1 Chapter 1: At my brother’s
The events that I now remember are sending me back to the days gone a long time ago, to my faraway youth. Everybody is calling me a little old man for almost a quarter of an age, and only I myself don’t feel to be old; my appearance, which makes the people surrounding me give up their place to me or pick up a fallen thing, isn’t going so much with my inner cheerfulness that it is simply uncomfortable for me to see such a respect to my grey head.
I was twenty years old when I came to stay for a while with my brother, the captain of the regiment N, to one big industrial city in the Central Asia. The heat, bright and blue sky, broad streets, not seen up to then, with their shady alleys of tall and spread out trees were surprising me with silence. From time to time, a trader would ride by slowly to the market on his donkey, a little crowd of women would go by, who cover their faces with black nettings and even wrap themselves up in white and black cloaks, hiding all forms of their bodies.
The street where my brother was living was further from both the centre and the market; there was a nearly absolute silence prevailing in it. My brother was renting a small house with the garden; he was living alone with his messenger and he was using only two of the rooms, so he let me have the other three. One of the rooms had all of its windows to the street, while the other one – only two of them. So I chose this room to be my bedroom, although up to now it was loudly called the sitting-room.
My brother was very educated man. The walls of the rooms were furnished with bookcases and book-shelves, loaded with books. This library was completed perfectly, stacked up in order and, according to the catalogue made by my brother himself, it was promising me lots of joy in my future unusual life of a recluse.
During the first days, my brother was taking me to the city, market and mosques. Sometimes I alone would walk about the huge trade galleries with their many-coloured pillars and little Eastern restaurants-kitchens at the crossings. Being in this scurrying, tattling crowd of the locals who used to wear their bright motley oriental robes, I would feel as being in Baghdad and I would wait that suddenly Aladdin with his magic lamp would come out from somewhere, or not recognized by anybody Harun al-Rashid would march past. And all of these Eastern people with their grand calm, or on the contrary – with their too great exaltation, seemed to me to be mysterious and attracting.
Once, when so absent-minded I was lounging about from one shop to another, I suddenly gave a start as if with electric current I turned around unwittingly: a very tall middle-aged man with absolutely black eyes and a thick, short, black beard was looking intently at me, while next to him a youth of unspeakable beauty was standing, and his dark blue, almost violet eyes were also looking intently at me. The tall brunette and the youth were wearing white turbans and motley oriental robes made of silk. Their carriage and manners were distinctly different from the surroundings, and many of the passers-by were cringing to them insinuatingly.
Both of them had already gone to the exit a long time ago, while I was still standing as enchanted, not possessing any power to overcome that impression of their wonderful eyes.
Having come to myself, I pounced after them, but I left the gallery only when the strangers who had surprised me so much were already sitting in their light carriage and moving away from the
market. The youth was sitting on my side. Having turned round, he gave me a ghost of a smile and told something to the older man, but the cloud of the dust lifted by three donkeys covered everything, I wasn’t able to see anything anymore and I didn’t have any strength to stand there in the heat of the direct sunbeams.
“Who could they be?” I was thinking, coming back to where I had met them. I went past a stall several times until I dared to speak to the owner.
“Please tell me who those people are who have just been here with you?”
“People? Many people are coming to me today,” he answered, smiling cunningly. “But you want to know not about people, but about one tall black man, right?”
“Yes, yes,” I was quick to assent to him. “I saw a tall brunette and a beautiful youth with him here. Who are they?”
“He is our great rich landlord. Vineyards – oh, oh, oh – vineyards! Big trade with England.”
“But what is his name?” I continued.
“Oho,” the owner laughed. “You are all burning with impatience to become acquainted with them? He is Mahomet Ali and the young man is Machmed Ali.”
“So they are both Mahomets?”
“No, no, Mahomet is only uncle, while the young man is Machmed.”
“Are they living here?” I kept asking him, while examining the silks on the shelves and thinking what to buy, so that I could linger more and find out something else about that surprising couple.
