The Black Company
By Gregory Mason
[The Outlook; August 18, 1915]
About three months ago Mr. Gregory Mason, of the editorial staff of The Outlook was sent by this journal to Russia to gather material for a series of articles which should report and interpret affairs and conditions in Russia as relating to the present war. Mr. Mason carried many introductions and talked with men of all ranks, from the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the peasant. It was impossible for him to write and send articles while he was still in Russia because he knew perfectly well that such articles, written frankly and fearlessly although impartially, would be stopped by the Russian censors. He made, however, copious notes in abbreviated form, and on leaving Russia these notes were secreted and taken across the border by a friend and delivered to him on shipboard. Otherwise they would not have passed the censor. The Outlook now has the pleasure of printing the first of the articles, which is in a measure introductory and includes what seems to us extremely interesting material gathered by Mr. Mason on his voyage to Russia.-—THE EDITORS.
My first glimpse of the war between Russia and Germany was in Brooklyn. Theoretically the seas off the American coast to the three-mile limit set by international law are neutral territory, but for all practical purposes I stepped into Russia when I put my foot on the first plank of the Russian-American Line's Brooklyn pier. The approaches to the long gray dock and the two gangways planted against the side of the liner Kursk were guarded by special policemen in olive uniforms, and detectives scrutinized every box and bale that was being jerked into the vessel's hold by whining donkey-engines for signs of German tampering. No time bombs to blow out the ship's sides in mid-ocean would find their way into this craft if her owners and the Russian Government could help it. The baggage of every passenger on arrival at the dock was carefully searched for explosives, and once aboard the steamer the passengers were permitted to return ashore only by special permission of the captain, although the liner lay bound in her berth for fifty hours after the scheduled hour of her departure for Archangel, waiting for a delayed consignment of three hundred machine guns which were sorely needed in the sodden trenches before Riga. Else might an agent of the enemy have engaged passage on the Kursk, planted an infernal machine in his cabin, and slipped ashore at the last moment to avoid the fate which he had prepared for others
A friend, coming to bid me bon voyage being refused admission to the pier because he had no passport or steamer ticket, resourcefully wormed his way along one of the splintered string-pieces beneath the dock, and was dashing for an apparently unguarded gangway to the ship when he fell into the rough embrace of an enthusiastic and muscular detective. Only a prompt and emphatic identification saved him from arrest as a suspected dynamiter. To such measures of rigid precaution have the desperate and lawless activities of Germany's agents in America driven the transatlantic steamship companies.
The ship's passengers were made to feel distinctly secondary in importance to her cargo—the heaviest she had ever carried—consisting almost entirely of the stage properties of war, poorly disguised in boxes suspiciously long and narrow or suspiciously tall for the advertised claim that they contained "Remington Typewriters." Blatantly naked, however, were the rolls of cruel barbed wire that filled every nook and cranny between the boxes, and drove the majority of the steerage passengers from their purchased quarters into the second cabin. We boasted only five passengers in the saloon, four Americans and a Russian; and, as second-cabin reservations had been bought by only one person, there was ample room there for the one hundred and fifty steerage passengers who were forced out of the steerage to make way for barbed wire. About a third of this number were Russian laborers and small merchants returning home, but a hundred were Armenians who were voluntarily setting out for the Caucasus to fight the Turks. They were a motley throng as they scrambled up the gangway into their new quarters, tin trunks, paper suit-cases, large wicker hampers, and other nondescript hand baggage characteristic of the poor immigrant on their shoulders, one tanned young Samson carrying a huge blanket roll in one hand and a crude gilt-framed crayon portrait of his Caucasian parents in the other, while another youth, white tennis shoes on his feet and a tall hat of dirty white sheepskin on his head, guarded in his hands a new straw hat of the type with a rounded crown which was a Broadway fad during the past summer.
