Short Stories from the Balkans/The Journey
PROUD Odessa disappeared in the distance. It was the first time that my eyes had beheld only sky and water. The circle of the sea rolled in splendor on all sides, and nothing disturbed the first overpowering impression. Peculiar emotions arose within me, as I gave myself over to this spectacle. The dimensions of the sea exalted my spirit, and at the same time oppressed it. At sight of the measureless horizon my chest expanded in blessed sensations of freedom.
Today the usually treacherous Black Sea was gentle. The waves rolled themselves calmly and regularly to their mountainous curves, and then spread out in white, gleaming foam. Sometimes the color was green, sometimes blue, but in the distance it was always black. Sometimes great white sea mews settled down upon the curving waves, moving their wings as if in rhythm with the water. Sometimes arrow swift a dolphin leaped over the surface.
A long time I stood motionless there, absorbed in the strangeness of this unknown picture. Then I looked up to the complex rigging above me; at length my eyes took in the space between, where the third class passengers were gathered in gay disorder. This quarter on ships that ply the shore of the Black Sea, is a veritable ethnographical display. On two sides of this covered lower deck there extended—just as in the people's room in a mill—high benches, upon which reclined a strange assortment of men and women of different races and religions. Upon a faded rug here sits, with his legs crossed, a grave mussulman; his face expresses peace and happiness. He has procured space enough in which to enjoy himself, to place his nargileh and his yellow slippers with the curving toes. Some tall fellows whose faces do not arouse confidence, lie restlessly beside him. Upon their black, unkempt hair one sees the red fez. They wore brown jackets edged with black braid; brown, galloon trousers, wide at the hips and tapering narrower. At the waist they are held by a sash. From the sash shine the long handles of pistols. They are Greeks. There, gleam the kindly eyes of an honest Russian peasant; he has blond hair and a blond beard, in caftan and flat cap; beside him, in picturesque pose leans an old time commis—voyageur, a dandy from Odessa, who expresses his superiority to his neighbors by whistling an aria from an opera. Over there is a rich Walachian family who are emigrating to the Caucasus. They are sunburned, dirty and disheveled, and yet they form an interesting group. The Walachian mother has all the dignity of the mother of the Gracchi. There is a tall Persian, with long smooth face and tall black cap; a crafty Armenian, a priest from Georgia in a long robe. This gayly assorted crowd sit side by side, chew garlic, count the beads of giant rosaries, talk and quarrel in various languages, and spread about an odor that rises to the upper deck.
They fitted well—these people—within the frame of this Eastern Sea, which was now lighted by the fiery rays of the sun. I enjoyed less the travelers upon the upper deck; here yawned the stupidity and stiffness of European society. A distinguished Englishman of the usual type, a French Governess, some Russian officers, a few emancipated Russian women, smoking their inevitable cigarettes. A stuck-up Greek who had tasted the civilization of the west, who was reading the Odyssey with a new Greek accent, and a German professor who was promenading for his health. The outward appearance of this professor was diametrically opposed to the visions of the fabulous old world of the East, which the turbans in Odessa call up.
How out of place against the background of this measureless sea was this thin, dried-up figure, in the long, carefully buttoned coat, a green umbrella under one arm, huge gold spectacles on the nose, and a spy glass in a worn case, hanging from one shoulder. The first time my eyes rested on this figure I wished the Black Sea would rise and swallow him and his pedantry. But now when the brilliantly colored pictures of the Orient had somewhat faded from my memory, I must confess that in those days I cherished a sort of hatred for all of that Western Europe from which the German professor came.
My German professor was, to the honor of truth be it said, a man in the best years of life. He was shapely. He had thick blond hair and a blond beard and noble features. His exterior gave at once the impression of acuteness and depth, but these qualities unfortunately were united with a prosaic pedantry which at that time particularly displeased my Oriental mood. I was convinced that he was looking upon the Black Sea for the first time, perhaps this was his first experience in traveling upon any sea. He was probably looking upon the interesting group upon the lower deck for the first time, and yet he was promenading without any admiration or interest. His dull eyes rested upon the toes of his shoes, as if all his intellectual activity were focused upon counting the number of steps in today's promenade. At length he paused and directed his walk toward my inconsequential self. He took a seat beside me, set his spectacles straight and—was silent. I made use of this opportunity to prove that I was correct in regard to his profession and nationality.
"It seems that we are going to have smooth weather today," I ventured in the German language. Without the quiver of an eyelash, he replied in the same language:
“Don't rejoice too soon The Pontus Euxinus has a very unstable disposition. When there is no wind sometimes it rages, from the very depths, seamen say.”
