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WHEN I WAS CZAR

(NÄR JAG VAR TSAREN)








WHEN I WAS CZAR
(När Jag Var Tsaren)

by
   Albert Engström
Translated from the original Swedish by Harold Borland M. A



Albert Engström Swedish Artist and Writer Born 12 maj 1869, died. 16 november 1940



As can be seen from Engström's likeness on the Swedish postage stamp above, he was not unlike the Russian Czar in appearance. WHEN I WAS CZAR

I AM in appearance quite like the Czar of Russia who abdicated. This fact once nearly caused my downfall. It was the year 1905, a serious year for Russia. I was a guest aboard one of our more elegant steam pleasure-yachts. After many ravagings on various coasts we landed late one evening outside a little town on the other side of the Baltic. Special circumstances compel me to conceal the name of the town.

We had had a stormy and quite trying day's journey. The crew were tired and we wanted to save them the trouble of serving supper on board, so we betook ourselves, as we stood, up to the town to get something inside us. It was the first time I had been in Russia, and none of us had ever visited the town in question. But then it does lie rather off the beaten track. In spite of the late hour of our arrival a mass of people had assembled on the pier to stare at our beautiful boat, and we were directed by a German-speaking would-be gentleman to the town's best restaurant. This somewhat intoxicated individual, by the way, became difficult to get rid of. He followed us in and, judging by all appearances, wanted to join in the supper. He coolly sat him-self down at our table and began to rant politics, which just didn't suit us and could, besides, be quite dangerous. But gradually we managed to convince him of our earnest desire to be alone, and after he had sunk a few glasses of beer he removed himself in a bad temper and sat himself down along with some shabby fellows at a table near by, from where he surveyed us with insidious glances. The public in the room was, to say the least, mixed, and most of them were half seas over. Champagne was being drunk at almost all the tables.

There were demi-mondes, shabby individuals, young, quite elegant gentlemen, who looked like landowners of the district, officers in abundance, and among them an old grey-bearded general draped in decorations, who shouted incessantly. At times he seemed to be frantic about something, gesticulated, and rolled his eyes. But just as often he fell on the necks of his neighbours at table and kissed them audibly in true Russian style. By quite a pleasant, even if unpleasantly greasy, head-waiter who spoke French well we were enlightened as to the General's name, which incidentally then had quite a European ring.

One of the gentlemen in military uniform at the officers' table was the Chief Constable of the town, and it was he who was host on this occasion. I have often seen more sober Chief Constables. Suddenly all the officers got up and staggered into the next room, the door of which was closed after them. And after a while we were able to hear songs, roaring, and yelling from inside. Obviously a regular binge was being launched.

Well, we ate our sakuschka1 in peace and quiet despite the general inebriation around us. But just as we were about to leave and were engaged in settling up, an awful shriek cut through the rest ol the din. It came from the Chief Constable's company. There was dead silence in the room for a moment, but the next moment the head waiter u i id a lew waiters rushed forward and opened the door. Inside there was a thorough-going battle, and under a billiard-table the Chief Constable and the old general were trying to throttle each other. We managed to grasp the situation before the door was closed again. Naturally such distinguished gentlemen had to be allowed to fight without the interference of others. We went aboard and gave ourselves up to sleep.

Note: ' Faulty form of the Russian zakuska, 'hors-d'oeuvre.'

Next day we dressed up in our most elegant Royal Swedish Yacht Club clothes and rowed ashore to study the old historically famous castle which is the adornment of the town. It was Sunday, and radiant sunshine. People in holiday attire were walking on the pier. As we were rowing over one of the company suggested, " What if we were to let Albert, who is so like the Czar, really act the part of the Czar?" The suggestion was received with jubilation, for we were young and full of the joy of life. "Here in this out-of-the-way spot," continued the one who had made the suggestion, "naturally nobody has seen the Czar. And there aren't exactly many Russians who have been sufficiently near him to be really sure of recognizing him. But they have all seen a portrait of him, and Albert resembles him to a tee, doesn't he?

