13 Chapter 13: The unfamiliar lady from the cabin No. 1A of the hospital
The letter was addressed “to mister junior doctor”. The salutation in the letter was the same. It was written in French.
“I’m very embarrassed to trouble you, mister junior doctor, but I’m worried about my girl; besides, for some reason my boy is crying very often, too. I understand the tactlessness of my addressing to you, but my God – there isn’t a single heart in the whole world, to which I could address in this hour of my suffering and pain. I’m going to my uncle from whom I haven’t received any news for half a year already. I don’t even know if he’s still alive. What is waiting for me in the strange city, not knowing their language, not knowing to do anything else except the hats for the ladies. I’m driving the sad thoughts away from me; I want to be brave; I want to be brave at least for the sake of my children, as the mister senior doctor has told me to. The whole steamer is talking about your courage already. Stand up for me. A majestic, old, Russian duchess has settled in the cabin next to mine. She is indignant that somebody dared to move me, as she has put it “a beggar from the fourth class” into the best cabin, and she demands the doctor to throw us out. I don’t dare to trouble the mister senior doctor or the captain, but I beseech you to protect me, don’t let her to throw us out. Persuade the majestic duchess to allow us to continue our journey in our cabin. We aren’t even leaving our cabin. Everything, even the bath is separate from her, and we aren’t troubling the peace of her majesty with anything. With the great hope that your young heart will hear my entreaty, I Joan Moranjer remain always thankful to you.”
I was trying to read this naïve and exciting letter calmly, but my voice trembled a couple of times, and I saw the face of poor Joan with the tears pouring from her eyes like peas in front of me.
I raised my eyes to I. who was sitting next to me. I recognized that austere wrinkle on his forehead, which I was observing several times when I. had decided to do something.
“Our silly clumsy sailor must have carried this letter during the whole day, hiding it from me and thinking that it was a little love letter,” I. was speaking to me, lost in thought. “Let’s go now, at once. Let’s find the captain, you will interpret the poor woman’s words to him. Take our first-aid kits, too. We will make a round of the whole steamer at the same time, too.”
Having thrown the first-aid kits on our shoulders, we hurried to look for the captain. We found him in the office and explained to him what the matter was. I saw how his eyes flashed and how his lips twisted, but he told us only this.
“Give me ten more minutes, and I will go with you.”
He showed us to sit down on the leather sofa next to him and kept listening for the reports of the chiefs from all the steamer’s subdivisions about the storm’s consequences and for what has been done by repairing the steamer and rendering assistance to the passengers according to his instructions.
Exactly in ten minutes – precisely, clearly, not uttering a single unnecessary word – he dismissed everybody and went with us to the hospital.
Once again by climbing the winding stairs, already familiar to me, we went straight in front of the cabin No. 1A.
Lots of people had gathered in the corridor; a clear and firm voice of the doctor was heard, it was as though contradicting somebody, and a squealing womanly voice stood out, which was speaking English terribly.
“If you don’t want to send her away from here, then I will do it myself. I don’t wish some nasty being cruising next to me. You have to do everything, so that the passengers who have paid such money for the journey wouldn’t have to worry.”
“I repeat to you one more time that such is the captain’s instruction, and he’s the God on the ship, not me. Besides, she isn’t a being – I’m totally amazed at the culture of your language – but she’s a kind and wonderful woman. She has paid in full for her journey in this cabin, while you keep excusing yourself with your nerves disturbed after the storm and you still haven’t paid for your cabin,” once again the calm doctor’s voice was heard.”
“How dare you to talk to me like this? You are a rude fellow. I won’t be waiting until you are so kind as to send the girl that you like away from here. You want to make yourself comfortable and to have an amusement at your hand, on official account. I’m going myself and I will make her leave!” the duchess was squealing.
The doctor became excited.
“God knows what is going on here! You are talking not like an aristocrat, but like…”
The captain stepped forward and blocked the door of the cabin No. 1A with his back, which the old, awkward woman was coming nearer to. She was painted like a doll, she had a wig with the blond curls on. She had smartened herself up with grey silks, she had golden chains, a lorgnette, a medallion and a watch on. Her fat fingers had some expensive rings on.
This old woman who was trying to look younger than her age was even uglier, because she was unable to stand firmly on her feet. Still a young man with an elegant suit was holding her from one side. His face was very sad. From another side – apart from the stick on which she was leaning – a housemaid with a bluish dress, a white elegant apron and a white hood on her head was holding her.
It seemed that she didn’t know the captain and, seeing only a sea officer with two youths at the door of the cabin, she began to squeal in even a thinner voice and, tapping her stick to the floor in a threatening way, she gave a scream.
