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Yama (The Pit)
by Alexandra Kuprin
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"Let's go?" he said, offering her his bent arm.

"Let's go," answered she, laughing.

She brought him into her room, gotten up with all the coquettishness of a bedroom in a brothel of the medium sort, with a bureau, covered with a knit scarf, and upon it a mirror, a bouquet of paper flowers, a few empty bonbonierres, a powder box, a faded photograph of a young man with white eyebrows and eyelashes and a haughtily astonished face, as well as several visiting cards. Above the bed, which is covered with a pink pique blanket, along the wall, is nailed up a rug with a representation of a Turkish sultan luxuriating in his harem, a narghili in his mouth; on the walls, several more photographs of dashing men of the waiter and actor type; a pink lantern hangs down from the ceiling by chains; there are also a round table under a carpet cover, three vienna chairs, and an enameled bowl with a pitcher of the same sort in the corner on a tabouret, behind the bed.

"Darling, treat me to Lafitte with lemonade," in accordance with established usage asked Little Manka, unbuttoning her corsage.

"Afterwards," austerely answered the pedagogue. "It will all depend upon yourself. And then—what sort of Lafitte can you have here? Some muddy brew or other?"

"We have good Lafitte," contradicted the girl touchily. "Two roubles a bottle. But if you are so stingy, then buy me beer at least. All right?"

"Well, beer is all right..."

"And for me lemonade and oranges. Yes?"

"A bottle of lemonade, yes; but oranges, no. Later, maybe, I will treat you to champagne even. It will all depend on you. If you'll exert yourself."

"Then, daddy, I'll ask for four bottles of beer and two bottles of lemonade? Yes? And for me just a little cake of chocolate. All right? Yes?"

"Two bottles of beer, a bottle of lemonade, and nothing more. I don't like when I'm bargained with. If need be, I'll order myself."

"And may I invite a friend of mine?"

"No, let it be without any friends, if you please."

Manka leaned out of the door into the corridor and called out resoundingly:

"Housekeeper, dear! Two bottles of beer and a bottle of lemonade for me."

Simeon came with a tray and began with an accustomed rapidity to uncork the bottles. Following him came Zociya, the housekeeper.

"There, now, how well you've made yourself at home here. Here's to your lawful marriage!" she congratulated them.

"Daddy, treat the little housekeeper with beer," begged Manka. "Drink, housekeeper dear."

"Well, in that case here's to your health, mister. Somehow, your face seems kind of familiar to me?"

The German drank his beer, sucking and licking his moustache, and impatiently waited for the housekeeper to go away. But she, having put down her glass and thanked him, said:

"Let me get the money coming from you, mister. As much as is coming for the beer and the time. That's both better for you and more convenient for us."

The demand for the money went against the grain of the teacher, because it completely destroyed the sentimental part of his intentions. He became angry:

"What sort of boorishness is this, anyway! It doesn't look as if I were preparing to run away from here. And besides, can't you discriminate between people at all? You can see that a man of respectability, in a uniform, has come to you, and not some tramp. What sort of importunity is this!"

The housekeeper gave in a little.

"Now, don't get offended, mister. Of course, you'll pay the young lady yourself for the visit. I don't think you will do her any wrong, she's a fine girl among us. But I must trouble you to pay for the beer and lemonade. I, too, have to give an account to the proprietress. Two bottles at fifty is a rouble and the lemonade thirty—a rouble thirty."

"Good Lord, a bottle of beer fifty kopecks!" the German waxed indignant. "Why, I will get it in any beer-shop for twelve kopecks."

"Well, then, go to a beer-shop if it's cheaper there," Zociya became offended. "But if you've come to a respectable establishment, the regular price is half a rouble. We don't take anything extra. There, that's better. Twenty kopecks change coming to you?"

"Yes, change, without fail," firmly emphasized the German teacher. "And I would request of you that nobody else should enter."

"No, no, no, what are you saying," Zociya began to bustle near the door. "Dispose yourself as you please, to your heart's content. A pleasant appetite to you."

Manka locked the door on a hook after her and sat down on the German's knee, embracing him with her bare arm.

"Are you here long?" he asked, sipping his beer. He felt dimly that that imitation of love which must immediately take place demanded some sort of psychic propinquity, a more intimate acquaintance, and on that account, despite his impatience, began the usual conversation, which is carried on by almost all men—when alone with prostitutes, and which compels the latter to lie almost mechanically, to lie without mortification, enthusiasm or malice, according to a single, very ancient stencil.

"Not long, only the third month."

"And how old are you?"

"Sixteen," fibbed Little Manka, taking five years off her age.

"O, such a young one!" the German wondered, and began, bending down and grunting, to take off his boots. "Then how did you get here?"

"Well, a certain officer deprived me of my innocence there...near his birthplace. And it's terrible how strict my mamma is. If she was to find out, she'd strangle me with her own hands. Well, so then I ran away from home and got in here..."

"And did you love that same officer, the one who was the first one, now?"

"If I hadn't loved him, I wouldn't have gone to him. He promised to marry me, the scoundrel, but then managed to get what he was after, and abandoned me."

"Well, and were you ashamed the first time?"

"Of course, you'd be ashamed...How do you like it, daddy, with light or without light? I'll turn, down the lantern a little. All right?"

"Well, and aren't you bored here? What do they call you?"

"Manya. To be sure I'm bored. What sort of a life is ours!"

The German kissed her hard on her lips and again asked:

"And do you love the men? Are there men who please you? Who afford you pleasure?"

"How shouldn't there be?" Manka started laughing. "I love the ones like you especially, such nice little fatties."

"You love them? Eh? Why do you love them?"

"Oh, I love them just so. You're nice, too."

The German meditated for a few seconds, pensively sipping away at his beer. Then he said that which every man tells a prostitute in these moments preceding the casual possession of her body:

"Do you know, Marichen, you also please me very much. I would willingly take you and set you up."

"You're married," the girl objected, touching his ring.

"Yes, but, you understand, I don't live with my wife; she isn't well, she can't fulfill her conjugal duties."

"The poor thing! If she were to find out where you go, daddy, she would cry for sure."

"Let's drop that. So, you know, Mary, I am always looking out for such a girl as you for myself, so modest and pretty. I am a man of means, I would find a flat with board for you, with fuel and light. And forty roubles a month pin money. Would you go?"

"Why not go—I'd go."

He kissed her violently, but a secret apprehension glided swiftly through his cowardly heart.

"But are you healthy?" he asked in an inimical, quavering voice.

"Why, yes, I am healthy. There's a doctor's inspection every Saturday in our place."

After five minutes she went away from him, as she walked putting away in her stocking the earned money, on which, as on the first handsel, she had first spat, after a superstitious custom. There had been no further speech either about maintenance or natural liking. The German was left unsatisfied with the frigidity of Manka and ordered the housekeeper to be summoned to him.

"Housekeeper dear, my husband demands your presence!" said Manya, coming into the drawing room and fixing her hair before a mirror.

Zociya went away, then returned afterwards and called Pasha out into the corridor. Later she came back into the drawing room, but alone.

"How is it, Manka, that you haven't pleased your cavalier?" she asked with laughter. "He complains about you: 'This,' he says, 'is no woman, but some log of wood, a piece of ice.' I sent him Pashka."

"Eh, what a disgusting man!" Manka puckered up her face and spat aside. "Butts in with his conversations. Asks: 'Do you feel when I kiss you? Do you feel a pleasant excitement?' An old hound. 'I'll take you,' he says, 'and set you up!'"

"They all say that," remarked Zoe indifferently.

But Jennie, who since morning has been in an evil mood, suddenly flared up.

"Oh, the sneak, the big, miserable sneak that he is!" she exclaimed, turning red and energetically putting her hands to her sides. "Why, I would take him, the old, dirty little beast, by the ear, then lead him up to the mirror and show him his disgusting snout. What? Good-looking, aren't you? And how much better you'll be when the spit will be running out of your mouth, and you'll cross your eyes, and begin to choke and rattle in the throat, and to snort right in the face of the woman. And for your damned rouble you want me to go all to pieces before you like a pancake, and that from your nasty love my eyes should pop out onto my forehead? Why, hit him in the snout, the skunk, in the snout! Until there's blood!"

"O, Jennie! Stop it now! PFUI!" the susceptible Emma Edwardovna, made indignant by her tone, stopped her.

"I won't stop!" she cut her short abruptly. But she grew quiet by herself and wrathfully walked away with distending nostrils and with fire in the darkened, handsome eyes.



CHAPTER VII.

