Sunday, March 18, 2012

The White Terror and The Red, by Abraham Cahan - Full Text


A Novel of Revolutionary Russia



Author of “Yekl” and “The Imported Bridegroom.”

New York

Copyright, 1905
By A. S. Barnes & Company

All rights reserved

Published February, 1905
Second Printing, February, 1905
Third Printing, March, 1905



ALEXANDER II. passed part of the summer of 1874 in a German health-resort taking the mineral waters. When not in the castle in which he was staying with his train he affected the life of an ordinary citizen. He did so as much from necessity as from choice. Czar or subject, the same water must be drunk at the same spot and hour by all who seek its cure. Nor can any distinction be made in the matter of the walk which the patient is to take after draining his two or three gobletsful.
The promenade at a watering place is a great parade-ground for the display of plumage, the gayest and costliest gowns being reserved for the procession that follows the taking of the remedy; but while the race is under way and everybody is striving to throw everybody else into the shade, the fact of their being there pierces each dress as with“X” rays, showing their flesh to be of the same fragile clay.
So the Czar accepted the levelling effect of the place good-naturedly and sought diversion in the unsustained rôle of a common mortal. Unsustained, because he carried his gigantic, beautiful form with a graceful self-importance and a martial erectness that betrayed his incognito even[2]in the open country stretches to which he would stroll off in search of mild adventure and flirtation.
It was a late afternoon in the valley. The river glittered crimson. The hills on the other side of the summer town were capped by a sultry haze. Donkeys used in ascending these hills were trotting about impishly or standing in stupid row awaiting custom. The sun blazed down upon a parade of a hundred countries, including a jet black prince from Africa, a rajah, a Chinaman in dazzling silks, a wealthy Galician Jew in atlas, and a pasha with German features.
The Czar, his immense figure encased in a light frock coat of excellent fit, was sauntering along apparently unaccompanied except by his terrier and cane. When saluted he would raise his straw hat and nod his enormous well-shaped head with a cordiality that bordered on good-fellowship. He seemed to relish this exchange of courtesies with people who were not his subjects in this little republic of physical malady. It was as though he felt apart from his autocratic self without feeling out of that pampering atmosphere of deference and attention which was his second nature; and he gave an effect of inhaling his freedom as one does the first whiffs of spring air.
As to his fellow patients, they either discovered something majestic in the very dog that followed him, or were struck by the knuckles of his ungloved hands, for example, as if it were remarkable that they should be the same sort of knuckles as their own. He was strikingly well-built and strikingly handsome. He wore thick close-cropped side whiskers of the kind that is rarely becoming, but his face they became very well indeed, adding majesty to a cast of large, clear-cut features. It was the most monarchical face of its time, and yet it was anything but a strong[3]face. His imposing side whiskers and moustache left bare a full sensuous mouth and a plump weak chin; his blueish eyes gave forth suggestions of melancholy and anguish. Interest in him was whetted by stories of his passion for Princess Dolgoruki, lady in waiting to the Czarina; so the women at the watering place tried to decipher the tale of his liaison in those sad amative eyes of his.
Two refined looking, middle-aged women attracted attention by the bizarre simplicity with which one of them was attired and coiffured. She was extremely pale and made one think of an insane asylum or a convent. She was grey, while her companion had auburn hair and was shorter and flabbier of figure. They were conversing in French, but it was not their native tongue. The one with the grey hair was Pani Oginska, a Polish woman; the other a Russian countess named Anna Nicolayevna Varova (Varoff). They had first met, in this watering place, less than a fortnight ago, when a chat, in the course of which they warmed to each other, led to the discovery that their estates lay in neighbouring