In a wide clearing overgrown with short, lush grass, behind wooden chevaux-de-frise intertwined with rusty barbed wire, in deep trenches that smelt of wet earth, a group of soldiers sat, in awkward, twisted poses, drinking their morning tea. It was stifling in the close atmosphere of the damp, dark dug-out and the soldiers had taken their tin mugs filled with steaming tea out into the open air. Not far from them, beside a stinking yellow puddle, stood a pyramid of shabby, scratched Japanese rifles with flat-bladed, dagger-like bayonets which resembled long kitchen-knives. The baggy, faded jackets the soldiers wore were belted not with leather straps, as at the beginning of the war, but with thin strips of canvas. They were shod in clumsy, down-at-heel boots. Their calves were carelessly wrapped in greenish puttees. Beside them, in the dug-out, on the dark bunks and the damp earthen floor lay their knapsacks of grey bag-canvas, their mess-tins of thin tinplate, and their misshapen padded jackets, in which the wadding was of raw tow. Previously their knapsacks had been made of tarpaulin-canvas and their mess-tins of copper, and the wadding in their jackets had been cotton-wool, but the long-drawn-out war had changed all that.
Because it was Easter, the soldiers had been issued with butter, and they were calmly and in businesslike fashion spreading this on their bread. Every slice they covered on both sides with a thick layer of yellow, salted butter.
‘Well, if they’ve given us butter, we’re certainly going to retreat,’ said Shapilkin, swallowing bits of black bread unchewed and appreciatively sucking his fingers, which glistened with butter. He was a swarthy, elderly man from the reserve, with a black, tangled beard and thick, tousled hair. ‘When, not long ago, I was on the Bzura, near Warsaw, that was always a sign for us: if they issued butter, that meant, get ready, grease the soles of your boots, we’re soon going to do a bunk.’[The Russians had been forced to retreat from the area Shapilkin mentions in 1915.] His dark, sunken eyes with blue whites twinkled sarcastically under his beetling brows.
‘Gypsy, you waggle your tongue like a cow waggles its tail,’ replied in a calm voice a grey-moustached soldier named Tabakov, who had recently joined the Bolshevik Party. Before the war he had worked as a milling-machine operator in the Aivaz factory.[The Aivaz factory was one of the principal factories in Petersburg.] Shapilkin, nicknamed Gypsy, made a wry face and looked at Tabakov malevolently, but made no rejoinder. Blue-eyed Zhivets, a strapping young fellow with a face that was as red as if he had been scalded, reached out awkwardly for the tin tea-pot and, making splashes, poured himself a mug of hot tea.
‘How sick I am of these damned lentils,’ he said, his thin, uncertain alto slightly drawling the words. ‘They used to feed the stuff to horses, and they said it made their hair fall out, but now they give it to human beings to eat as well. We only get little bits of meat, and then it’s uneatable, smells like carrion. I’m not going to eat anything more, only drink tea.’
‘There’s precious little bread, the meat stinks, the fish is rotten, and we get no more than a miserable allowance of sugar,’ interjected Shapilkin, as he carelessly splashed his tealeaves onto the grass. ‘I expect the pot-bellies have enough, but there’s none for us. Neither tobacco, nor soap, nor uniforms -nothing. And they pay us 75 kopecks a month. Well, to the devil with them.’
And, enraged, he began rolling a cigarette, using a fragment of newspaper. Zhivets fell into a reverie. He remembered his native village, the low, ramshackle hut with the roof of dirty straw and the dark windows and he remembered, too, his old mother, with her kind, wrinkled face and grey, sorrowful eyes. Wearing her red headscarf tied high, she kneaded the resilient dough and with a long shovel placed the round loaves of rye-bread in the oven. On Saturdays, after giving her family their meal, she took her shoes off and, with her skirt tucked up, her face flushed and wet with sweat, stooped low and, standing with her bare legs, with their muscular calves, placed wide apart, she washed the dirty wooden floor, through the big cracks in which blew, as from a cellar, thin currents of damp, cold air.
‘I wanted very badly not to go to the war,’ said Zhivets, meditatively, changing the subject of the conversation to what most worried and tormented him. ‘We’re settlers. We had only just started up our home, built a hut, bought a cow, reared some poultry, when, bang, the war came. Soon they were calling up our lads ... Well, they took me, too. I got very frightened! I really didn’t want to go to the war.’
‘Who did?’ observed Shapilkin, gloomily, as he continued to smoke the big cigarette he had rolled for himself, and stretched out at full length his legs in their rough, broad-toed boots, bespattered with thick, sticky mud.
‘Ye-e-s... I was terribly upset,’ blue-eyed Zhivets went on, forgetting the mug of tea he had poured out for himself. ‘I remember it as though it was today... On the last night I went out into the yard. It was so quiet. . . Nothing stirred. The cow was lying on straw in the shed: she mooed ... The horses were munching their hay. Little stars shone in the blue sky. It wasjust paradise, that’s what it was... And now I had to go to the war, to shed my blood for I didn’t know what ... Why do people fight? There’s plenty of land. You’d think there was enough for everyone ... I walked all round the yard. The chicks were calling to each other in wheezy voices. It was so hard for me to leave my own home. My heart really ached.’
