Fall of Giants / Chapter 27

Chapter 27


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CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN  -  June to September 1917

Walter Ulrich climbed out of the trench and, taking his life in his hands, began to walk across no-man's-land.

New grass and wildflowers were growing in the shell holes. It was a mild summer evening in a region that had once been Poland, then Russia, and was now partly occupied by German troops. Walter wore a nondescript coat over a corporal's uniform. He had dirtied his face and hands for authenticity. He wore a white cap, like a flag of truce, and carried on his shoulder a cardboard box.

He told himself there was no point being scared.

The Russian positions were dimly visible in the twilight. There had been no firing for weeks, and Walter thought his approach would be regarded with more curiosity than suspicion.

If he was wrong, he was dead.

The Russians were preparing an offensive. German reconnaissance aircraft and scouts reported fresh troops being deployed to the front lines and truckloads of ammunition being unloaded. This had been confirmed by starving Russian soldiers who had crossed the lines and surrendered in the hope of getting a meal from their German captors.

The evidence of the approaching offensive had come as a big disappointment to Walter. He had hoped that the new Russian government would be unable to fight on. In Petrograd, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were vociferously calling for peace, and pouring out a flood of newspapers and pamphlets-paid for with German money.

The Russian people did not want war. An announcement by Pavel Miliukov, the monocled foreign minister, that Russia was still aiming for "decisive victory" had brought enraged workers and soldiers out onto the streets again. The theatrical young war minister, Kerensky, who was responsible for the expected new offensive, had reinstated flogging in the army and restored the authority of officers. But would the Russian soldiers fight? That was what the Germans needed to know and Walter was risking his life to find out.

The signs were mixed. In some sections of the front, Russian soldiers had hoisted white flags and unilaterally declared an armistice. Other sections seemed quiet and disciplined. It was one such area that Walter had decided to visit.

He had at last got away from Berlin. Probably Monika von der Helbard had told her parents bluntly that there was not going to be a wedding. Anyway, Walter was on the front line again, gathering intelligence.

He shifted the box to the other shoulder. Now he could see half a dozen heads sticking up over the edge of a trench. They wore caps-Russian soldiers did not have helmets. They stared at him but did not point their weapons, yet.

He felt fatalistic about death. He thought he could die happy after his joyous night in Stockholm with Maud. Of course, he would prefer to live. He wanted to make a home with Maud and have children. And he hoped to do so in a prosperous, democratic Germany. But that meant winning the war, which in turn meant risking his life, so he had no choice.

All the same his stomach felt watery as he got within rifle range. It was so easy for a soldier to aim his gun and pull the trigger. That was what they were here for, after all.

He carried no rifle, and he hoped they had noticed that. He did have a nine-millimeter Luger stuffed into his belt at the back, but they could not see it. What they could see was the box he was carrying. He hoped it looked harmless.

He felt grateful for every step he survived, but conscious that each took him farther into danger. Any second now, he thought philosophically. He wondered whether a man heard the shot that killed him. What Walter feared most was being wounded and bleeding slowly to death, or succumbing to infection in a filthy field hospital.

He could now see the faces of the Russians, and he read amusement, astonishment, and lively wonderment in their expressions. He looked anxiously for signs of fear: that was the greatest danger. A scared soldier might shoot just to break the tension.

At last he had ten yards to go, then nine, eight... He came to the lip of the trench. "Hello, comrades," he said in Russian. He put down the box.

He held out his hand to the nearest soldier. Automatically, the man reached out and helped him jump into the trench. A small group gathered around him.

"I have come to ask you a question," he said.

Most educated Russians spoke some German, but the troops were peasants, and few understood any language other than their own. As a boy Walter had learned Russian as part of his preparation, rigidly enforced by his father, for a career in the army and the foreign ministry. He had never used his Russian much, but he thought he could remember enough for this mission.

"First a drink," he said. He brought the box into the trench, ripped open the top, and took out a bottle of schnapps. He pulled the cork, took a swig, wiped his mouth, and gave the bottle to the nearest soldier, a tall corporal of eighteen or nineteen. The man grinned, drank, and passed the bottle on.

Walter covertly studied his surroundings. The trench was poorly constructed. The walls slanted, and were not braced by timber. The floor was irregular and had no duckboards, so even now in summer it was muddy. The trench did not even follow a straight line-although that was probably a good thing, as there were no traverses to contain the blast of an artillery hit. There was a foul smell: obviously the men did not always bother to walk to the latrine. What was wrong with these Russians? Everything they did was slapdash, disorganized, and half-finished.

While the bottle was going around, a sergeant appeared. "What's going on, Feodor Igorovich?" he said, addressing the tall corporal. "Why are you talking to a cowfucking German?"

Feodor was young, but his mustache was luxuriant and curled across his cheeks. For some reason he had a nautical cap, which he wore at a jaunty angle. His air of self-confidence bordered on arrogance. "Have a drink, Sergeant Gavrik."

The sergeant drank from the bottle like the rest, but he was not as nonchalant as his men. He gave Walter a mistrustful look. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

Walter had rehearsed what he would say. "On behalf of German workers, soldiers, and peasants, I come to ask why you are fighting us."

After a moment of surprised silence, Feodor said: "Why are you fighting us?"

Walter had his answer ready. "We have no choice. Our country is still ruled by the kaiser-we have not yet made our revolution. But you have. The tsar is gone, and Russia is now ruled by its people. So I have come to ask the people: Why are you fighting us?"

Feodor looked at Gavrik and said: "It's the question we keep asking ourselves!"

Gavrik shrugged. Walter guessed he was a traditionalist who was carefully keeping his opinions to himself.

Several more men came along the trench and joined the group. Walter opened another bottle. He looked around the circle of thin, ragged, dirty men who were rapidly getting drunk. "What do Russians want?"

Several men answered.

"Land."

"Peace."

"Freedom."

"More booze!"

Walter took another bottle from the box. What they really needed, he thought, was soap, good food, and new boots.

Feodor said: "I want to go home to my village. They're dividing up the prince's land, and I need to make sure my family gets its fair share."

Walter asked: "Do you support a political party?"

A soldier said: "The Bolsheviks!" The others cheered.

Walter was pleased. "Are you party members?"

They shook their heads.

Feodor said: "I used to support the Socialist Revolutionaries, but they have let us down." Others nodded agreement. "Kerensky has brought back flogging," Feodor added.

"And he has ordered a summer offensive," Walter said. He could see, in front of his eyes, a stack of ammunition boxes, but he did not refer to them, for fear of calling the Russians' attention to the obvious possibility that he was a spy. "We can see from our aircraft," he added.

Feodor said to Gavrik: "Why do we need to attack? We can make peace just as well from where we are now!" There was a mutter of agreement.

Walter said: "So what will you do if the order to advance is given?"

Feodor said: "There will have to be a meeting of the soldiers' committee to discuss it."