When at length the hatches had been battened down on the last piece of cargo—a huge box that might have held a hydraulic press, a mortar of large proportions, or a quantity of chemadahns (trunks), as the Russians call their larger shells, it was deep twilight, and the illumined sky-scrapers of lower New York towered like a cluster of giant lighthouses against a bottle-blue sky. Nearing the Narrows, the searchlight of one of the twin destroyers guarding the harbor mouth whirled across the heavens like a great silver sword and fell full upon us, and a moment later, to make the inquisition easier, a golden autumn moon climbed up and sat on the horizon wall... Satisfied by his examination, the destroyer whistled a shrill permission for us to proceed. Soon the pilot was dropped, the ship's nose gradually swung to a course much-farther north than the regular transatlantic lanes lie, and in the ghostly light of the now haze-shrouded moon our voyage of mystery began. Save for the ship's captain, those on board knew only that our destination was Archangel and our war cargo the most valuable one ever landed at that White Sea port on the Arctic Circle. We might run through the Strait of Denmark between Iceland and Greenland or we might pass east of Iceland, standing the chances of meeting the German submarines that had been seen off the Norwegian coast. But certain it was that the Kursk must go far above the Arctic Circle—farther north even than the latitude of the Magnetic Pole, or of Point Barrow, grim northernmost cape of Alaska; and, in readiness for either icebergs or the Germans who would like so well to jettison our cargo, two lifeboats were swung overside from the bridge, to hang there through the voyage.
Touched, perhaps, by the brooding beauty of the night and something of this sense of mystery that pervaded the ship, the youths of Armenia, black in the white moonlight, sang the weird chanting songs of the Caucasus, coming back frequently to a quavering refrain which ended in a crescendo wail:
"For the sake of God it is hard
Long after the moon's height indicated the arrival of a proper bedtime, they sang, yet in the morning they were up before us, marching, wheeling, and going through rudimentary military maneuvers on the broad after main deck. Under the double leadership of a solemn-faced young man in a khaki uniform that looked like that of an American regular and a brisk little chipmunk of a fellow with a swarthy face, eyes that blazed like two small searchlights, and wide mouth that tried hard but in vain to suppress the contagious smile that had been born on it, they drilled in two groups, marching and counter-marching, firing imaginary volleys with brooms as rifles, stalking imaginary foes in laborious crawlings over the deck, and perforating a large peach basket with their broomstick bayonets; Once the two commanders brought their companies face to face, and with sticks leveled they fired volleys into each other at close quarters, after a manner of fighting that has been unpopular since the Boer War. So close were the two groups that the broomsticks of the opposing front ranks almost touched each other. The men were aiming at the head.
"You fools," snapped the smaller commander, "don't aim at de heads! Aim at de big targets, de chests and de stomachs. We're after total killings, not fancy bull's-eye work."
"If de Turks do dat, it's bad for you, Charl' Chaplin," said a big dark man in the front rank of the group commanded by the little namesake of the world's most famous moving-picture comedian; "but if dey was tryin' for your head a regiment of dem couldn't get you ten feet away. It's ver' small and it's ver' solid."
At this quip, the first crack in a discipline that had been flawless for two hours, the men broke ranks as if on a signal, and with joyous whoops Charl' Chaplin was lifted high and spanked.
The big man who had chaffed his commander, and who had held the latter aloft while punishment was inflicted, approached me. He wore a brown cap, a tight red jersey that showed off each ripple of the muscles on his powerful frame, blue trousers, and a pair of bicycle shoes. On the broad crimson front of the jersey, in white letters, was the word "Indian," carrying a strong connotation, for the man had the high lean cheek-bones and varnished skin of an American aborigine. But I soon learned that he was a professional motor-cycle rider, and that this white-lettered garment of flame was his "colors."
"You goin' to fight, too, Mister?" he asked, sidling up and glancing at me somewhat warily.
"No, I'm not. I am an American, you see."
"What of it? Lots of us is Americans, but we're all goin' to fight. This feller's an American, but he's goin' to fight the bloody Turks. Ain't you, Slim?" he said, turning to a handsome man of about forty, with the lean grace and soft tread of a panther, who had come up behind us noiselessly to overhear the conversation.
"Betcher life I am," replied "Slim," with a flashing smile.
