6 Chapter 6: We don’t come up to K.
It was so dark in the carriage that I raised the curtain a little and made a little crack. I sat down at the table and tried to open the suitcase. There wasn’t a key, but having turned the locks to all directions, I finally managed to open it, although I had some trouble with it. Carefully rolled boxes with figs, dried pressed apricots and dates were placed on top of the suitcase. I took the boxes out and under several sheets of clean paper I found the letter addressed to me. The handwriting was unknown to me.
I wasn’t afraid of rustling the paper anymore, because Florentian kept sleeping like a log. Having opened the envelope, first of all I looked at the signature. The following was written there: “Ali Machmed”. It was a short letter which started with the usual salutation in the East “Brother”.
Young Ali was writing that he was sending to me the things that were left in the student jacket, as well as the replacement shirt and the suit which I would find in the big suitcase and which, of course, would come in handy to me. Asking to accept everything sincerely as the present, he added that in the little suitcase I would find all writing-materials and some cash from his personal savings, which he was brotherly sharing with me. In another section of this suitcase there were placed only womanly things, cash and the letter which he was asking to give to Nal when we first meet, wherever and whenever that would happen.
Then he continued that Ali Mahomet had also put a little parcel which I would find among handkerchiefs. Young friend was asking me very much not to feel shy concerning any financial questions. He was writing that we would see each other soon and that we might need to change our roles.
I was moved very much by such care and friendly tone of the letter. I leant my head on my hand and started thinking about young Ali’s life and the wound of his heart. The bluish violet eyes of the youth, his slender figure which was so delicate and slim that one could take him for a girl, his light and graceful step – I was imagining everything very clearly and even felt his charm. I had no doubt that he was perfectly educated, and since he was close to old Ali who was full of fire and whose wisdom was flowing with his every look and word, only a noble and intelligent man could be living with him.
I thought for a while that since his childhood the boy Ali was surrounded by the atmosphere of fight and action for his nation’s liberation, and that probably, according to his understanding, man’s life was nothing else but an action and fight which would always come to the first place, while his personal life was in the second place. I couldn’t make up my mind in any way how old he was, but I knew that he was much older than Nal. Visually he was so young that I couldn’t give him more than seventeen.
I read his letter one more time and I didn’t understand again what Ali could find in my pockets. I started looking for it in the suitcase and, having lifted the towel, I shouted out of astonishment: something began to shine in the dim compartment, and I recognized the wonderful peacock on the note- book of my brother.
Now I remembered how we were putting in order my brother’s writing-table and how I put this book into my pocket. Having taken it out of the suitcase, I started examining this miracle of jewelry work. The longer I was looking at it the more I was surprised by the subtle and graceful work of the master. The stretched out train of the peacock seemed to be alive and moving because of the brilliance of the
gems. Its head, neck and body were made of white enamel and were astonishing me with the proportions of forms and harmony. The whole bird was alive!
“How man needs to love his job, to know the anatomy of the bird in order to express it like this!” I thought, while admiring the work. A bitter thought flashed that I was twenty years old already, and I still hadn’t achieved anything in any field, so I could create something to make people’s lives easier or decorate them.
I was still holding the note-book in front of me and I wanted to know its history. Maybe my brother bought it? I drove this thought off instantly, because my brother couldn’t buy such treasure. Maybe this was a present? Who presented it to him?
In my thoughts I flew away to my brother’s life. I could see myself such short and mysterious period of it. I connected the figure of the peacock to Ali Mahomet’s head decoration during the feast. There was also a peacock, wasn’t it? It was totally white and made only of big gems. “This bird must be some kind of an emblem”, I kept thinking about it. Curiosity was burning me, I was about to open up the note-book and read what my brother had written there, but that honour which he had infused in me stopped my entire heat. I kissed the note-book and put it back in its place.
“No”, I was thinking, “If you, my brother-father, have any secrets from me, I won’t be reading them until you are alive. Only when life separates us for ever, and I cannot hand this treasure to you, only then I will open it. Until there’s any hope to see you, I will be a loyal protector of your peacock.”
