R. H. Bruce Lockhart
THE MOSCOW PAGEANT
"People pass. One has eyes. One sees them."
---FROM THE FRENCH
MY arrival in Moscow coincided with the visit of the British Parliamentary Delegation, which, on the invitation of the Russian Government, had descended upon St. Petersburg and Moscow in that January of 1912. It was an imposing body, headed by the Speaker of the House of Commons. Lord Ampthill, Lord Derby, and Lord Weardale represented the Peers, General Sir James Wolfe Murray the Army, Lord Charles Beresford the Navy, and four Bishops the Church. There were many others, and altogether the delegation was about eighty strong. Attached to it in the capacity of interpreter was the inimitable and indispensable Maurice Baring. By the time it had reached Moscow, several of its members had fallen by the way and had returned home. The hospitality of St. Petersburg had been too much for them. Now the remaining Parliamentarians had to face the far greater ordeal of Muscovite hospitality---an ordeal which I was to share to the full.
On my arrival at the Brest Station I was met by Montgomery Grove, my new chief. He was in full uniform and was just dashing off to the ballet for the gala performance in honour of the British visitors. Instructing the porter how to deal with my luggage, he whisked me into a sleigh, drove me to the Metropole Hotel, pushed a bundle of invitation cards into my hand, and, depositing me with the hall porter, rushed away to keep his engagement.
A little bewildered but full of curiosity I proceeded to examine my new surroundings. The hotel was full to overflowing, and the room reserved for me was on the top floor.
Most of my neighbours were women, gaudily painted and gaudily dressed, who, after discovering by exhaustive telephone inquiries both my innocence and my modest purse, lost all interest in this new arrival. In any case, even had they so wished, Vice-Consuls could not compete with the Russian merchants of those days.
As I walked through the hall to the restaurant, my first impressions were of steaming furs, fat women and big sleek men; of attractive servility in the underlings and of good-natured ostentation on the part of the clients; of great wealth and crude coarseness, and yet a coarseness sufficiently exotic to dispel repulsion. I had entered into a kingdom where money was the only God. Yet the God of roubles was more lavish, more spendthrift, less harsh, than the God of dollars.
The restaurant was a blaze of light and colour. The long high room was surrounded by a balcony on all sides. Along the balcony were gaily lit windows and doors opening into the private rooms-known in Russia as "kabinets" where, hidden from prying eyes, dissolute youth and debauched old age trafficked roubles and champagne for gipsy songs and gipsy love. I do my beloved gipsies a wrong. Their morals were better than most people's. They kept themselves for themselves. The mercenary love to which I refer was Austrian, or Polish, or Jewish.
The restaurant itself was a maze of small tables. It was crowded by officers in badly cut uniforms, Russian merchants with scented beards, German commercial travellers with sallow complexions and close-cropped heads. And at every table a woman, at every table champagne---bad champagne at twenty-five shillings a bottle. At the hotel end of the room was a high balustraded dais, where an orchestra, resplendent in red coats, crashed out a Viennese waltz with a frenzy which drowned the popping of corks and the clatter of dishes and finally by its increasing furor subdued the conversation. And in a little pulpit for himself, the Mephistophelian figure of Konchik---Konchik, the leader of the orchestra, Konchik, the prince of cabaret violinists, Konchik---by that strange law of Nature which decrees that every leader in Russia shall be foreign---the Czech.
As I drank my first glass of vodka and for the first time ate caviar as it should be eaten---on a warm "kalatch,"[NOTE: Kalatch: a warm roll with a handle like a basket.] I realised I was in a new world, in which primitiveness and decadence lived side by side. Had an eldritch soothsayer appeared before me and foretold that seven years later I should again be sitting in that hall, that I should be alone, divorced from all my friends and surrounded by Bolsheviks, that in the place where Konchik was now playing Trotsky would be denouncing the Allies in my presence, I should have laughed her to scorn. Yet it was here that in 1918, as the guest of Trotsky, I was to attend my first meeting of the Bolshevist Central Executive Committee and that I was to shake hands for the first and only time with Stalin.
At that moment, however, all my thoughts were fixed on Konchik. The tumultuous wave of the "Blue Danube" had died down. From a "kabinet" had come a command for "I do not speak to you"---that song once sung by Panina, the greatest of all gipsies. At its plaintive minor chords the room hushed, while Konchik, his eyes almost lost in his fat face, made his violin croon and sob and finally fade away in a whisper of despair and unrequited love.
Poor Konchik. The last time I saw him was four years ago in Prague. He was playing in a small restaurant frequented by soulless diplomatists and stolid Czech bourgeois. His savings had been engulfed in the revolution. His last possession was his violin. The mention of Russia brought tears to his eyes.
That first night in Moscow, however, he was a king in a palace of his own, and it was with praiseworthy resolution (alas! I make vain resolutions every time I make a change of surroundings) but with natural reluctance that I dragged myself to bed at eleven o'clock. I was well pleased with Moscow. The clear star-lit snow, the crisp, dry cold, the jingle of the sleighbells, and the strange silence of the snow-banked streets, had stirred my pulses. Now Konchik's music had provided me with a new sensation, blinding me to the defects of a life which was to put both my health and my character to an impossible test. To be strictly truthful, my early departure from the restaurant was not entirely due to a newly acquired sense of duty. Knowing nothing of Russia, I had assumed that thick clothes would be necessary to protect me from the cold. I had, therefore, invested in the thickest of woollen underwear. As in winter the temperature of the average Russian room approaches that of a Turkish bath, I suffered acute discomfort. After that first night I put these offences away from me and have never worn them since.
For the next three days I lived in a turmoil of entertainment. I did not even see the Consulate. Instead, I followed modestly at the heels of the delegation, lunching now with this corporation, now with that, visiting monasteries and race-courses, attending gala performances at the theatre, shaking hands with long-bearded generals and exchanging stilted compliments in French with the wives of the Moscow merchants.
On the third day this fierce round of festivities was wound up with an immense dinner given by the Haritonenkos, the sugar kings of Moscow. I describe it in some detail because it gives an amazing picture of the Moscow which existed before the war and which will never come again.
The Haritonenkos' house was an immense palace on the far side of the river just opposite the Kremlin.
To meet the British delegates every official, every notable, every millionaire, in Moscow had been invited, and when I arrived I found a throng like a theatre queue struggling on the staircases. The whole house was a fairyland of flowers brought all the way from Nice. Orchestras seemed to be playing in every ante-chamber.
When finally I made my way upstairs, I was lost in a crowd in which I knew no one. I doubt even if I shook hands with my host and hostess. But at long narrow tables vodka and the most delicious "zakuski," both hot and cold, were being served by scores of waiters to the standing guests. I took a glass of vodka and tried several of the unknown dishes. They were excellent. Then an English-speaking Russian took pity on my loneliness, and I had more vodka and more "zakuski." It was long past the appointed hour for dinner, but no one seemed to be moving, and presently it struck me that perhaps in this strange country the people dined standing up. I had another vodka and a second portion of reindeer tongue. Then, when my appetite was sated, a footman came along and handed me a card with a plan of the table and my own particular place, and a few minutes later a huge procession made its way to the dining-room. I do not wish to exaggerate. I say truthfully that I cannot remember the number of courses or the different varieties of wine which accompanied them. But the meal lasted till eleven o'clock and would have taxed the intestines of a giant. My immediate neighbours were a Miss von Meck, the daughter of a railway magnate, and Commander Kahovsky, the Russian flag-lieutenant who had been attached to Lord Charles Beresford.
Miss von Meck spoke excellent English, and under the warm glow of her unaffected volubility my shyness soon melted. Before the meal was half-way through she had given me a lightning survey of Anglo-Russian relations, a summary of the English and Russian characters, a thumb-nail sketch of every one in the room, and a detailed account of all her own realised and unrealised desires and ambitions.
Kahovsky, however, seemed nervous and ill-at-ease. I was soon to discover why. During dinner he was called away from the room and never returned. The next day I learnt that he had gone to the telephone to speak to his mistress, the wife of a Russian Governor, who lived in St. Petersburg. They had been on bad terms for some time, and with dramatic instinct she had chosen this moment to tell him that all was over. Kahovsky had then pulled out his revolver and, still holding the receiver, had put a bullet through his brain. It was very sad, very Russian, very hard on Lord Charles Beresford, and by way of example a little dangerous for a young and highly impressionable Vice-Consul.
