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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY

JULY, 1921

THE SECRET DOOR

BY SIR PAUL DUKES

LATE at night I stood outside the Tauride Palace in Petrograd, which had become the centre of the revolution. No one was admitted through the great gates without a pass. I sought a place about midway between the gates, and, when no one was looking, scrambled up, dropped over the railings, and ran through the bushes straight to the main porch. Here I soon met folk I knew— comrades of student days, revolutionists. What a spectacle within the palace, lately so still and dignified! Tired soldiers lay sleeping in heaps in every hall and corridor. The vaulted lobby, whence the Duma members had flitted silently, was packed almost to the roof with all manner of truck, baggage, arms, and ammunition. All night long, and the next, I labored with the revolutionists to turn the Tauride Palace into a revolutionary arsenal.

Thus began the revolution. And after? Everyone knows now how the hopes of freedom were blighted. Truly had Russia's foe, Germany, who dispatched the 'proletarian' dictator Lenin and his satellites to Russia, discovered the Achilles' heel of the Russian revolution. Everyone now knows how the flowers of the revolution withered under the blast of the class war, and how Russia was replunged into starvation and serfdom. I will not dwell

VOL. 128-NO. 1

A

on these things. My story relates to the time when they were already cruel realities.

I

My reminiscences of the first year of Bolshevist administration are jumbled into a kaleidoscopic panorama of impressions gained while journeying from city to city, sometimes crouched in the corner of crowded box-cars, sometimes traveling in comfort, sometimes riding on the steps, and sometimes on the roofs or buffers. I was nominally in the service of the British Foreign Office; but the Anglo-Russian Commission (of which I was a member) having quit Russia, I attached myself to the American Y.M.C.A., doing relief work. A year after the revolution I found myself in the Eastern city of Samara, training a detachment of Boy Scouts. As the snows of winter melted, and the spring sunshine shed joy and cheerfulness around, I held my parades, and together with my American colleagues organized outings and sports.

Then one day, when in Moscow, I was handed an unexpected telegram'urgent' - from the British Foreign Office. 'You are wanted at once in London,' it ran. I set out for Archangel without delay. Thence by steamer and destroyer and tug to the Norwegian

frontier; and so, round the North Cape to Bergen, with, finally, a zig-zag course across the North Sea, dodging submarines, to Scotland.

At Aberdeen the Control Officer had received orders to pass me through by the first train to London. At King's Cross a car was waiting; and knowing neither my destination nor the cause of my recall, I was driven to a building in a side street in the vicinity of Trafalgar Square. "This way,' said the chauffeur, leaving the car. The chauffeur had a face like a mask. We entered the building, and the elevator whisked us to the top floor, above which additional superstructures had been built for war emergency offices.

I had always associated rabbit-warrens with subterranean abodes; but here in this building I discovered a maze of rabbit-burrow-like passages, corridors, nooks, and alcoves, piled higgledypiggledy on the roof. Leaving the elevator, my guide led me up one flight of steps so narrow that a corpulent man would have stuck tight, then down a similar flight on the other side, under wooden archways so low that we had to stoop, round unexpected corners, and again up a flight of steps which brought us out on the roof. Crossing a short iron bridge, we entered another maze, until, just as I was beginning to feel dizzy, I was shown into a tiny room about ten feet square, where sat an officer in the uniform of a British colonel. The impassive chauffeur announced me and withdrew.

'Good-afternoon, Mr. Dukes,' said the colonel, rising and greeting me with a warm hand-shake. 'I am glad to see you. You doubtless wonder that no explanation has been given you as to why you should return to England. Well, I have to inform you, confidentially, that it has been proposed to offer you a somewhat responsible post in the Secret Intelligence Service.'

I gasped. 'But,' I stammered, 'I have never- May I ask what it implies?'

'Certainly,' he replied. 'We have reason to believe that Russia will not long continue to be open to foreigners. We wish someone to remain there, to keep us informed of the march of events.'

'But,' I put in, 'my present work? It is important, and if I drop it — ’

'We foresaw that objection,' replied the colonel, ‘and I must tell you that under war regulations we have the right to requisition your services if need be. You have been attached to the Foreign Office. This office also works in conjunction with the Foreign Office, which has been consulted on this question. Of course,' he added, bitingly, 'if the risk or danger alarms you —

I forget what I said, but he did not continue.

'Very well,' he proceeded, 'consider the matter and return at four-thirty tomorrow. If you have no valid reasons for not accepting this post, we will consider you as in our service and I will tell you further details.'

He rang a bell. A young lady appeared and escorted me out, threading her way with what seemed to me marvelous dexterity through the maze of passages.

Burning with curiosity, and fascinated already by the mystery of this elevated labyrinth, I ventured a query to my young female guide. 'What sort of establishment is this?' I said.

I detected a twinkle in her eye. She shrugged her shoulders and, without replying, pressed the button for the elevator. 'Good-afternoon,' was all she said as I passed in.

Next day I found the colonel in a fair-sized apartment, with easy chairs, and walls hidden by bookcases. He seemed to take it for granted that I had nothing to say.

'I will tell you briefly what we desire,' he said. "Then you may make any

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