“The Tale of Life” by Paustovsky in brief
Once in the spring I was sitting in the Mariinsky Park and reading Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Sister Galya sat next to her and also read. Her summer hat with green ribbons lay on a bench. The wind moved the tapes, Galya was shortsighted, very trusting, and it was almost impossible to get her out of a good-natured state.
In the morning it rained, but now the clear sky of spring shone above us. Only lilac drops of rain flew from the lilac.
The girl with the bows in her hair stopped against us and started jumping over the string. She prevented me from reading. I shook the lilac. A small rain fell noisily on the girl and Galya. The girl showed me her tongue and ran away, and Galya shook off the drops of rain from the book and continued to read.
And at that moment I saw a man who for a long time poisoned me with dreams of an unrealizable future.
A tall midshipman with a tanned, calm face walked easily along the avenue. A black black broadsword hung on his
In the land of Kiev, where we hardly saw sailors, it was an alien from the distant legendary world of winged ships, the frigate Pallada, from the world of all oceans, seas, all port cities, all winds and all enchantments associated with the picturesque work of seafarers. An ancient sword with a black hilt appeared in the Mariinsky Park from the pages of Stevenson.
Midshipman passed by, crunching on the sand. I got up and followed him. Galya for myopia did not notice my disappearance.
My whole dream of the sea was embodied in this man. I often imagined seas, foggy and golden from the evening calm, distant swimming, when the whole world is replaced, like a quick kaleidoscope, behind the windows of the porthole. My God, if anyone had guessed to give me at least a piece of petrified rust, repulsed from the old anchor! I would keep it as a jewel.
Midshipman looked around. On the black ribbon of his cap, I read the mysterious word: “Azimuth.”
I followed him along the Elizavetinskaya street, then along the Institutskaya and Nikolayevskaya streets. Midshipman elegantly and carelessly saluted the infantry officers. I was ashamed before him for these baggy Kiev warriors.
Several times the midshipman looked around, and at the corner of Mehringovsky stopped and called me.
“Boy,” he asked mockingly, “why did you follow me in tow?”
I blushed and did not answer.
“Everything is clear: he dreams of being a sailor,” the midshipman guessed, speaking for some reason about me in the third person.
“I’m nearsighted,” I answered, in a low voice. Midshipman put a thin hand on my shoulder.
– Let’s get to Khreshchatyk.
We went alongside. I was afraid to look up and saw only the midshipman’s sturdy boots, polished to the incredible brilliance.
On Khreshchatyk, the midshipman came with me to the coffee Semadeni, ordered two servings of pistachio ice cream and two glasses of water. We were served ice cream on a small three-legged marble table. It was very cold and all was written in numbers: Semadeni gathered stockbrokers and counted on the tables their profits and losses.
We ate the ice cream in silence. Mardemarin took from his wallet a photograph of a magnificent corvette with a sailing rig and a wide pipe and handed it to me.
“Take it as a keepsake.” This is my ship. I went on it to Liverpool.
He shook my hand firmly and left. I sat for a little while, until sweaty neighbors began to look around at me in the canoe. Then I awkwardly left and ran to the Mariinsky Park. The bench was empty. Galya left. I guessed that the midshipman regretted me, and for the first time I learned that pity leaves a bitter sludge in my soul.
After this meeting, the desire to become a sailor tormented me for many years. I was eager for the sea. The first time I saw him in Novorossiysk, where he went for a few days with his father. But that was not enough.
For hours I sat on the satin, looked at the coasts of the oceans, sought out unknown seaside towns, capes, islands, estuaries.
I came up with a complex game. I compiled a long list of steamboats with sonorous names: “Polar Star”, “Walter Scott”, “Khingan”, “Sirius”. This list swelled every day. I was the owner of the largest fleet in the world.
Of course, I sat in my own steamer office, in the smoke of cigars, among the variegated posters and timetables. Wide windows came out, naturally, on the embankment. The yellow masts of the steamers were sticking out near the very windows, and the good-natured elms sounded outside the walls. The steamy smoke flew smoothly through the windows, mixing with the smell of rotten brine and new, cheerful matting.
I came up with a list of amazing flights for my ships. There was not the most forgotten corner of the earth, wherever they went. They visited even the island of Tristan da Cunho.
I took off the steamers from one flight and sent them to another. I followed the navigation of my ships and knew without a doubt where Admiral Istomin was today, and where the Flying Dutchman: Istomin loaded bananas in Singapore, and the Flying Dutchman unloaded the flour in the Faroe Islands.
