Yama (The Pit) by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin
She greeted all the men without embarrassment, with the independent bearing of the first personage in the house, and sat down near Sergei Ivanich, behind his chair. She had just gotten free from that same German in the uniform of the benevolent organization, who early in the evening had made Little White Manka his choice, but had afterwards changed her, at the recommendation of the housekeeper, for Pasha. But the provoking and self-assured beauty of Jennie must have smitten deeply his lecherous heart, for, having prowled some three hours through certain beer emporiums and restaurants, and having there gathered courage, he had again returned into the house of Anna Markovna, had waited until her time-guest--Karl Karlovich, from the optical store--had gone away from Jennie, and had taken her into a room.
To the silent question in Tamara's eyes Jennie made a wry face of disgust, shivered with her back and nodded her head affirmatively.
"He's gone... Brrr! ..."
Platonov was looking at Jennie with extraordinary attentiveness. He distinguished her from the rest of the girls and almost respected her for her abrupt, refractory, and impudently mocking character. And now, turning around occasionally, by her flaming, splendid eyes, by the vividly and unevenly glowing unhealthy red of her cheeks, by the much bitten parched lips, he felt that her great, long ripening rancour was heavily surging within the girl and suffocating her. And it was then that he thought (and subsequently often recalled this) that he had never yet seen Jennie so radiantly beautiful as on this night. He also noticed, that all the men present in the private cabinet, with the exception of Lichonin, were looking at her--some frankly, others by stealth and as though in passing--with curiosity and furtive desire. The beauty of this woman, together with the thought of her altogether easy accessibility, at any minute, agitated their imagination.
"There's something working upon you, Jennie," said Platonov quietly.
Caressingly, she just barely drew her fingers over his arm.
"Don't pay any attention. Just so ... our womanish affairs ... It won't be interesting to you."
But immediately, turning to Tamara, she passionately and rapidly began saying something in an agreed jargon, which presented a wild mixture out of the Hebrew, Tzigani and Roumanian tongues and the cant words of thieves and horse-thieves.
"Don't try to put anything over on the fly guy, the fly guy is next," Tamara cut her short and with a smile indicated the reporter with her eyes.
Platonov had, in fact, understood. Jennie was telling with indignation that during this day and night, thanks to the influx of a cheap public, the unhappy Pashka had been taken into a room more than ten times--and all by different men. Only just now she had had a hysterical fit, ending in a faint. And now, scarcely having brought Pashka back to consciousness and braced her up on valerian drops in a glass of spirits, Emma Edwardovna had again sent her into the drawing room. Jennie had attempted to take the part of her comrade, but the house-keeper had cursed the intercessor out and had threatened her with punishment.
"What is it all about?" asked Yarchenko in perplexity, raising high his eyebrows.
"Don't trouble yourself ... nothing out of the way..." answered Jennie in a still agitated voice. "Just so ... our little family trifles ... Sergei Ivanich, may I have some of your wine?"
She poured out half a glass for herself and drank the cognac off at a draught, distending her thin nostrils wide.
Platonov got up in silence and went toward the door.
"It's not worth while, Sergei Ivanich. Drop it..." Jennie stopped him.
"Oh no, why not?" objected the reporter. "I shall do a very simple and innocent thing, take Pasha here, and if need be--pay for her, even. Let her lie down here for a while on the divan and rest, even though a little ... Niura, run for a pillow quick!"
Scarcely had the door shut behind his broad, ungainly figure in its gray clothes, when Boris Sobashnikov at once commenced speaking with a contemptuous bitterness:
"Gentlemen, what the devil for have we dragged into our company this peach off the street? We must needs tie up with all sorts of riff-raff? The devil knows what he is--perhaps he's even a dinny? Who can vouch for him? And you're always like that, Lichonin."
"It isn't Lichonin but I who introduced him to everybody,"' said Ramses. "I know him for a fully respectable person and a good companion."
"Eh! Nonsense! A good companion to drink at some one else's expense. Why, don't you see for yourselves that this is the most ordinary type of habitue attached to a brothel, and, most probably, he is simply the pimp here, to whom a percentage is paid for the entertainment into which he entices the visitors."
"Leave off, Borya. It's foolish," remarked Yarchenko reproachfully.
