AT seven o’clock precisely I was at Masloboev’s. He lived in lodge, a little house, in Shestilavotchny Street. He had three rather grubby but not badly furnished rooms. There was even the appearance of some prosperity, at the same time an extreme slovenliness. The door was opened by a very pretty girl of nineteen, plainly but charmingly dressed, clean, and with very good-natured, merry eyes. I guessed at once that this was the Alexandra Semyonovna to whom he had made passing allusion that morning, holding out an introduction to her as an allurement to me. She asked who I was, and hearing my name said that Masloboev was expecting me, but that he was asleep now in his room, to which she took me. Masloboev was asleep on a very good soft sofa with his dirty great-coat over him, and a shabby leather pillow under his head. He was sleeping very lightly. As soon as we went in he called me by my name.
“Ah, that was you? I was expecting you. I was just dreaming you’d come in and wake me. So it’s time. Come along.”
“Where are we going?
“To see a lady.”
“What lady? Why?”
“Mme. Bubnov, to pay her out. Isn’t she a beauty?” he drawled, turning to Alexandra Semyonovna, and he positively kissed his finger-tips at the thought of Mme. Bubnov.
“Get along, you’re making it up!” said Alexandra Semyonovna, feeling it incumbent on her to make a show of anger.
“Don’t you know her? Let me introduce you, old man. Here, Alexandra Semyonovna, let me present to you a literary general; it’s only once a year he’s on view for nothing, at other times you have to pay.”
“Here he is up to his nonsense again! Don’t you listen to him; he’s always laughing at me. How can this gentleman be a general!”
“That’s just what I tell you, he’s a special sort. But don’t you imagine, your excellency, that we’re silly; we are much cleverer than we seem at first sight.”
“Don’t listen to him! He’s always putting me to confusion before honest folk, the shameless fellow. He’d much better take me to the theatre sometimes.”
“Alexandra Semyonovna, love your household. . . . Haven’t you forgotten what you must love? Haven’t you forgotten the word? the one I taught you!”
“Of course I haven’t! It means some nonsense.”
“Well, what was the word then?”
“As if I were going to disgrace myself before a visitor! Most likely it means something shameful. Strike me dumb if I’ll say it!”
“Well, you have forgotten then.”
“Well, I haven’t then, penates! . . . love your penates, that’s what he invents! Perhaps there never were any penates. An why should one love them? He’s always talking nonsense!”
“But at Mme. Bubnov’s . . . ”
“Foo! You and your Bubnov!”
And Alexandra Semyonovna ran out of the room in great indignation.
“It’s time to go. Good-bye, Alexandra Semyonovna.”
We went out.
“Look here, Vanya, first let’s get into this cab. That’s right And secondly, I found out something after I had said good-by to you yesterday, and not by guesswork, but for a certainty I spent, a whole hour in Vassilyevsky Island. That fat man an awful scoundrel, a nasty, filthy brute, up to all sorts of trick and with vile tastes of all kinds. This Bubnov has long been notorious for some shifty doings in the same line. She was almost caught over a little girl of respectable family the other day. The muslin dress she dressed that orphan up in (as you described this morning) won’t let me rest, because I’ve heard something of the sort already. I learnt something else this morning, quite by chance, but I think I can rely on it. How old is she?”
“From her face I should say thirteen.”
“But small for her age. Well, this is how she’ll do, then. When need be she’ll say she’s eleven, and another time that she’s fifteen. And as the poor child has no one to protect her she’s . . .”
“Is it possible!”
“What do you suppose? Mme. Bubnov wouldn’t have adopted an orphan simply out of compassion. And if the fat man’s hanging round, you may be sure it’s that. He saw her yesterday. And that blockhead Sizobryuhov’s been promised a beauty today, a married woman, an officer’s wife, a woman of rank. These profligate merchants’ sons are always keen on that; they’re always on the look-out for rank. It’s like that rule in the Latin grammar, do you remember: the significance takes precedence of the ending. But I believe I’m still drunk from this morning. But Bubnov had better not dare meddle in such doings. She wants to dupe the police, too; but that’s rot! And so I’ll give her a scare, for she knows that for the sake of old scores . . . and all the rest of it, do you understand?”