“I will complain to the captain! What kind of a guard is here at the door of the lewd being? My husband is young, there are lots of young girls here. This is a lewdness! Let me go immediately. I will take care of it myself…”
She didn’t finish her speech, the captain interrupted her. He raised his hand at his cap politely and told her.
“Be so kind as to show your ticket for the cabin No. 2 in which, as I can see, you have settled. I’m the captain.”
He whistled in his own way, and a couple of strong sailors ran into the corridor.
“Make sure there are no outside persons left in the corridor, who aren’t cruising in the cabins of the hospital,” he commanded them.
The captain’s command that was uttered in his metal voice was fulfilled immediately. The crowd of the curious persons disappeared immediately, only the old woman with her assistants, the doctor, the trained nurse and me with I. were left. The old woman was looking at the captain impudently with her small and angry eyes, apparently imagining herself to be such a peak of majesty, in front of whom everybody had to fall in prone position.
“It seems that you don’t know who I am,” she kept speaking in a squealing and arrogant way.
“I know that you are cruising on the steamer entrusted to me, in the cabin No. 25 of the first class. When you were boarding the steamer, you read the rules that during the journey all passengers, as well as the team, obey to the orders of the captain. There were also the posters put that there were the cabins of the hospital available on the steamer for the separate price. Now you are exactly here. Please show me your extra ticket,” the captain answered her.
The old woman threw her head back proudly, stating that they shouldn’t be speaking about her ticket, but about that woman from the adjacent cabin.
“The doctor took his friend out of the hold and settled her in the best cabin with all separate conveniences. I, the brightest duchess, demand to move her back to her previous place immediately, exactly where it suits her best,” the old woman was demanding with her terrible English in a high tone.
“Do you, dear, understand what I am asking you? I’m asking you to show me the ticket for this cabin. If you don’t show it to me right now, soon you will be moved back to the cabin No. 25 for which you have paid, in addition you will have to pay a triple fine for sailing without the ticket in the hospital.”
It seemed that the captain’s voice and especially the threat of the fine touched the most unpleasant string of the greedy old woman. She blushed, her head began to shiver, she wanted to say something else, but she was only panting out of anger and she had a suffocating cough.
“In addition, the breach of the determinate rules and the captain’s orders, the contradiction to his instructions on the ship is called a riot. So if you allow yourself to utter at least one more word, at least one more tapping of the stick which is disturbing the peace of the patients, I will command these strong men to send you into the solitary like a rebellious element.”
Now the old woman herself was already frightened, not to speak of her young husband who must have been absolutely stunned at his situation in this scandal and who couldn’t understand the mean behaviour and the whole shame of the old woman, his wife.
The captain ordered to open the door of the hospital’s cabin No. 2 in which the old woman was travelling. The view which opened up in front of my eyes made even me to double up with laughter. The widest feminine pants were hanging in the most visible place, not the cleanest at all. The beds were muddled up, as if somebody had twisted and rolled in them. All sorts of the clothes, even the most intimate, were scattered everywhere – on the tables, chairs and on the floor.
“What kind of the Gipsy encampment is that?” the captain gave a shout. “Nurse, how could you allow such a mess on the steamer, and even at the hospital?”
The nurse, an elderly Englishwoman, who was full of understanding of her value was explaining that she was in the cabin three times herself, she sent a servant to tidy up the cabin two times, but in half of hour everything looked as though after a massacre again. Everybody was asking the duchess
about her ticket, while the cashier even went looking for the captain, but apparently, they had missed each other.
The captain whistled again, and a junior officer came hurriedly. He received the captain’s command to move the duchess back into her first class cabin instantly, to demand and obtain the triple price from her for taking two places in the hospital as the fine for travelling without the ticket and to wash the cabin immediately.
“I will complain to your operative management,” the old woman spoke in a wheeze.
“And I will complain not only to my operative management, but also to the Russian authorities. Also I will tell about your behaviour to His Majesty grand duke Vladimir who will board our ship in the next harbour.”
Then the junior officer went up to the old woman and offered her to follow him to the first class. It was clear that the old woman was ready to scratch the captain’s eyes out. Being so helpless, she gave vent to her anger to her husband and housemaid, calling them asses and idiots, not knowing even how to hold her properly. Being like a Dante’s inferno creature with the shaking head, covered with lather, coughing hoarsely like an old dog, the old woman disappeared in the corridor, accompanied by her assistants.
The captain said good-bye to us, asked to assure the lady Joan Moranje in his name that there was no danger for her on the steamer and that English laws were protecting her. He also asked us to make the round of the passengers of the third and fourth classes, because after dinner, in the evening they would be moved back to their previous places which now were being washed.
