The story I want to tell is not fictional; all of these events actually happened to my grandfather. In the 1880’s, when he was twelve years old, a series of events occurred that caused him to travel throughout the Crimea in search of his mother. His journey through the Crimea, which in those years was part of the Russian Empire, is described in this book. In the course of his wanderings, young Leo encountered representatives of various sectors of society: nobility, peasants and intelligentsia, and people of different cultures and nationalities—Russians, Gypsies, Jews and Crimean Tatars. These childhood adventures left a deep impression on my grandfather.
Leo Barbaumov left written records of his journey, but those records did not survive. The youngest daughter of a blacksmith had no way to save her father’s records when she and her three young children escaped from the Germans in 1941.
My mother told me the story of young Leo’s adventures when I was a little boy. Then I heard some parts of the story as a young teenager; that was during the Second World War. I did not think then that this story would be of interest to anyone outside the narrow circle of our family, and I did not make a record of anything I heard. Times were tough; there was a war. It was not the time to record a very old story.
Many years passed, and I came to another world, to another country, and found myself in different circumstances. Talking with my grandchildren, I realized that the events that I heard as a child were of interest to the new generation. It was now time to write everything down, to pass on my knowledge of history. For them, it really was ancient history.
It turned out that I did not remember everything; my memory kept only the most significant events. To make the story more complete, some things had to be filled in. I tried to treat the additions very carefully so as not to distort the real story.
Part 1 The story of the abduction
It was a rainy autumn day in October of 1881 and dark clouds swept over the sky. In the morning, when Ivan Yakovlev embarked upon his journey, the road was still passable. He had planned to advance at least forty verstas1 to the next postal station, but within the first hour of the trip, the dirt road turned muddy. The horses were dragging the stagecoach with considerable difficulty, slowly pulling the heavy carriage through the sticky mud, and several times Ivan had to get out of the carriage to help the horses pull. By the middle of the day he had to exit the carriage and walk in order to ease the work of the horses. Ivan was relieved when he finally spotted an inn by the roadside on a small hill.
The squalid inn was clearly intended as shelter for migrant workers and not for men of noble rank; but Yakovlev was so tired that he was happy to find any accommodation where he could rest and wait out the rain. His clothes were wet and his overcoat covered with mud up to his chest. He was bone tired from walking in the rain, and his thoughts were of a hot bath, clean clothes, and rest in a warm bed.
At the entrance to the inn, a tall, dark woman greeted Ivan politely: “Welcome, sir. I am the hostess of the establishment. My name is Masha.” Ivan followed her into a large room where she pointed to an old black sofa and added, “Please wait here until we prepare a room for you.”
Ivan slumped heavily on the sofa, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. In less than a minute he was fast asleep. He dreamed that he was in heaven, floating in the sky, and he felt the warmth of the bright sun and breathed in the smell of roses. He watched beautiful heavenly angels dance and the angels were all female, circling over Ivan and waving their white wings. From behind a rosebush came a gentle call from one of the angels: “Your honor, please wake up. Your room is ready.” The melodious voice with a slight accent repeated: “Your honor, please wake up. Your room is ready.”
Ivan made an effort to open his eyes. Still in his dream, he saw in front of him an angel holding a candle. No, not even an angel but a saint…. Slowly shaking off the dream, Ivan realized that before him stood a quite earthly young woman dressed in a blue uniform with a white apron tied at her tiny waist. A golden braid around her head shaded her lovely face and gave the impression of a halo, just the way the saints appeared in the icons. She was so charming and elegant with her big blue eyes sparkling in her pale face that she really did seem like an icon come to life upon this wretched earth. Still with the voice of an angel, the woman said: “Your honor, please wake up. Your hot bath is cooling.”
Ivan was finally fully awake. Marveling at the beauty before him, he asked: “Who are you, beautiful?”
“My name is Hannah. I am a maid at this inn. I came to show you to your room.”
