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Ten Months in Bolshevik Prisons 
































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MISS IRENE DOUBASSOFF. 





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Ten Months in Bolshevik 

Prisons 


80196 


IRENE DOUBASSOFF 


MAID OF HONOUR TO THE LATE EMPRESS OF RUSSIA 


William Blackwood and Sons Limited 
Edinburgh and London 
1926 


Printed, in Great Britain 


All Rights reserved 











7 0 

Professor CHARLES S A ROLE A 
























INTRODUCTION. 


BY PROFESSOR CHARLES SAROLEA. 

Ever since the Bolshevist Revolution of 
November 1917, a great deal of popular interest 
has been taken in Great Britain in Soviet 
prisons. A sinister glamour and a tragic halo 
has gathered round them, just as it gathered 
round the Paris prisons under the Reign of 
Terror. Many books have been written on the 
horrors of the Cheka prisons, on their hideous 
overcrowding and promiscuity, on their un¬ 
speakable filth, on the cruelties and tortures, 
on the wholesale massacres. The present volume 
has nothing in common with those sensational 
publications. It is not its purpose to describe 
such horrors. It carefully avoids everything 
which savours of the melodramatic. It is 
concerned not with the inhuman aspects, but 
with the human. It tries to give a concrete 
idea of the everyday life of the prisons as they 
exist in every Russian town, under the Soviet 
Government. 


vm 


INTRODUCTION 


The writer, Miss Irene Doubassoff, may 
claim to be specially qualified for her task 
not only by her personal experiences of prison 
life, but by the circumstances of her upbring¬ 
ing. She is able to give us, from inside know¬ 
ledge, that historical and political background 
which is essential for the understanding of the 
subject. It may be said that the writer was a 
victim of Bolshevism many years before it 
came into power. From her childhood she was 
unfortunately compelled to take a keen in¬ 
terest, and what I would almost call a family 
interest, in the revolutionary politics of her 
country. Two years before the Russo-Japanese 
War Miss Doubassoff’s uncle, M. Sipiaguine, 
an enlightened and energetic Minister of the 
Interior, was shot, like his illustrious successor, 
the great statesman Stolypin. Three years 
later her father, Admiral Doubassoff, Aide-de- 
Camp General of the Tsar, after the murder 
of the Grand Duke Serge in 1905, was appointed 
to succeed him as Governor-General of Moscow. 
On two occasions the terrorists attempted the 
Admiral’s life. On the first occasion his carriage 
was blown up, and his aide-de-camp killed. 
I was in Russia at the time, and I still remem¬ 
ber how every educated Russian was living in 
daily terror of an impending catastrophe. The 
praises of Witte in his 4 Memoirs,’ and even 



INTRODUCTION 


is 


more the violent denunciations of Trotski in 
his recent book, 4 The Revolution of 1905,’ 
testify to the important part which Admiral 
Doubassoff played in those critical days. It 
was largely due to his courage and firmness that 
the explosion of 1917 did not take place in 
1906. 

Such was the terrible atmosphere in which 
the writer grew up. Such was the political 
experience which she assimilated. 

There can be no doubt that Miss Doubassoff 
had to pay the penalty of her father’s devotion 
to his country and to his sovereign. The fact 
is implicitly admitted in the very terms of her 
sentence, a facsimile reproduction of which 
will be found in this volume. It is as the 
daughter of the 44 notorious ” Admiral Dou¬ 
bassoff that she was condemned to ten years 
imprisonment. The trivial offence of having 
advanced a sum of money to a friend only 
served as a pretext. 

It is, however, probable that even without 
the celebrity of her father as a 44 reactionary ” 
statesman, Miss Doubassoff would not have 
escaped punishment, as she was sufficiently 
compromised by her past, and by the fact 
that she had been a Maid of Honour of the 
Empress. The astonishing circumstance is not 
that she should have been condemned in 1920, 


X 


INTRODUCTION 


but that she should have evaded the clutches 
of the Cheka for more than two years. Miss 
Doubassoff, therefore, may be said to have 
been extraordinarily lucky. For if she had 
been imprisoned in 1918, when the Soviet 
dictators were systematically massacring every 
representative of the old regime, she would 
no doubt have been shot without even the 
mockery of a trial. On the contrary, from 
the mere accident that her arrest and im¬ 
prisonment were delayed until 1920, not only 
did she receive a much more lenient treatment 
than she would have received in 1918, but as 
the prisons were full to overflowing, and as 
the majority of the prisoners had to be deported 
to concentration camps, it eventually became 
much more easy for her to effect her escape. 

Those readers whom the subject would lead 
to expect a copious supply of sensation and 
melodrama may feel somewhat disappointed 
at first by the form of the book. The author 
reveals an astonishing mastery of idiomatic 
English, and she only betrays her foreign 
origin by a few expressions which add a quaint 
flavour to the style. But she is studiously 
simple and unadorned, and she shows a truly 
Russian dislike for anything which would sound 
like rhetoric or false sentiment. On the other 
hand, readers might be equally disappointed 


INTRODUCTION 


xi 


by the almost total absence of incident and 
plot. There are no tales of terror, there are no 
dark intrigues of hair-breadth escapes. Nor 
does Miss Doubassoff ever appear before us in 
the pose of a heroine or of a martyr. 

The merits of the book are not, as the title 
might suggest, those of a thrilling detective 
story. They are of an entirely different order, 
and I believe they are of a much higher order. 
They are the merits which we are accustomed 
to associate with the best Russian work— 
namely, absolute sincerity, a transparent honesty, 
and the faculty of psychological analysis. Miss 
Doubassoff is not what one might call an 4 4 ex¬ 
pressionist,” but an 44 impressionist.” She ob¬ 
tains her effects not so much by a few bold 
strokes of the brush; rather does she obtain 
them by minute touches whose operation is 
cumulative, which slowly sink into the mind, 
and which give the reader a vivid sense of 
reality. The reader feels that what he is reading 
is not merely a work of art, but a human docu¬ 
ment. And I believe that, considered as a 
human document, the present book is assured 
of an honourable and enduring place in the 
political literature of the Russian Revolution. 
For the same reasons which make us still read 
Young’s 4 Travels ’ or Pepys’ 4 Diary,’ it will 
continue to be read long after most of the 


Xll 


INTRODUCTION 


recent Russian literature by professional 
authors will be consigned to oblivion. 

So far is the writer from being inclined to 
sensational exaggeration that she might be 
accused of underrating rather than overrating 
the sufferings of the inmates in the Russian 
prisons, in what the Soviet authorities euphem¬ 
istically call “ houses of suspended liberty.” 
Although without wholesome food, or fresh air, 
or exercise, or clean linen, although compelled 
to associate with thieves and prostitutes in 
overcrowded cells, she yet leaves us almost 
with the impression that the sufferings endured 
in Soviet prisons have been made too much 
of, that they are less acute instead of being 
more acute than they would be in Western 
prisons. This impression of Miss Doubassoff’s 
book may sound like a paradox; nevertheless it 
has a foundation in fact, because all human 
suffering ultimately depends on comparisons 
and contrasts. This psychological law has an 
important bearing on the understanding of 
the Russian Revolution. It has been said that 
the Russian peasant is less discontented to-day 
than he was before 1917, because although 
he himself is starving, everybody else is also 
starving. The passion of envy therefore cannot 
be roused. And 95 per cent of the feelings of 
Socialist discontent is probably rooted in envy. 


INTRODUCTION 


xiii 

One might argue that for the very same psy¬ 
chological reason the contrasts between a free 
man and a prisoner may not be so painfully 
felt in Bolshevist Russia as they would be in 
Europe. The deprivation of personal liberty is 
less felt where the whole country may be looked 
upon as a prison. The deprivation of the most 
elementary comforts is less felt in a country 
where the very meaning of the word 44 comfort ” 
has become unintelligible, to everybody except 
the profiteers of civil war. The deprivation of 
family life is less felt in a country where most 
of one’s relations and friends have been killed 
or driven into exile. One ought to add that 
although imprisonment at first may come as 
a terrible shock, subsequently, as Miss Dou- 
bassoff explains in the very opening words of 
her book, it is almost felt as a compensation 
and a relief to be liberated from the anxiety, 
the suspicion, and the uncertainty. The 
prisoner, at any rate, ceases to be a hunted 
man, a quarry for the Bolshevist police. 

In trying to imagine a Russian Soviet prison, 
let the British reader at once dismiss any 
misleading analogies with our wonderful, 
modem, perfected British prisons, which are 
the last word in hygiene, cleanliness, and order. 
In Soviet Russia even primary necessities are 
looked upon as luxuries. Where even the 


XIV 


INTRODUCTION 


free population outside the prison walls is more 
or less hungry, it is not to be expected that 
prisoners will be overfed. Where comforts 
have become almost unknown, it is not to be 
expected that prisoners shall be made unduly 
comfortable. But human nature has a wonder¬ 
ful capacity of adaptation. And Russians are 
even more adaptable than Western Europeans. 
Custom soon blunts the finer sensibilities of 
the prisoner. If life is hard to bear, he tries 
to five as little as possible. He will reduce 
existence to a minimum of expenditure of 
physical and intellectual energy. If it is pain¬ 
ful to think, he will try to think as little as 
possible and sleep as much as possible. If the 
stone walls of his cell exude damp and cold, 
he will try to escape even as the dumb animals 
manage to escape by the mere biological process 
of hibernation. 

It is obvious that, even in Bolshevist Russia, 
there must be a great diversity in prisons. 
Each one is bound to have its individuality. 
And that individuality partly depends on the 
personality of the Governor and of the warders. 
Some are good and some are bad. Some are 
cruel and some are humane. And even as the 
prisons present great diversities, so do the 
prisoners themselves. They reveal all the 
variety of types which are found in ordinary 



INTRODUCTION 


xv 


life. Some are querulous and quarrelsome, 
some are resigned and pacific, some are coarse, 
and some are refined. Some are stupid, and some 
are intelligent. Some are Atheists, and some 
are deeply religious. Some are self-centred, 
and some are sociable. 

On its political side the Russian prisons 
present the dual character which always char¬ 
acterised the Russian State. On the one hand, 
Imperial Russia was an absolute monarchy, 
and Soviet Russia is an even more absolute 
despotism. The prison administration partakes 
of that same despotic character. On the other 
hand, Imperial Russia was, and Soviet Russia 
still remains, a federation of 40,000 or 50,000 
little republics. The Bolshevist prison partakes 
of the same democratic character. To the 
British reader of Miss Doubassoff s book prob¬ 
ably the most remarkable fact about the 
Soviet prison is that it is administered not by 
the Governor or by the warders, but by the 
prisoners themselves. Each prison has its own 
self-government, and the inmates instinctively 
try to establish some law and order. They 
choose those who are to rule over them. Each 
secton has got its Starosta or “ Elder,” and 
Miss Doubassoff was elected to that responsible 
office. The dogma of equality may be pro¬ 
claimed in theory in Soviet Russia, but that 

b 


XVI 


INTRODUCTION 


dogma is not accepted by the prisoners them¬ 
selves. There is no social equality, for moral 
distinctions, and even class distinctions, are 
perhaps of more account inside the prison than 
outside. Nor is there any political equality, 
for prisoners keenly feel the instinctive need 
for authority, and they yield implicit obedience 
to such authority once they are convinced that 
the fellow - prisoners whom they look up to 
are really deserving of their confidence and 
respect. 

We have briefly emphasised the intrinsic 
interest of Miss Doubassoff’s reminiscences. 
There is another tragic circumstance which 
gives to her book a representative character : 
she may be said to represent the mentality 
and the aspirations of those hundreds of thou¬ 
sands of Russians who have been driven into 
exile by an oppressive and inhuman tyranny. 
Governments who are absorbed by their do¬ 
mestic troubles, and who are ashamed of their 
base betrayal of their Russian allies, may 
concern themselves very little about those two 
million refugees who are scattered to-day on 
every highway of Europe. But in spite of the 
criminal apathy of Governments, those refugees 
represent the moral and intellectual reserves 
of the Russian people. Whilst the mass of the 
Russian people who live under the yoke of the 


INTBODUCTION 


xvif 


Soviet dictators are unable to express them¬ 
selves, the refugees are at the present moment 
the living voice and the conscience of the 
Russian people. They have ceased to beg for 
assistance; they do not even beg for sympathy. 
They have learnt their lesson. They bear their 
hard fate with dignity and fortitude. They 
are supported by an inextinguishable love for 
their sorely tried country, and with an un¬ 
shakable belief in its future. Those noble 
sentiments are the soul and the inspiration of 
Miss Doubassoff’s reminiscences, they constitute 
an additional claim to our sympathy and respect, 
and they make her book excellent anti-Bolshevist 
propaganda, all the more persuasive because 
it is so entirely free of prejudice and hatred. 




CONTENTS. 


CHAP. PACK 

I. THE ARREST ...... 1 

H. IN THE CHEKA ..... 20 

III. SHPALERNAIA ...... 35 

iy. shpalernaia ( continued ) .... 48 

V. MY FRIENDS AND COMPANIONS ... 58 

VI. MY WORK AS STAROSTA .... 68 

VII. RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS IN PRISON . . 84 

VIII. EXECUTIONS.91 

IX. INVESTIGATION.103 

X. PERQUISITION . . . . . .118 

XI. MY TWO MATES . . . . .131 

XH. HOME PARCELS ..... 139 

XHI. supervising commissions . . . 150 

XIV. EXILE ....... 166 

XV. VOLOGDA ...... 192 

XVI. EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP . . . 204 

XVH. RELATIONS WITH THE WORLD OUTSIDE CAMP 222 
XVIII. ADMINISTRATION ..... 231 

XIX. AMNESTY ...... 251 

XX. CONDITIONAL RELEASE .... 265 

XXI. FLIGHT ....... 276 














ILLUSTRATIONS. 


MISS IRENE DOUBASSOFF . . . Frontispiece 

ADMIRAL TH. W. DOUBASSOFF, A.D.C. GENERAL 

TO H.M. THE EMPEROR OF RUSSIA . . 128 

PHOTOGRAPH OF THE SENTENCE GIVEN TO 
MISS DOUBASSOFF BY THE PETROGRAD 


CHEKA 


182 






Ten Months in Bolshevik 

Prisons. 


CHAPTER i. 

THE ARREST. 

The inevitable happened ! 

The arrest, which I had anticipated with 
such dread and horror during two and a half 
years of Bolshevism, was now a thing of the 
past. 

I was in prison, and, strange and illogical 
as it may seem, I was enjoying a feeling 
of peace and relief. The hard stone floor 
on which I slept, all the discomforts which 
surrounded me, even hunger, did not much 
disturb me. I had the feeling of a very tired 
creature to whom was granted at last a moment 
of moral rest, and the enjoyment of it was so 
great that physical discomforts were things of 
little moment. 

The knowledge that my flat would be searched, 

A 



2 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


and all my dearest belongings, my papers, and 
letters, desecrated by alien touch and indis¬ 
cretion, that perhaps all my property would 
be requisitioned for “ distribution among the 
working classes ”—even the knowledge that I 
might be ruined—did not interfere with my 
peace of mind. 

For two and a half years I had fought against 
the Bolshevik power, and though I went through 
the fight with an unwavering strength of pur¬ 
pose, with will and energy and even with a 
composed mind, I was exhausted, my nerves 
were shattered, and all my being craved for 
rest. 

I had been alone in Petrograd during those 
two and a half years. All my family had left 
their home, and were safely away from the 
Bolsheviks. Though it was lonely and trying 
at times to be quite by myself, it had so many 
redeeming points that I was glad of it on the 
whole. It made my life much easier, not only 
from the material but especially from the 
moral point of view. I had no dear ones for 
whose life and safety I was in dread, no one 
for whom I feared during these trying times, 
and there was no one to worry about me in 
case anything terrible should happen. 

This is why my life, and in many ways my 
state of mind, cannot be compared with those 



THE AEEEST 


3 


of the majority of people in Soviet Russia. 
People who have husbands, old parents, or 
children have suffered and are suffering a 
hundredfold more than I ever suffered, and 
my fate was an easy one in comparison to 
that of many. 

Had any of my family been with me I could 
not have borne the conditions of Soviet life 
for so long, and I would surely have left the 
country, as so many of my friends and acquaint¬ 
ances had done ; if not, I am sure I would 
have collapsed from sheer worry. 

But as I was alone and had health and 
strength to help me, I did not even consider 
flight. When friends tried to persuade me to 
escape, I listened to them as to creatures with¬ 
out reason, whose arguments I could not even 
grasp. 

I loved my country. I had been brought 
up since childhood with the idea that I was 
part of it, that I was always to share its fate, 
so that I could not dream of leaving it at such 
a tragic moment in its history. I, who had 
profited by the best that my native land could 
give, could not even picture myself running 
away and abandoning my country while it 
was going through such a terrible crisis. 

But I never in any way criticised those who 
did go. I understood how reasonable it was 


4 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


to escape in order to save one’s nearest, or 
even oneself, not only from death and ruin, 
but from moral degradation. 

I had unfortunately seen examples of highly 
estimable people who had not enough moral 
strength and courage to bear the hardships 
which were forced upon them, and who had 
deteriorated morally. 

Seeing this, I had firmly decided that from 
the moment I should feel my strength giving 
way and my moral standard of life getting 
lower, with the result that my example should 
work to the detriment of my class, I would 
do everything possible to leave the country. 
This I considered to be much better than fur¬ 
nishing one more example of moral weakness. 

But I had never actually faced this possi¬ 
bility. I had the needed strength and disci¬ 
pline, given me by education and by inheritance, 
from generations of people who had considered 
the fulfilment of their duty towards their native 
country to be the principal aim of their lives. 

When my family went away from Petrograd 
they left me in possession of four flats in the 
same house. Through all these years I had 
used every means at my disposal, legal and not 
quite legal, to save, if not the flats themselves, 
at least all that was in them. This was 
certainly a difficult job. The property was of 


THE ARREST 


5 


great value, and, if only for this reason, I could 
not allow it to be taken out of my hands. 

Besides, I am a great lover of things. Each 
material has its own history in my eyes, its own 
life—in fact, its soul. Furniture, pictures, silver, 
bibelots, and all sorts of little trinkets which 
have been in the family for generations and 
have served truly and faithfully, could not be 
betrayed by me. With teeth set I fought for 
them. And then they also represented all that 
remained to my mother after so many requisi¬ 
tions and nationalisations. 

But the fight was too one-sided, and I lost 
many a battle. 

Just think of it! According to the Bolshevik 
decree I was only allowed to have one small 
room and a few chairs and tables, while actually 
I was occupying four flats. I was bound to 
lose in the end, but still the flat I lived in was 
stored to the full with the best I could save. 

It was much easier to fight for my own life 
and safety. No one, till 1920, seemed inter¬ 
ested in me personally, which was very lucky 
for me. If the Cheka 1 had got hold of me in 
1918 , surely I would have been shot. They 
were more interested at that time in their 

1 The Russian abbreviation for the “Extraordinary Com¬ 
mission,” the political Inquisition of the Soviet responsible for 
the death of countless thousands of innocent victims. 



6 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


political enemies and more afraid of them, 
whereas in 1920 they were much more interested 
in getting money, and felt themselves sufficiently 
strong against the bourgeoisie. 

My father had been well known during the 
late Tzar’s reign. In 1905, when the first revolu¬ 
tionary movement broke out, he was commis¬ 
sioned by the Tzar to re-establish order in 
Central Russia, and after that he was appointed 
Governor - General of Moscow. In Central 
Russia he succeeded in checking the agrarian 
disturbances without having recourse to armed 
force ; but in Moscow, where the revolutionary 
movement had gone too far, he was obliged 
to use troops to break down the barricades. 
There were rumours that Trotzky had been on 
these barricades. 

This set the revolutionary parties against 
my father; they proclaimed him an enemy 
of the working classes, and many times they 
attempted to kill him. 

Most of these plots failed. Twice, however, 
they succeeded in throwing bombs at him. The 
first time was in Moscow, in April 1906, just 
in front of the Governor-General’s palace. His 
aide-de-camp, who was with him in the carriage, 
was killed on the spot and his body blown to 
atoms. The coachman and both horses were 
wounded, and the horses bolted with the 


THE ARREST 


7 


carriage. The bottom of the carriage broke, 
and my father fell through it on the road, 
escaping death with only a shock, several bone 
fractures, and a deaf ear. 

In December 1906 they tried to kill him in 
Petrograd while he was enjoying his daily 
walk in the Tauride Gardens. This time the 
bomb was of small explosive power, fell at a 
fair distance, and only hurt his leg. 

Under the present Government, with Trotzky 
as a prominent member of it, milder disturb¬ 
ances are suppressed at the cost of the lives of 
thousands and thousands of Russian working 
people, perishing on either side. All Russia is 
deluged with their blood. 

But then this is the reign of the Bolsheviks ; 
they believe themselves privileged to sacrifice 
any number of lives for the “ salvation of the 
world.” What matters the death of a few 
millions of Russian people in comparison with 
the “ World’s Social Revolution ! ” What 
matters the sacrifice of Russia, of her honour, 
her wealth, her industry, her culture and art, 
her historical monuments, when these are laid 
on the altar of the Third International! 

But as my father was considered as an 
enemy of the people by the previous revolu¬ 
tionary parties (to-day the rulers of Russia), I 
had to be very careful in all my activities. 


8 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


I lived very quietly, working all the time, 
doing everything myself, not showing myself 
anywhere, and seeing only my nearest friends. 

In 1919, when a Bolshevik decree obliged 
me to take up work for the Government, I was 
perplexed as to what to do. I did not want to 
work for the Bolsheviks, and, on the other 
hand, I did not like to use false documents 
which it was possible though difficult to obtain. 
(Some institutions could be bribed to issue 
papers certifying that you were in their employ.) 
And I could not risk being unemployed. 

For thirteen years we had a school in our 
house, and now the headmistress invited me 
to be a clerk at the school office. This served 
my purpose and left my conscience clear. But 
all the time I was quite sure that only a miracle 
could save me from arrest and prison. 

That arrest, I felt sure, would come sooner 
or later, and sometimes I even wanted it to 
come sooner rather than wait. When you have 
got to have a tooth out, it is best to have it 
done as quickly as possible ; anticipation is in 
so many ways worse than realisation. 

However, while the miracle lasted I confess 
that I enjoyed many things to the full. Every 
night, when going to bed, I thanked God that 
for one more night I could sleep peacefully. 

And still it had to come. I was even more 


THE AEEEST 


9 


sure of it from the beginning of 1920, as the 
Cheka got suddenly interested in me. An agent 
used to come to my house and inquire about 
me. Once he even came to my flat and asked 
for my photograph. I had to give it, as, learn¬ 
ing who he was, the House Committee 1 insisted 
upon that. 

Many times I saw the young man following 
me in the streets, or saw him in our courtyard. 
I hated a knock at the door at such times, 
and hated even my friends who chose these 
■wrong moments to come and see me. I felt 
like a hunted animal, chased all the time into 
the trap. 

One evening I was coming home all alone 
from a very distant quarter of the town, where 
I had been to see some friends. It was late in 
the evening, about eleven o’clock. Though the 
streets were unlit, I could see my way in the 
dark because of the white snow covering the 
ground. The streets were deserted, and I had 
hardly met a single person during my long walk. 


1 When the houses were requisitioned from their owners, the 
Bolsheviks instituted House Committees. The members of 
such committees were chosen from among the inhabitants of 
the house. But as the Bolsheviks needed them as a sort of 
“police” supervising all the lodgers, these members could be 
chosen only amongst the democratic element of the house. 
The clergy, nobles, “ex-titled” people and other bourgeois 
were not allowed to participate in such House Committees, and 
therefore had no voice in the affairs of the house. 


10 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


I was extremely nervous that day, as I had 
seen my agent following me in the afternoon. 
A nasty presentiment haunted me: I was sure 
they were going to lay hands on me that same 
evening. Perhaps the agents of the Cheka 
were already at my flat, only waiting for my 
return home; perhaps they had put soldiers 
in the adjoining streets to catch me; and I 
was unconsciously looking for these soldiers in 
the dark. 

Suddenly I saw the shadow of a man stand¬ 
ing near a house. As I came nearer the shadow 
moved, and began walking straight towards 
me. I stopped in the middle of the street and 
waited breathlessly. (People rarely keep to 
the pavement now—it is safer to walk in the 
middle of the road, there being practically no 
traffic.) 

As it approached, the shadow took the form 
of a soldier bearing a rifle. He came up to me, 
asking very politely whether I would be good 
enough to show him his way as he had lost 
himself in the dark. 

The relief was so great that it gave me comage, 
and I went on with a lighter step and a lighter 
heart. It was all nonsense and pure imagina¬ 
tion, and I felt ashamed to be afraid. 

When I reached my house and saw that no 
one was near it, I entered, and carefully closed 



THE ARREST 


11 


the door behind me. The door was never 
locked, as there was no one to open it, and 
as the woodwork had swollen from exposure 
it closed with the greatest difficulty, and once 
shut was very hard to open. So at night it 
always remained open, wide open. 

Though I now felt safe, I decided to close 
the door properly this time, so that no one 
could enter and so that I might sleep in perfect 
quiet. The stairs were quite dark. To reach 
my door I had to go up one flight of stairs. 
There was my landing—a large place, with a 
window opening on to the yard. 

I was standing on the landing, breathing 
freely at last, searching without haste for the 
key, which was in my pocket. ' 

Suddenly to my horror I felt conscious of 
some human presence near me in the dark. 
I heard some one breathing, and then the 
creature moved, and I saw by the shadow on 
the window-pane that it was a soldier carrying 
a rifle. 

Never in my life was I so frightened. My 
first awful thought was that I had made my 
own escape impossible by closing the outside 
door. I did not know what to do ; no one 
lived on the same stairs, there was only the 
empty school with the two servants, who slept 
there, but who could not possibly hear me on 


12 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


the stairs. I felt positively lost; my bell did 
not ring, and, had I called, my lodgers at the 
other end of the flat could not have heard me. 

Strange to say, I did not think of the possible 
arrest at that moment. I was sure the soldier 
had strayed into the open staircase, and was 
ready to kill me for money. I imagined already 
what it must feel like to have his bayonet in 
my flesh, when suddenly a match was struck 
in the dark, and a kind voice asked me not 
to be afraid. I saw a smiling face, and recog¬ 
nised in the man a brother of my lodgers. He 
could not make himself heard in the flat, and 
was waiting for my return to be let in. 

My relief was great, and I laughed at myself 
for having been afraid ; I was ashamed of such 
a disgraceful display of nerves. I could not 
allow myself to indulge in such feelings, and 
kept them well in hand, but nevertheless they 
existed. 

And now I am actually in the trap. Now 
no one will knock at my door in the night, no 
one will haunt my dreams, no one will give me 
nervous shocks at the street corners. For 
naturally I am not a coward. It was only the 
Cheka that could upset my balance. 

Yes, for me all this was over. I was in the 
trap. How long I should have to stay there 
was another matter. But the way in which I 


THE ARREST 


13 


was trapped was a fortunate one for me. Thank 
God, no politics were mixed up in the game, 
for in that case I would not have had a chance. 

My actual arrest took place in the house of 
friends. They had been rich, and still possessed 
many things of value, so they were certainly 
on the black list of those to be visited by the 
Cheka. It is true that they lived in such an 
ingenious way that it was hard to get at them. 
But once the Cheka had an aim, it would attain 
it sooner or later by one means or another. 

The family consisted of an old gentleman, 
his son, and married daughter with her hus¬ 
band, as well as three old women—servants, 
who had been in the house for over thirty years, 
and of whom the youngest was sixty-five years 
old. 

A marine officer, an Esthonian, who worked 
in the same office as the son, had lately offered 
to sell him a beautiful diamond brooch. He 
said that the brooch belonged to a man who 
was in great need, but who was afraid to sell 
it through unknown hands for fear that he might 
be denounced to the Cheka. 

The price was low and the bargain a very 
good one, but the family had not the necessary 
money, and the old gentleman was opposed to 
speculations of any kind on his own behalf or 
on behalf of his children, and he had held him- 


14 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


self aloof from any such transactions during 
the Bolshevik regime. 

Every other day, throughout a whole month, 
the Esthonian renewed his offer, each time 
reducing the price. When it came to a million 
roubles it was too tempting not to buy the 
brooch. 

At this same time a decree was issued about 
the requisitioning of furs and warm clothes. 
Before such a decree is published a warning 
rumour runs usually round the town. People 
prefer to sell the extra things even at very 
reduced prices rather than risk the loss of them 
by requisition. 

My friends and I were of this opinion, and 
we sold our things for several hundred thousands 
each. This money had to be “ placed ”—it 
could not be left in notes, as the money market 
was very weak, and the rouble was falling 
rapidly. 

I always preferred pictures to jewels, for 
such an investment spared a great deal of 
anxiety during the possible perquisitions. Some¬ 
thing small, old, and dark hanging on the wall 
in the dark passage does not draw the attention, 
though it be a Leonardo da Vinci. Having held 
a family council, my friends decided to invest 
their money in the brooch of the Esthonian. 

One Saturday, the 27th of March 1920, I 



THE ARREST 


15 


was leaving my flat to go to these friends, whom 
I had not seen for five days. At that moment 
Mr S., the son-in-law, knocked at my door. 
We were good friends, and many times I had 
lent him money when he was hard up, and he 
in return helped me to get rid of things I needed 
to sell. 

He was very worried and upset, and he 
wanted a large sum of money. He had come 
to ask me for it, as he knew I had some 300,000 
roubles at home. 

I had some business in view for the next 
morning, some pictures, which had been offered 
to me, and I did not like lending him the money, 
but after half an hour’s entreaties and his 
promise to return the money in a day, I yielded 
to the claims of friendship. 

It took me more than half an hour to 
hunt out the money, for it was hidden in all 
sorts of places. I will not tell about those 
wonderful places, as there are still many such 
in Russia at the present moment, full of all 
sorts of precious belongings. At last I hunted 
out 270,000 roubles—it was all I had except 
some odd 10,000 which I left on the table in 
my bedroom for my own needs. The next day 
he was to return the money. I did not ask Mr S. 
why he needed this money ; I was in a hurry 
to be in time for dinner, and it was far to walk. 



16 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


The trams were very scarce at the time, 
and always so full that the only way was to 
walk. No cabs were then to be had in Petro- 
grad, as all the horses were dead, and many 
were eaten by the hungry population. I, too, 
had partaken of horse-flesh, and I found that 
it does not taste too bad when prepared in a 
certain way. 

Ten minutes after I entered my friend’s 
house we were all arrested. The story can 
be told in a few words. 

It was the day of the transaction over the 
famous brooch. The naval officer, as it turned 
out, was an “ agent 'provocateur ” 1 working with 
the Cheka, and the brooch, which he had been 
using as a bait, belonged to the Cheka as well. 
This man, a supposed friend of the son of the 
house, now appeared at the flat, bringing with 
him two Commissars and four soldiers from the 
Cheka. All doors were locked, and we were 
in for perhaps several years of prison. 

We were all ordered into the dining-room, 
where the old gentleman sat working at the 
table. A paper was thrown before him; it 
was a charge of speculation in diamonds. 

Having put on his spectacles with delibera¬ 
tion and examined the document, the old 
gentleman asked very politely where any dia- 

1 A decoy and spy. 


THE ARREST 


17 


monds were to be seen. For answer the Com¬ 
missar went over to the other end of the room 
where the Esthonian was sitting, and putting 
one hand into his breast pocket, drew out an 
envelope in which was the brooch. This he also 
threw upon the table. We were stunned, and 
looked at each other with stupefied amazement. 

The solemnity of the occasion was upset by 
the cook. She could not keep quiet, and now 
began worrying the Commissar because she had 
left her dinner on the kitchen fire and could 
smell it burning. Her entreaties were so much 
out of tune with our tragic position that the 
Commissar, evidently feeling that this interlude 
was making the whole situation ridiculous, sent 
her back to the kitchen with a soldier on guard. 

The Commissars and the soldiers then drew 
out their revolvers, and threatened any one 
who should move. Unfortunately I asked the 
young man of our party for a match, and 
without thinking he made a few steps in the 
direction of the next room, where his matches 
were kept. Both Commissars flew at him, 
seized him by the arm, and, rushing into the 
room ahead of him, began turning everything 
topsy-turvy. 

I could understand nothing at the moment, 
all the more so as I was in complete ignorance 
of the brooch transaction. I must own that, 

B 


18 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


on the whole, our visitors were almost decent. 
They put back their revolvers after a time 
and became quite civil. Some of them are not 
so wicked as they appear to be. They have 
to do their dirty work ; it is the regime that 
has entrapped them. It often seemed as though 
they pitied the people they had to arrest. That 
is why they are allowed alcohol. They are 
given it by the Cheka itself to keep up their 
spirits. 

I had the opportunity of walking round the 
flat, and succeeded in slipping my pearl earrings 
into the pocket of the old deaf nurse. I was 
sure they would not touch her, and actually 
she saved them for me. 

About eleven o’clock, after four and a half 
hours’ search, during which everything was 
turned inside out and nothing of interest found 
(they were looking for the money which was to 
have been paid for the brooch), we were taken 
to the renowned Gorochovaia 2, the head¬ 
quarters of the Cheka. They were furious not 
to have found the money, for the agents get 
25 per cent on such sums from their employer, 
the Cheka. 

Mr S., the one who had taken my money, 
came to the flat much later, while the Com¬ 
missars were still there, and he was also arrested, 
but no money was found on him either. 


THE ARREST 


19 


One gets so sly living under such extra¬ 
ordinary conditions that one learns to take all 
possible precautions. The money was in a 
safe place outside the house. If the affair had 
been a straight one, not a provocation, it would 
have been fetched in a moment; but in the 
case of a provocation such as this one, it meant 
that no money was to be found in the house, 
and, therefore, no visible evidence of any such 
transaction being contemplated. To all ques¬ 
tions about money we gave only one reply: 
“We have no money ; you can see for your¬ 
selves.” 

But the question of money did not matter 
very much now, as they had us in their power 
anyhow. We were taken to the Cheka, we 
were sent on to prison, and all our property 
was henceforth in the hands of the Cheka. 
They could do what they liked with us and our 
belongings. 


CHAPTER II. 


IN THE CHEKA. 

I had absurd illusions at the first moment of 
my arrest. 

I was foolish enough to believe the Com¬ 
missar when he told me that I had only to 
look in at the Gorochovaia for a moment in 
order to answer one or two questions, and that 
I would then be free to go home for the night. 
I was also foolish in another way: I could not 
believe that the Esthonian was an “ agent 
provocateur I was sure that he himself was 
a victim, and as we were walking down the 
street towards the Cheka, I tried to impress 
upon the Commissar that the Esthonian was 
a very good man, and that he must not suffer. 
I also asked him to do all he could to obtain 
my speedy release, to give evidence that I had 
nothing to do with the brooch transaction. 

“ I myself have nothing to do with this 


IN THE CHEKA 


21 


business,” he said; “a friend of mine, who 
is in charge of this case, and who had to effect 
the arrest, has fallen ill, and I am only acting 
as a substitute.” 

During the first hour of our detention in the 
Commandant’s office, whilst more miserable 
arrested creatures were being brought con¬ 
tinually, I felt sure that at any moment I 
would be called out to give evidence, and then 
liberated. What worried me most was the fact 
that it was getting late, and as after one o’clock 
at night no one was allowed in the streets, I 
wondered how I could reach my home, which 
was at the other end of the town. 

I was not long to remain under any illusions. 
My eyes were soon opened as to my real situa¬ 
tion. I was asked to step up to a counter and 
hand over my valuables. I was then thoroughly 
searched, and finally marched off to the women’s 
ward upstairs. 

The objects given up voluntarily are returned 
on leaving prison, and a receipt is given for 
them to the prisoner. Everything found after¬ 
wards is confiscated by the State. 

The search is a very disagreeable affair; in 
fact, I may say it is a thoroughly repulsive 
performance. Each article of clothing is re¬ 
moved one by one and thoroughly searched, 
until one is left in nature’s uniform. The 


22 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


woman who searches looks through every seam 
of clothing, examines the boots ; she undoes 
the hair to see if anything is hidden there. To 
feel her searching hands passing over the body 
and her fingers crawling amongst the hair gives 
one a most loathsome sensation and a moral 
shock, which it takes some time to forget. 
Luckily I had nothing to hide, and was thus 
spared the degrading feeling of the fear of 
being found out. 

But I know many people who have managed 
to hide things even from such a search. A 
lady of my acquaintance had a pearl necklace 
in prison ; how she managed to hide it is her 
own secret. Others put rings or small things 
in their mouths. One man arranged a bandage 
on his finger and stained it with blood; these 
stains were his salvation, as the searcher was 
afraid to undo the bandage. 

If you are plucky enough you can manage 
all sorts of most wonderful tricks. Certainly 
pluck is needed, and, strange to say, this pluck 
is sometimes shown by people from whom it 
is least expected. 

There was an old lady of sixty-five who was 
imprisoned at the same time as I. She appeared 
to be a rather stupid person. She had been 
very rich, and still possessed a great many 
jewels. As a means of concealing them she 


IN THE CHEKA 


23 


sewed them up in a sort of cushion, which she 
wore always on her bosom, and never parted 
with it day and night. When she was arrested, 
the only thing to do was to go to the Cheka 
wearing the cushion, and take her chance that 
the jewels would not be found. Though she 
was very nervous when taken to be searched, 
she simulated such an unruffled appearance that 
this totally misled the searcher. 

Two days later she was on the point of being 
released from the Gorochovaia, in which case 
she would have saved all her jewels. Unluckily 
for her, at the last moment the investigating 
officer changed his mind, and sent her for a 
few days to prison. There during the prison 
search the jewels were found. It is almost 
impossible to believe all that she had on her : 
ten pairs of beautiful diamond earrings, fifteen 
rings with very valuable stones, a very good 
pearl necklace, six bracelets, several brooches, 
and many other things. All this was worth a 
fortune, and as she had not given it up of her 
own accord, it was confiscated. But she might 
have been sure that had her treasures been 
given up voluntarily, the same fate would have 
befallen them. 

The way in which she gave up her jewels 
with a smile and the sigh of relief which accom¬ 
panied this action is very characteristic. Many 


24 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 

sleepless nights had been passed on account of 
these jewels, but now all worry and care were 
at an end. 

But I was happy in not having anything to 
hide—this in itself was a relief. The only 
article which they thought dangerous was a 
pencil, which was confiscated to prevent my 
writing notes. 

The three days I spent at the Gorochovaia 
seemed endless. It is most trying to sit in a 
room, with about sixty women around one, 
and with absolutely nothing to do. No books 
were allowed here, although they were allowed 
in prison. When the nerves are strained, 
activity of any kind is sustaining, whereas com¬ 
pulsory idleness seems unbearable. 

The only thing one could do was to go with 
the soldier on duty to fetch the food or the hot 
water for tea. Another alternative was the 
washing of floors. Inaction was so hard for me 
after my busy life, where every moment of the 
day was taken up by some kind of work, that 
I preferred filling up my time with any form 
of distraction or labour. So I occasionally went 
to fetch the food, and also washed the floors ; 
this really helped to pass the time. 

I soon found out also that the food was 
brought from a small kitchen adjoining the 
ward in which the men arrested with our party 



IN THE CHEKA 


25 


were sitting. They had a small window in the 
door, and I managed to exchange a few words 
with them several times a day. The soldiers 
who guarded them had certainly no right to 
allow such conversations between prisoners, as 
we could thus help each other when giving 
evidence. But they were good kindly Russian 
souls, and simply pretended not to see, giving 
us our few moments of conversation. 

Hot water for washing the floors was also 
obtained in the same kitchen. This was one 
of the reasons which prompted me to volunteer 
for that work. I arranged to do the washing 
together with simple peasant women. They 
did the whole work, while I only wiped the 
floor after them, and in return gave them my 
extra bread ration, which we all got for doing 
this. 

Washing the floor also gave me the chance 
to walk through the whole building, and to 
see the inner sanctum of the Cheka. It was 
cleaner than most of the Bolshevik institutions, 
as here they had the prisoners to work for 
them. Also, there was order about the place. 

The striking part of it was the kitchen, which 
was spotlessly clean. The cooks were dressed 
in the usual white dress and caps, which are not 
seen anywhere in Russia at present, except 
perhaps in the Kremlin in Moscow. There was 


26 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


an enormous amount of very good food. All 
the dishes I saw while passing through the 
kitchen would have made my mouth water in 
other circumstances. But here, though hungry, 
I could not even look at them—they all seemed 
stained with the blood of all the victims of 
the Cheka. 

The prisoners also got better food at this 
place than in any other prison. It only consisted 
of soup twice a day and a pound of black bread, 
but the soup had a piece of meat in it and 
some gruel. It was served in big basins for 
five people, and one was supposed to eat the 
soup with four other strange women all dipping 
their spoons simultaneously. I did not much 
fancy this promiscuity, and asked a soldier to 
lend me his soup basin, and so had my soup 
separately. Thank God, I was not hungry dur¬ 
ing all these days, and I slept well. 

The beds were of iron, with a mattress stuffed 
with straw. They did not look particularly 
dirty, and I did not find vermin in them. I 
was told to be very careful about lice. Un¬ 
fortunately, I was soon to become acquainted 
with them in the prison, but here, to my relief, 
I could discover none. 

The women in the ward were quite friendly, 
and belonged mostly to the middle classes. It 
was a time in the career of the Cheka when 


IN THE CHEKA 


27 


politics had temporarily subsided; no new 
plots were being discovered, and the Cheka 
was mainly busy hunting for speculators. 

The prisoners were for the most part of the 
class of people who sell provisions secretly. 
These are generally peasants or townspeople, 
who have become rich during the revolution, 
and who are reactionary on principle and be¬ 
cause they are traders. Most of them are ex¬ 
servants, quite friendly, and happy to render 
small services for the ladies they meet in prison, 
increasing as far as possible their comforts, and 
sharing their food with them, of which they 
receive a plentiful supply from home. 

