Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Kuprin – Yama (the Pit) – Contents
< < < Chapter IV
Chapter VI > > >
Saturday was the customary day of the doctor’s inspection, for which they prepared very carefully and with quaking in all the houses; as, however, even society ladies prepare themselves, when getting ready for a visit to a physician-specialist; they diligently made their intimate toilet and inevitably put on clean underthings, even as dressy as possible. The windows toward the street were closed with shutters, while at one of those windows, which gave out upon the yard, was put a table with a hard bolster to put under the back.
All the girls were agitated … “And what if there’s a disease, which I haven’t noticed myself? … And then the despatch to a hospital; disgrace; the tedium of hospital life; bad food; the hard course of treatment…”
Only Big Manka—or otherwise Manka the Crocodile—Zoe, and Henrietta—all thirty years old, and, therefore, in the reckoning of Yama, already old prostitutes, who had seen everything, had grown inured to everything, grown indifferent to their trade, like white, fat circus horses—remained imperturbably calm. Manka the Crocodile even often said of herself:
“I have gone through fire and water and pipes of brass … Nothing will stick to me any more.”
Jennka, since morning, was meek and pensive. She presented to Little White Manka a golden bracelet; a medallion upon a thin little chain with her photograph; and a silver neck crucifix. Tamara she moved through entreaty into taking two rings for remembrance: one of silver, in three hoops, that could be moved apart, with a heart in the middle, and under it two hands that clasped one another when all the three parts of the ring were joined; while the other was of thin gold wire with an almandine.
“As for my underwear, Tamarochka—you give it to Annushka, the chambermaid. Let her wash it out well and wear it in good health, in memory of me.”
The two of them were sitting in Tamara’s room. Jennka had in the very morning sent after cognac; and now slowly, as though lazily, was imbibing wine-glass after wine-glass, eating lemon and a piece of sugar after drinking. Tamara was observing this for the first time and wondered, because Jennka had always disliked wine, and drank very rarely; and then only at the constraint of guests.
“What are you giving stuff away so to-day?” asked Tamara. “Just as though you’d gotten ready to die, or to go into a convent?”
“Yes, and I will go away,” answered Jennka listlessly. “I am weary, Tamarochka! …”
“Well, which one of us has a good time?”
“Well, no! … It isn’t so much that I’m weary; but somehow everything—everything is all the same … I look at you, at the table, at the bottle; at my hands and feet; and I’m thinking, that all this is alike and everything is to no purpose … There’s no sense in anything … Just like on some old, old picture. Look there—there’s a soldier walking on the street, but it’s all one to me, as though they had wound up a doll, and it’s moving … And that he’s wet under the ram, is also all one to me … And that he’ll die, and I’ll die, and you, Tamara, will die—in this also I see nothing frightful, nothing amazing… So simple and wearisome is everything to me…”
Jennka was silent for a while; drank one more wine-glass; sucked the sugar, and, still looking out at the street, suddenly asked:
“Tell me, please, Tamara, I’ve never asked you about it—from where did you get in here, into the house? You don’t at all resemble all of us; you know everything; for everything that turns up you have a good, clever remark … Even French, now—how well you spoke it that time! But none of us knows anything at all about you … Who are you?”
“Darling Jennechka, really, it’s not worth while … A life like any life … I went to boarding school; was a governess; sang in a choir; then kept a shooting gallery in a summer garden; and then got mixed up with a certain charlatan and taught myself to shoot with a Winchester … I traveled with circuses—I represented an American Amazon. I used to shoot splendidly … Then I found myself in a monastery. There I passed two years … I’ve been through a lot … Can’t recall everything … I used to steal…”
“You’ve lived through a great deal … Checkered-like.”
“But then, my years are not a few. Well, what do you think—how many?”
“Twenty-two, twenty-four? …”
“No, my angel! It just struck thirty-two a week ago. I, if you like, am older than all of you here in Anna Markovna’s. Only I didn’t wonder at anything, didn’t take anything near to heart. As you see, I never drink … I occupy myself very carefully with the care of my body; and the main thing, the very main thing—I don’t allow myself ever to be carried away with men…”
“Well, but what about your Senka? …”
“Senka—that’s a horse of another colour; the heart of woman is foolish, inconsistent … Can it possibly live without love? And even so, I don’t love him, but just so … a self-deception … But, however, I shall be in very great need of Senka soon.”