The heat was simply suffocating me. I ate another juicy pear and decided to look for Ali Mahomet’s parcel. Soon I found a little pile of elegant handkerchiefs, and there was an envelope among them, in which I could feel a hard square.
I opened the envelope and was dumbfounded… There was a little box with a white peacock wrapped in the envelope. It had his train stretched. It wasn’t made of the most precious stones, but of gold and even enamel, and the colours of its train were like the ones of the real peacock. The box itself was black, only its brims were studded with small pearls.
I opened the box: its inside was golden, there were white small pills similar to peppermint pastilles put in it. I put the box aside and started reading the letter.
It surprised me with its conciseness, the power of expression and an exceptional calm. I am keeping this letter until now, although I haven’t seen Ali Mahomet for twenty years when he left for his homeland.
“My son,” he was writing. _“You’ve chosen your path with your own free will. And this path is your love and loyalty to the one whom you yourself acknowledged as your brother-father. Don’t give up to any doubts or hesitations. Don’t ruin your activity with any doubt or sadness. Meet any test cheerfully, easily and merrily. Spread your joy to everybody. You’ve chosen the path of work and fight, so walk it by asserting, always asserting, and not negating. Never think: “I will fail”, but believe: “I will succeed”. Don’t say to yourself: “I cannot”, but smile to the childishness of this word and say: “I will win”. I am sending you the pills. They give cheerfulness. When you have to concentrate all your strengths or when sleepiness torments you, especially in the stuffy rooms or when you are rocked – swallow one of the pills. Don’t overindulge in them, but if one of your friends, and especially your current attendant, asks you to protect his sleep, and you feel totally weakened, remember my pills. Always be vigilantly attentive. Love people and don’t blame them, but also remember that the enemy is vicious, he doesn’t drowse and he will always want_
to take advantage of your absent-mindedness and lack of your attention. You’ve chosen that path where heroism of feelings and thoughts isn’t a dream, ideal or fantasy, but simply it is your daily activity. I am squeezing your hand. Accept my handshake full of cheerfulness and energy… If some day anxiety gets into your heart – remember me. And let this white peacock become for you an emblem of calm and work for the sake of people’s wealth and happiness.”
The letter was signed with one letter “M”. I understood that it meant “Mahomet.”
Since we boarded the carriage, a couple of hours passed, if not more. It seemed that it couldn’t be any hotter. I took my jacket off, unbuttoned the collar of my shirt and still I was feeling that my eyes were drooping and I was about to faint away. I looked at Florentian. He was still sleeping like a log. Nothing was left, but only to try the effect of Ali Mahomet’s pills.
I took one of them and started chewing it. Nothing special happened in the beginning, I still wanted to go to sleep, but in some time I felt as though light coolness, as though a trembling ran through my nerves, my sleepiness was gone, I was sitting cheerful and totally revived, as though after the shower.
I started examining the part of the suitcase which was assigned to me. I found a puffed out, crammed wallet, some excellent washing requisites and writing-materials. Having admired them for a while, I put everything in order again and fastened the suitcase, not even peeking at that section where the things assigned to Nal were placed.
As soon as I started reading the book, there came a light knock on the door of the compartment. Having opened the door, I saw a tall mister in the corridor. He looked like a merchant. He asked me in French if somebody from our compartment would like to scatter about his boredom by playing a game of vint. I answered him that I was only a servant interpreter and that I didn’t know how to play vint, and that my mister Englishman didn’t know a single word neither in Russian nor in French and that I had never seen any cards in his hands. The visitor apologized for disturbing us and disappeared.
Perhaps, everything was real and very simple in this situation, and this mister was one of the gamblers who could sit at the table of cards during day and night. The kaleidoscope of the last days’ events was stirring up my fancy so much that I seemed to see a spy here, too, and unwillingly I was asking a question if he wasn’t as much the merchant as I was the servant.
“Great,” I thought for a while, “that would be the last straw if we got to a desert island and found a guardian, for example, captain Nemo. I am living like in the fairy-tale.”