I was terribly shocked. All these revelations alarmed me. I kept being afraid we were too late and urged on the cabman.
“Don’t be uneasy. Measures have been taken,” said Masloboev. “Mitroshka’s there. Sizobryulov will pay for it with money; but the fat scoundrel with his skin. That was settled this morning. Well, and Bubnov comes to my share . . . for don’t let her dare . . .”
We drew up at the eating-house; but the man called Mitroshka was not there. Telling the cabman to wait for us at the eating-house steps, we walked to Mme. Bubnov’s. Mitroshka was waiting for us at the gate. There was a bright light in the windows, and we heard Sizobryuhov’s drunken, giggling laugh.
“They’re all here, have been a quarter of an hour,” Mitroshka announced; “now’s the very time.”
“But how shall we get in?” I asked.
“As visitors,” replied Masloboev. “She knows me, and she knows Mitroshka, too. It’s true it’s all locked up, but not for us.”
He tapped softly at the gate, and it was immediately opened. The porter opened it and exchanged a signal with Mitroshka. We went in quietly; we were not heard from the house. The porter led us up the steps and knocked. His name was called from within. He answered that a gentleman said he wanted to speak to her.
The door was opened and we all went in together. The porter vanished.
“Aie, who’s this?” screamed Mme. Bubnov, standing drunken and dishevelled in the tiny entry with the candle in her hand.
“Who?” answered Masloboev quickly. “How can you ask, Anna Trifonovna. Don’t you know your honoured guests? Who, if not me? Filip Filippitch.”
“Ah, Filip Filippitch! It’s you . . . very welcome. . . . But how is it you. . . . I don’t know . . . please walk in.”
She was completely taken aback.
“Where? Here? But there’s a partition here! No, you must give us a better reception. We’ll have a drop of champagne. But aren’t there any little mam’zelles?”
The woman regained her confidence at once.
“Why, for such honoured guests I’d get them if I had to dig for them underground. I’d send for them from the kingdom of China.”
“Two words, Anna Trifonovna, darling; is Sizobryuhov here?
“He’s just the man I want. How dare he go off on the spree without me, the rascal?”
“I expect he has not forgotten you. He seems expecting someone; it must be you.”
Masloboev pushed the door, and we found ourselves in a small room with two windows with geraniums in them, with wicker-work chairs, and a wretched-looking piano; all as one would expect. But even before we went in, while we were still talking in the passage, Mitroshka had disappeared. I learned afterwards that he had not come in, but had been waiting behind the door. He had someone to open it to him afterwards. The dishevelled and painted woman I had seen peeping over Mme. Bubnov’s shoulder that morning was a pal of his.
Sizobryuhov was sitting on a skimpy little sofa of imitation mahogany, before a round table with a cloth on it. On the table were two bottles of tepid champagne, and a bottle of horrible rum; and there were plates of sweets from the confectioner’s, biscuits, and nuts of three sorts. At the table facing Sizobryuhov sat a repulsive-looking, pock-marked female of forty wearing a black taffeta dress and a bronze brooch and bracelets. This was the “officer’s wife,” unmistakably a sham. Sizobryuhov was drunk and perfectly satisfied. His fat friend was nor with him.
“That’s how people behave!” Masloboev bawled at the top of his voice. “After inviting one to Dussot’s, too!”
“Filip Filippitch, doing us the pleasure?” muttered Sizobryuhov, getting up to meet us with a blissful air.
“Are you drinking?
“Don’t apologize, but invite your guests to join you. We’ve come to keep it up with you. Here, I’ve brought a friend to join us.”
Masloboev pointed to me.
