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Preston Fleming



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Author’s Introductory Note

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Maid of Baikal  tells the story of how the White Russian Armies might have deserved to win the Russian Civil War, and thus might have won, in a better world than ours. For despite the Whites’ manifold sins, the best among them strived mightily to achieve a free and democratic Russia, and most of these suffered a worse fate than what they deserved.

—Preston Fleming

List of Characters

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*An asterisk indicates a character who is an actual historical personage.

*Barrows, Col. David Prescott

Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, U.S. Army, AEF/Vladivostok

Borisov, Boris Viktorovich (Paladin)

Standard Bearer to the Maid of Baikal

*Buckner, Col. Edmund G.

Chief Lobbyist for the DuPont Company

Buckner, Corinne

Daughter of Col. Buckner

*Chapayev, Maj. Gen. Vasily

Division Commander, Fourth Red Army

*Denikin, Gen. Anton Ivanovich

Commander, Armed Forces of South Russia (White)

*Dieterichs, Gen. Mikhail Konstantinovich

Military Advisor to Admiral Kolchak

Dorokhin, Stepan Petrovich

Father of Zhanna, Maid of Baikal

Dorokhina, Zhanna Stepanovich

Maid of Baikal

du Pont, Capt. Edmund (Ned)

U.S. Army, RRSC, AEF/Vladivostok

*du Pont, Pierre Samuel

President, E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

*Embry, John

U.S. Consul, Omsk

*Frunze, Gen. Mikhail Vasilyevich

Commander, Southern Army Group, Eastern Front, Red Army

Fyodor (Bishop Fyodor)

Judge at the Maid’s trial in Ryazan

*Gaida, Major General

Commander, Northern Army, Siberian Armed Forces

*Graves, Gen. William S.

Commander, U.S. Army, AEF/Vladivostok

*Guins, Georgi (George) Konstantinovich

Assistant to Admiral Kolchak/Finance Minister

Holt, Col. Charles

Staff Officer, U.S. Army, War Department

Ivashov, Staff Capt. Igor Ivanovich

Staff Officer, General Staff, Siberian Armed Forces

*Kappel, Gen. Vladimir Oskarovich

Division Commander, Western Army, Siberian Armed Forces

*Khanzin, Gen. Mikhail V.

Commander, Western Army, Siberian Armed Forces

*Knox, Maj. Gen. Alfred A.W. T.

Chief, British Military Mission to Siberia

*Kolchak, Admiral Alexander Vasilyevich

Supreme Ruler, Commander in Chief, Provisional Siberian Government

Kostrov, Kirill Matveyevich

Zhanna’s uncle, brother of her deceased mother

*Lebedev. Maj. Gen. Dimitry Antonovich

Chief of Staff, Siberian Armed Forces

*Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich

Bolshevik Party Leader, Premier of the Soviet Union

Leo, (Father Leo)

Chief Examiner at Zhanna’s trial

*Lloyd George, David

British Prime Minister

McCloud, Mark Evans

American syndicated journalist in Russia

*Morris, William

U.S. High Commissioner to Siberia

*Neilson, Lt. Col. John

Intelligence officer, British Military Mission at Omsk

Nestor (Father Nestor)

Deputy Examiner at Zhanna’s trial

Panin, Colonel

Staff Officer, Western Army, Siberian Armed forces, at Ufa

*Preston, Sir Thomas

British Consul at Omsk

Rawlings, Lt. Col.

Intelligence officer, British Military Mission at Ufa

*Regnault, Eugene

French High Commissioner to Siberia

*Reilly, Sidney (aka Zhelezin)

Russian-born intelligence operator for Great Britain

Ryumin, Father Timofey Makarovich

Russian Orthodox priest

*Savinkov, Boris Viktorovich

Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party leader

*Sukin, Ivan

Minister of Foreign Affairs (Acting), Siberian Provisional Government

Sweeney, Jake

American Red Cross official in Siberia

*Sylvester (Archbishop Sylvester)

Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Omsk

*Timiryova, Anna Vasilyevna

Mistress of Admiral Kolchak

*Tolstov, Gen. Vladimir Sergeyevich

Commander, Ural Cossack Host

*Trotsky, Leon

Chairman of Supreme Military Council, Red Army, Politburo Member

*Volkov. Gen. Vyacheslav Ivanovich

Governor-General of Irkutsk Province

*Ward, Colonel John

Commander, Middlesex Regiment, British Military Mission at Omsk

*Wilson, Thomas Woodrow

President of the United States of America

*Wrangel, Gen. Pyotr Nikolayevich

Commander, Caucasus Volunteer Army (White)

*Yudenich, Gen. Nikolay Nikolayevich

Commander, White Russian Forces in Northwestern Russia

*Yurovsky, Yakov Mikhailovich

Senior Cheka official responsible for the Maid’s trial at Ryazan

Yushkevich, Yulia Yekaterinovna

Widowed owner of Beregovoy estate near Omsk and mistress of Capt. Ned du Pont

Musical Themes by Chapter

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To enhance the reader’s enjoyment, I have created a musical score for Maid of Baikal , consisting of selections by Russian composers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Each selection is intended to evoke the emotions of the chapter to which it is assigned.

For maximum enjoyment, I recommend listening to the chapter’s musical selection before reading. Each piece is available (with free sampling) on iTunes, and most can be downloaded without cost at Classic Cat or Wikipedia.

Chapter 1: Spartacus & Phrygia, Adagio , by Aram Khachaturian

Chapter 2: The Seasons, Op. 67, Summer , by Alexander Glazunov

Chapter 3: Valse-Fantasie in B Minor , by Mikhail Glinka

Chapter 4: Ballet Suite No. 4, I. Prelude , by Dmitri Shostakovich

Chapter 5: Masquerade Suite, IV. Romance , by Aram Khachaturian

Chapter 6: The Seasons, Op. 67, Autumn, Adagio , by Alexander Glazunov

Chapter 7: Lieutenant Kijé, Symphonic Suite, Op. 60, II. Romance , by Sergei Prokofiev

Chapter 8: Prelude in G Minor, Op. 23, No. 5 , by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Chapter 9: Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra, Op. 48, Pezzo in Forma di Sonatina: Andante Non Troppo, Allegro Moderato , by Igor Stravinsky

Chapter 10: Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2 , by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Chapter 11: Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene XIII, Dance of the Knights , by Sergei Prokofiev

Chapter 12: Zaporozhye Cossacks, Op. 64, Introduction,  by Reinhold Glière

Chapter 13: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47, IV. Allegro Non Troppo,  by Dmitri Shostakovich

Chapter 14: Pictures at an Exhibition, No. 10, The Great Gate at Kiev,  by Modest Mussorgsky

Chapter 15: Jazz Suite No.  2, 6. Waltz II , by Dmitri Shostakovich

Chapter 16: Pictures at an Exhibition, No. 9, Baba Yaga or The Hut on Fowl’s Legs , by Modest Mussorgsky

Chapter 17: Masquerade Suite, I. Waltz , by Aram Khachaturian

Chapter 18: Mlada Suite, Procession of the Nobles , by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Chapter 19: The Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance , by Igor Stravinsky

Chapter 20: Pictures at an Exhibition, No. 8, Catacombs , by Modest Mussorgsky

Chapter 21: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27, I. Largo, Allegro Moderato , by Sergei Rachmaninoff

Chapter 22: Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Epilog, Juliet’s Funeral , by Sergei Prokofiev

Chapter 23: Novorossiysk Chimes (The Fires of Eternal Glory) , by Dmitri Shostakovich


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Former Russian Empire, May 1919 

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Russian Civil War Fronts, May 1919 

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Central Urals Front, May 1919 

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Chapter 1: Moro Rebellion

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“Glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever.“


Musical Theme: Spartacus & Phrygia, Adagio , by Aram Khachaturian


First Lieutenant Edmund “Ned” du Pont led his U.S. Army horse platoon in single file through tangled swamp on the north coast of Mindanao Island. As the patrol slogged forward along the narrow path, the stench of rotting undergrowth filled the air. Off to the left, he noticed a dark-skinned Filipino native in mud-smeared black pantaloons emerge from the neck-high razor grass. The Filipino looked him straight in the eye, a broad smile on his face, one arm hidden behind his back and obscured by the tall grass.

Ned raised his rifle to cover the intruder, but as he did, a spear hurtled through the air from behind with a sinister whoosh, plunging through his left shoulder. Six inches of its long thin blade now protruded through the bloody front of his khaki tunic. He felt a surge of adrenalin-fed energy and, informed by years of training and hard-won experience, calculated how best to lead his men to defeat the ambush.

Suddenly a rifle shot rang out close beside him and he saw the Moro in pantaloons fall backward before he could swing his double-edged kris. Ned spurred his horse forward, shouting orders to direct the platoon’s fire at the dozen or more Moros lining the path, a motley assortment of bandits clad in loosely fitting trousers and jackets of black or brown, adorned with brightly colored sashes and chest armor of tightly woven rattan.

Most of the attackers wielded savage-looking knives or swords and only a few carried pistols or rifles. From experience, Ned knew that edged weapons were more dangerous than firearms in rebel hands, for while few Moros could shoot straight, nearly all were master swordsmen and superb athletes, easily capable of closing in fast to lop off a head or an arm before a soldier could raise his weapon to fire. And the rebels’ will to fight was rooted in a fervent belief that a devout Muslim warrior who took the life of an infidel would instantly go to heaven if killed while hacking and stabbing away at his enemies.

The Moro ambushers raced forward to attack but were quickly cut down by deadly rifle fire and close-range blasts from the Americans’ Model 1911 .45-caliber self-loading pistols, whose heavy copper-jacketed slugs were capable of stopping a charging horse in its tracks. Then, all at once, Ned felt a fresh stab of pain in his shoulder. He turned to find his platoon sergeant shouting at him to hold still as he attempted to withdraw the spear. Then, with the attack driven off and his men out of danger, Ned’s vision clouded, his strength ebbed, and he slumped slowly forward onto his horse’s sweat-drenched neck.

Chapter 2: Transbaikalia

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“The good old rule,
Sufficeth them, the simple plan,
That they should take, who have the power
And they should keep who can.”

—William Wordsworth

Musical Theme: The Seasons, Op. 67, Summer , by Alexander Glazunov


Ned awoke with a gasp. In his nightmare, he had felt the pain of the Moro spear in his left shoulder, as he had scores of times in dreams since leaving the army hospital and returning to garrison duty in Manila. The skirmish had won him a decoration for bravery and a promotion to captain. But something inside him had changed. He wanted no more of guerrilla warfare, of the endless jungle hide-and-seek with an unseen enemy. Fighting these poor, ignorant devils was pointless. To subdue them would take decades, if it could be done at all. Not that he was battle-shy. No, he was ready to get back on horseback after falling off, but he wanted a different horse. He wanted a real war—a war like in Belgium and France. And, oddly enough, that desire was exactly what had landed him in Siberia, whose capital was roughly midway between Manila and Paris and more than three thousand miles from each.

In the light of a sputtering oil lamp, Ned looked around the rented dormitory room at the former girls’ school in Irkutsk. This was the temporary quarters where he and a dozen other Allied officers had slept on the floor for the past several nights while awaiting an American military train for the next leg of their journey to the Siberian capital at Omsk. The room’s crudely planked floor was covered with tightly packed bodies, most of them huddled around the blazing tile stove to stay warm. The air was filled with the odors of wet wool, stale sweat, alcoholic breath, and the reek of cheap Russian tobacco. Ned sat up in the gloom and rummaged in his rucksack for the evil-looking blue bottle of bootleg vodka he had bought in Chita. He took a long pull, gasped from the burning in his throat as it went down, stowed the bottle away again, and sank back into to a deep and dreamless sleep.

* * *

Ned awoke again shortly after dawn, with the sun barely above the horizon and shining diffusely through an overcast sky. By now, all but two of his fellow soldiers had departed. The last pair had staggered in after a drinking bout and had not stirred since. Ned sat up and felt a powerful itch at his wrists and ankles. In the next instant, he saw a fat louse fleeing from where he had intended to scratch. ”Lice are only lice. You don’t count them in the trenches,“ a veteran of the Spanish-American War had once told him. But lice carried typhus, and years of war had spread typhus epidemics all across Russia. Never mind, he would manage to stay healthy somehow. He had to, for he was alone in Siberia, far from any American hospital or military base. And that situation might not change until his mission was over.

Ned looked at his watch and realized that he had less than an hour to get ready before he was scheduled to meet his Russian liaison officer. Throwing on a fresh tunic, he packed his bedroll hastily, gathered his wash kit, and strode off to the lavatory to clean up for the day ahead. There would be just enough time to wolf down a bowl of kasha gruel with a mug of sweet black tea at the school’s canteen.

After breakfast, Ned sat on the stone stoop of the girls’ school dormitory and reviewed in his mind the description he had received of the man who was to be his closest companion over the coming months. Staff Captain Igor Ivanovich Ivashov[1] was two years older than Ned and, according to his file at American Expeditionary Force[2] (AEF) Intelligence Headquarters in Vladivostok, the Russian had fought against the German Army until the Imperial Russian Army’s collapse in 1917. After demobilization, Ivashov joined the centrist-liberal People’s Army in Samara, battling the Bolshevik Red Guards along the Volga until the People’s Army retreated to the Urals and he landed a staff post with the Siberian Army’s General Staff, or Stavka, at Omsk. But because of rivalries between the People’s Army and the more conservative Siberian Army, he was replaced soon after by a Siberian and shunted off to the largely ceremonial role of liaison to visiting British and American officers.

As Ned sat on the front stoop, his mind wandered and he tried to imagine what kind of man Ivashov might be. He dreaded the idea that the staff captain might be one of those overbred, foppish Russian staff officers who idled away their days behind desks while spending their nights drinking, gambling, and debauching women of the lower classes. On the other hand, remembering that Ivashov had spent years at the front fighting the Germans before taking on the Bolsheviks, Ned also feared the opposite, that Ivashov might be a stereotypical brooding Slav, prone to depression and alcoholism and ready to indulge every melancholy emotion and defeatist impulse.

Within moments, a horse-drawn droshky [3] pulled up at the school’s gate and a dark-haired officer of average height and wiry build strode into the courtyard, dressed in a fresh British uniform bearing green-and-white Siberian Army insignia. He had a lean, chiseled face with steel-gray eyes, and gave the impression of a seasoned combat officer who kept his thoughts to himself and held his emotions in check. Now this is the kind of colleague who might be useful, Ned thought, suppressing a smile as he watched the man approach.

“Captain du Pont?” the Russian inquired moments later in a surprisingly rich baritone, giving Ned’s surname a correct French pronunciation.

“Yes. Pleased to meet you,” Ned replied in passable Russian. “Staff Captain Ivashov, I presume?”

“At your service,” the Russian replied with a trace of a smile, perhaps relieved at finding that Ned, too, was an infantry officer of the battle-ready sort rather than an elite staff officer of the kind commonly found so far behind front lines.

Without another word, Ivashov moved quickly to pick up the American’s haversack and carried it back to the droshky . Ned followed close behind. Once on board, the Russian officer draped himself in a capacious sheepskin, offered one to Ned, and ordered the driver to the railroad station.

“They say you are with the Russian Railway Service Corps[4], yet you wear an American army uniform,” the staff captain observed once they were finally on their way. “Are you a soldier, then, or a railroad man?” he inquired.

“The former,” Ned replied. After a long moment he added, “I’m an infantryman and have spent the last six years fighting rebels in the Philippines and Mexico. But, here in Russia, I’m attached to the Railway Service Corps, in military communications. Does that answer your question?”

He knew it wouldn’t, unless Ivashov was already aware that Ned’s real work in Siberia was intelligence.

Ivashov gave his head a sudden shake, as if to rid it of cobwebs.

“Not completely,” the Russian answered with an amused expression. “So you are a communications expert?”

“Of a sort,” Ned answered, meeting Ivashov’s gaze with an enigmatic smile. “I’ve had some communications training, if that counts. But the main thing is that our combat troops aren’t allowed west of Lake Baikal, while the RRSC can go anywhere the railroad goes. So if I’m to work at Omsk at all, I have to go with the RRSC.”

At this, Ivashov relaxed visibly.

“You think like a Russian,” he commented, looking away absently. “That will make things easier for you. But Omsk is another matter entirely. It’s an utter madhouse.”

“How soon till we get there?” Ned asked with a smile.

“Not for a week at the earliest. Our train has been put back another day by brigands at Chita.”

Ned’s face fell, and Ivashov must have noticed, for he brightened at once and turned around to face the American.

“Never mind the delay. I have good news,” he announced. “One of my father’s friends, the merchant Dorokhin, has invited us to spend a day or two with his family at Verkhne-Udinsk[5], less than a day’s journey east of here by rail. I think you will enjoy the excursion and the fine views of Lake Baikal along the way. If nothing else, it will give you a better idea of how we Siberians live. But even better, Stepan Petrovich can be relied upon to spread a fine table for his guests, even in these times of scarcity.”

The station was not far away and their carriage ride took only a few minutes. But owing to a track change, they had to sprint for nearly fifty yards along the congested platform to catch the little yellow and blue train before it pulled out of the station. Despite overcrowding in every class of carriage, Ivashov somehow found a conductor who led them to a vacant first-class compartment on the north-facing side of the train, which he said would afford them an excellent view of Lake Baikal, Siberia’s gem, the oldest and deepest body of fresh water on earth. Ned watched Ivashov slip a wad of banknotes into the conductor’s hand after the latter drew the curtains to offer privacy from the corridor. Then Ivashov quickly locked the door.

“I hear that you graduated from the Nikolayevsky Military Academy,” Ned began after they had settled in, an innocuous opening to a conversation that he hoped would let him take the measure of his companion. “Did you enjoy your time there?”

“It seems so long ago,” Ivashov replied absently, giving a vacant stare out the window. “War has a strange way of distorting time and memory. I scarcely remember my time there.”

“Of course,” Ned responded with a respectful nod. “I understand completely. When I was chasing rebels on jungle islands, West Point was absolutely the furthest thing from my mind. But now that you are at the Stavka, don’t you find it useful to have other academy graduates to talk to?”

“I might, but there are very few, and none at my rank,“ Ivashov noted with a shrug. “Nearly all the Stavka officers are Siberian Cossacks. Sadly, they and I have little in common.”

“I see,” Ned responded, noting the disparaging tone of Ivashov’s last comment. “And that is because…?”

“I don’t mean to belittle anyone,” the Russian answered with a tight-lipped smile. “But Russia is a vast land, and these Siberians know only their remote part of it. And they have never faced the Red Army–only the local Red Guards, whom the Czech Legion routed easily on their behalf.”

“You also fought in the war against Germany, didn’t you?” Ned added, changing the subject yet again. “Tell me, Igor Ivanovich, how does your experience against the Germans compare with fighting the Red Army on the Volga?”

“When one is in retreat, the experience is much the same,” the Russian commented acidly. “First, we retreated from Poland and the Ukraine, and then from the Volga. The difference is mainly one of scale. Today our gains and losses are all on a petty scale when compared with the German war. What we have now is a miserable little fight, but one that goes on and on. I think that one day I shall go back to the front, if only to see an end to it.”

“I know exactly how you feel,” Ned lied, having never experienced defeat. For that, he would need to have fought in America’s Civil War, or the early battles of its Revolutionary War, when American soldiers had felt the sting of defeat just as keenly as the Siberians did now. But there was no point in going on, he thought. Ivashov did not seem in the mood for conversation.

At last, Ned heard a pure three-noted whistle, almost like the fluting of orioles, and the train finally left the station. Within minutes, Ivashov rose from his seat to excuse himself. For the next hour or more, the Russian came and went from the compartment at irregular intervals but spoke little.

Making allowances for Ivashov’s reticence, Ned limited his conversation to innocuous remarks about Vladivostok and the Allied presence there, his travels across Manchuria to the Russian border at Manzhouli, and Allied successes in keeping the Trans-Siberian line running despite sporadic incursions by Bolshevik partisans and Japanese-backed warlords. Yet, rather than warm to the conversation, Ivashov asked no questions and gave laconic answers to those Ned posed to him. When not talking, both men stared idly out the window, staving off hunger from time to time by snacking on the brown peasant bread and tinned fish that Ivashov had brought from Irkutsk.

During one such interlude, Ned summoned the nerve to ask Ivashov again about his service on the Volga Front the summer before.

“What made you join the People’s Army, Igor Ivanovich? Why not the Volunteer Army, or some other White unit?”

“Because my mother’s family is from a village near Samara, on the Volga,” Ivashov replied between bites of bread, not looking up. “It was there that I landed in the spring of 1918, after demobilization.”

“And your family opposed the Bolsheviks, I presume?”

“Everyone in our village opposed them,” Ivashov answered, bluish sparks flaming up in his eyes before dying just as quickly. “Only in the cities and larger towns did the Reds have any following.”

“Then what happened when the Red Army captured Samara, and the People’s Army was forced to flee? Was your family able to escape?”

The Russian stopped chewing and put down his bread. A long moment followed before he swallowed. When he looked up, his face was ashen.

“They escaped, after a fashion,” he replied with a twisted smile and a voice devoid of emotion. “You see, my mother and my sister were killed when our house was hit by Red artillery. Mercifully, my mother died instantly, but my sister died alone nearly a week later, in a field hospital, suffering greatly from her wounds. I was on the front lines and could not go to her.”

“I’m so sorry,” Ned replied. “That must have been…”

“No, it’s not as you think,” Ivashov interrupted with a pained expression. “I believe their deaths were merciful, in a way. They were spared far worse.”

“So, when Samara fell, you traveled east and joined up with the Siberians?” Ned continued, unsure what to say next.

Ivashov stared out the window for a long moment before answering.

“It was not so easy to break free from the Reds. And when at last I did, I felt I had nothing left to live for. Oddly enough, the thought of revenge did not even enter my mind. But I am a Russian officer, and I swore an oath to defend my country. So my choice was a simple one: I resolved to fight on until Russia is free or I am dead.”


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e Ned could conjure up a response, Ivashov brushed the breadcrumbs from his trousers and rose to leave.

“I will be back after a while. I suggest you lock the door and let no one in but me.”

Ned gave the Russian a solemn nod and watched him go. After locking the door, he re-wrapped the remaining food and settled back for the ride. Suffering from a lack of sleep owing to his late arrival in Irkutsk the night before, he let the train wheels’ rhythmic clacking lull him to sleep.

When he awoke, he looked outside his window to find the train running alongside the Angara River, Lake Baikal’s only outlet, which flowed swift, clear and cold toward the mighty Yenisei River and from there to the Arctic Ocean. Before long, snow-clad mountains loomed high in the distance and were reflected back in the clear depths of the lake. From Slyudyanka to Kabansk, the railway traced the curving shoreline, its roadbed hugging Lake Baikal’s southern edge, sometimes within a niche carved into a series of rocky outcrops that plunged down to the lake’s limpid waters. Ned watched as a pillar of smoke and steam rose into the sky and trailed behind like an endless staircase.

The further east the train traveled, and the longer Ned remained alone, the more he brooded over his decision to come to this vast and unknown land, halfway around the globe from home, and now gripped by a debilitating civil war that most Americans considered irrelevant to their interests. For reasons that Ned was unable to fathom, the U.S. Government had sent some eight thousand of its soldiers off to Siberia, not to fight, but to maintain the railways, keep an eye on the Japanese, and facilitate safe passage home for some forty thousand Czech prisoners of war. And the one activity expressly forbidden the AEF was to join the Siberians in combat against the Red Army.

Now, having traveled thousands of miles from Washington to Vladivostok and Irkutsk, Ned found himself traveling not toward the Siberian capital, but away from it, through a silent wilderness of taiga forest. Hour after hour, the train clacked on toward a destination with no military significance whatsoever. With a start, Ned seized his haversack and rummaged through its neatly folded contents for the sinister blue vodka bottle, only to find it drained. He shook the last astringent drops onto his tongue and flung the empty bottle under his seat.

Unable to sleep now and without the means to get drunk, Ned settled back in the cushioned seat to watch Siberia roll by. Over the next seventy or eighty versts[6], the train traveled through more than thirty tunnels. All along Lake Baikal’s southeastern shore, jagged mountains edged ever closer to the water. Before the train finally left the shoreline, the lake’s surface became a great shimmering mirror as the sun sank lower and lower and then dipped below the purple mountains, revealing a half-moon sailing serenely across the darkening sky.

The final stretch of rail from Kabansk to Verkhne-Udinsk followed the Selenga River through some fertile-looking but uninhabited valleys, rimmed with stands of pine just large enough to cut for timber. But the primary impression this left on him was of Russia’s infinite vastness, its disturbing strangeness, as if alive with primitive spirits, and the utter absurdity of anyone presuming to conquer such a land in any meaningful sense.

Just after five o’clock, Ivashov reappeared as the train reached the outskirts of Verkhne-Udinsk, a modest provincial city at the confluence of two great rivers, the Selenga and the Uda. The city center lay wrapped in a bluish moonlit haze, feebly lit by a mixture of gaslights and electric streetlamps, with coils of smoke from countless chimneys corkscrewing skyward. On arrival at the station, the two young officers waited in their compartment for the flood of humanity to drain onto the station platform before they descended into the breathtaking cold and jostled their way to the platform’s far end. There, an aged Buryat[7], dressed in a peasant sheepskin coat, felt boots, fur cap and capacious leather driving gloves, greeted them from atop a sledge drawn by a pair of stocky Yakut horses, each cloaked in dense dun-colored hair.

Ivashov greeted the driver with a terse nod and led Ned to the rear of the sleigh, where he stowed their bags, and then to a bench behind the driver that lay buried under a pile of furs and sheepskins. A shallow layer of snow covered the frozen ground. As the sleigh edged forward, the snow scrunched crisply under its runners. From this sound, and from the dense clouds of steam pouring from the horses’ nostrils, Ned estimated that the temperature was at least twenty degrees below freezing. By the end of the ten-minute sleigh ride, Ned’s face was so numbed by the cold that soon he was barely able to speak.

On arrival at the Dorokhin estate, the sleigh passed through an arched entrance gate that swung into a pine-shaded compound resembling an Asiatic caravansary. Inside the high timber fence, and lit by weak electric lights, was a sprawling one-story house of Siberian style with a steeply pitched roof and windows framed by carved whitewashed shutters. The dwelling was constructed entirely of huge logs, while the exterior walls and eaves were decorated with elaborate scrollwork and wooden cutouts. Elsewhere within the compound stood workshops, storerooms, a carriage shed, a dairy, and neatly kept stables heaped with straw.

A portly man of about fifty awaited the travelers at the door. He wore a long collarless tunic of cream-colored linen that was buttoned at the throat and belted at the waist, along with loose-fitting trousers, high black leather boots, and a sheepskin cap and vest. Despite his rustic appearance, the man’s pale blues sparkled with intelligence and Ned felt immediately attracted to him.

“Don’t just stand there in the cold,” their host bellowed in a loud, jovial voice without introducing himself. “Come in and get warm. Dinner is ready soon!”

En route, Ivashov had described Stepan Petrovich Dorokhin as a respected member of the entrepreneurial class in Verkhne-Udinsk, a successful trader and the owner of a salt works, distillery, and grain mill. Dorokhin and his recently deceased wife had raised three grown sons and an adolescent daughter. He was accustomed to entertaining all manner of guests at his home, ranging from Mongolian camel drivers to high-ranking Russian and foreign officials.

Dorokhin brushed Ivashov’s cheeks twice with his bushy mustache in the local manner of greeting before doing the same for Ned. Then he led his visitors into a vestibule hung with sheets of thick felt to block the cold, and from there into a spacious hall lined with split-log benches. Everywhere the interior walls consisted of whitewashed logs, still rough where the axe had cut, and packed with straw and moss between the chinks. Faded velvet curtains covered the windows. On the polished floorboards lay wine-red Central Asian rugs of tribal design. Along the walls to left and right hung a series of Siberian landscapes painted in oil and several mounted stag heads. In a corner stood a polished walnut gun rack stacked with ancient and modern long guns.

But the most prominent feature of the room was the massive white tile stove along the far wall, a wood fire blazing within. Three guests were already seated in leather armchairs enjoying the warmth. Close by stood a tall sideboard laden with savory zakuski [8] and a steaming brass samovar and, at the center of the room, an oaken refectory table set for eight. In a distant corner, candles flickered before a silver cross and a gilded icon showing the tranquil visage of St. Vladimir.

Dorokhin led his two newest guests to the stove and offered them seats on cushions atop tile benches flanking the fire.

“Now we shall get to know one another!” their host declared, rubbing his hands with glee. “Allow me to introduce Staff Captain Igor Ivanovich Ivashov, the son of my dearest school friend, may God bless his soul, whose family hails from Irkutsk.”

Ivashov made a perfunctory bow and acknowledged each of the other men with a nod and a smile.

Now pointing to an elegantly suited Russian in one of the armchairs, Dorokhin added, “This is my brother-in-law, Kirill Matveyevich Kostrov, also of Irkutsk. He is the director of the Russo-Asiatic Bank here, though he grew up in St. Petersburg and cannot truly be considered Siberian.”

The banker, whose face was flushed and sweaty, rose unsteadily to his feet and greeted each of the two visitors with a limp handshake. At his elbow stood a half-filled bottle of Caucasian brandy and a nearly empty snifter atop a side table of cherry wood.

“Also with us tonight is Father Timofey Makarovich Ryumin, until recently our beloved parish priest, but now a man of the world, so to speak, having launched his own movement to foster a spiritual rebirth among the Siberian people. Father Timofey stems from the distinguished Ryumin family of Old Believers, who came to Siberia in the seventeenth century. The Ryumin family name is held in high respect by all in Transbaikalia except, perhaps, for the Bolsheviks.”

The latter comment brought a questioning smile to the long face of the priest, who looked about thirty years old and whose eyes blazed a deep lazuli blue. To Ned’s surprise, the cleric remained seated and Ned noticed no brandy glass beside his armchair. Even without rising to his full height, Father Timofey cut a striking figure, wearing an untrimmed black beard, long unkempt hair, and an ankle-length cassock of fine gray wool with black embroidery along its buttoned side flap and cuffs. As if suddenly noticing Ned’s attention, Timofey cast a questioning glance at the American and for a moment conveyed the impression of a panther crouched and ready to pounce.

Dorokhin continued.

“And I am honored to have as guests two distinguished Allied officers: Lieutenant Colonel John Neilson, of Her Majesty’s Middlesex Regiment, on assignment to Admiral Kolchak’s staff at Omsk; and Captain Edmund du Pont, of the American Expeditionary Force, who is traveling to Omsk with Staff Captain Ivashov. As always, we are deeply grateful to our foreign allies for their support against Bolshevism. So let us bring out the vodka and drink to the health of our guests!”

At this, Ned offered his host a respectful nod.

“Zhanna!” the Russian shouted down the corridor a moment later. “Can you hear me, girl? Come at once with a fresh bottle and glasses!”

Ned was exchanging greetings with Lieutenant Colonel Neilson, a tall, narrow-faced man whose eyes appeared unfocused and whose speech was slurred, when he heard the clink of glasses and a heavy bottle being deposited on the sideboard behind him. He turned to follow his host and came face to face with a slender teenaged girl, dressed modestly in a beige linen apron over a dark ankle-length woolen skirt and a long-sleeved pleated white blouse. Her face struck him as uncommonly handsome, with eyes wide apart and slightly protruding, a well-shaped nose, a resolute mouth with an ironic upturn at the corners, fair skin and thick jet-black hair that was pinned, twisted, and piled into a luxuriant roll atop her head. But there was something in her good looks that transcended mere form, for her violet-gray eyes conveyed such a childlike purity of spirit that, when she smiled at him and a blush rose to her pale cheeks, she exuded an effortless charm that put him instantly at ease.

“Ah, Captain du Pont, permit me to present my daughter, Zhanna,” Dorokhin stepped in. “She is my youngest, my infant, the only child living at home, now that her older brothers have left us for military service. In the spring, God willing, Zhanna will complete her studies and fill in for her brothers in the family business. A brighter girl you will not find in all of Siberia! When the war is over and her brothers return, God willing, they will have to look sharp or Zhanna will be the one giving the orders!”

Ned fixed his gaze on the girl, prompting her to blush even more deeply than before. Then she offered him a smile so bold and confident that she seemed to have grown inches taller.

“I am most pleased to meet you, captain,” the girl replied with a quick curtsey before removing from the sideboard the lacquered tray she had brought in.

“But not as much as I,” Ned replied, bowing politely. “Your father is indeed blessed.”

“You speak Russian well,” the girl observed, facing him again, her eyes showing a flicker of curiosity. “How did you come to learn it? Do they teach Russian in your schools as they teach French and English in ours?”

“My sister and I had a Russian nanny when we were children,” he answered, feeling self-conscious that his command of the language remained rusty despite practice and too-frequent resort to an English-Russian military dictionary. “Olga was like a second mother, though she was not much older than you when she came to America.”

“Oh, what an adventure that must have been!” Zhanna exclaimed, raising herself on tiptoes with enthusiasm.

“Study well, Zhanna, and you, too, may have the opportunity to travel abroad when the war is over!” her father added proudly. “A modern woman’s place is no longer at the hearth, I always say.”

Then, as if by an afterthought, Dorokhin seized the bottle of pale pink rowanberry-infused vodka his daughter had placed on the sideboard, uncorked it, and sniffed its vapors eagerly.

“Ah, the finest! Now, let us be seated. The time has come to break bread and drink.”

Dorokhin stood at the head of the table and directed each guest to his seat, with Neilson, Ned, and Zhanna to his right and Kostrov, Father Timofey, and Ivashov to his left. The seat at the foot of the table remained empty, though the place was set, perhaps in the hope that one of Dorokhin’s sons might appear at the last moment. Once all were seated, Dorokhin said a brief prayer of thanks, and then proceeded to pour a glass of vodka for himself and his immediate neighbors before passing the bottle down the table. While the vodka was making its rounds, Zhanna rose to assist the family’s middle-aged housekeeper in relaying more platters of food from kitchen to sideboard to table. As the girl passed by, Ned could not resist casting an idle glance at the well-turned ankles that popped out from beneath her skirt.

Such an abundance of delectable food Ned had seldom seen, even at his wealthy relatives’ houses in Wilmington. Having become accustomed to tinned beef and biscuits aboard the troop ship from Manila, and to the simple fare of tea, kasha gruel, boiled eggs, watery broth, and black bread at the various cheap restaurants and railroad buffets he had frequented to date in Russia, Dorokhin’s table was a most welcome sight. For laid before him were platters of roast duck filled with apple-and-bread stuffing, pan-fried sturgeon from Lake Baikal, tinned salmon roe, stuffed cabbage, tiny meat dumplings in broth, boiled beets and carrots in butter, sautéed wild mushrooms, steamed fiddlehead ferns, loaves of freshly baked white and brown bread, and all manner of pickled vegetables.

When all but Timofey and Zhanna had a glass of vodka before them, the host rose.

“Let us drink to the health of our visitors, binding us in our common desire to win freedom and self-determination for the Russian people!”

Ned poured the chilled vodka straight down his throat in the Russian manner, scarcely tasting it. The sensation was not at all unpleasant, but knowing how many glasses of the stuff would likely follow before the night was over, he reached for the stuffed cabbage and began loading his plate. To eat heartily while drinking, he had learned, was the best defense against vodka’s pernicious side effects.

Silence prevailed while the guests piled their plates high with food. What followed was a leisurely and enjoyable meal, in which the heady vapors of vodka assisted to break down barriers of language, class, and culture. Soon each person began to ask his neighbor questions without waiting for answers, and to answer questions without waiting for them to be asked.

As if in response to a string of compliments from his guests about the quality and abundance of the food set before them, Dorokhin launched into an extended monologue about the myriad war-related shortages that had developed since the Great War, the February and October Revolutions of 1917, and the outbreak of civil war between Bolsheviks and Whites. And following all those, he explained, came the drought and catastrophic crop failure that struck Transbaikalia in the summer of 1918.

“Yes, we have enough to eat today in Verkhne-Udinsk,” the host went on between spoonfuls of broth. “But even we feel shortages coming on. Before long, I fear, we may even face famine. The war with Germany disrupted everything, and then the Reds made it all worse. And now, the new Siberian government wants us to drop everything to fight the Bolsheviks!”

At this, Kostrov, Father Ryumin and Ivashov offered grave nods, while Neilson stared darkly into his vodka glass and Zhanna squirmed uncomfortably while picking at her food.

“You see,” Dorokhin continued, “in a country of such enormous distances, the vital question is transport: how to move goods from areas of plenty to areas of want. And only by superhuman effort has Russian distribution been able to compensate for its worst deficiencies. Since 1914, a creeping paralysis has struck Russian economic life owing to the strangulation of freight.”

To Ned’s left, Neilson poured himself another glass of vodka while Father Timofey and Ivashov busied themselves with their food. Ned guessed that all had heard some version of the lecture before. Suddenly Dorokhin paused to stare straight at Ned.

“I understand that you are a railway expert, Captain du Pont. Is that correct?”

“I serve with the Railway Service Corps, but I am not a railroad man by profession,” Ned replied guardedly, laying down his knife and fork. “My specialty is communications: telegraph and wireless, which the railroads need in order to function. And it appears that communications across Siberia are in no better shape than the rail lines.”

“Then improving transport is not simply a matter of more locomotives and rolling stock?” the banker Kostrov inquired, fork in hand, looking up from his heavily laden dinner plate.

Ned hesitated and felt relief when their host stepped in to answer.

“Shortages of locomotives and carriages are only a symptom,” Dorokhin asserted, setting his vodka glass on the table for emphasis. “You see, most of our Russian locomotives are antiques, fit only for a museum. Presently, Russia possesses only one quarter of the number of locomotives that in 1914 was barely sufficient to maintain her railways in an abysmal state of inefficiency.”

“Surely you exaggerate, Stepan Petrovich,” Kostrov interrupted. “Could it truly be that bad, Captain du Pont?”

All eyes turned to Ned. At that moment, he was taking a drink of water and nearly choked on it.

“You’re both right,” he answered guardedly, setting down his glass and assuming an authoritative air. “That’s why the Railway Service Corps is bringing in so many new locomotives and freight cars. A completely new American train is en route here from Vladivostok even as we speak.”

“Aha! But locomotives aren’t the half of it!” the elder Dorokhin went on, unwilling to be placated. “It’s been four years since the fighting began, and all across Siberia our rails and roadbeds are in a dreadful state, the lathes and machinery needed to make repairs are totally worn out, and the skilled workmen to carry out the repairs have been killed or conscripted by the thousands.”

Ned looked across the table and saw that Neilson and Ivashov had put down their forks and were listening with renewed interest. Ned did the same.

“You see, my dear captain,” Dorokhin resumed with an appreciative smile, “before the war with Germany, Russia imported vast quantities of agricultural implements from abroad: not just large combines and machines, but simple tools like axes, sickles shovels and scythes. By the time of our revolutions in 1917, domestic production of such tools ceased almost entirely. All over Russia, spades are worn out, men plow with burnt wooden staves rather than plowshares, and axes and saws are so worn out as to be useless.”

Now even Father Timofey came back to life, furrowing his brow with heartfelt concern for the Siberian peasant. And Zhanna appeared close to tears. Ned’s look met hers for a fleeting moment and, before she turned away, her violet eyes seemed to convey the limitless compassion of youth.

“But things are so much better here in Transbaikalia than in Omsk and Yekaterinburg,” Neilson pointed out in a skeptical tone. “Here you have a wide variety of foods at a fraction of the price in Omsk. Yet you fear famine?”

“Well, perhaps not for the moment,” Dorokhin conceded, resting his thick hands on his hard round belly. “The Transbaikalian peasant eats rather more today than he did during the war with Germany. But he has no matches, no salt, no new boots or clothing. Worse still, in the cities, there is no fuel or medicine, no soap or cloth. Houses fall into disrepair for lack of paint and plaster. Offices are without paper and pencils. And the trickle of goods entering the stream of commerce is diverted immediately from factories and co-operatives to the front.”

“You paint a dismal picture, Stepan Petrovich,” Dorokhin’s brother-in-law answered at last, all eyes now centered on the banker. “But what is to be done? We can’t simply stop the war and let the Bolsheviks take control. The Cheka[9] and the Red Guards would kill every last one of us! My cousin arrived here last week after escaping from Petrograd[10]. He told me the canals there are clogged with the decomposing bodies of merchants and nobles executed during the Red Terror. In the past month alone, he said, the city’s population has declined by one hundred thousand souls. One hundred thousand! No, dear brother, our only hope is to battle on to victory, whatever the cost.”

“So, tell us, is the bad news all true?” Dorokhin pressed, gazing with dispirited eyes first upon Neilson and then Ivashov. “What hopeful news do you bring us from the front? What do you hear of Admiral Kolchak’s plans for a spring offensive?”

The British officer, as if having awaited such an opening, spoke up at once without bothering to look across the table to see if Ivashov wished to speak first.

“The matter is simple enough, gentlemen,” Neilson declared, putting down his vodka glass with an unsteady hand and scanning the faces of his audience through bloodshot eyes. “The White Army must defeat the Reds within a year or our side will almost certainly collapse, leaving all of Russia in Bolshevik hands and setting the stage for massacres, starvation, epidemics, and slavery on a scale not seen in modern times.”

Neilson paused to let his message sink in. The other men seemed to hold their breath for an instant, while Zhanna’s face turned a deathly white.

“The Reds, too, have their share of difficulties,” he went on, “but their advantages are many: they hold a territory with five times the population of that held by the Whites; they have moved swiftly to seize what remained of the tsar’s arsenals and arms industries; they have had at least six months longer than the Whites to build their armies; they possess interior lines of supply with a well-developed network of rail lines and waterways; and, most importantly, they are unified behind a single political and military program.”

Ned was impressed that a man so obviously in his cups could deliver so concise a summary. Rather than befuddle his wits, the vodka seemed to have sharpened his tongue. Even Father Timofey’s expression showed respect.

“But what of the Allied blockade and the food and fuel shortages in Red-held cities? And the outbreaks of cholera and typhus?” Kostrov shot back. “And, tell me this, how can the Red Army hope to win battles without a competent officer corps?”

Neilson let out a bitter laugh and swirled a scarred forefinger idly over the rim of his empty vodka glass.

“The Reds still have rail lines open southward to the Caucasus. And smugglers bring in food from Finland, Estonia, Poland, and the Ukraine. Even the epidemics play their part, killing off the aged and the weak, thus leaving more food and fuel for the able-bodied. As for officers, the Red Army learned this past summer not to entrust their divisions to amateurs, however politically reliable they might be. Since then, they have enticed or coerced thousands of former Imperial Army officers into leading Red Army units, with Chekists and political commissars hovering over their shoulders to thwart disloyalty.”

Neilson paused here and cast a meaningful glance toward Ivashov, who turned away.

“What he says is true,” Ivashov added after a moment, looking at Ned as if to justify himself. “Any imperial officer trapped last winter behind Red lines faced conscription or death. I nearly faced that fate myself…”

Ned recalled Ivashov’s comment on the train that it had not been so easy for him to break free from the Volga. But before Ivashov could say more, Neilson hammered home his point.

“As a result, my friends, the Red ranks abound with battle-tested enlisted men, sub officers and officers who are totally committed to the Red cause. Contrast that to the Siberian Army, which refuses to accept troops with war experience out of fear that they have been infected with the Bolshevik disease. As a result, the White officer corps is ridden with parasites and incompetents, while the soldiers under their command are mostly teenaged conscripts, untrained and unwilling to fight, who desert at the first sight of combat.”

“So, tell us, who will win?” Father Timofey asked leisurely, apparently unafraid to receive an honest answer from the British officer, who, after all, was not obliged to stay behind and bear the consequences if the Whites should lose.

“Maybe Lenin, maybe Kolchak, maybe neither,” Neilson answered with a shrug. “Russia is rapidly slipping into anarchy. What she needs is good honest leadership, the rule of law, land reform, and individual liberty. But neither the Bolsheviks nor the Old Guard will provide any of that. So, it comes down to the fortunes of war, my friends. One general will beat another on some far-flung battlefield, and the war will be decided in a manner no more just than a coin toss.”

Father Timofey let out an awkward laugh, which drew disapproving stares from his host and from Kostrov. Ivashov remained impassive during the exchange while young Zhanna stared at Neilson in open-mouthed shock.

“But surely, Lieutenant Colonel Neilson,” the priest challenged, “Admiral Kolchak is not a monarchist; he does not intend to turn Russia back over to the wealthy landlords and factory owners. We have all read his manifesto of last week, in which he promised as much to the nation. I can repeat to you the very words from his address: ‘I shall follow neither the reactionary path nor the path of party strife. My chief aims are the organization of a fighting force, the overthrow of Bolshevism, and the establishment of law and order, so that the Russian people may choose their own form of government.’ Surely those are not the words of a monarchist. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“They are the words of a dictator, Father Timofey,” Neilson replied gravely. “While he may be a fine, brave man, a patriotic Russian, and arguably the best one for the job, Kolchak leads a military dictatorship in Omsk and would not last a single night in that cesspool of intrigue if he did not maintain the loyalty of the officer class. And, if you will excuse my candor—for the vodka seems to have loosened my tongue—the officers who put him in power are monarchists, their leaders self-seeking and corrupt, while those officers under him who favor democracy face being purged if they dare raise their voices above a whisper.”

At this, Ned noticed Ivashov turn pale and, without waiting for another toast to be announced, refill his vodka glass to the brim. Ned couldn’t help but wonder if the staff captain might be one of those very democrats. He thought of Ivashov’s reticence aboard the train that afternoon and resolved to dig deeper into the man’s history.

By now the host had noticed that the bottle of spirits was empty and called for Zhanna to fetch another. The girl rose to leave, but not before giving her father a reproving look. Ned’s eyes followed her graceful figure as she headed for the door.

“No, Zhanna, our guests have certainly not  had enough,” Dorokhin commented loudly before she left the room. “There are times when too much to drink is barely enough,” he added in an undertone after she had gone.

“Amen, Stepan Petrovich,” Kostrov added. “Vodka is the anesthetic by which we endure life’s painful operations. In times like these, may our supplies never run short!”

On Zhanna’s return, her father called for the new bottle to be uncorked and passed around. The girl cast a worried glance toward Ned, as if he might somehow delay the bottle’s progress, but before she had even set the bottle on the table, Ivashov swallowed hard and addressed Neilson in a clear and surpr

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isingly sober-sounding voice.

“And what is to become of the democrats, Lieutenant Colonel Neilson?” Ivashov demanded. “Now that Admiral Kolchak has become Supreme Ruler with the blessing of our Western allies, what will be the fate of the Socialist Revolutionaries and Constitutional Democrats? After all, they won the Constituent Assembly elections in 1917, took up arms with the Czech Legion against the Bolsheviks, and joined forces with Omsk after being pushed back from the Volga and across the Urals. Now that Admiral Kolchak rules Siberia, what influence will men of the center have in his government?”

“The Socialist Revolutionaries?” Neilson scoffed. “Let me tell you about the Socialist Revolutionaries. I spent an evening in a railroad car with Mr. Avksentiev and company in September, and I can tell you this much: from what I saw of the S-R leaders during the old interim government, those dreamers would put Russia at no less risk than a band of out-and-out anarchists! Before Kolchak, crime was rampant in the streets of Omsk, murders and armed robberies a nightly occurrence, and the socialist-led municipal councils ruined everything they touched. I commend the Admiral’s forbearance in granting Avksentiev’s ilk safe passage into exile rather than shooting them down like dogs. In his place, I doubt I’d have been as forgiving.”

Ivashov’s eyes flashed with anger at Neilson’s tirade against the S-Rs. Ned also noticed that Father Timofey, who was seated beside Ivashov, twisted his fork in his hand and looked down at the table with clenched teeth. Even when Neilson went on to launch a new conversational thread, the staff captain could not let the matter rest.

“Lieutenant colonel, one more question, if you please,” Ivashov interrupted in a ringing voice. “Is it your considered opinion that Admiral Kolchak will ultimately defeat the Red Army and drive the Bolsheviks out of Russia?”

“That is still possible, but I wouldn’t lay odds on it,” Neilson replied with an audible sigh that seemed to acknowledge Ivashov’s annoyance.

“And will you tell us why?” Ivashov pressed.

“Yes. The reason is this,” the Briton answered, suddenly lowering his voice and regarding Ivashov with sympathetic eyes. “For all the Admiral’s virtues, he is a sailor: that is, a species of civilian. He is no field commander and has neither great leadership qualities nor a record of military victory. What the White Army requires at this critical stage is a commander in chief no less brilliant than a Caesar, or a Napoleon, or a Hannibal Barca.”

“Or perhaps a…” Father Timofey began.

At that moment, Ned happened to be staring in fascination at Zhanna’s delicate forearm, its shape altered subtly by the pressure of the table beneath. When he raised his head, he noticed the blushing girl shoot a reproachful glance at Timofey, as if he were about to betray a secret.

* * *

Dorokhin kept insisting that his guests eat until they were incapable of moving, and the men continued to down glass after glass of vodka, some as toasts and others by mere reflex, until their knees went weak. Despite having loaded up his stomach with fatty dishes early in the meal and diluted his vodka with water on occasion when no one was looking, Ned noted his words slurring, his memory for Russian words and phrases receding, and his mind becoming slowly paralyzed.

Mercifully, around that time Zhanna emerged from the kitchen with a layer cake topped with a confiture of bird cherries that grew wild along the riverbanks of Transbaikalia. While she busied herself serving a piece to each guest, her father fetched a bottle of Caucasian brandy from the sideboard, filled his empty snifter from it and passed the bottle to Neilson.

Ned waited for Zhanna to reach him and, when he was within the orbit of her scent, inhaled deeply, detecting notes of lilac over the kitchen smells permeating her apron and skirt. Upon taking a mouthful of the cake she gave him, he found it delicious, with a flavor oddly like chocolate.

On impulse, Ned rose from his seat, lifted his glass, and offered a toast.

“I shall always remember this night,” he began, “for the hospitality of our host, the beauty of the setting, the intelligent conversation of the guests, and the skill and grace of those who prepared and served us a meal beyond compare. Thank you, Stepan Petrovich—and Zhanna Stepanovna!” He offered a bow and a smile to Zhanna before raising his glass to his lips and downing the contents.

She returned his smile with a bashful look that set his heart pounding. Was it the vodka, or was he becoming infatuated with the girl? Of course, such a thing could not possibly lead anywhere, but all he knew at the moment was that he wanted to see more of Zhanna, to drink in her scent and peer into to those lavender eyes.

In the next instant, the housekeeper began clearing the table and Zhanna rose to help her. Meanwhile, Ned’s words had prompted a final long-winded toast from Dorokhin, at which the other guests rose unsteadily to their feet and polished off whatever vodka or brandy remained in their glasses. Afterward, the guests shook each other’s hands with exaggerated bonhomie and tottered out of the room.

Zhanna joined the handshaking and, as Ned filed past her, she extended a delicate hand. Upon taking it, Ned felt a small folded slip of paper pass from her palm to his and acknowledged it with a nod. Meeting his gaze, she slowly withdrew her hand and followed her father out the door.

* * *

The next morning, Ned awoke at first light with throbbing temples, an urge to vomit, and the sickly sweet odor of his own alcoholic sweat filling the small bedroom. With a mighty exertion of will, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and planted his feet on the floor to stop the room from spinning. After a moment, he drew a bucket of breath as if from a deep well, rose to his feet, and shuffled across the room to where he had laid his wristwatch, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

He put his head up to the mirror to take a closer look. Though his eyes were bloodshot and his skin of sallow hue, his brain and body still functioned reasonably well and he knew he would have to move quickly if he was to be on time for his rendezvous with Zhanna. He made his toilet quickly, then dressed and set out for the dining room to greet his host and explain his incongruous desire to take a stroll outdoors before breakfast. He found Dorokhin seated at the dining table with Ivashov and Father Timofey. The first two seemed in remarkably good repair for men who had imbibed so much vodka the night before. Though the aroma of fried bacon and eggs from the sideboard made Ned’s gorge rise, he put on a brave grin and poured himself a cup of strong tea at the steaming samovar.

“Eat, my young friend!” the merchant urged. “It will drive out the evil spirits.”

Timofey, who had not touched alcohol the night before, let out a hearty laugh. “And if that doesn’t work, I can offer you my priestly blessing. Or perhaps, being American, you would prefer a dose of Mesmerism? I trained in it some years ago and have often achieved good results with men in your condition.”

Ned resented being treated like a drunken Russkie. To make matters worse, he considered Mesmer and his animal magnetism[11] a complete fraud. He was considering a sharp riposte when he thought of his rendezvous with Zhanna and forced a mirthless smile.

“Thank you, Father, but I think what I need at this moment to restore my appetite is fresh air and movement. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll take a short walk and rejoin you in a while.”

“I recommend the horse path behind the stables,” Dorokhin suggested as Ned downed his tea. “It runs to the edge of our property before joining the main road to town. Zhanna went off in that direction a short while ago. Perhaps you may come across her along the way.”

At that remark, their host exchanged glances with Ivashov and Father Timofey, winked, and suppressed a smile. But Ned had turned aside to dispose of his teacup and failed to notice.

The walk to the cedar grove, which occupied a rise at the edge of the Dorokhin estate, took less than a half hour. Once within the grove, Ned followed a set of fresh footprints to the foot of a massive cedar, where he found Zhanna seated cross-legged on a Buryat prayer rug laid upon the snow. Her eyes were closed but her lips moved as if she were praying. Not wanting to disturb her, he halted twenty feet away and watched.

Zhanna was dressed in a sheepskin coat, heavy wool trousers, thick felt boots, and a white rabbit-fur cap with long earflaps. Ned’s breath caught at the sight of her, for he had seldom beheld a face as serenely lovely. At that moment, Zhanna Dorokhina seemed too beautiful for this earth.

As if sensing his presence, the girl’s eyes opened and looked straight into his.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he stammered. “I’m afraid I overslept. Your note said…”

“I’m so very happy you came,” she interrupted while removing her cap and fur mittens and laying them across her lap. Unlike the night before, her sleek black hair was tied behind her head in a long ponytail and shone in the pale sunlight. “Another hour of sleep might have suited you better, I expect. Thank you for not thinking me a silly schoolgirl.”

At a loss for words, Ned changed the subject.

“Were you dreaming just now?” he asked. “You seemed to be holding a conversation with someone.”

“I was,” she answered without hesitation.

“But nobody else is here.”

“Perhaps not in the usual sense, but my Voices are as real to me as you are. This is where I come to speak with them.”

Ned hesitated. To him, hearing disembodied voices was the definition of insanity. Yet, the girl seemed far from a lunatic. He ventured a polite response.

“Your Voices? Do they, well, have names?” he asked.

“Of course. You might already know them. Are you a Christian?”

“Not a very good one, I’ll confess,” Ned responded, stepping closer. “But I was raised an Anglican and read the Bible quite a bit as a boy.”

“Then perhaps you have heard of Saint Yekaterina of Alexandria? Or Saint Marina[12] of Antioch?” she asked with an expectant look.

“Their names don’t sound very familiar,” Ned answered. “Are they the ones who speak to you?”

“Yes, and the Archangel Michael, sometimes. But he is a newcomer,” she answered with a mischievous smile. “Saint Yekaterina has been with me since I was thirteen. Saint Marina for not as long; she comes and goes as she pleases.”

“What sort of things do they tell you?” Ned asked with genuine curiosity as he seated himself on the snow beside her.

“Oh, at first they told me to be a good girl and go to church,” she answered with a musical laugh.

“And later?”

“They gave me instruction in spiritual matters to help me prepare for the work that lay ahead,” she went on.

“And how can you be sure the voices really belong to saints and not to…”

“…my imagination?” she interrupted with a frown.

“Or impostors who might aim to deceive you.”

“Oh, my Voices could not be from the Deceiver,” the girl answered. “The Bible says one should judge a tree by its fruit, and nothing but good has ever come to me from my Voices. They have taught me so much that sometimes I fairly reel from it!”

“Well, what you say sounds innocent enough,” Ned conceded, not wanting to cast judgment on another person’s religion. “I am hardly fit to question it, since no saint has ever taken a personal interest in the likes of me. As a soldier, I doubt very much whether…”

“Oh, but there you are wrong!” she interrupted again. “Archangel Michael cares a great deal for soldiers. He says that before long I may become one. And that is something that strikes fear deep in my heart. Tell me, captain, have you ever fought in a war? Have you seen death at close hand?”

Ned let out a deep breath before answering.

“I have,” he answered in a flat voice. “In Mexico and the Philippines. And I have the scars to prove it.”

“Were you very afraid?” Zhanna asked eagerly, leaning forward with her elbows propped on her knees.

“Afraid of what?” he asked.

“Of dying. What else?”

“Of course,” Ned answered with a shrug. “I feared that, and being wounded, and the snakes and spiders, and getting lost in the jungle, and a lot more. I was afraid just about all of the time.”

“Then how could you go on fighting? Where did you find the courage? Why didn’t you flee, as many of our boys do?”

“One fights mainly because of the training, I suppose,” he said, idly picking up a handful of snow. “And to not let down one’s comrades. And sometimes conditions become so impossible to bear that death becomes a matter of indifference. When that happens, risking one’s life means very little.”

A look of incomprehension spread across the girl’s pale face.

“But why do you ask? And why me?” Ned probed. “Have you also asked this of Ivashov?”

“I ask you because you are a foreigner,” Zhanna answered with a grave expression that made her look older than her eighteen years. “I dare not ask a Russian man because they have certain ideas about women that will never change. And as for Staff Captain Ivashov, he is completely loyal to my father and uncle and would repeat anything I say right back to them.”

“But surely, a girl like you will never find herself on the battlefield. Have your Voices told you otherwise?”

“Not exactly,” Zhanna answered after a moment’s hesitation. “But they have a mission in mind for me, and I don’t know yet what dangers it may bring.”

“What sort of a mission?”

“They want me to travel without delay to Omsk to deliver a message to Admiral Kolchak. My father told me you plan to go there soon. I want you to take me with you. I can pay…”

Here Zhanna stopped short and watched for Ned’s response. He had expected some small, frivolous request that he could fulfill at little cost. But this request was preposterous. Still, there was something compelling about her that made him want to help.

“Ivashov and I travel to Omsk under official orders, on an American military train,” he answered respectfully, rubbing his icy hands together. “I’m afraid no sum of money can buy civilian passage on it. But tell me this: does your father know of your plan?”

“Yes. Father forbids it,” Zhanna answered without blinking.

“And you would defy him?” Ned challenged. “By what right?”

“Not by right, but by authority. My Voices command it, and their commands must be obeyed, for they come from God.”

Zhanna’s demeanor appeared so sane that Ned struggled for a counter-argument that did not take her for a fool or a madwoman. After all, the Russians were a devoutly religious people and, in desperate times, religion and ancient folkways often tightened their grip on the devout.

“And you have no doubt of this?” he demanded.

“Not a whit.”

“Then, what would you do once you reached the capital? These days Omsk is thronged with soldiers and refugees and Bolshevik agitators. It’s not a safe place for a country girl all on her own. And how would you gain an audience with the Admiral? He is protected by British bodyguards at all times and rarely ventures from his quarters except to visit the front lines.”

“Perhaps you could arrange an introduction,” she ventured in a quiet voice.

Ned laughed, not in a mocking way, but with the easy confidence that arose from knowing he held the upper hand. For while God might have given Zhanna an order, He had not presented her with a plan, and the task was plainly impossible.

“Would that I could,” he answered amiably. “But I have never met Admiral Kolchak, and I am no more likely to gain an introduction than you are.”

“I see,” Zhanna replied, biting her lower lip and wringing her fur gloves in her hands. “But you would help me if you could, wouldn’t you? My Voices assured me of that much.”

Ned laughed.

“Well, in that respect, your Voices are quite right. For if I could help you without any harm to you, or disgrace to your father, or neglect to my duties, I would most gladly come to your aid.”

This was an exaggeration, of course, but he would have been genuinely delighted to help her if the request were not so evidently absurd.

“Then I shall take up your offer in due time,” the girl answered with renewed confidence. “For my Voices tell me that you will return here before the winter is over. So if I do not travel with you now, I shall surely do so on your return.”

“And I would be most happy for the chance to see you again,” Ned replied, meeting her gaze with a weak smile.

“Then go with God, captain,” Zhanna added in a clipped voice as she rose to her feet. “And may we meet again soon. For I have but a year and a little more to do my work. By this time next year, Russia’s die will be cast, and so will mine.”

* * *

Stepan Petrovich and his guests spent that afternoon shooting grouse and quail amid the stubble of the harvested croplands, returning at dusk for a light meal washed down with nothing stronger than beer. Zhanna assisted with the cooking and serving, as she had the night before, but declined to join the men in the dining room, eating in the kitchen instead. Nor did she serve them food or drink later that evening while they played skat and whist by the tile stove.

The next morning, Zhanna rose early to help the housekeeper prepare breakfast but left for church before the men rose. She failed to return before Ned and Ivashov took leave of their host and set off for the railroad station. Clearly, Ned thought, the girl was avoiding him. Perhaps she was embarrassed at revealing her visions. Or perhaps she had second thoughts about appearing to lead him on, given that he was much older than she and a man of the world.

She was only a schoolgirl, after all, barely eighteen, and Ned did not want to show disrespect for her father or Ivashov by making improper advances. Perhaps it was a good thing that Zhanna had stayed away and that he would be leaving soon. If they were alone together again, and he touched her, he might not be able to stop himself.

He needed to shake this infatuation with the girl. It had taken him completely by surprise, catching fire like a spark in dry grass. After all, he had been without female companionship for four months. It was time he found a woman his own age, fraternization rules be damned. Once he was on his way to Omsk, the infatuation with Zhanna would burn out, and they would probably never cross paths again.

Only after he and Ivashov had settled into their private compartment and their train was clattering over the rails toward Irkutsk did Ned venture a comment on Zhanna’s absence all day and relate the odd story of his conversation with her among the cedars.

“Can you imagine a stranger story?” Ned asked.

Ivashov looked up from his newspaper and shrugged.

“I find it just as odd as you do. While I don’t doubt that she hears voices, I have no idea what they mean. Yet there is something special about the girl. And I expect we haven’t seen the last of her, for it’s clear that she won’t rest until she makes her way to Omsk.”

“And why do you say ‘we’, staff captain?”

“Because she made the same approach to me when I spoke with her yesterday before breakfast,” Ivashov answered with a hearty laugh. “And my response was no different from yours.”

* * *

Father Timofey was the last guest to leave the Dorokhins’ estate. Stepan Petrovich had already gone into town on business and Zhanna had not yet returned from church. Timofey was saddling his horse in the stable when he noticed Zhanna standing beside him.

“Back from prayer so soon?” he asked her with a kind smile.

But Zhanna’s face remained expressionless, almost brooding. Her hands were dug deep into the pockets of her heavy sheepskin coat.

“So they refused you?” he asked while he spread a thick saddle blanket across the horse’s back.

“Yes, both of them,” she answered in a monotone.

“Yet you’re certain theirs were the faces you saw in your visions?”

“Without a doubt.”

“Do you suppose they could be persuaded to change their minds?” the priest asked as he lifted the saddle onto the blanket.

“I don’t see how,” she answered dully, shuffling her feet idly in the hay. “You saw for yourself, they return to Omsk without me. How am I to ever get another chance with them?”

“Did you ask that question of your Voices?”

“Of course I did, Father.”

“And what did they say?”

“They said not to worry, that both men will come again. The time was not right, but it was necessary to try.” She stepped forward to hold the horse’s bridle and stroke the beast’s forehead.

“And what if one of these men does take you to Omsk, either now or later? What if you succeed in reaching the Admiral? What then?” the priest asked, giving her a sharp look with his deep blue eyes before letting the cinches and stirrup straps fall across the horse’s flanks.

“My saints say it’s not been decided,” she answered, looking away in frustration.

“Not decided whether you are to remain in Omsk or return here? Or might they send you to some other faraway place? In any case, who would look after you while you are away? How could your father possibly allow such a thing?”

“I don’t know,” the girl replied with downcast eyes.

“Did any of your saints or angels imply that one of these officers might become your guardian or protector beyond Omsk?” Timofey demanded, catching her eye before he turned away again to tighten the cinch. “Perhaps even your husband?”

“Certainly not the latter!” Zhanna bristled. “Yekaterina says I am to keep myself pure. There will be no bridegroom for me but Christ, at least until my mission is complete.”

“And how long is your mission to last?” Timofey asked in conclusion, as he turned to Zhanna with the reins in his hand.

“A year and a little more. It will not likely end at Omsk, and may take me to the front. Yet the longer I delay, the greater the peril when I go…”

The priest offered her a sympathetic nod.

“Patience,” he said, before leading his horse past her and out of the stable.

Chapter 3: Change of Plan

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“Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

—John Quincy Adams

Musical Theme: Valse-Fantasie in B Minor , by Mikhail Glinka


Ned had been to the State, War, and Navy Building before, but never on business of his own. He vaguely remembered being taken there as a boy to see his father decorated for his service in the Philippine Islands during the Spanish-American War. The massive cast-iron building, faced with stone, had been built in the 1880s in the Second French Empire style and stood just west of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. Ned recognized the massive skylights above the main stairwells that had impressed him during his first visit, and the elaborate decorative trim, including doorknobs with cast insignia representing the government department to which the door belonged.

He mounted the staircase and took the stairs two at a time until he reached the War Department’s offices on the third floor, where he was scheduled to meet with Colonel Charles Holt, an old friend of his father’s who had once been the latter’s fellow instructor at West Point. Ned found the office without difficulty and entered an anteroom. An orderly found Ned’s appointment in the calendar and led him to the colonel’s office, a spacious room brightly lit by morning sunshine streaming in through outsized south-facing windows.

Holt, a tall, broad-shouldered man nearing fifty with a neatly trimmed mustache and short-cropped graying hair, came out from behind his desk to greet Ned at the door. His face had the chiseled and weathered look of a man of action, yet his pale blue eyes held a pensive look.

“The last time we met, you were in knee britches,” the colonel began with an approving smile. “And now you’re a captain who’s led men into battle in Mindanao and Mexico. Where does the time go…?”

“Father sends his best,” Ned answered, taking the colonel’s extended hand. “And we both thank you for agreeing to see me on short notice. You see, my home leave is almost at an end and I was hoping to…”

“Yes, I’ve read your file,” the colonel broke in, taking a seat in one of the twin leather armchairs opposite his desk and bidding Ned to take the other. “I see you want to ship out to Europe to fight the Hun. Well, with America joining the war in Europe, one can hardly blame a young man for wanting to follow the action.”

“And serve under General Pershing again,” Ned added.

“Ah, yes, I do recall you served under Black Jack in Mexico, against Pancho Villa. Duly noted. And now you’re ready to put the Philippines behind you?” Holt pressed.

“Well, yes, sir. The natives have been peaceful of late and it all seems rather a waste…”

In truth, Ned had a visceral dread of returning to Mindanao, but was not ready to give up on the Army entirely. Perhaps a change from counter-insurgency warfare to a big conventional war might do the trick. He still had a taste for adventure, just not amid the snakes and swamps and skulking bandits of Mindanao. And the war in France clearly offered the fastest possible route to promotion for a young infantry officer.

“I understand,” Holt interrupted. “Having been an ambitious young man once myself, I can appreciate your attitude. The European War may be the seminal event of your generation, Ned. Whether America’s participation lasts months or years, many of your peers will distinguish themselves and earn rapid promotion there. Is that your concern?” the colonel asked, crossing his legs and leaning back in the armchair.

“Not exactly,” Ned dodged. “It’s that I’m not really needed on Mindanao any more. I believe I could contribute more against the Germans.”

“And what if the Great War is over by Christmas, as some predict?” the colonel probed. “What if you move heaven and earth to get to France, only to find yourself shipped home a month or two later, along with thousands of other young officers no longer needed on the Western Front?”

Ned hesitated.

“I’ll accept that risk, sir,” he answered at last.

Colonel Holt rose without speaking and approached the window.

“A few days ago I received a visit from Ed Buckner,” he began. “He and your Cousin Pierre appear to have taken a strong interest in your career.”

“I realize that my family disapproves of me seeking a reassignment to the Western Front,” Ned bristled, “but they have no right to interfere with…”

“No one has interfered, and no attempt would make a whit of difference,” Holt replied, turning around to face the young officer. “But Buckner did mention something that I found rather interesting. He said that you speak Russian like a native. Is that true?”

“I had a Russian nanny as a child. We spoke Russian almost as much as English until I entered grammar school.”

“And have you kept up the practice?”

“I still speak it with some Russian friends. There are more Russians in Washington than one might expect, especially since the revolution.”

“So, tell me again, captain,” Holt resumed. “Assuming the war does last past Christmas, do you really want to spend the autumn and winter up to your knees in muck in some trench along the Marne?”

“As compared with the steaming, disease-ridden jungles of Mindanao?” Ned replied with a raised eyebrow.

“Every front has its own charm, I suppose,” Holt answered with a knowing smile. “What I’m getting at is this: what do you really want? Escape the Philippines? Advance your career? Serve your country? Kill Germans?”

“A mixture, I suppose,” Ned added uncertainly. “The Western Front seems to offer them all at once.”

“And if there were another way to get what you want?” Holt asked, returning to the leather armchair opposite Ned.

“I would have to consider it, of course.”

“What if I were to offer you such a choice today, on the condition that you say yea or nay before leaving this room?”

Ned gulped. The colonel awaited his response with a poker face.

“I believe I could do that, sir.” Ned said, edging forward in his seat. “Tell me more.”

“Have you been following the progress of the Czech Legion in Siberia?” Holt asked, to Ned’s surprise.

“Not very closely,” Ned confessed. “I recall that a group of Czech POWs had a skirmish with Bolshevik troops in May at a railway station in the Urals, and now they and their White Russian allies control most of Siberia. Top-notch work for a few thousand lightly armed POWs, I’d say.”

“Forty thousand, to be precise,”

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Holt corrected. “Hardened, determined men. Perhaps enough to tip the balance on the Western Front. The Allies want the Czechs to proceed the rest of the way across Siberia to Vladivostok, where British ships will return them to Europe.”

“And how the devil do they propose to accomplish that?” Ned asked. “The last I heard, the Bolsheviks controlled the entire eastern portion of Trans-Siberian Railway, from Lake Baikal to the Pacific.”

“As indeed they do. That’s why the State Department, with the War Department’s concurrence, has endorsed a plan to send American troops to take control of the Trans-Siberian and escort the Czechs out.”

The colonel watched closely for Ned’s reaction.

“And has this plan been put before the President and Congress?” Ned inquired.

The colonel beamed, as if anticipating the question.

“Until a few weeks ago, President Wilson appeared to be dragging his feet,” Holt replied. “But a few days ago, the Secretary of War sat down with the man the President has picked to lead the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia. That man, General William Graves, is now scheduled to embark for Vladivostok in one week, via Manila Bay. Yes, Manila Bay. And your old unit, the 27th Infantry, is one of the regiments selected to join the expedition.”

Ned’s breath caught in his throat and he felt as if his heart had stopped beating.

“So you want me to…”

“…join the expedition to Siberia,” Holt replied. “Only not with your old unit. Your counter-insurgency experience is certainly an asset, but we have other men quite capable of hunting down marauding Bolsheviks, if need be. No, we have something rather different in mind for you.”

Suddenly, Ned found his unease at the prospect of returning to the Philippines being replaced by pride at being singled out for special duty.

“And may I ask what that duty might be?” Ned ventured.

“You may, once you have accepted it,” Holt replied. Ned waited for a smile, but the man did not appear to be joking.

“Could you give me a hint?”

“The expedition hasn’t been made known outside a very small circle,” Holt went on, deflecting the question. “Some aspects will be made public in the coming days; others may not. If you decline the offer, you will report back to the Philippines to join your old unit for immediate deployment to Siberia. There you will guard the railroad with the rest of the 27th.”

“And if I accept?”

“You will travel to Siberia, but under conditions that I expect you will find much more to your liking.”

Ned inspected the colonel’s face closely. Holt’s lips were curled in a half-smile and his blue eyes held an amused twinkle.

“All right, I accept,” Ned declared, letting out a deep breath. “Now, how about telling me what sort of mess I’ve gotten myself into?”

Holt gave a hearty laugh.

“If it turns into a mess, then at least you’ll be in good company. Because you’ll be reporting to your old intelligence chief, David Barrows. In fact, he requested you by name.”

“But Colonel Barrows isn’t with the 27th any more…”

“No, he’s been promoted,” Holt pointed out. “He’ll be the new Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence with the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia. You and he will be working together again, as you did in Mindanao.”

“Colonel Barrows is one in a million,” Ned grinned. “I couldn’t possibly do better. Will I be joining his staff, then?”

“Not exactly,” Holt explained. “Though you’ll report directly to Barrows, you’ll be working under cover with the Russian Railway Service Corps, which is due to arrive in Vladivostok later this month. Since the RRSC’s mandate extends across the entire length of the Trans-Siberian under White control, your work as an American railway man will take you wherever the U.S. government needs intelligence, from the Pacific to the Volga.”

Ned gave an anxious laugh.

“But I know nothing about railroads!”

“You will be put forward as a telegraph and wireless expert,” Holt explained. “Communications will be your specialty, not transport. You’ll receive several weeks of training on telegraph and wireless operations in Philadelphia and New York before you leave for San Francisco. And during the evenings, Army intelligence experts will instruct you in codes, ciphers, invisible writing and other secret communications methods, including the latest wireless devices.”

Ned numbly nodded his assent while his mind swam with apprehension at holding himself out as an expert in an area of which he knew next to nothing. Still, his heart thrilled at being sent to a distant and exotic land to provide intelligence support to Colonel Barrows and the new American Expeditionary Force.

“How soon can you travel to Philadelphia?” Holt demanded.

“I leave for Wilmington this afternoon, in fact,” Ned replied. “I plan to be in Philadelphia by tomorrow evening for a reception hosted by none other than Ed Buckner.”

“Splendid. Give him my best,” the colonel answered with a twisted smile. “But don’t breathe a word of our plans to Buckner or to anyone else. Tell everyone that I’ve turned down your request to fight the Germans and that you’re headed back to Manila Bay. Sulk for a while to make the story convincing. Meanwhile, we’ll prepare your orders and your commission in the RRSC. You’ll travel back to Manila under your original orders and pick up new ones at Army General Headquarters, Fort Santiago, thus bypassing the 27th Regiment’s chain of command.”

“What about Philadelphia? How am I to get in touch with your people there?”

“Wire me your address when you arrive and I’ll send someone to fetch you. Any other questions?”

“Yes,” Ned answered after a moment’s pause. “What can I expect if my work in Russia is a success? Will it match what I could expect if I distinguished myself in France?”

“Frankly, Captain du Pont, the opportunity you’re being offered is a peach of an assignment for a young officer. What’s more, your prior intelligence experience and Russian language skill make you the perfect candidate. If Barrows is satisfied with your work, I expect you’ll have a very bright future in the Army. More than that I can’t say.”

Vague but acceptable, Ned thought, as he nodded his concurrence.

“But I would be less than honest with you if I didn’t warn you of the risks,” Holt went on unexpectedly. “In France, of course, you might be killed or wounded by shrapnel, bullets, or gas. And you’ve faced threats of another sort in Mindanao. But Russia will be entirely different. Though your orders are to avoid combat at all costs, you might well get caught up in the fighting. If you fall into Bolsheviks hands, a bullet in the neck may be the best you can hope for. And if the Whites catch you spying on them, the result could be the same.”

“How charming…” Ned noted, his heart chilled.

“And whether you find yourself among Americans, British, Czechs, or Russians, you will be utterly alone. Your mission will be to report intelligence that reflects the harsh realities in Russia, without regard to how your reporting may affect the fortunes of those around you. And, with rare exceptions, you won’t have the slightest idea whether your work is doing any good at all.”

Ned stiffened. All at once he felt as if the blood were clotting in his veins. For now his old unease was back again, except that this time he had exchanged an enemy he knew well for one that was entirely new and strange.

* * *

The next morning, Ned entered the lobby of the DuPont Building, a modern beaux-arts high-rise in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. There he took the elevator to the eleventh floor offices of Pierre Samuel du Pont, President of E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, the leading supplier of smokeless powder and explosives to the Allied Powers.

Though Ned’s father descended from a different branch of the du Pont family than Cousin Pierre, the two men were the same age, had known each other as young boys along the Brandywine River, and had both attended the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, a Quaker institution. But while Pierre, a shy and studious young man, went off to study chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ned’s father received an appointment to enter the cadet class at West Point.

Over the years, the two boyhood friends kept up a correspondence and the young Army officer made a point of visiting his distant cousin whenever he returned to Wilmington. When Ned’s father achieved fleeting fame for acts of heroism during the Spanish-American War, Pierre even urged him to join the family business. But Ned’s father remained in the Army, rising to the rank of brigadier before retiring from active duty on the eve of the Great War to teach at West Point and write a history of the Spanish-American conflict.

More than once since 1914, Pierre, having risen to chief executive of the DuPont Company, had offered Ned’s father a position as corporate liaison to the War Department, but each time the offer was declined. Still, the two cousins remained friends, and Pierre had told Ned’s father that if Ned ever tired of military life, the young man would be welcome in Wilmington to come learn the munitions business.

This offer was renewed recently at a lunch in Washington with Colonel Edmund Buckner, the DuPont Company’s Washington lobbyist, a position that had been offered to Buckner only after Ned’s father declined it. Ned had first met Buckner in Washington while on home leave several years before. Since then, he had also formed an acquaintance with Buckner’s only daughter, Corinne, a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr. In fact, it was at Buckner’s urging that Ned was making his present courtesy visit to Cousin Pierre.

As Ned entered the executive suite, a pair of dark-suited managers was leaving Pierre’s inner office. The male private secretary took Ned’s name, consulted his appointment book, and ushered Ned into the private office, closing its heavy door gently behind him.

Pierre du Pont, a round-faced man of forty-eight, clean-shaven and nearly bald, stood beside his massive teak desk and gazed at Ned from behind round wire-rimmed spectacles and a thin-lipped smile. He wore a charcoal-hued three-piece suit, striped cravat, and a starched white shirt with a high wing collar.

“So good of you to come, Ned. Take a seat, please,” he offered, pointing to a pair of austere eighteenth-century Windsor chairs.

“Thank you for taking the time to receive me, Cousin Pierre,” Ned replied before seating himself. “This must be a busy time for you, with our doughboys burning up so much ammunition on the Marne.”

“Indeed it is, but one must learn to set a steady pace, with a letup now and then,” Pierre answered, pulling his chair close to that of his guest. ”Tell me, how is your father? Has he finished his book about the war with Spain?”

Ned let out an easy laugh.

“He said it would be finished in March, but there seems to be no end in sight. To be honest, I don’t think he wants to finish it. He wouldn’t know what to do with himself.”

“If he’s bored, send him up here,” Pierre replied, folding his hands in his lap. “We’ll find something useful for him to do.”

“I’ll pass the word,” Ned answered, pleased that Pierre had remained so loyal to his father that he would go out of his way to create a job for him.

“How ironic that you were assigned to the Philippines so soon after your father left Manila,” Pierre continued with a pensive look. “And that he returned directly to West Point, where you had just finished your studies. Like ships passing in the night.”

“If I ever have a son, and he joins the Army, I expect he may serve some day in Mindanao, too,” Ned replied sourly. “Sure, we’ve managed to quiet down the Moros for a while. But they’ll rise again. Rebellion is in their blood. All I can say is, let someone else fight them. I’ve had my fill.”

“Well, if you ever decide to leave the Army…” the older man ventured.

“Oh, I didn’t mean it that way,” Ned answered, cutting him off. “I have no plans to leave the Army just yet, and certainly not before we win the war in Europe.”

“So you’ll be going back to Manila?”

“I suppose I will,” Ned replied with downcast eyes. “The War Department turned down my request for a transfer to the Western Front.”

“How interesting,” Pierre answered, raising a hand to his chin. “I would think they would be delighted to send a seasoned young officer like you to France. What were their reasons?”

Ned shrugged.

“It’s the Army way. If I had refused, I’m sure they would have sent me.”

“Tell me, Ned, are you aware that the British landed troops in Vladivostok last week from Hong Kong and Singapore to take back the Trans-Siberian Railway? My people in Washington are picking up strong signs that President Wilson may do the same before long. And from where would he take the troops if not from the Pacific? Hawaii, perhaps. Or the Philippines.”

The businessman awaited Ned’s reaction with an expressionless face.

“Oh, I wouldn’t know about that, sir,” Ned answered with a blank look and an uneasy feeling in his gut.

“The French have linked up with the British in Murmansk,” Pierre added. “Our people in Washington expect it’s only a matter of days before America joins the Allied intervention.”

Ned licked his parched lips and gave a silent nod rather than risk being drawn into discussing military secrets.

“I suppose you might be asking yourself, why have I turned our conversation to the topic of Russia?” the industrialist went on. “The reason is that the DuPont Company has an abiding interest in the fate of Russia. Not only was the Russian Empire a steadfast member of the Triple Entente until the Bolshevik coup, tying up many German divisions on the Eastern Front, but we, like other American investors, own substantial holdings in tsarist and Kerensky[13] bonds. And the Bolsheviks, as you may remember, have repudiated that debt.”

Ned blinked at the disclosure.

“I see,” he muttered.

Pierre leaned forward now and rested his elbows on his knees.

“Of course, it goes without saying, when we made those loans to the Russians and allowed them to purchase munitions on credit terms, we thought their credit extremely strong. Indeed, considering the vast resources of the Russian Empire, the tsar’s bonds seemed the safest among all the warring nations. But none of us reckoned then that the Bolsheviks would seize power and default on Russia’s foreign debts. Today we take great encouragement that White Russian forces have risen to challenge the Red Army, and that an Allied intervention is underway. So, Ned, now you see why our company, our banking partners, and many other leading American companies, favor a decision to intervene.”

“And do you expect such a decision soon?” Ned asked, pretending not to know the answer.

“If my information is correct, it has already been made,” Pierre replied. “It seems that the President has at last bowed to the will of the American people, whom I believe support the White Forces by a wide margin. Until now, one might have thought there were two American policies toward Russia: the President’s public policy of non-intervention, and the State Department’s covert policy to divert support formerly granted to the Kerensky government to the Whites.”

These assertions confused Ned. Since his return to the Mainland, he had detected scarcely any interest in Russia among Americans he knew. While they might have expressed momentary outrage at the execution of the Russian royal family, and at the Bolsheviks’ mass murder of so-called class enemies, all eyes were turned now to American troops fighting on the Marne and the Somme. Russia was out of the war, defeated and largely forgotten.

“I have been home for only a few weeks and seem to be out of touch with popular opinion,” Ned conceded. “What has convinced you that Americans favor sending our troops to Siberia?”

“The New York Times  editorials are in favor of it,” the businessman shot back, perhaps with too great an enthusiasm. “Henry Cabot Lodge argues for it in the Senate. Business leaders support it. Only isolationists, radical socialists like John Reed, and readers of The Masses  oppose intervention. Why, the President could justify sending troops on humanitarian grounds alone, to combat famine and disease.”

“And what arguments do the opponents offer?” Ned asked.

“The usual starry-eyed utopianism,” Pierre answered with a dismissive gesture. “Readers of the yellow press seem to harbor a childlike faith in the Bolshevist experiment.”

“Well, if the President does as you predict, I imagine he will present a strong case to intervene,” Ned answered with a bland smile, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. “He can be very persuasive when he wants to be. He sent our troops into Mexico, after all.”

Pierre gave Ned a sidelong glance, as if puzzled by the younger man’s apparent restraint.

“And I hope he outdoes himself this time,” Pierre declared, drumming a forefinger on the arm of his chair. “Because the last thing I want is to be accused a year from now of pressuring Washington to offer arms and troops to the White Russian Government in exchange for resuming payment to their American creditors. It’s the President’s decision to help the Whites, not mine.”

Ned winced. The DuPont Company had been in bad odor with the public for nearly a decade, since a federal court had ordered its gunpowder business broken up on charges of monopoly.

“Yes, I see how that might play out,” Ned agreed. “The muckrakers would have a field day.”

“Yes, and this company will not tolerate another Powder Trust[14] fiasco,” the older man declared, stiffening visibly. “But perhaps your question deserves closer attention,” he added after a moment’s thought. “Perhaps a stronger case could be made to the American public for intervention. And perhaps we should take our case directly to the press rather than stand by while the muckrakers seek to discredit us.”

And with that, a faint smile spread across the thin lips of the Armorer to the Entente as he rose to summon his secretary by means of an electric buzzer concealed under his desk.

* * *

Ned approached the marble steps of the Bellevue Stratford hotel with relief, for the summer heat and humidity were oppressive in downtown Philadelphia, even amid the long shadows of early evening. The hotel lobby was at least ten degrees cooler than the street, an important factor when dressed in white tie and tailcoat. He consulted the concierge to learn where the Buckner reception was being held before mounting the hotel’s celebrated elliptical staircase of marble and decorative wrought iron.

A social secretary met Ned outside the ballroom at a table where seating cards were arrayed for the guests. She took his name, found a card bearing his table number, and gave it to him while pointing out the table’s location on a map.

Ned felt dazed by the beauty of the ballroom, with its windows and transoms of stained glass, its faintly glowing skylights, and elegant lighting fixtures that had been designed by Thomas Edison himself. The setting was intimidating enough, but even worse was his doubt that he would know more than three people in the entire crowd of more than one hundred: Colonel Buckner, his wife, and their daughter, Corinne.

Ned accepted a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and scanned the faces around him without seeing anyone he knew. Then he felt a light touch on his arm and turned to find a face that looked familiar though he failed to recall a name to go with it. The man appeared close in age to his father and to Cousin Pierre: perhaps fifty, but showing many more miles. Indeed, the leveling influence of formal evening attire accentuated his unique features, among them a shaggy head of gray hair, luxuriant mustache, prominent nose that drooped at the tip, weathered complexion, and sparkling blue eyes that conveyed an irrepressible sense of curiosity, mirth, and mischief.

“Ned du Pont, am I right?” ventured the older man.

“Right indeed,” Ned replied, lowering his glass and studying the man through narrowed eyes. “I’m terribly sorry, but I didn’t catch your name.”

“Mark McCloud,” the man replied. “But I wouldn’t expect you to remember. You were just a lad when I saw you last. We met when your father received his war decorations in Washington. I wrote the story for the Philadelphia Evening Ledger .”

“And are you writing about tonight’s gathering, as well, Mr. McCloud?” Ned asked, with a vague sense of recognition that he didn’t associate at all with his father.

McCloud snagged a glass of champagne from a passing tray and took a long draught.

“Not tonight, laddie,” he answered. “I’m here to relax and enjoy the generosity of our gracious host.”

“Your name and face seem too familiar for having met so long ago. Have we crossed paths more recently?”

“Not that I’m aware,” the journalist answered while looking idly around the room. “Perhaps you’ve read some of my stories. I’ve covered plenty. But the one you’re most likely to remember is the one where Teddy Roosevelt did battle with the dragon called the DuPont Powder Trust and chopped it into pieces, only to see it rise up and put itself back together in time to make a great killing in the Great War. Now how’s that for a story, eh?”

“So you’re a muckraker,” Ned answered, wrinkling his nose as if recoiling from a foul odor. “How the devil did you get in here, anyway?”

“Former muckraker, thank you. I’ve reformed and made my peace with the dragon. So now I spend most of my time in Washington and write paeans to the Armory of Democracy and denunciations of isolationist politicians. Colonel Buckner and I are great friends; I owe much to him. He’s helped me make my rent payments more than once when stories were scarce.”

“And what story are you working on now, if it’s not too indiscreet of me to ask,” Ned continued, taking an odd liking to the man though not at all trusting him.

“I’ve just returned from Moscow and Petrograd, on assignment for the Cleveland Plain Dealer  and some other papers,” McCloud told him. “I was able to get a visa because the Bolshies assumed that all muckrakers are Reds. Most, but not all. I tried my level best to do some honest reporting over there, unlike that insufferable Red romantic, John Reed, but it was an impossible task. After a while, the Bolshies took a dislike to me and chased me around so much that I couldn’t do my work. So I picked up and left while I still could.”

“That sounds fascinating,” Ned answered, giving McCloud a fresh look. “Are you planning to go back?”

“I am, indeed,” McCloud answered, exchanging his empty champagne glass for a fresh one. “Only this time I’m headed to the other end of the country to hear the Whites’ side of the tale. I reckon I’ll get to San Francisco just in time to ship out to Manila Bay with General Graves. Now that, my boy, is going to be one hell of a story.”

“General Graves? I’m afraid you’ve lost me. What does General Graves have to do with Russia?” Ned asked, feigning ignorance but feeling all at once as if he had been stripped naked and his deepest secrets exposed.

“Oh, pardon me, I suppose I’ve grown too accustomed to dealing with people in the know,” McCloud answered in a mocking tone.

Ned felt his face redden with indignation. How could McCloud and Cousin Pierre both know what Colonel Holt claimed was a closely held military secret?

”You see,” the journalist went on, “the President has appointed the good general to lead our new American Expeditionary Force in Russia. The announcement is due any day now.” Then McCloud moved in close and asked Ned in a low voice, “I hear you’re with the 27th Infantry. They’re slated to ship out with Graves, you know. Good Lord, haven’t they bothered to tell you about it?”

“Not a word,” Ned answered with a straight face, though he sensed that McCloud knew he was lying. By now, Ned’s distress at the man’s revelations had subsided. So much for government secrecy, he thought. The press and bankers and the tycoons will always find out what they need to know from Washington.

“That’s all right, laddie. Either way, I can imagine how the news might come to you as a shock,” the journalist sympathized. “After all, hardly anyone in his right mind goes to Siberia by choice. I mean, Moscow is cold, but Siberia…” McCloud shook his head as if suffering a violent fit of the shivers.

“So you think they’ll really send…”

“They’ll send you, all right,” McCloud answered with lowered eyes as he let his empty glass drop to his side. “The die is cast. Just ask your Cousin Pierre…”

Ned looked aside and reached out to hand off his empty glass to a nearby waiter.

“Have a lovely evening,” he said to McCloud as he turned to leave. “And good luck in your travels.”

“And you in yours,” the older man responded with a genial wink. “Knowing the language will be a great help to you, I’m sure.”

Ned froze.

“Of all the…” he sputtered. “Where on earth did you get the idea that I might speak Russian?”

“From an admirer of yours,” the journalist answered, casting a glance across the room to where Corinne Buckner stood among a gaggle of admiring bachelors.

Chapter 4: Trans-Siberian Railway

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“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

—Leon Trotsky

Musical Theme: Ballet Suite No. 4, I. Prelude , by Dmitri Shostakovich


Ned returned to Irkutsk from his excursion to the Dorokhin estate late Monday evening, after a fitful train ride interrupted by frequent breakdowns. Throughout the ensuing night, spent on a cot at the former girls’ school, he found it difficult to sleep. Again and again his thoughts returned to Zhanna and her determination to visit Admiral Kolchak at Omsk.

From time to time he heard shots outside the barred windows, some at a distance and some seemingly within a block or two. Though he was a military man well accustomed to random gunfire, it disconcerted him that, in a city more than two thousand miles from the front lines of Russia’s civil conflict, so much violence could occur inside its city center. At last he managed to drop off until the screeching of metal streetcar wheels woke him from a restless sleep and the familiar odors of the crowded dormitory room assaulted his nose in the early morning darkness.

An hour later, he was on the street, making his way to the American consulate for a meeting with Colonel David Prescott Barrows, intelligence chief for the AEF in Siberia and Ned’s commanding officer. Barrows was the first person Ned had sought out upon his arrival at AEF Headquarters in Vladivostok, and the colonel had gone to great lengths in organizing Ned’s orientation during his first weeks in Russia. Now, little more than a fortnight after leaving Vladivostok, Barrows’ urgent telegram summoning Ned to the Irkutsk consulate had come as a surprise, even though Ned knew that Barrows spent much of his time visiting far-flung AEF posts along the Trans-Siberian Railway,

When arriving at the former merchant’s residence that housed the U.S. consulate, Ned stated his name and asked the young female American secretary to summon Mr. McGowan, the vice consul, as instructed in the telegram. Instead of being led into the consul’s office, however, the woman escorted him to a sitting room on the second floor. There he found Colonel Barrows seated at a sun-drenched desk overlooking a rear courtyard while drafting telegrams, his unlit pipe and tobacco pouch within easy reach.

The colonel rose to greet Ned and offered him a place on a settee near the window. Barrows was a tall man of erect carriage, with broad shoulders and a powerful physique for a man of forty-five. He was also one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable men Ned had ever known.

“So pleased you received my wire in time to meet,” Barrows began, extending his hand. “How are you enjoying the Paris of Siberia?”

“Well enough,” Ned replied as he relaxed into the settee, “though the place appears to have seen better days.”

“Wait till you travel further west,” Barrows replied with a sober look before straightening his papers and stuffing them into a worn leather portfolio. “The stench of decay worsens the closer you get to the front lines. Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg: they’re enough to break your heart.”

This sort of remark, which showed Barrows’s appreciation of local conditions and his sympathy with indigenous peoples, was what set him apart from many senior Allied officers in Vladivostok and what so endeared him to Ned. In that way, Barrows resembled Ned’s father. He was a true scholar-soldier, an anthropologist who had served in the Philippines as Superintendent of Schools and later as Chief of the Bureau for Non-Christian Tribes before his commission in 1916 as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve Corps. After serving briefly in Europe, Ba

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rrows traveled halfway around the world to become an army intelligence officer back in the Philippines, where one of the promising young officers under his command was the newly promoted first lieutenant, Ned du Pont.

Their work together did not last long, however, because in early 1918, Barrows volunteered to inspect the hastily organized anti-Bolshevik forces in Siberia who were seeking emergency U.S. military aid. Upon the AEF’s arrival in Vladivostok, Barrows became America’s chief intelligence officer in Siberia, overseeing a network that extended more than five thousand miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Ural Mountains.

“You’re probably wondering how the recent events in Europe and Omsk will affect your assignment here,” the colonel suggested. “As it happens, the November 11th Armistice in Europe, and Admiral Kolchak’s coup d’état  in Omsk a week later, have changed the entire thrust of our mission. With peace in Europe, there is far less urgency to move the Czech Legion out of Russia. The latest word is that the new Czechoslovak National Council has agreed to keep the Legion in Siberia for several more months to guard the Trans-Siberian until Allied ships can carry them home from Vladivostok. But their new orders prohibit the Legion from fighting the Bolsheviks, and that’s a setback for the Whites.”

“Does this mean the AEF has been reduced to sharing railroad guard duty with the Czechs and Japanese?” Ned sniffed. “It hardly seems worthwhile to bring eight thousand American troops all the way to Siberia just for that.”

“I fear that’s how it may look to the American public, as well,” Barrows added with a frown. “So we can expect loud voices at home calling for the AEF’s withdrawal. Even worse, evidence is mounting that our efforts so far to keep five thousand miles of railway open for business are not delivering the economic boost we had hoped for. Nor does our work appear to have advanced the cause of Russian democracy a whit.”

Ned gave Barrows a puzzled look.

“Are you referring to Admiral Kolchak’s coup?”

“That, and the growing strength of the warlords east of Baikal under Japanese sponsorship,” Barrows replied. “The sad truth is that the reasons Washington used to justify America’s intervention in Siberia were a fraud from the start. Intervention was never going to bring Russia back into the Great War. And the Czechs could never have made it back to the Western Front in time to be useful there. Now the defeat of German arms has even further mooted the declared grounds for American intervention.”

Colonel Barrows reached for his pipe and matches and silently coaxed a swirl of dense smoke from its bowl. Sweat broke out on Ned’s brow while contradictory feelings of disappointment and relief swarmed inside his head. In Washington, Colonel Holt had warned him that the European War might be over by Christmas. Could the Russian intervention end just as quickly? Would he be back at his old job in Manila before the New Year? Ned closed his eyes and drank in the room’s stagnant air, tinged with the intricate fragrance of the colonel’s pipe smoke. He felt nauseous.

“So what now? Will they send us home?” he inquired, his voice taking on a nervous edge.

“Not right away, I expect, though there will be calls for it,” Barrows replied, appearing to sense Ned’s unease. “But that brings us back to the events at Omsk. When you left Vladivostok, the Provisional All-Russian Government still clung to power at Omsk. As everyone knew at the time, that government was an unstable coalition of right-wing Siberian militarists and monarchists and liberal-left politicians from the Volga and the Urals who fled Moscow when the Bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly in January.”

“Yes, and the two fought like cats and dogs, I’m told,” Ned interrupted, his frustration at dealing with the Russians spilling out despite his best intentions. “Even though their armies had been fighting the Reds along the same front since May.”

“That’s largely true,” Barrows noted. “Back then, the problem was that Omsk lacked a strong unified command. Now, with Admiral Kolchak elevated to Supreme Ruler, unity has been achieved. But, as a result, the Siberian militarists who put him in power now hold all the cards.”

“That’s the part I just don’t understand,” Ned exclaimed, edging forward in the settee. “Are the Allied leaders so keen on a unified command that they don’t care about the regime’s lack of legitimacy? How can Kolchak win unless the population stands behind him? We learned that lesson in the Philippines a long time ago.”

“Actually, our leaders took that into account, but events somehow got ahead of them,” Barrows went on, rising languidly from his chair to take up a new perch on the edge of his writing table, pipe in hand. “You see, when the Omsk coup came about, the British government had just completed a draft resolution recognizing the Provisional All-Russian Government as the sole legitimate authority in Russia. As you might expect, Lloyd George was furious over Kolchak’s move. President Wilson reacted the same way. He has always considered the Admiral anti-democratic and harbors a visceral dislike for the man.”

Ned’s eyes widened. No wonder Lieutenant Colonel Neilson had shown such a conflicted attitude toward Kolchak and the government he had overthrown.

“But at the same time,” Barrows continued, “our State and War Departments clamored hard for a strong military leader to restore order in Omsk: someone they could do business with. So, once the Admiral became military dictator, both London and Washington were forced to concede that Kolchak represented our last and best hope to beat the Bolsheviks.”

Our  best hope?” Ned observed. “Do you mean to say that this is the Allies’ war now? I realize that the British are all in for Kolchak, but where does that leave us? Doesn’t the President’s aide-memoire limit the AEF to a noncombatant role?”

For the second time during his conversation with Barrows, Ned felt as if the earth had shifted beneath his feet. Now that the AEF’s original rationale for being in Russia was no longer valid, would Washington throw in its hand or would it draw new cards and go for broke?

“Ah, there’s the rub,” Barrows answered, taking a pull from his pipe and pointing its stem at Ned’s chest for emphasis. “The President hasn’t revised a word of his July 17 aide-memoire. But in light of changed circumstances, our State and War Departments are now authorized to offer the Whites as much material and financial aid as they can handle—so long as it’s done covertly. So, even though the AEF’s overt role will remain much the same as before, my role and yours will shift ninety degrees. Instead of simply gathering intelligence, we will help Admiral Kolchak to win the war against Bolshevism. In secret, of course.”

Ned let out an involuntary laugh and felt a sudden thrill that nearly overcame his natural sense of alarm. After all, he had joined the army for adventure, and now he would have it in spades. And then he remembered his conversation with Zhanna Dorokhina two days earlier, and her request for an escort to Omsk. Did Barrows’s news mean that he was now free to take any action he saw fit to advance the Siberian cause? It was an absurd notion, of course, and he would probably never see Zhanna again, but if he did, it seemed that one barrier to helping the girl had just been removed.

