"What is it all about?" asked Yarchenko in perplexity, raising high his eyebrows.
"Don't trouble yourself ... nothing out of the way..." answered Jennie in a still agitated voice. "Just so ... our little family trifles ... Sergei Ivanich, may I have some of your wine?"
She poured out half a glass for herself and drank the cognac off at a draught, distending her thin nostrils wide.
Platonov got up in silence and went toward the door.
"It's not worth while, Sergei Ivanich. Drop it..." Jennie stopped him.
"Oh no, why not?" objected the reporter. "I shall do a very simple and innocent thing, take Pasha here, and if need be—pay for her, even. Let her lie down here for a while on the divan and rest, even though a little ... Niura, run for a pillow quick!"
Scarcely had the door shut behind his broad, ungainly figure in its gray clothes, when Boris Sobashnikov at once commenced speaking with a contemptuous bitterness:
"Gentlemen, what the devil for have we dragged into our company this peach off the street? We must needs tie up with all sorts of riff-raff? The devil knows what he is—perhaps he's even a dinny? Who can vouch for him? And you're always like that, Lichonin."
"It isn't Lichonin but I who introduced him to everybody,"' said Ramses. "I know him for a fully respectable person and a good companion."
"Eh! Nonsense! A good companion to drink at some one else's expense. Why, don't you see for yourselves that this is the most ordinary type of habitue attached to a brothel, and, most probably, he is simply the pimp here, to whom a percentage is paid for the entertainment into which he entices the visitors."
"Leave off, Borya. It's foolish," remarked Yarchenko reproachfully.
But Borya could not leave off. He had an unfortunate peculiarity—intoxication acted neither upon his legs nor his tongue, but put him in a morose, touchy frame of mind and egged him on into quarrels. And Platonov had already for a long time irritated him with his negligently sincere, assured and serious bearing, so little suitable to the private cabinet of a brothel. But the seeming indifference with which the reporter let pass the malicious remarks which he interposed into the conversation angered Sobashnikov still more.
"And then, the tone in which he permits himself to speak in our company!" Sobashnikov continued to seethe. "A certain aplomb, condescension, a professorial tone ... The scurvy penny-a-liner! The free-lunch grafter!"
Jennie, who had all the time been looking intently at the student, gaily and maliciously flashing with her sparkling dark eyes, suddenly began to clap her hands.
"That's the way! Bravo, little student! Bravo, bravo, bravo! ... That's the way, give it to him good! ... Really, what sort of a disgrace is this! When he'll come, now, I'll repeat everything to him."
"I—if you please! A—as much as you like!" Sobashnikov drawled out like an actor, making superciliously squeamish creases about his mouth. "I shall repeat the very same things myself."
"There's a fine fellow, now,—I love you for that!" exclaimed Jennie joyously and maliciously, striking her fist on the table. "You can tell an owl at once by its flight, a good man by his snot!"
Little White Manya and Tamara looked at Jennie with wonder, but, noting the evil little lights leaping in her eyes and her nervously quivering nostrils, they both understood and smiled.
Little White Manya, laughing, shook her head reproachfully. Jennie always had such a face when her turbulent soul sensed that a scandal was nearing which she herself had brought on.
"Don't get your back up, Borinka," said Lichonin. "Here all are equal."
Niura came with a pillow and laid it down on the divan.
"And what's that for?" Sobashnikov yelled at her. "Git! take it away at once. This isn't a lodging house."
"Now, leave her be, honey. What's that to you?" retorted Jennie in a sweet voice and hid the pillow behind Tamara's back. "Wait, sweetie, I'd better sit with you for a while."
She walked around the table, forced Boris to sit on a chair, and herself got up on his knees. Twining his neck with her arm, she pressed her lips to his mouth, so long and so vigorously that the student caught his breath. Right up close to his eyes he saw the eyes of the woman—strangely large, dark, luminous, indistinct and unmoving. For a quarter of a second or so, for an instant, it seemed to him that in these unliving eyes was impressed an expression of keen, mad hate; and the chill of terror, some vague premonition of an ominous, inevitable calamity flashed through the student's brain. With difficulty tearing the supple arms of Jennie away from him, and pushing her away, he said, laughing, having turned red and breathing hard:
"There's a temperament for you! Oh, you Messalina Paphnutievna! ... They call you Jennka, I think? You're a good-looking little rascal."
Platonov returned with Pasha. Pasha was pitiful and revolting to look at. Her face was pale, with, a bluish cast as though the blood had run off; the glazed, half-closed eyes were smiling with a faint, idiotic smile; the parted lips seemed to resemble two frayed, red, wet rags, and she walked with a sort of timid, uncertain step, just as though with one foot she were making a large step, and with the other a small one. She walked with docility up to the divan and with docility laid her head down on the pillow, without ceasing to smile faintly and insanely. Even at a distance it was apparent that she was cold.
"Pardon me, gentlemen, I am going to undress," said Lichonin, and taking his coat off he threw it over the shoulders of the prostitute. "Tamara, give her chocolate and wine."
Boris Sobashnikov again stood up picturesquely in the corner, in a leaning position, one leg in front of the other and his head held high. Suddenly he spoke amid the general silence, addressing Platonov directly, in a most foppish tone:
"Eh ... Listen ... what's your name? ... This, then, must be your mistress? Eh?" And with the tip of his boot he pointed in the direction of the recumbent Pasha.
"Wha-at?" asked Platonov in a drawl, knitting his eyebrows.
"Or else you are her lover—it's all one ... What do they call this duty here? Well, now, these same people for whom the women embroider shirts and with whom they divide their honest earnings? ... Eh? ..."
Platonov looked at him with a heavy, intent gaze through his narrowed lids.
"Listen," he said quietly, in a hoarse voice, slowly and ponderously separating his words. "This isn't the first time that you're trying to pick a quarrel with me. But, in the first place, I see that despite your sober appearance you are exceedingly and badly drunk; and, in the second place, I spare you for the sake of your comrades. However, I warn you, that if you think of talking that way to me again, take your eyeglasses off."
"What's this stuff?" exclaimed Boris, raising his shoulders high and snorting through his nose. "What eyeglasses? Why eyeglasses?" But mechanically, with two extended fingers, he fixed the bow of the PINCE-NEZ on the bridge of his nose.
"Because I'm going to hit you, and the pieces may get in your eye," said the reporter unconcernedly.
Despite the unexpectedness of such a turn of the quarrel, nobody started laughing. Only Little White Manka oh'd in astonishment and clapped her hands. Jennie, with avid impatience, shifted her eyes from one to the other.
"Well, now! I'll give you change back myself so's you won't like it!" roughly, altogether boyishly, cried out Sobashnikov. "Only it's not worth while mussing one's hands with every ..." he wanted to add a new invective, but decided not to, "with every ... And besides, comrades, I do not intend to stay here any longer. I am too well brought up to be hail-fellow-well-met with such persons."
He rapidly and haughtily walked to the door.
It was necessary for him to pass almost right up against Platonov, who, out of the corner of his eye, animal-like, was watching his every movement. For a moment in the mind of the student flashed a desire to strike Platonov unexpectedly, from the side, and jump away—the comrades would surely part them and not allow a fight. But immediately, almost without looking at the reporter, with some sort of deep, unconscious instinct, he saw and sensed those broad hands, lying quietly on the table, that obdurately bowed head with its broad forehead, and all the ungainly, alert, powerful body of his foe, so neligently hunched up and spread out on the chair, but ready at any second for a quick and terrific blow. And Sobashnikov walked out into the corridor, loudly banging the door after him.
"Good riddance to bad rubbish," said Jennie after him in a mocking patter. "Tamarochka, pour me out some more cognac."
But the lanky student Petrovsky got up from his place and considered it necessary to defend Sobashnikov.
"Just as you wish, gentlemen; this is a matter of your personal view, but out of principle I go together with Boris. Let him be not right and so on, we can express censure to him in our own intimate company, but when an insult has been rendered our comrade—I can't remain here. I am going away."
"Oh, my God!" And Lichonin nervously and vexedly scratched his temple. "Boris behaved himself all the time in the highest degree vulgarly, rudely and foolishly. What sort of corporate honour do you think this is? A collective walk-out from editorial offices, from political meetings, from brothels. We aren't officers to screen the foolishness of each comrade."
"All the same, just as you wish, but I am going away out of a sense of solidarity!" said Petrovsky importantly and walked out.
"May the earth be as down upon you!" Jennie sent after him.
But how tortuous and dark the ways of the human soul! Both of them—Sobashnikov as well as Petrovsky—acted in their indignation rather sincerely, but the first only half so, while the second only a quarter in all. Sobashnikov, despite his intoxication and wrath, still had knocking at the door of his mind the alluring thought that now it would be more convenient and easier before his comrades to call out Jennka on the quiet and to be alone with her. While Petrovsky, with exactly the same aim, went after Sobashnikov in order to make a loan of three roubles from him. In the general drawing room they made things up between them, and after ten minutes Zociya, the housekeeper, shoved in her little, squinting, pink, cunning face through the half-open door of the private room.
"Jennechka," she called, "go, they have brought your linen, go count it. And you, Niura, the actor begs to come for just a minute, to drink some champagne. He's with Henrietta and Big Manya."
The precipitate and incongruous quarrel of Platonov and Sobashnikov long served as a subject of conversation. The reporter, in cases like this, always felt shame, uneasiness, regret and the torments of conscience. And despite the fact that all those who remained were on his side, he was speaking with weariness in his voice:
"By God, gentlemen! I'll go away, best of all. Why should I disrupt your circle? We were both at fault. I'll go away. Don't bother about the bill. I've already paid Simeon, when I was going after Pasha."
Lichonin suddenly rumpled up his hair and stood up
"Oh, no, the devil take it! I'll go and drag him here. Upon my word of honour, they're both fine fellows—Boris as well as Vaska. But they're young yet, and bark at their own tails. I'm going after them, and I warrant that Boris will apologize."
He went away, but came back after five minutes.
"They repose," said he, sombrely, and made a hopeless gesture with his hand. "Both of them."
At this moment Simeon walked into the cabinet with a tray upon which stood two goblets of a bubbling golden wine and lay a large visiting card.