The first half of my supposition was correct, and evidently a part of the second. This “Pontus Euxinus” smelled strongly of the Professor's chair. The dry, sharp tone in which he spoke of the Black Sea irritated me. In an official voice he said to me:
“May I ask your name?”
I gave it.
“Thanks; where do you come from?”
“And where are you going?”
“My name is Heinrich Walter. I am a professor in Munich. With my wife and nephew I am on my way to the Crimea for practical study.”
He said these words in a tone just touched with irony. I meditated for a moment as just how best to classify the dry example of professorship.
“For geological study?”“No—Callobiotic.”
I looked at him amazed. My glance met his. It rested calmly upon my face.
“The sound of this word means nothing to you, am I not correct? It is a new science. It has not yet been properly introduced. I hope to perform a service to humanity by introducing it to you.”
“Probably I have at least heard of it,” I replied, likewise ironically.
“All that has been done up to now in this science does not deserve a name. I hope I shall be successful in laying properly the foundation, upon which, in time, a proud and noble science will be erected.”
He paused a moment, then continued with fervor.
“It is not only a science, but an art—yes, the most exalted of all arts. It is not a question merely of projecting certain basic formulas, in accordance with which men—within defined limits—may enjoy the highest physical and intellectual rewards. It aims at something higher, namely, that human life instead of being a group of accidental and disconnected incidents, shall develop into a veritable work of art, inspired by one dominating idea. Life will become, my good sir, not a drama, but an epic! You will understand that the developing of such a science is no child's undertaking. Just as a bee gathers honey from various flowers, so must I gather knowledge from all other sciences, press out their honey for the sweetening and ennobling of the life of man. I must distribute light and shade with skill, in order to create a beautiful and harmonious ideal of human existence.”
I confined myself merely to a shrug of the shoulders in reply to this daring thinking. Walter paid no attention to it and went on:“As a usual thing man is unhapy because he is dissatisfied with his lot in life. Imagination pictures happiness always as something in the distance, but which does not exist in the present. If he ever succeeds in reaching this dreamed of realization, he finds that it is not what he thought it was. As a result, he becomes bitter and disillusioned, and then, in revenge, he begins to run after some fresh phantom of happiness—some gayer butterfly of joy—which in turn likewise becomes colorless and dull under the touch of his fingers.
“My object in life, my ambition, is to make dream and reality one. I have inherited a great fortune, and although wealth is not to be despised, I live without show or luxury, just as I did when I was poor. With perfect calmness I could read—in Sevastopol—a telegram announcing the loss of my fortune.” I permitted myself to doubt—in silence—the truth of this last report.
“I have just married a young and lovely girl,” the professor went on. “I love her and she loves me. I am happy and I hope always to remain so. After due consideration I concluded that it is better for earthly happiness not to follow the advice of St. Paul, and that is the reason I married. I did not look for an ideal; I looked for a good, educated girl, such as are common enough, and then I proposed to her without any somnambulistic fantasies. My honeymoon was not a sense destroying orgy, after which comes disillusion. I sought in marriage instead a calm and even happiness. I am educating my wife to this. Her imagination and modern methods of education had troubled her outlook in this respect. All sorts of romantic folly floated in her head. Now I intend to cure her of this romanticism.”
I imagined right then a tiny rose satin slipper, and under it the neck of the professor in a none too dignified position. He went on:
“I want her to travel, to see people and the world, and to learn to form judgments according to my instructions. But—there she comes now!”
Not only I, but the rest of the passengers upon the upper deck—looked with pleasure at the extremely pretty young woman who was approaching. With envy in my voice I whispered to Walter:
“You are living neither a play nor an epic, but instead a love song.”
She was following her steamer rug which hung from the arm of a tall, handsome youth. In the youth there was that commingling of timidity and boldness which distinguishes the students of German universities. His face was smooth and fair as a girl's, and it showed an effort toward appearance of energy by a black court plaster upon the forehead, and the first shadow of down upon the upper lip. He was a youth who would be dangerout to women of a certain age.
Walter introduced me to his wife. A brief conversation convinced me that she was not one of those adorable statues into which nature has forgotten to breathe intelligence. I must confess that she was the most seductive proof possible of the value of his new science.
On a point of the monstrous circle, whose line the green sea marked sharply from the azure of the sky, a white sail appeared. It is not necessary to travel long upon the sea to comprehend the lively impression which the appearance of a distant sail causes. What wonder that our travelers assembled upon the upper deck, when the white dot blew up over the horizon!”
