Puslapio vaizdai

him to be; and we had had the right to We had heard that Ivanoff's parents expect much from the boy who lived on had been killed on that cliff in the dim the most wonderful spot in all the days before the Turkish War; that world. Our own place was delightful Ivanoff himself had renounced fame as enough, holding, as it did, the centre of an engineer and the promise of a fora wooded crescent which sloped sharp- tune because — and we accepted it litly down to the sea; but at each end of erally

erally - he could not breathe air which the curving slope a dizzy cliff jutted did not smell of our sea; that, for a out over the sea itself, and one of these time, his wife, the loveliest person of cliffs belonged to Stasya's father, the all the earth, had lived there with him. black-bearded and silent and appalling Of her we knew from Ashim, who once Ivanoff, who sometimes came to take had worked for Ivanoff. his tea with us.

‘Like a little kitten she was,' he It must have been much like the would tell us when, in the solemn deck of a giant's ship, that cliff, when month of the Ramazan, we sat with Stasya turned his back upon the land; him on the hilltop and helped him with it must have rocked gloriously to the his long vigil for the first star whose beat of the waves on stormy nights. coming broke the daily fast of the Through its base went the railroad faithful; 'like a little lamb, soft and tunnel, so that, many times each day, helpless. All day she sang when first Stasya stood straight over the rushing they came, and it was good at that train, and, when it had passed, the time to work for the bearded one; he smoke crept up to him from both sides was like a happy sultan, with laughter at once. And, as if that were not enough for all who might come near. enough, there was the cross which But she did not sing long, and after a topped the summit of the rise behind time her eyes were always red, and the the house.

bearded one swore horribly at us as we Crosses were not unknown to us worked. Very soon she died, and then we had one of our own, a thick and he buried her body and his laugh toclumsy affair which marked the forest gether in one grave and built that cross grave of our favorite dog Rudkó; it was over them both. So I went away in our secret, shared only by Ashim, our search of a glad master. Perhaps I oldest Turk, who had helped us at our should have stayed.' task, dubiously enough, his Mohamme- *Ashim! A star!' dan soul rebelling against the injustice Heads thrown back, fingers pointing to the dog. But there was nothing frantically, we waited until his slower dreadful about Rudkó's cross. We eyes had picked the faint twinkle from knew that, after a season of rain, it the transparent sky—until, with a sigh, would rot at the base and fall over into he closed his yellow teeth on his crust the fern and be forgotten. It had not of corn-bread, then trotted away, eagergrown out of the top of the cliff, it did ly building his last story into another not stand -- straight and slender and wild and wholly satisfying tale. And in black — against the dawn, it did not these tales, the reckless, the heroic, the reach desperately up into the sky. And impossible deeds were always performit did not make us afraid at twilight. ed by Stasya, the mysterious boy who

We knew, of course, for chance re- had never known his mother and who ports had reached us snatches of lived beside the grave of his father's the cliff's history, vague bits which laugh. conjured vistas of an entrancing world. And, with the image of that father



us, it was not hard to create the we might have been kinder had he come image of the son. Not so tall he was as alone. We had no love for Mademoithe elder Ivanoff, perhaps, but quite as selle; for, instead of surrendering her fierce; denied the father's heavy beard, charge into our keeping when she came, but richly blessed with his hard eyes and retreating behind a book, she made and fixed frown, with the bitter mouth us all her temporary charges, and her which never smiled, the voice which unending admonitions, delivered in rumbled deep within his body, the stiff, roundabout Russian, ring in my thick hands which bent a horseshoe as ears to this day. if it were of tin. We knew that he, too, 'Let the biggest one descend from stooped from the shoulders when he the tree,' she would shout, her bony walked, and dragged his huge feet as finger following her words, - she never though forever following the plough; did learn our names, - 'lest he scratch we knew that he, too, rushed in be his knees and tear his stockings! The tween fighting dogs and tore them one in the blue blouse has eaten enough apart by twisting their collars till they wild strawberries! The small infants gasped for air. We used to talk with- must not walk to the house unattendout end of seeing him some time, of call- ed, the large dogs will harm them! Let ing a greeting to him, of hearing his the girl accompany them; it is not the gruff voice answering. He was a rare affair of a girl anyway — the building and an alluring child, the Stasya of our of a fort!' dreams

And, since scratched knees and torn The real Stasya, when one day he stockings were not worth anybody's came to uş, proved a very slim, very mentioning; since one could never eat blond little boy, incredibly fragile, enough wild strawberries; since the incredibly gentle, incredibly shy. He large dogs would have killed any one held the hand of his Polish governess who tried to harm the 'small infants'; and smiled a beseeching smile.

and since the girl resented her sex suf‘Go and play!' said Ivanoff.

