WHERE ARE YOUR CURLS?
While Ostap was inspecting the pensioners' home, Ippolit Matveyevich
had left the caretaker's room and was wandering along the streets of his
home town, feeling the chill on his shaven head.
Along the road trickled clear spring water. There was a constant
splashing and plopping as diamond drops dripped from the rooftops. Sparrows
hunted for manure, and the sun rested on the roofs. Golden carthorses
drummed their hoofs against the bare road and, turning their ears downward,
listened with pleasure to their own sound. On the damp telegraph poles the
wet advertisements, "I teach the guitar by the number system" and
"Social-science lessons for those preparing for the People's Conservatory",
were all wrinkled up, and the letters had run. A platoon of Red Army
soldiers in winter helmets crossed a puddle that began at the Stargorod
co-operative shop and stretched as far as the province planning
administration, the pediment of which was crowned with plaster tigers,
figures of victory and cobras.
Ippolit Matveyevich walked along, looking with interest at the people
passing him in both directions. As one who had spent the whole of his life
and also the revolution in Russia, he was able to see how the way of life
was changing and acquiring a new countenance. He had become used to this
fact, but he seemed to be used to only one point on the globe-the regional
centre of N. Now he was back in his home town, he realized he understood
nothing. He felt just as awkward and strange as though he really were an
emigre just back from Paris. In the old days, whenever he rode through the
town in his carriage, he used invariably to meet friends or people he knew
by sight. But now he had gone some way along Lena Massacre Street and there
was no friend to be seen. They had vanished, or they might have changed so
much that they were no longer recognizable, or perhaps they had become
unrecognizable because they wore different clothes and different hats.
Perhaps they had changed their walk. In any case, they were no longer there.
Vorobyaninov walked along, pale, cold and lost. He completely forgot
that he was supposed to be looking for the housing division. He crossed from
pavement to pavement and turned into side streets, where the uninhibited
carthorses were quite intentionally drumming their hoofs. There was more of
winter in the side streets, and rotting ice was still to be seen in places.
The whole town was a different colour; the blue houses had become green and
the yellow ones grey. The fire indicators had disappeared from the fire
tower, the fireman no longer climbed up and down, and the streets were much
noisier than Ippolit Matveyevich could remember.
On Greater Pushkin Street, Ippolit Matveyevich was amazed by the tracks
and overhead cables of the tram system, which he had never seen in Stargorod
before. He had not read the papers and did not know that the two tram routes
to the station and the market were due to be opened on May Day. At one
moment Ippolit Matveyevich felt he had never left Stargorod, and the next
moment it was like a place completely unfamiliar to him.
Engrossed in these thoughts, he reached Marx and Engels Street. Here he
re-experienced a childhood feeling that at any moment a friend would appear
round the corner of the two-storeyed house with its long balcony. He even
stopped walking in anticipation. But the friend did not appear. The first
person to come round the corner was a glazier with a box of Bohemian glass
and a dollop of copper-coloured putty. Then came a swell in a suede cap with
a yellow leather peak. He was pursued by some elementary-school children
carrying books tied with straps.
Suddenly Ippolit Matveyevich felt a hotness in his palms and a sinking
feeling in his stomach. A stranger with a kindly face was coming straight
towards him, carrying a chair by the middle, like a 'cello. Suddenly
developing hiccups Ippolit Matveyevich looked closely at the chair and
immediately recognized it.
Yes! It was a Hambs chair upholstered in flowered English chintz
somewhat darkened by the storms of the revolution; it was a walnut chair
with curved legs. Ippolit Matveyevich felt as though a gun had gone off in
"Knives and scissors sharpened! Razors set!" cried a baritone voice
nearby. And immediately came the shrill echo;
"Soldering and repairing!"
"Moscow News, magazine Giggler, Red Meadow."
Somewhere up above, a glass pane was removed with a crash. A truck from
the grain-mill-and-lift-construction administration passed by, making the
town vibrate. A militiaman blew his whistle. Everything brimmed over with
life. There was no time to be lost.
With a leopard-like spring, Ippolit Matveyevich leaped towards the
repulsive stranger and silently tugged at the chair. The stranger tugged the
other way. Still holding on to one leg with his left hand, Ippolit
Matveyevich began forcibly detaching the stranger's fat fingers from the
"Thief!" hissed the stranger, gripping the chair more firmly.
