Part 2 out of 4
"A lodging for the night," I said unhappily.
"You won't find lodging here," said the greybeard in a false
stentorian voice. And the little officer in white giggled.
"You've made a mistake and come to the wrong house. We have no room."
"A barn or outhouse would serve me nicely," I put in.
The old man waved his hand.
"No, no. You are going southward? You have strayed somewhat out of
your path coming up here. There is a short cut to the main road. There
you'll find a tavern."
It was in my mind to say, "I am an Englishman, a traveller and writer,
and I am on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. You misdoubt my appearance, and
are afraid of sheltering an unknown wanderer, but I am one whom you
would find it interesting and perhaps even profitable to harbour." But
my heart and lips were chilled.
I had taken off my pack, but put it on again humbly and, somewhat
abashed, prepared to leave. The family stood by staring. It was a very
unusual thing for a poor tramp to come and ask hospitality. Tramps as
a rule knew better than to come to their doors. Indeed, no tramp had
ever come there before. It rather touched them that I should have
believed they would shelter me. Their refusal troubled them somewhat.
"There's always plenty of room in the tavern," said the rich man to
his wife. "And they'll be glad to have a customer."
As I turned to go, some one brought a light, and a gleam fell on my
face. The company expected to see the cringing, long-suffering face
of a peasant in the presence of his master, but the light showed
"He is perhaps one of our own class ... or ... God knows what ..."
they thought, one and all. "It is hateful to have refused him. But no,
if he is one of us, why does he come clothed like a common man? He has
only himself to blame."
The old man, feeling somewhat ashamed, offered to show me the way. He
came out and pointed out the short cut to the tavern.
"It is quite clear. I shall find the way," I said. "Thank you."
The old man halted as if he wished to say something more.
"What now?" I asked myself. I said good-bye, and as I moved away he
"You are going far, belike!"
"To Jerusalem," I answered laconically. In Russia there is only one
thing to say when a man tells you he is going to Jerusalem. It is,
"Pray for me there!" But somehow that request stuck in the old man's
When I got outside the park gates I pulled down my pack and took
out of it the only thing that had stood between me and a night's
lodging--a grey tweed sportsman's jacket--and I put it on, and with it
a collar and tie, and I walked along the road in real sadness. For I
I could forgive the man for doing so unto me, but it was hard to
forgive him for doing so unto himself, unto us all. He had made life
ugly for a moment, and made the world less beautiful. To-morrow the
sun and the earth would be less glorious because of him.
But I had only walked a few steps down the road from the rich man's
house when I came to a poor peasant's hut where there burned one
little light at a little square window.
And I thought, "Please God, I will not go to the tavern, which is
possibly kept by a Turk and is very dirty. I will try for a night's
I knocked at the door with my staff.
There was a stirring inside.
"Who is there?"
"One who wants a lodging for the night. It is late to disturb you, but
I fear there will be rain."
A peasant woman came to the door and unbarred it, and let me in.
"Ah, little father," she said, "you come late, and we have little
space, as you see, only one room and a big family, but come in if you
She turned up the little kerosene lamp and looked at me.
"Ai, ai," she said, "a _barin_." She looked at my coat and collar. "It
will be but poor fare here."
"Not a _barin_" I urged, "but a poor wanderer coming from far and
going farther still. I generally sleep under the open sky with God as
my host and the world as my home, but to-night promises storm, and I
fear to take cold in the rain."
The peasant girl, for she was no more, busied herself with the
samovar. "You must have something hot to drink, and some milk and eggs
perhaps. My husband is not yet home from market, but he will come
belike very soon, and will be very glad to find a stranger. He will
rejoice. He always rejoices to give hospitality to strangers upon the
When she had brought me a meal she fetched fresh hay from a barn and
spread a quilt over it and made a bed for me, and would have given me
her own pillow but that I pointed out that my pack itself made a very
good resting-place for my head.
Then her husband came home, a strong kindly man, full of life and
happiness, and he did rejoice as his little wife had promised. He was
sorry he had not wine with which to entertain me. Such people drink
wine not more than twice in a year.
And with these humble, gentle folk I forgot the rich man's coldness,
and healed my heart's wounds. Life was made beautiful again. To-morrow
the sun would be as bright as ever.
I slept in the comfortable warm bed on the floor of the poor peasant's
hut, and the storm rolled overhead, the winds moaned and the rain
"You are going to Jerusalem," said the good man and woman next
morning, "pray for us there. It is hard for us to leave our little hut
and farm, or we would go to the Holy Land ourselves. We should like
to go to the place where the Christ was born in Bethlehem and to the
place where He died."
"I shall pray," I said; and I thought in my heart, "They are there in
Jerusalem all the time, even though they remain here. For they show
hospitality to strangers."
* * * * *
But as I trudged along my way there seemed to be a pathos too deep for
tears underlying my experiences at the hands of the rich man and of
the poor man.
That it should occur so in real life, and not merely in a moral tale!
The position of the rich man is so defensible. Of course it would
have been ridiculous of him to have sheltered me. Who was I? I had no
introduction. What was I? I might have robbed him in the night ... or
murdered. I was ill-dressed and poor, therefore no doubt covetous of
his fine clothes and wealth. They would only have themselves to blame
if they sheltered me and I did them harm. Besides, was there not the
tavern close by? All reason pointed to the tavern.
But something troubled them, something in my face and demeanour!
Alas for such people! They forget that Christ comes into this world
not clothed in purple. They forget that Christ is always walking on
the road, and that he shows himself as one needing help. And always
once in a man's life the pilgrim Christ comes knocking at his door,
with the pack of man's sorrows on his back and in his hand the staff
which may be a cross.
* * * * *
I met the young officer in white next morning. He looked at me with a
certain amount of surprise. I hailed him.
"Did you sleep well at the tavern?" he asked.
"I found shelter at a peasant's house," I answered.
"Ah! That's well. I didn't think of that. You said you were going to
Jerusalem. Why is that? Evidently you are not Russian."
I told him somewhat of my plans. He seemed interested and somewhat
vexed. "I said we ought to have taken you in," he said apologetically.
"But you came so late--'like a thief in the night,' as the Scripture
I sat down on a stone and laughed and laughed. He stared at me in
"'Like a thief in the night,'" I cried out. "Oh, how came you to hit
on that expression? Go on, please--'and I knew you not.' Who is it who
cometh as a thief in the night?"
The officer smiled faintly. He was dull of understanding, but
evidently I had made a joke, or perhaps I was a little crazed.
He turned on his heel. "Sorry we turned you away," he repeated, "but
there are so many scoundrels about. If you're passing our way again be
sure and call in. Come whilst it's light, however."
A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT
Dzhugba is an aggregation of cottages and villas round about the
estuary of a little river flowing down from the Caucasus to the Black
Sea. On the north a long cliff road leads to Novorossisk a hundred
miles, and southward the same road goes on to Tuapse, some fifty miles
from Maikop and the English oil-fields.
I arrived at the little town too late to be sure of finding lodging.
The coffee-house was a wild den of Turks, and I would not enter it;
most private people were in bed. I walked along the dark main street
and wondered in what unusual and unexpected manner I should spend the
night. When one has no purpose, there is always some real _providence_
waiting for the tramp.
The quest of a night's lodging is nearly always the origin of
mysterious meetings. It nearly always means the meeting of utter
strangers, and the recognition of the fact that, no matter how
exteriorly men are unlike one another, they are all truly brothers,
and have hearts that beat in unison. Thus did it happen that I met my
strange host of Dzhugba.
A hatless but very hairy Russian met me at a turning of the road, and
eyeing me with lacklustre eyes asked me gruffly as a rude shopman
might, "What do you want?"
"A lodging for the night."
The peasant reflected, as if mentally considering the resources of the
little town. At last after a puzzling silence he put one fat hand on
my shoulder, and staring into my face, pronounced his verdict--
"The houses are all shut up and the people gone to bed. There is no
place; even the coffee-house is full. But never mind, you can spend
the night in a shed over here. I shall find you a place. No, don't
thank me; it comes from the heart, from the soul."
He led me along to a lumber-room by the side of the plank pier. It
contained two dozen barrels of "Portlandsky" cement. The floor was all
grey-white and I looked around somewhat dubiously, seeing that cement
is rather dirty stuff to sleep upon. But, nothing abashed, my new
friend waved his hand as if showing me into a regal apartment.
"Be at your ease!" said he. "Take whatever place you like, make
yourself comfortable. No, no thanks; it is all from God, it is what
God gives to the stranger."
He thereupon ran out on to the sand, for the shed was on the seashore,
and he beckoned me to follow. To my astonishment, we found out
there an old rickety bedstead with a much rent and rusted spring
mattress--apparently left for me providentially. It was so old and
useless that it could not be considered property, even in Russia. It
belonged to no one. Its nights were over. I gave it one night more.
The peasant was in high glee.
"Look what I've found for you," said he. "Who could have expected that
to be waiting outside for you? Several days I have looked at that
bedstead and thought, 'What the devil is that skeleton? Whence?
Whither?' Now I understand it well. It is a bed, the bed of the
Englishman on the long journey...."
The mattress was fixed to an ancient bed frame--one could not call it
bedstead--with twisted legs that gave under weight and threatened to
break down. We brought the "contrapshun" in.
"Splendid!" said my host.
"Impossible," I thought, trying to press down the prickly wire where
the mattress was torn.
"No doubt you are hungry," my friend resumed. I assured him I was not
in the least hungry, but despite my protestations he ran off to bring
me something to eat. I felt sorry; for I thought he might be bringing
me a substantial supper, and I had already made a good meal about an
hour before. What was more, he lived at some distance, and I did not
care to trouble the good man, or for him to waken up his wife who by
that hour was probably sleeping.
However, he was gone, and there was nothing to be done. I laid some
hay on the creaking sorrow of a bed, and endeavoured to bend to safety
the wilderness of torn and rusty wire. I spread my blanket over the
whole and gingerly committed my body to the comfortable-seeming couch.
