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William Shakespeare's vocabulary has been estimated by the experts at

twelve thousand words. The vocabulary of a Negro from the Mumbo Jumbo tribe

amounts to three hundred words.

Ellochka Shukin managed easily and fluently on thirty.

Here are the words, phrases and interjections which she fastidiously

picked from the great, rich and expressive Russian language:

1. You're being vulgar.

2. Ho-ho (expresses irony, surprise, delight, loathing, joy, contempt

and satisfaction, according to the circumstances).

3. Great!

4. Dismal (applied to everything-for example: "dismal Pete has

arrived", "dismal weather", or a "dismal cat").

5. Gloom.

6. Ghastly (for example: when meeting a close female acquaintance, "a

ghastly meeting").

7. Kid (applied to all male acquaintances, regardless of age or social


8. Don't tell me how to live!

9. Like a babe ("I whacked him like a babe" when playing cards, or "I

brought him down like a babe," evidently when talking to a legal tenant).


11. Fat and good-looking (used to describe both animate and inanimate


12. Let's go by horse-cab (said to her husband).

13. Let's go by taxi (said to male acquaintances).

14. You're all white at the back! (joke).

15. Just imagine!

16. Ula (added to a name to denote affection-for example: Mishula,


17. Oho! (irony, surprise, delight, loathing, joy, contempt and


The extraordinary small number of words remaining were used as

connecting links between Ellochka and department-store assistants.

If you looked at the photographs of Ellochka Shukin which her husband,

engineer Ernest Pavlovich Shukin, had hanging over his bed (one profile and

the other full-face), you would easily see her pleasantly high and curved

forehead, big liquid eyes, the cutest little nose in the whole of the

province of Moscow, and a chin with a small beauty spot.

Men found Ellochka's height nattering. She was petite, and even the

puniest little men looked hefty he-men beside her.

She had no particular distinguishing features; she did not need them.

She was pretty.

The two hundred roubles which her husband earned each month at the

Electrolustre works was an insult to Ellochka. It was of no help at all in

the tremendous battle which she had been waging for the past four years,

from the moment she acquired the social status of housewife and Shukin's

spouse. The battle was waged at full pressure. It absorbed all her

resources. Ernest Pavlovich took home work to do in the evening, refused to

have servants, lit the primus himself, put out the refuse, and even cooked

meat balls.

But it was all useless. A dangerous enemy was ruining the household

more and more every year. Four years earlier Ellochka had noticed she had a

rival across the ocean. The misfortune had come upon Ellochka one happy

evening while she was trying on a very pretty crepe de Chine blouse. It made

her look almost a goddess.

"Ho-ho!" she exclaimed, summing up by that cannibal cry the amazingly

complex emotions which had overcome her.

More simply, the emotions could have been expressed by the following:

men will become excited when they see me like this. They will tremble. They

will follow me to the edge of the world, hiccupping with love. But I shall

be cold. Are you really worthy of me? I am still the prettiest girl of all.

No one in the world has such an elegant blouse as this.

But there were only thirty words, so Ellochka selected the most

expressive one-"Ho-ho!"

It was at this hour of greatness that Fimka Sobak came to see her. She

brought with her the icy breath of January and a French fashion magazine.

Ellochka got no further than the first page. A glossy photograph showed the

daughter of the American billionaire, Vanderbilt, in an evening dress. It

showed furs and plumes, silks and pearls, an unusually simple cut and a

stunning hair-do. That settled everything. "Oho!" said Ellochka to herself.

That meant "she or me". The next morning found Ellochka at the

hairdresser's, where she relinquished her beautiful black plait and had her

hair dyed red. Then she was able to climb another step up the ladder leading

her to the glittering paradise frequented by billionaires' daughters, who

were no match for housewife Shukin. A dog skin made to look like muskrat was

bought with a loan and added the finishing touch to the evening dress.

Mister Shukin, who had long cherished the dream of buying a new

drawing-board, became rather depressed.

The dog-trimmed dress was the first well-aimed blow at Miss Vanderbilt.