‘All the same, you’re going to fight, Zhivets,’ said Shapilkin, smoking his cigarette and puffing out a blue-grey cloud of stinking makhorka smoke. ‘They say in the papers that Kerensky has declared for war until complete victory.’
‘In Okopnaya Pravda[Okopnaya Pravda (Trench Truth) was the Bolshevik soldiers’ newspaper. It began to appear on April 30 (May 13) 1917.] they say,’ Tabakov broke in excitedly, ‘that a British minister has declared, straight out: “We’ll fight to the last drop of blood of a Russian soldier”.. . Not a British soldier, a Russian soldier ... That’s what he said. Word of honour. We’re so much cannon fodder to stop up gaps with. What fine allies they are . .
‘Last year, when they were in trouble,’ said Shapilkin, wiping his moustache with the back of his hand, ‘we had to take the offensive. What a lot of men were done for, what a lot of orphans, widows and cripples were made.[In March 1916 the Russians launch&l an offensive in order to relieve the pressure on Verdun. In a single fortnight they lost 150,000 men.] And now nobody can see when it will end. They chatter about peace, but it’s only chatter.’
‘But how good it would be to have peace and get back home soon,’ said Zhivets dreamily, taking off his crumpled cap and passing his hand over his round, tow-haired, close-cropped head. ‘The people have now become like brothers... Only the war oppresses us ... We’ve been shedding our blood for three years—how easy it is to say that ... And when will this slaughter of us wretched people be ended? After all, these are our brothers. They’ve done no wrong. They don’t owe us anything. Why should we fight them?’
‘The devil only knows what they mean to do with us. We won’t attack, anyway,’ said Shapilkin, firmly, and in his irritation he hit out at the crumbling wall of the trench.
‘We mustn’t attack, we must fraternise,’ explained Tabakov loudly, his grey eyes suddenly sparkling. ‘Comrade Lenin says-’
‘Down with Lenin!’ came a voice from the dug-out. ‘He came from Wilhelm. In a sealed train . .‘The Bolsheviks are splendid people,’ shouted Tabakov, waving his arms. ‘Especially Lenin... I heard him sčak when I was on leave... On the Petersburg Side, from the balcony of Kshesinskaya’s house...’
‘The SRs are better. They’re for land and liberty,’ broke in a short, puny, black-haired soldier.
‘You can’t made out which party is best. They’ve got things in such a mess, it can’t be sorted out,’ someone rumbled in a deep bass.
‘The Bolsheviks are for peace. They’re against the war and against the bourgeois,’ Tabakov went on, with fervour. ‘We are tormented, hungry, cold and in rags, we are rotting in filthy, wet dug-outs, we are being eaten by lice, but the bourgeois in the rear are drinking champagne, rolling around in cars with their mistresses, raking in the money, so they keep on bawling “War until victory!” But where is it, this victory?’
‘It seems the devil has gobbled it up,’ muttered Shapilkin gloomily.
There was laughter. Tabakov’s warm, sincere words had touched the soldiers’ hearts. But the Mensheviks and SRs stubbornly objected to fraternisation, and only the Bolshevik soldiers ardently supported Tabakov. A fierce, passionate argument broke out between them.
‘Who can make them out?’ a bass voice suddenly droned. ‘Perhaps it’s true, perhaps the Bolsheviks do mean well.’
‘That’s right, the Bolsheviks are good people. They are the only ones who tell the truth,’ several men contributed.
‘They stand for peace,’ said a loud voice from the interior of the machine-gun post.
‘They’re against the bourgeois,’ said someone in the dug-out.
‘They’re the only ones who are for the workers and thepeasants.’
‘The Bolsheviks are our people,’ came from the winding communication trenches.
‘So, then, lads, let’s fraternise,’ cried Tabakov joyfully. ‘Let’s do as Lenin says and turn the imperialist war into a civil war.
Our Party group has decided to fraternise, comrades!’
‘Fine, fine! Down with the war ! Let’s fraternise!’ came cheerful cries from the whole length of the trench.
‘Don’t you dare fraternise! It’s treason to the fatherland and to the revolution!’ shouted the short dark man. Then, seeing that he was helpless to stop it, he hurried away to warn the commanders.
‘Let’s stop firing and fraternise, and then, you’ll see, the war will end,’ Zhivets cried with enthusiasm, and ran swiftly into the dug-out. In a minute he was back again, holding a wide red towel which served as a flag on ceremonial occasions, and also a tin plate, on which lay a small white paskha,[Pasicha here means the sweet dish made of curds, butter and raisins, eaten at Easter.] and some gaily painted eggs, purchased in the nearest town.
