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It was the summer of 1918, in a small town in Central Russia. The World War was in progress, though Russia had recently made peace – with the Germans. Internally, Russia was in chaos. The Czar had been overthrown, and his whereabouts were not definitely known. There were rumors that he had been executed; others said he had fled to England. No one seemed quite sure of much, just at this time. The country was torn by civil war, as the new revolutionary government sought to suppress the White Army, backed by supporters of the fallen czar. The government of the revolution itself seemed unable to govern, as the economy fell into ruins and factions struggled with each other. Revolutionary soldiers and new leaders, often unskilled, untrained, and uncertain as to who was in charge, contributed to the chaotic situation.
There were, of course, those who still had sympathetic feelings for the monarchy; or, at least, more sympathy for the kind of order it represented than the kind of chaos which seemed now to reign. The future of the revolution was still uncertain, and the new leaders were profoundly mistrustful, perhaps vengeful, toward those who seemed to hold sympathies for the czar or the White Army. Particularly, those of the nobility and persons who had held high posts under Nicholas II were suspect, and many were in hiding or fleeting for their lives.
In this small town, there arrived in the dead of night a car carrying a male driver and two women passengers. One of the women was the Countess Valentina Norosova, a distant cousin of the czar and whose husband, who had been a colonel in the czar’s army, was now missing and rumored to have left the country as an agent of the White Army, to seek help from abroad. The other woman was the Countess’s maid, Marina. The women, in fear of their lives, had left their home and fled to a quieter area to seek help from those few still friendly to them.
The car stopped in front of a small house, set well back from the road, quite isolated, and some distance from the small town. It was a small building, with two floors, and there were a few lights. The two women, carrying a few belongings, left the car and entered the house; after which the driver and car departed in haste.
The Countess was a woman of thirty one, fairly attractive and well groomed in the style of the aristocracy, with a hat, coat, and a fashionable floor length skirt. She was not particularly slender, though not much overweight. She was large boned, and a bit taller than her maid. She had the regal look of one accustomed to respect and the more pleasant things of life.
Three men greeted the women. The apparent leader, who went by the name Vassily, bowed low before them.
“Welcome, ladies. We greet you in peace, and offer you what hospitality we can muster. We know you have had a difficult journey. Our circumstances are humble, but you are among friends. You will be safe here.”
“For a while, we hope,” the Countess replied. She offered her hand in greeting to each of the three in turn. “It is hard to know who can be trusted, the way things are these days. We dislike troubling you, but we are grateful for whatever you can offer us.”
Vassily introduced Ygor and Leon, explaining that it was best not to use last names. There was much danger, but the house here was felt to be safe. There had been soldiers around a few days ago, but now they had moved on. The men did have some intelligence regarding the movements, and should they return, they expected to have fair warning.
It developed there were five men in the group, who were all sympathizers or supporters of the White Army. They had been alerted of the arrival of the Countess and her maid, and accepted as their duty to shelter the Countess and try to find a way for her to escape the country. They were, it developed, in contact with other underground groups, and a plan was in a stage of development.
Vassily concluded their initial discussion. “Madam, it is late and you are tired. I think we should continue our discussions in the morning. We offer you and your maid two small rooms upstairs. I am sorry there are not better accommodations, but this is what we have. You will meet our other two companions in the morning.”
The women were escorted to their upstairs rooms, and retired for the night.
In the morning, Marina was awakened by a knock on her door. “Good morning, Marina! May I suggest you awaken your lady and prepare her for breakfast. We offer you what we have!”
Shortly, the women came downstairs and joined five men around a table, spread with what seemed to be a generous farmhouse breakfast.
They ate, exchanged pleasantries, and then Vassily directly addressed the Countess. “Madam, you know we hope to find a way to get you from here to a place where you might in safety leave Russia. Gregori, here, was not with us last night; but he has been in contact with some of our friends. We are working on a plan, but it will not be easy, bahis firmaları there will be much danger, and it will depend on your complete acceptance and cooperation. I will let Gregori explain.”
