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Fall of giants, p.3
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       Fall of Giants, p.3

         Part #1 of The Century series by Ken Follett
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Chapter 3

  CHAPTER THREE - February 1914

  At half past ten the looking glass in the hall of Earl Fitzherbert's Mayfair house showed a tall man immaculately dressed in the daytime clothing of an upper-class Englishman. He wore an upright collar, disliking the fashion for soft collars, and his silver tie was fastened with a pearl. Some of his friends thought it was undignified to dress well. "I say, Fitz, you look like a damn tailor, about to open his shop in the morning," the young Marquis of Lowther had said to him once. But Lowthie was a scruff, with crumbs on his waistcoat and cigar ash on the cuffs of his shirt, and he wanted everyone else to look as bad. Fitz hated to be grubby; it suited him to be spruce.

  He put on a gray top hat. With his walking stick in his right hand and a new pair of gray suede gloves in his left, he went out of the house and turned south. In Berkeley Square a blond girl of about fourteen winked at him and said: "Suck you for a shilling?"

  He crossed Piccadilly and entered Green Park. A few snowdrops clustered around the roots of the trees. He passed Buckingham Palace and entered an unattractive neighborhood near Victoria Station. He had to ask a policeman for directions to Ashley Gardens. The street turned out to be behind the Roman Catholic cathedral. Really, Fitz thought, if one is going to ask members of the nobility to call one should have one's office in a respectable quarter.

  He had been summoned by an old friend of his father's named Mansfield Smith-Cumming. A retired naval officer, Smith-Cumming was now doing something vague in the War Office. He had sent Fitz a rather short note. "I should be grateful for a word on a matter of national importance. Can you call on me tomorrow morning at, say, eleven o'clock?" The note was typewritten and signed, in green ink, with the single letter "C. "

  In truth Fitz was pleased that someone in the government wanted to talk to him. He had a horror of being thought of as an ornament, a wealthy aristocrat with no function other than to decorate social events. He hoped he was going to be asked for his advice, perhaps about his old regiment, the Welsh Rifles. Or there might be some task he could perform in connection with the South Wales Territorials, of which he was honorary colonel. Anyway, just being summoned to the War Office made him feel he was not completely superfluous.

  If this really was the War Office. The address turned out to be a modern block of apartments. A doorman directed Fitz to an elevator. Smith-Cumming's flat seemed to be part home, part office, but a briskly efficient young man with a military air told Fitz that "C" would see him right away.

  C did not have a military air. Podgy and balding, he had a nose like Mr. Punch and wore a monocle. His office was cluttered with miscellaneous objects: model aircraft, a telescope, a compass, and a painting of peasants facing a firing squad. Fitz's father had always referred to Smith-Cumming as "the seasick sea captain" and his naval career had not been brilliant. What was he doing here? "What exactly is this department?" Fitz asked as he sat down.

  "This is the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau," said C.

  "I didn't know we had a Secret Service Bureau. "

  "If people knew, it wouldn't be secret. "

  "I see. " Fitz felt a twinge of excitement. It was flattering to be given confidential information.

  "Perhaps you'd be kind enough not to mention it to anyone. "

  Fitz was being given an order, albeit politely phrased. "Of course," he said. He was pleased to feel a member of an inner circle. Did this mean that C might ask him to work for the War Office?

  "Congratulations on the success of your royal house party. I believe you put together an impressive group of well-connected young men for His Majesty to meet. "

  "Thank you. It was a quiet social occasion, strictly speaking, but I'm afraid word gets around. "

  "And now you're taking your wife to Russia. "

  "The princess is Russian. She wants to visit her brother. It's a long-postponed trip. "

  "And Gus Dewar is going with you. "

  C seemed to know everything. "He's on a world tour," Fitz said. "Our plans coincided. "

  C sat back in his chair and said conversationally: "Do you know why Admiral Alexeev was put in charge of the Russian army in the war against Japan, even though he knew nothing about fighting on land?"

  Having spent time in Russia as a boy, Fitz had followed the progress of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, but he did not know this story. "Tell me. "

  "Well, it seems the grand duke Alexis was involved in a punch-up in a brothel in Marseilles and got arrested by the French police. Alexeev came to the rescue and told the gendarmes that it was he, not the grand duke, who had misbehaved. The similarity of their names made the story plausible and the grand duke was let out of jail. Alexeev's reward was command of the army. "

  "No wonder they lost. "

  "All the same, the Russians deploy the largest army the world has ever known-six million men, by some calculations, assuming they call up all their reserves. No matter how incompetent their leadership, it's a formidable force. But how effective would they be in, say, a European war?"

  "I haven't been back since my marriage," Fitz said. "I'm not sure. "

  "Nor are we. That's where you come in. I would like you to make some inquiries while you're there. "

  Fitz was surprised. "But surely, our embassy should do that. "

  "Of course. " C shrugged. "But diplomats are always more interested in politics than military matters. "

  "Still, there must be a military attache. "

  "An outsider such as yourself can offer a fresh perspective-in much the same way as your group at Tŷ Gwyn gave the king something he could not have got from the Foreign Office. But if you feel you can't. . . "

  "I'm not refusing," Fitz said hastily. On the contrary, he was pleased to be asked to do a job for his country. "I'm just surprised that things should be done this way. "

  "We are a newish department with few resources. My best informants are intelligent travelers with enough military background to understand what they're looking at. "

  "Very well. "

  "I'd be interested to know whether you felt the Russian officer class has moved on since 1905. Have they modernized, or are they still attached to old ideas? You'll meet all the top men in St. Petersburg-your wife is related to half of them. "

  Fitz was thinking about the last time Russia went to war. "The main reason they lost against Japan was that the Russian railways were inadequate to supply their army. "

  "But since then they have been trying to improve their rail network-using money borrowed from France, their ally. "

  "Have they made much progress, I wonder?"

  "That's the key question. You'll be traveling by rail. Do the trains run on time? Keep your eyes open. Are the lines still mostly single-track, or double? The German generals have a contingency plan for war that is based on a calculation of how long it will take to mobilize the Russian army. If there is a war, much will hang on the accuracy of that timetable. "

  Fitz was as excited as a schoolboy, but he forced himself to speak with gravity. "I'll find out all I can. "

  "Thank you. " C looked at his watch.

  Fitz stood up and they shook hands.

  "When are you going, exactly?" C asked.

  "We leave tomorrow," said Fitz. "Good-bye. "

  {II}

  Grigori Peshkov watched his younger brother, Lev, taking money off the tall American. Lev's attractive face wore an expression of boyish eagerness, as if his main aim was to show off his skill. Grigori suffered a familiar pang of anxiety. One day, he feared, Lev's charm would not be enough to keep him out of trouble.

