock at a gallop as he tried to fly away from the people who were clinging on to the hooves of his horse and weighing them down. His face, turned directly towards the red globe, was furious and he continued steadfastly to point his mace into the distance.
At that moment a man was raised on to the slippery frozen basin of the fountain, above the rumbling, shifting crowd facing the statue of Bogdan. He was wearing a dark overcoat with a fur collar and despite the frost he took off his fur hat and held it in his hands. The square still hummed and seethed like an ant-heap, but the belfry of St Sophia had stopped ringing and the bands had marched off in various directions down the snowbound streets. An enormous crowd had collected around the base of the fountain:
‘Petka, who’s that up on the fountain?’
‘Looks like Petlyura.’
‘Petlyura’s making a speech.’
‘Rubbish… that’s just an ordinary speaker…’
‘Look, Marusya, the man’s going to make a speech. Look, look…’
‘He’s going to read a proclamation…’
‘No, he’s going to read the Universal.’
‘Long live the free Ukraine!’
With an inspired glance above the thousands of heads towards the point in the sky where the sun’s disc was emerging even more clearly and gilding the crosses with thick red gold, the man waved his arm and shouted in a weak voice:
‘Hurrah for the Ukrainian people!’
‘That’s not Petlyura. What are you talking about?’
‘Why should Petlyura have to climb up on a fountain?’
‘Petlyura’s in Kharkov.’
‘Petlyura’s just gone to the palace for a banquet…’
‘Nonsense, there aren’t going to be any banquets.’
‘Hurrah for the Ukrainian people!’ the man repeated, at which a lock of fair hair flicked up and dangled over his forehead.
The man’s voice grew louder and began to make itself heard clearly above the murmur of the crowd and the crunch of feet on snow, above the retreating clatter of the parade, above the distant beat of drums.
‘Have you seen Petlyura?’
‘Of course I have -just now.’
‘Ah, you’re lucky. What’s he like?’
‘Black moustaches pointing upward like Kaiser Wilhelm, and wearing a helmet. Look, there he is, look, look Maria Fyodorovna, look – riding on a horse…’
‘What d’you mean by spreading rumors like that? That’s the chief of the City fire brigade.’
‘Petlyura’s in Belgium, madame.’
‘Why should he go to Belgium?’
‘To sign a treaty with the Allies…’
‘No, no. He’s gone to the Duma with a mounted escort.’
‘To take the oath…’
‘Will he take an oath?’
‘Why should he take an oath? They are going to swear anoath to him.’
‘Well, I’d rather die, (whisper) I won’t swear…’ ‘No need for you. They won’t touch women.’ ‘They’ll touch the Jews all right, that’s for sure…’ ‘And the officers. They’ll rip their guts out.’
‘And the landlords! Down with ’em!’
With a strange look of agony and determination in his eyes the fair- haired orator pointed at the sun.
‘Citizens, brothers, comrades!’ he began. ‘You heard the cossacks singing “Our leaders are with us, with us like brothers”. Yes, they are with us!’ The speaker thumped his chest with his hat, which was adorned with a huge red ribbon. ‘They are with us. Because our leaders are men of the people, they were born among the people and will die with them. They stood beside us freezing in the snow when we were besieging the City and now they’ve captured it – and the red flag is already flying over our towns and villages here in the Ukraine…’
‘What red flag? What’s he saying? He means yellow and blue.’
‘The Bolsheviks’ flag is red.’
‘He speaks bad Ukrainian, that fellow.’
‘Comrades! You are now faced by a new task-to raise and strengthen the independent Ukrainian republic for the good of the toiling masses, the workers and peasants, because only those who have watered our native soil with their fresh blood and sweat have the right to rule it!’
‘Hear, hear! Hurrah!’
‘Did you hear that? He called us “comrades”. That’s funny…’
‘Therefore, citizens, let us swear an oath now in the joyous hour of the people’s victory.’ The speaker’s eyes began to flash, he stretched his arms towards the sky in mounting excitement and the Ukrainian words in his speech grew fewer and fewer – ‘and let us take an oath that we will not lay down our arms until the red flag – the symbol of liberty – is waving over a world in which the workers have been victorious.’
‘Hurrah! Hurrah!… The “Internationale”…’
‘Shut up, Vasya. Have you gone crazy?’