"May I ask which of you here might be Mister Gavrila Petrovich Yarchenko?" he said, looking over all those sitting.
"I," responded Yarchenko.
"If youse please. The actor gent sent this."
Yarchenko took the visiting card and read aloud:
Eumenii Poluectovich EGMONT—LAVRETZKI Dramatic Artist of Metropolitan Theatres
"It's remarkable," said Volodya Pavlov, "that all the Russian Garricks bear such queer names, on the style of Chrysantov, Thetisov, Mamontov and Epimhakov."
"And besides that, the best known of them must needs either speak thickly, or lisp, or stammer," added the reporter.
"Yes, but most remarkable of all is the fact that I do not at all have the honour of knowing this artist of the metropolitan theatres. However, there's something else written on the reverse of this card. Judging by the handwriting, it was written by a man greatly drunk and little lettered.
"'I dreenk'—not drink, but dreenk," explained Yarchenko. "'I dreenk to the health of the luminary of Russian science, Gavrila Petrovich Yarchenko, whom I saw by chance when I was passing by through the collidor. Would like to clink glasses together personally. If you do not remember, recollect the National Theatre, Poverty Is No Disgrace, and the humble artist who played African.' Yes, that's right," said Yarchenko. "Once, somehow, they saddled me with the arrangement of this benefit performance in the National Theatre. Also, there dimly glimmers some clean-shaven haughty visage, but ... What shall it be, gentlemen?"
Lichonin answered good-naturedly:
"Why, drag him here. Perhaps he's funny."
"And you?" the sub-professor turned to Platonov.
"It's all the same to me. I know him slightly. At first he'll shout: 'KELLNER, champagne!' then burst into tears about his wife, who is an angel, then deliver a patriotic speech and finally raise a row over the bill, but none too loudly. All in all he's entertaining."
"Let him come," said Volodya, from behind the shoulder of Katie, who was sitting on his knees, swinging her legs.
"And you, Veltman?"
"What?" the student came to with a start. He was sitting on the divan with his back to his companions, near the reclining Pasha, bending over her, and already for a long time, with the friendliest appearance of sympathy, had been stroking her, now on the shoulder, now on the hair at the nape of the neck, while she was smiling at him with her shyly shameless and senselessly passionate smile through half-closed and trembling eyelashes. "What? What's it all about? Oh yes,—is it all right to let the actor in? I've nothing against it. Please do ..."
Yarchenko sent an invitation through Simeon, and the actor came and immediately commenced the usual actor's play. In the door he paused, in his long frock coat, shining with its silk lapels, with a glistening opera hat, which he held with his arm in the middle of his chest, like an actor portraying in the theatre an elderly worldly lion or a bank director. And approximately these persons he was inwardly picturing to himself.
"May I be permitted, gentlemen, to intrude into your intimate company?" he asked in an unctuous, kindly voice, with a half-bow done somewhat to one side.
They asked him in, and he began to introduce himself. Shaking hands, he stuck out his elbow forward and raised it so high that the hand proved to be far lower. Now it was no longer a bank director, but such a clever, splendid fellow, a sportsman and a rake of the golden youths. But his face—with rumpled, wild eyebrows and with denuded lids without lashes—was the vulgar, harsh and low face of a typical alcoholic, libertine, and pettily cruel man. Together with him came two of his ladies: Henrietta the eldest girl in years in the establishment of Anna Markovna, experienced, who had seen everything and had grown accustomed to everything, like an old horse on the tether of a threshing machine, the possessor of a thick bass, but still a handsome woman; and Big Manka, or Manka the Crocodile. Henrietta since still the preceding night had not parted from the actor, who had taken her from the house to a hotel.
Having seated himself alongside of Yarchenko, he straight off began to play a new role—he became something on the order of an old good soul of a landed proprietor, who had at one time been at a university himself, and now can not look upon the students without a quiet, fatherly emotion.
"Believe me, gentlemen, that one's soul rests from all these worldly squabbles in the midst of youth," he was saying, imparting to his depraved and harsh face an actor-like, exaggerated and improbable expression of being moved. "This faith in a high ideal, these honest impulses! ... What can be loftier and purer than our Russian students as a body? ... KELLNER! Chompa-a-agne!" he yelled deafeningly all of a sudden, and dealt a heavy blow on the table with his fist.
Lichonin and Yarchenka did not wish to remain in debt to him. A spree began. God knows in what manner Mishka the Singer and Nicky the Book-keeper soon found themselves in the cabinet, and at once began singing in their galloping voices:
"They fe-e-e-el the tru-u-u-uth, Come thou daw-aw-aw-awning quicker ..."
There also appeared Roly-Poly, who had awakened. Letting his head drop touchingly to one side and having made little narrowed, lachrymose, sweet eyes in his wrinkled old face of a Don Quixote, he was speaking in a persuasively begging tone:
"Gentlemen students ... you ought to treat a little old man. I love education, by God! ... Allow me!"
Lichonin was glad to see everybody, but Yarchenko in the beginning—until the champagne had mounted to his head—only raised high his small, short eyebrows with a timorous, wondering and naive air. It suddenly became crowded, smoky, noisy and close in the cabinet. Simeon, with rattling, closed the blinds with bolts on the outside. The women, just having gotten done with a visit or in the interim between dances, walked into the room, sat on somebody's knees, smoked, sang disjointedly, drank wine, kissed and again went away, and again came. The clerks of Kereshkovsky, offended because the damsels bestowed more attention upon the cabinet than the drawing room, did start a row and tried to enter into a provoking explanation with the students, but Simeon in a moment quelled them with two or three authoritative words, thrown out as though in passing.
Niura came back from her room and a little later Petrovsky followed her. Petrovsky with an extremely serious air declared that he had been walking on the street all this time, thinking over the incident which had taken place and in the end had come to the conclusion that comrade Boris was in reality not in the right, but that there also was a circumstance in extenuation of his fault—intoxication. Also, Jennie came later, but alone—Sobashnikov had fallen asleep in her room. The actor proved to have no end of talents. He very faithfully imitated the buzzing of a fly which an intoxicated man is catching on a window-pane, and the sounds of a saw; drolly performed, standing with his face in the corner, the conversation of a nervous lady over the telephone; imitated the singing of a phonograph record, and in the end, with exceeding likeness to life, showed a little Persian lad with a little trained monkey. Holding on with his hand to an imaginary small chain and at the same time baring his teeth, squatting like a monkey, winking his eyelids often, and scratching now his posteriors, now the hair on his head, he sang through his nose, in a monotonous and sad voice, distorting the words:
"The i-young cissack to the war has went, The i-young ladee underneath the fence lies spraw-aw-ling. AINA, AINA, AI-NA-NA-NA, AI-NA NA-NA-NA."
In conclusion he took Little White Manka in his arms, wrapped her up in the skirts of his frock and, stretching out his hand and making a tearful face, began to nod his head, bent to one side, as is done by little swarthy, dirty, oriental lads who roam over all Russia in long, old, soldiers' overcoats, with bared chest of a bronze colour, holding a coughing, moth-eaten little monkey in their bosom.
"And who may you be?" severely asked fat Kate, who knew and loved this joke.
"Me Serbian, lady-y-y," piteously moaned the actor through his nose. "Give me somethin', lady-y-y."
"And what do they call your little monkey?"
"Matreshka-a-a ... Him 'ungry-y-y, lady ... him want eat..."
"And have you got a passport?"
"We Serbia-a-an. Gimme something lady-y-y..."
The actor proved not superfluous on the whole. He created at once a great deal of noise and raised the spirits of the company, which were beginning to be depressing. And every minute he cried out in a stentorian voice:
"KELLNER! Chompa-a-agne!"—although Simeon, who was accustomed to his manner paid very little attention to these cries.
There began a truly Russian hubbub, noisy and senseless. The rosy, flaxen-haired, pleasing Tolpygin was playing LA SEGUIDILLE from CARMEN on the piano, while Roly-Poly was dancing a Kamarinsky peasant dance to its tune. His narrow shoulders hunched up, twisted all to one side, the fingers of his hanging hands widely spread, he intricately hopped on one spot from one long, thin leg to the other, then suddenly letting out a piercing grunt, would throw himself upward and shout out in time to his wild dance:
"Ugh! Dance on, Matthew, Don't spare your boots, you! ..."
"Eh, for one stunt like that a quartern of brandy isn't enough!" he would add, shaking his long, graying hair.
"They fee-ee-eel! the tru-u-u-uth!" roared the two friends, raising with difficulty their underlids, grown heavy, beneath dull, bleary eyes.
The actor commenced to tell obscene anecdotes, pouring them out as from a bag, and the women squealed from delight, bent in two from laughter and threw themselves against the backs of their chairs. Veltman, who had long been whispering with Pasha, inconspicuously, in the hubbub, slipped out of the cabinet, while a few minutes after him Pasha also went away, smiling with her quiet, insane and bashful smile.
But all of the remaining students as well, save Lichonin, one after the other, some on the quiet, some under one pretext or another, vanished from the cabinet and did not return for long periods. Volodya Pavlov experienced a desire to look at the dancing; Tolpygin's head began to ache badly, and he asked Tamara to lead him somewhere where he might wash up; Petrovski, having "touched" Lichonin for three roubles on the quiet, went out into the corridor and only from there despatched the housekeeper Zociya for Little White Manka. Even the prudent and fastidious Ramses could not cope with that spicy feeling which to-day's strange, vivid and unwholesome beauty of Jennie excited in him. It proved that he had some important, undeferrable business this morning; it was necessary to go home and snatch a bit of sleep if only for a couple of hours. But, having told good-bye to his companions, he, before going out of the cabinet, rapidly and with deep significance pointed the door out to Jennie with his eyes. She understood, slowly, scarcely perceptibly, lowered her eyelashes as a sign of consent, and, when she again raised them, Platonov, who almost without looking had seen this silent dialogue, was struck by that expression of malice and menace in her eyes which she sped the back of the departing Ramses. Having waited for five minutes she got up, said "Excuse me, I'll be right back," and went out, swinging her short orange skirt.
"Well, now? Is it your turn, Lichonin?" asked the reporter banteringly.
