Lieutenant Yergunov's Story by Ivan Turgenev
That evening Kuzma Vassilyevitch Yergunov told us his story again. He
used to repeat it punctually once a month and we heard it every time
with fresh satisfaction though we knew it almost by heart, in all its
details. Those details overgrew, if one may so express it, the
original trunk of the story itself as fungi grow over the stump of a
tree. Knowing only too well the character of our companion, we did not
trouble to fill in his gaps and incomplete statements. But now Kuzma
Vassilyevitch is dead and there will be no one to tell his story and
so we venture to bring it before the notice of the public.
It happened forty years ago when Kuzma Vassilyevitch was young. He
said of himself that he was at that time a handsome fellow and a dandy
with a complexion of milk and roses, red lips, curly hair, and eyes
like a falcon's. We took his word for it, though we saw nothing of
that sort in him; in our eyes Kuzma Vassilyevitch was a man of very
ordinary exterior, with a simple and sleepy-looking face and a heavy,
clumsy figure. But what of that? There is no beauty the years will not
mar! The traces of dandyism were more clearly preserved in Kuzma
Vassilyevitch. He still in his old age wore narrow trousers with
straps, laced in his corpulent figure, cropped the back of his head,
curled his hair over his forehead and dyed his moustache with Persian
dye, which had, however, a tint rather of purple, and even of green,
than of black. With all that Kuzma Vassilyevitch was a very worthy
gentleman, though at preference he did like to "steal a peep," that
is, look over his neighbour's cards; but this he did not so much from
greed as carefulness, for he did not like wasting his money. Enough of
these parentheses, however; let us come to the story itself.
It happened in the spring at Nikolaev, at that time a new town, to
which Kuzma Vassilyevitch had been sent on a government commission.
(He was a lieutenant in the navy.) He had, as a trustworthy and
prudent officer, been charged by the authorities with the task of
looking after the construction of ship-yards and from time to time
received considerable sums of money, which for security he invariably
carried in a leather belt on his person. Kuzma Vassilyevitch certainly
was distinguished by his prudence and, in spite of his youth, his
behaviour was exemplary; he studiously avoided every impropriety of
conduct, did not touch cards, did not drink and, even fought shy of
society so that of his comrades, the quiet ones called him "a regular
girl" and the rowdy ones called him a muff and a noodle. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch had only one failing, he had a tender heart for the fair
sex; but even in that direction he succeeded in restraining his
impulses and did not allow himself to indulge in any "foolishness." He
got up and went to bed early, was conscientious in performing his
duties and his only recreation consisted in rather long evening walks
about the outskirts of Nikolaev. He did not read as he thought it
would send the blood to his head; every spring he used to drink a
special decoction because he was afraid of being too full-blooded.
Putting on his uniform and carefully brushing himself Kuzma
Vassilyevitch strolled with a sedate step alongside the fences of
orchards, often stopped, admired the beauties of nature, gathered
flowers as souvenirs and found a certain pleasure in doing so; but he
felt acute pleasure only when he happened to meet "a charmer," that
is, some pretty little workgirl with a shawl flung over her shoulders,
with a parcel in her ungloved hand and a gay kerchief on her head.
Being as he himself expressed it of a susceptible but modest
temperament Kuzma Vassilyevitch did not address the "charmer," but
smiled ingratiatingly at her and looked long and attentively after
her.... Then he would heave a deep sigh, go home with the same sedate
step, sit down at the window and dream for half an hour, carefully
smoking strong tobacco out of a meerschaum pipe with an amber
mouthpiece given him by his godfather, a police superintendent of
German origin. So the days passed neither gaily nor drearily.
Well, one day, as he was returning home along an empty side-street at
dusk Kuzma Vassilyevitch heard behind him hurried footsteps and
incoherent words mingled with sobs. He looked round and saw a girl
about twenty with an extremely pleasing but distressed and tear-stained
face. She seemed to have been overtaken by some great and unexpected
grief. She was running and stumbling as she ran, talking to herself,
exclaiming, gesticulating; her fair hair was in disorder and her shawl
(the burnous and the mantle were unknown in those days) had slipped off
her shoulders and was kept on by one pin. The girl was dressed like a
young lady, not like a workgirl.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch stepped aside; his feeling of compassion
overpowered his fear of doing something foolish and, when she caught
him up, he politely touched the peak of his shako, and asked her the
cause of her tears.
"For," he added, and he laid his hand on his cutlass, "I, as an
officer, may be able to help you."
The girl stopped and apparently for the first moment did not clearly
understand what he wanted of her; but at once, as though glad of the
opportunity of expressing herself, began speaking in slightly
"Oh, dear, Mr. Officer," she began and tears rained down her charming
cheeks, "it is beyond everything! It's awful, it is beyond words! We
have been robbed, the cook has carried off everything, everything,
everything, the dinner service, the lock-up box and our clothes....
Yes, even our clothes, and stockings and linen, yes ... and aunt's
reticule. There was a twenty-five-rouble note and two appliqué spoons
in it ... and her pelisse, too, and everything.... And I told all that
to the police officer and the police officer said, 'Go away, I don't
believe you, I don't believe you. I won't listen to you. You are the
same sort yourselves.' I said, 'Why, but the pelisse ...' and he, 'I
won't listen to you, I won't listen to you.' It was so insulting, Mr.
Officer! 'Go away,' he said, 'get along,' but where am I to go?"
The girl sobbed convulsively, almost wailing, and utterly distracted
leaned against Kuzma Vassilyevitch's sleeve.... He was overcome with
confusion in his turn and stood rooted to the spot, only repeating
from time to time, "There, there!" while he gazed at the delicate nape
of the dishevelled damsel's neck, as it shook from her sobs.
"Will you let me see you home?" he said at last, lightly touching her
shoulder with his forefinger, "here in the street, you understand, it
is quite impossible. You can explain your trouble to me and of course
I will make every effort ... as an officer."
The girl raised her head and seemed for the first time to see the
young man who might be said to be holding her in his arms. She was
disconcerted, turned away, and still sobbing moved a little aside.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch repeated his suggestion. The girl looked at him
askance through her hair which had fallen over her face and was wet
with tears. (At this point Kuzma Vassilyevitch always assured us that
this glance pierced through him "like an awl," and even attempted once
to reproduce this marvellous glance for our benefit) and laying her
hand within the crooked arm of the obliging lieutenant, set off with
him for her lodging.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch had had very little to do with ladies and so was
at a loss how to begin the conversation, but his companion chattered
away very fluently, continually drying her eyes and shedding fresh
tears. Within a few minutes Kuzma Vassilyevitch had learnt that her
name was Emilie Karlovna, that she came from Riga and that she had
come to Nikolaev to stay with her aunt who was from Riga, too, that
her papa too had been in the army but had died from "his chest," that
her aunt had a Russian cook, a very good and inexpensive cook but she
had not a passport and that this cook had that very day robbed them
and run away. She had had to go to the police--in die
Polizei.... But here the memories of the police superintendent, of
the insult she had received from him, surged up again ... and sobs
broke out afresh. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was once more at a loss what to
say to comfort her. But the girl, whose impressions seemed to come and
go very rapidly, stopped suddenly and holding out her hand, said
"And this is where we live!"
