The Manager Of "The Kremlin"

This story was told me in Paris very early in the morning by the manager of a famous night club, and I am fairly certain that it is true.
I shall not tell you the real name of the manager or of his club, because it is not the sort of advertisement he would like, but I will call them, instead, Boris and “The Kremlin.”
“The Kremlin” occupies a position of its own.
Your hat and coat are taken at the door by a perfectly genuine Cossack of ferocious appearance; he wears riding boots and spurs, and the parts of his face that are not hidden by beard are cut and scarred like that of a pre-war German student.
The interior is hung with rugs and red, woven stuff to represent a tent. There is a very good tsigain band playing gipsy music, and a very good jazz-band which plays when people want to dance.
The waiters are chosen for their height. They wear magnificent Russian liveries, and carry round flaming skewers on which are spitted onions between rounds of meat. Most of them are ex-officers of the Imperial Guard.
Boris, the manager, is quite a young man; he is 6 ft. 5 1/2 in. in height. He wears a Russian silk blouse, loose trousers and top boots, and goes from table to table seeing that everything is all right.
From two in the morning until dawn “The Kremlin” is invariably full, and the American visitors, looking wistfully at their bills, often remark that Boris must be “making a good thing out of it.” So he is.
Fashions change very quickly in Montmartre, but if his present popularity lasts for another season, he talks of retiring to a villa on the Riviera.
One Saturday night, or rather a Sunday morning, Boris did me the honour of coming to sit at my table and take a glass of wine with me. It was then that Boris told his story.
His father was a general, and when the war broke out Boris was a cadet at the military academy.
He was too young to fight, and was forced to watch, from behind the lines, the collapse of the Imperial Government.
Then came the confused period when the Great War was over, and various scattered remnants of the royalist army, with half-hearted support from their former allies, were engaged in a losing fight against the Bolshevists.
Boris was eighteen years old. His father had been killed and his mother had already escaped to America.
The military academy was being closed down, and with several of his fellow cadets Boris decided to join the last royalist army which, under Kolchak, was holding the Bolshevists at bay in Siberia.
It was a very odd kind of army. There were dismounted cavalry and sailors who had left their ships, officers whose regiments had mutinied, frontier garrisons and aides-de-camp, veterans of the Russo-Japanese war, and boys like Boris who were seeing action for the first time.
Besides these, there were units from the Allied Powers, who seemed to have been sent there by their capricious Governments and forgotten; there was a corps of British engineers and some French artillery; there were also liaison officers and military attachés to the General Headquarters Staff.
Among the latter was a French cavalry officer a few years older than Boris. To most educated Russians before the war French was as familiar as their own language.
Boris and the French attaché became close friends. They used to smoke together and talk of Moscow and Paris before the war.
As the weeks passed it became clear that Kolchak’s campaign could end in nothing but disaster.
Eventually a council of officers decided that the only course open was to break through to the east coast and attempt to escape to Europe.
A force had to be left behind to cover the retreat, and Boris and his French friend found themselves detailed to remain with this rearguard. In the action which followed, the small covering force was completely routed.
Alone among the officers Boris and his friend escaped with their lives, but their condition was almost desperate.
Their baggage was lost and they found themselves isolated in a waste land, patrolled by enemy troops and inhabited by savage Asiatic tribesmen.
Left to himself, the Frenchman’s chances of escape were negligible, but a certain prestige still attached to the uniform of a Russian officer in the outlying villages.
Boris lent him his military overcoat to cover his uniform, and together they struggled through the snow, begging their way to the frontier.
Eventually they arrived in Japanese territory. Here all Russians were suspect, and it devolved on the Frenchman to get them safe conduct to the nearest French Consulate.
Boris’s chief aim now was to join his mother in America. His friend had to return to report himself in Paris, so here they parted.
They took an affectionate farewell, promising to see each other again when their various affairs were settled. But each in his heart doubted whether chance would ever bring them together again.
Two years elapsed, and then one day in spring a poorly-dressed young Russian found himself in Paris, with three hundred francs in his pocket and all his worldly possessions in a kitbag.
He was very different from the debonair Boris who had left the military academy for Kolchak’s army. America had proved to be something very different from the Land of Opportunity he had imagined.
His mother sold the jewels and a few personal possessions she had been able to bring away with her, and had started a small dressmaking business.