“I’m happy to follow any orders you give me, colonel,” he offered with a boyish grin, “but, in all frankness, how much of a difference can a few American intelligence officers make on a front that stretches for five hundred miles?”

“More than you might imagine, captain,” Barrows replied with a knowing smile. “Remember this: the U.S. Army is sitting on vast stores of military equipment in Vladivostok that were intended for the Imperial Russian Army before Lenin pulled Russia out of the Great War. Among other things, you and I will help get those munitions through to Kolchak’s armies. And, perhaps just as importantly, we will open a conduit of strategic and tactical intelligence to Kolchak’s Stavka from Allied sources inside and out of Russia.”

“But, colonel, other than Staff Captain Ivashov, I don’t know a soul at the Stavka,” Ned protested. “How will this new conduit work? Will you be coming out to Omsk to set it up?”

Barrows reached for an ashtray and knocked the ashes from his pipe before stuffing it back into his pocket.

“Fortunately, I won’t be needed at the Stavka,” the colonel answered. “On your arrival at Omsk, you are to report to the British Military Mission and ask for Colonel John Ward, commander of the Middlesex Regimen serving there. Your intelligence role has already been declared to Ward, and you will be under nominal British command so long as you remain west of Lake Baikal, where the AEF can’t operate. But in all intelligence matters, you will continue to report directly to me, by encrypted telegram. Is that understood?”

“Yes, but who will be my contact at the Stavka?” Ned persisted.

“Ward will introduce you to General Lebedev, Kolchak’s Chief of Staff. We haven’t notified the Russians yet about your change in duties, given that word might fall into the wrong hands and cause you trouble en route.”

Ned noticed Barrows give him a searching look, as if to detect any hesitation. Ned acknowledged with a nod.

“One more thing,” Barrows added, pausing again to light his pipe. “While we’re on the subject of the British, you should know that Colonel Ward’s men are not under the same constraints as we Americans are. While in the field, if you come under attack, you are not to return fire except to save your own life. Is that understood?”

“Yes sir,” Ned replied stiffly. But it was one thing to issue such an order and quite another to obey it, he thought. To not return fire when fired upon ran against man’s basic instinct for survival.

“And, for God’s sake, don’t get captured,” Barrows added.

For a moment, the odd command left Ned speechless. Then a mocking grin spread across the colonel’s face and Ned realized that the man was making a grim sort of joke.

“Oh, never mind,” Barrows continued in a jocular tone. “You’re on your own. Do what you must and I’ll back you up as best I can. As they say in Washington, better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”

“Yes sir,” Ned repeated. Then, on reflection, he added, “How long am I to remain at Omsk? And do you plan to come out there from time to time?”

“I don’t know,” the colonel answered with a faraway look. “It depends on the course of the war.” Then the colonel’s attention seemed to drift and Ned saw him glance at a clock across the room.

“Oh, heavens,” he muttered, on noticing that it was nearly ten o’clock. “I must leave soon for an appointment. I do wish we had more time to talk. But before I go, I want to leave you with some thoughts of a broader nature about why America has decided at last to throw in our lot with the Whites.”

“I would appreciate that, sir,” Ned answered, his head still spinning from the shift in the AEF’s role in the Russian war.

“First of all, the decision to send American troops abroad is never simply a matter of calculated interests,” Barrows asserted, fixing Ned with an intense gaze. “It’s also a matter of principle, and in this case it’s based on President Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the notion of self-determination. These are the values we’re here to uphold. If our role were merely to follow orders, we might as well be mercenaries.”

“So you honestly believe we’re doing the right thing backing Kolchak?” Ned asked, wanting to believe it so.

“I think we are,” Barrows answered. “But you have to know how the war started for all this to make sense. You see, the civil war in Russia didn’t break out this spring, when the Czech Legion revolted at Chelyabinsk. It really started back last October, when the Bolsheviks mounted an armed rebellion in Petrograd with only the narrowest of popular support. When Lenin toppled Kerensky’s Provisional Government, the ordinary Russian wanted neither Bolshevism nor a return to monarchy. Remember, in the Constituent Assembly elections last December, the Reds won only twenty-five percent of the vote. Which is why Lenin dissolved the assembly after its first session.”

“If most Russians knew this, as you say, then why didn’t they resist last winter before Lenin could tighten his grip?” Ned demanded.

He thought of Ivashov, who had joined the People’s Army, fought the Reds on the Volga and barely escaped with his life. And he recalled how, at dinner in Verkhne-Udinsk, Dorokhin and Kostrov had marveled at the speed with which the Bolsheviks had taken over town and rural councils across the vastness of Siberia. Had it not been for the Czech Legion’s uprising, Dorokhin, Kostrov, and Zhanna might already have been declared enemies of the people and butchered like the merchants and nobles of Petrograd. Indeed, such a thing might still happen.

“Sadly,” Barrows continued, “the Bolshevik coup came at a moment when the people’s morale had been so shattered that they were prepared to endure almost anything in hopes of being left alone. But the Reds have not left them alone. On the contrary, they have brought about oppression unequalled in human history. Thousands have been executed without even the mockery of a trial. Thousands more are left to rot in prisons under conditions scarcely to be imagined.”

The colonel shook his head in disgust before carrying on.

“What the outside world has only recently come to see is that Bolshevism is just another form of autocracy: tsarism turned on its head. Stripped of all pretense, it amounts to the age-old notion that one person, or an enlightened few, know best and deserve a monopoly on power, unrestrained by law or the popular will. And such tyranny can be initiated and maintained only by violence, which is the complete opposite of self-determination.”

“So you believe that Admiral Kolchak and his crowd are different somehow? That they would be better for the average Russian, and not just for the upper classes?” Ned asked, still skeptical. “And that America has a right to put its thumb on the scales in someone else’s civil war?”

“I do, so help me,” Barrows replied, holding up a hand as if to swear an oath. “And though the frozen wastes of Siberia are a terrible place for American soldiers to endure yet another year of war, it falls upon men like you and me to ensure that Admiral Kolchak drives the Bolsheviks out of Russia and prevents the Red infection from spreading to Europe and beyond. Because if we make a mess of it, all of Russia’s sacrifices during the Great War and its present civil war will have been for naught. And when historians write of the American expedition to Siberia, the kindest judgment we can hope from them will be, ‘What the hell was that about, anyway?’”

* * *

Despite the sobering effect of the colonel’s briefing, Ned left the consulate buoyed by one small bit of good news. Rather than travel to Omsk aboard a spartan troop or munitions train, he would make the weeklong journey in a private train specially chartered to deliver American Red Cross staff and their supplies to cities across Siberia. Barrows had expressed regret that the privilege could not be extended to Staff Captain Ivashov, who would be obliged to follow aboard a later troop train. Even in the face of Ned’s refusal to travel without Ivashov, Barrows remained firm, ordering Ned to take the Red Cross train for his own security and that of his intelligence mission.

Ned delivered the news to Ivashov later that afternoon when the Russian arrived at the girls’ school to take Ned on a tour of the city.

“I’m sorry to disrupt the plans we made, Igor Ivanovich, but we won’t be traveling together to Omsk,” he began with downcast eyes. “I have to leave tonight on a special American train. I tried to get you a berth on it but couldn’t.” Though such things didn’t generally need explaining in the army, Ned felt awkward all the same.

“It’s nothing,” Ivashov replied without changing his expression. “Better for you. No Bolshevik agents.”

Then the two men shook hands and agreed to meet at the American Consulate in Omsk after both had arrived in the capital. Ivashov returned to his droshky  without looking back and Ned returned to his room to pack his belongings.

Now that his immediate future was settled, Ned began looking forward to the weeklong trip. En route to the railway station, he even felt a new appreciation for Irkutsk, with its tree-lined avenues and modern stone buildings trimmed with wrought iron in imitation of Baron Haussmann’s creations in Paris. Somehow the clamor of the city seemed to retreat into those stone buildings, muffling and softening its force. And along the side streets, he admired Irkutsk’s wooden merchants’ houses, with their painted shutters and whitewashed fences.

As his droshky  passed through throngs of Russians headed to and from the railway station, Ned took particular interest in the exotic species of natives he saw on the street. Among them were Old Believers[15], at once ascetic and industrious, wearing long untrimmed beards, shoulder-length hair, high-collared caftans, and tall boots. Less exotic, though no less intriguing, were the hard-worn Russian peasant women wrapped in threadbare shawls and faded kerchiefs, pulling carloads of firewood and butchered carcasses to market like beasts of burden. These contrasted sharply with gaggles of upper class teenage girls, neat and pretty in their fur-trimmed coats, hats, and mufflers.

Closer to the station, baskets of fish caught in Lake Baikal, fresh meat and game, and jars of milk and butter were laid out on snow-covered ground where crowds of people from all walks of life haggled over prices. As the droshky  pulled up at the station, Ned identified many of the porters as former Austro-Hungarian POWs who were stranded in Siberia owing to the lack of repatriation arrangements between Russia and the collapsed Austro-Hungarian Empire. And in tumbledown wooden shacks near the station, he spotted seedy cafés where coffee was served at all hours, and darkened gambling shops where patrons could also buy a woman or a boy.

Ned paid the driver, dismounted with his rucksack, and entered the station in search of someone who could direct him to the Red Cross train. Though the station possessed an impressive façade, its interior was badly decayed and stank from the hordes of refugees huddled around their bags and bundles, ill dressed, dirty, and tired. Men, women, children, and babies, all in varied stages of discomfort, stood in long queues to fetch hot water or hung around stalled trains begging for bread.

Ned found a Russian railway official in an office at the rear of the station who recognized the RRSC insignia on Ned’s uniform and escorted him to the siding where the Red Cross train was unloading cargo. The official then summoned the train’s Russian conductor, a man of haughty bearing dressed in an immaculate blue uniform and peaked cap, who fetched the passenger list and, to his apparent surprise, found Ned’s name duly inscribed there.

As several Red Cross staff members had disembarked at Irkutsk, Ned learned that he would have a sleeper compartment all to himself. This was an incredible piece of luck, as sleeper cars had become rare in Russia since the war and were available now only to the wealthiest passengers or to certain high-level officials. Even better, the Red Cross train boasted all-new locomotives and rolling stock, including newly built Pullman coaches, sleepers, and even restaurant cars.

Not long after Ned settled into his compartment, a steam whistle blew, electric lights lit up the interior, and he felt a sudden jostling as the locomotive coupled more cars onto the rear of the train. Minutes later, it gathered speed, heading west out of the station.

Ned employed this moment of privacy to re-read a letter from Corinne Buckner that he had received at the Irkutsk consulate. At one point during his recent stay in the U.S., he and Corinne had been close to announcing their engagement. He realized now that she had been counting on him to leave the army and take a job with the DuPont Company rather than return to the Philippines. His decision to accept deployment to Siberia had upset her plans and left her sad and confused. Though Ned had already read Corinne’s letter once at the girls’ school, hastily and by poor light, now he took it in again, word by word.

“Dear Ned,” the message began. “I hope that this letter finds you in good health and reasonably good spirits, considering the hardships that you must face in a Russia at war. I have read of the terrible influenza and typhus outbreaks there and urge you to guard your good health above all else.

“On a brighter note, Father and I were delighted to hear that Germany and Austria have each sent notes to President Wilson requesting an armistice, now that the Allies have cracked the Hindenburg line. An end to the war in Europe seems imminent now, and many here feel this bodes well for an early peace in Russia, as well. I sincerely hope so, not only for your sake, but because every day the newspapers serve up dreadful reports about the Red Terror in Petrograd, where thousands are imprisoned or executed for having been born into the nobility, earning a higher education or owning property. I can only imagine what might happen to families like yours and mine if a Red revolution were ever to break out in America.

“Thus I pray that the Allied intervention will help the Russian people to realize a just form of government. But even if this happened and the Expeditionary Force were recalled tomorrow, I realize it might be months before you could leave Russia, and even then you may be sent to Manila rather than to a base here in America. In any case, I urge you to consider whether you intend to remain in the army as a career or return to civilian life, and whether the former would be conducive to married life and raising a family.

“That is why I returned your gold signet ring with the du Pont family crest on the eve of your departure. It was not out of any lack of affection, but out of a profound respect for the barriers of time and distance that separate us. For despite what my father might suppose, my heart will not break, no matter what choice you make. I simply want what is best for both of us, and I am confident you desire the same.

“So until your return, I hold you under no obligation other than that of continued friendship. Let fate take its course, and if our lives come together again, let it be with a fresh appreciation for one another, and what we have experienced while apart.

“If you wish to continue our correspondence after receiving this, I am more than happy to oblige. In any event, you will remain as before in my thoughts and prayers.

“Affectionately yours, Corinne.”

Ned drew a deep breath and let it out slowly before re-folding the letter, slipping it into its envelope, and replacing it in the pocket of his haversack. Once again, he closed his eyes and tried to picture Corinne’s face in his mind’s eye, but could not. Sadly, he had misplaced the photograph she gave him on their last night in Philadelphia, and had delayed requesting a replacement for fear of appearing careless with it. Now the photograph no longer mattered.

Though Corinne’s letter was a disappointment, it hardly came as a surprise to him. Their last night together in Philadelphia had been uncomfortable for them both, and Ned had seen the break coming. Now, with each passing week, his thoughts turned less and less often to Corinne. It was as if he and Corinne inhabited entirely separate worlds. And now, here in Siberia, Zhanna’s image was clearer in his mind than Corinne’s had ever been, with or without a photograph. At least he had his ring back, he thought, twirling the shiny gold signet idly around his finger.

Ned let out a wistful sigh and allowed the clattering of the railcar wheels to lull him into a shallow sleep. He awoke ten or fifteen minutes later, well outside Irkutsk. The Angara River lay a few hundred feet off, not yet frozen, but with ice forming along its banks. Beneath the cottony mists that rose from its surface, he could see its fierce current racing to the north and swirling into deep eddies.

Soon after, the train passed through a charming valley, edged by pine forest, whose villages boasted good quality cows and horses and some of the most fertile-looking farmland Ned had ever seen. When Ned raised his head again, the railway was bounded on both sides by dense taiga forest, the dwelling place of wolves and bears, Bolshevik partisans, and primeval spirits whose unfeeling cruelty made Ned shudder in the comfort of his warm compartment.

* * *

To Ned’s delight, the conductor returned an hour after departure with an invitation to the parlor car, where Dr. Rudolf Bolling Teusler, chief of the American Red Cross in Siberia and, by no coincidence, a cousin to America’s First Lady, had called for a celebration to mark the midpoint of the train’s passage from Vladivostok to Omsk. American whiskey and French champagne flowed freely by the time Ned discovered the salon car, which was festooned with small American flags and red, white, and blue bunting. Ned presented himself to Teusler, who introduced him in turn to a team of American doctors and nurses, a pair of war correspondents and several members of his senior staff, all newly arrived from Vladivostok. The group seemed quite gay at having passed the midpoint of their journey across Manchuria and Eastern Siberia, after spending a week on board. To Ned, joining the group brought an unforeseen pleasure. For suddenly he was among fellow Americans, in a brand new American rail car, speaking the American dialect, drinking American whiskey and—if the whiskey were any sign of what was to come—soon to be feasting on hearty American dinner fare.

“I’ll say this, doctor,” Ned gushed to a fortyish American physician from Baltimore whose arm encircled the waist of a curly-haired young nurse, “The flag certainly means more to a fellow here than it ever did at home.” But the physician, still sealed in his American cocoon and not yet having experienced life among the Russians, merely smiled and nodded.

Only then did Ned spot a familiar face seated at a table at the far end of the club car. The grizzled man with the luxuriant mustache and mirthful expression caught Ned’s eye, raised his glass in mock salute, and waved him over. It was none other than the former muckraker, Mark McCloud. Ned waded through the crowd toward his table. On the way, he flagged down a young waiter in a starched white jacket and ordered a glass of rye whiskey.

At the table, McCloud and his drinking companion—a well-dressed man in his forties whose watery, unfocused eyes bore witness to his intemperance—made room for Ned to sit.

“You certainly have a nose for parties, Mr. McCloud,” Ned began, unsure whether to be annoyed or pleased to see the journalist again.

“Years of practice, my lad,” McCloud answered. “And call me Mark.”

“Headed to the front?” Ned asked. “I hear that the fighting hasn’t fully settled down yet for the winter.”

“The front is not really my cup of tea,” the older man replied with a curled upper lip. “I’m headed to the capital, where the real news is made. The moment I heard that Admiral Kolchak had anointed himself Supreme Ruler, I knew Omsk would be the right place for me.”

Rather than respond directly, Ned turned to the journalist’s drinking companion and introduced himself.

“Please forgive my lapse,” McCloud broke in. “Allow me to present Jake Sweeney, an officer of the American Red Cross. Jake has been telling me all the good things his outfit is up to in Siberia.”

“Is that so?” Ned asked with little interest, taking the remark for idle puffery. “I thought the Red Cross arrived here only a month or two ago, right after the AEF.”

“Some of us have been here since last winter,” Sweeney corrected in a flat, listless voice.

“Indeed,” Ned answered with rekindled curiosity. “And what exactly is your role here, if I may ask?”

“I’m in charge of setting up a line of evacuation hospitals and quarantine camps in the Urals. While handing over to the Russians tons of things we have no business giving away,” Sweeney replied. “Millions of dollars worth. Though I doubt we’ll ever get any thanks for it.”

“And why would that be, Mr. Sweeney?” McCloud asked, leaning back and smiling in a way calculated to put the Red Cross man at sufficient ease to elicit more detail.

“Don’t ask me. Ask General Graves, or our consul at Omsk,” Sweeney replied grimly before draining what remained in his glass. “It’s all bought with government money, and they’re spending it here like drunken sailors.”

At the sight of the waiter approaching with a tray of fresh drinks, Sweeney rose suddenly and seized a tumbler of whiskey and soda before the waiter could deliver Ned his rye and McCloud his glass of bubbling seltzer.

“I think Jake is being entirely too modest,” McCloud continued once each man had his drink. “On the way to Irkutsk, he told me how the Red Cross has run hospitals, built playgrounds, sponsored boys’ and girls’ clubs, and contrived all manner of ways to support Siberia’s

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civil authorities. Why, just this summer, Jake single-handedly overcame resistance from Omsk’s Orthodox priests by handing out a thousand New Testaments in Russian.”

“That we did, but the military government still blocks us at every turn,” Sweeney complained. “Behind our backs, they accuse us of ‘Bolshevist tendencies.’ You know, a fellow could bear to stay over here for a while if he felt he was accomplishing something. But it’s a heartbreaking game…”

An awkward silence followed that was broken at last by raucous laughter from the next table. Ned turned his head in time to see a stoutly built Russian woman, nearing fifty, dressed in an ankle-length black gown and a long black Persian lamb coat, who left her table to approach his. Though she was no longer young and had lost her youthful figure, she had a handsome face, with intelligent brown eyes, full lips, a small upturned nose and lustrous dark hair pinned at the nape of her neck in a chignon. Ned imagined she had been a beauty in her youth and, perhaps because she had not needed to seek others’ help until later in life, appeared uncomfortable doing so now. She stopped opposite McCloud and pointed to the white armband he wore above his left elbow with the red letter “C” sewn onto it.

“Good evening, good gentlemen,” she addressed them in English with a drawling Russian accent. “May I be permitted to ask you, sir, what it means, that sign on your arm?”

“Oh, the ‘C,’” McCloud answered, returning her forthright gaze. “That stands for war correspondent, but its true meaning is: ‘sees everything.’”

Sweeney let out an unexpected guffaw, and then withdrew into his whiskey.

“Then I think you and I share something,” the woman replied with a smile that seemed to put the journalist at ease. “You see, I too have the gift of second sight.”

“Now that sounds interesting,” McCloud replied with a wolfish grin. “Won’t you join us, Madame…?

“You may call me Yelena,” she answered, with an informality that surprised Ned, for Russians who had fallen onto hard times were often the greatest sticklers for form.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Madame Yelena. I’m Mark McCloud and I’ve come here to write about your war.”

McCloud rose to draw a chair for Yelena. Ned rose a second later, embarrassed at not having shown her the courtesy sooner. When McCloud had introduced Ned and Sweeney to the woman and all were seated, Ned offered to fetch her a drink, which she declined.

“Being a newsman,” McCloud continued a moment later, “I get to see a lot of things in a lot of places, but the one thing I am always looking for and seldom get a clear view of is the future. Does your second sight permit you to, well, prophesy coming events?”

Yelena lowered her dark eyes briefly then raised them again with an expression of serene confidence.

“Yes, I see them sometimes,” she replied guardedly.

“Then can you please be so kind as to tell me who will win the war between Reds and Whites?” he pressed with only a hint of irony in his smile. “It could save me a great deal of time and effort.”

“God does not permit me such great questions,” Yelena answered gently. “He gives me small things only. I see future of only one person at a time.”

“Then might you tell the future of one of us here?” McCloud asked with a gesture that included the three men seated around the table.

Yelena folded her hands in her lap and closed her eyes. When they opened, they settled upon Jake Sweeney.

“I choose this one,” she answered.

“Any objection?” the journalist inquired of Sweeney.

“None at all,” the Red Cross man replied, pulling himself together. “Nothing she says could make my situation any worse, I suppose.”

Yelena closed her eyes yet again.

“I see you soon in Yekaterinburg and Omsk. Difficult work, dangerous conditions. You are very busy man there, too busy perhaps even for vodka.”

This brought chuckles from everyone but Sweeney, whose eyes seemed to well with tears. Her reference to his drinking seemed to have hit a nerve.

“But good results for Russian people. You finish many tasks and everywhere people see big improvements. In summer, Russian government give you big reward. In autumn, you go back to America: big job, much money. I see you in American capital then.”

By the time the woman finished, Sweeney seemed transformed. His eyes were brighter, his spine straighter, and his smile almost radiant.

By now, several of the people from the other tables were gathered around Ned’s.

A young nurse set a glass of seltzer water quietly before Yelena and asked, “Won’t you read someone else?”

As if the intention had already formed, Yelena answered, “I speak to this one next,” nodding toward McCloud. She downed nearly the entire glass of seltzer, closed her eyes, and, before the man could raise an objection, spoke again.

“I see this one with great need for fame and success. Many years he wait for big story to make his fortune. This winter, in Irkutsk, his big story come to him at last. I see him hold story tight, like tail of tiger, until it is famous all over world. Then I see him write books and give speeches. All people in America and Europe, all love this story very much. And when his work finished after many years, he go home and die happy in bed.”

McCloud gave a self-conscious laugh and wagged his head; but underneath his whiskers, he was blushing.

The woman’s voice came forth with great energy, arousing intense interest among her growing circle of listeners. Several of them asked at once if she would tell his or her fortune next. But Yelena waved their requests aside.

Ned found both readings quite plausible, given what little he knew of the two men. And for a moment after McCloud’s reading, he worried that Yelena might turn her second sight next onto him. But his anxiety subsided when so many others clamored to be chosen. He watched the woman sip at her glass of seltzer water and turn pale, as if drained by physical or mental exertion. When the nurse who had brought her the seltzer asked if Yelena might offer one more demonstration, the woman shook her head and rose halfway from her chair before suddenly lowering herself again.

“My spirits not let me finish. They tell me I must speak about young man opposite me at table.” She raised her eyes and met Ned’s gaze with an unblinking stare for several seconds before lowering them.

A long pause ensued. Ned noticed that the parlor car had gone silent, most of its occupants having gathered around him with expectant looks. As an intelligence officer, the last thing he wanted was to draw attention to himself. Though he didn’t believe in fortune telling, what if this woman by some clever deduction or lucky intuition were to reveal something that compromised his work? Yet, to refuse her might draw even more attention and the incur ill will of his fellow travelers. He decided to let her have her say.

At last, Yelena spoke again in a measured voice.

“I see this young man split between two desires: one to work hard and find success to satisfy important people in his family. Other to seek adventures in wide world. I see difficult choice, too, between intelligent young woman in America and brave Russian girl, with spirit of giant, chosen for difficult task that no one else can do. To complete this work, man and girl must stay as brother and sister, though perhaps they want more. If work is success, very good results for them, and for Russia. Young man return to long life in America and much happiness. If work fail, much suffering and maybe not leave Russia alive.”

Ned’s heart leapt to his throat upon hearing her words. Several people gasped.

“And the girl? What will happen to her?” Ned inquired, doing his best not to let his alarm show. For the woman’s veiled reference to Zhanna’s self-imposed mission sent a chill up his spine. Could there be a real substance to Zhanna’s claims that Yelena had detected by mystical means?

Madame Yelena let out a deep breath, as if all the energy had been drained from her body.

“It is not for you to know,” she replied before opening her eyes.

Chapter 5: Omsk

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“The state encamped in Russia like an army of occupation.”

—Alexander Herzen

Musical Theme: Masquerade Suite, IV. Romance , by Aram Khachaturian


Eight days and some fourteen hundred miles after leaving Irkutsk, Ned watched thick, shaggy snowflakes fall on the rail yards outside Omsk. To his surprise, the idle rolling stock lining the rails teemed with human activity. Atop the flatcars, refugee families had erected makeshift shelters from canvas tarpaulins, blankets, ropes, and tree branches. Other squatters occupied both levels of double-decker boxcars, some above and some below the mid-height platform, often sharing the cars with horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. Since the destitute squatters had little means of supplying themselves with food and fuel, many resorted to pilfering coal and water from locomotives whose crews had left them unguarded to tend to their own needs. This further slowed rail movement through the congested capital.

Even after seeing Irkutsk, the masses of homeless Russians in Omsk exceeded anything Ned could have imagined. Jake Sweeney had estimated a few days earlier that the city’s population had swelled fourfold since the October Revolution, from 130,000 to nearly 600,000. When the Red Cross train pulled into Omsk Station, the platform was mobbed with civilian passengers, soldiers, railroad workers, porters, and purveyors of all sorts of merchandise. Around the periphery of the station, travelers awaiting the next eastbound train lay sprawled across their piled bags, boxes, bundles, trunks, and motley household furnishings.

The moment Ned stepped off the train, a gaggle of porters descended upon him, jostling one another for the privilege of carrying his rucksack and thus earning a ruble or two. He ignored them and hoisted the rucksack to his shoulders, knowing that whoever took it might easily disappear with it into the crowd. Ned picked his way across the platform, following closely behind the Red Cross staff, who were to meet waiting sleighs outside amid a continuous stream of refugees arriving on foot and in horse-drawn carts and sleighs.

* * *

Ned had barely settled into his small government-requisitioned flat on a quiet downtown street near Omsk’s railway station, when he heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, followed by a loud knock at the door. It was his landlord, Sharonov.

“A British soldier is waiting for you outside, captain. He says he has come to take you to dinner.”

Ned gave the landlord a blank stare. He had not been aware of any invitation, and, having been warned against provocations by Bolshevik agents in the capital, wondered if this might be some sort of ruse to lure him out on the street alone. Then he remembered his instructions to report to Colonel Ward at the British Military Mission and supposed that the colonel must have been aware of his impending arrival. He hastily donned his military overcoat and cap and made his way to the front hall, where a British sergeant awaited him.

“You are Captain du Pont, sir?” the soldier inquired.

“That is correct, sergeant. How may I be of service?”

“Our regimental commander, Colonel Ward, invites you to join him for dinner, sir.”

Ned cocked his head involuntarily and gave the soldier a closer look.

“I’m afraid I’ve just arrived from a long trip and am not very presentable…”

“Not to worry, sir,” the sergeant replied. “Etiquette is quite relaxed here. I’m sure the colonel will be happy to receive you just as you are.”

The sleigh traveled northward into the city center along the right bank of the Irtysh River, past rows of dull two-story buildings and the dark remains of Omsk’s eighteenth-century fortress. For a city that had functioned as the administrative capital for Western Siberia and the Steppes Region under the tsar, and now as capital of the White government in Siberia, Ned found downtown Omsk dull and uninspiring. Not until the sleigh turned onto Lyubinsky Avenue did he detect signs of the city’s prosperity during the last two decades, when Omsk had been called the “Chicago of Siberia” for its many foreign consulates and international trading offices opened since the Siberian Exposition of Agriculture and Industry of 1910. Here was where the consulates, trading companies, banks and insurance firms were located, many of them in modern stone buildings designed by celebrated European architects.

At last, the sleigh stopped outside a three-story brick building whose ground floor contained the Lyubinsky Café. Once inside, Ned could see in the dim electric lighting that few tables were occupied, perhaps because of the early hour.

The patrons all appeared to be Russians of the idle rich class, the women clad in ancient, threadbare finery and the men in badly worn coats and uniforms, some with badges of rank marked in indelible pencil. They had fled to Siberia with sufficient wealth to dine every night at Omsk’s fashionable restaurants if they wished, and apparently did so in an effort to recall happier days and take refuge from tomorrow’s anxieties. But where would they go from Omsk? Ned noticed that most of the men proudly avoided returning his gaze, though a few wives cast nervous glances in his direction. He could not help wondering if some of them frequented the cafés each night simply because they had nowhere else to spend their time.

The headwaiter led Ned to a table for two in a dark and isolated corner of the restaurant, where Colonel Ward rose immediately to greet him. Ward was an imposing figure, half a head taller than Ned, with a barrel chest, broad shoulders, powerful arms, and a massive head. His face held a thoughtful expression, though not severe, and his square jaw gave the impression of a resolute character not easily deflected from its goal.

“I’m terribly pleased to have reached you in time,” the colonel began once they were seated. “You see, I’ve been granted an audience with Admiral Kolchak later this evening and I thought it might be useful to both of us if you could accompany me after we’ve had something to eat.”

Ned blinked in surprise.

“You mean, tonight?”

A broad smile spread across the colonel’s face. Ned was reminded at once that Ward was a man who had spent his entire life leading men to face new challenges. Having grown up in the working class, he had joined the British Army as a young man and served with distinction in the Sudan campaign. Later, he rose rapidly in the trade unions movement and served as a Liberal-Labour member of parliament until re-entering the army in his late forties as a lieutenant colonel. Early in the Great War, Ward had recruited no fewer than five battalions of workers and led one of them into battle in France until he and his men were redeployed to Singapore and from there to Siberia.

“No time like the present,” Ward answered, unfolding a starched linen napkin over his broad lap.

Ned had no choice but to agree.

“Have you met the Admiral before?” he asked.

“This will be my third occasion,” the colonel replied. “He and I arrived in Omsk the very same day in late October, but we didn’t meet until several weeks later, when the Ufa Directory and Siberian Government merged. The next time we met was a few days after the coup, when he requested my regiment’s help to maintain order.”

“I imagine that was a delicate choice,” Ned remarked, aware that many believed the British to have instigated the coup that brought Kolchak to power and now regarded the regiment as Kolchak’s Praetorian Guard. “I mean,” Ned added, “some people have accused the Admiral of ruling with an iron hand.”

Ned watched for signs in the colonel’s answer that might indicate whether Ward harbored autocratic tendencies of his own.

“In the beginning, of course, certain actions the Admiral took to restore order were necessarily severe,” Ward explained, giving Ned a pensive look. “From the outset, he relied heavily on support from the army and the officer corps.”

“And the Cossacks, no doubt,” Ned noted.

“A high-handed bunch, to be sure,” Ward agreed. “But despite his reliance on them, I believe the Admiral has shown himself to be more liberal than the outside world allows. And I find it unfortunate that he’s been obliged to employ the mailed fist to maintain his government against Bolshevik subversion.”

“Excuse my ignorance on this, colonel, since I am newly arrived,” Ned yielded. “But might you offer an example or two of Admiral Kolchak’s more liberal policies? I would very much like to believe in his moderation, but have yet to find much evidence of it.”

“Certainly,” Ward answered, apparently not taken aback by Ned’s demand for proof. “For one, the Admiral’s support for elections to a new Siberian popular assembly.”

“Oh, and do you foresee success there?”

“Under present conditions, I doubt if the scheme will go very far,” he conceded. “At best, the body would amount to a rubber stamp.”

“Perhaps another example, then?” Ned pressed.

“Kolchak has promised to transfer the estates of large landowners to peasant farmers, by legal process and in return for just compensation.”

“And where does that program stand?”

“Under development. These things take time, of course,” the colonel acknowledged.

“Yes, sir,” Ned responded with a respectful nod. But Ward’s pained expression suggested that he knew the weakness of his arguments.

“Now, look here, captain,” Ward resumed with greater fervor. “I understand quite well that your government does not share my government’s full support for Admiral Kolchak’s leadership. And as you are new here, you don’t yet have direct experience of it. But please don’t get the idea that I am unreservedly in favor of the present regime, or that I consider it ideal, or even good—for it is not. The goal at the moment is not to achieve an ideal government, but one that can restore order, so that any elections it might cobble together will have a fair prospect without the need for excessive force or graft.”

“I appreciate your candor, colonel,” Ned answered. “As I’ve said, I just arrived here and sometimes the guidance from my own government is unclear. But, at heart, I believe we both want what is best for Russia, even if Washington sometimes can’t make up its mind as to what that might be.”

“Fortunately, captain, the policy coming from London is quite unequivocal,” Ward replied, raising himself up in his chair with a self-satisfied smile. “That policy is to support Admiral Kolchak. And I am fully committed to it, for if he goes, chaos will follow. Now, I don’t pretend for a moment that Kolchak is the living Jesus, but he has energy, honesty, and patriotism, and my experience so far in Russia has taught me that, when these qualities are combined in one man, that is a man to keep. Now, shall we enjoy our dinner?”

Ned smiled and offered Ward a deferential nod before unfolding his own napkin. He felt a certain relief that the colonel was taking him under his wing, for while Washington was only now throwing in its lot with Kolchak, the British had done so from the beginning and Ward had led their effort at Omsk. Fortunately, it seemed he would have ample time tonight to pick the colonel’s brain, as service at the Lyubinsky Café was slow even by Russian standards. Though the waiter was quick to bring out a small carafe of vodka for the two men, the zakuski  were long in coming and the main courses even longer. Now Ned noticed that several nearby tables had been occupied, and despite the background noise, he pondered whether he and Ward ought to lower their voices to avoid being overheard.

But despite the colonel’s large size, after five or six ounces of vodka his voice rose and his opinions became even more emphatic, especially when Ned inquired about the fighting qualities of Russian troops and their officers.

“The peasant conscripts are completely unreliable at the front, and downright dangerous in the rear,” Ward pronounced with a disgusted expression. “Abysmal lack of training and appalling indiscipline.”

“How about the officers?” Ned asked.

“Absolutely pathetic. Defeat at German hands shattered the Russian officer corps, and the October revolution smashed to bits what remained. Since 1917, honor and duty have been swept away and the typical Russian officer wallows in apathy, indolence, and self-doubt, giving up easily at the slightest setback.”

Ward looked down and saw that his glass was empty. Without asking Ned whether he cared for more, he refilled both their glasses from the carafe and gestured for the waiter to bring yet another. Ned looked aside in time to notice two men at a nearby table quickly turn their heads away.

“Surely it can’t be as bad as that,” Ned replied, lowering his voice. “The Siberians achieved enormous gains against the Reds this summer, didn’t they?”

“Yes, but that was under Czech leadership,” Ward pointed out as loudly as before. “Now that Kolchak has seized power, the Czechs refuse to fight. They’re socialists, you see, and they accuse Kolchak and his supporters of trying to bring back the monarchy. Can’t blame them, really.”

“But you yourself said that Kolchak is a liberal at heart. Can’t he convince the Czechs of that?”

“Not while his Cossack patrons and bloody-minded Stavka men work night and day to remove the liberals from every last military and civilian leadership post.”

“Kolchak condones this?” Ned asked. “Who are these Stavka men? Why doesn’t he cashier them?”

But before the colonel could answer, the waiter brought their plates of fried perch and a fresh carafe of vodka.

Ward delayed his response until the waiter was out of earshot. By now, more tables were occupied and a few of the newer patrons, decidedly less patrician-looking than those he had seen when he first arrived, were eyeing the two Allied officers to a degree that made Ned uncomfortable. Could these be Bolshevik agents of the kind that Ivashov and others had warned him against? Or might they work for the Stavka?

“You will meet some of the Stavka men tonight,” he replied as he lifted his fork to eat. “And you will begin to understand how they keep their grip on things.”

But through the rest of the meal, Ned felt little appetite, for all he could think of were the eyes focused on him from around the room.

* * *

Ned and Colonel Ward left the Lyubinsky Café in a sleigh driven by a British soldier, with an armed guard seated to either side. This was done to deter assassination attempts, which had been commonplace under the tsar and had lately come back into fashion at Omsk. Though Ned carried a .45 caliber auto-loading pistol for protection and believed he was too obscure a personage to have become a target for political murder, the protection seemed amply justified for Ward.

The colonel’s sleigh followed a larger one, manned by four Russian escorts, to the military city on the opposite side of Omsk, where it stopped in a rail yard opposite a row of substantial red brick barracks. Nearby stood an odd-looking church with two towers, one of Byzantine design and the other in Gothic style.

Their destination was a string of private lounge and sleeper cars that, unlike the usual grime-encrusted Russian passenger carriages, sparkled with icicles from a recent scrubbing. At the urging of their Russian escorts, the two foreigners climbed into a parlor car whose interior resembled a reading room in a fashionable New York men’s club, with horsehide wall coverings and overstuffed leather sofas and armchairs. At the far end of the room, a duty officer sat at a desk, with a Cossack guard posted at the door behind him.

As Colonel Ward had explained en route, though the Admiral used these cars to visit the front and to conduct sensitive meetings, they were not where he lived or worked while in Omsk. Kolchak rented a modest apartment at the merchant Batyushkin’s house on Irtysh Street. He worked mainly at offices located nearby at Liberty House. And his reputed mistress, Madame Timiryova, worked as a translator at the Ministry of Trade but kept separate rooms for herself and her French maid that the Admiral rarely visited.

The two Allied visitors had barely sat down in the carriage when the Russian duty officer summoned them into the adjoining car, where they were met by the striking but incongruous sight of Admiral Kolchak seated opposite eight members of his staff standing rigidly in a straight line, like a Greek chorus or a travesty of Judgment Day. While the staff members advanced to shake Colonel Ward’s hand, Ned gave the Supreme Ruler a lingering stare. Kolchak returned his look with piercing gray eyes for a fleeting moment before shifting his attention to a spot somewhere to Ned’s right.

The newly anointed dictator of Siberia was a small, dark man of erect bearing with a resolute expression etched permanently onto his lean visage. He wore a British officer’s tunic with broad Siberian epaulets, and his mannerisms reminded Ned somehow of the Emperor Napoleon, whom Kolchak was said to idolize. When it was Ned’s turn to shake the Admiral’s cold, dry hand, he felt it tremble and noticed a red rash emerging from beneath the cuff. This, and Kolchak’s habit of running his tongue over his thin, chapped lips, gave Ned the impression of a man under immense nervous strain.

When all were seated around a narrow conference table, Kolchak nodded to a tall officer about thirty-five years of age with puffy, clean-shaven cheeks, bald pate, and the rounded, fleshy appearance of a man who lived too well. This, he knew from Ward’s description, would be Kolchak’s Army Chief of Staff, Major General Dmitri Antonovich Lebedev. Lebedev rose, inflated his barrel chest, and spoke in a deep sonorous voice.

“We are here to discuss the British-American plan to improve our military communications by means of wireless telegraph. As you may recall, the idea was proposed by your General Knox during his visit to Omsk in October, then presented in greater detail by the American Colonel Barrows. At that time, the wireless devices were not yet in Vladivostok. Have they arrived now?”

“Not yet, general,” Ward replied crisply. Whether it was the ride in the cold air, or Ward’s constitution, or his supreme professionalism, the colonel showed no ill effects at all from the volume of vodka he had consumed.

“Then our discussion remains theoretical?” Lebedev questioned, with a raised eyebrow and a sidelong glance toward the Admiral.

“You may say that, general, inasmuch as we have not received your written agreement to our terms,” Ward answered, also turning to face the Supreme Ruler.

“And, as I recall, your terms include American and British operation of the wireless kits?” Here Lebedev gave Ward a magisterial frown, as if he were God regarding his Creation on the third day.

“That is correct, sir,” Ward answered coolly.

“Refresh my memory, if you please, Colonel Ward,” Lebedev resumed, leaning forward and focusing his gaze on the colonel. “If the purpose of the wireless network is to enhance military coordination and facilitate access to Allied intelligence, why not simply turn the equipment over to the Stavka and let us operate it, with training and maintenance from your side?”

“Because that was not our offer,” Ward explained with narrowed eyes and a hard edge to his voice. Ward clearly had no intention of letting Lebedev run an Allied show. “We offered you a reliable, smoothly running wireless network, which is possible only under Allied control.”

“But, surely, you don’t expect us to permit Allied intelligence to read every message we send and receive,” Lebedev pointed out with a theatrically raised eyebrow. “This is a Russian war, after all, being fought on Russian soil at the expense of Russian lives.”

Admiral Kolchak’s expression did not change; the other Russians bit their tongues. To Ned, the tension was palpable.

“Of course we will respect your internal communications,” Ward answered with a weary shake of his outsized head. “All wireless messages from the Stavka to its field commanders will be delivered to our cipher clerks in encrypted form, and will remain unreadable to anyone but your men. But Allied intermediation is essential if you wish to communicate with Allied leaders or receive Allied intelligence reports.”

Ward turned to Ned, as if soliciting his concurrence. Ned responded with an emphatic nod of support, offered first to Ward, and then to Lebedev and Kolchak, all the while hoping and praying that Ward didn’t call on him to elaborate. For the fact was that Allied codebreakers were perfectly capable of defeating most Siberian encryption and would be instructed to do so at every turn.

Lebedev tapped his fat forefinger against the side of his nose, as if pondering an intricate chess move, then faced his visitor with a petulant scowl.

“And what do the Allies gain by offering us such a wireless network?”

Ward leaned

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forward with his elbows on the conference table and addressed Lebedev with the same easy sense of superiority with which he might address one of his own regiment’s junior officers.

“The same benefits that we derive from sending your armed forces and those of General Denikin nearly ten thousand tons of weapons and other military supplies each month,” he pointed out with a cold smile. “We want you to defeat the Bolsheviks.”

“For that we are most grateful,” Lebedev responded, his face contorted. “But, in the final analysis, our gratitude for such assistance cannot extend to allowing the British to control our communications.”

Admiral Kolchak’s face darkened at this, making Ned wonder whether Lebedev had taken a step too far. For, in truth, the Siberians were so dependent on Allied military aid that they were in no position to dictate terms to the British on anything.

“But of course, general,” Ward assured Lebedev, more relaxed now that he seemed to have gained the upper hand. “As always, the British Military Mission is prepared to render as much or as little guidance as the Stavka is willing to accept.”

“And has General Denikin agreed to extend your wireless network to his command in South Russia?” Kolchak interrupted, drawing all eyes to him. “And General Yudenich in the North?”

“They say they will, once you have agreed to it, Your Excellency,” Ward informed him.

“And the equipment has sufficient range to reach both locations, as well as British ships in the Black and the Barents Seas?” Kolchak added.

“I believe so,” Ward answered. “But perhaps Captain du Pont would be in a better position to answer that question. Captain?”

Ned felt Ward’s eyes burning holes in his tunic, and knew that it was up to him to banish any Siberian doubts. But he had only seen the equipment once for a brief demonstration, and had been given only a general description of its range and capabilities. More than that, he had only recently mastered the Russian terms for such equipment by reference to an English-Russian technical dictionary.

“I am quite confident that the transceivers intended for Omsk are capable of communicating both with General Denikin at Novo-Rossiysk and with British ships in the Black Sea,” Ned assured the Admiral with the composure he knew was expected of him. “More distant locations can be reached easily via relay stations, including London, Paris, Washington, Tokyo, and most all of Siberia and Manchuria.”

“And the wireless network can be used to inform us of any urgent intelligence that the British or American governments might collect regarding Bolshevik movements?” Admiral Kolchak pressed.

“Most certainly,” Ned replied with the false certitude required to drive home his point. “Even better, we could set up wireless receivers at key listening posts along the Urals and Volga fronts. Any useful information intercepted from Bolshevik transmissions could then be relayed to Omsk. It’s quite remarkable what valuable material can be gathered that way.”

The Admiral nodded gravely and scanned the faces of his subordinates. Soon their heads bobbed up and down in synchrony with his. Ned felt the vise grip around his chest loosen by degrees. Of all the Russians, only Lebedev seemed resistant.

“Who then will be responsible for installing these listening posts, as you call them, and operating the network?” the Chief of Staff demanded. “We will need to approve this person, of course, and appoint someone from the Stavka as liaison. And it will be best if your person speaks Russian.” Ned noted with relief that Lebedev used the future ”will” rather than the conditional “would.”

He saw a satisfied smile spread across Colonel Ward’s face, as if the man had just drawn a winning hand at cards.

“The matter has already been arranged,” the colonel declared. “Captain du Pont will be project leader on the Allied side. He will be based in Omsk and will operate under my authority. We can write it into our agreement, if you like.”

“I understand that the Stavka has already assigned a liaison officer for our joint intelligence operations,” Ned pointed out. “Staff Captain Ivashov and I met in Irkutsk earlier this month. I expect him back in Omsk shortly.” Only after he had spoken did Ned notice Ward quietly shaking his head as if signaling him to stop.

“Ivashov, Ivashov,” Lebedev murmured upon hearing the name. Turning to a young major at his right elbow, he asked, “Isn’t he the one who came to us from…”

“From the People’s Army, general,” the major replied, his face clouding over.

“Yes, I recall now,” Lebedev said. “He came to us on a recommendation from Kappel, and shortly afterward we sent him off to…”

“Irkutsk,” the major reminded him.

“Perhaps not a suitable choice, this Ivashov,” Lebedev replied to the major with a sour expression.

“Actually, I think Staff Captain Ivashov would be a splendid choice,” Ned responded, falling silent when the Chief of Staff glowered back at him. Only then did he recall Ivashov’s prior service in the People’s Army and connect it with the Stavka’s campaign to purge liberal officers from Siberian ranks. As much as he might want to help the staff captain, Ned realized that his word would carry little weight in Ivashov’s favor.

“Very well, then,” Ward joined in, glossing over the issue of Ivashov’s appointment, lest it hold up the wireless project further. “Are we sufficiently agreed on the main points of the project to make it official?”

“I believe so,” the Supreme Ruler responded. Ned heaved a quiet sigh of relief and sensed a similar feeling among all the Russians present, except Lebedev. “And when may we expect the wireless equipment to arrive?”

“In a few weeks, Your Excellency. As soon as it reaches the dock in Vladivostok, I will dispatch Captain du Pont to collect it at Irkutsk.”

“General Lebedev, please hand me the papers,” Admiral Kolchak ordered his staff chief. “I am ready to sign them. And afterward, let us raise a glass to the success of our new joint venture. It has been a long night and I expect our colleagues may have grown thirsty…”

* * *

The next day, Ned rose before sunrise to take an early breakfast. The streets of downtown Omsk smelled of an early city winter, with odors of coal smoke, rotting leaves and engine fumes mingling with the aroma of hot rye bread baked in basement kitchens. Not far from his flat, he found a workers’ café and sat down to a meal of strong tea, buckwheat gruel and a boiled egg. Afterward, he checked in at the American consulate and spent the morning learning about the political situation at Omsk and the fighting along the Urals Front. In the afternoon, he set out to explore the city in a hired droshky .

The following day, he reported for duty at the Russian Railway Service Corps offices. To Ned’s dismay, the RRSC crew seemed a rather dull lot. He dreaded the prospect of spending a large portion of each day among them, supervising Allied telegraphy along Siberia’s principal rail routes and coordinating shipments of Allied munitions to the Siberian Army’s arms depots at Omsk, Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg.

But a pleasant surprise was the relative frankness and openness of the Siberian officials and military men he met during his first few days on the job. Taking Ned aside, they would share with him their private worries for the future, as well as their shared concern that the Red Army might break through the Urals defenses and pour headlong into Siberia. With that fear in mind, several well-placed railway officials signaled their readiness to render any service or divulge any secret that Ned might require in return for American dollars to bankroll their escape. And, given the ample funds at his disposal, Ned began to wonder whether recruiting intelligence sources in Omsk might prove far easier than he had expected.

A week after his meeting with Admiral Kolchak and General Lebedev, Ned took a day off from his railroad duties and set out on horseback with Lieutenant Colonel John Neilson for a ride to an estate along the Irtysh River about a dozen versts north of Omsk. Neilson, whom Ned had met in Verkhne-Udinsk a month earlier, was back in Omsk now, having been cleared of any improper involvement in Admiral Kolchak’s coup d’etat .

Even before Ned’s arrival in the capital, the British Military Mission had foreseen the need for a secure location to house the new Allied wireless site. To this end, Neilson had proposed the Yushnevsky estate, a forested property near the village of Beregovoy, which offered the twin advantages of seclusion and anti-Bolshevik neighbors who farmed the nearby lowlands along the Irtysh.

As Ned was to be responsible for setting up the wireless facility, Neilson had proposed that the American take up residence at Beregovoy for a portion of each week, at least until the place was ready to receive the apparatus and its technical team. The estate contained several outbuildings suitable for this purpose, particularly a one-story lodge where many of the estate’s visiting craftsmen and skilled workers had been quartered during spring maintenance and the autumn harvest.

During their ride to Beregovoy, Neilson described the estate’s widowed owner, Madame Yulia Yekaterinovna Yushnevskaya, as an intelligent, cultured woman, born in England to an English mother and Russian father. She had married a wealthy St. Petersburg trader a few years before the 1917 revolution, and when the Bolsheviks seized power there, her husband fled the imperial capital for Omsk so as to escape the Red Terror and run the family’s remaining properties in Siberia. Yulia followed him there but, after her husband’s death, felt increasingly isolated and out of her depth in managing his business affairs.

To date, Madame Yushnevskaya had held on by improvising from day to day and selling off whatever assets she could. But she still faced painful decisions about the remaining properties, including her estate at Beregovoy. For while these, if soundly managed, might support her in relative comfort, that was only possible if she remained at Beregovoy to run them, for she had no close relations in Omsk and knew enough to be careful about any to whom she might entrust her wealth.

“At any event, a young widow in such circumstances ought to have no difficulty remarrying,” Ned opined to Neilson. “Omsk appears full of strong and enterprising men, many of wealth and good birth, who could offer her just the sort of partnership she needs. Is she attractive?”

“More than a little, I should say,” Neilson replied, squinting into the low morning sun. “But she is a very private woman, quite proud, and, frankly, a terrible snob.”

“Time and the animal instincts have a way of lowering one’s standards,” Ned remarked, looking away absently, “especially in times like these.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” the colonel conceded, “but to my knowledge, the lady keeps no lovers and has held all her suitors at arm’s length. In truth, I rather admire her for that, as Omsk these days is teeming with rogues, cads, and ne’er-do-wells of the highest pedigree. One can’t be too careful in such matters.”

Not long after, the two riders left the main road and followed a rutted track up a rise to a set of low wooden outbuildings and a two-story wood-frame house in a style that mixed traditional Russian woodcraft with a neoclassical gabled roof and linteled windows. While the main house seemed in good repair, the bunkhouse, stables, granaries, hen houses, and pig corrals showed signs of neglect. In particular, the one-story lodge made of wood and stone would need a new roof and new windows before it was habitable.

Neilson led Ned to the stables, where they left their horses in two of the many vacant stalls and set out fresh hay for them before crossing the yard to mount the steps to the main house.

Even before Neilson could knock at the door, it opened inward and a woman nearly as tall as Ned, and of approximately the same age, appeared before them in a floor-length gray wool dress buttoned to the throat, her long blonde hair gathered into a bun at the nape of her graceful neck. To Ned’s eye, Yulia’s face was not beautiful in the same sense as Zhanna’s, nor pretty as Corinne’s, but striking all the same, with a perfect oval shape, flawless porcelain complexion, large and full-lipped mouth, and dazzling blue eyes that looked upon him with a mixture of curiosity and approval. He felt his cheeks color under her gaze and was rendered speechless.

Neilson greeted the widow in flawless Russian. Yulia insisted on responding in English, however, which she spoke correctly, though with a distinct Russian accent. She took the men into the anteroom, where she hung their coats and hats on a rack before leading them into a drawing room that looked much like the merchant Dorokhin’s in Verkhne-Udinsk.

“Allow me to introduce Captain Edmund du Pont,” Neilson continued. “He is the American officer I mentioned to you last week, the one who will be managing the wireless project.”

“So very pleased to meet you, captain,” the widow answered, scarcely having taken her eyes off him since opening the door.

“The pleasure is all mine, Madame Yushnevskaya,” Ned replied, having found his voice again.

“Please call me Yulia,” she invited, breaking into a languid smile. “Our long Russian names with patronymic are quite inconvenient, and you certainly need not call me ‘Madame’ when just among us.”

“Captain du Pont comes to us from Delaware, in America,” Neilson added. “But he arrived by way of the Philippine Islands, where he has been battling rebels and bandits these past few years.”

“Du Pont de Nemours?” she inquired with a curious look.

“Yes, Madame,” he replied, “but we are a very large family and my branch is regrettably not one of the wealthier ones.”

“Yulia, please,” she corrected him. “All the same, I must thank your family’s company for supplying arms to Russia during the Great War, and now to our Siberian Army. Without Allied weaponry, we could not hope to resist the Bolsheviks.”

“I accept your thanks, though it is none of my doing,” Ned answered with an easy smile.

At that moment, an elderly housekeeper arrived to deliver a tray with tea and cakes and Yulia interrupted their conversation to serve her guests. Neilson waited patiently to receive his glass of steaming tea, taking a short sip before returning to business.

“Yulia, we are expecting our wireless equipment to arrive soon, along with a six-man technical team,” the officer began. “As you and I have discussed, our governments intend for the experts to live and work at your vacant workers’ lodge. And we are prepared to pay you a generous monthly rent for the privilege.”

The widow waved off the colonel’s offer of remuneration as if it were a slur.

“I will not have it. For your men to live there costs me nothing, and I shall enjoy their armed protection so long as they remain on my property,” she responded. “That is sufficient reward for me.”

“Of course, we are also willing to cover the expense of repairs and modifications to any buildings we use,” Ned pointed out. “With your permission, of course.”

“Yes, Captain du Pont has been allotted ample funding for the project,” Neilson agreed. “I suggest that you and he sit down together and draw up a budget at your earliest convenience. And you really need not decline our offer of rent, Yulia. You might find it useful to have some American dollars on hand, considering how the Siberian ruble has inflated lately.”

“Ah, yes, prices are climbing by the day,” Yulia admitted with a fleeting wince. “Perhaps a budget would be helpful, after all.”

“We will also want to make arrangements for the men to come and go without attracting undue attention,” Neilson continued. “While they will wear the uniform of the Russian Railway Service Corps, it is important that the Bolsheviks not suspect that we are running a wireless installation here. Do you employ many servants?”

“Only an elderly housekeeper and her husband, but they are completely reliable and loyal to my family. Also, we hire men from the village when necessary to remove snow or make repairs, but these are also completely dependable persons.”

“In any event, I propose to bring an army cook and orderly to run the lodge. Simpler that way, wouldn’t you say?” Neilson offered.

Yulia nodded in tentative agreement.

“But what shall I tell our neighbors, or others who might see your men here?” she asked. “Sooner or later, people will raise questions.”

“The story best suited to hiding a secret is generally the one that is closest to the truth,” Neilson advised. “I recommend that you say that they are American railway men who have not found lodging in the city between trips. That will also help explain the frequent comings and goings of our couriers between here and Omsk. I doubt strongly whether even the Bolsheviks will take an interest in American railway men enjoying a rest break.”

Though the three concluded their business a short while later, Ned and Neilson remained longer to chat with their hostess about local conditions, news of the war, and shared interests. When the men finally rose to leave, Yulia offered them a tour of the grounds, since this was Ned’s first visit to Beregovoy.

The tour led through frozen fields, most of them neither planted nor harvested since 1917, past the estate’s empty granaries, its vacant pigsties and silent henhouses, and back to the single-story lodge, where snow had drifted through holes in the roof and several broken windows.

“It needs work, but we’ll have it whipped into shape in no time,” Ned announced after marching up and down the lodge’s central aisle, inspecting several of the bunks and giving a detailed examination to the cast-iron wood stove. “I’ll draw up a list of repairs tomorrow before I return to the city.”

“Tomorrow, you say?” Neilson repeated. “Surely you don’t intend to spend the night here?”

“Why not? I’d like to get a sense of what it’s like after dark, if Yulia doesn’t mind,” Ned replied. “I brought a bed roll and will fire up the stove. Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”

Neilson cast an anxious glance at Ned while avoiding the widow’s gaze.

“But what will you do for dinner?” Neilson pressed.

“I was planning to explore the village and find something to eat there,” Ned answered. “Why don’t we ride down together as far as the river? Then I’ll peel off toward the village and return here before dark.”

But no sooner did Ned part from Neilson at Beregovoy village than the overcast sky turned leaden and heavy storm clouds swept down on the village from the north. Moments later, the first snowflakes fell and within minutes a thin blanket of snow covered the road back to the estate. Ned abandoned his search for dinner and headed back up the hill.

Outside the lodge, Ned found some dry birch firewood and lit a blaze in the iron stove before setting out to plug the holes in the damaged windows. He had nearly finished the task when Yulia’s elderly manservant, Genrikh, entered the lodge without knocking and invited Ned to the main house for dinner. By now, the wind was howling outdoors and half a foot of new snow had fallen. A hot meal and a few hours close to a blazing stove or fireplace might be a very good idea, Ned realized, and followed the old man to the house.

Upon arriving, Genrikh took Ned’s coat and led him to the dining room, where places were laid for two and candles lit on the long refectory table at the end closest to the fireplace. Ned’s attention was drawn immediately to an antique sideboard along the room’s eastern wall, above which hung a silver crucifix surrounded by gilded icon paintings of Jesus, the Holy Mother and assorted saints. On the sideboard, a votive candle shed its flickering light upon several small icons behind. Ned turned away from the icons in time to see Yulia enter the room from the kitchen, dressed in an ankle-length skirt of dark brown wool and a cream-colored collarless silk blouse under a short loden jacket.

She possessed a stunning figure, and Ned felt something stir within that he had not felt for months, not even during his brief infatuation with Zhanna Dorokhina. For Yulia was a real woman, not an innocent youth, and completely fair game—if one didn’t count the non-fraternization rules. He smiled as he saw something in her look that made him suspect she regarded him in the same way.

The meal was generous: roast duck in gravy with side dishes of boiled potatoes, pickled beets and mushrooms, steamed cabbage, and freshly baked bread. Their conversation centered at first on innocuous topics like their respective childhoods, school days, family histories and the like, and slowly drifted forward to the present.

Yulia recounted how she had spent little time in Russia since early childhood and, even after her marriage, never expected to reside there. But when her husband’s trading business fell on hard times during the Great War and he came to depend heavily on income from his family’s interests in Russia, he moved to Petrograd. Soon after, the Bolsheviks seized power there and he sent her a telegram announcing his departure for Omsk to take charge of his family’s properties there. By now seriously short of funds, Yulia sold their London town house, enrolled their two young boys in a British boarding school, and set out like a Decembrist[16] wife to share her husband’s plight in Siberia. She arrived in Omsk in January of 1918.

By spring, conditions across Siberia had become grim, as the Bolshevik Red Guards swept across Siberia, seizing property from wealthy landlords and factory owners and murdering others as they went. But in May, the Czech Legion defied the Red Army at Chelyabinsk and launched the whirlwind military campaign that swept aside Bolshevik rule from the Urals to the Pacific. The Yushnevsky family’s properties were returned and the new Siberian Provisional Government promised to restore the rule of law for everyone.

“All this might have allowed Vasily to liquidate enough of his holdings to retire to London with capital to revive his trading business,” she explained in a matter-of-fact voice. “But then disaster struck. The influenza epidemic reached Russia in early summer. Vasily was one of the first in Omsk to succumb.” Her eyes were dry, but she lowered them as if gripped by a weariness beyond expression.

“It left me totally alone, far from family, and not knowing whom I could trust or rely upon.”

While Ned had seen more death than most American men of his age, nearly all of it had been in combat, lending death meaning and even honor among his fellow warriors. He had no concept of a woman’s suffering at losing a loved one to a random, faceless menace like disease.

“I cannot imagine what a shock that must have been,” he offered, cringing inside at how callous he must sound. But Yulia showed no reaction, instead resuming her story.

“For a long while, the pressures of managing Vasily’s businesses nearly exhausted me. Yet, I dared not leave Beregovoy until I had put aside enough money to provide a modest income for me and something for my sons’ education.” Now, looking up and making eye contact at last, she added, “And more than that, I felt honor-bound not to leave our employees without work, or the peasants without land to till. If I left Omsk prematurely, I would forfeit everything and be obliged to seek such employment as I might find back in London, since any funds from my own family could not sustain us for long.”

“You are very brave to have stayed on,” Ned affirmed. “It must be extremely demanding.”

“I cannot claim to be brave, only ignorant,” Yulia answered with an ironic curl to her lips. “But now, here I am, stuck in remote Siberia, far from my boys, denied nearly all my former joys in life, and coarsened by endless disputes over money. All that keeps me going is pride, duty, and ties to a country I barely know.”

“Surely it can’t be quite so bad as that,” he sought to assure her, though at the risk of contradicting his last remark. “You seem to be…”

But here she held up a slender porcelain hand to silence him.

“May I count on you to keep a secret?” she demanded.

“Of course,” he answered hastily. “You have my word.”

“The sad truth is that I despise most of my fellow countrymen in Omsk, including many who depend on me. The best Russian men are dead, or gone to the front, or in exile. In my experience, only the British can be counted upon to do what they promise, and sometimes I fear that they promise too much.”

After hearing Yulia bare her soul in this way, Ned felt like an intruder and could not think of anything to say that would not sound trite or condescending. He had never expected Yulia to allow him so close to her, or at least not so soon. As if sensing his discomfort, the widow grew silent, withdrew her napkin from her lap, and placed it on the table in front of her.

“Coffee?” she asked, her spirits suddenly lifting.

“I wouldn’t want to trouble you,” he replied. But then, seeing disappointment in her eyes, as if she felt in need of constant company, he added, “Well, it’s an awfully cold night. Sure, coffee sounds delicious.”

“You aren’t seriously considering sleeping out in the lodge tonight, are you?” she reproached him. “I’ll have Vera prepare one of the spare bedrooms for you and tell Genrikh to put out the fire you lit in the stove outside.”

“Really, I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble,” he protested half-heartedly.

Yulia’s response was to regard him with raised eyebrows for a brief moment before letting out a sudden laugh.

“Oh, heavens, you aren’t married are you?” she asked with a broad smile.

“No, no, certainly not!” Ned stammered.

“Engaged, then?”

“Far from it,” he answered, regaining his poise and breaking out in a grin of his own. “Not any more, at least…”

“Then you shall stay.”

The last statement was made with such authority that it struck Ned that Yulia might have more reason than mere hospitality for having him spend the night under her roof. So he agreed and, while they sat quietly over their coffee, the elderly caretakers finished their tasks for the night.

Later, Genrikh showed Ned to an upstairs bedroom where his rucksack had already been left. Once inside, Ned undressed, put on the neatly folded men’s flannel nightshirt that had been laid out on his bed, and turned out the lamp on his bedside table. Within a few minutes, he was aroused from sleep by a soft knocking at his door. On an impulse, rather than call out to whomever might be there, he padded quietly to the door and opened it. Before him stood Yulia in a silk dressing gown and matching nightdress, a lit candlestick in her hand. With her other hand, she raised a finger and pressed it to Ned’s lips, then stepped past him into the room.

* * *

Over the next two months, each week brought Ned a heavier workload. By day he divided his time between desk duty at the Railway Service Corps offices and meetings at the American Consulate, the British Military Mission, the Stavka and the executive offices at Liberty House. By night he met informants and prepared secret intelligence reports for dispatch to Colonel Barrows at Vladivostok. The routine was relieved only by a brief excursion to the Siberian Army’s forward bases at Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk every two or three weeks.

The Northern Army’s capture of Perm in late December under the charismatic but erratic young Czech general, Rudolf Gaida, gave the Siberians a boost in confidence shortly before the two opposing armies halted activities for the winter, one of the coldest in living memory. And around the same time, Kolchak’s security forces quelled a minor Bolshevik uprising in Omsk with brutal force, killing four hundred insurgents and executing without trial fifteen former delegates to the Constituent Assembly from the Socialist Revolutionary Party, who had voluntarily surrendered into White protective custody.

This incited widespread public outrage, which provoked the security organs to even greater excesses. The days that followed were filled with random gunfire in the streets, bands of Cossacks galloping through Omsk with bloodied sabers, and panicked civilians barricading themselves in their homes. Though Kolchak privately denounced the Omsk massacre as an overreaction, calling it “Bolshevism of the Right,” he did nothing to punish those responsible, for they were the very men behind the coup that had put him in power. For weeks afterward, hundreds of S-Rs and suspected Bolsheviks disappeared quietly in the night and were rumored to have been ”transferred to the Republic of Irtysh,“ a euphemism for disposing of murder victims in the frozen Irtysh River.

Not only did this incident sour politically moderate Siberians against Kolchak’s regime and offer the Bolsheviks a propaganda field day, but it also dampened support for the Supreme Ruler in Allied capitals at a time when sympathy had been quietly building. For weeks afterward, Ned felt compelled to send one soothing report after another to AEF Headquarters in an attempt to calm nerves about the situation in Omsk, while the American consular staff sent similar missives to the State Department.

Another consequence of the S-R rebellion was that Ned discovered Staff Captain Ivashov’s name on a secret

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list of officers to be purged from the Siberian Army on suspicion of being former S-R members or sympathizers. Fortunately for Ivashov, he had been on temporary assignment in the Urals during the Omsk massacre and, by the time of his return, the Allied governments had sent a forceful message urging Kolchak to reconcile with liberal supporters of the Siberian government, and to refrain from disciplinary action against former members of the People’s Army and other moderates who had played no part in the December rebellion.

The Allied message soon became a source of friction between Allied missions in Omsk and the Stavka, as Lebedev had long been intent on purging his staff of anyone showing less than a slavish degree of personal loyalty and political orthodoxy. Another source of friction was the continued delay in delivering the wireless apparatus to Omsk, as promised to Admiral Kolchak in early December. Lebedev, ever the bully, voiced suspicion over the delays and became increasingly brusque with Ward and Ned, despite the Supreme Ruler’s continued support for the project.

Following one such encounter with Lebedev and Kolchak, Ned thought back to his initial audience with the Admiral and the indelible impression that the man had left on him—so dignified and correct, so resolute, the focal point of Siberia’s hopes. Yet, for all that, lately the Admiral seemed out of his depth as commander in chief, a virtual captive of an incompetent staff and a parasitic entourage, and dependent on the Allies for every material resource necessary to prosecute the war, down to the uniform on his back.[17] How could such a man, though arguably the best one on hand for the job, lead the White armies to victory along a fifteen-hundred-mile front, from a remote Siberian capital, against an enemy whose strength seemed to grow by the day?

As tension mounted between the Allies and the Stavka, Ned was delighted to learn in late January that the long-awaited wireless equipment had at last arrived in Vladivostok, and that he would soon be making a return visit to Irkutsk to pick it up and escort it and its technical team to Omsk. When he invited Ivashov to join him on the trip, the staff captain’s face showed a palpable sense of relief to leave the capital, at least for a while.

Whether his close call with dismissal and possible arrest had diminished Ivashov’s loyalty to the Omsk regime was unclear to Ned, for the Russian remained as taciturn as ever. But who would not have felt a reciprocal distrust toward his superiors after being stripped of most duties except for routine liaison work with the Allies? For that reason, Ned redoubled his efforts to show respect and trust for Ivashov, in hopes of aggravating the divided loyalty that might one day allow him to recruit Ivashov as a clandestine informant inside the Stavka.

* * *

Though Mark McCloud had arrived in Omsk on the same train as Ned, the two men rarely ran across each other during December and January. However, a week before Ned’s scheduled departure for Irkutsk in late January, McCloud invited Ned to dinner at a modest downtown restaurant whose menu, posted on a blackboard behind the bar, consisted primarily of soups, stews, and cheap cuts of meat. Since the Bolshevik uprising in Omsk nearly a month earlier, a curfew remained in place over much of the capital, and bands of Cossacks still prowled the streets with blood in their eyes for leftist agitators. Many of McCloud’s journalistic sources had vanished, with some fleeing, some rotting in jail, and others falling prey to political murder. As a result, McCloud’s innate cynicism was in full bloom.

“This town disgusts me,” he had declared even before the vodka was poured. “The upper classes throw their money about with a flagrant sense of ‘après nous le deluge .’ The streets are filled with cowardly Army officers who belong at the front. Everyone else seems to have succumbed to apathy and defeatism, the men turning to drink and the women to weeping at all hours of the day.”

“So what’s new about that?” Ned teased. “Welcome to Siberia.”

“No, laddie, I’m certain it’s worse than before. On every street corner, all I see is rampant speculation in stolen goods and worthless currency. Small wonder the Bolshevik underground is growing! Did you know that the White troops in Perm and Birsk have run short of small arms ammunition despite millions of rounds being sent from American warehouses in Vladivostok?”

“I’ve heard something to that effect,” Ned replied, feeling no less outrage than McCloud, but not wanting to give him the satisfaction of hearing Ned speak ill of the Kolchak government.

“Do you doubt then that crooked White officers are selling off vast quantities of Allied arms to the Reds?”

“It’s possible, though I’m not at liberty to comment,” Ned answered, bracing his jaw for the next question. Recently, he had done his own investigation into these claims and had discovered that the shrinkage in munitions deliveries from Vladivostok worsened with proximity to the front. Such large-scale pilferage would be impossible without the connivance of high-level officials at Omsk.

“But don’t you see my point?” McCloud insisted. “Even if you take in stride the flagrant corruption among Kolchak’s hangers-on, it seems to me the party’s over. Perhaps the time has come for me to ply my trade elsewhere.”

“So where else does one go to cover the Russian war?” Ned challenged. “Things are even worse closer to the front. And honest reporters aren’t permitted at all on the Soviet side.”

“I think I shall go to Paris,” McCloud pronounced, seizing a hunk of black bread from a pewter plate. “The peace conference will begin soon, and both Wilson and Lloyd George are going to attend. My contacts in Washington tell me that the Russian question will be resolved once and for all at Versailles, and that the civil war will wind down not long after, perhaps with some form of partition.”

“You can’t possibly believe that,” Ned scoffed, letting the bread drop from his hand. “Certainly not after all you’ve seen. Why, you’ve proclaimed time and time again that this war is a ‘Hobbesian battle of all against all’ and won’t end until one side has totally crushed the other.”

“Perhaps I did say that once or twice,” McCloud conceded with a shrug, “but things have changed. Today the money men in New York are laying bets that Wilson and Lloyd George will find a way to pull Lenin into a negotiated peace. So I expect Paris is where the game will play out. Would you disagree?”

“Of course I would. How can such a thing happen if no Russians are allowed to even set foot in Versailles?” Ned challenged.

“That may soon change,” McCloud offered, lifting an unruly eyebrow. “In any case, there will be plenty of high intrigue at the peace conference, and that is precisely what sells newspapers, my boy.”

“Those money men you refer to wouldn’t happen to include my cousin Pierre du Pont and our mutual friend, Ed Buckner, would they?”

McCloud let out a raucous laugh that Ned took to be insincere.

“They’re all birds of a feather,” the journalist replied before picking up his bread and slathering it with lard.

“And Buckner is willing to pony up the cost of your covering the Russian war from the fleshpots of Paris?”

“I won’t dignify that with an answer,” McCloud replied with another laugh, though less convincing than the last. “The matter is this: I hanker for a change. If Paris is a bust, I’ll make my way back to Russia, maybe to General Denikin’s headquarters at Novo-Rossiysk, for a fresh point of view.”

“I doubt you’ll find much different there,” Ned remarked, “except that Denikin’s officers will be diverting British arms instead of American ones.”

“As I said, I need a change, and that’s the end of it,” McCloud answered impatiently, tipping back in his chair and casting a careless glance around the room. “My writing has gone stale. The stories I write now all sound the same and are too depressing for words. Even a satire upon the situation here is impossible, because Bolshevism has become a lampoon of socialism, Kolchak a lampoon of a dictator, and the Russian conflict an operetta of a war.”

McCloud’s airy dismissal of Russia’s suffering rubbed Ned the wrong way. At bottom, McCloud seemed the kind of journalist who would stoop to anything for a juicy story. And then it dawned on Ned that, just moments ago, McCloud had tried to pump him for details about American arms transfers to the Siberian Army.

“Mark, a while ago you asked me about arms diversions. Was that for one of your news stories? Or did Buckner put you up to it?”

“Nice try,” McCloud answered. “But the question was entirely mine.”

“In either case, I want to make something very clear,” Ned continued, drilling his forefinger on the table for emphasis. “I serve the U.S. Government. Our policy is to put Russia together again, not to play favorites with arms merchants. If I were to show favor to the DuPont Company over its competitors, I would badly compromise my position here. Do you understand me?”

Though Ned had meant to chastise McCloud, the journalist showed no sign of remorse.

“Actually, I didn’t have DuPont in mind when I asked,” the older man replied blandly, pausing to wave his empty vodka glass at a nearby waiter. “Though you may not be aware, Mr. Buckner owns quite a few shares in Remington Arms, which is overextended at the moment, selling rifles and cartridges to the Whites on credit. Since you were the one to raise his name, I thought you might want to know that. Now, then, how about another round of vodka, eh?”

Though Ned had never liked the idea of Corinne’s father watching him from afar, whether for his daughter’s benefit or that of the DuPont Company, he enjoyed even less being pumped for information to prop up Buckner’s personal fortunes. But, while cutting off information to McCloud might help, alienating the journalist’s patron might raise other problems for Ned at home. So when McCloud refilled their glasses from a fresh carafe of vodka and served up a farewell toast, Ned breathed a sigh of relief.

“To Versailles!” McCloud announced with a grin from behind his bushy whiskers. “And may the stories in Paris flow like champagne!”

Chapter 6: Paris of Siberia

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“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

—William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar , Act 4, Scene 3

Musical Theme: The Seasons, Op. 67, Autumn: Adagio , by Alexander Glazunov


Ned stood outside the dormitory at the same Irkutsk girls’ school where he and Staff Captain Ivashov had slept the last time they visited the Transbaikalian capital. With any luck, he wouldn’t have to spend more than a few nights here this time, as the train carrying the wireless gear was due to arrive within a day or two. To stay warm, he stomped his feet and rubbed his gloved hands together while waiting for Ivashov to arrive with a hired sleigh for the trip to the banker Kostrov’s house on Amursky Avenue. Whether by coincidence or design, Ivashov had called on Kostrov at his office earlier that day and the Russian had insisted that the two officers dine with him the same evening. In their honor, he promised them the best meal available anywhere in Irkutsk, and hinted that he might have a surprise that would make their evening especially enjoyable.

Ivashov arrived promptly in a two-horse sleigh, whereupon Ned climbed aboard and covered himself in the furs and blankets on hand to keep him warm during the short ride across town. It was well past four o’clock in the afternoon, the hour when electric globes lit up on lampposts along Irkutsk’s major arteries. The sun had set a few minutes earlier, leaving the city wrapped in a rosy haze. The snow scrunched crisply under the sleigh’s runners as they passed one of the city’s electric power stations, where Ned could see through grimy windows the giant shadows of tirelessly turning iron flywheels. Further on, in a squalid riverside neighborhood, they rode past dimly lit shops and cafés where coffee, beer, spirits and cheap Chinese opium were served up until late in the night.

It was inhumanly cold. Despite the furs, Ned’s mouth and cheeks soon grew numb and the two men rode in silence through the shadowy streets of Irkutsk. The place seemed nearly deserted as compared with Omsk, where the streets teemed with refugees at all hours. As the sleigh turned the corner onto Amursky Avenue, Ned caught sight of Kirill Matveyevich Kostrov in a sleek tarantass[18] sleigh parked outside his two-story brick mansion. Kostrov was exchanging words with a tall young man on horseback who, upon seeing the sleigh approach, gave it a searching look, nodded to the banker and promptly headed off in the opposite direction.

After reaching the house and exchanging greetings with Kostrov, Ned asked who the young rider might be. Kostrov brightened at the question.

“His name is Boris Viktorovich Borisov and he is to be our dinner guest tonight,” the banker replied. “And a fine young fellow he is! Son of a prosperous miller from Verkhne-Udinsk and until recently an avid suitor of my niece, Zhanna.”

At this, Ned felt a twinge of what he knew could only be jealousy and the feeling annoyed him. Had he not overcome his fixation upon this girl? Not even after having found satisfaction with a lovely woman of his own age?

“Until recently a suitor, you say?” Ivashov interjected with a raised eyebrow. The staff captain appeared amused, but by no stretch jealous, at the news.

“Alas, yes,” Kostrov replied. “Boris and Zhanna were childhood friends and, for the longest time, he was badly smitten with her. But Zhanna never returned his interest. What’s more, her father opposed the match. Yet, oddly enough, last month Stepan Petrovich lifted his objection. Father Timofey served as intermediary between the families and a wedding was expected this spring.”

“Then they are engaged after all?” Ned asked, surprised that Zhanna would give up the mission to Omsk that she had seemed so intent upon pursuing. The idea irritated him, though he knew it shouldn’t have.

“No, as I said,” Kostrov continued with a bemused smile, “Boris is a former suitor now, though still a friend. What I find curious is that, despite Zhanna’s rejection, the boy seems more devoted to her than ever. What strange turns young love can take!”

Ned felt an odd sense of relief. And in that moment Zhanna’s image appeared to him as clear as ever, though he hadn’t allowed himself to think of her in weeks.

“And what of Zhanna? What are her plans now?” Ned went on, recalling Kostrov’s hint of a dinner surprise.

“You shall see soon enough for yourselves! For Zhanna has been living under my roof these past three weeks and will dine with us tonight.”

All at once Ned felt an unexpected surge of warmth at his core. Then he remembered Zhanna’s prediction that he would return to Transbaikalia before the end of winter and that she would call on him once again to escort her to Omsk. But before Ned could speak, Ivashov addressed his host with a gallant smile.

“How fortunate for you, Kirill Matveyich!” he declared with a glance toward Ned, as if Ivashev had known the girl’s situation all along. “Such lovely company you have!”

“Yes, but a mixed blessing, under the circumstances,” Kostrov answered in a measured tone. “You see, Zhanna and her father have been at odds ever since your visit to their estate in November. And I find myself caught between them.”

“At odds? Over what?” Ivashov asked in a tone that Ned suspected might be disingenuous.

“I think you already know, Igor Ivanovich,” the banker answered with a pointed stare. “It appears you and Captain du Pont were among the very first she told of her plan. For several months, Zhanna has had in mind to travel to Omsk for an audience with Admiral Kolchak. But, having failed to win support in Verkhne-Udinsk, she has altered her tactics and aims to persuade our Governor-General to send her. And since I am a friend of the governor and live close to his residence, my niece has pitched camp under my roof and laid siege to the poor man! Fool that I am, I took her in and now I am complicit in her plot…”

Kostrov raised his open palms and looked to the heavens as if appealing for divine succor, but it was obvious that he was enjoying the escapade.

“And Zhanna’s father?” Ivashov inquired. “What does Stepan Petrovich think of her idea of running off to take up arms against the Bolsheviks?”

“You must understand something,” Kostrov replied in a low voice, placing a hand on each man’s shoulder and drawing them close. “The only women in Russia who run off with the army are prostitutes. If my brother-in-law thought for a moment that Zhanna would take such a path, he would have drowned her with his own hands! But she is so devout a girl, and so patriotic of purpose, that he offered to send her to school in France or America in hopes of distracting her. And yet she persisted! So at last, he banished Zhanna from his house, sent her here and left the knot for me to untangle. Since then, I have enlisted every resource at my disposal to gain Zhanna an audience with General Volkov, hoping that he will make her see reason. All to no avail. Though Volkov is an old friend and used to see me often, I have been rebuffed now in three separate attempts.”

“This must be distressing for Zhanna,” Ned commented, unable to come up with any constructive advice, though sympathetic to the uncle’s plight. “She seemed to believe so strongly in her task. How has she taken the governor’s rejection?”

“She is as determined as ever to see him, and I expect will concoct a new approach before long,” Kostrov answered with a helpless shrug. “Meanwhile, seeing the two of you is certain to raise her spirits. And she will doubtless press you mercilessly for the latest news from the front. For she follows news of the war with more interest than a banker follows the price of gold.”

The two officers looked at each other with arched eyebrows, but a moment later they broke into laughter at the idea of seeing Zhanna again so soon. After all, hadn’t she predicted their return?

* * *

When Ned and Ivashov entered the parlor at the hour appointed for dinner, they found Kostrov awaiting them, attired in a flawlessly tailored blue serge suit befitting his position as bank director and as a newly elected member of the Transbaikalia’s provincial council. Standing at his side was Father Timofey Ryumin, dressed in his customary ankle-length cassock of fine gray wool. And, as in Verkhne-Udinsk, the cleric wore a long black beard, disheveled hair, and an ominous expression.

The parlor was a spacious square room with high ceiling and tall double-hung windows, furnished in the neoclassical French style. Ned ambled over to the nearest window and looked out onto the street, where he saw a group of Russians, about twenty or so, mostly women, huddled outside. An old babushka [19] wearing a thick sheepskin coat and a coarse wool shawl wrapped around her head and shoulders looked his way and pointed up at him. Ned instinctively stepped away from the window.

“We seem to have attracted a crowd outside,” he observed to his host. “I can only hope that they are admirers and not Bolsheviks.”

Kostrov rolled his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Those are Zhanna’s supporters,” the banker replied. “Some of them have followed her all the way from Verkhne-Udinsk. The crowd seems to grow by the day. There’s simply no keeping them away.”

Ned exchanged a puzzled look with Ivashov and drew an unexpected response from Father Timofey.

“Much has happened since we last met,” he addressed the officers. “You see, not long after you left us, Zhanna made several dire predictions of Red Army conquests which promptly came true. First the Red troops took Estonia, then Latvia, and now Lithuania. Today they are in Ukraine, at the very gates of Kiev! News of her prophecies spread quickly among the servants at the Dorokhin estate. And before long, certain peasants and townspeople learned of her plan to deliver a message from God to Admiral Kolchak. That was when her story became linked with the prophecy of Yermak.[20]

“And which prophecy would that be?” Ivashov probed. “I believe there are several.”

It fascinated Ned that Ivashov would be familiar with such legends and, even more, that he didn’t scoff at them.

“I know of only one prophecy that is relevant,” Timofey replied with equal seriousness. “It is the one dictated by the Siberian Cossack chief, Yermak, soon after he conquered the Mongol Khanate of Sibir in the sixteenth century. According to a legend familiar to every Siberian schoolchild, Yermak predicted that Russia would one day be lost by a mother on the shores of Lake Ladoga[21] and saved by a virgin from the marshes of Lake Baikal. The late tsarina would be the mother, of course, and Zhanna’s followers claim that she is the virgin.”

“And what does Zhanna think of those people?” Ned inquired. He couldn’t help wondering whether Timofey shared these beliefs or, as an educated man, remained a skeptic. But Ned also remembered his first impressions of Transbaikalia and the strong sense that primitive spirits inhabited the land. Timofey had spent his entire life among people whose atavistic beliefs and practices had withstood the onslaught of reasoning modernity. Why wouldn’t such a man also tend to believe?

“I welcome such people,” came a gentle womanly voice from the dining room.

Zhanna Stepanovna drew open the sliding pocket doors separating the parlor from the formal dining room and stepped forward to take her uncle’s arm. Tonight her slender figure was dressed much the same as it was months earlier in her father’s house, in a pleated white blouse over a long gray skirt, with her raven hair twisted and pinned into a chignon. But now Zhanna seemed somehow more mature, more restrained, with less of the childlike simplicity that Ned had found so charming. Upon catching sight of her, Ned felt an unaccountable optimism, a sense that all was right with the world. But he waited in vain for her to meet his gaze.

“The simple people who believe in my cause will help clear my way to Omsk,” she added, standing tall and with her chin slightly raised. Then she greeted each of the guests with a firm handshake rather than the usual Russian kisses on both cheeks.

“I believe my niece may yet prove right,” Kostrov added, giving a tender squeeze to the delicate hand holding his arm. “Governor Volkov has refused to meet us, but his refusal becomes more difficult by the day. All the while, small crowds gather along the banks of the Angara River outside the White House to demand that he send Zhanna to Omsk.” His voice seemed saturated with pride.

“The leading local newspaper has printed several articles about Zhanna,” Timofey added. “At first they mocked her, but now the editors seem to enjoy pitting Zhanna and her flock against the governor and his inner circle of stiff-necked Cossacks and factory owners. Indeed, the paper has made her into a sort of local celebrity.”

Kostrov gave a hearty laugh while the girl smiled demurely and peeled away to the dining room to put the finishing touches on a floral centerpiece.

“Of course, it helps Zhanna’s cause that the newspaper is run by the provincial council, of which I am a member. And, frankly, I might not have wielded my influence, but for the advice of your journalist friend, Mr. McCloud, who called on me last week at the suggestion of Staff Captain Ivashov while passing through on his way to Vladivostok. Mr. McCloud opened my eyes on a variety of matters. Tell me, Captain du Pont, have you heard from Mr. McCloud since he left for Paris?”

“No,” Ned replied with a frown that betrayed his irritation at McCloud’s apparent meddling. Turning to Ivashov, he added pointedly. “Igor Ivanovich, I didn’t realize you knew Mark.”

“I suppose I could say the same to you,” Ivashov replied with a twisted smile. “Mr. McCloud never mentioned your name and I thought it indiscreet to raise it, considering that he is a journalist and prone to talking.”

Before Ned could respond, a servant opened the door from the front hall and announced the arrival of Boris Viktorovich Borisov, the young rider who had been speaking to Kostrov on the street. Borisov, who looked about twenty-one or twenty-two years old, stood half a head taller than Ned and cut a handsome figure in his English-cut tweed suit. His face was pleasing, with a broad forehead, strong jaw, ruddy cheeks and a thick head of flaxen hair. Borisov flashed a boyish smile, first at Zhanna, who had rejoined the group, then at the others. But from Zhanna’s expression, she seemed to regard Borisov more as a slow-witted sibling than as a suitor. Ned let out a deep breath. Indeed, on reflection, there was something simple and open about the youth that one couldn’t help but like.

“I apologize for being late,” Boris offered breathlessly, as if he had ridden hard all the way to the banker’s house. “It was so kind of you to invite me, after all that has occurred between our families…”

“Never mind that,” Kostrov offered in a gracious spirit. “Now that you are here, let’s break out the vodka and sit down to eat.”

Kostrov took his place at the head of the table, which was as elegantly laid as any in New York or Philadelphia. Crowning each place setting of bone china was a starched napkin folded into a neat pyramid, with solid silver flatware, and cut-crystal wine and vodka glasses flanking each dinner plate. Father Timofey then stood to his host’s left, while Zhanna moved to the table’s far end, facing her uncle. Ivashov promptly stepped forward to take the place between Timofey and Zhanna. But when Ned moved opposite Ivashov, putting Zhanna to his immediate right, the girl thrust out her hand to bar his way.

“Please, captain, my uncle prefers that you sit beside him in the place of honor,” she announced with an inscrutable expression, turning away quickly to beckon Boris to her side.

“Yes, please do come, Captain du Pont!” Kostrov urged from the head of the table. “It is my duty as host to keep your vodka glass filled!”

And so Ned moved aside, concealing his disappointment with a bland smile while Boris stepped between him and Zhanna.

Once the group was seated and the banker had offered a short prayer, he wasted no time in seizing the carafe of vodka set before him, pouring a glass for himself and Ned, but not Father Timofey, and then passing the carafe down the table. Zhanna filled glasses for Ivashov and Borisov, but none for herself. When she finished, Ned cast a smile at her that she either failed to notice or declined to return. The night was still young; he let it go, hoping to catch a few private moments with her later.

To Ned’s surprise, and despite Kostrov’s promise of a feast, the quantity and variety of food laid out before them was decidedly less impressive than at the Dorokhins’ table three months earlier. For while Kostrov’s kitchen served up platters of lake fish, ham, home-made dumplings and zakuski , absent were dishes commonplace in many rural households, such as butter, eggs, fruit preserves and pickled mushrooms. Moreover, items sourced from afar, like coffee, caviar, tinned salmon roe, and Georgian wine, were nowhere in evidence.

After raising a heartfelt toast to the health of his guests, Kostrov lifted his glass and drank. And when Ned and Ivashov followed suit, the banker appeared to savor the warm glow and sense of bonhomie that this implied. A few moments of silence ensued while the guests piled their plates with food before the host took up again the thread of conversation that Borisov’s arrival had interrupted.

“So, tell me, Captain du Pont,” Kostrov began while carving thick slices from the smoked ham set before him, “What do you think of our friend Mr. McCloud’s plans to attend the Paris Peace Conference? Do you think the conference will make any contribution toward peace here in Russia?”

“I doubt it,” Ned evaded between mouthfuls of ham. “The conferees seem all but paralyzed by a fear that Bolshevism will infect the defeated Central Powers next. Lenin has predicted a proletarian revolution in Western Europe, and some Allied leaders fear it may already be underway.”

Across the table, Father Timofey and Ivashov exchanged troubled looks. Without a doubt, they had read of the recent German sailors’ revolt in Kiel, the workers’ strikes in northern Germany and the failed Spartacist Uprising[22] in Berlin that had ended in the deaths of its

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celebrated leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

“But certainly, all that is no excuse for the Paris Conference to neglect Russia entirely! So tell me this: why is no one from Russia represented at Versailles?” Kostrov asked in a petulant voice.

“I believe it is because the Allies couldn’t justify inviting only the Whites while the Bolsheviks control the heart of Russia and a majority of her population,” Ned replied, in an effort to strike a balance. “And, surely, you would not have wanted them to invite the Bolsheviks…”

“Certainly not,” the banker gasped, laying down his utensils. “But why in heaven’s name did your President Wilson instead invite both sides to a hastily improvised conference on Prinkipo Island? Was this not also a recognition of the Bolshevik gang?”

“Some say he intended to draw Lenin into peace talks to keep him from stirring trouble in Germany,” Ned suggested, following the reasoning McCloud had put forward in his dispatches.

“But don’t you see?” Kostrov insisted. “Inviting the Bolsheviks to Prinkipo says something entirely different to us: ‘Of course, we virtuous Americans could not possibly sit at the same table with Lenin at Versailles, but it is quite all right for you Russians to sit with him at Prinkipo.’ Imagine inviting a householder to a conference with thieves who have broken into his home, stolen his belongings, and assaulted his family. It is as if the Good Samaritan had picked us up off the street, only to strike us in the face!”

“Enough, Kirill Matveyich,” Father Timofey interjected, laying a hand on his host’s shoulder. “There is to be no conference at Prinkipo, after all. The Bolsheviks have refused it outright. And the Americans are still our friends, come what may. Suffice it to say, diplomacy does not always follow the norms of civilized society, despite what the diplomats would have us think.”

No sooner had Father Timofey finished than Zhanna broke the silence at her end of the table.

“Staff Captain Ivashov, won’t you tell us the latest news from the front?” she began with a sweet smile while gently laying down her fork. “I understand you have been to Perm recently.”

“I have indeed, but I have spoken of it to no one since leaving Omsk,” he replied with a puzzled look. “How did you know?”

“From my Voices,” she answered, ignoring the circumspect glances between her uncle and Father Timofey. For though everyone at the table already knew of Zhanna’s voices, it did not make them any easier to accept.

“And what else did they tell you of my visit to Perm?” the staff captain pressed.

“That General Gaida has held the city against a Red counterattack, but the Stavka has forbidden him from advancing any further until the planned spring offensive.”

Ivashov nodded while pausing to refill his glass with vodka. His face turned gray and took on a solemn expression.

“Your voices are quite well-informed,” he replied softly. “But, regardless of how you have acquired this information, kindly see to it that it does not leave this table. General Gaida’s offensive plans, whether true or not, are not something to be bandied about.”

“Indeed,” Ned muttered under his breath. Voices or no, the accuracy of Zhanna’s information was astounding. That very afternoon, he had seen an intercepted Red cable warning the Second Red Army to withdraw should Gaida launch new attacks from Perm.

“And what is the news from Ufa, to the south?” Zhanna went on without acknowledging Ivashov’s rebuke. “With the Red Army having taken that city and the rail line leading east, how does the Stavka propose to stop the enemy from pouring into Siberia the moment the snows have melted in the Ural mountain passes?”

“The answer is simple,” Ivashov replied with a steely glint in his gray eyes. “We plan to attack before they do. The Red Army is badly organized, poorly equipped and led, and ill-prepared to counter our thrusts. Famine, cold, and disease have ravaged troop morale. Our forces will advance across all three sectors of the Urals front and will be greeted promptly with popular uprisings, causing the Red edifice to crumble from within.”

Ivashov was careful here to protect himself by parroting official Stavka doctrine, though he obviously didn’t believe it. He was whistling past the graveyard, and the other men around the table looked down at their plates as if they knew. As for Zhanna, she was having none of it.

“I’m told the Stavka’s plan is to send all available troops to the front to prepare for an early offensive,” she declared with furrowed brow. “But doesn’t that risk committing the newly formed divisions before they’re ready?”

Zhanna’s remark was reasonable and well informed, but quite unexpected from a provincial girl of eighteen. The men looked at her with mouths agape.

“The general mobilization in Siberia has brought in about two hundred thousand recruits. Our Chief of Staff holds the opinion that overwhelming force applied in the right places will be sufficient to carry the day,” Ivashov answered, again without much conviction.

“In theory, perhaps,” the girl countered. “But I’m told that the British have warned your Chief of Staff to call up only as many men as can be armed and trained by March, since the British training centers can train a new class only every two months. Would you dispute that?”

Ivashov’s face reddened, and not, it seemed, from the modest quantity of vodka he had consumed. “I think your voices reveal too much,” he answered, lowering his voice and leaning across the table toward Zhanna. “Wherever you are getting such information, I ask again: please take care not to repeat it.”

Ivashov’s second warning to Zhanna seemed to stir the girl’s uncle to defend her, but Zhanna cut him off.

“But I am  careful, which is precisely why I must reach Admiral Kolchak to present what I have been told,” Zhanna replied without blinking. “The Admiral may not understand that Trotsky has rapidly reformed the Red Army, adding to its ranks thousands of former Imperial Army officers and sub officers. The new Red Army is not like last summer’s Red Guards. When Trotsky mounts his counteroffensive this summer, if the Siberian Army fails to hold reserves at the Urals, disaster will surely follow.”

Ivashov picked up his napkin and slowly dabbed at his mouth, as if buying time to craft his response. It seemed impossible to Ned for a schoolgirl like Zhanna to possess such up-to-date information about the Siberian and Red Armies and, even more, to grasp its significance. And yet, here she was, commenting like some seasoned veteran, radiating military sagacity. What a pity her Voices hadn’t spoken directly to Kolchak or his Chief of Staff.

“I cannot dispute what you say, Zhanna,” Ivashov replied, stiffening visibly. “And I share your concerns that our spring offensive, even in combination with White forces in South Russia, might not sustain a drive to the Volga. But what alternative do you—or your saintly Voices—have to offer us?”

An uneasy look in Ivashov’s eyes seemed to suggest that he wasn’t sure whether to argue with the girl or chide himself for taking her seriously.

Far from appearing slighted at Ivashov’s challenge, Zhanna brightened. Rising from her place, she stepped to the sideboard, withdrew paper and pencil from one of its drawers, and sketched a crude map showing both armies’ order of battle along the Urals front. She handed the map to Ivashov, whose eyes widened upon taking it in.

“Your current plans call for Gaida’s Northern Army to advance from Perm to Glazov in the direction of Moscow,” she declared, “while Khanzin’s Western Army moves along Gaida’s southern flank to recapture Ufa and advance on Samara, severing the Red Army’s supply lines along the Volga. These plans require an early strategic breakthrough along the Yekaterinburg-Ufa-Samara axis before joining Denikin’s forces for a two-pronged drive north to Moscow. Am I correct?”

The accuracy and conciseness of Zhanna’s summary was astounding. Ned could not have stated it better, and he was a West Point graduate. It was clear from Ivashov’s strained expression that he was equally taken aback.

“According to present thinking, yes,” the Russian conceded.

“Now, then,” Zhanna continued, “I submit to you that, while the war could be lost in the center, at Ufa, or less likely, at Perm in the north, it must be won  in the South, by way of Orenburg and Uralsk[23]. Your Stavka has put too much of its strength in the north. If the Admiral were to attack instead from Uralsk toward the Lower Volga and link up with Denikin’s forces at Tsaritsyn[24], he might then wield sufficient strength to strike the Red Army’s right flank and cut off the enemy’s main advance toward Ufa.”

Ned caught Ivashov’s eye and saw that the staff officer did not fault Zhanna’s analysis. On some instinctive level, both he and Ivashov were adjusting to Zhanna’s transformation from a demure teenager to a determined young woman with an intuitive—-or divinely inspired—grasp of strategy. Accordingly, Ned now focused his attention on her facts and logic and set about preparing a rebuttal. But to his surprise, it was Zhanna’s childhood friend Borisov who spoke first to challenge her.

“Zhanna, you are just a schoolgirl from Verkhne-Udinsk,” the miller’s son interrupted in a mocking voice. “How can you prattle on about military matters of which you know nothing? Do you really believe that you understand better than Admiral Kolchak or his staff how to defeat the Red Army? That is, if the Red Army can be stopped at all. To my mind, the Bolsheviks will surely reclaim Siberia by summer’s end, and the less we take sides with Omsk, the safer we shall be.”

Zhanna pulled herself up in her chair and stiffened with indignation.

“Boris Viktorovich, though you are my friend, it pains me that you sound just like your father, a defeatist who contributes funds to the White Army while secretly holding counsel with Bolshevik agitators in hopes of hanging on to his property. Take care that you do not fall into his ways!”

Young Borisov’s outburst also appeared to offend Ivashov, as well. The officer had consumed an ample quantity of vodka and had not yet fully calmed down from his earlier exchange with Zhanna. Pointedly ignoring the young man’s comment, Ivashov addressed his host instead.

“How is it, Kirill Matveyevich, that your young guest, being of conscription age, has avoided military service?”

Kostrov answered with heavily lidded eyes and a tongue thickened by drink.

“Our young friend, or shall we say, his father, has procured a doctor’s certificate attesting to Boris’s unfitness for armed service,” Kostrov answered, as if Boris were not at the table. “I do not blame Boris Viktorovich, for his father rules the family with an iron fist. Indeed, it is probably for the best to exempt him, for though the boy is honest and enterprising, in my view he is not the sort cut out for war.”

At the end of the table, Borisov bit his lower lip and his cheeks reddened.

“In truth, very few of us are so cut out,” Ivashov went on with frosty voice, likewise avoiding the boy’s gaze. “Bravery is bred of training and strengthened by testing on the battlefield. Still, all of us must take our places, regardless of strength or aptitude.”

