14 Chapter 14: Stop in B. and unexpected impressions in it
In the morning I woke up brisk and rested. I was dreaming of Florentian, and the feeling of this meeting him and talking to him was so real that I even smiled to my ability to live with images.
The sun was shining, the tossing could hardly be felt, and the first thing that surprised me was the shore in the horizon, which was decorated with subtropical plants. The clumsy sailor shot up next to me and he explained to me that soon we would sail into the small bay of B., showing the rather big and charming town, stretched out in the distance.
I. climbed up onto the deck, he greeted me very joyfully and offered me to hurry to drink my coffee, so that we could still have time to drop in at Joan’s and to prepare her for meeting the Italians.
We sat down to have our breakfast. The captain went up to us, he was laughing and he gave me a perfumed letter.
“My friend, you can tell others what a modest boy you are. The daughter was asking me to hand you this and she was always trying to avoid her mother seeing her,” the captain was talking to me, while tapping me on the shoulder.
I was laughing, as I probably would have been laughing from anything today, because everything inside of me was laughing and rejoicing. I gave the letter to I. I told him that I was so hungry that I couldn’t tear myself away from the sandwich and I asked him to read the content of the letter for me.
The captain was indignant at such a light-mindedness of mine and he was persuading me that only now he understood my childish inexperience in love affairs, and that I had to read the letters from women myself, because women were mysterious creatures and they could play me the most unexpected tricks.
Nevertheless, I convinced I. to read the note, besides I asked him to read it loudly, so that the postman would hear it himself.
“Well, what an interesting boy,” the captain uttered, laughing and he took a seat at our table.
As I expected, the letter was from the young Italian and it was very matter-of-fact one. She was writing that both of them, she and her mother, were asking us to introduce them to our friend as soon as possible, because there were many good shops in B. where they could buy clothes, linen and foot-wear for the children. Before doing so, they needed to fit the children and to dart a glance at their mother’s figure. The letter ended with the post-script that we, of course, wouldn’t refuse to accompany them, that they knew the town perfectly, but they would be glad to have a company of men who knew the local language, because they might have trouble with the Russian language.
The captain was a little disappointed with the content of the letter, but he kept trying to make me believe that it was only an innocent pretext, and that the sequel of the love story was foreseen both tomorrow and on the day after tomorrow, because he could clearly see my reflection in the girl’s eyes.
We finished our breakfast. I was joking that the black eyes of the Italian would go well with the yellowish eyes of my new friend, while I myself would rather wait for the blue ones, - I might be lucky.
While joking, we were going downstairs and turned straight to Joan. Instead of a friendly moral, the captain only rocked his head and shook his finger at me.
We found Joan worried. Both of her children were tossing, they were in fever. She told us that her children woke her up at seven o’clock in the morning, they were very joyful, they drank some chocolate, but then all of a sudden, about half an hour ago, the youngster complained to her of a headache. Then her girl was also complaining of a headache. She didn’t even have time to put them to bed, and both of them were already raving in fever.
I. examined the children carefully, he pulled a very nice, cut bottle out of his pocket, which I hadn’t yet seen, and gave children the medicine to drink.
“Don’t worry,” he addressed Joan. “It could have been even worse. The fever will be gone in a couple of hours, and the children will feel well again, but that doesn’t mean that they will be recovered. I’ve warned you that you would still have to take a considerable care of them, right?”
“I’m ready to take care of them during my entire life, I only wish that they would be healthy and happy,” Joan answered him by holding her tears heroically.
I noticed a change that had happened within her. One cannot say about such young woman that suddenly she became old, but my heart was aching from the thought that only now she was really starting to understand her entire situation, and a grief was already taking root within her.
I. asked her to bring the children on the deck, to tuck them in blankets and to leave them until our next visit. He offered Joan to lie down on the little wicker bed next to them. He warned her that the children would wake up absolutely healthy in two or three hours, but she had to hold them in their beds, to feed them and to keep them amused with the toys which we would bring her from the town.
Having helped her to lie down next to her children, we told her that we would be back soon with our friends whom we had already mentioned to her, but that she had to stay in her bed and to talk with the guests in a lying position.
We hurried to the Italians whom we found already prepared to go to the town. Having warned them that Joan and her children were still sick, we accompanied them to her.
Having entered the Joan’s cabin, both women embraced her sincerely, they went up to the children on their tip toe and carefully and almost fell into tears, because they were so touched by their beauty, weakness and their feverishly burning little cheeks.
Both Italians and Joan were very tactful and attentive. Contrary to the temperament and the tattle that was characteristic to this nation, they were speaking little, but their every word and movement were telling about their respect and sympathy to the pain of the poor mother.
The young Italian fitted the feet and the little bodies of the children very tenderly and carefully; of course, I helped her. The spasms of pain distorted her face several times, her heart must have already experienced the drama of love and heartbreak, too.
In the meanwhile, the senior lady fitted Joan, although she was insisting that personally she didn’t need anything, that all children’s clothes were instantly stolen on the steamer, as soon as she turned away from the suitcase.
