Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Kuprin – The White Poodle – Contents
The paths were made of a well-rolled yellow gravel, crunching under the feet; and at the sides were borders of large rose-coloured shells. In the flower-beds, above a carpet of various coloured grasses, grew rare plants with brilliant blossoms and sweet perfume. Crystal water rose and splashed continually from the fountains, and garlands of beautiful creeping plants hung downward from beautiful vases, suspended in mid-air from wires stretched between the trees. On marble pillars just outside the house stood two splendid spheres of mirror glass, and the wandering troupe, coming up to them, saw themselves reflected feet upwards in an amusing twisted and elongated picture.
In front of the balcony was a wide, much-trampled platform. On this Sergey spread his little mattress, and grandfather, having fixed the organ on its stick, prepared to turn the handle. But just as he was in the act of doing this, a most unexpected and strange sight suddenly attracted his attention.
A boy of nine or ten rushed suddenly out of the house on to the terrace like a bomb, giving forth piercing shrieks. He was in a sailor suit, with bare arms and legs. His fair curls hung in a tangle on his shoulders. Away he rushed, and after him came six people; two women in aprons, a stout old lackey, without moustache or beard but with grey side-whiskers, wearing a frock coat, a lean, carrotty-haired, red-nosed girl in a blue-checked dress, a young sickly-looking but very beautiful lady in a blue dressing-jacket trimmed with lace, and, last of all, a stout, bald gentleman in a suit of Tussore silk, and with gold spectacles. They were all very much excited, waved their arms, spoke loudly, and even jostled one another. You could see at one that the cause of all their anxiety was the boy in the sailor suit, who had so suddenly rushed on to the terrace.
And the boy, the cause of all this hurly-burly, did not cease screaming for one second, but threw himself down on his stomach, turned quickly over on to his back, and began to kick out with his legs on all sides. The little crowd of grown-ups fussed around him. The old lackey in the frock coat pressed his hands to his starched shirt-front and begged and implored the boy to be quiet, his long side-whiskers trembling as he spoke:
“Little father, master!… Nikolai Apollonovitch!… Do not vex your little mamma. Do get up, sir; be so good, so kind—take a little, sir. The mixture’s sweet as sweet, just syrup, sir. Now let me help you up….”
The women in the aprons clapped their hands and chirped quickly-quickly, in seemingly passionate and frightened voices. The red-nosed girl made tragic gestures, and cried out something evidently very touching, but completely incomprehensible, as it was in a foreign language. The gentleman in the gold spectacles made speeches to the boy in a reasoning bass voice, wagged his head to and fro as he spoke, and slowly waved his hands up and down. And the beautiful, delicate—looking lady moaned wearily, pressing a lace handkerchief to her eyes.
“Ah, Trilly, ah, God in Heaven!… Angel mine, I beseech you, listen, your own mother begs you. Now do, do take the medicine, take it and you’ll see, you’ll feel better at once, and the stomach-ache will go away and the headache. Now do it for me, my joy! Oh, Trilly, if you want it, your mamma will go down on her knees. See, darling, I’m on my knees before you. If you wish it, I’ll give you gold—a sovereign, two sovereigns, five sovereigns. Trilly, would you like a live ass? Would you like a live horse? Oh, for goodness’ sake, say something to him, doctor.”
“Pay attention, Trilly. Be a man!” droned the stout gentleman in the spectacles.
“Ai-yai-yai-ya-a-a-a!” yelled the boy, squirming on the ground, and kicking about desperately with his feet.
Despite his extreme agitation he managed to give several kicks to the people around him, and they, for their part, got out of his way sufficiently cleverly.
Sergey looked upon the scene with curiosity and astonishment, and at last nudged the old man in the side and said:
“Grandfather Lodishkin, what’s the matter with him? Can’t they give him a beating?”
“A beating—I like that…. That sort isn’t beaten, but beats everybody else. A crazy boy; ill, I expect.”
“Insane?” enquired Sergey.
“How should I know? Hst, be quiet!…”
“Ai-yai-ya-a! Scum, fatheads!” shouted the boy, louder and louder.