Frau Walter let herself be swept along with the rest. Her husband hurried after her taking the spyglass out of its worn covering. As if with intention the nephew loitered behind. From an empty place near the pilot house, his blond curly head resting upon one hand, he observed the gay confusion of the lower deck. Soon I found that his persistent, dreamy gaze was riveted upon a young Jewess from the Crimea, whose slender, graceful body was draped in a black dress, and formed a pleasant contrast to the bright-hued crowd. We have many beautiful Jewesses with us, but beside those of the Orient our fairest Esthers are only field daisies. This particular Jewess was not pronounced in type; indeed, one could not at a glance be quite sure of her race. I would have taken her at first for a Greek. The pure pallor of her face, the black, finely arched brows, and the large dreamy eyes, from which the poetry of the Orient looked out, made her especially attractive.
Involuntarily I compared the two, the blond youth by the pilot house and the beautiful Jewess. Both were in the first bloom of youth, and yet they were so different. They exchanged glances which expressed eagerness and longing. I recalled Heine's words of the pine in the North dreaming of a palm in the South. After watching them a while I sat down beside William and remarked.
“Just look at that handsome Jewess down there!” He looked at me shyly and blushed. Then as if conscious of his importance as a student, he moved his head carelessly and said in an unfriendly manner:
“Black, but beautiful! For such a Rachel I would not mind herding sheep.”
“But you wouldn't take Leah along in the bargain, would you?”
“I suppose you are a student of that new science of your uncle's, are you not?”
“He has been boring you with that has he?” was the quick reply, his features suddenly becoming animated.
“Isn't that the biggest piece of nonsense? I am genuinely sorry I was forced to travel with him. That constant school-mastering of his makes life gall and wormwood. If I am enjoying the wine in a hotel, he lifts his fingers and measures every drink. If I look at a girl he spoils my pleasure by a preachment on the subject of sexual impulses. His plan of travel disgusts me because he has thought it all out to the smallest detail. All the pleasure of traveling he estimates by that new science of his, and I rage in my heart. By heaven!—if it were not—” Here he paused and looked down. I tried to guess what that unfinished sentence might be. Evidently something chained the hot-headed youth to the uncle which he would not confide to any human ear. After a moment I said, looking him directly in the eye:
“And how does Frau Walter get on with her husband's hobbies?”
He looked at me shyly and blushed. I did not look away.
“With patience,” he replied slowly. “Of course, like all women, she tries to get her own way, and sometimes she succeeds. But of course anyone can see that to a sympathetic person like her, that cold, pedantic treatment is not particularly pleasant.”
“Frau Walter is a woman to be worshiped,” I answered. I said the last words with emphasis. The young man did not answer; he seemed as if buried in thought and his silence continued.
The supper bell rang. The sound of this bell, to which Byron devotes a verse in his “Don Juan,” impresses one, whether it be heard in the peopled palace of a king, in a silent cloister, or here upon a ship in the crystal realm of Neptune.
I went down to the little second class salon, while my new acquaintances ate in the first class salon. At the well set table I drank good Crimean wine, and listened to the Russian conversation of the other occupants of the table, who talked of shipwreck and adventures by sea, and tarried at table until evening. When again I came upon deck, the sky was grey, rain drizzled down and cooled deck and rigging of our Juno, which were scorched with heat.
Upon deck the professor was walking with an umbrella.
“I have been pondering over our previous conversation, Herr Professor. We did not end it. I wish to ask you if you would put up as calmly with the loss of your wife, as you declare you would with loss of your fortune?”
“Loss of my wife? I should yield to the law of life, and with all my strength rely upon the healing power of nature, with hope that at length the painful wound would be healed.”
“But what if her love for you should die? Of course you do not need ever to fear such a thing, but, for sake of argument—suppose she should be unfaithful?”
He looked at me sharply. I thought his brow clouded slightly.In the meantime it had grown dark. We were walking in centre of the deck, around a little four-cornered light-tower whose glass walls let light into the salon of the first class. Now it was brightly lighted, and there I saw a scene which suddenly stopped my steps.
Frau Walter and the nephew were sitting facing each other upon an upholstered fauteuil, and amusing themselves by playing ball with a large yellow orange. The pretty woman threw it in dangerous proximity to the young man's nose and face. She was delighted with this childish play. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks glowed, and teasing laughter played about her lips.
I looked so persistently at this picture that at length Walter's eyes were drawn that way. When at length we took up our promenade, I observed: “You are certainly giving your nephew an excellent vacation.”
“I do not enjoy the companionship of the little wind-bag, but my wife insisted upon taking him along.” The last words he said as if to himself, and slowly.
Now we stood on the lookout bridge. The scene had changed. The fauteuils were side by side, and their two heads were bent so close together over the table, that the blond curls and brown curls touched. In front of them upon the table lay an illustrated weekly journal. They were looking at some pictures which showed the rendezvous of a pretty Signora and a slender youthful page, in an old forgotten park.