The snooty American girl was then dealt three more in succession. Ellochka

bought a chinchilla tippet (Russian rabbit caught in Tula Province) from

Fimka Sobak, a private furrier, acquired a hat made of dove-grey Argentine

felt, and converted her husband's new jacket into a stylish tunic. The

billionaire's daughter was shaken, but the affectionate Daddy Vanderbilt

evidently came to the rescue.

The latest number of the magazine contained a portrait of the cursed

rival in four different styles: (1) in black-brown fox; (2) with a diamond

star on her forehead; (3) in a flying suit (high boots, a very thin green

coat and gauntlets, the tops of which were encrusted with medium-size

emeralds); and (4) in a ball gown (cascades of jewellery and a little silk).

Ellochka mustered her forces. Daddy Shukin obtained a loan from the

mutual-assistance fund, but they would only give him thirty roubles. This

desperate new effort radically undermined the household economy, but the

battle had to be waged on all fronts. Not long before some snapshots of the

Miss in her new castle in Florida had been received. Ellochka, too, had to

acquire new furniture. She bought two upholstered chairs at an auction.

(Successful buy! Wouldn't have missed it for the world.) Without asking her

husband, Ellochka took the money from the dinner fund. There were ten days

and four roubles left to the fifteenth.

Ellochka transported the chairs down Varsonofefsky Street in style. Her

husband was not at home, but arrived soon after, carrying a brief-case.

"The dismal husband has arrived," said Ellochka clearly and distinctly.

All her words were pronounced distinctly and popped out as smartly as

peas from a pod.

"Hello, Ellochka, what's all this? Where did the chairs come from?"


"No, really?"


"Yes, they're nice chairs."


"A present from someone?"


"What? Do you mean you bought them? Where did the money come from? The

housekeeping money? But I've told you a thousand times . . ."

"Ernestula, you're being vulgar!"

"How could you do a thing like that? We won't have anything to eat!"

"Just imagine!"

"But it's outrageous! You're living beyond your means."

"You're kidding."

"No, no. You're living beyond your means."

"Don't tell me how to live!"

"No, let's have a serious talk. I get two hundred roubles. . ."


"I don't take bribes, don't steal money, and don't know how to

counterfeit it. . . ."


Ernest Pavlovich dried up.

"The point is this," he said after a while; "we can't go on this way."

"Ho-ho!" said Ellochka, sitting down on the new chair.

"We will have to get a divorce."

"Just imagine!"

"We're not compatible. I. . ."

"You're a fat and good-looking kid."

"How many times have I told you not to call me a kid."

"You're kidding!"

"And where did you get that idiotic jargon from?"

"Don't tell me how to live!"

"Oh, hell!" cried the engineer.

"You're being vulgar, Ernestula!"

"Let's get divorced peaceably."


"You won't prove anything to me. This argument. . ."

"I'll whack you like a babe."

"No, this is absolutely intolerable. Your arguments cannot prevent me

from taking the step forced upon me. I'm going to get the removal van."

"You're kidding!"

"We'll divide up the furniture equally."


"You'll get a hundred roubles a month. Even a hundred and twenty. The

room will be yours. Live how you like, I can't go on this way."

"Great!" said Ellochka with contempt.

"I'll move in with Ivan Alexeyvich."


"He's gone to the country and left me his apartment for the summer. I

have the key. . . . Only there's no furniture."


Five minutes later Ernest Pavlovich came back with the caretaker.

"I'll leave the wardrobe. You need it more. But I'll have the desk, if

you don't mind. And take this chair, caretaker. I'll take one of the chairs.

I think I have the right to, don't I?"

Ernest Pavlovich gathered his things into a large bundle, wrapped his

boots up in paper, and turned towards the door.

"You're all white at the back," said Ellochka in a phonographic voice.

"Good-bye, Ella."

He hoped that this time at least his wife would refrain from her usual

metallic vocables. Ellochka also felt the seriousness of the occasion. She

strained herself, searching for suitable words for the parting. They soon

came to mind.

"Going by taxi? Ter-r-rific!"

The engineer hurtled downstairs like an avalanche.

Ellochka spent the evening with Fimka Sobak. They discussed a

singularly important event which threatened to upset world economy.

"It seems they will be worn long and wide," said Fimka, sinking her

head into her shoulders like a hen.


