18 Chapter 18: The dinner at Stroganoffs’
The whole week of our uneasy life in Constantinople with the daily visits to the sick duchess, to Joan, to some passengers who were sailing with us flew past – and I not only had any time to read something, but I could hardly escape to see the city or some of its sights for an hour or two.
My head was still working with difficulty. I could see how the duke’s face was brightening, while his wife’s health kept improving. When she spoke up for the first time after such a long bellow – although not very clearly, but completely correctly, - and moved her right hand, he threw himself on I.’s neck and couldn’t find any words to express his gratitude.
It seemed to me that “the charming” reigned in Joan’s apartment – the children were following only after Anna. Under the leadership of Stroganoff and his older daughter who was very cheerful and practical personality, Joan was running to shops and packing the cupboards and counters with ribbons, plumes, sparkling threads, all sorts of silks and rice straws from which Anna’s hands were putting not just examples, but wonderful works of art.
In the beginning it seemed to me that this medium filled with the fuss and all sorts of elementary trifles of life were absolutely not meant for Anna. Only when I saw with what taste, beauty and nobility this entire room began to small when every entering person’s face used to change from Anna’s calm and kindness, I understood what her words about the daily routine that was turning into a shining temple meant.
It seemed that the children were dressed with Anna’s taste and care, too. A tender Turkish nurse was looking after them perfectly, and here they were feeling safe from their mother’s hot-tempered love that was always suddenly jumping from a caress into a scream.
Joan already made several hats, and the shop’s opening was planned in three days.
The duke used to visit Joan daily, but it seemed to me that the real tone of friendly relations hadn’t yet settled between them, while the duke was idolizing Anna simply purely an joyfully as a being standing higher than himself.
In his new life which I could see so clearly, a kind man with a strong character who sometimes simply stunned me with his unexpected persistence was maturing, or perhaps to be precise, was revealed.
Anna was always evenly tender to me, but my overheard conversation which always used to emerge unwittingly exhausted my self-control so much that each time I used to become ashamed. A hundred of times I gave my word to finally confess everything to her, but everything used to end so that I only would stand in front of her, blushed like a schoolboy who was caught playing pranks improperly.
One time, having noticed such a state of mine for several times, I. looked me up and down more intently, gave a smile and told me tenderly.
“Here’s the lesson for you how to live in compromise. If self-respect is pulsating in man in a living thread, then he will feel the greatest suffering when he wants to sift that respect with powdered sugar and to hide the fallen drop of the tar. You are suffering, because the integrity of your nature cannot
tolerate any falsehood. So is it really so difficult to find the way out of the situation if the truth that is hiding in your heart is demanding it?”
“I haven’t told you anything, Lolion, and once again you found out everything, but if you are such a clairvoyant, then you should understand how difficult it is for me now. How could I confess to Anna that I heard everything and that I know her secret? How to confess to her that I was sitting hypnotized like a rabbit in front of a snake and I couldn’t make a move? Who else, except you who believe in my honour, would believe in it?”
“Lovushka, you don’t have to tell anything to anybody at all. You will never know what secrets a man knows about another one’s life. I have already told you one time that there were no coincidences in life. If you had to see another’s wound or an open heart hidden from others in one or another way, be a well-bred person, and that means – don’t show by anything that you know something. If your own conciliation of honour is tormenting you, then learn to carry on your suffering in such a way that the others wouldn’t suffer from it and take out of this lesson an understanding how you shall act next time if you ever get into such a situation.”
We were talking, sitting in a small, shady public garden on our way home. The state that was tormenting me didn’t stop from these I.’s words, but I understood my false behaviour with Anna. Now it was clear to me that in such cases one needed to summon up one’s strength and not to become a listener of secrets.
“I think that no especial tragedy has happened this time, and if there was something wrong, then it was only your absent-mindedness. If you had imagined that Florentian was standing next to you, then you would have found enough strength to stand up and leave.”
“What a horror!” I gave a shout. “If Florentian found out that I was listening secretly! That would be the limit! I hope you won’t tell him?”
I. laughed infectiously.
“Lovushka, but did you tell me anything? Just imagine how many times Florentian’s thoughts and strength surpass mine, and you will understand the whole naivety of your question. Calm down. This little fact is only a small part of your spirit’s universities which happen to everyone who is seeking for discipline and who wants to educate himself…
I received a telegram and a letter from Ananda. He left Moscow today. If his journey is successful – which I don’t doubt, - then we’ll meet him in six days. I would like you to read one book which I have prepared for you until that time. Having read that book, you will understand better what Ananda is seeking for, what Ali and Florentian have achieved already and hopefully, what you and me will achieve some day,” I. was talking to me, while lifting me gently off the bench.
“Oh, Lord! You are so kind and generous, Lolion. How you can compare yourself to the ill- mannered, unbalanced lad. If only I could ever be like you at least somewhat at something…” I answered my friend, nearly in tears.
Having left the public garden, we got straight into the heat and the crowd of the fesses, red like fly-agarics.
“Today we are going to dine at Stroganoffs’. Anna wants to celebrate the beginning of her work in her family circle,” I. was talking to me. “We must be the real cavaliers. We have to order the cake and flowers for the table, and to hand the bouquets of roses to both young owners of the shop – Anna and Joan, and to the mistress of that house – Stroganoff’s wife.”