"But you are an Armenian, are you not?" I queried.
"By blood, yes. But I been a machinist in Springfield, Mass., for twenty-two years; got my citizenship papers, all my relatives here, hardly a friend in the old country, yet I'm a-goin' back to fight them Turks, an' payin' my own expenses too. Course, I've probably inherited an anti-Turk prejudice, but still I don't see how any American feller, born so or naturalized, can calmly stand by and see these Germans an' Turks butcherin' women and children and old men, and generally letting hell loose over a quarter of the globe.
"The Turks ain't so bad as the Germans, either. We've been fightin' the Turks now for several hundred years, and we know their ways pretty well. But the Germans are certainly teaching them tricks that they never dreamed of. Germany is bound she'll wipe all the Christians out of Turkey, and she ain't a bit particular how she does it."
This remark was applauded by a dozen of the speaker's companions who had gathered around us, and the man of serious mien in the khaki uniform said, quietly, in English that had no flaws:
"That's right; and even the Turks are becoming disgusted with the Germans' ways of making war. The Turk indulges in cruelty now and then, as a man indulges in alcohol or drugs, but the calculated, scientifically applied cruelty of the Germans in this war is even to him repugnant."
"Are you an American too?" I inquired, impressed by his easy way of speaking and the khaki clothes.
"Yes, by adoption. I've been in the States ten years. Graduate of an American business college. Have a small business of my own in Providence, Rhode Island. This is the uniform of the Rhode Island National Guard."
"Why do you want to fight?"
In a voice still quiet, but with something hard in it, he replied:
"The Turks killed my father, mother, and brother. Is that reason enough?"
Without stopping, he went on: If it isn't, they carried off my two sisters, and you know what that means."
After a pause during which no one spoke, I asked:
"And after the war, will you come back to America?"
The sternness left his face, he smiled for the first time, and, shrugging his shoulders, answered:
"Oh, but I may be killed."
"We all want to come back to America, Mister," interjected a very young fellow, toothless and paler than the others, dressed for Arctic weather above the waist in heavy flannel shirt, red and black Mackinaw coat, and tall caracul hat, but tropically clothed from the waist down in white linen trousers, white silk socks, and white tennis shoes. "America is best place for Armenian boy. But we're all countin' on bein' killidd, so there won't be no bad surprises ahead for us."
It was true. To a dozen of them singly I put the same question during the course of the voyage, and each one answered that he hoped to return to America, but that of course the chances were that he would be "killidd." Yet they were impatient to get to the front, and a more cheerful company never sailed the seas. For eight days we saw no other ship, there was no event to break the monotony, and the only visible life apart from that on the Kursk were the whales that rolled and spouted in basking joy, and a hundred gulls that were always hovering over our wake, gladly flying across the Atlantic for the privilege of picking a week's free board out of the steamer's garbage. Yet the Armenians never seemed bored, like the Russians, who sat about and stared at the sea in a sort of bovine apathy. After two hours' hard drilling every morning the remainder of the day was spent by these quick, vital fellows from western Asia in leapfrog, or in the graceful dances of their country, which, unlike the dances of America, require slim, muscled bodies and a swift sure-footedness. And every evening, bareheaded in the still, autumn cold of the Arctic, they threw the chanted choruses of their songs at the sky where the Aurora Borealis flickered and flared like a fire behind a curtain.