“Well, begin, Sergey. Now’s the time, for I know!” ordered Lodishkin suddenly, taking hold of the handle of his organ and turning it with resolution. The snuffling and false notes of the ancient galop rose in the garden. All the people stopped suddenly and looked round; even the boy became silent for a few seconds.
“Ah, God in heaven, they will upset my poor Trilly still more!” cried the lady in the blue dressing-jacket, with tears in her eyes. Chase them off, quickly, quickly. Drive them away, and the dirty dog with them. Dogs have always such dreadful diseases. Why do you stand there helplessly, Ivan, as if you were turned to stone? She shook her handkerchief wearily in the direction of grandfather and the little boy; the lean, red-nosed girl made dreadful eyes; someone gave a threatening whisper; the lackey in the dress coat ran swiftly from the balcony on his tiptoes, and, with an expression of horror on his face, cried to the organ grinder, spreading out his arms like wings as he spoke:
“Whatever does it mean—who permitted them—who let them through? March! Clear out!…”
The organ became silent in a melancholy whimper.
“Fine gentleman, allow us to explain,” began the old man delicately.
“No explanations whatever! March!” roared the lackey in a hoarse, angry whisper.
His whole fat face turned purple, and his eyes protruded to such a degree that they looked as if they would suddenly roll out and run away like wheels. The sight was so dreadful that grandfather involuntarily took two steps backward.
“Put the things up, Sergey,” said he, hurriedly jolting the organ on to his back. “Come on!”
But they had not succeeded in taking more than ten steps when the child began to shriek even worse than ever:
“Ai-yai-yai! Give it me! I wa-ant it! A-a-a! Give it! Call them back! Me!”
“But, Trilly!… Ah, God in heaven, Trilly; ah, call them back!” moaned the nervous lady. “Tfu, how stupid you all are!… Ivan, don’t you hear when you’re told? Go at once and call those beggars back!…”
“Certainly! You! Hey, what d’you call yourselves? Organ grinders! Come back!” cried several voices at once.
The stout lackey jumped across the lawn, his side-whiskers waving in the wind, and, overtaking the artistes, cried out:
“Pst! Musicians! Back! Don’t you hear, friends, you’re called back?” cried he, panting and waving both arms. “Venerable old man!” said he at last, catching hold of grandfather’s coat by the sleeve. “Turn the shafts round. The master and mistress will be pleased to see your pantomime.”
“Well, well, business at last!” sighed grandfather, turning his head round. And the little party went back to the balcony where the people were collected, and the old man fixed up his organ on the stick and played the hideous galop from the very point at which it had been interrupted.
The rumpus had died down. The lady with her little boy, and the gentleman in the gold spectacles, came forward. The others remained respectfully behind. Out of the depths of the shrubbery came the gardener in his apron, and stood at a little distance. From somewhere or other the yard-porter made his appearance, and stood behind the gardener. He was an immense bearded peasant with a gloomy face, narrow brows, and pock-marked cheeks. He was clad in a new rose-coloured blouse, on which was a pattern of large black spots.
Under cover of the hoarse music of the galop, Sergey spread his little mattress, pulled off his canvas breeches—they had been cut out of an old sack, and behind, at the broadest part, were ornamented by a quadrilateral trade mark of a factory—threw from his body his torn shirt, and stood erect in his cotton underclothes. In spite of the many mends on these garments he was a pretty figure of a boy, lithe and strong. He had a little programme of acrobatic tricks which he had learnt by watching his elders in the arena of the circus. Running to the mattress he would put both hands to his lips, and, with a passionate gesture, wave two theatrical kisses to the audience. So his performance began.
Grandfather turned the handle of the organ without ceasing, and whilst the boy juggled various objects in the air the old music-machine gave forth its trembling, coughing tunes. Sergey’s repertoire was not a large one, but he did it well and with enthusiasm. He threw up into the air an empty beer-bottle, so that it revolved several times in its flight, and suddenly catching it neck downward on the edge of a tray he balanced it there for several seconds; he juggled four balls and two candles, catching the latter simultaneously in two candlesticks; he played with a fan, a wooden cigar and an umbrella, throwing them to and fro in the air, and at last having the open umbrella in his hand shielding his head, the cigar in his mouth, and the fan coquettishly waving in his other hand. Then he turned several somersaults on the mattress; did “the frog”; tied himself into an American knot; walked on his hands, and having exhausted his little programme sent once more two kisses to the public, and, panting from the exercise, ran to grandfather to take his place at the organ.
