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Rasplata — Vladimir Semenov
Chapter 01a

Now you have got what you wanted. God grant a happy issue!" With these words the Admiral dismissed me. But I was already in the doorway when he added, in his usual rapid manner of speaking: " Listen to one last piece of advice. Don't push yourself forward needlessly. One's fate, no doubt, overtakes one anywhere, and when volunteers are called for, of course one must respond. Simply do your duty, that is all. Don't push forward. There is nothing hard about death, but it is stupid to get killed to no purpose."

Almost the whole of my service, excepting two years at the Naval Academy, had been spent afloat in the Far Eastern seas. In the autumn of the year 1901 I was asked whether I would like a certain appointment on the staff at Cronstadt. This particular billet was combined With that of A.D.C. to the Commander- in -Chief, the Military Governor of the Port.' As an old "sea-dog," I did not care for service on shore, in towns and in offices. All the same, I accepted with joy, for the Port Admiral at Cronstadt was then S. 0. Makaroff.

I do not propose to give any description here of the Admiral, who was to meet with such a tragic end. For long years he had to struggle against his enemies, who obstinately opposed all his efforts, and who were for ever placing obstacles in his path. When at last he was in a position where he was able to give full scope to his talents, his brains, his restless energy, for the good of his country, without any obstacles, and responsible only to his Imperial master, just then he was doomed to die. History will appreciate his worth.

I was not deceived in my expectations. It was no easy matter serving under Makaroff. Often there was no time either for eating or sleeping; but for all that it was a splendid life. What was especially characteristic in Makaroff was his horror of all "routine," and his hatred of the old office custom of devolving everything on others, of avoiding any and every responsibility, and therefore of never coming to an independent decision, but of passing on every paper to some one else, "to be dealt with." Whenever such an attempt at shirking a decision or allowing a question to drag on came to light, then it was that, in my opinion, the Admiral, for once in a way, lost all control over himself. Then he often ran to the telephone himself, censured and gave orders to the persons concerned in the sharpest manner possible, and threatened to call them to account for their misdeeds.

I need hardly say that, as one accustomed to the direct methods of ship life, I deeply sympathised with the feelings of my chief, and was ever ready to assist him to the best of my abilities. As I said before, it was a splendid life.

But when war was in the air in the autumn of 1903 went against the grain, however interesting my duties were, and I asked to be sent where my old squadron was preparing for war.

The first time the Admiral regularly flew at me, upon which I became stubborn, and persisted in my request. Then he tried to talk me over. He said that if it came to war, it would be a difficult and lengthy business. Sooner or later we should all be in it. To push oneself forward now was a mistake. Here we should be overwhelmed with work, and his A.D.C. had no business to leave at such a moment. However, I did not give in, and assured him that if the war still found me on shore, any officer could easily replace me, for I should then be simply doing nothing, and continuously plaguing my superiors to send me afloat. This almost led to serious estrangement between us on two or three occasions. At last the Admiral gave in, and had me appointed second in -command of the Boyarin' from January 14, 1904. fortnight passed in winding up my office work and handing it over to my successor. The leavetaking, with which this chapter opens, took place on January 27.

Before my departure I took leave officially of the different flag officers employed at St Petersburg, going last to Admiral R- After the exchange of the usual official phrases, I could not resist asking him whether he thought there would be war.

The Admiral looked away. "War does not always begin only with the firing of guns," he said abruptly. ,,In my opinion the war has begun long ago. Only those who are blind fail to see this."

I could not ask him for anything more definite, but I was alarmed at the Admiral's sinister expression. My question had evidently touched a sore spot, which made him say more than he intended, or thought himself entitled to say.

"But I suppose I shall still arrive in time, before the firing begins?"

The Admiral had recovered his composure. He did not answer my question, but wished me a pleasant voyage in the most friendly way, and I had to take my leave.

When I put the same question to several acquaintances of mine at the Foreign Office, I always received the same reply: "Don't worry; you'll arrive in plenty of time. We shall spin out this business till April."