The stories of all of them were much like the stories already told. Perhaps a fifth of them were naturalized Americans, another fifth had already taken out their first papers, and every one of them had been in America at lease a year and could speak English. They were part of a stream of Armenians that has been pouring down into the Caucasus from the United States, Canada, England, France, and elsewhere, but particularly from America, for several months now, practically all of them Turkish Armenians, relying on the promise of the Russian Government that part of whatever territory which they may take from the Turks will be given to them as an autonomous Armenia under Russian protection. Almost every ship from New York to Archangel for the past three months has been carrying Turkish Armenians back to fight their hereditary enemy and his adopted war lord. They pay their own expenses back to Russia, are transported by the Russian Government to Tiflis, in the Russian Caucasus, where they are drilled by Russian officers and formed into Armenian regiments, the Russian Government supplying half of their equipment and they themselves buying the rest out of their own pockets. Most of them have had military training in Turkey. For instance, "Charl' Chaplin," the little leader who drilled his company on the careening decks of our ship, had been a lieutenant in the Ottoman army during the first Balkan War, By the 15th of last October 26,000 Turkish Armenians had taken the field against their ancient overlords, and 15,000 more were drilling at Tiflis, these groups being entirely distinct from the 75,000 Russian Armenians that had already been welded into the Czar's army. Fully 2,800 of these Turkish Armenians had been contributed by the Armenian colony in the United States. At the time this article goes to press it is safe to state all of the above figures with a twenty-five per cent increase.
The recruiting of these Armenians abroad has been conducted by the Patriotic Armenian Society, the Social Democratic Huntchagist. The word Huntchagist means alarm bell, and since its foundation this society has been watchful to sound the alarm whenever the liberties and rights of Armenians have seemed in particularly serious danger from Russia or Turkey. The Huntchagist was instrumental in starting the revolt of 1887 against Russia, whose policy had been sternly repressive since the assassination of the Czar Alexander II. It was Russians promise to the Armenians to aid them in getting that security which Turkey had promised to give them by the Treaty of Berlin, with some additional pledges thrown in by Russia at the time of the opening of her Caucasian campaign against the Turks a year ago, which turned the feet of Armenians from all over the world back to the. picturesque, mountains between the Black and the Caspian Seas, where they have been vainly struggling for independence against Romans, Persians, Greeks, Tartars, Turks, and Russians since the first Armenian conquest by Pompey in 66 B.C. The Armenians have learned not to place great faith in the promises of Russia, but they now believe that the Armenian question, like the Belgian question, will be one to be settled at the international peace conference after the war, and they are confidently hoping that the Powers will insist that the Armenians get the reforms promised them by the Treaty of Berlin. Indeed, Setrack Shalon, leader of the Armenian colony at Providence, Rhode Island, who was in charge of those who sailed with us on the Kursk, told me that the allied Powers had privately given the Armenians assurances that their rights would be cared for after the war. The former head of the Huntchagist, a man named Paramaz, was hanged, with twenty of his compatriots, at Constantinople several months ago, but on the strength of the assurances of the Allies, his successor, S. Saba Koulian, has gone to Egypt and has organized, or is organizing, several Armenian units in the British forces there.
The majority of the Armenians on our steamer to Archangel had come originally from the city of Sivas, on the Kizil Irmak River, in northern Turkish Asia; or from the environs of that city.
"But there's no Armenians left in that old town," sadly remarked an Armenian who had been in America ten years, and still wore the blue shirt and cap of a porter at a well-known New York hotel. "They've all been killed or sent back into the Arabian deserts." He looked meaningly at a chubby young man with dancing black eyes, long black hair, and a month's growth of black beard on his plump cheeks—a shoemaker from Richmond, Virginia, the clearest singer and the most tireless dancer among the lot. "Blackie, there, had a wife and six children in Sivas," he said, "and he has given up all hope of them; hasn't heard a word from them since Turkey declared war. A month ago he began to let his hair and beard grow, and he has sworn not to cut them till he gets his first Turk."
The speaker, an oldish man, who had fought the Turks in his day, and who had himself recently lost a brother and father in one of the last outbreaks of Ottoman blood-frenzy, was the one pessimist in the lot. He alone was somewhat doubtful of the attainment of which the other ninety-nine were so confident, namely, the construction of an autonomous Armenian Republic under Russian protection, consisting of the provinces of Sivas, Erzerum, Van, Diabekr, Bitlis, Mamouret Ul Aziz, and Adana, with the city of Adana near the Mediterranean as capital, and with Trebizond as a Black Sea port.
