Yama (the Pit) by Alexander Kuprin

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

< < < Chapter VI
Chapter VIII > > >

Part III

Chapter VII

On the next day, on Sunday, Tamara had a multitude of cares. She had become possessed by a firm and undeviating thought to bury her friend despite all circumstances, in the way that nearest friends are buried—in a Christian manner, with all the sad solemnity of the burial of secular persons.

She belonged to the number of those strange persons who underneath an external indolent calmness, careless taciturnity, egotistical withdrawal into one’s self, conceal within them unusual energy; always as though slumbering with half an eye, guarding itself from unnecessary expenditure; but ready in one moment to become animated and to rush forward without reckoning the obstacles.

At twelve o’clock she descended in a cab into the old town; rode through it into a little narrow street giving out upon a square where fairs were held; and stopped near a rather dirty tea-room, having ordered the cabby to wait. In the room she made inquiries of a boy, red-haired, with a badger hair-cut and the parting slicked down with butter, if Senka the Depot had not come here? The serving lad, who, judging by his refined and gallant readiness, had already known Tamara for a long time, answered that “Nohow, ma’am; they—Semen Ignatich—had not been in yet, and probably would not be here soon seein’ as how yesterday they had the pleasure of going on a spree at the Transvaal, and had played at billiards until six in the morning; and that now they, in all probabilities, are at home, in the Half Way House rooms, and if the young lady will give the word, then it’s possible to hop over to them this here minute.”

Tamara asked for paper and pencil, and wrote a few words right on the spot. Then she gave the note to the waiter, together with a half-rouble piece for a tip, and rode away.

The following visit was to the artiste Rovinskaya, living, as Tamara had known even before, in the city’s most aristocratic hotel—Europe—where she occupied several rooms in a consecutive suite. To obtain an interview with the singer was not very easy: the doorman below said that it looked as if Ellena Victorovna was not at home; while her own personal maid, who came out in answer to Tamara’s knocking, declared that madam had a headache, and that she was not receiving any one. Again Tamara was compelled to write on a piece of paper:

“I come to you from her who once, in a house which is not spoken of loudly, cried, standing before you on her knees, after you had sung the ballad of Dargomyzhsky. Your kind treatment of her was so splendid. Do you remember? Do not fear—she has no need of any one’s help now: yesterday she died. But you can do one very important deed in her memory, which will be almost no trouble to you at all. While I—am that very person who permitted herself to say a few bitter truths to the baroness T—, who was then with you; for which truths I am remorseful and apologize even now.”

“Hand this over!” she ordered the chambermaid.

She returned after two minutes.

“The madam requests you. They apologize very much that they will receive you not fully dressed.”

She escorted Tamara, opened a door before her and quietly shut it.

The great artiste was lying upon an enormous ottoman, covered with a beautiful Tekin rug and a multitude of little silk pillows, and soft cylindrical bolsters of tapestry. Her feet were wrapped up in silvery, soft fur. Her fingers, as usual, were adorned by a multiplicity of rings with emeralds, attracting the eyes by their deep and tender green.

The artiste was having one of her evil, black days to-day. Yesterday morning some misunderstandings with the management had arisen; while in the evening the public had received her not as triumphantly as she would have desired, or, perhaps, this had simply appeared so to her; while to-day in the newspaper the fool of a reviewer, who understood just as much of art as a cow does of astronomy, had praised up her rival, Titanova, in a big article. And so Ellena Victorovna had persuaded herself that her head was aching; that there was a nervous tic in her temples; and that her heart, time and again, seemed suddenly to fall through somewheres.

“How do you do, my dear!” she said, a trifle nasally, in a weak, wan voice, with pauses, as heroines on the stage speak when dying from love and from consumption. “Sit down here … I am glad to see you … Only don’t be angry—I am almost dying from migraine, and from my miserable heart. Pardon my speaking with difficulty. I think I sang too much and tired my voice …”

Rovinskaya, of course, had recalled both the mad escapade of that evening; and the striking, unforgettable face of Tamara; but now, in a bad mood, in the wearisome, prosaic light of an autumn day, this adventure appeared to her as unnecessary bravado; something artificial, imagined, and poignantly shameful. But she was equally sincere on that strange, night-marish evening when she, through the might of talent, had prostrated the proud Jennka at her feet, as well as now, when she recalled it with fatigue, indolence, and artistic disdain. She, as well as many distinguished artists, was always playing a role; was always not her own self, and always regarded her words, movements, actions, as though looking at herself from a distance with the eyes and feelings of the spectators.