“What are you looking for? Do you want an oriental robe?” the owner asked me when he noticed that my look was rummaging through the shelves.
“Yes, yes,” I was glad under the pretext. “Please show me an oriental robe. I want to make a present to my brother.”
“And who is your brother, what is his taste?”
I had no idea about my brother’s taste for oriental robes, because I had seen him only in his tunic or pyjamas.
“My brother is captain T.,” I answered to the owner.
“Captain T.?” the trader shouted with an Eastern excitement. “I know him well. He already has seven oriental robes. Why does he want more?”
I became worried, but having hidden my excitement, I rattled off boldly.
“He has donated all of them.”
“Well, well! He must have sent them to his friend to Petersburg. Buy a good oriental robe! Look here, Mahomet Ali told his niece to send it. Oh, oh, it is great!”
The trader pulled an excellent oriental robe with reddish hues out of his stall. It had mat greyish violet edgings.
“Such one isn’t good for me.”
The trader laughed merrily.
“Of course, it isn’t good for you. It is a womanly oriental robe. I will give you this, blue one.”
With these words, he unwrapped an excellent violet oriental robe, perhaps a little too motley, but its warm and soft hues should satisfy my brother’s refined taste.
“Don’t be afraid and take it. I know everybody. Your brother is Ali Mahomet’s friend. We cannot sell a bad robe to his friend. Your brother is a good man! Ali Mahomet himself respects him.”
“So who is he, that Ali?”
“I have already told you. Hi is a great famous trader. He is trading with Persia and Russia,” the owner answered.
“He doesn’t look like a trader. He must be a scientist,” I spoke again.
“Oh, oh, oh, a scientist! He is such a scientist that he knows all your brother’s books. Your brother is also a great scientist.”
“And do you know where Ali is living?”
“It seems that you haven’t been living here for a long time. Ali’s house is in front of your brother’s house,” the trader tapped on my shoulder unceremoniously.
“There’s a big garden, fenced with a high brick wall, in front of my brother’s house. There’s always a deadly silence there, and even the gates didn’t open at least once.”
“Silence is silence, but today there is no silence. Ali Machmed’s sister is coming. She has agreed to marry somebody. If you say that Ali Machmed is a very good-looking man - oh, oh, oh, - then his sister is the star from the sky! Her plait reaches the floor, and her eyes – oh!” the trader was throwing up his arms and he even gulped.
“How did you manage to see her? According to your customs, women aren’t allowed to take their cloaks off, right?”
“They aren’t allowed to do so in the street. We aren’t allowed to do so at our home, too. At Ali Mahomet’s home all women are walking without any covers. Mullah was talking a lot, but he stopped. Ali said “Leave”, so Mullah is now silent.”
I said good-bye to the trader, took my oriental robe and went home. I was walking for a long time. I took the wrong direction somewhere, but finally, with much trouble, I was able to find my street. My thoughts about the rich trader and his nephew were mixed with my thoughts about the girl of unearthly beauty. I only was unable to decide of what colour her eyes were: black as her uncle’s or violet as her brother’s. I was going with my eyes cast to my feet and suddenly I heard a cry.
“Lovushka, where have you been? I was already about to go looking for you!”
The voice of my dear brother, as well as his eyes, were full of humour. He was both my father and my mother to me during all my life. His white teeth, beautiful red lips, golden curly hair and his dark eye-brows were shining in his softly tanned, cleanly shaven face – for the first time I saw what a handsome man my brother was. I have been proud of him and I have been admiring him all the time, but now, like a small child, for no apparent reason, I threw myself on his neck, covered his cheeks with kisses and shoved the oriental robe into his hands.
“Your oriental robe and your Ali – that’s the reason why I am so surprised and lost,” I snapped out, laughing.
“What oriental robe? What Ali?” my brother was questioning me, amazed.
“The oriental robe No. 8 which I bought for you as a present, and Ali No. 1 – who is your friend,” I continued.