“Countess”, Gregori began politely, “as you are aware, this town seems safe for the moment. There is little to interest the revolutionaries here. But a few kilometers from here there are many soldiers, and they come and go. All the roads are watched, and civilians traveling are stopped and questioned. We think it is far too dangerous for you to travel by road, even if we could disguise you as a refugee. What we want to do is to get you by some means to Petrograd, from where friends have indicated they can get you on a ship to Sweden. The difficulty is to get you across the two thousand kilometers which lie between, without risking your discovery and capture.”
The Countess listened carefully. “You know, Gregori, we are most grateful for what you are doing for us. Let me assure you I will do whatever is necessary. It is my life that is in danger. You need have no doubt I will cooperate. Do you have a plan?”
“We are forming one. We have an idea, and we think it may work. But we had not seen you personally before this, and much depends on your appearance and demeanor, and if we can accomplish enough changes to disguise you in the way we are considering.”
Vassily interrupted. “Countess, we are not yet ready to reveal the plan to you in detail, because some of the details do not yet exist. But I think Gregori has some requests to make of you, if we can presume on some of your time.” He looked at Gregori.
“Madam,” Gregori continued, some of my requests may seem a bit odd or even bizarre, but I must ask your indulgence. Now, please, we need to hear you speak for a bit. I have here a book. Would you be so kind as to stand over there, a bit away from us, and read a few pages from it, please.”
The Countess took the book and began to read. The men listened intently for several minutes. When she had finished, Ygor asked, “Countess, do you sing?”
“Yes”, she replied “I was given voice lessons as a girl. I think I can sing a bit.”
“Then please, sing something for us!”
The Countess thought a bit, then softly burst into the words of an old Russian hymn.
“Countess”, Ygor asked again, “you know the song well. Could you sing in a lower key?”
“I am an alto, as to voice capabilities, but I will try,” the Countess answered, and sang a verse, a bit lower. The men looked at each other, quizzically.
Gregori took over again. “Countess, would you walk across the room for us, please?” She did so.
“Now,” he continued, “if you don’t mind, would you lift your skirt a bit and walk in a somewhat longer stride?” A bit puzzled, she did as requested.
“And now”, Gregori continued to speak, “Would you please stand there and show us your profile. Just be still for a minute or two, and please hold yourself very erect.”
She stood as told. The men looked at her. Two of them got up and viewed her from several angles. They spoke among themselves in whispers she could not hear.
Vassily took over. “Gregori is a bit shy about asking what he must, so I will do it for him. Excuse us, Countess, but we must know. Are you wearing a corset or some kind of support?”
The Countess hesitated, even blushed a bit. Then she smiled and replied, “Yes, I have a corset on.” Marina stared at Vassily, as if to scold, and added, “Madam, such things they ask, you really shouldn’t–” The Countess cut her off. “Marina is a good maid, but I realize there are some things we must discuss and do that are not in the usual etiquette rules. Are there are other personal things you need to know?”
She anticipated them. Vassily responded. “There will be many, Madam. But I fear we must now get to the heart of the matter, and I am pleased that you understand we must breach some social customs. I am sorry we must do this, but it is important if we are to determine how you may be effectively disguised. You may want Marina to assist you, but I must ask you to remove all the pins and other items you may have in your hair, and let your hair fall quite loose. Then, I apologize for asking, but we must. Would you please remove your dress and let us see you in your corset and such underclothing as you have on.”
Marina let out a gasp. The Countess drew back, a bit in horror. She hesitated a moment, then turned to Marina and said “Here, you must help me. Undo my hair and the buttons on the back of my dress.”
Marina almost screamed in shock, “Madam, what they ask you to do! No man should ask such a thing!”
The Countess quieted her. “Marina, it is for our safety. These are difficult times. We must both understand.”
In a few minutes, as the men watched, the Countess shed her dress and her immaculate hairdo was undone. She stood before them in a white petticoat, with a white corset fastened around her middle, reaching up to and covering her kaçak iddaa breasts. Her brown hair fell several inches below her shoulders, now loose and unrestrained.