Little by little the drawing room was filling. There came Roly-Poly, long known to all Yama—a tall, thin, red-nosed, gray old man, in the uniform of a forest ranger, in high boots, with a wooden yard-stick always sticking out of his side-pocket. He passed whole days and evenings as a habitue of the billiard parlor in the tavern, always half-tipsy, shedding his little jokes, jingles and little sayings, acting familiarly with the porters, with the housekeepers and the girls. In the houses everybody from the proprietress to the chamber-maids—treated him with a bit of derision—careless, a trifle contemptuous, but without malice. At times he was even not without use: he could transmit notes from the girls to their lovers, and run over to the market or to the drug-store. Not infrequently, thanks to his loosely hung tongue and long extinguished self respect, he would worm himself into a gathering of strangers and increase their expenditures, nor did he carry elsewhere the money gotten as "loans" on such occasions, but spent it right here for women—unless, indeed, he left himself some change for cigarettes. And, out of habit, he was good-naturedly tolerated.

"And here's Roly-Poly arrived," announced Niura, when he, having already managed to shake hands amicably with Simeon the porter, stopped in the doorway of the drawing room, lanky, in a uniform cap knocked at a brave slant over one side of his head. "Well, now, Roly-Poly, fire away!"

"I have the honour to present myself," Roly-Poly immediately commenced to grimace, putting his hand up to his brim in military fashion, "a right honourable privy frequenter of the local agreeable establishments, Prince Bottlekin, Count Liquorkin, Baron Whoatinkevich-Giddapkovski—Mister Beethoven! Mister Chopin!" he greeted the musicians. "Play me something from the opera The Brave and Charming General Anisimov, or, A Hubbub in the Coolidor. My regards to the little political economist Zociya.[5] A-ha! Then you kiss only at Easter? We shall write that down. Ooh-you, my Tomalachka, my pitty-itty tootsicums!"

[5] An untranslatable pun on Economochka, a diminutive for "housekeeper."—Trans.

And so with jests and with pinches he went the round of all the girls and at last sat down alongside of the fat Katie, who put her fat leg upon his, leant with her elbow upon her knee, while upon the palm she laid her chin, and began to watch indifferently and closely the surveyor rolling a cigarette for himself.

"And how is it that you don't ever get tired of it, Roly-Poly? You're forever rolling a coffin nail."

Roly-Poly at once commenced to move his eye-brows and the skin of his scalp and began to speak in verse:

"Dear cigarette, my secret mate, How can I help loving thee? Not through mere whim, prompted by fate, All have started smoking thee."

"Why, Roly-Poly, but you are going to croak soon," said Kitty indifferently.

"And a very simple matter, that."

"Roly-Poly, say something still funnier, in verse," begged Verka.

And at once, obediently, having placed himself in a funny pose, he began to declaim:

"Many stars are in the bright sky, But to count them there's no way. Yes, the wind whispers there can be, But there really is no way. Blossoming now are burdocks, Now sing out the birds called cocks."

Playing the tom-fool in this manner, Roly-Poly would sit whole evenings and nights through in the drawing rooms of the establishments. And through some strange psychic fellow feeling the girls counted him almost as one of their own; occasionally rendered him little temporary services and even bought him beer and vodka at their expense.

Some time after Roly-Poly a large company of hairdressers, who were that day free from work, tumbled in. They were noisy, gay, but even here, in a brothel, did not cease their petty reckonings and conversations about closed and open theatrical benefits, about the bosses, about the wives of the bosses. All these were people corrupt to a sufficient degree, liars, with great hopes for the future—such as, for example, entering the service of some countess as a kept lover. They wanted to utilize to the widest possible extent their rather hard-earned money, and on that account decided to make a review of absolutely all the houses of Yama; only Treppel's they could not resolve to enter, as that was too swell for them. But at Anna Markovna's they at once ordered a quadrille and danced it, especially the fifth figure, where the gents execute a solo, perfectly, like real Parisians, even putting their thumbs in the arm holes of their vests. But they did not want to remain with the girls; instead, they promised to come later, when they had wound up the complete review of the brothels.

And there also came and went government clerks of some sort; crisp young people in patent leather boots; several students; several officers, who were horribly afraid of losing their dignity in the eyes of the proprietress and the guests of the brothel. Little by little in the drawing room was created such a noisy, fumy setting that no one there any longer felt ill at ease. There came a steady visitor, the lover of Sonka the Rudder, who came almost every day and sat whole hours through near his beloved, gazed upon her with languishing oriental eyes, sighed, grew faint and created scenes for her because she lives in a brothel, because she sins against the Sabbath, because she eats meat not prepared in the orthodox Hebrew manner, and because she has strayed from the family and the great Hebrew church.

As a usual thing—and this happened often—Zociya the housekeeper would walk up to him under cover of the hubbub and would say, twisting her lips:

"Well, what are you sitting there for mister? Warming your behind? You might go and pass the time with the young lady."

Both of them, the Jew and the Jewess, were by birth from Homel, and must have been created by God himself for a tender, passionate, mutual love; but many circumstances—as, for example, the pogrom which took place in their town, impoverishment, a complete confusion, fright—had for a time parted them. However, love was so great that the junior drug clerk Neiman, with great difficulty, efforts, and humiliations, contrived to find for himself the place of a junior in one of the local pharmacies, and had searched out the girl he loved. He was a real, orthodox Hebrew, almost fanatical. He knew that Sonka had been sold by her very mother to one of the buyers-up of live merchandise, knew many humiliating, hideous particulars of how she had been resold from hand to hand, and his pious, fastidious, truly Hebraic soul writhed and shuddered at these thoughts, but nevertheless love was above all. And every evening he would appear in the drawing room of Anna Markovna. If he was successful, at an enormous deprivation, in cutting out of his beggarly income some chance rouble, he would take Sonka into her room, but this was not at all a joy either for him or for her: after a momentary happiness—the physical possession of each other—they cried, reproached each other, quarreled with characteristic Hebraic, theatrical gestures, and always after these visits Sonka the Rudder would return into the drawing room with swollen, reddened eyelids.

But most frequently of all he had no money, and would sit whole evenings through near his mistress, patiently and jealously awaiting her when Sonka through chance was taken by some guest. And when she would return and sit down beside him, he would, without being perceived, overwhelm her with reproaches, trying not to turn the general attention upon himself and without turning his head in her direction. And in her splendid, humid, Hebraic eyes during these conversations there was always a martyr-like but meek expression.

There arrived a large company of Germans, employed in an optical shop; there also arrived a party of clerks from the fish and gastronomical store of Kereshkovsky, and two young people very well known in the Yamas—both bald, with sparse, soft, delicate hairs around the bald spots: Nicky the Book-keeper and Mishka the Singer—so were they both called in the houses. They also were met very cordially, just like Karl Karlovich of the optical shop and Volodka of the fish store—with raptures, cries and kisses, flattering to their self-esteem. The spry Niurka would jump out into the foyer, and, having informed herself as to who had come, would report excitedly, after her wont:

"Jennka, your husband has come!"

Or:

"Little Manka, your lover has come!"

And Mishka the Singer, who was no singer at all, but the owner of a drug warehouse, at once, upon entering, sang out in a vibrating, quavering, goatish voice:

"They fe-e-e-l the tru-u-u-u-uth! Come thou daw-aw-aw-aw-ning..."

which he perpetrated at every visit of his to Anna Markovna.

Almost incessantly they played the quadrille, waltz, polka, and danced. There also arrived Senka—the lover of Tamara—but, contrary to his wont, he did not put on airs, did not go in for "ruination," did not order a funeral march from Isaiah Savvich, and did not treat the girls to chocolate ... For some reason he was gloomy, limped on his right leg, and sought to attract as little attention as possible—probably his professional affairs were at this time in a bad way. With a single motion of his head, while walking, he called Tamara out of the drawing room and vanished with her into her room. And there also arrived Egmont-Lavretzki the actor, clean-shaven, tall, resembling a court flunky with his vulgar and insolently contemptuous face.

The clerks from the gastronomical store danced with all the ardour of youth and with all the decorum recommended by Herman Hoppe, the self-instructor of good manners. In this regard the girls also responded to their intentions. Both with these and with the others it was accounted especially decorous and well-bred to dance as rigidly as possible, keeping the arms hanging down, while the heads were raised high and inclined to one side with a certain proud, and, at the same time, tired and enervated air. In the intermissions, between the figures of the dance, it was necessary to fan one's self with a handkerchief, with a bored and negligent air ... In a word, they all made believe that they belonged to the choicest society, and that if they do dance, they only do it out of condescension, as a little comradely turn. But still they danced so ardently that the perspiration rolled down in streams from the clerks of Kereshkovsky.

Two or three rows had already happened in different houses. Some man, all in blood, whose face in the pale light of the moon's crescent seemed black from the blood, was running around in the street, cursing, and, without paying the least attention to his wounds, was searching for his cap which had been lost in the brawl. On Little Yamskaya some government scribes had had a fight with a ship's company. The tired pianists and musicians played as in a delirium, in a doze, through mechanical habit. This was towards the waning of the night.

Altogether unexpectedly, seven students, a sub-professor, and a local reporter walked into the establishment of Anna Markovna.



