Fall of Giants / Chapter 12

Chapter 12


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PART TWO. THE WAR of GIANTS

CHAPTER TWELVE  -  Early to Late August 1914

Katerina was distraught. When the mobilization posters went up all over St. Petersburg she sat in Grigori's room at the boardinghouse weeping, running her fingers distractedly through her long fair hair, and saying: "What am I going to do? What am I going to do?"

It made him long to take her in his arms and kiss her tears away and promise never to leave her side. But he could not make such a promise and anyway, she loved his brother.

Grigori had done his military service and was therefore a reservist, theoretically ready for battle. In fact most of his training had consisted of marching and building roads. Nevertheless he expected to be among the first summoned.

It made him fume with rage. The war was as stupid and pointless as everything else Tsar Nicholas did. There had been a murder in Bosnia, and a month later Russia was at war with Germany! Thousands of working-class men and peasants would be killed on both sides, and nothing would be achieved. It proved, to Grigori and everyone he knew, that the Russian nobility were too stupid to govern.

Even if he survived, the war would ruin his plans. He was saving for another ticket to America. With his wages from the Putilov factory he might do it in two or three years, but on army pay it would take forever. How many more years must he suffer the injustice and brutality of tsarist rule?

He was even more worried about Katerina. What would she do if he had to go to war? She was sharing a room with three other girls at the boardinghouse, and working at the Putilov factory, packing rifle cartridges into cardboard boxes. But she would have to stop work when the baby was born, at least for a while. Without Grigori, how would she support herself and the child? She would be desperate, and he knew what country girls did in St. Petersburg when they were desperate for money. God forbid that she should sell her body on the streets.

However, he was not called up on the first day, or the first week. According to the newspapers, two and a half million reservists had been mobilized on the last day of July, but that was just a story. It was impossible for so many men to be marshaled, issued with uniforms, and put on trains to the front all in one day, or indeed one month. They were called in groups, some sooner, some later.

As the first hot days of August went by, Grigori began to think he might have been left out. It was a tantalizing possibility. The army was one of the worst-managed institutions in a hopelessly disorganized country, and there would probably be thousands of men who were overlooked through sheer incompetence.

Katerina had got into the habit of coming to his room early every morning, while he was making breakfast. It was the highlight of his day. He was always washed and dressed by then, but she appeared wearing the shift she slept in, her hair bewitchingly tousled, yawning. The garment was too small for her, now that she was putting on weight. He calculated that she must be four and a half months pregnant. Her breasts and hips were larger, and there was a small but noticeable bulge in her belly. Her voluptuousness was a delightful torture. Grigori tried not to stare at her body.

One morning she came in while he was scrambling two hen's eggs in a pan over the fire. He no longer made do with porridge for breakfast: his brother's unborn child needed good food to grow strong and healthy. Most days Grigori had something nourishing to share with Katerina: ham, or herrings, or her favorite, sausage.

Katerina was always hungry. She sat at the table, cut a thick slice of black bread from the loaf, and began to eat, too impatient to wait. With her mouth full she said: "When a soldier is killed, who gets his back pay?"

Grigori recalled giving the name and address of his next of kin. "In my case, Lev," he said.

"I wonder if he's in America yet."

"He must be. It doesn't take eight weeks to get there."

"I hope he's found a job."

"You don't need to worry. He'll be all right. Everyone likes him." Grigori suffered a pang of angry resentment at his brother. It should have been Lev here in Russia looking after Katerina and her unborn baby, and worrying about the draft, while Grigori started the new life he had saved and planned for. But Lev had snatched that opportunity. And still Katerina fretted about the man who had abandoned her, not the one who had stayed.

She said: "I'm sure he's doing well in America, but still I wish we'd had a letter from him."

Grigori shaved a heel of hard cheese over the eggs and added salt. He wondered sadly whether they would ever hear from America. Lev had never been sentimental, and he might have decided to shuck off his past, like a lizard crawling out of its old skin. But Grigori did not voice this thought, out of kindness to Katerina, who was still hoping Lev would send for her.

She said: "Do you think you will fight?"

"Not if I can help it. What are we fighting for?"

"For Serbia, they say."

Grigori spooned the eggs onto two plates and sat at the table. "The issue is whether Serbia will be tyrannized by the Austrian emperor or the Russian tsar. I doubt if the Serbs care one way or the other, and I certainly don't." He began to eat.

"For the tsar, then."

"I would fight for you, for Lev, for myself, or for your baby... but for the tsar? No."

Katerina ate her egg rapidly and wiped the plate with a fresh slice of bread. "What names do you like for a boy?"

"My father's name was Sergei, and his father was Tikhon."

"I like Mikhail," she said. "The same as the archangel."

"So do most people. That's why the name is so common."

"Perhaps I should call him Lev. Or even Grigori."

Grigori was touched by this. He would be thrilled to have a nephew named after him. But he did not like to make demands on her. "Lev would be nice," he said.

The factory whistle blew-a sound that could be heard all over the Narva district-and Grigori stood up to go.

"I'll wash the plates," Katerina said. Her job did not begin until seven, an hour later than Grigori's.

She turned her cheek up and Grigori kissed her. It was only a brief kiss, and he did not allow his lips to linger, but all the same he relished the soft smoothness of her skin and the warm, sleepy smell of her neck.

Then he put on his cap and went out.

The summer weather was warm and humid, despite the early hour. Grigori began to perspire as he walked briskly through the streets.

In the two months since Lev had left, Grigori and Katerina had settled into an uneasy friendship. She relied on him, and he looked after her, but it was not what either of them wanted. Grigori wanted love, not friendship. Katerina wanted Lev, not Grigori. But Grigori found a kind of fulfillment in making sure she ate well. It was the only way he had of expressing his love. It could hardly be a long-term arrangement, but right now it was difficult to think long-term. He still planned to escape from Russia and find his way to the promised land of America.

At the factory gate new mobilization posters had been stuck up, and men crowded around, those unable to read begging others to read aloud. Grigori found himself standing next to Isaak, the football captain. They were the same age and had been reservists together. Grigori scanned the notices, looking for the name of their unit.

Today it was there.

He looked again, but there was no mistake: Narva regiment.

He looked down the list of names and found his own.

He had not really believed it could happen. But he had been fooling himself. He was twenty-five, fit and strong, perfect soldier material. Of course he was going to war.

What would happen to Katerina? And her baby?

Isaak cursed aloud. His name was also on the list.

A voice behind them said: "No need to worry."

They turned to see the long, thin shape of Kanin, the amiable supervisor of the casting section, an engineer in his thirties. "No need to worry?" said Grigori skeptically. "Katerina is having Lev's baby and there's no one to look after her. What am I going to do?"

"I've been to see the man in charge of mobilization for this district," Kanin said. "He promised me exemption for any of my workers. Only the troublemakers have to go."

Grigori's heart leaped with hope again. It sounded too good to be true.

Isaak said: "What do we have to do?"

"Just don't go to the barracks. You'll be all right. It's fixed."

Isaak was an aggressive character-no doubt that was why he made such a good sportsman-and he was not satisfied with Kanin's answer. "Fixed how?" he demanded.

