The year 1905 is drawing to an end, and great changes are sweeping through Russia. The tragic events of Bloody Sunday usher in a sequence of paralyzing national strikes that eventually force the tsar to turn his government into a constitutional monarchy, and it appears that the radical element has finally won.
But for Anna Fedorcenko, the tragedy of that fateful day was the slaying of her beloved husband, Sergei. While her loss is painful, it is Sergei's sons who are most dramatically affected by their father's untimely death. Andrei becomes driven to see their father's death avenged, and his boundless energies are aimed toward the downfall of the monarchy. Yuri is also grief-stricken, but he finds he cannot support his younger brother's revolutionary fervor.
As Russia plunges from World War I into the ensuing civil war between the Bolsheviks and an army of White Russians comprised of nobility and others opposed to Lenin, the Fedorcenkos are caught in the middle of conflicting national interests that threaten to tear their family apart.
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A gust of wind scattered the leaves beneath a spindly elm struggling to maintain life in front of the busy market on Vassily Island. Somehow through many winters it had managed to survive in the middle of a bustling city but each year always seemed as if it might be its last. Its barren branches were almost bare now, and the single leaf that blew against Anna Fedorcenko's stocking was nearly the last of the season. Wistfully Anna glanced down at the dry, yellow leaf, then she shook it away. She continued to watch as it tumbled for a few more moments down the sidewalk until it was finally trampled by an unobservant passerby.
Then she turned her wandering attention back to the task at hand. The noisy jostling crowd in the market in no way mirrored the aimless tumble of the leaf. But for all the activity of the people trying to press against the bakery door, the line, such as it was, had hardly moved a handful of inches since she had taken her place there an hour ago. She had known of course when she left the apartment, while the cold morning dew was still thick on the doorstep, that she'd be spending a good part of her day at market. She'd already spent three hours purchasing a half pound of cheese. Since the railway strike, panic had spread through the city. Food was already scarce, and with the prospect of the strike, it was feared that soon nothing at all would be found on the shop shelves. As much as Anna hated crowds, her family had to have bread. Raisa Sorokin, with whom Anna shared the apartment, had offered to go. But in spite of the mobs, Anna desired the chance to get out of theflat, away from the presence of memories.
Anna hated to think how she or Raisa would manage the market trek when winter set in. She prayed daily the troubles in the city would heal by then. But since the terrible events of last January, since Bloody Sunday, matters only seemed to be worsening in St. Petersburg.
Anna had hoped the end of the war with Japan would bring relief. In March, practically the entire Russian navy had been destroyed by the Japanese in Tsuhmia Straits. It was a horrible tragedy, but it had speeded up an armistice. By then, however, many in the military were so incensed by the disastrous and futile war that they were ripe for the rhetoric of the revolutionaries. In August, the tsar had enacted a new law establishing a parliamentary body called a Dumaif it were ever convened. According to Anna's brother Paul, who was quite involved in political matters, the powers of this Duma would be rather limited. But people had been clamoring for representation for years. At least it was a step forward.
However, instead of the law bringing peace to Russia, it seemed to ignite the fires of revolt even more. When the Duma did not readily convene, the whole country erupted into chaos. This spontaneous revolt took everyone by surprise, even the revolutionaries. The outbreak was initiated not by political dissidents, but rather by the masses.
General strikes broke out not only in factories but everywhere. Even among doctors and bank clerks and the corps de ballet of the Maryinsky Theater. St. Petersburg had been all but crippled; food and fuel for heat grew scarce. The city's water supply, substandard as it was, had nearly ceased, and had only been saved by locking in the workers. But electricity was gone, and at night the city looked as if it had reverted to the medieval times of Ivan the Terrible. A searchlight perched on top of the Admiralty Building and operated by naval generators gave some illumination to Nevsky Prospekt. Yet it still was unsafe to venture out into the city streets at night. Hope for things to improve before winter set in was becoming more and more remote.
The city was also plagued by the constant upheaval of street demonstrations, rallies, and the ever-present threat of violence. Many times Anna had considered returning to Katyk. But she didn't want to be that far from her sons, who were in school. Besides, things had changed in Katyk too, and Anna's ties there were growing more distant. Two months ago Mama Sophia had died. When Anna had returned with Paul and her daughter Mariana for the funeral, she had suddenly realized that she no longer belonged in the home of her birth. Her sister Vera was still there, of course, but they had never been close, and the years apart only emphasized that fact. The Burenin izba and small plot of land went by common assent to Vera's eldest son, who now had his own little family.