provinces in Little Russia. They were preceded by a slender youth of eighteen in a broad-brimmed straw hat and a clean-shaven elderly little man in one of soft grey felt. These were Prince Pavel Alexeyevich Boulatoff, a son of the countess by a former marriage, and Alexandre Alexandrovich Pievakin, his private tutor, as well as one of his instructors at the gymnasium[A]of his native town. Pavel’s straw hat was too sedate for his childish face and was pushed down so low that a delicately sculptured chin and mouth and the turned up tip of a rudely hewn Russian nose was all one could see under its vast expanse of yellow brim. The old[4]man knew no German and this was his first trip abroad, so his high-born pupil, who had an advantage over him in both these respects, was explaining things to him, with an air at once patronising and respectful. Presently Pavel interrupted himself.
“The Czar!” he whispered, in a flutter. “The Czar!”he repeated over his shoulder, addressing himself to his mother.
Pievakin raised his glance, paling as he did so, but was so overawed by the sight that he forthwith dropped his eyes, a sickly expression on his lips.
When the men came face to face with their monarch they made way and snatched off their hats as if they were on fire. Countess Varoff, Pavel’s mother, curtseyed deeply, her flaccid insignificant little body retreating toward the side of the promenade and then sinking to the ground; while the Polish woman proceeded on her way stiffly without so much as a nod of her head. The Czar returned the greeting of the Russian woman gallantly and disappeared in the rear of them.
The group walked on in nervous silence, the two women now in the lead. When they reached a deserted spot the youth suddenly flushed a violent red, and, thrusting out his finely chiselled chin at his mother, he said, in quick pugnacious full-toned accents as out of keeping with his boyish figure as his hat:
“Mother, you are not going to keep up acquaintance with a person who has offered an insult to our Czar.”
“Paul! What has come over you?” the countess stammered out, colouring abjectly as she paused.
“I mean just what I say, mother.”
The elderly little man by his side looked on sheepishly, the cold sweat standing in beads on his forehead.
“Don’t mind this wild boy, I beg of you,” Anna Nicolayevna said to the Polish woman. “Don’t pay the least attention to him. He imagines himself a full grown man, but he is merely a silly boy and he gives me no end of trouble. Don’t take it ill, ma chère.” She rattled it off in a great flurry of embarrassment, straining the boy back tenderly, while she was condemning him.
“I don’t take it ill at all,” Pani Oginska answered tremulously. “He’s perfectly right. Your acquaintance has been a great pleasure to me, countess, but I can see that my company at this place would be very inconvenient to you. Adieu!”
She walked off toward a row of new cottages, and Anna Nicolayevna, the countess, stood gazing after her like one petrified.
“You are a savage, Pasha,” she whispered, in Russian.
“Why am I? I have done what is right, and you feel it as well as I do,” he returned hotly, in his sedate, compact, combative voice, looking from her to his teacher. When he was excited he sputtered out his sentences in volleys, growling at his listener and seemingly about to flounce off. This was the way he spoke now. “Why am I a savage? Can you afford to associate with a woman who will behave in this impudent, in this rebellious manner toward the Czar? Can you, now?”
“That’s neither here nor there,” she said, with irritation, as they resumed their walk. “She is a very unhappy creature. All that she holds dear has been taken from her. Her husband was hanged during the Polish rebellion and now her son, a college student, has been torn from her and is dying in prison of consumption. If you were not so heartless you would have some pity on her.”
“Her husband was hanged and her son is in prison and[6]you wish to associate with her! Do you really? What do you think of it, Alexandre Alexandrovich?”
“A very painful incident,” Pievakin murmured, wretchedly.
“As if I were eager for her company,” she returned, timidly. “As if one could help the chance acquaintances that fall into one’s way while travelling. Besides, she is no rebel. Indeed, she is one of the most charming women I ever met, and to hear her story is enough to break a heart of stone. You have no sympathy, Pasha.”