Ellochka looked admiringly at Fimka Sobak. Mile Sobak was reputed to be

a cultured girl and her vocabulary contained about a hundred and eighty

words. One of the words was one that Ellochka would not even have dreamed

of. It was the meaningful word "homosexuality".

Fimka Sobak was undoubtedly a cultured girl.

Their animated conversation lasted well into the night.

At ten the next morning the smooth operator arrived at Varsonofefsky

Street. In front of him ran the waif from the day before. He pointed out the


"You're not telling stories?"

"Of course not, mister. In there, through the front door."

Bender gave the boy an honestly earned rouble.

"That's not enough," said the boy, like a taxi-driver.

"The ears of a dead donkey. Get them from Pushkin. On your way,

defective one!"

Ostap knocked at the door without the least idea what excuse he would

use for his visit. In conversations with young ladies he preferred


"Oho?" asked a voice behind the door.

"On business," replied Ostap.

The door opened and Ostap went into a room that could only have been

furnished by someone with the imagination of a woodpecker. The walls were

covered with picture postcards of film stars, dolls and Tambov tapestries.

Against this dazzling background it was difficult to make out the little

occupant of the room. She was wearing a gown made from one of Ernest

Pavlovich's shirts, trimmed with some mysterious fur.

Ostap knew at once how he should behave in such high society. He closed

his eyes and took a step backwards. "A beautiful fur!" he exclaimed.

"You're kidding," said Ellochka tenderly. "It's Mexican jerboa."

"It can't be. They made a mistake. You were given a much better fur.

It's Shanghai leopard. Yes, leopard. I recognize it by the shade. You see

how it reflects the sun. Just like emerald!"

Ellochka had dyed the Mexican jerboa with green water-colour herself,

so the morning visitor's praise was particularly pleasing.

Without giving her time to recover, the smooth operator poured out

everything he had ever heard about furs. After that they discussed silk, and

Ostap promised to make his charming hostess a present of several thousand

silkworms which he claimed the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee

of Uzbekistan had brought him.

"You're the right kind of kid," observed Ellochka as a result of the

first few minutes of friendship.

"You're surprised, of course, by this early visit from a stranger."


"But I've come on a delicate matter."

"You're kidding."

"You were at the auction yesterday and made a remarkable impression on


"You're being vulgar!"

"Heavens! To be vulgar to such a charming woman would be inhuman."

"Ghastly!" .

The conversation continued along these lines, now and then producing

splendid results.

But all the time Ostap's compliments became briefer and more watery. He

had noticed that the second chair was not there. It was up to him to find a

clue. Interspersing his questions with flowery Eastern flattery, he found

out all about the events of the day before in Ellochka's life.

"Something new," he thought, "the chairs are crawling all over the

place, like cockroaches."

"Sell me the chair, dear lady," said Ostap unexpectedly. "I like it

very much. Only with your female intuition could you have chosen such an

artistic object. Sell it to me, young lady, and I'll give you seven


"You're being vulgar, kid," said Ellochka slyly.

"Ho-ho!" said Ostap, trying to make her understand. I must approach her

differently, he decided. Let's suggest an exchange.

"You know that in Europe now and in the best homes in Philadelphia

they've reintroduced the ancient custom of pouring tea through a strainer?

It's remarkably effective and elegant."

Ellochka pricked up her ears.

"A diplomat I know has just arrived back from Vienna and brought me one

as a present. It's an amusing thing."

"It must be great," said Ellochka with interest.

"Oho! Ho-ho! Let's make an exchange. You give me the chair and I'll

give you the tea-strainer. Would you like that? "

The sun rolled about in the strainer like an egg. Spots of light danced

on the ceiling. A dark corner of the room was suddenly lit up. The strainer

made the same overwhelming impression on Ellochka as an old tin can makes on

a Mumbo Jumbo cannibal. In such circumstances the cannibal shouts at the top

of his voice. Ellochka, however, merely uttered a quiet "Ho-ho."

Without giving her time to recover, Ostap put the strainer down on the

table, took the chair, and having found out the address of the charming

lady's husband, courteously bowed his way out.





Date: 2015-01-02; view: 3044

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