Sanine by Mikhail Petrovich Artzybashev
Summer now came on, abounding in light and warmth. Between the luminous blue heaven and the sultry earth there floated a tremulous veil of golden haze. Exhausted with the heat, the trees seemed asleep; their leaves, drooping and motionless, cast short, transparent shadows on the parched, arid turf. Indoors it was cool. Pale green reflections from the garden quivered on the ceiling, and while everything else stirred not, the curtains by the window waved.
His linen jacket all unbuttoned, Sarudine slowly paced up and down the room languidly smoking a cigarette, and displaying his large white teeth. Tanaroff, in just his shirt and riding-breeches, lay at full length on the sofa, furtively watching Sarudine with his little black eyes. He was in urgent need of fifty roubles, and had already asked his friend twice for them. He did not venture to do this a third time, and so was anxiously waiting to see if Sarudine himself would return to the subject. The latter had not forgotten by any means, but, having gambled away seven hundred roubles last month, begrudged any further outlay.
"He already owes me two hundred and fifty," thought he, as he glanced at Tanaroff in passing. Then, more irritably, "It's astonishing, upon my word! Of course we're good friends, and all that, but I wonder that he's not the least bit ashamed of himself. He might at any rate make some excuse for owing me all that money. No, I won't lend him another penny," he thought maliciously.
The orderly now entered the room, a little freckled fellow who in slow, clumsy fashion stood at attention, and, without looking at Sarudine, said,
"If you please, sir, you asked for beer, but there isn't any more."
Sarudine's face grew red, as involuntarily he glanced at Tanaroff.
"Well, this is really a bit too much!" he thought. "He knows that I am hard up, yet beer has to be sent for."
"There's very little vodka left, either," added the soldier.
"All right! Damn you! You've still got a couple of roubles. Go and buy what is wanted."
"Please, sir, I haven't got any money at all."
"How's that? What do you mean by lying?" exclaimed Sarudine, stopping short.
"If you please, sir, I was told to pay the washerwoman one rouble and seventy copecks, which I did, and I put the other thirty copecks on the dressing-table, sir."
"Yes, that's right," said Tanaroff, with assumed carelessness of manner, though blushing for very shame, "I told him to do that yesterday ... the woman had been worrying me for a whole week, don't you know."
Two red spots appeared on Sarudine's scrupulously shaven cheeks, and the muscles of his face worked convulsively. He silently resumed his walk up and down the room and suddenly stopped in front of Tanaroff.
"Look here," he said, and his voice trembled with anger, "I should be much obliged if, in future, you would leave me to manage my own money- affairs."
Tanaroff's face flushed crimson.
"H'm! A trifle like that!" he muttered, shrugging his shoulders.
"It is not a question of trifles," continued Sarudine, bitterly, "it is the principle of the thing. May I ask what right you ..."
"I ..." stammered Tanaroff.
"Pray don't explain," said Sarudine, in the same cutting tone. "I must beg you not to take such a liberty again."
Tanaroff's lips quivered. He hung his head, and nervously fingered his mother-of-pearl cigarette-holder. After a moment's pause, Sarudine turned sharply round, and, jingling the keys loudly, opened the drawer of his bureau.
"There! go and buy what is wanted!" he said irritably, but in a calmer tone, as he handed the soldier a hundred-rouble note.
"Very good, sir," replied the soldier, who saluted and withdrew.
Sarudine pointedly locked his cash-box and shut the drawer of the bureau. Tanaroff had just time to glance at the box containing the fifty roubles which he needed so much, and then, sighing, lit a cigarette. He felt deeply mortified, yet he was afraid to show this, lest Sarudine should become more angry.
"What are two roubles to him?" he thought, "He knows very well that I am hard up."
Sarudine continued walking up and down obviously irritated, but gradually growing calmer. When the servant brought in the beer, he drank off a tumbler of the ice-cold foaming beverage with evident gusto. Then as he sucked the end of his moustache, he said, as if nothing had happened.
"Lida came again to see me yesterday, A fine girl, I tell you! As hot as they make them."
Tanaroff, still smarting, made no reply.
Sarudine, however, did not notice this, and slowly crossed the room, his eyes laughing as if at some secret recollection. His strong, healthy organism, enervated by the heat, was the more sensible to the influence of exciting thought. Suddenly he laughed, a short laugh; it was as if he had neighed. Then he stopped.
"You know yesterday I tried to ..." (here he used a coarse, and in reference to a woman, a most humiliating, expression) "She jibbed a bit, at first; that wicked look in her eyes; you know the sort of thing!"