CHAPTER VIII.

They had all, except the reporter, passed the whole day together, from the very morning, celebrating May Day with some young women of their acquaintance. They had rowed in boats on the Dnieper, had cooked field porridge on the other side of the river, in the thick, bitter-smelling underbrush; had bathed—men and women by turns—in the rapid, warm water; had drunk home-made spiced brandy, sung sonorous songs of Little Russia, and had returned to town only late in the evening, when the dark, broad, running river so eerily and merrily plashed against the sides of their boats, playing with the reflections of the stars, the silvery shimmering paths of the electric lamps, and the bowing lights of the can-buoys. And when they had stepped out on the shore, the palms of each burned from the oars, the muscles of the arms and legs ached pleasantly, and suffusing the whole body was a blissful, healthy fatigue.

Then they had escorted the young women to their homes and at the garden-gates and entrances had taken leave of them long and cordially, with laughter and with such swinging hand-shakes as if they were working the lever of a pump.

The whole day had passed in gaiety and noise, even a trifle clamorously, and just the least wee bit tiresomely, but with youth-like continence; without intoxication, and, which happens especially rarely, without the least shadow of mutual affronts, or jealousy, or unvoiced mortifications. Of course, such a benign mood had been helped by the sun, the fresh river breeze, the sweet exhalations of the grasses and the water, the joyous sensation of the strength and alertness of one's body while bathing and rowing, and the restraining influence of the clever, kind, pure and handsome girls from families they were acquainted with. But, almost without the knowledge of their consciousness, their sensuousness—not imagination, but the simple, healthy, instinctive sensuousness of young playful males—kindled from chance encounters of their hands with feminine hands and from comradely obliging embraces, when the occasion arose to help the young ladies enter a boat or jump out on shore; from the tender odour of maiden apparel, warmed by the sun; from the feminine cries of coquettish fright on the river; from the sight of feminine figures, negligently half-reclining with a naive immodesty on the green grass around the samovar—from all these innocent liberties, which are so usual and unavoidable on picnics, country outings and river excursions, when within man, in the infinite depth of his soul, secretly awakens from the care-free contact with earth, grasses, water and sun, the beast-ancient, splendid, free, but disfigured and intimidated of men.

And for that reason, at two o'clock in the night, when THE SPARROWS, a cozy students' restaurant, had barely closed, and all the eight, excited by alcohol and the plentiful food, had come out of the smoky, fumy underground place into the street, into the sweet, disquieting darkness of the night, with its beckoning fires in the sky and on the earth, with its warm, heady air, from which the nostrils dilate avidly, with its aromas, gliding from unseen gardens and flower-beds,—the head of each one of them was aflame and the heart quietly and languishingly yearning from vague desires. It was joyous and arrogant to sense after the rest the new, fresh strength in all the sinews, the deep breathing of the lungs, the red, resilient blood in the veins, the supple obedience of all the members. And—without words, without thoughts, without consciousness—one was drawn on this night to be running without raiment in the somnolent forest, to be sniffing hurriedly the tracks of some one's feet on the dewy grass, with a loud call to be summoning a female unto one's self.

But to separate was now very difficult. The whole day, passed together, had shaken them into an accustomed, tenacious herd. It seemed that if even one were to go away from the company, a certain attained equilibrium would be disturbed and could not be restored afterwards. And so they dallied and stamped upon the sidewalk, near the exit of the tavern's underground vault, interfering with the progress of the infrequent passers-by. They discussed hypocritically where else they might go to wind up the night. It proved to be too far to the Tivoli Garden, and in addition to that one also had to pay for admission tickets, and the prices in the buffet were outrageous, and the program had ended long ago. Volodya Pavlov proposed going to him—he had a dozen of beer and a little cognac home. But it seemed a bore to all of them to go in the middle of the night to a family apartment, to enter on tiptoes up the stairs and to talk in whispers all the time.

"Tell you what, brethren ... Let's better ride to the girlies, that will be nearer the mark," said peremptorily Lichonin, an old student, a tall, stooping, morose and bearded fellow. By convictions he was an anarchist—theoretic, but by avocation a passionate gambler at billiards, races and cards—a gambler with a very broad, fatalistic sweep. Only the day before he had won a thousand roubles at macao in the Merchants' Club, and this money was still burning a hole in his pockets.

"And why not? Right-o!" somebody sustained him. "Let's go, comrades?"

"Is it worth while? Why, this is an all night affair ..." spoke another with a false prudence and an insincere fatigue.

And a third said through a feigned yawn:

"Let's better go home, gentlemen ... a-a-a ... go bye-bye ... That's enough for to-day."

"You won't work any wonders when you're asleep," Lichonin remarked sneeringly. "Herr professor, are you coming?"

But the sub-professor Yarchenko was obstinate and seemed really angered, although, perhaps, he himself did not know what was lurking within him, in some dark cranny of his soul.

"Leave me in peace, Lichonin. As I see it, gentlemen, this is downright and plain swinishness—that which you are about to do. We have passed the time so wonderfully, amiably and simply, it seems,—but no, you needs must, like drunken cattle, clamber into a cesspool. I won't go."

"Still, if my memory does not play me false," said Lichonin, with calm causticity, "I recollect that no further back than past autumn we with a certain future Mommsen were pouring in some place or other a jug of ice into a pianoforte, delineating a Bouratian god, dancing the belly-dance, and all that sort of thing?"

Lichonin spoke the truth. In his student days, and later, being retained at the university, Yarchenko had led the most wanton and crack-brained life. In all the taverns, cabarets, and other places of amusement his small, fat, roundish little figure, his rosy cheeks, puffed out like those of a painted cupid, and the shining, humid kindly eyes were well known, his hurried, spluttering speech and shrill laughter remembered.

His comrades could never fathom where he found the time to employ in study, but nevertheless he went through all examinations and prescribed work with distinction and from the first course the professors had him in view. Now Yarchenko was beginning little by little to quit his former comrades and bottle companions. He had just established the indispensable connections with the professorial circle; the reading of lectures in Roman history for the coming year had been offered him, and not infrequently in conversation he would use the expression current among the sub-professors: "We, the learned ones!" The student familiarity, the compulsory companionship, the obligatory participation in all meetings, protests and demonstrations, were becoming disadvantageous to him, embarrassing, and even simply tedious. But he knew the value of popularity among the younger element, and for that reason could not decide to sever relations abruptly with his former circle. Lichonin's words, however, provoked him.

"Oh, my God, what does it matter what we did when we were youngsters? We stole sugar, soiled our panties, tore the wings off beetles," Yarchenko began to speak, growing heated, and spluttering. "But there is a limit and a mean to all this. I, gentlemen, do not presume, of course, to give you counsels and to teach you, but one must be consistent. We are all agreed that prostitution is one of the greatest calamities of humanity, and are also agreed, that in this evil not the women are guilty, but we, men, because the demand gives birth to the offer. And therefore if, having drunk a glass of wine too much, I still, notwithstanding my convictions, go to the prostitutes, I am committing a triple vileness: before the unfortunate, foolish woman, whom I subject to the most degrading form of slavery for my filthy rouble; before humanity, because, hiring a public woman for an hour or two for my abominable lust, I through this justify and uphold prostitution; and finally, this is a vileness before one's own conscience and mind. And before logic."

"Phew-ew!" Lichonin let out a long-drawn whistle and chanted in a thin, dismal voice, nodding in time with his head hanging down to one side: "The philosopher is off on our usual stuff: 'A rope—is a common cord.'"

"Of course, there's nothing easier than to play the tom-fool," responded Yarchenko. "But in my opinion there is not in the sorrowful life of Russia a more mournful phenomenon than this lackadaisicalness and vitiation of thought. To-day we will say to ourselves: Eh! It's all the same, whether I go to a brothel or whether I do not go, from this one time things will get neither worse nor better. And after five years we will be saying: Undoubtedly a bribe is a horribly nasty bit of business, but you know—children ... the family ... And just the same way after ten years we, having remained fortuitous Russian liberals, will be sighing about personal freedom and bowing low before worthless scoundrels, whom we despise, and will be cooling our heels in their ante-rooms. 'Because, don't you know,' we will say, tittering, 'when you live with wolves, you must howl like a wolf.' By God, it wasn't in vain that some minister called the Russian students future head-clerks!"

"Or professors," Lichonin put in.

"But most important of all," continued Yarchenko, letting this pointed remark pass by, "most important of all is this, that I have seen all of you to-day on the river and afterwards there ... on the other shore ... with these charming, fine girls. How attentive, well-bred, obliging you all were—but scarcely have you taken leave of them, when you are drawn to public women. Let each one of you imagine for a moment, that we all had been visiting his sisters and straight from them had driven to Yama ... What? Is such a supposition pleasant?"