‘We’ve had enough, Stepa, of shedding our blood for the interests of the capitalists,’ said Shapilkin, excitedly, as he slapped Zhivets on the back. ‘They came to blows, they took a beating, they made a hell of a mess, and now it’s time to stop.’
Speechless with emotion, Zhivets smiled a rapturous smile with his wide mouth. In an instant the soldiers hastened to the entrance of the dug-out. Tabakov took a piece of chalk and, knitting his brows, slowly and with concentration began to inscribe letters two-feet high on the flag. After sticking tall, thin poles in the ground, the soldiers fixed between them the long pieces of red cloth with the inscription Tabakov had made: ‘Down with the war! Greetings to the working people of the West!’
The volunteers, officers and NCOs and the Menshevik and SR soldiers got excited, shouted and argued, but none of their arguments could hold the soldiers back from fraternisation, and so they morosely withdrew into the dug-outs to drink coffee.
The Austrian soldiers in their greyish-green uniforms and crumpled képis rose waist-high out of their trenches, waved little white flags and, comically mispronouncing the Russian words, shouted at the tops of their voices: ‘Russian, don’t shoot! Make peace!’
‘Look, look, the Austrians are coming! More and more of them!’ cried the Russian soldiers, excited by this extraordinary spectacle.
‘My word, yes, what a lot of them are pouring out of the trenches,’ said Shapilkin, amazed, as he gravely stroked his beard.
Zhivets purposefully took out a clean handkerchief, shook it, spread it neatly on the grass, and carefully smoothed it with his palms, rough as a cat’s tongue. Then he wrapped in it the white curd paskha and three painted eggs. Taking a small white flag and holding it high above his head, his right arm stretched out stiffly, he held the neatly tied bundle in his left hand, taking care not to crush the delicate paskha. Then, with difficulty, he climbed over the barbed wire. Nearly all his fingers were soon bleeding from scratches. Four Austrians, in greenish képis with long peaks and small, round, cockades, like buttons, jumped out of their trenches and advanced towards him. Zhivets stopped.
‘Come on, come into the middle!’ shouted, in Russian, a Czech whose face was grey with dust.
‘Pan,*[Pan is the Czech equivalent of ‘Mister’.] I can’t cope with four,’ Zhivets shouted back in his youthful, ringing voice, and made a gesture of helplessness.
The Austrians consulted together, and three of them went back and sat, with their legs dangling, on the edge of their trench. An Austrian soldier with light-coloured eyebrows moved hesitantly towards Zhivets, clutching his broad belt, with a puzzled smile on his face. When they came alongside each other they both, as though at a command, took off their caps, flung them on the ground and embraced warmly.
Sweating and emotional, smiling with joy, Zhivets handed the Austrian soldier his present.
‘Danke schön, danke schön,’ said the Austrian, cheerfully nodding, as, flushed, he picked up his képi from the ground and shyly smoothed his fair, dishevelled hair.
‘What’s your name?’ asked Zhivets, unceremoniously prodding the other man in the chest with his forefinger. ‘Your name—what?’
‘Wurstmacher, Wurstmacher,’ the Austrian replied, after a moment’s hesitation, and smiled broadly. He sat down on the stump of a recently felled birch-tree, undid the bundle and cordially offered one of the eggs to Zhivets, who, however, shook his head, saying, ‘Eat it, I brought it for you, eat it.’
And Wurstmacher began, with unconcealed avidity, to stuff big pieces of the white crumbly paskha into his mouth.
When he had eaten his fill and brushed the crumbs off himself, Zhivets took him delicately by the arm and, as though out with a young lady, walked up and down with him at the foot of a hillock which Shapilkin called, in his old Siberian dialect, a sopka. Gesticulating in a remarkably lively and expressive way with his dry, thin hand, Zhivets strove to explain something to the Austrian.
Thousands of eyes watched Zhivets and Wurstmacher tensely from both sides. Then, as though at a command, the Russian soldiers, shouting ‘Hurrah!’, flung themselves, with their bare hands, on the barbed-wire obstacles. In a moment the pickets were uprooted and broken with a crack, and the torn barbed wire lay lifeless on the ground. The Austrian soldiers likewise opened wide gaps through their barbed wire. Then the Russians and Austrians, as though fatigued by the work they had just accomplished, advanced towards each other timidly and cautiously. The sight of the live enemy—he who only yesterday had been firing his rifle at them, spreading death and destruction—struck everyone with unreasoning, terrifying anxiety. As they drew nearer, they came to a halt, staring at this enemy: but when they saw the others’ simple, open, peasant faces, the ice broke at once. Like the smashed pickets of the barbed-wire obstacles, in a second the distrust and hatred between them was destroyed—that distrust and hatred which had been instilled into these peaceful ploughmen by their officers and generals so that they might slash, stab and kill each other for the sake of plundering, conquest and profit by greedy landlords, bankers, factory-owners and merchants. The soldiers of both armies rushed impulsively towards each other and, shouting, began to shake hands and embrace. Big, limpid tears poured down the faces of many of them. Not knowing each other’s language, they could not converse, but they understood each other very well by instinct and intuition.