Having told to wash and tidy the old woman’s cabin once again, the captain ordered the doctor to accept only those passengers in it, whom I and I. would decide to send here. While saying good- bye to us, the captain added that his duty was starting at six o’clock in the evening and that we could find him at the wheel. Soon he disappeared on the winding stair through which we had come down.
We knocked at the cabin No. 1A. A melodious female voice invited us in French: “Come in”, and it seemed to me that I could hear the tears in her voice.
First of all, when I entered the cabin I made sure that the tears were really streaming down the mother’s cheeks, while her children had buried themselves on her shoulders. As though being frightened to see a scarecrow, they had put their arms round her and pressed close to her.
The mother was sitting squeezed into the corner of the sofa. All of them were so horror- struck, they were so disappointed that I simply became rooted to the floor and turned into Lovushka – the catcher of the crows.
I. pushed me and whispered to me that I should take the girl in my arms and soothe her mother, like the captain had told me to.
Having made sure that we were wishing her happiness and that we brought her only joy, the mother kept asking us if she really could stay in this cabin with her children up to Constantinople. It seemed that there was no end to her happiness. She was looking at I. like one is looking at the saint’s picture during one’s prayer. She addressed me like a brother who could protect her on the earth.
The girl wound her arms round my neck and didn’t listen to any persuasions of her mother anymore to get off my knees. She was kissing me, stroking my hair and she felt sorry for it to be so short. She was telling me that she was dreaming of me and that she would never part with me, that I was her true
uncle, that she knew exactly that the benevolent fairy would certainly send me to her. Soon the little strong man also settled on my knees, and the pranks started, which I was enjoying, too. I would even excite them with all sorts of tricks.
In the beginning their mother was trying to take the children from me, but now she was only laughing merrily and she probably wanted to romp a little with us, too, but the presence of I. to whom she was simply praying put her in a much serious frame of mind.
I. asked her what they were eating. It turned out that they hadn’t had anything in their mouths since the early breakfast, because from that time their raging neighbour was always demanding to throw them out, while we came only to the finale of this tragicomedy.
I. told her that she had to feed her children immediately and to put them to bed, that she also had to eat herself, to take a bath and to sleep a little if, of course, she wanted to, so that her and her children’s health would recover until they reach Constantinople.
I. diagnosed that the girl had a slight, intermittent fever, that today she was healthy, but tomorrow she would have an attack again. Her mother’s eyes became widely opened out of horror. I. was soothing her, telling her that he would give the girl some medicine and that they would have to spend as much time as possible on the deck of the hospital, lying on arm-chairs, then they would recover faster from their utter physical exhaustion.
He asked Joan to take care of the food immediately, he calmed her, explaining to her that we would make the round of the passengers of the steamer and would come back to her in a couple of hours. Then we will give the medicine to her and her children to drink and we will talk.
When we were leaving we also asked the trained nurse to feed the children and their mother more substantially. She must have been a kind woman: the children were reaching for her immediately, and we left calm about their destiny at least at this day.
We hadn’t made several steps when the doctor met us and asked to visit that girl and her mother from the first class, whom we cured.
“They passed the whole storm sleeping, now they are as fresh as roses and they would like to see the doctor who has helped them so much, so that they could thank him personally,” the ship’s doctor was telling us.
We followed him to the cabin and saw two very elegantly dressed brunettes who were sitting in arm-chairs, reading books and who didn’t remind of those helpless creatures of the stormy night at all.
When the ship’s doctor introduced us to them, the older woman stretched both of her hands out to I., sincerely thanking him for saving them.
She was sputtering Italian words so quickly, with all expansiveness which was characteristic to that nation that I didn’t understand half of that flow of her words, although I myself could speak that language well; I only understood that she was thanking us for their saved lives in the name of both of them.
The girl wasn’t a beauty, but her big, black eyes were so gentle and kind that they suited any classical beauty. She also stretched both of her hands out and asked us for permission to show her gratitude in something.
I. answered her that personally we didn’t need anything, but if they wanted to show their kindness, we wouldn’t refuse their help. Both ladies expressed their ardent wish to help us. I. told them
about the unfortunate widow Frenchwoman with two small children, who had lost her husband in an accident, who was saved by the captain from starvation and the storm by giving shelter to both her and her sick children in the hospital.
Both women were touched by poor widow’s destiny and they pulled their wallets out, but I. told them that we would get the money for them, but that the poor lady needed some clothes and at least a complementary linen.
“Oh, this is absolutely simple,” younger lady was speaking. “Both of us can sew perfectly, we will find the material and will dress them up smartly. Just introduce us to them and don’t worry about anything else. We’ll try to repay you by giving help to your friend.”
