Yama (the Pit) by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Yama (the Pit) – Contents

< < < Chapter XVI
Part III – Chapter I > > >

Part II

Chapter XVII

But if the Georgian and the kind-souled Soloviev served as a palliating beginning against the sharp thorns of great worldly wisdom, in the curious education of the mind and soul of Liubka; and if Liubka forgave the pedantism of Lichonin for the sake of a first sincere and limitless love for him, and forgave just as willingly as she would have forgiven curses, beatings, or a heavy crime—the lessons of Simanovsky, on the other hand, were a downright torture and a constant, prolonged burden for her. For it must be said that he, as though in spite, was far more accurate and exact in his lessons than any pedagogue working out his weekly stipulated tutorings.

With the incontrovertibility of his opinions, the assurance of his tone and the didacticism of his presentation he took away the will of poor Liubka and paralyzed her soul; in the same way that he sometimes, during university gatherings or at mass meetings, influenced the timid and bashful minds of newcomers. He was an orator at meetings; he was a prominent member in the organization of students’ mess halls; he took part in the recording, lithographing and publication of lectures; he was chosen the head of the course; and, finally, took a very great interest in the students’ treasury. He was of that number of people who, after they leave the student auditoriums, become the leaders of parties, the unrestrained arbiters of pure and self-denying conscience; serve out their political stage somewhere in Chukhlon, directing the keen attention of all Russia to their heroically woeful situation; and after that, beautifully leaning on their past, make a career for themselves, thanks to a solid advocacy, a deputation, or else a marriage joined with a goodly piece of black loam land and provincial activity. Unnoticeably to themselves and altogether unnoticeably, of course, to the casual glance, they cautiously right themselves; or, more correctly, fade until they grow a belly unto themselves, and acquire podagra and diseases of the liver. Then they grumble at the whole world; say that they were not understood, that their time was the time of sacred ideals. While in the family they are despots and not infrequently give money out at usury.

The path of the education of Liubka’s mind and soul was plain to him, as was plain and incontrovertible everything that he conceived; he wanted at the start to interest Liubka in chemistry and physics.

“The virginally feminine mind,” he pondered, “will be astounded, then I shall gain possession of her attention, and from trifles, from hocus-pocus, I shall pass on to that which will lead her to the centre of universal knowledge, where there is no superstition, no prejudices; where there is only a broad field for the testing of nature.”

It must be said that he was inconsistent in his lessons. He dragged in all that came to his hand for the astonishment of Liubka. Once he brought along for her a large self-made serpent—a long cardboard hose, filled with gunpowder, bent in the form of a harmonica, and tied tightly across with a cord. He lit it, and the serpent for a long time with crackling jumped over the dining room and the bedroom, filling the place with smoke and stench. Liubka was scarcely amazed and said that this was simply fireworks, that she had already seen this, and that you couldn’t astonish her with that. She asked, however, permission to open the window. Then he brought a large phial, tinfoil, rosin and a cat’s tail, and in this manner contrived a Leyden jar. The discharge, although weak, was produced, however.

“Oh, the unclean one take you, Satan!” Liubka began to cry out, having felt the dry fillip in her little finger.

Then, out of heated peroxide of manganese, mixed with sand, with the help of a druggist’s vial, the gutta-percha end of a syringe, a basin filled with water, and a jam jar—oxygen was derived. The red-hot cork, coal and phosphorus burnt in the jar so blindingly that it pained the eyes. Liubka clapped her palms and squealed out in delight:

“Mister Professor, more! Please, more, more! …”

But when, having united the oxygen with the hydrogen brought in an empty champagne bottle, and having wrapped up the bottle for precaution in a towel, Simanovsky ordered Liubka to direct its neck toward a burning candle, and when the explosion broke out, as though four cannons had been fired off at once—an explosion through which the plastering fell down from the ceiling—then Liubka grew timorous, and, only getting to rights with difficulty, pronounced with trembling lips, but with dignity: “You must excuse me now, but since I have a flat of my own, and I’m not at all a wench any longer, but a decent woman, I’d ask you therefore not to misbehave in my place. I thought you, like a smart and educated man, would do everything nice and genteel, but you busy yourself with silly things. They can even put one in jail for that.”

Subsequently, much, much later, she told how she had a student friend, who made dynamite before her.

It must have been, after all, that Simanovsky, this enigmatic man, so influential in his youthful society, where he had to deal with theory for the most part, and so incoherent when a practical experiment with a living soul had come into his hands—was just simply stupid, but could skillfully conceal this sole sincere quality of his.

Having suffered failure in applied sciences, he at once passed on to metaphysics. Once he very self-assuredly, and in a tone such that after it no refutation was possible, announced to Liubka that there is no God, and that he would undertake to prove this during five minutes. Whereupon Liubka jumped up from her place, and told him firmly that she, even though a quondam prostitute, still believed in God and would not allow Him to be offended in her presence; and if he would continue such nonsense, then she would complain to Vassil Vassilich.

