BY BENJAMIN W. VAN RIPER
On November 8, 1917, the storm- clouds of revolution hung low over the ancient city of Moscow. The Soviets held the fate of Moscow in their hands.
About a week earlier, Riley and I had rented a room in a fine big apartment house on Tverskaya Boulevard, while several of our friends, including Halsey and Anderson, had settled in other parts of the city. We were all in Russia in the interests of the Y.M.C.A. At the time in question, however, the impending revolution confined us to a policy of 'watchful waiting,' until the storm should work its desperate purpose, or be dispelled by the saner but slower forces of constructive social reform.
The following notes are taken verbatim from a diary originally kept for the exclusive benefit of my wife who, at that time, was employed in canteen service in France. . . .
It must have been ten in the evening yesterday, when our landlady came to the door to tell us the latest news. Her brother-in-law is Adjutant of Moscow. Yesterday the Bolsheviks took the old Kremlin, where his headquarters were, and made him prisoner. Then they published a bulletin announcing that, in case any of their number were killed by citizens or loyal soldiers, they would kill the Adjutant, along with some other officers they had managed to catch.
We bought a newspaper and Madame read it for us. In Petrograd there is civil war, with the advantage in favor of the Bolsheviks. They have captured most of the public buildings and many of the officials of the Provisional Government. And those who have most bravely stood out against them are — the girl soldiers! Ever since we have been in Russia our respect for the Russian women has been steadily on the rise. We have seen them harvesting, working as section-hands on railroads, as firemen on trains, as conductors on street-cars, and as engine-wipers in round-houses. In Petrograd they worked as traffic policemen, and there, as well as here in Moscow, one sees many of them in regular uniform as soldiers. It is plain to all of us why women should have the vote in Russia; the reasons for male suffrage are much more obscure. . . .
Moscow is an unhappy place just now. All day, so far, we have listened helplessly to the roar of battle through out the city, and have wondered when a stray piece of hardware might settle this way. The Bolsheviks are in possession of the Kremlin in the centre of the town; the loyal troops hold a big arsenal outside the city, and all this morning the two have been bombarding each other over our heads. The rattle of machine-gun and rifle fire is incessant, and from our windows on the fourth floor we are watching the frightened populace scurrying to and fro on the boulevard. Every now and then an automobile full of soldiers, or mounting a machine-gun, whizzes past, and every body scoots to cover. Two officers were killed near our house an hour or so ago. Red Cross ambulances are hurrying about over town as over a battlefield. Our good landlady was just in, to see if Riley and I, along with two of our brother Russians, would go on guard to-night from three to six a.m. Of course, we agreed to. She asked if we had revolvers, but we have not; they are in the luggage that has not yet arrived from Petrograd. So the good lady has gone to hunt for some here in the house. I wonder if I would shoot a man anyway? If I tried to, it is a safe bet I would miss him! Probably there will be no occasion for excitement. But if there is, and I miss him, this interesting narrative will come at this point to an abrupt and untimely end. . . .
These are mad times, in more ways than one. The leaders of the Bolsheviks are mostly fanatics and visionaries, egged on by the Germans' laconic promises of brotherly help. Their followers are the very lowliest, and often the lowest, of the proletariat, who are absolutely ignorant and only know that they want something — a vague, unformulated anything — and want it very badly. The infinite pity of it depresses me more the more I think of it. I don't suppose one out of twenty of them has any idea what a nation is, what Germany is or wants, or what the war is all about. Much less do they know that they are themselves, now, bringing about a chaos and disorder that will lead to their starvation in enormous numbers this winter. All they know is that they want the promised peace, food, and land, and they think this is the way to get it! It is plain to me that certain gentlemen deserve death by slow torture. But what do the sheep deserve — the miserable tools whose best intentions are being manipulated to bring about their own destruction? My philosophy is helpless before such questions. It is not even plain to me that, in absolute right, they deserve the misery that their own luckless heroism will bring to them. I do not so much object to a world in which I am called upon to be my brother's keeper; but I do revolt at the thought that one man can be another's damnation. . . . What nights and days these are for old, sleepy Tartar Moscow — the place where, we are told, the spirit of ancient Russia hovers as nowhere else! It has seen evil days enough before, from the Schrechlichkeit of Ivan the Terrible, whose guilty bones lie in the Kremlin now, to the invasion of Napoleon; but not internecine war. That, everyone said, was impossible. Pagan Petrograd and Jewish Kiev might disgrace themselves; but not Moscow of the hundred gilded domes, the mother of all the Russias, the mausoleum of the holiest saints and the ancient dynasties. And now! . . .
