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FROM SEVILLE TO GRANADA

 

Wait a minute now, where is Father Theodore? Where is the shorn priest

from the Church of St. Frol and St. Laurence? Was he not about to go to see

citizen Bruns at 34 Vineyard Street? Where is that treasure-seeker in

angel's clothing and sworn enemy of Ippolit Vorobyaninov, at present cooling

his heels in the dark corridor by the safe.

Gone is Father Theodore. He has been spirited away. They say he was

seen at Popasnaya station on the Donets railway, hurrying along the platform

with a teapot full of hot water.

Greedy is Father Theodore. He wants to be rich. He is chasing round

Russia in search of the furniture belonging to General Popov's wife, which

does not contain a darn thing, to tell the truth.

He is on his way through Russia. And all he does is write letters to

his wife:

 

Letter -from Father Theodore

written from Kharkov Station to his wife

in the district centre of N.

My Darling Catherine Alexandrovna,

I owe you an apology. I have left you alone, poor thing, at a time like

this. I must tell you everything. You will understand and, I hope, agree.

It was not, of course, to join the new church movement that I went. I

had no intention of doing so, God forbid!

Now read this carefully. We shall soon begin to live differently. You

remember I told you about the candle factory. It will be ours, and perhaps

one or two other things as well. And you won't have to cook your own meals

or have boarders any more. We'll go to Samara and hire servants.

I'm on to something, but you must keep it absolutely secret: don't even

tell Marya Ivanovna. I'm looking for treasure. Do you remember the deceased

Claudia Ivanovna, Vorobyaninov's mother-in-law? Just before her death,

Claudia Ivanovna disclosed to me that her jewels were hidden in one of the

drawing-room chairs (there are twelve of them) at her house in Stargorod,

Don't think, Katey, that I'm just a common thief. She bequeathed them

to me and instructed me not to let Ippolit Matveyevich, her lifelong

tormentor, get them. That's why I left so suddenly, you poor thing.

Don't condemn me.

I went to Stargorod, and what do you think-that old woman-chaser turned

up as well. He had found out. He must have tortured the old woman before she

died. Horrible man! And there was some criminal travelling with him: he had

hired himself a thug. They fell upon me and tried to get rid of me. But I'm

not one to be trifled with: I didn't give in.

At first I went off on a false track. I only found one chair in

Vorobyaninov's house (it's now a home for pensioners); I was carrying the

chair to my room in the Sorbonne Hotel when suddenly a man came around the

corner roaring like a lion and rushed at me, seizing the chair. We almost

had a fight. He wanted to shame me. Then I looked closely and who was it but

Vorobyaninov. Just imagine, he had cut off his moustache and shaved his

head, the crook. Shameful at his age.

We broke open the chair, but there was nothing there. It was not until



later that I realized I was on the wrong track. But at that moment I was

very distressed.

I felt outraged and I told that old libertine the truth to his face.

What a disgrace, I said, at your age. What mad things are going on in

Russia nowadays when a marshal of the nobility pounces on a minister of the

church like a lion and rebukes him for not being in the Communist Party.

You're a low fellow, I said, you tormented Claudia Ivanovna and you want

someone else's property-which is now state-owned and no longer his.

He was ashamed and went away-to the brothel, I imagine.

So I went back to my room in the Sorbonne and started to make plans. I

thought of something that bald-headed fool would never have dreamed of. I

decided to find the person who had distributed the requisitioned furniture.

So you see, Katey, I did well to study law at college: it has served me

well. I found the person in question the next day. Bartholomeich, a very

decent old man. He lives quietly with his grandmother and works hard to earn

his living. He gave me all the documents. It's true I had to reward him for

the service. I'm now out of money (I'll come to that). It turned out that

all twelve chairs from Vorobyaninov's house went to engineer Bruns at 34

Vineyard Street. Note that all the chairs went to one person, which I had

not expected (I was afraid the chairs might have gone to different places).

I was very pleased at this. Then I met that wretch Vorobyaninov in the

Sorbonne again. I gave him a good talking to and didn't spare his friend,

the thug, either. I was very afraid they might find out my secret, so I hid

in the hotel until they left.

Bruns turned out to have moved from Stargorod to Kharkov in 1922 to

take up an appointment. I learned from the caretaker that he had taken all

his furniture and was looking after it very carefully. He's said to be a

shrewd person.