My express started from St Petersburg on the evening of January 29. A few friends had come to see me off. They all wished me bon voyage. The word "war" was not pronounced, but one felt it somehow in the tone of their good wishes. There was a certain solemnity in these last moments. We parted full of cheerful confidence in the future. How very different my return was to be! However, that will all appear in good time.

As far as the Ural Mountains, and even beyond, the train was crammed with passengers. Outwardly, nothing exceptionable was visible in the demeanour of the public. But the further we proceeded East, the more this changed. Those who were only concerned with local business left the train by degrees at the intermediate stations, and the handful of people " going out" gradually foregathered. These could be divided into two categories : the one consisted of officers and others in Government employ of every kind, the other of people of every profession and every nationality. The latter were the infallible indications of war. They were the vultures accompanying a military expedition, the sharks which follow a ship where some one is dying. Both categories recognised one another, and their respective members became mutually acquainted. Unfortunately, "we" were but few. The greater part of us was only going into Western Siberia. The last to leave at Irkutsk were a general officer and a captain of the general staff, who were travelling to some place on the Mongolian frontier. Beyond Irkutsk my only companion was a Colonel I-, who was to take command of a new rifle regiment to be formed at Port Arthur.

I well remember our passage across the ice of Lake Baikal. A passenger of the express has a right to a place in the clumsy railway sledge. I did not make use of this right-why should one economise, when war was at hand ?-but hired a fast troika.' It took me about half a day to cover the 28 miles across the frozen lake from Baikal station to Tanchoi station. It was a clear, sunny day, with a temperature Of 5D to 6D [F.] below zero, and perfectly calm. The troika started at a gallop; but at the end of about 4 miles the horses relapsed into a trot. The driver turned round. "Look here, your honour, half-way across there is a public house. Will you stand me a drink?"
"Maybe, if you drive well."
The driver bent forward and gave a low whistle, at the sound of which his three little horses started off at such a pace that clouds of "ice dust" rose high behind us. On Lake Baikal the famous Russian troika, of which the poet Gogol has sung, has still maintained its prestige.

In the clear, frosty air the hills on the opposite bank were distinctly visible. The seaman's practised eye seemed to have lost the faculty-the result of lengthy training -of judging distances. The hills seemed quite near. Apparently one could make out every little crack in the hillside, into which the snow had drifted. In reality these were deep ravines, and whole towns might lie buried in the masses of snow they contained.

A short time before a young, or at least young-looking general officer had started from Baikal station in just such a troika. He had evidently not made any special bargain with his driver, for we overtook him about 10 miles out. He was on the point of driving through the deep snow up to a detachment of soldiers, who were crossing the lake on foot. Officers and men, wearing their winter caps, their rifles over the right or left shoulder, were moving along contentedly over the thick ice-a cheering, inspiring sight. Turgenieff's Dovolno came into my mind. The herons are flying along under the heavens, replying with proud confidence to their leader's question Shall we get there?
with " We shall get there!
Outwardly, this detachment did not perhaps present a very military appearance. Dressing and intervals were '-lot well kept. But their light, swinging step, the cheery -shouts and laughter sounding I here and there in the column-all breathed the proud confidence described by Turgenieff.
I was not the only one to feel this. The General in front of me suddenly threw back his fur cloak, so as to expose the red facings of his overcoat,' and rose. Your health, my lads he called out in a cheerful voice. God be with you! "

" Rady staratissia! " was roared back.,

The General again shouted something, but I could not distinguish it. I was now alongside of these young, fresh, laughing faces. Officers and men replied to him and waved their caps or rifles. Again I had to think of the I I We shall get there." My heart was beating faster. I thought of what was before us, with full confidence. Admiral R- was right. This was already war.

At Tanchoi, on the other side of the lake, the express of the East Chinese railway was waiting for us. Three engineers, who were inspecting the line, Colonel L-- and 1, were the only first-class passengers. Of course we quickly made friends. As a matter of course, the political situation in Manchuria and in Korea formed the sole subjects of conversation. Opinions differed widely. The one said that war was inevitable. The Japanese had now been at work for ten years to strengthen their fighting powers, without being afraid of overtaxing their people. Now they were practically forced to make use of any favourable opportunity. Another maintained that if the Japanese had been at work for ten years to strengthen their fighting powers they would not stake everything on one cast. Failure would mean their end. And thus diametrically opposite deductions were drawn from the same facts.