You would laugh to see how some of these people are preparing for eventualities, by trying to look more like the proletariat. The Bolsheviks are out to get the scalps of all 'capitalists' — the 'bour-jhee,' as they call them; and in the eyes of a Bolshevik, anyone belongs to the bourgeoisie who carries a handkerchief or wears a white collar! That is why some of our friends are begging old clothes from servants; rags are less liable to be shot at on the street! . . . Just after noon to-day, I was shoved into the social limelight in a most remarkable manner. A shell struck the heavy corner of the big bay window in which I was standing and, with a terrific crash, sent glass, brick, plaster, stone, wood, and dust all over the room. I jumped away from the window, thinking the house was falling in, and the frantic little maid screamed like an Apache Indian. In a moment Riley appeared, with the landlady at his heels, and before long most of the natives of the house were crowding into the demolished parlor. As soon as I could get the dust and gravel out of my mouth I fell into what I imagine was a rather hysterical laugh, and pretty soon they were all laughing too — whether with me or at me I hate to speculate.
It was a miracle, I should say, of about the third magnitude! I was protected by the steel frame of the building, which threw fragments each side of me; if I had stood a step or two either to the right or to the left, these sentences would never have been written. As it is, there are a few pieces of glass I have not yet got out of my face; we have brushed a peck or so of brick dust out of my hair and from my clothes; and my ears ring so I can not hear anything. Otherwise I am distinctly happy over my good luck. Now, do you believe in miracles? . . .
When I find myself wishing so angrily that the rough-house would cease, I am often struck with the thought that my motives, from one point of view, hardly compare favorably even with those of the Bolsheviks. Blind and misled as they are, they are risking their lives for their ideal of what is wanted in Russia. They are fighting for a cause, even though it appear, in its wider context, to be an ignominious one. And certainly it is for Russia that the loyal troops and officials are fighting so heroically. In the face of all this tragedy, I am ashamed of my fervent but utterly selfish desire for peace and order and safety and — you. I can only console my conscience with the thought that the swift and relentless suppression of the Bolsheviks would have other great and good consequences for the world than the selfish ones I wish most for.
Excuse me! This nervous writing is due to the fact that big shells have just set fire to the big apartment house next to ours and our rooms are full of smoke. This may be 'finish,' as the landlady said! . . . Do you know, this all strikes me as a wonderfully interesting comment on Socialism and its general compatibility with human nature! The Bolsheviks are only the most extreme and rabid of the Socialists. They are to be distinguished from the Mensheviks, the moderate wing of the Socialist party. Then there are the Social Democrats and one or two minor-league brands of Socialists whose proper names I do not know. All these people stand for some kind of common ownership of things — the brotherly-love arrangement of society, in which there is not to be even the selfishness involved in the institution of property. And this is the way they settle their parliamentary differences! The Mensheviks say they are willing to take part in the government along with the other existing parties; the Bolsheviks say they must have all the offices, and at once! . . .
We were on guard again this morning from six to nine, and nothing unusual happened. But the firing, the bombarding, was terrific, and still keeps up. Many people, from the top floors and from the burning buildings, are huddled in this flat, and the apartments below us are equally crowded. A woman is lying on my bed, crying. She was so badly frightened a few minutes ago when a shell struck the house that she was attacked with nausea. Her husband is rubbing her hands to warm them and is trying, rather faint-heartedly, to console her; but Riley thinks her husband is at least as badly scared as she is! This whole building shakes, every now and then, like a leaf in the wind, and the noise is maddening. It is little wonder that the women and children are so terrified. A number have had persistent fainting fits, and the halls smell of aromatic ammonia as if this were a hospital. I did not mean to imply that the men are not terrified, too. I mean only that they do not cry or faint, as a rule: they tremble and swear.
