10 Chapter 10: In Sevastopol
All of us left the station’s building. Grandfather told our porter to find Ibrahim from Gurzuf in the crowd of the coach-men.
Soon a great coach harnessed in English with the seats covered with a white cloth drove up; the coach-man had a white livery with the blue bands and a white top-hat with a blue hatband on. The English clothes and his broad Tatar physiognomy looked comically. Once more I thought that that person who had dressed Ibrahim like this had a little tact.
Moreover, this little word would slip out of me in every suitable and unsuitable moment, it would always come out from some little corner of my consciousness to which I hadn’t yet managed to close the door properly.
Till we were saying good-bye to the ladies, till we were getting on the coach, grandfather kept explaining to Ibrahim where he had to take us, whom to ask to come in the hotel, so that we could get a wonderful room with the sea view, and he himself had to stay at our disposal during the entire day in order to take us to Balaklava and only tomorrow, having carried out some other assignments, he could come back to Gurzuf.
I took a look at Lisa. She couldn’t take her eyes off I. and she was looking at him so intensely as though he was a fairy-tale prince and she was Cinderella. Having turned my eyes to I., I thought that he was handsome like God, but also strict as God.
Regardless of all our protests, the grandfather’s command to take us to Balaklava remained to be in force. Aunt was standing with her downcast eyes all the time and she looked even more page in bright sunbeams.
I was feeling sincerely sorry for her, and it seemed to me that I, lonely and homeless, could understand her pain and uncertainty for her future new independent life more than others. When I was saying good-bye to her, I squeezed her hand firmly and bent down to kiss it not prompted by my good manners, but from the bottom of my heart, guided by a sincere impulse.
It seemed to me that she felt the warmth of my heart, she squeezed my hand and looked into my eyes. I was even stupefied for a moment – such an abyss of despair had opened in her eyes.
“My God,” I was thinking to myself while sitting next to I. who was talking about something to Lisa. “Is there really so much suffering in man’s life? Why life is created like this? Why there are so many tears, murders, poverty and misery? How one can understand I.’s words that man himself creates all of his sorrows?”
The station was rather far away from the city. I got to Crimea and this historical city for the first time. Everything was wonderful for me here. I could see only redoubts and towers, like alive Kornilov, Nachimov, Totleben and the real hero of the terrible battles – an ordinary Russian soldier – emerged in my imagination.
I. was talking to the coach-man who turned out to be born in Sevastopol and who had buried his grandfather not a long time ago. His grandfather took part in the battles of the fourth bastion.
He volunteered to take us to the upper boulevard from where we could see the places of the battles with the shelters and bastions, and in Balaklava we could see the port where the huge ship, the eminent English “Black Prince” went down.
Most of all I wanted to see the Nachimov’s kurgan, but I didn’t want to poke my nose into the conversation. My heart was so full of the pain which I had met and experienced that my usual carelessness and attention to new places moved to the distant plan, and all people’s sufferings were shining like the sun that was scorching us without mercy.
In truth this city has survived only thanks to such victims and such unspeakable sufferings, thanks to the death of thousands private soldiers whose names were never kept in history, so they are called in the general folk name – Ivan One Hundred Thousand.
The crowned emperor Nikolay emerged in my imagination, who didn’t have common sense to send at least sufficient supply of food and army to this place. Instead of this, he was concentrating the troops in Caucasus and waiting for the enemy there. And besides him, there were so many villains and noble fools who helped those thousands of Ivans to perish here like unknown heroes, to die simply and without any curses.
I. interrupted these thoughts by asking me if first of all I would agree to drop in and find out about the tickets to Constantinople. Now Ibrahim interfered, he was trying to persuade I. that there was an agent of the liners’ company in the hotel where he would take us, who would get us the tickets and arrange our foreign passports. In general at the moment there weren’t any problems regarding this yet, because there were few passengers, but in a month there would be “a great mass” of them as the coach-man stated.
I. agreed to go straight to the hotel, but I saw that he was worried about something. In spite of his entire self-control, his face was strict and gloomy.
If I hadn’t known my friend better, how unhappy I would have been by connecting my destiny with such a man like he was now! As though having read my thoughts, I. turned his face to me and smiled affectionately.