It would have been better if Florentian hadn’t been sleeping. I couldn’t bear this long silence with its single accompaniment anymore – the creak of the walls and even noise of the wheels.
I read the letter of old Ali one more time. I was imagining his fiery eyes and his tall figure. In my thoughts I thanked him not only for the pills, but also for the words of his letter, which were refreshing me. I stroked my wonderful peacock and, like the best friend, I put it in the inner pocket of my jacket, then I threw the jacket on my shoulders.
I wasn’t feeling any pressure in my temples anymore, my pulse was even, and I took the book into my hands, wishing to read it.
I raised the night curtain of the window a little higher and examined the district which we were crossing. Once again there was a hungry steppe, apparently, it wasn’t irrigated. The scorching sun and burnt down, bare soil – that’s the whole landscape, for as far as my eyes could take in.
“Yes, the God’s grace has avoided this land,” I was thinking to myself, while looking through the window. “Apparently, the people here are painting the domes of the mosques in blue and decorating their walls in mixed colours, they love striking clothes and carpets, because they want to compensate themselves this greyness of their hungry soil, this yellow dust, in which the camel is dragging himself along up to its knees.”
The train wasn’t going that fast, it would stop seldom. I went deep into the book. The plot of the novel was seizing me a little at a time, I was so plunged in it that I forgot everything around me. I was reading for about two hours when I felt that both of my legs and hands had become numb already. I stood up and started rubbing them. Soon Florentian gave a start, stretched himself, gave a deep sigh and sat up immediately, as though he would be made of rubber.
“Well, now I had a good sleep,” he said to me. “Thank you very much for protecting me. I see that you are a loyal watchman,” he gave a laugh, flashing his teeth. “But why didn’t you wake me up earlier? I must have slept more than four hours.”
And I was still standing with my eyes opened wide and I was unable to utter a word, because I was so surprised at such a waking up of his.
“I hadn’t seen such strange man as you during my entire life,” finally I uttered. “You are sleeping like dead, and you wake up like a cat that sensed a mouse during its sleep. Did I need to wake you up? But I aren’t a giant that could stand you up on your feet as you did to me. Even if I had shaken you until I’ve fallen down, that could hardly help, too.”
Florentian was rocking with laughter because of both my physiognomy and my annoyance.
“Listen, let’s be reconciled,” he proposed. “If I’ve hurt you because I’m sleeping in my own way, not as it is accustomed according to the rules of good style, then you, too, admit that you’ve chosen not quite pleasing epithet that would suit well for the good servant of the great master. You could tell “tiger”, but no, you told “cat”.”
He stood up, inspected the fruit and praised me.
“You are quite a lad! That’s the fruit! One could think that you’ve gathered them in California.”
“Well, I didn’t have enough time to run to California, but I paid the conductor generously for them,” I answered him. “While you were sleeping, our neighbour had dropped in, who’s as if a French trader, and he was inviting us to play vint.”
Florentian was eating the melon by nodding his head to my reports and suddenly, he noticed the letters which were put on the table.
I read both of them loudly to him. He also asked me where I’ve hidden the box, and when I showed him the inner pocket of my jacket, he explained to me.
“No, that’s not good. There’s a deep, leather pocket on the right side of your trousers, from inside. Put it there.”
I felt the pocket on the right side, close to my waist, and I put the box in it. Florentian bent at the window, examined the district and told me.
“Soon we’ll reach a big station. See the trees over there – that’s the station already. You will have to get out, stretch your legs and buy some newspapers. Buy all of them, whatever you can find, not only Russian ones, but also the local ones.”
I put my jacket on, hid the letters in the book and I was already about to go.
“Wait a little, do you want to save the letters?” Florentian asked me.
“Yes, of course,” I answered him.
“Then hide them in the suitcase. And not only now, when we are being followed, but never leave an unhidden letter in the future, too. It is the best to keep everything in your head and your heart, but not on the paper.”
I hid the letters and left the compartment, because the train was slowing down already and coming to the platform.
“Just in case, ask if there’s a telegram post restante for the lord Benedict,” Florentian added.
