5 Chapter 5: I am playing a servant interpreter
We were going in silence. The sarth was trying to speak to Florentian, but having heard only short answers uttered in a sleepy voice, he decided that we were tired, so he concentrated his entire attention to the horse which was peacefully trotting along the soft road.
The stars were twinkling above us. After the sound sleep in the carriage, my thoughts were drowsing during all that time, but now they began to move again.
I had never heard the silence of the night in the steppe. As in Ali’s park, I was embraced by perception of nature’s majesty again, I was bowing to it. I was looking at the stars scattered in the sky, and for the first time, I could see those constellations which I had seen only in the books until then. These celestial bodies didn’t remind me of the north by anything. They were much bigger and lighter, they were shimmering like lamps; now I could understand the poets who were writing about the shimmering light of the stars. And the sky itself, cut by the wide Milky Way, seemed to be lower, it was shining in the contrasts of the light and darkness.
In my thoughts I came back to Ali Mahomet and his affairs. Once again I was pierced with joy of meeting him. I was contemplating about harmony and beauty of nature. I was thinking about that power of love and happiness that is streaming from nature to man, about that huge grief and the tears with which he himself is filling the world by justifying all his actions in the name of Almighty Creator, and in order to protect Him, he is inviting cruel fanaticism to help, and he persecutes people, not leaving even the right for them to their personal lives.
Even pattering of the hoofs and light shaking of the cart wasn’t lulling me to sleep this time; but suddenly in the silence of the night I was feeling lonely, unhappy and helpless… This weakness continued only for a moment. I remembered Ali’s words that the time came to show my fortitude and loyalty. A wave of cheerfulness and even joy rolled over me. I wanted to fight as soon as possible not only for happiness of my brother and Nal, but for everybody who is suffering from the yoke of fanatics, from oppression of really mad people who are obsessed with religious superstitions, who consider their belief to be the only truthful and who are destroying everybody who is dying to be free, who is longing for knowledge and independent life…
I moved closer to Florentian, I pressed myself to him out of gratitude and I was met with his pleasant and tender look which as though was saying to me: “There’s no loneliness for those who love people and who want to dedicate all their strengths, fighting for their happiness.”
We drove into the city already. The entire city, from its outskirts to its centre, was similar to a continuous garden. The night didn’t seem to be so dark anymore. A mosque and a market-place came to light in the tangle of green streets.
Florentian told the coach-man to stop, we got out, paid him and moved along that market- place which was guarded by the night watchmen here and there. Several times we turned now to one now to another sleeping street and finally we stopped by a little house with the garden. Some time passed after Florentian’s knock, then the little gates opened and a surprised yard-keeper looked us up and down. Florentian asked him in Russian if the master was at home. It turned out that he had come back only about an hour ago and that he hadn’t had his supper yet, although he told him that he was very hungry.
Florentian asked him to tell the master that lord Benedict was sending us and that we would like that he would accept us immediately if that was possible. The yard-keeper was delighted with the coin that slipped into his palm imperceptible: having let us come into the garden, he broke into a run to tell his master about us. We stayed alone. While we were waiting, Florentian carefully thrust his finger under my wadded cap and pulled it off quickly; having torn my glued skullcap off quickly, he put the dervish cap back on my head.
It was difficult to describe what I was feeling after becoming free of that bandage. I wanted to give a shout loudly out of joy, but being afraid of giving myself away, I kept it to myself. I only jumped up a couple of times.
“What Lordict? You are always mixing everything up!” the words reached us.
“Remember that you are still deaf until I tell you,” Florentian whispered to me.
In the meanwhile I was puzzling over where I could hear that special voice, but I couldn’t remember.
The yard-keeper came back and invited us to enter the veranda. We followed him into the depth of the garden. The verdure with its huge blossom which were like clusters was so dense that we could see the light in the veranda only when we turned to the left.
A servant, still almost a boy, was labouring at the table by laying it in European way. He was bringing the dishes which were covered with the plates and fruit which were covered with netting.
Florentian put our belongings in the corner. We sat down on the little wooden bench next to our things. The servant would come in and go out, every time taking a peep at us with disdain and unfriendliness. Finally, he told us rather carelessly that the master was waiting for us in his study. Having left our leather galoshes next to our belongings, we came from veranda along the corridor into a big room. A grand piano and soft furniture were standing here, but the floor was bare, not like at Ali’s, where the feet were simply buried in carpets.