What a strange instrument a man’s heart is! One of his smiles and an easy squeeze of his hand were fully enough for me, so that I could feel easy again, so that all those powers of joy and feelings which I had put away in the shadow of my soul would awake in my heart.
I. told Ibrahim to go to the general post-office and to have the letters sent. Exactly at this moment we were driving next to the historical cathedral where once a coffin was standing with the remains of Kornilov who was killed while being in defence. This time my imagination was drawing not only the sadness of his family and the entire nation, but also a perception that our nation was unbeatable while such admirals were being born in it…
We stopped by the post-office – the building was poor and ugly because of its dirtiness. I. sent the letters, took the telegrams and, having noticed the posters and announcements of the liners’ companies stuck on the wall, he asked where we could buy the tickets to Constantinople.
An old watchman who had an old and dirty uniform on explained to him that the agent from seaside hotel was still waiting for the passengers to come, but in general no one wasn’t even asking about the tickets yet.
All of us took our seats in the coach again and turned towards the hotel which was absolutely close already. Ibrahim’s boss must have been well known here, because soon the manager was invited, and we settled in the best room.
The liners’ agent sent by the manager entered our room in several minutes. He explained to us that an excellent new English ship would cast off for its maiden trip to Smirn and Constantinople tomorrow at three o’clock in the afternoon, and tonight an old and dirty Italian trough would also be off, but the new ship would still outrun it, besides there still was a free luxurious cabin in it, in which nobody had ever travelled yet.
I. agreed to take the tickets to the luxurious cabin, he gave him our passports and money and agreed that we would be taking our dinner here at the hotel at eight o’clock in the evening, and that he would bring the tickets to us, but he would be able to deliver our foreign passports only tomorrow at one o’clock in the afternoon, because nobody was doing it here so quickly.
I. took care of feeding Ibrahim, while we washed ourselves, changed our clothes and descended to the cool restaurant’s hall to take our breakfast. I. told me that there was a telegram from Ananda. He informed us that everything was going well, that Florentian had already left to Paris, that he would be sending us the news both to Sevastopol and Constantinople and that we should write him about our trip to Moscow, to the same hotel.
Having taken our breakfast, we took our seats in the Ibrahim’s coach and left to look around in the city, relying on our coach-man’s taste and knowledge.
Most likely he often used to show the city to the friends of Lisa’s grandfather, because he chose the itinerary very skilfully by paying attention to the newest buildings and he explained to us that he would be taking us back through another road, so we could get to know the whole city.
The higher avenue made a great impression on me. We went round these historical places of fame for a couple of times, although many were calling them the historical pages of shame.
Having been nowhere, seeing the sea for the first time in my life, I was simply melting out of fascination, while looking at the raging waves at the foot of Balaklava’s precipices. I forgot everything, only the sea and the sun existed for me now, and it seemed to me that already nothing else could be better.
I. was jeering at me, saying that soon I would see such beauty that Crimea would seem to me like a miserable little corner. He was also sneering at my fascination by the sea, stating that already the first storm which I would experience would change my temperamental fascination into maledictions.
We returned to the hotel only at eight o’clock. Having paid Ibrahim generously and having taken the tickets from the agent, we went to our room and from there – to the restaurant to take our dinner.
I wasn’t feeling neither tiredness nor hunger nor the scorching sun while I was out of doors. Now my face was burning, I wanted to eat, to drink and to sleep – everything at once. Having looked at I., I pulled my shoulders in my thoughts. It seemed to me that this man only now left his study where he was calmly reading the newspapers all day long. In truth he was beaten by the sun and the wind a little, there was a little white stripe on his forehead left from his panama, but his face wasn’t burning like mine anyway, I couldn’t see any tiredness in him, he probably could stand up and keep travelling, while I was simply fainting out of fatigue.
There were little people in the hall, but several tables were occupied. I was so absorbed in myself and my appetite that I wasn’t even looking round.
I was surprised that I. wasn’t eating much. To my question if he wasn’t hungry he answered to me that one shouldn’t eat much while travelling: the less you eat the easier you travel and grasp the surroundings.