I put my hand at the peak of my cap and hurried like a zealous servant to fulfil my master’s command. Having met the conductor, I inquired him where the newspapers were sold, in which platform there was a telegraph, and if the train was going to stand here for a long time. The conductor explained to me everything in detail. He was sorry that he couldn’t come with me, because this was a big station and there were many travellers. He told me that the train was going to stand for twenty minutes, and that I could be in no hurry.
As soon as the train stopped, I jumped onto the platform. There were lots of people. Guttural shrieks and noise of the crowd which was boarding was mixing with the jokes and loud laughter of the travellers who were pouring out of all carriages. The people were sunburnt and dusky-faced. They were pushing one another. They were carrying all sorts of bottes, tea-pots and jugs.
The heat was blazing down here, too, but after the stuffiness of the carriage the weather seemed simply wonderful to me.
Having called at the telegraph, I received two telegrams for my master, I bought a pile of newspapers whatever I could find and I came back to the carriage. As soon as I boarded I met two new travellers. One of them had Eastern clothes on and seemed to be quite handsome man with tender expression. Another one had a white jacket of the road engineer and uniform cap on. He was short, his face was meaningless and tortured by the heat.
I entered our compartment and gave everything to Florentian. He read the telegrams and held them out to me. In the beginning I didn’t understand anything, until it turned out that English words were written in Russian letters on them. It was written in one of them that the horses would be waiting for us in the station P. It was written in another one that two houses flamed up in K. The cause was unknown, the people and cattle were saved.
I looked at Florentian who was reading a local newspaper. It was delivered in the morning from K. It was written in it about the fire at Ali’s place, which also spread to the captain T.’s house, leaving only ashes. The messenger alone managed to escape, while captain T. himself, his brother and the limping old man trader couldn’t jump over the wall of the flame, because the old, dry housed flamed up instantly from all sides like a cardboard. In addition, there also was a stock of petrol in the house, which flew out in the air in the colossal columns of fire.
Florentian translated this message to me and added that, according to the telegrams, everything was getting on well for us until now. They had agreed with Ali that if we got revealed in this train, then Ali Mahomet would send us horses to the station P. from his farm-stead. We’ll get out there and, having driven one station back, we’ll board the train to Moscow. We received the telegram, and P. was close already.
My heart was troubled. A thought was bothering me that my brother could come back and get in danger. I let it out to Florentian.
My friend’s face was very serious.
“You already know that your brother is in danger. The threat of religious fanaticism will be hanging over their heads all the time, until they board the ship and reach London. What is real is that at least he isn’t in K., as you weren’t there, too, during the fire. Let’s not waste our energy in vain for all kinds of phantasies and notions, but let’s accumulate it, so that being full of self-control, we could give the part of our help to the fugitives. Now you will have to organize our dinner. Give an additional tip to the conductor and ask him permission to meet the cook of the dining-car. Order a vegetarian dinner for your eccentric master, but ask him to serve the dinner here and not later than in one hour. Soon you will be tired, you have to eat and have a good sleep. We’ll have to cover those thirty versts in a very short period of time. The horses will be perfect, I guess the cart will bear us, only your health is poor.”
“Although I’m thin and short, but I’m tough. From my childhood my brother has tempered and trained me. Several times I went with him to the field camps, I even went to one trip, so it is easy for me to ride even forty versts. If I fainted away and if I often feel unwell, this is only because of the unusual heat, but Ali’s pills will help me. Don’t think about me, your terrible sleep worries me more, because if you feel asleep in the cart like you did it here, then until one wakes you up, one could really be burnt down.”
Florentian burst out laughing merrily again.
“Nevertheless, how you’ve been intimidated by my heroic sleep! Well, I’ll have to ask you for one of Ali’s pills and not to sleep like that again.”
“You have your own pills. Ali gave you that little box, from which he was feeding me in his study,” I answered him, joking.
“I do have it, but you’ve already eaten one pill from that box at my friend’s, so it follows that you owe me.”
Having laughed some more at my stinginess, he told me that to all those questions about Ali and the imaginary dervish, which he’s been reading in my eyes for a long time, he would answer me only in Moscow.