It is two in the afternoon. The siege goes on without any sign of a change in the situation. We no longer look for troops from the outside now. If the railroad lines are cut, as we heard the other day, that ends it; distances in Russia are too great to make marching feasible in an emergency like this. . . .
There is one respect in which the joke, I suppose, is on us. We came over here to do 'welfare' work for these well-meaning but excited gentlemen! I do not mean simply that it would be hard for us to bring ourselves to treat in a brotherly way men who would pour shot and shell into a helpless and thickly populated city, day after day, just for political advantage. That, of course, is not a negligible consideration. But the main point is, that no one can do them small favors when they have set their minds on so much more. A man does not gratefully accept a gift of a dollar from a man who, he considers, owes him ten. These fellows have the ambition to take all the wealth; a writing-tablet or a cup of tea could not possibly make any impression on them.
I intended to come back for a few minutes last night, but the remainder of the evening was an unusually busy time for us. Big apartment houses adjoining us on two sides burned out — one set afire by the house that burned two days ago and is still smoking, and the other ignited by a fresh shell-explosion. We were in pretty close quarters. If our house burned, there were only two ways of escape: we could go out the front door and risk a dash across the bullet-swept boulevard, or climb the alley wall, dodge across, and try to find standing-room in some of the little one-story dwellings there. Neither way looked very inviting. So one of the inmates of our house went to the front door, called a Bolshevik leader to the end of the trench near our doorstep, offered him some money, and asked him if, in case our house burned, they would not give us just three minutes to get out. He replied that they could not conduct their revolution to suit the bourgeoisie anyhow, and added, 'Have we not always told you that the world must be reconstructed by fire?' A beautiful epitome of Bolshevik doctrine!
We just got an account this morning of the way the first fire started two days ago. Bolsheviks had entered the building and were using the upper floors to shoot from. A big shell struck the roof while they were there and set the top stories afire. The soldiers stayed and shot as long as they dared, getting out, one after another, as the fire spread. But all the while they kept one man on guard in the hallway, to prevent any of the inhabitants from going up to put out the fire. When he judged that the fire had got beyond control, he accordingly left the building; and the residents had the pleasure of seeing him drop dead, with a bullet through his skull, almost the instant he stepped out on the sidewalk.
But to return to our difficulties of last night. The two big buildings were burning in a perfect holocaust by nine o'clock, some of the flames licking our very windows. We almost automatically divided into two squads — one to fight fire and the other to collect valuables. The task of the former was very awkward. They could not go out of doors, even to throw water on the roof, without being shot at.' No one was paying any attention to the burning buildings from the outside, of course.
The Bolsheviks refused to let the fire men come near them. All the neighbors could do was contemplate the fires from as secluded a retreat as possible! It was not even safe to show one's self at the windows, especially the front ones. So our fire-fighting consisted largely in keeping floors, walls, wood work, curtains, etc., soaked with water.
Our parlor was the worst room to work in, because of the big opening made in it by the shell I told you about the other day. The large bay-window that the shell struck was adjacent to a house that is now burning. That big hole filled the front part of the house with smoke, and Riley worked in the smoke for two hours, until he was nearly suffocated. Finally he and his 'gang' were relieved by some of the other reconcentrados. He sank into a big chair in our room, and for twenty minutes — you would never guess it! — he read from a trusty old volume of Mark Twain! When his lungs were fairly free from smoke, he went back to work again. Throughout all the unending future I shall be the last man to question Riley's mental versatility.
In the meantime I was working on the pictures. I took a dozen or more oil paintings out of their frames, and then untacked each canvas from the simple wooden frame on which it had been painted. (My finger-ends were so sore this morning, I could not button my coat.) By midnight all the best pictures in the house — thousands of dollars worth of them — were done up in one big roll, which the man-servant, who had just come up very shyly from his lair in the basement, was ordered to carry with us through thick and thin, if we had to make a dash for life.