Having crossed this room, we got to the closed door, from under which the light was penetrating. The servant was going first and he wanted to knock on the door, but Florentian pushed him away, he squeezed my hand strongly as though reminding me that I was deaf and knocked on the door himself in his own way.
The door opened quickly and… it was great that Florentian squeezed my hand strongly, otherwise I would have given a scream at the top of my voice.
In front of us was standing the same stranger who gave me the clothes of the dervish in Ali’s study. Florentian bowed low in front of the master by pulling me down, too. I understood that I had to bow even lower until the same hand gave a tug at my shoulders upward.
Florentian told to the master something loudly, he gave a nod, drew low pouffes close to us and commanded something to the servant who had entered with us, only I didn’t understand what he told him. Servant’s physiognomy fell out of amazement, and only the look of the master forced him to bow down respectfully and silently close the door when he left.
Now our friend extended his hand, smiled and his look wasn’t so strict anymore. Tiredness and sadness could be seen in his wonderful face.
“Haven’t you recognize my voice?” the master said to me, while holding my hand and smiling tenderly. “I told several words to the servant in a high tone on purpose, so that you wouldn’t be so surprised later when you hear me. Judging by your forehead and cheek-bones, you are very musical, right?”
I wanted to answer him that I memorized the timbre of his original voice, but in the garden I couldn’t remember whose it was. I started talking, but then I was feeling very tired, and suddenly I was dazzled, the floor slipped out of my feet and I dived into the darkness…
I don’t know for how long I was fainted away, but I came to myself because of the pleasant cool on my head and something chilling on my heart. Florentian gave me to drink, after several sips he also made me to swallow one of the pills which Ali Mahomet had given to us. I was feeling better pretty soon, I calmed down and I was sitting firmly on the low pouffe. The master was writing a letter. Florentian took the cold compress off my head and heart and whispered to me.
“Soon we are going to rest, hold tight.”
But now I was ready to keep travelling again, I was feeling so much strength as though I had just climbed out of the cool swimming pool.
Having finished writing his letter, the master called his servant, told him to bring this letter to the addressee immediately and to come back with the response. It seemed that the servant didn’t like the place very much, which he was sent to, and he wanted to contradict already, but having met the attentive and strict look of the master, he bowed low and left hurriedly.
We went to the veranda. We washed our hands in the wash-basin which I hadn’t notice before. My hands didn’t become any brighter and, having sighed, I thought for a while that I was so tired of the make-up, strange clothes and constant adventures which were becoming like the fairy-tale about one thousand and one night.
We sat down at the table. Fruit, vegetables, refreshing juice drinks and the bread of several kinds were waiting for us here. Everything was very delicious, but I hardly wanted to eat. Both of my older friends weren’t eating much, too.
“I have written the letter in my servant’s language, because I’m sure that he not only will read it himself, but he also will take it to mullah. The news about the massacre against Ali has reached us here, too. In that letter I’m writing to my familiar donkey trader that tomorrow evening my friend who is also a trader will visit him to buy up donkeys. I’m asking him to take care of as big herd as possible, because my friend might buy it all. Our local mullah who is using this trader’s name as a cover is carrying out a large- scale trade of donkeys and cattle. Now he undoubtedly will be occupied the whole day, he will be giving instructions what to drive from where and what price to ask. He will finally find some time for his feat against Ali only in the evening. That familiar trader of mine is living rather far from here, and we have about three hours. During that time both of you need to take a bath, change your clothes, become Europeans again and come back to K. There’s a railway intersection there. You will take an international train travelling in the opposite direction, and I think that you will come to Moscow successfully. This time you will not avoid an unusual suit, too,” he addressed me. “You will be the servant-guide of the lord Benedict who doesn’t know a single Russian word. You have to come back to K., because there’s a fair taking place over there, and the train is swarmed with the foreigners who are coming there to buy astrakhan, carpets and still not harvested cotton. Lord Benedict will interblend among them easily. By the way, they are already pursuing you. Somebody betrayed that you were dressed like a dervish. I believe that there was no fear in your heart and that there is no fear in your heart now, but you have to act not only bravely, but also
accurately. Let’s go to my bedroom. I will try to help you to wash yourselves and to change your clothes for the new roles.”