Dinner having dragged itself to an end, we again went upstairs to another vast room, where a stage had been erected. Here for over an hour Geltzer, Mordkin and Balashova provided us with a delightful ballet divertissement, and Sibor, the leading violinist of the "Big Theatre" orchestra, played Chopin nocturnes to us.
What the evening must have cost I do not know. For me it was not to finish until the early morning. After the musical entertainment we danced. As far as I was concerned, it was not a successful experiment, and, strangely enough, in those days the Russians were poor ball-room dancers. Clinging firmly to the friendly von Meck girl, I repaired once more to the dining-room, where a continuous supper was in progress. Here I met my host's son, a young chubby-faced boy, who was still in his teens and who even at that age showed signs of the corpulence of good living. With flushed cheeks he informed us that, after the guests had gone, we were going on to hear the gipsies. We formed a minor conspiracy, collected half a dozen kindred spirits, and at four in the morning set out in "troikas"---private "troikas" drawn by magnificent Arabs---on the long drive to "Streilna," the kingdom of Maria Nikolaievna.
I can still visualise those "troikas" standing before the house: the fur rugs; the drivers, with tiny fur-capped heads protruding from the immense folds of their "shubas," for all the world like Gargantuan golliwogs; the beautiful horses straining at their bits; below us, the ice-bound river lit up like a silver thread by the moon, and immediately before us the ghostly towers of the Kremlin standing out like white sentinels before the starry camp of night.
We took our places-two of us to each troika. The drivers purred to their horses, and in a second we were off. For four glorious miles we tore at breakneck speed through the deserted streets, up the Tverskaia, past the Brest Station, past the famous night establishment of Yar, out into the Petrovsky Park, until with stinging cheeks and icicles on the drivers' beards we drew up before the miniature crystal palace which is "Streilna."
As in a dream I followed the others through the Palm Court, which is the main part of the building, into a large pine. walled "kabinet," with a roaring wood fire burning in an open fireplace. The proprietor rubbed his hands and bowed. The headwaiter bowed without rubbing his hands. A host of waiters in white uniforms bowed still lower and moved silently to their various tasks. In a few seconds the room was prepared for the great ritual. We guests sat at a large table near the fire. Before us was an open space and behind it a semi-circle of chairs for the gipsies. The wine waiter brought the champagne, and then Maria Nikolaievna came in followed by eight gipsies, four with guitars, and four girls, with eyes like sloes and sinuous graceful bodies. Both men and women were dressed in the traditional gipsy costume, the men with white-brocaded Russian shirts and coloured trousers, the girls in coloured silks with a red silk kerchief round their heads.
When I met her that night for the first time, Maria Nikolaievna was a plump, heavy woman of forty. Her face was lined, and there was a wistful sadness in her large, grey eyes. In repose she looked an old and lonely woman, but when she spoke the lines in her face vanished into smiles, and one realised the immense reserves of strength which she could call upon at will. The cynic will say that her task in life was to collect foolish and preferably rich young men, to sing to them, and to make them drink oceans of champagne until their wealth or their father's wealth was transferred from their pockets to her own. Commonsense may seem to be on the cynic's side, but there was nothing cynical in Maria Nikolaievna's attitude towards life. She was an artist---in her own way, a great artist---who gave full value for her money, and her kindness and generosity to those who were her friends came straight from the heart.
That night I heard her sing for the first time, and the memory of those great deep notes, which are the secret of the best women gipsy singers, will remain with me until I die. That night, too, I drank my first "charochka" to her singing. For a novice it is rather a trying ordeal. A large champagne glass is filled to the brim. The gipsy singer places it on a plate and, facing the guest who is to drink the "charochka," sings the following verse:
"Like a scented flower
Breathing out perfume,
Bring the brimming glass;
Let us drink a toast.
Drink a toast to Roman,
Román, our beloved,
And until he drinks it down
Pour him out no more."
The last four lines are a chorus, which is taken up with increasing frenzy by the whole troupe. The singer then advances towards the guest whom she is honouring, and holds out the plate to him. He takes the glass, bows low, stands erect, and then drinks the bumper in one draught, replacing the glass upside down on the plate to show that he has not left a drop.
It is an intimate ritual. Only the guest's Christian name is used, and, as there is no Robert in Russian, there and then Maria Nikolaievna christened me "Roman," which is the Russian equivalent, and Roman or Rómochka I have remained to my Russian friends ever since.
Maria Nikolaievna's art, however, was, as I discovered even then, on a far higher plane than the singing of mere drinking songs. When she sang alone, her voice now passionate, now appealing, then sinking to an infinite sadness, my heart melted. This gipsy music, in fact, is more intoxicating, more dangerous, than opium, or women, or drink, and, although champagne is a necessary adjunct to the enjoyment, there is a plaintiveness in its appeal which to the Slav and Celtic races is almost irresistible. Far better than words it expresses the pent-up and stifled desires of mankind. It induces a delicious melancholy which is half-lyrical, half-sensuous. Something there is in it of the boundless width of the Russian steppe. It is the uttermost antithesis of anything that is Anglo-Saxon. It breaks down all reserves of restraint. It will drive a man to the money-lenders and even to crime. Doubtless, it is the most primitive of all forms of music, somewhat similar in its appeal (may the spirit of Maria Nikolaievna forgive me for this sacrilegious comparison) to the negro spirituals. And it is very costly. It has been responsible for the bulk of my debts. Yet tomorrow, if I had thousands and the desire to squander them, there is no entertainment in New York, Paris, Berlin or London or, indeed, anywhere in the world, which I should choose in preference to a gipsy evening at "Streilna" in Moscow or at the Villa Rhode in St. Petersburg. It is the only form of entertainment which has never bored me and which, if I yielded to the temptation, I know would never fail to charm.
It would be foolish of me to pretend that my appreciation of gipsy music began on that first evening or, rather, early morning at "Streilna." Knowing not a word of Russian, I was, in truth, a little bewildered. I did not know my companions well enough to allow a loose rein to my Celtic temperament, and the heat of the room and the sweet champagne made my head ache. I was, therefore, not sorry when at six in the morning the party broke up, and we made our way home. Then it was that I discovered the innate subtlety of the Russian. Both in St. Petersburg and in Moscow he has his places of amusement far outside the town---not for any sinister or licentious purpose but merely in order that the drive back may cure him of the after-effects of his carouse. There is no such thing as a pick-me-up in Russia. The crisp, dry winter air is all the tonic that is necessary. By the time I had reached my hotel, I was fit enough to begin the evening all over again.
The Russia of those first three days of my Moscow life is gone for ever. I do not know what has happened to Miss von Meck. In 1930 her father---an old man of nearly seventy---was shot by the Bolsheviks as a dangerous counter-revolutionary. The Haritonenkos are dead. Their son is dead. Their elder daughter now lives in a two-roomed servantless flat in Munich. In 1930 she came over to England to protest to Lord Thomson, whom she had entertained in Russia, against the purchase of her father's house by the British Government. The house to-day is the headquarters of the British Embassy in Moscow. It was first confiscated by the Bolsheviks and then sold by them to His Majesty's Government.
The next afternoon, much to its own and everybody else's relief, the delegation left for England. It was to have one more adventure before it quitted Russian soil. As the train, which bore them back to sanity, drew into Smolensk late in the evening, a delegation of Russian clergy, headed by the local Bishop, stood on the platform to welcome it. They had come with bread and salt to greet the English Bishops. They found drawn blinds and darkened carriages. The unfortunate English were sleeping off the effects of ten days' incessant feasting. The Russians, however, were insistent. They had faced the cold to see an English Bishop, and an English Bishop they would see even in his nightshirt. At last the train conductor, more terrified by his own clergy than by the prospective wrath of the foreign strangers, woke up Maurice Baring. That great man was equal to the occasion, and the denouement was swift. Poking his head out of the window, he addressed the clergy in his best Russian.
"Go in peace," he shouted. "The bishops are asleep." And then to clinch the matter, he added confidentially but firmly: "They're all drunk."
