HE had always dreamed of adventure, this ever-young father of ours — the full adventure which comes to the world’s pioneers. And always, too, he had had his share of it. The memories of our childhood are shot through and through with brilliant tales of his fashioning, and of these the most entrancing were the reminiscences of his own childhood years — unless one counts as stories the gay escapades which constantly we shared with him; the truest true stories we used to call them, talking them over in the evening, in front of the open fire. Yet, always, we came back to the scintillating plans which he ceaselessly drew for his own future and for ours — plans which long ago set us to saving our copper kopeks for our travel-fund.
‘Give us the new things!’ he used to say, half-laughingly, swinging some one of us on his knee: ‘the unknown places and the untried tasks! Give us our home where the axe first meets the forest, our work at the roots of the big undertakings; and let who will have the blossoms and the fruit. Give us a full life of the hardships of beginnings. And then, for our reward, give us a battered old ship, on a sea that has no shores; let us face storms, lest we grow indolent; let us search for treasure, lest we grow old! Come, kiddies: who will be captain of my ship?’
We had them all in varying measure, the blessings for which, half-jokingly, he prayed. We had the house in the Caucasian forest — a forest which even the axe could not subdue; for its stumps came triumphantly to life again and the tall fern brake of the underbrush ran ever back over the half-cleared spaces.
We had the year in the historic, sunfilled, blue-and-white Balaklava, where we lived ‘across the street from the sea,’ and feasted on the stories of the Greek fishermen, who adopted us all into their lawless fraternity.
We had another year or two in Yalta, — a city of white steps running down to the water, of tall, slim cypresses, and pine-covered hills at the back, — where, contrary to our accustomed ways, we lived in a big house with polished floors, and father was very much in the midst of things.
Later, we had Hawaii, where we spent our days in the warm breakers and prayed that nothing would ever take us away from them; while father, with his little white mule, tramped over the islands, stopping now and then to spread his paper over some flat-topped rock and write for an hour or two, so that the magazine-reading Russia might know how much fun there was in the world of the tropics.
And, later still, true to his pioneer bent, he planted us on a half-cleared ranch in California, where we fought desert rocks as we had fought the forest of Caucasus, and with little better results. Though even then, in those slim days, the unforgotten travel-fund held our small savings and our dreams.
And all this time father was working at the roots of the big undertakings. The work ran lightly at first, through articles in the Russian newspapers and magazines, where he urged new plans and new experiments and new developments in industry and education; then, steadily and consistently, when he put his whole heart into it and forgot himself in his work. He left the California home at that time, and went back to Russia, to prove, if he could, his contention that the life of mankind is built close to the earth, and that in the proper tilling of that earth lies the hope of the world. Under the Department of Agriculture, as agricultural expert and adviser, he began his work with the Russian government, and Fate was kind to him, for he stayed but a little time in each of the districts allotted him. The endless plains of Siberia were his for a time; then the hot fields of Turkestan; then once more the mountains of his beloved Caucasus, from which he dropped into the steppes of his native Ukrainia.
His adventures took a queer turn, in those days. He had lived in the United States long enough to learn the newest met hods of agriculture in all its aspects; long enough to covet them all for his own land. As they said of him once at an official dinner in Petrograd, ‘He stands with one foot in Russia and one foot in America, and his task is to bring his feet together.’ The world in which he lived at that time was the world of disc ploughs and modern harrows and cultivators; and for many years they called him, throughout Russia, ‘ the tractor-mad American.’
Into this world he took the readers of the Russian magazines, and his rich descriptions of his plans and dreams made it a true fairy world. Fruit-drying for Turkestan he preached, and the intensive cultivation of cotton; a gigantic lumber industry for Siberia, together with a full opening of her mines, and both of these but poor seconds to her rich, tractor-developed fields. In Caucasus he saw the all-Russian resort, surpassing Switzerland and Southern France and Italy — a playground of the nation, which later would become the playground of the world. And then, for Russia as a whole, he had bigger dreams still — the dream of improved grains wisely sown and successfully harvested; the dream of rural schools; and then the dream of good roads, a network of them, supplanting her hopeless mudruts and lifting her out of the Middle Ages.
