Knight Without Armour

Knight Without Armour by James Hilton Read Free Book Online

Book: Knight Without Armour by James Hilton Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Hilton
Tags: Romance, Novel
had flown into a temper because he had accidentally disturbed
some toy of hers; she had seized a heavy silver samovar and dropped it on to
his foot, breaking several bones. “And it wasn’t at all a bad
thing for him,” she told A.J., “because father pays him something
every now and then and he doesn’t have to polish the floors for
    A.J. sometimes went to parties at the Willenskis’ house; monsieur
and madame (as they liked to be called) were hospitable, and refrained from
treating him as they would have done a native teacher. Once he met
Willenski’s brother, who was a publisher in Petersburg. Anton
Willenski, well known to all the Russian reading public, took considerable
interest in the young Englishman and, after an hour’s conversation,
offered him a post in his own Petersburg office. “You are far too good
a scholar to be teaching in a little place like Rostov,” he said. The
post offered was that of English translator and proof-reader, and the salary
double that which Hamarin paid. A.J. mentioned his contract at the school,
but Willenski said: “Oh, never mind that—I’ll deal with
Hamarin,” and he did, though A.J. could only guess how.
    So A.J. left Rostov and went to Petersburg. That was in 1907, when he was
twenty-seven. The change from the provincial atmosphere to the liveliness and
culture of the capital was immeasurably welcome to him. The gaiety of the
theatres and cafés, the fine shops on the Nevsky, the splendour of the
Cathedral and of the Winter Palace, all pleased the eye of the impressionable
youth whose job left him leisure for thinking and observing. He had been to
Petersburg before, but to see it as a visitor had been vastly different from
living in it. His rooms were across the river in the Viborg district; from
his windows he could see, at sunset, the Gulf of Finland bathed in saffron
splendour, and there was something of everlasting melancholy in that pageant
of sky and water ushering in the silver northern night. Before he had been
long in Petersburg he received other impressions—the glitter of Cossack
bayonets and scarlet imperial uniforms, and in the darker background, the
huge scowling mass of misery and corruption through which revolutionary
currents ran like threads of doom. It was fascinating to watch those
ever-changing scenes of barbaric magnificence and sordid degradation—to
cheer the imperial sleigh as it swept over the snow-bound boulevards, to gaze
on the weekly batches of manacled prisoners marching to the railway station
en route for the Ural convict-mines, to see the crowds of wild-eyed strikers
surging around the mills of the new industrialism. His work at
Willenski’s office was easy; he had to superintend the translation of
English works into Russian and to give them final proof-reading. It was also
expected that he should make suggestions for new translations, and it was
over this branch of his work that, after a successful and enjoyable year, he
came to sudden grief. At his recommendation a certain English novel had been
translated, printed, published, and sent to the shops; it was selling quite
well when all at once the police authorities detected or pretended to detect
in it some thinly-veiled allusions to the private life of the Emperor.
Willenski was thus put in a most awkward position, since he supplied
text-books to the government schools and had a strictly orthodox reputation
to keep up; his only chance of escaping business ruin and perhaps personal
imprisonment was by laying the entire blame on his subordinate. As he told
A.J. quite frankly: “It just can’t be helped. They won’t do
anything to you, as you’re English. If you were Russian they’d
probably send you to Siberia—as it is, they can only cancel your
    So Willenski made a great show of dismissing with ignominy a subordinate
who had disgracefully let him down, and managed, by such strategy, to escape
with a severe

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