Riley and I had already packed, on a previous day, for a hasty exit; so we were ready for the emergency, too.
By one o'clock some of us became convinced that the fire had reached its climax, and our fire-wall on one side and double windows on the other showed no signs of surrender; we therefore decided to sleep in turns. Riley and the servant stayed on the lookout for the first three or four hours while Madame and I slept. And how I slept! I just fell over on the cot with shoes, overcoat, and all still on, and, right in the red glare of the fire across the opening, I fell asleep in less time than it takes to tell it and slept like a log until they woke us about four-thirty! You see none of us have had our clothes off for five nights now, and all that time we have been under more or less strain. That, with the strenuous activity of the afternoon and evening, left me rather inclined to sleep.
Then, from four-thirty on, the Madame and I watched the fire while Riley and the old man slept. About six the wife of the owner of the building (the family lives in one of the apartments) came in with her daughter and three servants, and began, in a perfect frenzy, to throw cold water on the glass of the windows to keep them from breaking! I yelled to the Madame to come and stop her, and they fairly shrieked at each other for fifteen minutes on the subject. It was, of course, the worst possible thing they could have done (I mean throwing cold water on the hot glass), but the old lady made her retinue keep at it in spite of all our pleading. Although I was simply weak with rage, I could not help laughing at the wild fury of those two women. It is the greatest wonder in the world the cold water did not break the glass into atoms. Indeed, if the windows had not been double, with a dead-air space between them, they must certainly have been broken by such insane treatment. The thing I am now most interested in adding is that Riley and the old man slept soundly through all that noise and hysterics. All of which goes to show that perhaps they were tired, too!
This morning we are protected completely on two sides by blackened walls, in which everything that is combustible is burned; no fire can now come to us from either of those directions. There is one more apartment house adjacent to us, through which fire might come. There are still shells bursting occasionally where they might set us on fire directly. There is still the possibility that the Bolsheviks may deliberately touch a match to our basement. Otherwise we are fairly safe from fire! There is still some danger from stray bullets — firing is pretty general over town again to-day; but last night's escape is a relief and a source of renewed confidence, just the same.
This morning Madame told me of a little incident in Moscow in early autumn that beautifully illustrates the proletariat idea of equality. The janitors, porters, bellboys, dvorniks, isvoschiks, body servants, and the like, about the University of Moscow, presented an ultimatum to the University Senate embodying certain demands that must be met if they were to continue work. They asked the same wages as the professors, the same number of hours' work per week that the latter put in lecturing (as if that were the only work a professor had to do!), the most astonishing personal privileges, and, finally, equal voice with the members of the faculty in running the institution, even to the electing of the chancellor! Practically all the hospitals in the city are connected with the university as kliniks, and the waiters, nurses, cooks, janitors, etc., of these hospitals were among the tovarishes (comrades) making the above demands. All were granted except the last one, namely, that the petitioners should have equal voice with the professors and surgeons in the running of the institution. But this reservation was regarded by the tovarishes as a galling insult to their new-won equality, and they all walked out. As a result the University is still closed!
But that is not the worst of it. The hospitals were equally affected. Great numbers of the sick were suddenly left unattended. Volunteer Red Cross nurses and many prominent ladies of the city offered their services until the patients could be properly taken care of. Men of the better classes did the janitor work. Now practically all these institutions are closed, too, and the former employees are comrades out of work, waiting idly but anxiously for the socialistic millennium.
Many of the factories are shut down because the workmen refused to have the young engineers of the schools as foremen and insisted upon electing foremen and managers from their own number — men, of course, who did not understand the processes at all. Often, when a machine broke down and their elected foremen could not tell them how to fix it, they deduced the simple but surprising conclusion that the former boss, whose scientific training must have alienated him from the proletariat, had probably 'fixed' the machine so that it would cause them trouble; and then they very promptly went out and killed him if they could find him. Now they are doubtless astonished that these methods have not successfully reorganized their industrial life! I hate to think what the army will become under this kind of management. Imagine, also, how delighted the Kaiser must be!
