4 Chapter 4: I become the dervish

My heart calmed down, everything was very clear to me. I didn’t worry about myself at all, even my anxiety for my brother’s destiny had vanished. Ali’s closeness, his power and energy inspired me self-confidence and cheerfulness.

The more I was going deep into the terrible discord of nations with my thoughts, the clearer I imagined the darkness of the ignorant, poor and almost always hungry nation – the nation which itself is unable to choose even its religion independently, but which slavishly submits to fanatics from its birth, - it became clearer to me that I couldn’t remain unmoved by the destiny of the people who perhaps were strangers to me, but they had the same blood colour and they were suffering as much as my native Russian nation to which my brother had moved me nearer and which was being oppressed by the czar.

And the longer I was thinking about the strange coincidence which now had tied me together with the destiny of the strange nation and drawn me into the whirl of superstitions, the clearer I perceived that there were no accidental events, but there was a harmony of the powers prevailing, which is always working naturally and accurately, which is uniting all people – the harmony of the black maples and reddish magnolias.

Taking strength from the bottom of my heart, the tranquillity in me wasn’t only growing already, but it was simply consolidating, it seemed that I had comprehended my heart itself for the first time.

“Don’t think that you have to answer me right away, although of course, we don’t have much time. I think that the events will be developing rather quickly.”

“I can answer you right away,” I told him. “I am so peaceful, my decision is so clear to me that I can remember neither similar and wonderful state nor similar inner peace during my entire life. I don’t have any doubts and I cannot imagine that I could take a different path where I should separate myself from my brother, you, Florentian and all your friends. If my brother was here, then he would unite his life with yours, wouldn’t he? And he would fight for your nation’s liberation together with you, although you are an Indian, and this nation isn’t native for you. I don’t need any reflections in order to take my decision. I am going with you, I am loyal to my brother-father and I am ready to give all my strength for his life and fortune, as well as for the freedom of this nation to which you are serving with such a devotion and selflessness.”

“My dear friend, your tranquillity convinces me more that any vows and promises. Let’s go back home, there may be some news already.”

With these words Ali stood up, he embraced me, put his hand on my head and looked into the depth of my eyes with his black and infinite eyes. I was covered with the trembling of some kind of joy, I as if lost my consciousness for a while and I came to my senses only in the avenue of cedars, admiring the reflection of the sun on the surface of the lake.

The only attendants of our thoughts on our way home were the chirping of the birds, chirring of the grasshoppers and aroma of the trees. I had never felt myself so oddly. It seemed to me that all external facts had to crush my spirit, but in fact, for the first time in such majestic silence of nature, next to

the man in whom I was feeling an exceptional power and purity, I discovered another, yet unknown life of my heart. I was feeling like a little part of this infinite universe in which I was moving and breathing. It seemed to me that any difference between me, the sun, shining water and rustling trees had disappeared, that everybody of us was an individual note of that symphony about which Ali was talking.

As though I began to understand the meaning of things where all revolutions, the fight of individual men, boiling passions of the entire nations, all wars and horrible elemental forces – everything was prompting the mankind to develop, to strive for equality and brotherhood, harmony and beauty in combined work, where freedom of new life had to make an opportunity for man to give all the best for the welfare of other people and in return to receive what was necessary for his development and individual happiness…

I was immersed in my thoughts. I was filled up with joy and I didn’t even notice how we reached the house where younger Ali and Florentian were waiting for us.

Having exchanged some insignificant phrases about the beauty of the park, we came inside and sat down at the table in the open veranda. The table was already set for the tea. The heat abated. The tea was served in big tea-pots with beautiful colours and original Chinese pictures. As soon as we finished one cup of tea each, the servant came in and told several words to the host silently. He asked us pardon and left. We kept sitting in silence. We were gone deep into our own thoughts, and none of us was restricted by this silence: everybody was as though concentrated within himself, everybody was getting ready for the upcoming events in his own way.

It seemed to me that I hadn’t even been living up to this day, that only today I felt the real bond with all people – familiar and unfamiliar to me, distant and close to me, and I evaluated the life newly by discussing the question what it meant to be strange, close, who were strangers, who were own people.

Due to this absent-mindedness that was characteristic to my imagination I didn’t even notice how almost an hour was gone.