Now was Arto’s turn. This the dog perfectly well knew, and he had for some time been prancing round in excitement, and barking nervously. Perhaps the clever poodle wished to say that, in his opinion, it was unreasonable to go through acrobatic performances when Réaumur showed thirty-two degrees in the shade. But grandfather Lodishkin, with a cunning grin, pulled out of his coat-tail pocket a slender kizil switch. Arto’s eyes took a melancholy expression. “Didn’t I know it!” they seemed to say, and he lazily and insubmissively raised himself on his hind paws, never once ceasing to look at his master and blink.
“Serve, Arto! So, so, so…,” ordered the old man, holding the switch over the poodle’s head. “Over. So. Turn … again … again…. Dance, doggie, dance! Sit! Wha-at? Don’t want to? Sit when you’re told! A-a…. That’s right! Now look! Salute the respected public. Now, Arto!” cried Lodishkin threateningly.
“Gaff!” barked the poodle in disgust. Then he followed his master mournfully with his eyes, and added twice more, “Gaff, gaff.”
“No, my old man doesn’t understand me,” this discontented barking seemed to say.
“That’s it, that’s better. Politeness before everything. Now we’ll have a little jump,” continued the old man, holding out the twig at a short distance above the ground. “Allez! There’s nothing to hang out your tongue about, brother. Allez! Gop! Splendid! And now, please, noch ein mal … Allez! … Gop! Allez! Gop! Wonderful doggie. When you get home you shall have carrots. You don’t like carrots, eh? Ah, I’d completely forgotten. Then take my silk topper and ask the folk. P’raps they’ll give you something a little more tasty.”
Grandfather raised the dog on his hind legs and put in his mouth the old greasy cap which, with such delicate irony, he had named a silk topper. Arto, standing affectedly on his grey hind legs, and holding the cap in his teeth, came up to the terrace. In the hands of the delicate lady there appeared a small mother-of-pearl purse. All those around her smiled sympathetically.
“What? Didn’t I tell you?” asked the old man of Sergey, teasingly. “Ask me if you ever want to know anything, brother, for I know. Nothing less than a rouble.”
At that moment there broke out such an inhuman yowl that Arto involuntarily dropped the cap and leapt off with his tail between his legs, looked over his shoulders fearfully, and came and lay down at his master’s feet.
“I wa-a-a-nt him,” cried the curly-headed boy, stamping his feet. “Give him to me! I want him. The dog, I tell you! Trilly wa-ants the do-og!”
“Ah, God in heaven! Ah, Nikolai Apollonovitch! … Little father, master!… Be calm, Trilly, I beseech you,” cried the voices of the people.
“The dog! Give me the dog; I want him! Scum, demons, fatheads!” cried the boy, fairly out of his mind.
“But, angel mine, don’t upset your nerves,” lisped the lady in the blue dressing-jacket. “You’d like to stroke the doggie? Very well, very well, my joy, in a minute you shall. Doctor, what do you think, might Trilly stroke this dog?”
“Generally speaking, I should not advise it,” said the doctor, waving his hands. “But if we had some reliable disinfectant as, for instance, boracic acid or a weak solution of carbolic, then … generally …”
“In a minute, my charmer, in a minute. So, doctor, you order that we wash the dog with boracic acid, and then…. Oh, Trilly, don’t get into such a state! Old man, bring up your dog, will you, if you please. Don’t be afraid, you will be paid for it. And, listen a moment—is the dog ill? I wish to ask, is the dog suffering from hydrophobia or skin disease?”
“Don’t want to stroke him, don’t want to,” roared Trilly, blowing out his mouth like a bladder. “Fat-heads! Demons! Give it to me altogether! I want to play with it…. For always.”
“Listen, old man, come up here,” cried the lady, trying to outshout the child. “Ah, Trilly, you’ll kill your own mother if you make such a noise. Why ever did they let these music people in? Come nearer —nearer still; come when you’re told!… That’s better…. Oh, don’t take offence! Trilly, your mother will do all that you ask. I beseech you, miss, do try and calm the child…. Doctor, I pray you. … How much d’you want, old man?”