Maybe you think we are not sick and tired of this miserable rough-house! The firing outside is still ceaseless and nerve-racking, and I suppose it will go on until not only the Alexander School, but every other last official headquarters, surrenders to the Bolsheviks (or until, what we dare no longer hope, the Bolsheviks are driven out). Day after day the same deathly roar and rattle, and nothing to be gained by it all for anybody — for anybody except 'the Germans! We thought sure it would be settled, one way or the other, to-day; but from the sound we cannot distinguish any change at all. The great mass of ammunition that is being burned up is a part of what was sent from America and England to help Russia beat the Germans. And what a lovely use they are making of it now!
After a night that was a waking nightmare, we are happy over a number of things this morning — disgracefully and perhaps only temporarily happy, but for the moment we can't help it.
However, I am getting ahead of my story. We are in one of the highest buildings in Moscow, and it is generally regarded as the finest apartment house in the city. The boulevard we are on is the Commonwealth Avenue of the town. This must arouse your curiosity. Why would one of the richest and most prominent ladies in Moscow take in roomers? The explanation is simple. Americans were popular with the Kerensky government, and our being here was a protection to her. The rabble knew they had to respect an American flag or passport. The Bolsheviks — for the present at least — hate Americans, French, and English, because they think we are trying to keep Russia in the war. Of course, the soldiers out here in the street do not know there are any Americans in this building; but if they did know, our passports would be no protection at all, either for ourselves or for the Madame.
Well, this section of town is considered a hot-bed of wealth, of the bourgeoisie. That is why the Bolsheviks insisted upon letting these fine apartment houses around here burn. That is why they take pleasure in banging this one up too; if they do not deliberately destroy it, it is only because they are too busy just now with other things.
Late last night shots began to hit this building from so many directions, and to break so many holes in the windows, that we were sure it was not by mistake. We tried to keep out of the most exposed rooms, but there was no corner of the building that was safe One of our refugees, a woman, went into the dining-room and turned on the lights, and in a moment a perfect shower of machine-gun bullets crashed through the windows. The bullets came from below and therefore entered at a rather high angle; as a result the lady was not hit. She dropped to the floor, to be below the window-sills, and crawled from the room in a fainting condition. In a short time most of the inmates were either in the basement or huddled in the narrow spaces of the back stairs.
Riley and I stayed in the flat, not be cause we were braver than the rest, but because we could not see any advantage in leaving. If anything happened on the back stairs, it would only result in a general stampede, which in itself would be dangerous. And so long as our Bolshevik friends continued to shoot through the windows, the lower floors were worse than the upper. They did shoot through the plate-glass doors in the lower hall, just to remind people of that fact, I guess. Anyhow, we stayed in our deserted suite. We slept (or tried to sleep) in the dining-room, too, because after all that was the most protected room in the place. But you can bet we turned no light on, and kept below the level of the window openings. The outer walls of the house are so thick that only artillery will penetrate them; and we knew that if they turned that on us in full force it was all up with us no matter what part of the building we might be in.
It was a night of suspense, as you might imagine, but along toward morning the firing died down, and we slept an hour or so uninterruptedly.
This morning, when we awoke, the firing had ceased and our guesses turned out to be true: the Cadets and other loyal troops were negotiating for terms of surrender. The Bolsheviks, for good or for evil, have won.
The house we are in is almost a wreck, and the boulevard in front is a most singular and distressing panorama of desolation. The roads are covered with glass and debris; trees, lamp posts, telephone-poles are shot off raggedly; dead horses and a few dead men lie in the parkway; the broken gas-mains are still blazing; the black, austere, smoking hulks of the burned buildings stand like great barricades about the littered yards of the boulevard. This is the Bolshevik millennium.