The servant came in and said to younger Ali that the host was inviting everybody to come to his study. We stood up, Florentian put his arm on my shoulder, pressed me tenderly to his heart for a while, and we went to another side of the house which I hadn’t seen yet.

We entered a big Eastern room, Ali Mahomet’s study by crossing the hall which I and Florentian already knew. He was sitting at the writing-table, and in front of him, in the deep arm-chair, upholstered with carpets, there was a dervish settled. He was wearing a yellow oriental robe and a pointed cap, decorated with the brush of the fox.

It seemed that the surprises of the recent days had affected my nerves so much that I almost gave a shout out of unexpectedness. I could expect everything, but to see the dervish, sitting in Ali’s study – that was already beyond my powers. I could feel such irritation that I was ready to attack him.

Young Ali cast a glance at me and, having understood from my face what was going on inside of me, whispered to me.

“Not everybody who is wearing a yellow oriental robe is really a dervish. This is a friend.”

I was trying to control myself and I started examining the imaginary dervish from head to toe intently. And again, I was ashamed of such intemperance of mine and lack of delicacy and attention. If I had looked at the face of this man from the beginning, if I had turned all my attention to him and not to myself, then there wouldn’t have been anything why I could become irritated.

The youth was sitting in front of me. He wasn’t any older than myself or Ali Machmed. His dark eyes out of his pulled cap were twinkling softly like the stars, his nose had excellent lines, his face was oblong, his hands were excellent and their form was refined, although they were sunburnt and numb. His figure was blowing of nobility, even if he was wearing the robe of the beggar. Great wisdom was reflected in his face. I wanted to pull that ugly cap off his head so much, so that his forehead would open – it must be the one of the real thinker.

The dervish was speaking in a language that I didn’t know, and to my shame I wasn’t even able to define what kind of language it was. I knew that everything what they were talking about then, would be explained to me, so I was only watching.

Florentian was sitting with his back turned to the window. He was sitting in front of the young dervish on whom the direct light was falling down. Although a light curtain of ivory colour was drawn across the window, there was enough light, so I wouldn’t let the slightest movement of the muscles of the stranger’s face slip off.

The truth is, he also was a very good-looking man. He was higher than middle height, broad- shouldered and he reminded me my brother of something. Ali Mahomet’s face was so serious that I remembered all danger that was threatening my brother at once, and a sharp pain pierced my heart.

The stranger began to speak again. His original, deep, baritone voice which sounded like a metal would have made many opera singers famous. It seemed that he was proposing something. Everybody was silent, as though reconsidering his words, and finally old Ali, having looked at me, told.

“I beg your pardon, my friend. You didn’t understand our language, and I will tell you the essence in brief. The mullah and the groom, ostensibly referring to the testimonies of the guests and servants, are stating that Nal was stolen by the guest to whom I was passing the dishes during the feast. They are telling that it was a famous old man, limping and grey, who rose from the table exactly at that moment when Nal was stolen. The mullah has declared that there was a witchcraft used and he’s charging with it me and that limping old man whom they are looking for everywhere. They have already started the massacre against me. They levelled to the ground two schools that I had built. Isolation from belief threatens to those women by whom they can find books, and that in these dark, wild lands is more terrible than death. It is rumoured that somebody has seen how the old limping man hid himself in your brother’s house. It is possible that the wild horde will attack my and your brother’s house, they even might burn them down. I must go to town at once and save the rest of the people from real destruction. You together with Florentian, you have to go to the railway station and try to reach Petersburg, so you could help our fugitives over there. I don’t have any doubt that all of us are being spied upon. The czar’s government isn’t meddling into any religious massacre, it doesn’t see or hear anything until it’s convenient for it. If the massacre of my house begins and if anybody finds you or your brother, then you will be dead. Everybody knows about our friendship, and if you were caught, then you would be responsible for everybody. This friend is proposing you to change your clothes to dervish’s ones, and Florentian will change his clothes to ordinary trader’s ones, then you should go to Moscow with the third class train. On your way, you will decide how to save yourselves, while I will be sending you telegrams poste restante to every stop and let you know about the course of events by doing so. Don’t forget that you have to think not about yourself, while saving yourself imagine that you are only additional two arms and legs, dedicated to save life of your friend, brother-father. Concentrate the entire heroism and fortitude of your heart, so that in the moment of danger you wouldn’t give yourself away neither by your absent-minded look nor by any movement. Look straight in the eyes of those who will seem to be suspicious to you. Become a deaf-mute again for a while and watch the lips of those who will be talking to you with the attention which is characteristic to the deaf- mutes. This will be leading the persecutors away. There isn’t much time. If you want to accept this

proposal, Ali and your new friend will help you to change your clothes. In the meanwhile, I will hand Florentian all the things needed for your journey, and we will make arrangements about the telegrams.”