The ladies said good-bye to Joan. They asked her to take care of her health, to think only about her children and to leave the worries about the clothes to them. Having smiled to Joan tenderly, the
Italians left. I followed them, while I. still lingered by the children and he caught up with us only on the lower deck where the little gangways to the shore were already stretched out.
The steamer had to stop at the harbour during the entire day and to cast off only at nine o’clock in the evening. We didn’t need to hurry anywhere, but I. wanted to buy the toys for the children as soon as possible, so that after waking up, they would stay in their beds until the evening.
The town to which we came was very cosy and beautiful, it was all buried in verdure. The rarest trees were growing in parks, houses were mostly one-storeyed and white.
Soon we found a toy shop, picked out a pile of different toys and sent them to Joan whose sad look kept following me.
I wanted to bring the toys to her myself, but I. whispered to me that we would buy the clothes for Joan and her children together with the Italians and accompany them back to the steamer, then we would have to hurry to visit one of Ali’s and Florentian’s friend, where some news might be waiting for us and, depending on those news, we would either had to continue our journey by the steamer to Constantinople or to ride on horseback towards the Turkish border and to try to get there by land, and that would be more difficult and would take more time.
I was terror-struck. I wanted to shout out: “And what about Joan?”, but I. only put his finger to his lips, took my arm and answered to some question of the Italians.
I was stunned by the possible separation with Joan. Her destiny without us was like a splinter stuck in my heart. I turned into Lovushka the catcher of the crows in a flash, everything went clean out of my mind, and if not the strong I.’s hand which was controlling my mechanical walking, I must have been standing like hammered in one place.
“Think about Florentian. Could he be so absent-minded, ill-mannered and disobliging? Go, offer your hand to the young lady and be such a cavalier as if you were next to Joan if you had to accompany her. Politeness is obligatory for a friend of Florentian,” I heard I.’s whisper.
During these days which were passing so quickly, again and again I used to make sure how I was lacking experience, how I still couldn’t control myself, how it was difficult for me to learn the art of self- education. The picture of my brother flashed in my mind; his iron will and his chivalrous politeness while he was talking to Nal in the garden. I used simply inhuman efforts, even physically I felt stress from my head to toe, I let I’s hand go, went up to the girl, took my hat off, bowed to her and offered my arm to her.
Her small face with big eyes brightened up, she gave a smile and she all changed somehow, she became kind, and I understood instantly what this face was lacking in order to be attractive: the sadness which was reflected in it and disappointment was covering it like a dead mask.
“It seems that in this case mother-life asked a black pearl in her string, too”, I remembered Ali’s words in my thoughts.
My pity for the girl helped me to forget my own mood, and I started looking for possibilities to dispel her sadness.
I started by telling her my surname, I explained to her that I was a Russian, I apologized to her that in confusion of the storm and dangers, me and my brother forgot to observe the etiquette and we hadn’t introduced ourselves to her up to now.
The girl answered me that she found out my surname from the ship’s journal of the passengers, and that it wasn’t difficult to do at all, because there was only one luxurious cabin.
She told me that they descended from Florence, but they’ve been living in Petersburg at her mother’s brother for two years already, that after her experienced big disaster her mother took her for a journey, so that she would forget Italy and all her memories related to it.
Then she told me that her name was Maria Galdoni, while her mother’s name was Giovana Galdoni and that they were going to Constantinople to visit her mother’s sister, signora Terez, who married a diplomat, hence the destiny moved her to Turkey. She asked me where I and my brother were going. I answered her that first of all we were going to Constantinople, and that I didn’t know our next itinerary.
In this way we went up to the main street and entered the shop of the knitwear. Here I and I. gave the initiative to signoras Galdoni, but at the shop of the readymade clothes I decided to meddle in the shopping of the Italians. Both of them were picking out bright and light-coloured items, while I chose a blue costume made of Chinese silk, a white batiste blouse and a small English hat made of the rice straws with a blue band for Joan. I. bought a grey coat and a flannel dress for the girl and a coat and a flannel suit for the boy. The Italians were stunned by our taste and choice, but we held out their pressure by explaining to them that there would be not only sunny days.
We still had to buy the foot-wear for them, and I showed the fortitude of my character by buying a pair of the travelling little shoes on the high sole of Joan. I. was laughing and he let the ladies buy the foot-wear according to their taste by saying that otherwise we would buy up all goods. We bought two suitcases, put all our purchases into them, except the hats, of course, got on a hired coach and rattled off to the steamer.
I had a seat next to signora Maria again. The conversation was turning upon the storm and its consequences, as well as upon my courage which the captain had already turned into a legend.
While we were approaching the steamer, we encountered the whole crowd of cheered up and rested passengers from all classes, who were hurrying to the town.
The group of the dressed up ladies from the first class were demonstrating the smartness of their clothes, they were making their eyes at men, while the men were trying to parade their wit, swiftness and aristocracy of their manners. They were trying to display their qualities in every possible way after I had seen the wrong side of them during the storm. That aroused the feeling within me that was close to nausea.
We were acquainted with many of them, we helped many of them during the storm. I saw how impatient they were. Their rude behaviour with the crew of the ship, an absolute sluggishness of these dandies in a moment of danger hadn’t yet died out of my memory.
