Yama (the Pit) by Alexander Kuprin

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

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Part III

Chapter IX

And in reality, the words of Tamara proved to be prophetic: since the funeral of Jennie not more than two weeks had passed, but during this brief space of time so many events burst over the house of Emma Edwardovna as do not befall sometimes even in half a decade.

On the very next day they had to send off to a charitable institution—into a lunatic asylum—the unfortunate Pashka, who had fallen completely into feeble-mindedness. The doctors said that there was no hope of her ever improving. And in reality, as they had placed her in the hospital on the floor, upon a straw mattress, so did she remain upon it without getting up from it to her very death; submerging more and more into the black, bottomless abyss of quiet feeble-mindedness; but she died only half a year later, from bed-sores and infection of the blood.

The next turn was Tamara’s.

For about half a month she fulfilled the duties of a housekeeper, was all the time unusually active, energetic; and somehow unwontedly wound up with that inner something of her own, which was so strongly fomenting within her. On a certain evening she vanished, and did not return at all to the establishment…

The matter of fact was, that in the city she had carried on a protracted romance with a certain notary—an elderly man, sufficiently rich, but exceedingly niggardly. Their acquaintance had been scraped up yet a year back, when they had been by chance travelling together on the same steamer to a suburban monastery, and had begun a conversation. The clever, handsome Tamara; her enigmatic, depraved smile; her entertaining conversation; her modest manner of deporting herself, had captivated the notary. She had even then marked down for herself this elderly man with picturesque gray hair, with seigniorial manners; an erstwhile jurisconsult and a man of good family. She did not tell him about her profession—it pleased her rather to mystify him. She only hazily, in a few words, hinted at the fact that she was a married lady of the middle class; that she was unfortunate in domestic life, since her husband was a gambler and a despot; and that even by fate she was denied such a consolation as children. At parting she refused to pass an evening with the notary, and did not want to meet him; but then she allowed him to write to her—general delivery, under a fictitious name. A correspondence commenced between them, in which the notary flaunted his style and the ardency of his feelings, worthy of the heroes of Paul Bourget. She maintained the same withdrawn, mysterious tone.

Then, being touched by the entreaties of the notary for a meeting, she made an appointment in Prince Park; was charming, witty, and languishing; but refused to go with him anywhere.

So she tortured her adorer and skillfully inflamed within him the last passion, which at times is stronger and more dangerous than first love. Finally, this summer, when the family of the notary had gone abroad, she decided to visit his rooms; and here for the first time gave herself up to him with tears, with twinges of her conscience, and at the same time with such ardour and tenderness, that the poor secretary lost his head completely—was plunged entirely into that senile love, which no longer knows either reason or retrospect; which compels a man to lose the last thing—the fear of appearing ridiculous.

Tamara was very sparing of her meetings. This inflamed her impatient friend still more. She consented to receiving from him bouquets of flowers, a modest breakfast in a suburban restaurant; but indignantly refused all expensive presents, and bore herself so skillfully and subtly, that the notary never got up the courage to offer her money. When he once stammered out something about a separate apartment and other conveniences, she looked him in the eyes so intently, haughtily, and sternly, that he, like a boy, turned red in his picturesque gray hairs, and kissed her hands, babbling incoherent apologies.

So did Tamara play with him, and feel the ground more and more under her. She already knew now on what days the notary kept in his fireproof iron safe especially large sums. However, she did not hurry, fearing to spoil the business through clumsiness or prematurity.

And so right now this long expected day arrived; a great contractors’ fair had just ended, and all the notaries’ offices were transacting deals for enormous suras every day. Tamara knew that the notary usually carried off the money to the bank on Saturdays, in order to be perfectly free on Sunday. And for that reason on Friday the notary received the following letter:

“My dear, my adored King Solomon! Thy Shoilamite, thy girl of the vineyard, greets thee with burning kisses … Dear, to-day is a holiday for me, and I am infinitely happy. To-day I am free, as well as you. HE has gone away to Homel for twenty-four hours on business matters, and I want to pass all the evening and ALL the night in your place. Ah, my beloved! All my life I am ready to pass on my knees before thee. I do not want to go anywhere. The suburban road-houses and cabarets have bored me long ago. I want you, only you … you … you alone. Await me, then, in the evening, my joy, about ten-eleven-o’clock! Prepare a great quantity of cold white wine, a canteloupe, and sugared chestnuts. I am burning, I am dying from desire! It seems to me, I will tire you out! I can not wait! My head is spinning around, my face burning, and my hands as cold as ice. I embrace you. Thy Valentina.”

That very same evening, about eleven o’clock, she artfully, through conversation, led the notary into showing her his fireproof safe; playing upon his odd, pecuniary vanity. Rapidly gliding with her glance over the shelves and the movable boxes, Tamara turned away with a skillfully executed yawn and said:

“Fie, what a bore!”