‘No, I can’t help it, Mikhail Semymovich, I’m going to sing it: “Arise, ye starvelings from your slumbers…” ‘
The black sideburns disappeared into their owner’s thick beaver collar and all that could be seen were his eyes glancing nervously towards his excited companion in the crowd, eyes which were strangely similar to those of the late Lieutenant Shpolyansky who had died on the night of December 14th. His hand in a yellow glove reached out and pulled Shchur’s arm down…
‘All right, all right, I won’t’, muttered Shchur, staring intently at the fair- haired man. The speaker, who was now well into his stride and had gripped the attention of the mass of people nearest to him, was shouting:
‘Long live the Soviets of workers’, peasants’ and cossacks’ deputies. Long live…’
Suddenly the sun went in and a shadow fell on the domes of St Sophia; Bogdan’s face and the speaker’s face were more sharply outlined. His blond lock of hair could be seen bouncing on his forehead.
‘Aaah… aaah…’ murmured the crowd.
‘… the Soviets of workers’, peasants’ and Red Army soldiers’ deputies.
Workers of the world, unite!’
‘What’s that? What? Hurrah!’
A few men’s voices and one high, resonant voice at the back of the crowd began singing ‘The Red Flag’.
Suddenly, in another part of the crowd a whirlpool of noise and movement burst into life.
‘Kill him! Kill him!’ shouted an angry, quavering, tearful man’s voice in Ukrainian ‘Kill him! It’s a put-up job! He’s a Bolshevik! From Moscow! Kill him! You heard what he said…’
A pair of arms shot up into the air. The orator leaned sideways, then his legs, torso and finally his head, still wearing its hat, disappeared.
‘Kill him!’ shouted a thin tenor voice in response to the other. ‘He’s a traitor! Get him, lads!’
‘Stop! Who’s that? Who’s that you’ve got there? Not him – he’s the wrong one!’
The owner of the thin tenor voice lunged toward the fountain, waving his arms as though trying to catch a large, slippery fish. But Shchur, wearing a tanned sheepskin jerkin and fur hat, was swaying around in front of him shouting ‘Kill him!’ Then he suddenly screamed:
‘Hey, stop him! He’s taken my watch!’
At the same moment a woman was kicked, letting out a terrible shriek.
‘Whose watch? Where? Stop thief!’
Someone standing behind the man with the thin voice grabbed him by the belt and held him whilst a large cold palm, weighing a good pound and a half, fetched him a ringing smack across his nose and mouth.
‘Ow!’ screamed the thin voice, turning as pale as death and realising that his fur hat had been knocked off. In that second he felt the violent sting of a second blow on the face and someone shouting:
‘That’s him, the dirty little thief, the son of a bitch! Beat him’
‘Hey!’ whined the thin voice. ‘What are you hitting me for? I’m not the one! You should stop him – that Bolshevik! – Ow!’ he howled.
‘Oh my God, Marusya, let’s get out of here, what’s going on?’ There was a furious, whirling scuffle in the crowd by the fountain, fists flew, someone screamed, people scattered. And the orator had vanished. He had vanished as mysteriously and magically as though the ground had swallowed him up. A man was dragged from the centre of the melee but it turned out to be the wrong one: the traitorous Bolshevik orator had been wearing a black fur hat, and this man’s hat was gray. Within three minutes the scuffle had died down of its own accord as though it had never begun, because a new speaker had been lifted up on to the fountain and people were drifting back from all directions to hear him until, layer by layer around the central core, the crowd had built up again to almost two thousand people.
By the fence in the white, snow-covered side-street, now deserted as the gaping crowd streamed after the departing troops, Shchur could no longer hold in his laughter and collapsed helplessly and noisily on to the sidewalk where he stood,
‘Oh, I can’t help it!’ he roared, clutching his sides. Laughter cascaded out of him, his white teeth glittering. ‘I’ll die laughing! God, when I think how they turned on him – the wrong man! -and beat him up!’
‘Don’t sit around here for too long, Shchur, we can’t take too many risks’, said his companion, the unknown man in the beaver collar who looked the very image of the late, distinguished Lieutenant Shpolyansky, chairman of The Magnetic Triolet.
‘Coming, coming’, groaned Shchur as he rose to his feet.
‘Give me a cigarette, Mikhail Semymovich’, said Shchur’s other companion, a tall man in a black overcoat. He pushed his gray fur hat on to the back of his head and a lock of fair hair fell down over his forehead. He was breathing hard and looked hot, despite the frosty weather.