Imagine how the bed became an unsteady hammock of wire and how the
contrivance creaked at each vibration of my body. I lay peacefully,
however, looked at the array of cement barrels confronting me, and
waited for my host. I expected a plate of chicken and a bottle of
wine, and was gradually feeling myself converted to the idea that I
wouldn't mind a nice tasty supper even though I had made my evening
What was my astonishment when the good man returned bearing a
square-foot slice of black bread on which reposed a single yellow
carrot! I looked curiously at the carrot, but my host said,
"_Nitchevo, nitchevo, vinograd_"--"Don't worry, don't worry, a grape,
He had also brought a kerosene lamp, which, however, lacked a glass.
He stood it on one of the grey barrels and turned it monstrously high,
just to show his largeness of heart, I suppose. I got up and turned
it down because it was smoking, and he waved his hand once more
deprecatingly, and turning the wick up and down several times,
signified that I was to do with it exactly as I pleased. He left it
smoking again, however.
I put the thought of a good supper out of my mind and looked at the
black bread with some pathos, as who would not after conjuring before
the eyes a plate of chicken and a bottle of wine? However, it was
indeed _nitchevo_, to use the Russian phrase, a mere nothing. I
averred I was not hungry and put the bread in my pack, of which I had
made a pillow, and simulating comfort, said I thanked him and would
now go to sleep. My host understood me, but was not less original
in his parting greeting than in the rest. He shook hands with me
effusively, and pointed to the roof.
"One God," he said. "And two men underneath. Two men, one soul."
He looked at me benevolently and pointed to his heart.
"Two men, one soul," he repeated, and crossed himself. "You
Then he added finally, "Turn the lamp as high as you like," and suited
the action to the word by turning it so high that one saw a dense
cloud of smoke beyond the lurid flame.
My queer guardian angel disappeared. I fastened the door so that it
should not swing in the wind, and then climbed back into my wire
hammock, stretched out my limbs, laid my cheek on my pack, and slept.
Nothing disturbed me, though I woke in the night, and looking round,
missed the Ikon lamp which would have been burning had I been in
a home. It was a saint's day. The absence of the Ikon told me the
difference between sleeping in a house and sleeping in a home.
Perhaps it was because of this difference that my host blessed me so
Next morning I sought my host in vain. He had apparently left the town
before dawn with a waggon of produce that had to be carted to Tuapse.
At breakfast in the Turkish coffee-house I looked with some amusement
at the bread and carrot, discarded the latter, but munched the former
to the accompaniment of a plate of chicken and a bottle of wine. My
imagining, therefore, of the previous night was not altogether vain.
All that was needed was that my comical host should look in. As it
was, in his absence I drank his health with a Georgian.
SOCRATES OF ZUGDIDA
I was travelling without a map, never knowing what I was coming to
next, what long Caucasian settlement or rushing unbridged river, and I
came quite unexpectedly to a town. I had not the remotest idea that a
town was near, and when I learned the name of the town I realised that
I had never heard of it before--Zugdida.
This is no fairy story. Zugdida veritably exists, and may be found
marked on large maps. I came into it on a Sunday evening, and found it
one of the largest and most lively of all the Caucasian towns I had
yet visited; the shops and the taverns all open, the wide streets
crowded with gaily dressed horsemen, the footways thronged with
peasants walking out in Sunday best. A remote town withal, not on the
railways, and unvisited as yet by any motor-car--unvisited, because
the rivers in these parts are all bridgeless.
I was looking for a place where I might spend the night--towns are
inhospitable places, and one is timorous of sleeping in a tavern full
of armed drunkards--when I was hailed by a queer old man, who noticed
that I was a stranger. He kept one of the two hundred wine-cellars of
the town, and was able to give me a good supper and a glass of
wine with it. He was an aged Mingrelian, bald on his crown, but
lank-haired, dreamy-eyed, stooping; he had a Robinson Crusoe type of
countenance. I had come to one of the oldest inhabitants of Zugdida,
an extraordinary character.
I asked him how the town had grown in his memory.
"When I came here from the hills forty years ago," said he, "long
before the Russo-Turkish War, there were three houses here--three
only, two were wine-cellars. Now Zugdida is second only to Kutais. I
remember how two more wine-cellars were built, and a small general
shop, then a bread shop, then two more wine--cellars, two little
grocer's shops, some farm-houses. We became a fair-sized village, and
wondered how we had grown. The Russians came and built stone houses
and a military barracks, a prison, a police-station, and a big church;
then came the Hotel of Russia, the Universal Stores. We built the
broad, flag-stoned market, and named a Fair day; saddlery and sword
shops opened, blacksmiths, gunsmiths, coppersmiths, jewel workers,
tailors; Singer's sewing machines came, two more hotels, and we grew
and grew. We have now over two hundred taverns. We have offered the
Government to pay for all the necessary land, and defray all minor
expenses, if they will connect us with Poti by railway, and if it were
not that so many people want bribes we should be part of Europe. As it
is, we're just a bit of the old Caucasus."
He pointed to a group of drunkards, all armed from head to foot,
but now clinging to one another and raising their voices in Asiatic
After supper--a stew of mutton and maize, with a bottle of very sweet
rose-coloured wine--the old man took me aside and made me a long
harangue on life and death and the hereafter. Better sermon on a
Sunday evening I never heard in church. He told me the whole course of
the good man's life and compared it with that of the bad man, weighed
the two, and found the latter wanting on all counts, adding, however,
that it was impossible to be good.
"How did you come to think so seriously of life?" I inquired.
"In this way," he replied. "Once I was very 'flee-by-the-sky'--I
didn't care a rap, sinned much, and feared neither God nor the
devil--or, if anything, I feared the devil a little; for God I never
had the least respect. But one day I picked up a book written by one
Andrew, and I read some facts that astonished me. He said that in
eight thousand years after the creation of the world the sun would go
red and the moon grey, the sun would grow old and cease to warm the
world--just as you and I must inevitably grow old. In that day would
be born together, one in the East and one in the West, Christ and the
Anti-Christ, and they would fight for the dominion of the world. This
story caused me to pause and think. Hitherto I had taken all for
"It had never occurred to me that the sun might stop shining, that the
stars might go out. I had scarcely thought that I myself might stop,
"'What happens to me when I die?' I asked people. 'God will judge
you,' they said. 'If good, you go to heaven; if evil, to hell.' That
did not satisfy me. How did people know? No one had ever come back to
tell us how things were done after death.
"I had never thought at all before, but now I began to think so hard
that I could not go about the ordinary things of life, I was so
wrapped up in the mystery of my own ignorance.
"People said I was under the evil eye. But that again was nonsense.
'Whence comes man?' I asked. 'Where does he go? Where was I before I
was born?' I was part of my ancestors. Very well. 'But where shall I
go when I die? What shall I be?'
"I nearly learned to disbelieve in religion. You must know I began to
go to church every Saturday evening and on all festivals. I listened
intently to all the services and the sermons, and I read all that I
could find to read, and I asked questions of priests and of educated
people--all with the idea of solving this mystery of life. I tried to
be good at the bidding of the Church, but I gave that up. I learned
that it was impossible to avoid sin.
"You drink wine--this is a sin; give short weight--that is a sin;
look on your neighbour's wife--that is a sin; everything you do
is sin--even if you do nothing, that is sin; there is no road of
"I went on living as I felt inclined, without care as to whether it
were sin or no. But still I asked myself about man's life.
"Some one said to me, 'You will never understand, because you think of
yourself as a separate individual, and not as just a little part of
the human race. You live on in all the people who come after you, just
as before you were born you lived in those who were before you.'
"That was something new, but I understood him, and I asked him a new
question: 'If what you say is true--and very likely it is--what, then,
is the past of the whole human race, and what its future? What does
the life of the human race mean?'
"That he could not answer. Can you answer it? No. No one can answer
* * * * *
"You are like Socrates," I said.
"Who was Socrates?"
"He was the man whom the Oracle indicated as the wisest man alive. All
men knew nothing, but Socrates was found wiser than they, for he alone
knew that he knew nought."
A look of pleased vanity floated over the face of my Mingrelian host.
He was at least quite human.
Before going to bed we drank one another's healths.
"HAVE YOU A LIGHT HAND?"
This is not simply a matter of making pastry, as you shall see.
I was tramping along a Black Sea road one night, and was wondering
where I should find a shelter, when suddenly a little voice cried
out to me from the darkness of the steppe. I stopped and looked and
listened. In a minute a little boy in a red shirt and a grey sheepskin
hat came careering towards me, and called out: "Do you want a place
to sleep? My mother's coffee-house is the best you'll find. The
coffee-house down the hill is nothing to it. There it is, that dark
house you passed. I am out gathering wood for the fire, but I shall
come in a minute."
Sharp boy! He was only eight years old. How did he guess my need so
I retraced my footsteps very happily, and came to the dark inn I had
missed. It stood fifty yards back from the road, and had no light
except what glimmered from the embers of a wood fire. At the door was
a parrot that cried out, "Choozhoi, choozhoi, choozhoi preeshhol"--"A
stranger, a stranger, a stranger has arrived."
The mother, a pugnacious gossip with arms akimbo, looked at me with
perturbed pleasure. "Are you a beggar or a customer?" she asked.
"Because if you're a beggar," etc. I cut her short as soon as I could.
I assured her I should be much pleased to be a customer.
I ordered tea. The boy came in and claimed me as his find, but was
snubbed. My hostess proceeded to ask me every question known to
her. To my replies, which were often not a little surprising, she
invariably replied with one of these exclamations, "Say it again, if
you please." "Indeed!" "With what pleasure!"
That I was a tramp and earned my living by writing about my adventures
pleased her immensely. I earned my living by having holidays, and
gained money where other travellers never did anything but spend.
"With what pleasure" did she hear that literary men were paid so many
roubles a thousand words for their writings. One could easily write an
immense quantity, she thought.
The little boy looked at me with bright eyes, and listened. Presently,
when his mother was dilating on the inferiority of painting as a
profession, he broke in.
The mother was saying, "Not only does the painter catch cold standing
still so long in marshy places, but when he has finished his pictures
he has to hawk them in the fairs, and even then he may not be able to
"What fairs?" asked the boy.
