A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR
I am sending this, my first publication, to the young Mennonite
people of North America, in an attempt to show them the madness of a
released mob. Time and again I have been asked why I did not write this
short story in German. My answer to this is: because of our young folks.
No doubt, my English is poor, but I am sure they will understand and behold.
Some of the names of people and places have been changed and some
have not been. What difference does this make? The fact is: it is a true
story and all characters, including the commissar, have been my
Bill was one of my best friends. Many an hour we have sat
together...many an hour we have sat in silence. Bill was considered a
"moody" fellow, and small wonder. He tried hard to forget. He worked
almost inhumanly the last few years of his life. He could never forget.
In walking through Mount Hope Cemetery in Kitchener, you will find
a small red granite stone, bearing the inscription: "Daddy Bill."...Rest
peacefully, my friend, and remember: there will come a judgment day!
HAMBURG, South Russia
The village Hamburg was situated about sixty miles from the sea of
Azoff, under the sunny skies of South Russia. It was one of the many
German villages, founded late in the eighteenth century, under Kathrin the
Great, Empress of all Russia.
Before the plough of the early German-Mennonite settler had
touched the fertile soil of this part of the Russian empire, it had been a
prairie, wild and boundless. Inhabited by the "Nogaizy", a nomad tribe of
Mongolian origin, the prairie was not only wild and boundless, but also
The Empress had her troubles with this part of the country,
because nobody was willing to settle there in fear of the Nogaizy.
Kathrin the Great was about to give up hopes of ever getting any
use out of the South-Russian prairie. Just then the prosecution of
Mennonites started in Germany. The Empress, realizing the situation,
invited them to her country, and the Mennonites accepted her friendly
invitation. Driven from their homes in Germany, the Mennonites found
refuge in the South-Russian prairie.
To get as many as possible of these skilled farmers, the Empress
gave them many privileges; they were not forced to serve in the Russian
army, they were allowed to have German schools in their villages, they
were free from all taxes, etc. The Mennonites willingly received the
proposition, and began their hard task to master the prairie.
As their religion forbade arms of any kind, the task was doubly
hard. Nevertheless they gradually put down their heavy settler's boot in
the prairie. Slowly, with their long whips, which they handled expertly
from horseback, they forced the Nogaizy to the east.
Franz, the blacksmith of Hamburg, remembered quite well, how his
father used to climb his horse and, with some fellow farmers, ride down
the street of the village, at sundown. All through the night these men
kept watch over the settlement. More than once they had to swing their
whips, to chase away a bunch of "Nogaizy", who had an irresistible longing
for the good horses of the German farmers.
* * *
Years had passed since that time, and the "Nogaizy" were long
forgotten. The German villages were progressing rapidly, due to the fact
that the privileges of the settlers were practically unlimited. The
farmers grew wealthier every year. Much to their own disadvantage, they
grew quite proud, regarding the native Russians as a lower class of
people. As the German villages were surrounded by native Russian
settlers, the relations between the two races became somewhat tense, due
to this fact. The more educated and clear thinking Germans did not
approve of this nonsense and tried hard to combat it.
Franz was one of these. The Russian village Orlowo was located
only about a mile from Hamburg, and Franz had many Russian customers. He
knew their language and he knew their character. He knew their inherited
weakness for whisky, "vodka", but he also knew their deep emotional soul,
their great love for their country and their true friendship to anyone who
was successful in getting their confidence.
If, by some circumstances, Franz had to stay over-night in a
Russian village, he knew he had nothing to worry. He could go into any
home, be it the richest or be it the poorest farmer's house. He was
always sure to be received with pleasure. Anything the host could do, to
make the guest feel comfortable and at home, would be done: a guest was
sacred to any Russian.
Franz was conscious of the fact that in this respect his own
people should take a lesson from their Russian neighbours. The average
German was quite suspicious toward his unknown guest. This was even true
if the stranger was one of his own people, let alone a Russian. It had
happened to Franz that he had gone from house to house in a German
village, asking for shelter, before he could find a farmer who would let
him in. Then this would be done with a grumbling and a sour face.