  "This is a memory test," Lev said in English. He had learned the words by rote. "Take any card. " He had to raise his voice over the racket of the factory: heavy machinery clanking, steam hissing, people yelling instructions and questions.

  The visitor's name was Gus Dewar. He wore a jacket, waistcoat, and trousers all in the same fine gray woollen cloth. Gr
igori was especially interested in him because he came from Buffalo.

  Dewar was an amiable young man. With a shrug, he took a card from Lev's pack and looked at it.

  Lev said: "Put it on the bench, facedown. "

  Dewar put the card on the rough wooden workbench.

  Lev took a ruble note from his pocket and placed it on the card. "Now you put a dollar down. " This could be done only with rich visitors.

  Grigori knew that Lev had already switched the playing card. In his hand, concealed by the ruble note, there had been a different card. The skill-which Lev had practised for hours-lay in picking up the first card, and concealing it in the palm of the hand, immediately after putting down the ruble note and the new card.

  "Are you sure you can afford to lose a dollar, Mr. Dewar?" said Lev.

  Dewar smiled, as the marks always did at that point. "I think so," he said.

  "Do you remember your card?" Lev did not really speak English. He could say these phrases in German, French, and Italian, too.

  "Five of spades," said Dewar.

  "Wrong. "

  "I'm pretty sure. "

  "Turn it over. "

  Dewar turned over the card. It was the queen of clubs.

  Lev scooped up the dollar bill and his original ruble.

  Grigori held his breath. This was the dangerous moment. Would the American complain that he had been robbed, and accuse Lev?

  Dewar grinned ruefully and said: "You got me. "

  "I know another game," Lev said.

  It was enough: Lev was about to push his luck. Although he was twenty years old, Grigori still had to protect him. "Don't play against my brother," Grigori said to Dewar in Russian. "He always wins. "

  Dewar smiled and replied hesitantly in the same tongue. "That's good advice. "

  Dewar was the first of a small group of visitors touring the Putilov Machine Works. It was the largest factory in St. Petersburg, employing thirty thousand men, women, and children. Grigori's job was to show them his own small but important section. The factory made locomotives and other large steel artifacts. Grigori was foreman of the shop that made train wheels.

  Grigori was itching to speak to Dewar about Buffalo. But before he could ask a question the supervisor of the casting section, Kanin, appeared. A qualified engineer, he was tall and thin with receding hair.

  With him was a second visitor. Grigori knew from his clothes that this must be the British lord. He was dressed like a Russian nobleman, in a tailcoat and a top hat. Perhaps this was the clothing worn by the ruling class all over the world.

  The lord's name, Grigori had been told, was Earl Fitzherbert. He was the handsomest man Grigori had ever seen, with black hair and intense green eyes. The women in the wheel shop stared as if at a god.

  Kanin spoke to Fitzherbert in Russian. "We are now producing two new locomotives every week here," he said proudly.

  "Amazing," said the English lord.

  Grigori understood why these foreigners were so interested. He read the newspapers, and he went to lectures and discussion groups organized by the St. Petersburg Bolshevik Committee. The locomotives made here were essential to Russia's ability to defend itself. The visitors might pretend to be idly curious, but they were collecting military intelligence.

  Kanin introduced Grigori. "Peshkov here is the factory's chess champion. " Kanin was management, but he was all right.

  Fitzherbert was charming. He spoke to Varya, a woman of about fifty with her gray hair in a head scarf. "Very kind of you to show us your workplace," he said, cheerfully speaking fluent Russian with a heavy accent.

  Varya, a formidable figure, muscular and big-bosomed, giggled like a schoolgirl.

  The demonstration was ready. Grigori had placed steel ingots in the hopper and fired up the furnace, and the metal was now molten. But there was one more visitor to come: the earl's wife, who was said to be Russian-hence his knowledge of the language, which was unusual in a foreigner.

  Grigori wanted to question Dewar about Buffalo, but before he had a chance, the earl's wife came into the wheel shop. Her floor-length skirt was like a broom pushing a line of dirt and swarf in front of her. She wore a short coat over her dress, and she was followed by a manservant carrying a fur cloak, a maid with a bag, and one of the directors of the factory, Count Maklakov, a young man dressed like Fitzherbert. Maklakov was obviously very taken with his guest, smiling and talking in a low voice and taking her arm unnecessarily. She was extraordinarily pretty, with fair curls and a coquettish tilt to her head.

  Grigori recognized her immediately. She was Princess Bea.

  His heart lurched and he felt nauseated. He fiercely repressed the ugly memory that rose out of the distant past. Then, as in any emergency, he checked on his brother. Would Lev remember? He had been only six years old at the time. Lev was looking with curiosity at the princess, as if trying to place her. Then, as Grigori watched, Lev's face changed and he remembered. He went pale and looked ill, then suddenly he reddened with anger.

  By that time Grigori was at Lev's side. "Stay calm," he murmured. "Don't say anything. Remember, we're going to America-nothing must interfere with that!"

  Lev made a disgusted noise.

  "Go back to the stables," Grigori said. Lev was a pony driver, working with the many horses used in the factory.

  Lev glared a moment longer at the oblivious princess. Then he turned and walked away, and the moment of danger passed.

  Grigori began the demonstration. He nodded to Isaak, a man of his own age, who was captain of the factory football team. Isaak opened up the mold. Then he and Varya picked up a polished wooden template of a flanged train wheel. This in itself was a work of great skill, with spokes that were elliptical in cross-section and tapered by one in twenty from hub to rim. The wheel was for a big 4-6-4 locomotive, and the template was almost as tall as the people lifting it.

  They pressed it into a deep tray filled with damp sandy molding mixture. Isaak swung the cast-iron chill on top of that, to form the tread and the flange, and then finally the top of the mold.

  They opened up the assemblage and Grigori inspected the hole made by the template. There were no visible irregularities. He sprayed the molding sand with a black oily liquid, then they closed the flask again. "Please stand well back now," he said to the visitors. Isaak moved the spout of the hopper to the funnel on top of the mold. Then Grigori pulled the lever that tilted the hopper.

  Molten steel poured slowly into the mold. Steam from the wet sand hissed out of vents. Grigori knew by experience when to raise the hopper and stop the flow. "The next step is to perfect the shape of the wheel," he said. "Because the hot metal takes so long to cool, I have here a wheel that was cast earlier. "

  It was already set up on a lathe, and Grigori nodded to Konstantin, the lathe operator, who was Varya's son. A thin, gangling intellectual with wild black hair, Konstantin was chairman of the Bolshevik discussion group and Grigori's closest friend. He started the electric motor, turning the wheel at high speed, and began to shape it with a file.