"The fairs of Moscow, Petersburg, Kiev, and the great towns. Some sell
for fifty roubles, some for five hundred, some for five thousand and
more. A little picture would go for five roubles perhaps."
"What size pictures would one buy for fifty roubles?" asked the boy.
"Oh, about the same size as from the floor to the ceiling."
"What size would one be that cost five thousand roubles?"
"Oh, an immense picture; one could build a country house out of it."
The boy reflected.
"And five hundred thousand roubles?" he asked. But his mother remained
profitably silent over the preparation of the family soup. The fire
now blazed with the additional wood that had been heaped upon it. The
little voice repeated the absurd question, and the mother shouted,
"Silence! Don't make yourself a nuisance."
"But how big would it be?" whined the boy. "Tell me."
"Oh, the same, but bigger, stupid!"
Thereupon my little friend was very happy, and he apparently ascribed
his happiness to me.
A few minutes later he abruptly asked permission to take me up a
mountain to show me a castle next morning, and his mother agreed,
pointing out how extremely profitable it would be for me. The little
boy rejoiced; he had apparently wanted to go up to that castle for a
long while. How excited and happy he was!
His mother paid little attention to her child, however, and her
interest lay in the bubbling cauldron where the soup was cooking. "You
have a very clever boy," I said, but she did not agree with me. His
pranks and high spirits were to her evidence of stupidity. I must say
I felt we were the stupid party, and the boy was a little wonder. We
went on gossiping, and presently he proved us stupid.
He started up with one finger to his ear and then darted out, leaving
the door open and letting the steppe air pour in.
The mother listened, and then said discontentedly after a pause, "That
child is not usual."
The boy came back with fifteen shaggy customers, however; fifteen
red-faced waggoners, half-frozen in their sheepskins, and all
clamoured for food and drink.
The boy, all excitement, danced up to me and said, "Have you a light
hand? You must have a light hand!" I didn't know what he meant, but he
was off before I had time to ask.
He began serving tea and cutting bread and asking questions. Did
any one want soup? Nobody wanted soup at first, but at the boy's
solicitations nine of them agreed to have portions at twopence a
plateful. The mother persuaded others to have pickled herrings,
The inn was of two rooms: one a bedroom and retiring-room without a
door. The Ikon of this room served the economical hostess for both
The waggoners were all surly till they had fed. "Show me where we can
bow to God," said one of them very gruffly, not seeing the Ikon. The
little boy led him and all his mates into the little bedroom, and they
all bowed their hairy faces and crossed themselves before the Ikon of
Then they returned and consumed the soup and the herrings and bread
and cheese and wine and tea. I looked on. My hostess was turning a
pretty penny. I was looking on at a very pleasant and surprising
Every now and then one of the mouzhiks would stump out to see how the
horses were, for they had a long train of waggons carrying building
materials to the Tsar's estate of Livadia. At length all had supped,
and they came up to the counter one by one and thanked the hostess
heartily, paying her the while.
Only one of the men was dissatisfied--the last one to come up.
"Your soup is dear," said he.
"Dear! What do you mean?" said the woman. "How much would you pay for
such soup in Yalta, and with beef at fivepence a pound, too?"
"In Yalta they give one soup."
"Here ... as God wills ... something...." The mouzhik slammed the
"There's a man," said my hostess, but she wasn't enraged. Had she
not just sold the family's soup for eighteenpence, and made tenpence
profit on it, and wouldn't her husband be pleasantly surprised when he
saw there were three shillings more on the counter than usual? It was
not often that such custom had come to her.
The boy explained the reason to her in a whisper: "He has a light
"Very like," said she, looking at me with new interest.
"What do you mean?" I asked the boy.
"Why, don't you know?" said he wonderingly. "Wherever you go you bring
good fortune. After I met you on the road I immediately began to
find wood much more plentifully. When I came in I learned how to buy
pictures. Then mother said she would let me go with you to see the
castle. Then, not only are you a good customer staying the night, but
after you came all this crowd of customers. Generally we have nobody
"And I met this wonderful boy," thought I. "I should like to carry him
away. He is like something in myself. He also had the light hand,
but what a testimony he gave the tramp! Wherever he goes he brings
As once I wrote before, "tramps often bring blessings to men: they
have given up the causes of quarrels. Sometimes they are a little
divine. God's grace comes down upon them."
ST. SPIRIDON OF TREMIFOND
The charge for driving on Caucasian roads is a penny per horse per
mile, so if you ride ten miles and have two horses you pay the driver
one shilling and eightpence. But if, as generally happens, the
driver's sense of cash has deprived him of a sense of humour, a
conversation of this kind commonly arises.
"One and eightpence. What's this?"
"Ten miles, and two horses at a penny per horse per mile; isn't that
"To the devil with your one and eightpence. Give it to the horses;
a penny a mile for a horse, and how about the man, the cart, the
harness? I gave you hay to sit on. See what fine weather it has
been! What beautiful scenery! Yonder is the church ... the wineshop,
"Hold hard, my good man. The Universe, our salvation by Christ, why
don't you charge for these as well! Here's sixpence to buy yourself a
The driver takes the sixpence and looks at it, makes a calculation,
and then blurts out:
"What! Sixpence for a man and tenpence for a horse; ai, ai, what a
_barin_ I have found. Sixpence for a man and tenpence for a horse. Bad
news, bad news! Cursed be the day...."
Here you give him another sixpence, and get out of earshot quickly.
A penny a mile a horse. It is good pay in the Caucasus, and I for my
part charge myself only a halfpenny a mile. If I walk twenty-five
miles, then I allow myself a shilling wages, and, of course, some of
that I save for the occasion when I come into a town with a great
desire for good things. Then a spending of savings and a feast!
"Good machines use little fuel," said an emaciated tramp to me one
day. But I have no ambition to be accounted a good machine on those
terms. I eat and drink anything that comes in my way, and am ready
at any moment to feast or to fast. I seldom pass a crab-apple tree
without tasting its fruit, or allow myself to pass a mountain stream
Along this Black Sea road in the autumn it would be impossible to
starve, so lavish is Nature of her gifts. Here are many wild fruits,
plums, pears, blackberries, walnuts, grapes, ripening in such
superfluity that none value them. The peasant women pick what they
need; the surplus is allowed to fall and rot into the soil.
I made my way to Ghilendzhik through miles of wild fruit-trees ranged
in regular order. It is said that once upon a time when this territory
belonged to Turkey, or even before then, the land was laid out in
orchards and vineyards, and there was not a square foot uncultivated.
I ate of wild pears and kisil plums. The pears were more the
concentrated idea of pears than that we take from gardens; the kisil
plums, with which the bushes were flaming, are a cloudy, crimson fruit
with blood-like juice, very tart, and consequently better cooked than
raw. My dictionary tells me that the kisil is the burning bush of the
Old Testament, but surely many shrubs claim that distinction.
It was a glorious walk over the waste from Kabardinka to Ghilendzhik,
with all manner of beauty and interest along the way. I left the road
and cut across country, following the telegraph poles. In front of me
fat blue lizards scuttled away, looking like little lilac-coloured
_dachshunds_; silent brown snakes shot out of reach at the sight of my
shadow; and every now and then, poking and grubbing like a hedgehog,
behold a large tortoise out for prey like his brother reptiles. This
domiciled the tortoise for me; otherwise I had only associated him
with suburban gardens and the "Zoo." Now as he hissed at me angrily I
knew him to be a lizard with a shell on his back. I picked up several
of them and examined their faces--they didn't like that at all. They
have a peculiar clerical appearance, something of the sternness and
fixity of purpose which seems to express itself in the jaws and eyes
of some learned divines.
With what eagerness the tortoises scrambled away when I disturbed
them. They run almost speedily in their natural state. I was amused at
the strength of their claws, and the rate at which they tore a passage
into a thicket and disappeared.
Half-way to Ghilendzhik there is a stone quarry, and there one may see
thousands of what are called in England "Cape gooseberries," bright
berries of the size and colour of big ripe strawberries. They peeped
out shyly everywhere among the tall grasses and the ground-scrub.
Above them were stretches of saffron-coloured hollyhocks, a flood
of colour, and with these as sisters, evening primroses, a great
abundance. Lilac and crimson grasshoppers rushed over them, jumping
into the air and into vision, a puff of bright colour--then subsiding
into the greyness of the dust as they alighted and the sombre
wing-cases closed over their little glory. On the ground when waiting
to spring, these grasshoppers looked as if made of wood: they looked
like displaced chessmen of ancient workmanship.
What a rush of insect life there was in the air, new-born fritillary
butterflies like little flames, dragon-flies, bee-hawks, fat
sun-beetles, gorgeous flies, the sinister green praying-mantis! The
Athena of the air expressed herself in all her wonder.
* * * * *
Ghilendzhik is a collection of datchas (country-houses) and Caucasian
dwelling-places. Its name signifies "The White Bride," and it is a
quiet, beautiful watering-place in a pure bay, beloved of all Russians
who have ever visited it. It is the healthiest resort on the whole
Black Sea shore, continually freshened by cool breezes from the
steppes. It is yet but a village, utterly undeveloped, unpavemented,
without shops or trams or bathing-coaches, or a railway station, and
those who visit it in the season regard themselves rather as a family
party. The beach is private, and a bathing costume is rather a rarity.
It is an amazing testimony to the simplicity of the Russian that
the upper classes behave at the seaside with little more
self-consciousness than the peasant children by the village stream.
When Ghilendzhik is commercialised to a Russian Brighton it will be
difficult to imagine what an Eden it once was.
I had looked forward to my arrival, for I had a Russian friend there,
living for the summer in her own datcha, and I had received a very
warm invitation to stay there some days.
The welcome was no less warm than the invitation. I arrived one
evening all covered with dust, my face a great flush of red from the
sun, my limbs agreeably tired. The house was a little white one on the
very edge of the sea. Part of the verandah had lately been washed away
in a storm, so close was the datcha to the waves. I went in, washed,
clad myself in fresh linen--the road-stained clothes were taken away
with a promise of return clean on the morrow--borrowed some slippers,
and sitting in an easy-chair on the verandah, lounged happily and
chatted with my hostess.
