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TRACES OF THE TITANIC

 

Ippolit Matveyevich woke up as usual at half past seven, mumbled "Guten

Morgen", and went over to the wash-basin. He washed himself with enthusiasm,

cleared his throat, noisily rinsed his face, and shook his head to get rid

of the water which had run into his ears. He dried himself with

satisfaction, but on taking the towel away from his face, Ippolit

Matveyevich noticed that it was stained with the same black colour that he

had used to dye his horizontal moustache two days before. Ippolit

Matveyevich's heart sank. He rushed to get his pocket mirror. The mirror

reflected a large nose and the left-hand side of a moustache as green as the

grass in spring. He hurriedly shifted the mirror to the right. The

right-hand mustachio was the same revolting colour. Bending his head

slightly, as though trying to butt the mirror, the unhappy man perceived

that the jet black still reigned supreme in the centre of his square of

hair, but that the edges were bordered with the same green colour.

Ippolit Matveyevich's whole being emitted a groan so loud that Ostap

Bender opened his eyes.

"You're out of your mind!" exclaimed Bender, and immediately closed his

sleepy lids.

"Comrade Bender," whispered the victim of the Titanic imploringly.

Ostap woke up after a great deal of shaking and persuasion. He looked

closely at Ippolit Matveyevich and burst into a howl of laughter. Turning

away from the founder of the concession, the chief director of operations

and technical adviser rocked with laughter, seized hold of the top of the

bed, cried "Stop, you're killing me!" and again was convulsed with mirth.

"That's not nice of you, Comrade Bender," said Ippolit Matveyevich and

twitched his green moustache.

This gave new strength to the almost exhausted Ostap, and his hearty

laughter continued for ten minutes. Regaining his breath, he suddenly became

very serious.

"Why are you glaring at me like a soldier at a louse? Take a look at

yourself."

"But the chemist told me it would be jet black and wouldn't wash off,

with either hot water or cold water, soap or paraffin. It was contraband."

"Contraband? All contraband is made in Little Arnaut Street in Odessa.

Show me the bottle. . . . Look at this! Did you read this?" '-"Yes."

"What about this bit in small print? It clearly states that after

washing with hot or cold water, soap or paraffin, the hair should not be

rubbed with a towel, but dried in the sun or in front of a primus stove. Why

didn't you do so? What can you do now with that greenery? "

Ippolit Matveyevich was very depressed. Tikhon came in and seeing his

master with a green moustache, crossed himself and asked for money to have a

drink. "Give this hero of labour a rouble," suggested Ostap, "only kindly

don't charge it to me. It's a personal matter between you and your former



colleague. Wait a minute, Dad, don't go away! There's a little matter to

discuss."

Ostap had a talk with the caretaker about the furniture, and five

minutes later the concessionaires knew the whole story. The entire furniture

had been taken away to the housing division in 1919, with the exception of

one drawing-room chair that had first been in Tikhon's charge, but was later

taken from him by the assistant warden of the second social-security home.

"Is it here in the house then?"

"That's right."

"Tell me, old fellow," said Ippolit Matveyevich, his heart beating

fast, "when you had the chair, did you . . . ever repair it?"

"It didn't need repairing. Workmanship was good in those days. The

chair could last another thirty years."

"Right, off you go, old fellow. Here's another rouble and don't tell

anyone I'm here."

"I'll be a tomb, Citizen Vorobyaninov."

Sending the caretaker on his way with a cry of "Things are moving,"

Ostap Bender again turned to Ippolit Matveyevich's moustache.

"It will have to be dyed again. Give me some money and I'll go to the

chemist's. Your Titanic is no damn good, except for dogs. In the old days

they really had good dyes. A racing expert once told me an interesting

story. Are you interested in horse-racing? No? A pity; it's exciting. Well,

anyway . . . there was once a well-known trickster called Count Drutsky. He

lost five hundred thousand roubles on races. King of the losers! So when he

had nothing left except debts and was thinking about suicide, a shady

character gave him a wonderful piece of advice for fifty roubles. The count

went away and came back a year later with a three-year-old Orloff trotter.

From that moment on the count not only made up all his losses, but won three

hundred thousand on top. Broker-that was the name of the horse-had an

excellent pedigree and always came in first. He actually beat McMahon in the

Derby by a whole length. Terrific! . . . But then Kurochkin-heard of

him?-noticed that all the horses of the Orloff breed were losing their

coats, while Broker, the darling, stayed the same colour. There was an

unheard-of scandal. The count got three years. It turned out that Broker

wasn't an Orloff at all, but a crossbreed that had been dyed. Crossbreeds

are much more spirited than Orloffs and aren't allowed within yards of them!

Which? There's a dye for you! Not quite like your moustache!"

"But what about the pedigree? You said it was a good one."

"Just like the label on your bottle of Titanic-counterfeit! Give me the

money for the dye."

Ostap came back with a new mixture.

"It's called 'Naiad'. It may be better than the Titanic. Take your coat

off!"

The ceremony of re-dyeing began. But the "Amazing chestnut colour

making the hair soft and fluffy" when mixed with the green of the Titanic

unexpectedly turned Ippolit Matveyevich's head and moustache all colours of

the rainbow.

Vorobyaninov, who had not eaten since morning, furiously cursed all the

perfumeries, both those state-owned and the illegal ones on Little Arnaut

Street in Odessa.

"I don't suppose even Aristide Briand had a moustache like that,"

observed Ostap cheerfully. "However, I don't recommend living in Soviet

Russia with ultra-violet hair like yours. It will have to be shaved off."

"I can't do that," said Ippolit Matveyevich in a deeply grieved voice.

"That's impossible."

"Why? Has it some association or other?"

"I can't do that," repeated Vorobyaninov, lowering his head.

"Then you can stay in the caretaker's room for the rest of your life,

and I'll go for the chairs. The first one is upstairs, by the way."

"All right, shave it then!"

Bender found a pair of scissors and in a flash snipped off the

moustache, which fell silently to the floor. When the hair had been cropped,

the technical adviser took a yellowed Gillette razor from his pocket and a

spare blade from his wallet, and began shaving Ippolit Matveyevich, who was

almost in tears by this time.

"I'm using my last blade on you, so don't forget to credit me with two

roubles for the shave and haircut."

"Why so expensive?" Ippolit managed to ask, although he was convulsed

with grief. "It should only cost forty kopeks."

"For reasons of security, Comrade Field Marshal!" promptly answered

Ostap.

The sufferings of a man whose head is being shaved with a safety razor

are incredible. This became clear to Ippolit Matveyevich from the very

beginning of the operation. But all things come to an end.

"There! The hearing continues! Those suffering from nerves shouldn't

look."

Ippolit Matveyevich shook himself free of the nauseating tufts that

until so recently had been distinguished grey hair, washed himself and,

feeling a strong tingling sensation all over his head, looked at himself in

the mirror for the hundredth time that day. He was unexpectedly pleased by

what he saw. Looking at him was the careworn, but rather youthful, face of

an unemployed actor.

"Right, forward march, the bugle is sounding!" cried Ostap. "I'll make

tracks for the housing division, while you go to the old women."

"I can't," said Ippolit Matveyevich. "It's too painful for me to enter

my own house."

"I see. A touching story. The exiled baron! All right, you go to the

housing division, and I'll get busy here. Our rendezvous will be here in the

caretaker's room. Platoon: 'shun!"

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 212


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