All this Franz was turning over in his mind, while he was staring
into the glare of his forge fire carefully watching two pieces of steel,
which he was preparing to weld. He resolved to do everything possible, to
keep the confidence of his Russian friends. He also resolved to plant
this idea into the minds of his fellow-Germans and foremost into the minds
of his twins.
A broad smile went over his face at this thought. He was proud of
his two boys, who up to now were always in his road or under his feet.
Nevertheless they were his life and joy. The twins were redheaded and so
much alike, that even Franz and his wife had some difficulty to
distinguish them. Franz seldom risked it to call anyone of them by name,
unless he had watched them for a moment or had heard them talk. Then he
knew: Bill, the youngest, had a softer voice than Jack. Bill liked to be
in the blacksmith shop, while Jack was more fond of drawing and was doing
this whenever he had a chance, either with a stick on the dusty ground or
with a dull pencil on a piece of paper.
Aside of their difference in character, the two stuck together
like glue in their play and in their numerous little pranks. They not
seldom caused the neighbours to complain. The difficulty was always
great, if only one of the boys had been seen by the watchful neighbors,
because under all cross-examinations, which were arranged to determine the
guilty one, the two kept their lips pressed tightly together. Rolling
their big, blue eyes, they subconsciously felt that this was their best
defence. And so it was: Franz never could account for it, but if the
offence was only big enough to deserve the strapping of one, he
involuntarily divided the whole affair in two, letting them both go with a
good scolding. Jack and Bill, since their early childhood, knew the
advantage that lay in their remarkable likeness.
* * *
Their happy childhood days vanished like a dream and life first
touched them on the day when they had to go to school for the first time.
With a sad expression on their freckle covered faces, they left home,
realizing that something indispensable had entered their lives.
After a few days in school, however, this dull and somewhat
frightened feeling wore off to a certain extent: it seemed to be packed
away somewhere in a dark corner of their minds. From here it would slowly
crawl out in case the homework was not done properly, and the teacher just
then would ask one of them to recite.
This, particularly often, happened to Bill. Soon though, he found
an easy way out of these calamities; if he did not know the answer to the
teacher's question, he simply poked Jack in the side whereupon Jack would
rise and answer for him. The teacher never knew the difference.
Time went on. Jack and Bill reached the age of twelve. During
the last few years Hamburg had grown rapidly: a big, five story flour mill
had been built: an implement factory was growing steadily, to become a
large concern some day; the brewery of Hamburg was widely known as one of
the best of its kind.
It was in the year 1900, when the twins, walking home from school,
were planning for their free afternoon. It was a warm spring day.
"Let's go fishing," suggested Jack.
"That's a heck of an idea," answered Bill, "you know just as well
as I do, that I lost my hook and line the last time we were out.
"I got another hook at home, you can have it. We'll find some
string for a line. But then, remember how old Peters told us to use a
black horse hair to tie our hooks to the line! I think it's a very good
idea and worth trying. In case we catch too many fish this way, we can
throw the small ones back into the river."
"Splendid, and look here is the implement factory. Let's go into
the yard. We'll find a black horse in there, and pull some hairs from its
tail," said Bill, as the two were nearing the gate of the factory yard.
As soon as they entered the yard, they spotted a black horse, with
a beautiful, long tail. A young Russian lad was sitting close by, keeping
watch, while his father was in the factory. The horse was hitched to an
All wrapped up in their fishing idea the twins went straight for
this horse. Without any questions, they began to pull long hairs from the
"Hey, you," shouted the Russian, "what are you doing? Go away,
that's not your horse."
Bill and Jack never paid any attention to the lad. They just kept
on pulling hairs. This was too much for the young Russian. Quickly he
got up from the ground, grabbed the whip and swung it very expertly,
giving to understand that he meant business.