  "Please keep well away from the lathe," Grigori said to the visitors, raising his voice over the whine of the machine. "If you touch it, you may lose a finger. " He held up his left hand. "As I did, here in this factory, at the age of twelve. " His third finger, the ring finger, was an ugly stump. He caught a glance of irritation from Count Maklakov, who did not enjoy being reminded of the human cost of his profits. The look he got from Princess Bea mingled disgust with fascination, and he wondered whether she was weirdly interested in squalor and suffering. It was unusual for a lady to tour a factory.

  He made a sign to Konstantin, who stopped the lathe. "Next, the dimensions of the wheel are checked with calipers. " He held up the tool used. "Train wheels must be exactly sized. If the diameter varies by more than one-sixteenth of an inch-which is about the width of the lead in a pencil-the wheel must be melted down and remade. "

>   Fitzherbert said in broken Russian: "How many wheels can you make per day?"

  "Six or seven on average, allowing for rejects. "

  The American, Dewar, asked: "What hours do you work?"

  "Six in the morning until seven in the evening, Monday through Saturday. On Sunday we are allowed to go to church. "

  A boy of about eight came racing into the wheel shop, pursued by a shouting woman-presumably his mother. Grigori made a grab for him, to keep him away from the furnace. The boy dodged and cannoned into Princess Bea, his close-cropped head striking her in the ribs with an audible thump. She gasped, hurt. The boy stopped, apparently dazed. Furious, the princess drew back her arm and slapped his face so hard that he rocked on his feet, and Grigori thought he was going to fall over. The American said something abrupt in English, sounding surprised and indignant. In the next instant the mother swept the boy up in her strong arms and turned away.

  Kanin, the supervisor, looked scared, knowing he might be blamed. He said to the princess: "Most High Excellency, are you hurt?"

  Princess Bea was visibly enraged, but she took a deep breath and said: "It's nothing. "

  Her husband and the count went to her, looking concerned. Only Dewar stood back, his face a mask of disapproval and revulsion. He had been shocked by the slap, Grigori guessed, and he wondered whether all Americans were equally softhearted. A slap was nothing: Grigori and his brother had been flogged with canes as children in this factory.

  The visitors began to move away. Grigori was afraid he might lose his chance of questioning the tourist from Buffalo. Boldly, he touched Dewar's sleeve. A Russian nobleman would have reacted with indignation, and shoved him away or struck him for insolence, but the American merely turned to him with a polite smile.

  "You are from Buffalo, New York, sir?" said Grigori.

  "That's right. "

  "My brother and I are saving to go to America. We will live in Buffalo. "

  "Why that city?"

  "Here in St. Petersburg is a family who get the necessary papers-for a fee, of course-and promise us jobs with their relatives in Buffalo. "

  "Who are these people?"

  "Vyalov is the name. " The Vyalovs were a criminal gang, though they had lawful businesses too. They were not the most trustworthy people in the world, so Grigori wanted their claims independently verified. "Sir, is the Vyalov family of Buffalo, New York, really an important rich family?"

  "Yes," said Dewar. "Josef Vyalov employs several hundred people in his hotels and bars. "

  "Thank you. " Grigori was relieved. "That is very good to know. "

  {III}

  Grigori's earliest memory was of the day the tsar came to Bulovnir. He was six.

  The people of the village had talked of little else for days. Everyone got up at dawn, even though it was obvious the tsar would have his breakfast before setting out, so he could not possibly get there before midmorning. Grigori's father carried the table out of their one-room dwelling and set it beside the road. On it he placed a loaf of bread, a bunch of flowers, and a small container of salt, explaining to his elder son that these were the traditional Russian symbols of welcome. Most of the other villagers did the same. Grigori's grandmother had put on a new yellow head scarf.

  It was a dry day in early autumn, before the onset of the hard winter cold. The peasants sat on their haunches to wait. The village elders walked up and down in their best clothes, looking important, but they were waiting just like everyone else. Grigori soon got bored and started to play in the dirt beside the house. His brother, Lev, was only a year old, and still being nursed by their mother.

  Noon passed, but no one wanted to go indoors and make dinner for fear they might miss the tsar. Grigori tried to eat some of the loaf on the table and got his head smacked, but his mother brought him a bowl of cold porridge.

  Grigori was not sure who or what the tsar was. He was frequently mentioned in church as loving all the peasants and watching over them while they slept, so he was clearly on a level with St. Peter and Jesus and the angel Gabriel. Grigori wondered if he would have wings or a crown of thorns, or just an embroidered coat like a village elder. Anyway, it was obvious that people were blessed just by seeing him, like the crowds that followed Jesus.

  It was late afternoon when a cloud of dust appeared in the distance. Grigori could feel vibrations in the ground beneath his felt boots, and soon he heard the drumming of hooves. The villagers got down on their knees. Grigori knelt beside his grandmother. The elders lay facedown in the road with their foreheads in the dirt, as they did when Prince Andrei and Princess Bea came.

  Outriders appeared, followed by a closed carriage drawn by four horses. The horses were huge, the biggest Grigori had ever seen, and they were being driven at speed, their flanks shining with sweat, their mouths foaming around their bits. The elders realized they were not going to stop and scrambled out of the way before they were trampled. Grigori screamed in fear, but his cry was inaudible. As the carriage passed, his father shouted: "Long live the tsar, father of his people!"

  By the time he finished, the carriage was already leaving the village behind. Grigori had not been able to see the passengers because of the dust. He realized he had missed seeing the tsar, and therefore would receive no blessing, and he burst into tears.

  His mother took the loaf from the table, broke off an end, and gave it to him to eat, and he felt better.

  {IV}

  When the shift at the Putilov Machine Works finished at seven o'clock Lev usually went off to play cards with his pals or drink with his easygoing girlfriends. Grigori often went to a meeting of some kind: a lecture on atheism, a socialist discussion group, a magic-lantern show about foreign lands, a poetry reading. But tonight he had nothing to do. He would go home, make a stew for supper, leave some in the pot for Lev to eat later, and go to bed early.

  The factory was on the southern outskirts of St. Petersburg, its sprawl of chimneys and sheds covering a large site on the shore of the Baltic Sea. Many of the workers lived at the factory, some in barracks and some lying down to sleep beside their machines. That was why there were so many children running around.

  Grigori was among those who had a home outside the factory. In a socialist society, he knew, houses for workers would be planned at the same time as factories, but haphazard Russian capitalism left thousands of people with nowhere to live. Grigori was well-paid, but he lived in a single room half an hour's walk from the factory. In Buffalo, he knew, factory hands had electricity and running water in their homes. He had been told that some had their own telephones, but that seemed ridiculous, like saying the streets were paved with gold.

