TWO WEEKS OF SIGHT-SEEING
The next morning we were up early. One of the first things we did was to pay a visit to Henry, one of our fellow-passengers on the voyage from America to Russia.
Henry was a little mouse-like man who had never been a hundred miles from the small seaport town in New England which was his home.
Henry had been employed all his life with a shipbuilding company. This company had built some submarine-chasers for the Russian government but for some reason or other they refused to chase. The motors wouldn't go and the vessels were lying in the Gulf of Finland, near Kronstadt, waiting for the magic touch of some one from the shipbuilding company, and Henry had been delegated to apply it.
"There's something wrong with the hot-water tap in my bathroom," complained Henry, as we entered his room, which was on the floor below ours. "I've tinkered with the durned thing for an hour but I can't get it to work."
"Well, why don't you get the hall porter to fix it for you?" suggested Dr. Egbert. "You'll find him out there by the elevator."
Henry went out and in a moment or two returned with a uniformed man who, to say the least, seemed most reluctant to help Henry solve the problem of the hot-water tap. Indeed, if Henry had not dragged him forcibly by the arm, he certainly wouldn't have entered the room at all.
"I want you to fix the hot-water tap," Henry explained, holding the rebellious official with one hand and pointing to the bathroom with the other.
Right then it occurred to me that something was very much amiss. The old gentleman whom Henry had dragged into his room looked as if he were going to have an apoplectic fit, and a glance I got at Dr. Egbert showed me that he was almost in as precarious a condition.
With an indignant snort, Henry's prisoner tore himself from his captor's grasp and rushed from the room with Henry in pursuit.
"Great Scott, Henry I" shouted Dr. Egbert.
"Come back, will you I That's not the porter; that's an admiral of the Russian Navy!"
Henry's jaw fell and he almost collapsed.
"You've got yourself in dutch now, for fair,"
Dr. Egbert went on. "You've gravely insulted him, and the chances are he'll have you thrown into prison."
"But I thought he was the porter---with all that gold braid and stuff---and he was standing at the elevator, too," replied Henry, whose face had turned the color of ashes.
Just then a dapper little fellow in the blue uniform of a naval lieutenant knocked at the door and, in a very correct English, declared:
"The Admiral demands an apology from the American who has so gravely insulted him!"
Henry being quite speechless, Dr. Egbert explained the cause of the supposed affront and offered Henry's profuse apologies to the Admiral.
The Lieutenant clanked his heels together, saluted, and solemnly withdrew. After a few moments he returned with the information that the Admiral would accept the apologies of the American---a message which undoubtedly saved Henry's life, because I fully believe another five minutes of suspense would have killed him.
The incident was an amusing one to me; but Henry's mistake was really quite excusable because of the fact that in Russia every one wears some sort of uniform, even the school children, and one has to live in Russia quite a while before understanding the significance of all the different uniforms which are worn.
After breakfast, Dr. Egbert suggested that we go sight-seeing, and I gladly acquiesced.
After considerable haggling with an isvoscheek, or cabman, in front of the hotel---a most necessary preliminary---we piled into the rickety old cab and went clattering off over the cobblestones of St. Isaac's Square.
These isvoscheeks are droll looking fellows, with great padded coats fastened around the waist by a tight belt. The more costly the equipage and the finer the horse, the greater the padding, and the fare seemed to vary in direct ratio with the amount of padding---an isvoscheek who looked as though he could roll more easily than walk charging two or three times as much as a more slender one. They were usually bearded and wore quaint high hats and altogether they presented a very weird appearance--especially if the face and neck were thin and scrawny in contrast to the hugely padded body. Some were mere boys of fourteen or fifteen, but all wore the quaint top hat, no matter how battered or frayed, and the huge padded coat.
We passed a long column of men marching four abreast, with an armed guard of soldiers escorting them. They were raw youths in every conceivable costume---a draft of new troops called up for training. They ambled and slouched along carrying bundles and packages, shuffling in their heavy boots---typical country bumpkins.
"How can they ever make soldiers out of such material?" I asked.
"Well, there's the answer," replied Dr. Egbert, pointing ahead of us, "those soldiers you see marching towards us were an exact counterpart of these fellows only a few weeks ago."
I looked in the direction he indicated and saw a long, orderly line of soldiers in grey-brown marching towards us in perfect rhythm, with the free swing of the Russian military step, their heavy hobnailed boots thumping the cobblestones in absolute time. Fine erect soldierly men they were, every slender bayonetted rifle at the same angle, every movement in unison.
We stopped a moment as they passed us. The officer's voice could be heard ringing out with bell-like clearness, a great church we were passing acting as a sounding-board, as he addressed an order to his men, then a metallic clatter as every rifle-butt hit the cobblestones together.
Our isvoscheek took us through the great wide thoroughfare called the Nevsky Prospect. As wide as it was, both sidewalks and road-bed were very crowded and our isvoscheek had constantly to yell at unwary pedestrians who got in our way, rattling his whip in the socket and waving his arms to urge the horse on.
The buildings were immense solid-looking structures, some. of stone but many of stucco. They had been painted yellow or reddish brown but most of them were faded and dingy and looked in need of a new coat.
Most of the men we passed were in uniform.
One of the peculiarities I noticed was the fact that practically every shop in addition to a sign giving the name of the firm and the commodity handled had a picture of the commodity painted on the walls---a baker's shop having loaves of bread, rolls and cakes painted above the windows, a furniture store chairs, tables, couches and sideboards, and so on.
This was done, Dr. Egbert explained, because seventy per cent. of the population could not read and lettered signs meant nothing to them. While this revelation of the proportion of illiteracy in Russia was appalling, it was rather consoling to me to reflect that the ignorance of the natives would make shopping easier for me.
Altogether I spent two weeks in sight-seeing, and very interesting weeks they were. I had many wonderful drives through the islands. There were dinners at Felicián's on the balcony overlooking the canal where boats carrying students rowing with their sweethearts in the crisp October evenings would float by, the silence broken by beautiful youthful voices singing the sad romances the Russian loves so well.
Meanwhile, of course, I was watching for an opportunity to enter the Russian army medical service. The fact that I did not speak Russian and had no friends in the Russian army made the task extremely difficult, but finally I heard, through an American acquaintance, of a Russian surgeon who was anxious to go away to Finland for a vacation. He had been working day and night since the beginning of the war and was nearly broken down from the strain of overwork.
Securing a letter of introduction from the American, I called on this surgeon, Dr. Vicker, at his office.
Dr. Vicker was a charming man, of middle age, with a scar from cheek bone to chin from a sabre cut received while a student in Germany.
He explained to me that he was chief surgeon to the Hussars Hospital at Tsarskoe-Selo, which had a hundred and fifty beds, and he was also attending a large private practice. He was doing all of the surgical work, having only a woman doctor in the hospital, who acted as anesthetist and resident physician, to help him. The fighting was intense at that time, October, 1915, and they were crowded with work.
"I shall be very glad, Dr. Grow," he declared, after a short interview in which I told him of my professional experience in America, "to have you come with me to-morrow to Tsarskoe-Selo and help me with several operations. I can then judge of your ability and you will become familiar with our work. Meet me, if you will, at the Tsarskoe-Selo Station at Petrograd at seven o'clock tomorrow morning."
Delighted with the opportunity to do some work, I thanked him for his interest and promised to be on hand in time. Sight-seeing was very interesting, but I had left America to work in Russia, not to enjoy myself, and I was very anxious to start in.
Chapter Three: The Hussars Hospital at Tsarskoeselo