ficiently without being reminded of its But Stasya did not know how to limitations, Stasya's Polish governess play. We stared at him in helpless became — so brother Fedik put it - a amazement, and through our outraged person one must needs despise, but minds went the thought of the treasures could not stoop to hate. And because we had stored against his coming; the Stasya obeyed her, and because we held two-edged Turkish knife, the pirates' him traitor to the cliff and the tunnel swords, the bleached bone of a mur- and the cross, we despised him also and dered child, we could not show it to dubbed him kissél, — which translates a grown-up lest it be ruthlessly linked itself into custard, - and our games with a sheep or dog, - the knotted

- the knotted when he was with us narrowed down to club which the sea had given us and the one of trying to kidnap him from which, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Mademoiselle. had drifted from the hand of an Aus- And on the day of the corn-chopper tralian blackfellow, following the tor- we had succeeded. From the steep tuous course which we had often traced meadow below the deserted house we for it upon our globe. We thought of watched Mademoiselle's pink dress these, and glared at Stasya, and Stasya darting wildly in and out among the smiled his pitiful smile and held more shrubbery, and our triumph must have tightly to the hand of Mademoiselle. gone to our heads. For we fell upon the

He came very often after that, and forbidden machine and sent its wheels


spinning, shouting to each other in stand, quite, why we were not punished Turkish which, we felt, offset Stasya's or why the corn-chopper was not lockFrench and Polish combined. And be ed away. But we knew that we could cause we were very gay, and because never touch it again, and we knew he felt sadly out of it, and because he that Stasya was not a kissél. And, very wanted to play with us, Stasya put out earnestly now, we seized upon the task a very bold finger and touched a re- of teaching him to play with us. volving disk.

It was easier after Ivanoff caught The next instant, the wheels of the Mademoiselle lifting Stasya from a corn-chopper still whirring behind us, limb to which we had boosted him, for we were racing back to the house and she never again came without a book; to father, calling to Stasya to keep his but now Ivanoff himself took her place, hand high in the air as he ran. Past the which bothered us it is hard to slay grinning Turks we went, past Made- giants before a grown-up who stands moiselle, who shrieked, through the with his arms crossed on his breast, house, and to the stand-up'desk in the looks on with his hard eyes, and neither library. Father looked down coolly smiles nor says a word. Yet Stasya he was often thus disturbed; so often learned a little. He could skip fairly that he had converted the desk-drawer well, and he made a first-class merchant. into a first-aid box and was wont to Stick-in-a-hole fared worse; he congive thanks to the far-seeing Provi- fessed his fear of the stick's sharpened dence which, in his youth, had led him ends. In our pirate games he was alto a doctor's diploma. Without a word


ways the priest who buried the dead he lifted Stasya to the couch, his big, and had no part in either the killing or deft hands went swiftly about the the dying, which left us dreadfully task, and we were entirely forgotten. short-handed for real work, when, as But when the bandage had been lawless Georgians, we held up a stage, brought down across the back of Sta- and he came a distant relative unsya's hand and tied around the thin der a white flag — to bring ransom for wrist, when Stasya's white mouth had the captives. And once, - and on that relaxed a little, father turned a very day Ivanoff left us abruptly, - he stern face upon the rest of us.

delighted me by taking my place in ‘Corn-chopper?'

the wigwam where I had been sulkily We shifted and swallowed and said awaiting the return of my scalp-huntnothing. And in the heavy silence ing braves. Stasya's quavering voice sounded thin So it went for several months, until and uncertain and ridiculously inade- one afternoon, in the Straits of Gibralquate:

tar, we scuttled a ship laden with Span'It was not the corn-chopper! I was ish gold. On that day we had decided playing with Fedik's knife!'

that we could no longer be bothered We heard it with scorn, we who knew with buryings, and Stasya, his chin that it was useless to lie to father and quivering but his hand tight upon his knew little of the lie which winks at wooden cutlass, went readily enough truth — so little that we did not un- into attack. It was then that we heard derstand why father turned quickly a sound which startled us. High on the back to Stasya, why his stern eyes took bank above us Ivanoff was laughing on the smiling look we loved, why he and our battle grew more furious as we bowed so gravely his acknowledgment heard it. We were having a beautiful of the clumsy fib. We did not under- time of it when, suddenly and without


warning, in the middle of our merriest All too soon mother's eyebrows lifted assault, Ivanoff jumped down on the in their bedtime sign. Yet bedtime had pebbles of the beach, strode forward its compensation, for a fairy good to and said jerkily,

children had had a hand in the building

a ‘Stasya, come home!'

of our house. Sister's tiny room was Then, all in the space of a second, he far in the wing, the two babies slept had torn the cutlass from Stasya's fin- with mother, but to us four 'middlers' gers, swung it furiously above his head, had fallen the nursery, whose door into

even then we gasped with envy at the living-room was close beside the the sweep of it, — let it fly far out into fireplace. And, on company nights, the sea, and dragged the bewildered this door, in the shadow of the mantel, Stasya up the bank and out of sight. could be left open a crack with no one