Grandfather removed his cap, and his face took on a respectfully piteous expression.
“As much as your kindness will think fit, my lady, your Excellency…. We are people in a small way, and anything is a blessing for us…. Probably you will not do anything to offend an old man….”
“Ah, how senseless! Trilly, you’ll make your little throat ache…. Don’t you grasp the fact that the dog is yours and not mine…. Now, how much do you say? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty?”
“A-a-a; I wa-ant it, give me the dog, give me the dog,” squealed the boy, kicking the round stomach of the lackey who happened to be near.
“That is … forgive me, your Serenity,” stuttered Lodishkin. “You see, I’m an old man, stupid…. It’s difficult to understand at once…. What’s more, I’m a bit deaf … so I ought to ask, in short, what were you wishing to say?… For the dog?…”
“Ah, God in heaven! It seems to me you’re playing the idiot on purpose,” said the lady, boiling over. “Nurse, give Trilly some water at once! I ask you, in the Russian language, for how much do you wish to sell your dog? Do you understand—your dog, dog?…”
“The dog! The do-og!” cried the boy, louder than ever.
Lodishkin took offence, and put his hat on again.
“Dogs, my lady, I do not sell,” said he coldly and with dignity. “And, what is more, madam, that dog, it ought to be understood, has been for us two”—he pointed with his middle finger over his shoulder at Sergey—“has been for us two, feeder and clother. It has fed us, given us drink, and clothed us. I could not think of anything more impossible than, for example, that we should sell it.”
Trilly all the while was giving forth piercing shrieks like the whistle of a steam-engine. They gave him a glass of water, but he splashed it furiously all over the face of his governess.
“Listen, you crazy old man!… There are no things which are not for sale, if only a large enough price be offered,” insisted the lady, pressing her palms to her temples. “Miss, wipe your face quickly and give me my headache mixture. Now, perhaps your dog costs a hundred roubles! What then, two hundred? Three hundred? Now answer, image. Doctor, for the love of the Lord, do say something to him!”
“Pack up, Sergey,” growled Lodishkin morosely. “Image, im-a-age…. Here, Arto!…”
“Hey, wait a minute, if you please,” drawled the stout gentleman in the gold spectacles in an authoritative bass. “You’d better not be obstinate, dear man, now I’m telling you. For your dog, ten roubles would be a beautiful price, and even for you into the bargain…. Just consider, ass, how much the lady is offering you.”
“I most humbly thank you, sir,” mumbled Lodishkin, hitching his organ on to his shoulders. “Only I can’t see how such a piece of business could ever be done, as, for instance, to sell. Now, I should think you’d better seek some other dog somewhere else…. So good day to you…. Now, Sergey, go ahead!”
“And have you got a passport?” roared the doctor in a rage. “I know you—canaille.”
“Porter! Semyon! Drive them out!” cried the lady, her face distorted with rage.
The gloomy-looking porter in the rose-coloured blouse rushed threateningly towards the artistes. A great hubbub arose on the terrace, Trilly roaring for all he was worth, his mother sobbing, the nurse chattering volubly to her assistant, the doctor booming like an angry cockchafer. But grandfather and Sergey had no time to look back or to see how all would end. The poodle running in front of them, they got quickly to the gates, and after them came the yard porter, punching the old man in the back, beating on his organ, and crying out:
“Out you get, you rascals! Thank God that you’re not hanging by your neck, you old scoundrel. Remember, next time you come here, we shan’t stand on ceremony with you, but lug you at once to the police station. Charlatans!”
For a long time the boy and the old man walked along silently together, but suddenly, as if they had arranged the time beforehand, they both looked at one another and laughed. Sergey, simply burst into laughter, and then Lodishkin smiled, seemingly in some confusion.
“Eh, grandfather Lodishkin, you know everything?” teased Sergey.