It was a wretched little house that looked as though it had sunk into
the ground, with four little windows looking into the street. The dark
green of geraniums blocked them up within; a candle was burning in one
of them; night was already coming on. A wooden fence with a hardly
visible gate stretched from the house and was almost of the same
height. The girl went up to the gate and finding it locked knocked on
it impatiently with the iron ring of the padlock. Heavy footsteps were
audible behind the fence as though someone in slippers trodden down at
heel were carelessly shuffling towards the gate, and a husky female
voice asked some question in German which Kuzma Vassilyevitch did not
understand: like a regular sailor he knew no language but Russian. The
girl answered in German, too; the gate opened a very little, admitted
the girl and then was slammed almost in the face of Kuzma
Vassilyevitch who had time, however, to make out in the summer
twilight the outline of a stout, elderly woman in a red dress with a
dimly burning lantern in her hand. Struck with amazement Kuzma
Vassilyevitch remained for some time motionless in the street; but at
the thought that he, a naval officer (Kuzma Vassilyevitch had a very
high opinion of his rank) had been so discourteously treated, he was
moved to indignation and turning on his heel he went homewards. He had
not gone ten paces when the gate opened again and the girl, who had
had time to whisper to the old woman, appeared in the gateway and
called out aloud:
"Where are you going, Mr. Officer! Please come in."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch hesitated a little; he turned back, however.
This new acquaintance, whom we will call Emilie, led him through a
dark, damp little lobby into a fairly large but low-pitched and untidy
room with a huge cupboard against the further wall and a sofa covered
with American leather; above the doors and between the windows hung
three portraits in oils with the paint peeling off, two representing
bishops in clerical caps and one a Turk in a turban; cardboard boxes
were lying about in the corners; there were chairs of different sorts
and a crooked legged card table on which a man's cap was lying beside
an unfinished glass of kvass. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was followed into
the room by the old woman in the red dress, whom he had noticed at the
gate, and who turned out to be a very unprepossessing Jewess with
sullen pig-like eyes and a grey moustache over her puffy upper lip.
Emilie indicated her to Kuzma Vassilyevitch and said:
"This is my aunt, Madame Fritsche."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was a little surprised but thought it his duty to
introduce himself. Madame Fritsche looked at him from under her brows,
made no response, but asked her niece in Russian whether she would
like some tea.
"Ah, yes, tea!" answered Emilie. "You will have some tea, won't you,
Mr. Officer? Yes, auntie, give us some tea! But why are you standing,
Mr. Officer? Sit down! Oh, how ceremonious you are! Let me take off my
When Emilie talked she continually turned her head from one side to
another and jerked her shoulders; birds make similar movements when
they sit on a bare branch with sunshine all round them.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch sank into a chair and assuming a becoming air of
dignity, that is, leaning on his cutlass and fixing his eyes on the
floor, he began to speak about the theft. But Emilie at once
"Don't trouble yourself, it's all right. Auntie has just told me that
the principal things have been found." (Madame Fritsche mumbled
something to herself and went out of the room.) "And there was no need
to go to the police at all; but I can't control myself because I am
so ... You don't understand German? ... So quick, immer so rasch!
But I think no more about it ... aber auch gar nicht!"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch looked at Emilie. Her face indeed showed no trace
of care now. Everything was smiling in that pretty little face: the
eyes, fringed with almost white lashes, and the lips and the cheeks
and the chin and the dimples in the chin, and even the tip of her
turned-up nose. She went up to the little looking glass beside the
cupboard and, screwing up her eyes and humming through her teeth,
began tidying her hair. Kuzma Vassilyevitch followed her movements
intently.... He found her very charming.
"You must excuse me," she began again, turning from side to side
before the looking glass, "for having so ... brought you home with me.
Perhaps you dislike it?"
"Oh, not at all!"
"As I have told you already, I am so quick. I act first and think
afterwards, though sometimes I don't think at all.... What is your
name, Mr. Officer? May I ask you?" she added going up to him and
folding her arms.
"My name is Kuzma Vassilyevitch Yergunov."
"Yergu.... Oh, it's not a nice name! I mean it's difficult for me. I
shall call you Mr. Florestan. At Riga we had a Mr. Florestan. He sold
capital gros-de-Naples in his shop and was a handsome man, as
good-looking as you. But how broad-shouldered you are! A regular
sturdy Russian! I like the Russians.... I am a Russian myself ... my
papa was an officer. But my hands are whiter than yours!" She raised
them above her head, waved them several times in the air, so as to
drive the blood from them, and at once dropped them. "Do you see? I
wash them with Greek scented soap.... Sniff! Oh, but don't kiss
them.... I did not do it for that.... Where are you serving?"
"In the fleet, in the nineteenth Black Sea company."
"Oh, you are a sailor! Well, do you get a good salary?"
"No ... not very."
"You must be very brave. One can see it at once from your eyes. What
thick eyebrows you've got! They say you ought to grease them with lard
overnight to make them grow. But why have you no moustache?"
"It's against the regulations."
"Oh, that's not right! What's that you've got, a dagger?"
"It's a cutlass; a cutlass, so to say, is the sailor's weapon."
"Ah, a cutlass! Is it sharp? May I look?" With an effort, biting her
lip and screwing up her eyes, she drew the blade out of the scabbard
and put it to her nose.
"Oh, how blunt! I can kill you with it in a minute!"
She waved it at Kuzma Vassilyevitch. He pretended to be frightened and
laughed. She laughed too.
"Ihr habt pardon, you are pardoned," she pronounced, throwing
herself into a majestic attitude. "There, take your weapon! And how
old are you?" she asked suddenly.
"And I am nineteen! How funny that is! Ach!" And Emilie went off into
such a ringing laugh that she threw herself back in her chair. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch did not get up from his chair and looked still more
intently at her rosy face which was quivering with laughter and he
felt more and more attracted by her.
All at once Emilie was silent and humming through her teeth, as her
habit was, went back to the looking glass.
"Can you sing, Mr. Florestan?"
"No, I have never been taught."
"Do you play on the guitar? Not that either? I can. I have a guitar
set with perlenmutter but the strings are broken. I must buy
some new ones. You will give me the money, won't you, Mr. Officer?
I'll sing you a lovely German song." She heaved a sigh and shut her
eyes. "Ah, such a lovely one! But you can dance? Not that, either?
Unmöglich! I'll teach you. The schottische and the
valse-cosaque. Tra-la-la, tra-la-la," Emilie pirouetted once or
twice. "Look at my shoes! From Warsaw. Oh, we will have some dancing,
Mr. Florestan! But what are you going to call me?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch grinned and blushed to his ears.
"I shall call you: lovely Emilie!"
"No, no! You must call me: Mein Schätzchen, mein Zuckerpüppchen!
Repeat it after me."
"With the greatest pleasure, but I am afraid I shall find it
"Never mind, never mind. Say: Mein."