“You remind me of the little stubborn Lovushka who loved stunning everybody with his riddles. I see that this liking of yours is still hiding in you,” my brother was speaking, smiling with his broad smile that changed his entire face so much. “Well, let’s go home, we won’t be standing here until the night comes, right? Although we don’t see any passers-by, but I cannot guarantee that there isn’t any curtain secretly drawn somewhere, and that no prying eyes are watching us.”
As soon as we stepped forward, keen brother’s ear heard a horse come rumbling.
“Wait,” he uttered “they are coming.”
I didn’t hear anything. My brother took my hand and made me freeze below a big tree, exactly in front of the gates of the silent house where, according to the trader’s words, Ali Mahomet was living.
“It could be that now you will see something staggering,” my brother was speaking to me “only stand so as nobody could notice us behind the tree, neither from the side of the house nor from the side of the street.”
We were standing behind the trunk of the huge tree where two or three more people could freely hide. Now I also was able to distinguish the running of several horses and the sound of the rattling wheels on the unpaved road. In a few minutes, the gates of Ali’s courtyard opened wide. The yard-keeper went on the road, looked round to all sides, waved to someone in the garden and stayed there, waiting for the carriages. There were three of them already.
The first a simple cart was rolling. Two wrapped up women and three children were sitting in it. All of them were buried in packets and boxes. A small chest was tied at the end of the cart. An old man was bringing two elegant suitcases in the old light carriage after them. And finally, in quite a long distance – apparently, protecting from the dust – one more carriage was driving, which I was unable to make out because of such a distance. In the meanwhile, the first two carriages had already disappeared in the garden behind the gates.
“Look intently, but keep silent and don’t move, so that we wouldn’t be noticed,” my brother whispered to me.
The carriage came nearer. It was an elegant calash, harnessed by an excellent black horse. Two women with their faces covered were sitting in it. They had muffled themselves up in mantles. Ali Mahomet dressed in white came through the gates, and after him was Ali Machmed who was also dressed in long white clothes. It seemed to me that the black eyes of the older Ali pierced through the tree behind which we were hiding. I even had time to see how a ghost of a sneer slipped in his lips. Even the sweat stood out on my face. I touched my brother, wanting to tell him that we’ve already been uncovered, but he put his finger to his lips and kept watching the approaching calash intently. One more moment and the older Ali went up to the stopped coach. And … a small, white, wonderful hand of a woman drew the mantle off her face.
I had seen a lot of women – both on the stage and other recognized beauties, - but only now for the first time I understood what was beauty. Another woman, evidently an old woman, was explaining something to Ali, squealing at him, while the embarrassed girl was smiling, and she was already prepared to let down the mantle back on her face, but Ali himself carelessly cast it on the girl’s shoulders. Because of this gesture, to the great resentment of the old woman, the disobedient curls of her dark hair came out. Not paying any attention to the squealing old woman, Ali lifted the girl who had pressed herself to him. He brought her home like a child. In the meanwhile, the young Ali respectfully landed the old woman on the ground, who was still grumbling. A silver laughter of the girl came flying through the open gates.
The young Ali with the old woman had already disappeared, the coach had driven through the gates, the gates had been closed, but we were still standing, having forgotten where we were, how long we were standing there, that we had gotten hungry, that it was hot, that it was indecent.
I turned to my brother, wishing to share my fascinations with him, but I was simply shaken: the face of my always smiling brother was pale, serious and even austere, his blue eyes had gotten darker somehow, and they were sparkling like the eyes of the cat in the night. Even his eye-brows had changed their usual form, and they were strictly set into a nearly continuous line. In no way, I was able to recollect myself, so I only kelp looking at that strange man whom I didn’t know.
“Well? Did you like my niece Nal?” suddenly I heard a strange metal voice above me.