I didn’t hear any reproach or hint at me in his voice, but I felt uneasy instantly. Moreover, I distinguished myself with my great appetite, I even used to amaze my friends with this in the secondary school. Although I wasn’t feeling like a glutton, but now I attributed this sin to myself at once.
The food lost its taste, I pushed the plate away. Having noticed that I stopped eating, I. asked me why. I told him straight and clearly that my appetite was gone, because I became ashamed of my gluttony in comparison to him.
“It seems to me that one shouldn’t compare oneself to anybody at all neither to one’s appetite nor to anything else in one’s life. Everybody has his own circumstances, and you cannot live another person’s life not for a moment,” I. was talking to me. “My dear, eat to your health as much as you can. The time will come when you are of my age and then the need for food will remain only as the necessity and not as the relish. It is really my fault that I’ve spoiled your appetite with my thoughtless answer,” and he gave me a tender smile.
“It is so strange that you consider yourself to be much older than me. Soon I will be twenty one and you really aren’t older than twenty six or seven, maybe even younger. And regarding my appetite, I thank you for those words, as well as for everything else what I’ve heard from you.”
Then I kept talking in English.
“What would have happened to me if you hadn’t gone with me? What would I have done? How could I help my brother if you weren’t with me? I already told Florentian that I couldn’t live while being in someone’s debt, and your words that a person who was unable to make his bread couldn’t understand the meaning of life have convinced me even more that it couldn’t go on like this. Since that ill- fated night when I changed into fancy suit for Ali’s feast I cannot come out of my spiritual fancy ball. Now I’m a servant-interpreter, now a nephew, now a cousin, now a friend – the servant’s role would suit me most. Let me be your servant, because I cannot be useful for you in anything else. Perhaps, in the beginning that’ll be difficult for me, too, but I will try to be a good servant,” I was talking to my friend silently, trying to remain calm, but with a trembling heart.
“My poor boy,” I. answered to me. “Let’s put off this conversation until our sea trip. Maybe there, having broken away from the earth and all its conditionality, you’ll understand better the great responsibility of this moment for your brother’s life, his happiness and his further destiny. I’m not going to dissuade you from working, only you have to understand what that your job is. Perhaps, life which opens and lets you see so close the grandeur and horror of man’s paths so intensely during the last days will open for you the deeper meaning of your own life, too. Perhaps, your job isn’t to be my servant, perhaps you have to be the servant not only of your nation, but of the entire boundless life that is ringing round us. We’ll talk about this in the ship, and now eat your ice-cream, because soon it’ll thaw,” I. finished talking and smiled again.
His voice was so unspeakably sincere, he was looking at me helpless, homeless, lonely and lost so tenderly with this black eyes that unwillingly I remembered that moment when he was dying in the hold of the ship, and Ananda saved him.
I wasn’t lying in a death-agony, but to tell the truth those were really difficult days of my spiritual agony.
We finished eating and went upstairs to our room. Our beds were already made, we still admired the dark sky, the lights of the ships in the port and went to bed.
Having woken up in the morning, I didn’t find I. in the room, but until I put myself in order he came back. He was fresh and merry, he had a white linen suit and the same shoes on, and there were parcels in his hands. It turned out that he woke up very early and decided to take a walk in the city. He stumbled on a great shop where he bought two white suits for me and himself, because otherwise we would fry in the ship.
He unwrapped the parcels. I tried the white suit on and I looked very ridiculous to myself, but I stayed in it anyway.
Then I. told me that on his way back to the hotel he met yesterday’s agent of the ships, who was going with the captain of our ship. He became acquainted with the captain, and he offered us to move to our luxurious cabin before the whole stream of passengers, he explained exactly where the ship was standing. I. treated the captain to an excellent wine at the restaurant of our hotel and received from him a note to the captain’s assistant on duty that we were allowed to occupy the cabin at any moment. It was a pity for me that we had to leave the solid ground at least an hour earlier, but my inner voice was telling me that I. wouldn’t hurry without necessity, and I had no objections. When I was ready, I. examined everything and proposed to drink a cup of coffee, then I had to go to the same shop and buy two more suits made of dark pongee or similar.
I was happy, because I could spend one more hour on the land and I decided that I was one of those amateur unfortunates who were breaking into the sea by standing on the shore. When I thought about my first such long trip by sea, even a nostalgia made its appearance.