In no way I could throw out of my head a thought about a herd of two-legged beasts who had a new chance to demonstrate their physical qualities, so that they would excite passions and, having become involved in this tempting game, they would spend their day on land pleasantly.
We accompanied the ladies up to Joan’s cabin, said good-bye to them, and to the question when we would see each other again, I. answered them that most likely only in the afternoon when we continue our journey; they became sad after hearing that, because they were expecting to spend the whole day in our company.
Having gone upstairs to the first class, we met the Turks and together with them we came back to the town.
This time we turned to the opposite direction, not to the centre, but to the outskirts of the town. We were going along a wonderful boulevard of the sea-shore, which was buried in blooming
mimosas, reddish and yellow acacias and palms. We went into a peaceful, little street and gave a ring at the door of a beautiful, white house which was surrounded by a garden.
The way was short, I was going next to the younger Turk and I had time only to ask him how the wound in his head was healing.
“My head is almost healed, but my leg still hurts,” he answered me.
“Why don’t you show it to I.?” I asked him.
He answered me that he still didn’t have a chance to speak to I. alone, without his father, because he didn’t want to worry his father and he was hiding his hurting leg from him. I took a good look at his face and I understood immediately that the youth was seriously ill. Not having uttered a word, I whispered to I. that our young friend had a serious wound in his leg, which he was hiding from his father.
I. nodded his head, but the door opened right at that moment, and we entered inside.
The white, little house with mezzanine looked quite modest from the outside, but inside it was a realization of cosiness. The big antechamber that looked like an English hall was separating the house into two parts. Half of the walls were boarded with the decorative boards from Karelian birch; the peg- board, chairs, armchairs and tables were made of the same tree. The remaining part of the walls was papered with blue Morocco-leather. Large branches of mimosas were stretching down from above. The floor was covered with the bluish carpet, decorated with white and yellow flowers. I stopped like charmed. It was so easy to breathe here, as though… I turned into Lovushka the catcher of the crows instantly and I even couldn’t perceive in which place of the terrestrial globe I found myself. I was unable to hear anything, I only was looking and rejoicing at the harmony of this room. I hadn’t seen anything like this before.
The door made of the same Karelian birch with the blue grip opened upstairs, and a white dressed woman was going downstairs.
I was so perplexed when I saw that the woman’s face, her hands and her neck were absolutely black. She went up straight to I., extended both of her black hands towards him and began to speak in English.
Unexpectedly, having seen the black woman for the first time in my life not at the circus, but who was speaking in English, who had excellent manners, who’s figure was like a statue, with the beautiful face, fine lips and with plait, not the black felt of the curls on her head – I was simply frightened. My fear wasn’t gone even when I. pushed me slightly. My entire inner confusion must have been reflected rather clearly in my face, because even I. who usually was restrained gave a laugh, while I hurried to hide myself behind his broad back.
My heart started beating so strongly, as if I had survived two storms in the sea. And I was prepared to withstand at least two more of them, only that if I didn’t have to touch the hand of this black- skinned woman.
Now I even don’t know why I was so frightened back then. The truth is, she was rolling the white of her eyes perfectly, she was speaking with a guttural voice and very quickly, but there was nothing repulsive in her. She was even tender and womanly in her own way, perhaps she was even wonderful.
However, I was terror-struck because of her.
I kept moving backwards, I let both Turks go forward, who, apparently, were familiar with her earlier, and I was even shaking out of terror.
Having arranged something with I., the black-skinned woman hurried to the room on the right in a light and springy gait. I. turned to me, while I was working by the sweat of my brow and I couldn’t soothe my beating heart. He went up to me laughing, but, having looked at me more attentively, he stopped laughing and told me tenderly.
“I should have warned you that you would meet the blacks’ family at Florentian’s friend, whom he saved during his journey across Africa. This woman was still a baby when she together with her two juvenile brothers and her mother were brought to Russian. She is perfectly educated and very devoted to Florentian and Ananda. I didn’t pay attention how your nervous system has suffered during those days of tests, and I relied on your strength too much. I beg your pardon for such a lack of understanding, eat this sweet and your heart will stop beating.”
I was unable to calm myself still for a long time. I sat down on the chair, I. also gave me some water to drink. I started thinking about Florentian with all my might, so that I wouldn’t faint away as it had happened at Ananda’s.
Soon I got better. I.’s eyes were looking at me with such tenderness, both Turks were trying to help me so much that I brought myself to overcome myself once again, I gave a smile and explained to them that the woman with her movements on the stair reminded me of a snake, and I was afraid of the snakes terribly.
The younger Turk laughed merrily and agreed with me that the snakes were terrible, but he didn’t see anything resembling to the snake in this slender and tall figure.
Exactly at this moment the black figure appeared in the doorway once again. With my thoughts about Florentian I fenced myself off as with a barrier and now I was already looking at the black- skinned woman absolutely calmly.
And indeed, one could be frightened only out of surprise. There was nothing ugly in her. On the contrary, with the perfection of her forms and her elegance she reminded more of a statue. Her face was interesting, too, only her big, bulging eyes with flashing whites were affecting my nerves rather unpleasantly.
