Puslapio vaizdai

pile of loose saman, or chopped straw, in a corner that would keep the nags fed for a day or two.

Then she explained that they were in a part of the grounds of the university. The students were enjoying a vacation, and no one was likely to interfere there unless suspicion was aroused. This was so much to the good, but bigger news was that next door was the Red Ministry of War. It was likely that the clerks and

under-strappers were still at work, and that several of her girl friends had been forced to work in that very department of State.

After a small mouthful of food and a drink, she would go herself straight to the War Ministry, bluff an bluff an entrance, and find out the two points vital to vital to them-namely, the whereabouts of the Red leader who had taken the Plan from the Ataman, and what he had done with it.

Three hours later Xenia returned to them as they lay fevered with anxiety in the corners of the dirty shed. A Red commissar named Wigramin, so she learnt from the Deputy Chief of the Staff's typist, had come in that morning with a strong patrol from the north-west. He had demanded to see the War Minister himself, but both the Minister and the President were absent in their special train, and would not be back till late the next night. This gave them twenty-four hours to think out a plan; meanwhile Wigramin was sleeping in the house that was the headquarters of the Contro- Svietka, the former residence of an Imperial Grand Duke.

"Do you mean," the subaltern asked her, "the red villa where the exiled Alexis Pavlovitch used to live? The house with the straggling white building next door, where he was



supposed to keep his mistresses, saving your presence? I remember hearing about it when I was here before."

"Yes," she answered. "The white house is empty; the Red infantry that were billeted in it have been sent up to the northern front in that very relief train."

The subaltern had an idea.


Wasn't he supposed to have had passages made between the houses?"

"You are right; James Jamesovitch, it is so."

The next step then obviously was to find their way into the white house, and try to discover one of the passages by which to penetrate into the house of the Contro-Svietka.

It took a couple of hours to discuss the details and to make some arrangements. At length Xenia and the subaltern set out by themselves, leaving the rest in the garden supplied with a counter-sign. They


could not go through any street in view of the certainty of being seized by a patrol of the Milizie that would fire at any one out after dark. They had therefore to cross gardens, dodging amongst bushes, and to climb walls, looking about them everywhere, and finally dash across a street to the garden of that drear white house, whilst a cloud hid the


They scrambled gingerly in through a broken French window. All through the night they searched desperately for some passage, and at length, when dawn was already breaking, the back of an old cupboard sounded hollow, and swung round to a push at the side. They crept cautiously forward and very slowly, amidst masses of cobwebs and the scurryings of rats. At last they felt their way hand over hand to where light showed through cracks. The subaltern peered through a chink into a big bedroom, lit by a dull, blackened, electric bulb. gross, thick-necked, blue-chinned man sprawled in a huge fourposter bed. He seemed to be almost fully dressed. The first light of dawn was already flooding the room, and it was too late to go forward. They decided to sleep in turns through the day in the least noisome part of that passage, whilst the other watched at the chink. They did not dare to go back into the white house, in case it should be reoccupied during the day.


First, the subaltern took his three-hour watch, and munched the crusts he had brought in his pocket, whilst his companion slept.

It filled him with horror to look into that room through the crack where the paper had dried and split, for the room had been papered in European fashion. He recalled tales of the devilries of the ControSvietka, and of how this very Wigramin had butchered six brother commissars in cold blood after his guard had dragged them through the streets to him, with their spines and breast-bones broken by rifle-butts. As the light grew, to his astounded gaze he saw bullet-marks on the opposite wall and the brown stains of old blood, just where his narrator had described the slaughter. This monster Wigramin slept in the very chamber, and his eyes opened in the morning to see the blood of his victims. His sight swam as the figure on the bed slowly rose, pulled on uncleaned boots, and shouted for various people. He seemed to do most of his work in his bedroom amongst a litter of papers. The subaltern strained his eyes in hopes of seeing the book, but without result. At the same time, from the remarks of various unseen individuals, there was no doubt that this was Wigramin, and that the Plan was not far off. He remembered that Wigramin was a peculiarly noisome form of beast, who was formerly an Imperial officer of the General


He had turned traitor the paper round the door so for his own advancement.

Then it was Xenia's turn to watch he hated to wake her, but as Wigramin continued to conduct his affairs in the room, she would be likely to overhear matters of import.

He fell to sleeping as one dead, almost the instant he laid himself down on the floor of the passage. Exhaustion

was too great for any anxieties, fears, or hopes to stay the call for sleep.

It seemed to him that he had not slumbered a minute before Xenia was gently shaking his shoulder, and whispering that it was now six in the evening. What she had overheard confirmed his own conclusions, and she added that there was good reason to think that the Plan was in that very room. They agreed that nothing could be done till after nine, so that Xenia might have another spell of desperately needed sleep. Their troubles seemed to have lessened, and there were rays of hope to be seen. As she lay down she whispered smilingly, "Yestli porokh prokhovnietsa?" a Cossack saying like that of ours about a shot in the locker.

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that it would open easily when the time came. This took nearly two hours of infinite care, niggling inch by inch. The bolt on their side was already freed, and it was with huge relief that he found he could push the door open an inch or two, with only a rug hung on the wall inside it to hinder it further. This rug luckily seemed to hide most of the joints in the paper.

