Yama (The Pit) by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin
All the stories of Horizon about his commercial travelling were simply brazen and glib lying. All the samples of drapers' goods, suspenders gloire and buttons helios, the artificial teeth and insertible eyes, served only as a shield, screening his real activity--to wit, the traffic in the body of woman. True, at one time, some ten years ago, he had travelled over Russia as the representative for the dubious wines of some unknown firm; and this activity had imparted to his tongue that free-and-easy unconstraint for which, in general, travelling salesmen are distinguished. This former activity had, as well, brought him up against his real profession. In some way, while going to Rostov- on-the-Don, he had contrived to make a very young sempstress fall in love with him. This girl had not as yet succeeded in getting on the official lists of the police, but upon love and her body she looked without any lofty prejudices. Horizon, at that time altogether a green youth, amorous and light-minded, dragged the sempstress after him on his wanderings, full of adventures and unexpected things. After half a year she palled upon him dreadfully. She, just like a heavy burden, like a millstone, hung around the neck of this man of energy, motion and aggressiveness. In addition to that, there were the eternal scenes of jealousy, mistrust, the constant control and tears ... the inevitable consequences of long living together ... Then he began little by little to beat his mate. At the first time she was amazed, but from the second time quieted down, became tractable. It is known, that "women of love" never know a mean in love relations. They are either hysterical liars, deceivers, dissemblers, with a coolly- perverted mind and a sinuous dark soul; or else unboundedly self- denying, blindly devoted, foolish, naive animals, who know no bounds either in concessions or loss of self-esteem. The sempstress belonged to the second category, and Horizon was soon successful, without great effort, in persuading her to go out on the street to traffic in herself. And from that very evening, when his mistress submitted to him and brought home the first five roubles earned, Horizon experienced an unbounded loathing toward her. It is remarkable, that no matter how many women Horizon met after this--and several hundred of them had passed through his hands--this feeling of loathing and masculine contempt toward them would never forsake him. He derided the poor woman in every way, and tortured her morally, seeking out the most painful spots. She would only keep silent, sigh, weep, and getting down on her knees before him, kiss his hands. And this wordless submission irritated Horizon still more. He drove her away from him. She would not go away. He would push her out into the street; but she, after an hour or two, would come back shivering from cold, in a soaked hat, in the turned-up brims of which the rain-water splashed as in waterspouts. Finally, some shady friend gave Simon Yakovlevich the harsh and crafty counsel which laid a mark on all the rest of his life activity--to sell his mistress into a brothel. To tell the truth, in going into this enterprise, Horizon almost disbelieved at soul in its success. But contrary to his expectation, the business could not have adjusted itself better. The proprietress of an establishment (this was in Kharkov) willingly met his proposition half-way. She had known long and well Simon Yakovlevich, who played amusingly on the piano, danced splendidly, and set the whole drawing room laughing with his pranks; but chiefly, could, with unusually unabashed dexterity, make any carousing party "shell out the coin." It only remained to convince the mate of his life, and this proved the most difficult of all. She did not want to detach herself from her beloved for anything; threatened suicide, swore that she would burn his eyes out with sulphuric acid, promised to go and complain to the chief of police--and she really did know a few dirty little transactions of Simon Yakovlevich's that smacked of capital punishment. Thereupon Horizon changed his tactics. He suddenly became a tender, attentive friend, an indefatigable lover. Then suddenly he fell into black melancholy. The uneasy questionings of the woman he let pass in silence; at first let drop a word as though by chance; hinted in passing at some mistake of his life; and then began to lie desperately and with inspiration. He said that the police were watching him; that he could not get by the jail, and, perhaps, even hard labour and the gallows; that it was necessary for him to disappear abroad for several months. But mainly, what he persisted in especially strongly, was some tremendous fantastic business, in which he stood to make several hundred thousands of roubles. The sempstress believed and became alarmed with that disinterested, womanly, almost holy alarm, in which, with every woman, there is so much of something maternal. It was not at all difficult now to convince her that for Horizon to travel together with her presented a great danger for him; and that it would be better for her to remain here and to bide the time until the affairs of her lover would adjust themselves fortuitously. After that to talk her into hiding, as in the most trustworthy retreat, in a brothel, where she would be in full safety from the police and the detectives, was a mere nothing. One morning Horizon ordered her to dress a little better, curl her hair, powder herself, put a little rouge on her cheeks, and carried her off to a den, to his acquaintance. The girl made a favourable impression there, and that same day her passport was changed by the police to a so- called yellow ticket. Having parted with her, after long embraces and tears, Horizon went into the room of the proprietress and received his payment, fifty roubles (although he had asked for two hundred). But he did not grieve especially over the low price; the main thing was, that he had found his calling at last, all by himself, and had laid the cornerstone of his future welfare.
Of course, the woman sold by him just remained forever so in the tenacious hands of the brothel. Horizon forgot her so thoroughly that after only a year he could not even recall her face. But who knows ... perhaps he merely pretended?