“I feel very uncomfortably,” I answered him. “I have never been in society, I have never seen the dinner-party and I don’t know how to behave at all. It would be better if you came there alone, while I could read the book at home.”
“It’s impossible, Lovushka. You need to habituate yourself to the company of people and to become an example of tact and politeness everywhere. Remember Florentian, find strength within yourself and let’s go.”
“I cannot imagine how I’m going to enter the room full of strangers. I’m certainly going to brush against something, to forget myself or to start laughing if something seems to be funny to me,” I was mumbling through my nose, being not happy.
“It is so strange, Lovushka. You possess a great literary talent, observation and sensitiveness, but having met people, you cannot concentrate. When you enter the sitting-room where everybody will probably be gathered already, don’t tramp the threshold absent-mindedly, searching for whom to greet, but look over everyone calmly, with your eyes find the mistress and go straight to her. This time follow me and believe that there’s nothing for you to feel shy of in that house.”
We turned around the corner and ran into the captain face to face. The mutual joy of the meeting showed what great friends we had become already. Having found out that we were searching for the flowers and the cake, and that we wanted to find Anna’s favourite violet pansies very much, he only nodded his head.
“There are lots of cakes, with or without an ice-cream, but to find great flowers off season – that’s a serious task,” he uttered. “Since you are searching the flowers for the beauty whom one can see only once during one’s lifetime, then it is worth trying to find them. Let’s drop in at my friend confectioner. He’ll be fascinated with this order, because he owes me for a lot of things, then we will take a light carriage and rush along to visit one of my friend gardener. He’s living outside of the city, and if it is at all possible to find great flowers in Constantinople – and even the pansies, - then we will get them.”
We walked across two streets quickly, as if at the word of command, and entered a rather unappealing confectioner’s shop. I was feeling disappointed. I wanted the orders to be fulfilled by some excellent, extraordinary shop, and I already wasn’t expecting anything great here.
And as always I was wrong. While the captain and I. were ordering some fanciful cake, the mistress of the shop who had wrapped herself up in a black cloak from head to foot brought me a pastry and a glass of a dark red, cold drink. I wasn’t charmed at all neither with one or another, but as soon as I bit off a piece of the pastry, I thrust the rest of it greedily into my mouth immediately. And when I took a sip of the cold drink I was able to utter only this.
“Captain, this is Bagdad.”
The captain and the owners laughed, my friends also ordered this miracle of Bagdad, and I quickly ate up the second portion, too.
The captain was hurrying us. We boarded our light carriage and rolled across the deserted city which was lazily drowsing in the burning sun.
“Well, you cannot decide by appearance,” I said to the captain. “I wasn’t happy that you brought me to such dismal confectioner’s shop, but it turned out that in the evening someone might even swallow his tongue because of your cakes.”
The captain was laughing and telling me with humour how he was struggling with the steamer’s repairs. He mentioned modestly that he settled all the poor from the steamer in several second- rate hotels from his own pocket.
“Everything would be all right,” he sighed, “only the pretensions of the first and second class ladies have tired me. And why they were created at all,” the captain was throwing up his hand comically.
“I would like to take a look at you without any ladies. There would be no occasion for your yellow eyes to become the eyes of the tiger, and it would be hellish boring for yourself to give orders only to men.”
“Lovushka, you hit straight to my heart for the second time, but my heart is strong and it’ll hold out, besides soon we’ll come to the place. You know, doctor I., if you allowed this young man to go to England with me, I guess he would take me in hand properly.”
I. smiled to both me and the captain and began to talk how Joan’s destiny has taken a favourable turn. The captain was listening to him attentively, and then he kept silent for a long time.
“How can I know, I’m only a sea-dog, but in my imagination hats don’t suit Anna in any way. Anna is a goddess… and the hats!” the captain kept repeating.
“But a crowd of people will be wearing those hats,” I contradicted him.
“Oh, Lovushka, what kind of people they are. They are ladies, but not women. Well, we have arrived already. Pay your attention to this view. Here all ladies will dash out of your heads.”
And indeed, there was a lot to see, I even couldn’t make up my mind from which side the city looked better.
However, we couldn’t look round, because we stopped at a blank, high fence. The captain rang the bell at the gate, and a young Turk opened it immediately.
Having talked a little to that Turk who was showing his teeth merrily, the captain took us into the depth of the garden. The beds of all sorts of flowers were extending along both sides of the walk. I had never seen many of them. On the way the captain plucked off a little white blossom and extended it to me.
“All gentlemen in England cling such blossom to the lapel of their jackets when they are preparing for a dinner. This is a gardenia. When you are going to dine, cling this blossom to your jacket, remembering me. You can even give it to the lady whom you will like the most,” he was speaking to me by taking my arm.
“I can really cling the blossom to my jacket in honour of yourself, but this dinner isn’t an Eastern ball, and there will be no woman who is meant for me, although only the beauties would gather there. Only Florentian is living in my heart, and I will leave your blossom at his portrait.”
The captain shrugged his shoulders, but he didn’t have time to answer me anything. A hefty, sluggish Turk was already going in front of us. He was so broad-shouldered that it seemed that he could lift the terrestrial globe. He was the owner of the greenhouse. He greeted the captain like a good friend. I thought for a while one more time that I would really beware of him deciding by his appearance, and I would even go round him from the distance in the late evening.
