Yama (The Pit) by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin
Horizon lived at the Hotel Hermitage for not more than three days and nights, and during this time he managed to see some three hundred people. His arrival seemed to enliven the big, gay port city. To him came the keepers of employment offices for servants, the proprietresses of cheap hotels, and old, experienced go- betweens, grown gray in the trade in women. Not so much out of an interest in booty as out of professional pride, Horizon tried, at all costs, to bargain for as much profit as possible, to buy a woman as cheaply as possible. Of course, to receive ten, fifteen roubles more was not the reason for him, but the mere thought that competitor Yampolsky would receive at the sale more than he brought him into a frenzy.
After his arrival, the next day, he set off to Mezer the photographer, taking with him the straw-like girl Bella, and had pictures taken in various poses together with her; at which for every negative he received three roubles, while he gave the woman a rouble. After that he rode off to Barsukova.
This was a woman, or, speaking more correctly, a retired wench, whose like can be found only in the south of Russia; neither a Pole nor a Little Russian; already sufficiently old and rich in order to allow herself the luxury of maintaining a husband (and together with him a cabaret), a handsome and kindly little Pole. Horizon and Barsukova met like old friends. They had, it seemed, no fear, no shame, no conscience when they conversed with each other.
"Madam Barsukova! I can offer you something special! Three women: one a large brunette, very modest; another a little one, a blonde, but who, you understand, is ready for everything; the third is a woman of mystery, who merely smiles and doesn't say anything, but promises much and is a beauty!"
Madam Barsukova was gazing at him with mistrust, shaking her head.
"Mister Horizon! What are you trying to fill my head with? Do you want to do the same with me that you did last time?"
"By God, I should live so, how I want to deceive you! But that's not the main thing. I'm also offering you a perfectly educated woman. Do with her what you like. In all probability you'll find a connoisseur."
Barsukova smiled artfully and asked:
"Again a wife?"
"No. But she's of the nobility."
"Then that means unpleasantnesses with the police again?"
"Ach! My God! I don't take big money from you; all the three for a lousy thousand roubles."
"Well, let's talk frankly; five hundred. I don't want to buy a cat in a bag."
"It seems, Madam Barsukova, that it isn't the first time you and I have done business together, I won't deceive you and will bring her here right away. Only I beg you not to forget that you're my aunt, and please work in that direction. I won't be more than three days here in the city."
Madam Barsukova, with all her breasts, bellies and chins, began to sway merrily.
"We won't dicker over trifles. All the more so since you don't deceive me, nor I you. There's a great demand for women now. What would you say, Mister Horizon, if I offered you some red wine?"
"Thank you, Madam Barsukova, with pleasure."
"Let's talk a while like old friends. Tell me, how much do you make a year?"
"Ach, madam, what shall I say? Twelve, twenty thousand, approximately. But think what tremendous expenses there are in constantly travelling."
"Do you put away a little?"
"Well, that's trifles; some two or three thousand a year."
"I thought ten, twenty ..."
Horizon grew wary. He sensed that he was beginning to be drawn out and asked insidiously:
"But why does this interest you?"
Anna Michailovna pressed the button of an electric bell and ordered the dressy maid to bring coffee with steamed cream and a bottle of Chambertaine. She knew the tastes of Horizon. Then she asked:
"Do you know Mr. Shepsherovich?"
Horizon simply pounced upon her.
"My God! Who don't know Shepsherovich! This is a god, this is a genius!"
And, having become animated, forgetting that he was being dragged into a trap, he began speaking exaltedly:
"Just imagine what Shepsherovich did last year! He carried to Argentine thirty women from Kovno, Vilno, Zhitomir. Each one of them he sold at a thousand roubles--a total, madam--count it--of thirty thousand! Do you think Shepsherovich calmed down with this? For this money, in order to repay his expenses on the steamer, he bought several negresses and stuck them about in Moscow, Petersburg, Kiev, Odessa, and Kharkov. But, you know, madam, this isn't a man, but an eagle. There's a man who can do business!"
Barsukova caressingly laid her hand on his knee. She had been waiting for this moment and said to him amicably:
"And so I propose to you, Mr.----however, I don't know how you are called now..."
"Horizon, let's say..."
"So I propose to you, Mr. Horizon--could you find some innocent girls among yours? There's an enormous demand for them now. I'm playing an open hand with you. We won't stop at money. Now it's in fashion. Notice, Horizon, your lady clients will be returned to you in exactly the same state in which they were. This, you understand, is a little depravity, which I can in no way make out ..."
Horizon cast down his eyes, rubbed his head, and said:
"You see, I've a wife ... You've almost guessed it."
"So. But why almost?"
"I'm ashamed to confess, that she--how shall I say it ... she is my bride ..."
Barsukova gaily burst into laughter.
"You know, Horizon, I couldn't at all expect that you're such a nasty villain! Let's have your wife, it's all the same. But is it possible that you've really refrained?"
"A thousand?" asked Horizon seriously.
"Ah! What trifles; a thousand let's say. But tell me, will I be able to manage her?"
"Nonsense!" said Horizon self-assuredly. "Let's again suppose that you're my aunt, and I leave my wife with you. Just imagine, Madam Barsukova, that this woman is in love with me like a cat. And if you'll tell her, that for my good she must do so and so and thus and thus--then there won't be no arguments!"
Apparently, there was nothing more for them to talk over. Madam Barsukova brought out a promissory note, whereon she with difficulty wrote her name, her father's name, and her last name. The promissory note, of course, was fantastic; but there is a tie, a welding, an honour among thieves. In such deals people do not deceive. Death threatens otherwise. It is all the same, whether in prison, or on the street, or in a brothel.
Right after that, just like an apparition out of a trapdoor, appeared the friend of her heart, the master of the cabaret, a young little Pole, with moustaches twirled high. They drank some wine, talked a bit about the fair, about the exposition, complained a little about bad business. After that Horizon telephoned to his room in the hotel, and called out his wife. He introduced her to his aunt and his aunt's second cousin, and said that mysterious political reasons were calling him out of town. He tenderly kissed Sarah, shed a tear, and rode away.