"Just a moment, just a moment!" mumbled Ippolit Matveyevich, continuing
to unstick the stranger's fingers.
A crowd began to gather. Three or four people were already standing
nearby, watching the struggle with lively interest. They both glanced around
in alarm and, without looking at one another or letting go the chair,
rapidly moved on as if nothing were the matter.
"What's happening?" wondered Ippolit Matveyevich in dismay.
What the stranger was thinking was impossible to say, but he was
walking in a most determined way.
They kept walking more and more quickly until they saw a clearing
scattered with bits of brick and other building materials at the end of a
blind alley; then both turned into it simultaneously. Ippolit Matveyevich's
strength now increased fourfold.
"Give it to me!" he shouted, doing away with all ceremony.
"Help!" exclaimed the stranger, almost inaudibly.
Since both of them had their hands occupied with the chair, they began
kicking one another. The stranger's boots had metal studs, and at first
Ippolit Matveyevich came off badly. But he soon adjusted himself, and,
skipping to the left and right as though doing a Cossack dance, managed to
dodge his opponents' blows, trying at the same time to catch him in the
stomach. He was not successful, since the chair was in the way, but he
managed to land him a kick on the kneecap, after which the enemy could only
lash out with one leg.
"Oh, Lord!" whispered the stranger.
It was at this moment that Ippolit Matveyevich saw that the stranger
who had carried off his chair in the most outrageous manner was none other
than Father Theodore, priest of the Church of St. Frol and St. Laurence.
"Father!" he exclaimed, removing his hands from the chair in
Father Vostrikov turned purple and finally loosed his grip. The chair,
no longer supported by either of them, fell on to the brick-strewn ground.
"Where's your moustache, my dear Ippolit Matveyevich?" asked the cleric
as caustically as possible.
"And what about your curls? You used to have curls, I believe!"
Ippolit Matveyevich's words conveyed utter contempt. He threw Father
Theodore a look of singular disgust and, tucking the chair under his arm,
turned to go. But the priest had now recovered from his embarrassment and
was not going to yield Vorobyaninov such an easy victory. With a cry of "No,
I'm sorry," he grasped hold of the chair again. Their initial position was
restored. The two opponents stood clutching the chair and, moving from side
to side, sized one another up like cats or boxers. The tense pause lasted a
"So you're after my property, Holy Father?" said Ippolit Matveyevich
through clenched teeth and kicked the holy father in the hip.
Father Theodore feinted and viciously kicked the marshal in the groin,
making him double up.
"It's not your property."
"Whose then? Whose?"
Spitting at each other in this way, they kept kicking furiously.
"Whose property is it then?" screeched the marshal, sinking his foot in
the holy father's stomach.
"It's nationalized property," said the holy father firmly, overcoming
They were jerking out the words so quickly that they ran together.
" Who-nationalized-it? "
"Aha!" said Ippolit Matveyevich icily. "The government of workers and
"Hmm . . . then maybe you're a member of the Communist Party, Holy
"Maybe I am!"
Ippolit Matveyevich could no longer restrain himself and with a shriek
of "Maybe you are" spat juicily in Father Theodore's kindly face. Father
Theodore immediately spat in Ippolit Matveyevich's face and also found his
mark. They had nothing with which to wipe away the spittle since they were
still holding the chair. Ippolit Matveyevich made a noise like a door
opening and thrust the chair at his enemy with all his might. The enemy fell
over, dragging the panting Vorobyaninov with him. The struggle continued in
Suddenly there was a crack and both front legs broke on simultaneous'y.
The opponents completely forgot one another and began tearing the walnut
treasure-chest to pieces. The flowered English chintz split with the
heart-rending scream of a seagull. The back was torn off by a mighty tug.
The treasure hunters ripped off the sacking together with the brass tacks
and, grazing their hands on the springs, buried their fingers in the woollen
stuffing. The disturbed springs hummed. Five minutes later the chair had
been picked clean. Bits and pieces were all that was left. Springs rolled in
all directions, and the wind blew the rotten padding all over the clearing.
The curved legs lay in a hole. There were no jewels.
"Well, have you found anything?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich, panting.
