The White Poodle by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The White Poodle – Contents

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By narrow mountain paths, from one villa to another, a small wandering troupe made their way along the southern shore of the Crimea. Ahead commonly ran the white poodle, Arto, with his long red tongue hanging out from one side of his mouth. The poodle was shorn to look like a lion. At crossways he would stop, wag his tail, and look back questioningly. He seemed to obtain some sort of sign, known to him alone, and without waiting for the troupe to catch up he would bound forward on the right track, shaking his shaggy ears, never making a mistake. Following the dog came the twelve-year-old Sergey, carrying under his left arm a little mattress for his acrobatic exercises, and holding in his right hand a narrow dirty cage, with a goldfinch, taught to pull out from a case various coloured papers on which were printed predictions of coming fortune. Last of all came the oldest member of the troupe, grandfather Martin Lodishkin, with a barrel organ on his bent back.

The organ was an old one, very hoarse, and suffering from a cough; it had undergone, in the century of its existence, some scores of mendings. It played two things: a melancholy German waltz of Launer and a galop from “A Trip to China Town,” both in fashion thirty to forty years ago, but now forgotten by all. Beyond these drawbacks it must be said that the organ had two false tubes; one of them, a treble, was absolutely mute, did not play, and therefore when its turn came the whole harmony would, as it were, stutter, go lame and stumble. The other tube, giving forth a bass note, had something the matter with the valve, which would not shut, and having once been played it would not altogether stop, but rolled onward on the same bass note, deafening and confusing the other sounds, till suddenly, at its own caprice, it would stop. Grandfather himself acknowledged the deficiencies of his instrument, and might sometimes be heard to remark jocosely, though with a tinge of secret grief:

“What’s to be done?… An ancient organ … it has a cold…. When you play it the gentry take offence. ‘Tfu,’ they say, ‘what a wretched thing!’ And these pieces were very good in their time, and fashionable, but people nowadays by no means adore good music. Give them ‘The Geisha,’ ‘Under the Double-headed Eagle,’ please, or the waltz from ‘The Seller of Birds.’ Of course, these tubes…. I took the organ to the shop, but they wouldn’t undertake to mend it. ‘It needs new tubes,’ said they. ‘But, best of all, if you’ll take our advice, sell the rusty thing to a museum … as a sort of curio….’ Well, well, that’s enough! She’s fed us till now, Sergey and me, and if God grant, she will go on feeding us.”

Grandfather Martin Lodishkin loved his organ as it is only possible to love something living, near, something actually akin, if it may be so expressed. Having lived with his organ for many years of a trying vagabond life, he had at last come to see in it something inspired, come to feel as if it were almost a conscious being. It would happen sometimes at night, when they were lying on the floor of some dirty inn, that the barrel organ, placed beside the old man’s pillow, would suddenly give vent to a faint note, a sad melancholy quavering note, like an old man’s sigh. And Lodishkin would put out his hand to its carved wooden side and whisper caressingly:

“What is it, brother? Complaining, eh!… Have patience, friend….”

And as much as Lodishkin loved his organ, and perhaps even a little more, he loved the other two companions of his wanderings, Arto, the poodle, and little Sergey. He had hired the boy five years before from a bad character, a widower cobbler, promising to pay him two roubles a month. Shortly afterwards the cobbler had died, and Sergey remained with grandfather, bound to him for ever by their common life and the little daily interests of the troupe.

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Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The White Poodle – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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