We have made a tour of inspection of the apartment house. Practically every window in the place has been perforated with bullets, and I wish you could look in on the upper floors where the big shells struck! There are enormous holes through brick walls at least two feet thick, and everything inside those upper rooms is demolished. Practically all the plaster is shaken off, and the furniture is in kindling wood on the almost impassable floors.
We learned this morning that twelve people were burned in one of the buildings next to ours, and thirty-five in the other. All the hospitals are full of wounded, and an appalling number of patriotic men have gone completely insane. Now begins the expected reign of terror. (I wonder if Lenin will qualify as a Robespierre!)
Then came the happy surprise. While Riley and I were trying to help the landlady bring a semblance of order out of the chaos in the apartment, and the smell of cooking food once more floated through our stacked rooms, Anderson and Halsey came in! I was never more delighted to see anyone in my short life. They told us that they had tried every day to venture out toward our section of town but found it, of course, utterly impassable. They had pictured all kinds of terrible fates for us, especially when it looked from a distance as if all the buildings in our part of town were afire. It was a happy reunion.
The junker schoolhouse has surrendered, and an armistice has been declared, to discuss terms for the surrender of the arsenal. It is a terrible thing for Moscow, and for Russia and the world at large, that authority has fallen into such ignorant hands. From a human and common-sense standpoint we ought to be in tears. But I hope you will forgive me, when I tell you that I am not. Riley is singing 'I want to be in Dixie,' and I am enormously relieved that the siege is over.
The cook left this morning as soon as our hasty breakfast was finished. She was all a-tremble when she came in to ask for her back pay and to announce her departure, but whether from fear or hysterical joy, I do not know. All she wanted was to get out, and we comprehended her perfectly.
The boys brought one bit of personal news that dulls our sense of relief. As I told you, we already had a Y.M.C.A. establishment in Moscow. An American, of course, was the manager of it, but he had a very efficient Russian secretary who could speak English well, and was, altogether, a mighty good man for the place. He was shot the first day of the Bolshevik 'demonstration.'
It is nine in the evening and, with thankfulness that is inexpressible, we find ourselves in the unpretentious little house where Andy and Halsey live. This afternoon, when we were trying to decide whether or not to leave the apartment on Tverskaya Boulevard, a crowd of about thirty Bolshevik soldiers, with rifles over their left shoulders and cocked revolvers in their right hands, came into our building and ordered us out (or, what is the same thing, searched our pockets and the apartment for firearms, and then announced their intention of taking possession of the place temporarily). As we did not care to join the forces of insurrection, we took all we could possibly carry with us and migrated here. With the help of a sheet and a blanket out of which to make impromptu bags, I brought over practically everything that had been in my trunk, in addition to the two suit-cases. Halsey is cooking up some chocolate over a can of 'solidified alcohol,' and Andy has dug out a big, fine-looking red cheese he bought in Irkutsk; it is unnecessary to say with what pleasure we contemplate these magnificent prospects. When that is finished we'll sleep until someone bombs us out to-morrow!
The long Russian evening is already pretty well advanced as I am beginning my last note to you from Moscow. Tomorrow I am going to Petrograd, and then back to the front, if there is anything left of the front by now! The other boys are in bed, where I ought to be, but I cannot resist the desire to tell you of the stirring, tragic things we have seen to-day. We attended the great public funeral of the thousands of Bolshevik soldiers who were killed in the fighting last week. We came home in a daze, as if the whole world about us were throbbing with the terror and infinite pathos of the revolution. Here was all of it — all boiled down into the weeping and exulting of a single afternoon. But again I am ahead of the story.
Solemn holiday had been declared in the city. Every place of business was closed; no one these days cares to display any lack of sympathy with the victors. Vast anxious crowds of people, most of them distressingly poor, collected in the frozen streets and in the great square in front of the Kremlin. Everywhere about the square big red banners were hung, emblazoned with epigrammatic Bolshevik mottoes. A fine, dust-like, arctic snow was falling, and the air was very cold.