IF the exotic gaiety of these first three days was enough to turn the head of any young man, the departure of the British delegation soon brought me to my senses. The first sight of. the British Consulate was a shattering blow. It was in the Consul's flat in a shabby side-street and consisted of a single room. There was no messenger, no door-keeper. The Consul's maid opened the door and, if she was out, I took her place. Montgomery Grove was a kind and tolerant chief, but he was married, had three children, was without private means, and in, an extremely expensive post was shamefully underpaid. He was far poorer than the majority of the local British colony, which was composed mainly of Lancashiremen engaged in the cotton industry. Fortunately, the work was not very arduous. Every morning from ten to one I sat in the little ante-room which was the Consular office. Its sole furniture consisted of two desks, a bookcase, a safe, a map of Russia and three chairs. If there was more than one visitor, Montgomery Grove fetched another chair from his drawing-room. I sat with my back to my chief, licked stamps, and whacked a typewriter. For the first few weeks I spent most of my time in translating commercial reports from the local German newspaper and in typing out copies of a stereotyped application in Russian for the renewal of the "permis de séjour," which was required by every foreigner in Russia and which was furnished by the local Russian Passport Department. We had, of course, no clerk. Such Russian correspondence as was necessary was done by Montgomery Grove. Before I had been six weeks in the Consulate I was tipped by a fat Russian merchant for opening the outside door for him. Fear of hurting his feelings made me pocket the twenty copecks.
I had seen much of official life in the Malay States. Even the young cadets had their punkah-wallahs, their clerks, their uniformed messengers. They sat, too, in luxurious offices and maintained a dignity which was respected by the whole business community. In Moscow the representative of the British Empire was housed in surroundings of which a Malayan Sanitary Board inspector would have been ashamed. Montgomery Grove, who had been a dashing and good-looking officer in an Indian cavalry regiment, must have felt his position keenly. He was not in a position to entertain the rich Muscovite merchants and made no attempt to do so. He carried out his duties without complaint, was a pillar of the local English church, and steered a careful and on the whole skilful course through the rough waters of local British sectional interests and jealousies.
To myself the complete insignificance of my own position was a salutary lesson in humility, and, once I had recovered from the first shock, I accepted the situation with resignation and even managed to derive amusement from it. I had, of course, to leave my hotel. In those days a Vice-Consul with a salary of £300 a year could not afford to live at the Metropole, and the week I spent there cost me more than my first month's salary. Moreover, it was essential for me to learn Russian. Indeed, in the absence of an interpreter, Montgomery Grove could not go on leave until I did. I therefore transferred myself, body and baggage, to the bosom of a Russian family. Here, I must confess, I had an extraordinary stroke of luck. Every year half a dozen English officers came to Moscow to study Russian for their interpreter's examination. To meet their needs a certain number of Russian families specialised in teaching Russian. Most of them were squalid middle-class homes with nothing to recommend them in the way either of comfort or of intellectual uplift. By good fortune, the one family which had a vacancy at the time of my arrival, was the Ertels, and to the Ertels by the grace of God I went.
Madame Ertel, the head of the house, was the widow of Alexander Ertel, the well-known Russian novelist and a friend of Tolstoy. She was a plump and rather delicate little woman of about fifty, very intellectual, with a keen interest both in literature and in politics, fussy in a crisis, but a born teacher. She had a large flat with an excellent library on the Vozdvizenka. The other inmates of my new home were her daughter, a dark-eyed temperamental young girl more like an Italian than a Russian, her niece, tall, good-looking and English in appearance, an Armenian student called Reuben Ivanovitch (his surname, like Michael Arlen's, I can never remember), and a wondrously old lady, who was known as "babushka,"[NOTE: Grandmother] who rarely spoke, and who appeared only at meal times. Into this new and modest existence I plunged myself with my usual enthusiasm and my genius for adaptability. My afternoons were my own, except on rare occasions, and I devoted them exclusively to the study of Russian. Every day I had a lesson from Madame Ertel and her daughter, and under their skilful tuition I made rapid progress. They did their best, too, to make me one of the family, and, although I feel that at times I must have been a sore trial to them, we never exchanged an unpleasant word.
This was a wholly delightful and instructive period of my Russian existence. Long before I had mastered enough Russian to take part in the general conversation, I suspected that the Ertels were bitterly opposed to the Tsarist form of Government, and that their sympathies were with the Cadets and Social-Revolutionarim As my Russian improved (in four months I could speak with considerable fluency), my suspicions were confirmed, and the knowledge that I was living in an anti-Tsarist stronghold gave a new thrill to my life and an added zest to my Russian studies. The thrill became almost a fear when one day over evening tea I was introduced to a woman whose husband had been shot during the 1905 revolution. I mentioned this episode to Montgomery Grove, who shook his head gravely and warned me to be careful. Nothing untoward, however, happened to me through this association. Later I was to realise that all the Moscow intelligentsia shared the Ertelian view.
The Ertels, in fact, were typical representatives of the intelligentsia. When at ten o'clock every evening they assembled round the samovar, they would sometimes sit far into the night discussing how to make the world safe by revolution. But when the morning of action came they were fast asleep in bed. It was very harmless, very hopeless, and very Russian. But for the War and the antiquated inefficiency of the Russian military organisation, the Tsar would still be on his throne.
Let me create no false impression. My Russian friends were not obsessed by revolution. Politics, in fact, were reserved for special occasions such as unhappy political anniversaries or some outrageous political sentence in the Russian courts. At other times the conversation was stimulating and instructive.
Many writers came to the house: old friends of the late M. Ertel; young men with plays to read and novels to place; painters, musicians, actors and actresses; and, much impressed, I worshipped at the feet of all of them. It was at Madame Ertel's that I first met Olga Knipper, the widow of Tchekov and the leading Moscow tragedienne. It was Madame Ertel who first took me to see a Tchekov play performed by the Moscow Art Theatre players in that sober, solemn theatre where applause was forbidden and where a late arrival was shut out for the whole act.
During this period my life was divided into two watertight compartments: one, Russian and unofficial, and the other official and mainly English. My own preference was for the Russian and unofficial. Occasionally, I dined out at the houses of local British residents. More rarely I attended an official banquet at the German Consulate-General. I paid a few formal calls on my Consular colleagues, and once or twice a week I went to the local British Club at the Hotel National. Of the rich Russians whom I had met during the visit of the British delegation, I saw nothing. Very soon I discovered that of Society with a big S in Moscow there was none. There was a small handful of nobles, who kept entirely to themselves. The rich merchants formed a group of their own. The intelligentsia were accessible, but only to those who were brought into their circle. Outside their business relations the English and the Russians remained severely apart.
Many of the local English, in fact, regarded the Russians as good-natured but immoral savages whom it was not safe or proper to introduce into their home circle. It amused me to see Madame Zimin, a Moscow millionairess, lunching every Sunday and playing bridge with her three husbands---two ex and one real. It showed a tolerance and an understanding which at that time were beyond the range of Western civilisation. The English wives, however, held up their hands in pious horror.
My introduction to the English colony was not very happy. Almost the first Englishmen I met were two brothers called Charnock. Both were Lancashiremen and both were connected with the cotton industry. At the time, Harry, the younger brother, was managing director of a large cotton mill at Oriechovo-Zuevo in the Province of Vladimir.
Now Oriechovo-Zuevo was one of the storm-centres of Russian industrial unrest, and as an antidote to vodka drinking and political agitation among his factory hands Charnock had instituted "soccer" football. His factory team was then champion of the Moscow League.
Through some confusion with my Cambridge brother the rumour had already gone round the British colony that I was a brilliant footballer. Without waiting to inquire whether "rugger" or "soccer" was my game, the Charnocks invited me to join the "Morozovtsi," which was the name of their factory team. Always ripe for adventure, I accepted. A few hours later I discovered that there was a British team in Moscow for which I was expected to play. The President of the Club did his best to persuade me to change my mind, but, having given my word, I was not prepared to go back on it.