On February 9 the Colonel and I had a particularly warm discussion. " They will never dare! Never! " he was exclaiming eagerly. " Why, it would be playing va banque for them, or even worse-a game already lost. Assuming even that they scored a success at starting, what would be the next step? Surely we should not throw down our arms after the first reverse? I could almost wish them an initial success. just think what the effect of this would
be! The whole of Russia would rise like one man, and ,-,ever sheathe the sword until--"
" God grant it may be only a reverse, and not a serious defeat."
"Well, and if we do have a serious defeat? The effect can't last long. We shall simply wait until we have collected enough forces, and we'll drive them into the sea. You with your fleet will surely not allow the enemy to get home again. But what is the good of all this discussion ? It will never come to that. They won't dare ! There'll be no war! "
" Well, I maintain that they have been preparing for this war for the last ten years. Now they are ready and we are not, and to-day or to-morrow they'll strike. You call that playing va banque! Very well; but why should they not risk it, if there is one chance of winning?"
They have no chance."
We shall see."
Will you bet that there'll be no war? I'll stake a hamper of champagne."
"That would be no bet. We will say that you have won if the war has not begun by the middle of April."
" But why? I maintain there will be no war at all."
"All the easier for you to accept my proposal. Besides, you would otherwise never get your champagne. I should be the one to profit."
We shook hands over it laughingly. One of our travelling companions, who was also going to Port Arthur, asked us not to forget him when the bet was being paid.
Colonel L-- was a very interesting man. His nerves evidently played the principal part in his constitution. He was tall, big-boned, incredibly thin, and looked sickly, His powers of physical endurance depended entirely on his mood. Sometimes he would go for a walk without an overcoat with the thermometer below zero [F.], another time he would suddenly declare that there was a draught through the double windows, fitted with india - rubber washers, and send to the dispensary for some phenacetin, Of which he would consume fabulous quantities. A horrible, and quite uneatable Manchurian native dish he would eat "for the sake of science," but of the food in our restaurant-car he pretended that it was too heavy for his weak stomach.
On this particular evening he seemed to have made up his mind to convince me at whatever cost. He persisted in his attacks, until I commenced to undress in his presence, and finally went to bed.
"The agents of all the European powers agree in their reports that Japan cannot mobolise more than 325,000 men," he began again in the manner of a lecture, "and of those she must keep some at home."
"Do you believe these figures? Japan has a larger population than France. Why should there be this difference in the strength of their armies?"
"They haven't the organisation-no properly prepared contingents."
" They have been preparing themselves for ten years. Even the schoolboys are taught something of soldiering. Every schoolboy there knows more than one of our soldiers in his second year of service."
They only possess arms and ammunition for 325,000 men.
" Then they will buy more abroad."
"Oh, nonsense-"
I turned out the electric light and rolled myself into my blanket.
" That is no proof," growled the Colonel, and retired. I
About midnight we stopped at some station in Manchuria. I was fast asleep, when the Colonel suddenly rushed into my compartment, shouting: " You have won ! "

At first I did not understand him. "What? What's the matter?"
" General mobilisation through the entire viceroyalty and Trans-Baikal."
" Mobilisation does not mean actual war."
The Colonel's only reply was a whistle. " With us, people are as alarmed at the order to mobilise, as old
women are at a thunderstorm. There was always the fear of conjuring up war, by merely pronouncing that word. When therefore mobilisation is really ordered, it means that we are at war. It also means that the enemy has
commenced hostilities."