“Well?” she presented herself. “Is this satisfactory?”
The men conferred among themselves. Some nodded to her, but Vassily told her to remain standing, as the men viewed her from various angles. At length, Ygor spoke to her.
“Madam, I have one more request, and I regret that I must make it, but make it I must. Could you remove the corset? I am sorry, but it is important, and I promise you we will not ask you to disrobe further.”
Marina, at the Countess indication, began to unlace the corset. The Countess stood in silence as Marina removed the garment from her. Under it, she had her white petticoat, covering her loosely from her neckline to her thighs.
“I am sorry, gentlemen”, the Countess spoke, “but I am, of course, not used to this. I realize there is a reason, but you must understand I find this very humiliating. Please excuse my reaction. I know you are trying to help us.”
Ygor then asked her to stand so the men could see her in profile. It was obvious that, without the corset, her bustline had diminished a bit and fallen considerably.
After a few minutes, Ygor addressed her. “I am sorry, Countess, that we had to do this, but I thank you for your cooperation. I suggest you and Marina may wish to retire to your room and you may resume your proper attire. We will see you later. Right now, there are things we must do!”
When the women had left them, the men began to confer among themselves.
“What do you think?” Ygor asked of the others.
“She has a low enough voice – I am glad we didn’t get a coloratura! I think, with care, her voice would be all right.” one commented.
Another observed, “I was afraid of her bosom – you know, she looked rather big up there. But when you had her take off the corset, I think, well, maybe she could just do it.”
“We’ll need to bind her”, Vassily observed. “Leon, do you have the connections to get something suitable?” Leon nodded. “I think so. I’ll look.”
They continued their conversations.
When the women came down later, only two of the men were in the house. They admonished the women to remain inside, lest they be observed. A modest lunch was found for them. They passed the time quietly in the afternoon.
Late that afternoon, Vassily and Gregori returned. They were just a bit joyful as they entered the house.
“We think we have good news, Countess. We do have a plan. Are you ready to hear it?”
“Indeed I am. Are you ready to proceed?”
“I think”, Vassily responded, “that it is best if you have Marina leave us. What I have to say must be for your ears only, just now!” The Countess turned to Marina, who immediately retired to her room.
Vassily began. “Countess, we think there is no chance to get you out on the roads, as we told you. We don’t see any reasonably safe way to get you around the army. So we are going to propose to take you out with the army!”
“With the army? They are the very ones who will capture me if they can! How?”
“We plan for you to be one of them. We know there will be soldiers brought into a town nearby in a few days. They have been on duty a long time, and as the area is quiet, many are to be given leave and allowed to go home, for a few days. Some will be going to Petrograd. They will ride in the train, when it runs, which is, of course, a bit unpredictable. But there is likely to be a train running in the direction of Petrograd. It will be a long trip, in box cars, probably, but for soldiers on a leave it will be welcome. We propose that, instead of trying to get through the army road blocks and checks, you go back to Petrograd as one of the army. Leon will be prepared to go with you, at least part of the way. Are you interested?”
“I don’t think I understand. How are you going to get me to be part of the army?”
“Countess, I am sorry, but this part of the plan is why we had to put you through that episode this morning. We will disguise you as a soldier – make you look like a man, give you a uniform. Leon will do the same, and help you along. They are unlikely to question an ordinary soldier on a leave pass. We will prepare you and teach you how to conduct yourself, so as to avoid suspicion. But it will be necessary for you to look and act like a man, and to continue to do so until you get to Petrograd and safely away. Are you willing to try it?”
The Countess pondered the proposition. “There are a great many problems. But you make it sound like my best chance to escape. I must do whatever is needed. Yes, I will do it. Now tell me the details!”
Gregori picked up the explanation. “First, you must be made to look like a man. We will need to cut your hair as a man would. Leon is a fairly good barber. He will do it – in the morning. Then, we will get you a uniform, one that fits you, or at kaçak bahis least as close as any soldier’s uniform fits. We will have it in the morning. Then, you must get rid of all your womanly clothes – you must have nothing in your possession that is at all feminine. Marina can take these back with her. You must have only men’s things with you.”
