Yama (The Pit) by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin
All this Liubka told at length and disjointedly, sobbing on Jennka's shoulder. Of course, in her personal elucidation this tragi-comical history proved altogether unlike what it had been in reality.
Lichonin, according to her words, had taken her to him only to entice, to tempt her; to have as much use as possible out of her foolishness, and then to abandon her. But she, the fool, had in truth fallen in love--with him, and since she was very jealous about him and all these tousled girls in leather belts, he had done a low-down thing: had sent up his comrade on purpose, had framed it up with him, and the other had begun to hug Liubka, and Vasska came in, saw it, and kicked up a great row, and chased Liubka out into the street.
Of course, in her version there were two almost equal parts of truth and untruth; but so, at least, all this had appeared to her.
She also told with great details how, having found herself without masculine support or without anybody's powerful extraneous influence, she had hired a room In a rather bad little hotel, on a retired street; how even from the first day the boots, a tough bird, a hard-boiled egg, had attempted to trade in her, without even having and Vasska came in, saw it, and kicked up a great row, the hotel to a private room, but even there had been overtaken by an experienced old woman go-between, with whose like the houses inhabited by poverty swarm.
Therefore, even with quiet living, there was in the face, in the conversation, and in the entire manner of Liubka something peculiar, specific to the casual eye; perhaps even entirely imperceptible, but for the business scent as plain and as irrefutable as the day.
But the chance, brief, sincere love had given her the strength to oppose the inevitability of a second fall. In her heroic courage she even went so far as putting in a few notices in the newspapers, that she was seeking a place with "all found." However, she had no recommendation of any sort. In addition, she had to do exclusively with women when it came to the hiring; and they also, with some sort of an inner, infallible instinct, surmised in her their ancient foe--the seductress of their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons.
There was neither sense nor use in. going home. Her native Vassilkovsky district is distant only fifteen versts from the state capital; and the rumour that she had entered that sort of an establishment had long since penetrated, by means of her fellow- villagers, into the village. This was written of in letters, and transmitted verbally, by those village neighbours who had seen her both on the street and at Anna Markovna's place itself--porters and bell-hops of hotels, waiters at small restaurants, cabbies, small contractors. She knew what odour this fame would give off if she were to return to her native haunts. It were better to hang one's self than to endure this.
She was as uneconomical and impractical in money matters as a five-year-old child, and in a short while was left without a kopeck; while to go back to the brothel was fearful and shameful. But the temptations of street prostitution turned up of themselves, and at every step begged to be seized. In the evenings, on the main street, old hardened street prostitutes at once unerringly guessed her former profession. Ever and anon one of them, having come alongside of her, would begin in a sweet, ingratiating voice:
"How is it, young lady, that you're walking alone? Let's be mates. Let's walk together. That's always more convenient. Whenever men want to pass the time pleasantly with girls, they always love to start a party of four."
And right here the experienced, tried recruiting agent, at first casually, but after that warmly, with all her heart, would begin to praise up all the conveniences of living at your own landlady's--the tasty food, full freedom of going out, the possibility of always concealing from the landlady of your rooms the surplus over the agreed pay. Here also much of the malicious and the offensive was said, by the way, against the women of the private houses, who were called "government hides," "government stuff," "genteel maidens" and "institutes." Liubka knew the value of these sneers, because the dwellers in brothels also bear themselves with the greatest contempt toward street prostitutes, calling them "bimmies" and "venereals."
To be sure, in the very end that happened which had to happen. Seeing in perspective a whole series of hungry days, and in the very depth of them the dark horror of an unknown future, Liubka consented to a very civil invitation of some respectable little old man; important, grayish, well-dressed and correct. For this ignominy Liubka received a rouble, but did not dare to protest: the previous life in the house had entirely eaten away her personal initiative, mobility and energy. Later, several times running, he even did not pay her anything at all.
One young man, easy of manner and handsome, in a cap with a flattened brim, put on at a brave slant over one ear, in a silk blouse, girdled by a cord with tassels, also led her with him into a hotel, asked for wine and a snack; for a long time lied to Liubka about his being an earl's son on the wrong side of the blanket, and that he was the first billiardist in the whole city; that all the wenches like him and that he would make a swell Jane out of Liubka as well. Then he went out of the room for just one minute, as though on business of his own, and vanished forever. The stern, cross-eyed porter beat her with contentment, long, in silence, with a business-like air; breathing hard and covering up Liubka's mouth with his hand. But in the end, having become convinced, probably, that the fault was not hers, but the guest's, he took her purse, in which was a rouble with some small change, away from her; and took as security her rather cheap little hat and small outer jacket.
Another man of forty-five years, not at all badly dressed, having tortured the girl for some two hours, paid for the room and gave her 80 kopecks; but when she started to complain, he with a ferocious face put an enormous red-haired fist up to her very nose, the first thing, and said decisively:
"You just snivel a bit more to me... I'll snivel you... I'll yell for the police, now, and say that you robbed me when I was sleeping. Want me to? Is it long since you've been in a station house?"
