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CHAPTER XVIII
 

GRANTED A STAY

 

AFTER my transfer six of us lived in the little cell designed for only two inmates. Though space was very limited and the quarters were dirty and stuffy, we had hope to dwell with us and cheer us. At once the will to live returned and with it the resolve to have better conditions which set us about securing them.

First of all, we put our abode in order. Asking for water, soap, rags and paper, we scrubbed the floor, which had probably not been so treated since it was laid; we cleaned the walls and the ceiling; we caught all the night raiders, showing them no mercy, and then began a warfare on the rats.

Our first move was to stuff with rags all the holes through which these reddish-grey animals came up from under the floor. Of course, the cloths were not proof against the sharp teeth of the marauding rodents, but we developed a method of counter-attack that proved effective. While we were cleaning our cell, we discovered some bits of glass on top of the stove, which we pounded fairly fine and combined with the rags to make stoppers for the holes, alternating a thickness of cloth with a layer of the powdered glass in such a way that the pincers of our enemies could no longer cut our barbed-wire entanglements.

But this was purely a mechanical device and did not entirely satisfy my ideas of warfare as a trained chemist, looking for some way to harness this great science in our service. Soon I succeeded. As my foot was still most painful, the doctor gave me some quinine, one of the two drugs used in the prison,—the other was castor oil,—from which I made a solution and soaked the rags in it. The rats could then not touch the cloths, because of the disagreeable, bitter taste, and this, with the powdered glass for those who had no taste, made our barricade secure. After this we never saw our enemies come out of their trenches.

Through the washed and polished panes of our window the sunlight entered more boldly, and life again seemed beautiful. However, my sojourn in frigid Cell No. 5, sleeping on a damp bed next a wall covered with ice, and the moral torture of those days, left their very definite marks upon me. The condition of my leg became so threatening that the doctor wanted to move me to the prison hospital, but, not wishing to be separated from my companions, I begged to be left in the cell with them. Though he nursed me there to the best of his ability, one day, when he had examined my swollen leg and hip joint, he shook his head and muttered:

"If this state of things continues, amputation will be necessary."

In spite of the doctor's fears, my constitution, hardened by my hunting and travelling experiences, proved equal to the task of overcoming the illness, so that after two weeks on my back I was able to get up and even to walk a little between the six beds that crowded our cell.

During this interval no one seemed to be paying any attention to us, leaving us in a silence which made us feel that everyone had forgotten our existence.

"This portends well," Lepeshinsky proffered. "This boor, Ivanoff, may calm down or, perhaps, we shall be removed from here—or he may even himself have the cleverness to break his neck! Then the sentence of the tribunal will be lighter for us."

None of us had any illusions about the leniency of the sentence that would be meted out, and practically all of us expected it would be at least banishment up through the Yakutsk region along the Lena to some of the penal colonies in the tundras of the Arctic region. Such sentences always meant that the condemned were banished to these wild regions for their whole life, yet that hope which never dies always offered the possibility of an amnesty, if the Tsar should have a son or if some other great and happy event in the State life should occur. Consequently, we all prayed that Nicholas might be richly blessed with male offspring and, at the same time, we felt that there existed a reasonable hope of a sweeping political amnesty; for, in spite of the transitory ascendancy of the monarchical reaction, all of thinking Russia had been demanding this for a long time and would probably not abandon their deep-seated desire before the temporary check.

"At the most we shall have a journey to the north, at Government expense and shall return eventually," I assured my companions. "I have never yet been in those parts and am curious to have a look at them."

"In general, banishment is better than prison," added Lepeshinsky, "as you can move about and do not always have a soldier with a bayonet, a gendarme or the prosecutor chaperoning you."

"Or His Excellency Ivanoff," muttered Nowakowski, who nourished a rich hatred for this man who had tormented us so effectually. "I prefer to meet General Taptyguine[1] in the Yakutsk taiga every day than this Ivanoff, because the former is more of a gentleman," and the old man boiled with wrath, as he recalled the bearded visage of Ivanoff.

After this we received some communications from the town, smuggled in by some of the soldiers and the nonmilitary prison guards. These brought us word that the military court was making energetic search for valuable witnesses against us, had appointed the judges and was generally preparing for a spectacular trial. Our friends also wrote that the Union of Workers had retained the services of two able lawyers, who were already preparing our case and marshalling the witnesses for our defence. They told us that we should soon be summoned before one of the judges for a preliminary inquiry, which would be a first step in the trial.