"Don't talk shit," said Gavrik. "Soldiers' committees are no longer allowed to debate orders."

There was a rumble of discontent, and someone at the edge of the circle muttered: "We'll see about that, comrade Sergeant."

The crowd continued to grow. Perhaps Russians could smell booze at a distance. Walter handed out two more bottles. By way of explanation to the new arrivals, he said: "German people want peace just as much as you. If you don't attack us, we won't attack you."

"I'll drink to that!" said one of the newcomers, and there was a ragged cheer.

Walter feared the noise would attract the attention of an officer, and wondered how he could get the Russians to keep their voices down despite the schnapps; but he was already too late. A loud, authoritative voice said: "What's going on here? What are you men up to?" The crowd parted to give passage to a big man in the uniform of a major. He looked at Walter and said: "Who the hell are you?"

Walter's heart sank. It was undoubtedly the officer's duty to take him prisoner. German intelligence knew how the Russians treated their POWs. Being captured by them was a sentence of lingering death by starvation and cold.

He forced a smile and offered the last unopened bottle. "Have a drink, Major."

The officer ignored him and turned to Gavrik. "What do you think you're doing?"

Gavrik was not intimidated. "The men have had no dinner today, Major, so I couldn't make them refuse a drink."

"You should have taken him prisoner!"

Feodor said: "We can't take him prisoner, now that we've drunk his booze." He was slurring already. "It wouldn't be fair!" he finished, and the others cheered.

The major said to Walter: "You're a spy, and I ought to blow your damned head off." He touched the holstered gun at his belt.

The soldiers shouted protests. The major continued to look angry, but he said no more, clearly not wanting a clash with the men.

Walter said to them: "I'd better leave you. Your major is a bit unfriendly. Besides, we have a brothel just behind our front line, and there's a blond girl with big tits who may be feeling a bit lonely... "

They laughed and cheered. It was half-true: there was a brothel, but Walter had never visited it.

"Remember," he said. "We won't fight if you don't!"

He scrambled out of the trench. This was the moment of greatest danger. He got to his feet, walked a few paces, turned, waved, and walked on. They had satisfied their curiosity and all the schnapps was gone. Now they might just take it into their heads to do their duty and shoot the enemy. He felt as if his coat had a target printed on the back.

Darkness was falling. Soon he would be out of sight. He was only a few yards from safety. It took all his willpower not to break into a sprint-but he felt that might provoke a shot. Gritting his teeth, he walked with even strides through the litter of unexploded shells.

He glanced back. He could not see the trench. That meant they could not see him. He was safe.

He breathed easier and walked on. It had been worth the risk. He had learned a lot. Although this section was showing no white flags, the Russians were in poor shape for battle. Clearly the men were discontented and rebellious, and the officers had only a weak hold on discipline. The sergeant had been careful not to cross them and the major had not dared to take Walter prisoner. In that frame of mind it was impossible for soldiers to put up a brave fight.

He came within sight of the German line. He shouted his name and a prearranged password. He dropped down into the trench. A lieutenant saluted him. "Successful sortie, sir?"

"Yes, thanks," said Walter. "Very successful indeed."

{II}

Katerina lay on the bed in Grigori's old room, wearing only a thin shift. The window was open, letting in the warm July air and the thunder of the trains that passed a few steps away. She was six months pregnant.

Grigori ran a finger along the outline of her body, from her shoulder, over one swollen breast, down again to her ribs, up over the gentle hill of her belly, and down her thigh. Before Katerina he had never known this easygoing joy. His youthful relations with women had been hasty and short-lived. To him it was a new and thrilling experience to lie beside a woman after sex, touching her body gently and lovingly but without urgency or lust. Perhaps this was what marriage meant, he thought. "You're even more beautiful pregnant," he said, speaking in a low murmur so as not to wake Vlad.

For two and a half years he had acted as father to his brother's son, but now he was going to have a child of his own. He would have liked to name the baby after Lenin, but they already had a Vladimir. The pregnancy had made Grigori a hardliner in politics. He had to think about the country in which the child would grow up, and he wanted his son to be free. (For some reason he thought of the baby as a boy.) He had to be sure Russia would be ruled by its people, not by a tsar or a middle-class parliament or a coalition of businessmen and generals who would bring back the old ways in new disguises.

He did not really like Lenin. The man lived in a permanent rage. He was always shouting at people. Anyone who disagreed with him was a swine, a bastard, a cunt. But he worked harder than anyone else, he thought about things for a long time, and his decisions were always right. In the past, every Russian "revolution" had led to nothing but dithering. Grigori knew Lenin would not let that happen.

The provisional government knew it, too, and there were signs they wanted to target Lenin. The right-wing press had accused him of being a spy for Germany. The accusation was ridiculous. However, it was true that Lenin had a secret source of finance. Grigori, as one of those who had been Bolsheviks since before the war, was part of the inner circle, and he knew the money came from Germany. If the secret got out it would fuel suspicion.

He was dozing off when he heard footsteps in the hall followed by a loud, urgent knock at the door. Pulling on his trousers he shouted: "What is it?" Vlad woke up and cried.

A man's voice said: "Grigori Sergeivich?"

"Yes." Grigori opened the door and saw Isaak. "What's happened?"

"They've issued arrest warrants for Lenin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev."

Grigori went cold. "We have to warn them!"

"I've got an army car outside."

"I'll put my boots on."

Isaak went. Katerina picked up Vlad and comforted him. Grigori hastily pulled his clothes on, kissed them both, and ran down the stairs.

He jumped into the car beside Isaak and said: "Lenin is the most important." The government was right to target him. Zinoviev and Kamenev were sound revolutionaries, but Lenin was the engine that drove the movement. "We must warn him first. Drive to his sister's place. Fast as you can go."

Isaak headed off at top speed.

Grigori held tight while the car screeched around a corner. As it straightened up he said: "How did you find out?"

"From a Bolshevik in the Ministry of Justice."

"When were the warrants signed?"

"This morning."

"I hope we're in time." Grigori was terrified that Lenin might already have been seized. No one else had his inflexible determination. He was a bully, but he had transformed the Bolsheviks into the leading party. Without him, the revolution could fall back into muddle and compromise.

Isaak drove to Shirokaya Street and pulled up outside a middle-class apartment building. Grigori jumped out, ran inside, and knocked at the Yelizarov flat. Anna Yelizarova, Lenin's elder sister, opened the door. She was in her fifties, with graying hair parted in the center. Grigori had met her before: she worked on Pravda. "Is he here?" Grigori said.

"Yes, why, what's happened?"

Grigori felt a wave of relief. He was not too late. He stepped inside. "They're going to arrest him."

Anna slammed the door. "Volodya!" she called, using the familiar form of Lenin's first name. "Come quickly!"

Lenin appeared, dressed as always in a shabby dark suit with a collar and tie. Grigori explained the situation rapidly.

