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Austria, and late of the old Austrian army. This would permit him to walk about with comparative safety amongst the thousands of Magyar, Austrian, and German war prisoners who thronged the streets, and would even save him from having to answer questions.
Ostensibly he could speak Roumanian, English with a Chicago flavour, and only a smattering of Russian or German. He might, thus equipped, employ the "idiot-boy" method when questioned by Red patrols and so make his way with luck to the Sart's farm.
Xenia's case was more difficult, for Bielschapska, their guardian angel, had decided that she should carry the Plan.
They talked over the matter, weighing the pros and cons of many plans, for a number of hours, and discovered by discussion and thought insuperable objections to all these successive proposals.
Well on towards the day they were visited by another "Falcon," also a Polish girl, who was to provide the Austrian uniform, documents, and other details. These would include a bow of the Roumanian national colours to be worn above the "F. J. I." (Franz Josef Imperator) on the field-grey shako. This sporting of national colours had become the usual thing amongst the heterogeneous mass of nationalities that made up the old Austrian army,
even as the inchoate medley of the so-called Indian army. It would help the subaltern to be able to point to this bow, except that there was a danger that some too effusive Roumanian ally might burst inopportunely into welcome. The possibility needed forethought; the subaltern could only suggest an extemporised gumboil and bandage.
The uniform and papers had to be fetched from the dwelling of a brother "Falcon," to whom they had been bequeathed, and who kept them as a sheet - anchor. Xenia's plans had necessarily to be amorphous. The subaltern insisted on seeing her safely out of Beshkent before he would make his own bow to the Reds.
For the moment she was to be equipped with two or three alternative disguises provided by sister "Falcons." They hoped most from the white burqa and stiff rectangular black chasband 2 of horsehair of a Sartianka, below which would peep tiny knee-boots of soft crinkled Persian leather embroidered in the green-andred tracery and love-knots of old Kashmir. The ample folds of the ankle-long burqa gave room for papers and the like.
At last a plan of sorts, which still gave plenty of chinks for disaster to creep in by, shaped itself out.
Iwwaz Bai was an important adjunct; he knew Beshkent
1 White cotton cloth, covering head and face. 3 Sart lady.
2 Musalman woman's veil.
well, so arrangements were made made to be overcome. to fetch him in.
Xenia, garbed as a lass once more, was to go to the railway station that evening, plant herself inconspicuously in a carriage whilst the north-bound train was being marshalled on a siding, and trust to dodging any one who seemed to want to inspect passes or tickets. It should be remembered that any one who wished to travel by train had to have a pass from the Soviet, as no one was supposed to use the railway except on Soviet business. This pass they could not obtain. The approaching of the right bureaucrat in the right way was too long a business for them in the day.
Iwwaz Bai would accompany her disguised as a native servant. Once the train was well out on the steppe, towards the station of Semitubinsk or thereabouts, they might jump off it in the dark. It slowed down to a footpace every now and then for many reasons.
Once clear of the train, Iwwaz Bai would secure a couple of ponies from some chance encampment of wandering Kirghiz, and they would ride back to the Sart's farm together. There were two great dangers in this. Firstly, Xenia might be caught before the train started from Beshkent Station; secondly, they might find no Kirghiz on the steppe, and wander about hopelessly till they dropped from thirst and exhaustion.
rested, slept, and ate during the day, and Iwwaz Bai prepared a ragged-looking bundle wherein was some Musalman bread and a gourd of water. Xenia sorted her papers: she was supposed to be a school teacher, transferred to the elementary school at Semitubinsk. The train would leave at halfpast eight.
Before seven, then, they clambered out of the attic window for the last time after a sorrowful leave-taking.
The subaltern made his own way towards the station, determined to see Xenia safely off before making for the Sart's farm himself.
Everything and every one seemed suspicious, and he walked along the streets with his heart in his mouth. He was glad to lie down in the tangle of a shrubbery alongside the station buildings, from whence he could watch the siding. Xenia, he could see, was already in her carriage, and Iwwaz Bai was there attending to her in a most counterrevolutionary way.
Then in the feeble light there slouched up a slantshouldered, round-backed figure in tight breeches and highheeled knee-boots, a peaked cap askew on his head. He stopped as he caught sight of Xenia, who, as ill-luck would have it, happened to glance out of the window of the high flat-sided carriage.
The subaltern cursed and Obstacles, however, were seethed with impotent rage as
he realised that the new-comer had recognised her. He waited for an arrest. Rather to his surprise this did not come. The man instead talked oilily to her, smirking and preening himself. Gradually the subaltern realised that this was one of the jelly-fish breed of ci-devant officer who drifted with the tide, putting up with whatever the Reds might choose. He had known Xenia in former days, and was now trying to renew a most unwelcome acquaintance. Xenia bore the trial well, but nothing she could do could rid her of the man, who seemed to imagine a conquest.
Soon a blowsy Red guard lurched up with rifle and fixed bayonet. He tackled both the ex-officer and Xenia, demanded who they were and their papers. A locomotive pushed the carriage and the little group almost out of the subaltern's sight. An altercation seemed to arise; the Red hauled the knock-kneed one towards the guardroom, and then clamoured for Xenia, whom he addressed as "my pigeon," to come along as well. Iwwaz Bai followed humbly, carrying a trunk and a bundle.
The four disappeared into the guard-room of the station; the subaltern followed cautiously, and peered through the dirty cracked window. The room had in pre-revolutionary times been the station buffet. It was now bare except for a battered counter and a score of unclean Red soldiers of sorts,
lounging and spitting about it. Their rifles ancient and untended Vetterlis and Berdans -stood in a rack.