I gave a start - because of unexpectedness I hadn’t even understood what I had been asked – and I saw the huge figure of the old Ali, standing in front of me; He was stretching his hand to me, smiling. I took that hand automatically and I could feel some sense of relief, even a sigh slipped out of my breast, and a warm stream of energy flowed down my hand. I kept silent. It seemed to me that I had never held such a palm in my hand. Only thanks to my effort, I was able to take my eyes off the burning eyes of Ali Mahomet and I looked into his hands: they were white and tender, as if the sun-tan wouldn’t be able to touch them, their long slender fingers ended in rounded, prominent, reddish finger-nails; his entire hand was narrow, subtle and artistically charming, it was telling about his enormous physical strength, while his iron-will, spark-casting eyes fitted to these hands. It was possible to easily imagine that at any moment one could see a warrior in front of one’s eyes, routing his enemy – it was enough for Ali Mahomet to take off his white clothes and take the sword into his hands.
I had forgotten where we were, why we were standing in the middle of the street, I even couldn’t tell for how long Ali was holding my hand - I was as though fallen into a light slumber while I was standing.
“Come, let’s go home, Lovushka. Why don’t you thank Ali Mahomet for the invitation?” I heard my brother’s voice.
Again, I couldn’t understand what invitation my brother was talking about, I only stuttered some obscure word while saying good-bye to tall and slender Ali who was smiling at me. My brother took my hand, and I was going with him, not feeling my feet. Having looked into his face fearfully, I was able to see my dear, close and well-known from my childhood brother Nikolaj again, and not that strange man to me, whom I had been watching below the tree and who had affected me so strongly. My childhood habit to find support, help and patronage in my brother, which came even from those days when he was raising me, my habit to address my brother-father with all my complaints, grievances and misunderstandings came out now from the very bottom of my heart, and I uttered with my plaintive voice.
“I want to sleep very much, I am so tired – as if I had walked twenty versts.”
“Very good. Now we will have our dinner, and then you can have a nap for a couple of hours. Then we will go on a visit to Ali Mahomet. He is almost the only one here who is living in a European way. His house is furnished in a very good taste, it is really an elegant mix of Asia and Europe. The women in his family are educated and they are walking without their burqas at home. This is a real revolution in these lands. Many times, Mullah and other high-rank religious fanatics were threatening him with all sorts of repressions for such violation of the local customs, but he keeps fighting against the enslavement of women and the entire nation. His servants are all literate, every day they have their own hours of rest, and that is also a revolution. I heard that a massacre is being organized against him, - and that is a terrible thing in these savage lands.”
We came home talking, then we washed ourselves in the lavatory which was made of mats and tarpaulin in the yard and then we sat down to have our dinner. Good, refreshing shower and delicious dinner restored my liveliness. My brother was merrily joking, he scolded me a little for my absent- mindedness and he was telling me all kinds of comic scenes that would often take place between the Russian soldiers and local Muslims. He was delighted with the quickness of wit and ingenuity of the Russian soldiers. The local slyness would rarely overcome the Russian quick-wittedness, and if an Eastern trader would deceive a Russian soldier, he would have to pay dearly for that: in order to punish him, the soldiers would play such tricks on him that any artistic director could envy their fantasies. It must be said that the soldiers wouldn’t do anything vicious, but then the ridiculed, sly trader wouldn’t decide to deceive them for a long time.
We finished our dinner imperceptibly. My wish to take a nap had already been gone, and I asked my brother to try the oriental robe that I had bought him. Having thrown his tunic off, my brother put the oriental robe on. The deep violet hue suited well his blond hair and tanned face. I was admiring him unwillingly, and somewhere deep within me a jealous thought flashed that I would never be such handsome man.
“How did you manage to buy this oriental robe?” my brother uttered. “Indeed, I have many of them, but I had already tried all of them at least once, and I like this one particularly, I haven’t yet seen such one. I will certainly put it on tonight when we are paying a visit to our neighbour. Listen, let’s go to my dressing-room – and we’ll choose an oriental robe for you.”
“Why?” I gave a shout, amazed. “Are we going there like to a masquerade?”
