The White Poodle by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The White Poodle – Contents

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The path went along a high cliff over the sea, and wandered through the shade of ancient olive trees, The sea gleamed between the trunks now and then, and seemed at times to stand like a calm and mighty wall on the horizon; its colour was the more blue, the more intense, because of the contrast seen through the trellis-work of silver verdant leaves. In the grass, amongst the kizil shrubs, wild roses and vines, and even on the branches of the trees, swarmed the grasshoppers, and the air itself trembled from the monotonously sounding and unceasing murmur of their legs and wing-cases. The day turned out to be a sultry one; there was no wind, and the hot earth burnt the soles of the feet.

Sergey, going as usual ahead of grandfather, stopped, and waited for the old man to catch up to him.

“What is it, Serozha?” asked the organ-grinder.

“The heat, grandfather Lodishkin … there’s no bearing it! To bathe would be good….”

The old man wiped his perspiring face with his sleeve, and hitched the organ to a more comfortable position on his back.

“What would be better?” he sighed, looking eagerly downward to the cool blueness of the sea. “Only, after bathing, one gets more hungry, you know. A village doctor once said to me: ‘Salt has more effect on man than anything else … that means, it weakens him … sea-salt….’”

“He lied, perhaps,” remarked Sergey, doubtfully.

“Lied! What next? Why should he lie? A solid man, non-drinker … having a little house in Sevastopol. What’s more, there’s no getting down to the sea here. Wait a bit, we’ll get to Miskhor, and there rinse our sinful bodies. It’s fine to bathe before dinner … and afterwards to sleep, we three … and a splendid bit of work….”

Arto, hearing conversation behind him, turned and ran back, his soft blue eyes, half shut from the heat, looked up appealingly, and his hanging tongue trembled from quick breathing.

“What is it, brother doggie? Warm, eh?” asked grandfather.

The dog yawned, straining his jaws and curling his tongue into a little tube, shook all his body, and whimpered.

“Yes, yes, little brother, but it can’t be helped,” continued Lodishkin. “It is written, ‘In the sweat of thy face,’ though, as a matter of fact, it can hardly be said that you have a face, or anything more than a muzzle…. Be off! Go off with you…. As for me, Serozha, I must confess I just like this heat. Only the organ’s a bit of a nuisance, and if there were no work to do I’d just lie down somewhere in the grass in the shade, and have a good morning of it. For old bones this sunshine is the finest thing in the world.”

The footpath turned downward to a great highway, broad and hard and blindingly white. At the point where the troupe stepped on to it commenced an ancient baronial estate, in the abundant verdure of which were beautiful villas, flower-beds, orangeries and fountains. Lodishkin knew the district well, and called at each of the villas every year, one after another, during the vine-harvesting season, when the whole Crimea is filled with rich, fashionable, and pleasure-loving visitors. The bright magnificence of southern Nature did not touch the old man, but it enraptured Sergey, who was there for the first time. The magnolias, with their hard and shiny leaves, shiny as if lacquered or varnished, with their large white blossoms, each almost as big as a dinner-plate; the summer-houses of interwoven vines hanging with heavy clusters of fruit; the enormous century-old plane trees, with their bright trunks and mighty crowns; tobacco plantations, rivulets, waterfalls, and everywhere, in flower-beds, gardens, on the walls of the villas, bright sweet-scented roses—all these things impressed unceasingly the naïve soul of the boy. He expressed his admiration of the scene, pulling the old man’s sleeve and crying out every minute:

“Grandfather Lodishkin, but, grandfather, just look, goldfish in the fountain!… I swear, grandfather, goldfish, if I die for it!” cried the boy, pressing his face to a railing and staring at a large tank in the middle of a garden. “I say, grandfather, look at the peaches! Good gracious, what a lot there are. Look, how many! And all on one tree.”

“Leave go, leave go, little stupid. What are you stretching your mouth about?” joked the old man. “Just wait till we get to the town of Novorossisk, and give ourselves to the South. Now, that’s a place indeed; there you’ll see something. Sotchi, Adler, Tuapse, and then, little brother, Sukhum, Batum…. Your eyes’ll drop out of your head…. Palms, for instance. Absolutely astonishing; the trunks all shaggy like felt, and each leaf so large that we could hide ourselves in one.”

“You don’t mean it!” cried Sergey, joyfully.

“Wait a bit and you’ll see for yourself. Is there little of anything there? Now, oranges for instance, or, let us say, lemons…. You’ve seen them, no doubt, in the shops?”


“Well, you see them simply as if they were growing in the air. Without anything, just on the tree, as up here you see an apple or a pear…. And the people down there, little brother, are altogether out of the way: Turks, Persians, different sorts of Cherkesses, and all in gowns and with daggers, a desperate sort of people! And, little brother, there are even Ethiopians. I’ve seen them many times in Batum!”

“Ethiopians, I know. Those with horns,” cried Sergey, confidently.

“Well, horns I suppose they have not,” said grandfather; “that’s nonsense. But they’re black as a pair of boots, and shine even. Thick, red, ugly lips, great white eyes, and hair as curly as the back of a black sheep.”