She languidly raised from the pillow her narrow, slender, beautiful hand, and applied it to her forehead; and the mysterious, deep emeralds stirred as though alive and began to flash with a warm, deep sparkle.

“I just read in your note that this poor … pardon me, her name has vanished out of my head…”


“Yes, yes, thank you! I recall it now. She died? But from what?”

“She hanged herself … yesterday morning, during the doctor’s inspection…”

The eyes of the artiste, so listless, seemingly faded, suddenly opened, and, as through a miracle, grew animated and became shining and green, just like her emeralds; and in them were reflected curiosity, fear and aversion.

“Oh, my God! Such a dear, so original, handsome, so fiery … Oh, the poor, poor soul! … And the reason for this was? …”

“You know … the disease. She told you.”

“Yes, yes … I remember, I remember … But to hang one’s self! … What horror! … Why, I advised her to treat herself then. Medicine works miracles now. I myself know several people who absolutely … well, absolutely cured themselves. Everybody in society knows this and receives them … Ah, the poor little thing, the poor little thing! …”

“And so I’ve come to you, Ellena Victorovna. I wouldn’t have dared to disturb you, but I seem to be in a forest, and have no one to turn to. You were so kind then, so touchingly attentive, so tender to us … I need only your advice and, perhaps, a little of your influence, your protection…”

“Oh, please, my dear! … All I can do, I will … Oh, my poor head! And then this horrible news. Tell me, in what way can I be of assistance to you?”

“To confess, I don’t know even myself yet,” answered Tamara. “You see, they carried her away to an anatomical theatre … But until they had made the protocol, until they made the journey—then the time for receiving had gone by also—in general I think that they have not had a chance to dissect her yet … I’d like, if it’s only possible, that she should not be touched. To-day is Sunday; perhaps they’ll postpone it until to-morrow, and in the meanwhile something may be done for her…”

“I can’t tell you, dear … Wait! … Haven’t I some friend among the professors, in the medical world? … I will look later in my memo-books. Perhaps we will succeed in doing something.”

“Besides that,” continued Tamara, “I want to bury her … At my expense … I was attached to her with all my heart during her life.”

“I will help you with pleasure in this, materially…”

“No, no! … A thousand thanks! … I’ll do everything myself. I would not hesitate to have recourse to your kind heart, but this … —you will understand me— … this is something in the nature of a vow, that a person gives to one’s self and to the memory of a friend. The main difficulty is in how we may manage to bury her with Christian rites. She was, it seems, an unbeliever, or believed altogether poorly. And it’s only by chance that I, also, will cross my forehead. But I don’t want them to bury her just like a dog, somewhere beyond the enclosure of the cemetery; in silence, without words, without singing … I don’t know, will they permit burying her properly—with choristers, with priests? For that reason I’m asking you to assist me with your advice. Or, perhaps, you will direct me somewhere? …”

Now the artiste had little by little become interested and was already beginning to forget about her fatigue, and migraine, and the consumptive heroine dying in the fourth act. She was already picturing the role of an intercessor, the beautiful figure of genius merciful to a fallen woman. This was original, extravagant, and at the same time so theatrically touching! Rovinskaya, like many of her confreres, did not let one day pass by—and, if it were possible, she would not have let pass even one hour—without standing out from the crowd, without compelling people to talk about her: to-day she would participate in a pseudo-patriotic manifestation, while to-morrow she would read from a platform, for the benefit of revolutionaries exiled to Siberia, inciting verses, full of fire and vengeance. She loved to sell flowers at carnivals, in riding academies; and to sell champagne at large balls. She would think up her little bon mots beforehand, which on the morrow would be caught up by the whole town. She desired that everywhere and always the crowd should look only at her, repeat her name, love her Egyptian, green eyes, her rapacious and sensuous mouth; her emeralds on the slender and nervous hands.

“I can’t grasp it all properly at once,” said she after a silence. “But if a person wants anything hard, he will attain it, and I want to fulfill your wish with all my soul. Stay, stay! … I think a glorious thought is coming into my head … For then, on that evening, if I mistake not, there was with us, beside the baroness and me…”

“I don’t know them … One of them walked out of the cabinet later than all of you. He kissed Jennie’s hand and said, that if she should ever need him, he was always at her service; and gave her his card, but asked her not to show it to any strangers. But later all this passed off somehow and was forgotten. In some way I never found the time to ask Jennie who this man was; while yesterday I searched for the card but couldn’t find it…”

“Allow me, allow me! … I have recalled it!” the artiste suddenly became animated. “Aha!” exclaimed she, rapidly getting off the ottoman. “It was Ryazanov… Yes, yes, yes… The advocate Ernst Andreievich Ryazanov. We will arrange everything right away. That’s a splendid thought!”

