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Rasplata — Vladimir Semenov
Chapter 02a

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 artificial anger.

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 Arthur.

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."

I asked permission to start off at once with some vessel, a torpedo boat or tug.

The Admiral was on the point of consenting.
" Yes, yes, of course-- "

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 alone.

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?

I 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."

In 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.

The 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,

The chief 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?

"No one 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."

"Be 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.
The next 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."
" A 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 me.

"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."

"Gentlemen, 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 own."

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 understand?"

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!

"What's up? "

"The Admiral's office is calling up on the telephone. They seem in a great hurry."

Through the window the day was breaking. It was evidently still very early.

"They are in a hurry-a great hurry," repeated the orderly.

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?"

I was 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 hawsers! "

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 us.

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 Talienwan.

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 year.

"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 compasses.

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 me.

This, my first cruise, has remained fixed in my memory.

In 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 moment.

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.
"Certainly! "

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. "
"Aye, aye, sir."

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 attack?"
"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 bows.
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!

No one there.
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