  Seeing Princess Bea had taken him back to his childhood. As he wound his way through the icy streets, he refused to allow himself to dwell on the unbearable memory she brought to mind. All the same he thought about the wooden hut where he had lived then, and he saw again the holy corner where the icons were hung, and opposite it the sleeping corner where he lay down at night, usually with a goat or calf beside him. What he remembered most distinctly was something he had hardly noticed at the time: the smell. It came from the stove, the animals, the black smoke of the kerosene lamp, and the homemade tobacco his father smoked rolled into newspaper cigarettes. The windows were shut tight with rags stuffed around the frames to keep the cold out, so the atmosphere was dense. He could smell it now in his imagination, and it made him nostalgic for the days before the nightmare, the last time in his life when he had felt secure.

  Not far from the factory he came upon a sight that made him stop. In the pool of light thrown by a streetlamp two policemen, in black uniforms with green facings, were questioning a young woman. Her homespun coat, and the way she tied the head scarf with a knot at the back of the neck, suggested a peasant newly arrived in the city. At first glance he took her to be about sixteen-the age he had been when he and Lev were orphaned.

  The stocky policeman said something a
nd patted the girl's face. She flinched, and the other cop laughed. Grigori remembered being ill-treated by everyone in authority as a sixteen-year-old orphan, and his heart went out to this vulnerable girl. Against his better judgment, he approached the little group. Just to have something to say, he said: "If you're looking for the Putilov works, I can show you the way. "

  The stocky policeman laughed and said: "Get rid of him, Ilya. "

  His sidekick had a small head and a mean face. "Get lost, scum," he said.

  Grigori was not afraid. He was tall and strong, his muscles hardened by constant heavy work. He had been in street fights ever since he was a boy and he had not lost one for many years. Lev was the same. Nevertheless, it was better not to annoy the police. "I'm a foreman at the works," he said to the girl. "If you're looking for a job, I can help you. "

  The girl shot him a grateful look.

  "A foreman is nothing," said the stocky cop. As he spoke he looked directly at Grigori for the first time. In the yellow light from the kerosene streetlamp Grigori now recognized the round face with the look of stupid belligerence. The man was Mikhail Pinsky, the local precinct captain. Grigori's heart sank. It was madness to pick a fight with the precinct captain-but he had gone too far now to turn back.

  The girl spoke, and her voice told Grigori that she was nearer to twenty than sixteen. "Thank you, I'll go with you, sir," she said to Grigori. She was pretty, he saw, with delicately molded features and a wide, sensual mouth.

  Grigori looked around. Unfortunately, there was no one else about: he had left the factory a few minutes after the seven o'clock rush. He knew he should back down, but he could not abandon this girl. "I'll take you to the factory office," he said, though in fact it was now closed.

  "She's coming with me-aren't you, Katerina?" Pinsky said, and he pawed her, squeezing her breasts through the thin coat and thrusting a hand between her legs.

  She jumped back a pace and said: "Keep your filthy hands off. "

  With surprising speed and accuracy Pinsky punched her in the mouth.

  She cried out, and blood spurted from her lips.

  Grigori was angered. Throwing caution to the wind he stepped forward, put a hand to Pinsky's shoulder, and shoved hard. Pinsky staggered sideways and fell to one knee. Grigori turned to Katerina, who was crying. "Run like hell!" he said, then he felt an agonizing blow to the back of his head. The second policeman, Ilya, had deployed his nightstick faster than Grigori expected. The pain was excruciating, and he fell to his knees, but he did not black out.

  Katerina turned and ran, but she did not get far. Pinsky reached out and grabbed her foot, and she fell full-length.

  Grigori turned and saw the nightstick coming at him again. He dodged the blow and scrambled to his feet. Ilya swung and missed again. Grigori aimed a blow at the side of the man's head and punched with all his force. Ilya fell to the ground.

  Grigori turned to see Pinsky standing over Katerina, kicking her repeatedly with his heavy boots.

  A motorcar approached from the direction of the factory. As it passed, its driver braked hard, and it squealed to a stop under the streetlamp.

  Two long strides brought Grigori to a position just behind Pinsky. He put both arms around the police captain, gripped him in a bear hug, and lifted him off the ground. Pinsky kicked his legs and waved his arms to no avail.

  The car door opened and, to Grigori's surprise, the American from Buffalo got out. "What is happening?" he said. His youthful face, lit by the streetlight, showed outrage as he addressed the wriggling Pinsky. "Why do you kick a helpless woman?"

  This was great good luck, Grigori thought. Only foreigners would object to a policeman kicking a peasant.

  The long, thin figure of Kanin, the supervisor, unfolded out of the car behind Dewar. "Let the policeman go, Peshkov," he said to Grigori.

  Grigori set Pinsky on the ground and released him. He spun around, and Grigori got ready to dodge a blow, but Pinsky restrained himself. In a voice full of poison he said: "I'll remember you, Peshkov. " Grigori groaned: the man knew his name.

  Katerina got to her knees, moaning. Dewar gallantly helped her to her feet, saying: "Are you badly hurt, miss?"

  Kanin looked embarrassed. No Russian would address a peasant so courteously.

  Ilya got up, looking dazed.

  From within the car came the voice of Princess Bea, speaking English, sounding annoyed and impatient.

  Grigori addressed Dewar. "With your permission, Excellency, I will take this woman to a nearby doctor. "

  Dewar looked at Katerina. "Is that your wish?"

  "Yes, sir," she said through bloody lips.

  "Very well," he said.

  Grigori took her arm and led her away before anyone could suggest otherwise.

  At the corner he glanced back. The two cops stood arguing with Dewar and Kanin under the streetlamp.

  Still holding Katerina's arm, he hurried her along, even though she was limping. They needed to put distance between themselves and Pinsky.

  As soon as they had turned the corner she said: "I have no money for a doctor. "

  "I could give you a loan," he said, with a pang of guilt: his money was for passage to America, not to soothe the bruises of pretty girls.

  She gave him a calculating look. "I don't really want a doctor," she said. "What I need is a job. Could you take me to the factory office?"

  She had guts, he thought admiringly. She had just been beaten up by a policeman, and all she could think about was getting a job. "The office is closed. I just said that to confuse the cops. But I can take you there in the morning. "

  "I have nowhere to sleep. " She gave him a guarded look that he did not quite understand. Was she offering herself? Many peasant girls who came to the city ended up doing that. But perhaps her look meant the opposite, that she wanted a bed but was not prepared to pay with sexual favors.

  "In the house where I live there's a room shared by a number of women," he said. "They sleep three or more to a bed, and they can always find space for another one. "

  "How far is it?"

  He pointed ahead to a street that ran alongside a railway embankment. "Just here. "

  She nodded assent, and a few moments later they entered the house.

