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TWO DEATHS - by Aleksandr Serafimovich


Moscow. October 1917.
A tsarist cadet moves along the rooftops and fires down into Soviet Square, killing incautious passers-by.

A young woman appears in the Moscow Soviet and announces that she wants to help the revolution by spying on the cadets. A comrade with a Mauser in his belt sternly warns her that if she deceives them, the Reds will shoot her; and if the Whites find out that she is a spy, they (the Whites) will shoot her. She still insists on undertaking the mission. They give her a Red pass and a false document stating that she is the daughter of an officer living on Pokrovka.

She passes the Red checkpoint, showing her Red pass, which she then hides as she moves into White territory. Cadets surround her and take her to their academy-headquarters. She says her father died in the war with the Germans and that her two brothers are in Cossack detachments. She volunteers to work as a nurse. The cadets accept her and give her tea.

One of the cadets puts on the shabby clothes of a worker they've just killed, including his jacket with a bullet hole in the chest. He then sets out to Pokrovka to verify her story. There he finds a ragged citizen who confirms that just such a bourgeois woman lived there. She's been gone since that morning...maybe she was arrested.

Back at the academy, the cadets coming off duty crowd happily around the woman. They give her sweets, play songs on the piano, and present her with flowers. They also promise to get rid of that boorish horde of Reds. They tell her that they are planning an attack on the Smolensk market soon.

The next morning, on the way to the infirmary, the woman is shocked to notice a worker in a pink cotton shirt, lying dead on the ground in front of a white wall, a bullet hole in his head. "A spy," a cadet tells her.

She spends the day bandaging wounds, and on the second night says she has to go home to look in on her sisters. The cadets offer to give her an escort, but she refuses. On the way home, she loses her way in the dark, passing a burning building.

She is startled by a guard who aims a rifle at her and shouts, Who goes there? It's a Red, but in her confusion, she accidentally gives him her White pass. The guard looks at it upside-down. He's illiterate. So she just tells him she's going to the Soviet. He gives her directions.

At the Soviet, she tells them what she's learned about the Whites' plans, and the Reds are grateful for the information.

The next day, she returns to the cadets' academy. The attack on the Smolensk market is a disaster. The cadets suffer heavy casualties. The woman works tirelessly binding wounds and caring for the injured. Then a cadet, in his worker's disguise bursts in. He points at her and shouts out, "The whore! She betrayed us!"

The woman shouts back, "You're killing workers! I don't know how to use a gun, so this is how I kill you!"

The cadets take the woman out, stand her up in front of the white wall and put two bullets in her heart. She falls to the ground on the exact same spot where the worker in the pink shirt lay earlier. As the cadets drag away her body, her unflinching eyes stare into the stern and stormy October sky.


Serafimovich, Alexander. Alexander Serafimovich Popov (aka Serafimovich), a genuine Don Cossack, was born on 19 January 1863 in the village of Nizhne-Kurmoyarskaya, 100 miles east of Rostov-on-Don. At age three, he and his family moved to Poland with his father, who was stationed there with a Cossack regiment. In 1874, they returned to the Don and settled in Ust-Medveditskaya (later renamed Serafimovich).

After his father's death, he secured a military scholarship and studied mathematics and physics at the University of Petersburg. He met Alexander Ulyanov, Lenin's older brother, and joined a revolutionary student group. In 1887 he was arrested for writing a proclamation about the attempted assassination of Alexander III. He was exiled to Mezen in Archangel Province in the far north for three years.

In 1890 he returned to Ust-Medveditskaya, then moved to Novocherkassk and Rostov-on-Don, surviving by giving lessons and contributing sketches to local newspapers. During this time, he got involved in People's Will groups and carried on propaganda for them.

In 1902 he moved to Moscow and dedicated himself to writing. In 1903 he joined Maxim Gorky's cooperative publishing enterprise Znanie, which published three volumes of Serafimovich's stories. He participated in the 1905 Revolution in Moscow's Presnya district. He traveled to Finland in 1910. In 1915, after the outbreak of World War I, he went to Galacia where he and Lenin's sister, Maria Ulyanova, served as medical orderlies. He was also correspondent for Russkiye Vedomosti. He was one of the first writers to support the October Revolution and was given responsibility for the artistic section of Izvestiya.

In March 1918 he was at the civil war front as a correspondent for both Izvestiya and Pravda. He joined the Communist Party in 1918. After the Civil War he was active in editorial work as a board member of Tvorchestvo and chief editor of Oktyabr. He was awarded the Stalin Prize, Order of the Red Banner and Order of Lenin. He died in Moscow 0n 19 January 1949.

Works: On an Ice-Floe (1889), a story of hunters on the White Sea. The Snow Desert (1889). On Rafts (1890). The Switchman (1891), a railway story. In The Health Resort (1902), a tale set in Yalta where Serafimovich himself has received treatment for tuberculosis. Into the Storm (1903), a fishing tale. On the Shore (1903), another fishing tale. In Presnya (1906), The Bombs (1906), and How They Were Hanged (1908) reflect his experience during the 1905 revolution. In the Middle of the Night (1906) contains a portrayal of a workers' mass meeting in the Crimea. The Glow of the Fire (1907), describes the burning of church estates. At the Precipice (1907) shows punitive measures taken by the authorities after the events of 1905. Forest Life (1908), set in Archangel province. Sands (1908), a story of peasant greed and murder, was praised by Lev Tolstoy. Chibis (1908), a sad tale about a homeless family of farm laborers roaming the Don country. A Town in the Steppe (1912), his first novel, tells the tale of the struggle between capitalists and proletarians as a new industrial town is built in the Don steppes. Three Friends (1914), about life on a small farm in the Don. Short Summer Night (1916), deals with exploitation of children. The Black Three-Cornered Cap (1914) and Thermometer (1914) deal with the poverty and suffering of ordinary people during wartime. The Revolution, the Front and the Rear (1917-1920), a series of civil war sketches and tales. His main novel, The Iron Flood (1924), describes the march of the Taman Army between late August and mid-September 1918. It depicts mass action, mass mentality, and the class essence of the Civil War. Two Deaths (1926) is story of a woman who volunteers to spy on the White cadets during street-fighting in Moscow following the Revolution. Over the Don Steppes (1931) is a series of sketches about the life of the Don Cossacks. Collective Farm Fields and an autobiographical novel remained unfinished at his death.

Source: Luker, Nicholas. "From Furmanov to Sholokhov", Ardis 1988.

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