Soon we arranged the rest of the affairs on shore and found the suits which I. wanted. I liked the dark grey suit so much that I stayed in it. Having come back to the hotel, we settled accounts with it, and the agent brought us the passports sooner than we were agreed. We took the boat from the quay of the hotel and rowed to the steamer.
We were circling among lots of different ships for a long time until finally we rowed up to such vast thing that was exactly our ship painted in white and red. Our boat and ourselves, we looked only like small beetles in front of it.
Having climbed the deck through companion ladder and given the captain’s note to his assistant on duty, we went to our luxurious cabin. It was on the upper deck, next to the captain’s cabin and separated from it only by a wooden partition. Such unusual neighbourhood of our cabin gave us also an especial superiority in comparison to the other passengers. We had a little area of the upper deck, which belonged only to us, where nobody from the passengers had the right to enter, except us. Moreover, there was an excellent bath in our cabin. The walls of the cabin were upholstered with the grey silk, there were two soft coaches in it, a lamp with the lamp-shade fixed to each of the coaches and a mat lantern fitted into the ceiling.
All holders which protected the belongings from tossing were made of nickel. The grey carpet with reddish flowers covered the entire floor and went very well with the wall upholstery. I had never seen such luxury before, so I was standing like always – with my mouth and my eyes opened wide.
I. didn’t allow me to dream for a long time, he took my hand and brought me onto the deck. The view to the city was very beautiful, but the bare hills surrounding it and the yellow, dry and sun- cracked soil wasn’t alluring my eyes.
Having looked at the clock, I was surprised how fast the time had flown past – it was two o’clock already. Soon we’ll put out to sea.
Finally, the sailor from the boat brought our last things into the cabin and, to my great joy, attached all of them. We said good-bye to the agent who was always trying to help the sailor, but in truth he was only dashing here and there without any meaning and use.
A thought flashed that my life of the last days was also similar to the actions of this agent. I was also assisting other people in their actions, but in fact I couldn’t see neither logic nor meaning nor essence in my behaviour.
I thanked the agent, he gave him some additional money, therefore he was pouring his gratitude around and, having pulled out his visiting-card, he was persuading us that it was enough to write him a letter or a telegram to Sevastopol and all of his services would be guaranteed. I. took his visiting-card, he told him my last name and agreed that it could happen so that we would still need his services. He asked him as though by the way if a similar fast steamer wasn’t cruising to Constantinople during the next days.
The agent laughed and answered him that none of the ship companies had anything similar to this great ship, and that during the next two weeks only the old freight or freight-passenger ships with all their stops on the shores would be cruising, while our steamer would be cruising without any of these petty stops, the first one would be in Odessa, then to Constantinople at full speed.
The sailor was the last one who left us. He was a deft and cheerful chap serving our cabin from the team of ship servants who was running up and downstairs like an acrobat. He showed us the buttons of all the bells, explaining their purpose, although there were English notes below each of them anyway.
He became even more pleasing after receiving a good tip, and he revealed one more of the qualities of the luxurious cabin to us – we didn’t have to go downstairs at the joint table, table d’hote, instead we could ask the food to be served upstairs, in our cabin.
In several minutes, on his own initiative he brought us the breakfast, dinner and supper menus. Having taken a look at them, I. told him that we were vegetarians, so if it was possible he would like to make arrangements about our food with the cook.
The sailor dashed downstairs and after some time he came back with two impressive persons who were dressed in the suits of irreproachable whiteness. One of them was maitre d’hotel, while the other one was chef. The chef was stout and proud, while the maitre d’hotel was tall and thin, his attitude showed the understanding of his value and politeness.
We made arrangements very quickly. The chef stated that he had a great assistant, an expert vegetarian, that there was a big reserve of the greens and vegetables in the stockroom, while the maitre d’hotel offered us himself to take our breakfast and dinner a half of hour earlier. Having received a large banknote each, both of them became even more pleasing, and the chef asked us if we wanted to take our breakfast already in a half of hour, while the public was still only starting to arrive, and the joint table was at half past three. I. agreed, both gentlemen left and finally we were left alone.