“I will also tell him,” she added in a weeping voice, “that you, instead of teaching me, only rattle off all kinds of stuff and all that sort of nastiness, while you yourself hold your hand on my knees. And that’s even not at all genteel.” And for the first time during all their acquaintanceship she, who had formerly been so timorous and constrained, sharply moved away from her teacher.

However, having suffered a few failures, Simanovsky still obstinately continued to act upon the mind and imagination of Liubka. He tried to explain to her the theory of the origin of species, beginning with an amoeba and ending with Napoleon. Liubka listened to him attentively, and during this there was an imploring expression in her eyes: “When will you stop at last?” She yawned into a handkerchief and then guiltily explained: “Excuse me, that’s from my nerves.” Marx also had no success goods, supplementary value, the manufacturer and the worker, which had become algebraic formulas, were for Liubka merely empty sounds, vibrating the air; and she, very sincere at soul, always jumped up with joy from her place, when hearing that, apparently, the vegetable soup had boiled up, or the samovar was getting ready to boil over.

It cannot be said that Simanovsky did not have success with women. His aplomb and his weighty, decisive tone always acted upon simple souls, especially upon fresh, naive, trusting souls. Out of protracted ties he always got out very easily; either he was dedicated to a tremendously responsible call, before which domestic love relations were nothing; or he pretended to be a superman, to whom all is permitted (O, thou, Nietszche, so long ago and so disgracefully misconstrued for high-school boys!). The passive, almost imperceptible, but firmly evasive resistance of Liubka irritated and excited him. What particularly incensed him was the fact that she, who had formerly been so accessible to all, ready to yield her love in one day to several people in succession, to each one for two roubles, was now all of a sudden playing at some pure and disinterested inamoration!

“Nonsense,” he thought. “This can’t be. She’s making believe, and, probably, I don’t strike the right tone with her.”

And with every day he became more exacting, captious, and stern. Hardly consciously, more probably through habit, he relied on his usual influence, intimidating the thought and subduing the will, which rarely betrayed him.

Once Liubka complained about him to Lichonin:

“He’s too strict with me, now, Vassil Vassilievich; and I don’t understand anything he says, and I don’t want to take lessons with him any more.”

Somehow or other, Lichonin lamely quieted her down; but still he had an explanation with Simanovsky. The other answered him with sang froid:

“Just as you wish, my dear fellow; if my method displeases you or Liubka, then I’m even ready to resign. My problem consists only of bringing in a genuine element of discipline into her education. If she does not understand anything, then I compel her to learn it by heart, aloud. With time this will cease. That is unavoidable. Recall, Lichonin, how difficult the transition from arithmetic to algebra was for us, when we were compelled to replace common numerals with letters, and did not know why this was done. Or why did they teach us grammar, instead of simply advising us to write tales and verses?”

And on the very next day, bending down low under the hanging shade of the lamp over Liubka’s body, and sniffing all over her breast and under her arm pits, he was saying to her:

“Draw a triangle… Well, yes, this way and this way. On top I write ‘Love.’ Write simply the letter L, and below M and W. That will be: the Love of Man and Woman.”

With the air of an oracle, unshakable and austere, he spoke all sorts of erotic balderdash and almost unexpectedly concluded:

“And so look, Liuba. The desire to love—it’s the same as the desire to eat, to drink, and to breathe the air.” He would squeeze her thigh hard, considerably above the knee; and she again, becoming confused and not wishing to offend him, would try almost imperceptibly to move her leg away gradually.

“Tell me, would it be offensive, now, for your sister, mother, or for your husband, that you by chance had not dined at home, but had gone into a restaurant or a cook-shop, and had there satisfied your hunger? And so with love. No more, no less. A physiological enjoyment. Perhaps more powerful, more keen, than all others, but that’s all. Thus, for example, now: I want you as a woman. While you …”

“Oh, drop it, Mister,” Liubka cut him short with vexation. “Well, what are you harping on one and the same thing for all the time? Change your act. You’ve been told: no and no. Don’t you think I see what you’re trying to get at? But only I’ll never agree to unfaithfulness, seeing as how Vasilli Vasillievich is my benefactor, and I adore him with all my soul… And you’re even pretty disgusting to me with your nonsense.”

Once he caused Liubka a great and scandalous hurt, and all because of his theoretical first principles. As at the university they were already for a long time talking about Lichonin’s having saved a girl from such and such a house; and that now he is taken up with her moral regeneration; that rumour, naturally, also reached the studying girls, who frequented the student circles. And so, none other than Simanovsky once brought to Liubka two female medicos, one historian, and one beginning poetess, who, by the way, was already writing critical essays as well. He introduced them in the most serious and fool-like manner.