He exasperated us a bit with those good roads. That dream held him very fast on that momentous visit of his when we met him at the station with our shining new car, and had the blissful experience of having him ask unsuspectingly, ‘ Chey avtomobeel ? ’ We took him on long rides on that visit, parading before the entire countryside both our father and our car. We would explain to him excitedly the intricacies of the levers and the buttons, still very new to ourselves; and we would be chilled by his indifference.
‘The road,’ he would say, ‘is very smooth right here. It has a different feeling, somehow, under the tires. Will you stop a moment ?'
He would climb out — awkwardly; he never did grow used to the car, which seemed to serve him only as a starting-place for memories of his ungovernable gray Sery of Batoum days, who used to throw him regularly and could go like the wind, ‘quite as fast as the car.’ With his camera he would walk back along the road, pausing to make his snap-shots, striking his foot on the paved surface, crumbling it away with his hands at the edge.
Presently he would come back to us. ‘Who built this road, do you know?’ And if we did not know, there were, of course, ways of finding out. Then would follow the trip to the contractor’s office, and long technical discussions through which we waited, impatient, but for the knowledge that all this was somehow the following through of the tales of our childhood days, the tasks at the roots of big things. Later, there came the reward — the news that the Russian government was working along his plan. His booklet on good roads came also, illustrated with the snapshots that we had helped him to take; although in those snap-shots, — we observed it with a full sense of injury,— he had not even bothered to include the new car.
His visits were not frequent in those years, and, each time, he would remain with us a fortnight or three weeks, then go on to New York, or set sail for Vladivostok. They were oddly hushed days, the days just before his going, when he shook his head over his too-full bags, and jotted things down in his worn notebook; and when, inspirit, he would be gone long before the day of his departure. His step was still on the porch as he paced up and down; his arm still fell promptly about the shoulders of any one of us who chanced to come within reach. But there was a different light in his eyes — t he going-away light, which we had learned to know; and in his room, when we called him to breakfast, we would find him writing, writing.
Through all those years, somehow, we did not outgrow his stories; yet he kept always a long step ahead of us. We need not even close our eyes to see him on the ranch during those brief ‘runs’ in from Russia, sunning himself on the porch, his small grandson on his knee, a tattered Stevenson in his hand — we had worn out the English original, after the leaves of our Russian translation had fallen apart.
‘Sing yo-ho botta-rum, dedushka — this last the only word that crowned sister’s heroic efforts to teach her young Scotch-Russians her mother-tongue.
‘Yo-ho and a bottle o’ rum,’ would come in father’s low, pleasant voice.
‘And we shall look for treasure, too, dedushka, you and I?’
‘We shall look for it, sonny-boy, you and I.’
‘And find it?’
‘And find it. Or, at least, if we should not find it, we shall have had the fun of looking for it, just the same.’
Then, usually, sister would appear, a little worried wrinkle between her eyebrows. ‘Really, father, he dreams about it all night — and he talks and tosses, and kicks off the bed-clothes — and he saves his pennies for a travelfund.’
Father would laugh at that, and sing a little Russian song, — something about the trials of being the father of a grown daughter, — and hand the squirming youngster over to her.
‘Take your son, then, and give him plain bread and butter, you who were raised on rainbows. But just the same, some day we shall find that ship and go looking for the treasure.’ He would pause a moment and narrow his eyes. ‘With the help of Boris Ivanovich.’
He told us more of Boris Ivanovich, his neighbor in his apartment in Petrograd — a veritable brother in adventure. Boris Ivanovich, it seemed, was ready to outfit a ship and go cruising on the shores of Peru, in quest of treasure whose location was clearly marked on a messy chart, which he had bought from a starving sailor. Fat her, of course, was included in the party.