Now he was one of the chief speculators in the body of woman in all the south of Russia. He had transactions with Constantinople and with Argentine; he transported, in whole parties, girls from the brothels of Odessa into Kiev; those from Kiev he brought over into Kharkov; and those from Kharkov into Odessa. He it was also who stuck away over second rate capital cities, and those districts which were somewhat richer, the goods which had been rejected or had grown too noticeable in the big cities. He had struck up an enormous clientele, and in the number of his consumers Horizon could have counted not a few people with a prominent social position: lieutenant governors, colonels of the gendarmerie, eminent advocates, well-known doctors, rich land- owners, carousing merchants. All the shady world--the proprietresses of brothels, cocottes solitaires, go-betweens, madams of houses of assignation, souteneurs, touring actresses and chorus girls--was as familiar to him as the starry sky to an astronomer. His amazing memory, which permitted him prudently to avoid notebooks, held in mind thousands of names, family names, nicknames, addresses, characteristics. He knew to perfection the tastes of all his highly placed consumers: some of them liked unusually odd depravity, others paid mad sums for innocent girls, for others still it was necessary to seek out girls below age. He had to satisfy both the sadistic and the masochistic inclinations of his clients, and at times to cater to altogether unnatural sexual perversions, although it must be said that the last he undertook only in rare instances which promised a large, undoubted profit. Two or three times he had to sit in jail, but these sessions went to his benefit; he not only did not lose his rapacious high-handedness and springy energy in his transactions, but with every year became more daring, inventive, and enterprising. With the years to his brazen impetuousness was joined a tremendous worldly business wisdom.
Fifteen times, during this period, he had managed to marry and every time had contrived to take a decent dowry. Having possessed himself of his wife's money, he, one fine day, would suddenly vanish without a trace, and, if there was a possibility, he would sell his wife profitably into a secret house of depravity or into a chic public establishment. It would happen that the parents of the deluded victim would search for him through the police. But while inquiries would be carried on everywhere about him as Shperling, he would already be travelling from town to town under the name of Rosenblum. During the time of his activity, in despite of an enviable memory, he had changed so many names that he had not only forgotten what year he had been Nathanielson, and during what Bakalyar, but even his own name was beginning to seem to him one of his pseudonyms.
It was remarkable, that he did not find in his profession anything criminal or reprehensible. He regarded it just as though he were trading in herrings, lime, flour, beef or lumber. In his own fashion he was pious. If time permitted, he would with assiduity visit the synagogue of Fridays. The Day of Atonement, Passover, and the Feast of the Tabernacles were invariably and reverently observed by him everywhere wherever fate might have cast him. His mother, a little old woman, and a hunch-backed sister, were left to him in Odessa, and he undeviatingly sent them now large, now small sums of money, not regularly but pretty frequently, from all towns from Kursk to Odessa and from Warsaw to Samara. Considerable savings of money had already accumulated to him in the Credit Lyonnaise, and he gradually increased them, never touching the interest. But to greed or avarice he was almost a stranger. He was attracted to the business rather by its tang, risk and a professional self-conceit. To the women he was perfectly indifferent, although he understood and could value them, and in this respect resembled a good chef, who together with a fine understanding of the business, suffers from a chronic absence of appetite. To induce, to entice a woman, to compel her to do all that he wanted, did not require any efforts on his part; they came of themselves to his call and became in his hands passive, obedient and yielding. In his treatment of them a certain firm, unshakable, self-assured aplomb had been worked out, to which they submitted just as a refractory horse submits instinctively to the voice, glance, stroking of an experienced horseman.
He drank very moderately, and without company never drank. Toward eating he was altogether indifferent. But, of course, as with every man, he had a little weakness of his own: he was inordinately fond of dress and spent no little money on his toilet. Modish collars of all possible fashions, cravats, diamond cuff links, watch charms, the underwear of a dandy, and chic footwear constituted his main distractions.
From the depot he went straight to The Hermitage. The hotel porters, in blue blouses and uniform caps, carried his things into the vestibule. Following them, he too entered, arm in arm with his wife; both smartly attired, imposing, but he just simply magnificent, in his wide, bell-shaped English overcoat, in a new broad-brimmed panama, holding negligently in his hand a small cane with a silver handle in the form of a naked woman.
"You ain't supposed to be here without a permit for your residence," said an enormous, stout doorkeeper, looking down upon him from above and preserving on his face a sleepy and immovably- frigid expression.
"Ach, Zachar! Again 'you ain't supposed to!'" merrily exclaimed Horizon, and patted the giant on his shoulder. "What does it mean, 'you ain't supposed to'? Every time you shove this same 'you ain't supposed to' at me. I must be here for three days in all. Soon as I conclude the rent agreement with Count Ipatiev, right away I go away. God be with you! Live even all by yourself in all your rooms. But you just give a look, Zachar, what a toy I brought you from Odessa! You'll be just tickled with it!"
With a careful, deft, accustomed movement he thrust a gold piece into the doorkeeper's hand, who was already holding it behind his back, ready and folded in the form of a little boat.
The first thing that Horizon did upon installing himself in the large, spacious room with an alcove, was to put out into the corridor at the door of the room six pairs of magnificent shoes, saying to the bell-hop who ran up in answer to the bell:
"Immediately all should be cleaned! So it should shine like a mirror! They call you Timothy, I think? Then you should know me-- if you work by me it will never go for nothing. So it should shine like a mirror!"