"Yes, but there must exist some valves for the passions of society," pompously remarked Boris Sobashnikov, a tall, somewhat supercilious and affected young man, upon whom the short, white summer uniform jacket, which scarcely covered his fat posteriors, the modish trousers, of a military cut, the PINCE-NEZ on a broad, black ribbon, and a cap after a Prussian model, all bestowed the air of a coxcomb. "Surely, it isn't more respectable to enjoy the caresses of your chambermaid, or to carry on an intrigue on the side with another man's wife? What am I to do if woman is indispensable to me!"

"Eh, very indispensable indeed!" said Yarchenko with vexation and feebly made a despondent gesture.

But here a student who was called Ramses in the friendly coterie intervened. This was a yellowish-swarthy, hump-nosed man of small stature; his clean-shaven face seemed triangular, thanks to a broad forehead, beginning to get bald, with two wedge-like bald spots at the temples, fallen-in cheeks and a sharp chin. He led a mode of life sufficiently queer for a student. While his colleagues employed themselves by turns with politics, love, the theatre, and a little in study, Ramses had withdrawn entirely into the study of all conceivable suits and claims, into the chicane subtleties of property, hereditary, land and other business law-suits, into the memorizing and logical analysis of quashed decisions. Perfectly of his own will, without in the least needing the money, he served for a year as a clerk at a notary's for another as a secretary to a justice of the peace, while all of the past year, being in the last term, he had conducted in a local newspaper the reports of the city council and had borne the modest duty of an assistant to a secretary in the management of a syndicate of sugar manufacturers. And when this same syndicate commenced the well-known suit against one of its members, Colonel Baskakov, who had put up the surplus sugar for sale contrary to agreement, Ramses from the very beginning guessed beforehand and very subtly engineered, precisely that decision which the senate subsequently handed down in this suit.

Despite his comparative youth, rather well-known jurists gave heed to his opinions—true, a little loftily. None of those who knew Ramses closely doubted that he would make a brilliant career, and even Ramses himself did not conceal his confidence in that toward thirty-five he would knock together a million, exclusively through his practice as a civil lawyer. His comrades not infrequently elected him chairman of meetings and head of the class, but this honour Ramses invariably declined, excusing himself with lack of time. But still he did not avoid participation in his comrades' trials by arbitration, and his arguments—always incontrovertibly logical—were possessed of an amazing virtue in ending the trials with peace, to the mutual satisfaction of the litigating parties. He, as well as Yarchenko, knew well the value of popularity among the studying youths, and even if he did look upon people with a certain contempt, from above, still he never, by as much as a single movement of his thin, clever, energetical lips, showed this.

"Well, Gavrila Petrovich, no one is necessarily dragging you into committing a fall from grace," said Ramses in a conciliatory manner, "What is all this pathos and melancholy for, when the matter as it stands is altogether simple? A company of young Russian gentlemen wishes to pass the remnant of the night modestly and amicably, to make merry, to sing a little, and to take internally several gallons of wine and beer. But everything is closed now, except these very same houses. ERGO! ..."

"Consequently, we will go merry-making to women who are for sale? To prostitutes? Into a brothel?" Yarchenko interrupted him, mockingly and inimically.

"And even so? A certain philosopher, whom it was desired to humiliate, was given a seat at dinner near the musicians. But he, sitting down, said: 'Here is a sure means of making the last place the first.' And finally I repeat: If your conscience does not allow you, as you express yourself, to buy a woman, then you can go there and come away, preserving your innocence in all its blossoming inviolability."

"You overdo it, Ramses," objected Yarchenko with displeasure. "You remind me of those bourgeois, who, while it is still dark, have gathered to gape at an execution and who say: we have nothing to do with this, we are against capital punishment, this is all the prosecuting attorney's and the executioner's doing."

"Superbly said and partly true, Gavrila Petrovich. But to us, precisely, this comparison may not even apply. One cannot, you see, treat some malignant disease while absent, without seeing the sufferer in person. And yet all of us, who are now standing here in the street and interfering with the passers-by, will be obliged at some time in our work to run up against the terrible problem of prostitution, and what a prostitution at that—the Russian! Lichonin, I, Borya Sobashnikov and Pavlov as jurists, Petrovsky and Tolpygin as medicos. True, Veltman has a distinct specialty—mathematics. But then, he will be a pedagogue, a guide of youth, and, deuce take it, even a father! And if you are going to scare with a bugaboo, it is best to look upon it one's self first. And finally, you yourself, Gavrila Petrovich—expert of dead languages and future luminary of grave digging—is the comparison, then, of the contemporary brothels, say, with some Pompeian lupanaria, or the institution of sacred prostitution in Thebes and Nineveh, not important and instructive to you? ..."

"Bravo, Ramses, magnificent!" roared Lichonin. "And what's there to talk so much about, fellows? Take the professor under the gills and put him in a cab!"

The students, laughing and jostling, surrounded Yarchenko, seized him under the arms, caught him around the waist. All of them were equally drawn to the women, but none, save Lichonin, had enough courage to take the initiative upon himself. But now all this complicated, unpleasant and hypocritical business was happily resolved into a simple, easy joke upon the older comrade. Yarchenko resisted, and was angry, and laughing, trying to break away. But at this moment a tall, black-moustached policeman, who had long been eyeing them keenly and inimically, walked up to the uproarious students.

"I'd ask you stewdent gents not to congregate. It's not allowed! Keep on going!"

They moved on in a throng. Yarchenka was beginning to soften little by little.

"Gentlemen, I am ready to go with you, if you like ... Do not think, however, that the sophistries of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses have convinced me ... No, I simply would be sorry to break up the party ... But I make one stipulation: we will drink a little there, gab a little, laugh a little, and so forth ... but let there be nothing more, no filth of any kind ... It is shameful and painful to think that we, the flower and glory—of the Russian intelligentzia, will go all to pieces and let our mouths water at the sight of the first skirt that comes our way."

"I swear it!" said Lichonin, putting up his hand.

"I can vouch for myself," said Ramses.

"And I! And I! By God, gentlemen, let's pledge our words ... Yarchenko is right," others took up.

They seated themselves in twos and threes in the cabs—the drivers of which had been long since following them in a file, grinning and cursing each other—and rode off. Lichonin, for the sake of assurance, sat down beside the sub-professor, having embraced him around the waist and seated him on his knees and those of his neighbour, the little Tolpygin, a rosy, pleasant-faced boy on whose face, despite his twenty-three years, the childish white down—soft and light—still showed.

"The station is at Doroshenko's!" called out Lichonin after the cabbies driving off. "The stop is at Doroshenko's," he repeated, turning around.

They all stopped at Doroshenko's restaurant, entered the general room, and crowded about the bar. All were satiated and no one wanted either to drink or to have a bite. But in the soul of each one still remained a dark trace of the consciousness that right now they were getting ready to commit something needlessly shameful, getting ready to take part in some convulsive, artificial, and not at all a merry merriment. And in each one was the yearning to bring himself through intoxication to that misty and rainbow condition when nothing makes any difference, and when the head does not know what the arms and legs are doing, and what the tongue is babbling. And, probably, not the students alone, but all the casual and constant visitors of Yama experienced in greater or lesser degree the friction of this inner psychic heart-sore, because Doroshenko did business only late in the evening and night, and no one lingered long in his place but only turned in in passing, half-way on the journey.

While the students were drinking cognac, beer and vodka, Ramses was constantly and intently looking into the farthest corner of the restaurant hall, where two men were sitting—a tattered, gray, big old man, and, opposite him, his back to the bar, with his elbows spread out upon the table and his chin resting on the fists folded upon each other, some hunched up, stout, closely-propped gentleman in a gray suit. The old man was picking upon a dulcimer lying before him and quietly singing, in a hoarse but pleasing voice:

"Oh my valley, my little valley, Bro-o-o-o-o-oad land of plenty."

"Excuse me, but that is a co-worker of ours," said Ramses, and went to greet the gentleman in the gray suit. After a minute he led him up to the bar and introduced him to his comrades.

"Gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you my companion in arms in the newspaper game, Sergei Ivanovich Platonov. The laziest and most talented of newspaper workers."

They all introduced themselves, indistinctly muttering out their names.

"And therefore, let's have a drink," said Uchonin, while Yarchenko asked with the refined amiability which never forsook him:

"Pardon me, pardon me, but I am acquainted with you a little, even though not personally. Weren't you in the university when Professor Priklonsky defended the doctor's dissertation?"

"It was I," answered the reporter.

"Ah, that's very nice," smiled Yarchenko charmingly, and for some reason once more pressed Platonov's hand vigorously. "I read your report afterwards: very exactly, circumstantially and skillfully put together ... Won't you favor me? ... To your health!"

"Then allow me, too," said Platonov. "Onuphriy Zakharich, pour out for us again ... one ... two, three, four ... nine glasses of cognac..."

"Oh no, you can't do that ... you are our guest, colleague," remonstrated Lichonin.