Jack had just stooped down to pull a thorn out of his bare foot,
and so it happened that Bill got the whole length of the whip wrapped
around his body. Not gently, either, but with a good amount of velocity
behind it. This was so much more painful, as the twins were clad only
very lightly: a shirt and a pair of trousers was all that covered their
Bill never let out a sound. When Jack straightened out he saw
Bill standing there with a red face, his blue eyes were filled with tears,
his body was twitching with pain and rage.
And then it happened: quick as lightning Bill stooped, picked up a
piece of clinker, and before Jack could stop him, he threw it at the
Russian, hitting him just above the right eye. The boy's face paled. A
stream of blood ran over his cheek and his body fell back with a thud.
"Run," shouted Jack, grabbing Bill's hand. The two ran home and
hid in the darkest corner of the attic, wondering what would happen next.
For a while they did not talk; then Bill felt the urge to say something:
"What if I killed him?" he shouted, shaking like a leaf.
"Siberia," said Jack, and at that very moment regretted doing
this, for Bill now trembled more than ever. Jack pitied Bill with all his
heart. Bill was getting his punishment right there and then, shivering
and perspiring in terror. On top of this he was sure to get a good
strapping from Dad. How could Jack help. Then, suddenly, he began to
comfort Bill, talking in a low whisper:
"Listen, Bill, I don't think you hit that boy very hard, he'll be
alright. He won't know which one of us hit him and that will make the
whole thing sort of a mystery. Dad won't know either, and so the both of
us will likely get the strap."
Bill kept on trembling, and gradually, no matter how Jack
resisted, the fear and tremble crept over to him. So tired the two grew
of this situation that when they heard their father calling they left
their hide-out without hesitation, realizing that there was no other way
out, than to face the music.
When Franz first saw his twins, both terror-stricken, he felt
sorry for them. But he had to do something, more so as the boy they hit
was a Russian. Franz was quite determined to keep on good terms with the
He grabbed his twins by their ears, not any too gently, and
marched them down to the factory yard. On arrival at the yard a flash of
joy went through the minds of the boys, when they saw the Russian lad
sitting upright in his wagon, none the worse but for a white bandage
around his forehead. His father was standing close by, damning the
Germans in general.
"Now listen, Misha, don't you ever think for a moment that these
Heinies will keep on doing this sort of thing. There will come a time
when we will be the bosses in our country. We'll teach them how to throw
stones at us."
Misha did not seem to pay-much attention to his father's raving.
Franz just then entered the yard, and overheard the last remarks. At
first Franz had planned to talk things over sincerely, with the old
Russian farmer. Hurt, however, by the last words of the old man, he now
just approached Misha and his father, holding Bill's ear in his right and
Jack's in his left hand.
"Which one of these boys hit you!" he asked Misha.
Misha looked at the two with surprise, realizing that he could not
possibly point out the guilty one. Even the old Russian was puzzled for a
moment over the remarkable likeness of the twins. Then he let loose with
another stream of flattering names for the Germans.
Franz cut him off short: "Which one did it, answer my question,"
he asked again.
"I did it," said Jack slowly, "I'll never do it again."
"Yes, yes, he did it," agreed Misha, pointing to Jack. " Bill
wanted to protest, but before he could say anything Franz turned them
around and marched the two home again. Jack got what he had asked for.
He took it like a man. Bill felt pretty cheap about the whole thing.
Soon, however, the affair was forgotten, at least by Franz and his boys.
* * *
Time went on. Jack and Bill grew up to be a pair of likeable
young men. They were not exactly good looking with their freckle-covered
faces and red hair, but their big, blue eyes had something friendly and
deep, that would attract everybody that came in touch with them.
They had one hobby: mechanics. Anything that looked like a
machine, appealed to them. Their father's old blacksmith shop had been
torn down and in place of it they had built a well equipped machine shop.
Jack was the brains of the business: he was a perfect draftsman and an
expert designer. Bill was a skilled machinist, able to bring Jack's ideas
At first they practised general machine repairing, but after they
had seen the first "gas buggy" roll through Hamburg, their ambition was to
start a garage business. Due to their keen interest in this matter, they
came to be the pioneers of the automobile business in South Russia.