The evening was always the most interesting 
part of the day, for it was then that new prisoners 
arrived. The calamity of arrest had just fallen 
upon them. They were nervous and unstrung, 
and it was here that various characters defined 
themselves so clearly. Some came in very 
quietly, and were very subdued. Others came 
in crying their hearts out: a sedative of some 
form or other was immediately forced upon 
them by the other prisoners, the old ones, who 
were upset by such a display of nerves. All 
the protests of the victim were useless ; she 
was shown her bed, and in an hour was sound 
asleep. Others, again, arrived in a very dash¬ 
ing manner. 


28 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


The last night I spent at the Cheka a lot of 
noise and laughing was heard on the stairs, and 
a whole company of well-dressed women, young 
and pretty, burst into the room. 

It was a group of actresses and girls of “ light 
character,” who had been arrested at a card- 
party. They were all in evening dress, rouged 
and with dyed hair (as was evidenced later by 
its change of colour), smoking cigarettes, and 
apparently enjoying themselves thoroughly. 
The whole arrest had been so sudden for them 
that they had not yet realised the gravity of 
their situation, and felt sure that in a few 
hours they would be released. But when night 
came and they saw the bunks on which they 
were to sleep, their laughter died away. Get¬ 
ting up in creased evening dresses the next 
morning was still less funny, and as the weeks 
went by they became more and more down¬ 
hearted. 

But this arrival of jolly, young, and pretty 
faces was a pleasant change for the old prisoners, 
and made them forget for perhaps an hour their 
sad situation. It seemed that twelve men were 
also arrested at the same time as the girls. 
Several divorce cases were the result, for their 
arrest let the cat out of the bag, and showed 
the wives at home how their husbands spent 
their evenings. 


IN THE CHEKA 


29 


I learnt later on in prison that all this party 
had been inveigled in the same way as my 
friends, and, strange to say, by means of the 
same brooch. They were all at the house of 
one of these women playing cards, when in 
came an investigating officer of the Cheka, 
whom they all knew as such, and who used to 
come very often to play cards with them. 
During the game he took out of his pocket 
this same beautiful brooch, and offered it for 
sale. He even insisted upon sending his motor 
to fetch one of the actresses who was absent, 
in order to show her the brooch. 

After her arrival, and when they were all 
sitting round a table discussing the price of the 
brooch, the bed rang, and in came the agents 
of the Cheka with soldiers, and having charged 
them all with speculation, took the whole party 
off to the Gorochovaia. 

This explains why the women were so sure 
of being released; they thought it was ah 
some sort of misunderstanding, which would at 
once be cleared up by their friend the investi¬ 
gating officer. But the women stayed in prison 
for over two months ; I do not know what 
happened to the men. They said that it was a 
case of jealousy existing between some one at 
the Gorochovaia and one of these arrested men, 
on account of one of the women. 


30 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


On the last day of my stay at the Cheka I 
was summoned downstairs to wash floors. It 
was five o’clock in the morning, and the peasant 
women did not wish to get up, so a few “ ladies ” 
were ordered downstairs to do the work. The 
caretaker was displeased when he saw us, being 
sure we did not know how to do it properly. 
We were each shown a room, given new swabs, 
and severely told to do the work conscientiously. 

When I came to the room allotted to me, I 
was happy to see that it was small and not 
particularly dirty. The work was easy for a 
person who knew how to do it. Unfortunately, 
though I am familiar with all sorts of manual 
work, floors were not in my line. My back 
always tired very quickly, and ached for a 
considerable time afterwards. Even during the 
Bolshevik regime I used to allow myself the 
luxury of having a woman to come and wash 
my floors. 

Of course, I had to be very careful about 
it, as I did not want to be charged with counter¬ 
revolutionary practices. This woman was one 
of our old servants and a well-meaning person, 
who would not give me away. But she made 
me guard the door against all intruders while 
she was at work, and I dared not pay her 
money, but gave her provisions or a meal. 

In Russia “ floor - washers ” do wonderful 


IN THE CHEKA 


31 


things with their rag, drawing it up and down 
with quick gestures, while the water seems 
somehow to run after the rag. So on this 
occasion I tried to imitate them as best I could, 
but did not succeed, and worked very clumsily. 
Suddenly a feeling of revolt came over me 
when I realised my situation. 

I must tell you that this room was the sanc¬ 
tum of a notorious Bolshevik Commissar. He 
had just finished his work, and was lying asleep 
on the sofa. I could see that he was exhausted, 
because the glaring electricity and the noise 
I made moving the chairs and tables did not 
disturb him in the least. He had such a hor¬ 
rible face : the mouth was cruel, and the face 
was all covered with pimples. 

A malicious yearning and impulse came over 
me to vent my suppressed revolt in some way 
on this very man, this awful specimen, who, 
when awake, was the terror of the bourgeoisie, 
and had such a great number of victims on his 
conscience. If I had been a man or a woman 
of a different temperament, I would probably 
have wanted to kill him, but my feelings found 
another outlet; I wished to cover him with 
ridicule. 

He was entirely dressed, with the exception 
of his boots, which were standing on the floor 
near the sofa. 


32 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


I pushed the furniture to the other end of 
the room, and made a big pool of water round 
the sofa. Then taking up his boots, I put 
them deliberately upon the nether quarters of 
the reclining figure. He looked so utterly 
comic, this ruler of our country — sleeping 
soundly on the sofa, a pair of boots perched 
upon his back, and the whole surrounded by 
a pool of water. I wanted him to wake up 
and realise how grotesque he looked in the 
presence of one of the hated class. 

When the keeper came in and saw the pool 
—and the boots—he was very angry, and, to 
my great relief, sent me upstairs in disgrace. 
This was what I wanted—I did not want to 
work any more ; I had suddenly realised the 
degrading side of it, and it was too much 
for me. 

But it was the last time that I allowed myself 
to look at things from this point of view. It 
was unwise, and I could not afford it. I schooled 
myself quickly back to the psychology I had 
practised during all the years of Bolshevism : 
nothing in the world can be degrading to a 
person who retains his or her self-respect, and 
the degradation only falls upon those who are 
seeking to lower or belittle one. 

Unfortunately, the most interesting portion 
of the Cheka building did not need any wash- 





IK THE CHEKA 


33 


ing, and that is why I had not seen it. This 
was the famous “ corked room.” 

I have no idea whether it is a European 
invention, an invention that belongs to the old 
“ retrograde civilisation,” or whether it is an 
innovation due to the ingenuity of these new 
rulers of the world. It is interesting to note, 
however, that the new rulers, who regard the 
whole world as a prey to old and outworn 
principles, must instil the new theories of the 
Third International by means which are fit only 
for the Middle Ages. 

The corked room is a very small one. It 
owes its name to the fact that its walls are 
entirely lined with cork—the door and every 
crack are inlaid with indiarubber. It has no 
windows, no ventilation, and no light. When 
the door is closed upon a prisoner, he feels 
himself absolutely as buried alive in a tomb. 
He hears nothing, he has no air, no light. He 
feels himself already deep in the grave ; his 
physical state is hard to realise. The pulse 
begins to beat harder and harder in his temples, 
making a deafening roar ; his head feels like 
bursting, and madness seems not far off. 

Twenty minutes is the most one can bear of 
this experience without collapsing. That is 
why every twenty minutes a guard comes and 
opens the door to admit a whiff of fresh air. 

c 



34 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Each time he asks whether the prisoner is 
ready to go before his investigator with the 
desired information. 

I knew a man who spent five days in this 
torture chamber, and from there was taken 
straight to the madhouse, without ever con¬ 
senting to the interview that would have saved 
him. 

But most people, without such superhuman 
endurance, are ready to make any kind of 
confession whatsoever rather than be tortured 
in such a way. They give away fathers, mothers, 
children, everything and anything, because they 
cannot bear it any longer. 


35 


CHAPTER III. 

SHPALERNAIA. 

At ten o’clock that same morning I was ordered 
to dress. Apparently they intended to move 
me to a prison, “ The House of Preliminary 
Detention,” called Shpalernaia by the name of 
the street. Prisoners are kept there while their 
case is being inquired into, and remain until 
they get their sentence or their release. 

It was one of the moments during my ten 
months’ imprisonment when I had a feeling of 
utter despair. I lost all self-control and wept 
like a child. Everything I had heard about 
this historical prison was so dreadful that I 
simply loathed the idea of going there. All my 
nerves gave way, and the cheerfulness I had 
practised during three days had vanished. I 
was ready to call for help, to stamp my feet, 
while my heart cried for help and protection. 

But I returned to reason in a moment—my 
pride came to my rescue, for “ they ” would 


36 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


only be too glad to see me suffering, and no 
help could possibly come. Summoning my 
courage, I calmly went out with the other 
women. 

Men, about fifty or sixty, were already in 
the yard. It took about fifteen minutes for 
the soldiers to put us all in even rows, with 
a soldier at each end of the row ; and then the 
gates opened and we came out into the street. 

The day was a lovely one ; the sun shone 
bright and warm, though the temperature w^as 
very much below zero. We had a long way to 
walk. Passing the Winter Palace we went 
along the beautiful quay of the Neva. The 
quay of this grand river, with banks locked in 
granite, with palaces and beautiful houses on 
both sides of it, with the lovely Petrograd 
fortress looking into its waters, has been the 
fashionable place for walks and drives during 
many generations. 

I remember it since my early childhood, 
when we were taken daily for a drive in a 
big landau, guarded by two nurses and a 
footman on the box, with quiet horses specially 
selected for the occasion and considered safe 
for the dear children. Then later on I remember 
we used to walk along the quay with a governess, 
who marched us quickly up and down after 
school; and still later on, still escorted by a 



SHPALEENAIA 


37 


governess, I used to walk there every day. 
It was one of the exciting moments of the 
day during the season in Petrograd, this walk 
on the quay, it being the meeting-place for all 
one’s friends and flirts. From two to four 
every one used to walk there, or drive up and 
down, showing off their beautiful Russian horses. 

Having passed these places so very many 
times in my life, I knew every stone by heart ; 
but never could I have imagined that I should 
be led there, in the middle of the street, sur¬ 
rounded by soldiers, just like a burglar or a 
murderer. Prisoners led in the street had 
attracted my attention since childhood; I 
always stopped and wondered at their psy¬ 
chology. I wanted so much to know what they 
thought and felt, and I was always penetrated 
by a tremendous pity for them. Now people 
in the street looked at me with the same wonder, 
and I must say with a lot of sympathy and pity 
in their eyes. 

When we had reached and entered the awful 
prison, it turned out not to be so dreadful as 
I imagined. The administration was quite 
civil, and the prisoners were very friendly. I 
met a dear friend of mine, a rather distant 
cousin, and some other ladies I knew. French 
and English were spoken in nearly every cell, 
and nice ladies were seen everywhere. 



38 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


This gave me a lot of courage, and a hot 
Russian bath restored my physical comfort. 
It is true that in other conditions this bath 
would have seemed to be lacking of many 
things; all I had for bath-towel was a small 
pocket-handkerchief, and a tiny piece of soap 
given me by the bath-keeper. But the bath¬ 
room looked clean, and I had a lot of hot 
water. 

I spent a whole week with this pocket- 
handkerchief as my only belonging, and noth¬ 
ing to eat except the loathsome prison food. 
But life in Russia, under the present circum¬ 
stances, has shown what a wonderfully adaptive 
creature a human being is. Things that ap¬ 
peared impossible to bear in normal life now 
seemed quite possible. As far as my experi¬ 
ence goes, the things which I consider as abso¬ 
lutely essential in life are cleanliness, a bright 
spirit full of courage, and a cigarette. If you 
succeed in having those three things and manage 
to have friends around you, you can be com¬ 
fortable and even happy in the most impossible 
surroundings. 

The first week of my stay in prison I had 
only a good spirit and some friends round me, 
so life was much harder to bear; but in a 
week’s time I received a big parcel from home 
with linen, soap and brushes, a pillow, blankets, 


SHPALERNAIA 


39 


and all sorts of other nice things, and, above 
all, cigarettes. Food was brought as well, but 
it disagreed with me frightfully, as after a whole 
week of underfeeding a good meal was too 
much for me. 

But I must explain who it was that sent 
me the precious parcel with all my belongings. 
After my servants had left me, in June 1918, 
I had lived all alone in my flat. It was rather 
unwise of me, as I was risking all the time to 
have my flat peopled by force with strange 
and alien representatives of the working-classes. 
I had six rooms, and five of them could, by the 
Soviet rules, be given over to “ actually working 
people.” Everybody was urging me to take 
in some lodgers of my own accord, which would 
save me from the intruders ; and besides, no 
one could understand how I could bear to be 
alone, with a door that had only a glass pane 
to it, no safety lock, and stairs open day and 
night to all strangers. 

But I loved being alone; it was such a 
treat, such a blessing, to have no nervous 
influences round me. Every personality at the 
time represented a battery so charged with 
nervous emanations that I could not bear to 
have them near me. And the door and open 
stairs did not matter. I am a fatalist, and did 
not mind it in the least. 


40 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


But after June 1919, when a disagreeable 
search was made at my flat, I felt I had no 
longer the courage to live alone. I lost my 
nerve and was ill after this search, and needed 
a sympathetic presence in my flat; and Fate 
helped me to get this sympathetic presence in 
my moment of need. 

About two days after the search I heard 
a knock at the door. It was the daughter 
of an old nurse of both my brothers, who had 
been a servant in our house and a nursery-maid 
at my sister’s. I had not seen her for many 
years, and had forgotten about her existence ; 
I was not even quite sure of her name. She 
happened to be passing near our house, and 
the place reminded her of our family. Being 
rather inquisitive by nature, she marched 
into the House Committee, and there asked 
about us. 

Learning that I was quite alone and in 
rather changed circumstances, she suddenly 
felt that she must help me and protect me by 
coming to live with me. She told me so, crying 
and kissing me in the hall. I disliked her tears 
and her pitying me. I did not need this ; but 
I needed her protection, as this was just the 
sort of person who could be useful to me in 
my position. And then this proposal, made 
at that moment, seemed nothing less than the 


SHPALERNAIA 


41 


interference of some stronger power for my 
welfare, so I consented immediately. 

Only after I had consented did I learn that 
the woman had a husband, a sailor (“ The 
Glory and Pride of the Revolution,” as the 
sailors were called during the revolution of 
March 1917 by Kerensky & Co. while they were 
murdering their best officers), and two children. 

I showed her a room, promised her free 
light and heating (I had saved by miracle a 
large quantity of wood from 1917), and as a 
matter of old habit offered her monthly wages. 
She consented to do some cleaning for me and 
occasionally some cooking, but under the new 
system she did not wish to be considered as a 
servant. 

In a few days she brought along her sailor 
husband to be introduced to me. We shook 
hands and had a little chat in the drawing¬ 
room. He seemed quite nice and very polite, 
though he did not take his cap off in the rooms. 
(This is a Bolshevik innovation directed against 
religion. Men took off their caps in rooms, not 
only because of good manners but because in 
every room in Russia there is an icon.) In a 
week’s time they were living with me. 

After several weeks I learnt to my horror 
that the man was a Bolshevik. This came out 
in quite an unexpected manner. Being worried 


42 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

by some one about my property, I asked the 
sailor’s advice and help. He would answer 
for me, he said. 

“ But what weight would your name have 
with them ? ” I asked. 

Upon this he became very red in the face, 
and owned that he belonged to the Bolshevik 
party. I looked so abashed and so frightened, 
and he so timid and ashamed of himself for not 
having told me this before, that there were a 
few moments of perplexed silence. One can 
imagine how I felt having a Bolshevik in my 
house ! 

He then asked me to sit down and listen 
to what he had to tell me. He said that when 
his wife was our servant and he was employed 
elsewhere, my mother had allowed him to live 
in his wife’s room, which was not allowed in 
other houses, adding that he and his wife had 
received nothing but kindness at our hands. 
Consequently, although a Bolshevik by con¬ 
viction, he still retained a great feeling of 
reverence towards our family, and was ready 
to help and shield me with whatever power he 
could exercise. I believed the man, and I 
am glad I did, as later he lived up to his word. 

In about six weeks his wife fell a victim 
of dysentery, which was raging in the town, 
and died. I helped to nurse the poor woman 


SHPALERNAIA 


4 3 


before she was taken to a hospital, and looked 
after her children—a boy of ten and a girl of 
two. After her death I tried to help the best 
I could. His sister-in-law, a very nice girl of 
twenty-two, came up from the country to the 
funeral and stopped with the children. 

A short time after the funeral the man came 
to my room for a talk. Though very unhappy 
at the loss of his wife, he felt that he must 
marry again as quickly as possible, because 
the sister-in-law could not stay with him any 
longer, and he did not know what to do with 
the children. He dreaded sending them to 
school, where the Bolsheviks were trying to 
give a new socialistic education ; for although 
a Bolshevik himself, he did not like the idea 
of this education for his children. 

I was very much taken aback by this plan 
of remarriage, and did not like the idea of 
his bringing into my house a strange and per¬ 
haps badly intentioned woman, when suddenly 
an idea flashed into my head. The sister-in- 
law, Mascha, would she not be the very wife 
for him, the very person for the children ; and 
what was to me of still greater importance, 
she was a person whom I already knew and had 
tried. My suggestion struck the man as a very 
sensible one, and he asked me to talk it over 
with the girl. This proved to be not so very 



44 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


difficult as I had imagined, for it appeared that 
the way had been prepared by the dead sister 
herself, who had had a presentiment of an 
early death, and had asked Mascha if such 
an event should happen to take upon herself 
the education of the children, and, if possible, 
marry the man. 

The proposition was agreed to, and the 
marriage took place after she had gone back 
to the country to fetch her belongings and 
receive her mother’s blessing. I could not 
persuade the man to marry in church; his 
party would not allow it. Though the party 
did not allow a religious burial, yet for his 
dead wife the man had had a real orthodox 
funeral service. Death was too serious a matter 
to trifle with ; marriage mattered less. 

The new wife was a jewel, and we loved 
each other very much. After all that had 
happened I felt quite safe with these two good 
friends. So when in prison, the moment I 
was allowed to write a postcard, I wrote to 
Mascha asking her to bring me everything neces¬ 
sary and also some food. The parcel she brought 
showed me so well all the love and care she felt 
for me. 

In two weeks’ time I got used to my new 
surroundings, and I can even say that I had 
some very good moments, which I will remember 


SHPALERNAIA 


45 


as such throughout my life. There certainly 
were other moments when I simply loathed the 
life, especially when I was thinking about all 
that might have been if I were free. 

It was beautiful late spring weather, al¬ 
though, alas ! we only realised it by the 
tanned faces of the new-comers. I pictured 
my home, with its windows opening on a 
large garden, my cosy bed, all my pretty things 
which I had succeeded in keeping around me 
only by stupendous efforts, the beautiful fresh 
spring air, the trees covered with spring foliage, 
the birds singing and chirping under my windows. 
As I thought of all this and suddenly realised 
my actual position, a horror of prison came 
over me. With an effort I banished these 
thoughts, and forced myself to look at things 
from quite a different point of view. I tried 
to find all the redeeming points of my present 
situation, of which quiet and safety were the 
main ones, beside the non-existence of any 
responsibilities and the absence of constant 
plotting and hiding, and in this I found great 
rest and relief. 

I tried to look round me with open eyes 
and heart, to learn life and people as they 
are. The moment one gets into prison or 
mixed up with prisoners, one feels that these 
people are in a way quite different from those 


46 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 

who are in freedom. The prison life, with all 
the suffering that accompanies it, the fact 
that its inmates are torn away from their 
usual life and transplanted into entirely different 
conditions, places most of them on quite another 
level. 

In ordinary conditions the soul is usually 
hidden deep down in one’s inner self. On 
rare occasions only does it show itself, being 
even then disguised to the eyes of the crowd. 
All petty worries, all social exigencies, usually 
make one more a carefully clothed doll than a 
human being. Here, in prison, all artificial 
covering drops away, and the real personality, 
the real soul, comes out undisguised in all its 
beauty or ugliness. 

One feels the same thing happening with 
oneself. I am very reserved ; I dislike showing 
my feelings, and I have always tried to dis¬ 
guise them as carefully as possible. But here 
I could not remain with this cover on—it fell 
off by itself. And I must say that it is a great 
blessing to become oneself, to have the luxury 
of living without this artificial disguisement, 
which one cannot possibly abandon in normal 
life. I revelled in the beautiful feeling of freedom 
with a sort of acute enjoyment; and now that 
I have come back to civilisation, I appreciate 
the beauty of that freedom still more. It is a 



SHPALEBNAIA 


47 


strange sensation in the beginning, but one 
gets so quickly used to it that the “ dressing 
up ” business is a long process, and needs 
considerable time. 

It is nearly three months since I escaped 
from Russia, and it seemed to me then such 
a pleasure to get into contact with people 
untouched by this awful suffering, with people 
full of normal interests in life ; but it is other¬ 
wise. 

Now that I am among those people, I try 
to keep away from them as much as I can. 
I am only happy alone, or with friends who 
have come with me from Russia and who are 
still as “ undisguised ” as myself. It hurts 
me so much to see the “ unreal ” life in humanity 
—all the petty interests, all the ambitions, all 
the misunderstanding of what is true in life. 
The things I enjoy to the full extent are the 
comforts of life, and it seems to me as if I could 
never get enough of them and of all the possi¬ 
bilities they give. I have a real craving for 
beautiful surroundings ; my soul seems pining 
for quiet, ease, and beauty. 



48 


CHAPTER IV. 

shpalernaia ( continued ). 

Quite unconsciously have I strayed from my 
subject. 

I was mentioning the wonderful parcel which 
I had received from home. Now I considered 
myself quite well off, though this would not 
have been my ideal of comfort under other 
conditions. I slept on a stone floor, on a very 
thin mattress, lent to me by my cousin, and 
which she had taken off her bed for my sake. 
I shared this mattress with a friend of mine, 
a very nice English girl, who had been arrested 
together with me. Esme had come to see the 
same friends at whose house I was arrested. 
It was while the agents of the Cheka were 
making the perquisition that Esme dropped 
in to see us and to say good-bye, as she was 
leaving Russia the next day, together with 
many other British subjects. She was kept 
in prison for six weeks for no reason whatever, 


SHPALEKNAIA 


49 


though the representatives of her country were 
doing everything possible to get her out. 

Our hard bed was very narrow, slightly over 
half a yard, and we had to be very careful in 
our sleep not to push each other off the mattress. 
The greatest inconvenience was Esme’s hair. 
She had beautiful red hair, rather coarse in 
quality and “ fluffed out ” on all sides, so that 
a quantity of it persisted in getting into my 
face, and continually woke me up with a start. 

We had been together in the Great War 
in a first-line ambulance as hospital nurses 
(or, as is called in Russian, Sisters of Mercy), 
and were tied by a very close bond of 
friendship. Nevertheless, and although we both 
tried to make the best of things during the 
six weeks we had to spend on that bed, I 
felt in the end that she was beginning to hate 
me. Sometimes both of us were impatient, 
and gave each other an occasional kick in the 
night. 

Strange to say, we slept soundly, though 
the bed was extremely hard. One day as I 
was having my bath after a week of such 
sleeping, my friend gave a shriek of laughter, 
for she had noticed that both my hips were 
dark blue in colour, and I could not help join¬ 
ing in the laugh with the others at myself. It 
seemed to me quite ridiculous that my body 

D 



50 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


could not stand what my mind was ready to 
accept as something quite natural. If Esme’s 
hair had not been so annoying I would have 
been quite content. Imagination was always 
coming to my rescue, and it was quite easy to 
make myself feel as if I were in my own bed, 
with a soft pillow under my head and nice, thin, 
clean, and cool linen round me. 

I must explain why we were obliged to 
sleep so uncomfortably on the floor. Since 
the “wicked” Tzar’s regime was overthrown, 
the prisons in Russia are full up. The revolu¬ 
tionary parties, having taken the power into 
their own hands, considered prison as the 
best means of fighting their enemies. One of 
the first acts of the Provisional Government, 
which, one must admit, was influenced from 
the first day of its existence by the yet illegal 
Soviet of Workmen, Soldiers, and Sailors, was to 
put into prison all the “ enemies of the revolu¬ 
tion,” that is to say all Russia’s best men—men 
who served their country with all their patriotic 
zeal and loyalty. The Bolsheviks continued 
the same method, and as their enemies include 
in their number every normal and upright 
person, and are therefore more numerous, the 
Tzar’s prisons were not sufficiently large for 
their needs, in spite of the fact that they are 
using for that same purpose all the monasteries. 


SHPALERNAIA 


51 


from which they have banished the monks, 
many private houses and soldiers’ barracks. 
At the Shpalernaia there was place for a hundred 
and twenty-five women prisoners, whereas we 
nearly always numbered three hundred. 

Our cell was a very large room, and was 
intended for eleven prisoners. There were 
eleven rather comfortable beds, which are a 
sort of wooden framework, with thick linen 
spread inside the frame. We were thirty women 
in this cell for eleven, so nineteen of us were 
obliged to sleep on the floor. When one of 
the lucky bedholders was released or sent to 
another prison, the next one who came after 
her got the bed, each taking her turn. 

My turn came in six weeks, but my patience 
was rewarded. I got the best bed, and it 
seemed wonderfully soft and comfortable. Pos¬ 
sessing a bed not only assures a comfortable 
night’s rest, it also gives the possibility to rest 
during the day, and a small space of the wall 
where clothes can be hung. It also gives 
a certain distinguished position. A bedholder 
is considered as an “ old ” prisoner, who can 
raise a voice against new-comers, and have 
an opinion regarding all sorts of questions con¬ 
cerning the regulations of the cell. 

Together with the bed and all the privileges 
it brought, I was given a serious occupation. 


52 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

Each cell chooses among its forced inhabitants 
a person of confidence and trust, and who is 
called “ starosta.” The duties of such a starosta 
are double : in the first place, she is responsible 
to the administration for order in her cell; she 
has to see that there is no noise, no quarrels, 
and no dirt and disorder. On the other hand, 
the starosta is expected by the prisoners to 
look after their interests. She must see that 
the food is fairly divided amongst them, that 
their physical and moral rights are observed 
by the administration, and that all that is 
possible be done for the bettering of the 
prisoners’ life. 

It needs a real diplomat for such work. 
The welfare of the prisoners depends to a great 
extent on the starosta, especially on the one 
who is chosen from among the nine to be the 
general head of all. Her work is enormous, by 
the physical effort it demands from her and by 
the responsibility it entails. The starosta can 
be a blessing and a curse to the prisoners, and, 
unfortunately, the latter case is not rare, but 
it mostly happens among men, where the same 
order of things is observed. Among the women, 
as far as I have heard, they have mostly been a 
blessing and a constant source of help and 
support. 

One of them, my cousin, was a real angel of 


SHPALERNAIA 


53 


help, sent from heaven for the comfort of all 
these suffering souls. She stayed a whole 
year at the Shpalernaia, and the amount of 
good she did during this time was extraordinary. 

When she took upon herself the duties of 
head starosta, she saw immediately all the 
advantages this position could give her in 
looking after the welfare of the prisoners. 
Little by little, with a lot of patience and good¬ 
will, she gained ground with the administration 
and the wardresses. What helped her greatly 
was the fact that though the wardresses were all 
Communists, they were mostly illiterate. By 
being very prudent and tactful, and by never 
betraying the trust she had gained, she managed 
to read for them all the papers, which came 
from the principal office downstairs. Owing 
to this, every prisoner, called upon suddenly to 
go downstairs, or told to gather her things and 
be off, always knew exactly what was to happen 
to her : whether it was for an examination, or 
a release, or if a transfer to another prison, she 
knew which one it was to be. A little whisper 
from the starosta calmed immediately all the 
horrible forebodings of such poor creatures. 

My cousin helped the wardresses with the 
books, and helped to register the new-comers. 
Through this she influenced the selection in the 
cells. The regulations were that people had to 


54 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


be mixed, all classes and professions together, 
but she succeeded in keeping the best with the 
best and the worst with the worst. 

She also understood, as well as all did, that 
though Communists and belonging to the ruling 
party, our guards were still only wardresses, 
whereas we were ladies. This was a magic 
attraction for them; they all boasted about 
their high friends amongst the prisoners, and 
tried to copy them in their ways, and even in 
their poor and shabby clothes. Any interest 
on our part, any kind word or sympathy, were 
greatly appreciated by them, and we all profited 
by this in helping each other. Strange to say, 
all the starostas were ladies, and I have not met 
with another type, though they are chosen by, 
and among, a very varied crowd. 

My cousin was always at her post with a 
word of encouragement and consolation for 
everybody. This meant that she was up and on 
her feet from seven in the morning till twelve 
at night. She came to bed sometimes so tired 
that she could hardly undress ; but she was 
always cheerful and ready to go on with her 
work. She was very religious, and God helped 
her to do wonders. She was the mother of 
seven children, from six to eighteen years of 
age. Her eldest daughter, a girl of eighteen, 
had also been kept a year in prison, and was 


SHPALERNAIA 


55 


\ 


lying at that time in a prison hospital with 
consumption. Her favourite son, a boy of 
thirteen, had died of dysentery while she was in 
prison, and the other five boys lived as best 
they could, without any means whatever, on 
public charity and any bit of work they could 
get. Her only sin against the Government 
was that her husband was a General, fighting 
against the Bolsheviks. 

On May 21st we woke up in the night because 
a wardress crept in the dark up to my cousin’s 
bed and whispered something in her ear. We 
all insisted upon knowing the secret. It tran¬ 
spired that an order from the Cheka had come 
in the night for the release of our dear starosta 
the next morning. All the women’s ward was 
in a flutter within five minutes; every one, 
in their night-dresses, rushed in to congratulate 
her. The excitement and noise were so great 
that the wardresses got frightened, and the 
starosta had to get up and go through all the 
cells, calling for order. 

The next morning was a great day. Extra 
prayers were said for her happiness and wel¬ 
fare ; an address was read to her, written on 
beautiful paper with a pretty drawing and 
nice flowers. Everybody wanted to help her 
pack, to carry her luggage and see her off. 
I was put in charge of the broom, for there is 


56 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


a custom in prison to sweep the released prisoner 
out of the cell, so that she should never return. 
There are always people with brooms, running 
after the lucky released prisoner, sweeping 
their steps from behind and out of the cell. 

But when our starosta left we felt very 
desolate, lonely, and helpless, as if we had all 
lost a dear mother. 

It was her bed that I got after she had left 
us, and I was elected starosta of the cell. Though 
it was a satisfaction to feel that my companions 
trusted and liked me, and though I was very 
much gratified by the honour, I was also crushed 
by the responsibility it gave me. I had some¬ 
how to fill up my cousin’s place, and this was 
hard to do. It is true that I was not the head 
starosta; a girl of twenty was elected to that 
position, but as she was so young and in¬ 
experienced she asked me to assist her. 

After this a new life began for me. I could 
no longer lie indolently on somebody’s bed 
during the day, listening to all that was happen¬ 
ing round me, or sleeping soundly. By nature 
I am a very light sleeper and could never sleep 
in the daytime. In prison it was very much 
the contrary; twice I fell so soundly asleep 
that my companions were frightened. They 
said I looked quite green, and when they tried 
to wake me they could not do so. They pulled 


SHPALERNAIA 


57 


me by the legs and arms, they pinched me, 
they shook me, but I would not wake. At 
last some one suggested pinching my nose, so 
that I could not breathe. When I woke at last 
I was quite frightened, as everybody was standing 
round the bed and staring at me. 

But now everything was changed. I had a 
work to do, which needed all my heart and 
soul, and called for the exercise of whatever 
capabilities I may have had. 


58 


CHAPTER V. 

MY FRIENDS AND COMPANIONS. 

Though I was exceedingly pleased to get work 
which kept me busy all day, this same occupa¬ 
tion kept me away from my friends and com¬ 
panions, who had constantly surrounded me 
during the first six weeks of my imprisonment. 

As the area in which we were allowed to 
walk about was limited, we were very much 
thrown together with the same people, and 
therefore the composition of one’s cell and those 
in close proximity was of great importance. 

Though my companions were drawn from 
all classes of society, I was lucky to be sur¬ 
rounded by nice and interesting people. Natur¬ 
ally I kept to the people of my own class, of 
which I found several agreeable members. But 
I was also thrown into hourly contact with 
other types of people that were new to me, 
and from whom circumstances of life had kept 
me apart till that time. The interest these 


MY FRIENDS AND COMPANIONS 


59 


people aroused in me helped us to approach 
each other in a way which would have been 
difficult in other circumstances. 

My closest friends were, of course, my cousin, 
the head starosta, of whom I saw very little 
because of her occupations, but whose support 
I felt all the time ; Mrs S., the married daughter 
of the old gentleman in whose house I was 
arrested, whom I liked very much, and con¬ 
sidered, under those trying circumstances, as a 
younger sister, and Esme. With these last 
two we were tied, not only by previous acquain¬ 
tance, but by a common interest in this new 
life. We were arrested for the same offence, 
we were interested in the development of the 
same case, we depended upon the evidences of 
each other, and we could be released at the 
same time. 

Mrs S. was very reserved, and though liked 
by the majority, kept more to herself. She 
was a brave girl, always even in temper and 
cheerful in words, though so sore at heart. 
The arrest of her whole family and of her 
husband, to whom she had been married only 
six weeks, was a great test for a girl of twenty- 
two years. Her reserved nature made her 
keep as far as possible from people who were 
sure to ask her a lot of questions, which would 
have been very trying for her nerves. 


60 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Esme was up to anything, and this made her 
very popular. She looked upon her whole 
imprisonment as upon a very bad joke, and 
tried to impress this point of view on all the 
others. Her chief characteristic was her British 
love for cleanliness. As she was in the habit 
of having a bath every morning, she could not 
do without it in prison. We had only a small tap 
in our cell, and the basin under it was so small 
that it was difficult to wash. In the neighbour¬ 
ing cell this tap was in a corner, and the ladies 
who were there used to put a sheet on hooks 
round it and wash inside. But our tap was 
between the two windows and no sheet could 
be arranged. Esme did not mind this in the 
least; she undressed there, in front of all the 
twenty-nine women, and rubbed and scrubbed 
herself all over with a hard brush. The peasant 
women in the cell were greatly shocked by the 
performance, and looked upon Esme as a freak. 

I must own that this question of washing 
was trying to many. Not liking to attract 
attention, I used to get up early and wash 
while the others were still asleep. Only later, 
when I was starosta and had to fight against 
the unclean habits of several women in the cell, 
I realised, to my horror, that only a personal 
example could make these people do what I 
was demanding of them ; and then I had to 


MY FRIENDS AND COMPANIONS 


61 


take upon myself to wash publicly, thus giving 
them an object-lesson. 

The same I had to adopt in connection with 
vermin. The starosta had to see that all the 
inhabitants of her cell looked after themselves 
in this respect. It was such a vital question, 
yet many were shy to own that they had these 
objectionable residents. So whenever I felt 
something crawling on my skin I used to 
dash to my cell, and, acknowledging it publicly, 
would ask one of the peasant women to search 
me. This public acknowledgment gave me the 
right to be very strict on this point, which was 
a very serious and important one, and on which 
depended the welfare of everybody. 

Two ladies, whom I had found in the neigh¬ 
bouring cell at the Shpalernaia, attracted my 
special attention. I had heard about them 
before, but had never had the opportunity of 
meeting them. They were great friends, and 
their lives had been closely connected during 
the revolution. One of them, the younger, 
about twenty-eight, had been repeatedly in 
prison since the Bolshevik regime. This time 
it was through the failure of accomplishing a 
flight from Russia that both these ladies were 
arrested. 

Both had been kept in Russia because of 
sick and declining parents. When the one 


62 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

had buried her father and the other her mother, 
they considered themselves morally free to fly 
abroad with the object of joining their families. 
They sold all their belongings, and having put 
all the remaining treasures such as jewels, 
money, family mementoes of all kinds into a 
haversack, they started on their journey to 
Finland. 

Finns came to fetch them, took them by 
train to a village on the coast of the Gulf of 
Finland, and late in the evening led the company 
of five people, all friends, on to the ice. It 
was very hard to walk, as the spring water 
had risen above the ice, and they had to walk 
knee-deep in wet and freezing snow. After 
seven miles of such hard walking they noticed 
a sleigh coming in their direction from the 
Cronstadt forts. In order to hide from these 
men, the Finns made them lie flat in the wet 
snow, covering them with white sheets. 

But this was not successful; the sailors in 
the sleigh had orders from the Petrograd Cheka 
to find this party of “ deserters,” whose flight 
had become known to the Cheka through 
treachery. They were captured. Wet, cold, 
and miserable, they were driven in the cold 
frosty night to Cronstadt, and robbed on the 
road of all their belongings by the sailors. 

Fifteen days they spent at the Cronstadt 


MY FEIENDS AND COMPANIONS 


63 


Cheka, all of them in single cells. Hard as it 
was to be separated, the hardest thing to bear 
was the constant presence of a sailor in each 
cell, who remained there day and night. Vermin 
was positively devouring them, and they had 
to ask the men to take away their mattresses. 

These physical and moral tortures wore them 
out to the extreme. One of the ladies, from 
sheer nervousness, had bitten her finger-nails 
off, and her finger-ends were practically raw 
flesh. 

When I saw the two ladies at the Shpalernaia 
they were already much better, being again 
together and under conditions which seemed 
quite bearable simply by contrast. They were 
both highly educated women, speaking many 
languages, and had very interesting lives. It 
was a great pleasure to be with them. The 
younger of the two knew quite a lot of poetry 
by heart, and could recite by the hour in a 
very fascinating manner. I listened to her 
from morning till night, and often the verses, 
she said, would remind her of interesting things, 
which she would also recite with a great deal 
of humour. 

The other lady, about forty-three, was of a 
different temperament. She was a very clever 
and cultivated woman, but was obsessed by a 
craving to subdue people to her influence. I 


64 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


do not know why, but she chose me as a subject 
for her influence, and I felt all her strength of 
will and purpose directed to my subjugation. 
All my life I had resented any outside influence 
and liked to be “ on my own.” But at this 
moment I was certainly not my normal self. 
The arrest had probably given me a sort of 
shock. I lost my memory in a surprising way, 
forgetting the simplest things. I could not 
read; something used always to stand be¬ 
tween me and my book. I felt apathy for 
everything; I had no wishes; I did not feel the 
discomforts of my detention; I had no revolt 
in me. 

Being in this state of mind, I fell very quickly 
under the woman’s influence, which brought 
with it, I must admit, a great relief. It freed 
me from all efforts, from all worries. I ate 
and went to bed when I was told. I let her 
take all the practical worries upon herself, and 
put myself quite in her charge. 

The other type of people who drew my 
special attention were chorus girls, actresses, 
girls of good families who had taken to an easy 
life, and women who had repeatedly divorced 
and remarried. These were to be found in 
great number at the Shpalemaia, and were 
mostly mixed up in political plots, into which 
they had drifted by helping their lovers to get 


MY FEIENDS AND COMPANIONS 


65 


out of the claws of the Cheka, or were simply 
arrested with the former’s charges. 

I must say, to their credit, that they behaved 
very well in everything concerning their arrest 
and their business intercourse with the Cheka. 
They were true to their friends in spite of all 
the pitfalls laid before them by the Cheka, 
and some of them were quite wonderful in their 
moral courage. 

At the same time they were quite childish 
in their interests, their worries, their sorrows, 
and their joys. They loved to have pretty 
dresses sent to them from home, they dressed 
up, waved their hair, rouged, and took an 
interest almost exclusively in love-stories. 

They constantly invited me to come and 
sit with them, and recounted, in a very candid 
and simple manner, all their love-affairs. At 
times I could not help being shocked, though 
fascinated by the ingenuousness of their narra¬ 
tions. But their simple-heartedness seemed to 
throw another light on their transgressions ! 

I was also interested in professional thieves, 
of which we had an ample supply. They were 
all strangely outspoken, and some of the facts 
they related, facts in which they had been the 
chief actors, were very interesting to hear. 
Their mentality and moral basis of life differed 
very much from other people’s, as well as 

E 


66 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


their code of honour, to which they strictly 
adhered. 

The best specimen of them was a woman 
in the neighbouring cell. Her professional nick¬ 
name was “ Lena-the-smallpoxed,” as her face 
was entirely pox-marked. She was a very tall 
and well-built woman, about thirty, and of 
great physical strength. When people got into 
“ fits,” she was always called to help, and 
then the display of muscle was quite extraor¬ 
dinary. All day long this Lena lay comfortably 
on her bed and smoked. She had plenty of 
food brought to her from home; her parcels 
were always the largest and the heaviest. 
She was very kind to all her companions, and 
always shared her extra food with the poorest, 
and gave cigarettes to every one who was 
unhappy without them. She loved and respected 
the starosta of her cell, Sister F., and though 
rude to her at times, she was ready to kill any 
one who acted against her beloved. Several 
other girl thieves were in the same cell, whom 
she kept in perfect order and discipline. When 
they were quarrelsome or disagreeable she 
pitched into them to restore order. 

Lena was proud of her profession, and of 
the position she seemed to occupy amongst 
those of her caste. She was accustomed to 
prison, having been there many times previously, 


MY FRIENDS AND COMPANIONS 


67 


and liked the indolent life it afforded her. Prison 
to her was as a sort of rest-house, to which 
she returned occasionally between the incidents 
of her tempestuous life. 

She had even prepared a “ coup,” which was 
to be brought off after her release. She knew 
of an old gentleman who was immensely rich, 
and who had a large sum of money hidden 
away. The whereabouts of this sum was known 
to Lena, and she was planning to kill the old 
gentleman, get hold of his money, hand it over 
to her friends, and then expected to pass another 
period of rest in prison, being again copiously 
provided with food. It chilled my blood to 
listen to such things, and yet I was attracted. 
This woman had such a force of character, 
and in her line she was no doubt a great 
personality. 