‘Please be our guests, comrades!’ said Tabakov, hospitably, offering a round loaf of black bread and a sugar-loaf wrapped in blue paper.
‘Thank you very much for this. We haven’t seen any sugar for eight months now,’ replied the Austrians, gratefully, and offered the Russians cigars and cigarettes in return.
The remains of the dead from the previous year had not yet been removed from the clearing. As in Ruslan and Lyudmila, it was strewn with dead men’s bones. The Austrian soldiers called it ‘the valley of death’. Now, the Russians and Austrians collected up the yellowed skulls and bones that were lying about on the grass. They gathered them into a heap which soon grew into a high pyramid, as in Vereshchagin’s picture The Apotheosis of War. [V.V. Vereshchagin’s painting ‘The Apotheosis of War’, painted in 1871-1872, is in the Tretyakov Gallery.]
Treading hard on his spade, Shapilkin dug a grave. The other soldiers, who had removed their caps and their képis, helped him in solemn silence. Within an hour a broad, deep pit had been dug, and into it were cast the bones and skulls, making a dry rattling sound as they fell. Over the grave, when it had been filled in, a low rectangular mound was raised. Standing round this hillock the soldiers sang a funeral hymn.
When this ceremony was over, the fair-haired Wurstmacher produced, for the funeral feast, a bottle of rum with a long neck and a picture of a smiling, curly-haired Negro on the label, and slyly began began pouring this rum into glasses. Shapilkin boldly clinked glasses with him, swallowed his glass of strong rum in one gulp, grunted, and then appreciatively wiped his wet lips and moustache with the back of his hand.
All over the clearing groups of Russians and Austrians were sitting, vying with each other in hospitality, clinking glasses, talking loudly, smoking, drinking rum and brandy. This narrow clearing, bounded by two rows of barbed wire, looked not so much like the scene of recent fighting as like that of a picnic or a popular outing.
‘We’ve thrown off our allegiance to Nicholas. You throw off your allegiance. That’ll be a fair exchange,’ cried Shapilkin, cheerfully waving his swarthy hand.
‘That’s right, comrade, that’s right! Then there will be peace,’ agreed Tabakov, enthusiastically, striking a fist into the palm of his other hand. The volunteer Poyarkov, a former student, who had cycled all over Germany before the war, now, proud of his advantage over the rest of the men, diligently translated Shapilkin’s words into German.
Wurstmacher listened attentively to the translation and, nervously smoothing his unruly locks, said sincerely and frankly, with a quiver in his voice: ‘Russian ... You have no Tsar now. We will soon throw ours off the throne, as well. Let’s make peace ... We’ll be brothers forever ... In God’s name, don’t fire at us, but only into the air. . . And we, too, won’t fire at you.’
Wurstmacher added that they had recently been brought there from the Italian front and had been ordered to attack, but had successfully refused.
‘Why war? Who needs war? The rich need it, but we don’t,’ cried Shapilkin loudly, his dark, deep-set eyes gleaming, as he pressed against Wurstmacher, who fell back blushing with embarrassment.
Tabakov, carrying out the decision taken by the Party group, was gravely and rather solemnly giving a talk about the war. The Austrian soldiers listened with bated breath and openmouthed to Poyarkov’s hesitating translation, as to a new, unheard-of revelation.
‘So, then,—will you attack us?’ demanded Tabakov, as he wiped his perspiring brow.
‘No, never,’ came the firm, convinced reply of the Austrians.
Tabakov hurried back to the trench and returned with a small, battered camera, with some black calico glued to it.
‘We’re going to have our photo taken, comrades.’ In Russian and German, the message was passed around the clearing. Everybody gathered near Tabakov, who, placing his short strong legs wide apart, was silently and with concentration setting up his apparatus, as though performing some holy rite. Some of the men sat down on the grass, with a relaxed air, others knelt behind them, and those at the very back stood upright. Many Russians and Austrians put their arms round each other and smiled happily.
The noon-day sun shone brightly from a high, cloudless sky. Hungry crows circles, cawing frenziedly, over the green clearing.
‘Look, the crows are upset. Obviously, they’re protesting against our fraternisation. They, too, I dare say, would like to eat,’ said Shapilkin in his loud voice.
One of the grinning soldiers could not refrain from chuckling, and others found it hard to keep their smiles from breaking into laughter. At that very moment the camera clicked, and then Tabakov, stiff with tension, a blue vein bulging in his forehead, instantly emerged and let out a sigh of relief. Everyone stirred, moved about and began to cough and chat.
‘And now let’s show you our dances, and then you show us yours,’ exclaimed Zhivets gaily, in his thin, high voice, choking with joy.