I left to take care of the dinner. Generous cash did everything itself, and in an hour a folding- table was already standing in our compartment, while the man-servant from the dining-car was bringing us wonderful vegetarian dishes. My master asked him to render thanks to the cook both in monetary and verbal way and to give the conductor to eat.
After the dinner was over, I fulfilled the last assignment of my master. I told the conductor that the telegram to my lord told him about the possible great deal in station P., that he would wake us up in advance and would help me to take our belongings onto the platform. He was glad that he could help us for the wonderful dinner and kept repeating that such great and lucrative travellers were a rarity.
Having entered the compartment, I found the bed that was already prepared for me by Florentian – he had taken a soft pillow from the big suitcase. I was even moved to tears by such a care of his. I remembered that he was sleeping with his head put right on the setee and I reproached him a little.
“But why so much care? I could also sleep like you did and I doubt if I am going to fall asleep at all. My nerves are irritated, and a trap seems to me everywhere.”
“It’s all right! I will give you some drops, your irritation will be gone, and you will fall asleep, not worse than I did.”
While he was talking like this, he took a little bottle out of his waistcoat and poured some drops into the water.
“Homoeopathy. I don’t believe in it very much,” I answered him, but I drank the water anyway and I lay down.
I still could hear the laughter of Florentian and then I dived in some abyss…
I woke up because of a knock at the door as it seemed to me, but in fact that was Florentian who was waking me up. This time I woke up easily, I was feeling rested perfectly. As soon as I got up, the real knock at the door was heard. Having looked at the corridor, I saw the conductor who had come to announce that we would reach P. in twenty minutes, that I should pick our belongings up and he would take them onto that landing, because the train would stop there only for eight minutes.
I didn’t need to pick our belongings up, because Florentian had already put everything in order, and while I was talking to the conductor and dressing myself, he even put the pillow and bedsheet in place. He had already put another suit on and told me to put a light bright suit on the same clothes that I already had on, and instead of my cap I had to put a panama hat on. He also threw black cloaks which were similar to the ones of the naval officers on top of both himself and myself.
As soon as the train stopped, both of us, me and the conductor, brought our things onto the platform. One of the travellers from the carriage called the conductor, he squeezed my hand hurriedly and ran back.
This time the whole Florentian’s slowness was gone. He took his travelling-bag and big suitcase quickly and gave the smaller suitcase to me. I seized his hand, and we walked not into the hall, but totally sideways, towards the water supply tower, going round the little garden of the station. As soon as we turned behind it, two dervishes jumped out from the opposite side of the garden. They were looking round in the dark of the night. A sarth came running to them from the platform and, having said something quickly to them, he shoved the tickets into their hands. All three of them rushed to the train with all their might and managed to jump into the last carriage with great difficulty, because the train had already moved.
We were standing behind the tower in silence. Florentian was strongly squeezing my hand. We waited a little, until the train was gone. When everything around calmed down, he told me silently.
“We must cover a half of the verst very quickly. Take my travelling-bag, give me your suitcase and hold my hand tight.”
I wanted to contradict him, but he whispered.
“Don’t say a word. Quickly. We are in great danger. Be strong. If we are in time for the Moscow train, then we will foul the trail.”
We went to the right of the station. The darkness round us was totally black. We were walking not along the road, but along a narrow path, and so quickly that I was almost running, while Florentian was pacing with his long legs, not feeling any weight of the suitcases, not noticing my running.
We were hurrying like this for about twenty minutes, and suddenly somebody called us. My friend answered him, and I discerned the silhouettes of the horses and the wheels in the darkness. The coach-man took the big suitcase, Florentian pushed me into the light carriage, he jumped in when we were already moving, and we dashed off. I had to ride many times since then – both with the trotters and the horses of the firemen, - but I still haven’t forgotten that mad running, that black night and, apparently, I will never forget it.
I had to take my panama hat off instantly, the wind was howling in my ears, the horses were galloping like a whirlwind. I lost any keenness of my wit. Only Florentian’s words couldn’t get out of my head and that “be strong” of his had pierced my heart. We were scuttling like this for about an hour. The horses were snorting badly and running slower already. The houses and trees flashed, and all of a sudden we stopped.