Jennka suddenly grew animated and looked at her friend with curiosity.
“But how did you come to get stuck right here, in this hole? So clever, handsome, sociable…”
“I’d have to take a long time in telling it … And then I’m too lazy … I got in here out of love; I got mixed up with a certain young man and went into a revolution with him. For we always act so, we women: where the dearie is looking, there we also look; what the dearie sees, that we also see … I didn’t believe at soul in his work, but I went. A flattering man he was; smart, a good talker, a good looker … Only he proved to be a skunk and a traitor afterwards. He played at revolution; while he himself gave his comrades away to the gendarmes. A stool-pigeon, he was. When they had killed and shown him up, then all the foolishness left me. However, it was necessary to conceal myself … I changed my passport. Then they advised me, that the easiest thing of all was to screen myself with a yellow ticket … And then the fun began! … And even here I’m on a sort of pasture ground; when the time comes, the successful moment arrives—I’ll go away!”
“Where?” asked Jennie with impatience.
“The world is large … And I love life! … There, now, I was the same way in the convent: I lived on and I lived on; sang antiphonies and dulias, until I had rested up, and had finally grown weary of it; and then all at once—hop! and into a cabaret … Wasn’t that some jump? The same way out of here … I’ll get into a theatre, into a circus, into a corps de ballet … but do you know, Jennechka, I’m drawn to the thieving trade the most, after all … Daring, dangerous, hard, and somehow intoxicating … It’s drawing me! … Don’t you mind that I’m so respectable and modest, and can appear an educated young lady. I’m entirely, entirely different.”
Her eyes suddenly blazed up, vividly and gaily.
“There’s a devil dwells in me!”
“It’s all very well for you,” pensively and with weariness pronounced Jennie. “You at least desire something, but my soul is some sort of carrion … I’m twenty-five years old, now; but my soul is like that of an old woman, shrivelled up, smelling of the earth … And if I had only lived sensibly! … Ugh! … There was only some sort of slush.”
“Drop it, Jennka; you’re talking foolishly. You’re smart, you’re original; you have that special power before which men crawl and creep so willingly. You go away from here, too. Not with me, of course—I’m always single—but go away all by your own self.”
Jennka shook her head and quietly, without tears, hid her face in her palms.
“No,” she responded dully, after a long silence, “no, this won’t work out with me: fate has chewed me all up! … I’m not a human being any more, but some sort of dirty cud … Eh!” she suddenly made a gesture of despair. ‘Let’s better drink some cognac, Jennechka,’” she addressed herself, “‘and let’s suck the lemon a little! …’ Brr … what nasty stuff! … And where does Annushka always get such abominable stuff? If you smear a dog’s wool with it, it will fall off … And always, the low-down thing, she’ll take an extra half. Once I somehow ask her—’What are you hoarding money for?’ ‘Well, I,’ she says, ‘am saving it up for a wedding. What sort,’ she says, ‘of joy will it be for my husband, that I’ll offer him up my innocence alone! I must earn a few hundreds in addition.’ She’s happy! … I have here, Tamara, a little money in the little box under the mirror; you pass it on to her, please…”
“And what are you about, you fool; do you want to die, or what?” sharply, with reproach, said Tamara.
“No, I’m saying it just so, if anything happens … Take it, now, take the money! Maybe they’ll take me off to the hospital … And how do you know what’s going to take place there? I left myself some small change, if anything happens … And supposing that I wanted to do something to myself in downright earnest, Tamarochka—is it possible that you’d interfere with me?”
Tamara looked at her fixedly, deeply, and calmly. Jennie’s eyes were sad, and as though vacant. The living fire had become extinguished in them, and they seemed turbid, just as though faded, with whites like moonstone.