"No, brother, you're mistaken!" said Lichonin and clacked his tongue. "And I'm not doing it out of conviction or on principle, either ... No! I, as an anarchist, proclaim the gospel that the worse things are, the better ... But, fortunately, I am a gambler and spend all my temperament on gaming; on that account simple squeamishness speaks louder within me than this same unearthly feeling. But it's amazing our thoughts coincided. I just wanted to ask you about the same thing."
"I—no. Sometimes, if I become very much tired out, I sleep here over night. I take from Isaiah Savvich the key to his little room and sleep on the divan. But all the girls here are already used to the fact that I am a being of the third sex."
"And really ... never? ..."
"Well, what's right is right!" exclaimed Nhira. "Sergei Ivanich is like a holy hermit."
"Previously, some five years ago, I experienced this also," continued Platonov. "But, do you know, it's really too tedious and disgusting. Something on the nature of these flies which the actor gentleman just represented. They're stuck together on the window sill, and then in some sort of fool wonder scratch their backs with their little hind legs and fly apart forever. And to play at love here? ... Well, for that I'm no hero out of their sort of novel. I'm not handsome, am shy with women, uneasy, and polite. While here they thirst for savage passions, bloody jealousy, tears, poisonings, beatings, sacrifices,—in a word, hysterical romanticism. And it's easy to understand why. The heart of woman always wants love, while they are told of love every day with various sour, drooling words. Involuntarily one wants pepper in one's love. One no longer wants words of passion, but tragically-passionate deeds. And for that reason thieves, murderers, souteners and other riff-raff will always be their lovers."
"And most important of all," added Platonov, "that would at once spoil for me all the friendly relations which have been so well built up."
"Enough of joking!" incredulously retorted Lichonin. "Then what compels you to pass days and nights here? Were you a writer—it would be a different matter. It's easy to find an explanation; well, you're gathering types or something ... observing life ... After the manner of that German professor who lived for three years with monkeys, in order to study closely their language and manners. But you yourself said that you don't indulge in writing?"
"It isn't that I don't indulge, but I simply don't know how—I can't."
"We'll write that down. Now let's suppose another thing—that you come here as an apostle of a better, honest life, in the nature of a, now, saviour of perishing souls. You know, as in the dawn of Christianity certain holy fathers instead of standing on a column for thirty years or living in a cave in the woods, went to the market places, into houses of mirth, to the harlots and scaramuchios. But you aren't inclined that way."
"Then why, the devil take it, do you hang around here? I can see very well that a great deal here is revolting and oppressive and painful to your own self. For example, this fool quarrel with Boris or this flunky who beats a woman, and—, in general, the constant contemplation of every kind of filth, lust, bestiality, vulgarity, drunkenness. Well, now, since you say so—I believe that you don't give yourself up to lechery. But then, still more incomprehensible to me is your MODUS VIVENDI, to express myself in the style of leading articles."
The reporter did not answer at once:
"You see," he began speaking slowly, with pauses, as though for the first time lending ear to his thoughts and weighing them. "You see, I'm attracted and interested in this life by its ... how shall I express it? ... its fearful, stark truth. Do you understand, it's as though all the conventional coverings were ripped off it. There is no falsehood, no hypocrisy, no sanctimoniousness, there are no compromises of any sort, neither with public opinion, nor with the importunate authority of our forefathers, nor with one's own conscience. No illusions of any kind, nor any kind of embellishments! Here she is—'I! A public woman, a common vessel, a cloaca for the drainage of the city's surplus lust. Come to me any one who wills—thou shalt meet no denial, therein is my service. But for a second of this sensuality in haste—thou shalt pay in money, revulsion, disease and ignominy.' And that is all. There is not a single phase of human life where the basic main truth should shine with such a monstrous, hideous, stark clearness, without any shade of human prevarication or self-whitewashing."
"Oh, I don't know! These women lie like the very devil. You just go and talk with her a bit about her first fall. She'll spin you such a yarn!"
"Well, don't you ask then. What business is that of yours? But even if they do lie, they lie altogether like children. But then, you know yourself that children are the foremost, the most charming fibsters, and at the same time the sincerest people on earth. And it's remarkable, that both they and the others—that is, both prostitutes and children—lie only to us—men—and grown-ups. Among themselves they don't lie—they only inspiredly improvise. But they lie to us because we ourselves demand this of them, because we clamber into their souls, altogether foreign to us, with our stupid tactics and questionings, because they regard us in secret as great fools and senseless dissemblers. But if you like, I shall right now count off on my fingers all the occasions when a prostitute is sure to lie, and you yourself will be convinced that man incites her to lying."
"Well, well, we shall see." "First: she paints herself mercilessly, at times even in detriment to herself. Why? Because every pimply military cadet, who is so distressed by his sexual maturity that he grows stupid in the spring, like a wood-cock on a drumming-log; or some sorry petty government clerk or other from the department of the parish, the husband of a pregnant woman and the father of nine infants—why, they both come here not at all with the prudent and simple purpose of leaving here the surplus of their passion. He, the good for nothing, has come to enjoy himself; he needs beauty, d'you see—aesthete that he is! But all these girls, these daughters of the simple, unpretentious, great Russian people—how do they regard aesthetics? 'What's sweet, that's tasty; what's red, that's handsome.' And so, there you are, receive, if you please, a beauty of antimony, white lead and rouge.
"That's one. Secondly, his desire for beauty isn't enough for this resplendent cavalier—no, he must in addition be served with a similitude of love, so that from his caresses there should kindle in the woman this same 'fa-hire of in-sane pahass-ssion!' which is sung about In idiotical ballads. Ah! Then THAT is what you want? There y'are! And the woman lies to him with countenance, voice, sighs, moans, movements of the body. And even he himself in the depths of his soul knows about this professional deception, but—go along with you!—still deceives himself: 'Ah, what a handsome man I am! Ah, how the women love me! Ah, into what an ecstasy I bring them ...' You know, there are cases when a man with the most desperate brazenness, in the most unlikely manner, is flattered to his face, and he himself sees and knows it very plainly, but—the devil take it!—despite everything a delightful feeling of some sort lubricates his soul. And so here. Query: whose is the initiative in the lie?
"And here's a third point for you, Lichonin. You prompted it yourself. They lie most of all when they are asked: 'How did you come to such a life?' But what right have you to ask her about that, may the devil take you! For she does not push her way into your intimate life? She doesn't interest herself with your first, 'holy' love or the virtue of your sisters and your bride. Aha! You pay money? Splendid! The bawd and the bouncer, and the police, and medicine, and the city government, watch over your interests. Polite and seemly conduct on the part of the prostitute hired by you for love is guaranteed you, and your personality is immune ... even though in the most direct sense, in the sense of a slap in the face, which you, of course, deserve through your aimless, and perhaps tormenting interrogations. But you desire truth as well for your money? Well, that you are never to discount and to control. They will tell you just such a conventionalized history as you—yourself a man of conventionality and a vulgarian—will digest easiest of all. Because by itself life is either exceedingly humdrum and tedious to you, or else as exceedingly improbable as only life can be improbable. And so you have the eternal mediocre history about an officer, about a shop clerk, about a baby and a superannuated father, who there, in the provinces, bewails his strayed daughter and implores her to return home. But mark you, Lichonin, all that I'm saying doesn't apply to you; in you, upon my word of honour, I sense a sincere and great soul ... Let's drink to your health?"
"Shall I speak on?" continued Platonov undecidedly.
"Are you bored?"
"No, no, I beg of you, speak on."
"They also lie, and lie especially innocently, to those who preen themselves before them on political hobby horses. Here they agree with anything you want. I shall tell her to-day: Away with the modern bourgeois order! Let us destroy with bombs and daggers the capitalists, landed proprietors, and the bureaucracy! She'll warmly agree with me. But to-morrow the hanger-on Nozdrunov will yell that it's necessary to string up all the socialists, to beat up all the students and massacre all the sheenies, who partake of communion in Christian blood. And she'll gleefully agree with him as well. But if in addition to that you'll also inflame her imagination, make her fall in love with yourself, then she'll go with you everywhere you may wish—on a pogrom, on a barricade, on a theft, on a murder. But then, children also are yielding. And they, by God, are children, my dear Lichonin...
"At fourteen years she was seduced, and at sixteen she became a patent prostitute, with a yellow ticket and a venereal disease. And here is all her life, surrounded and fenced off from the universe with a sort of a bizarre, impenetrable and dead wall. Turn your attention to her everyday vocabulary—thirty or forty words, no more—altogether as with a baby or a savage: to eat, to drink, to sleep, man, bed, the madam, rouble, lover, doctor, hospital, linen, policeman—and that's all. And so her mental development, her experience, her interests, remain on an infantile plane until her very death, exactly as in the case of a gray and naive lady teacher who has not crossed over the threshold of a female institute since she was ten, as in the case of a nun given as a child into a convent. In a word, picture to yourself a tree of a genuinely great species, but raised in a glass bell, in a jar from jam. And precisely to this childish phase of their existence do I attribute their compulsory lying—so innocent, purposeless and habitual ... But then, how fearful, stark, unadorned with anything the frank truth in this business-like dickering about the price of a night; in these ten men in an evening; in these printed rules, issued by the city fathers, about the use of a solution of boric acid and about maintaining one's self in cleanliness; in the weekly doctors' inspections; in the nasty diseases, which are looked upon as lightly and facetiously, just as simply and without suffering, as a cold would be; in the deep revulsion of these women to men—so deep, that they all, without conception, compensate for it in the Lesbian manner and do not even in the least conceal it. All their incongruous life is here, on the palm of my hand, with all its cynicism, monstrous and coarse injustice; but there is in it none of that falsehood and that hypocrisy before people and before one's self, which enmesh all humanity from top to bottom. Consider, my dear Lichonin, how much nagging, drawn out, disgusting deception, how much hate, there is in any marital cohabitation in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. How much blind, merciless cruelty—precisely not animal, but human, reasoned, far-sighted, calculated cruelty—there is in the sacred maternal instinct—and behold, with what tender colours this instinct is adorned! Then what about all these unnecessary, tom-fool professions, invented by cultured man for the safeguarding of my nest, my bit of meat, my woman, my child, these different overseers, controllers, inspectors, judges, attorneys, jailers, advocates, chiefs, bureaucrats, generals, soldiers, and hundreds of thousands of titles more. They all subserve human greed, cowardice, viciousness, servility, legitimised sensuality, laziness-beggarliness!—yes, that is the real word!—human beggarliness. But what magnificent words we have! The altar of the fatherland, Christian compassion for our neighbor, progress, sacred duty, sacred property, holy love. Ugh! I do not believe in a single fine word now, and I am nauseated to infinity with these petty liars, these cowards and gluttons! Beggar women! ... Man is born for great joy, for ceaseless creation, in which he is God; for a broad, free love, unhindered by anything,—love for everything: for a tree, for the sky, for man, for a dog, for the dear, benign, beautiful earth,—oh, especially for the earth with its beatific motherhood, with its mornings and nights, with its magnificent everyday miracles. But man has lied himself out so, has become such an importunate beggar, and has sunk so low! ... Ah, Lichonin, but I am weary!"