The professor murmured good night and left me. I, too, sought my cabin, which they tried to make comfortable with a hard mattress and a pillow, and soon the sea cradled me to sleep.
When I came upon the upper deck in the morning, I saw a narrow strip of land, upon it some little white houses, a richly decorated mosque, two slender minarets, a Russian Church, and a number of wind-mills. Our steamer was anchoring at Eupatoria. Upon the emerald green water about us numberless little boats of different shapes and sizes, filled with gayly dressed Greeks and Tartars, were offering their services. But our ears and purses remained closed to their enticements; the time of our stay at Zozlov, which has been officially changed to classic Eupatoria, was limited. We had to content ourselves with a glance at the white city, and the multitude of craft anchored in front, whose tall swaying masts and many-hued sails presented an interesting picture.
From Eupatoria we sailed on past low bare shore land. In the distance towered mighty Tschaterdagh (Tent Mountain), whose outlines really suggested a giant tent.
I walked about the deck for some time without catching glimpse of my interesting friends. At length the nephew appeared, took me confidingly by the arm, and drew me toward an empty seat by the pilot house!
“Imagine,” he began merrily, “the old man pulled us out at day break. I suppose you think he wanted us to observe a sunrise at sea. He wanted to tell us the story of the Crimean War before we reached Sevastopol. For this purpose he unpacked a lot of books and photographs, a map adorned with bright flags, and I think, also, a globe. He arranged this collection upon the table, placed one of us on his right, the other on his left, and began his lecture. He recited in order the Crimean Khans, reached the Russian occupation, and was just ready for the Crimean war. Just at the moment when the hero Kozarsky succeeded with unparalleled skill in freeing his ship Mercury from the enemy ships of three nations, I managed to slip away. I pity my poor aunt, who by this time, probably, is right in front of the harbor of Sevastopol, and exposed to the guns of the English, French, and Turkish fleets.”
The poor youth could not rejoice in his freedom long. Hardly had he ended his confidence when he saw the green umbrella coming up the stairs, and looking out from under it, two sharp eyes.
“Now it's all over with me,” whispered the nephew. “But I will not surrender without resistance.”
He got up and slipped away toward the stairs which led to the ethnographical display on the lower deck. My eyes rested upon the place where he had disappeared. There upon the deck I saw a folded paper. I picked it up. Upon it was writing in German without address or subscription. The writing was as follows:
“I do not live, I dream. Always I see you before me; your sweet dark eyes look at me reproachfully. You are so near me—so near! I breathe the fragrance of the fresh flowers in your hair. My arm can reach you—and yet what an abyss separates us!”
Upon the same paper, written in a woman's hand were the words: “Vain longing!” Just at this moment some one touched my arm. I looked up and saw Walter. The grieved, angry expression upon his usually placid face surprised me. He was pale; his forehead was scowling.
“I see you have had the same experience that I have had. I have found a lost love letter too,” he said in a voice very different from the jesting manner he tried to assume. “Look here—yesterday evening I found two. Let us compare the writing,”
He drew from his pocket book two little notes, which were just like the one I held in my hand. With a peculiar smile he handed them to me. At a glance I saw that the writing was the same. Upon these likewise a woman's hand had written. Upon one—
“Old friends,” and upon the other “not enough.”
“Give me your letter,” demanded Walter after hesitating; “I will make a collection of them. Perhaps before I reach the end of the trip I shall have a novel.”The bitter tone of voice provided explanation. I did not wish such a gloomy suspicion to grow in his heart, so I said:
“There's nothing of importance in them.”
“No. It has not reached the climax. We'll wait for the chapters to follow. Thank you.”
He took my note and put it carefully away with the others, nodded his head and walked away. I remained, meditating, where he left me, until I was disturbed by voice of the nephew.
“My uncle wasn't looking for me, was he?”
“He did not mention your name.”
“Out of gratitude I'll go back and expose myself to the cross fire of the allied fleets in front of Sevastopol. Anyway, this being bossed about by my uncle is not going to last much longer. Then—you'II see!”
With these words he glanced up at me with a merry laugh.
I, on the contrary, had lost all inclination to merriment. Deeply meditative I watched the fine, vigorous young fellow walk away.
When I considered, in cold blood, what I had seen in this short time, the individual peculiarity of each member of the Walter family, their relations to each other, the senseless lack of tact of the husband, the youth and beauty of the wife, the handsome nephew, the scene of the day before in the salon, the mysterious letters, and the last words of the youth, I could not put aside the fear that all was not as it should be.