“Why like to a masquerade? We will simply dress ourselves like everybody, so that we wouldn’t be striking. Today not only Ali’s friends, but also many of his enemies will be visiting him. Let’s not irritate them with our European clothes.”
When my brother opened the biggest wardrobe in his cloak-room, it seemed to me that there were not eight oriental robes in it, but around twenty different ones, made of all kinds of material. I even exclaimed to my astonishment.
“Are you surprised with such amount of oriental robes? But it is usual here to wear seven oriental robes at once, starting with the cotton one and ending with the silk one. A richer man is wearing three or four silk robes, while a poor man is able to wear only cotton ones, but they are putting them on one on another, several of them at once without fail.”
“Oh, my god,” I was unable to remain still, “but in such heat you can feel like being in the crater of Vesuvius when you are dressed with several oriental robes at once.”
“It only seems for you to be like this. The fine material is light, and if you put them on one on another, they will stop the direct sunbeams, then the sun won’t be burning your body. Come, try to put
these two oriental robes on and you will see how light and even cooling they are,” my brother gave me two white oriental robes, made of very fine silk, while he was talking to me. “We won’t try to stick to their customs fully and very diligently, but we will put four oriental robes on. I beg you, for the time being, put these two white oriental robes on and walk for a while, dressed in them. Get used to them, otherwise tonight, with your absent-mindedness you will really look like being in a masquerade and you will disgrace both of us,” my brother continued, smiling and seeing that I was still holding the oriental robes in my hands in hesitation.
Not wishing at all to dress myself in Eastern style, but also not wishing to upset my beloved brother, I quickly undressed and started pulling the oriental robes upon myself.
“But they are tight! What kind of oriental robes are they? These are poor gloves!” I was screaming and I started getting irritated.
“You have to button them up; here’s the hook, and here’s the button,” my brother was explaining to me calmly, and with his flexible fingers he quickly buttoned my oriental robes up himself. “Now, Lovushka, calm yourself and put this green oriental robe on, too. It is looser and it also needs to be buttoned up. It also has pockets. And on top of them, put this wide and grey one on with red edgings,” and again he helped me very deftly to dress myself.
“Now it’s time to do your feet,” he kept talking. “Usually, so many friends are visiting Ali, who acknowledge half-Asian clothes, so that we could go with our own shoes. We’ll only have to put leather galoshes on them, which are usually left at the door. Otherwise, we would have to stay in our bare feet, because one is going neither to a mosque nor home with the same foot-wear that is used on the street.
I chose the galoshes according to my feet. It turned out that my brother possessed several pairs of them, too.
“Now we will go to the bedroom, and you will choose a turban.”
“Why a turban? How will I look like? I’m not radiating too much beauty anyway! Have pity on me. Nikolushka, you better go alone,” I was begging my brother.
My brother was laughing loud and merrily speaking to me.
“You aren’t going to conquer the heart of the wonderful niece of Ali, are you? And your friends will not see you like this. So why are you worrying that the Eastern clothing won’t give you a lot of beauty? By the way,” he added, after having thought for a while “if you wish, I could make you absolutely unrecognizable. I will glue a grey beard for you, and you will look like a famous trader.”
“The further the better!” I gave a shout, laughing. “If so, then I will have to remember that I once was a rather good amateur actor.”
“If today you succeed to play a limping old man, then you will be able to see a lot of interesting and rather unusual things. It is only a pity that I don’t have another white turban.”
At the same moment, a light knocking on the door was heard. My brother want to the door, and I heard his pleasantly surprised voice.
“Oh, that’s you, Machmed! Come in, I was just busy with the clothes of my brother for tonight. I want to turn him into an old grey-bearded trader.”
“And I brought a white turban and a jewel. My uncle is asking your brother to accept it as the present on the occasion of Nal’s majority,” and he gave me a packet and a case.
“And this is for you from Nal,” and he gave two packets and two cases to my brother. “Don’t forget that you must be lame in the left leg and lean strongly with the walking-stick with your right hand. And if you really want to look like an old trader, then you should stroke your grey beard with your left hand as soon as possible. I really happened to know such famous trader who is living in B.,” the young Ali was explaining to me.