But Borya could not leave off. He had an unfortunate peculiarity-- intoxication acted neither upon his legs nor his tongue, but put him in a morose, touchy frame of mind and egged him on into quarrels. And Platonov had already for a long time irritated him with his negligently sincere, assured and serious bearing, so little suitable to the private cabinet of a brothel. But the seeming indifference with which the reporter let pass the malicious remarks which he interposed into the conversation angered Sobashnikov still more.
"And then, the tone in which he permits himself to speak in our company!" Sobashnikov continued to seethe. "A certain aplomb, condescension, a professorial tone ... The scurvy penny-a-liner! The free-lunch grafter!"
Jennie, who had all the time been looking intently at the student, gaily and maliciously flashing with her sparkling dark eyes, suddenly began to clap her hands.
"That's the way! Bravo, little student! Bravo, bravo, bravo! ... That's the way, give it to him good! ... Really, what sort of a disgrace is this! When he'll come, now, I'll repeat everything to him."
"I--if you please! A--as much as you like!" Sobashnikov drawled out like an actor, making superciliously squeamish creases about his mouth. "I shall repeat the very same things myself."
"There's a fine fellow, now,--I love you for that!" exclaimed Jennie joyously and maliciously, striking her fist on the table. "You can tell an owl at once by its flight, a good man by his snot!"
Little White Manya and Tamara looked at Jennie with wonder, but, noting the evil little lights leaping in her eyes and her nervously quivering nostrils, they both understood and smiled.
Little White Manya, laughing, shook her head reproachfully. Jennie always had such a face when her turbulent soul sensed that a scandal was nearing which she herself had brought on.
"Don't get your back up, Borinka," said Lichonin. "Here all are equal."
Niura came with a pillow and laid it down on the divan.
"And what's that for?" Sobashnikov yelled at her. Git! take it away at once. This isn't a lodging house."
"Now, leave her be, honey. What's that to you?" retorted Jennie in a sweet voice and hid the pillow behind Tamara's back. "Wait, sweetie, I'd better sit with you for a while."
She walked around the table, forced Boris to sit on a chair, and herself got up on his knees. Twining his neck with her arm, she pressed her lips to his mouth, so long and so vigorously that the student caught his breath. Right up close to his eyes he saw the eyes of the woman--strangely large, dark, luminous, indistinct and unmoving. For a quarter of a second or so, for an instant, it seemed to him that in these unliving eyes was impressed an expression of keen, mad hate; and the chill of terror, some vague premonition of an ominous, inevitable calamity flashed through the student's brain. With difficulty tearing the supple arms of Jennie away from him, and pushing her away, he said, laughing, having turned red and breathing hard:
"There's a temperament for you! Oh, you Messalina Paphnutievna! ... They call you Jennka, I think? You're a good-looking little rascal."
Platonov returned with Pasha. Pasha was pitiful and revolting to look at. Her face was pale, with, a bluish cast as though the blood had run off; the glazed, half-closed eyes were smiling with a faint, idiotic smile; the parted lips seemed to resemble two frayed, red, wet rags, and she walked with a sort of timid, uncertain step, just as though with one foot she were making a large step, and with the other a small one. She walked with docility up to the divan and with docility laid her head down on the pillow, without ceasing to smile faintly and insanely. Even at a distance it was apparent that she was cold.
"Pardon me, gentlemen, I am going to undress," said Lichonin, and taking his coat off he threw it over the shoulders of the prostitute. "Tamara, give her chocolate and wine."
Boris Sobashnikov again stood up picturesquely in the corner, in a leaning position, one leg in front of the other and his head held high. Suddenly he spoke amid the general silence, addressing Platonov directly, in a most foppish tone:
"Eh ... Listen ... what's your name? ... This, then, must be your mistress? Eh?" And with the tip of his boot he pointed in the direction of the recumbent Pasha.
"Wha-at?" asked Platonov in a drawl, knitting his eyebrows.
"Or else you are her lover--it's all one ... What do they call this duty here? Well, now, these same people for whom the women embroider shirts and with whom they divide their honest earnings? ... Eh? ..."
Platonov looked at him with a heavy, intent gaze through his narrowed lids.
"Listen," he said quietly, in a hoarse voice, slowly and ponderously separating his words. "This isn't the first time that you're trying to pick a quarrel with me. But, in the first place, I see that despite your sober appearance you are exceedingly and badly drunk; and, in the second place, I spare you for the sake of your comrades. However, I warn you, that if you think of talking that way to me again, take your eyeglasses off."