Varvara Ilinitchna is a Russian of the old type--you don't find many
of them nowadays, most of her friends would add--simple, quickwitted,
full of peasant lore, kind as one's own mother, hospitable as those
are hospitable who believe from their hearts that all men are
I was introduced to all the neighbours, to the visitors and the
natives, and of course invested with much importance as one who wrote
books, had no fear, who even intended pilgrimaging to Jerusalem.
"You sleep under the open sky--that means you have outlived fear,"
said Varvara Ilinitchna with some innocence.
Our next-door neighbour was a beautiful Greek girl, a veritable Helen,
for the sake of whose beauty one might give up all things. Young,
elegant, serpentine; clad in a single garment, a light cinnamon gown
clasped at the waist; no stockings, her legs bare and brown; on her
head a Persian scarf embroidered with red and gold tinsel; her face
white, with a delicate pink flush over it; hair and eyes black as
night, but also with a glitter of stars. Wherever she walked she was a
picture, and whether she was working about the house, or idling with
a cigarette on the verandah, or running over the sand to spank
mischievous boys who had been trespassing, she was delicately
graceful, something to watch and to remember. I shall remember
her chiefly in the setting of the night when the moon cast her
lemon-coloured beams over the sea.
"Very beautiful and very young," said my hostess, "but already she has
a history. She is only eighteen, but is married and has run away from
her husband. She wanted to marry a Russian, but her family forced
her to take for husband a Greek, an old man, and so jealous and so
frightened of the effect of her beauty upon other men that he shut her
up and made her wear a veil like a Turk. He would not let her out by
herself, and he never brought any friends home; he took to beating
her, and then she ran away. Her father received her and promised to
protect her. The old Greek cannot get at her any more; he has given
her up and gone away."
"Good for her!" I hazarded.
"Not at all good," was the answer. "She has a husband and yet has
none. She is young, but she can't marry again because she has a
* * * * *
At Ghilendzhik all meals were served on the verandah, and one lived
constantly in touch with the varying moods of the sea.
My hostess was a talker, ready to sit to any hour of the night
chatting of her life and of Russia. It was very pleasant to listen to
her. We sat together on the balcony after tea, with a big plate of
grapes between us, and I heard all that the world had to say at
A burning topic was the ruin that the sea had made of the verandah
wall. "The sea has been gradually gaining on us," said my friend.
"When we came here, the village Council reckoned on that. They smiled
when we bought the house, for they held that in quite a short time it
would be washed away. The Council wishes to build a fine esplanade all
along the sea-front--our house stands in the way and they don't wish
to buy us out. 'You'd better buy the datcha,' said Alexander Fed'otch
to them. 'Oh no,' said they, 'we leave that to God'--by 'God' meaning
the sea. They bound us under a contract not to build anything in front
of the house: they said they did not wish the view to be obstructed,
but in reality they did not want us to put up any protection against
the waves. They left the rest to Providence. The result was that the
whole property was nearly washed away in a storm.
"It happened like this. We were away at Vladikavkaz, and Vassily, the
watchman, was living in the house with his wife and family, looking
after it in our absence. There came a storm one evening. No one paid
any attention at first, but it became so bad in the night that even
Atheists were at their prayers. At three o'clock in the morning all
the villagers were up and dressed and watching it. They were afraid,
not only for our house, but for the rest of the village: no one
remembered such a storm. As for our datcha, being as it is the nearest
to the sea, the waves were already washing stones and mortar away.
Vassily worked as hard as man could, shifting the furniture, taking
out his household things, and trying to save the house. The villagers
helped him--even the councillors who had hoped for the storm, they
"The storm did not abate, so the priest was sent for, and he decided
to hold a prayer service on the seashore and ask God to make peace on
the water. They brought the Ikons and the banners from the church,
took the Service in case of great storms or danger, and when they
had sprinkled holy water on the waves, the storm drew to a lull and
gradually died away. The datcha was saved; perhaps the whole village.
_Slava Tebye Gospody!_ Glory be to Thee, O God!
"They wrote to us at Vladikavkaz what had happened, and of course we
came down quickly. Then what a to-do there was! We demanded the right
to protect our property from the sea. The Council said, 'Yes, yes,
yes, don't alarm yourself; you'll be quite safe, safe as the Kazbek
mountain; we ourselves will protect you.' The Government engineer came
round and said once more, 'Don't alarm yourself! We are going to build
an embankment. Next year there will be a whole street in front of you,
and electric trams going up and down perhaps.'"
"Did you believe him?" I asked.
"We didn't know what to do, believe him or disbelieve, but we knew he
had been granted power to make investigations and draw up plans. For
months, now, they have been measuring the depth of the water and
testing this place and that. For my part, I think the preparations are
only a device for making money. The engineer will enrich himself: the
embankment and the street will be in his bank, but not here. The money
they have spent already on his reports is appalling. But of course, if
they _do_ build an esplanade, our house will be worth three times what
it cost us. We will let it as a cafe or a restaurant, and it will
bring us rent all the year round. God grant it may be so!
"We resolved, however, to protect it, and we obtained permission to
build a Chinese wall in front of it. But _Bozhe moi_, what that wall
is costing us--already fifteen hundred roubles, and on the original
estimate we thought five hundred.
"Even as it is we don't know how we stand. The engineer may claim that
wall as belonging to the town. The town may have it knocked down, for
it is built just outside our boundary line. We go down to the sand,
and we have built upon the sand."
Obviously she hadn't built upon a rock.
"Now that they think of making a street in front of us, they will
call part of the seashore land, and it will be surveyed. Someone will
remark that we have encroached, and then down will go our wall and
with it our fifteen hundred roubles."
I agreed with her and sympathised. The chances were certainly against
the money having been profitably invested. But what an example of
We sat in silence and looked out over the placid waves on whose future
kindliness so much of my hostess's happiness seemed to depend. It was
a beautiful night. The sun had sunk through a cloud into the sea, and,
as he disappeared, the waves all seemed to grow stiller and paler;
they seemed full of anxious terror, as the faces of women whose
husbands are just gone from their arms to the war. Dark curtains
came down over their grief: the waves disappeared. The long bay was
unruffled and grey to the horizon, like a sheet of unscored ice. Even
the boats in the harbour seemed to be resting on something solid. The
one felucca in front of us, with its five lines of rope and mast, grew
darker and darker, till at last the moon rose and gleamed on her bows
My hostess continued to talk to me of the fortunes of her property.
"Twenty years ago," she said, "I was sitting on a log in a field one
summer afternoon, when up comes an old peasant woman leaning on a
stick and speaks to me in an ancient, squeaky voice:
"'Good-day!' I said.
"'Would you like to buy a little wooden hut and some land?'
"'Eh, _Gospody_! What should I want with a little wooden hut?' said I.
'What do you ask for it?'
"'Fifty roubles,' she squeaked. 'My son has written to me from
Poltava. He says, "Sell the hut and come and live with me," so I'm
just looking for a buyer.'
"'What did you say?' I asked. 'Fifty roubles?'
"'Fifty roubles, _barinya_. Is it too much?'
"I was astonished. A house and land for fifty roubles. Such a matter
had to be inquired into. I felt I must go and look at the hut. I went
and saw it. It was all right, a nice little white cottage and thirty
or forty yards of garden to it.' Here's your fifty roubles,' I said.
And I bought it on the spot.
"We did nothing with it.
"Next summer, when I came down to Ghilendzhik, I said to my husband,
'Let us go and see our house and land.' Accordingly we went along to
look. What was our astonishment to find it occupied by another old
crone. I went up to the door and said:
"'Good-day!' said a cracked old voice. 'And who might you be?'
"'I might be the landlady,' I said. 'How is it you're here?'
"'Oh, you're the _khosaika_, the hostess,' replied the old crone. 'Eh,
dear! Eh, deary, deary! My respects to you. I didn't know you were the
_khosaika_. I saw an empty cottage here one day; it didn't seem to
belong to any one, so, as I hadn't one myself, I just came in.'
"The old dame bustled about apologetically.
"'Never mind,' said I. 'Live on, live on.'
"'Live on,' said Alexander Fed'otch.
"We went away and didn't come back to it or ask about it for seventeen
years. Then one day I received a letter offering me twenty pounds (two
hundred roubles) for the property, but as I had no need of money I
paid no attention. A month later some one offered me thirty pounds.
Obviously there was something in the air; there was some reason for
the sudden lively interest in our property. Alexander Fed'otch went
down, and he discovered that the site was wanted by the Government for
a new vodka-shop. If we didn't sell, we should at last be forced to
give up the property to the Government, and perhaps find ourselves
involved in litigation over it. Alexander Fed'otch made negotiations,
and sold it for ninety pounds--nine hundred roubles--think of it. And
it only cost us five pounds to start with! Ah, here is a place where
you can get rich if you only have a little capital."
"The old woman?" I queried. "Was she evicted?"
"Oh no, she had disappeared--died, I suppose."
"You made a handsome profit!"
"Yes, yes. But that's quite another history. You think we made
eighty-five pounds profit. No, no. We ought to have invested the money
quietly, but unfortunately Alexander Fed'otch, when he was selling the
house, met another man who persuaded him to buy a plot of land higher
up, and to build a grandiose villa upon it. They thought it a splendid
idea, and Alexander Fed'otch paid the nine hundred roubles as part
of the money down for the contractor. It was a great sorrow--for no
profit ever came of it. It happened in the revolutionary time. We paid
the contractor two thousand roubles, and then suddenly all his workmen
went on strike. He was an honest man, and it was not his fault. His
name was Gretchkin. He went to Novorossisk to try to get together a
new band of men, and there he met with a calamity. He arrived on the
day when the mutinous sailors were hanged, and the sight so upset him
that he lost his head--he plunged into a barracks and began shooting
at the officers with his revolver. He was arrested, tried, and
condemned to death. The sentence, however, was commuted to penal
servitude--that was when we got our Duma and there was the general
pardon. Two thousand roubles were lost to us right away. The half-dug
foundations of our house remained--a melancholy sight.
