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a short story




FROM THE WILD ROLLICK of raving life to the soft union of love and death, - that is the sweet way to DamascusЕ

    One quiet spring evening when dray carts rumbled on jolly streets, when ferocious ragamuffins and faded women sale artless lilies, Klavdia Andreevna Kruzhinina left doctor's room. She was blushed and trembling with shame and desperation, she was completely depressed with what she, young lady, had heard. She believed that everybody there, awaiting patients in the drawing-room and the housemaid in the anteroom, were looking at her with sneer piercing her heart like snake-bites.
    Who will take her - so unbeautiful and quite uninteresting, so shy and clumsy near men?
    For a long time looking-glass has driven her to despair - this ugly truthful mirror mercilessly reflecting everything only as it is - namely her face, which was not only unbeautiful but completely charmless. Though she had nice features: - her eyes, bright, deep and wise, - touching cheek-bones, - thick waves of her hair, black as an autumnal night, - all these separating features were out of keeping with the general gray tone of her face and all ungraceful figure.
    Who will take her? Who will call her a wife?
    With merciless frankness of cynic, which his profession made him, the doctor was saying merciless words to her.
    Klavdia Andreevna babbled in embarrassment:
    - But, doctor, how come? Does it depend on me? I still have no fiance.
    The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
    - We cannot contend with nature, - said he indifferently, - no medicine can help you.


    Lost and confused Klavdia Andreevna went along streets. She was in that desperate mood when legs tremble and shake and one does not know what to do. Streets and lanes led her to the apartment of her friend, Natalia Ilyinichna Oprichnina, a stout-breasted young lady, nice human and perfect friend.
    Klavdia Andreevna told her everything. If it was next day or later it would be shameful to talk about that even to friend. But it came out by itself. Her appearance was so pitiful that Oprichnina guessed that something was wrong. And Klavdia smiled embarrassed and told her the whole story. She finished and cried. Oprichnina was stepping to and fro around the room and - was thinking.
    - I think, - she said, - we don't have to cry here, we have to act resolutely. Haven't you got anyone in view?
    Klavdia Andreevna confessed plaintively:
    - No one.
    Oprichnina said:
    - They are bad, all our men and it's disgraceful and unjust that they gladly court any pretty face even if she is stupid like an ass, while nobody wants to look at unbeautiful women.
    Suddenly she stopped and came up to Klavdia Andreevna with such a view as if she invented something lucky.
    - You know, I can help you. I have one suitableЕ well, in a word, he is my very good acquaintance. He likes to share time with innocent girls. I'll arrange for you to meet him.


    A few days later Klavdia Andreevna was seated in a separate room of an expensive restaurant with a dressed up gentleman of about forty. The conversation flagged. The supper was light but expensive: there were oysters and champagne. Klavdia Andreevna was embarrassed but tried bravely to hide it. Sergey Grigorievich Tashev, her companion, paid compliments to her intellect and wit.
    - I haven't had such a nice evening for ages. You are the smartest of all women I know in Petersburg.
    She looked at his suspiciously too black hair, at his short moustache. She felt that he was saying all that only because it was impossible to praise her for her appearance but it was necessary to say nice words to communicate.
    Sometimes all that seemed some imagination to her. She - unbeautiful, always dressed in black, with no experience of restaurant behavior - was sitting in this strange room with red annoying wallpaper, traditional mirrors, piano in the corner and velvet crimson drapery, behind which there was something else - what? wash-basin? bed? And this elegant gentleman with yellow-white teeth, with thorough middle parting above his rumple face.
    What brought them together? Why are they sitting here, so strange, unknown to each other, sitting together separated from the rest of the world? This situation made Klavdia Andreevna feel dizzy. White narcissi and purple pinks in the crystal cup in the middle of the table gave forth a stupefying scent. Wine sparkling so nice in glasses cheered up. She forgot the confusing mess of all events, forgot why came she here, lost her memory about it - and sat happy, responded, talked, even laughed at a funny story about a professor.
    Tashin kept talking endlessly - about women, love, beauty.
    - What is beauty? One does not know but only attempts to experience. Furthermore, that's not the point.