"I, as an anarchist, partly understand you," said Lichonin thoughtfully. It was as though he heard and yet did not hear the reporter. Some thought was with difficulty, for the first time, being born in his mind. "But one thing I can not comprehend. If humanity has become so malodorous to you, then how do you stand—and for so long, too,—all this,—" Lichonin took in the whole table with a circular motion of his hand,—"the basest thing that mankind could invent?"
"Well, I don't even know myself," said Platonov with artlessness. "You see, I am a vagabond, and am passionately in love with life. I have been a turner, a compositor; I have sown and sold tobacco—the cheap Silver Makhorka kind—have sailed as a stoker on the Azov Sea, have been a fisherman on the Black—on the Dubinin fisheries; I have loaded watermelons and bricks on the Dnieper, have ridden with a circus, have been an actor—I can't even recall everything. And never did need drive me. No, only an immeasurable thirst for life and an insupportable curiosity. By God, I would like for a few days to become a horse, a plant, or a fish, or to be a woman and experience childbirth; I would like to live with the inner life, and to look upon the universe with the eyes of every human being I meet. And so I wander care-free over towns and hamlets, bound by nothing; know and love tens of trades and joyously float wherever it suits fate to set my sail... And so it was that I came upon the brothel, and the more I look at it, the more there grows within me alarm, incomprehension, and very great anger. But even this will soon be at an end. When things get well into autumn—away again! I'll get into a rail-rolling mill. I've a certain friend, he'll manage it ... Wait, wait, Lichonin ... Listen to the actor ... That's the third act."
Egmont-Lavretzki, who until this had been very successfully imitating now a shoat which is being put into a bag, now the altercation of a cat with a dog, was beginning little by little to wilt and droop. Upon him was already advancing the stage of self-revelation, next in order, in the paroxysm of which he several times attempted to kiss Yarchenko's hand. His lids had become red; around the shaven, prickly lips had deepened the tearful wrinkles that gave him an appearance of weeping; and it could be heard by his voice that his nose and throat were already overflowing with tears.
"I serve in a farce!" he was saying, smiting himself on the breast with his fist. "I disport myself in striped trunks for the sport of the sated mob! I have put out my torch, have hid my talent in the earth, like the slothful servant! But fo-ormerly!" he began to bray tragically, "Fo-ormerly-y-y! Ask in Novocherkassk, ask in Tvier, in Ustejne, in Zvenigorodok, in Krijopole. What a Zhadov and Belugin I was! How I played Max! What a figure I created of Veltishchev—that was my crowning ro-ole ... Nadin-Perekopski was beginning with me at Sumbekov's! With Nikiphorov-Pavlenko did I serve. Who made the name for Legunov-Pochainin? I! But no-ow ..."
 All provincial towns.—Trans.
He sniveled, and sought to kiss the sub-professor.
"Yes! Despise me, brand me, ye honest folk. I play the tom-fool. I drink ... I have sold and spilt the sacred ointment! I sit in a dive with vendable merchandise. While my wife ... she is a saint, and pure, my little dove! ... Oh, if she knew, if she only knew! she works hard, she runs a modiste's shop; her fingers—the fingers of an angel—are pricked with the needle, but I! Oh, sainted woman! And I—the scoundrel!—whom do I exchange thee for! Oh, horror!" The actor seized his hair. "Professor, let me, I'll kiss your scholarly hand. You alone understand me. Let us go, I'll introduce you, you'll see what an angel this is! ... She awaits me, she does not sleep nights, she folds the tiny hands of my little ones and together with them whispers: 'Lord, save and preserve papa.'"
"You're lying about it all, you ham!" said the drunken Little White Manka suddenly, looking with hatred upon Egmont-Lavretzki. "She isn't whispering anything, but most peacefully sleeping with a man in your bed."
"Be still, you w—!" vociferated the actor beside himself; and seizing a bottle by the neck raised it high over his head. "Hold me, or else I'll brain this carrion. Don't you dare besmirch with your foul tongue..."
"My tongue isn't foul—I take communion," impudently replied the woman. "But you, you fool, wear horns. You go traipsing around with prostitutes yourself, and yet want your wife not to play you false. And look where the dummy's found a place to slaver, till he looks like he had reins in his mouth. And what did you mix the children in for, you miserable papa you! Don't you roll your eyes and gnash your teeth at me. You won't frighten me! W—yourself!"
It required many efforts and much eloquence on the part of Yarchenko in order to quiet the actor and Little White Manka, who always after Benedictine ached for a row. The actor in the end burst into copious and unbecoming tears and blew his nose, like an old man; he grew weak, and Henrietta led him away to her room.
Fatigue had already overcome everybody. The students, one after another, returned from the bedrooms; and separately from them, with an indifferent air, came their chance mistresses. And truly, both these and the others resembled flies, males and females, just flown apart on the window pane. They yawned, stretched, and for a long time an involuntary expression of wearisomeness and aversion did not leave their faces, pale from sleeplessness, unwholesomely glossy. And when they, before going their ways, said good-bye to each other, in their eyes twinkled some kind of an inimical feeling, just as with the participants of one and the same filthy and unnecessary crime.
"Where are you going right now?" Lichonin asked the reporter in a low voice.
"Well, really, I don't know myself. I did want to spend the night in the cabinet of Isaiah Savvich, but it's a pity to lose such a splendid morning. I'm thinking of taking a bath, and then I'll get on a steamer and ride to the Lipsky monastery to a certain tippling black friar I know. But why?"
"I would ask you to remain a little while and sit the others out. I must have a very important word or two with you."
"It's a go."
Yarchenko was the last to go. He averred a headache and fatigue. But scarcely had he gone out of the house when the reporter seized Lichonin by the hand and quickly dragged him into the glass vestibule of the entrance.
"Look!" he said, pointing to the street.
And through the orange glass of the little coloured window Lichonin saw the sub-professor, who was ringing at Treppel's. After a minute the door opened and Yarchenko disappeared through it.
"How did you find out?" asked Lichonin with astonishment.
"A mere trifle! I saw his face, and saw his hands smoothing Verka's tights. The others were less restrained. But this fellow is bashful."
"Well, now, let's go," said Lichonin. "I won't detain you long."
Of the girls only two remained in the cabinet-Jennie, who had come in her night blouse, and Liuba, who had long been sleeping under cover of the conversation, curled up into a ball in the large plush armchair. The fresh, freckled face of Liuba had taken on a meek, almost childlike, expression, while the lips, just as they had smiled in sleep, had preserved the light imprint of a radiant, peaceful and tender smile. It was blue and biting in the cabinet from the dense tobacco smoke; guttered, warty little streams had congealed on the candles in the candelabras; the table, flooded with coffee and wine, scattered all over with orange peels, seemed hideous.
Jennie was sitting on the divan, her knees clasped around with her arms. And again was Platonov struck by the sombre fire in her deep eyes, that seemed fallen in underneath the dark eyebrows, formidably contracted downward, toward the bridge of the nose.
"I'll put out the candles," said Lichonin.
The morning half-light, watery and drowsy, filled the room through the slits of the blinds. The extinguished wicks of the candles smoked with faint streams. The tobacco smoke swirled in blue, layered shrouds, but a ray of sunlight that had cut its way through the heart-shaped hollow in a window shutter, transpierced the cabinet obliquely with a joyous, golden sword of dust, and in liquid, hot gold splashed upon the paper on the wall.
"That's better," said Lichonin, sitting down. "The conversation will be short, but ... the devil knows ... how to approach it."
He looked at Jennie in abstraction.
"Shall I go away, then?" said she indifferently.
"No, you sit a while," the reporter answered for Lichonin. "She won't be in the way," he turned to the student and slightly smiled. "For the conversation will be about prostitution? Isn't that so?"
"Well, yes... sort of..."
"Very well, then. You listen to her carefully. Her opinions happen to be of an unusually cynical nature, but at times of exceeding weight."
Lichonin vigorously rubbed and kneaded his face with his palms, then intertwined his fingers and nervously cracked them twice. It was apparent that he was agitated and was himself constrained about that which he was getting ready to say.
"Oh, but isn't it all the same!" he suddenly exclaimed angrily. "You were to-day speaking about these women ... I listened... True, you haven't told me anything new. But-strangely-I, for some reason, as though for the first time in my loose life, have looked upon this question with open eyes... I ask you, what is prostitution in the end? What is it? The extravagant delirium of large cities, or an eternal historical phenomenon? Will it cease some time? Or will it die only with the death of all mankind? Who will answer me that?"
Platonov was looking at him intently, narrowing his eyes slightly, through habit. He wanted to know what main thought was inflicting such sincere torture on Lichonin.
"When it will cease, none will tell you. Perhaps when the magnificent Utopias of the socialists and anarchists will materialize, when the world will become everyone's and no one's, when love will be absolutely free and subject only to its own unlimited desires, while mankind will fuse into one happy family, wherein will perish the distinction between mine and thine, and there will come a paradise upon earth, and man will again become naked, glorified and without sin. Perhaps it may be then..."
"But now? Now?" asks Lichonin with growing agitation. "Shall I look on, with my little hands folded? 'It's none of my affair?' Tolerate it as an unavoidable evil? Put up with it, and wash my hands of it? Shall I pronounce a benediction upon it?"
