Captain Ribnikov by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Captain Ribnikov – Contents

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She had a little gay room with a bright blue paper, a pale blue hanging lamp. On the toilet-table stood a round mirror in a frame of light blue satin. There were two oleographs on one wall, ‘Girls Bathing’ and ‘The Royal Bridegroom,’ on the other a hanging, with a wide brass bed alongside.

The woman undressed, and with a sense of pleasant relief passed her hands over her body, where her chemise had been folded under her corset. Then she turned the lamp down and sat on the bed, and began calmly to unlace her boots.

Ribnikov sat by the table with his elbows apart and his head resting in his hands. He could not tear his eyes from her big, handsome legs and plump calves, which her black, transparent stockings so closely fitted.

‘Why don’t you undress, officer?’ the woman asked. ‘Tell me, darling, why do they call you Japanese General?’

Ribnikov gave a laugh, with his eyes still fixed upon her legs.

‘Oh, it’s just nonsense. Only a joke. Do you know the verses:

“It hardly can be called a sin,If something’s funny and you grin!…”’

‘Will you stand me some champagne, darling…. Since you’re so stingy, oranges will do. Are you going soon or staying the night?’

‘Staying the night. Come to me.’

She lay down with him, hastily threw her cigarette over on to the floor and wriggled beneath the blanket.

‘Do you like to be next to the wall?’ she asked. ‘Do if you want to. O-oh, how cold your legs are! You know I love army men. What’s your name?’

‘Mine?’ He coughed and answered in an uncertain tone: ‘I am Captain Ribnikov. Vassily Alexandrovich Ribnikov!’

‘Ah, Vasya! I have a friend called Vasya, a little chap from the Lycée. Oh, what a darling he is!’

She began to sing, pretending to shiver under the bedclothes, laughing and half-closing her eyes:

‘“Vasya, Vasya, Vasinke,It’s a tale you’re telling me.”

‘You are like a Japanese, you know, by Jove. Do you know who? The Mikado. We take in the Niva and there’s a picture of him there. It’s late now—else I’d get it to show you. You’re as like as two peas.’

‘I’m very glad,’ said Ribnikov, quietly kissing her smooth, round shoulder.

‘Perhaps you’re really a Japanese? They say you’ve been at the war. Is it true? O-oh, darling, I’m afraid of being tickled—Is it dreadful at the war?’

‘Dreadful … no, not particularly…. Don’t let’s talk about it,’ he said wearily. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Clotilde…. No, I’ll tell you a secret. My name’s Nastya. They only called me Clotilde here because my name’s so ugly. Nastya, Nastasya—sounds like a cook.’

‘Nastya,’ he repeated musingly, and cautiously kissed her breast. ‘No, it’s a nice name. Na—stya,’ he repeated slowly.

‘What is there nice about it? Malvina, Wanda, Zhenia, they’re nice names—especially Irma…. Oh, darling,’ and she pressed close to him. ‘You are a dear … so dark. I love dark men. You’re married, surely?’

‘No, I’m not.’

‘Oh, tell us another. Every one here says he’s a bachelor. You’ve got six children for sure!’

It was dark in the room, for the windows were shuttered and the lamp hardly burned. Her face was quite close to his head, and showed fantastic and changing on the dim whiteness of the pillow. Already it was different from the simple, handsome, round grey-eyed, Russian face of before. It seemed to have grown thinner, and, strangely changing its expression every minute, seemed now tender, kind, mysterious. It reminded Ribnikov of some one infinitely familiar, long beloved, beautiful and fascinating.

‘How beautiful you are!’ he murmured. ‘I love you…. I love you….’

He suddenly uttered an unintelligible word, completely foreign to the woman’s ear.

‘What did you say?’ she asked in surprise.

‘Nothing…. Nothing…. Nothing at all…. My dear! Dear woman … you are a woman … I love you….’

He kissed her arms, her neck, trembling with impatience, which it gave him wonderful delight to suppress. He was possessed by a tender and tempestuous passion for the well-fed, childless woman, for her big young body, so cared for and beautiful. His longing for woman had been till now suppressed by his austere, ascetic life, his constant weariness, by the intense exertion of his mind and will: now it devoured him suddenly with an intolerable, intoxicating flame.

‘Your hands are cold,’ she said, awkward and shy. In this man was something strange and alarming which she could in no way understand. ‘Cold hands and a warm heart.’

‘Yes, yes, yes…. My heart,’ he repeated it like a madman, ‘My heart is warm, my heart….’

Long ago she had grown used to the outward rites and the shameful details of love; she performed them several times every day—mechanically, indifferently, and often with silent disgust. Hundreds of men, from the aged and old, who put their teeth in a glass of water for the night, to youngsters whose voice was only beginning to break and was bass and soprano at once, civilians, army men, priests in mufti, baldheads and men overgrown with hair from head to foot like monkeys, excited and impotent, morphomaniacs who did not conceal their vice from her, beaux, cripples, rakes, who sometimes nauseated her, boys who cried for the bitterness of their first fall—they all embraced her with shameful words, with long kisses, breathed into her face, moaned in the paroxysm of animal passion, which, she knew beforehand, would then and there be changed to unconcealed and insuperable disgust. Long ago all men’s faces had in her eyes lost every individual trait—as though they had united into one lascivious, inevitable face, eternally bent over her, the face of a he-goat with stubbly, slobbering lips, clouded eyes, dimmed like frosted glass, distorted and disfigured by a voluptuous grimace, which sickened her because she never shared it.