With a little dignified behaviour, and as the object of respectful attention from our side, Albert ought to be able to act the part of the Czar with success." We came ashore. I was helped up with servile veneration by my companions, who placed them-selves as a guard of honour as I passed them to go up into town. I walked slowly and with dignity four to five paces in front of the others. I had a cigarette handed to me by one of my attendants.

They all stood irreproachably at attention while it was being lit. I thanked with a gracious move-ment of the hand and went on. Naturally our dumb show couldn't fail to arouse attention. People stopped and whispered and gaped at the foreign dignitary. We began to be followed. More and more joined the procession, and soon our escort was of remarkable size. We passed through a park with Casino-like buildings at the sides. It was obviously the promenade ground of high society.

I have never been surveyed with such curiosity. But who should meet us but the Chief Constable who had been so drunk the night before ! With the underling's instinct he reverently made way for my imposing and perfectly accomplished dignity. But full of official zeal, he approached my suite and asked who I was. He was answered in German: "His Majesty is pleased to remain incognito for the time being. But you might see to it that the multitude no longer incommodes him !" You may rest assured, dear reader, that it was not long before the populace was dispersed. The gendarmes toiled, the Chief Constable made a row. We stopped at an open-air restaurant, as I was pleased to consume a refreshing drink. My com-panions procured a half-bottle of champagne and stood the whole time at a respectful distance while I absent- mindedly sipped my drink. Once again a crowd collected which was again dispersed. But then our guide of the previous day ap-proached, the German-speaking would-be gentle-man. With naive forwardness he came up and was going to address me.

My company rushed forward and stopped him. He asked who I was. "The Czar, you idiot! But don't you realize that he wants to remain incognito! You ought really to recognize the absolute ruler of all the Russians! But hush ! ! !" You may believe me or not-but the would-be gentleman believed them ! He walked backwards, his eyes staring, and was engulfed in the multitude which again was on the point of coming to a standstill. "Near the Czar, near to glory ! Near the Czar, near to death !" runs a Russian proverb. It had been our intention to eat our dinner at some restaurant after having looked at the castle. But I realized that we had wrecked our chances and ought to make our way back on board, because nobody could foresee how this would end. We therefore marched down to the pier and embarked.

But the town seemed to be in an uproar. People were running up and down the pier like madmen. And a black solid human mass could be seen approaching down the main street which came out at the harbour. " See that we get up steam as quickly as possible !" the captain ordered, "for this may be a hell of a business." Very true. It was a near thing, too. In the stern of a pinnace rowed by six gendarmes sat three men. We recognized the Chief Constable and the drunk general of the previous day. The third was unknown to us, but he too was in uniform. The pinnace came alongside the yacht. The third member of the party introduced himself as the mayor of the town. He asked whom the town had had the honour of having as a guest. "His Majesty is pleased to remain absolutely incognito. But you have, I'm sure, observed, gentlemen ... I am not entitled to say more.

His Majesty has ordered immediate departure." The three men looked at each other perplexed. I cautiously kept in the smoke-room. " What nationality does it please your Excellency to belong to?" asked the Chief Constable, as we had taken down our flags and pennant. "His Majesty is pleased to remain absolutely incognito ! I am not instructed to say more." " I hope, nevertheless, that our distinguished visitors are pleased to be satisfied, although we have not been in a position to make suitable arrangements," said the Chief Constable. " More than satisfied. I am certainly not instructed to say this-but his Majesty was pleased to be content. He has been pleased to retire to rest. Farewell, gentlemen !"

The anchor-chain was pulled in through the hawse-hole with a clank. The yacht puffed smoke, and we withdrew from the town, leaving three men in a boat who gaped at one another and shook their heads.


The  Dance on Sunnan Isle - Dansen på Sunnanö