She turned to the little table upon which the telephone apparatus was standing, and rang:

“Central—18-35 please … Thank you … Hello! … Ask Ernst Andreievich to the telephone … The artiste Rovinskaya … Thank you … Hello! … Is this you, Ernst Andreievich? Very well, very well, but now it isn’t a matter of little hands. Are you free? … Drop the nonsense! … The matter is serious. Couldn’t you come up to me for a quarter of an hour? …No, no … Yes … Only as a kind and a clever man. You slander yourself … Well, that’s splendid, really … Well, I am not especially well-dressed, but I have a justification—a fearful headache. No, a lady, a girl … You will see for yourself, come as soon as possible … Thanks! Au revior! …”

“He will come right away,” said Rovinskaya, hanging up the receiver. “He is a charming and awfully clever man. Everything is possible to him, even the almost impossible to man … But in the meantime … pardon me—your name?”

Tamara was abashed, but then smiled at herself:

“Oh, it isn’t worth your disturbing yourself, Ellena Victorovna! Mon nomme de guerre is Tamara but just so—Anastasia Nikolaevna. It’s all the same—call me even Tamara … I am more used to it…”

“Tamara! … That is so beautiful! … So now, Mile. Tamara, perhaps you will not refuse to breakfast with me? Perhaps Ryazanov will also do so with us…”

“I have no time, forgive me.”

“That’s a great pity! … I hope, some other time … But, perhaps you smoke,” and she moved toward her a gold case, adorned with an enormous letter E out of the same emeralds she adored.

Ryazanov came very soon.

Tamara, who had not examined him properly on that evening, was struck by his appearance. Tall of stature, almost of an athletic build, with a broad brow, like Beethoven’s, tangled with artistically negligent black, grizzled hair; with the large fleshy mouth of the passionate orator; with clear, expressive, clever, mocking eyes—he had such an appearance as catches one’s eyes among thousands—the appearance of a vanquisher of souls and a conqueror of hearts; deeply ambitious, not yet oversated with life; still fiery in love and never retreating before a beautiful indiscretion … “If fate had not broken me up so,” reflected Tamara, watching his movements with enjoyment, “then here’s a man to whom I’d throw my life; jestingly, with delight, with a smile, as a plucked rose is thrown to the beloved…”

Ryazanov kissed Rovinskaya’s hand, then with unconstrained simplicity exchanged greetings with Tamara and said:

“We are acquainted even from that mad evening, when you dumbfounded all of us with your knowledge of the French language, and when you spoke. That which you said was, between us, paradoxical; but then, how it was said! … To this day I remember the tone of your voice, so warm, expressive … And so, Ellena Victorovna,” he turned to Rovinskaya again, sitting down on a small, low chair without a back, “in what can I be of use to you? I am at your disposal.”

Rovinskaya, with a languid air, again applied the tips of her fingers to her temples.

“Ah, really, I am so upset, my dear Ryazanov,” said she, intentionally extinguishing the sparkle of her magnificent eyes, “and then, my miserable head … May I trouble you to pass me the pyramidon what-not from that table … Let Mile. Tamara tell you everything … I can not, I am not able to … This is so horrible! …”

Tamara briefly, lucidly, narrated to Ryazanov all the sad history of Jennka’s death; recalled also about the card left with Jennie; and also how the deceased had reverently preserved this card; and—in passing—about his promise to help in case of need.

“Of course, of course!” exclaimed Ryanzanov, when she had finished; and at once began pacing the room back and forth with big steps, ruffling and tossing back his picturesque hair through habit. “You are performing a magnificent, sincere, comradely action! That is good! … That is very good! … I am yours … You say—a permit for the funeral … Hm … God grant me memory!…”

He rubbed his forehead with his palm.

“Hm … hm … If I’m not mistaken—Monocanon, rule one hundred seventy … one hundred seventy … eight … Pardon me, I think I remember it by heart … Pardon me! … Yes, so! ‘If a man slayeth himself, he shall not be chanted over, nor shall a mass be said for him, unless he were greatly astonied, that is, to wit, out of his mind’… Hm … See St. Timothy Alexandrine … And so, my dear miss, the first thing … You say, that she was taken down from the noose by your doctor—i.e., the official city doctor … His name? …”


“It seems I’ve met him somewheres … All right … Who is the district inspector in your precinct station?”


“Aha, I know … Such a strong, virile fellow, with a red beard in a fan … Yes?”

“Yes, that is he.”