He rose and left with Florentian. Young Ali and my new friend started dressing me with dervish’s clothes, and I agreed with that, unhesitating at all.

As if all misfortunes weren’t enough for me, they smeared me with that colourless liquid again, and this time they did it to my entire body, while my hands, legs and face were coloured with a double layer, that’s why they wrinkled and became as though sunburnt. Visually I looked like a forty years old man, but this time I didn’t worry about my gone youth and white skin. Talking was not about a masquerade, but about lives of my dear brother and myself. I was trying to remember all those movements and manners which my new friend was showing to me and which were characteristic to dervishes.

As soon as I got dressed, Florentian came in. I couldn’t recognize him: he had a long black beard, bluish grey turban, motley cotton oriental robe which was tied up with a kerchief, and on his legs he had put soft, black high boots. It seemed that a mediocre trader got ready for his goods. His face and elegant hands were just as black as mine, while his nails and teeth were terribly dirty.

If this had happened before, I would have been rocking with laughter, but now I evaluated such change properly.

“Have you stuck the cap to his head?” Florentian asked. “It is possible that somebody might try to pull it off.”

He pulled a dark skullcap out of his huge pocket himself and pulled it on my head so firmly that one could pull it off my head only with my skin. He smeared the inner side of the pointed cap with glue and pulled it on my miserable head. It was so hot that I could hardly stand on my feet, the cap was too tight, and I was feeling bad.

Older Ali came in and it seemed that he could understand my state. He took a little box from the drawer of his writing-table, opened it and put a white pill into my mouth. He closed the little box and gave the rest of them to Florentian.

“The horses will be waiting for you on another side of the lake. You will leave from there,” Ali explained. “There’s hardly enough time to reach the station.”

Having said good-bye to both Ali and my new friend in a hurry, the two of us, me and Florentian, hurried to the lake along the shortest way. Here we boarded a boat. Florentian paddled to another shore quickly, and in a few minutes we saw an ordinary light carriage that was coming running towards us. Not having said a single word to the coachman, we boarded the carriage and dashed off to the station.

The station was three versts away from the town, so we drove round it from another side. We found a couple of bundles in the carriage, which were tied up in the cotton shawls, as well as two miserable chests made of wood. Florentian was behaving as though he had never been wearing anything better than the cotton oriental robe and as though he hadn’t had any understanding about elegant suitcases.

Having driven to the station, we jumped out of the carriage and got into the noisy, excited Eastern crowd. Seeing a miserable trader and poor monk, nobody was paying any attention to us. Everybody was staring only at richer new-comers.

An old man approached us and volunteered to carry our belongings. Florentian gave him my bundle and chest. He thrust his own chest under his arm, took his bundle into his hand as if it was only a little bag of cotton wool, he told something to the old man, and we went to the station.

Another old man was waiting for us in the station. He gave two tickets to Florentian. As soon as we came to the platform, the train drove up.

We found our third class carriage and sat down on the dirty bench. Slices of bread, shreds of paper, gnawed bits of melons and peels of bananas, oranges and water-melons were rolling round us.

As soon as we took our places, there was a noise on the platform. All that crowd which we crossed in the station broke into platform, yelling. Having pushed aside the gendarme who was trying to hold them, the people were dashing to the first class carriages, swinging their arms. They were also trying to get into the international carriage. The crowd swept away the station master, gendarme and the guards in a flash. A few people, looking for something, shouting one to another, managed to slip to this carriage anyway.

Then not numerous passengers who were frightened and who didn’t understand anything started shouting, too. The gendarme with the whistle was proclaiming danger, while the group of armed soldiers, carriers and gendarmes were already running to help him. Having had time to raid the international carriage, the crowd was dashing to the first class, some of them also managed to run to the second one, but the gendarme caught them here. He drew the soldiers up in a fighting position with his sonorous voice, and the whole Eastern crowd scattered to all sides in a flash, not succeeding to force their way through to the third class carriages. Everybody was gone as if they hadn’t been here. They were scuttling as much as they could, getting through the carriages which were standing on the side-tracks. By the way, perhaps they weren’t interested in the third class carriages at all: looking for Ali himself and his friends, they couldn’t even imagine them to be in these sweepings.