A popular make of German built cars was sold and serviced by the
twins. Soon they were able to build a large garage, with showroom and
service department. A big, gold-lettered sign of the firm, placed on the
roof of the building, was the envy of many a business man in Hamburg.
At this time Bill went a little astray: he fell in love with a
girl-cashier of the local general store. Mary, a brunette with piercing
dark eyes, was of the kind that seldom shows an emotion. Working since
early age, she knew how to take life.
When Bill first told her about his love, she acted surprised, as
all women do, even if they have noticed a certain man's affection for a
long time. Like every other woman would have done, she told him that it
all was so sudden and that she had never given it a thought. Deep in her
heart, however, she felt that she had liked Bill for a long time.
From now on Bill had to go to the store surprisingly often. Jack
often shook his head seeing all the bolts, rivets, screws, washers, etc.,
which Bill bought on his frequent trips to the hardware store. Soon Bill
realized himself, that his stock was in every way complete and that
something had to be done to save the stockroom from overload.
It was a warm summer evening. Jack was talking to some
customers. Bill was somewhat nervous, when he walked up to the then new
car they had just received from the factory. It was a big red touring car
with all the latest equipment. Bill opened and shut the doors a few
times. He then lifted the hood and took a look at the motor. He shut the
hood again and unscrewed the radiator cap to see if the cooling system had
enough water. Slowly he put the cap back into its place and just when he
gave it the last turn, his decision was made: he jumped into the front
seat of the new car. With a somewhat shaky voice, that was supposed to
sound very steady and businesslike, he shouted to Jack.
"I've got a good prospect for this car and I'm going to try and
sell it right now."
The roar of a motor, a cloud of dust and Bill was gone. Somewhat
surprised, Jack looked after him. He shook his head again, wondering
whether Bill was really intending to sell the car or was more anxious to
sell himself to somebody.
Bill knew very well that Mary could not afford to buy a car. Mary
knew that Bill would never try to sell her a car. Nevertheless, for an
unknown reason, the two carried on a perfect businesslike conversation.
Mary showed keen interest in everything that Bill showed her on the new
car. When Bill finally suggested to go for a ride, Mary agreed, strange
The sun was just setting, when the two drove into the bush, a
narrow, grass-lined road. No one said a word. Bill gradually slowed down
the car and finally stopped it. He did not pretend to be "out of gas" nor
did he try to put over the "flat tire" stunt. He simply stopped and
looked into Mary's eyes. Mary looked at him as if she had suspected all
this. Without many words they realized that this was the moment they had
been waiting for, for a long time.
As one can imagine, the road Bill had picked for this occasion was
no "main thoroughfare". The red touring car remained parked for some
time. The nightingales and crickets did their best to make Bill and Mary
feel all the romance that the first hours of a new-born love contain. The
moon did his part too....
Jack shook his head again, when Bill finally came home at a late
"Sell the car?" he asked.
"Nope," said Bill, while a crimson red crept all over his face.
"Congratulations," he said, shaking Bill's hand.
"Thanks," said Bill, and went up to his room.
After this things went on somewhat smoother. Bill made only very
few trips to the hardware store. At six o'clock though, he seemed to be a
real magician; before Jack had time to wash his hands, Bill was all
cleaned up, had his clothes changed and was on his way to Mary.
Once the twins tried to fool Mary, but without success. Jack,
after carefully being instructed by Bill, went to Mary's house. He
intended to portray Bill. When Jack entered Mary's room, however, Mary
just looked at him and then asked where Bill was. Jack laughed out loud
and Bill, who had watched the two through the window, came in also
laughing. Somewhat puzzled, Mary looked at the twins. Finally it dawned
on her what the two were up to.
"No boys, you can't fool me," she said smiling; "I don't know why,
but it can't be done."
* * *
After they were married, Bill got back to normal again. Again
Bill and Jack worked hard day after day, building up their business.