68 


CHAPTER VI. 

MY WORK AS STAROSTA. 

My new life was very active. I was up at 
seven o’clock in the morning ; a bell rang, and 
the head starosta, accompanied by several 
working girl prisoners and conducted by the 
chief wardress, went downstairs to the kitchen 
to fetch the day’s bread and sugar ration. We, 
the remaining eight starostas, assembled in a 
special room to which all these treasures were 
brought, and where, still under the control of 
the head wardress, they were distributed among 
the starostas. We had to know the exact 
number of our “ children,” and each of us 
received a quantity of bread and crystallised 
sugar in proportion. 

In my cell everybody was waiting for me. 
The bread was usually cut so unevenly that 
the better pieces had to be given by turns. 
This always aroused a lot of squabbles, and 
the starosta had to be very fair and very 


MY WOEK AS STAEOSTA 


69 


strict, in order to have everybody pleased and 
satisfied. 

Sugar was more difficult to portion out; 
each prisoner had her own little box or some 
other receptacle for her sugar. These were 
arranged in rows by the assistant of the starosta 
on the big table in the middle of the cell. Those 
who were already up gathered round the table ; 
dozens of greedy eyes watched me in the difficult 
task of making a fair distribution. It needed all 
my care to escape being accused of favouritism 
when one of the prisoners got, by accident, an 
extra grain. 

At eight o’clock big kettles of tea were 
brought upstairs, and we had to stand in long 
queues waiting for our turn to get the tea into 
our own teapot. The “ tea ” was some nasty 
sort of mixture, quite unlike real tea, and I 
never drank it. A privileged few of us had hot 
water brought by our working girl, and we 
made our own tea. 

By this time all the prisoners were supposed 
to be up, but the administration was not too 
particular on this point; it depended more upon 
the human element in the cell. In this way I 
was a very bad starosta, for I let my children 
sleep as long as they liked. We have a saying 
in Russian, 4 4 They who sleep do not sin.” I 
lived up to this saying, and even the dis- 


70 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


pleasure of the head starosta and of the prisoners 
of other cells did not stop me ; it seemed to 
me that the more the prisoners slept, the better 
it was for them. They had absolutely nothing 
to do the whole day, and the only thing they 
did was to “ dire la bonne a venture.” Cards 
were not allowed, but the prisoners made them 
themselves and could not live without them. 
Fortune-telling began before breakfast, as the 
women believed that at that time of day the 
cards spoke the truth, and many got up very 
early for that special purpose. Etiquette obliged 
them to make the first deal for the starosta 
of the cell; so when I used to come with the 
bread and sugar, I was always told what was 
to happen to me. Though I do not believe in 
cards, the daily repetition of the game in¬ 
voluntarily affected me. My lot was always 
to fall seriously ill; so when we were offered 
to be inoculated against various illnesses, though 
I am always very nervous of such operations, I 
went to the doctor and had it done. 

Between breakfast and dinner at twelve 
o’clock there were the baths and the visits to 
the doctors. As I have said before, we were 
three hundred women, and we had only about 
twenty baths a day at our disposal; but by 
all sorts of tricks managed with the bath- 
keeper, who was a very nice man, we succeeded 


MY WORK AS STAROSTA 


71 


in having everybody bathed at least once a 
week. 

The doctors received the patients in quite 
another part of the building. It was really 
a long walk, full of adventures because of the 
men we could meet on the way. So many had 
a bad tooth, or an eye that was sore, or a bad 
ear, or something else, which they reported, 
just for the excitement of the walk. There 
was no danger in seeing the doctors. They 
had no medicines whatever, except some 
inoffensive drops, so the more serious the 
case the less fear was there to receive a 
treatment. 

I always joined these parties, and generally 
succeeded in not seeing the doctor. Only 
once was I obliged to see the eye specialist, 
and then had to confess quite openly that 
nothing was the matter with my eyes. He 
got quite frightened at my confession, as the 
doctors themselves are closely watched, and he 
persuaded me to take some drops, so as to be 
quite sure that nothing disagreeable would 
result from my visit. 

Dinner at mid-day consisted of a thin soup, 
which was rarely good to eat. It represented 
a lot of dirty-looking slops, in which one could 
catch occasionally some herring bones, potato 
skins, and, on holidays, a few grains of gruel. 


72 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


Its only advantage was that it was hot; all 
the food one gets from home is cold, and the 
stomach demands something hot. 

My supplies of food from home were very 
scarce, and I had to content myself with the 
prison diet when it was not too bad, and when 
I felt very hungry. 

Another soup at six p.m. finished the daily 
meals; but, by arranging matters, we got 
water for our tea at other hours of the day and 
in the evening. We could even get a hot iron to 
iron our clothes, and a lamp to warm the 
curling-tongs. 

Prisoners were allowed to wear their own 
clothes, and they tried to keep as neat and 
well-dressed as possible. The hair was waved, 
dresses were ironed out, and most of them 
looked very neat. Very many erred on the 
side of being overdressed. 

All day long prisoners were called out from 
below, mostly for examination, and often for 
a release or for the transfer to another prison. 
One was obliged to be always on the look-out, 
as only by helping the wardress to read the 
incoming papers were we able to warn the 
victim as to her fate. 

All the fists of the day had to be filled, and 
cigarettes had to be distributed. (The State 
gave five cigarettes a day to each smoker.) 


MY WORK AS STAROSTA 


73 


But the most interesting work was in the 
single cells. 

Besides common cells, this prison had thirty- 
five single cells in the women’s ward. The 
part alloted to the men was much larger—they 
had about twenty common cells and three 
hundred single ones. 

A single cell is a tiny little room, with a 
window near the ceiling. In it are an iron 
bed and a small iron table, with an iron bench 
to it. The door, a thick iron one with a huge 
lock, has a small window through which one 
can see the prisoner without opening the door. 
To be locked up in these cells is considered 
as a serious punishment, and only the most 
dangerous prisoners are kept there. It is much 
more trying to be quite alone for weeks and 
months, with so little space to move, feeling 
oneself entirely shut out from the outside 
world. 

The head starosta had the right to go round 
these cells, distributing the rations, or ad¬ 
ministering to the needs of the occupant in 
the way of medicine, writing letters or applica¬ 
tions for them, supplying books, &c. She had 
the right to open the little square window in 
the door and have a minute’s talk. My cousin 
did all this, and was loved by the poor in¬ 
habitants of the cells ; when her face appeared 



74 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


at the window, it was the best moment of the 
prisoner’s day. 

When she left, her work was passed on to 
three people. The young girl starosta did the 
official work—the distribution of rations, and 
Sister F. attended to the medical side. As I 
have already mentioned, we had doctors, but 
they were at their posts only in the morning, 
and then the dispensary supplies were so limited 
that they could not afford real help. Prisoners 
succeeded in getting all sorts of medicines 
from home, so our private apothecary was 
better supplied than the prison one. It was 
mostly in the evening that all sorts of “ fits ” 
and 4 4 hysterics ” and nervous collapses took 
place. 

I was the third, and my duties were the 
writing of petitions and letters home. The 
business in itself was a tedious one, but when 
one sees what hope of salvation is put into 
such writing, it is done with the best of feelings. 
It was mostly applications to the Cheka, or the 
administration for releases, or for a certain 
improvement in the position of the prisoners. 
Some were illiterate, while some were too 
nervous to trust their own judgment. 

This work enabled me to go through the 
cells several times a day and to have a little 
chat through the window, to bring some news 



MY WOEK AS STAEOSTA 


75 


from the outward world, and sometimes to 
bring a word of consolation and hope. 

When I first saw the single cells they produced 
a very painful impression on me. To open the 
little window, to look in and see a human 
being locked up in such a tiny space, quite 
alone, with heavy thoughts all the twenty-four 
hours round, makes one’s blood turn. And 
when one comes to know their story and learn 
that they are the victims of some dreadful 
fraud, worked up against them by the Cheka, 
it is difficult to keep back one’s tears. If help 
can be given in any way, one is always ready 
to run the worst of risks for their sakes. 

In one of the worst cells, a damp and dark 
one, was an old lady of sixty-five years of age. 
She belonged to one of the best aristocratic 
families of Petrograd, and was ruined, as all of 
them were, at the beginning of the revolution. 
She lived in a small flat with an old servant 
and her little grandchild, a boy of seven years. 
The only valuables she possessed were a set of 
jewels, which she was selling little by little 
to keep the boy and herself from hunger. On 
the same landing lived a family of speculators, 
who helped her in the selling of the jewels. 

She was a very impractical woman, and sold 
her things far too cheaply. Friends advised 
her to use other more trustworthy people for the 


76 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


selling, which she did. The neighbours, seeing 
their loss of profits, became infuriated, and 
denounced her to the Cheka as a woman mixed 
up with counter-revolution. 

One day, having no misgivings, she opened 
the door to a party from the Cheka, who arrested 
her and took her to prison. At the first question¬ 
ing she was accused of counter-revolution. All 
her denials were futile, and they demanded that 
she should denounce the people who had worked 
with her. The poor old woman was quite dis¬ 
tracted by this accusation, and still more by 
the threats of the investigating officer to separate 
her from her little boy. She was told that he 
would be put into a children’s house, where she 
would never find him, and where they would give 
him a new socialistic education which would 
44 tear him away from the ways of the aris¬ 
tocracy.” As I have said, she w T as ordered to 
denounce people she had never even heard 
about, the investigating officer using very ugly 
words, which shocked and unnerved her. 

But worse was to come : she was put in the 
worst of single cells, quite alone, deprived of 
the regulation daily walk of forty minutes, 
without any right of getting or writing letters 
(a post card twice a week). She was allowed no 
food from home, but only the prison diet. 

It always made my heart bleed to see old 


MY WOEK AS STAEOSTA 


77 


ladies in prison. I used to think that if my 
mother had been in the country, she would 
also have had to go through this jail. Such a 
thought was in the minds of most of us, and 
we all tried our best to help the old ones. This 
lady knew me wdien I was a child of five, and, 
of course, this made me feel more for her than 
for any others. She was half distracted—all 
her thoughts were for her grandson. 

I used to come to her several times a day, 
being quite sure of her sweet welcome. She 
would take me by the hand and listen, with 
greedy eyes, to all the words of comfort that I 
could find in myself to tell her. I knew well 
enough that all my persuasions about the 
child’s safety were unfounded, but it helped 
her to believe that it was true. 

Nearly every day she was called out for 
examination and requestioned. As she could 
not say anything new, she was abused again 
and sent back to her cell. She was also bereft 
of all comforts, and was not allowed to have 
her things with her. She had no blanket, no 
pillow, no towel, no soap. During the ten 
days that she stayed there, my mind was con¬ 
stantly busy as to any means of helping her. 
I would hide a piece of soap, a towel, or 
some food in my dress, and pretending that 
some of the prisoners had a special application 


78 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


to be written, I used to steal to her cell and pass 
her these little things. Sometimes she cried 
so pathetically in her cell that the wardress 
would take pity on her and send for me to go 
and comfort her. She would say to me: “ Go to 
your old lady, comfort her a bit, her crying is 
getting on my nerves.” 

Unfortunately I had very little food of my 
own to give her ; so when the day of home 
parcels came, and with them a good parcel of 
food for her, I was greatly perplexed what 
to do. All the parcels came through my 
hands for me to sort, and when her parcel 
came, my duty was to hand it over to the head 
wardress, as Princess I. had no right to receive 
it. But I did not give up her food, and con¬ 
sequently ran great risks myself. I hid the 
parcel, carried it upstairs, and put it under my 
bed. In order that no one should see me, even 
the prisoners, I used to get up in the night, 
make small parcels of the food, and carry them 
to her in the daytime. I cannot say how happy 
we all were when she was moved to the common 
cells, and what a relief it was for me that all 
the risks I had been taking with the parcels 
were at an end. 

Political prisoners were mostly kept in single 
cells. At one time there was a company of 
five girls, belonging to the Social Revolutionary 


MY WORK AS STAROSTA 


79 


Party. This is the only organised party which 
exists in Russia at this time, and the Com¬ 
munists consider them as a great danger to 
their own party. These women were a type all 
its own: short hair, short frocks, leather coats, 
and a daring look in the eyes. They were 
exceedingly unsociable with the other prisoners, 
and distrusted them. Never a word of complaint 
escaped them, never a tear. They had the old 
spirit of a true revolutionary, the real pride 
of the rebel. “ We know what we are doing; 
this is our work, and once we are found out 
c they ’ are right to keep us in prison ; we are 
their real enemies.” They were always ques¬ 
tioned very severely, but they kept to the 
discipline of their party, and never answered 
a single question of the investigating officer. 

Something drew me to these women; they 
interested me, although in a certain way I 
disliked them. It was their party which had 
brought great sorrow to our family. In 1902 
they had killed my uncle, my mother’s only 
brother, whom we children loved as a second 
father. He was Minister of the Interior at the 
time, and was killed by a member of this Social 
Revolutionary Party on his way to a sitting 
of the Council of the Empire. He was an 
extremely kind man, and everybody who ap¬ 
proached him grew to love him. He was a 


80 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


great patriot, and gave all his life to his country 
and his Emperor. His death produced a great 
impression on me ; though only fourteen at the 
time, I was very interested in the life of my 
country. I always listened with great attention 
to what older people said upon these questions, 
and believed so much in everything my uncle 
was trying to do for the welfare of the country 
and the people. The Emperor showed that he 
appreciated my uncle’s work, and that he con¬ 
sidered his death as a loss to himself and Russia. 
He came with the Empress to nearly all the 
funeral services, and they were both extremely 
kind to us, his beloved nieces and nephew's, 
but still I could not see why these people were 
against him. And then, as I already mentioned, 
they hunted my father for several years, 
when he had been doing nothing else during 
his sixty-seven years but serve his country 
with all his will and power. 

And the “ last act” of the Social Revolu¬ 
tionary Party, the reign of Kerensky, was too 
hard to forget! 

But at least these Social Revolutionaries, 
as well as the murderers and the burglars, had 
the satisfaction of knowing why they were in 
prison. They did not feel that they were in 
the hands of unruly malefactors, who were 
practising their whims on their heads, but 


MY WORK AS STAROSTA 


81 


knew that they were in the hands of justice, 
because they had sinned against the law. 

These political workers always got large 
quantities of food, undoubtedly sent them by 
their party, and they distributed it very gen¬ 
erously among those who did not get any; 
but they did it somehow without any charm 
of kindness and sympathy—it was only a duty. 

Many and many women cried their hearts 
out in these dreary little cells in the night. 
The inscriptions on the walls, made by previous 
inhabitants, were enough to react on the nerves. 
Such simple inscriptions : a name, with “ en¬ 
tered this cell at such a date, taken to be shot 
on such a date.” When you see these words 
before you and the night is drawing near (it is 
always at night that the prisoners are taken 
to be shot), the heart begins to sink. 

Knowing this, I always tried to pay an 
evening call on those poor wretches. There 
was a wardress, a girl of twenty, who had a 
special sympathy for me. She always let me 
come in the evening, and never drove me away. 
But it was not sympathy only that made 
her do it; she was nervous herself in those 
surroundings. 

The cells occupy five storeys, joined by wind¬ 
ing iron staircases and looking on to a sort of 
iron balcony. Only the middle storey had a 

F 


82 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


real floor, and it was here that the wardress was 
posted. All sounds carry terribly. There she 
would sit in the dead of night, listening to the 
moaning creatures, hearing the steps of some 
of them who could not sleep pacing their 
little cells; then she would hear a knock. 
When a prisoner needs something she has to 
knock on the door. Sometimes the wardress 
is dozing when she hears the knock—such a 
hard sound in the night. She does not know 
from where it comes; she runs down the stairs 
looking into a well of darkness, shivering with 
nerves. And the knock comes suddenly from 
upstairs. She rushes up again and finds, at last, 
a poor distracted creature asking for help. This 
girl had to leave the place, her nerves could not 
stand it. But while she was there, she liked to 
know that she was not alone in these surround¬ 
ings, and so let me come as much as I liked. 

I have mentioned that nearly all the prisoners 
w r ere victims of some dreadful plot worked 
upon them by the Cheka. As an illustration I 
must tell about a very pretty young girl, kept 
very strictly in a single cell. A Bolshevik 
Commissar was in love with her, but she did 
not love him. He kept worrying her for a long 
time till, at last, he fixed a date for her answer. 
After that she was arrested and kept in this cell 
till she would consent to live with him. When I 



MY WORK AS STAROSTA 


83 


left the Shpalernaia she was still there, though, 
to decide her, her two sisters were also arrested. 

One of the disagreeable duties of the starosta 
was to be present at the distribution of sen¬ 
tences. A clerk came from the Chancery with a 
book and a pack of papers, and, spreading them 
on a table on the landing of the big stairs, 
summoned the prisoners to appear before him. 
In a matter of fact way he would announce to 
them the number of years of prison or hard 
labour allotted to them by the bountiful hand of 
the Cheka. Each received a printed sentence 
and had to sign his name in the book. Such 
happenings rarely passed without hysterics and 
fits of every kind, and we were all ready with 
help and sympathy to cheer the poor women. 

But even worse were the days when prisoners 
were to be sent to Vologda. This is a town of 
exile where the Cheka sends prisoners who 
are in its way in Petrograd, or on whom they 
want to visit their special malicious spite. This 
happened twice while I was at the Shpalernaia, 
and these departures were painful to witness. 
The word 44 Vologda” alone is enough to frighten 
a prisoner out of his wits, and everybody looked 
upon the exiles as upon the most unfortunate 
people living. It appeared to us the very worst 
that could befall an individual, already placed 
in the not enviable position of a prisoner. 




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iQ 


CHAPTER VII. 

RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS IN PRISON. 


It is common knowledge that Bolshevism is 
the deadly enemy of religion. 

The Communist creed considers religion and 
religious feelings as reactionary, which prevent 
the people from accepting the doctrines of the 
new civilisation that the Bolsheviks are bringing 
into the world. Their first act was to abolish 
the Established Church, as thus they hoped 
to crush religion. Consequently Scripture and 
prayers were prohibited in the schools, and icons 
done away with, though, as everybody knows, 
they were very much revered, and were to be 
found in every Government or public building. 

This persecution affected the people very 
much in the beginning. Together with the 
general downfall came a decline in religious 
feeling. The churches became empty, and the 
people turned agnostics. 

Gradually, however, a general reaction set 


RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS IN PRISON 85 


in. The persecutions that struck the heads 
of the clergy raised them from a passive 
state to a higher level; they tried to live 
up to their calling, and they succeeded in 
their task. On the other hand, the people, 
having gone through innumerable sufferings, 
death, and other miseries in their daily life, 
and having lost all moral support in this 
world, felt a need for religion, and were 
drawn back to their faith, with the result that 
churches are now full to overflowing. It is 
sometimes impossible to find a spot on which 
to stand, so dense is the crowd of worshippers, 
though Russia, as the reader doubtless knows, 
is renowned for her great quantity of churches. 
Even in very small towns there are from twenty 
to thirty of them. 

The State no longer supports the churches, 
as it used to in the old days, but this makes no 
difference, as the parishioners have taken this 
responsibility upon themselves, and do it just 
as well, if not better. It is touching to witness 
the devotion that is given and the sacrifices 
that are so willingly done for the Church. 

Scripture, secretly learnt by children at home 
under their parish priest, is also a sure way of 
increasing the religious feelings of the popu¬ 
lation. 

In prison religious feeling is, of course, at 


86 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


its height, and, strange to say, the administra¬ 
tion dare not fight against it. Though icons, 
as mentioned before, are not allowed, yet they 
are to be seen in nearly every common cell. 
On Saints’ days the prisoners light little lamps 
under these icons, and no attention is paid to 
this infraction by the authorities. But more ex¬ 
traordinary still is the fact that joint prayers 
take place. Every evening on week-days and in 
the mornings on Saints’ days the prisoners are 
allowed to assemble quietly and read prayers 
in common. They are sometimes even allowed 
to sing the prayers in low voices. 

That moment—the moment of prayer—is the 
most solemn and wonderful in the whole of 
prison life. It takes some time to get accus¬ 
tomed to these prayers, for in the beginning 
one is quite overcome by one’s feelings. The 
simple sacred words, pronounced in those sur¬ 
roundings, with all the worshipping faces round, 
with all the craving for hope and comfort in 
their eyes, create so strong a sensation that 
one loses all self-control. 

All the personal sufferings, all the worries for 
those who are near and dear who are in the same 
prison or are left at home, all the apprehensions 
for the future, all the hope for the cessation 
of such sufferings, are displayed at that moment. 
Prisoners always try not to lose control over 


RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS IN PRISON 87 


themselves. But at this moment all the cares, 
all the miseries, well up in their hearts like a 
mighty stream before the throne of the Almighty, 
praying for help and consolation ; and so many 
of those who have forgotten God, who have not 
prayed for a very long time, find their God in 
these surroundings, and get the true comfort 
that only religion can give. 

We liked to have an extra prayer all to 
ourselves in our cell. Our starosta was a very 
religious woman, and used to pray by herself 
every night. We often asked her to say a 
few prayers aloud for us. It was dark already. 
One could see only dim shadows in the cell. 
The light came through the bars of the two 
big windows. We used to kneel in our beds 
and pray. At such moments a wonderful 
sensation of peace used to fill my heart; such a 
feeling of comfort came over me that I blessed 
the people who had put me in prison, and 
thus afforded me the opportunity of experienc¬ 
ing these wonderful moments. 

I was put in prison not long before Easter. 
The Orthodox Church has a beautiful service 
on Easter night. We prisoners decided to ask 
the Cheka to allow us to have this service. 
There had been a church in this prison pre¬ 
viously, but the Bolsheviks had destroyed it 
and transformed it into a lumber-room. This 


88 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


did not matter much, as the service could be 
celebrated without the church. 

We all wrote a petition to the Cheka, the 
men prisoners as well as the women, and to 
our great joy we were granted the permission. 
The service was arranged in one of the men’s 
galleries, a huge one, with single cells opening 
round on all sides. I think as long as I live 
I will never forget this night. It was in a way 
the strongest religious sensation that I have 
ever experienced, though at the same time it 
was mixed up with all sorts of most painful 
feelings, which shocked and hurt. You will 
understand this when I tell you that the Com¬ 
missar of the prison was in such a state of 
drunkenness that the sanctity of the place of 
prayer, of the icons, and the Sacrament itself 
did not stop him from expressing aloud his 
coarse feelings. 

All the men stood in the gallery. The women 
were placed on a balcony, running round the 
gallery, on to which the single cells opened. 
Quite naturally the men looked up to find their 
relations, and the women looked down at the 
men. 

It was awful to witness the tragedies around. 
A wife upstairs and a husband below, not having 
seen each other for months—both changed by 
prison life. They would look at each other 


KELIGIOUS QUESTIONS IN PEISON 89 


with such eyes of love, with all the tragedy of 
their present position in their faces. 

And suddenly the singing of prayers, the 
words of the priest, are drowned in the roar of 
a drunken voice. It is the Commissar, who had 
seen the two miserable beings looking at each 
other. 

“ Don’t make eyes at each other ; I let you 
come here for your prayers and not for flirta¬ 
tions,” he bawled. 

The ugliness of it, and the coarseness, made 
one shudder ! 

And at the same time the singing was so 
beautiful (we were all allowed to join in it), 
and the words of the prayers sounded so won¬ 
derful. Somehow this feeling of religious and 
political martyrdom, that at this moment was 
brought home more strongly to us, surrounded 
as we were by this display of enmity to our 
persons and our religion, raised our feelings to 
a height hitherto unknown to us. 

The most ecstatic moment was reached to¬ 
wards the end of the service, when we were 
allowed to participate in Holy Communion. 
Every word of the general confession, pro¬ 
nounced by the priest and repeated aloud by 
the prisoners, came from the very depths of 
our hearts. I can only say that the service 
began at eleven o’clock in the evening, that 


90 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


it was very hot, and that I was not back in 
my cell till four o’clock in the morning ; but 
I did not feel tired in the least, and the time 
passed as by magic. We were all as in a trance. 

One of the wardresses, who stood near the 
priest while we were coming up for Holy Com¬ 
munion, suddenly dashed forward and also 
communicated. As a Communist she was for¬ 
bidden to do so. She was dismissed in disgrace, 
and we never saw any more of her. 

When we all returned to our cell a table 
was laid for the Easter meal, as is the custom 
of our Church. We had prepared all this before 
going to the service. In the middle of the 
table stood a Paska, a sort of cake of curds, 
which Mascha had sent me. She sent me also 
several painted eggs and a little Koulitch, all 
the attributes of an Easter meal. When it 
was brought to me, tears filled my eyes—I was 
so touched by her faithful attention. 


91 


CHAPTER VIII. 

EXECUTIONS. 

One evening, about two weeks after Easter, 
towards the end of April, I noticed a strange 
nervousness in our head starosta. When I 
asked her what was the matter she answered 
me very curtly that she was quite alright, and 
that I had too much imagination. Nevertheless 
she hurried us to bed very early that evening, 
and as it was a day of home parcels and most 
of us were very tired from all the work we had 
done, we very soon fell asleep. 

Suddenly I woke up with a start. There 
was an awful noise in the night, and I felt that 
something strange was happening round me. 

It was dark in the cell, as no light was burning. 
I lifted my head from the floor, and saw the dim 
shadows of the starosta and other old prisoners 
kneeling on their beds in strange praying 
postures. I asked what was the matter, but 
they did not answer, and went on praying. 


92 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


The rattle of motor engines, shoutings of 
men, and clinking of chains were heard from 
the yard below. I listened to all this, not 
understanding anything. 

Suddenly the dreadful meaning of it all 
dawned upon my mind. 

It was an execution. They had come to 
fetch the prisoners who were to be shot! 

I felt my hair moving on my head from 
horror, cold perspiration covered my forehead, 
and death was at my heart. 

Then the noise ceased. I saw figures crawling 
in the dark towards the windows, and not 
being able to keep quiet any longer, I followed 
them myself. I hid, together with the others, 
behind the window-sill, so that our shadows 
would not be seen on the window, and peered 
into the yard. 

A bright light was coming from some large 
room on the first floor of the building opposite. 
We could see men come up to a sort of counter 
and hand over their belongings. (It is inter¬ 
esting to notice that all such executions happen 
always on the evening of a day of home parcels, 
for thus the administration and warders are 
able to get for their own benefit more provisions 
from the poor wretches who are to be shot.) 

The men we saw were white as death ! With 
despair and horror written on their faces they 


EXECUTIONS 


93 


moved automatically. Some had a smile on 
their faces, but a smile that was worse than the 
horror. It tore our hearts to see them, yet we 
could not keep away. 

Suddenly men’s steps were heard on the 
stone stairs of our building, such hard and 
resounding steps. Terror, sheer terror, seized 
us all, for when women are taken to be shot it 
is men who come to fetch them. 

Every woman, though quite innocent at 
heart, felt certain it was her turn. All were 
on their knees in a moment, listening for the 
steps, and praying fervently to be spared the 
awful horror of execution. 

The steps came nearer ; one flight of stairs 
was passed. The man stopped on the landing 
for a second and then went on. We were all 
listening breathlessly, with a dreadful intent¬ 
ness, our hearts beating quicker and quicker 
all the time. 

The second flight of stairs and the landing 
were passed, yet the man had not stopped. 
Ours was the third landing, and the cell was the 
first from the stairs. 

The man still continued to mount—he was 
coming to our landing. 

Though he was going very quickly, it seemed 
to take an age to mount these last thirty steps. 
Every step was bringing death nearer and 


94 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


nearer, and the anticipation of this was posi¬ 
tively unbearable. 

But here he was on our landing ; he turned 
quickly to the right and came down our passage. 

We were not breathing when he reached our 
door, and then, thank the Lord, he passed 
farther. 

Oh! what a horrible egoistic relief we all 
felt for a second. And then the anxiety for 
the others took its place. 

The man passed to the last cell, and we heard 
shoutings and swearing and then the clink of 
the door-lock of the cell. 

In a few moments we learned that one of 
the women had been seen looking through the 
window, and the whole cell was punished for 
several days. The inmates were locked up all 
day and night, without the right to go for their 
usual walk or move into the other cells. 

How relieved we all were, and how precious 
life seemed at that moment! 

But this feeling of happiness did not last 
long. The uproar in the yard began again, and 
made us remember immediately, with a still 
greater horror, everything that was going on 
in the other part of the building. 

We crept more carefully back to the windows, 
and began watching again. 

They were leading out the prisoners. Collars 


EXECUTIONS 


95 


up, hats brought low over their eyes so as to 
hide their identity, and chained to each other 
by sixes, they were pushed on to the big lorries. 
There were about eighty men; some would 
not or could not move. The soldiers, all made 
drunk for the purpose to give them courage, 
beat them with their rifles, shouted at them, 
and made them get in by force. Then the 
motors started, and in a second were all gone. 

The whole thing lasted about two hours. 

During my stay at the Shpalernaia, over 
three months, this happened three times, each 
time at the end of the month. Every time 
from sixty to eighty men were taken, but 
never a woman. But my cousin, who had been 
a whole year in this prison, had been the witness 
of many such cases, and had helped many 
women at such dreadful moments. I am glad 
I was spared this experience. I looked through 
the window only this first time; the other 
times I lay in bed, my head well covered with 
the pillow and the blanket, so as not to hear 
those terrible sounds. 

To show you how horrible the whole thing 
is, I can tell you that the Commissar of the 
Shpalernaia had not the nerve to carry it 
through himself. It was the Commissar of the 
Gorochovaia 2, a renowned scoundrel, utterly 
cruel and without scruples, who was put in 


96 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


command of our prison on such nights. He 
came there with a gang of drunken soldiers, who 
did not belong to the army but to special 
formations of the Cheka. Our Commissar locked 
himself up in his study, and never came out 
during those terrible nights. 

The second time this happened some political 
prisoners— i.e., the hateful bourgeois—were taken 
to be shot. For several weeks before this they 
were kept in a special gallery, or the 44 gallery 
of the dead.” Every one who is put into this 
gallery knows well what fate is awaiting him. 
Very few are lucky enough to escape death. 
The warders guarding them had a special 
respect for these brave men, who behaved with 
such courage, all the while knowing what 
their terrible end would be. They had all been 
for a very long time at the Shpalernaia, and 
had nearly all of them been starostas of dif¬ 
ferent cells, and therefore the administration 
knew each man personally, and really liked 
them. We learnt from very sure sources that 
our Commissar asked the Cheka to change 
their death-warrants for long imprisonment. 
When the Cheka answered by a refusal, the 
Commissar said he would not let them be 
taken, and would not give them out. 

Nevertheless, towards the end of May, we 
heard motors in the yard again. Not only w^e 


EXECUTIONS 


97 


prisoners, but all our wardresses were so moved 
by the fact that they came into our cells to look 
together with us through the windows. Every¬ 
thing went topsy-turvy in the whole prison. 

One of my new prison friends had a brother- 
in-law amongst these condemned men. She 
was positively ill from apprehension, more so 
as she herself was arrested because of him. 
It appeared that he had been very friendly 
with a young man who worked as secret agent 
for the Russian organisations in Finland. This 
young man used to go to and fro between 
the two countries, and during his short stay 
in Petrograd suddenly realised that he was 
followed. Having some very secret documents, 
and not knowing where to hide them, he went 
to this brother-in-law to ask him to hide the 
papers. They were both arrested, as well as 
the wife, the sister-in-law, and many others. 

The poor girl was simply crazy, but we 
could not tear her away from the window. She 
saw her brother-in-law come out into the yard 
at the head of a company of six, chained 
together. He was smiling and encouraging 
his friend, the cause of his death, who was 
looking very oppressed and downhearted. He 
jumped with great alacrity on to the lorry, 
and, helping the other one in, patted him on 
the shoulder. 

G 


98 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


The warder who was on duty that night in 
the gallery of the dead, who had to call out the 
prisoners, open their cells, and hand them 
over to the soldiers, was so impressed by the 
whole event that he went mad in the morning. 
The lodgings of the warders were on the top 
storey, just above our heads, and we woke up 
in the morning hearing peculiar screams and 
talking. All day long this continued, and we 
could not make out at all what the voice was 
saying. Only the next night, when all was 
quiet, did we understand what had happened. 
It was the mad warder. He pleaded all night 
long for the poor prisoners, he talked about 
them with such respect and pity, he could 
not believe that they had done anything bad, 
he would not let them be shot. Next morning 
he was taken to the asylum. 

I must own that I know very little about 
executions of the Bolshevik regime. This might 
seem strange, seeing that I had lived so long 
in a country where they were practised so 
often, and where this question played such an 
important part in our lives. But I refused to 
listen to conversations on this subject. When¬ 
ever anybody started it I always left the room, 
and would not hear these awful details. I 
came across one man who was released at the 
last moment because he made the sign of the 


EXECUTIONS 


99 


cross. But I can say for sure that it was diffi¬ 
cult for the Bolsheviks to find executioners. 
An awkward position for them often arose by 
the soldiers refusing to do this awful work. 
Little by little they found amongst the Russians 
moral degenerates who took a delight in such 
work. But the special Cheka formations now 
consist of Chinese and Letts, and very rarely 
of Russians, though the position of such soldiers 
is quite an exceptionally good one. They are 
attracted by all kinds of special favours, such 
as food and money and other privileges. 

For two reasons Russians are rarely to be 
found in such formations : they can kill when 
they are in a passion, and then there is no limit 
to their cruelty ; but to keep them in a con¬ 
tinued state of passion is impossible, and when 
the passion has cooled down they have a posi¬ 
tive nausea for horrors of that kind. Owing 
to this special trait in the Russian character, 
the Bolsheviks cannot count upon them ; they 
cannot allow the safety of their own existence 
to be jeopardised by men who are apt at any 
moment to be seized with a loathing for their 
work, and who can even be kind-hearted with 
the enemy. 

Everybody is extremely nervous at the 
Shpalernaia on the day following an execu¬ 
tion. Do as one will, information must be got 


100 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


from the men’s ward to know if their men are 
safe. This can only be done with the greatest 
difficulty, as the prisoners are more closely 
watched on such days, and many rights that 
we starostas had on other days are taken away 
on these days. 

There are many possibilities of communica¬ 
tion between the prisoners of different wards. 
As I have mentioned already, special working 
men and women are chosen among the prisoners 
to do all sorts of work, and these can com¬ 
municate with each other in the kitchen, where 
even the cooks are prisoners. But you must 
be quite sure of your messenger—quite sure 
that she will realty pass your note, and then 
that the note will get into honest hands, and 
will be delivered to its destination. 

Another means of communication is the 
dust-heap. Carrying out the dust-pan in the 
morning one always meets the men having 
their morning walk. This gives the possibility 
not only of seeing one’s people but of deposit¬ 
ing a note, making a sign to indicate where it 
can be found. There were other ways of com¬ 
munication, and people managed to receive 
long letters from their husbands regularly every 
day. These I will not mention for obvious 
reasons. 

But on the days after executions we had 



EXECUTIONS 


101 


great trouble to get into contact with the men. 
It needed a lot of pluck and ingenuity to get a 
communication through. And then if unfortu¬ 
nately any one gets bad news, it is very neces¬ 
sary not to show this in any way to the ward¬ 
resses or even the other prisoners. 

I have not yet mentioned that we were all 
aware of the fact that some of the prisoners 
were agents of the Cheka. In some cases it 
was a prisoner who undertook under pressure 
to act as a spy, and in others genuine agents 
were specially put into cells together with 
those prisoners who would not give any evidence. 
These were called by the Russian word 
“ Nasiedka ”— i.e., 44 broody hen.” Some of 
them were known, but some were so clever 
that it was difficult to find them out. The only 
way to distinguish them was through the fact 
that such a person had to communicate very 
often with the Cheka people; therefore any 
prisoner who was called out too often to see 
the investigating officer was always suspected 
of treachery. 

I remember one woman who had learnt 
that her husband had been taken in the night 
to be shot. He had been a secret service agent 
on the Mourman, and had worked for the 
44 whites,” so that she had been anticipating 
such an event for a long time. She dare not 


102 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


openly show her grief, as this would indicate 
that she had received a message. She lay on 
her bed for whole days without moving, without 
saying a single word, with her head turned away 
towards the wall. Later she, poor soul, was 
sentenced to “ hard labour ” till the end of 
the civil war, and was sent to Vologda. 


103 


CHAPTER IX. 

INVESTIGATION. 

So far I have been relating about the existence 
in prison, but have not yet touched upon the 
principal phase of a prisoner’s life : his per¬ 
sonal examination. This is the most disagree¬ 
able ordeal that the prisoner has to undergo. 

From the moment of my arrest I awaited 
my examination with the greatest impatience 
and, at the same time, with the greatest fear. 
Though inwardly I felt that my prison life 
would be long, still the hope of a prompt 
release lived in my heart. Hope, with all its 
unreasoning misconstructions of passing events, 
is doubtless a great factor in human life, but 
under the present circumstances life in Russia 
is quite impossible without such hope and a 
true, strong, religious belief. The worst moments 
to live through are the moments when one feels 
that hope is lost—hope for better times, hope 
for saving one’s life, hope for preserving one’s 



104 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


belongings, and hope of a new political resurrec¬ 
tion of the country. At such times one begins 
to realise one’s true surroundings, to see the 
ugliness of life, and a way out of it seems 
to have completely disappeared. A gigantic 
effort is necessary to regain hope once more, 
and continue living with al] the illusions it 
brings. 

It was the same for me in prison. Hope 
was stronger than logic, and it kept me up. 
I was sure—quite sure at moments—that I 
would soon be released. That is why I longed 
for the examination. And yet I apprehended 
it; I even dreaded it. I had heard too much 
about the way in which investigations were 
carried through by the Cheka. There are many 
different ways, and it is impossible to know 
which method will be used in your case. 

The whole system of investigation is un¬ 
questionably planned to play upon the victim’s 
nerves in the most effective way possible. The 
success of it depends greatly on the unscrupu¬ 
lousness of the investigating officer and on 
his knowledge of human nature. Sometimes, 
and especially when examining young women, 
they are received in a nice comfortable study, 
asked to sit in a nice cosy arm-chair, offered 
the best cigarettes, coffee, even dinner and 
wine. The investigating officer expresses him- 



INVESTIGATION 


105 


self in such pleasant terms, simulating sorrow 
for the poor victim and his readiness to do 
anything to help her. He pretends that the 
prisoner has only to give certain evidence and 
her release will immediately follow. Many and 
many people, frightened to death at the prospect 
of the examination, are so taken off their guard 
by such a pleasant reception that their nerve 
slackens, their resistance gives way, and they 
fall quite easily into the trap laid for them. 

Others are received in quite the opposite 
way. They are brought into a room where 
several members of the Cheka sit at a table 
with revolvers lying before them, and greet the 
prisoners with grim faces. This method is 
used in order to intimidate, and with it they 
sometimes achieve great success. The investiga¬ 
tion is then carried on in quite another tone. 
It is full of threats, shooting included. Re¬ 
volvers are sometimes placed at the prisoner's 
head, till the poor victim, appalled by sheer 
physical terror, already unnerved by sleepless 
nights, by the conditions of prison life, by the 
sufferings of their near and dear ones, and 
being always offered at such times the sure 
hope of an immediate release, is more than 
likely to betray any number of innocent people, 
and do no end of harm. 

Many are received quite simply. They are 


106 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


examined by what seems to be merely an 
ordinary individual, quietly and without any 
stage-setting. 

But, whatever happens, the prisoner can be 
sure that he is in for a trap, and that he must 
use all his brains to avoid it. The investigating 
officers are all clever men, chosen for this pur¬ 
pose from a large number, and one must be 
on the look-out for any eventuality. The only 
chance for a prisoner is to say as little as pos¬ 
sible, and never to answer a question before 
having viewed it from every angle. Innocent 
as he may be, he must be cautious, as danger 
does not lie within his actions but within the 
intentions of the Cheka. 

I felt very brave before I actually came 
face to face with the situation, but when the 
moment came and my name was called, fear 
gripped at my heart. I tried to keep myself 
well in hand and not show my nervousness, 
but I never knew how I got down the stairs. 
I had to go down four flights and through a 
very long passage. The way seemed endless, 
and my knees shook to such an extent that 
it seemed to me I could not possibly move any 
farther. Luckily I was hurried at once into 
the presence of the investigating officer, and 
so was saved waiting, which is most trying for 
the nerves. 


INVESTIGATION 


107 


The second time I was examined I had to 
wait three hours outside the door, and there 
were moments when I thought I would go mad 
with apprehension. In the women’s ward it 
is a custom to give the prisoner a small piece 
of dry bread for the examination, which she is 
supposed to hold in her hand for good luck. I 
also had such a crust, which disappeared entirely 
during these hours of waiting. But the first 
time, as I have said, I was called in immediately. 

When I came into the room, to my great 
astonishment I found seated at a table the 
same man who had arrested me. This at once 
gave me courage, and I was myself again. I 
addressed him first, saying I was very pleased 
to see that he had our case in hand, as he had 
witnessed during the arrest that I have no 
concern in the matter. 

I took a seat, leant on the table, and kept 
looking straight into his eyes during the whole 
examination. It was my only weapon, and 
I had to use it as best I could. That he greatly 
disliked my way of looking at him was evident 
from his extreme nervousness and the per¬ 
spiration on his forehead, which he had to 
wipe every other minute. The examination 
w^as quite a bearable one, due perhaps to this 
or perhaps to other circumstances I was not 
aware of. 