“Disaster,” I still had time to think a little.
Florentian jumped out, seized the suitcases, took me out of the carriage with the travelling- bag like a child and commanded in English.
“Quickly. Grab my hand.”
We ran across a yard and, having seen a light carriage on the other side, we got into it in a flash. The coach-man gave a shout, and we dived into the darkness once again.
Florentian asked the coach-man about something, and he answered him in a calming way. He was dressed in Eastern way, and I was angry with myself, because I didn’t know so many foreign languages.
“I’m not deaf, I’m not mute, but it turns out that I’m both deaf and mute,” I was thinking so and I made a vow right there that I would learn that ill-fated Eastern language.
“It’s nothing!” Florentian said to me, squeezing my hand tenderly and as if reading my mind. “What do you care for? You can learn a hundred languages more. Soon we’ll arrive. The coach-man told me that the tickets are already waiting for us in another kishlak and that we’ll be in the station five minutes before arrival of the train.”
The horses kept dashing, and if Florentian hadn’t held me by my waist with his strong hand, then the first stronger shake would have knocked me down out of this light carriage.
Soon the houses glimpsed, at one of them the horses started running a little slower, and from my side a human figure jumped onto the foot-board. I jumped back out of unexpectedness, but having seen his smiling face, I understood that he was our friend. The stranger quickly took the seat on the rim, he gave an envelope to Florentian and tattled something merrily to him, apparently about the cause of his laughter. Soon he jumped out of the light carriage which was still running at the same speed and vanished in the darkness.
“Here are the tickets. We can see the station already,” Florentian explained to me. “We were running like this for almost two hours. Here are the lights of the station. Remember that now you aren’t my servant anymore, but my cousin. My Russian is poor, because I was raised and educated in London, and you
are my guide and assistant in all my affairs, I cannot manage without your help. We will be speaking only English among ourselves.”
We arrived at the station. We sincerely thanked our coach-man. As soon as we stepped onto the platform, the train’s whistle was heard.
We had first class tickets. The carriage seemed to be empty, but perhaps everybody was sleeping. Our four-seated compartment was empty, too. The conductor was sleeping. He didn’t even ask us to show him our tickets and left all boarding worries to ourselves. It seemed to me that he wasn’t absolutely sober and wanted to hide it from us.
To my remark about the strange behaviour of the conductor Florentian answered that every cloud had a silver lining, because our tickets were valid starting from the next station. We should explain this to him if he was sober, make arrangements about it, and now he won’t even remember where we boarded the train.
Having put our things, we locked the compartment and stretched ourselves on the sofas which were upholstered with red velvet. Florentian explained to me that he won’t be sleeping, because he needed to read the letter and reconsider something. I was thinking that I also wouldn’t sleep, I wanted to hear about the causes of this night’s difficulties, but soon I fell deeply asleep, not even finding time for any question.
The rest of the night didn’t give any surprises. In the morning I woke up brisk and first of all I saw the smiling, dear face of my friend. I was feeling so happy that I didn’t see him strict or worried, but nice and loving! It seemed to me again that I knew him for a very long time…
“Indeed,” I gave a shout, “I could even argue that I knew you for a very long time! Being close to you I feel such love, self-confidence and determination that I would like to share your activities and danger with you, to follow you during my entire life. Now I cannot even imagine my life without you!”
Florentian laughed, thanked for my love and friendship and told me that his life wasn’t only difficulties, fight and danger, that he would be glad to share it with me if I really wanted to live close to him.
It was eight o’clock. The sun up in the sky kept burning. We couldn’t see the hungry steppe anymore, but the grass, although it was burnt out. Settlements could be seen more and more often. Tents of Kirghiz or Kalmyk wanderers were sticking up by every little lake and river, but I was unable to discern the form of their lodgings.