At first there was some feeling against me, but I never regretted my decision. Later, when I came to know these Northcountrymen better, I realised what splendid fellows they were. As for the Charnocks, they have remained my firm friends ever since, and I have always counted my football experiences with the Russian proletariat as a most valuable part of my Russian education. I fear the experience was more profitable to me than to my club. I was, in fact, hardly worth my place. Nevertheless, these league matches were great fun and excited immense enthusiasm. At Oriechovo we played before a crowd of ten to fifteen thousand. Except by foreign teams we were rarely defeated. Certainly, Charnock's experiment was a complete success. If it had been adopted in other mills, the effect on the character of the Russian working-men might have been far-reaching.
In my Russian football career I had only one exciting episode. This was in Moscow, when my factory team were playing the champion team of Germany. In an encouraging spirit of fairplay the Russian Football Association had invited a German to referee. The Germans were considerably bigger than our men and used their weight with unnecessary vigour. In particular, the German right half was unduly rough towards a young English schoolboy of seventeen---a nephew of Charnock and a brilliant footballer---who was playing outside-left to me. When the German had bowled him over most unfairly for the fifth or sixth time, I lost my temper and addressed him in language which I admit I should never have used in England. In a trice the referee was on my tracks.
"Be careful," he said in excellent English. "I heard what you said. If you use language like that again, I'll send you off the field."
The words I had used were not so very bad. They were an invocation to the Deity to blast the German and to consign him to the nethermost depths of Hell. But for a moment I shuddered. Like a flash I saw headlines in the English Press: "British Vice-Consul sent off the Feld for Foul Language," and I apologised abjectly and profusely. I told the referee my fears after the game.
"If I'd known who you were," he said with a laugh, "I should have had you off without a warning."
During those first months of preparation there was one other influence which affected my life. This was my friendship with George Bowen, a young "gunner" who was studying Russian at the expense of the War Office. On the whole, I saw little of the military interpreters. Bowen, however, was an exception. He was a sandy-haired little man, very serious and intelligent, but possessed of a quiet humour which rarely misfired. We became great friends and dined together at least once a week, when we found relief from our labours in comparing the idiosyncrasies of our Russian teachers. He was a hard worker and, as we made a kind of gastronomic competition out of our Russian knowledge (whoever was first "stumped" by a word in the menu paid for the dinner), our association did little harm to our Russian studies.
By June we had both been six months in Moscow and were able to talk together with considerable fluency---and inaccuracy---in "pidgin" Russian. With characteristic self-consciousness we did not practise these exercises in the streets, but reserved them for the seclusion of the parks and forests. We lived frugally and modestly, and only rarely did we permit ourselves to depart from the rigid economy which under Bowen's influence even I had learnt to practise.
There were, however, lapses. One digression in particular, nearly brought disaster in its train. In July my chief and his family had departed to the "dacha"---a kind of summer bungalow outside the town, whither all Russians, except the poorest, repair in order to escape the torrid heat of the Moscow summer. My family had gone to the country, leaving me alone in the flat. Bowen was "en villégiature" with his family in a "dacha." I was lonely and miserable but still firm in my newlyfound asceticism. Then one afternoon George Bowen walked into my flat. The sky was like ink. A storm was rolling up from the south and the heat, which had melted the pavement to a soft pulp, was stupefying. With flushed face George threw his hat on my bed and sank into a chair.
"I'm fed up," he said. "This dacha existence has defeated me. We have five grown-ups and three children in four rickety rooms. The walls are as thin as paper. The bugs stop my sleeping. The dog is sick daily in my room. Vasili Vasilievitch snores, and today I caught Maria Petrovria picking sprouts out of the dish with a hairpin. I'm through with Puritanism. Tonight, I'm going Berserk!"
At that moment the storm broke, and for three-quarters of an hour the lightning played fireworks round the blue and golden cupolas of the Kremlin. In the flooded streets the trams stood motionless like ships riding at anchor. The thunder shook the house to its foundations.
We closed the windows and, coatless, lay back in our chairs. The sweat poured down George's face in streams. My head ached. It was an hour of bitter agony not unmingled with fear.
Then suddenly the skies cleared and the sun came out. Quickly we opened the windows. A delicious freshness came from the monastery garden opposite. The trees, which an hour before had been parched and white with dust, were now radiantly green. The streets resumed their normal bustle. The trams moved, and we moved with them.
Very deliberately we laid our plans. George would stay the night with me. We would dine at the Hermitage. Later we would go to the Aquarium. No expense would be spared.
Cheque-book in hand, we walked down to Muir and Mirrie-Ices---the Harrods of Moscow---and handed in our cheques. Each was for twenty-five pounds---a month's salary for me and more for the rarely reckless George. With trepidation we watched the cashier's face. Hitherto, we had never cashed more than ten pounds. He paid without a moment's hesitation. In those days the credit of British officials abroad was still unassailable.
Happy and irresponsible, we drove into the beautiful summer gardens of the Hermitage. We chose our sterlet from the fish-tank fountain. We dined as young men generally do dine, recklessly, incongruously, sampling all the unknown Russian dishes and drinking more vodka and champagne than were good for us. Our extravagance commanded a new attention from the white-robed waiters, while in our honour Krysh, the sleek Jewish violinist, played all his English repertory to us. The dinner was a prolonged one, and we finished up with cigars and Napoleon brandy at ten roubles a glass. The brandy was not good; certainly, Napoleon never tasted it. But fools must learn their lesson by experience. In my case the lesson was well mastered. Since that day Napoleon brandy has never tempted me.
It was at the Aquarium a few hours later that the great adventure befell us. This vast open-air amusement park was presided over by a negro called Thomas---a British subject with whom the Consulate was frequently at variance over the engagement of young English girls as cabaret performers. The entertainment he provided consisted of a perfectly respectable operette theatre, an equally respectable open-air music hall, a definitely less respectable verandah café-chantant, and the inevitable chain of private "kabinets" for gipsy-singing and private carouses. We had strolled into the café-chantant rather late and, taking the best box, had settled down to watch what even in our exalted state seemed a dreary performance. The rapid succession of talentless singers and dancers, who showed themselves on the stage for two minutes, smirked, and then rushed off to the dressing-room to change and join the tables below, soon wearied us, and even the "Macaroni Man," who drank incredible quantities of champagne in an incredibly short space of time, failed to relieve the gloom which was rapidly descending on us. Then suddenly the lights in the hall were dimmed. The band struck up an English tune. The curtain went up, and from the wings a young English girl---amazingly fresh and beautiful---tripped lightly to the centre of the stage and did a song and dance act. Her voice was shrill and harsh. Her accent was Wigan at its crudest. But she could dance, as Moscow had never seen an English girl dance. The audience rose to her. So did two young and suddenly refreshed Englishmen. The head-waiter was summoned. Pencil and paper were demanded, and then after bashful meditation---it was a new experience for both of us---we sent a combined note inviting her to join us in our box. She came. Off the stage she was not so beautiful as she had seemed ten minutes before. She was neither witty nor wicked. She had been on the stage since she was fourteen and took life philosophically. But she was English, and the story of her career thrilled us. I expect our shyness and our awkwardness amused her.
We were not allowed to enjoy our conversation without interruption. A waiter brought in a note and handed it to our guest. She read it, begged to be excused for a minute, and left the room. Presently, we heard high words outside the door---a male Cockney voice predominating. Then there was a scuffle and a final "blast you." The door opened and was hurriedly shut, and with flushed face our Lancashire lady returned to us. What was the matter? It was nothing. There was an English jockey---a mad fellow, always drunk, who was making her life a burden and a misery. We expressed our sympathy, ordered more champagne, and in five minutes had forgotten all about the incident.
We were not allowed to forget for long. An hour later the door was again thrown open. This time Thomas himself appeared, followed by a policeman. Outside the door was a mob of waiters and girls with scared faces. The negro scratched his head. There had been an accident. Would Missie go at once? The English jockey had shot himself.
Suddenly sobered, we paid our bill and followed the girl to the shabby furnished rooms across the road where the tragedy had taken place. We were prepared for the worst-scandal, possibly disgrace, and our almost certain appearance as witnesses at the inquest. For both of us the matter seemed terribly serious. In the circumstances the best course seemed to be to take Thomas into our confidence. He laughed at our fears.
"I will make that ol' right, Mistah Lockhart," he said. "Bless yo' heart, the police won't worry you----or the English Missie either. They's sho' used to tragedies like this, and this one has been comin' fo' a long time."