There seemed no chance of permanent employment for Boris, so after two or three months of casual jobs he worked his passage to England.
During the months that followed, Boris obtained temporary employment as a waiter, a chauffeur, a professional dancing-partner, a dock-labourer, and he came very near to starvation.
Finally, he came across an old friend of his father’s, a former first secretary in the diplomatic corps, who was now working as a hairdresser.
This friend advised him to try Paris, where a large Russian colony had already formed, and gave him his fare.
It was thus that one morning, as the buds were just beginning to break in the Champs Elysées and the couturiers were exhibiting their Spring fashions, Boris found himself, ill-dressed and friendless, in another strange city.
His total capital was the equivalent of about thirty shillings; and so, being uncertain of what was to become of him, he decided to have luncheon.
An Englishman finding himself in this predicament would no doubt have made careful calculations.
He would have decided what was the longest time that his money would last him, and would have methodically kept within his budget while he started again “looking for a job.”
But as Boris stood working out this depressing sum, something seemed suddenly to snap in his head.
With the utmost privation he could hardly hope to subsist for more than two or three weeks.
At the end of that time he would be in exactly the same position, a fortnight older, with all his money spent and no nearer a job.
Why not now as well as in a fortnight’s time? He was in Paris, about which he had read and heard so much. He made up his mind to have one good meal and leave the rest to chance.
He had often heard his father speak of a restaurant called Larne. He had no idea where it was, so he took a taxi.
He entered the restaurant and sat down in one of the red-plush seats, while the waiters eyed his clothes with suspicion.
He looked about him in an unembarrassed way. It was quieter and less showy in appearance than the big restaurants he had passed in New York and London, but a glance at the menu told him that it was not a place where poor people often went.
Then he began ordering his luncheon, and the waiter’s manner quickly changed as he realized that this eccentrically dressed customer did not need any advice about choosing his food and wine.
He ate fresh caviare and ortolansan porto and crepes suzettes; he drank a bottle of vintage claret and a glass of very old fine champagne, and he examined several boxes of cigars before he found one in perfect condition.
When he had finished, he asked for his bill. It was 260 francs. He gave the waiter a tip of 26 francs and 4 francs to the man at the door who had taken his hat and kitbag. His taxi had cost 7 francs.
Half a minute later he stood on the kerb with exactly 3 francs in the world. But it had been a magnificent lunch, and he did not regret it.
As he stood there, meditating what he could do, his arm was suddenly taken from behind, and turning he saw a smartly dressed Frenchman, who had evidently just left the restaurant. It was his friend the military attaché.
“I was sitting at the table behind you,” he said. “You never noticed me, you were so intent on your food.”
“It is probably my last meal for some time,” Boris explained, and his friend laughed at what he took to be a joke.
They walked up the street together, talking rapidly. The Frenchman described how he had left the army when his time of service was up, and was now a director of a prosperous motor business.
“And you, too,” he said. “I am delighted to see that you also have been doing well.”
“Doing well? At the moment I have exactly three francs in the world.”
“My dear fellow, people with three francs in the world do not eat caviare at Larne.”
Then for the first time he noticed Boris’s frayed clothes. He had only known him in a war-worn uniform and it had seemed natural at first to find him dressed as he was.
Now he realized that these were not the clothes which prosperous young men usually wear.
“My dear friend,” he said, “forgive me for laughing. I didn’t realize..... Come and dine with me this evening at my flat, and we will talk about what is to be done.”
“And so,” concluded Boris, “I became the manager of ‘The Kremlin.’ If I had not gone to Larne that day it is about certain we should never have met!
“My friend said that I might have a part in his motor business, but that he thought anyone who could spend his last 300 francs on one meal was ordained by God to keep a restaurant.
“So it has been. He financed me. I collected some of my old friends to work with us. Now, you see, I am comparatively a rich man.”
The last visitors had paid their bill and risen, rather unsteadily, to go. Boris rose, too, to bow them out. The daylight shone into the room as they lifted the curtain to go out.
Suddenly, in the new light, all the decorations looked bogus and tawdry; the waiters hurried away to change their sham liveries. Boris understood what I was feeling.
“I know,” he said. “It is not Russian. It is not anything even to own a popular night club when one has lost one’s country.”