I was stunned by all that noise, cries and squeak of the cranes which were lifting the loads. I had never seen how a huge steamer was loaded. Moreover, I had seen a ship only from the distance, but I had never been on it.
Huge bundles were thrust into an open deep hold which from above seemed to be simply without any bottom. Lots of porters with the loads on their shoulders were dashing in one line through the
long little bridges which were stretched through several barges and which reached the shore. These two lines of people were moving without a break: they were running from the steamer to the shore and then they were slowly coming back, stooped heavily.
All of a sudden my attention was focused on the cow that appeared in the air for a moment. The frightened animal was bleating terribly and breaking out of the strong belts which were tied to the crane. Soon, one after another the cows disappeared in that bottomless hole of the hold. Then the turn of the horses came. They were suffering, neighing and dying to be free even more than the cows.
Everything was amazing me. It seemed to me that I knew everything – I knew that the steamers and the holds existed, that alive animals were loaded in them, but when I saw with my own eyes how complicated everything was, it seemed to me that human mind which created all this technology was a real miracle.
I shared my thoughts with I. He gave a smile and answered me that not for the first time during these days I was astonished at the miracles of human sagacity, but in truth there weren’t any miracles in life. Whatever field they would belong to, if they were obvious or imaginary, felt with one’s thought or intuition – all of them were only one or another level of knowledge.
“We should take our breakfast as soon as possible,” I. kept talking to me. “Soon they will finish loading the goods and the flow of the passengers will spill. I would like to watch them with you, only I don’t know if the heat doesn’t impair your health.”
I answered him that I would be watching the passengers with the greatest pleasure and attention. To my question why he wanted to observe this crowd now, although he was always trying to avoid any greater racket, I. answered me that he wanted to be certain if there weren’t any of our persecutors in the ship, that if we succeeded to cast off without them now, then we could be calm until we reach Constantinople, and that then Ananda’s friends would meet us there.
Exactly at this moment the sailor brought a collapsible table and two chairs in, then the man- servant with the tablecloth, napkins, plates and dishes stepped in. To the question what we were going to drink, I. ordered a bottle of wine and some fanciful drink with the ice. I heard the name of that drink for the first time.
Soon we were already sitting at the table, and I was enjoying it, sucking the cold reddish, exceptionally delicious and aromatic drink through a straw.
While we were taking our breakfast like this, the captain came onto the deck. He greeted I. like his old friend, he was very pleasing with me, too, and with his elegance he reminded me of Florentian. He didn’t refuse the wine that was standing in the little silver bucket full of ice. The captain was treating us like awaited guests, he kindly offered us to use the whole deck, not only that little area next to our cabin.
“Soon the passengers will start boarding the steamer,” the captain was talking to us, while sipping the wine. “Although the season hasn’t started yet, although there’s still no real flow of the passengers and most of the ships are empty, but all tickets to my ship were sold out already a month ago. You are so lucky, because completely by chance, on the eve of your arrival, the countess R. from Gurzuf refused this cabin.”
I was trying to hide my confusion, I was trying to imitate the undisturbed and calm I.’s appearance, so I could remain at least “a well-bred” person, but I was shaken by such a coincidence very much. Lisa’s mother must have had to cruise in this cabin, or maybe even her miserable aunt was hoping for this journey.
“If you aren’t going to do something serious,” the captain continued, “then I would advise you to arm yourselves with the binoculars and observe the spectacle of the ship boarding. This is such an evident arena of manifestation of people’s politeness, characters, manners and self-control that it can become not only an interesting view, but also a lesson of life. There’s a stretched tent with the curtain in front of my cabin, so that you wouldn’t have to sit in the heat. You can pull down the curtain, so that nobody would see you, and observe in the shadow how some of them are rushing about, while the others are saying sad or cheerful good-byes, sometimes there are those who can hardly walk. Some comic situations happen, too.”
Seeing that we had already finished eating, having tossed off the whole bottle of wine like a glass of juice, the captain offered.
“This way please, I will show you myself how you can settle better. You can sit here until the ship casts off. Only when we go to the open sea and my assistants with their reports start coming to me, then – as well as every time when we cast off – I will have to meddle in other businesses myself, and it wouldn’t be interesting for you.”
While talking like this, he seated us under the dark blue curtain and gave us excellent binoculars.