His animal instincts roused in their turn, Tanaroff grinned lecherously.
"But afterwards, it was all right; never had such a time in my life!" said Sarudine, and he shivered at the recollection.
"Lucky chap!" exclaimed Tanaroff, enviously.
"Is Sarudine at home?" cried a loud voice from the Street. "May we come in?" It was Ivanoff.
Sarudine started, fearful lest his words about Lida Sanina should have been heard by some one else. But Ivanoff had hailed him from the roadway, and was not even visible.
"Yes, yes, he's at home!" cried Sarudine from the window.
In the ante-room there was a noise of laughter and clattering of feet, as if the house were being invaded by a merry crowd. Then Ivanoff, Novikoff, Captain Malinowsky, two other officers, and Sanine all appeared.
"Hurrah!" cried Malinowsky, as he pushed his way in. His face was purple, he had fat, flabby cheeks and a moustache like two wisps of straw. "How are you, boys?"
"Bang goes another twenty-five-rouble note!" thought Sarudine with some irritation.
As he was mainly anxious, however, not to lose his reputation for being a wealthy, open-handed fellow, he exclaimed, smiling,
"Hallo! Where are you all going? Here! Tcherepanoff get some vodka, and whatever's wanted. Run across to the club and order some beer. You would like some beer, gentlemen, eh? A hot day like this?"
When beer and vodka had been brought, the din grew greater. All were laughing, and shouting and drinking, apparently bent on making as much noise as possible. Only Novikoff seemed moody and depressed; his good- tempered face wore an evil expression.
It was not until yesterday that he had discovered what the whole town had been talking about; and at first a sense of humiliation and jealousy utterly overcame him.
"It's impossible! It's absurd! Silly gossip!" he said to himself, refusing to believe that Lida, so fair, so proud, so unapproachable, Lida whom he so deeply loved, could possibly have scandalously compromised herself with such a creature as Sarudine whom he looked upon as infinitely inferior and more stupid than himself. Then wild, bestial jealousy took possession of his soul. He had moments of the bitterest despair, and anon he was consumed by fierce hatred of Lida, and specially of Sarudine, To his placid, indolent temperament this feeling was so strange that it craved an outlet. All night long he had pitied himself, even thinking of suicide, but when morning came he only longed with a wild, inexplicable longing to set eyes upon Sarudine.
Now amid the noise and drunken laughter, he sat apart, drinking mechanically glass after glass, while intently watching every movement of Sarudine's, much as some wild beast in a wood watches another wild beast, pretending to see nothing, yet ever ready to spring. Everything about Sarudine, his smile, his white teeth, his good looks, his voice, were for Novikoff, all so many daggers thrust into an open wound.
"Sarudine," said a tall lean officer with exceptionally long, unwieldy arms, "I've brought you a book."
Above the general clamour Novikoff instantly caught the name, Sarudine, and the sound of his voice, as well, all other voices seeming mute.
"What sort of book?"
"It's about women, by Tolstoi," replied the lanky officer, raising his voice as if he were making a report. On his long sallow face there was a look of evident pride at being able to read and discuss Tolstoi.
"Do you read Tolstoi?" asked Ivanoff, who had noticed this naively complacent expression.
"Von Deitz is mad about Tolstoi," exclaimed Malinowsky, with a loud guffaw.
Sarudine took the slender red-covered pamphlet, and, turning over a few pages, said,
"Is it interesting?"
"You'll see for yourself," replied Von Deitz with enthusiasm. "There's a brain for you, my word! It's just as if one had known it all one's self!"
"But why should Victor Sergejevitsch read Tolstoi when he has his own special views concerning women?" asked Novikoff, in a low tone, not taking his eyes off his glass.
"What makes you think that?" rejoined Sarudine warily, scenting an attack.
Novikoff was silent. With all that was in him, he longed to hit Sarudine full in the face, that pretty self-satisfied-looking face, to fling him to the ground, and kick him, in a blind fury of passion. But the words that he wanted would not come; he knew, and it tortured him the more to know, that he was saying the wrong thing, as with a sneer, he replied.
"It is enough to look at you, to know that."
The strange, menacing tone of his voice produced a sudden lull, almost as if a murder had been committed. Ivanoff guessed what was the matter.
"It seems to me that ..." began Sarudine coldly. His manner had changed somewhat, though he did not lose his self-control.
"Come, come, gentlemen! What's the matter?" cried Ivanoff.