"I'll leave immediately," Lenin said.

Anna said: "Don't you want to throw a few things in your suitcase-"

"Too risky. Send everything later. I'll let you know where I am." He looked at Grigori. "Thank you for the warning, Grigori Sergeivich. Do you have a car?"

"Yes."

Without another word Lenin went out into the hall.

Grigori followed him to the street and hurried to open the car door. "They have also issued warrants for Zinoviev and Kamenev," Grigori said as Lenin got in.

"Go back to the apartment and telephone them," Lenin said. "Mark has a phone and he knows where they are." He slammed the door. He leaned forward and said something to Isaak that Grigori did not hear. Isaak drove off.

This was how Lenin was all the time. He barked orders at everyone, and they did what he said because he always made sense.

Grigori felt the pleasure of a great weight being lifted from his shoulders. He looked up and down the street. A group of men came out of a building on the other side. Some were dressed in suits, others wore army officers' uniforms. Grigori was shocked to recognize Mikhail Pinsky. The secret police had been abolished, in theory, but it seemed men such as Pinsky were continuing their work as part of the army.

These men must have come for Lenin-and just missed him by going into the wrong building.

Grigori ran back inside. The door to the Yelizarovs' apartment was still open. Just inside were Anna; her husband, Mark; her foster son, Gora; and the family servant, a country girl called Anyushka, all looking shocked. Grigori closed the door behind him. "He's safely away," he said. "But the police are outside. I have to telephone Zinoviev and Kamenev quickly."

Mark said: "The phone is there on the side table."

Grigori hesitated. "How does it work?" He had never used a telephone.

"Oh, sorry," said Mark. He picked up the instrument, holding one piece to his ear and the other to his mouth. "It's quite new to us, but we use it so much that we take it for granted already." Impatiently he jiggled the sprung bar on top of the stand. "Yes, please, operator," he said, and gave a number.

There was a banging at the door.

Grigori held his finger to his lips, telling the others to be quiet.

Anna took Anyushka and the child into the back of the apartment.

Mark spoke rapidly into the phone. Grigori stood at the apartment door. A voice said: "Open up or we'll break down the door! We have a warrant!"

Grigori shouted back: "Just a minute-I'm putting my pants on." The police came often to the kinds of buildings where he had lived most of his life, and he knew all the pretexts for keeping them waiting.

Mark jiggled the bar again and asked for another number.

Grigori shouted: "Who is it? Who's at the door?"

"Police! Open up this instant!"

"I'm just coming-I have to lock the dog in the kitchen."

"Hurry up!"

Grigori heard Mark say: "Tell him to go into hiding. The police are at my door now." He replaced the earpiece on its hook and nodded to Grigori.

Grigori opened the door and stood back.

Pinsky stepped in. "Where is Lenin?" he said.

Several army officers followed him in.

Grigori said: "There is no one here by that name."

Pinsky stared at him. "What are you doing here?" he said. "I always knew you were a troublemaker."

Mark stepped forward and said calmly: "Show me the warrant, please."

Reluctantly, Pinsky handed over a piece of paper.

Mark studied it for a few moments, then said: "High treason? That's ridiculous!"

"Lenin is a German agent," Pinsky said. He narrowed his eyes at Mark. "You're his brother-in-law, aren't you?"

Mark handed the paper back. "The man you are looking for is not here," he said.

Pinsky could sense he was telling the truth, and he looked angry. "Why the hell not?" he said. "He lives here!"

"Lenin is not here," Mark repeated.

Pinsky's face reddened. "Was he warned?" He grabbed Grigori by the front of his tunic. "What are you doing here?"

"I am a deputy to the Petrograd soviet, representing the First Machine Guns, and unless you want the regiment to pay a visit to your headquarters you'd better take your fat hands off my uniform."

Pinsky let go. "We'll take a look around anyway," he said.

There was a bookcase beside the phone table. Pinsky took half a dozen books off the shelf and threw them to the floor. He waved the officers toward the interior of the flat. "Tear the place apart," he said.

{III}

Walter went to a village within the territory won from the Russians and gave an astonished and delighted peasant a gold coin for all his clothes: a filthy sheepskin coat, a linen smock, loose coarse trousers, and shoes made of bast, the woven bark of a beech tree. Fortunately Walter did not have to buy his underwear, for the man wore none.

Walter cut his hair with a pair of kitchen scissors and stopped shaving.

In a small market town he bought a sack of onions. He put a leather bag containing ten thousand rubles in coins and notes in the bottom of the sack under the onions.

One night he smeared his hands and face with earth then, dressed in the peasant's clothes and carrying the onion sack, he crossed no-man's-land, slipped through the Russian lines, and walked to the nearest railway station, where he bought a third-class ticket.

He adopted an aggressive attitude, and snarled at anyone who spoke to him, as if he feared they wanted to steal his onions, which they probably did. He had a large knife, rusty but sharp, clearly visible at his belt, and a Mosin-Nagant pistol, taken from a captured Russian officer, concealed under his smelly coat. On two occasions when a policeman spoke to him he grinned stupidly and offered an onion, a bribe so contemptible that both times the policeman grunted with disgust and walked off. If a policeman had insisted on looking into the sack, Walter was ready to kill him, but it was never necessary. He bought tickets for short journeys, three or four stops at a time, for a peasant would not go hundreds of miles to sell his onions.

He was tense and wary. His disguise was thin. Anyone who spoke to him for more than a few seconds would know he was not really Russian. The penalty for what he was doing was death.

At first he was scared, but that eventually wore off, and by the second day he was bored. He had nothing to occupy his mind. He could not read, of course: indeed, he had to be careful not to look at timetables posted at stations, or do more than glance at advertisements, for most peasants were illiterate. As a series of slow trains rattled and shook through the endless Russian forests, he entered into an elaborate daydream about the apartment he and Maud would live in after the war. It would have modern decor, with pale wood and neutral colors, like that of the von der Helbard house, rather than the heavy, dark look of his parents' home. Everything would be easy to clean and maintain, especially in the kitchen and laundry, so that they could employ fewer servants. They would have a really good piano, a Steinway grand, for they both liked to play. They would buy one or two eye-catching modern paintings, perhaps by Austrian expressionists, to shock the older generation and establish themselves as a progressive couple. They would have a light, airy bedroom and lie naked on a soft bed, kissing and talking and making love.

In this way he journeyed to Petrograd.

The arrangement, made through a revolutionary socialist in the Swedish embassy, was that someone from the Bolsheviks would wait to collect the money from Walter at Petrograd's Warsaw Station every day at six P.M. for one hour. Walter arrived at midday, and took the opportunity to look around the city, with the aim of assessing the Russian people's ability to fight on.

He was shocked by what he saw.