“I see that neither of you challenges my estimate of Admiral Kolchak’s defeat,” Borisov answered, his face now bright crimson, “Instead you imply that I am a coward. Well, let it be. I would almost rather be called a coward than a hero. In my life, I have found that people injured me most when I tried to be brave.”

The boy folded his napkin and laid it on the table as if preparing to leave. His words must have softened Zhanna’s heart, for she laid her hand on his forearm as if to hold him there.

“Sometimes bravery means being the only one who knows he is afraid,” she told him with a consoling look. “When your time comes, I know you will take your place on the battlefield and hold your head high.”

Borisov forced a cheerless smile at Zhanna’s remarks but remained seated. Kostrov, apparently realizing his indiscretion, winced and then busied himself pouring a fresh round of vodka for each man but Father Timofey.

The latter, whose gaze was fixed on Zhanna, steered the conversation back to her predictions.

“The Lord has surely bestowed upon you the gift of second sight, my dear,” Timofey told her. “But you have never fought in a war, nor have you studied at a military academy like our two young officers. So please forgive my impertinence in asking: how do you propose to convince Governor-General Volkov to grant you an introduction to Admiral Kolchak, or for the Admiral to hear you out, should you gain either man’s ear?”

It was a reasonable question and one for which Ned could not conceive an answer. Accordingly, he was unprepared for Zhanna’s fierce self-mastery and the strange fire in her eyes when she responded.

“Both you and Boris Viktorovich are right: I am indeed an ignorant schoolgirl who is unfit to speak to great men. Yet my Voices order me to Omsk and I have no choice but to obey. Throughout this winter, my Voices have warned me of setbacks, but they have also urged me to strengthen my resolve.”

She raised her head and stiffened her spine, appearing to bristle at Timofey’s lack of confidence in her.

“A few months from now, by God’s grace,” she went on, “Siberian victories will signal the beginning of the end for the Red Army. By year-end, our forces will dash Lenin’s hopes of bringing all of Russia within his grasp, and deliver it instead to the democratically elected leader of a new Russian republic.

“That leader will be Admiral Kolchak,” she declared. “Not the man we know today as a cruel dictator, but a wiser man whose eyes God will open to the glorious potential of a self-governing Russia. The Admiral will require God’s help. My Voices tell me that I am the one to provide that help.”

“But Zhanna, my angel,” her uncle interrupted, running his hands along his temples in apparent frustration. “Though I don’t doubt that God guides your every step, the fact remains that Governor Volkov has turned us away three times and shows no signs of relenting.”

Watching Kostrov’s heartfelt confession, Ned could not help but sympathize with him. Kostrov had clearly formed a strong attachment to his niece and didn’t want to disappoint her. But he had already gone far out on a limb with the governor-general. And Zhanna had also risked much since Ned had last seen her, estranging her father, tarnishing her reputation, stirring controversy, and provoking the very governor whose aid she required.

“Never mind, uncle,” Zhanna replied in a calm voice, pushing her half-filled plate away from her and rising from the table. “I will make another attempt tomorrow, and this time I expect Governor Volkov to grant my request. Now, sleep well, dear gentlemen, for tomorrow will be a busy day for all.”

Zhanna’s path to the outer parlor took her past Ned and, though she did not return his gaze in passing, he couldn’t resist inhaling deeply as she strode out of the room. In that moment, he detected the same scent of lilacs as in November and it reignited the attraction he had felt to her then. Zhanna still fascinated him, and he delighted in being around her, but not in the same way as before. She was off-limits, and that was that. Having found Yulia made such restraint far easier than before.

As Ned looked around the table, however, the other men seemed to have taken a very different attitude toward Zhanna. All seemed aghast at her intention to approach the governor yet again, except for Father Timofey.

“The Lord has blessed you with a hero for a niece, Kirill Matveyich,” the cleric addressed his host, who beamed at the praise. “A real Russian eagle! How she arouses faith in her followers! If God speaks to Zhanna, as I believe He does, I urge you not to give up on her.”

“I, too, admire Zhanna’s spirit,” Ned added. “If I can be of any help to you and your niece in the next few days, Kirill Matveyevich, please call on me at the American consulate.”

Though he knew he wielded no influence at all with the governor, Ned was keen to learn how the episode would play out. If by some miracle Zhanna succeeded in reaching Omsk, perhaps he could at least look out for her safety. After all, any such visit would necessarily be brief—a perfunctory meeting with Kolchak or one of his ministers, and then a prompt return to her father’s house at Verkhne-Udinsk.

The men went on to finish their meal and retire to the parlor for tea and brandy. Fortunately, Kostrov’s Armenian brandy and an apology to young Borisov helped to take the hard edge off the words they had exchanged earlier. And Borisov responded in kind by softening his pessimism toward the war.

After leaving the house and boarding the sleigh back to the girls’ school dormitory, Ivashov disclosed to Ned with a sly smile that he counted Governor Volkov a personal friend, since his late father and Volkov had been schoolmates. Until now, Ivashov had disclosed the relationship to no one, so as not to place himself under obligation. But now he asked if Ned might like to join him at the governor’s office the next day when Zhanna sought her audience.

“Really? You could arrange it?” Ned asked as he pulled his fur hat down over his ears to ward off frostbite.

“Consider it done,” Ivashov answered before burrowing deeply under their shared pile of furs.

“But you seemed so opposed to Zhanna’s scheme during dinner. Is your intention to advance her cause or thwart it?” Ned asked, puzzled over the officer’s decision to intervene.

“To aid it, of course,” Ivashov answered with a raised eyebrow, as if surprised by the question. “Not that we are likely to sway the old man, I’m afraid. But I would very much like to see the expression on Governor Volkov’s face when Zhanna delivers her critique of the Stavka’s strategy. It’s not something I would dare say myself, of course, but it’s accurate, and it’s a message the Supreme Ruler would be well served to hear. So I will help her as much as I can.”

“What do you think will happen?” Ned persisted, taking Zhanna’s chances of success seriously for the first time. “Does she stand the slightest hope of gaining her introduction?”

“To be frank, I doubt it,” the Russian replied. “Even if he wanted to help her, Volkov must tread a fine line between serving Omsk and avoiding offense to the locals. So if the girl is capable of miracles, she had better conjure up one by tomorrow or she may never see the inside of Volkov’s office, let alone Kolchak’s.”


18 A horse-drawn carriage or sleigh built on a long longitudinal frame designed to soften the impact of bumps on rough Russian roads.

19 Old woman or grandmother.

20 Vasily “Yermak” Timofeyevich Alenin was a Cossack leader who initiated the Russian conquest of Siberia from the Mongols during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. However, the prophecy attributed to Yermak here is fictional.

21 A freshwater lake (the largest in Europe) located just outside the city of St. Petersburg.

22 After Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany abdicated in November 1918 and the German chancellor resigned, a post-war revolution broke out in many German cities. The Spartacist uprising consisted of a general strike and several days of street battles in early January, 1919, between the moderate Social Democratic Party and the German Communist Party of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The uprising was defeated when right-wing paramilitary organizations comprised of well-armed former soldiers entered the battle to support the Social Democrats.

23 Renamed “Orál” in 1991.

24 Renamed “Stalingrad” in 1925 and renamed again in 1961 to “Volgograd.”

Chapter 7: The Governor-General

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“Optimism is true moral courage.”

—Sir Ernest Shackleton

Musical Theme: Lieutenant Kijé, Symphonic Suite, Op. 60, II. Romance , by Sergei Prokofiev


The next morning, Ned and Ivashov rose early to make their way across town to the White House, the Transbaikalian seat of government.

“Is she here yet?” Ivashov asked Governor-General Volkov’s assistant, in a breathless voice, after racing up the marble staircase to the reception room with Ned close behind. The assistant, a lanky flaxen-haired sublieutenant, appeared to know Ivashov well and greeted him warmly before giving Ned’s hand a limp shake.

“We have her waiting in another room so as not to be seen,” the assistant replied in a conspiratorial whisper. “Another article about her appeared in the press two days ago, and we have received sacks of letters recommending her from all across the province. She came alone this morning and I didn’t have the heart to turn her away.”

“Does the governor know she is here?” Ivashov ventured.

“Not yet,” the sublieutenant answered with a sheepish grin. “I plan to tell him when I go in shortly to deliver some good news, the better to soften the blow.”

“What good news might that be?” Ivashov inquired.

“The electricity is back on today. And the water is running again in the pipes. Neither has worked properly since the Dorokhin girl was here last week. Our best experts were unable to fix either problem, but suddenly, a few minutes ago, presto!”

“Well, at least you don’t have to worry that it was Bolshevik sabotage,” Ned quipped.

“I hesitate even to say it aloud, but I swear to you, Igor Ivanovich, from the very moment that Zhanna Stepanovna set foot in the building today, our water and electricity began to flow,” the assistant continued with a shrill laugh and an anxious glance to either side. “It’s positively uncanny!”

“Then you will recommend that the governor grant her an audience?” Ivashov asked with a hopeful look.

“I will insist upon it. She is only a schoolgirl, but it seems that nothing I say can make her stay away. And I’d hate to see the electricity go out again…”

A bewildered look spread across the assistant’s face, as if he believed Zhanna could really make it happen.

“You aren’t afraid of her, are you?” Ivashov asked with a derisive smile. “I mean, after all the talk about Yermak and the maid from Baikal…”

“No, I am far more afraid of Governor Volkov,” the assistant answered earnestly. “But she is so fearless that it—well, she lends me courage!”

No sooner had the words left his mouth than Governor-General Vyacheslav Ivanovich Volkov entered the reception room from his private office. Upon recognizing Staff Captain Ivashov, he kissed the younger officer on both cheeks and held him by the elbows for closer inspection. The older man looked like a prosperous merchant or banker in his gray formal frock coat and winged-collar shirt, though his close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and trimmed beard offered a hint of his military background.

“It was good of you to come and see me,” Volkov told Ivashov in a raspy voice after releasing him from his grip and welcoming Ned to Irkutsk. “Your name came across my desk yesterday and I had a mind to send for you.”

The man’s flinty eyes and humorless smile reminded Ned that Volkov had been a key figure behind the Kolchak coup and later had directed the ruthless purge of liberals from the Omsk government. After being tried and acquitted of abuses against former S-R legislators, Volkov’s reward had been his posting to Irkutsk, where he continued to quell political opposition with a vengeance. But the governor’s repression was child’s play compared with that of the Bolsheviks, Ned reminded himself. And America was now Volkov’s ally.

“I hope your reason for seeing me is something favorable,” Ivashov told the governor, his smile fading. “Would it be about…?”

“It’s about the Dorokhin girl,” Volkov answered with a scowl. “Reports have reached me that you know her and have visited her uncle. So perhaps you can tell me what lies behind her dogged efforts to see me. Her family seems sound enough, but I’ve been given to understand that she has fallen under the influence of a demented priest with S-R leanings and a penchant for Mesmerism. You see, staff captain, in these troubled times, religious fervor can quickly spill over into politics. And unless I can somehow harness such fervor to my own purposes, I prefer to stay away from it.”

Ivashov appeared to breathe a sigh of relief before responding. And Ned almost laughed at the description of Father Timofey as a demented Mesmerist.

“I can assure you, governor, that Zhanna’s request is little more than the idealistic fancy of a headstrong girl, inspired by her favorite saints,” Ivashov began, in a complete departure from the views he had expressed to Ned the night before. “I’m told that her father and brothers, who are unquestionably loyal to Admiral Kolchak, are quite exasperated that she has made a nuisance of herself, but they cannot control her.”

“More of a spectacle than a nuisance, I would say,” Volkov corrected. “And I can’t help but think that the whole affair might have been avoided had her father given his unruly daughter a good slapping when it started.”

Ned winced at the cruel remark but let it pass.

“Once you speak to her, Governor Volkov, I’m sure she will see the light of reason and abandon Irkutsk for the peace and quiet of her father’s estate at Verkhne-Udinsk.”

All at once Ned understood why Ivashov had dismissed Zhanna to Volkov as a fanciful schoolgirl. As an avowed skeptic, perhaps he might more easily cajole the governor into meeting her head-on so she could have her chance with him.

“Do I have your word on that?” Volkov shot back.

Ivashov swallowed hard. Though he remained silent, beads of sweat began to form on his upper lip.

“Oh, never mind,” Volkov went on at last, making a sour face as he turned to his assistant. “Sublieutenant, show the girl into my office.”

Upon following Ivashov and Volkov into the latter’s immense office a few moments later, Ned found Zhanna already seated in a straight-backed chair facing Volkov’s ornately inlaid oak desk. Ned and Ivashov took seats beside her. Sunlight streamed through tall French windows that occupied nearly the entire wall behind the governor.

The moment Volkov took his place behind the desk, Zhanna rose and introduced herself in a loud, clear voice. Despite the official’s prior refusals to see her, she wore a relaxed expression and did not tremble, fidget, or show any sign of nervous tension.

“Your Excellency, I have come on a matter of grave importance,” she began.

“And what matter might be so important as to make you so relentless in pursuing me?” Volkov demanded, lowering his head so that his eyes nearly rolled up in their sockets to gaze at her.

“I request from you a letter of introduction to Admiral Kolchak and an escort to his headquarters at Omsk,” Zhanna replied. “This is on orders from my Lord.”

Volkov let out a hearty laugh and cast a sidelong glance at Ned and Ivashov, who kept their eyes on Zhanna.

“By God, what a lovely creature,” Ned heard him say under his breath. Then to Zhanna, in his usual commanding voice, Volkov asked, “And who might this Lord of yours be?”

“My Lord is the King of Heaven,” she replied.

“Not something one hears so often these days, except perhaps from the Old Believers,” the governor observed in another aside before addressing Zhanna again. “Young woman, would you care to explain what you meant when you told my assistant that Saint Yekaterina and Saint Marina talk to you almost every day?”

“I meant that I hear their Voices. They have been sent by God and they sometimes guide me in what I do.”

“I think it more likely that they come from your imagination,” the governor responded, though not unkindly.

“Perhaps they do, Your Excellency. But isn’t that how God’s messages often come to us?”

The governor cast a skeptical look at Ivashov. This time the staff captain met his gaze without flinching.

“And you inform me that this a merely a headstrong girl and not a raving lunatic?” Volkov demanded.

Ivashov gave a bland shrug as if he were as surprised as the governor at the girl’s forwardness.

“They all say I am mad,” Zhanna broke in before Ivashov could answer. “Until they come around to consider my cause. See here, governor, you have refused to see me three times and yet—here I am!”

“Do not provoke me, young woman,” Volkov replied in a stern voice. “Now, tell me, what message might a schoolgirl from Verkhne-Udinsk bring to a busy head of state that could possibly interest him?”

“I have urgent information for Admiral Kolchak on the direction of the war, to be delivered in person. That is why I seek an escort to Omsk.”

“All right then, let me pose the question differently,” Volkov continued, folding his hands and laying them on the edge of his desk. “What vital military advice might a pretty young girl like you offer the Admiral that his staff and field commanders could not provide him just as well?”


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g God’s armies are many experienced commanders who have studied Russia’s situation,” the girl answered in a steady voice. “These commanders offer, through me, whatever advice Admiral Kolchak may need. But their advice is for the Admiral’s ears only. Today, I can tell you this much: one of your leading generals plotted to depose the Supreme Ruler not more than three days ago. General Pepelyaev talked him out of it before he could act. Believe me, Governor Volkov, I can advise the Admiral about such dangers and more, but only if you send me to him without delay.”

The room fell silent and Ned’s breath caught in his throat. Ivashov’s face turned ashen. The accusation of mutiny was so shocking that Ned expected Volkov to order Zhanna removed. But the governor-general said nothing, and Ned began to wonder if there might be some truth to her claim.

“All I ask is your introduction and a trustworthy escort, Your Excellency,” Zhanna went on. “Only later will I request such forces as may be necessary to capture the city of Samara.”

“To take Samara, you say?” Volkov exclaimed, his voice rising and his hands grasping the arms of his chair. “Now you’ve done it! The Bolsheviks have held that city and the entire length of the Volga River since October. Not even the most optimistic morons in the Stavka pretend they could take it back.”

“Still, Samara shall be taken,” Zhanna answered with a determined look, her hands clasped demurely in her lap. “And I intend to celebrate the victory in person!”

“Is that so?” the governor asked. “And how do you plan to dislodge the Red garrison there? We do not have nearly enough men or heavy weapons to accomplish it.”

“I could do it with a single regiment, so long as God is at my side,” she replied.

The governor-general let out a deep breath and turned away in disgust. Ivashov winced and Ned sensed that Zhanna might have lost any chance she had of winning her case.

“You do not understand, sir,” Zhanna continued, her eyes showing vulnerability for the first time. “Our soldiers are often beaten because they fight only to save their precious skins, and the shortest way to do that is to flee. Our officers think only of making money by selling off the supplies they receive from the Allies. What I will show them is how to fight in harmony with God’s will. Then they will drive the poor Bolsheviks before them like goats until not a single Red soldier remains on the battlefield! And then our people will be free to rule themselves, with neither nobles nor commissars nor secret police to oppress them.”

“High-sounding words,” Volkov answered with a look as if he had just bit into an onion, “but impossibly naïve.”

“Perhaps so, governor,” Ivashov interjected with a gleam in his eye. “But Zhanna has shown a remarkable ability to attract followers. If she can inspire our troops at the front half as well she inspires her army of supporters in Transbaikalia, it could do wonders for morale. And that would be more than the Stavka has managed to do all winter.”

“I will do more than put fight back into our soldiers,” Zhanna declared, taking a step forward. “I will show the officers how to lead them so they will deserve victory! And I will join them this summer in Samara, where a new national assembly will meet to elect our Admiral Kolchak as rightful head of state!”

The governor-general, though somewhat sympathetic to Zhanna’s display of passion, gave her a doubtful look.

“And if the Admiral becomes rightful ruler only after taking Samara, what would that make him now?”

“He is Supreme Ruler, is he not? He has proclaimed it so himself,” she answered with a disarming grin.

At this, Ned and Ivashov, and even the stolid Kostrov, could not help laughing. For there was indeed something ridiculous about how Kolchak had promoted himself from vice admiral to full admiral and then, in a colossal leap, to Supreme Ruler of Russia, simply because he could.

“Very well, then, Miss,” Volkov answered stiffly. “That will be quite enough. You may go home now. And kindly take with you your followers who are encamped at my door. I will send word of my decision to your uncle in due time.”

“Oh, Governor, thank you! Look, your head is surrounded by a golden light, just like a saint’s!”

Volkov, appearing uncomfortable that all eyes in the room focused upon him, wheeled around as if to see whatever the others saw.

“Dismissed!” he declared loudly and summoned the flaxen-haired sublieutenant from the anteroom to escort Zhanna out of the building.

Once outside, Zhanna was met by a loud murmur from the throng of fifty or sixty Russian peasants, mostly women, who jostled each other by the White House gates in an effort to get a better look at the girl they called the Maid of Baikal. Though Ivashov did his best to clear a path through the crowd to his waiting sleigh, Zhanna paid no notice, lingering instead to press the mittened hands that reached out to her and to answer the people’s questions.

“When do you leave for Omsk?” one stout woman of middle age called out to her.

“As soon as the governor-general agrees to send me,” Zhanna answered with a musical laugh.

“And when will you lead your army to the front?” another asked with awestruck eyes.

“As soon as the Supreme Ruler gives me leave,” the girl shouted out so that all could hear. “But first I must deliver my message at Omsk.”

“And are you not afraid of the path ahead?” asked a stout old woman in a sheepskin coat. “Omsk is a den of thieves, and Kolchak a hard and cruel man. And at the front…”

But Zhanna waved off her warning.

“They say a person who fears wolves should stay out of the forest,” she replied in a loud voice, looking from face to face among those gathered around her. “Such fear comes naturally to me, as I am only a girl. But now that God has sent me into the forest to do His work, He also gives me the strength to bear it, however long it may take. For everyone knows that the further one goes in the woods, the more firewood one finds!”

Then, without another word, Zhanna embraced the old woman and set off behind Ivashov to the waiting sleigh. All eyes followed her as she went. The girl was a powerful concentration of purposeful energy, and as skilled a campaigner as any politician Ned had seen.

* * *

The following morning, Ned set out for Irkutsk’s rail yards where, with help from a local railroad employee, he soon found what he was seeking. It was a string of passenger cars on a restricted siding guarded by a squad of American troops. When Ned showed the guards his American military identification and Railway Service Corps pass, they let him board. In a far corner of the parlor car, he found Colonel Barrows seated at a cluttered desk, poring over a stack of papers with his unlit pipe and tobacco pouch at his elbow.

Barrows rose to greet Ned, offering him a seat in an overstuffed chair a few steps away.

“I’m so pleased you were able to come out and see me on short notice,” the colonel began, extending his hand. “How are you getting along with our friends in Omsk?”

“As well as could be expected, given their utter disarray,” Ned replied. “One of my workmates in the Railway Service, a Russian major, is in the habit of taking the rest of the day off the moment he accomplishes one significant task. He claims that the odds against accomplishing a second are so vast that it’s pointless to try. Some days I am sorely tempted to follow his example. And you, colonel? How was your tour of the front?”

“I made it no further than Yekaterinburg,” Barrows replied with a note of discouragement. He reached for his unlit pipe and struck a match. “I get the distinct impression that neither General Gaida nor General Khanzin wants me any closer, lest I see the true state of affairs along the frontier.”

“By any chance, did you pick up a hint of discontent or insubordination among Kolchak’s generals?” Ned inquired. “I am thinking of General Gaida, in particular.”

“Odd that you should ask,” Barrows replied, taking a puff from his pipe. “General Pepelyaev made an unexpected appearance in Yekaterinburg just before I left. Some say that he came with instructions to relieve Gaida of his command, but I saw them together the next morning and they seemed to have patched up their differences. Say what you will about Gaida being young and reckless, he’s one of the only generals Kolchak has who has shown he can beat the Reds. We can’t afford to lose the rascal.”

Though the information was far from conclusive, Ned found it remarkable that Pepelyayev had visited the Siberians’ most impetuous general under circumstances remarkably similar to those that Zhanna had described to Governor Volkov. How could she have known? He decided to attempt another shot in the dark.

“Might it also be true that the British have been recruiting senior Russian officers in exile in hopes of replacing the Chief of Staff and his crew of bunglers at the Stavka?”

Barrows laughed and set down his pipe.

“I see that word travels fast,” he replied. “I’m told General Knox has approached a few capable men, like General Boldyrev and Baron Budberg, who have been waiting in China and Japan for just such an opening. But despite pressure from the British, Kolchak just won’t pull the trigger on Lebedev.”

“It’s a pity,” Ned remarked. “Last week I met a Russian officer who used to work at the Stavka. He overheard Kolchak say once that Lebedev was the only subordinate he trusted not to stab him in the back. Colonel Ward says the Stavka is manned by midgets and there’s not one of them he’d trust to manage a whelk-stall.”

“Therein lies the rub,” Barrows continued, relighting his pipe. “The Allies, and that includes Washington, are growing impatient with the Admiral. They think he is stubborn, erratic, and too poor a manager to lead the war effort properly. More than that, he won’t take suggestions and is evasive about making and keeping commitments, both to us and to his counterparts in South Russia and the Baltic.”

“You can say that again,” Ned agreed.

“Which is why it’s so urgent that we establish wireless communications between Omsk and the Allied missions in Vladivostok and Novo-Rossiysk. Long-range wireless may be our last best hope of reining Kolchak in and creating a unified White Russian command under Allied tutelage.”

“I’m ready to do my part,” Ned answered, throwing up his hands. “If only they’d deliver us the damned equipment.”

“It’s due to arrive in Irkutsk any day now. And as this is a joint operation with the British, General Knox has personally endorsed your appointment as wireless director in Omsk. Communications support, including intelligence intercepts and code breaking, will be your primary mission from now on.”

Barrows leaned back in his chair and awaited Ned’s reaction.

“Primary. Is that understood, captain?”

“Completely,” Ned answered without hesitation. “But what I am to do if the Chief of Staff or his people try to interfere?” Ned asked.

“Leave that to Colonel Ward and manage as best you can,” Barrows replied. “A greater concern, at the moment, is with Washington. You see, the War Department has ordered us to render maximum intelligence assistance to Omsk, but at the same time, our own General Graves, in consultation with certain White House advisors, seems intent on minimizing American support to the Whites in every possible way.”

Ned shot Barrows an alarmed glance. He hadn’t realized that Graves detested the Kolchak regime quite that badly.

“Fortunately for us, since the wireless operation is considered a state secret, the War Department has decided not to inform General Graves about it. But even if Graves were to learn of it, the very same secrecy would make it awkward for him to complain. In any event, your task will be to maintain strict confidentiality around the wireless network and impress the same attitude upon the wireless operators and code breakers who report to you.”

“But how am I to manage these men without revealing to anyone who they are and what they are working on?” Ned asked. “After all, we will be entirely dependent on the Russians and British for our working and living arrangements.”

“That’s why they’ve been appointed to the Railway Service Corps, as you are. I understand you’ve already arranged for their accommodations. Don’t hesitate to draw on the funds I’ve set aside for you at the Omsk consulate for expenses. Remember, money is merely a tool, and we have plenty of it. Lord knows, millions are being wasted in Russia on projects of far less consequence to the war than ours. Did you know American taxpayers’ money is paying the Red Cross to teach Russian boys baseball?”

Ned thought of Jake Sweeney on board the train to Omsk and suppressed a laugh.

Then, without further ado, Barrows shot Ned a look signifying that the discussion was over and the rest would be up to Ned’s initiative.

“Well, I’m glad that at least someone in Washington still cares about beating the Red Army,” Ned shot back, not yet ready to let go. “The State Department came down awfully hard on the Admiral for crushing the uprising last month in Omsk. And the President nearly drove Siberians to despair when he invited the Bolsheviks to talks at Prinkipo. It’s an odd way to treat your friends, colonel, when Lenin’s Cheka murders thousands of Russian civilians each week.”

Colonel Barrows shifted uncomfortably in his chair and once again put aside his pipe before speaking.

“There have been times during the last few weeks when I have feared that the Admiral’s government would not last till morning,” Barrows confessed. “The Prinkipo announcement hit Yekaterinburg like a thunderclap. It so demoralized the officers I met with that I believe they would have thrown down their arms that very day were it not for some cool-headed advice from Colonel Ward and prompt telegrams of support from London. Was it as bad in Omsk?”

“I didn’t see Admiral Kolchak that day, or for some time afterward,” Ned replied. “At the Stavka they said he was in meetings, but others have told me that he was intoxicated, and not just with vodka, but on cocaine. To be perfectly honest, I have my own fears for the Admiral, and until this moment I have not dared express them to anyone but you.”

“What sort of fears?” Colonel Barrows asked.

“May I be perfectly frank, sir?”

“Certainly,” Barrows replied. “If we aren’t, who will be?”

Ned took a deep breath. He felt a sudden urge to lay all his frustrations of the past several months on the table, even at the risk of incurring Barrows’s displeasure.

“As I see it,” Ned ventured forth, his hands trembling imperceptibly, “Admiral Kolchak may not last much longer as top dog. It turns out he has all the attributes of a dictator—except the will to dictate! Oh, he seems honest enough, and hard working, and eager to improve the life of ordinary Russian. But, in my view, Kolchak lacks that vital strength of character required to impose order and compel duty from underlings who won’t perform. And he falls far too easily under the influence of the clever politicians who hover around him, like Lebedev, Mikhailov, and Guins. As a result, the Admiral allows endless bickering to swirl around him without taking decisive action.”

Barrows chewed on the bit of his pipe without lighting it and listened.

“And as for military affairs, it is often said that Admiral Kolchak is a sailor and not a true general. If so, it baffles me why he wastes so much time directing army operations, of which he knows little, while neglecting civilian governance, where his attention is sorely needed. At this point, Kolchak would need a Napoleon to defeat the Bolsheviks, no matter how many arms and wireless devices we send him. And, even if the Whites do defeat the Red Army, what good will it do Russia to substitute one autocrat for another, to replace the tsar and the nobility with a military dictator and a parasitic officer class?”

The colonel leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbows on the desk while he listened to Ned’s speech. When Ned finished, Barrows stood and paced to the far end of the railroad car and back.

“I can’t dispute what you’ve said,” Barrows announced at last, an incongruous smile appearing on his face. “But if it’s a dictatorship, well, by God, it’s a dictatorship for the sake of democracy!”

Ned was struck by the turn of phrase, a cynical play on the President’s call two years earlier to make the world safe for democracy. But the colonel’s intent was clear.

“Call it a constitutional dictatorship, for all I care,” Barrows went on with a broad sweep of his hand. “But Kolchak is our man. And he will remain our man until such time as the White Forces get around to whipping the Bolsheviks and electing a new national assembly. Ned, my lad, our work is cut out for us.”

Ned shook his head. It was just as Colonel Ward had said on Ned’s first night in Omsk: “If Kolchak goes, chaos will follow. Kolchak is the man to keep.” Ward and Barrows might just as well have said, “Après Kolchak, le deluge !”

Then he recalled what Zhanna had said to Governor Volkov about the Siberian Army: ”I will show the officers how to lead so they will deserve  victory!” she had boasted. She had been right, of course. And now, the Admiral needed someone to show him  how to lead, so that the Siberian government might become worthy of winning. But how on earth was Zhanna to do that ?

* * *

The following day, Ned rose before dawn and arrived at the appointed hour at an Irkutsk worker’s café crowded with sailors, dockworkers, carriage drivers, stable hands, and other representatives of the working class.

Father Timofey Ryumin appeared moments later, dressed in a mechanic’s coveralls and a fleece cap with ear flaps hanging down to conceal his long hair. His face held a serious demeanor. If the message the cleric had left at the American consulate had not described what he would be wearing, Ned might not have recognized him at all.

“I imagine you wonder why I called you to such a place,” Timofey began. He took a gulp of hot tea from the cheap enamel mug set before him, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on the American like a cat on its prey.

“I suppose I do, but mostly I am pleased that you thought of me at all,” Ned replied with a fleeting smile. “I enjoyed seeing you again at Kirill Matveyevich’s and had meant to invite you over for another chance to talk…”

“As with me,” Father Timofey replied with the trace of a smile. “Which is the reason I left a message for you at the consulate. You see, I have gone underground and plan to depart Irkutsk within the week.”

“Really? Will you be away long?” Ned inquired. “If your travels include Omsk, please allow me to help. Lodgings are extremely tight in the capital, as you may have heard.”

“You are kind to offer it,” Father Timofey answered. “But I plan to travel beyond Omsk, to the Volga, where my brethren are in much need of help.”

“But the Volga is under Bolshevik control,” Ned pointed out. “Why would the Holy Church send you there?”

“No one is sending me, except perhaps for that inner voice that calls out from one’s higher self. You see, I have left the Holy Orthodox Church and created my own spiritual movement, free of the dogma and superstition and backward social doctrines that have held back the Eastern Church for centuries.”

“So, though you chose to become a priest, you favor reform?” Ned pressed, surprised by the man’s bold move.

“Most definitely,” Timofey replied. “Many young priests and former priests in Russia are liberals or socialists, or S-Rs who refused to side with the Bolsheviks. A group of us intend to start a new reformed Eastern Church along the Volga, where many S-Rs reside, in order to protect the faithful from Bolshevism’s false doctrines. And when the White Armies arrive, we will be ready to rise up and reclaim our freedom to worship God in our own way.”

“Why not start your new church right here in Transbaikalia?” Ned asked. “I would think you could find plenty of S-Rs and other liberals in Irkutsk to join your new church.”

Timofey looked down and gripped his mug tightly in both hands.

“You’ve seen how Governor Volkov has banned democrats and S-Rs from municipal and rural councils. Kolchak’s regime is persecuting those with reformist leanings throughout Siberia. And most men with such views are paralyzed with fear of losing their property and privileges. By contrast, in Sovdepia, the surviving S-Rs have nothing left to lose. Those who remain at large there are thus willing to stand up at last for their faith and freedom.”

“I see your point,” Ned replied. “But America supports Admiral Kolchak’s government, as you know very well. Why turn to me?”

“Because America stands for freedom and backs the Admiral only because the Bolsheviks are so much worse. Kolchak and his people here know that, and they take full advantage of it. Our governor thinks Americans are soft.”

“For what it’s worth,” Ned pointed out with a chuckle, “I don’t think Governor Volkov thinks so very highly of you, either, Timofey. While I was in his office yesterday, he voiced concern that Zhanna Stepanovna may have fallen under the malign influence of a priest matching your description. So tell me, is there any truth to his claim that you took unfair advantage of the girl’s religious faith to put her up to whatever she’s doing?”

The Russian let out a bitter laugh and Ned could detect disappointment in his eyes.

“Why, captain,” he replied, “You underestimate Zhanna. You have seen for yourself how insistent she can be. I have little influence over her.”

“Perhaps so,” Ned admitted, “but I still don’t understand what’s driving her. Do you?”

“Go ask her,” the priest suggested. “Her quest to see the Admiral is none of my doing. And her uncle couldn’t disapprove of it or he wouldn’t have encouraged our newspapers to make such a celebrity of her.

“Did you, by any chance, tell Kostrov of your plans to visit the Volga?” he asked the priest.

“No,” Timofey replied.

“Or Ivashov?”


“Good,” Ned answered, putting his hand to his chin and striking a pensive pose. “But tell me something: how did you and the staff captain come to know each other?”

“Our families have been close for many years,” Timofey answered in a monotone, his eyes lowered.

“Does anybody else know of your travel plans?”

“Except for a few close collaborators, I have told no one but you, captain,” the Russian insisted, looking up again with a sincere expression.

Though Ned found this claim unlikely, he resolved to determine if it were true, and to learn what Timofey expected to gain from approaching him.

“How long do you plan to stay on the Volga?” Ned went on.

“As long as work remains to be done,” Timofey answered, drinking the last of his tea. “I will look for you on my return. Provided, of course, that Siberia remains in friendly hands…”

Ned detected an ironic curl in the Russian’s upper lip and he, too, cracked a thin smile.

“And how do you propose to finance your new movement?” he asked in a languid voice. “Surely such an undertaking requires funding.”

“I have received contributions from private citizens,” Timofey said. “And I hope to collect more before I leave.”

“Might I be allowed to contribute?” Ned inquired gingerly, cocking his head while awaiting Timofey’s response.

It was a bit early in the game to offer money to a prospective informant, but since Timofey had sought him out discreetly and was leaving shortly for the Volga, Ned saw little risk in it. The worst that could happen, he supposed, was that the priest would be insulted and refuse ever to see him again. Or else take the money and run.

But instead of indignation or avarice, a thoughtful smile appeared in the priest’s deep blue eyes.

“A contribution would be most welcome,” he answered in a near whisper, “though it might be wise if nobody knew of it but us.”

“I will tell no one,” Ned responded, delighted at the priest’s willingness to enter into a clandestine relationship so quickly. “Let’s meet across the street at this time tomorrow and I will bring you as many dollars as I can pull together.”

And in return, all Ned would ask of Timofey would be a letter from time to time. The letters would be sent to an address on the Soviet side of the frontier, prepared in invisible ink, and would describe certain conditions in Sovdepia that were of abiding interest to the American government. An agent would collect the letters, hand them to a courier, and in another week they would reach Ned’s desk in Omsk.

* * *

The same afternoon, only a day after Zhanna’s visit to the White House, Governor-General Volkov sent Ivashov a messenger with an urgent summons to his office. The moment Ned and the staff captain arrived, Volkov began grilling them about Zhanna.

“That girl,” he growled. “She sticks like a burr, and there’s just no getting away from her! The matter comes down to this: do you believe the wench is telling the truth, or would I look like an utter fool if I sent her on to Omsk?”

“I believe she is sincere, Your Excellency,” Ivashov replied with a forthright nod. “I have no doubt that she hears voices and that she thinks they come from saints and angels. Beyond that, she has provided information more than once that could not have been obtained by earthly means. It’s really quite uncanny, sir. Putting appearances aside, I think it makes good sense to find out all that she has to offer. Why not send her on to Omsk and let them decide there?”

“And what makes you think that those in the capital know good sense when they see it?” Volkov complained, rising from his chair. “If they had any, they would promptly end this war and come to terms with the Bolsheviks, however distasteful it might be, while winter holds fighting to a standstill. The fact is that Lenin holds the richest parts of Russia. Everything west of the Urals is his: Moscow, Petrograd, the Volga, the Caucasus, and virtually all of Russia’s armories and munitions factories. Admiral Kolchak is wagering everything on increased Allied support, while our troops go without food, fuel, clothing and adequate weaponry to hold off the enemy. Come spring, when the war resumes in earnest, our side will be finished. Nothing can save us but a miracle.”

“Whether miracles exist or not,” Ivashov replied, “this is not a time to leave any stone unturned, Your Excellency. Besides, there is something rather special about the girl…”

“Oh, so now you think she can work miracles?”

“If I may be permitted to say it, sir, I consider Zhanna herself to be a kind of miracle,” Ivashov explained. “You have experienced for yourself how she works her spell on others to get her way. Why not turn it to our advantage? In any case, she may be the last card dealt to us. Better to play it than throw in our hand.”

“Will you stand by that opinion, staff captain?” Volkov demanded, returning to his seat.

“So much so that I would pay her expenses to Omsk and back out of my own pocket,” the young officer declared.

“You would gamble at such long odds, on a junior officer’s pay?” Volkov pressed, apparently moved by Ivashov’s gesture.

“I do not consider it a gamble, Your Excellency. You see, her faith in her Voices and in God’s guidance have inspired me.” Ivashov cheeks colored, as if embarrassed by his admission, but his voice bore the ring of honesty.

“Then you and she are both mad!” Volkov snorted, half-rising again from his chair.

“And I am, as well, Your Excellency,” Ned interjected. “Perhaps we need a touch of madness now to break the impasse. Look where sanity has taken us.”

“I still believe it’s madness,” the governor exclaimed, slamming a palm on his desk. But then, a moment later, in a more thoughtful tone, he added. “Yet, if you both think it is worth a try…”

“I believe it strongly enough to take her to Omsk myself,” Ivashov replied. “Unless you forbid it.”

“That’s not fair,” Volkov snapped, pointing a finger at the young officer. “Now you seek to place the onus back on me!”

“It remains upon you no matter how you decide, sir.”

“I suppose so,” Volkov sighed, slumping back in his chair. “It’s just that neither of you understands how awkward this is for me.”

Ned and Ivashov exchanged hopeful glances.

“But since you have both stepped up to act as her guarantors,” Volkov added with a mischievous gleam in his eye, “I hereby appoint the pair of you as Zhanna’s official escort to Omsk, and I place the girl’s safekeeping in your capable hands.”

At this, Ned’s and Ivashov’s feelings of triumph evaporated as the demands of the task suddenly hit them.

“Fine, then,” Volkov went on. “Now that the matter is settled, I suggest that you accompany me on a visit to Citizen Kostrov and his charming niece to give them the happy news.”

* * *

The governor-general, his two young visitors, and a troop of Cossack cavalry arrived at Kostrov’s town house shortly before sunset amid a gathering of dozens of Zhanna’s devotees outside the front gate. Most were peasant women of middle age or older. With the harvest long finished, such peasant women flocked into the capital daily in hopes of selling their eggs or meat or cherish

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ed heirlooms for much-needed cash. Other followers were city dwellers of the working class, gray figures who crowded the streets by day in a fruitless search for work, now that so many of Omsk’s factories had closed or operated below capacity.

When the governor’s entourage arrived, Zhanna was standing outside the gate to greet them, mingling freely with her flock of simple folk who had come to catch a glimpse of the Maid of Baikal and profess their faith in her cause. While Volkov engaged Zhanna’s uncle in a private talk inside the wrought-iron fence, Ned stopped a stout old woman to ask why she had come.

“Many years ago, the Ataman [25] Yermak foretold that one day Russia would be lost by a queen and won by maiden from Baikal,” she replied. “Zhanna is our Maid, the savior of Russia, and I have come to seek her blessing and pray for her safety.”

Ned moved on to survey others in the crowd and found not one of them from the nobility or merchant class. All were common people of the kind Zhanna’s uncle derided as “icon-kissers.”

When Kostrov finished his tête-à-tête with Governor Volkov, Ned followed him to Zhanna’s side, where the uncle repeated her father’s offer to send her to school abroad.

“To France, or even America, if you like!” he proposed. Noticing Ned standing at his side, the banker urged, “America has many fine schools for girls of Zhanna’s age, does it not?”

“Certainly,” Ned replied. “And I would be pleased to write Zhanna a recommendation if that’s what she wants.”

At this, Zhanna shot her uncle a stern look.

“The only recommendation I want is the one the governor will bring me,” she declared. “My work is in Omsk.”

Before Kostrov could muster a response, the governor approached again, this time with Ivashov trailing close behind, the pair flanked by eight dismounted Cossacks.

“Welcome, Your Excellency,” Zhanna greeted him coolly, bending at the knees in a shallow curtsey. “I am pleased that you have come, despite the delay. Battles are being lost while we dither here in Irkutsk. Yesterday, the Fourth Red Army captured Uralsk from the Ural Cossacks and today they will take Orenburg. Soon Iletsk will follow. Unless Admiral Kolchak accepts God’s offer of aid, the Siberian forces will fall to pieces while the Red Army sweeps away all in its path.”

“But Uralsk is a remote market town. It has no military significance whatsoever,” Volkov objected, taken off balance by Zhanna’s warning.

The Maid only shook her head.

“My Voices tell me Uralsk must be retaken by summer. If not, the Red Army will surely breach our defenses at Ufa and sweep across Siberia from Yekaterinburg to the Pacific.”

“Very well, Zhanna Stepanovna,” Volkov replied stiffly, as if eager to get the girl off his hands. “You shall have your introduction to the Supreme Ruler and your escort to Omsk. The letter is signed and sealed.”

The governor-general turned next to Kostrov and Ivashov, before his eyes settled on Ned.

“Regrettably, much of what the girl says has proven accurate,” he told them, his face pale and his hands trembling as he turned up his collar against the wind. “Before leaving my office, I received a cable with the unhappy news that Uralsk and Orenburg have indeed been lost. How Zhanna knows these things, I cannot begin to say, for I do not believe in angelic Voices. In any event, I feel the time has come to send her off to Admiral Kolchak.”

Zhanna’s face radiated joy.

“I thank you with all my heart, Your Excellency!” she exclaimed, grasping Volkov’s gloved hands and rising on tiptoes with excitement. “Will your Cossacks provide my escort?”

The edges of Volkov’s mouth turned up in a wry expression.

“Your escort stands before you. Staff Captain Ivashov and Captain du Pont will depart with you tomorrow.”

Zhanna acknowledged the officers with a demure smile.

“These men believe in you, Zhanna,” the governor-general continued in a solemn voice, “and I have entrusted your letter of introduction to their care. From this moment, I ask that you follow their instructions to the last detail so that you may return safely to your family when your business at Omsk is done. Do you promise me that?”

“Oh, sir, you have my solemn word on it!” the girl replied. “My angels bless you!”

“Are you ready to depart, then?” Volkov inquired.

“At once,” she replied. “Better today than tomorrow, and better tomorrow than the day after. My Voices tell me that I must reach Omsk by the beginning of Lent, if I have to wear my legs down to the knee to get there!”

“Very well, then,” he concluded. “Captain du Pont tells me that a passenger compartment has been set aside for him in an American munitions train departing Irkutsk station tomorrow. Now go with God and help Russia as best you can.”

The governor bowed low to Zhanna in parting and she curtseyed in return before Ivashov took her arm to lead her through the gate and up the stairs to Kostrov’s front door. Ned lingered a moment longer and was close enough to Volkov to overhear his final words to the banker.

“My dear Kirill Matveyich,” he said, linking arms as they walked together toward the carriage. “Your niece won my support because of her simple faith in God, Russia, and Admiral Kolchak. They say Christ sometimes comes as a simple child. Bless your family for raising such a one.”

“You are kind to say so, Vyacheslav Ivanovich,” the banker replied with a heartfelt smile rooted in their decades-long friendship. “But tell me this. Even if Zhanna reaches Omsk with your letter of introduction, how is she to get past the Admiral’s staff to speak with him?”

“I have no idea,” Volkov answered with a helpless look. “How did she get into my presence? If Kolchak can keep her away, he is a better man than I.”

Ned would have laughed at this, had he and Ivashov not been given responsibility for delivering her to the Admiral. And as difficult as Zhanna’s path had been until today, he had a mounting sense that her trials—and his—had scarcely begun.

* * *

Once Governor-General Volkov and his Cossacks rode off, Zhanna’s crowds of followers began to disperse, driven back toward Irkutsk’s working class neighborhoods by a bitter north wind. After a few minutes delay, Ned set off in pursuit of Zhanna and the others and found them seated in Kostrov’s parlor. Ivashov spoke to Zhanna quietly, apparently to prevent the servants from overhearing.

“Now that news of your travel to Omsk will soon be known to everyone in Irkutsk, we must take precautions for your safety. Rather than depart from Irkutsk station, where Bolshevik agents might discover us, we shall ride at dawn to Angarsk and board our train there. Once aboard, Captain du Pont and I will take turns keeping watch over you at all times.”

Ned then addressed their host.

“Kirill Matveyich, can you spare us three horses for the trip to Angarsk?”

“That I can,” the banker replied. “Leave them at the public stable there and I will send a man to retrieve them.”

“Better make it four horses,” Zhanna added. “We will be one more for the journey.”

“But I am needed here in Irkutsk, dear Zhanna,” Kostrov objected with a confused look. “And there is no time to summon your father from Verkhne-Udinsk, or any of your brothers.”

“I meant neither you nor them,” Zhanna replied with a half-smile. “Before we depart for Angarsk, a fourth rider will come. It will be my friend, Boris Viktorovich. Though he is no fighter, he will render good service to our cause.”

“But how could the boy know that you are leaving? Have you sent for him?” her uncle inquired.

“No, but he will come all the same,” Zhanna replied with the mature tone of voice that she sometimes took on when discussing her mission.

“Very well, then,” Ivashov broke in, “If the boy joins us in time, I don’t object. The Siberian Army could make use of a sturdy lad like him, if he is willing. Meanwhile, we have work to do if we are to elude enemy agents. Zhanna, you must cut your hair short and put on men’s clothing so that you can travel unnoticed. Captain du Pont and I will see to the horses and make other arrangements.”

Now each officer took up his allotted tasks, having discussed them en route to Kostrov’s house in a sleigh separate from that of the governor-general. As Ned set off toward the stables, he noticed the banker cast a wistful glance toward his niece, as if Volkov’s order had not fully registered in his mind until then.

“For the life of me, Zhanna,” he told her, “I do not understand how you can bear to leave your family and risk being lost amid the hazards of war.”

Rising to her full height and standing over her seated uncle, Zhanna replied, “I was born for this, uncle. If I had a hundred fathers and mothers, still I would go!”

“But aren’t you afraid?” he persisted.

“I fear nothing, for God is with me and my Voices will show me the way.”

And in the next moment, Zhanna set off for the kitchen, where Kostrov’s housekeeper promptly grasped the girl by her shoulders and removed the pins from her tightly wound chignon, letting the sable hair tumble over Zhanna’s shoulders. Without a word, the woman raised a sharp pair of scissors to Zhanna’s throat and began to cut her dark tresses off at the jawline.

Chapter 8: The Supreme Ruler

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“Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history.”


Musical Theme: Prelude in G Minor, Op. 23, No. 5 , by Sergei Rachmaninoff


The four riders mounted their horses outside Kostrov’s stable under a moonless sky and set off for Angarsk before dawn. As Zhanna had predicted, young Borisov arrived on horseback at the last possible moment.

“I awoke from a dream so real I could smell the pines and feel the warmth of the horse beneath me,” he reported breathlessly. “In it I saw Zhanna dressed in military uniform, riding ahead of me and pursued by enemy riders. I awoke bathed in sweat. Twice I went back to sleep and twice the dream returned, along with the most terrible feeling that Zhanna was in grave danger. So I came at once.”

Ned and Ivashov exchanged wide-eyed looks.

“Welcome, Boris Viktorovich. I have been expecting you,” Zhanna addressed the newcomer. “I have my letter of introduction to the Admiral now and am setting out to Omsk with the captains. Will you join us?”

Borisov swallowed hard, then looked through wide eyes to Zhanna and the two officers.

“Now?” he asked, his mouth agape.

“Better today than tomorrow,” she replied. “Is it yes or no?”

“Zhanna, you know very well there is nothing I could refuse you,” Borisov answered with eyes as humble as a weary horse. “Find me pen and paper to write to my parents, and I will remain at your side until you grow sick of me.”

* * *

For much of the way, the four rode in single file through dense pine forest lightly dusted with snow. Ivashov took the lead, with Ned in the rear. In the pale slanting rays of the early morning sun, they looked like ordinary Russians in their sheepskin coats, thick felt boots, and bushy fur ushankas [26] with earflaps hanging down. Zhanna appeared very much like a boy, dressed as she was in black and gray to obscure her feminine figure. Though this was the Siberian taiga, the habitat of wolves, bears, and Bolshevik partisans, Zhanna showed no sign of fear and, to Ned’s surprise, proved to be a first-rate horsewoman.

They arrived at the Angarsk railway station by mid-afternoon without incident. Ned used his affiliation with the Railway Service Corps to secure them a quiet place to wait in a back room of the railway offices, while Ivashov and Borisov fetched them a meager lunch from the station buffet.

The armored munitions train pulled into the station shortly after sunset, hot and soot-blackened, its bow painted with a shark’s snout and bared teeth to intimidate would-be attackers. Ned gave an involuntary shudder as it rolled by and then he followed the train forward to find its American duty officer.

He located the man, a young RRSC first lieutenant, in the locomotive’s control cab with the Russian engineer, his crew, and a pair of middle-aged American railway men. The foreign presence in the cab was highly unusual, as Kolchak’s Minister of Transport jealously guarded the prerogatives of Russian locomotive personnel. According to the work rules negotiated between the Ministry and the RRSC, all Allied military trains required Russian crews. But while this might be reasonable for ordinary cargo, the American railway men insisted on having their own engineers up front whenever the train carried American heavy arms, gold bullion, or other sensitive cargo.

Ned waited for the duty officer to jump down from the cab before he stepped forward to introduce himself and present the orders by which he and Ivashov were to occupy a private compartment on the stretch from Irkutsk to Omsk. For this was the very same train assigned to carry both the long-awaited wireless apparatus and its team of wireless technicians to Omsk. But while Ned had dispatched an urgent cable from Irkutsk seeking permission for Zhanna and Boris to ride along, there was only the narrowest of chances that it had been granted. Ned crossed his fingers before addressing the duty officer again.

“Lieutenant, two more passengers will be traveling in my compartment besides Staff Captain Ivashov and me. They are a couple of Russian civilians whom we are escorting to Omsk under orders from General Volkov, the governor of Irkutsk.”

But to Ned’s dismay, the duty officer, a burly Minnesotan seconded to the RRSC from the Great Northern Railway, pursed his lips and wagged his squarish head.

“Sorry, captain, can’t do that,” he replied. “This is an Americans-only train. The only Russians permitted on board are the crew you saw in the cab. And they aren’t allowed to set foot anywhere else on the train till we reach Omsk.”

This was an obstacle Ned should have anticipated but hadn’t. He felt a knot form in his stomach as he contemplated the risks of waiting at Angarsk for another train or returning to Irkutsk. Neither alternative was acceptable. He had to get the others aboard this train, right now.

“I have written travel orders authorizing Staff Captain Ivashov to accompany me,” Ned answered in his best command voice, generally reserved for pulling rank. “He is my liaison officer at the Omsk Stavka and has always ridden with me aboard trains like this one,” he lied.

“Let me see those orders,” the Minnesotan snapped. Ned fished an envelope from the inside pocket of his tunic and handed over one of the documents it contained.

“Okay, your Russkie captain can climb aboard, but not the others, unless you have orders for them, too,” the railway man announced in a matter-of-fact voice as he turned to leave.

“That’s unacceptable, lieutenant,” Ned countered. “I’ve been with the RRSC in Siberia since September and I’ve never had this problem before. What’s so different about this train?” Though Ned knew the answer, he hoped to gain an advantage by shifting the burden of proof to the lieutenant.

“Special cargo, sir. We have orders from Colonel Barrows at AEF Headquarters in Vladivostok to take extra precautions. That means Americans only. With all due respect, sir, this is my train and those are my orders.”

“But my orders are also  from Colonel Barrows!” Ned insisted.

“You’ve got your orders, and I’ve got mine, sir. Unless you have papers to cover the two extra Russians, I can’t help you.”

“All right, lieutenant,” Ned persisted, drawing a deep breath. “Tell me the name of the consignee in Omsk for the special cargo.”

“Can’t do that, either, sir. Confidential.”

“Then I’ll tell you,” Ned answered, stepping close to the duty officer and thrusting his face within a few inches of his. “The cargo is a wireless apparatus consigned to Colonel John Ward of the British Middlesex Regiment at Omsk, in care of Captain Edmund du Pont, RRSC. That would be me.”

Ned withdrew a bill of lading from his envelope and handed it over.

“Now, lieutenant,” he continued, “do you want me to hold the train here in Angarsk while I send a cable to Colonel Barrows to clear this up? If so, I intend to hold you responsible for the delay, and for exposing me and my passengers to the risk of attack by Bolshevik agents while we remain stuck here.”

“You can’t hold the train, sir. We’re on a timetable,” the Minnesotan objected.

“Then I suggest you look the other way while Staff Captain Ivashov and I bring our two Russians on board. And if you still don’t believe I am who I say I am, how about if I name the six wireless technicians who boarded your train in Vladivostok?”

The railway man seemed frozen with indecision. Now Ned pulled a third document from the envelope and read aloud: Coburn, Bailey, Herzog, Malpeli, Schwartz, and Dean.”

The railway man turned pale.

“Very well, sir,” he replied in a shaky voice. “Bring your Russians on board, but don’t let them out of your sight till we hit Omsk. Your compartment is in the third car from the front, left side. It’s a sleeper car. I’ll order your meals brought to you there.”

“Thank you, lieutenant,” Ned offered, feeling the knot in his stomach begin to relax.

“Yes, sir,” the duty officer answered stiffly. Then he turned on his heel and left.

* * *

Though the news of the Maid of Baikal’s imminent departure for Omsk must have spread swiftly across Transbaikalia, prompting Bolshevik agents to watch for her on all roads and rail lines west of Irkutsk, the journey to Omsk ended without incident. Despite some discomfort en route caused by the need to keep Zhanna and Boris out of sight, the two youngsters remained in high spirits throughout the trip and showed no signs of fear or fatigue. When Ned or Ivashov complimented Zhanna from time to time on her courage or stamina, her reply was always that she was sent by God and derived all her strength from Him. To that end, every morning and evening she spent the better part of an hour in prayer and meditation, emerging each time with renewed vigor and in a buoyant mood.

Over the next few days, the four travelers spent many long hours telling each other stories from their respective pasts, with Boris Viktorovich soon becoming the favored raconteur among them. For though he was proud and boastful, being the overindulged only child of a prosperous mill owner, he rarely took offense and frequently laughed at himself, sometimes with a silent heaving that made Ned at first think he was choking on food.

As Boris had known Zhanna since childhood, he was able to serve up some colorful anecdotes about her, too. For example, he reported that Zhanna did not utter a word until she was three years old and seemed to live in a world of her own. Once, as a toddler, she nearly died from a deadly illness. She recovered only after a visit from a Buryat shaman , who announced that Zhanna was destined to play a vital role in Siberia’s future and could not die until her fate was fulfilled.

Throughout her childhood, she was known as a free spirit, playing with the local Buryat children, talking to trees, claiming to see spirits, and learning native folklore and Buryat riding tricks from the shaman  who saved her life. Zhanna seemed to have a special way with all sorts of animals, wild and domestic. Fierce hunting dogs were gentle with her and injured beasts came to her to be healed. Though her father taught her marksmanship, she refused to hunt wild game and arranged on the sly for farmhands to slaughter chickens and ducks in her place.

As she grew older and went off to school, she gave up her tomboyish ways and stopped wearing boys’ clothing, but never lost her mystical bond with the Siberian land and its native peoples. She attended grammar school at a German-style girls’ gymnasium,  where she wore a brown serge uniform and took lessons in comportment as well as algebra, geometry, Russian literature, and German and French language. Far from being an ignorant cowherd, as some of her detractors supposed, Zhanna grew into a well-bred young lady, skilled in the household arts while also conversant in political matters from listening to the often heated discussions that arose when government officials visited her father’s house.

Boris recounted how he and his family watched Zhanna develop from an outspoken, headstrong, emotionally volatile fourteen-year-old to the cool-headed, sharp-witted girl she was now, defiant and proud, and possessed of an indefinable something that set her apart from her peers. Of course, by now, Ned knew that Boris had come to idolize the girl and that many of his tales were exaggerated or apocryphal. Not a day went by without Boris proclaiming out of the blue, “In all the world, you won’t find such a girl!” But having seen her at close quarters now for more than a week, Ned could not help but agree. It was only by exerting his utmost self-control that he managed to keep his former infatuation with her at bay.

Only once did they come close to acknowledging the possibility of a relationship between them as man and woman. It was on their second evening in the train, when Ned had set pen to paper and begun to write a letter to his father. Ivashov and Boris were occupied with a two-handed game of cards.

“What are you writing?” Zhanna asked, looking up from her Bible with an expression of casual interest.

“A letter home,” he answered without looking up.

“To your sweetheart?” she inquired in a playful tone, leaning over to glance at the letter.

“Heavens, no,” Ned snapped. “Why do you ask?”

“There’s no sweetheart, then?” she probed.

“Not any more.” Ned’s face remained expressionless as he stared back at her.

“Is that so?” she asked. This time Zhanna’s expression implied that she thought otherwise.

“Not back at home, anyway,” he corrected himself.

“I see,” she acknowledged. But he could see that she still wasn’t buying it, and this gave him an idea.

“Why, are you volunteering for the job?” he teased, seizing the opportunity to flirt with her.

“Oh, I couldn’t!” the girl answered, her face turning red. “And neither could you! Enough of such talk!” And without giving him another look, she reopened her Bible and made a show of reading it.

By now, Boris had laid down his playing cards and was listening to the exchange. Upon seeing Zhanna blush, he let out a boisterous laugh.

“It’s no use, captain,” he advised Ned, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Take it from me. Unless you’re a saint or an angel, she’s not interested.”

Though Zhanna didn’t look up at either man, a smile crept slowly across her face.

With their ill-starred engagement behind them, Boris and Zhanna soon settled into a comfortable friendship, much like that of siblings or cousins. Zhanna often referred to Boris in jest as her Paladin, or knight in shining armor. The nickname stuck, and before long, Paladin became Boris’s new nom de guerre , and one that Ned did not begrudge him despite its incongruity. Though large of stature, Paladin was a gentle soul who recoiled at even the idea of physical violence. He had come to Omsk only to support Zhanna, he often said, and never intended to make war on anyone. And while he had once taken a dim view of Admiral Kolchak and the Siberian Army, before long he became an unaccountably enthusiastic booster of the Admiral and of Siberia, which he called the “Land of Opportunity” and “Home of the Future.”

At the same time, Paladin never missed an opportunity to disparage life in Sovdepia, and passed along every derogatory rumor about Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolsheviks, particularly those regarding the Red Terror and alleged Cheka atrocities. However tough things might be in Siberia, Boris would invariably say, they were many times worse in Sovdepia.

“People are eating cats in Moscow and tearing down altars for fuel!” he would say, and swear by every word.

* * *

The foursome reached Omsk Station at dusk and ate dinner in a simple tavern before hiring a carriage to Ned’s downtown lodgings. Along the way, the crude clatter of the droshky  on the slush-covered cobbles kept them awake as the driver did his best to evade the streetcar tracks’ treacherous grooves. At their destination, Ned found Zhanna a bed with a family on the floor above his and cleared a spot in his bedroom for Paladin to sleep in a vacant corner. Ivashov returned to his own flat a few blocks away.

The next morning, at Zhanna’s insistence, Ned and the three Russians set off after breakfast to the Supreme Ruler’s offices at Liberty House. Because Ned and Ivashov had been there many times on official business, they had no difficulty escorting their guests through the outer perimeter of Russian troops and the guards from Colonel Ward’s Middlesex Regiment. Once inside the building, they went to the office of Admiral Kolchak’s assistant, George Konstantinovich Guins.

No sooner did the male receptionist ask the nature of the visitors’ business than Zhanna stepped forward and, despite being told to remain silent, spoke up in a loud clear voice.

“I am Zhanna Stepanovna Dorokhina, sometimes called the Maid of Baikal. I have come to see Admiral Kolchak on urgent business,” she told the receptionist, a young staff lieutenant. “Please show us in without delay.”

The staff lieutenant’s demeanor instantly changed from mild interest to scorn, as if he had been alerted to her coming.

“Today is not the Supreme Ruler’s day to hear stories from schoolchildren,” he replied. “Perhaps your keepers would deign to speak to the Admiral’s assistant, who sometimes sees to such things when he has nothing better to do.” He scowled at Ivashov, but the staff captain held his tongue.

Though Zhanna’s violet eyes sparked with anger, she also said nothing more, instead casting a frustrated glance toward Ned and Ivashov, who stood by her side.

“Yes, yes,” Ned responded to the receptionist, not having expected such a rude rebuff, for he had always been shown deference when visiting the same offices, whether alone or with other Allied officers. “Please tell Georgi Konstantinovich that Captain du Pont and Staff Captain Ivashov are here to see him,” he added, conspicuously omitting any reference to Zhanna. “He knows us well.”

“Very well, sir,” the Russian replied stiffly. “I will announce you.”

The staff lieutenant vanished into Guins’s office. While he was away, Ivashov persuaded Zhanna and Paladin to sit quietly in the reception area and allow him and Ned to ease the way for the Supreme Ruler to receive them. Zhanna, realizing she had little to gain from protesting the receptionist’s rudeness, agreed to wait outside. But from the moment she sat down, her slim fingers began drumming on the polished arm of her hardwood chair.

“The Secretary will see you now,” the receptionist announced on his return a few moments later, holding the door open for the two officers to enter.

Kolchak’s assistant was a short man of about thirty, with steeply sloped shoulders, protruding belly, double chin, and a severely receding hairline, but intelligent and penetrating eyes. He had held several junior managerial posts in the imperial administration before joining the Provisional Siberian Government and, later, casting his lot with the Kolchak regime. Guins rose from his desk with a welcoming smile and bade his guests take a seat on the sofa a few feet away.

“Your fame precedes you, gentlemen,” he announced with a lighthearted chuckle. “I’m informed that you arrived last evening from Irkutsk with the much-talked-about Maid of Baikal. General Volkov was most pleased to wash his hands of her, I hear.”

“Zhanna Stepanovna is nothing if not persistent,” Ivashov conceded with a knowing smile. “The governor’s parting words were: ‘If Admiral Kolchak can keep her away, he is a better man than I.’”

“That issue remains open for the moment,” Guins answered, cocking his head in a thoughtful pose, “We have made inquiries about the girl, and the Admiral is of two minds about receiving her. One of them reflects the disapproval of Major General Lebedev, Archbishop Sylvester, and some government ministers. The other view is more tolerant, leaning toward my own opinion and that of General Dieterichs, the Admiral’s senior military advisor. Of course, none of us wishes to show disrespect to Governor-General Volkov or the good people of Transbaikalia.”

“Well enough,” Ivashov replied. “All the governor asks is a fair hearing for the girl. Is there anything we might do to improve her chances of gaining an audience with Admiral Kolchak?”

“I am holding open some time in the Admiral’s schedule tomorrow evening,” Guins revealed. “We have until then to decide. Why don’t you begin by telling me what you know about this Maid of Baikal and how she managed to persuade Governor Volkov, as shrewd a politician as has ever skate

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d across thin Siberian ice, to send her here?”

Ivashov and Ned spent the next half hour recounting Zhanna’s story, after which Guins complimented Ivashov for his sagacity in handling Governor Volkov, and Ned for his fluency in Russian. They spent another quarter of an hour chatting idly over tea, after which Guins told them to return the next afternoon around four.

“And if the girl has the relationship with God and his angels that she claims,” Guins added, “I suggest she pray for God to move Admiral Kolchak’s spirit in her direction.”

* * *

Zhanna was delighted to hear that she had been invited to appear at Liberty House the following evening. That night her host’s wife insisted on washing and pressing her jacket, shirt, and trousers so that she would make a good impression. The next morning she dragged Paladin off to attend the Divine Liturgy at Omsk’s Assumption Cathedral. After a light lunch, she spent the next hour in prayer until the sleigh arrived to convey her and her companions to Liberty House.

The same staff lieutenant met them in the outer office, but this time he rose with an ingratiating smile to greet Zhanna and escort her and Paladin to an adjacent waiting room, offering them tea from the steaming silver samovar behind his desk. Ned noticed the man’s change in attitude at once and wondered what might have prompted it.

The lieutenant turned to Ned and Ivashov next.

“Georgi Konstantinovich asks that you follow me,” he announced before leading the two captains through a pair of oversized wooden doors into a vast high-ceilinged room. Tall windows extended across an entire wall, with an ornately carved double-pedestaled writing desk at one end of the room and a low table surrounded by neoclassical carved-wood armchairs at the other. Ned immediately spotted Admiral Kolchak standing behind the desk, wearing a British dress uniform, and poring over maps and papers beside Chief of Staff Lebedev and another high-ranking officer. The latter was a strikingly handsome man in his mid-forties, with jet-black hair and a broad mustache, dressed in a brown wool parade tunic with the green and white epaulets of a Siberian Army general.

This, Ned reckoned, was Mikhail Konstantinovich Dieterichs, a Russian of Bohemian ancestry who had made Kolchak’s acquaintance during the Russo-Japanese war. Since the revolution, Dieterichs had fought with the Czech Legion to drive the Red Guards from Siberia and, more recently, had led the official Siberian inquiry into Tsar Nicholas II’s assassination.

Guins led Ned and Ivashov directly to Kolchak, presenting them as the official escorts of Zhanna Dorokhina, the Maid of Baikal, who sought an audience with the Supreme Ruler. Guins then introduced the two captains to Dieterichs and to Archbishop Sylvester, primate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Omsk, who sat quietly nearby reading a newspaper.

Ned was delighted to meet Dieterichs, whom he considered one of the most experienced and capable generals in the Siberian Army. Though he was reputed to possess a severe temper, the man showed no sign of that today. In fact, Ned was surprised to see the sort of wrinkles around the general’s eyes that sprang from frequent laughter. Dieterichs caught Ned’s glance, returned it with a friendly nod, and then went back to his maps without speaking.

Archbishop Sylvester showed less interest, casting an indifferent glance at Ned and Ivashov before withdrawing back into his newspaper. Though a career cleric and thus ostensibly of charitable Christian temperament, the man’s flinty eyes bore no trace of warmth and his gaunt face remained inscrutable behind an unruly foot-long beard.

Guins chose this moment to announce that the sideboard had been laid with refreshments and that tea was served. He led his two guests to the sideboard and prepared a small plate for each with tasty zakuski  and small almond cakes. Lebedev and Dieterichs followed close on Guins’s heels, with Admiral Kolchak and Archbishop Sylvester trailing behind.

To Ned’s surprise, Dieterichs opened the conversation about Zhanna with a blunt question to Guins, posed in a deeply resonant voice.

“Guins, exactly what do you know about this girl whom Volkov has sent us from Irkutsk?”

“Little more than what Governor Volkov has written us: that she comes as ‘an angel with the soul of a soldier,’ and that she bears ‘a message from God conveyed through the voices of saints,’” Guins replied. “How she persuaded the governor to send her here to address Admiral Kolchak remains shrouded in mystery.”

“Is it true that the girl made her way to us all the way from Irkutsk with only a pair of bodyguards to protect her?” Dieterichs broke in. “And suffered not a scratch from the Bolshevik agents who infest that route?”

“We can attest to that, general,” Ivashov replied.

Admiral Kolchak spoke up next from the opposite end of the sideboard, where he poured tea into an engraved crystal cup sheathed in a cage of fine silver filigree.

“So that devil Volkov sends us an angel with a message from the saints,” Kolchak remarked with an ironic smile on his lips. “Dare I receive it, bishop, without a blessing from the Holy Church?”

“My advice, Your Excellency, is not to see this mad wench at all,” Archbishop Sylvester asserted. Though he wore a plain black cassock, above the man’s heart hung a circular pendant encrusted with enough jewels to exalt a monarch.

“But as I am the Supreme Ruler, I believe I will,” the Admiral declared with a wink to Guins.

Here Chief of Staff Lebedev interrupted, his face flushed and his voice full of its usual bluster.

“Then, perhaps, Admiral, with all due respect, she should be prevented from seeing you ,” Lebedev ventured.

“Now see here, general,” Kolchak replied, though appearing not to take offense at Lebedev’s brash remark. “The late tsarina had her crazy monk and I feel entitled to have my angel. Where is the harm in that?”

“I should think we can ascertain rather quickly whether the girl has angelic powers and might be worth listening to,” Dieterichs proposed. “Let us put her to the test: when she enters the room, I will claim to be Supreme Ruler and then let’s see if she finds me out.”

“A capital idea, General!” Kolchak agreed. “If she can’t identify the Supreme Ruler by means of her divine wisdom, I see no need to waste further time on her.”

Ned and Ivashov exchanged anxious looks. For Zhanna to come all the way from Irkutsk, only to be thwarted by a cheap trick like this, would be worse than disheartening. Surely, if God had sent her and her voices were divine, the girl ought to see through the ruse. But would she?

“By the way, did any of you read through to the end of Governor Volkov’s letter?” Guins broke in with a sardonic leer. “It says that the girl promises to take Samara and thrash the Red Army on the Volga. Perhaps she will share with us how she means to accomplish such a feat.”

Guins, having detected the tide flowing against the Maid, seemed to be paddling hard to send her ship out to sea.

“Hogwash, I say,” Lebedev proclaimed.

“You call it hogwash, general?” Kolchak challenged with an askance look at Lebedev. “So, when will you  take Samara for us?”

“To be fair to the Chief of Staff, my dear Admiral, the burden of proof rests squarely upon the Maid,” Dieterichs joined in before biting into a tiny almond cake. “At present we have General Khanzin’s Western Army positioned some five hundred versts east of Samara and Tolstov’s Cossacks seven hundred versts to the south and east. Is it possible that this Maid of Baikal could do for us what they have not?”

“If our forces are so formidable, my wise generals, then why don’t they advance and take Samara at once?” Kolchak challenged.

Lebedev cast a wary glance at Dieterichs, who nodded for him to proceed. Ned listened hard, for the dialog might well shed light on the Siberian regime’s military thinking and be worth a report to AEF Headquarters.

“The problem is that the Red Army holds Ufa and the western approaches to the Urals, Your Excellency,” the Chief of Staff pointed out. “We must take that city first, and then secure our southern flank at Uralsk, before advancing on Samara during the spring offensive. It is no small task, sir.”

“So her present claims as to Samara amount to puffery,” Dieterichs cut in. “All the same, Volkov seemed highly impressed with the girl. Why not let her speak for herself? Either she has something worth hearing or she doesn’t.”

“If I may add, sir, the girl has an extraordinary way of knowing things before they happen, which may be useful to you,” Ivashov ventured while the others mulled Dieterichs’ words. “And, voices or not, she has come up with some very interesting ideas about the war that might be worth hearing.”

Dieterichs waved his fork as he approached the Supreme Ruler, plate in hand, his mouth still stuffed with cake.

“I agree,” the general added after taking a draught of tea. “Volkov may be a deceiving politician, but he is also an experienced soldier. If he has an idea that this schoolgirl can help us somehow to beat the Bolsheviks, I think we should learn why. And if the good people of Transbaikalia believe in her, perhaps she can inspire our people here, as well.”

“If you wish to send the girl to bless troops at the front, then do it, if you must,” Lebedev conceded, taking his turn filling a plate at the sideboard. “It’s true enough that Tolstov’s Cossacks need a fire lit under them. But let her offer up her sermons in the south only, at Uralsk. Keep her away from the center, if you please.”

On the verge of this unlikely consensus, Archbishop Sylvester stepped in to object. Ned’s heart sank, for the cleric seemed no friend of the Maid.

“Not so fast, my friends,” he warned. “I insist that the church first examine this so-called virgin of Irkutsk before she addresses Siberian troops in the Lord’s name. If Admiral Kolchak so desires, let her appear before him now and face her first test, as General Dieterichs has proposed. If she identifies the Admiral, and if her message is sound, the church can arrange a proper examination for her. This will assure that all relevant facts about the girl come to light before we rely upon her word.”

“I concur,” the Admiral announced solemnly. Then he turned to General Dieterichs with a boyish gleam in his eye. “Come with me now, Mikhail Konstantinovich. Let us pose in a way that she will not know who I am. You may wear my epaulets and I will wear yours. I will step to the rear and you may pretend to be me. Guins, go fetch us a dozen more officers so that we will not be so easy to pick out.”

While the others were busy, Ned took Ivashov aside and addressed him barely above a whisper.

“Will Zhanna know the Admiral by sight? Is his photo seen regularly in the newspapers?”

“Often enough, to be sure, but the official photo of him was taken years ago and is of poor quality,” Ivashov answered. “And who would dispute a man claiming to be the Admiral who occupies the Admiral’s private office?”

“Is there any way we can signal her, perhaps? What if we stood flanking the genuine Admiral and made signs to her?” Ned suggested.

“Do you see how the Archbishop watches us from behind his newspaper?” Ivashov countered, inclining his head toward the cleric. “He would surely notice, as would Guins. No, we dare not try it. The issue rests in God’s hands, and Zhanna must see through the ruse or fail.”

A moment later, Guins headed for the reception room while the Admiral and his advisor exchanged epaulets. The other men gathered near the sideboard to finish their tea and zakuski . While awaiting Guins’s return with Zhanna, the Chief of Staff turned to Ivashov and Ned, as if deigning to notice them for the first time.

“Well, gentlemen, you may have come a long way for nothing,” he snorted. “If the girl fails to pick out the Admiral, she goes straight home.”

“She will not fail,” Ivashov answered in a hard, brittle voice. “I would wager a month’s pay on it, though I advise you not to accept.”

Lebedev ignored the staff captain’s remark, turning instead to the Archbishop.

“What do you think, Your Beatitude?” Lebedev asked.

“Oh, I have no doubt she will find him,” Sylvester answered with a bland smile.

“Is that so?” Lebedev asked, arching an eyebrow. “But how is she to know?”

“She will likely know what most everyone else in Omsk knows. That the admiral is small of stature and the general large. And that Kolchak has the piercing eye and smoldering countenance of a Genghis Khan, while Dieterichs the kindly look and warm smile of one’s favorite uncle. Not to mention his bushy mustache.”

“Ah, I hadn’t thought of that,” Lebedev conceded.

“That is because we clerics give more thought to miracles than you military men, miracles being central to the life of the church,” the Archbishop explained.

“But what do miracles have to do with picking out the right man?”

“A miracle is something that creates faith, which is what will happen if the girl chooses correctly.”

Ned felt a chill pass up his spine as he realized the import of Sylvester’s words. For the real significance of the Admiral’s ruse lay beyond its crude effort to trip her up. If Zhanna picked the right man, whether by divine guidance or mere cleverness and sound memory, she would gain a credence and standing before the Admiral much greater than any she might win through words alone.

The Chief of Staff seemed not to draw the same conclusion, judging from his puzzled expression. But before he could speak again, George Guins returned to the room with a score of senior officers and ministers, who wasted no time helping themselves to tea and zakuski,  while Guins left again to fetch the Maid. A few minutes later, the Admiral’s assistant ushered Zhanna into the room. At her approach, the men gathered together, with Dieterichs front and center, Lebedev and the Archbishop to either side. Ned and Ivashov stood just behind them, and Kolchak toward the rear.

Zhanna stopped a few feet from the sideboard, looking fresh and sweet in her short blue jacket, pressed trousers and white blouse, her bobbed black hair framing her face in a way that made it seem as if a pale light shone from her violet eyes. She scanned each of the faces arrayed before her with a breathless expression and showed a glimmer of recognition when her eyes met Ned’s. The Maid appeared nervous and disoriented, and for a moment, Ned feared that whatever special powers she possessed might fail her.

“Which of you is the Admiral?” she asked at last, with an expression of humility befitting a provincial schoolgirl.

“You are in his presence,” Dieterichs responded gravely, scratching his stubbled chin while regarding her with a stately frown.

“Come now, dear sir,” Zhanna answered, her face brightening into a smile. “You can’t fool me. What have you done with Admiral Kolchak?”

Dieterichs threw his head back and let out a guttural laugh, upon which Zhanna waded into the huddle of uniformed men and before long seized Admiral Kolchak’s hand in hers, pulling him free. Once they stood apart from the others, she promptly released his hand and bobbed him a deep curtsey.

“How did you recognize me?” the Admiral asked with wide eyes when she rose to face him again.

“I will tell you when we are alone, Your Excellency,” she replied.

“And what is your name, young lady?”

“I am Zhanna Stepanovna Dorokhina, of Verkhne-Udinsk, the one they call the Maid of Baikal. The King of Heaven has sent me here to offer you His aid.”

“Is that so?” the Admiral answered, to the amused laughter of the other men. “And what sort of aid might that be? I’m all ears.”

The exchange between Supreme Ruler and provincial schoolgirl seemed so out of place that several men laughed and Ned nearly joined them.

“Such help as will enable your armed forces to crush the Red Army and stamp out Bolshevist tyranny,” Zhanna declared. “If you accept it, from this hour the course of the war will turn in your favor.”

Though eyebrows lifted around the room, the girl’s sincerity was so palpable that no man was so ungracious as to laugh any longer.

“Does the King of Heaven claim anything in return for his largesse?” Kolchak went on, casting a casual glance toward the Archbishop.

“Only that, upon reaching the Volga and taking the city of Samara, you will convene a new national assembly. That body will then elect you as regent until the war is won,” Zhanna replied. “But when your term is done, you must step down without fail.”

“That’s all well enough, my dear girl,” Lebedev interrupted. “But what I want to know is, how do you propose to capture Samara?”

“Let me lead an army there and I will show you how,” she replied without blinking.

At this, Lebedev let loose a resounding belly laugh and several of the younger officers, presumably his subordinates on the Stavka, joined him. Ned cringed, both at Zhanna’s boldness and the Chief of Staff’s insult. The Supreme Ruler took a step back and noted the questioning looks of Dieterichs and Sylvester.

“There you have it,” Lebedev went on. “The girl thinks herself a general already.”

But Admiral Kolchak seemed to set aside Zhanna’s claim to capture Samara and responded instead to her call for a new national assembly.

“If you wish to convene a new legislative body, you must talk with Guins. He manages the politicians.” Kolchak gestured toward his assistant, who uttered an awkward laugh.

“Oh, Admiral, please don’t trifle with me,” Zhanna reproached the Supreme Ruler. “Won’t you send these people away now so that I may speak with you alone? God has given me much more to tell you, but only in private.”

“Well, well, I can take a hint as well as anyone,” Dieterichs answered with an unexpected chuckle before refilling his glass from the samovar. “It seems the Maid covets my position. Well, let her make her case and may the better general win. Come, gentlemen, let us give them their moment alone.”

Admiral Kolchak nodded to Dieterichs and then to Guins, who ushered the others out into the reception area. Ned and Ivashov were among the last in line. For a moment, Ned hesitated to leave and grabbed Ivashov’s wrist to hold him back. “Dare we leave her alone with him?” he asked under his breath.

“We have no choice. Let it be,” Ivashov answered.

Not far behind them, Archbishop Sylvester announced just before the door, “I will go, but let it be remembered that General Lebedev and I voiced our reservations about the girl.”

As soon as the two were left alone, Admiral Kolchak led Zhanna to the sideboard and prepared a plate of food for her. She eyed it hungrily while he poured her a glass of tea, but she put the food down without taking a bite.

“I will not require much of your time, Admiral,” the Maid began. “I have come to you because my Voices say that God has placed a grave destiny in your hands and you will need His help to fulfill it.”

Kolchak carried their tea to the nearest sofa and deposited the two glasses on a low table.

“May I call you Zhanna?” he asked while gesturing for her to be seated.

“Call me however you wish, Your Excellency,” she replied. “You are Supreme Ruler. I am a mere messenger called to my task without having chosen it.”

“It may surprise you, Zhanna, but neither did I come to my position by choice,” the Admiral revealed. “As it happened, our Provisional Siberian Government failed and there was no one whom all factions could accept as leader. I refused more than once, yet here I am now, sitting astride the tiger and unable to dismount.”

“The King of Heaven neither expects nor desires that you renounce your position at this time,” Zhanna pointed out with a gentle smile. “But wouldn’t it be better if the peoples’ representatives elected  you leader so that none could deny your legitimacy?”

“Perhaps so,” Kolchak responded, regarding her with fresh interest, though perhaps not yet seeing her as an adult. “Yet I doubt it would alter my situation as much as you might think. For what is the good of being Supreme Ruler, elected or not, when the generals, bankers, and foreign allies give all the orders, and the Supreme Ruler attracts all the blame?”

“Come now, Admiral, please take me seriously, for though I have little experience of the world, I’m sent by our Lord, who sees your plight and feels compassion for you.”

At this, the Supreme Ruler rose abruptly to pace beside the table with a heavy tread.

“To be frank, Zhanna, I can’t easily believe that I’m the kind of person in whom God takes an interest,” he confessed with a sorrowful expression. “I am a military man, one whose life work is to wage war and destruction. Why should the Lord help me when I am what I am?”

“God’s ways are not for men to know,” the girl replied, moving closer to the Admiral. “But might it be easier to believe me if I described a secret known until now only to you and Him?”

“Tell it, though I promise you nothing in return.”

“As you please, then,” the Maid began. “My Voices tell me that sometimes you doubt your capacity to lead Russia through its current struggles. The night you became Supreme Ruler of Russia, you offered the King of Heaven a prayer that I shall now repeat to you. May I?”

“Please do.”

“You prayed: ‘Dear Lord, if I am to be your choice as commander of the White Armies, I humbly ask you to aid our just cause. If I have overreached by accepting this office, or if, through error or weakness, I lead Russia astray, I beg you to punish me alone rather than the Russian people, and to preserve from harm my wife and son and my beloved Anna Vasilyevna. This prayer I lay humbly before you.’ My Voices also tell me that you have repeated a similar prayer nearly every night since then.”

Admiral Kolchak stopped pacing to stare at Zhanna, his mouth agape.

“But how could you possibly know?” he whispered with a visible shudder. “You had it down to the word…”

“How could I know except by my Voices?” she replied. “For this was your silent prayer and you never uttered it aloud. And how do I know of battles lost and won, and of General Gaida’s insubordination, but by God’s aid?”

The Admiral resumed his pacing, hands clasped behind his back.

“I am at a loss to explain it. The matter with Gaida was known to only a few,” he admitted. “Unless…”

“No spy informed me,” she answered, as if reading Kolchak’s mind. “I knew of Gaida’s plot before any spy could possibly have reported it.”

“But how?”

“My Voices,” she replied. “The Saints Yekaterina and Marina, and sometimes the Archangel Michael. It is just as I told Governor Volkov.”

“I see,” Kolchak answered, knitting his brows as if struggling to understand.

“Thank Heaven for that!” Zhanna exclaimed. “Will you do your part, then, and accept the Lord’s counsel?”

“I will listen,” Kolchak replied warily. “As I listen to others. But my decisions will remain my own.”

The Admiral stopped pacing and took a seat beside the Maid, his stress-lined face appearing somewhat more relaxed than before.

“That is only proper, as earthly responsibility for this war rests with you,” Zhanna told him.

“I will do all that an old sailor can do,” he replied with fresh vigor. “We shall see whether God finds it sufficient.”

They remained together in silence for a minute longer before someone knocked at the door and the Admiral rose to answer it.

“You may call the others now,” Kolchak called out.

A few minutes later, General Dieterichs led Archbishop Sylvester into the office, with Guins, Lebedev, Ivashov, and Ned behind him.

Dieterichs cast a curious look at the Supreme Ruler and seemed to notice a change in his demeanor. But it was Zhanna whom the general addressed.

“Why, it appears that your tête-à-tête has done wonders to restore the Admiral’s spirits,” he told her.

To the Admiral, he added, “Perhaps the Maid has given you something worthwhile, after all.”

“I daresay she has,” Admiral Kolchak replied, “At first, I was not inclined to believe her, but Zhanna offered proof of a sort I find hard to deny.”

Zhanna beamed at Kolchak upon hearing this.

“My Voices assure me that no man alive is better suited to lead Russia, Your Excellency,” she told him. “And by placing your faith in God, you will grow faith in yourself. So, put aside all doubt, and be as I have dreamt you to be. Be as Russia requires you to be! For without you, Russia is helpless. With God by your side, she will be invincible!”

For a moment, Ned thought he could see in the Admiral’s eye a divine spark of self-confidence that Zhanna had ignited there. Soon, however, the glow faded and Kolchak’s shoulders bowed once again with the unsupportable weight of anxiety and responsibility.

Lebedev seemed to see it too, for he stepped forward to ask Guins whether he might have a few minutes alone with the Admiral. But Guins, likely having noticed that Kolchak’s energies were nearly spent, and sensing that Lebedev might seek to exploit the man’s momentary weakness, suggested Lebedev return the next day.

“I shall ask you to excuse me now, gentlemen,” Kolchak told them, “for I have more than enough thoughts to occupy me this night and I require some rest. Guins, please ensure that Zhanna Stepanovna has a comfortable place to spend the night after her long journey.”

To Dieterichs, he added, “And my dear Mikhail Konstantinovich, please do me the favor tomorrow or the next day of hearing the Maid out. If you can, find a way to put her to good use. For I believe that God is with this girl, and He may yet be with us, if we heed her advice.”

“Yes, your Excellency,” Dieterichs replied with a curt bow. And to Ned’s great relief, Dieterichs flashed a benevolent smile to Zhanna while paying no attention at all to the angry stares that Lebedev and Archbishop Sylvester leveled at him.

* * *

After their audience with Admiral Kolchak, Guins directed Zhanna, Ned, and Ivashov to the reception room where Paladin was waiting, now fast asleep on an ornate French sofa. When Guins joined them there a few minutes later, he brought news that the Admiral’s mistress, Madame Timiryova, who had been following the girl’s story in the press, had procured a flat where Zhanna could stay. The favor was all the more significant, Guins pointed out, because, had it not been for Madame Timiryova’s intercession, Zhanna might not have been permitted to see Admiral Kolchak at all. And from that remark, Ned surmised why Guins had decided to give Zhanna her audience, and why the receptionist had reversed his arrogant demeanor toward the Maid.

As Ned had learned early during his stay in Omsk, Anna Vasilyevna Timiryova was an intelligent and well-bred woman of twenty-six who had left her husband, an officer serving under Kolchak, to take up with the Admiral. She now worked in Omsk as a translator for the Business Services Department. Though she kept an apartment separate from the Admiral’s, they often appeared together at social and charitable events. Timiryova was a particular favorite of the British women in Omsk, owing to her fluency in English and her skill at composing witty verse. Until now, however, Ned had not realized the sort of political influence she wielded behind the scenes.

Guins led Zhanna and her companions down the stairs to the lobby, and then summoned a pair of British guards to show the group to her new accommodations in a nearby apartment building. After making the short trip by sleigh and admiring the spacious and tastefully decorated rooms, Ned and Ivashov left the girl and Paladin in the hands of the housekeeper, who had already prepared them a hearty dinner. The two officers remained just long enough to share a few bites before setting off for Ned’s apartment, with a promise to fetch Zhanna and Paladin in the morning.

* * *

On the way back to the neighborhood where Ned and Ivashov lived, the two men happened to be passing the railway station when they heard a woman’s stifled scream and some loud cursing by male voices over the sound of a departing train. Being tired and not wanting to be drawn into trouble at an hour when desperate criminals were on the prowl, Ivashov ignored the noises. Ned did not.

“Come quick, follow me!” he ordered the staff captain in a low voice, and set off at a sprint toward a nearby passenger rail platform. There they found eight or ten young Russian cadets in peaked hats and greatcoats attempting to herd four teenaged schoolgirls toward the unlit end of the platform. Apparently, the girls had just stepped off the train, which had arrived hours late, and no one was at the station to meet them.

One of the cadets had already caught a girl by the wrist and sought to force her to the ground. What appeared very odd, however, was that the girl acted as if she knew the boy, her voice remaining calm as she tried to persuade him to let her go. Indeed, the remaining cadets seemed to know the girls, as well, but judging by their slurred words and staggering gait, the boys were almost certainly drunk.

Ned and Ivashov ran up to them, ordered them to halt, and Ned fired two pistol shots in the air. The unarmed cadets froze.

Ned then led three of the girls off the platform to the s

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tation offices for safety while Ivashov remained behind with the fourth, who looked no older than Zhanna. When Ned returned, the staff captain sat alone on the platform beside the dark-haired girl, whom he addressed as Natalia. Her face was ashen and she shivered under Ivashov’s heavy greatcoat.

“Where are the cadets?” Ned demanded, out of breath from having run back from the station. “I summoned the military police. They should be here any minute now.”

“I let them go,” Ivashov replied. “They hadn’t yet committed any crime, though they were close to it. I don’t think they will try such a thing again very soon.”

“You let them go?” Ned demanded in astonishment. “If we hadn’t come along, they might have raped those girls! I don’t know about your army, but in ours, rape is a capital offense.”

“As it is in Russia, but to hang boys like these would serve no good purpose.”

At the mention of hanging, the girl’s eyes went wide with alarm.

“Never mind, Natalia, you’re safe now,” Ivashov assured her as he held her arm gently in his. “We’ll take you home.”

“And Dmitry?” she asked in a quavering voice. “Please don’t arrest him! He meant no harm. He’s a good boy when he isn’t drinking.”

Ivashov rolled his eyes at this.

“You see?” he said to Ned. “They know each other! This is what years of anarchy and lawlessness have done to our youth. I’m sick of it. Let’s take the girl home and forget we were ever here.”

Chapter 9: Examination

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“Trust is good, but control is better.”

—Vladimir Lenin

Musical Theme: Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra, Op. 48, Pezzo in Forma di Sonatina: Andante Non Troppo, Allegro Moderato , by Igor Stravinsky


A day passed after Zhanna’s meeting with the Supreme Ruler at Liberty House, and then another, and now a week, with neither an invitation nor a summons from General Dieterichs to present her ideas about the war. Though Ivashov showed up each morning at the general’s office to seek an appointment for the Maid, Guins told him each time that Dieterichs was unavailable. After the first two attempts, Ned and Ivashov resigned themselves to a long wait. Meanwhile, Zhanna attended church twice daily and prayed cheerfully that the King of Heaven might clear all obstacles from her path.

On the third day, Ned traveled to Beregovoy to supervise the delivery and installation of the new wireless apparatus. He had been away from Yulia for nearly three weeks.

“You’re late,” she greeted him with a petulant frown on his arrival at the main house, though his estimated arrival had been off by only two days.

“Believe me, the delay was harder on me than on you,” he shot back, only half-joking. “They may call Irkutsk Paris of Siberia, but it’s certainly no Paris.”

“You also sent your men here to me without even coming along to introduce them. What am I to make of it?” She threw up her hands and turned aside while shaking her head and heaving a dramatic sigh.

“I made sure Neilson was here to help them settle in,” he answered, removing his coat and hat. “What’s happened? Have they bothered you for anything?”

“Well, no,” she said, taking his hat and coat and hanging them on the rack by the door.

“Good, then,” he told her before taking her in his arms and kissing her. “Anyway, now I’m here, and there will be no more trips back east for a good long while. Just the usual overnight visits to the capital.”

“How was the train ride?” she inquired with a distracted look. “Not those old third-class rattletraps, I hope…”

“Oh, no,” Ned answered, brightening. “In fact, we had a compartment all to ourselves in a brand new American sleeper.”

“How many were you?” she asked.

She took his hand and led him into the sitting room without waiting for an answer.

“Four. We played cards most of the way,” he added with a laugh. “I lost fifty dollars…”

“Who were the others?” she asked, turning suddenly to face him.

“You’ve heard me talk about Staff Captain Ivashov, of course,” he answered, still smiling. “And two others.”



Ned sat down heavily on the sofa without waiting. She sat opposite him in a straight-backed chair.

“They were Allied officers, then?” she continued.

“Not exactly. Russians from Irkutsk. You wouldn’t know them.”

“No, but I know something about one of them,” she replied, eyeing him warily. “Anna Vasilyevna told me all about her. So tell me, did you or did you not escort the Maid of Baikal to Omsk?”

“Madam Timiryova wasn’t supposed to tell anyone,” Ned snapped, his eyes flashing. “The girl’s life is at risk, for heaven’s sake. Bolshevik agents are out looking for her even as we speak.”

“But Anna could hardly avoid telling me if she wanted to request my city flat for the girl,” Yulia pointed out, unshaken. “Or didn’t you know that Anna and I were fast friends?”

“I didn’t. Does Neilson know?”

“Of course he does. He’s the one who suggested that I offer her the flat in the first place. I hardly ever use it. Besides, I do so admire her—the girl, I mean. To defy her father and come here to see the Admiral, at her age! I could never have done such a thing.”

Ned detected a note of playfulness in her voice and could see that she was enjoying having some fun at his expense.

“Who else knows about Zhanna using your flat?” he asked, letting out a resigned sigh.

“Just the housekeeper. I can be very discreet, you know. You can ask Colonel Neilson if you don’t believe me.”

“Then you approve of the Maid?”

“Of her character and her program, yes,” the widow replied. “But I also hear she is quite beautiful, and I wouldn’t approve at all if my handsome captain were to fall in love with the girl after spending so long with her in close quarters. Do you have anything to say for yourself, young man?”

Ned laughed and tried his best not to look embarrassed.

“It seems odd to say it,” he explained, “and you may not believe me, but the more I come to know Zhanna, the less physical attraction I feel toward her. It’s as if any such desire had never existed. Instead, she exerts an odd sort of fascination that’s very hard to explain.”

Ned looked across the table at Yulia, who seemed to find his explanation equally difficult to believe.

“If you doubt me, Yulia, I suggest that you put the same question to Ivashov, or to Zhanna’s young friend, Boris Viktorovich, who joined us at Irkutsk. In fact, Zhanna seems to have this effect on most all men, not just on me.”

“Very well, I see you have your story and are sticking by it,” she replied in a good-humored tone. “But, mind you, I shall meet the girl for myself soon enough, for Anna Vasilyevna plans to invite us both to tea. But don’t worry, I will be ever so discreet…”

“Ha!” Ned replied. “I sense mischief.”

“What? You don’t trust me to keep a secret?”

“Of course I do, Yulia,” Ned replied, “but while we’re on the subject of discretion, I don’t know how long I can stay in the main house and not in the lodge without drawing suspicion from the men. Even dining here with you tonight is awkward. Perhaps we should consider different arrangements, as disagreeable as that might be for us both.”

“Do as you must,” Yulia answered with a melodramatic pout. “But I will not let go of you quite so easily as that. Dinners I can sacrifice from time to time, but you have been away for far too long. Your nights belong to me.”

* * *

After dinner, Ned and Yulia retired early. When the lights went out, Ned heard the familiar muffled knock on his door before it opened and Yulia slipped into the bed beside him. Ned was already naked when Yulia threw her arms around him and landed one hand on the jagged scar that the Moro spear had left along his shoulder blade. By the glow of the moon entering the room through lace-curtained windows, Yulia traced the wound’s borders with her fingertips. Then, as if by chance, she found the exit wound on Ned’s chest and made him roll over so she could examine that scar, as well.

“What happened?” she asked without emotion.

“A rebel stuck me with his spear. I lived to talk about it; he didn’t,” Ned replied.

“Is that your only mark of war?” she continued.

“The only one you can see,” he answered.

“What of the others, then?”

“They come and go,” he said, exhaling deeply. “Sometimes I think they’ve left for good, and then they sneak up from behind. Let’s talk about something else, shall we?”

“Fine, then,” Yulia continued with a note of coyness in her voice “Just now I shall tell you a secret. And then you tell me one of yours. Do you agree?”

“All right, I suppose I can come up with something. You first, then.”

“Do you remember your first day here, when you came to the door with Colonel Neilson?” she asked, draping one leg across his body and propping up her head on one elbow.

“How could I forget?” Ned answered with a low laugh. Though he had been attracted to Yulia from the moment he saw her, he never imagined that they would end up sharing a bed that night.

“Do you know what went through my mind when I first saw you?” she asked.

“That I was a bandit come to rob you?” he quipped.

“Don’t be silly,” she answered. “It was that you were the most attractive man I had ever laid eyes on. It was electric, I tell you. I simply had to have you.”

“Wow,” Ned replied, rolling onto his side to face her. “I just figured you were lonely living way out here and it was my good luck to be the first eligible man to come along.”

“Not true. By now you should know that,” she insisted, taking his hand in hers. “Your secret now.”

“Really, must I?” he groaned. “You’re dragging me into dangerous territory.” His finger traced a line along her neck and shoulder while he contemplated what to say. “All right, I have one. Do you remember, when Neilson introduced me, you asked if I was a du Pont de Nemours?”

“I certainly do.”

“And I told you that my branch of the family wasn’t wealthy?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, I wasn’t just being modest. It’s true. Our branch doesn’t own a single DuPont Company share. I happen to know the company president only because he and my father were boyhood friends. The only money I have is what I save from my army pay. I just wanted to make that clear, in case you thought I was holding something back.”

Yulia remained silent for what seemed a long time and Ned couldn’t read her face in the dark. At last she spoke.

“Well, if the Bolsheviks take Siberia, I won’t be left with any more than you. The income I receive from my family in London is barely enough to keep my sons in boarding school. All that remains of my husband’s fortune is Beregovoy and his shares in some failing Siberian factories near Omsk, and at Kazan and Samara, which are now under Soviet control. If we lose the war, I intend to sell what I can and flee to China, where I shall catch the first ship back to London and take up whatever work I can find.”

“It’s a sensible plan, Yulia, but I really don’t expect the Red Army to reach Omsk any time soon. We can still win this.”

“Red cavalrymen don’t have to charge up the hill here for the troubles to start,” she asserted. “You were not here last winter and spring, when our local Bolsheviks took over the city duma [27] and town councils. Once more today, partisans are organizing uprisings set to begin the moment the Admiral slackens his grip.” A note of desperation entered her voice. “The day your men leave Beregovoy, those other men will come for me by night.”

Even in the faint light of the moon, Ned could see the terror in her eyes and instinctively pulled her close. She didn’t stop shivering until he tipped her head back and kissed her.

* * *

By week’s end, Zhanna had at last been summoned to the Stavka. But when she arrived there with Ned and Ivashov at her side, they were taken not to Dieterichs’ office, but to the rooms occupied by Lebedev, the Chief of Staff. He informed them that Admiral Kolchak had reconsidered his offer to employ her. Not only might Zhanna’s service expose the government to ridicule, but it could also antagonize the Orthodox Church, which took a dim view of Spiritualists, Mesmerists, and self-styled prophets of every stripe.

For that reason, Lebedev explained, Kolchak had endorsed Archbishop Sylvester’s proposal to have Zhanna examined by a panel of learned clerics who would evaluate the communications she received from her Voices. The examination might take up to a week, during which Zhanna would be given room and board in the monastery wing at St. Nicholas Cathedral. If the panel found that she was of sound mind, derived her inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and in no way contradicted church doctrine, she would be cleared for service.

