British operative Stephen Enderby is in Russia on a mission of the utmost secrecy when he spies a woman in the freezing cold, standing on the parapet of a bridge. Her name, she tells him, is Elizabeth Radin. Her husband , Nicholas, was recently executed for being a counterrevolutionary. Forbidden to leave the country, she thought the only way out was to take her own life.
At the risk of blowing his cover, Stephen convinces the beautiful English widow to come with him to a safe house. His mission compromised, his only hope is to continue his impersonation of a Russian peasant, with Elizabeth posing as his new bride. But she hasn’t told him everything. Before Nicolas died, he revealed the formula for a groundbreaking aeronautical invention that Elizabeth committed to memory. The Russians want the formula—and will stop at nothing to get it.
A fast-moving novel of political intrigue featuring an impassioned socialist revolutionary named Irina, Red Stefan paints a vivid portrait of twentieth-century Russia.
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About the Author
Patricia Wentworth (1878–1961) was one of the masters of classic English mystery writing. Born in India as Dora Amy Elles, she began writing after the death of her first husband, publishing her first novel in 1910. In the 1920s, she introduced the character who would make her famous: Miss Maud Silver, the former governess whose stout figure, fondness for Tennyson, and passion for knitting served to disguise a keen intellect. Along with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Miss Silver is the definitive embodiment of the English style of cozy mysteries.
Read an Excerpt
By Patricia Wentworth
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1935 J.B. Lippincott Company
All rights reserved.
The man turned at the end of the bridge and walked back. That he was committing an act of pure folly was, of course, perfectly plain to him, but at the moment that did not matter at all. All that mattered was that he should cross the bridge again.
He turned and walked back slowly in the teeth of the bitter wind. Overhead the sky hung low and dark, and the clouds were heavy with snow. It wanted half an hour to sunset, but the light was failing rapidly. It had not been really light all day, but he could still see the leaden flow of the river, with the ice clinging to its banks and a black mass of buildings rising up on either side like cliffs to meet the arch of the sky. The parapet of the bridge showed dark against the shadowed river. The woman's figure, bent above the parapet, showed darker still. She had not moved. He came slowly up the slight incline and saw that she had not moved at all. She stood as if she had been frozen there, a dark slender figure with bent head and drooping shoulders.
The man looked at her, frowning. He wore a rough sheepskin coat and cap, and the wind cut through them. The woman was thinly dressed. How much longer was she going to stand there? Till she froze where she stood? Perhaps that was what she was doing it for. In Russia nowadays no one cared what became of you. You helped to pull the car of the Revolution, or you crawled away out of its path to die.
He walked very slowly past her and then turned to look back. The act of folly was becoming more outrageous every moment. At a time when it was all important that he should melt inconspicuously into the background, here he was concerning himself with the affairs of a stranger. If he went on loitering like this, somebody would be tolerably sure to come along and notice him — and the one thing he could not afford was to attract notice.
He walked to the parapet and stood there a dozen feet away from the dark bowed figure. He could now see the line of her cheek and chin. She had a round cloth cap on her head. It hid her hair and her ears. Her eyes were open. The thin cheek and temple might have been cut from marble.
It was she.
He had, of course, known it all along. His heart gave an involuntary jerk. Talk of folly — what folly was there like this? — to be unable to pass a chance-met stranger seen half a dozen times in the streets of this Russian town, and, what was more, to be unable to think of her as a stranger. She bore the stamp and strain of utter poverty. He neither knew her name nor who she was. And the least turn of her head, the least movement of her hands, were as dearly familiar as if he had known her always. Well, there was no movement now. The stillness tugged at his heart. Ice is still, death is still. No living flesh should be as still as this. His blood stirred with something like horror, and before the horror had time to die he had crossed the space between them. The impulse carried him into abrupt low-toned speech.
"Why do you stand here in this freezing wind? It's too cold for you."
He spoke in Russian, and it was in Russian that she answered him. Without any turn of the head or change of expression she said.
"Yes, it is cold."
His heart jerked again. It was the first time that he had heard her voice. Drained and faint as it was, it could yet touch something in him which no sound had touched before. He stood looking at her, but she did not look at him. She looked at the snow-clouds and the river, but she did not seem to see them. Perhaps she watched the wind go by. He could see her eyes, and there was an awful patience in them. No one looks like that who has not grown used to pain. With a hot anger in his heart he said gently.
"It is much too cold for you. You should not stand here."
She turned her head a little then and gave him a tired, appraising look. Seen full face like this in the dusk, her face was all shadows. They lay heavily under the fine arch of the brow and in the hollows of the cheeks. She said, with a little more tone in her voice, as if she were making an effort.
"Why do you speak to me?"
If he had been looking for adventure, her look would have checked him, it was so remote. He said, almost roughly.
"You'll freeze if you go on standing here."
The faintest flicker of something that was not quite a smile touched the pale lips. He had a quick enchanted thought of what it would be to see her smile at him in joy. The thought sank down into the depths of him and stayed there. She said
"It would not matter in the least. Please do not trouble yourself about me." The words were Russian, but they came haltingly. The accent was not Russian at all.