"Püppchen! Püppchen! Püppchen!"
"Poop ... poop.... That I can't manage. It doesn't sound nice."
"No! You must ... you must! Do you know what it means? That's the very
nicest word for a young lady in German. I'll explain it to you
afterwards. But here is auntie bringing us the samovar. Bravo! Bravo!
auntie, I will have cream with my tea.... Is there any cream?"
"So schweige doch," answered the aunt.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch stayed at Madame Fritsche's till midnight. He had
not spent such a pleasant evening since his arrival at Nikolaev. It is
true that it occurred to him that it was not seemly for an officer and
a gentleman to be associating with such persons as this native of Riga
and her auntie, but Emilie was so pretty, babbled so amusingly and
bestowed such friendly looks upon him, that he dismissed his rank and
family and made up his mind for once to enjoy himself. Only one
circumstance disturbed him and left an impression that was not quite
agreeable. When his conversation with Emilie and Madame Fritsche was
in full swing, the door from the lobby opened a crack and a man's hand
in a dark cuff with three tiny silver buttons on it was stealthily
thrust in and stealthily laid a big bundle on the chair near the door.
Both ladies instantly darted to the chair and began examining the
bundle. "But these are the wrong spoons!" cried Emilie, but her aunt
nudged her with her elbow and carried away the bundle without tying up
the ends. It seemed to Kuzma Vassilyevitch that one end was spattered
with something red, like blood.
"What is it?" he asked Emilie. "Is it some more stolen things returned
"Yes," answered Emilie, as it were, reluctantly. "Some more."
"Was it your servant found them?"
"What servant? We haven't any servant."
"Some other man, then?"
"No men come to see us."
"But excuse me, excuse me.... I saw the cuff of a man's coat or
jacket. And, besides, this cap...."
"Men never, never come to see us," Emilie repeated emphatically. "What
did you see? You saw nothing! And that cap is mine."
"How is that?"
"Why, just that. I wear it for dressing up.... Yes, it is mine, und
"Who brought you the bundle, then?"
Emilie made no answer and, pouting, followed Madame Fritsche out of
the room. Ten minutes later she came back alone, without her aunt and
when Kuzma Vassilyevitch tried to question her again, she gazed at his
forehead, said that it was disgraceful for a gentleman to be so
inquisitive (as she said this, her face changed a little, as it were,
darkened), and taking a pack of old cards from the card table drawer,
asked him to tell fortunes for her and the king of hearts.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch laughed, took the cards, and all evil thoughts
immediately slipped out of his mind.
But they came back to him that very day. When he had got out of the
gate into the street, had said good-bye to Emilie, shouted to her for
the last time, "Adieu, Zuckerpüppchen!" a short man darted by
him and turning for a minute in his direction (it was past midnight
but the moon was shining rather brightly), displayed a lean gipsy face
with thick black eyebrows and moustache, black eyes and a hooked nose.
The man at once rushed round the corner and it struck Kuzma
Vassilyevitch that he recognised--not his face, for he had never seen
it before--but the cuff of his sleeve. Three silver buttons gleamed
distinctly in the moonlight. There was a stir of uneasy perplexity in
the soul of the prudent lieutenant; when he got home he did not light
as usual his meerschaum pipe. Though, indeed, his sudden acquaintance
with charming Emilie and the agreeable hours spent in her company
would alone have induced his agitation.
Whatever Kuzma Vassilyevitch's apprehensions may have been, they were
quickly dissipated and left no trace. He took to visiting the two
ladies from Riga frequently. The susceptible lieutenant was soon on
friendly terms with Emilie. At first he was ashamed of the
acquaintance and concealed his visits; later on he got over being
ashamed and no longer concealed his visits; it ended by his being more
eager to spend his time with his new friends than with anyone and
greatly preferring their society to the cheerless solitude of his own
four walls. Madame Fritsche herself no longer made the same unpleasant
impression upon him, though she still treated him morosely and
ungraciously. Persons in straitened circumstances like Madame Fritsche
particularly appreciate a liberal expenditure in their visitors, and
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was a little stingy and his presents for the most
part took the shape of raisins, walnuts, cakes.... Only once he let
himself go and presented Emilie with a light pink fichu of real French
material, and that very day she had burnt a hole in his gift with a
candle. He began to upbraid her; she fixed the fichu to the cat's
tail; he was angry; she laughed in his face. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was
forced at last to admit to himself that he had not only failed to win
the respect of the ladies from Riga, but had even failed to gain their
confidence: he was never admitted at once, without preliminary
scrutinising; he was often kept waiting; sometimes he was sent away
without the slightest ceremony and when they wanted to conceal
something from him they would converse in German in his presence.
Emilie gave him no account of her doings and replied to his questions
in an offhand way as though she had not heard them; and, worst of all,
some of the rooms in Madame Fritsche's house, which was a fairly large
one, though it looked like a hovel from the street, were never opened
to him. For all that, Kuzma Vassilyevitch did not give up his visits;
on the contrary, he paid them more and more frequently: he was seeing
living people, anyway. His vanity was gratified by Emilie's continuing
to call him Florestan, considering him exceptionally handsome and
declaring that he had eyes like a bird of paradise, "wie die Augen
One day in the very height of summer, Kuzma Vassilyevitch, who had
spent the whole morning in the sun with contractors and workmen,
dragged himself tired and exhausted to the little gate that had become
so familiar to him. He knocked and was admitted. He shambled into the
so-called drawing-room and immediately lay down on the sofa. Emilie
went up to him and mopped his wet brow with a handkerchief.
"How tired he is, poor pet! How hot he is!" she said commiseratingly.
"Good gracious! You might at least unbutton your collar. My goodness,
how your throat is pulsing!"
"I am done up, my dear," groaned Kuzma Vassilyevitch. "I've been on my
feet all the morning, in the baking sun. It's awful! I meant to go
home. But there those vipers, the contractors, would find me! While
here with you it is cool.... I believe I could have a nap."
"Well, why not? Go to sleep, my little chick; no one will disturb you
"But I am really ashamed."
"What next! Why ashamed? Go to sleep. And I'll sing you ... what do you
call it? ... I'll sing you to bye-bye, 'Schlaf, mein Kindchen,
Schlafe!'" She began singing.
"I should like a drink of water first."
"Here is a glass of water for you. Fresh as crystal! Wait, I'll put a
pillow under your head.... And here is this to keep the flies off."
She covered his face with a handkerchief.
"Thank you, my little cupid.... I'll just have a tiny doze ... that's
Kuzma Vassilyevitch closed his eyes and fell asleep immediately.
"Schlaf, mein Kindchen, schlafe," sang Emilie, swaying from
side to side and softly laughing at her song and her movements.
"What a big baby I have got!" she thought. "A boy!"
An hour and a half later the lieutenant awoke. He fancied in his sleep
that someone touched him, bent over him, breathed over him. He
fumbled, and pulled off the kerchief. Emilie was on her knees close
beside him; the expression of her face struck him as queer. She jumped
up at once, walked away to the window and put something away in her
Kuzma Vassilyevitch stretched.