Then one day the Commander of the Prison came and announced to us that we were to go under guard for this preliminary catechizing. When we were taken from the prison, soldiers with bayonets and gendarmes with drawn swords completely surrounded us, and we tramped thus the length of the whole town, as though we were terrible criminals, dangerous to all mankind. As we passed the town hall, the bank and the temporary offices of the Railway Administration, large groups of officials greeted us with loud shouts of acclamation, women waved their handkerchiefs and threw us flowers. On the Place before the burned offices of the railway a delegation of workers awaited us and met us with a revolutionary song, which rang in parts:

You are the victims of our struggle for the right,
For the liberty, the glory and the honour of the nation.

Not liking this sympathetic enthusiasm or fearing an attack, the gendarmes dispersed the crowd with their swords. Then just a little farther on, near the market, we were received in quite another fashion by a gathering of the scum of the town, who were evidently acting as "supes" for the monarchists, and loosed at us a volley of curses and abuse.

"Death to the revolutionaries! To the gallows with them! To the wall!" came in the hoarse, vodka-moulded voices of the crowd. The cries increased, and stones were even thrown at us, though, as we were ringed with soldiers, none of us was struck. The affair gave us one more proof that the political police had a very definite working arrangement with the guiding monarchists, in that the gendarmes, who had been so energetic a few minutes before in their scattering of the workers, did nothing more than shout a warning to these missile hurlers. But the men in control of the city police, who such a short time before had been under our direction and influence, did not idly pass these doings; for Colonel Zaremba and Captain von Ziegler, expecting a hostile demonstration against us from this gathering of hooligans, had concealed a detachment of mounted police in a courtyard near the market and sent them out to disperse the Black Hundred with whips.

When we finally reached the office of the magistrate, we had a very unpleasant surprise in discovering this judicial person to be none other than the right-hand man of General Ivanoff, Colonel Fiedorenko. The inquiry began. Fiedorenko manipulated it in such a way as to establish to his entire satisfaction the fact that the Central Committee and the Board of Union of Workers had been acting according to the plans and under the orders of the Council of Workers and Soldiers in St. Petersburg, an organization which was most energetically persecuted by the Tsar's Government and which counted among its members in 1905 none other than Leo Bronstein, known better as Trotzky and until recently the actual Tsar of Soviet Russia. Fiedorenko so persistently distorted all my answers and continued to affirm our union with the Council, that I finally became disgusted and said with impatience:

"The Central Committee and the Board of the Union of Workers, during the whole term of their existence, issued bulletins, from which you could have learned, Colonel, that we organized in response to the orders of the League of Unions in Moscow. Once launched, we worked out plans of our own, as the conditions of life in Manchuria and the Far East were quite unique. I feel sure that, if the working principles which we put into the life here had been successfully introduced into European Russia, the Government of Tsar Nicholas II would have by now disappeared, as well as the political police, whose representative I am now addressing. Also, if we had adopted here in the Far East the plans and methods of the St. Petersburg Council of Workers and Soldiers, a bloody anarchy would have reigned that would have engulfed the army and the towns, and first of all you, Colonel, and the other leaders of the old regime, who are sowing the seed for a most terrible harvest of revolution in Russia. Please keep this in mind and do not bother yourself to trump up non-existing elements in our trial. We acted entirely openly, hid nothing and will hide nothing!"

My comrades, who were questioned after me, deposed in this same strain. After this first inquiry we were compelled to go several times more to be catechized by Fiedorenko, who had not the desire nor the ability, as a matter of fact, to be a close-thinking, logical judge. Also we were summoned before the Prosecutor and in due course arraigned before the tribunal, where the bill of indictment was presented to us and our list of witnesses filed in turn.

Finally on March 18, 1906, the actual trial was begun and lasted throughout five days. General Ivanoff really succeeded in staging a very imposing arraignment and trial, all a part of his plan to impress St. Petersburg with the extremely dangerous character of the organization he had quashed and to secure for himself a fitting acknowledgment and reward for his effective and faithful services.

References

  1. This is the name which Russians give to the bear.