108 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


The investigation begins by a series of ques¬ 
tions, such as to your social position before 
the revolution, your occupation during Keren¬ 
sky’s Government and after the Bolshevik 
revolution. I succeeded in slipping through 
these delicate questions, in which the man 
helped me by not insisting too much, and 
he took my word that I had no relations in 
Soviet Russia. I was nervous when he told 
me that he knew that I had been hospital 
nurse during the war, and that I had been 
decorated with the four classes of the St George 
Medal. This meant that he knew something of 
my previous life. 

It was still more disagreeable when he ques¬ 
tioned me upon the presence of the sailor in 
my flat, asking me if he had been in any way 
connected with my father. 

After this he turned to the actual facts of 
my case. He appeared to believe that I had 
no knowledge of the brooch transaction, and 
did not press me on the subject. He further 
questioned me on the family in whose house 
I was arrested, and I gave him a few insignifi¬ 
cant replies. 

The investigating officer was writing down 
in the form of question and answer my deposi¬ 
tions. As I have very good sight, I could 
read quite easily what he put down, and cor¬ 
rected him occasionally, to his evident annoy- 


INVESTIGATION 


109 


ance. After the man had finished writing down 
all my depositions, and before I signed this 
document, I asked him to release me as quickly 
as possible. I also asked him to get the whole 
case through before the 1st of May, as there 
was only one month left before that date, to 
which the Bolsheviks attach such a great 
importance that they proclaim an amnesty to 
prisoners. 

“ I hope that I and my companions will 
benefit by the amnesty of the 1st of May, unless 
you have me released before that date ? ” 
said I. 

“ Do not forget that amnesty only concerns 
people guilty of crime. Do you consider your¬ 
self as such ? ” he retorted, throwing a scrutinis¬ 
ing look at me. 

“ I understand that you consider me guilty 
of some crime,” I answered, “ as otherwise you 
would not keep me in prison.” 

“ Oh ! ” he said, “ but this is not a regular 
prison. People are only kept here for safe cus¬ 
tody, do you see ! ” 

“ In any case it looks to me as being a regular 
prison. What about sleeping on a stone floor, 
eaten by vermin, and being fed on such un¬ 
speakably rotten food ? ” 

“ Don’t you worry; you will be soon re¬ 
leased, I promise you this. We are looking all 
over the town for Mrs S., and we cannot release 


110 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


you before we get her. You must understand 
this, as I am sure that being her friend and 
at freedom, you would try to inform her about 
our plans. Would you not ? ” 

44 Yes, I certainly would,” was my answer. 

44 As soon as Mrs S. is at the Gorochovaia 
in her red winter coat, you can be sure to be 
released at once.” 

44 And the others ? ” I asked. 

44 They will certainly benefit by the amnesty, 
and you will very soon see them all,” was his 
reply. 

So this was the end of my first interrogation, 
and I felt quite reassured and happy. The 
investigating officer had told me that my case 
was not serious, that it was a 44 trifling one ” 
only. So hope grew in my heart immensely as 
I was coming up the stairs. I was sure that 
we all should be released in a month, and that 
nothing tragic would come of this incident. 

But when I had returned to my cell and the 
44 old ” prisoners had interviewed me, I grew 
a little less hopeful. They reminded me that 
it is a known way the Bolshevik agents have of 
giving hope of a prompt release and of never 
fulfilling it. 

During the following days hope grew smaller 
and smaller. I got wind that Mrs S. had been 
arrested and was at the Cheka. Still my release 


INVESTIGATION 


111 


did not come. Then the lady to whom the 

whole sum of money had been entrusted was 

»/ 

also arrested. (I am speaking of the money 
which had to be paid for the brooch.) Mrs 
S. was left with it in the street, while her 
husband went up to the flat, where he, with 
the rest of us, was taken to the Cheka. 

It appears that after having waited in the 
cold street for an hour, Mrs S. became anxious, 
and decided to go up herself. Meeting some 
one on the stairs, who told her that soldiers 
were seen in her father’s flat, she understood 
by this fact that everybody had been arrested, 
and though she hated the idea of going away 
without joining her people at such a moment, 
she decided to hide the money. At the same 
time, she decided to hide herself also, as by 
doing so and being at liberty she would be of 
greater help to her family. 

The first thing she did next morning was 
to go to her brother’s office, and the first person 
she met there was the Esthonian—the seller of 
the brooch. The fact of this man being at 
liberty while all her family were in jail was the 
best proof that he was nothing less than a 
provocator. 

To remain in hiding for a week was not 
only trying to herself, but also to her friends, 
who had been kind enough to take her in. 



112 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Having given the money to a foreign lady to 
keep, and feeling quite sure as to its safety, she 
herself only longed to be arrested, as she felt 
no longer able to stand the strain of hiding. 

For this purpose she made up a parcel of 
provisions for her people, went to the Cheka, 
wearing the red coat the investigating officer 
had mentioned, signed her name in large letters 
under the list of the things she sent up, and 
awaited to be arrested. No one taking any 
notice of her, she left the place free, which 
was significant. From this she understood that 
this freedom was now only allowed her, as the 
Cheka wished to profit by following her future 
actions. This prevented her from going back 
to her friends, and she was forced to roam the 
streets, not knowing what to do. 

A cousin of her husband happened to meet 
her, and took her to his house. There she was 
arrested by the agent, who during our arrest 
and later on had played the part of owner of 
the brooch. He was very polite and friendly, 
and took her in a motor to the Cheka, “ in 
order to save her from exposure to the cold 
and from a long and fatiguing walk.” 

The foreign lady who took the money into 
her keeping appeared to be entirely trust¬ 
worthy, and assured me that though her tongue 
be cut out she would never tell where the 


INVESTIGATION 


113 


money was hidden. After her first examination, 
however, she came upstairs crying bitterly, 
disgusted with herself. The investigating officer 
had been very hard with her, had threatened 
her in all sorts of ways unless she would 
divulge the whereabouts of the money; and 
after threats of being sent immediately to 
Vologda, she broke down and gave away 
everything. 

I was very much disturbed by her betrayal, 
and tried hard to feel sympathy for the poor 
weak woman. It is true that to be sent to 
Vologda is something quite dreadful; all the 
same I felt that she ought not to have believed 
the examiner, and ought to have understood 
that it was only a threat. Even if the threat 
had been put into action, it would still have 
been considerably better than having the tongue 
cut out ! 

Once they had the money, the Cheka wanted 
to know where it came from. As they could 
not get this out of the prisoners, they obtained 
their information quite simply, again through 
provocation. The same man who had arrested 
Mrs S. went to see a girl friend of hers. Having 
introduced himself as the owner of the famous 
brooch, he began to tell her that Mr S. was a 
provocator, that he had induced him to come 
to his flat for the brooch transaction, and had 

H 


114 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


then called in the Cheka. As a proof of this 
he said that he knew without doubt that 
Mr S. had not had the necessary money with 
which to buy the brooch. The girl, not being 
very clever, and thus taken off her guard, 
answered him with indignation that all this 
was not true, that the money did exist, that she 
herself had had it for a whole night in her keeping, 
and that she knew that Mr S. had even borrowed 
some of the money from Miss Doubassoff. 

My next interrogation followed this, and 
the man met me very severely, accusing me of 
having told him untruths. I denied it till he 
showed me all the proofs he had, and then, 
thinking it all over, I decided to own that I 
had given money to Mr S. I thought it could 
help to prove that Mr S. was not the sole pos¬ 
sessor of such a large sum of money. At the 
same time, I repeated that when giving the 
money I did not know for what purpose it was 
to be used. 

The investigating officer was anxious to know 
how I happened to have this money, so I ex¬ 
plained that I had made it by selling several 
of my belongings. 

“ Did you sell the things directly to the 
buyer or through some one else ? ” he asked. 

Being off my guard, I answered that a gentle¬ 
man had helped me do it. 


INVESTIGATION 


115 


“ Why did you use an intermediary ? ” 

“ I am not acquainted with the people who 
buy ; my friends are all busy selling.” 

44 Tell me the name of the gentleman who 
helped you,” he insisted. 

44 He has nothing to do with the present 
case,” I answered, 44 and therefore I will not 
name him.” 

For several minutes there was a silence, 
and a very disagreeable one. At last he spoke. 
44 1 have all the necessary means to make you 
tell me who this gentleman is, but I will not 
press the matter,” and he let me go. 

The third time I was questioned he needed 
only a few words of information, but I was 
made to wait in the hall for two and a half 
hours behind railings. I saw from afar that 
my friend the old gentleman had also been 
brought to be questioned. He looked extremely 
ill and weak, and a wardress was leading him 
by the arm, helping him to walk. When I 
entered the room I was hot with indignation. 
I simply flew at the investigating officer, telling 
him what a sin it was that he should keep the 
old man in prison. It was clear that his death 
was imminent if left in these conditions, and 
that his death would lie at the door of the 
investigating officer. He was very indignant 
with me, and tried to calm me by saying that 


116 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


the old gentleman was quite well, that he had 
been to see the doctor that same morning, 
and the doctor had prescribed only valerian 
drops for him. 

“You cannot deceive me about his health,” 
I said. “ The doctor naturally could not give 
him any other prescription, as you have no 
other medicine in your prison except valerian.” 

And unfortunately I was right. A month 
later the poor old gentleman died in a prison 
hospital from anaemia of the brain. He died 
alone, without his children, who could not get 
permission to be with him at the end or to 
assist at the funeral. The only accusation 
against him was that one of his old servants, a 
woman of sixty-five, did not belong to a Pro¬ 
fessional Union. 

No other guilt could be fastened upon the 
poor man, but nevertheless he was kept in 
prison, sentenced to several years’ “ hard 
labour,” and all his property, the result of 
forty years of hard and honest work, was con¬ 
fiscated. The pillow that supported his head, 
the blanket that wrapt his emaciated body at 
the hour of death, were that of another. 

Thus after a lifetime of work, beloved by 
all who had worked for him, he was to be 
accused by the Cheka of being an “ exploiter,” 
one who had “ stolen ” his property from the 


INVESTIGATION 


117 


44 people,” and finally condemned to hardship 
and death in a prison. 

I will add that all his confiscated property 
was appropriated by different agents of the 
Cheka, who came with their women-folk and 
chose what they liked best. So far as I have 
heard, none of this property ever came into 
the hands of the 44 people,” 44 true workers with 
horny hands,” though the confiscation was 
carried out 44 legally,” and was called 44 legal 
distribution of the illegal property of a bourgeois 
among the working classes.” 

This provides another striking example as to 
how far the interests of the Cheka are removed 
from those of the people, and how little they 
consider the needs of the 44 workers,” and how 
greedy they are for their own profit. 


118 


CHAPTER X. 

PERQUISITION. 

Two o’clock was the hour at which we issued 
forth for our forty minutes’ walk into one of 
the prison yards. Our particular yard was 
exceedingly small, and, being surrounded by 
high buildings, the sky could only be seen by 
tilting the head back at a very uncomfortable 
angle. In it existed one solitary tree, growing 
from a soil that was hidden by a layer of 
asphalt. 

Prisoners from all the common cells would 
meet there in the afternoon and talk to each 
other. We used to walk round and round the 
little courtyard till our heads positively swam. 
Into one little corner a bit of sunlight managed 
to penetrate, and we all took our turn at basking 
in it. It was nice to have air and exercise, but 
the prison life weakens one to such an extent 
that when we used to come “ home ” from our 
walk we had to lie down to recover our strength. 


PERQUISITION 


119 


Some of the prisoners could not under¬ 
take this walk owing to the weakness of 
their legs, and some became utterly unnerved 
by the sight of the sunshine, which gave 
them a longing for real freedom and real 
nature. Feeling that my health depended upon 
exercise, I forced myself to go out every day. 
I also was getting weak, and my extraordinary 
good health was deserting me. I have never 
been ill since I can remember, so the sensation 
of poor health was to me a disagreeable one. My 
weakened condition was caused by the thin¬ 
ning of the blood-vessels, and any rough move¬ 
ment would make my nose bleed. This bleeding 
was so excessive at times that for whole days 
I could not move from my bed. One night 
it was so bad that my friends thought that I 
would bleed to death, and they asked the 
wardress to call the doctor. When at last he 
came it appeared that the prison pharmacy 
did not contain any of the necessary appliances 
for such cases. 

He bent over me and said : “ My dear, I 

advise you not to indulge in such bleedings, 
as unfortunately I have nothing with which 
to help you,” and with these words he with¬ 
drew. 

So during those days I could not walk, and 
had to contemplate the sky through the window. 


120 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


It was good to be so high up, and the sky 
seemed so very near. 

After having kept my cell for several days 
I at last went out to get some fresh air. New 
prisoners having arrived during my illness, I 
was interested in meeting and interviewing 
them to get news from town. 

One of the new-comers was a lady of fifty, 
very stout, with fat stumps instead of legs. 
It was now rare to meet a fat person in Russia ; 
they existed no longer. The Bolsheviks have 
done more to cure obesity than any Karlsbad 
waters would have done. This lady naturally 
attracted my attention, and I wanted to know 
who she was. 

She belonged to a good family, and was 
arrested during the summer of 1919 on account 
of a revolver which was found in her flat by a 
perquisition party. She had already been a 
year in prison because of this revolver, and she 
had just come from a prison hospital. She had 
a very strange illness, which she had contracted 
in prison : she was always thirsty, and could 
consume any liquid in the most surprising 
quantities. The prison soup is always very 
thin, and when you get your portion you let 
it stand for a moment, then carry it under the 
tap and pour away most of the liquid part. In 
the cell where this poor woman was, everybody 


PERQUISITION 


121 


collected this soup water for her benefit, and 
all day long she would drink it without stopping. 
It was a tragedy to witness the state she was 
in—she was more like a gloating animal than 
a human being. And all because of a revolver ! 

When I heard her story a sickening feeling 
clutched at my heart. She was arrested during 
the perquisitions of the summer 1919, and she 
had been kept a whole year in prison on account 
of one revolver ! And all that had happened 
to me in the summer of 1919 during the same 
perquisitions rose in my memory, making me 
send a thanksgiving to heaven for my pre¬ 
servation. It was God, and God only, who had 
saved me then, and strangely enough through 
the hands of a Bolshevik Commissar. 

At that time they were looking everywhere 
for arms. Thousands and thousands of soldiers, 
sailors, workmen, and working-girls were col¬ 
lected during one day, and sent in the evening 
to go through every flat, every attic, every 
corner in the whole of Petrograd city. People 
were certainly not taken unawares, for the 
news of such a perquisition had been circulated 
for several days in advance. Nearly every 
one had arms of some sort in the house, and 
used all possible means to get rid of them. 
My flat was full of all sorts of things belonging 
not only to me but mostly to my two brothers. 



122 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


Some of these things I had never even ex¬ 
amined myself, so when I got wind of a per¬ 
quisition I began to look through everything* 
To my dismay I found two revolvers and two 
rifles. The rifles were nailed behind a very 
heavy cupboard, and it w^as very difficult to 
get them out. The revolvers I buried in my 
wood supplies, and the rifles I handed over to 
the House Committee. 

But I also had a small flat in the yard : two 
rooms only, in which was stored a lot of pro¬ 
perty. It was six months since I had been 
in the flat, for the dvornik who looked after 
it had persuaded me not to go there, in order 
to avoid drawing the attention to the fact that 
this flat belonged to me. On his side he 
promised not to mention this flat in case of 
a perquisition. 

One morning, at five oclock, I was roused 
by a loud knocking at my front door. Voices 
called out to me to open—it was a perquisition. 

I went back to my room, put on a wrapper, 
opened the door, and let them in. It was a 
company of four working-girls, two soldiers, 
and the House Committee, who had to assist 
at the perquisitions, and see that they were 
properly carried out. Though in the first 
instant I got frightened, the behaviour of these 
people reassured me ; they urged me not to 


PERQUISITION 


123 


be afraid, and politely looked through the 
rooms I lived in. 

The door into the passage was shut, giving 
them a false idea that it gave access to the 
kitchen only. When they had finished with 
my rooms, and being already tired after working 
in the same way since eight o’clock in the 
evening, they decided to end the search without 
visiting the kitchen. I felt great relief already, 
when accidentally one of them opened the door 
into the passage, revealing by this other rooms 
besides the kitchen. 

Four rooms opening into the passage were 
filled up to the ceiling with all sorts of boxes, 
furniture, pictures, and other things, brought 
by me from the flats of my brothers and mother, 
which had been already requisitioned. When 
the women saw the boxes and had opened them 
and had taken some things out, they became 
very excited. They were very ordinary girls, 
and had surely never seen such a quantity of 
nice things accumulated in one flat. They ran 
round the rooms with all sorts of objects in 
their hands, exclaiming that so many things 
should not belong to one person, but they 
must be taken away from me and passed over 
to the “ workers.” 

I stood quite motionless, and waited for 
further developments. At last, after great 


124 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


altercations, they decided that such a case 
as mine was not an ordinary one—that they 
would lock up all the rooms, arrest me for a 
time, put a soldier on guard, and call for an 
Extraordinary Commission, which existed for 
such purposes and which would decide what 
was to be done with poor me. 

One of the soldiers, a pleasant young man, 
tried to persuade them that they had better 
leave me alone and go further to another house, 
but the women’s appetites were whetted, and 
they insisted on their plan. Then the soldier 
took me apart, saying: “ Look here, if the 

Commission will come here they will examine 
everything, and they will find whatever is 
hidden. I feel sorry for you, so if you have 
any arms, hand them quietly over to me, and 
I will carry them out.” He said this quite 
earnestly, and repeated this offer many times, 
but I had nothing to hand over to him so far 
as I knew. 

So I was arrested for the time being by a 
boy of seventeen, tired to death by his sleep¬ 
less night. My brain was working fast. If 
the Commission should go into everything, 
there was one thing which I would not want 
to see in their hands. This was a big leathern 
bag of my father’s, containing very interesting 
documents—letters from the Emperor and promi- 



PERQUISITION 


125 


nent men of the Empire, all father’s decora¬ 
tions, which were very many, and his golden 
sword. I did not care to have these things 
fall into such hands, and though I had never 
before bribed any one, I felt I had to do it 
now. 

I invited the boy-soldier to come into my 
sitting-room, and there on the fireplace I boiled 
some coffee for us both. While we were having 
coffee the boy became quite friendly. 44 I am 
quite sure you must have money,” he said. 
44 You had better hide it well, or 4 they ’ will 
take it from you.” I had very little money, 
but I fell in with his plan, and we hid the money 
together under a carpet. Then he began to 
tell me about his home, about his mother and 
how poor she was—that he was going to see 
her and had no money to give her. This was 
the lead I wanted. 

44 1 will give you some money for your mother 
on condition that you allow me to carry a 
bag out of my flat,” I said. He seemed fright¬ 
ened at first, but when I promised him that no 
one should see me do it, he allowed me to 
have my wish. 

I had to get the bag out from under all sorts 
of heavy objects, where it had lain safely for 
a year ; then opening the door I carried this 
heavy bag down the stairs to the former woman 



126 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


porter. She was a kind woman, and consented 
to take the risk for my sake. 

In a minute I was back, and the boy was 
the owner of a considerable sum of money. 
He lay on the sofa in the hall, and, asking me 
to give him a good shake should his people 
return, slept. While he was asleep I washed 
and dressed. 

At eight o’clock in the morning I had to 
give the violent shake he needed, and he flew 
to open the door. The number of people that 
came in was quite astounding : two commissars, 
dressed very elegantly in black leather, with 
two revolvers each ; eight other soldiers, with 
the first company of six ; and the House Com¬ 
mittee. The Commissar looked astonished that 
I, a woman, was the only inhabitant of the 
flat. 

44 Your name ? ” roared the Commissar. 

I told him very calmly. 

44 The daughter of the Moscow Doubassoff ? ” 
he asked. 

4C Yes,” I answered, looking him straight in 
the eyes. Such an avowal made so openly 
caused him to change his tone at once. 

44 What is the matter here ? ” he asked me, 
quite politely. 44 Why have I been sent for ? ” 
To which I replied that I really did not know 
why the girls had done this, adding that all that 


PERQUISITION 


127 


was in the flat belonged to me. I did not deny 
it, but said that the girls considered it was too 
much for one person. 

The women were running round once more 
with all sorts of things in their hands. He 
called them to order, and began a regular 
search. Everything was turned upside down 
and everything was examined, but no arms were 
to be found. 

44 Have you any arms ? ” he asked me. 

“ Not to my knowledge.” 

44 Can you give your word for it ? ” the Com¬ 
missar asked, while all the others were standing 
listening round. 

“ No, I cannot. Look and see for yourself ; 
perhaps you will find some,” I answered. 

44 But you must know that one weapon is 
cause enough to shoot you,” he added. 

44 You have two brothers who were officers ? ” 
(they knew everything those people). 44 Where 
are their arms ? ” 

44 1 do not know,” was my answer. 

At this moment I had a shock of terror. 
Some one came from the yard, and said that 
a flat had been found filled with arms, a whole 
store of arms of all kinds. They pointed out 
this flat through the window, and to my horror 
I saw that they meant my little storerooms. 
A member of the House Committee, a very 


128 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


unpleasant Bolshevik, always drunk, added: 
44 If you want to know whose flat that is, I 
can tell you : it is Miss Doubassoffs ! ” 

I grew cold with horror, but did not utter 
a single word. And all at once the president 
of the House Committee, a chauffeur, who was 
a very spiteful individual and a Bolshevik at 
heart, stepped out and said : 44 That is not true ; 
it is not her flat.” 

How the work was continued I cannot tell, 
for mv head was in a whirl, but in one of the 
rooms was found the photograph of my father. 
The Commissar picked it up, and, showing it to 
me, said : 44 Why do you not put the photo 

of your father in your room ? It would give 
you pleasure to look at it.” I answered that 
I had others in my room, and put it down. 

It was one o’clock in the afternoon before 
they finished the perquisition. No arms were 
found, but they carried away a lot of things 
with them. Everything that was military and 
could serve the army was taken—camp-beds, 
sleeping-bags, shoulder-straps, flasks, spurs, caps, 
&c. The German trophies belonging to my 
brothers were taken as well, but I was left 
free. 

This freedom, however, seemed to me only 
temporary. They were searching the famous 
little flat, and I was watching them through 



ADMIRAL TH. W. DOUBASSOFF, 

A.D.C. GENERAL TO H.M. THE EMPEROR OF RUSSIA. 


Died 1912. 









PERQUISITION 


129 


the window dead at heart. The search lasted 
till nine o’clock in the evening. They brought 
a lorry into the yard, and, to my horror, loaded 
it with rifles, revolvers, swords, and ammuni¬ 
tion. Where did these things come from and 
how could they get into the storerooms I could 
not understand, for I knew there might be one 
or two German rifles, but no such quantity of 
arms. 

All day long I waited for my arrest, and 
was saying good-bye to life. They arrested the 
president of the House Committee and took 
him with them, and still I was left at home. 

Late at night a knock came at the door ; it 
was the president of the House Committee. 
When I opened the door he came in, and flew 
at me in an awful rage. 

“You cannot imagine what I have been 
through for your sake ! I was arrested, and 
if they had kept me ten minutes longer I would 
have confessed that it was your flat after all,” 
he said. A friend of his, a chauffeur, was on 
the Commission, and helped him to get his 
release. 

“ Come, I will show you what they have 
done with your flat and all your belongings,” 
he urged. We took a candle and went to the 
yard. We entered the flat through a broken 
window, as the door was sealed, and I nearly 

i 


130 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


fainted. The first thing I saw, in an awful 
disorder of boxes and furniture, was a large 
portrait of my father, standing on one of the 
front boxes. Now I knew that the Commissar 
was well aware whose flat he was searching and 
to whom it belonged. Why he did not arrest 
me is something I shall never understand. 

The story of the arms I learnt later. It 
seemed the dvornik did not want me to visit 
the flat, for the reason that he was busy empty¬ 
ing it for his own profit. The door was left 
unlocked, so people who did not know where 
to hide their arms before the perquisitions 
thought it a safe place for this purpose. Conse¬ 
quently all the arms from the surrounding 
houses, where many military people had lived, 
were safely stored in my flat. 

And so this is the miraculous way in which 
I was saved in 1919, when the poor lady with 
the swollen legs was dragged to prison because 
of one revolver ! Life is so complicated now 
in Russia that you can never know whence 
your salvation may come, nor who can bring 
upon you utter ruin and destruction. 


131 


CHAPTER XI. 

MY TWO MATES. 

The head starosta was a girl of twenty, very 
good-looking, dark, and slim, of the Boticelli 
type. She had already spent eight months in 
prison, and was greatly admired and loved by 
the prisoners. It was pleasant to see her pretty 
face, for she was always so neatly dressed, and 
really a little picture. 

Although so young, she had already gone 
through a great deal in the course of her life, 
and in prison had shown herself to be of a 
very strong character. She belonged to a good 
family, and was the daughter of a general who 
had been renowned during the war. At eighteen 
she fell in love with a man in the lumber trade, 
who belonged to a counter-revolutionary organ¬ 
isation, and was a great worker on behalf of 
his party. Her infatuation for the man was 
so great that she ran away with him, and they 
lived happily together for a year. Unfortu- 


132 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


nately one day he was arrested, tried for counter¬ 
revolution, and sentenced to be shot. 

He was quite marvellous at his examina¬ 
tions, and never said a word even to save him¬ 
self, being unwilling to compromise other people. 
The girl was crazy from sorrow, and did every¬ 
thing in her power to obtain his release. It 
was hinted to her that his release could be 
obtained by bribery, and in order to get the 
necessary money she sold everything she had 
and paid the money demanded, but without 
any result. The money was passed on by a 
woman who lived with a well-known Commissar 
of the Cheka. This woman heartlessly extorted 
money from the girl, playing on her love and 
her harassed feelings. The money and pro¬ 
visions sent by the intermediary of this woman 
never reached their destination. 

The girl was ready to do anything for the 
sake of the man whom she loved. She herself 
was in hiding all the time from the Cheka, who 
were searching for her to put her under arrest. 
They knew she also had worked in the counter¬ 
revolutionary organisation, and considered her 
too dangerous to be left free. Suddenly an 
idea came to her: she got false documents, 
and under an assumed name made the acquaint¬ 
ance of the President of the Cheka. As she 
was young and very pretty and tried her best 


MY TWO MATES 


133 


to be very gay, she attracted his attention. 
Though hating and abhorring him at heart, she 
carried on a flirtation with him. Having suc¬ 
ceeded in becoming very friendly with him, she 
tried to obtain the release of her lover. In this 
she nearly succeeded, and was promised that 
the death sentence would be annulled, when 
unfortunately it leaked out through the woman 
who had taken her money as to whom she 
really was. Instead of the expected release, 
she herself was taken to prison. 

The girl was considered to be a very im¬ 
portant prisoner, and was kept under the 
strictest conditions. Her sister and brother-in- 
law were also arrested, and told that their 
arrest was needed in order to make the girl 
talk. She was treated very cruelly at the ex¬ 
aminations : three of the fiercest investigating 
officers cross-examined her. But she was won¬ 
derfully brave, kept herself well in hand, and 
never gave any evidence, even against her 
enemies. She was kept in a single cell, with 
no heat during the winter, quite alone, and 
desperate. She was also kept in constant fear 
of being shot, and in order to heighten this 
effect her examinations were arranged at night. 

She learnt during these awful winter months 
that her lover had been shot; but never a 
tear, never a harsh word, never even a com- 


134 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


plaint escaped her. She was always brave at 
heart, and ready with a kind word for every¬ 
body. Her greatest unhappiness was caused by 
the fact that her sister and her brother-in-law 
were suffering because of her. 

One day whom should she meet in prison 
but the wretched creature who had robbed her 
of her money and had denounced her to the 
Cheka. The sight of the woman made her 
sick at heart, but when at the next examina¬ 
tion she was questioned about her, she kept 
the strictest silence. The other woman was 
arrested for having overdone her dirty work, 
and her lover the Commissar was arrested by 
the party for reasons of jealousy. 

You can well understand the sympathy and 
admiration this girl, our head starosta, aroused 
among her fellow-prisoners. The woman who 
had betrayed her was very pretty, of an Eastern 
type, with graceful cat-like movements. She 
was always busy with intrigue, setting one 
person against the other, and she even went 
so far as to start intrigues in the administration, 
setting it against the prisoners she disliked. 
The only way to disarm her was to appeal to 
the girl starosta. She had only to say, 44 Be 
careful or I will denounce you,” and the other 
woman would immediately cringe before her. 

This denouncer of our head starosta was 


MY TWO MATES 


135 


over thirty, but looked much younger. She 
always overdressed in bright gay colours, not 
at all suitable to prison life. She belonged to 
my cell, and disliked me for being the starosta, 
because she wanted this position for herself. 
Very often she made things unpleasant for me, 
and I distrusted her all the time, even when 
she would become very amiable with me. 

The second person with whom I worked was 
quite another type of woman, respected and 
beloved by every one. She came from the 
Baltic provinces, and had been imprisoned as 
a hostage for her country. She was exceedingly 
tall, about forty years old, thin and straight 
as a stick, and very masculine in her manners. 
She was a Sister of Mercy (hospital nurse), 
and had worked during the whole of the 
war. 

She was very strict in her rules, and her 
cell, No. 31, in which she was starosta, re¬ 
minded one more of a boarding-school for girls 
than of a prison cell. She had her own rules, 
and every one had to comply with them ; but 
this was done with pleasure, as the kindness 
and warmheartedness of this woman were quite 
extraordinary. She loved and cared for the 
people under her charge as she would have 
cared for her own children. She was always 
gay, always cheerful, in spite of having been 


136 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


a year in pi‘son and suffering from a serious 
heart trouble. 

Her bad heart-attacks worried us very much, 
as we knew from the doctor that any attack 
might be fatal. She was very poor, and hardly 
received any food from her friends outside, but 
no one who had anything good to eat ever 
touched their food before bringing her some 
of it. It was the greatest pleasure to treat 
her to something good. She was a poor sleeper, 
and smoked all night long, and we made it 
our care, from which we derived a great amount 
of pleasure, to see that she had a good supply 
of cigarettes for the night. 

Sister F. had a wonderful hand with sick 
people, and we all trusted her more than the 
doctors. She had the prisoners’ supply of 
medicines in hand, and at all times of the 
day and night she used to be called out to help 
the sick. Even suffering from a heart-attack, 
she would never refuse to give help, considering 
her own health and comfort but secondary. 

In the evening I used to creep quietly into 
her cell. There she would lie for hours, relating 
most thrilling and amusing episodes of her life. 
She was up to games of all sorts ; she was a 
very good mimic and full of humour, so when 
she saw that a bad mood was coming over 
the inmates of a cell she would come at once, 


MY TWO MATES 


137 


and, using her natural gaiety, her humour, and 
tact, immediately would put everybody into a 
good humour. My cell adored her, and we all 
revelled when she came to spend a few hours 
with us. 

There was a really wonderful distraction in 
her cell—a poor beggar woman, a person who 
was really happy at being in prison. Here 
she had a roof over her head, nice people around 
her, food from the prison and the prisoners, 
whom she helped and served in small ways. 
I must mention that you get very spoilt in 
prison in that respect. All the dirty work I 
had done at home, such as washing dishes, 
linen, cleaning boots, and so on, is all done 
by willing hands in prison. Little by little 
you get back into former habits when a maid 
and other servants were at your beck and call. 
This woman helped everybody, and for that 
she was dressed and fed. 

But she had not always been a beggar : in 
her early days she had been a singer in a cafe 
concert. She spoke French and German quite 
fluently, and knew songs in nearly all the 
European languages. She was about sixty, 
but very young for her age. Her songs and 
comical dances, sung and danced with as little 
noise as possible, were very amusing. 

I enjoyed these evenings at Sister F.’s very 



138 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


much. After a hard day of running about and 
witnessing all sorts of griefs and sorrows, we 
used to gather round Sister F., a pleasant 
group of about ten people. We were supposed 
to be in bed at ten, but as the nights in Petro- 
grad are quite light in the early summer, it 
was impossible to think of sleep. It should 
also be remarked that the Bolsheviks have 
even accomplished a revolution in the heavens, 
having set the clock forward for three hours, 
and consequently the sun shone at eleven o’clock 
at night. 

The evenings were beautiful; the air freshened, 
and a breeze came through the open windows. 
All sorrows, griefs, and sad memories were 
banished for the moment, and we tried to 
cheer up each other and pretend that we were 
out of our prison world. Those evenings were 
a great relief for the nerves and of great moral 
help, entirely due to the wonderful personality 
of our hostess, Sister F. 

Every Sunday she used to pray with the 
Lutherans, and her sermons were better and 
wiser than those of many parsons. 

Of the three starostas I was the last arrival, 
so I learned a great deal from those two close 
companions of mine, and got great help and 
comfort from them both. 


139 


CHAPTER XII. 

HOME PARCELS. 

The question of food supplies from home was 
a matter of great importance in prison. It 
was not only a question of physical comfort 
but was a source of great moral interest and 
help, for it was a direct communication with 
home, and therefore one of the thrilling moments 
of the week. 

It was allowed to bring food to the prisoners 
twice a week. Parcels could be brought from 
ten to four o’clock. The crowd was enormous, 
and one had to wait hours in line before reaching 
a small window, which was opened every five 
minutes for the parcels to be taken in. 

Food is scarce in Russia at present and 
very expensive, so all the best food that can 
be obtained and all possible money were lavished 
upon feeding the poor prisoner. Many families 
deprived themselves of the necessaries of life 
in order to send something good and nourishing 
to the imprisoned member of the family. There- 


140 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


fore, as I have said, a parcel from home was 
the hearer of the best feelings and goodwill. 
It represented the care and love of family or 
friends, and every bit of it was the result of 
self-denial, including the worry and hardship 
of taking the parcel from another part of the 
town on foot and the fatigue of standing in 
line for several hours. Therefore a parcel was 
a priceless belonging, and the utmost care had 
to be shown in the handling of it. 

Previous to my arrest all the care of parcels 
had been in the hands of the administration, 
and since, to tell the truth, they also are hungry, 
many parcels when delivered did not contain 
all the things written out in the list attached. 
Little by little the prisoners, through my cousin, 
the head starosta, gained ground and took 
this whole business into their own hands under 
the control of the administration. 

The system was as follows: a wardress 
stood near the window downstairs, and taking 
the parcels from the visitors, handed them to 
special workers, chosen from among the pris¬ 
oners by the head starosta as being entirely 
reliable. These girls took the parcels and 
carried them upstairs, followed by a wardress. 
Coming back they brought down the return 
ones, which were handed out immediately to 
the owners. 


HOME PARCELS 


141 


Upstairs in a large room, specially reserved 
for that purpose, the new parcels were opened, 
examined, and exchanged in the presence of 
the administration. For this the addressee 
was called to assist, as, according to the regula¬ 
tions, this performance could only be carried 
out in the latter’s presence. 

The incoming parcels were laid on a long 
table and sorted, whereas the return parcels 
were handed over to the working girls. The 
sorting was my job, while the opening was done 
by Sister F., who afterwards passed them farther 
down the table, at the end of which stood the 
head starosta, the head wardress, and the 
addressee. The parcels were carefully ex¬ 
amined by the head wardress, after which 
one-third of each article it contained was taken 
out by the head starosta, to be divided later 
on between those of the prisoners who had 
not that day received food from outside. The 
remaining lot was then turned over to the 
addressee. 

Unfortunately there existed an unwritten 
law by which the better part of the confis¬ 
cated food was given to the administration, 
for this was felt to be the only way to keep 
on good terms with them, and perhaps exercise 
a certain pressure on them. Thus they tried 
to be nicer to the prisoners, knowing that 


142 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


every kindness on their part will be rewarded 
by an extra portion of food. 

The search is a very thorough one: the 
gruel is turned out of its pot and cut with a 
knife, the bread likewise ; cakes are broken in 
half, the basket itself is examined, books and 
cigarettes as well. 

The most exciting part of the show, which 
kept us in a constant strain, was the fact that 
nearly every parcel contained a small written 
message from home. We knew well enough 
that all relations and friends tried to com¬ 
municate with their prisoner by means of the 
parcel, and it needed a well-organised and 
active brain to notice where the danger lay, as 
well as a sure hand and considerable pluck to 
extract the note unnoticed by the wardress. 
She knew of these conspiracies against her, 
and flashed her eyes round the room all the 
time. If a note was found the whole parcel 
was confiscated. 

My work in this respect was the easiest, 
for I could only examine the parcel outwardly 
and get into my hands notes which were 
pinned to the surface under the list of con¬ 
tents or stuck in the basket. These I quickly 
put in my pocket, and handed them later on 
to the owner. But if I saw something suspicious, 
it was my business to draw the attention of 


HOME PABCELS 


143 


Sister F. She was a wonder in that matter, 
and worked marvellously. With a sure hand 
she would open the parcel and extract the 
offending object with such a quiet face that 
no one ever noticed her doing so. She risked 
her reputation all the time, but she believed 
that helping the prisoners was her first duty. 

Sometimes towards the end of the day she 
had as many as seventy notes in her pockets. 
I must mention that there was a rule that all 
the people working on the parcels could be 
searched at any moment; so several times a 
day she used to pass me the booty, and I 
would slip into the cells and hand the notes 
over to the owners. 

I had another duty to perform. My pockets 
were always full of notes written for home, 
and I had to slip them unnoticed into the 
return parcels. These, when met downstairs 
by the Commissar, were very often examined, 
and if a note was found in one of them the whole 
ward was punished. The whole 44 game ” was 
a very dangerous one, but we had to risk it to 
help each other. 

Sometimes the notes contained love messages 
only, but very often they formed quite a serious 
correspondence, giving evidence which could 
save people’s lives, upset the plans of the 
Cheka, save hidden treasures, and so on. That 


144 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


is why we all took this matter quite seriously, 
and were ready to risk our reputation and fall 
in disgrace, as we were the only people who 
could really do it. 

The days of home parcels were also of great 
importance on account of the possibility of 
communicating with the men. The working 
girls met the men carrying the men’s parcels 
downstairs, passed notes to them very cleverly, 
and got answers in return as well. 

By being on good terms with the wardresses, 
and after a considerable period of prison life, 
you could attain the favour of carrying down 
your own return parcel. It gave you the possi¬ 
bility of seeing your people through the small 
cage window while your parcel was handed 
to them. I used to see Mascha, who really saved 
my life in prison, nearly every time. 

She came twice a week during a period of 
over three months, got money from selling my 
things, found provisions, cooked them, and 
brought them to me, and all this she did in 
spite of having two children and being herself 
in poor health. She used to shout at me through 
the window any information she thought would 
be of any interest to me, but it always ended 
in tears, because she found me so changed in 
looks. The sailor also came sometimes to look at 
me through the window, and gave me cigarettes. 


HOME PARCELS 


145 


Towards the third month I was even allowed 
to come up close to the window and talk to 
Mascha for a moment. Naturally I liked this, 
and always looked forward to these days ; and 
yet it somehow upset me, for it always gave me 
such an ardent wish to go home, and I felt the 
bars of prison holding me more closely than 
ever on those days. 

Yet I had no one at home to wait for me. 
But think of the poor mothers, who saw their 
children through the little window, who saw 
them growing thinner and whiter, knew all 
their miseries, and could not help them in 
any way except by a smile and a kind word. 

We had a whole family in prison during a 
month—a mother and four daughters of six¬ 
teen, fourteen, twelve, and nine. They were 
very pretty girls, well brought up, and very 
affectionate to each other. The cause of their 
arrest was as tragically absurd as can be 
imagined. 

They had had a clock at home, a beautiful 
Empire clock, and they wanted to sell it, as 
money and food were getting scarce in the 
house. And as, in order to raise its price, 
they wanted to mend the mechanism, one of 
the girls took it to a watchmaker, in secret, of 
course, as all work except for the Government 
was forbidden. In a week the clock was to 

K 


146 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


be ready, and one afternoon she went to fetch 
it. For two hours she did not come back, 
and one of the sisters got anxious and went 
to see what had happened. When the second 
girl did not return, the mother went after 
hem, and later in the evening the other two 
girls went as well. It transpired that the 
watchmaker had been arrested for illegal work, 
and a “ trap ” arranged in his flat. Such 
“ traps ” are the real curse of every inhabitant 
of Soviet Russia, and is one of the favourite 
games of the Cheka. When they arrest any 
one they put soldiers into his flat for a certain 
period, depending upon the case, but some¬ 
times for several weeks. Everybody who comes 
into the flat during these days is arrested and 
taken to the Cheka. Very often the arrest of 
one person leads to fifty or sixty people, all 
quite harmless and innocent. 

I met a girl at the Shpalernaia who had 
felt faint in the street, having just come out of 
a hospital and being in poor health. Her 
fiance left her on the steps of the house, and, 
entering it, rang at the first door to ask for a 
glass of water. A soldier opened the door, and, 
having invited him to come in, then and there 
declared that he was arrested. The girl, nervous 
over his long absence, went up to the house and 
rang the same bell. The door opened, and she 


HOME PARCELS 


147 


was likewise arrested, and both were kept in 
prison for three weeks. She was quite ill in 
prison, and nearly died as a result. 

This is the reason why visiting or paying 
calls on people is quite out of the question. 
If you have not seen or heard recently of a 
person you are about to visit, you always risk 
falling into a 44 trap.” Many people going to 
see somebody on business put a toothbrush and 
a towel in their pocket in case the visit should 
end in the Cheka. 

So this mother and four girls fell into the 
44 trap,” and were transported to the Cheka, 
and later on to prison. They were questioned 
after two weeks only. No fault could be found 
w r ith them, and in a month’s time they were 
released. It hurt us all to see the poor children 
in prison. The elder ones were very silent 
and unsociable, but the youngest one, a clever 
child, got friendly with everybody, including 
the administration, who let her go about the 
place as much as she liked. Unluckily she got 
friendly with women who could do her no 
good, and we could all see how bad prison life 
is for such a child. In every prison one may 
see a notice hung up with the following in¬ 
scription : 44 Prison is not a punishment, but 

a cure ! ” In this child’s case prison 44 cured ” 
her only of a pure heart and mind. 