  He had a back room on the first floor. The narrow bed that he shared with Lev stood against one wall. There was a fireplace with a hob, and a table and two chairs next to the window that overlooked the railway. An upended packing case served as a nightstand, with a jug and bowl for washing.

  Katerina inspected the place with a long look that took everything in, then she said: "You have all this to yourself?"

  "No-I'm not rich! I share with my brother. He'll be here later. "

  She looked thoughtful. Perhaps she was afraid she might be expected to have sex with both of them. To reassure her, Grigori said: "Shall I introduce you to the women in the house?"

  "Plenty of time for that. " She sat in one of the two chairs. "Let me rest a while. "

  "Of course. " The fire was laid, ready to be lit: he always built it in the morning before going to work. He put a match to the kindling.

  There was a thunderous noise, and Katerina looked frightened. "It's just a train," Grigori said. "We're right next to the railway. "

  He poured water from the jug into the bowl, then set the bowl on the hob to warm. He sat opposite Katerina and looked at her. She had straight fair hair and pale skin. At first he had judged her to be quite pretty, but now he saw that she was really beautiful, with an oriental cast to her bone structure that suggested Siberian ancestry. There was strength of character in her face, too: her wide mouth was sexy, but also determined, and there seemed to be iron purpose in her blue-green eyes.

  Her lips were swelling up from Pinsky's punch. "How do you feel?" Grigori asked.

  She ran her hands over her shoulders, ribs, hips, and thighs. "Bruised all over," she said. "But you pulled
that animal off me before he could do any serious damage. "

  She was not going to feel sorry for herself. He liked that. He said: "When the water's warm, I'll wash away the blood. "

  He kept food in a tin box. He took out a knuckle of ham and dropped it in the saucepan, then added water from the jug. He rinsed a turnip and began to slice it into the pan. He caught Katerina's eye and saw a look of surprise. She said: "Did your father cook?"

  "No," said Grigori, and in a blink he was transported back to the age of eleven. The nightmare memories of Princess Bea could no longer be resisted. He put the pan down heavily on the table, then sat on the edge of the bed and buried his head in his hands, overwhelmed by grief. "No," he repeated, "my father didn't cook. "

  {V}

  They came to the village at dawn: the local land captain and six cavalrymen. As soon as Ma heard the trotting hoofbeats she picked up Lev. He was a heavy burden at age six, but Ma was broad-shouldered and strong-armed. She grabbed Grigori's hand and ran out of the house. The horsemen were being led by the village elders, who must have met them at the outskirts. Because there was only one door, Grigori's family had no chance of concealment, and as soon as they appeared the soldiers spurred their mounts.

  Ma pounded around the side of the house, scattering chickens and scaring the goat so that it broke its tether and bolted too. She ran across the waste ground at the back toward the trees. They might have escaped, but Grigori suddenly realized that his grandmother was not with them. He stopped and pulled his hand free. "We forgot Gran!" he squealed.

  "She can't run!" Ma yelled back.

  Grigori knew that. Gran could hardly walk. But all the same he felt they must not leave her behind.

  "Grishka, come on!" Ma shouted, and she ran ahead, still carrying Lev, who was now shrieking with fear. Grigori followed, but the delay had been fatal. The horsemen came closer, one approaching on either side. The path to the woods was cut off. In desperation Ma ran into the pond, but her feet sank into the mud, she slowed down, and at last she fell into the water.

  The soldiers hooted with laughter.

  They tied Ma's hands and marched her back. "Make sure the boys come too," said the land captain. "Prince's orders. "

  Grigori's father had been taken away a week ago, along with two other men. Yesterday, Prince Andrei's household carpenters had built a scaffold in the north meadow. Now, as Grigori followed his mother into the meadow, he saw three men standing on the scaffold, bound hand and foot, with ropes around their necks. Beside the scaffold stood a priest.

  Ma screamed: "No!" She began to struggle with the rope that bound her hands. A cavalryman drew a rifle from the holster fixed to his saddle and, reversing it, hit her in the face with its wooden stock. She stopped struggling and began to sob.

  Grigori knew what this meant: his father was going to die here. He had seen horse thieves hanged by the village elders, though that had seemed different because the victims were men he did not know. He was seized by a terror that turned his entire body numb and feeble.

  Perhaps something would happen to prevent the execution. The tsar might intervene, if he truly watched over his people. Or perhaps an angel. Grigori's face felt wet and he realized he was crying.

  He and his mother were forced to stand right in front of the scaffold. The other villagers gathered around. Like Ma, the wives of the other two men had to be dragged there, screaming and crying, their hands bound, their children holding on to their skirts and howling in terror.

  On the dirt track beyond the field gate stood a closed carriage, its matching chestnut horses cropping the roadside grass. When everyone was present, a black-bearded figure emerged from the carriage in a long dark coat: Prince Andrei. He turned and gave his hand to his little sister, Princess Bea, with furs around her shoulders against the morning cold. The princess was beautiful, Grigori could not help noticing, with pale skin and fair hair, just as he imagined angels to look, even though she was obviously a devil.

  The prince addressed the villagers. "This meadow belongs to Princess Bea," he said. "No one may graze cattle here without her permission. To do so is to steal the princess's grass. "

  There was a murmur of resentment from the crowd. They did not believe in this kind of ownership, despite what they were told every Sunday in church. They adhered to an older, peasant morality, according to which the land was for those who worked it.

  The prince pointed to the three men on the scaffold. "These fools broke the law-not once, but repeatedly. " His voice was shrill with outrage, like a child whose toy has been snatched. "Worse, they told others that the princess had no right to stop them, and that fields the landowner is not using should be available to poor peasants. " Grigori had heard his father say such things often. "As a result, men from other villages have started grazing cattle on land that belongs to the nobility. Instead of repenting their sins, these three have turned their neighbors into sinners too! That is why they have been sentenced to death. " He nodded to the priest.

  The priest climbed the makeshift steps and spoke quietly to each man in turn. The first nodded expressionlessly. The second wept and began to pray aloud. The third, Grigori's father, spat in the priest's face. No one was shocked: the villagers had a low opinion of the clergy, and Grigori had heard his father say that they told the police everything they heard in the confessional.

  The priest descended the steps, and Prince Andrei nodded to one of his servants, who was standing by with a sledgehammer. Grigori noticed for the first time that the three condemned men were standing on a crudely hinged wooden platform supported only by a single prop, and he realized with terror that the sledgehammer was to knock away the prop.

  Now, he thought, this is when an angel should appear.

  The villagers moaned. The wives began to scream, and this time the soldiers did not stop them. Little Lev was hysterical. He probably did not understand what was about to happen, Grigori thought, but he was scared by their mother's shrieks.