We pondered it at length, and quite the wiser for it. in vain, as we sat barefoot in the hot Even then it did not seem strange sand waiting for our shoes and stock- that Ivanoff should talk as he talked; ings to dry, our eyes on the misty hori. for when we said good-night to him, he zon where the little white rabbits were had forgotten the tea and was taking leaping from the waves to warn the his wine straight. There was the storm, sailors of the coming storm. We had there were the candles and the fire; evidently done something to Stasya, - father's hands were as deft with the bumped him or knocked him over, bow and strings as they werewith bandand, out of the blackness of his heart, ages, and the 'cello and Russian meloIvanoff had thrown away our best cut- dies were made one for the other. lass and had gone off to tell father. I cannot say just now how much I Very soberly we walked home through heard and understood that night, and the dusk.

how much I learned from father when But no one was angry in the warm, I questioned him in after years; but I candle-lighted house. Stasya and Ma- like to think that I remember the very demoiselle had gone, and Ivanoff was tone of Ivanoff's voice as it came to us staying to supper, though he did not through the unlatched door and that he pretend to eat. Outside, the wind was used the very words — sharp, carelessrising - the too-warm day was bring- ly chosen words, crowded together in ing its own swift doom. When it was curt sentences - which now I use. A really whistling under the eaves, the moment only we were out of sight be forest began its deep, unbroken hum- fore his question rose above the first ming, and, ever so faintly, the sea bar of a plaintive lullaby. stirred in reply. By morning, far as eye

“What do you think of my boy?' could see, it would be a dark mass of The bow squeaked painfully on a tumbling waves, and we laughed at high note and the lullaby broke off each other in joyous anticipation as we abruptly. clambered feet and all

'Stasya is ill, Ivan Ivanovich' -- it wide Turkish tahta and begged father was as if father had long held the anto take down his 'cello, while Ivanoff swer ready. This country demands a pushed his armchair close up to the fire rugged body to begin with and the and turned his back on us. Now and climate is not good for your boy. The then, in a pause of the music, he rose malaria and came to the samovar for another Ivanoff snorted. glass of tea, and presently he began to "With you it is always malaria! Do take wine in it.

you know that, in Batum, they call


upon the

[ocr errors]

you the malarian; that they say - and boars across the snow, and rode a vithey laugh at you for it — that you cious little horse up and down these give quinine to your cows!'

mountains, and sailed my own boat ‘Also they beg me to open a dairy when I was little older than Stasya. I when they do not beg me to resume my could spend happy days playing with practice,' father rejoined mildly. ‘But my dogs and the tamed gulls on the as for Stasya, he grows more thin and beach. I used to lie awake on nights of white from week to week. If it is not storm, and feel the waves against the the climate, what is it?'

cliff with a terror that was three fourths 'I think I shall tell you,' said Ivan- joy. I knew no other life. I wanted no off; 'and when I have told it, you will other life. And they took me away remember that my mother was a peas- from it all, from my gulls and my forant; you will shrug your shoulders est and my mountains, from the sea over the superstitions of the illiterate, without which I had never lived a day, and you will laugh. And I shall be and sent me into the chill and the lonemore alone than before, for I have liness of the north, to a boarding-school enjoyed it, coming here to tea with in St. Petersburg. you. Nevertheless, I think I shall tell 'Perhaps they were right. I was an you.'

only child, the son of a nobleman, and But he did not at once begin. There I had turned out like my mother, rough came to us the sound of a bottle un- and thick-set and uncouth. I had to be corked, and the unsteady pouring of polished up somehow, and the grief a drink, with its tinkle of thin glass would pass, they said; all children sob against thick.

like that.

‘Have you ever awakened from hear

ing the forest humming as it hums toII

night; from hearing the rising waves 'It goes so far back, to the day on rustling upon the pebbles, to find yourwhich, from the sea, my father saw my self in a half-lighted dormitory? If cliff. He was in government service, you have, you will believe me when I running down smugglers, and had ven- say that I should have died, taken poitured out of his territory, and that one son or thrown myself from a window, glimpse of that cliff ordered all his later were it not for the thought that, if I life and mine. For he dropped his work, lived, if I waited long enough, I could dropped the woman he was to have come back. I did not even go home for married, and married a peasant girl who my summers traveling was too diffiwould not be afraid of the future he cult here. So I spent those summers in was choosing. You, who know this life as planning the life which some day would it is to-day, can imagine what it was in be mine, on this cliff, with a son who those days, when all this was still Turk- would have all that I had missed. I was ish soil and when so histories tell us only a boy myself. But I knew that my - there was not a Russian here. Yet own youth was lost, and knew that I my father held that cliff for many

could find it again only if I saw my son years. Mad? So they said, they who living the life which should have been had never seen our sea at evening turn- mine from the start. A poor sort of ing from blue to gray.

pastime for a growing child, these fan*My first memory is of the sunset cies, but they were all that I had. path across the water. I swam before I ‘Then chaos came, just as I was finwas quite steady on my feet. I tracked ishing my course. Both my parents

« AnkstesnisTęsti »