Wonderful orchids, as well as Parma violets were growing in the greenhouse. I. and the captain ordered some fanciful, fantastic baskets from orchids, some reddish gardenias and roses. We had to bring the violets with ourselves and hand them to Anna, while the roses were for her mother and Joan.
Burdened ourselves with the light, wicker baskets where the flowers were placed on the moist grass, all three of us came back to the hotel. We had time only to change our clothes. The captain was sitting in the balcony, and only the fragments of his conversation to I. used to reach me. I. was telling him that Ananda would arrive soon, whom he had promised to introduce to him; besides he promised to take the captain to the Stroganoffs’ house, so that he could listen to the wonderful playing and singing of Anna.
“I will be very thankful for this, doctor I. The evening spent with you in the company of the beautiful musician maybe will give me strength to value the talent differently than I got used to by seeing the performers going on the stage only for money. One time Lovushka gave a little scratch to my heart by joking how I would value my wife if she played for the wide public. I haven’t found an answer to this question up to now,” the captain was speaking, lost in thought.
“Lovushka’s eyes are like awls not without reason. He has drilled a hole in my soul, but hasn’t put a bandage of peace on it,” I. laughed.
“No, nobody can teach me peace. Only the storm – it doesn’t matter on land or sea – is kind and pleasant for me, but everywhere with me and around me is only the storm.”
And then I showed myself: with the white, fine silk suit ordered by I., the black bow-tie, black wide belt-waistcoat and with the captain’s gardenia on the lapel. My already grown hair was beautifully curled.
“My God, but you are really handsome today, Lovushka! Be pitiful, Joan will be fascinated by you completely,” the captain gave a shout.
Neither his irony nor the attentive I.’s look disturbed me. Only my thoughts about Florentian and my brother were within myself. Today I had firmly decided to turn into Lovushka the catcher of the crows not for a single time.
We went downstairs, said good-bye to the captain and got into the light carriage by holding the baskets with the flowers carefully.
Several coaches were already standing at the Stroganoffs’ house. I understood that besides us, there will be more guests. One more time I gave my word to be worth of Florentian and, having concentrated all my attention, to think not about myself, but only about each of my company.
There were hall-stands across the walls in the spacious and bright Stroganoffs’ antechamber. On them many summer cloaks were hanging and the whole pile of all sorts of hats were placed.
Two Turks took our hats, too, and helped us to take out the flowers. I was surprised, because only now I saw what a miracle of beauty – two wonderful boutonnieres of violets – was covered in my basket. I. was already holding three bunches of long-stemmed roses tied up with great Eastern ribbons in his hands. He gave me the bouquet of reddish roses, took one of the violet boutonnieres from me and told me.
“Lovushka, follow me. I will hand the bouquet to the senior mistress and Anna. You give the violets to Anna and the roses to Joan. Don’t feel shy, feel free and remember how Florentian is conducting himself everywhere.”
The comparison of such tall and grand figure of my idolized friend to my own medium height and small constitution, of his simple, but noble manners to my swiftness, a thought of how I would look like
by imitating his grandeur seemed to be so comical to me that I could hardly hold my laughter, but I couldn’t suppress my smile and I entered the sitting-room smiling.
Only men were here, and the sitting-room reminded me more of a smoking room – so much smoke was here.
“Well, finally you are here,” I heard the Stroganoff’s voice, who was coming to meet us. “I think that my ladies have already started worrying about the culinary fancifulness and they are in a bad temper. We were waiting for you in a family way, a little earlier, and you, dandies of the capital, arrive by observing etiquette, a quarter of an hour before the beginning,” he was laughing by squeezing our hands. “Let’s come, I will introduce you to my old woman, and there’s no need to acquaint with the rest of the guests, because you will mix all ogly and pashas anyway,” he continued by taking I.’s arm.
The master brought us to a grand, elderly, but still not old woman with the black, silk dress which was very ordinary, but it looked well on her shapely and somewhat stout figure.
I was stunned when I saw the lady’s face: her plait was surrounding her head in a heavy crown and, to my great amazement, it was ash-coloured; her black eyes, the oblong oval of her face, her dark skin and wonderful hands – as though Anna herself was standing in front of me. Everything in her mother reminded me of her daughter, but… what a difference, what an abyss was between these two undisputed beauties.
“I’m glad to see you at our place,” she said to I. by taking the flowers from him and thanking for them. “My husband has told me so much about you.”
She had a deep voice just like Anna, but here was an abyss, too. It was a little hoarse, and notes of a spoilt beauty were ringing in it, who was used to win victories with her beauty and to crush everybody. She gave me only a little smile and immediately directed her eyes towards a tall Turk with a fez and a European suit by continuing their already started conversation. I didn’t have time to reflect on the master’s wife, because Anna was already coming in front of us; only some icy stream ran across my heart, and I felt sorry for Stroganoff.
Anna had a white, muslin dress on, her plait as usual was extending through her shoulders, her eyes were radiating by calling the memories to me about the Ananda’s eyes-stars. She extended her wonderful hand towards I., which he kissed, and twinkled her eyes merrily by taking the violets from him.
