Translated from the Russian by John Richardson
     The original Russian title:  
     OCR: Tuocs



     1 Bezenchuk and the Nymphs
     2 Madame Petukhov's Demise
     3 The Parable of the Sinner
     4 The Muse of Travel
     5 The Smooth Operator
     6 A Diamond Haze
     7 Traces of the Titanic
     8 The Bashful Chiseller
     9 Where Are Your Curls?
     10 The Mechanic, the Parrot, and the Fortune-teller
     11 The Mirror-of-Life Index
     12 A Passionate Woman Is a Poet's Dream
     13 Breathe Deeper: You're Excited!
     14 The Alliance of the Sword and Ploughshare


     15 A Sea of Chairs
     16 The Brother Berthold Schwartz Hostel
     17 Have Respect for Mattresses, Citizens!
     18 The Furniture Museum
     19 Voting the European Way
     20 From Seville to Granada
     21 Punishment
     22 Ellochka the Cannibal
     23 Absalom Vladimirovich Iznurenkov
     24 The Automobile Club
     25 Conversation with a Naked Engineer
     26 Two Visits
     27 The Marvellous Prison Basket
     28 The Hen and the Pacific Rooster
     29 The Author of the "Gavriliad"
     30 In the Columbus Theatre


     31 A Magic Night on the Volga
     32 A Shady Couple
     33 Expulsion from Paradise
     34 The Interplanetary Chess Tournament
     35 Et Alia
     36 A View of the Malachite Puddle
     37 The Green Cape
     38 Up in the Clouds
     39 The Earthquake
     40 The Treasure

     It has long been  my considered opinion that strains  in Russo-American
relations  are  inevitable as  long  as  the  average  American  persists in
picturing the Russian as a gloomy, moody,  unpredictable individual, and the
average Russian in  seeing the American as  childish,  cheerful and, on  the
whole,  rather primitive. Naturally, we each resent the other side's  unjust
opinions  and ascribe them,  respectively,  to  the  malice of capitalist or
Communist propaganda. What  is to blame for this? Our national  literatures;
or, more exactly, those portions of them which are read. Since few Americans
know people of the Soviet Union from personal experience, and vice versa, we
both depend to a great extent on information gathered from the printed page.
The Russians know us-let us forget for a moment about Pravda-from  the works
of Jack London, James Fenimore  Cooper, Mark Twain and O. Henry. We know the
Russians-let  us  temporarily  disregard the  United Nations-as we have seen
them depicted in certain novels of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky  and in the later
dramas of Chekhov.
     There are  two ways to  correct these  misconceptions. One  would be to
import  into   Russia  a  considerable  number  of  sober,   serious-minded,
Russian-speaking American tourists, in  exchange for  an identical number of
cheerful,  logical,  English-speaking Russians who  would visit America. The
other, less costly form  of  cultural exchange would be for  the Russians to
read more  of Hawthorne, Melville,  Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, and for
us to become better  acquainted with the less  solemn-though not at all less
profound-Russians.   We   should   do   well  to   read   more   of   Gogol,
Saltykov-Shchedrin,  Chekhov  (the  short  stories  and  the  one-act plays)
and-among Soviet authors-to  read Mikhail  Zoshchenko  and Ilf  and  Petrov.
Thus,  in  its modest  way, the  present  volume-though outwardly  not  very
"serious" should contribute  to our better understanding of Russia  and  the
Russians and aid us in facing the perils of peaceful coexistence.
     If writers were to  be judged not by the reception accorded  to them by
literary  critics but  by their popularity  with  the reading  public, there
could  be no doubt that the late team of Ilf and Petrov would have few peers
among Soviet  men of letters. Together with another  humorist,  the recently
deceased Mikhail Zoshchenko, for many years they baffled and outraged Soviet
editors  and delighted Soviet  readers.  Yet  even while  their  works  were
officially  criticized  in the literary journals for a variety of  sins (the
chief among them being  insufficient ideological militancy and, ipso  facto,
inferior educational value), the available  copies of  earlier editions were
literally  read to shreds  by  millions of Soviet citizens.  Russian readers
loved Ilf and Petrov because these two writers provided them with  a form of
catharsis rarely available to the Soviet citizen-the opportunity to laugh at
the sad and ridiculous aspects of Soviet existence.
     Anyone familiar  with Soviet  press and  literature knows  one of their
most depressing features-the  emphasis  on the pompous and the weighty,  and
the almost total absence of the  light touch. The USSR has a  single Russian
journal of humour and  satire, Krokodil, which is seldom amusing. There is a
very  funny man  in the Soviet circus,  Oleg Popov, but  he is a  clown  and
seldom talks. At the present time, among  the 4,801 full-time Soviet writers
there is not a single talented humorist. And yet the thirst for humour is so
great in Russia that it was  recognized as a state problem by Malenkov, who,
during his short career as Prime Minister after  Stalin's death, appealed to
Soviet writers to become modern Gogols and Saltykov-Shchedrins. The writers,
however, seem to have remembered only too well the risks of producing humour
and satire in a  totalitarian state (irreverent laughter can  easily provoke
accusations  of  political disloyalty, as  was  the case with  Zoschenko  in
1946), and the appeal did not bring about desired results. Hence, during the
"liberal"  years  of  1953-7  the  Soviet  Government made available,  as  a
concession to its humour-starved subjects, new editions of the old works  of
Soviet humorists, including 200,000  copies of Ilf and  Petrov's  The Twelve
Chairs and The Little Golden Calf.
     Muscovites  and  Leningraders  might  disagree,  but  there  is  strong
evidence to indicate  that  during  the first  decades of  this century  the
capital of Russian humour was Odessa, a bustling, multilingual, cosmopolitan
city on the Black Sea. In his recently published memoirs, the veteran Soviet
novelist  Konstantin  Paustovsky  fondly  recalls   the  sophisticated   and
iconoclastic Odessa of the early post-revolutionary years.  Among the famous
sons  of Odessa were Isaac Babel, the writer  of brilliant,  sardonic  short
stories;  Yurii Olesha, the  creator of  modernistic, ironic tales; Valentin
Katayev,  author  of  Squaring  the  Circle,  perhaps the best comedy in the
Soviet repertory; and both members of the team of Ilf and Petrov.
     Ilya  Ilf (pseudonym  of  Fainzilberg) was born in 1897; Yevgeny Petrov
(pseudonym of Katayev,  a younger brother of Valentin) in 1903. The  two men
met  in Moscow,  where they both worked on the railwaymen's newspaper, Gudok
(Train Whistle). Their "speciality" was reading letters to the editor, which
is  a  traditional  Soviet means for  voicing grievances  about bureaucracy,
injustices  and  shortages.  Such  letters would sometimes get published  as
feuilletons,  short humorous stories somewhat reminiscent of Chekhov's early
output. In  1927 Ilf and Petrov formed a literary partnership, publishing at
first  under  a variety of names, including some whimsical ones, like Fyodor
Tolstoyevsky. In their joint "autobiography" Ilf and Petrov wrote :
     It is  very  difficult  to  write  together.  It  was  easier  for  the
Goncourts,  we suppose. After all, they were brothers, while we are not even
related  to each other. We are  not even  of  the  same  age.  And  even  of
different  nationalities;  while  one is  a Russian  (the enigmatic  Russian
soul), the other is a Jew (the enigmatic Jewish soul).
     The literary partnership  lasted for ten  years,  until 1937, when Ilya
Ilf died of tuberculosis. Yevgeny Petrov was killed in 1942 during the siege
of Sebastopol.
     The  two writers are famed chiefly  for three  books-The Twelve  Chairs
(1928;  known  in  a British translation as Diamonds  to Sit On); The Little
Golden Calf  (1931), a tale of the tribulations of a Soviet millionaire  who
is afraid  to spend any  money  lest he  be  discovered  by  the police; and
One-Storey-High  America  (1936; known  in a British  translation as  Little
Golden  America), an amusing and, on the whole,  friendly account of the two
writers' adventures in the land of  Wall Street, the  Empire State Building,
cars, and aspiring capitalists.
     The  plot  of  The Twelve Chairs is very simple. The mother-in-law of a
former nobleman named Vorobyaninov discloses on  her  deathbed a secret: she
hid  her  diamonds  in  one  of the family's  chairs that  subsequently  was
appropriated  by the Soviet  authorities. Vorobyaninov is joined by  a young
crook named Ostap Bender with whom he forms a partnership, and together they
proceed to locate these chairs. The partners have a competitor in the priest
Vostrikov, who  has also learned of  the secret  from his dying parishioner.
The competing treasure-hunters travel  throughout Russia,  which enables the
authors to show us glimpses of little towns, Moscow, and Caucasian  resorts,
and  also have the three central characters  meet a  wide  variety of people
-Soviet  bureaucrats,  newspapermen,   survivors  of  the  pre-revolutionary
propertied classes, provincials, and Muscovites.
     The events described in the novel are  set in 1927, that is, toward the
end of  the period of the New Economic Policy, which was characterized  by a
temporary truce between  the Soviet  regime's Communist ideology and limited
private enterprise in  commerce, industry and agriculture. The coffin-making
and bagel-making businesses referred to in the novel  have  long  since been
nationalized; the former noblemen masquerading as petty Soviet employees and
many  of  the  colleagues of the priest described  by Ilf  and Petrov are no
longer  alive;  and it is  impossible to imagine the existence today  of  an
anti-Soviet "conspiracy"  similar  to  the humorists' "Alliance of the Sword
and Ploughshare".
     Other  than that, however,  the Soviet Union  described in the novel is
very  much like  the Soviet  Union  of  1960, industrial  progress  and  the
Sputniks notwithstanding. The  standard  of  living in  1927  was relatively
high; it  subsequently declined. Now it is just slightly higher than  it was
thirty years  ago.  The  present grotesquely  overcrowded  and  poor-quality
housing (there is not  even  a Russian word  for  "privacy"  I)  is not much
different  from the conditions Ilf and  Petrov knew. There are now, as there
were then, people to whom sausage is a luxury, as it was to the newlyweds in
The  Twelve  Chairs.  Embezzlers  of  state property,  though  denounced  as
"survivals of the capitalist past",  are found by thousands among  young men
in their thirties and forties. The ominous  door signs protecting  Communist
bureaucrats, from unwanted visitors still adorn Soviet offices.  Nor has the
species  of  Ellochka  the  Cannibal,  the  vulgar  and  greedy  wife  of  a
hardworking  engineer,  become  extinct. And there are  still multitudes  of
Muscovites  who  flock  to museums to see how prosperously  the  bourgeoisie
lived  before the Revolution-Muscovites  who are  mistaken for art lovers by
unsuspecting  Western tourists who then report  at home  a tremendous Soviet
interest  in the fine arts. Why, even the ZAGS remains unchanged; only a few
months ago Komsomolskaya Pravda,  a youth newspaper, demanded that something
be  done about  it,  because brides and  grooms  are  embarrassed  when  the
indifferent clerk inquires whether they came to  register a  birth, a death,
or wish to get  married-just  as  Ippolit  Matveyevich Vorobyaninov did over
thirty years ago in the little Soviet town deep in the provinces.
     Similarly,  the  "poet" Lapis  who peddled  nearly  identical verse  to
various   trade  publications-providing  his  hero  Gavrila  with  different
professions  such  as chemist,  postman, hunter, etc., to  give the  poem  a
couleur local suitable for each of the journals-  enjoys excellent health to
this  day. There  are  hundreds of recent  Soviet novels, poems  and  dramas
written by as many  Soviet writers which differ  only in the  professions of
their  protagonists; in their character  delineations and conflicts they are
all very much alike. And, finally, the custom of delivering formal political
speeches, all of them  long, boring, and  terribly repetitious, persists  to
our times. These speeches are still  a regular feature at all  public events
in the USSR.
     Thus the Western reader, in addition to being entertained, is likely to
profit from the reading of The Twelve Chairs by getting a glimpse of certain
aspects of daily life in the Soviet Union which are not normally included in
Intourist itineraries.
     The hero  of The  Twelve Chairs (and  also, it might  be added, of  The
Little Golden  Calf) is Ostap  Bender,  "the smooth operator", a resourceful
rogue and confidence man. Unlike the nobleman  Vorobyaninov  and the  priest
Vostrikov,  Bender  is  not  a  representative of  the ancient  regime. Only
twenty-odd years old, he does not even remember pre-revolutionary Russia: at
the first meeting of the "Alliance of  the Sword and Ploughshare" Bender has
some difficulty playing the role of a  tsarist  officer.  Ostap Bender  is a
Soviet crook, born  of  Soviet conditions and quite willing to co-exist with
the  Soviet  system  to  which  he  has  no  ideological  or  even  economic
objections. Ostap Bender's inimitable slangy Russian is heavily  spiced with
cliches of the Communist jargon. Bender knows the  vulnerabilities of Soviet
state  functionaries and exploits them for his  own purposes. He  also knows
that the Soviet Man is not very different from the Capitalist Man-that he is
just  as  greedy,  lazy, snobbish,  cowardly  and  gullible-and  uses  these
weaknesses  to his,  Ostap Bender's, advantage. And  yet,  in spite of Ostap
Bender's dishonesty and lack of scruples, we somehow get to like him. Bender
is  gay, carefree and  clever,  and when we  see him  matching his wits with
those of Soviet bureaucrats, we hope that he wins.
     In  the  end  Ostap  Bender and  his accomplices lose;  yet,  strangely
enough, the end of the novel seems forced, much like the cliche happy ending
of a mediocre Hollywood film. One must understand, however, that even in the
comparatively  "liberal" 1920s it was difficult for  a Soviet author  not to
supply a  happy  Soviet  ending  to a  book otherwise  as aloof  from Soviet
ideology as The Twelve Chairs. And so, at the  end of the novel, one of  the
greedy fortune-hunters  is killed by his partner, while the other two end up
in  a  psychiatric  ward. But  at least  Ilf and Petrov  have spared us from
seeing Ostap Bender contrasted with a virtuous upright Soviet hero,  and for
this we  must  be  grateful. Much  as in Gogol's Inspector General  and Dead
Souls and  in the satires of Saltykov-Shchedrin, we observe with fascination
a  Russia  of  embezzlers,  knaves  and  stupid  government  officials.   We
understand  their  weaknesses  and  vices, for they are common  to  all men.
Indeed,  we can  even get  to like these  people, as we  could  not like the
stuffy  embodiments of Communist virtues who  inhabit the great  majority of
Soviet novels.
     Inevitably,  some of  the  humour  must  get  lost  in  the  process of
translation. The protagonists in  The  Twelve Chairs are for the  most  part
semi-educated men, but they all aspire to  kulturnost, and  love to refer to
classics  of  Russian  literature-which  they usually  misquote.  They  also
frequently  mispronounce  foreign  words  with  comical   effect.  These  no
translator  could  possibly salvage. But  the English-speaking  reader won't
miss the ridiculous  quality of  the "updated" version of The Marriage on  a
Soviet stage, even if he has never seen a traditional performance of Gogol's
comedy; he  will detect with equal ease the hilarious scheme of Ostap Bender
to  "modernize"  a famous canvas  by Repin even  if  he  has  never seen the
original painting. Fortunately, most of the comic qualities of the novel are
inherent in  the actions of the protagonists, and these are not affected  by
being translated. They  will only serve to prove once again that, basically,
Soviet Russians  are fed  with  the  same food, hurt  with the same weapons,
subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by
the same winter and summer" as all men are.

     Hunter College 1960

     Part I

     There were so many hairdressing establishments and funeral homes in the
regional centre of N. that the inhabitants seemed to be born merely in order
to have a shave,  get  their  hair cut,  freshen up their  heads with toilet
water and then die. In actual fact,  people came into the world, shaved, and
died rather rarely  in  the regional centre  of N. Life in  N. was extremely
quiet.  The   spring  evenings  were  delightful,  the  mud  glistened  like
anthracite in the light of the moon,  and all the young men of the town were
so much  in love with the secretary  of  the communal-service workers' local
committee that she found difficulty in collecting their subscriptions.
     Matters  of   life  and   death  did  not  worry   Ippolit  Matveyevich
Vorobyaninov,  although  by the nature of his  work he  dealt with them from
nine till five every day, with a half-hour break for lunch.
     Each morning, having drunk  his ration of hot  milk brought  to him  by
Claudia  Ivanovna in  a  streaky  frosted-glass tumbler,  he  left the dingy
little house and went outside  into the vast  street bathed  in weird spring
sunlight; it was called Comrade Gubernsky Street. It was the nicest kind  of
street  you  can  find in regional  centres. On the left you could  see  the
coffins of the Nymph Funeral Home  glittering with silver through undulating
green-glass panes. On the right, the dusty, plain oak  coffins of Bezenchuk,
the undertaker, reclined sadly behind small windows from which the putty was
peeling  off. Further  up, "Master Barber Pierre and  Constantine"  promised
customers  a "manicure" and  "home curlings". Still further on  was  a hotel
with  a  hairdresser's,  and beyond  it  a  large  open  space  in  which  a
straw-coloured calf stood tenderly licking the rusty sign propped up against
a solitary gateway. The sign read: Do-Us-the-Honour Funeral Home.
     Although  there  were  many  funeral  homes,  their  clientele  was not
wealthy.  The  Do-Us-the-Honour  had gone  broke three years before  Ippolit
Matveyevich settled in the town of N., while Bezenchuk drank like a fish and
had once tried to pawn his best sample coffin.
     People rarely died  in  the  town of N. Ippolit  Matveyevich knew  this
better than anyone because he worked in the registry office, where he was in
charge of the registration of deaths and marriages.
     The  desk  at  which  Ippolit  Matveyevich worked  resembled an ancient
gravestone. The  left-hand corner  had  been  eaten away by rats. Its wobbly
legs quivered under the weight of  bulging tobacco-coloured  files of notes,
which  could provide  any required information on  the  origins  of the town
inhabitants and the  family  trees  that had grown up in the barren regional
     On Friday, April 15, 1927, Ippolit Matveyevich woke up as usual at half
past seven and immediately slipped on to his nose an old-fashioned pince-nez
with a  gold nosepiece. He did not wear glasses. At one time, deciding  that
it was not hygienic to  wear pince-nez, he went to  the  optician and bought
himself a pair of frameless spectacles with gold-plated sidepieces. He liked
the spectacles from the  very  first, but his wife (this was  shortly before
she died) found that they made him look the spitting image of Milyukov,  and
he  gave them  to  the  man  who  cleaned  the yard.  Although  he  was  not
shortsighted, the fellow grew accustomed  to the glasses and enjoyed wearing
     "Bonjour!" sang Ippolit Matveyevich to  himself as he lowered his  legs
from the bed. "Bonjour" showed that he had woken up in a. good humour. If he
said  "Guten Morgen" on awakening,  it  usually  meant that  his  liver  was
playing tricks,  that it was no joke being fifty-two,  and that the  weather
was damp at the time.
     Ippolit Matveyevich thrust  his legs into  pre-revolutionary  trousers,
tied the  ribbons around his ankles, and pulled on short, soft-leather boots
with narrow,  square toes. Five  minutes later he  was neatly  arrayed in  a
yellow  waistcoat  decorated with  small silver  stars  and a lustrous  silk
jacket that reflected the colours of  the  rainbow as it  caught  the light.
Wiping away the drops of water  still clinging to  his  grey hairs after his
ablutions,  Ippolit  Matveyevich fiercely wiggled  his moustache, hesitantly
felt  his  bristly  chin,  gave his close-cropped silvery hair a brush  and,
then, smiling politely, went toward his mother-in-law, Claudia Ivanovna, who
had just come into the room.
     "Eppole-et," she thundered, "I had a bad dream last night."
     The word "dream" was pronounced with a French "r".
     Ippolit  Matveyevich looked his mother-in-law  up and down. He  was six
feet two inches tall, and from that height it was easy for  him to look down
on his mother-in-law with a certain contempt.
     Claudia Ivanovna continued: "I dreamed  of the deceased Marie with  her
hair down, and wearing a golden sash."
     The  iron lamp with its chain and dusty glass toys all vibrated at  the
rumble of  Claudia Ivanovna's voice. "I am very disturbed. I fear  something
may happen."  These last words were uttered with such force that  the square
of   bristling  hair  on  Ippolit  Matveyevich's  head  moved  in  different
directions. He wrinkled up his face and said slowly:
     "Nothing's going to happen, Maman. Have you paid the water rates?"
     It appeared that she had not. Nor had the galoshes been washed. Ippolit
Matveyevich disliked his mother-in-law. Claudia Ivanovna was stupid, and her
advanced  age gave  little hope  of  any improvement.  She was stingy in the
extreme, and  it was only Ippolit Matveyevich's  poverty which prevented her
giving rein to  this passion. Her voice was  so strong  and fruity  that  it
might well have been envied by Richard  the Lionheart, at whose shout, as is
well known, horses  used to kneel. Furthermore, and this was the worst thing
of all  about her, she had dreams. She was always having dreams. She dreamed
of girls  in sashes, horses trimmed with the yellow braid  worn by dragoons,
caretakers playing harps, angels in watchmen's fur coats  who went for walks
at  night  carrying clappers, and  knitting-needles which  hopped around the
room by  themselves making  a distressing  tinkle. An empty-headed woman was
Claudia Ivanovna. In addition to everything else, her  upper lip was covered
by a moustache, each side of which resembled a shaving brush.
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  left  the  house  in rather  an  irritable  mood.
Bezenchuk  the  undertaker was standing at the entrance  to his  tumble-down
establishment, leaning against the  door with his hands crossed. The regular
collapse of  his commercial undertakings plus  a long period of practice  in
the consumption of intoxicating drinks had  made his eyes bright yellow like
a cat's, and they burned with an unfading light.
     "Greetings to an honoured guest!" he  rattled off, seeing Vorobyaninov.
"Good mornin'."
     Ippolit Matveyevich politely raised his soiled  beaver hat. "How's your
mother-in-law,  might  I  inquire?  "  "Mrr-mrr,"  said  Ippolit Matveyevich
indistinctly, and shrugging his shoulders, continued on his way.
     "God grant  her health," said Bezenchuk  bitterly. "Nothin' but losses,
durn it." And crossing his  hands on his  chest, he again leaned against the
     At  the entrance  to the  Nymph  Funeral Home Ippolit  Matveyevich  was
stopped once more.  There were three owners of the Nymph.  They all bowed to
Ippolit Matveyevich and inquired in chorus about his mother-in-law's health.
     "She's  well," replied Ippolit Matveyevich. "The things she  does! Last
night she saw a golden girl with her hair down. It was a dream."
     The three Nymphs exchanged glances and sighed loudly.
     These conversations delayed Vorobyaninov  on  his way,  and contrary to
his usual practice, he did not arrive  at  work until the clock  on the wall
above the slogan "Finish Your Business and Leave" showed five past nine.
     Because of his great height, and particularly because of his moustache,
Ippolit Matveyevich was known  in the office as  Maciste.* although the real
Maciste   had   no   moustache.   (  Translator's   Note:   Maciste  was  an
internationally known Italian actor of the time.)
     Taking a blue  felt  cushion out  of  a  drawer  in the  desk,  Ippolit
Matveyevich  placed  it  on  his  chair,  aligned  his  moustache  correctly
(parallel  to  the top  of the desk) and sat down  on  the  cushion,  rising
slightly higher than  his three colleagues.  He  was not  afraid of  getting
piles; he was afraid  of wearing  out his trousers-that was why he  used the
blue cushion.
     All these  operations were watched timidly  by  two young persons-a boy
and  a  girl.  The young man, who wore a padded  cotton coat, was completely
overcome by the office atmosphere, the chemical smell of the ink,  the clock
that was ticking loud and fast, and most of all by the sharply worded notice
"Finish Your Business  and Leave". The  young  man in  the coat had not even
begun  his  business,  but he  was  nonetheless ready to leave. He  felt his
business was  so  insignificant  that  it  was  shameful  to disturb  such a
distinguished-looking   grey-haired   citizen   as   Vorobyaninov.   Ippolit
Matveyevich  also felt the young man's business was a trifling one and could
wait, so he opened folder no.  2 and,  with a twitch of the  cheek, immersed
himself in  the papers. The girl, who had on a long jacket edged  with shiny
black  ribbon,  whispered  something  to  the  young  man  and,   pink  with
embarrassment, began moving toward Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "Comrade," she said, "where do we . . ."
     The young man in the padded coat sighed with pleasure and, unexpectedly
for himself, blurted out:
     "Get married!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich  looked thoughtfully at the  rail behind  which the
young couple were standing.
     "Birth? Death?"
     "Get married?" repeated the young  man in the coat and looked round him
in confusion.
     The girl gave a giggle. Things were going fine. Ippolit Matveyevich set
to work with the skill of a magician. In spidery handwriting he recorded the
names of the bride and  groom in  thick registers,  sternly  questioned  the
witnesses,  who  had to  be  fetched  from  outside, breathed  tenderly  and
lengthily  on the square rubber stamps and then,  half  rising  to his feet,
impressed them  upon the tattered identification papers. Having received two
roubles  from  the newly-weds "for administration  of  the sacrament", as he
said  with a  smirk,  and  given  them a receipt,  Ippolit Matveyevich  drew
himself up to his splendid height,  automatically pushing out  his chest (he
had worn a corset at one  time). The wide golden rays of the sun fell on his
shoulders like epaulettes. His appearance was slightly comic, but singularly
impressive.  The  biconcave  lenses  of  his  pince-nez flashed  white  like
searchlights. The young couple stood in awe.
     "Young people,"  said  Ippolit  Matveyevich  pompously,  "allow  me  to
congratulate you,  as they used  to say, on your legal marriage. It is very,
very nice to see young people like yourselves moving hand in hand toward the
realization of eternal ideals. It is very, ve-ery nice!'
     Having  made  this  address, Ippolit  Matveyevich shook hands with  the
newly  married  couple,  sat  down,  and,  extremely  pleased with  himself,
continued  to read the  papers in folder  no. 2. At the next desk the clerks
sniggered into their ink-wells.  The quiet routine of  the  working day  had
begun. No  one disturbed the deaths-and-marriages  desk. Through the windows
citizens could be  seen  making their  way  home, shivering  in  the  spring
chilliness. At exactly midday the cock in the Hammer and Plough co-operative
began  crowing. Nobody was surprised. Then  came the mechanical rattling and
squeaking of a car engine.  A thick cloud of violet  smoke billowed out from
Comrade Gubernsky Street, and the  clanking grew louder.  Through  the smoke
appeared the outline of the regional-executive-committee car Gos. No. 1 with
its minute radiator and  bulky body.  Floundering in the mud as it went, the
car crossed Staropan Square and, swaying from side to side, disappeared in a
cloud of poisonous  smoke. The  clerks remained standing  at the window  for
some  time, commenting on  the event  and  attempting to  connect  it with a
possible reduction in staff. A little while later  Bezenchuk cautiously went
past  along the footboards. For days on end he used to wander round the town
trying to find out if anyone had died.
     The working day was drawing to  a close. In the nearby white and yellow
belfry the bells began ringing furiously. Windows rattled. Jackdaws rose one
by one from the belfry, joined forces over the square, held a brief meeting,
and flew off. The evening sky turned ice-grey over the deserted square.
     It was time for Ippolit Matveyevich to leave. Everything that was to be
born on that day had  been born  and  registered in  the thick  ledgers. All
those  wishing to  get married had done so and were likewise recorded in the
thick registers. And, clearly to the ruin of  the undertakers, there had not
been a single death. Ippolit  Matveyevich  packed up his files, put the felt
cushion  away  in the drawer, fluffed up his moustache  with a comb, and was
just about  to leave, having  visions  of a bowl of steaming soup, when  the
door burst open and Bezenchuk the undertaker appeared on the threshold.
     "Greetings  to an honoured  guest,"  said  Ippolit  Matveyevich  with a
smile. "What can I do for you?"
     The undertaker's animal-like face glowed in the dusk, but he was unable
to utter a word.
     "Well?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich more severely.
     "Does  the  Nymph,  durn  it,  really  give  good  service?"  said  the
undertaker vaguely. "Can they really satisfy customers? Why, a  coffin needs
so much wood alone."
     "What?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "It's  the Nymph. . .  . Three families livin' on one  rotten business.
And their materials ain't no good, and the finish is worse. What's more, the
tassels  ain't thick enough, durn it. Mine's an old firm, though. Founded in
1907. My coffins are like gherkins, specially selected for people who know a
good coffin."
     "What  are  you  talking  about?   Are  you  crazy?"   snapped  Ippolit
Matveyevich and moved towards the door.  "Your coffins will drive you out of
your mind."
     Bezenchuk obligingly threw open the door, let Vorobyaninov go out first
and then began following him, trembling as though with impatience.
     "When the Do-Us-the-Honour was goin', it was all right There wasn't one
firm, not even in Tver, which could touch it in brocade, durn it. But now, I
tell  you straight, there's  nothin' to beat  mine. You  don't  even need to
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  turned  round  angrily, glared at  Bezenchuk, and
began walking faster. Although he had not had any difficulties at the office
that day, he felt rotten.
     The three  owners of the Nymph  were standing by their establishment in
the same positions in which Ippolit Matveyevich had left them that  morning.
They appeared  not to have exchanged a single  word with one another,  yet a
striking change  in  their expressions  and a  kind  of secret  satisfaction
darkly  gleaming  in their eyes indicated that they had  heard something  of
     At  the  sight of  his  business rivals,  Bezenchuk waved  his hand  in
despair and called after Vorobyaninov in a whisper: "I'll make it thirty-two
roubles." Ippolit Matveyevich  frowned and increased his pace. "You can have
credit,"  added Bezenchuk. The three owners of the Nymph said  nothing. They
sped after  Vorobyaninov in  silence,  continually  doffing their  caps  and
bowing as they went.
     Highly annoyed  by  the stupid attentions of the  undertakers,  Ippolit
Matveyevich ran up the steps of the porch more quickly than usual, irritably
wiped his boots free of mud on one of the steps and, feeling strong pangs of
hunger, went into the hallway. He was met by Father Theodore,  priest of the
Church of St. Frol and St. Laurence, who had just come out of the inner room
and  was looking hot and bothered. Holding up his cassock in his right hand,
Father Theodore hurried past towards the door, ignoring Ippolit Matveyevich.
     It was  then  that Vorobyaninov noticed  the extra cleanliness and  the
unsightly disorder of the sparse furniture, and felt a tickling sensation in
his  nose from  the  strong smell  of  medicine. In  the outer room  Ippolit
Matveyevich was met by his neighbour,  Mrs.  Kuznetsov,  the agronomist. She
spoke in a whisper, moving her hand about.
     "She's  worse. She's  just made her confession. Don't make a noise with
your boots."
     "I'm not," said Ippolit Matveyevich meekly. "What's happened?"
     Mrs.  Kuznetsov sucked in her lips and pointed to the door of the inner
room: "Very severe heart attack."
     Then, clearly repeating what she had  heard, added: "The possibility of
her not recovering should not be discounted. I've been on my feet all day. I
came this  morning to borrow the mincer and saw the door was open. There was
no one  in the kitchen and no one in  this room either. So I thought Claudia
Ivanovna had gone to buy flour to make some Easter cake. She'd been going to
for some time. You  know what flour  is like  nowadays. If  you don't buy it
beforehand . . ."
     Mrs.  Kuznetsov would have gone on for a long time describing the flour
and the  high price of it and how  she found Claudia  Ivanovna lying by  the
tiled  stove  completely  unconscious, had  not a groan from  the next  room
impinged painfully on  Ippolit Matveyevich's ear. He quickly crossed himself
with a somewhat feelingless hand and entered his mother-in-law's room.


     Claudia Ivanovna lay  on her  back with one arm under her head. She was
wearing a bright apricot-coloured cap of the type that used to be in fashion
when ladies wore the "chanticleer" and had just begun to dance the tango.
     Claudia  Ivanovna's face was solemn, but expressed  absolutely nothing.
Her eyes were fixed on the ceiling.
     "Claudia Ivanovna!" called Ippolit Matveyevich.
     His  mother-in-law  moved   her   lips  rapidly,  but  instead  of  the
trumpet-like sounds to  which his ear  was accustomed,  Ippolit  Matveyevich
only heard a groan, soft, high-pitched, and so pitiful that his heart gave a
leap. A tear  suddenly glistened in one eye and rolled down his cheek like a
drop of mercury.
     "Claudia Ivanovna," repeated Vorobyaninov, "what's the matter?"
     But again he received no answer.  The old woman had closed her eyes and
slumped to one side.
     The  agronomist came quietly  into the room  and  led him away  like  a
little boy taken to be washed.
     "She's  dropped  off.  The doctor didn't say  she was to  be disturbed.
Listen, dearie, run down to the chemist's. Here's the prescription. Find out
how much an ice-bag costs."
     Ippolit Matveyevich  obeyed  Madame Kuznetsov, sensing her indisputable
superiority in such matters.
     It was a long way  to  the chemist's. Clutching the prescription in his
fist like a schoolboy, Ippolit Matveyevich hurried out into the street.
     It was almost dark, but  against the  fading light the frail  figure of
Bezenchuk could  be seen leaning against the wooden gate munching a piece of
bread and onion. The three Nymphs were squatting beside him, eating porridge
from an  iron pot and licking their spoons. At the sight of Vorobyaninov the
undertakers  sprang  to attention,  like  soldiers.  Bezenchuk shrugged  his
shoulders petulantly and, pointing to his rivals, said:
     "Always in me way, durn 'em."
     In the  middle  of  the square, near the bust of  the "poet  Zhukovsky,
which was inscribed with the  words "Poetry is God  in  the Sacred Dreams of
the Earth",  an animated  conversation was in progress following the news of
Claudia Ivanovna's stroke. The  general opinion  of  the  assembled citizens
could have been summed up as "We all have to go sometime" and "What the Lord
gives, the Lord takes back".
     The  hairdresser "Pierre  and Constantine"-who also answered readily to
the name of Andrew Ivanovich, by the  way-once again took the opportunity to
air his knowledge of medicine, acquired from the Moscow magazine Ogonyok.
     "Modern  science,"  Andrew Ivanovich  was  saying,  "has  achieved  the
impossible. Take this for example. Let's say a customer gets a pimple on his
chin. In the old days that usually resulted in blood-poisoning. But they say
that nowadays,  in  Moscow-I don't know  whether it's true  or not-a freshly
sterilized shaving brush is used for every customer." The citizens gave long
sighs. "Aren't you overdoing it  a bit,  Andrew?  "  "How could there  be  a
different brush for every person? That's a good one!"
     Prusis,  a former member of the proletariat  intelligentsia, and now  a
private stall-owner, actually became excited.
     "Wait a moment, Andrew Ivanovich. According to the  latest census,  the
population of Moscow is more than two  million. That means they'd need  more
than two million brushes. Seems rather curious."
     The conversation  was  becoming heated,  and  heaven only knows how  it
would have  ended  had not Ippolit Matveyevich  appeared  at the end of  the
street. "He's off to the chemist's again.  Things  must  be  bad." "The  old
woman  will  die. Bezenchuk  isn't running  round  the  town in a flurry for
nothing." "What does the doctor say? "
     "What doctor? Do you call those people in  the social-insurance  office
doctors? They're enough to send a healthy man to his grave!"
     "Pierre  and Constantine", who had been  longing for a chance to make a
pronouncement  on  the subject  of medicine,  looked  around cautiously, and
     "Haemoglobin  is  what counts  nowadays."  Having  said  that, he  fell
silent. The citizens also fell silent, each reflecting in his own way on the
mysterious power of haemoglobin.
     When  the moon rose and cast  its minty  light on the miniature bust of
Zhukovsky, a  rude word  could clearly be seen chalked on the poet's  bronze
     This inscription had first appeared on June 15, 1897, the same day that
the bust had  been unveiled.  And despite  all  the efforts  of  the tsarist
police, and  later the  Soviet militia, the  defamatory word had  reappeared
each day with unfailing regularity.
     The  samovars were  already  singing in the little  wooden houses  with
their  outside  shutters, and it  was time for  supper. The citizens stopped
wasting their time and went their way. A wind began to blow.
     In  the meantime  Claudia  Ivanovna  was  dying.  First she  asked  for
something  to  drink,  then  said  she  had  to get  up  and  fetch  Ippolit
Matveyevich's best boots from the cobbler. One  moment she complained of the
dust which, as she put it, was enough to make you choke, and the next  asked
for all the lamps to be lit.
     Ippolit Matveyevich paced up and down the room, tired of worrying.  His
mind was full  of  unpleasant,  practical thoughts. He was  thinking  how he
would have to ask for an advance at the  mutual assistance office, fetch the
priest, and answer  letters of condolence from  relatives. To  take his mind
off these things, Ippolit Matveyevich went  out  on the porch. There, in the
green light of the moon, stood Bezenchuk the undertaker.
     "So  how would you like  it, Mr.  Vorobyaninov?" asked  the undertaker,
hugging his cap to his chest. "Yes, probably," answered Ippolit  Matveyevich
gloomily.  "Does  the  Nymph,  durn  it,  really  give  good  service?" said
Bezenchuk, becoming agitated. "Go to the devil! You make me sick!"
     "I'm not doin' nothin'. I'm only  askin' about the tassels and brocade.
How shall I make it? Best quality? Or how?"
     "No tassels  or brocade. Just an ordinary coffin made  of pine-wood. Do
you understand? "
     Bezenchuk  put his  finger  to  his  lips to  show that  he  understood
perfectly,  turned round  and,  managing  to  balance  his cap  on  his head
although  he  was  staggering,  went off.  It  was  only  then  that Ippolit
Matveyevich noticed that he was blind drunk.
     Ippolit Matveyevich felt singularly upset. He  tried to picture himself
coming  home to an empty, dirty  house.  He was  afraid  his mother-in-law's
death would deprive him of  all  those little luxuries and set  ways  he had
acquired  with  such  effort  since  the revolution-a  revolution  which had
stripped him of  much  greater luxuries and a grander way of life. "Should I
marry?" he  wondered.  "But  who?  The  militia  chief's  niece  or  Barbara
Stepanova, Prusis's sister? Or maybe I should hire a housekeeper. But what's
the use? She would only drag me around  the law courts. And it would cost me
something, too!"
     The  future  suddenly  looked  black for Ippolit Matveyevich.  Full  of
indignation and  disgust  at  everything around him,  he went back  into the
house. Claudia Ivanovna was no longer  delirious. Lying high on her pillows,
she looked  at Ippolit Matveyevich, in full  command of her  faculties,  and
even sternly, he thought.
     "Ippolit Matveyevich," she  whispered clearly. "Sit close to me. I want
to tell you something."
     Ippolit   Matveyevich   sat   down  in   annoyance,  peering  into  his
mother-in-law's thin, bewhiskered face. He made an attempt  to smile and say
something  encouraging,  but  the  smile  was   hideous  and  no   words  of
encouragement  came  to  him.  An  awkward  wheezing noise was all he  could
     "Ippolit,"   repeated   his   mother-in-law,  "do   you   remember  our
drawing-room suite?"
     "Which  one?"  asked  Ippolit  Matveyevich with  that  kind  of  polite
attention that is only accorded to the very sick.
     "The one . . . upholstered in English chintz."
     "You mean the suite in my house?"
     "Yes, in Stargorod."
     "Yes,  I remember it very well . . . a sofa, a dozen chairs and a round
table with six legs. It was splendid furniture. Made by Hambs. . . . But why
does it come to mind?"
     Claudia Ivanovna, however, was  unable to answer. Her  face had  slowly
begun  to turn  the colour of  copper  sulphate.  For  some  reason  Ippolit
Matveyevich also caught  his breath. He clearly remembered the  drawing-room
in  his  house  and its symmetrically  arranged walnut furniture with curved
legs,  the polished parquet floor, the old brown grand  piano,  and the oval
black-framed daguerreotypes of high-ranking relatives on the walls.
     Claudia Ivanovna then said in a wooden, apathetic voice:
     "I sewed my jewels into the seat of a chair."
     Ippolit Matveyevich looked sideways at the old woman.
     "What jewels?" he asked mechanically, then, suddenly realizing what she
had said, added quickly:
     "Weren't they taken when the house was searched?"
     "I hid the jewels in a chair," repeated the old woman stubbornly.
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  jumped up and,  taking  a close  look at  Claudia
Ivanovna's stony face lit by the paraffin lamp, saw she was not raving.
     "Your jewels!" he cried, startled at the loudness of his own voice. "In
a chair? Who induced you to do that? Why didn't you give them to me?"
     "Why  should I have  given  them to  you  when you  squandered  away my
daughter's  estate?" said  the  old  woman  quietly  and viciously.  Ippolit
Matveyevich sat down and immediately stood up again.
     His heart was  noisily  sending  the blood coursing around his body. He
began to hear a ringing in his ears.
     "But you took them out again, didn't you? They're here, aren't they?"
     The old woman shook her head.
     "I didn't have time. You remember  how  quickly and unexpectedly we had
to  flee. They were left  in  the chair . .. the one  between the terracotta
lamp and the fireplace."
     "But that was madness! You're just like your daughter," shouted Ippolit
Matveyevich loudly.
     And no longer concerned for the fact  that  he was at the bedside of  a
dying woman, he pushed back his chair  with a crash and began prancing about
the room.
     "I suppose you realize what may have happened to the chairs? Or do  you
think they're  still there in the drawing-room in  my house, quietly waiting
for you to come and get your jewellery? " The old woman did not answer.
     The registry clerk's wrath was so  great that the pince-nez fell of his
nose and  landed  on the floor with a tinkle, the gold nose-piece glittering
as it passed his knees.
     "What?  Seventy thousand roubles' worth of jewellery hidden in a chair!
Heaven knows who may sit on that chair!"
     At this point Claudia Ivanovna gave  a sob and leaned forward with  her
whole body towards the edge of the bed. Her hand described a semi-circle and
reached  out  to grasp  Ippolit  Matveyevich, but  then fell back on to  the
violet  down  quilt. Squeaking with fright, Ippolit Matveyevich ran to fetch
his neighbour. "I think she's dying," he cried.
     The agronomist crossed herself  in  a  businesslike  way  and,  without
hiding her curiosity, hurried into  Ippolit Matveyevich's house, accompanied
by  her  bearded  husband, also an agronomist.  In  distraction Vorobyaninov
wandered into the municipal park.
     While the two agronomists  and  their  servants  tidied up the deceased
woman's  room,  Ippolit Matveyevich  roamed  around the  park,  bumping into
benches  and mistaking for bushes the young couples  numb with  early spring
     The strangest things  were  going on in Ippolit  Matveyevich's head. He
could hear the sound of gypsy choirs and orchestras composed of big-breasted
women playing the tango over and over again;  he imagined the Moscow  winter
and  a  long-bodied  black  trotter  that   snorted  contemptuously  at  the
passers-by.  He  imagined  many  different things:  a  pair  of  deliriously
expensive orange-coloured panties, slavish devotion, and a possible  trip to
Cannes. Ippolit Matveyevich began walking more slowly and suddenly  stumbled
over the form of Bezenchuk the undertaker. The  latter was asleep,  lying in
the middle of the path in his fur coat. The jolt woke him up. He sneezed and
stood up briskly.
     "Now don't you  worry, Mr Vorobyaninov,"  he  said heatedly, continuing
the  conversation started a while before. "There's lots of work  goes into a
     "Claudia Ivanovna's dead," his client informed him.
     "Well, God rest her soul," said Bezenchuk.  "So  the old  lady's passed
away.  Old ladies  pass away . . . or they depart  this life. It depends who
she is. Yours, for instance, was small and plump, so she passed away. But if
it's one who's a bit bigger and thinner, then they say she has departed this
life. . . ."
     "What do you mean 'they say'? Who says?"
     "We   say.   The   undertakers.   Now   you,   for   instance.   You're
distinguished-lookin' and tall, though a bit on the thin side. If you should
die, God forbid, they'll say you  popped off. But a tradesman, who  belonged
to the former merchants' guild, would breathe his last. And if  it's someone
of  lower status, say  a caretaker, or a peasant,  we say he has  croaked or
gone west. But  when the high-ups die, say a railway conductor or someone in
administration, they say he has kicked  the bucket. They say: 'You  know our
boss has kicked the bucket, don't you?' "
     Shocked  by  this  curious  classification  of human mortality, Ippolit
Matveyevich asked:
     "And what will the undertakers say about you when you die?"
     "I'm small fry. They'll say, 'Bezenchuk's gone', and nothin' more."
     And then he added grimly:
     "It's not possible for me to pop off or kick the bucket; I'm too small.
But what about the  coffin, Mr Vorobyaninov? Do you really want  one without
tassels and brocade? "
     But Ippolit Matveyevich, once more immersed in dazzling dreams,  walked
on without answering. Bezenchuk followed him, working something  out on  his
fingers and muttering to himself, as he always did.
     The moon had long since vanished and there was a wintry  cold. Fragile,
wafer-like  ice covered  the puddles.  The  companions  came  out on Comrade
Gubernsky Street, where the wind was tussling with the hanging shop-signs. A
fire-engine drawn  by skinny horses  emerged from the  direction of Staropan
Square with a noise like the lowering of a blind.
     Swinging their canvas  legs from the platform, the firemen wagged their
helmeted heads and sang in intentionally tuneless voices:

     "Glory to our fire chief,
     Glory to dear Comrade Pumpoff!"

     "They've  been  havin'  a  good  time  at  Nicky's  wedding,"  remarked
Bezenchuk  nonchalantly.  "He's the  fire  chief's  son."  And  he scratched
himself under his coat. "So you really want it without tassels and brocade?"
     By that moment Ippolit Matveyevich had finally made up his mind.  "I'll
go  and  find  them,"  he  decided,  "and   then  we'll  see."  And  in  his
jewel-encrusted visions  even his deceased  mother-in-law  seemed nicer than
she had actually been. He turned to Bezenchuk and said:
     "Go on then, damn you, make it! With brocade! And tassels!"

     Having  heard  the dying Claudia Ivanovna's confession, Father Theodore
Vostrikov,  priest  of  the  Church  of St.  Frol  and  St.  Laurence,  left
Vorobyaninov's house in a complete daze and  the whole way home kept looking
round him distractedly and smiling to himself in confusion. His bewilderment
became  so  great  in  the  end  that  he was  almost  knocked down  by  the
district-executive-committee motor-car,  Gos. No. 1. Struggling  out of  the
cloud of purple smoke  issuing from the infernal  machine,  Father Vostrikov
reached the stage  of complete distraction, and, despite his  venerable rank
and middle age, finished the journey at a frivolous half-gallop.
     His  wife, Catherine, was laying the table for supper. On the days when
there was no evening service to conduct, Father  Theodore liked  to have his
supper  early. This  time, however, to his wife's surprise, the holy father,
having  taken  off his hat  and  warm  padded cassock, skipped past into the
bedroom, locked himself  in and began chanting the prayer  "It Is Meet" in a
tuneless voice.
     His wife sat down on a chair and whispered in alarm:
     "He's up to something again."
     Father Theodore's tempestuous soul knew no rest, nor had ever known it.
Neither at the time when he was Theo, a pupil of the Russian Orthodox Church
school,  nor  when he  was  Theodore Ivanych, a bewhiskered  student  at the
college. Having left the college and studied law at the university for three
years in 1915 Vostrikov became afraid of the possibility of mobilization and
returned to the  Church. He  was  first  anointed  a deacon, then ordained a
priest and  appointed to the  regional centre of  N. But  the whole time, at
every stage of  his clerical and  secular career, Father Theodore never lost
interest in worldly possessions.
     He cherished the dream of possessing  his own candle factory. Tormented
by the vision of thick  ropes of wax winding on to the factory drums, Father
Theodore devised various schemes that would bring in enough basic capital to
buy a little factory in Samara which he had had his eye on for some time.
     Ideas  occurred to Father  Theodore  unexpectedly, and when they did he
used to get down to work on the spot. He once started making  a  marble-like
washing-soap;  he made  pounds and pounds of it, but despite an enormous fat
content,  the soap would not lather, and it cost twice as much as the Hammer
and Plough brand,  to boot. For a long time after it  remained in the liquid
state  gradually decomposing on  the porch  of  the house, and whenever  his
wife,  Catherine,  passed it,  she  would  wipe away a  tear.  The soap  was
eventually thrown into the cesspool.
     Reading  in  a farming  magazine  that  rabbit meat was  as  tender  as
chicken, that rabbits were highly  prolific, and  that a  keen  farmer could
make  a mint of  money  breeding them, Father Theodore  immediately acquired
half a dozen stud rabbits, and two months later, Nerka the dog, terrified by
the  incredible  number of long-eared creatures filling the yard and  house,
fled to an unknown destination. However, the wretchedly  provincial citizens
of  the  town of  N. proved  extraordinarily conservative and, with  unusual
unanimity,  refused  to buy Vostrikov's rabbits. Then Father Theodore had  a
talk with his wife and decided to enhance his diet with the rabbit meat that
was supposed to  be tastier  than  chicken. The  rabbits were roasted whole,
turned into rissoles and cutlets, made into soup, served cold for supper and
baked in  pies. But to no avail. Father Theodore worked it out that even  if
they switched exclusively to a diet of rabbit, the family  could not consume
more than forty of the  creatures  a  month, while the monthly increment was
ninety, with the number increasing in a geometrical progression.
     The Vostrikovs then decided to sell home-cooked  meals. Father Theodore
spent a whole  evening  writing out an advertisement in indelible  pencil on
neatly cut sheets of  graph paper, announcing the sale of  tasty home-cooked
meals prepared in pure butter. The advertisement began "Cheap and Good!" His
wife filled an enamel dish  with flour-and-water paste, and late one evening
the holy father went around sticking the advertisements on all the telegraph
poles, and also in the vicinity of state-owned institutions.
     The new idea was a great success. Seven people appeared the  first day,
among them Bendin, the  military-commissariat clerk, by  whose endeavour the
town's oldest monument-a triumphal arch, dating from the time of the Empress
Elizabeth-had  been  pulled down  shortly  before  on  the  ground  that  it
interfered  with  the  traffic. The dinners were very popular. The next  day
there were fourteen  customers. There  was  hardly  enough  time to skin the
rabbits.  For  a whole week things  went swimmingly and Father Theodore even
considered starting  up  a small fur-trading business, without a  car,  when
something quite unforeseen took place.
     The Hammer and Plough co-operative, which had been shut for three weeks
for stock-taking, reopened, and some of the  counter hands, panting with the
effort,  rolled a barrel of  rotten  cabbage into the yard shared  by Father
Theodore,  and  dumped the  contents  into the cesspool.  Attracted  by  the
piquant smell, the rabbits hastened to the cesspool, and the next morning an
epidemic broke  out among the gentle rodents. It only raged for three hours,
but during that time it finished off two hundred and forty adult rabbits and
an uncountable number of offspring.
     The shocked priest had been  depressed for two whole months, and it was
only now,  returning from Vorobyaninov's  house and to  his wife's surprise,
locking  himself  in  the bedroom,  that he regained  his spirits. There was
every indication that Father Theodore had been captivated by some new idea.
     Catherine  knocked  on the  bedroom door with her knuckle. There was no
reply, but the chanting grew louder. A moment later the door opened slightly
and through  the  crack  appeared  Father Theodore's face, brightened  by  a
maidenly flush.
     "Let  me  have  a  pair  of  scissors quickly,  Mother," snapped Father
     "But what about your supper? "
     "Yes, later on."
     Father Theodore  grabbed the  scissors, locked the door again, and went
over to a mirror hanging on the wall in a black scratched frame.
     Beside the  mirror  was an ancient folk-painting, entitled "The Parable
of the Sinner", made from a copperplate and neatly hand-painted. The parable
had  been a great consolation to Vostrikov  after  the  misfortune with  the
rabbits. The picture clearly showed the transient nature  of earthly things.
The top  row was  composed of  four drawings with meaningful and consolatory
captions in Church Slavonic: Shem saith a prayer, Ham soweth wheat,  Japheth
enjoyeth power, Death overtaketh  all. The figure of Death  carried a scythe
and  a  winged  hour-glass and looked as  if  made  of  artificial limbs and
orthopaedic appliances; he  was  standing on deserted hilly  ground with his
legs wide apart, and his  general appearance made  it clear that  the fiasco
with the rabbits was a mere trifle.
     At this moment Father Theodore preferred  "Japheth enjoyeth power". The
drawing  showed a fat, opulent man with  a  beard sitting on  a throne  in a
small room.
     Father Theodore  smiled and, looking closely at himself in the  mirror,
began  snipping at his fine beard. The scissors clicked,  the hairs fell  to
the floor,  and five minutes later Father Theodore knew he was absolutely no
good at beard-clipping. His  beard was  all askew; it looked  unbecoming and
even suspicious.
     Fiddling  about  for  a while  longer, Father  Theodore  became  highly
irritated, called his wife, and, handing her the scissors, said peevishly:
     "You can help me, Mother. I can't do anything with these rotten hairs."
     His wife threw up her hands in astonishment.
     "What have you done to yourself?" she finally managed to say.
     "I haven't  done anything. I'm trimming my beard. It seems to have gone
askew just here. . . ."
     "Heavens!"  said  his  wife, attacking  his curls.  "Surely  you're not
joining the Renovators, Theo dear?"
     Father Theodore  was delighted  that the  conversation had  taken  this
     "And why shouldn't I join the Renovators, Mother? They're human-beings,
aren't they?"
     "Of  course they're human-beings," conceded his  wife venomously,  "but
they go to the cinema and pay alimony."
     "Well, then, I'll go to the cinema as well."
     "Go on then!"
     "You'll get tired of it. Just look at yourself in the mirror."
     And indeed,  a lively black-eyed  countenance with a short, odd-looking
beard  and an  absurdly  long moustache  peered out of the mirror  at Father
Theodore. They trimmed down the moustache to the right proportions.
     What happened next amazed Mother still  more. Father  Theodore declared
that he had to go  off on a business trip that  very evening,  and asked his
wife to go round to her brother, the baker, and borrow his fur-collared coat
and duck-billed cap for a week.
     "I won't go," said his wife and began weeping.
     Father  Theodore  walked  up  and  down  the  room for  half  an  hour,
frightening his wife by the change in his expression  and  telling  her  all
sorts of  rubbish. Mother could  understand only  one  thing-for no apparent
reason Father Theodore had cut his hair,  intended to go off somewhere  in a
ridiculous cap, and was leaving her for good.
     "I'm  not  leaving you," he kept saying.  "I'm not.  I'll be back  in a
week. A man can have a job to do, after all. Can he or can't he?"
     "No, he can't," said his wife.
     Father Theodore even had to strike the table with his fist, although he
was normally a mild person  in his treatment of his  near  ones.  He  did so
cautiously,  since  he had never done  it before,  and, greatly alarmed, his
wife threw a kerchief around her head and ran to fetch the civilian clothing
from her brother.
     Left  alone, Father Theodore thought for  a moment,  muttered, "It's no
joke  for women,  either," and  pulled out a small tin trunk from under  the
bed. This type  of trunk  is mostly  found  among  Red  Army soldiers. It is
usually lined with striped paper, on top of which is a picture  of Budyonny,
or  the lid of a Bathing Beach cigarette box depicting three lovelies on the
pebbly  shore  at  Batumi.   The  Vostrikovs'  trunk  was  also  lined  with
photographs, but,  to Father Theodore's annoyance, they were not of Budyonny
or Batumi  beauties.  His  wife had  covered  the inside of  the trunk  with
photographs cut out of the magazine Chronicle of the 1914 War. They included
"The Capture of Peremyshl", "The  Distribution of Comforts to Other Ranks in
the Trenches", and all sorts of other things.
     Removing the  books that were lying  at  the top (a set  of the Russian
Pilgrim for 1913; a fat tome, History of the Schism, and a brochure entitled
A  Russian in Italy, the cover of  which showed a smoking  Vesuvius), Father
Theodore reached down into the very bottom of the  trunk and drew out an old
shabby hat belonging to  his  wife. Wincing at the smell of moth-balls which
suddenly assailed  him from the trunk,  he tore apart the lace and trimmings
and took from the  hat  a heavy  sausage-shaped object wrapped in linen. The
sausage-shaped object contained  twenty  ten-rouble gold coins, all that was
left of Father Theodore's business ventures.
     With a habitual movement of the hand, he lifted his cassock and stuffed
the sausage  into the pocket of his striped trousers.  He then  went over to
the chest of drawers and took twenty roubles in three- and five-rouble notes
from a  sweet-box. There  were twenty roubles left in the box. "That will do
for the housekeeping," he decided.

     An  hour before  the evening  mail-train was due in,  Father  Theodore,
dressed in a  short coat  which came  just below  the  knee, and carrying  a
wicker basket, stood in line in front of the booking-office and kept looking
apprehensively at  the station entrance. He was afraid that  in spite of his
insistence,  his wife might  come  to  see him  off,  and  then  Prusis, the
stall-owner, who was sitting in the buffet treating the income-tax collector
to a glass of beer, would immediately recognize him. Father  Theodore stared
with shame and surprise  at his striped trousers, now exposed to the view of
the entire laity.
     The process of boarding a train without reserved seats took  its normal
and scandalous  course.  Staggering  under  the  weight  of  enormous sacks,
passengers ran  from the front of  the train to the  back,  and then  to the
front again. Father Theodore followed them in a daze. Like everyone else, he
spoke to  the conductors  in an ingratiating tone, like everyone else he was
afraid he had been  given  the  "wrong" ticket, and it was only when he  was
finally allowed  into a coach  that his customary calm returned and  he even
became happy.
     The locomotive hooted at the top of its  voice and the train moved off,
carrying Father Theodore into  the unknown on business that  was mysterious,
yet promised great things.
     An interesting thing, the permanent way. Once he gets on to it the most
ordinary  man in the  street feels a certain animation in  himself  and soon
turns into  a passenger, a  consignee, or simply a trouble-maker  without  a
ticket,  who makes life difficult  for the teams of conductors  and platform
     The  moment  a  passenger  approaches  the  right   of  way,  which  he
amateurishly calls a railway station, his life is completely changed.  He is
immediately  surrounded by predatory  porters with white aprons  and  nickel
badges on their chests, and his luggage is obsequiously picked up. From that
moment,  the  citizen no  longer is his own master. He  is  a  passenger and
begins to  perform all the duties of one. These duties are many, though they
are not unpleasant.
     Passengers eat a lot. Ordinary mortals do not eat during the night, but
passengers do. They eat fried chicken, which is expensive, hard-boiled eggs,
which are bad  for  the stomach,  and olives. Whenever the train passes over
the points,  numerous teapots in  the  rack  clatter together,  and  legless
chickens  (the legs have been torn out by the  roots by  passengers) jump up
and down in their newspaper wrapping.
     The  passengers,  however, are  oblivious of  all this. They  tell each
other jokes. Every three  minutes the whole compartment rocks with laughter;
then there is a silence and a soft-spoken voice tells the following story:
     "An old Jew lay dying. Around him were his wife and children. 'Is Monya
here?' asks the  Jew with  difficulty. 'Yes,  she's here.' 'Has Auntie Brana
come?' 'Yes.' 'And where's Grandma?  I  don't  see her.'  'She's over here.'
'And Isaac?' 'He's here, too.' 'What about the children?' They're all here.'
'Then who's minding the shop?'"
     This very moment the teapots begin rattling and the chickens fly up and
down in the rack, but the passengers do not notice. Each one has a favourite
story  ready,  eagerly  awaiting its  turn.  A  new raconteur,  nudging  his
neighbours and  calling out in a pleading tone, "Have  you  heard this one?"
finally gains attention and begins:
     "A Jew comes home and gets into bed beside his wife. Suddenly he  hears
a  scratching noise under the bed.  The Jew  reaches his hand underneath the
bed and asks: 'Is that  you, Fido?'  And Fido licks his hand and says: 'Yes,
it's me.' "
     The  passengers  collapse  with  laughter;  a  dark  night  cloaks  the
countryside. Restless sparks fly from  the funnel,  and the slim signals  in
their  luminous green  spectacles  flash snootily  past,  staring above  the
     An interesting thing, the right of way! Long, heavy trains race to all'
parts  of the country. The way is open at every  point. Green  lights can be
seen everywhere; the track  is clear. The polar express goes up to Murmansk.
The K-l  draws out of Kursk Station, bound for Tiflis, arching its back over
the  points. The  far-eastern courier  rounds Lake Baikal and approaches the
Pacific at full speed.
     The Muse of Travel is calling.  She has already plucked Father Theodore
from his quiet regional cloister and cast him  into  some unknown  province.
Even Ippolit Matveyevich  Vorobyaninov, former  marshal  of the nobility and
now clerk in a  registry office, is stirred to  the depths of  his heart and
highly excited at the great things ahead.
     People speed  all  over  the  country. Some  of  them  are looking  for
scintillating  brides thousands of miles  away, while others, in pursuit  of
treasure, leave  their jobs in the post office  and rush off like schoolboys
to Aldan. Others simply  sit  at home,  tenderly stroking an imminent hernia
and reading the works of Count Salias, bought  for five kopeks instead of  a
     The day after the funeral, kindly arranged by Bezenchuk the undertaker,
Ippolit Matveyevich went  to work and, as part  of  the duties with which he
was charged, duly  registered in his own hand the demise of Claudia Ivanovna
Petukhov, aged  fifty-nine, housewife,  non-party-member,  resident  of  the
regional centre of N., by origin a member of the upper class of the province
of  Stargorod. After this, Ippolit  Matveyevich granted  himself  a two-week
holiday due to him, took forty-one roubles in salary,  said good-bye  to his
colleagues, and went home. On the way he stopped at the chemist's.
     The chemist, Leopold  Grigorevich,  who  was called Lipa by his friends
and  family,  stood  behind   the   red-lacquered  counter,  surrounded   by
frosted-glass  bottles  of poison, nervously trying to sell the fire chief's
sister-in-law  "Ango  cream  for  sunburn  and  freckles-gives  the  skin an
exceptional whiteness". The fire chief's sister-in-law,  however, was asking
for  "Rachelle  powder, gold  in colour-gives  the skin  a  tan not normally
acquirable". The chemist had  only the Ango cream in  stock, and the  battle
between these two very different cosmetics raged for half an hour. Lipa  won
in  the  end  and sold the  fire chief's sister-in-law  some lipstick  and a
bugovar, which is a device similar in principle to the samovar,  except that
it looks like a watering-can and catches bugs.
     "What can I get you?"
     "Something for the hair."
     "To make it grow, to remove it, or to dye it? "
     "Not to make it grow," said Ippolit Matveyevich. "To dye it."
     "We have a  wonderful  hair  dye called  Titanic.  We got  it from  the
customs people;  it was  confiscated.  It's  a jet  black  colour. A  bottle
containing a  six months' supply costs three  roubles,  twelve kopeks. I can
recommend it to you, as a good friend."
     Ippolit  Matveyevich twiddled  the bottle in his hands,  looked at  the
label with a sigh, and put down his money on the counter.
     He went home and, with a feeling of revulsion,  began  pouring  Titanic
onto his head and moustache. A stench filled the house.
     By  the time dinner was over, the stench had cleared, the moustache had
dried and become matted and was very difficult to comb. The jet-black colour
turned out to have a greenish tint, but there was no time for a second try.
     Taking from his mother-in-law's jewel box a list of the gems, found the
night before, Ippolit Matveyevich counted  up  his cash-in-hand, locked  the
house,  put the key  in  his  back pocket and  took  the no.  7  express  to

     At  half  past  eleven  a  young  man aged about  twenty-eight  entered
Stargorod from the direction of the village of Chmarovka, to the north-east.
A waif ran along behind him.
     "Mister!" cried the boy gaily, "gimme ten kopeks!"
     The young man took a warm apple out of his pocket "and handed it to the
waif, but the  child  still kept running behind. Then the young  man stopped
and, looking ironically at the boy, said quietly:
     "Perhaps you'd also like the key of the apartment where the money is?"
     The  presumptuous  waif then  realized  the  complete  futility of  his
pretensions and dropped behind.
     The young man had  not  told the truth.  He  had no money, no apartment
where it might have been found, and no key with which to open it. He did not
even have a coat. The young man entered the town in a green suit tailored to
fit  at the waist and an  old  woollen scarf  wound several times around his
powerful neck.  On his feet  were  patent-leather boots with orange-coloured
suede uppers. He had no socks on. The young man carried an astrolabe.
     Approaching the market, he broke into a  song: "O, Bayadere, tum-ti-ti,
     In  the market he found plenty going on. He squeezed into  the  line of
vendors selling  wares  spread out  on  the  ground  before them, stood  the
astrolabe in front of him and began shouting:
     "Who  wants an  astrolabe? Here's  an  astrolabe  going  cheap. Special
reduction for delegations and women's work divisions !"
     At first the unexpected supply met  with little demand; the delegations
of housewives were more  interested in obtaining commodities in short supply
and were milling around the  cloth and drapery stalls. A detective from  the
Stargorod  criminal investigation  department  passed  the  astrolabe-vendor
twice, but  since  the instrument in no way resembled the typewriter  stolen
the day before from the Central Union  of Dairy Co-operatives, the detective
stopped glaring at the young man and passed on.
     By  lunchtime the astrolabe  had  been sold to  a repairman  for  three
     "It measures  by  itself," he said,  handing over the  astrolabe to its
purchaser, "provided you have something to measure."
     Having rid himself of the calculating  instrument, the happy  young man
had lunch in the Tasty Corner snack bar, and then went to have a look at the
town.  He  passed  along  Soviet Street,  came  out  into  Red  Army  Street
(previously  Greater Pushkin Street), crossed  Co-operative Street and found
himself again on Soviet Street. But it was  not the same Soviet  Street from
which  he had come.  There were  two  Soviet  Streets  in  the town. Greatly
surprised  by this fact, the young man carried  on and found himself in Lena
Massacre  Street  (formerly  Denisov Street).  He stopped  outside no. 28, a
pleasant two-storeyed private house, which bore a sign saying:

     OF THE

     and  requested  a  light from  the  caretaker, who was sitting  by  the
entrance on a stone bench.
     "Tell me, dad,"  said the  young man,  taking  a  puff,  "are there any
marriageable young girls in this town? "
     The old caretaker did not show the least surprise.
     "For  some a mare'd be a  bride," he  answered, readily  striking up  a
     "I  have  no  more questions,"  said  the  young  man  quickly. And  he
immediately asked one more: "A house like this and no girls in it?"
     "It's a long while since there've  been  any young girls here," replied
the  old  man.  "This  is  a  state  institution-a  home  for old-age  women
     "I see. For ones born before historical materialism?"
     "That's it. They were born when they were born."
     "And  what  was  here in  the  house  before  the  days  of  historical
     "When was that?"
     "In the old days. Under the former regime."
     "Oh, in the old days my master used to live here."
     "A member of the bourgeoisie")"
     "Bourgeoisie yourself! I told you. He was a marshal of the nobility."
     "You mean he was from the working class?"
     "Working class yourself! He was a marshal of the nobility."
     The conversation with the intelligent caretaker so poorly versed in the
class structure of society might have gone on  for heaven knows how long had
not the young man got down to business.
     "Listen, granddad," he said, "what about a drink?"
     "All right, buy me one!"
     They were gone an hour. When they returned, the caretaker was the young
man's best friend.
     "Right, then,  I'll stay the night with  you," said the newly  acquired
     "You're a good man. You can stay here for the rest  of your life if you
     Having  achieved  his aim, the young man  promptly  went down into  the
caretaker's room, took off his orange-coloured boots, and, stretching out on
a bench, began thinking out a plan of action for the following day.
     The young  man's  name  was  Ostap Bender.  Of  his background he would
usually  give only  one  detail. "My dad," he  used  to say, "was a  Turkish
citizen."  During  his life  this son  of  a Turkish  citizen  had had  many
occupations. His lively nature had prevented him  from devoting  himself  to
any one thing for long  and  kept him  roving  through the  country, finally
bringing him to Stargorod without any socks and without a key, apartment, or
     Lying in the caretaker's room,  which was  so warm that it stank, Ostap
Bender weighed up in his mind two possibilities for a career.
     He could  become  a polygamist and calmly  move on from  town  to town,
taking with him  a suitcase  containing his latest  wife's valuables, or  he
could go the  next  day to the  Stargorod Commission  for the Improvement of
Children's  Living Conditions  and suggest they undertake the popularization
of  a brilliantly  devised,  though  yet  unpainted,  picture  entitled "The
Bolsheviks Answer Chamberlain" based on Repin's famous canvas "The Zaporozhe
Cossacks  Answer the  Sultan". If it worked, this possibility could bring in
four hundred or so roubles.
     The two possibilities had been thought up by Ostap during his last stay
in Moscow. The polygamy idea was  conceived after reading a law-court report
in the evening paper,  which clearly stated that the convicted man was given
only a two-year  sentence,  while the second idea  came  to Bender as he was
looking round the Association  of  Revolutionary Artists' exhibition, having
got in with a free pass.
     Both possibilities had their drawbacks, however. To begin a career as a
polygamist without a heavenly grey polka-dot suit was unthinkable. Moreover,
at  least ten roubles would  be  needed for purposes of  representation  and
seduction. He could get married, of course,  in his green field-suits, since
his virility and good  looks were absolutely  irresistible to the provincial
belles looking for husbands, but that would have been, as Ostap used to say,
"poor workmanship".  The question of the painting was not all plain  sailing
either. There  might be difficulties of a purely technical nature.  It might
be awkward, for instance,  to show Comrade  Kalinin in a fur  cap  and white
cape,  while  Comrade Chicherin was  stripped  to  the waist. They  could be
depicted in ordinary dress, of course,  but that would not be quite the same
     "It wouldn't have the right effect!" said Ostap aloud.
     At this point he noticed that the caretaker had been prattling away for
some time, apparently reminiscing about the previous owner of the house.
     "The police chief used to salute him. . . . I'd go and wish him a happy
new year,  let's say, and he'd give  me three roubles. At Easter, let's say,
he'd give me another three roubles.  . . . Then on his birthday,  let's say.
In  a year I'd get as  much  as  fifteen  roubles from wishing him. He  even
promised to  give me a medal. 'I want my caretaker to have a medal,' he used
to say.  That's what he would say: 'Tikhon,  consider that you already  have
the medal.'"
     "And did he give you one? "
     "Wait a moment. .  . . T don't  want a caretaker  without a medal,'  he
used to say. He went  to St. Petersburg to get me a medal. Well,  the  first
time  it  didn't  work  out. The officials didn't want to give  me one. 'The
Tsar,' he used to say, 'has gone abroad. It isn't possible just now.' So the
master told me to wait. 'Just wait a  bit, Tikhon,' he used  to say, 'you'll
get your medal.' "
     "And what happened to this master of yours? Did they bump him off?"
     "No one  bumped him off. He went away. What was the good of him staying
here with the soldiers? . . . Do they give medals to caretakers nowadays?"
     "Certainly. I can arrange one for you."
     The caretaker looked at Bender with veneration.
     "I can't be without one. It's that kind of work."
     "Where did your master go?"
     "Heaven knows. People say he went to Paris."
     "Ah, white acacia-the emigre's flower! So he's an emigre!"
     "Emigre yourself. . . . He went to Paris, so people say. And the  house
was taken over for old women. You greet them every day, but they don't  even
give you a ten-kopek bit! Yes, he was some master!"
     At that moment the rusty bell above the door began to ring.
     The  caretaker ambled over to the door, opened it,  and stepped back in
complete amazement.
     On the  top step  stood  Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov with  a black
moustache   and  black   hair.  His  eyes   behind  his   pince-nez   had  a
pre-revolutionary twinkle.
     "Master!" bellowed Tikhon with delight. "Back from Paris!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich became embarrassed by the presence of the stranger,
whose bare purple feet he had just spotted protruding from behind the table,
and was about to leave again when Ostap Bender briskly jumped up  and made a
low bow.
     "This isn't Paris, but you're welcome to our abode."
     Ippolit Matveyevich felt himself forced to say something.
     "Hello, Tikhon. I certainly haven't come from Paris. Where  did you get
that strange idea from?"
     But  Ostap Bender,  whose long  and noble nose had caught the  scent of
roast meat, did not give the caretaker time to utter a word.
     "Splendid," he  said, narrowing his eyes. "You haven't come from Paris.
You've no doubt come from Kologriv to visit your deceased grandmother."
     As he spoke, he tenderly embraced the caretaker and pushed him  outside
the door before the old man had time  to realize what was happening. When he
finally  gathered  his wits, all he knew was that  his  master had come back
from Paris, that he himself had been pushed out of his own room, and that he
was clutching a rouble note in his left hand.
     Carefully locking  the door,  Bender turned to  Vorobyaninov,  who  was
still standing in the middle of the room, and said:
     "Take it easy, everything's all right! My  name's Bender. You may  have
heard of me!"
     "No, I haven't," said Ippolit Matveyevich nervously.
     "No, how  could  the name of Ostap Bender be known in Paris? Is it warm
there  just  now? It's a  nice  city.  I  have  a married cousin there.  She
recently sent me a silk handkerchief by registered post."
     "What   rubbish   is  this?"  exclaimed   Ippolit  Matveyevich.   "What
handkerchief? I haven't come from Paris at all. I've come from . . ."
     "Marvellous! You've come from Morshansk!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich had never had dealings with so spirited a young man
as Ostap Bender and began to feel peculiar.
     "Well, I'm going now," he said.
     "Where  are you going? You  don't  need to hurry  anywhere.  The secret
police will come  for you, anyway." Ippolit  Matveyevich was  speechless. He
undid his coat with its threadbare velvet collar and sat down on  the bench,
glaring at Bender.
     "I don't know what you mean," he said in a low voice.
     "That's no harm. You soon will. Just one moment."
     Ostap put on his orange-coloured boots and walked up and down the room.
     "Which frontier did you cross? Was it the Polish, Finnish,  or Rumanian
frontier? An expensive  pleasure, I  imagine.  A  friend  of  mine  recently
crossed the  frontier.  He lives  in  Slavuta,  on our side, and his  wife's
parents live on the other. He had  a row with his wife over a family matter;
she comes  from a temperamental family. She spat in his face and  ran across
the frontier to her parents. The fellow sat around for a few  days but found
things weren't going well. There was no dinner and the room was dirty, so he
decided to make it up  with  her. He waited till night and then crossed over
to  his  mother-in-law.  But the  frontier  guards nabbed him, trumped up  a
charge,  and gave him six  months. Later on he was expelled from  the  trade
union. The wife,  they say, has now gone back, the  fool, and her husband is
in  prison. She is able to  take him things. .  . . Did you  come that  way,
     "Honestly," protested Ippolit Matveyevich, suddenly  feeling himself in
the  power  of the  talkative young man who had  come  between  him and  the
jewels.  "Honestly,  I'm  a  citizen  of  the  RSFSR.  I  can  show  you  my
identification papers, if you want."
     "With  printing  being as  well  developed  as it is  in  the West, the
forgery of Soviet  identification  papers is  nothing. A friend of mine even
went as far as forging American dollars. And you know how difficult that is.
The paper has those different-coloured little lines on it. It requires great
technique.  He managed to get rid of them on the Moscow black market, but it
turned out later that  his  grandfather,  a  notorious  currency-dealer, had
bought  them all  in  Kiev  and  gone absolutely  broke.  The  dollars  were
counterfeit, after all. So your papers may not help you very much either."
     Despite his annoyance at having to sit in a smelly caretaker's room and
listen  to  an  insolent young  man burbling about the shady dealings of his
friends, instead of actively  searching for the jewels, Ippolit  Matveyevich
could not  bring himself to leave. He felt great trepidation  at the thought
that the young stranger  might spread it round the town that the  ex-marshal
had come  back. That would be the end of everything, and he might be put  in
jail as well.
     'Don't  tell  anyone you saw me," said Ippolit Matveyevich. "They might
really think  I'm an emigre." "That's more like it!  First we have an Emigre
who has returned to his home town, and then we  find he is afraid the secret
police will catch him."
     "But I've told you a hundred times, I'm not an emigre."
     "Then who are you? Why are you here?"
     "I've come from N. on certain business."
     "What business?"
     "Personal business."
     "And then you say you're not an emigre! A friend of mine . . ."
     At this point, Ippolit Matveyevich, driven to despair by the stories of
Bender's friends, and seeing that he was not getting anywhere, gave in.
     "All right," he said. "I'll tell you everything."
     Anyway, it might  be  difficult without  an  accomplice,  he thought to
himself,  and this fellow seems to be a really  shady character. He might be