“No,” Tamara said at last, quietly but firmly. “If it was on account of love, I’d interfere; if it was on account of money, I’d talk you out of it: but there are cases where one must not interfere. I wouldn’t help, of course; but I also wouldn’t seize you and interfere with you.”
At this moment the quick-limbed housekeeper Zociya whirled through the corridor with an outcry:
“Ladies, get dressed! The doctor has arrived … Ladies, get dressed! … Lively, ladies! …”
“Well, go on, Tamara, go on,” said Jennka tenderly, getting up. “I’ll run into my room for just a minute—I haven’t changed my dress yet, although, to tell the truth, this also is all one. When they’ll be calling out for me, and I don’t come in time, call out, run in after me.”
And, going out of Tamara’s room, she embraced her by the shoulder, as though by chance, and stroked it tenderly.
Doctor Klimenko—the official city doctor—was preparing in the parlor everything indispensable for an inspection—vaseline, a solution of sublimate, and other things—and was placing them on a separate little table. Here also were arranged for him the white blanks of the girls, replacing their passports, as well as a general alphabetical list. The girls, dressed only in their chemises, stockings, and slippers, were standing and sitting at a distance. Nearer the table was standing the proprietress herself—Anna Markovna—while a little behind her were Emma Edwardovna and Zociya.
The doctor—aged, disheartened, slovenly; a man indifferent to everything—put the pince-nez crookedly upon his nose, looked at the list, and called out:
“Alexandra Budzinskaya! …”
The frowning, little, pug-nosed Nina stepped out. Preserving on her face an angry expression, and breathing heavily from shame, from the consciousness of her own awkwardness, and from the exertions, she clumsily climbed up on the table. The doctor, squinting through his pince-nez and dropping it every minute, carried out the inspection.
“Go ahead! … You’re sound.”
And on the reverse side of the blank he marked off: “Twenty-eighth of August. Sound” and put down a curly-cue. And when he had not even finished writing called out:
“Voshchenkova, Irene! …”
Now it was the turn of Liubka. She, during the past month and a half of comparative freedom, had had time to grow unaccustomed to the inspections of every week; and when the doctor turned up the chemise over her breast, she suddenly turned as red as only very bashful women can—even with her back and breast.
After her was the turn of Zoe; then of Little White Manka; after that of Tamara and Niurka—the last, the doctor found, had gonorrhoea, and ordered her to be sent off to a hospital.
The doctor carried out the inspection with amazing rapidity. It was now nearly twenty years that every week, on Saturdays, he had to inspect in such a manner several hundred girls; and he had worked out that habitual technical dexterity and rapidity, a calm carelessness of movements, which is; frequently to be found in circus artists, in card sharpers, in furniture movers and packers, and in other professionals. And he carried out his manipulations with the same calmness with which a drover or a veterinary inspects several hundred head of cattle in a day.
Did he ever think that before him were living people; or that he appeared as the last and most important link of that fearful chain which is called legalized prostitution?
No! And even if he did experience this, then it must have been in the very beginning of his career. Now before him were only naked abdomens, naked backs, and opened mouths. Not one exemplar of all this faceless herd of every Saturday would he have recognized subsequently on the street. The main thing was the necessity of finishing as soon as possible the inspection in one establishment, in order to pass on to another, to a third, a ninth, a twentieth…
“Susannah Raitzina!” the doctor finally called out.
No one walked up to the table.
All the inmates of the house began to exchange glances and to whisper.
“Jennka … Where’s Jennka? …”
But she was not among the girls.
Then Tamara, just released by the doctor, moved a little forward and said:
“She isn’t here. She hasn’t had a chance to get herself ready yet. Excuse me, Mr. Doctor, I’ll go right away and call her.”
She ran into the corridor and did not return for a long time. After her went, at first Emma Edwardovna, then Zociya, several girls, and even Anna Markovna herself.
“PFUI! What indecency is this! …” the majestic Emma Edwardovna was saying in the corridor, making an indignant face. “And eternally this Jennka! … Always this Jennka! … It seems my patience has already burst …”
But Jennka was nowhere—neither in her room, nor in Tamara’s. They looked into other chambers, in all the out-of-the-way corners … But she did not prove to be even there.