"I've had a good long snooze, it seems!" he observed, yawning. "Come
here, meine züsse Fräulein!"
Emilie went up to him. He sat up quickly, thrust his hand into her
pocket and took out a small pair of scissors.
"Ach, Herr Je!" Emilie could not help exclaiming.
"It's ... it's a pair of scissors?" muttered Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
"Why, of course. What did you think it was ... a pistol? Oh, how funny
you look! You're as rumpled as a pillow and your hair is all standing
up at the back.... And he doesn't laugh.... Oh, oh! And his eyes are
Emilie went off into a giggle.
"Come, that's enough," muttered Kuzma Vassilyevitch, and he got up
from the sofa. "That's enough giggling about nothing. If you can't
think of anything more sensible, I'll go home.... I'll go home," he
repeated, seeing that she was still laughing.
"Come, stay; I won't.... Only you must brush your hair."
"No, never mind.... Don't trouble. I'd better go," said Kuzma
Vassilyevitch, and he took up his cap.
"Fie, how cross he is! A regular Russian! All Russians are cross. Now
he is going. Fie! Yesterday he promised me five roubles and today he
gives me nothing and goes away."
"I haven't any money on me," Kuzma Vassilyevitch muttered grumpily in
the doorway. "Good-bye."
Emilie looked after him and shook her finger.
"No money! Do you hear, do you hear what he says? Oh, what deceivers
these Russians are! But wait a bit, you pug.... Auntie, come here, I
have something to tell you."
That evening as Kuzma Vassilyevitch was undressing to go to bed, he
noticed that the upper edge of his leather belt had come unsewn for
about three inches. Like a careful man he at once procured a needle
and thread, waxed the thread and stitched up the hole himself. He
paid, however, no attention to this apparently trivial circumstance.
The whole of the next day Kuzma Vassilyevitch devoted to his official
duties; he did not leave the house even after dinner and right into
the night was scribbling and copying out his report to his superior
officer, mercilessly disregarding the rules of spelling, always
putting an exclamation mark after the word but and a semi-colon
after however. Next morning a barefoot Jewish boy in a tattered
gown brought him a letter from Emilie--the first letter that Kuzma
Vassilyevitch had received from her.
"Mein allerliebstep Florestan," she wrote to him, "can you really so
cross with your Zuckerpüppchen be that you came not yesterday? Please
be not cross if you wish not your merry Emilie to weep very bitterly
and come, be sure, at 5 o'clock to-day." (The figure 5 was surrounded
with two wreaths.) "I will be very, very glad. Your amiable Emilie."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was inwardly surprised at the accomplishments of
his charmer, gave the Jew boy a copper coin and told him to say, "Very
well, I will come."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch kept his word: five o'clock had not struck when he
was standing before Madame Fritsche's gate. But to his surprise he did
not find Emilie at home; he was met by the lady of the house herself
who--wonder of wonders!--dropping a preliminary curtsey, informed him
that Emilie had been obliged by unforeseen circumstances to go out but
she would soon be back and begged him to wait. Madame Fritsche had on
a neat white cap; she smiled, spoke in an ingratiating voice and
evidently tried to give an affable expression to her morose
countenance, which was, however, none the more prepossessing for that,
but on the contrary acquired a positively sinister aspect.
"Sit down, sit down, sir," she said, putting an easy chair for him,
"and we will offer you some refreshment if you will permit it."
Madame Fritsche made another curtsey, went out of the room and
returned shortly afterwards with a cup of chocolate on a small iron
tray. The chocolate turned out to be of dubious quality; Kuzma
Vassilyevitch drank the whole cup with relish, however, though he was
at a loss to explain why Madame Fritsche was suddenly so affable and
what it all meant. For all that Emilie did not come back and he was
beginning to lose patience and feel bored when all at once he heard
through the wall the sounds of a guitar. First there was the sound of
one chord, then a second and a third and a fourth--the sound
continually growing louder and fuller. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was
surprised: Emilie certainly had a guitar but it only had three
strings: he had not yet bought her any new ones; besides, Emilie was
not at home. Who could it be? Again a chord was struck and so loudly
that it seemed as though it were in the room.... Kuzma Vassilyevitch
turned round and almost cried out in a fright. Before him, in a low
doorway which he had not till then noticed--a big cupboard screened
it--stood a strange figure ... neither a child nor a grown-up girl.
She was wearing a white dress with a bright-coloured pattern on it and
red shoes with high heels; her thick black hair, held together by a
gold fillet, fell like a cloak from her little head over her slender
body. Her big eyes shone with sombre brilliance under the soft mass of
hair; her bare, dark-skinned arms were loaded with bracelets and her
hands covered with rings, held a guitar. Her face was scarcely
visible, it looked so small and dark; all that was seen was the
crimson of her lips and the outline of a straight and narrow nose.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch stood for some time petrified and stared at the
strange creature without blinking; and she, too, gazed at him without
stirring an eyelid. At last he recovered himself and moved with small
steps towards her.
The dark face began gradually smiling. There was a sudden gleam of
white teeth, the little head was raised, and lightly flinging back the
curls, displayed itself in all its startling and delicate beauty.
"What little imp is this?" thought Kuzma Vassilyevitch, and, advancing
still closer, he brought out in a low voice:
"Hey, little image! Who are you?"
"Come here, come here," the "little image" responded in a rather husky
voice, with a halting un-Russian intonation and incorrect accent, and
she stepped back two paces.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch followed her through the doorway and found himself
in a tiny room without windows, the walls and floor of which were
covered with thick camel's-hair rugs. He was overwhelmed by a strong
smell of musk. Two yellow wax candles were burning on a round table in
front of a low sofa. In the corner stood a bedstead under a muslin
canopy with silk stripes and a long amber rosary with a red tassle at
the end hung by the pillow.
"But excuse me, who are you?" repeated Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
"Sister ... sister of Emilie."
"You are her sister? And you live here?"
"Yes ... yes."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch wanted to touch "the image." She drew back.
"How is it she has never spoken of you?"
"Could not ... could not."
"You are in concealment then ... in hiding?"
"Are there reasons?"
"Reasons ... reasons."
"Hm!" Again Kuzma Vassilyevitch would have touched the figure, again
she stepped back. "So that's why I never saw you. I must own I never
suspected your existence. And the old lady, Madame Fritsche, is your
"Yes ... aunt."
"Hm! You don't seem to understand Russian very well. What's your name,
allow me to ask?"
"Colibri! That's an out-of-the-way name! There are insects like that
in Africa, if I remember right?"
Colibri gave a short, queer laugh ... like a clink of glass in her
throat. She shook her head, looked round, laid her guitar on the table
and going quickly to the door, abruptly shut it. She moved briskly and
nimbly with a rapid, hardly audible sound like a lizard; at the back
her hair fell below her knees.
"Why have you shut the door?" asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
Colibri put her fingers to her lips.
"Emilie ... not want ... not want her."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch grinned.
"I say, you are not jealous, are you?"
Colibri raised her eyebrows.
"Jealous ... angry," Kuzma Vassilyevitch explained.