"The army gives the police a list of men who fail to show, and the police have to round them up. Your name simply won't be on the list."

Isaak grunted with dissatisfaction. Grigori shared his dislike of such semiofficial arrangements-there was too much room for things to go wrong-but dealing with the government was always like this. Kanin had either bribed an official or performed some other favor. It was pointless to be churlish about it. "That's great," Grigori said to Kanin. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me," Kanin said mildly. "I did it for myself-and for Russia. We need skilled men like you two to make trains, not stop German bullets-an illiterate peasant can do that. The government hasn't worked this out yet, but they will in time, and then they'll thank me."

Grigori and Isaak passed through the gates. "We might as well trust him," Grigori said. "What have we got to lose?" They stood in line to check themselves in by each dropping a numbered metal square into a box. "It's good news," he said.

Isaak was not convinced. "I just wish I could feel surer," he said.

They headed for the wheel shop. Grigori put his worries out of his mind and prepared himself for the day's work. The Putilov plant was making more trains than ever. The army had to assume that locomotives and wagons would be destroyed by shelling, so they would be needing replacements as soon as the fighting started. The pressure was on Grigori's team to produce wheels faster.

He began to roll up his sleeves as he stepped into the wheel shop. It was a small shed, and the furnace made it hot in winter, a baking oven now at the height of summer. Metal screeched and rang as lathes shaped and polished it.

He saw Konstantin standing by his lathe, and his friend's stance made him frown. Konstantin's face telegraphed a warning: something was wrong. Isaak saw it too. Reacting faster than Grigori, he stopped, grabbed Grigori's arm, and said: "What-?"

He did not finish the question.

A figure in a black-and-green uniform stepped from behind the furnace and hit Grigori in the face with a sledgehammer.

He tried to dodge the blow, but his reaction was a moment too slow and, although he ducked, the wooden head of the big hammer struck him high on the cheekbone and knocked him to the ground. An agonizing pain shot through his head and he cried out loud.

It took several moments for his vision to clear. At last he looked up and saw the stout figure of Mikhail Pinsky, the local police captain.

He should have expected this. He had got off too lightly after that fight back in February. Policemen never forgot such things.

He also saw Isaak fighting with Pinsky's sidekick, Ilya Kozlov, and two other cops.

Grigori remained on the ground. He was not going to fight back if he could help it. Let Pinsky take his revenge, then perhaps he would be satisfied.

In the next second he failed to keep that resolution.

Pinsky raised the sledgehammer. In a flash of redundant insight Grigori recognized the tool as his own, used for tapping templates into the molding sand. Then it came down at his head.

He lurched to the right but Pinsky slanted his swing, and the heavy oak tool came down on Grigori's left shoulder. He roared with pain and anger. While Pinsky was recovering his balance, Grigori leaped to his feet. His left arm was limp and useless, but there was nothing amiss with his right, and he drew back his fist to hit Pinsky, regardless of the consequences.

He never struck the blow. Two figures he had not noticed materialized either side of him in black-and-green uniforms, and his arms were grabbed and held firmly. He tried to shake off his captors but failed. Through a mist of rage he saw Pinsky draw back the hammer and strike. The blow hit him in the chest, and he felt ribs crack. The next blow was lower, and pounded his belly. He convulsed and vomited his breakfast. Then another blow struck the side of his head. He blacked out for a moment, and came around to find himself hanging limply in the grip of the two policemen. Isaak was similarly pinned by two others.

"Feeling calmer now?" said Pinsky.

Grigori spat blood. His body was a mass of pain and he could not think straight. What was going on? Pinsky hated him, but something must have happened to trigger this. And it was bold of Pinsky to act right here in the middle of the factory, surrounded by workers who had no reason to like the police. For some reason he must have been feeling sure of himself.

Pinsky hefted the sledgehammer and looked thoughtful, as if considering one more blow. Grigori braced himself and fought the temptation to beg for mercy. Then Pinsky said: "What is your name?"

Grigori tried to speak. At first nothing but blood came out of his mouth. At last he managed to say: "Grigori Sergeivich Peshkov."

Pinsky hit him in the stomach again. Grigori groaned and vomited blood. "Liar," said Pinsky. "What is your name?" He lifted the sledgehammer again.

Konstantin stepped from his lathe and came forward. "Officer, this man is Grigori Peshkov!" he protested. "All of us have known him for years!"

"Don't lie to me," Pinsky said. He lifted the hammer. "Or you'll get a taste of this."

Konstantin's mother, Varya, intervened. "It's no lie, Mikhail Mikhailovich," she said. Her use of the patronymic indicated that she knew Pinsky. "He is who he says he is." She stood with her arms folded over her large bosom as if defying the policeman to doubt her.

"Then explain this," said Pinsky, and he pulled from his pocket a sheet of paper. "Grigori Sergeivich Peshkov left St. Petersburg two months ago aboard the Angel Gabriel."

Kanin, the supervisor, appeared and said: "What's going on here? Why is no one working?"

Pinsky pointed to Grigori. "This man is Lev Peshkov, Grigori's brother-wanted for the murder of a police officer!"

They all began to shout at once. Kanin held up his hand for quiet and said: "Officer, I know Grigori and Lev Peshkov, and have seen both men almost every day for several years. They look alike, as brothers generally do, but I can assure you that this is Grigori. And you are holding up the work of this section."

"If this is Grigori," said Pinsky with the air of one who plays a trump card, "then who left on the Angel Gabriel?"

As soon as he had asked the question, the answer became obvious. After a moment it dawned on Pinsky too, and he looked foolish.

Grigori said: "My passport and ticket were stolen."

Pinsky began to bluster. "Why did you not report this to the police?"

"What was the point? Lev had left the country. You could not bring him back, nor my property."

"That makes you an accomplice in his escape."

Kanin intervened again. "Captain Pinsky, you began by accusing this man of murder. Perhaps that was a good enough reason to stop production in the wheel shop. But you have admitted that you were in error, and now you allege only that he failed to report the theft of some documents. Meanwhile, your country is at war, and you are delaying the manufacture of locomotives desperately needed by the Russian army. Unless you wish your name to be mentioned in our next report to the army high command, I suggest you finish your business here quickly."

Pinsky looked at Grigori. "What reserve unit are you in?"

Without thinking, Grigori replied: "Narva regiment."

"Hah!" said Pinsky. "They were called up today." He looked at Isaak. "You, too, I'll bet."

Isaak said nothing.

"Release them," Pinsky said.

Grigori staggered when they let go of his arms, but he managed to stay upright.

"You'd better make sure you show up at the depot as ordered," Pinsky said to Grigori and Isaak. "Otherwise I'll be after you." He turned on his heel and exited with what little dignity he had left. His men followed him.

Grigori sat down heavily on a stool. He had a blinding headache, a pain in his ribs, and a bruised ache in his belly. He needed to curl up in a corner and pass out. The thought that kept him conscious was a scorching desire to destroy Pinsky and the entire system of which he was part. One of these days, he kept thinking, we will wipe out Pinsky and the tsar and everything they stand for.

Kanin said: "The army won't pursue you two-I've made sure of that-but I'm afraid I can't do anything about the police."