"This evil is not unavoidable, but insuperable. But isn't it all the same to you?" asked Platonov with cold wonder. "For you're an anarchist, aren't you?"
"What the devil kind of an anarchist am I! Well, yes, I am an anarchist, because my reason, when I think of life, always leads me logically to the anarchistic beginning. And I myself think in theory: let men beat, deceive, and fleece men, like flocks of sheep—let them!—violence will breed rancour sooner or later. Let them violate the child, let them trample creative thought under foot, let there be slavery, let there be prostitution, let them thieve, mock, spill blood...Let them! The worse, the better, the nearer the end. There is a great law, I think, the same for inanimate objects as well as for all the tremendous and many-millioned human life: the power of effort is equal to the power of resistance. The worse, the better. Let evil and vindictiveness accumulate in mankind, let them grow and ripen like a monstrous abscess—an abscess the size of the whole terrestrial sphere. For it will burst some time! And let there be terror and insufferable pain. Let the pus deluge all the universe. But mankind will either choke in it and perish, or, having gone through the illness, will be regenerated to a new, beautiful life."
Lichonin avidly drank off a cup of cold black coffee and continued vehemently:
"Yes. Just so do I and many others theorize, sitting in our rooms, over tea with white bread and cooked sausage, when the value of each separate human life is so-so, an infinitesimally small numeral in a mathematical formula. But let me see a child abused, and the red blood will rush to my head from rage. And when I look and look upon the labour of a moujik or a labourer, I am thrown into hysterics for shame at my algebraic calculations. There is—the devil take it!—there is something incongruous, altogether illogical, but which at this time is stronger than human reason. Take to-day, now ... Why do I feel at this minute as though I had robbed a sleeping man or deceived a three-year-old child, or hit a bound person? And why does it seem to me to-day that I myself am guilty of the evil of prostitution—guilty in my silence, my indifference, my indirect permission? What am I to do, Platonov!" exclaimed the student with grief in his voice.
Platonov kept silent, squinting at him with his little narrow eyes. But Jennie unexpectedly said in a caustic tone:
"Well, you do as one Englishwoman did ... A certain red-haired clodhopper came to us here. She must have been important, because she came with a whole retinue ... all some sort of officials ... But before her had come the assistant of the commissioner, with the precinct inspector Kerbesh. And the assistant directly forewarned us, just like that: 'If you stiffs, and so on and so on, will let out even one little rude word, or something, then I won't leave one stone upon another of your establishment, while I'll flog all the wenches soundly in the station-house and make 'em rot in jail!' Well, at last this galoot came. She gibbered and she gibbered something in a foreign language, all the time pointed to heaven with her hand, and then distributed a five-kopeck Testament to every one of us and rode away. Now you ought to do the same, dearie."
Platonov burst into loud laughter. But seeing the naive and sad face of Lichonin, who did not seem to understand, nor even suspect mockery, he restrained his laughter and said seriously:
"You won't accomplish anything, Lichonin. While there will be property, there will also be poverty. While marriage exists, prostitution also will not die. Do you know who will always sustain and nourish prostitution? It is the so-called decent people, the noble paterfamiliases, the irreproachable husbands, the loving brothers. They will always find a seemly motive to legitimize, normalize and put a wrapper all around paid libertinage, because they know very well that otherwise it would rush in a torrent into their bedrooms and nurseries. Prostitution is for them a deflection of the sensuousness of others from their personal, lawful alcove. And even the respectable paterfamilias himself is not averse to indulge in a love debauch in secret. And really, it is palling to have always the one and the same thing the wife, the chambermaid, and the lady on the side. Man, as a matter of fact, is a poly—and exceedingly so—a polygamous animal. And to his rooster-like amatory instincts it will always be sweet to unfold in such a magnificent nursery garden, A LA Treppel's or Anna Markovna's. Oh, of course, a well-balanced spouse or the happy father of six grown-up daughters will always be clamouring about the horror of prostitution. He will even arrange with the help of a lottery and an amateur entertainment a society for the saving of fallen women, or an asylum in the name of St. Magdalene. But the existence of prostitution he will bless and sustain."
"Magdalene asylums!" with quiet laughter, full of an ancient hatred the ache of which had not yet healed, repeated Jennie.
"Yes, I know that all these false measures undertaken are stuff and a total mockery," cut in Lichonin. "But let me be ridiculous and stupid, yet I do not wish to remain a commiserating spectator, who sits on a warm ledge, gazes upon a conflagration, and is saying all the time: 'Oh, my, but it's burning ... by God, it is burning! Perhaps there are even people burning!'—but for his part merely laments and slaps his thighs."
"Well, now," said Platonov harshly, "would you take a child's syringe and go to put out the fire with it?"
"No!" heatedly exclaimed Lichonin ... "Perhaps—who knows?—perhaps I'll succeed in saving at least one living soul? It was just this that I wanted to ask you about, Platonov, and you must help me ... Only, I implore you, without jeers, without cooling off ..."
"You want to take a girl out of here? To save her?" asked Platonov, looking at him attentively. He now understood the drift of this entire conversation.
"Yes ... I don't know ... I'll try ..." answered Lichonin uncertainly.
"She'll come back," said Platonov.
"She will," Jennie repeated with conviction.
Lichonin walked up to her, took her by the hands and began to speak in a trembling whisper:
"Jennechka ... Perhaps you ... eh? For I don't call you as a mistress ... but a friend ... It's all a trifle, half a year of rest ... and then we'll master some trade or other ... we'll read..."
Jennie snatched her hands out of his with vexation.
"Oh, into a bog with you!" she almost shouted. "I know you! Want me to darn socks for you? Cook on a kerosene stove? Pass nights without sleeping on account of you when you'll be chitter-chattering with your short-haired friends? But when you get to be a doctor or a lawyer, or a government clerk, then it's me will get a knee in the back: 'Out on the street with you, now, you public hide, you've ruined my young life. I want to marry a decent girl, pure, and innocent! ..."
"I meant it as a brother ... I meant it without that ..." mumbled Lichonin in confusion.
"I know that kind of brothers. Until the first night ... Leave off and don't talk nonsense to me! It makes me tired to listen to it!"
"Wait, Lichonin!" began the reporter seriously. "Why, you will pile a load beyond your strength upon yourself as well. I've known idealists, among the populists, who married peasant girls out of principle. This is just the way they thought—nature, black-loam, untapped forces. ... But this black-loam after a year turned into the fattest of women, who lies the whole day in bed and chews cookies, or studs her fingers with penny rings, spreads them out and admires them. Or else sits in the kitchen, drinks sweet liquor with the coachman and carries on a natural romance with him. Look out, here it will be worse!"
All three became silent. Lichonin was pale and was wiping his moist forehead with a handkerchief.
"No, the devil take it!" he cried out suddenly with obstinacy. "I don't believe you! I don't want to believe! Liuba" he called loudly the girl who had fallen asleep. "Liubochka!"
The girl awoke, passed her palm over her lips, first to one side, then the other, yawned, and smiled, in a funny, child-like manner.
"I wasn't sleeping, I heard everything," she said. "I only dozed off for a teeny-weeny bit."
"Liuba, do you want to go away from here with me?" asked Lichonin and took her by the hand. "But entirely, forever, to go away so's never to return either to a brothel or the street?"
Liuba questioningly, with perplexity, looked at Jennie, as though seeking from her an explanation of this jest.
"That's enough for you," she said slyly. "You're still studying yourself. Where do you come in, then, to take a girl and set her up?"
"Not to set you up, Liuba ... I simply want to help you ... For it isn't very sweet for you in a brothel, is it now!"
"Naturally, it isn't all sugar! If I was as proud as Jennechka, or so enticing like Pasha ... but I won't get used to things here for anything ..."
"Well, then, let's go, let's go! ..." entreated Lichonin. "Surely, you know some manual work—well, now, sewing something, embroidering, cutting?"
"I don't know anything!" answered Liuba bashfully and started laughing and turned red, covering her mouth with the elbow of her free arm. "What's asked of us in the village, that I know, but anything more I don't know. I can cook a little ... I lived at the priest's—cooked for him."
"That's splendid! That's excellent!" Lichonin grew joyous. "I will assist you, you'll open a dining room ... A cheap dining room, you understand ... I'll advertise it for you ... The students will come! That's magnificent! ..."
"That's enough of making fun of me!" retorted Liuba, a bit offended, and again looked askance and questioningly at Jennie.
"He's not joking," answered Jennie with a voice which quavered strangely. "He's in earnest, seriously."
"Here's my word of honour that I'm serious! Honest to God, now!" the student caught her up with warmth and for some reason even made the sign of the cross in the direction of the empty corner.
"And really," said Jennie, "take Liubka. That's not the same thing as taking me. I'm like an old dragoon's nag, and used to it. You can't make me over, neither with hay nor a stick. But Liubka is a simple girl and a kind one. And she hasn't grown used to our life yet. What are you popping your eyes out at me for, you ninny? Answer when you're asked. Well? Do you want to or don't you want to?"
"And why not? If they ain't laughing, but for real ... And you, Jennechka, what would you advise me ..."
"Oh, you're such wood!" Jennie grew angry. "What's better according to you—to rot on straw with a nose fallen through? To croak under the fence like a dog? Or to turn honest? Fool! You ought to kiss his hands; but no, you're getting particular."
The naive Liuba did, in fact, extend her lips toward Lichonin's hand, and this movement made everybody laugh, and touched them just the least trifle.
"And that's very good! It's like magic!" bustled the overjoyed Lichonin. "Go and notify the proprietress at once that you're going away from here forever. And take the most necessary things; it isn't as it used to be; now a girl can go away from a brothel whenever she wants to."
"No, it can't be done that way," Jennie stopped him; "she can go away, that's so, but you'll have no end of unpleasantness and hullabaloo. Here's what you do, student. You won't regret ten roubles?"
"Of course, of course ... if you please."