I couldn’t get used to her blackness put into a white batiste in any way. The contrast between her black skin and the irreproachable whiteness of her clothes in this perfectly bright room in which my imagination had already tenanted golden-haired angels was oppressing me. With all my might I seized Florentian’s hand in my thoughts and once again I understood how I didn’t know life, how I was lacking experience and how intemperate I was.
“The enemy is never drowsing and is always trying to take advantage of every moment of your confusion,” – I remembered the words from Ali’s letter.
All those thoughts didn’t have time to flash across my mind, and the black-skinned girl already went up to I. and told him that the master was asking him to enter his study alone, and he was offering to this companions to look round the garden where he and I. would join us in a quarter of a hour.
I. went to the master. He must have known the way. The girl took us to the garden by opening the revolving, mirror door which I mistook for an ordinary, mirror set of the walls.
Through this door we got into the library, from here we went to the veranda and descended to the garden.
What a flower garden was laid out here! How beautiful the range of colours from the flowers that I didn’t know at all was flowing! The birds were chirping, fantastic shadows of the trees were stretching on the little walks. Such peace and silence were hanging in this little corner that it was difficult even to believe it that the sea was right here, because the murmur wasn’t heard at all. It was also difficult to believe in the former storm, in all its terror which we had just experienced, so that we could get into this poetical kingdom of undisturbed tranquillity.
As if during a dream, I could hear how the girl was offering us to look round the garden in which we could find the plants from all over the world and to admire the almond tree in its belated bloom, but I didn’t want to move, I wanted not only to be silent, but not even hear a man’s voice. I stayed in the flower garden, I sat down on a small bench under the flowering pomegranate and I devoted myself to my thoughts about Florentian and about his friend whose both house and garden – everything was filled with such peace and beauty.
I forgot about everything. My thoughts flew me off to the world of the dreams, I was thinking about the happiness of all people, about the possibility for everybody to live according to his own spiritual and physical needs. Florentian’s friend wasn’t creating this little corner only for himself, was he? How many storms of hearts, how much discord should calm down in a man’s spirit when he finds himself in this peace and harmony. In this place every small board, every blossom was as though saturated with love. It seemed to me that I understood how an earthly dwelling of those should look, who loved a man by choosing him not for pleasure, but by seeing in everybody the same man like himself, by trying to give help and comfort for everybody.
In my thoughts I was creating the external portrait of the master of this house, because it seemed to me that I could understand his internal one already. I connected him to an extraordinary beauty of Florentian and suddenly I felt a new flow of strength by imagining my friend with white clothes and a white turban, like I saw him for the first time at Ali’s feast. “My dear Florentian, will I see you again? Oh, how I love you!” I addressed him in my thoughts, from the bottom of my heart and… I heard his voice clearly, as though he was speaking straight into my ear: “I’m with you, my friend. Keep calm, spread your calm everywhere and you will meet me soon.”
The illusion of my hearing was so clear that I stood up and wanted to run towards that voice, but how disappointed and astonished I was when I saw I. in veranda, who was calling me poor Lovushka – the catcher of the crows.
A man with an ordinary, light European suit was standing next to I. The contrast between the voice of my dreams and the one of I.’s, between my idolized Florentian and the master who was standing next to I. was so clear that I couldn’t refrain from laughing at myself. All surprises – and the black-skinned, snake-like woman instead of the angels, and an ordinary man instead of Florentian – everything together provoked only laughter within myself from my own childishness.
I was coming nearer to them, laughing and absolutely not comprehending my indecent behaviour.
“What is entertaining you so much, Lovushka,” I. frowned and asked me.
“Only my own foolishness, Lolion,” I answered him. “It seems that I will never grow out of my childishness and I won’t be able to take those qualities, the living example of which is next to me. It makes me laugh, because I always fall under the illusions of my eyes and ears. It’s always that nasty, tight cap of the dervish, which has done so many troubles for me and even ruined my hearing.”
“No, my friend,” the master of the house told me. “If your illusion is leading you towards kindness and merry laughter, then you can be at ease about yourself that you will achieve a lot in your life. Only angry people don’t recognize laughter. They are trying to overcome everything with persistence of their will and that’s why they lose. Those people triumph who are moving forward with love.”
I stopped dead. A whirl of thoughts swept through my brain. What was common between this man and Florentian? Why my heart was overflowed with bliss? I was looking at this man of middle height, with dark, a little curly chestnut-coloured hair, covered with a small cap that looked like a tyubeteyka. His charming, blue eyes were looking at me tenderly, with love, although an expression of an exceptional power was hiding in them.
Namely this expression of strength, energy and inner power surprised me by calling in my memory Florentian’s reflection and the burning power of Ali’s eyes.
I was moved very much by his pleasant speech and his attention showed to me, which I hadn’t yet deserved at all. Unwittingly, I thought for a while that during some time already I was living among the strange people who were showing their attention to me, which I hadn’t deserved at all, they were my guardians, they were even saving my life, giving me shelter, food, while I… I hung my head unhappily and I thought about my helplessness to help my brother, while tears were already oozing through my eyelashes.