Grigori nodded grimly. It was as he had feared. Pinsky's most savage blow, worse than any he had struck with the sledgehammer, would be to make sure that Grigori and Isaak joined the army.

Kanin said: "I'll be sorry to lose you. You've been a good worker." He seemed genuinely moved, but he was impotent. He paused a moment longer, threw up his hands in a gesture of helplessness, and left the shop.

Varya appeared in front of Grigori with a bowl of water and a clean rag. She washed the blood from his face. She was a bulky woman but her broad hands had a gentle touch. "You should go to the factory barracks," she said. "Find an empty bed and lie down for an hour."

"No," Grigori said. "I'm going home."

Varya shrugged and moved to Isaak, who was not so badly injured.

With an effort, Grigori stood up. The factory spun around him for a while, and Konstantin held his arm when he staggered; but eventually he felt able to stand alone.

Konstantin picked up his cap from the floor and gave it to him.

He felt unsteady when he began to walk, but he waved away offers of support, and after a few steps he regained his normal stride. His head cleared with the effort, but the pain in his ribs forced him to tread carefully. He made his slow way through the maze of benches and lathes, furnaces and presses, to the outside of the building, and then to the factory gate.

There he met Katerina coming in.

"Grigori!" she said. "You've been called up-I saw the poster!" Then she noticed his damaged face. "What happened?"

"An encounter with your favorite police captain."

"That pig Pinsky. You're hurt!"

"The bruises will heal."

"I'll take you home."

Grigori was surprised. This was a switch of roles. Katerina had never before offered to take care of him. "I can make it on my own," he said.

"I'll come with you all the same."

She took his arm and they walked through the narrow streets against the tide of thousands of workers swarming to the factory. Grigori's body hurt and he felt ill, but all the same it was a joy to him to be walking arm in arm with Katerina as the sun rose over the dilapidated houses and the dirty streets.

However, the familiar walk tired him more than he expected, and when at last they got home he sat heavily on the bed and then, after a moment, lay down.

"I've got a bottle of vodka hidden in the girls' room," Katerina said.

"No, thanks, but I'd like some tea."

He did not have a samovar, but she made tea in a saucepan and gave him a cup with a lump of sugar. When he had drunk it he felt a little better. He said: "The worst of it is, I could have avoided the draft-but Pinsky swore he would make sure I didn't."

She sat on the bed beside him and took from her pocket a pamphlet. "One of the girls gave me this."

Grigori glanced at it. It appeared dull and official, like a government publication. Its title was "Aid to Soldiers' Families."

Katerina said: "If you're the wife of a soldier you're entitled to a monthly allowance from the army. It's not just for the poor, everyone gets it."

Grigori vaguely remembered hearing about this. He had not taken much notice, as it did not apply to him.

Katerina went on: "There's more. You get cheap home fuel, cheap railway tickets, and help with children's schooling."

"That's good," Grigori said. He wanted to sleep. "Unusual for the army to be so sensible."

"But you have to be married."

Grigori became more alert. Surely she could not possibly be thinking... "Why are you telling me this?" he said.

"As it is I won't get anything."

Grigori lifted himself on one elbow and looked at her. Suddenly his heart was racing.

She said: "If I was married to a soldier I'd be better off. So would my baby."

"But... you love Lev."

"I know." She began to cry. "But Lev is in America and he doesn't care enough even to write and ask how I am."

"So... what do you want to do?" Grigori knew the answer, but he had to hear it.

"I want to get married," she said.

"Just so that you can get the soldier's wife's allowance."

She nodded, and with that nod she extinguished in him a faint, foolish hope that had flared briefly. "It would mean so much," she said. "To have a little money when the baby comes-especially as you'll be away with the army."

"I understand," he said with a heavy heart.

"Can we get married?" she said. "Please?"

"Yes," he said. "Of course."

{II}

Five couples were married at the same time in the Church of the Blessed Virgin. The priest read the service fast, and Grigori observed with irritation that he did not look anyone in the eye. The man would hardly have noticed if one of the brides had been a gorilla.

Grigori did not much care. Whenever he passed a church, he remembered the priest who had tried to have some kind of sex with eleven-year-old Lev. Grigori's contempt for Christianity had later been reinforced by lectures on atheism at Konstantin's Bolshevik discussion group.

Grigori and Katerina were getting married at short notice, as were the other four couples. All the men were in uniform. Mobilization had caused a rush to matrimony, and the church was struggling to keep up. Grigori hated the uniform as a symbol of servitude.

He had told no one about the marriage. He did not feel it was a reason for celebration. Katerina had made it clear that it was a purely practical measure, a way for her to get an allowance. As such it was a very good idea, and Grigori would be less anxious, when he was away with the army, knowing that she had financial security. All the same he could not help feeling there was something horribly farcical about the wedding.

Katerina was not so shy, and all the girls from the boardinghouse were in the congregation, as well as several workers from the Putilov plant.

Afterward there was a party in the girls' room at the boardinghouse, with beer and vodka and a violinist who played folk tunes they all knew. When people started to get drunk, Grigori slipped out and went to his own room. He took off his boots and lay on the bed in his uniform trousers and shirt. He blew out the candle but he could see by the light from the street. He still ached from Pinsky's beating: his left arm hurt when he tried to use it and his cracked ribs gave him a stabbing pain every time he turned over in bed.

Tomorrow he would be on a train west. The shooting would start any day now. He was scared: only a mad person would feel otherwise. But he was smart and determined and he would try his best to stay alive, which was what he had done ever since his mother died.

He was still awake when Katerina came in. "You left the party early," she complained.

"I didn't want to get drunk."

She pulled up the skirt of her dress.

He was astonished. He stared at her body, outlined by the light from the streetlamps, the long curves of her thighs and the fair curls. He was aroused and confused. "What are you doing?" he said.

"Coming to bed, of course."

"Not here."

She kicked off her shoes. "What are you talking about? We're married."

"Just so that you can collect your allowance."

"Still, you deserve something in return." She lay on the bed and kissed his mouth with the smell of vodka on her breath.

He could not help the desire that rose within him, making him flush with passion and shame. All the same he managed to say a choked: "No."

She took his hand and pulled it to her breast. Against his will he caressed her, gently squeezing the soft flesh, his fingertips finding her nipple through the coarse fabric of her dress. "You see?" she said. "You want to."

The note of triumph angered him. "Of course I want to," he said. "I've loved you since the day I first saw you. But you love Lev."

"Oh, why do you always think about Lev?"

"It's a habit I got into when he was small and vulnerable."

"Well, he's a big man now, and he doesn't care two kopeks for you, or for me. He took your passport, your ticket, and your money, and left us with nothing except his baby."

She was right, Lev had always been selfish. "But you don't love your family because they're kind and considerate. You love them because they're your family."

"Oh, give yourself a treat," she said with irritation. "You're joining the army tomorrow. You don't want to die regretting that you didn't fuck me when you had the chance."

He was powerfully tempted. Even though she was half-drunk, her body was warm and inviting beside him. Was he not entitled to one night of bliss?

She ran her hand up his leg and grasped his stiff penis. "Come on, you've married me, you might as well take what you're entitled to."