"Really! Much obliged.... I say, how old are you?"
"Seventeen, you mean?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch scrutinised his fantastic companion closely.
"What a beautiful creature you are!" he said, emphatically.
"Marvellous! Really marvellous! What hair! What eyes! And your
eyebrows ... ough!"
Colibri laughed again and again looked round with her magnificent
"Yes, I am a beauty! Sit down, and I'll sit down ... beside."
"By all means! But say what you like, you are a strange sister for
Emilie! You are not in the least like her."
"Yes, I am sister ... cousin. Here ... take ... a flower. A nice
flower. It smells." She took out of her girdle a sprig of white lilac,
sniffed it, bit off a petal and gave him the whole sprig. "Will you
have jam? Nice jam ... from Constantinople ... sorbet?" Colibri took
from the small chest of drawers a gilt jar wrapped in a piece of
crimson silk with steel spangles on it, a silver spoon, a cut glass
decanter and a tumbler like it. "Eat some sorbet, sir; it is fine. I
will sing to you.... Will you?" She took up the guitar.
"You sing, then?" asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch, putting a spoonful of
really excellent sorbet into his mouth.
"Oh, yes!" She flung back her mane of hair, put her head on one side
and struck several chords, looking carefully at the tips of her
fingers and at the top of the guitar ... then suddenly began singing
in a voice unexpectedly strong and agreeable, but guttural and to the
ears of Kuzma Vassilyevitch rather savage. "Oh, you pretty kitten," he
thought. She sang a mournful song, utterly un-Russian and in a
language quite unknown to Kuzma Vassilyevitch. He used to declare that
the sounds "Kha, gha" kept recurring in it and at the end she repeated
a long drawn-out "sintamar" or "sintsimar," or something of the sort,
leaned her head on her hand, heaved a sigh and let the guitar drop on
her knee. "Good?" she asked, "want more?"
"I should be delighted," answered Kuzma Vassilyevitch. "But why do you
look like that, as though you were grieving? You'd better have some
"No ... you. And I will again.... It will be more merry." She sang
another song, that sounded like a dance, in the same unknown language.
Again Kuzma Vassilyevitch distinguished the same guttural sounds. Her
swarthy fingers fairly raced over the strings, "like little spiders,"
and she ended up this time with a jaunty shout of "Ganda" or "Gassa,"
and with flashing eyes banged on the table with her little fist.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat as though he were in a dream. His head was
going round. It was all so unexpected.... And the scent, the
singing ... the candles in the daytime ... the sorbet flavoured with
vanilla. And Colibri kept coming closer to him, too; her hair shone and
rustled, and there was a glow of warmth from her--and that melancholy
face.... "A russalka!" thought Kuzma Vassilyevitch. He felt somewhat
"Tell me, my pretty, what put it into your head to invite me to-day?"
"You are young, pretty ... such I like."
"So that's it! But what will Emilie say? She wrote me a letter: she is
sure to be back directly."
"You not tell her ... nothing! Trouble! She will kill!"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch laughed.
"As though she were so fierce!"
Colibri gravely shook her head several times.
"And to Madame Fritsche, too, nothing. No, no, no!" She tapped herself
lightly on the forehead. "Do you understand, officer?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch frowned.
"It's a secret, then?"
"Yes ... yes."
"Very well.... I won't say a word. Only you ought to give me a kiss
"No, afterwards ... when you are gone."
"That's a fine idea!" Kuzma Vassilyevitch was bending down to her but
she slowly drew herself back and stood stiffly erect like a snake
startled in the grass. Kuzma Vassilyevitch stared at her. "Well!" he
said at last, "you are a spiteful thing! All right, then."
Colibri pondered and turned to the lieutenant.... All at once there
was the muffled sound of tapping repeated three times at even
intervals somewhere in the house. Colibri laughed, almost snorted.
"To-day--no, to-morrow--yes. Come to-morrow."
"At what time?".
"Seven ... in the evening."
"And what about Emilie?"
"Emilie ... no; will not be here."
"You think so? Very well. Only, to-morrow you will tell me?"
"What?" (Colibri's face assumed a childish expression every time she
asked a question.)
"Why you have been hiding away from me all this time?"
"Yes ... yes; everything shall be to-morrow; the end shall be."
"Mind now! And I'll bring you a present."
"No ... no need."
"Why not? I see you like fine clothes."
"No need. This ... this ... this ..." she pointed to her dress, her
rings, her bracelets, and everything about her, "it is all my own. Not
a present. I do not take."
"As you like. And now must I go?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch got up. Colibri got up, too.
"Good-bye, pretty little doll! And when will you give me a kiss?"
Colibri suddenly gave a little jump and swiftly flinging both arms
round his neck, gave him not precisely a kiss but a peck at his lips.
He tried in his turn to kiss her but she instantly darted back and
stood behind the sofa.
"To-morrow at seven o'clock, then?" he said with some confusion.
She nodded and taking a tress of her long hair with her two fingers,
bit it with her sharp teeth.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch kissed his hand to her, went out and shut the door
after him. He heard Colibri run up to it at once.... The key clicked
in the lock.
There was no one in Madame Fritsche's drawing-room. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch made his way to the passage at once. He did not want to
meet Emilie. Madame Fritsche met him on the steps.
"Ah, you are going, Mr. Lieutenant?" she said, with the same affected
and sinister smile. "You won't wait for Emilie?"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put on his cap.
"I haven't time to wait any longer, madam. I may not come to-morrow,
either. Please tell her so."
"Very good, I'll tell her. But I hope you haven't been dull, Mr.
"No, I have not been dull."
"I thought not. Good-bye."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch returned home and stretching himself on his bed
sank into meditation. He was unutterably perplexed. "What marvel is
this?" he cried more than once. And why did Emilie write to him? She
had made an appointment and not come! He took out her letter, turned
it over in his hands, sniffed it: it smelt of tobacco and in one place
he noticed a correction. But what could he deduce from that? And was
it possible that Madame Fritsche knew nothing about it? And
she.... Who was she? Yes, who was she? The fascinating Colibri,
that "pretty doll," that "little image," was always before him and he
looked forward with impatience to the following evening, though
secretly he was almost afraid of this "pretty doll" and "little
Next day Kuzma Vassilyevitch went shopping before dinner, and, after
persistent haggling, bought a tiny gold cross on a little velvet
ribbon. "Though she declares," he thought, "that she never takes
presents, we all know what such sayings mean; and if she really is so
disinterested, Emilie won't be so squeamish." So argued this Don Juan
of Nikolaev, who had probably never heard of the original Don Juan and
knew nothing about him. At six o'clock in the evening Kuzma
Vassilyevitch shaved carefully and sending for a hairdresser he knew,
told him to pomade and curl his topknot, which the latter did with
peculiar zeal, not sparing the government note paper for curlpapers;
then Kuzma Vassilyevitch put on a smart new uniform, took into his
right hand a pair of new wash-leather gloves, and, sprinkling himself
with lavender water, set off. Kuzma Vassilyevitch took a great deal
more trouble over his personal appearance on this occasion than when
he went to see his "Zuckerpüppchen", not because he liked Colibri
better than Emilie but in the "pretty little doll" there was something
enigmatic, something which stirred even the sluggish imagination of
the young lieutenant.