“At last,” she uttered. “I could expect all kinds of surprises from you, but that you could hand me violets…”
When in my turn I also gave her the bouquet of violets, then as though it took her breath away, such great her astonishment was.
“You, too, you, too, managed to get my favourite flowers for me,” Anna was speaking by taking my arm and bringing me out of the room’s centre where we were standing and drawing everyone’s attention. “You and your brother are spoiling me too much. Oh, if you knew what an emblem of happiness these flowers are for me!”
“I know,” I uttered without thinking.
“Only when I saw an exceptional astonishment in her face I understood how foolishly I was caught and, not allowing her to come to her senses, I asked her to show me where Joan was sitting among so many people. Finally a laughter changed the astonishment and anxiety in Anna’s face.
“You are so strange, Lovushka,” she told me, “you almost stunned me,” and she laughed even merrier. “Here’s Joan and the duke for you. Have a good time and I’m going to continue the duties of the hostess. You will be sitting next to me at the table, to be precise between me and Joan, because neither of us agreed to give you to somebody else,” and having smiled to all three of us, she left us.
I handed the roses to Joan and sat down next to her on a low Turkish arm-chair.
I couldn’t examine the big room properly, which was darkened with the drawn down curtain and lit up with the great number of lamps, I also couldn’t observe the guests who were walking in the room, talking joyfully and loudly mostly in Turkish, because Joan was sputtering a hundred words per second, demanding my entire attention and even answers. I understood that mostly she was unsatisfied because I was going to sit on her right and not on her left where the duke had his seat planned.
Finally I succeeded to interrupt her and ask the duke about his wife’s health.
“Everything’s all right, Lev Nikolayevich. The duchess is already trying to hold a teaspoon in her hand and she’s happy like a child,” he answered.
The door of the sitting-room opened, and the host standing on the threshold invited everyone at the table.
Anna was already hurrying towards me. One of the boutonnieres of the violets was fastened on her chest and it stood out brightly on the white background of her dress by putting stress on the paleness of the skin of her face and her neck even more.
Having offered her my hand, I was walking in the row of couples, seeing in front of me Anna’s mother with that elegant Turk with whom she was talking when we came.
When I sat down on the Anna’s indicated place, I got not only between her and Joan, but also in front of the young Ibrahim. He was dressed very elegantly in European style. We bowed one to another pleasingly. A young Turkish lady was sitting next to him. Joan whispered to my ear that she was Stroganoff’s nice, the daughter of her sister; that Stroganoff herself who in any case was kind and joyful person was seeing the future Ibrahim’s wife in her. I felt sorry for my friend sincerely, because the girl’s face, although it was graceful, was rather dull. He could hardly expect such wife to enrich him with the moments of inspiration.
The guests were seated at the long table. The room was established in Eastern style, it was decorated with many-coloured inlaid work, and two blue hues were prevalent. There wasn’t any furniture here, except the low sofas which were covered with exceptionally luxury carpets and placed along the walls.
Having looked at Anna, I saw that I. was sitting next to her, on another side of her, and the senior Stroganoffs’ daughter was sitting next to him. I felt for I. from the bottom of my heart, because I knew perfectly, to put it mildly, the light-mindedness of this practical personality.
Anna wasn’t eating much, but she was trying to acquaint me with the Eastern dishes very much. The guests didn’t have time to be sated with the snacks when two men brought in our ordered, fabulous flower baskets. Besides our flowers, there was also an original, very refined bouquet of orchids which was put in a wonderful, crystal vase and placed right in front of Anna.
“Undoubtedly, this is the captain’s greeting, because we were choosing the flowers with him,” I whispered silently to Anna’s ear.
“If my heart today wasn’t pulsating with love so strongly, I would become angry, but today I can’t be angry with anybody,” she answered me.
“But why? The man bows before your beauty so much, he expresses his fascination so sincerely. Just look, how high his culture has to be in order to put the orchids in such a way. This is the whole symphony of colours – from reddish to black, isn’t it? And you are talking that you could be angry with him,” I gave a shout, being excited and offended for my friend.
“Lovushka, you didn’t understand me. I have put it in a wrong way. Of course, the man who is able to present the flowers in such a way must be very artistic, but the captain is squandering that subtle taste everywhere and for everybody like a toy of beauty. However, only that beauty is dear to my heart, which reflects the subtlety not only of one’s taste, but also of one’s spirit. Which blossom would you like to bring home – one of these wonderful, sumptuous pearl orchids or a little, fragrant violet?” she asked me.
“One cannot formulate a question like this. The violet which you are holding in your hands and which you have called an emblem and your favourite flower isn’t a blossom or a thing for me anymore, but a symbol. In the meanwhile, the captain’s flowers are simply the present of the fascinated man, his gratitude for meeting you,” I answered her. “I have noticed that the captain has made a rather poor impression on you. I’m very sorry for that. Of course, he’s a tiger, but he possesses so much high nobleness, so much courage and… sometimes in his words I find so much resemblance to that what the most wonderful man whom luckily I was acquainted with is telling. I. promised to introduce him to Ananda and to give him a chance to listen to his singing.”
The sparkles began to rain from Anna’s face, her face turned pale. She turned to I., not answering a word to me.
“Lovushka, your neighbour on the right also wants to talk to you. Explain to us. The duke is laughing at me and he doesn’t want to tell me the name of those flowers in front of Anna. They are artificial, aren’t they?” I heard Joan’s voice.