Life had become unbearable in the city, but it was still home for Anna. The people she cared most about were there. Even if she sometimes felt as if her life had ended with Sergei's death, her sons and adopted daughter had established themselves, and it seemed unfair to uproot them just for her own satisfaction. And oddly, Anna had no serious desire to leave St. Petersburg. The memories here were painful at times, but they were her only link to her dear Sergei. She wasn't ready to cut herself off from them, and never would be.
Thus, one way or another, Anna managed to cope. She gave thanks to God when she felt good, when moments of happiness penetrated the gloom. And the other times ... well, she was just learning how to accept them.
Anna turned toward the familiar voice that somehow rose above the noisy sounds of the crowded market.
"Yuri! Whatever are you doing here?"
Elbowing his way through the crowd, Anna's eldest son strode toward her. He seemed to have sprouted several inches in the last six months. Cutting a path through the mass of shoppers, he could have been a man, not a fifteen-year-old boy. But as he drew close, the smoothness of his beardless cheeks revealed his youthfulness. Still, he was already nearly as tall as his father had been, with a lean, strong figure. His resemblance to Sergei and the Fedorcenkos was still marked, even though, unlike Sergei, Yuri's hair and eyes were dark brown. His high forehead and well-sculpted jaw bore all the pride of the family whose nobility predated even the Romanovs.
"You shouldn't have to be spending your day in these lines," said Yuri.
"It must be done," Anna replied. "But you still haven't answered my question. What are you doing here? Why aren't you in school?" One thing Sergei had desired more than anything was that his sons get a proper education. Anna was determined to see that through, no matter the hardships it brought.
"School has been canceled, Mama."
"No electricity, no food to feed the students, no transportation for those who live too far to walk." Yuri shook his head. He was obviously not pleased. His education was as important to him as it had been to his father. "Even some of the teachers have joined the strike. Some students, too. I've heard most of the schools in the city are closing."
"What next?" sighed Anna.
"I hate to tell you."
"What do you mean, Yuri?"
Anna closed her eyes and sighed. Andrei was probably deliriously happy about the cessation of school. The only reason he attended at all these days was because of Sergei. But now schools were closed, and revolutionary activity had escalated in the city. Anna felt her stomach tighten in apprehension.
"I thought I should find you, Mama," Yuri went on. "Maybe you can stop him."
"He wants to join the demonstrations. He would have gone directly downtown, but I talked him into coming home first. I told him" Yuri faltered and glanced down. But he wasn't the type of person not to see a task through to the end, even if it was unpleasant. "I told him it would be a terrible thing if something ... happened to him and he hadn't seen you first."
Yuri bit his lip. The memories of his father's sudden death were still raw and tender. Anna wanted to weep; she wanted to embrace her son, hold him as if he were a child. But it would not have been fitting in that public place, so she merely patted his arm.
"I tried to get Andrei to stop by Uncle Paul's on the way home from school," Yuri continued, steadied by the diversion of his talk. "I thought Uncle Paul might be able to talk some sense into him. He wasn't home, but Aunt Mathilde said she would let him know we wanted to see him."
Anna glanced at the line in front of her. It had crept forward only slightly since Yuri's arrival. So little food was coming into the city; people were apt to drop any task at even the slightest hint of the arrival of a shipment of bread.
"We must have bread," Anna said.
"I know, Mama." Yuri obviously perceived her conflict. "I'll wait for the bread."
Mother and son exchanged looks that went far deeper than the words they spoke. Shared grief and loss had brought them close, but they had always had a level of mutual understanding that had never developed between Anna and Andrei. Was it because Yuri was so much like his father? Or simply that his sensitive nature had lent itself more naturally to closeness?
Anna had always had a more difficult time with her younger son. His manner, his sense of adventure, his passion were alien to Anna. He was more like his aunt Katrina in that way. But instead of opposite personalities enriching each other as they had between Anna and Katrina, the differences between Anna and Andrei only created a chasm between them. Sergei had been much better with Andrei. That had been Sergei's gift, after all. He had been a man who could bridge chasmsbetween servant girl and prince, Cossack and gentleman, or illiterate peasant and intellectual.
But Sergei was gone.
Anna nodded toward Yuri, then turned away from the market. She had to depend on herself now. She had to learn to meet the crises of life alone. Well, she wasn't truly alone. God was still with her.
White Nights, Red Morning (The Russians) by Judith Pella
Copyright © 1996, Judith Pella
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.