He was right. Indeed, to any one who was not a political suspect, above all, to any one who had some official rank, the Russian police showed a deference which, if generally reinforced by the concrete of hard cash, was not without its advantages. Still, some days were to elapse before our fears were finally allayed, and it was with grim forebodings that I awoke the next morning---or rather the same morning---to hear George Bowen splashing in his bath and crying to the Heavens to tell him who was the fool who said: "Joy cometh with the morning."
In that summer of 1912 I had the good fortune to see the Emperor twice---a rare opportunity in Moscow, for the Tsar of all the Russias seldom visited the ancient capital. The city had too many tragic memories for him, and the horror of the shambles of the Khodynka Field, where at his coronation celebrations hundreds of peasants were crushed to death, was ever present in his mind. Moscow, too, was the centre of Radicalism and, as such, was anathema to the Empress. On the first occasion, the Tsar came to unveil the statue to his father, the Emperor Alexander III. It was a strictly official ceremony, attended only by the nobles, the military and civil heads of departments, and a selected number of the leading merchants. I remember the visit for two reasons: first, because for weeks before the Moscow police had pestered us and, indeed, all the Consular Corps with idiotic questions regarding the political reliability of our various nationals who lived anywhere near the route along which the Emperor was to pass, and, secondly, because on his way to the Kremlin the Tsar stopped at the spot where the Grand Duke Serge had been murdered, and knelt down alone on the cobbled stones and prayed. I could not help wondering what thoughts must have flashed through the mind of this least-to-be-envied of monarchs, as he knelt on the spot where the human debris of his uncle had once stained the ground. Boris Savinkoff, who had planned the Grand Duke's murder, was then in exile. He was to come back again in 1917, to become Minister of War in the Kerensky Government, to seek refuge once more in exile on the advent of the Bolsheviks, and to return finally on that sinister and still unexplained mission when he cast his lot with the present rulers of Russia only to throw himself or. to be thrown to his death from a Kremlin window close to the spot where the Grand Duke met his fate. The occasion of the Emperor's second visit was the centenary of Borodino and the liberation of Russia from the yoke of Napoleon. This time the celebration was a national one and strikingly impressive in the demonstration of loyalty it aroused. Never have I seen a finer body of men than the Cossack troops who formed the Emperor's bodyguard. Well may the pre-war foreign military attachés be forgiven for over-estimating the military power of Russia. Yet the real symbol of Russia's strength was the frail bearded figure with the strange, wistful eyes, who rode at the head of his troops and whose feeble shoulders seemed incapable of supporting the mantle of autocracy which, like a shroud, hung over them. Even on that day, when revolution was far from most men's minds, the Tsar inspired pity and sympathy more than admiration. An Imperial visit was an ordeal which, at any moment one felt might end in tragedy, and, as far as Moscow was concerned, every one breathed a sigh of relief when the suspense was over and the Imperial train had left the city.
When the autumn came, I made another friend, who was to render me great services during my apprenticeship in Moscow. This was Michael Lykiardopoulos, the talented secretary of the Moscow Art Theatre. "Lyki" was a strange, lovable creature; one-third Greek, one-third Russian, and one-third English. His secretarial duties gave him a fixed salary. His real work in life was as a translator. He had real literary flair, an excellent Russian prose style, and a quite remarkable knowledge of eight or nine European languages. He knew most of the great writers of Europe and had translated their best works into Russian. It was through him that I first met H. G. Wells, Robert Ross, Lytton Strachey, Granville-Barker, Gordon Craig, Alastair Crowley, not to mention numerous hangers-ons of literature, who came to Moscow to worship at the shrine of Russian art. In his spare time he acted as ballet critic for one of the leading Moscow newspapers. He knew every one in the literary, artistic, and dramatic world of Moscow, and through him, many doors, which otherwise would have remained closed. were opened to me.
Poor "Lyki" During the war he ran our propaganda department in Moscow under my supervision---and ran it very well. His temperament was far too volatile to give any value to his political judgment. A Russian defeat depressed him almost to the point of suicide. The smallest victory drove him to the other extreme. Towards the end of 1915 when he had made up his mind that Russia was irretrievably ruined, he made a hazardous journey on our behalf into Germany, travelling as a Greek tobacco merchant and bringing back with him a mass of valuable information and a new optimism. The revolution finally destroyed all his hopes and before the Bolsheviks had made their coup d'état he withdrew to Stockholm and eventually to England. Like many Russian Liberals he became a violent reactionary and spent most of his energy in writing anti-Semitic articles for the English Press. He was a born journalist, living only for the day, but his loyalty and his kindness to his friends were wonderful, and of all my Russian friends (in spite of his mixed nationality I can never regard him as anything but Russian) he is the one whom I miss most. He died in London in 1924.
AT the end of my first year in Russia I returned to England to be married. Looking back on this experiment from a disappointing and disillusioned middle age, I find my conduct in the highest degree reprehensible. I had neither money nor position, and my prospects held out nothing more than a dreary and penurious career in the worst-paid service in the world. My wife was an Australian called Turner. Her grandfather had been the richest man in Queensland. On her father's death misfortune had overtaken the estate, and her mother was unable to allow her more than a hundred or two a year. My wife herself, who was delicate, had been brought up in England and Switzerland. All her friends were rich or well to do. She herself had been used to a life of luxury. To ask a girl who had been brought up in this way and who was then only twenty-one to share with me a life of poverty in a semi-barbarous town like Moscow was an effrontery for which there is no excuse. It is a tribute to her courage that she was able to adapt herself so quickly to a situation which imposed so many hardships upon her. My marriage was a contract from which I alone reaped any benefit.
Had I taken stock of myself at that time, I should have seen a young man of twenty-five, broad-shouldered and broken-nosed with a squat, stumpy figure and a ridiculous gait. The young man's character was a curious mixture of Lockhart caution and asceticism and Macgregor recklessness and self-indulgence. Hitherto, the Macgregor had held the whip-hand over the Lockhart, and perhaps his chief failing had been an all-too-Celtic tendency to confound licentiousness with romanticism. Such accomplishments as he had---a good memory, a facility for languages, and a capacity for sudden bursts of hard work---were largely nullified by a lazy tolerance which always sought the easiest way out of any difficulty, and by a fatal disposition to sacrifice the future for the cheap applause of the moment. In short, a still unformed and unattractive young man, whose self-consciousness at moments amounted almost to a disease. Had any one told him that five years later he would be head of an important British Mission at a crucial moment in his country's history, he would have smirked, put his head on one side, and blushed with modesty.
This, I submit, is an accurate picture of myself as I was at the end of 1912. With marriage, however, my life changed, and I made a serious effort to conform to the conventionalities of my new state. The result was wholly beneficial. My night life was cast off, and a round of irksome social duties took its place. Intercourse with the British colony now became an obligation, and, as we were entertained, so we entertained in return. I found, however, a new zest for work. I continued my Russian studies and, until my wife learnt the language, I had to run the small flat we had taken, give orders to the servants, and superintend the household accounts. I read twice as much as when I was a bachelor. My knowledge of Russian was now tolerably good, and there was the whole field of Russian literature to explore. I began, too, to write for the English newspapers, not so much from any internal urge as from necessity. The money was needed in order to supplement our scanty income, and after a little practice I found it not difficult to earn. I rewrote and sold the short stories I had written in Malaya. I became a fairly regular contributor to the Morning Post and the Manchester Guardian, both of which newspapers were then interested in sketches of Russian life, and I found a ready home for more serious articles and even for short stories in the numerous British reviews which then flourished. These literary efforts were written under a pseudonym (in those days diplomatists and consuls were not allowed to write), but in my first year as a free-lance journalist I earned nearly £200, and by the time the war came and put a stop to these activities, I was making a steady twenty-five to thirty pounds a month.
Nor did marriage interfere with my Russian friendships. On the contrary, it extended them. "Lyki" was a constant visitor to our flat and requited our hospitality by bringing us into contact with the wide orbit of his own literary, journalistic, and artistic world. At the end of my first eighteen months in Russia I knew most of the leaders of the Moscow intelligentsia.