He was smiling, his bright lips uncovered his wonderful teeth, and the couple of his violet eyes were looking at me seriously, which was not suited for his age. Having bowed his head a little and, according to the Eastern customs, having touched his forehead and heart with his hand, he left us as quietly as he had come.
I unwrapped my packet, and a scrap of the finest white material fell out of it. My curiosity was so great that, not even having lifted the silk, fallen on the floor, I opened the case and I unwittingly gave a shout out of surprise and fascination. A fastener of excellent work with a prominent, large ruby and several brilliants, which were wound round by the dark-gold snake decorated with pearls, were so shining in the rather dark room that I was unable to take my eyes off it. My brother picked up the fallen silk and, examining the fastener together with me, he explained to me.
“The older Ali in the name of his niece is sending you the white turban as the symbol of power and the red ruby as the symbol of love. In this way he shows you that he accepts you to the company of his friends.”
“And what is he sending to you?” I was interested.
My brother unwrapped the bigger packet. There was a very fine white oriental robe. It was made of the material which I had never seen before. It was similar to the white suede and it was finer than the paper of cigarettes. There was a note in Arabic next to the robe, which my brother hid in his pocket without reading it. There was the same turban as mine in the second packet, only there was an inscription, some kind of a phrase woven in Arabic letters with blue silk on its front end across its entire width – and it was exceptionally wide. I didn’t pay any attention neither to the note nor to the Arabic phrase. I wanted to see as quickly as possible what in my brother’s case was hidden. “If he is sending greetings of love and power to me, then what is he sending to Nikolushka?” I thought for a moment. Finally, my brother rolled up his turban with care, hid it in the drawer of his writing-table and opened the bigger case. Large brilliants laid out in a triangle began to glitter in it, and in the middle of them an oval, prominent emerald was shining with bluish green light. There was a ring lying in the smaller case, which had the same emerald set in the platinum frame.
“Well, this is some Nal’s majority!” I was almost shouting. “If Ali is sending such presents to all of his friends on the occasion of this day, then it will probably cost him a half of that vineyard, which the trader was so praising me behind his stall. And why do men need those fasteners at all? They are wonderful decorations for women, but Ali knows that we are single, doesn’t he?”
“We will buckle these fasteners on our turbans above our foreheads. It is the great honour to receive such a present and not at all everybody in the East are granted with it,” my brother answered. “Ali has been living here for ten years. He is descended from somewhere deep in the Himalayas, and at his home, all Eastern customs of hospitality and honour to friendship are respected.”
The time was passing unnoticed. Twilight was already getting thicker. The night always coming so fast here was already about to flood everything with darkness.
“It is time to start making you up, otherwise we may be late and show ourselves impolite.”
As soon as my brother said those words to me he pulled out one of the drawers of his writing-table and … I was taken back once again.
“Wow! Why haven’t you mentioned in any of your letters that you were playing in amateurish performances?”
The whole drawer was full with all sorts of make-up, beards, moustaches and even wigs.
“It is impossible to write about everything, and I could tell you even less during those several days,” my brother gave me a smile, answering.
He sat me down on the chair and like an experienced make-up man he quickly glued a beard and moustache for me, having moistened my entire face with a colourless liquid before doing so, which was smelling pleasantly and refreshed my sunburnt skin. Below my eyes he drew with a brown pencil, gave several light strokes through my cheeks that were uncovered with the beard, sent some pearl liquid through my thick black eye-brows, smeared my lips with some cream and told me.
“I will level your curls a little bit more, so that your black hair wouldn’t come out of the turban. Change your seat over here,” and he sat me down on the stool.
I have to confess that I was feeling sorry for those curly hair of mine. In my opinion, it was the only thing that I could be proud of, but it is so nice to walk in the heat with short-cut hair that I asked my brother myself to make it short with the clipper. My hair was soon trimmed, and I already wanted to stand up off the stool.