"Well, now, what sort of colleague am I to you?" good-naturedly laughed the reporter. "I was only in the first class and then only for half a year—as an unmatriculated student. Here you are, Onuphriy Zakharich. Gentlemen, I beg you..."

The upshot of it was that after half an hour Lichonin and Yarchenko did not under any consideration want to part with the reporter and dragged him with them to Yama. However, he did not resist.

"If I am not a burden to you, I would be very glad," he said simply. "All the more since I have easy money to-day. THE DNIEPER WORD has paid me an honorarium, and this is just as much of a miracle as winning two hundred thousand on a check from a theatre coat room. Pardon me, I'll be right back..."

He walked up to the old man with whom he had been sitting before, shoved some money into his hand, and gently took leave of him.

"Where I'm going, grandpa, there you mustn't go—to-morrow we will meet in the same place as to-day. Good-bye!"

They all walked out of the restaurant. At the door Borya Sobashnikov, always a little finical and unnecessarily supercilious, stopped Lichonin and called him to one side.

"I'm surprised at you, Lichonin," he said squeamishly. "We have gathered together in our own close company, yet you must needs drag in some vagabond. The devil knows who he is!"

"Quit that, Borya," answered Lichonin amicably. "He's a warm-hearted fellow."



CHAPTER IX.

"Well now, gentlemen, this isn't fit for pigs," Yarchenko was saying, grumblingly, at the entrance of Anna Markovna's establishment. "If we finally have gone, we might at least have chosen a decent place, and not some wretched hole. Really, gentlemen, let's better go to Treppel's alongside; there it's clean and light, at any rate."

"If you please, if you please, signior," insisted Lichonin, opening the door before the sub-professor with courtly urbanity, bowing and spreading his arms before him. "If you please."

"But this is an abomination ... At Treppel's the women are better-looking, at least."

Ramses, walking behind, burst into dry laughter.

"So, so, Gavrila Petrovich. Let us continue in the same spirit. Let us condemn the hungry, petty thief who has stolen a five-kopeck loaf out of a tray, but if the director of a bank has squandered somebody else's million on race horses and cigars, let us mitigate his lot."

"Pardon me, but I do not understand this comparison," answered Yarchenko with restraint. "However, it's all the same to me; let's go."

"And all the more so," said Lichonin, letting the subprofessor pass ahead; "all the more so, since this house guards within it so many historical traditions. Comrades! Decades of student generations gaze upon us from the heights of the coat-hooks, and, besides that, through the power of the usual right, children and students pay half here, as in a panopticon. Isn't that so, citizen Simeon?"

Simeon did not like to have people come in large parties—this always smacked of scandal in the not distant future; moreover, he despised students in general for their speech, but little comprehensible to him, for their propensity towards frivolous jokes, for their godlessness, and chiefly because they were in constant revolt against officialdom and order. It was not in vain that on the day when on the Bessarabian Square the cossacks, meat-sellers, flour dealers and fish mongers were massacring the students, Simeon having scarce found it out had jumped into a fine carriage passing by, and, standing just like a chief of police in the victoria, tore off to the scene of the fray in order to take part in it. He esteemed people who were sedate, stout and elderly, who came singly, in secret, peeped in cautiously from the ante-room into the drawing room, fearing to meet with acquaintances, and very soon and with great haste went away, tipping him generously. Such he always styled "Your Excellency."

And so, while taking the light grey overcoat off Yarchenko, he sombrely and with much significance snarled back in answer to Lichonin's banter:

"I am no citizen here, but the bouncer."

"Upon which I have the honour to congratulate you," answered Lichonin with a polite bow.

There were many people in the drawing room. The clerks, having danced their fill, were sitting, red and wet, near their ladies, rapidly fanning themselves with their handkerchiefs; they smelt strongly of old goats' wool. Mishka the Singer and his friend the Book-keeper, both bald, with soft, downy hairs around the denuded skulls, both with turbid, nacreous, intoxicated eyes, were sitting opposite each other, leaning with their elbows on a little marble table, and were constantly trying to start singing in unison with such quavering and galloping voices as though some one was very, very often striking them in the cervical vertebrae:

"They fe-e-e-l the tru-u-u-u-uth!"

while Emma Edwardovna and Zociya with all their might were exhorting them not to behave indecently. Roly-Poly was peacefully slumbering on a chair, his head hanging down, having laid one long leg over the other and grasped the sharp knee with his clasped hands.

The girls at once recognized some of the students and ran to meet them.

"Tamarochka, your husband has come—Volodenka. And my husband too!—Mishka!" cried Niura piercingly, hanging herself on the neck of the lanky, big-nosed, solemn Petrovsky. "Hello, Mishenka. Why haven't you come for so long? I grew weary of waiting for you."

Yarchenko with a feeling of awkwardness was looking about him on all sides.

"We'd like to have in some way ... don't you know ... a little private room," he said with delicacy to Emma Edwardovna who had approached. "And give us some sort of red wine, please ... And then, some coffee as well ... You know yourself."

Yarchenko always instilled confidence in servants and MAITRES D'HOTEL, with his dashing clothes and polite but seigniorial ways. Emma Edwardovna started nodding her head willingly, just like an old, fat circus horse.

"It can be done ... it can be done ... Pass this way, gentlemen, into the parlor. It can be done, it can be done ... What liqueur? We have only Benedictine ... Benedictine, then? It can be done, it can be done ... And will you allow the young ladies to come in?"

"Well, if that is so indispensable?" Yarchenko spread out his hands with a sigh.

And at once the girls one after the other straggled into the parlor with its gray plush furniture and blue lantern. They entered, extended to every one in turn their unbending palms, unused to hand-clasps, gave their names abruptly in a low voice—Manya, Katie, Liuba ... They sat down on somebody's knees, embraced him around the neck, and, as usual, began to importune:

"Little student, you're such a little good-looker. May I ask for oranzes?"

"Volodenka, buy me some candy! All right?"

"And me chocolate!"

"Fatty," Vera, dressed as a jockey, wheedled the sub-professor, clambering up on his knees, "I have a friend, only she's sick and can't come out into the drawing room. I'll carry her some apples and chocolate. Will you let me?"

"Well, now, those are all just stories about a friend! But above all, don't be thrusting your tenderness at me. Sit as smart children sit, right here alongside, on the arm chair, just so. And fold your little hands."

"Ah, but what if I can't!" writhed Vera in coquetry, rolling her eyes up under her upper lids ... "When you are so nice."

But Lichonin, in answer to this professional beggary, only nodded his head gravely and good-naturedly, just like Emma Edwardovna, and repeated over and over again, mimicking her German accent:

"Itt can pe done, itt can pe done, itt can pe done..."

"Then I will tell the waiter, honey, to carry my friend some sweets and apples?" pestered Vera.

Such importunity entered the round of their tacit duties. There even existed among the girls some captious, childish, strange rivalry as to the ability to "ease a guest of his money"—strange enough because they did not derive any profit out of this, unless, indeed, a certain affection from the housekeeper or a word of approbation from the proprietress. But in their petty, monotonous, habitually frivolous life there was, in general, a great deal of semi-puerile, semi-hysterical play.

Simeon brought a coffee pot, cups, a squatty bottle of Benedictine, fruits and bon-bons in glass vases, and gaily and easily began making the corks of the beer and wine pop.

"But why don't you drink?" Yarchenko turned to the reporter Platonov. "Allow me ... I do not mistake? Sergei Ivanovich, I believe?"

"Right."

"Allow me to offer you a cup of coffee, Sergei Ivanovich. It's refreshing. Or perhaps, let's drink this same dubious Lafitte?"

"No, you really must allow me to refuse. I have a drink of my own ... Simeon, give me..."

"Cognac!" cried out Niura hurriedly.

"And with a pear!" Little White Manka caught up just as fast.

"I heard you, Sergei Ivanich—right away," unhurriedly but respectfully responded Simeon, and, bending down and letting out a grunt, resoundingly drew the cork out of the neck of the bottle.

"It's the first time I hear of cognac being served in Yama," uttered Lichonin with amazement. "No matter how much I asked, they always refused me."

"Perhaps Sergei Ivanich knows some sort of magic word," jested Ramses.

"Or is held here in an especially honoured state?" Boris Sobashnikov put in pointedly, with emphasis.

The reporter listlessly, without turning his head, looked askance at Sobashnikov, at the lower row of buttons on his short, foppish, white summer uniform jacket, and answered with a drawl:

"There is nothing honourable in that I can drink like a horse and never get drunk; but then, I also do not quarrel with anyone or pick upon anybody. Evidently, these good sides of my character are sufficiently known here, and because of that confidence is shown me."

"Good for you, old fellow!" joyously exclaimed Lichonin, who was delighted by a certain peculiar, indolent negligence—of few words, yet at the same time self-confident—in the reporter. "Will you share the cognac with me also?"