After a few years of successful toil, they started negotiations with the
firm in Germany, to erect an assembly plant in Hamburg. The lot was
bought, and the construction of the plant was to begin soon, when suddenly
the world war broke out and demolished all their plans for the future.
Slowly but surely the gray phantom of war crept over the country.
The twins were drawn into the army, with many of their young friends. As
the Mennonites did not have to bear arms, most of their recruits were sent
to the Red Cross stations. Jack and Bill, due to the excellent
experiences they had gathered, secured good positions as chauffeurs.
Bill, the chauffeur of a general on the Austrian frontier, was a
witness of the marvellous success the Russian army gained there at the
beginning of the war. Far into the Carpatians they advanced. After a few
months, however, Bill was also to be a witness of the terrible defeat
which that same army had to bear at this point: a wild retreat, with
terrible losses, was the end of this, at first, glorious advance.
The tension between Russian and German settlers grew every day.
The "Duma" was pushing a bill to liquidate all German property in Russia.
German settlers were accused of conspiracy and spying. In 1917 the Bill
was ready and signed by Czar Nicolai the II. The Russian government
planned to evacuate all Germans to central Siberia.
Just in time for the Germans in Russia came the October
revolution. Although Kerenskie and the new government wanted to carry on
with the war, they met with strong opposition. The Reds had convinced the
soldiers that fighting the Germans and Austrians was senseless. There was
a far more dangerous enemy right in their country: the capitalist.
In groups of a hundred and more, the soldiers deserted the army,
taking their guns and ammunitions along home. High officers had to keep
out of sight if they valued their lives. Many of them were slain and
tortured to death by their own men.
February of 1918 brought the dreadful and bloody Red revolution.
It started in Petersburg and from there gradually spread over all Russia.
It spread like a disease, dealing death right and left, turning a rich
country into an economical wreck, leaving poverty and starvation as an
impressive reminder. Bands of marauders were looting the country, and the
one, threatening the German settlements was led by Machno, an ex-convict.
Tales of horror had reached Hamburg. Unbelievable crimes were committed
by this killing, robbing and raping mob of half-crazed henchmen.
Jack and Bill were home again. Their garage business was ruined
but they still had their machine shop. Again they were working from
morning till night, repairing and rebuilding all kinds of machinery.
Bill's family had grown; he had two children whom he loved with
all his heart. His worry was the poor health of Mary. Although she
never complained, he could read in her eyes that she suffered.
Off and on it happened, that Bill, while at work would lay down
his hammer and stare out of the window, apparently forgetting everything
"What's the matter, Bill?" asked Jack, after he had watched Bill
do this a few times.
"Oh, nothing. Just thinking. You know, Jack, I wish we would
never see any of these marauders here. We have seen enough blood during
the war, and then, I don't know what I would do if anyone would attack my
wife, my kids or you."
"Quit worrying, Bill, they won't come this far. Even if they
should, you and I are working men, making a living with our ten fingers.
All we would have to do is show them our blistered hands and they'd let us
"True, they are supposed to protect the working man. But you know
yourself, Jack, that Machno is an ex-convict and that he is leading a band
of marauders, selected from deserters, Nothing is holy to them. Think of
all our friends, who have been brutally slain, in the district he is
invading now. No, I wish they'd stay away from here."
A detachment of Machno's band arrived in Hamburg the next day.
About thiry of them, led by a furious looking commissar, who had a scar
above his right eye.
They made their headquarters in the home of the wealthy brewer.
It was a frantic looking mob, clad in all kinds of uniforms.
There was one, putting a rich, velvet table spread on the back of
his horse. A few minutes ago, this same spread had been lying on the
living room table. This jolly "help-yourself" fellow wore a spotless
German uniform. His belt-buckle bore the words: "God be with us." He
could not even read Russian, let alone German, so the well-known slogan
did not better him at all.