“No, Joan, these are orchids. Do you like them?”
“Not too much, Lovushka, your roses are much more wonderful and they smell sweet. Look at madam Stroganoff. Today she’s dissatisfied with everything. She doesn’t like very much that today everything is done for Anna here.”
“Why is it so?” I was astonished.
“Because Anna is the reason of the inner split in their family. She doesn’t want to accept her mother’s proposed perfect perspective to marry, but she’s living in her dreams and she’s friends with all sorts of poor persons. Besides, I suspect that her mother envies Anna’s beauty,” she added silently.
I didn’t like this jabber of Joan. According to my understanding, it wasn’t very noble to slander those people who have helped her to start the new life so sensitively.
“Are you going to sing today?” I asked Anna who turned to me again.
“I wouldn’t like to, but most likely I will have to. There are several persons among our guests who understand and value the music profoundly. My mother isn’t artistic, but the guest who’s sitting next to her is musical, he’s even considered to be a good singer,” she answered me, smiling mischievously.
“Oh, what a pity, really what a pity that the captain won’t hear your singing. For him that would have been more than necessary – maybe even an enlightenment of his spirit,” I gave a shout.
“You are a perfect dreamer, Lovushka. It seems that I. wants to please you, so when Ananda comes, I would have to organize a musical evening for a little circle of people. If you succeed to hear Ananda’s singing – then all other sounds will seem for you to be poor and unnecessary. Every time when I hear that voice I make sure of my insignificance.”
“One can justify these words only with the grandeur of your talent and spirit. Only the person who understands the radiance of the peaks can be unhappy with such talent as yours, which I. calls great.”
“Lovushka, today you must have decided to talk to me in riddles…” Anna laughed.
“No, no, only if you knew how guilty I am before you…”
Not even having finished my sentence, I saw I.’s head coming out behind Anna, and his look reminded me of our conversation in the public garden. He asked Anna of something, while I turned to Joan by saving myself.
The dinner was going on as it was meant to be. I caught the look of the tall Turk of whose musicality Anna was telling me several times. His fire, some demonic eyes would often turn to Anna. Sometimes a brutal expression of hatred used to flash in them, especially when he was looking at I., talking to her.
“Well, well,” I thought. “Is my dear I. going to be responsible for Ananda’s sins?”
I didn’t even have time to think a little longer about it when the tall Turk stood up, took the glass of champagne into his hand and bowed before his neighbour, the mistress of the house with dignity and even solemnly. She smiled to him and tapped the knife into her crystal glass.
All voices hushed immediately, everyone’s eyes turned towards the Turk who wanted to propose a toast.
After a long and exhaustive glorification of the parents – it must have been accustomed to do so in the East, but it seemed to be hypocritical for me – he proceeded to the hero of the festivities, their youngest daughter. He was talking in French, stating that there were some people at the table, who knew only that language. He uttered that in the most innocent tone, as though he had satisfied the most elementary demand of politeness, but there was such acidity and insulting jeering in his eyes, face and his entire figure that all my blood flowed to my head. I didn’t doubt that he was mocking Joan from inside, although everything seemed to be normal outwardly.
Anna who was looking down, now looked at me with her extremely deep look as though confirming the vanity and senselessness of the current surroundings. I had to put some effort in order to listen attentively to the orator’s speech. His voice was picturesque, imperious, his speech was correct, he was pronouncing every letter extremely clearly.
Since I was observing the man so attentively, I lost the thread of his speech, and I managed to focus my thoughts only in the end of his long toast where apparently the main point was hiding.
“You aren’t just a pearl of the Bosporus for us, which could decorate any harem or palace, but you are the woman whose beauty and talents don’t have enough space on the earth. And what do we see? This woman wants to work independently, prick her wonderful little fingers with needles and pins. Shame on us, the men of Constantinople who were unable to win the heart of the most beautiful beauty of the whole world.
If we didn’t succeed to do that up to now, then let’s announce ourselves to be jealous guards and don’t allow anybody other than a Turk to take this treasure from us. I propose a toast to eternal womanhood, beauty, passion, woman who embellishes and supplements a man’s life, but not to a worker. To royal beauty – a royal place in life!”
Having finished his speech, he clinked glasses with Stroganoffs and turned around the table towards Anna.
I didn’t hear what Anna told I., but I could see her pleading look, his return smile and a nod of his head.
The Turk was coming nearer to us. All guests were standing up to clink glasses with Anna and the hosts by prolonging the Turk’s toast with play of their words. His face took an expression of a satanic impudence, anger and jealousy, as if he had decided to do something, to risk of something even if that was menacing to become a scandal.
I began to quiver. This satanic physiognomy was terrifying me.
All of a sudden, when there were three or four steps left before us, the Turk turned all pale, he turned pale so much that even his lips became pale. He began to stagger, touched his heart with his hand. Everybody hurried to help him, but he had recovered already. He was trying to smile, but it was obvious that he didn’t understand what had happened.
When he touched his heart, a bracelet fell out of his hands, and as I understood, it was made of reddish corals. Later I. explained to me that it was made of reddish corals and the same reddish brilliants. It was an invaluable thing.