"Very, very gladly," affably answered Platonov and suddenly looked at Lichonin with a radiant, almost child-like smile, which beautified his plain face with the prominent cheek-bones. "You, too, appealed to me from the first. And even when I saw you there, at Doroshenko's, I at once thought that you are not at all as rough as you seem."

"Well, now, we have exchanged pleasantries," laughed Lichonin. "But it's amazing that we haven't met once just here. Evidently, you come to Anna Markovna's quite frequently?"

"Even too much so."

"Sergei Ivanich is our most important guest!" naively shrieked Niura. "Sergei Ivanich is a sort of brother among us!"

"Fool!" Tamara stopped her.

"That seems strange to me," continued Lichonin. "I, too, am a habitue. In any case, one can only envy everybody's cordiality toward you."

"The local chieftain!" said Boris Sobashnikov, curling his lips downward, but said it so low that Platanov, if he chose to, could pretend that he had not heard anything distinctly. This reporter had for long aroused in Boris some blind and prickling irritation. That he was not one of his own herd really meant nothing. But Boris, like many students (and also officers, junkers, and high-school boys) had grown accustomed to the fact that the outside "civilian" people, who accidentally fell into a company of students on a spree, should hold themselves somewhat subordinately and with servility in it, flatter the studying youths, be struck with its daring, laugh at its jokes, admire its self-admiration, recall their own student years with a sigh of suppressed envy. But in Platonov there not only was none of this customary wagging of the tail before youth, but, on the contrary, there was to be felt a certain abstracted, calm and polite indifference.

Besides that, Sobashnikov was angered—and angered with a petty, jealous vexation—by that simple and yet anticipatory attention which was shown to the reporter by everybody in the establishment, beginning with the porter and ending with the fleshy, taciturn Katie. This attention was shown in the way he was listened to, in that triumphal carefulness with which Tamara filled his glass, and in the way Little White Manka pared a pear for him solicitously, and in the delight of Zoe, who had caught the case skillfully thrown to her across the table by the reporter, when she had vainly asked for a cigarette from her two neighbors, who were lost in conversation; and in the way none of the girls begged either chocolate or fruits from him, in the lively gratitude for his little services and his treating. "Pimp!" Sobashkinov had almost decided mentally with malice, but did not believe it even himself—the reporter was altogether too homely and too carelessly dressed, and moreover he bore himself with great dignity.

Platonov again made believe that he had not heard the insolent remark made by the student. He only nervously crumpled a napkin in his fingers and lightly threw it aside from him. And again his eyelids quivered in the direction of Boris Sobashnikov.

"Yes, true, I am one of the family here," he continued calmly, moving his glass in slow circles on the table. "Just think, I dined in this very house, day after day, for exactly four months."

"No? Seriously?" Yarchenko wondered and laughed.

"In all seriousness. The table here isn't at all bad, by the way. The food is filling and savory, although exceedingly greasy."

"But how did you ever..."

"Why, just because I was tutoring for high school a daughter of Anna Markovna, the lady of this hospitable house. Well, I stipulated that part of my monthly pay should be deducted for my dinners."

"What a strange fancy!" said Yarchenko. "And did you do this of your own will? Or ... Pardon me, I am afraid of seeming indiscreet to you ... Perhaps at that time ... extreme necessity? ..."

"Not at all. Anna Markovna soaked me three times as much as it would have cost in a student's dining room. I simply wanted to live here a while on a somewhat nearer, closer footing, to enter intimately into this little world, so to speak."

"A-ah! It seems I am beginning to understand!" beamed Yarchenko. "Our new friend—pardon me for the little familiarity—is, apparently, gathering material from life? And, perhaps, in a few years we will have the pleasure of reading ..."

"A t-r-ragedy out of a brothel!" Boris Sobashnikov put in loudly, like an actor.

While the reporter had been answering Yarchenko, Tamara quietly got up from her place, walked around the table, and, bending down over Sobashnikov, spoke in a whisper in his ear:

"Dearie, sweetie, you'd better not touch this gentleman. Honest to God, it will be better for you, even."

"Wass that?" the student looked at her superciliously, fixing his PINCE-NEZ with two spread fingers. "Is he your lover? Your pimp?"

"I swear by anything you want that not once in his life has he stayed with any one of us. But, I repeat, don't pick on him."

"Why, yes! Why, of course!" retorted Sobashnikov, grimacing scornfully. "He has such a splendid defense as the entire brothel. And it's a sure thing that all the bouncers on Yamskaya are his near friends and cronies."

"No, not that," retorted Tamara in a kind whisper. "Only he'll take you by the collar and throw you out of the window, like a puppy. I've already seen such an aerial flight. God forbid its happening to anyone. It's disgraceful, and bad for the health."

"Get out of here, you filth!" yelled Sobashnikov, swinging his elbow at her.

"I'm going, dearie," meekly answered Tamara, and walked away from him with her light step.

Everybody for an instant turned toward the student.

"Behave yourself, barberry!" Lichonin threatened him with his finger. "Well, well, go on," he begged the reporter; "all that you're saying is so interesting."

"No, I'm not gathering anything," continued the reporter calmly and seriously. "But the material here is in reality tremendous, downright crushing, terrible ... And not at all terrible are the loud phrases about the traffic in women's flesh, about the white slaves, about prostitution being a corroding fester of large cities, and so on, and so on ... an old hurdy-gurdy of which all have tired! No, horrible are the everyday, accustomed trifles, these business-like, daily, commercial reckonings, this thousand year old science of amatory practice, this prosaic usage, determined by the ages. In these unnoticeable nothings are completely dissolved such feelings as resentment, humiliation, shame. There remains a dry profession, a contract, an agreement, a well-nigh honest petty trade, no better, no worse than, say, the trade in groceries. Do you understand, gentlemen, that all the horror is in just this, that there is no horror! Bourgeois work days—and that is all. And also an after taste of an exclusive educational institution, with its NAIVETE, harshness, sentimentality and imitativeness."

"That's right," confirmed Lichonin, while the reporter continued, gazing pensively into his glass:

"We read in the papers, in leading articles, various wailings of anxious souls. And the women-physicians are also endeavouring in this matter, and endeavouring disgustingly enough. 'Oh, dear, regulation! Oh, dear, abolition! Oh, dear, live merchandise! A condition of slavery! The mesdames, these greedy haeterae! These heinous degenerates of humanity, sucking the blood of prostitutes!' ... But with clamour you will scare no one and will affect no one. You know, there's a little saying: much cry, little wool. More awful than all awful words—a hundredfold more awful—is some such little prosaic stroke or other as will suddenly knock you all in a heap, like a blow on the forehead. Take even Simeon, the porter here. It would seem, according to you, there is no sinking lower—a bouncer in a brothel, a brute, almost certainly a murderer, he plucks the prostitutes, gives them "black eyes," to use a local expression—that is, just simply beats them. But, do you know on what grounds he and I came together and became friendly? On the magnificent details of the divine service of the prelate, on the canon of the honest Andrew, pastor of Crete, on the works of the most beatific father, John the Damascene. He is religious—unusually so! I used to lead him on, and he would sing to me with tears in his eyes: 'Come ye brethren, and we will give the last kiss to him who has gone to his rest...' From the ritual of the burial of laymen. No, just think: it is only in the Russian soul alone that such contradictions may dwell together!"

"Yes. A fellow like that will pray, and pray, then cut a throat, and then wash his hands and put a candle before an image," said Ramses.

"Just so. I know of nothing more uncanny than this fusion of fully sincere devoutness with an innate leaning toward crime. Shall I confess to you? I, when I talk all alone to Simeon—and we talk with each other long and leisurely, for hours—I experience at moments a genuine terror. A superstitious terror! Just as though, for instance, I am standing in the dusk upon a shaking little board, bending over some dark, malodorous well, and just barely distinguish how there, at the bottom, reptiles are stirring. And yet, he is devout in a real way, and I am sure will some time join the monks and will be a great faster and sayer of prayers, and the devil knows how, in what monstrous fashion, a real religious ecstasy will entwine in his soul with blasphemy, with scoffing at sacred things, with some repulsive passion or other, with sadism or something else of that nature!"

"However, you do not spare the object of your observations," said Yarchenko, and carefully indicated the girls with his eyes.

"Eh, it's all the same. Our relations are cool now."

"How so?" asked Volodya Pavlov, who had caught the end of the conversation.

"Just so ... It isn't even worth the telling..." smiled the reporter evasively. "A trifle ... Let's have your glass here, Mr. Yarchenko."

But the precipitate Niura, who could never keep her tongue behind her teeth, suddenly shot oat in rapid patter:

"It's because Sergei Ivanich gave him one in the snout ... On account of Ninka. A certain old man came to Ninka ... And stayed for the night ... And Ninka had the flowers ... And the old man was torturing her all the time ... So Ninka started crying and ran away."[6]

[6] The Russian expression is "the red flag."—TRANS.