Guitars and balalaikas were brought from the trenches. Somebody began playing an accordion. Zhivets gave a shout and dashingly started to dance the gopak. He squatted, throwing out his thin young legs, then suddenly straightened up and, with arms firmly akimbo, spun round so fast that he seemed to have two faces. At the end of his dance, staggering, breathing hard and wiping the sweat from his red face, which seemed to be on fire, he shyly withdrew.
‘Bravo! Bravo!’ cried the Austrians, clapping as though in a theatre.
‘Now it’s your turn,’ said Zhivets to Shapilkin, panting and gulping air convulsively, like a fish caught and thrown on the sand.
‘All right, then,’ replied Shapilkin, defiantly. With a negligent air he put his hands on his hips and slowly, gravely, as though unwilling, he began to dance. To the sound of the Kamarinskaya tinkling from a balalaika, he moved with a smile over the grass, stamping his feet and squatting. Suddenly he pulled a dirty handkerchief out of his pocket and, waving this in an affected manner over his shaggy head, he floated round in a circle, ceremoniously, importantly, like a majestic peahen. Fascinated by this unfamiliar dance, the Austrian soldiers followed his every movement with fixed smiles. Suddenly the bearded Shapilkin grabbed a pale, pock-marked Austrian and whirled him into a wild pirouette. Other soldiers, laughing, joined in the round-dance and, happy and carefree as children, they circled again and again on the soft, bright-green, sweetscented grass.
Lanky Prince Windischgrtz belonged to an ancient and distinguished family of the Hungarian aristocracy.[The Windischgrätz family were not Hungarian, they came from Styria. ] He loved to tell, with pride, how his grandfather, the stern, grey-whiskered Field-Marshal, had in 1848 bombarded Prague and subdued Vienna with fire and sword, and in the following year had savagely crushed rebel Hungary.
The fraternisation by the Austrian soldiers, whom he, as a Hungarian magnate, had always regarded with haughty contempt, had filled him with anger and fury. The commander of the Austrian Army, the cunning General Rohr, seeing that this fraternisation could not be dealt with by forcible means, decided to send Windischgrátz, as an experienced spy, into the Russian lines in order to find out what he could about the strength and the morale of the enemy. As passport, he gave him a packet, sealed with red wax, addressed to the headquarters of the Russian Army.
Red-faced, balding, dark-haired, with black, staring eyes, bristling reddish eyebrows and a long, thin neck, Ludwig Windischgrtz crossed the line of the front with anxiously beating heart. He was at once surrounded by a group of Russian soldiers. At the sight of an officer’s grey greatcoat the fraternising Austrians had scattered and hidden themselves in the thick, tall bushes.
‘I have the honour to present myself—Prince Windischgrátz,’ he muttered drily, in German. ‘But where are the hostages? Please send them across to our trenches.’
Volunteer Poyarkov, with the particoloured braid on his soldier’s shoulder-straps, repeated what Windischgrätz had said, word for word.
‘Well, lads, who’ll volunteer to go as a hostage?’ Tabakov asked the soldiers, who were all gazing at Windischgrätz . His officer’s epaulettes, the stars on his high upstanding collar and his entire haughty, important bearing struck them as funny.
‘I’ll go,’ said Zhivets, happy to undertake a worthy and dangerous responsibility for which not everyone would be willing. And, stooping from habit, he ran along the trench: the worn soles of his rust-coloured boots flashed in the air as, swinging his long arms, he leapt awkwardly on to the parapet and trotted across the broad clearing. His tall, thin figure soon vanished into the Austrian trenches.
‘Please sit down,’ said Tabakov to the Austrian officer.
‘Thank you very much,’ replied Windischgrätz, settling himself down on a grassy hummock and stretching his long legs in their black, lacquered leggings. With an independent air he unfastened his greatcoat and produced from his jacket pocket a flat silver cigarette-case, on which gleamed an embossed decoration in gold and enamel: a Prince’s crown, a patterned monogram, the head of a beautiful woman, a big bottle of champagne, and the brown muzzle ofa long-eared Irish setter.
‘Please smoke, gentlemen,’ he said, addressing the soldiers around him, as he politely offered his cigarette-case, closely packed with short cigarettes which had gold tips instead of the mouthpieces the Russians were used to.
Tabakov declined politely. Some of the others hesitantly reached out for cigarettes.
‘How many regiments are fraternising?’ asked Windischgrtz, with an innocent air, as he took off his cloth-covered spiked helmet. Big drops of sweat ran down his red face.
‘What, as a matter of fact, are you after?’ interrupted Tabakov, who was speculating about the enemy’s intentions. Poyarkov, stammering slightly, translated Tabakov’s question, deliberately omitting the words ‘as a matter of fact’. To his surprise, he could not remember the German equivalent of that expression.
‘I have to take a letter to the headquarters of the Russian Army,’ said Windischgrätz, slowly and seriously.
‘All right, that can be done,’ answered Tabakov. ‘We’ll take you in a moment. But one good turn deserves another. We should like to hold a meeting and invite all your soldiers to it.’