148 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


The only member of the family left at home 
and able to provide food for the prisoners was 
a small boy of six and an old friend of seventy. 
These two succeeded in making doubtful-looking 
pancakes and under-cooked gruel, which the 
child brought himself to prison. The mother 
was allowed to go and see him through the 
window, and was a tragic figure when she 
came back to her cell. I saw the little boy. 
His cap hardly reached the window, and he 
was very thin and pale, but he smiled so sweetly 
to cheer his mother, and pride was shining in 
his eyes from the thought that he was able to 
provide food for the family. 

We often had babies in prison, mostly infants 
who could not be taken away from their mothers. 
It was very tiresome to have them in one’s 
cell, as they were always ill and fretful, and 
cried all night long. Children are the most 
miserable creatures in Soviet Russia, and have 
a very hard time. They have no real childhood 
—that beautiful childhood filled with pleasures, 
sunshine, games, and sport. From the moment 
that they become conscious beings they have to 
participate in the worst hardships of life. They 
have to help in all the housework, they have 
to stand in constant queues to get the necessary 
food, and when at home they are cold, always 
cold, and hungry, and surrounded by worries 



HOME PAECELS 


149 


and worries only. At school they cannot get 
an adequate education : there are no books, 
no pencils, no copy-books, and it is also cold 
in school. They have to sit at their lessons 
in their overcoats, and their little hands are 
frozen when they write. The only pleasure is 
the meal they get at school. There food is 
scarce also—a plateful of soup, a tiny piece of 
bread, and a cup of tea with a sweet to it. But 
this seems quite profuse in comparison with 
the food that is to be got at home or at the local 
dining-rooms. 

At the Cheka children get a special ration, 
but in ordinary prisons they do not get even 
a piece of bread, and the mother has to feed 
them out of her own poor ration. 

At one time we had a small child of two 
in our ward. It was getting so sickly that we 
persuaded the mother to write to some friends, 
asking them to come and take the child. It 
was handed to them through the little window, 
like a return parcel. 



150 


CHAPTER XIII. 

SUPERVISING COMMISSIONS. 

Our monotonous life was often broken by the 
visits of various Commissions, which came to 
inspect prison conditions from different points 
of view. 

Questions concerning prisoners and the right 
of the Cheka to keep so many people in prison 
are often raised at the big meetings of various 
Unions or Associations, at which the Bolshevik 
Government comes into contact with the little 
there is of social life. The Bolsheviks who are 
not on actual Government service have illu¬ 
sions that their power is able to exist without 
the regime of terror practised by the Cheka, 
and are eager to combat against it, realising 
how the ways of the Cheka work to the detri¬ 
ment of the Communist party in the eyes of 
many of their followers and of the world in 
general. Therefore whenever a voice against 
the Cheka and its proceedings can possibly be 


SUPERVISING COMMISSIONS 


151 


raised, or whenever a wish to control its work 
may be expressed, without the risk of getting 
into its claws, it is done, and as a result 
control commissions are elected. 

During my three months at the Shpalernaia 
four commissions inspected the sanitary con¬ 
ditions because of epidemics raging in the town. 
We had the visit of three commissions from 
Workmen’s Unions; two commissions from 
Moscow, which was at the moment very much 
up against Petrograd and its separatist ways ; 
and simply individuals, who came just out of 
curiosity. 

Before such visits the administration took 
all necessary precautions to show the place 
in the best of lights. A superfluous cleaning 
of the cells was done in the morning; the 
prisoners were ordered to get themselves clean 
and tidy, and hope was always held out to 
them. They must keep quiet; they must not 
annoy the visitors by too many complaints ; 
they must look cheerful, and then they would 
be surely helped. 

Most of the prisoners, though knowing that 
nothing outside the Cheka could help them, 
were so miserable and sore at heart that they 
still wished to believe that this time perhaps 
some marvellous luck would befall them, and 
that help and release would be at hand. But 


152 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


the wise ones knew only too well that it w'as 
all a shameful farce, and that there was no use 
building hope on such visits. 

The Cheka always falls in with the plan of 
these commissions, and allows them to visit 
any prison under the guidance of one of its 
members and under the supervision of the 
administration. Great care is taken that they 
do not see the prisoners alone. Otherwise the 
Cheka is not at all afraid of such inspections, 
for no one is strong enough to fight against 
it or interfere with its way of proceeding. 

It amused me to watch the expressions on 
the faces and the attitudes of such visitors 
when they came to see us. Many years before 
I had myself visited the prison of our district 
town, so I could understand how those people 
felt while looking at all of us. When I paid 
my visit the prison was full of criminals, 
burglars and thieves, yet I felt somehow that 
I was intruding on those miserable wretches, 
and was shy and frightened of them. 

Our Shpalernaia visitors, although meeting 
quite another set of “ criminals,” by their 
sidelong looks at the door distinctly showed us 
that their one idea was to escape as quickly as 
possible. 

But they all came with good intentions. They 
all wished to better our fife, and we could feel 


SUPERVISING COMMISSIONS 


153 


that they sympathised with us, and that there 
was an element of enmity towards the Cheka 
in their attitude. 

The second Moscow Commission came at 
the end of May. The Cheka had passed a 
very limited amnesty on the 1st of May, and 
for this reason the Moscow Government, to¬ 
gether with the Pan-Russian Soviet, were against 
it. They decided to send a Commission to 
Petrograd, which would make a general in¬ 
spection of all the work of the Petrograd Cheka, 
and would examine all accusations of those 
who were imprisoned over three months and 
had not received a sentence or been released. 
The Commission received ample powers from 
the Government to demand any release they 
deemed fair. 

This time the Cheka seemed displeased and 
even rebellious, and consented to the work of 
this Commission only on the following terms : 
the Commission could look through any papers 
they wished, they could visit any prison they 
liked, they could interrogate the prisoners, but 
they would have no right to effectuate any 
release without a mixed Commission formed 
together with the representatives of the Petro¬ 
grad Cheka. These preliminaries cooled the 
work of the Moscow Commission at first, but 
having telegraphed to Moscow for greater powers, 


154 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


they went on with their work. They visited 
ail the prisons and prisoners’ camps in Petro- 
grad, looked through all the cases, interrogated 
a great number of prisoners, and prepared the 
release of at least 50 per cent of them. 

It was an exciting moment for the whole 
population of Petrograd, this fight between the 
all-powerful Cheka, who kept us in constant 
dread and horror, and the Government. If the 
latter won, our fife would be made much 
easier. 

So when this Commission came to visit our 
prison, we were all filled with a mad hope of 
justice and of a serious interest being taken in 
our fate. 

The Commission consisted of four members: 
a Bolshevik journalist, a small man of dis¬ 
tinctly Jewish origin ; an investigating officer 
from the Pan-Russian Cheka, with the face 
deeply marked with smallpox; a student; 
and a woman—all of them very uninteresting 
to look at. They were all alone with our Com¬ 
missar, but no member of the Cheka accom¬ 
panied them. They visited all the cells, spoke 
kindly to the prisoners, listened very attentively 
to all they had to tell them, and made copious 
notes. 

But the strangest thing was to come later. 
When they had finished with the inspection 



SUPEBVISING COMMISSIONS 


155 


of our prison, they went to the Commissar’s 
study, and asked to be left alone for a private 
conference. In half an hour’s time they sent 
for the Commissar, and announced that they 
wanted to see all the starostas, men and women. 
The Commissar was so taken aback by this 
unexpected demand that he immediately tele¬ 
phoned to the Cheka. He was told to fall in 
with everything the Commission demanded, 
but to watch very carefully over the prisoners 
and look out for what they did and said. 

To our amazement we nine starostas were 
suddenly summoned downstairs into the presence 
of the Commission. My cousin had already 
been released, and our head starosta was the 
pretty girl I have before mentioned. We were 
all taken so unawares by the whole of these 
unprecedented proceedings, so hurried down¬ 
stairs and so closely surrounded and watched 
by the wardresses, that we had no time to 
consult between ourselves, and the head starosta 
had only time to tell us to be very careful 
and very guarded in everything we said, long 
experience making her feel quite sure that 
this would prove better for everybody in the 
long-run. 

When we arrived downstairs the passage was 
crowded by all the men starostas and the ad¬ 
ministration. Excitement reigned everywhere. 


156 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


We women were asked first into the presence 
of the powerful Commission. On entering, we 
found the four members seated round the 
table with an evidently assumed air of bravado, 
but nevertheless showing signs of nervousness. 
The Commissar’s assistant, having entered with 
us, carefully shut the door, but was promptly 
asked to step outside by the journalist, as the 
members of the Commission wished to talk to 
the prisoners in private. The man looked 
very perplexed, hesitated a moment, and left 
as requested. The journalist deliberately went 
up to the door and locked it from the inside. 

We ourselves were so abashed and even 
frightened by this evident conflict with the 
Cheka that when the four poor insignificant 
individuals began to question us we were afraid 
to trust them. We felt from the very start 
that this would not bring any practical result. 
Though brave in their actions, we could see 
that they were not made of the stuff to success¬ 
fully oppose the Cheka. They were evidently 
not quite sure of themselves. 

The way in which they addressed us, and the 
fact that we were lined up in front of the table, 
certainly did not inspire us with confidence, 
and made the whole proceedings have an air 
more like that of an investigation. Conse¬ 
quently we immediately withdrew within our- 


SUPERVISING COMMISSIONS 


157 


selves, and were on our guard. They asked 
us about the prison rules, about the adminis¬ 
tration, about the wav in which we were treated, 
about the food, baths, doctors, &c. The head 
starosta, looking rather confused, answered all 
these questions very clearly, only stating the 
bare facts, and adding nothing to the detriment 
of the administration. The people on the Com¬ 
mission looked more and more disappointed, 
apparently feeling that we mistrusted them. 
Seeing that nothing was to be got out of the 
girl, they asked if some one else had anything 
to tell them. So I stepped out. 

This was just the time when my friend, the 
old gentleman, was taken dying to a prison 
hospital. I told them all about this, saying 
that his daughter belonged to my cell, and 
that therefore I would ask them to use their 
influence with the Cheka and arrange matters 
so that the girl could be taken with a soldier 
to her father and see him before he died. They 
consulted together a few moments, and then 
asked if I had a petition from this girl. As I 
did not have it, I asked permission to go to 
my cell and get her write it. This was 
allowed. 

Not wasting a moment, I dashed to the 
door, which I must say opened outwards, 
unlocked it, and opened it simultaneously. 


158 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Bump! It struck something hard, which I 
found to my surprise and discomposure was 
nothing less than the Communist head of the 
Commissar’s assistant, who was listening at the 
door and was taken unawares. This was a 
very awkward moment, as it happened in the 
presence of all the others who were outside. 
The only thing to do was to pretend that I 
had not noticed this. 

All the administration, being in the passage, 
rushed at me with the one question : “ What 
have they asked you ? ” Not wishing to answer 
them, I merely said that I had a petition to 
write for the Commission, and asked my wardress 
to accompany me upstairs. I may as well say 
beforehand that the petition brought no satis¬ 
factory results, and this, though damping our 
hopes, seemed to justify the attitude we had 
adopted towards the Commission. 

The men starostas were less careful than 
the women. They spoke against the adminis¬ 
tration, and complained that the prisoners had 
to give up to them the best of their food from 
home. The next day was a day of home parcels. 
The administration was furious, and we were 
not allowed to carry the parcels, nor could 
we see our people through the little window. 
All the parcels were so closely inspected that 
many notes were found and the owners pun- 


SUPERVISING COMMISSIONS 


159 


ished. The wardresses would not accept any 
of our food ; they were not allowed it. 

In a few days the Moscow Commission, 
having finished its work, met with the Com¬ 
mission from the Cheka in order to go over 
the releases. Taking all their courage in hand, 
and being backed up by telegrams from Moscow, 
our friends on the Commission presented a long 
list of people whose immediate release they 
claimed. 

“ On what grounds,” was the question. 

“ The depositions of the prisoners,” they 
answered. 

“We should like to examine them ourselves,” 
said the members of the Cheka. 

To this the Commission readily consented, 
and let the members of the Cheka go into all 
that the prisoners had said. After having 
thoroughly examined this precious document, 
the Cheka asked permission to express their 
opinion upon this subject. 

“ If you insist upon the release of all those 
people,” they said, “ we are willing to oblige 
you ; but you must bear in mind that no one 
can prevent us from arresting them the next 
morning for some other reason. You had better 
consider whether you are doing these people 
any good or not. You had better leave this 
matter in our hands, return to Moscow, and 


160 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


not interfere any more with us.” And they 
went. 

The releases were not insisted upon. What 
could be done against such satanical methods ? 
Not only was the Commission unable to do 
any good to the Petrograd prisoners, but their 
work made matters worse. Many prisoners 
had been too outspoken with them, and this 
was paid back to them by the Cheka. The 
work of this Commission and the good inten¬ 
tions of its members helped only to strengthen 
the position of the Cheka. 

We had also great trouble with the home 
parcels. With a lot of coaxing we regained 
our ground, but only through giving to the 
administration, as a present, the very best 
food of the day. When they had received food 
by certain accepted right we could cheat them 
out of the best, but now we could do it no 
longer. 

We had another visit, which is worth men¬ 
tioning. 

Word reached us that the President of the 
Cheka, Bakaieff, was going to pay us a call. 
We were all very interested in seeing him, for 
he was a real Bolshevik, in the worst sense 
of the word. He was a man without scruples, 
very cruel, had the blood of many thousand 
victims on his hands, and kept the whole 


SUPERVISING COMMISSIONS 


161 


population of Petrograd in a state of constant 
terror. 

One day, quite unexpectedly, the Commissar 
entered our cell, together with a small young 
man dressed in military clothes. He was neat, 
cleanly shaven, with a small clipped mous¬ 
tache. His face and whole expression looked 
very mild, and I would say that he was cer¬ 
tainly good to look at, especially his eyes, 
which were so extraordinarily clever and alive. 

He came in very quietly and shyly, holding 
a notebook and a pencil in his hands, in¬ 
quiring whether any of us wished to make an 
application. 

There was silence. We did not know and 
could not understand who this charming young 
man of about twenty-six could be. It was 
difficult to believe that this could be Bakaieff 
himself—the terror of the population. 

The young man made a few steps forward 
into the cell, and noticing an old woman in a 
corner, went up to her. 

“ Grandmother,” he said, “ what are you 
doing here ? You are too old to be in prison.” 

44 1 really do not know, my good man,” 
she answered. 44 1 am an old servant, and 
was arrested together with my mistress.” 

44 Give me your name,” he proceeded, 44 and 
I will order your release.” 

L 


162 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Then only we understood that this was 
Bakaieff. 

In a moment he was surrounded. Every¬ 
body rushed at him with applications; but 
he was very patient, very attentive to every¬ 
body, promising several releases, though mostly 
to peasant women. We could not believe our 
eyes or ears ; it was too strange to witness 
sympathy or interest in such a man. 

But when the Commissar applied to him 
for the release of the woman who had de¬ 
nounced our young head starosta, his face 
changed in a moment. He knew the woman. 
She had lived, as I told you, with a very re¬ 
nowned Bolshevik, who had himself been ar¬ 
rested, had escaped from prison, and was 
nowhere to be found. 

Bakaieff turned towards the woman, and 
fixing her with the eyes of a devil, full of 
hatred and cruelty, said two words to her. It 
was a name and something else that we could 
not catch. But she fell back from him fright¬ 
ened to death. We all stood dumb-struck 
around him, our hearts full of terror. 

Yes, here was the real man. He had dressed 
himself in sheep’s clothing, but there was the 
tiger within, which leapt out at the least 
provocation. 

He continued his round after that, behaving 


SUPERVISING COMMISSIONS 


163 


in the same bland manner in the following 
cells. We heard later that the aim of his visit 
was to see how his victims from the aristocracy 
behaved in prison. His conclusion was that 
they were just the same in all surroundings, 
proud in their sufferings and a head higher 
than the other classes. It was agreeable to 
hear this from a class hater. This was at least 
a genuine impression, and a tribute to the long- 
suffering of our class. 

And it is true that without any premedita¬ 
tion, and although separated, being in different 
cells, we all behaved in a similar way. While 
everybody was positively assaulting the man 
with all sorts of demands, we stood apart, 
and did not even attempt to address him. 
All his mildness and good manners did not 
give him the satisfaction of receiving any 
solicitations from us. He had to address us 
first in order to make us talk. Sister F. was 
very impressive and magnificent in her attitude 
towards the man, and struck him as some¬ 
thing quite out of the ordinary. As she kept 
very strict order in her cell, the prisoners did not 
rush at the man as they did in my cell. She 
introduced them herself, and asked him to 
look into their cases, but never asking a thing 
for herself. She had the advantage over me 
in knowing that Bakaieff was coming, and 


164 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


could thus prepare herself and the people in 
her cell. I was taken unawares, and just stood 
near and looked on. 

Bakaieff addressed me himself before he had 
disclosed his real character. He asked me my 
name and why I was there. I told him in a 
few business-like words why I was in prison. 

44 1 remember this affair very well,” he 
told me. 

44 And when will the case be looked into, if 
you please ? ” I inquired. 

I had news from outside that a writer, who 
had a certain influence over Bakaieff, had 
already asked him about me. Bakaieff had 
assured him not to be anxious on my behalf. 
He had given a promise to release me, saying 
that meanwhile I must have patience, and 
added that he considered that prison life for a 
short time could only do me good. This is why 
I was interested in his answer. 

44 Your case has not yet been brought before 
the Presidency of the Cheka, but I will see 
that everything is done for your release,” he 
assured me. 

The Cheka pretends that prison is a good 
lesson for a certain class of people. In, I should 
say, 50 per cent of all the cases, when no serious 
accusation can be forced on people, they keep 
them for a couple of months in prison, and 


SUPERVISING COMMISSIONS 


165 


when they consider that the lesson is learnt, 
they just give an order for the victim’s release. 

But while the lesson lasts, the Cheka does 
not lose time getting hold of the property 
of the “ scholar ” and using it for their own 
ends. In some cases they wait for money to 
be paid them for the release. 

Only when they see that they have got all 
that is possible to get out of the unlucky victim 
do they release the latter, without even giving 
an explanation of the arrest. 

I was sure mine was such a case, and decided 
to wait patiently for the happy moment of 
leaving the prison walls. 


166 


CHAPTER XIV. 

EXILE. 

But it happened that my conjectures were ail 
at fault. 

When I received news that my flat was un¬ 
touched, that the Cheka had only made a slight 
perquisition, leaving even the 10,000 roubles 
I had left on the table to pay for my prison 
food, and had sealed up only my bedroom, I 
began to be apprehensive. If the Cheka did not 
need my belongings, it could only mean that 
their viciousness was directed against my person, 
and this was far more disquieting. But again 
hope came to my assistance, and drove away 
all morbid thoughts and forebodings. 

One day, the 3rd of July, a day of home 
parcels, I thought I noticed a nervousness in 
the manner of the head starosta and Sister F. 
They talked in whispers to each other, and 
avoided talking to me. At two o’clock, about 
an hour before my parcel was to come (Mascha 


EXILE 


167 


always brought it regularly at three o’clock), 
Sister F. called me away from my work, and, 
holding me in a fond embrace, told me that 
she had bad news for me, that I was to be 
sent to Vologda on the following day. 

I was absolutely stunned at the news, and 
did not believe her at first. It seemed to be 
a mistake, for a few days before I had had 
news that some people were trying to arrange 
my transfer to a prison sanatorium. But 
Vologda ! Heavens, I absolutely refused to go 
there. To be far away from home, with no 
one to bring me food and care for me, in a 
strange town. This was too much ! 

But there it was, and I had to take it as it 
came. A well-meaning person, belonging to 
the prison staff, who had been very kind to 
me, had told the bad news to Sister F., asking 
her to prepare me for the event. Sister F. 
had known it since the early morning, but she 
dreaded breaking the news to me, and put 
off telling it till the last moment. The time 
had now arrived to tell me. She knew I should 
have to take measures to get extra things, and 
particularly money, which I could get only 
through Mascha, who was due to come in an 
hour. 

I was so upset that I could not put my wits 
to practical purposes. It is horrible to feel 


168 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


that some one has a right over you and that 
you have to comply and let yourself be ordered 
about. I have told already what an exile to 
Vologda meant. It was not the life there that 
was so hard, but then one is so far away and 
so soon forgotten. Many people have lived 
for years in Vologda, and no one has ever re¬ 
membered about them or troubled about their 
fate. 

It also meant that I had been tried and sen¬ 
tenced, as no one is exiled otherwise. This was 
very disagreeable. People who have received 
sentences are generally released later through 
amnesties, and of such there are two during 
the year—one on the 1st of May, the Workmen’s 
Day, and the other on the 7th of November, 
the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. 
If your term is under five years, you can hope 
to be released by the first amnesty ; if your 
term is over five years, the first amnesty can 
only shorten your term. 

Though my head was in a muddle, I calcu¬ 
lated immediately that I would probably be in 
Vologda till November, if I were not to be 
forgotten there entirely. My term could not 
possibly be over six months ! A lady who 
was caught crossing the frontier to Finland 
got one year, a woman caught selling spirits 
got six months, a proved spy got five years, 



EXILE 


169 


and speculators with from three to five million 
roubles got three years. But even this was 
not comforting, and four months in Vologda 
till November seemed far too much. 

My friend Mrs S. was also to be sent to 
Vologda, as well as the foreign lady who had 
given away our money from sheer fright when 
the word Vologda was mentioned to her. We 
both disliked this woman, and it was trying to 
have her share our exile. 

When I came upstairs to my cell in order to 
write a note to Mascha, Mrs S. knew already 
about her fate. She was very unhappy, and 
was crying bitterly, for she was sure they would 
not send her husband and brother with her, 
though they were both involved in the same 
case. The Cheka is very spiteful in this way. 
They are good psychologists, and know so well 
how to hurt people. Separating members of a 
family, specially husbands and wives, is their 
favourite game. 

I wrote a note for home, went down with 
my return parcel, and, not heeding anybody, 
put my head out of the little window and 
began talking to Mascha. I did not mind 
being punished in the least. To be sent to 
Vologda from a punishment cell or a common 
one was just the same. Poor Mascha, hearing 
my news, began sobbing, and could hardly 


170 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


hear and understand my instructions. Luckily 
the note was safe in the basket to explain 
everything later on. I begged her to get me 
money, as this was the principal thing I needed 
for the journey. But she could not promise 
to get it in so short a time. 

The wardress was quite amazed at my be¬ 
haviour, and, dragging me from behind by my 
skirt, was trying to shame me : “ Citizen Dou- 
bassoff, citizen Doubassoff,” she pleaded, “ you 
will get punished, and will get me into trouble. 
Do come away, I beg you.” 

There was a lot of work that day, and I did 
it with a vengeance, as I needed distraction 
from my thoughts. 

My last evening was a very cosy one. All 
my friends gathered into cell No. 31, and we 
had a cheerful evening round Sister F., making 
believe that nothing disagreeable was to happen. 

Next morning I got up as usual and went 
through all my duties. I had to pretend 
before the wardresses that I did not know 
anything about the journey. 

At nine o’clock we, seven women, were 
called out on to the landing, where a clerk 
announced to us officially that we were going 
to be sent to Vologda at eleven o’clock. We 
three pretended to show astonishment, but the 
other four women, who had not known their 


EXILE 


171 


fate till that moment, began crying and scream¬ 
ing. We remained quite calm. It struck me 
at that moment how difficult it is to strip the 
bourgeoisie of the privileges that class and 
money always bring. The Bolsheviks are using 
all possible means for the purpose, and yet 
they cannot rid themselves of the respect and 
deference towards this class which they have 
unconsciously inherited. Now was the reign 
of the democracy, and it seemed that all privi¬ 
leges should be on their side. But yet certain 
of them took great risks upon themselves to 
prepare me and my two companions for exile, 
while no one had troubled about the women 
of their own class included in our party. 

Twice during the morning the lady doctor 
of the prison invited me to come to her office, 
and poured some bromide down my throat. 
She thought it would give me more pluck, and 
it really helped me very much, as everything 
during this unlucky morning seemed to upset me. 

After the clerk had gone I went to my cell, 
and gathering all my 44 children,” asked them 
to choose another starosta. I tried to influence 
their choice, but did not succeed in doing so. 
They chose a very unsympathetic woman, to 
whom I felt loth to pass over all the papers, 
the cash of the cell, the Bible, prayer-books, and 
other small things. 


172 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Then, being freed from work, I began my 
packing. Many heavy things, such as blankets 
and pillow, had been brought to me from home 
during the past three and a half months, and I 
was ready to leave them all behind me, because 
of their weight. I was very weak then, and to 
carry heavy things seemed impossible. But my 
friends persuaded me to take everything with 
me, trusting that I should get somebody to 
help me on the road, and I was very glad 
eventually to have taken their advice, as I 
learnt later how impossible it is to get clothes 
in a provincial town during the present crisis 
in Russia. 

The head wardress, who came to my cell 
in order to search my belongings while I was 
packing, was very kind to me. She allowed me 
to go round to all the single and common cells 
to say good-bye. I was greatly upset by the 
sympathy they all showed me during my round, 
and came back to my cell loaded with presents, 
as each wanted to give me cigarettes or some¬ 
thing to eat on the way. When you know how 
little food and how few cigarettes each one has 
for himself, you appreciate this kindness a hun¬ 
dredfold. And I could not possibly refuse to 
take these gifts, for fear of giving offence. 
It was worse still when I was given money. 
The prisoners of three common cells joined 


EXILE 


173 


together and gathered all the money they 
had managed to get at great risks into the prison 
or had hidden from the searching wardress. 
It amounted to a considerable sum, and they 
positively insisted upon my taking it. 

But when I came upstairs to my cell my 
astonishment was great. The prisoners of our 
storey had succeeded in persuading the head 
wardress to allow special prayers to be said 
on behalf of Mrs S. and myself, who belonged 
to the upper storey. About a hundred people 
gathered for these prayers. Everybody prayed 
so fervently, and the words of the prayers 
were so beautiful, that it inspired me with a 
courage I so much needed. But nevertheless 
I was very unhappy, and quite ready to burst 
into tears. This was the second moment of 
my prison life when I felt I was losing my 
self-control, and again it came from the same 
feeling of offence. I could not bear to be 
exiled, to be ordered about by people whom 
I despised. 

But, as I have said, the deep-hearted sym¬ 
pathy of my fellow-prisoners gave me courage, 
and dulled this feeling of offence which was so 
strong in my heart. After prayers they all 
began saying good-bye, hugging me tenderly 
and crying over me as if I was going to my 
grave. I had a light brown silk blouse on, and 


174 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


the silk on my shoulders was quite darkened 
by the tears my companions let fall on it. 

Eleven o’clock arrived—the hour of depar¬ 
ture. We were taken downstairs and ushered 
into a very long and damp gallery with a 
counter running along one side of it. When I 
looked through the window I recognised that 
this was the place where those who are to be 
shot are gathered, and it was through this 
window that I had seen them from my cell. 
It was not at all a pleasant sensation to be 
there. 

We found a seat in a corner, and sat there 
very quietly, all seven of us very subdued, 
not saying a word, and each busy with her own 
sad thoughts. Then the door opened, and 
men prisoners began to come in. Mrs S. became 
very excited, looking for her husband. The 
poor girl was torn by two opposite feelings : 
she wanted her husband and brother to be 
with her, and at the same time she loathed 
the idea of their being exiled as well. They 
were both far from well, and prison had made 
them still weaker, and she was afraid that 
Vologda would be fatal for them. In the 
end the second feeling took the upper hand, and 
she felt great relief when she realised that they 
were not among the men prisoners. 

About sixty or seventy men were ushered 



EXILE 


175 


into the gallery. Dirty, unshaven, with uncut 
hair and in torn clothes, they looked dreadful. 
They also seemed very much frightened. I 
learnt later that, having been summoned to 
go to Vologda only five minutes previously, 
they had found hanging on the wall of this 
gallery, the use of which they knew well, a 
list of prisoners shot at the end of June, and 
over this list was written : 44 Sent to Vologda.” 
They thought that their fate was to be the 
same. The aspect of the seven women, sitting 
quietly in a corner and not looking as if some¬ 
thing terrible was awaiting them, gave them 
hope and courage. 

After we all gathered together the Com¬ 
missar, drunk as always, began calling out our 
names. Those called out had to pass into the 
courtyard. I was one of the first to be called 
out, and, being in the yard already, approached 
the chief clerk of the prison office and asked 
him kindly to inform me for how long I was 
sentenced. He answered me very rudely that 
I would learn this in the train. At that moment 
the Commissar came out, and, hearing our con¬ 
versation, took the lists from the clerk’s hands, 
and, having looked into them, told me : 44 You 
are sentenced to ten years.” And the other 
ladies ? 44 Mrs S. has three years, and the 

other lady has five years.” 


176 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


How dreadful, how unfair! I had had 
nothing to do with the whole business, and 
yet my sentence was the longest! I who had 
been so sure it would not be over six months ; 
now two amnesties would not save me. All 
this flashed in my mind, but noticing with 
what curiosity the Commissar was looking at 
me, I smiled and said: “ How stingy they 
are at the Cheka. Why did they not give 
me twenty years straight away while they 
were at it ? ” It seemed this produced the 
impression I wanted (I learnt this later on). 
When the Commissar came for the “ control ” 
that same evening, my cell No. 30 asked him 
about our departure, and he said : “ Oh, you 
know this Doubassoff, she is a very proud 
woman. When I told her about her ten years, 
she answered that she was ready to go through 
twenty years of prison for her father.” 

But though the bromide I had taken in 
such profusion during the morning helped me 
to look proud, I nevertheless felt far from it. 
I was positively crushed and very miserable, 
quite out of sympathy with everything and 
everybody. This meant at least a year more 
of prison, and I could be quite forgotten in 
Vologda for years and years to come. 

The heat was stifling; it was the hottest 
summer we could remember in the north of 


EXILE 


177 


Russia. We were put in rows, surrounded by 
an enormous number of soldiers, and then we 
moved out of the gates. When the gates were 
opened we saw a crowd of people gathered 
behind them, most of them relations and 
friends of the prisoners. News had already 
reached town that a party of prisoners was 
being sent to Vologda, and people came to 
see if their particular prisoner was of the 
number. This is the best possible moment to 
effect a flight. Our party alone reached Vologda 
in full number, all the others having lost two 
or three men, who fled just at the moment 
when the prison gates open and the crowd 
of relations and friends gathered behind the 
door moved towards the prisoners. 

My Mascha and her husband the sailor were 
there standing in the crowd. I could see that 
they were both greatly distressed ; but when 
I succeeded in shouting at them that I was 
sentenced to ten years, both husband and 
wife began crying, and it took them half the 
way to the station to get over it. In the middle 
of the road, seeing that I could not positively 
carry my things a step farther, the sailor asked 
permission of the soldiers to carry the weight 
for me, and little by little I succeeded in having 
both Mascha and him near me, so that we 
could talk together. 

M 


178 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


They told me that they had been waiting 
every day for my return home, and had cleaned 
and aired my rooms. They told me how nice 
and fresh my flat was, how my friends came 
constantly to ask about me, and of many 
other things that had so sadly to be left behind. 

“ But why have they given you such a severe 
sentence ? Even murderers get a lesser pun¬ 
ishment ! ” the sailor kept repeating all the 
time. “ What is your offence ? You were 
living so quietly, you were doing no harm to 
anybody.” I could not answer these questions, 
but nevertheless they touched me to the quick. 

The heat was terrific, and the prisoners could 
hardly walk, what with carrying heavy luggage 
and being so weak from prison life. Several 
men fainted in the street, and we had to stop 
and wait till they recovered. 

At the station we had to wait for at least 
two hours, standing in the hot yard surrounded 
by soldiers. I asked permission of one of them 
to have my people near me for a chat. Very 
amiably he answered: “I suppose I must 
allow it, as I know well that to-day it’s you 
who are in prison, but to-morrow it may be 
my turn. Circumstances are very changeable 
nowadays, and no one can be sure of avoiding 
prison.” So we three had a good talk about 
everything, making plans to sell my belongings 


EXILE 


179 


and send me as much money as possible. They 
had brought me some ten thousand roubles, 
but it was so little considering current prices, 
and I needed much more for my food. 

At three o’clock we had to say farewell and 
move towards the train. A prisoners’ van was 
waiting for us, a real prisoners’ van, with railings 
at the windows. When I saw it I forgot for 
the moment about my hard fate. The blow 
had passed away somehow, and a spirit of 
adventure took its place. I always tried to 
keep myself up in prison and in the life before 
it by trying to see the humorous side of life. 
The moment I saw the prisoners’ van all the 
humorous side of life came uppermost. To 
think of my going in a prisoners’ van like a 
real criminal! Will this not be fun to think 
about afterwards, when all the horrors are 
past ? Already it seemed quite amusing. 

At that moment a train full of passengers 
came in. Seeing us on the platform, they all 
came towards us as near as they were allowed, 
and tried to discover who we were. Every 
one of them thought that friends and relations 
might be amongst our number. The soldiers 
surrounded us more closely, not allowing any one 
to come too near, but nevertheless they passed 
us bread and cakes and cigarettes, which these 
strangers insisted upon giving to the prisoners. 


180 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Then we were ordered into the train. I had 
thought that, as in prison, we would be carefully 
separated from the men, but we were all 
ushered together into the same van. Mrs S. 
and I were among the first to get in, and, 
having rapidly surveyed the carriage, decided 
immediately upon our course. The van had 
no compartments, but only wooden shelves in 
three rows, one over the other, to serve as 
bunks. We decided upon the middle row, 
since it was not so high, and consequently 
not so hot, and we could lie undisturbed. We 
spread our coats on the boards, and, having 
our luggage round us, stretched ourselves on 
the shelves opposite one another. 

When the train moved out, the Commissar 
(there are Commissars of everything nowadays 
in Russia), a young sailor, opened a brief-case, 
took some papers from it, and began calling 
out names. At first we could not understand 
what it all meant, as he was handing the pris¬ 
oners small slips of paper. We soon understood, 
and found that he was distributing the sentences. 

In a moment the van was in a flutter. Men 
were running to each other showing their 
sentences, some with a feeling of great relief, 
and some with despair and heart-breaking 


moans. 


EXILE 


181 


When my name was called out I did not 
move, but asked the others to pass me my 
paper. A glimpse was enough to learn why 
I had received the ten years. As I have said, 
not a single word was asked about my family 
during my examination, and I had persuaded 
myself that I had preserved my incognito; 
but it seemed they had no need to ask me any¬ 
thing, as they had known all along who I was. 

The sentence is a type-written piece of paper, 
a quarter of a sheet in size. 

On mine was written as follows :— 


Extract 

from the minutes of the meeting of the 
Presidency of the Petrograd Cheka. 


Heard: 

Case Xo. 1185. 

Doubassoff, Irina Feodo- 
rovna, aged 32, noble¬ 
woman, ex-Maid of Honour 
to the Imperial Court, 
daughter of the renowned 
Admiral Doubassoff, at 
present clerk to the 18th 

Labour school. Gave S. 

a sum of 270,000 roubles 
towards the purchase of 
diamonds. 


Decreed: 

the said woman Doubas¬ 
soff to be sentenced to 
hard labour for ten years, 
and be deprived of the 
right of a release, before 
the expiration of her term, 
without the consent of the 
Petrograd Cheka. 


President: Bakaieff. 

Secretary: Kronberg 

Certified: Prokofieff. 



182 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


On the other side was written :— 

The term of punishment to be reckoned from 9/V 
1920 to 9/V 1930, after the expiration of which 
the arrested is to be released, wherever she may 
happen to be imprisoned. 

(Signed) President: I. Bakaieff. 

Secretary: F. Kronberg. 

(Here the seal of the Ex. Commission.) 

This changed the whole aspect of things for 
me in a moment. I lay smiling on my bed 
of boards. Yes, the sentence gave me all the 
courage I needed. It was then class hatred 
for which I had to suffer. It was a fight against 
my class in which I had to participate. I was 
ready to carry on this fight; my mind was 
already made up. I would not show a single 
sign of weakness; I would not even show 
that my fate touched me to the quick and 
made me miserable. The offence was gone. 
On the contrary, I could not be offended any 
more ; there was no room for it. The strictness 
of my sentence was a compliment in itself, for 
it meant that my persecutors considered me a 
serious enemy to their party. 

And the question arose in me : Why should 
they consider me such a serious enemy ? Not 
because I mixed in politics or worked against 


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Petrograd Cheka. \_and over 








3 


1 


1 










EXILE 


183 


their party, for they would have accused me 
of this without any doubt if they could have 
been able to find any reason for doing so. No, 
it was only because my life, my work, my 
way of treating people was the reverse of what 
they were trying to impress upon the working 
classes. Every one of the simple people who 
approached me, and those of my kind, saw for 
themselves that there was no harm in the 
bourgeoisie ; that the bourgeois were not the 
awful criminals and oppressors that they were 
led to believe. And I was in their estimation 
one of this hated number, destroying their 
theories of class hatred, so I had to be banished 
from society and held in prison. Once the posi¬ 
tion was clear I was ready to go on to the end 
of the fight, and prove in prison what I had 
been proving by my life at home. Oh ! how 
wonderfully it helps to have an aim in life. 
How much it has helped us all, and lightened 
the hard burden our class has to bear under 
the Bolsheviks. Yes, we had to be up to 
the mark. We had to show by our life and 
prove by our example that no hard manual 
labour belittles an educated person; that we are 
able to do all sorts of work, and that simple 
manual labour can be done by any one. But 
clever work, intellectual work, cannot be done 
by everybody. Illiterate men, though living 


184 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


in our houses, surrounded by our things, em¬ 
ployed by the Government, well dressed and 
manicured, cannot possibly come up to the 
level of an educated person, though the latter 
be hungry, tattered and torn, and abused all 
round. 

And now I had an aim. It came to me the 
moment I read my sentence. I had to prove 
that no prison life, no hard labour, no ill- 
treatment could change me from what I was, 
could not crush me under its weight, nor make 
me lose my self-respect. And I was ready 
to do this work at once. 

People round me, seeing me smiling and 
jolly, began asking me for how long my sentence 
was, and were amazed that ten years affected 
me so little. It was amongst the longest sen¬ 
tences. Only two or three of the men had 
the same. Others had a year, or three, or 
five. Some of the political prisoners had a 
special term, “ to the end of civil war,” and 
two men had very bad sentences—for life. 

This reminds me of the strange term given 
to one lady: “ to the end of the war with 

Poland.” And she had nothing whatever to do 
with Poland, having been arrested only because 
her husband was accused of high speculation. 

Up to that moment I had not paid any 
attention to my companions. They somehow 



EXILE 


185 


did not exist for me, and I had not noticed 
them. All my thoughts had been busy other¬ 
wise, but now my mood changed. Nothing 
really terrible had happened. I was alive, 
and knew that if I looked at things from a 
less tragic point of view, I might perhaps even 
find some redeeming points in the situation. 
So from this moment an interest in everything 
was aroused in me. Mrs S. and I made our¬ 
selves tidy, arranged our hair, and then began 
looking round. But the first survey was cer¬ 
tainly not encouraging. We could not see 
any one who appeared to be of 44 our set ” in 
all this collection of men—they looked so 
shabby, disreputable, and unkempt. 

But little by little, by the conversation of 
the men below us, we began to understand 
that they were, after all, educated people. 
We looked down and saw that they also had 
made themselves cleaner, had put on other 
coats, had brushed their hair, and had also 
become interested in their surroundings. Seeing 
our interest in them, one of them stood up 
and introduced himself. It seemed they were 
engineers, six of them, from the Mourman. 
They had occupied important posts at the 
time of the British Intervention in the north 
of Russia and had been left behind when the 
Red Army took back the Mourman coast. 



186 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

Hundreds of engineers, officers, officials of all 
grades were at that time arrested by the Bol¬ 
sheviks, dragged through the prisons of all the 
towns in the north of Russia—their number 
growing smaller and smaller through sentencing 
to death of so many. It was now over five 
months since each of them had been waiting 
daily and nightly for his own death-warrant. 
Twenty-eight of them reached the Petrograd 
Cheka, and these six in our van were the only 
survivors. Though sentenced “ to the end of 
civil war,” and one “ for life,” they were happy 
as children. At last death did not stand anv 
longer at their door, and they felt the most 
intense relief. I must admit that I was glad 
to hear from them afterwards that thev con- 

L> 

sidered I looked wonderfully brave and jolly 
in such awful surroundings and under such 
circumstances. 

I had not travelled for two years, and my 
last journey had been a very comfortable one, 
from the Caucasus to Moscow in a special car. 
But I did not much mind the present car and 
my hard berth. I enjoyed moving past beauti¬ 
ful forests and green fields. I love the country, 
and had always spent six months of the year 
on our estate ; but during the last three summers, 
owing to the revolution, I had been obliged to 
remain in town, with no possibility of getting 



EXILE 


187 


out for a breath of fresh air and a look at the 
country. So here at last I could enjoy the 
sight of it; the bars did not interfere in the 
least. Like small children we all enjoyed the 
sight of a cow, of a small piggy running round 
the station, and the singing of the birds. We 
waited so long at most of the stations that we 
had the time to hear the birds singing. It was 
all wonderful, a feast for the eyes ! And the 
change in the trend of our thoughts, which only 
Nature can give to a tired and overwrought 
human being. 

We persuaded the soldiers to let us have 
a run at the stations, to let us walk on the 
green grass, to let us pick a flower. They 
were kind-hearted men, and let us have our 
treat, guarding us nevertheless all the time. 
As the day was extremely hot—no water was 
to be had in the van, and we were thickly 
covered with dust, which came in through the 
open windows—they let us run out at every 
big station to have a wash under the station 
tap. It was delightful to cool oneself with 
the clean cool water, to dip one’s arms deep 
down into the reservoirs. 