The master came down to the garden, he embraced me silently and tenderly and took me to the house. I couldn’t suppress my tears. The pain, helplessness, an unspeakable kindness of the people who were protecting my brother, my respect to them and an absolute inability to perceive that guardianship and friendship, the fear of being left alone without them – all of that was breaking my heart so much that as soon as we sat down on the sofa, I buried myself in the shoulder of this kind friend and I kept crying bitterly.
“You see, my friend, what kind of contrasts are boiling in man’s life. In the most terrible moment of the storm, when death was menacing the whole steamer, you were laughing merrily and by doing so, you surprised and raised the spirit of brave people. Now your great love and devotion to your friend made you laugh, and what’s the result from all of it – you are crying, you are thinking about the horror of solitude and you are distresses about the future that still doesn’t exist. How one can lose that what doesn’t exist? Did you know that you would be crying now several minutes ago? You lost your laughter, tranquillity and joy only because you lost your loyalty to your friend Florentian whom you would like to accompany you during your entire life. Where’s your cheerfulness? Don’t give in to any doubts. The more energy you will put for chasing away your sad thoughts, the faster and better you will educate yourself, while your inner discipline will become your habit, which will be easy and daily. Don’t think that we, your new friends, are supernatural and happy keepers of some secrets. We are the same people like everybody else. One can divide people only to those who possess awareness, so they are free from passions and prejudices that are oppressing them – therefore, they are kind and joyful, and those who possess unawareness, so they are fettered in their passions and prejudices – therefore, they are angry and dismal. Learn, my son. There’s only one path in life – that’s the knowledge. The knowledge liberates man, and the freer he is, the more important for the universe he becomes, the more meaningful his activity for the universal welfare becomes, the more spacious the atmosphere of his tranquillity becomes, which he’s radiating round him. Take this medallion, there’s the portrait of your friend Florentian in it. It’s great that you are so devoted to him. Now you can see yourself that you love your real brother as much as untrue one whom you met just recently. The freer you will become by throwing the commonly adopted, conditional understanding of love out of yourself, the more real, human love will awake within yourself.”
He gave me rather big, rounded medallion that was hanging on the thin, golden chain. There was a dark sapphire put in its cover.
“Hang it and in the moments of doubts, danger, sadness or bitter reflections, take it into your hands by thinking about your friend Florentian and about me, your new friend, always loyal to you, and you will find strength to suppress your tears in all situations of your life. Each rolled down tear is weakening man’s strength, while each defeated tear is leading him upstairs onto the new level of strength. It is written here in one of the oldest languages of mankind: “Defeat by loving.”
While saying this, he opened the medallion, and I saw a wonderful portrait of Florentian.
I wanted to thank him, I was feeling a great respect for him, I was full of happiness, but somebody knocked at the door. I hardly had time to hang the medallion, and the words of my gratitude remained unvoiced. He must have read the unsaid thoughts in my head, he smiled at me and went to open the door.
At the doorway I saw the white dress and the black figure, but now this silhouette wasn’t frightening me anymore. A sense of power which I had already experienced several times during these days took hold of me again. It was the sense of rebirth of my whole organism, as though all of a sudden I had become older, self-confident and restrained.
“Sir Vomi, may your friends come in already?” the girl asked him.
“Yes, Chava, they may. Here, become acquainted with one more friend of mine. While I’ll be talking to the Turks about the subjects that doesn’t interest him at all, take him to the library and show him the shelves with the works about self-education of the philosophers from all over the world. Let him choose anything he wants and put those books into the briefcase for him in memory about yourself,” the master was talking to her with a smile, while his eyes were flashing with such a humour which I used to see in the eyes of Florentian.
“I will take the young guest to the library and show him the books with pleasure, but concerning the memory about myself, I’m not sure if he remembers me with pleasure. It is difficult for Europeans to tolerate the black skin,” Chava was speaking, smiling with her entire mouth and as though lighting up the whole room with the glow of her white teeth.
I was feeling totally ashamed, while sir Vomi, as Chava called my new friend, added, smiling.
“Here’s the first lesson for you, my friend. Defeat your prejudices for the black skin by remembering that the same red blood, like everybody else’s, is flowing under such skin.”
I followed Chava and in the next room I ran into I. and the Turks who were going to sir Vomi’s study. My appearance must have seemed to be unusual for them, because both Turks looked at me surprised, while I. gave me a smile and passed his hand tenderly over my hair.
Chava let them come into the study, closed the door behind them and invited me to come with her. We crossed several rooms which were darkened with the shutters from the sun, came into the excellent hall once again and got into the library through the mirror door which was already familiar to me.
Now I could already examine this room. How wonderful and artistic the surroundings were here! Dark bookcases made of mahogany with big, mirror door stood out nicely in the background of the blue carpet. The blue ceiling was decorated with perfectly painted white peacocks, forming a ring and a youth, playing the little pipe to them.
“This way,” I heard Chava’s voice. “You’ll have to climb up this ladder a little. On the upper shelves of these two bookcases you will find those books which sir Ut-Vomi has recommended to you.”
I thanked her, tried to remember that my friend’s first name was Ut-Vomi and I started reading the titles of the books.
Up to now I was thinking that I had read many books while my brother was guiding me and that here I would find at least several titles know to me, but the books were written in all languages of the world, even in Russian, and I didn’t know a single one of them.