This contact, necessitating as it did the constant discussion of politics, gave me my first interest in foreign affairs. Through the Charnocks and other Englishmen connected with the cotton mills, I kept my finger on the pulse of industrial unrest. To complete my equipment as an intelligence officer there remained only the nobility, the merchants---and the British Embassy---to conquer. With the Embassy in St. Petersburg we had practically no contact. The German Consul-General might see his Ambassador once a month. French Consuls-General might reasonably hope to finish their careers as Ministers. But between the two British services there was an impassable gulf which has not been satisfactorily bridged to this day. Political reports from Moscow were not encouraged. Commercial queries were positively discouraged. In the archives of the Moscow Consulate there is---or was---a letter from a certain British Ambassador, which we used to pull out in moments of disgruntledness and which ran as follows: "Dear Mr. -----, Please remember that I am not here to be bothered with questions about trade."
The inadequate equipment of the Moscow Consulate was not only a subject of grievance to the unfortunate Consular officers. It attracted the attention of British visitors, who were not slow to notice that, of all the Great Powers, Great Britain was the only one which was not represented by a Consulate-General. Invariably they expressed disgust, returned to England, and did nothing. There was one exception. One wintry afternoon in 1913, when I was alone in the Consulate, there was a ring at the door. I sprang to my feet and admitted an elderly, well-dressed man with a beard who handed me his card. His name was Tennant, and, although I did not realise it at the time, he was a relation of Mr. Asquith, who was then Prime Minister. I took him into our dingy little room.
"Can I see the Consul or the Vice-Consul?" he asked.
"The Consul is out," I replied. "I am the Vice-Consul."
He breathed heavily. The trudge up the three flights of stone stairs had shaken his wind.
"Is this all the British Consulate?" he asked at last. I told him it was. His chest heaved. His eyes flashed. Then with a great growl came his comment:
"More like a water-closet than a Consulate!"
He invited me to lunch with him the next day. At luncheon he asked some pertinent questions. He made no promises, but, when he went away, I had a feeling that this time something was going to happen.
The weeks, however, passed into months, and gradually I abandoned hope. When the summer came, we shared a "dacha" with the Groves---a large, roomy wooden house at Kosino beside a lake where there were boats to row and pike and perch to catch. This risky experiment opened with a tragedy. My wife had bought a new toy---a pedigreed French bulldog, called Pipo, who afterwards achieved immortality by being painted by Korovin. Naturally, she took him to the "dacha." Although in the Moscow flat he was as good as gold, his first night in the country was a disaster. The train journey must have upset his delicate constitution, for in the middle of dinner he forgot himself in the most offensive sense, and the carpet, a new investment of the Grove family, was irreparably ruined. Men are singularly ineffective on these occasions, and for the rest of that meal Grove and I kept our eyes firmly glued to the table. In spite of this inauspicious overture, the "dacha" concert turned out better than might have been expected. By the morning Mrs. Grove's very just anger had evaporated. With tearful eyes my wife begged for her dog. Pipo himself was profuse in his apologies. And Pipo remained.
With Pipo we had one more adventure, which might have ended disastrously for him and which for us had unpleasant consequences. Close to the lake there was a holy pool, where pilgrims from far and wide used to bathe in the hope of being cured of various diseases. One evening, when my wife was out walking, she passed the pool and with a natural modesty hurried away from the mass of naked bodies which sought relief from its stagnant waters. Pipo, however, was a gregarious animal and in a minute he was splashing wildly among the pilgrims. There was a shriek from the pool. At first my wife thought the bathers were playing with the dog, and she continued placidly on her way. Then the shriek grew into an angry roar, and the dog came tearing down the path with twenty naked figures in hot pursuit. My wife picked up her skirts and ran. Fortunately, the "dacha" was close at hand. Fortunately, too, I was at home. For five minutes I harangued the nudities from the "dacha" steps, and in the end my argument, backed by silver roubles, prevailed. More roubles had to be expended on the priest for the re-purification of the waters, and altogether the adventure was more costly than amusing. At first, too, I was afraid lest the outraged bathers might wreak their vengeance on the dog, and for some days Pipo had to be kept on a chain. In this, however, I did the Russians an injustice. Having made their peace, they bore no malice, and, as in future nothing would induce the dog to approach within a hundred yards of Siloam, no harm resulted.
Three years later economic duress forced us to sell him. He was a valuable dog, and he went to a millionaire's house. What his ultimate fate was I do not know. He was an aristocrat and must, therefore, have hated revolutions. I fear that, like Gorky's Great Dane, he may have been eaten by a starving population.
That summer, too, Sir Henry Wilson visited Moscow, and I dined with him and Colonel Knox, our military attaché, at the Hermitage. Even in those days Sir Henry was fully alive to the dangers of the European situation and had summed up all the possibilities in his far-seeing mind. In considering the relative strength of the European Powers, he had worked out all his facts to the smallest detail. In his opinion the French army was fully equal to the German. If ever it came to war, the Russian army would be the extra weight which would load the scales overwhelmingly in France's favour. Sir Henry was not the only expert whose judgments were to be rudely shattered by the tornado of 1914.
At the beginning of July came the repercussion to the Tennant visit. It came, too, in the form of what Fleet Street calls a bombshell. Moscow was elevated to a Consulate-General with a largely increased office allowance. The Groves were transferred to Warsaw, and Charles Clive Bayley, formerly H.M. Consul at New York and a scion of a family famous in Indian history, was appointed to reign in their stead. I shed a sympathetic tear over the departure of the Groves (they had been very kind to us) and with new hopes and new ambitions made ready to welcome my new chief.
CHARLES CLIVE BAYLEY was then in his fifty-second year. He was a big, florid man with pouches under his eyes. The eyes could both twinkle and flash. Such hair as he had left was fair. His body was rather too heavy for his legs and, when he coughed or laughed, the veins stood out on his forehead. As he always laughed at his own stories, of which he had an inexhaustible fund (in two years I never heard him repeat himself once), I was in constant apprehension lest he should die of apoplexy. He wore an eyeglass and had a presence and a proper sense of his own importance.
He could speak neither French nor German. But he had served for ten years under Sir Thomas Sanderson in New York and knew all there was to know about running a Consular office. He combined what the Americans call "drive" with dignity, and no man could take liberties with him.
What was more important, he had private means and was prepared to spend his own money on maintaining his position as Consul-General. He took a large flat for himself in the most fashionable street in Moscow and leased an adequate office for the Consulate-General on the first floor of a new house close at hand. He engaged an experienced clerk, two typists and a general factotum and commissionaire called Alexander Nechaeff, who, as a former Russian civil servant, knew every shortcut, legal and illegal, through the red-tape maze of Russian, bureaucracy. In the eyes both of the Russians and of our Consular colleagues we acquired a new prestige. Alexander saw to that. He at once invested Bayley with the title of an Excellency, and within a month of his arrival every department, both civil and military, in Moscow knew through the agency of the devoted Alexander that the new British Consul-General was a man whose favour was worth courting and whose wrath was vastly to be feared. On occasions Alexander overplayed his hand and, when we caught him using the Consular seal in order to further his own personal ends, Bayley exploded. It required all my tact and all my pleading to prevent the old scoundrel's immediate dismissal. A man who at a minute's notice could wangle a visa after office hours or a sleeping berth to St. Petersburg, when the Wagon-Lits office had been sold out for days, was not to be lightly discarded, and in the end Bayley relented.
Both in the office and outside it Bayley did his best to live up to the role for which the wily Alexander had cast him. All his life he had done himself well, and he knew how to entertain others. His wife, who was born a Ricardo, backed him up to the best of her ability. She was a kind, little woman, very shy and very English, but very hospitable and always willing to put herself out to promote her husband's interests. The Russians sat up and took notice. They ate the Bayley dinners. They liked the Bayley cocktails, which I imagine he was the first man to introduce into Moscow. Almost they were prepared to take him at Alexander's estimate.
