The Dangerous Years

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Authors: Max Hennessy
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service, he felt he had done no more than any normal naval officer would do and that Charley probably expected too much from him. He suspected it was a shelving of responsibility to salve his own conscience, yet in his heart he also felt he’d been rejected and wasn’t entirely to blame.
    Vera Brasov made no bones about her pleasure in him. She taught him to call her ‘Tsaritsa moyevo serdsta’ – the queen of his heart – and in the mornings across the pillow greeted him in Russian.
    ‘Dobroye utro , Kelly Georgeivitch! Oi, anglichanie , you are good in bed!’
    She wasn’t as sentimental as she pretended, however, and though her love-making was expert, he found her several times watching him with a curious soullessness in her eyes. Despite her denial, he knew she was using him as an insurance against the future.
    ‘Make no mistake, Kelly Georgeivitch,’ she pointed out coolly, ‘these armies of ours are not as good as they seem. And at the moment, all is going well because we have broad rivers between us and the Bolsheviki. I don’t think anyone here has stopped to think what will happen when the winter comes and they freeze. Then , the ice will be thick enough to bear horses and wagons and guns, and the barriers they present will disappear overnight.’

 
     
Six
    Kelly’s new command was pulled by a ninety-ton monster of an engine, decorated in red and black and liberally sprinkled with flags. Its name, Invincible , was painted in Kyrillic characters along its side and there were more flags on the front and rear of the train and on the corners of every carriage. Living quarters were provided by a coupé for the officers and senior NCOs and two fitted-out cattle trucks called kerplushkas for the men. The rest of the train consisted of the usual armoured repair truck followed by a sandbagged flat car mounted with machine guns, behind which were trucks with a six-inch naval gun and four 12-pounders. Each piece of rolling stock had an iron flap over the buffers so that it was possible to pass from one to the other while the train was in motion.
    ‘Bit tricky in a heavy sea, sir,’ Rumbelo grinned.
    The living quarters were luxurious, with potted plants, red velvet seats, and gold-framed paintings. As Kelly stared at the picture of a half-clad girl on a leopard skin, the door from the sleeping quarters opened and he was startled to see Kimister.
    ‘What the devil are you doing here?’ he demanded.
    Kimister gestured. ‘New job,’ he said, ‘They’ve given me command of the train.’ He sounded uneasy and unhappy. ‘I’ve got Russian infantry, a Royal Artillery team, a gun’s crew from Queen Elizabeth , and another naval officer.’
    Kelly grinned. ‘Try again, old son,’ he said. ‘I think you’ve got it wrong. I’m the other naval officer and you certainly haven’t got me .’
    They had expected to move off quietly with nothing more than a send-off from Orrmont, but the Russian authorities had decided otherwise, and three batteries of newly trained artillery, which were also due to go to the front, had been drawn up alongside the train with a regiment of Cossacks, dramatic, fierce-looking men on small shaggy ponies, with long lovelocks of hair curled Cossack-fashion over their left ears. They had brought their horsetail regimental standards, and an altar had been erected alongside the railway line. As they waited, a priest in glittering robes and surrounded by acolytes advanced slowly towards them. As he lifted his hand, church bells started.
    ‘Good God,’ Kelly said to Galt. ‘I think they’re going to marry us!’
    The solemnity of the service was intensified by huge crucifixes and a choir whose base voices in Gregorian chants competed with the wild pealing of the bells. The Te Deum finished, a Russian officer stepped forward with a silk banner which he handed to Kelly, and there were more muttered prayers, more choral acrobatics and enough holy water flung about to wash the train. As the

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