"Let Liuba tell the housekeeper that you're taking her to your rooms for to-day. That's the fixed rate—ten roubles. And afterwards, well, even to-morrow—come after the ticket and things. That's nothing; we'll work this thing roundly. And after that you must go to the police with her ticket and declare, that Liubka So-and-so has hired herself to you as chambermaid, and that you desire to exchange her blank for a real passport. Well, Liubka, lively! Take the money and march. And, look out, be as quick as possible with the housekeeper, or else she, the bitch, will read it in your eyes. And also don't forget," she cried, now after Liuba, "wipe the rouge off your puss, now. Or else the drivers will be pointing their fingers at you."
After half an hour Liuba and Lichonin were getting on a cab at the entrance. Jennie and the reporter were standing on the sidewalk.
"You're committing a great folly, Lichonin," Platonov was saying listlessly, "but I honour and respect the fine impulse within you. Here's the thought—and here's the deed. You're a brave and a splendid fellow."
"Here's to your commencement!" laughed Jennie. "Look out, don't forget to send for me to the christening."
"You won't see it, no matter how long you wait for it!" laughed Lichonin, waving his cap about.
They rode off. The reporter looked at Jennie, and with astonishment saw tears in her softened eyes.
"God grant it, God grant it," she was whispering.
"What has been the matter with you to-day, Jennie?" he asked kindly. "What? Are you oppressed? Can't I do anything?"
She turned her back to him and leaned over the bent balustrade of the stoop.
"How shall I write to you, if need be?" she asked in a stifled voice.
"Why, it's simple. Editorial rooms of Echoes. So-and-so. They'll pass it on to me pretty fast."
"I ... I ... I ..." Jennie just began, but suddenly burst into loud, passionate sobs and covered her face with her hands, "I'll write you ..."
And without taking her hands away from her face, her shoulders quivering, she ran up the stoop and disappeared in the house, loudly banging the door after her.
Even to this day, after a lapse of ten years, the erstwhile inhabitants of the Yamkas recall that year, abounding in unhappy, foul, bloody events, which began with a series of trifling, small affrays, but terminated in the administration's, one fine day, taking and destroying completely the ancient, long-warmed nest of legalized prostitution, which nest it had itself created—scattering its remains over the hospitals, jails and streets of the big city. Even to this day a few of the former proprietresses who have remained alive and have reached the limit of decrepitude, and quondam housekeepers, fat and hoarse, like pug-dogs grown old, recall this common destruction with sorrow, horror, and stolid perplexity.
Just like potatoes out of a sack, brawls, robberies, diseases, murders and suicides began to pour down, and, it seemed, no one was to blame for this. All these misfortunes just simply began to be more frequent of their own accord, to pile one upon the other, to expand and grow; just as a small lump of snow, pushed by the feet of urchins, becomes constantly bigger and bigger by itself from the thawing snow sticking to it, grows bigger than the stature of a man, and, finally, with one last, small effort is precipitated into a ravine and rolls down as an enormous avalanche. The old proprietresses and housekeepers, of course, had never heard of fatality; but inwardly, with the soul, they sensed its mysterious presence in the inevitable calamities of that terrible year.
And, truly, everywhere in life where people are bound by common interests, blood relationship, or the benefits of a profession into close, individualized groups—there inevitably can be observed this mysterious law of sudden accumulation, of a piling up, of events; their epidemicity, their strange succession and connectedness, their incomprehensible lingering. This occurs, as popular wisdom has long ago noted, in isolated families, where disease or death suddenly falls upon the near ones in an inevitable, enigmatic order. "Misfortune does not come alone." "Misfortune without waits—open wide the gates." This is to be noticed also in monasteries, banks, governmental departments, regiments, places of learning and other public institutions, where for a long time, almost for decades, life flows evenly, like a marshy river; and, suddenly, and after some altogether insignificant incident or other, there begin transfers, changes in positions, expulsions from service, losses, sicknesses. The members of society, just as though they had conspired, die, go insane, are caught thieving, shoot or hang themselves; vacancy after vacancy is freed; promotions follow promotions, new elements flow in, and, behold, after two years there is not a one of the previous people on the spot; everything is new, if only the institution has not fallen into pieces completely, has not crept apart. And is it not the same astounding destiny which overtakes enormous social, universal organizations—cities, empires, nations, countries, and, who knows, perhaps whole planetary worlds?
Something resembling this incomprehensible fatality swept over the Yamaskya Borough as well, bringing it to a rapid and scandalous destruction. Now in place of the boisterous Yamkas is left a peaceful, humdrum outskirt, in which live truck-farmers, cat's-meat men, Tartars, swineherds and butchers from the near-by slaughterhouses. At the petition of these worthy people even the designation of Yamaskya Borough itself, as disgracing the inhabitants with its past, has been named over into Golubovka, in honour of the merchant Golubov, owner of a shop dealing in groceries and delicacies, and warden of the local church.
The first subterranean shocks of this catastrophe began in the heat of summer, at the time of the annual summer fair, which this year was unbelievably brilliant. Many circumstances contributed to its extraordinary success, multitudes, and the stupendousness of the deals concluded during it: the building in the vicinity of three new sugar refineries, and the unusually abundant crop of wheat, and, in particular, of sugar beets; the commencement of work in the laying of an electric trolley and of canalization; the building of a new road to the distance of 750 versts; but mainly, the fever of building which seized the whole town, all the banks and financial institutions, and all the houseowners. Factories for making brick sprang up on the outskirts of the town like mushrooms. A grandiose agricultural exposition opened. Two new steamer lines came into being, and they, together with the previously established ones, frenziedly competed with each other, transporting freight and pilgrims. In competition they reached such a state, that they lowered their passenger rates for the third class from seventy-five kopecks to five, three, two, and even one kopeck. In the end, ready to fall from exhaustion in the unequal struggle, one of the steamship companies offered a free passage to all the third-class passengers. Then its competitor at once added to the free passage half a loaf of white bread as well. But the biggest and most significant enterprise of this city was the engineering of the extensive river port, which had attracted to it hundreds of thousands of labourers and which cost God knows what money.
It must also be added, that the city was at this time celebrating the millennial anniversary of its famous abbey, the most honoured and the richest among all the monasteries of Russia. From all the ends of Russia, out of Siberia, from the shores of the Frozen Ocean, from the extreme south—the Black and Caspian Seas—countless pilgrims had gathered for the worship of the local sanctities: the abbey's saints, reposing deep underground in calcareous caverns. Suffice it to say, that the monastery gave shelter, and food of a sort, to forty thousand people daily; while those for whom there was not enough room lay, at night, side by side, like logs, in the extensive yards and lanes of the abbey.
This was a summer out of some fairy-tale. The population of the city increased well-nigh fourfold through every sort of newly-come people. Stone-masons, carpenters, painters, engineers, technicians, foreigners, agriculturists, brokers, shady business men, river navigators, unoccupied knaves, tourists, thieves, card sharpers—they all overflowed the city, and not in a single hotel, the most dirty and dubious one, was there a vacant room. Insane prices were paid for quarters. The stock exchange gambled on a grand scale, as never before or since that summer. Money in millions simply flowed from hands to hands, and thence to a third pair. In one hour colossal riches were created, but then many former firms burst, and yesterday's men of wealth turned into beggars. The commonest of labourers bathed and warmed themselves in this golden flood. Stevedores, draymen, street porters, roustabouts, hod carriers and ditch diggers still remember to this day what money they earned by the day during this mad summer. Any tramp received no less than four of five roubles a day at the unloading of barges laden with watermelons. And all this noisy, foreign band, locoed by the easy money, intoxicated with the sensual beauty of the ancient, seductive city, enchanted by the delightful warmth of the southern nights, made drunk by the insidious fragrance of the white acacias—these hundreds of thousands of insatiable, dissolute beasts in the image of men, with all their massed will clamoured: "Give us woman!"
In a single month new amusement enterprises—chic Tivolis, CHATEAUX DES FLEURES, Olympias, Alcazars, etc., with a chorus and an operetta; many restaurants and beerhouses, with little summer gardens, and common little taverns—sprang up by the score in the city, in the vicinity of the building port. On every crossing new "violet-wine" houses were opened every day—little booths of boards, in each of which, under the pretext of selling bread-cider, old wenches trafficked in themselves by twos and threes, right alongside behind a partition of deal, and to many mothers and fathers is this summer painful and memorable through the degrading diseases of their sons—schoolboys and military cadets. For the casual arrivals servants were demanded, and thousands of peasant girls started out from the surrounding villages toward the city. It was inevitable that the demand on prostitution should become unusually high. And so, from Warsaw, from Lodz, from Odessa, from Moscow, and even from St. Petersburg, even from abroad, flocked together an innumerable multitude of foreign women; cocottes of Russian fabrication, the most ordinary prostitutes of the rank and file, and chic Frenchwomen and Viennese. Imperiously told the corrupting influence of the hundreds of millions of easy money. It was as though this cascade of gold had lashed down upon, had set to whirling and deluged within it, the whole city. The number of thefts and murders increased with astounding rapidity. The police, collected in augmented proportions, lost its head and was swept off its feet. But it must also be said that, having gorged itself with plentiful bribes, it resembled a sated python, willy-nilly drowsy and listless. People were killed for anything and nothing, just so. It happened that men would walk up to a person in broad daylight somewhere on an unfrequented street and ask: "What's your name?" "Fedorov." "Aha, Federov? Then take this!" and they would slit his belly with a knife. They nicknamed these blades just that in the city—"rippers"; and there were among them names of which the city news seemed actually proud: the two brothers Polishchuk (Mitka and Dundas), Volodka the Greek, Fedor Miller, Captain Dmitriev, Sivocho, Dobrovolski, Shpachek, and many others.
Both day and night on the main streets of the frenzied city stood, moved, and yelled the mob, as though at a fire. It would be almost impossible to describe what went on in the Yamkas then. Despite the fact that the madams had increased the staff of their patients to more than double and increased their prices trebly, their poor demented girls could not catch up in satisfying the demands of the drunken, crazed public, which threw money around like chips. It happened that in the drawing room, filled to overflowing with people, each girl would be awaited for by some seven, eight, at times even ten, men. It was, truly, some kind of a mad, intoxicated, convulsive time!
And from that very time began all the misfortunes of the Yamkas, which brought them to ruin. And together with the Yamkas perished also the house, familiar to us, of the stout, old, pale-eyed Anna Markovna.