I'm now sitting in the station at Kharkov and writing for this reason:

first, I love you very much and keep thinking of you, and, second, Bruns is

no longer here. But don't despair. Bruns is now working in Rostov at the

New-Ros-Cement plant. I have just enough money for the fare. I'm leaving in

an hour's time on a mixed passenger-goods train. Please stop by your

brother-in-law's, my sweet, and get fifty roubles from him (he owes it to me

and promised to pay) and send it to: Theodore Ivanovich Vostrikov, Central

Post Office, Rostov, to await collection. Send a money order by post to

economize. It will cost thirty kopeks.

What's the news in the town?

Has Kondratyevna been to see you? Tell Father Cyril that I'll be back

soon and that I've gone to see my dying aunt in Voronezh. Be economical. Is

Evstigneyev still having meals? Give him my regards. Say I've gone to my

aunt.

How's the weather? It's already summer here in Kharkov. A noisy city,

the centre of the Ukrainian Republic. After the provinces it's like being

abroad.

Please do the following:

(1) Send my summer cassock to the cleaner (it's better to spend Rs. 3

on cleaning than waste money on buying a new one); (2) look after yourself;

and (3) when you write to Gulka, mention casually that I've gone to Voronezh

to see my aunt.

Give everyone my regards. Say I'll be back soon.

With tender kisses and blessings, Your husband,

Theo.

P.S. Where can Vorobyaninov be roving about at the moment?

 

Love dries a man up. The bull lows with desire. The rooster cannot keep

still. The marshal of the nobility loses his appetite.

Leaving Ostap and the student Ivanopulo in a bar, Ippolit Matveyevich

made his way to the little pink house and took up his stand by the cabinet.

He could hear the sound of trains leaving for Castille and the splash of

departing steamers.

 

As in far-off Alpujarras

The golden mountains fade

 

His heart was fluttering like a pendulum. There was a ticking in his

ears.

 

And guitars strum out their summons

Come forth, my pretty maid.

 

Uneasiness spread along the corridor. Nothing could thaw the cold of

the cabinet.

 

From Seville to Granada

Through the stillness of the night-

 

Gramophones droned in the pencil boxes. Primuses hummed like bees.

 

Comes the sound of serenading

Comes the ring of swords in fight.

 

In short, Ippolit Matveyevich was head over heels in love with Liza

Kalachov.

Many people passed Ippolit Matveyevich in the corridor, but they all

smelled of either tobacco, vodka, disinfectant, or stale soup. In the

obscurity of the corridor it was possible to distinguish people only by

their smell or the heaviness of their tread. Liza had not come by. Ippolit

Matveyevich was sure of that. She did not smoke, drink vodka, or wear boots

with iron studs. She could not have smelled of iodine or cod's-head. She

could only exude the tender fragrance of rice pudding or tastily prepared

hay, on which Mrs. Nordman-Severov fed the famous painter Repin for such a

long time.

And then he heard light, uncertain footsteps. Someone was coming down

the corridor, bumping into its elastic walls and murmuring sweetly.

"Is that you, Elizabeth Petrovna? " asked Ippolit Matveyevich.

"Can you tell me where the Pfefferkorns live?" a deep voice replied. "I

can't see a damn thing in the dark!"

Ippolit Matveyevich said nothing in his alarm. The Pfefferkorn-seeker

waited for an answer but, not getting one, moved on, puzzled.

It was nine o'clock before Liza came. They went out into the street

under a caramel-green evening sky.

"Where shall we go?" asked Liza.

Ippolit Matveyevich looked at her pale, shining face and, instead of

saying "I am here, Inezilla, beneath thy window," began to talk

long-windedly and tediously about the fact that he had not been in Moscow

for a long time and that Paris was infinitely better than the Russian

capital, which was always a large, badly planned village, whichever way you

turned it.

"This isn't the Moscow I remember, Elizabeth Petrovna. Now there's a

stinginess everywhere. In my day we spent money like water. 'We only live

once.' There's a song called that."

They walked the length of Prechistenka Boulevard and came out on to the

embankment by the Church of Christ the Saviour.

A line of black-brown fox tails stretched along the far side of

Moskvoretsk Bridge. The power stations were smoking like a squadron of

ships. Trams rattled across the bridge and boats moved up and down the

river. An accordion was sadly telling its tale.

Taking hold of Ippolit Matveyevich's hand, Liza told him about her

troubles: the quarrel with her husband, the difficulty of living with

eavesdropping neighbours, the ex-chemists, and the monotony of a vegetarian

diet.

Ippolit Matveyevich listened and began thinking. Devils were aroused in

him. He visualized a wonderful supper. He decided he must in some way or

other make an overwhelming impression on the girl.