“Marina?” the Countess asked.
“Yes. Marina cannot come. We have arranged for her to return to her family. She will be safe, we think, once you are gone. She must take away every bit of female clothing, everything you have which would give away your gender.”
Vassily smiled a bit. “Some things may amuse you, but there are things you must learn. For example, you must learn to shave. And you must shave every day. Starting tomorrow, Ygor will teach you to shave, as a man does!”
“But why? I don’t have a beard?”
“Precisely. But if you were a man you would, at least a light one. But many men keep themselves clean shaven, so you will not be suspicious if you are seen to shave. So you must do it, every day. If you did not shave, and still had no beard, you would become suspicious!”
Gregori continued the explanation. “There are other things you must learn. We heard you sing. We will teach you some soldier songs -not very nice ones for a lady, but what soldiers know. And also we will tell you some very crude jokes, so you will know them. For a while, you need to forget some of the girlish training you have had and just become a bit more rough and crude. You will have to be able to talk like a soldier to pull this off. And your voice – you know we all listened to your voice. It is low enough that it could be a man’s – you are lucky; if you had a high pitched voice we could not disguise it.”
“And, Countess, we had to see you without your corset. Your bosom might give you away. So we will bind it. Tomorrow, when we get you your uniform, we will have some material to tightly bind your chest, to keep you as flat as possible. You will have to wear it beneath your undershirt.”
“A man’s undershirt?” the Countess asked.
“Of course. You must wear all male clothing, including the underwear. You will start tomorrow, because you must get used to it. When you travel, you must act as though it is what you always wear.”
“And there are a few other things,” Vassily began, “including matters of some delicacy. I hesitate to ask this, but I must. Is there a likelihood of you encountering – er, well, monthly problems, soon?”
“No”, the Countess replied, without hesitation. “I went through that a week ago. so I should not have it again for about three weeks”.
“Good. If it happened while you are in uniform, it could be a serious problem. Also, you must take great care to keep yourself in good health. If you got sick, or became injured, someone might try to treat you, or take you to a doctor. That would almost certainly result in your discovery. Also, you must be careful not to get diarrhea, or any intestinal problems. Anything that might ordinarily cause you to need a toilet could present a difficult situation.”
Gregori broke in. “That brings up the other problem, which I know is also one of great delicacy, but we must face it. How frequently do you usually relieve yourself?”
The Countess blushed a bit and hesitated. She was getting used to personal questions, but this was more than she expected. Nonetheless, she knew what they were getting to.
She thought, then answered, “I’m not sure. I don’t time myself., but every three or four hours, I should think. Less often if I have to.”
“How much less often could you manage?” Gregori asked.
“Have you ever had to restrain yourself for a very long time?” Vassily explained.
“What are you getting to?” she asked.
“Just this. These soldiers you will be with have been living in tents, or make shift houses in old buildings, whatever they can find. Their hygienic habits are not very fastidious. When they need to relieve themselves, they do it in the open, along a road, on the ground, wherever. Seldom do they have the luxury of using toilets. When you are with them, they will likely be around trains and in box cars, not nice passenger coaches. They will likely relieve themselves outdoors whenever the train stops or when they get the chance. Some may simply pee out the car doors. If you relieve yourself by squatting on the ground, the way women usually do in such conditions, your disguise will at once be lost. Yet we know that you don’t have the anatomical equipment to do it the way the men do. We see only one choice for you, and, quite frankly, it is the biggest problem we face in disguising you, for if you attempt to pee anywhere the men can see you, you will surely be discovered!”
Gregori was a bit embarrassed, so Vassily broke in. “Really, Countess, this is going to be most difficult for you, but we don’t see any other way. If you attempt to relieve yourself in daylight you will almost surely be caught. You must only do it at night, when you can squat as a man might do to relieve his bowels. In the darkness, you could probably get away without discovery, if you are careful. But you must not attempt it in the daylight hours!”
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