Then excitement upon the upper deck drew my attention. The travelers were leaning excitedly over the railing; joy and interest were upon their faces. From mouth to mouth flew the word: “Sevastopol! Sevastopol!”
We were just entering the great Gulf of Sevastopol, which, with one or two other indentations, is cut out of the solid rock.The hills on all sides, and the space of level land, gleamed brightly now under the mid-day sun, showed the ruins of those fortifications that had once been so formidable. Walls, redoubts, towers, houses. Across the Gulf the remains of the gigantic dock stared back at us from long rows of empty windows. Right beside upon a declivity, beside the ruins of numberless houses, stood the Russian Church, rejoicing in its imposing outlook. In the upper part of the harbor a magnificent stone archway attracted our attention, the remains evidently of some prince's harbor. On the other side the steep, hanging Garden of Kozarsky charmed the eye.
We sailed close to shore and landed. The landing place was a merry sight. There were crowds of people; important and unimportant figures in trim uniforms, long caftans, richly colored skirts with turbans, a woolly cap, a fez, a low hat, wide or tight trousers, in high black boots, or low, yellow slippers. From moment to moment this kaleidoscopic, bright-hued scene changed. Some heads carried baskets or boards upon which pastry was displayed for sale. Oranges, melons, fish of all colors, resembling the rainbow, enticed to eat. Some merchants sat behind a little improvised counter where they sold pickles, garlic, cabbage; others offered rose-sherbet in cheap glasses. This picture was enriched when the passengers upon the lower deck of our steamer went ashore. We, the passengers of the first and second class, waited for the confusion to subside, before going ashore to make use of the three hours given us to see the ruins of Sevastopol. The passengers hired the light, comfortable vehicle of the Russian isvochtschik, and the little bells of the curved duga chimed merrily as we drove away.
The Walter family and I determined to walk to the Boulevard Kozarsky. After we had passed the memorial of this hero of the sea, we remained standing by a little Kiosk. Our eyes traveled delightedly over the picturesque landscape outspread beneath us. Calmly the marvelous Gulf shone at our feet, a glittering blue sapphire set in sun-burnished shores.
After we had looked long enough we went down into the city. The Professor worked himself up into such furors of Ciceronian eloquence, that his brow cleared and he became happy. The nephew appeared nervous and impatient. He looked about shyly, and from time to time his eyes rested upon the form of Frau Walter, who was fluttering along beside her husband, in unalloyed delight.
In front of a ruin, whose half-fallen wall the enthusiastic professor began to climb, the nephew suddenly felt in his breast pocket, and after he had pulled his hand out empty, he went up to his aunt and began to whisper to her. She took from her dress a pretty little notebook, tore a leaf out and handed it to him, along with a handsome pencil.
The youth sat down hurriedly near the ruins and wrote a few lines. When the zealous and inspired uncle fell down exactly at his nehpew's feet, the latter had already written the note, and returned the pencil to its owner.
We went on. Presently the pretty woman became faint, said that she had a headache, and felt so ill that she must return to the steamer. The professor was so absorbed in his study of the ruins that he let her go away unobserved.
After a while he asked me where she had gone, but he paid no attention to my answer. He signalled an isvochtschik and invited me to drive with him. We visited the Malakaf-Kurhan, the graveyards, and heaven knows what else we should have seen, had I not called his attention to the fact that it was high time for us to return to the steamer. And it was in fact high time. When our troika reached the harbor, the sailors were loosening the ropes that made it fast. We jumped out and hastened toward the ship. Just then, from among the gaping crowd a figure stepped forth and handed Walter a folded letter. He opened and read it. His face turned white; his hands trembled. When he turned the paper over and read the words on the other side, it fluttered from his hands. He stood there as if he had been struck by lightning, his eyes wide, his face white. Then he groaned and covered his face with his hands. A Greek standing near picked the paper up and handed it to him. Walter dropped his hands from his face and looked at me despairingly.
“Read that! Deceived! Deserted!”
I took the paper. It was the one Frau Walter had torn from her notebook and read:
While you are reading these lines I shall be far away, beyond Sevastopol. I've got to confess that that manuscript of yours about the new science—from which you read to us morning and evening, all your learned articles, have given your wife and me many an unhappy hour. So then, farewell! Our ways part. I have taken nothing with me that was yours—that is, only one thing. Probably that is your greatest treasure. But it had to be. Otherwise you would have tormented your poor wife to death. I, therefore, take this pearl with me; it rests upon my heart. The bells of the troika sound merrily in our ears. You will never be able to catch us.
On the back of this piece of paper a woman's hand had written the words: “Pardon, Heinrich.” I recognized the handwriting of both. It was that of the piece of paper I had found upon the deck.Sympathetically I looked at the poor husband. Then the crew of the Juno called to us to hasten. They pointed to the gangplank which they were ready to lift. At this moment Walter called: “Hurry, Sir!”