"Let's go to the theatre," he suggested.

"The cinema would be better," said Liza, "it's cheaper."

"Why think of money? A night like this and you worry about the cost!"

The devils in him threw prudence to the wind, set the couple in a cab,

without haggling about the fare, and took them to the Ars cinema. Ippolit

Matveyevich was splendid. He bought the most expensive seats. They did not

wait for the show to finish, however. Liza was used to cheaper seats nearer

the screen and could not see so well from the thirty-fourth row.

In his pocket Ippolit Matveyevich had half the sum obtained by the

concessionaires from the Stargorod conspirators. It was a lot of money for

Vorobyaninov, so unaccustomed to luxury. Excited by the possibility of an

easy conquest, he was ready to dazzle Liza with the scale of his

entertaining. He considered himself admirably equipped for this, and proudly

remembered how easily he had once won the heart of Elena Bour. It was part

of his nature to spend money extravagantly and showily. He had been famous

in Stargorod for his good manners and ability to converse with any woman. He

thought it would be amusing to use his pre-revolutionary polish on

conquering a little Soviet girl, who had never seen anything or known

anything.

With little persuasion Ippolit Matveyevich took Liza to the Prague

Restaurant, the showpiece of the Moscow union of consumer societies; the

best place in Moscow, as Bender used to say.

The Prague awed Liza by the copious mirrors, lights and flower-pots.

This was excusable; she had never before been in a restaurant of this kind.

But the mirrored room unexpectedly awed Ippolit Matveyevich, too. He was out

of touch and had forgotten about the world of restaurants. Now he felt

ashamed of his baronial boots with square toes, pre-revolutionary trousers,

and yellow, star-spangled waistcoat.

They were both embarrassed and stopped suddenly at the sight of the

rather motley public.

"Let's go over there in the corner," suggested Vorobyaninov, although

there were tables free just by the stage, where the orchestra was scraping

away at the stock potpourri from the "Bayadere".

Liza quickly agreed, feeling that all eyes were upon her. The social

lion and lady-killer, Vorobyaninov, followed her awkwardly. The social

lion's shabby trousers drooped baggily from his thin behind. The lady-killer

hunched his shoulders and began polishing his pince-nez in an attempt to

cover up his embarrassment.

No one took their order. Ippolit Matveyevich had not expected this.

Instead of gallantly conversing with his lady, he remained silent, sighed,

tapped the table timidly with an ashtray, and coughed incessantly. Liza

looked around her with curiosity; the silence became unnatural. But Ippolit

Matveyevich could not think of anything to say. He had forgotten what he

usually said in such cases.

"We'd like to order," he called to waiters as they flew past.

"Just coming, sir," cried the waiters without stopping.

A menu was eventually brought, and Ippolit Matveyevich buried himself

in it with relief.

"But veal cutlets are two twenty-five, a fillet is two twenty-five, and

vodka is five roubles," he mumbled.

"For five roubles you get a large decanter, sir," said the waiter,

looking around impatiently.

"What's the matter with me?" Ippolit Matveyevich-asked himself in

horror. "I'm making myself ridiculous."

"Here you are," he said to Liza with belated courtesy, "you choose

something. What would you like? "

Liza felt ashamed. She saw how haughtily the waiter was looking at her

escort, and realized he was doing something wrong.

"I'm not at all hungry," she said in a shaky voice. "Or wait, have you

anything vegetarian?"

"We don't serve vegetarian dishes. Maybe a ham omelette? "

"All right, then," said Ippolit Matveyevich, having made up his mind,

"bring us some sausages. You'll eat sausages, won't you, Elizabeth

Petrovna?"

"Yes, certainly."

"Sausages, then. These at a rouble twenty-five each. And a bottle of

vodka."

"It's served by the decanter."

"Then a large one."

The public-catering employee gave the defenceless Liza a knowing look.

"What will you have with the vodka? Fresh caviar? Smoked salmon?"

The registry-office employee continued to rage in Ippolit Matveyevich.

"Nothing," he said rudely. "How much are the salted gherkins? All right, let

me have two."

The waiter hurried away and silence reigned once more at the table.

Liza was the first to speak.

"I've never been here before. It's very nice."

"Ye-es," said Vorobyaninov slowly, working out the cost of what they

had ordered. "Never mind," he thought, "I'll drink some vodka and loosen up

a bit. I feel so awkward at the moment."