And that was the problem, he thought. She did not love him. She was offering herself in payment for what he had done. It was prostitution. He felt insulted to the point of anger, and the fact that he longed to give in only made the feeling worse.

She began to rub his penis up and down. Furious and inflamed, he pushed her away. The shove was rougher than he really intended, and she fell off the bed.

She cried out in surprise and pain.

He had not meant it to happen, but he was too angry to apologize.

For several long moments she lay on the floor, weeping and cursing at the same time. He resisted the temptation to help her. She struggled to her feet, staggering from the vodka. "You pig!" she said. "How can you be so cruel?" She straightened her dress, covering her beautiful legs. "What sort of wedding night is this for a girl-to be kicked out of her husband's bed?"

Grigori was stung by her words, but he lay still and said nothing.

"I never thought you could be so hard-hearted," she raved. "Go to hell! Go to hell!" She picked up her shoes, flung open the door, and stormed out of the room.

Grigori felt utterly miserable. On his last day as a civilian he had quarreled with the woman he adored. If he died in battle now, he would die unhappy. What a rotten world, he thought; what a lousy life.

He went to the door to close it. As he did so, he heard Katerina in the next room, speaking with forced gaiety. "Grigori can't get it up-too drunk!" she said. "Give me some more vodka and let's have another dance!"

He slammed the door and threw himself on the bed.

{III}

Eventually he fell into a troubled sleep. Next morning he woke early. He washed and put on his uniform and ate some bread.

When he put his head around the door of the girls' room he saw them all fast asleep, the floor littered with bottles, the air foul with stale tobacco smoke and spilled beer. He stared for a long minute at Katerina, sleeping with her mouth open. Then he left the house, not knowing if he would ever see her again, telling himself he did not care.

But his spirits lifted with the excitement and confusion of reporting to his regiment, being issued with a gun and ammunition, finding the right train, and meeting his new comrades. He stopped thinking about Katerina and turned his mind to the future.

He boarded a train with Isaak and several hundred other reservists in their new gray-green uniform breeches and tunics. Like the rest of them, he carried a Russian-made Mosin-Nagant rifle, as tall as himself with its long spiked bayonet. The huge bruise that the sledgehammer had left, covering most of one side of his face, made the other men think he was some kind of thug, and they treated him with wary respect. The train steamed out of St. Petersburg and chuffed steadily through fields and forests.

The setting sun was generally ahead and to the right, so they were going southwest, toward Germany. That seemed obvious to Grigori, though when he said it his fellow soldiers were surprised and impressed: most of them did not know in which direction Germany lay.

This was only the second time he had been on a train, and he was reminded vividly of the first. When he was eleven his mother had brought him and little Lev to St. Petersburg. His father had been hanged a few days earlier, and Grigori's young head was full of fear and grief, but like any boy he had been thrilled by the ride: the oiled smell of the mighty locomotive, the huge wheels, the camaraderie of the peasants in the third-class carriage, and the intoxicating speed with which the countryside sped by. Some of that exhilaration came back to him now, and he could not help feeling that he was on an adventure that could be exciting as well as terrible.

This time, however, he was traveling in a cattle truck, as were all but the officers. The wagon contained about forty men: pale-skinned, sly-eyed St. Petersburg factory workers; long-bearded, slow-talking peasants who looked at everything with wondering curiosity; and half a dozen dark-eyed, dark-haired Jews.

One of the Jews sat next to Grigori and introduced himself as David. His father manufactured iron buckets in the backyard of their house, he said, and he went from village to village selling them. There were a lot of Jews in the army, he explained, because they found it more difficult to get exemption from military service.

They were all under the orders of a Sergeant Gavrik, a regular soldier who looked anxious, barked orders, and used a great deal of profanity. He pretended to think all the men were peasants, and called them cowfuckers. He was about Grigori's age, too young to have been in the Japanese war of 1904-1905, and Grigori guessed that underneath the bluster he was scared.

Every few hours the train stopped at a country station and the men got out. Sometimes they were given soup and beer, sometimes just water. In between stops they sat on the floor of the wagon. Gavrik made sure they knew how to clean their rifles and reminded them of the different military ranks and how officers should be addressed. Lieutenants and captains were "Your Honor," but superior officers required a variety of honorifics all the way up to "Most High Radiance" for those who were also aristocrats.

By the second day, Grigori calculated they must be in the territory of Russian Poland.

He asked the sergeant which part of the army they were in. Grigori knew they were the Narva Regiment, but no one had told them how they fitted into the overall picture. Gavrik said: "None of your fucking business. Just go where you're sent and do as you're told." Grigori guessed he did not know the answer.

After a day and a half the train stopped at a town called Ostrolenka. Grigori had never heard of it, but he could see that it was the end of the railway line, and he guessed it must be near the German border. Here hundreds of railway wagons were being unloaded. Men and horses sweated and heaved to maneuver huge guns off the trains. Thousands of troops milled around as bad-tempered officers attempted to muster them in platoons and companies. At the same time tons of supplies had to be transferred to horse-drawn carts: sides of meat, sacks of flour, barrels of beer, crates of bullets, artillery shells in packing cases, and tons of oats for all the horses.

At one point Grigori saw the loathed face of Prince Andrei. He wore a gorgeous uniform-Grigori was not sufficiently familiar with badges and stripes to identify the regiment or rank-and rode on a tall chestnut horse. Behind him walked a corporal carrying a canary in a cage. I could shoot him now, Grigori thought, and avenge my father. It was a stupid idea, of course, but he stroked the trigger of his rifle as the prince and his cage bird disappeared into the crowd.

The weather was hot and dry. That night Grigori slept on the ground with the rest of the men from his wagon. He realized that they constituted a platoon, and would be together for the foreseeable future. The next morning they met their officer, an unnervingly young second lieutenant called Tomchak. He led them out of Ostrolenka on a road that headed northwest.

Lieutenant Tomchak told Grigori they were in 13 Corps, commanded by General Klyuev, which was part of the Second Army under General Samsonov. When Grigori relayed this information to the other men they were spooked, because the number thirteen was unlucky, and Sergeant Gavrik said: "I told you it was none of your business, Peshkov, you cocksucking homo."

They were not far out of town when the metaled road ran out and became a sand track through a forest. The supply carts got stuck, and the drivers soon found out that a single horse could not pull a loaded army wagon through sand. All the horses had to be unhitched and reharnessed two to a cart, and every second wagon had to be abandoned at the roadside.

They marched all day and slept under the stars again. Each night when he went to bed Grigori said to himself: Another day, and I'm still alive to take care of Katerina and the baby.

That evening Tomchak received no orders, so they sat under the trees all the next morning. Grigori was glad: his legs ached from yesterday's march, and his feet hurt in the new boots. The peasants were used to walking all day, and they laughed at the weakness of the city dwellers.

At midday a runner brought orders commanding them to set out at eight A.M., four hours earlier.

There was no provision for supplying the marching men with water, so they had to drink from wells and streams they came across on the way. They soon learned to drink their fill at every opportunity, and keep their standard-issue water bottles topped up. There was no means of cooking, either, and the only food they got was the dry biscuits called hardtack. Every few miles they would be called upon to help pull a wheeled cannon out of a swamp or sandpit.