I. warned them that the poor lady was frightened. He told them in a few words about the nasty experience of the old duchess. Both woman felt vexed through tears. They told us that not all ladies were feeling and thinking like gorgons.
We agreed to take them to Joan when we come back after making our round of the steamer.
While we were saying good-bye one to another, I. told me to pull Ali’s box out. He divided one of the pills into eight parts, melted one of the parts in water, gave it for the girl to drink and told her to lie down for a while until we came back.
We came down to the third class. Everything here was already put in order, there weren’t even any tracks of the storm left, but the people were still lying down, not having enough strength to move. Only several Turks looked brisker, while the Gipsies were worthy of compassion. Now the sea was provoking such a horror for them that they crushed into several cabins and were frightened even to take a look at the water.
In the beginning they were afraid of us, too, but when the first ones of them decided to take our drops, when they stood up and started walking on the deck, the rest of them were asking themselves for the wonderful homoeopathy.
Soon all cabins became empty, and when an officer came and asked everybody to come back to their own places in the fourth class which was already put in order and prepared for them, the passengers dashed downstairs. They were joking, often they were doing so rather dirty.
The women themselves decided to settle in that shielded part of the deck where they were moved before the storm. They pushed all men out of there, and that was also accompanied with obscene and indecent jokes of the Gipsies.
Unwittingly, I thought about calm and tender poor Joan. The captain saved her from so many menacing dangers!
Having left everybody recovered downstairs, we went to the third class, but here we met both Turks who had already had time to make the round of it. Then together with them we passed on to the second class where everybody was healthy, only there were many weak ones. Majority of them were still lying, not having any strength even to eat, and our medicine really came in handy here.
When we went up to the first class we found everybody annoyed here. It turned out that the duchess who went into overdrive in the hospital was pouring her helpless anger on her husband and housemaid, so the neighbours from the next cabins lost their patience and expressed their opinion about such a behaviour. Word after word and there was a scandal into the very height of which we stepped.
Having seen us, the old woman thought that the captain was also with us. She was frightened, so she shut the door of her cabin loudly and hid herself there.
She was accompanied by the joint laugh of everybody. The public here was feeling better, but the weak patients were lying in some of the cabins. An elderly man approached us. He must have held out the storm with difficulty. He was sallow, he had bags under his eyes. He asked us to visit his daughter and his grandson, the state of whom worried him very much.
Having entered their cabin, we saw a pale, red-haired woman with long plait and a pale, thin, about eight year old boy who must have been seriously ill. They were lying in their beds.
The elderly man addressed his daughter in Greek, she opened her eyes, looked at I. who had leant over her and told him in Greek.
“I won’t survive until the end of this terrible journey. Don’t pay any attention to me. If you can, please save my son and my father. If I die, my son won’t have anybody left from our relatives, except my father. I become horror-struck when I think how they will be living,” and the tears started running from her eyes.
I. told me to pour some drops from the dark bottle and answered her in the same language.
“You will be absolutely healthy tomorrow. You had a heart attack, but the storm has subsided, your attack stopped and it won’t repeat anymore. Take these drops, turn round on your right side and sleep. Tomorrow you will get up earlier than the others, you will be strong and you will nurse your son and your father, and we’ll do this for you today.”
He raised her hand that was as pale as an antique statue and poured the medicine into her mouth. Then he helped her to turn round, covered her and went up to the boy.
He was so weak that he could hardly open his eyes; it seemed that he couldn’t even perceive anything. I. was holding his thin, little hand for a long time, he was listening for his breathing and finally, asked the man.
“Has he been in such a state for a long time?”
“Yes,” he answered. “The ship’s doctor gave him all sorts of medicine several times already, but unfortunately, his state is growing only worse. He’s as though fainted away from the beginning of the storm, and nothing can help him. Is he really going to die?”
The old man’s voice began to quiver, tears showed up in his eyes and, having turned away from us, he covered his face with his hands.
“No, there’s a long way till his death. But why haven’t you tempered his body with gymnastics and games? He’s sickly and weak not because he’s ill, but only because he’s become feeble due to the poor routine. If you want your grandson to live, always keep him in the fresh air, teach him to ride on horseback, to row, to swim, gymnastics. In fact you are killing your child,” I. was explaining to him.
“Yes, yes, you are right, doctor, but we are son unfortunate, nothing goes right with our lives, we have lost all of our relatives so suddenly and now we are trembling one for another,” the old man was speaking always with the same bitterness.
“If you keep protecting one another like this, soon all of you will be dead. You, a man, should find strength and energy within yourself, which namely your daughter lacks so much, and you should start educating your grandson in another way. And besides that, all of you must start a new life. If you agree with
my method of treatment, I will be responsible for your grandson’s life and I will be treating him. If you aren’t going to follow my instructions, I won’t even start,” I. continued.