“Here,” he said, stretching out his hand, now in the direction of the guests, now of Liubka, “here, comrades, get acquainted. You, Liuba, will find in them real friends, who will help you on your radiant path; while you—comrades, Liza, Nadya, Sasha and Rachel—you will regard as elder sisters a being who has just struggled out of that horrible darkness into which the social structure places the modern woman.”

He spoke not exactly so, perhaps; but in any case, approximately in that manner. Liubka turned red, extended her hand, with all the fingers clumsily folded together, to the young ladies in coloured blouses and in leather belts; regaled them with tea and jam; promptly helped them with lights for cigarettes; but, despite all invitations, did not want to sit down for anything. She would say: “Yes-ss, n-no, as you wish.” And when one of the young ladies dropped a handkerchief on the floor, she hurriedly made a dash to pick it up.

One of the maidens, red, stout, and with a bass voice, whose face, all in all, consisted of only a pair of red cheeks, out of which mirth-provokingly peeped out a hint at an upturned nose, and with a pair of little black eyes, like tiny raisins, sparkling out of their depths, was inspecting Liubka from head to feet, as though through an imaginary lorgnette; directing over her a glance which said nothing, but was contemptuous. “Why, I haven’t been getting anybody away from her,” thought Liubka guiltily. But another was so tactless, that she—perhaps for the first time for her, but the hundredth for Liubka—began a conversation about: how had she happened upon the path of prostitution? This was a bustling young lady, pale, very pretty, ethereal; all in little light curls, with the air of a spoiled kitten and even a little pink cat’s bow on her neck.

“But tell me, who was this scoundrel, now … who was the first to … well, you understand? …”

In the mind of Liubka quickly flashed the images of her former mates, Jennka and Tamara, so proud, so brave and resourceful—oh, far brainier than these maidens—and she, almost unexpectedly for herself, suddenly said sharply:

“There was a lot of them. I’ve already forgotten. Kolka, Mitka, Volodka, Serejka, Jorjik, Troshka, Petka, and also Kuzka and Guska with a party. But why are you interested?”

“Why… no… that is, I ask as a person who fully sympathizes with you.”

“But have you a lover?”

“Pardon me, I don’t understand what you’re saying. People, it’s time we were going.”

“That is, what don’t you understand? Have you ever slept with a man?”

“Comrade Simanovsky, I had not presupposed that you would bring us to such a person. Thank you. It was exceedingly charming of you!”

It was difficult for Liubka to surmount the first step. She was of those natures which endure long, but tear loose rapidly; and she, usually so timorous, was unrecognizable at this moment.

“But I know!” she was screaming in wrath. “I know, that you’re the very same as I! But you have a papa, a mamma; you’re provided for, and if you have to, then you’ll even commit abortion—many do so. But if you were in my place, when there’s nothing to stuff your mouth with, and a girlie doesn’t understand anything yet, because she can’t read or write; while all around the men are shoving like he-dogs—then you’d be in a sporting house too. It’s a shame to put on airs before a poor girl—that’s what!”

Simanovsky, who had gotten into trouble, said a few general consolatory words in a judicious bass, such as the noble fathers used in olden comedies, and led his ladies off.

But he was fated to play one more very shameful, distressing, and final role in the free life of Liubka. She had already complained to Lichonin for a long time that the presence of Simanovsky was oppressive to her; but Lichonin paid no attention to womanish trifles: the vacuous, fictitious, wordy hypnosis of this man of commands was strong within him. There are influences, to get rid of which is difficult, almost impossible. On the other hand, he was already for a long time feeling the burden of co-habitation with Liubka. Frequently he thought to himself: “She is spoiling my life; I am growing common, foolish; I have become dissolved in fool benevolence; it will end up in my marrying her, entering the excise or the assay office, or getting in among pedagogues; I’ll be taking bribes, will gossip, and become an abominable provincial morel. And where are my dreams of the power of thought, the beauty of life, of love and deeds for all humanity?” he would say, at times even aloud, and pull his hair. And for that reason, instead of attentively going into Liubka’s complaints, he would lose his temper, yell, stamp his feet, and the patient, meek Liubka would grow quiet and retire into the kitchen, to have a good cry there.

Now more and more frequently, after family quarrels, in the minutes of reconciliation he would say to Liubka:

“My dear Liuba, you and I do not suit each other, comprehend that. Look: here are a hundred roubles for you, ride home. Your relatives will receive you as their own. Live there a while, look around you. I will come for you after half a year; you’ll have become rested, and, of course, all that’s filthy, nasty, that has been grafted upon you by the city, will go away, will die off. And you’ll begin a new life independently, without any assistance, alone and proud!”

But then, can anything be done with a woman who has come to love for the first, and, of course, as it seems to her, for the last time? Can she be convinced of the necessity for parting? Does logic exist for her?