The others, piling dream upon dream, sitting in the sun in the lee of the second-cabin smoking-room one afternoon, had come to the point of discussing candidates for the Presidency of the Armenian Republic, and were in the act of taking a straw vote to see how the preference lay among their own group, when the blue-shirted porter rose and beckoned me to the taffrail over the thundering screw, which was sending hundreds of gallons of foamy water up to the surface in boiling whorls.
"Poor devils, they'd better kill their goose before they cook it," he muttered; "and if they do kill it, before they can eat it they'll have to fight off the bear, who will want it all for himself.
"We're only fighting with the Russians by chance. Before the Germans got hold of the Turks they were easier on us than the Russians."
"'Then why do you leave a good and certain job in America for the uncertainties of war?"
"What can we do? Every day we get word of friends and relatives killed. I just heard that my brother and a cousin were hanged. My friend over there"—indicating a prosperous-looking little man in a new fur coat—"had a good butcher business in Chicago, member of the Illinois National Guard, but he's just lost two brothers, so he comes too."
He was silent a minute, his eyes following the little specks of pearl and silver over our wake, which were the pursuing gulls, then resting on the broad westerly plane of the sea, glinting gold in the setting sun.
"Who owns the sea?" he asked, suddenly.
I told him that it was the property of no man or nation, but was subject only to certain international rules and guarantees, and he said, thoughtfully:
"That's good. Then it's the best place for Armenian boy to be."
Then, with sudden cynicism and an air of weariness:
"Oh, I know that international bunk. Belgium was subject to certain 'international rules and guarantees.' The sea, like everything else, belongs to the strongest. But I can tell you that if we can't cook and eat our goose we are going to make it feel pretty sick. At the meeting of this band of boys before sailing, when we elected a leader and pooled our money with a treasurer, we selected a name. It's, hard to translate, but in Armenian it means the 'company of horror-spreaders.' We'll spread horror among the Turks. You might call us the Black Company."
For eight days we had seen no other ship, yet we knew what was happening in the world of man; we even knew that there had been a gun fight in the Harlem Casino and that two men had died because they wanted the same woman. From the United States, England, and Germany we got the essential news of the outside world without the padding that one must take with it in the metropolitan newspapers. The moon, rising suddenly on our port bow on the eighth night, told us that we were going to slip to the east of Iceland, preferring the chance of a submarine there to the certainty of ice on the other side. The Black Company was gathered in its usual place near the stern, singing its favorite battle song. Here is a rough translation which the wizened "Charl'-Chaplin'' wrote for me on the margin of a newspaper:
The imperious and enraged troops of the enemy
Sasoon and Dalvorig are surrounded by the Kurds,
We will go against cannon with brave hearts,
Girls of Armenia, take powder and lead,
The moon slid behind a sable cloud, the quavering voices of the swarthy company which had mingled with the moaning of the north wind in the rigging ceased, when a pinpoint of light suddenly flashed far to port and began to signal in winking Morse. A light on our bridge winked back, our engines suddenly went dead, and we slid along in silent expectancy. In ten minutes we could make out a black shape—cruiser, submarine, or what? In fifteen we could see that she was a small passenger steamer, a British auxiliary cruiser, no doubt. A longboat put off, eight men at the oars and three officers in the stern sheets bulking huge in sweaters and life-preservers as they rowed under our stern, which was crowded now like a grand stand, no noise coming: from us, and none from them but the muffled creaking of their oars. On a rope ladder over the port side forward the three officers came aboard and went at once to our bridge, and the eight seamen in the light from our decks turned up broad red British faces to chaff our crew, showing the name "Andes" on their hat-bands.
"Gahvoritye li vui po Rooski?" (Do you speak Russian?) I shouted at the largest of them, heavy but hard of body, whose face expressed good nature overlaying a shrewdness and a sternness that could not be trifled with—the sort of sailor that has kept England ahead on the seas since the defeat of the Spanish Armada. "Gahvoritye li vui po Rooski?"
"No, but we drink it," came the quickly bellowed response. "Got any with you ?"
We had none, but we had cigarettes and American newspapers that were just as welcome.