In order to manage such a vast shipping company, I needed a lot of knowledge. I was read out by guidebooks, ship directories and everything that had at least a remote relation to the sea.
Then for the first time I heard from my mother the word “meningitis”.
“He will come to God knows what with his games,” one day her mother said. “As if all this did not end with meningitis.”
I heard that meningitis is a disease of boys who learned to read too early. So I only smiled at my mother’s fears.
All ended with the fact that the parents decided to go by the whole family for the summer to the sea.
Now I guess that my mother hoped to cure me of this trip from excessive dragging by the sea. She thought that I would, as it always happens, be disappointed with the direct encounter with what I so eagerly sought in dreams. And she was right, but only partly.
One day my mother solemnly announced that the other day we are leaving for the whole summer to the Black Sea, to the small town of Gelendzhik, near Novorossiysk.
It was impossible, perhaps, to choose a better place than Gelendzhik, in order to disappoint me in my fascination with the sea and the south.
Gelendzhik was then a very dusty and hot town without any vegetation. All the greenery for many kilometers around was destroyed by the cruel Novorossiysk winds – the Nord-Ost. Only the prickly bushes of the hold-wood and the stunted acacia with yellow dry flowers grew in the front gardens. From the high mountains the heat was drawing. At the end of the bay smoked a cement plant.
But the Gelendzhik bay was very good. In its transparent and warm water floated like pink and blue flowers, large jellyfish. On the sandy bottom lay spotted flounder and goggle-eyed bull-calves. Surf threw ashore red algae, rotten floats, balberki from fishing nets and waves of dark-green bottles wrapped in waves.
The sea after Gelendzhik did not lose its charm for me. It has only become more simple and thus more beautiful than in my smart dreams.
In Gelendzhik I made friends with an old boatman Anastas. He was a Greek, originally from the city of Volo. He had a new sailboat, white with a red keel and washed up to graying with a grating.
Anastas was riding on the boat of the truckers. He was famous for his dexterity and coolness, and my mother sometimes let me go alone with Anastas.
Once Anastas came with me from the bay to the open sea. I will never forget that horror and delight that I experienced when the sail, inflated, tilted the boat so low that the water flew at the level of the side. Noisy huge trees rolled toward each other, shining through the greenery and shedding their face with salty dust.
I grabbed for the guys, I wanted back to shore, but Anastas, holding the pipe with his teeth, was humming something, and then he asked:
– How much did your mother give for these chuvyaki? Aw, good chuvyaki!
He nodded at my soft Caucasian shoes – chuvyaki. My feet trembled. I did not answer. Anastas zev naught and said:
– Nothing! A small shower, a warm shower. Lunch will be with appetite. Do not need to ask – eat for my dad!
He turned the boat carelessly and confidently. She scooped up water, and we rushed to the bay, diving and jumping out onto the crests of the waves. They left the stern with a terrible noise. My heart sank and died.
Suddenly Anastas sang. I stopped trembling and listened in perplexity to this song:
From Batum to Sukhum – I-wai-wai!
From Sukhum to Batum – I-wai-wai!
The boy ran, dragged the box – Ai-wai-wai!
The boy fell, broke the box – Ai-wai-wai!
Under this song, we lowered the sail and from the dispersal quickly approached the pier where a pale mother was waiting. Anastas picked me up, put me on the dock and said:
“Now you have it salty, madam.” Already has a habit to the sea.
One day my father hired a ruler, and we went from Gelendzhik to the Mikhailovsky Pass.
At first the crooked road ran along the slope of bare and dusty mountains. We drove bridges across ravines, where there was not a drop of water. On the mountains all day, lying on top of the peaks, the same clouds of gray dry cotton wool.
I was thirsty. The red-haired Cossack cabby turned around and said that I should wait until the pass, where I would get some tasty and cold water. But I did not believe the cabman. The dryness of the mountains and the lack of water frightened me. I looked with longing for the dark and fresh strip of the sea. It was impossible to get drunk from it, but at least you could bathe in its cool water.
The road rose higher and higher. Suddenly, we were drawn to the face with freshness.
– The most pass! said the cabman, stopped the horses, tears and put the iron brakes under the wheels.
From the ridge of the mountain we saw huge and dense forests. They ran in waves along the mountains to the horizon. In some places red granite cliffs protruded from the green, and in the distance I saw a peak burning with ice and snow.
“Nord-Ost does not reach here,” the cabman said. “There’s a paradise!”