Ivan reminded himself that he had wandered in here by accident, on the way to his new place of service. He was in an old, poor inn on a shabby travel road; he was not in heaven. How could such charm exist here? She did not fit the place. Meanwhile, Hannah turned with the grace of an ancient Greek goddess and led him to a small room with a large bathtub filled with warm water. “The bathtub is here. Your room is at the end of the corridor and here’s your key. I’ll get your servant; he is unpacking things in your room.”
Ivan took the key, accidentally touching her arm, and the touch struck him like a lightning. He wanted to say something to her but his lips did not obey. The maid disappeared into the dark corridor before he was able to speak.
Ivan waited for his servant and when Fyodor brought clean underwear and a large towel, Ivan slowly undressed and climbed into the tub. As he closed his eyes and relaxed in the warm water, idle thoughts started creeping in. It would be good to be in St.-Petersburg at a ball, he thought, and dance with a girl like that saint in his dream. He remembered the luxurious parties he had attended in the Russian capital. There had been many beautiful women there, but none had touched his soul like the maid of this God-forsaken inn. How nice it would be if, by magic, the maid would become a lady of high society! With what pleasure he would invite her to waltz!
What nonsense was getting into his head! “This is happening because I’m very tired,” he told himself. Ivan finished bathing and wrapped himself in a clean towel. He struggled through the corridor to his room, climbed into bed and fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
It was early in the morning when Ivan awoke, and he went to the window and looked around the yard. The rain had stopped, and the puddles in the yard reflected the gray clouds that still darkened the sky. He realized that now was not the time to continue the trip. Donning his road uniform that had been carefully cleaned by Fyodor, he made his way to the living room. There was nobody there so Ivan went to the office where a large woman sitting in a chair greeted him.
“Your honor, I hope you had a good rest? We cannot send you on your way just yet. The roads are in terrible condition and the coachmen refuse to go. If there is no rain today, we may be able to organize a coach for you tomorrow morning. Breakfast will be served as soon as you tell me that you are ready to eat.”
“Two eggs and a glass of milk, please.”
“Your breakfast will be served in the dining room. Please proceed there. Today we have another guest of noble rank, and I hope he will keep you good company.”
Ivan went to the dining room where he saw through a thick cloud of cigar smoke a short fat man dressed in the uniform of a chinovnik.2 Ivan introduced himself:
“Provincial secretary3 Ivan Yakovlev.”
“Collegiate Registrar4 Luka S. Yashin,” replied the fat man. I’m here for the second miserable day, and I am alone here. Only dirty peasants and Jewish pigs stay in this hole.”
“Yesterday a very pretty lady served me,” replied Ivan. ”Do you know who she is?”
“Excuse me, but there are no women here. Only pigs and mud.”
“She introduced herself as Hannah.”
“Hannah? The maid? Yes, she really is a cute skirt. She is Jewish, as is everyone here, and she is married to an old soldier from the Cantonists.5 He was wounded in the Crimean Company. I gave him a ruble coin and he was happy to tell me about his adventures. Believe me, it was my only entertainment all day yesterday. Today I hope to play cards with you. The road is disgusting, and you and I will not get out of this hole today.”
The door opened and Hannah came in with a large tray. Ivan noted to himself that her gentle hands had to be very strong to hold such a heavy tray.
“Good morning, gentlemen. Your breakfast is served,” she said softly, as she placed the tray on the table and then quickly left the room.
“I absolutely cannot believe that she is Jewish,” said Ivan, mostly to himself.
“But she is. Her husband confirmed it to me.” The fat man promptly jumped on the food, munching loudly with his mouth open. Having finished his breakfast, he leaned back in his chair. “All of them are dirty pigs. Forget it.”
Ivan looked disdainfully at the fat man. This rude provincial official speaking with disdain about the inhabitants of the local inn disgusted him. Ivan thought that Yashin himself looked like a pig; and this thought was so funny that Ivan could not keep a straight face.
“Why are you smiling? Hannah is the same as all of them. She carries herself as a noble but it doesn’t change anything. She is a Jew, a relative of the establishment’s hostess. Her son hangs out in the common room.”