“She is no rebel! Why, if she did in Russia what she did here a minute ago she would be hustled off to Siberia in short order, and it would serve her right, too. And because I don’t want my mother to go with such a person I have no sympathy.”
“Pardon me, Anna Nicolayevna,” Pievakin interposed, with embarrassed ardour, “but if I were you I should keep out of her way. She is an unfortunate woman, but, God bless her,—Pasha is right, I think.”
“I should say I was,” the boy said, triumphantly.“She wouldn’t dare do such a thing in Russia, would she? But then in Russia a woman of that sort would have no chance to do anything of the kind. Oh, I do hate the Germans for exposing the Czar to these insults. It is simply terrible, terrible. Couldn’t they arrange it so that he should not have to rub shoulders with every Tom, Dick and Harry and be exposed to every sort of affront? And yet when I say so I am a savage and have no heart.” He gnashed his teeth and burst into tears.
“Hush, dear, I didn’t mean it. Don’t be excited, now.”
“But you did mean it; you know you did.”
“Sh, calm down, Pasha,” the old man besought him, and Pavel’s features softened.
Alexandre Alexandrovich was the only teacher at the high school of whom Pavel was fond. He was an old-fashioned little man, with cravats of a former generation and with features and movements which conveyed the impression that he was forever making ready to bow. His cackling good humour when the recitations were correct and fluent, his distressed air when they were not; his mixed timidity and quick temper—these things are recalled with fond smiles in Miroslav. He was attached to both his subjects and when put on his mettle by the attention of his class he really knew how to put life into the dullest lesson. On such occasions his timid manner would disappear, and he would draw himself up, and go strutting back and forth with long, defiant steps and hurling out his sentences like a domineering rooster. It was only when a lesson of this sort was suddenly disturbed by some sally from a scapegrace of a pupil that Pievakin would fly into a passion and then he would take to jumping about, tearing at his own hair, and groaning as though with physical pain.
Pavel was perhaps the most ardent friend Alexandre Alexandrovich had in all Miroslav. The young prince was in a singular position at the gymnasium. Somehow things were always done in a way to make one remember that he was Prince Boulatoff and a nephew of the governor of the province of which Miroslav was the capital. He was the only boy who usually came to school in a carriage and it seemed as though the imposing vehicle had the effect of isolating him from the other boys. As to his teachers, they took a peculiar tone with him—one of ill-concealed reverence which would betray itself with all the more emphasis when they tried to take him to task. The upshot was that most of the other pupils, including the only other prince in the class (who was also the wildest boy in it)[8]kept out of Pavel’s way, while those who did not treated him with a servility that was even more offensive to him than the aloofness of the rest. He had made several attempts to get on terms of good fellowship with two or three of the boys he liked, but his own effort to laugh and frolic with them had jarred on him like a false note. He had finally settled down to a manner of haughty reticence, keeping an observant eye on his classmates and finding a peculiar pleasure in these silent observations.
The only two teachers who did not indulge him were Pievakin and the teacher of mathematics, a cheerful hunchback with a pale distended face lit by a pair of comical blue eyes, whom the boys had dubbed “truncated cone.”The teacher of mathematics made Pavel feel his exceptional position by treating him with special harshness. As to Pievakin, who had begun by addressing the aristocratic youth with an embarrassed air, he had gradually adopted toward him a manner of fatherly superiority that developed in the boy’s heart a filial attachment for the old pedagogue. In order to increase his income Pavel had made him his private tutor, although he stood high in his class and needed no such assistance, and this summer, when the old man complained of rheumatism, he had caused his mother to invite him to the German resort.