“I will leave you here for a while, until I bring the briefcase from above,” Chava told me. “I will try to find such one that would remind you of this day and of sir Ut-Vomi.”
I was left alone. The door of the veranda and all windows were thrown open, and a wonderful aroma of the flowers was blowing from the garden. This silence was exceptionally pleasant after the incessant murmur of the sea and the wind. I was tempted to go out to the garden and to have a walk on the soft grass, but I was afraid of becoming absent-minded and I started looking over the books diligently.
Being disappointed, I already wanted to pass on to the next bookcase when all of a sudden I turned round awkwardly, brushed against something, and two books fell down on the floor. I climbed down the ladder, lifted the books and, having opened the thick, leather cover of one of them, I read the title: “Self-discipline and its significance in man’s personal and cosmic life”, author Nikolay T., publishing house Firs, London.
I rubbed my eyes and read the title page one more time. I seized the second book with the same leather cover – “Man’s path – the path of liberation. Man – a part of the eternal movement”. Publishing house Firs, author Nikolay T.
I stopped doubting that both books were really written by my brother. It was impossible to describe what this discovery opened within myself, what contradictory feelings surged me up! Who was that brother of mine? Who was educating me? Why was I separated from him? These questions arose to Lovushka the catcher of the crows; I wasn’t searching for anything anymore, I only sat down on the ladder and started reading.
Now I already cannot tell for how long I was reading, but I came to myself after the loud laughter of many voices. I gave a start with unexpectedness and I was so confused that not at once I could perceive why I., both Turks, Chava and sir Vomi were standing here, where I was and what was going on with me.
Sir Vomi came up to me, embraced me tenderly and whispered.
“Enjoy your find, but be a gallant and courteous youth to the others”.
Having looked at the books and me, I. gave a joyful laugh.
“Lovushka, now you can see that not only you were hiding your literary talent from your brother, but he also kept his books from you. You found them. Now you must become a writer as soon as possible, so that your books would get into your brother’s hands. Then you will get even with him.”
“Well, well! Is captain T. your brother?” Chava gave a shout. “In this case, it will be very interesting for you to read his newest book, there’s even his portrait in it.”
She opened the bookcase on the right wall quickly, moved the ladder up to it, pulled out the book with blue covers and opened it at the portrait of my brother. He looked very real here, only his face was very strict, serious, and a clear expression of renunciation was reflected in it.
I read the title: “Not life is creating man, but man is carrying his life and creating his destiny”. To my shame, I must confess that I didn’t understand anything from these titles. I sighed heavily. I took all three books and went out to the garden where sir Vomi and the rest of his guests were sitting already.
I came up to him and told him sadly that my brother’s books were very dear for my heart, but unfortunately, they seemed to me to be as Chinese script. I asked his permission to take them to Constantinople from where I could send them back to him.
“Take them, my friend, and keep them to yourself. I will always be able to replenish my library, while it would be difficult for you to acquire them at the moment. Concerning the contents of the books, now you have such a teacher and master in I.’s personality next to you that he will explain everything whatever you won’t understand to you. He will tell you everything about us, too,” the master added in a more silent voice, so the Turks couldn’t hear us, to whom Chava, having taken them a little farther away from us, was telling about the flower beds.
“Don’t be sad so often for your ignorance and intemperance,” sir Vomi continued. He seated me on the little bench between I. and himself. “I you want to save your brother’s life, develop your heroic feelings not only for this goal, but live your every, ordinary day in such a way as though it was your last day. Don’t leave any reserve of your strength and knowledge for tomorrow, but deliver the completeness of all your thoughts and feelings today, now. Don’t try to develop the power of your will, but live your life in such a way that during every passing moment you would be simply kind and pure.”
The Turks and Chava with an excellent, green leather briefcase in her hands approached us. She extended it to me, gave me a mischievous smile and asked me if this green colour didn’t remind me of someone’s eyes.
“And inside,” she added, “you will find the portrait of sir Vomi.”
I was moved by such attention of her and I told her that it must have been very well for everybody who happened to be next to her because of the warmth of her heart and her tenderness which she was radiating so simply, that I would always remember her obligingness and that it was very sad for me, because I was such a poor cavalier and I didn’t have anything to give her in order to remember me.
“And if I find something that belongs to you? Will you sign an autograph for me?”
I was deprived of speech. Was there my thing in this house? I passed my hand over my forehead and checked if I wasn’t sleeping in a heroic Florentian’s sleep. Chava laughed loudly and told me in her guttural voice.
“Cavalier Lovushka, I’m waiting for your answer.”
I was so confused that sir Vomi answered her instead of me.
“Chava, bring your treasure here if you have it and don’t embarrass the man who still doesn’t know himself that he has given a pearl to the world and clarified the lives of many people.”
I lifted my eyes up to sir Vomi and I was expecting to see the flashes of humour in his face, which I had seen already, but his face was serious, and he was looking at me affectionately. In my heart I felt the well-known irritation from all these riddles and I was already about to begin to scream when I saw Chava at the door with the thick magazine in her hands. That was “The news of literature”. Having opened
the magazine, she let me to read the headline of the story – “The first loss – and the light went out”. That was namely my story which fascinated the audience of the student party in Petersburg and some author so much, and now it was already published and spread across the world. Chava opened the end and showed me the signature. “Student T.”