It was dawning already. We rose from the table and followed the master into his bedroom. It was a wonderful, white room. There was a very simple furniture, upholstered with light grey silk, but it had an elegant form, there was a soft, light carpet there… but there was no time to look over the room.
Having drawn the folding door aside, the master took me to the bath. He poured some liquid into the bath, and because of the liquid the water simply boiled up. When the surface of the water settled down, he explained to me.
“Now the whole make-up will come off your body. You will get off the water like a white- skinned youth again. Here’s the soap, brushes and everything what you may need,” he showed them to me and left me alone.
I took off my clothes quickly and dived into the water. It was very pleasing to feel how the whole blackness and the dust of the travel were coming off me like a skin. I could hear the murmuring water somewhere close to me, it must have been Florentian taking the shower.
I didn’t linger in the bath, I muffled myself up in the bathing sheet and started thinking what I should put on. There was a light knock on the door, Florentian came in. He also had wrapped himself up in the sheet, he was smiling merrily, and again I yielded to the charm of this wonderful beauty – to the charm of the great and loving man. I understood that I was attaching myself more and more to my wonderful friend.
“Let’s go to pick up some clothes,” he invited me merrily to the bedroom of the master.
I still didn’t tell you how the imaginary dervish looked like this time. He was wearing a light, grey suit which fitted him perfectly, a white silk shirt with an open wide collar, he had white fabric shoes on. I couldn’t recognize him: his eyes-stars had a certain original expression of wisdom, they were shining with fire, and that metal timbre of his voice was characteristic only to him. His upper lip which was as though hewed by the sculptor’s chisel was telling about his huge temperament, and his forehead – high and noble forehead of a wise man – had such elevations above his eye-brows that it seemed that the entire power of his thought was concentrated exactly here, like it is characteristic to the famous composers.
I couldn’t help but recognize him, but not his European appearance was surprising me, I didn’t understand how he managed to come home almost at the same time as we got here. This showing up of his seemed to be unreal in the mess of my thoughts, but in fact he was travelling in a much simpler way than we were. There was less than half an hour way from Ali’s estate to a little station before K. Having changed his clothes as a simple man, he got into our train, but he didn’t show himself to us. He reached his home earlier, because Florentian, as it is accustomed for the petty traders, was bargaining himself hoarse, and that comedy took lots of our time, in addition our horse looked more like a donkey.
While we were dressing ourselves, the master told us about his journey and about Ali’s affairs. Ali left to town, so he could protect and save his family, but what his subsequent fate was, we still didn’t know. Then he told us that he would be going to Petersburg with the next train, where he would prepare a flat for us and collect information about my brother. He also explained to us that one of the servants who was coming together with Nal was her uncle. He had a large life experience, he was a loyal and very educated man.
While he was talking, he helped me to put the suit of the servant on: a brown jacket with silver buttons, the same long trousers and a cap with silver galloons. Of course, I didn’t become a very good-looking man, but I looked elegant to myself after the black-skinned dirty dervish.
Florentian put the blue suit and the white silk shirt on. He tied the grey silk tie into the bow- tie. In fact – whatever he would put on, he would always look perfectly, as though it wouldn’t be possible for him to look better. He smoothed his curly hair without any mercy, parted it with the parting in the middle from his forehead down to his neck, put the pince-nez on – and he was still a handsome man.
The time was passing, it was broad daylight already. We heard the horses snorting, and the yard-keeper gave a shout that the cart was already here.
The master commanded to the yard-keeper silently through the window.
“Go to our neighbour. If he’s not at home, run to his shop to see him. Remind him that today he promised to deliver two oriental robes and the carpet to his aunt. When I am going to the station, I will drop my night guests to the cattle market on the way. If they want to spend the night at my place in the evening again, let them in, even if I am not at home.”
The yard-keeper ran to the neighbour, and we took our belongings from veranda, which seemed to be only a mere show. We took several books from the chests and left them empty in the corridor. Having untied the parcels, we found pillows there. We put the shawls of the parcels in the wardrobe.
