Yama (The Pit) by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin
On that early morning when Lichonin so suddenly, and, perhaps, unexpectedly even to himself, had carried off Liubka from the gay establishment of Anna Markovna it was the height of summer. The trees still remained green, but in the scent of the air, the leaves, and the grass there was already to be felt, as though from afar, the tender, melancholy, and at the same time bewitching scent of the nearing autumn. With wonder the student gazed at the trees, so clean, innocent and quiet, as though God, imperceptibly to men, had planted them about here at night; and the trees themselves were looking around with wonder upon the calm blue water, that still seemed slumbering in the pools and ditches and under the wooden bridge thrown across the shallow river; upon the lofty, as though newly washed sky, which had just awakened, and, in the glow of dawn, half asleep, was smiling with a rosy, lazy, happy smile in greeting to the kindling sun.
The heart of the student expanded and quivered; both from the beauty of the beatific morning, and from the joy of existence, and from the sweet air, refreshing his lungs after the night, passed without sleep, in a crowded and smoke-filled compartment. But the beauty and loftiness of his own action moved him still more.
Yes, he had acted like a man, like a real man, in the highest sense of that word! Even now he is not repenting of what he had done. It's all right for them (to whom this "them" applied, Lichonin did not properly understand even himself), it's all right for them to talk about the horrors of prostitution; to talk, sitting at tea, with rolls and sausage, in the presence of pure and cultured girls. But had any one of his colleagues taken some actual step toward liberating a woman from perdition? Eh, now? And then there is also--the sort that will come to this same Sonechka Marmeladova, will tell her all sorts of taradiddles, describe all kinds of horrors to her, butt into her soul, until he brings her to tears; and right off will start in crying himself and begin to console her, embrace her, pat her on the head, kiss her at first on the cheek, then on the lips; well, and everybody knows what happens next! Faugh! But with him, with Lichonin, the word and the deed were never at odds.
He clasped Liubka around the waist, and looked at her with kindly, almost loving, eyes; although, the very same minute, he himself thought that he was regarding her as a father or a brother.
Sleep was fearfully besetting Liubka; her eyes would close, and she with an effort would open them wide, so as not to fall asleep again; while on her lips lay the same naive, childish, tired smile, which Lichonin had noticed still there, in the cabinet. And out of one corner of her mouth ran a thin trickle of saliva.
"Liubka, my dear! My darling, much-suffering woman! Behold how fine it is all around! Lord! Here it's five years that I haven't seen the sunrise. Now play at cards, now drinking, now I had to hurry to the university. Behold, my dearest, over there the dawn has burst into bloom. The sun is near! This is your dawn, Liubochka! This is your new life beginning. You will fearlessly lean upon my strong arm. I shall lead you out upon the road of honest toil, on the way to a brave combat with life, face to face with it!"
Liubka eyed him askance. "There, the fumes are still playing in his head," she thought kindly. "But that's nothing--he's kind and a good sort. Only a trifle homely." And, having smiled with a half- sleepy smile, she said in a tone of capricious reproach:
"Ye--es! You'll fool me, never fear. All of you men are like that. You just gain yours at first, to get your pleasure, and then--no attention whatsoever!"
"I? Oh? That I should do this!" Lichonin exclaimed warmly and even smote himself on the chest with his free hand. "Then you know me very badly! I'm too honest a man to be deceiving a defenseless girl. No! I'll exert all my powers and all my soul to educate your mind, to widen your outlook, to compel your poor heart, which has suffered so, to forget all the wounds and wrongs which life has inflicted upon it. I will be a father and a brother to you! I shall safeguard your every step! And if you will come to love somebody with a truly pure, holy love, then I shall bless that day and hour when I had snatched you out of this Dantean hell!"
During the continuation of this flaming tirade the old cabby with great significance, although silently, began laughing, and from this inaudible laughter his back shook. Old cabbies hear very many things, because to the cabby, sitting in front, everything is readily audible, which is not at all suspected by the conversing fares; and many things do the old cabbies know of that which takes place among people. Who knows, perhaps he had heard more than once even more disordered, more lofty speeches?
It seemed to Liubka for some reason that Lichonin had grown angry at her, or that he was growing jealous beforehand of some imaginary rival. He was declaiming with entirely too much noise and agitation. She became perfectly awake, turned her face to Lichonin with wide open, uncomprehending, and at the same time submissive eyes, and slightly touched his right hand, lying on her waist, with her fingers.
"Don't get angry, my sweetie. I'll never exchange you for another. Here's my word of honour, honest to God! My word of honour, that I never will! Don't you think I feel you're wanting to take care of me? Do you think I don't understand? Why, you're such an attractive, nice little young fellow. There, now, if you were an old man and homely..."
"Ah! You haven't got the right idea!" shouted Lichonin, and again in high-flown style began to tell her about the equal rights of women, about the sacredness of toil, about human justice, about freedom, about the struggle against reigning evil.
Of all his words Liubka understood exactly not a one. She still felt herself guilty of something and somehow shrank all up, grew sad, bowed her head and became quiet. A little more and she, in all probability, would have burst out crying in the middle of the street; but fortunately, they by this time had driven up to the house where Lichonin was staying.
"Well, here we are at home," said the student. "Stop, driver!"
And when he had paid him, he could not refrain from declaiming with pathos, his hand extended theatrically straight before him:
"And into my house, calm and fearless, As its full mistress walk thou in!"
And again the unfathomable, prophetic smile wrinkled the aged brown face of the cabby.