Always reverent before the firmness of the words and decisions of Simanovsky, Lichonin, however, surmised and by instinct understood his real relation to Liubka; and in his desire to free himself, to shake off a chance load beyond his strength, he would catch himself in a nasty little thought: “She pleases Simanovsky; and as for her, isn’t it all the same if it’s he or I or a third? Guess I’ll make a clean breast of it, explain things to him and yield Liubka up to him like a comrade. But then, the fool won’t go. Will raise a rumpus.”

“Or just to come upon the two of them together, somehow,” he would ponder further, “in some decisive pose… to raise a noise, make a row… A noble gesture… a little money and… a getaway.”

He now frequently, for several days, would not return home; and afterwards, having come, would undergo torturesome hours of feminine interrogations, scenes, tears, even hysterical fits. Liubka would at times watch him in secret, when he went out of the house; would stop opposite the entrance that he went into, and for hours would await his return in order to reproach him and to cry in the street. Not being able to read, she intercepted his letters and, not daring to turn to the aid of the prince or Soloviev, would save them up in her little cupboard together with sugar, tea, lemon and all sorts of other trash. She had even reached the stage when, in minutes of anger, she threatened him with sulphuric acid.

“May the devil take her,” Lichonin would ponder during the minutes of his crafty plans. “It’s all one, let there even be nothing between them. But I’ll take and make a fearful scene for him, and her.”

And he would declaim to himself:

“Ah, so! … I have warmed you in my bosom, and what do I see now? You are paying me with black ingratitude. … And you, my best comrade, you have attempted my sole happiness! … O, no, no, remain together; I go hence with tears in my eyes. I see, that I am one too many! I do not wish to oppose your love, etc., etc.”

And precisely these dreams, these hidden plans, such momentary, chance, and, at bottom, vile ones—of those to which people later do not confess to themselves—were suddenly fulfilled. It was the turn of Soloviev’s lesson. To his great happiness, Liubka had at last read through almost without faltering: “A good plough has Mikhey, and a good one has Sisoi as well… a swallow… a swing … the children love God…” And as a reward for this Soloviev read aloud to her Of the Merchant Kalashnikov and of Kiribeievich, Life-guardsman of Czar Ivan the Fourth. Liubka from delight bounced in her armchair, clapped her hands. The beauty of this monumental, heroic work had her in its grasp. But she did not have a chance to express her impressions in full. Soloviev was hurrying to a business appointment. And immediately, coming to meet Soloviev, having barely exchanged greetings with him in the doorway, came Simanovsky. Liubka’s face sadly lengthened and her lips pouted. For this pedantic teacher and coarse male had become very repugnant to her of late.

This time he began a lecture on the theme that for man there exist no laws, no rights, no duties, no honour, no vileness; and that man is a quantity self-sufficient, independent of anyone and anything.

“It’s possible to be a God, possible to be an intestinal worm, a tape worm—it’s all the same.”

He already wanted to pass on to the theory of amatory emotions; but, it is to be regretted, he hurried a trifle from impatience: he embraced Liubka, drew her to him and began to squeeze her roughly. “She’ll become intoxicated from caressing. She’ll give in!” thought the calculating Simanovsky. He sought to touch her mouth with his lips for a kiss, but she screamed and snorted spit at him. All the assumed delicacy had left her.

“Get out, you mangy devil, fool, swine, dirt! I’ll smash your snout for you! …”

All the lexicon of the establishment had come back to her; but Simanovsky, having lost his pince-nez, his face distorted, was looking at her with blurred eyes and jabbering whatever came into his head:

“My dear … It’s all the same … a second of enjoyment! … You and I will blend in enjoyment! … No one will find out! … Be mine! …”

It was just at this very minute that Lichonin walked into the room.

Of course, at soul he did not admit to himself that this minute he would commit a vileness; but only somehow from the side, at a distance, reflected that his face was pale, and that his immediate words would be tragic and of great significance.

“Yes!” he said dully, like an actor in the fourth act of a drama; and, letting his hands drop impotently, began to shake his chin, which had fallen upon his breast. “I expected everything, only not this. You I excuse, Liuba—you are a cave being; but you, Simanovsky … I esteemed you … however, I still esteem you a decent man. But I know, that passion is at times stronger than the arguments of reason. Right here are fifty roubles—I am leaving them for Liuba; you, of course, will return them to me later, I have no doubt of that. Arrange her destiny … You are a wise, kind, honest man, while I am … (“A skunk!” somebody’s distinct voice flashed through his head.) I am going away, because I will not be able to bear this torture any more. Be happy.”

He snatched out of his pocket and with effect threw his wallet on the table; then seized his hair and ran out of the room.

Still, this was the best way out for him. And the scene had been played out precisely as he had dreamt of it.

< < < Chapter XVI
Part III – Chapter I > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Yama (the Pit) – Contents

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