"The datcha is finished now; to-morrow you must go and see it. But it
has cost us in all ten thousand roubles. I should be thankful to sell
it for five thousand. Ai, ai, and we are growing old now and living
My hostess went out to fetch another plate of grapes.
"We wanted to put a vineyard round the datcha, but what with the
children and the pigs mauling and biting at everything, it couldn't be
managed. We had, however, a _pood_ of grapes from one of our gardens
The moon now bathed her yellow reflection in the mysterious sea, and
we sat and looked at it together.
"Vasia, my son, who has taken his musical degree, will stay up all
night to look at this sight," said my hostess. "It moves something in
It moved something in mine, and yet seemed strangely alien to the tale
I was hearing. That moon had flung its mystery over an Eastern
world, and it seemed an irrelevance beside the fortunes of a modern
Varvara Ilinitchna went on to tell me of her early days, and how
she and her husband had been poor. Alexander Fed'otch had taught in
schools and received little money. Their two sons were never well.
They had often wept over burdens too hard to bear.
One season, however, there came a change in their life and they became
prosperous. They prayed to be rich, and God heard their prayer.
"We owe the change in our fortunes to a famous Ikon," said Varvara
Ilinitchna. "It happened in this way. Alexander Fed'otch had an old
friend who, after serving thirty years as a clerk in an office,
suddenly gave up and took to the mountains. He was a wise man and knew
much of life, and it was through his wisdom that we sent for the Ikon.
We sheltered him all through the winters because he had no home, and
he came to love us and enter into our life. He rejoiced with us on
festivals when we were gay; when we were sad he sympathised. When we
shed tears he shed tears also. One evening when we were more than
ordinarily desperate he said to me, 'Take my advice; send for an Ikon
of St. Spiridon of Tremifond.' The Ikon costs ten shillings, and ten
shillings was much to us in those days. I told Alexander Fed'otch what
our friend had said, and he, being a religious man, agreed. We sent
ten shillings to Moscow and had the Ikon sent to us, and we took it to
church and had it blessed.
"That happened in the autumn. Those were the days when the Vladikavkaz
Railway was a novelty. The children, and even the grown-up people, did
nothing but play at trains all day. We used to take in the children of
the employees and look after them while their fathers and mothers were
away. Well, in the following May a director of the railway called on
Alexander Fed'otch and said he had a post to offer him.
"'We are thinking of taking all the children of the railway employees,
and establishing a school and _pension_ for them where they can
get good meals and be taught. We will provide you with a house and
appointments, and you will get a good salary into the bargain. Your
wife will be mother to our railway children, and you will be general
manager of the establishment. Will you take the post?'
"'With pleasure!' answered Alexander Fed'otch. But I for my part
took some time to consider. It was hard enough to be mother to three
children of my own. How could I be mother to fifty?
"However, we agreed to take the offer, and then suddenly we found
ourselves rich and important people, and we remembered the Ikon of St.
Spiridon of Tremifond and thanked God. If you are ever poor, if ever
you want money, send for the Ikon of St. Spiridon. I advise you. Its
virtues are famous."
"An evil Ikon, nevertheless, that Spiridon of Tremifond," I thought,
but I wouldn't say so to my hostess.
"And you've been happy ever since?" I asked.
"Not happy. Who even hopes to be happy? But we did well. The railway
company opened new establishments, and the directors have loved my
husband, and one of them even said at a public meeting, 'Would to God
there were more men in the world like Alexander Fed'otch!' We took
larger charges and higher posts. We were even thanked publicly in the
press for our services."
Varvara Ilinitchna sighed. Then she resumed her talking in a different
"But we live through our fortune. Well, I understand it. It is
our Karma after the Revolution. Property shall avail us nothing.
Everything we have shall be taken from us. Look at this Chinese wall
taking away all our money. Think of that foolish contractor Gretchkin
and our costly datcha. Behold our sickly children. How much money have
we not spent trying to heal our children, eh, eh! Doctors have all
failed. Even a magic healer in the country failed."
"Tell me of him," I urged.
Varvara Ilinitchna went on only too gladly. She had found a listener.
"It was a peasant woman. She healed so many people that, though she
was quite illiterate, the medical faculty gave her a certificate
to the effect that she could cure. I know for a fact that when
specialists gave their patients up as hopeless cases, they recommended
her as a last resort. She was a miracle worker: she almost raised the
dead. You must know, however, that she could only cure rheumatism
cases. For other diseases there are other peasant women in various
parts of Russia. We went to this one and lived a whole summer with her
on a very dirty, dismal countryside. We were all bored to death, and
we came away worse than we went. And all such things cost much, I
My hostess verily believed in the effect of the holy water on the
stormy waves, in the gracious influence of St. Spiridon, and in the
magical faculties of certain peasants. Yet observe she uses the word
_Karma_: she calls herself a Theosophist. My long vagabondage she
calls my _Karma_.
"My happiness," I corrected her.
"Happiness or unhappiness, it is all the same, your _Karma_."
She went on to talk of the great powers of Mme. Blavatsky, and she
told me that Alexander Fed'otch had just ordered _The Secret Doctrine_
to read. Good simple man, he will never get through a page of that
abstruse work; and my hostess will understand nothing. Is it not
strange--these people were peasants a generation ago; they are
peasants now by their goodness, hospitality, religion, superstition,
and yet they aspire to be eclectic philosophers? Varvara Ilinitchna
has life itself to read, and she turns away to look at books. Life
does not satisfy her--there are great empty places in it, and she
would be bored often but that she has books to open in these places.
She was very interesting to me as an example of the simple peasant
mind under the influence of modern culture. Perhaps it is rather a
shame to have put down all her old wife's talk in this way, for she is
lovable as one's own mother.
AT A FAIR
One misty morning in late October I arrived at Batum, pack on back,
staff in hand, to all appearances a pilgrim or a tramp, and I drank
tea at a farthing a glass in the fair.
"Pour it out full and running over," said a chance companion to the
owner of the stall. "That's how we workmen like it; not half-full as
for gentlefolk." The shopman, a silent and very dirty Turk, filled my
glass and the saucer as well. And sipping tea and munching _bubliki_,
we looked out upon all the sights of the _bazar_.
There lay around, in all the squalor that Turks love, the marvellous
superabundance of a southern harvest--spread on sacks in the
mud--grapes purple and silver-green, pomegranates in rusty thousands,
large dew-fed yellow apples, luscious dirt-bespattered pears, such
fruits that in London even the rich might look at and sigh for, but
pass by reflecting that with the taxes so high they could not afford
them, but here sold by ragamuffins to ragamuffins for greasy coppers;
and not only these fruits, but quinces and peaches, the large yellow
Caucasian _khurma_, the little blood-red _kizil_, and many unnamed
rarities. They all surged up out of the waste of over-trodden mire,
as if the pageantry of some fairy world had been arrested as it was
disappearing into the earth.
Then, beside these gorgeous fruits, in multitudinous attendance, a
confused array of scarlet runners, tomatoes, cabbages, out-tumbled
sacks of glazy purple aubergines, mysterious-looking gigantic
pumpkins, buckets full of pyramidal maize-cobs, yellow,
The motley crowd of vendors, clamouring, gesticulating, are chiefly
distinguished by their hats--the Arabs in white turbans, the Turks
in dingy fezes jauntily cocked over dark, unshaven faces, some fezes
swathed in bright silk scarves; the Caucasians in golden fleece hats,
bright yellow sheepskin busbies; the few Russians in battered peak
caps, like porters' discarded head-gear; Persians in skull-caps;
Armenians in shabby felts, astrakhans, or mud-coloured _bashliks_.
The trousers of the Christians all very tight, the trousers of
the Mahometans baggy, rainbow-coloured--it is a jealous point of
difference in these parts that the Turk keeps four or five yards of
spare material in the seat of his trousers.
What a din! what a clamour!
"_Kopeika, kopeika, kopeika_."
"_Oko tre kopek, oko tre kopek, oko tre kopek._"
Thus Christians shout against Mussulmans over the grape-heaps--one
farthing, one farthing, one farthing; oko (three pounds) three
farthings, oko three farthings, oko three farthings. Fancy shouting
oneself hoarse to persuade passers-by to buy grapes at a farthing a
My companion at the tea-stall, a tramp-workman from Central Russia,
was astonished at the price of the grapes.
"It is possible to say that that is cheap," said he. "When I return to
Russia I will take forty pounds of them and sell them in the train at
twopence-halfpenny (ten _copecks_); that will pay for my ticket, I
think, in the fourth class."
I watched the Turks trafficking, jingling their ancient rusty
balances, manipulating their Turkish weights--the _oko_ is not
Russian--and giving what was probably the most marvellous short weight
in Europe. The three-pound _oko_ was often little more than a pound.
A native of Trebizond came and sat at our table. He wore carpet socks,
and over them slippers with long toes curled upperward like certain
specimens one may see in Bethnal Green Museum; on his head a
straw-plaited, rusty fez swathed with green silk of the colour of a
"The Italians have taken Tripoli," said the Russian, with a grin;
"fancy letting those little people thump you so!"
"And the Japanese?" said a Caucasian quickly.
The Turk looked sulky.
"Italia will fall," said he. "She will fall yet, dishonourable
country. They have stolen Tripoli. All you others look on and smile.
But it is an injustice. We shall cut the throats of all the Italians
in Turkey. Will you look on then and smile?"
A Greek sniggered. There were many Greeks at the fair--they all wear
blue as the Turks all wear red.
When the Turk had gone, the Greek exclaimed:
"There's a people, these Turks, stupid, stupid as sheep; all they need
are horns ... and illiterate! When will that people wake up, eh?"
The Turks and the Greeks never cease to spit at one another, though
the former can afford to feel dignified, victors of their wars with
Greece. For the Italian the ordinary Turk has almost as much contempt
as for the Greek. One said to me, as I thought, quite cleverly:
"A Greek is half an Italian, and the Italian is half a Frenchman,
the Frenchman is half an Englishman, and you, my friend, are half a
German. We have some respect for a German, for he is equal to a score
of Greeks, a dozen Italians, or six Frenchmen, but we have no respect
at all for the rest."
Twenty Arabs passed us at the stall--all pashas, a Georgian informed
me. They had arrived the night before from Trebizond and the desert
beyond. Their procession through the ragged market was something to
wonder at--a long file of warriors all over six feet high, broad,
erect, with full flowing cloaks from their shoulders to their ankles,
under the cloaks rich embroidered garments. Their faces were white and
wrinkled, proud with all the assurance of men who have never known
what it is to stoop before the law and trade.
"They have come to make a journey through Russia," said the Georgian,
"but their consul has turned them back. They will pray in the mosque
and then return. It is inconvenient that they should go to Europe
while there is the war."
A prowling gendarme in official blue and red came up to the stall and
sniffed at the company. He pounced on me.
"Your letters of identification?" he asked.
I handed him a recommendation I had from the Governor of Archangel. He
returned it with such deference that all the other customers stared.
Archangel was three thousand miles away. Russian governors have long
It is unpleasant, however, to be scrutinised and thought suspicious. I
finished my tea and then returned to the crowd. There was yet more of
the fair to see--the stalls of Caucasian wares, the silks, the guns,
the knives, Armenian and Persian carpets, Turkish slippers, sandals,
yards of brown pottery, where at each turn one sees huge pitchers and
water-jugs and jars that might have held the forty thieves. At one
booth harness is sold and high Turkish saddles, at another pannier
baskets for mules. A flood of colour on the pavement of a covered
way--a great disarray of little shrivelled lemons, with stalks in
many cases, for they have been gathered hard by. In the centre of the
market-place are all the meat and fish shops, and there one may see
huge sturgeon and salmon brought from the fisheries of the Caspian.
Garish notices inform in five languages that fresh caviare is received
each day. Round about the butchers are sodden wooden stalls, labelled
and there, wrapped in old rags, is much grey muddy snow melting and
freezing itself. It has been brought on rickety lorries down the rutty
tracks of the mountains, down, down into the lowland of Batum, where
even October suns are hot.
Near the snow stalls behold veiled Turkish women just showing their
noses out of bright rags, and tending the baking of chestnuts and
maize cobs, sausages, pies, fish, and chickens. Here for eightpence
one may buy a hot roast chicken in half a sheet of exercise-paper. The
purchasers of hot chicken are many, and they take them away to open
tables, where stand huge bottles of red wine and tubs of tomato-sauce.
The fowl is pulled to bits limb by limb, and the customer dips, before
each bite, his bone in the common sauce-bowl.
Those who are poorer buy hot maize cobs and cabbage pies; those who
feel hot already themselves are fain to go to the ice and lemonade
stall, and spend odd farthings there. I bought myself _matsoni_,
Metchnikof's sour milk and sugar, at a halfpenny a mug.
The market square is vast. It is wonderful the number of scenes
enacting themselves at the same time. All the morning in another
quarter men were trying on old hats and overcoats, and having the most
amazing haggling over articles which are sold in London streets for a
pot of ferns or a china butter-dish. In another part popular pictures
are spread out, oleographs showing the Garden of Eden, or the terror
of the Flood, or the Last Judgment, and such like; in another is a
wilderness of home-made bamboo furniture, a speciality of Batum. And
for all no lack of customers.
What a place of mystery is a Russian Fair, be it in the capital or at
the outposts of the Empire! There is nothing that may not be found
there. One never knows what extraordinary or wonderful thing one may
light upon there. Among old rusty fire-irons one finds an ancient
sword offered as a poker; among the litter of holy and secular
secondhand books, hand-painted missals of the earliest Russian times.
Nothing is ever thrown away; even rusty nails find their way to the
_bazar_. The miscellanies of a stall might upon occasion be what is
left behind after a house removal. On one table at Batum I observed
two moth-eaten rusty fezes, a battered but unopened tin of herrings in
tomato-sauce, another tin half-emptied, a guitar with one string, a
good hammer, a door-mat worn to holes, the clearing of a book-case, an
old saucepan, an old kerosene stove, a broken coffee-grinder, and a
rusty spring mattress. Under the stall were two Persian greyhounds,
also for sale. The shopmen ask outrageous prices, but do not expect to
be paid them.
"How much the kerosinka?" I asked in sport.
"Ten shillings," said an old, sorrowful-looking Persian.
I laughed sarcastically, and was about to move away. The Persian was
taking the oil-stove to bits to show me its inward perfection.
"Name your price," said he.
I did not want a kerosene stove, but for fun I tried him on a low
"Sixpence," I said.
"Whew!" The Persian looked about him dreamily. Did he sleep, did he
"You don't buy a machine for sixpence," said he. "I bought this
second-hand for eight-and-sixpence. I can offer it to you for nine
shillings as a favour."
"Oh no, sixpence; not a farthing more."
I walked away.
"Five shillings," cried the Persian--"four shillings."
"Ninepence," I replied, and moved farther away.
"Two shillings." He bawled something more, inaudibly, but I was
already out of hearing. I happened to repass his stall accidentally
later in the morning.
"That kerosinka," said the Persian--"take it; it is yours at one
shilling and sixpence."
I felt so sorry for the unhappy hawker, but I could not possibly buy
an oil-stove. I could not take one as a gift; but I looked through
his old books and there found, in a tattered condition, _The Red
Laughter_, by Leonid Andreef, a drama by Gorky, a long poem by
Skitaletz, and a most interesting account of Chekhof's life by
Kouprin, all of which I bought after a short haggle for fivepence,
twenty copecks. I was the richer by my visit to his stall, for I found
good reading for at least a week. And the old Persian accepted the
silver coin and dropped it into an old wooden box, looking the while
with melancholy upon the unsold kerosinka.
A TURKISH COFFEE-HOUSE
It sometimes happens that, entering a house, one enters not simply
into the presence of a family but into that of a nation. So it was
when I was received in a Little-Russian deacon's cottage in a village,
on the Christmas Eve on which I first came to Russia. I came not to
the deacon but to Russia itself, and when the Christmas musicians
came and played before me it was not only Christmas music, or village
music, that I heard, but the voice of a whole countryside and the song
of a whole national soul. It sometimes happens that, looking at a
picture, one sees not only its local and obvious beauty, but its
eternal significance and message--that is a similar experience.
It happened to me whilst on a tramp in Trans-Caucasia to enter a
coffee-house that was at once a Turkish coffee-house and Turkey
itself. I lived for a whole night veritably in Turkey. In this way--
I came into a little town; it was a cold night and I wanted shelter.
I entered a noisy Turkish coffee-house--there were at least a hundred
such in the town--and asked if I might spend the night there. The
owner, a young man in shirt-sleeves, very dirty and unshaven, and with
an old fez on the side of his head, intimated that I might stay if I
The cafe was a room full of poor Turks. Picture a crowd of ragged men,
some in drab turbans with loose ends hanging down their backs, but
most of them in dingy red fez hats, faces unshaved, mottled, ugly--a
squat people, very talkative, but terribly mirthless; and in shadowy
corners of the low dark cafe solitary persons with hook-nosed,
ruminative faces. All about me was the din of the strange language,
the clatter of dice and dominoes. All night long the doors of the cafe
slammed and customers passed in and out, games were begun and played
away, animated groups formed at certain tables and then broke up
and gave way to new groups, loud discussions broke out over Turkish
newspapers and politics and the war, in the course of which
discussions the newspaper, a wilderness of Arabic, was often torn to
bits--a series of scenes of tremendous animation and noise; but no one
In the clamour of tongues sounded again and again the name "Italia."
The Turks were angry over the war, full of a restrained resentment and
a profound need for revenge. It was a relief to me when one of them
came to my table and talked to me in Russian.
"How goes the war?" I asked. "Is Italy losing?"
"Of course she is losing," he replied, lying sullenly; "and she must
"But she has taken Tripoli and guards it with her navy. How can she
"The other Powers will make her disgorge it, or we will commence an
endless hostility, not only against Italy and Italian trade, but
against all whom we tolerate--the Western Christians."
A Caucasian, overhearing us, drew his forefinger along his throat from
ear to ear, and smiled.
"There are more Mahometans than Christians," the Turk went on, "and
they are strong men, heroes. The Italians are the worn-out scum of
ancient Rome, getting the better of us ignobly. But they shall not
spoil the Mahometan world. Not even the English, most powerful of the
machine nations, shall overwhelm the true faith."
The keeper of the coffee-house came and stared at me. Two new
customers came up, and I was pointed out as an Englishman. They talked
about me in Turkish; other Turks came, they talked about England's
role in the war, they scolded, gesticulated, poured forth endlessly,
forgot me. Once more, though in a crowd, I was alone.
At this time a great diversion was caused. A blind musician came in.
At midnight one would have thought no new development in the life of
the cafe was likely to take place, but the musician brought into
the room such a crush of people that on all sides I felt packed and
crammed. A tall, gaunt man, hatless, shaggy-headed, his black locks
falling over a strange yellow brow; eyes that saw not, looking through
deep purple spectacles; and in his arms, like a baby, a long Armenian
guitar--the musician was somewhat to wonder at. Hemmed in by the
crowd, he yet found a little space in the body of the coffee-house,
and danced to and fro with his songs like some strange being in a
frenzy. He played with fire on his guitar, every minute breaking from
his sparkling, thrilling accompaniment into a wild human chant, his
face the while triumphant and passionate, but blind with such utter
blindness that he seemed like the symbol of Man's life rather than
a man; a great song of heart-yearning sung to the stars and to the
Infinite rather than the singer of that song.
His fingers flowed over the long guitar; the wild words broke out; he
flung himself in little zigzag steps to right, to left; the wild
chant stopped; once more spoke only the strings. I looked at him and
listened, and could not give myself enough to him.
At nearly two he made a collection and received many piastres and
copecks, and the crowd who had listened to him began to disperse. At
three o'clock the host signified that he wished to close the shop. To
all the remaining customers Turkish delight was served out as a sort
of parting gift. A dozen Turks, those who had homes, slunk away; the
remainder, those who had no homes of their own, stayed to sleep.