Another one, in a French uniform, was sitting at the piano. At
first he hammered the keys with one finger, then with his fist and finally
climbed up, gracefully walking up and down the keyboard. Next he
discovered that the thing had a lid at the top. After opening the lid, he
walked up and down once more watching the little felt hammers. Then he
took his gun and started to poke the hammers with the gun-butt.
Still another, lifted the goldfish bowl from the table and dropped
it to the floor. Suddenly without water, the poor little goldfish were
jumping and twitching on the floor. Now the big hero walked around,
stepping on them one by one.
Some of the men were clad in Russian and some in international
uniforms, that is, uniforms that one could neither call German, Austrian,
Russian or anything else.
All of them were literally armed to their teeth-army rifles,
revolvers, swords and hand grenades they had hung up around themselves so
that some of them looked like panhandlers. Their mascot, a boy about
fifteen years of age, was continuously stumbling over his sword. It had
the confounded habit of getting between his legs, when he was walking.
After their introduction, the bandits decided to take a good look
around: dressers, hope-chests, clothes-closets, beds, everything was
turned inside out in search for gold, money and arms. The commissar,
entering the house, laughed out loud and cheerfully remarked:
"That's it, boys, show these damn Germans what a revolution is. I
think we will have a good time in this village. I grew up not far from
here and know quite a few things."
With a determined look he turned abruptly and went to the
kitchen. Here he found what he was looking for-the cellar steps. He
descended the steps; ha, there it was-cases of beer, and old, dusty
looking bottles of wine. He called his men and ordered the supply to be
taken up to the dining room. He noticed that the cellar was of very solid
construction, just suitable for a nice, private prison. Not far from the
house he had noticed an old sandpit. Wonderful!
He went up again and gathered his men. In groups of five and six
he sent them out, giving them a list of names of prominent residents of
"Go and get them, boys; bring them here and lock them up in our
cosy, private prison. Take anything you like and remember: there are many
fine looking girls among these cockeyed Germans."
After the gang left, he went back into the dining room. He
uncorked a bottle of red wine, and sat down to drink it with leisure. As
he was taking sip after sip of that strong red wine, his eyes got dull and
the scar above his right eye got to be crimson red. His eyelids got
heavier and heavier and finally he closed them, leaning back in the
He saw a long alley, formed by low pillars. He found himself
walking along this alley, with his eyes fixed on a white object at the far
end of it. He did not at all want to see that object, still his legs were
carrying him towards it; seemingly he had no control over them. At the
same time an almost irresistible force was trying to pull his eyes
sideways, towards the low pillars.
What was this again? He had seen this before. He felt, he should
He was getting nearer and nearer to the white object. He was
willing to do anything now, as long as he did not have to face it. He
looked sideways and now he saw it, as he had seen it many times before;
the low pillars were the legs of dead human bodies. Behind each pair of
them lay a blood-covered corpse, its grinning face turned towards him.
Rather friendly, he thought. He wanted to stop and turn around, but
there, at the end of the alley was that white spot, and his legs were
carrying him towards it, no matter how he resisted.
There now he was standing in front of it. Now, that he looked at
it, he wondered why he had been so much afraid of it. It was a dead girl,
aged about seven. She lay there in a white nightshirt. Her forehead was
split. A blood-covered doll was lying beside her.
He was glad that she was lying there so still and motionless. He
was about to turn around and to walk away again, when suddenly it
happened: the wound on the girl's forehead disappeared and she got up,
closely pressing her doll to her chest. He noticed the bodies of a man
and a woman lying on the floor, in a puddle of blood.
Slowly he pulled his sword and stood there, as if someone was
going to attack him. The little girl came towards him smiling, holding
her doll in outstretched arms.
"Here," she said," take it. You can have it. You won't harm me,
will you! It is my best doll. I got it last Christmas." Suddenly her
eyes were filled with deadly fear. Shielding herself with her arm, she
cried out: "Please, don't do it, let me go, please...."
He felt his right hand go up and come down with a hissing sound.