But from the Chief of Staff’s demeanor, it was clear that he aimed to place Zhanna under a heavy burden of proof. Nor was it likely that Archbishop Sylvester would take her side. Yet, far from objecting, Zhanna seemed buoyed by the opportunity to present her case, regardless of how badly the deck might be stacked against her. Ned, while saddened that she might soon reach the end of her mission, admired her for her willingness to be tested. For that reason, he resolved to let the clerics shoulder the blame if they sent the girl packing. Ned would miss her, to be sure, but now that she had delivered her message to the Admiral, she had done her part. Surely, Omsk was no fit place for an innocent young girl like Zhanna.

* * *

The clerical examination was scheduled to begin a week later. On Ned’s next trip to Omsk from Beregovoy, he arranged to attend the first day’s hearing, which was to be held in a small chapel tucked inside one of the wings of the St. Nicholas Cathedral. According to Ivashov, Governor Volkov had already forwarded to Omsk the results of his own investigation into Zhanna’s background. Based on interviews with women in good standing in Zhanna’s home town, and with respectable neighbors of her uncle in Irkutsk, Volkov had declared Zhanna a good Christian who regularly attended church services and displayed sound character. Having received no derogatory evidence as to her morality, the Archbishop instructed the clerics to focus their attention on the girl’s doctrinal beliefs, and on her claims to receive messages from saints and angelic beings.

Ned, Ivashov, and Paladin entered the chapel moments before the panel filed into the room. They took seats toward the rear, since most benches were already occupied. The audience included Russians of every class, as well as a few journalists and photographers seated up front. Several rows ahead of him, Ned recognized Yulia and her friend, Madame Timiryova, and felt a pang of discomfort when he considered what confidences the two women might be sharing about their respective lovers. Could something that Yulia knew about him come back to haunt him, perhaps through the Stavka? Or, by the same token, might the sort of thing that Madame Timiryova told Yulia about the Admiral provide him with reportable intelligence?

Ned turned his attention to the nine examiners on the raised dais at the front of the chapel. They included Archbishop Sylvester, two bishops, four priests of lesser rank, and two civilians with trimmed beards whom Ivashov identified to Ned as professors of theology. Zhanna entered the chapel last. A young Orthodox monk led her to a well-worn wooden chair facing the dais, where she sat a few feet below the level of the panel, requiring her to raise her head to face them. She was dressed in the same faded jacket, baggy trousers and stained blouse that she had worn to meet the Admiral, but the radiant look in her violet eyes and her short haircut drew all attention to her face.

Archbishop Sylvester opened the proceeding with an invocation, a statement of purpose, and a requirement that each examiner either approve or disapprove Zhanna’s proposed role as Kolchak’s special counsel, without abstention. Sylvester then turned the proceedings over to Father Yegor, the chief examiner, a lean figure of about forty in monk’s garb, easily distinguishable by his gaunt cheeks, perpetually furrowed brow and bloodshot weasel eyes.

The first question Father Yegor posed to Zhanna was this: “Zhanna Stepanovna, do you believe in God?”

“In truth, more than you do,” she shot back. The audience gasped.

Father Yegor looked startled, then turned to Archbishop Sylvester, as if for guidance.

The Archbishop admonished Zhanna, “I must warn you not to insult members of this panel, young woman, or the result will certainly not be to your liking. You may proceed, Father Yegor.”

“Pray, tell me in what language your Voices speak to you,” the chief examiner asked Zhanna, leaning forward and rubbing his hands together. “Do they speak proper Russian?”

“Better Russian than yours,” she replied.

This time the room erupted in laughter, prompting the examiner to fold his arms and look at the Archbishop with a dismayed expression. The latter, apparently wishing to avoid further loss of dignity by Yegor or the Holy Church, rolled his eyes and nodded to the elderly bishop on his right to take up the questioning in Yegor’s place.

“May I be so bold to ask, Zhanna Stepanovna,” the wizened bishop asked in a voice laden with condescension, “what was it that induced you to come to Omsk?”

Zhanna gave a gentle smile and replied in a soft and musical voice that bore no trace of disrespect.

“One day last autumn, while I was grooming my horse, a Voice came to me saying that God had great compassion for the Russian people and intended to deliver us from Bolshevik oppression. This seemed good news, to be sure, but it puzzled me why the Voice chose me to receive it.”

The girl then looked up at the elderly bishop, and then to Archbishop Sylvester, as if hesitating to continue.

“Go on,” the bishop urged, his voice softening a bit.

“The Voice then said God had important work for me, and commanded me to travel west to the Volga with the Siberian Army and to lay siege to the city of Samara. On hearing this, I wept, because I am but a young girl and know nothing of war.”

Again, Zhanna looked up to the dais, now with fearful eyes, her hands folded tightly in her lap. She continued in a strained voice.

“The Lord’s Spirit then told me not to be afraid, and to go first to Irkutsk, where I would find friendly officers to conduct me safely to meet the Supreme Ruler at Omsk. It said more would be made known to me there, and urged me to take courage.”

“Do you mean to say, Zhanna Stepanovna, that some disembodied spirit commanded you, a mere schoolgirl, to besiege the great city of Samara by force of arms?” the bishop repeated, raising his voice.

“That is correct,” Zhanna answered, gazing down at her small white hands.

Here, Ned noticed Yulia and Madame Timiryova exchange alarmed whispers and sensed that they were aghast that the girl might have it in mind to join the army at the front.

“Zhanna, do you believe that God is an all-knowing and all-powerful deity?” the bishop asked next, his tone softening once more.

“Yes, I do, Your Grace,” Zhanna replied.

“Then, if God desires to deliver Russia from the scourge of Bolshevism, and can do everything he intends, what would be the need for soldiers?” the cleric inquired.

“God helps those who help themselves, and never those who sit on their hands,” Zhanna responded evenly. “Soldiers fight the battle, and God grants the victory.”

Ned turned his gaze to the faces of the learned panel and saw that they had not anticipated the deftness of her riposte. Archbishop Sylvester suddenly thanked the elderly examiner and turned again to Father Yegor, who, as if jolted from a reverie, pulled himself together to speak.

“Indeed, my daughter, God often works his will through the deeds of men,” Yegor conceded. “But God also acts directly and visibly upon the world, sometimes by providing signs and portents. Surely, we cannot advise Admiral Kolchak to entrust you with soldiers and weaponry based solely upon your assertion that God has sent you, unless you produce the signs to prove it.”

Zhanna’s nostrils flared and let out a snort of vexation.

“In God’s Name, I didn’t come to Omsk to show signs to those who doubt me. Send me to the front, along with troops in such numbers as the Admiral might see fit, and you’ll have signs enough!”

Ned stifled a laugh. This was the headstrong Zhanna that he had seen overcome one obstacle after another, from Verkhne-Udinsk to Irkutsk to Omsk. The audience nodded approval, and again the chief examiner hesitated to follow up, lest the girl score another point against him. Instead, Archbishop Sylvester took the lead himself, pursuing an altogether different line of questioning.

“During your audience with the Supreme Ruler some days ago,” he began, “you addressed him always as ‘Admiral’ and not as ‘Supreme Ruler’ or by his honorific, ‘Your Most High Excellency.’ Do you not recognize Admiral Kolchak as the Supreme Ruler of Russia?”

“I will not call him by any other name than Admiral until he is duly elected by the new national assembly that will sit in Samara,” she insisted. “When my business here is finished, I will capture that city in person, if I must, to see to his election. Every day we wait, victory is delayed.”

Muttered approval rose from the pews, causing Ned to wonder just how far Zhanna dared push her inquisitors before they made her pay dearly for it.

“The girl is as boastful as she is misguided, Your Eminence,” Father Yegor commented to the Archbishop before turning back to Zhanna. “See here, young woman,” he went on, his bloodshot eyes flashing, “Do you stand by this prediction of yours, which you also made to Admiral Kolchak in Archbishop Sylvester’s presence, that you will lead an army to capture Samara this summer?”

“I do, indeed, Father,” Zhanna asserted without blinking.

“What gives you such arrogance that you could possibly claim such a thing?” the chief examiner pressed, his face contorted into a vinegary expression.

“My Voices have told me so, and they have never told me wrong.”

The Archbishop held up a hand as if to draw attention to the girl’s words.

“Zhanna Stepanovna,” he addressed her with a reproving stare, “don’t you see now why some suspect you of being mad for claiming to converse with saints and angels?”

“A person who sees angels and saints is no more mad than the majority of Christians who profess to believe in them,” Zhanna replied. “And it seems to me, Your Eminence, that high men of the Holy Church who refuse to investigate miracles and heavenly visions in such perilous times are no less superstitious than a sick peasant who refuses to see a physician.”

But Sylvester was too shrewd to rise to the bait.

“All right then, let us investigate,” the Archbishop went on, clasping his hands and leaning back in his chair with a thoughtful mien. “Tell us, Zhanna, what manner of victories do you promise if the Supreme Ruler accepts your counsel?” he demanded. “And if you will not offer signs or portents, what pledges will you make to justify being put at the head of troops?”

“As you wish,” Zhanna said softly after heaving a weary sigh. “I shall make four predictions and you shall bear witness to them. But I shall not describe my role in carrying them out, as this remains subject to God’s will.”

The audience grew silent.

“First,” she went on, “the Red Army will launch a counterattack toward Ufa once the April thaw stalls our spring offensive in deep mud. Before mid-summer, the Red counteroffensive will be halted at the Belaya River, but at great cost to our side.

“Second, not long after the battle on the Belaya, our forces will crush the Fifth Red Army by means of attacks from the south.

“Third, before summer’s end, Admiral Kolchak will be elected regent of a new all-Russian government at Samara, which shall form a unified military command with Generals Denikin and Yudenich.

“And fourth, the combined White Armies will liberate Moscow and Petrograd before the New Year.”

Though her message was delivered in a straightforward manner, its effect on the audience was electric. They rose with a tumultuous cheer. Ned spotted Yulia and Madame Timiryova several rows ahead of him, on their feet with tears streaming down their cheeks.

The Archbishop called the meeting back to order with a threat to eject the entire audience if they rose again. Thereafter, the inquiry proceeded without incident, and went on for another full day, with Zhanna dispelling one after another of the learned panel’s many doubts as to her divine inspiration. Ned joined Paladin for the opening session on the second day, as Ivashev was unavailable, and returned after lunch to hear more. At the end of the second day, the panel adjourned and the room emptied without further comment from the bench.

On the third morning, Archbishop Sylvester issued the panel’s surprise verdict: a unanimous decision clearing Zhanna for service to the Omsk government. To the crowd’s delight, the examiners had found no evil in her, only honesty and a sincere faith in God and His saints. The verdict stated that, considering the extreme danger faced by Siberia’s armies, the Supreme Ruler should give great weight to the Maid’s utterances and consider sending her to the front for service. To hinder her would risk vexing the Holy Spirit and rendering the Omsk Government unworthy of divine aid. The panel’s statement ended with a biblical quotation from the fifth chapter of Acts:

“As said Gamaliel in the Council of the Jews with regard to the Apostles, ‘For if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing, but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it lest you be found to fight against God.’”

Outside the chapel, the crowd of Zhanna’s followers that had grown day by day gathered on the cathedral steps and rejoiced when the verdict was pronounced. For them, the acquittal offered further proof that, as Jehovah once sent David to slay Goliath, now God had sent Zhanna to defeat the Red Army. Coming at a time when Siberians had little faith in their self-appointed rulers, and when many thought only of saving themselves, they felt their faith restored in a God whom they feared might have forsaken them.

As news of the verdict traveled around Omsk and the countryside beyond, it inspired many men who had formerly shirked military service to enlist in the White Army in hopes of fighting alongside the Maid. Night after night, the roar of patriotic songs filled the air, though often fueled by vodka. While awaiting further orders from Admiral Kolchak, Zhanna spoke twice daily, after attending divine services, to growing throngs of listeners outside the St. Nicholas Cathedral.

And an editorial in Omsk’s largest newspaper opined: “The Maid’s ability to hold her own against learned bishops and theologians has earned her a reputation as another St. Yekaterina come down to earth. With her reputation now reaching far and wide, more will surely answer her call.”

Chapter 10: Decadence

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“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
’Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
Can ne’er come down again.”

—Mary Howitt, The Spider and the Fly  (1829)

Musical Theme: Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2 , by Sergei Rachmaninoff


Since his arrival in Vladivostok in September and his travel across Siberia to Omsk, Ned had come to appreciate Siberia for its vastness, its unspoiled natural beauty, and the pioneer spirit of its people, many of whom had come east as refugees or prisoners to start new lives in relative freedom where land was plentiful. Even the fierce intractability of Siberia’s Cossacks and nomadic tribes Ned found endearing, since he saw these as analogous to America’s rough-and-tumble settlers and savage Indian tribes. All the same, Ned had no tolerance for Bolshevik partisans and agitators, whom he believed should be rounded up and summarily hanged as outlaws. In this, he had come to share the harsh views of Lieutenant Colonel Neilson, who had participated in fierce fighting against Bolsheviks partisans near Vladivostok in August of 1918.

Having resided in Omsk for some three months, Ned found it difficult to stomach the unchecked corruption seething beneath t

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he Siberian capital’s surface, in contrast to the self-discipline and austerity of the more remote Siberian towns and villages he had seen. In Omsk, the rudderless elites clung to hopes that, if only the White Armies could beat the Bolsheviks on the battlefield, their kind might somehow put Russia’s Humpty Dumpty empire back together again, while maintaining an upper hand against the bourgeoisie, workers, and peasants.

Ned observed, but declined to participate in, the decadent life of Omsk’s privileged classes. Lavish parties, gambling, whoring, narcotics abuse, random acts of cruelty against the lower orders—all these were rampant among bloated bureaucrats and staff officers residing at Omsk. Every day Ned asked himself why such men were not sent off to the front to do honest duty. Though he often reported such things to the AEF Intelligence Staff at Vladivostok, he was careful to limit his observations to matters directly affecting the war, lest he himself be viewed as leaning to the left.

Month by month, Ned felt increasingly estranged from the inept and corrupt officials he ran across at Omsk, as well as from uncritical Allied support of the Omsk regime, since such support was necessarily based on Britain’s and America’s national interests rather than what might be best for Russia. All the while, he tried to sort out in his own mind what course Admiral Kolchak might best follow for Russia’s sake. Again and again, he returned to Zhanna’s insistence that reform was essential to a White victory. Somehow, this young girl had formed a clear vision of Russia’s path forward, even if she lacked the means to make it happen. Why, he wondered, couldn’t Washington do the same?

* * *

After completing her examination before the ecclesiastical panel, Zhanna moved out of her austere cell at the St. Nicholas monastery and back into Yulia’s spacious downtown flat, where the housekeeper brought her breakfast each morning before she went off to pray at the nearby Assumption Cathedral. Whatever the hour, ten or twenty women were always gathered outside to greet her and escort her to the church. Along the way, she would ask them about their lives and families and listen quietly to the women’s stories and their hopes for a better future. And always they would ask questions of her.

As she left the cathedral one such evening, a woman who had watched Zhanna meditate and then fold her hands to offer a silent prayer, asked the Maid the difference between the two practices.

“It’s simple,” Zhanna had replied. “Prayer is when I speak to God. Meditation is when I listen to him speak to me. He would speak to each of us, if we would only listen.”

The next morning, Madame Timiryova paid Zhanna a call at her borrowed flat, bringing a seamstress to take Zhanna’s measure for a smart outfit she could wear while going about town to meet with high officials and prominent civilians. Though neither the Supreme Ruler nor Zhanna’s clerical examiners had objected until now to her wearing men’s clothing, as it was the only attire she possessed, it had grown shabby and the girl now delighted at the prospect of having pretty frocks to wear, perhaps even like the ones she found in her hostess’s closet. She marveled at the variety of fabrics and styles presented to her, rubbing each swatch of cloth between finger and thumb and pressing the most elegant satins and velvets against her cheek. She inhaled deeply: it was the smell of glamor. And while Madame Timiryova was visiting, she invited Zhanna to her flat on Nikolsky Avenue for tea later in the week to meet a few of her closest friends.

* * *

Zhanna arrived at Madame Timiryova’s apartment at the appointed hour, wearing a pleated white blouse and dark gored skirt from her hostess’s closet that the seamstress had altered to fit her.

Though she arrived precisely on time, nine or ten other women were already seated in the parlor, and Zhanna could not help wondering if they had been invited to come at a time earlier than hers.

Most of the guests were in their late twenties or early thirties, like her hostess, with only one or two noticeably older. Madame Timiryova took Zhanna around the room and presented her to each guest in turn. All had heard or read about the Maid and seemed delighted to meet her.

Without exception, the women belonged to the upper classes, being wives or daughters of bankers, merchants, diplomats, and the like, with several being British nationals who spoke Russian surprisingly well. Zhanna overheard one of the British women speak in an animated voice about the suffragist movement at home, where, during the previous year, certain categories of women had gained the right to vote, and female candidates were now permitted to stand for election to Parliament.

“Certainly, women need more influence over government everywhere,” Madame Timiryova agreed. “And not least of all here in Russia.”

The other women smiled and nodded. For while Russian women had gained the right to vote in 1917 under the Provisional Government, and that right had been confirmed by the Soviet regime, Admiral Kolchak’s Siberian government allowed only men to vote in local and regional elections.

The last guest to be introduced was a tall, blonde, somewhat severe woman, dressed in an elegant blue wool walking-suit.

“Yulia Yekaterinovna, please allow me to introduce Zhanna Stepanovna,” Madame Timiryova began. “Zhanna, Yulia is my dearest friend in all the world. It is she who graciously put her downtown flat at your disposal.”

“Oh, Madame Yushnevskaya!” Zhanna gushed, having not met her benefactress before. “I am so very indebted to you for allowing me to live under your roof! I don’t know what I would have done…”

“Not at all,” Yulia assured her. “It is Anna Vasilyevna who deserves the credit. It was her idea. The flat is vacant nearly all the time now, but for the housekeeper.”

“I wish I could repay you somehow,” the girl answered. “But I have scarcely a ruble left to my name. I have relied completely on the generosity of others since I left Irkutsk in February.”

“As well you should,” Madame Timiryova replied, taking her arm. “The Bible tells us that we should receive the stranger as if he were the Christ in disguise. All of us in this room support your work, Zhanna. Please consider us your friends, and accept whatever help we are able to offer to further your cause.”

“Thank you ever so much, Madame Timiryova,” Zhanna answered, her face flushed with gratitude.

“Please, call me Anna,” her hostess insisted.

“And likewise, call me Yulia,” her benefactress added before going on to ask a question of the girl. “I understand you are awaiting word of a possible assignment to the Urals Front,” she said. “Have you received any further word on it from the Admiral?”

“I expect a decision any day now,” Zhanna answered with a confident smile. “And I can’t wait to go!”

The two older women exchanged amused glances, their eyebrows raised to the limit.

“What an extraordinary experience it would be!” Yulia remarked, directing a bright smile toward Zhanna. “Though, as a woman, I’m sure you’re aware of how delicate that might prove. Tell me, have you made plans in case your request is denied? Would you return to Lake Baikal, or perhaps travel abroad to continue your studies?”

“Oh, I am certain of going to the front,” the Maid answered, standing tall with her head lifted and her hands clasped behind her back, in an almost military pose. “St. Michael has promised me that much. Only the exact location remains unclear to me.”

Again the two older women exchanged glances, but this time they were not smiling.

“But surely, the matter must be resolved before very long,” Anna Vasilyevna joined in, her voice sounding a sensible note.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to impose upon your hospitality any longer than necessary!” Zhanna replied, taking Yulia’s hand in hers. “If you need the flat, I will find another place to stay!”

“No, no, no,” Yulia assured her. “It’s yours for as long as you need it. I’m perfectly content to remain on my estate at Beregovoy. And if I need to come to Omsk for a day or two, now and then, there is plenty of room for us both.”

After this, the three women exchanged a few more pleasantries before Anna Vasilyevna led Zhanna back to the samovar to refresh their glasses of tea.

“You realize, of course, who else has been residing at Beregovoy these past months when he is not away traveling?” Anna confided to her young protégé in low tones, once they left Yulia behind.

“Beregovoy?” Zhanna asked with a vacant look. “I never heard of the place until Yulia mentioned it.”

“Well, since Yulia is a British citizen, she has agreed to let the Allies locate their new wireless station there. And your friend, Captain du Pont, is the officer placed in charge of it.”

“Oh, so that’s where he goes when he’s not in the city?” Zhanna asked without really expecting an answer.

“Yes, and it seems that he and Yulia have grown rather close,” Anna added, leaning close to speak in Zhanna’s ear.

“Oh, how marvelous for Yulia Yekaterinovna!” Zhanna exclaimed in genuine delight before putting a hand to her mouth for having spoken so loudly. “He is a true gentleman,” she added.

“Indeed,” Anna agreed. “And Yulia has high hopes that Captain du Pont will remain at Beregovoy for the summer and won’t be called away for another lengthy journey. We certainly wouldn’t want anything to come between the two of them, would we?” she added, her tone of voice suddenly turned chill.

“Of course not,” Zhanna replied with a dutiful smile, now that the picture was clear. For now she knew why she had been invited to the tea; and she understood what was expected of her. As for Captain du Pont, Zhanna could hardly fault him for seeking attention from an attractive woman of his own age, especially after she had kept him at arm’s length for so long. Still, Zhanna felt a twinge of discomfort that, one way or another, Yulia Yekaterinovna’s happiness might be coming somehow at her expense.

* * *

Two days later, Zhanna received a surprise visit from General Dieterichs, who congratulated her on surviving her examination by Archbishop Sylvester. He also marveled at how her arrival in Omsk appeared to have launched a spiritual awakening there, with worshipers flocking to the churches in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Maid at her morning prayers, or hearing her impromptu remarks from the church steps. The general even offered to attend services with her the following day. Whether he was a religious man, an astute politician, or merely enjoyed the company of young women, was not clear. But he deflected all her questions about being sent to the front with the words, “Be patient.”

Apart from such few social encounters, Zhanna spent most of her time in Yulia’s apartment, with only Paladin and the housekeeper to keep her company until evening, when Ned or Ivashov would sometimes join them for dinner and a game of cards. During those evenings, Zhanna never showed any doubt that she would soon be sent to the front, though winter was nearly over and the long-awaited spring offensive seemed likely to be unleashed without her. But far from brooding over it, she seemed to delight in her daily ambles around Omsk and in the adulation of her followers. She often showed a girlish simplicity and delight, especially when trying on new clothes, seeing new sights, or when she won at cards, slamming her winning hand onto the table with unrestrained glee.

Meanwhile, Ned strengthened his suspicion that Zhanna was keeping him at arm’s length. The thought had come to him during dinner at her uncle’s townhouse in Irkutsk, when she had avoided eye contact with him and kept him from being seated beside her. And though she had seemed to soften toward him on the long train ride from Irkutsk to Omsk, the chill had resumed after her examination at St. Nicholas Cathedral. One night, when they were left alone briefly at the card table, Ned decided to learn why.

“How long are you prepared to wait for your assignment, Zhanna?” he asked her. “What if the Admiral launches his spring offensive without you?”

“I will wait until I am called,” she replied, regarding him coolly.

“And if that time grows exceedingly long?”

“It cannot, for the army will need me soon enough,” she answered crisply, picking up the cards to shuffle them, cut them, and shuffle again.

“You wouldn’t go back to Verkhne-Udinsk?” he pressed.

She turned her head away.

“There is nothing left for me there.”

“How about continuing your education? Your father has offered to send you to France, or America. Perhaps I could help…”

At this the girl abruptly put down the cards and looked up at Ned with an expression that took him by surprise, for it seemed to combine notes of disappointment, resentment, and resolve.

“Thank you, but I could not accept it. Not from either of you.”

“And why not?” Ned inquired.

“Because I have a mission to fulfill. And so do you,” the girl replied with the mature demeanor she displayed when discussing with her divine mission. “So long as we both remain faithful to our duty, all will remain well for us.” But for a brief moment, her earlier note of disappointment showed through. “And you must mind your duty to the other woman to whom you are attached. Each of us makes his choices. And now we must carry them through.”

Before Ned could reply, Paladin and Ivashov returned to the table and no further opportunity arose to revisit the topic. Had Yulia spoken to Zhanna about him? Or had Madame Timiryova? He considered asking one of them if she had, only to conclude that doing so might only make things worse. For while Zhanna seemed to have accepted his affair with Yulia, the latter was not likely to give up her jealousy toward the Maid.

* * *

After the evening spent at Zhanna’s flat, one day passed after another without a word from the Supreme Ruler about the assignment she had expected since their meeting more than two weeks earlier. During that interval, Zhanna continued to win devotees in Omsk, both through her frequent mingling with the public and through daily newspaper articles that hailed her story and spun drama about her every word and action. As in Irkutsk, the well-to-do scoffed at the notion that a young girl might help the Whites win the war. But the common people, citing Yermak’s prophecy, clamored for the Maid to be sent to the front, if for no other purpose than to bless the troops and keep up their morale.

Even at the Stavka, as Ivashov had confided to Ned, Zhanna attracted admirers who saw her appeal as a welcome counterpoint to the public’s growing pessimism about the war. These staff officers urged General Lebedev to exploit the Maid’s popularity, either by sending her to forward bases as a sort of celebrity chaplain, or by employing her on recruiting missions in the rear. They stopped short of suggesting that she lead her new recruits to the front, however, for even they conceded that Zhanna was no soldier and could not be allowed to take any action that might disrupt the army’s planned spring offensive.

As Zhanna’s enforced idleness extended into late March, the much-anticipated spring offensive had not yet been launched, owing to extremely cold weather that had immobilized both Red and White armies since February. Trotsky used the interval to rebuild his badly mauled Third Red Army in the north and to tighten the Bolshevik grip on Ufa and Birsk, at the front’s center, and on Uralsk and Orenburg to the south. While Admiral Kolchak was extremely keen to open his attack, he left the detailed planning and management of the war to General Lebedev and the Stavka. To the extent that Ned comprehended Lebedev’s offensive plan, it seemed to call for a strategic breakthrough at the front’s center, before the Red Army could mount its own offensive on the Siberians’ southern flank.

Ned had exerted considerable effort over the winter to gather intelligence about Lebedev’s offensive strategy. But despite his eagerness for a White victory, Ned considered the Stavka’s scheme ill-conceived, and set down his reasons in a coded dispatch to Colonel Barrows at the end of March:

1. The Siberian Army is spread extremely thin along a front of more than five hundred miles, from Perm in the north to Orenburg and the Caspian in the south.

2. The quality of Siberian officers under Kolchak does not appear high. Of the Admiral’s roughly 17,000 officers, only 1,100 had been pre-1915 Imperial Army officers.

3. While the Cossack auxiliaries offer another source of seasoned officers and sub officers, the Stavka confines Cossack units to their home stanitsas [28] and fails to use their cavalry effectively to raid the enemy’s rear.

4. The enlisted men in Siberian Army infantry units are mostly untrained peasant conscripts of nineteen or twenty because older veterans are turned away for fear that they have been radicalized.

5. Owing to harsh conscription methods, raw recruits enter military service embittered by fear of their own government and are prone to desert at the first sign of fighting.

6. Though the Siberian army cannot properly train or equip its soldiers, Omsk continues to send more unprepared units to the front on the grounds that the offensive requires numerical superiority to succeed.

7. The danger from poor combat readiness is compounded by the Siberian Army’s glaring lack of reserves, as reserve divisions will not be ready until late summer.

8. At this time, the Siberian Armies have a five-to-four advantage in men over the Red Armies along the Urals, while the Reds possess more artillery and machine guns, and can deploy them more effectively using their dense railway network.

9. On the front’s southern flank, Kolchak’s forces are dispersed, while the Red Army is concentrated in order to crush the scattered groups one by one and turn the Siberian Army’s southern flank.

10. In recent weeks, Admiral Kolchak’s most capable generals have called for a delay to the offensive until reserves are ready. Lebedev insists on attacking at once to exploit Red weaknesses. This looks increasingly like a desperate gamble from whose failure the Siberian Armies may never recover.

* * *

Shortly after sending this dispatch to Vladivostok, Ned received word from the British Military Mission that he and Colonel Ward were to report to General Lebedev later that day regarding progress on the wireless project. By now, coded wireless messages were being exchanged daily between Admiral Kolchak at Omsk, General Denikin at Novo-Rossiysk, General Yudenich at Tallinn, and both British and American military missions.

Upon arriving at the Stavka, Ward and Ned were ushered into the war room, where General Lebedev listened to their briefing with the despotic indifference of a Mongol khan.

“I approved your wireless project and have no objection,” he told them at the end. “But as yet I have seen little benefit from its use. General Denikin has his front and we have ours; we shall see who reaches Moscow first.”

“But that is precisely the point, general,” Ward responded in a forceful voice, “By coordinating your respective attacks, the combined White Armies will be better able to strike the Bolsheviks where they are weakest and forestall Red counterattacks.”

“We Siberians shall defeat the Bolsheviks without General Denikin’s help, thank you very much,” the Chief of Staff answered stiffly, turning away from Ward to consult a map on the wall.

“Please permit me to remind you, general, that the British Navy is delivering considerable quantities of weaponry to the Black Sea ports controlled by Denikin’s AFSR,” Ward persisted. “That includes artillery, aircraft, tanks, and armored cars, all of which the White forces will need down the road to attack heavily fortified positions. We might be able to deliver some of these weapons to you, too, via the Caspian, but we would need General Denikin’s permission to transport them across his territory. Might that not be enough reason to increase your coordination with him?”

Lebedev turned around sharply to face Colonel Ward, bristling at his offer rather than taking the bait as Ward and Ned had expected he would.

“I know Denikin all too well. He would never allow us a single cartridge without also sending us a gaggle of his staff officers to control its use,” he shot back, pointing at Ward with an unsteady forefinger. “His Stavka is bloated with redundant officers of high rank who would rather crawl up our arses and criticize our war-making than go to the front and fight. No, I will not accept any Trojan horses from Novo-Rossiysk and will not let my Stavka be invaded by interlopers!”

Ned was astounded at the Chief of Staff’s outburst, for it laid bare the self-interest behind his dogged refusal to coordinate strategy and logistics with the AFSR. Having originally come to Omsk from General Denikin’s staff, Lebedev was well aware that AFSR headquarters could easily spare a dozen accomplished senior staff officers, any one of whom might displace him if permitted to gain a foothold at Omsk. Yet, how could Lebedev justify rejecting Ward’s offer of war-winning heavy weapons over so petty an objection?

For whatever reason, the British officer let the subject drop. Instead, he served up a question no less controversial.

“Very well, general, I believe I understand your position and shall report it to my superiors,” Ward conceded. “But before taking my leave, I would like to ask how preparations are coming along for the spring offensive, and how soon you might be ready to attack.”

“General Khanzin began offensive operations at dawn yesterday morning,” Lebedev drawled, showing a self-satisfied smile.

“Yesterday, you say?” Ward’s voice rose in disbelief.

“The Supreme Ruler made the announcement last evening by coded wireless message to General Knox in London. Did your people not inform you?” Lebedev sneered.

Ward gave Ned a questioning look, to which Ned responded with a shrug. For while routine wireless messages from the Stavka were generally carried to Beregovoy for encoding, some high level messages were encoded at Liberty House, thus concealing their contents from Ned’s team. So it might not yet have been deciphered by American codebreakers.

“In any event, I knew you would be visiting me today and intended to inform you at that time,” Lebedev added.

“Pray tell me then, general,” Ward resumed in an icy tone, “What are the results so far?”

“The Western Army is making good progress toward Ufa, though the Urals passes remain blanketed with snow. I believe we have taken the Reds completely by surprise,” Lebedev replied with a complacent smile.

“Your plan, then, still calls for Khanzin’s Western Army to deliver the main thrust at the center, along the Ufa-Samara axis?”

“Indeed,” Lebedev answered.

“And will you then prepare a defensive line at Ufa, along the Belaya River, to repel a Red counteroffensive?” Ward pressed.

“We shall do no such thing!” Lebedev bristled. “After taking Ufa, our forces will proceed directly to Samara and, after crossing the Volga, will advance on Moscow!”

“Then you are a bloody fool!” Ward shot back. “Even a child could predict a Red counterattack. And in fact, one of them has. Even the Maid of Baikal, whose predictions of victory are no less reckless than yours, has called for holding a ‘White Line’ on the Belaya.”

“The Maid merely parrots idle rumors in the press about our plans,” Lebedev said with a dismissive wave of his trembling hand. “She is what Trotsky calls a ‘useful fool,’ someone who stirs up the masses for the leaders to manipulate. An educated person like you should not be misled.”

Ward reddened at the insult but held his tongue.

“Then you have no intention of sending the Maid to the front, as Admiral Kolchak has said he would?” Ned broke in, struggling to maintain his composure at what appeared to be a breach of faith by Kolchak and General Dieterichs.

“The Supreme Ruler promised no such thing, captain,” Lebedev replied firmly. “He instructed Dieterichs to listen to the girl and find a suitable way to put her to use. He did not place her at the head of an army.”

“If I may ask, then, general, in what way would you  propose to employ the girl?” Ned pushed. “Her following grows daily, and she attracts masses of new recruits, many of them seasoned veterans. Why not also put them  to good use?”

For a moment, Lebedev seemed at a loss for words. He shook his head as a horse might do to dislodge a fly and let out a loud snort before responding.

“If the Supreme Ruler were, by some wild caprice, to send that girl anywhere in the vicinity of the front lines, an out-of-the-way spot would need to be found where she and her flock of icon-kissers could do no harm. But, I can assure you, there is no place for them on the Ufa-Samara axis or at Perm.”

Only then did Ned remember Zhanna’s remarks to Ivashov during her uncle’s dinner at Irkutsk. She had said that the Stavka had put too much of its strength in the north and that the war must be won in the South, by way of Uralsk. Could this be the out-of-the way sector where the Maid might be destined to make her mark?

* * *

Upon leaving the Stavka, Ned and Colonel Ward boarded the colonel’s droshky  for the ride back to the British Military Mission. En route, both men expressed astonishment that the spring offensive was already underway and anxiety over its prospects. General Lebedev’s unwillingness to accept British heavy weapons for fear of weakening his personal position came as a disappointment to both of them, and they resolved to find a way around it.

“Neilson has just returned from a trip across the Caspian to Novo-Rossiysk and has inspected British weapons warehoused there,” the colonel confided. “It’s a crying shame. General Denikin is getting more equipment than he can put to use. Much of it is sitting idle or out of commission, awaiting parts or repairs. And the AFSR is vastly overstocked on certain weapons, like trench mortars, that few Russians have been trained to use.”

“How difficult would it be to ship some of this equipment a short jaunt across the Caspian to General Tolstov’s Cossacks at Guryev[29]?” Ned inquired. “I agree, it seems a terrible waste for the Siberian Army not to share in these riches when they are needed so desperately along the Urals.”

“The Royal Navy’s Caspian fleet has limited tonnage, but they do make occasional trips to Guryev to resupply the Ural Cossacks, so I suppose a step-up in deliveries is possible,” Ward noted. “But that would require approval on all sides, and we have already heard General Lebedev’s views on that question.”

“Perhaps it might be arranged privately, between the British Military Mission and the AFSR,” Ned suggested. “In such case, Lebedev’s approval might not be required at all, given that the Ural Cossacks enjoy functional autonomy in their theater of operations. And, surely, General Tolstov would never turn such arms away. To retake their home city of Uralsk, his Cossacks will need every weapon they can lay their hands on. A few armored cars could make an enormous difference.”

“Your point is well taken, captain, but I don’t see how we can put such a plan in motion without Lebedev getting wind of it,” the colonel fretted. “If any of our messages found their way to the Stavka, the Chief of Staff would have us both packed out on the next train to Vladivostok.”

“Quite so, colonel,” Ned agreed. “But it so happens that I’ve been ordered to Novo-Rossiysk in a few days for meetings on the wireless project. While I’m there, perhaps I could have a discreet word with the right people.”

Ward brightened at the suggestion.

“Splendid idea,” he replied with a crooked smile. “Will you need backup at Beregovoy during your absence? I could send Neilson again to fill in for you. He is on good terms with Madame Yushnevskaya and could be brought up to speed rather quickly.”

“John would be the perfect man for the job,” Ned agreed with a smile. “I’ll speak to him.”


Chapter 11: Spring Offensive

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“He that hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made.”

—William Shakespeare, Henry V 

Musical Theme: Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene XIII, Dance of the Knights , by Sergei Prokofiev


Ned returned from his trip to General Denikin’s AFSR Headquarters at Novo-Rossiysk, on the Black Sea coast, just as Admiral Kolchak’s Cossack allies advanced southward in triumph toward their traditional seats of power at Orenburg and Uralsk. On April 9, General Dutov’s Orenburg Cossacks captured Orsk and, two days later took Aktyubinsk,[30] severing the Orenburg-Tashkent Railwa

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y and driving the Red Army from the Orenburg Steppe. On April 20, General Tolstov’s Ural Cossacks reached the outskirts of their home city, Uralsk, seven hundred versts east of the Volga River.

Ned arrived back in Omsk at mid-morning and by mid-afternoon set out for the wireless station at Beregovoy. After handing his haversack over to Yulia’s manservant, Genrikh, he crossed the yard to the lodge and found Lieutenant Colonel Neilson sorting through a stack of papers on his desk. Ned pulled up a rough-hewn wooden chair and sat beside him.

“I want to thank you for a brilliant idea,” he greeted Neilson.

“And which one of my many might that be?” the Briton answered, setting his papers aside with a broad smile.

“You pointed out how the AFSR had more armored cars and trench mortars than they could use,” Ned answered. “You were right, and now our Cossack friends will be getting some of them.”

“You don’t say!” Neilson replied with relish.

“It’s not that the AFSR was inclined to be generous,” Ned continued. “It’s rather that that General Denikin, being in the habit of looking gift horses in the mouth, had rejected any vehicle that wasn’t one-hundred percent battle-ready. As a result, quite a few serviceable armored cars languished on the docks awaiting parts or repair.”

“So he’s agreed to release them to our boys?”

“Not exactly,” Ned replied. “Since he refused to accept them, your military mission still carries them in its inventory rather than Denikin’s. Thus, instead of shipping the vehicles back to Baku for repairs, your people will simply ship them across the Caspian to General Tolstov’s Cossacks. So long as they have at least one serviceable gun apiece and can move in first or second gear, I should think the cars would be quite useful in breaching the defenses at Uralsk.”

“Splendid work!” Neilson declared. “How many are they willing to send over?”

“A half dozen or more,” Ned replied. “And a hundred or so trench mortars into the bargain, with assorted shells: high explosive, fragmentation, incendiary—even smoke! We’ll have to scour the ranks to find men trained in using them, but I should think Tolstov has enough veterans of the war against Germany to solve that problem.”

“In a pinch, some of our boys can train the Cossacks,” Neilson agreed. “The light mortars ought to be handy for their mounted raids. And the incendiary and smoke rounds useful against fixed positions at Uralsk.”

The lieutenant colonel rose to fetch two cups of steaming tea from the brass samovar. After handing one to Ned and taking a tentative sip from his own, he recounted the latest news from the Siberian Army’s spring offensive. While Ned was away, Khanzin’s Western Army had advanced on horse-drawn sledges through knee-deep snow to retake Ufa without a fight, and then moved on toward their distant objectives on the Volga. The attack had taken the Red Army’s Eastern Front Commander, Kamenev, completely by surprise. With its local four-to-one advantage in men and two-to-one in artillery and machine guns, the Western Army crushed the main force of the Fifth Red Army in five days.

Khanzin’s troops continued west along the Ufa-Simbirsk[31] Railway, deflecting a weak counterblow and capturing Belebey, Bugul’ma and Buguruslan in rapid succession by mid-April. Another combat group moved north to the River Ik to cut off the retreat of Red soldiers east of the Volga and advanced along the Kama River toward Chistopol. And even further north, General Gaida’s Northern Army, based at Perm, quickly took Okhansk and Osa, forced the Reds to abandon Votkinsk and Izhevsk, and pressed forward on skis to Glazov. Despite Trotsky’s efforts to preserve discipline, the Third Red Army melted before Gaida’s advance. And in the south, the Uralsk and Orenburg Cossacks pushed the Fourth Red Army further back toward the Volga while laying siege to Uralsk and Orenburg.

Now, entering the fourth week of April, the spring thaw had begun, with the breakup of river ice and deep mud bringing combat to a standstill. While Siberian troops rested and regrouped, spirits soared at the Stavka and at Liberty House, allowing the Chief of Staff to claim full credit for the Siberian Army’s advances. But while Lebedev basked in his momentary glory, the British Military Mission fretted that the fortnight’s hiatus might give Trotsky and the Red Army the time they needed to mount a long-anticipated counteroffensive. The problem was that the Northern Army had pushed too far to the northwest and the Western Army too far to the southwest, opening a dangerous gap between them. Yet an overconfident Lebedev dismissed any Red counter-attack toward that gap as “no more than a death spasm.”

Nonetheless, in the days following Ned’s return from Novo-Rossiysk, telegraph and wireless intercepts picked up unmistakable signs of a Red Army counteroffensive aimed at exploiting not only the gap between the Western Army and the Northern Army, but also a similar gap between the Western Army and the Cossacks to the south. The standard solution would have been for the Western and Northern Armies to fall back to a defensive line and bring up reserves. But reserves were nonexistent and Lebedev resisted all proposals to withdraw.

After a short discussion, Ned agreed with Neilson’s suggestion to brief Colonel Ward on the threat and to have him present the latest intelligence directly to Admiral Kolchak. Ward had long been concerned over the lack of planning for a Red counteroffensive and the absence of reserves. Beyond that, both Ward and his boss, General Knox, wanted to push Kolchak to augment his Stavka with capable officers from the AFSR staff at Novo-Rossiysk. For this, a talk with General Lebedev would not do; Ward would need a private audience with General Dieterichs and the Supreme Ruler himself.

Neilson agreed to leave Beregovoy at first light to find Ward and propose his ideas. But before leaving, Neilson told Ned he wished to discuss a delicate matter with him.

“It’s about Madame Yushnevskaya,” Neilson began. “She’s been on edge for the entire month you were gone, but lately it’s become much worse. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Yulia can be difficult to manage. I ought to know, because I recruited her…”

“Is there anything in particular that she’s upset about?” Ned asked, though dreading the answer.

“I don’t think so,” Neilson answered, “though money seems to play a part in it.”

“That’s odd; she’s never brought up money before,” Ned remarked, relieved not to be named as the source of Yulia’s discontent.

“Actually, the troubles started when I made the mistake of moving my things into your room in the main house. She turned me out on my ear,” Neilson confessed with an awkward grimace. “I apologized, of course, and told her I had assumed that room was reserved for the commanding officer. She insisted that I was mistaken and added that, from now on, the commanding officer would sleep in the lodge with the men.”

“I have no problem with that,” Ned lied. “The main reason I moved into the big house to start with was that I was the first one on site and the lodge wasn’t ready for occupancy. The woman is certainly entitled to her privacy, if that’s what she wants.”

“No, I don’t think it’s about privacy,” Ward replied with a discouraged look. “After our encounter, it seemed as if every time I saw her she would find some reason to pick a quarrel with me. At first, it was over money to cover unexpected repairs. Then it was about some damage she claimed the men had caused. And not long after, she berated me when she caught one of our sentries nodding off just before dawn. She wasn’t at all like that when I first met her. I don’t know what’s gotten into her.”

Ned noticed Neilson watching him closely.

“I suppose the war gets to everyone after a while,” Ned answered with a shrug. “Do you think she might be worried that the townspeople don’t like having Allied officers billeted at Beregovoy?”

“That could be part of it,” Neilson conceded. “She did mention some unpleasantness with the locals a while back when she was town.”

“There’s the ticket,” Ned answered, as if the riddle were suddenly solved. “I’ll ask her about it this afternoon and let you know what I learn.”

* * *

By the time Ned finished his meetings with Neilson and the men at the lodge, the sun was low on the horizon. He took leave of them to inspect the grounds before dark. During his solitary walk, he pondered what might have prompted Yulia’s odd behavior and how he should address it. While away from Beregovoy, he had come to recognize how irresponsible he had been to enter into an amorous relationship with Yulia, given his primary responsibility for the wireless mission and the safety of his men. More than that, going to bed with her violated the AEF’s non-fraternization policy between American military men and Russian civilians. Not only would Colonel Barrows disapprove, but Ned could hardly enforce a policy toward his men that he violated regularly. Nor was his conduct likely to enhance his stature with Colonel Ward or the Omsk regime, upon whose cooperation he depended.

On reflection, Ned realized that the relationship with Yulia was one of convenience that he might never have begun but for the war. And now the affair’s outcome would likely depend on the war. If the Whites lost, the Americans would withdraw and so would he, leaving the widow at risk of Bolshevik reprisals. And if the stress of hosting him and his men had undermined her mental stability, his fault would be all the greater. But, having begun the relationship, how was he to end it?

Ned stepped up to the front door of the main house at Beregovoy, knocked, and waited. No answer. He stepped into the entry hall and closed the door behind him. Silence. He called out to announce himself. Still no answer. So he mounted the stairs and went to his room, where he found his haversack on the bed, empty, its contents having been hung in the closet and put away in the dresser beside the bed.

Moments later, he heard rapid footsteps on the stairway and turned to listen through the half-closed door. When the door swung open, Yulia stood at the threshold, slightly out of breath.

“How long have you been here?” she asked with narrowed eyes.

“Not long,” Ned replied. “I’ve been at the lodge to talk with Neilson and the men.”

“Why didn’t you come directly to see me? I’ve been waiting,” she said, stepping into the room. She wore her usual long gray wool skirt and pleated white blouse buttoned to the throat and looked lovely, with her pale cheeks slightly flushed. Was it excitement, anger, or just the exertion of climbing the stairs?

“I called out from the front door but no one answered,” he answered after a moment. “Anyway, I’m here now, and I see that Genrikh has already put away my things.”

He waited for a response but none came.

“I can pack up and move to the lodge if you prefer,” he added. But she ignored his offer.

“You said you wouldn’t be traveling. Then you left for the south. You said you would be gone two or three weeks. It has been nearly a month,” she responded at last with pursed lips, her arms folded across her chest. “What am I to think?”

“The trip took longer than anyone expected. I had no control over it,” he replied without emotion.

“Were you long in Omsk before coming here?”

“Not long,” he answered. “Why do you ask?”

“Did you see the girl, Zhanna, while you were there?” She waited for his reply with a strained expression and unblinking eyes.

“Not since I left last month. Why, is there something…?”

“No, no,” she replied, her limbs and facial muscles relaxing visibly. “She was also gone for a while. I thought, perhaps…”

“My trip had nothing to do with Zhanna,” he added. “Now, what would you like me to do? Shall we go downstairs, have tea and talk, or would you like me to carry my things back to the lodge?”

At that, Yulia rushed forward and wrapped her arms around Ned’s neck.

“You have no idea how I missed you,” she whispered into his ear. “I felt so alone here without you. And unsafe.”

Ned returned her embrace before releasing her so he could speak.

“But, Yulia, you have a squad of soldiers next door and armed sentries on duty around the clock,” he replied with a gentle laugh.

“Yes, but beyond the estate, people are watching us,” she insisted. “When I go to the village or to Omsk, I see how they look at me. They know that I own land and factories, and that I am half-British and have friends at the British consulate. Perhaps they also know what sort of work goes on at the lodge.”

“What if they do? You’re making much more of it all than you need to, Yulia,” Ned responded. “Most people really only care about their own affairs. Sometimes we think they take an interest in us, but nine times out of ten they couldn’t care less. I strongly doubt you are in danger, but if it concerns you so much, why don’t we sit down and discuss it over tea?”

Yulia dropped her arms from his neck and turned away.

“You don’t understand how I feel. Because you’re a man, and an American officer,” she said. “The whole world lies open to you. But a woman, in Russia…”

“Do tell me about it, but let’s talk downstairs over tea. I’m parched!” he replied, flashing his most disarming smile.

“Then you won’t listen to me here and now?” she protested, her eyes welling with tears.

“Of course I will, Yulia. Go ahead. Tell me everything,” he contradicted himself, taking her hand and sitting beside her on the bed. Tea would have to wait.

* * *

At the end of April, though the ice and snow had melted and the mud had dried, the Siberian Army’s spring offensive remained stalled for lack of reinforcements and resupply. Meanwhile, intelligence reports confirmed that the First and Fifth Red Armies were gathering force for a planned counteroffensive. At the urging of Ned and Lieutenant Colonel Neilson, Colonel Ward arranged for a private meeting with Admiral Kolchak and General Dieterichs, ostensibly to update plans for improved wireless communications and to pass along the latest Allied intelligence. The real reason for the meeting, however, was to present Allied concerns about the offensive and to lay down Allied conditions for continued military aid.

Since Ned was the senior American military officer available for the meeting and the one who knew the most about the wireless project and recent intelligence reporting, he joined Colonel Ward for the short ride from the British Consulate to Liberty House. While en route, Ward expressed doubt that the Supreme Ruler was even in Omsk, as he had heard that Kolchak was delayed at the front. Nonetheless, he preferred not to postpone the meeting for fear that certain others might reach the Supreme Ruler first.

“We must gain the Admiral’s ear before those dilettantes and fantasists at the Stavka do, lest they fill his head with the sort of rubbish that they generate in that military anthill of theirs,” Ward began. “The tragedy is that General Lebedev has made it his primary mission to block any opening for a more competent staff officer to replace him. The man is notorious for his methods of advancing himself. The Russians call it the ‘path over corpses’ for good reason.”

“By now, one would think that Kolchak would recognize the Stavka’s incompetence and how they continue to underestimate the Red Army,” Ned concurred. “But what if he doesn’t and turns down your proposals?”

“Then I shall have to refer the matter to London,” Colonel Ward replied with a determined look.

When they arrived at Liberty House, the duty officer led them straight to the Supreme Ruler’s office.

“Secretary Guins has asked that you join him inside,” the officer told them as he opened the door for them.

Once inside, instead of finding Guins with Admiral Kolchak, Ned saw the youthful official seated at a conference table with Lebedev and a handful of senior Stavka officers dressed in impeccably tailored British uniforms: brown wool tunics adorned with green-and-white Siberian epaulets, broad riding breeches, polished British boots with stout soles and gleaming brass eyelets, and gaiters laced to the knee. Ned cast a glance toward Colonel Ward and saw anger smoldering in his eyes. They had walked into an ambush.

The Russians rose to shake hands with their visitors and Ned noticed that Ward was nearly a head taller than Lebedev, who was the tallest of the Russians. Without apology, the Chief of Staff announced that Admiral Kolchak had not yet returned from the front. Reciting a list of successes achieved to date by the Siberian Army’s spring offensive, he predicted that the Volga would soon be crossed and Siberia’s Northern Army might reach Moscow within six weeks.

Ward listened politely until Lebedev finished, thanked him, and then asked coolly if he might now offer His Majesty’s Government’s views on the matter. On receiving Lebedev’s nod, the colonel looked around the table before speaking.

“We face a wholly changed situation, gentlemen,” Ward declared, laying his massive hands flat on the table. “The Bolshevik leadership has turned its attention from Denikin’s AFSR to the Siberian Army, naming Admiral Kolchak as its main enemy. This means that the full weight of the Red Army will soon come down upon us, and likely where we are weakest.”

The colonel rose from the table, stepped up to a map of the Urals front hanging on the wall, and pointed to the Western Army’s left and right flanks, where gaps had opened. “This is where we can expect the First and Fifth Red Armies to aim their counterthrusts. Our early superiority in troops was achieved by throwing every available man at the enemy. Now, that advantage is gone.”

Though Lebedev’s face remained impassive, several of his deputies cast nervous glances at one another, licked their dry lips, and lay down pen or pencil to listen.

“Our latest intelligence confirms that Fifth Red Army troop strength in the Samara-Simbirsk salient has more than doubled since the mid-April thaw,” Ward went on. “In the north, Trotsky has replaced the Third Army’s entire leadership, thereby restoring discipline and fighting morale. In Moscow, Petrograd, and other Soviet cities, the Bolsheviks have conscripted between ten and twenty percent of all industrial workers, backed by promises of food, threats of arrest, and a new propaganda campaign. Many of the conscripts are veterans of the war against Germany. But most importantly, the Reds have brought every last one of their artillery pieces and machine guns to bear upon us. The Western Army is now badly outgunned, even where once we possessed a decisive superiority in men and weaponry.”

The Englishman paused to give his words full effect. He stared across the table and his audience glared back in stony silence.

“The question now before us is…”

“Where did you get your information?” the Chief of Staff interrupted in a sharp voice. “And why were we not informed before this?” he challenged, pushing his chair roughly from the table.

“You were  informed. We delivered the information to Liberty House several days ago, though perhaps you were at the front,” Ward replied. “As to our sources, some of it comes from British Intelligence in London, and some was gathered by Captain du Pont’s wireless unit. I assure you that the information and analysis are quite solid.”

Lebedev twisted his gold wedding ring around his finger and looked around the table to assess the reaction from his colleagues. Their faces remained largely expressionless and drained of color.

“Very well, then. We will examine the intelligence later,” Lebedev went on. “You may continue.”

“The question at hand is how best to minimize our losses from the impending Red counteroffensive,” Ward asserted. “My colleagues and I recommend withdrawing the Northern Army to its base at Perm and the Western Army to the Belaya River at Ufa, there to hold a defensive line over the summer until fresh reserves are ready.”

“Preposterous!” declared a monocled young officer sitting stiffly at Lebedev’s right hand. “Our men are now within eighty versts of Samara and Kazan, with the Red Army retreating faster than we can advance. We have only to push forward and Moscow will be within our grasp!”

“Those of your troops who are closest to the enemy also lack food, ammunition and fuel,” Ward replied in a low voice, looking the young officer in the eye. “If not withdrawn, Staff Captain Titov, they will be overrun or will defect to the enemy. When one’s ammunition pouch is empty, audacity will not suffice.”

“Supply is the province of the Minister of War,” Titov sniffed. “The problem lies…”

Given the Englishman’s well-known intolerance for blame shifting, Lebedev silenced his subordinate with a headshake and bade Ward to continue.

“We also recommend repositioning your forces from north to south to strengthen the Western Army’s left flank,” Ward went on. “With the Fourth Red Army still in disarray from its recent defeats, we may be able to throw them off balance by threatening a linkup with Denikin’s AFSR at Tsaritsyn. This might draw off forces from the expected Red counterattack toward Ufa, reducing the risk of an enemy breakthrough there. Alternatively, if the Reds leave the south undefended, our Cossacks can disrupt the Red counteroffensive with raids to their rear. If executed properly, these moves may buy us time to restart the offensive by summer’s end.”

“Am I to understand that you would have us forfeit the gains we have won by our spring offensive only to pay for them a second time later in the year?” Lebedev demanded in a menacing voice.

“If you do not give up a great part of these gains, general, they will be taken from you,” Ward answered. “And perhaps much more. Need I belabor the danger of permitting the Reds to retake Ufa and occupy the Urals passes once again before winter?”

Ward paused again for dramatic effect before concluding.

“Holding a defensive line in the north over the summer will permit us to mount a joint offensive later in the south with the AFSR,” he proposed. “During this time, General Denikin will likely mount his own offensive toward Kharkov, drawing Red forces toward the west. With any success, perhaps this winter we may be able to join Denikin and Yudenich in a fresh drive toward Moscow.”

Ned looked across the table at the Chief of Staff and despaired that the Stavka was saddled with such a witless windbag at a time when it needed Russia’s very best military minds. But judging by Lebedev’s knitted brow and clenched fists, it was clear that he had no intention of giving up his cherished position.

“I can assure you that Admiral Kolchak will not countenance any sort of combined operation with General Denikin,” Lebedev spat out with the expression of a man who has bit into a lemon. “Apart from having proven themselves completely unreliable, Denikin’s forces remain hopelessly bottled up south of the Don. What’s more, the railroads in the south are far too few and in too poor a state to allow any meaningful coordination between his forces and ours.”

“I beg to differ,” Ward countered, his impatience rising visibly. “The south offers numerous rail lines from the Volga to the Black and Azov Seas, unlike the area between General Gaida’s Northern Army and Petrograd.”

The Chief of Staff shifted his bulky body in his seat and sucked his teeth in irritation.

“From the outset, our plan has rested on the premise of striking hard while the Red Army was poorly armed and organized,” Lebedev insisted, his voice trembling with indignation. “This strategy has succeeded beyond all expectations and has put our Generals Khanzin and Gaida on converging paths to Moscow. I cannot suddenly ask our men to retreat, as if it were all for nothing!”

Ward exhaled deeply and, without making eye contact with any of the Russians, stepped away from the map to take his place at the table. All eyes were upon him when he spoke.

“I came here today to speak privately with Admiral Kolchak and found you men gathered here instead. Since we have already discussed much of what I planned to share with the Admiral in confidence, I will share something else with you,” Ward declared in a flat voice that belied his rage. “And that is to make you aware that your loyal allies have grown impatient, and we are prepared to set preconditions on further grants of support if you persist in your present course.”

Staff Captain Titov gasped audibly, his face naked with anxiety. The man’s eyes darted left and right before coming to rest on the Chief of staff, who swallowed hard and bit his lower lip while Colonel Ward let his words sink in.

“Not only do we expect you to halt the Siberian Army’s advance immediately,” Ward continued, “but we expect your army to retreat to a defensive line from Perm to Ufa. This will permit a much-needed reorganization of Siberian forces over the coming months. Such an overhaul will require stamping out corruption among your ranks and ending the diversion of Allied-supplied war materiel. It requires clearing the cafés of idle officers and packing them off to the front. It means reforming civilian institutions and ending the repression of workers and peasants in the rear. I could go on, and I will, after Admiral Kolchak’s return.”

Lebedev directed a baleful stare at Ward but said nothing. Instead, a voice came from the far end of the table where no one had spoken before.

“Last month France withdrew its troops from Odessa, and this month from Sevastopol. Some say the British have two hands: one that gives and one that takes away.” The measured voice was that of George Guins, the man who had arranged the meeting and invited Lebedev in place of the Supreme Ruler. “Do you mean to imply that we can no longer rely on British support?”

“That is a question for London, not for me,” Ward replied. “But if you are so concerned about Allied support, Mr. Guins, I suggest you make the best use of what you have, before holding out your tin cup for more.”

Across the table, General Lebedev listened with clenched teeth. He addressed Ward now as if his entrails were bubbling with indignation.

“Though you speak of Allied aid, your attempts to interfere with our actions are anything but useful. May I remind you, Colonel Ward, that this is a Russian war, fought by Russian soldiers on Russian soil, and that, while our allies may offer us arms and equipment, you may not set conditions upon how we use them. Until I report our discussions to Admiral Kolchak, I caution you not to approach him further, so that no further damage is done to the relations between us.”

Lebedev held Ward’s gaze for several long seconds, as if in warning, before snapping his hardbound notebook shut so sharply that Ned gave a reflexive wince. Lebedev pulled his chair away from the conference table, a sign for his men to follow suit. A clatter arose as the Russians left their seats. Guins was first to head for the door, having been summoned by a duty officer gesticulating at him from the reception room.

But Ward was not finished. He raised his voice and directed his parting words to both Guins and Lebedev.

“You should not think for a moment that the Siberian Army’s advances this spring resulted from any military prowess. It is far simpler than that,” Ward stated. “You see, when the Reds run away, our side advances. When our men begin their retreat, the Red Army will advance. It is only a question of how far the enemy will come and, once started, whether they can be stopped at all.”

Without waiting for a response, the colonel gathered his papers and marched out the door, with Ned close behind. However, to Ned’s complete surprise, no sooner had they descended the central staircase to the lobby than they came face to face with Admiral Kolchak, General Dieterichs, and a pair of British bodyguards. The Britons exchanged snappy salutes.

“Good morning, Admiral,” Colonel Ward greeted Kolchak, showing not a trace of his earlier irritation. “Actually, you are the one I came here to see, but as I have just finished meeting with the Chief of Staff, perhaps it would be best to come back another time.”

“Nonsense,” the Admiral barked. “I want to hear what you have to say at first hand, and I have some other matters to raise with you. So come along.”

They ran straight into Lebedev and the others on the stairway. Kolchak promptly led the entire group back up the stairs and into his office, where each resumed his former place around the table after making room for the Supreme Ruler and General Dieterichs.

“Gentlemen, today I have received fresh intelligence from our agents at the front,” the Admiral began. “It seems that the Red Army has shifted its focus from South Russia to the Urals and that their counteroffensive will be aimed at recapturing Ufa and taking the Urals passes. Lenin has told his Politburo that whichever army holds the passes this winter will inevitably be victor in the spring.”

Ned and Colonel Ward exchanged satisfied looks. Suddenly the tables appeared to be turning in their favor.

“Yes, Your Excellency,” Guins responded in a deferential tone. “As it happens, we have received similar information just now from Colonel Ward and Captain du Pont.”

“Good, then you will understand the need to reconsider our current plans for resuming the offensive,” Kolcha

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k added. “Defensive tactics may be in order.”

“Most certainly so, Your Excellency,” Lebedev agreed, reversing nearly everything he had said to Colonel Ward. “If you wish, I will instruct the Stavka to prepare contingency plans for a partial withdrawal of the Western and Northern Armies.”

“Have you given any thought as to where the new defensive line might be?” Kolchak inquired.

The Chief of Staff cast a nervous glance toward Guins, who looked away irritably, and then turned to the monocled Staff Captain Titov, who minutes earlier had called any withdrawal preposterous.

“We will study it and make our recommendations by morning, Your Excellency,” the young Russian answered with an officious shuffling of papers.

Kolchak offered a sympathetic nod.

“It will be a painful step, to be sure,” the Supreme Ruler conceded. “But review the new intelligence and you will see why it is needed.”

“Certainly, Your Excellency,” Lebedev added. “And having held the Reds at bay over the summer, we should be in an excellent position to resume our advance after the harvest.”

Ned suppressed a laugh at how Lebedev had been led to parrot Colonel Ward’s remarks. And only seconds later, his monocle-wearing underling borrowed even further from Ward’s ideas.

“Perhaps we can turn a temporary withdrawal to our advantage,” he suggested. “If Trotsky means to throw everything at our center, perhaps we could exploit this in the south, where the Fourth Red Army remains weak. By sending reinforcements to the Ural Cossacks and threatening to link up with the AFSR, we might draw forces away from the attack on Khanzin’s southern flank. Or, failing that, we might send some Cossacks to harass the Fifth Army’s supply lines.”

It was a blatant attempt by Titov to curry favor with the Supreme Ruler, and Lebedev scowled at him from the moment he began speaking. Ned, on the other hand, was enjoying it immensely.

“Sadly, our reserve divisions have only begun their training and we have no others,” the Chief of Staff remarked, looking pointedly at each of his colleagues before stopping at Titov. “Where, may I ask, do you propose to find your reinforcements, staff captain?”

“Why not call up the civilian volunteers who clamor to fight under the so-called Maid of Baikal?” Titov replied. “I’m told that many fought against the Germans but were rejected by our recruiters on political grounds.”

“An interesting idea,” Guins added, to Ned’s surprise. “Their willingness to take up arms offers sufficient evidence of their loyalty, to my mind. Look, these men clog our railway stations from Irkutsk to Chelyabinsk, demanding to be sent to fight under the Maid. Why not call them on it?”

While the proposal drew a flurry of objections from Lebedev and several other Stavka men, Admiral Kolchak remained silent. At last, Dieterichs rapped his knuckles on the table and called for order.

“In the light of our new intelligence, I would like to offer a compromise,” Dieterichs began. “In order to draw in as many experienced fighters as possible, I suggest offering the Maid an honorary commission in a new volunteer infantry brigade to be sent to the Southern Front, under a joint command arrangement with General Tolstov of the Ural Cossacks. Tolstov would retain effective command, of course, but the Maid would play the role of Pied Piper, leading her volunteers to the front. How about it, gentlemen?”

The Chief of Staff maintained a sullen silence. His subordinates took their cue from him and did likewise, while Titov bit his knuckle and looked away. Dieterichs gave a nod to Ward and Ned before he spoke again.

“If our British and American allies give their consent, I would propose to outfit the Maid’s volunteers from Allied warehouses at Omsk. They would also be given priority for railway transport to the railhead nearest Uralsk, from which they would render infantry support to the Ural Cossack cavalry. After Uralsk has been retaken, the volunteers can be put to further use helping General Tolstov to raid the enemy’s rear. Do I hear any objections?”

Lebedev pretended to write in his notebook while his underlings stared down at the table and said nothing. At last, Admiral Kolchak broke the silence.

“I shall take your proposal under advisement, general. I have only one question, and it is for our American visitor, Captain du Pont, who seems to know the Maid well. If I offered her such a commission, would she accept?”

Ned felt his ears burn as he struggled with an answer. While he had no doubt as to Zhanna’s willingness, her travel to the front would put the girl’s life at far greater risk than her earlier trip to Omsk. He felt responsible for her safety. Nor was he eager to lend American prestige to whatever reckless enterprise Zhanna’s Voices might move her to take on. Her repeated pledge to attack Samara, in particular, made him shudder. But before him now, against all odds, was the opening that Zhanna had so long been praying for, and he didn’t have the heart to stand in her way.

“I think she will, Your Excellency,” he answered with reluctance. “And if she does, I am confident she will do everything in her power not to disappoint you.”

* * *

While Admiral Kolchak contemplated Zhanna’s honorary commission, Ned visited Liberty House nearly every day to deliver routine intelligence and wireless messages. After three days with no word about her fate, he paid a visit to George Guins and, upon arrival, was surprised to find Mark McCloud sitting in the Liberty House reception room. Upon confirming with the orderly that Guins would not likely return until mid-afternoon, Ned invited the journalist to lunch at the downtown tavern where they had dined in January, shortly before McCloud departed for Paris. While Ned had mixed feelings about exposing himself any more than necessary to McCloud, it seemed wiser to find out what the man was up to than to keep him at arm’s length.

The menu, posted as always on a blackboard behind the bar, still consisted primarily of soups, sausages and boiled potatoes, with ample portions of the ever-present black bread. Both men ordered pork sausage, boiled cabbage and potatoes, along with local beer. While awaiting their food, McCloud regaled Ned with an account of his roundabout journey from Omsk to Versailles, where the Paris Peace Conference had been in full swing by the time of his arrival.

He also described his chagrin at concluding that the peace conference would not tackle the Russian question at all, owing in large part to President Wilson’s deteriorating health, his dogged wrangling over terms of the peace with Germany, and his strained relationship with Colonel House, the president’s chief European policy advisor. Like others at Versailles with an interest in the Russian war, McCloud lamented that the stalemate between Bolsheviks and Whites seemed destined to be decided on the battlefield rather than by diplomacy.

Indeed, by late March, the last and best hope for a diplomatic breakthrough had been dashed. Toward the end of that month, the junior American diplomat, William Bullitt, had returned to Paris from the Kremlin with a document that went further toward peace than anyone had a right to expect, especially after the Prinkipo Island fiasco. Yet, within days of being unveiled, the Bullitt Agreement foundered on the rocks of public opinion and sank without a trace. This happened despite almost certain Allied readiness to recognize the Bolshevik regime in return for little more than its endorsement of Russian state bonds and various trade concessions.

“How could such a thing have happened?” Ned asked the journalist, having read about Bullitt’s mission in government dispatches and news reports received at the American consulate in Omsk. “It looked like we were on the verge of a genuine peace deal.”

McCloud held his response until the waiter brought a glass of vodka for each man.

“It seems that a British agent by the name of Sidney Reilly fed information to the press showing that the Bullitt proposal was a complete sellout of the Whites for the benefit of the bankers and industrialists,” McCloud replied with a smirk. “The next day, Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail  blew Bullitt’s plan sky high.”

“And was Reilly’s information accurate?” Ned pressed.

“I’ll let you be the judge of that,” McCloud replied. “You see, Colonel House happened to be in London when the article appeared, and he met right away with the newspaper’s chief editor. As I heard it, the editor warned House that, if President Wilson recognized the Bolsheviks in exchange for financial and trade concessions, his lofty idealism would be fatally exposed as rank commercialism in disguise. As a result, his precious League of Nations would be stillborn and all the small peoples of Europe would come to view his Fourteen Points as a cruel hoax.”

“So diplomacy failed?”

“It certainly looks that way,” the journalist answered, swirling the vodka around the walls of his glass.

“How odd to hear an old muckraker like you line up on the side of Russian landowners and capitalists,” Ned observed with a wry smile. “Have you finally thrown in your lot with the Admiral? Is that why you’ve come back to Omsk? Or do you simply relish a good brawl and being paid to write about it?”

At this, the older man let out a snorting laugh and pulled out his handkerchief to wipe his mustachioed nose.

“The American left wing is dead wrong if they think that Lenin and his ilk are doing good for the common man,” McCloud pronounced. “I happen to agree with Churchill that Bolshevism ought to have been strangled in its cradle. Winston seems to be the only Allied politician who truly understands Lenin. And since President Wilson hasn’t yet come around to our point of view, I have taken it upon myself to persuade him.”

Ned took a swig of vodka and gave the journalist a quizzical look.

“And how on earth do you propose to do that?” he asked.

“I’m going to light a fire under him that he can’t ignore,” McCloud replied. “Listen, I’m a realist when it comes to men like Kolchak and Denikin. They’re like medieval popes badly in need of a Reformation. But reform will take time in Russia. In the meantime, I love the story of your charming young companion, Zhanna Dorokhina. And I think more Americans should get to know her. If Russia’s devastation is rooted in the sins of its past, then perhaps what it needs is a pure and unpolluted intercessor, a virgin who stands above all the corruption. Wouldn’t it be grand if Zhanna moved the Whites toward reform? Now, that’s a cause my readers could get behind.”

“So now you’ve become a believer in the Maid?” Ned challenged.

“I believe this much: Zhanna is as gifted a politician as I’ll ever meet,” McCloud replied. “I don’t know how far she’ll get with the Admiral, but she’s certainly got the Siberian public on her side. Just imagine what more she could do if she had the weight of the Allies behind her! The Whites might come around to mending their ways and become worthy of winning!”

“Is that why you spent so much time in Irkutsk coaching the banker Kostrov and his newspapers on how to make a celebrity of her?” Ned probed.

“Now, who could have told you a thing like that?” McCloud protested with feigned innocence.

“A man of the cloth who is not in the habit of lying,” Ned replied. “I think you may be acquainted with him.”

“Ah, Father Timofey,” McCloud conceded with a thoughtful frown. “Charming fellow, once you get past that fierce demeanor of his. And an astute observer.”

“Is it true then that Kostrov sold you the rights to publish Zhanna’s story in America? And that you struck a deal with Kostrov’s newsmen in Irkutsk to keep you informed about her?”

“How unfair of you to imply such a thing!” McCloud protested, though not believably.

“Unfair, perhaps, but is it true?” Ned pressed.

“Only to a minor extent.”

“Fine, then I won’t bother to ask you if you also cheated Kostrov or any of those newsmen at cards to win back whatever you paid them for Zhanna’s story,” Ned added, raising his glass. “I think I already know the answer.”

“And I won’t bother to ask you about the female company you’ve been keeping, my handsome young friend,” McCloud snapped before turning to summon the waiter for more vodka. “Because if I knew, it might put me in an awkward position back in Philadelphia. And I don’t think that would serve either of us.”

Ned blanched. While he had always assumed that McCloud was keeping an eye on him for his patron, Ed Buckner, Ned had never expected the journalist to admit it. Did his remark refer to Zhanna or to Yulia? Either way, Corinne Buckner had cut him loose and she could no longer lay claim to his fidelity. But the last thing Ned wanted was for McCloud to extend his investigations to Beregovoy. He resolved not to underestimate the man again.

* * *

Two days later, on Zhanna’s nineteenth birthday, Ned and Ivashov joined a throng of her followers on the steps of the eighteenth century Lutheran Church of the Holy Yekaterina at Omsk. They were a veritable babel, with faces of every conceivable stamp. The church, a rectangular stucco-faced building built in baroque style, occupied the east side of the parade ground near the Irtysh River. Zhanna delivered a short address from a porch on the church’s south side, beneath a canopy supported by ornately shaped trelliswork of hammered iron.

The speech was her standard message, which Ned had heard her deliver on numerous occasions in Irkutsk and Omsk. But now Ned saw for the first time how Zhanna had come to master both her material and her audience, harnessing the naiveté, intolerance, and dogged determination of her youth to a message of hope and change. She began with the story of her Voices and how they had sent her to Omsk from the distant shores of Lake Baikal.

“The Lord’s Spirit told me not to be afraid,” she declared in a humble voice that came close to faltering. “It said to go first to Irkutsk, where I would find friendly officers to conduct me to Omsk, and that more would be made known to me there. It urged me to have courage and allow God to use me as His chosen instrument.”

When mentioning the friendly officers, her eyes met Ned’s for the briefest instant, sending a warm thrill through his body, despite the frosty weather. Then she described the desperate situation of the Siberian Army, with its offensive now stalled and its troops ill-prepared for an imminent Red counterattack. But no sooner did she paint this fearful picture than she offered the promise of divine deliverance.

“If the army beats back this counterattack, within two months our brave Siberians will strike a blow that will mark the beginning of the end for the Bolshevik regime. By year-end, our forces shall dash Lenin’s long-cherished illusion of bringing Siberia within his noxious grasp.”

The buzz of the crowd dropped to a faint murmur as the light of hope lit up every eye in Zhanna’s audience.

“Instead, we shall have a new national assembly at Samara and a democratically elected leader of a new Russian republic. That leader will be Admiral Kolchak, but not the man we know today as a military dictator, but a wiser man whose eyes God will have opened wide to the potential of a self-governing Russia. Our Admiral will be the leader that Russia needs him to be, the leader God intends him to be.”

The audience remained oddly silent, perhaps from deeply ingrained doubt that such a transition was possible. But, once again, Zhanna had an answer for the skeptics.

“The Admiral has not yet, to my knowledge, accepted God’s offer of help,” she continued with a radiant smile. “My Voices tell me that I am the one chosen to persuade him.”

At this, the faces in the audience lit up once again.

“And here is how it will unfold,” she went on, pausing to scan the rapt faces before her.

“First, the Red Army will launch a counterattack that will be halted at Ufa. Second, our forces will crush the Fifth Red Army and drive on toward the Volga. Third, before summer’s end, Admiral Kolchak will be elected regent of a new all-Russian government at Samara. And fourth, our combined White Armies will liberate Moscow and Petrograd by year’s end!”

Like the audience attending Zhanna’s examination at St. Nicholas Cathedral, those who listened on the steps of the Holy Yekaterina Church erupted in a deafening cheer. Ned had not thought it possible, but the girl seemed to sharpen her skills at every turn.

After her speech, the mayor of Omsk, who happened to own a leading newspaper favorable to the Maid, presented her with a chic velvet cap whose white ostrich plumes tumbled lazily to one side. Next, Paladin trotted up the steps carrying a surprise: a battle flag that Zhanna had requested some weeks earlier. He carried it fully unfurled, some three feet wide and eight feet long, white with a gold silk border, its field strewn with golden lilies, connoting chastity. Beneath an image of a seated Christ holding a globe in his lap, with a female angel to either side, Jesus’s name was writ large. Paladin glowed with pride as he presented the banner to Zhanna and, at that moment, Ned thought there could not be a happier fellow in the world.

While Zhanna waved the banner before an admiring crowd, a trio of black-clad Orthodox monks mounted the stairs, the lead monk carrying something wrapped in thick brown cloth. Upon unwrapping it, Ned saw that it was an antique short sword. The monk announced that it had been found, with help from Zhanna’s Voices, hidden behind the altar at a sixteenth-century monastery near Tobolsk. Upon telling the crowd that the sword was said to have belonged to Yermak, the Russian conqueror of the Mongol Khanate of Sibir, all fell silent. For this could only confirm the legend that the Maid’s followers already knew: that Russia would one day be lost by a mother and then won again by a virgin from Lake Baikal.

Zhanna accepted the sword from the monk with tears streaming down her cheeks, removed it from its scabbard and held its polished blade high, to wild cheers from the crowd.

“Glory be to God!” they cried.

“And victory to His Maid!”

“To Moscow and to triumph over Bolshevism!”

After Zhanna withdrew into the church with her new cap, banner, and sword, several minutes passed before the furor subsided and the crowd dispersed. Ned found the Maid with Paladin and the monks who had brought the sword from Tobolsk.

Ned gestured toward the sword in Zhanna’s hands and the banner that Paladin held aloft.

“Anyone would think that you planned to lead the army in person,” Ned remarked.

“Perhaps I will!” she replied with a gleam in her eye. “Will you join me if I do?”

Ned threw his head back and gave a warm laugh.

“How I’d love to see it!” he replied. “But we Americans are forbidden to engage in combat. I’m sad to say, you’ll need to find someone else to keep you company on that trip. Will you miss me?”

But before Zhanna could answer, Ivashov stepped forward and unwrapped a parcel containing two fresh British uniforms, one made to measure for Zhanna and the other for Paladin. The strapping young Russian held the tunic against his broad chest with a rapturous expression. Zhanna accepted hers with a bright smile and reached out to shake Ivashov’s hand.

Suddenly a woman’s voice called to Zhanna from behind.

“It suits you well,” the woman said.

Ned turned to find Madame Timiryova and General Dieterichs behind him. From their smiles, Ned judged that they had come to join the celebration. But Zhanna was no longer smiling when she turned around to face them. Instead of responding to Madame Timiryova, she addressed the general.

“In God’s name, General Dieterichs, the Admiral has delayed far too long in sending me to the front,” she scolded. “Indeed, this has caused great harm, for today the Siberian Army has lost an important battle near Buguruslan. An entire regiment has deserted to the Bolsheviks, and seventeen thousand fresh Red troops have joined the Fifth Red Army at Samara. Now I fear our side will suffer even worse damage unless I am sent to the front at once.”

“You speak of damage,” Dieterichs replied, “but how can you possibly know the things you claim? I haven’t received any news at all of such setbacks.”

“My Voices revealed it to me; and what they say is always true,” Zhanna replied. “Those who keep me in Omsk bear a heavy responsibility for these latest losses.”

“Well then, young lady,” Dieterichs barked back, “from now on, responsibility shall be yours alone. This morning the Supreme Ruler signed an order conferring upon you the honorary rank of general. His order directs you to gather such of your followers as will go with you to Iletsk to form a reserve brigade for General Tolstov’s Ural Cossacks. Transportation, arms, and equipment will be provided. Do you accept?”

Zhanna’s expression changed in an instant from annoyance to delight as she seized the general’s hand and held it between hers.

“With the greatest pleasure, sir,” she replied with blazing eyes. “Send me now and all things will be granted to us, for now is the time to strike.” Here she paused, her smile faded, and a distant look appeared in her eyes. “But use me well, general, for my work shall last but a season and perhaps a little more. We must do good work in that time.”

“Let it be done, then, come what may,” Dieterichs declared curtly, raising his eyes from Zhanna to Ned and Ivashov. “As for you, good captains, prepare yourselves, for your work with the Maid is not over. The Admiral wishes the two of you to deliver Zhanna safely to General Tolstov at Iletsk. After that, you may stay or return, according to the demands of your superiors. May fortune ride with you!”

* * *

Dieterichs’ announcement left Ned wide-eyed with shock. He had only just returned from Novo-Rossiysk and it seemed inconceivable that he might be asked to leave again so soon. After all, his first responsibility was to the wireless operation at Omsk. How could he justify another lengthy absence to Barrows and Ward? He wired AEF Intelligence Headquarters that evening to request a reprieve from Kolchak’s order and received an encrypted response the next morning.

“We are here to serve Kolchak’s government. Refusing Admiral’s direct request not advisable. Go with Maid to front, report often, return earliest. Above all, avoid combat. Neilson will assume your wireless duties in interim. Barrows.”

The message from Barrows took him totally by surprise. What had begun as a favor to his friends had now assumed top priority over all others. He would be accompanying Zhanna and her men to Iletsk, whether he liked it or not. Their departure date was set for the following week.

Ned delivered the news to Yulia two days later, at breakfast.

“But you promised—no more trips!” she blurted out, dropping her knife and fork noisily onto her plate and tossing her linen napkin across the table at him.

“But I have no choice!” he answered as he raised his palms helplessly to the ceiling. “The order came directly from Admiral Kolchak!”

“Spare me your lies!” she spat back at him. “You’re only going because of her !”

“Yulia, please!” he exhorted.

But she had already leapt from her chair and was nearly at the door. He heard her heavy footsteps climbing the stairs. After a few moments’ deliberation, he followed and knocked on her door.

Within moments, Vera, the elderly housekeeper, was at his side and laid a hand on his arm.

“Don’t go in,” she whispered with a grave expression. “Wait. Try later, after she comes out.”

But Ned had an urgent appointment at the Stavka that morning and couldn’t delay long. He waited fifteen minutes and knocked again. No answer. So he wrote her a note, slipped it under the door, and left for Omsk.

Chapter 12: Uralsk Encampment

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“And those who were seen dancing were thought insane by those who could not hear the music.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Musical Theme: Zaporozhye Cossacks, Op. 64, Introduction,  by Reinhold Glière


Zhanna and her volunteers left Omsk by military supply train five days after her birthday celebration at St. Yekaterina’s Church. Paladin’s parents, having been warned some time earlier of their son’s likely departure for the front, waited at the station to wish their son a safe journey. They were a handsome couple, though their well-made clothes were threadbare and their shoes falling apart from long use. As their exuberant son lent Zhanna a hand to climb into the battered passenger coach that they would share with Ned, Ivashov and dozens of other officers during the trip to Iletsk, Madame Borisova reached out and held Zhanna’s and Boris’s hands in hers.

“Go with God on your journey,” the woman told the young couple with tear-filled eyes. “Our hearts are with you. But, if you have the powers they say you have, Zhanna, I ask you only one thing, as a loving mother: please, please, bless my Boris and bring him back safely.”

Zhanna let go of Paladin’s hand long enough to give Madame Borisova a quick embrace before stepping aboard the train.

“Madame, I give you my solemn word that Boris will be neither killed, captured, nor grievously injured in my service. Have no fear on that account, for I assure you that he shall return to you quite as well as he is now, or maybe even better!”

Tears streamed down Madame Borisova’s cheeks, though she beamed with pride and happiness for her handsome son.

“Go with God!” she repeated as the train jolted forward to leave the station. “And save Mother Russia, if you can!”

Ned watched Paladin’s waving parents recede in the distance and wondered why neither Zhanna’s father nor uncle nor any of her brothers had made the journey from Transbaikalia to see her off. Had she not invited them? He also wondered whether the forces of war would permit Zhanna to make good on her promise to Madame Borisova. For Ned had experienced those forces at first hand and Zhanna had not. Did she have any sense of what lay ahead? Had her Voices prepared her for the prospect of defeat and death, both for herself and for her men?

* * *

During their four days riding the rails to Iletsk, Ned sought to learn all he could from Ivashov and others about the war at the southern end of the Urals front.

Until now, the Siberian forces there had consisted primarily of two Cossack armies: that of the Ural Host and that of the Orenburg Host. In March of 1918, an anti-Bolshevik rebellion erupted in the town of Guryev, on the northern coast of the Caspian Sea, under Ural Cossack General Vladimir Sergeyevich Tolstov. Similar uprisings then broke out in other centers of Cossack activity, all across the Orenburg Steppe. Their troops consisted primarily of training cadres and reserve officers, as most Cossack fighters had not yet returned from the war against Germany. And when they did return, Bolshevik authorities disarmed them along the way.

Despite the shortage of men and arms, the Ural and Orenburg Cossacks managed to assemble a functional army relatively rapidly, in large part because the sparse communications and transport networks on the steppe hindered Red attempts to move against them. By the end of April, nearly fifteen thousand men rallied to the White cause along a front from the Caspian port of Guryev in the southwest through Uralsk to Orenburg in the east. The Cossacks’ principal weakness was a debilitating shortage of arms and ammunition.

In August of 1918, however, Trotsky reorganized the Red Army and launched a general offensive from Simbirsk to Kazan on the Upper Volga. This enabled the Reds to retake Kazan, Simbirsk, and Samara before returning south in October to strike the Cossacks along the Ural River.

At this point, the fighting on the Orenburg Steppe became a life-or-death struggle between an uncompromising, expansive Bolshevism and a traditional Cossack way of life that had existed largely undisturbed since the fifteenth century. The Bolshevik commanders made no secret of their goal to slay every Cossack male of fighting age, lest the horsemen dissolve into the wide-open steppes to return and fight another day. Because the Red leadership deemed every Cossack an implacable class enemy, they resolved to destroy Cossack manpower and settlements once and for all.

The officer chosen to carry out this mission was a rowdy regimental leader of peasant birth named Vasily Chapayev, who had served as an enlisted man in the Imperial Army and won the Cross of St. George three times. A charismatic leader much loved by his men, Chapayev was also reckless, vain, cruel, vengeful, and hostile toward everything about the old regime, particularly the Cossacks.

“There may be one or two good ones, but it’s wishful thinking to expect any good from a Cossack,” he often said, both before and after bouts of heavy drinking.

Chapayev and his Twenty-Fifth Rifle Regiment arrived outside Uralsk in January of 1919 and captured it in

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February, leaving behind a garrison of Red troops to defend the city. The Ural Cossacks promptly fell back to loyal villages in the south, keeping their army intact, and elected as their new ataman  the officer who had led the original revolt at Guryev, Vladimir Sergeyevich Tolstov. From that day on, though Ural Cossack morale sometimes flagged, Tolstov worked tirelessly toward a triumphant Cossack return to Uralsk.

Accordingly, when the Siberian Army unleashed its spring offensive in March of 1919, and the Red Army was compelled to withdraw from along the Ural River, Tolstov’s Cossacks recaptured the stretch from Uralsk to Iletsk, blockaded Red forces inside Uralsk, and laid siege to the city. In mid-April, the Bolshevik defenders numbered 2,600 men under arms, with 19 artillery pieces, 27 machine guns, and a handful of improvised armored cars. This was substantially more heavy weaponry than the Cossacks possessed, and the Reds knew better how to use it.

But Tolstov understood that even the best discipline could break down within a besieged city and, though lacking sufficient artillery to breach the Red defenses, began the long wait for Uralsk’s conservative civic leaders and the Bolshevik garrison to turn against each other and descend into anarchy. Meanwhile, the Ural Cossacks brought in more men from the surrounding territory, collected arms wherever they could, and rejoiced at hearing that the Maid’s volunteers had departed Omsk to join them for the assault on Uralsk.

* * *

Unlike the new American trains that had carried Ned from Irkutsk to Omsk in November and again in February, the battered Russian train that left Omsk with Zhanna and her volunteers consisted almost entirely of freight cars; only a few third-class passenger coaches were reserved for officers. So while Zhanna, Ned, Ivashov and Paladin enjoyed little comfort and even less privacy in their crowded third-class coach, they had ample opportunity to become acquainted with the hardy men who had left home to follow the Maid to war.

As on her February journey, Zhanna meditated for nearly an hour every morning and spent another half hour in prayer with Father Grigory, one of the two chaplains on board. While most of the officers passed the hours by sleeping, swapping lurid war stories, singing popular songs, or playing countless games of cards, the Maid spent nearly all of her days and nights shuttling tirelessly from one group to the next with either Ned or Ivashov at her side, posing all manner of questions into the Red Army’s and the Cossacks’ respective ways of fighting. And judging from the nature of her questions, it was clear that she was soaking up the information like a sponge. Perhaps as a result, day after day, her expression lost some of its youthful radiance and took on an air of responsibility.

On their last evening aboard the train, not far from Iletsk, Ned approached Zhanna when she opened her eyes from another hour of meditation, her face wearing a beatific smile.

“You always seem happier when you emerge from prayer,” he observed.

“Yes,” she answered, turning to face him. “When I am alone with my Voices, I feel such joy that I wish I could remain in that state forever!”

“But is there nothing else that brings you joy?” Ned challenged. “Why must you spend so very much time in prayer every day?”

“I’m not going to lie to you, captain,” she told him, her smile fading. “When I think of the battles ahead, sometimes I’m stricken with the most intense feelings of sadness and pain that only prayer can resolve.”

“But surely you don’t intend to expose your own person to battle, Zhanna,” he declared, aghast at the notion of a woman in combat. “Nobody here expects that of you.”

“If I must, I will,” she answered with the grim face of a martyr. “My Voices have warned me more than once to expect it.”

“I doubt if General Tolstov would allow you to take part in the fighting, but even if he did, it’s perfectly natural to feel fear before a battle.” Ned said. He gently took her hand in his before continuing. “Every soldier must face fear in his own way. Only cowards and madmen fail to come to terms with it. And I don’t think you are either.”

Zhanna gently removed her hand from Ned’s grasp.

“No, no, it’s not the dying that I mind. It’s that my death might be useless and of no benefit to anyone. That I might let down my God, my country, my family, and everyone who places faith in me. Sometimes I imagine how awful it would be if I died in this way or that, and I become terrified that it might all be for nothing.”

“Banish such ideas from your head, young lady, and think only of how grand it will feel when we liberate Uralsk!” Ned advised.

“But it’s not just Uralsk!” she shot back, raising her voice in a way that made several heads turn to see what troubled her. “You see, the further I go on my path, the more everyone will depend on me for success, and each step will be more fraught with danger than the one before. One false move and I may come to an early end, without having seen anything of life: without falling in love, marrying, raising a family, or growing old and wise.”

Ned listened quietly and allowed her to take a deep breath before he responded.

“You have far too rich an imagination, Zhanna Stepanovna,” he told her, the corners of his mouth curling up into a smile. “Forget such worries and become a happy simpleton like me! You see, I have no fear of death, only of pain and dishonor. The dishonor I can prevent through my actions, and the pain means that I’m still alive. So if death is my lot, I say, let it come so swiftly that I won’t feel its bite.”

Ned offered Zhanna an encouraging smile but she declined to look him in the eye. Instead, she gazed down at the tiny fists in her lap.

“If you say so, captain,” she answered in a dull voice. “You have seen many battles, and I none.”

“Then don’t believe me. Believe in your Voices. Because I think we both are saying the same thing: remain steadfast, do your best work, and at Uralsk we will give the Bolsheviks the surprise of their miserable lives!”

* * *

Upon arrival at a marshaling yard outside Iletsk in late morning, Zhanna’s men leapt off the train with shouts of joy, under a sky as fine and translucent as glass. From the south, a warm wind blew, wafting flocks of geese and cranes toward the northern marshes, while the men gulped air in which the scent of wild blossoms mingled with that of moist black earth from the steppe. Field kitchens were set up and soon they emitted savory aromas of stewing millet, tinned meat garnished with bay leaves, and freshly baked bread.

After their noon meal, the soldiers reboarded the train while an ancient steam engine shunted the cars onto a local track headed west toward Uralsk. The troops leaned out the doors and windows of their compartments and watched in silence while the engine let out huge billows of smoke and steam as it tugged the train out of the station toward the featureless steppe. Now the front was only a few dozen versts away.

The train halted four hours later, in the heart of the steppe, little more than a verst from a Cossack military encampment where the tents glowed a dull gold in the sun’s fading light.

“But this is not yet Uralsk!” Ivashov observed with a note of alarm when the train began to slow. “I’m going up to talk to the engineers.”

Ten minutes later, he returned with a scowl on his face.

“The colonel in charge of transport insists that we disembark here and not an inch closer to Uralsk,” Ivashov announced. “He says it’s not safe up ahead, and that General Tolstov has arranged to meet us at yonder encampment. Though it’s not what we had bargained for, I think it’s best we find the Cossacks’ commander. Do you agree, General Dorokhina?” he asked, offering a playful allusion to Zhanna’s honorary rank.

“I suspected such a thing might happen,” the Maid replied sourly, ignoring his quip as she made for the door.

Nearby, Ned could hear the transport colonel order his officers and noncoms to unload the troops, horses, and equipment. Ned followed Zhanna off the train and watched her wade confidently into the herd of horses that were first to be unloaded. But before he could catch up to her, she singled out a horse, mounted it bareback, and rode off at a gallop toward the camp, horse and rider joyously expending energy bottled up from the long train ride. The girl’s audacity astounded Ned as much as her horsemanship did, for she rode like a Buryat though the horse was wholly unfamiliar to her.

While the girl’s exuberance and desire for autonomy was understandable, she was now perilously close to the enemy and among total strangers. Ned and Ivashov selected horses in a rush, saddled them, and hurried off to follow Zhanna across the fields toward the camp. Upon reaching it, they found a scene unlike any Ned had witnessed at any military encampment anywhere. Here was total disorder, with no more discipline than among a pack of wolves. All around them was roaring, cursing, drinking, riotous horseplay, and lewd carousing with female camp followers. Ivashov collared the nearest subaltern, who helped them catch up with Zhanna and led the newcomers to a vacant command tent that had apparently been set aside for their use. The subaltern ushered them inside, where Zhanna commenced pacing back and forth in a rage.

“Where is General Tolstov?” she demanded. “Why is he not here to meet us? And what is the meaning of such outrageous conduct among his soldiers?”

“I’m told there is a second camp, not a verst away,” Ivashov replied in his usual unruffled manner. “Shall we take you there to find the general?”

“Most definitely!” Zhanna replied. “Lead the way!”

They rode across a rich pasture where hobbled horses grazed, and found a sergeant who offered to lead them to General Tolstov’s tent. Hearing unfamiliar voices outside, the general came out at once to greet them. He was a short man of stocky build, a few years younger than forty, with a broad brow and a pointed chin and beard that gave his face a triangular shape. It was the face of a capable man, without affectations or illusions, and one prematurely creased from heavy responsibility and prolonged exposure to the elements.

“Be you General Tolstov?” Zhanna greeted him in a sharp voice, her small fists pressed to her hips, arms akimbo.

“I am,” he answered in a raspy voice, as if he had a catch in his throat. From the look he gave her, the general seemed taken aback by her youth and beauty. Then a bemused smile appeared on his face. “Be you the Maid of Baikal? If so, where have you left your troops?”

“They are behind me,” Zhanna answered. “Tell me, General, why did the train take us here, when I ordered that we be taken directly to the front at Uralsk?”

“Because I issued a different order.”

“Again: why?” Zhanna persisted. “Uralsk is hours further along the line, so they tell me.”

“The Reds lie ahead and your men are not yet ready to face them,” the general answered, pointing casually toward the western horizon.

“But, general, if Uralsk lies ahead, then that is where we must fight them. How soon can we go there?”

“Not for some time, dear Maid.”

“Who says not?” she demanded. “Admiral Kolchak sent me here to take Uralsk!”

“I say it, and older and wiser heads than mine,” Tolstov answered, stroking his bearded cheeks with thick fingers.

“Then they are blockheads!” Zhanna fumed. “Don’t you know that I bring you better help than any general has ever had before?”

“Your own, I suppose?” he asked, though not unkindly.

“No, that of the King of Heaven,” Zhanna replied. “See here, general, our enemy holds Uralsk, yet here we stand, doing nothing about it. What are we waiting for?”

“Do you see the steppe that extends westward beyond where eye can reach?”

“Yes,” the girl answered in a clipped voice. “Is it in our hands or the Reds’?”

“Be quiet and hear me out,” Tolstov urged. “Uralsk is nearly a day away by slow rail; more on horseback. At any point in between, partisans or Red patrols could attack us. Your men are not prepared for it. They would be cut to pieces.”

“Our men will crush any opposition,” the Maid responded, hammering a fist into her palm. “And I shall lead them.”

“None will follow,” Tolstov answered quietly.

“I should not look back to see if they do,” she replied with a careless toss of her head.

At this, the Cossack General put a hand on the girl’s shoulder and smiled.

“I like your soldier’s spirit,” he told her. “We shall get along fine, I think. But we have much work to do and little time to do it.”

Deflecting further questioning from the Maid, General Tolstov ordered his aide de camp to take the three newcomers back to their tent at the first camp they had reached upon arrival. There they found Paladin assembling their sleeping cots and a folding table and chairs, having already brought their belongings to the tent. By now, the Maid’s senior officers from the train had teamed up with several dozen of Tolstov’s Cossack officers to create a semblance of order among the volunteers. But it was not until sundown that all the new men were safely in their quarters and field kitchens were set up to feed them.

After a meager dinner of beet soup and brown bread with sweet tea, Zhanna, Paladin, and the two captains returned in silence to their tent. Accustomed as he was to the Maid’s late hours aboard the train, Ned fully expected Zhanna to stay awake for several more hours to plan for the next day. But to his relief, she went immediately to her cot and fell asleep.

“There is another train leaving Iletsk tomorrow evening,” he whispered to Ivashov once he was certain that the girl could not hear him. “Shall we tell Zhanna now of our plans to leave her, or wait till morning? The trouble is, it may be days before another train comes this way.”

“Neither of us has time to waste in this backwater, to be sure, but I don’t have the heart to add to her burdens just now,” Ivashov replied after a thoughtful pause. “Let’s stay a few more days and see how she does, shall we?”

* * *

The following morning, General Tolstov invited Zhanna, Ned, and Ivashov to his tent for a savory breakfast consisting of hash made from bread cubes, bacon, onions, and eggs, seasoned with fresh dill. Tolstov washed down his food with a short glass of vodka, while Zhanna and the others drank strong tea. After eating, the general answered questions about the war on the steppe and spoke briefly about his upbringing as the son of a Cossack officer, his military career, and his election as ataman  of the Ural Cossack Host. The latter he attributed to his vow that, whether war’s fortunes favored him or not, he would never surrender to the Bolsheviks. Afterward, Tolstov led the newcomers to his command tent and introduced them to members of his staff.

“I present to you the Maid of Baikal,” he told them. “She has come to us all the way from Irkutsk, where she somehow persuaded that hornless devil Volkov to grant her an introduction to Admiral Kolchak. The rest of her story, I’m sure, is familiar to you from the newspapers.”

A Cossack colonel named Denisov, a tall, wiry, mustachioed man of about thirty, spoke next.

“I know Volkov well,” he said. “Tell me, Zhanna Stepanovna, how did a hard man like Volkov come to put his trust in a sweet lass like you?”

“In truth, I don’t think he ever did,” she answered with a careless toss of her head. “The ones who believed in me were Staff Captain Ivashov and Captain du Pont, whom you see here. The governor sent me on to Omsk because of them, I think. And also to be rid of me.”

This evoked a hearty laugh from the group. Next to speak was a snub-nosed officer with hair graying at the temples who had a pensive look about him.

“In the history of Siberia,” he began, “I can recall no figure who has gained such widespread popularity as quickly as you. If you are not what you claim to be, then someone with extraordinary imagination must have cooked this thing up.”

A third officer, with a dashing forelock and swarthy cheeks, joined him in a dismissive tone without even deigning to look at Zhanna.

“I agree,” he said. “She’s either a charlatan or a fool.”

But rather than be offended by these remarks, Zhanna gave a lighthearted laugh.

“As for the first, I can’t answer because I don’t know the meaning of the word,” she told the officer. “But if I am a fool, at least God has not held it against me so far.”

“Never mind these draggletail scoundrels, Zhanna,” Tolstov interrupted with a conspiratorial grin. “As long as you don’t give them any commands, you shouldn’t have any problems with these mongrels. Leave them to me.”

