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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFred Markham In Russia - Chapter 4
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Fred Markham In Russia - Chapter 4 Post by :Gregrey Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1579

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Fred Markham In Russia - Chapter 4

CHAPTER FOUR

The Russian Passport System--Baron Verysoft--Mr Tobias Evergreen--His Gratitude for the Baron's Politeness--The Difficulty of reading Russian--The Travellers at a Nonplus--Russian Signboard--Fred and Harry lose themselves--Meet with Tom Pulling--How Tom and his Messmates managed to find their Latitude and Longitude, and to steer a right Course for Port.


The next morning our travellers were reminded that they were not in a free country, in which a man may come and go as he lists without let or hindrance, but that certain very stringent regulations respecting passports must be conformed to before they could attempt to do anything else. Most condescending gentlemen, "commissionaires" they called themselves, undertook for certain considerations to get the work done for them; but Cousin Giles declined their services.

"I have no doubt that we shall be able to get through the business ourselves perfectly well, and we shall see something of the way the Russians manage these affairs," said he.

He intended to visit the mercantile house on whom he had a letter of credit, and he had also several letters of introduction which he wished to deliver as soon as possible. To his bankers, accordingly, they first drove, and they had no difficulty in finding the house. The merchant who acted in that capacity was very kind, and gave them all the information they could desire as to what they should do about their passports; he also wrote down for them a list of the names of the houses at which they had arranged to call. Their first duty was to visit the Alien Office, to take out their permission to reside or travel in Russia. It is in the south-eastern part of the city. The gentleman who presides over it goes by the name of Baron Verysoft among the English, from the peculiar suavity of his manners. Mounting a flight of stairs, they found the Baron at one end of a handsome room, more like a drawing-room than an office, with a number of persons seated round it, all waiting to undergo the ordeal of his friendly inquiries. Nearly all civilised nations were there represented,--English, Germans, French, and Spaniards. Among them they recognised some of their fellow-passengers. The simple, round, good-natured face of one of them they were glad to see. His name was Mr Tobias Evergreen. He was very civil to the lads on board, and seemed to take a great interest in them. Cousin Giles said he did not think he was quite the man to benefit by a journey in Russia; but one thing was certain, he was not likely to make the police very suspicious about his movements. Besides the strangers, there were two or three clerks in uniform, whose sharp, piercing eyes kept glancing round on the visitors, and narrowly scrutinising any fresh arrivals. They seemed to have little else to do beyond this, but to mend their pens, and to make occasional notes in some huge books before them. A number of people had to go up to the table of the Baron, and to reply to his questions; so our friends were compelled to exercise their patience till their turn came. Mr Evergreen spoke a few sentences, which he said was French. Cousin Giles also knew a little of that language, but Fred was able to understand it, and to speak it tolerably well. At last Mr Evergreen's turn came, and they followed him up to the table.

The Baron, in the blandest and most courteous way, inquired Mr Evergreen's name and country; whether he was married or single; what was his object in travelling; the name of his banker; how long he purposed remaining in the country,--to all of which questions he gave answers which seemed perfectly satisfactory to the Baron; and he then volunteered several particulars of his private history, at which the Baron bowed and smiled, as the lads observed he had bowed and smiled at several persons before, while he went on making notes in his book. Perhaps he did not understand a word Mr Evergreen said, or, what is very probable, he was not listening to what did not concern him, but was habitually too polite to let this be discovered. Mr Evergreen had then to sign his name several times in a book, and then the Baron bowed very politely, handed him his passport to take it to the passport office and various police offices, to be signed and countersigned again and again. Mr Evergreen on this bowed to the Baron, and the Baron bowed again. Mr Evergreen would have continued bowing before so great and benignant a personage had not the Baron summoned our friends to approach, Mr Evergreen meantime waiting for them.

They quickly got through the business, and the Baron gave a bow to Cousin Giles, which, if not so profound as those he gave to Mr Evergreen, was much more cordial, and seemed to say: "We understand each other; you are a man I can trust."

When they got outside the door, Mr Evergreen was loud in his praises of Baron Verysoft.

"Nice, charming man!" he exclaimed; "so civil, so kind to me. Don't you think I ought to ask him to dinner, now? It would be but a proper attention in return for his civility."

"He would have to fulfil a very large number of dinner engagements if all thought as you do; but I suspect few people are so grateful for his attentions," answered Cousin Giles.

It was some time before Mr Evergreen could be persuaded to give up his idea.

"The credit of our country is at stake," said he. "Well, well, I suppose I must do as you advise, and let the Baron form his own conclusions of us."

After all, the terrible passport work was got through with much less trouble and expense than Cousin Giles was led to believe would be the case. One of the head clerks at the passport office, a Dane, who spoke English perfectly, assured him that if he went himself he would get the documents signed at once without bribery. The Government fees were very low, and beyond these he paid nothing. He was afterwards told that the Government wished to produce a good impression on the foreigners who were expected in the country to be present at the coronation, and had therefore issued directions to expedite the delivery of passports.

About this time, certainly, new regulations were made with regard to the passports for natives, and many of the old and most obnoxious ones were altered. Till now, a Russian, if he wished to move from one town to another, could not do so without giving several days' notice to the police; and if he wished to leave the country he was compelled to beg permission to do so three months beforehand. Now, by getting any well-known person to be responsible for any debt he might leave unpaid, he was able to travel abroad at the notice of a day or two--indeed, as soon as the governor of his district would issue his passport. Of course it was a question how long this improved system was likely to last. Even now, both foreigners and natives could only get passports from one city to another; and thus Cousin Giles had taken out one for Moscow, but would be obliged then to take another to go farther into the interior. All the passport arrangements having been made, the travellers agreed to leave their letters of introduction, as a drizzling rain had come on, and would prevent them from enjoying the views presented by the city. When, however, Cousin Giles came to examine the paper of directions given by the banker, he found that they were written in the Russian character. Now as the Russian letters, although some of the capitals are somewhat alike in shape, have a totally different sound to the English, or indeed to any other European language, he could not read a word.

"Never mind," said he; "perhaps our drosky drivers, our ishvoshtsticks, can read it."

He showed it to the two men, who bent their heads with profound sagacity over the paper, letting the drops of rain from their shovel hats fall down on the document, nearly obliterating the writing; and then they called another of their profession to their council, but the united wisdom of all three apparently could make nothing of the inscription; for, at last returning it, they shook their heads very gravely, and shrugged their shoulders in a most significant manner.

"I daresay we shall fall in with some one or other who can speak English before long," said Cousin Giles, who was never long at a loss on an emergency.

He accordingly stopped one or two people, whom he addressed with a polite bow in English and French, but they shrugged their shoulders and passed on. At last they met a German who spoke English, and he very willingly directed the ishvoshtsticks where to drive.

While Cousin Giles was paying one of his visits, and as it was near the luncheon hour at the hotel, he advised Fred and Harry to return there, promising soon to follow them.

"We can find our way there easily enough!" they both exclaimed; "we know exactly what to say to the ishvoshtstick--Angliskoy Nabergenoy--that's it--the English Quay. Oh, we shall get along famously."

Saying this, they jumped up on their fore-and-aft drosky, and, giving their directions as well as could any Russian, they thought, away they drove.

They were then in the Vasiliefskoi Ostrof quarter, or on Basilius Island. This is the name given to the large island which is to the north of the main channel of the Neva. Here is the Exchange, and many public buildings before mentioned, and here most of the English merchants reside. They drove on, remarking a variety of novel and curious sights on their way; but, forgetting to take due note of the direction in which they were going, they passed along the quay, and over one of the floating bridges, and then through some fine wide streets. They were amused with the guards stationed at the corners of streets in every quarter of the city. They were mostly thin, tall, lank men, in long coats reaching to their heels, with huge battle-axes on long poles in their hands, and helmets on their heads. What use they were of it was difficult to say, for they certainly could not have run after a thief, much less have knocked one down. The signs, also, in front of the shops appeared very ridiculous. Instead of the display of articles made by an English tradesman in his windows, there were large boards over the doors and windows, and their sides, and under the windows, painted with gigantic designs representing the chief articles to be found within. Huge gloves and stockings, and cravats and pocket-handkerchiefs, and boots and shoes, and coats and trousers, and hats and caps, and knives and forks and spoons--indeed, it is impossible to enumerate all the articles thus represented.

"Those are what we may call Russian hieroglyphics, Harry," said Fred; "I daresay, now, that the Egyptians had something of the sort in their shop windows before they knew how to write."

"It is a capital sort of language," replied Harry, "because, you see, the mujicks, who do not know how to read, and we, who don't understand Russian, both understand it equally well."

"The best universal language," remarked Fred. "If something of the sort were established regularly in the world, it would save a great deal of trouble. But I say, Harry, where have we got to? I am sure we have never been here before."

They had been so amused that they had not remarked the change in the style of architecture of the streets through which they were passing. They were now in a region of low houses, although of considerable size, mostly on one floor, very few having two storeys.

"I am sure this is not the way to the English Quay."

Harry, who sat in front, on this began to pull the ishvoshtstick by his badge, and then by his sleeve, to make him stop. The fellow either would not or could not understand that they wanted to stop. At last he pulled up, and looked over his shoulder.

"I say, Harry, do you remember what they call the English Quay? For, on my word, I have forgotten it," exclaimed Fred in some little dismay, feeling very like Mustapha in the tale of _The Forty Thieves_, when he forgets the talismanic words, "Open sesame."

"I'm sure I don't know exactly, but I'll try and see if I can't make the fellow understand," answered Harry. "I say, you cabdrivowitch, cut away to the English Quayoi!"

The man shook his head and sat still, as much as to say, "I don't understand you, my masters."

"What's to be done? He doesn't seem to think my Russian very first-rate," said Harry.

"I say, old fellow, we are very hungry, and want to get back to our inn to luncheon," cried Fred, imitating the action of eating.

A bright idea seemed to have seized the ishvoshtstick, and, whipping on his horse, he drove rapidly onward. Harry thought that he had fully comprehended them. He pulled up, however, very soon before a door, over which were painted pieces of meat and sausages, and rolls, and bottles, and glasses. Evidently it was an eating-house, but the lads would not avail themselves of its accommodation, for two reasons--they did not know what to ask for, and they had no Russian money in their pockets; they therefore shook their heads, and signed to the driver to go on. The man evidently thought them very unreasonable and hard to please, but obeyed. It was soon clear to them that they were getting to the outskirts of the city, and they were about trying to make the man turn back when they saw three figures approaching, whom by their rolling walk and dress they recognised even at a distance as English seamen. When the men drew near, the lads were delighted to find that one was their shipmate, old Tom.

He hailed them with a cheerful voice, and told them that, having met two young friends belonging to a ship at Cronstadt, he had got leave for them to accompany him to see Saint Petersburg.

"But I say, Tom, can you tell us where we are?" said Fred.

"That's just what we were going to ask you," replied old Tom. "We've got out of our reckoning somehow, and we know no more where we are than if we had got into the Pacific without a chart or compass."

"What is to be done?" exclaimed Fred; "this stupid fellow does not understand a word we say, and though we have told him to drive back to our hotel he won't go."

For a long time all hands consulted together. One proposed one thing, one the other. By this time two or three other ishvoshtsticks had stopped with their vehicles near the strangers, but could no more than the first comprehend where they wanted to go.

"If we could but get back to the large square with the big statue in it of Peter on horseback on a rock, we could find our way to the inn easily enough," said Fred.

Old Tom thought a moment. "What, the chap who is holding out his hand?" he asked.

"The same," answered Fred.

"Then I have it!" he exclaimed with exultation. "Jem, just do you go down on all fours, and serve me for a horse for a minute, and we'll soon see what will happen."

"What! Do you want me to carry you there, Tom?" asked Jem. "I'd do it willingly if I knew the way, but I think we should get there faster if we all walked on our two legs."

"No, no!" answered Tom; "I want you to act the big horse, and I'll do the rider."

"Oh, ay, I see it all now, mate," said Jem, going down on all fours, while old Tom, who, though serious-minded, was very much of a wag at proper seasons, leaped on his back, and stuck out one arm as Peter's statue is doing.

"Now, Jem, rear up on your fore legs as the big horse is doing, and we shall come the statue to an affigraphy," he cried.

The representation of the statue of Peter was unmistakeable. In an instant the ishvoshtsticks comprehended what was required, and, clapping their hands with delight, while they burst into loud laughter, made signals to the seamen to jump into a drosky, and away they drove as fast as their horses could go, in the very direction from whence Fred and Harry had just come. In about a quarter of an hour they saw the tall golden spire of the Admiralty directly ahead of them, and shortly afterwards they rattled into the vast open space in which it stands, when the ishvoshtsticks pulled up close to the very statue of Peter.

"Now, starboard your helm, my lads, and steer a westerly course," sung out old Tom to the drivers. They did not understand what he said, but they saw the direction in which he pointed along the quay, so they all drove off again as rapidly as before. Harry pulled at their driver's badge to make him stop in front of the hotel, where they found Cousin Giles looking out for them. He had not been very anxious about their safety, for he guessed that they had lost their way, and would probably find it again before long, while, as he said, it would teach them to keep a better reckoning in future. Old Tom and his companions could not be persuaded to come in, for they said that they must make the best of their way back to Cronstadt. They made Cousin Giles laugh heartily by their description of the mode they had hit on for making the ishvoshtsticks understand the point to which they wished to be conveyed.

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