The passenger train sped merrily from the south to the north, traversing golden fields of wheat and beautiful groves of oak, careering with rumbling upon iron bridges over bright rivers, leaving behind it whirling clouds of smoke.
In the COUPE of the second class, even with open windows, there was a fearful stuffiness, and it was hot. The smell of sulphurous smoke irritated the throat. The rocking and the heat had completely tired out the passengers, save one, a merry, energetic, mobile Hebrew, splendidly dressed, accommodating, sociable and talkative. He was travelling with a young woman, and it was at once apparent, especially through her, that they were newly-weds; so often did her face flare up with an unexpected colour at every tenderness of her husband, even the least. And when she raised her eyelashes to look upon him, her eyes would shine like stars, and grow humid. And her face was as beautiful as only the faces of young Hebrew maidens in love can be beautiful—all tenderly rosy, with rosy lips, rounded out in beautiful innocence, and with eyes so black that their pupils could not be distinguished from the irises.
Unabashed by the presence of three strange people, he showered his caresses upon his companion every minute, and, it must be said, sufficiently coarse ones. With the unceremoniousness of an owner, with that especial egoism of one in love, who, it would seem, is saying to the whole universe: "See, how happy we are—this makes you happy also, isn't that so?"—he would now pass his hand over her leg, which resiliently and in relief stood out beneath her dress, now pinch her on the cheek, now tickle her neck with his stiff, black, turned-up moustache ... But, even though he did sparkle with delight, there was still something rapacious, wary, uneasy to be glimpsed in his frequently winking eyes, in the twitching of the upper lip, and in the harsh outline of his shaved, square chin, jutting out, with a scarcely noticeable dent in the middle.
Opposite this infatuated couple were placed three passengers—a retired general, a spare, neat little old man, with pomade on his hair, with curls combed forward to the temples; a stout land-owner, who had taken off his starched collar, but was still gasping from the heat and mopping his face every minute with a wet handkerchief; and a young infantry officer. The endless talkativeness of Simon Yakovlevich (the young man had already managed to inform his neighbours that he was called Simon Yakovlevich Horizon) tired and irritated the passengers a trifle, just like the buzzing of a fly, that on a sultry summer day rhythmically beats against a window pane of a closed, stuffy room. But still, he knew how to raise their spirits: he showed tricks of magic; told Hebrew anecdotes, full of a fine humour of their own. When his wife would go out on the platform to refresh herself, he would tell such things that the general would melt into a beatific smile, the land-owner would neigh, rocking his black-loam stomach, while the sub-lieutenant, a smooth-faced boy, only a year out of school, scarcely controlling his laughter and curiosity, would turn away to one side, that his neighbours might not see him turning red.
His wife tended Horizon with a touching, naive attention; she wiped his face with a handkerchief, waved upon him with a fan, adjusted his cravat every minute. And his face at these times became laughably supercilious and stupidly self-conceited.
"But allow me to ask," asked the spare little general, coughing politely, "allow me to ask, my dear sir, what occupation might you pursue?"
"Ah, my God!" with a charming frankness retorted Simon Yakovlevich. "Well, what can a poor Jew do in our time? It's a bit of a travelling salesman and a commission broker by me. At the present time I'm far from business. You—he! he! he!—understand yourselves, gentlemen. A honeymoon—don't turn red, Sarochka—it don't repeat itself three times in a year. But afterwards I'll have to travel and work a great deal. Here we'll come with Sarochka to town, will pay the visits to her relatives, and then again on the road. On my first trip I'm thinking of taking my wife. You know, sort of a wedding journey. I'm a representative from Sidris and two English firms. Wouldn't you like to have a look? Here are the samples with me ..."
He very rapidly took out of a small, elegant case of yellow leather a few long cardboard folding books, and with the dexterity of a tailor began to unfold them, holding one end, from which their folds fell downward with a light crackling.
"Look, what splendid samples: they don't give in to foreign ones at all. Please notice. Here, for instance, is Russian and here English tricot, or here, cangan and cheviot. Compare, feel it, and you'll be convinced that the Russian samples almost don't give in to the foreign. Why, that speaks of progress, of the growth of culture. So it's absolutely for nothing that Europe counts us Russians such barbarians.
"And so we'll pay our family visits, will look at the fair, pay a visit to the CHATEAU DES FLEURS, enjoy ourselves a little, stroll a bit, and then to the Volga down to Tzaritzin, to the Black Sea, and then again home to our native Odessa."
"That's a fine journey," said the sub-lieutenant modestly.
"I should say it's fine," agreed Simon Yakovlevich; "but there are no roses without thorns. The work of a travelling salesman is exceedingly difficult and requires many kinds of knowledge, and not so much the knowledge of business as the knowledge of—how shall I say it?—the knowledge of the human soul. Another man may not even want to give an order, but you must work like an elephant to convince him, and argue until he feels the clearness and justice of your words. Because I take only absolutely clean lines exclusively, of which there can be no doubts. A fake or a bad line I will not take, although they should offer me millions for it. Ask wherever you like, in any store which deals in cloths or suspenders GLOIRE—I'm also a representative from this firm—or buttons HELIOS—you just ask who Simon Yakovlevich Horizon is, and everyone will answer you: 'Simon Yakovlevich is not a man, but gold; this is a disinterested man, as honest as a diamond.'" And Horizon was already unpacking long boxes with patented suspenders, and was showing the glistening leaves of cardboard, covered with regular rows of vari-coloured buttons.
"There happen great unpleasantnesses, when the place has been worked out, when a lot of travelling salesmen have appeared before you. Here you can't do anything; they absolutely won't listen to you, only wave their arms. But that's only for others. I am Horizon! I can talk him over, the same like a camel from a menagerie. But it happens still more unpleasant, when two competitors in one and the same line come together in the same town. And it happens even worse when it's some chimney sweep and can't do business himself and spoils business for you too. Here you go to all sorts of tricks: let him drink till he's drunk or let him go off somewhere on a false track. Not an easy trade! Besides that, I have one more line—that's false eyes and teeth. But it ain't a profitable line. I want to drop it. And besides I'm thinking of leaving all this business. I understand, it's all right for a young man, in the bloom of his powers, to flutter around like a moth, but once you have a wife, and may be a whole family even ..." he playfully patted the woman on the knee, from which she became scarlet and looked uncommonly better. "For the Lord has blessed us Jews with fecundity for all our misfortunes ... Then you want to have some business of your own, you want, you understand, to become settled in one place, so's there should be a shack of your own, and your own furniture, and your own bedroom, and kitchen ... Isn't that so, your excellency?"
"Yes ... Yes ... eh—eh ... Yes, of course, of course," condescendingly responded the general.
"And so I took with Sarochka a little dowry. What do I mean, a little dowry? Such money that Rothschild would not even want to look at it are in my hands a whole capital already. But it must be said that there are some savings by me, too. The firms I know will give me credit. If God grant it, we shall still eat a piece of bread and a little butter—and on the Sabbaths the tasty GEFILTEH FISCH."
"That's fine fish: pike the way the sheenies make it!" said the gasping land-owner.
"We shall open up for ourselves the firm of 'Horizon and Son.' Isn't that true, Sarochka—'and Son?' And you, I hope, will honour me with your esteemed orders? When you see the sign, 'Horizon and Son,' then straight off recollect that you once rode in a car together with a young man, who had grown as foolish as hell from love and from happiness."
"Ab-solutely!" said the land-owner.
And Simon Yakovlevich at once turned to him:
"But I also work by commission broking. To sell an estate, to buy an estate, to arrange a second mortgage—you won't find a better specialist than me, and such a cheap one at that. I can be of service to you, should the need arise," and he extended his visiting card to the land-owner with a bow, and, by the way, handed a card each to his two neighbours as well.
The land-owner dived into a side pocket and also dragged out a card.
"Joseph Ivanovich Vengjenovski," Simon Yakovlevich read out loud. "Very, very pleased! And so, should you need me ..."
"Why not? It's possible ..." said the land-owner meditatively. "Why, yes: perhaps, indeed, a favourable chance has brought us together! Why, I'm just journeying to K——about the sale of a certain forest country house. Suppose you do that, then,—drop in to see me. I always stop at the Grand Hotel. Perhaps we may be able to strike up a deal."
"Oh, I'm already almost sure, my dearest Joseph Ivanovich!" exclaimed the rejoicing Horizon, and slightly, with the very tips of his fingers, patted Vengjenovski's kneecap carefully. "You just rest assured; if Horizon has undertaken anything, then you'll be thanking him like your own father, no more, no less."
Half an hour later Simon Yakovlevich and the smooth-faced sub-lieutenant were standing on the platform of the car and smoking.
"Do you often visit K——, mister sub-lieutenant?" asked Horizon.
"Only for the first time—just imagine! Our regiment is stationed at Chernobob. I was born in Moscow, myself."
"AI, AI, AI! How'd you come to get into such a faraway place?"
"Well, it just fell out so. There was no other vacancy when I was let out."
"But then—Chernobob is a hole! The worst little town in all Podolia."
"That's true, but it just fell out so."
"That means, then, that the young officer gent is going to K——to divert himself a little?"
"Yes. I'm thinking of stopping there for two or three days. I'm travelling to Moscow, really. I have received a two months' leave, but it would be interesting to look over the city on the way. It's very beautiful, they say."
"Oh, what are you trying to tell me? A remarkable city! Well, absolutely a European city. If you only knew, what streets, electricity, trolleys, theatres! And if you only knew what cabarets! You'll lick your own fingers. Positively, positively, I advise you, young man, to pay a visit to the CHATEAU DES FLEURS, to the Tivoli, and also to ride out to the island. That's something special. What women, wha-a-at women!"
The lieutenant turned red, took his eyes away, and asked in a voice that quavered:
"Yes, I've happened to hear that. Is it possible that they're really so handsome?"
"Oi! Strike me God! Believe me, there are no handsome women there at all."
"Why, this way: there are only raving beauties there. You understand—what a happy blending of bloods! Polish, Little Russian, and Hebrew. How I envy you, young man, that you're free and alone. In my time I sure would have shown myself! And what's most remarkable of all, they're unusually passionate women! Well, just like fire! And do you know something else?" he asked in a whisper of great significance.