We left the house in several minutes. I habituated myself to be a servant, so I was carrying my master’s light coat. I helped him to sit down on the back seat and I settled myself on the front bench. The master sat down on the coachman’s seat and took the reins into his hands. When we crossed the gates, I jumped out and closed them. We turned towards the station.
The city wasn’t awaked yet. The sarths on duty were toiling at their horses here and there, because the artificial irrigation was always changing its direction, and these people were strictly adjusting the flow by releasing the water now to Bukhara now to Khiva now to Samarkand or somewhere else.
Now we were going quickly, but I had time to observe the houses, gardens and market- places. The market-places were different from the ones that I had seen in the streets of K. and they didn’t remind me at all the market of Bagdad. They looked like big barns, but anyway their style wasn’t European. The number of little shops and all kinds of market-places showed the richness of the city.
It was my passion to observe everything. I plunged into it again. The motion round us became more intense, and we left the city, the view simply enchanted me with its flamboyance. I hadn’t yet seen a big caravan of the camels; and here from several sides, the caravans were moving to the city in lines slowly and with dignity, swinging their loaded humps, guided by the small donkeys on whose backs usually a cameleer was riding. The donkeys loaded with fruit, vegetables, fowl and other wealth were moving to the market, pressed one to another and raising dust on all the roads that led to the highroad.
Peaks of the mountains covered with snow were showing white in the distance. The sky was somewhere purple, somewhere violet and green, above us – it was bright blue; a breeze was refreshing us because of the quick driving – and I exclaimed again.
“What a wonderful life!”
This exclamation was so unexpected to both of my friends who were delved deeply into their thoughts that for the first moment they were only looking at me surprised, but having seen my fascinated physiognomy, they laughed loudly. I also burst out laughing.
We were close to the station, and my master lord Benedict explained to me in English.
“A good servant is always serious. He never meddles into his master’s conversation, he doesn’t show his presence in any way and he only answers the questions asked. He is deaf and mute until his master needs his services.”
The tone of his speech was serious, but a humour was glittering in his eyes. I restrained my laughing, put my hand to the peak of my cap and answered him absolutely seriously and also in English.
“Understood, your highness!”
“We are approaching the station,” the lord continued. “Here’s a wallet for you. Get out of the cart first and hurry to the booking-office. Buy two tickets in the international carriage to K. We will walk slowly to the platform and we will meet there. The train is coming soon. If there are no tickets to the international carriage, buy first class tickets.”
I took the wallet, jumped out of the cart as soon as we stopped and ran to the booking- office.
I found my master in the platform and informed him that I got the tickets to the international carriage. He nodded his head to the porter with dignity. The porter was holding two elegant suitcases. I couldn’t understand in any way how the suitcases got here, and only later I comprehended that they must have been tied to our cart in advance.
“Here’s the new trouble,” I thought for a while, not knowing what to do with the wallet and tickets. Since the train was already coming, I put everything into the inner pocket of my jacket.
“To the international,” I growled out carelessly to the porter and followed him to the very end of the platform.
When the train stopped, I gave the tickets to the conductor and got into a small two-seater compartment. I put the things together and dismissed the porter. The conductor even swept the floor of the compartment hurriedly, which were clean anyway and cleaned the dust a little. It seemed that he was judging about the master’s tip from his servant’s uniform. I jumped out onto the platform to let my master know that everything was ready.
The second whistle was heard. Lord Benedict and his friend slowly turned towards the carriage, and with the third whistle the kind lord slowly lifted his foot on the footstep of the carriage. I even wanted to push him from behind, because I could understand in no way such slowness of his.
Having said something more to his remaining friend, finally he got on the carriage. Now the whistle of the engine was heard already, so not even waiting until my master is kind to keep going, I bowed to our master and jumped into the train that was moving already.
Only when his friend remaining in the platform couldn’t be seen at all anymore, the lord turned round and went to the compartment. The conductor addressed him with some question, but he showed him his face, not understanding anything, and looked at me.
“My master is Englishman,” I explained to him very kindly, “and he doesn’t understand a single word in any other language. I am his interpreter.”
The conductor repeated his question if we would like to have tea. I translated that to my lord, and the conductor received an order for tea, biscuits and two bars of chocolate. In addition I gave him a large bank-note and asked him to buy the best melon, some apples and pears from the dining-car. Being certain of the future tip, the conductor promised me to buy the fruit not in the train, but in the next station which was famous for the fruit.