The train kept standing, although the time for it to leave had already passed long time ago. I broke into a sweat so much that I kept wiping my face with the big motley handkerchief which the dervish gave to me. I was using exactly the same movement as I was shown by him. Although I believed firmly that it was impossible to recognize us, but I noticed an anxiety that all of a sudden flashed in the eyes of Florentian. Having cast a glance to the platform, I saw that the mullah came up to the old man who was carrying our parcels and who now was staring with his wide-opened mouth in the doorway of the station, but exactly at this moment the station master waved his hand, a deafening third bell was heard, the senior conductor gave a whistle, the whistle of the railway engine echoed it, and finally we were off.

We hadn’t even left the station yet, when a young sarth jumped like a cat into our carriage from the opposite side of the platform. He was breathing frequently and heavily, apparently because of the fast running. Having stepped into the carriage, he didn’t sit down, but simply fell down next to us. I thought for a while that he would faint away in a moment.

Florentian inspected him, he rocked his head for a while and addressed two old sarths who were sitting in the depth of the carriage. I didn’t understand his language, but one of them stood up and gave the panting youth water from the jug made of pumpkin. He quenched his thirst, but was still unable to come to life.

Finally, he calmed down a little and asked Florentian, who was sitting next to me and who was almost covering me with his broad shoulders, if he hadn’t noticed who boarded the train in this station.

“Of course, I noticed. I boarded it myself, my nephew did, and you did,” my friend answered him, laughing and also added “In fact you didn’t board, you jumped in.”

Somebody in the carriage gave a laugh, after hearing this. Young sarth had already come to himself.

“Whom are you running from? Perhaps, the czar’s government is persecuting you?” Florentian asked him.

“No,” he answered. “I was chasing for the train, so I could give a very important letter to one of our traders. I was told that he was travelling with his nephew namely in this carriage.”

He stood up, went the whole carriage round, thanked the old man who gave him to drink, talked to him for a while and came back to us again.

“No, there’s neither uncle nor his nephew whom I’m looking for here. And there’s neither their red-haired friend nor the limping old man in the first class carriage. I will have to jump out at the bend and wait for the next train.”

Florentian was nodding his head with dignity, and by doing so, he was expressing his compassion, because he would have to jump out of the running train.

Young sarth was explaining to Florentian and the curious persons who had gathered round us that he was looking for a trader, his benefactor, and if the people here told him who else boarded this train, not including me and Florentian, then he and his rich benefactor would repay them for their service.

One old man let it out that he saw how two women and a youth boarded the last carriage of the train. The face of the sarth brightened up, his eyes flared up, he pushed the travellers who had surrounded us and dashed to the next carriage at breakneck speed.

He came back to us again in about twenty minutes, and his long physiognomy explained without any words how it went for him there. Nobody was interested in his coming back. Some of the travellers were already getting ready to get out of the train in the nearest station.

The sarth sat down next to Florentian again and started whispering something to his ear, being afraid that I could hear him, but my friend calmed him down, showing to his ears. Anyway, he glanced at me a couple of times suspiciously, but having seen that I was attentively watching his mouth, he turned away and calmed down. Having thought for a while that there was no use of watching him, I also decided to turn away and look through the window.

The train was driving fast, it seemed that the engine-driver wanted to win some time. As far as my eyes could take it in at a glance, the grey and hungry steppe was stretching everywhere: there was neither a tree nor a bush nor a house. I started thinking about the troubles of the locals unwittingly. They were making the richest vineyards, growing wonderful fruit and flowers by irrigating the fields artificially. In the meanwhile the train slowed the speed down considerably. We were driving round a deep ravine. There was a thin stream in its ground. It seemed that the network of artificial irrigation canals started here, because the whole landscape changed here at once, too. The gardens of kishlaks, big trees of figs, nuts and chestnut were looming before my eyes.

We started driving even slower, and suddenly I saw the sarth jumping out of the train, who vanished in the ravine by calculating his jump skilfully.