God grant a happy issue," I said, and crossed myself. Yes, yes; God grant it," he said moodily. " At the frontier we have 90,000 men. But only on paper. I know that as a matter of fact we shall hardly be able to muster 50,000 rifles and sabres."
Sleep was now out of the question. The passengers were all on their legs. We assembled in the dining-car. Strictly speaking, it was supposed to be shut up at 11 P.M., but this time the lights were kept going, and tea was to be had up to any hour. The railway officials crowded at the doors. Every one was waiting for the next station, and every one hoped for more details from some one else.
We passed two stations without our painful expectations being realised. It was said that a surprise attack had been made on Port Arthur; but no one knew anything for certain. At 4 A.M., at some station or other, a lady, the wife of one of the railway officials, got into our train. She told us that Port Arthur had been nearly captured. She was going to Harbin to draw all her deposits out of the bank, take away all her valuables from her house, and fly to Russia. She further reported that several days before all Japanese had disappeared out of the towns in Manchuria. But they had not sold anything, and had hardly settled accounts with their clients. All their property they had handed over to their neighbours, and had said: "In a week or ten days at the most, we shall be back with our armies."
The lady's stories gave rise to angry protests. Her audience would not believe all her dismal tales, and began to scatter. " Damned old scarecrow! " growled the Colonel. " It is not worth listening to her! Come on ! Let's go to bed. Or, rather, just wait one moment-I want to fetch a little bromide from the dispensary."

The next day brought little that was new. However, the various reports gradually made it clear that the Japanese had opened hostilities against Port Arthur. Which side had got the best of it, we could not make out.
At Harbin we had a longer stoppage-about half an hour, so far as I remember. On stepping out on to the platform I found, to my great surprise, an old acquaintance from the Far East-our naval contractor, G--.
"Where are you coming from? Where are you going to? "
" I am coming from Port Arthur. Where I am going to, I don't know yet. I am helping as much as I can, accompanying the women and children, etc. Every one is running away, and has lost his head."

Indeed, two long trains, bound north, were standing in the station. They had evidently been put together anyhow. There were carriages of all three classes, even some of the fourth class, generally only intended for coolies, and they were literally crammed with passengers. Not only all the seats were occupied, but all the corridors as well. Women and children were in the majority. Some carried very primitive bundles, some had put their things down anywhere, and amongst these there were articles de luxe, as well as objects of the most necessary daily use. One could see that these people had gathered together whatever they could quickly lay their hands on. Many of them did not even possess warm clothes. Numerous Chinese were doing a roaring trade at the carriages with old fur jackets, cheap teakettles, and suspicious - looking provisions. In payment they took alike money, rings, bracelets, and brooches. Their rapacity had taught them how to make a good profit out of the sudden panic. The local authori~ties, who had been taken completely by surprise, had enough to do with their own concerns, so that it was left to some volunteers to try and keep order. These were for the most part officers and officials ; but there were also civilian passengers, ladies as well as gentlemen, who had not completely lost their senses, or who had recovered them. Hysterical cries were heard every where. Here some one was calling out despairingly for a doctor to attend a sick child, there another was imploring for help in heartrending tones.

" I know that kind of picture," some one suddenly said. It was one of our fellow-travellers in the express, a tall, robust looking man. "It was just the same during the Boxer riots. Now, gentlemen, is the time for you to empty your portmanteaus. A la guerre comme a la guerre. I dare say we shall be able to make shift for ourselves, it we were to find ourselves in need by and by."

The right word at the right time has an astonishing power. Our portmanteaus were literally turned bottom up. Bashliks, jerseys, fur caps, felt boots-everything went in a few minutes from the express train to that conveying the fugitives. These wretched people were touched, and grateful beyond words, and our hearts warmed up as they stammered their thanks.

G-- did not empty his portmanteaus, for the good reason that he possessed none, but his pockets instead. When these were empty, he made out cheques, which had the value of gold in Manchuria.

Before the express started again I asked him where he intended going. " Oh, with the fugitives.."
At that we all began arguing with him. We told him that there was nothing for him to do in the north, but all the more in Port Arthur, where his presence was important. Colonel L- was specially insistent, but we all joined in, not quite without ulterior motives. We were, in fact, very anxious to keep in our company an eye-witness of the events in Port Arthur, for, in our eagerness to play the benefactors, we had not questioned him at all as to these.
At first G- was inexorable. " No, gentlemen. War is your business. I am not a soldier, but a peaceful citizen, and have no interest at all in getting killed for nothing. You may go to the war. I shall go where there is no danger."
This was quite logical, but the official in charge of our train, a subaltern of the Army Reserve, at once proved the Contrary.
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