"Don't interfere! Let them fight it out!" interposed Sanine, laughing.
"It does not seem, but it is so!" said Novikoff, in the same tone, his eyes still fixed on his glass.
Instantly, as it were, a living wall rose up between the rivals, amid much shouting, waving of arms, and expressions of amusement or of surprise. Sarudine was held back by Malinowsky and Von Deitz, while Ivanoff and the other officers kept Novikoff in check. Ivanoff filled up the glasses, and shouted out something, addressing no one in particular. The gaiety was now forced and insincere, and Novikoff felt suddenly that he must get away.
He could bear it no longer. Smiling foolishly, he turned to Ivanoff and the officers who were trying to engage his attention.
"What is the matter with me?" he thought, half-dazed. "I suppose I ought to strike him ... rush at him, and give him one in the eye! Otherwise, I shall look such a fool, for they must all have guessed that I wanted to pick a quarrel...."
But, instead of doing this, he pretended to be interested in what Ivanoff and Von Deitz were saying.
"As regards women, I don't altogether agree with Tolstoi," said the officer complacently.
"A woman's just a female," replied Ivanoff, "In every thousand men you might find one worthy to be called a man. But women, bah! They're all alike--just little naked, plump, rosy apes without tails!"
"Rather smart, that!" said Von Deitz, approvingly.
"And true, too," thought Novikoff, bitterly.
"My dear fellow," continued Ivanoff, waving his hands close to the other's nose, "I'll tell you what, if you were to go to people and say, 'Whatsoever woman looketh on a man to lust after him hath committed adultery with him already in her heart,' most of them would probably think that you had made a most original remark."
Von Deitz burst into a fit of hoarse laughter that sounded like the barking of a dog. He had not understood Ivanoff's joke, but felt sorry not to have made it himself.
Suddenly Novikoff held out his hand to him.
"What? Are you off?" asked Von Deitz in surprise.
Novikoff made no reply.
"Where are you going?" asked Sanine.
Still Novikoff was silent. He felt that in another moment the grief pent up within his bosom must break forth in a flood of tears.
"I know what's wrong with you," said Sanine. "Spit on it all!"
Novikoff glanced piteously at him. His lips trembled and with a deprecating gesture, he silently went out, feeling utterly overcome at his own helplessness. To soothe himself, he thought:
"Of what good would it have been to hit that blackguard in the face? It would have only led to a stupid fight. Better not soil my hands!"
But the sense of jealously unsatisfied and of utter impotence still oppressed him, and he returned home in deep dejection. Flinging himself on his bed, he buried his face in the pillows and lay thus almost the whole day long, bitterly conscious that he could do nothing.
"Shall we play makao?" asked Malinowsky.
"All right!" said Ivanoff.
The orderly at once opened the card-table and gaily the green cloth beamed upon them all. Malinowsky's suggestion had roused the company, and he now began to shuffle the cards with his short, hairy fingers. The bright coloured cards were now scattered circle-wise on the green table, as the chink of silver roubles was heard after each deal, while on all sides fingers like spiders closed greedily on the coin. Only brief, hoarse ejaculations were audible, expressing either vexation or pleasure. Sarudine had no luck. He obstinately made a point of staking fifteen roubles, and lost every time. His handsome face wore a look of extreme irritation. Last month he had gambled away seven hundred roubles, and now there was all this to add to his previous loss. His ill-humour was contagious, for soon between Von Deitz and Malinowsky there was an interchange of high words.
"I have staked on the side, there!" exclaimed Von Deitz irritably.
It amazed him that this drunken boor, Malinowsky, should dare to dispute with such a clever, accomplished person as himself.
"Oh! so you say!" replied Malinowsky, rudely. "Damnation, take it! when I win, then you tell me you've staked on the side, and when I lose ..."
"I beg your pardon," said Von Deitz, dropping his Russian accent, as he was wont to do when angry.
"Pardon be hanged! Take back your stake! No! No! Take it back, I say!"
"But let me tell you, sir, that ..."
"Good God, gentlemen! what the devil does all this mean?" shouted Sarudine, as he flung down his cards.
At this juncture a new comer appeared in the doorway, Sarudine was ashamed of his own vulgar outburst, and of his noisy, drunken guests, with their cards and bottles, for the whole scene suggested a low tavern.
The visitor was tall and thin, and wore a loosely-fitting white suit, and an extremely high collar. He stood on the threshold amazed, endeavouring to recognize Sarudine.