He disappeared just in time. As soon as I turned my face to Florentian, two conductors showed up at the door of the carriage, asking to prepare the tickets. Having checked the tickets, the conductors went to the next carriage. I was thinking that now I already would find out what the sarth was

whispering to Florentian, but my friend put his finger to his lips imperceptibly and stretched out a little note which he had clasped in his hand.

That was the telegram poste restante. It was written in Russian, sent to town S. to trader K., reporting that trader A was alive – and full stop.

I didn’t quite understand how the note got into the hands of my friend, although I thought that sarth left it.

The train stopped in a quarter of an hour, but nobody boarded our carriage here. Florentian took two books out of his parcel and gave one of them to me. His book was written in Arabian, while mine reminded me of a thick and worn out prayer-book. I could understand its cipher as well as that fragment from the Koran, which my brother was showing to me on the wall of one of the mosques.

Having estimated the foresight of that person who was preparing our belongings, I gave a smile. What other book could be in the hands of the dervish if not a worn out prayer-book which has seen everything in the perpetual journeys of the homeless monk?

One pious old man brought me a melon and a slice of bread. Another one stretched out two lumps of sugar. Once again, in my thoughts I thanked my new friend for the lessons of good manners and expressing gratitude of the monk, especially when he is getting food. Florentian was explaining to everybody that I was deaf, but real saint and that my prayers were always reaching God. In the meanwhile I, looking down, pressing my hand to my heart, nodded my head several times, not even looking at those who were giving alms to me. Some of them, having heard that I was saint and even loved by God, were extending me money, too.

We were going like this until evening; the night fell suddenly again. Everybody became calm in the carriage. Florentian put my soft parcel under my head, told me to go to sleep and sat down by my feet.

I don’t know if I was sleeping for a long time, I only felt that somebody was shaking me strongly. I was unable to wake up in any way, although I comprehended that somebody was waking me up. Finally, someone’s strong hands got me on my feet, and I inhaled some ammonia. I sneezed and woke up. Florentian was standing next to me, both of our chests were tied up and put on his shoulder, one of the parcels was already sticking out of his arm. He took the parcel on which I was sleeping in his hand, showed me the door with his other hand and pushed me a little towards it.

It was almost dark in the carriage. The candles were already burned down in some of the lanterns. There were not many lanterns and they were hanging quite high.

Although I could grasp a little because of my sleepiness, but I turned towards the door. I imagined that we would jump out of the train like the sarth did. By the way, the train was going at full speed now. I became horror-struck, because my inconvenient clothes of the dervish, which looked like a sack, were restricting my movements. A thought flashed without any logical connection that my cap was also glued to my head only because it shouldn’t fall down from such jump.

We left the carriage in silence, and I had already grasped the grip of the outer door, wishing to open it.

“It is still early,” Florentian uttered to my very ear silently.

“So we are going to jump out of the train that is running at the full speed?” I asked him silently, too.

“Jump out of the train? But why should we jump out of it?” he was laughing. “We are coming to the big city. We will get out in the station, hire a coach-man for ourselves and go to my friend who is living here. But you still remain the dervish who is indifferent to everything until I tell you to stop, and whoever would address you, keep showing to your ears. The train is already slowing down. You go first and give me your hand. Don’t step back off me for a single second neither in the station nor at the house of my friend. Keep holding like this either by my hand or my belt, as though you were blind and couldn’t move without my help.”

The train was coming up to the poorly lit platform. The night was reigning all around, and it seemed that there was no living soul, but then we could see the red cap of the station master on duty, the hefty figure of the gendarme – and the train stopped.

We alighted from the train, crossed the empty waiting hall of third class and went to the place of the station. A sarth came up to Florentian and volunteered to take us to the nearest kishlak. Having found out that we needed to get to the city, to a commercial district, the sarth became glad that he was going the same way and that he would earn good money.

However, he was wrong. Florentian like a real Eastern trader was bargaining with him with heat. He was sputtering words like peas, rolling his eyes and gesticulating in every possible way. The coach- man kept up with him. They were bawling like this for some ten minutes, finally the coach-man gave a deep sigh, rolled his eyes up and asked Allah for help. It seemed that Florentian was waiting exactly for this. He was also calling for Allah with his folded hands, pushed me forward, and the coach-man saw the dervish. Now he fell silent at once, bowed to me and invited us to his cart. We climbed up and went to the city which was two versts away.