“Oh, general, I have no intention to command them. At the moment, I wouldn’t know what commands to give,” she answered, and Ned made note of that important modifier, for he had an inkling that, once she felt confident to issue them, the commands might flow quite freely.

But here Ivashov spoke up, apparently to change the subject.

“Rest assured, gentlemen, Admiral Kolchak did not send the Maid here to interfere with your judgment about how to destroy the Bolsheviks in your own theater of war,” he offered. “But bringing a trainload of volunteers to this remote place is no small thing, and I believe she can also do much in her way to help prepare these volunteers for the fighting ahead.”

“Not I alone, but rather God through me,” she corrected, pausing now to let her eyes move from one man’s face to the other. “But it is not enough that God be on our side in battle. We must also show that we are on His side. That means the army must pray daily. And no gambling, swearing, or drunkenness. Even more, you must send away all the women from camp, except for those who are doctors and nurses. And before we march on Uralsk, each man must clear his soul in confession of all the evil he has done. That, my friends, will pave our road to victory.”

The officers looked at each other in disbelief and muttered their displeasure, while a concerned expression passed over General Tolstov’s suntanned face.

“I see that you disagree, general,” she continued, facing him with her slender arms crossed before her. “But we must all understand that no strength in my hands or yours is sufficient to defeat the Bolsheviks if our souls lack faith. Though there be a million of us, if our faith is eaten away by little things, we shall be beaten back and perish.”

As the officers did not stop their grumbling and head-shaking, Zhanna made one final appeal.

“Believe me, gentlemen, it is not easy for me to stand here and ask this of you,” she told them. “But we can win only if we believe ourselves worthy of it and dedicate ourselves to a new and better Russia after we prevail. I promise you this much: if we follow God’s commands, He will give us everything we need and lead us to sure victory. And Siberia shall remain free for generations to come.”

Ned looked around the staff tent at the Cossack faces gathered there. Perhaps it was only his imagination, but he found a haunted look in the eyes of the senior officers, including Tolstov, that made him wonder if Zhanna hadn’t struck a nerve. For the primary problem with Siberian morale was precisely what Zhanna had pointed out: until now, they had believed in nothing but a mulish opposition to disrupting their traditional way of life. Now that the Reds had pushed the Ural Host to the brink of extinction, perhaps a few superficial changes of the kind the Maid suggested would not be out of the question, if for no other reason than to distract the men from the perils facing them and to restore a modicum of discipline. And, to Ned’s surprise, the more he thought about it, the more reasonable this proposition sounded.

* * *

When the discussion in the staff tent concluded, Zhanna’s party rode back to the camp where the train had first delivered her volunteers. The troops had evidently been alerted to the Maid’s arrival, for the riders passed through throngs of cheering soldiers all along the camp’s central avenue. But the soldiers’ attitude changed completely the next morning when they learned of Zhanna’s new rules, which Tolstov had endorsed after a late-night meeting with Colonel Denisov, his chief of staff. From now on, there would be daily worship services, no cursing or vile oaths, no more loose women and, worst of all, no vodka.

To enforce these rules during the men’s training, Tolstov brought in his most experienced officers and sub officers, many of them former ruffians themselves, to rule this ”mob of roaring devils and untamed hellions,“ as he called them. And Zhanna launched the effort in person. After breakfast the next morning, she marched into the sector where the camp followers lived, backed by a score of dismounted Cossacks. Borrowing a Mauser pistol from one of them, she fired two shots in the air to summon the women and their bleary-eyed patrons from the collection of shabby tents and ramshackle carts where they slept.

“This is a military training area!” the Maid announced in an officious voice. “Only officers and soldiers of the Siberian Army are permitted here. Everyone else, pack your things and leave by noon or I will have you ejected by force!”

Without waiting for a response, Zhanna moved further on and fired the Mauser yet again, repeating her announcement. She did this for a third time before retracing her path back to the staff tent. Then, promptly at noon, she and the Cossacks reappeared, this time on horseback, and swept through the encampment at a gallop, forcing the tradeswomen to flee in a mess of tears and bundles. One particularly brazen prostitute refused to budge, whereupon Zhanna struck her in the shoulder with a horsewhip. The woman yielded, but only after unleashing a torrent of vulgar curses.

On the matter of profanity, whenever the Maid heard someone take the name of God in vain, she ordered him deprived of his next meal. In this, Zhanna wielded her influence even over General Tolstov, who often swore and cursed. Before long, she caught him in the act.

“I swear those goddamned bloody Bolsheviks will pay for their sins at Uralsk!” he told one of his officers.

“And so will you, if you don’t stop with your oaths!” Zhanna scolded. “We must allow no profanity in our army, whether high or low.”

“What, girl! Do you mean to strike the army dumb?” Tolstov protested. “Swearing comes naturally to a soldier. Sometimes I find that it offers a sense of relief denied even by prayer.”

“If you must swear, general, then swear by your pistol, or by your whip or bayonet. The habit must begin with you, sir, or the others won’t follow!”

This seemed to give Tolstov food for thought. Ned noted that from that point onward, whenever Tolstov was with the Maid, he never swore except by his pistol or his whip. And from time to time, he even escorted her to worship services and led the congregants in prayer.

As for alcohol, which many Russians considered a daily necessity, even if they weren’t physically addicted to it, Zhanna took an equally severe position.

“If the tsar ordered a ban on vodka sales at the front during the war against Germany, and if the Bolsheviks have maintained the ban on their side of the front, then why do we allow vodka to undermine the discipline of our troops and the output of our civilian workers? If any vodka is found west of Ufa or Orenburg, let it be poured onto the ground or burned!”

After conferring with his staff, Tolstov ordered the vodka ban. Two days later, Ivashov told Ned an anecdote that conveyed both Tolstov’s growing respect for Zhanna and her determination to rid the camp of drunkenness. Ivashov had been present when Tolstov had asked Colonel Denisov to send for a certain chaplain by the name of Father Grigory, who had been aboard the train from Iletsk.

“Grigory is gone,” Denisov had told the general. “The Maid has dismissed him. He has been sent back to Omsk.”

“My God, what for?” Tolstov demanded.

“Drunkenness, sir,” the colonel replied.

“Aye, he is often guilty of that,” Tolstov agreed. “But so are the other chaplains. How many of them does the girl aim to dismiss?”

“All who will not or cannot remain sober till the war’s end, general.”

At this, the Cossack leader scratched his bearded chin and before long, a smile appeared on his lips.

“That is something I would very much like to see,” he observed. “I shall miss Grigory, but not so much as to dispute it with Zhanna. Fetch me another priest.”

Ivashov then told Ned of a notorious shirker who complained about the rigors of the camp’s training regime. Zhanna heard the complaint and rebuked him for it.

“What, you don’t like your orders?” she snapped. “You may not like them, but you will obey them. If you were a Red soldier, you probably would not. But then, that is why our side will win and theirs will lose.”

Within three days, Tolstov and his staff officers were amazed at how strong the Maid’s influence had grown over her rough band of libertines and looters. It seemed that the young girl’s prudery had somehow worked to restore the self-respect of a hitherto demoralized army. And any who would not comply were sent away, for Zhanna insisted that service in her unit be voluntary.

“She achieves such results not by persuasion, for she makes no effort to persuade,” Tolstov explained to one of his staff colonels within Ned’s hearing. “Her mere presence casts a charisma of the purest sort, almost like that of a saint.”

“Indeed, sir, there is something special about her,” the colonel agreed. “Whoever listens to her voice and looks into her eyes falls completely under her spell and is no longer his own man. By my saber, the men no longer swear in her presence. Not even you!”

But there was more to Zhanna’s leadership than charisma, for she also possessed an ample measure of common sense and displayed what Tolstov called the ”seeing eye,“ by which he meant an uncanny intuition in judging a man’s character. She had shown this repeatedly in getting what she wanted from the men around her, whether from Kostrov, Volkov, Kolchak, Dieterichs, or now Tolstov. Nor could Ned and Ivashov exclude themselves from this list. Though the girl suffered from the natural limitations of youth, none could deny that Zhanna was a born leader.

* * *

In the days ahead, Zhanna’s remarkable judgment and foresight became increasingly apparent to those around her. From the very first day, she ate with her troops at the field kitchens and insisted that the officers eat after the enlisted men, with the highest-ranking officer eating next to last, for she herself always ate at the very end. The result was that, from time to time, the food would run out before her turn came. And when that happened, the troops invariably shared their food with Zhanna and with any other officers who had not yet been fed.

Zhanna usually took pains to avoid giving direct orders to the men and, when she did give them, they were often imprecise rather than detailed. Instead, she urged junior officers and sub officers to take the initiative in solving problems without waiting for instructions from higher-ups, and to seek pre-approval or added resources only when absolutely essential. Though she trusted subordinates to follow instructions during training exercises, she always inspected the results afterward and often recommended improvements. Her practice was to encourage the men with a word of praise here and a suggestion there. And when a man failed at his task, she would ask the reasons why and offer an opportunity for redemption, so long as the man showed good intent.

But to those who failed consistently, or behaved badly after being treated well, or did not share her goals, Zhanna would say, “You are a capable soldier and a good Russian, but you and I are not pulling in the same direction. Your place is not here. Let us free you to find your place in another unit. You may report to Ufa, or to Omsk, as you wish.”

One night, Paladin was posted to sentry duty and Zhanna went out on rounds with a night patrol, as she frequently did. Her method was to restrain the patrols from showing excessive zeal in catching any sentry too weary to remain alert. Instead, she trained the patrols to announce their approach from a distance by speaking in a loud voice so that, if the man on duty dozed off, he could recover in time to respond. And if it became necessary to rebuke a guard for inattention, she would often single out someone of higher rank to set an example. On this night, however, Paladin not only failed to awake promptly, but he would not admit his lapse until confronted with it. So, despite his pleas for leniency, the Maid would not let it pass.

“You must take responsibility when you do  the act, not when you are caught,” she told him, and ordered him to perform menial duty for three days. And beyond that, she told his immediate supervisor to watch him closely, as his was not the kind of character suited for higher leadership.

Sadly for Paladin, this judgment was confirmed more than once as the young man’s training went on. During one target practice, Ned watched the instructor throw up his hands in disgust and bellow at young Boris, “Stop abusing that weapon and hand it over to

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me this instant before someone is hurt!”

Another time, a Cossack captain declared to Zhanna that Paladin was wholly unfit to be a soldier, and that the only suitable place for him in the army was “at the rear, to kill the wounded and violate the dead!” And another said of him, “This man is depriving a village somewhere of its idiot.” Yet, Zhanna remained loyal to Paladin, and steadfastly reaffirmed that he would remain her standard-bearer so long as he wished to. And every night, she went to bed in her tent with Paladin sleeping a few steps outside the door.

As Zhanna’s first ten days at camp came to an end, Ned marveled at her transformation from a demure schoolgirl into an outspoken young woman, and a highly capable one, at that. Far from being an angel, however, she sometimes showed her temper, particularly when men disregarded her orders, and did it because she was a female. When so provoked, she tended to give curt, sarcastic retorts and made her displeasure abundantly clear.

One day, Colonel Denisov excluded Zhanna from a long training march on the assumption that it would be too strenuous for a woman. But when the troops assembled before dawn, Zhanna appeared at the head of the column, carrying a pack just as heavy as those issued to the men. When Denisov attempted to relieve her of the burden, she shook herself free and glared at him in silence before turning her back on him. Ned noted that Zhanna always seemed to gain the upper hand in such situations, though she sometimes fumed over it later.

On another occasion, a coarse-looking veteran called out within her hearing, “Say, is that the Maid over there? By God, if I had her alone for a night, she would be no maid in the morning!”

Zhanna approached the man and gave him a hard stare.

“Do you think it pleases the King of Heaven for you to take his name in vain when you are so near death?” she asked.

“I have been near death many times and he has not objected yet,” the man answered boldly, wiping the blade of his saber clean with a green twig.

The Maid left him without another word. Later that day, the man died of a broken neck suffered when falling off his horse. After that, shows of disrespect toward the Maid dropped off sharply. More remarkably, with the exception of the unfortunate veteran, few other officers or soldiers seemed to harbor a carnal desire for Zhanna, despite her beauty and the fact that she dressed and undressed daily in the same camp as they. To the contrary, she seemed to have the uncanny knack of banishing erotic thoughts from any who might covet her body. As Ivashov once told Ned, “I should as soon think of Zhanna in that way as of the Blessed Virgin herself.”

One evening around the campfire, when tales were told about Zhanna’s outstanding military aptitude, Paladin told a story that Ned found especially significant. According to the girl’s father, when Zhanna was a toddler and one of her male cousins was still an infant, a silver tray was placed before the boy with common objects that symbolized various career paths: a gold coin for a merchant, a pen for an intellectual, a fragment of sable pelt for a cavalryman, and so on. By tradition, whichever object the infant grasped first would foreshadow his future vocation. To everyone’s surprise, the toddler Zhanna approached the tray before it reached her cousin, grasped the sable, and refused to release it. The incident was noted as strange at the time but remained largely forgotten until she announced her intention to fight the Bolsheviks.

After the second week in camp, Zhanna took to addressing small groups of soldiers from time to time about the difficult road that lay before them. By now her new style of leadership had taken root among the men and she used her short speeches to evoke common bonds of culture, religion and patriotism, and to lay out the principles she aimed to establish in a post-Bolshevik Russia.

“Like the Bolsheviks,” she explained, “we aim to create a new government for the benefit of all, not just the wealthy and high-born. But we differ from the Bolsheviks in that we aim to preserve our freedom and everything that is good about Russia. We seek to uphold our Russian culture and traditions, not tear them down to suit a vision of society shared only by the Bolshevik elite. We aim to strengthen our communities, where we share with and help one other, not at the point of a gun, but with love in our hearts.”

The men listened with rapt attention, for they were completely unaccustomed to having their officers instruct them not only in how to fight, but why.

“Like the Bolsheviks,” she continued, “we call for land reform, but to us, this means the right of every peasant to purchase his own piece of land, if he works to achieve it. We refuse to be herded like slaves onto collective farms where a man has no right to enjoy the full fruits of his labors. We seek the freedom to begin a new life anywhere in the vastness of Russia, not only for ourselves, but for our children and our neighbors and our neighbors’ children. And when at last we defeat Bolshevism and secure our cherished rights and freedoms, we Russians will not only form the largest nation on God’s earth, but perhaps in time, the greatest.”

* * *

One warm night before bedtime, Ned and Ivashov lay under an overcast sky, smoking corncob pipes, watching for blue flashes of summer lightning to flicker against the clouds, and listening for the thunder to roll past moments later. From the steppe, a warm wind brought the honeyed perfume of flowering thyme. Suddenly the rhythmic swish of footsteps could be heard in the tall grass and Ned rose on one elbow to discover Zhanna approaching them dressed in riding breeches, high leather boots and a loose Cossack blouse.

She sat down between the two men and idly plucked a green stem from the wall of grass to stick between her teeth.

“I have a spare pipe and tobacco if you’d like to share a smoke,” Ivashov offered in a lazy voice, without stirring.

“Yuck!” she answered with a girlish chuckle. “No thanks. I’ll stick with my sweet Timothy Grass stems.”

“It’s been a long day,” Ned ventured after a few moments of quiet. “But I see progress. We have some fine lads in the unit.”

He rolled his head toward Ivashov to see if the staff captain were listening.

“True enough,” the Russian answered. “Most have experience and seem well trained. But the question is: will they fight?”

“I expect some won’t,” Zhanna interrupted in a matter-of-fact voice. “But we know who they are and will dismiss those men even before we break camp for Uralsk.”

“And the rest?” Ivashov pressed, taking a puff of strong makhorka [32] tobacco from his pipe. “What will impel them to follow when their lives lie in the balance?”

“Only our willingness to lead by example,” the Maid replied. “Forgive me for saying so, Igor Ivanovich, but too many Siberian officers treat common folk like cattle and give the impression that their primary aim is only to benefit themselves. When forced to serve under such officers, even our veteran troops often desert to the Reds, where they do our side serious harm. But General Tolstov and I are teaching our officers to behave differently, and I think the men can sense it.”

“I don’t disagree,” Ivashov noted, sitting up now to knock the dead ash from his pipe. “Some men fight from habit or training, and others to support their comrades and leaders. And doubtless some will follow you out of personal devotion. But, in my view, none of these is the main thing.”

“What is, then?” the Maid asked.

“The cause one fights for,” Ivashov replied, sitting up and scraping the charred residue from inside the walls of his pipe. “In this war, the idea is what counts. The side that wins is the one that knows what it is fighting for and believes in its cause.”

At this, Ned could not restrain a gentle laugh.

“Sometimes you baffle me, Igor Ivanovich,” he told the Russian. “On the one hand, you work for Lebedev’s Stavka and you serve here with the Cossacks, both of them past champions of the ancien regime . And on the other, you revere the common man and seem to be somewhat of a Bolshevik yourself. You seem to have one foot firmly planted in each of two worlds.”

“Perhaps I do,” Ivashov answered, lowering his eyes to focus on re-lighting his pipe. “Perhaps had you come to Russia a year earlier, you would understand. But that is not an experience I would wish upon you or anyone.”

Chapter 13: Battle of Uralsk

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“The enemy’s center of gravity is the point which all our energies should be directed. Only by daring all to win all will one really defeat the enemy.”

—Carl von Clausewitz

Musical Theme: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47, IV. Allegro Non Troppo,  by Dmitri Shostakovich


Despite Ned’s and Ivashov’s intentions to return promptly to Omsk, within a week of their arrival at Tolstov’s camp, the Red counteroffensive had gained such momentum that a Red incursion into the Southern Urals had become a serious threat. As a result, the two men were obliged to cancel their planned departure when each received orders from his respective superiors to remain with the Maid until Uralsk was taken. As it turned out, AEF Intelligence had no other reliable source of information in the south and tasked Ned with submitting regular dispatches until the situation there was resolved.

When Ned informed Zhanna that he and Ivashov would be staying on longer than expected, she cocked her head and regarded him with a knowing smile before speaking.

“You didn’t really think you could be free of me so easily, did you? God has a mission for each of us, and clearly yours and mine are somehow tied together.”

“At least for the next week or two, it seems,” Ned answered in a cautious voice. “Then duty will require my return to Omsk.”

“Perhaps. We’ll see,” the Maid replied with the same knowing smile.

Relations between General Tolstov and the Maid had got off to an excellent start and remained cordial so long as Zhanna’s role was limited to motivation and training. After a while, however, a dispute between them arose over a rumor that Vasily Chapayev and the Twenty-Fifth Rifle Regiment were on their way back to Uralsk to break the Cossack siege. This news was reported in a special evening war council from which Zhanna, Ned, and Ivashov had been excluded, likely because of her extreme zeal to wage battle against the Reds.

As soon as Zhanna learned of the secret council, she stormed into the command tent with Ivashov and Ned behind her and accosted Tolstov before he could utter a word.

“General, general, how you disappoint me!” she railed at him. “In the name of God, why didn’t you inform me of Chapayev’s latest movement? Though I don’t believe the reports are true, there will be hell to pay if he approaches us without my hearing of it.”

“I never intended to conceal it from you, Zhanna Stepanovna,” Tolstov replied in a conciliatory tone. “I simply wanted to verify Chapayev’s location before raising the alarm. The latest word is that he moved east from Samara to Buguruslan.”

“Aye, I believe that is correct,” she agreed. “But the risk remains high that the Red command might spare some troops from their counteroffensive to strike at us so as to protect their right flank. That is why I urge we break camp without delay, advance to Uralsk and capture the place before the Reds have a mind to send in reinforcements.”

“As it happens, we were about to discuss that very proposal,” Tolstov offered, gesturing casually toward a vacant chair. “Would you care to join us?”

Ned found the general’s suggestion disingenuous, at best, since Tolstov had clearly taken pains to convene the meeting without the Maid. Yet Zhanna accepted Tolstov’s invitation to take a seat without hesitation and motioned for Ned and Ivashov to sit beside her. Thereupon the lanky Colonel Denisov bowed to the Maid and resumed his briefing on the enemy defenses at Uralsk.

“The Bolsheviks defend Uralsk on three sides, with a garrison numbering about 2,500 bayonets, some local auxiliaries, and sufficient artillery and machine guns to make any frontal assault very costly indeed. They have erected earthworks around the center city and other key positions, with trenches behind them. The Reds also occupy the riverine heights. While their positions are not impregnable, they will be decidedly difficult to take.”

“But we have more men than before,” Zhanna interrupted. “Is our number not enough?”

“That remains the question,” Denisov answered. “For while we have superiority over the enemy in troop strength, we lack superiority in artillery and machine guns, and our supply of ammunition and shells is low. Simply stated, our men cannot be expected to breach the Red defenses without added heavy weapons.”

“You say a frontal assault would be costly. What other lines of attack have you considered?” Zhanna inquired.

“Before you arrived, we attacked the city from the north, from the south, and across the Chagan River from the southwest,” Denisov answered. “The fortifications are too strong. We were outgunned wherever we made our move.”

“Why don’t we have more heavy weapons, then, as the Reds do?” Zhanna asked with a naiveté that prompted several of the officers to roll their eyes. But Tolstov was not among them. By now he had learned not to dismiss Zhanna’s questions prematurely, for often they showed an unusual sagacity.

“Because the Bolsheviks took Russia’s arsenals and armaments factories when they seized power last October,” the general explained. “Nearly all these were located in Western Russia. What’s more, the Red Army commands a complex railway network to convey these weapons wherever they want, and to move them again when conditions change.”

“Where do our  arms come from, then?” Zhanna inquired. The same officers who before had rolled their eyes now exchanged looks bordering on contempt.

“We capture them from our enemies,” Tolstov replied. “Or we rely on our foreign allies for them. But the arms that the British and Americans send from Vladivostok rarely make it to us. Instead, they are diverted north to Yekaterinburg, Ufa, and Perm. We Cossacks are left to our own devices.”

“What about resupply from the British at Novo-Rossiysk, across the Caspian Sea?” Ned asked, recalling his conversations with Colonel Ward in late March about the possibility of arming the Ural Cossacks from stores in place at the Black Sea base. As agreed, he had passed Colonel Ward’s recommendation to the British Military Mission during his April visit to Novo-Rossiysk and was told that the concept was sound in principle and would be reviewed. But he had received no further word on it by the time he left for Iletsk.

“From time to time, some British arms have indeed reached us from the Caspian,” General Tolstov observed, “but General Denikin claims most of these for himself.”

“Last month I delivered a special request to Denikin from the British Military Mission at Omsk to send you some of his surplus weaponry,” Ned pointed out. “Have you received no arms at all across the Caspian since then?”

“The British promise much but deliver little,” Tolstov observed in a dry tone of voice while pulling a silver cigarette case from his tunic pocket and flipping it open with one hand.

“When was the last time you checked the Guryev port for deliveries from the Caspian Fleet?” Ned persisted.

Tolstov lit his cigarette and ground the flaming match under his heel before taking a couple of leisurely puffs. When he looked up again, he cast an annoyed look toward Colonel Denisov and ordered him to wire the commander at Guryev to see if anything had come.

“Aye, sir,” Denisov responded before sending one of his subordinates away to dispatch the cable.

The remainder of the meeting was taken up with detailed technical discussions regarding every possible avenue of attack upon Uralsk and the relative prospects for each. In every case, discussion ended with an acknowledgement of the need for heavy weapons, particularly armored cars or tanks, to penetrate the fortified northern sector, which was the only approach not guarded by a river or rugged highlands. But the Cossacks possessed no more than two armored cars, both of them inoperable for lack of spare parts. The meeting adjourned on a low note, for by then nearly all participants felt the urgency of retaking the city without delay, but none knew how to accomplish it.

* * *

The war council met the following night in a similarly foul mood, for Zhanna’s Voices had told her that Uralsk must be taken within ten days or the campaign would fail. By then, she said, Red reinforcements would arrive. Moreover, the Ural Cossack cavalry would soon be required elsewhere and dared not leave Uralsk unsecured in their rear. Nonetheless, Tolstov and Denisov resisted Zhanna’s proposal to move immediately against the city, claiming that more heavy arms were needed, and also that insufficient food and forage existed in Uralsk’s immediate environs to support the Maid’s brigade.

Zhanna cast an annihilating glance at Tolstov and, just as tempers were about to flare, Colonel Denisov entered the tent holding a sheaf of telegrams in his hand.

“We have splendid news from Guryev!” the mustachioed Cossack announced, waving the telegrams above his head with a triumphant gleam in his dark eyes. “British gunboats have arrived and are unloading more armaments than our men have ever seen! Rifles, ammunition, grenades, machine guns, trench mortars with a vast supply of bombs, and precious shells for our artillery. But best of all: a dozen Austin armored cars, complete with fuel, parts, and munitions. Perhaps enough to take Uralsk, if we use them well.”

“Do we have men properly trained on them?” a gray-whiskered cavalry officer asked.

“Before leaving Omsk, we surveyed the Maid’s volunteers and found a goodly number with training as crewmen and mechanics,” Ivashov replied. “Some have experience against Germany, others with the Czech Legion last summer.”

“And mortarmen?” the old cavalryman demanded.

“That, too, Uncle,” Ivashov answered. “We have trained some mortar crews with the few mortars we have on hand. As for machine guns, we’ve always had far more gunners than guns. No, uncle, the new equipment will not go to waste, I assure you.”

Unable to conceal his delight at the news, Tolstov rose to his feet and thrust out his breast like a pigeon. He pointed a tobacco-stained finger at Denisov and bellowed to his officers.

“Send the armored car drivers to the port at once! And take enough wagons to transport the needed supplies to Uralsk. The rest of us will join the armored column there and make final plans for the assault.”

The men divided the tasks among them with great excitement. But Zhanna looked anything but pleased as she raised her voice above the commotion to challenge the Cossack leader.

“Tell me my ears deceive me, general,” she demanded. “Tell me you did not order your men to Uralsk only to delay there even longer. We have no time left! We must attack immediately!”

“But our current plans don’t take the new weaponry into account!” Tolstov protested, stunned by the Maid’s objection.

“Time is of the essence, general! Even now, the Fifth Red Army is advancing toward Ufa, where the retreating Western Army will mount its final defense. We must take Uralsk with enough time to send our cavalry on a raid deep into the Fifth Red Army’s rear to draw off enough forces to stall the Reds at Ufa. If we wait, the enemy will destroy what remains of the Western Army there and return to destroy us here!”

“I’ve never heard such utter nonsense!” Tolstov fumed. “Our Western Army is not in retreat! Just yesterday they were at Buguruslan!”

“And today they abandoned it without a fight!” Zhanna countered. “Within the week, General Khanzin will be in headlong retreat toward Ufa to make a final stand along the Belaya River. We must not allow him to be defeated!”

“But how do you expect us to believe this gibberish?” Tolstov protested. “How can you possibly know of events that are yet to happen?”

“Because my Voices tell me so, and they have never told me wrong,” Zhanna replied, fixing the general with a steely eye. “Ask Governor Volkov. Or Lebedev or Dieterichs. Or the Supreme Ruler himself! I would not be standing here before you if my Voices had not often predicted the shape of things to come. Oh, how I weary of having to prove this over and over again!”

“All right, then, young lady,” Tolstov replied after a long pause to stamp out his cigarette and light another from his silver case. “We shall move with all due speed and begin our artillery barrage without waiting for the armored cars to arrive. With any luck, our haste may gain us the advantage of surprise, and surprise is always a soldier’s best friend.”

“Bravo, general, such news warms my heart!” Zhanna greeted Tolstov with a look of relief, seizing his hand in hers. “But make no mistake, surprise or no, our victory will not owe itself to luck. Even our new weapons are the Lord’s doing. So let us be grateful for His gifts and pray for the guidance we will need to deploy them well.”

* * *

The Siberian column arrived at the southwestern approaches to Uralsk late in the afternoon of the third day, accompanied by droves of hoarsely barking dogs, supply wagons, and gun carriages that kicked up oppressive clouds of dust. All the while, marmots whistled on the pastureland as if demons had been awakened and, in the marshes, frogs raised a tumult.

Through field binoculars and despite a sultry haze, Ned viewed the city on the far side of the Ural River where the Ural met its tributary, the Chagan. Established by Cossacks late in the sixteenth century, Uralsk was the last European settlement encountered by any traveler from Russia to Central Asia, and though it belonged fully to the steppe, it was in fact closer to Vienna than to Verny[33], the capital of Red Turkestan to the south. Uralsk was also familiar to every Russian schoolchild as a center of the 1770s Pugachev Rebellion, in which Cossacks and serfs raised a revolt against Catherine the Great along the Volga and east to the Urals. Since then, the city had become an agricultural center and trade stop, prospering until the current civil war smothered trade and put the region under the Soviet yoke.

As per Tolstov’s battle plan, the Cossack light artillery deployed at once in the hills overlooking the city. And even before the arms convoy arrived from Guryev, the crews for the mortars available at Uralsk went to work setting up their tubes for the first of several nightly bombardments intended to wear down the city’s defenders before the main assault. Several dozen tachankas , horse-drawn machine-gun platforms, were also towed to their pre-assigned attack positions, from which they would move repeatedly during the night to confuse Uralsk’s defenders.

According to the latest intelligence, the Red garrison comprised a small nucleus of veteran soldiers from Western Russia’s industrial centers, along with many more peasant conscripts and a few hundred local auxiliaries. By now, White agitators inside Uralsk had been spreading subversive talk for weeks, calling the Bolshevik occupiers looters and rapists intent on plundering the city and stamping out the Cossack way of life. According to some reports, the defenders were desperately low on food, fodder, and some types of ammunition, and their nerves taut from nightly acts of sabotage. Directing the city’s defense was its Provincial Revolutionary Committee Chairman, a Muscovite by the name of Petrovsky, and his Political Commissar, Andreyev, reputed to be a cowardly intellectual poseur whom even the most loyal Reds despised.

Zhanna’s first act upon arrival at Uralsk was to send a letter by truce messenger to Petrovsky and Andreyev, urging them to withdraw from the city and take their troops back to Samara. She received a prompt note in response, dictated on the spot and full of profane epithets. It addressed her as “simple child” and warned her to go back to herding livestock. The next morning, Zhanna and Colonel Denisov saddled their horses for a reconnaissance tour of the enemy’s defenses and, at the closest point to the Red barricades, she shouted her reply to the Red leader through a megaphone.

“You, Petrovsky, who call yourself revolutionary commander, I am Zhanna the Maid, sent here by the King of Heaven. I command you to abandon our city without delay. If you do, I will allow you safe passage back across the Volga. Resist and you will be destroyed. If you don’t believe me, give thought to the great hurt that will befall you and your men. This is our last warning.”

For a moment, silence prevailed on the other side of the barricade, and then a guttural voice rang out.

“Put a bullet through her!” it yelled, and a moment later shots rang out and a hail of lead cracked past Zhanna, over her head and to either side. But nothing touched her. Zhanna turned her horse around and trotted away.

Soon after, Zhanna’s party stopped along the Chagan River, where Zhanna dismounted, dipped her trembling hands in the chill waters, and intoned, as if in prayer, “I wash my hands of you and your men, Petrovsky. May God have mercy on your souls!”

On her return to the command tent, Zhanna received word that the first of the Austin armored cars and munitions from Guryev had reached the Siberian Army’s staging points at Uralsk. She set off at once to find them. The captain of the armored car detachment, a former schoolteacher named Popov, who had led a similar unit against the Germans and again against the Reds in the Czech Legion’s capture of Kazan, beamed with pride at being asked to describe the vehicles’ capabilities and how they might be employed at Uralsk.

“The first thing you must know about these marvelous devices,” Popov asserted proudly in educated Russian, “is that they represent the future of warfare. Ours is a new kind of war, you see, one of mobility, without clearly defined front lines. In such a war, advances can often be counted in the hundreds of miles rather than yards, as in trench warfare. Ours is also a war of shock, in which tanks and armored cars can smash through fixed positions, sow panic among entrenched defenders and enhance the effectiveness of attacking infantry, much like the armored knights of old.”

“Yes, yes, I see, Captain Popov,” the Maid interrupted, “but how would you propose to deploy them here at Uralsk?”

“In two ways, general,” the captain answered. “The first is to punch frontally through barricades and fortified positions. The second is to maneuver rapidly around them, probing for weak points in enemy defenses while protecting our attackers’ flanks. A great advantage of these cars is that they emit a very high rate of fire and, unlike tachanka  wagons, can fire in all directions.”

“And their weaknesses?” the Maid inquired.

“Inaccurate fire due to our bad Russian roads,” Popov laughed. “And frequent breakdowns. Also, a limited operating range and a limited time on station, for they carry only enough ammunition for about a half-hour of heavy fighting and grow so hot inside that the crews must withdraw or collapse from the heat and foul air.”

“Do you understand the importance of your role in this battle, then, captain?” the Maid asked with a grave mien. “You and your cars will lead the assault on the enemy’s strongest points. We shall count on you to penetrate their defenses without fail, and, if need be, at all costs.”

“I understand, general. Once let loose on the city, my crews and I vow not to stop fighting until the battle is won.”

“That is very good to hear,” Zhanna remarked, placing a hand on his arm, “because I will be riding beside you in your car’s second turret, with my banner held aloft so that our troops can see us and follow our path forward.”

Ned’s jaw dropped on hearing these words, as they signified either supreme courage or suicidal folly. For while Zhanna had said many times that she would lead her men into battle, he had never thought she meant it so literally.

“Zhanna, please let’s say no more of this until we’ve discussed it privately with General Tolstov,” Ned urged, approaching close to speak softly in her ear. “To make a target of yourself in this way accomplishes nothing.”

“The Archangel Michael has promised me protection,” she answered in a resolute voice. “And I cannot ask of my men what I would not do myself. The matter is settled.”

Ned cast a troubled glance at Denisov but said no more.

* * *

During the two nights before the arms convoy arrived from Guryev, Siberian forces outside Uralsk harried the Red defenders with intermittent shelling, mortar barrages, sapper charges, night raids, and feints by tachankas  and improvised gunboats that prowled at all hours a

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long the city’s perimeter. The moon had waned to a thin crescent, rendering stealthy Cossack infiltrators nearly invisible on their approach toward Red positions. Meanwhile, the Cossack cavalry enlarged the radius of encirclement around the city to hinder Bolshevik attempts to smuggle messages, food and ammunition through the blockade.

To Tolstov’s delight, the British naval crews promised the Cossacks fresh supplies every second day for up to a week, including scarce shells for their artillery. Particularly effective were the incendiary shells used to destroy buildings along the city’s defensive perimeter, thus clearing a direct line of sight into the city. And each night the Siberian mortar crews grew more accurate as they registered the exact locations of key targets to be hit once the assault began.

The third night of shelling grew more intense, intended as it was to take out as many Red artillery emplacements, machine gun nests and sniper positions as possible before the planned assault the next morning. Tolstov had convened his senior commanders shortly after dusk for a final briefing on the battle plan, which called for eight of the newly arrived British armored cars to lead a combined arms assault over flat terrain into the northern sector of the city, with a diversionary attack from the west across the Chagan river aboard barges and across a half-destroyed pontoon bridge leading to the city center.

Immediately after the briefing, Tolstov accompanied the Maid to a nearby chapel to pray. Many officers joined them, including Denisov, Ned, Ivashov and Paladin. As they filed out of the chapel, Zhanna spoke quietly to Paladin.

“At dawn we proceed into the fire. Will you follow me?” she asked in a quiet voice, holding his arm as they walked.

The young miller swallowed hard before answering.

“Yes,” he replied. “Wherever you go, I promise to be close by.”

“Good,” the Maid affirmed, “for if I fall in battle, you must take up my banner and hold it high for all to see, through every fight, until this war is won.”

Paladin stiffened visibly and seemed to hold his breath as he offered her a hasty salute.

The attack was set to begin at first light. Accordingly, the units taking part in it took up their positions throughout the night. But an hour before the flare was to go up, the unit commanders received word that General Tolstov had ordered a postponement until the following day, as additional reinforcements were en route from Aktyubinsk.

The Maid was outraged at the delay and made her way immediately to Tolstov’s command bunker.

“What is the meaning of this outrage?” Zhanna challenged the Cossack leader as she stormed into the bunker. “We cannot delay another hour, let alone another day, for events are unfolding rapidly in the north that will pull us in!”

“Calm down, young lady, and listen!” Tolstov demanded. “The additional battalion from Aktyubinsk is needed to insure our victory. I have discussed it with my staff and the matter has been decided.”

“You have taken your counsel and I have taken mine,” Zhanna retorted through clenched teeth. “It is God who grants victory, not your extra battalion. You are a wicked man for going back on our agreement to attack! Whether you give the order or not, my men shall go out at first light and will take the city as we have trained them to do!”

“They will do no such thing!” Tolstov roared. “You and your men will obey my orders!”

“It is God who commands us, and it is He whom we shall obey!” she answered, shaking with fury. Without waiting for a response, she turned on her heel and left. Before anyone could catch her, she made her way to the armored cars and climbed aboard the lead vehicle, banner in hand.

Her shoulders still shook, but now the shaking was from fear.

“We go forward! Now!” she told Captain Popov, the young armored detachment commander with whom she had spoken earlier. And to the other crews, she barked, “Start your engines and follow!”

Waving her banner and firing her Mauser pistol from time to time into the air to draw attention, she led the eight Austins in a single file past the assembled infantry, her volunteers clamoring nearly loud enough to drown out the roar of the engines. And then, she ordered Popov to drive toward the city and the attack commenced.

Perhaps the Siberian artillery spotters had noticed the vehicles’ movement, or else the battery chiefs had not received Tolstov’s order to delay, for in the next instant, the six-inchers awoke the shivering poplars with waves of thunder that resounded among the hills as if emerging from the earth’s belly. Moments later, shells shrieked overhead and delivered their deadly bursts of shrapnel above the barricades, trenches and along Uralsk’s empty streets. And at the same time, Red cannons boomed from their places of concealment in the city while Siberian counter-battery fire zeroed in on them and silenced one after another as soon they dared speak.

Ned watched it all through field glasses from a bunker located as close to the action as he dared go, following the AEF’s strict order not to engage in combat. As the armored cars lurched forward, with Zhanna’s volunteer infantry following close behind for cover, he noticed the Siberian mortars laying down a barrage of smoke shells just ahead of the attackers to obscure the defenders’ forward vision and negate the otherwise deadly accuracy of the Red machine gunners and sharpshooters. Meanwhile, the Red troops formed in packed ranks behind the barricades, bayonets bristling above their heads.

“Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-tat-tat!”

A machine gun not far from Ned belted out its staccato song. And after that, it seemed to Ned that rifles were popping off all around him, amid a constant seething of machine-gun fire in the background and a persistent chirping of field telephones. Toward the front of the skirmish line, Ned saw a tall Siberian soldier fall in the dust and color it with his blood. After him, another keeled over, struck by a metal fragment from a puff of black smoke at his side, while the Red machine guns blindly sowed their seeds of death into the smoky mass before them. But with each few steps or feet of crablike creeping, the Siberians found more targets and fired, straining to come close enough to the trenches to lob their Mills bombs inside, storm the survivors, and begin clearing the entrenchments from one end to the other.

Through the smoke and haze, Ned followed the progress of Zhanna’s leading Austin, gray as a toad, blasting through barriers and barbed wire entanglements with its single three-inch cannon and clearing the way for infantry to follow. The Maid always seemed to be where the fighting was heaviest, and her men always rallied at the sight of her and her banner, still held high. Although she presented an inviting target to all the bullets and bomb fragments flying, silhouetted as she was in the Austin’s machine gun turret, the Maid remained unhurt. Watching her lead her men deeper and deeper into the killing zone, Ned thought the picture of her and the waving banner eerily beautiful and did not dare close his eyes for fear she might disappear from view.

They fought all morning, from one trench to the next, barricade to barricade, with the armored cars returning to the rear from time to time to reload, cool off, and swap crews. By mid-afternoon, the attackers had nearly penetrated the Red defenses on the Siberians’ right flank, nearest the city center. It was then that disaster struck: a black puff from a mortar shell or grenade burst beside Zhanna’s turret and she slumped forward. Within moments, a crew member pulled her inside and Popov reversed course, speeding back toward safety.

Ned ran at top speed to the armored car depot and arrived in time to see blood flowing from Zhanna’s right shoulder, just below the neck, when they extracted her from the vehicle. She regained consciousness not long after as the medics began to clean her wound. She remained awake while they removed a sliver of steel and dressed her wound. Later Ned learned that the metal had penetrated to a depth of more than an inch but had stopped short of puncturing a lung or severing a major artery.

“Ah, never have I seen blood flow but my hair stood on end!” Zhanna joked with a wan smile when they carried her to a recovery tent, her teeth chattering and her face pallid as a corpse. “Now leave me so that I might lie here for a while to rest and pray.”

The doctors whispered to the officers gathered outside her tent that the wound was superficial and that the Maid would recover. But the greater damage was done. For as soon as a Red spotter saw her slumped over the Austin’s gun turret, he raised a shout that was relayed all along the defenders’ front line.

“The witch is down! Victory is ours!”

Soon after, the Siberian advance stalled and the Red defenders rallied their forces, clenching their collective fist for a cruel counterblow. In the medical tent, Zhanna slipped in and out of consciousness. An old Cossack nurse, after giving her water to drink, offered her some sort of spirit amulet to cure her wound. But Zhanna refused it and waved the woman away.

“It would be a sin to cure myself by such enchantments,” she bristled. ”I would rather die than offend God in that way!”

While Zhanna swooned, the battle raged on. The sun sank low in the sky as a bugle blast woke her from her sleep.

“Have we broken through? Are we advancing into the city?” she asked with an excited glow in her eyes.

The doctors and nurses gathered around her and cast gloomy looks at one another before summoning General Tolstov from the command bunker.

“Our men are stalled at the innermost barrier, exhausted,” Tolstov said, taking her pale hand in his. “We’ve done all we can now and have sounded the retreat. We must regroup and try another day.”

Upon hearing the word “retreat,” Zhanna sat up.

“Are the Bolsheviks not as exhausted as we are? To win, one must hold fast until the enemy abandons hope. We need only allow our men a brief rest and the sector is ours! Give me an hour and I will show you!”

She asked Paladin to help her to her feet, then shuffled outside the tent clutching Paladin’s arm and called for an armored car to carry her back into battle. While Tolstov stood by, aghast, Paladin brought her banner forward and took up position at her side.

“Well, general, will you not call off the retreat?” she asked when Tolstov caught up with them.

At a loss for an answer, the Cossack general cast his eyes about as if seeking support from his staff. In reply, Colonel Denisov seized the banner from Paladin’s hands and presented it to Zhanna.

“If the Maid will lead, I will be first to follow,” Denisov told the general, as if shamed by her example. “We must make one last effort or lose all the ground we have gained.”

Tolstov hesitated for a moment, as if stunned by the colonel’s boldness, and then made his decision.

“By my whip! If she says, attack, we shall attack!”

At this, the staff officers cranked their field telephones into service, barked out fresh commands and, a few minutes later, the bugle changed its tune. Once the new line of attack was agreed upon and the batteries assigned fresh targets, Denisov lifted Zhanna onto a waiting Austin and helped her crawl into the turret. Moments later, the vehicle sped off toward the front lines with banner unfurled. The unexpected sight of her tattered and smoke-stained battle flag drew a shout of triumph from the Siberians while sending a wave of shock and apprehension through the Red trenches. Soon the Whites breached the innermost barrier and the Reds fell back.

By sunset, the Siberian Army had taken the entire northern sector and the Red defenders had withdrawn to an inner perimeter closer to the city center.

From that day onward, the Cult of the Maid was firmly established. No longer was it only Zhanna’s volunteer brigade that pledged their undying loyalty; now all the officers and troops who took part in the battle for Uralsk rallied firmly behind her.

* * *

The Siberian probes and feints against the city’s defenders continued through the night, while Tolstov’s staff stayed awake to determine the least costly way to take the city’s inner stronghold. The Chagan and Ural Rivers still posed formidable obstacles, and the Cossack commander had no stomach for the kind of house-to-house fighting that might be required to clear a path further into the city from the north. A fresh riverborne assault seemed unavoidable now. While it had been part of his original plan, Tolstov had canceled it when he postponed the initial attack. Since an assault by barge and boat required the cover of darkness, the Siberians would have all day to rest before mustering for a final multi-pronged assault.

Shortly before dark the next day, Zhanna appeared at the command bunker, somewhat wobbly and with one arm in a sling, for the final pre-assault briefing. Several officers with naval experience had joined the usual staff officers and field commanders. One of them, a slight-framed major of about thirty who bore a faint resemblance to the Supreme Ruler, explained the challenge.

“The shortest approach is from the west, across the Chagan, but this is where the Red defenses are strongest. We have attacked there before and failed,” he began. “All direct lines of approach from the south and east are unsuitable for reasons we have discussed before. In my view, the most promising option is to attack once again across the Chagan, but only as a diversion, while sending a larger force up the Ural River to land north of the city and break through from the east. Facing simultaneous attack from east and west, the Reds will then lack the men to face our main thrust, once again delivered from the north.”

General Tolstov grunted his approval and looked around the room to find nods of assent from his staff and field commanders.

“Do we have enough barges and gunboats?” Tolstov asked.

“They are waiting downstream, general,” the major replied. “Along with the men, munitions, and supplies needed. There is only one remaining obstacle.”

“Out with it, then, major!” Tolstov barked. “Don’t keep us in suspense.”

“It’s the wind, sir,” the major replied. “We have very few vessels equipped with engines to tow the barges, and fuel is short. We must rely on oars and sail, but the boats cannot move forward against both wind and current. We need a steady west wind, both to carry us upstream and to spread a smokescreen before us upon landing. But we have none, sir. The air remains stubbornly still.”

“Is there no other way to move our forces upstream?” Tolstov demanded, his face growing flushed, and with beads of perspiration breaking out on his face.

“I know of no other,” the officer answered. “We must wait for the wind to rise.”

“No, we shall not wait,” Tolstov answered firmly. “We shall have our wind, and have it on time. Zhanna, let’s go at once to the chapel. We have important business there.”

“And what business might that be, general?” the Maid answered with a wry smile.

“To pray for a west wind,” Tolstov replied with a smile of his own.

“I will do my best, sir,” Zhanna agreed with a vigorous nod. “And, surely, if He sees you praying by my side, His pleasure will be all the greater!”

This drew a good-natured laugh from the officers, who agreed to adjourn for an hour until Tolstov and the Maid returned. When they did, and the officers stepped outside the tent to greet the pair, Ned was the first to notice the Maid’s banner streaming eastward as Paladin held it aloft.

“General Tolstov!” Ned shouted.

“What is it now?” Tolstov answered irritably.

“It’s the wind! The west wind!” Ned exclaimed.

The general looked up to see the banner waving and heavy clouds scudding across the sky. So taken aback was he at the sight that he dropped to one knee, bowed his head and reached out to hand Zhanna his wooden general’s baton.

“God has spoken,” he declared. “And you are His favored one. Zhanna, I put tonight’s attack in your hands. I am your soldier!”

But Zhanna refused the baton and held the general’s elbow to lift him to his feet.

“No, you shall direct our forces, as always, general,” she told him. “I will take up my position at the head of the attack. If each of us serves God as best he can, I believe the King of Heaven will not deny us our victory.”

* * *

Once more, the Siberian forces sent probes and feints to find the weakest points in the city’s defensive perimeter and kept it up through the night. An hour before dawn, a red flare went up over the half-destroyed pontoon bridge leading into the center city and the diversionary attack began, with fortified barges entering the river’s main channel and making for the bridge. Defenders rushed to the adjacent fortifications, as the Siberians had hoped. It was then that riverborne assault force appeared in the east, guided by distant muzzle flashes from the Red artillery, and backed by Siberian machine gun crews dug in at intervals opposite the lightly defended eastern barricades. Now the Red commander had no choice but to deploy his last remaining reserves to shore up his eastern defenses.

Another flare went up from outside the eastern wire. This was the signal to launch the main assault from the White-occupied northern sector. All at once, a barrage of shells shrieked overhead and exploded over the city’s defenses, amid a clamorous seething of gunfire that rose like a storm at sea. As before, the Maid took up her banner with trembling hand, mounted the turret of her Austin armored car and led the attack, her banner unfurled, seemingly as oblivious to danger as Wellington at Waterloo, or Nelson on the quarterdeck at Trafalgar. Through the smoke and gunfire, the gray behemoth blasted its way from block to block, clearing a path for Siberian infantry to follow. From time to time, a brave Red defender ran toward the vehicle with a grenade or other explosive but none survived long enough to deliver it.

Ned observed the assault from atop an abandoned merchant house, together with Denisov, Ivashov, and a dozen staff officers manning field telephones and scribbling notes to messengers. Through his binoculars, he watched Zhanna’s Austin roll through the rubble-strewn streets toward the city center, guns blazing and infantry trailing cautiously behind, while the rattle of Red machine guns echoed among the buildings. All the while, more Siberian troops arrived in their rear to join the flood. Apparently encouraged by the sight of attackers making their way into Uralsk’s center, anti-Bolshevik inhabitants of the city left their hiding places and turned against the Red occupiers with weapons they had kept concealed or had captured from the Bolsheviks.

Within two hours of her entry into the city, the Maid’s volunteers seized the Red garrison’s headquarters and its weapons stores and gunned down its Political Commissar, Andreyev, when he attempted to flee. Petrovsky, the Red commander, bolted into a burning warehouse to elude his pursuers, never to emerge again.

Ned and Ivashov caught up with Zhanna at mid-morning outside the scorched remains of Petrovsky’s final resting place. Ned found her kneeling behind a low wall amid heaps of gleaming brass cartridge cases, cradling the bloody head of a dying Red soldier in her lap while urging him to accept God’s mercy before he drew his last breath. Behind her, only a block away, Siberian troops assembled Bolshevik prisoners on the city’s central square for transport to Guryev, from which they would be taken across the Caspian to a British-run prisoner-of-war camp.

“We’ve been looking all over for you, Zhanna,” Ned said as he knelt beside her. “Why are you crying?”

“Because of the dead,” she answered, her chin quivering uncontrollably. “Ours and  theirs. I thought victory would be beautiful, but now I see that it’s an ugly, bloody thing!”

“How can you possibly say that, Zhanna Stepanovna?” Ivashov reproached her. “Why, I’ve never seen a more beautiful victory than this! And it’s your victory!”

“You did not see Petrovsky consumed in the flames, as I did,” she replied, horror still dancing in her eyes. “Such a hideous fate! And the young boys blasted to pieces by explosive shells! I tell you, I can’t bear it…”

“But bear it you must, Zhanna,” Ivashov replied calmly. “Before we are done, there will be much more of it. Come, now, the free citizens of Uralsk are waiting to see you! You gave them faith to resist and they want to show their gratitude.”

“I can’t,” the Maid sobbed. “I just can’t. Go without me.”

Then an armored car pulled to a halt across the street from them and Paladin climbed out carrying Zhanna’s banner, soiled by smoke and pierced by bullets and shrapnel. Later, captured soldiers would claim that clouds of white butterflies left the banner from time to time during the battle, and that an aura of golden light surrounded the Maid, deflecting any bullets from striking her.

“Come now, Maid of Uralsk, your standard-bearer has brought your banner,” Ivashov urged. “Only you are worthy of carrying it.”

Paladin stooped to offer Zhanna his hand and Zhanna accepted it, rising slowly to her feet.

That afternoon, following an hour or more spent in prayer, she led a victory procession through Uralsk and waved her banner all the way. For the rest of the day and long into the night, the bells of Uralsk’s surviving churches rang continuously, as at Easter time, and anyone who cared to mount the belfries and pull the ropes was permitted to do so.

Chapter 14: Victory at Ufa

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“Some of you may die, but there’s no use crying about that. The Revolution doesn’t count individual victims.”

—Soviet Commissar to Red Army soldiers in 1919

Musical Theme: Pictures at an Exhibition, No. 10, The Great Gate at Kiev,  by Modest Mussorgsky


In late April of 1919, as the colossal booms of fracturing ice were heard on the major rivers of the Ural Mountains watershed, and as snow melted away in the mountain passes, seventeen thousand fresh Red Army soldiers and supporting artillery units arrived on the Urals Front, shifting numerical superiority from the Siberian Army to the Reds. Recognizing that Kolchak’s spring offensive was now largely a spent force, Red Army Southern Group Commander Mikhail Vasilyevich Frunze launched a counteroffensive from the Volga river port of Samara toward Ufa, located at the western edge of the Urals, and astride a key mountain pass to Siberia.

A central element of Frunze’s plan involved a maneuver group under divisional commander Vasily Chapayev, then encamped at Buzuluk, one hundred fifty versts east of Samara. Chapayev’s assignment was to drive north toward the town of Buguruslan against the overextended southern flank of Khanzin’s Western Army. Around the time that the Maid’s regiment arrived at its training camp outside Iletsk, Chapayev’s maneuver group set out northeastward toward its objective, where it penetrated into the White rear and, through a stroke of good luck, captured a Siberian artillery battery. Soon after, Chapayev’s forces pressed on, captured the battery’s baggage train, and then took its regimental headquarters.

For many of Chapayev’s ragged, undernourished, and only lightly armed attackers, this was their first significant victory over the Whites since January at Uralsk, and their morale soared. A few days later, the Fifth Red Army crushed two Siberian divisions southeast of Buguruslan, thus turning the flank of the stalled Whites. Suddenly and palpably, the military initiative had shifted from White to Red, just as numerical superiority had shifted barely a week earlier. After Chapayev’s victory at Buguruslan, each time Kolchak’s forces were struck hard, they reeled, prompting droves of young, untrained, and unwilling Siberian conscripts to surrender or desert to the Bolshevik side.

By the time Tolstov dispatched Popov and his crews to collect the armored cars awaiting them at Guryev, Frunze’s Southern Group had seized the town of Sergiyevsk, northwest of Buguruslan, and attempted to surround forward elements of the Western Army. It was around this time that Zhanna reached Uralsk and insisted on attacking without delay. While the Ural Cossacks pressed their attack at Uralsk, the Western Army reeled further from fresh Red assaults, giving up Bugul’ma without a fight. Soon after, the Reds also took Belebey, putting them within two hundred versts of Ufa, their coveted prize, far sooner than Frunze or Trotsky had dared to hope.

But the Siberians gained an unexpected respite when the Red field commander ordered the Fifth Red Army to halt at Belebey and failed to pursue the retreating Western Army for nearly a week. For this blunder, Trotsky replaced him and ordered the new commander to advance at once on Ufa, confident that the attack would achieve Lenin’s goal of taking the city and clearing the mountain passes into Siberia before summer’s end. To Trotsky, the beaten Siberian Army looked very much like a small dog fleeing a much larger dog, attempting to bite back, but knowing it could not win.

* * *

At Uralsk, the Ural Cossacks celebrated their victory for a full two days while the townspeople mourned their dead. Zhanna remained out of sight most of this time, claiming to recover from her wound. When Ned and Ivashov decided to pay her a visit to cheer her up, they found the Maid sitting cross-legged on her cot, dressed in British uniform trousers and a white peasant blouse unbuttoned around her bandaged neck and shoulder. Spread out before her were a collection of maps.

Zhanna rose to greet them but made no attempt to conceal the maps.

“Have you heard the news?” she asked them after greetings were exchanged.

“What news?” Ivashov replied, taking a seat on a folding stool. “Is our victory not news enough?”

“Certainly not!” the girl answered with a musical laugh. “The King of Heaven has promised many more of them, and Admiral Kolchak is impatient for our next. I received fresh orders from him this morning.”

“And what exactly does the Admiral have in mind?” Ned inquired.

“He has ordered our volunteer brigade to report immediately to General Dutov of the Orenburg Cossacks,” the Maid replied, pacing slowly from one end of the tent to another. “We are to drive the Bolsheviks from Orenburg as we did in Uralsk.”

“And your response?” Ivashov asked.

“I have accepted, and I intend to set out for Orenburg by week’s end,” she answered before regarding the two men with barely contained excitement. “But something will happen before we arrive that may require a change of plan. I am working on that now.”

Ned could not resist laughing at the irony of it. Here she was, fresh from victory and vindicated in the eyes of nearly all those who doubted her, yet the Maid was preparing to throw all her winnings on the table in a fresh gamble, perhaps one even more audacious than the last. “Fascinating!” Ivashov remarked with a hint of mockery in his voice. “And can you share with us any part of your plan?”

“Most certainly, staff captain, for the two of you are included in it!”

Again Ned laughed, but now the laughter had an uneasy ring, for each time Zhanna had required his help until now, she had found a way to secure it. Now Ned felt torn between his obligations at Beregovoy and the desire to remain at Zhanna’s side. Was it the warrior spirit in him, a taste for adventure, comradeship with the daring Cossacks and volunteers, or an apprehension that if he left Zhanna now, he might never see her again? Ned recalled General Tolstov’s remark that one of the Maid’s greatest gifts was her ”seeing eye,“ or ability to assess a man’s character, and he felt a thrill of pride that she wanted him to stay. And when his eyes met hers, he understood more than ever how even a single look from her could change the course of a man’s life.

“I will go with you as far as Orenburg, to be sure,” Ivashov answered tentatively.

“And I, as well,” Ned chimed in. “To go any further, I would require approval from my headquarters.”

But Zhanna looked off into the distance and did not seem to be listening.

“I suspect there is more to your plans than you are letting on, Zhanna Stepanovna,” the staff captain said with an amused twist to his lips. “So tell me this: on what grounds would you disregard a direct order from the Supreme Ruler, who sends you to Orenburg?”

“On the grounds that the King of Heaven commands otherwise!” Zhanna declared, her face suddenly on fire with an intense determination. “See here, my plan does not rob Admiral Kolchak of his due. He aims to capture Orenburg, sever the rail link between Sovdepia and the Turkestan Soviet, and disrupt the Red Army’s rear. I shall accomplish all three, but in reverse order, for it is of the utmost importance at this moment to prevent the Red Army from crossing the Belaya River to take Ufa and the Urals passes.”

“But how can you carry out such a pla

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n without approval from Omsk?” Ivashov protested. “Does Tolstov know of your intentions? Or General Dutov at Orenburg?”

“I shall persuade General Tolstov to give me what I need, and he shall persuade Admiral Kolchak that it is all to the good, once I am on my way,” Zhanna answered. “And if he does not persuade, I daresay General Khanzin will endorse my actions soon enough, for I shall spare his Western Army a catastrophic defeat and, when I do, everyone will know it!”

“And what of General Dutov?” Ned answered. “How will his Cossacks take Orenburg without your volunteers and their armored cars?”

“He shall have the armored cars and their crews, and as much artillery as Tolstov is willing to spare,” the Maid replied. “The cars will go with us to the outskirts of Orenburg and proceed promptly to Dutov’s camp. From there, I will take with me some two or three thousand cavalry and half as many infantry and set out by night to the north.”

“And you are so intent upon this that you would go forth without your loyal knights, Captain du Pont and me?” Ivashov jested, pretending to take offense.

“If you will not go, God will find other uses for you,” she answered with a shrug. “We will meet up afterward, to be sure, for our work together is far from finished.”

Ivashov let out an uncharacteristic guffaw at this, for he seemed to enjoy seeing the Maid under full sail, and had long been accustomed to going wherever his orders might take him. But Ned bit his tongue and said nothing. For while he had seen too many of the Maid’s unlikely successes to call her latest plans impossible, they went so far beyond what seemed reasonable that his mind reeled at imagining how she could pull it off. And he was certain that the AEF brass would never allow him to tag along on such a reckless escapade.

* * *

News reached Uralsk the next day that the Fifth Red Army was encamped at Belebey, less than two hundred versts from Ufa, thus lending credence to the Maid’s earlier calls for haste in taking Uralsk. After some coaxing, General Tolstov agreed to release Zhanna’s brigade, and as many Cossack and non-Cossack volunteers as were willing to go with them, on her planned raid to the north. Because many of the Ural Cossacks had families in Uralsk and preferred not to venture far from the city, the cavalrymen who joined the Maid’s volunteers comprised an assortment of men who had come to Uralsk by way of the Volunteer Army, the People’s Army of Komuch, and former Kirghiz[34] and Kalmyk[35] cavalry units.

Since the armored cars were to be turned over to General Dutov at Orenburg, Zhanna requisitioned as many two-wheeled tachankas  as Tolstov would give up and had a dozen other mobile firing platforms constructed by mounting twin machine guns on a flatbed light truck. The raiding force also included mortar crews, machine gunners and the best logistics experts available. To conserve fuel and avoid creating excessive noise, some of the firing platforms would be towed to the battlefield by horses or bullocks, as would the tachankas  and baggage carts. And a portion of the infantry would ride in horse-drawn carriages to give them a rest between forced marches and to enhance the column’s speed on the move.

While Tolstov’s cooperation had come as a surprise to Ned and Ivashov, an even greater shock hit them when, upon reaching General Dutov’s camp outside the besieged city of Orenburg, each received new orders from Omsk. Ned’s orders were from Colonel Ward and Ivashov’s from the Stavka, but both directed them to report to Ufa on an undisclosed intelligence mission. Though Ned had not solicited it, he received a second cable from Colonel Barrows, who was now in Omsk and apparently in contact with Ward and the Stavka. That cable extended Ned’s leave from duty at Beregovoy. Once again, though Barrows and the Stavka could not have been aware of it, all obstacles were now cleared for the new mission that Zhanna’s Voices had hinted at for the two captains.

And, as if by design, a third cable announced that a freight train was being held at Iletsk for Ned and Ivashov to make the journey north to Ufa.

* * *

As the freight train approached the outskirts of Ufa several days later, the city appeared to be in complete disarray. The station was mobbed with fleeing civilians encumbered with extravagant amounts of baggage, while police and reserve troops struggled to keep order. The dark rumble of artillery fire could be heard at a distance. To the west, an oily black cloud extended across the horizon, hiding the sun behind a sinister pall and leaving an acrid smell in the air. A policeman said the cloud came from the villages on the Belaya River that the Reds had set ablaze some twenty versts away.

Upon being deposited in the military rail yard, Ned and Ivashov made their way to the railway offices, where they solicited directions to the Western Army’s headquarters. There they came upon a Colonel Panin, a senior staff officer in his late thirties, whose disheveled uniform, stubbled face and bloodshot eyes revealed just how desperate had been the army’s latest retreat. When Ivashov asked Panin why he and Ned had been summoned to Ufa, the colonel dodged the question, claiming he was instructed only to brief them on the current situation at Ufa and to ask them some questions about events at Uralsk and Orenburg.

The colonel began by reporting that Kolchak’s Stavka had ordered the Western Army to form a defensive line on the east bank of the Belaya River, just west of Ufa. General Lebedev had further insisted that this line be held at all costs, and that every available man and weapon be thrown into defending Ufa and the railway lines leading east through the Urals passes onto the Siberian plateau. To this end, the Western Army Commander, Khanzin, had withdrawn troops from his northern flank to focus on the threat in the east from the Fifth Red Army, now advancing from Belebey.

When Ned and Ivashov arrived in Ufa, Siberian units were already digging fortified positions on the heights along the Belaya’s east bank, opposite the stretch where the Red Army was expected to attempt a crossing. Red artillery units had set up lately along the western approaches of the city and had begun to shell outlying villages before their infantry moved in. The Bolsheviks had arrived so quickly that, until earlier in the day, steamboats and barges continued to move up and downstream, oblivious to the coming battle. Trotsky was rumored to have given such high priority to taking Ufa that his Southern Group Commander, Mikhail Frunze, would personally supervise the river crossing and the assault against Ufa.

The unit designated to lead the attack, the Twenty-Fifth Rifle Division under Vasily Chapayev, had advanced with great speed from Samara to Buguruslan to Belebey, against minimal White resistance. Since then, however, an unexpected development had induced Frunze to hold Chapayev’s division in reserve. At this point in his presentation, Panin paused and stared intently at Ivashov, as if expecting him to complete the briefing.

“What could possibly induce Frunze to take his best division out of the fight before the most important battle of his career?” Ivashov asked. But the look on his face showed that he already knew the answer.

“The Maid, it seems,” Panin answered, looking Ivashov straight in the eye. “General Dutov has reported that she defied orders to join the Cossacks’ assault on Orenburg, and instead has set out to the north with a raiding party. Might either of you be in a position to comment on that?”

“All I can tell you is that we were with the Maid when her column traveled to Orenburg,” Ivashov replied. “And we remained there overnight with the detachment that delivered the armored cars and other heavy weapons to the Orenburg Cossacks. But Zhanna took the remaining troops and cavalry north before nightfall and we never saw them again.”

“I see,” Panin replied with tired eyes as he rubbed the dark bristles on his chin. “How would you estimate the strength of her column? And when did it head north?”

“Four nights ago, Colonel,” Ivashov answered. “The column included her own brigade and a large number of volunteers, both Cossacks and otherwise. I reckon she had upwards of two thousand sabers and fifteen hundred bayonets, plus light artillery and machine gun crews.”

“Did she disclose to you her objective?”

Ivashov hesitated.

“Buzuluk,” he answered at last, giving Panin a cautious look. “I reckon Buguruslan, too, if she can reach it.”

“And do you believe she can?” Panin demanded.

“Let one thing be clear,” Ivashov declared. “Tolstov’s Cossacks could never have taken Uralsk without Zhanna. Believe it or not, the girl seems to have an unerring instinct for strategy and tactics, as well as uncommonly good luck. More than that, the men traveling with her are among the best we had at Uralsk. I think she will be a very painful thorn in the Red Army’s side.”

“Painful enough for Frunze to divert Chapayev’s division to deal with her? Think carefully before you answer. Where Chapayev goes could tip the balance.”

Ivashov cast a sidelong glance at Ned before continuing.

“In truth, I believe so, and here is the reason,” Ivashov continued. “Chapayev hates the Cossacks with a deep passion. He captured Uralsk in January, and the fighting was bitter indeed. I believe he will not rest until he has avenged his losses to Zhanna and her men. By all accounts, Chapayev is a cruel and vengeful man.”

“Perhaps so, but the question remains as to whether Frunze will let him slip the leash before Ufa is taken,” the colonel answered, now pacing back and forth across the room. “For if he does, it will make Frunze’s attack the weaker, and perhaps open the opportunity for our side to counterattack. But to do that, we must set aside a reserve, and General Lebedev has forbidden it.”

“Certainly he cannot sustain such folly!” Ned protested. “It would be madness not to hold a reserve in such a situation. Any cadet would know that.”

Panin stopped and gave Ned a pointed stare.

“Any cadet, but not our Chief of Staff,” he replied acidly. “Thank you, gentlemen. I will report your information to General Khanzin. If Chapayev heads south from Belebey, we will find a way to hold a reserve. Should Frunze falter, we must be prepared to crush him once and for all on the Belaya.”

“Yes, sir,” Ivashov replied with a stiff salute. “Is that all, sir?”

“For you, staff captain, yes,” the colonel replied. “But there is someone here who wishes to speak to Captain du Pont. If you will kindly take a seat, I will escort him down the hall and come back for you in a few minutes.”

Ned cast a questioning glance at Ivashov and received a vacant shrug in return. He knew no one in Ufa and was mystified as to who might want to see him. But as he was in no position to refuse, he followed Panin down a long narrow corridor. For a long and uncomfortable moment, Ned thought of the many sinister murders of officers and politicians at Omsk whose bodies were found in the Irtysh, and he wondered if his trust in Panin were misplaced. In the next instant, the Russian ushered him into a small and dimly lit office. There, a tall and ascetic-looking officer wearing the usual British uniform, but with actual British rather than Russian insignia, sat at a writing desk scribbling a message. The officer, a balding fellow in his early forties wearing wire-rim spectacles, waved Ned to a seat and continued writing.

“So glad to meet you, Captain du Pont,” the man said brightly, suddenly looking up with wide eyes like a startled bird. “My name is Rawlings. By the way, splendid work you’ve been doing at Omsk with the wireless network. We received our own wireless set here last week from Lieutenant Colonel Neilson and it’s been of enormous value.”

“Is that so?” Ned asked, taken aback that Rawlings knew about his work with the wireless network and that Western Army Headquarters had been brought into the network so fast.

“Absolutely, couldn’t do without it,” Rawlings drawled. Ned noticed that the man held the rank of lieutenant colonel. On a hunch, he sized up Rawlings as a career intelligence officer. “Just today, we received new reporting from London on Trotsky’s strategy for the Eastern Front. It casts the battle here in an entirely new light, I should think.”

“How so?” Ned inquired.

“It seems the prospect of General Denikin’s summer offensive in South Russia has the Reds terribly worried,” the officer replied. “A linkup between his AFSR and Admiral Kolchak’s Cossacks on the Lower Volga at Tsaritsyn or Saratov would be a strategic nightmare for the Bolsheviks. That’s why Lenin and Trotsky have decided to go all-in to destroy Khanzin’s Western Army at Ufa and drive him back across the Urals by mid-summer.”

“But a Red counteroffensive against an overextended Western Army was predictable many weeks ago,” Ned replied. “What I find shocking is how the Stavka could have ignored the threat for so long.”

“That’s what our military mission has been telling Kolchak and Lebedev since before the river ice thawed,” Rawlings agreed with a tired smile. “The good news now is that Omsk is finally listening. I suspect the Red Army may be in for a rude awakening at the Belaya.”

“But Colonel Panin just told me that Lebedev has expressly forbidden holding back any reserves. Everything is to be thrown into stopping the initial Red attack.”

“Ah, yes, that’s true for the moment, but hopefully not for long,” Rawlings said. “You see, your Colonel Barrows arrived earlier this week at Omsk with an offer to release additional American arms to Kolchak’s forces, but solely on the condition that the Stavka set aside adequate reserves at Ufa for a counterstrike.”

“That’s well enough, as far as it goes,” Ned remarked, leaning forward uneasily in his chair. “But once Lebedev has the weaponry, how can one be sure he’ll do what he promises?”

Rawlings suddenly threw down his pen and roared with laughter.

“How true, how true!” he exclaimed. “You’ve put your finger right upon it! Colonel Barrows was absolutely right when he suggested you for the job!”

“What job do you mean?”

“You are to be America’s military observer for the defense of Ufa,” Rawlings replied. “Your government insists on having one of its own men present to insure that the Stavka lives up to its commitments, just as my colleagues and I do here for the British Military Mission. And, I must say, a great deal rides on what we report, because the Allied governments are in a quandary at the moment about further backing for the Omsk regime.”

Ned shook his head in bewilderment at the latest turn of events.

“Excuse me, lieutenant colonel,” he said. “I’ve been away from Omsk for a month. When I left, the Admiral’s spring offensive had just begun and the Allies seemed delighted with it. Now that the offensive has faltered, are you saying that your government and mine are considering withdrawing military assistance from Omsk entirely?”

“Not entirely,” Rawlings responded. “But you must understand that, until a few weeks ago, our Foreign Office had been on the verge of extending diplomatic recognition to the Omsk government. Now, with the Siberian Army in headlong retreat, that is no longer in the cards. The question now is how much military aid to give Kolchak and for how long, considering that our support might yield a better return if sent to General Denikin in South Russia. Not that anyone is going soft on the Bolsheviks, mind you, but no one wants to throw good money after bad by betting on the wrong horse.”

“All right, sir, I think I understand the situation better now,” Ned added. “But what exactly am I expected to do here?”

“Go to the front and observe. Have Khanzin’s staff take you to see whatever you like before the balloon goes up. The rest is up to you.”

Rawlings offered a perfunctory smile and, breaking eye contact, picked up his pen to continue drafting his message.

“Understood,” Ned replied as he rose from his chair. “But one more question. Where might I go to send a message to AEF Headquarters at Vladivostok?”

“Panin will show you,” Rawlings told him. “Otherwise, you can find me here every day and most nights. So long as we hold Ufa, that is.”

And that was the entire issue, Ned thought. Whether or not the Stavka agreed to a reserve, and whether or not the Allies offered more arms, a battle would be fought soon along the Belaya, and if Ufa fell, Siberia would fall next.

* * *

Over the next few days, Ned made his way from one position to the next along the White defensive line facing the Belaya River. He became familiar with the terrain, the front-line Siberian commanders, and with the Red Army units they expected to face in battle. He also visited the Western Army Headquarters to interview key members of Khanzin’s staff. From Rawlings and the British, he learned that Frunze, the Red Southern Group Commander, had recently left Belebey with the intention to organize a large-scale crossing of the Belaya River.

From Colonel Panin, he obtained a recent photograph of Frunze, as well as photographs of Chapayev and several other high-ranking Red Army officers expected to take part in the operation. He then carried the photos to an engraving shop that the local police often employed to create reward posters for fugitive criminals, and ordered several hundred copies of handbills showing each Red commander whom he intended to target. From then on, at every outpost that Ned and Ivashov visited, they convened a gathering of sharpshooters, mortarmen and artillery spotters to receive the handbills and attend a briefing on the uniforms and insignia of Red Army commanders. The crews were instructed to watch for these notables on the battlefield and were offered a reward in gold rubles for every capture or confirmed kill.

At week’s end, Ned and Ivashov paid another visit to Panin at Western Army Headquarters and found the man staring at a wall map of Red Army positions west of the Belaya. Upon noticing their presence, the colonel invited his two visitors to sit.

“It won’t be long now,” he said with a brooding expression. “Perhaps not tonight, but tomorrow, to be sure.”

“What makes you think so?” Ivashov asked.

“The Red artillery has moved into position all along the confrontation lines,” Panin replied. “We can expect their first barrage to hit us at any time.”

“And are you satisfied with our defenses?”

“We have done what we can,” the staff officer said with a resigned look. “The latest American arms deliveries have helped a great deal. It seems that the Allies may have knocked some sense into certain heads at the Stavka, because our defensive planning is much improved over a week ago. Now we have proper reserves set aside for a counterstrike. Whether they will prove sufficient remains to be seen.”

“What about the strength of the Red attack?” Ned asked. “Will Chapayev and his Twenty-Fifth Rifles lead the charge?”

“Praise God, he will not!” Panin answered with a predatory smile. “Chapayev and his men left Belebey two days ago for Buguruslan, forcing Frunze to delay his attack until replacements have arrived from the Volga.”

“And Chapayev left in pursuit of…?”

“The Maid, of course,” Panin replied. “Our latest information is that she has captured Buzuluk and could reach Buguruslan by tomorrow. Against all expectations, the Maid’s raiding party has marched through the Red Army’s rear like Taras Bulba, putting everything to fire and sword, and fomenting rebellion among the peasants. It was something Frunze dared not ignore.”

Ned and Ivashov exchanged knowing looks. Could she really save the Western Army from defeat on the Belaya, as she had boasted at Uralsk? Or would Chapayev chase her down at Buzuluk and take his revenge upon her for liberating Uralsk?

“I think we shall not see Chapayev again until the battle is over,” Ivashov declared with a breath of relief. “Zhanna will know exactly how long she must keep him away from Ufa.”

At this, a gleam appeared in Panin’s eye.

“Are you certain of that?” he challenged.

“Zhanna has a sixth sense about such things. It has never failed her,” Ivashov said. “I would stake my life on it.”

“If I follow your advice, all our lives may hang in the balance,” Panin said. “Now go away and tell no one we had this talk.”

* * *

As Panin predicted, the Red artillery barrage began that very evening, with Soviet scouts infiltrating overnight at key points overlooking the Belaya River. According to reconnaissance reports, Red gunboats appeared on the Belaya north of Ufa and were towing barges into position on the river’s west bank. All day long, Ned and Ivashov made the rounds of outposts on the river’s eastern side, distributing more handbills and reminding the Siberian sharpshooters and artillery spotters of the rewards in gold for killing Frunze and his top commanders. As night fell, the two retreated to a staff tent far behind the front and rested for several hours until noise from the barrage was too loud to permit sleep.

Two hours before dawn, Ned and Ivashov joined a party of staff officers for the ride to a bunker that commanded a panoramic view of the river. As dawn swept away the last stars in the sky, they studied the mists on the river for signs of disturbance. Then they saw the first Red barges make their way across. All at once, the Siberian artillery erupted, sending a hail of shells into the river surrounding the barges, but hitting only a few. Wave after wave of watercraft crossed the river, unloading Red attackers, weapons, and ammunition before returning for more. Yet, for all its salvos, the White artillery seemed incapable of sinking more than a handful.

Once across, the Red troops advanced slowly up the steep banks, frequently being pinned down by interlocking fields of machine gun fire and intense mortar barrages whenever they attempted a breakout. As a result, the Reds spread out along the east bank in a thin ribbon, waiting for reinforcements. As the morning wore on, the attackers managed to advance just far enough to occupy the first row of hills above the Belaya’s east bank, enabling newer arrivals to occupy their former positions. No matter how hard the Red artillery pounded the White fortifications, the White machine guns always came alive the moment the Red troops threatened to advance. By early afternoon, the entire attacking force was in place on the eastern side, with many barges standing by to carry wounded troops back to field hospitals in the west. Meanwhile, gunboats ferried back and forth to fetch fresh ammunition and supplies.

At mid-afternoon, a pair of Red gunboats arrived on the east bank to insert a small landing party there. Through his field binoculars, Ned could see that the party consisted almost entirely of senior Red officers. He signaled to Ivashov, who shouted a frantic command to the sub officers manning field telephones.

“He’s here! Frunze has arrived on a gunboat and is moving toward the Red command dugout. Hit him with all you’ve got!”

Immediately upon receiving the command, the Siberian batteries let loose a furious barrage aimed at the barges anchored along the Belaya’s east bank. One barge after another was demolished. Moments later, the White artillery fire began to creep up behind the attackers from the river’s eastern bank, flushing poorly trained attackers out of hiding and bringing them within view of the White machine gun crews. And all around the advancing Red troops, black puffs of smoke sprang up like poisoned toadstools, spewing clouds of deadly shrapnel.

Near the Red command dugout, sprays of dirt and sand popped up where sharpshooters’ bullets struck. It seemed that Ivashov’s orders had unleashed a concentrated hail of bullets upon the Red commanders. Soon Ned spotted four Red soldiers carrying a wounded officer by his arms and legs from the command dugout toward the remaining barges. A flurry of bullets pursued them and, within a few seconds, all four fell and lay still. Two more soldiers carried a senior Red field officer by the shoulders but were cut down by machine gun fire. Within a few minutes, as if a bugle had sounded the retreat, the entire line of Red attackers ceased to advance. First in one sector, then in another, the leaderless and demoralized Red soldiers fell back in disorder, despite the warnings of their political commissars, who made good on threats to shoot anyone who retreated. Some troops climbed aboard barges or took cover behind them, but not enough barges remained afloat for the Reds to escape. White machine gun fire mowed them down in droves.

Then the Siberian artillery launched a fresh barrage on the flats along the riverbank, catching more and more panicked troops out in the open. Some jumped into the river in an attempt to swim to safety, while others cowered helplessly behind whatever protection they could find, by now running low on ammunition. In the hills above, Ned noticed White infantry descending slowly toward the retreating Reds, taking well-aimed shots as they moved.

After a while, the artillery and mortar fire trailed off, the machine guns ceased rattling, and in the relative stillness between the muffled pops of distant rifles, Ned heard the rumbling hooves and fierce cries of charging cavalry. Sweeping down from their hiding places in hollows south of the Red landing places, the White cavalry descended upon the disorganized Red forces like furies, cutting down all within sabers’ reach and driving the others into the river, where many drowned. And the advancing White infantry promptly shot any who fled on foot. The carnage was unlike anything Ned had seen, and rivaled images of the corpse-strewn no-man’s-land along the Somme. The waste of lives was appalling. Yet, to have checked the Red advance and destroyed any chance of an enemy breakthrough was exhilarating. By nightfall, the entire Red landing force had been annihilated or captured. Among the confirmed dead was Southern Group Commander Mikhail Frunze.

The next day, the Western Army’s leaders, still dazed from their unexpected victory on the Belaya, organized a river crossing of their own. The landing parties consisted mainly of White cavalry squadrons assigned to destroy the retreating Red Army remnants before they could regroup. This effort was so successful that General Khanzin authorized a brigade-sized force to cross the following day and attack the Red divisional headquarters at Belebey, resulting in the town’s capture without a fight. The same force took Bugul’ma two days later and did not stop until it reached Sergiyevsk, north of Samara, and then only to avoid the risk of a counterattack. Within a week, the Western Army managed to recapture nearly all the territory it had won along the Ufa-Samara axis in early April but had lost by month’s end when the spring offensive failed.

As for Zhanna, she managed to elude Chapayev’s Twenty-Fifth Rifles long enough to make good her withdrawal through Buzuluk and back to Uralsk, her wagon trains laden with captured weaponry. Her troops, giddy with success and sorely tempted to indulge a penchant for rapine and plunder, were held back only by Zhanna’s charismatic presence.

Fortunately, Chapayev did not pursue Zhanna’s raiders beyond Buguruslan, where he learned of the catastrophic Red defeat on the Belaya and reluctantly turned back to protect the tattered remains of the retreating Fifth Red Army.

* * *

It took nearly a week for Ned and Ivashov to return to Orenburg by rail and horseback. En route, they learned that General Dutov’s Orenburg Cossacks had captured the city in their absence. As at Uralsk, the Cossacks had faced difficulty capturing a fortified position without superiority in heavy arms, but the armored cars soon proved a potent weapon against the besieged Orenburg garrison. Also, with all spare Red troops having been drawn into the Ufa offensive, enemy reinforcements were no longer a concern. In the end, after Zhanna’s raid had cut off rail links between Sovdepia and Orenburg, and the garrison’s ammunition ran low, the Red defenders lost heart and surrendered.

Orenburg resembled a ghost town when Ned and Ivashov entered the city. Owing to food storages, many of the city’s pro-Kolchak inhabitants had already decamped to outlying villages and stanitsas  to fill their bellies and replenish scarce supplies. In Orenburg’s rail yard, a train was being loaded with captured Red Army prisoners for the long journey east to Siberian detention camps. Ned had seen such trains before and shuddered at the thought of how many would die en route of hunger, thirst, disease, and exposure.

Only later did he learn that still more Red troops, and nearly all the Bolshevik commissars and political agitators identified by the anti-Red townspeople, had been massacred and buried secretly in mass graves. According to British officers in the know, this sort of thing had never happened during the war against Germany, but was commonplace now. Each side in Russia’s civil war accused the other of mass atrocities, but the Siberians were extremely careful not to let the Allies witness theirs.

* * *

Once back at the Cossack encampment outside Uralsk, Ned found Zhanna’s v

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olunteers in a jubilant mood following their raid on Buzuluk and Buguruslan. Their many wagonloads of captured arms were still being unloaded and inventoried and, to Ned’s surprise, no soldier grumbled at the Maid’s prohibition against looting for personal gain. More important was that they had returned with minimal casualties and had achieved the Stavka’s three main goals for the southern Urals: (1) to retake Uralsk and Orenburg; (2) to sever the link between Sovdepia and the Turkestan Soviet; and (3) to impede the Red advance toward Ufa.

Ned and Ivashov set off at once for the staff tent, where they found the Maid calmly answering questions from General Tolstov and his aides about her raid. The moment she saw them, Zhanna rose and embraced each man like a long-lost brother and urged them to sit, drink tea, and provide a detailed account of the battle at Ufa and the death of General Frunze on the Belaya.

Ned and Ivashov took turns telling the story, though neither of them revealed how they had distributed photographs of Frunze and had trained the sharpshooters and artillery spotters to target the Red commander for death. While this sort of thing had been fair game in the Philippines and Mexico, and seemed to Ned fully justified against the Bolsheviks, both officers feared that some on their side might not consider it sporting. Nor did Ned want word of his bounty hunting to appear in writing, lest it find its way back to an overly fastidious General Graves in Vladivostok.

Instead, both men gave full credit to Zhanna for having weakened the Red attack at the critical moment by drawing off Chapayev’s force to the south and compelling Frunze to wait for additional troops from Samara. The resulting delay had given the Allies time both to deliver additional heavy arms to the Western Army and to force upon General Khanzin and the Stavka the essential changes in the Siberian defensive plan that had made victory possible.

“Fortunately, the importance of the White victory at Ufa appears not to have been lost on the Allies,” Ned informed the group. “Continued military support for the Siberian Army now seems assured. And despite earlier setbacks, political recognition for the Admiral appears to be back in play.”

At this news, Tolstov jumped up with startling agility and blurted out, “I’ll be a dock-tailed mongrel if this doesn’t call for a toast! Orderly, bring out some vodka from the medical supplies and be quick about it!”

But Zhanna waved the orderly off.

“There will be time enough for drinking when the war is won, but not before,” she declared, looking from one man to the next. “And as for Captain du Pont and Staff Captain Ivashov, I advise both to get some rest. Before another day goes by, I shall call upon you to ride with me again and witness yet another battle. For I sense that the Red devil Chapayev has not given up his pursuit of us, nor his thirst for revenge. Tomorrow we shall ride out to meet him.”

Zhanna ended by offering Ned a smile so beatific that it reminded him of how she had once appeared to him, sitting cross-legged on a Buryat prayer rug spread upon the snow at her father’s estate. Here was the same girl, barely half a year older, but now the veteran of numerous skirmishes against the Red Army. What sort of Zhanna would he see tomorrow as she faced off against Chapayev? And if she prevailed, what sort of Zhanna would she be afterward, and after the next battle, and the next? For while Ned felt a natural urge to protect her, and dreaded the thought of seeing her killed or maimed, he also feared how a long series of hard-fought victories might harden her, as war had hardened so many before.

* * *

The next morning, Zhanna and Tolstov ordered nearly their entire cavalry force and half the infantry to gather up arms and prepare for a midnight departure to an undisclosed destination. At the staff tent, Colonel Denisov reported new intelligence that, at Trotsky’s order, Chapayev had taken his mobile strike force south from Belebey on a punitive mission to hunt down and destroy the Maid and her volunteers. Skirting the east bank of the Volga at first, he had retaken the town of Pugachyov and was headed further south toward Yershov in order to advance on Uralsk undetected from the southwest.

According to the latest reports, Chapayev’s progress had been slow, owing to his shortage of cavalry and the lack of reliable rail transport east of the Volga. More than that, the local population consisted almost entirely of Cossacks and prosperous farmers who were implacably hostile to the Bolsheviks. When the Red column encountered a settlement on their advance, they invariably found the houses abandoned, grain stores buried or destroyed, and the wells poisoned. By now, Chapayev’s troops were exhausted from weeks of combat and forced marches, and many had sickened from typhus and malnutrition. But he and his officers, hell-bent on avenging General Frunze’s death and the loss of Uralsk, vowed not to rest until they had burned that city to the ground, laid waste to the surrounding stanitsas  and killed all male Cossacks they found above the age of five. And if they caught up with the Maid, all the sweeter.

Zhanna listened to Denisov’s briefing without emotion.

“Tell me more about this Chapayev fellow,” she said when he finished his briefing. “What kind of a man is he, and how can we turn his nature to our advantage?”

“You have asked in the right place,” Denisov replied. “We know Chapayev well here. Some of our men served with him in the Imperial Army. He entered service as an illiterate peasant but learned to read and write in the army, rose rapidly through the ranks and showed bravery in the war against Germany. When revolution came, he saw that his greatest opportunity of advancement lay with the Bolsheviks. Though his commanders knew well that Chapayev was a political infant with no understanding of the Bolshevik program, they tolerated him because he was a capable fighter.”

“So much for his strengths,” Zhanna replied. “Now tell me his weaknesses.”

“Arrogance and ignorance head the list, I should think,” Denisov said, striking a match to light a cigarette. “For example, he quit the Red Army Academy after only a few months, because he thought it was filled with old fogeys who had nothing to teach him. Nor does he accept suggestions readily from his staff. With Chapayev, one head is always better than two. And he’s a real hothead, with a dangerous weakness for rumors, doubtless owing to his ignorance of the world. Would you believe it, Zhanna Stepanovna? The man is a divisional commander and yet he believes that birds spread typhus and that sugar grows in loaves? Nor does he shrink from boasting of his exploits with war and women and embroidering them quite more than a little.”

“So do you think him the sort who might be baited or lured into a misstep?”

“Emphatically so, general,” Denisov answered with a grin. “Chapayev is the perfect mark for a clever ruse. Why, do you have one in mind?”

At this, Zhanna merely shrugged and gave an enigmatic smile.

“Not yet,” she said. “Let us pray for guidance and then prepare for battle as best we can. When we are ready, the Lord will show us our opening if we have eyes to see it.”

* * *

“To horse! To horse!” came a shout at midnight as Zhanna’s column of three thousand men set out to the southwest by moonlight with the aim of surprising Chapayev’s column between Uralsk and Pugachyov. Somewhere close behind Ned, a horse snorted and its bit clattered against the animal’s teeth. Then the wagons rolled, the soldiers marched, and the cavalrymen rocked in their saddles as they trotted back and forth along the column’s flanks to guard against a chance encounter with an enemy patrol. As the day dawned and the temperature rose, the mingled scents of horses’ sweat, saddle leather, and cheap shag tobacco smoke filled the dusty air. Riding along with the Cossacks, Ned’s head became heavy with lack of sleep. Somewhere behind him, a concertina struck up a tune and a tenor voice led the troops in song. When the time came for the chorus, the basses burst out with “Black is the grave…”

The Cossack baggage train extended for half a verst to Ned’s rear, its heavy transport wagons creaking and the light britskas [36] and assorted carriages thudding along under heavy loads of ammunition, shells, and other supplies. In place of armored cars, which had remained at Orenburg, the column included a dozen or so of the improvised mobile firing platforms mounted on flatbed trucks that had seen service on Zhanna’s raid to Buzuluk, and even more horse-drawn tachankas .

The men rode all day and stopped after sunset in the concealment of a vast balka , or hollow, where the horses were allowed to water in a shallow stream and graze while the field kitchens cooked millet porridge laced with bacon fat for the men. While the troops rested, Zhanna sent out scouts in all directions to search for signs of Chapayev’s approach. Two hours later, a pair of scouts returned with news that Chapayev’s force was bivouacked near the town of Yershov, on the Maly Uzen River, a minor tributary of the Volga. The scouts had come across the enemy column by chance when they spotted Red troops chasing a magnificently antlered stag that had wandered past.

“Let us bring up our artillery and mortars and shell their camp before dawn,” Colonel Denisov urged. “Once we roll out those six-inchers against Chapayev, there won’t be anything left but his underpants!”

But Zhanna rejected his proposal.

“No, Colonel, I propose we assess their strength first and plan our attack with caution, even if it demands more time. Summon the staff at once, and go find me Staff Captain Ivashov.”

Within the hour, Denisov had assembled a select group of trusted soldiers with prior experience in the Red army who were willing to dress in captured Red Army uniforms and infiltrate Chapayev’s camp. The plan was risky, given that Siberians who had once served under the Reds, voluntarily or otherwise, might now harbor conflicted loyalties. But the serene expression on Zhanna’s face suggested that there was method to her madness.

“Staff Captain Ivashov, you once served in the Twenty-Fifth Rifles. You know their ways. Will you lead the reconnaissance?”

Ivashov’s stunned expression was clearly visible even in the semi-darkness.

“How did you know that?” Ivashov snapped.

“Never mind how. Will you do it?” she insisted.

For several seconds he regarded her with lips pressed tightly together and a grim cast to his gray eyes.

“As you wish,” he replied at last.

“Do you need further instructions, or can I count on you to use your best judgment?”

“No instructions are necessary,” Ivashov replied. “I will ride out at once with a few picked men and report back as soon as I am able.”

Though Ned had known of Ivashov’s prior service with the People’s Army, a fact that had put the staff captain at odds with Lebedev and other hard-liners at Omsk, Ivashov had never hinted at having fought for the Reds, even under duress. Even if it were true, Ned asked himself, how could Zhanna have known it? And what else about Ivashov remained concealed from him?

* * *

Ivashov returned long after midnight.

“They are little more than an hour’s ride away. We still have time to surprise them before dawn, if we move quickly,” he announced in a tired but resolute voice to the assembled commanders and staff.

“But how will we avoid being detected?” Zhanna asked. “Our wagons and tachankas  are far from silent.”

“Tonight Chapayev ordered his cadets on watch duty, but a certain Red colonel had them relieved,” Ivashov answered. “If we keep a proper distance, they will not hear us until we go on the attack.”

“And you have confidence that the Red colonel’s orders will be obeyed?” Zhanna asked with unblinking eyes.

“As well as if I gave the order myself,” he answered, meeting Zhanna’s steady gaze.

“Then give the signal to advance,” she said. “Bring up the artillery first, at a safe distance. Put the mortar crews next, then the trucks and the tachankas , positioned in enfilade. And send a squadron of cavalry across the river to block any attempts by the enemy to swim to the opposite bank. Our infantry must form an airtight perimeter to prevent any stragglers from slipping the noose. Am I understood?”

As Zhanna walked off to the staff tent with Paladin, Ned caught up with them and gestured for Paladin to go on ahead. Once the youth was out of earshot, Ned fell in step beside her and spoke.

“Zhanna, what is your plan if we fail to achieve surprise?” he asked. “You must realize that Chapayev’s force outnumbers ours by a ratio of three to two. The situation is far from ideal.”

“When has our situation ever been ideal?” she answered in a clipped voice. “If we follow God’s plan, we shall win.”

“So you don’t fear risking everything at one throw, despite the weariness of our men and horses and the risk of betrayal?”

Zhanna stopped walking and turned to face Ned with a questioning look.

“Tell me, captain, who is more weary?” she challenged, putting her hands on her hips and regarding him through narrowed eyes. “Our men, who have fed and rested in their homes at Uralsk, or Chapayev’s, after weeks of forced marches, deep in enemy territory, and short of everything? The Red soldiers will sleep like the dead tonight, and they won’t stir until they hear our cannons’ roar.”

“I see,” Ned replied, drawing a long breath. “Your successes seem to have put you beyond fear, Zhanna Stepanovna. And that worries me.”

But to Ned’s surprise, the hard mask of determination on the girl’s face suddenly melted into an expression that bore the unexpected traces of humility.

“So you think I don’t fear battle?” she asked, biting her lower lip nervously. “Usually before a fight, I am so frightened that I shake like a leaf!”

Ned met her gaze with a probing look and for a brief moment, he could detect vulnerability in her violet eyes.

“Then, when the danger passes,” she went on, “everything seems so terribly dull. It’s as if there’s nothing in between. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’ve gone mad…”

“All experienced soldiers are mad, to a degree,” Ned replied, reaching out to take her trembling hand. “As long as you can still feel the fear, you’re okay. It’s when the feeling stops that you’re in trouble.”

“No danger of that,” she said, holding up her other quivering hand and stifling a laugh. “See?”

By the time they reached the staff tent, both her hands were steady and a determined expression had returned to her face. The time for fighting had come.

* * *

The Maid’s troops, having perfected their ambush techniques during the raids on Buzuluk and Buguruslan, took up positions outside Yershov before the first glow of dawn appeared in the sky. At Zhanna’s command, the artillery crews let loose on the town, followed by the mortarmen. The moment the barrage stopped, truck-mounted machine guns and tachankas  left their concealed positions in hollows, among trees, and buried within haystacks, to move in for the kill.

Ned viewed it all through binoculars from behind a rocky outcrop overlooking the enemy camp. The places where sentries should have been posted were deserted, just as would be expected if the watch had been relieved but not replaced. So when fragmentation shells burst overhead without warning and machine gun bullets whistled unexpectedly through the streets, the Red troops awoke in a panic and scurried about in the semi-darkness, half-dressed and carrying only their rifles. Confusion spread among the Reds, who fought in isolated groups, no one group knowing what the others were doing. Before long, the more experienced among them formed skirmish lines and advanced toward the incoming fire, but most retreated to the banks of the Maly Uzen, where truck-mounted machine guns and tachankas  mowed them down in a vicious crossfire.

Several hundred yards downstream, Ned spotted a Cossack cavalry squadron concealed in a grove of willows close to the river. The Cossacks rose to their feet, tightened their saddle girths, and mounted their horses, ready to sweep the riverbank clean the moment the trucks and tachankas  withdrew. It was then that Ned noticed a handful of Red troops bolting toward the river while several dozen of comrades let loose a volley of rifle fire to cover their retreat. Ned called out to Ivashov, who watched nearby through his own field glasses.

“Do you see the squad to the right of the chapel attempting to escape? They look like officers. Look, could that one be Chapayev?”

“Which one?” Ivashov called out.

“The one in the center, holding a rifle in his left hand and dangling a revolver in his right,” Ned replied.

“By God, I believe it’s him. He’s making for the river before our riders catch up to him. Damn! We can’t let him get away!”

Without another word, Ivashov ran to where his horse was tethered, climbed into the saddle, and galloped alone toward the stretch of river where the Cossacks were attacking, despite the line of Red riflemen arrayed against him. Though Ned felt a strong urge to mount his horse and follow rather than let Ivashov ride off alone, his orders not to join the fighting were still in place. Even more, Ivashov’s charge seemed wholly unnecessary, with a squadron of Cossack horsemen close on Chapayev’s heels. What was the point of following him, at the risk of drawing fire from a dozen enemy riflemen?

So Ned stayed among the rocks and watched, his pulse racing, while Ivashov rode wide around the enemy’s flank toward the river. By the time Ivashov reached it, Chapayev’s comrades had lowered their commander, apparently wounded in the left arm or shoulder, down the steep riverbank and into the swirling waters. Two men held him afloat while the current carried them all downstream and volleys of bullets sent up plumes of water around their heads.

Within minutes, one comrade vanished beneath the surface, and then another, until all three disappeared silently from sight. Ivashov rode along the river’s edge and raised his rifle to take a last shot at the Red commander, but by the time he did, no target remained in view. The once-charismatic Chapayev, driven by impetuosity, ambition, revenge, and violent hatred for the entire Cossack breed, had overreached and paid the price.

Over the next several hours, Cossack cavalrymen tightened the cordon around the leaderless and disorganized Red forces while Zhanna’s riflemen closed in on the town and slaughtered the enemy until none was left to resist. Chapayev’s second-in-command fought off the Cossacks as long as he could, until he ran out of ammunition and fired his last revolver bullet through his own temple. The division’s political commissar, who had hidden in a cottage at the edge of the village, was turned out into the street by a pair of old women and promptly run through by a Cossack’s saber.

At the end of the day, the Siberians had killed or captured more than three thousand Red troops and taken much valuable weaponry, with negligible losses of their own. The few Red survivors who escaped were harassed for days in their forlorn flight toward the Volga. And within a week, all remaining units of the First and Fourth Red Armies posted between the Volga and Uralsk withdrew to the river’s western bank for safety.

Now, with both Uralsk and Orenburg in White hands, and the Cossack cavalry controlling the entire Orenburg steppe, the Maid had not only rescued Admiral Kolchak’s Western Army from disaster at Ufa, but within a single month had paved the way for an achievement that no observer had considered possible: the joining of Kolchak’s Siberian Army with Denikin’s AFSR on the Lower Volga and the formation of a united White front in the south.

Chapter 15: Stavka Massacre

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“Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.”