‘A meeting? Our soldiers?’ And the Austrian officer looked up, with his gleaming black eyes, like olives, at Tabakov standing before him. ‘I don’t understand. What do you want with our soldiers? I can come, and some other officers, but why do you want our soldiers?’
‘No, it’s your soldiers we want, not you,’ said Tabakov roughly, losing patience. Windischgrtz looked round suspiciously at the soldiers who encircled him closely, cracking sunflower seeds in ŕ carefree way and smoking his cigarettes. Behind his back the bearded Shapilkin, making funny faces, was silently fingering, over his head, the vents of a big, double-row accordion.
‘But what would be discussed at this meeting?’ Windischgrtz asked anxiously, after a short pause.
‘Questions of war and peace, of brotherhood between peoples, and of revolution. What are you frightened of?’ asked Tabakov challengingly., as he felt anger boiling up inside him against this Austrian officer, red-faced and pompous as a turkey.
‘Oh no, not at all, I’m not frightened,’ replied Windischgrtz, with affected fervour. ‘Gentlemen! We are very much in favour of peace. Especially with you Russians: only, for God’s sake, in the name of all that’s holy, don’t meddle in our internal affairs. We know what we want ... we are a free people!’
At these words there was a deafening roar of laughter.
‘Gentlemen, don’t you trust me?’ asked Windischgrtz, with an affected quaver in his voice.
‘I must admit that that is the case,’ replied Shapilkin, candidly, and started playing the Kamarinskqya on his accordion.
The soldiers were guffawing. Suddenly Windischgrätz realised that he had become a laughing-stock for them. Quickly, he got to his feet, shook down his long-skirted greatcoat and asked to be taken to the headquarters of the Russian Army.
The soldiers conscientiously blindfolded him with a white bandage and, taking him by the arm, led him down the hillock. Out of the corner of his eye he saw grass beneath his feet, and then, after he crossed a shallow ditch, a grey, dusty road, marked by two deep wheel-ruts. The hot sun beat down mercilessly on his back and head.
When they neared regimental headquarters his sweatsoaked bandage was removed and he was put into a roomy, clean and bright ambulance. All wet with perspiration and fatigue, Windischgrtz settled himself with relief on a bunk which was covered with a soft, grey blanket.
For a long time the engine would not start: it snorted, spluttered and at last began working hastily, with misfires, like a sick heart. The ambulance started off with a jerk and, quivering slightly, moved with a rustling sound along the firm surface of the causeway.
The windows of the ambulance had been covered with blue paint. However hard Windischgrätz tried to find some scratch in it, the paint had been applied so thickly, so impenetrably, that nothing could be seen through it. During the whole tedious journey he had to be content with the monotonous walls of the ambulance, like those of a hospital, and the well-painted windows.
Late that evening the ambulance, bumping up and down, rattled over the uneven cobblestones of a small provincial town, and then suddenly stopped. The rear door of the ambulance was opened and a young officer with silver epaulettes and aiguillettes courteously gestured Windischgrätz to alight.
With the agility of a cavalryman and a sportsman, Windischgrtzjumped out on to the cobbled roadway and, escorted by the aide-de-camp, entered a two-storeyed brick building.
Windischgrätz was ushered into the office of General Nekrasov. On the wall hung a green ten-versts-to-the-inch map, with little blue and red flags stuck all over it. From behind the desk, on which papers lay in disorder, rose a strongly-built, younglooking man with a high, steep forehead, a beaky nose and long, curly sideburns. His black hair, streaked with grey, was smoothly parted at the side. Thick, neatly trimmed moustaches were twisted up into sharp points. His brown eyes, with a golden tint in them, had a vigorous, masterful gaze. The left side of his broad chest was completely covered with medals. The abundance of gold and the blinding gleam recalled some tawdry inconostasis.[In Orthodox churches the altar is screened from the nave by a partition covered with holy pictures, often gilded—the ‘iconostasis’.] Near his heart, on the black-and-yellow ribbon of St George, hung a white enamel cross. At his neck was the Order of St Vladimir, with its crossed swords, slim as rapiers. On his broad epaulettes, with the crown and the monogram, strange zigzags were coiled, as on the back of a viper.
‘Captain Ludwig Windischgrtz,’ said the Austrian, introducing himself, and with dignity he offered the General his narrow, lean hand, like a chicken’s foot. Nekrasov bowed, and then, hastily, as though he had just been scalded, put his right hand behind his back.
‘Excuse me, but I cannot give you my hand. You are an enemy of Holy Russia,’ said Nekrasov, in the purest French, as he squared his shoulders and threw back his pomaded head, which looked like that of a dog which had just had a bath.
With an imperious, authoritative gesture he invited Windischgrtz to take a seat beside the massive, oak-veneered desk, on which lay one sheet of green blotting-paper fastened with drawing pins. The desk, which was covered with papers, files and opened telegrams, in no sort of order, was decorated with a writing-set that bore a sphinx’s head on every item.