“Well, sign your autograph,” I. told me, “and we already have to get ready for the steamer.”
I took the pencil out of Chava’s hands, looked at her, gave a laugh and wrote: “The new meeting – and the light began to shine”.
The whole company was surprised by my autograph no less than the story itself.
“You still don’t understand yourself what you’ve written in the story and what the words of your autograph mean, my young man of wisdom,” sir Vomi was talking to me, while saying good-bye. “On our next meeting you will already have made progress in your path of knowledge, and now go as I. will be guiding you, and while being next to him, wait for coming back of Florentian.”
He embraced me and passed his hand tenderly over my hair. Chava extended both of her black and wonderful hands to me. I bent down and kissed them one after another – these wonderful, black hands, - as though asking to forgive her for my fright and disgust which she had stirred within me in the beginning.
I felt how those hands began to tremble. When I raised my head I saw how the expression of Chava’s face had changed and I heard the whisper.
“I will always be your loyal servant, the light will be travelling from you to me, too.”
I. separated us when he came up to Chava to say good-bye to her.
We left sir Vomi together with the Turks who also wanted to visit their relatives. I was surprised how the time had flown past. It seemed that we had spent only an hour at sir Vomi’s, but it was almost seven o’clock already.
I was happy that the Turks left us, because I didn’t want to talk at all. I. took my arm, we turned into some street and called at the bookshop. I. asked them if they had the latest issue of “The news of literature”.
“No,” the sales-man answered him, “this time everything was sold out.”
But a hoarse voice from another end of the shop told us that they could take the last issue from the shop window if we were really going to buy it. I. assured them that we would certainly buy it, the sales-man took the magazine from the shop window, I put it in the briefcase, we paid and left.
“Oh, how I don’t want to come back to the steamer, Lolion,” I told him. “I would stay here forever, in the sir Vomi’s garden.”
“Well, who can trust you! You wanted to stay forever with Florentian, to share your activity with him during your entire life, and now you already want to live in the sir Vomi’s garden,” I. was smiling.
“Yes,” I answered him, “my words may seem like a treason for Florentian, I myself also cannot explain well enough to you what is going on in my heart. My heart is like made of rubber, it has widened even more, and now not only my brother and Florentian is living in it. I haven’t yet perceived completely what all three friends of yours have in common: Ali, Florentian and sir Vomi, but I see within them some higher nobleness, some power that I hadn’t seen up to now. I’m even thinking that you and Ananda also have very much in common with these friends. Only I still cannot comprehend why all of you
are so utterly compassionate and selfless to me! By helping my brother who, of course, is worthy of every kind of assistance and protection, you are doing so much for me, what I really don’t deserve at all. And you, personally you, Lolion, how can I ever repay you?”
“Lovushka, man doesn’t have to wait for a reward and praise for his behaviour in his life,” I. answered me. “Life is only a string of causes and effects; and the entire universe is obeying to this law, not only a man’s life; but we will still have lots of time to talk about such personal subjects. Would you like to do your duty to courtesy now and to buy flowers for our ladies, because they were trying so much and helped us to dress Joan and her children?”
“No, as you have just said, I don’t want to repay for a good work at all. Courtesy? It seems that I’m a poor cavalier, but what I want to do from the bottom of my heart – that’s to bring roses for Joan, and I would do it with such a joy that even the coming back to the steamer wouldn’t be so difficult.”
“Great, here’s the flower shop. I will do the duty of courtesy with respect to the Italians, and you give the flowers to Joan, but be careful, Lovushka. You don’t have to see a woman as an object of love in any of the women whom we meet now, but only friends whom we must help if we can. Now both in our hearts and thoughts we must retain such virtue and purity, as though we were marching to a sacred feat. All of our strength – both spiritual and physical – must be directed purposefully only to that affair which Ali and Florentian have entrusted us to do. Be strong and don’t be angry with me. The poor, destroyed Joan’s heart, with all its might is ready to attach to that one who will show attention and sympathy to her. Now your goal is not to calm and comfort any woman personally, but to serve loyally to that affair which you’ve accepted voluntarily. Now you aren’t allowed to want to save your brother and at the same time to find a woman for yourself.”
“It didn’t even occurred to me to overstep the limits of the most ordinary friendship in my behaviour with Joan. I’m very sorry for her and I want to help her from the bottom of my heart. Lolion, believe me, neither she nor Chava could ever become the heroines of my romance… If you have any doubts, I agree to hand the flowers to signoras Galdoni, and you give my flowers to Joan from both of us.”
We called at the flower shop, at the window of which we have already been standing for a while, talking.
I picked out white and red roses for Joan, put them on a leaf of a palm and, having tied everything up with a white and red ribbon, I made a bouquet. There were two bouquets in the hands of I. already – one of them was made of reddish, another one of yellow roses.
To his question why I’d chosen such colours of the roses and ribbons, I answered him that I didn’t know any meaning of colours at all, but the presents which were sent to me from Ali before the feast were of white colours – the one of power, and of red colour – the one of love.