—Friedrich Schiller

Musical Theme: Jazz Suite No. 2, 6. Waltz II , by Dmitri Shostakovich


The day after cabling her after-battle report from Uralsk to the Stavka, Zhanna received a telegraphed summons from General Lebedev to report to Omsk for consultations. A separate message announced the reorganization of Siberian forces along the Southwestern Front, placing Zhanna’s volunteers under the authority of a new Southern Army, to be led by General G. A. Belov. Though the army’s headquarters was to be at Uralsk, Zhanna and her volunteers would be posted to Orenburg, outside of General Tolstov’s operational area and far from any possible action on the Volga.

Tolstov took this as a gratuitous slap in the face, not just to himself, but also to the Maid, and to the entire Ural Cossack Host. In private with Ned, Ivashov likewise expressed indignation at Lebedev’s actions. Even more baffling, neither Tolstov nor the Maid received a congratulatory message of any kind from Omsk, but only a request to confirm Chapayev’s cause of death. Zhanna’s laconic reply consisted of a single telegraphic line describing the Red commander’s demise as “death by misadventure.”

On Ned’s return to Uralsk from Yershov, he drafted a post-action report for Colonel Barrows and Colonel Ward. The report emphasized the strategic significance of Zhanna’s raid on Buzuluk and of her subsequent annihilation of Chapayev’s punitive expedition. To exploit the Maid’s victories in proper fashion, Ned proposed joint action along the lower Volga by Belov’s reconfigured Southern Siberian Army and Denikin’s AFSR.

Barrows sent a coded message back, urging Ned to return to Omsk and commending him for his first-person reports. These had proven invaluable to the Allies in assessing Siberian prospects at Ufa and the Maid’s role in the actions at Uralsk, Orenburg and Ufa. But at the same time, Barrows warned Ned to avoid becoming too closely associated with Zhanna in the eyes of the Stavka, as she had flagrantly disregarded Lebedev’s orders and generated heated controversy within the Omsk government.

* * *

Zhanna, Paladin, Ned, and Ivashov slept most of the way from Iletsk to Omsk aboard a decrepit Russian munitions train. Even the garrulous Paladin was uncharacteristically silent. Upon arriving at Omsk Station, Zhanna and the two captains went their separate ways, each having been summoned by a separate authority. Ned went directly to the British Military Mission and found Colonel Ward in his office, preparing for a meeting later that day with Kolchak and Dieterichs to review Allied military support for the Siberians. As usual, Ward sat erect in his chair with a stack of briefing papers before him, his facial expression one of intense concentration.

He rose to greet Ned and extended his enormous hand for an enthusiastic handshake.

“Capital job of reporting from Ufa,” Ward offered. “Bloody close call for our side, I’d say. Hats off to the chap who dropped that mortar round on Frunze. Had he missed, things might have turned out differently on the Belaya, eh?”

“Hard to say,” Ned replied, choosing not to reveal how he had distributed Frunze’s photographs and offered a bounty in gold for his death, lest it offend the Briton’s sense of fair play.

“Yes, such things are among war’s imponderables,” Ward mused. “Fortunately, Admiral Kolchak seems to have taken a lesson from his brush with disaster and has ordered Dieterichs to conduct an investigation into how the spring offensive turned into such an utter fiasco.”

“One needn’t look very far for the source of the problem,” Ned observed. “One word, or rather one name, would suffice.”

“Precisely. And of late, General Lebedev has sought to escape all blame by deflecting it to the Minister of War, in hopes of usurping that title for himself, no less. Even worse, he has shoved Khanzin aside as commander of the Western Army in favor of his protégé, Sakharov, a lightweight and a notorious monarchist. Yet Kolchak allows the useless devil to hang on…”

“After Ufa, surely Lebedev’s failings can’t have gone unnoticed,” Ned suggested hopefully.

“Dieterichs understands, of course, and I expect he will say as much in his report on the matter,” Ward noted. “Kolchak’s field generals, like Wojciechowski, Kappel, and Pepelyaev, would most likely agree, if only in private. Dieterichs is one of very few men willing to confront the Supreme Ruler with unpleasant truths. Rumors circulate that he has already proposed purging the Stavka from top to bottom, but the Admiral opted for delay. But even with Dieterichs on our side, I fear Lebedev will be exceedingly difficult to dislodge.”

“Have you given up then on making him see reason?” Ned pressed.

“One tries to see the best in every man, of course, but the Chief of Staff is enough to try anyone’s patience,” Ward replied, pushing his chair back from the desk impatiently. “Often I have had a mind to kick him in the place where it would do the most good.”

“I fully concur in that,” Ned replied, resisting a laugh. “But perhaps you have overlooked one factor in our favor. The Maid, I can assure you, is no less frustrated with Lebedev than we are. And if she decides he must go, I would not underestimate her ability to make it happen—somehow.”

“The Maid is in Omsk, then?” Ward exclaimed, rising to his feet.

“And likely on her way to the Stavka to corner Lebedev in his den, if not to Liberty House to have him dismissed.”

“Then let’s finish our preparations and ride to the Admiral’s offices early,” Ward replied, turning to stand at the window and gaze onto the busy street below. “Perhaps we can intercept her and glean her intentions. Or else be on hand to watch the fireworks.”

* * *

Unlike previous meetings at Liberty House, when Ned had been asked to wait in the reception room for an hour or more, the duty officer met him and Colonel Ward in the lobby and ushered them directly into Admiral Kolchak’s suite. Ned looked at his watch. They were twenty minutes early for Ward’s appointment. Was something afoot?

Kolchak and Dieterichs met their two visitors at the door and bade them take seats at the conference table. In the two months since Ned had last seen the Supreme Leader, he appeared to have lost some of his energy and resoluteness. Though his deep-set eyes still held a piercing quality, their light had dimmed. Dieterichs, in contrast, seemed to have grown in stature and looked as dashing as ever in his smartly tailored British uniform.

The subject of the meeting was Allied military aid, and Ward began with a summary of the military situation along the Urals, as seen from the British perspective. He focused on the importance of taking a defensive posture over the summer, in order to build reserves and retake the initiative in the autumn. With the Siberians holding nearly the entire expanse between the Urals and the Volga, the Red Army was in no position to make another run against Ufa. Instead, the latest intelligence indicated that Lenin and Trotsky thought the Red Army would face its next major challenge on the Lower Volga, at Tsaritsyn, against the combined forces of the Siberian Southern Army and Denikin’s AFSR. If the Whites could prevail there in late summer or autumn, Ward argued, they might yet mount a coordinated drive on Moscow before winter.

Despite the logic of Ward’s case, Ned noted impatience in the narrowing of General Dieterichs’ eyes and in the hard line of his tightly pressed lips. Suddenly, the general held up his hands to interrupt Ward at the very moment that the colonel struck his most optimistic note.

“You paint a bright picture, Colonel Ward,” Dieterichs remarked with a smile that his eyes did not share. “But, as you have pointed out, our Siberian armies are exhausted and need time to rebuild. What will the Allies do to help us?”

“Last month you received renewed assurances from London and Washington,” Ward replied. “Not only regarding military aid, but also for a ten million pound loan from our leading London banks. Since then, the Allied Council of Five has taken proper note of your most recent victories. Diplomatic recognition by all five Great Powers may not lie far off, provided that certain conditions are met.”

“And among those conditions is a unified military command?”

“We urge you to consider it,” Ward answered. “It would avoid the unseemly, and perhaps dangerous, prospect of a race to Moscow between your forces and those of General Denikin.”

“I see. And your other conditions?”

“Now would be the ideal time to institute some of the military reforms we have discussed. For example, at a time when field units are desperately short of officers, we would like to see the Siberian Army scale down its staffs, combine understrength units, and send redundant officers to the front. Reforms are also necessary to boost conscription, particularly among veterans of the German war. And service ex

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emptions rooted in bribery and corruption must be stopped, with shirkers to be conscripted or sentenced to hard labor. The British Military Mission remains more than willing to assist in implementing any and all of these reforms.”

Kolchak’s face remained unmoved and Ned could not determine whether the Supreme Ruler was still pondering Ward’s proposals, had rejected them outright, or was considering what to eat for dinner.

Dieterichs balled his hands into fists and laid them on the table.

“And do you intend next to take up residence at the Stavka?” the general asked in a biting tone.

Ward stiffened but made no immediate reply. In the next moment, a clatter was heard at the door.

Moments later, the door opened and the Maid of Baikal marched through, with the duty officer trailing two paces behind.

“Your Excellency!” the duty officer sputtered, but Zhanna was already halfway across the room, aimed straight for the Supreme Ruler at the head of the conference table.

“They told me you were not in your office, but Saint Marina said I would find you here, and so I have,” the Maid declared as sparks of anger lit up her eyes.

The four men rose in unison with a clatter of chairs.

“Congratulations on your victories, Zhanna Stepanovna,” Dieterichs greeted her with forced amiability. “You have set the Bolsheviks back on their heels in a way none of us foresaw.”

“Thank you, general,” the Maid replied politely. “It is good to hear it from your lips. Would that I had heard it sooner, and from certain others.” Here she gave a respectful nod toward Admiral Kolchak before addressing Dieterichs once again. “Instead, I received a message from the Chief of Staff that my brigade has been diverted to Orenburg, away from the Volga, where we meant to engage with the enemy. While I didn’t expect gratitude from the Stavka, neither did I expect a demotion.”

“No demotion was intended, I’m sure,” the Supreme Ruler responded with an indecipherable look. “Doubtless you will play an important role in future actions.”

“With all due respect, Your Excellency, you and I both know that, once I leave this room, General Lebedev will do everything in his power to hold me back. How much closer must our army come to ruin before you dismiss the man for incompetence?”

Kolchak drew a sharp breath, as if she had dealt him a blow. But Dieterichs rescued his superior from having to respond.

“In all fairness, Zhanna Stepanovna, it is not proper to discuss General Lebedev’s performance in his absence. If you only knew the number of times that naysayers have come to me with similar complaints about you… But we gave you a chance and now you have proven yourself worthy.”

“As Lebedev has been given his chance, over and over, with the opposite result,” Zhanna countered with a steely look. “From the day his spring offensive opened, the Chief of Staff has made one ruinous decision after another. Your Excellency, one doesn’t need to hear heavenly Voices to know that such setbacks won’t stop until you install a new Chief of Staff and replace the entire Stavka with a better class of officer.”

Ned diverted his gaze from Zhanna and the two Russians long enough to note a faint smile lurking beneath Colonel Ward’s heavy mustache. A moment later, Dieterichs pulled out a chair and gestured for the Maid to be seated.

“Zhanna, please have a seat with us,” he said in a voice husky with fatigue. The girl hesitated before sitting, as if considering whether to turn on her heel and leave. Ned and the others returned to their seats, as well.

“Now, I beg you to listen, young lady,” Dieterichs began. “I have given you my support from the start and was among the first to recognize the value of your victories at Uralsk, Buzuluk, and now Yershov. What you have achieved is extraordinary for any commander, let alone one of your age and inexperience. But General Lebedev has also made his contributions, and has been a trusted member of our leadership for many months. For that reason…”

But Zhanna had anticipated his response.

“And he has had your ear the entire time, methodically excluding contrary voices from your high counsels. Please allow me two minutes to make my case, and if you find it reasonable, let us bring the Chief of Staff here to answer for himself.”

“The Maid has earned that much, to be sure,” Admiral Kolchak declared before setting his dark eyes on Zhanna. “You may speak.”

“My complaints against General Lebedev and his Stavka can be reduced to three points,” Zhanna began.

“First, I urge General Lebedev’s dismissal for the failure to properly plan, execute, and support the spring offensive. To reward failure is to encourage more of it.

“Second, I urge his dismissal for recklessness in underestimating the Red Army’s size and strength, for failing to prepare for its counteroffensive, and for advancing east of the Belaya River without adequate reserves.

“Third, I urge dismissal for poor choice of field commanders and senior staff, failure to exert effective leadership, neglect of military discipline, and turning a blind eye to waste and corruption. We depend on our Allied friends for virtually all of our arms and supplies. How long can we ask them to give us weapons that wind up straightaway in Bolshevik hands?”

Zhanna turned now to the Supreme Ruler and traded her prosecutorial manner for one of rustic simplicity.

“Your Excellency, the hen is sitting, but where are the eggs?”

Dieterichs leveled a stern look at the Maid before responding quickly so as to spare Kolchak once more from answering.

“Responsibility weighs just as heavily on a staff officer who plans an operation as it does on the commander who executes it,” the general pointed out. “In Moltke’s words, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Tell me, Zhanna, now that you are elevated to general and practiced in the art of war, what would you do so differently now from what General Lebedev does?”

Zhanna folded her small hands, browned by the sun and roughened by long rides on horseback, and laid them on the table before looking up at Dieterichs with a calculating smile.

“I would take three actions that our Chief of Staff has steadfastly refused to do. First and most important, I would send an army to the southwest to join forces with General Denikin’s army at the Volga and seize control of the grain-rich region from Tsaritsyn to Samara. This would deprive the Bolsheviks of much-needed foodstuffs and sever their lines of communication to the Caspian and to Central Asia.

“Next, I would form a unified command with General Denikin and establish regular communications between us and our allies, using technical means the Americans and British have already provided.” Here she paused to offer a nod to Ned and to Colonel Ward. “Such coordination would, among other things, prevent Comrade Trotsky from shuttling his heavy artillery back and forth by rail to strike at our forces one day and at Denikin’s the next.”

Ned noticed a startled look on the Supreme Ruler’s face, as if Zhanna’s grasp of strategy had surprised him.

“And finally, I would restrict our offensive to the Southern Front until such time as the Northern and Western Armies are rebuilt. This requires holding a defensive line along the Kama and the Belaya until after the harvest, and perhaps longer. It also requires redirecting Allied military aid to the Southern Front. As I am sure you all recall, the Chief of Staff has fought tooth and nail against each of these measures.”

When Zhanna had concluded her speech, Admiral Kolchak rose from his chair without a word and retreated behind his massive wooden desk, as if to take shelter from the force of her arguments. At last, he spoke up in a barely audible tone, and with an expression as meek as that of a worn-out draft horse.

“But whom could I appoint to replace General Lebedev?” he asked in a hoarse and cracking voice. “He is the only one at the Stavka I can trust to not stab me in the back.”

“God will provide a suitable replacement,” the Maid replied gently. “What He expects from you is to act promptly upon it,” the Maid replied. “I ask Your Excellency: apart from the south, where General Tolstov and I have worked independently of the Stavka, at what other place along the Urals Front is your position stronger now than before the spring offensive began?”

Silence followed, and yet again General Dieterichs intervened to save the Supreme Ruler from embarrassment.

“The truth is that, while we have retaken some lost territory, our forces are outnumbered and outgunned everywhere but in the south,” the general conceded.

“And still without reserves,” Ward added.

All eyes now were on Admiral Kolchak, who let out a deep breath and leaned forward to rest his weight on the desk.

“Perhaps so large a task should not have been entrusted to a staff officer without more command experience,” he said with eyes lowered.

“I agree, Your Excellency,” Dieterichs added. “And now I would submit that the Chief of Staff’s errors have become too serious to excuse. Shall I send for him?”

“Yes, let us bring Lebedev here and allow him to offer his defense,” Kolchak answered. “The matter must be settled, one way or the other, this very day.”

* * *

During the brief recess, the Supreme Ruler remained in his office while General Dieterichs led Zhanna, Colonel Ward, and Ned into a separate meeting room. As soon as the door closed behind them, Ward asked Dieterichs whether further awkwardness might be avoided by persuading the Chief of Staff to resign.

“Impossible,” Dieterichs replied as he paced slowly from one end of the room to the other. “Lebedev would never relinquish power willingly.”

“Nothing is impossible with God’s help,” Zhanna remarked with a fresh sparkle in her violet eyes.

For the next half hour, they discussed how Lebedev might be induced to resign his post but failed to agree on a plan. Ninety minutes later, after adjourning for lunch, the duty officer ushered them back into Admiral Kolchak’s office through its oversized double doors. Bright sunlight streamed into the room through tall windows and partially drawn curtains, forming radiant beams where dust particles played.

On entering, they found the Chief of Staff seated beside the Supreme Ruler on a neoclassical sofa with a carved-wood frame, opposite a low table. Across from the table was a matching sofa, where Dieterichs sat, and a pair of armchairs. Zhanna took a place next to General Dieterichs on the sofa while the two foreign officers seated themselves in the armchairs.

Kolchak spoke up at once, without greeting or introduction, his button-black eyes darting restlessly from one spot to another.

“None of you can imagine how tedious I find it when one of my officers approaches me to complain of another. I will simply not stand for it. My solution is to let both sides challenge each other in my presence. If you cannot work together, but insist that one of you must prevail over the other, very well, I will sit as judge and jury. Will you accept my final judgment?”

“Oh, yes sir,” Zhanna offered quickly.

“We serve at your pleasure, Your Excellency,” Lebedev answered in a monotone, his face an ashen hue.

“Since you are the one holding office and whose performance is at issue here, I suggest that you speak first, general,” Admiral Kolchak said. “Tell us why you deserve to remain as Chief of Staff.”

“I believe my successes speak for themselves, Your Excellency,” Lebedev began. “You knew my record when you appointed me, and I have been your loyal servant ever since, leading the Stavka through extremely perilous times. And now, having successfully carried out our spring offensive, we have struck the Bolsheviks crushing blows all along the Urals Front. As we prepare for the next phase of the offensive, I stand ready to pursue the war to final victory over Bolshevism. By your leave, of course.”

As Lebedev’s bombastic manner was familiar to all and none expected him to concede an inch, Ned and Ward turned their attention to Kolchak and Dieterichs. The former appeared impatient and uneasy, while the latter folded his hands in his lap and regarded Lebedev with a mixture of aversion and pity.

“Have you nothing more specific?” Dieterichs asked in a clipped voice.

“After all I have done for the Siberian cause, general, I see no need to defend myself against the baseless allegations of an ignorant schoolgirl,” Lebedev sniffed, raising his fleshy nose toward the ceiling. “Indeed, I marvel that she has somehow clawed her way into this chamber.”

“Marvel if you wish, General Lebedev,” Dieterichs answered. “She is here, all the same. General Dorokhina, you may proceed.”

Lebedev winced at hearing the girl addressed as general.

“Thank you,” Zhanna said. “The Chief of Staff tells us that his successes speak for themselves, yet he is unable to name them. To my mind, his failures speak far more loudly. And since he declines to name these, I will.”

Lebedev’s jaw clenched tightly, and he looked daggers at the Maid.

“The biggest one is that he mismanaged the spring offensive from beginning to end,” she accused, “and nearly led the Siberian Army to ruin at Ufa. He and his Stavka set out with no rational plan of action. They simply bade the army fly toward the Volga in blind hopes of igniting uprisings that never came. He had no plan to resist a Red counteroffensive, and from the outset, he and the Stavka underestimated the Red Army’s size and strength. For this reason and others, he should have ordered the Western Army to halt at the Belaya River until reinforcements were at hand.”

As none of her listeners objected, she went on.

“In my view, these failures resulted not only from his personal failings as Chief of Staff, but also from his selection of incompetent and undisciplined staff officers who displayed little concern for our troops. That he and his staff sent our sons and brothers into battle badly trained, armed, and equipped, amounts to a betrayal of the Siberian people. For these reasons I urge General Lebedev’s dismissal for gross negligence and incompetence in time of war.”

Zhanna crossed her trousered legs and sat back in her armchair, chin uplifted, to await the reaction.

Though Ned half-expected Lebedev to explode in anger, the Chief of Staff merely folded his thick arms across his chest and curled his upper lip into a sneer.

“It seems to me that sending this young woman to the front has been a terrible mistake,” he replied, directing his gaze at Dieterichs. “A modicum of success achieved under Tolstov’s skilled guidance has gone straight to her pretty head. For no sooner did Tolstov’s Cossacks take Uralsk, than this young Maid disobeyed my direct order to join the siege of Orenburg. Instead, she ran off to God knows where, leaving both Orenburg and Uralsk at the mercy of the Fourth Red Army. For her to speak of negligence and incompetence is for the pot to call the kettle black.”

Zhanna’s eyes blazed but her voice remained clear and calm when she addressed her rebuttal to Dieterichs.

“None is so ready to find fault with others as the one who deserves blame himself,” she noted. “My attacks succeeded; his did not. The Chief of Staff merely adds yeast to his lies.”

At this, Lebedev’s cheeks turned beet-red and a deep furrow appeared in his forehead as he scowled across the table at the Maid.

“Mind your tongue, young vixen!” he snarled. “And address me directly, if you please. I will not be talked across. We are not equals here. Eggs do not teach a hen.”

“Very well, general,” Zhanna answered. “You have made your case and I have made mine. Let the Admiral decide.”

Now all eyes were on Admiral Kolchak, who sat forward on the edge of his chair, his chin resting on one elbow, an expression of veiled disgust on his face.

“Seldom in my experience are difficult decisions defined in black and white,” Kolchak remarked in a pained voice. “Zhanna Stepanovna, can you not say anything positive about the Chief of Staff’s work?”

Zhanna touched a finger gently to her lips before answering.

“If you wish, sir,” she replied, “I would say that one can count upon the general not to make the same mistake three times.”

A faint smile formed on the Supreme Ruler’s otherwise expressionless face and both General Dieterichs and Colonel Ward struggled to suppress a laugh. Apparently, this was too much humiliation for the Chief of Staff to bear, because he reached across the table and pointed a thick tobacco-stained finger at Zhanna.

“You have twisted my tail quite enough, my pretty whelp, and I will stand for it no longer!” With deliberate slowness, he removed the epaulets from his shoulders and laid them on the table. “Your Excellency, I submit my resignation forthwith unless this thorn is removed from my side.”

Ned drew a sharp breath while observing the Supreme Ruler’s eyes for a reaction. At the same time, he saw Colonel Ward’s lips form a smile beneath his mustache.

“I see that the scythe has run into a stone,” Kolchak said promptly, showing no trace of emotion. “Dmitry Antonovich, your resignation is accepted. I thank you for your faithful service. You will be paid through the end of the year and given safe passage to Vladivostok. From there, you are free to remain abroad until the war is over.”

Turning to Dieterichs, he added, “Mikhail Konstantinovich, you are hereby appointed interim Chief of Staff for the Siberian Armies. Please select a new Stavka with all due haste and prepare a thorough review of all senior command positions, along with your recommendations for change. We will discuss them in the morning. That will be all.”

For a moment, everyone but the Supreme Ruler seemed too stunned to move, as no one had expected him to make so radical a change on the spot. The former Chief of Staff was first to collect himself after receiving the blow, but not without firing a parting shot.

“Don’t be too quick to smirk,” he warned, his gazed fixed on Kolchak and Dieterichs. “Save your teeth, for neither of you can know how all this will end. Mark my words: if we defeat the Bolsheviks, this girl will end up ruling Russia, not either of you. It is she who rules the mob, and she has already gained more power by her scheming than all of us put together. So enjoy your moment while it lasts, as I have enjoyed mine.”

Zhanna as a schemer and ruler of the mob? It was a claim Ned had not considered before? Though Lebedev was far from an unbiased source, could there be a grain of truth in what he said?

* * *

Two days later, General Dieterichs announced sweeping changes to key positions in the military leadership, including a new minister of war, a new commander of the Eastern Front, a new quartermaster general, and new commanders for two of the three Siberian Army Groups, retaining only Rudolf Gaida for the Northern Army and replacing the exhausted Mikhail Khanzin with the underutilized Vladimir Kappel to lead the Western Army. Kappel had commanded the People’s Army of Komuch on the Volga in 1918 and was widely hailed as the ideal candidate to lead a new Volga offensive in cooperation with General Denikin’s AFSR.

A few days after Lebedev’s dismissal, the Supreme Leader also announced a cabinet shakeup. Chief among the changes were Kolchak’s appointment of George Guins as Minister of Finance and General Anatoly Pepelyayev as Minister of State Security. Within days of his appointment, Pepelyayev began ordering the dismissal or arrest of any officer who resisted the new Stavka’s authority.

By a stroke of good fortune, Ned now found himself in a better position than ever to report to AEF Intelligence on new developments at Omsk. As Staff Captain Ivashov had worked with Pepelyayev in 1918 and was a favorite of his, Pepelyayev now made Ivashov his chief intelligence liaison at the Stavka. With this change, the relationship of trust that Ned had built with Ivashov began to pay off handsomely.

Though the Russian was always careful not to divulge sensitive information, he began sharing privately with Ned as much information as could reasonably be justified between wartime allies, in hopes of gaining American confidence. As a result, Ned’s coded wireless messages to Colonel Barrows grew longer and more frequent and received frequent praise from the AEF Intelligence staff for his insights into Siberian plans and intentions.

And the news from Omsk was improving rapidly. Chief of Staff Dieterichs started with small changes at the Stavka to avoid controversy, but then moved quickly toward more sweeping organizational reforms of the kind that Colonel Ward had long recommended. These reforms received high praise in the Siberian press and also proved popular among the civilian population.

But even more significant was a speech Admiral Kolchak gave soon after to a gathering of notables in Omsk, in which he declared, ”Repression against the politically undecided in Siberia will serve only to drive a wedge between our cause and the citizens whose support we need. One does not defeat Red Terror with White Terror.“ In the same speech, he denounced pogroms against Jews and the persecution of other ethnic minorities as ”socialism of the ignorant.”

In the weeks following Kolchak’s reform speech, much was made in Allied capitals of the Supreme Ruler’s move toward the political center. Winston Churchill cited it as yet one more reason to recognize the Omsk government as the sole legitimate representative of the Russian people. Kolchak supplied an even more potent reason in early July, when he endorsed Russia’s external debt as a ”solemn obligation of the Russian people.“ Within a week, President Wilson and the Allied Council of Five promised Omsk further financial credits, stopping just short of full diplomatic recognition.

In fact, the Supreme Ruler’s decisions to reform civilian governance followed the Maid’s well-known platform so closely that Ned began to ponder just how far Zhanna’s influence over him might have reached.

* * *

Though both Ned and Ivashov were required by their duties to remain in Omsk after their return from Uralsk, Zhanna insisted on rejoining her volunteers without delay. Three days after her confrontation with Lebedev at Liberty House, she had what she wanted: namely, the new Chief of Staff’s approval to lead her brigade back to Uralsk, from which they would mount a Lower Volga offensive aimed at linking up with Denikin’s AFSR, possibly at Tsaritsyn.

Before her planned departure for Uralsk, the Supreme Ruler summoned the Maid for a private meeting at his office.

Zhanna appeared that afternoon at Liberty House and was ushered into his dimly lit office, where the Admiral was hunched over a confusion of papers spread across his massive desk.

As the Maid’s name was announced, Kolchak lifted his head, then rose with a wan smile to invite her to sit on his carved wood sofa while he poured her tea from the samovar that was kept scalding hot at all hours.

“Cakes?” he asked, seizing a small almond cake from a tray on the sideboard for himself and then hastily laying the tray before her as an afterthought.

“Thank you, Your Excellency,” she said, without taking a cake, and then promptly turned the occasion to her own purposes.

“Admiral, I congratulate you on your appointment of General Dieterichs as Chief of Staff, and on his recent progress toward reforming the army,” she began as soon as her host set two glasses of steaming tea on the table before them and sat beside her on the couch. “But I think the times call for something even bolder.”

She watched for the Supreme Ruler’s reaction, and seeing no objection in his tired eyes, she went on.

“Our cause must represent more than mere opposition to Bolshevism,” she argued. “We cannot expect the Soviets to simply topple of their own weight. Rather, while fighting to overthrow them, we must also offer something better, so that the people will have a reason to join our side. Yes, we know the enemy offers only empty promises. But we, too, must promise them something . And our promises must be superior to those of the Bolsheviks if we are to succeed. We cannot win by proposing a return to the old ways, nor by promising whatever our opponents do, only less of it.”

The Supreme Ruler sipped his tea quietly while he listened to the Maid. When she stopped, he set his glass on the table and offered her a sympathetic smile.

“I agree, of course,” he replied while scratching his neck with a forefinger. “But I must confess, Zhanna Stepanovna, I have not yet managed to devise any political program that would not drive away either the left wing or the right of my coalition,” he answered, turning his palms up with an expression verging on helplessness. “Sometimes I question whether it can be done at all.”

“But it must be done,” Zhanna insisted with an urgency just short of pleading. “And, as you are Supreme Ruler, it falls upon you to do it.”

“Despite what some say, I did not instigate the takeover that put me in power, and never sought the post of military dictator. It was thrust upon me,” Kolchak insisted, his eyes taking on a haunted look. “I would gladly renounce it if there were any other way to hold our side together long enough to beat the Bolsheviks.”

“There is not,” the Maid declared with blazing eyes as she replaced her empty glass of tea on the table. “God has chosen you for this role and you must play it out. When our forces and General Denikin’s join to liberate Samara, our Heavenly Father will call on you to gather a new national assembly there to restore governance to the Russian people. If you do this, the assembly will show its gratitude by making you regent of a new Russian republic, and you will be revered for it by generations of Russians. But if you fail, your name will go down in infamy as the man who presided over the worst calamity to befall Russia since the Mongol invasion.”

At this, Kolchak went pale and rose from his seat to retreat behind his massive double-pedestaled writing desk, as he often did when under acute stress.

“Surely such responsibility cannot be assigned to one man alone,” he complained in a chilly tone. “Many mistakes have been made, and more still to come, but I refuse to have them all laid at my feet.”

“Our Maker has placed you here for a reason, dear Admiral,” the Maid responded. “It is not merely to defeat Bolshevism, but to deserve the victory. This can be done only by breaking with Russia’s tyrannical past and following God’s commands, especially the one to love thy neighbor as thyself. If you fail in this, know that what follows will make today’s strife appear like a holiday feast. There will be endless warfare and famine, the uprooting of entire peoples to remote swamps and tundra, the desecration of churches, and brutal slavery on a scale that cannot be imagined. Bolshevism will infect every continent and its foul tide will not recede for nigh a century!”

Upon hearing these predictions, Kolchak shrank back in his seat and his perpetually pale face turned almost white.

“But how am I to satisfy God’s demands without losing the support of those who keep me in power?” he demanded. “What steps can I possibly take that will satisfy them both?”

“Representative government, universal suffrage, land reform: these are things that the people demanded two years ago during the February Revolution,” Zhanna answered in a steady voice. “Yet they have not been realized, either here or in Sovdepia. Implement these reforms in Siberia, Your Excellency! And champion them in Ukraine, Poland, Finland, and the Baltic States. Such measures will reap praise not only from Russia and our neighbors, but also from the Allied Powers, on whose aid our very survival depends. I tell you, Admiral, the Americans and the British will never accept a return to tyranny here. If we fail to win their total support by summer’s end, September will ring the death knell for us and our cause.”

But Zhanna’s call to relinquish Russian hegemony over its captive neighbors was evidently too much for the Supreme Ruler to swallow. Before she finished her first sentence, Kolchak folded his arms and broke eye contact with her.

“Land reform is possible here in Siberia because we can sell off state lands and compensate private landowners for their lost property,” he explained, still looking away. “But we have no right to abandon territory that Russia has ruled for centuries and for which our forefathers paid a price in blood. What are those little countries, anyway? They have no greatness apart from Russia! History will never forgive me if I defeat the Red army only to surrender what Peter the Great won and generations of Russians fought to preserve! I do not see the virtue in a victory that renders Russia unrecognizable.”

“Tell me, Admiral,” Zhanna countered, “where is the virtue in grieving over a damaged limb whose loss is required to save your life? Finland is already lost. I say, recognize the Finns’ independence, which is now a fact, and gain their support against the Red Army.”

“But this is extortion!” Kolchak stormed.

“In our eyes, perhaps, but not in those of the Finns. Our choice is to give them their freedom or lose ours.”

Kolchak fell silent for a long moment, then hung his head and answered, “I cannot do it. I simply cannot.”

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Chapter 16: Volga Offensive

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“Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”

—Mark Twain

Musical Theme: Pictures at an Exhibition, No. 9, Baba Yaga or The Hut on Fowl’s Legs , by Modest Mussorgsky


Before Zhanna’s planned return to Uralsk, Ned attended a small dinner party hosted by Admiral Kolchak’s mistress, Madame Timiryova, at her modest flat on Nikolsky Avenue. The dinner had been arranged on short notice to celebrate the Maid’s recent victories, and Zhanna had insisted upon including Ned and Ivashov. Ned was one of the last guests to arrive and found that among those gathered were the American Consul, John Embry, and his wife; Colonel Ward; and, to Ned’s surprise, the journalist Mark McCloud. Ned looked around and noticed Zhanna at the far end of the room conversing with the Embries, who had long been eager for an opportunity to meet her.

Ned let his glance linger on Zhanna, dressed in her tailored brown wool uniform, her raven hair cut short and round, and her trim figure casting a long shadow in the golden rays of the setting sun. At that moment, Ned thought he had never seen Zhanna look so bright and fresh and full of youthful energy. It was as if time had rolled back to that first night at her father’s house in Verkhne-Udinsk. Other than Ned and Ivashov, who else here could picture such a girl riding into the thick of battle with banner waving, taking a shrapnel wound, and then leading her men back into the fray?

Madame Timiryova must have noticed his admiring look, for she approached him and stood between him and the Maid.

“Thank God for your safe return,” she told him. “You have been missed.”

The meaningful look in her soft hazel eyes told him that the remark must refer to Yulia, as she and Madame Timiryova were intimate friends. Ned had expected to find Yulia at the dinner but, having neglected to cable Yulia of his return, he hesitated to ask the hostess about her. Might Yulia have declined an invitation out of pique at him or the Maid?

“How very kind of you to wish my safety, Anna Vasilyevna,” Ned replied with a genial smile that masked his discomfort. “But, as an American, my orders are to stay away from the fighting, so I can take no credit at all for courage under fire.”

“You are too modest, I think,” she answered with a knowing look.

At that moment, Madame Timiryova’s maid appeared carrying a tray of cool drinks, including lager beer, kvass [37] and a pale pink liquid that his hostess described as a wild berry infusion. No vodka was served, likely in deference to Zhanna’s aversion to it. Ned chose the beer, which was locally brewed by ethnic Germans and quite tasty.

“Tell me, Captain du Pont, will you be returning to Beregovoy soon?” his hostess asked pointedly.

The concerned expression on her face reminded him that Anna Vasilyevna was the one who had arranged for Zhanna to stay at Yulia’s apartment while she was in Omsk.

“Frankly, I expected to be there already,” he answered with an earnest look. “Unexpected business has kept me in the city. I hope to return tomorrow or the day after.”

“You enjoy Beregovoy, then?”

“Oh, very much,” he replied. “I consider myself fortunate in many ways to spend my time there.”

“Then I am very happy for you,” she responded with a curt nod. She had registered her point. And without saying more, Madame Timiryova moved on to join Ward and Ivashov.

How devious women could be, Ned thought. If Yulia and Anna were so concerned about his relationship with Zhanna, why hadn’t they arranged for Yulia to attend the dinner? Surely they couldn’t believe that anything improper had occurred between him and Zhanna. But before he could give it further thought, he noticed Mark McCloud sidling up to him on wobbly legs.

“My, my, aren’t you the busy fellow!” McCloud began, holding up his beer glass in salute. “Ivashov has been telling me all about how you and he and the Maid captured Uralsk and annihilated Chapayev’s relief force at Yershov. The latter seems every bit the modern-day Cannae or Agincourt! When can we sit down for an interview?”

“Not till the war is over, I’m afraid,” Ned replied. “The last thing I want is for General Graves to read about my alleged exploits in your yellow rag.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t write about you ,” McCloud explained, ignoring the slight. “It’s Zhanna I want to hear about. My readers can’t get enough of her. And now that she’s won some big battles and saved the Siberian Army from disaster, they’ll want to know a great deal more.”

Ned laughed, for he had to respect the journalist’s single-mindedness and he rather liked the idea of promoting Zhanna to the American public.

“For the kind of story you need, Mark, you really ought to look up her aide-de-camp , Boris Viktorovich. Sit down with young Paladin over a bottle of vodka and you’ll likely get far more colorful stories than you would from me or Ivashov.”

“Splendid. How do I find him?”

“He’ll be at her flat, standing guard,” Ned replied. “Pay her a visit and you can’t miss him.”

“Tell me,” McCloud went on, “when the war is over, do you think Zhanna might agree to come to the States for a lecture tour? Within a year, I believe I could make her a very wealthy young woman. She’s already becoming famous over there, you know.” McCloud’s face appeared flushed and his eyes wide, like a man with gold fever.

“And I don’t suppose you’d do badly by the enterprise, if I know you,” Ned added with a sideways look.

“No, no, you don’t understand, it’s not about the money at all,” McCloud protested. “Zhanna is the new face of the White Russian movement. When Americans think of the Whites, they no longer see Kolchak’s sour mug, or General Denikin’s medal-encrusted chest. They see a pretty young girl in a plain brown uniform, carrying a white banner and armed with a faith that God will lead Russia to a bright new future!”

“I wonder where the American public could have picked up such a quaint idea?” Ned smirked.

“Every great legend has its troubadour,” the journalist answered with a cockeyed grin. “And her song seems to be the hit tune these days in Washington. Some of the fence sitters there are finally going all-in for the Whites. There’s even a rumor that Wilson may be ready to recognize Omsk as the legitimate Russian government.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Ned scoffed.

“No, this time it’s for real,” McCloud insisted, putting down his empty beer glass. “Haven’t you heard about the Red Scare[38] back home? The riots, the strikes, and the bombings? Our homegrown Bolshie agitators have the bankers and industrialists running scared. The bosses want Bolshevism destroyed over here in Russia to keep it from spreading across the Atlantic. And they’re opening their wallets wide for the Whites to finish it off.”

“How do you know this?” Ned pressed.

“It’s common knowledge,” McCloud replied with a shrug. “Rockefeller, Ford, Morgan, the whole bunch have ponied up big money. And your Cousin Pierre, too. If Pierre only knew how close you are to Zhanna, I reckon he might double his bet.”

The expectant look on the journalist’s face made Ned suspect that this was no idle remark.

“You weren’t planning on telling him any more tall tales about me, were you?” Ned felt the back of his neck grow prickly hot. A man like McCloud could not possibly understand the nature of his relationship with Zhanna. Indeed, Ned hardly understood it himself. Nor would he or Zhanna wish to be thought of as agents of moneyed interests like the DuPont Company or the New York banks.

“Oh, not in so many words,” McCloud objected. “But Colonel Buckner keeps himself very well informed about events over here. It’s only a matter of time before he gets wind of all the help Zhanna’s brigade has been getting from Allied quarters. And he’s too smart not to put two and two together.”

“Tell me, Mark, do you report to the colonel regularly about me?” Ned asked, his voice taking on a hard edge.

“Oh, not so regularly,” McCloud replied casually as he snatched another glass of beer from the servant’s proffered tray. “But he does ask about you from time to time.”

Ned drew a deep breath. A wrong word about Zhanna or Yulia from McCloud to Buckner or Cousin Pierre might complicate his situation at home. But he held no power over the journalist. Perhaps he could try a bribe. It was either that or a threat.

“Well, if you’re angling for a first-hand account of the Maid’s victories at Uralsk and Yershov, you’re not going to get it from me,” Ned said in a sharp tone. “Go talk to Paladin if that’s what you want. But if I hear even a hint from Corinne or her father about my relationship to Zhanna or any other woman over here, I might just have the Cossacks pick you up as a Bolshevik spy and have their way with you. Do I make myself clear?”

For once, Mark McCloud seemed at a loss for words. But Ned knew all too well that the man would pop up again the next time he wanted something, and then it might not be so easy to put him off.

* * *

Through dinner and for the rest of the evening, Ned was determined to spend time with Zhanna, but each time he tried to get close to her, either he or Zhanna was invariably called aside. He spent the better part of twenty minutes chasing her around the room before being buttonholed by Jake Sweeney, the Red Cross official whom he had met in December aboard the special train from Irkutsk to Omsk. Sweeney looked the picture of good health and seemed happy to be drinking the pink berry infusion in place of his usual whiskey. Even more surprising was the man’s account of having been given responsibility over all American-run military hospitals in Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk. The reason he had come to Omsk was to receive a decoration and cash reward from the Siberian government for his work there, a circumstance directly in line with Madame Yelena’s earlier predictions for him. But by the time Ned broke free from Sweeney, Zhanna had vanished.

After the party disbanded, Ned walked back to his flat through the darkness along the Om River. Golden summer lightning flickered in the moonless sky and reflected upward from the slate blue darkness of the river. From the steppe, a soft wind brought the honeyed perfume of flowering thyme. Ned felt the weight of regret slowing his steps as he pondered his failure to take Zhanna aside and express how he wished he were traveling back to Uralsk with her to resume her campaign. Was it mere coincidence that she eluded his every attempt to have a few minutes alone with her? Could Madame Timiryova have tipped her off about his dalliance with Yulia? Now that Zhanna was departing for Samara and he was returning to Beregovoy, he might never know.

In the meantime, the larger problem he faced was Yulia. As it turned out, she was not the stable and predictable person he had thought her to be. So, while one side of him eagerly awaited a quiet return to work on the wireless project, the other side feared becoming hostage to Yulia’s emotions. His misgivings were realized the next day upon arriving at Beregovoy to retake command of the wireless station from Colonel Neilson. Soon after the two men withdrew to Neilson’s office to drink tea and exchange news, the Englishman warned of a delicate matter that required Ned’s prompt attention.

“It’s Yulia again,” Neilson began. “She’s been acting more strangely than ever these past few weeks. But now it’s risen to the level where she could affect the security of our mission.”

“How so?” Ned asked as Neilson poured him a scalding cup of tea.

“Until lately, she hardly seemed to take notice of us. She came and went as she pleased and seemed not to care about equipment deliveries or the arrival of new men at all hours of the day,” the colonel explained. “But now she’s afraid to leave the house and frets about every horseman riding up the hill being a possible Bolshevik gunman. And she’s been asking for a lot more money. Lots more.”

“How much? And for what?” Ned asked.

“For one, she’s demanded double the monthly rent. And she wants an additional sum, payable upon our departure, on the grounds that she’s a target for Bolshevik retribution. It’s flight money, basically, for her and the servants.”

“Not an unreasonable request,” Ned replied evenly, taking care not to give Neilson cause for alarm that might find its way back to his superiors. “The price of everything is way up, and most goods not produced locally can’t be found at any price. As for her fear of the Bolsheviks, the truth is that the Siberian Army was in serious trouble until it won at Ufa. And the war could easily turn sour again.”

“So you’re not concerned about her mucking up our work here?” Neilson asked with a sideways look.

“Nah,” Ned lied. “She’ll be okay. I’ll find her the money.” But he knew that Yulia’s complaints were about more than money. And he was at a loss about how to remedy them.

“You’re a fine chap, du Pont. I wish we were working more closely together, instead of passing like ships in the night the way we do.”

“Perhaps we will. I have a feeling that things won’t stand still around here for long.”

* * *

When Ned had fully caught up on events at the wireless station and had finished his rounds there, he carried his haversack into the main house at Beregovoy and drank in the familiar scent that bore traces of wood smoke, cut flowers, and boiled cabbage. He called out for Vera and Genrikh, the elderly couple who managed the house, but received no answer. So he dropped his haversack and set off for the kitchen, his footsteps echoing loudly down the hall.

In the dining room, he found two places set at the refectory table, which seemed at that moment as long and empty as a snowy winter road. A votive candle glowed from a nearby antique table that held Yulia’s collection of religious icons. He stopped before the silver crucifix that hung beside the gilded icons and realized that he had not said even a short prayer of thanksgiving for his safe return since the fighting at Uralsk and Ufa. He had scarcely bowed his head and closed his eyes to remedy this when he heard a woman’s footsteps behind him on the wood floor.

“Edmund?” Yulia asked softly.

Ned turned around to find Yulia standing in the doorway to the kitchen, dressed in her usual long woolen skirt topped with a white linen blouse embroidered at the neck. Her blonde hair was gathered into a chignon and her penetrating blue eyes examined him with an odd expression that appeared to combine resentment and relief. For a long moment, they stood opposite each other in the stillness of the late afternoon, immersed in silence. In that moment, he remembered the special reality that had sometimes prevailed between them, a private place as rich as the Siberian harvest, that only the two of them shared.

Yulia took a few hesitant steps forward and Ned did the same. But when he reached out to touch her, she recoiled as if from a venomous snake.

“You’ve been in Omsk,” she said in a flat voice. “You dined with Anna Vasilyevna and that girl without sending me even a word of your return. What am I to think?”

“I had business to attend to and could not reasonably refuse Anna’s invitation,” Ned answered, involuntarily shifting his weight to his rear foot in case she decided to hit him.

“Couldn’t you have sent me a telegram?” Yulia went on. “Didn’t you think for a moment of me, waiting for you here?”

She awaited his reply with pale cheeks, unblinking eyes, and lips pressed together into a straight line.

“I’m sorry,” Ned replied in a voice drained of feeling. “It was thoughtless of me not to send a message.”

“Yes, of course you’re sorry now, but that’s not the full truth, is it? There is something else, isn’t there? If you don’t have the courage to tell me, it must be terrible indeed.”

Her hands alternately clenched and opened at her sides, as if she could barely resist throttling him.

“There’s nothing else, Yulia. I’m not holding anything back. I thought of you often. And I came back as soon as I could. That’s the plain truth.” Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead and he wondered if Yulia could see them.

“So you deny that you’ve come under the spell of that sorceress from Irkutsk?” she accused, her cheeks now flushed and her eyes flashing with anger.

On impulse, Ned reached out to embrace her but she stepped back and went on talking.

“I spoke to Anna Vasilyevna about the girl. Do you know what she said to me? She said I was being silly, and that a grown woman should have no reason to fear competition from a virgin schoolgirl.”

She spat out the words with the venom of deeply felt humiliation.

“Listen, Yulia,” Ned interrupted. “I didn’t come here to make you miserable. I thought you’d be happy to see me. I’m certainly happy to…”

But Yulia folded her arms across her chest, stiffened, and gazed at the floor.

“All right, Yulia, if that’s how you feel, I don’t blame you one bit for wanting to wash your hands of me,” he offered in a muted voice. “I’ll get my bag now and take it over to the bunkhouse.”

“No, don’t” she replied, raising her head with a sudden jerk.

Ned saw the tears welling in her eyes but the anger had left them now and the firm line of her mouth had softened into a sort of childish pout.

“Even if I could find it within me to be so cruel to you, where could I find the strength to be so pitiless toward myself?”

The pain in her voice was palpable, but Ned failed to gauge its depth, having spent nearly his entire adolescent and adult life among men, with scant experience in affairs of the heart. He felt at a complete loss how to respond and stood before her like a statue.

Slowly at first, and then with quickening steps, Yulia rushed forward to wrap her arms around Ned’s neck and he held her tight while she heaved with barely audible sobs. At last, she relaxed her grip while Ned placed his hands around her slender waist.

“How long will you stay this time?” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper. “I missed you so that I can’t bear the thought of your leaving again.”

“For a while,” he said. “I don’t know. A month, maybe, or perhaps all summer.”

“Take no thought for the morrow, for sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” Yulia quoted the Bible, wiping away her tears and flashing a brave smile. “Let us enjoy the summer then, for as long as it lasts.”

In his selfish relief at seeing the end of her tears, Ned was blind to the pain he had caused her and to the rift it had created between them. The next morning at breakfast, as Neilson had predicted, Yulia brought up the need for doubling her monthly rent and for providing a generous termination payment. Later in the day, Ned rode to the American Consulate and withdrew the funds she required from the account set aside for the wireless project. Yulia offered no further complaint. But the damage had been done. Ned had proven that he could not be relied upon. Things would not be the same between them again.

* * *

By the time Zhanna arrived in Uralsk to rejoin her brigade, the greater part of the munitions and supplies they needed to launch their new Volga offensive were waiting on the docks at the Cossack-held port of Guryev. Within a week, Zhanna led her men and a portion of Tolstov’s Ural Cossack cavalry due south, securing the Uralsk-Guryev rail line and blocking any possible threat from Soviet Turkestan to the southeast. Next they drove west along the Caspian to capture the Red-held Caspian port of Astrakhan. And with that prize in hand, and with the Fourth Red Army fully occupied in the struggle to break the AFSR’s siege of Tsaritsyn, Zhanna’s column was free to move up the Volga’s east bank to join AFSR forces outside that strategic city.

Baron Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel, commander of the Caucasus Volunteer Army, captured Tsaritsyn from the Reds in early July, after a hard-fought battle in which British-supplied tanks and British volunteer crews tore into the Red barricades and opened gaps for Cossack cavalry to pour through. Soon after joining Wrangel in the captured city, General Denikin issued his historic Moscow Directive, in which he proposed a three-pronged offensive to take Moscow, to be coordinated between the AFSR, Kolchak’s Siberian Army, and General Yudenich’s Northwestern Army. The directive also explicitly recognized Admiral Kolchak as the Supreme Ruler of non-Bolshevik Russia and as Commander in Chief of all White Russian forces.

Basking in the glow of the victory at Tsaritsyn and Denikin’s pledge of allegiance, Kolchak authorized Tolstov and the Maid to join Wrangel’s forces in advancing further up the Volga. Tolstov’s Cossack cavalry moved immediately along the river’s east bank to guard Wrangel’s right flank while the Baron pressed north toward Saratov.

In late July, Tolstov entered Nikolayevsk unopposed, while Wrangel did the same across the river at Kamyshin, roughly halfway from Tsaritsyn to Saratov. By now, the reorganized Siberian Southern Army, newly re-equipped with British-supplied heavy weapons, had cleared a path directly across the steppe from Uralsk through Yershov and Pugachyov to the outskirts of Saratov, where it connected with Zhanna’s brigade and advance elements of Wrangel’s army. The representatives of Denikin and Kolchak celebrated their historic linkup with an impromptu banquet and made plans for a joint attack on the city.

The attack on Saratov commenced within a week. With her typical audacity, Zhanna sent a regiment across the river by night on rafts and barges and whatever other vessels her men could find, forcing a bridgehead on the west bank of the Volga a short distance north of Saratov. By controlling vital roads and rail lines, as well as river traffic, she succeeded in cutting off not only the Red defenders’ supply lines, but also their escape route to the north. The ensuing battle, fought on two fronts, was bloody and swift, with the Whites capturing Saratov at the end of the second day.

The battle also strengthened the Maid’s reputation for being either guided by God or blessed with endless good luck. In one incident, Zhanna advanced on horseback toward an entrenched enemy position but was not fired upon. Sensing something amiss, she warned the horsemen behind her against a Red counterattack from the rear. The Cossacks galloped a hasty retreat and averted disaster when a squadron of Red cavalry suddenly emerged from a sunken balka , minutes too late to surprise them.

Another time, while the Maid and Tolstov were conducting a troop inspection, she took his hand and attempted to lead him forward.

“By my whip, what’s gotten into you, girl?” he challenged as he pulled his hand free.

In response she raised a finger and pointed to a distant hill.

“If you don’t move away from that spot, general, an artillery shell from the enemy battery behind that hill will surely find you. Come, let’s end the inspection and dismiss the troops right away.”

Tolstov did as he was told and sent the troops away. But no sooner had he and Zhanna left the scene than they heard an explosion behind them. They turned around to look. As the Maid had predicted, a shell from an enemy battery had found another Cossack officer there and killed him on the spot.

Despite her reputation for divine assistance, the Maid’s victory at Saratov did not result from God’s aid alone. In a report transmitted to Omsk soon after the battle, one of Wrangel’s staff officers commented that AFSR commanders who participated in the attack had been amazed at Zhanna’s prudence and clear-sightedness throughout the engagement. In drawing up her regiments for battle, deploying the artillery, and in leading the attack, she had acted as skillfully as a combat officer with a lifetime of experience.

As it turned out, the capture of Saratov laid the foundation for other important White successes in the days ahead. While the fighting raged at Saratov, General Vladimir May-Mayevski, located some seven hundred versts to the west, led the AFSR along the rail lines north from Kharkov, which he had taken in late May, toward Kursk. At the same time, General Andrei Shkuro’s Kuban[39] Cossack cavalry advanced northward toward Yekaterinoslav and Voronezh.

Recognizing the threats that these advances posed to Moscow, and that the Red Army was now fighting on three fronts in the south, Trotsky attempted to strike a deal with the Ukrainian anarchist leader, Nestor Makhno, to lash out at the AFSR’s western flank. But the negotiations failed, and soon thereafter, Trotsky narrowly escaped capture at Tambov from a daring cavalry raid by the Don Army’s General Konstantin Mamontov. The Red leader fled all the way back to Moscow, where he pored over maps day and night for nearly a week before redeploying the Red Army along hastily drawn defensive lines north of the Kharkov-Voronezh railway.

Thus, with Trotsky’s focus far to the west of the Volga, the path now lay clear for the Maid to advance further upriver to Samara, as she had long predicted she would do. For having pledged to take Samara so that a new national assembly there could elect Admiral Kolchak regent of a new Russian government, she was determined to occupy the city by summer’s end.

* * *

Within a week of Trotsky’s redeployment, Colonel Barrows made an unplanned stop in Omsk to coordinate emergency arms deliveries to the White Armies. Since General Knox was not available to represent the British, nor General Graves to represent the Americans, Ward and Barrows were appointed to meet with Kolchak and his military advisors.

Ned met Barrows at the train station on the evening of the colonel’s arrival and arranged to spend the next morning with him assisting with preparations for the session. Ned breakfasted early and made his way to the rail yards, where British guards directed him to a siding that held a private parlor car much like the one in which Barrows had traveled to Irkutsk in January.

Ned found the intelligence chief seated at a cluttered desk at the far end of the car amidst a jumble of papers, his unlit pipe and tobacco pouch within easy reach. Barrows rose to shake Ned’s hand and led him to a pair of leather-covered armchairs facing each other at the car’s center. At first glance, the colonel looked as strong and vigorous as when they had last met, perhaps because his face was ruddy from the sun. But it did not take long for Ned to notice that Barrows had lost weight, his neatly cropped hair had taken on more gray, and fresh creases had appeared in his ruggedly handsome face.

“Can it have been half a year already since we last saw each other?” Barrows began. “As I recall, when you and I met back in Irkutsk, the wireless apparatus hadn’t yet arrived, you hadn’t yet escorted the Maid to Omsk, and we were all questioning how long Admiral Kolchak could last. How much has changed!”

“We’ve made progress, but it hasn’t been a pretty sight,” Ned replied. “Had it not been for British heavy weapons and the Maid’s unexpected successes in the south, the Siberian Army might be in full retreat this side of the Urals.”

“Such extraordinary luck is not something we can count on again,” Barrows agreed. “Which is why we have to keep pushing the Admiral and Dieterichs to be sensible.”

“We can try. But do you really expect them to comply?” Ned pressed.

“Sadly, no,” Barrows said, rising to fetch his pipe and matches from beside his desk. After lighting the pipe, he puffed on it until a cloud of white smoke billowed around his head.

“Why not?” Ned asked at last.

“Because the Admiral’s entire military strategy is based on the one thing he wants from us that Washington refuses to give him,” Barrows answered.

“And what could that possibly be? We’ve already shoveled heaps of money and weapons at him, with more on the way. He can’t expect us to fight his battles for him.” Ned narrowed his eyes while he searched the colonel’s face for an answer.

“No, President Wilson would never stand for that,” Barrows remarked with feigned horror. “He and Kolchak both know very well that the day our American boys start fighting alongside the Siberians, the seventy thousand Japanese troops stationed along the Manchurian border would unleash a world of mischief.”

Barrows fell silent again to draw a few puffs from his pipe.

“Then what is it Kolchak wants from us?”

“Diplomatic recognition. Neither we nor the British nor any other Allied nation has recognized the Kolchak government. And Russia’s neighbors won’t, either, unless the Admiral first guarantees their independence, which he refuses to do.”

“So why haven’t we recognized him, then?” Ned asked. “After giving him so much aid, why not just come out and admit Kolchak’s our man?”

“It’s not as simple as that,” the colonel said, massaging his temples as i

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f his head hurt. “It seems to me that the President’s reluctance to endorse the Supreme Ruler stems from a species of political prejudice. It has nothing to do with public opinion, because the American public generally favors the White Armies.”

“Then what does account for it?”

“I think it’s the system of diplomacy he and Lloyd George subscribe to, which these days goes by the name of Realpolitik ,” Barrows explained. “If you aren’t already familiar with it, this is a doctrine that seeks a balance of power in a region or a dispute, regardless of principle or merit. It holds, for example, that whichever side is winning should be allowed to prevail, even if that side’s advantage was obtained by foul means, as with the Bolsheviks. Frankly, Ned, in men professing to be so very high-minded and progressive, I find that attitude repulsive. And in Russia’s case, I suspect that Wilson’s and Lloyd George’s hesitation about Kolchak may also stem from a secret fear that a unified Russia may one day challenge American and British ambitions in Asia.”

Here was the college professor at work, the citizen-soldier whose deep understanding of history and politics informed his views on America’s proper role in foreign wars. Ned had never considered the President’s decisions in this light before.

“How depressing,” Ned remarked, on perceiving that ulterior motives might be at play. “But what if an Allied government other  than America or Britain recognized Kolchak first? Might we then follow suit?”

“Perhaps, but it would likely require a groundswell of public opinion to force Wilson’s hand,” Barrows speculated.

“What if a groundswell were already underway?” Ned suggested. “I know a journalist who has been writing about the Maid of Baikal for an American newspaper syndicate. His readers can’t get enough of her. He claims her face has replaced Kolchak’s as the new emblem of the Omsk regime. What if the Maid keeps winning battles and Kolchak edges further toward democracy? Might that be enough to get him recognized in Washington?”

“Recognition for a dictator who calls himself Russia’s Supreme Ruler, and whose backers are unabashed militarists? Not by a long shot,” the colonel observed while knocking his pipe ashes into a malachite ashtray. “Wilson’s Progressives would never sit still for it.”

“But what if the Maid is right about Kolchak?” Ned protested. “Just about every Siberian knows that Zhanna made three predictions when she came to Omsk.”

“Yes, and I’m well aware of them,” Barrows continued with a reverence Ned had not expected from him. ”The Red counteroffensive will be turned back at the Belaya, the Fifth Red Army will be destroyed from the south, and Moscow will be taken by Christmas.” Barrows looked up with expectant eyes.

“So far she’s right on schedule,” Ned noted. “But she also predicted that Admiral Kolchak will be elected in Samara as regent of a free Russian government. Colonel, at this very moment, Zhanna’s army and that of Baron Wrangel are only four hundred versts from Samara. That’s where she’s headed now. And I think Kolchak is thinking hard about what to do when she gets there.”

Ned bent forward and rested his elbows on his knees in anticipation of the colonel’s response.

“Look, it’s already July,” Barrows objected, tilting his head back and rolling his eyes. “An election like that would require seating an entirely new national assembly. What political leader in his right mind would call an election before locking up victory on the battlefield?”

“That’s precisely Zhanna’s point,” Ned pointed out, pounding a fist into his open palm. “According to her Voices, the one thing the Admiral needs most as a leader is legitimacy. His election as regent would give him that. By pledging to step down and hold new elections once the Bolsheviks are defeated, I should think he could also make quite a strong case to deserve Allied recognition.”

“So you believe the road to Moscow leads through Samara?” Barrows pressed, taking a pull from his pipe and pointing its stem at Ned as if for emphasis.

“I do.” Ned straightened himself in his chair and gave Barrows an intent look.

“All right, then,” the colonel said, stealing a glance at the clock on the wall. “I’ll offer you a deal. If the Maid takes Samara, and Kolchak makes the slightest move to travel there, I want you to hop on the first train and follow him. In the meantime, if your Maid thinks she can get him to trade his title of Supreme Ruler for that of regent, I wish her luck. Unlike whomever the Maid reports to, my superiors don’t believe in miracles.”

* * *

Encouraged by the success of General Denikin’s forces in South Russia and the Maid’s and Baron Wrangel’s parallel advances toward Samara, the British Military Mission began to flood White-held seaports on the Black Sea with heavy arms. At the same time, additional support appeared from unexpected sources. General Dieterichs’ appeal to his Serbian counterparts netted the Whites a crack regiment of Serbian volunteers in mid-July, followed soon after by volunteer regiments from Poland and Romania. And French ships delivered more arms from surplus stores held in Turkey and Bulgaria, purchased covertly with American funds.

Not long after, Denikin and Kolchak announced plans for a volunteer force of former Russian prisoners of war, to be trained by Allied advisors in Poland, Romania, and Finland, and repatriated to White-held areas before late autumn. More significantly, Britain cancelled its planned evacuation of some eight thousand British and Commonwealth troops from the North Russian port of Arkhangelsk, and pledged to bring in an equal number of reinforcements to backstop General Yudenich’s promised advance on Petrograd.

With great hope and enthusiasm, Baron Wrangel’s troops and Zhanna’s volunteers set out upriver toward Samara while Southern Army infantry and artillery and Ural Cossack cavalry converged on the city from the east. They met little resistance along the way, liberating Red-held villages and towns with negligible losses. In many places, local partisan bands, largely drawn from the Socialist Revolutionary Party, paved the way with well-timed anti-Bolshevik uprisings.

Along Zhanna’s route, Red garrisons surrendered with providential ease, aided by the Maid’s offer of clemency to those who willingly laid down their arms. Her remaining foes, mainly conscripted workers from Moscow and other Bolshevik strongholds, awaited her in a demoralized state, cowed by reports of her past victories and rumors of her invincibility. As the Maid’s volunteers approached Samara’s periphery, they did more chasing than fighting.

On the eve of her planned attack on Samara, Zhanna issued thousands of printed handbills to sympathetic S-R agents, who distributed them throughout the city. The message read:

“In the Name of God and His Son Jesus. To the People of Samara: the Maid of Baikal hereby informs the patriotic citizens of Samara that her armed forces have taken Uralsk and Orenburg and defeated the Red Army at Buguruslan and Yershov. And know also that the celebrated Red Commanders Frunze and Chapayev have been slain as a result, and many other high officers killed or captured. Stand fast, loyal Russians, for soon you shall be delivered from Bolshevist tyranny! Come to us in peace when you hear our approach. And make ready for a new national assembly to be convened in your city that shall unite all free Russians under a new representative government. Today, commend yourselves to God and beseech Him to watch over you, that you may join the cause of a free and united Russia. Written at Saratov this day, the thirtieth of July, in the year 1919. From Zhanna the Maid.”

The effect of this message in Samara was electric. Throughout the night, neighborhoods rose up and warned the Red defenders to leave the city or be hunted down and slaughtered to the last man. By morning, Trotsky ordered the occupiers to abandon the city under a flag of truce, and to retire northward to Penza, Simbirsk, and Kazan. According to a message intercepted by Ned’s Beregovoy wireless team, Trotsky’s sense of urgency was fueled by a fear that the local populace might betray the Red garrison at the instigation of S-R agitators and thus set a dangerous precedent.

Ned and Colonel Ward delivered news of the Red retreat at once to General Dieterichs at the Stavka in Omsk. Later that day, the Supreme Ruler issued a triumphant proclamation calling for all Russians to thank God for the great victory of the combined White Armies at Samara, accomplished by great courage and prowess at arms, “and by the virtuous deeds and wondrous things achieved by Zhanna, known as the Maid, who has participated in this and other great battles recently won.”

Chapter 17: Samara

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“What experience and history teach is this: that people and governments have never learned anything from history.”

—Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Musical Theme: Masquerade Suite, I. Waltz , by Aram Khachaturian


The sun burned mercilessly in a deep blue Siberian sky, with only a few wispy white clouds in the west, when Ned left Beregovoy at mid-morning for an impromptu meeting of Allied officials at Omsk. He had planned to set out for Samara the day before, and had once again arranged for Lieutenant Colonel Neilson to take charge over the Beregovoy wireless operation during his absence. But he had not yet delivered the news to Yulia, whom he expected to return at any time from a trip to Yekaterinburg, where she had sold some of her late husband’s property. So Ned was grateful for the excuse to delay his travel to the Volga by another day.

When Ned arrived at Liberty House, he found the newly appointed Finance Minister, George Guins, in the conference room, drinking tea at the samovar with Sir Thomas Preston, the British Consul at Omsk. Also present were Colonel Ward of the British Military Mission; the American Consul, John Embry; the French High Commissioner, Eugene Regnault; and Kolchak’s Acting Foreign Minister, Ivan Sukin. Ned attended as representative of the Inter-Allied Railway Committee at Omsk.

Soon after Ned joined them, the men took their respective places around the table in a sequence dictated by rank. Ned noticed at once that Sukin’s hands were trembling so badly that his glass of tea rattled in its silver filigree holder. Ned ascribed his nervousness to the tensions that had brought about the meeting, namely, that the White Forces desperately needed Allied diplomatic recognition and continued aid to pursue their struggle against Bolshevism, yet could not be assured of receiving them without implementing reforms that neither Admiral Kolchak nor his cabinet would likely accept.

Adding to Sukin’s desperation was new pressure from an unexpected direction. For the Beregovoy wireless station had lately intercepted coded telegrams from Generals Gaida and Kappel, the young and relatively liberal commanders of the Northern and Western Armies, respectively. The messages had warned of a serious rift between the Army and the civilian population along the Urals front unless tax collections and conscriptions were suspended until the Omsk Government convened a new national assembly.

At the risk of being deemed insubordinate or mutinous, the two generals had warned the Supreme Ruler that certain government officials of the old school were doing serious damage to his regime by resisting all meaningful reform. The generals urged Kolchak to convene a new national assembly from among Russia’s free territories to demonstrate his support for local and national self-rule.

The Admiral thereupon assigned Guins and Sukin the task of striking a deal with the Allies for aid and recognition that would meet the requirements not only of his younger, more liberal-minded generals, but also of his reactionary sponsors. On its face it seemed an impossible task.

After calling the session to order, Guins did his best to put a hopeful gloss on the task facing the multinational conferees by reciting a summary of the White Armies’ improved situation on the ground. Then he thanked the Allies for supplying the resources that made recent White victories possible.

“But to achieve a final victory over Bolshevism,” he went on in solemn tones, “we shall require more, much more. The purpose of today’s session is to settle upon the steps needed to secure both further material aid for our government and Allied recognition as sole representative of the Russian people.”

A moment of silence followed while the Allied guests cast furtive glances at one another to determine who would answer first. In accordance with protocol, Commissioner Regnault cleared his throat to speak, being the senior Allied representative present. Regnault, a distinguished diplomat in his early sixties who had also been France’s Ambassador to Japan since 1913, wore a long gray beard and a black frock coat bedecked with medals, and squinted through thick wire-rimmed spectacles.

“France applauds Admiral Kolchak and General Denikin for their recent achievements,” Regnault began, gesturing expansively with both hands. “Now that the White Forces have joined at the Volga, a unified White administration can at last claim to operate on an All-Russian scale. So tell me, Minister Guins, what are your government’s plans for new elections in territories under your control?”

“What sort of elections did you have in mind, Your Excellency?” Guins dodged while offering a forced smile.

“Why, elections to a new national assembly, of course,” Regnault sniffed.

“Let us all agree on one thing,” Minister Sukin broke in, his face flushed as he tapped his forefinger on the table for emphasis. “There can be no talk of reconvening the old Constituent Assembly of 1917. Too many delegates are dead or in exile, and too many constituencies lost to Bolshevik rule. And, obviously, we could not possibly allow Red delegates to claim seats. No, we would need wholly new elections. And there is no energy for such a project while we remain at war.”

“But what if a national assembly were possible without new nationwide elections?” the British consul asked Sukin, while offering an indulgent nod across the table to his French counterpart. “To find delegates distinct from those of the old Constituent Assembly might not require new elections at all. Why couldn’t the delegates be chosen from previously elected members of existing bodies?”

“Quite so,” the youthful American Consul chirped. “Admiral Kolchak’s April decree on electoral reform provides for an electoral commission composed of existing representatives from some forty town councils. A new national assembly could be chosen in a similar way.”

Guins stiffened upon hearing Embry’s suggestion.

“Whether the delegates are elected or appointed, to summon a new national assembly would be a political act,” Guins objected, “and would risk igniting a fresh political struggle to the rear areas. Let us not forget that all Siberian parties have agreed not to campaign for a new assembly until the Red Army is defeated.”

“And for good reason,” Sukin affirmed, reinforcing this line. “Admiral Kolchak has always maintained that, as an interim ruler, he has no right to bind future Russian governments on major issues until citizens now under Bolshevik occupation can participate. To summon a national assembly now would smack of overreaching.”

“With all due respect, Minister Sukin,” Consul Preston parried with a cold smile. “You have asked us a moment ago what would be required for our governments to recognize yours as Russia’s sole representative. The answer is that we require tangible evidence that your Supreme Ruler will usher in freedom and self-rule rather than yet another form of despotism. The matter is simple: the longer he delays calling up a national assembly, the longer he must wait for our recognition.”

At this check from a highly experienced chess partner, Sukin pushed away his empty glass of tea in a show of irritation.

“While we recognize that new elections are what the Western democracies desire for Russia, you must understand that not all our citizens favor your notions of constitutional democracy,” Guins rejoined. “To be frank, the Admiral’s supporters include many champions of the status quo, officers of the old school, and Cossack atamans . Such men do not bow gladly to the will of workers and peasants.”

“In that case, I would urge the Admiral to do his best to rein in such men,” Regnault replied, fixing the much younger Russian with a steely gaze. “Though they may have put him in power, they are doing grave damage to his cause. In Saratov and Samara provinces, where talk of land reform is on everyone’s lips, overzealous Siberian officers are said to have restored privileges to large landowners, driving the peasants back into the arms of the Socialists. To gain the popular support he needs, the Admiral must offer bold promises of reform. Till now, not only has he failed to give the muzhik [40] the bird in hand, he won’t even promise him the bird in the bush!”

A ripple of subdued laughter arose among the Allied representatives. Guins and Sukin looked at each other with clenched teeth, and Ned noticed the veins in Sukin’s neck throbbing rapidly.

“As usual, my esteemed colleague states the situation most succinctly,” the British consul agreed, though he was known to despise Regnault in private. “All I would add is that the 1917 Provisional Government failed precisely because it was unwilling to counter Lenin’s promises with those of its own.”

“Sir Thomas, I fear that your analysis confuses promises for performance,” Guins replied in a biting tone that belied his slippery smile. “Promises are cheap and the Bolsheviks will say and do anything to gain power. Yet when our  government makes a commitment, you insist on our fulfilling it to the letter. If the Allies insist on applying such a double standard, I despair that we should ever be able to meet it.”

“Surely, each of you must know that Admiral Kolchak’s personal politics are highly progressive, despite certain perceptions to the contrary,” Sukin joined in. But his expression was plaintive, like that of a boxer forced against the ropes amid a merciless pummeling. “The Admiral would like nothing more than to improve the lives of our peasants. Give him a free hand and I assure you it will be done.”

But the net import of Sukin’s plea seemed precisely the opposite of what he had intended. In offering the Allies only vague assurances of reform and insisting that Kolchak be allowed a free hand, Sukin had reinforced the impression that the Admiral had no intention at all of loosening his grip to accommodate genuine reform.

“Gentlemen, it seems to me that nothing else we can say here is likely to sway the other side,” Colonel Ward stepped in at last. “While we all agree that White rule is preferable to Red, any further steps toward Allied recognition appear blocked. In my view, the only way to resolve the impasse will be for Admiral Kolchak to offer a concrete reform program, including some provision for a national assembly, and then earn our trust by executing that program. While it’s true that Lenin and Trotsky offered empty promises to gain power, it seems that certain officials at Omsk would do the same to secure Allied aid. Yet, among themselves, they say, ‘Just let us get to Moscow and we will show them what we mean by reform! Then we will speak in a different tone!’”

The colonel’s speech was met with stony silence. Guins and Sukin exchanged anxious glances. Then Ned saw Guins drop the pen from his hand and deftly slide his palm under the table. In that moment, he remembered the buzzer under Cousin Pierre’s desk that the businessman had used to summon his secretary from the next office. Could Guins have summoned someone in the same way?

Guins shuffled his papers, as if preparing to leave, but did not rise. Both he and Sukin cast surreptitious glances toward the door. A moment later, Ned heard knocking outside and the duty officer entered the conference room.

“Your Excellencies, please remain seated. His Most High Excellency will join you now,” the officer announced before retreating the way he came.

The Allied consuls expressed astonishment, as they had been told the Supreme Ruler would be absent all day. What a coincidence that Admiral Kolchak had arrived just in time to break the deadlock! When the Allied representatives looked in unison to Guins for an explanation, the minister shrugged. But when Guins saw the knowing smile on Ned’s face, his cheeks turned crimson.

Kolchak entered the room a few moments later, dressed as usual in a British officer’s uniform with Siberian Army epaulets, his face appearing more gaunt and drawn than ever. He went around the table, shaking each man’s hand in turn, before taking a seat at the table. For the next several minutes, Guins offered the Admiral a summary of the meeting, as drawn from scribbled notes. Then the Supreme Ruler folded his hands on the table and maintained eye contact alternately with Regnault and Preston.

“Esteemed representatives and Ministers,” Kolchak began to a rapt audience. “As you know, when I was elevated to Commander in Chief of the Siberian Armies, I set myself a purely military goal: to crush the Red Army and win the war against Bolshevism. A civil war must of necessity be fought without mercy or be lost. And head of a military government that governs under martial law, I am responsible for absolutely everything. That is the nature of martial law and there is nothing I can do to change it. Indeed, in a civil war like ours, martial law is the only system that can achieve effective rule.”

Here the Supreme Leader paused and looked from man to man around the table. The Allied representatives returned his gaze respectfully, while Guins and Sukin offered strained smiles. Kolchak continued.

“For this reason, I do not believe that effective solutions lie in legal or structural reforms, but rather in people. How are we to observe legalities when we lack honest people in the government? Ambitious reform programs, a strong Council of Ministers, military non-interference in civil affairs: all these are well and good, but how do we subject all the atamans , essauls [41], warlords and brigands in our vast territory to a central authority when we are also at war with Bolshevism in every province? To replace one minister or official with another is useless, because we can find no suitable replacements.”

Kolchak’s bluntness was so unexpected that it held both foreigners and Russians spellbound. Hardly a sound could be heard in the room except for the Admiral’s smoky bass voice.

“Wherever I go, I am amazed at how much corruption I find,” Kolchak went on, scratching idly at a rough spot on the table’s surface. “Everything is in a state of decay. How can anything be accomplished under such conditions, surrounded by thievery, cowardice, and stupidity? Some think that a new national assembly is the answer. But how will that strengthen our hand against the Bolsheviks, when a great majority of the delegates elected to the last Constituent Assembly, less than two years ago, were socialists or worse? We had Socialist Revolutionaries in our last Siberian government and their aims were indistinguishable from those of the Bolsheviks.”

Here Kolchak paused again to confront his audience. For several moments, hardly a breath was drawn.

“No,” he resumed, shaking his head ever so slowly. “When the time comes for new elections, after  victory has been won on the battlefield, only healthy-minded elements can be allowed to participate. Not socialists or idle talkers who promote utopian ideas. That  is the kind of democrat I am!” he roared, slamming his fist on the table.

“So long as we remain at war, we cannot afford divisive political campaigning; nor can we allow Socialist Revolutionaries to gain power through premature elections. No matter how badly we might want Allied support, this is still Russia! And we will not  bow to foreign pressure.”

After casting a final stern look down the table at Regnault and Preston, the Supreme Ruler rose from his chair and left the room without saying another word. Ned cast a glance at Colonel Ward, who sat slumped forward in his chair, holding his head in his hands.

* * *

The day after the meeting with Guins and the Allied consuls at Liberty House, Yulia returned from Yekaterinburg, elated at having sold a piece of property there. Perhaps for this reason, she seemed to take the news of Ned’s imminent departure for Samara in stride. He found her acquiescence rather odd, in light of her fury the last time he had left. But his profound relief soon overcame any concerns he might have had. As if to underscore her relaxed attitude toward their separation, before dinner that night, she brought from the cellar one of her few remaining bottles of champagne to share with Ned, and drank most of it herself.

“Did you know that I also own property in Samara?” she boasted after downing her second glass. “Perhaps I will come visit you there.”

“If I were you, I would wait until conditions settle down a bit,” he warned, feeling his spirits lift from both the champagne and Yulia’s buoyant mood. “The White Armies haven’t fully consolidated their hold at Samara. Bolshevik partisans are still active there, together with quite a few S-R’s of dubious loyalty.”

“Oh, I have no reason to fear the S-Rs,” Yulia answered with a carefree toss of her head. “Nearly everyone who works the land in Siberia supports them. Even now, most of the town dumas  and rural councils are run by S-Rs. The S-Rs here are not at all the same as Bolsheviks, but because they opposed Kolchak’s coup, he persecutes them.”

“Perhaps so. But all the same, I wouldn’t advise going to Samara until things settle down.”

“Could that be because the girl from Irkutsk has also taken up residence in Samara?” Yulia asked, turning up her nose. “Do you mean for me to stay away as long as she remains?”

“That’s quite unfair,” Ned reproached her, putting down his empty glass. “My travel has nothing to do with Zhanna,” he claimed, knowing this was untrue. “Besides, I’m not even sure how long I’ll be there. Send me a telegram at the Samara railroad offices before you come. If you intend to sell property, maybe I can find a way to help you.”

Yulia heaved a deep sigh and looked away before snuffing out the candles on the table, one after another, with her soft breath. Ned felt a chill as darkness fell over the room.

“If my business in Samara is your only reason for wanting to see me…”

Ned held his tongue, as he knew that nothing he could say would placate her. That night the couple slept in separate bedrooms. Ned left for Omsk before dawn the next morning and Yulia didn’t rise to see him off.

* * *

On orders from Colonel Barrows, Ned did not travel alone to Samara, but rather brought with him from Beregovoy two technicians and a spare wireless device to set up a new communications post on the Volga. Upon arrival, he checked in with his counterpart at the newly opened British Military Mission and was taken afterward to the Grand Hotel Zhiguli. The hotel, named for a range of hills outside Samara, had once been one of the finest in Samara and was occupied until recently by senior Bolshevik officials. Now, workmen swarmed the hotel’s public areas from morning till night, painting, plastering and repairing broken fixtures with scarce building materials hoarded during the Soviet occupation in hopes of better days ahead.

Because the Red Army had fled Samara without a fight, the city appeared to have suffered relatively little war damage. Some damage, however, remained unrepaired from the previous year, when the Czech Legion and the nascent People’s Army of the Komuch, under Vladimir Kappel, had captured the city from the Bolsheviks in June and lost it again in September. But the aftereffects of Red rule were most evident in the garbage-strewn streets, rundown buildings, shortages of vehicles and draft animals, and nearly total absence of trees, since these had been burned for firewood during the winter, owing to a shortage of coal.

The local inhabitants whom Ned passed on the street seemed even more shabbily dressed than the bedraggled refugees at Omsk. Few made eye contact, perhaps as a survival mechanism left over from the Red Terror. Fortunately, the Grand Zhiguli was well supplied with food and drink, for the British paid in pounds sterling and Ned paid with dollars. Ned’s technicians lost no time in stringing antenna wires from the hotel’s roof and setting up their wireless apparatus in a suite shared by the two technicians.

To maintain his cover as an official of the Russian Railway Service Corps and to deflect unwanted scrutiny away from the wireless installation, Ned spent several hours each morning shuttling

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between the railway station, the telegraph office, and local government offices. He made it clear that, though he wore an American military uniform, he was an expert on telegraphy and not a combat officer. Nonetheless, by virtue of being the sole American official at Samara, various Russian military officers, politicians, and businessmen approached him at all hours of the day and night with information or propositions that they wished him to convey to the American government.

For this reason, it didn’t surprise Ned when, one morning toward the end of his first week in Samara, a tall, vigorous-looking Russian of about thirty accosted him in the stairwell on his way to the hotel lobby. Though the man was shabbily dressed and wore a workman’s cap over his closely cropped black hair, his clothes were freshly pressed, his face closely shaved and there was something striking about the brooding look in the man’s deep cobalt eyes that made Ned feel he had met the man before.

“Don’t you remember me, Captain du Pont?” the man greeted him with an amused smile.

“Perhaps if you would tell me your name,” Ned answered coolly, unwilling to hazard a guess lest he reveal too much.

“In Samara, I go by the name of Subbotin, but in Irkutsk you knew me by a different name.”

At once Ned made the connection, recalling how Father Timofey Ryumin had appeared to him at the Irkutsk worker’s café in January, dressed similarly in laborer’s garb.

“Forgive me, Timofey. I didn’t know you without your beard. But what are you doing here in Samara?” Ned demanded, drawing closer to the man and lowering his voice. “Wait,” he told the Russian, and held a finger to his lips while listening for anyone else who might be above or below on the stairway. “Come outside with me. We’ll speak as we go.”

Timofey nodded his assent.

“Did you succeed in setting up your new church organization on the Volga as you once planned?” Ned asked in a near-whisper as they began their descent down three flights of stairs.

Timofey let out a soft laugh.

“Church, no; organization, yes. Since the Red Terror began, the Cheka has driven all Christian worship underground, except for a few churches where they permit old women to pray for the souls of the departed. The more urgent task has been to overthrow Bolshevik rule. And to that end, I have been active with the Socialist Revolutionary partisans, whether they worship God or not”

“Was it you, then, who made contact with Zhanna outside Samara to organize the S-R uprisings that put the Red garrison to flight?” Ned asked, taking a wild guess.

“I wasn’t the first to reach her,” Timofey answered, “but once I did, her trust in me allowed us to save many lives by avoiding a pitched battle.”

“Excellent work, Timofey. So your relations with Zhanna and Baron Wrangel are close?”

“For the moment,” the Russian answered, knitting his brow and letting out a deep breath. “They know how badly they need us, since the S-R Party enjoys overwhelming popular support all along the Volga. And unless Kolchak’s henchmen move in here and seek to impose their hard-fisted rule, we shall be happy to continue supporting Zhanna and the Baron against the Bolsheviks.”

“Fortunately for you, the Admiral shows little interest in ruling the Lower Volga for now,” Ned observed. “His sights are set on Moscow and he prefers to approach it from the north, through Perm, once he gathers enough troops to make his move. I doubt you will see him or anyone from the Stavka in Samara to support the Maid’s offensive.”

“Then so be it,” Timofey said with a shrug as they reached a landing and stepped down onto to the next flight. “At the moment, Denikin and Wrangel seem far more cooperative than the Admiral and, to his credit, Denikin has never favored permanent military dictatorship. Though many of the Don and Kuban Cossacks under his command hold autocratic views, Denikin manages to hold them in check and now calls openly for a new national assembly to be convened here at Samara.”

“At Samara, you say?” Ned asked, trying to show a degree of surprise. “Is Denikin aware that Zhanna predicted the same thing months ago?”

“He was not aware—until we informed him,” the Russian answered with a sly look.

“And does the general endorse the idea?”

“I heard it from his own lips in a meeting with our local party leaders and several S-R bosses newly arrived from Paris,” Timofey reported. “It seems the British and the French also favor a new assembly. Only Kolchak stands opposed.”

“How very interesting,” Ned remarked. But at that moment, he heard loud footsteps from an upper floor and gestured for Timofey to leave the stairwell at once.

“Where shall we meet next?” Timofey asked as he went on ahead.

“Every morning around this time I walk from my rooms to the central station,” Ned replied. Look for me along the way and I’ll give you the address of a safe place for us to meet. But one last question. What are the names of those exiled S-R leaders who came from Paris? And where are they now?”

“Here in Samara,” Timofey answered. “One is Boris Savinkov, who should be well known to you from his attempted uprising in Yaroslavl[42] last summer. The other is a Russian Jew who works for British Intelligence. He goes by many names, but in Samara they call him Zhelezin.”

“And what is their purpose here?” Ned asked.

“They came to meet the Maid and exploit her however they can,” Timofey answered, his cobalt eyes narrowed with unease.

* * *

It did not take long for Ned to learn more about Savinkov, who was well known at the British military mission. Savinkov had begun his revolutionary career while still a student by joining the terrorist wing of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Within a few years, he became notorious for planning the assassinations of the tsarist interior minister, von Plehve, and later of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. After being sentenced to death, he escaped Russia and found refuge in France.

Savinkov returned to Russia after the February 1917 Revolution and launched failed uprisings against Kerensky’s Provisional Government and later, with British help, against the fledgling Bolshevik regime. Fleeing Russia once again in 1918, he landed back in France, where he organized anti-Bolshevik émigrés with funding from the French and British secret services. In November of that year, Savinkov traveled to Omsk and so impressed the new Supreme Ruler that the latter appointed Savinkov as his unofficial representative to the Paris Peace Conference. There, Savinkov met Winston Churchill, who reportedly considered him Russia’s most capable exile leader.

And now, the S-R leader had turned up in Samara to foment violent unrest yet again. Though he claimed to be a friend of Kolchak and the Allies, Ned could not ignore the fact that Savinkov had turned his face against three successive Russian governments. Even if he could help defeat the Red Army, what kind of trouble might he stir up afterward? And what did he want with the Maid?

As helpful as the British had been with information about Savinkov, Ned drew a blank when asking them about Savinkov’s colleague, Zhelezin. Fortunately, Father Timofey proved a font of information about the man and the reasons for British reticence about him. According to Timofey, Zhelezin was none other than the British agent, Sidney Reilly, who had reportedly conspired with British envoy Bruce Lockhart[43] to assassinate Lenin during the summer of 1918. And during the Paris Peace Conference, it was Reilly who had leaked details of the Bullitt Mission to London’s Daily Mail , causing President Wilson and Lloyd George to disavow Bullitt’s tentative peace deal with Lenin.

As Timofey described him, Reilly’s admiration for Napoleon reflected the agent’s own inflated ambitions to rule Russia some day, and now the man had attached himself to Savinkov as a means to realize them. In sum, Timofey considered Reilly a wholly unsavory character, devoted to intrigue, devoid of scruples, and loyal to no one but himself. Under no circumstances, Timofey vowed, would he permit such a scoundrel to exert his unsavory influence over the Maid.

* * *

It was only after Timofey left Samara on a mission to Red-occupied Kazan that Ned learned just how dramatically momentum had shifted in favor of a national assembly since the Allied consuls had met with Kolchak in Omsk and since the S-Rs had re-emerged as a potent political force along the Volga. As a result, much of Ned’s intelligence reporting now centered on the tug-of-war within the Siberian government over further movement toward democracy.

It was now Ned’s third week in Samara, and he was settling his weekly bill in cash at the Grand Hotel Zhiguli’s cashier window when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Laying a quick hand on his holstered .45 caliber pistol, with the thought he might be robbed or assassinated, he turned around to find the grinning face of Mark McCloud, impeccably dressed in a beige suit made of raw silk and a dazzling blue and gold silk cravat.

“Well, aren’t you going to welcome me?” McCloud greeted Ned with an amused expression.

“Should I? Do you intend to stay long?” Ned replied with a wary look.

“Samara is where the action is, my boy. Haven’t you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“The Supreme Ruler has relented,” the journalist said in hushed tones, leaning in close as if not to be overheard. “He’s going to convene a national assembly, after all, and it’s to meet here in Samara. Zhanna has been proven right yet again, and my loyal readers will be the first Americans to know!”

Ned accepted his change in small bills from the cashier and led McCloud by the elbow to a place in the lobby where no one else was likely to overhear.

“How do you know that? Are you sure?” Ned demanded. For while an assembly might be a very good thing, he had watched the Supreme Ruler dismiss it emphatically before a roomful of Allied diplomats mere days before he left for the Volga. And if Kolchak had for some reason reversed himself, how could McCloud have gotten wind of it before Ned did?

“Quite certain,” McCloud boasted. “My source is impeccable. Isn’t it marvelous?”

“I suppose it would be, if it were true,” Ned remarked with a tart expression. “What does Kolchak want in return?”

“Full recognition by America, Britain, and France the day after the new assembly approves a political platform and the Admiral signs it,” McCloud declared.

Ned let out a caustic laugh.

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” he said, and turned to leave.

In truth, he would be elated if Zhanna’s predictions were fulfilled. But, until they were, how was he to believe something so outlandish, when he had direct evidence to the contrary?

“If you doubt me, then come to Ambassador Morris’s press briefing tomorrow morning in the hotel ballroom,” McCloud added, laying a hand on Ned’s arm. “If I’m right, you can buy me lunch at the Uspensky afterward. If not, the meal is on me. Are we on?”

Ned stiffened at McCloud’s touch before he thought better of it and offered the journalist a conciliatory smile.

“Why not?” he said. “The pleasure of seeing you pick up the bill will more than compensate for the disappointment of not seeing Russian democracy in action.”

But, if truth be told, this was one bet Ned knew he would be happy to lose.

* * *

U.S. High Commissioner Roland Morris, fresh from consultations at Vladivostok, Irkutsk, and Krasnoyarsk, had been greatly troubled upon arriving in Omsk by the hard line that Kolchak had laid down the week before with the Allied consuls there. Harboring a faith in diplomacy that verged on the messianic, Morris resolved to break the impasse over a national assembly by dispensing his entire bag of carrots and sticks, if necessary, to win Kolchak’s consent. According to dispatches Ned received later in Samara, Kolchak had listened politely but declined. Accordingly, Morris set out the next day for Samara, en route to planned meetings with General Denikin at Novo-Rossiysk.

Morris’s stay in Samara was scheduled to last only one day, and he had announced his intention to spend it in fact-finding interviews with local officials and representatives of the S-R insurgency that had helped drive out Samara’s Red occupiers. But the envoy’s plans were disrupted by Admiral Kolchak’s unexpected announcement approving a national assembly, received by wire the night of Morris’s arrival in Samara. Though no one seemed able to explain the reversal, Morris was euphoric over the news. As a consequence, he delayed his onward journey by half a day and arranged a press conference for the next morning.

At the event, attended by a dozen Russian journalists, nearly as many resident diplomats, and a handful of foreign correspondents who had relocated to Samara, Morris praised the Supreme Ruler’s decision while taking no credit for Kolchak’s change of heart. He also commended Kolchak’s latest round of ministerial appointments, which replaced certain unpopular and reactionary ministers with moderates who came from trade unions, cooperatives, or private business. Many of the new men, he pointed out, hailed from Western Siberia and the Volga, and more than a few were aligned with the S-R Party.

Before accepting questions from reporters, Ambassador Morris delivered an opening statement.

“In raising a new national assembly, the Omsk Government makes great strides toward earning international recognition,” Morris intoned from the podium. “The world will watch with great interest as this new body convenes in Samara. Speaking for the United States, I am confident that my government will confer full diplomatic recognition upon the Siberian government once the assembly approves a new political program.”

The room fell silent as Morris uttered his carefully worded formula, which made recognition depend upon the assembly taking action. The moment the envoy paused to take a breath, journalists in the room scribbled furiously in their notebooks while the diplomats exchanged excited whispers.

“In the meantime, I am pleased to announce new military and trade credits to the government at Omsk with a value of twenty million American dollars. In addition, President Wilson has dispatched ten thousand additional American troops to guard the Trans-Siberian Railway, replacing the Czech Legion in that role. And in Northern Russia, America will replace the troops recently withdrawn from Murmansk and will support Great Britain’s initiative to guard the ice-free ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk through another winter.”

Now the scribbling grew even more furious. Ten thousand troops! This would more than double the American presence in Siberia and put the Japanese on notice that America took an interest in the region.

“And finally, on a matter of great humanitarian interest, America will help to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Russian former prisoners of war from Germany and the Central Powers. On arrival in Russia’s Black Sea ports, these men will be free to return home to their families in liberated areas, or join the White Armies in the fight against Bolshevism.”

Here Morris paused and the room fell silent. Among Russians in the room, eyes filled with tears, for nearly every Siberian family knew of a loved one captured on the field of battle who had not yet returned from European captivity. And if even a fraction of these men were to join the White Forces, their number might easily turn the tide of war against the Bolsheviks. Once his words had sunk in, Morris concluded his address on a heartfelt note.

“I am delighted to announce these measures by the United States of America in support of our loyal Russian allies, who have sacrificed so much during the war against Germany and whose brave citizens yearn to rejoin the community of free nations.”

Ned took a deep breath, still dazed at the broad sweep of the Morris initiatives. Now that the Ambassador had dangled such tantalizing treats before the Russian people, how could Kolchak fail to follow through with reforms? Still, the question remained: why had the Admiral reversed himself after turning down the same offer in Omsk only days before? Who, other than the Maid, could have caused him to change his mind? Yet Zhanna had been in Samara. How could she have influenced him from fifteen hundred versts away?

* * *

The answer lay in a telegram sent from Zhanna’s camp the night after Morris’s failed meeting with Admiral Kolchak, and many hours after the ambassador had departed for Samara. Soon after it arrived in Omsk, Anna Vasilyevna Timiryova heard a knock at her bedroom door and awoke from a deep sleep.

“Forgive me for waking you, Madame,” her French maid addressed her in a nervous voice. “But an officer is at the door with a telegram. He insists on delivering it to you in person. Will you come to the parlor to receive it?”

“What sort of an officer?” Anna Vasilyevna demanded, shading her eyes from the light in the hallway.

“A telegraph official from the main office. He has two British soldiers as escorts.”

“Very well, then. I will be there in a moment.”

After throwing on a wrapper, Madame Timiryova came to the door, accepted the telegram, and opened it in the light of a nearby electric lamp. It was marked as sent from the central telegraph station at Samara. It read:


As the telegram was sent by ordinary commercial wire, Zhanna had resorted to a crude code of the sort that she could be confident her friend would decipher. “Yekaterina” doubtless meant the martyred St. Yekaterina of Alexandria, whose voice the Maid often heard. “Gen D” clearly referred to General Dieterichs, and “S” and “Zh” most likely the S-R leaders, Savinkov and Zhelezin. And “Alex” could only mean Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak.

“Order the concierge to fetch a carriage,” Madame Timiryova ordered. “I must take this at once to Alexander Vasilyevich. What hour is it?”

“Half past ten,” the maid answered with a look of alarm.

“Then we may still find him at his office. Let us go together. Now hurry!”

She donned her fur coat and sable ushanka  and ran down the stairs to meet the carriage. Half an hour later they arrived at the rear gate of the Liberty House, where Anna Vasilyevna passed through the line of British sentries, who knew her well. As she entered the lobby, she saw two men descending the main staircase wearing grim expressions. One she recognized as Colonel Ward, from the British Military Mission, and the other, a tall, broad-shouldered man of about forty-five wearing a uniform that she guessed to be American. She thought to call out a greeting to Ward, but decided against it. Instead, she waited until they were out the front door before ascending the steps alone.

The Admiral’s personal secretary knocked loudly on the door to the private office before opening it for Madame Timiryova to enter. She found Kolchak standing before the tall window behind his desk, looking down at the street below, apparently watching his guests’ departure. She gasped when she saw the ugly Mauser pistol lying on his desk, with its long thin barrel and bulbous wooden handle.

“Alexander Vasilyevich!” she cried out. “What are you thinking!”

Kolchak wheeled around, startled to see her, apparently not having heard the knock or her footsteps. She stepped toward the desk and pointed to the pistol.

“No, it’s not what you think,” he answered in a voice drained of emotion. “I sometimes put the pistol there to stimulate my thinking. It can do wonders to concentrate the mind.”

Standing across the desk from her, Kolchak picked up the weapon gingerly by the breech and deposited it in a drawer. Then he stepped around the desk, gave his mistress a hug and a kiss on both cheeks, as if nothing were amiss, and led her by the hand to the sofa beside the samovar.

“I saw Colonel Ward and the other officer as they were leaving. They looked upset,” she noted once she was seated. “What on earth did you say to them?”

Kolchak remained standing and proceeded to prepare two cups of tea from the still-steaming samovar.

“They came to change my mind about having refused the American Ambassador’s offer,” he replied, adding hot water to the ounce or two of concentrated tea mixture in each glass. “I told them no, as before.”

“If nothing has changed, then why do you look so troubled?” she asked as she accepted her glass.

While making the transfer, a spoon dropped noisily onto the floor and Kolchak swore under his breath before picking it up and replacing it with a clean one.

“They came to warn me that Winston Churchill intends to wash his hands of me. He means to throw his support behind Savinkov and the S-Rs if I don’t relent on the subject of a national assembly,” the Admiral replied when he had regained his composure. But his hands still shook so much that they rattled his tea glass in its filigree holder.

“Would Churchill really do such a thing?” Madame Timiryova asked, her eyes wide with shock.

“I believe he would,” the Admiral declared, lowering himself gently onto the sofa as if his bones ached. “And I know from our spies that Savinkov has been plotting demonstrations all along the Volga to demand the new assembly. His plan, it seems, is to control a majority of its delegates and then use the assembly to seize the reins of government.”

“So what will you do?” she asked.

“I don’t know. But I am a military man. It is my nature to resist.”

“Colonel Ward is your friend. He has supported you from the very beginning. Did he not come tonight to help you?”

Kolchak considered the question for a moment before nodding a cautious yes.

“No doubt he did,” came the muttered answer.

“Then why must you be so rigid, Alex? What if you are wrong and he is right?”

But the Admiral refused to answer or even meet her gaze. She put a hand on his arm to regain his attention but he failed to react.

“My God, Alex, you can be so pigheaded!” she exclaimed.

Suddenly Kolchak put down his tea and rose to pace slowly back and forth along the narrow carpet that ran between sofa and sideboard.

“The Allies play their own game, not Russia’s,” he declared with a scowl. “How can I possibly trust them on so critical a question?”

“If you don’t trust your allies, whom do you trust? Do you trust me? Do you trust the Maid?”

“Of course I do!” he told her in a loud voice, at last meeting her gaze with a pleading look of his own. “You are my very soul! And Zhanna Stepanovna has always been faithful to me, even when my generals and ministers thwart her at every turn.”

“Then listen to me, Alexander Ivanovich! I have come to you because I received a telegram from the Maid. I want you to read it. Because I believe Zhanna aims to protect you from the same harm as does Colonel Ward.”

She withdrew the folded telegram from a pocket in her dress and handed it over. He read it and then let it drop on the low table beside his glass of tea. Tears welled in his red-rimmed eyes.

“Do you know to whom she refers?” she asked.

He nodded and looked away for several long moments, in which the Admiral’s mistress had absolutely no idea what he was thinking. At last, he faced her and spoke.

“How easy it is to be blinded by fear,” he said in a low voice, taking her hand in his. “Zhanna is right. I will cable Ambassador Morris tomorrow and explain my decision to reconsider. Now, let us finish our tea. The hour is late and we will need our strength for tomorrow.”

* * *

Over lunch the next day at the extravagantly expensive Uspensky Restaurant, it was Ned’s turn to pump Mark McCloud for information about what a new national assembly and Allied recognition might portend. The primary question among political insiders was whether White Forces might now make good on their threat to capture Moscow before winter. The Maid had predicted this, of course, and now her predictions no longer seemed so far-fetched. Depending on whose army seized that prize—Kolchak’s, Denikin’s, or possibly Yudenich’s—a final White victory was certain to set off an intense scramble for influence among the Allies.

“What about this post-victory scramble?” Ned asked McCloud as their first course was served, a mushroom bisque laden with wild chanterelles and morels. “Is it all about trade concessions? Would Wilson really demand a first lien on the tsar’s gold’s as collateral for Russia’s debts?”

“Likely that, and other concessions, too,” McCloud replied before taking a gulp of the French brandy he had ordered, since the lunch was at Ned’s expense. “Remember this about your glorious Allied intervention: every great cause is born as a movement, grows into a business, and over time declines into a racket.”

“One from which you have derived considerable profit, I might add,” Ned observed with a sour expression.