Somewhat after nine he roused Xenia, and they watched together, munching some more fragments of flapjacks from their pockets. The commissar did not return till after ten. His pasty face seemed flushed as with liquor, and he hurled himself to his bed, boots and all, with a pistol still at his belt. The vital hour had arrived on which all their fates depended. What with the curfew and night patrols, the coast would be clear at eleven. They had thought out their plan, and gazed breathlessly at the minutehand that crept upward with such infinite slowness. At the hour they shook hands, and the subaltern slowly pushed the door open a fraction of an inch at a time. When he had not yet made good a foot the hinge had creaked and the rug inside fell off its nails to the floor. The sleeping figure merely fidgeted in its coma. last he could slip through. The light still glowed, but red and dim. He crept to the other door, and very carefully


bolted it on the inside, and noted the heavy chest on the floor. He returned to Xenia, who took an oblong packet from inside her rubashka. All was still. The door was now but two inches open. He struck a match, shielding it from the room, and applied it to the end of the packet. Soon the soft mass spluttered and gave out sparks and coils of greasy smoke.

Xenia opened the door again, and he threw it under the victim's bedstead. They waited, keyed up, whilst the fumes filled the fusty room, obscuring the feeble lamp. Then the commissar lurched to his feet, cursing, rubbing his eyes, and stumbling from side to side.

With an oath he croaked "Fire, Fire!" but his choked voice did not carry. Fumbling in a pocket he staggered, halffalling, to the chest. The subaltern took a deep breath and sprang at him, pulling out a black object, like a long soft sausage.

The perjured man turned and opened his yellow-toothed mouth for a shout. He was too late. The sandbag curled round his head with a thud, and he sank without a groan. His assailant seized the chain of keys that was half out from a pocket and, Xenia behind him, almost ran to the chest. It opened at once. In it, to their joy, above a mass of papers, lay the Plan. They replaced the rug, and before switching off the light, the subaltern ran his

fingers through the hair of the prone figure. "It will be a long time before he murders any one again," he whispered, with a glance at the horrid splashes on the wall behind him.

They shut the door behind them, concealing the cracks in the paper as best they might. Then through the ghostly, rambling, white house. They dodged a frowzy patrol of the Milizie, and were back in half an hour in the dirty cowshed with their comrades. But danger still threatened in many forms. Early in the night the Prikaznik, as he scouted around corners of their water-garden, had overheard a Red patrol, in the street outside, talking of the suspected presence in the city of a party of Whites, and the measures taken to smell them out. He gathered that the principal step was the tightening of the cordon around the suburbs, with extra examining posts and patrols.

By good chance the party they had left at the Sart's farm was well outside this cordon. don. This all needed thought and a discussion of ways and means to circumvent their enemies' plannings. The subaltern decided that Afzal and the Cossacks should set out at once to break their way through the cordon, and rejoin the party at the Sart's farm. The drunken Cossack ruse would not answer again.

They must ride cautiously out, fall upon a small Red patrol at some lonely spot,

seize their caps and Red star badges, and take if possible sufficient papers to get them past the posts. In the rambling straggling outskirts of the north side there were many plantations filled with thick undergrowth which would help this plan. It was the best that could be thought out for the moment. If the attack failed, they must scatter, and each man arrive alone as best he might at the Sart's farm. The Plan could not be given to Rokhalski's party: there was too much risk of loss in the rough and tumble that lay before them. Xenia had an idea for this.

Rokhalski's party had to start at once. The darkness of the very small hours would help them; sentries would be at their sleepiest, and patrols numbed with the cold. If

they were for any reason driven from the farm, they were to leave a message in an appointed place.

Soon Xenia and the subaltern were alone once more with their precious Plan.

There was no time to be lost. Rokhalski had been told the main outline of its contents, but the mass of figures, times, and dates were too much for any man's memory to carry.

Every day that elapsed before the Plan could be handed to the Ataman's successor was a misfortune. Xenia once more led her comrade through the rank growths of many neglected gardens to what proved to be the university main building.

Here they climbed to an attic so high that few Red visitations reached there. Moreover, its own door that gave on to an upper corridor was plastered over, and one entered, after certain knocks on a certain spot, by gymnastic feats from another room. This was done from window-sill to window-sill after dark, by the aid of a wire, pulled up into place in answer to those knocks. Xenia explained all this in whispers as they crept up the stairs. It was a very safe retreat, since no one would suspect the extra window from below; in any case it looked down on to a littleused courtyard. The attic was the meeting-place of a secret society called the "Falcon." Its members were nearly all Poles, Slovaks, and Czechs, and it could be relied upon to help Allied subjects in trouble.

Here, after the necessary display of secrecy and agility, they found the "General Secretary," a capable woman, daughter of a Polish father, who spoke English without a trace of accent. She had worked as a teacher for several years in Edinburgh.

Not only did she afford the fugitives a haven in her attic, but commenced at once to organise a means for them to get out of Beshkent with their all-important Plan. The subaltern she arranged for very soon. He was to acquire the uniform, documents, and the identity of a Roumanian officer prisoner of war-a Roumanian, be it understood, born in

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