“I stake my life on it that everything will be done as precisely as possible,” the old man interrupted him.
“Well, let’s start then.”
I. uncovered the boy, pulled the warm socks off his thin feet, as well as his sweater and asked for another shirt. While he himself was changing his clothes, he told me to melt a part of the pill from the green Florentian’s box and even a smaller part from the black Ali’s box in the half filled glass of water. When I put the part from the black box into the solution with the part from the green one, the water in the glass as though boiled up and became bright red.
I. took the glass from me, put some more special drops from three little bottles into it and started pouring the mixture into the child’s mouth with a small spoon. While I was holding his head, I was thinking that the boy wouldn’t be able to swallow even a drop, but he did swallowed the mixture and also drank the last sip from the glass himself.
I put the child’s head on the pillow carefully. I. told me to take the biggest bottle out of the first-aid kit. He washed his hands, and I followed his example. Then he told me to stretch out the boy’s hand with his palm up, while he himself was rubbing and massaging his hand up to his shoulder with the liquid from that bottle, every time rubbing his palm powerfully. His hand turned from absolutely white into reddish one. It even reddened. In the same way he rubbed his another hand, too, then his legs and finally his entire body. He oiled the boy’s temples, behind his ears and his vertex with the liquid from another bottle.
Now the boy was all reddish, suddenly he opened his eyes and told that he wanted to eat very much. The old man called the man-servant and ordered the hot chocolate and white bread, as I. had indicated him.
While they were bringing the chocolate, I. gave the old man the medicine to drink and advised him to eat, too. He was refusing in the beginning, but when they brought the food for the boy, he decided that he could drink some chocolate anyway.
I. offered him rather to eat some semolina porridge and to drink some coffee. He told him that the chocolate didn’t serve him very well at the moment.
When they brought the food for the old man, and while he was eating, I. didn’t take his eyes off the boy. He was observing him and kept asking him if he wasn’t cold, but the boy answered him that his entire body was burning, that he had never felt so warm. To the question if he had any pain, he answered that there was a bolt in his head and therefore his forehead and his eyes ached very much, but now it seemed that the doctor had taken that bolt out, because it wasn’t screwing or griping pains in his eyes anymore.
I. gave him some more drops and advised him to try to fall asleep. The boy agreed willingly, and indeed, he was sleeping in ten minutes, breathing equally and peacefully.
“And now it’s your turn,” I. told the old man by extending the medicine to him.
He drank it with no objections. I. offered him to go to bed. He explained to him that we would look in again in several hours and that now all of them should sleep peacefully.
We left this cabin in which we had stayed for so long. We passed by the crowd of the smartened up ladies and gentlemen who already started to take their proudly elegant appearance and who were even trying to wisecrack and to flirt.
Our new acquaintances Italians were already waiting for us impatiently. They had prepared many bundles of linen and clothes for Joan. I. was thanking both ladies, but he asked them to postpone their acquaintance and help till tomorrow, because today both the mother and her children were still very tired after the storm, they were even sickly weak. The Italians were very disappointed, they felt sorry for the poor children and they said good-bye to us till tomorrow.
Not lingering anywhere else, we went straight to Joan.
If I hadn’t slept all day, I would have probably already fallen down on the ground with tiredness due to this trip up and down the stairs and this constant encounter with different people, with the sickly, passionate outbursts of their anger, fear and disappointment.
In Joan’s cabin we found her children still sleeping, while she was sitting in the corner of the sofa. She had her cleaned dress on, with combed hair, but her face was so sad and pale that my throat was squeezed.
“I have already stopped waiting for you,” she was talking to us, while her lips only gave a ghost smile, because her eyes were already full of tears.
“We were delayed, because we had to help one boy,” I. answered her with such tenderness in his voice, which I hadn’t heard from him up to now. “But why do you think that we could break our word and not to come? Are you really so suspicious and do you trust people so little?”
“If you knew how I trusted people up to now and how cruelly I was disappointed in their generosity and benevolence, then you wouldn’t blame me for my fear to make a mistake this time, too. I’m afraid even of thinking about this magic help given to me. I’m still waiting that maybe my journey in this cabin is only a dream, that maybe it will clear like a fog and the only consequence of the fog will remain – the dew of my eyes,” Joan was talking.