‘What? Had enough?’ the other man asked kindly as he thrust back the skirt of his overcoat, pulled out a small gold cigarette-case and offered a short, stubby German cigarette. Cupping his hands around the flame, the fair- haired man lit one, and only when he had exhaled the smoke did he say:
Then all three set off rapidly, swung round the corner and vanished.
Two figures in student uniforms turned into the side-street from the square. One short, stocky and neat in gleaming rubber overshoes. The other tall, broad-shouldered, with legs as long as a pair of dividers and a stride of nearly seven feet. Both of them wore their collars turned right up to their peaked caps, and the tall man’s clean-shaven mouth and chin were swathed in a woollen muffler – a wise precaution in the frosty weather. As if at a word of command both figures turned their heads together and looked at the corpse of Captain Pleshko and the other man lying face downward across him, his knees crumpled awkwardly to one side. Without a sound they passed on.
Then, when the two students had turned from Rylsky Street into Zhitomirskaya Street, the tall one turned to the shorter one and said in a husky tenor:
‘Did you see that? Did you see that, I say?’
The shorter man did not reply but shrugged and groaned as though one of his teeth had suddenly started aching.
‘I’ll never forget it as long as I live,’ went on the tall man, striding along, ‘I shall remember that.’
The shorter man followed him in silence.
‘Well, at least they’ve taught us a lesson. Now if I ever meet that swine… the Hetman… again…’ – A hissing sound came from behind the muffler – ‘I’ll…’ The tall man let out a long, complicated and obscene expletive. As they turned into Bolshaya Zhitomirskaya Street their way was barred by a kind of procession making its way towards the main police station in the Old City precinct. To pass into the square the procession only had to go straight ahead, but Vladimirskaya Street, where it crossed Bolshaya Zhitomirskaya, was still blocked by cavalry marching away after the parade, so the procession, like everyone else, was obliged to stop.
It was headed by a horde of little boys, running, leapfrogging and letting out piercing whistles. Next along the trampled snow of the roadway came a man with despairing terror-stricken eyes, no hat, and a torn, unbuttoned fur coat. His face was streaked with blood and tears were streaming from his eyes. From his wide, gaping mouth came a thin, hoarse voice, shouting in an absurd mixture of Russian and Ukrainian:
‘You have no right to do this to me! I’m a famous Ukrainian poet! My name’s Gorbolaz. I’ve published an anthology of Ukrainian poetry. I shall complain to the chairman of the Rada and to the minister. This is an outrage!’
‘Beat him up – the pickpocket!’ came shouts from the sidewalk.
Turning desperately to all sides, the bloodstained man shouted: ‘But I was trying to arrest a Bolshevik agitator…’
‘What? What’s that?’
‘Tried to shoot Petlyura.’
‘Took a shot at Petlyura, the son of a bitch.’
‘But he’s a Ukrainian.’
‘He’s no Ukrainian, the swine’, rumbled a bass voice. ‘He’s a pickpocket.’
‘Phee-eew!’ whistled the little boys contemptuously.
‘What are you doing? What right have you to do this to me?’
‘We’ve caught a Bolshevik agitator. He ought to be shot on the spot.’
Behind the bloodstained man came an excited crowd, amongst them an army fur hat with a gold-braided tassel and the tips of two bayonets. A man with a tightly-belted coat was striding alongside the bloodstained man and occasionally, whenever the victim screamed particularly loudly, mechanically punched him on the neck. Then the wretched prisoner, at the end of his tether, stopped shouting and instead began to sob violently but soundlessly.
The two students stepped back to let the procession go by. When it had passed, the tall one seized the short one by the armand whispered with malicious pleasure:
‘Serve him right. A sight for sore eyes. Well, I can tell you one thing, Karas – you have to hand it to those Bolsheviks. They really know their stuff. What a brilliant piece of work! Did you notice how cleverly they fixed things so that their speaker got clean away? They’re tough and by God, they’re clever. That’s why I admire them – for their brazen impudence, God damn them.’
The shorter man said in a low voice:
‘If I don’t get a drink in a moment I shall pass out.’
‘That’s a thought. Brilliant idea’, the tall man agreed cheerfully. ‘How much do you have on you?’
‘I have a hundred and fifty. Let’s go to Tamara’s bar and get a couple of bottles…’
‘They’ll open up for us.’
The two men turned on to Vladimirskaya Street and walked on until they came to a two-storey house with a sign that read:
Alongside it was another: ‘Tamara’s Castle – Wine Cellars.’ Sidling down the steps to the basement the two men began to tap cautiously on the glass of the double door.
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