The three wiry officers, all smaller than their men, climbed down again, having warned our captain to give the coast of Norway a berth of at least two hundred miles, for submarines of the Kaiser had been reported in the fiords. The long-boat shot away, eight sparks showing in the darkness where eight British tars were happily rowing in a perfect unison that brought from us a cheer which shamed the soughing wind and the shrill-crying gulls. The British navy, as usual, was on the job.
Six days more cruising the calm Arctic seas that Baffin and Barents cruised, where sea and clouds were so close that one could believe the quaint Roman myth that in the north the gods dwell, for there the heavens rest on the earth; and then again at evening we saw a light. After fully half an hour of winkings, in which we thought the craft must be learning the history and credentials of every one of us, a small fishing sloop converted into a patrol boat came within earshot, and in Russian a voice naively inquired:
"What ship is that?"
Learning that we were a friend with munitions, he bade us anchor, for the mine zone was near. We were close to Cape Swiattoi Nos (Holy Nose), and by the gray morning light we could see the barren coast of Lapland rising almost sheer, seamed and corrugated like a long gray pile of volcanic lava long cold.
Now we saw another instance of England's value to her allies in this war, for ahead were four little British steam trawlers, part of a dozen that Great Britain had sent from the North Sea to sweep away the mines from the approach to Russia's only open European port. The trawlers; went ahead in pairs, each pair dragging between them a long iron chain. If any mines lay in our path, these chains would catch their moorings, bringing the huge submerged bombs to the surface, where they could be exploded with a rifle bullet or with a shell from one of the three-inch guns which each trawler carried. On the previous trip of the Kursk four mines had been destroyed, but this time the trawlers caught nothing in the thirty hours' run into the neck of the White Sea, whence it was safe for us to proceed alone.
Along the coast of Lapland we saw the disintegrating bodies of half a dozen mine-struck ships, and when we had fallen in behind our escorts at Swiattoi Nos there followed us in single file eleven freighters, some of which had been waiting a week for the arrival of a ship whose cargo was considered sufficiently important to warrant the despatch of trawlers to bring it in. We could not help asking ourselves, "Were Archangel a German port, would those ships have been kept waiting a week for such protection?"
Up to the first of October ten ships had been struck by these mines, and. about a hundred of the infernal devices had been fished from the sea and destroyed by the Russians. The Slavs say that the mines are laid by neutral ships in the pay of Germany, and they declare that Norwegian fishermen are the usual offenders. Norway as a whole is distinctly in sympathy with the Allies, but her fishermen have a long-standing grievance with the Czar over the question of their rights on the Russian banks, and it may be that some of them are low enough to vent their spite in this diabolical form for German gold.
The White Sea, clear green at its entrance, became a dirty yellowish brown, a sign that we were nearing the mouth of the North Dwina River. Ahead, a long strip of breaking waves showed where the bar lay. At the deepest point there were only twenty-two and a half feet of water on the bar; we drew twenty-two feet, and dared not cross in the rough sea then running, lest a big wave slipping from under the vessel should let her down on the bar and break her in two. Twenty-four hours later a pilot took us through, the big ship trembling because there was no water under her keel, and spinning on her heel as she followed the twisting channel, only seventy yards in width, with Russian mines on each side, and farther back the combers breaking in white clouds on the shallows like shells bursting on a field of snow. That channel must be dredged before Archangel is accessible to the largest steamers. Inside the bar we anchored for the night, and in the morning saw before us a country which the tourist has never disturbed.
Saffron in the late-rising Arctic sun, the main branch of the North Dwina stretched leisurely off in a pleasant plain of dark-green, close-packed fir trees, so short that from the uppermost deck of the steamer we could see other branches and articulate veins of the great stream threading the widespread forest like bright-colored ribbons, some of them mere ditches, none of them very wide. The main channel itself was barely broad enough for two large steamers to pass each other—a process which was constantly going on, "empties" or ships with war supplies from America or England passing up the river, and cargoes of lumber, wheat, or butter going down.