“I am going after the fugitives.”
“But how can you know in which direction they have gone?”
“Don't worry—I'll find them.”
“And your luggage?”
“What do I care about that! Throw it into the sea—”
In despair he beat his breast, from which I saw a revolver gleam. One sailor seized me by the arm, another pointed toward the gangplank. I do not remember how I came upon deck. I recall hearing the voice of Walter saying: “Tell the captain that we are going by land to Ialta. And, if you will be so kind, then, send my luggage to the Hôtel Crimée.”
While the steamer was pushing off I saw Walter standing in the midst of a group of people and gesticulating wildly in effort to make some Tartars understand. This was no easy thing. At length, however, they seemed to understand, anyway they began to fight among themselves, and point in various directions. After the quarreling was over Walter and one of the Tartars disappeared in a cloud of dust. I could see no more. For just then we steamed out of tlie Gulf. When Sevastopol had long disappeared from view, I recalled Walter's parting words. I went to the Captain's cabin. To my great astonishment just then Frau Walter came up the stairs. My astonishment was so great that I all but shrieked, and called to her as soon as she reached the top step.
“You here— Madam?”
She looked quickly around the deck, and then at me. Her face was paler than usual, and her eyes dim. As if she had read what had occurred in my agitated face, she looked again quickly at the group of passengers on deck, and then asked anxiously:
“Where is Walter? Have you seen my husband?”
“Permit me, dear Madam, before I reply, to inquire of you if the young nephew is in the cabin?”
“William? No. He came to the steamer with me and then hastened to the city with the remark that he was going to do the rest of the sightseeing alone. From that moment I have not seen him. Ill with a headache, I lay down upon the sofa in my cabin, and suddenly I fell asleep and slept until now.”
I stood in front of her confused and ashamed. I felt that her dark eyes hung upon my words. Should I tell her all? Should I tell her the foul suspicion with which her name had been darkened. And yet—the clearness of William's letter, and the words she had written on the other side. What a tangle! I longed for enlightenment.
“Well—dear Madam, I suppose I must tell you all. Yet do not be needlessly upset, no great misfortune has befallen. Let us step aside, a little where we shall not be exposed to the curiosity of the other travelers.”
“Deserted!”—she groaned. “Deserted!”
I must confess that at just this moment I felt no particular sympathy for the young woman. In fact I contemplated with a certain satisfaction her bowed head with its graceful curls.
In addition, the situation had changed since the moment when I saw Walter with the revolver buttoned within his coat; it had lost its tragic character. In fact it opened up for me a very amusing prospect. While the husband was wandering about God knows where among the mountains of the Crimea, his lovely wife was sitting beside me. And except me, she had not a soul to whom she could turn for help or address. I was the Knight, the protector, of the deserted lady.
Frau Walter dropped her hands from her tear filled eyes to her lap and spoke to me with lips that trembled. “God knows if we shall ever meet again!”
“Do not worry needlessly, dear Madam. This little piece of land which is Crimea is not so large. Somewhere in Bakschi Serai, Simferopol, Alupka or Kaffa, your husband will find the culprit. Everything will be cleared up. They will at once start for Ialta convinced that you will have gone to a hotel there to await their arrival.”
“Oh! Now I know that he never loved me. If he had, he could never have thought such a thing.”
“Justice demands that I defend your husband. The complication was so arranged that there was nothing else to think. If the contents of William's letter had left a doubt, your writing upon the back of that letter, would have removed it.”
“Oh, those fateful words!” she exclaimed taking out the tasteful little note-book. “This little book was my only friend. To its pages I confided my love for Heinrich. William asked me in Sevastopol for a piece of paper. I tore a leaf out for him, without observing what was written upon it.”
“Pardon me, dear Madam. Walter found three love letters in the cabin.” For the friendly reader let it here be remarked that I blushed slightly. “They were love letters written by William, and upon them were words in your writing. One would suppose that these were intended for you.”
“What a chain of misunderstandings! These letters were not for me but for my younger sister, with whom William is head over heels in love. He chose me to confide in, because my husband had punished him several times for this. Everywhere, where he could get hold of a piece of paper he wrote his effusions. I scolded him, too, for doing this, but I see now that Heinrich must have looked upon it with suspicion.”
Now I was disarmed. I determined to remain in Ialta and help Frau Walter find her husband. She accepted my offer with gratitude, and her lovely eyes began to look happier.