He was quite serious about it, and his trip to Argentinagave new substance to that fancy of his. It was on that trip that, though he went alone, he took us with him through the letters that came to us and the photographs he brought back. It was a queer collection of pictures — a tractor pulling a disc plough, rows upon rows of bound wheat-straw, and then, a matchless avenue of royal palms, in the photograph of which he had caught the coming of evening across the sky and the breeze that springs up at sundown. Then would come an improved grain-elevator, and a group of eager-faced immigrants on the wharf. He paused long over that last picture.
‘Here you have romance in its fullest. Each one of these is facing his adventure — a new land, new opportunities, new hopes. I should like to see their faces at the end of five years.’
‘When they ’re disheartened and disappointed?’
Father shook his head.
‘When their feet are firm on that strange land, and they have made the wide new fields their own. When they have matched their strength against odds, and have won, and have begun to dream of definite accomplishment. Now, in this picture, they are dreaming only of dreams.’
We asked him, half-jokingly, about the Peruvian treasure. But he remained quite serious.
‘They talk of it, much, throughout South America. And on the ship I heard it. Boris Ivanovich will be encouraged.'
‘But, father,’ we remonstrated, ‘so many people have tried — ’
Father smiled then, and said, —
‘They went, to seek the treasure of gold, and they missed it. As for me, I shall go to seek other treasures, and these I cannot miss. I have never yet had enough of the sea. Always I go from somewhere to somewhere, and time is limited. So many times I have longed for broken engines. There are a thousand thoughts, a thousand plans, which have come to me, and which I have not had time to develop. One could write so much and so clearly on board a ship that was not hurrying. Always, too, I have wondered about those who live in the forgotten places — savages, we call them. But what, after all, are savages? I have always wanted to know. And then, of course, we should have interesting people on board, and books, the sort of books that one has no time for in ordinary life yet, but without which one’s life is not rich. There would be storms and calms, and then there would be the breath of the tropics, which has haunted me ever since first I felt it. And there would be the slow working inland through the jungle and over the mountains. Perhaps we shall go where no one ever went before, and stand on the peaks and look down, all about. Yes, I think I shall find my treasures!’
But, as time went on, he became less sure. His work grew ever more fascinating to him. He was in Petrograd for only short periods, going into the country with the first breath of spring, returning only when even the southern fields were buried in snow. The government looked with favor on his big schemes; in Russia’s big adventure of slow awakening he was playing his part well. But his thrilling personal reward, of which he had talked in our childhood days, grew ever more remote.
‘Soon I shall be old,’ he complained to us, ‘and the only personal excitement that came to me in the last year was the theft of my new shuba. And even then, when I caught the thief, he proved a tiny fellow, half-starved; so of course I had to buy the shuba back from him. I eat and sleep and work, and after a time I shall come back to the ranch to stay, with no dangers to remember. I don’t like it.’
The war brought to him new duties, but no new excitement save the added opportunities to travel back and forth over the rich steppes, in quest of food for the army. And he must have hated his years and his graying hair when he watched his younger friends slip out of their places in the offices and go out to the front, to face their big adventure.
The first news of the Revolution thrilled him. The provisional government opened to him the possibility of pushing his plans for Russia to limits that matched his wildest dreams. The youthful spirit that had triumphed over the age-old political traditions recognized in father the spirit that would not grow old. He was wanted in a dozen places at once; a dozen posts were offered him. And it seemed, for a time, that, in the working toward the realization of his plans for Russia, his desire for the thrilling things for himself would be fulfilled.
But the provisional government was short-lived; its end buried his new plans, and he settled back to wait. Then, gradually, the life of every day began to force itself upon him as an adventure more thrilling, more compelling, than any for which he had hoped. His last letter, which slipped through from Petrograd before that six months’ void of helpless waiting, when we simply closed our minds to his fate and refused to face the one question, was filled with the wonder of it.