"So unbeautiful you are today,
But nevertheless so sweet in a way", -

    - recited Tashin being fond of parading his knowledge of new poets and foreign literature.
    - Well, I'd like to drink, - continued he, - for interesting smart women with such beautiful eyes like my charming lady's got.
    And suddenly he quickly leant to her and kissed Klavdia Andreevna's hand. She was confused but not shocked. That was what she had waited and prepared for. And she had her hand kissed so seldom! She sensed some thread between him and her.
    He moved up to her, so there was no space between them on the narrow divan, put his pale yellow hand on her small brown wrist and said in intimate warm tone:
    - The single deficiency of our emancipated women is that in spite of freedom of thought they don't want the same freedom for body. In my opinion harmonic maturity of personality should combine both.
    Klavdia Andreevna looked at the brown strange face, listened to these dusty words familiar by novels and somehow she did not sense the strangeness of her situation anymore. She was overcome with lethargic and apathetic indifference.
    "Who cares, who caresЕ" - dropped into her tired and stupefied head. Life, so dull, so boring, so merciless sooner or later will oppress her. Unhappy years, troubles and grieves flashed in her memory. She recalled one night.


    It was one year ago. She was going by third-class train to Kaluga where her youngest brother, student, shot himself. She was going to his funeral where would get together all her relatives, unbeautiful gray failures and losers with poisoned souls.
    On the next bench in the coach there were a factory worker with accordion and a woman, probably a prostitute, his girlfriend for this night.
    All that awful night Klavdia Andreevna could close her eyes for no moment, and all night long the accordion screeched, the worker barked and the drunk prostitute shrilled her drunk songs. In that stuffy coach Klavdia Andreevna forgot about everything and listened in lethargic stupor to drunk squeal, abuse, kisses and the screeching accordion. "Who cares, - believed she also then, - who cares, today or tomorrow life will strangle, who cares?" She turned aside on the hard bench and suddenly got coughing from fumes of cigarettes. Behind the low partition hoarsely shrilled the prostitute.
    - There's someone hooping, it must be a lady, - her disgraceful husky voice was heard.
    A gaunt guy with green face and savage look leaned out of the partition for a second. He stung Klavdia Andreevna by his eyes and his face became scornfully bored. He turned back.
    His drunk and impudent voice was heard behind the partition:
    - Inveterate mug, no lady, but look, she's hooping.
    - Mugobitch! - hoarsely laughed the slut.
    A sharp sting of injury pierced through the poor girl's heart.


    She recalled both that night and that injury, and the pain of shame crawled into her heart again. Such a wild pain, that it got all her body involved.
    Tashev looked at her suddenly distorted face.
    - What's happened? - asked he leaning to her and enveloping her in the light scent of wine.
    - My tooth hurts, - said she. And petty pitiful tears spurted from her eyes. It came out by itself. She babbled:
    - It's all right, it'll stop now.
    She didn't hear what Tashev said, she was in a purple mist swindling her head. She fell down in a faint.
    - There's water. Let me help you.
    Tashed led her to somewhere. Before her eyes there were the heavy crimson folds of the drapery. Behind there was a gray marble wash-basin and an impudently big bed. Tashev poured water in a glass and gave her.
    - Thank you. I feel much better. It's gone.
    It was so shameful to stand by that bed. She turned back to come out of that small room. Towards to her - his smile and his disgracefully big glistening teeth.
    - Please, wait. Calm down, don't hurry, - said Tashev.
    Sparks of roguishness and passion glowed in his eyes. Klavdia Andreevna sensed his hands on her hips.
    He whispered:
    - You're tired. Relax, take a nap. It must better calm you down.
    Suddenly shameful horror overcame her. She wildly pushed Tashev aside and rushed out from the room, all blushed and trembling.
    Tashev repeated in frustration:
    - Klavdia Andreevna, how come? What's happening with you? Please, calm down, I beg you. I really don't understand. Maybe IЕ
    She rushed away and only heard scraps of Tashev's exclamations:
    - I don't understand! What a hell is going on?! Why?!
    Footmen looked in amazement at the running young lady.