Madame Fritsche greeted him as she had done the day before and as
though she had conspired with him in a plan of deception, informed him
again that Emilie had gone out for a short time and asked him to wait.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch nodded in token of assent and sat down on a chair.
Madame Fritsche smiled again, that is, showed her yellow tusks and
withdrew without offering him any chocolate.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch instantly fixed his eyes on the mysterious door.
It remained closed. He coughed loudly once or twice so as to make
known his presence.... The door did not stir. He held his breath,
strained his ears.... He heard not the faintest sound or rustle;
everything was still as death. Kuzma Vassilyevitch got up, approached
the door on tiptoe and, fumbling in vain with his fingers, pressed his
knee against it. It was no use. Then he bent down and once or twice
articulated in a loud whisper, "Colibri! Colibri! Little doll!" No one
responded. Kuzma Vassilyevitch drew himself up, straightened his
uniform--and, after standing still a little while, walked with more
resolute steps to the window and began drumming on the pane. He began
to feel vexed, indignant; his dignity as an officer began to assert
itself. "What nonsense is this?" he thought at last; "whom do they
take me for? If they go on like this, I'll knock with my fists. She
will be forced to answer! The old woman will hear.... What of it?
That's not my fault." He turned swiftly on his heel ... the door stood
Kuzma Vassilyevitch immediately hastened into the secret room again on
tiptoe. Colibri was lying on the sofa in a white dress with a broad
red sash. Covering the lower part of her face with a handkerchief, she
was laughing, a noiseless but genuine laugh. She had done up her hair,
this time plaiting it into two long, thick plaits intertwined with red
ribbon; the same slippers adorned her tiny, crossed feet but the feet
themselves were bare and looking at them one might fancy that she had
on dark, silky stockings. The sofa stood in a different position,
nearer the wall; and on the table he saw on a Chinese tray a
bright-coloured, round-bellied coffee pot beside a cut glass sugar bowl
and two blue China cups. The guitar was lying there, too, and blue-grey
smoke rose in a thin coil from a big, aromatic candle.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch went up to the sofa and bent over Colibri, but
before he had time to utter a word she held out her hand and, still
laughing in her handkerchief, put her little, rough fingers into his
hair and instantly ruffled the well-arranged curls on the top of his
"What next?" exclaimed Kuzma Vassilyevitch, not altogether pleased by
such unceremoniousness. "Oh, you naughty girl!"
Colibri took the handkerchief from her face.
"Not nice so; better now." She moved away
to the further end of the sofa and drew her feet
up under her. "Sit down ... there."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat down on the spot indicated.
"Why do you move away?" he said, after a brief silence. "Surely you
are not afraid of me?"
Colibri curled herself up and looked at him sideways.
"I am not afraid ... no."
"You must not be shy with me," Kuzma Vassilyevitch said in an
admonishing tone. "Do you remember your promise yesterday to give me a
Colibri put her arms round her knees, laid her head on them and looked
at him again.
"I should hope so. And you must keep your word."
"Yes ... I must."
"In that case," Kuzma Vassilyevitch was beginning, and he moved
Colibri freed her plaits which she was holding tight with her knees
and with one of them gave him a flick on his hand.
"Not so fast, sir!"
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was embarrassed.
"What eyes she has, the rogue!" he muttered, as though to himself.
"But," he went on, raising his voice, "why did you call me ... if that
is how it is?"
Colibri craned her neck like a bird ... she listened. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was alarmed.
"Emilie?" he asked.
Colibri shrugged her shoulder.
"Do you hear something?"
"Nothing." With a birdlike movement, again Colibri drew back her
little oval-shaped head with its pretty parting and the short growth
of tiny curls on the nape of her neck where her plaits began, and
again curled herself up into a ball. "Nothing."
"Nothing! Then now I'll ..." Kuzma Vassilyevitch craned forward
towards Colibri but at once pulled back his hand. There was a drop of
blood on his finger. "What foolishness is this!" he cried, shaking his
finger. "Your everlasting pins! And the devil of a pin it is!" he
added, looking at the long, golden pin which Colibri slowly thrust
into her sash. "It's a regular dagger, it's a sting.... Yes, yes, it's
your sting, and you are a wasp, that's what you are, a wasp, do you
Apparently Colibri was much pleased at Kuzma Vasselyevitch's
comparison; she went off into a thin laugh and repeated several times
"Yes, I will sting ... I will sting."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch looked at her and thought: "She is laughing but
her face is melancholy.
"Look what I am going to show you," he said aloud.
"Why do you say tso? Are you a Pole?"
"Now you say nee! But there, it's no matter." Kuzma
Vassilyevitch got out his present and waved it in the air. "Look at
it.... Isn't it nice?"
Colibri raised her eyes indifferently.
"Ah! A cross! We don't wear."
"What? You don't wear a cross? Are you a Jewess then, or what?"
"We don't wear," repeated Colibri, and, suddenly starting, looked back
over her shoulder. "Would you like me to sing?" she asked hurriedly.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put the cross in the pocket of his uniform and he,
too, looked round.
"What is it?" he muttered.
"A mouse ... a mouse," Colibri said hurriedly, and suddenly to Kuzma
Vassilyevitch's complete surprise, flung her smooth, supple arms round
his neck and a rapid kiss burned his cheek ... as though a red-hot
ember had been pressed against it.
He pressed Colibri in his arms but she slipped away like a snake--her
waist was hardly thicker than the body of a snake--and leapt to her
"Wait," she whispered, "you must have some coffee first."
"Nonsense! Coffee, indeed! Afterwards."
"No, now. Now hot, after cold." She took hold of the coffee pot by the
handle and, lifting it high, began pouring out two cups. The coffee
fell in a thin, as it were, twirling stream; Colibri leaned her head
on her shoulder and watched it fall. "There, put in the sugar ...
drink ... and I'll drink."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put a lump of sugar in the cup and drank it off at
one draught. The coffee struck him as very strong and bitter. Colibri
looked at him, smiling, and faintly dilated her nostrils over the edge
of her cup. She slowly put it down on the table.
"Why don't you drink it?" asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
"Not all, now."
Kuzma Vassilyevitch got excited.
"Do sit down beside me, at least."
"In a minute." She bent her head and, still keeping her eyes fixed on
Kuzma Vassilyevitch, picked up the guitar. "Only I will sing first."
"Yes, yes, only sit down."
"And I will dance. Shall I?"
"You dance? Well, I should like to see that. But can't that be
"No, now.... But I love you very much."
"You love? Mind now ... dance away, then, you queer creature."
Colibri stood on the further side of the table and running her fingers
several times over the strings of the guitar and to the surprise of
Kuzma Vassilyevitch, who was expecting a lively, merry song, began
singing a slow, monotonous air, accompanying each separate sound,
which seemed as though it were wrung out of her by force, with a
rhythmical swaying of her body to right and left. She did not smile,
and indeed knitted her brows, her delicate, high, rounded eyebrows,
between which a dark blue mark, probably burnt in with gunpowder,
stood out sharply, looking like some letter of an oriental alphabet.