“Oi, oi, how terrible!… Are Ethiopians like that?”

“Well, well, don’t be frightened. Of course, at first, before you’re accustomed, it’s alarming. But when you see that other people aren’t afraid, you pick up courage…. There’s all sorts there, little brother. When we get there you’ll see. Only one thing is bad—the fever. All around lie marshes, rottenness; then there is such terrible heat. The people who live there find it all right, but it’s bad for new-comers. However, we’ve done enough tongue-wagging, you and I, Sergey, so just climb over that stile and go up to the house. There are some really fine people living there…. If ever there’s anything you want to know, just ask me; I know all.”

But the day turned out to be a very unsuccessful one for them. At one place the servants drove them away almost before they were seen even from a distance by the mistress; at another the organ had hardly made its melancholy beginning in front of the balcony when they were waved away in disgust; at a third they were told that the master and mistress had not yet arrived. At two villas they were indeed paid for their show, but very little. Still, grandfather never turned his nose up even at the smallest amounts. Coming out at the gate on to the road he would smile good-naturedly and say:

“Two plus five, total seven … hey hey, brother Serozhenka, that’s money. Seven times seven, and you’ve pretty well got a shilling, and that would be a good meal and a night’s lodging in our pockets, and p’raps, old man Lodishkin might be allowed a little glass on account of his weakness…. Ai, ai, there’s a sort of people I can’t make out; too stingy to give sixpence, yet ashamed to put in a penny … and so they surlily order you off. Better to give, were it only three farthings…. I wouldn’t take offence, I’m nobody … why take offence?”

Generally speaking, Lodishkin was of a modest order, and even when he was hounded out of a place he would not complain. However, on this day of which we are writing, he was, as it happened, disturbed out of his usual equanimity by one of the people of these Crimean villas, a lady of a very kind appearance, the owner of a beautiful country house surrounded by a wonderful flower-garden. She listened attentively to the music; watched Sergey’s somersaults and Arto’s tricks even more attentively; asked the little boy’s age, what was his name, where he’d learned gymnastics, how grandfather had come by him, what his father had done for a living, and so on, and had then bidden them wait, and had gone indoors apparently to fetch them something.

Ten minutes passed, a quarter of an hour, and she did not appear, but the longer she stayed the greater became the vague hopes of the troupe. Grandfather even whispered to Sergey, shielding his mouth with his palm the while:

“Eh, Sergey, this is good, isn’t it? Ask me if you want to know anything. Now we’re going to get some old clothes or perhaps a pair of boots. A sure thing!…”

At last the lady came out on her balcony again, and flung into Sergey’s held-out hat a small silver coin. And then she went in again. The coin turned out to be an old worn-out threepenny bit with a hole in it. No use to buy anything with. Grandfather held it in his hand and considered it a long while distrustfully. He left the house and went back to the road, and all the while he still held the bit of money in his open and extended palm, as if weighing it as he went.

“Well, well…. That’s smart!” said he at last, stopping suddenly. “I must say…. And didn’t we three blockheads do our best. It’d a-been better if she’d given us a button. That, at least, we could have sewn on somewhere. What’s the use of this bit of rubbish? The lady, no doubt, thought that it would be all the same as a good coin to me. I’d pass it off on someone at night. No, no, you’re deeply mistaken, my lady. Old man Lodishkin is not going to descend so low. Yes, m’lady, there goes your precious threepenny bit! There!”

And with indignation and pride he flung the coin on to the road, and it gently jingled and was lost in the dust.

So the morning passed, and the old man and the boy, having passed all the villas on the cliff, prepared to go down to the sea. There remained but one last estate on the way. This was on the left-hand side.

The house itself was not visible, the wall being high, and over the wall loomed a fine array of dusty cypresses. Only through the wide cast-iron gate, whose fantastical design gave it the appearance of lace, was it possible to get a glimpse of the lovely lawn. Thence one peered upon fresh green grass, flower-beds, and in the background a winding pergola of vines. In the middle of the lawn stood a gardener watering the roses. He put a finger to the pipe in his hand, and caused the water in the fountain to leap in the sun, glittering in myriads of little sparkles and flashes.

Grandfather was going past, but looking through the gate he stopped in doubt.

“Wait a bit, Sergey,” said he. “Surely there are no folk here! There’s a strange thing! Often as I’ve come along this road, I’ve never seen a soul here before. Oh, well, brother Sergey, get ready!”

A notice was fixed on the wall:

“Friendship Villa: Trespassers will be prosecuted,” and Sergey read this out aloud.

“Friendship?” questioned grandfather, who himself could not read. “Vo-vo! That’s one of the finest of words—friendship. All day we’ve failed, but this house will make up for it. I smell it with my nose, as if I were a hunting dog. Now, Arto, come here, old fellow. Walk up bravely, Serozha. Keep your eye on me, and if you want to know anything just ask me. I know all.”

< < < . I .
. III . > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The White Poodle – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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