He looked over his shoulder. They were alone upon the bridge. He completed his act of folly by stepping to her side and saying abruptly.
"You're English, aren't you?"
The voice and the English words struck against her numbness like a blow. They woke her to a faint tingling consciousness.
She said, "Who are you?" and spoke in English too.
With a complete absence of hesitation he put his life into her hands.
"My name is Stephen Enderby."
"Is that why you spoke to me? Do you know me?"
"No, I don't know you — at least I don't know who you are. I've seen you. Does one have to know a woman to try and stop her freezing herself to death?"
If he had not been so near, he would have missed that second flicker of a smile.
She said, "I think so. It is very much one's own affair." And then, "How did you know I was English?"
He laughed. There was warmth and assurance in his tone.
"You don't speak very good Russian, and — I chanced it. And now that we are introduced, may I see you home, because you really oughtn't to be standing here in this wind."
For a moment she really smiled.
"Are we introduced, Mr Enderby?"
He laughed. The sound had a queer careless gaiety.
"Stefan Ivanovitch, if you don't mind. The other would probably mean a firing-squad if anyone heard you."
He saw her face change. It was as if all the shadows had deepened and frozen there. She swayed a little, and he put his hand on her to steady her.
"Then why did you tell me?" she said. "I'm a stranger. Why do you tell a thing like that to a stranger?"
His hand was on her arm. He felt it thrill as she spoke. She was very cold to touch, but it was not the coldness of death. Pain thrilled through her. He felt it under his hand. He said,
"No — you're not a stranger. I've watched you. Won't you tell me your name?"
She released herself and leaned against the parapet. The wind went past her. She said,
"My name is Elizabeth Radin."
Stephen laughed again.
"Now we're really introduced! Please may I see you home?"
"No, I don't think so, Stefan Ivanovitch." Her fingers lay on the cold stone and traced some pattern there. They were only half hidden by a tattered glove.
"Why?" said Stephen. He too leaned on the parapet. The river below them was unseen and the darkness had begun to close them in.
There was no answer. Her cold thin fingers moved upon the stone.
"Why?" said Stephen very insistently.
Elizabeth looked across the dark river. The black houses which stood over it like cliffs showed here and there a lighted pane. The wind went by. She said in a sweet, quiet voice,
"I haven't anywhere to go."
Stephen's heart gave a bound of angry excitement.
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say, Mr Enderby — I beg your pardon, Stefan Ivanovitch."
Stephen caught her wrist.
"What nonsense is this?" Then he had his coat off and was putting it round her. "Here — slip your arms into the sleeves. It's a beastly fuggy old hide, but it will keep the wind out."
She had not known how cold she was till the warmth came round her. In these days, since Nicolas Radin's death, she had grown used to being cold. Life was one long nightmare. To freeze — to starve — perhaps to freeze to death. ... The sheepskin, warmed by Stephen's vigorous body, gave her a momentary sense of awakening. In the days before the nightmare began one had been warm and cared for. A shudder ran over her as she said very faintly,
"You mustn't give me your coat. You'll freeze."
"Not if we walk," said Stephen firmly.
He fastened the coat as if he were dressing a child and, taking her by the elbow, began to walk her down the incline towards the left bank of the river. He talked as they went, and his blood raced. The coldest wind in the world could not have frozen him just then. He was alive, warm, and dominant. He felt capable of striding straight on to the frontier and over it with Elizabeth in his arms. He had never been so happy in his life.
"Now," he said, "you'd better tell me why you haven't got anywhere to go. Then we can think what's the best thing to do. By the way, what were you going to do?"
"Stay there, I suppose."
He could only just hear the words.
"I suppose so."
He felt a boiling anger which merged into triumph. Freeze, would she? Not with him to take care of her! He laughed out loud. She had again that sensation of awakening. In the nightmare no one laughed. They starved, fought, agonized, intrigued, and died, but they didn't laugh. Stephen was talking in that warm, confident voice.
"Please tell me why you've nowhere to go. I'm all in the dark, and I can't help you while I'm in the dark. Why are you stranded here? What has happened? I'll be able to help you much better if I know."
They had left the bridge and were following the darkening road. Elizabeth said under her breath.
"I don't think anyone can help. I want to go home, but they won't let me go."
"You're English — you ought to be able to get away. Have you tried the proper people?"
"My husband was half Russian. He was a Russian subject. They say I've lost my British nationality. They won't let me go."
"Is your husband dead?"
"Yes," said Elizabeth. After a moment she went on, "He was an engineer. His father was Russian. He had the offer of a good job here. We were married and came out to take it up. It was all right at first. Then —" she hesitated — "things went wrong. Nicolas was accused of counter-revolutionary activities. They shot him."
Even through the thick sheepskin fleece she could feel the warm, strong pressure of his hand. They had turned out of the main road into a side road.
"What did you do?"