“Now, in my turn, I want to send the greetings of love and power to Joan, and I hope that she won’t feel anything objectionable here.”
We went out onto the embankment by bringing the flowers. All of a sudden, the hooter of our steamer was heard, and although we still didn’t have to hurry, we quickened our step anyway.
Having climbed up to the first class, we separated: I. went to Joan, while I turned to the Italian’s cabin and handed the reddish roses to the daughter, and the yellow ones to her mother. The girl accepted the flowers with joy, and a light flush flooded her face and neck.
Her mother gave a tender smile and asked me if I had already seen madam Joan with the new clothes. I answered her that my brother went there, because the children needed his help, and I would see all of them at once tomorrow.
I was feeling full of new, unexpected impressions, the briefcase with my brother’s books was pulling me back to the cabin, so that I alone could quietly inspect my brother’s portrait as soon as possible, but in the meanwhile I had to stand among the crowd of smartened up ladies and cavaliers and to keep up an easy, saloon conversation.
Having taken an advantage of the first occasion, maybe even showing myself not at all polite, I went onto the deck.
I already wanted to go to take a shower, then to lie down peacefully for a while and to reflect, but it seemed that today I wasn’t destined to be alone. I didn’t even have time to take off my jacket when my nurse – clumsy sailor came in and delivered a small parcel and a letter in a very elegant, long envelope to me. He was very interested in my trip to the shore, he complained that he wasn’t allowed to come with me, and he must had been of use to me. To his question about our dinner, I answered him that we would sit down at the table when we put out to sea.
I could hardly get rid of this man, then the Turks came. I hardly had time to hide the parcel and the letter. The Turks told me how joyfully they spent their time at their relatives where they found out about the consequences of the storm. It turns out that only our ship had overcome this element successfully. Two steamers cast off after us from Sevastopol. One of them was an old Greek steamer and a French one that decided to sail when the storm had already started. Both of them perished. The storm is still raging in Sevastopol, although with less power already.
They heard about our ship from the chief mechanic himself that it had to be repaired seriously in Constantinople and that it would stay there for quite a long time.
I was trying to be polite and restrained with all my might, but the irritation was already poking at me from inside, because I was unable to live my life as I wanted to, because I was chained with the rules of conduct that were accepted in society.
“Have really all the people whom I met during these days and who surprised me with their great self-control, as well as I. with whom I was travelling, acquired their excellent politeness and endurance in such a difficult way like I did?”
I was already about to cry out at the Turks and to tell them to leave me alone, I could hardly control myself already when I heard the voices of I. and the captain on the stairs of our deck.
I.’s face stunned me. I hadn’t yet seen him such radiant, as though some light was burning inside of him – it seemed that he all was radiating with joy.
A whirl of thoughts blew over my head one more time. Among those thoughts there were some of them that were bad and disgraceful. I thought for a while that I. lingered at Joan for quite a long time and he was radiating, because he loved her, while he was telling me that at the moment we couldn’t have any personal feelings. Both envy and a retrograde thought about my dependency on the man whom I hardly knew flashed in my head. A protest against such a state of mine and a great irritation arose within myself.
I almost couldn’t hear who was talking around me and what they were talking about. I looked at I. one more time and I felt ashamed of such unkind feelings of mine. I.’s face kept radiating his inner fire, while his eyes were shining, reminding me of the Ananda’s stars.
“No,” I told to myself, “this man cannot be a hypocrite. Since he’s radiating like this, then his thoughts also have to burn with honesty and love, otherwise from where that light could start, which is giving out warmth to everybody and which has melted even such a mirage in which I had just been mixed up.”
In my thoughts I was already flying into the memories what I. had told me about himself, what I had experienced and seen while being next to him during that short time, I also was flying to that extraordinary man to whom he introduced me in B.
Bit by bit the surroundings stopped irritating me, I forgot everything, turned into Lovushka – the catcher of the crows, I moved into the sir Vomi’s garden and immersed in my thoughts about him so much that as though I could hear his voice.
“Be strong, your childhood is over already. Learn to live not only for your brother, but take a good look at everybody whom you meet. If you met a man and failed to find a word of comfort for him – you lost a moment of happiness in your life. Don’t think about yourself, while you are talking to people, but think only about them, then you will neither get tired nor irritated.”
I gave a start with a terrible roar, I gave a jump from the sound that hit my ears, I was confused of everyone’s joint laughter and I couldn’t grasp at all where I was, until I finally understood that it was the ship’s hooter roaring.
I. put his arms round my shoulders tenderly and told me that my nerves got totally loose during these days.
“Yes, Lolion, they got totally loose.”
I already wanted to tell him about one more hallucination of my hearing, but he just put his finger at his lips unnoticed and whispered to me: “Later,” surprising me a great deal by doing so.
The hooter died away, there was a sense of a racket in the steamer, as always before casting off. We separated from the pier slowly. The band of water between B. and the steamer was widening, and finally the shore passed out of sight. One more page of my life was closed, one more bright picture entered firmly into my heart, and once again I didn’t notice what an important place it took there.