“But not nearly as much as your Cousin Pierre and his friends on Wall Street. I expect they’ll descend on Moscow like locusts on a ripe orchard. But the jockeying will be about more than money. Above all else, President Wilson wants a democratic Russia, even if it is one weakened by internal squabbling.”

“And what about the other Allies?” Ned probed.

“The British and the French are more comfortable with a dictatorship, or perhaps a constitutional monarchy, which they see as more stable than a democracy. Of course, the Japanese prefer an anarchical Russia on its knees, so they and their vassal warlords Semenov and Kalmykov[44] can go on plundering at will. That is why Wilson is sending ten thousand more troops to Eastern Siberia and a similar number to Murmansk. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how far it will go?”

The waiter hovered, awaiting a sign that the soup had met his guests’ satisfaction. Ned gave a gesture of approval and sent the man away for a glass of pilsner.

“But Wilson has always resisted intervention in Russia,” Ned told the journalist. “Why go all-in now to tip the scale for the Whites when he has steadfastly refused to do it for the past eighteen months?”

“For two reasons, I think,” the journalist suggested. “First is Bolshevik weakness: the Red Army is reeling from recent defeats. Uprisings have broken out all over Sovdepia and popular support for Bolshevism seems to be waning. Oddly enough, the people don’t seem to blame the Allied blockade and their hostile neighbors for the suffering in Sovdepia. They blame the hated commissars.”

“And the other reason?” Ned asked, conceding that McCloud had made a solid point.

“Second, Wilson’s tolerant attitude toward the Bolsheviks seems to have hardened,” McCloud added, “The American press has finally acknowledged Kolchak’s reforms, while denouncing the Red Terror and sounding the alarm over left-wing agitation at home. I think the shift in public opinion is why Wilson has finally decided to offer Kolchak a deal.”

“So you think diplomatic recognition will happen?” Ned challenged.

McCloud gave an emphatic nod before knocking back the remains of his brandy.

“Yes, the instant the new assembly approves a platform showing the faintest whiff of reform,” he agreed.

“But isn’t that dangerous for Kolchak?” Ned asked. “The hard-liners who put him in power will feel betrayed, while the S-Rs and leftists will go on hating him just as before. Bringing his assembly to the Volga, where the S-Rs have a powerful presence, is a wild card.”

“It could be, but he may have no other choice. Without Allied aid, the Admiral loses the war and, with that, everything else. But if he can survive long enough to take Moscow, he wins the whole pot. It all comes down to how well he plays his hand.”

The journalist pushed away his empty soup bowl and smacked his lips with pleasure.

“The Supreme Ruler has shown himself a damned lousy card player so far,” Ned pointed out.

“Exactly. Therefore, my money is on Zhanna to stack the deck for him. If you’re game for another wager, I’ll bet you a champagne dinner at Moscow’s most expensive restaurant that the Maid keeps on winning battles and the Whites take the capital by Christmas. Are you in?”

“How could I refuse?” Ned shot back. “Either way, I win.”

Chapter 18: The Regent

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“Fame is a bee,
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.”

—Emily Dickinson

Musical Theme: Mlada Suite, Procession of the Nobles , by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov


The first days of September were warm and unusually dry along the Lower Volga. Though the sun’s heat scorched all it touched, the approach of autumn promised welcome relief. Outside Samara, the crowns of tall poplar

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s that separated one peasant field from another turned yellow and the first flocks of migrating cranes descended on the harvested croplands. Late in the afternoon, distant thunder rolled in from clouds gathering in the west.

Each morning, Ned rose early to attend committee sessions of the new national assembly at the Samara Drama Theater, a striking Baroque edifice painted in garish red and white, which had become one of the city’s major landmarks in the three decades since it was built. The first delegates to reach Samara settled down there immediately to draft a new political program. Most of them, Ned noted, seemed to come from the newly liberated areas of South Russia and the Volga, which were more liberal than Omsk and Eastern Siberia.

Because many of the representatives were relative newcomers to politics, old-line monarchists and reactionaries found it difficult to dismiss them as pro-Bolshevik. Accordingly, most observers were pleasantly surprised that the new legislature came quite close to achieving Admiral Kolchak’s stated goal of a broad-based political coalition. Moreover, the participation of S-Rs, Socialists, and Constitutional Democrats easily refuted Bolshevik propaganda claims that the assembly consisted entirely of monarchists, Cossacks, and military officers of the type who sang “God Save the Tsar” at every session.

At the risk of alienating the reactionary clique who raised him to power, the Admiral seemed to have made good on his promise to create an energetic new leadership class capable of promoting reconciliation across the vast expanse of Russia. But since the assembly’s primary task would be to endorse Kolchak as wartime regent and endorse his new war cabinet, he banned from the assembly any candidates associated with the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and other parties subservient to Moscow.

At the assembly’s initial plenary session, some expressed doubts about the Admiral’s pledge to step down as Supreme Ruler once the Bolsheviks were defeated and a new head of state elected. Until then, Kolchak proposed that the assembly appoint him regent to legitimize his role as Commander in Chief of the White Armies. Under this arrangement, martial law would continue, but under a government oversight committee representing the new assembly. That committee would also supervise the government budget, evaluate departmental activities, and question ministers about their performance in office. While far short of the full-blown governmental reorganization that many delegates wanted, they accepted it as a step in the right direction.

Thus, in mid-September, the national assembly elected Admiral Kolchak as regent of Russia, a post similar to that held until recently by General Mannerheim in Finland after guiding that country to independence. Kolchak’s term as regent was to extend for two years, or until a successor head of state took office, whichever came first.

On the day before the inauguration, the Maid arrived in Samara from her encampment outside the city, together with General Tolstov and a team of senior officers. To celebrate the occasion, Ned had invited Zhanna, Paladin, Tolstov, and Colonel Denisov to the Uspensky for an early dinner, where they enjoyed a feast unlike any they had experienced before, though without the aid of vodka. For nearly two hours, they regaled one other with stories of the Uralsk and Ufa campaigns, as well as more recent battles on the Volga. But as Ned’s duties required him to rise early the next morning to deliver intelligence reports to his clients, and Zhanna had to report early to the cathedral to rehearse for the inauguration, the party broke up before the early autumn sun went down.

“Are you staying at the Zhiguli?” Ned asked the Maid once they were outdoors. “It’s not far. Why don’t we walk? Perhaps we could enjoy a cup of tea before retiring.”

“Actually, I’m staying at Madame Timiryova’s,” Zhanna replied, with a wince that showed sympathy for Ned’s disappointment.

“Her lodging is only a block or two further on,” he pointed out. “We could still walk there. That is, if you don’t mind my company…”

Ned offered Zhanna a winsome smile, which she returned before stepping aside to wave off Tolstov’s offer to ride in his carriage.

“Until morning!” she called out to the general before his carriage left the curb.

The couple set off toward the residence, choosing a route that was still well trodden by White officers and smartly dressed men and women out for a stroll after celebrating the eve of Kolchak’s inauguration. Though Zhanna attracted a few polite stares from people who guessed she might be the famous Maid of Baikal, she did not draw a crowd, perhaps because she had not appeared in the city before now.

After a few minutes of small talk, she asked Ned how he liked living in Samara.

“Well enough, I suppose,” he answered. “Less stuffy and provincial than Omsk, to be sure.”

“And Beregovoy? Do you miss your life there?” Her question seemed to carry a hidden meaning, and Ned turned to give her a searching look.

“Beregovoy was very good for me,” he replied, holding her gaze. “Yes, I miss it.”

“You mean Madame Yushnevskaya, don’t you.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“Yes,” he said. “But some good things just aren’t meant to last. As turned out, Yulia and I aren’t very well suited to each another.”

Zhanna wrinkled her nose in displeasure.

“Madame Yushnevskaya has been very generous to me,” she said in a sharp voice. “I would not want to offend her for all the world.”

“Nor I. But I suspect we haven’t seen the last of her,” Ned added. “She said she might be coming to Samara to sell some property that she owns.”

“Then I hope she calls on me. That is, if I’m still here.”

Ned turned to her with a surprised expression.

“Are you going home after the inauguration, then? Is your mission finally fulfilled?”

“Hardly,” she snorted, and looked away.

“But your Voices. You’ve always said they wanted you to lead Admiral Kolchak to Samara. Must you go further?”

“My Voices…” she answered in a self-mocking tone that he had never heard from her before. “What am I to think of them? They lead me from one impossible task to the next, from terror to triumph and back again. And the further I go, the less certain I am about what comes next.”

“Then why go on, Zhanna? It seems to me that you’ve wrapped up the mission you signed up for. Am I wrong?”

They entered a small square where residents had cleaned up the weed-infested garden and planted purple asters and red, yellow and orange chrysanthemums for the autumn season. For a moment, this hopeful gesture by people whom Zhanna had helped to liberate brought a smile to the girl’s lips.

“My Voices don’t reveal to me when my work will end,” she went on, gazing out across the square. “They tell me only that I must remain pure in body and spirit, and cast out all my fears, until I finish it.”

“Then you plan to fight on?”

“I see no other choice,” she answered. “Do you?”

He hadn’t anticipated the question. Long moments passed while he felt unable to speak. For as much as he dreaded Zhanna coming to harm in the war, and however much he yearned to see her live a normal life, perhaps even a life with him, he knew he had no right to sway her.

“No,” he replied. “I suppose not.”

* * *

The inauguration ceremony was held at nine the next morning on a cool day, brilliant with sunshine. Admiral Kolchak entered Samara’s Cathedral of the Ascension dressed in an immaculate white naval uniform, followed by General Dieterichs, the Maid, a score of generals in dress uniform, cabinet ministers in morning suits, and a guard of eighty fierce-looking Cossacks. The spectators held their breath while the procession advanced to the altar, where the Orthodox Archbishop of Samara awaited them. Admiral Kolchak climbed the chancel steps to face the Archbishop, and then halted. Standing two steps below him, holding her battle flag aloft, was Zhanna, Maid of Baikal.

As this was an inauguration of a civil official and not the coronation of a tsar, the ceremony lacked the grandiosity that some of the onlookers might have preferred. With prayers, chanting and clouds of incense, the Archbishop presented the new regent to God and sprinkled his head and shoulders with holy water, using a sort of whisk that resembled a feather duster. The Admiral, in return, kissed the icon held before his face and then kissed the priest’s hands before crossing himself three times.

At last, the cleric gave his final blessing, with right hand raised, while Kolchak bowed his head but, in keeping with Orthodox tradition, did not kneel.

“I bless you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and may they remain with you in all you do, from this day forward.”

When the blessing was complete, cries of jubilation rose up from the audience and reverberated so strongly among the cathedral’s whitewashed walls and vaulted ceilings that it seemed the stones themselves might shatter. And amid the cries, Zhanna rose to grasp the regent’s hand and sank to her knees at his feet.

With quavering lips, she gazed at him through her tears and offered him a blessing of her own.

“Today you have reaped the rewards of heeding God’s word and He has fulfilled His promise to make you regent. May He continue to bless you with the wisdom necessary to gain final victory!”

Amid the thunderous applause and shouting, the Admiral did not hear her words and allowed his Cossack guards to lead him away through an adjacent chapel. Zhanna remained behind and basked in the delight of watching the regent’s supporters celebrate his triumph.

Though no one could deny that Zhanna had earned her place beside Kolchak, some cabinet ministers complained later that she had called undue attention to herself by standing with her banner at his side.

“By what right did you assume that place of honor?” Foreign Minister Sukin asked her once they stood outside the cathedral.

The Maid turned to face the young minister, her banner firmly in hand. Still aglow from the celebration, she offered Sukin a benevolent smile.

“Since the banner bore the burden on the battlefield,” she replied in a reasonable tone, “surely it deserves a place of honor at the inauguration.”

But Sukin’s eyes flashed with indignation. As he opened his mouth to respond, George Guins grabbed his arm. The two men then turned their backs on her and climbed into a waiting coach for the short ride to the Archbishop’s residence.

Lining the streets along their path were hundreds of Siberian soldiers in freshly laundered uniforms. But Zhanna did not join them for the trip. Instead, she handed her banner to Paladin for safekeeping and made her way quietly to a modest café a few blocks away, where she met for the first time in months with her father and her uncle, the banker Kostrov. The two men were waiting for her outside the café, each clutching a bouquet of autumn flowers. At Zhanna’s approach, her father stepped forward and embraced her with tears of relief and pride. A few moments later, her uncle did the same, though with greater composure.

“So the two of you have reconciled?” she asked them with one eyebrow raised and a smile on her lips. “Please forgive me. I never meant to come between you.”

“Nor I between father and daughter!” Kostrov answered quickly.

Then Zhanna’s father interrupted with a faltering voice that was laden with pent-up emotion.

“It is I who ask your  forgiveness, Zhanna. It’s just that I had no idea that you were capable of…” and here he shot an exultant glance toward Kostrov, “so very much!”

If any doubts remained that all had been forgiven among the three, they were dispelled on the spot. Zhanna took both men by the arm and led them into the café, where the owner recognized her immediately and showed his guests to the best table in the house. Putting aside her wartime prohibition on vodka, she nodded at the owner’s offer of a complimentary bottle so as not to deny her male relatives their customary tipple.

With his first toast of celebration, Stepan Petrovich expressed supreme joy at having seen his daughter given a place of honor at Admiral Kolchak’s right hand during his inauguration. Kostrov followed up with another, calling his niece “A real Russian eagle!” as Father Timofey had called her the previous November. And before much longer, both men gave in to their temptation to ask her about her many battles and to pump her for colorful anecdotes about Admiral Kolchak and his leading generals. The three did not leave the café until the last drop of vodka was consumed, after which Zhanna packed the men off to their modest hotel near the railway station.

But afterward, instead of returning to her encampment across the river, Zhanna retraced her steps to the Cathedral of the Ascension and found a quiet place in a small side chapel where she could pray. There Ned and General Tolstov found her, kneeling before the altar, still dressed in the British dress uniform with Siberian insignia that she had worn to the ceremony.

“Come along, Zhanna,” Tolstov greeted her with a jovial laugh. “That’s enough praying for now. The ceremony is over and the cathedral is empty. But the streets are still filled with people calling your name. They insist that you make an appearance!”

“I’d rather not,” the Maid answered softly, her head still bowed. “This is the Admiral’s moment, not mine.”

“But it was you who brought him here. Why not claim some of the glory?” Tolstov suggested.

“Because those who seek the glory do not want me to share it. I sense their resentment,” Zhanna said.

“How wise you are at times, my child, yet how naïve!” Tolstov exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “Do you expect fools to love you after you outshine them?”

“Ahh, I suppose you are right,” the girl said, letting out a gentle laugh. “Still, I cannot bear how strongly some of the Admiral’s men have come to resent me. Were it not for my Voices, I might have given up this work more than once.”

“Yes, your Voices. They are another reason the fools distrust you,” Tolstov went on. “Even I might question your judgment if you didn’t offer up such sensible reasons for what you do after listening to them.”

Here the Cossack’s weather-beaten face relaxed into an avuncular smile and he took a seat on a pew a few steps away.

“Of course,” the Maid conceded, “I manage to come up with earthly reasons when it’s necessary to satisfy the disbelievers. But I always heed the Voices first and justify them later. People can believe what they like.”

At this point, Ned, who stood closest to the door, stepped forward to speak when he heard footsteps approaching and recognized the voice of Admiral Kolchak. The new regent entered the room with Guins and Dieterichs and then seated himself beside Zhanna.

“Well, Your Excellency,” Tolstov greeted Kolchak while rising to his feet. “How does it feel to be a respectably elected leader at long last?”

“I wouldn’t go through it again if they were to elect me Tsar of All the Russias! Such useless humbug!” he answered the Cossack general. Now turning to Zhanna, he demanded, “Zhanna, where have you been? We have been looking for you all evening!”

“Forgive me, Your Excellency, but I am not one for revelry. And now that you have been elected regent, I see my work here is largely done. All that remains is to take Moscow and win the war and, to be frank, I am eager to get on with it.”

Kolchak let out a nervous laugh and Guins cast a furtive glance toward Dieterichs. They weren’t rid of her yet! The girl aimed to take Moscow, no less!

“All the more reason to take a well-earned rest, I should say,” the Admiral responded with an affable smile.

“I might agree,” Zhanna told him, “except that my Voices warned me last autumn that my role in this war would last but a year, and that time is approaching fast. When it arrives, I intend to return to my father’s house at Verkhne-Udinsk and put this war behind me.”

“Is that so?” Kolchak said, his face taking on a puzzled look as he stroked his clean-shaven chin. “Life there would be simpler than this, to be sure. I hope it will still suit you, after all you’ve been through.”

“It may prove quite dull,” Dieterichs added with the all-knowing nod of an old soldier.

“And it may feel odd to put on a pretty frock again after wearing a uniform for so long,” Guins chimed in.

“Still, if your heart is set on going, we wouldn’t hold you against your will,” Kolchak told her. “Dieterichs will manage somehow to keep the war going without you.” There was a chill in his voice and Zhanna winced at his words.

“Thank you, Admiral,” she replied stiffly. “But then I never presumed to think you would miss me.” She rose without looking at Kolchak and approached Dieterichs. “Mikhail Konstantinovich, how soon do you suppose the Siberian Army might be ready for a drive on Moscow?”

“Not so very long, I think,” Dieterichs answered with a cautious nod toward Kolchak. “Allied arms are flowing in as never before. And the new divisions are doing rather well in training.”

“But how long? Before the first frost? After the rivers freeze over?”

“Oh, not quite that soon, I expect,” Dieterichs added, his expression suddenly darkening. “If we were to move against Moscow prematurely, it would risk everything we have gained. With the Allies squarely behind us, and Denikin at our side, I believe we should allow as much time as might be necessary to rebuild our forces. If it were up to me, I would delay at least until the rivers freeze and then some.”

“November, then?” Zhanna pressed, turning to Kolchak.

“Well, I wouldn’t rule it out,” the Admiral replied without looking her in the eye. “But for the moment, let us be content with what we’ve achieved. Such good fortune cannot last indefinitely. Now may be the right time to consolidate our gains before our luck turns.”

“Luck, you say?” Zhanna burst out. “Having given our all, with God at our side, do you call that luck? And how in Heaven’s name can you speak of laying down our arms for even a moment while the Bolsheviks occupy the heart of Mother Russia? God would never want us to take our hands off the plow while the field lies unsown!”

Clearly taken aback by the Maid’s fiery response, Kolchak turned away from her and appealed with his eyes for Guins to take up the argument.

“It seems to me that you cite the name of God too casually sometimes, Zhanna,” Guins cautioned her. “When you first arrived in Omsk, you came clothed in humility. But now I sense that pride has crept in. And doesn’t the Bible say that pride goeth before a…”

“Pride has nothing to do with it,” Zhanna snapped. “My Voices tell me…”

“Your Voices, always your Voices!” the Admiral interrupted. “Tell me, Zhanna Stepanovna, why don’t your Voices ever come to me, or to Dieterichs or Guins?”

“They do, but you don’t attend to them,” the Maid replied with a plaintive look. “You haven’t sat quietly in the early morning or late evening and shut out all the other noises. Ask Madame Timiryova; she’s heard them. So has General Dieterichs, I suspect, though he may not readily admit it. But why wait for Voices to tell you what any peasant knows: that one must strike while the iron is hot! I tell you, we must march north to Kazan as soon as the sun rises tomorrow, and liberate it, just as we’ve liberated Uralsk, Orenburg, Saratov, and now Samara! Then it’s on to Nizhni Novgorod, after which the road to Moscow will lay wide open to us. And when Moscow falls, Bolshevism will be finished at last!”

Tolstov suppressed a chuckle, for Zhanna’s words might as well have been his own.

“I believe the Maid has summed it up,” the Cossack declared. “Would you not agree, Mikhail Konstantinovich?”

But to Tolstov’s evident surprise, Dieterichs’ expression took on an even darker cast.

“Audacity in war is a faithful servant but a dangerous master,” he warned in a menacing voice. “One needs to know when to stop advancing and when to watch for the counterattack.”

“One must also recognize when one has achieved a victory, and know how to exploit it,” Zhanna replied through gritted teeth. “Lebedev would have remained stalled at Uralsk had I not compelled our forces to attack there. He would have stalled again at Buzuluk and at Yershov, and yet again along the Volga. Some battles are more perilous than others, to be sure, but the key to victory is to grab the enemy by the throat and not let go until he yields!”

Dieterichs listened quietly with his lips pressed into a fine line. But despite his fondness for the girl, he was disinclined to let her get the better of him.

“Perhaps you find us weak-willed for not agreeing to move at once on Moscow,” the Chief of Staff continued in a stern voice. “Think what you like, but I would prefer to call it prudence. With God’s help, we managed to survive one headlong plunge toward Moscow this spring. I, for one, do not care to try another.”

The general’s expression softened as he rested his scarred hands upon his knees and gazed upon the Maid like a well-meaning uncle. Zhanna seemed to recognize the change, for she remained silent and let him go on.

“Now, Zhanna, I don’t begrudge you the victories you have won through daring and tenacity. Nor do I doubt that you are God’s favorite, for I remember how the wind shifted in Uralsk and how your raid on Buzuluk saved us at Ufa. But, as a lifelong soldier, I must tell you that God is no one’s cavalry horse. He has seen us through some tight spots, to be sure, but I fear that if we take His help for granted much longer, we shall deserve to fail.”

“But, general!” Zhanna interrupted, suddenly aroused.

“Wait, I’m not done yet,” Dieterichs shot back. But this time he addressed Kolchak rather than Zhanna. “Let the public praise the Maid and her miracles, but I have a pretty good idea of how much God has helped us through the Maid, and how much he left to good generalship. And I am concerned that our stock of miracles may be running low. As I see it, Your Excellency, final victory will likely come to the side more skilled in the science of war. Having learned many a hard lesson fighting the Germans, I can generally calculate in advance how many lives any move of mine may cost, and whether it is worth the price. But the Maid’s method is to push ever forward, confident that God is in her pocket. Up to now, she has enjoyed certain fleeting tactical advantages in each of her battles. But to attack one large city after another in the heart of Sovdepia will be quite different. I fear we can no longer afford to take the sort of chances that have paid off so handsomely until how.”

Dieterichs paused as if waiting for the Admiral’s response. Kolchak stole a glance at Zhanna, and then at Tolstov, before speaking. When he did, his voice and demeanor seemed guarded, even deferential, as if he were bowing to the weight of authority rather than advancing his own conviction.

“On balance, I must concede that our Chief of Staff has the better argument,” the regent declared without looking Zhanna in the eye. “This is indeed a time for prudence and planning, and for close collaboration with our allies. Resources are limited, yet time is of the essence. In short, we must watch our step.”

“But what about Kazan?” Zhanna demanded. “My men are waiting for the command to move. And Baron Wrangel must know at once, if we are to have him with us.”

“Stand down, Zhanna!” Kolchak replied, now speaking with the crisp voice of a seasoned naval officer. “Tell everyone that you are awaiting further orders from me before making any move. Now that is all!”

“Yes, Your Excellency,” the Maid replied in a quiet voice, bowing her head and turning away from Kolchak, perhaps the better to hide the tears filling her eyes. Tolstov rose and stood before her, his face a study in disappointment and his eyes inviting her to leave with him. For this was not the time to object, and both he and Zhanna knew it.

* * *

The next morning, Ned woke up with a queasy feeling that lingered for hours, wondering what course the war would take, now that the drive on Moscow had been delayed. For while the decision to resupply the Siberian Army and await fresh reserves was prudent by accepted military standards, neither Lenin not Trotsky were party to it.

By midday, Ned’s appetite returned and he ordered lunch in a downtown café near his office that, before the Revolution, had served rich meat dishes to prosperous bankers and grain traders. After a few months of Bolshevik rule, it had closed its doors. Reopened now, it offered a limited menu of traditional Russian soups and stews made from pork, river fish, cabbage, potatoes, onions, garlic, and an optional dollop of sour cream.

Ned took his usual place at a communal table in the corner and had nearly finished his bowl of fish stew with rye bread when a tall, broad-shouldered Russian in his thirties took a place opposite him and set down his bowl of fish broth and dumplings. The man wore the uniform of a river steamer crewman, complete with sailor’s cap, and his dark, deep-set eyes gave him a menacing expression. In an instant, Ned recognized him as Father Timofey Ryumin.

Timofey gave Ned a barely perceptible nod before picking up his spoon to eat. A few minutes later, the only other diner at the communal table rose to leave.

“I need to speak to you,” Timofey said in muted tones, without raising his eyes.

Ned put down his spoon and looked to either side before speaking.

“The usual place?” he asked.

“No,” Timofey answered. “When you finish here, go to the riverfront and stroll along the bank until you are certain of not being followed. Then go to 117 Central Street, at the corner of School Street, second floor. The room is 208. Knock four times and wait.”

Ned did as he was told and, half an hour later, found himself in a working class neighborhood in which all the row houses were in a dreadful state of disrepair. He entered number 117, where the stairway reeked of cat urine and pickled cabbage. But to Ned’s relief, no doorkeeper came out to challenge him as he mounted the stairs. Upon reaching the second floor, he waited several moments before knocking at number 208. Timofey opened the door onto a darkened room without saying a word.

“Are you certain no one followed you?” the Russian asked in a near whisper once he was inside.

“I wouldn’t have come otherwise,” Ned answered.

“Good, then. The man who occupies this flat is a friend and I wouldn’t want to put him in danger,” the Russian explained, his voice now free of tension.

“It’s always a pleasure to see you, Timofey,” Ned greeted him. “How can I be of help?”

“I have important news,” the former cleric said, inviting Ned into the kitchen and offering him a seat at the kitchen table. “Are you aware of the secret talks going on between Kolchak’s men, the French, and the Socialist Revolutionaries?”

“Not at all,” Ned answered. “Talks about what?”

“About S-R-led uprisings along the Upper Volga in return for the party’s participation in the new White Government at Samara.”

“Go on,” Ned told him.

“When the White Armies came north after taking Tsaritsyn, the sole aim of our local S-R cells was to help Baron Wrangel and Zhanna throw off the Bolshevik yoke,” Timofey said. “We gave little thought to what form a White government might take. But it seems that certain exiled S-R leaders have given much more thought to the matter than we. What’s more, now they’ve taken the liberty of negotiating on our behalf.”

“Which exiled leaders? Negotiating with whom?” Ned asked, unsure where Timofey was leading.

“Savinkov and his partner, Zhelezin,” Timofey answered, spitting out the second name as if it were a curse. “It seems that Savinkov met Admiral Kolchak on a visit to Omsk last October and pledged his support for the Admiral’s coup even before it took place. It was on this basis that Kolchak appointed Savinkov as his representative in Paris.”


“When Savinkov and Zhelezin visited Novo-Rossiysk a few weeks ago, they arrived with a plan in mind. First, they brought with them large sums of money collected from Russian exiles in Europe, and passed it out liberally to S-R cells along the Volga. In this way, they seduced some of our local leaders into letting Savinkov represent them in talks with Denikin and Kolchak.”

“You make it sound as if Savinkov has betrayed you. Is that what you believe?” Ned pressed.

“At first, we had no reason to suppose he did,” Timofey answered with a shrug. “Those of us working inside Sovdepia were prepared to help Baron Wrangel and the Maid in any way we could, through information-gathering, agitation, sabotage, assassinations—even armed uprisings. All we sought in return was funding and weaponry and an end to the Admiral’s persecution of S-Rs so that our members could serve openly in the Siberian Army and administration.”

“And did Savinkov make good on his promises?”

“We received the money and arms, and both Denikin and Kolchak promised to rehabilitate S-R members who pledged allegiance to the White cause,” Timofey said. “Kolchak even apologized for the December massacre of S-Rs at Omsk, something I never expected from him.”

“Then what seems to be the problem?”

“I have reason to believe that Savi

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nkov’s ambitions extend far beyond supporting the White Armies’ campaign on the Volga,” Timofey declared, his eyes flashing. “I believe his further goal is to gain control over the national assembly, where he and Zhelezin are assembling a sizeable bloc of delegates through bribery and threats. Their ultimate aim, I believe now, is to seize power for themselves. Remember, the S-R party won more seats than any other party in the 1917 national elections. Their bloc might gain a majority again.”

“But how could they use that to seize power?” Ned scoffed. “They don’t command an army like Denikin or Kolchak. And Savinkov is hardly the sort of leader capable of arousing the masses. He may be a conspirator par excellence, but he is a thoroughly uninspiring politician.”

“But so are Denikin and Kolchak. The only White leader with genuine charisma is the Maid,” Timofey asserted. “That is why I think Savinkov and Zhelezin intend to ingratiate themselves with Zhanna, hitch themselves to her star, and then usurp her position at a critical moment to gain control of the Siberian army.”

Ned rose to pace back and forth across the cramped room.

“I just don’t buy it,” he told the former priest, stopping suddenly to look him in the eye. “First, Kolchak and Denikin are not so easily brushed aside. And even if they were, Zhanna is a good judge of character and nobody’s fool. She would never let Savinkov manipulate her.”

“Yet she has already taken the first step by accepting Savinkov’s offer of armored cars and artillery purchased from the French,” Timofey noted. “She has also agreed to cooperate with S-R partisan cells as her forces advance up the Volga. And she has done both over the objections of Baron Wrangel, and despite her own suspicions of Zhelezin.”

“What sort of suspicions?” Ned probed.

“I was present at Zhanna’s first meeting with Savinkov and Zhelezin. Savinkov made quite a positive impression,” Timofey explained. “When he spoke about what it felt like to be in exile, and why he had returned to Russia, he completely won our hearts. ‘Exile means banishment, emptiness,’ he said with those soulful eyes of his. ‘It is to have your heart dug out with its long roots…’ But Zhelezin—how very different…”

“How so?” Ned interrupted.

“At one point, someone asked about the vast sums that would be needed to rebuild Russia after the war. Without blinking an eye, Zhelezin proposed to sell off what he described as ‘surplus’ art treasures locked away in Russian museums and former palaces. He assured us that their loss would hardly be noticed by anyone, and went on to name certain categories of art popular in the West that would command the highest prices. The man is either completely and utterly immoral or else he is quite insane.”

“What did Zhanna say to that?” Ned inquired.

“Nothing at all,” Timofey replied. “But I couldn’t remain silent. I asked Zhelezin what else he intended to sell off that did not belong to him. Would he sell the gold reserves to foreign bankers? Or peddle off Primorsky Province to the Japanese? Or make trade concessions that would impoverish ordinary Russians?”

“His response?”

“What he said chilled me to the bone,” Timofey answered, bending forward with his elbows on his thighs. “With a pitiless look, he told me: ‘As a counter-revolutionary, you will never succeed if you observe the rules of morality or are influenced by high-sounding principles. I do what is necessary to win. Only losing is immoral.’ Captain, that is why I worry so deeply about Zhanna’s cooperation with Savinkov. For all her insight and vision, the girl fails to recognize that the Bolsheviks are not the only source of treachery we face.”

“I see your point,” Ned answered. “Do you know of any further meetings scheduled with Savinkov or Zhelezin?”

“In a few days, Kolchak will dispatch George Guins as confidential envoy to reach terms with the S-R Party over its future role in government. I plan to attend those talks.”

“Where will they be?” Ned asked.

“I expect to know tomorrow,” Timofey replied. “But as I can’t see you then, I suggest you speak with Staff Captain Ivashov.”

“But Ivashov is in Omsk. How would he know of the meeting?” Ned demanded.

“No longer,” Timofey replied. “For the past week he has been encamped on the Volga with the Maid. I’m told that Ivashov has been acting as Dieterichs’ go-between with the French, who back the S-Rs. Tell me, did you know that at one time Ivashov was also an S-R?”

“He told me he fought with the People’s Army,” Ned answered. “He said nothing about being an S-R." But nor had Ivashov disclosed, until Yershov, that he had once marched with Chapayev’s Twenty-Fifth Rifles. Ned stroked his chin. “Are you certain of that?” he asked.

“Definitely,” the former priest affirmed. “In fact, I was astounded when I first heard he was working for Kolchak’s Stavka, given how the Admiral and his crew set about purging the Siberian Army of S-Rs and others on the left. Having fought for the People’s Army, Ivashov couldn’t possibly have escaped notice.”

“Maybe he renounced his S-R connection,” Ned suggested, for lack of a better idea.

“Then why would Dieterichs have put Ivashov into liaison with the S-Rs?” Timofey replied with narrowed eyes. “He must have believed Ivashov to remain in good standing with the party or he wouldn’t have sent him here.”

“So what is your purpose in telling me all this? Do you suspect Ivashov of some double game?”

“I have known Igor Ivanovich since we were boys and suspect him of nothing. But he has always been a very private sort of fellow. All I can say is that Guins and Ivashov hold the key to any deal that might be made with the S-Rs.”

While Ned very much wanted to believe that Ivashov could be trusted, the problem was that the staff captain continued to hold back information about his left-wing ties. Even more troubling, Ivashov was in close contact with Zhanna at a time when Ned was not.

* * *

Over the next two days, Ned set out to learn as much as he could about S-R activities along the Volga, the party’s leaders, French aid to the S-Rs, and any recent proposals for a ceasefire with the Bolsheviks. He spoke to the American consul at Samara, to the British, to Mark McCloud, to his Russian informants, and tasked the wireless team for any intercepted communications on these topics. Once he had collected all the information he could, he set out on horseback to Zhanna’s field headquarters, not far from Samara.

When he arrived at the encampment, he found Ivashov busy reviewing maps spread across a table in the Maid’s command tent.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” Ivashov asked with a wary smile after exchanging greetings.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were here?” Ned replied, taking a seat next to Ivashov without being asked.

“If you must know, my superiors ordered me to stay away from both the British and the Americans.”

“But not the French?”

“If you know so much, why do you bother to ask?” Ivashov answered with narrowed eyes.

“Because we are friends, Igor Ivanovich. Friends help each other.”

Ivashov gave Ned a probing look and then turned his head toward the tent opening as if to make sure no one were lurking outside.

“Let us take a walk where we will not be overheard,” the Russian answered.

They emerged from the tent into the heat of the midday sun and made a beeline toward the shade of a willow tree that grew along a stream feeding into the Volga.

“Tell me about your connections with the S-R Party,” Ned began.

“Who told you I was connected with them?” Ivashov asked with an icy expression.

“It doesn’t matter what other people say about you, Igor Ivanovich, only what you tell me yourself,” Ned said.

“Before the revolution, I was a Constitutional Democrat,” Ivashov answered. “But I voted for the S-Rs in the 1917 election and attended party meetings. Most of the men in my People’s Army regiment were also S-Rs. They were honorable men, though perhaps naïve…”

“But, Igor Ivanovich, how did you manage to land a job in the Stavka with a background like yours, when S-Rs were being drummed out of office all across Siberia?” Ned questioned. “And now, why would Dieterichs appoint you as liaison to the S-Rs unless he had reason to believe they would welcome you?”

“You’re right that joining the Stavka was difficult,” Ivashov answered without hesitation. “Lebedev disliked me, and the men closest to him never trusted me because most came from rear units in Siberia, while I had joined the People’s Army. But I was born in Irkutsk and had a good war record against Germany. I think they needed experienced officers and assigned me to liaison work as a test.”

“Very well, I can accept that,” Ned told him. “But you ought not conceal things from me if we are to help each other. Is Zhanna here? Can we go to her now?”

“I’m sorry, but Zhanna is away for the day,” Ivashov replied, stiffening almost imperceptibly.

“That’s unfortunate,” Ned said, moving his dry tongue across his lips. “I also wanted to ask her about her own relations with the S-R’s. But perhaps you can tell me something about that.”

“Which S-Rs do you have in mind?” Ivashov asked, the trace of a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. “The local fighting cells, or the party’s exile leaders who arrived lately from Paris?”

“Both, if you will.”

“Very well, then,” Ivashov answered, lowering his voice. “S-R fighters inside Sovdepia seek only to help the White Armies throw off the Bolshevik yoke,” Ivashov began. “They ask for arms and ammunition, but would fight on even without them. The ones who come from Paris promise the partisans money and arms in return for representing them inside the White government. In such a way, without facing bombs or bullets, Savinkov and Zhelezin aim to exploit the partisans’ sacrifices to advance their naked political ambitions.”

Ned acknowledged the answer with a curt nod.

“Tell me, have you heard anything about a ceasefire proposal being cooked up between the S-Rs and the French?” he continued.

Ivashov closed his eyes and made a grimace before sucking air noisily through his teeth.

“So that is what Guins has been up to,” he muttered. “The private meetings with Regnault and Janin. I should have known…”

“Does Zhanna know?”

“I think not,” Ivashov replied, looking away.

“Then listen to me, Igor Ivanovich. When Zhanna returns, I want you to give her all you have about any ceasefire talks, but tell no one else,” Ned insisted. “Can you do that?”

“I will, because you ask it,” Ivashov agreed, though not happily. “But you know Zhanna will take the matter straight to Kolchak…”

“All the more reason to tell her the moment she returns,” Ned told him. “It appears the Bolsheviks are eager to slow her advance and have settled on a plan. Their chosen instrument is the French government. Being jealous of British influence with the Admiral, the French would deal with the devil himself to gain an advantage over their British rivals.”

“Even if it drives a wedge between allies?”

“It would not surprise me a bit,” Ned went on. “Clemenceau has not forgotten how disappointed Wilson and Lloyd George were at the Bullitt Plan’s collapse. With Lenin’s backing, he intends to dangle before them something similar to Bullitt’s old two-Russia solution, with an immediate ceasefire, boundaries frozen in place, the blockade lifted, and Allied troops withdrawn. But—and here’s the added bait—a guarantee by both Reds and Whites to pay off Russia’s debts to the Allies, no matter who wins the war.”

“That’s preposterous!” Ivashov snorted. “Kolchak and Denikin would never agree to it.”

“But Savinkov would,” Ned suggested. “And even a temporary ceasefire would buy time for the S-Rs to gain strength while the Allies push Kolchak to negotiate.”

“A ceasefire is nothing more than a period of cheating between battles while both sides rearm,” Ivashov scoffed, rising from his seat. “I am appalled that Guins would stoop to even discuss such a plan.”

“Sadly, I fear that our friend Guins may have yielded to temptation,” Ned said with a scowl. “My government has information that large sums may have been deposited to a Paris bank account in his name. Whether the money comes from Savinkov or the Quai d’Orsay is irrelevant. We can expect Guins to do everything in his power to promote the French plan.”

Ivashov grunted in disgust.

“And you think America and Britain would agree to such a scheme, though it already failed once in Bullitt’s hands?”

“This time they might,” Ned proposed. “Our bankers and industrialists will likely support any deal that guarantees Russian debts and reopens trade. And Wilson and Lloyd George might view a cease-fire deal as offering welcome relief to voters grown tired of foreign wars. They could cast it as a humanitarian measure: why not get the starving Russians to stop fighting long enough to gather in the harvest? And there’s another factor. The Bullitt Plan failed in large part because the British agent Sidney Reilly leaked it to the London newspapers. This time, Reilly is fully on board with it.”

“How do you know that?” Ivashov snapped. “And who is this Reilly, and why should his opinion count for anything here in Russia?”

“You know Reilly under the name of Zhelezin,” Ned revealed.

Ivashov’s eyes opened wide and for several moments he said nothing. Then he threw his hands in the air.

“But Savinkov and Zhelezin hate the Bolsheviks as much as we do! They would never accept an agreement that would leave a Bolshevik regime entrenched in Moscow!” Yet now that the seeds of doubt had been planted, Ivashov bared his teeth as those seeds took root in his mind.

“Tell me, Igor Ivanovich, how well do you know Savinkov and Zhelezin?” Ned pressed. “Do you trust them?”

Ivashov’s eyes took on a distant look.

“Savinkov is an incurable gambler and opium addict who discarded all scruples long ago,” the Russian answered in a muted voice, looking at the ground. “He has a certain charm, but, by any standard, the man is absolutely unreliable. As for Zhelezin, I have no doubt that he is up to no good, given his corrupt methods. From what I have seen, the man’s heart serves solely as a pump and has no other function.”

At this, Ned grasped Ivashov’s arm and held it tight.

“Then you must understand the danger that Savinkov and Zhelezin pose to Zhanna and to Russia,” he told the staff captain. “The S-R partisans behind Red lines know the true nature of Bolshevik tyranny and have paid dearly to oppose it. Exiles like Savinkov and Zhelezin have paid no such price and place no value on the freedom of others. Having captured the S-R party leadership, what they seek is to replace Kolchak, and then Lenin, with a new tyranny of their own. We cannot allow them to use Zhanna to do it.”

“I agree, but how can we stop them?” Ivashov replied, his face drained of color.

“Let’s wait for Zhanna’s return. We’ll tell her what we know, and see what she proposes. Perhaps her Voices will suggest a way.”

* * *

Three days later, Ivashov attended a meeting at the French consulate in Samara with Guins, Dieterichs, and French General Maurice Janin, Chief of France’s Military Mission to Russia. The meeting’s purpose was to discuss French military aid to the White Armies and to the S-R partisans operating behind Red Army lines. So far during the session, neither side had even mentioned a possible ceasefire.

The men had just gone back to work after a tea break when the door opened without warning and Zhanna marched in with General Tolstov at her side. Having recovered from her earlier exertions in the field, she looked strong and well rested, and cut a trim figure in her tailored British uniform with green-and-white epaulets. Tolstov looked imposing in his traditional Cossack uniform, peaked cap, and Sam Browne belt.

General Janin, a short, stout man easily recognizable by his thick black mustache, tousled crop of graying hair, and the Croix de Guerre hanging around his neck, was first to rise. Showing no sign of irritation at the intrusion, he stepped away from the table to greet the two visitors and, contrary to French or Russian custom, offered each a handshake rather than a kiss on each cheek, perhaps having been told of the Maid’s objection to the latter.

“What an unexpected pleasure to have you join us,” Janin began, showing a degree of Gallic charm well beyond that which Ivashov had seen him display before. “Had I known you were in the city, I would have sent you a carriage.”

“Had you known I was in the city, you would have moved the meeting,” Zhanna replied without smiling. Despite Janin’s gesture for her to be seated, she stood her ground. “To be frank, I have come to ask about a distasteful rumor that has reached me,” she went on.

“I will assist as best I can,” the general replied with a fleeting glance toward Dieterichs and Guins.

“I have learned that the French government has opened peace talks with the Bolsheviks and has presented a set of proposals to Admiral Kolchak that includes an immediate ceasefire. Am I correct in this?” the Maid challenged.

“As to the first point, the French government maintains unofficial contacts with the Soviet regime on several matters of mutual interest,” Janin replied in a monotone. “As to how that may affect the Siberian government, I must defer to Minister Guins.”

“Mr. Minister?” Zhanna inquired, folding her slender arms across her chest.

Guins turned to Dieterichs, who nodded his assent for the younger man to speak.

“Yes, there has been some talk of a ceasefire,” Guins replied with the inscrutable expression of an accomplished liar.

“And is that why our Volga offensive suffers delay after delay?” the Maid demanded, her voice rising.

“It may have entered into consideration,” Guins conceded.

“If it entered your minds to halt our advance for the sake of some misbegotten ceasefire proposal, I must warn you,” the Maid declared. “Unless the White forces promptly defeat the Red Army all along the Volga and move on to take Moscow, this civil war will drag on for years to come. Millions of Russians, Red and White alike, will die by violence, disease and starvation. And if the Bolsheviks prevail, as they likely will if we offer the relief they seek, tens of millions more will die in other wars that will persist for nigh a century.”

Guins turned pale but did his best not to look cowed, despite having been caught red-handed in his plotting. Unable to refute her allegations, he sought instead to undermine her credibility.

“Would that be your Voices speaking, Zhanna Stepanovna?” the minister asked with a condescending tilt of the head. “You know we cannot make decisions based on idle ravings.”

“Ravings, you say?” Zhanna replied with an icy stare. “Your Excellency, this much is fact: for weeks Baron Wrangel and I have awaited the order to move against Kazan. We should have struck hard after our victory at Samara. But it’s still not too late for Admiral Kolchak to show his resolve. Give us the order and Kazan will be ours! From there, we will take Nizhni Novgorod and advance on Moscow before the year is out!”

Again, Guins looked to General Dieterichs for guidance; this time he looked in vain.

“Blast it all, Guins!” the general rebuked his younger colleague. “This is exactly the situation I sought to avoid.”

Turning to the Maid, Dieterichs assumed a more conciliatory expression. As usual, he exuded authority.

“Now there, Zhanna,” he began. “As much as I hate to disappoint you, there will be no order to take Kazan. You shall have to cancel your plans and tell Baron Wrangel this: that the Siberian Army has agreed to a ceasefire of one month with Lenin and Trotsky, and the Allies have not objected. Wrangel and Denikin will be notified in due course, though the AFSR is not bound by the ceasefire.”

“But a ceasefire is madness!” Zhanna cried out.

“No, it’s necessary,” Dieterichs answered in a firm voice. “This war consumes men and supplies faster than we can replace them. Despite accelerated deliveries from the Allies, we still have barely enough to hold our place and rebuild. At this time, the continued existence of the White movement depends not on how much territory we gain by summer’s end, but rather on building an army capable of sustained operations. Further advances require fresh divisions.”

“And those divisions are not yet fully trained, Mademoiselle Zhanna,” General Janin pointed out with a cold smile. “To send them against the enemy would be equivalent to delivering their weapons directly into enemy hands.”

“You think only of your own men, who would gladly follow you through the gates of hell,” Dieterichs told the Maid, a note of exasperation entering his voice. “But your men are not the whole Siberian Army. Everywhere else, our officers and troops are exhausted. They can last but one fighting season and no more. We must do our best to insure that their remaining strength will be enough to outlast the enemy.”

“I agree,” Guins joined in eagerly. “What’s more, the country is terribly torn. Our people need a respite from war.”

But Zhanna wagged her bobbed head furiously and stamped her tiny foot on the polished marble floor.

“No, it is the Red Army that needs a respite, not we!” she protested. “Further delay merely gives the enemy time to rearm and call up more men. Let them put down their weapons and send Lenin’s brood back into German exile. Only then will we have a just and lasting peace! We have only to march forward and their last great strongholds will fall before us. I have God’s word on it!”

Dieterichs listened out of courtesy, but at last he shook his head and looked down at his powerful creased hands.

“The decision is made. We shall have a ceasefire,” he affirmed. “Peace from the Volga to the Urals, if we can keep it.”

All remained silent until Zhanna spoke again.

“Peace does not come from ceasefires,” she answered, her violet eyes burning with an unearthly fire. “It comes only when one side defeats the other. You know as well as I do that Lenin does not seek peace. He will haggle, protest, cajole, and deceive as long as he must to prolong the truce and buy time for the defense of Moscow.”

“Never mind that,” Guins interrupted, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. “Admiral Kolchak has signed the paper.”

“Indeed he has!” Janin affirmed with a self-satisfied smile.

“And he never goes back on his word,” Guins intoned with a solemn air.

The Maid pressed her hands to her temples, as if it pained her to hear it, before turning to Dieterichs for a final appeal.

“But you cannot do this, general!” she implored. “It means throwing away all the advantages we have fought so hard and spilled so much blood to win!”

Here Dieterichs looked down again but said nothing in reply.

Suddenly, unable to contain himself any longer, Tolstov addressed the Chief of Staff.

“General, can you appreciate how this will look to our men at the front? Betrayal, stupidity, or both!”

“General, mind your tongue!” Guins shot back.

“No, no, let the general speak,” Dieterichs replied, waving Guins off. “No one ever said that Admiral Kolchak is infallible. He is neither a natural politician nor a gifted statesman. But he is our regent and commander and we must abide by his decisions. What do you and I know of statecraft and the expedients to which heads of state must resort? A leader must bargain and compromise with the lowest sorts of people at times—even the enemy!”

“But that is corruption and God hates such a thing!” the Maid objected loudly.

“I don’t know about God, but the sons of men take to it quite naturally,” Dieterichs replied with a shrug as he picked up the papers before him and slipped them into his portfolio.

Seeing the Chief of Staff prepare to leave, Guins and Ivashov followed suit while Janin set off for the door. Zhanna and Tolstov were left alone in the middle of the room.

“What does this mean?” the Maid asked Tolstov, as if unable to fathom what she had heard.

“They have betrayed us,” Tolstov whispered in her ear.

Then, seeing Dieterichs about to step out the door, Tolstov called to him.

“Make any ceasefire you like, general,” he warned in a voice seething with anger. “But Denikin and Wrangel will not respect it. Be assured, they will march on Moscow with or without you. And my men will march with them, if it comes to that.”

Hearing this, the Chief of Staff halted in his tracks, causing Guins and Ivashov to nearly collide with him.

“Oh, no, my dear general, they will not,” Dieterichs answered in a firm voice. “I have confined the Siberian Army to its bases and I am ordering you to your quarters. From now on, all commands come from me.”

“Do what you wish,” Tolstov replied. “If my officers cross the Volga to join Wrangel, I shall cross with them.”

“They are not your  officers. They are mine ! And you will do as you are told or face the consequences!”

Dieterichs leveled a baleful gaze at Tolstov for what seemed like minutes before turning on his heel and walking out the door.

Chapter 19: Kolchak’s Dream

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“That which is escaped now, is but pain yet to come.”

—Chinese sage Tso-Lin

Musical Theme: The Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance , by Igor Stravinsky


Once the ceasefire went into effect, Zhanna’s forces were confined to the vicinity of their encampment outside Samara. During this interval, the Chief of Staff took advantage of the army’s inactivity to send the Maid on a recruiting drive while leaving General Tolstov in charge of her volunteers. The Omsk newspapers lauded the idea, claiming that, just as Siberia relied on the sun to raise its crops, the Army could rely on the Maid to raise fresh recruits. So, though she opposed the ceasefire, Zhanna accepted Dieterichs’ order and welcomed the opportunity to leave the enforced idleness of camp and occupy her time in some useful way.

More than that, she saw such recruiting missions as her special calling, for no other public figure drew such large crowds. She spoke in every city, town, and village on her route, no matter how small, often from the rear of trains in whistle-stop fashion. Wherever she visited for longer than a few hours, she would attend a religious service and speak from the church or cathedral steps, mingling among the worshippers afterward. While the crowds usually included more women, children, and elderly men than military-age males, the extended family often played an important role in her recruiting drive.

One woman brought forward her conscription-age son, who had so far evaded call-up, admonishing him before the Maid.

“Cheer up, my son, and join the troops,” the mother urged. “My soul will follow you to the battlefield and share your hardship. But I would feel even worse pain if you clung by my side at such a perilous time.”

The boy, apparently ashamed that a girl of his own age had risked life and limb while he had not, accepted the call without further argument and boarded the train.

And at another stop, a grizzled Cossack approached her with his teenage grandson in tow.

“Allow me to join your regiment,” the old warrior offered. “For my grandson’s refusal to enter the ranks means that someone else must go in his place. We Cossacks, of all people, cannot leave Russia to the Bolshevik wolves.”

But this time the Maid would accept neither the old man’s enlistment nor the boy’s.

“I will not have anyone in my regiment who does not embrace our cause with all his heart. Take your grandson back with you, uncle, and show him a grandfather’s love. I will find another more willing to fill his spot in the ranks.”

Wherever Zhanna went, she urged her listeners to support the Siberian Army, not out of hatred for the Bolsheviks, nor from party or class loyalty, nor for any consideration of personal gain or loss. Instead, she implored them to fight out of love for family and friends, for the freedom and opportunity that Siberia had always offered Russian settlers, and for their children’s future. And the crowds, once having sensed her purity of heart and single-minded purpose, responded by embracing her cause and offering whatever support was in their power to give.

Some seemed to regard her as a sort of saint or demigod, kissing her hands and the hem of her greatcoat and asking for her blessing. At a village near Saratov, a peasant woman approached her with an infant wrapped in a ragged blanket.

“Touch my child, blessed virgin, please heal her!” the woman was heard to cry.

But Zhanna raised her hands and sent the woman away.

“A mother’s touch is far better than mine,” she told the woman gently, and continued on her path.

* * *

Baron Wrangel, not bound by Kolchak’s ceasefire commitment, left Samara within a week of the Maid’s first whistle-stop tour to support General Denikin’s forces along the

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Ukrainian frontier. Fresh attacks there by Red partisans had thrown the AFSR off-balance and required Wrangel’s cavalry to chase down the partisan bands. With the Baron covering Denikin’s rear, the AFSR advanced to the outskirts of Oryol by mid-October, less than three hundred fifty versts from Moscow. But without support from Kolchak’s Siberian Army, Denikin dared not inch closer.

The Red Army used this respite to good effect, fortifying Moscow, Petrograd, and neighboring cities, though suffering badly from shortages of arms and supplies. With the Allied blockade intact, most rail lines to the south severed, and with Denikin’s AFSR holding both the Don coal mines and Baku oil wells, fuel was tightly rationed for Comrade Trotsky’s armored trains, gunboats and fighting vehicles. As for the civilian population, Petrograd was nearly without bread, and unless the Allied blockade were lifted and the White Army repulsed before the snows fell, precious little coal, oil, or wood would be on hand to warm Soviet citizens over the winter. Scattered food riots had already broken out in many northern cities, and fears of starvation, freezing and epidemics grew each day that the ceasefire dragged on.

During Zhanna’s brief stays in Samara between recruiting and visiting the troops, she spent much of her free time in obligatory meetings with foreign diplomats and the press, being trotted out to show them the progressive face of Admiral Kolchak’s new interim government. To her, anything was better than idleness. Her only regret was not being able to spend more time at camp with Tolstov and her volunteers, preparing them for the inevitable battles to come.

Sometimes Zhanna’s appearances were stage-managed by her backers in the press, including Mark McCloud, who had by now succeeded in making the Maid of Baikal a household name across America. Her simple message of patriotism, persistence, and trust in God had resonated powerfully with Americans, and slowly but surely turned public opinion against President Wilson’s hitherto stubborn refusal to recognize the White Regime. McCloud’s triumph was complete when the Secretary of State Robert Lansing finally recognized the Omsk Government as sole representative of the Russian people, as Ambassador Morris had promised. Britain, France, Italy, and Japan followed suit within the week.

Strangely enough, just as Zhanna’s star reached its zenith with the American public, Allied diplomats, and ordinary Siberians, it declined among elite circles close to Admiral Kolchak. The whisperings against her had begun soon after Kolchak’s election as regent, when the Maid’s prominent role in his inauguration overshadowed certain ambitious legislators and bureaucrats who felt they deserved more recognition. Soon after, her outspoken opposition to the French-sponsored ceasefire rankled both Guins and S-R party leaders, who denounced her as a warmonger. And the left-leaning press, aiming to undermine her influence among the troops, called her an evil sorceress who led unsuspecting workers and peasants to their doom. Even Comrade Trotsky joined in, penning an open letter to Admiral Kolchak that accused him of sanctioning ceasefire violations under the Maid’s pernicious influence.

At the same time, certain Ural Cossack officers who had remained behind at Uralsk to protect their home stanitsas , fretted that the Maid had kept General Tolstov and his Ural Cossack regiments away from home too long. In response, Zhanna penned a hasty note, in which she wrote: “I shall never abandon the Ural Cossacks as long as I live. Though the regent has made a truce with the Red Army, I do not know if I will keep it. For we cannot rest until victory is ours.”

When a leading newspaper published the note, Guins called the Maid into his office in Samara to reprimand her. From then on, it was clear to her supporters that Zhanna’s growing circle of enemies at court intended to keep her at arm’s length from Kolchak, Dieterichs, and from anyone else who might be able to protect her. Before long, rumors arose that the Maid was tired, disillusioned, slowing down, and thoroughly dissatisfied with the government and its conduct of the war.

* * *

Early one morning during the second week in October, Ned rode out with some British staff officers to Zhanna’s encampment outside Samara. A quiet and gracious autumn had settled into the forest along the Volga, with the pungent scent of rotting leaves and tree bark filling the air. To either side of the dusty track, the poplars’ yellow leaves fluttered to the ground while thorn bushes seemed wrapped in flame. Only the distant honking of geese in the azure sky and the mechanical tapping of woodpeckers rose above the sound of horses’ hooves and creaking wagon wheels.

Once inside the Maid’s encampment, Ned approached her tent with a fearful tightness gripping his chest. When he had first seen Zhanna, barely a year earlier, she had been a simple schoolgirl, headstrong but innocent of war and politics. Her father had joked about marrying her off or sending her to school in France or America. When called upon to escort her to Omsk, Ned had felt as protective of her as an older brother. But now, Zhanna was Siberia’s most successful field commander, a wildly popular public figure, and someone who did not shrink from confrontation with the leading men of the land. Sometimes Ned thought that the girl’s character combined traits that could not possibly coexist in the same person.

Yet, if it were true that the Maid’s star had begun to fall, and that she was excluded from the Admiral’s inner circle, what was to become of her? How could she possibly pursue the war without the Admiral’s support? Would she return to her father’s house at Verkhne-Udinsk, as she had told the Admiral? Or might she leave Russia, perhaps to accept McCloud’s offer of a lecture tour across America? Who, besides her Voices, would protect her from those who aimed to end her crusade?

When the orderly admitted Ned to Zhanna’s tent, she was seated on a folding camp chair opposite General Tolstov, their heads huddled together and their voices low. Tolstov was first to notice Ned. He quickly transformed the pained expression on his weather-beaten face into a friendly smile and stood to embrace his visitor. Zhanna, too, grasped Ned’s hands in greeting but her eyes met his for only an instant before turning away.

The Maid, dressed in a freshly pressed uniform, looked healthy and fit, though her hair was an inch or two longer since their last meeting, spilling over her collar, and her bangs nearly obscuring her eyes. For an instant, Ned wondered whether Zhanna was hiding something, as a man might grow a beard or mustache to conceal his feelings.

“We were just talking about the honor that Admiral Kolchak has bestowed upon Zhanna this morning,” Tolstov began, his smile failing to mask his unease. “A messenger arrived with word that the Admiral has decided to decorate Zhanna for her service and, as a token of the nation’s gratitude, has asked the legislature to exempt Verkhne-Udinsk from ten years of taxation. But the terms of the grant require Zhanna to remain at the Admiral’s disposal until she is dismissed, and not to speak out against the ceasefire.”

The Maid looked off into the distance, then suddenly rose and paced like a caged bear in the tent’s cramped space.

“As difficult as it is to remain silent, it is the idleness I cannot tolerate,” she complained. “My very nature rises up to fight the Bolsheviks. Yet now I am forbidden from doing it, and all those close to me urge restraint—even my Voices! Not so long ago, everything seemed so clear to me, yet now I am at a loss what to do. I feel abandoned.”

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” Tolstov responded. “It is not for us to question.”

“But I do question!” Zhanna protested, stomping a booted foot on the packed earth. “And while I remain loyal to the Admiral, I question him above all, because he has disappointed me so.”

“In what way?” Ned ventured with a painful frown.

“After years of defeat at the hands of the Germans, and then by the Red Army, Russia was winning at last!” she exclaimed, shaking a pale fist. “Yet now, just as victory is within our reach, we have been ordered to stand down. How could the Admiral do such a thing to us?”

“Zhanna, you’re repeating yourself,” Tolstov chided her gently. “Tell me, was it not God’s will to bring Admiral Kolchak to Samara and arrange for his election as regent?”

“I believe so,” she answered, pacing once again.

“Well, then, is the Admiral not then the leader God chose?” Tolstov demanded. “And if he is, are we not obliged to accept him? Unless, of course, you would conclude that God was wrong.”

“God cannot be wrong!” the girl objected.

“Then we must tolerate the occasional setback, Zhanna,” Tolstov replied. “After all, God must work his ways through men, and every government of men is built upon bargain and compromise.”

“It’s a far cry from the barricades at Uralsk, isn’t it?” Ned offered by way of distraction. “War seemed much simpler then.”

“Oh, dear Ned, how often I wish we were back at those barricades! How we lived, crashing through the trenches!” she said, raising her half-closed eyes to the tent’s low ceiling.

“You miss the fighting, Zhanna?” Tolstov broke in after allowing the Maid a moment of reflection. “It’s a bad habit, and one of the hardest to break, but it’s a grand one!”

“Perhaps I should slip away to Baikal,” she added with a bright look in her eye. “Nothing is happening here, and how I long to spend the days with my father and brothers and our beloved animals!”

At this, Tolstov cast weary look at Ned, as if to convey that he had heard it all before.

“I wouldn’t advise it, Zhanna,” Ned commented, taking Tolstov’s hint. “The journey east would be much more dangerous than the one we took last autumn, now that you are famous and the Bolsheviks have put a price on your head. If you were captured, it would be a disaster for the Siberian cause and worth an entire army to the Reds.”

It pained Ned to see the pout of disappointment on Zhanna’s face as his reasoning sank in. For a fleeting moment, she looked like a child denied her favorite toy.

“Of course,” she answered in a monotone. “I could never allow the Bolsheviks to mock God by exposing my frailty. If they seized me, I think I would escape, or else die trying.”

“You speak of frailty, but what I hear sounds more like pride,” Tolstov remarked, turning abruptly to face her. “Could that be the reason for your impatience? That your enforced idleness is an insult to your self-importance?”

“If God didn’t mean me to be proud, then why did he send an Archangel to me? And saints with the light of Heaven upon them! He had only to leave me back at school, and pride would never have entered my head! No!” Zhanna objected. “It is not pride or self-will that has driven me on. It is my Voices and the will of God. When the time comes for battle, they rage within me like angry spirits!”

“Then how is it that your Voices restrain you now?” Ned asked, genuinely perplexed. “A few moments ago, you said you longed to fight the Bolsheviks but the Voices held you back.”

“Nor do I understand it,” she conceded in a husky voice. “Every day I beg my saints for instructions but hear no answer. All I know is that, if no divine injunction is laid before me, then I can’t bear to stay here any longer. I must either find the enemy and fight again, or return home to a quiet life. It cannot be otherwise. I have the courage to die; but not to die in small, petty ways, devoid of meaning.”

Ned could see tears welling in Zhanna’s eyes as she finished speaking. Tolstov, by now highly attuned to the girl’s moods, tried a new approach.

“Why must you see things in black and white when other choices remain open to you?” the general demanded. “Why not be patient and spend your time at something useful, as before? It seems to me that Savinkov’s people are doing a splendid job inciting rebellion and sabotage in Kazan and Nizhni Novgorod. Why not consult with the S-Rs there to make your job easier when the time comes to attack?”

“Let Savinkov’s partisans do what they do best and let him have the credit,” Zhanna answered. “As for me, a direct strike is the only conceivable strategy for one who trusts in God. A course of stealth and surprise implies a lack of faith.”

“Ah, if only Zhanna were commander in chief, there would be no question of a ceasefire!” Tolstov mocked. “She would advance on Moscow regardless of the risk.”

“Not entirely so, for I am well aware of our weaknesses,” the Maid countered, pressing her lips together tightly. “But I am also aware of the enemy’s, and time is of the essence if we are not to lose our opening. Or our resolve.”

“Your men will never lose resolve, Zhanna, so long as you are there to lead them,” Ned broke in to comfort her, troubled as he was by her somber expression.

“And if I am not there?” she asked.

“Don’t talk nonsense, girl! Of course, you will lead us. With God on your side, what could prevent it?”

“That against which my Voices have already warned me.”

“And what could that be?” Tolstov demanded.


“Against you? Who would dare!” the general blustered.

“Some have already betrayed me,” Zhanna reflected, “and I fear worse to come. Did Guins and the Admiral not strike a treacherous bargain with Lenin to conclude a truce, and did the Allies not give it their blessing?”

“That was France’s doing, not ours, Zhanna,” Ned objected. “America had no part in it, nor did Great Britain, I assure you.”

“I cannot be betrayed by someone from whom I expect nothing. But from America and Great Britain I expected better. Your leaders raised no objection to the truce!” Zhanna fumed. “Nor did Dieterichs and Guins. It seems my enemies grow in number, while my friends wane in devotion. And my Voices warn me of further betrayals before the first snowfall. Only the two of you, and Staff Captain Ivashov, I count upon never to desert me. Indeed, the three of you are like father and brothers to me and I intend to keep you close by my side as long as we are in this fight.”

Ned winced at the reference to him as a brother. Now that Yulia had turned him away, and Zhanna had begun to consider her life after the war, he had hoped that perhaps one day he might be more.

Zhanna resumed her pacing. While her face was turned from them, Ned and Tolstov exchanged troubled looks, for Zhanna had never before expressed such doubt of her ultimate success. Tolstov, ever eager to raise Zhanna’s spirits, spoke first to reassure her.

“Never mind, Zhanna Stepanovna,” the general broke in. “A certain amount of disappointment in one’s friends is inevitable in life. This, too, shall pass.”

“I thank you both for your good counsel,” she replied with a smile that lit up her violet eyes for a fleeting moment. “Now I go to the chapel to seek the wisdom of our Lord. For whenever my soul is most troubled, his Voices have come to soothe me. And when I hear them, I receive a thrill that makes me wish I could remain in that state forever.”

Ned watched with a rising sense of anxiety as Zhanna left the tent and walked off toward the chapel. Then, all at once, he understood what had been troubling him. Not just today, but several times before, it was precisely because he had so badly desired to say certain things to Zhanna that he had been unable to say anything at all. Once the war was over, he resolved to say them.

* * *

Ned spent the rest of the day meeting with staff officers and touring the army encampment and its environs. He went to sleep early, exhausted from having spent nearly all day on his feet or in the saddle. But within an hour, he was roused from a sound sleep when Zhanna burst into his tent and demanded that he come with her.

“Madame Timiryova has sent us an urgent message,” she announced, standing over him, completely dressed. “The Admiral has a fever and is suffering from terrible visions. We must go to him at once.”

“I’ll be right there,” he responded, not yet fully awake. A moment later he stopped buttoning his tunic to ask, “But why me? Of what use can I be to the Admiral?”

“You are received daily at his office to deliver your reports. His British guards know you. They will let you in, and me with you,” Zhanna insisted. “That’s why God sent you to me today, don’t you see? Now, stop questioning, and follow!”

They set off on horseback and arrived some two hours later at the Archbishop’s residence, a fortified stone building that Admiral Kolchak had occupied since arriving in Samara. A dour British sentry inspected Ned’s pass at the gate before letting him and the maid into the courtyard, where a huddle of British guards blocked the stairs to the residence.

“Madame Timiryova summoned us,” Ned declared to the duty officer, a young captain he had met before.

“Everyone inside is asleep. Come back in the morning,” the captain replied in a bored tone. He barely glanced at Ned’s credentials before giving Zhanna the once-over, as if unable to make out in the dim light whether she were a man or a woman.

“Captain, I am Zhanna, the one they call the Maid. Madame Timiryova summoned me here on a matter of the utmost importance. Kindly take us to her or send someone to bring her here.”

“The Maid, you say?” he asked as he stepped forward for a better look.

Zhanna stood up to her full height and subjected him to a withering look that was the more unnerving for all her youth and beauty.

“Summon her,” she demanded.

“That won’t be necessary,” came a woman’s voice from the darkened stairs.

Ned followed the sound of footsteps as Madame Timiryova stepped into the courtyard wearing a long silk dressing gown that seemed to glow in the silvery moonlight.

“Is he awake?” Zhanna asked without further introduction.

“No, but his sleep is troubled, with fearsome nightmares that shake his very soul,” Kolchak’s mistress replied. “I’ve sent for a physician to administer a sleeping draught, but he hasn’t arrived.”

“Then, by your leave, I’ll sit by his side until the physician comes. Kindly take me there,” Zhanna directed. “Captain du Pont will remain outside the door to receive the physician on arrival. Anna Vasilyevna, come join me inside, or else return to your bed, as you wish.”

On seeing Madame Timiryova’s approach, the British captain waved his guards aside and made no further objection as she led Zhanna and Ned up the stairs into the residence. Once inside, they passed through a grand reception room, complete with inlaid marble floors, statuary, and ceiling murals, and up a curved stone staircase to where two more British sentries stood watch. At a word from the Admiral’s mistress, the sentries stepped aside and allowed her to escort her two visitors down an ill-lit corridor with recessed doors on each side. Madame Timiryova opened the last door on the right a few inches and peered inside.

“He’s asleep,” she noted. “You may go in. I will be in the adjoining room if you need me.”

Ned remained outside while Zhanna entered and closed the door quietly behind her. Next she approached the oversized bed, which was backed by a tall wooden headboard, with a gaslight burning to one side, and took a seat alongside to wait. After a few moments, she heard the Admiral’s muted voice.

“Am I dead? Who are you, an angel?” he asked in a faltering voice.

“A messenger from our Heavenly Father, but no angel,” Zhanna replied with a musical laugh. “You have had some dreams. Tell me…”

“Zhanna, is that you?” the Admiral replied. “How did you come so quickly? I asked for you only a short while ago.”

“My Voices told me of your distress,” she answered. “And they also revealed to me your visions.”

“Then you’ve seen it? The awful slaughter at Ufa, and the headlong retreat across Siberia?” he answered with a pitiable tremor in his voice. “Our collapse at Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg, and Omsk?”

“Yes, and your betrayal at Irkutsk.”

“You saw it, then! That French dog, Janin, delivering me and the tsar’s gold to the Socialist Revolutionaries, merely to guarantee safe passage for his precious Czech Legion!”

“Yes, and the hole in the ice,” Zhanna replied without emotion.

“But how? I was alone!” he insisted, his voice rising in near panic. “I watched, as if from above, as they shot me on the frozen river, sewed my corpse into a sack with heavy stones, and shoved it under the ice![45] I was dead, and yet I saw it all!”

“Just as I did, through God’s eyes. After all, who better than a messenger from our Heavenly Father to help you understand an unearthly vision?” the Maid replied in a gently mocking tone. “And the vision’s meaning amounts to this: everything you saw will happen one day unless you change your course. Don’t you see, Admiral? Don’t you understand that such a vision is truly a blessing in disguise?”

“You call that a blessing?” Kolchak bristled. “I call it a curse of the worst possible kind!”

“It is a blessing because you can still avoid the consequences of your wrong choices!” Zhanna insisted. “Now that you have seen them, you must choose differently!”

“And if I do, I might still save myself?” he asked with doubt in his voice and his eyes opened wide.

“Yes!” the Maid affirmed.

The Admiral didn’t speak for a long while.

“Then let God give me the strength to do it,” he answered at last with a drawn-out sigh. “And I pray, show me how!”

“Good!” she answered, her eyes alight with excitement. “The first thing one must do after making a wrong turn is return to the crossroads. Will you then renounce your regency when its term is over and lead Russia out of her age-old cycle of tyranny?”

Another moment passed before the Admiral replied.

“If I must,” he said weakly. “And if others allow it.”

“What possible power do others have to stop you if God demands it?” Zhanna scolded.

At this, Kolchak let out an unintelligible murmur, for he knew well the fury of his backers, should they feel betrayed. Zhanna knew it, too, and waited for his fear to abate before trying once more to move him to action.

“All people require freedom in order to thrive,” she told him. “Because oppression stands in the way of human thriving, tyranny is the very essence of evil, whether imposed by tsars, commissars, or dictators. Our cause will be worthy of victory only  if we renounce monarchy, empire, and the institutions of a dead past. In the same way, we must recognize the freedom of Russia’s neighbors, who have suffered long as captives of the Russian Empire. Dear Admiral, I know how painful it is for you to renounce your ‘Greater Russia, One and Indivisible,’ but it must  be done.”

Here Kolchak remained so silent that Zhanna wondered if he might have ceased breathing.

“Is that truly what God requires?” the Admiral asked at length in a small voice.


“And you believe in your Voices completely?”

“It is not a matter of belief. I accept them,” Zhanna replied flatly. “And then I take my courage in both hands and pray for the wisdom and strength to follow as best I can.”

“But if I accept, I must do so for all of Russia,” Kolchak pointed out. “The responsibility weighs me down like a millstone!”

“If it is any consolation to you, Admiral, I assure you that my mission is no less difficult than yours. For my task is to turn Russian hearts to God. Yet, to do it, I would gladly give up all that I have—even all that I am.”

* * *

Admiral Kolchak recovered from his fever the next day and secluded himself with his most intimate advisors for the rest of the week. Each day when Ned delivered his intelligence reports and wireless messages to the Admiral’s office or residence, he caught not even a glimpse of Kolchak, Guins, or Dieterichs, and he could find no one who knew the reason why. For while Zhanna had revealed to him the broad gist of her recommendations to the Admiral during her bedside visit, she had refused to reveal what the Admiral had told her in return.

When Ned asked Colonel Ward what the British might know about Kolchak’s continued seclusion, Ward answered only that the regent was preparing an important speech on the first anniversary of his rise to power, to be delivered before the national assembly. A second speech was to be given later the same day at the consecration of a new military cemetery at a nearby battlefield, where the People’s Army and Czech Legion had fought the Bolsheviks in 1918.

It so happened that Mark McCloud had secured a pair of seats in the press section for both events, and invited Ned to spend the day with him covering the speeches. Early that morning, all military units were confined to their barracks and the civilian police were put on high alert. Every available British soldier and local policeman in Samara was assigned to guard duty in the center city, around the Samara Drama Theater, where the national assembly was to gather. A few hours before the address, Ned’s wireless unit intercepted messages from certain Cossack atamans  and right-wing military leaders expressing alarm that the Admiral’s speech might veer to the left of even his most progressive pronouncements since becoming regent. The danger of a military coup by former hard-line supporters like Krasilnikov, Rozanov, and Ivanov-Rinov seemed higher than ever.

For that reason it appeared remarkable that, inside the theater, the atmosphere felt more hopeful than tense. Delegates whose demeanor was typically formal and staid now greeted each other warmly and waved gaily across the room to friends and acquaintances. And when Kolchak emerged from the wings to mount the dais, he seemed more relaxed than Ned had ever seen him, standing erect in his white naval dress uniform, a confident smile on his lips as he spread his notes on the lectern.

The assembly’s sergeant-at-arms called the room to order. From the Admiral’s very first words, there was a sense that an historic turning point was about to occur.

“We have experienced a revolution on our soil,” the regent began. “The late tsar and his family are dead. Nothing can bring the old order back to Russia now. We shall have no more tsars, not even in a ceremonial role like that of the English king. And once I fulfill my duties as regent, there shall be no more Supreme Rulers or dictators by any other name. Though some may disbelieve it, I never sought to become military dictator. Indeed, I plan to retire from political life as soon as you, our national legislature, provide for the popular election of a new leader.”

Though the speech had begun before a hushed audience, now the assembly delegates turned to one another to murmur their disbelief that Kolchak would ever keep his promise to step down voluntarily.

“The late tsar tried abdication, and it didn’t work out so well,” McCloud whispered in Ned’s ear while Kolchak was between breaths.

“So I tell you once again: the old forms of political and social life in Russia have been swept away,” Kolchak added, as if he could read the skepticism in the delegates’ faces. “To restore them is impossible. Our new national goal, as many in this chamber have demanded, will be to implement a system of representative self-government at every level, from local to national, based on universal suffrage of both men and women. And all our political parties, except for the Bolsheviks and their co-conspirators, will be allowed to participate. For Bolshevik-style rule by deceit and violence can never be tolerated in a free society. Russia has paid dearly to learn this lesson.”

A sea of bobbing heads and a buzz of approval met this last statement and the many women seated in the balconies rose to applaud. Kolchak looked up with a smile to survey the crowd before continuing.

“Now, many of you have asked me about the land question. In response, I say this: just as this government of ours will not return to monarchical rule, it will not undo the land reforms launched by the February 1917 Revolution and favored by an overwhelming majority of Russians. As soon as a reliable administrative process can be established, and not later than next year’s spring planting, land in Russia that is owned by the state or by large landlords, but is farmed by local tenants, will be transferred to those tenants, under due process of law, and with fair compensation. As for non-farm real estate, including factories, residences and businesses, these will be restored to their former owners in their present state, as-is, for better or for worse. Individual property disputes will be decided by courts of appropriate jurisdiction, impartially and under the rule of law.”

The reaction to this was divided, with some delegates cheering their approval and others sitting glumly in their seats, arms crossed and jaws clenched. But none dared raise an outcry against it. Kolchak ignored the applause and plowed forward.

“To those who accuse me of reaction for favoring the return of factories and workshops to the people who built them, I say the time has come to repair the damage from Bolshevik excesses. To those who accuse me of socialism for transferring farmland to our men who till the soil, I say that Russian peasants and workers are now even less socialistic in outloo

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k than they were under the tsar. Today they work harder than ever and demand from others no more than they have rightly earned. In the new Russia, hard work will be rewarded and its fruits protected. For one does not strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. And while Bolshevik agitators promise a workers’ paradise in the distant future, the new Russia offers honest and realistic promises that one can redeem during his own lifetime.”

“Good lad, he has them back now,” McCloud said under his breath, as if the speech were a sports contest. “Now to bring them safely home…” And he leaned forward and craned his neck, the better to see and hear.

“The good news I bring today is that, with the return of private property to private owners, Russians can reasonably expect to develop that sense of responsibility and pride which well-tended property has always engendered, ever since settled life began. For the Russian loves the soil with all his heart and soul. Our folk songs are filled with affectionate descriptions of it. Plow and harrow are more than mere wood and iron. They are living things, personal friends.”

Few listeners had ever seen Kolchak’s personal side, and they warmed to it quickly. Even Ned felt his eyes glisten with unexpected tears.

“So now, on this first, and likely last, anniversary of my entry into Russian political life, I urge you to take an active part in shaping Russia’s future. God wishes, and therefore I believe, that in this terrible civil conflict, the side most deserving of victory shall prevail. If we follow His commands, and do our duty to Him and to one another, ours will be that side, and He will lead free Russians to ultimate triumph, to a lasting peace and to a great and prosperous future. Thank you. And God save Russia.”

The uproarious applause that greeted the Admiral’s final words exceeded anything that Ned could have imagined. Mark McCloud seemed to be the only person in the packed hall who took the speech, and the riotous ovation, in stride. Indeed, he appeared to have drafted his syndicated article about the speech before even hearing it. For upon leaving the theater, he carried the dispatch straightaway to the telegraph office, having made only minor revisions to its text on the way. When Ned asked whether McCloud had seen an advance copy of the speech, he denied it at first, before conceding at last that his sources had revealed many of its key points to him the day before.

“If you liked it, wait till you hear the old man’s speech at the cemetery this afternoon. Believe me, the folks back home will go wild over it!” he boasted over lunch.

When they arrived at the burial ground late in the afternoon, Ned was impressed by the simple dignity of its design, with row upon row of whitewashed wooden crosses laid out in serried ranks on a gentle slope overlooking the Volga. But, upon taking his seat, Ned found a printed slip in the program stating that Zhanna, Maid of Baikal, would be delivering the main oration in place of Admiral Kolchak. And once again, the journalist did not appear surprised. Perhaps Ned might also have learned about the change, had he not been too busy that week to visit Zhanna again. All at once it dawned on him that McCloud’s invitation might not have been as spontaneous as he had supposed.

“You knew Zhanna would be speaking, didn’t you?” he accused the journalist.

“It’s my business to know these things, laddie,” the older man replied without raising his eyes from the program.

“And inviting me here wasn’t just your idea, was it?”

“Not exactly,” he conceded with a disingenuous smile. “Zhanna wanted to make sure you’d be here.”

The Maid’s turn to speak came late in the program, after a team of Orthodox priests performed the formal consecration of the burial site, and after a series of Russian dignitaries addressed the audience. While Ned expected a generally religious theme to the Maid’s speech, he had little idea of its specifics. As a result, the latter half of her address took him completely by surprise.

“Now let me speak to you of my beloved Russia,” she declared. “More than ever, in these times of trouble, the world needs a healthy Russia. But the Russia it needs consists not only of a land and its people but of something I call ‘Holy Russia,’ for it is this Russia that represents our spiritual wealth. Holy Russia is rooted in the faith of the Holy Orthodox Church, as practiced for nearly two thousand years. It connects us to the stream of Russian saints dating back to the ancient Christian martyrs, monastics, and hierarchs[46].”

In itself, this theme was nothing remarkable, as the audience expected Zhanna to speak of her faith. Those who were religious or who had lost loved ones in the war, listened attentively, while others let their attention drift.

“But Holy Russia is not some legal or governmental body or geographic location,” she went on. “Rather, it is the incarnation of God’s Word in the national life of Russia. To understand this wondrous idea, to live it and to love it, that is the task of every Russian. For that is where our joy resides; that is where we reconcile ourselves to our lot in life, and to our personal connection to God.”

Here McCloud jabbed Ned in the ribs with his elbow.

“Listen closely now,” he whispered, his eyes wide with anticipation. “She’s coming to the good part.”

And as if on cue, Zhanna paused to take a deep breath, smile at the audience and make a sweeping gesture with both arms that seemed to take in the entire cemetery, the rolling landscape and the river beyond.

“Now, let us rededicate ourselves to Almighty God and the Holy Spirit, as we dedicate this holy site to His Will!

“Two years ago, a miracle was recorded in the tiny country of Portugal, on the Atlantic Ocean. There, in a town called Fatima, the Holy Mother appeared to three poor shepherd children and warned them against a coming century of suffering for the world, if Russia were not consecrated to the Holy Spirit. Why the Holy Mother spoke of Russia to those children, so far away from here, we may never know. But the warning took on new meaning when the October Revolution led to our present civil war.”

Ned gave McCloud a sideways look.

“I don’t get it, what’s she talking about?” he asked.

“She’s almost there,” McCloud assured him with a pat on the knee.

Zhanna paused here to allow herself a shift in tone.

“Today I bring a message of hope,” she went on, “for by rededicating Russia to God’s Will, we have an opportunity to heed the Holy Mother’s warning and avoid a century of suffering. But it is not the Pope of Rome who can do this, nor the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch or Constantinople. No, not even we, the living Russian people, can consecrate this small burial place. That is because the brave men and women who struggled and died here for a free Russia have hallowed it far above our power to add or subtract.”

McCloud was grinning from ear to ear.

“Now do you get it? Eh? Eh?” he demanded in a stage whisper that drew irritated looks from their neighbors.

Zhanna’s voice rose for emphasis.

“The world outside Russia will little note, nor long remember, what we say here today, but it can never forget what our brave soldiers have done here. And it is for us, the living, to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly advanced, and to take increased devotion to their cause. It is for us to resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, and that a new Russia, under God, shall have a rebirth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from this land!”

Unlike the moments after Admiral Kolchak’s speech to the national assembly, no wild applause followed Zhanna’s last words. Nor were there many moist eyes at first, other than Ned’s. Instead, total silence reigned, and no one moved from his seat. It was as if the listeners were lost in thought, for this was an address unlike any they had heard before. Only upon closer examination did Ned see the tear-stained cheeks of the older men and women, and the exultant expressions on the faces of the men in uniform. But to Ned, the closing paragraphs had a very familiar ring.

“Did you hear what I heard?” Ned whispered to McCloud, scarcely believing it. “Wasn’t that the peroration of the Gettysburg Address? You didn’t happen to…?”

“Our girl needed a little help,” the journalist replied with a self-satisfied smile. “And I was happy to oblige.”

“But what will they say back home? Won’t people think she stole her speech from Lincoln?”

“They’ll never know, laddie. You and I are the only Americans here, and I won’t be reporting the speech verbatim. All is fair in war and journalism, my boy.”

* * *

McCloud’s predictions about the speeches came true, as his reports of Kolchak’s and Zhanna’s respective orations moved American public opinion even further toward the White cause. Encouraged by Kolchak’s reforms, the Maid’s popularity, and improved prospects for a White assault on Moscow, President Wilson agreed to receive White Russia’s new ambassador a few days later at the White House.

Early the following week, however, Wilson collapsed during a speaking tour in Colorado and suffered an incapacitating stroke. It so happened that McCloud’s reporting had made its mark just in time. And no less important to the cash-strapped newsman, his prospects for a lucrative speaking tour in America had never looked better. All he needed was for the Whites to wrap up the war.

Chapter 20: Capture at Kazan

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“For those who believe, no words are necessary. For those who do not, no words are sufficient.”

—Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Musical Theme: Pictures at an Exhibition, No. 8, Catacombs , by Modest Mussorgsky


During the weeks since America had opened diplomatic relations with Kolchak’s government, Ned’s wireless team had intercepted one Bolshevik communication after another showing how badly this turn of events had shaken the Red leadership. With Allied military aid arriving at an unprecedented rate via the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Black Sea, and with the Red Army driven back across the Lower Volga, Lenin’s worst fears were being realized. Unless the Red Army could somehow break through the Siberian lines between Simbirsk and Kazan, cross the Volga, drive a fresh wedge between Kolchak’s Western and Northern Armies, and take the Urals passes before the snows fell, the Bolshevik Revolution would not likely survive the winter.

To this end, under cover of the ceasefire, Trotsky had withdrawn a large number of Red Army divisions from the Southern Front against General Denikin’s AFSR and shifted the forces north and east to Nizhni Novgorod for an attempted breakout toward Ufa. According to Allied and Siberian intelligence estimates, Trotsky appeared likely to advance first on Kazan, then Yelabuga, then split into two separate columns, one approaching Ufa from Birsk in the north and the other from Bugul’ma in the south. The only question was how long Trotsky would wait before violating the ceasefire to let loose his final spasm of violence against the Siberian Army.

Anticipating a Red drive due east toward Kazan, Dieterichs put on high alert both Gaida’s Northern Army and Kappel’s Western Army, holding the Maid’s brigade in reserve. However, shortly afterward, in a move that took the Allies by surprise, Trotsky sent several divisions from Nizhni Novgorod on a route further south toward Simbirsk, in an apparent move against the Whites’ new seat of government at Samara. In so doing, the Red Army shattered the ceasefire about a hundred versts north of Simbirsk, at Batyrevo.

But while Trotsky’s threat against Samara might embarrass or even disrupt the White government, it was a risky move that would give Kolchak and Denikin license to unleash their own planned offensive. Over the two days that followed Trotsky’s ceasefire violation, Ned’s wireless staff worked around the clock exchanging messages among Admiral Kolchak’s Stavka, the AFSR, the British and American Military Missions, and AEF Intelligence in Vladivostok, in order to determine whether the move toward Simbirsk represented a major offensive or a mere feint.

On the third morning, during daily rounds between the Hotel Zhiguli and the Siberian government’s offices, Ned turned the corner and found himself face to face with Zhanna and two of her Cossack bodyguards. Ned’s own bodyguard, a gangly, taciturn Utahn who had learned to shoot in his crib and was as quick on the draw as any Western outlaw, drew his pistol before Ned could stop him. The Cossacks, unaware that the proper response was to hold their hands high, instead drew their sabers and stepped forward with naked blades. It was only by the slimmest of margins that Ned and Zhanna prevented bloodshed on Samara’s central avenue. Once the bodyguards’ weapons were lowered, Zhanna took Ned’s arm and spoke softly in his ear.

“I know you go to Dieterichs’ office most every morning. I need your help,” she said.

“Tell me what you need. I’ll do what I can,” he replied, secretly delighted that she had sought him out.

“I would like to see the Chief of Staff. Could you take me with you so that I won’t be turned away? I know that Mikhail Konstantinovich would not refuse me an audience if you insisted upon it. It seems you Americans have greater influence than ever in Samara.”

Ned felt a thrill pass through him when Zhanna touched his elbow and he inhaled her sweet breath as she drew close to him. But, at the same time, he detected a scent of perfume, which he had never known Zhanna to wear, and saw that her outfit was not the usual shapeless British uniform of coarse brown wool, but an elegantly tailored one of fine worsted, a cloth not available in Siberia at any price. More than that, her bobbed hair appeared to have been cut and coiffed by a professional.

“I find it hard to believe that General Dieterichs would ever deny you an audience, Zhanna,” Ned replied. “But I’m happy to exert my little influence on your behalf. When we reach the entrance, tell your guards to wait outside while the two of us go in alone.”

A few minutes later, they reached the shuttered three-story merchant house across from the Archbishop’s residence where Kolchak and Dieterichs worked while in Samara. A British guard examined their credentials outside the front gate before letting them through. A duty officer seated at a desk in the foyer inspected their papers even more closely before directing them to an upstairs reception room, where Ned was a familiar figure. The young duty officer gave a quick look at Zhanna before his jaw dropped in surprise.

“But, General Dorokhina,” he addressed her, “we were not expecting you. To what do we owe the honor?”

“The Maid will be attending my meeting with the Chief of Staff,” Ned declared. “We will be brief, I assure you. Unfortunately, I had no time to announce the change in plan.”

“Of course, of course,” the duty officer assured Ned in an agreeable tone, his eyes still fixed on the celebrated Maid of Baikal. “One moment, please. I will announce you.”

The officer returned two or three minutes later, his face a grim mask, as if having received a reprimand. Nonetheless, he ushered Ned and Zhanna into the Chief of Staff’s office and closed the carved wooden door behind them.

General Dieterichs rose promptly from behind his desk and greeted each of his guests with a handshake. After a minute or two of polite conversation, Ned handed over the day’s batch of intelligence reports and liaison messages, adding that the latest enemy troop movements toward Simbirsk indicated that they were likely to form part of a large-scale attack on Samara.

“It appalls me how Lenin and Trotsky could enter into a formal ceasefire agreement with such cynical calculation,” Dieterichs observed with an outrage that seemed disingenuous to Ned, since Siberian intentions as to the ceasefire differed only as to timing. “I swear, those damned Bolsheviks will pay dearly for this!”

“And so will you, if you don’t stop swearing,” Zhanna scolded, only half in jest.

“Ah, excuse me, Zhanna Stepanovna. I have been too long away from your good influence,” he answered with a tired smile. “Bad habits creep back in.”

“As for that villain Trotsky, I never expected him to keep the ceasefire for a single moment longer than it suited him,” the Maid added. “With the Bolsheviks, deceit is always the first principle. They do not apply force until fraud has failed. And now we see them move from one to the other.”

“An astute observation, Zhanna Stepanovna. You are wise beyond your years,” the Chief of Staff replied in a crude attempt at flattery as he leaned back in his leather-covered armchair. “And may I assume that you have a proposal to make about this?”

“Indeed I do,” Zhanna said, “and it regards the Red Army’s movement toward Simbirsk. I view it as nothing more than a feint, intended to draw our attention south. Trotsky’s real move will be against Kazan, and from there, a lightning strike to take Ufa and the Urals passes before winter.”

“And on what evidence do you base your conclusion? We see no activity toward Kazan, only toward Simbirsk. Is this from your Voices, Zhanna?” Dieterichs asked, his graying eyebrows raised.

“It is. They tell me that Kazan is ripe for the taking, rotted from within by S-R subversion. We need only to send a token force there and the Red garrison will desert or surrender.”

“Ripe or not, our armies are committed to other goals,” the Chief of Staff answered, folding his hands in his lap. “Gaida and Kappel are poised behind their respective defenses, ready to absorb the Red attack and deliver a powerful counterblow. Even a token force for Kazan is beyond our means at present.”

The fluency of Dieterichs’ response led Ned to suspect that he had anticipated her request.

“Every treasure has its price,” Zhanna answered with a bland smile. “Consider this: if we take Kazan now, it will place a formidable obstacle in the enemy’s path. Forcing the Red Army to lay siege there will shift the theater of battle to the enemy’s side of the Volga, check their advance, and shorten our path to Moscow when they are forced to retreat.”

“What a vivid imagination you have, Zhanna Stepanovna!” Dieterichs declared, slapping his thighs as if the idea were an amusing fantasy. “But what you say cannot be based in any sound strategy.”

“On the contrary, general,” Zhanna replied calmly, bending forward and fixing Dieterichs with an intense gaze. “It is the soundest strategy we can follow to shorten the war and save thousands of Russian lives. Let Tolstov and me take our men to Kazan at our own risk. We will travel quickly and surprise the garrison there before they can resist. My staff is already in contact with the S-R partisans at Kazan. They can mount uprisings there the moment we give the word.”

“Zhanna, Zhanna, Zhanna,” Dieterichs cajoled. “Kazan is three hundred versts away. It would take you a week to get there, and that’s without transporting the heavy weapons and supplies needed to mount a credible siege.”

“Five days, by my calculation,” the Maid shot back. “And we will not require any heavy weapons to take the city. Resistance will crumble from within the moment we attack.”

“I find that extremely difficult to credit,” the Chief of Staff responded with narrowed eyes before folding his arms across his bemedaled chest. “As you may recall, General Lebedev once made similar assertions.”

“I guarantee that the Kazan garrison will be taken completely by surprise,” Zhanna countered. “The Reds will not be aware of our approach because we will travel east of the Volga, far from their own path toward Simbirsk. If Red spies detect us, they will likely take us for advance units of Kappel’s Western Army. Remember, my men have done this before, in our raid on Buzuluk. Once Kazan has fallen, you will see how quickly Trotsky’s feint toward Simbirsk will evaporate.”

“And if your prediction is wrong?” Dieterichs challenged, lowering his gaze. “If the Bolsheviks take Simbirsk, their next target would be Samara, and your regiments would be needed back here for defense.”

“In that unlikely event, Baron Wrangel’s forces could move in from the west to defend Samara. But if we seize Kazan first, it will destroy Trotsky’s last hope of taking Ufa and force him to throw all his might into defending the Kazan-Nizhni Novgorod corridor, where Kappel’s Western Army will press him hard. Gaida will then be free to advance on Moscow from Vyatka, and Denikin from Oryol. And if Yudenich and the Finns come in from Estonia to take Petrograd, the Bolshevik seat of power will be completely engulfed.”

Hearing this, Dieterichs gave Zhanna an exasperated look and rose with difficulty from his chair.

“Zhanna Stepanovna, I have listened patiently to your suggestions, but I must ask you to leave higher strategy to your superiors. We all must obey orders at some level. Even the regent must heed the counsel of his new national assembly.”

“Admiral Kolchak has taken his counsel and I have taken mine,” the Maid answered, still unruffled. “Tell me, general, am I forbidden then to go to Kazan? If so, I intend to appeal directly to the Admiral.”

Dieterichs hesitated and Ned detected a look of caution in the man’s watchful gray eyes.

“No, you are not forbidden, but I ask you to delay for forty-eight hours before you take any action,” he replied. “I will have a decision for you by then.”

“Twenty-four hours and not a moment longer,” Zhanna shot back.

“I will do my best. But take this into account before you do anything rash: knowing your devotion to your Voices, and your resolve to fight the Bolsheviks at every turn, as well as your ability to pull victory out of thin air, I will not seek to stop you. Perhaps the Admiral will choose to take your side. But if you insist on setting your personal ambition and your angelic guides above regard for your chain of command, you will find yourself quite alone. Today, as the crowds clamor for victory over Bolshevism, the people may hail you, kiss your hands, and bring you their sick children to heal. They may turn your head with adulation of the kind that breeds pride and overreaching. But they cannot save you if you stumble. Only the army can do that.”

Ned drew a sharp breath through his teeth. As usual, Dieterichs held the high ground. Zhanna’s proposal was highly risky. Ned shifted his gaze to the girl, who left her seat and held out her hand to the Chief of Staff in parting.

“Don’t think that you can deter me with the notion that I’m alone. Because I know that God is with me, and His love and mercy will sustain me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to go out among the people, who honor and trust their Maid even if you don’t.”

Zhanna turned her back on the Chief of Staff and strode out of the office with Ned close on her heel. They were down the stairs and out the front door before she slowed her pace.

“What now?” Ned asked as he caught her arm.

“I don’t know,” she replied in a brittle voice. “I must go and pray on it.”

And without another word, she summoned her Cossack guards, who were waiting nearby.

“Wait, Zhanna,” Ned called out as she stepped away.

“Forgive me, but I can’t stay a moment longer,” she replied with a wistful look as she laid a hand on his arm.

Then, before he could speak again, she crossed the street and headed in the opposite direction from which they had come.

Ned’s Utahn emerged from the shadows of a basement entrance and fell in at his side.

“That girl is trouble,” he said, shaking his head as he watched her disappear around the corner. “Whatever you have to say to her, I suggest you say it from a distance.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing for some time,” Ned answered, drawing a deep breath. “And it doesn’t seem to be working.”

* * *

The following day, Samara’s newspapers were filled with denunciations of Bolshevik ceasefire violations and dire warnings that the war was entering its critical stage. As if to confirm this, the Ministry of Defense ordered yet another round of conscriptions and posted placards all over Samara calling for yet more volunteers. Ned noticed that one of the placards announced a rally to be held that evening on the town square, featuring the Maid of Baikal as speaker.

He arrived early to find a spot close to the podium from which to hear Zhanna’s speech. When she stepped before the cheering crowd, Ned noticed that over her brown military tunic she wore an elegant beige jacket, embroidered in shiny gold thread, and lined with dark sable-like fur, matching its fur collar and cuffs. On her head, she wore a sable ushanka . Ned thought of Zhanna’s tailored uniform, her fancy hairstyle and perfume, and now the elegant hat and jacket. These were luxuries of the highest order, yet Zhanna had no money of her own. Where had she obtained them? From her wealthy supporters? From the S-Rs? Could they be a sign of the pride that General Tolstov had warned her against?

The Maid’s oration turned out to be a predictable variant of her standard recruiting speech that she had delivered dozens of times since her arrival in Samara. The moment her speech ended, she was whisked away by a troop of well-dressed notables, leaving no opportunity for Ned to approach her. The next day, more volunteers flooded into her camp, where they were hastily sorted out and the best of them outfitted with uniforms and weapons.

Hearing that Ivashov had just returned to Zhanna’s encampment from a reconnaissance mission to Simbirsk, Ned rode out to see him that evening. After a simple dinner of bread and watery stew, the two men retired to Ivashov’s tent.

“Has Dieterichs responded yet to Zhanna’s request to move against Kazan?” Ned asked, once they had poured their tea.

“He has, but his response offered nothing definite,” Ivashov replied, holding his glass in both hands to warm them.

“Do you think he’s stalling?” Ned pressed.

“Perhaps so,” Ivashov answered. “But while he waits, Zhanna is preparing her column for a morning departure. Only a few know it yet, but we are headed to Kazan.”

Ned gave an involuntary gasp.

“This time, I swear it, she’s biting off more than she can chew,” he cautioned Ivashov, squirming uneasily in his camp chair. “To attack so large a city, so important to the enemy, so far behind enemy lines, with so few men and virtually no heavy weapons, would require no less than a miracle.”

“And never have we needed a miracle more,” Ivashov agreed with an exhausted look, setting his half-filled glass of tea on the table before him. “As weak as the Reds may be, our troops are equally exhausted. They and we are like two punch-drunk boxers, each struggling to stay on his feet until the other topples over. Still, I think Zhanna is right. What’s required now is to seize the initiative and not let up until the enemy collapses. In fact, I am prepared to stake my life on it. Even more, those of our men.”

“You are one brave fellow, Igor Ivanovich,” Ned offered with heartfelt praise, while wondering at the same time where courage ended and recklessness began.

“This has nothing to do with bravery,” Ivashov shot back. “I believe each of us has been put on the earth for a purpose. God plucked Zhanna out of Verkhne-Udinsk to save Russia in her hour of need. My purpose, I believe, is to stand by her as long as I am able.”

“I wish I could say the same for myself, Igor Ivanovich,” Ned replied uneasily, “but the U.S. government brought me here to run a wireless operation, and never has it been more badly needed than now.”