When they reached their hotel the countess unburdened herself to her son’s tutor of certain memories which interested her now far more than did her unexpected rupture with the Polish woman. She described a court ball at St. Petersburg at which the present Czar, then still Czarowitz, conversed for five minutes with her. She treated the gymnasium teacher partly as she would her priest, partly as if he were her butler, and now, in her burst of[9]reminiscence, she overhauled her past to him with the whole-hearted, childlike abandon which is characteristic of her race and which put the humble old teacher ill at ease.“He told me to take good care of my ‘pretty eyes and golden eyebrows,’” she said. “And yet it was for these very eyebrows that Pavel’s father disliked me.”
She had been the pet daughter of a wealthy nobleman, high in the service of the ministry for foreign affairs, but Pavel’s father, and her living husband, from whom she was now practically separated, had almost convinced her that to be disliked was her just share in life. Her parents and sisters were dead. She had a little boy by her second marriage, but she was still in love with the shadow of her first husband, and the son he had left her was the one passion of her life. Having spent her youth in the two foreign countries to which her father’s diplomatic career took the family, she deprecated, in a dim unformulated way, many of the things that surrounded her in her native land. She was unable to reconcile her luminous image of the Emperor with the mediæval cruelties that were being perpetrated by his order. She was at a loss to understand how such a gentle-hearted man could send to the gallows or to the living graves of Siberia people like the Polish patriots. The compulsory religion of the Orthodox Russian Church, too, with its iron-clad organisation and grotesque uniforms, impressed her as a kind of spiritual gendarmerie. Yet she accepted it all as part of that panorama of things which whispered the magic word,“Russia.” And now the sight of the Czar had rekindled memories of her better days and stirred in her a submissive sense of her cheerless fate.
Pavel was meanwhile putting the case of the Polish woman to Onufri, one of the two servants who accompanied[10]them in their present travels—a retired hussar with a formidable moustache in front of a pinched hollow-cheeked face.
“Her highness, your mother, is good as an angel, sir,”was Onufri’s verdict.
“And you are stupid as a cork,” Pavel snarled. His sense of the desecration to which the person of his Czar was being subjected by mingling with people like the widow of a hanged rebel rankled in his heart. He worked himself up to a state of mind in which the very similarity in physical appearance between the untitled people with whom the Czar and born aristocrats like himself and his mother were compelled to mingle at a place like this resort struck him as an impertinence on the part of the untitled people.
Later when he lay between two German featherbeds and Onufri brought him his book and a candle he asked him to take a seat by his bedside.
“Why are you such a deuced fool, Onufri?”
“If I am it is God’s business, not mine, nor your highness’.”
“Look here, Onufri. How would you like to have all common people black like those darkies?”
The servant spat out in horror and made the sign of the cross.
“For shame, sir. What harm have the common people done you that you should wish them a horrid thing like that? And where does your highness get these cruel thoughts? Surely not from your mother. For shame, sir.”
“Idiot that you are, it’s mere fancy, just for fun. There ought to be some difference between noble people and common. There is in some countries, you know.”[11]He told him about castes, the slave trade in America and passed to the days of chivalry, his favourite topic, until the retired hussar’s head sank and a mighty snore rang out of his bushy moustache. Pavel flew into a passion.
“Ass!” he shouted, getting half out of bed and shaking him fiercely. “Why don’t I fall asleep when you tell me stories?”
Onufri started and fell to rubbing one eye, while with his other eye he looked about him, as though he had slept a week. The stories he often told young Boulatoff mostly related to the days of serfdom, which had been abolished when Pavel was a boy of five. Onufri’s mother had been flogged to death in the presence of her master, Pavel’s grandfather, and the former hussar would tell the story with a solemnity that reflected his veneration for the“good old times” rather than grief over the fate of his mother.
That night Pavel dreamed of a pond full of calves that were splashing about and laughing in the water. He carried them all home and on his way there they were transformed into one pair, and the two calves walked about and talked just like Onufri and the transformation was no transformation at all, the calves being real calves and negroes at the same time. When he awoke, in the morning, and it came over him that the dream had had something to do with Onufri, he was seized with a feeling of self-disgust. He thought of the Polish woman and his treatment of her, and this, too, appeared in a new light to him.
Two or three hours later, when the countess returned from her morning walk Pavel, dressed to go out, grave and mysterious, solemnly handed her a sealed note from himself.
“Don’t open it until I have left,” he said. “I am going out for a stroll.”
“What you said yesterday about my being hard-hearted and incapable of sympathy,” the letter read, “left a deep impression on me. I thought of it almost the first thing this morning as I opened my eyes, and it kept me thinking all the morning. I looked deep into my soul, I overhauled my whole ego. I turned it inside out, and—well, I must say I have come to the conclusion that what you said was not devoid of foundation. Not that I am prepared to imagine ourselves as having anything to do with a woman whose family is a family of rebels and who has the audacity to pass our emperor without bowing; but she is a human being, too, and her sufferings should have aroused some commiseration in me. I envy you, mother. Compared to you I really am a hard-hearted, unfeeling brute, and it makes me very, very unhappy to think of it. My heart is so full at this moment that I am at a loss to give expression to what I feel, but you will understand me, darling little mother mine. I do not want to be hard and cruel, and I want you to help me.
“Your struggling son,
When Anna Nicolayevna laid down the letter her large meek grey eyes first grew red and then filled with tears. She sat with her long slim arms loosely folded on a davenport, weeping and smiling at once. There was much charm in her smile, but, barring it and her mass of fine auburn hair, she was certainly not good looking. She was small, ungainly, flat-chested, with a large thin-lipped mouth and, in spite of her beautiful gowns, with a general effect of rustiness.
When Pavel and his mother met at dinner he felt so embarrassed he could not bring himself to look her in the face.

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