“No, no, remain seated, Lovushka. I will wind your head round with the turban in a second and I can do it only when you are sitting on the stool.”
I remained seated. My brother uncoiled the turban that seemed to me much longer than I could imagine. He started twirling it into a twist without mercy and quite soon quickly, strongly, but without the smallest tightening he wound my entire head round.
“It’s all done with your head. We still have to do your feet. Put on these long socks and shoes,” he uttered, having taken the white socks and shoes which looked quite bad out of the box.
I put them on, stood up and instantly felt that my left shoe was uncomfortable. Unawares, I limped with my left foot, and my brother obligingly shoved the walking-stick into my right hand.
“Now you are exactly like that deaf-mute, lame old man that you will have to play,” my brother was laughing.
I got angry. It was hot because of the unusual beard. The liquid with which my face was smeared was pleasant in the beginning, but now it was contracting my skin badly. It was inconvenient to my foot, and besides, I was also deaf and mute. With the impatience that was characteristic to me, I wanted to yell and declare that I wouldn’t go anywhere and I already was about to tear my beard and turban off me, when the doors opened without any sound and the figure of the older Ali emerged in them, which looked like hollowed out. I was simply paralyzed by his two sparkling eyes. My turban was so pressed to my ears that I couldn’t hear anything what he was talking about with my brother. Ali was dressed in almost black oriental robe – so rich was its blue colour. There was another oriental robe under it. It was bright crimson and it was tightly pressed to his body. There was the white turban on his head with the brilliant fastener which portrayed the peacock with its stretched out train.
Smiling pleasingly and mildly, he want to me with his stretched out hand. When I gave him my hand, he squeezed it, and again the warm current ran across my whole body, only this time I was feeling joy, not laziness. Ali took the ring with red jewel off his finger. There was a lion cut in it and some hieroglyphs around the lion. Having bowed, he whispered to my ear.
“This ring will open all the doors of my home for you today, wherever you would like to get. At the same time it will help you, if some day in your life you are wounded or if your wound is bleeding.”
Admiring the ring, I didn’t even noticed how another tall, slender, Eastern figure had shot up next to Ali. I didn’t understand right away that that was my brother, dressed in the oriental robe that I had given to him today. I only was able to see the slender, dusky, Eastern man with the bright beard and moustache, in whose turban there was the triangle from brilliants and emeralds attached. My brother was rather tall, but next to gigantic Ali he seemed to be of the medium height.
“Look into the mirror, Lovushka. I think that you will hardly recognize not only me, but yourself, too,” my brother said to me, laughing and clearly seeing my puzzlement.
I turned to the mirror, limping absolutely naturally because of the inconvenient left shoe.
“You are an excellent artist,” Ali told me, giving a smile, but his entire figure was showing such an infectious humour that I burst out laughing.
While laughing, all of a sudden I saw in the mirror a dark complexion, nearly black, lame old man. I looked round and suddenly I heard such a sound laughter that I turned back once again with reluctance and I was looking up and down both laughing Ali and my brother with surprise. They started laughing even more, and I cast a glance into the mirror accidentally and again I saw that old dark-skinned Arab. With difficulty, but finally I grasped that the blackened Arab – that was me. I lifted my hand towards my eyes, made sure that I wasn’t sleeping and asked my brother why I was so black and how it could have happened. To my question he answered like this.
“Lovushka, this is because that liquid did its purpose, but don’t worry. Tomorrow you will be white-skinned again, even whiter than ever before. Another, the same pleasant liquid will wash away the whole blackness of your face.”
“And now, my friend, don’t forget that during the entire evening you will be lame, deaf and mute,” Ali told me, laughing.”
With these words, he fixed my turban, pulling it on my ears so much that now I really couldn’t hear anything. I only understood that he was offering me to take his hand and to go with him to his house. I looked into my brother – he even had had time to put the room in order, - he gave a nod and we went to the street.