Yama (The Pit) by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin
Even to this day, after a lapse of ten years, the erstwhile inhabitants of the Yamkas recall that year, abounding in unhappy, foul, bloody events, which began with a series of trifling, small affrays, but terminated in the administration's, one fine day, taking and destroying completely the ancient, long-warmed nest of legalized prostitution, which nest it had itself created-- scattering its remains over the hospitals, jails and streets of the big city. Even to this day a few of the former proprietresses who have remained alive and have reached the limit of decrepitude, and quondam housekeepers, fat and hoarse, like pug-dogs grown old, recall this common destruction with sorrow, horror, and stolid perplexity.
Just like potatoes out of a sack, brawls, robberies, diseases, murders and suicides began to pour down, and, it seemed, no one was to blame for this. All these misfortunes just simply began to be more frequent of their own accord, to pile one upon the other, to expand and grow; just as a small lump of snow, pushed by the feet of urchins, becomes constantly bigger and bigger by itself from the thawing snow sticking to it, grows bigger than the stature of a man, and, finally, with one last, small effort is precipitated into a ravine and rolls down as an enormous avalanche. The old proprietresses and housekeepers, of course, had never heard of fatality; but inwardly, with the soul, they sensed its mysterious presence in the inevitable calamities of that terrible year.
And, truly, everywhere in life where people are bound by common interests, blood relationship, or the benefits of a profession into close, individualized groups--there inevitably can be observed this mysterious law of sudden accumulation, of a piling up, of events; their epidemicity, their strange succession and connectedness, their incomprehensible lingering. This occurs, as popular wisdom has long ago noted, in isolated families, where disease or death suddenly falls upon the near ones in an inevitable, enigmatic order. "Misfortune does not come alone." "Misfortune without waits--open wide the gates." This is to be noticed also in monasteries, banks, governmental departments, regiments, places of learning and other public institutions, where for a long time, almost for decades, life flows evenly, like a marshy river; and, suddenly, and after some altogether insignificant incident or other, there begin transfers, changes in positions, expulsions from service, losses, sicknesses. The members of society, just as though they had conspired, die, go insane, are caught thieving, shoot or hang themselves; vacancy after vacancy is freed; promotions follow promotions, new elements flow in, and, behold, after two years there is not a one of the previous people on the spot; everything is new, if only the institution has not fallen into pieces completely, has not crept apart. And is it not the same astounding destiny which overtakes enormous social, universal organizations--cities, empires, nations, countries, and, who knows, perhaps whole planetary worlds?
Something resembling this incomprehensible fatality swept over the Yamaskya Borough as well, bringing it to a rapid and scandalous destruction. Now in place of the boisterous Yamkas is left a peaceful, humdrum outskirt, in which live truck-farmers, cat's- meat men, Tartars, swineherds and butchers from the near-by slaughterhouses. At the petition of these worthy people even the designation of Yamaskya Borough itself, as disgracing the inhabitants with its past, has been named over into Golubovka, in honour of the merchant Golubov, owner of a shop dealing in groceries and delicacies, and warden of the local church.
The first subterranean shocks of this catastrophe began in the heat of summer, at the time of the annual summer fair, which this year was unbelievably brilliant. Many circumstances contributed to its extraordinary success, multitudes, and the stupendousness of the deals concluded during it: the building in the vicinity of three new sugar refineries, and the unusually abundant crop of wheat, and, in particular, of sugar beets; the commencement of work in the laying of an electric trolley and of canalization; the building of a new road to the distance of 750 versts; but mainly, the fever of building which seized the whole town, all the banks and financial institutions, and all the houseowners. Factories for making brick sprang up on the outskirts of the town like mushrooms. A grandiose agricultural exposition opened. Two new steamer lines came into being, and they, together with the previously established ones, frenziedly competed with each other, transporting freight and pilgrims. In competition they reached such a state, that they lowered their passenger rates for the third class from seventy-five kopecks to five, three, two, and even one kopeck. In the end, ready to fall from exhaustion in the unequal struggle, one of the steamship companies offered a free passage to all the third-class passengers. Then its competitor at once added to the free passage half a loaf of white bread as well. But the biggest and most significant enterprise of this city was the engineering of the extensive river port, which had attracted to it hundreds of thousands of labourers and which cost God knows what money.