“Ye-s brother, we’ve been nicely fooled, haven’t we,” said the old organ grinder, nodding his head. “A nasty bit of a boy, however…. How they’ll bring up such a creature, the Lord only knows. Yes, if you please, twenty-five men and women standing around him, dancing dances for his sake. Well, if he’d been in my power, I’d have taught him a lesson. ‘Give me the dog,’ says he. What then? If he asks for the moon out of the sky, give him that also, I suppose. Come here, Arto, come here, my little doggie doggie. Well, and what money we’ve taken to-day—astonishing!”
“Better than money,” continued Sergey, “one lady gave us clothes, another a whole rouble. And doesn’t grandfather Lodishkin know everything in advance?”
“You be quiet,” growled the old man good-naturedly. “Don’t you remember how you ran from the porter? I thought I should never catch you up. A serious man, that porter!”
Leaving the villas, the wandering troupe stepped downward by a steep and winding path to the sea. At this point the mountains, retiring from the shore, left a beautiful level beach covered with tiny pebbles, which lisped and chattered as the waves turned them over. Two hundred yards out to sea dolphins turned somersaults, showing for moments their curved and glimmering backs. Away on the horizon of the wide blue sea, standing as it were on a lovely velvet ribbon of dark purple, were the sails of fishing boats, tinted to a rose colour by the sunlight.
“Here we shall bathe, grandfather Lodishkin,” said Sergey decisively. And he took off his trousers as he walked, jumping from one leg to the other to do so. “Let me help you to take off the organ.”
He swiftly undressed, smacking his sunburnt body with the palms of his hands, ran down to the waves, took a handful of foam to throw over his shoulders, and jumped into the sea.
Grandfather undressed without hurry. Shielding his eyes from the sun with his hands, and wrinkling his brows, he looked at Sergey and grinned knowingly.
“He’s not bad; the boy is growing,” thought Lodishkin to himself. “Plenty of bones—all his ribs showing; but all the same, he’ll be a strong fellow.”
“Hey, Serozhska, don’t you get going too far. A sea pig’ll drag you off!”
“If so, I’ll catch it by the tail,” cried Sergey from a distance.
Grandfather stood a long time in the sunshine, feeling himself under his armpits. He went down to the water very cautiously, and before going right in, carefully wetted his bald red crown and the sunken sides of his body. He was yellow, wizened and feeble, his feet were astonishingly thin, and his back, with sharp protruding shoulder-blades, was humped by the long carrying of the organ.
“Look, grandfather Lodishkin!” cried Sergey, and he turned a somersault in the water.
Grandfather, who had now gone into the water up to his middle, sat down with a murmur of pleasure, and cried out to Sergey:
“Now, don’t you play about, piggy. Mind what I tell you or I’ll give it you.”
Arto barked unceasingly, and jumped about the shore. He was very much upset to see the boy swimming out so far. “What’s the use of showing off one’s bravery?” worried the poodle. “Isn’t there the earth, and isn’t that good enough to go on, and much calmer?”
He went into the water two or three times himself, and lapped the waves with his tongue. But he didn’t like the salt water, and was afraid of the little waves rolling over the pebbles towards him. He jumped back to dry sand, and at once set himself to bark at Sergey. “Why these silly, silly tricks? Why not come and sit down on the beach by the side of the old man? Dear, dear, what a lot of anxiety that boy does give us!”
“Hey, Serozha, time to come out, anyway. You’ve had enough,” cried the old man.
“In a minute, grandfather Lodishkin,” the boy cried back. “Just look how I do the steamboat. U-u-u-ukh!”
At last he swam in to the shore, but, before dressing, he caught Arto in his arms, and returning with him to the water’s edge, flung him as far as he could. The dog at once swam back, leaving above the surface of the water his nostrils and floating ears alone, and snorting loudly and offendedly. Reaching dry sand, he shook his whole body violently, and clouds of water flew on the old man and on Sergey.
“Serozha, boy, look, surely that’s for us!” said Lodishkin suddenly, staring upwards towards the cliff.
Along the downward path they saw that same gloomy-looking yard porter in the rose-coloured blouse with the speckled pattern, waving his arms and crying out to them, though they could not make out what he was saying, the same fellow who, a quarter of an hour ago, had driven the vagabond troupe from the villa.
“What does he want?” asked grandfather mistrustfully.
Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Kuprin – The White Poodle – Contents
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