Besides, they were all rude, exacting and devoid of the elements of shame. They were ludicrously ugly, as only the modern man can be in his underclothes. But this elderly little officer made a new, peculiar, attractive impression on her. His every movement was distinguished by a gentle, insinuating discretion. His kiss, his caress, and his touch were strangely gentle. At the same time he surrounded her imperceptibly with the nervous atmosphere of real and intense passion which even from a distance and against her will arouses a woman’s sensuality, makes her docile, and subject to the male’s desire. But her poor little mind had never passed beyond the round of everyday life in the house, and could not perceive this strange and agitating spell. She could only whisper shyly, happy and surprised, the usual trivial words: ‘What a nice man you are! You’re my sweet, aren’t you?’

She got up, put the lamp out, and lay beside him again. Through the chinks between the shutters and the wall showed thin threads of the whitening dawn, which filled the room with a misty blue half-light. Behind the partition, somewhere an alarm-clock hurriedly rang. Far away some one was singing sadly in the distance.

‘When will you come again?’ the woman asked.

‘What?’ Ribnikov asked sleepily, opening his eyes. ‘When am I coming? Soon—to-morrow….’

‘I know all about that. Tell me the truth. When are you coming? I’ll be lonely without you.’

‘M’m…. We will come and be alone…. We will write to them. They will stay in the mountains …’ he murmured incoherently.

A heavy slumber enlocked his body; but, as always with men who have long deprived themselves of sleep, he could not sleep at once. No sooner was his consciousness overcast with the soft, dark, delightful cloud of oblivion than his body was shaken by a terrible inward shock. He moaned and shuddered, opened his eyes wide in wild terror, and straightway plunged into an irritating, transitory state between sleep and wakefulness, like a delirium crowded with threatening and confused visions.

The woman had no desire to sleep. She sat up in bed in her chemise, clasping her bended knees with her bare arms, and looked at Ribnikov with timid curiosity. In the bluish half-light his face grew sharper still and yellower, like the face of a dead man. His mouth stood open, but she could not hear his breathing. All over his face, especially about the eyes and mouth, was an expression of such utter weariness and profound human suffering as she had never seen in her life before. She gently passed her hand back over his stiff hair and forehead. The skin was cold and covered all over with clammy sweat. Ribnikov trembled at the touch, cried out in terror, and with a quick movement raised himself from the pillow.

‘Ah! Who’s that, who?’ he cried abruptly, wiping his face with his shirt-sleeve.

‘What’s the matter, darling?’ the woman asked with sympathy. ‘You’re not well? Shall I get you some water?’

But Ribnikov had mastered himself, and lay down once more.

‘Thanks. It’s all right now. I was dreaming…. Go to sleep, dear, do.’

‘When do you want me to wake you, darling?’ she asked.

‘Wake…. In the morning…. The sun will rise early…. And the horsemen will come…. We will go in a boat…. And sail over the river….’ He was silent and lay quiet for some minutes. Suddenly his still, dead face was distorted with terrible pain. He turned on his back with a moan, and there came in a stream from his lips mysterious, wild-sounding words of a strange language.

The woman held her breath and listened, possessed by the superstitious terror which always comes from a sleeper’s delirium. His face was only a couple of inches from hers, and she could not tear her eyes away. He was silent for a while and then began to speak again, many words and unintelligible. Then he was silent again, as though listening attentively to some one’s speech. Suddenly the woman heard the only Japanese word she knew, from the newspapers, pronounced aloud with a firm, clear voice:


Her heart beat so violently that the velvet coverlet lifted again and again with the throbbing. She remembered how they had called Ribnikov by the names of Japanese generals in the red cabinet that day, and a far faint suspicion began to stir in the obscurity of her mind.

Some one lightly tapped on the door. She got up and opened.

‘Clotilde dear, is that you?’ a woman’s gentle whisper was heard. ‘Aren’t you asleep? Come in to me for a moment. Leonka’s with me, and he’s standing some apricot wine. Come on, dear!’

It was Sonya, the Karaim,1 Clotilde’s neighbour, bound to her by the cloying, hysterical affection which always pairs off the women in these establishments.

1 The Karaim are Jews of the pure original stock who entered Russia long before the main immigration and settled in the Crimea. They are free from the ordinary Jewish restrictions.

‘All right. I’ll come now. Oh, I’ve something very interesting to tell you. Wait a second. I’ll dress.’

‘Nonsense. Don’t. Who are you nervous about? Leonka? Come, just as you are!’

She began to put on her petticoat.

Ribnikov roused out of sleep.

‘Where are you going to?’ he asked drowsily.

‘Only a minute…. Back immediately … I must …’ she answered, hurriedly tying the tape round her waist. ‘You go to sleep. I’ll be back in a second.’

He had not heard her last words. A dark heavy sleep had instantly engulfed him.

< < < . IV .
. VI . > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Captain Ribnikov – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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