It must also be added, that the city was at this time celebrating the millennial anniversary of its famous abbey, the most honoured and the richest among all the monasteries of Russia. From all the ends of Russia, out of Siberia, from the shores of the Frozen Ocean, from the extreme south--the Black and Caspian Seas-- countless pilgrims had gathered for the worship of the local sanctities: the abbey's saints, reposing deep underground in calcareous caverns. Suffice it to say, that the monastery gave shelter, and food of a sort, to forty thousand people daily; while those for whom there was not enough room lay, at night, side by side, like logs, in the extensive yards and lanes of the abbey.
This was a summer out of some fairy-tale. The population of the city increased well-nigh fourfold through every sort of newly-come people. Stone-masons, carpenters, painters, engineers, technicians, foreigners, agriculturists, brokers, shady business men, river navigators, unoccupied knaves, tourists, thieves, card sharpers--they all overflowed the city, and not in a single hotel, the most dirty and dubious one, was there a vacant room. Insane prices were paid for quarters. The stock exchange gambled on a grand scale, as never before or since that summer. Money in millions simply flowed from hands to hands, and thence to a third pair. In one hour colossal riches were created, but then many former firms burst, and yesterday's men of wealth turned into beggars. The commonest of labourers bathed and warmed themselves in this golden flood. Stevedores, draymen, street porters, roustabouts, hod carriers and ditch diggers still remember to this day what money they earned by the day during this mad summer. Any tramp received no less than four of five roubles a day at the unloading of barges laden with watermelons. And all this noisy, foreign band, locoed by the easy money, intoxicated with the sensual beauty of the ancient, seductive city, enchanted by the delightful warmth of the southern nights, made drunk by the insidious fragrance of the white acacias--these hundreds of thousands of insatiable, dissolute beasts in the image of men, with all their massed will clamoured: "Give us woman!"
In a single month new amusement enterprises--chic Tivolis, Chateaux des Fleures, Olympias, Alcazars, etc., with a chorus and an operetta; many restaurants and beerhouses, with little summer gardens, and common little taverns--sprang up by the score in the city, in the vicinity of the building port. On every crossing new "violet-wine" houses were opened every day--little booths of boards, in each of which, under the pretext of selling bread- cider, old wenches trafficked in themselves by twos and threes, right alongside behind a partition of deal, and to many mothers and fathers is this summer painful and memorable through the degrading diseases of their sons--schoolboys and military cadets. For the casual arrivals servants were demanded, and thousands of peasant girls started out from the surrounding villages toward the city. It was inevitable that the demand on prostitution should become unusually high. And so, from Warsaw, from Lodz, from Odessa, from Moscow, and even from St. Petersburg, even from abroad, flocked together an innumerable multitude of foreign women; cocottes of Russian fabrication, the most ordinary prostitutes of the rank and file, and chic Frenchwomen and Viennese. Imperiously told the corrupting influence of the hundreds of millions of easy money. It was as though this cascade of gold had lashed down upon, had set to whirling and deluged within it, the whole city. The number of thefts and murders increased with astounding rapidity. The police, collected in augmented proportions, lost its head and was swept off its feet. But it must also be said that, having gorged itself with plentiful bribes, it resembled a sated python, willy-nilly drowsy and listless. People were killed for anything and nothing, just so. It happened that men would walk up to a person in broad daylight somewhere on an unfrequented street and ask: "What's your name?" "Fedorov." "Aha, Federov? Then take this!" and they would slit his belly with a knife. They nicknamed these blades just that in the city--"rippers"; and there were among them names of which the city news seemed actually proud: the two brothers Polishchuk (Mitka and Dundas), Volodka the Greek, Fedor Miller, Captain Dmitriev, Sivocho, Dobrovolski, Shpachek, and many others.
Both day and night on the main streets of the frenzied city stood, moved, and yelled the mob, as though at a fire. It would be almost impossible to describe what went on in the Yamkas then. Despite the fact that the madams had increased the staff of their patients to more than double and increased their prices trebly, their poor demented girls could not catch up in satisfying the demands of the drunken, crazed public, which threw money around like chips. It happened that in the drawing room, filled to overflowing with people, each girl would be awaited for by some seven, eight, at times even ten, men. It was, truly, some kind of a mad, intoxicated, convulsive time!
And from that very time began all the misfortunes of the Yamkas, which brought them to ruin. And together with the Yamkas perished also the house, familiar to us, of the stout, old, pale-eyed Anna Markovna.