Captain Ribnikov by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Captain Ribnikov – Contents

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Leonka was the idol of the whole establishment, beginning with Madame, and descending to the tiniest servant. In these places where boredom, indolence, and cheap literature produce feverishly romantic tastes, the extreme of adoration is lavished on thieves and detectives, because of their heroic lives, which are full of fascinating risks, dangers and adventures. Leonka used to appear in the most varied costumes, at times almost made up. Sometimes he kept a meaning and mysterious silence. Above all every one remembered very well that he often proclaimed that the local police had an unbounded respect for him and fulfilled his orders blindly. In one case he had said three or four words in a mysterious jargon, and that was enough to send a few thieves who were behaving rowdily in the house crawling into the street. Besides there were times when he had a great deal of money. It is easy to understand that Henrietta, whom he called Genka and with whom he had an assiduous affair, was treated with a jealous respect.

He was a young man with a swarthy, freckled face, with black moustaches that pointed up to his very eyes. His chin was short, firm and broad; his eyes were dark, handsome and impudent. He was sitting on the sofa in his shirt-sleeves, his waistcoat unbuttoned and his necktie loose. He was small but well proportioned. His broad chest and his muscles, so big that his shirt seemed ready to tear at the shoulder, were eloquent of his strength. Genka sat close to him with her feet on the sofa; Clotilde was opposite. Sipping his liqueur slowly with his red lips, in an artificially elegant voice he told his tale unconcernedly:

‘They brought him to the station. His passport—Korney Sapietov, resident in Kolpin or something of the kind. Of course the devil was drunk, absolutely. “Put him into a cold cell and sober him down.” General rule. That very moment I happened to drop into the inspector’s office. I had a look. By Jove, an old friend: Sanka the Butcher—triple murder and sacrilege. Instantly I gave the constable on duty a wink, and went out into the corridor as though nothing had happened. The constable came out to me. “What’s the matter, Leonti Spiridonovich?” “Just send that gentleman round to the Detective Bureau for a minute.” They brought him. Not a muscle in his face moved. I just looked him in the eyes and said’:—Leonka rapped his knuckles meaningly on the table—‘“Is it a long time, Sanka, since you left Odessa and decided to honour us here?” Of course he’s quite indifferent—playing the fool. Not a word. Oh, he’s a bright one, too. “I haven’t any idea who Sanka the Butcher is. I am … so and so.” So I come up to him, catch hold of him by the beard—hey, presto—the beard’s left in my hand. False!… “Will you own up now, you son of a bitch?” “I haven’t any idea.” Then I let fly straight at his nose—once, twice—a bloody mess. “Will you own up?” “I haven’t any idea.” “Ah, that’s your game, is it? I gave you a decent chance before. Now, you’ve got yourself to thank. Bring Arsenti the Flea here.” We had a prisoner of that name. He hated Sanka to death. Of course, my dear, I knew how they stood. They brought the Flea. “Well, Flea, who’s this gentleman?” The Flea laughs. “Why Sanka the Butcher, of course? How do you do, Sanichka? Have you been honouring us a long while? How did you get on in Odessa?” Then the Butcher gave in. “All right, Leonti Spiridonovich. I give in. Nothing can get away from you. Give us a cigarette.” Of course I gave him one. I never refuse them, out of charity. The servant of God was taken away. He just looked at the Flea, no more. I thought, well, the Flea will have to pay for that. The Butcher will do him in for sure.’

‘Do him in?’ Genka asked with servile confidence, in a terrified whisper.

‘Absolutely. Do him in. That’s the kind of man he is!’

He sipped his glass complacently. Genka looked at him with fixed, frightened eyes, so intently that her mouth even opened and watered. She smacked her hands on her lips.

‘My God, how awful! Just think, Clotilduchka! And you weren’t afraid, Leonya?’

‘Well, am I to be frightened of every vagabond?’

The rapt attention of the woman excited him, and he began to invent a story that students had been making bombs somewhere on Vassiliev Island, and that the Government had instructed him to arrest the conspirators. Bombs there were—it was proved afterwards—twelve thousand of them. If they’d all exploded then not only the house they were in, but half Petersburg, perhaps, would have been blown to atoms…. Next came a thrilling story of Leonka’s extraordinary heroism, when he disguised himself as a student, entered the ‘devil’s workshop,’ gave a sign to some one outside the window, and disarmed the villains in a second. He caught one of them by the sleeve at the very moment when he was going to explode a lot of bombs.

Genka groaned, was terror-stricken, slapped her legs, and continually turned to Clotilde with exclamations:

‘Ah! what do you think of all that? Just think what scoundrels these students are, Clotilduchka! I never liked them.’

At last, stirred to her very depths by her lover, she hung on his neck and began to kiss him loudly.

‘Leonichka, my darling! It’s terrible to listen to, even! And you aren’t frightened of anything!’

He complacently twisted his left moustache upwards, and let drop carelessly: ‘Why be afraid? You can only die once. That’s what I’m paid for.’

Clotilde was tormented all the while by jealous envy of her friend’s magnificent lover. She vaguely suspected that there was a great deal of lying in Leonka’s stories; while she now had something utterly extraordinary in her hands, such as no one had ever had before, something that would immediately take all the shine out of Leonka’s exploits. For some minutes she hesitated. A faint echo of the tender pity for Ribnikov still restrained her. But a hysterical yearning to shine took hold of her, and she said in a dull, quiet voice: ‘Do you know what I wanted to tell you, Leonya? I’ve got such a queer visitor to-day.’

‘H’m. You think he’s a sharper?’ he asked condescendingly. Genka was offended.

‘A sharper, you say! That’s your story. Some drunken officer.’

‘No, you mustn’t say that,’ Leonka pompously interrupted. ‘It happens that sharpers get themselves up as officers. What was it you were going to say, Clotilde?’

Then she told the story of Ribnikov with every detail, displaying a petty and utterly feminine talent for observation: she told how they called him General Kuroki, his Japanese face, his strange tenderness and passion, his delirium, and finally now he said ‘Banzai!’

‘You’re not lying?’ Leonka said quickly. Keen points of fire lit in his eyes.

‘I swear it’s true! May I be rooted to the ground if it’s a lie! You look through the keyhole, I’ll go in and open the shutter. He’s as like a Japanese as two peas.’

Leonka rose. Without haste, with a serious look, he put on his overcoat, carefully feeling his left inside pocket.

‘Come on,’ he said resolutely. ‘Who did he arrive with?’

Only Karyukov and Strahlmann remained of the all-night party. Karyukov could not be awakened, and Strahlmann muttered something indistinctly. He was still half drunk and his eyes were heavy and red.

‘What officer? Blast him to hell! He came up to us when we were in the “Buff,” but where he came from nobody knows.’

He began to dress immediately, snorting angrily. Leonka apologised and went out. He had already managed to get a glimpse of Ribnikov’s face through the keyhole, and though he had some doubts remaining, he was a good patriot, distinguished for impertinence and not devoid of imagination. He decided to act on his own responsibility. In a moment he was on the balcony whistling for help.

< < < . V .
. VII . > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Captain Ribnikov – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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