One could not, indeed, with gloomy looks contemplate the scenery that confronted us now, the wildly cleft, towering Crimean coast. There were fantastically formed cliffs, making romantic groups, lifting their heads far up into the undefiled blue. Sometimes they looked as if they had been frozen together at time of some violent and ancient war. In their multiform grouping lay a peculiar charm, and the vividness of the impression was heightened by their varied colors. Here a rock jutted out as if preparing for a leap into the sea, then a lonely group of giant stone made a background that united splendor and terror as it leaped toward the sky. Here again smooth walls of rock fell straight down into the sea, or a saw tooth formation cut deep into the land.
Steaming on we passed the mountain which is connected with the Greek myth about Iphigenia. Next we saw the cloister of the holy George, perched like a nest on the edge of a rocky wall, and the noble tower which is a part of the cloister, and which looks far over the sea and friendly Balaklava.
We were now approaching the fabulously lovely southern shore. Even now we could glimpse its fresh green land, from which the flat roofs of Tartar villages were visible, the white columns, and proud façades of princely castles; country homes, of the most charming artistry and grace, greet us across the water. Every style of architecture is represented; English, Swiss, Gothic, Byzantine, Moorish, Arabic, Tartar. Above appears beautiful Alupta and now—now—
The dining room bell rings and—despite the verses of Byron about it—I hear nothing, I see nothing, not even the lovely woman who is standing beside me, I am staring with astonished eyes at the scene before me. Like the beautiful princess in the fairy tale the coast of Ialta—fair as Paradise, richly green as the emerald—breathes upon me its intoxication. I stand motionless on deck, the warm, inspiring wind of the South blowing about me; my eyes discover fresh loveliness from moment to moment, and I cannot look enough upon that enticing landscape. Suddenly my eyes grow dim and fill with tears; it is not easy to explain this. It was as if never before had nature presented herself to me in all her loveliness, as if my Northern nature must melt and dissolve in this glow and warmth of the South.
When the Juno anchored at Ialta I drew a deep breath, as if suddenly I had awakened from a dream. Now I looked about for my protégée. She stood by my side, absorbed like myself in the beauty of the scene. The weight of my duty as protector came to my mind.
With help of a steward I carried all the bundles and packages to the deck, defended myself against the offers of assistance of some picturesquely dressed Greek rascals, and at length gathered all the belongings in a little boat, such as come out in numbers to the steamers. More than sufficient reward for my trouble was the little white finger of Frau Walter which rested upon my arm while I assisted her into the boat. In a little while we were under the hospitable roof of the Hôtel Crimée. We rented two rooms whose outer doors had a balcony in common from which there was a view of Ialta and the Sea. Soon I felt that the balcony confined me. I went out into the radiant summer world, first to the landing place, from where a long avenue of cypress trees stretched toward the country.
Next I walked along the broad, white streets toward the country estates. I breathed in with delight the pleasant air, which was spread abroad from thousands of flowers; my eyes rested upon fig rees, blooming magnolias, plane trees, olives, vines, richly gilded garden gates, behind which young, pretty Russian women were amusing themselves and playing at ball with oranges. Even upon old grey bearded Tartars who sat upon their sorry nags with a certain elegance, I looked with pleasure, and upon the nets which the fishers were hauling in, and the baskets filled to the rim with little fish.
In the meantime night had come, a night of beauty. The sky was strewn thickly with stars, perfume of flowers floated up to the balcony, and there I stood alone leaning upon the railing. Until late in the night I stood there. I do not know whether I expected that my charming neighbor would leave her sultry room and come out on the balcony, in order to enjoy the splendor of the night, but I do know that until dawn I could not sleep.
The next day while we were drinking our tea, I unfolded to Frau Walter my plan for finding her wandering husband. And this plan I proceeded to put into execution.
Slowly I rode in the direction of Alupka and one hundred times I paused, sometimes before a neat villa whose windows were all but covered with flowers, sometimes by an abyss in whose yawning depth a foaming river ran. Then again I turned toward the sapphire Gulf, over whose surface sea mews were spreading their white wings.
At Alupka I turned about and came back to Ialta. Then accompanied by a Tartar I rode to Bakschi Serai, stood long by the fountain Marie Potocki, and spent the night in what was once the palace of a Crimean Khan. From this journey likewise I returned without information. In Gurzuf and Kaffa I found no trace of Walter. I must say that I did not exhaust a great deal of effort in looking for him; he will come back to lalta without doubt.
From these expeditions I returned to the Hôtel Crimée where I sat and talked with Frau Walter in the gardens. I consoled her for the failure of my efforts, and made her hope results would soon be better. She relied upon me with childish faith. How I enjoyed looking into her shining eyes, how attentively I followed the slightest gesture of her little hands! Each night I tarried later on the balcony, but my charming neighbor did not once come out.