“I feel for you from the bottom of my heart,” I. was talking to her, “but every man must remain energetic and fight instead of falling into a gloom or drowning in his own tears when the storm of life befalls on him, even if it is as horrible and unexpected as this storm of the sea. Think for a while, what would have happened to the people of this streamer if the captain and the ship’s crew had been confused and if instead of fighting against the hurricane, they would have surrendered to the element and allowed themselves to be seized by fear? Your situation isn’t helpless. It is true, you have lost your husband, love and welfare at once, but you still have your children, this goal in your life was left. Why do you go back to your past in your thoughts, which doesn’t exist anymore? It is impossible to lose your past for the second time. Why do you think about your future with a horror, about which you don’t know anything and which is impossible to lose as well. The future doesn’t exist, too. Only the present can be lost, this hurrying now, and that depends only on man’s possessed energy and cheerfulness. Remember your behaviour and think for a while how much unnecessary suffering only because of your fear about your future you’ve experienced. Did this fear help you by anything? And did at least one of those terrible scenes which your mind was creating come true? Arrange your inner world exactly as you have tried to arrange your exterior. Throw out of your head your thoughts about poverty and helplessness. Search for strength for your new life, activity and fight for your own and your children’s lives and happiness in your faithful love to your dead husband. Don’t cry so badly. Remember that you bemoan only yourself, your loss, your ruined egoistic happiness. You think that you bemoan your husband and his broken life, but what can we understand and know about the
destinies of the people which are passing us by? Think from your hard lot that your life could also stop suddenly as it has happened to your husband. Live your life as if every moment you would give the last responsibility of your care for your children and all those people with whom destiny brings us together. Don’t give up to sadness, be the master of yourself, forget yourself and think only about your children. Fill your day not with your gloomy thoughts about poverty and helplessness, but try not to cry with all your loyalty and selfless mother love, no matter how difficult that would be. Hide your tears and fear from your children, with your example teach them kindness and to meet every daybreak with joy. Don’t be afraid of anything now. Even if your prediction proves correct that your uncle isn’t living in Constantinople anymore, don’t lose your courage, put all your hopes not to other people, but rely upon yourself. Tomorrow we will introduce you to two wonderful, very kind-hearted ladies. They will help you and your children to renew your toilets with great pleasure. And concerning your job and a possibility to make a living in Constantinople for you with your children, then two our friends are cruising here, on this steamer, who own a rather big enterprise in Constantinople. Even if they don’t need a person who can speak French as perfectly as you do, they will help to find a job for you. Perhaps, you will have an opportunity to open a studio of female hats or anything else what would allow you to provide for your own and your children’s lives. But it doesn’t matter in what way you would have to solve your problems, always try to remain absolutely calm, concentrated and cheerful, your tranquillity and selflessness are the most important. One more time I’m asking you, please stop crying. Don’t look back and try to think only about this now passing moment and about what you are doing right now at this moment. Your children’s health is the most important for you now. I think that your daughter has caught a nasty form of fever, and you will have to be rather tired of nursing her.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off Joan, just like she couldn’t take her eyes off I. I had never observed a woman’s face for so long. Now I had seen so many expressions in it that it was simply impossible to describe all of them.
First of all, an endless astonishment was reflected in this face. Then a resentment and a protest slipped. Such a disappointment and sadness replaced them that I already wanted to meddle into the conversation and to explain I.’s words to her, which she must have understood wrongly, but little by little her face was clearing up and her weeping was dying away. The expression of a bliss was revealed in her eyes, which I had already seen when we visited her for the first time, and she was looking at I. like at a saint painting.
I. was talking to her in French. His speech was correct, but only with a little accent which I had never noticed when he was talking in any other language. I thought for a while that he must have learned French when he was already a grown-up.
“I cannot express my gratitude for your and apparently, I won’t be able to understand everything what you were telling me here,” Joan was talking in a quiet and musical voice. “But I feel a wonderful change in my heart. That what you told me, that the loyalty of my love to my husband mustn’t be the tears by bemoaning him, but it must be an activity for my children, that lit a light within me, it gave me an unspeakable self-confidence. I’m not a lady of leisure. I married my husband who was an ordinary worker against my parents’ will. My parents were well-off farmers, and I was their only daughter. They loved and spoiled me in their own way, but they insisted on me marrying our neighbour who was an elderly, rich and very stingy landowner, and I had an aversion for him. My parents were persuading me for a long time. I was only sixteen years old and I was almost about to agree with this terrible marriage already, but by chance, at the party at one of my friends I saw my future husband – Michel Moranjer. I understood instantly that even death was unable to frighten me, and that I wouldn’t marry the rich old man. I was dancing with Moranjer during the entire evening, while he was begging me to keep a date tomorrow. Nobody could distract my thoughts off Michel. I want through the real hell at home for six weeks. Both my
mother and my father were nagging me so much that I remember that time with a terror up to now, although eight years have already passed. And then an opportunity offered me to come to Russia. We got to the factory of rubber products of a French company in Petersburg. We were living perfectly. I was working at the French hat shop where the ladies were simply buying up the products of my job. We were so happy and then…” and the poor lady burst into tears again.
