Chapter Twenty One - In The Torture Chamber
Near midnight on August 21 (old style), the watchman came into our cell and asked: "Which one is Volkov?"
"Get dressed. Come with me."
I dressed. Smirnov did too and, being very upset himself, he tried to comfort me. I gave him the gold things I still had. We said our goodbyes, we hugged. Smirnov said to me "Alexei Andreieivich, my fate is the same as yours."
I went with the watchman to the office where three armed soldiers were waiting. We were still waiting for Countess Hendrikova and Miss Schneider. The telephone rang: apparantly whoever called had asked if we would be ready to leave soon. The answer was "any minute now," and they sent someone to tell Hendrikova and Schneider to hurry up. Soon they came in, with the watchman. Then, under the escort of three soldiers, nice young Russian lads, we were sent on our way. I asked where we were going, and a soldier answered "to the house of arrest." There we waited for eight more people: five men and three women: including Mme. Znamerovski and the chambermaid from the house where Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich had lived. So then there were eleven of us. The escort consisted of twenty two men, commanded by a sailor. Other than the three soldiers who had brought us, none of the other of the twenty two was Russian.
Countess Hendrikova had gone to the washroom and asked the guard where they were taking us. The soldier told her "to the central prison."
"and from there?" Hendrikova asked.
"Well! to Moscow," the guard said.
When she repeated this conversation with the soldier to us, Mme. Hendrikova made the sign of the cross with her fingers which meant "they will not shoot us."
The sailor was already ready, cigarette in his lips, kept going out many times into the street probably to make sure that no one was out there. We heard a soldier's voice. "So are we going?" "Wait a minute," the sailor replied.
After a little while he said: "let's go!"
They brought us out into the street and lined us up by twos, the men in front and women behind; and so we left. We walked all the way across the town, and they led us onto the Simbirsk road. The town was behind us.
I thought "but where is the central prison?"
Suddenly the suspicion hit me: "they are leading us soon to our deaths."
A man walked in front of me. I asked him where the central prison was.
"Why, we passed it along time back," he answered, "I myself am the former director of that prison."
"So, they are taking us to be shot?..."
"Are you that stupid?...well, it doesn't much matter. It is no longer a life, what we have now..."
The pipe he was smoking was trembling in his lips. I looked behind me and saw Miss Schneider, aged, hardly able to keep up and carrying a little basket. I took the basket to help her; in it were two small wooden spoons, little bits of bread and other little things. I carried that basked until the end.
We came across peasants driving carts with hay. They stopped. A whistle and a command from the sailer ordering us to stop as well. The thought came that I should run. I thought "I can slip betweent the cart and horse behind it and tear off some hay. If I bent down, I could slip past", but it was still dark and impossible for me to see what was on the other side of the road, behind the horse; there might be a deep pit or maybe a hedge. Having thought about it, I realized that it was impossible to flee under those conditions.
The sailor whistled and shouted "Lets go!" and we got under way. Some time later we stopped again. A boy carrying a notebook met us, probably an interpreter, seeing as there were a lot of non-Russians in our escort. The sailer went up to the boy, he spoke to him for a while and we went on again. Three gunshots echoed behind us immediately, they shot some people just at the same place we had stopped.
It started to get light. The road we were on was rather elevated and had hedges on both sides. The guards offered to help us carry our possessions. There were very few things of any value, but they took everything, even Miss Schneider's little basket.
We walked on a little bit and the sailer ordered "to the right" and we took the path going into the forest. The path was reinforced with logs, we took about a dozen steps. Another whistle sounded sinisterly from the sailor along with the command "Halt!"
The second the sailor said "halt" I took a step to the left, at the same instant I seemed to hear a whisper "What are you waiting for? RUN!" and it seemed like someone pushed me to escape. Also at the same instant saying to me "for the love of God!'" I jumped the hedge along the path and plunged into the forest. At this place the forest was not thick, the ground strewn with trunks and branches. Suddenly after I had leapt along a few times I heard a gunshot. The bullet passed just by my ear.
I kept on running. A second gunshot. The bullet missed me by a greater distance, but I tripped and fell. I heard the guard's voice "Its done." When I fell I had let my hat fall off. I wanted to pick it back up, but I couldn't reach it. I got up and went on running. A third gunshot. This shot, though, missed me by a mile. I listened to see if I was being followed, but heard nothing. I continued to run.
Suddenly I heard a salvo of shots, followed by a second and a third. I stopped to catch my breath and made the sign of the cross and went back to running thinking that they were following me. The forest was still not very thick; you could see through the trees. The day wore on. I went toward the siberian road, bordered by fields. Suddenly, I saw a soldier on horseback. I hid until I heard him pass by, then I climbed up and went into the fields, I crossed them and ran down the road, and dove back into the forest. I ran as long as my strength allowed, making good distance thanks to there not being much dead wood on the ground. I could not even feel the pain in my feet or my burning legs. I ran all the way to a small lake whose edge was covered in reeds. I had no strength to go on and I hid there for about an hour. I thought that they had already given up chasing me and they would not have anyone following me in this area, so I left the reeds and walked on forwards, sometimes in the forest, sometimes in the fields, but always avoiding the road.
In a thicket I got undressed to dry my clothes out a little, I also took off my shoes to look at my burning feet.
I decided to rest there a while.
Comments on this site should be directed to Bob Atchison.