‘The soul of a nation,’ he wrote, ’like the soul of man, is revealed fully only in the moments of greatest stress. I am watching the soul of Russia now, and its greatness and its shortcomings are alike overwhelming. Only, the greatness, for the moment, is submerged, and the stark nakedness of an untutored people’s passions fills one with horror. The living question is growing difficult; men who formerly stirred thousands with the fineness of their ideas now talk with glowing eyes of buckwheat kasha and meat-pies. It is not a pretty sight to watch them. Yet I would not choose to be anywhere else on earth just now, and I awake each morning with the thought of another wonderful day before me. The unexpected does not need to be sought now: it meets one at every step; and I turn street-corners in my wanderings, as one turns the pages of a book of fairy talcs.’
The living question grew more difficult from day to day, and soon father, too, was caught in the pressure of food-shortage. Ilis aimless wanderings ceased; there was always a goal to his walks now, for new ‘lines’ came into being to supplement the original breadlines— the meat-line and the milkline, the flour-line and the herring-line; ’tails,’the Russians call them, giving the proper bit of irony to the institution. At first they took it jokingly, the people of Petrograd, and, indeed, of all Russia: after all, they said, standing in a tail for a loaf of bread was no different from standing in line for an opera-ticket.
Besides, there were the servants. But the servants melted away, what with servants’ wages soaring above the wages of their masters; and, presently, like refugees adrift on a raft, people thought of little besides food. Enticing tales began to circulate: ‘Those who know can get food, plenty of it’; ‘Those on the inside eat soup made of meat’; ‘The redder one’s belief, the more butter on his bread.’ It is doubtful whether history will ever record the number of political converts made by the hope of bread with no husks in it.
Father no longer marveled at the glowing light in the eyes of his friends when they talked of food. His own dream of going through the jungle in search of strange animals and unknown savage tribes was fast changing color. With all the zest which that dream had engendered, he was hunting the Petrograd j ungle for a wilted potato or a stray salt herring.
There was the red-letter day when, in some forgotten basement shop, he unearthed ten pounds of lentils, and felt a warm sympathy for Esau; for was it not of lentils that, the mess of pottage was made? But the lentils lasted only a short time, and each sallying forth after new supplies took more time and greater efforts, and each effort was more scantily repaid.
Temporary relief then came in the guise of cabbages. For the chaos, though appalling, was not absolute, and attempts at order were beginning, though order itself was far from being achieved. Those who were ‘on the inside’ knew the value of edible stores.
With his love for fresh air and his hatred of noise, father had always sought the edges of a city. In Petrograd he had outdone himself, and the apartment house in which he lived faced blocks of cabbages. These had been seized by ‘those who knew, and the ‘house committee’ of his apartment house was given jurisdiction over them. The committee was now looking for an overseer of cabbages, and perhaps it was but natural that it should turn to the country’s agricultural expert, and adviser to undertake the office.
We laughed when, later, father told us.
‘How did it make you feel?' we asked.
‘Very happy.’ Father did not smile, and we knew, then, the extent of his trials. ‘You see, I could buy my cabbages at half-price then. But it kept me busy,’ he went on; ‘for the guards gave me much trouble. I had not anticipated that. I picked my personal friends for guards — men whom I trusted absolutely not to fall before temptation. But the cabbages disappeared alarmingly.’
But one could not live on cabbages alone, and, besides, their season soon passed and the fields were left bare; and father’s hope of staying on in Russia, of weathering the storm so that he might make use of the ensuing calm, quickly faded. Even his own reserve of strength was gone, for he was already a living skeleton. The sad truth was forced upon him — he had to leave Petrograd or starve. There was a brother in Kharkoff, a brother who owned an estate upon which, no doubt, cabbages and other things were growing. But traveling across Russia, even for short distances, was a total impossibility, and father decided to come home to California.