And, having embraced the notary’s neck, she whispered with her lips at his very ears, burning him with her hot breath:

“Lock up this nastiness, my treasure! Let’s go! …. Let’s go! …”

And she was the first to go out into the dining room.

“Come here, now, Volodya!” she cried out from there. “Come quicker! I want wine and after that love, love, love without end! … No! Drink it all, to the very bottom! Just as we will drain our love to the very bottom today!”

The notary clinked glasses with her and at one gulp drank off his glass. Then he drew in his lips and remarked:

“Strange … The wine seems to be sort of bitter to-day.”

“Yes!” agreed Tamara and looked attentively at her lover. “This wine is always the least bit bitter. For such is the nature of Rhine wines…”

“But to-day it’s especially strong,” said the notary. “No, thanks, my dear—I don’t want any more!”

After five minutes he fell asleep, sitting in his chair; his head thrown back against its back, and his lower jaw hanging down. Tamara waited for some time and started to awaken him. He was without motion. Then she took the lit candle, and, having placed it on the window sill giving out upon the street, went out into the entrance hall and began to listen, until she heard light steps on the stairs. Almost without a sound she opened the door and let in Senka, dressed like a real gentleman, with a brand new leather hand-bag in his hands.

“Ready?” asked the thief in a whisper.

“He’s sleeping,” answered Tamara, just as quietly. “Look and here are the keys.”

They passed together into the study with the fireproof safe. Having looked over the lock with the aid of a flashlight, Senka swore in a low voice:

“The devil take him, the old animal! … I just knew that it would be a lock with a combination. Here you’ve got to know the letters … It’s got to be melted with electricity, and the devil knows how much time it’ll take.”

“It’s not necessary,” retorted Tamara hurriedly. “I know the word … Pick it out: m-o-r-t-g-a-g-. Without the e.”

After ten minutes they descended the steps together; went in purposely broken lines through several streets, hiring a cab to the depot only in the old city; and rode out of the city with irreproachable passports of citizens and landed proprietors—the Stavnitzkys, man and wife. For a long time nothing was heard of them until, a year later, Senka was caught in Moscow in a large theft, and gave Tamara away during the interrogation. They were both tried and sentenced to imprisonment.

Following Tamara came the turn of the naive, trusting, and amorous Verka. For a long time already she had been in love with a semi-military man, who called himself a civic clerk in the military department. His name was Dilectorsky. In their relations Verka was the adoring party; while he, like an important idol, condescendingly received the worship and the proffered gifts. Even from the end of summer Verka noticed that her beloved was becoming more and more cold and negligent; and, talking with her, was dwelling in thought somewhere far, far away. She tortured herself, was jealous, questioned him, but always received in answer some indeterminate phrases, some ominous hints at a near misfortune, at a premature grave …

In the beginning of September he finally confessed to her, that he had embezzled official money, big money, something around three thousand; and that after five days he would be checked up, and that he, Dilectorsky, was threatened with disgrace, the court, and finally, hard labour … Here the civic clerk of the military department burst into sobs, clasping his head, and exclaimed:

“My poor mother! … What will become of her? She will not be able to sustain this degradation … No! Death is a thousand times better than these hellish tortures of a being guilty of naught.”

Although he was expressing himself, as always, in the style of the dime novels (in which way he had mainly enticed the trusting Verka), still, the theatrical thought of suicide, once arisen, no longer forsook him.

Somehow one day he was promenading for a long time with Verka in Prince Park. Already greatly devastated by autumn, this wonderful ancient park glistened and played with the magnificent tones of the foliage, blossoming out into colours: crimson, purple, lemon, orange and the deep cherry colour of old, settled wine; and it seemed that the cold air was diffusing sweet odours, like precious wine. And yet, a fine impress, a tender aroma of death, was wafted from the bushes, from the grass, from the trees.

Dilectorsky waxed tender; gave his feelings a free rein, was moved over himself, and began to weep. Verka wept a bit with him, too.

“To-day I will kill myself!” said Dilectorsky finally. “All is over! …”

“My own, don’t! … My precious, don’t! …”

“It’s impossible,” answered Dilectorsky sombrely. “The cursed money! … Which is dearer—honour or life?!”

“My dear…”

“Don’t speak, don’t speak, Annetta!” (He, for some reason, preferred to the common name of Verka the aristocratic Annetta, thought up by himself.) “Don’t speak. This is decided!”