“I do hope you will think again,” Ivashov suggested, his expression showing the trace of a smile. “You see, I believe God had a reason for picking out the two of us to bring Zhanna from Irkutsk to Omsk, and then to Uralsk. Call me a madman, but I don’t believe He is done with either of us yet.”

Ned let out a nervous laugh as Ivashov’s words sank in.

“You couldn’t possibly be proposing that I desert my post, disobey my government’s prohibition against combat, and run off with you and Zhanna to fight the Red Army at Kazan, could you?”

“I am,” the staff captain replied. “Zhanna asked me to approach you because she knew how difficult it would be for you to refuse her to her face.”

Ned’s limbs went weak and he felt a chill up his spine—the opposite sensation of the adrenalin rush he felt in the heat of battle, when circumstances and training left him no choice but to fight. Now he had the reasonable option of fleeing, and hence a choice.

He drained the last of his tea and looked across the table at his Russian friend and colleague. Suddenly, all his firm convictions and ironclad reasoning seemed to desert him. And he knew that he could never forgive himself if he didn’t go.

“We have a saying in our army,” he began slowly. “It’s better to beg forgiveness than seek permission. You

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see, if we win, my people will likely forgive me. If we lose, it won’t matter much, anyway.”

“Then you’re with us?” the Russian asked, his eyes glistening as a grin spread across his face.

“Well, yes. How could I possibly refuse her?”

Without speaking, Ivashov reached into his duffel and brought out a vodka bottle. He dumped the remaining tea on the ground from both glasses and refilled them with spirit.

“To the Maid!” Ivashov proposed with glass held high. “And may she not catch us drinking!”

“And to her Voices,” Ned added. “Boy, are we going to need them!”

They raised one toast after another until the day’s tensions evaporated and their limbs were suffused with a warm alcoholic glow. After both men fell silent, Ned looked around the tent absent-mindedly, as if he had lost something.

“Where is Zhanna, by the way? Will we see her tonight?” he asked.

“She has a visitor,” Ivashov replied. “Madame Timiryova sent a friend from Omsk to call on her and deliver a gift package. I believe you know her: Yulia Yushnevskaya.”

“Yulia? Here in Samara?” Ned stammered, nearly choking on his drink.

“But why not?” Ivashov replied in surprise. “Madame Yushnevskaya owns properties in Samara and Kazan that she wishes to sell. It seems the S-Rs control these properties and refuse to either pay her or return them.”

“Yulia must be quite desperate if she’s come to see the Maid about them,” Ned commented, unable to conceal his uneasiness.

“Not necessarily,” Ivashov said, giving Ned a searching look. “I’m told she has sold her last Siberian property and is en route to the Black Sea to take ship to England. But it seems she is loath to give up her Volga properties without a final attempt to get something in return.”

“What then of Beregovoy and the wireless station? Has she sold that property, as well? Neilson has said nothing about this,” Ned noted with alarm.

“No, she’s leased it to the British for two years, so it remains in safe hands. If the White Armies win, perhaps she may return there one day, or bequeath it to her sons.”

“It’s odd,” Ned mused as Ivashov poured another vodka. “I’m rather surprised that Yulia would have any difficulty at all with the S-Rs. She once told me that she was on good terms with them. Do you know which S-R leaders she’s dealing with?”

“The only name I recognized was that of Zhelezin. I doubt she’ll get much help from that quarter,” Ivashov scoffed before downing his glass.

“Unless, of course, there’s something he wants from her,” Ned replied reflexively.

All at once, though Ned’s mind was fuzzy from drink, he sensed that Ivashov was watching him closely.

“Say, did Yulia happen to mention my name?” Ned asked, as if it were a casual afterthought.

“Not to me,” Ivashov answered, turning his face away. “But perhaps she did to Zhanna. You know how women are.”

* * *

Zhanna’s column set out the next morning with Orthodox priests and chaplains marching at the fore and chanting in low tones, “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blessed, and in our hearts take up thy rest. Come with Thy Grace to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.”

They marched no more than two hours before stopping at a quiet town where they boarded a special military train heading north, well inland from the Volga’s east bank. For four days they traveled, at first by rail and then by road, until reaching Chistopol, on the south bank of the Kama River. On the morning of the fifth day, they crossed the river and proceeded without opposition to the outskirts of Kazan, where they met with a team of S-R partisans who briefed them on conditions within the Red-held city and vowed to launch uprisings that very night.

During the ceasefire, so the S-Rs reported, the city’s defenses had been strengthened, with new fortifications raised just outside the city’s ancient gates, and barricades or trenches constructed at other vulnerable spots. In addition, Red artillery had dug in at high points overlooking the city with an ample supply of shells stockpiled nearby. But the S-Rs had assigned teams of agents to each of the gates, with instructions to open breaches wide enough to let the Siberian troops through.

As at Uralsk, Zhanna led a reconnaissance party around the city at dusk, clad in her new gold-embroidered jacket and sable cap despite their striking appearance. It occurred to Ned, as he rode with the party and watched Zhanna call out instructions for the upcoming siege, that the Maid had by now become addicted to battle and was adrift without it, as Tolstov once hinted. Now, with an army once more behind her, she was in her element and seemed fully alive again.

But the more Ned saw of Kazan that day, the more difficult he found it to imagine how Zhanna’s lightly armed regiments could possibly prevail against a much larger and better-equipped Red garrison fighting from behind fortified positions. Even when compared with Uralsk, an attack here seemed out of the question. Though prospects improved somewhat after Zhanna’s cavalry surprised the Red artillery batteries guarding the city and captured them without a fight, this would by no means be sufficient to tip the balance in her favor.

Perhaps sensing doubt or fear among her officers, Zhanna turned around in her saddle as the men surveyed the distant fortifications in the glow of the setting sun.

“Who is with me?” she called out. “Who here will help me liberate Kazan from the Bolsheviks?”

“I am with you, as always, Zhanna Stepanovna,” answered a middle-aged cavalry officer riding beside her who had served with her bravely since her arrival at Iletsk. “But this is not Uralsk, and we have no armored cars or heavy weapons to force a breakthrough.”

“If our army is smaller, our faith must be that much greater,” she answered with a firm gaze.

“As great as our faith might be, general, God has been known to favor the big battalions,” the officer replied. “Our shortcomings are not easily overcome.”

“Dear Colonel Streltsov,” Zhanna replied in a haughty tone that Ned had rarely heard from her except when she saw her plans frustrated by skeptics and unbelievers, “Have you lately grown afraid? Take heart, for I tell you that God has damned the Red garrison at Kazan and has sent us to punish them. In God’s name, we will fall upon them behind their barricades and destroy them. Even if they were hanging from the clouds, we should pull them down and slay them! Tomorrow, my Voices tell me, our army shall have its greatest victory ever! Uralsk and Yershov were as nothing compared to what He is prepared to give us now. So go bravely and fear no one. If you go forward like true men, we will have our victory yet!”

* * *

It was a triumph of leadership that the Maid was able to inspire her officers and soldiers to follow her into battle the following night. Everything rested on Zhanna’s word and that of the S-Rs. If her Voices were mistaken or the S-Rs deceitful, the assault would be mass suicide.

Accordingly, Ned was heartened to see flames and explosions rise from within the city shortly after sunset on the night of the planned attack. Watching with the staff from a shallow rise overlooking the city walls, he could see skirmishes raging in the streets between Reds and S-R partisans that were of nearly equal ferocity to the fighting expected to begin shortly outside. Only a few minutes before Zhanna gave the signal to attack, Ned saw white flags raised at several of the city’s main gates, where teams of S-Rs were clearing paths for Siberian foot soldiers and cavalry to stream into the city.

Inspired by this apparent godsend, and with renewed faith that the victory the Maid had predicted lay within reach, the Siberians fought with savage ferocity, for they knew that their choice was between glorious victory and ignominious death. Zhanna led them on horseback through the first gate to be opened, easily recognized by her long white banner, gold-trimmed jacket, and dark fur hat. The Cossack cavalry followed close behind, sending a wave of panic through the trenches. Soon the unnerved defenders fled their entrenched positions and came into the gunsights of Zhanna’s riflemen, who mowed them down in a hail of gunfire and grenades.

More Siberian infantry followed in turn to mop up remaining pockets of resistance, relying on Mills bombs, pistols, bayonets, and hand-to-hand combat to finish off the Reds. But the newest Siberian volunteers, not having absorbed the strict discipline that Zhanna had imposed at the training camp outside Uralsk, soon succumbed to a savagery that exceeded anything seen in the Maid’s previous battles. Fanaticism turned to viciousness, and war into atrocity, perhaps because bloodlust was the only sin her troops had not been consistently denied. From the moment a White victory seemed assured, the S-R partisans joined the Siberians in an orgy of revenge killings against suspected Bolsheviks and their collaborators within the city.

Around this time, Zhanna withdrew from the front lines to focus her cavalry on hunting down Red deserters. But while chasing down one such defender, a rough factory worker full of malice against a mere woman who had defeated so many brave Communists, the defender turned and leveled his Mauser pistol at her, shouting, “Take this, accursed whore!” His first bullet pierced her thigh and forced the Maid to turn aside. Ned watched with horror as she bent forward onto her horse’s neck. Moments later he rejoiced when her head popped up again. When she came nearer to him, he heard her call out in rage to the Siberians to fight on and spill more enemy blood.

Ned and a trio of Cossacks escorted Zhanna off the battlefield to a hospital tent, while the rest of her men went on clearing the city of enemy fighters. But the butchery did not cease even after the ceasefire was called. Few prisoners were taken that night, and then only at the very end, when the Siberians at last became sickened by the carnage they had wreaked. Ned learned later that the field officers who wrote the after-action report deliberately minimized the number of enemy soldiers and civilians killed, lest they be accused either of exaggeration or misconduct.

On making his way back to the field hospital, Ned found Zhanna conscious, though in a foul mood. Paladin, having supervised the surgeon’s dressing of her wound, brought the Maid some tea but left her side when he saw Ned approach.

“She is as ill-tempered as a bitch on a chain,” Paladin warned after leading Ned to a spot beyond Zhanna’s earshot.

“How bad is it?” Ned asked.

“Not serious. It was only a small-caliber pistol bullet and passed through cleanly. The doctors say her leg will heal.”

“May I speak to her?”

“I don’t see why not. Maybe it will distract her.”

Ned followed Paladin back to the Maid’s cot.

“Might we bring you some food or drink?” Ned asked her, suddenly unsure of what to say.

“Not now, thank you. It is time for my prayers,” she answered in a clipped voice.

“We’ll pray for your rapid recovery,” Ned answered, though the words came out sounding remote and stiff.

“Never mind that,” Zhanna replied with a sour look on her soot-smudged face. “It was my own stupid fault. If I had not worn my fancy gold jacket into battle like a fool, that Red soldier would never have put a bullet into me and I would not be lying here.”

“I would think it more likely he spotted your banner than your jacket,” Ned responded. “Tell me, Zhanna, why do you ride into battle with your banner always in hand but never use your weapons?”

“I carry the banner into battle because I don’t want to use my pistol or carbine to kill anyone,” she answered, staring up from her cot at the ceiling.

“But it makes you the target of every enemy soldier on the battlefield!”

“I rely on God to protect me. What’s more, drawing the enemy’s fire toward me spares my soldiers’ lives.”

“If so, why do you bother to carry a sidearm on your belt?” Ned challenged.

“I carry it only as a symbol of my authority. It is something expected from an officer of rank.”

“I give up!” Ned threw up his hands and gazed heavenward with a laugh. “It’s impossible to argue with you, Zhanna. The important thing is that you are alive and have won a victory that no one thought possible, one that may even shorten the war.”

But Zhanna would not be placated. She closed her eyes tightly and rolled her head back and forth on her pillow, writhing in a spasm of pain.

“No, I was hasty and reckless and handled things badly, allowing too many lives to be wasted,” she replied a moment later, looking away as if in shame. “And now I am being punished for it.”

“Punished? How?” Ned exclaimed.

“My Voices are gone. I don’t hear them any longer. This has never happened to me before.” Suddenly her eyes welled with tears and Ned noticed her chin tremble. “If they don’t come back to me, I am lost!”

“They will come back, Zhanna,” Ned assured her, taking her bloodied hand in his. “You just need some rest, that’s all.”

“And prayer,” she added absently. “I must pray now, more than ever before.”

At that moment, Ned had an idea. He removed the gold signet ring from his finger and placed it in Zhanna’s palm.

“Take this. It’s not a good luck charm or anything sacrilegious. It bears my family’s coat of arms and our motto, ‘Rectitudine Sto .’ That means ‘Upright I stand.’ It reminds us to stand tall and keep to our principles, no matter what. Take the ring, and when your Voices return to you, you can give it back. How about it?”

Zhanna held the ring close to her eyes to read the motto in the dim light of the kerosene lamp. Ned saw a tear run down her grimy cheek.

“I will do that, captain,” she said, looking up with a fresh gleam in her eyes. “Thank you.”

* * *

Zhanna was back on her feet after two days, though only with the aid of crutches. The news of her victory at Kazan, reported by telegraph to the Stavka the following day, was greeted at first with disbelief, and later with jubilation among the officers there. But the joy was short-lived, because that same evening Allied intelligence intercepts reported that an entire Red Army corps, estimated at some twenty thousand men, had set out by rail from Nizhni Novgorod in the direction of Kazan, withdrawing their incursion toward Simbirsk. Just as the Maid had told General Dieterichs before she left for the north, this force almost certainly represented the real Red Army offensive whose ultimate target was Ufa and the Urals passes.

And standing directly in its path was Kazan, thereby offering the Siberians a golden opportunity to block the Red advance and, if successful, launch their own offensive from a location hundreds of versts closer to Moscow than anyone had thought possible. Fortunately, the Red garrison left behind abundant stockpiles of arms and munitions. All that was needed was to reinforce the Maid’s forces at Kazan with enough fresh troops and heavy weapons from Kappel’s Western Army or from Gaida’s Northern Army to withstand the Red onslaught. But the Stavka would need to give the order quickly, or the Maid’s volunteers would soon be overwhelmed. Accordingly, Zhanna dispatched encrypted cables at once to Samara, Ufa, and Perm, requesting the manpower and heavy weapons she would need to hold Kazan.

While awaiting a response, Zhanna and her S-R allies went to work mustering every able-bodied man in the city to repair the damaged earthworks and barricades. Dieterichs’ blunt reply arrived the following afternoon: no reinforcements would be sent. Zhanna had gone to Kazan without authorization. She was to evacuate the city and join Kappel’s forces east of the Kama or face the consequences.

On receiving the fateful telegram, Zhanna crushed it in her hand, threw it down, and ground it underfoot. But despite Dieterichs’ rejection, she refused to believe that Kappel and Gaida would abandon her. So she sent riders eastward across the Volga with a personal appeal to each general. Their responses were immediate and unambiguous: neither would send a single man to help her.

Though Zhanna faced an impossible task in holding off the Red column, she refused to back down. She told her officers that she would not leave Kazan until she had turned back the Red attackers and the city was out of danger. Nor did she intend to die in the attempt.

“In the name of God, we shall go on bravely and achieve victory!” she urged.

Each morning after that, Zhanna sent out patrols to search for signs of the Red Army’s approach, while her volunteers strengthened the city’s defenses. But Kazan’s civilian leaders, led by the very same S-Rs who had encouraged the Maid not long before to liberate the city, now took fright and hatched a conspiracy against her. Hoping to avoid the prospect of another siege and bloody revenge from the Bolsheviks if the city fell, the S-R leaders dispatched secret emissaries to meet the approaching Red column under a flag of truce. At the same time, S-R agitators posted anti-Siberian placards around the city calling the Maid an evil sorceress who had tricked Kazan’s leaders into an ill-considered and futile resistance. But when the Red Army commander refused to meet with the city’s emissaries, the S-R leaders grew even more desperate.

* * *

On the evening that the failed Kazan emissaries returned to the city, the three-man executive committee of the S-R Party in Kazan held a secret meeting, in which they summoned one of their most intrepid fighters before them and laid out a challenge. The fighter, a former policeman who had taken part in nearly a dozen S-R assassinations over the years, against both tsarist and later Bolshevik targets, knew that he would face the most brutal sort of treatment from the Reds if he were taken alive. More than that, he could easily pass for a Siberian, having spent five years in Siberian exile for his part in a failed S-R plot.

“We have a mission for you,” the committee chairman told the former policeman. “If you succeed, we may all yet be spared. If you fail, you will die a hero—and quickly. To decline means to fall into the Cheka’s hands sooner or later and suffer greatly before dying.”

“It seems we are all caught between hammer and anvil,” the fighter replied in a flat voice, without blinking. “If a way exists to the stay the hammer’s blow, I’m willing to try it.”

“Answer me this,” the chairman went on. “If you could penetrate the Maid’s camp, could you blend among them?”

“Easily,” the fighter affirmed.

“We would need you to pass well enough to stand for roll call, perhaps several times. Is it possible?”

“Provided that I can take another man’s place in the ranks, I believe so.”

“Good, then,” the chairman said, acknowledging nods from the other two committee members. “Let’s go outside where you and I can be alone, and I will tell you the plan.”

All through the next day, S-R scouts kept watch over the Siberian sentries who guarded Zhanna’s encampment, searching for sentries who generally resembled the former policeman. By the end of the day, they settled on three men whose posts were all located on the far side of the encampment, away from the city. At dusk, the policeman and a small support team set out to determine which of the three sentries, if any, might remain on duty after the sun went down.

They found one whose two-hour duty slot had begun shortly before dusk. As darkness fell, the S-Rs crept up from behind and slit his throat, leaving the impostor in his place.

The following morning, the S-R infiltrator stood in the ranks for morning roll call while the Maid reviewed her brigade. The former policeman stood in the third row. The moment she came abreast of him as she examined the first row, some ten paces away, he drew a long-barreled service Russian revolver from his tunic, took aim and fired.

When Paladin heard the first shot, he dragged Zhanna onto the ground and lay on top of her. The would-be assassin was able to fire four of the revolver’s seven rounds before his neighbors closed in and hacked him to bloody bits with their sabers. None of the shots hit Zhanna, though one bullet wounded the soldier who stood directly in front of her. When the struggle was over a few moments later, Zhanna rose to her feet, brushed the dust from her tunic and trousers, and then thanked Paladin with a self-effacing smile. She went on to complete the inspection without further incident.

Within twenty-four hours of the attempt, Ivashov’s spies inside Kazan traced the plot back to the Kazan S-R Chairman. They learned that he had hoped to trade Zhanna’s death for Red leniency toward the city, under the theory that the Siberian forces would surely not remain in Kazan to fight without the Maid to lead them. But the chairman lost the chance to test the theory a second time when he was killed by a Siberian sniper’s bullet while leaving his office for lunch the next day.

* * *

But the S-Rs didn’t stop trying. Later in the week, another infiltrator was detected approaching the Siberian staff tent with a Mills bomb in his pocket. He was shot dead before he could pull the pin. And a third intruder was caught the same night at the camp perimeter when he failed to offer the correct password. He confessed under torture and was hanged from a tree just outside the city wall after giving up the names of those who sent him. They, in turn, were seized during night raids on their homes and hanged from telegraph poles outside the city.

“It’s a shame that you should plot the death of someone who risked her life to save yours,” Ivashov told the ringleaders before the stools were kicked out beneath their feet. After that, no assassin dared venture inside the Maid’s encampment.

Despite the attempts on her life, Zhanna remained undaunted.

“To my enemies and to anyone who doubts me, let this much be clear,” she boasted. “So long as God is with me, no plot conceived by man has the power to stop me. I shall fight on until my mission is fulfilled! And to the civilian leaders of Kazan, I say this: if you will no longer stand by us and defend your city, know that I may decide to withdraw my forces entirely, leaving Kazan to the tender mercies of the Red Army. Thus, your fate lies in your own hands.”

Watching her deliver these messages in a voice as sharp as a steel blade, Ned could sense what enormous stress Zhanna was under. Unlike the shoulder wound she suffered at Uralsk, which had healed with remarkable speed, her wounded leg was failing to mend properly and left her with a painful limp. She also looked deathly pale and, at times, her hands trembled. And no matter how often she prayed, Ned knew that Zhanna was still without guidance from her Voices, because she had not yet given back his ring.

The evening after the Kazan city leaders were hanged, Ned and Ivashov shared a meager dinner of bread and lukewarm cabbage soup at a field kitchen overlooking the Kazan city walls.

“Do you think Dieterichs will change his mind and send reinforcements after all?” Ned asked when they had finished their food and both sat warming their hands by the campfire.

“I think not,” the staff captain replied soberly. “Despite what Zhanna says, she will be forced to abandon the city before long. But the war will go on, in any case. I expect Kappel will beat back the Reds in the end, take Kazan, and claim full credit for it, leaving little for the Maid. Either way, I predict you and I will be in Moscow by the New Year. If I’m right, I propose we celebrate victory together with champagne and caviar at the Hotel Metropol!”

That night, however, Ned slept fitfully and woke up long before sunrise from a nightmare. In the dream, he lay at the edge of a forest clearing. The wind blew hard enough to bend the crowns of poplars and willows to the east, then it descended to ground level, finding him where he lay under an eglantine bush. Like a flock of green birds, fallen leaves from the bush flew into the air with an anxious rustle before fluttering down to cover his body. But soon the bush’s leaves turned from green to a reddish brown, though its pink-and-white flowers remained unspoiled. While gazing at the blossoms, Ned had a vision of a childlike Zhanna, full of joy and promise, back in the days before she tore herself from hearth and kin to go to war. Then, in an instant, the flowers withered, as from the heat of a flame, and the entire rose hip bush caught fire and was consumed by flames.

Ned awoke and looked around him in the faint glow of the moon. Ivashov was missing. All at once, he felt oppressed by a grim foreboding, as if the blood had congealed in his veins. He dressed hastily, found the nearest sentry, and, with hammering heart, asked if the man had seen the staff captain leave.

“He is on the dawn patrol,” the sentry replied. “I saw them ride out not ten minutes ago.”

“Was Zhanna with them? Did you see a rider wearing a sable ushanka  and a beige jacket embroidered in gold?” Ned insisted.

“That I did, sir,” the man replied. “I know because yesterday the Maid went out dressed exactly the same way.”

Ned ran to where the horses were tied, saddled his mare and rode out in the direction of a steep hill that overlooked the road to Nizhni Novgorod. At some time during the night, a passing flurry had left an inch or so of snow, the first of the season, making it easier to track the riders ahead. Now the sky was clear, and a full moon and a glittering Milky Way lit the heavens. Though the wind was still, the aspens seemed seized with trembling from top to bottom, their leaves fluttering in the pale moonlight.

After a half hour’s ride, Ned caught a glimpse of horsemen ahead and spurred his mount to overtake them. But beyond the next rise, he spotted another squad of riders lurking inside the edge of a pine grove whose branches were lightly dusted with snow. Zhanna rode at the head of the first group, with the bulky figure of Paladin just behind her, then several Cossacks, and Ivashov at the rear. And in an instant he realized that the Maid’s patrol was headed straight into a skillfully laid ambush.

All at once, Ned felt a blast of freezing wind and, in a long-drawn, terror-edged moment, the snow-covered earth erupted with exploding mortar shells ahead while a swarm of rifle bullets whizzed past.

Up ahead, he saw Zhanna spur her gray toward the source of the rifle fire without even touching her carbine or pistol. Behind her, Paladin’s horse reared up from an explosion close by, nearly unseating him. For what seemed like an eternity, the burly youth remained frozen with terror, unable to control his mount. Meanwhile, riders wearing the distinctive budenovka  cloth helmet of the Red cavalry emerged from the tree line and converged upon Zhanna, deftly seizing her by her jacket collar and dragging her backwards out of her saddle and onto the snow.

Ned galloped forward, passing a pair of Cossacks who had dismounted and taken cover to return fire, then jumped off his mount, unslung his rifle, and knelt behind a tree stump to take aim at the attackers. A moment later, he spotted Ivashov far ahead, still giving chase while the attackers bound Zhanna hand and foot and threw her across a waiting horse. To Ned, Ivashov’s single-handed attempt to save her looked suicidal.

As if to confirm that judgment, a mortar shell fell within a few yards of Ivashov’s horse, pitching him sideways and spilling him onto the snowy earth where he lay motionless. While experience told Ned to remain where he was and keep firing, Ivashov’s devotion to the Maid moved his spirit and Ned knew he couldn’t live with himself unless he made one last attempt to save her.

Though oppressed by a nebula of fear, Ned forced himself to step out from behind the tree stump, sling his rifle across his back, and mount his horse once more. In the same moment, a bullet cracked past his head and he lost his balance, falling from his horse and lying stunned upon the snow. By the time Ned recovered his breath and got to his feet, the attackers were withdrawing under the cover of rifle fire from within the tree line. Then all was silence.

Suddenly recalling the fallen Ivashov, Ned mounted his horse with frantic haste and rode to where the officer lay, a pair of Cossacks kneeling at his side. The staff captain was unconscious but showed only minor bleeding from shrapnel wounds to his leg. His horse, however, had suffered gaping wounds to its ribs and flank from the mortar burst and lay panting beside its rider. Without speaking, one of the Cossacks rose to his feet, leveled his rifle at the beast’s head, and put him out of his misery.

Ivashov awoke at the sound of the shot. Minutes later, he rose unsteadily, climbed behind Paladin on the latter’s powerful horse, and rode back to Kazan with Paladin and one of the scouts. Ned and the remaining Cossacks galloped off in pursuit of Zhanna’s captors but were forced back after less than an hour by a troop of Red cavalry.

As unbelievable as it seemed, Zhanna had fallen into Red hands. After months of seeming invulnerability, her divine protection had failed her at last.

Chapter 21: Trial

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“And when you pray, know before whom you stand.”

—Inscription over the Torah in Jewish synagogues

Musical Theme: Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27, I. Largo, Allegro Moderato , by Sergei Rachmaninoff


Zhanna’s capture succeeded in accomplishing what the attempts to kill her had not: Siberian troops were forced to withdraw from Kazan. Tolstov realized that, without her, his meager forces could not possibly hold out against attack from twenty thousand Red soldiers. The Cossack general waited until day’s end for his patrols to continue searching for the Maid, and then ordered a hasty withdrawal under cover of darkness. At dawn, the S-Rs found the Siberian encampment deserted, only to realize that they were back at the mercy of the same Bolshevik commissars whom they had been so eager to expel weeks before. Only, this time, the Commissars would know exactly who their enemies were in the city, and would root out the S-R agitators once and for all.

Tolstov led his dispirited column across the Volga to Chistopol on the first day of their retreat. There they linked up with an advance party from Kappel’s Western army, who escorted them back to Samara. Soon after, the Ural Cossack cavalrymen under Tolstov’s command rode home to Uralsk, while Zhanna’s Siberian volunteers, except for Paladin, were sent on to Aktyubinsk to form a reserve element for General Belov’s Southern Army. Paladin had insisted on remaining with General Kappel, so as to be close at hand should Zhanna escape or be rescued. But the rest of Maid’s volunteers were grateful now for an opportunity to relax in a safe place deep inside friendly territory.

While few who had been at Kazan blamed the members of Zhanna’s patrol for her capture, the event left a deep impression on each man who had accompanied her that morning. Ned found himself revisiting the ambush and the ensuing search for the Maid over and over in his mind, racking his brain for a clue as to what he might have done differently to save her. He and Ivashov rode to Chistopol, and then back to Samara, as if in a trance, before arousing themselves at last to consider how they might retrieve her somehow from enemy hands.

But once in Samara, Ned encountered an entirely different attitude toward the Maid’s capture. There, even former supporters of the Maid displayed a fatalistic acceptance toward her loss. Few spoke of ransom or rescue. As daring as her victories had been, now many of her backers showed themselves to be fair-weather friends of the kind who never expected her success to last. To the conventionally wise, Zhanna’s capture was viewed with the sneering relief that a veteran gambler displays when a novice’s improbable winning streak comes to an end.

And among the public at large, initial shock at the Maid’s vulnerability, and a clamor to demand her rescue, soon gave way to a sense of impotence and discouragement. None of her former flock spoke any longer of Yermak’s prophecy. If Russia were to be saved, someone else would have to do it.

Upon reporting back for duty in Samara, Ned feared at first that he might face disciplinary action from the AEF for having gone to Kazan without permission. But Colonel Barrows managed to smooth things over in Vladivostok by the time of Ned’s return. The same day, Colonel Ward paid him a visit to commiserate over Zhanna’s loss and to offer encouragement that she might in time be recovered alive. Ward assured him that all possible means were being considered to get the Maid back, though the Bolsheviks were keeping her whereabouts a tightly held secret and had shown no inclination to bargain for her release.

To Ned’s relief, Ivashov likewise received no punishment from his superiors for riding off with the Maid to Kazan. To the contrary, while he was away, the staff captain had been promoted by two ranks to lieutenant colonel and given a more senior position at the Stavka. Ostensibly, the promotions were meant to recognize his role in White victories at Uralsk, Yershov, and Ufa. On second thought, however, Ned could not resist the idea that perhaps both he and Ivashov were being bribed to remain silent about the Maid and to let her plight fade from popular memory.

On his first morning back at work, Ned called on Ivashov at the Stavka and was promptly taken behind closed doors in his new office.

“It seems our leaders have grown rather more aggressive toward the Bolsheviks since we left for Kazan,” the lieutenant colonel began after pouring each man a glass of strong tea from a brass samovar.

“What a surprise,” Ned remarked, unable to conceal his bitterness over General Dieterichs’ earlier refusal to send reinforcements to the Maid at Kazan. “Do you suppose Zhanna’s captivity might account in some way for the chief of staff’s increased belligerence?”

“I suppose so, though he is unlikely to admit it,” Ivashov said with a scowl as he lifted the glass to his lips. “More probable is that his stable of ambitious young generals thirst for glory. And, having seen the Red Army’s weakness in retaking Kazan only after weeks of slow house-to-house fighting, our young lions hanker to attack the city and chase its Red defenders back to Moscow.”

“How far have they advanced to date?”

“Kappel and the Western Army have moved out from their defenses along the Belaya to take Birsk and Bugul’ma and now hold a line from Sergiyevsk to Chistopol, just across the river from Kazan. At the same time, Gaida and the Northern Army have retaken Izhevsk, Votkinsk, and Yelabuga, and are approaching Kazan from the north.”

“And what of Denikin’s armies in South Russia?” Ned questioned, setting his glass of tea on the corner of Ivashov’s desk. “Might they reach Moscow before our Siberians do?”

“Denikin’s men are well past Oryol by now, some three hundred versts south of the capital, amid great optimism,” Ivashov replied. “One of the Kharkov newspapers reports that certain Donets capitalists have offered a prize of one million gold rubles to the first AFSR regiment to enter Moscow. And General May-Mayevsky vowed in a speech just a few days ago that he and his troops will celebrate Christmas in the Kremlin.”

“And what of the Reds? How have they responded?” Ned inquired, leaning forward with his elbows in his lap.

“Now that White Armies have attacked Sovdepia from three directions, Trotsky has been forced at last into a strategic withdrawal. The Red column that took Kazan only with difficulty after our retreat has withdrawn half its strength to Cheboksary, with the remainder left behind to stall Gaida’s advance. It seems that all available Red troops and munitions are being shifted to the south and east to stand astride the approaches to Moscow.”

“Little wonder then that no one speaks of the Maid any longer,” Ned commented, releasing a deep bucketful of breath that left him feeling half-drained.

“When a moneylender goes missing, do the debtors raise a search party?” Ivashov asked in a scornful tone.

“But Zhanna gave without expecting anything in return,” Ned replied, his head bowed.

“Every good deed receives its punishment,” Ivashov shot back with flashing eyes, but stopped short upon seeing the pained look on Ned’s face. “All right, I’ll say no more,” he concluded.

“Please, Igor Ivanovich, the subject is too painful. ”The only thing left for us is to get Zhanna back.”

“Of course, of course. But until we do, we must accept that the Maid’s victories lie behind us,” Ivashov replied with downcast eyes, “while those of Kappel and Gaida lie ahead. One cannot blame such ambitious men for wanting to press forward. Nor can one fault the public for urging them on.”

“But what of the Stavka and the government?” Ned demanded sharply. “Has no one sought to discover where Zhanna is being held so as to rescue her? And what of ransom? Kolchak is awash in Allied bank credits. He could easily afford it.”

“By several accounts, Zhanna was taken to a monastery outside Nizhni Novgorod soon after her capture. But we don’t know which one; and even if we did, it would be too far from our front lines for a rescue mission. As for ransom, all sorts of emissaries have been sent to negotiate for her release, but the Bolsheviks refuse even to discuss it.”

“Isn’t there anything the Reds want badly enough to make an exchange?” Ned insisted. “Couldn’t we offer them some high-ranking Bolshevik prisoners, or shipments of foodstuffs or medicines, or coal?”

“Guins tells me all those have been tried,” Ivashov answered, rising to pace to and fro across the floor. “Though I distrust the man, at this point it seems clear that Lenin won’t release her at any price, most likely because he intends to use her in some way to discredit the Admiral. And hold her they must, if they are to allay their troops’ lingering fear that the Maid might come back to bite them.”

Ned shifted in his seat to better follow Ivashov’s back-and-forth movements across the room.

“Well, the latter fear hardly seem justified,” he said. “After the debacle at Kazan, I can’t imagine any Siberian Chief of Staff ever putting Zhanna in command of troops again.”

“I suppose so,” Ivashov conceded, and then stopped in his tracks. “But perhaps there’s another, more basic reason why they won’t release her. Perhaps holding the Maid gives the Red official who holds her too much power to let her go.”

“If that’s so, perhaps we need to find some other Bolshevik official, someone with even greater power, who might be willing to deliver her to us for the right price,” Ned suggested.

“Bribery is always possible in Russia, of course,” Ivashov conceded with a sly look. “But none of us has found a suitable beneficiary yet.”

“What about a new rescue attempt, then? I’m told both Kappel and Gaida have offered to send volunteers behind enemy lines to find her and bring her back. What has become of that idea?” Ned persisted.

Ivashov let out a loud harrumph.

“Those two have offered it only because they know a rescue attempt would never be approved. When Zhanna needed them at Kazan, neither man lifted a finger. And now, both generals are locked in a high-stakes race to be first to reach Moscow. Make no mistake about it, their eyes are fixed on laurels for themselves alone, not for the Maid.”

“Doesn’t she have any other allies to come to her aid?” Ned insisted. “What about the reform politicians whose programs she championed? Or the capitalists whose factories she liberated? Or the Cossacks atamans  whose lands she recovered?”

“Tolstov would ride bareback through hell for her, to be sure, but he and his Cossacks are forbidden to leave Uralsk. As for the other atamans , they are fickle and quick to forget yesterday’s hero. And among the politicians, Zhanna has made too many enemies. The monarchists consider her too liberal, the S-Rs too reactionary. The bishops and priests call her a heretic for conversing directly with God. The officers whom Zhanna cashiered or ordered to the front now take delight in her downfall. They are all quite happy that she is out of the way.”

“I see,” Ned answered, lowering his head and pushing away his empty glass of tea. “You know, if there were a way to save her, I would risk everything to pursue it.”

“Yes, I know,” Ivashov assured him, stopping his back-and-forth pacing to lay a hand on his shoulder.

But before Ned could answer, he heard a knock at the door. An orderly entered to announce that Minister Guins had arrived and would like a word with the lieutenant colonel. Ivashov cast a puzzled look at the orderly, then at Ned.

“Certainly, corporal,” he said. “Please show him in.”

“Please excuse my intrusion,” Guins began upon entering. “I had heard that Captain du Pont was in the building and thought it might be an opportune time to find you both together. I wanted to convey how saddened Admiral Kolchak and I were to hear of the Maid’s capture. I can assure you that our government is doing everything in its power to seek her safe return. You can’t imagine the number of go-betweens who have appealed to the Bolshevik leadership on her behalf. Sadly, no inducement seems sufficient to wrest the Maid from their grip. I’m told the Red commanders fear Zhanna Stepanovna more than any other of our generals. Should she return to the battlefield, they positively dread her debilitating effect on Red Army morale.”

“If that is their main concern,” Ned suggested, “mightn’t the Red leaders consider giving Zhanna safe passage to some distant country in return for our guarantee of her non-return and, say, some sizeable material inducement?”

Guins remained silent for a moment while accepting a glass of tea from Ivashov and sitting in the chair beside Ned. Ivashov stood by the samovar.

“The Bolshevik leaders are fanatics,” the minister replied, uttering the word with the utmost distaste. “They would never allow it. But even if they did, the Admiral would not. He insists on the Red Army’s unconditional surrender and considers the Maid a prisoner of war like any other, to be released upon the cessation of hostilities.”

“A prisoner like any other?” Ned objected, his voice rising. “A general who turned the entire course of the war no less than three times, and whose capture of Kazan made our current advance on Moscow possible?”

Guins shrugged before blowing softly on his steaming tea.

“In the Admiral’s opinion, the Maid’s battlefield victories had little to do with strategy or generalship,” he sniffed. “Rather, they rested almost entirely on her personal charisma and the fanaticism of her followers. Today, larger powers are at work that render her further services unnecessary.”

At this remark, Ivashov wheeled around from where he stood at the samovar, a savage look in his eye.

“I realize, Your Excellency, that it is quite convenient for many of our esteemed colleagues that the Maid has been rendered hors de combat [47]. Perhaps too convenient. I have come to suspect treachery behind her capture. Having investigated the matter, I cannot accept that the skirmish leading to her capture was an opportunistic ambush, or that her attackers were Red Army scouts. I believe that the men who abducted Zhanna were the same Socialist Revolutionaries who sent assassins three times to kill her, who knew her movements in advance, and, having failed to murder her outright, laid plans to snatch her up.”

“What evidence do you have?” Guins shot back with a dark look that made Ned think that he minister might know more than he let on.

“The ambush was too well laid,” Ivashov replied, stepping forward to confront Guins. “And it employed light trench mortars that must have been zeroed onto our path in advance. More than that, the attackers moved in immediately to surround Zhanna, at considerable risk to themselves, rather than subject us to a lethal crossfire. And finally, the horsemen I saw were not dressed in full Red Army uniform, but wore only the budenovka  hats, which were readily available in Kazan after the first Red occupation”

“Suspicious, perhaps,” Guins said with a dismissive shrug, “but I see nothing there to indicate treachery.”

“Lest you forget,” Ivashev pointed out, “the S-Rs at Kazan were highly fearful of a fresh Red siege at the time. They blamed Zhanna for not bringing in more Siberian troops to defend the city. We had reports that their leaders conspired to surrender Kazan back to the Bolsheviks before they decided at last to go down fighting. Delivering Zhanna into Bolshevik hands was to be a token of their good faith, I believe.”

“That is a serious slander against a major political party that has lately joined the regent’s ruling coalition,” Guins cautioned.

“If the S-Rs are innocent of betraying the Maid, I would like to hear Savinkov and Zhelezin deny it. Will you confront them?” Ivashov demanded, stepping forward, his face close to the minister’s and bearing down on him.

“I don’t see quite how,” Guins began, faltering under Ivashov’s intense gaze. “But give me some time to consider it. I would need to consult the Admiral.”

“Then do it,” Ivashov told him. “If you find no substance behind what I say, I will withdraw the charge and no harm will be done by it.”

“I’ll look into it, too,” Ned proposed, troubled that the patrol’s movements might have been compromised in advance. “If Allied intelligence has anything on it, I’ll bring it to you both.”

“And to no one else,” Guins added with sudden vehemence. “That is, until we know enough to take action.”

“Of course,” Ned agreed. “I value your friendship, Georgi Konstantinovich, and wouldn’t want to damage it after all we’ve been through.”

“Nor I yours,” Guins replied with the unctuous smile that Ned remembered from the time when Guins was a low-level functionary. “I have only warm feelings for the two of you, and appreciate the contributions you have made at Zhanna Stepanovna’s side these past months. I sincerely hope that, once we achieve victory in this dreadful war, the three of us can put our knees under the same table, drink a fine bottle together and leave the past behind us!”

When Guins was gone, Ned sensed that the minister had not told them the full truth and felt the sort of uneasiness that arouses a man to turn his head on a deserted road.

“You didn’t believe him, either, did you?” he asked Ivashov, whose face had grown rigid with resolve.

“It was written in his face. The cat knows whose meat it has eaten,” Ivashov replied darkly before turning his head away.

* * *

After Guins left Ivashov’s office and Ned went on to his next appointment, Ivashov continued working until lunchtime, when he walked alone to his usual eating-place, a small café less than two blocks away. On his way back to the Stavka, he had the strange feeling that he was being watched. Stopping to peer into a shop window, he noticed two well-built men of about forty, dressed in shabby suits, walking behind him. The moment they saw him turn to look at them, they stepped into a butcher shop’s entrance and were hidden from view. Ivashov quickened his pace and made it back to the Stavka’s office building without further incident, though the two strangers were closing the gap behind him by the time he reached the front gate.

Ivashov remained at his desk all afternoon, not leaving until dusk, after nearly everyone else had gone and the streets were filled with traffic and pedestrians clogged the muddy sidewalks. To evade whoever might follow him home, he decided to leave by the rear entrance. Once there, he noticed that the guard contingent was gone, presumably standing outside the gate, and the concierge was someone he didn’t recognize.

“Good evening, sir,” the young concierge greeted him with an ingratiating smile. “Your ride is waiting.”

“But I didn’t call for a carriage,” Ivashov replied, his suspicion rising. “There must be some sort of mistake.”

“Very well, sir,” the concierge said, making for the door. “Why don’t you take it up with the coachman? He’s just outside.”

Without waiting for Ivashov to respond, he held the door open and gestured for the officer to leave.

But Ivashov hesitated at the sound of muffled footsteps rising suddenly behind him. And before he knew what was happening, the two men he had spotted after lunch leapt through the door, seized his arms, and held them pinioned behind him. In the next instant, another powerful arm circled his throat from behind and kept him from calling out while a thick sack was pulled over his head. He struggled for what seemed like minutes. Then the sickly sweet smell of ether filled his mouth and nose and he slumped forward into the arms of his captors.

* * *

The following morning, on making his rounds to the Stavka, Ned informed the duty officer that he wished to call on Lieutenant Colonel Ivashov.

“Not available,” the young lieutenant answered gruffly without raising his head.

“But I saw him only yesterday and we arranged to meet again this morning,” Ned objected. “Do you expect him later today?”

Nyet ,” the duty officer replied, still without returning Ned’s gaze.

“Has he traveled unexpectedly?”

Nyet .”

“Will he be back tomorrow?”


“Now look here, lieutenant. Lieutenant Colonel Ivashov and I have important business together. If you don’t know when he’ll be back, who else around here does?”

After a long pause, the man raised his head.

“Such questions you must put to the Chief of Staff,” came the grudging reply.

“Then take me to him at once, blast you!” Ned erupted.

“He is not here, either. Come back tomorrow.”

As Ned turned on his heel to walk out, he noticed a familiar face peer out from a doorway at the end of the hall. It was the young staff officer with the monocle, Lebedev’s adjutant, who had apparently survived the Stavka purge that followed Lebedev’s resignation.

Ned walked with deliberate slowness down the curving staircase to the ground floor and heard rapid footsteps behind him.

“Captain du Pont,” a voice called out when he reached the bottom. It was the former adjutant.

“Good morning, captain,” Ned replied with a cautious smile.

“I heard you asking about Igor Ivanovich,” the young officer replied in a low voice. “He was a fine officer. Were it not for him, I would not be here today.”

“Why do you say ‘was’?” Ned demanded.

“He’s under arrest. The security police seized him during the night on charges of treason. They claim it was he who tipped off the Bolsheviks to the Maid’s route on the morning she was seized.”

“But that’s outrageous!” Ned exclaimed before hearing his words echo against the stone staircase and abruptly lowering his voice.

“None of us who knew him believed it, either,” the officer explained with a melancholy air. “I thought you should know. Perhaps you can help him.”

But before Ned could pose a question, the officer turned away and trotted back up the stairs.

Over the following days, Ned’s discreet inquiries among friends on the Stavka, in the Ministry of State Security, and at the Council of Ministers met with stony silence. No one would entertain the possibility that it had been the S-Rs who betrayed Zhanna, rather than Ivashov. All fingers pointed to Ivashov alone. And the more people Ned spoke to, the less they were willing to say.

Nor did the Allied intelligence reports and wireless intercepts that crossed Ned’s desk daily shed further light on the events leading to Zhanna’s capture. Meanwhile, Ned grew ever more discouraged over the prospect of ever seeing Ivashov or the Maid again, for the charges against Ivashov carried the death penalty and the Maid arguably faced the same fate from the Reds.

At the same time, however, periodic reports of new advances by the White Armies brought fresh hope that Moscow might indeed fall by Christmas. What tormented Ned about this prospect was that, without reliable intelligence about the Maid’s location, a White victory was as likely to bring about her execution as her liberation. And now, much of the blame for her death would likely fall upon the loyal companion who was falsely accused of betraying her.

* * *

Two days later, Ned received a letter by local post that he recognized as a signal from Father Timofey Ryumin. That evening he met Timofey at a room in the commercial district of Samara that one of Ned’s men had leased under an assumed name. The place had an empty, unlived-in look and odors of rotten cabbage, stale beer and makhorka  tobacco swept over Ned the moment he opened the door. The two men stepped quickly inside and headed straight for the kitchen, where they opened the windows, lit the wood stove to heat water for tea, and sat on hard wooden chairs facing each other across a wobbly table.

Timofey spent the first few minutes of their session telling Ned how he had been among the organizers of the S-R rebellion against the Bolshevik occupation of Kazan, and had observed the rebel leaders’ mounting hostility toward Zhanna and her Siberians, once it became clear that a massive Red counteroffensive was on its way to retake the city.

“Tell me, is it true that the S-Rs arranged Zhanna’s capture?” Ned asked the cleric, rising from the table to pour each man a glass of tea.

“Most decidedly so,” Timofey replied. “And I will always regret not having known in time to warn her.”

“Do you know then who betrayed her?” Ned demanded, moving forward onto the edge of his chair. “Was Ivashov mixed up with the plot in any way?”

“Ivashov? How could you presume such a thing?” Timofey replied in disbelief. “Igor Ivanovich loved Zhanna like his own sister. And besides, he rode with her during the attack, did he not, and suffered injury while attempting to save her.”

“I know it sounds unbelievable, but Kolchak’s people have accused him of it,” Ned informed him. “Their brutes are holding him now in some vile cellar on suspicion of treason.”

“Then it is not only Zhanna upon whom the S-Rs have taken their revenge,” Timofey observed. “You see, Savinkov and Zhelezin consider Ivashov a turncoat for having left the party to join Kolchak’s Stavka in Omsk. In Russia, old affronts are rarely forgotten.”

“Do you have any idea then who did  give away her movements that morning?” Ned asked.

“It could have been anyone sent to watch the approaches to your camp,” Timofey replied. “After the S-R assassins failed to kill Zhanna within your perimeter, the next step would have been to try and catch her outside.”

“Does anyone in particular come to mind?”

“No,” Timofey answered, shaking his head. “But wait. A Siberian woman claiming to be a friend of Zhanna’s came to the city hall the evening before her capture. The woman was told how to enter Zhanna’s camp and was never seen again. Perhaps she might have had a hand in it.”

“Do you remember a name, or what she looked like?” Ned pressed.

“No name, but I remember she was tall, well dressed, around thirty and very pretty. Fair-skinned and blonde, though she took pains to keep her hair covered.”

Upon hearing the description, Ned’s blood ran cold. Could it have been Yulia, who had property in Kazan she wished to sell, as in Samara? He quickly changed the subject lest Timofey suspect that he knew the woman.

“Tell me, Timofey, do you know anything about a monastery near Nizhni Novgorod where Zhanna might have been taken after she was abducted?”

“I do, but I can tell you she is no longer there. She has been moved, to Ryazan,” Timofey declared.

“You’re sure of this?” Ned demanded, his eyes wide with excitement.

Timofey delayed answering long enough to allow a broad grin to spread across his bearded face.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “I saw her there the day before I left to meet you here.”

“You saw her! How is she? Tell me everything you know!” Ned urged.

“She is being held at the Spassky Monastery, within the walls of the Ryazan Kremlin, in a barren cell that she shares with two or three Cheka guards, ruffians of the lowest sort.”

Here Ned held up his hand to interrupt Timofey’s account.

“Wait, you say she is held at a monastery, yet you speak of Cheka guards. Who, then, is holding her?”

“The monastery at Nizhni Novgorod and the one at Ryazan are no longer in church hands. The priests and monks have been cast aside and their fortress-like buildings are being used by the Cheka as secret interrogation prisons. But while the Cheka operates these prisons, the keys to Zhanna’s cell are held by a bishop, which permits the fiction that she is under church custody.”

“Why make such a pretense at all?” Ned inquired. “What do the Bolsheviks plan to do with her that they would want to blame it on the church?”

“They plan to put the Maid on trial,” Timofey said with a troubled expression. “Not a political trial before a revolutionary tribunal, but a clerical trial so as to distance the Bolsheviks from the verdict. By having the Holy Church condemn her, the Maid will be seen as rejected by her own kind. Of course, what remains of the Holy Orthodox Church inside Sovdepia is under state control. But the Chekists are masters of illusion and will commit any fraud to make it appear that God’s faithful have turned against her.”

“But where would the Cheka find bishops and priests so depraved as to participate in such a travesty?” Ned asked, shaken by the cunning of the Bolshevik plan. “What man of God would risk his soul to condemn the Maid in exchange for the Bolsheviks’ momentary favor?”

“You would be surprised at how many faithless bishops and priests have succumbed to Cheka intimidation during the Red Terror,” Timofey replied with a deep sigh. “Still others are only too happy to curry favor with the Bolsheviks to seek advancement in today’s corrupt and hollowed-out church.”

“For men of God to sink so low…” Ned reflected, his face contorted into a grimace.

“I know exactly how you feel, my friend,” Timofey agreed, reaching across the table to put a hand on Ned’s shoulder. “It’s revolting. And I felt the same revulsion when I agreed to serve as one of Zhanna’s trial examiners.”

Ned looked up with gaping eyes and

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watched the former priest’s lips twist into a sideways smile.

“You? An officer of the clerical court?”

“As a lapsed priest who once supported the October Revolution, I am just the kind of cleric the Cheka was looking for,” Timofey explained. “I traveled to Ryazan, let the right people know that I was available, and they sought me out for the job. But whether I can help our beloved Zhanna remains to be seen.”

“When is the trial to begin?”

“Within a fortnight.”

Ned reached over to the stove to pour more tea, for the room was still frigid and the tea was necessary to keep them warm.

“You said you have seen Zhanna at Ryazan,” Ned repeated, giving Timofey a thoughtful look. “Might you be able to communicate with her?”

“I have occasion to visit her cell from time to time, but only in the company of other examiners, and always under escort,” Timofey replied. “It would be difficult to do more, and I might put both of us in severe danger should she recognize me.”

“I understand, Timofey. So, tell me, in all honesty: from all you have seen, what chance do we have of freeing Zhanna from the Bolsheviks and how much time might we have to carry it off?”

“The Spassky monastery is adjacent to a large Red Army garrison,” the former priest pointed out, shaking his head and offering a grave expression. “And Ryazan is very close to Moscow. An armed rescue would be next to impossible. In my view, our only hope is for her trial to drag on long enough that the White Armies reach Ryazan before it ends, and that the Bolsheviks retreat in such haste that they fail to execute her.”

“So you expect the Cheka to shoot her?” Ned challenged. “What makes you so sure they would?”

“Because Yakov Yurovsky is the Commissar assigned to her trial,” Timofey said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“Not the Yurovsky who…”

“Yes, the same one who had the tsar and the royal family shot at Yekaterinburg. He now heads the Cheka in the Ryazan District.”

“Have you met him? Is he as bad as…?” Ned hesitated to complete the sentence, for Yurovsky was considered a monster by nearly everyone except for fanatical Bolsheviks.

“Yes, and yes. The man is a vindictive sadist with the morality of a he-goat. Zhanna can expect no mercy.”

“Then we must find a way to save her, however impossible it seems,” Ned declared, pounding a fist on the table. “I will need you to report to me as often as you can across the confrontation lines. I can send you couriers. But you must let them know nothing about your circumstances, only instructions as to where you will exchange messages.”

“I will do that, and will also transcribe as much of the trial record as might be useful to you, for I am one of three examiners responsible for preparing the daily transcript.”

“Excellent,” Ned observed. “And pass along all you can about her situation, both physical and mental. The conditions you describe must be grim for even the most hardened prisoner. Is she bearing up well?”

To Ned’s dismay, Timofey pressed his lips together and looked down at his hands, which gripped his glass of tea for warmth. His dark blue eyes glistened.

“Her mental state has deteriorated badly,” Timofey replied. “She told a visiting priest not long ago that she felt a great emptiness and would rather die than remain in captivity. She seems to be at odds even with her Voices, as she’s been overheard to argue with herself most vehemently.”

“Do you think she might do herself harm?”

Timofey nodded gravely.

“She already has. At Nizhni Novgorod, she leapt from a forty-foot tower and was rendered insensible for two days, neither eating nor drinking. Praise God, she recovered, perhaps thanks to her angels. But she might try something like it again if we fail to reach her in time.”

“How long do you expect her trial to go on?” Ned asked.

“Two weeks. Maybe three. I pray that it proves long enough.”

* * *

Zhanna awoke at dawn from a dreamless sleep, despite having rested for only a few hours. So accustomed was she to the cell’s darkness that the faint rays of light entering from its single barred window sufficed to tell her body that it was time to wake up. The cell was located on the ground floor of a tower on the northeast side of the Spassky monastery compound, several steps up from a large courtyard facing a line of buildings built against Ryazan’s city wall. As a result, the only direct sun it received was at morning.

Zhanna lay on her cot, stretched out on her back, her raw and bleeding ankles shackled in leg irons chained to the floor. As usual, her Latvian guards were still asleep when she opened her eyes.

“Guards, please get up now. I must relieve myself,” she said in a firm but not insistent voice once the urge to urinate was too strong for her to resist.

“Damn you, witch!” muttered the first Latvian to wake, a fat peasant who, despite his rough language, was not at all the cruelest of the ones she had encountered at Ryazan.

“I’ll show you what relief means, whore!” called the second, “once I’ve beaten you!”

The harsh language no longer disturbed her as it once did. By now she had grown accustomed to the guards calling her obscene names, mocking her at every turn, and threatening her with beatings, defilement, and more.

The first guard came over to her, unfastened her chains from the ring on the floor and led her like a dog on a leash to the latrine, a hole in the floor behind a wood partition in a corner alcove. Fortunately, she had taken the precaution months earlier, before setting out for Uralsk, of fitting her tunic and trousers with sturdy cords and eyelets that fastened together at numerous points around her waist, making it more difficult to remove her garments by force in an attempted rape.

But before they reached the alcove, the second Latvian reached out suddenly from behind and fondled her breasts before sliding his paws down to grope her inner thighs.

“Stop it!” she shouted, bringing her shackled wrists down so hard on the man’s hands that he cried out in pain.

“You’ll pay for that, bitch!” he bellowed, and drew back a fist to strike her.

But at that moment, a female Cheka commissar who made her rounds of the prison at irregular intervals happened to be passing. She stopped when she heard the shouting, peered through the Judas-hole, and called out in a commanding voice.

“Stop that at once!” she demanded, as she inserted her master key in the cell door. “Unhand the prisoner!”

At the sound of the woman’s shrill voice, both Latvians leapt back as if scalded and stood at attention while the commissar opened the door to enter. She was a small, rotund woman who wore an officer’s peaked cap on her head and a captain’s insignia on her sleeve. From her Sam Browne belt hung a holstered Mauser pistol.

“Do you realize what you’re doing?” she scolded the men once they stood at attention. “I saw you. You were about to commit a contemptible crime, and one that the prisoner would doubtless disclose during her trial to tarnish the name of Bolshevism.”

She called a third guard into the cell from the corridor.

“You, go assist this one in escorting the prisoner to the latrine. And you,” she added, pointing to the abuser, “you come with me!”

When the commissar had taken away the offending guard and Zhanna was returned to her cot, the girl heaved a sigh of relief, though her limbs shivered uncontrollably and her entire body felt cold as ice. Her angels had once again found a way to preserve her virginity; no small achievement, though she sometimes wondered why they still went to the trouble. By the time the angels got around to freeing her—assuming they ever did—the war would likely be over. And then what?

Meanwhile, her morning meal of kasha gruel and sweet tea would be brought soon, and then it would be time for another round of interrogation. Rotating teams of Cheka officers had questioned her several times a day for nearly a week, at odd intervals around the clock, driving her to the limits of her endurance. The interrogations, harassment, reduced rations, and sleep deprivation were all clearly intended to wear her down and make her more compliant at trial. For when her court-appointed defense counsel had protested the treatment, Yurovsky had told him to hold his tongue about it or he might be given a dose of the same.

One evening between interrogations, the defense counsel, a young priest of modest demeanor who had attended university before entering the priesthood, came to visit her in her cell. When her guards were out of earshot, he said he had guidance of a confidential nature to offer about her trial.

“And what would that be?” she answered in a voice faint with fatigue.

“By now, Zhanna Stepanovna, the Cheka has collected all the information it could about you. The prosecution has sifted through it and selected the most damaging material in drafting charges against you. After some wrangling between the church and the Cheka, both have agreed that the indictment will accuse you of heresy, blasphemy, and heterodoxy against Russian culture and tradition.”

“How ironic,” Zhanna responded under her breath. “One could easily accuse the Bolsheviks of the same.”

The defense counsel blanched at this and gave a quick look around to see if the guards had heard. Then he went on in low tones to discuss the trial format.

“While the court exists under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Church, its form and function follow that of a Bolshevik revolutionary tribunal, an instrument created for the express purpose of crushing state enemies. Presiding over the trial will be a senior bishop.”

“Who will render final judgment?” she asked the lawyer.

“The presiding bishop and two clerical assessors,” he responded. “But the assessors are merely rubber stamps.”

“And will you be the one to present my defense?”

At this, the lawyer drew a pained breath through his teeth.

“Not exactly,” he said. “If the court has its way, there will be no defense at all, other than the answers you give to vindicate yourself.”

“Then what is the good of having a defense counsel?” she objected, raising her voice before catching herself and nearly swallowing the final words.

“I will be at your side to advise you, but the court will not permit me to ask questions or present evidence at trial.” The young priest reached out to take Zhanna’s hand, but the girl brushed him away.

“So why hold a trial at all, if not to hear both sides of the matter and decide on the truth as between them?” she reproached him.

“Zhanna, you must understand, Yurovsky’s intentions have nothing to do with the truth,” the priest answered, reaching out once again, taking both the girl’s hands in his, and gazing intently into her red-rimmed eyes. “The sooner you see that, the better equipped you will be to justify your actions.”

“What are  his intentions, then, if I may be so bold?” she demanded.

“The first is to induce you to confess your heresy, disavow your Voices, and repent of having made war against the October Revolution,” he told her in a low but clear voice. “The second is to advance the lie that the Soviet government has given you a fair trial and treated you humanely. And a third is to make the Holy Church responsible for your fate and thus drive a wedge between the church and your loyal followers.”

“And the church consents to this?” she demanded, her voice strained in disbelief. “What of the bishops and priests and monks who take part in the trial? How can they go along?”

“Please, Zhanna, you are in Sovdepia now and must see things as they exist here,” he said, lowering his voice even further. “The clerics who agreed to participate in your trial seek only to appease the Party bosses and, by so doing, save their own skins and further their careers. Having once ceded to the Cheka their influence over Russia’s spiritual affairs, they no longer have standing to oppose Bolshevik godlessness.”

* * *

The Maid’s formal arraignment took place the next morning in a sparely furnished chapel at the Spassky Monastery. Zhanna entered the chapel chained at her wrists and ankles and dressed in the same brown wool field uniform, minus the gold-trimmed jacket and sable ushanka , that she had worn every day since her arrest at Kazan. By now the outfit was frayed and threadbare, with holes at the knees and elbows, and it stank from having not been washed in many days. Her raven hair, which had formerly been trimmed at the jawline, now hung greasy and limp below her collar.

She stood alone in the dock for lack of a stool or chair. From the onlookers standing in the chapel nave behind her, cries of “Long live the October Revolution!” and “Death to the harlot witch!” rang out. Though many foreign diplomats and journalists had sought permission to attend, very few non-Russians were present and all of those could be safely trusted to favor the Red regime.

The judge whom Commissar Yurovsky had appointed to preside over the trial was a senior bishop from Ryazan by the name of Fyodor. He had been passed over for promotion when the current Archbishop of Ryazan, lately under house arrest, took office. Bishop Fyodor had joined the Communist Party soon after the Revolution and, to all accounts, was on excellent terms with the Cheka. Upon being selected as judge, he had expressed great delight and was overheard to promise Yurovsky “a flawless trial.”

Of his two assessors, one was an elderly parish priest from Moscow and the other a quiet monk from Nizhni Novgorod. The chief examiner, or prosecutor, was Father Leo, a middle-aged bishop from Moscow, known for his erudition and for his special expertise in canonical law. The remaining ten examiners, apart from Timofey, comprised a mixed bag of Bolshevik sympathizers and fellow travelers, all clerics, but none harboring sympathy toward the Maid.

Bishop Fyodor, the two assessors, Father Leo, and the remaining examiners all sat at a long table atop a dais at the front of the nave. Once the accused took her place, the bishop, a well-fed figure with heavy jowls and small porcine eyes, gave his bailiff a reproving look and waved a puffy forefinger toward the Maid.

“Why did you bring her here in uniform?” he scolded the bailiff. And to the Maid, he asked in no less peremptory a tone, “Wouldn’t you prefer to wear a women’s dress? We could bring you one.”

“Thank you,” Zhanna replied coolly in return, “but I don’t care to dress like a woman. Dressed as I am, everyone can see that I stand behind my actions on the battlefield.”

“Really, young woman!” the judge snapped, looking down his squat nose at her, “I must insist that you remove that impudent outfit and dress appropriately to your gender.”

“I will not,” Zhanna told him. “My Voices have directed me to dress as a soldier and so I will.”

The judge paused for a moment, as if to size the girl up.

“Come now. Why would angels of God, if they are as you claim, offer you such shameless advice?” he cajoled.

“It is a matter of common sense, Your Honor. I was a soldier living among soldiers. If I had dressed as a woman, they would have thought of me as one. When I dress in uniform, the men must think of me as a soldier and I can be with them just as I am at home with my father and brothers.”

“But here you no longer dwell among soldiers,” Bishop Fyodor pointed out impatiently.

“No, I live now with the Cheka’s Latvian guards. Do you expect me to lie about in petticoats with such men?” Zhanna asked with a sideways look, evoking laughter from the gallery. But it also brought and a swift reaction from the bishop.

“The gallery will refrain from such outbursts or we will adjourn into closed session!” Fyodor ordered with a withering glare toward the spectators. “Am I understood? Good, then.” After a deliberate pause he resumed. “We are gathered here for the trial entitled “Soviet Union vs. Zhanna, Maid of Baikal.”

“Which is exactly how it feels to me,” Zhanna noted with a wry smile, holding up her shackled wrists, raw and scabbed from chafing. This in turn evoked loud snickers from the audience behind her.

“Silence! I give you my final warning!” the bishop barked before waiting for the room to grow silent. After a few moments, the noise died down. “Now, chief examiner, please read out the charges against the accused.”

All twelve charges were read verbatim, including those of heresy, apostasy, and rebellion against the Holy Church, which in all comprised an indictment of more than ten pages. Even so, the examiners had begun their task with seventy charges, and had required weeks to reduce their number to twelve.

“The accused shall now enter a plea of guilty or not guilty,” the judge went on. “Accused, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty, of course,” the Maid replied, meeting the judge’s gaze straight on.

Here Bishop Fyodor gave a self-satisfied smile and spread his chubby hands on the table, leaning forward as if to address the Maid on a personal rather than an official level.

“I must advise you, Zhanna Stepanovna,” he told her, in an almost avuncular tone, “that if you admit your guilt now, this trial will end and the court will extend such leniency as is consistent with the laws of the Holy Church. Do you wish to change your plea so as to avail yourself of the court’s leniency?”

“Leniency, you say?” the girl shot back, her voice rising sharply. “Surely you must be joking! This court has neither the authority nor the inclination to grant such a thing. I know full well that you intend to put me to death, regardless of what I say. You think that, once I’m dead, the Bolsheviks will conquer all of Russia. But you will not! Even if the Red Army had a million more soldiers than you do, you would not win.”

The girl’s blunt rebuke drew gasps from the audience, followed by an anxious chatter that soon filled the chapel.

“Order! Order! Silence, or I will have the gallery cleared!” Bishop Fyodor demanded. As if to prove his resolve, he pointed to several spectators at the front, whom the bailiff and his assistants seized by the collar and hustled out through a side door. When the noise subsided, he spoke again.

“Let it be recorded that the accused has pled ‘not guilty.’ Her trial will commence at this time tomorrow morning. The court is adjourned.”

No sooner did Bishop Fyodor bang his gavel than he rose quickly and left through a rear door, retiring to his private chambers in the chapel sanctuary. But on arriving there, he drew a sharp breath, for Commissar Yurovsky was waiting for him just inside the door. The man was about forty years old, tall and lean, with an unremarkable face except for small unblinking eyes and a malicious little beard that made him look like a man of the past century. He wore a black leather jacket, peaked cap and riding breeches, under whose wide belt was tucked a heavy Nagant revolver. Without a word, the Chekist drew close to the cleric so that their faces were only inches apart, and then unleashed a torrent of abuse.

“What a babbling idiot you turned out to be!” he raved at the cleric. “I ask for a trial and you give me a bloody passion play! Why, that girl had the gallery eating out of her hand. Well, no more. Tomorrow you will clear the room. All further proceedings will be held in camera. No gallery! Is that clear?”

“As you wish,” the terrified bishop answered. For he knew that, if he resisted the Cheka in the slightest degree, he would surely never become Archbishop of Ryazan, and might conceivably face a far worse fate.

* * *

On the first morning of her trial, Zhanna arrived in the courtroom blinking, as if aroused from a deep sleep or plucked all at once from a place of darkness. She stood unsteadily in the dock, chains hanging limply at her wrists and ankles. But then she drew herself up to her full height and stared at the judge with cool and steady eyes. Though her guards had kept her up most of the night to grind her down for today’s trial, she seemed to tap into a special reservoir of strength to go on.

“Does the accused swear to tell the truth as to every question asked of her?” Bishop Fyodor began, peering down from the dais as if she were a small and helpless animal.

“I agree to tell the truth, Your Honor, but only so much of it as my Voices will allow,” the girl answered.

“That is preposterous,” the bishop declared with a contemptuous wave of the hand. “You will answer each and every question, without exception, or be convicted by default.”

“But I don’t know yet what your questions might be,” she replied in a tentative voice. “Perhaps you will ask a thing they will not permit me to answer.”

The judge rolled his eyes and held a brief discussion with the chief examiner, seated two places to his left. When it was finished, he gave a resigned nod to his two fellow assessors and spoke again.

“Very well,” he said. “The accused will answer to the very best of her ability. Let the chief examiner begin his questioning.”

Father Leo, the scholarly bishop from Moscow, appeared the physical and emotional opposite of Bishop Fyodor: tall where Fyodor was short, lean where he was fat, impassive where he was irascible, wily where he was blunt. The chief examiner arranged his papers before him with long bony fingers before raising his long face to the Maid, a reptilian smile visible behind his graying beard.

“Zhanna Stepanovna, do you maintain before this court that you have received personal revelations from God? If so, can you tell us when they first began?”

Zhanna met Father Leo’s gaze and gave him a close examination before raising her voice to speak.

“It happened when I was thirteen years old,” she answered. “I heard a voice in my father’s garden. At first, it gave me simple advice on everyday matters. Then, when I was seventeen, it said, ‘Go, Daughter of God, travel to Samara and drive the Red Army from the Volga! And bring Siberia’s leader there, so that he can be elected leader of a new Russian republic.’”

“And how did you answer?” Leo asked.

“I replied that I was only a schoolgirl from a small place very far from the war. But the Voice persisted. It told me, ‘Go, go to Samara at once and I will send you aid!’ So I agreed, though I didn’t know at all how to set about it.”

“Whose voice was it?”

“In the beginning, it was simply a voice without form or name. Later, St. Michael identified himself to me, and after that, St. Marina and St. Yekaterina showed themselves, as clearly as I see you now.”

“And what made you believe that they came from God?”

“I came to know this over time because they were kind and wise, and commanded me to do only good.”

“And why do you suppose God would choose to reveal his heavenly saints to a young girl like you and not, say, to a high minister of the Holy Church?”

“God makes revelations to whom He pleases,” she answered, looking about the chapel and shifting her weight from foot to foot. “His reasons lie beyond my grasp.”

“Then you claim no divine capacity or privileged relationship with our Divine Maker?”

“As you say, I am but a young girl, Your Honor,” she responded, fixing the Chief Examiner with her gaze.

“That implies innocence. Do you therefore claim to be in a state of grace?” the cleric pressed.

“If I am not, may God put me in it,” she answered with a shrug that gently rattled her chains. “And if I am, may He keep me there.”

The question was a doctrinal trap well familiar to the examiners, as church doctrine held that no mortal being could ever be certain of being in God’s grace. But the Maid’s ease in dodging his snare seemed to vex Father Leo, because angry sparks suddenly flamed up and died away in his pale blue eyes. Several of the examiners exchanged knowing glances, as if to acknowledge a point scored for the Maid. Perhaps sensing that he had come off as the loser, Leo turned away from the Maid and addressed the judge in a languid voice.

“The accused goes round in circles, Your Honor. That will be all for now. You may call on another examiner, if you wish.”

“Let the deputy examiner step forward,” Bishop Fyodor declared.

Father Leo’s deputy was a monk in his early thirties from a monastery at Nizhni Novgorod. He was a small man with the lean, sinewy figure of a leopard and a predatory air to match. He looked down upon Zhanna with a devouring gaze.

“Zhanna, I am Father Nestor, and I wish to put a most solemn question before you,” he began in a voice laden with drama. “Take care with your answer, for your very life and salvation may lie in the balance.”

“The saving of my soul is my own business, thank you,” Zhanna replied with an insouciant look, as if suddenly infused with new energy. “It belongs neither to you nor to the church.”

“What you say is blasphemous!” Father Nestor exploded. “If you don’t care for your soul, young woman, then at least consider your mortal life!”

But before he could continue, the chief examiner grasped the monk’s elbow and whispered in his ear. Whatever approach he might have had in mind for her, the girl seemed to be throwing him off his game. After acknowledging Father Leo’s intervention with a curt nod, Nestor turned his attention back to the Maid.

“Very well, then,” he continued, drawing a deep breath. “My question to you is this: when your trial is over, will you or will you not accept the final judgment of the Holy Church?”

“I am a faithful child of the church and have always obeyed her,” Zhanna answered with bowed head.

“Then you will accept and obey?”

“Yes, provided that the church does not demand anything impossible of me.”

The monk threw up his hands in frustration and several of his fellow examiners raised their eyebrows. Bishop Fyodor gritted his teeth but said nothing.

“What, do you mean to accuse the church of fallibility?” the deputy examiner demanded. “Who are you to decide which of the church’s commands is acceptable or not?”

“I am God’s messenger,” she answered in a firm voice. “What He makes me do, I will not go back on. And if the church bids me to act counter to His commands, I will refuse!”

“Listen to her!” Father Nestor railed, pointing his finger at Zhanna. “The accused calls the church contrary to God. Unbelievable! Woman, you have spewed enough heresy today to anathematize ten heretics! Now, will you at least have the decency to concede that the Holy Church is wiser than you?”

“God is indeed wiser than I, and it is His commands I follow and none other. Know that everything you call a crime I have done by His order alone.”

“You have no idea what you are saying, child,” Nestor objected, his face gone red and his forehead glistening with beads of sweat. “Let me put it another way: do you not accept that you are subject to the church of God on earth?

“When have I denied it?” she answered with the trace of a smile.

“I am glad to hear you say it,” the monk replied with evident relief, though his voice was laden with sarcasm. “Does it not then follow that you are under the authority of the bishops and priests who guide Christ’s flock?”

At this suggestion, the Maid gave her head a stubborn shake.

“God must be served first,” she said. “The church is made up of mortals. It rests in the hands of God and not the other way around.”

“Zhanna, I warn you not to test the court’s patience,” Leo admonished, a note of anxiety creeping back into his voice. “How can you possibly claim to know the will of God without reference to the church?”

“What other judgment can I use if not my own?” the Maid replied with a shrug.

“Your Honor, let the accused’s damning statements speak for themselves,” the deputy examiner offered, turning to Bishop Fyodor with a triumphant smile spreading across his face. “I have no further questions.”

“If no other examiners wish to speak, I order a recess,” Bishop Fyodor declared without waiting for a response. “The court shall reconvene after lunch.”

While Nestor seemed quite satisfied with his performance, several of his fellow examiners exchanged relieved glances when the bishop rapped his gavel on the table at last.

* * *

That afternoon, Bishop Fyodor was called away unexpectedly on other business and Zhanna was escorted back to her cell. The next morning, she appeared on schedule before the court, shackled as before, and similarly wobbly and bleary-eyed from lack of sleep. Giving the girl scarcely a glance, the bishop wasted no time calling the court to order.

“Do you swear today to speak the truth and nothing but the truth?” he began, addressing himself to the Maid.

“I took the oath yesterday and have sworn enough. Go ahead and ask your questions, if you must,” she answered in a voice that was raspy from lack of sleep.

But rather than be dragged into a dispute over it, Fyodor ignored her objection and motioned for the chief examiner to proceed.

“The accused remains under oath,” the judge announced with a glance at his pocket watch. “You may resume your examination so as not to waste any more of the court’s time.”

“As you wish, Your Honor,” Father Leo replied. Turning to the Maid, the chief examiner forced a smile and asked, “Tell me, Zhanna Stepanovna, why do you claim before the world to be a virgin, when surely you can be no such thing?”

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e gasp issued from the other examiners and the two assessors.

“I say I am,” she said calmly. “That should be enough. If you don’t believe me, too bad for you.”

“Do you really expect anyone to believe that you remain intact, after having spent most of the past year surrounded by the roughest breed of soldier?” the chief examiner pressed.

“Instead of slandering me and my men, why don’t you ask the nuns at the convent here to conduct a physical examination? Then we shall see whose word is to be trusted,” Zhanna replied.

“You would consent to such a test?” Leo asked with a surprised look.

“Indeed, I demand it to clear my name,” Zhanna told him without a moment’s hesitation.

“If it is agreed on both sides, then let the accused be removed and taken to a place where nuns shall inspect her female parts. I declare a recess of one hour,” the bishop announced.

The bailiff led Zhanna to a private suite in an adjacent building, to which three middle-aged midwives were summoned from among the nuns residing at the Spassky Convent. They had carried out similar examinations many times and, after banishing men from the room, each nun conducted her inspection in turn. The women, deploring Zhanna’s pitiable physical condition, insisted that she be removed to their hospital between hearings or, at least that the seeping wounds on her wrists and ankles be treated. But the bailiff refused them for fear of incurring Commissar Yurovsky’s wrath. Zhanna was returned to the court in less than an hour and the three nuns were led before the judge.

Bishop Fyodor called the session back to order and asked the most senior nun, a tall, dark woman of dignified bearing, to identify herself

“I am Sister Marina,” the woman answered stiffly.

“What are your findings, sister?” the judge inquired.

“Your Honor, we find that the accused is a true maiden, wholly uncorrupted.”

Her report evoked astonished reactions from the assessors and examiners, and a spirited debate ensued among them.

“Silence!” the bishop ordered. “Sister Marina’s findings are hereby accepted. But, let us be clear about it: the matter is largely irrelevant and deserves no further attention. Scribes, strike this line of inquiry from the record. Father Leo, you may resume your questioning.”

The chief examiner looked irked at being proven wrong about Zhanna’s virginity. But rather than temper his approach, he redoubled his attack.

“Zhanna, what can you tell us about your claims to heal the sick and the wounded, who seem to seek you out wherever you go?” he inquired in a patronizing voice.

“Poor folk often come to me for help,” she replied evenly. “I do them no unkindness and help them as much as I can. But I have never said that I heal them. In that you are mistaken.”

“Then you dispute their statements?”

“I thank our Lord for whatever grace He has shown them, but I take no credit for it,” she answered in a humble voice.

“What then of your family, Zhanna? Have you healed any of them? Do your father and brothers and uncle acknowledge your divine powers?”

“I cannot say if they do or not. Why don’t you ask them?”

By now, the Maid’s coolness under fire appeared to have thoroughly exasperated the chief examiner, who threw down his pen on the table and let it drop noisily onto the floor.

“Your Honor, the accused has momentarily exhausted my patience,” Father Leo announced to the judge. “Let another questioner try his hand with her.”

For the rest of the day’s session, Father Nestor and several others of Leo’s team took turns peppering the Maid with questions, often interrupting and contradicting each other without the judge making the least effort to maintain order. Zhanna nonetheless gave thoughtful and articulate answers to each question, some of which addressed thorny points of theology that a religious scholar might be at pains to answer. The trial went on for eight hours that day, yet Zhanna’s stamina and mental acuity did not flag.

At day’s end, both the judge and the lead examiners appeared exhausted. It seemed that proving a nineteen-year old girl to be a fraud or a heretic was in no way as easy as they had expected. Even worse for them, a growing minority of examiners showed emerging signs of sympathy toward Zhanna and, from time to time, broke out with smiles or laughter when she turned the tables against her inquisitor with a clever turn of phrase. Never in living memory had so young a defendant wreaked such havoc with so august a panel of accusers.

That evening, when the judge called in the three examiners who were charged with preparing the trial transcript, he also called in a renowned expert in church law who had been invited to attend the trial. With only the three examiners present to witness the exchange, the judge asked the expert for his frank opinion of the proceedings. To the surprise of the examiners, including Father Timofey, who was one of the three, the legal authority minced no words in his reply.

“In my personal view, the trial is without legitimacy,” the visitor answered from behind crossed legs and folded arms.

Bishop Fyodor leveled a scowl at the expert but said nothing at first, for the man had attended the trial at Fyodor’s personal invitation.

“Would you care to elucidate?” he asked in a chill voice.

“Certainly,” the expert replied. “The proceedings fail under canon law on several grounds. Chief among them is that neither Patriarch Tikhon nor the Archbishop of Ryazan has approved the Maid’s trial, as both men are presently under house arrest and held incommunicado . Furthermore, neither the accused nor her defense counsel has been permitted to examine the evidence against her. The girl is also being held in a Cheka prison, where her guards behave more like tormentors than protectors, and her counsel is barred from rendering effective assistance at trial. As if that were not enough, a dozen examiners interrogated her at once this afternoon, rendering any effective response impossible. Need I go on?”

“I see your point,” Bishop Fyodor replied, lowering his eyes in embarrassment. “Of course, much of this is not my doing…”

“Yes, I know. It’s the Cheka and not the church who runs this trial,” the expert interrupted. “But it was your choice to participate. I choose differently.”

”Then you will not stay on for the rest of the trial?” Fyodor asked in alarm.

“I will return to Moscow in the morning and will say as little as possible, for the good of the church, which faces great peril in these dark days. I leave the proceedings in your hands, but from one judge to another, I would caution you that, in a proper trial, the verdict comes at the end, not the beginning.”

* * *

On the next day of Zhanna’s trial, perhaps in response to the visiting expert’s harsh opinion, the judge imposed several procedural changes to make the legal process appear more even-handed and its verdict thus more defensible. Early that morning, before the proceedings opened, a panel of three examiners who had not yet questioned Zhanna in court, and who thus might be considered less adversarial toward her, arrived at her cell to present a copy of the trial transcript so that she might request corrections. While Timofey was one of the three examiners, he took pains to keep his face obscured so that Zhanna would not recognize him. In the team’s presence, Zhanna read the transcript quickly and challenged its accuracy at several points, displaying an infallible memory for detail.

When the trial resumed, Zhanna’s defense counsel was permitted to sit by her side, but she paid little attention to his nudges and signs while she spoke. During recess, Bishop Fyodor called the young lawyer aside.

“If you persist in trying to get your client off, watch out that you are not taken one night and drowned in the Oka River,” he warned. Then the bishop inclined his head toward a half-opened door off to the side of the dais, where the lawyer saw Commissar Yurovsky fix him with a baleful look.

And for the rest of that day’s session, the examiners harried the Maid relentlessly without her defense counsel saying another word.

* * *

On the third morning of her trial, Zhanna shuffled into the courtroom looking weaker than ever before. Her arms hung limply from the weight of her chains and her face appeared red and blotchy, whether from fever or from shedding an excess of tears during the night. But the questioning continued as relentlessly as before, without so much as a comment from the bench about her deteriorating condition.

“Please tell us, Zhanna,” Father Leo began his questioning that morning, “what exactly did your so-called Voices say that moved you to attack the Soviet city of Kazan?”

The Maid lifted her chin slowly off her chest and focused her puffy eyes on Bishop Fyodor. For the first time during the trial, the bailiff brought her a low wooden stool, upon which she sank until her knees were level with her chest. But if her examiners hoped to have worn down her resolve by this time, they were soon disappointed, for her mind snapped quickly back to attention.

“On this topic I will say nothing, not even to save my head, which you may have if you like,” she answered in a gravelly voice. “Since there seems nothing useful for me to do here, and as I suffer more each day from my tormentors, perhaps it is time for me to return to God, from whom I came.”

“Is that why you jumped from the tower where you were held before being brought to Ryazan?” the chief examiner sneered. “To take your own life, contrary to God’s law? Or perhaps you expected to escape somehow?”

“Such a foolish question!” Zhanna snapped, tossing her head to clear the unkempt hair from before her eyes. “Of course my intent was to escape, as is the right of any captive creature, whether animal or human.”

“And what did your Voices have to say when you awoke after your great fall?” Leo pressed on, making a show of being unruffled.

“Enough, I tell you!” she snarled. “You will drag nothing more from my lips about my Voices. I would much rather offend the court than my saints and angels.”

“What? Do you challenge the court to compel testimony from you? I caution you to think twice before forcing the hand that holds you so firmly in its grip!”

“Even if you tear me limb from limb and separate my soul from my body, you will get nothing more of value from me. I am but a girl, and my flesh is weak; I would say anything to stop the pain. But afterward, I will take back every word and say you coerced it from me. So what would be the use of it?”

At this, several of the examiners exchanged disapproving looks, which Bishop Fyodor apparently took as occasion to intervene.

“Need I remind the accused that she is under oath? It is not our intention to make a martyr of you, however much you might want that. Please answer the questions.”

“In truth, I am already martyred by the pain and discomfort that I suffer daily in your accursed dungeon,” Zhanna spat out, her bloodshot eyes brimming with tears. “Though I know that I will return before long to the bosom of God, take heed how you treat me! For He will surely avenge my death, if it is unjust. Your actions therefore place you in great danger.”

“Strike the last statement from the record!” Bishop Fyodor ordered in a peremptory voice. “The accused will not be heard to threaten the court! Take her back to her cell. The trial is adjourned until morning.”

But when the bishop returned to his chambers, Commissar Yurovsky awaited him there, his face dark with fury.

“You and your ‘flawless trial’!” he spat at Fyodor. “The girl is far too clever for you. She makes a fool of you daily, and now she threatens you in your own court!”

“It won’t happen again,” Fyodor promised, the blood draining from his cheeks for fear of the notorious Chekist.

“Yes, and the reason it won’t is that there will be no more trial! The farce has ended!” Yurovsky stormed, slamming his palm on the table beside him. “The girl will sign her confession today, one way or another, do you hear! And then she is to be taken out and shot.”

“But if we shoot her now, it will certainly make a martyr of her, just as the Whites hope!” the judge protested in a querulous voice. “This girl is no ordinary counterrevolutionary, I tell you. To the Whites, she is a legend, perhaps even a saint! To prove her a fraud and thus discredit the Admiral, whom she helped elevate to regent, we must induce her to recant her testimony in open court, before witnesses, disavowing both her voices and the Admiral. For this we need more time.”

“All right,” Yurovsky conceded reluctantly as he stroked his bearded chin. “This evening I will wire Moscow to approve the girl’s execution. You have forty-eight hours to extract a public confession from the wretch. Fail at this and you can give up any hope of rising to Archbishop, whether in Ryazan or anywhere else.”

Chapter 22: Closing In

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“After I am dead, I would rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one.”

—Cato the Elder

Musical Theme: Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, Epilog, Juliet’s Funeral , by Sergei Prokofiev


Father Timofey pulled the collar of his heavy sheepskin coat tightly around his neck as he rode through foot-deep snow and air heavily spiked with frost. He watched his breath form clouds of steam as thick as cigar smoke and thanked God that the frigid north wind was at his back. He arrived at the half-destroyed settlement outside Ryazan at midday, handing his scrawny gray mare to a ten-year-old stable boy behind the shabby tavern. The boy listened carefully to the bearded stranger’s instructions and removed a ragged sheepskin mitten from one hand to palm a few rubles for the horse’s care and feeding.

Once Timofey’s eyes adjusted to the dim light inside the tavern, he noticed that it was crowded with travelers, local idlers, and drunks, all lingering over their bread, soup, and vodka. Two days ago Timofey had sent his most recent message to Captain du Pont, who was encamped with General Kappel’s Western Army somewhere to the north and west of Penza, preparing for an advance toward the outskirts of Ryazan. Timofey recognized the courier, a brother of the one last dispatched to him, and took a seat at a table within the courier’s line of sight. The innkeeper’s slovenly wife brought him a glass of hot tea and a hunk of black peasant bread and took his order for potatoes and soup.

The courier, a rugged peasant of about sixty, paid no attention to Timofey or any of the other guests as he nursed one glass of steaming tea after another. Some time later, when Timofey’s meal was finished and he had downed the last of his tea, it was the courier who rose first to leave. Timofey followed a few minutes later and met him behind the stable.

“Timosha, praise God for your good health,” the courier said in a low voice while looking to either side to confirm that no one was watching them.

“Bless you, Grisha, for coming through the lines once again,” Timofey replied. “What news do you bring from the front?”

“The pace is quickening,” the grizzled farmer replied. “Kappel has put Penza a hundred versts behind him, with Ryazan square in his path. And Gaida has taken Nizhni Novgorod after a three-day battle against heavy resistance.“

“News to warm my heart,” Timofey said, stomping his felt boots in the snow to stay warm. “How soon before they reach us here?”

“God only knows. Three hundred versts is a long way for Kappel’s men to cover.”

Timofey unbuttoned his coat at the throat and fished out some folded papers from under his tunic. These were his notes from Zhanna’s trial, written with invisible ink on the reverse sides of some discarded ledgers.

“Take these with you, but don’t you or your brother come back here until the White Army is less than a day’s ride away,” he told the old man. “There is no point in risking your life otherwise.”

“As you wish, Timosha. We will do our best,” the courier answered.

“All right, then. Go with God.”

Timofey walked across the street and stopped to light a cigarette while the courier returned to the stable for his horse. Between puffs, the priest considered how similar was the situation in Ryazan to that in Yekaterinburg during the summer of 1918, when the approach of Czech and White forces had prompted the Chekist Commissar Yurovsky to seek higher approval to murder the tsar and his family. Now the same man had sought Moscow’s approval to execute the Maid. Would he receive it in time?

The former cleric, dressed in the simple hand sewn garb favored by Old Believers, so that his full beard would not lead people to think him a priest, waited until the courier was out of sight before retrieving his own horse and retracing his path to Ryazan. With the days grown so short before the winter solstice, he had little time to spare if he was to reach the monastery before dark.

* * *

The following morning, the Maid was brought to the chapel for trial at the usual time. Today, however, she appeared more dazed and unfocused than ever before. Timofey asked one of the other examiners, a young monk who had expressed sympathy for Zhanna in private, what happened to her during his absence.

“For two nights they have kept her awake under continuous abuse and threats, with only bread and water for rations,” the monk whispered. “I believe the judge greatly fears her sharp tongue today, of all days, when her verdict will be read.”

Spotting Zhanna’s defense counsel in a corridor, Timofey left his seat and approached the lawyer.

“What on earth have they done to that poor girl?” Timofey asked the man in a low voice after taking him aside into an alcove.

“Last night the judge threw a party on the occasion of his bastard son’s engagement and, in a drunken state, brought some revelers to the Maid’s cell solely to oppress her,” the lawyer replied. “While she was at her toilet, they snatched away her uniform once its cords and eyelets were unfastened, and replaced the outfit with a simple frock of coarse brown wool that offered her no protection at all. On returning to her cell, a Party official attempted to ravish her but was stopped in time by a watchful guard. After that, Zhanna slept very little, fearing the man’s return. Disgusting! And these are the dregs who now claim to lead the Holy Church?”

In the next moment, the two men heard a commotion down the hall that signified Bishop Fyodor’s entrance into the chapel. They separated and hurried off to take their assigned seats.

The bishop climbed into his chair slowly and with great effort, the gray cast of his complexion and the dark circles under his eyes supporting the defense attorney’s claims of revelry the night before. Zhanna looked even worse. She swayed from side to side where she stood, unable to hold her balance, and shivered in her thin knee-length frock. From time to time, her head drooped and jerked up suddenly again. Timofey looked about and saw pained expressions on the faces of all but a few of his fellow examiners.

“The court is now in session,” Bishop Fyodor intoned in a monotone. “Have the assessors weighed the evidence and reached a verdict?”

“We have, Your Honor,” his two colleagues recited in unison.

“Good. You may hand your written decisions to me,” the judge ordered, taking a folded sheet from each assessor and laying the two sheets to either side of his own. He opened each in turn, read it, and folded it again. “The court’s verdict is unanimous,” he announced. “The accused stands convicted on charges of heresy, blasphemy, apostasy and rebellion against the sacred doctrine and laws of the Holy Church. The accused is accordingly declared anathema, expelled from the church, and is remanded to the civil authorities for punishment, having been previously convicted in absentia  by a tribunal for counter-revolutionary activities.”

The Maid stopped her swaying and sat stock still, but her face showed no reaction. Timofey wondered whether she even heard what was said. Her defense counsel filled the silence in her stead.

“I must object, Your Honor,” the lawyer called out. “Such a remand is premature. The accused wishes to claim her right under canon law to appeal to the Patriarch Tikhon.”

This was a daring move, for while the Ryazan court claimed to derive its authority from the Patriarch, the Bolshevik regime considered Tikhon a counter-revolutionary. For nearly a year, it had held him under house arrest for having condemned the murder of the tsar’s family and the mass arrest of Orthodox clergymen during the Red Terror.

“There is no right to appeal from this court,” Bishop Fyodor responded indignantly. “However, if the accused would confess her guilt and throw herself upon the church’s mercy, she might still be restored at this late hour to its protection. Does the Maid wish to confess her sins and renounce the evil she has done?”

Zhanna remained immobile, her face an impassive mask, while the examiners looked on with anxious expressions. The defense attorney rose and spoke softly into her ear. In response, she simply shook her head.

“Take her away,” the bishop ordered.

The bailiff and his assistant each seized one of the Maid’s shackled arms. Flanked by three Cheka guards on each side, the two men walked Zhanna along a lengthy corridor and down a flight of stone steps into a snow-covered courtyard that the winter sun was unable to reach. The judge followed close behind, trailed by the two assessors and twelve examiners. Toward the far end of the courtyard, eight riflemen were lined up facing a whitewashed wall disfigured by countless bullet craters, every stone underfoot stained with the blood and tears of executed prisoners.

Whether it was the frigid air or the shock of seeing the firing squad, Zhanna at last seemed to awake from her confusion. She dug in her heels and nearly stumbled when the bailiffs shoved her roughly against the eroded wall.

“Zhanna Stepanovna, I ask you once more,” Bishop Fyodor insisted, seizing her by the shoulders and forcing her to look at him. “Do you confess your heresy and renounce your voices once and for all? If you do, you will be taken to a church-run lockup and allowed to serve your penance there. Will you confess now and spare yourself from execution?”

Zhanna’s eyes seemed to go in and out of focus as she contemplated the bishop’s question. Once he unhanded her, she looked away, staring alternately at the blood-soaked snow beneath her crude felt boots and the riflemen facing her some ten paces away.

“You say, if I deny my Voices and admit to heresy, I will not be shot?” the girl asked in a barely audible voice, her teeth chattering from the cold.

“Ah, Zhanna, you understand at last!” Bishop Fyodor exclaimed, throwing up his stubby hands and gazing heavenward. “Yes, you can still save yourself! The church is ever merciful to those who submit.”

“But St. Yekaterina said I should be ever bold! How could her advice have led me to this?” the girl complained in a quavering voice. “My angels never told me I might die in so foul a way!”

“Woman, don’t you see that your Voices have deceived you?” Bishop Fyodor appealed, stepping forward to grasp her by the shoulders for a second time.

“But that’s not possible!” Zhanna cried out in an anguished voice.

“Impossible? Then how is it that your precious voices have led you to heresy and the firing squad?”

Zhanna turned away from the bishop and spoke to herself in an unsure voice.

“Oh, my,” she said, gazing around her as if realizing her situation for the first time. “I have dared and dared, all through this past year, yet all my daring has come to naught, for only a fool would stand still for a bullet. Surely, the God who gave me my common sense and love of life could not want me to do that!”

“God be praised for saving you at the eleventh hour!” Father Leo, the chief examiner, exclaimed upon hearing her words, though fixing his eyes on her as if she might change her mind at any moment.

“Amen!” Father Nestor agreed.

“Then tell me what I must do to avoid execution,” Zhanna said in a voice heavy with resignation.

“You must sign a solemn recantation of your heresy,” Leo advised. “Go fetch it!” he ordered Nestor.

Minutes later the deputy examiner returned with the written form of recantation.

“Read it to her,” Fyodor demanded.

“Don’t trouble yourself, I will sign,” Zhanna told them in a feeble voice before letting out a long wheezing cough.

“Woman, you must first know what you are putting your hand to,” the judge insisted. “Let all be silent while the deputy examiner reads the document aloud.”

“I, Zhanna the Maid, a miserable sinner,” Father Nestor began, “do confess that I have most grievously sinned in the following articles: I have pretended to receive revelations from God and His Saints and Angels; and have perversely rejected the church’s warnings that these were the manifestations of demons. I have blasphemed by wearing immodest dress and clipping my hair in the style of a man, against all the duties that make my gender especially acceptable to Heaven. I have taken up arms and incited men to slay each other, invoking spirit voices to delude them, and blasphemously imputing these sins to Almighty God. I confess to the sin of sedition against religious and civil authority, to the sin of heresy, and to those of pride and disobedience. All of which I now renounce, humbly thanking the bishops and priests who have brought me back into the grace of our Lord. And I will never return to my errors, but will remain in communion with our Holy Church and in obedience to the Patriarch. All this I swear by God Almighty and the Holy Gospels, in witness whereof I sign my name to this recantation.”

“Do you understand it, Zhanna?” the judge asked, steadying the paper against a leather portfolio for her to sign.

“It seems plain enough,” she replied with a downcast look as she accepted a pen from the deputy examiner with a trembling hand.

“And is it true?” Bishop Fyodor insisted.

“It may be true, I cannot be sure,” the Maid replied, her eyes still on the paper. “But if it were not, I don’t suppose the firing squad would be standing here,” she added before signing her name at the bottom with difficulty and giving back the pen.

“Praise God, my brothers!” Bishop Fyodor announced, holding the signed document above his head. “The lamb has returned to the fold! And the shepherd rejoices in her more than in the ninety-nine who never left it!” Now he faced Zhanna and raised his right hand in benediction. “We declare you by this act to be relieved from the anathema in which you formerly stood. You are hereby restored to the Holy Church.”

“Thank you,” Zhanna responded, appearing more wearied than relieved by the ceremony. “Now will you kind clerics take me to one of the church’s own lockups, as you promised, so that I will no longer be in the Cheka’s foul hands?”

“Bailiff, return Zhanna to her cell,” the bishop ordered, pointedly ignoring her request as he passed the written recantation to Father Nestor. “May God have mercy on her soul.”

“Wait, no, no, no!” Zhanna protested. “You said I was restored to the church! So take me to a church prison!”

“I’m afraid that must be delayed, due to our closeness to the front, Zhanna,” the judge answered as if addressing a child. “In the meantime, you have been set free from your sins, but not from their consequences. For the good of your soul, the church must set a penance to wipe out your sin and bring you unspotted to the seat of grace.”

“And what penance is that?” she snapped.

“We condemn you to eat the bread of sorrow and drink the water of affliction to the end of your earthly days, in perpetual imprisonment,” Fyodor declared.

“But you promised me mercy if I signed!”

“After such wickedness as yours? Are you dreaming?” the judge answered with a look of towering scorn. “Stop complaining, child, and place your faith in the church! All is as it should be.”

“I will put my faith in God and in my Voices, and no one else!” Zhanna snarled. “To give them up would be ten times worse than dying. Give me back that paper!”

In a flash, Zhanna wheeled around, and though she was shackled at the wrists, snatched the confession from the hands of the deputy examiner and tore it to pieces with an astonishing fury.

“There!” she exclaimed in triumph, her breast heaving, and a ruddy glow returning to her pale tear-streaked cheeks. “Now I shall reaffirm every word I said at trial until today, and take them to my grave! Go now, line up your riflemen! Do you think I dread them as much as the life of a rat in a hole? Send me back to God from whom I came! There is nothing more for me here.”

Bishop Fyodor quaked with rage and might have seized the Maid by the throat and throttled her had not Father Nestor blocked his way while gathering up the torn pieces of Zhanna’s confession in a panic.

“Zhanna Stepanovn

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a, you have returned to your sin like a dog to its vomit!” the bishop raged. “For such an affront to the church, there can be no forgiveness. You are hereby cast out forever! Let the Cheka take you, body and soul!”

“Then let my blood be on your hands!” Zhanna spat out, meeting his gaze with smoldering eyes until the cleric could stand it no longer and turned away.

At that moment, Father Nestor rose from his feet, the scraps of the torn confession slipping through his trembling fingers.

“Zhanna, Zhanna, what have you done!” he exclaimed, his eyes wide with horror.

“Saint Yekaterina warned me not to listen to your fine words, nor trust in your charity. You promised me life but you lied,” she accused, stepping toward him and straining at her chains. “To you, life consists merely of not being stone dead. Your idea of penance is to shut me off from the light of the sky and the sight of fields and flowers; to chain my feet so that I can never again ride my Buryat pony, nor climb the grassy hills; to make me breathe foul damp darkness; and to keep from me everything that brings me to the love of God. I tell you, such penance is worse even than the fiery furnace of the Bible! And it is by your very eagerness to impose it on me that I know beyond any doubt that your counsel is from the devil and mine is from God.”

Bishop Fyodor looked away, his lips pressed into a tight line.

“The firing squad is assembled,” Father Leo told him over the anxious murmurings of the other examiners. “Let them dispatch her without delay.”

But instead the judge pulled Leo in close.

“No, send her back to her cell,” Fyodor told him through clenched teeth. “But have the Cheka keep the firing squad ready. I must speak to Yurovsky first.”

The guards did as they were told, goading her with their rifle butts and jeering to her face that a swift death was too good for the likes of a whoring counter-revolutionary witch like her.

* * *

For the rest of the day, Zhanna remained under close watch in the Cheka lockup. Toward evening, however, Bishop Fyo