"Drop it, Niura; it's boring," said Platonov with a wry face.

"Can it!" (leave off) ordered Tamara severely, in the jargon of houses of prostitution.

But it was impossible to stop Niura, who had gotten a running start.

"But Ninka says: 'I,' she says, 'won't stay with him for anything, though you cut me all to pieces ... He,' she says, 'has made me all wet with his spit.' Well, the old man complained to the porter, to be sure, and the porter starts in to beat up Ninka, to be sure. And Sergei Ivanich at this time was writing for me a letter home, to the province, and when he heard that Ninka was hollering..."

"Zoe, shut her mouth!" said Platonov.

"He just jumped up at once and ... app! ..." and Niura's torrent instantly broke off, stopped up by Zoe's palm.

Everybody burst out laughing, only Boris Sobashnikov muttered under cover of the noise with a contemptuous look:

"OH, CHEVALIER SANS PEUR ET SANS REPROCHE!"

He was already pretty far gone in drink, stood leaning against the wall, in a provoking pose, and was nervously chewing a cigarette.

"Which Ninka is this?" asked Yarchenko with curiosity. "Is she here?"

"No, she isn't here. Such a small, pug-nosed little girl. Naive and very angry." The reporter suddenly and sincerely burst into laughter. "Excuse me ... It's just so ... over my thoughts," explained he through laughter. "I recalled this old man very vividly just now, as he was running along the corridor in fright, having grabbed his outer clothing and shoes ... Such a respectable ancient, with the appearance of an apostle, I even know where he serves. Why, all of you know him. But the funniest of all was when he, at last, felt himself out of danger in the drawing room. You understand—he is sitting on a chair, putting on his pantaloons, can't put his foot where it ought to go, by any means, and bawls all over the house: 'It's an outrage! This is an abominable dive! I'll show you up! ... To-morrow I'll give you twenty-four hours to clear out! ... Do you know, this combination of pitiful helplessness with the threatening cries was so killing that even the gloomy Simeon started laughing ... Well, now, apropos of Simeon ... I say, that life dumfounds, with its wondrous muddle and farrago, makes one stand aghast. You can utter a thousand sonorous words against souteneurs, but just such a Simeon you will never think up. So diverse and motley is life! Or else take Anna Markovna, the proprietress of this place. This blood-sucker, hyena, vixen and so on ... is the tenderest mother imaginable. She has one daughter—Bertha, she is now in the fifth grade of high school. If you could only see how much careful attention, how much tender care Anna Markovna expends that her daughter may not somehow, accidentally, find out about her profession. And everything is for Birdie, everything is for the sake of Birdie. And she herself dare not even converse before her, is afraid of her lexicon of a bawd and an erstwhile prostitute, looks into her eyes, holds herself servilely, like an old servant, like a foolish, doting nurse, like an old, faithful, mange-eaten poodle. It is long since time for her to retire to rest, because she has money, and because her occupation is both arduous and troublesome, and because her years are already venerable. But no and no; one more extra thousand is needed, and then more and more—everything for Birdie. And so Birdie has horses, Birdie has an English governess, Birdie is every year taken abroad, Birdie has diamonds worth forty thousand—the devil knows whose they are, these diamonds? And it isn't that I am merely convinced, but I know well, that for the happiness of this same Birdie, nay, not even for her happiness, but, let us suppose that Birdie gets a hangnail on her little finger—well then, in order that this hangnail might pass away—imagine for a second the possibility of such a state of things!—Anna Markovna, without the quiver of an eyelash, will sell into corruption our sisters and daughters, will infect all of us and our sons with syphilis. What? A monster, you will say? But I will say that she is moved by the same grand, unreasoning, blind, egoistical love for which we call our mothers sainted women."

"Go easy around the curves!" remarked Boris Sobashnikov through his teeth.

"Pardon me: I was not comparing people, but merely generalizing on the first source of emotion. I might have brought out as an example the self-denying love of animal-mothers as well. But I see that I have started on a tedious matter. Better let's drop it."

"No, you finish," protested Lichonin. "I feel that you have a massive thought."

"And a very simple one. The other day a professor asked me if I am not observing the life here with some literary aims. And all I wanted to say was, that I can see, but precisely can not observe. Here I have given you Simeon and the bawd for example. I do not know myself why, but I feel that in them lurks some terrible, insuperable actuality of life, but either to tell it, or to show it, I can not. Here is necessary the great ability to take some picayune trifle, an insignificant, paltry little stroke, and then will result a dreadful truth, from which the reader, aghast, will forget that his mouth is agape. People seek the terrible in words, in cries, in gestures. Well, now, for example, I am reading a description of some pogrom or of a slaughter in jail, or of a riot being put down. Of course, the policemen are described, these servants of arbitrariness, these lifeguards of contemporaneousness, striding up to their knees in blood, or how else do they write in such cases? Of course, it is revolting and it hurts, and is disgusting, but all this is felt by the mind, and not the heart. But here I am walking along Lebyazhia Street, and see that a crowd has collected, a girl of five years in the centre—she has lagged behind the mother and has strayed, or it may be that the mother had abandoned her. And before the girl, squatting down on his heels, is a roundsman. He is interrogating her, how she is called, and where is she from, and how do they call papa, and how do they call mamma. He has broken out into sweat, the poor fellow, from the effort, the cap is at the back of his neck, the whiskered face is such a kindly and woeful and helpless one, while the voice is gentle, so gentle. At last, what do you think? As the girl has become all excited, and has already grown hoarse from tears, and is shy of everybody—he, this same 'roundsman on the beat,' stretches out two of his black, calloused fingers, the index and the little, and begins to imitate a nanny goat for the girl and reciting an appropriate nursery rhyme! ... And so, when I looked upon this charming scene and thought that half an hour later at the station house this same patrolman will be beating with his feet the face and chest of a man whom he had not till that time seen once, and whose crime he is entirely ignorant of—then—you understand!—I began to feel inexpressibly eerie and sad. Not with the mind, but the heart. Such a devilish muddle is this life. Shall we drink some cognac, Lichonin?"

"What do you say to calling each other thou?" suddenly proposed Lichonin.

"All right. Only, really, without any of this business of kissing, now. Here's to your health, old man ... Or here is another instance ... I read a certain French classic, describing the thoughts and sensations of a man condemned to capital punishment. He describes it all sonorously, powerfully, brilliantly, but I read and ... well, there is no impression of any sort; neither emotion nor indignation—just ENNUI. But then, within the last few days I come across a brief newspaper notice of a murderer's execution somewhere in France. The Procureur, who was present at the last toilet of the criminal, sees that he is putting on his shoes on his bare feet, and—the blockhead!—reminds him: 'What about the socks?' But the other gives him a look and says, sort of thoughtfully: 'Is it worth while?' Do you understand, these two remarks, so very short, struck me like a blow on the skull! At once all the horror and all the stupidity of unnatural death were revealed to me ... Or here is something else about death ... A certain friend of mine died, a captain in the infantry—a drunkard, a vagabond, and the finest soul in the world. For some reason we called him the Electrical Captain. I was in the vicinity, and it fell to me to dress him for the last parade. I took his uniform and began to attach the epaulettes to it. There's a cord, you know, that's drawn through the shank of the epaulette buttons, and after that the two ends of this cord are shoved through two little holes under the collar, and on the inside—the lining—are tied together. Well, I go through all this business, and tie the cord with a slipknot, and, you know, the loop won't come out, nohow—either it's too loosely tied, or else one end's too short. I am fussing over this nonsense, and suddenly into my head comes the most astonishingly simple thought, that it's far simpler and quicker to tie it in a knot—for after all, it's all the same, NO ONE IS GOING TO UNTIE IT. And immediately I felt death with all my being. Until that time I had seen the captain's eyes, grown glassy, had felt his cold forehead, and still somehow had not sensed death to the full, but I thought of the knot—and I was all transpierced, and the simple and sad realization of the irrevocable, inevitable perishing of all our words, deeds, and sensations, of the perishing of all the apparent world, seemed to bow me down to the earth ... And I could bring forward a hundred such small but staggering trifles ... Even, say, about what people experienced in the war ... But I want to lead my thought up to one thing. We all pass by these characteristic trifles indifferently, like the blind, as though not seeing them scattered about under our feet. But an artist will come, and he will look over them carefully, and he will pick them up. And suddenly he will so skillfully turn in the sun a minute bit of life that we shall all cry out: 'Oh, my God! But I myself—myself—have seen this with my own eyes. Only it simply did not enter my head to turn my close attention upon it.' But our Russian artists of the word—the most conscientious and sincere artists in the whole world—for some reason have up to this time passed over prostitution and the brothel. Why? Really, it is difficult for me to answer that. Perhaps because of squeamishness, perhaps because of pusillanimity, out of fear of being signalized as a pornographic writer; finally, from the apprehension that our gossiping criticism will identify the artistic work of the writer with his personal life and will start rummaging in his dirty linen. Or perhaps they can find neither the time, nor the self-denial, nor the self-possession to plunge in head first into this life and to watch it right up close, without prejudice, without sonorous phrases, without a sheepish pity, in all its monstrous simplicity and every-day activity. Oh, what a tremendous, staggering and truthful book would result!"