"What?" asked the sub-lieutenant in a fright.
"It's remarkable, that nowheres, neither in Paris, nor in London—believe me, this was told me by people who had seen the whole wide world—never, nowhere, will you meet with such exquisite ways of making love as in this town. That's something especial, as us little Jews say. They think up such things that no imagination can picture to itself. It's enough to drive you crazy!"
"But is that possible?" quietly spoke the sub-lieutenant, whose breath had been cut off.
"Well, strike me God! But permit me, young man, by the way! You understand yourself. I was single, and of course, every man is liable to sin ... It's different now, of course. I've had myself written in with the invalids. But from the former days a remarkable collection has remained to me. Just wait, I'll show it to you right away. Only, please, be as careful as possible in looking at it."
Horizon with trepidation looked around to the right and left and extracted from his pocket a long, narrow little box of morocco, in the style of those in which playing cards are usually kept, and extended it to the sub-lieutenant.
"Here you are, have a look. Only, I beg of you, be very careful."
The sub-lieutenant applied himself to picking out, one after the other, the cards of plain and coloured photography, in which in all possible aspects was depicted in the most beastly ways, in the most impossible positions, the external side of love which at times makes man immeasurably lower and viler than a baboon. Horizon would look over his shoulder, nudge him with his elbow, and whisper:
"Tell me, ain't that swell, now? Why, this is genuine Parisian and Viennese chic!"
The sub-lieutenant looked through the whole collection from the beginning to the end. When he was giving back the little box, his hand was shaking, his temples and forehead were moist, his eyes had dimmed, and over his cheeks had mantled a blush, mottled like marble.
"But do you know what?" Horizon exclaimed gaily, all of a sudden. "It's all the same to me—the Indian sign has been put upon me. I, as they used to say in the olden times, have burned my ships ... I have burned all that I used to adore before. For a long time already I've been looking for an opportunity to pass these cards on to some one. I ain't especially chasing after a price. You wish to acquire them, mister officer?"
"Well, now ... I,—that is ... Why not? ... Let's ..."
"That's fine! On account of such a pleasant acquaintanceship, I'll take fifty kopecks apiece. What, is that expensive? Well, what's the difference, God be with you! I see you're a travelling man, I don't want to rob you; let it go at thirty, then. What? That ain't cheap either? Well, shake hands on it! Twenty-five kopecks apiece. OI! What an intractable fellow you are! At twenty! You'll thank me yourself later! And then, do you know what else? When I come to K—, I always stop at the Hotel Hermitage. You can very easily find me there either very early in the morning, or about eight o'clock in the evening. I know an awful lot of the finest little ladies. So I'll introduce you. And, you understand, not for money. Oh, no. It's just simply nice and gay for them to pass the time with a young, healthy, handsome man of your sort. There's absolutely no money of any kind necessary. And for that matter—they themselves will willingly pay for wine, for a bottle of champagne! So remember then; The Hermitage, Horizon. And if it isn't that, remember it anyway! Maybe I can be of use to you. And the cards are such a thing, such a thing, that it will never lay on the shelf by you. Those who like that sort of thing give three roubles for each specimen. But these, of course, are rich people, little old men. And then, you know"—Horizon bent over to the officer's very ear, winked one eye, and pronounced in a sly whisper—"you know, many ladies adore these cards. Why, you're a young man, and handsome; how many romances you will have yet!"
Having received the money and counted it over painstakingly, Horizon had the brazenness to extend his hand in addition, and to shake the hand of the sub-lieutenant, who did not dare to lift up his eyes to him; and, having left him on the platform, went back into the passageway of the car, as though nothing had happened.
This was an unusually communicative man. On the way to his COUPE he came to a stop before a beautiful little girl of three years, with whom he had for some time been flirting at a distance and making all sorts of funny grimaces at. He squatted down on his heels before her, began to imitate a nanny goat for her, and questioned her in a lisping voice:
"May I athk where the young lady ith going? OI, OI, OI! Thuch a big girl! Travelling alone, without mamma? Bought a ticket all by herthelf and travelth alone! AI! What a howwid girl! And where ith the girl'th mamma?" At this moment a tall, handsome, self-assured woman appeared from the COUPE and said calmly:
"Get away from the child. What a despicable thing to annoy strange children!"
Horizon jumped up on his feet and began to bustle:
"Madam! I could not restrain myself ... Such a wonderful, such a magnificent and swell child! A regular cupid! You must understand, madam, I am a father myself—I have children of my own ... I could not restrain myself from delight! ..."
But the lady turned her back upon him, took the girl by the hand and went with her into the COUPE, leaving Horizon shuffling his feet and muttering his compliments and apologies.
Several times during the twenty-four hours Horizon would go into the third class, of two cars, separated from each other by almost the entire train. In one care were sitting three handsome women, in the society of a black-bearded, taciturn, morose man. Horizon and he would exchange strange phrases in some special jargon. The women looked at him uneasily, as though wishing, yet not daring, to ask him about something. Only once, toward noon, did one of them allow herself to utter:
"Then that's the truth? That which you said about the place? ... You understand—I'm somewhat uneasy at heart!"
"Ah, what do you mean, Margarita Ivanovna? If I said it, then it's right, just like by the National Bank. Listen, Lazer," he turned to him of the beard. "There will be a station right away. Buy the girls all sorts of sandwiches, whichever they may desire. The train stops here for twenty-five minutes."
"I'd like to have bouillon," hesitatingly uttered a little blonde, with hair like ripened rye, and with eyes like corn-flowers.
"My dear Bella, anything you please! At the station I'll go and see that they bring you bouillon with meat and even stuffed dumplings. Don't you trouble yourself, Lazer, I'll do all that myself."
In another car he had a whole nursery garden of women, twelve or fifteen people, under the leadership of an old, stout woman, with enormous, awesome, black eyebrows. She spoke in a bass, while her fat chins, breasts, and stomachs swayed under a broad morning dress in time to the shaking of the car, just like apple jelly. Neither the old woman nor the young women left the least doubts as to their profession.
The women were lolling on the benches, smoking, playing cards—at "sixty-six,"—drinking beer. Frequently the male public of the car provoked them, and they swore back in unceremonious language, in hoarse voices. The young people treated them with wine and cigarettes.
Horizon was here altogether unrecognizable; he was majestically negligent and condescendingly jocose. On the other hand, cringing ingratiation sounded in every word addressed to him by his female clients. But he, having looked over all of them—this strange mixture of Roumanians, Jewesses, Poles and Russians—and having assured himself that all was in order, gave orders about the sandwiches and majestically withdrew. At these moments he very much resembled a drover, who is transporting by railroad cattle for slaughter, and at a station drops in to look it over and to feed it. After that he would return to his COUPE and again begin to toy with his wife, and Hebrew anecdotes just poured from his mouth.
At the long stops he would go out to the buffet only to see about his lady clients. But he himself said to his neighbours:
"You know, it's all the same to me if it's TREIF or KOSHER. I don't recognize any difference. But what can I do with my stomach! The devil knows what stuff they'll feed you sometimes at these stations. You'll pay some three or four roubles, and then you'll spend a hundred roubles on the doctors curing yourself. But maybe you, now, Sarochka"—he would turn to his wife—"maybe you'll get off at the station to eat something? Or shall I send it up to you here?"
Sarochka, happy over his attention, would turn red, beam upon him with grateful eyes, and refuse.
"You're very kind, Senya, only I don't want to. I'm full."
Then Horizon would reach out of a travelling hamper a chicken, boiled meat, cucumbers, and a bottle of Palestine wine; have a snack, without hurrying, with appetite; regale his wife, who ate very genteelly, sticking out the little fingers of her magnificent white hands; then painstakingly wrap up the remnants in paper and, without hurrying, lay them away accurately in the hamper.
In the distance, far ahead of the locomotive, the cupolas and belfries were already beginning to sparkle with fires of gold. Through the COUPE passed the conductor and made some imperceptible sign to Horizon. He immediately followed the conductor out to the platform.
"The inspector will pass through right away," said the conductor, "so you'll please be so kind as to stand for a while here on the platform of the third class with your spouse."
"NU, NU, NU!" concurred Horizon.
"And the money as agreed, if you please."
"How much is coming to you, then?"
"Well, just as we agreed; half the extra charge, two roubles eighty kopecks."
"What?" Horizon suddenly boiled over. "Two roubles eighty kopecks? You think you got it a crazy one in me, what? Here's a rouble for you and thank God for that!"
"Pardon me, sir. This is even absurd—didn't you and I agree?"
"Agree, agree! ... Here's a half more, and not a thing besides. What impudence! I'll tell the inspector yet that you carry people without tickets. Don't you think it, brother—you ain't found one of that sort here!"
The conductor's eyes suddenly widened, became blood-shot.
"O-oh! You sheeny!" he began to roar. "I ought to take a skunk like you and under the train with you!"
But Horizon at once flew at him like a cock.
"What? Under the train? But do you know what's done for words like that? A threat by action! Here, I'll go right away and will yell 'help!' and will turn the signal handle," and he seized the door-knob with such an air of resolution that the conductor just made a gesture of despair with his hand and spat.
"May you choke with my money, you mangy sheeny!"
Horizon called his wife out of the COUPE:
"Sarochka! Let's go out on the platform for a look; one can see better there. Well, it's so beautiful—just like on a picture!"
Sarah obediently went after him, holding up with an unskilled hand the new dress, in all probability put on for the first time, bending out and as though afraid of touching the door or the wall.
In the distance, in the rosy gala haze of the evening glow, shone the golden cupolas and crosses. High up on the hill the white, graceful churches seemed to float in this flowery, magic mirage. Curly woods and coppices had run down from above and had pushed on over the very ravine. And the sheer, white precipice which bathed its foot in the blue river, was all furrowed over with occasional young woods, just like green little veins and warts. Beautiful as in a fairy tale, the ancient town appeared as though it were itself coming to meet the train.
When the train stopped, Horizon ordered three porters to carry the things into the first class, and told his wife to follow him. But he himself lingered at the exit in order to let through both his parties. To the old woman looking after the dozen women he threw briefly in passing: