UP IN THE CLOUDS
Three days after the concessionaires' deal with Mechnikov the fitter,
the Columbus Theatre left by railway via Makhacha-Kala and Baku. The whole
of these three days the concessionaires, frustrated by the contents of the
two chairs opened on Mashuk, waited for Mechnikov to bring them the third of
the Columbus chairs. But the narzan-tortured fitter converted the whole of
the twenty roubles into the purchase of plain vodka and drank himself into
such a state that he was kept locked up in the props room.
"That's Mineral Waters for you!" said Ostap, when he heard about the
theatre's departure. "A useful fool, that fitter. Catch me having dealings
with theatre people after this!"
Ostap became much more nervy than before. The chances of finding the
treasure had increased infinitely.
"We need money to get to Vladikavkaz," said Ostap. "From there we'll
drive by car to Tiflis along the Georgian Military Highway. Glorious
scenery! Magnificent views! Wonderful mountain air! And at the end of it
all-one hundred and fifty thousand roubles, zero zero kopeks. There is some
point in continuing the hearing."
But it was not quite so easy to leave Mineral Waters. Vorobyaninov
proved to have absolutely no talent for bilking the railway, and so when all
attempts to get him aboard a train had failed he had to perform again in the
Flower Garden, this time as an educational district ward. This was not at
all a success. Two roubles for twelve hours' hard and degrading work, though
it was a large enough sum for the fare to Vladikavkaz.
At Beslan, Ostap, who was travelling without a ticket, was thrown off
the train, and the smooth operator impudently ran behind it for a mile or
so, shaking his fist at the innocent Ippolit Matveyevich.
Soon after, Ostap managed to jump on to a train slowly making its way
to the Caucasian ridge. From his position on the steps Ostap surveyed with
great curiosity the panorama of the mountain range that unfolded before him.
It was between three and four in the morning. The mountain-tops were
lit by dark pink sunlight. Ostap did not like the mountains.
"Too showy," he said. "Weird kind of beauty. An idiot's imagination. No
use at all."
At Vladikavkaz station the passengers were met by a large open bus
belonging to the Transcaucasian car-hire-and-manufacturing society, and
nice, kind people said:
"Those travelling by the Georgian Military Highway will be taken into
the town free."
"Hold on, Pussy," said Ostap. "We want the bus. Let them take us free."
When the bus had given him a lift to the centre of the town, however,
Ostap was in no hurry to put his name down for a seat in a car. Talking
enthusiastically to Ippolit Matveyevich, he gazed admiringly at the view of
the cloud-enveloped Table Mountain, but finding that it really was like a
table, promptly retired.
They had to spend several days in Vladikavkaz. None of their attempts
to obtain money for the road fare met with any success, nor provided them
with enough money to buy food. An attempt to make the citizens pay ten-kopek
bits failed. The mountain ridge was so high and clear that it was not
possible to charge for looking at it. It was visible from practically every
point, and there were no other beauty spots in Vladikavkaz. There was the
Terek, which flowed past the "Trek", but the town charged for entry to that
without Ostap's assistance. The alms collected in two days by Ippolit
Matveyevich only amounted to thirteen kopeks.
"There's only one thing to do," said Ostap. "We'll go to Tiflis on
foot. We can cover the hundred miles in five days. Don't worry, dad, the
mountain view is delightful and the air is bracing . . . We only need money
for bread and salami sausage. You can add a few Italian phrases to your
vocabulary, or not, as you like; but by evening you've got to collect at
least two roubles. We won't have a chance to eat today, dear chum. Alas!
What bad luck!"
Early in the morning the partners crossed the little bridge across the
Terek river, went around the barracks, and disappeared deep into the green
valley along which ran the Georgian Military Highway.
"We're in luck, Pussy," said Ostap. "It rained last night so we won't
have to swallow the dust. Breathe in the fresh air, marshal. Sing something.
Recite some Caucasian poetry and behave as befits the occasion."
But Ippolit Matveyevich did not sing or recite poetry. The road went
uphill. The nights spent in the open made themselves felt by pains in his
side and heaviness in his legs, and the salami sausage made itself felt by a
constant and griping indigestion. He walked along, holding in his hand a
five-pound loaf of bread wrapped in newspaper, his left foot dragging
On the move again! But this time towards Tiflis; this time along the
most beautiful road in the world. Ippolit Matveyevich could not have cared
less. He did not look around him as Ostap did. He certainly did not notice
the Terek, which now could just be heard rumbling at the bottom of the
valley. It was only the ice-capped mountain-tops glistening in the sun which
somehow reminded him of a sort of cross between the sparkle of diamonds and
the best brocade coffins of Bezenchuk the undertaker.
After Balta the road entered and continued as a narrow ledge cut in the
dark overhanging cliff. The road spiralled upwards, and by evening the
concessionaires reached the village of Lars, about three thousand feet above
They passed the night in a poor native hotel without charge and were
even given a glass of milk each for delighting the owner and his guests with
The morning was so glorious that Ippolit Matveyevich, braced by the
mountain air, began to stride along more cheerfully than the day before.
Just behind Lars rose the impressive rock wall of the Bokovoi ridge. At this
point the Terek valley closed up into a series of narrow gorges. The scenery
became more and more sombre, while the inscriptions on the cliffs grew more
frequent At the point where the cliffs squeezed the Terek's flow between
them to the extent that the span of the bridge was no more than ten feet,
the concessionaires saw so many inscriptions on the side of the gorge that
Ostap forgot the majestic sight of the Daryal gorge and shouted out, trying
to drown the rumble and rushing of the Terek:
"Great people! Look at that, marshal! Do you see it? Just a little
higher than the cloud and slightly lower than the eagle! An inscription
which says, 'Micky and Mike, July 1914'. An unforgettable sight! Notice the
artistry with which it was done. Each letter is three feet high, and they
used oil paints. Where are you now, Nicky and Mike?"
"Pussy," continued Ostap, "let's record ourselves for prosperity, too.
I have some chalk, by the way. Honestly, I'll go up and write 'Pussy and
Ossy were here'."
And without giving it much thought, Ostap put down the supply of
sausage on the wall separating the road from the seething depths of the
Terek and began clambering up the rocks. At first Ippolit Matveyevich
watched the smooth operator's ascent, but then lost interest and began to
survey the base of Tamara's castle, which stood on a rock like a horse's
Just at this time, about a mile away from the concessionaires, Father
Theodore entered the Daryal gorge from the direction of Tiflis. He marched
along like a soldier with his eyes, as hard as diamonds, fixed ahead of him,
supporting himself on a large crook.
With his last remaining money Father Theodore had reached Tiflis and
was now walking home, subsisting on charity. While crossing the Cross gap he
had been bitten by an eagle. Father Theodore hit out at the insolent bird
with his crook and continued on his way.
As he went along, intermingling with the clouds, he muttered:
"Not for personal gain, but at the wishes of my wife who sent me."
The distance between the enemies narrowed. Turning a sharp bend, Father
Theodore came across an old man in a gold pince-nez.
The gorge split asunder before Father Theodore's eyes. The Terek
stopped its thousand-year-old roar.
Father Theodore recognized Vorobyaninov. After the terrible fiasco in
Batumi, after all his hopes had been dashed, this new chance of gaining
riches had an extraordinary effect on the priest. He grabbed Ippolit
Matveyevich by his scraggy Adam's apple, squeezed his fingers together, and
"What have you done with the treasure that you slew your mother-in-law
to obtain?" Ippolit Matveyevich, who had not been expecting anything of this
nature, said nothing, but his eyes bulged so far that they almost touched
the lenses of his pince-nez.
"Speak!" ordered the priest. "Repent, you sinner!"
Vorobyaninov felt himself losing his senses.
Suddenly Father Theodore caught sight of Bender leaping from rock to
rock; the technical adviser was coining down, shouting at the top of his
"Against the sombre rocks they dash, Those waves, they foam and
A terrible fear gripped Father Theodore. He continued mechanically
holding the marshal by the throat, but his knees began to knock.
"Well, of all people!" cried Ostap in a friendly tone. "The rival
Father Theodore did not dally. Obeying his healthy instinct, ' he
grabbed the concessionaires' bread and sausage and fled.
"Hit him, Comrade Bender!" cried Ippolit Matveyevich, who was sitting
on the ground recovering his breath. "Catch him!. Stop him I"
Ostap began whistling and whooping.
"Wooh-wooh," he warbled, starting in pursuit. "The Battle of the
Pyramids or Bender goes hunting. Where are you going, client? I can offer
you a well-gutted chair."
This persecution was too much for Father Theodore and he began climbing
up a perpendicular wall of rock. He was spurred on by his heart, which was
in his mouth, and an itch in his heels known only to cowards. His legs moved
over the granite by themselves, carrying their master aloft.
"Wooooh-woooh!" yelled Ostap from below. "Catch him!"
"He's taken our supplies," screeched Vorobyaninov, running up.
"Stop!" roared Ostap. "Stop, I tell you."
But this only lent new strength to the exhausted priest. He wove about,
making several leaps, and finally ended ten feet above the highest
"Give back our sausage!" howled Ostap. "Give back the sausage, you
fool, and we'll forget everything."
Father Theodore no longer heard anything. He found himself on a flat
ledge, on to which no man had ever climbed before. Father Theodore was
seized by a sickening dread. He realized he could never get down again by
himself. The cliff face dropped vertically to the road.
He looked below. Ostap was gesticulating furiously, and the marshal's
gold pince-nez glittered at the bottom of the gorge.
"I'll give back the sausage," cried the holy father, "only get me
He could see all the movements of the concessionaires. They were
running about below and, judging from their gestures, swearing like
An hour later, lying on his stomach and peering over the edge, Father
Theodore saw Bender and Vorobyaninov going off in the direction of the Cross
Night fell quickly. Surrounded by pitch darkness and deafened by the
infernal roar, Father Theodore trembled and wept up in the very clouds. He
no longer wanted earthly treasures, he only wanted one thing-to get down on
to the ground.
During the night he howled so loudly that at times the sound of the
Terek was drowned, and when morning came, he fortified himself with sausage
and bread and roared with demoniac laughter at the cars passing underneath.
The rest of the day was spent contemplating the mountains and that heavenly
body, the sun. The next night he saw the Tsaritsa Tamara. She came flying
over to him from her castle and said coquettishly:
"Let's be neighbours! "
"Mother!" said Father Theodore with feeling. "Not for personal gain . .
"I know, I know," observed the Tsaritsa, "but merely at the wishes of
your wife who sent you."
"How did you know?" asked the astonished priest.
"I just know. Why don't you stop by, neighbour? We'll play sixty-six.
What about it?"
She gave a laugh and flew off, letting off firecrackers into the night
sky as she went.
The day after, Father Theodore began preaching to the birds. For some
reason he tried to sway them towards Lutheranism.
"Birds," he said in a sonorous voice, "repent your sins publicly."
On the fourth day he was pointed out to tourists from below.
"On the right we have Tamara's castle," explained the experienced
guides, "and on the left is a live human being, but it is not known what he
lives on or how he got there."
"My, what a wild people!" exclaimed the tourists in amazement.
"Children of the mountains!"
Clouds drifted by. Eagles cruised above Father Theodore's head. The
bravest of them stole the remains of the sausage and with its wings swept a
pound and a half of bread into the foaming Terek.
Father Theodore wagged his finger at the eagle and, smiling radiantly,
"God's bird does not know Either toil or unrest, He leisurely builds
His long-lasting nest."
The eagle looked sideways at Father Theodore, squawked cockadoodledoo
and flew away.
"Oh, eagle, you eagle, you bitch of a bird!"
Ten days later the Vladikavkaz fire brigade arrived with suitable
equipment and brought Father Theodore down.
As they were lowering him, he clapped his hands and sang in a tuneless
"And you will be queen of all the world, My lifelo-ong frie-nd!"
And the rugged Caucuses re-echoed Rubinstein's setting of the Lermontov
poem many times.
"Not for personal gain, but merely at the wishes . . ." Father Theodore
told the fire chief.
The cackling priest was taken on the end of a fire ladder to the
Date: 2015-01-02; view: 194