She almost closed her eyes but their pupils glimmered dimly under the
drooping lids, fastened as before on Kuzma Vassilyevitch. And he, too,
could not look away from those marvellous, menacing eyes, from that
dark-skinned face that gradually began to glow, from the half-closed
and motionless lips, from the two black snakes rhythmically moving on
both sides of her graceful head. Colibri went on swaying without
moving from the spot and only her feet were working; she kept lightly
shifting them, lifting first the toe and then the heel. Once she
rotated rapidly and uttered a piercing shriek, waving the guitar high
in the air.... Then the same monotonous movement accompanied by the
same monotonous singing, began again. Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat
meanwhile very quietly on the sofa and went on looking at Colibri; he
felt something strange and unusual in himself: he was conscious of
great lightness and freedom, too great lightness, in fact; he seemed,
as it were, unconscious of his body, as though he were floating and at
the same time shudders ran down him, a sort of agreeable weakness
crept over his legs, and his lips and eyelids tingled with drowsiness.
He had no desire now, no thought of anything ... only he was
wonderfully at ease, as though someone were lulling him, "singing him
to bye-bye," as Emilie had expressed it, and he whispered to himself,
"little doll!" At times the face of the "little doll" grew misty. "Why
is that?" Kuzma Vassilyevitch wondered. "From the smoke," he reassured
himself. "There is such a blue smoke here." And again someone was
lulling him and even whispering in his ear something so sweet ... only
for some reason it was always unfinished. But then all of a sudden in
the little doll's face the eyes opened till they were immense,
incredibly big, like the arches of a bridge.... The guitar dropped,
and striking against the floor, clanged somewhere at the other end of
the earth.... Some very near and dear friend of Kuzma Vassilyevitch's
embraced him firmly and tenderly from behind and set his cravat
straight. Kuzma Vassilyevitch saw just before his own face the hooked
nose, the thick moustache and the piercing eyes of the stranger with
the three buttons on his cuff ... and although the eyes were in the
place of the moustache and the nose itself seemed upside down, Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was not in the least surprised, but, on the contrary,
thought that this was how it ought to be; he was even on the point of
saying to the nose, "Hullo, brother Grigory," but he changed his mind
and preferred ... preferred to set off with Colibri to Constantinople
at once for their forthcoming wedding, as she was a Turk and the Tsar
promoted him to be an actual Turk.
And opportunely a little boat appeared: he lifted his foot to get into
it and though through clumsiness he stumbled and hurt himself rather
badly, so that for some time he did not know where anything was, yet
he managed it and getting into the boat, floated on the big river,
which, as the River of Time, flows to Constantinople in the map on the
walls of the Nikolaevsky High School. With great satisfaction he
floated down the river and watched a number of red ducks which
continually met him; they would not let him come near them, however,
and, diving, changed into round, pink spots. And Colibri was going
with him, too, but to escape the sultry heat she hid, under the boat
and from time to time knocked on the bottom of it.... And here at last
was Constantinople. The houses, as houses should, looked like Tyrolese
hats; and the Turks had all big, sedate faces; only it did not do to
look at them too long: they began wriggling, making faces and at last
melted away altogether like thawing snow. And here was the palace in
which he would live with Colibri.... And how well everything was
arranged in it! Walls with generals' gold lace on it, everywhere
epaulettes, people blowing trumpets in the corners and one could float
into the drawing-room in the boat. Of course, there was a portrait of
Mahomet.... Only Colibri kept running ahead through the rooms and her
plaits trailed after her on the floor and she would not turn round,
and she kept growing smaller and smaller.... And now it was not
Colibri but a boy in a jacket and he was the boy's tutor and he had to
climb after the boy into a telescope, and the telescope got narrower
and narrower, till at last he could not move ... neither backwards nor
forwards, and something fell on his back ... there was earth in his
Kuzma Vassilyevitch opened his eyes. It was daylight and everything
was still ... there was a smell of vinegar and mint. Above him and at
his sides there was something white; he looked more intently: it was
the canopy of a bed. He wanted to raise his head ... he could not; his
hand ... he could not do that, either. What was the meaning of it? He
dropped his eyes.... A long body lay stretched before him and over it
a yellow blanket with a brown edge. The body proved to be his, Kuzma
Vassilyevitch's. He tried to cry out ... no sound came. He tried
again, did his very utmost ... there was the sound of a feeble moan
quavering under his nose. He heard heavy footsteps and a sinewy hand
parted the bed curtains. A grey-headed pensioner in a patched military
overcoat stood gazing at him.... And he gazed at the pensioner. A big
tin mug was put to Kuzma Vassilyevitch's lips. He greedily drank some
cold water. His tongue was loosened. "Where am I?" The pensioner
glanced at him once more, went away and came back with another man in
a dark uniform. "Where am I?" repeated Kuzma Vassilyevitch. "Well, he
will live now," said the man in the dark uniform. "You are in the
hospital," he added aloud, "but you must go to sleep. It is bad for
you to talk." Kuzma Vassilyevitch began to feel surprised, but sank
into forgetfulness again....
Next morning the doctor appeared. Kuzma Vassilyevitch came to himself.
The doctor congratulated him on his recovery and ordered the bandages
round his head to be changed.
"What? My head? Why, am I ..."
"You mustn't talk, you mustn't excite yourself," the doctor
interrupted. "Lie still and thank the Almighty. Where are the
"But where is the money ... the government money ..."
"There! He is lightheaded again. Some more ice, Poplyovkin."
Another week passed. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was so much better that the
doctors found it possible to tell him what had happened to him. This
is what he learned.
At seven o'clock in the evening on the 16th of June he had visited the
house of Madame Fritsche for the last time and on the 17th of June at
dinner time, that is, nearly twenty-four hours later, a shepherd had
found him in a ravine near the Herson high road, a mile and a half
from Nikolaev, with a broken head and crimson bruises on his neck. His
uniform and waistcoat had been unbuttoned, all his pockets turned
inside out, his cap and cutlass were not to be found, nor his leather
money belt. From the trampled grass, from the broad track upon the
grass and the clay, it could be inferred that the luckless lieutenant
had been dragged to the bottom of the ravine and only there had been
gashed on his head, not with an axe but with a sabre--probably his own
cutlass: there were no traces of blood on his track from the high road
while there was a perfect pool of blood round his head. There could be
no doubt that his assailants had first drugged him, then tried to
strangle him and, taking him out of the town by night, had dragged him
to the ravine and there given him the final blow. It was only thanks
to his truly iron constitution that Kuzma Vassilyevitch had not died.
