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VOTING THE EUROPEAN WAY

 

While the friends were leading a cultured and edifying way of life,

visiting museums and making passes at girls, the double-widow Gritsatsuyev,

a fat and feeble woman, was consulting and conspiring with her neighbours in

Plekhanov Street, Stargorod.

They examined the note left by Bender in groups, and even held it up to

the light. But it had no watermark, and even if it had, the mysterious

squiggles of the splendid Ostap would not have been any clearer.

Three days passed. The horizon remained clear. Neither Bender, the tea

strainer, the imitation-gold bracelet, nor the chair returned. These animate

and inanimate objects had all disappeared in the most puzzling way.

The widow then decided to take drastic measures. She went to the office

of the Stargorod Truth, where they briskly concocted for her the following

notice:

 

MISSING FROM HOME. I implore anyone knowing the whereabouts of Com.

Bender to inform me. Aged 25-30, brown hair, last seen dressed in a green

suit, yellow boots and a blue waistcoat. Information on the above person

will be adequately rewarded. Gritsatsuyev, 15 Plekhanov St.

 

"Is he your son?" they asked sympathetically in the office.

"Husband!" replied the martyr, covering her face with a handkerchief.

"Your husband!"

"Why not? He's legal."

"Nothing. You ought really to go to the militia."

The widow was alarmed. She was terrified of the militia. She left,

accompanied by curious glances.

Three times did the columns of the Stargorod Truth send out their

summons, but the great land was silent. No one came forward who knew the

whereabouts of a brown-haired man in yellow boots. No one came forward to

collect the adequate reward. The neighbours continued to gossip.

People became used to the Stargorod tramway and rode on it without

trepidation. The conductors shouted "Full up" in fresh voices and everything

proceeded as though the trams had been going since the time of St. Vladimir

the Red Sun. Disabled persons of all categories, women and children and

Victor Polesov sat at the front of the cars. To the cry of "Fares please"

Polesov used to answer "Season" and remain next to the driver. He did not

have a season ticket, nor could he have had one.

The sojourn of Vorobyaninov and the smooth operator left a deep imprint

on the town.

The conspirators carefully kept the secret entrusted to them. Even

Polesov kept it, despite the fact that he was dying to blurt out the

exciting secret to the first person he met. But then, remembering Ostap's

powerful shoulders, he stood firm. He only poured out his heart in

conversations with the fortune-teller.

"What do you think, Elena Stanislavovna?" he would ask. "How do you

explain the absence of our leaders? "

Elena Stanislavovna was also very intrigued, but she had no

information.

"Don't you think, Elena Stanislavovna," continued the indefatigable



mechanic, "that they're on a special mission at present?"

The fortune-teller was convinced that this was the case. Their opinion

was apparently shared by the parrot in the red underpants as well. It looked

at Polesov with a round, knowing eye as if to say: "Give me some seeds and

I'll tell you all about it. You'll be governor, Victor. All the mechanics

will be in your charge. And the yard-keeper from no. 5 will remain as

before- a conceited bum."

"Don't you think we ought to carry on without them, Elena

Stanislavovna? Whatever happens, we can't sit around doing nothing."

The fortune-teller agreed and remarked: "He's a hero, our Ippolit

Matveyevich."

"He is a hero, Elena Stanislavovna, that's clear. But what about the

officer with him? A go-getting fellow. Say what you like, Elena

Stanislavovna, but things can't go on like this. They definitely can't."

And Polesov began to act. He made regular visits to all the members of

the secret society "Sword and Ploughshare", pestering Kislarsky, the canny

owner of the Odessa Roll Bakery of the Moscow Bun artel, in particular. At

the sight of Polesov, Kislarsky's face darkened. And his talk of the need to

act drove the timid bun-maker to distraction.

Towards the week-end they all met at Elena Stanislavovna's in the room

with the parrot. Polesov was bursting with energy.

"Stop blathering, Victor," said the clear-thinking Dyadyev. "What have

you been careering round the town for days on end for?"

"We must act!" cried Polesov.

"Act yes, but certainly not shout. This is how I see the situation,

gentlemen. Once Ippolit Matveyevich has spoken, his words are sacred. And we

must assume we haven't long to wait. How it will all take place, we don't

need to know; there are military people to take care of that. We are the

civilian contingent- representatives of the town intelligentsia and

merchants. What's important for us? To be ready. Do we have anything? Do we

have a centre? No. Who will be governor of the town? There's no one. But

that's the main thing, gentlemen. I don't think the British will stand on

ceremony with the Bolsheviks. That's our first sign. It will all change very

rapidly, gentlemen, I assure you."

"Well, we don't doubt that in the least," said Charushnikov, puffing

out his cheeks.

"And a very good thing you don't. What do you think, Mr. Kislarsky? And

you, young men?"