As soon as he left the station he was assailed by prostitutes, male and female, adult and child. He crossed a canal bridge and walked a couple of miles north into the city center. Most shops were closed, many boarded up, a few simply abandoned, with the smashed glass of their windows glittering on the street outside. He saw many drunks and two fistfights. Occasionally an automobile or a horse-drawn carriage dashed past, scattering pedestrians, its passengers hiding behind closed curtains. Most of the people were thin, ragged, and barefoot. It was much worse than Berlin.

He saw many soldiers, individually and in groups, most showing lapsed discipline: marching out of step or lounging at their posts, uniforms unbuttoned, chatting to civilians, apparently doing as they pleased. Walter was confirmed in the impression he had formed when he visited the Russian front line: these men were in no mood to fight.

This is all good news, he thought.

No one accosted him and the police ignored him. He was just another shabby figure shuffling about his own business in a city that was falling apart.

In high spirits, he returned to the station at six and quickly spotted his contact, a sergeant with a red scarf tied to the barrel of his rifle. Before making himself known, Walter studied the man. He was a formidable figure, not tall but broad-shouldered and thickset. He was missing his right ear, one front tooth, and the ring finger of his left hand. He waited with the patience of a veteran soldier, but he had a keen blue-eyed gaze that did not miss much. Although Walter intended to watch him covertly the soldier met his eye, nodded, and turned and walked away. As was clearly intended, Walter followed him. They went into a large room full of tables and chairs and sat down.

Walter said: "Sergeant Grigori Peshkov?"

Grigori nodded. "I know who you are. Sit down."

Walter looked around the room. There was a samovar hissing in a corner, and an old woman in a shawl selling smoked and pickled fish. Fifteen or twenty people were sitting at tables. No one gave a second glance to a soldier and a peasant who was obviously hoping to sell his sack of onions. A young man in the blue tunic of a factory worker followed them in. Walter caught the man's eye briefly and watched him take a seat, light a cigarette, and open Pravda.

Walter said: "May I have something to eat? I'm starving, but a peasant probably can't afford the prices here."

Grigori got a plate of black bread and herrings and two glasses of tea with sugar. Walter tucked into the food. After watching him for a minute, Grigori laughed. "I'm amazed you've passed for a peasant," he said. "I'd know you for a bourgeois."

"How?"

"Your hands are dirty, but you eat in small bites and dab your lips with a rag as if it was a linen napkin. A real peasant shovels the food in and slurps tea before swallowing."

Walter was irritated by his condescension. After all, I've survived three days on a damn train, he thought. I'd like to see you try that in Germany. It was time to remind Peshkov that he had to earn his money. "Tell me how the Bolsheviks are doing," he said.

"Dangerously well," said Grigori. "Thousands of Russians have joined the party in the last few months. Leon Trotsky has at last announced his support for us. You should hear him. Most nights he packs out the Cirque Moderne." Walter could see that Grigori hero-worshipped Trotsky. Even the Germans knew that Trotsky's oratory was enchanting. He was a real catch for the Bolsheviks. "Last February we had ten thousand members-today we have two hundred thousand," Grigori finished proudly.

"This is good, but can you change things?" Walter said.

"We have a strong chance of winning the election for the Constituent Assembly."

"When will it be held?"

"It has been much delayed-"

"Why?"

Grigori sighed. "First the provisional government called together a council of representatives which, after two months, finally agreed on the composition of a sixty-member second council to draft the electoral law-"

"Why? Why such an elaborate process?"

Grigori looked irate. "They say they want the election to be absolutely unchallengeable-but the real reason is that the conservative parties are dragging their feet, knowing they stand to lose."

He was only a sergeant, Walter thought, but his analysis seemed quite sophisticated. "So when will the election be held?"

"September."

"And why do you think the Bolsheviks will win?"

"We are still the only group firmly committed to peace. And everyone knows that-thanks to all the newspapers and pamphlets we've produced."

"Why did you say you were doing 'dangerously' well?"

"It makes us the government's prime target. There's a warrant out for Lenin's arrest. He's had to go into hiding. But he's still running the party."

Walter believed that, too. If Lenin could keep control of his party from exile in Zurich, he could certainly do so from a hideaway in Russia.

Walter had made the delivery and gathered the information he needed. He had accomplished his mission. A sense of relief came over him. Now all he had to do was get home.

With his foot he pushed the sack containing the ten thousand rubles across the floor to Grigori.

He finished his tea and stood up. "Enjoy your onions," he said, and he walked to the door.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the man in the blue tunic fold his copy of Pravda and get to his feet.

Walter bought a ticket to Luga and boarded the train. He entered a third-class compartment. He pushed through a group of soldiers smoking and drinking vodka, a family of Jews with all their possessions in string-tied bundles, and some peasants with empty crates who had presumably sold their chickens. At the far end of the carriage he paused and looked back.

The blue tunic entered the carriage.

Walter watched for a second as the man pushed through the passengers, carelessly elbowing people out of his way. Only a policeman would do that.

Walter jumped off the train and hurriedly left the station. Recalling his tour of exploration that afternoon, he headed at a fast walk for the canal. It was the season of short summer nights, so the evening was light. He hoped he might have shaken his tail, but when he glanced over his shoulder he saw the blue tunic following him. He had presumably been following Peshkov, and had decided to investigate Grigori's onion-selling peasant friend.

The man broke into a jogging run.

If caught, Walter would be shot as a spy. He had no choice about what he had to do next.

He was in a low-rent neighborhood. All of Petrograd looked poor, but this district had the cheap hotels and dingy bars that clustered near railway stations all over the world. Walter started to run, and the blue tunic quickened his pace to keep up.

Walter came to a canalside brickyard. It had a high wall and a gate with iron bars, but next door was a derelict warehouse on an unfenced site. Walter turned off the street, raced across the warehouse site to the waterside, then scrambled over the wall into the brickyard.

There had to be a watchman somewhere, but Walter saw no one. He looked for a place of concealment. It was a pity the light was still so clear. The yard had its own quay with a small timber pier. All around him were stacks of bricks the height of a man, but he needed to see without being seen. He moved to a stack that was partly dismantled-some having been sold, presumably-and swiftly rearranged a few so that he could hide behind them and look through a gap. He eased the Mosin-Nagant revolver out of his belt and cocked the hammer.

A few moments later, he saw the blue tunic come over the wall.

The man was of medium height and thin, with a small mustache. He looked scared: he had realized he was no longer merely following a suspect. He was engaged in a manhunt, and he did not know whether he was the hunter or the quarry.

He drew a gun.

Walter pointed his own gun through the gap in the bricks and aimed at the blue tunic, but he was not close enough to be sure of hitting his target.

The man stood still for a moment, looking all around, clearly undecided about what to do next. Then he turned and walked hesitantly toward the water.

Walter followed him. He had turned the tables.

The man dodged from stack to stack, scanning the area. Walter did the same, ducking behind bricks whenever the man stopped, getting nearer all the time. Walter did not want a prolonged gunfight, which might attract the attention of other policemen. He needed to down his enemy with one or two shots and get away fast.