The soldiers brought hot water at the stations, 
and we drank coffee with our new friends. 
An hour after we had started, bread and her¬ 
rings were distributed among the prisoners, as 



188 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


well as a spoonful of coffee and a few lumps 
of sugar. The herrings smelt so strong that 
they spoilt the whole air in the van. We gave 
up ours, Mrs S. and I, to some hungry prisoners. 

When night came it looked as if sleep would 
be quite impossible. The boards were so hard, 
and then the van was one of the first ones on 
the train, and had certainly no Pullman springs. 
It shook and bumped to such an extent that 
it was even hard to lie still. I was blue all 
over after this journey, and could not lie or sit 
without pain for several days afterwards. But 
nevertheless I fell asleep very quickly, ex¬ 
hausted from the experiences of the day, and 
slept nearly all night. Once only Mrs S. woke 
me up. She was in great indignation, and was 
protesting violently. Her neighbour, a dirty 
little Jew, who slept near her on the next 
board, had found her pillow nice and soft, and 

put his head on it. She woke up to find the 

* 

dirty head near hers on the pillow, and the 
owner of it sound asleep. 

The Commissar of our van, who was my 
neighbour, was quite a nice man, very gentle 
with the prisoners. We spent ail the next 
morning talking together. 

He came up to me and asked me why I had 
been arrested. This is always asked of prisoners. 


EXILE 


189 


and I hated the question. It is such a nuisance 
to answer it, and in my case I did not even 
know what to answer. And every one of these 
new companions of mine in the train, the 
whole van-load, was asking each other the 
same question. I did not want to answer 
them rudely, nor did I want to explain my 
business to these unknown people. So I in¬ 
vented a way of putting people off : I always 
answered then, and later on in Vologda, that 
I was a professional thief. I always saw a 
frightened and disappointed and often a dis¬ 
trustful face, but people did not bother me 
any further. Many amusing incidents occurred 
because of this answer, and many people were 
deeply offended by my joke. 

But I did not want to answer the Com¬ 
missar in that way, as I liked him, and he 
interested me. So I just handed him my sen¬ 
tence. He read it very carefully, and gave it 
back, saying, “ Yes, you have committed 
many sins against the present Government.” 
But by the uncertain voice in which he spoke, 
and by his whole aspect, I felt immediately 
that he was not in earnest. And I suddenly 
wished to change this man, to bring him round 
to my point of view. He seemed of the right 
material, and perhaps I might help him to 


190 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


get out on to the straight road, so I began 
talking to him. I told him about my educa¬ 
tion, about my life on the estate, about my 
knowing all the manual work of a peasant, 
about the life and interests of our class ; and 
then I went further and talked to him of my 
father, his love for the Tzar and his country, 
his untiring work for its welfare, not because 
of money or position but because of duty 
to his country, with no personal motives ; and 
then I compared all this with the standard of 
the present rulers. 

The man proved really to be of the right 
material, and at the end of a two hours’ talk, 
he not only agreed with all I had said but 
acknowledged that he was disappointed in his 
party and in his work. He owned he loathed 
his work at the Cheka; he had been elected 
for this post for six months by his “ fleet com¬ 
mittee,” but he wanted to ask for leave to 
return to his work in the fleet. He owned 
that he disliked the goings on at the Cheka, 
and now, after our conversation, said he had 
quite decided to take all measures to be recalled 
from his post. “ This will be my last journey ; 
I hate hurting people as you.” 

He asked whether I had all my things with 
me, for if I needed anything from home he 


EXILE 


191 


could send it on to me ; and he became like a 
father to me from this moment, so gentle and 
considerate in his attitude. It was the same 
as with my sailor: they were both idealists; 
they believed in the brotherly theories of 
Socialism, but could not agree with the way 
they were being put into practice. 


192 


CHAPTER XV. 

VOLOGDA. 

A short time after noon we reached our 
destination, the town of Vologda, situated 
about six hundred miles to the north-east of 
Petrograd. It is the administrative centre of 
a very vast Government, occupying a territory 
nearly as large as the territory of France, but 
sparsely populated. Half of the territory is 
covered with beautiful virgin forests, and it 
is one of the many parts of Russia that has a 
great economic future. 

When the train stopped, the Commissar did 
not allow us to alight until the other pas¬ 
sengers had all left the platform. Then the 
soldiers were stationed round the van—our 
soldiers of the train and a whole company who 
had met us—and we were ordered to get out. 
We found two men, who undertook to carry 
our luggage for bread, so we were free of heavy 
bags. The heat was still stifling and the sun 




VOLOGDA 


193 


scorching. The way was very long, so it seemed 
better for us to give away our bread than to 
become entirely exhausted. 

We had to walk through the whole town, 
and crowds collected to see us pass. We were 
marched through the middle of the street, with 
soldiers round us. The road was very hard, 
and the streets were paved with big round 
stones, very uneven and hot from the sun. 

I quickly got tired, and began stumbling 
at nearly every step. Seeing this, the sailor 
Commissar invited me to come and walk with 
him on the pavement, and I was glad of it 
for two reasons. First, it was much softer 
and much more agreeable to walk in the shade 
of trees ; and secondly, I drew no attention to 
myself from the crowd. It is a nuisance when 
everybody is staring at you with curiosity, but 
still worse when it is accompanied with pity. 

The Commissar told us that our destination 
was the prisoners’ camp for hard labour and not 
the prison. I did not grasp the difference ; I 
only understood that it was something we were 
to be glad of. But afterwards I fully appre¬ 
ciated the difference. 

In the prison, life was just the same as in 
the one where I had been in Petrograd. The 
camp is different, because it is a place for 
guarding the prisoners, who have to carry out 

N 


194 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


their sentence by working for the State. These 
prisoners are kept less strictly than in prison, 
and have their work outside the prison walls. 
All the educated people are appointed to serve 
in the various offices of the camp and town, 
and the illiterate ones do manual labour for the 
camp itself and for the Government institu¬ 
tions. All prisoners are taken from the camp 
in the morning by soldiers, who are supplied 
by the employers and who are armed with 
rifles. These soldiers guard them while working 
and bring them back to the camp in the evening, 
with a certificate that the work has been carried 
out. A special office registers this daily work, 
and receives the pay from the employers. 
75 per cent of the prisoner’s salary is handed 
to the camp for the maintenance of the prisoner, 
and 25 per cent is left for the worker. This 
25 per cent is handed to the prisoner only at 
the moment of his release, and then so many 
difficulties are made at the office that only the 
very poor have the patience to get it out of the 
clutches of the prison administration. People 
are always so happy to be free that if they 
can manage to get home without this money 
they do not bother about it at all. 

As I have said, the way to the prison camp 
was a hard one. Everybody was so weak that 
we had to stop many times for a rest, and it 


VOLOGDA 


195 


was about two hours before we reached our 
destination. 

The prisoners’ camp is situated well outside 
the town and on the bank of a large river. 
It is a large and very ancient building, sur¬ 
rounded with whitewashed walls, and looks 
quite picturesque. Big gates with a portico 
form the entrance. 

When we arrived the gates were shut, and 
the administration stood waiting for us out¬ 
side, while in the portico stood small tables, 
at which clerks were sitting. Each of us had 
to go up to these clerks to be registered in the 
books, searched, and then led through the 
prison gates. 

The clerks were asking each prisoner his 
profession, and I hadn’t any. So I decided to 
be one of the last—to wait and see what I 
had better say. 

Mrs S. and I put our luggage in a shady 
corner, sat down on it, and opened a con¬ 
sultation upon this subject. We considered 
this question to be of great importance for 
our future, and therefore could not decide what 
it was best to say. The Commissar sailor 
came up, and we asked him to help us in the 
choice of our profession; which was the better 
to decide on—a manual or an office profession ? 
We asked him also to try and arrange that 



196 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


we should have a separate cell for ourselves. 
He went willingly to the camp office to make 
the necessary inquiries, and came back telling 
us that we had better register ourselves as 
typists, but that no separate cells existed in 
the camp, and we would have to content our¬ 
selves with a common one. He promised also 
to help us at the search. 

We gathered our belongings and moved 
towards a table with a feeling of great reluct¬ 
ance at having to enter another prison. The 
clerk was very friendly, being himself a prisoner, 
and he wrote us down as typists before we had 
said it ourselves. The search was practically 
not carried out, because of the Commissar 
sailor, and the gates shut behind us with a 
very dreary sound. But luckily for all our 
party food was allowed to be brought freely 
into camp. Later the arriving parties were 
robbed of every parcel of food, and came into 
camp without anything to eat. On the first 
day prisoners are not provided with food from 
the camp. 

The Commissar sailor came up to say good¬ 
bye. He shook hands in a very friendly way, 
and wished me to fare well. Then he took 
me aside and told me in a hurry : “I promise 
you that I will not work any more at the 
Cheka.” 


VOLOGDA 


197 


The head starosta of the women’s ward, a 
rather unsympathetic Jewess, received us under 
the gateway, and took us to our ward through 
the big courtyard. 

A very big mansion, with ancient towers 
at the corners, stands in the middle of the 
big courtyard. This is the men’s ward. A 
small one-storied house stands on the right—it 
is the women’s ward ; and over the gates is a 
big three-storied building for the administra¬ 
tion and the office. 

Our house contained three very large cells, 
each for thirty prisoners, a very bad sort of 
lavatory, a separate room for the sick, a room 
where a big kettle with hot water was boiling 
all day, and three small workshops. 

The starosta took us both into her cell, and 
we were shown two beds adjoining each other. 
They could not exactly be called beds : three 
rather thin planks were fastened to the wall 
by one end, with the other resting on a kind 
of two-legged trestle. Thirty of such beds 
stood round the room, with their heads against 
the wall, and in the middle of the cell was a 
large table, surrounded by wooden benches. 
The building was a very old one ; the high 
walls and the ceiling w^ere filthy, with dark 
spots of damp on them, and the two windows 
had bars. 



198 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Some rather nice-looking women were having 
their tea at the table, and they looked at us 
rather suspiciously and not in a very friendly 
way. This unsympathetic welcome with the 
dreary surroundings and the fatigue we felt 
did not make us very happy. We sat on our 
boards and looked miserably at each other. 
Life seemed too hard, and we did not see any 
way out of it. 

Then a hospital nurse came in, and every¬ 
thing changed in a moment. She was a lady ; 
I could see it immediately. She was very tall, 
rather stout, with the stoutness of very kind 
people, and she had a beautiful face. Lovely 
large blue eyes were set in a face with quite 
royal features. She came up to us, and in a 
very cheerful way asked us to come up to 
the table and have tea. Little by little every¬ 
body joined in the conversation. They were 
eager to have news from Petrograd ; and then 
we began to ask them questions about Vologda 
and about themselves. Listening to them, my 
heart began to sink lower and lower. Nearly 
all of them had been in Vologda for over a 
year, eighteen months, twenty months, two 
years, and more. No amnesty had ever reached 
them. Their papers were lost at the Petrograd 
Cheka, and they were sure that they were 
quite forgotten. 


VOLOGDA 


199 


But these women related all this with a 
smile and in such a courageous way that I 
became ashamed of my downheartedness. I 
had no right to mourn my fate. It had been 
till now a much lighter one than the fate of 
all these brave women, and I had to keep up 
my courage and to thank God for all His help. 

A warm Russian bath helped to wash away 
all the traces of the hot and tiring journey, 
except the bruises with which I was covered. 
We changed into clean clothes, and became 
eager to inspect our new home. 

We were allowed to sit in the yard till ten 
o’clock in the evening, so we went and sat in 
a corner on a wooden bench near the wall. 
We were very much interested to see all the 
other prisoners, to discover if any friend or 
acquaintance of ours was to be found in the 
camp. 

Most of the prisoners were still in town at 
their work. At six o’clock hundreds of them 
began to come through the gates. There were 
five hundred prisoners in the camp, a hundred 
women and four hundred men. We sat and 
watched them coming in. The types were very 
different. The women were mostly ladies, of 
all ages, who came home with baskets in their 
hands, bringing food - supplies for themselves 
and for their friends who had not left camp 


200 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


on that day. The peasant women were mostly 
kept for the work in camp, laundry, and kitchen 
garden. 

The men were all of different types. Peasants, 
soldiers—deserters from the Red Army, railway 
officials of all grades, artists with long hair and 
broad cloaks, well-dressed men in civil clothes; 
but mostly officers. A third of all the men 
prisoners were officers—“ white officers,” as they 
are called. Some of them wore the colours of 
their guard regiments quite openly. 

Most of the prisoners of our party were in 
the yard, and both groups seemed interested 
in each other. It is an exciting moment, the 
arrival of new prisoners ; it is of great import¬ 
ance not only in the camp but in the whole 
town, and in a few hours some of the sentences 
are even known all over the place. 

While the old prisoners washed and made 
themselves respectable after the work in town, 
they learnt already who the new-comers were. 
The first step towards mutual acquaintance 
was made by the head starosta of the camp, a 
position which gives great influence with the 
administration. He is a go-between between 
the administration and the prisoners, and the 
administration takes him very seriously. He 
was a man of a pronounced Armenian type, 
very sunburnt and with a jolly face. 





VOLOGDA 


201 


“ Miss Doubassoff,” he addressed me, “ the 
moment you crossed the prison gates we all 
knew that you have a beautiful voice, and 
therefore we would be very glad if you would 
consent to join our artistic circle.” 

I was entirely taken by surprise. I had 
never sung in my life, and I tried to tell him 
as much, but he still persisted. Seeing my 
growing astonishment he led me aside, and 
explained that new-comers had to go through 
several weeks of manual labour before being 
allowed to work in an office in town. The 
artists are relieved of such work, and that is 
why he so kindly insisted upon my singing. 
I was very touched by such an attention and 
allowed him to inscribe me as a singer, telling him 
at the same time that I had no wish to escape 
manual labour, and was prepared to go through 
all the work. 

“You just wait and see. You will soon 
have enough of this work, and the c artistic 
circle 5 will give you a means of escape. All 
the same, I have not the possibilities of making 
you a member of our circle to-day, so you will 
have to go through a few days of manual 
labour,” he said. 

Then the officers and the other men came 
up and introduced themselves. They all kissed 
my hand, as is the habit in Russian Society, 


202 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


and I had a queer feeling of being in a salon, 
receiving my acquaintances, instead of being in 
a prison camp. 

The strangest impression of that day came 
in the evening. A play was performed in the 
main building, and as it was the first time 
that the administration had allowed a real 
show, all the old prisoners were greatly excited 
and full of interest for this event. I must say 
that it struck me as such a terrible discord 
that I could not make myself feel interested in 
the great event. 

After supper we went to the show. It was 
a drama, and our nerves could not possibly 
bear it; Mrs S. and myself could sit through 
one act only. So we went out into the yard, 
and there we found our friends of the train, 
the Mourman engineers. It appeared that they 
could not stand the thing either, and as they 
could not go to bed because the theatre was 
their bedroom, they lay on the grass in the 
yard. A link of real friendship was established 
between us at that moment; it was so good 
to feel able to understand each other. They 
eventually became my warmest friends and 
greatest support during the seven months I 
spent in Vologda. 

We went back to the show when we heard 
music, for it happened that a professor of the 


VOLOGDA 


203 


Petrograd Conservatoire was amongst the pris¬ 
oners. He played beautifully on an old broken 
piano—it seemed to me I had never heard 
anything so wonderful. Then a famous guitarist 
played well-known tzigan songs, and this we 
enjoyed, as it was soothing to the nerves and 
quite agreeable. 

At eleven o’clock the show ended. We 
parted with our friends and went back to 
our cell. I had suffered the whole evening 
from acute pains in all my limbs as a result of 
the journey, and when I came to my bed of 
bare boards I could not make up my mind to 
lie down. I put my thin blanket under the 
sheet as well as all the extra clothes that I 
had, but still the bed was so hard that I could 
barely sleep. Later on I got a big linen bag 
from the administration, had it properly washed, 
and filled with fresh straw. It served as a 
mattress, and then my bed seemed to me a 
wonder of softness, and I enjoyed its comfort 
and luxury every night of my forced stay in 
the camp. 


204 


CHAPTER XVI. 

EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP. 

At six o’clock next morning every one began 
to stir. We also were told to get up and dress. 
Hot water was ready at seven o’clock, and 
we had our tea. Four hundred grams of bread 
is distributed to each prisoner in the morning, 
and hot water may be had in abundance. 
Every three days we got from three to four 
spoonfuls of sugar and one spoonful of coffee. 
At seven-thirty the whole yard began to fill 
with men for parade. They were put in rows 
according to cells, and the Commissar of the 
Camp, with his assistant, the chief of the prison 
guards, and a whole army of other officials 
with lists in their hands, came up to each row 
and called the roll. This was the control. 

I was seven months in the camp, and twice 
a day we were controlled, evening and morning, 
but it was always a muddle ; several people 
were usually missing, and several extra ones 


EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 


205 


turned up. No one heeded this disorder, and 
the next day it was the same thing over again. 
Women were controlled in the passage of our 
building, where we also had to stand in rows, 
each cell separately. 

After the control, people began to be called 
out for work. The name of each office was 
called out in the yard, and the prisoners who 
work in this particular office collected near the 
gates. They were counted, their names were 
verified, a receipt signed by the armed convoy, 
who takes them in charge for the day, and the 
whole company is marched off till six o’clock 
in the evening. 

With what envy I looked at these people ! 
They were out of the prison gates, they would 
walk in the streets, they would mix with free 
people, while such comparative freedom was 
yet unattainable for me. 

Suddenly we heard our names called out, 
my friend and I. A very cross-looking old man 
got hold of us and told us to follow him. It 
was the gardener. 

He took us to the kitchen garden of the 
camp, situated between the camp and the river, 
and made us work for him all day. The heat 
was something awful; no shade whatever was 
to be found. Weak in health and not accus¬ 
tomed to so much air, with aching backs from 


206 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


being bent all day, we had to weed the onion- 
beds. We were given no tool to do it with ; 
all the hard dry earth had to be dug up with 
our finger - nails. We were truly miserable 
wretches, with scorched backs and haif fainting 
from the strong sun when we came back to 
dinner at twelve o’clock. 

The dinner, the only meal of the day, con¬ 
sisted of a thin soup and the ration which 
had been already served out in the morning. 
Those who were employed in town, not being 
there at twelve o’clock, did not receive any 
meal at all. After dinner the same work had 
to be carried on for another four hours, and 
only then we were free to rest. Such work 
lasted for a few days only, as the weeding of 
the onion-beds was finished, and no other 
work was at hand. But I am sure this was 
no other than the high protection of the head 
starosta, who was at work on our behalf. 

That same day we were both registered in 
the lists of the artistic circle, and were ordered 
to paint programmes, being told confidentially 
to do the work as slowly as possible. 

This rest lasted for several days, and then 
came the washing of floors. 

Once already we had done this in Vologda, 
but it had only been a prelude to the hard 
work. 


EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 


207 


One evening, as we were sitting in the yard 
after having spent the whole day in the kitchen 
garden, I saw one of the chief warders take 
our starosta aside and give her some order. 
Apparently she did not like it, but agreed, and 
he went away. Then she called me and said : 
“ Miss Doubassoff, there are women washing 
floors in the rooms of the Commissar and on 
the main staircase. The Commissar has sent 
an order that you, as Maid of Honour, and the 
two ladies with ribbons in their hair, must 
come and take their place. Please do not 
argue, but go and do the work. I know that 
you are tired, but the best policy is to con¬ 
sent without a word.” 

The two ladies with ribbons in their hair 
were Mrs S. and a girl who had come with 
us to Vologda. I called them and told them 
about the work. They began to protest, saying 
that they had done already the eight hours 
of manual labour, but I implored them to 
come and show by our behaviour that such 
treatment did not affect us in the least. 

As we had only one pair of worn-out shoes, 
we went to our cell and took them off. Then, 
barefooted and with sleeves and skirts tucked 
up, we marched through the yard. The men 
jumped up from their seats on seeing our 
array and, learning what was the matter, began 


208 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


protesting loudly that the Commissar had no 
right to do this, that he was making sport of 
us ; but we calmed them down and went to 
work. 

Since the washing at the Cheka I had not 
touched floors, but I was so eager to do it 
to the best of my ability that it was done 
very well. We washed every corner, washed 
the banisters and the window-panes, joking 
and laughing all the while, making believe it 
was an amusement and not hard work. The 
Commissar stood in the room which was being 
washed almost the whole of the time, with 
sullen face and legs apart, and looked small 
and ashamed of himself. The heavy part of 
carrying hot water up three stories from the 
yard below was done as a favour by the guards- 
soldiers, who enjoyed the “ joke ” immensely. 

When we had finished, the soldiers called us 
aside. 

“ You have done the work so well that if 
you really wish it we can treat you to a walk 
in town to-morrow for three hours, without 
the knowledge of the Commissar and while he 
is away,” they said. 

We were very pleased at this ; in fact, we 
were quite ready to do more hard work for 
such a treat. 

The next day, in the afternoon, a soldier 


EVEEYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 209 

came to fetch us, and led us out of the prison 
gates. In three hours’ time we had to be back 
at a certain place, where he was to come and 
fetch us. 

When we were outside we stopped and 
looked at each other with silly radiant faces. 
We were so happy, so really happy, that we 
were ready to hug the first stranger we met. 
For three hot hours we roamed round the town, 
looking at each free man with the greatest 
envy and at the same time with astonishment. 
I remember having the same feeling at the 
war, when I had the chance of looking at German 
life through a telescope. It seemed so strange 
to realise that people so near each other had 
such different points of view. The same feeling 
returned here : two people crossing each other 
in the street—one a free man, the other a 
captive. 

Being tired of walking we lay on the green 
grass near the river-side, looking up at the 
beautiful blue sky, and could not believe that 
no one was watching us, no one was ordering 
us about, and that we were for the moment 
free. 

But the feeling of being a prisoner was a 
curiously strong sensation with me. When a 
little child came up to us and wanted to play 
I could not make myself touch it. Though I 

o 


210 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


knew well that I was not a criminal, and though 
my conscience was quite clear in this respect, 
nevertheless I felt myself a prisoner, and it 
seemed to me that my touch would be as a 
desecration to the clean little soul near me. 
I had this feeling for a very long time after¬ 
wards, and could not get rid of it, though my 
reason and my friends ridiculed it greatly. 

I think I will never forget the feeling of 
childish happiness I had on that day, to be 
with Nature and in Nature without a warder 
behind. The sun seemed warmer and the 
river cooler, and the grass fresher and of a 
special hue to my responsive brain and sharpened 
feelings. 

But the happy hours ended, and we had to 
go 44 home.” After this wonderful walk and 
this unseemly freedom the prison gates seemed 
to clink with a more solemn sound, the prison 
walls seemed higher than ever, the cell drearier, 
and the bed harder. 

Next week it was washing the floors every 
day and all day long, and as it was a regular 
work, no treat would follow in its wake. The 
whole of the men’s ward had to be washed. 
It was a filthy job, which I loathe to remember 
even now. The beds were immovable, therefore 
one had to crawl under them, nearly flat on 
the floor, while vermin fell upon you from the 


EVEBYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 


211 


beds above. Bugs were all over the place as 
well as lice. My hands got blistered and swollen 
from the dirty water, and my feet were full 
of splinters ; but there was no getting away 
from it. The first few days we worked with 
patience, though it was hard. Then little by 
little we began to try and escape the watchful 
eyes of the warder, or asked other women to 
help us for our bread ration. Some men took 
pity on us, and helped to wash under the beds. 

At last the work was done, and as a reward 
we were sent to the Hard Labour Register 
Office, some three hundred yards beyond the 
prison gates. It was clean work, and there 
was not very much of it, so we could sit quietly, 
counting or writing and resting from manual 
labour. We had to be at our office at nine o’clock, 
work till one o’clock, go for an hour to camp 
for dinner, come back at two, and work till 
four o’clock. From four to six we were free, 
the Commissar of the office taking upon himself 
the responsibility of our being back in camp 
at six o’clock. So two hours of perfect freedom 
we enjoyed every day, lying mostly on the 
river-bank, and often having a dip in the water. 

So you see we were rather well off. We 
suffered from one thing only, and that was 
want of food, or, to say the truth, from real 
hunger. We had no money with which to buy 


212 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


provisions. The little we had brought was 
all spent, and no more came from Petrograd, 
notwithstanding our letters. At the same time, 
being all day in the fresh air, with windows 
open in the office and all night in the cell, we 
began to gain in health, and our appetites 
increased every moment. Many people pro¬ 
posed to lend me money, but I did not want 
to take it, for I did not know what had hap¬ 
pened in Petrograd after my departure, whether 
perhaps all my things had been taken away 
by the Cheka, and I might never be able to 
return the money. 

During those few weeks, and until we got 
money and arranged our lives better, I knew 
what real hunger meant. When we came home 
from work and had only a crust of black bread 
for our supper, and I saw the others having 
dishes of gruel or meat and butter with their 
bread, such a pain used to grip me in the 
stomach that I had to get out of the cell with 
tears in my eyes. It was a very unpleasant 
feeling. And the dreams ! I never used to 
dream in all my life, but at this time my nights 
were haunted by dreams about all sorts of 
delicious dishes, making my mouth water. Books 
with descriptions of meals in them could not 
possibly be read at such moments. It was 
only then that I noticed that practically every 


EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 


213 


book describes a meal or food in some way or 
other—in an average of one per ten pages. 

There was a tiny little garden behind our 
cell, and Mrs S. and I used to hide there when 
we were too hungry. This dilapidated little 
garden was quite deserted in the evenings, 
for every one was in the yard. There we used 
to sit and cry, not because we were so very 
unhappy, but because we were weak and 
hungry. 

A professional thief once found us there. 
Learning that we were hungry and too proud 
of showing it to other people, he used to steal 
fish and vegetables in town while discharging 
barges of their cargo. He made a nice soup of 
it all in the evening, and used to bring us a 
big plateful each. To my shame I must own 
that I ate this stolen food with the greatest 
pleasure, and the man showed such a lot of 
simple human feeling that it was impossible 
to refuse. He proposed to bring us butter from 
town as well, but when we understood that he 
had to steal it specially for our benefit, we 
refused. 

Hunger made me look for other work. As 
you perhaps know, most of the institutions at 
present in Russia, in addition to wages, give 
food rations to their officials. These rations 
are very irregular in different institutions. 



214 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


Prisoners have no right to get such rations, 
as they are supposed to get all the food they 
need at the camp. But an unwritten law, the 
result of human feeling, has made it a rule 
that a prisoner, working in a certain institution, 
gets the same ration as the free workers, not¬ 
withstanding his prison one ; and I began to 
look for a place where I could get an extra 
ration. 

My friends, the engineers, after having also 
gone through two weeks of manual labour— 
discharging boats of their cargo, sawing wood, 
&c.,—had been summoned by a technical office, 
which supervised all roads and bridges in the 
northern district. They got a small ration and 
a dinner after the work. I liked these men, 
and wanted to work with them. One of them 
asked his Commissar to take Mrs S. and myself 
as clerks. He willingly consented, and a paper 
was accordingly written to our office asking 
that we be sent to work there. We had been 
warned previously by our fellow-prisoners that 
if we wanted to change our place of work we 
had only to work as bad as possible, but we 
were both conscientious, and did not heed this 
advice. Our conscientiousness proved a detri¬ 
ment to us, for the Commissar of our office 
refused to let us go. A long correspondence 
followed between the two Commissars, without 


EVEEYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 


215 


any result whatever. At last I went personally 
to our Commissar and asked him to let us go. 
I explained that we were very short of money, 
that we were hungry, and therefore asked him 
as a great favour to let us work in the technical 
office, as there we would get food. All this 
was a risk, since we had no right to have more 
than fifty roubles, and were strictly forbidden 
to get rations from other institutions. But the 
Commissar seemed to be a well-meaning young 
man. He was rather astonished at my open 
speech, but he consented to give us leave, and 
finally sent us to work in the technical office. 

The money question is a very delicate one 
in the camp. The prisoners are not supposed 
to have more than fifty roubles each, and 
periodical searches are made in the night by 
the administration to find the money they 
are sure the prisoners have in excess of that 
sum. The prisoners are also searched at the 
gates coming back from town, but the money 
is never found. My hiding-place for it was my 
hair or my shoes. 

The way in which prison and the Bolsheviks 
teach you deceit is something wonderful. Later 
on, for instance, food was not allowed to be 
brought into camp, and still each of us had 
butter and eggs and gruel and sugar, and all 
sorts of other things. For a woman it was 


216 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

quite easy to do this. We tied strings round 
our waist, and hung on them small parcels 
with provisions, so that these are under the 
skirt and below the knees ; and there we were, 
with all the good things carried through the 
gates and safely home. Sometimes when a 
larger packet had to be passed through, I 
asked a warder, a very good man, a young 
Polish Jew, who always helped the prisoners 
in any way he could. I used to tell him that 
he would find a parcel for me at such a place, 
and next day coming home I used to find it 
on my bed in the cell. 

My new place of work occupied several 
adjoining houses in the centre of the town. 
The place looked very poor, with board tables, 
stools, and benches for all furniture. About 
fifty clerks worked in the offices, with engineers 
at their head and four Commissars of different 
grades supervising the work. In the next 
street were the barracks for the workmen and 
the workshops. Small detachments were sent 
all over the country, and our office super* 
intended their work. 

When I came for the first time to this office, 
the chief Commissar, an unhealthy and rather 
unsympathetic-looking creature, asked me to 
come into his study. He shut the door, and 
in a low whisper told me that he had begun 


EVEBYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 


217 


his career in a district town under the control 
of an uncle of mine of the same name, who 
was a high official there. My uncle had been 
very kind to him, and had helped him to pro¬ 
gress in his work. Therefore he was ready to 
assist me in any way possible, as he said he 
was sure that if “ times should change ” I 
would say a word to his credit, which could 
save him his life. He asked me not to tell 
anybody about our conversation, and to be 
as distant with him as possible, because my 
name and previous position could spoil his 
relations with the Communist Party, which 
he had joined only a year ago. I promised 
him, with the greatest pleasure, to keep as 
far from him as possible, for this man seemed 
low and mean in my eyes. 

My table was in the room where my friends 
were working, a separate room which they 
had by themselves. Mrs S. worked in another 
room with the free workers. 

Strange to say, we all were considered the 
elect ones of the whole office. Everybody 
wanted to come and have a chat with us. The 
head engineer succeeded in getting his writing- 
table moved into our room, he liked us so 
much. But no one showed this sympathy too 
openly, as still we were prisoners ; and what 
would the Commissar say ! 


218 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


My companions, the Mourman engineers, were 
entrusted with the construction of a bridge 
over the Vologda River. They were very inter¬ 
ested in their work, making calculations and 
designs all day long. The problem interested 
them, and the Commissar was very proud of 
having such learned people under him. He 
brought in all sorts of people, and showed them 
all this work with the greatest pride. I was 
supposed to help them, but as they did not 
need my help in the least, they gave me all 
sorts of unnecessary documents to copy, trying 
to invent something new all the time. The 
unproductiveness of my work was very tedious 
for me, and seeing this the Commissar wanted 
to appoint me as chief clerk in the office, but 
I declined this, as I did not want to work for 
the Bolsheviks. It certainly annoyed me greatly 
to do nothing during six months for six hours 
a day, but I looked upon this as “ hard labour,” 
and put up with it as with many other things. 

Two men with rifles came to fetch us every 
morning, and took us back every evening. 
Little by little we gained some freedom. First 
only one man came to convoy us, and later 
some of us could go alone. The month of 
October was the best one for us. The Commissar 
of our camp wanted to have a bicycle, and our 
office provided him with one. We profited 


EVEEYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 


219 


greatly by this gift, because we were allowed 
to stop in town till eleven o’clock in the evening. 
Most of our evenings were spent at the office, 
and we had really good times between our¬ 
selves, which made us forget for the moment 
about prison. Prison seemed then rather like 
a very bad hotel, where we had to spend the 
night, but our real life was away from it. The 
walk was a very long one, about four miles, 
and the road very dirty and tiring during the 
autumn; but we liked to feel far away from 
prison, and did not mind the distance so very 
much. 

In the morning, before office hours, I used 
to go to the market (which is allowed in Vologda, 
though in the other towns it was strictly for¬ 
bidden), and bought butter and eggs and milk 
for our company. At noon we prisoners were 
allowed to have coffee, which I made in the 
kitchen. The wife of the guard baked our 
bread with the flour we got in our ration, and 
so it was coffee with black bread and butter. 
At four o’clock, the end of office hours, we had 
our dinner, which was given to us by the office. 
Most of the officials and some of the Com¬ 
missars had dinner at the same time in the big 
dining-room. This meal was a plate of thin 
soup (the cook got from the stores one pound 
of meat per month per person) and a plate of 


220 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PKISONS 


thick and nasty gruel with margarine in it. 
It was hard to eat this, and I soon abandoned 
the effort it cost me, and ate bread and butter 
instead. When we used to come back to camp 
at six o’clock we had some coffee with bread 
and butter and eggs, each in his cell. When 
we stopped later at our office we had this meal 
all together in our room. Though the nourish¬ 
ment was not very remarkable, I got quite 
strong after three months in Vologda. My 
sailor sent me some old clothes from home, 
and the guard at our office helped me to ex¬ 
change them for food. I got ten pounds of 
wonderful butter, for which Vologda was always 
renowned, and I ate it, all by myself, in a 
month. This picked me up wonderfully, and 
I felt much stronger. 

My companions and I became so friendly 
that we decided to have a common fund. The 
engineers lectured in a technical school, and 
I gave English lessons. All the money we 
got from home, as well as our pay for the 
teaching, was deposited in the same cash, thus 
giving us a nice family feeling, which we all 
enjoyed. I darned their linen in the evenings, 
helped them to wash it, ironed it out, and was 
glad to fill my time with such profitable work 
after the unprofitable office hours. 

But it was not always that I felt so cheerful. 


EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE CAMP 


221 


With each month I got more depressed, and 
even downhearted. In spite of all these good 
friends around me, I felt more and more lonely. 
When, at the end of August, Mrs S. was re¬ 
leased and left me, the last link with home 
and my past life was severed. So for many 
evenings, after all the work was done, I sat 
quietly in a corner of the office, near the burning 
fire, turning my back towards my companions, 
so that they should not see that I was crying. 


222 


CHAPTER XVII. 

RELATIONS WITH THE WORLD OUTSIDE CAMP. 

The life in the town itself was very dreary ; 
the place was quite dead. No interests existed 
outside local life, no really “ civilised ” people 
were to be found there. Everybody who was 
refined and cultivated had perished by the 
hand of the local Cheka, or had fled from their 
native town. This was why prisoners from 
Petrograd were so highly prized there. 

Since Ivan the Terrible, in the sixteenth 
century, political prisoners had been exiled to 
Vologda. The inhabitants of the town, from 
generation to generation, have been in the habit 
of esteeming and respecting these political 
exiles. Before I was aware of this fact, I was 
shy at confessing that I was a prisoner. 

Once the head engineer of our office, the 
one who worked in our room, invited us to 
come to a party at his house. I did not want 
to go, for I knew beforehand what such a party 


RELATIONS WITH THE WORLD OUTSIDE 223 


would be ; but he insisted so much upon my 
coming that I could not refuse. 

When I arrived the room was already full 
of people sitting in a row near the wall, with 
stiff smiles on bored faces. I was prepared 
for this, so I sat on a chair in the row, with 
the same silly smile on my face. The con¬ 
versation was general, touching on local in¬ 
terests, and I joined in it, not realising that 
everything I said showed me as an outsider 
to this local life. I saw astonishment and 
interest on some of the faces, and then several 
men drew their chairs nearer to me and began 
to ask me questions about myself. From their 
questions I suddenly became aware that they 
had no idea that I was a prisoner. I grew 
more and more nervous, as I felt that I was a 
kind of impostor, having no right to mix with 
honest people, nor could I see my way to let 
these respectable people know that I was a 
prisoner. I dodged a few questions, but when 
I saw that I could not carry on without letting 
my exact position be known, I got up and fled 
into the next room, where my hosts were busy 
preparing supper. I told them I was going 
away, that I felt I had no right to be there 
at all, that my place was in the camp and 
not in their respectable house. When my host 
understood my meaning, he burst out laughing, 


224 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


and leading me back into the room, said: 
“ Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Doubassoff is 
shy to own that she is a prisoner ; she imagines 
that this will shock you.” And everybody 
came up to me protesting, shaking hands, and 
assuring me that they considered it an honour 
to be in my company. 

The same thing happened to Mrs S. and 
myself in the street. A lady approached us 
in the street and asked us to help her find 
a room in town. We excused ourselves, saying 
that we did not know of any. 

“ But you are surely waiting for a steamer ; 
you do not seem to be inhabitants of this 
town.” 

“ No, we live here,” we answered cautiously. 

“ But then perhaps there are rooms in the 
same house where you live ? ” 

“No, there are none ; everything is full up.” 

“ But where do you live, then ? ” 

Oh, she was a bother, this woman. There 
was no way out of it. 

“ We are prisoners, living in the camp.” 

And instead of turning away from us, she 
dashed forward and shook our hands. 

Many times I experienced this wonderful 
kindness. People of all conditions were always 
so happy to help us in every way possible. 
They asked us to their houses, and when we 


RELATIONS WITH THE WORLD OUTSIDE 225 


came they tried to feed us as much as they 
could afford. If we were hungry we could go 
to any local dining-room without having a 
special card. It was enough to say at the desk 
that we belonged to the camp, and we not 
only received a dinner but were offered two 
or three at a time. The waitresses, seeing that 
we had no bread, would bring us a piece of 
their own for our dinner, and all this free of 
charge. It made me personally too shy to go 
to such places and be treated so kindly. But 
many and many of the prisoners, who had no 
money and were very hard up, existed ex¬ 
clusively on such attentions of the population. 

At the various offices where the prisoners 
work, the relationship with the free workers 
was the best possible. Whenever a distribution 
of goods or stuffs or ready clothes was to be 
effected, the prisoners were the first on the 
fist; and this is saying a great deal, as the 
distributions are very scarce, and everybody 
needs the little they give. 

The Bolshevik Commissars also did not look 
upon us as criminals, and treated us for what 
we were. 

When Christmas came and a Christmas party 
was to be arranged at our office, I was quite 
unexpectedly summoned to the Commissar’s 
room. The four Commissars were holding a 

p 


226 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


meeting. When I entered they asked me to 
sit down. 

“We have a great favour to ask you, Miss 
Doubassoff. We are going to have a Christmas 
party for all the officials and workmen. We 
have received white flour and sweets from the 
State stores, and are going to make cakes and 
white bread for the occasion. You know your¬ 
self how hungry everybody is, and we positively 
do not know whom to trust with the distribu¬ 
tion of these provisions. So after a confer¬ 
ence among ourselves we have decided that 
you are the only person in the whole place 
whom we could trust implicitly.” 

“ But you forget that I am a criminal,” I 
answered. 

“ Oh, but you see we understand the position 
quite well. It is a great misfortune that you are 
kept in prison, but it does not follow at all that 
we consider you as a criminal. On the contrary, 
you have our greatest esteem and respect.” 

So I consented in a very offhand way, but 
only when they promised to have all my com¬ 
panions from camp at the party. A special 
permit was asked from the Commissar of our 
camp, and for a whole evening I acted as a 
policeman, guarding the cakes and sweets not 
only from the crowd of workmen but from the 
Commissars themselves. 


BELATIONS WITH THE WOBLD OUTSIDE 227 


I made some acquaintances in town, and 
when I was not too tired or could stop later I 
used to call on them. My delight when visiting 
was to sit on something soft. I was always 
given the best arm-chair or a place on the sofa. 
Imagine always sitting on something hard and 
never having a thorough rest for your bones ! 
My constant habit at home was to lie com¬ 
fortably on a sofa with a lot of soft cushions 
round me, and I missed so much these simple 
luxuries of life. Certainly one can get used 
to anything, and I got used to this ; but it 
was bad for my clothes, which wore out far more 
quickly because of the hard seats. 

I assisted at several parties, though I had 
no decent clothes for the occasion, and did 
not feel in the mood for such things. Every 
time we prisoners were the elect ones of the 
evening. 

x4s I have told you, I was giving English 
lessons in town. It helped me to have more 
money, or, as I looked upon it, it gave me 
butter for my bread. But there was also 
another reason, as I was the only person in the 
town who knew English, and there were many 
who wanted to learn it. They came asking and 
praying me to give them lessons, and they 
were ready to pay me all I wanted if I would 
only let them profit by my knowledge. 


228 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


Though I have spoken English since my 
very early childhood, I have never given lessons, 
and did not know at all how it was done. Books 
were obtained by my pupils from Moscow to 
help me in this difficult task, and I agreed to 
take up two groups of young men, four in each, 
and give them an hour’s lesson a day. It was 
rather dull and tiring work, which I did not 
like. I am sure it is much easier to teach 
children. Grown-up pupils have a disagreeable 
way of always asking awkward questions, for 
which I was not at all prepared. 

Though I was well physically, I always felt 
tired. I got up early, and woke up earlier 
still. It was impossible to sleep in the crowded 
cell on account of the awful snoring and thick 
air, though my bed stood near the window. 
Sleep deserted me, and for many and many a 
night I lay awake, looking at the sky through 
the bars of my window. These were hours of 
great pleasure. Everybody was asleep, and it 
seemed to me that at last I was alone. The most 
trying part of prison life for me was the utter 
impossibility to be alone. For twenty - four 
hours of the day, thirty days in the month, and 
for ten months somebody was always about me! 