They marched until sundown and slept under the trees again.

Halfway through the third day they emerged from a wood to see a fine farmhouse set amid fields of ripening oats and wheat. It was a two-story building with a steeply pitched roof. In the yard was a concrete wellhead, and there was a low stone structure that seemed to be a pigsty, except that it was clean. The place looked like the home of a prosperous land captain, or perhaps the younger son of a nobleman. It was locked up and deserted.

A mile farther on, to everyone's astonishment, the road passed through an entire village of such places, all abandoned. The realization began to dawn on Grigori that he had crossed the border into Germany, and these luxurious houses were the homes of German farmers who had fled, with their families and livestock, to escape the oncoming Russian army. But where were the hovels of the poor peasants? What had been done with the filth of the pigs and cows? Why were there no tumbledown wooden cowsheds with patched walls and holes in the roofs?

The soldiers were jubilant. "They're running away from us!" said a peasant. "They're scared of us Russians. We'll take Germany without firing a shot!"

Grigori knew, from Konstantin's discussion group, that the German plan was to conquer France first and then deal with Russia. The Germans were not surrendering, they were choosing the best time to fight. Even so, it would be surprising if they were to give up this prime territory without a struggle.

"What part of Germany is this, Your Honor?" he asked Tomchak.

"They call it East Prussia."

"Is it the wealthiest part of Germany?"

"I don't think so," said the lieutenant. "I see no palaces."

"Are ordinary people in Germany rich enough to live in homes such as these?"

"I suppose they are."

Evidently Tomchak, who looked as if he was barely out of school, did not know much more than Grigori.

Grigori walked on, but he felt demoralized. He had thought himself a well-informed man, but he had had no idea that the Germans lived so well.

It was Isaak who voiced his doubts. "Our army is already having trouble feeding us, even though not a single shot has yet been fired," he said quietly. "How can we possibly fight against people who are so well organized that they keep their pigs in stone houses?"

{IV}

Walter was elated by events in Europe. There was every prospect of a short war and a quick victory for Germany. He could be reunited with Maud by Christmas.

Unless he died, of course. But, if that happened, he would die happy.

He shuddered with joy whenever he remembered the night they had spent together. They had not wasted precious moments sleeping. They had made love three times. The initial, heartbreaking difficulty had in the end only intensified their euphoria. In between lovemaking they had lain side by side, talking and idly caressing one another. It was a conversation unlike any other. Anything Walter could say to himself, he could say to Maud. Never had he felt so close to another person.

Around dawn they had eaten all the fruit in the bowl and all the chocolates in the box. Then, at last, they had had to leave: Maud to sneak back into Fitz's house, pretending to the servants that she had been out for an early walk; Walter to his flat, to change his clothes, pack a bag, and leave his valet instructions to ship the rest of his possessions home to Berlin.

In the cab on the short ride from Knightsbridge to Mayfair they had held hands tightly and said little. Walter had stopped the driver around the corner from Fitz's house. Maud had kissed him once more, her tongue finding his in desperate passion, then she had gone, leaving him wondering if he would ever see her again.

The war had begun well. The German army was storming through Belgium. Farther south the French-led by sentiment rather than strategy-had invaded Lorraine, only to be mown down by German artillery. Now they were in full retreat.

Japan had sided with the French and British allies, which unfortunately freed up Russian soldiers in the far east to be switched to the European battlefield. But the Americans had confirmed their neutrality, to Walter's great relief. How small the world had become, he reflected: Japan was about as far east as you could go, and America as far west. This war encircled the globe.

According to German intelligence, the French had sent a stream of telegrams to St. Petersburg, begging the tsar to attack, in the hope that the Germans might be distracted. And the Russians had moved faster than anyone expected. Their First Army had astonished the world by marching across the German border a mere twelve days after mobilization began. Meanwhile the Second Army invaded farther south, from the railhead at Ostrolenka, on a trajectory that would close the teeth of the pincers near a town called Tannenberg. Both armies were unopposed.

The uncharacteristic German torpor that allowed this to happen soon came to an end. The commander in chief in the region, General Prittwitz, known as der Dicke, the Fat One, was smartly fired by the high command and replaced by the duo of Paul von Hindenburg, summoned out of retirement, and Erich Ludendorff, one of the few senior military men without an aristocratic "von" to his name. At forty-nine, Ludendorff was also among the younger generals. Walter admired him for having risen so high purely on merit, and was pleased to be his intelligence liaison.

On the way from Belgium to Prussia they stopped briefly on Sunday, August 23, in Berlin, where Walter had a few moments with his mother on the station platform. Her sharp nose was reddened by a summer cold. She hugged him hard, shaking with emotion. "You are safe," she said.

"Yes, Mother, I'm safe."

"I'm terribly worried about Zumwald. The Russians are so close!" Zumwald was the von Ulrichs' country estate in the east.

"I'm sure it will be all right."

She was not so easily fobbed off. "I have spoken to the kaiserin." She knew the kaiser's wife well. "Several other ladies have done the same."

"You should not bother the royal family," Walter reproved her. "They already have so many worries."

She sniffed. "We cannot abandon our estates to the Russian army!"

Walter sympathized. He, too, hated the thought of primitive Russian peasants and their barbaric knout-wielding lords overrunning the well-kept pastures and orchards of the von Ulrich inheritance. Those hardworking German farmers, with their muscular wives and scrubbed children and fat cattle, deserved to be protected. Was that not what the war was about? And he planned to take Maud to Zumwald one day, and show the place off to his wife. "Ludendorff is going to stop the Russian advance, Mother," he said. He hoped it was true.

Before she could respond the whistle blew, and Walter kissed her and boarded the train.

Walter felt the sting of personal responsibility for the German reverses on the eastern front. He was one of the intelligence experts who had forecast that the Russians could not attack so soon after ordering mobilization. He was mortified with shame whenever he thought of it. But he suspected he had not been entirely wrong, and the Russians were sending ill-prepared troops forward with inadequate supplies.

This suspicion was reinforced, when he arrived in East Prussia later that Sunday with Ludendorff's entourage, by reports that the Russian First Army, in the north, had halted. They were only a few miles inside German territory, and military logic dictated that they should press forward. What were they waiting for? Walter guessed they were running out of food.

But the southern arm of the pincer was still advancing, and Ludendorff's priority was to stop it.

The following morning, Monday, August 24, Walter brought Ludendorff two priceless reports. Both were Russian wireless messages, intercepted and translated by German intelligence.

The first, sent at five thirty that morning by General Rennenkampf, gave marching orders for the Russian First Army. At last Rennenkampf was on the move again-but instead of turning south to close the pincers by meeting up with the Second Army, he was inexplicably heading west on a line that did not threaten any German forces.

The second message had been sent half an hour later by General Samsonov, the commander of the Russian Second Army. He ordered his 13 and 15 Corps to go after the German XX Corps, which he believed to be in retreat.

"This is astonishing!" said Ludendorff. "How did we get this information?" He looked suspicious, as if Walter might have been deceiving him. Walter had a feeling Ludendorff mistrusted him as a member of the old military aristocracy. "Do we know their codes?" Ludendorff demanded.