But when he had drunk the vodka and accompanied it with a gherkin, he

did not loosen up, but rather became more gloomy. Liza did not drink

anything. The tension continued. Then someone else approached the table and,

looking tenderly at Liza, tried to sell them flowers.

Ippolit Matveyevich pretended not to notice the bewhiskered flower

seller, but he kept hovering near the table. It was quite impossible to say

nice things with him there.

They were saved for a while by the cabaret. A well-fed man in a morning

coat and patent-leather shoes came on to the stage.

"Well, here we are again," he said breezily, addressing the public.

"Next on our programme we have the well-known Russian folk-singer Barbara

Godlevsky."

Ippolit Matveyevich drank his vodka and said nothing. Since Liza did

not drink and kept wanting to go home, he had to hurry to finish the whole

decanter.

By the time the singer had been replaced by an entertainer in a ribbed

velvet shirt, who came on to the stage and began to sing:

 

Roaming,

You're always roaming

As though with all the life outside

Your appendix will be satisfied,

Roaming,

Ta-ra-ra-ra . . .

 

Ippolit Matveyevich was already well in his cups and, together with all

the other customers in the restaurant, whom half an hour earlier he had

considered rude and niggardly Soviet thugs, was clapping in time to the

music and joining in the chorus:

 

Roaming,

Ta-ra-ra-ra . . .

 

He kept jumping up and going to the gentlemen's without excusing

himself. The nearby tables had already begun calling him "daddy", and

invited him over for a glass of beer. But he did not go. He suddenly became

proud and suspicious. Liza stood up determinedly.

"I'm going. You stay. I can go home by myself." "Certainly not I As a

member of the upper class I cannot allow that.

"Carport! The bill! Bums!"

Ippolit Matveyevich stared at the bill for some time, swaying in his

chair.

"Nine roubles, twenty kopeks," he muttered. "Perhaps you'd also like

the key of the apartment where the money is."

He ended up by being marched downstairs by the arm. Liza could not

escape, since the social lion had the cloakroom ticket.

In the first side street Ippolit Matveyevich leaned against Liza and

began to paw her. Liza fought him off.

"Stop it!" she cried. "Stop it! Stop it!"

"Let's go to a hotel," Vorobyaninov urged.

Liza freed herself with difficulty and, without taking aim, punched the

lady-killer on the nose. The pince-nez with the gold nose-piece fell to the

ground and, getting in the way of one of the square-toed baronial boots

broke with a crunch.

 

The evening breeze

Sighs through the trees

 

Choking back her tears, Liza ran home down Silver Lane.

 

Loud and fast

Flows the

Gualdalquivir.

 

The blinded Ippolit Matveyevich trotted off in the opposite direction,

shouting "Stop! Thief!"

Then he cried for a long time and, still weeping, bought a full basket

of bagels from an old woman. Reaching the Smolensk market, now empty and

dark, he walked up and down for some time, throwing the bagels all over the

place like a sower sowing seed. As he went, he shouted in a tuneless voice:

 

Roaming,

You're always roaming,

Ta-ra-ra-ra . . .

 

Later on he befriended a taxi-driver, poured out his heart to him, and

told him in a muddled way about the jewels.

"A gay old gentleman," exclaimed the taxi-driver.

Ippolit Matveyevich was really in a gay mood, but the gaiety was

clearly of a rather reprehensible nature, because he woke up at about eleven

the next day in the local police-station. Of the two hundred roubles with

which he had shamefully begun his night of enjoyment and debauchery, only

twelve remained.

He felt like death. His spine ached, his liver hurt, and his head felt

as if he had a lead pot on top of it. But the most awful thing was that he

could not remember how and where he could have spent so much money. On the

way home he had to stop at the optician's to have new lenses fitted in his

pince-nez.

Ostap looked in surprise at the bedraggled figure of Ippolit

Matveyevich for some time but said nothing. He was cold and ready for

battle.

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

 

PUNISHMENT

 

The auction was due to begin at five o'clock. Citizens were allowed in

to inspect the lots at four. The friends arrived at three o'clock and spent

a whole hour looking at a machine-building exhibition next door.

"It looks as though by tomorrow," said Ostap, "given good will on both

sides, we ought to be able to buy that little locomotive. A pity there's no

price tag on it. It's nice to own your own locomotive."

Ippolit Matveyevich was in a highly nervous state. The chairs alone

could console him.

He did not leave them until the moment the auctioneer, in check

trousers and a beard reaching to his Russian covert-coat tunic, mounted the

stand.

The concessionaires took their places in the fourth row on the right.

Ippolit Matveyevich began to get very excited. He thought the chairs would

be sold at once, but they were actually the third item on the list, and

first came the usual auction junk: odd pieces of dinner services embellished

with coats of arms; a sauce dish; a silver glass-holder; a Petunin

landscape; a bead handbag; a brand-new primus burner; a small bust of

Napoleon; linen brassieres; a tapestry "Hunter shooting wild duck", and

other trash.

They had to be patient and wait. It was hard to wait when the chairs

were all there; their goal was within reach.

"What a rumpus there'd be," thought Ostap, "if they knew what little

goodies were being sold here today in the form of those chairs."

"A figure depicting Justice!" announced the auctioneer. "Made of

bronze. In perfect condition. Five roubles. Who'll bid more? Six and a half

on the right. Seven at the end. Eight roubles in front in the first row.

Going for eight roubles. Going. Gone to the first row in front."

A girl with a receipt book immediately hurried over to the citizen in

the first row.

The auctioneer's hammer rose and fell. He sold an ash-tray, some

crystal glass and a porcelain powder bowl.

Time dragged painfully.

"A bronze bust of Alexander the Third. Would make a good paperweight.

No use for anything else. Going at the marked price, one bust of Alexander

the Third."

There was laughter among the audience.

"Buy it, Marshal," said Ostap sarcastically. "You like that sort of

thing."

Ippolit Matveyevich made no reply; he could not take his eyes off the

chairs.

"No offers? The bust of Alexander the Third is removed from sale. A

figure depicting Justice. Apparently the twin of the one just sold. Basil,

hold up the Justice. Five roubles. Who'll give me more?"

There was a snuffling sound from the first row. The citizen evidently

wanted a complete set of Justices.

"Five roubles for the bronze Justice."

"Six!" sang out the citizen.

"Six roubles in front. Seven. Nine roubles on the right at the end."

"Nine and a half," said the lover of Justice quietly, raising his hand.

"Nine and a half in front. Going for nine and a half. Going. Gone!"

The hammer came down and the girl hastened over to the citizen in the

first row. He paid up and wandered off into the next room to receive his

bronze.

"Ten chairs from a palace," said the auctioneer suddenly.

"Why from a palace? " gasped Ippolit Matveyevich quietly.

Ostap became angry. "To hell with you! Listen and stop fooling!"

"Ten chairs from a palace, Walnut. Period of Alexander the Second. In

perfect condition. Made by the cabinet-maker Hambs. Basil, hold one of the

chairs under the light."

Basil seized the chair so roughly that Ippolit Matveyevich half stood

up.

"Sit down, you damned idiot," hissed Ostap. "Sit down, I tell you. You

make me sick!"

Ippolit Matveyevich's jaw had dropped. Ostap was pointing like a

setter. His eyes shone.

"Ten walnut chairs. Eighty roubles."

There was a stir in the room. Something of use in the house was being

sold. One after another the hands flew up. Ostap remained calm.

"Why don't you bid?" snapped Vorobyaninov.

"Get out!" retorted Ostap, clenching his teeth.

"A hundred and twenty roubles at the back. A hundred and twenty-five in

the next seat. A hundred and forty."

Ostap calmly turned his back on the stand and surveyed his competitors.

The auction was at its height. Every seat was taken. The lady sitting

directly behind Ostap was tempted by the chairs and, after a few words with

her husband ("Beautiful chairs! heavenly workmanship, Sanya. And from a

palace!"), put up her hand.

"A hundred and forty-five, fifth row on the right. Going!"

The stir died down. Too expensive.

"A hundred and forty-five, going for the second time."

Ostap was nonchalantly examining the stucco cornice. Ippolit

Matveyevich was sitting with his head down, trembling.

"One hundred and forty-five. Gone!"

But before the shiny black hammer could strike the plyboard stand,

Ostap had turned around, thrown up his hand, and called out, quite quietly:

"Two hundred."

All the heads turned towards the concessionaires. Peaked caps, cloth

caps, yachting caps and hats were set in action. The auctioneer raised his

bored face and looked at Ostap.

"Two hundred," he said. "Two hundred in the fourth row on the right.

Any more bids? Two hundred roubles for a palace suite of walnut furniture

consisting of ten pieces. Going at two hundred roubles to the fourth row on

the right. Going!"

The hand with the hammer was poised above the stand.

"Mama!" said Ippolit Matveyevich loudly.

Ostap, pink and calm, smiled. The hammer came down making a heavenly

sound.

"Gone," said the auctioneer. "Young lady, fourth row on the right."

"Well, chairman, was that effective?" asked Ostap. "What would you do

without a technical adviser, I'd like to know? "

Ippolit Matveyevich grunted happily. The young lady trotted over to

them.

"Was it you who bought the chairs?"

"Yes, us!" Ippolit Matveyevich burst out. "Us! Us! When can we have

them?"

"Whenever you please. Now if you like."

The tune "Roaming, you're always roaming" went madly round and round in

Ippolit Matveyevich's head. "The chairs are ours! Ours! Ours!" His whole

body was shouting it. "Ours!" cried his liver. "Ours!" endorsed his

appendix.

He was so overjoyed that he suddenly felt twitches in the most

unexpected places. Everything vibrated, rocked, and crackled under the

pressure of unheard-of bliss. He saw the train approaching the St. Gotthard.

On the open platform of the last car stood Ippolit Matveyevich in white

trousers, smoking a cigar. Edelweiss fell gently on to his head, which was

again covered with shining, aluminium-grey hair. He was on his way to the

Garden of Eden. "Why two hundred and thirty and not two hundred?" said a

voice next to him.

It was Ostap speaking; he was fiddling with the receipt.

"Fifteen per cent commission is included," answered the girl.

"Well, I suppose that's all right. Here you are."

Ostap took out his wallet, counted out two hundred roubles, and turned

to the director-in-chief of the enterprise.

"Let me have thirty roubles, pal, and make it snappy. Can't you see the

young lady's waiting?"

Ippolit Matveyevich made no attempt at all to get the money.

"Well? Why are you staring at me like a soldier at a louse? Are you

crazy with joy or something?"

"I don't have the money," stammered Ippolit Matveyevich at length.

"Who doesn't?" asked Ostap very quietly.

"I don't."

"And the two hundred roubles? "

"I. . . I. . . lost it."

Ostap looked at Vorobyaninov and quickly grasped the meaning of the

flabbiness of his face, the green pallor of the cheeks, and the bags under

the swollen eyes.

"Give me the money," he whispered with loathing, "you old bastard!"

"Well, are you going to pay?" asked the girl. "One moment," said Ostap

with a charming smile, "there's been a slight hitch."

There was still a faint hope that they might persuade her to wait for

the money. Here Ippolit Matveyevich, who had now recovered his senses, broke

into the conversation.

"Just a moment," he spluttered. "Why is there commission? We don't know

anything about that. You should have warned us. I refuse to pay the thirty

roubles."

"Very well," said the girl curtly. "I'll see to that."

Taking the receipt, she hurried back to the auctioneer and had a few

words with him.

The auctioneer immediately stood up. His beard glistened in the strong

light of the electric lamps.

"In accordance with auctioneering regulations," he stated, "persons

refusing to pay the full sum of money for items purchased must leave the

hall. The sale of the chairs is revoked."

The dazed friends sat motionless.

The effect was terrific. There was rude guffawing from the onlookers.

Ostap remained seated, however. He had not suffered such a blow for a long

time.

"You're asked to leave."

The auctioneer's singsong voice was firm.

The laughter in the room grew louder.

So they left. Few people have ever left an auction room with more

bitterness.

Vorobyaninov went first. With his bony shoulders hunched up, and in his

shrunken jacket and silly baronial boots, he walked like a crane; he felt

the warm and friendly glance of the smooth operator behind.

The concessionaires stopped in the room next to the auction hall. They

could now only watch the proceedings through a glass door. The path back was

barred. Ostap maintained a friendly silence.

"An outrageous system," murmured Ippolit Matveyevich timidly.

"Downright disgraceful! We should complain to the militia."

Ostap said nothing.

"No, but really, it's the hell of a thing." Ippolit Matveyevich

continued ranting. "Making the working people pay through the nose.

Honestly! Two hundred and thirty roubles for ten old chairs. It's mad!"

"Yes," said Ostap woodenly.

"Isn't it? " said Vorobyaninov again. "It's mad!"

"Yes."

Ostap went up close to Vorobyaninov and, having looked around, hit the

marshal a quick, hard, and unobserved blow in the side. "That's for the

militia. That's for the high price of chairs for working people of all

countries. That's for going after girls at night. That's for being a dirty

old man."

Ippolit Matveyevich took his punishment without a sound.

From the side it looked as though a respectful son was conversing with

his father, except that the father was shaking his head a little too

vigorously.

"Now get out of here!"

Ostap turned his back on the director of the enterprise and began

watching the auction hall. A moment later he looked around.

Ippolit Matveyevich was still standing there, with his hands by his

sides.

"Oh! You're still here, life and soul of the party! Go on, get out!"

"Comrade Bender," Vorobyaninov implored, "Comrade Bender!"

"Go on, go! And don't come back to Ivanopulo's because I'll throw you

out."

Ostap did not turn around again. Something was going on in the hall

which interested him so much that he opened the glass door slightly and

began listening.

"That's done it," he muttered.

"What has?" asked Vorobyaninov obsequiously.

"They're selling the chairs separately, that's what. Maybe you'd like

to buy one? Go ahead, I'm not stopping you. I doubt, though whether they'll

let you in. And you haven't much money, I gather."

In the meantime, in the auction hall, the auctioneer, feeling that he

would be unable to make any member of the public cough up two hundred

roubles all at once (too large a sum for the small fry left), decided to

obtain his price in bits and pieces. The chairs came up for auction again,

but this time in lots.

"Four chairs from a palace. Made of walnut. Upholstered. Made by Hambs.

Thirty roubles. Who'll give me more?"

Ostap had soon regained his former power of decision and sang-froid.

"You stay here, you ladies' favourite, and don't go away. I'll be back

in five minutes. You stay here and see who buys the chairs. Don't miss a

single one."

Ostap had thought of a plan-the only one possible under the difficult

circumstances facing them.

He hurried out into the Petrovka, made for the nearest asphalt vat, and

had a businesslike conversation with some waifs.

Five minutes later he was back as promised with the waifs waiting ready

at the entrance to the auction rooms.

"They're being sold," whispered Ippolit Matveyevich. "Four and then two

have already gone."

"See what you've done!" said Ostap. "Admire your handiwork! We had them

in our hands . . . in our hands, don't you realize!"

From the hall came a squeaky voice of the kind endowed only to

auctioneers, croupiers and glaziers.

". . . and a half on my left. Three. One more chair from the palace.

Walnut. In perfect condition. And a half on the right. Going for three and a

half in front."

Three chairs were sold separately. The auctioneer announced the sale of

the last chair. Ostap choked with fury. He let fly at Vorobyaninov again.

His abusive remarks were full of bitterness. Who knows how far Ostap might

not have gone in this satirical exercise had he not been interrupted by the

approach of a man in a brown Lodz suit. The man waved his plump hands,

bowed, and jumped up and down and backwards and forwards, as though playing

tennis.

"Tell me, is there really an auction here?" he asked Ostap hurriedly.

"Yes? An auction. And are they really selling things here? Wonderful."

The stranger jumped backwards, his face wreathed with smiles. "So

they're really selling things here? And one can buy cheaply? First-rate.

Very, very much so. Ah!"

Swinging his hips, the stranger rushed past the bewildered

concessionaires into the hall and bought the last chair so quickly that

Vorobyaninov could only croak. With the receipt in his hand the stranger ran

up to the collection counter.

"Tell me, do I get the chair now? Wonderful! Ah! Ah!"

Bleating endlessly and skipping about the whole time, the stranger

loaded the chair on to a cab and drove off. A waif ran behind, hot on his

trail.

The new chair owners gradually dispersed by cab and on foot. Ostap's

junior agents hared after them. Ostap himself left and Vorobyaninov timidly

followed him. The day had been like a nightmare. Everything had happened so

quickly and not at all as anticipated.

On Sivtsev Vrazhek, pianos, mandolins and accordions were celebrating

the spring. Windows were wide open. Flower pots lined the windowsills.

Displaying his hairy chest, a fat man stood by a window in his braces and

sang. A cat slowly made its way along a wall. Kerosene lamps blazed above

the food stalls.

Nicky was strolling about outside the little pink house. Seeing Ostap,

who was walking in front, he greeted him politely and then went up to

Vorobyaninov. Ippolit Matveyevich greeted him cordially. Nicky, however, was

not going to waste time.

"Good evening," he said and, unable to control himself, boxed Ippolit

Matveyevich's ears. As he did so he uttered a phrase, which in the opinion

of Ostap, who was witnessing the scene, was a rather vulgar one.

"That's what everyone will get," said Nicky in a childish voice, "who

tries . . ."

Who tries exactly what, Nicky did not specify. He stood on tiptoe and,

closing his eyes, slapped Vorobyaninov's face.

Ippolit Matveyevich raised his elbow slightly but did not dare utter a

sound.

"That's right," said Ostap, "and now on the neck. Twice.

That's it. Can't be helped. Sometimes the eggs have to teach a lesson

to a chicken who gets out of hand. Once more, that's it. Don't be shy. Don't

hit him any more on the head, it's his weakest point."

If the Stargorod conspirators had seen the master-mind and father of

Russian democracy at that crucial moment, it can be taken for certain that

the secret alliance of the Sword and Ploughshare would have ended its

existence.

"That's enough, I think," said Nicky, hiding his hand in his pocket.

"Just once more," implored Ostap.

"To hell with him. He'll know next time."

Nicky went away. Ostap went upstairs to Ivanopulo's and looked down.

Ippolit Matveyevich stood sideways to the house, leaning against the iron

railing of the embassy.

"Citizen Michelson," he called. "Konrad Karlovich. Come inside. I

permit you."

Ippolit Matveyevich entered the room in slightly better spirits.

"Unheard-of impudence," he exclaimed angrily. "I could hardly control

myself."

"Dear, dear," sympathized Ostap. "What has the modern youth come to?

Terrible young people! Chase after other people's wives. Spend other

people's money. Complete decadence. But tell me, does it really hurt when

they hit you on the head? "

"I'll challenge him to a duel!"

"Fine! I can recommend a good friend of mine. He knows the duelling

code by heart and has two brooms quite suitable for a struggle to the death.

You can have Ivanopulo and his neighbour on the right as seconds. He's an

ex-honorary citizen of the city of Kologriv and still even brags about the

title. Or you can have a duel with mincing-machines-it's more elegant. Each

wound is definitely fatal. The wounded adversary is automatically turned

into a meat ball. How do you like the idea, Marshal?"

At that moment there was a whistle from the street and Ostap went down

to receive the* reports from his young agents.

The waifs had coped splendidly with their mission. Four chairs had gone

to the Columbus Theatre. The waif explained in detail how the chairs were

transported in a wheelbarrow, unloaded and carted into the building through

the stage-door. Ostap already knew the location of the theatre.

Another young pathfinder said that two chairs had been taken away in a

taxi. The boy did not seem to be very bright. He knew the street where the

chairs had been taken and even remembered the number of the apartment was

17, but could not remember the number of the house.

"I ran too quick," said the waif. "It flew out me head."

"You won't get any money," declared the boss.

"But, mister! I'll show you the place."

"All right, stay here. We'll go there together."

The citizen with the bleat turned out to live on Sadovaya Spasskaya.

Ostap jotted down the exact address in a notebook.

The eighth chair had been taken to the House of the Peoples. The boy

who had followed this chair proved to have initiative. Overcoming barriers

in the form of the commandant's office and numerous messengers, he had found

his way into the building and discovered the chair had been bought by the

editor of the Lathe newspaper.

Two boys had not yet come back. They arrived almost simultaneously,

panting and tired.

"Barrack Street in the Clear Lakes district."

"Number?"

"Nine. And the apartment is nine. There were Tatars living in the yard

next door. I carried the chair the last part of the way. We went on foot."

The final messenger brought sad tidings. At first everything had been

all right, but then everything had gone all wrong. The purchaser had taken

his chair into the goods yard of October Station and it had not been

possible to slip in after him, as there were armed guards from the Ministry

of Transport standing at the gates.

"He left by train, most likely," said the waif, concluding his report.

This greatly disconcerted Ostap. Rewarding the waifs royally, one

rouble each (except for the herald from Varsonofefsky Street, who had

forgotten the number and was told to come back the next day), the technical

adviser went back inside and, ignoring the many questions put to him by the

disgraced chairman of the board, began to scheme.

"Nothing's lost yet. We have the addresses and there are many old and

reliable tricks for getting the chairs: simple friendship; a love affair;

friendship plus housebreaking; barter; and money. The last is the most

reliable. But we haven't much money."

Ostap glanced ironically at Ippolit Matveyevich. The smooth operator

had regained his usual clarity of thought and mental balance. It would, of

course, be possible to get the money. Their reserve included the picture

"Chamberlain Answers the Bolsheviks", the tea-strainer, and full opportunity

for continuing a career of polygamy.

The only trouble was the tenth chair. There was a trail to follow, but

only a diffuse and vague one.

"Well, anyway," Ostap decided aloud, "we can easily bet on those odds.

I'll stake nine to one. The hearing is continued. Do you hear? Hey you,

member of the jury? "

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

 


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 577


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