It seemed that he wanted to put this treasure on Anna’s hand secretly from everybody, but the sudden pain betrayed this want of his. Somebody lifted the bracelet from the floor and gave it back to him, which he put into his pocket in vexation. He went up to Anna. Now he could hardly walk, he was stooped and looked old at once, almost ugly.
He hardly had any strength to clink glasses with Anna who stood up to meet him. He didn’t utter a word to her, although his eyes were going upward onto his forehead from his efforts, then suddenly he turned round and went back to his place.
I was observing him without stopping. It was strange to me that he could hardly walk towards our side, but now he found strength for such a sudden turn away from us, and his later behaviour seemed even stranger: the closer he was coming to his place, the lighter his walk became, and when he sat down in his place next to the host of the house, he was already mocking himself joyfully, saying that apparently, an attack of angina pectoris had started for him.
I still didn’t have time to perceive everything what had happened when the clinking of a knife to the glass interrupted the talking and laughter of the guests: it seemed that this time the host of the house rose for the return toast.
“First of all, I want to thank the guest for such high glorification of the “pearl’s” parents, although I absolutely don’t feel being worth of such high praise and I see only the guest’s Eastern politeness in those words, while his mentioned differences between the pure-blooded Turks and Europeans, between the working ones and those who are living at the expense of somebody else, then…” here he blinked an eye in a funny way and continued, “Well, our honourable orator calls himself to be a Turk. His name is Alphonse. Is there such Turkish first name? His family name is da-Bracano. Could there be such Turkish family name?”
The laughter was heard all around.
“His family name tells us about Spaniards, Moors, even Italians – anything you want, but not about the Turks. The psychology and politeness of our honourable friend might be pure Turkish – this is the matter of his taste and liking.
If we are talking about my Russified family, then everyone in it is working, and when I close my eyes, all the members of this big family will be standing firmly on their feet and go through life in material independence.
This day is the happiest one in my life, because my youngest daughter, the only adult member of our family, who hasn’t yet worked independently up to now, became independent and started a big business. I also congratulate all women who are educated and working; not those women toys and women dedicated to entertainments, but the women who are friends of their husbands and children. Long live the happiness to work, the only one real man’s happiness!”
And Stroganoff, just like the Turk, was going round the entire long table towards Anna by kissing his wife’s hand on his way.
This time I noticed that Stroganoff was very excited when he bent his head over his wife, when he clinked glasses with da-Bracano and with his younger son who was taking advantage of an exceptional guardianship of his mother.
By appearance he was a handsome youth with ash-coloured hair, black eyes, dark- complexioned like his mother, but some repulsive bestiality was felt in this beauty of his. It was clear that the Turk was an example of good style for him, who showed an exceptional attention and tenderness to him. It was obvious that his mother had spoilt him, so he was extremely haughty.
I turned into Lovushka the catcher of the crows, I forgot everything in the world and suddenly I saw some degenerated grey being behind the youth’s back. That was as though him, as though not him, but only his portrait in twenty years. His forehead and face were wrinkled, there were some lumps on his hands, his deep and sunken eyes were gaping like hot coals. His mouth was distorted with anger.
I could neither separate that second figure from the youth neither merge them into one. I already raised my hand and wanted to shout to him: “Beware of the villain behind your back, drive him away,” but somebody took my hand, and I heard Stroganoff’s voice.
“Whom now are you sharpening your writer’s awls at? Ah, you are interested in my youngest son. Well, he isn’t working yet. His mummy wakes him up in the morning and herself brings him the chocolate to his bed. The youngest one is usually considered to be a baby, although with his experience he already outrivals the old men, too.
Let’s hug one another, Lovushka. I see that my royal rose of the Bosporus accepts you to her heart, and this is a rare occurrence.”
I could hardly hold out this hug of his, and this happened only because I. went up to Joan, squeezed my hand and whispered to me: “Think only about Florentian.”
When everybody took their seats and our ordered cakes and ice-creams were brought on the table, the cries of gratification were heard. It seemed that the owner of the confectionery knew well the taste of the public in Constantinople.
Anna stopped talking silently to I., turned to me and looked at me attentively with her black eyes.
“Oh, Anna, how unhappy I am. I wish this endless dinner to end as soon as possible. And why people eat so much? It seems to me that since we came to Constantinople I always only eat and sleep. To tell you the truth, I also see clearly how I am losing my mind,” I was complaining to Anna pitifully.
Her tender hand stroked my hand put on my knee, and she told me friendly.
“Lovushka, hold tight somehow. I feel for you from the bottom of my heart. I would like to help you very much somehow. Look at me only like at the closest and loving sister.”
Her voice was so tender, such kindness was spurting from her eyes that I couldn’t hold out anymore. The tears were already gathering in my throat. All of a sudden I saw I.’s hand extending towards me, and in it there was an Ali’s pill placed on the napkin. I quickly grabbed the medicine like a lifebuoy and swallowed it. To my great joy, I heard the noise of the chairs being pulled away from the table.
The guests dispersed in balconies and sitting-rooms where the black coffee made in Turkish style was waiting for them.
I was begging I. not to leave me alone and to go home as soon as possible. We went to the balcony with the duke where the stars were already twinkling like diamonds in the dark sky. It looked like there was a rain, because the drops were still quivering on the leaves of the trees here and there, and the flowers smelt extremely strongly.