“Life still exists here,” Florentian noticed. “At night we’ll reach the zone of the deserts and we’ll be driving down it for more than twenty-four hours. People are living here in misery. Mostly those are the families of the railwaymen. Quicksand doesn’t give them any hope to have a kitchen-garden or a garden. The water from the wells of the stations is salty, it isn’t suitable neither for drinking nor for watering. The drinking water is brought here in the tanks, but this is far from being enough, so these unlucky persons are stealing it one from another, and there’s always the sand which is squeaking between their teeth.”
I could imagine such way of living and I thought for a while – how much difficulties we still have to overcome, so that life would become fairly good for everybody, still how far our dreams were about equality, brotherhood and satisfaction of everyone’s most necessary needs.
There came a knock at our door. That was the conductor. He apologized for not taking our tickets at night, which always had to be with him, because there would be an inspection soon.
Florentian gave him our tickets.
“Breakfast, tea,” my friend asked him with a foreign accent.
I explained him that my brother wanted to eat in the compartment, and not in the dining- car. The conductor volunteered to bring us the breakfast himself and added that a great dining-car would be coupled only in Samara, and now their food was rather poor. To my question about fruit he answered that he could get it and it was quite good.
I gave him some cash. I was thinking how much of it he would spend on drink. I decided that until we reach Moscow our journey would not be decorated with a high service culture and I doubted whether the breakfast would be edible at all.
I was wrong. The conductor who overslept turned out to be honest. Soon he brought us an excellent coffee with cream, some appetizing bread, butter, cheese, fruit and the whole change to the last penny.
When we finished our breakfast and cleared the table, Florentian started a serious speech.
“Now get ready to hear me out what danger we have escaped and what storm is gathering above Ali’s head. The people with dervish clothes and that third one with the tickets, whom we met at night by the water supply tower, were chasing us. With the help of abundant monastic sects and organizations of espionage, which unite them, fanatics and mullahs tracked us down. The sarth with the tickets, who came running to the dervishes, told them that we were travelling to K. in an international carriage, that you had a servant’s clothes and that you should be killed in the crowd of the platform in K. When there’s a scandal because of the murder, they had to try to take me alive. Now they are approaching K. In that station where we got out, they had already checked everything and they were sure that we weren’t there anymore. They have been spying upon Ali’s farm-stead all day long. Having made certain that we weren’t there, too, they asked the coach-man to take them to the station, so that they would be in time to catch the night train. He agreed with pleasure, because otherwise he wouldn’t have managed to get there because of us, so that he wouldn’t arouse their suspicion. Having brought them to the station, he turned as though towards home at once, but actually, he was waiting for us in the place which Ali indicated in his telegram. And now we fouled the trail so much that it is difficult for them to track us down. Nevertheless, they are looking for two of us, so we have to send telegrams to two of my friends, so that they could join us as soon as possible, while we are still in this train.”
I volunteered to send the telegrams, but Florentian explained to me that this had to be assigned to the conductor.
Giving the telegrams and cash to the conductor, Florentian told him.
“Keep for yourself what is left after you send out the telegrams.” And, having held his callous hand in his wonderful palm, he added silently and sincerely. “Only don’t drink anymore. This won’t ease your pain, but only will call even more disasters.”
And then an unseen thing happened: the conductor seized Florentian’s hand, buried himself in it and burst into tears. This touching lament was breaking my heart. I could hardly suppress my own tears.
Florentian helped the conductor to sit down next to him on the sofa. He mopped his tears with a wonderful, sweet-scented handkerchief and told him.
“Don’t grieve, your girl is dead, but your wife is alive. Both of you are young and you will have more children, but you have to live in such a way that your children would be born healthy, so don’t drink anymore. The children of alcoholics are always sickly and unhappy most of the time.”
Having poured some drops, he gave him the glass of water. When the conductor calmed down, he began to speak.