A little circle gathered round the four. They were confronted by some one who was evidently a Red official. The subaltern slunk in through the door, and jammed himself into the crowd of onlookers, fingering a hippocket tenderly.
The ex-officer was disposed of at once, and hustled out with a kick into the paved station - yard and the outer dark. The commissar glowered at Xenia and Iwwaz Bai, and started, after a few blood-curdling remarks, to search the small trunk which she had.
"Now comes the time," thought the subaltern. is the big crisis: the Plan is probably in that box."
All that heart-in-the-mouth feeling had gone from him; he felt quite calm, as if nothing now mattered very much. He patted his hip-pocket again, which gave him a snug feeling, and glanced at the position of the rifle-rack. Fortunately, it was in a corner, and the subaltern determined that he should be between it and his opponents when the lead began to fly.
Meanwhile the pompous sourfaced official, who seemed to be a commisar of the ControSvietka itself, was rummaging through the trunk. Through all this Xenia Dimitrievna stood and faced her death without a quiver and without a change of colour. Garment after frilly
garment came out, the soldiers gibed lewdly, and it was half empty when a big unshaven man elbowed his way in. He was incongruously dressed in European clothes of grubby grey flannel. He looked, paused, and spoke to the commissar. As far as the subaltern could follow his quick speech, he was that bureaucrat's chief assistant.
There were some important papers waiting in the bureau to be signed. The pompous man looked still more pompous and bureaucratically important behind his round spectacles. The big man offered to complete the search so that his superior might go to sign those papers.
This caused a little diversion. The superior at last stalked off, and the search continued. It seemed less thorough in the hands of the big man, but the elbowing Red soldiers missed little. One emptied the trunk, jabbing a knife in to find a possible double bottom; another snatched Iwwaz Bai's little bundle. He held up the quilted cotton abbah 1 that wrapped it, and ran his fingers down the seams, throwing it down with a curse at finding nothing.
The big man commanded the replacement of everything in the trunk, and went on to a little homily on the wickedness of trying to trick the officials of the Revolution. Luck seemed to be turning again, but where,
VOL. CCXV.-NO. MCCC.
thought the subaltern, was the Plan?
He could hardly believe his eyes and ears when he saw the pair likewise hustled into the empty courtyard. He slipped out like an eel in a bucket of oil, and met them in the black shadow under a tree. The train was still in the station. He whispered a few sentences to them and darted off running, regardless of every one, along the side of the line.
He stumbled through the sheds of the goods-yard and amongst countless points and switches. Well clear of everything, he came to a signal-lamp that showed green in a round white metal disc that turned atop of a five-foot steel pillar. He kicked and tore at a rusty iron pin: he could hear the train starting. At last the pin fell out. As the engine rumbled slowly towards him he turned the red light towards it, and vanished into a culvertpipe.
With groans and screechings of brakes and shouts, the train came to a standstill. People jumped out and a little crowd formed, whilst the engineman and brakesman and a gang of conductors walked jabbering to the signal. He saw Xenia and Iwwaz Bai mingle with that little crowd. After ten minutes' vociferation and cursing of signalmen the engine staff replaced the pin, judging that it had fallen out by acci
dent. The subaltern saw the train start with his two comrades on board. A sudden impulse seized him, and he sprang at an open doorway.
No one seemed to see him, and soon he found the two looking happy amongst a huddle of sheep-skinned Kirghiz and long-cloaked Sart farmers. His Austrian uniform forbade him the train, but no official could see him for the moment; the carriage was almost dark, but for a woollen wick spluttering in a tin tray of sheep's fat. Xenia quickly indicated that the Plan was safe: Iwwaz Bai had sewn it into the lining of the cotton cloak that covered his bundle; the Red soldier's fingers must have passed within an inch of it. The subaltern marvelled at Xenia's courage as she had looked at this without a blench, or a flutter of the eyelid.
had noticed had not worried about an odd Austrian more or less.
He had lost his bearings pretty completely. After a search he came to a verstpost of the railway. It showed a huge figure giving the distance from Moscow. He racked his brains trying to remember the verstage to Beshkent, and after a severe mental struggle decided that he was about fiveand-twenty versts outside. He hoped that this meant he was through the cordon, and that he would merely have to go across country eastward for a few miles to find the Sart's farm.
It was farther than he expected, and the way was hard to find. For hours he blundered through irrigation ditches and patches of snow in unfamiliar surroundings. Once he lay in the big furrows of a vineyard to escape a patrol. At last, in the open country, he struck the path they had first used to reach the farm. He noticed tracks leading north along it.
Another mile of groping found him at its mud walls. Slowly he pushed open the rough unpainted doorway to find it deserted.
He dared not stay for long: his uniform would betray them all if a conductor walked down the carriage; hidden amongst the loyal Muhammedans they were safe until the time came for the jump. He left them, and as the train passed a softlooking level patch of undergrowth where trees gave a black shadow, jumped for it, thinking as he did it of the London buses tearing down past No. 96 Piccadilly. That train was not going so fast as those buses, and he landed soft. Hidden amongst the trees he watched the train rumble into the darkness; no one a handkerchief. Two sides of had noticed him, or if they it were hemmed, and the
Further search showed fresh bullet-marks on the walls, and blood-stains. He searched for a certain rafter in a COWbyre. Pulling it out towards him, from its recess in the mud wall, he found a piece of homespun cotton cloth like