THE first place I naturally turned to was the Viceroy's
Naval Office. To begin with, I wanted to find out something of the fate of the
Boyarin, which was of vital importance to me, and next to obtain some general
information. Up to now I had not been able to make anything out of the rumours
and gossip. In the anteroom and the adjoining rooms immense packing-cases stood
about. A number of clerks were busy packing them with bundles of official
documents and various office utensils. An official superintended.
"What's up? Are you packing up?"
" No ; we are just preparing for
eventualities-however, pray excuse me." With this the official dashed off and
flew at one of the clerks, who had made some small mistake, with obviously
The Chief of the Staff, Rear-Admiral Vityeft, had
formerly been my captain for three years. He received me like a brother,
embracing and kissing me. Then, however, he hastened to tell me, just as if he
wished to stop all questioning, that there were still hopes of saving the
Boyarin. I was to report myself as soon as possible to the Admiral commanding
the squadron ; there I should receive all directions and orders. Meanwhile, he
began to busy himself with all sorts of things. He turned over papers, placed
sheets here and there, as much as to hint that he had no time for further
conversation, being, in fact, tremendously busy.
Most of the officers
of the Staff were old comrades of my time in the Pacific Squadron, some even
were my "term" as cadets. On leaving Vityeft's room I tried to get at them. As
soon as I entered a room, no matter how idle they might have been, they at once
sat down at one of the tables, busied themselves with some papers, and only
gave utterance to vague phrases. Not that they in any way made themselves
important as members of the Staff. Nor did they forget old friendships. On the
contrary, no sooner had I mentioned that I had been unable to obtain suitable
lodgings, than I was deluged with the most friendly invitations. People who had
only just pretended to be completely absorbed by the most urgent affairs, now
became eager to send off orderlies to collect my luggage scattered over Port
On board the Petropavlovsk, the flagship, the moral atmosphere
was worse ; it was depressed. I felt involuntarily as if a corpse lay in the
house. The flag-lieutenants and other Staff officers joyfully shook hands with
me. They made endless enquiries about their friends at Cronstadt and St
Petersburg, showed immense interest in my journey, but somehow always turned
the conversation when I wanted to touch upon the present situation. The Chief
of the Staff was even more busy than Vityeft had been. He took me straight in
to the Admiral.
Admiral Stark had changed little in the three years
since I last saw him. He was still the old seaman; a little more grey than
formerly, but his eyes, formerly so friendly and keen, now had something of
weariness a pre-occupied look. His amiable greeting and his orders gave the
impression of being merely mechanical - the effect of habit. His thoughts were
elsewhere. He hardly heard what I said. It seemed as if some invisible person
were talking to him.
" Yes, Yes," he said.; " there is still hope.
Yesterday we sent the captain and seventy men to look for the Eoyarin.
Perhaps--well, to-morrow you might follow with the rest."
permission to start off at once with some vessel, a torpedo boat or
The Admiral was on the point of consenting.
" Yes, yes, of
Then he suddenly seemed to remember something, and added in
a weary tone:
"After all, no. It is all the same." With that he turned away
and left the cabin without taking leave of me."
As soon as I was on
shore again I went to the Viceroy's house-or, as it is called, "Palace." There
I wrote my name in the visitors' book and went home-that is, to the comrade who
had invited me. Strictly speaking, I ought to have reported myself to the
Admiral second-in-command, but decided to put this off to the next day. "Was it
not all the same?" My heart was heavy, and I felt the need of being
My host had not yet returned from his work. I took off my
uniform, sat down at the window, and looked about. Just in front of me rose up
the massive "Golden Hill." It was crowned by the ramparts of our batteries, and
over these flew the proud flag of Russia. "Where the Russian flag is once
hoisted, it will never be struck," Nicholas I. said when the occupation of the
lands of the Ussuri was. reported to him. Until yesterday, yes, until this
morning, I had believed this. And now, now I dared not answer myself. Or still
worse-a voice within me gave an answer, which I simply would not believe. To
the left, in the east corner of the basin, lay the Novik in dry dock. Behind
the grey roofs of the workshops and sheds rose a whole forest of slender masts,
which belonged to the destroyers, tied up there alongside one another. Through
the light haze illumined by the sun appeared the high sides of the
Petropavlovsk and Sebastopol. Further to the right, in the passage to the outer
roads, over the roofs of the torpedo workshops, the masts and funnels of the
Retvisan, which had grounded there, were visible. Still more to the right,
behind the batteries, buildings, and the -slip on the Tiger's Tail Peninsula,
stood out the silhouettes of the remaining ships of the squadron. They lay
there, closely packed together in the small portion of the western basin, where
the dredging had just been completed. The sky was still cloudless, the sun as
bright as in the morning; the noise and movement in the streets and the harbour
had perhaps even increased ; but this serene sky did not cheer me. It irritated
me, on the contrary, as if it mocked at us. The bright sun by no means
beautified the picture. It showed up the dirt in the streets and the rags of
the Chinese coolies all the clearer. The sun blinded one; noise and movement
only seemed to indicate senseless confusion. Whence this transition?