“We must look in the water-closet … Perhaps she’s there?” surmised Zoe.
But this institution was locked from the inside with a bolt. Emma Edwardovna knocked on the door with her fist.
“Jennie, do come out at last! What foolishness is this?”
And, raising her voice, she cried out impatiently and threateningly:
“Do you hear, you swine? … Come out this minute—the doctor’s waiting!”
But there was no answer of any sort.
All exchanged glances with fear in their eyes, with one and the same thought in mind.
Emma Edwardovna shook the door by the brass knob, but the door did not yield.
“Go after Simeon!” Anna Markovna directed.
Simeon was called … He came, sleepy and morose, as was his wont. By the distracted faces of the girls and the housekeepers, he already saw that some misunderstanding or other had occurred, in which his professional cruelty and strength were required. When they explained to him what the matter was, he silently took the door-knob with both hands, braced himself against the wall, and gave a yank.
The knob remained in his hands; and he himself, staggering backward, almost fell to the floor on his back.
“A-a, hell!” he began to growl in a stifled voice. “Give me a table knife.”
Through the crack of the door he felt the inner bolt with the table knife; whittled away with the blade the edges of the crack, and widened it so that he could at last push the end of the knife through it, and began gradually to scrape back the bolt. Only the grating of metal against metal could be heard.
Finally Simeon threw the door wide open.
Jennka was hanging in the middle of the water-closet on a tape from her corset, fastened to the lamphook. Her body, already motionless after an unprolonged agony, was slowly swinging in the air, and describing scarcely perceptible turns to the right and left around its vertical axis. Her face was bluishly-purple, and the tip of the tongue was thrust out between clenched and bared teeth. The lamp which had been taken off was also here, sprawling on the floor.
Some one began to squeal hysterically, and all the girls, like a stampeded herd, crowding and jostling each other in the narrow corridor, vociferating and choking with hysterical sobbings, started in to run.
The doctor came upon hearing the outcries… Came, precisely, and not ran. Seeing what the matter was, he did not become amazed or excited; during his practice as an official city doctor, he had had his fill of seeing such things, so that he had already grown benumbed and hardened to human sufferings, wounds and death. He ordered Simeon to lift the corpse of Jennka a bit upward, and himself getting up on the seat, cut through the tape. Proforma, he ordered Jennka’s body to be borne away into the room that had been hers, and tried with the help of the same Simeon to produce artificial respiration; but after five minutes gave it up as a bad job, fixed the pince-nez, which had become crooked, on his nose, and said:
“Call the police in to make a protocol.”
Again Kerbesh came, again whispered for a long time with the proprietress in her little bit of a cabinet, and again crunched in his pocket a new hundred-rouble bill.
The protocol was made in five minutes; and Jennka, just as half-naked as she had hung herself, was carted away in a hired wagon into an anatomical theatre, wrapped up in and covered with two straw mats.
Emma Edwardovna was the first to find the note that Jennka had left on her night table. On a sheet, torn out of the income-expense book, compulsory for every prostitute, in pencil, in a naive, rounded, childish handwriting—by which, however, it could be judged that the hands of the suicide had not trembled during the last minutes—was written:
“I beg that no one be blamed for my death. I am dying because I have become infected, and also because all people are scoundrels and it is very disgusting to live. How to divide my things—Tamara knows about that. I told her in detail.”
Emma Edwardovna turned around upon Tamara, who was right on the spot among a number of other girls, and with eyes filled with a cold, green hatred, hissed out:
“Then you knew, you low-down thing, what she was preparing to do? … You knew, you vermin? … You knew and didn’t tell? …”
She already had swung back, in order, as was her wont, to hit Tamara cruelly and calculatingly; but suddenly stopped just as she was, with gaping mouth and with eyes wide open. It was just as though she was seeing, for the first time, Tamara, who was looking at her with a firm, wrathful, unbearable gaze, and slowly, slowly was raising from below, and at last brought up to the level of the housekeeper’s face, a small object, glistening with white metal.
< < < Chapter IV
Chapter VI > > >
Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Kuprin – Yama (the Pit) – Contents
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