Yama (The Pit) by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin
The room in which Lichonin lived was situated on the fifth story and a half. And a half, because there are such five, six, and seven-story profitable houses, packed to overflowing and cheap, on top of which are erected still other sorry bug-breeders of roof iron, something in the nature of mansards; or more exactly, bird- houses, in which it is fearfully cold in winter, while in the summer time it is just as torrid as in the tropics. Liubka with difficulty clambered upward. It seemed to her that now, now, two steps more, and she would drop straight down on the steps and fall into a sleep from which nothing would be able to wake her. But Lichonin was saying all the time:
"My dear! I can see you are tired. But that's nothing. Lean upon me. We are going upwards all the time! Always higher and higher! Is this not a symbol of all human aspirations? My comrade, my sister, lean upon my arm!"
Here it became still worse for poor Liubka. As it was, she could barely go up alone, but here she also had to drag in tow Lichonin, who had grown extremely heavy. And his weight would not really have mattered; his wordiness, however, was beginning to irritate her little by little. So irritates at times the ceaseless, wearisome crying, like a toothache, of an infant at breast; the piercing whimpering of a canary; or someone whistling without pause and out of tune in an adjoining room.
Finally, they reached Lichonin's room. There was no key in the door. And, as a rule, it was never even locked with a key. Lichonin pushed the door and they entered. It was dark in the room, because the window curtains were lowered. It smelt of mice, kerosene, yesterday's vegetable soup, long-.used bed linen, stale tobacco smoke. In the half-dusk some one who could not be seen was snoring deafeningly and with variations.
Lichonin raised the shade. There were the usual furnishings of a poor student: a sagging, unmade bed with a crumpled blanket; a lame table, and on it a candlestick without a candle; several books on the floor and on the table; cigarette stubs everywhere; and opposite the bed, along the other wall, an old, old divan, upon which at the present moment was sleeping and snoring, with mouth wide open, some young man with black hair and moustache. The collar of his shirt was unbuttoned and through its opening could be seen the chest and black hair, the like of which for thickness and curliness could be found only on Persian lambs.
"Nijeradze! Hey, Nijeradze, get up!" cried Lichonin and prodded the sleeper in the ribs. "Prince!"
"May your race be even accursed in the person of your ancestors and descendants! May they even be exiled from the heights of the beauteous Caucasus! May they even never behold the blessed Georgia! Get up, you skunk! Get up you Aravian dromedary! Kintoshka! ..."
But suddenly, unexpectedly for Lichonin, Liubka intervened. She took him by the arm and said timidly:
"Darling, why torture him? Maybe he wants to sleep, maybe he's tired? Let him sleep a bit. I'd better go home. Will you give me a half for a cabby? To-morrow you'll come to me again. Isn't that so, sweetie?"
Lichonin was abashed. So strange did the intervention of this silent, apparently sleepy girl, appear to him. Of course, he did not grasp that she was actuated by an instinctive, unconscious pity for a man who had not had enough sleep; or, perhaps, a professional regard for the sleep of other people. But the astonishment was only momentary. For some reason he became offended. He raised the hand of the recumbent man, which hung down to the floor, with the extinguished cigarette still remaining between its fingers, and, shaking it hard, he said in a serious, almost severe voice:
"Listen, now, Nijeradze, I'm asking you seriously. Understand, now, may the devil take you that I'm not alone, but with a woman. Swine!"
It was as though a miracle had happened: the lying man suddenly jumped up, as though some spring of unusual force had instantaneously unwound under him. He sat down on the divan, rapidly rubbed with his palms his eyes, forehead, temples; saw the woman, became confused at once, and muttered, hastily buttoning his blouse:
"Is that you, Lichonin? And here I was waiting and waiting for you and fell asleep. Request the unknown comrade to turn away for just a minute."
He hastily pulled on his gray, everyday student's coat, and rumpled up with all the fingers of both his hands his luxuriant black curls. Liubka, with the coquetry natural to all women, no matter in what years or situation they find themselves, walked up to the sliver of a mirror hanging on the wall, to fix her hair- dress. Nijeradze askance, questioningly, only with the movement of his eyes, indicated her to Lichonin.
"Never mind. Don't pay any attention," answered the other aloud. "But let's get out of here, however. I'll tell you everything right away. Excuse me, Liubochka, it's only for a minute. I'll come back at once, fix you up, and then evaporate, like smoke."
"But don't trouble yourself," replied Liubka: "it'll be all right for me here, right on this divan. And you fix yourself up on the bed."
"No, that's no longer like a model, my angel! I have a colleague here. And so I'll go to him to sleep. I'll return in just a minute."
Both students went out into the corridor.
"What meaneth this dream?" asked Nijeradze, opening wide his oriental, somewhat sheepish eyes. "Whence this beauteous child, this comrade in a petticoat?"
Lichonin shook his head with great significance and made a wry face. Now, when the ride, the fresh air, the morning, and the business-like, everyday, accustomed setting had entirely sobered him, he was beginning to experience within his soul an indistinct feeling of a certain awkwardness, needlessness of this sudden action; and at the same time something in the nature of an unconscious irritation both against himself and the woman he had carried off. He already had a presentiment of the onerousness of living together, of a multiplicity of cares, unpleasantnesses and expenses; of the equivocal smiles or even simply the unceremonious questionings of comrades; finally, of the serious hindrance during the time of government examinations. But, having scarcely begun speaking with Nijeradze, he at once became ashamed of his pusillanimity, and having started off listlessly, towards the end he again began to prance on his heroic steed.
"Do you see, prince," he said, in his confusion twisting a button of his comrade's coat and without looking in his eyes, "you've made a mistake. This isn't a comrade in a petticoat, but ... simply, I was just now with my colleagues ... that is, I wasn't, but just dropped in for a minute with my friends into the Yamkas, to Anna Markovna ..."