  Pa showed no emotion. His face was stony. He looked into the distance and awaited his fate. Grigori wanted to be that strong. He struggled to maintain his self-control, even though he needed to howl like Lev. He could not hold back the tears, but he bit his lip and remained as silent as his father.

  The servant hefted his sledgehammer, touched it to the prop to get his range, swung backward, and struck. The prop flew through the air. The hinged platform came down with a bang. The three men dropped, then jerked, their fall arrested by the ropes around their necks.

  Grigori was unable to look away. He stared at his father. Pa did not die instantly. He opened his mouth, trying to breathe, or to shout, but could not do either. His face turned red and he struggled with the ropes that bound him. It seemed to go on for a long time. His face became redder.

  Then his skin turned a bluish color and his movements became weaker. At last he was still.

  Ma stopped screaming and began to sob.

  The priest prayed aloud, but the villagers ignored him and, one by one, they turned away from the sight of the three dead men.

  The prince and the princess got back into their carriage, and after a moment, the coachman cracked his whip and drove away.

  {VI}

  Grigori was calm again by the time he finished telling the story. He dragged his sleeve across his face to dry his tears, then turned his attention back to Katerina. She had listened to him in compassionate silence, but she was not shocked. She must have seen similar sights herself: hanging, flogging, and mutilation were normal punishments in the villages.

  Grigori put the bowl of warm water on the table and found a clean towel. Katerina tilted her head back, and Grigori hung the kerosene lamp from a hook on the wall so that he could see better.

  There was a cut on her forehead and a bruise on her cheek, and her lips were puffy. Even so, staring at her close up took Grigori's breath away. She looked back at him with a candid, fearless gaze that he found enchanti
ng.

  He dipped a corner of the towel in warm water.

  "Be gentle," she said.

  "Of course. " He began by wiping her forehead. Her injury there was only a graze, he saw when he had dabbed away the blood.

  "That feels better," she said.

  She watched his face while he worked. He washed her cheeks and her throat, then said: "I've left the painful part until last. "

  "It will be all right," she said. "You have such a light touch. " All the same, she winced when his towel touched her swollen lips.

  "Sorry," he said.

  "Keep going. "

  The abrasions were already healing, he saw as he cleaned them. She had the even white teeth of a young girl. He wiped the corners of her wide mouth. As he bent closer, he could feel her warm breath on his face.

  When he had finished he felt a sense of disappointment, as if he had been waiting for something that had not happened.

  He sat back and rinsed the towel in the water, which was now dark with her blood.

  "Thank you," she said. "You have very good hands. "

  His heart was racing. He had bathed people's wounds before, but he had never experienced this dizzy sensation. He felt he might be about to do something foolish.

  He opened the window and emptied the bowl, making a pink splash on the snow in the yard.

  The mad thought crossed his mind that Katerina might be a dream. He turned, half expecting her chair to be empty. But there she was, looking back at him with those blue-green eyes, and he realized he wanted her never to go away.

  It occurred to him that he might be in love.

  He had never thought that before. He was usually too busy looking after Lev to chase women. He was not a virgin: he had had sex with three different women. It had always been a joyless experience, perhaps because he had not much cared for any of them.

  But now, he thought shakily, he wanted, more than anything else in the world, to lie down with Katerina on the narrow bed against the wall and kiss her hurt face and tell her-

  And tell her that he loved her.

  Don't be stupid, he said to himself. You met her an hour ago. What she wants from you is not love, but a loan and a job and a place to sleep.

  He closed the window with a slam.

  She said: "So you cook for your brother, and you have gentle hands, and yet you can knock a policeman to the ground with one punch. "

  He did not know what to say.

  "You told me how your father died," she went on. "But your mother died, too, when you were young-didn't she?"

  "How did you know?"

  Katerina shrugged. "Because you had to become a mother. "

  {VII}

  She died on January 9, 1905, by the old Russian calendar. It was a Sunday, and in the days and years that followed it came to be known as Bloody Sunday.

  Grigori was sixteen and Lev eleven. Like Ma, both boys worked at the Putilov factory. Grigori was an apprentice foundryman, Lev a sweep. That January all three of them were on strike, along with more than a hundred thousand other St. Petersburg factory workers, for an eight-hour day and the right to form trade unions. On the morning of the ninth they put on their best clothes and went out, holding hands and tramping through a fresh fall of snow, to a church near the Putilov factory. After the service they joined the thousands of workers marching from all points of the city toward the Winter Palace.

  "Why do we have to march?" young Lev whined. He would have preferred to play soccer in an alleyway.

  "Because of your father," said Ma. "Because princes and princesses are murdering brutes. Because we have to overthrow the tsar and all his kind. Because I will not rest until Russia is a republic. "

  It was a perfect St. Petersburg day, cold but dry, and Grigori's face was warmed by the sun just as his heart was warmed by the feeling of comradeship in a just cause.

  Their leader, Father Gapon, was like an Old Testament prophet, with his long beard, his biblical language, and the light of glory in his eye. He was no revolutionary: his self-help clubs, approved by the government, started all meetings with the Lord's Prayer and ended with the national anthem. "I can see now what the tsar intended Gapon to be," Grigori said to Katerina nine years later, in his room overlooking the railway line. "A safety valve, designed to take the pressure for reform and release it harmlessly in tea drinking and country dancing. But it didn't work. "

  Wearing a long white robe and carrying a crucifix, Gapon led the procession along the Narva highway. Grigori, Lev, and Ma were right beside him: he encouraged families to march at the front, saying that the soldiers would never fire on infants. Behind them two neighbors carried a large portrait of the tsar. Gapon told them that the tsar was the father of his people. He would listen to their cries, overrule his hard-hearted ministers, and grant the workers' reasonable demands. "The Lord Jesus said: 'Suffer the little children to come unto me,' and the tsar says the same," Gapon cried, and Grigori believed him.

  They had approached the Narva Gate, a massive triumphal arch, and Grigori remembered looking up at the statue of a chariot with six gigantic horses; then a squadron of cavalry charged the marchers, almost as if the copper horses atop the monument had come thunderously alive.

  Some demonstrators fled, some fell to the hammer blows of the hooves. Grigori froze in place, terrified, as did Ma and Lev.

  The soldiers did not draw weapons, and seemed intent simply on scaring people away; but there were too many workers, and a few minutes later the cavalry wheeled their horses and rode off.

  The march resumed in a different spirit. Grigori sensed that the day might not end peacefully. He thought about the forces ranged against them: the nobility, the ministers, and the army. How far would they go to keep the people from speaking to their tsar?

  His answer came almost immediately. Looking over the heads in front of him he saw a line of infantry and realized, with a shudder of dread, that they were in firing position.