    Klavdia Andreevna went rapidly, she almost ran along bustling streets. She ran up to the house where Oprichnina lived and she already got upstairs on the fourth floor when she suddenly turned back and ran downstairs and rushed away.
    She got on a streetcar and sat there lethargic, blushed, senseless and pitiful until everybody started to get out of the streetcar and someone's nasty voice said in the darkness:
    - The last stop. It won't go further.
    She got out, looked around.
    It was the outskirts of Petersburg. Small gray huts around. Some grass between cobbles on the road. She went on the off-chance along the road. She was tired, quiet, silent. The night was calm, dark-blue and sorrowful. Suddenly she heard sounds of a violin. Klavdia Andreevna went forwards to these sounds. Here it is - a poor quiet dark house. There was dim light seen through the curtain of the window. She came up to the window and stood there and listened to the violin. At a high-pitched groaning tone the violin stopped. Then it was heard that someone was rapidly stepping to and fro. Was it the wind, which drew the curtain aside, or was it she herself who moved it aside a bit, - but Klavdia Andreevna saw a musician.
    It was a young man in student's frock-coat with pale worn-out face and black curling hair. His gestures were awkward and quick. The student was flinging himself around the room, his gestures were full of anguish and his eyes expressed languish, mad ultimate dead languish.
    The furniture of the poor room was usual for lone people. But still something strange seemed there. On the table among books, a cup of tea and cigarette-boxes there was a note, which seemed to have been put there just before. A drawer of the table was suspiciously opened. The student came up to the table and started to fumble in the opened drawer.
    With eager curiosity Klavdia Andreevna waited for what he would take out of the drawer. "Revolver, revolver" - repeated in her head with hot-blooded temples.
    Oh, the evil suggestion came true! The student went aside from the table and Klavdia Andreevna saw the steel glitter of a tiny exquisite toy-like weapon.
    The student quickly ruffled his curls and lifted the revolver up to his temple. His eyes became wider. The hand was strangely trembling in the air, then he lowered it and looked into the muzzle of the pistol, ruffled again his hair and shouted:
    - It is all over!
    And quickly lifted the revolver up to his head.
    A sudden woman's scream made him wince. He looked around.
    Klavdia Andreevna desperately shouted with her hands quickly drawing the curtain aside:
    - Dear, my dear! Oh why? Don't do that!
    The student saw a strange unbeautiful girl getting in through the window, - with awkward gestures and red unhappy and worried face distorted with tears. The girl was getting in, - so funny, ridiculous and tear-stained, - and was repeating pitifully:
    - My sweetie, don't, don't do that!
    The student muttering something put the revolver back to the drawer and ran up to the window and helped the unexpected guest to get in through the window-sill.
    Full of excitement of recent days she rushed towards to him and hugged him and repeated endlessly:
    - My dear, my darling, don't do that, - live on, love me, live on, I am also unhappy.
    - Excuse me, - said the student, - you'd better calm down. Maybe some tea?
    Klavdia Andreevna started to laugh still crying. She said:
    - No, no, I don't want anything. And you shouldn't want that toy. Oh if you are reduced to such a despair when you have nothing to live for, so am I. And if we would want, couldn't we create life of our own will, couldn't we create our life and love and death? Listen.
    She talked about herself for a long time, talked incoherently, frankly like a child. She talked everything. And again she spoke about her injuries and insults. She talked on:
    - He says, 'what a mug, and she's hooping', because I started to cough from his cigarette. And she says, 'mug of bitch'. And they both laugh. Mug! Well, let it be a mug! I don't care!
    The student ruffled his tousled hair and said consolingly:
    - Oh well, don't give a damn for it. I am a great mug too.
    And suddenly they both laughed. And there were no more dead languish in his eyes and her heart. He came up closer to her and hugged her and kissed loudly and youthfully her happy trembling lips. He said:
    - To hell this rubbish!
    And he banged the drawer of the table.
    She kissed him and repeated:
    - My dear, my sweet dear! Love me, love me, kiss me, - let's live together forever and we'll die together.

"It is more easy together;
If we shan't be able to go,
We both shall die on the road
Since we both are forever".

    Thus, they escaped the wild rave of the unjust life, they came to the wishful Damascus, into the union of love, strong as death, and - death, sweet as love.

Published in 1910
Translated in 2001

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