One afternoon—the first week of our stay in Ialta was nearing an end—we were standing on the balcony looking out across the white street. Suddenly Frau Walter seized my arm and screamed: “Heinrich! Heinrich!” I, alone, should not have known him.
Covered with dirt, in ragged clothes, he was riding wildly along the street on a Tartar horse. A bright colored cloth was tied about his head, and the ends were fluttering in the wind. His hair hung in disorder about his dirty, sunburned face, and his beard was ragged. I limited my emotions to a smile, and said to the jubilant lady:
“Come in, please. I will inform him at once that you are here. I wish to dissipate once and for all your suspicions about his affection.”
She agreed and returned to her room. I went to meet Walter.
“You here!” He called in surprise.
“I changed my plans. Well, did you find the fugitives?”
“Upstairs I'll tell you all about it,” he replied in a sad voice with a shake of his head.
I led him through my room to the balcony. As we stood there he covered his face with his hands, sighed deeply and exclaimed:
“All lost! Why chase a woman whose heart is gone? I went in the wrong direction. In Sevastopol I learned that a man and a beautiful woman, who left our ship, had hired a carriage and driven to Simferopol. I rode like lightning after them. That was a devil of an unlucky ride! I followed them like a hunter. Late in the evening I saw them get out of the wagon in front of a little house in the outskirts of Simferopol. Like a madman I ran up and knocked upon the door. A Jew opened it. I seized my revolver and tried to force an entrance. The Jew shrieked:—‘Help! Help!’ A young Jewess screamed and they ran upon me from all sides. I saved myself but my clothes were torn, my hat was gone and my face was bleeding. The next day I found out that I had followed a harmless Jew and his sister.
“I remember having seen them upon our ship.
“Then I hurried to Bakschi Serai, Karasn-Bazar, Kaffa, and God only knows where else, and all in vain!”
“Then you know all the Crimea and need not travel here again.”
“Do not jest. I cannot stand it. Now I know for the first time how much I loved her. Without her the world is a desert. I would give my wealth, the light of my eyes, half my life, if I could find that what I have been through these few days was only a dream.”
The door opened and Frau Walter rushed into the arms of her husband. In a short time all was explained.
We sat together out of doors in the terraced garden, which was framed on all sides by emerald green vines through which the blossom cups of the night-shade shone. On the centre of a table was a giant bouquet composed of the loveliest flowers of the South. Everywhere floated fragrance. The professor, whose face now shone with the self satisfaction of the West-European, and his pretty wife, acted the lovers on a honeymoon.
“It is all clear to me now,” he declared, “all but that crazy letter of William's. God alone knows what that means.”
Hardly had he finished speaking, when without from the courtyard we heard a well known voice. I parted the vine leaves and looked out. In the court I saw William stepping out of a Russian telega. And what an appearance he presented! His handsome velvet coat was in rags and tatters. He was covered with dust and mud. The coquettish court plaster upon his brow had vanished. In its place there was a scar. When he saw me he walked slowly toward the pavilion.
At command of the professor we sat in silence and regarded him, after the manner of stern senators of Rome. William was abashed and confused, threw a ragged cap upon the table, and, with a sigh, sank down upon a chair, and stretched his legs out. Then he took an estimating side glance at us. Our silence evidently disturbed him. He pulled the chair nearer to the table, sighed, blushed and crossed and recrossed his legs.
At length the uncle regarded him sternly and said:
“It seems you are capable of traveling about in the world alone—” The nephew observed that beneath the sternness there was a twinkle of humor.
“Oh yes—very capable. I have had a dozen first class adventures. But one thing I forgot all about—and that was money. As I sit here you could not find a single coin upon me. That is the reason, dear Uncle, that I have returned to the yoke of your tyranny, in case you are disposed to fill my pockets again.”“Very good,” replied the uncle, laughing. “But tell—were you a fool when you wrote this letter?”
“Who is the person you took away from me—whom you pressed to your heart?”
“Couldn't you guess? Why your pearl of pearls with which you bored your wife and me to death—nothing else.”
Hereupon he drew from his breast pocket the worn manuscript of the new science. There was a burst of laughter and the professor made a grab for the manuscript.
“Well—I seem to be the fool myself.”
He took the manuscript and flung it far out of the pavilion.
“I will not attempt again to analyze the beauties of life.”
Four glasses, foaming with the fine wine of Crimea, rang merrily together.
The next evening I was again on ship deck. From the friendly green garden, and the flower-covered villas, the light gradually faded, and day grew dim upon the fantastic mountains of stone that rose behind charming Ialta. At last land disappeared, too, and night came down.Farewell, beautiful Ialta!