He placed that cut in the girl's forehead exactly where it had been
before. She fell back and lay there, as if she had never moved.
"Good!" he said. "I hope this is the last time."
A roar of laughter followed these words. He looked around. All
the corpses were sitting up now, looking at him, laughing and clasping
With a dull thud, a human head came rolling down the alley. It
began to bounce, and now was flying straight towards him. It would hit
him. He recognized the distorted face of his older brother on it. Yes,
he had killed him about a year ago, he could not recall why. To shield
himself from his brother's head, he waved his arms, yelling a wild oath....
"What in heck is wrong with you, Misha!" said one of his men, who
was just entering the room.
"Oh, nothing. I must have dreamt something," said the commissar,
glad that someone had awakened him.
"We got five of them, they are down cellar," reported the man.
"Go and get the rest of them. I gave you at least ten names. Go
and get them all."
The man in the door turned and walked away again. Misha got up
from his chair. Restless he paced up and down the room. If he only could
find an hour of decent sleep. For the last few weeks, dreams like the one
described above, had haunted him whenever he closed his eyes. Always, in
his dreams, he felt sorry for what he had done to the little girl, but
when he was awake, he could not understand why. He knew that he would do
it again, if he had another chance, because there was so much emotion in it.
Yelling and cursing, his men arrived. Five more prisoners were
pushed down the cellar steps. After this they assembled in the dining
room and ordered a chicken supper. The pale and trembling wife of the
brewer stood in the kitchen, preparing it. Her husband was one of the
The bandits were sitting around the table, drinking and singing.
"How about our supper?" Misha cried, suddenly. "John, go and see
what our kitchen fairy is doing. Ha, Ha, boys, this is the life. Who of
you would have ever thought it possible, that a rich man's wife would
prepare a supper for you some day. Well, the day is here now; sing, drink
and be happy. Tomorrow we will have some more fun."
The lady of the house entered the dining room, carrying a plate
with fried chickens.
"Hello, beautiful," yelled Misha, "put down the plate, and listen
Trembling, the woman obeyed.
"Do you love your husband very much?" he asked, with a dirty grin.
"Yes," she answered.
"Well, sister, I am going to get rid of him tomorrow. He won't
bother you any more. I have a nice bullet saved up, especially for him."
The poor woman stood there for a moment with her eyes shut,
shaking more than ever. Then she slowly walked over to Misha. With her
small hand she began to stroke Misha's hair and cheeks, frantically
talking to him in a low whisper.
"No, no, you won't do that. Will you? I will give you everything
I have. I'll feed you like kings. I will...."
"Will you give me a kiss?" asked Misha, while his men looked on,
laughing and passing dirty remarks.
"Yes," answered the excited woman, "if you promise to spare my
husband, I will."
"Well, I'll tell you, you sit down on my lap and keep on stroking
my cheeks. Kiss me off and on and I promise, your husband will be spared."
Shuddering, the woman obeyed. The gang had a wonderful time.
After a few happy hours had passed, Misha suddenly rose from his
chair, pushing the woman aside. He staggered to the door and out on the
street. Gun in hand, he started a somewhat shaky walk down the village
He found what he was looking for. Standing in front of a
show-window, he watched two men, working in a machine-shop. A devilish
smile distorted his withered face. He stepped back and read the
gold-lettered sign of the firm. Then he slowly turned around, nodding his
head, and staggered back to headquarters.
All through the night he sat in his chair, just dosing a little
now and then. Only towards morning he fell asleep, to wake up around the
noon hour with an aching head. He blinked his eyes, to get used to the
bright sunshine, and went out doors.
He found his men in a very happy mood: they had encircled a stout,
fifteen year old boy. Pale and shaking like a leaf, with tears running
down his cheeks, the boy stood there, while the bandits were poking their
guns at him.
When the commissar arrived, he looked at the boy. This will be
fun again, he thought, there is a pair of scared child's eyes again, just
like the little girl's.
"Take him away and roll him down the cellar-steps. I will look
after him myself."