By the time the man reached the canal end of the site, they were only ten yards apart. The man looked up and down the canal, as if Walter might have rowed away in a boat.

Walter stepped out of cover and drew a bead on the middle of the man's back.

The man turned away from the water and looked straight at Walter.

Then he screamed.

It was a high-pitched, girlish scream of shock and terror. Walter knew, in that instant, that he would remember the scream all his life.

He squeezed the trigger, the revolver banged, and the scream was cut off instantly.

Only one shot was needed. The secret policeman crumpled to the ground, lifeless.

Walter bent over the body. The eyes stared upward sightlessly. There was no heartbeat, no breath.

Walter dragged the body to the edge of the canal. He put bricks in the pockets of the man's trousers and tunic, to weight the corpse. Then he slid it over the low parapet and let it fall into the water.

It sank below the surface, and Walter turned away.

{IV}

Grigori was in a session of the Petrograd soviet when the counterrevolution began.

He was worried, but not surprised. As the Bolsheviks gained popularity, the backlash had become more ruthless. The party was doing well in local elections, winning control of one provincial soviet after another, and had gained 33 percent of the votes for the Petrograd city council. In response the government-now led by Kerensky-arrested Trotsky and again deferred the long-delayed national elections for the Constituent Assembly. The Bolsheviks had said all along that the provisional government would never hold a national election, and this further postponement only added to Bolshevik credibility.

Then the army made its move.

General Kornilov was a shaven-headed Cossack who had the heart of a lion and the brains of a sheep, according to a famous remark by General Alexeev. On September 9 Kornilov ordered his troops to march on Petrograd.

The soviet responded quickly. The delegates immediately resolved to set up the Committee for Struggle Against the Counterrevolution.

A committee was nothing, Grigori thought impatiently. He got to his feet, holding down anger and fear. As the delegate for the First Machine Gun Regiment, he was listened to respectfully, especially on military matters. "There is no point in a committee if its members are just going to make speeches," he said passionately. "If the reports we have just heard are true, some of Kornilov's troops are not far from the city limits of Petrograd. They can be halted only by force." He always wore his sergeant's uniform, and carried his rifle and a pistol. "The committee will be pointless unless it mobilizes the workers and soldiers of Petrograd against the mutiny of the army."

Grigori knew that only the Bolshevik party could mobilize the people. And all the other deputies knew it, too, regardless of what party they belonged to. In the end it was agreed that the committee would have three Mensheviks, three Socialist Revolutionaries, and three Bolsheviks including Grigori; but everyone knew the Bolsheviks were the only ones who counted.

As soon as that was decided, the Committee for Struggle left the debating hall. Grigori had been a politician for six months, and he had learned how to work the system. Now he ignored the formal composition of the committee and invited a dozen useful people to join them, including Konstantin from the Putilov works and Isaak from the First Machine Guns.

The soviet had moved from the Tauride Palace to the Smolny Institute, a former girls' school, and the committee reconvened in a classroom, surrounded by framed embroidery and girlish watercolors.

The chairman said: "Do we have a motion for debate?"

This was rubbish, but Grigori had been a deputy long enough to know how to get around it. He moved immediately to take control of the meeting and get the committee focused on action instead of words.

"Yes, comrade Chairman, if I may," he said. "I propose there are five things we need to do." A numbered list was always a good idea: people felt they had to listen until you got to the end. "First: Mobilize the Petrograd soldiers against the mutiny of General Kornilov. How can we achieve this? I suggest that Corporal Isaak Ivanovich should draw up a list of the principal barracks with the names of reliable revolutionary leaders in each. Having identified our allies, we should send a letter instructing them to put themselves under the orders of this committee and get ready to repel the mutineers. If Isaak begins now he can bring list and letter back to this committee for approval in a few minutes' time."

Grigori paused briefly to allow people to nod, then, taking that for approval, he went on.

"Thank you. Carry on, comrade Isaak. Second, we must send a message to Kronstadt." The naval base at Kronstadt, an island twenty miles offshore, was notorious for its brutal treatment of sailors, especially young trainees. Six months ago the sailors had turned on their tormentors, and had tortured and murdered many of their officers. The place was now a radical stronghold. "The sailors must arm themselves, deploy to Petrograd, and put themselves under our orders." Grigori pointed to a Bolshevik deputy whom he knew to be close to the sailors. "Comrade Gleb, will you undertake that task, with the committee's approval?"

Gleb nodded. "If I may, I will draft a letter for our chairman to sign, then take it to Kronstadt myself."

"Please do."

The committee members were now looking a bit bewildered. Things were moving faster than usual. Only the Bolsheviks were unsurprised.

"Third, we must organize factory workers into defensive units and arm them. We can get the guns from army arsenals and from armaments factories. Most workers will need some training in firearms and military discipline. I suggest this task be carried out jointly by the trade unions and the Red Guards." The Red Guards were revolutionary soldiers and workers who carried firearms. Not all were Bolsheviks, but they usually obeyed orders from the Bolshevik committees. "I propose that comrade Konstantin, the deputy from the Putilov works, take charge of this. He will know the leading union in each major factory."

Grigori knew that he was turning the population of Petrograd into a revolutionary army, and so did the other Bolsheviks on the committee, but would the rest of them figure that out? At the end of this process, assuming the counterrevolution was defeated, it was going to be very difficult for the moderates to disarm the force they had created and restore the authority of the provisional government. If they thought that far ahead they might try to moderate or reverse what Grigori was proposing. But at the moment they were focused on preventing a military takeover. As usual, only the Bolsheviks had a strategy.

Konstantin said: "Yes, indeed, I'll make a list." He would favor Bolshevik union leaders, of course, but they were nowadays the most effective anyway.

Grigori said: "Fourth, the Railwaymen's Union must do all it can to hamper the advance of Kornilov's army." The Bolsheviks had worked hard to gain control of this union, and now had at least one supporter in every locomotive shed. Bolshevik trade unionists always volunteered for duty as treasurer, secretary, or chairman. "Although some troops are on the way here by road, the bulk of the men and their supplies will have to come by rail. The union can make sure they get held up and sent on long diversions. Comrade Viktor, may the committee rely on you to do this?"

Viktor, a railwaymen's deputy, nodded agreement. "I will set up an ad hoc committee within the union to organize the disruption of the mutineers' advance."

"Finally, we should encourage other cities to set up committees like this one," Grigori said. "The revolution must be defended everywhere. Perhaps other members of this committee could suggest which towns we should communicate with?"

This was a deliberate distraction, but they fell for it. Glad to have something to do, the committee members called out the names of towns that should organize Committees for Struggle. That ensured they did not pick over Grigori's more important proposals, but let them go unchallenged; and they never thought about the long-term consequences of arming the citizens.