“I wasn’t drinking up to now, but when I came back home and saw my dead baby and wife, and I even didn’t have any time, because I had to go – so I didn’t refrain and started drinking on my way in the train. I told you, mister, about my misfortune this night. Everything got mixed in my head. I was thinking that I was talking to an Asiatic. Such person was walking in the carriage, looking for his friend servant in brown uniform. He didn’t want to believe me in any way that such man wasn’t travelling here. I’ve mixed everything up. It seemed to me that he went into the international carriage, and I fell into a light slumber for five minutes, but it turns out that I overslept two stations. It’s okay that the inspector didn’t board at the time. Oh, how a drunk person is mixing everything up. I was thinking that I was telling my story to that person,” he was shaking his head out of astonishment. “What a sin! In this way one can start seeing ghosts.”
Florentian squeezed his hand once again and assured him that his wife had only fainted away, and sometimes this happens during a child-birth. He advised him to send home a telegram by paying the response to Samarkand at once poste restante.
“So you, mister, are a doctor. One can see that at once. Only a doctor may be human with everybody, although that one may be poor. You didn’t show any pride and squeezed my hand,” the conductor was speaking like this, while neatly folding and returning the handkerchief to Florentian.
“Keep it as a keepsake about our meeting. When you come back, give this to your wife. Let her drink one drop of it before every meal. When she’s drunk all drops, she will fully recover. And let her keep this small bottle as a keepsake about the doctor. When your life becomes difficult, look at the small bottle, hold the handkerchief in your hand and think about my words how I was asking you not to drink anymore.”
He squeezed the hand of the conductor once again, held it for a while, smiled and added.
“We’ll meet again. Be strong. A drunk man – isn’t a man, but a two-legged animal. Don’t grieve that you’ve lost your baby, but be glad that your beloved wife is alive. Run, we are coming to the station.”
The conductor left, we remained alone. I was in low spirits. I knew perfectly that Florentian didn’t talk to the conductor. How could he know about his misfortune, about his wife? A kind of grievance, irritation was growing in me – again those hated secrets!
“Lovushka, don’t be angry,” Florentian said to me, putting his arm round my shoulders tenderly. “There aren’t any secrets in the world, I can explain to you everything very simply. At night I went into the corridor and I could hear – someone was crying, simply weeping. I turned towards that direction and found that unlucky person, sitting in front of the bottle of vodka, to which he was complaining and pouring his paid because of his dead wife and baby. One doesn’t have to be a doctor in order to know that a woman who is ill with kidneys and who is giving birth to a baby may lose her consciousness for a long time. I believe that this is exactly the case and that his wife has recovered, but the poor person didn’t have time to make sure that she was alive. You aren’t a child anymore,” he continued by seating me next to himself. “You have to forget your habit to be vexed when you don’t understand something. If you hadn’t been irritated, but if you only had concentrated your will and observed everything what seemed to you to
be secret or inconceivable miracles during these days, you would have made sure yourself that there were no miracles, but there was only one or another level of knowledge.”
Both his voice and expression of his nice eyes – everything was so fatherly sweet and tender that I snuggled to him, and again the wave of joy, self-confidence and peace ran through me. I was happy.
The conductor came back quickly. He brought us the receipts of the telegrams sent and a bunch of flowers which he used for decorating our little table. Florentian told him that in Samara he was waiting for two of his friends to board the train. He asked him to leave the adjacent free compartment for us and to take all four places in our compartment, so that he could rest as befits him. The conductor explained to us that if we pay for the remaining two places, then we’ll have the right to the whole compartment, and if we order the places for our friends starting from Samara, then we’ll have to pay in advance both for the order and for the tickets. We did exactly so.
We kept travelling nicely. We had to arrive to Samara at night. I was very tired, I wanted to sleep and asked the conductor to lay the bed for me. Florentian told me that he would be waiting for his friends and he didn’t take the bedding, but asked the conductor to lay the bed in the adjacent compartment.
I asked the conductor why our carriage was so empty. He explained to me that now everybody was going to the fair in the depth of the country and that the trains to those directions were crowded with the traders from the whole world, so they were coming back from there empty, but in two weeks one couldn’t get even a third class return ticket.
My bed was already ready. I washed myself as befitted me and changed into a clean linen with joy. In my thoughts I thanked Ali Machmed for it and promised not to leave indebted to him for taking care of me. I wished good night to Florentian and fell asleep at once.