"They don't use codes," Walter told him.

"They send orders in clear? For heaven's sake, why?"

"Russian soldiers aren't sufficiently educated to deal with codes," Walter explained. "Our prewar intelligence estimates suggested that there are hardly enough literate men to operate the wireless transmitters."

"Then why don't they use field telephones? A phone call can't be intercepted."

"I think they have probably run out of telephone wire."

Ludendorff had a downturned mouth and a thrusting chin, and he always looked as if he were frowning aggressively. "This couldn't be a trick, could it?"

Walter shook his head. "The idea is inconceivable, sir. The Russians are barely able to organize normal communications. The use of phony wireless signals to deceive the enemy is as far beyond them as flying to the moon."

Ludendorff bent his balding head over the map on the table in front of him. He was a tireless worker, but he was often afflicted by terrible doubts, and Walter guessed he was driven by fear of failure. Ludendorff put his finger on the map. "Samsonov's 13 and 15 Corps form the center of the Russian line," he said. "If they move forward... "

Walter saw immediately what Ludendorff was thinking: the Russians could be drawn into an envelope trap, surrounded on three sides.

Ludendorff said: "On our right we have von François and his I Corps. At our center, Scholtz and the XX Corps, who have fallen back but are not on the run, contrary to what the Russians seem to think. And on our left, but fifty kilometers to the north, we have Mackensen and the XVII Corps. Mackensen is keeping an eye on the northern arm of the Russian pincer, but if those Russians are heading the wrong way perhaps we can ignore them, for the moment, and turn Mackensen south."

"A classic maneuver," Walter said. It was simple, but he himself had not seen it until Ludendorff pointed it out. That, he thought admiringly, was why Ludendorff was the general.

Ludendorff said: "But it will work only if Rennenkampf and the Russian First Army continue in the wrong direction."

"You saw the intercept, sir. The Russian orders have gone out."

"Let's hope Rennenkampf doesn't change his mind."

{V}

Grigori's battalion had no food, but a wagonload of spades had arrived, so they dug a trench. The men dug in shifts, relieving one another after half an hour, so it did not take long. The result was not very neat, but it would serve.

Earlier that day, Grigori and Isaak and their comrades had overrun a deserted German position, and Grigori had noticed that their trenches had a kind of zigzag at regular intervals, so that you could not see very far along. Lieutenant Tomchak said the zigzag was called a traverse, but he did not know what it was for. He did not order his men to copy the German design. But Grigori felt sure it must have a purpose.

Grigori had not yet fired his rifle. He had heard shooting, rifles and machine guns and artillery, and his unit had taken a good deal of German territory, but so far he had shot at no one, and no one had shot at him. Everywhere 13 Corps went, they found that the Germans had just left.

There was no logic to this. Everything in war was confusion, he was realizing. No one was quite sure where they were or where the enemy was. Two men from Grigori's platoon had been killed, but not by Germans: one had accidentally shot himself in the thigh with his own rifle and bled to death astonishingly quickly, and the other had been trampled by a runaway horse and never recovered consciousness.

They had not seen a cook wagon for days. They had finished their emergency rations, and even the hardtack had run out. None of them had eaten since yesterday morning. After digging the trench, they slept hungry. Fortunately it was summer, so at least they were not cold.

The shooting began at dawn the next day.

It started some distance away to Grigori's left, but he could see clouds of shrapnel burst in the air, and loose earth erupt suddenly where shells landed. He knew he ought to be scared, but he was not. He was hungry, thirsty, tired, aching, and bored, but he was not frightened. He wondered if the Germans felt the same.

There was heavy gunfire on his right, too, some miles to the north, but here it was quiet. "Like the eye of the storm," said David, the Jewish bucket salesman.

Soon enough, orders came to advance. Wearily, they climbed out of their trench and walked forward. "I suppose we should be grateful," Grigori said.

"For what?" Isaak demanded.

"Marching is better than fighting. We've got blisters, but we're alive."

In the afternoon they approached a town that Lieutenant Tomchak said was called Allenstein. They assembled in marching order on the outskirts, and entered the center in formation.

To their surprise, Allenstein was full of well-dressed German citizens going about their normal Thursday afternoon business, posting letters and buying groceries and walking babies in perambulators. Grigori's unit halted in a small park where the men sat in the shade of tall trees. Tomchak went into a nearby barbershop and came out shaved and with his hair cut. Isaak went to buy vodka, but returned saying the army had posted sentries outside all the wine shops with orders to keep soldiers out.

At last a horse and cart appeared with a barrel of fresh water. The men lined up to fill their canteens. As the afternoon cooled into evening, more carts arrived with loaves of bread, bought or requisitioned from the town's bakers. Night fell, and they slept under the trees.

At dawn there was no breakfast. Leaving a battalion behind to hold the town, Grigori and the rest of 13 Corps were marched out of Allenstein, heading southwest on the road to Tannenberg.

Although they had seen no action, Grigori noticed a change of mood among the officers. They cantered up and down the line and conferred in fretful huddles. Voices were raised in argument, with a major pointing one way and a captain gesturing in the opposite direction. Grigori continued to hear heavy artillery to the north and south, though it seemed to be moving eastward while 13 Corps went west. "Whose artillery is that?" said Sergeant Gavrik. "Ours or theirs? And why is it moving east when we're going west?" The fact that he used no profanity suggested to Grigori that he was seriously worried.

A few kilometers out of Allenstein, a battalion was left to guard the rear, which surprised Grigori, since he assumed the enemy was ahead, not behind. The 13 Corps was being stretched thin, he thought with a frown.

Around the middle of the day, his battalion was detached from the main march. While their comrades continued southwest, they were directed southeast, on a broad path through a forest.

There, at last, Grigori encountered the enemy.

They stopped for a rest by a stream, and the men filled their bottles. Grigori walked off into the trees to answer a call of nature. He was standing behind a thick pine trunk when he heard a noise off to his left and was astonished to see, a few meters away, a German officer, complete with spiked helmet, on a fine black horse. The German was looking through a telescope toward the place where the battalion had stopped. Grigori wondered what he was looking at: the man could not see far through the trees. Perhaps he was trying to make out whether the uniforms were Russian or German. He sat as motionless as a monument in a St. Petersburg square, but his horse was not so still, and it shifted and repeated the noise that had alerted Grigori.

Grigori carefully buttoned his trousers, picked up his rifle, and backed away, keeping the tree between himself and the German.

Suddenly the man moved. Grigori suffered a moment of fear, thinking he had been seen; but the German expertly turned his horse and headed west, breaking into a trot.

Grigori ran back to Sergeant Gavrik. "I saw a German!" he said.

"Where?"

Grigori pointed. "Over there-I was taking a leak."

"Are you sure it was a German?"

"He had a spiked helmet."

"What was he doing?"

"Sitting on his horse, looking at us through a telescope."

"A scout!" said Gavrik. "Did you shoot at him?"

Only then did Grigori remember that he was supposed to kill German soldiers, not run away from them. "I thought I should tell you," he said feebly.

"You great fairy, why do you think we gave you a fucking gun?" Gavrik yelled.