“Delighted, that is, you do me pleasure. . . . K-k-k-he!”
“Ugh, do you call this champagne? It’s more like kvas.”
“You insult me.”
“So you don’t dare show yourself at Dussot’s! And after inviting one!”
“He’s just been telling me he’s been in Paris,” put in the officer’s wife. “He must be fibbing.”
“Fedosya Titishna, don’t insult me. I have been there. I’ve travelled.”
“A peasant like him in Paris!”
“We have been! We could! Me and Karp Vassilitch — we cut a dash there. Do you know Karp Vassilitch?”
“What do I want with your Karp Vassilitch?”
“Why, it’s only just . . . it might be worth your while. Why, it was there, in Paris, at Mme. Joubert’s, we broke an English pier-glass.”
“What did you break?”
A pier-glass. There was a looking-glass over the whole wall and Karp Vassilitch was that drunk that he began jabbering Russian to Mme. Joubert. He stood by that pier-glass and leaned his elbow against it. And Joubert screamed at him in her own way, that the pier-glass cost seven hundred francs (that is four hundred roubles), and that he’d break it! He grinned and looked at me. And I was sitting on a sofa opposite, and a beauty beside me, not a mug like this one here, but a stunner, that’s the only word for it. He cries out, ‘ Stepan Terentyitch, hi, Stepan Terentyitch! We’ll go halves, shall we? ‘ And I said ‘Done!’ And then he banged his fist on the looking-glass, crash! The glass was all in splinters. Joubert squealed and went for him straight in the face: ‘What are you about, you ruffian? ‘ (In her own lingo, that is.) ‘Mme. Joubert,’ says he, ‘here’s the price of it and don’t disperse my character.’ And on the spot he forked out six hundred and fifty francs. They haggled over the other fifty.”
At that moment a terrible, piercing shriek was heard two or three rooms away from the one in which we were. I shuddered, and I, too, cried out. I recognized that shriek: it was the voice of Elena. Immediately after that pitiful shriek we heard other outcries, oaths, a scuffle, and finally the loud, resonant, distinct sound of a slap in the face. It was probably Mitroshka inflicting retribution in his own fashion. Suddenly the door was violently flung open and Elena rushed into the room with a white face and dazed eyes in a white muslin dress, crumpled and torn, and her hair, which had been carefully arranged, dishevelled as though by a struggle. I stood facing the door, and she rushed straight to me and flung her arms round me. Everyone jumped up. Everybody was alarmed. There were shouts and exclamations when she appeared. Then Mitroshka appeared in the doorway, dragging after him by the hair his fat enemy, who was in a hopelessly dishevelled condition. He dragged him up to the door and flung him into the room.
“Here he is! Take him!” Mitroshka brought out with an air of complete satisfaction.
“I say,” said Masloboev, coming quietly up to me and tapping me on the shoulder, “take our cab, take the child with you and drive home; there’s nothing more for you to do here. We’ll arrange the rest tomorrow.”
I did not need telling twice. I seized Elena by the arm and took her out of that den. I don’t know how things ended there — No one stopped us. Mme. Bubnov was panic-stricken. Everything had passed so quickly that she did not know how to interfere. The cab was waiting for us, and in twenty minutes we were at my lodgings.
Elena seemed half-dead. I unfastened the hooks of her dress, sprinkled her with water, and laid her on the sofa. She began to be feverish and delirious. I looked at her white little face, at her colourless lips, at her black hair, which had been done up carefully and pomaded, though it had come down on one side, at her whole get-up, at the pink bows which still remained here and there on her dress — and I had no doubt at all about the revolting facts. Poor little thing! She grew worse and worse. I did not leave her, and I made up my mind not to go to Natasha’s that evening. From time to time Elena raised her long, arrow-like eyelashes to look at me, and gazed long and intently as though she recognize me. It was late, past midnight, when at last she fell asleep. I slept on the floor not far from her.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07