It was a decision that took bitter months for its accomplishment, and across those months, like a golden thread, runs the devotion of the friends who helped — friends without whom, beyond a doubt, the end of this story would have lost itself in some forgotten corner of tumbled Petrograd.
Passports, it seemed, could not be bad easily. For the Department of the Interior and the office of the War-Control Board both had to visé the passport; and during that period the two bodies were not on friendly terms, and each refused to recognize any paper honored by the other. So, for months, father’s passport lay, now in one office, now in another. The days dragged by; each day there was less food, father’s ‘travelfund,’ which had taken on a new meaning, dwindled alarmingly, and something had to be done and done at once.
We had talked it over so many times in the old, old days — the despair that comes to one who, like Haggard’s witch Gugula caught by the descending rock, or Hugo’s Valjean driven by his pursuers into a cul-de-sac, feels the inexorable closing in upon him. He must have felt something of the despair as he watched his travel-fund, so closely figured for the tickets home, being cut down relentlessly, every day, for morsels of bread and salt pork, which merely roused his hunger more and more.
So, presently, he began to look for the gate that opened upon the passportless way out. But it was quite by accident that he stumbled upon it, at the home of a friend, the head of a mineral-water factory. People were not interested in his mineral water just then; but his funds were adequate, and he was staying on to ‘watch the show.’
‘Stay to lunch,’ he urged father; ‘your friend Smith, the Englishman, is coming, and, besides, I’ve located a veritable cache of frozen turnips.’
Father stayed — principally for the turnips. Mr. Smith rather startled him, he had grown so frightfully thin. He had been in prison, father learned; was kept there until ‘those on the inside’ had been paid three quarters of a million roubles.
‘Three quarters of a million is stiff,’ said father.
Mr. Smith laughed dryly.
‘My captors had a good answer. It was all a matter of the degree of searching, they told me. Search offhand, and you find no money. Search intensively, and, from somewhere, it comes. When a husband is jailed, the wife searches intensively. They offered that as a new proverb to add to the Russian collection. To-morrow I finish with Russia.’
‘You got your passport?’ Father almost shrieked it.
Mr. Smith shook his head and smiled again.
‘When you’ve paid out three quarters of a million, there is one quarter left. That’s another possible proverb. Interested?’
‘ Distinctly,’ said father. Yet he thought hopelessly, in the light of the figures quoted, of his slim and everdiminishing travel-fund.
Mr. Smith tore off a corner of an ageold newspaper that lay on the sideboard and scribbled on the margin.
‘Call up this number,’ he said, ‘and ask for Philip.’
Father denies feeling any thrill at those words. It is only those who hear or read a story, he says, who feel that thrill of the tense moments. Those who live the story — they are worrying. Is it all a joke? Will Philip betray? Will his price be too high? Will the whole plan go wrong? These, father stoutly maintains, are the thoughts that run through one’s mind; and presently, when the turnips are brought in, even these thoughts go. But we who have gone the way with him through Jules Verne and Cooper and Hoffman and Stevenson, we refuse to believe him here. And we refuse to believe him when he says that he was too hungry, when Philip’s wife answered the telephone, to feel any wonder at the address she gave, or at the time she set for the interview — two o’clock in the morning.
The address to which father went was in the most pretentious home district of the city, and the house, when he found it, proved to be a mansion.
The house was dark. In answer to his ring, the door swung open into a vault-like, icy hall. Out of the darkness a woman’s whispered voice said, ‘Voydeete’; and only when the door was closed again, did she strike a match and light a candle. She led the way through many rooms, shielding the flame against currents of air that blew in from somewhere, though all the windows seemed solidly closed. There were electric fixtures everywhere, but the drawn blinds were evidently of too little protection. Even on the heavy rugs Philip’s wife walked on tiptoe, and on tiptoe father followed her.
The council-room had been chosen for its location in the middle of the floorplan, with no windows on the street. Here they settled down into the soft, deep chairs; but father had no thought of removing his shuba — there was ice in a forgotten fish-bowl on the table.
‘Riches,’said Philip’s wife, beginning nowhere, ‘are good for no man. Philip used to be a model husband. Now he divides his time between his crazy work and fools who flatter him. Where is he now?’
Out of the silence and the dark there came another tiptoe step, and a man carrying a distended sack slipped into the circle of light — not Philip, for there was no abuse from the woman. He was the cartoon of a Russian anarchist come to life: misshapen, drunk, impossibly dirty. He stood a moment, swaying, then dropped the sack and laughed.
‘Gregóry, where is Philip? ’
‘Wait,’ said Gregory, smacking his lips; and with his grimy hand lie drew from the sack a loaf of bread, white, huge, round, delicately browned on top.
‘ Gregory! Again ?'
‘Wait,’repeated Gregóry; and tipped the sack.
The potatoes that rolled out across the velvet rug were not the grubby, withered, gnarled potatoes for which father had searched in the months before, but potatoes smooth and solid, thin-skinned and round. Father picked one up, weighed it in his hand, and laid it back regretfully. It was then, he says, that the thrill came to him, the sense of treasure spilled at his feet, out of the sack, lavishly, across the velvet carpets. It made him feel faint, a little, but the end was not yet.
From the bottom of the sack Gregóry stealthily drew forth a whitish object and held it behind his back, grinning horribly.
‘Close your eyes, hosyaushka, and hold out your hands.’
And across her outstretched hands he laid a plump young pullet.
‘Oh, Boje moy! Boje moy!’ gasped the woman, holding the pullet close against her breast.
‘Even the liver is in it,’ said Gregóry proudly, ‘the liver and the gizzard and the heart. The boy who cleaned it stole the head, though. I tried to get it back, but my legs were not steady. I don’t know what’s wrong with them.’
‘You’re drunk, that’s all,’ said Philip’s wife, secure in the possession of the booty. ‘You ’re drunk, and you get Philip drunk, and soon the two of you will be caught. Where is he? It’s after two; the gentleman is waiting —’
It was then that Gregóry first looked at father — a long, suspicious look.
‘Going out?’ he asked.
‘A customer, then.’ His eyes ran appraisingly over father. ‘A fair shuba. If your purse matches it, Philip will take you; but I shall advise him against it. I am his depot guard, and the real work of getting you out falls on me. He makes the contracts and collects the money, so your face makes no difference to him. As for me, I like the small men with colorless beards and drab clothes. They slip through like eels. You will have to trim your beard and bend your back, and we ’ll send your shuba separately. And even then I ’ll not promise — '
‘Shut up, Gregóry,’ said the woman; ‘here comes Philip.’
The sight of Philip standing there in the doorway against the darkness made the adventure complete before it had fairly begun. Never, father says, had he seen a man so beautiful. Brighteyed, clear-skinned, with perfect features; thick smooth hair thrown off a high forehead; his hands flawless, his body slim, tall, and strong — father’s own eyes shine when he talks of him.
One look he gave father, then stepped up to him with his hand outstretched.
‘Glad to see you,’ he said, his voice seeming, somehow, a part of his beautiful face, his teeth showing even and white.
They sat apart, the two of them, in the icy room, while over a kerosene stove set in the middle of the velvet carpet Philip’s wife cooked the chicken,
— with the lid off, that they might enjoy the fragrance, — and Gregóry slept on a fur rug.
They did not at once talk of the escape, for father needs must have Philip’s story first. He had been of the Tsar’s bodyguard and, later, had trained the Tsar’s horses. It was great sport, he said; he was sorry the Tsar had been deposed, for now the horses were scattered, and heaven alone knew what rank amateurs were handling them, He himself came to work for a Petrograd contractor, taking the position of foreman. But the contractor had become frightened at the unrest of the city and had fled to Finland, paying Philip royally to help him, and leaving his house in his hands. So Philip, learning the way at that initial escape, devised more elaborate schemes. Now he was head of a big organization,
— a ‘Travelers’ Aid,’ he said laughingly, — whose profits were making his residence in the stone palace less and less of a joke each day. Very soon, he said, he could have horses of his own and turn the first story of the house into a stable. Did father think he could obtain permission, now that some of the house-building rules were not strictly observed ?
They chatted so, delightedly, Philip going deeply into the fun of his present work, father begrudging the flight of the minutes. Philip’s prices, he concluded, when at last they came to terms, may have been due to a desire to own horses soon; but Philip had chosen his profession as father had chosen his own — for the fun that goes with adventure.
Next Sunday, Philip told father, they would go, at eleven o’clock.
Father liked the plan. It. would get them to the Finnish border well past midnight. At which Philip laughed his pity; it was only in books, he said, that people escaped at night. They would go at eleven so as to be well on their way by noon. That was the crowded train, and he and Gregóry loved crowds.
‘Don’t forget to drink tea at the station,’ he cautioned al parting; ‘for everyone drinks tea at the station, if you can call it tea.’
So father straightway began his preparations, and the house committee — such a blessing in the matter of the cabbages— became now a menace and a threat.
Father’s rooms could not be given up, for no hint must be had of his departure, and, besides, he had to leave everything in such a way that he could come back did the venture prove a failure. Yet somehow, in order to swell his travel-fund, he had to conduct; a sale.
We almost wept when he told us this, — our stately, dignified father holding a sale of second-hand goods on the street, — yet he could not see the oddity of it. It had to be carefully conducted, he said, for every purchaser might be a ‘red,’ who would take the goods, refuse to pay, and inform the house committee besides. So the ostensible reason for his sale had to be ‘ reducing stock ’ rather than ‘going out of business,’ and the date of delivery was in some cases quite uncertain, as bedding had still to be slept in for two nights. Then, too, things were complicated by Boris Ivanovich, his neighbor and companion of the Peruvian treasure-hunt, who was conducting a sale of his own, and clinging close to father, as if afraid to venture far afield.
The goods brought marvelous prices. Old rubbers sold at a hundred and fifty rubles, old sheets at twelve rubles each; three worn suits brought a thousand; and customers commented on the cheapness.
On the day appointed Philip came promptly at eleven, and daylight threw into full relief the beauty of his face and body, which the candle-light had revealed but scantily. Father locked his rooms with a very real pang, breathing a prayer for ultimate return; hired an izvostchik for a fabulous sum, the full price of an old umbrella; and proceeded to the station, there to wait for his train and drink his tea, with the fierce Gregóry looking on from a far corner.
There were others who were drinking tea as he drank it, with exaggerated appetite. A little French girl with frightened eyes, an Englishman who had trusted to a three-days’ beard to make him look a Russian, and, straight across the room, Boris Ivanovich, who had conducted his shop too close to father s. It was all beginning to be much like a play, and father was enjoying himself hugely.
‘Remember,’ Philip had said when they jogged over the cobble-stones, ‘you are a bewildered Petrograd official, who is going out into the country for a few hours. That is why your baggage will not be with you.'
The train steamed slowly into the station. The French girl crouched far in the corner of her seat; the unshaven Englishman remained standing. Boris Ivanovich could find no seat save the one opposite father; so he sat and stared at him blankly and unknowingly — rather overdoing it, father thought.
There was little that was exciting on the train, save that the guard locked both doors between stations. Only when an official, who looked much like Gregóry, passed through asking for tickets, did father grow worried. He proffered his ticket—to a little summerresort station in the thin birch wood that lines both sides of the border; but the man still stood and looked at lather with his hand outstretched.
‘Passport,’ he said.