"Hallo! Pavel Lvovitsch! What brings you here?" cried Sarudine, as, crimson with annoyance, he advanced to greet him.
The newcomer entered in hesitating fashion, and the eyes of all were fixed on his dazzlingly white shoes picking their way through the beer- bottles, corks and cigarette-ends. So white and neat and scented was he, that, in all these clouds of smoke, and amid all these flushed, drunken fellows, he might have been likened to a lily in the marsh, had he not looked so frail and worn-out, and if his features had not been so puny, nor his teeth so decayed under his scanty, red moustache.
"Where have you come from? Have you been away a long while from Pitjer?" [Footnote: A slang term for St. Petersburg.] said Sarudine, somewhat flurried, as he feared that "Pitjer" was not exactly the word which he ought to have used.
"I only got here yesterday," said the gentleman in white, in a determined tone, though his voice sounded like the suppressed crowing of a cock. "My comrades," said Sarudine, introducing the others. "Gentlemen, this is Mr. Pavel Lvovitsch Volochine."
Volochine bowed slightly.
"We must make a note of that!" observed the tipsy Ivanoff, much to Sarudine's horror.
"Pray sit down, Pavel Lvovitsch. Would you like some wine or some beer?"
Volochine sat down carefully in an arm-chair and his white, immaculate form stood out sharply against the dingy oil-cloth cover.
"Please don't trouble. I just came to see you for a moment," he said, somewhat coldly, as he surveyed the company.
"How's that? I'll send for some white wine. You like white wine, don't you?" asked Sarudine, and he hurried out.
"Why on earth does the fool want to come here today?" he thought, irritably, as he sent the orderly to fetch wine. "This Volochine will say such things about me in Petersburg that I shan't be able to get a footing in any decent house."
Meanwhile Volochine was taking stock of the others with undisguised curiosity, feeling that he himself was immeasurably superior. There was a look in his little glassy, grey eyes of unfeigned interest, as if he were being shown a collection of wild beasts. He was specially attracted by Sanine's height, his powerful physique, and his dress.
"An interesting type, that! He must be pretty strong!" he thought, with the genuine admiration of the weakling for the athlete. In fact, he began to speak to Sanine but the latter, leaning against the window- sill, was looking out at the garden. Volochine stopped short; the very sound of his own squeaky voice vexed him.
"Hooligans!" he thought.
At this moment Sarudine came back. He sat down next to Volochine and asked questions about St. Petersburg, and also about the latter's factory, so as to let the others know what a very wealthy and important person his visitor was. The handsome face of this sturdy animal now wore an expression of petty vanity and self-importance.
"Everything's the same with us, just the same!" replied Volochine, in a bored tone of voice. "How is it with you?"
"Oh! I'm just vegetating," said Sarudine with a mournful sigh.
Volochine was silent, and looked up disdainfully at the ceiling where the green reflections from the garden wavered.
"Our one and only amusement is this," continued Sarudine, as with a gesture he indicated the cards, the bottles, and his guests.
"Yes, yes!" drawled Volochine; to Sarudine his tone seemed to say, "and you're no better, either."
"I think I must be going now. I'm staying at the hotel on the boulevard. I may see you again!" Volochine rose to take his leave.
At this moment the orderly entered and saluting in slovenly fashion, said,
"The young lady is there, sir."
Sarudine started. "What?" he cried.
"She has come, sir."
"Ah I yes, I know," said Sarudine. He glanced about him nervously, feeling a sudden presentiment.
"I wonder if it's Lida?" he thought. "Impossible!"
Volochine's inquisitive eyes twinkled. His puny little body in its loose white clothes seemed to acquire new vitality.
"Well, good-bye!" he said, laughing. "Up to your old tricks, as usual! Ha! Ha!"
Sarudine smiled uneasily, as he accompanied his visitor to the door, and with a parting stare the latter in his immaculate shoes hurried off.
"Now, sirs," said Sarudine, on his return, "how's the game going? Take the bank for me, will you, Tanaroff? I shall be back directly." He spoke hastily; his eyes were restless.
"That's a lie!" growled the drunken, bestial Malinowsky. "We mean to have a good look at that young lady of yours."
Tanaroff seized him by the shoulders and forced him back into his chair. The others hurriedly resumed their places at the card-table, not looking at Sarudine. Sanine also sat down, but there was a certain seriousness in his smile. He had guessed that it was Lida who had come, and a vague sense of jealousy and pity was roused within him for his handsome sister, now obviously in great distress.