  The march slowed as people comprehended what they faced. Father Gapon, who was within touching distance of Grigori, turned and shouted to his followers: "The tsar will never allow his armies to shoot at his beloved people!"

  There was a deafening rattle, like a hailstorm on a tin roof: the soldiers had fired a salvo. The acrid smell of gunpowder stung Grigori's nostrils, and fear clutched at his heart.

  The priest shouted: "Don't worry-they're firing into the air!"

  Another volley rang out, but no bullets seemed to land. All the same, Grigori's bowels clenched in terror.

  Then there was a third salvo, and this time the bullets did not fly harmlessly up. Grigori heard screams and saw people fall. He stared around in confusion for a moment, then Ma shoved him violently, shouting: "Lie down!" He fell flat. At the same time Ma threw Lev to the ground and dropped on top of him.

  We're going to die, Grigori thought, and his heart thudded louder than the guns.

  The shooting continued relentlessly, a nightmare noise that could not be shut out. As people fled in panic, Grigori was trodden on by heavy boots, but Ma protected his head and Lev's. They lay there trembling while the shooting and screaming went on above them.

  Then the firing stopped. Ma moved, and Grigori raised his head to look around. People were hurrying away in all directions, shouting to one another, but the screaming died down. "Get up, come on," said Ma, and they scrambled to their feet and hurried away from the road, jumping over still bodies and running around the bleeding wounded. They reached a side street and slowed down. Lev whispered to Grigori: "I've wet myself! Don't tell Ma!"

  Ma's blood was up. "We WILL speak to the tsar!" she cried, and people stopped to look at her broad peasant face and intense gaze. She was deep-chested, and her voice boomed out across the street. "They cannot prevent us-we must go to the Winter Palace!" Some people cheered, and others nodded agreement. Lev started to cry.

  Listening to the story, nine years later, Katerina s
aid: "Why did she do that? She should have taken her children home to safety!"

  "She used to say she did not want her sons to live as she had," Grigori replied. "I think she felt it would be better for us all to die than to give up the hope of a better life. "

  Katerina looked thoughtful. "I suppose that's brave. "

  "It's more than bravery," Grigori said stoutly. "It's heroism. "

  "What happened next?"

  They had walked into the city center, along with thousands of others. As the sun rose higher over the snowy city, Grigori unbuttoned his coat and unwound his scarf. It was a long walk for Lev's short legs, but the boy was too shocked and scared to complain.

  At last they reached Nevsky Prospekt, the broad boulevard that ran through the heart of the city. It was already thronged with people. Streetcars and omnibuses drove up and down, and horse cabs dashed dangerously in all directions-in those days, Grigori recalled, there had been no motor taxis.

  They ran into Konstantin, a lathe operator from the Putilov works. He told Ma, ominously, that demonstrators had been killed in other parts of the city. But she did not break her pace, and the rest of the crowd seemed equally resolute. They moved steadily past shops selling German pianos, hats made in Paris, and special silver bowls to hold hothouse roses. In the jewelry stores there a nobleman could spend more on a bauble for his mistress than a factory worker would earn in a lifetime, Grigori had been told. They passed the Soleil Cinema, which Grigori longed to visit. Vendors were doing good business, selling tea from samovars and colored balloons for children.

  At the end of the street they came to three great St. Petersburg landmarks standing side by side on the bank of the frozen Neva River: the equestrian statue of Peter the Great, always called The Bronze Horseman; the Admiralty building with its spire; and the Winter Palace. When he had first seen the palace, at the age of twelve, he had refused to believe that such a large building could be a place for people to actually live. It seemed inconceivable, like something in a story, a magic sword or a cloak of invisibility.

  The square in front of the palace was white with snow. On the far side, ranged in front of the dark red building, were cavalry, riflemen in long coats, and cannon. The crowds massed around the edges of the square, keeping their distance, fearful of the military; but newcomers kept pouring in from the surrounding streets, like the waters of the tributaries emptying into the Neva, and Grigori was constantly pushed forward. Not all those present were workers, Grigori noted with surprise: many wore the warm coats of the middle classes on their way home from church, some looked like students, and a few even wore school uniforms.

  Ma prudently moved them away from the guns and into the Alexandrovskii Garden, a park in front of the long yellow-and-white Admiralty building. Other people had the same idea, and the crowd there became animated. The man who normally gave deer sled rides to middle-class children had gone home. Everyone there was talking of massacres: all over the city, marchers had been mown down by gunfire and hacked to death by Cossack sabres. Grigori spoke to a boy his own age and told him what had happened at the Narva Gate. As the demonstrators learned what had happened to others, they grew angrier.

  Grigori stared up at the long façade of the Winter Palace, with its hundreds of windows. Where was the tsar?

  "He was not at the Winter Palace that morning, as we found out later," Grigori told Katerina, and he could hear in his own voice the bitter resentment of a disappointed believer. "He was not even in town. The father of his people had gone to his palace at Tsarskoye Selo, to spend the weekend taking country walks and playing dominoes. But we did not know that then, and we called to him, begging him to show himself to his loyal subjects. "

  The crowd grew; the calls for the tsar became more insistent; some of the demonstrators started to jeer at the soldiers. Everyone was becoming tense and angry. Suddenly a detachment of guards charged into the gardens, ordering everyone out. Grigori watched, fearful and incredulous, as they lashed out indiscriminately with whips, some using the flat sides of their sabres. He looked at Ma for guidance. She said: "We can't give up now!" Grigori did not know what, exactly, they all expected the tsar to do: he just felt sure, as everyone did, that their monarch would somehow redress their grievances if only he knew about them.

  The other demonstrators were as resolute as Ma and, although those who were attacked by guards cowered away, no one left the area.

  Then the soldiers took up firing positions.

  Near the front, several people fell to their knees, took off their caps, and crossed themselves. "Kneel down!" said Ma, and the three of them knelt, as did more of the people around them, until most of the crowd had assumed the position of prayer.

  A silence descended that made Grigori scared. He stared at the rifles pointed at him, and the riflemen stared back expressionlessly, like statues.

  Then Grigori heard a bugle call.

  It was a signal. The soldiers fired their weapons. All around Grigori, people screamed and fell. A boy who had climbed a statue for a better view cried out and tumbled to the ground. A child fell out of a tree like a shot bird.

  Grigori saw Ma go facedown. Thinking she was avoiding the gunfire, he did the same. Then, looking at her as they both lay on the ground, he saw the blood, bright red on the snow around her head.

  "No!" he shouted. "No!"

  Lev screamed.

  Grigori grabbed Ma's shoulders and pulled her up. Her body was limp. He stared at her face. At first he was bewildered by the sight that met his eyes. What was he seeing? Where her forehead and her eyes should have been there was just a mass of unrecognizable pulp.