He had returned to consciousness on July 22nd, that is, five weeks
Kuzma Vassilyevitch immediately informed the authorities of the
misfortune that had happened to him; he stated all the circumstances of
the case verbally and in writing and gave the address of Madame
Fritsche. The police raided the house but they found no one there; the
birds had flown. They got hold of the owner of the house. But they
could not get much sense out of the latter, a very old and deaf
workman. He lived in a different part of the town and all he knew was
that four months before he had let his house to a Jewess with a
passport, whose name was Schmul or Schmulke, which he had immediately
registered at the police station. She had been joined by another woman,
so he stated, who also had a passport, but what was their calling did
not know; and whether they had other people living with them had not
heard and did not know; the lad whom he used to keep as porter or
watchman in the house had gone away to Odessa or Petersburg, and the
new porter had only lately come, on the 1st of July.
Inquiries were made at the police station and in the neighbourhood; it
appeared that Madame Schmulke, together with her companion, whose real
name was Frederika Bengel, had left Nikolaev about the 20th of June,
but where they had gone was unknown. The mysterious man with a gipsy
face and three buttons on his cuff and the dark-skinned foreign girl
with an immense mass of hair, no one had seen. As soon as Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was discharged from the hospital, he visited the house
that had been so fateful for him. In the little room where he had
talked to Colibri and where there was still a smell of musk, there was
a second secret door; the sofa had been moved in front of it on his
second visit and through it no doubt the murderer had come and seized
him from behind. Kuzma Vassilyevitch lodged a formal complaint;
proceedings were taken. Several numbered reports and instructions were
dispatched in various directions; the appropriate acknowledgments and
replies followed in due course.... There the incident closed. The
suspicious characters had disappeared completely and with them the
stolen government money had vanished, too, one thousand, nine hundred
and seventeen roubles and some kopecks, in paper and gold. Not an
inconsiderable sum in those days! Kuzma Vassilyevitch was paying back
instalments for ten years, when, fortunately for him, an act of
clemency from the Throne cancelled the debt.
He was himself at first firmly convinced that Emilie, his treacherous
Zuckerpüppchen, was to blame for all his trouble and had originated
the plot. He remembered how on the last day he had seen her he had
incautiously dropped asleep on the sofa and how when he woke he had
found her on her knees beside him and how confused she had been, and
how he had found a hole in his belt that evening--a hole evidently
made by her scissors. "She saw the money," thought Kuzma
Vassilyevitch, "she told the old hag and those other two devils, she
entrapped me by writing me that letter ... and so they cleaned me out.
But who could have expected it of her!" He pictured the pretty,
good-natured face of Emilie, her clear eyes.... "Women! women!" he
repeated, gnashing his teeth, "brood of crocodiles!" But when he had
finally left the hospital and gone home, he learned one circumstance
which perplexed and nonplussed him. On the very day when he was
brought half dead to the town, a girl whose description corresponded
exactly to that of Emilie had rushed to his lodging with tear-stained
face and dishevelled hair and inquiring about him from his orderly,
had dashed off like mad to the hospital. At the hospital she had been
told that Kuzma Vassilyevitch would certainly die and she had at once
disappeared, wringing her hands with a look of despair on her face. It
was evident that she had not foreseen, had not expected the murder. Or
perhaps she had herself been deceived and had not received her
promised share? Had she been overwhelmed by sudden remorse? And yet
she had left Nikolaev afterwards with that loathsome old woman who had
certainly known all about it. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was lost in
conjecture and bored his orderly a good deal by making him continually
describe over and over again the appearance of the girl and repeat her
A year and a half later Kuzma Vassilyevitch received a letter in
German from Emilie, alias Frederika Bengel, which he promptly
had translated for him and showed us more than once in later days. It
was full of mistakes in spelling and exclamation marks; the postmark
on the envelope was Breslau. Here is the translation, as correct as
may be, of the letter:
"My precious, unforgettable and incomparable Florestan! Mr. Lieutenant
"How often I felt impelled to write to you! And I have always
unfortunately put it off, though the thought that you may regard me as
having had a hand in that awful crime has always been the most
appalling thought to me! Oh, dear Mr. Lieutenant! Believe me, the day
when I learnt that you were alive and well, was the happiest day of my
life! But I do not mean to justify myself altogether! I will not tell
a lie! I was the first to discover your habit of carrying your money
round your waist! (Though indeed in our part of the world all the
butchers and meat salesmen do the same!) And I was so incautious as to
let drop a word about it! I even said in joke that it wouldn't be bad
to take a little of your money! But the old wretch (Mr. Florestan! she
was not my aunt) plotted with that godless monster Luigi and
his accomplice! I swear by my mother's tomb, I don't know to this day
who those people were! I only know that his name was Luigi and that
they both came from Bucharest and were certainly great criminals and
were hiding from the police and had money and precious things! Luigi
was a dreadful individual (ein schröckliches Subject), to kill
a fellow-man (einen Mitmenschen) meant nothing at all to him!
He spoke every language--and it was he who that time got our
things back from the cook! Don't ask how! He was capable of anything,
he was an awful man! He assured the old woman that he would only drug
you a little and then take you out of town and put you down somewhere
and would say that he knew nothing about it but that it was your
fault--that you had taken too much wine somewhere! But even then the
wretch had it in his mind that it would be better to kill you so that
there would be no one to tell the tale! He wrote you that letter,
signed with my name and the old woman got me away by craft! I
suspected nothing and I was awfully afraid of Luigi! He used to say to
me, 'I'll cut your throat, I'll cut your throat like a chicken's!' And
he used to twitch his moustache so horribly as he said it! And they
dragged me into a bad company, too.... I am very much ashamed, Mr.
Lieutenant! And even now I shed bitter tears at these memories! ... It
seems to me ... ah! I was not born for such doings.... But there is no
help for it; and this is how it all happened! Afterwards I was
horribly frightened and could not help going away, for if the police
had found us, what would have happened to us then? That accursed Luigi
fled at once as soon as he heard that you were alive. But I soon
parted from them all and though now I am often without a crust of
bread, my heart is at peace! You will ask me perhaps why I came to
Nikolaev? But I can give you no answer! I have sworn! I will finish by
asking of you a favour, a very, very important one: whenever you
remember your little friend Emilie, do not think of her as a
black-hearted criminal! The eternal God sees my heart. I have a bad
morality (Ich habe eine schlechte moralität) and I am
feather-headed, but I am not a criminal. And I shall always love and
remember you, my incomparable Florestan, and shall always wish you
everything good on this earthly globe (auf diesem Erdenrund!).
I don't know whether my letter will reach you, but if it does, write me
a few lines that I may see you have received it. Thereby you will make
very happy your ever-devoted Emilie.
"P. S. Write to F. E. poste restante, Breslau, Silesia.
"P. S. S. I have written to you in German; I could not express my
feelings otherwise; but you write to me in Russian."
"Well, did you answer her?" we asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
"I meant to, I meant to many times. But how was I to write? I don't
know German ... and in Russian, who would have translated it? And so I
did not write."
And always as he finished his story, Kuzma Vassilyevitch sighed, shook
his head and said, "that's what it is to be young!" And if among his
audience was some new person who was hearing the famous story for the
first time, he would take his hand, lay it on his skull and make him
feel the scar of the wound.... It really was a fearful wound and the
scar reached from one ear to the other.