“Here it is, the sweet-scented night of the South, but you are wrong if you think that you see the rain-drops. Only by Stroganoff’s order, the trees, flowers and lanes were watered, so it wouldn’t be so stifling. You want to leave, but don’t you want to listen to Anna’s playing and singing? Don’t be an egoist,” I. told me in a more silent voice. “You understand that it would be even more difficult for Anna here today without us, don’t you? Didn’t you understand that great power of pure love and will has helped me to protect her from that satanic Turk?”
“Doctor I., I have a great favour to ask you,” all of a sudden the duke spoke up, who was immersed in his thoughts up to now.
“I’m glad to be of service for you,” I. answered him very vividly.
“You see, I’ve been always looking for an opportunity to repay you for all your kindness for me and my wife, but all the ways that I was analysing in my thoughts seemed to be vulgar to me. But it seems that I’ve found something anyway, although in this case you could blame me of egoism even more than ever before. Your friend has to come to you. I wonder if a hotel’s confusion is pleasing for him. In the meanwhile there are two rooms with an absolutely separate entrance in my big and empty house.
There are three empty rooms more next to these ones. I have already made arrangements with Stroganoff and started repairing them. Everything will be finished in a couple of days, the furniture will be delivered. I have already bought an excellent piano, too, so that your friend and Anna could play at my house if they only wanted to.
There’s a room on the second floor for the youth who is coming with your friend. It has separate stairs to the rooms of Ananda, Lovushka and yourself. As you can see, I have already thought about everything. In the presence of the quick separation, don’t refuse that happiness for me and be my guest,” the duke was speaking silently, almost pleading.
I. went up to him, extended his hand and told him.
“Whatever form I would give to my gratitude, I will make you glad mostly with the words that it is rare when man’s help is such timely and needed as this proposal of yours. I and Lovushka have
already gotten tired of the hotel’s racket, while our friends need to rest for a long time already. I thank you on our behalf. We will be glad of the possibility to live in the quiet house for a while, because it seems that we will still be delayed here for almost a month.”
“What a happiness this is!” the duke exclaimed.
Joan came to the balcony to invite us for a coffee drink. She surprised me with something, and only in the light of the room I understood that she had changed her dress. To my question why did she do it, she answered me that there was such a fashion in Constantinople, and the ladies were changing their toilets during the festive dinner.
I also saw madam Stroganoff here. She had a light, lilac dress on, which suited her hair, but made too strong contrast to her skin. Maybe it was beautiful, but I didn’t like it.
With my eyes I was searching for Anna by deciding which colour I would like to see and I wanted to imagine her charming figure only in a white background.
I was glad when I saw that she was wearing the same dress. Having taken a good look at Joan who was buried in green ruffles, suddenly I gave her a piece of my mind.
“I’m not a Parisian, I’m only a lad who hasn’t seen the world, but in your place I wouldn’t have put such a vulgar dress on in any way. Your previous dress was modest and nice, it only made you more distinct, while this greenness overshadowed you and besides it just shouts about your bad taste to everybody. For God’s sake, just don’t make your hats of such style, because then you will push away the noble ladies and attract the market public to your atelier.”
“That’s because,” Joan was talking to me nearly in tears, “I chose the first dress myself, and madam Stroganoff gave me this one.”
The duke and I. went up to us, and we sat down in the corner to drink our coffee. Anna was sitting on the sofa at the central table, and the ill-fated da-Bracano was sitting on the chair next to her.
He was telling her something with his eyes fastened upon her. Anna’s face was unfeeling, as if with a mask that didn’t allow to see the depth of her soul. She lifted her eyes only once, ran her eyes over the room and looked at her father pleadingly. He stood up immediately and sat down on the sofa next to her.
“Well, my daughter, I want to drink a cup of coffee poured with your kind hands,” her father was smiling to her.
Anna stood up in order to take the coffee-pot. I saw fury and hatred in the eyes of the Turk once again; but he was controlling himself perfectly and sipping his coffee with a smile.
“Lolion, please don’t step back from me, but I’m strong already, as though Ali himself was here and not only his pill in me. It seems to me that if that Satan stays longer next to Anna, then she won’t be able to sing. Could you curve him so much that he had to get out of here?” I was whispering to him.
I. laughed and answered me that he relied on my strength and self-control, and that he would certainly go to Anna’s table; but he was asking me to sit down next to him without fail as soon as the music would start, and he would take the place for me. It would be even better that as soon as the talking about singing starts, I would come to him instantly. Having talked a little to the duke and Joan, he went to Anna’s table where the whole company of men had gathered as though to the magnet.
The drinking of coffee continued.
“You know, duke, I couldn’t live in the East. Once I participated in a wedding feast. The guests there were strictly divided into a manly and womanly sides, and I, of course, could see only the men’s feast. They were eating with their hands, they were eating till the falling down, till the ninth sweat, while the dismal Eastern music was playing. That was terrible, but picturesque, although barbarous. Everything here is already as though covered with culture and civilization – and there’s a gluttony till the sweat anyway. The only difference is that they are working by the sweat with their perfumed handkerchiefs and not their greasy hands.
Well, tell me, isn’t it a barbarism to be so exhausted, to sprawl so much because of eating like these ones who are sitting in front of us,” I gave a nod to the guests who were sitting on the sofa and chairs, and who had gotten absolutely befogged because of the grave digestion.