After a short chat with his men, he sent a detachment of five down
the street, to arrest Jack and Bill.
* * *
When the twins were brought down, they found many of their friends
in custody. Friends, whom they had known for years, but for some reason
they all looked like strangers. Was the dim light of the cellar the
reason for this? Was it death, that had turned their faces pale and made
their eyes look hollow?
Quietly Jack and Bill sat down and joined in prayer, that one of
the prisoners was leading.
"And forgive us our trespasses....."
The door swung open. The name of the brewer was called. He rose
from his seat and looked at his companions with a distorted smile. Then
he was dragged up the cellar-steps.
A few minutes later, the remaining prisoners heard a few dull
thuds, in the direction of the old sandpit....
The next one to be called was the fifteen-year-old boy. He did
not want to go. Hysterically crying, he tried to hang on to his
companions, one by one, as he was dragged past them.
"Help me, please," he pleaded, "do something. I can't bear it. I
must see father. Please help...."
Bill was just about ready to do something: with glaring eyes he
stared at a piece of iron pipe, that was standing in one corner. Jack
noticed this, and put his hand on Bill's shoulder.
"It's no use, Bill. There are too many of them."
Bill sat down again. He had at one time read the history of the
French revolution. Strange, that a situation like the one he and Jack
were in now, looked so romantic in a book. There was nothing of the sort
in it though, if one had to go through it himself. Deadly fear and
uncontrollable fury were taking possession of his mind in alternative to
finally give way to a dull apathy.
Casually he looked out of the window. He jerked. There she was;
there was Mary, arguing with a guard. She had a basket in her arm,
apparently something to eat for Jack and Bill.
He saw how the guard was trying to push Mary aside, but with a
courage that is so typical of a woman in grave danger, she fought and
finally gained access to the cellar window. She was trying to open it
from the outside, when the guard came by and hit her over the head with
the ramrod of his gun. With one hand pressed tightly to her head, Mary
The fury came over Bill again. Here he was: his friends were
killed almost before his eyes; a brute was mistreating his wife, and he
could do nothing about it.
He looked at Jack. Jack was calm, as he always was. He put his
hand softly on Bill's shoulder again and tried to comfort him. Bill
calmed down and now they were sitting side by side, talking of by-gone
days and happiness.
The door opened again and Bill's name was called.
"Come on, you stone-throwing, red-headed rascal. I'll show you
how I throw stones."
So far Jack and Bill had not known who the commissar was. Now
they knew and they knew what was going to happen, too.
"This is the end," it flashed through Bill's mind as he rose from
Jack, who was standing beside him, gently pushed Bill down again.
"I will go," he said in a whisper. You have a family to look
after. I am single and have no one but you. I could not stand the loss
Bill wanted to protest, but Jack took his hand with a steady grasp.
"Aufwiedersehn, Bill," he said, and in a moment he was gone....
* * *
Nine persons were slaughtered in the short stay of the bandits in
Hamburg. Jack was the last victim. The white army was gaining territory
steadily and was nearing the German settlements. The bandits left Hamburg
in a hurry. They were very brave among defenceless people, but fighting
in the front-lines was nothing for them: they were afraid their precious
self might get hurt.
The door to the improvised dungeon was opened again, but this time
by a friendly old gent: a general of the white army.
Bill went home to greet his wife and children. His little
daughter grabbed him so tightly, as if she never wanted to let go again.
Mary was paler than she ever had been and wore a bandage around her head.
Bill gently freed himself from the embrace of his wife and children and
left the house again.
He was walking towards the old sand-pit. No one had been there
yet, after the retreat of the marauders. The sun was setting, when he
approached the pit. He noticed something sticking up from the ground,
which he thought to be the limb of a tree. When he came closer, he saw
that it was a frecklecovered hand....
He knelt down beside it. There was still some machine-oil on that
hand. Tears ran down Bill's pale face. His lips were moving, slowly
forming a sentence:
"Greater love has no man than this, that a man should lay down his
life for his friends....