The host now came to me and we did some business. I wanted to change
some Turkish silver, as I was short of Russian money. As no bank
would take this small coin I was obliged to try the coffee-house.
Accordingly, I had asked my coffee-house keeper to buy a hundred or so
piastres. After half an hour's haggling we struck a very bad bargain.
I find the Turk more of a sharp than the Jew.
The long day was over. The shutters were pulled along in front of the
shop and padlocked. A form was accorded me on which to sleep. Another
form was drawn out into the middle of the room and placed at a certain
angle, pointing to the East, I suppose. Then during half an hour the
Turks ascended this form in turn, stood, bowed, knelt, prostrated
themselves in silent prayer, reiteratedly. They prayed very
differently from Russian peasants. Their movements were abrupt and
mechanical, like steps in a military drill. They were nearer to
spiritual death and praying-boxes than any I had ever watched pray
before. I felt myself in the presence of a new form of piety. I had
crossed the great broad line that separates Europe from Asia, and come
to a place where Europe is not understood and therefore hated.
At six next morning the sleepers awoke and performed the same rites on
the improvised praying-stool; the shutters were rolled back; the
Turks who had homes returned; in came the Arabic newspaper; once
more Turkish delight, coffee, the clatter of dice and dominoes, the
gathering of animated groups, loud, unpleasant voices and mirthless
vivacity--so the life of the coffee-house went on; so I imagine it
goes on for ever.
* * * * *
As I think of this in retrospect it seems that the blind musician
stood in some peculiar and significant relation to the more ordinary
life about him. But for him, I should probably have omitted to
describe my night among the Turks. He made the coffee-house worth
living in, worth sketching, worth being re-seen in the reflection of
words. He was what I should call the glory of the coffee-house.
Thus the garden of Eden was beautiful, but Adam and Eve in the garden
were the glory of the garden, the highest significance of its beauty,
the voice by which relatively dumb beauty got a step farther in
expressing itself. The garden would never have been described but for
the episode of Adam and Eve. It would not have been worth while to
describe it.... The forest is beautiful, but the bird singing in the
forest is the glory of the forest. The morning is beautiful, but the
tramp walking in the morning is the glory of the morning; he also, in
his youth and morning of life, is a voice by which beauty endeavours
to reveal itself.
Each scene, each picture, has a highest significance if we could but
find it. Thus the blind musician was a revelation of the very soul of
the Turks. The tramp wandering through life and exploring it tries
always to find what is particularly his in the scenes that come before
his eyes. It is what he means by living a daily life in the presence
of the Infinite.
AT A GREAT MONASTERY
In the Middle Ages, when Christianity was still young, there was much
more hospitality than to-day. The crusader and the palmer needed no
introduction to obtain entertainment at a strange man's house. The
doors of castle or cottage, of monastery or cell, were always on the
latch to the wanderer, and not only to those performing sacred dues
but to the vagabond, the minstrel, the messenger, the tradesman, even
to crabbed Isaac of York.
Since those days it has become clear that the thirty pieces of silver
not only sold the author of Christianity but Christianity itself. As
my Little-Russian deacon said, "Money has come between us and made us
work more and love less. We are gathered together, not for love but
for mutual profit. It is all the difference between conviviality and
gregariousness." The deacon was right, and when one comes upon
the Middle Ages, as yet untouched, in Russia, one reflects with a
sigh--"The whole of Europe, even England, was like this once." One
says with Arnold--
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar
Retreating to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Day by day, as we live, we see the disintegration of that which
Christianity means, the shattering of that brotherly love that makes
men nations and nations the children of God. Not without truth did
Shylock say of his money that he made it breed. The pieces of silver
have bred well; they jingle to-day in the pockets of millions of
These thirty pieces did not pass out of currency, though the land that
they bought was left desolate. They passed from hand to hand among
the covetous throughout the first centuries of Christianity. The Jews
clung to them as if they were life itself; but the early Christians,
having something very much better than money to live for, coveted them
not. And as long as the money remained with the Jews Christianity
flourished. The two symbols opposed one another, and there was no
question but that the Cross triumphed. Only when the Christians turned
their backs on the Cross and hankered after the silver did the eternal
nature of the betrayal manifest itself. When the Saracens began to be
fought, not only by swords and faith but by the aid of Jewish money,
and with the pomp and circumstance of war, then already Judas had been
to the priests. When the knight or baron bequeathed the thirty Jewish
pieces to the monastery Judas was already kissing the Master. When the
hand that held the Cross loosened to take the silver, when the monks
took the treasure of Earth and relinquished the treasure of Heaven,
Jesus was already taken. It was but a short way to the crucifixion.
The silver profiteth no man.
Where are the thirty pieces of silver now? Where are they not? When
the rich holiday-maker comes scattering money in peaceful mountain
valleys; when the peasant's son, infected by the idea of money, comes
to town for his thirty shillings a week; when for the want of another
thirty shillings he refuses to marry; when to save his mind some
evangelical society--so called--accepts thirty shillings "charity";
when the millionaire leaves thirty thousand pounds to the hospitals to
save his body; when a minister is paid three hundred pounds a year to
save his soul; when a member of Parliament receives thirty pounds a
month to remedy his social wrongs; when the love of the country girl
he should have married is won by some rich man who thinks he can pay
for it--on all these occasions and yet more, to examples innumerable,
the curse of Judas shows itself, till every brick of our evil
industrial cities is shown mortared round in bright silver hate.
* * * * *
As I write these lines one question is very urgent in the minds of
Englishmen, that of the disestablishment and partial disendowment of a
church. Once more the thirty pieces appear to be in the coffers of the
church and they are attracting the curse. There is only one way for
that church; it is to give up to the spoiler not only that which
is demanded of it but all the material wealth it possesses, its
endowments, estates, houses, palaces, sacred edifices; to lay down
everything and be simply, for the moment, a church in the hand of God.
As for disestablishment, the sooner Christians dissociate themselves
from secular names and titles the better. The Christian church is one
established for ever, upon a rock, and those who compose that church
are they who love their neighbour as a brother.
We have hope of new life, otherwise it were folly to write at all. The
great distress which the modern commercial life causes the individual
soul is perhaps a blessing in disguise; it causes the individual to
pause and think, causes him to rebel, to try and imagine a way to true
salvation. For, despite Progress and the benefit our posterity is
supposed to be going to derive from it, it is an undisguisable fact
that life, the wonderful and strange gift given to the individual
perhaps once in an eternity, is being used without profit, without
pause, without wonder. We are like people who have lost their memories
on the way to a feast, and our steps, in which is only dimly felt
the remembrance of a purpose, take us nowhither. We loiter in musty
waiting-rooms, are frustrated by mobs, and foiled by an eternal
clamour. We have forgotten the feast and occupy ourselves in all
manner of foolish and irrelevant ways. Only now and again, struck
by the absurdity of our occupations, we grope after our lost
consciousness and feel somehow that somewhere out beyond is our real
destination, that somewhere out there a feast is proceeding, that a
cover is laid for us and dishes served, that though we are absent the
master calls a toast to us and sends messengers to find us.
* * * * *
The _somewhere-out-beyond_ has for me been Russia. I do not suggest
that it is Russia for every one. There are many tables at the feast,
and the messenger sent after the absent must tell of those who sit at
his own table. I think there is the same wine and the same fare at all
tables. I tell of the hospitality of Russia, the hospitality of mind
and of hand found amongst a simple people.
In October 1911 I arrived as a pilgrim at the monastery of Novy Afon,
or, to translate the Russian into more recognisable terms, New Athos,
and I obtained the hospitality of the monks.
There are three sorts of monasteries in Russia, one where there is
great store of gold and precious stones as in Troitsky Lavra near
Moscow, another where there are ancient relics and ikons of miraculous
power as at Solovetz, and a third where there is neither the
distinction of gold nor of relics, where the power of the monks lies
in their living actual work and prayer. To the last-named category
belongs Novy Afon.
It is very likely that the immense wealth of the other monasteries may
invite the hand of the spoiler. Even now the monks are notorious for
drunkenness and corruptibility: the institutions are moribund, and
there is no doubt that if revolution had overturned the Tsardom the
rich monasteries like the Troitsky would have been sacked. Perhaps
even Novy Afon and many another spiritual mother would have shared
a common fate with their depraved sisters. That is as may be. The
Revolution did not succeed and could not, because the common peasantry
still prayed in the temples which the Revolutionaries would have
destroyed. The living church of Russia required its buildings even
though the caretakers of these buildings were in some cases false
But there is no question of false stewards at Novy Afon. It is a place
where a Luther might serve and feel no discontent, a place of new
life. It looks into the future with eyes that see visions, and
stretches forward to that future with hands that are creative; an
institution with no past but only a present and an idea, not acting by
precedent or tradition but taking its inspiration straight from life's
It will be profitable to describe the monastery just as I saw it and
felt it to be, on the occasion of my arrival there after five hundred
miles tramping in the autumn of 1911. I had overtaken many pilgrims
journeying thither, and the nearer I approached the more became their
numbers. There were many on foot and many in carts and coaches.
Multi-coloured diligences were packed with people and luggage--the
people often more miscellaneously packed than the luggage, clinging
on behind, squashed in the middle, sprawling on the top. The drivers
looked superb though dressed in thousand-times-mended black coats, the
post-boys tootled on their horns, and the passengers sang or shouted
to the music of accordions. Of course not all those in the coaches
were pilgrims religiously inclined; many were holiday seekers out for
the day. The gates of Novy Afon are open to all, even to the Mahometan
or the Pagan. It was a beautiful cloudless morning when I arrived at
this most wonderful monastery in the Russian world--a cluster of white
churches on a hill, a swarm of factories and workshops, cedar avenues,
orchards, vineyards, and, above all, tree-covered mountains crowned by
grey towers and ancient ruins, the whole looking out on the far sea.
At the monastery gates were a cluster of empty coaches waiting for
passengers, the drivers sitting in the dusty roadway meanwhile,
playing cards or eating chunks of red melon. Pilgrims with great
bundles on their backs stood staring vacantly at the walls or at the
sea; monks in long grey cloaks, square hats, and long hair, passed in
and out like bees about a hive, and from a distance came a musical
drone, the chanting of church services.