A few rays of this new glory were reflected on me. In the office Bayley drove me hard. Speaking no languages, he was dependent on my services for much of his information. On the other hand, he taught me how to run an office, how to handle all kinds and conditions of men, and how to coax or bully the various departments of the Foreign Office at home. "If you can't get things by asking politely, you must make yourself a nuisance," he used to say. He lived up to his own precepts, "kow-towing" to no man, and, if necessity arose, making him self a nuisance both to the Foreign Office and to the Embassy. To my astonishment I discovered that, by taking a high hand, he enhanced his own reputation. His stock rose. He went to St. Petersburg to see the Ambassador and came back with a mandate to inspect the other Consulates in Russia. In spite of a "peppery" temper (as a young man he had been on the Gold Coast and had acquired a liver) he was a splendid chief, and such merits as I ever possessed as a Consular Officer I owe entirely to his training. Outside the office he was like a father to me, and I was never separated from him. At his house I met scores of people whom otherwise I should never have known and whose friendship was afterwards to be of the greatest service to me during the war. Under Bayley's tutelage I developed from a shy and ignorant youngster into a self-reliant and tolerably efficient administrator.
In the spring of 1914 I had an amusing experience while I was in charge of the Consulate-General during one of Bayley's tours of inspection. One Saturday afternoon I was summoned to the telephone by the Pristaff [NOTE: A police inspector of a district; generally an ex-army officer] of the Tverskoi district. Two Englishmen---a naval doctor and a Chief Petty Officer---had been arrested for shop-lifting. I put on my coat and hurried round to the Pristaff's house. The Pristaff---a bullet-headed, pimply-faced man with a military moustache, was polite but obdurate. The two men were under lock and key. They had been caught red-handed. He was having tea in his private apartment when I called, and did not seem to relish my intrusion. At my request, however, he sent for the protocol and read it to me. On their own showing the two men had been sent out from the Tyne on a warship which was being delivered to China, and, having completed their mission, were returning to England via the Trans-Siberian. During the four hours' stop in Moscow they had gone into a shop, had picked out some handkerchiefs, some socks, and a birch-wood cigarette case, and had put the goods in their pocket. Then, just as they were about to produce the money to pay for them, they had been seized by a shop detective. It was not a very plausible story. The evidence of the shop detective and of the policeman who had been called in to make the arrest was damning. The detective swore that he had watched the petty officer slip the cigarette case into his pocket with all the skill of a professional thief.
The only point in the men's favour was that between them they had about eighty pounds in English notes, and the total value of the goods found on them was less than three pounds. I made great play of this anomaly and also of the fact that a misunderstanding might have arisen over the language difficulty. I requested an interview with the two men.
My eloquence, however, was vain. The Pristaff smiled condescendingly.
"You have your duty to do, Mr. Consul," he said. "I have mine. It is a bad case."
There seemed nothing for me to do except to retreat. At this moment a good-looking young man burst into the room.
"Papa," he said excitedly, "we've won."
Then he saw me, stared confusedly for a moment, rushed forward and shook me warmly by the hand.
"Mr. Lockhart," he said, "you don't remember me. I played against you last year. I'm the centre-half of the Union Club!' His face glowed. He dashed back to his father. "Papa, this is Mr. Lockhart, who used to play for the Morozovtsi---the best team in Russia. He must have tea with us."
The Pristaff frowned and then smiled.
"Forgive me," he said. "In discussing our business, I forgot all about tea."
He rang the bell, ordered more cups and some vodka, and, as we sat and pledged each other, the boy told us the story of the afternoon's match. The Pristaff listened in silent admiration. Obviously, he doted on his boy. I, too, sat on, hoping for an unexpected denouement to my own problem. When the boy had finished his recital, he turned again to me:
"And what are you doing here, Mr. Lockhart?"
The father blushed.
"Mr. Lockhart has some official business to discuss with me. I think you had better go."
When the boy had gone, there was an awkward silence. Then the Pristaff cleared his throat.
"Mr. Consul," he said, "I have been thinking over this case. I am convinced that you are right and that a British naval doctor with fifty pounds in his pocket would not steal a few worthless handkerchiefs. The devil of it is that the goods were, found in both the men's pockets. If only all the goods had been in the gunner's pockets and we could call the doctor as witness, the case would not be so difficult."
He scratched his shaven head. Their he pushed the bell.
"Send me the policeman who made the protocol on this English case," he ordered.
The policeman appeared---a stout, honest fellow conscious of having done a good day's work and expecting to be praised.
"Did you make this protocol?" asked the Pristaff.
"Did you find the goods in the pockets of both men?"
"Are you quite sure?"
"Yes, sir," said the policeman.
"Think again," roared the Pristaff in a voice of thunder.
The policeman blenched but made the same answer. Even for a Russian he was slow in the uptake.
The Pristaff returned to the charge.
"Do you think that a naval doctor, an officer of the English fleet, would steal a pair of socks and a handkerchief?"
The policeman shuffled.
"Yes, sir---I mean, no, sir," he stammered.
"Fool," growled the Pristaff. "What do you mean? Do you mean that you found all the goods in the petty officer's pocket and nothing in the pockets of the doctor?"
This was said very slowly and deliberately, every word being punctuated with a tap of a large ruler on the table.
This time even the policeman understood.
"Yes, sir," he whispered hoarsely.
The Pristaff tore up the protocol.
"Go," he said. "Draw up a new protocol at once and don't let me catch you out in inaccuracies again."
He turned to me with a sheepish grin.
"That's all I can do," he said. "The case will have to go before the magistrate. I warn you there will be trouble over the detective, who is a pig-headed fellow and who in any case is paid by results. But at any rate you have now a witness for the defence. The rest depends on you. I can release the doctor at once."
Football has its uses. I thanked him profoundly, begged him to send the doctor round to my flat, and rushed off to enlist the services of Alexander Wilenkin, the Consular lawyer.
That same evening we laid our plans. The naval doctor stuck to his story that they had intended to pay for the goods, and Wilenkin, who knew England almost as well as he knew Russia, saw his way clear. The petty officer would have to stand his trial. The doctor's evidence would he valuable, but the chief witness for the defence was to be myself. This was Wilenkin's plan of campaign.
At once I raised objections. I was doubtful about the propriety of a British Consular officer appearing in a case of this kind. In any case I did not see how I could be of assistance.
"Leave it to me, my dear-r Lockhart," said Wilenkin in his guttural Jewish accent. And I did.
Wilenkin, who belonged to a rich Jewish family, had the reputation of being the best-dressed man in Moscow, and in his defence of the two Englishmen clothes played an important part.
On the Tuesday we all appeared before the examining magistrate, Wilenkin and I complete in morning, coats, striped trousers, monocles and top hats. Our entry into the squalid, crowded court made a sensation.
The case opened badly. The shop detective gave his evidence with overwhelming effect. The petty officer, dirty and unshaven after three days in prison, made an unfortunate impression on the bench. Wilenkin's speech, however, was a masterpiece. Basing his defence on the fact that the two men were well supplied with money, he pointed out the improbability of two such distinguished members of His Majesty's Navy risking their careers for the sake of a handkerchief and a pair of socks. Englishmen were, admittedly, queer people. They washed. They had a preference for clean linen. What more natural than that they should profit by their stay in Moscow to permit themselves the luxury of a wash and a clean handkerchief? The detective had erred on the side of eagerness. Finally, the matter had a profound political aspect. England and Russia were now friends---almost Allies. One day---how soon no one knew---they might be fighting side by side. Had the magistrate weighed in his mind the deplorable effect a miscarriage of justice might have on the present happy state of Anglo-Russian relations? Autres pays, autres moeurs, and in order to demonstrate that English customs were different from Russian he had brought into this court a very busy man---the acting British Consul-General.
I stepped forward with all the dignity I could muster and took the oath.
"Is it quite a common occurrence in England for respectable people to enter a shop, pick up an article off the counter and put it in their pocket before they have actually paid for it?" asked Wilenkin.
"Have you done it on occasions yourself?"
"Yes," I answered without a blush.
The petty officer left the court without a stain on his character. But that night every newspaper in Moscow came out with large headlines: "British Consul in Moscow swears that in England shoppers may put goods in their pocket before paying for them!"
My reputation, however, survived this sarcasm. I was beginning to know my Moscow.