I had lived quite alone for a year in Petro- 
grad, and this solitude, without anybody near, 
and without all the influences by which another 


RELATIONS WITH THE WORLD OUTSIDE 229 

personality always reacts upon me, helped me 
wonderfully in all the struggles of life. I loved 
to feel myself quite alone in the flat at night; it 
was such a thorough rest for all my nervous 
system ; whereas here, in prison, I was never 
for an instant alone. So the sleepless nights, 
though they tired me in body, gave me a mental 
rest, gave me time to think quietly without the 
constant buzz of people. 

I used to go to bed rather late. When at 
home it was my constant habit to read in bed, 
but here I could have the same impression 
without the actual process of reading. With 
my eyes shut I would listen to the stories related 
in the cell by certain of my companions. 

When I spoke of the good relations existing 
between the townspeople and the prisoners in 
general, I did not mention that this did not 
extend, by any means, to all prisoners, for we 
had a large element which certainly no one 
could esteem or respect. These were the pro¬ 
fessional thieves, both men and women, who 
at night used to relate to each other their 
exploits of the past and boasted of their criminal 
deeds. It was quite interesting to listen to these 
strange narrations, but sometimes they went so 
far that they were silenced by the better element, 
who could not stand their crude stories. 

The types in the cell were certainly very 


230 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


various, and the difference between them was 
sometimes very striking. For example, there 
was a half-crazy peasant woman, taken as 
“ political prisoner ” on the Polish front while 
crossing the line with her baby in her arms, 
and going to see her dying mother in a village 
on the other side of the military frontier. She 
was in this awful state because her baby had 
been taken from her when she was arrested. 
And on the next bed another peasant woman, 
who had poisoned her brother’s family, nine 
people, including four children. Near-by was 
a good-looking grey-haired woman of the bour¬ 
geoisie, mother of a large family of grown-up 
children, who was arrested for selling cigarettes 
in the street; and near her a street girl, arrested 
for treason to the Communist Party. 

The conversations varied as much as the 
types, and sometimes my ears would positively 
ache from what I heard. I can only say that if 
I had a daughter of sixteen or eighteen, I would 
prefer to see her die rather than let her stay 
in prison among this crowd. It is an awful 
demoralising atmosphere for people who are 
not strong enough in their principles and ways 
of life. I have seen many bad effects of this 
close companionship, and when it concerned my 
friends I always considered it my duty to try 
to help them keep straight. 


231 


CHAPTER XVIII. 

ADMINISTRATION. 

The characteristic point of the Prison Camp at 
Vologda was its administration. 

During the seven months I spent there we 
had four successive Commissars, the fourth one 
succeeding to the place a month before I left. 

The first three quitted their post surrounded 
by soldiers who guarded the camp, and were 
sent straight to prison. My fellow-prisoners 
who had been in the camp for a year had 
passed through eleven such regimes. 

The Commissar of the camp, though legally 
under the local Cheka and the Commissariate 
of the Law, was practically free in his actions. 
If one of those institutions had something to 
say against him, he had a sure means of silencing 
them. These means were quite simple, for all 
the stores of the camp were in his hands. 

The ration of a prisoner undergoing hard 
labour is a liberal one in comparison with 


232 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


many others. The prisoner works for his food, 
and the pay he gets amounts to a large sum 
if one takes into consideration that the food 
is supplied by the Government stores and by 
fixed prices. We prisoners received not more 
than 10 per cent of our ration; the other 
90 per cent went to the benefit of the adminis¬ 
tration and for bribes that the administration 
gave liberally to the institutions which tried to 
interfere with their mode of action. 

The position of a Commissar of the camp 
was considered to be a very desirable one, and 
therefore surrounded by much jealousy. The 
Commissar was watched very carefully by the 
other aspirants to the post, and any incautious 
step was sure to bring his downfall. But it 
was worth having, as the benefits were enormous. 

The first Commissar in my time was a Lett, 
very quiet in manner, and who never raised 
his voice. I should say more: he was so silent 
that I have never heard his voice. He did not 
answer a single question addressed to him by 
the prisoners, as though he had not seen nor 
heard them, and always looked aside. But 
from his study came most unexpected orders, 
full of spite, and quite undeserved punishments, 
which were the result of a deep enmity towards 
us. It was he who made me wash his floor 
in the beginning, and this was a very char- 


ADMINISTRATION 


233 


acteristic action. Everybody hated him, the 
warders included, and were afraid of his silent 
wrath. 

One day he was arrested in town, and we 
never saw him again. The reason for his arrest 
was quite an insignificant one for a Bolshevik ; 
he had stolen some belting at a paper factory 
where he had worked originally, and where he 
had been Commissar before coming to the 
camp. He needed leather for his wife’s and 
children’s shoes, and this was an easy way to 
get it. But there is no doubt that this was 
only a pretext, as the crime, as officially an¬ 
nounced, certainly did not deserve the severe 
punishment awarded. He was kept in prison, 
and then sentenced to ten years of hard labour. 
As a favour he was sent to the camp in Arch¬ 
angel, as he was afraid of all the enemies he 
had made while Commissar of our camp. 

He was succeeded by his assistant—a man 
of quite another type, a Russian of the lowest 
order,—whose special occupation had been that 
of a cesspool emptier. He had been at the 
war, had succeeded in obtaining an N.C.O. 
rank, and therefore imagined himself to be no 
less than a field-marshal. 

Being quite uneducated, hardly even knowing 
the alphabet, he wrote phonetically. Neverthe¬ 
less he adored to write his resolutions on the 


234 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


official reports or other incoming papers. We 
used to roar with laughter while deciphering 
what he had written. His vocabulary was 
also very limited and restricted to the most 
abominable blasphemies and bad language. Un¬ 
like his predecessor, he unfortunately was rarely 
silent, and the best one could do when meeting 
him was to run away from him as quick as pos¬ 
sible. The ladies who worked in the prison office 
had to leave the room whenever he was there. 

Every morning and evening, even in rainy 
weather, he used to make the men come out 
into the yard for the control, and he amused 
himself playing at soldiers. He knew quite 
well how the men, especially the officers, writhed 
under this display of militarism. He made 
them march about, turn like soldiers on parade, 
making the most offensive remarks to the 
officers, and accompanying this game with the 
most abominable language. 

The head starosta tried to influence the 
Commissar to use better language in the pres¬ 
ence of the ladies, and he promised to do so. 
Before entering our building the starosta used 
to remind him of his promise. The man kept 
silent as long as he could, but the moment he 
opened his mouth we did our best to shut our 
ears. Sometimes he used to take us for soldiers, 
and made us march about the passage. 


ADMINISTRATION 


235 


But, on the whole, he was not a bad man, 
and during his “ reign ” we had many liberties, 
which were taken away from us later on. We 
could walk about the yard in the evening, he 
allowed us to have music and small gatherings, 
and I would even say that he stole less pro¬ 
visions. The most trying thing in him was 
the unexpectedness of his behaviour. One could 
never be sure of what he would do next. 

One evening he was in a very bad mood. 
He was hanging out of his window, looking into 
the big yard. We all felt very uncomfortable, 
and remained in our cells. About eight o’clock 
four women and two men were taken out by 
the gardener to water the beds. We all hated 
this work, because it was hard, and we had 
already worked all day. Besides, it was an 
opportunity for mockery ; it was late in the 
season, and old onion-beds and overgrown 
vegetables did not need watering. But the 
work cost nothing, since we were prisoners, 
and if we worked more than necessary, so much 
the better for the like of us. We had arranged 
a certain order for this work : two from each 
cell, taking turn by beds. 

This day it happened that all the women 
were peasants. The Commissar, seeing them 
cross the yard, began shouting from his window, 
asking why the bourgeoisie was left at home 


236 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


while the peasant women were taken out for 
extra work. The women said that it was their 
turn, and they had nothing to complain of. The 
man stopped them, and rushing into the yard 
in a positive fury ordered the women home, 
saying that he would choose himself those who 
should do the work. 

“It is the fair-haired ones and those with 
curls who will have to do the work to-day,” we 
heard him screaming. 

We all sat dumb-struck in our cells, waiting 
for trouble. With awful language he dragged 
the women he considered to be fair-haired and 
curly by the hand and pushed them outside the 
cells, not paying attention to their protests. 
Some, as I, for instance, had done the work 
on the previous evening, and some were dis¬ 
pensed from all manual work by a doctor’s 
certificate. He followed us himself to the 
kitchen garden, and had the patience to watch 
our work for three continuous hours. 

It was hard work, as I have said, because 
the water had to be carried by hand from 
the river a quarter of a mile away and up a 
steep bank. The men had to do this while we 
watered the beds, but they got tired so quickly 
that we had also to help carry the water in 
our cans. 

The career of this Commissar became greatly 


ADMINISTRATION 


237 


endangered by a mania of grandeur, which 
seemed to grow on him stronger and stronger 
each day. The great demand in town for the 
work of the prisoners gave him a possibility 
of displaying this mania by stopping the supply 
of prisoners. Prisoners are used for office work 
not only in Vologda but all over Russia, even 
in Petrograd and Moscow. The State has not 
enough educated men and women to do the 
Government work, as so many educated people 
have been shot or have fled abroad. This need 
is so great that prisoners have to be used for 
this work, and, strange to say, they usually 
occupy important positions, having many free 
men under them. The position is certainly an 
abnormal one, as a man occupying a high position 
is led to the place of his service by a soldier, 
and is ordered about in the camp like a naughty 
boy. 

Well, our Commissar, loving to display his 
power on everybody, overdid it, and got accused 
of sabotage. One day, to our great surprise, 
on coming home at six o’clock, we found no 
warders or soldiers at the gate and the whole 
camp in a state of terrible excitement. The 
Commissar had been arrested, and was in the 
lock-up ! 

Only the previous day he had ordered that 
no food be given to those in the lock-up except 


) 


238 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

the quarter of the bread ration and water. He 
himself asked for food the moment he was in, 
but all of us, at the risk of severe punishment, 
gave a loud protest, and did not allow his wife 
nor the warders to bring him anything more 
than what he had ordered us to get. Next day 
he was removed, and another young man came 
to take his place. 

On the whole, that was a curious time. A 
few weeks before the camp had been entered 
by a company of soldiers, about thirty in 
number, who announced that they had come 
from Moscow, by special order of the Commissar 
of Law, to guard the camp. Rumours had 
reached Moscow that the guards of the camp 
in Vologda were not strict enough with the 
prisoners, and let them do as they liked. The 
new arrivals had no papers, and no one was 
sure that they had been really ordered there; 
but they were armed and looked dangerous, 
so that the administration got frightened and 
surrendered. And for several weeks a strange 
game went on between the administration and 
the new guards. They distrusted each other, 
and were afraid of each other. 

The first few days our regime was the strictest 
possible; but little by little, and even very 
quickly, we prisoners gained ground. The 
new guards very soon understood that the 


ADMINISTRATION 


239 


prisoners were of different types, and that 
the rules could not be applied indiscriminately 
to all of them. Fortunately they considered 
me as one they could trust, and could there¬ 
fore profit by more freedom. I could be a 
few minutes late coming back from town, I 
got out on holidays without a special paper, 
I could walk all round the prison. They always 
tried to help me and protect me, and all this 
without bribes. 

The new Commissar, the third, was still 
another type of man. He told us that he was 
an ex-officer, and he looked it by his dress. 
He always wore military clothes, and on holidays 
he used to put on British kit. I must mention 
that when I first came to Vologda I was aston¬ 
ished to see a number of British soldiers and 
officers. This is the result of the British Inter¬ 
vention in the north of Russia. The Russian 
army in the north was then supplied with kit 
by the British Government, and after they 
had left Russia great stores were taken over 
by the Bolsheviks in Archangel and the 
Mourman. Our Commissar had a very good 
sample of these clothes, and as he was very 
tall and well built, he looked quite elegant. 
But above these clothes was the strangest of 
heads: a small head with an enormous bony 
face, sharp as a knife, and tiny bloodshot eyes. 


240 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


His first steps were unpleasant. He ordered 
a lock to be put on the door of the women’s 
ward, and at seven o’clock in the evening it 
was shut, and we could not move away from 
our cell till the morning. The next measure 
was to put a barbed wire fence round our 
women’s ward in the yard, about three yards 
away from the windows. These two measures 
were taken to prevent flirtations or kissing 
through the windows. It is true that a supply 
of prisoners recently arrived from Petrograd 
was not of a very desirable quality. This was 
a party of about two hundred men and thirty- 
five women, who behaved in a thoroughly 
improper way. When these people came and 
began to behave so badly, I understood why 
the old prisoners in the camp had met our party 
with so poor a welcome. They were afraid 
that by our behaviour we might spoil the little 
freedom they had gained from the administra¬ 
tion. 

At the same time all the officers were sent 
away to Archangel, and the aspect of the camp 
changed greatly to its detriment. 

All the measures of the third Commissar 
proved to be fruitless. The lock and the barbed 
wire existed, but those who would have wanted 
to pass through the door were always away 
in the evening. A kind word to the wardress 


ADMINISTRATION 


241 


was enough to get a pass. I do not know why, 
but these wardresses, young and frivolous 
women, who had all sorts of flirtations in the 
camp and who enjoyed themselves royally, did 
not grudge the other women a good time. 

I hated the existence of the lock, and never 
spent a single evening in my cell. My favourite 
nook was the dispensary, two small rooms in 
the main building. This was the private 
sanctum of that nice nurse who had been the 
only one to give us a welcome upon our arrival 
at the camp. She was a splendid character, 
tactful, good-looking, very even in temper, 
extremely kind to everybody, and always cheer¬ 
ful and full of hope and help. All the prisoners 
liked her and respected her. 

I liked to spend my evenings in her little 
den. Another lady and a few men also spent 
their evenings in the dispensary. This was not 
actually allowed, as we were supposed to be 
in our cells, but as we were of those who benefited 
by having more freedom, this was overlooked. 
But at the same time we took all necessary steps 
in order to legalise our presence in this place, 
where we were not supposed to be. The nurse 
registered us all in her daily book, with an illness 
for each of us. Whereas when I asked the 
wardress to let me pass through the locked 
door, I always mentioned that I had a tooth- 

Q 


242 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


ache or a headache. Looking at me in an 
understanding way, she used to say: “ Go 

along, I am sure you will be of no trouble, and 
will see that everything is all right.” 

The lower administration really liked and 
respected many of the prisoners, and were 
ready to help them in any possible way. For 
instance, while searching, it was enough to 
move an eye when the man was coming near 
some offending object. He left off the search 
at once, announcing that nothing was to be 
found ; and it even happened sometimes that 
when they found at the control that one of the 
prisoners towards whom they felt this sym¬ 
pathy was missing, they would put him on the 
list as present, or would answer for him when 
his name was called out. Many of the men 
used to go to town for the night, and they were 
never caught in the act. 

We found out very soon that our new Com¬ 
missar was on the whole not a bad man, and 
we rather liked him, but with a special sort 
of liking. Better this than anything worse ! 
He himself wanted to be popular, and while 
it was warm he sat out in the yard with the 
prisoners, talking and joking and amusing 
himself. 

He fell very quickly in love with one of 
the women, quite a modern product of the 


ADMINISTRATION 


243 


Bolshevik regime. She was a very jolly woman, 
and her principle was to make the best of 
life. Having already two husbands in Petro- 
grad, she was not loth to marry another 
one in Vologda. It is true that the Bolsheviks 
have simplified this question to the extreme. 
The district Soviet will readily marry you to 
any one you like, though you may have a 
husband already and the man a wife. You 
may even change your name at the marriage. 
You are asked which name you prefer to have : 
the wife’s, the husband’s, or another assumed 
name. And no one prevents your divorcing 
the next day. 

The Bolsheviks have used sure means for 
the propaganda of such marriages. The certifi¬ 
cate of such a marriage gives the possibility 
for both wife and husband to receive a small 
trousseau from the Government at the district 
Soviet. Though very restricted, it is of great 
value, when all clothes are very expensive and 
very hard to be got. 

This woman, being very tg ay, had many 
flirtations in the camp. The lock on the door 
and the barbed wire seemed to be to a certain 
extent the result of jealousy on the part of 
the new Commissar. Though the whole flirta¬ 
tion was a great nuisance and very unpopular, 
I must say that the woman behaved very 


244 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


cleverly and even kindly. She made the prisoners 
profit by her being the favourite. She tried 
to use her influence for the benefit of everybody, 
and helped many people in many ways. 

Her presence also made the Commissar try 
to observe our interests. For instance, he was 
obliged to make searches in the night. His 
duty lay in finding money which the prisoners 
had in excess, as well as provisions and clandes¬ 
tine correspondence. 

Before such a search the Commissar would 
send for this woman, and take her money into 
his keeping for the night. The moment she 
came back to our cell she warned us, and we 
had time to prepare. In the middle of the 
night the door of the cell would open, and a 
party of men with lanterns would burst into 
the room. The Commissar sat on the table, 
dangling his long legs and ordering the men 
to search as well as possible ; but I am more 
than sure that he knew quite well that we were 
prepared for the whole thing, and the humorous 
twinkle in his little eyes made a farce out of 
the search. 

His greatest misfortune was a love for wine. 
He began to get drunk very often, assisted 
in this as in everything else by his assistant. 
This growing abuse of wine began to influence 
his actions, and little by little changed to the 


ADMINISTRATION 


245 


worse all our life. What began to look quite 
ugly was a new way of treating certain women 
prisoners. Both the Commissar and his assistant 
began to expect to be amused and entertained 
at the camp. Every evening the two, by no 
means sober men, used to invite some women 
and men to spend the evening with them in 
the library. As it was very dull spending the 
evenings in the cell, many joined these parties 
with alacrity, and amused themselves as best 
they could. But even these people got tired of 
such entertainments, and tried to get out of 
them. 

I remember so well an evening when the 
two men had gone to town. The women were 
happy at being able to spend a quiet evening 
in the cell and to go to bed early. We were 
all in bed already and the light was put out, 
when suddenly we heard a knock at our door. 
It was a young Pole, the president of the 
meetings, and, though prisoner, a factotum of 
the administration. 

“ The Commissar has just come back from 
town,” he said. “ Both the men are in very 
gay spirits, and object to going to bed early. 
They’d rather stay up and enjoy themselves. 
For this reason they would like a few ladies 
to join them in the library.” 

I was curious to see what response this 



246 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

would meet, and was anxious to know what 
would be the women’s attitude before such an 
invitation. 

The 44 favourite,” and after her all the others, 
raised a loud protest, and said that they were 
already in bed, wanted to sleep, and asked to 
be left alone. 

44 Do please come. I am sure something 
unpleasant will happen if you don’t. The 
Commissar is not sober,” he pleaded. 

44 We will not go, and this is the end of it,” 
came the curt answer. 

Everybody got very excited, and praised the 
women for their resistance. 

The man went back, but in a quarter of an 
hour the door opened without any previous 
knocking, and the head warder came in, carry¬ 
ing a lantern. He came into the middle of the 
cell, and taking a list out of his pocket read 
out names. 

44 The women on this list have to dress imme¬ 
diately and go to the library,” he ordered. 

44 But can’t you see that we are asleep, we 
are undressed, and do not want to go,” was 
heard from all sides. 

He drew a revolver and ordered them again 
to get up. He would not leave the cell till the 
women got up, and only agreed to turn away 
towards the wall while the women were dress- 


ADMINISTEATION 


247 


ing. The man appeared to be very depressed, 
and obviously disliked his mission, as we could 
hear him grumbling to himself to that effect. 

There was another incident in the camp. 
Two young women, rather pretty and frivolous, 
worked in an office in town. The Bolshevik 
Commissar of this office was the terror of all 
the female prisoners. When new prisoners 
came from Petrograd he used to come to the 
camp, and through bribing the Commissar got 
him to send the women he liked best to his 
office. The two women I mentioned entered 
this office in this way. Though warned by the 
other prisoners, they decided to prove that 
the man was not as bad as he was reputed 
to be. He was a short man with a white and 
pink round face and nasty little eyes. 

For a few weeks everything went well, and 
then he began to show his marked favour for 
the two women. One day, not heeding their 
apparent distaste, and during the office hours, 
he deliberately sat down on the knees of one of 
the women and kissed her before the other 
clerks. The girls roused a loud protest, and, 
returning to the camp, declared to the Com¬ 
missar that they would not go any more to 
the said office. 

The women were put in the lock-up that 
same evening, and the lock-up is an awful 


248 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


place in Vologda. It is dark, very damp, and 
full of bugs. The next morning the man from 
the office came to the camp. He evidently had 
bribed the Commissar, as no outsiders are allowed 
to enter the camp, and went to the lock-up. 

He opened the door, and asked the women 
with a sneer whether they would not prefer to 
come back to the office after such an un¬ 
pleasant night. They not only refused but 
abused him in their wrath. 

For eight days the same thing was repeated, 
till one of the prisoners went to see an authority 
in the town and related the whole business. 
Only after this the two women were released 
from their punishment, and sent to work in 
another office. 

The career of this Commissar ended very 
abruptly. One night about eleven o’clock, 
while he was sitting talking in our cell, he 
was called out because some members of the 
Criminal Court had come to see him. We went 
to bed, and only the next morning learned that 
he and his assistant had been arrested and 
taken to prison. 

I forgot to say that during his “ reign ” we 
received a very scarce ration, and practically 
no sugar. The bread was so sour that we 
could hardly eat it. After the arrest we learned 
that the men had arranged to distil spirits in 


ADMINISTRATION 


249 


the camp itself. They ordered the necessary 
machine to be made in the camp workshop, 
and made the bakers prepare the liquor. All 
our sugar went for this manufacture and part 
of the flour. The bread was so sour because all 
the residue of this illegal distillery was put into 
it, in order to augment its quantity and hide 
anything that could give them away. One of 
the bakers got sick of this form of “ hard 
labour,” denounced the two men to the Criminal 
Court, and fled. 

This event made a great sensation in the 
town and district. Commissions came to in¬ 
spect the camp, all the rules were looked into, 
all the warders were changed, the guards as 
well, and a new “ prison ” regime was estab¬ 
lished in the camp. We were locked up all 
day, and some days were kept from going to 
work in town. We also had to stay in camp on 
holidays, nor could we go into the yard nor 
pass through without a warder. 

We were very unhappy. We were willing 
to go without food, sugar, or bread for ever 
if only to have again the wonderful, or so it 
seemed to us, freedom we had enjoyed. But 
our wishing it did not help, and my last month 
in the camp was spent under these uncongenial 
circumstances. 

The fourth Commissar was another peasant 


250 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


keeping strictly to prison rules, without making 
a single exception for anybody. There were 
only a few wonderful moments of relaxation 
once in two weeks, when the Commissar would 
go into the country to see his family. His new 
assistant, a very nice young man, who had 
been in prison himself, and who sympathised 
with us extremely, used to allow us everything, 
asking only not to give him away and to keep 
to order and decent behaviour. These days 
were the best in our hard lives, and we enjoyed 
them with the enjoyment of children when the 
grown-ups are away. 

This rough sketch of the way our Prisoners’ 
Camp was directed shows better than any per¬ 
sonal impressions what every prisoner has to 
undergo while doing “ hard labour ” for the 
Bolshevik Government. 

I must also add that I succeeded in arranging 
my life in such a way that all these goings on 
in the camp affected me as little as possible. 
The same egoistic feeling of self-preservation 
helped me to live outside the ugliness which 
surrounded me, helped me not to see things 
which could hurt me morally and even physic¬ 
ally, and made me select for intercourse only 
the very best of those who surrounded me. 

And then my principal interest was the 
amnesty. 


251 


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CNTAtf* Q 


CHAPTER XIX. 

AMNESTY. 

The reader may easily understand that the 
most vital point in a prisoner’s life is his hope 
of release. Release and all that might lead up 
to it and effect it was such a dominating idea 
that it might be even called an obsession. It 
formed a tremendous bond of union between 
the five hundred prisoners of our camp, bring¬ 
ing all classes and individuals together, how¬ 
ever they differed from each other in every 
other respect. All other interests were eclipsed 
by this one consuming thought, so that they 
seemed of insignificance and trifling beside it, 
unable to cause either great happiness or great 
sorrow. 

The first possibility of release came at the 
end of August, in the form of an unexpected 
Commission, which sprang up from God knows 
where, like a mushroom in the night. Nobody 
quite knew who the people were on this Com- 


252 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


mission—all we knew was that they were 
there,, and passed their days in examining our 
papers. 

As can well be imagined, there was great 
agitation in the camp. People could not sleep 
on account of anticipating what might befall 
them. Many resorted to desperate measures 
and succeeded in bribing the members of the 
Commission, seeing in this their only chance 
of release. 

I think I was the only one who was quite 
untouched by these proceedings, but the clause 
in my sentence was a certain damper to all 
hopes. I could not be released without the 
consent of the Petrograd Cheka; Lenin him¬ 
self could not have helped me. In this way 
mine was the worst sentence in the whole 
camp ; I was a special favourite of the Cheka. 

But, as I have already mentioned, Com¬ 
missions had heretofore not existed in Vologda, 
and the poor people who felt themselves quite 
forgotten now saw in this one the salvation of 
their lives. 

After three days of work for the Commission 
and three days of nervous strain for the prisoners, 
we were all kept home from our work. At 
three o’clock on a very hot day all the men 
were assembled in the big courtyard, while we 
women were locked up in our building with 



AMNESTY 


253 


the permission to look and listen from the 
windows. The commotion was great and the 
air intensely electrified. 

The Commissar of the camp, with his staff, 
came out into the yard and mounted on to 
a platform arranged for the occasion. There 
was a terrible silence when the chief clerk 
began to read out the names. Each one held 
his breath, listening and hoping. 

The Commission shortened considerably all 
the sentences, and the release of about twenty 
people was announced. For some unknown 
reason Mrs S. was of this number, and could 
not believe her luck. My term was changed 
to five years instead of ten. 

I was naturally very glad at the good luck 
of Mrs S., but I was unhappy for myself. First, 
it was hard to be left alone, and secondly, the 
five years indicated to me that I was con¬ 
sidered as a serious prisoner even by this Com¬ 
mission. As you may perhaps remember, my 
only accusation was of having given money 
for buying diamonds ; I was not even accused 
of buying them myself. It was undoubtedly 
foolish of me to have lost money in such a 
way, but there was no crime ; I had not even 
“ speculated.” Whereas in the sentence of Mrs 
S. it was definitely stated that she was con¬ 
demned for very serious speculation, in which 


254 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


she was helping her husband. And yet she was 
released. 

Towards the evening of that same day 
rumours began to circulate through the camp 
that the benevolent Commission had no actual 
authority, and was only a bad joke. Hearing 
this we decided that Mrs S. had better leave 
as soon as possible, and not risk being put to 
camp again. So the next day, the moment 
she got the necessary papers, she caught the 
next train and left for Petrograd. 

Two or three days later, in the evening, 
we were all assembled again in the courtyard. 
The Commissar mounted the same platform 
and announced that as the Commission had no 
legal powers, all the alterations they had made 
counted no longer, and that we must continue 
under our previous sentences. Strange to say, 
those who had left Vologda in time were allowed 
their freedom, and no one touched Mrs S. 
when she reached Petrograd. 

The collapse of the Commission was a great 
shock to most of the prisoners, and a very 
hard moment to get through ; but it naturally 
made everybody concentrate both thoughts 
and hopes on the next possibility of release— 
the amnesty of 7th November, the anniversary 
of the Bolshevik Revolution. 

Little by little during these two months 



AMNESTY 


255 


this amnesty became our one topic of con¬ 
versation and centre of all our hopes. Not 
only days but hours, minutes, and seconds 
were counted up to that wonderful date. If 
the prisoners had been wakened suddenly in 
the dead of night, I believe that each one 
would have told to a minute the time that 
remained to be lived through before 7 th 
November. 

Our hopes grew stronger with the approach 
of this great event, all the news from Petrograd 
being of a reassuring order. Lenin himself 
had said at a meeting that the State was in 
need of specialists and cultivated workmen, 
and that he considered the Communist Party 
strong enough to set many former enemies at 
liberty. Many families, working for the release 
of their prisoners, also received assurance from 
prominent Bolsheviks that the next amnesty 
would be a large one. 

I remember well this memorable day. 

It had come at last; we had successfully 
passed through the endless days of anticipa¬ 
tion. We were all so terriblv excited that we 

1/ 

simply ran to the office, where we waited im¬ 
patiently for the newspapers to come in. What 
we expected to find in them I cannot really 
say, but I am sure that every prisoner ex¬ 
pected to see his name printed in large letters 


256 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


on the very first page of the paper, with the 
blessed words “ to be released ” following it. 

Of course, no names were found, but the 
whole first page of the paper contained a 
solemn announcement of a very large and 
bountiful amnesty for all the enemies of the 
ruling power. The State considered itself all- 
powerful against its previous enemies—con¬ 
sidered these to be crushed and broken. Now 
it could afford to set them free. 

How overjoyed we were to read these words ! 
Even I, who could not bear the idea of accept¬ 
ing anything from the Bolsheviks and despised 
myself in lucid moments for awaiting an am¬ 
nesty—I was overjoyed. 

But this joy did not last long. 

On the last page, printed in very small char¬ 
acters, we found the rules with which the 
Amnesty Commissions had to comply. Those 
rules, when well studied, proved to be of a very 
unsatisfactory character. The prisoner was 
completely in the hands of these Commissions, 
which had every right to release the greatest 
criminals and to keep innocent people under 
lock and key. All depended upon the members 
of these Commissions and their 4 4 revolutionary 
conscience.” They were privileged to carry out 
the amnesty in any way they considered right. 
And then it was also said that every sentence 




AMNESTY 


257 


would be re-examined by the particular Cheka 
which had accused the prisoner, no other 
Commission having a right to mix in the matter. 
On reading this our hopes fell very low; it 
seemed at that moment that we would never 
be able to regain them. 

This meant that we were again back in the 
hands of the Petrograd Cheka, which had to 
re-examine our cases, while we were to wait 
patiently on their pleasure, with no power to 
rescue us. And we had no confidence in the 
righteousness of this institution ; we felt that 
we were under its ill-will. Furthermore, it 
would never hurry on our account, and we 
might have to wait for many months. We were 
a wretched and downhearted lot in camp that 
evening, and even a theatrical performance, 
which we had so eagerly anticipated, did not 
cheer us up. 

But within a few days it was announced that 
notwithstanding the rules for the amnesty, 
Vologda would hold her own, would have her 
own Commission to examine our sentences, and 
to carry out the amnesty releases. 

This Commission was organised and worked 
for several days. All the terms were changed, 
and the release of 75 per cent of the prisoners was 
prepared. I received three years this time, but 
again not a release, and it greatly disturbed me. 

u 


258 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PKISONS 


This time the Commissar was more careful, 
and waited for orders from Petrograd before 
releasing any one. These orders came in a 
few days in the form of a telegram, saying 
that the Petrograd Cheka would look into our 
cases itself, and that no other Commission 
had any right to interfere with this work. 

And then began la grande attente. 

This period of expectation lasted for six 
weeks, and seemed endless. It was so dis¬ 
couraging that many lost heart altogether. 

We all got up each morning with the con¬ 
viction that this day was sure to bring the 
longed-for papers from Petrograd. Full of 
hope we waited till six o’clock, when, on our 
return to camp, we found that no papers had 
arrived. These evenings were very trying, 
everybody being in the worst of moods, irrit¬ 
able, quarrelsome, and very sullen. But the 
next morning the same thing would begin 
again ; and so it lasted for six weeks. 

We all were extremely nervous. I think it 
would have been difficult to meet another such 
crowd of utterly unsympathetic and cross people, 
all so very unsociable and even unkind towards 
each other, so out of tune with all the 
universe. 

On the 20th of December the first list arrived 
from Petrograd, and about ninety people were 


AMNESTY 


259 


released. But my name was not there ; I had 
to go on waiting. 

I must confess that this time of my im¬ 
prisonment is terribly confused in my mind, 
and many things concerning it have completely 
gone out of my memory. Probably it was 
because I was very unhappy, worn out, and 
depressed, and all my strength was needed for 
the sole purpose of keeping myself up. To all 
other impressions my brain became unresponsive. 

Little by little other lists began to come 
in, but my name was never among them. 
Though the Cheka was slow at its work, the 
amnesty was carried out on a large scale, much 
more so than one could have expected, and 
this not only among women but especially 
among men. All “ specialists ”—that is to say, 
professional men—got their freedom, notwith¬ 
standing the length of their sentences. My 
friends the engineers were all released, though 
they were sentenced “ until the end of the 
civil war,” and one—“ for life.” News reached 
me from Petrograd that the men concerned in 
my case had been released as well, though one 
had had ten years and the other “ till the end 
of the civil war.” The foreign lady who was 
with me in Vologda got released one of the first. 
And still I was there ! At some moments life 
seemed quite intolerable and not worth living. 





260 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

There was only one moment of recompense 
which gave me courage. 

In the middle of January, Kalinine, the 
President of the Pan-Russian Soviet, came to 
visit Vologda. There were great festivities in 
town on that occasion : red flags were all over 
the place, soldiers marched about with bands, 
and great meetings were held in the open. It 
was very cold, about 20° (Reaumur) below zero, 
and the distinguished visitor nearly froze his 
throat making long “ red ” speeches in the 
open. 

Word reached us that Kalinine was about 
to visit our camp, but in the end he did not 
come to see us in person, but sent a large party 
of his retinue, at the head of which was a 
member of the Pan-Russian Cheka. 

These ten or twelve men, all Bolshevik 
dandies, in extraordinary though elegant uni¬ 
forms, well groomed and well turned out, came 
to our camp one evening, together with all the 
town officials and the officers of the law. 

They went through all the men’s ward, 
asking questions and taking innumerable peti¬ 
tions from the prisoners, assuring them of their 
assistance with the Petrograd Cheka. 

When they arrived at the women’s ward 
they asked for citizen Doubassofl. I cannot 
imagine how they knew that I was there, but 


AMNESTY 


261 


the fact seemed to interest them. In each 
cell they asked the same question. And then 
all of them, at least thirty in number, together 
with the administration, came into our cell, 
which was the last. 

It was dark and cold in this large cell. 
A tiny petroleum lamp was burning on the 
table, throwing ugly shadows on the dirty damp 
walls and ceiling. More than half of the beds 
were empty, as so many had already gone 
back to their homes, and showed their bare 
wooden planks. My seven companions, mostly 
Vologda thieves, were despicable creatures, dirty 
slovenly women with horrid faces. 

I was sitting on a bench near a table trying 
to darn my stockings by the poor light. The 
whole impression must have been a very dreary 
one, and I saw it written quite clearly on the 
faces of the Moscow dandies. 

They asked for citizen Doubassoff, and, lifting 
my head from my work, I answered them that 
it was for me that they were asking. The man 
from the Pan-Russian Cheka came farther into 
the cell, and was just about to address me when 
another one sprang forward to him and said 
aloud— 

“ Do you know that she has been a Maid of 
Honour ? ” 

I went on sewing. 



262 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


“ Yes, times change as well as positions,” I 
heard some one say ; but again no word nor 
sign from me. 

“ Citizen Doubassoff, why were you arrested ? ” 
I lifted my head, and saw that it was the chief 
official speaking to me. 

4 4 I lent money to a friend, and he was accused 
of speculation.” 

44 For how many years is your sentence ? ” he 
continued. 

44 For ten years,” I said. 

The incongruity between the cause of the 
arrest and the severity of punishment were 
particularly evident at that moment. 

But the man wanted to find a way out. 

44 We understand very well what all this 
means. Surely you gave that money to help 
Youdenitch and his army,” he said rather 
hastily. 

44 When I was arrested in March 1920, the 
army of Youdenitch no longer existed,” I replied 
in a quiet voice. 

44 Maybe you wish to give us a petition for 
your release ? ” he asked. 

44 No, thank you,” I said, 44 1 am quite all 
right here,” and went on darning my stockings 
as though dismissing them in this way. 

But they did not move; and then quite 
unexpectedly— 



AMNESTY 


263 


“ Do you approve of the camp administration, 
or do you wish to make any complaint ? ” 

This was very unexpected, and could only 
mean some trap for me. I looked deliberately 
at all the administration around me, and, smiling 
at them, I said: “ Thank you, but I have 

nothing whatever to say against them.” 

The man looked abashed and at a loss. 
Then he suddenly made a few steps forward, 
and, coming quite near to me and smiling 
very nicely, said : “You cannot possibly feel 
comfortable in these appalling conditions,” and 
he looked round the cell. “ It hurts me to 
leave you here.” 

“ But I assure you that I am quite happy, 
and do not need any help from you,” I said ; 
“ but if you want to help somebody, there is 
a very unfortunate peasant woman in this cell, 
and I am sure you will be able to get her out,” 
I added. 

He went over with me to the poor woman, 
who was lying half demented on her bed, and 
together we tried to get out of her all the par¬ 
ticulars of her case. 

Before leaving the camp these people went 
to the camp office. There they asked to be 
shown my papers, which were handed to them 
by one of the prisoners, who told me about it 
later on. After having looked through them, 


264 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


they asked the Commissar whether I had done 
any manual labour. The man answered that 
I had washed floors, worked in the kitchen 
garden, chopped wood, and all this without 
refusal. Then they looked at each other. 

“It is difficult to change the people of her 
class ; under all conditions they stand on the 
highest level,” one of them said. 

This was my reward, and it made me quite 
happy for the moment—happy to realise that 
I had succeeded in carrying out the resolve 
which I had made the day I received my 
sentence. 



265 


CHAPTER XX. 

CONDITIONAL RELEASE. 

At last, on the 27th of January, one of the 
prisoners met me at the gate, and said that 
a new list had come from Petrograd, and that 
my name was on it. Strange to say, I do not 
remember at all where and how my new sen¬ 
tence was read to me. Perhaps the pain it 
gave me upset my memory. I remember only 
coming back to my cell with a horrible sensa¬ 
tion of unhappiness, and meeting all the un¬ 
sympathetic faces of my companions, looking 
at me with the greatest curiosity. 

44 What is your new sentence ? ” I was 
asked by a very strange and disagreeable 
woman, who was the curse of all the camp 
by always making mischief with everybody. 
No one wanted to have her with them in the 
cell, and it was only through my protection 
that she was there at all. 

4 4 Five years’ hard labour without detention 
in the camp,” I answered. 


266 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


“ Well, you certainly deserve it,” retorted 
the spiteful creature. 

I am rather superstitious, and this made 
me anxious for her own fate. She was also 
waiting for her sentence, and it seemed to me 
that her ill-feeling towards others could only 
bring her bad luck. In a few minutes she 
was in hysterics with remorse for the un¬ 
pleasant sentiments she had expressed, and I 
was so sick of the whole thing that I posi¬ 
tively did not know what to do with myself. 
All my friends had gone, were released, and 
there was not even any one to whom I might 
open my heart and soul. 

And the horrible Cheka with its cruel sen¬ 
tence was worse than anything I had antici¬ 
pated. This meant at best that I was to 
remain several more months in Vologda, until 
the amnesty of the 1st of May ; and I was so 
fed up with the place ! 

I hated the idea of living in the town, as 
my new sentence obliged me. With the appear¬ 
ance of a freedom that did not exist, and sur¬ 
rounded by people who could not be expected 
to understand my circumstances, this seemed 
the worst thing possible. A few years of camp 
would have been better. There I would have 
been on the lists all the time, with less chance 
of being forgotten, and still surrounded by 


CONDITIONAL RELEASE 


267 


people whose interests were the same as mine. 
It may have been foolish of me to think so, 
but I was sure of it at the moment. 

I was very unhappy, and the greatest hard¬ 
ship was not to be alone at such a moment. 
When one has to go through a fight with one¬ 
self, one prefers to be alone. 

One thing I decided quite firmly, and this 
was that I would stay on in the camp as long 
as possible. I hated to such an extent the 
idea of town life in such circumstances that 
at this moment the camp seemed to me the 
best of places possible, and I decided to cling 
to it as long as I could. 

It was also very difficult to find rooms in 
town. The place was overcrowded because of 
a fire which had burnt up half of it during the 
summer. 

What a terrible deception it was not to go 
home ! I had to hold myself well in hand in 
order not to show how it affected me. 

For three days I managed to remain in 
the camp, but on the fourth, when I came 
back from town, I was summoned to the Com¬ 
missar. He met me very fiercely, and told me 
to u get out ” within an hour’s time with all 
my belongings. 

I went obediently to my cell, packed all 
my things, tied them on to a little sleigh which 


268 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


I had borrowed from friends, got my papers 
from the office, and left the prison. The gates 
shut after me, and I found myself out upon the 
road. 

It was dark already, the days being very 
short at this time of the year in North Russia, 
and the sun had set many hours ago. The 
night was beautiful, one of those which we 
northern people love so well. There was no 
moon, but the air was so pure that the million 
stars shone with almost dazzling lights in the 
deep blue sky, some of them so near the earth 
that they looked more like flickering lanterns, 
specially put there to light my way. The 
snow lay deep all round, and was covered with 
a thick hard crust, made by the warm sun 
during the day by melting the surface, and 
which reflected all the million stars in milliards 
of little crystals on its surface. All this made 
my way quite clear, and though the temperature 
was very low—20° (Reaumur) below zero—the 
air was so beautifully still that I did not feel 
the cold ; only a wonderful exhilaration filled 
all my being. Such nights are the wonder of 
our country, and many spend them out-of- 
doors, so as not to miss the marvellous sensation 
they give. 

There I stood in the middle of the road, 
“ turned out,” with no roof for my head, and 



CONDITIONAL RELEASE 


269 


still so moved by this beauty round me that all 
my miseries subsided for the moment. 

And then I came to earth again, and became 
quite practical. 

My thoughts went straight to my friends the 
engineers. Two of them had remained in 
Vologda, being promoted to high positions at 
that same office. But, notwithstanding their 
important position, they had not succeeded in 
securing rooms for themselves, and slept on 
the floor in the room of one of the clerks. None 
of my other acquaintances had room to put me 
up, and I hated the idea of giving any one 
trouble. I was also exhausted, as I had made 
two trips to town that same day. It was only 
the beauty of the night and the bracing frosty 
air which kept me up. 