There was, in the corner of father’s pocketbook, a note from his house committee testifying to his good behavior; no doubt it was the cabbages that had produced it. Father unfolded it and held it out. The official grunted, —
‘Yes,’ said father, ‘for a walk in the woods.’
So the man passed on; and presently they reached their little station, and walked away, separately, along the paths leading into the woods. When the sound of the train had died away, they came together again.
It was very quiet in that snowy birch forest, among the silent summer cottages, with their windows nailed over with planks. Somehow they could not walk slowly; almost at once they broke into a trot. And only Philip, behind them, strolled calmly on, his hands in his pockets, his head bared to the frosty air, his face lifted to the sky.
He explained to them, humorously, when at last they had quieted down and were walking, why the prices they paid him were so high. On the edge of the wood, he told them, where the ground begins to fall away toward the river that divides them from Finland, the border-guards are hidden. It is to them that most of the money goes. And even then there is danger, for gun-rangers of adjoining guards overlap, and an unbribed guard may shoot into the province of the bribed. Then, too, accidents occur sometimes — a ‘safe’ guard is replaced overnight by a new man, and a sudden change of direction becomes necessary; also, sometimes, a quick bribe, at a loss, because there is no time for bargaining. It is, after all, he concluded, a shabby business, with no order about it.
He whistled when he came to the edge of the wood — two short, sharp notes in quick succession. A triple whistle answered him.
‘Now,’ said Philip, ‘for the bridge, and no hurry. If you run, the next guard will notice. I go to the middle of the bridge with you. After that — it is Finland, and God guard you all!’
Half-way across the bridge he took them. And, though the bridge was in full view from all sides, father stood still to watch him go back lightly up the slope. He turned to wave his cap,— he seemed to have expected father to wait, — and then slipped into the thicket a little to one side; it was probably pay-day for the bridge guard.
Thus ended that chapter of father’s home-coming, and the chaos of Russia lay far behind him. Yet to Philip, at parting, he said, ‘ Do svidanya,' which differs from the harsh 'proshchayte’; for the latter holds in it no hope of the meeting to come. And the thought came to him then that, perhaps, before long, he would be asking Philip to help him go back into Russia as he had now helped him to come out.
But, before he left Stockholm, he knew that Philip never would help him again. Another refugee brought the news — one of the small men with colorless beards beloved by the station guard Gregóry, who had not proved worthy of Gregory’s faith. He had lost his nerve at the last moment, had run where he was told to walk, and Philip was with him; and there had occurred, the night before, that ‘accident’ on the border — the guard farther down the line, whose range reached the bridge, had been unexpectedly changed.
The colorless man got: away, hiding until nightfall in an overturned boat in the willows. But Philip had sought to preserve an air of unconcern by walking leisurely down to the river. It was a poor guess, so the escaped man remarked, shaking his head wisely: it does no good for a man to stroll easily, with his hands in his pockets, when his companion runs like a frightened rabbit.
The guard hesitated for a t ime. Then he shot, — rather carelessly, the man thought, — ‘into the wind,’ as the Russians say. But Philip, who had just reached the river, swayed a little, and then, very quietly and very leisurely, as he had been walking, he slipped down the steep, snow-covered bank.
Somehow it took much of the joy out of father’s escape — that part of it. Somehow, if we could think back upon Philip striding through the thin birch woods along the border, with his hands in his pockets, his beautiful face uplifted, we could hold to the spirit of play in it all. But, with the thought of Philip’s frozen body breaking through the melting ice, it is different. It is the sign, somehow, that body, of the things that can happen, but that should never happen. So we do not wonder that father’s months on the tranquil California ranch have not been restful months, and that he lives very much in the days to come.
Yet it is not really Philip who counts with father, or even the events that led up to Philip’s quiet slide down the river-bank. The dreams of full adventure that fall to the pioneer do not die with partial fulfillment, and the goingaway look, which all our lives we have known, still comes into father’s eyes whenever he says his four limitless words; ‘When I go back—’