This was merely a minor achievement for Wilenkin. In peace time regarded by most people as a fop, he proved himself a lion of Judah in the war. He was, in fact, the bravest Jew I have ever met. He was one of the first Russians to enlist as a volunteer. By his physical courage as much as by his intelligence he rose from the ranks to be a junior officer. He won the St. George's Cross for bravery in action. Bemonocled and clean-shaven in his civil life, in war he grew a magnificent beard and mustachios. When the first revolution came, he threw himself heart and soul into the task of persuading his men to continue fighting. His skill as an orator raised him to the dignity of Vice-President of his Army Soviet, and it was he who brought back to St. Petersburg the troops which suppressed the first Bolshevik attempt at a coup d'état in July, 1917. After the Bolshevik revolution of November, 1917, he threw in his lot with Savinkoff and had a hand in almost every counter-revolutionary plot against the new regime. His indifference to danger amounted almost to foolhardiness, and on several occasions I warned him of the risks he was running. In July, 1918, he was arrested in Moscow as a counter-revolutionary. He was one of the first victims of the official terror, when, as a reprisal for the attempt on Lenin's life on September 1st, 1918, the Bolsheviks shot seven hundred of their political opponents.
Throughout the spring and early summer of 1914 my life ran on active and pleasant lines. I had sufficient work to keep me out of mischief. My interest in Russia and things Russian was amounting almost to a mania, and my ambition to make myself the best-informed Consular officer in Moscow was well on the way to fulfilment. My pride was pleasantly titillated when the Austrian Consul-General borrowed our annual report (written mainly by me) in order to paraphrase it as his own. In the past he had always conferred this honour on his German colleagues. If I showed any disposition to "let up," a judicious mixture of praise and exhortation from Bayley kept my nose to the grindstone. It has been my fate in life to be the willing horse of various masters. My pleasures were few---a little tennis, an occasional game of billiards, and an odd week-end in the country. Yet I was not unhappy. My home life was peaceful and undisturbed. Obviously, if I was the last person any woman should have married, marriage was good for me.
In June, 1914, I had another surfeit of official entertainment. Admiral Beatty and a picked selection of the officers of the First Battle Cruiser Squadron paid an official visit to Moscow. The youthful appearance of the youngest Admiral since Nelson nearly led to my official undoing. Dressed in uniform and cocked hat, I had been sent by Bayley to meet the train and to welcome Beatty on the platform. It was my first encounter with the Navy, and I knew less than nothing of the distinguishing marks of the different ranks. On the platform I found the Prefect, the Governor, the General commanding the Moscow district, and other Russian officials to whom I should have to introduce the British admiral. The train drew up, and out of the special carriage stepped a brisk young man who looked no older than myself and whom I naturally supposed was Beatty's flag-lieutenant. I stood waiting for the emergence of the great man himself, and there was an awkward pause. It was ended very quickly by my supposed flag-lieutenant.
"How do you do?" he said. "I'm Beatty. Introduce me and tell me whom I shake hands with first."
I went hot and then cold. When I told him afterwards of my embarrassment, he laughed and took it as a compliment.
In my own defence I must admit that the Russians were equally astonished by Beatty's youthfulness.
The visit was a tremendous success. Beatty's officers, who included Admiral Halsey, Admiral Brock, and several other captains, whose names were to become household words during the war, went down with the Russians like a dinner. Their clean-shaven, red-cheeked faces brought a breeze of health and vigour into the parched atmosphere of the Moscow summer, and Beatty's square jaw and the jaunty angle at which lid wore his cap gave a lasting joy to the Moscow caricaturists, who were only too glad to have this opportunity of contrasting the efficiency of the British Navy with the shortcomings of their own. The climax to a whirlwind triumph came with Beatty's speech at a dinner given by the town in a large marquee in the Sokolniki park. After a succession of dreary orators the English admiral arose, and in a voice which would have carried through a gale, delivered a speech which stirred the sluggish Muscovites to an extraordinary display of emotion. Never before had they seen an admiral who had not a beard down to his knees. The military strength of Britain might be insignificant, but the British Navy was the real thing. Today, I often wonder why Lord Beatty has never gone into politics. That voice of his would wake even the sleepers in the House of Lords. It was a first-rate performance, and his visit did much to enhance British prestige.
Then came tragedy---swift as an eagle in its descent and pitiless in its consequences. On June 28th the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was murdered, and, however secure London may have felt, Moscow realised from the first moment that the red sun of war had already risen. It was at this time that a tragedy occurred in my own family. In June my wife had been expecting a child. I had wished to send her home and had written to my grandmother in the hope that she would provide the necessary financial assistance. The reply had been stern and uncompromising. She herself had given birth to her first child under a bullock cart in New Zealand. A woman's place on those occasions was by her husband.
The doctor recommended to my wife was a German called Schmidt---a kind and gentle old man who was long past his best. I had misgivings and wished to employ a Russian. The English women in Moscow, however, were strongly prejudiced against Russian doctors. Schmidt spoke English, and my wife liked him.
The crisis came on June 20th, and lasted all through the night. Inexperienced as I was, I soon realised that the birth was complicated. It was one of the hottest nights I have ever known in Moscow or anywhere else, and for hours on end I stood at the open window in the drawing-room, smoking cigarette after cigarette and trying to keep my mind a blank. At three o'clock Schmidt came into the room. The sweat, streaming from his face, had dripped on to his white overalls.
"It is difficult," he gasped, "very difficult. I must have another doctor!"
He gave me the number, and I rushed to the telephone. Hours seemed to pass. Again I resumed my stand at the window, listening for the sound of the "droschke" wheels on the cobbled streets. After several false alarms the doctor arrived---a young man, whose efficient manner inspired me with a new confidence.
Then he disappeared into the bedroom, and again there was an immense silence. At five o'clock all was over. Katja, the cook, tiptoed across the room, her apron up to her eyes. Then the young doctor came in.
"The mother is alive," he said gravely. "The girl will not live!"
Very quickly he told me the details. The birth had been difficult. There had been great exhaustion, and they had had to use instruments. The first instruments had been defective. If he had been summoned sooner ...
"The child is dead?" I whispered. He nodded.
In a dream I ordered coffee and biscuits for the doctors. In a dream I saw them off at the door. Then I sat down to wait for the morning. At seven o'clock my mother-in-law came in and took me into the room which would have been our nursery.
The child was lying in a cot. They had dressed her in the clothes which for months past my wife had been making for her. Her eyes were open. There was not a mark on the little waxen face. She looked so fresh and sweet that it was impossible to believe that she was dead. The little cap which covered her head concealed the fatal bruise.
Mechanically I went about the tasks of the day. I telephoned to Bayley to tell him what had happened. I called on. the chaplain to see what could be done about the burial, and in the afternoon I walked down to the Sadovaya to order the tiny coffin. As I passed the Hermitage, a street-woman accosted me. I walked past, and she came back to me. Silently I handed her five roubles; for a moment our eyes met; then she turned and ran. I think she thought I was mad.
Two days later I made the long "trek" out to the German cemetery, carrying the coffin on my knees. The sun beat down pitilessly from a cloudless sky, but I never felt the heat. An Englishman of seventy was being buried, and it was among strangers that I stood, while the chaplain read the burial service and the two coffins of the man who had lived his full life and of the nameless child were lowered into their common grave ...
All through that burning July, while my wife lay in danger, first of her life and then of her reason, I toiled at the Consulate-General, striving to kill my thoughts with a surfeit of work. And, as the days passed, the tension of the Russian people grew, until gradually it swelled into an angry murmur. Why was England hanging back? As July broke into August, scores of people telephoned daily to know the reason and, not receiving satisfaction, grumbled and threatened. Through the long white days troops in full marching kit tramped through the streets. singing their plaintive songs and leaving a cloud of dust in their trail. The heart of Russia was on fire with war.
On the morning of Wednesday, August 5th, I set out as usual on my short walk to the Consulate-General. At the street corner opposite the office a crowd of demonstrators impeded my progress. A band was playing, and raucous voices were calling for the Consul-General. Suddenly a man in the crowd recognised me. "Way for the British Vice-Consul," he roared. Strong hands passed me over the heads of the crowd to the entrance, while a thousand voices thundered: "Long live England." A bearded student kissed me on both cheeks. England had declared war on Germany. Another day's delay, and the demonstrators would have smashed our windows.
Book Three: War and Peace
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