With the Baltic closed to the butter trade and the Dardanelles locked on Russian wheat, these commodities are flowing out of Archangel as rapidly as the railway and docking facilities permit. From fifteen to twenty million poods of wheat had been shipped to Russia's allies between May 1 and December 1, according to our excellent and energetic Russian commercial attaché, Mr. Henry D. Baker, and nearly a million poods were waiting for steamers at Archangel when I arrived. A pood is thirty-six pounds.
Each bend of the river disclosed sawmills grouped on both banks, and the air was filled with the fine smell of clean lumber. Here and there on marshy patches between sawmills were small thatch-roofed log huts of the fisher-folk, and in the stream sad-faced women were rowing heavy boats which their lords and masters steered. The whole scene was busy, grimly energetic, yet almost melancholy—so far out of tune with the spirit of the Armenians, who, as usual, were dancing and pranking about the ship, that a Russian merchant of sober mien, looking down at them from the promenade deck, remarked:
"Poor fools! Don't you know that now there is an ocean between you and America? This is Russia."
Ten or fifteen miles of such scenery; then the river curved, widened, and on the left bank almost as far as the eye could see were the gold church spires of Archangel, shaped like giant beets with their roots in the air.
Archangel, somewhat above the latitude of Nome, Alaska, a town of about 20,000 inhabitants, with a small export trade in flax, furs, and timber, before the war, is to-day a city of 40,000, uncommonly unattractive, composed as it is mainly of yellow or brown two-story structures of logs and clapboards extending along the six-mile length of the Troitske Prospect, with a gold-and-white cathedral at intervals to break the monotony, but uncommonly in earnest for a Russian town. With thirty-five large docks where there were three or four at the beginning of the war, with a corresponding increase in the number of warehouses, business buildings, and offices, the town which Boris Gudonov opened to international trade has had a mushroom growth, yet bids fair to escape the swift decay of that vegetable. Except for the ice which locks the harbor for two or three months in. winter despite all attempts to keep it open with ice-breakers, as a port Archangel has few equals in the world. With sixty to seventy miles of water-front, a river from one to three miles in width and twenty to forty feet in depth, with a little dredging Archangel harbor could hold the argosies of the world. Alexandrovsk, on the Kola Peninsula in Lapland, whose port is ice free, is being connected by rail with Petrograd and otherwise developed to take the place of Archangel as a breathing-hole for Russia in winter when the port on the Dwina is closed; but it will probably never have the trade of that port during the open season, for, in addition to a railway to the country's capital, which is rapidly being improved and will eventually be double-tracked, Archangel has, through the Dwina, water communication with much of the interior of European Russia.
Yet with these facilities the city was clogged with freight when I saw it. The railway was doing its best, the river steamers were coming and going, and I counted eighty-six, ocean-going steamers of an average of 5,000 tons burden in port, besides innumerable sailing ships; yet the sheds and warehouses were full, and the sidewalks, streets, squares, and all open places were piled with the sinews of war. All available tarpaulins had been used to cover the cotton, the ammunition, and the valuable machinery for making ammunition from America, yet there was much machinery left to stand and rust in the ceaseless rain and snow of autumn. An ambulance purchased by the American colony at Petrograd had been standing in Archangel six months, and supplies for the American Red Cross had been waiting, there nearly as long. After years, of carelessness and inefficiency these traits have become almost ingrained in Russian character. Awakened by the war, Russia is trying nobly to reform, not yet, unfortunately, with entire success.
Standing on a dock among bales of Virginia cotton, watching the efforts of stevedores and cargo shifters to bring order out of chaos, familiar voices assailed my ears.
"Hello, Mister! Armenian boy very glad to see you again."
The passenger ferry to the station on the river bank opposite the town was passing the pier end, carrying—bag and baggage—the Black Company. Always happy, the company's spirits were irrepressible now that the ocean was crossed and the dearly hated enemy near. Picturesque and temperamental they were, a bright bit of Oriental color in that dreary Russian landscape, as the ferry moved out into the river and they threw back that favorite verse of their war song:
"For the sake of God it is hard
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald