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Red by Maksim Gorky

 

Not so long ago a man of about forty by the name of Vaska, nicknamed Red, was employed in a house of prostitution in a city on the Volga. He owed his nickname to the fact that he had bright red hair and a heavy face the color of raw meat.

Thick-lipped, with big ears that struck out from his skull like handles on a wash-basin, he struck people by the cruel expression of his small colorless eyes. Sunk in fat, they shone like icicles, and in spite of his well-filled, stocky frame, they always had a ravenously hungry look. Short and thick-set, he wore a blue Cossack coat, wide woolen trousers and brightly shined top-boots with fine creases. His red hair grew in curls, and when he put on his smart cap, they showed from under it and fringed the band, and then it seemed as though Red were wearing a ruddy wreath.

He was called Red by his comrades; the girls called him the Hangman, because he liked to torture them.

There were several institutions of higher learning in the city, and many young people. For that reason, the houses of prostitution formed a whole district--a long street and several alleys. Vaska was known in all the houses. His name struck terror into the hearts of all the girls and when they quarreled among themselves, or with the madam, she would threaten them:

"Look out! Don't try my patience or I'll call Red!"

Sometimes this threat alone was sufficient to quiet the girls and make them give up their demands, often quite just and reasonable ones, as, for example, the demand for better food or for the right to leave the house to take a walk. But if the threat was not enough to subdue the girls, the proprietress called Vaska.

He would come walking with the slow gait of a man who is in no hurry, lock himself up with the proprietress in her room, and there she would name the girls who were to be punished.

He would listen to her complaint without a word, and simply say:

"All right."

Then he would go to the girls. They blanched and quailed at the sight of him. He saw this, and relished their fear. If the scene took place in the kitchen, where the girls dined and took their tea, he would stand for a long time at the door, looking at them, as silent and motionless as a statue, and these moments were no less painful than the tortures to which he subjected them.

After watching them for a while, he would say in an indifferent, husky voice:

"Mashka, come here."

"Vasily Mironych!" the girl would sometimes say imploringly and firmly. "Don't touch me! Don't touch me. If you do, I'll strangle myself."

"Come here, you fool, I'll give you the rope." Vaska would say indifferently, without even a sneer.

He always insisted that the culprits should come to him of their own accord.

"I'll call for help!I'll break the windows!" The girl, choking with fear, would enumerate all the things she might do.

"Break the windows!I'll make you eat the glass," Vaska would say.

And in most cases the stubborn girl would give in and go over to the Hangman. If she refused, Vaska would walk up to her, take her by the hair and throw her to the floor. Her own friends--often those who felt as she did--would tie her hands and feet, gag her, and right there, on the kitchen floor and before their eyes, the culprit would be flogged. If she was a spirited girl, capable of lodging a complaint, she was flogged with a heavy leather strap, so as not to cut the skin, and through a wet sheet, so as not to raise welts. Long thin bags filled with sand and gravel were also used. A blow on the buttocks with such a bag caused the victim a dull pain that lasted a long time.

The cruelty of the punishment depended, however, not so much upon the culprit's character as upon the degree of her guilt and Red's sympathy. Sometimes he flogged even daring girls mercilessly, without taking any precautions. In the pocket of his trousers he always carried a three-tailed whip with a short crop of oak polished by frequent use. Into the leather of the tails were woven thin metal wires that formed a tassel at the end. The first blow with such a whip cut through the skin to the bone, and often, to increase the pain, a mustard plaster or rags soaked in brine were applied to the sore back.

When he punished the girls Vaska never showed any emotion; he was always equally taciturn and stolid, and his eyes never lost their expression of ravenous hunger. Sometimes he screwed them up, which made them look even sharper.

The methods of punishment were not confined to these. Vaska was inexhaustibly fertile in inventing new ones, and indeed, he reached creative heights in the refinements of the tortures he thought up.

Take, for example, the case of Vera Kopteva, a girl in one of the establishments who fell under the suspicion of having stolen 5000 rubles from a guest. This guest, a Siberian merchant, informed the police that he had been in Vera's room with her and another girl, Sara Sherman. After about an hour, the latter went away, and he spent the rest of the night with Vera and was in a drunken state when he left her.

The affair took its due course. The investigation dragged on and on. Both defendants were detained in prison, tried, and, because of insufficient evidence, acquitted.

When they returned to their employer after the trial, the two girls were subjected to another investigation. The madam was certain that they were guilty of the theft and wanted her share.

Sara succeeded in proving that she had had nothing to do with the theft. Then the madam began to work on Vera Kopteva. She locked her in a bath-house and kept her on a diet of salty caviar, but in spite of this, the girl would not confess where she had hidden the money. It became necessary to resort to Vaska's help.

He was promised a hundred rubles if he discovered the whereabouts of the money.

And so, one night, the devil appeared to Vera, as she lay crouched in the bath-house, tormented by thirst, darkness, and dread. From his black shaggy hide came a smell of phosphorus and a glowing bluish smoke. Two fiery sparks took the place of eyes. He stood before the girl and asked in a terrifying voice:

"Where's the money?"

She lost her mind from terror.

This happened in winter. Next morning, barefoot, and dressed in nothing but her chemise, she was taken through the deep snow from the bath-house to the house. She was laughing gently and saying happily:

"Tomorrow I shall go to mass with Mamma again, I shall go to mass again."

When Sara Sherman saw her in this state, she said before everybody in quiet bewilderment:

"But I was the one who stole the money."

It is hard to say whether the girls hated or feared Vaska more.

They all made up to him, trying to curry favor with him. Everyone eagerly sought the honor of being his mistress. At the same time they egged on their pimps, the guests, and the bouncers whom they knew to beat Red up. But he was enormously strong, and never got drunk, so that it was hard to get the better of him. More than once arsenic was placed in his food, his tea, and his beer, and on one occasion to some effect, but he recovered. In some way he always got wind of every move against him. But apparently his realization of what he was risking by living among countless enemies neither increased nor diminished his cold cruelty toward the girls. With his usual stolidity he would say:

"I know that you'd tear me to pieces with your teeth if you got the chance.But there's no use your getting worked up about it. Nothing will happen to me."

And shoving out his thick lips, he would snort into their faces. This was his way of laughing at them.

His companions were policemen, other bouncers, and detectives, of whom there are always many in houses of prostitution. But he had no friends among them, and there was not one of his acquaintances whom he wished to see more frequently than the rest. He treated all alike with complete indifference. He drank beer with them and talked of the scandals that occurred every night in the district. He never left the house of his employer unless he was called away on business, that is, to administer a beating, or, as they said, to put the fear of God into someone's girl.

The house in which he was employed was one of the establishments of the middling sort. The admission charge was three rubles, and the charge for the night, five. The proprietress, Fekla Yermolayevna, a stout woman of about fifty, was stupid and malicious, feared Vaska, prized him highly, and paid him fifteen rubles a month, in addition to his keep. He had a small, coffin-like room in the attic. Because of Vaska, perfect order prevailed among her girls. There were eleven of them and they were all as meek as sheep.

When she was in a good humor, and talking to a guest whom she knew, she often bragged of her girls as one brags about pigs and cows.

"My goods are first class," she would say, smiling with pride and satisfaction. "The girls are all fresh and sound. The oldest is twenty-six. Of course, she's not a girl you can have an interesting talk with, but what a body! Just take a look at her, sir--a marvel, not a girl! Ksyushka, come here."

Ksyushka would come up, waddling like a duck. The guest would examine her more or less carefully and always be satisfied with her body.

She was a girl of medium height, plump, and as firm as though she had been hammered out of one piece. She had an ample, high bosom, a round face, and a little mouth with thick bright red lips. Her eyes, which were expressionless and irresponsive, resembled the beady eyes of a doll, and her pug nose and the bangs over her eyebrows, by adding to her resemblance to a doll, quenched in the least exacting guest the desire for any conversation with her on any subject. Usually they simply said to her:

"Come."

And she would go, with her heavy swaying gait, smiling meaninglessly and rolling her eyes from right to left. She had been taught this by the madam. It was known as "luring the guest." Her eyes had gotten so accustomed to this movement that she began to "lure the guest" from the very moment when, gaudily dressed, she entered the still empty parlor in the evening, and her eyes continued to roll from side to side all the time she was there, whether alone, with other girls, or with a guest.

She had another strange habit: winding her long braid, the color of fresh bast, around her neck, she would let the end of it fall on her bosom, and hold on to it with her left hand all the while, as though carrying a noose around her neck.

She could say of herself that her name was Aksinya Kalugina, that she hailed from the province of Ryazan, that she had once "sinned" with Fedka, had given birth to a child, and had come to the city with the family of an excise official, where she was employed as wet nurse, but that when her child died she had lost her position and then she had been "engaged" to work in the house. She had been there for four years.

"Like it here?" she would be asked.

"It's all right. I have enough to eat, I get shoes and clothes.Only you have no peace here.And Vaska, too.He beats you, the fiend."

"But then it's gay here?"

"Where?" she would answer, and turning her head, would examine the parlor, as though wishing to see where the gaiety was.

Around her there were drunkenness and noise, and everything--from the madam and the other girls to the cracks in the ceiling--was familiar to her.

She spoke in a thick bass voice and laughed only when she was tickled--she laughed loudly like a husky peasant and shook with laughter. The stupidest and healthiest of the girls, she was less unhappy than the others, for she was closer to the animal.

Of course, it was especially the girls in the house where Vaska was employed as a bouncer who had accumulated fear of and hatred towards him. When they were drunk, the girls did not hide their feelings, and complained of Vaska openly to the guests, but since the guests came there not to protect them, their complaints had neither meaning nor results. When they took the form of hysterical screams and weeping, and Vaska heard it, his flaming head showed itself in the doorway of the parlor and he would say in his indifferent wooden voice:

"Hey, you, don't act like a fool."

"Hangman! Monster!" the girl would scream. "How do you dare disfigure me? Look, mister, see what he did to my back with a whip!" And the girl would try to tear off her bodice.

Vaska would go over to her, take her by the hand, and without changing his voice, which was particularly horrible, would expostulate with her:

"Don't make a noise! Hush! What are you gabbing about? You're drunk. Look out!"

This was almost always sufficient, and very rarely did Vaska have to take a girl out of the parlor.

Never did any of the girls hear from Vaska a single kind word, although many of them were his concubines. He took them without ado. If any of them caught his fancy, he would say to her:

"I'll stay with you tonight."

Then he would keep on going to her for some time, and break with her without a word.

"What a devil!" the girls said of him. "He's made of wood!"

In the establishment where he worked he lived with almost every girl in turn, including Aksinya. And it was while he was living with her that on one occasion he gave her a cruel flogging.

As she was healthy and lazy, she liked to sleep very much, and she often fell asleep in the parlor, in spite of the noise that filled it. Seated somewhere in a corner, she would suddenly cease to "lure the guest" with her stupid eyes. They would become fixed upon some object, then her eyelids would slowly droop and cover her eyes, and her lower lip would hang down, baring large white teeth. Comfortable snores would be heard, sending the other girls and the guests into peals of laughter, but the laughter would not wake Aksinya.

This happened frequently. Her mistress scolded her severely and slapped her face, but this did not frighten off sleep: she would cry a little afterwards, and fall asleep again.

Finally Red took matters in hand.

One night, when the girl fell asleep sitting on a divan next to a drunken guest, who was also dozing, Vaska went over to her, and taking her by the hand without a word, led her away with him.

"Are you really going to thrash me?" Aksinya asked him.

"I have to" said Vaska.

When they came to the kitchen, he told her to undress.

"At least don't hurt me badly," the woman begged him.

"Go on, go on."

She stripped to her chemise.

"Take it off!" Vaska ordered.

"What a rowdy you are!" the girl sighed, and took off her chemise.

Vaska struck her over the shoulders with a strap.

"Into the court-yard with you!"

"What are you saying? It's winter.I'll be cold."

He pushed her out of the kitchen door, led her through the entry, switching her with the strap, and in the court-yard he ordered her to lie down on a heap of snow.

"Vaskahow can you?"

"Go on, go on!"

And pushing her face into the snow, he forced her head down into it, so that her cries should not be heard, and for a long time he struck her with the strap, repeating these words:

"Don't sleep, don't sleep, don't sleep."

When he let her go, she sobbed to him through her tears:

"Wait, Vaska! Your time will come.You will cry too! There is a God, Vaska!"

"Go on talking," he said calmly. "You fall asleep in the parlor once more! Then I'll take you out into the yard, give you a whipping and pour water over you."

Life has its wisdom, its name is accident. Sometimes it rewards us, but more often it takes revenge on us, and just as the sun endows each object with a shadow, so the wisdom of life prepares retribution for man's every act. This is true, this is inevitable, and we must all know and remember it.

The day of retribution arrived for Vaska too.

One evening when the half-dressed girls were having their supper before going into the parlor, one of them, Lida Chernogorova, a spirited and malicious girl with chestnut hair, looked out of the window and declared:

"Vaska's come."

Several girls swore unhappily.

"Look!" Lida shouted. "He'sdrunk! He's with a policeman.Look!"

All dashed to the window.

"He's being taken out of the droshkyhe can't walk.Girls!" Lida shouted with joy. "He must have had an accident!"

The kitchen resounded with oaths and malicious laughter--the joyous laughter of revenge. The girls, pushing each other, dashed into the entry to meet the fallen enemy.

There they saw Vaska supported by the policeman and the driver. His face was gray, and there were large beads of perspiration on his forehead, and he was dragging his left leg.

"Vasily Mironych! What's the matter with you?" cried the proprietress.

Vaska wagged his head helplessly and replied in a hoarse voice:

"I fell."

"He fell off a trolley" explained the policeman. "He fell off, and his leg was caught under the wheel! Crackand there you are!"

The girls held their peace, but their eyes burned like live coal.

They took Vaska upstairs to his room, put him to bed and sent for a doctor. The girls, standing beside the bed, exchanged glances, but did not say a word.

"Get out!" Vaska said to them.

No one budged.

"Ah! You're glad!"

"We won't cry," replied Lida with a smirk.

"Mistress, chase them out of here.What have theycome for?"

"Afraid?" asked Lida, bending over him.

"Go, girls, go downstairs" the madam ordered.

They went. But as they were leaving, each one of them looked at him ominously, and Lida muttered under her breath:

"We'll come back!"

As for Aksinya, she threatened him with her fist, shouting at him:

"Oo, you devil! So you're crippled? Serves you right."

Such daring astounded the girls very much.

Downstairs they were seized with an ecstasy of malice, a vengeful ecstasy, the sharp sweetness of which they had never before experienced. Mad with joy, they jeered at Vaska, scaring the proprietress by their violent mood and even infecting her with it to a degree.

She too was glad to see Red punished by fate. She too resented him, for he treated her not as an employer, but as though she were the subordinate and he the superior. But she knew that without him she could not keep the girls in hand, and she expressed her real feeling about Vaska cautiously.

The doctor came, bandaged up the patient, prescribed medicines, and went away, telling the proprietress that it would be better to send Vaska to a hospital.

"Well, girls, shall we pay a visit to our darling patient?" cried Lida in a dare-devil tone.

And they all dashed upstairs with laughter and shrieks.

Vaska lay with closed eyes. Without opening them, he said:

"You have come back."

"Aren't we sorry for you, Vasily Mironych!"

"Don't we just love you!"

"Remember how you?"

They spoke quietly but impressively, and standing around his bed they looked at his gray face with malicious and joyful eyes. He too looked at them, and never before had his eyes expressed so much unsatisfied, insatiable hunger, the incomprehensible hunger which always burned in them.

"Girlslook out! I'll get up."

"And, maybe, please God, you won't get up" Lida interrupted him.

Vaska compressed his lips tightly and held his peace.

"Which little leg hurts you, darling?" asked one girl tenderly, bending over him. Her face was pale and her teeth showed. "Is it this one?"

And seizing Vaska by his injured leg, she pulled it hard towards her.

Vaska gritted his teeth and howled. His left arm, too, was hurt, he swung his right, and wishing to strike the girl, slapped his own stomach.

A roar of laughter resounded about him.

"Huzzies!" he shouted, rolling his eyes frightfully. "Look out, I'll murder you!"

But they danced around his bed, they pinched him, pulled him by the hair, spat in his face, pulled his injured leg. Their eyes burned, they laughed, they swore, they howled like dogs. Their mockery was taking on an indescribably hideous and cynical character. They were drunk with revenge, they reached a state of frenzy.

All in white, half-dressed, heated by the jostling, they were monstrously terrible.

Vaska roared, waving his right arm; the proprietress, at the door, was screaming in a dreadful voice:

"Enough! Give it up.I'll call the police! You'll kill him.Oh, dear, oh, dear!"

But they did not listen to her. He had been tormenting them for years, they had minutes in which to retaliate, and they were in haste.

Suddenly the noise and howling of the orgy was pierced by a thick imploring voice:

"Girls! Enough.Girls, have pity.He too ishe toofeels pain! My dears, for Christ's sakemy dears."

This voice acted like a cold shower on the girls; frightened, they left Vaska hastily.

It was Aksinya who had spoken; she stood at the window all atremble and she bowed low to them, now pressing her hands against her stomach, now stretching them out absurdly in front of her.

Vaska lay motionless. The shirt on his chest was torn, and this broad chest, with its thick red wool, was heaving rapidly as though something were beating in it, madly trying to escape from it. There was a rattle in his throat, and his eyes were closed.

Massed together, so that they seemed to form one large body, the girls stood at the door silent, listening to Aksinya's muffled mumbling and Vaska's rattling. Lida, standing in front of them all, was quickly wiping from her right hand the red hairs that stuck to her fingers.

"Andsuppose he dies?" someone whispered. And there was silence again.

One after another, trying not to make any noise, the girls were cautiously leaving Vaska's room, and when they had all left, there were many rags and tatters on the floor.

Only Aksinya remained there.

Sighing heavily, she went over to Vaska and in her usual deep voice asked him:

"What shall I do for you now?"

He opened his eyes, looked at her, but made no answer.

"You may talk now.Should I clean up?I'll clean up.And maybe you want a drink of water? I'll give you a drink."

Vaska silently shook his head and moved his lips. But he did not say a word.

"So that's how it is--you can't even speak!" Aksinya said, winding her braid around her neck. "We were pretty nasty to you, all right.Does it hurt, Vaska, eh? Be patient, you'll get over itit's only at first that it hurts.I know."

A muscle twitched in Vaska's face, he said hoarsely:

"Water."

And the expression of unappeased hunger disappeared from his eyes.

Aksinya remained upstairs with Vaska, coming down only to eat, to have tea, or to fetch something for the patient. The other girls did not talk to her, asked her no questions, nor did the proprietress prevent her from nursing the sick man, and in the evening she did not call her out to the guests. Generally Aksinya sat at the window in Vaska's room and looked out at the snow-covered roofs, the trees white with hoarfrost, the smoke which rose in opal clouds to the sky. When she was tired of looking out, she fell asleep right there in the chair, with her elbows on the table. At night she slept on the floor, near Vaska's bed.

There was almost no talk between them. Vaska would ask for water or something else, she would bring it to him, look at him, sigh, and go over to the window.

Thus four days passed. The proprietress was trying her best to place Vaska in a hospital, but for the time being there was no bed for him there.

One evening when the shadows had already crowded into Vaska's room, he lifted his head and asked:

"Aksinya, are you there, eh?"

She was dozing off, but his question woke her.

"Where should I be?" she replied.

"Come here."

She went over to the bed and halted, as usual weaving her braid around her neck and holding on to the end of it.

"What do you want?"

"Take a chair, sit down here."

With a sigh she went over to the window to get the chair, brought it over to the bed, and sat down.

"Well?"

"Nothing, I.Sit down here awhile."

On the wall hung Vaska's big silver watch, ticking away rapidly. A sleigh drove by in the street, and one could hear the crunching of the runners. Downstairs the girls were laughing, and one of them was singing in a high-pitched voice:

"A hungry student had my heart."

"Aksinya!" said Vaska.

"What?"

"See herelet's live together."

"Don't we now?" the girl answered lazily.

"No, wait, let's do it properly."

"All right," she agreed.

"That's good."

He grew silent again, and lay for a long time with closed eyes.

"Yeswe'll go away from hereand start over again."

"Where will we go?" asked Aksinya.

"Some place.I'll sue the trolley company for my injury.They've got to pay, it's the law. Besides, I have money of my own, about six hundred rubles."

"How much?" asked Aksinya.

"About six hundred rubles."

"You don't say!" said the girl, and yawned.

"Yeswith that money alone you can open a house of your ownand if I make the company cough up some money tooWe'll go to Simbirsk, or Samaraand there we'll open a place.It will be the best house in the city.We'll get the best girls.We'll charge five rubles admission."

"How you talk!" Aksinya smiled "Why not? That's how it will be."

"Really!"

"That's how it will beif you like, we'll get married."

"Wha-at?!" Aksinya exclaimed, blinking stupidly.

"We'll get married," Vaska repeated, with some agitation.

"You and I?"

"Why, yes."

Aksinya laughed aloud. Swinging back and forth on her chair, she held her sides, now uttering a thick low laugh, now squeaking, which sounded quite unnatural from her.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Vaska, and again the hungry look came into his eyes. She kept on guffawing. "What's the matter?" he repeated.

Finally, somehow, through her squeaks and her laughter, she managed to say:

"It's about the wedding. Is that for the likes of us? I haven't been inside a church for three years, maybe more. What a funny fellow you are! Me, your wife.Do you expect me to give you children too? Ha! ha! ha!"

The idea of children threw her into a fresh spasm of hearty laughter. Vaska looked at her in silence.

"And do you think I'll go anywhere with you? What an idea! You'll take me somewhere and do me in. Everybody knows how you torture people."

"Oh, keep still," said Vaska softly.

But she kept on talking to him about his cruelty, recalling various incidents.

"Keep still," he begged her. And when she did not obey him, he shouted hoarsely: "Keep still, I say!"

That evening they said nothing more to each other. At night Vaska was delirious; a rattling, a howling, came from his broad chest. He gritted his teeth and waved his right arm in the air, sometimes striking his chest with it.

Aksinya woke up, stood beside the bed and looked into his face fearfully for a long time. Then she waked him.

"What's the matter with you? Was the house-sprite choking you, or what?"

"Nothing, I was dreaming" Vaska said weakly. "Give me some water."

When he had had a drink he wagged his head and declared:

"No, I'm not going to open a house. I'd rather have a shop.That's better. I won't want a house."

"A shop" said Aksinya pensively. "Yes, a shopthat's a good thing."

"Will you come with me? Will you?" Vaska asked with quiet urgency.

"Do you really mean it?" Aksinya exclaimed, moving away from the bed.

"Aksinya Semyonovna," said Vaska respectfully, in a ringing voice, lifting his head from the pillow, "I swear by"

He waved his hand in the air and fell silent.

"I'll go nowhere with you," said Aksinya with a resolute shake of the head, after waiting a moment for him to finish, "nowhere!"

"If I want you to, you will," said Vaska quietly.

"I won't go anywhere!"

"But that's not what I mean.But if I wanted you to, you'd go."

"Oh, no"

"What the devil!" Vaska cried in irritation. "Here you're fussing over me, doing things for me, so why won't you"

"That's different," Aksinya explained. "But as for living with you, no! I'm afraid of you. You're an evil man."

"Oh, youWhat do you know about it?" Vaska exclaimed venomously. " 'Evil man!' You're a fool. 'Evil man,' you think, and that's all there is to it. Maybe you think it's easy to do evil."

He broke off, and was silent for a while, rubbing his chest with his sound hand. Then, quietly, with anguish in his voice and fear in his eyes, he spoke again.

"You're laying it on thick. 'Evil,' well, is that the whole story? A-agh! What did they ask of me? Won't you come with me, Aksinya Semyonovna?"

"Don't say another word about it! I won't," Aksinya asserted stubbornly, and moved away from him with a look of suspicion.

Their talk ceased again. The moon was looking into the room and by its light Vaska's face looked gray. For a long time he lay silent, now opening his eyes, now closing them. Downstairs there was dancing, singing, laughter.

Soon Aksinya began to snore lustily. Vaska heaved a deep sigh.

Two more days passed, and the proprietress found a bed for Vaska in a hospital.

The ambulance, with a doctor's assistant and a hospital attendant, arrived to fetch him. They helped him carefully downstairs into the kitchen, and there he saw all the girls crowded in the doorway.

His face was convulsed, but he said nothing. They stared at him earnestly and grimly, but it was impossible to tell from their glances what they were thinking at the sight of Vaska. Aksinya and the madam were helping him into his coat, and everyone in the kitchen preserved a heavy, sullen silence.

"Good-by," Vaska said suddenly, lowering his head without looking at the girls. "Good-by!"

Some of them nodded to him silently, but he did not see it. Lida said calmly:

"Good-by, Vasily Mironovych."

"Good-by.Yes."

The doctor's assistant and the hospital attendant, placing their hands under his arm-pits, raised him from the bench and led him to the door. But he turned to the girls again:

"Good-by. It's true, I was"

Two or three more voices replied:

"Good-by, Vasily."

"What's the use?" He shook his head, and on his face appeared an expression quite alien to him. "Forgive me.For Christ's sakethose whowhom"

"They're taking him! They'll take my darling away!" suddenly Aksinya shrieked savagely, falling onto the bench.

Vaska started and lifted his head. His eyes blazed frightfully. He stood listening eagerly to her howls, and with trembling lips he said softly:

"What a fool! What a crazy thing!"

"Come on, come on," the doctor's assistant hurried him, frowning.

"Good-by, Aksinya, see that you come to the hospital," Vaska said aloud.

But Aksinya kept on howling:

"Who-oo-o will co-omfort me-ee-ee?"

The girls surrounded her and looked stolidly at her face and the tears streaming from her eyes.

Lida, bending over her, soothed her sternly:

"What are you howling about, Ksyushka? He's not dead! You can go to see him.You can go to him tomorrow."

1900.

 
 
 

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