Yakovlev did not see any point in continuing the conversation with this man. Quickly finishing his breakfast, he left the dining room, hoping to see the mystical Jewish beauty again.
Ivan opened the door to the commoners’ half of the inn. In the room there were a few people having breakfast around the long table and chattering happily. Once Ivan entered the room, the happy chatter stopped and everyone got up to greet him: “Good morning, your honor.”
Ivan responded: “Good morning. Continue with your breakfast, please.” He carefully examined the room, hoping to see Hannah, but she was not there. The people in the room got back to their seats and went silent, not knowing what the master wanted.
After a short pause, a voice rang out: “Are you really a chinovnik?” The little boy who had asked the question looked at Ivan with curiosity.
Ivan found this question amusing because he was dressed in his official uniform. Smiling, he replied:
“Yes, I really am a chinovnik.”
“Then you should not be here,” replied the little boy. “This room is only for commoners. The gentlemen eat breakfast in the masters’ half.”
Trying to keep a straight face, Ivan said: “I will ask for permission.”
The hostess of the inn came into the commoners’ quarters. She had overheard the conversation between Yakovlev and the boy. Angry with the child’s behavior, she shot him a menacing glance and said: “How dare you talk to the gentleman! Get out of here!”
The boy timidly looked at Masha and left the room. Ivan was disappointed. He liked the boy and had enjoyed talking to him.
Masha turned to Ivan and said ingratiatingly: “Kind sir, excuse him, please. He is still young and very stupid. I will instruct Hannah to punish him for what he said to you without permission. Please do not take offense to it.”
Without responding, Ivan left the commoners’ quarters. Fyodor was waiting for him in the room.
“Did you pack our trunks, Fyodor?”
“No, sir. We cannot go. The men say the road is still very bad. Once again we will be stuck in the mud.”
“Did you see the maid?” Ivan asked.
“The beautiful Jewish woman?”
“I did. She helps in the kitchen.”
As a nobleman, Ivan realized he should not have any interest in a maid, even if she had bewitched him with her exceptional beauty. He needed to leave this place as soon as possible to dispel the influence of her charms.
In the masters’ room, Ivan found the fat official playing cards with himself.
“Where were you? I wanted to play cards with you.”
“I went to the servants’ quarters. I have no desire to play cards. I would like to leave as soon as possible. What are the chances of getting out of here today? It stopped raining a while back, before sunrise.”
“It’s true, but I would not risk it; the road is still very poor. But let’s check and see if it might be possible to fulfill your desire to leave today.”
He rang a small bell. The hostess entered the room and asked, “What would you like, your honor?”
“We would like horses so we can continue our journey. In addition, bring us some fine wine, the best in your dirty cellar.”
“Your honor, the road is still very bad,” cautioned the hostess. The wine will be served; we have excellent wine. And we have an excellent cook; we serve lunch just after noon. I can arrange the coach for you late in the evening if you wish to travel at night. But what sense is it to go at night? I would recommend waiting until morning. Overnight trips in autumn are unreliable and risky. It would be better to continue your trip early tomorrow morning.”
“How dare you suggest what we should do and what we should not? This is not your business, dirty Jew. The gentleman wants to go today,” said the fat official.
“Forgive me, forgive me please. I will try to arrange a coach for you today.”
She quickly left the room. Ivan thought about the necessity of getting to Evpatoria in the next few days, in time to return to his place of service. In this weather it might be a difficult task.
He heard a weak knock on the door, and Hannah entered with a tray that held a bottle of white wine and two crystal glasses. As she set the glasses on the table and deftly uncorked the bottle, Ivan watched her intently. She was confident and graceful. Filling the glasses, she said: “Perhaps your honor would like a snack?”
Ivan caught himself thinking that, despite her Jewish background, the woman had the classic profile of a Greek goddess. A goddess-like aura surrounded her and he could not take his eyes off her. “What can a married Jewish woman have in common with a goddess?” he asked himself. “Is this witchcraft? What is wrong with me? I think too much about her. I need to hurry and escape from here before the witch’s charms consume all my thoughts. ”
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