Pursing his thin, dry lips, Windischgrätz lowered himself, with an aggrieved air, into the unsteady bentwood chair, which creaked and rocked unexpectedly beneath his weight. He shifted warily on the edge of the chair.
‘Circumstances are difficult,’ said General Nekrasov gloomily, sitting down in his armchair with the high Gothic back. ‘They recognise neither discipline nor God. Do you know what matters have come to? We are in the power of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.’
Into the room, walking briskly, came a young soldier with a small fair moustache and wearing a red arm-band.
‘Where are the latest reports?’ he asked Nekrasov quickly, almost without taking breath, and sat down in the empty chair on the other side of the desk from Windischgrätz.
‘Here they are,’ Nekrasov answered in a curt tone, and handed his visitor a yellow folder.
‘There’s a meeting of the committee today,’ said the young soldier, putting the folder under his arm, and he got up and left.
‘There, you see,’ observed Nekrasov, who had gone pale, curling his lip and absently turning the key in a drawer of his desk. ‘That’s what they’re like, the members of the soldiers’ committee. Come in without knocking, sit down without being asked. No discipline and not the slightest respect for their commanders.’
Windischgrätz , raising high his bristling reddish eyebrows and opening wide his prominent, glassy eyes, listened with great curiosity to Nekrasov’s words. He was amazed that an enemy who had refused to shake hands with him should give expression with such frankness to the feelings that were seething within him. However, Nekrasov, having started on this sore subject, could not restrain himself and, encouraged by Windischgrtz’s sympathetic air, went on pouring out, with ever greater bitterness, all the pain that two months of revolution had accumulated in his heart.
‘Quite so, quite so,’ agreed Windischgrätz, and kept nodding his head like the porcelain Chinese figure in the window of a tea-shop.
‘I have the honour to bring you a peace-proposal,’ he said in a solemn tone, handing Nekrasov a broad white packet sealed with five red seals.
‘Good, I’ll pass it onto the high command,’ was the general’s cold reply. Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
‘Prego,’ said Nekrasov, loudly and resonantly. Some time before the war he had been military attaché at Russia’s embassy in Rome, and remembered a .few words of Italian, which kept turning up in his speech, sometimes appropriately and sometimes not.
Into the room came, walking quickly, lightly and silently, the General’s chief of staff Tarasov. His smoothly shaven head was as round as a billiard ball and a slight hare-lip gave him, despite his forty years, a naively childish expression.
Treading noiselessly on the carpet with his soft goatskin boots, he approached the desk and handed Nekrasov a stilldamp telegraph form, smelling of glue, with narrow strips of paper stuck on it, bearing printed words.
Nekrasov placed his gold-framed spectacles on his large, hooked nose and bent to read the telegram. Tarasov stood silently before him, his hands unnaturally in line with the seams of his trousers, like a rank-and-file soldier obeying the command ‘Attention!’ He wanted to show the foreign, enemy officer that there was still discipline in the Russian Army.
With a fixed stare Windischgrätz measured him from head to foot and then, pursing his thin, bloodless lips contemptuously, took his silver cigarette-case out of his pocket, casually bowed the upper half of his body in the General’s direction and turned between his fingers and lit a thick, slightly flattened cigarette.
After reading the telegram, Nekrasov initialled it boldly in blue pencil and, after returning it to the chief of staff, took off his spectacles and, his face flushed, leant back in his chair. Silently, like a ghost, Tarasov withdrew.
‘Your conduct is unworthy of a soldier,’ said Nekrasov, his anger flaring up. ‘You want to begin peace negotiations, but at the same time you subvert my troops. This is uncivilised behaviour. I don’t wish to have any dealings with you. I warn you that any officer or soldier caught with proclamations on him will be held as a prisoner. You, since you crossed the line of the front under a white flag, I shall allow to return.’
Deathly pale, Windisgratz jumped up, bowed, and, without saying a word, left the room. The soldier who was waiting outside the door led him down a long, brightly-lit corridor to the office of the counter-intelligence section, a small room with a low ceiling. Ignoring his angry protests, they stripped Windischgrătz and searched him, taking from his pockets and placing on the desk his red morocco wallet, his gold watch, his silver cigarette-case and his linen handkerchiefs with the princely crown and large monogram, embroidered on laceframes with satin-stitch and an oblique seam. Windischgrätz became very excited and went white and red by turns. He was afraid that they would plant some proclamations under the silk lining of his spiked helmet, so as to have an excuse to arrest him. However, this did not happen.
That night Windischgrätz was returned to the front, in an ambulance with whitewashed windows, and at dawn, blindfolded, he was sent back to the Austrian trenches. When they removed his bandage he screwed up his eyes, blinded by the bright, oblique rays of the still unwarming morning sun. Looking around him, he saw that, despite the early hour, fraternisation was in full swing. Suddenly, two Russian soldiers led past him an Austrian soldier they had arrested because he was carrying a small packet of proclamations, printed on thin cigarette-paper by Windischgrätz ’s own order, calling on Russian soldiers to give themselves up.