“Feel yourselves like at home. See you later. When we cast off to the sea and I come here, only then you will have to leave my domain.”
He put his hand at the peak of his cap and went downstairs.
“Well, everything worked out even better than you wanted,” I was talking to I.
He bowed his head, took the binoculars and started observing the public that was crowding on shore. Seeing that he wasn’t inclined to talk, I didn’t have anything to do but to follow his example.
Our steamer must have been sunk deep into the water, because the passengers were accepted not from the common quay, but from the side of the port. Exactly now we could see well several elegant carriages with the ladies dressed up in white dresses with white umbrellas and men in white suits and panamas.
The lines of the hired carriages kept coming from both sides, in which the most mixed public was sitting, which from the distance looked like a white spot, too.
The little bridges were still vacant. The sailors on shore barred them with two partitions with turns. At each of the partitions an officer and two sailors were standing for the ticket control.
Our binoculars were so great that we could see clearly even the faces. I was mostly interested in the public that was going along the left bridge, apparently to the first and second classes. The flow of dark dressed people was moving from the right side. They were lugging their parcels and chests. Both fezzes and bright robes were flashing. Women with their children of different ages were going in groups. From their head to foot they were muffled up in black burnouses, their faces were covered with black nets.
“What a joy, what a success!” suddenly I heard I.’s cry.
He showed me two tall men with red fezzes. They had already climbed on the bridge and they stood out in the white and elegant crowd with their dark clothes and red head covers.
I started observing them. One of them was older, he was about forty years old. Another one was absolutely young, he was of my age. Both of them were dark-haired, dark-eyed, handsome and very slim.
I. rose and warned me not to leave this place. He explained to me that he was going to meet the Turks. They were Ananda’s friends whom we were going to visit in Constantinople. We were lucky, because unexpectedly we could cruise with them in the same ship already from Sevastopol.
As soon as I. was gone, the captain came onto the deck. He was very surprised at finding me alone; I had to explain everything to him that I. saw his friends on the little bridge and that he went to meet them.
“It means that you would be travelling merrily,” the captain was speaking to me. “Tell your brother that his friends will be welcome guests on this deck by transgressing the first rule that forbids the passengers from the first class to get up here.”
I thanked him for such pleasing words, our looks met.
Apparently, during the last weeks I was simply lucky to meet people with exceptional eyes, and I was vexed by my most simple dark eyes.
The captain was young, about thirty two or three years old. His slender figure, very swift movements and light step – everything was telling about his great physical strength and endurance. His neatly shaved face and quadratic chin were telling about his great administrative skills. His nicely outlined lips were tightly pressed together. His facial features weren’t so regular like the ones of Florentian or Ananda, but he was handsome and he must have been great success among women. His strength and strong character were gushing from his entire elegant figure.
Only when I met his attentive look I thought for a while if it would be pleasing for me to be his close friend. His eyes were yellowish like an amber, while his pupils were strange, oblong like the ones of a cat. These amber-coloured eyes which seemed to me to be even cruel didn’t vanish from my imagination until I. was back.
I came back very joyful. I hadn’t seen him like this. He was telling me that our friends Turks left Moscow after us, they met Ananda and had his letter for us, which they expected to hand us only in Constantinople. They will bring us the letter as soon as they have their breakfast and put their belongings in order.
To my question how they got the tickets to this ship, I. answered me that they ordered them together with their train tickets while they were still in Moscow and that they took them from the central bureau of an English sea company.
It seemed to me that he already wasn’t interested in observing the public boarding the ship anymore, he sat down with reluctance and he was glancing over the moving lines of people now and again.
In the meanwhile the view was striking with an extraordinary many-coloured mixture of clothes, all sorts of national costumes and the contrasts of the people’s behaviour. There were those who were rushing about, pushing one another and shouting, so everything turned into a one continuous buzz. Then suddenly the hooter of the steamer was heard; and if not the sailors who were keeping back the pressure of the whole human crowd, there would have formed the real jam.
I was observing the moving flows of people for a long time. Finally the little bridges were lifted, the distance between the steamer and the shore was increasing and the captain’s command was heard. He was standing at the wheel himself and he was leading the ship into the open sea.