Nikesha and Vladya both looked absolutely certain of a rapid change,

while Kislarsky happily nodded assent, having gathered from what the head of

Fastpack had said that he would not be required to participate directly in

any armed clashes. "What are we to do?" asked Polesov impatiently. "Wait,"

said Dyadyev. "Follow the example of Mr. Vorobyaninov's companion. How

smart! How shrewd! Did you notice how quickly he got around to assistance to

waifs and strays? That's how we should all act. We're only helping the

children. So, gentlemen, let's nominate our candidates."

"We propose Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov as marshal of the

nobility," exclaimed the young Nikesha and Vladya.

Charushnikov coughed condescendingly. "What do you mean! Nothing less

than a minister for him. Higher, if you like. Make him a dictator."

"Come, come, gentlemen," said Dyadyev, "a marshal is the last thing to

think about. We need a governor. I think. . ."

"You, Mr. Dyadyev," cried Polesov ecstatically. "Who else is there to

take the reins in our province."

"I am most flattered by your confidence .. ." Dyadyev began, but at

this point Charushnikov, who had suddenly turned pink, began to speak.

"The question, gentlemen," he said in a strained voice, "ought to have

been aired."

He tried not to look at Dyadyev.

The owner of Fastpack also looked at his boots, which had wood shavings

sticking to them.

"I don't object," he said. "Let's put it to the vote. Secret ballot or

a show of hands? "

"We don't need to do it in the Soviet style," said Charushnikov in a

hurt voice. "Let's vote in an honest European way, by secret ballot."

They voted on pieces of paper. Dyadyev received four votes and

Charushnikov two. Someone had abstained. It was clear from Kislarsky's face

that he was the one. He did not wish to spoil his relations with the future

governor, whoever he might be.

When Polesov excitedly announced the results of the-honest European

ballot, there was silence in the room. They tried not to look at

Charushnikov. The unsuccessful candidate for governor sat in humiliation.

Elena Stanislavovna felt very sorry for him, as she had voted in his

favour. Charushnikov obtained his second vote by voting for himself; he was,

after all, well versed in electoral procedure.

"Anyway, I propose Monsieur Charushnikov as mayor," said the kindly

Elena Stanislavovna immediately.

"Why 'anyway'?" asked the magnanimous governor. "Not anyway, but him

and no one else. Mr. Charushnikov's public activity is well known to us

all."

"Hear, hear I" they all cried.

"Then we can consider the election accepted?"

The humiliated Charushnikov livened up and even tried to protest. "No,

no, gentlemen, I request a vote. It's even more necessary to vote for a

mayor than for a governor. If you wish to show me your confidence,

gentlemen, I ask you to hold a ballot." Pieces of paper poured into the

empty sugar-bowl. "Six votes in favour and one abstention."

"Congratulations, Mr. Mayor," said Kislarsky, whose face gave away that he

had abstained this time, too. "Congratulations !'

Charushnikov swelled with pride.

"And now it only remains to take some refreshment, Your Excellency," he

said to Dyadyev. "Polesov, nip down to the October beer-hall. Do you have

any money?"

Polesov made a mysterious gesture with his hand and ran off. The

elections were temporarily adjourned and resumed after supper.

As ward of the educational region they appointed Raspopov, former

headmaster of a private school, and now a second-hand book dealer. He was

greatly praised. R was only Vladya who protested suddenly, after his third

glass of vodka.

"We mustn't elect him. He gave me bad marks in logic at the

school-leaving exams." They all went for Vladya.

"At such a decisive hour, you must not think of your own good. Think of

the fatherland."

They brainwashed Vladya so quickly that he even voted in favour of his

tormentor. Raspopov was elected by six votes with one abstention.

Kislarsky was offered the post of chairman of the stock-exchange

committee. He did not object, but abstained during the voting just in case.

Drawing from among friends and relations, they elected a chief of

police, a head of the assay office, and a customs and excise inspector; they

filled the vacancies of regional public prosecutor, judge, clerk of the

court, and other law court officials; they appointed chairmen for the

Zemstvo and merchants' council, the children's welfare committee, and,

finally, the shop-owners' council. Elena Stanislavovna was elected ward of

the Drop-of-Milk and White-Flower societies. On account of their youth,

Nikesha and Vladya were appointed special-duty clerks attached to the

governor.

"Wait a minute," exclaimed Charushnikov suddenly. "The governor has two

clerks, and what about me?" "A mayor is not entitled to special-duty

clerks." "Then give me a secretary."

Dyadyev consented. Elena Stanislavovna also had something to say.

"Would it be possible," she said, faltering, "I know a young man, a

nice and well-brought-up boy. Madame Cherkesov's son. He's a very, very nice

and clever boy. He hasn't a job at present and has to keep going to the

employment office. He's even a trade-union member. They promised to find

work for him in the union. Couldn't you take him? His mother would be very

grateful."

"It might be possible," said Charushnikov graciously. "What do you

think, gentlemen? All right. I think that could be arranged."

"Right, then-that seems to be about all," Dyadyev observed.

"What about me?" a high-pitched, nervous voice suddenly said.

They all turned around. A very upset Victor Polesov was standing in the

corner next to the parrot. Tears were bubbling on his black eyelids. The

guests all felt very ashamed, remembering that they had been drinking

Polesov's vodka and that he was basically one of the organizers of the

Stargorod branch of the Sword and Ploughshare.

Elena Stanislavovna seized her head and gave a horrified screech.

"Victor Mikhailovich!" they all gasped. "Pal! Shame on you! What are

you doing in the corner? Come out at once."

Polesov came near. He was suffering. He had not expected such

callousness from his fellow-members of the Sword and Ploughshare.

Elena Stanislavovna was unable to restrain herself. "Gentlemen," she

said, "this is awful. How could you forget Victor Mikhailovich, so dear to

us all?" She got up and kissed the mechanic-aristocrat on his sooty

forehead. "Surely Victor Mikhailovich is worthy of being a ward or a police

chief."

"Well, Victor Mikhailovich," asked the governor, "do you want to be a

ward?"

"Well of course, he would make a splendid, humane ward," put in the

mayor, swallowing a mushroom and frowning.

"But what about Raspopov? You've already nominated Raspopov."

"Yes, indeed, what shall we do with Raspopov?"

"Make him a fire chief, eh?"

"A fire chief!" exclaimed Polesov, suddenly becoming excited.

A vision of fire-engines, the glare of lights, the sound of the siren

and the drumming of hoofs suddenly flashed through his mind. Axes glimmered,

torches wavered, the ground heaved, and black dragons carried him to a fire

at the town theatre.

"A fire chief! I want to be a fire chief!"

"Well, that's fine. Congratulations! You're now the fire chief."

"Let's drink to the prosperity of the fire brigade," said the chairman

of the stock-exchange committee sarcastically.

They all went for him.

"You were always left-wing! We know you!"

"What do you mean, gentlemen, left-wing?"

"We know, we know I"

"Left-wing!"

"All Jews are left-wing I"

"Honestly, gentlemen, I don't understand such jokes."

"You're left-wing, don't try to hide it!"

"He dreams about Milyukov at night."

"Cadet! You're a Cadet."

"The Cadets sold Finland," cried Charushnikov suddenly.

"And took money from the Japanese. They split the Armenians."

Kislarsky could not endure the stream of groundless accusations. Pale,

his eyes blazing, the chairman of the stock-exchange committee grasped hold

of his chair and said in a ringing voice:

"I was always a supporter of the Tsar's October manifesto and still

am."

They began to sort out who belonged to which party.

"Democracy above all, gentlemen," said Charushnikov. "Our town

government must be democratic."

"But without Cadets! They did the dirty on us in 1917."

"I hope,' said the governor acidly, "that there aren't any so-called

Social Democrats among us."

There was nobody present more left-wing than the Octobrists,

represented at the meeting by Kislarsky. Charushnikov declared himself to be

the "centre". The extreme right-wing was the fire chief. He was so

right-wing that he did not know which party he belonged to.

They talked about war.

"Any day now," said Dyadyev.

"There'll be a war, yes, there will."

"I advise stocking up with a few things before it's too late."

"Do you think so?" asked Kislarsky in alarm.

"Well, what do you think? Do you suppose you can get anything in

wartime? Flour would disappear from the market right away. Silver coins will

vanish completely. There'll be all sorts of paper currency, and stamps will

have the same value as banknotes, and all that sort of thing."

"War, that's for sure."

"You may think differently, but I'm spending all my spare cash on

buying up essential commodities," said Dyadyev.

"And what about your textile business? "

"Textiles can look out for themselves, but the flour and sugar are

important."

"That's what I advise you. I urge you, even."

Polesov laughed derisively. "How can the Bolsheviks fight? What with?

What will they fight with? Old-fashioned rifles. And the Air Force? A

prominent communist told me that they only have . . . well, how many planes

do you think they have?"

"About two hundred."

"Two hundred? Not two hundred, but thirty-two. And France has eighty

thousand fighters."

It was past midnight when they all went home.

"Yes, indeed. They've got the Bolsheviks worried."

The governor took the mayor home. They both walked with an

exaggeratedly even pace.

"Governor!" Charushnikov was saying. "How can you be a governor when

you aren't even a general!"

"I shall be a civilian governor. Why, are you jealous? I'll jail you

whenever I want. You'll have your fill of jail from me."

"You can't jail me. I've been elected and entrusted with authority."

"They prefer elected people in jail."

"Kindly don't try to be funny," shouted Charushnikov for all the

streets to hear.

"What are you shouting for, you fool?" said the governor. "Do you want

to spend the night in the police station?"

"I can't spend the night in the police station," retorted the mayor.

"I'm a government employee."

A star twinkled. The night was enchanting. The argument between the

governor and the mayor continued down Second Soviet Street.

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY

 


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 192


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