About noon the long funeral procession began to file into the historic inclosure which has been called 'The Red Place' ever since Ivan the Terrible left it crimson with his cruelties. On the east stood the majestic old Kremlin with its recently shattered towers; on the north the weird, oriental, twisted domes of the Church of St. Basil; on the west the immense bazaar of the so- called 'Chinese City,' the oldest trading mart in Moscow; and on the south the great gate through which the procession moved into the square. The setting could not have been more picturesque.
First came a band, of which the less said the better. This was followed by perhaps a thousand men carrying a hundred or more coffins. These coffins were painted the bright red of the revolution and could be seen, on closer inspection, to be made of very rough lumber and but hastily thrown together. Walking by the side of the coffins, or trailing along behind that part of the procession, were the relatives and friends of the dead men. They were a ragamuffin lot; I do not see how they stood the biting cold. Most of the men still wore the remnants of their army uniforms; the women appeared to be covered with many layers of work-a-day clothes and all wore shawls over their heads, in the immemorial manner of Russia's poor. Most of them were singing as they plodded along. Only once in a while did they sing any religious songs, and then, I think, only because those were songs they happened to know. There were no priests or religious insignia of any kind. The Bolsheviks have long ago repudiated the church. But there is often religion where church and insignia are absent. In this case the very air was tense with the wild primitive religion of elemental social longing, gripping and uniting great masses of men.
The whole procession was miles in length, made up of just such divisions as I have indicated: in each case a band, then a hundred or so red coffins carried three abreast through the throngs, then the motley, surging, trailing line of friends and comrades. Hundreds of red banners drifted along above the crowds like the crests of great waves, and the legends on the banners were note worthy. 'Down with the Rich,' 'To Hell with the Murderers,' ' Peace, Food, and Land,' 'The International Proletariat,' 'Workers, Arise ! ' ' Let Us Have Peace,' etc.
We are not Bolsheviki, but we could not help sympathizing with them; they have been beaten and betrayed in the war against Germany; they have suffered without measure; they are cold and hungry; of course they want peace, food, and land! The great pity of it all is that, in their desperation, they have adopted a course that is bound to bring misery and disaster upon themselves and create innumerable additional problems and troubles for our sorrowing old world.
It was this element of hopeless tragedy that made their singing seem so dramatically terrible to anyone who saw both sides of the situation at all. They were celebrating a victory — the victory of a sick man who has 'escaped' the doctor. Their songs were the childishly simple songs of Utopian revolution. They were hailing an ignis fatuus of peace. The high, earnest, hysterical voices of the women; the dazed way in which the children mumbled along two or three notes behind; the hilarious, confident swell of soldiers' voices, — soldiers who, though they have rendered their own country helpless before the wanton will of Germany, bravely and sincerely regard themselves as heroes, — all of it together gripped one's imagination tremendously and aroused emotions that caught in one's throat. I know I shall hear that pathetic, jangling music in my sleep for years to come. It reminded me of nothing so much as of the tender, insane singing of Ophelia; the cases are parallel in more ways than one.
By three in the afternoon the thousands of red coffins had been ranged in piles under the shadow of the Kremlin walls. A band, the best band they had, and pretty poor at that (as a rule the leaders and best players in the bands were not Bolsheviks and so were not present), made harrowing assaults upon Chopin's Funeral March, and for an hour coffins — it seemed as if there were no end to them — were lowered into the long deep trench that had been dug at the foot of the wall. Then the great crowds slowly left the square, but only to wind, singing, through the streets for hours more. Some of them are still at it; I can hear them in the distance as I write. Anon they sing the Marseillaise, but it is with no thought of France.
Say what you will, no other public occasion has ever seemed so solemn to me. Here was the very heart and soul of the revolution, the mammoth whirl wind of ignorance and suffering that is devastating Russia and threatening and shaking the rest of the world. I am hoping and praying that this terrible storm will lose itself in the sea somewhere this side of New York or San Francisco! Anyhow, at least one non-Bolshevik I know of will be sound asleep in a very few minutes, in peaceful confidence that our Uncle Sam, even in war, is immune against the madness of Social Revolution.