Isaak and Gleb drafted their letters and got them signed by the chairman without further discussion. Konstantin made his list of factory leaders and started sending messages to them. Viktor left to organize the railwaymen.

The committee began to argue about the wording of a letter to neighboring towns. Grigori slipped away. He had what he wanted. The defense of Petrograd, and of the revolution, was well under way. And the Bolsheviks were in charge of it.

What he needed now was reliable information about the whereabouts of the counterrevolutionary army. Were there really troops approaching the southern suburbs of Petrograd? If so they might have to be dealt with faster than the Committee for Struggle could act.

He walked from the Smolny Institute across the bridge the short distance to his barracks. There he found the troops already preparing to fight Kornilov's mutineers. He took an armored car, a driver, and three reliable revolutionary soldiers, and drove across the city to the south.

In the darkening autumn afternoon they zigzagged through the southern suburbs, looking for the invading army. After a couple of fruitless hours Grigori decided there was a good chance the reports of Kornilov's progress had been exaggerated. In any event he was likely to come across nothing more than an advance party. All the same, it was important to check them, and he persisted with his search.

They eventually found an infantry brigade making camp at a school.

He considered returning to barracks and bringing the First Machine Guns here to attack. But he thought there might be a better way. It was risky, but it would save a lot of bloodshed if it worked.

He was going to try to win by talking.

They drove past an apathetic sentry into the playground and Grigori got out of the car. As a precaution, he unfolded the spike bayonet at the end of his rifle and fixed it in the attack position. Then he slung the rifle over his shoulder. Feeling vulnerable, he forced himself to look relaxed.

Several soldiers approached him. A colonel said: "What are you doing here, Sergeant?"

Grigori ignored him and addressed a corporal. "I need to speak to the leader of your soldiers' committee, comrade," he said.

The colonel said: "There are no soldiers' committees in this brigade, comrade. Get back in your car and clear off."

But the corporal spoke up with nervous defiance. "I was the leader of my platoon committee, Sergeant-before the committees were banned, of course."

The colonel's face darkened with anger.

This was the revolution in miniature, Grigori realized. Who would prevail-the colonel or the corporal?

More soldiers drew near to listen.

"Then tell me," Grigori said to the corporal, "why are you attacking the revolution?"

"No, no," said the corporal. "We're here to defend it."

"Someone has been lying to you." Grigori turned and raised his voice to address the bystanders. "The prime minister, Comrade Kerensky, has sacked General Kornilov, but Kornilov won't go, and that's why he has sent you to attack Petrograd."

There was a murmur of disapproval.

The colonel looked awkward: he knew Grigori was right. "Enough of these lies!" he blustered. "Get out of here now, Sergeant, or I'll shoot you down."

Grigori said: "Don't touch your weapon, Colonel. Your men have a right to the truth." He looked at the growing crowd. "Don't they?"

"Yes!" said several of them.

"I don't like everything Kerensky has done," said Grigori. "He has brought back the death penalty and flogging. But he is our revolutionary leader. Whereas your General Kornilov wants to destroy the revolution."

"Lies!" the colonel said angrily. "Don't you men understand? This sergeant is a Bolshevik. Everyone knows they are in the pay of Germany!"

The corporal said: "How do we know who to believe? You say one thing, Sergeant, but the colonel says another."

"Then don't believe either of us," Grigori said. "Go and find out for yourselves." He raised his voice to make sure everyone could hear him. "You don't have to hide in this school. Go to the nearest factory and ask any worker. Speak to soldiers you see in the streets. You'll soon learn the truth."

The corporal nodded. "Good idea."

"You'll do no such thing," said the colonel furiously. "I'm ordering you all to stay within the grounds."

That was a big mistake, Grigori thought. He said: "Your colonel doesn't want you to inquire for yourselves. Doesn't that show you that he must be telling you lies?"

The colonel put his hand on his pistol and said: "That's mutinous talk, Sergeant."

The men stared at the colonel and at Grigori. This was the moment of crisis, and death was as near to Grigori as it had ever been.

Suddenly Grigori realized that he was at a disadvantage. He had been so caught up in the argument that he had failed to plan what to do when it ended. He had his rifle over his shoulder, but the safety lock was engaged. It would take several seconds to swing it off his shoulder, turn the awkward knob that unlocked the safety catch, and lift the rifle into firing position. The colonel could draw and shoot his pistol a lot faster. Grigori felt a wave of fear, and had to suppress an urge to turn and run.

"Mutiny?" he said, playing for time, trying not to let fear weaken the assertive tone of his voice. "When a sacked general marches on the capital, but his troops refuse to attack their legitimate government, who's the mutineer? I say it's the general-and those officers who attempt to carry out his treasonable orders."

The colonel drew his pistol. "Get out of here, Sergeant." He turned to the others. "You men, go into the school and assemble in the hall. Remember, disobedience is a crime in the army-and the death penalty has been restored. I'll shoot anyone who refuses."

He pointed his gun at the corporal.

Grigori saw that the men were about to obey the authoritative, confident, armed officer. There was now only one way out, he saw in desperation. He had to kill the colonel.

He saw a way. He would have to be very quick indeed, but he thought he could probably do it.

If he was wrong he would die.

He slipped his rifle off his left shoulder and, without pausing to switch it to his right hand, he thrust it forward as hard as he could into the colonel's side. The sharp point of the long bayonet ripped through the cloth of the uniform, and Grigori felt it sink into the soft stomach. The colonel gave a shout of pain, but he did not fall. Despite his wound he turned, swinging his gun hand around in an arc. He pulled the trigger.

The shot went wild.

Grigori pushed on the rifle, thrusting the bayonet in and up, aiming for the heart. The colonel's face twisted in agony and his mouth opened, but no sound came out, and he fell to the ground, still clutching his pistol.

Grigori withdrew the bayonet with a jerk.

The colonel's pistol fell from his fingers.

Everyone stared at the officer writhing in silent torment on the parched grass of the playground. Grigori unlocked the safety on his rifle, aimed at the colonel's heart, and fired at close range twice. The man became still.

"As you said, Colonel," Grigori said. "It's the death penalty."

{V}

Fitz and Bea took a train from Moscow accompanied only by Bea's Russian maid, Nina, and Fitz's valet, Jenkins, a former boxing champion who had been rejected by the army because he could not see farther than ten yards.

They got off the train at Bulovnir, the tiny station that served Prince Andrei's estate. Fitz's experts had suggested that Andrei build a small township here, with a timber yard and grain stores and a mill; but nothing had been done, and the peasants still took their produce by horse and cart twenty miles to the old market town.

Andrei had sent an open carriage to meet them, with a surly driver who looked on while Jenkins lifted the trunks onto the back of the vehicle. As they drove along a dirt road through farmland, Fitz recalled his previous visit, when he had come as the new husband of the princess, and the villagers had stood at the roadside and cheered. There was a different atmosphere now. Laborers in the fields barely looked up as the carriage passed, and in villages and hamlets the inhabitants deliberately turned their backs.