Having accumulated her strength, she finished her story in a voice that we could hardly hear.
“An accident happened, because the machine by which my husband was working was in bad order, but the manager kept dragging out the maintenance until an irretrievable disaster happened.”
“Don’t reopen your old sores. Wipe your tears. Your children are waking up, you have to preserve your nerves. Your strength is also overtaxed,” I. kept talking to her tenderly like before. “Set yourself the nearest task of restoring the strength of your children. You must give the medicine to your girl, so that the new attack would be weakened, and tomorrow, in spite of the children’s weakness, you have to lay them down on the deck. We’ll come to you after the breakfast and help you.”
Joan was listening to I. like one is listening to a prophet. Her cheeks were shining brightly, her eyes were burning, and so much strength and determination showed up in her entire weak figure that I was stunned by that contrast of how she looked when we found her here and now when we were leaving.
We said good-bye to her and left, accompanied with the shouts of joy of the awaked kids, because they didn’t want to let us go in any way. When the door of the cabin closed after us, I felt an utter physical exhaustion. I took the tragedy of the sincere Joan’s story so deeply to my heart, I was swallowing the tears which were squeezing my throat so many times that I lost all my strength during that hour.
I. took my arm, gave me a friendly smile and told me that he sympathized with me in the meeting of the first difficult tests of my new life.
I could hardly reach our cabin. We changed our clothes and sat down at the laid table where my nurse clumsy sailor was already waiting for us.
I didn’t want to eat anything for the first time and I didn’t want to talk about anything. In comparison with the morning waves, the sea was calm, but the streamer was still being rocked strongly. I. gave me a sweet from his orange box. Because of it, my cheerfulness returned, but I still didn’t want to talk about anything. I refused I.’s proposal to visit the Turks in an hour categorically and I told him that I already had enough of people and that I simply needed to be alone and to be silent for a while.
“My poor Lovushka,” I. was talking to me tenderly. “It is very difficult to pass from the naïve childishness to the stormy life of a man, which instantly demands him to open and strain his every nerve and energy. Lately you already had many possibilities to observe the people’s destinies yourself, to hear them talking about them. You see how unexpected the blows of life can be, how free a man in his consciousness should be, with what flexibility he has to switch and join his new life, and how it is best not to wait for something from the future, but to act in every moment. He must act with love and overcoming, thinking about the general wellbeing, and not only about his personal success.”
I. sat down on the arm-chair next to me, but we weren’t fated to be silent for a little longer, because suddenly the captain’s steps and his voice were heard on the stairs. He had already made friends with us once and for all, he was simply idolizing me and calling me a merry fellow and a bold spirit, although I was trying to deny this as much as possible.
I. rose and came to meet the captain, so I could stay alone. He invited him to come to his cabin.
I really needed to be alone. My soul, my thoughts and feelings looked like the stormy sea, and the waves of my spiritual storm were attacking one another, they collided one with another, they broke, foamed and bubbled, not bringing any calming to me, not drawing me to any conclusions.
From hundreds of the events that had befallen on me unexpectedly I was unable to distinguish a single one of them, in which a logical connection of things would have been completely clear to me. It seemed to me that I could see only some unreal mysteriousness everywhere, and I couldn’t tolerate neither secrets nor miracles. The words of Florentian often used to come to light in the chaos of my thoughts: “There are no miracles, there’s only one or another level of knowledge,” but I couldn’t understand them, too.
From all my feelings, all my impressions, two of them were prevailing in my soul: love to my brother and love to Florentian. I had never loved a single woman. Not a single hand of a woman had ever caressed me, I hadn’t experienced neither my mother’s nor my sister’s tenderness, but what love was, what the real devotion was, not criticizing, but idolizing one – I perceived that, because I loved my brother-father so much that I was carrying out all my matters, all my deeds and actions in such a way as though my brother had been next to me and I had consulted him for every move of spirit. There was only one thing that I had kept to myself – that was my talent of a writer, but in this case I was following my desire to protect my brother-father from his poor scribbler brother-son.
This love to my brother was the essence of my whole life, it was its foundation. With this love I was creating my present and my future, besides I was looking at the present from above, for me it was only the introduction to that wonderful life which we would start living together as soon as I would finish my studies.
Now I had an opportunity to see my childish loss of sight. Earlier I wasn’t reflecting who my brother was, how he was living. Now I could see the part of his life – both personal and social, - in which I didn’t exist. It was the real disaster for me, almost as painful as Joan’s misfortune. And when I was crying for her, I was also crying for myself…
I didn’t understand anything: what role Nal was playing and is playing in the performance of my brother’s life, what place my brother occupied in the revolutionary movement, how he was connected with Ali and Florentian? The truth is, everything seemed like a miracle to me here, I perceived my great ignorance and how I wasn’t prepared for that life which I had to step into now.