Father Theodore, covered in tufts of wool, puffed and said nothing.
"You crook!" shouted Ippolit Matveyevich. "I'll break your neck, Father
"I'd like to see you! " retorted the priest. "Where are you going all
covered in fluff? " "Mind your own business!"
"Shame on you, Father! You're nothing but a thief!" "I've stolen
nothing from you."
"How did you find out about this? You exploited the sacrament of
confession for your own ends. Very nice! Very fine!"
With an indignant "Fooh! " Ippolit Matveyevich left the clearing and,
brushing his sleeve as he went, made for home. At the corner of Lena
Massacre and Yerogeyev streets he caught sight of his partner. The technical
adviser and director-general of the concession was having the suede uppers
of his boots cleaned with canary polish; he was standing half-turned with
one foot slightly raised. Ippolit Matveyevich hurried up to him. The
director was gaily crooning the shimmy:
"The camels used to do it,
The barracudas used to dance it,
Now the whole world's doing the shimmy."
"Well, how was the housing division?" he asked in a businesslike way,
and immediately added:
"Wait a moment. Don't tell me now; you're too excited. Cool down a
Giving the shoeshiner seven kopeks, Ostap took Vorobyaninov by the arm
and led him down the street. He listened very carefully to everything the
agitated Ippolit Matveyevich told him.
"Aha! A small black beard? Right! A coat with a sheepskin collar? I
see. That's the chair from the pensioner's home. It was bought today for
"But wait a moment. . . ."
And Ippolit Matveyevich told the chief concessionaire all about Father
Theodore's low tricks.
Ostap's face clouded.
"Too bad," he said. "Just like a detective story. We have a mysterious
rival. We must steal a march on him. We can always break his head later."
As the friends were having a snack in the Stenka Razin beer-hall and
Ostap was asking questions about the past and present state of the housing
division, the day came to an end.
The golden carthorses became brown again. The diamond drops grew cold
in mid-air and plopped on to the ground. In the beer-halls and Phoenix
restaurant the price of beer went up. Evening had come; the street lights on
Greater Pushkin Street lit up and a detachment of Pioneers went by, stamping
their feet, on the way home from their first spring outing.
The tigers, figures of victory, and cobras on top of the
province-planning administration shone mysteriously in the light of the
As he made his way home with Ostap, who was now suddenly silent,
Ippolit Matveyevich gazed at the tigers and cobras. In his time, the
building had housed the Provincial Government and the citizens had been
proud of their cobras, considering them one of the sights of Stargorod.
"I'll find them," thought Ippolit Matveyevich, looking at one of the
plaster figures of victory.
The tigers swished their tails lovingly, the cobras contracted with
delight, and Ippolit Matveyevich's heart filled with determination.
THE MECHANIC, THE PARROT, AND THE FORTUNE-TELLER
No. 7 Pereleshinsky Street was not one of Stargorod's best buildings.
Its two storeys were constructed in the style of the Second Empire and were
embellished with timeworn lion heads, singularly reminiscent of the once
well-known writer Artsybashec. There were exactly seven of these
Artsybashevian physiognomies, one for each of the windows facing on to the
street. The faces had been placed at the keystone of each window.
There were two other embellishments on the building, though these were
of a purely commercial nature. On one side hung the radiant sign:
ODESSA ROLL BAKERY
The sign depicted a young man wearing a tie and ankle-length French
trousers. Ift one dislocated hand he held the fabulous cornucopia, from
which poured an avalanche of ochre-coloured buns; whenever necessary, these
were passed off as Moscow rolls. The young man had a sexy smile on his face.
On the other side, the Fastpack packing office announced itself to
prospective clients by a black board with round gold lettering.
Despite the appreciable difference in the signs and also in the capital
possessed by the two dissimilar enterprises, they both engaged in the same
business, namely, speculation in all types of fabrics: coarse wool, fine
wool, cotton, and, whenever silk of good colour and design came their way,
silk as well.
Passing through the tunnel-like gateway and turning right into the yard
with its cement well, you could see two doorways without porches, giving
straight on to the angular flagstones of the yard. A dulled brass plate with
a name engraved in script was fixed to the right-hand door:
The left-hand door was fitted with a piece of whitish tin:
Date: 2015-01-02; view: 85