Pack on back, staff in hand, no one took me for other than a Russian
pilgrim till I showed my passport. I entered the monastery, asked one
of the monks where to go, and was at once shown to a room, a little
square whitewashed apartment with four hard couches; the room looked
upon the hostelry yard, and was lit within by electric light--the
monks' own manufacture. No one asked me any questions--they were too
hospitable to do that. I was at once taken for granted as one might
be by one's own family after returning home from a week-end in the
country. When I had disposed my clothes, brushed away some of the
dust, changed boots, and washed, the novice who had shown me my room
tapped at the door and, looking in with a smile, told me I had come
just in time for dinner. All along the many corridors I heard the
tinkling of a dinner-bell and a scuttling of many feet.
The dinner was served in three halls: two of them were more exclusive
apartments where those might go who did not care to rub shoulders with
the common people; but the other was a large barn where any one who
liked to come took the chances of his fellow-man, be he peasant or
pilgrim. It was in the barn that I took my seat among a great crowd of
folk at two long, narrow tables. Round about us on the walls were a
multiplicity of brightly coloured ikons, pictures of the abbot, of
Tsars, of miraculous happenings and last judgments. On the tables at
regular intervals were large iron saucepans full of soup, platters of
black bread, and flagons of red wine.
A notice on the wall informed that without prayer eating or drinking
was forbidden, and I wondered what was going to happen; for although
we had all helped ourselves in Russian fashion, no one had as yet said
grace, and there was an air of waiting among the party. Suddenly a
voice of command cried "Stand!" and we all stood like soldiers on
drill. We all faced round to the ikons, and to a monk standing in
front of them. A long prayer was said in a very military fashion, and
then we all crossed ourselves and took our places at the tables once
more. Five of the brethren were in attendance, and fluttered up and
down, shifting the bread or refilling the wine bowls.
We were a mixed company--aged road-worn pilgrims, bright boys come
from a local watering-place by coach, red-kerchiefed peasant women,
pleasant citizens' wives in town-made blouses, Caucasians, a Turk, a
Jew, an Austrian waiter, and many others that I took no stock of.
The diet is a fast one, just as the hard beds are penance beds, and
no one can procure anything different at Novy Afon for any amount of
money. Even in the hall reserved for dignitaries and officials the
fare was the same as for us in the _tiers etat_. The soup was of
vegetables only, and much inferior to what the tramp makes for himself
by the roadside. The second course was cold salt fish or boiled beans
and mushrooms, and the third was dry maize-meal porridge. As each
plate was put on the table the brother told us it came from God, and
whispered a blessing.
There was not much talking; every one was busy eating and drinking.
The wine was drunk plentifully, though without any toasts. One felt
that more generosity was expressed in the provision of wine than in
the other victuals. But for the meal only ten minutes and then once
more the peremptory voice "Stand!" and we all listened to a long
thank-offering and bowed before the ikons. Dinner was over.
Dinner was at eleven in the morning; tea with black bread and no
butter at three; supper, a repetition of the dinner menu, at seven;
and all doors closed and the people in their beds by eight-thirty.
After many nights in the open I slept once more with a roof over my
head, and looking up in the night, missed the stars and wondered where
The monastery bells in pleasant liquid tones struck every quarter of
an hour, and at two o'clock in the morning I was awakened by a great
jangling, and the sound of steps along the stone corridors. I asked my
companions--I was sharing my room with an Armenian and a Russian--what
was the reason of the bell, and I learned that it was the call to
early prayers. We none of us got up, but I resolved to go next night
if it were possible.
Next day was one of relaxation after tramping. The Armenian went off
ten miles to a celebrated cave and a point of view, "the swallows'
nest"; he wished me to accompany him, but I had not come to Novy Afon
to find points of view or the picturesque--moreover he had come by
steamboat and was fresh, I had come on foot five hundred miles and
wanted a rest.
In the morning I looked through the workshops, chatted with a master in
the little monastery school, lounged in the orange groves and cedar
avenues. After dinner, as I sat near the pier, a monk pointed out to me
some artificial water where willows drooped, and white swans rode
gracefully under them. "You ought to come here at
_Kreschenie_--Twelfth-Night. We make of that water a little Jordan in
memory of the Jordan where the Son of God was baptized. The ponds are
all decorated with fresh-cut grass, laurel leaves, and cypress branches,
myrtle and oleander, many roses and wild flowers. Scarcely anywhere in
all Russia could there be found such flowers at that time of the year."
"Have you pilgrims then?" I asked.
"Oh yes, many. They come from all the district round about, to dip
themselves in the water after it has been made holy. We keep the
festival very solemnly. The Archimandrite comes down from the
monastery, and after him the priests, the monks, the lay brethren, the
labourers, the banners and their bearers, and the sacred Ikons. There
is a long service. Though the month is January, the weather is
often bright and warm as early summer, and the mountains look very
As we were thus talking, the Archimandrite, Ieronym himself, came
out of the hostelry yard and passed us, a benign old man, devout and
ancient of aspect, but kindly and wise. He is accounted a living
saint, and it may well be that after his death he will be canonised.
Novy Afon has only been in existence thirty years, and he has been
abbot all the time. The monastery has been his own idea, it has grown
with him. If Novy Afon is a fountain of life, he is the rock out of
which the fountain springs. The whole monastery and all its ways are
under his guidance, and as he wishes them to be. They are as a good
book that he has written, and better than that.
He went to a gorgeous little chapel at the base of the landing-stage,
there to hold a service in memory of the visit to New Athos of their
highnesses the late Tsar, Alexander the Third, and his queen, on that
day 1888. Presently behold the worthy abbot in his glorious robes,
cloth of gold from head to foot, and on his head, instead of the
sombre black hat of ordinary wear, a great golden crown sparkling with
diamonds and rubies. The many clergy stood about him in the little
temple, or beyond the door, for there was not room for all, with them
some hundred monks, and the multifarious populace. The service was
read in hollow, oracular tones, and every now and then a storm of
glorious bass voices broke forth in response. Evidently the Ikon of
the Virgin named _Izbavelnitsa_ was being thanked for her protection
of the Tsar in a storm. So much I could make out; and every now and
then the crowd sang thanks to the Virgin. At the end of the service
the Archimandrite, who had had his back to the people all the time--or
rather, to put it more truly, had all the time looked the same way,
_with_ the people--turned, and lifting and lowering the gold cross
which he held in his hands, gave blessing. The heads and bodies of the
worshippers bowed as the Cross pointed toward them.
The service was over. As the abbot Ieronym resumed his ordinary
attire, and left the temple, the hundred or so peasant men and women
pressed around him, and fervently kissed his little old fingers, white
and delicate. I watched the old man give his hand to them--I watched
their eagerness. Religion was proved to be Love.
What struck me particularly on entering Novy Afon was the new tone in
the every day. There was less of the _barin_ and servant, officer
and soldier feeling, less noisy commandings and scoldings, even less
beating of the patient horses that have to carry such heavy loads in
Russia. Instead of these, a gentleness and graciousness, something of
that which one finds in artistic and mystic communities in Russia, in
art and in pictures, but which one seldom meets with in public life.
Here at New Athos breathes a true Christianity. It was strange how
even the undying curiosity of the Russian had been conquered; for here
I was not asked the thousand and one impertinent questions that it is
usually my lot to smile over and answer. There was even a restraint in
asking me necessary questions lest they should be difficult to answer.
Then not one of the monks possesses any property of his own, even of a
purely transitory kind, such as a bed or a suit of clothes. They have
all in common, and they have not that nicety or necessity of privacy
which would compel an Englishman to claim the right to wear the same
coat and trousers two days running. But the monks are even less
diffident of claiming their own separate mugs and plates at table, and
are unoffended by miscellaneous eating and drinking from one another's
Every one is the servant of all--and without hypocrisy--not only in
act but in sentiment and prayer. Wherever I went I found the tone ring
This fair exterior glory seems to spring from a strong inner life.
Religious life in the Holy Orthodox Church, with its many ordinances
and its extraordinary proximity to everyday life, is not allowed to be
monotonous and humdrum. Each day at New Athos is beautiful in itself,
and if a monk's life were made into a book of such days one would not
turn over two pages at once.
The day begins at midnight, when, to the occasional melancholy chime
of the cathedral bell, the brothers move to the first service of the
morning. On my second night at Afon I wakened at the prayer-bell and
joined the monks at their service. In the sky was a faint glimmer of
stars behind veiling clouds. The monastery, resplendent with marble
and silver by day, was now meek and white in the dark bosom of the
mountain, and shining like a candle. In the church which I entered
there was but one dim light. The clergy, the monks, the faces in the
ikon frames all were shadows, and from a distance came hollow shadow
music, _gul-l-l_, the murmur of the sea upon the shore. It was the
still night of the heart where the Dove yet broods over the waters and
life is only just begun. At that service a day began, a small life.
When the service was over and we returned to our rooms, morning had
advanced a small step; the stars were paler, one just made out the
contours of the shadowy crags above us.
Just a little sleep and then time to rise and wash and breakfast. The
monks in charge of the kitchen must be up some time before the rest
of us. At 8 A.M. the morning service commences, and every monk must
Then each man goes to his work, some to the carpentry sheds, others
to the unfinished buildings, to the brickworks, the basket works, the
cattle yards, the orchards and gardens, the cornfields, the laundries,
leather works, forges, etc., etc., etc.; the teachers to the schools
where the little Caucasian children are taught; the abbot to his cell,
where he receives the brothers in turn, hears any confession they may
wish to make, and gives advice in any sorrow that may have come upon
any of them. The old abbot is greatly beloved, and the monks have
children's hearts. Again in the evening the day is concluded in song
and prayer. Such is the monastery day.
* * * * *
No doubt the upkeep of this great establishment costs much; it does
not "pay"--the kingdom of God doesn't really "pay." Much money has to
be sent yearly to Novy Afon ... and yet probably not so very much. In
any case, it is all purely administered, for there are no bribe takers