was reminded of Andersen's old fairy tale. The fairy Phantasy whispers to the
spectator in the theatre : "See what a wondrous night! See the glorious
moonshine-how everything lives in it." But the devil Analysis whispers in his
other ear : 11 That is no night and no moon, it is only painted scenery, behind
which the drunken shifter is hiding. The enraptured singer there has only just
had a dispute with the director over the increase of her salary."
the evening I went to the Casino. Hardly an officer, either of the Navy or the
Army, was to be seen there, only now and then a member of the Staff or of the
Port authorities. Officials and civilians predominated. The air was full of
rumours and tales, each one more improbable than the other. Only one thing was
unanimously agreed to. Had the Japanese' sent, not four, but forty destroyers
to the attack, and at the same time disembarked a division of troops, the town
and the rest of the squadron would have fallen into their hands.
conversations on this subject affected us all very deeply, but, strange to say,
they were carried on in a sort of "academic" tone, as if things which, though
important, had no meaning at the moment were being discussed,
question was: How will the Viceroy get himself out of this difficulty? That he
would succeed in doing so no one doubted-quite without irony. But how? By some
cunning dodges, or at the cost of some one else-a scapegoat?
can excuse Stark," said an old, hoarse Port official, who had evidently drunk
too much. " He is certainly a worthy man, but inexcusable. It is a thousand
pities. And even now he is doing nothing."
There you are mistaken,"
interjected a civilian official at the next table. " It is not so simple a
matter as you suppose. Stark has in his pocket a document which makes it
certain that he will be completely exonerated. And not only that: it will bring
him thanks and reward. we of the staff know that quite well."
quiet," interrupted his neighbour, with a sharp voice. " Stark has the
document, not you. This business will run its course all right. No one cares a
rap for you."
The civilian official said not another word.
morning, February 15, I was already on board the Petropavlovsk before the
hoisting of the colours. Sad news awaited me. The Boyarin had foundered, so I
had to look out for another appointment. This was not easy for an officer of my
standing, but old friends in the squadron helped me. By chance, a billet was
found. The captain of the destroyer Reskitelny, Lieutenant K--, was seriously
ill, and had asked to be relieved. The correspondence which was necessary to
put me into his place would usually have taken up three days. Now the business
was settled in a few hours. The Admiral had first to receive a report from his
staff. Then the Viceroy's Naval staff had to be asked if anything stood in the
way of my nomination. The staff had to submit the matter to His Excellency, and
then send a reply. If in the affirmative, this was reported to the Admiral, who
could then make out my appointment, subject to the subsequent written approval
of the Viceroy.
All was arranged smoothly. I was my own orderly, and
carried the papers from one office to the other.
" My friend, you now
have your appointment in your pocket," said my old shipmate, on whom I had
quartered myself. " This evening it will appear in the squadron orders, and as
to the Viceroy's confirmation, You need not bother. He does not concern himself
with such trivialities. These he leaves to Vityeft, and he replied that nothing
stood in your way. We shall submit to ' H. E.' the appointment already made
out, and he will initial it with his green pencil, and that's all."
thousand thanks, dear friend. I will stand
champagne at dinner to-day.
And now I must go and call on K--. Perhaps he has some public money to hand
over to me."
" Shall I invite any one to dinner? " he called after
"Yes, of course."
I found K- in one of the spare rooms of
the Casino. He was in bed with high fever. However, he remembered clearly that
he had no money on charge.
" We have only just commissioned; that is
why there is no money. Provisions and stores must be on board. You'll find
everything in the account books--" He evidently tried to collect his fevered
thoughts, but his wife, who was nursing him, gave me such an eloquent look that
I quickly ended our Service talk, wished him speedy recovery, and left.
At home things looked glorious. My host had prepared a gala dinner.
"The Reshitelny is in sight. Make room for the ReshiteIny."
let us sit down," said my friend. I I We won't waste time on compliments, like
a pack of young ladies, when fresh caviar and vodka are on the table," and so
the meal began.
"I must tell you frankly," joked one of the guests,
that your destroyer is not worth much. She belongs to one of our unfortunate
Russian imitations of the Sokol type. All the same, one likes what is one's
During the noise of the general conversation I told my host the
result of my visit to K-.
"Well, thank God! the money is the principal
concern. Who is going to bother himself with such trifles as stores? And why?
To let it fall into the hands of the Japanese?" The wine seemed to loosen his
tongue. He suddenly bent over towards me and rapidly whispered in my ear: "Take
over the vessel as soon as possible. That is the main thing. Do it to-morrow.