"With whom?" asked Nijeradze, becoming animated.
"Well, isn't it all the same to you, prince? There was Tolpygin, Ramses, a certain sub-professor--Yarchenko--Borya Sobashnikov, and others ... I don't recall. We had been boat-riding the whole evening, then dived into a publican's, and only after that, like swine, started for the Yamkas. I, you know, am a very abstemious man. I only sat and soaked up cognac, like a sponge, with a certain reporter I know. Well, all the others fell from grace however. And so, toward morning, for some reason or other, I went all to pieces. I got so sad and full of pity from looking at these unhappy women. I also thought, now, of how our sisters enjoy our regard, love, protection; how our mothers are surrounded with reverent adoration. Just let some one say one rude word to them, shove them, offend them; we are ready to chew his throat off! Isn't that the truth?"
"M-m? ..." drawled out the Georgian, half questioningly, half expectantly, and squinted his eyes to one side.
"Well, then I thought: why, now, any blackguard, any whippersnapper, any shattered ancient can take any one of these women to himself for a minute or for a night, as a momentary whim; and indifferently, one superfluous time more--the thousand and first--profane and defile in her that which is the most precious in a human being--love... Do you understand--revile, trample it underfoot, pay for the visit and walk away in peace, his hands in his pockets, whistling. But the most horrible of all is that all this has come to be a habit with them; it's all one to her, and it's all one to him. The feelings have dulled, the soul has dimmed. That's so, isn't it? And yet, in every one of them perishes both a splendid sister and a sainted mother. Eh? Isn't that the truth?"
"N-na? ...." mumbled Nijeradze and again shifted his eyes to one side.
"And so I thought: wherefore words and superfluous exclamations! To the devil with hypocritical speeches during conventions. To the devil with abolition, regulation (suddenly, involuntarily, the recent words of the reporter came to his mind), Magdalene asylums and all these distributions of holy books in the establishments! Here, I'll up and act as a really honest man, snatch a girl out of this slough, implant her in real firm soil, calm her, encourage her, treat her kindly."
"H-hm!" grunted Nijeradze with a grin.
"Eh, prince! You always have salacious things on your mind. For you understand that I'm not talking about a woman, but about a human being; not about flesh, but about a soul."
"All right, all right, me soul, go on!"
"Futhermore, as I thought, so did I act. I took her to-day from Anna Markovna's and brought her for the present to me. And later-- whatever God may grant. I'll teach her in the beginning to read, and write; then open up for her a little cook-shop, or a grocery store, let's say. I think that the comrades won't refuse to help me. The human heart, prince, my brother--every heart--is in need of cordiality, of warmth. And lo and behold! in a year, in two, I will return to society a good, industrious, worthy member, with a virgin soul, open to all sorts of great possibilities... For she has given only her body, while her soul is pure and innocent."
"Tse, tse, tse," the prince smacked his tongue.
"What does this mean, you Tifflissian he-mule?"
"And will you buy her a sewing machine?"
"Why a sewing machine, in particular? I don't understand."
"It's always that way in the novels, me soul. Just as soon as the hero has saved the poor, but lost, creature, he at once sets up a sewing machine for her."
"Stop talking nonsense," Lichonin waved him away angrily with his hand. "Clown!"
The Georgian suddenly grew heated, his black eyes began to sparkle, and immediately Caucasian intonations could be heard in his voice.
"No, not nonsense, me soul. It's one of two things here, and it'll all end in one and the same result. Either you'll get together with her and after five months chuck her out on the street; and she'll return to the brothel or take to walking the street. That's a fact! Or else you won't get together with her, but will begin to load her up with manual or mental labours and will try to develop her ignorant, dark mind; and she from tedium will run away from you, and will again find herself either walking the street, or in a brothel. That's a fact, too! However, there is still a third combination. You'll be vexing yourself about her like a brother, like the knight Lancelot, but she, secretly from you, will fall in love with another. Me soul, believe me, that wooman, when she is a wooman, is always--a wooman. And the other will play a bit with her body, and after three months chuck her out into the street or into a brothel."
Lichonin sighed deeply. Somewhere deep--not in his mind, but in the hidden, almost unseizable secret recesses of his consciousness--something resembling the thought that Nijeradze was right flashed through him. But he quickly gained control of himself, shook his head, and, stretching out his hand to the prince, uttered triumphantly:
"I promise you, that after half a year you'll take your words back, and as a mark of apology, you Erivanian billy goat, you Armavirian egg-plant, you'll stand me to a dozen of Cakhetine wine."
"Va! That's a go!" the prince struck Lichonin's hand with his palm with all his might. "With pleasure. But if it comes out as I say-- then you do it."
"Then I do it. However, au revoir, prince. Whom are you lodging with?"
"Right here, in this corridor, at Soloviev's. But you, of course, like a mediaeval knight, will lay a two-edged sword between yourself and the beauteous Rosamond? Yes?"
"Nonsense! I did want to pass the night at Soloviev's myself. But now I'll go and wander about the streets a bit and turn in into somebody's; to Zaitzevich or Strump. Farewell, prince!"
"Wait, wait!" Nijeradze called him, when he had gone a few steps. "I have forgotten to tell you the main thing: Partzan has tripped up!"
"So that's how?" wondered Lichonin, and at once yawned long, deeply and with enjoyment.
"Yes. But there's nothing dreadful; only the possession of some illegal brochures and stuff. He won't have to sit for more than a year."
"That's nothing; he's a husky lad, he can stand it."
"He's husky, all right" confirmed the prince.
"Au revoir, knight Grunwaldus!"
"Au revoir, you Carbidinian stallion."