At last I came to a decision : the only place 
to go to was my office. Perhaps the woman 
there would take me in. She was very aston¬ 
ished at seeing me arrive there so late in the 
evening, and told me that the only place she 
could think of was my own writing-table, and 
that I could make myself comfortable there. 
This writing-table served as my bed for three 
days, and then I was lucky enough to find a 
very good room. It was in the house of a dress¬ 
maker, a very nice woman, who took great 
interest in me, and tried her best not only to 


270 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


accommodate me but also to make me comfort¬ 
able, and offered to feed me as well. 

Only when I had spent one night in these 
new conditions did I realise all the privations 
of my prison life. When I woke up in the 
morning I could not understand where I was. 
I was alone, everything was perfectly quiet 
and clean round me, and I was lying in a soft 
comfortable bed. While lying there in the 
warm clean room I had my fire lit and my 
breakfast in bed. It all looked too good to 
be true. 

But people never seem to be satisfied with 
their fate, and these new surroundings reminded 
me so much of home that a fierce longing over¬ 
whelmed me to do the impossible and go there. 
I tried to make out what I could do to effect 
this, when suddenly an idea struck me. I 
remembered that it was a custom to let people 
in my position go home for a few days in order 
to arrange their affairs before taking up new 
life in a strange town. I had heard of such 
cases, and decided to take my chance. 

My friends at the office, seeing how unhappy 
I was, promised to help me in this matter. 
Everything depended upon the Commissar of 
the office. If he would consent to take upon 
himself the responsibility of these unlawful 
proceedings, the thing could be managed. In 


CONDITIONAL EELEASE 


271 


my new position I depended entirely upon my 
office. They received me “ in charge ” from 
the camp, and were answerable for their worker. 
Only twice a month did I have to register at 
the camp office. 

Fortunately for me work turned up, my 
engineers having received charge of a technical 
school. All the papers of that school were in 
a dreadful muddle, having got into very bad 
hands. I was given these papers to put in 
order, and this is the only useful work I did 
for the Bolsheviks. For three days and nights 
I sat at this work, and when at the next meeting 
the Commissar was shown these papers, he 
asked with astonishment who had done the 
work. Learning that it was I, he offered to 
prove his satisfaction officially. But my friend 
spoke up, and said that perhaps it would be 
better to give me a different reward and let 
me go for a few days to Petrograd. 

In two days the Commissar called me. 

“ I have received a telegram from our chief 
office in Petrograd asking to send them by 
hand some very secret documents. Would you 
like to be the bearer of these papers ? ” he 
asked. 

It was a strange question. Naturally I was 
delighted to take this wonderful opportunity. 

“ I hope, Miss Doubassoff, you realise the 


272 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


responsibility I am taking upon myself in letting 
you, a prisoner, go to Petrograd. Can I abso¬ 
lutely rely upon you ? ” he asked, and with all 
my heart I answered that he could. 

Next day I got new papers ; I was attached 
to the Red Army, and became a courier of the 
Soviet Government. It was too ridiculous, but 
this was the only way to legalise my illegal 
journey, and in the evening I got into the 
train and left Vologda. The journey was 
certainly an awful one. Twenty-four hours in 
an overcrowded train, third class, with wooden 
benches, no light, and no heating. I lay again 
on a shelf all cramped and half frozen. 

At last I arrived, wildly excited. The key 
of my flat had lain all those months in my 
pocket, so I could enter without even knocking. 
But what disillusion ! Practically my home no 
longer existed. All the rooms were sealed except 
Mascha’s and another near the kitchen. The 
flat had been continually visited by the most 
amazing Commissions, which came in turn to 
register all my belongings, but which also filled 
their pockets with my little treasures. Though 
Mascha and her husband were extremely nice 
to me, I was very sad at heart. I had taken 
such trouble to guard this small home for all 
my family, and especially for my mother. I 
did not know whether she or any of my people 


CONDITIONAL RELEASE 


273 


were still alive, but in any case the home was 
destroyed. 

In the evening a friend came to see me. 
Understanding my sorrow, he said that he had 
foreseen long since that my return home would 
be very sad, and had made up his mind to 
persuade me to leave Russia. I was shocked 
at the idea, and would not listen to him. How 
could I run away from Russia ? How could I 
leave my country ? Besides, I was a prisoner, 
and had been allowed to come to Petrograd on 
parole. I did not even want to discuss the 
matter. 

“You must consider this question seriously, 
and, in the event of making up your mind to 
go, I will do my best to help you,” he said, and 
then we talked of other things. 

When I went to bed I could not sleep. The 
possibility of escape which my friend had given 
me was working in my mind like poison. I 
fought against this poisonous effect for two 
days, and finally surrendered. A tiny light 
showed itself in all the moral gloom around me. 
There seemed to be a window which I could 
open, and at which I could give my exhausted 
self fresh air and light; and when I realised 
this I had neither the courage nor the will 
to resist. I looked through the window with 
fascinated eyes and mind, and saw that all 

s 


274 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


the possibilities it could give me were too 
tempting to shut them out: never to be back 
in Vologda, no longer to be in the hands of the 
Cheka, perhaps to find my family, return to 
culture and decent life. 

And then I closed the window and tried to 
realise what this would mean to me. I had 
to go back to Vologda, to remain there, without 
even now having the consolation of thinking 
that I had a home untouched, to which I could 
return when released ; to have all my property 
taken away from me, little by little, till I 
would have no means to pay my runaway trip 
to Europe ; to go on living this vie abrutissante . 

No, I could not bear it any longer. I was 
not sure of being able to keep up to my standard 
under the circumstances, and then—what an 
utter degradation ! 

Next day, when my friend came again to 
see me, I said I was ready to hear all he had 
to tell pie on the subject of my leaving Russia. 
It was a very solemn moment in my life. I 
felt that with this decision I had lost my place 
in my country, and that I was abandoning my 
post. If ever I should have the great joy of 
returning, I would have to fight in order to 
regain my position there; I should have to 
prove that I deserve it, whereas now I possessed 
it by right. But some unreasoning power 



CONDITIONAL EELEASE 


275 


pushed me to this decision, and once I had 
decided, the one thing to do was to act as 
quickly as possible, as my time was limited. 

Two things which kept me from deciding 
were my apprehension and even dread of the 
authorities in Finland, and my parole to the 
Commissar in Vologda. 

The first part was arranged to my satisfac¬ 
tion when I learned that my friend was also 
leaving Russia in a few days, and by starting 
before me he could manage to get me the 
necessary papers in Finland. The Finnish 
authorities on the frontier had behaved very 
cruelty to many Russian fugitives, having sent 
them back to Russia and turned them over to 
the Cheka. This would have been the worst 
of all for me, and I had to take all possible 
precautions to avoid it. 

My next anxiety was the Commissar. I had 
to see that my flight would in no way com¬ 
promise him. This was all decided upon satis¬ 
factorily. I would have to take all the neces¬ 
sary papers, and register at the Commandant’s 
bureau the fact of my departure for Vologda. 
Then I might appear to have been lost some¬ 
where on the way between those two towns, 
which was quite possible under the Bolshevik 
regime. This made my conscience, if not quite 
clear, at least a little bit easier. 


276 


CHAPTER XXI. 

FLIGHT. 

From the first steps which I undertook in 
this great enterprise of escaping from Russia, 
I realised to my intense satisfaction that fate 
was somehow helping me in every way. 

I had six days at my disposal, and there 
was very much to do. The two principal 
problems which stood before me were : first, 
to discover the means of escape ; and secondly, 
to find money to pay for the journey. 

Both things had to be done in a very clandes¬ 
tine way, the success of the flight greatly de¬ 
pending upon the secrecy of all that was con¬ 
nected with it. Before taking the first steps 
I had to school myself to a continual series of 
lies, to put aside my natural truthfulness, and 
to decide that no good feelings for people nor 
even true friendship on their side could in¬ 
fluence me to disclose my real actions. This 
was disagreeable, chiefly in respect of Mascha 


FLIGHT 


277 


and her husband. To answer their kindness 
by false pretences and untruths, since we were 
all the time thrown together, was not at all 
agreeable. But this was absolutely necessary, 
as all the kind feelings of the man for me could 
not have prevented him from interfering with 
my plan had he known it. This would have been 
asking too much of a true and idealistic member 
of the ruling party. This same attitude had to 
be practised towards all friends who came to 
see me. I took into my confidence only two 
people, to whom I decided to tell everything, as 
I needed their help. 

To find a sure way of crossing the frontier 
was very difficult, as everything concerning 
this traffic is kept entirely secret. People 
during many months tried to find a way of 
escaping, but did not succeed in arousing 
sufficient confidence to be trusted with this 
secret; and when by chance they succeeded, 
it often turned out to be only a trap. I also 
feared this, having met many people in prison 
who had thus been misled, and whose journey 
ended in the Cheka. 

The friend who promised to arrange my safe 
entry into Finland was to be taken across by 
some secret military organisation, which rarely 
consented to take women over, and if so, made 
them pay very large sums for the trip. They 


278 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


only took people in parties, risking the thing 
after they had collected several people for such 
a journey. This did not suit me at all, as one 
thing which I had determined on was that I 
would only cross alone. I was too seriously 
compromised as a runaway prisoner to have 

anv one else involved with me, and I did not 

*/ ' 

want to take the extra risk of being dragged 
into some one else’s case. 

The next day a friend of mine came to see 
me. In the midst of the conversation she 
began to tell me a long story about an old lady 
who, crossing the frontier with her two sons, 
had been caught by Red soldiers, had spent 
a long time in prison, and had only a few weeks 
ago run away again with the help of very re¬ 
liable people. In a moment I was all attention, 
though trying to look as innocent as possible. 

“It is interesting to know who could have 
helped her to find such sure means, for my 
prison experience has shown me that they are 
very rare,” I said in a doubtful way. I had 
to draw her out. 

“ Don’t be so pessimistic. There are very 
sure ways of crossing. The daughter of this 
lady knows such a man,” she said, slightly 
vexed with me. 

“ I do not believe it, and could never have 
trusted such men,” was my reply. 


FLIGHT 


279 


44 It is very foolish of you not to believe. 
This man is the son of an old lodge-keeper 
at the villa of Mr X. He was born in the family. 
He is very true to them, and it is enough to be 
recommended by this family in order to be 
treated as one of them. He has helped many 
people to get across. He is a smuggler, busy 
smuggling things over the Finnish frontier, and 
the Finns who work with him consent to take 
people over occasionally for a very moderate 
sum,” was what she told me. 

This was ah I needed. The same day I 
started on a long journey to the other end of 
the town, where the daughter of the runaway 
lady lived. I knew these people very slightly, 
having only met them once at an art exhibition. 
Being shy by nature, it required an effort on 
my part to go there at all. But everything 
turned out for the best; the people were ex¬ 
tremely kind, understood my position, and 
promised me all their help. 

The next morning I went by rail an hour 
out of town, accompanied by a charming boy 
of twelve—very proud of his mission—who was 
to take me to the house of the smuggler and 
introduce me as a friend of the family. The 
train was crowded, and we scarcely talked 
during the trip. The boy, instructed by his 
parents to be very careful in his actions and 




280 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


his words, was so full of conspiracy and so 
frightened whenever I opened my mouth that 
I kept silent to spare his fears. When we 
arrived at the station he let everybody pass 
ahead, watched the road, and only then would 
he take me farther. We walked through the 
deep snow for half an hour, till finally the boy 
showed me the house. He made me go farther 
down the road, while he went inside in order 
to see the smugglers. Only when I saw him 
leave the house did I dare to return and go 
there myself. 

I was received in a very friendly way by 
a pleasant young man, who took the whole 
question quite simply, and said that he would 
arrange my crossing with the greatest pleasure 
the very next time the Finns would come over. 
He asked for only a moderate sum, but wanted 
to be paid in Finnish money. This was an 
extra complication, but I agreed. The only 
difficulty was that he did not know exactly 
on what day the Finns would come over, and 
he had no one by whom to send the news. 
So at last we agreed that I would come every 
morning to the station in Petrograd, wait for 
the train from his village, and that he would 
come to meet me at the station the day the 
Finns would have arrived. He was sure it 
would not be longer than three days. The 


FLIGHT 


281 


man consented also to my being the only 
passenger, and I went away feeling myself in 
safe hands. 

I met the dear little boy at the station. 
He became quite himself only when I had 
assured him that no one had seen me leave 
the house. We parted in Petrograd, where 
he said good-bye most charmingly and wished 
me good-luck. 

My second problem was to get the money. 
This could be done through selling things, of 
which many still remained in the flat, as well 
as a few jewels, which I had found untouched 
in the place where I had hidden them before 
my arrest. As I mentioned before, every sale 
was considered a speculation, a deadly crime, to 
be punished by arrest and prison. My risk was 
greater still, as to this was added the delicate 
nature of my presence in Petrograd, and any 
false step might bring ruin to myself, trouble 
to my people, and to the whole house. I was 
not supposed to be there at all, and the flat, 
having so many rooms sealed up, was under 
constant supervision, which made the risk more 
serious. But there was no other way out, and 
all risks had to be taken. 

I began by persuading Mascha and her 
husband that I needed money for my return 
to Vologda, and that the best way for me 


282 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


was to sell everything I could and take the 
proceeds with me. They did not argue, but 
considered it rather imprudent of me to change 
things of real value into paper money. I had 
the luck to find a Jewish speculator busy ex¬ 
changing things bought in town for provisions 
brought in from the country. He came to my 
flat, his pockets stuffed with money, and took 
everything he could find, beginning by pictures 
and finishing with old shoes and broken crockery. 
These things, which filled two large boxes, had 
to be carried out of the house very carefully. 
Two men came late in the evening while I was 
watching outside the house, and moved the 
things away. 

But one thing was still worrying me. I 
had a receipt from the Cheka for some trinkets 
which I had given up when I was arrested. 
Among these was a gold watch and a chain 
set with small pearls, which my father had 
given me only a few days before his death. I 
did not want to leave these things behind, and 
yet I had no right to receive them back until 
I should be legally set free ; but I decided to 
risk anything in order to get my treasures 
back. 

According to the regulations, all articles 
deposited at the Cheka would only be returned 
on application addressed to the same investi- 


FLIGHT 


283 


gating officer who had prosecuted you. In 
some cases he refused to deliver the articles, 
the latter then being confiscated. I persuaded 
a friend to go and hand my petition into the 
Cheka. It was an act of great friendship on 
her part to consent to go there at ail, everybody 
fearing this place like a plague spot. 

Two days later I went to the Cheka myself. 
It was a disagreeable sensation to cross its 
threshold, and when a soldier shut the door 
after me I did not feel comfortable at all. I 
went to a small window in a tiny little room, 
and asked whether I may have my things 
back. 

“ Your name ? ” I was asked by some one 
behind the partition. I heard myself saying 
my name quite firmly. 

“ Please wait; we will send to inquire from 
your investigating officer.” This was worse, 
as it would disclose my presence, and the ten or 
fifteen minutes which I had to wait seemed an 
eternity. Though I was afraid that perhaps the 
investigating officer would send for me, would 
ask by what right I was there, and would prob¬ 
ably arrest me again, yet not for one moment 
did I regret having come to fetch the watch. 

Suddenly I heard some one come behind 
the partition, some whisperings, and then I 
was called to the little window, and, to my 


284 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


greatest relief, all my belongings were handed 
out to me, except one bracelet for which I 
cared a great deal. My fighting spirit was 
up in a minute, and I asked for my bracelet. 
The lady answered that the weight of all my 
trinkets was above the allowed quantity, and 
that therefore my bracelet was confiscated. 
But I wanted to have it back, and offered 
to exchange it for another of my bracelets 
and a very pretty gold match-box with a 
sapphire which were in the lot. As she would 
not agree, common-sense returned to me, and 
I decided that I had better save myself and 
sacrifice the bracelet. The soldier let me pass 
without a word, and there I was out in the 
street with my watch and other things. 

The state of affairs with the smuggler caused 
me great anxiety. The first morning he was 
not to be seen at the station, nor on the day 
following. I was very anxious, and did not 
know what to do. The friend who went to the 
Cheka for me, and who was in the plot, now 
found some other means of crossing the frontier, 
and she persuaded me to go and see some one 
who could arrange this. She undertook to make 
the appointment, and came back saying that I 
must go there at once, while she would wait for 
me in my flat. I did not want to go, and was 
ready to invent any objection, but once she had 


FLIGHT 


285 


taken all the trouble there was nothing to do 
but go. 

After I had walked a long way I suddenly 
felt so apprehensive that I turned back and 
went home. My friend was astonished at my 
cowardice, and, looking at me with pained 
eyes as at an utter failure, asked me to explain 
what was the matter. I could only repeat that 
I did not want to go. She went to the tele¬ 
phone, rang up the people in question. They 
said that the meeting had been postponed till 
six o’clock, and that they were expecting me. 

As the place was far away I started out 
again at five o’clock. I was very tired that 
day, and it was an effort to go so far on foot. 
Trams ran in the morning, but only from six to 
eight, while the working people were going to 
their work. I had been to the station in the 
morning, quite at the other end of the great 
city, and only one way could I do by tram. 

Nevertheless I reached the house in time. 
On entering the hall I suddenly felt a very 
strong impulse telling me to beware and not 
enter. Taking this for cowardice, I fought 
with myself for a few minutes, making a few 
steps forward and then retreating again. At 
last I abandoned the effort, turned round, and 
went home. I cannot say how ashamed of 
myself I was when I met my friend upon my 


286 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


return. And I could not explain my reasons 
—I could not understand them myself. 

Next morning I found my smuggler at the 
station. He told me that the sleigh had come, 
and that next evening we were to start. He 
gave me his return ticket in order that I should 
not be seen at the ticket office, and asked me 
to come by the first train, as the early trains 
are less carefully watched. 

When I came home I found my friend in a 
terrible state of excitement. She had just 
learned that the people to whom I had gone 
the day before had been arrested at six o’clock, 
and that undoubtedly the Cheka was already 
in their flat when I arrived there, and, luckily, 
had not the courage to enter. 

This fact produced a great impression upon 
me, and its effect was that all forebodings in 
connection with my flight fell away of their 
own accord. I felt myself guarded by a Higher 
Power, and to be only an instrument in its 
hands. Other minor details gave me the same 
impression. Everything was going so smoothly 
that I could not claim the merit for myself. 
This feeling helped me greatly in the matter of 
leaving Russia, dulled the feeling of treachery 
and uncertainty as to the righteousness of my 
escape. 

Next morning I was to start. I packed 


FLIGHT 


287 


every family treasure which could be found ; 
I took some linen and a supply of cigarettes. 
All these filled two rather heavy bags. These 
I hid for the night from the watchful eyes of 
Mascha, and asked her to wake me at six 
o’clock next morning. I told her that I was 
going for three days to stay with a friend not 
far from Petrograd. Though to me all this 
sounded quite improbable, yet I was afraid to 
tell her that I was leaving for Vologda, as they 
would both have wanted to see me off, and 
I was going in the opposite direction! Mascha 
went to bed looking suspicious, and I managed 
not to see the husband that evening. 

Next morning at six o’clock Mascha woke 
me up and brought me tea, saying that she 
would go to sleep again. I was greatly tempted 
to kiss her ; it was hard not to say good-bye. 
I dressed quickly, knelt for the last time before 
my icons, and, having taken the heavy bags, 
went out into the street. 

It took me several hours to reach the smug¬ 
gler’s house, and the journey was not an agree¬ 
able one. The train was full of sailors from 
Cronstadt, who looked suspiciously at me and 
my bags. The train stopped several times, 
and was visited by military controls. I showed 
my return ticket, and mumbled something quite 
incomprehensible. Thank God, no difficulties 


288 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


arose. I must own that I was nervous, as I 
had heard so many stories about people being 
caught in the train with their luggage, and the 
contents of my bags, what with photographs 
of my family, a few jewels, and Finnish money, 
could have betrayed my intentions very easily, 
and I felt I was playing a dangerous game. 

I was happy to reach the smuggler’s house, 
which seemed a refuge for the time being. 
He asked me to spend the day in a room at 
the back of the house, so that no one should 
possibly see me. Meanwhile the Finns lay 
hidden in the hay-loft. I was asked to dine 
with the family, which consisted of two brothers 
and a hunchback cousin who kept house for 
them. The family’s sole interest lay in the 
things which they were sending to Finland. 
Their contraband were carpets, silver, and 
furs. They had a large quantity of these things 
hidden in the house, and brought them out for 
my inspection. 

When it had grown quite dark, I should say 
at seven o’clock, a sleigh came up to the house. 
I heard some whispers in the next room, and 
in a short time the hunchback came to fetch 
me for supper. 

A tall man with red hair was at the table. 
We supped in perfect silence, the man watch¬ 
ing me closely the entire time. When supper 


FLIGHT 


289 


was finished I was told to dress for the 
journey. 

I was not nervous for a single moment, and 
was only very interested in the whole affair. 
My one worry was how to get rid of the Finnish 
money before starting on the trip. In case 
of my being caught, I preferred not to have it 
found on me, and the man wanted me to pay 
after our arrival in Finland. They had promised 
to take me to a little house on the outskirts of 
Terioki, where I could rest after the journey, 
could make inquiries about my papers, and 
from where I would then be taken to the 
quarantine. 

The two men got into the sleigh first. They 
made me get in and sit with my back to the 
horse, so that I should not see where we were 
going. I knew that this was not the final 
journey—that they were taking me to some 
village on the coast, from which I would then 
be taken farther by others. After an hour’s 
drive, which I enjoyed very much, as the 
horse was a beauty and ran like the wind, one 
of the men gave a loud whistle. We dashed 
through a gate, and came up to a high, two- 
storied, stone building. A narrow staircase led 
up the outside of the house to the top storey. 

An old man came down these stairs with a 
lantern in his hand, and asked me to follow 

T 



290 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


him up. He left me in the entrance hall, and 
put the lantern on the floor in the corner, which 
so dimmed the light that it was practically 
invisible from the street. 

All this looked like an adventure, and I 
became more and more interested. After some 
time the old man came back, and explained 
that the men were all busy packing their 
merchandise, which consisted of thirteen car¬ 
pets, several “ poudsof silver, and some 
other small articles. He was a dear old man, 
and very comforting. He insisted upon giving 
me tea with bread and butter, and all his 
conversation consisted in reassuring me that I 
was in safe hands, that the journey would not 
take more than four or five hours, that I would 
soon be in safety and drinking good coffee at 
the house of their friends in Terioki. 

At last my original smuggler came in. I 
again insisted upon his taking the money from 
me. Very reluctantly he took up the lantern, 
opened the door into the next room, and asked 
me to follow him. Again he put the lantern in 
a corner, and we both sat down at a large 
table opposite each other. 

I must explain that I was wearing high Russian 
boots which came to my knees. They had once 
been beauties, made at the best shop in Petro- 
grad. I had had them made to wear at the war, 


FLIGHT 


291 


and in them I could walk in the water up to 
my knees without wetting my feet. I had them 
also in prison, making everybody envious. 

My money lay hidden away between the leg 
and the boot. While I was taking it out the 
man said, “ Your boots make me envious and 
I would like to have them. I am going to be 
married in a few weeks, and these boots would 
be very chic for the occasion. Give them to 
me, and this will pay for your journey.” 

These boots were very old friends of mine, 
and they represented a whole world to me—a 
world which was gone and would surely never 
come back. I refused, and handed him the 
money. 

He received it very deliberately and counted 
it in silence, looking so uncertain that I ex¬ 
pected something disagreeable. As far as I 
can remember, there were in all about six or 
seven thousand marks. I anxiously watched 
him and every silent movement that he made. 
Everything had up to then gone so smoothly— 
how terrible if anything should now go wrong. 
He took two notes of one thousand marks each 
and threw them on the table before me. 

44 Take them back,” he said. 

44 But why ? It was arranged that I would 
pay you this sum.” 

44 You can take them back,” he repeated. 



292 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


I would not consent. 

“ The sleigh is filled with very rich booty, 
which will pay largely for the trip, while you 
will probably need this money later on,” he 
said. “ My mates are of the same opinion, 
and they are sure you will bring them luck. 
They have been studying you while you were 
in the other room, and they are quite content 
with their passenger. Most people are very 
frightened, which gets on their nerves.” 

It was really kind of these men, and I readily 
consented to take back the money. It sup¬ 
ported me during two months in Finland later 
on. I related this to many people in Finland 
—people who were in constant contact with 
the frontier smugglers, who made it a practice 
to pass fugitives over the border. No one 
has ever heard of such disinterested kindness, 
but both these and the fugitives themselves 
are loud in the praises of those men, who 
show such sympathy towards their “ goods,” 
though the fugitives are completely at their 
mercy, and are often very irritating by their 
fears. 

After the monev transaction was over I 

1/ 

was told that it was time to start. I tied some 
shawls over my head and prepared for the 
long journey. The old man took me down the 
stairs, helping me in the dark. Then both of 



FLIGHT 


293 


them led me through the yard into a sort of 
shed. We entered into some place where it 
was positively pitch-black ; some one pushed 
me gently but firmly by the shoulder, and I 
felt myself sitting on something. The old man 
had time to pat me on the back, and while 
he was saying “ God bless you,” a gate opened 
at the other end of the building, and I was 
simply rushed out. 

Only then did I realise that I was sitting 
on the side of a sleigh, that two dark figures 
were near me, and that a beautiful horse, the 
best one on the whole coast as my smuggler 
had told me, was carrying us off at a terrific 
speed. Without any road we dashed through 
the thick snow, and very soon reached the 
coast. I felt by the peculiar jerk of the sleigh 
that we had gone straight on to the sea ice. 
We made a bee-line from the land until we 
had gone perhaps a mile out, when we turned 
sharply to the left and ran on the frozen sea 
parallel with the coast-line, still keeping up the 
same extraordinary speed. Lights were seen in 
Oranienbaum, and we had to hurry on lest we 
be discovered. 

For about an hour we went along the ice, 
without any road and in deep snow, at the 
same mad pace, and then, no lights being 
visible on either side, the coachman slowed 


294 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


down. The wind began to increase in force, and 
a snowstorm was soon upon us. The way became 
more and more difficult, and the horse was forced 
to reduce its speed to that of a walking pace. 

For endless hours we travelled in this snow¬ 
storm, always at the same slow pace. Some¬ 
times the men would stop quite suddenly and 
run like dogs through the snow, following some 
trail and fearing to meet invisible enemies. 
Sometimes they lay on the ice and listened. 

I got so cold during this journey that I 
finally asked them to get out one of their rugs 
and wrap me up in it. They talked all the time 
among themselves in their native language, 
and I could only understand by their intona¬ 
tions when they were nervous about something. 
To all my questions I received the same answer, 
that everything was going well. The men 
rolled me up in a huge and heavy carpet, and 
I lay there not exactly comfortable, as the 
weight of it fell on my head as well as on all 
my body, but still I was warmer than before. 

I was so numbed and tired that even when 
one of the men put his head under the carpet 
to tell me that the Bolshevik zone was passed 
and that I could consider myself safe from the 
Cheka, the good news did not affect me. I only 
felt a pang that my country was left behind me. 

In a few hours the sleigh stopped. I was 


FLIGHT 


295 


sure we had arrived, and joyfully crawled out 
from under the carpet. But snow was still 
round me, a stretch of bare ice was seen not 
far away, and to my great disappointment I 
understood that the journey was not yet at an 
end. The two men looked troubled and annoyed, 
and I had difficulty in making them explain 
what was the matter. At last I understood 
that they had lost their way in the storm, that 
they did not exactly know where they were, 
and that they could not move farther because 
of big blocks of ice that were all around us. 
We had to wait for the morning light before 
we could advance. 

I do not know how long we stood there, the 
two men running up and down all the time to 
keep themselves warm. I tried to do the same 
for a while, but got so tired that I sat alone 
in desolation on the edge of the sleigh, freezing 
more and more. When daylight broke one 
of the men went reconnoitring. He came back 
after some time, talked very rapidly with his 
companion, and again we started on. They 
both walked and helped the horse, as we went 
up and down between big blocks of ice. 

At last we came to a smooth place, the 
horse began to go at a better pace, and I felt 
with great relief that my journey was coming 
to an end. 


296 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


This illusion unfortunately did not last long. 

“You will have to get out now,” I heard 
suddenly. 

I was still trying to grasp my escort’s meaning 
when the same phrase was repeated. 

The friends in Petrograd who knew about 
my flight felt very anxious that I wanted to 
cross to Finland all alone and with people I 
did not know. They considered that I risked 
having my throat cut on the ice by these men, 
who, knowing that I was carrying with me things 
of value, might kill me for the booty. I had 
laughed at these fears, and had said that my 
risks were so great in all respects that this one 
was least to be considered. 

But at this moment all such conversations 
came back to my mind, making me feel rather 
uncomfortable. 

“ But this is not Terioki,” I protested; 
“ we are still on the gulf, and you have prom¬ 
ised to take me to a house,” I said. 

The two men exchanged a few words, and 
then again told me to get out. 

Seeing my utter astonishment, the man took 
pity on me and explained. It was difficult 
to understand him, as his Russian was very 
broken, but at last I understood. Both these 
men had to hide not only from the Bolsheviks 
but also from their own Customs Control, as 


FLIGHT 


297 


they were smugglers in both countries. It was 
daylight already, and they could not risk enter¬ 
ing their own country. They had to go to sea 
again, remain there the whole day, and could 
reach home only the next night. So as they 
wanted to get rid of me, I was told to get out 
and find my way as best I could. 

“ But where am I to go, since there is no 
road and the snow is so deep ? ” I asked. 

He showed me the direction, and something 
dark was, in fact, to be seen very far away 
through the storm, which had not stopped. 

“ And my bags ? How am I to carry them ? ” 

“ If they are too heavy, you can just leave 
them on the snow,” he said very quietly. He 
told me also that when I reached the shore I 
must look round, and should I see a house I 
must continue in that direction. I was not 
at all reassured, and wanted more instructions, 
but the horse stopped abruptly, the men threw 
my bags on the snow, gave me a delicate push, 
as a result of which I landed on my feet in the 
snow. With one quick movement the coach¬ 
man turned his horse round, and in a moment 
they were no longer to be seen ; and there I 
was on this great field of deep snow, all alone 
with my bags. 

I sat down on one of them, lit a cigarette, 
and had a look round. My position was not 


298 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PEISONS 


an enviable one, but it might have been worse, 
so after several cigarettes I got up, tied the 
bags together with a strap, lifted them on to 
my shoulder, and moved towards the shore. 
From time to time I sat down smoking to give 
myself a rest. At last I could see the shore, 
and on the top of a steep bank in between 
trees there was the roof of a house. 

It was very difficult to climb on to the shore, 
the ice being very uneven, with big holes between 
the blocks. It took me some time to get myself 
and my bags through this difficulty, but when 
the bank was reached my position became 
more trying still. First of all, I had lost sight 
of the house, having arrived in a pine wood 
under the steep bank. And besides, the snow 
had become so deep that every step was a 
difficulty. I was buried in it to the waist, and 
could only move at all by making one step 
at a time, while dragging my bags along behind 
me by the strap, like a sled. 

This part of the journey seemed the longest 
of all. I was faint from fatigue and want of 
food, and there was one moment when I lost 
all hope of ever meeting a human being. 

One problem was also worrying me. If a 
soldier of the Customs Control should find 
me, he would surely arrest me and take me 
to the quarantine, and then, if the permission 


FLIGHT 


299 


for my entering Finland was not granted, they 
could send me back to Petrograd. 

After having sat in the snow again for a 
long time, once more I felt better. It seemed 
too stupid to lose heart at this moment. I 
had had time and occasions enough for this 
before. Now that I had taken so many steps 
towards my freedom, I had to carry it through 
to the end, and then how very inglorious to 
die in the snow because of lack of courage ! 

I moved on, and very quickly came upon a 
ski-trail. This was already a step towards 
finding the house, and I began to feel myself 
safe there already. The trail led up the hill, 
crossed a footpath, which I followed, and soon 
came to a small house, with its chimney smoking 
in a very friendly way. 

I crossed an open space to the door, and 
suddenly heard the lock turned against me. I 
knocked at the door, but no one answered. 
After I had repeated this several times, a child’s 
voice came from behind the door. 

“ Mother and father are away, and we dare 
not open the door.” 

But I persuaded the owner of the voice to 
let me come in into the kitchen. I threw my 
bags down in the passage and entered the 
warm room. The two little girls were very 
friendly, and told me that they had once before 


300 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


received a runaway from Petrograd. I took 
a stool, dropped on to it, all dressed as I was, 
covered with a thick layer of damp snow, and 
in a minute was sound asleep. 

When I woke up and looked around I saw 
the figures of the two little girls looking with 
astonished faces from the floor, where they 
sat with big rags, wiping the water which was 
trickling from me. I was wet through ; not a 
thread was dry. 

At that moment an older girl came in ; she 
had been out to buy provisions. Without asking 
me a single question, she prepared coffee for 
me, helped me to get out of my wet clothes, 
made a fire to warm me and dry my things. 
After the coffee I felt better, and found my 
voice again. I began asking the girl about a 
thousand things that were of vital interest 
to me. 

I discovered that my Finns had really lost 
their way, and that I was not in Terioki at 
all, but twenty-two miles farther down the 
coast. For about ten miles round there was 
not a single other inhabited house, so if fate 
had not led me to this one, I do not know 
what would have become of me. The father 
had a horse, but was away at work carrying 
wood for some neighbours. He would be back 
late in the evening, and then I could perhaps 


FLIGHT 


301 


persuade him to take me to Terioki the next 
morning. In the meantime they would accom¬ 
modate me for the night. 

The girls gave me a very good dinner with 
delicious rich milk, and showed me around the 
little farm. In the evening the father came home. 
He turned out to be a very sullen Finn, who 
hardly understood any Russian. The wife was 
a Russian, and this is why the children spoke 
it so well. He did not appear at all pleased 
to see me, though the girls were very enthusi¬ 
astic about the whole affair. They considered 
it to be a great adventure in their dull country 
life. 

After supper I began very cautiously to try 
and persuade the man to take me over to 
Terioki the next morning, to a certain villa 
which I had visited in the past. I had been 
in Finland in 1917 when it was considered 
unsafe to spend the summer on our own estate, 
and my family had gone instead to this villa in 
Terioki. 

The Finn consented to take me to the little 
town, but no persuasions of mine could make 
him consent to take me directly to the villa. 
He insisted on taking me straight to the quaran¬ 
tine and handing me over to the authorities. 
We agreed upon a large sum of money which 
I was to pay him, but no extra amount would 


302 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


make him do as I wanted. My plan was to go 
to the villa, the keeper of which was a man I 
knew and could trust, and whom I could send 
to inquire about my papers before going to the 
quarantine myself. 

Late in the evening the mother of the family 
came home. In a few minutes the only bed 
in the house was ready for me, with nice clean 
linen, and all the family turned out to sleep 
on the floor. I had no energy to protest, and 
fell asleep immediately, with all the family 
sleeping in the same room all round me. 

At four in the morning she woke me up. 
It was quite dark. After giving me coffee and 
eggs, she took my things out and put them 
in the sleigh, which was made ready by the 
husband. I paid for my meals, and we started. 
The horse was very small and tired out, so we 
moved slowly along the heavy road, thickly 
covered with snow after the storm. It was 
daylight when we came near Terioki. 

I kept on trying to persuade the man to 
take me to the villa, but nothing could move 
him. Suddenly I realised that the villa was 
on this side of Terioki, and that we had to pass 
it on our way to the quarantine. My plan was 
made at once, and when we reached the turning 
which led to the villa from the main road on 
which we were driving, I quite unexpectedly 


FLIGHT 


303 


seized the reins from the man’s hands and 
pulled the horse into the small road. 

He was so taken aback that he could not 
say a word, and only looked at me in silence. 
But I had outdone him. He could not turn 
back, as the road was narrow, with the snow 
like two great walls on both sides. 

In a few minutes we had reached the villa, 
and I handed the man his money with a good 
tip. He took it in silence, turned round the 
sleigh, and was gone. The lodge was open, and 
only a small child to be found there. Very soon 
the parents arrived and took me in. They 
were not at all astonished at my arrival. So 
many people come over in this way every day 
of the year that the inhabitants of Terioki 
are quite accustomed to it, and this is even their 
principal interest. 

Towards the evening I knew already that 
all my papers were in order, and that I need 
worry no more. Now I was safe from the Finns 
as well as from the Bolsheviks. 

During two days I let myself be persuaded 
to stop at the lodge, the keeper wanting me 
to rest after the journey. After these two days 
the keeper carried my bags to the quarantine, 
where I entered and surrendered to the author¬ 
ities. Everybody was civil; I was made to 
take my temperature, though the quarantine 


304 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PBISONS 


is really a political and not at all a sanitary 
institution, and was then taken to a villa, 
where I found many other people in my position. 

My impression of the quarantine was the 
first shock I had of European life. Having 
been entirely cut off for so many years, I 
imagined Europe to be just the same as it had 
been before the war. I was locked up in rather 
unpleasant conditions for fourteen days, sleep¬ 
ing just as in the prison from which I had 
run away, with a crowd of strange women. 
I heard all about the trouble over visas, the 
impossibility of moving from one country to 
the other, and was made to fill up all sorts of 
inquiry forms. 

This made me very miserable and disap¬ 
pointed. It is true there was no Cheka, but 
the police was nearly as bad. I was told that 
I would not be allowed to stop in Terioki, 
because it was too near the Russian frontier. 
I was advised to try and get a permission to 
live in Viborg, this needing a special protection, 
for during the past year not a single Russian 
had succeeded in obtaining it. I could not 
get a visa to go any farther. 

My first thought was to find my family, to 
know if they were still alive. I knew the 
address of a friend in Switzerland, so I sent her 
a cable asking her to give me news of them. 


FLIGHT 


305 


For twenty-four hours I waited for an answer, 
half crazy with apprehensions. At last, when 
the wire came, I asked a friend to open it for 
me. At that moment I felt that all my life 
hung in the balance. If my people were dead, 
why on earth had I left Russia and come over 
into that strange land ! 

The cable contained my brother’s address. 
After I had wired to him I learnt that all my 
family were alive and safe at Constantinople. 
So then my spirits rose, and when I got all the 
needed protection and was even allowed to 
live for a whole month in Terioki, I became 
quite reconciled with my fate. The beautiful 
bracing air of the place and the quiet helped 
me a great deal to regain my moral and nervous 
balance. I wanted to be entirely alone for 
some time, and therefore took rooms in a 
deserted villa, with only a keeper in the lodge 
near the gates. There I stayed quite alone 
all day long, reading and sewing or walking 
about in the woods. A dear little child used to 
come to me sometimes, and it helped me to 
get over my brooding moments. 

After a month of this life I was driven away 
by the police to Viborg. My first impression, 
I am ashamed to say, can only be compared 
with that of some wild creature coming for the 
first time into contact with civilisation. I 

IT 


306 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 


could not believe my eyes when I looked at 
the shop windows, and I even asked if I could 
go in freely and buy what I liked. All the 
refugees are always greatly impressed by the 
food, but this did not strike me, and the moment 
I realised that I was in a country where food 
was to be had in any quantities, this question 
did not interest me in the least. 

But it was the shops, the restaurants—not 
so much these things themselves as all that 
they implied. The Bolsheviks had really 
affected my mind in many ways. People who 
have not gone through this could not easily 
understand me, and looked at me as some¬ 
thing quite abnormal. They could not grasp 
the sensations that would overwhelm me, for 
instance, in a restaurant, in a warm cosy room 
with a clean cloth on the table, flowers, and 
a band playing for my pleasure and a man to 
wait on me. They could not understand my 
joy in buying an interesting book, my pleasure 
in seeing a well-trimmed garden, or the delight 
I drew from all the simple comforts of life. 

The looks of utter astonishment at some of 
my remarks upon a life which seems quite 
natural to ordinary people gave me a new 
feeling, one I had not had in Soviet Russia. 
While still there I had not realised so strongly 
that I was personally going through some- 



FLIGHT 


307 


thing utterly abnormal. All my fellow-crea¬ 
tures were doing just the same, and I was 
perhaps better off in comparison with many. 
But now I see that my experience, though 
no worse and no more interesting than the 
experiences of many of my compatriots, may 
still be considered as something quite out of 
the common by people who have never been 
in close contact with the Bolshevik regime. 

Thus arose the idea of telling the story of my 
ten months’ imprisonment. This gave me the 
desire to make clear to every one who may 
be interested just what is likely to befall them 
unless they do all in their power to combat 
the growth and spread of Bolshevism in their 
own country and Government. Often it is the 
miseries of daily life which impress people 
more than volumes of theoretical treatises. 

I dare not hope that I could influence people, 
but I would indeed be happy if I should ever 
hear that my story has helped in any way to 
refute the theory about the Bolsheviks ful¬ 
filling the requirements of the Russian people, 
about their being a “ national government.” 

Russia at present is a great sufferer for a 
cause that is in reality that of the whole world. 
She has fallen under the horrible power of 
some mystic force, which was born into the 
world through the sins of mankind. She is 


308 TEN MONTHS IN BOLSHEVIK PRISONS 

showing by her sufferings what this awful 
power is, and her example should teach 
humanity to beware. 

Yet all the world is standing round looking 
on calmly at her sufferings, and does not lift 
a hand to help. 

I know full well that my book has no 
literary merit. Its value lies solely in the fact 
that it tells a real experience, and I can sign 
my name to it with a clear conscience, as it 
contains the truth and the truth only. 

Some things may sound strange and some 
may sound impossible, but I have told them 
as they really are. 


Printed in Great Britain by 

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS. 








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DK Dubasova, Irina Fedorovna 

265 Ten months in bolshevik 

D62 prisons