In several minutes he brought us the tea and lemon, the biscuits and chocolate, closed the door and we stayed alone.
Regardless of the fallen thick, dark curtain and the ventilator which was spinning under the ceiling, there was a scorching heat hanging in the carriage. I took my cap off and I was glorifying my light cool jacket which was made of the material similar to Chinese silk. My lord took his jacket off and lay down on the seater. His feet didn’t fit in and they remained hanging.
“My pal, I am very tired. If you have strength, protect my sleep for two or three hours. If I don’t wake up until that time, then wake me up. There will be no possibility to get any sleep later on, and we will still need lots of strengths. Don’t worry that we won’t be discussing all events. When I wake up, we will eat and you will have to go to sleep. Open the little suitcase, you will find there something that was left in Ali’s house, what young Ali found when he was putting your clothes in order. That nice friend, whom we just said good-bye to, brought these suitcases from Ali to us.”
With these words he turned to the wall and fell asleep at once. I was sitting, being afraid of making a move. I decided to open the suitcase only when we reach that station where the conductor promised to buy us fruit. I went to the corridor that was in front of our compartment, so I could sit there and the knocking of the conductor wouldn’t wake Florentian up.
Several men with tired faces in the corridor were cursing heat. They were getting ready to get out in this station and buy some fruit. Some of them were darting glances at me, but I buried myself in the book which Florentian had put on the small table in our compartment.
It was a novel about the period of the middle ages. The beginning of the novel seemed to be rather boring, but knowing well that epoch, I decided to get to know its English translation.
The travellers were gathering together in the landing of the carriage. Some of them had their heads covered with a cap, some – with a panama, and some – with an English helmet “hello – good-bye” – so this cap with two peaks was called in Russia, - and some had no cover at all. The train came to the platform and stopped.
I opened the window and started observing the crowd… There was more life in this station than in the other ones which I had seen before. The sellers with big baskets of fruit were running in all directions. The figures of women with covers were flashing, they were standing in little groups, but I couldn’t understand in any way what they were doing here. They didn’t sell anything, they only would go from one place to another one. Respectful sarths of different ages and positions were crowding in several places and casting glances at the public that was coming. Noisy and boring Jews with their typical half- length coats and black little caps were true contrast to the impressive Orientals.
All travellers came back to the carriage quickly. Their hands were full of fruit. It seemed to me that their purchase was good, but when the train started off, the conductor came to me. He gave me the basket of fruit and even merrily winked at the side of the travellers who were nibbling their apples. Having looked at his purchase, I understood how the real Eastern fruit should look like: the apples were huge, their form was flat or oblong, and they were transparent. One could see every little seed through
them. Yellow pears looked like an amber. There were two small melons. I was feeling dizzy because of their scent. Besides, there were wonderful yellow and blue plums in the basket.
“That’s the fruit,” the conductor said to me. “One has to know where to buy and whom to sell to. I have a friend here, who prepares two such baskets for me every time when the train is passing by.”
I was delighted with his friend who was growing such fruit. I thanked the conductor, paid him generously in the name of my master and treated him to an apple.
He was very pleased with such hospitality of mine. He leant against the wall and started eating his apple. I tucked away a juicy divine pear. I was trying not to let a single drop of its refreshing juice to fall down. The conductor was inviting me to his compartment, but I answered him that my lord was very strict and that he couldn’t manage without my help, because he absolutely didn’t know any other languages, that I was going to give him the fruit and that both of us were going to sleep. I answered to his question about our breakfast and dinner that my master was a very noble lord and that lords were dining only to a special order.
I said good-bye to the conductor, thanked him once again and came back to the compartment. I was trying to move as silently as possible, but soon I noticed that Florentian was sleeping like a log, and if I had to wake him up, I really would have failed.
All muscles of his body were completely relaxed – only animals were resting like this, - and he was breathing so silently that I couldn’t hear him at all. “Well, well,” I thought for a while, “That stupid cap of the dervish damaged my hearing, too. I could always hear so perfectly, but now I didn’t hear the breathing of the sleeping man.”
Being distressed about my lost hearing, I gave a sigh and pulled out the little suitcase.