This kind of thing irritated Fitz and made him bad-tempered, but his spirits were soothed by the sight of the timeworn stones of the old house, colored a buttery yellow by the low afternoon sun. A little flock of immaculately dressed servants emerged from the front door like ducks coming to be fed, and bustled about the carriage opening doors and manhandling luggage. Andrei's steward, Georgi, kissed Fitz's hand and said, in an English phrase he had obviously learned by rote: "Welcome back to your Russian home, Earl Fitzherbert."

Russian houses were often grandiose but shabby, and Bulovnir was no exception. The double-height hall needed painting, the priceless chandelier was dusty, and a dog had peed on the marble floor. Prince Andrei and Princess Valeriya were waiting beneath a large portrait of Bea's grandfather frowning sternly down on them.

Bea rushed to Andrei and embraced him.

Valeriya was a classical beauty with regular features and dark hair in a neat coiffure. She shook hands with Fitz and said in French: "Thank you for coming. We're so happy to see you."

When Bea detached herself from Andrei, wiping her tears, Fitz offered his hand to shake. Andrei gave him his left hand: the right sleeve of his jacket hung empty. He was pale and thin, as if suffering from a wasting illness, and there was a little gray in his black beard, although he was only thirty-three. "I can't tell you how relieved I am to see you," he said.

Fitz said: "Is something wrong?" They were speaking French, in which they were all fluent.

"Come into the library. Valeriya will take Bea upstairs."

They left the women and went into a dusty room full of leather-bound books that looked as if they were not often read. "I've ordered tea. I'm afraid we've no sherry."

"Tea will be fine." Fitz eased himself into a chair. His wounded leg ached after the long journey. "What's going on?"

"Are you armed?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. My service revolver is in my luggage." Fitz had a Webley Mark V that had been issued to him in 1914.

"Please keep it close to hand. I wear mine constantly." Andrei opened his jacket to reveal a belt and holster.

"You'd better tell me why."

"The peasants have set up a land committee. Some Socialist Revolutionaries have talked to them and given them stupid ideas. They claim the right to take over any land I'm not cultivating and divide it up among themselves."

"Haven't you been through this before?"

"In my grandfather's time. We hanged three peasants and thought that was the end of the matter. But these wicked ideas lie dormant, and sprout again years later."

"What did you do this time?"

"I gave them a lecture and showed them I'd lost my arm defending them from the Germans, and they went quiet-until a few days ago, when half a dozen local men returned from service in the army. They claimed to have been discharged, but I'm sure they've deserted. Impossible to check, unfortunately."

Fitz nodded. The Kerensky Offensive had been a failure, and the Germans and Austrians had counterattacked. The Russians had fallen to pieces, and the Germans were now heading for Petrograd. Thousands of Russian soldiers had walked away from the battlefield and returned to their villages.

"They brought their rifles with them, and pistols they must have stolen from officers, or taken from German prisoners. Anyway, they're heavily armed, and full of subversive ideas. There's a corporal, Feodor Igorovich, who seems to be the ringleader. He told Georgi he did not understand why I was still claiming any land at all, let alone the fallow."

"I don't understand what happens to men in the army," said Fitz with exasperation. "You'd think it would teach them the value of authority and discipline-but it seems to do the opposite."

"I'm afraid things came to a head this morning," Andrei went on. "Corporal Feodor's younger brother, Ivan Igorovich, put his cattle to graze in my pasture. Georgi found out, and he and I went to remonstrate with Ivan. We started to turn his cattle out into the lane. He tried to close the gate to prevent us. I was carrying a shotgun, and I gave him a clout across the head with the butt end of it. Most of these damn peasants have heads like cannonballs, but this one was different, and the wretch fell down and died. The socialists are using that as an excuse to get everyone agitated."

Fitz politely concealed his distaste. He disapproved of the Russian practise of striking one's inferiors, and he was not surprised when it led to this kind of unrest. "Have you told anyone?"

"I sent a message to the town, reporting the death and asking for a detachment of police or troops to keep order, but my messenger hasn't returned yet."

"So for now, we're on our own."

"Yes. If things get any worse, I'm afraid we may have to send the ladies away."

Fitz was devastated. This was much worse than he had anticipated. They could all be killed. Coming here had been a dreadful mistake. He had to get Bea away as soon as possible.

He stood up. Conscious that Englishmen sometimes boasted to foreigners about their coolness in a crisis, he said: "I'd better go and change for dinner."

Andrei showed him up to his room. Jenkins had unpacked his evening clothes and pressed them. Fitz began to undress. He felt a fool. He had put Bea and himself into danger. He had gained a useful impression of the state of affairs in Russia, but the report he would write was hardly worth the risk he had taken. He had let himself be talked into it by his wife, and that was always a mistake. He resolved they would catch the first train in the morning.

His revolver was on the dresser with his cuff links. He checked the action, then broke it open and loaded it with.455 Webley cartridges. There was nowhere to put it in a dress suit. In the end he stuffed it into his trousers pocket, where it made an unsightly bulge.

He summoned Jenkins to put away his traveling clothes, then stepped into Bea's room. She stood at the mirror in her underwear, trying on a necklace. She looked more voluptuous than usual, her breasts and hips a little heavier, and Fitz suddenly wondered whether she might be pregnant. She had suffered an attack of nausea this morning in Moscow, he recalled, in the car going to the railway station. He was reminded of her first pregnancy, and that took him back to a time he now thought of as a golden moment, when he had Ethel and Bea, and there was no war.

He was about to tell her that they had to leave tomorrow when he glanced out of the window and stopped short.

The room was at the front of the house and had a view over the park and the fields beyond to the nearest village. What had caught Fitz's eye was a crowd of people. With deep foreboding he went to the window and peered across the grounds.

He saw a hundred or so peasants approaching the house across the park. Although it was still daylight, many carried blazing torches. Some, he saw, had rifles.

He said: "Oh, fuck."

Bea was shocked. "Fitz! Have you forgotten that I am here?"

"Look at this," he said.

Bea gasped. "Oh, no!"

Fitz shouted: "Jenkins! Jenkins, are you there?" He opened the communicating door and saw the valet, looking startled, putting the traveling suit on a hanger. "We're in mortal danger," Fitz said. "We have to leave in the next five minutes. Run to the stables, put the horses to a carriage, and bring it to the kitchen door as fast as you can."

Jenkins dropped the suit on the floor and dashed off.

Fitz turned to Bea. "Throw on a coat, any coat, and pick up a pair of sensible outdoor shoes, then go down the back stairs to the kitchen and wait for me there."

To her credit, there were no hysterics: she just did as she was told.

Fitz left the room and hurried, limping as fast as he could, to Andrei's bedroom. His brother-in-law was not there, nor was Valeriya.