  It was Lev who grasped the truth. "She's dead!" he screamed. "Ma's dead, my mother is dead!"

  The firing stopped. All around, people were running, limping, or crawling away. Grigori tried to think. What should he do? He must take Ma away from here, he decided. He put his arms under her and picked her up. She was not light, but he was strong.

  He turned around, looking for the way home. His vision was strangely blurred, and he realized he was weeping. "Come on," he said to Lev. "Stop screaming. We have to go. "

  At the edge of the square they were stopped by an old man, the skin of his face creased around watery eyes. He wore the blue tunic of a factory worker. "You're young," he said to Grigori. There was anguish and rage in his voice. "Never forget this," he said. "Never forget the murders committed here today by the tsar. "

  Grigori nodded. "I won't forget, sir," he said.

  "May you live long," said the old man. "Long enough to take revenge on the bloodstained tsar for the evil he has done this day. "

  {VIII}

  "I carried her for about a mile, then I got tired, so I boarded a streetcar, still holding her," Grigori told Katerina.

  She stared at him. Her beautiful, bruised face was pale with horror. "You carried your dead mother home on a streetcar?"

  He shrugged. "At the time I had no idea I was doing anything strange. Or, rather, everything that happened that day was so strange that nothing I did seemed odd. "

  "What about the people riding the car?"

  "The conductor said nothing. I suppose he was too shocked to throw me off, and he didn't ask me for the fare-which I would not have been able to pay, of course. "

  "So you just sat down?"

  "I sat there, with her body in my arms, and Lev beside me, crying. The passengers just stared at us. I didn't care what they thought. I was concentrating on what I had to do, which was to get her home. "

  "And so you became the head of your family, at the age of sixteen. "

  Grigori nodded. Although the memories were painful, he felt the most intense pleasure from her concentrated attention. Her eyes were fixed on him, and she listened with her mouth open and a look on her lovely face of mingled fascination and horror.

  "What I remember most about that time is that no one helped us," he said, and he was revisited by the panicky feelin
g that he was alone in a hostile world. The memory never failed to fill his soul with rage. It's over now, he told himself; I've got a home and a job, and my brother has grown up strong and handsome. The bad times are over. But nevertheless he wanted to take someone by the neck-a soldier, a policeman, a government minister, or the tsar himself-and squeeze until there was no life left. He closed his eyes, shuddering, until the feeling passed.

  "As soon as the funeral was over, the landlord threw us out, saying we would not be able to pay; and he took our furniture-for back rent, he said, although Ma was never behind with payments. I went to the church and told the priest we had nowhere to sleep. "

  Katerina laughed harshly. "I can guess what happened there. "

  He was surprised. "Can you?"

  "The priest offered you a bed-his bed. That's what happened to me. "

  "Something like that," Grigori said. "He gave me a few kopeks and sent me to buy hot potatoes. The shop wasn't where he said, but instead of searching for it I hurried back to the church, because I didn't like the look of him. Sure enough, when I went into the vestry he was taking Lev's trousers down. "

  She nodded. "Priests have been doing that sort of thing to me since I was twelve. "

  Grigori was shocked. He had assumed that that particular priest was uniquely evil. Katerina obviously believed that depravity was the norm. "Are they all like that?" he said angrily.

  "Most of them, in my experience. "

  He shook his head in disgust. "And you know what amazed me the most? When I caught him, he wasn't even ashamed! He just looked annoyed, as if I had interrupted him while he was meditating on the Bible. "

  "What did you do?"

  "I told Lev to do up his trousers, and we left. The priest asked for his kopeks back, but I told him they were alms for the poor. I used them to pay for a bed in a lodging house that night. "

  "And then?"

  "Eventually I got a good enough job, by lying about my age, and I found a room, and I learned, day by day, how to be independent. "

  "And now you're happy?"

  "Certainly not. My mother intended us to have a better life, and I'm going to make sure of it. We're leaving Russia. I've saved up almost enough money. I'm going to America, and when I get there I'll send money back for a ticket for Lev. They have no tsar in America-no emperor or king of any kind. The army can't just shoot anyone they like. The people rule the country!"

  She was skeptical. "Do you really believe that?"

  "It's true!"

  There was a tap at the window. Katerina was startled-they were on the second floor-but Grigori knew it was Lev. Late at night, when the door of the house was locked, Lev had to cross the railway line to the backyard, climb onto the washhouse roof, and come in through the window.

  Grigori opened up and Lev climbed in. He was dressed smartly, in a jacket with mother-of-pearl buttons and a cap with a velvet band. His waistcoat sported a brass watch chain. His hair was cut in the fashionable "Polish" style with a parting at the side, instead of down the middle as the peasants wore it. Katerina looked surprised, and Grigori guessed she had not expected his brother to be so dashing.

  Normally Grigori was pleased to see Lev, and relieved if he was sober and in one piece. Now he wished he could have had longer alone with Katerina.

  He introduced them, and Lev's eyes gleamed with interest as he shook her hand. She wiped tears from her cheeks. "Grigori was telling me about the death of your mother," she explained.

  "He has been mother and father to me for nine years," Lev said. He tilted his head and sniffed the air. "And he makes good stew. "

  Grigori got out bowls and spoons, and put a loaf of black bread on the table. Katerina explained to Lev about the fight with the policeman Pinsky. The way she told the story made Grigori seem braver than he felt, but he was happy to be a hero in her eyes.

  Lev was enchanted by Katerina. He leaned forward, listening as if he had never heard anything so fascinating, smiling and nodding, looking amazed or disgusted, according to what she was saying.

  Grigori spooned the stew into bowls and pulled the packing case up to the table for use as a third chair. The food was good: he had added an onion to the pot, and the ham bone gave a hint of meaty richness to the turnips. The atmosphere lightened as Lev talked of inconsequential matters, odd incidents at the factory and funny things people said. He kept Katerina laughing.

  When they had finished, Lev asked Katerina how she came to be in the city.

  "My father died and my mother remarried," she said. "Unfortunately, my stepfather seemed to like me better than my mother. " She tossed her head, and Grigori could not tell whether she was ashamed or defiant. "At any rate, that's what my mother believed, and she threw me out. "

  Grigori said: "Half the population of St. Petersburg have come here from a village. Soon there will be no one left to till the soil. "

  Lev said: "What was your journey like?"

  It was a familiar tale of third-class railway tickets and lifts begged on carts, but Grigori was mesmerized by her face as she talked.

  Once again Lev listened with rapt attention, making amusing comments, asking the occasional question.

  Soon, Grigori noticed, Katerina had turned in her seat and was talking exclusively to Lev.

  Almost, Grigori thought, as if I was not even here.

 
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