The requests to sing and to play were heard. Many were asking Bracano to sing; he was putting on airs and – imagining himself to be a hero – he was answering that he wasn’t completely well, but that he would try anyway. “You’d better not try to,” I thought for myself venomously and I decided to ask I. to give him some drops at any price, so that he would get hoarse and, as it is said, he would “let out a squeak” while singing.
Being excited by this desire, I forgot about any politeness, I left my friends and ran to I. Having seized his hand, I started asking him to make it so that this Turkish intriguer would make a fool of himself and would let out a squeak while singing.
“What a kid you still are, Lovushka,” I. was laughing at me.
“Lolion, my dearest, my best, my kindest, don’t allow this villain to torture Anna. His voice is probably good only for singing Satan’s couplets,” I was whispering to him.
“Stop, Lovushka,” I. answered me very seriously. “Observe everything attentively, capture, remember everything well what you see and hear today. You’ll understand a lot much later. Today here an hour will strike for Anna and for some others, which will determine their entire life. Be serious, don’t play pranks like a kid.”
He looked at me almost sternly.
The host invited all guests to go to the big hall, not to that one across which we entered the house from the street, but to another one inside of the house. There we went down the wide and beautiful stairs and got into a big, round sitting-room that belonged to Anna personally. Ah, what a wonderful room that was: its floor and walls – a continuous mosaic of wood, in the middle – a grand piano, along the walls – small chairs, several vases placed on pedestals, several paintings and marble sculptures.
As soon as Anna went up to the grand piano, I forgot about everything. A smile was shining in her face, her cheeks were burning, her eyes were radiating. That wasn’t that Anna whom I had already been used to see, that was a fairy, an unearthly being. If up to now Anna already looked like an especial for me, not that one whom the earth is carrying, then now I understood that unearthly beings were still walking among us by bringing the sky down onto the earth.
She started playing. I recognized the Beethoven’s sonata immediately.
I cannot understand up to now how not only me, but all of us could withstand that music. A furious tempo was breaking out from Anna. It seemed that a supernatural force had inspired her. Passions were replaced with a call for something unreachable, unknown; a sudden insight – and then questions once again, an inevitable voice of destiny was heard once again…
I was crying with my face covered with my hands. I heard how the duke was crying next to me. “Here it is, the grey daily routine turned into a shining temple,” I was thinking.
The sounds died away, no one was disturbing the silence. I. squeezed my hand slightly as though by reminding me of self-control. And he did it just in time.
“You, Anna, as always just make everybody nervous and spoil the celebration with your play,” and unpleasant, nasal and capricious voice of her younger brother was heard. “You’d rather play Chopin, show your perfect play, but you’ve just eclipsed everybody with that Beethoven.”
I wanted to beat that future wrangler and pugnacious fellow.
“You can leave if you don’t like it. And I will thank you very much for doing so,” his father uttered silently, but such a menace was seen in his face that the ill-mannered urchin hid himself behind his mummy’s back like a cowardly dog.
His mother smiled and shook her finger coquettishly at him like at a five-year-old toddler.
This unpleasant incident was unable to dispel the great impression created by Anna.
She couldn’t resist the requests and started playing again, but we didn’t hear any serious musical compositions anymore, and it seemed that some little part of her being had flown out with her first composition. There wasn’t any supernatural inspiration in her play anymore, too.
I wanted to crush that good-for-nothing urchin for such a rude escapade.
Anna stood up and announced that she wouldn’t play and sing anymore, but if there was anybody who wanted to sing, she would accompany him.
Bracano rose and told her that he couldn’t refuse such miraculous accompaniment.
I looked at I. His face was strict, oh how strict it was, like before the storm in the steamer. He looked at Anna, as though he would have sent her strength.
The Turk straightened his collar, pulled his waistcoat and announced that he would sing a song which would open the secret of his heart.
Everyone became quiet. He announced that he would sing a serenade by Shubert.
I gave a deep sigh. I looked round horror-struck, looked at the duke and at the singer who now looked more like a toreador breathing with hell’s fire than a tender lover inviting us to listen to the meaning of the nightingale’s song, to the prayer, to the heart’s vibration. I could hardly refrain from sniggering.
Anna didn’t need any notes. She looked at I., raised her eye-brows a little, her fingers touched the keys gently.
“My songs are drifting softly in the silence of the night…” all of a sudden a strong boss began to roar like the ship’s hooter.
Now I already sniggered, huddled up and hid myself behind I. When this roar reached the highest note, an absolutely unexpected thing happened: suddenly the roaring boss turned into the highest and such hideous falsetto that loud laughter was immediately heard in all corners. I and the duke were laughing, too. Even Anna was looking at the singer amazed, although not a laughter, but an unpleasant annoyance was revealed in her face. Apparently, first of all an insulted soul of the artist reacted within her.
“No, I cannot sing, I’m ill today,” the singer told us, trying to smile. And he left the room, not taking a look at anybody.
The hostess of the house and her beloved son dashed after him, while the rest of the guests who were confused and choking with laughter started breaking up, too.
We, Anna, her father, the duke and Joan were the last ones who left. We said sincere good- bye to the hosts and promised them to call at the shop tomorrow at around six o’clock and inquire about their first working day.