Grigori looked at the loaded rifle in his hand, with its vicious-looking bayonet. Of course he should have fired it. What was he thinking? "I'm sorry," he said.

"Now that you've let him get away, the enemy know where we are!"

Grigori was humiliated. This situation had never been mentioned during his time as a reservist, but he should have been able to work it out himself.

"Which way did he go?" Gavrik demanded.

At least Grigori could answer that. "West."

Gavrik turned and walked quickly to Lieutenant Tomchak, who was leaning against a tree, smoking. A moment later Tomchak threw down his cigarette and ran to Major Bobrov, a handsome older officer with flowing silver hair.

After that everything happened quickly. They had no artillery, but the machine-gun section unloaded its weapons. The six hundred men of the battalion were spread out in a ragged north-south line a thousand yards long. A few men were chosen to go ahead. Then the rest moved slowly west, toward the afternoon sun slanting through the leaves.

Minutes later the first shell landed. It made a screaming noise in the air, then crashed through the forest canopy, and finally hit the ground some distance behind Grigori and exploded with a deep bang that shook the ground.

"That scout gave them the range," said Tomchak. "They're firing at where we were. Good thing we moved."

But the Germans were logical, too, and they appeared to discover their mistake, for the next shell landed slightly in front of the advancing Russian line.

The men around Grigori became jumpy. They looked around them constantly, held their rifles at the ready, and cursed one another at the least provocation. David kept looking up as if he might be able to see a shell coming and dodge it. Isaak wore an aggressive expression, as he did on the soccer pitch when the other side started to play dirty. The knowledge that someone was trying his best to kill you was overwhelmingly oppressive, Grigori found. He felt as if he had received dreadfully bad news but could not quite remember what it was. He had a foolish fantasy of digging a hole in the ground and hiding in it.

He wondered what the gunners could see. Was there an observer stationed on a hill, raking the woods with powerful German binoculars? You couldn't see one man in a forest, but perhaps you could see six hundred moving through the trees in a group.

Someone had decided the range was right, for in the next few seconds several shells landed, some of them dead on target. To both sides of Grigori there were deafening bangs, fountains of earth gushed up, men screamed, and parts of bodies flew through the air. Grigori shook with terror. There was nothing you could do, no way to protect yourself: either the shell got you or it missed. He quickened his pace, as if moving faster might help. The other men must have had the same thought because, without an order, they all broke into a jog-trot.

Grigori gripped his rifle with sweaty hands and tried not to panic. More shells fell, behind him and in front, to left and right. He ran faster.

The artillery fire became so heavy that he could no longer distinguish individual shells: there was just one continuous noise like a hundred express trains. Then the battalion seemed to get inside the gunners' range, for the shells began to land behind them. Soon the shelling petered out. A few moments later, Grigori realized why. Ahead of him a machine gun opened up, and he knew with a sickening feeling of dread that he was close to the enemy line.

Machine-gun rounds sprayed the forest, tearing up the foliage and splintering the pines. Grigori heard a scream beside him and saw Tomchak fall. Kneeling beside the lieutenant, he saw blood on his face and on the breast of his tunic. With horror, he saw that one eye had been destroyed. Tomchak tried to move, then screamed in pain. Grigori said: "What do I do? What do I do?" He could have bandaged a flesh wound, but how could he help a man who had been shot through the eye?

He felt a blow to his head and looked up to see Gavrik run past him, shouting: "Keep moving, Peshkov, you stupid cunt!"

He stared at Tomchak a moment longer. It seemed to him the officer was no longer breathing. He could not be sure, but all the same he stood up and ran forward.

The firing intensified. Grigori's fear turned to anger. The enemy's bullets produced a feeling of outrage. In the back of his mind he knew it was irrational, but he could not help it. Suddenly he wanted to kill those bastards. A couple of hundred yards ahead, across a clearing, he saw gray uniforms and spiked helmets. He dropped to one knee behind a tree, peeped around the trunk, raised his rifle, sighted on a German, and for the first time pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened, and he remembered the safety catch.

It was not possible to release the catch on a Mosin-Nagant while it was shouldered. He lowered the gun, sat on the ground behind the tree, and cradled the stock in the crook of his elbow, then turned the large knurled knob that unlocked the bolt.

He looked about him. His comrades had stopped running and taken cover as he had. Some were firing, some reloading, some writhing in the agony of wounds, some lying in the stillness of death.

Grigori peered around the trunk, shouldered his weapon, and squinted along the barrel. He saw a rifle poking out of a bush and a spiked helmet above it. His heart was filled with hatred, and he pulled the trigger five times fast. The rifle he was aiming at was hastily withdrawn, but did not fall, and Grigori guessed he had missed. He felt disappointed and frustrated.

The Mosin-Nagant held only five rounds. He opened his ammunition pack and reloaded. Now he wanted to kill Germans as fast as he could.

Looking around the tree again, he spotted a German running across a gap in the woods. He emptied his magazine, but the man kept running and disappeared behind a clump of saplings.

It was no good just shooting, Grigori decided. Hitting the enemy was difficult-much more difficult in a real fight than in the small amount of target practise he had had in training. He would have to try harder.

As he was reloading again, he heard a machine gun open up, and the vegetation around him was sprayed. He pressed his back against the tree and drew in his legs, making himself a smaller target. His hearing told him the gun must be a couple of hundred yards to his left.

When it paused he heard Gavrik shout: "Target that machine gun, you dumb pricks! Shoot them while they're reloading!" Grigori poked his head out and looked for the nest. He spotted the tripod standing between two large trees. He aimed his rifle, then paused. No good just shooting, he reminded himself. He breathed evenly, steadied the heavy barrel, and got a pointed helmet in his sight. He lowered the barrel slightly so that he could see the man's chest. The uniform tunic was open at the neck: the man was hot from his exertions.

Grigori pulled the trigger.

He missed. The German appeared not to have noticed the shot. Grigori had no idea where the bullet might have gone.

He fired again, emptying the magazine to no effect. It was maddening. Those pigs were trying to kill him and he was incapable of hitting even one of them. Perhaps he was too far away. Or perhaps he was just a lousy shot.

The machine gun opened up again, and everyone froze.

Major Bobrov appeared, crawling on hands and knees across the forest floor. "You men!" he yelled. "On my command, rush that machine gun!"

You must be mad, Grigori thought. Well, I'm not.

Sergeant Gavrik repeated the order. "Prepare to rush the machine-gun nest! Wait for the command!"

Bobrov stood upright and ran, crouching, along the line. Grigori heard him shout the same order a bit farther away. You're wasting your breath, Grigori thought. Do you imagine we're all suicidal?

The machine gun's chatter stopped, and the major stood up, exposing himself recklessly. He had lost his hat, and his silver hair made a highly visible target. "Go!" he screamed.

Gavrik repeated the order. "Go, go, go!"