"I tried to get home, but they wouldn't let me go. They said I was a Russian subject. I don't know why they didn't shoot me too — it would have saved a lot of trouble. At least — I do know why. The Commissar Petroff had an old mother, and he wanted someone to look after her. She was bed-ridden, and he couldn't get anyone to stay with her, because of her tongue. He told me I might think myself very lucky to get the chance of establishing my revolutionary integrity. I hadn't any money, or any way of getting food, so I took the job."
"Well?" said Stephen.
"I can't talk about it. She was the most horrible old woman."
Elizabeth shuddered again.
"She died yesterday."
"And they turned you out?"
"The Commissar wished me to stay."
"You mean —"
"I thought I would rather freeze."
She felt that strong pressure on her arm again.
"Oh, you're not going to freeze. I've got a room — or to be quite accurate, a share of a room — and a share of my share is very much at your service. I won't offer to give it up to you, because I shouldn't like to leave you to fend for yourself amongst the other occupants. They're a queerish lot."
"Mr Enderby —"
"Please!" said Stephen.
"No — I mustn't say it, I know. I won't again. But I can't let you run yourself into danger."
"Danger?" He laughed like a schoolboy. "That's rather like telling a duck not to get its feet wet!"
"Do you mean you are in danger already?"
"Already — and all the time."
"Then I shall make it worse for you."
"No, I don't think you will. It wouldn't make any difference if you did. But as a matter of fact you'll be rather an asset. Anyone who was looking out for me wouldn't expect me to have a woman with me."
They turned to the left again and descended a narrow lane which ran down towards the river. It was now very nearly dark. The houses rose black on either side. The path was slippery with ice and trodden snow.
Elizabeth felt as if she were walking in a dream. Presently she would wake up and find herself on the bridge again with nowhere to go. Or perhaps this was the snow-sleep which has no awakening. Perhaps she would just slip down, and down, and down into uttermost depths of unconsciousness. ... Perhaps ...
Stephen felt her stumble. He threw his arm about her.
"What is it?"
There was no answer. If he had not held her up, she would have slipped from him and fallen. He lifted her and carried her into the house against which they stood.CHAPTER 2
Elizabeth opened her eyes. She was lying on a heap of straw and someone was rubbing her feet. Her eyelids felt very heavy. It was Stephen who was rubbing her feet. He must have taken off her shoes whilst she was unconscious. He was kneeling on the floor. As soon as he saw her eyes open he put a finger to his lips.
Elizabeth looked at him with wide, blank eyes. She was no longer unconscious, but she was not yet fully conscious. She could see and hear, but she did not think about the things which she saw and heard. They made floating pictures in her mind. Stephen's face was one picture. She had not really seen it in the dusk. Now she saw it quite clearly, for there was a light somewhere in the room and it shone on him. She did not see his rough peasant's clothes or the great square hands which were rubbing her feet. She saw only his face with its strong chestnut beard and vigorously curling hair, and between these the bold curve of the nose, the bronzed wind-beaten skin, and the bluest eyes she had ever seen.
She looked at this picture and found it a pleasant one. Then, shifting her gaze slightly, her mind received a second picture. There was a lamp hanging from the roof. It gave out a strong yellow light and a strong oily smell. Just below this lamp ran the dark line of a curtain.
Elizabeth shifted her gaze again. She was trying to think about the curtain. The lamp swayed slightly, but the curtain hung dark and straight. She began to wonder about it, and then quite suddenly her mind was clear and she saw that the curtain was a sack ripped open and hanging from a tightly stretched line of string. It screened the corner in which she lay. From the other side of it came the sound of voices and the shuffling of feet. She raised herself on her elbow.
Stephen put his finger to his lips again. Then he pulled the sheepskin coat over her feet and disappeared on the other side of the sacking screen.
Elizabeth sat up and stared about her. The place was warm, and she was warm. Her feet glowed from the warmth of Stephen's hands. It was weeks since she had been warm like this. Mingled with the smell of oil there were other smells. The reek of food, damp sheepskins, coarse unwashed human beings, and rank tobacco all helped to thicken the atmosphere. But it was warm. It was most blessedly warm. She pushed the straw up behind her back and leaned against it. What was to happen next seemed to concern her as little as if she had been in a theatre waiting for the curtain to rise upon the next act of some play the plot of which she did not know. She felt a faint curiosity, a faint thrill of anticipation, but no more. It was as if the events of that first act in which she had herself sustained so tragic a role, had brought her to an end of her capacity to feel. She leaned back against the wall, a mere spectator now.
Then the sack was pushed aside and Stephen came ducking under the line. He had a bowl of steaming soup in his hand, and as the smell of it rose up into her nostrils, Elizabeth felt a frightful pang of hunger. She could have snatched the basin from him and gulped like an animal, but she steadied her hands, and had parted her lips to say thank you, when he again laid a finger on his own. As she took the first delicious mouthful, he was speaking close to her ear.
Excerpted from Red Stefan by Patricia Wentworth. Copyright © 1935 J.B. Lippincott Company. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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