"What's this stuff?" exclaimed Boris, raising his shoulders high and snorting through his nose. "What eyeglasses? Why eyeglasses?" But mechanically, with two extended fingers, he fixed the bow of the pince-nez on the bridge of his nose.
"Because I'm going to hit you, and the pieces may get in your eye," said the reporter unconcernedly.
Despite the unexpectedness of such a turn of the quarrel, nobody started laughing. Only Little White Manka oh'd in astonishment and clapped her hands. Jennie, with avid impatience, shifted her eyes from one to the other.
"Well, now! I'll give you change back myself so's you won't like it!" roughly, altogether boyishly, cried out Sobashnikov. "Only it's not worth while mussing one's hands with every ..." he wanted to add a new invective, but decided not to, "with every ... And besides, comrades, I do not intend to stay here any longer. I am too well brought up to be hail-fellow-well-met with such persons."
He rapidly and haughtily walked to the door.
It was necessary for him to pass almost right up against Platonov, who, out of the corner of his eye, animal-like, was watching his every movement. For a moment in the mind of the student flashed a desire to strike Platonov unexpectedly, from the side, and jump away--the comrades would surely part them and not allow a fight. But immediately, almost without looking at the reporter, with some sort of deep, unconscious instinct, he saw and sensed those broad hands, lying quietly on the table, that obdurately bowed head with its broad forehead, and all the ungainly, alert, powerful body of his foe, so neligently hunched up and spread out on the chair, but ready at any second for a quick and terrific blow. And Sobashnikov walked out into the corridor, loudly banging the door after him.
"Good riddance to bad rubbish," said Jennie after him in a mocking patter. "Tamarochka, pour me out some more cognac."
But the lanky student Petrovsky got up from his place and considered it necessary to defend Sobashnikov.
"Just as you wish, gentlemen; this is a matter of your personal view, but out of principle I go together with Boris. Let him be not right and so on, we can express censure to him in our own intimate company, but when an insult has been rendered our comrade--I can't remain here. I am going away."
"Oh, my God!" And Lichonin nervously and vexedly scratched his temple. "Boris behaved himself all the time in the highest degree vulgarly, rudely and foolishly. What sort of corporate honour do you think this is? A collective walk-out from editorial offices, from political meetings, from brothels. We aren't officers to screen the foolishness of each comrade."
"All the same, just as you wish, but I am going away out of a sense of solidarity!" said Petrovsky importantly and walked out.
"May the earth be as down upon you!" Jennie sent after him.
But how tortuous and dark the ways of the human soul! Both of them--Sobashnikov as well as Petrovsky--acted in their indignation rather sincerely, but the first only half so, while the second only a quarter in all. Sobashnikov, despite his intoxication and wrath, still had knocking at the door of his mind the alluring thought that now it would be more convenient and easier before his comrades to call out Jennka on the quiet and to be alone with her. While Petrovsky, with exactly the same aim, went after Sobashnikov in order to make a loan of three roubles from him. In the general drawing room they made things up between them, and after ten minutes Zociya, the housekeeper, shoved in her little, squinting, pink, cunning face through the half-open door of the private room.
"Jennechka," she called, "go, they have brought your linen, go count it. And you, Niura, the actor begs to come for just a minute, to drink some champagne. He's with Henrietta and Big Manya."
The precipitate and incongruous quarrel of Platonov and Sobashnikov long served as a subject of conversation. The reporter, in cases like this, always felt shame, uneasiness, regret and the torments of conscience. And despite the fact that all those who remained were on his side, he was speaking with weariness in his voice:
"By God, gentlemen! I'll go away, best of all. Why should I disrupt your circle? We were both at fault. I'll go away. Don't bother about the bill. I've already paid Simeon, when I was going after Pasha."
Lichonin suddenly rumpled up his hair and stood up
"Oh, no, the devil take it! I'll go and drag him here. Upon my word of honour, they're both fine fellows--Boris as well as Vaska. But they're young yet, and bark at their own tails. I'm going after them, and I warrant that Boris will apologize."
He went away, but came back after five minutes.
"They repose," said he, sombrely, and made a hopeless gesture with his hand. "Both of them."