- Windischgrätz was astonished to see that, despite this arrest, other Austrian soldiers continued, as though nothing had happened, calmly and coolly to smoke and chat with the Russians.
Prince Windischgrätz was pleased with the results of his risky trip into the Russian rear. The information which the Russian soldiers had refused to give him, he had obtained from General
ekrasov. From what Nekrasov had said, Windischgrtz was able,just as when from a shard one reconstructs a whole vase, to form a clear picture of the disintegration of the Russian army.
Back in the Austrian trenches, Windischgrätz was at once surrounded by officer acquaintances. After rapidly telling them of the impressions he had formed, he wanted to push on, using the duty motor-cycle, so as to hand in his report at headquarters. Then, suddenly, they heard the roar of a distant gun, and from the open, green clearing where for two days and nights Russian and Austrian soldiers had been peacefully fraternising rose a tall, grey-black column of earth and smoke.
In the blue sky a curly white cloud burst and slowly broke up. Shrapnel was scattered on the heads of the fraternising soldiers. Fragments embedded themselves violently in the ground, uprooting the grass. Russians and Austrians rushed helterskelter back to their respective trenches.
‘Have we got to climb on to that damned sopka again?’ exclaimed Shapilkin, angrily. ‘When you’re lying there under the enemy’s machine-gun fire, ybu curse everything.’
‘What’s happened?’ the soldiers asked as they ran. In the confusion, two Austrians ran into a Russian trench.
It soon became clear that it was a Russian battery that had opened fire. The battery commander, a colonel with long moustaches, angry about the fraternisation that was going on, had ordered that the gathering in the ‘valley of death’ be dispersed.
The Russian cannonade evoked fury in the Austrian camp. The Austrians were indignant that the Russians, after luring them into fraternisation, were now firing on them.
Zhivets was still in one of the Austrian trenches.
‘Ah, so this is the way you behave! It’s all a trick!’ shouted Windischgrtz in unrestrained anger, and his glassy, prominent eyes protruded even further than usual.
Not knowing what to do, Zhivets, like a trapped hare, backed against the cold, damp wall of the trench.
Windischgrtz summoned a detachment of soldiers who, at his command, aimed their rifles at Zhivets. Vigorously drawing his sharp sword from its long black scabbard, Windischgrtz brandished it in the air. An irregular volley rang out. Stepan clutched his chest, which had been pierced by a sharp, burning pain. His legs gave way and, like a felled tree, he toppled backward, convulsively scrabbling with his fingers at the damp earth. He wanted to cry out, to howl with pain, but he could only give a feeble groan. With extraordinary clarity he suddenly saw his mother, her red head-scarf tied high, her large sorrowful eyes. He felt an excruciating pity for her, and cried out. ‘Finish him off.’ ordered Windischgrátz, addressing a short Austrian soldier with a thick black stubble on his cheeks.
A revolver shot rang out. This time the bullet reached the heart. For one moment Stepan felt an unbearable, absolutelyhuman pain, then everything became confused, going round and round, and he lost consciousness. Instead of a face that was red as though scalded there was now a pale waxen mask.
The battery-commander who gave the order to fire on the men who were fraternising was tossed by the soldiers on their bayonets.
Next morning, the Austrian soldiers were told the reason for the fatal gunfire. Fraternisation was resumed with fresh enthusiasm. When, in the autumn of the following year, a revolution took place in Austria-Hungary, Wurstmacher and others of the Austrians who had fraternised, remembering the slogan of the great Lenin about turning the imperialist war into a civil war, were in the foremost columns of the crowd that stormed the Palace of Schönbrunn and overthrew the centuries-old monarchy of the Habsburgs.
 In Pushkin’s poem Ruslan and Lyudmila, on which Glinka based an opera, Ruslan passes, on his way to rescue Lyudmila, through ‘the valley of the dead’, an ancient battlefield littered with the bones of warriors.
 There was, in fact no stbrming of the Palace of Schonbrunn. The Emperor gave in without a fight. One of the leaders of the Austrian Republic created in 1918 wrote about the revolution in Vienna: ‘The object had been accomplished in the course of six weeks without street fighting or civil war, without using force or shedding blood. To be sure, like every other revolution, this one was a work of force. But the force which rendered the revolution possible was not expended in the streets of Vienna. On the battlefields, in the Balkans and in Venetia, it smashed the obsolete mechanism which stood in the way of the revolution. Consequently, we were able to make the revolution at home without force.’ (Otto Bauer, The Austrian Revolution , p.65.) following the line of the turn indicated by the constitution, you are suppressing the growing discontent by force and terror. Having gradually replaced the dictatorship of the proletariat by the regime of your personal dictatorship, you have opened a new stage which will enter into the history of our revolution as ‘the epoch of terror’