Fitz went downstairs. Georgi and some of the male servants were in the hall, looking frightened. Fitz was scared too, but he hoped he was not showing it.

Fitz found the prince and princess in the drawing room. There was an opened bottle of champagne on ice, and two glasses had been poured, but they were not drinking. Andrei stood in front of the fireplace and Valeriya was at the window, looking at the approaching crowd. Fitz stood beside her. The peasants were almost at the door. A few had firearms; most carried knives, hammers, and scythes.

Andrei said: "Georgi will attempt to reason with them, and if that fails I shall have to speak to them myself."

Fitz said: "For God's sake, Andrei, the time for talking is past. We have to leave now."

Before Andrei could reply, they heard raised voices in the hall.

Fitz went to the door and opened it a crack. He saw Georgi arguing with a tall young peasant who had a bushy mustache that stretched across his cheeks: Feodor Igorovich, he guessed. They were surrounded by men and a few women, some holding burning torches. More were pushing in through the front door. It was hard to understand their local accent, but one shouted phrase was repeated several times: "We will speak to the prince!"

Andrei heard it too, and he stepped past Fitz and out into the hall. Fitz said: "No-" but it was too late.

The mob jeered and hissed when Andrei appeared in evening dress. Raising his voice, he said: "If you all leave quietly now, perhaps you won't be in such bad trouble."

Feodor shot back: "You're the one in trouble-you murdered my brother!"

Fitz heard Valeriya say quietly: "My place is beside my husband." Before he could stop her she, too, had gone into the hall.

Andrei said: "I didn't intend Ivan to die, but he would be alive now if he had not broken the law and defied his prince!"

With a sudden quick movement, Feodor reversed his rifle and hit Andrei across the face with its butt.

Andrei staggered back, holding a hand to his cheek.

The peasants cheered.

Feodor shouted: "This is what you did to Ivan!"

Fitz reached for his revolver.

Feodor raised his rifle above his head. For a frozen moment the long Mosin-Nagant hovered in the air like an executioner's axe. Then he brought the rifle down, with a powerful blow, and hit the top of Andrei's head. There was a sickening crack, and Andrei fell.

Valeriya screamed.

Fitz, standing in the doorway with the door half-closed, thumbed off the lock on the left side of his revolver's barrel and aimed at Feodor; but the peasants crowded around his target. They began to kick and beat Andrei, who lay on the floor unconscious. Valeriya tried to get to him to help him, but she could not push through the crowd.

A peasant with a scythe struck at the portrait of Bea's stern grandfather, slashing the canvas. One of the men fired a shotgun at the chandelier, which smashed into tinkling fragments. A set of drapes suddenly blazed up: someone must have put a torch to them.

Fitz had been on the battlefield and had learned that gallantry had to be tempered with cool calculation. He knew that on his own he could not save Andrei from the mob. But he might be able to rescue Valeriya.

He pocketed the gun.

He stepped into the hall. All attention was on the supine prince. Valeriya stood at the edge of the throng, beating ineffectually on the shoulders of the peasants in front of her. Fitz grabbed her by the waist, lifted her, and carried her away, stepping back into the drawing room. His bad leg hurt like fire under the burden, but he gritted his teeth.

"Let me go!" she screamed. "I must help Andrei!"

"We can't help Andrei!" Fitz said. He shifted his grip and slung his sister-in-law over his shoulder, easing the pressure on his leg. As he did so a bullet passed close enough for him to feel its wind. He glanced back and saw a grinning soldier in uniform aiming a pistol.

He heard a second shot, and sensed an impact. He thought for a moment that he had been hit, but there was no pain, and he dashed for the communicating door that led to the dining room.

He heard the soldier shout: "She's getting away!"

Fitz burst through the door as another bullet hit the woodwork. Ordinary soldiers were not trained with pistols and sometimes did not realize how much less accurate they were than rifles. Moving at a limping run, he went past the table elaborately laid with silver and crystal ready for four wealthy aristocrats to have dinner. Behind him he heard several pursuers. At the far end of the room a door led to the kitchen area. He passed into a narrow corridor and from there to the kitchen. A cook and several kitchen maids had stopped work and were standing around looking terrified.

Fitz's pursuers were too close behind him. As soon as they got a clear shot he would be killed. He had to do something to slow them down.

He set Valeriya on her feet. She swayed, and he saw blood on her dress. She had been hit by a bullet, but she was alive and conscious. He sat her in a chair, then turned to the corridor. The grinning soldier was running toward him, firing wildly, followed by several more in single file in the narrow space. Behind them, in the dining room and drawing room, Fitz saw flames.

He drew his Webley. It was a double-action gun so it did not need to be cocked. Shifting all his weight to his good leg, he aimed carefully at the belly of the soldier running at him. He squeezed the trigger, the gun banged, and the man fell on the stone floor in front of him. In the kitchen, Fitz heard women screaming in terror.

Fitz immediately fired again at the next man, who also went down. He fired a third time at a third man, with the same result. The fourth man ducked back into the dining room.

Fitz slammed the kitchen door. The pursuers would now hesitate, wondering how they could check whether he was lying in wait for them, and that might just give him the time he needed.

He picked up Valeriya, who seemed to be losing consciousness. He had never been in the kitchens of this house, but he moved toward the back. Another corridor took him past storerooms and laundries. At last he opened a door that led to the outside.

Stepping out, panting, his bad leg hurting like the very devil, he saw the carriage waiting, with Jenkins in the driver's seat and Bea inside with Nina, who was sobbing uncontrollably. A frightened-looking stable boy was holding the horses.

He manhandled the unconscious Valeriya into the carriage, climbed in after her, and shouted at Jenkins: "Go! Go!"

Jenkins whipped the horses, the stable boy leaped out of the way, and the carriage moved off.

Fitz said to Bea: "Are you all right?"

"No, but I'm alive and unhurt. You...?"

"No damage. But I fear for your brother's life." In reality he was quite sure Andrei was dead by now, but he did not want to say that to her.

Bea looked at the princess. "What happened?"

"She must have been hit by a bullet." Fitz looked more closely. Valeriya's face was white and still. "Oh, dear God," he said.

"She's dead, isn't she?" Bea said.

"You must be brave."

"I will be brave." Bea took her sister-in-law's lifeless hand. "Poor Valeriya."

The carriage raced down the drive and past the small dowager house where Bea's mother had lived after Bea's father died. Fitz looked back at the big house. There was a small crowd of frustrated pursuers outside the kitchen door. One of them was aiming a rifle, and Fitz pushed Bea's head down and ducked himself.

When next he looked they were out of range. Peasants and the staff were pouring out of the house by all its doors. The windows were strangely bright, and Fitz realized that the place was on fire. As he looked, smoke drifted from the front door, and an orange flame licked up from an open window and set fire to the creeper growing up the wall.

Then the carriage topped a rise and rattled downhill, and the old house disappeared from view.


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