The ruler began to descend. Instantly a thick shadow covered us. We heard a murmur of water, the whistling of birds and the rustle of leaves, excited by the midday wind.
The lower we descended, the thicker the forest and the shady Road. A transparent stream was already running along its side. He washed the multicolored stones, touched purple flowers with his stream and made them bow and tremble, but he could not tear them away from the stony ground and carry them down to the gorge with him.
My mother took water from the stream in a mug and gave me a drink. The water was so cold that the mug immediately became sweaty.
“It smells of ozone,” his father said.
I took a deep breath. I did not know what smelled around, but it seemed to me in May that a heap of branches, moistened with scented rain, had piled up on me.
Lianas clung to our heads. And then here and there on the slopes of the road a shaggy flower protruded from under the stone and looked curiously at our line and on the gray horses, their heads up and speaking solemnly, as in the parade, so as not to break off and jump off the line.
“There’s the lizard!” said my mother. Where?
– Over there. You see the hazel? And to the left – a red stone in the grass. See above. See the yellow corolla? This is azalea. A little to the right of the azalea, on a fallen beech tree, near the root itself. Look, you see, such a fuzzy red root in dry ground and some tiny blue flowers? So here next to him.
I saw a lizard. But while I found it, I made a wonderful journey through the hazel grove, the red stone, the azalea flower and the fallen beech tree.
“So that’s what it is, the Caucasus!” – I thought.
“There’s a paradise!” – repeated the cab, turning off the highway to the grassy narrow clearing in the forest. “Now we’ll unharness the horses, we’ll swim.”
We drove into such a thicket and the branches beat us so hard in the face that we had to stop the horses, get off the line and go on foot. Ruler slowly followed us.
We went to a clearing in a green gorge. Like white islands, stood in a lush grass crowd of tall dandelions. Under thick beeches we saw an old empty shed. He stood on the bank of a noisy mountain stream. She tightly poured transparent water through the stones, hissed and dredged along with the water a lot of air bubbles.
While the cabman unharnessed and walked with his father for brushwood for the fire, we washed in the river. Our faces were burning with warmth after washing.
We wanted to go straight up the river at once, but my mother spread a tablecloth on the grass, took out provisions and said that until we eat, she will not let us go anywhere.
I, choking, ate sandwiches with ham and cold rice porridge with raisins, but it turned out that I was completely in vain hurry – the stubborn copper kettle did not want to boil at the stake. It must be because the water from the rivulet was completely icy.
Then the kettle boiled so suddenly and violently that it filled the fire. We drank strong tea and began to hurry my father to go into the forest. The cabby said that one should be on guard because there are many wild boars in the forest. He explained to us that if we see small pits dug in the ground, then these are the places where the wild boars sleep at night.
Mom became agitated – she could not go with us, she had shortness of breath, – but the cabman reassured her, noticing that the boar should be deliberately irritated so that he rushed to the person.
We went up the river. We scrambled through the thicket, stopped every minute and called to each other to show the granite pools, embossed by the river, – in them blue sparks flew trout, – huge green beetles with long mustaches, frothy grouchy waterfalls, horsetails above our growth, thickets of forest anemones and glades with peonies.
Borya stumbled upon a small dusty pit, similar to a children’s bath. We carefully walked around her. Obviously, this was the place of spending the night wild boar.
Father went ahead. He began to call us. We made our way to him through the buckthorn, bypassing huge mossy boulders.
My father was standing near a strange building overgrown with blackberries. Four smoothly hewn gigantic stones were covered, like a roof, with a fifth hewn stone. It was a stone house. In one of the lateral stones a hole was punched, but so small that even I could not get through it. Around there were several such stone buildings.
“They are Dolmen,” said his father. – Ancient burial grounds of the Scythians. And maybe it is not burial grounds. Until now, scientists can not find out who, what, and how they built these dolmens.
I was sure that Dolmen are the dwellings of long-extinct dwarf people. But I did not say this to my father, since Borya was with us: he would have ridiculed me.
In Gelendzhik we returned completely burned by the sun, drunk with fatigue and forest air. I fell asleep and through the sleep I felt the heat of the fire on me, and I heard the distant murmur of the sea.
Since then, I have become in my imagination the owner of another magnificent country – the Caucasus. Started hobby Lermontov, abrekami, Shamil. Mom again became alarmed.
Now, in adulthood, I with gratitude recollect about children’s hobbies. They taught me a lot.
But I was not at all like choking saliva from the excitement of noisy and addicted boys, who do not give rest to anyone. On the contrary, I was very shy and did not bother anyone with my hobbies.