Bobrov and Gavrik both led by example, running through the trees toward the machine-gun nest. Suddenly Grigori found himself doing the same, crashing through bushes and jumping over deadfalls, running in a half crouch, trying not to drop his unwieldy rifle. The machine gun remained silent but the Germans fired with everything else they had, and the effect of dozens of rifles shooting at the same time seemed almost as bad, but Grigori ran on as if it were the only thing he could do. He could see the machine-gun team desperately reloading, their hands fumbling the magazine, their faces white with fear. Some of the Russians were firing, but Grigori did not have that much presence of mind-he just ran. He was still some distance from the machine gun when he saw three Germans hiding behind a bush. They looked terribly young, and stared at him with frightened faces. He charged them with his bayoneted rifle held in front of him like a medieval lance. He heard someone screaming and realized it was himself. The three young soldiers ran away.

He went after them, but he was weak from hunger, and they easily outran him. After a hundred yards he stopped, exhausted. All around him the Germans were fleeing and the Russians giving chase. The machine-gun crew had abandoned their weapon. Grigori supposed he should be shooting, but for the moment he did not have the energy to raise his rifle.

Major Bobrov reappeared, running along the Russian line. "Forward!" he shouted. "Don't let them get away-kill them all, or they'll come back to shoot you another day! Go!"

Wearily, Grigori started to run. Then the picture changed. There was a commotion to his left: firing, shouting, cursing. Suddenly Russian soldiers appeared from that direction, running for their lives. Bobrov, standing next to Grigori, said: "What the hell?"

Grigori realized they were being attacked from the side.

Bobrov shouted: "Stand firm! Take cover and shoot!"

No one was listening. The newcomers poured through the woods in a panic, and Grigori's comrades began to join the stampede, turning right and running northward.

"Hold position, you men!" Bobrov yelled. He drew his pistol. "Hold position, I say!" He aimed at the crowd of Russian troops streaming past him. "I warn you, I will shoot deserters!" There was a crack, and blood stained his hair. He fell down. Grigori did not know whether he had been felled by a stray German bullet or one from his own side.

Grigori turned and ran with the rest.

There was firing on all sides now. Grigori did not know who was shooting whom. The Russians spread out through the woods, and gradually he seemed to be leaving the noise of battle behind. He kept running as long as he could, then at last collapsed on a carpet of leaves, unable to move. He lay there for a long time, feeling paralyzed. He still had his rifle, which surprised him: he did not know why he had not dropped it.

Eventually he rose sluggishly to his feet. For some time his right ear had been painful. He touched it, and cried out in pain. His fingers came away sticky with blood. Gingerly, he felt his ear again. To his horror he found that most of it had gone. He had been wounded without knowing it. At some point a bullet had taken away the top half of his ear.

He checked his rifle. The magazine was empty. He reloaded, though he was not sure why: he seemed incapable of hitting anyone. He set the safety knob.

The Russians had been caught in an ambush, he guessed. They had been lured forward until they were surrounded, then the Germans had closed the trap.

What should he do? There was no one in sight, so he could not ask an officer for orders. But he could not stay where he was. The corps was in retreat, that was certain, so he supposed he should head back. If there was any of the Russian force left, it was presumably to the east.

He turned so that the setting sun was at his back, and began to walk. He moved as quietly as he could through the forest, not knowing where the Germans might be. He wondered if the entire Second Army had been defeated and fled. He could starve to death in the forest.

After an hour he stopped to drink from a stream. He considered bathing his wound, and decided it might be best to leave it alone. When he had drunk his fill he rested, squatting on the ground, eyes closed. Soon it would be dark. Fortunately the weather was dry, and he could sleep on the ground.

He was in a half doze when he heard a noise. Looking up, he was shocked to see a German officer on horseback moving slowly through the trees ten yards away. The man had passed without noticing Grigori crouching by the stream.

Stealthily, Grigori picked up his rifle and turned the safety knob. Kneeling, he shouldered it and took careful aim at the middle of the German's back. The man was now fifteen yards away, point-blank range for a rifle.

At the last moment the German was alerted by a sixth sense, and he turned in the saddle.

Grigori squeezed the trigger.

The bang was deafening in the quiet of the forest. The horse leaped forward. The officer fell sideways and hit the ground, but one foot remained caught in a stirrup. The horse dragged him through the undergrowth for a hundred yards, then slowed down and stopped.

Grigori listened carefully in case the sound of the shot had attracted anyone else. He heard nothing but a mild evening breeze riffling the leaves.

He walked toward the horse. As he got closer he shouldered his rifle and pointed it at the officer, but his caution was unnecessary. The man lay still, face upward, his eyes wide open, his pointed helmet lying beside him. He had cropped blond hair and rather beautiful green eyes. It might have been the man Grigori had seen earlier: he could not be sure. Lev would have known-he would have remembered the horse.

Grigori opened the saddlebags. One contained maps and a telescope. The other held a sausage and a hunk of black bread. Grigori was starving. He bit off a piece of the sausage. It was strongly flavored with pepper, herbs, and garlic. The pepper made his cheeks hot and sweaty. He chewed rapidly, swallowed, then stuffed some of the bread into his mouth. The food was so good he could have wept. He stood there, leaning against the side of the big horse, eating as fast as he could, while the man he had killed stared up at him with dead green eyes.

{VI}

Walter said to Ludendorff: "We estimate thirty thousand Russian dead, General." He was trying not to show his elation too obviously, but the German victory was overwhelming, and he could not get the smile off his face.

Ludendorff was coolly controlled. "Prisoners?"

"At the latest count about ninety-two thousand, sir."

It was an amazing statistic, but Ludendorff took it in his stride. "Any generals?"

"General Samsonov shot himself. We have his body. Martos, commander of the Russian 15 Corps, has been taken prisoner. We have captured five hundred artillery guns."

"In summary," said Ludendorff, at last looking up from his field desk, "the Russian Second Army has been wiped out. It no longer exists."

Walter could not help grinning. "Yes, sir."

Ludendorff did not return the smile. He waved the sheet of paper he had been studying. "Which makes this news all the more ironic."

"Sir?"

"They're sending us reinforcements."

Walter was astounded. "What? I beg your pardon, General-reinforcements?"

"I am as surprised as you. Three corps and a cavalry division."

"From where?"

"From France-where we need every last man if the Schlieffen Plan is to work."

Walter recalled that Ludendorff had worked on the details of the Schlieffen Plan, with his customary energy and meticulousness, and he knew what was needed in France, down to the last man, horse, and bullet. "But what has brought this about?" Walter said.

"I don't know, but I can guess." Ludendorff's tone became bitter. "It's political. Princesses and countesses in Berlin have been crying and sobbing to the kaiserin about their family estates being overrun by the Russians. The high command has bowed under the pressure."

Walter felt himself blush. His own mother was one of those who had pestered the kaiserin. For women to become worried and beg for protection was understandable, but for the army to give in to their pleas, and risk derailing the entire war strategy, was unforgivable. "Isn't this exactly what the Allies want?" he said indignantly. "The French persuaded the Russians to invade with a half-ready army, in the hope that we would panic and rush reinforcements to the eastern front, thereby weakening our army in France!"

"Exactly. The French are on the run-outnumbered, outgunned, defeated. Their only hope was that we might be distracted. And their wish has been granted."

"So," said Walter despairingly, "despite our great victory in the east, the Russians have achieved the strategic advantage their allies needed in the west!"

"Yes," said Ludendorff. "Exactly."


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