"But they do write!" unwillingly remarked Ramses.

"They do write," wearily repeated Platonov in the same tone as he. "But it is all either a lie, or theatrical effects for children of tender years, or else a cunning symbolism, comprehensible only to the sages of the future. But the life itself no one as yet has touched. One big writer—a man with a crystal-pure soul and a remarkable talent for delineation—once approached this theme,[7] and then all that could catch the eye of an outsider was reflected in his soul, as in a wondrous mirror. But he could not decide to lie to and to frighten people. He only looked upon the coarse hair of the porter, like that of a dog, and reflected: 'But, surely, even he had a mother.' He passed with his wise, exact gaze over the faces of the prostitutes and impressed them on his mind. But that which he did not know he did not dare to write. It is remarkable, that this same writer, enchanting with his honesty and truthfulness, has looked at the moujik as well, more than once. But he sensed that both the tongue and the turn of mind, as well as the soul of the people, were for him dark and incomprehensible ... And he, with an amazing tact, modestly went around the soul of the people, but refracted all his fund of splendid observation through the eyes of townsfolk. I have brought this up purposely. With us, you see, they write about detectives, about lawyers, about inspectors of the revenue, about pedagogues, about attorneys, about the police, about officers, about sensual ladies, about engineers, about baritones—and really, by God, altogether well—cleverly, with finesse and talent. But, after all, all these people, are rubbish, and their life is not life but some sort of conjured up, spectral, unnecessary delirium of world culture. But there are two singular realities—ancient as humanity itself: the prostitute and the moujik. And about them we know nothing save some tinsel, gingerbread, debauched depictions in literature. I ask you: what has Russian literature extracted out of all the nightmare of prostitution? Sonechka Marmeladova alone.[8]

What has it given us about the moujik save odious, false, nationalistic pastorals? One, altogether but one, but then, in truth, the greatest work in all the world—a staggering tragedy, the truthfulness of which takes the breath away and makes the hair stand on end. You know what I am speaking of ..."

[7] The reference here is most probably to Chekhov.—TRANS.

[8] The heroine of Dostoievsky's "Crime and Punishment."—Trans.

"'The little claw is sunk in...'"[9] quietly prompted Lichonin.

[9] "The little claw is sunk in, the whole bird is bound to perish"—a folk proverb used by Tolstoi as a sub-title to his "The Power of Darkness."—Trans.

"Yes," answered the reporter, and looked kindly at the student with gratefulness.

"But as regards Sonechka—why, this is an abstract type," remarked Yarchenko with assurance. "A psychological scheme, so to speak..."

Platonov, who up to now had been speaking as though unwillingly, at a slow rate, suddenly grew heated:

"A hundred times have I heard this opinion, a hundred times! And it is entirely an untruth. Underneath the coarse and obscene profession, underneath the foulest oaths—about one's mother—underneath the drunken, hideous exterior—Sonechka Marmeladova still lives! The fate of the Russian prostitute—oh, what a tragic, piteous, bloody, ludicrous and stupid path it is! Here everything has been juxtaposed: the Russian God, Russian breadth and unconcern, Russian despair in a fall, Russian lack of culture, Russian naivete, Russian patience, Russian shamelessness. Why, all of them, whom you take into bedrooms,—look upon them, look upon them well,—why, they are all children; why, each of them is but eleven years old. Fate has thrust them upon prostitution and since then they live in some sort of a strange, fairy-like, toy existence, without developing, without being enriched by experience, naive, trusting, capricious, not knowing what they will say and do half an hour later—altogether like children. This radiant and ludicrous childishness I have seen in the very oldest wenches, fallen as low as low can be, broken-winded and crippled like a cabby's nags. And never does this impotent pity, this useless commiseration toward human suffering die within them ... For example..."

Platonov looked over all the persons sitting with a slow gaze, and suddenly, waving his hand despondently, said in a tired voice:

"However ... The devil take it all! To-day I have spoken enough for ten years ... And all of it to no purpose."

"But really, Sergei Ivanich, why shouldn't you try to describe all this yourself?" asked Yarchenko. "Your attention is so vitally concentrated on this question."

"I did try!" answered Platonov with a cheerless smile. "But nothing came of it. I started writing and at once became entangled in various 'whats,' 'which's,' 'was's.' The epithets prove flat. The words grow cold on the page. It's all a cud of some sort. Do you know, Terekhov was here once, while passing through ... You know ... The well-known one ... I came to him and started in telling him lots and lots about the life here, which I do not tell you for fear of boring you. I begged him to utilize my material. He heard me out with great attention, and this is what he said, literally: 'Don't get offended, Platonov, if I tell you that there's almost not a single person of those I have met during my life, who wouldn't thrust themes for novels and stories upon me, or teach me as to what ought to be written up. That material which you have just communicated to me is truly unencompassable in its significance and weightiness. But what shall I do with it? In order to write a colossal book such as the one you have in mind, the words of others do not suffice—even though they be the most exact—even observations, made with a little note-book and a bit of pencil, do not suffice. One must grow accustomed to this life, without being cunningly wise, without any ulterior thoughts of writing. Then a terrific book will result.'

"His words discouraged me and at the same time gave me wings. Since that time I believe, that now, not soon—after fifty years or so—but there will come a writer of genius, and precisely a Russian one, who will absorb within himself all the burdens and all the abominations of this life and will cast them forth to us in the form of simple, fine, and deathlessly-caustic images. And we shall all say: 'Why, now, we, ourselves, have seen and known all this, but we could not even suppose that this is so horrible!' In this coming artist I believe with all my heart."

"Amen!" said Lichonin seriously. "Let us drink to him."

"But, honest to God," suddenly declared Little Manka, "If some one would only write the truth about the way we live here, miserable w—that we are..."

There was a knock at the door, and at once Jennie entered in her resplendent orange dress.



CHAPTER X.

She greeted all the men without embarrassment, with the independent bearing of the first personage in the house, and sat down near Sergei Ivanich, behind his chair. She had just gotten free from that same German in the uniform of the benevolent organization, who early in the evening had made Little White Manka his choice, but had afterwards changed her, at the recommendation of the housekeeper, for Pasha. But the provoking and self-assured beauty of Jennie must have smitten deeply his lecherous heart, for, having prowled some three hours through certain beer emporiums and restaurants, and having there gathered courage, he had again returned into the house of Anna Markovna, had waited until her time-guest—Karl Karlovich, from the optical store—had gone away from Jennie, and had taken her into a room.

To the silent question in Tamara's eyes Jennie made a wry face of disgust, shivered with her back and nodded her head affirmatively.

"He's gone... Brrr! ..."

Platonov was looking at Jennie with extraordinary attentiveness. He distinguished her from the rest of the girls and almost respected her for her abrupt, refractory, and impudently mocking character. And now, turning around occasionally, by her flaming, splendid eyes, by the vividly and unevenly glowing unhealthy red of her cheeks, by the much bitten parched lips, he felt that her great, long ripening rancour was heavily surging within the girl and suffocating her. And it was then that he thought (and subsequently often recalled this) that he had never yet seen Jennie so radiantly beautiful as on this night. He also noticed, that all the men present in the private cabinet, with the exception of Lichonin, were looking at her—some frankly, others by stealth and as though in passing—with curiosity and furtive desire. The beauty of this woman, together with the thought of her altogether easy accessibility, at any minute, agitated their imagination.

"There's something working upon you, Jennie," said Platonov quietly.

Caressingly, she just barely drew her fingers over his arm.

"Don't pay any attention. Just so ... our womanish affairs ... It won't be interesting to you."

But immediately, turning to Tamara, she passionately and rapidly began saying something in an agreed jargon, which presented a wild mixture out of the Hebrew, Tzigani and Roumanian tongues and the cant words of thieves and horse-thieves.

"Don't try to put anything over on the fly guy, the fly guy is next," Tamara cut her short and with a smile indicated the reporter with her eyes.

Platonov had, in fact, understood. Jennie was telling with indignation that during this day and night, thanks to the influx of a cheap public, the unhappy Pashka had been taken into a room more than ten times—and all by different men. Only just now she had had a hysterical fit, ending in a faint. And now, scarcely having brought Pashka back to consciousness and braced her up on valerian drops in a glass of spirits, Emma Edwardovna had again sent her into the drawing room. Jennie had attempted to take the part of her comrade, but the house-keeper had cursed the intercessor out and had threatened her with punishment.

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