“I know him very well! There, now, is somebody that a sentence to hard labour is hankering after … Some ten times he fell into my hands; and always, the skunk, gave me the slip somehow. Slippery, just like an eel-pout … We will have to slip him a little present. Well, now! And then the anatomical theatre … When do you want to bury her?”

“Really, I don’t know … I would like to do it as soon as possible … if possible, to-day.”

“Hm … To-day … I don’t vouch for it—we will hardly manage it … But here is my memorandum book. Well, take even this page, where are my friends under the letter T—just write the very same way: Tamara, and your address. In two hours I will give you an answer. Does that suit you? But I repeat again, that probably you will have to postpone the burial till to-morrow … Then—pardon my unceremoniousness—is money needed, perhaps?”

“No, thank you!” refused Tamara. “I have money. Thanks for your interest! … It’s time for me to be going. I thank you with all my heart, Ellen Victorovna! …”

“Then expect it in two hours,” repeated Ryazanov, escorting her to the door.

Tamara did not at once ride away to the house. She turned into a little coffee-house on Catholicheskaya Street on the way. There Senka the Depot was waiting for her—a gay fellow with the appearance of a handsome Tzigan; not black—but blue-haired; black-eyed, with yellow whites; resolute and daring in his work; the pride of local thieves—a great celebrity in their world, the first leader of experience, and a constant, all-night gamester.

He stretched out his hand to her, without getting up. But in the way in which he so carefully, with a certain force, seated her in her place could be seen a broad, good-natured endearment.

“How do you do, Tamarochka! Haven’t seen you in a long time—I grew weary … Do you want coffee?”

“No! Business first … To-morrow we bury Jennka … She hanged herself…” “Yes, I read it in a newspaper,” carelessly drawled out Senka through his teeth. “What’s the odds? …”

“Get fifty roubles for me at once.”

“Tamarochka, my sweetheart—I haven’t a kopeck! …”

“I’m telling you—get them!” ordered Tamara, imperiously, but without getting angry.

“Oh, my Lord! … Yours, now, I didn’t touch, like I promised; but then, it’s Sunday … The savings banks are closed…”

“Let them! … Hock the savings book! In general, it’s up to you!”

“Why do you need this, my dearie?”

“Isn’t it all the same to you, you fool? … For the funeral.”

“Oh! Well, all right then!” sighed Senka. “Then I’d best bring it to you myself in the evening … Right, Tamarochka? … It’s so very hard for me to stand it without you! Oh, my dearie, how I’d kiss and kiss you; I wouldn’t let you close your eyes! … Shan’t I come? …”

“No, no! … You do as I ask you, Senechka … Give in to me. But you mustn’t come—I’m housekeeper now.”

“Well, what d’you know about that! …” drawled out the astonished Senka and even whistled.

“Yes. And don’t you come to me in the meantime. But afterwards, afterwards, sweetheart, whatever you desire … There will be an end to everything soon!”

“Oh, if you wouldn’t make me suffer so! Wind things up as soon as you can!”

“And I will wind ’em up! Wait one little week more, dearie! Did you get the powders?”

“The powders are a trifle!” discontentedly answered Senka. “And it isn’t powders at all, but pills.”

“And you’re sure when you say that they’ll dissolve at once in water?”

“Sure, I saw it myself.”

“But he won’t die? Listen, Senya: he won’t die? Is that right?…”

“Nothing will happen to him … He’ll only snooze for a while … Oh, Tamara!” exclaimed he in a passionate whisper; and even suddenly stretched himself hard from an unbearable emotion, so that his joints cracked. “Finish it, for God’s sake, as soon as possible! … Let’s do the trick and—bye-bye! Wherever you want to go to, sweet-heart! I am all at your will: if you want to, we start off for Odessa; if you want to—abroad. Finish it up as soon as possible! …”

“Soon, soon…”

“You just wink at me, and I’m all ready … with powders, with instruments, with passports … And then—choo-choo! The machine is off! Tamarochka! My angel! … My precious, my sparkler! …”

And he, always restrained, having forgotten that he could be seen by strangers, already wanted to embrace and hug Tamara to himself.

“Now, now!” … rapidly and deftly, like a cat, Tamara jumped off the chair. “Afterwards … afterwards, Senechka, afterwards, little dearie! … I’ll be all yours—there won’t be any denial, nor forbiddance. I’ll myself make you weary of me … Good-bye, my little silly!”

And with a quick movement of her hand having rumpled up his black curls, she hastily went out of the coffee-house.

< < < Chapter VI
Chapter VIII > > >

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

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