I was thinking that one heart could love only one person and only once in its life, like I loved my brother, and I didn’t notice at all how my heart broadened and let one more man in, who surrounded it as though with a bright ring and occupied it completely, leaving the images of my brother Nikolay in the centre of that ring.
I didn’t see double in my love to Florentian and my brother – I united both of loves within myself, often merging both objects into one painful sigh of longing and a wish to meet them…
I had never experienced such power of charm with which Florentian had enslaved me. A new and strange understanding of the word “enslaved” showed up in my consciousness. Actually, the captivity of my heart and my thoughts used to merge with some kind of charm and joy which that man was spreading round him. The entire atmosphere round him was breathing not only of the power and self- confidence, but having gotten into it, I used to rejoice at my happiness to live one more day, one more moment next to him.
While being next to him, I wasn’t feeling neither fear nor doubts nor thoughts about tomorrow – this man was spreading only creative energy of an action into his surroundings.
With the absent-mindedness that was characteristic to me, I forgot about everyone and everything, I forgot the time, the place, my perception of the space disappeared – I was flying to my wonderful friend in my thoughts and I was so full of him that once again, like at night during the storm, it seemed to me that I could see him.
As though a round window opened in the dark clouds, and I saw the mirage of my dreams, my Florentian with white clothes and his curly, golden hair.
I rose from the arm-chair, ran to the border of the deck and as though I heard his voice: “I’m with you, my boy. Remain loyal to me and you will reach your goal, you will help your brother, and we will see each other again.”
A stormy joy took hold of me. Some kind of a power flowed into my entire body, it became like iron. I felt happy and unusually calm.
“Well, how is my young friend, bold spirit – merry soul?” I heard the captain’s voice behind me. “It seems that the wonderful clouds of this evening are alluring you to the sky?”
I was unable to understand what was going on right away, I also didn’t turn around right away, but when I did, it seemed to me that not only the captain, but even I. was surprised by my changed face, because both of them were looking at me wonderstruck…
As though wishing to protect me from the captain, I. embraced me and pressed to himself powerfully.
“Well, the Russians can make surprises! What has happened to you? You are radiating beauty like a jewel,” the captain was talking to me, smiling. “Well, here’s whom you can be! Now I’m already not surprised at all that not only the beauty from the hospital, but also the young Italian and the Greek are asking only about you. Now I understand what the powers, besides your courage, are hiding in you.”
Having looked at the dark clouds regretfully, in which the mirage of my love vanished, I answered the captain silently.
“You are extremely wrong. I’m not a hero or a Don Juan at all. I’m an ordinary Lovushka, the catcher of the crows. Namely now I was catching my dream, but I didn’t catch it.”
“Well,” the captain made a helpless gesture with his hands, “if it’s too little for you to disturb the hearts of three women during three days – let’s not forget the storm, too – then I only have to add my old sea-dog’s heart which is riddled by life on the scales of your victories. Young friend, I’m your captive, let’s come to drink brotherhood.”
I was unable to refuse such a sincere invitation of the captain in any way, but it seemed to me that the obligation of politeness had never been so difficult for me.
“Think about Florentian,” I. whispered to me. “It’s not always easy for him, too, but he’s always charming. Now try to render his charm to the people round us.”
These words urged me for the new use of joy that was boiling in me. After some time both the captain and the Turks who were present here were rocking with laughter from the play of my words and the causticity which I succeeded to express well.
Soon the evening turned into the night, and early in the morning we already had to sail into the B.’s harbour to replenish the water, coal and food supplies, and to unload the cattle and a part of the horses, too.
Having excused for being tired, we said good-bye to the company and went to our cabin.
We still couldn’t sleep for a long time. I was sharing my thoughts, my longing for my brother, my loyalty to Florentian, my mirage and the hallucinations of my hearing with I. I. was telling me that I shouldn’t think about the mirage and illusions, that I should think only about the main point of the words that reached me. It wasn’t important how I received the news, it was important what kind of the news it was for me and what powers it aroused within me.
“Remember well the feelings of self-confidence and joy, which came into being within you today, memorize that peace which you felt deep in your heart when you seemed to see and hear Florentian. If you ever have to start any great job, never doubt your success when those feelings are within you. An absolute man’s loyalty to an idea, as well as his loyalty to love, will always lead him to victory.”
I embraced I. powerfully and I kissed him. From the bottom of my heart I thanked him for taking care of me and I went to bed, being reconciled myself to myself and to the whole universe, thanking life for its light and beauty.