Report that you have found her in proper condition, and that you have assumed
command. The matter has been rushed through. Turn it to account. When once an
appointment is made it is more difficult to cancel it. Eh? You
The preceding nights had brought me little sleep. I was
therefore sleeping like a corpse, when I suddenly became aware of some one
tugging at my shoulder, crying "Your Honour! Your Honour!
"The Admiral's office is calling up on the telephone. They seem in a
Through the window the day was breaking. It was evidently
still very early.
"They are in a hurry-a great hurry," repeated the
Hullo! I hear. Who's there?
Your appointment came out
last night." I know-I know."
"Can you take over command at once? Your
destroyer is to go out at seven. She is now getting up steam." (I looked at my
watch. It was 6.35.) "You are to be at the disposal of the second-in-command.
He has hoisted his flag on board the Amur. You will get your orders from him.
What shall I report to the Chief of the Staff? Can you do it?"
called upon to go on board a destroyer that I did not yet know-the devil knew
what kind of a one!-and be off at once. What nonsense! ! Then I suddenly
remembered the conversation of the evening before: "Take over the vessel at
once. The matter has been rushed through. Turn it to account." Instead of
refusing energetically, I shouted into the telephone:
"Of course I can.
Report to the Admiral that I'm off this minute. Please let the duty steamboat
fetch me at the landing place." My host had got up also at the ringing of the
telephone. With his assistance I threw everything that I needed into the first
portmanteau I found, and in a few minutes I was at the landing-place. The
servant followed with my gear. Five minutes later I was on board the
Reshitelny. The torpedo lieutenant, two sub-Iieutenants, and the chief engineer
received me. There was no time for ceremonies. I mentioned my name, and went
straight to the bridge without going below.
It was seven o'clock. At
the signal station on Golden Hill the signal was already flying: " Reshiteiny
proceed out of harbour."
"Thank God I thought, and ordered Cast off bow
The destroyer was a handy little vessel. Although I did not
know her at all, I safely wound my way through the crowd of shipping in the
East Basin. Then I ran through the entrance, passed the Retvisan, which was
surrounded by a lot of vessels rendering assistance, and proceeded with the
destroyer Steregushtchi, which followed in my wake, to the outer roads. The
Amur, with a RearAdmiral's flag, Gilyak, and Gaidamak, were awaiting
The only order I received from the Amur was the signal : "Take
station four points on the starboard quarter." And so we shaped our course for
The weather was suspicious and dull. Snowflakes were
floating in the air. I sent for the lieutenant, and asked him if there were any
Deviation Tables. He did not know, as he had only come on board yesterday. I
then asked the senior sub-lieutenant. He had been on board quite a long
time-that is, two whole weeks. He reported that since the last commission no
one had touched the compasses. The magnets were in the same places as last
"Then our compasses will show us a nice sort of course," I said
jokingly. Inwardly, I did not feel at all in a mood to joke. The falling snow
might get so thick as to hide the coast from view, and then I was tied to the
Amur like a blind man to his guide, if I did not know the deviation of the
Towards ten o'clock we were near the San-chan-tau Islands.
These lie at the entrance to Talienwan Bay.
Amur signalled: "Destroyers
to search Kerr and Deep Bays." She herself and the other two vessels reduced
speed. We had to increase ours. I was the senior. Steregushtchi followed
This, my first cruise, has remained fixed in my memory.
such moments a man understands and takes in everything, even insignificant
incidents: he arrives instinctively at decisions, and on thinking them over
again later, finds that they fulfilled logically the requirements of the
Kerr and Deep Bays were well known to me from former times. I
required neither compass nor chart. I only needed to look at the characteristic
capes and rocks. Here the enemy might be hiding. I had orders to search the
bays. What was I to do if I sighted the enemy? Nothing had been
forbidden-therefore I must attack.
"Full speed ahead! Clear for action
! " I shouted from the bridge.
The men hurried to their stations.
"You mean to attack if we get the chance, sir?" I heard the torpedo lieutenant
ask near me.
His eyes brightened up, and I could see
how much my decision went to his heart.
"Clear away the horizontal rudders.
If we have to deal with destroyers, I intend to fire surface-runners."
"On which side? "
"Just as it may come. Train one tube to starboard, and
the other to port. By and by you must keep a sharp look-out. "
The engineer came up on the bridge. "Be ready to work up to full
power," I called to him before he had time to ask.
"Are we going to
"I don't know yet.."
We were going l6 knots. Astern the
Steregushtchi was going so fast that spray and foam were sent high up on her
The dark mass, lightly covered with snow, of the rocky promontory
which hid the bay from our view, came nearer and nearer. If there was any one
behind it, we would come as a complete surprise. Perhaps some one was also on
the 100k-out on the other side. How our hearts beat in suspense!