And went away.
And of such cases there were many.
On that day, when her landlords--a boatman and his wife--had refused to let her have a room and just simply threw her things out into the yard; and when she had wandered the night through on the streets, without sleep, under the rain, hiding from the policemen--only then, with aversion and shame, did she resolve to turn to Lichonin's aid. But Lichonin was no longer in town pusillanimously, he had gone away the very same day when the unjustly wronged and disgraced Liubka had run away from the flat. And it was in the morning that there came into her head the desperate thought of returning into the brothel and begging forgiveness there.
"Jennechka, you're so clever, so brave, so kind; beg Emma Edwardovna for me--the little housekeeper will listen to you," she implored Jennka and kissed her bare shoulders and wetted them with tears.
"She won't listen to anybody," gloomily answered Jennka. "And you did have to tie up with a fool and a low-down fellow like that."
"Jennechka, but you yourself advised me to," timidly retorted Liubka.
"I advised you? ... I didn't advise you anything. What are you lying on me for, just as though I was dead... Well, all right then--let's go."
Emma Edwardovna had already known for a long while about the return of Liubka; and had even seen her at that moment when she had passed through the yard of the house, looking all around her. At soul she was not at all against taking Liubka back. It must be said, that she had even let her go only because she had been tempted by the money, one-half of which she had appropriated for herself. And in addition to that, she had reckoned that with the present seasonal influx of new prostitutes she would have a large choice; in which, however, she had made a mistake, because the season had terminated abruptly. But in any case, she had firmly resolved to take Liubka. Only it was necessary, for the preservation and rounding out of prestige, to give her a scare befittingly.
"Wha-at?" she began to yell at Liubka, scarcely having heard her out, babbling in confusion. "You want to be taken on again? ... You wallowed the devil knows with whom in the streets, under the fences; and now, you scum, you're again shoving your way into a respectable, decent establishment! ... Pfui, you Russian swine! Out! ..."
Liubka was catching her hands, aiming to kiss them, but the housekeeper roughly snatched them away. Then, suddenly paling, with a distorted face, biting her trembling, twisted lower lip, Emma calculatingly and with good aim struck Liubka on her cheek, with all her might; from which the other went down on her knees, but got up right away, gasping for breath and stammering from the sobs.
"Darlingest, don't beat me... Oh my dear, don't beat me..."
And again fell down, this time flat upon the floor.
And this systematic, malignant slaughter, in cold blood, continued for some two minutes. Jennka, who had at first been looking on with her customary malicious, disdainful air, suddenly could not stand it; she began to squeal savagely, threw herself upon the housekeeper, clutched her by the hair, tore off her chignon and began to vociferate in a real hysterical fit:
"Fool! ... Murderer! ... Low-down go-between! ... Thief! ..."
All the three women vociferated together, and at once enraged wails resounded through all the corridors and rooms of the establishment. This was that general fit of grand hysterics, which takes possession of those confined in prisons, or that elemental insanity (raptus), which envelops unexpectedly and epidemically an entire lunatic asylum, from which even experienced psychiatrists grow pale.
Only after the lapse of an hour was order restored by Simeon and two comrades by profession who had come to his aid. All the thirteen girls got it hot; but Jennka, who had gone into a real frenzy, more than the others. The beaten-up Liubka kept on crawling before the housekeeper until she was taken back. She knew that Jennka's outbreak would sooner or later be reflected upon her in a cruel repayment. Jennka sat on her bed until the very night, her legs crossed Turkish fashion; refused dinner, and chased out all her mates who went in to her. Her eye was bruised, and she assiduously applied a five-kopeck copper to it. From underneath the torn shirt a long, transversal scratch reddened on the neck, just like a mark from a rope. That was where Simeon had torn off her skin in the struggle. She sat thus, alone, with eyes that glowed in the dark like a wild beast's, with distended nostrils, with spasmodically moving cheek-bones, and whispered wrathfully:
"Just you wait... Watch out, you damned things--I'll show you... You'll see yet... Ooh-ooh, you man-eaters..."
But when the lights had been lit, and the junior housekeeper, Zociya, knocked on her door with the words: "Miss, get dressed! ... Into the drawing room!" she rapidly washed herself, dressed, put some powder on the bruise, smeared the scratch over with Creme de Simon and pink powder, and went out into the drawing room, pitiful but proud; beaten-up, but her eyes flaming with an unbearable wrathfulness and a beauty not human.
Many people, who have happened to see suicides a few hours before their horrible death, say that in their visages in those fateful hours before death they have noticed some enigmatic, mysterious, incomprehensible allurement. And all who saw Jennka on this night, and on the next day for a few hours, for long, intently and in wonder, kept their gaze upon her.
And strangest of all (this was one of the sombre wiles of fate) was the fact that the indirect culprit of her death, the last grain of sand which draws down the pan of the scales, appeared none other than the dear, most kind, military cadet Kolya Gladishev.