“Oh, if only I could help you!” exclaimed Verka woefully. “Why, I’d give my life away … Every drop of blood! …”

“What is life?” Dilectorsky shook his head with an actor’s despondence. “Farewell, Annetta! … Farewell! …”

The girl desperately began to shake her head:

“I don’t want it! … I don’t want it! … I don’t want it! … Take me! … I’ll go with you too! …”

Late in the evening Dilectorsky took a room in an expensive hotel. He knew, that within a few hours, perhaps minutes, he and Verka would be corpses; and for that reason, although he had in his pocket only eleven kopecks, all in all, he gave orders sweepingly, like a habitual, downright prodigal; he ordered sturgeon stew, double snipes, and fruits; and, in addition to all this, coffee, liqueurs and two bottles of frosted champagne. And he was in reality convinced that he would shoot himself; but thought of it somehow affectedly, as though admiring, a trifle from the side, his tragic role; and enjoying beforehand the despair of his relatives and the amazement of his fellow clerks. While Verka, when she had suddenly said that she would commit suicide with her beloved, had been immediately strengthened in this thought. And there was nothing fearful to Verka in this impending death. “Well, now, is it better to croak just so, under a fence? But here it’s together with your dearie! At least a sweet death! …” And she frantically kissed her clerk, laughed, and with dishevelled, curly hair, with sparkling eyes, was prettier than she had ever been.

The final triumphal moment arrived at last.

“You and I have both enjoyed ourselves, Annetta … We have drained the cup to the bottom and now, to use an expression of Pushkin’s, must shatter the goblet!” said Dilectorsky. “You do not repent, oh, my dear? …”

“No, no! …”

“Are you ready?”

“Yes!” whispered she and smiled.

“Then turn away to the wall and shut your eyes!”

“No, no, my dearest, I don’t want it so! … I don’t want it! Come to me! There, so! Nearer, nearer.. Give me your eyes, I will be gazing into them. Give me your lips—I will be kissing you, while you… I am not afraid! … Be braver! … Kiss me harder! …”

He killed her; and when he looked upon the horrible deed of his hands, he then suddenly felt a loathsome, abominable, abject fear. The half-naked body of Verka was still quivering on the bed. The legs of Dilectorsky gave in from horror; but the reason of a hypocrite, coward and blackguard kept vigil: he did still have spirit sufficient to stretch away at his side the skin over his ribs, and to shoot through it. And when he was falling, frantically crying out from pain, from fright, and from the thunder of the shot, the last convulsion was running through the body of Verka.

While two weeks after the death of Verka, the naive, sportful, meek, brawling Little White Manka perished as well. During one of the general, clamourous brawls, usual in the Yamkas, in an enormous affray, some one killed her, hitting her with a heavy empty bottle over the head. And the murderer remained undiscovered to the last.

So rapidly did events take place in the Yamkas, in the house of Emma Edwardovna; and well nigh not a one of its inmates escaped a bloody, foul or disgraceful doom.

The final, most grandiose, and at the same time most bloody calamity was the devastation committed on the Yamkas by soldiers.

Two dragoons had been short-changed in a rouble establishment, beaten up, and thrown out at night into the street. Tom to pieces, in blood, they returned to the barracks, where their comrades, having begun in the morning, were still finishing up their regimental holiday. And so, not half an hour passed, when a hundred soldiers burst into the Yamkas and began to wreck house after house. They were joined by an innumerable mob that gathered on the run—men of the golden squad[31], ragamuffins, tramps, crooks, souteneurs. The panes were broken in all the houses, and the grand pianos smashed to smithereens. The feather beds were ripped open and the down thrown out into the street; and yet for a long while after—for some two days—the countless bits of down flew and whirled over the Yamkas, like flakes of snow. The wenches, bare-headed, perfectly naked, were driven out into the street. Three porters were beaten to death. The rabble shattered, befouled, and rent into pieces all the silk and plush furniture of Treppel. They also smashed up all the neighbouring taverns and drink-shops, while they were at it.

[31] Zolotorotzi—a subtle euphemism for cleaners of cesspools and carters of the wealth contained therein.—trans.

The drunken, bloody, hideous slaughter continued for some three hours; until the arrayed military authorities, together with the fire company, finally succeeded in repulsing and scattering the infuriated mob. Two half-rouble establishments were set on fire, but the fire was soon put out. However, on the next day the tumult again flared up; this time already over the whole city and its environs. Altogether unexpectedly it took on the character of a Jewish pogrom, which lasted for three days, with all its horrors and miseries.

And a week after followed the order of the governor-general about the immediate shutting down of houses of prostitution, on the Yamkas as well as other streets of the city. The proprietresses were given only a week’s time for the settlement of matters in connection with their property.

Annihilated, crushed, plundered; having lost all the glamour of their former grandeur; ludicrous and pitiful, the aged, faded proprietresses and fat-faced, hoarse housekeepers were hastily packing up their things. And a month after only the name reminded one of merry Yamskaya Street; of the riotous, scandalous, horrible Yamkas.

However, even the name of the street was soon replaced by another, more respectable one, in order to efface even the memory of the former unpardonable times.

And all these Henriettas-Horses, Fat Kitties, Lelkas-Polecats and other women—always naive and foolish, often touching and amusing, in the majority of cases deceived and perverted children,—spread through the big city, were dissolved within it. Out of them was born a new stratum of society—a stratum of the strolling, street prostitutes—solitaries. And about their life, just as pitiful and incongruous, but tinged by other interests and customs, the author of this novel—which he still dedicates to youths and mothers—will some time tell.


< < < Chapter VIII
> > >

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

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