     Ippolit  Matveyevich  took  off his  stained  beaver  hat,  combed  his
moustache, which gave off a shower of sparks at  the touch of the comb, and,
having cleared  his throat in determination,  told Ostap  Bender, the  first
rogue who  had come his way, what his dying mother-in-law had told him about
her jewels.
     During the account,  Ostap jumped up  several times and, turning to the
iron stove, said delightedly:
     "Things are moving, gentlemen of the jury. Things are moving."
     An hour later they were both sitting  at the rickety table, their heads
close together, reading  the  long  list of jewellery which had  at one time
adorned  the   fingers,  neck,   ears,  bosom  and  hair  of  Vorobyaninov's
     Ippolit Matveyevich adjusted the  pince-nez, which kept falling off his
nose, and said emphatically:
     "Three strings  of pearls. .  . . Yes, I remember them. Two with  forty
pearls  and the long one  had  a hundred  and ten. A  diamond pendant .  . .
Claudia  Ivanovna  used  to  say it  was  worth four  thousand  roubles;  an
     Next came the rings: not thick, silly, and cheap engagement  rings, but
fine,  lightweight rings set  with pure, polished diamonds; heavy,  dazzling
earrings  that bathe a small female  ear in multi-coloured  light; bracelets
shaped  like serpents,  with emerald scales;  a clasp bought with the profit
from a fourteen-hundred-acre harvest; a  pearl necklace that  could only  be
worn  by  a famous prima donna; to crown everything was a diadem worth forty
thousand roubles.
     Ippolit  Matveyevich looked  round  him.  A grass-green  emerald  light
blazed up and shimmered in the dark corners of the caretaker's dirty room. A
diamond  haze  hung near  the ceiling. Pearls  rolled across  the table  and
bounced along the floor. The room swayed in the mirage of gems. The sound of
Ostap's voice brought the excited Ippolit Matveyevich back to earth.
     "Not a bad choice. The stones have been tastefully selected, I see. How
much did all this jazz cost?"
     "Seventy to seventy-five thousand."
     "Hm . . . Then it's worth a hundred and fifty thousand now."
     "Really as much as that?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich jubilantly.
     "Not less than that. However, if I were you, dear friend from  Paris, I
wouldn't give a damn about it."
     "What do you mean, not give a damn?"
     "Just  that.  Like  they  used  to  before  the  advent  of  historical
     "I'll tell you. How many chairs were there?"
     "A dozen. It was a drawing-room suite."
     "Your drawing-room suite was probably used for firewood long ago."
     Ippolit Matveyevich was so alarmed that he actually stood up.
     "Take  it   easy.   I'll   take   charge.  The  hearing  is  continued.
Incidentally, you and I will have to conclude a little deal."
     Breathing heavily, Ippolit Matveyevich nodded his  assent. Ostap Bender
then began stating his terms.
     "In the event  of  acquisition of  the treasure, as a direct partner in
the concession and  as technical  adviser, I  receive sixty  per  cent.  You
needn't pay my national health; I don't care about that."
     Ippolit Matveyevich turned grey.
     "That's daylight robbery!"
     "And how much did you intend offering me? "
     "Well.  . .  er  .  . . five per  cent, or maybe even ten per cent. You
realize, don't you, that's fifteen thousand roubles!"
     "And that's all?"
     "Maybe you'd like me to  work for nothing and also  give you the key of
the apartment where the money is? "
     "In that case, I'm sorry," said Vorobyaninov through his nose.
     "I have every reason to believe I can manage the business by myself."
     "Aha! In  that case,  I'm sorry," retorted the splendid Ostap.  "I have
just as much  reason to believe, as Andy Tucker used to say, that I can also
manage your business by myself."
     "You villain!' cried Ippolit Matveyevich, beginning to shake.
     Ostap remained unmoved.
     "Listen, gentleman from Paris, do you know  your jewels are practically
in my pocket?  And I'm  only interested in you as long as  I wish to prolong
your old age."
     Ippolit Matveyevich realized at  this point that iron hands had gripped
his throat.
     "Twenty per cent," he said morosely.
     "And my grub?" asked Ostap with a sneer.
     "And the key of the apartment?"
     "But that's thirty-seven and a half thousand!"
     "Why be so  precise? Well, all  right, I'll settle  for fifty per cent.
We'll go halves."
     The haggling  continued,  and Ostap  made a further  concession. Out of
respect for Vorobyaninov, he was prepared to work for forty per cent.
     "That's sixty thousand!" cried Vorobyaninov.
     "You're  a  rather nasty  man,"  retorted Bender.  "You're  too fond of
     "And I suppose you aren't?" squeaked Ippolit Matveyevich in a flutelike
     "No, I'm not."
     "Then why do you want sixty thousand? "
     "On principle!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich took a deep breath.
     "Well, are things moving?" pressed Ostap.
     Vorobyaninov breathed  heavily  and  said humbly:  "Yes,   things  are
     "It's a bargain. District Chief of the Comanchi!"
     As soon as Ippolit  Matveyevich,  hurt by the nickname, "Chief  of  the
Comanchi", had  demanded an  apology,  and Ostap, in  a formal apology,  had
called him "Field Marshal", they set about working out their disposition.
     At midnight Tikhon,  the caretaker, hanging on to all the garden fences
on the way  and clinging to the lamp posts, tottered  home to his cellar. To
his misfortune, there was a full moon.
     "Ah!  The intellectual  proletarian! Officer of the  Broom!"  exclaimed
Ostap, catching sight of the doubled-up caretaker.
     The caretaker  began making  low-pitched, passionate noises of the kind
sometimes heard when a lavatory suddenly gurgles heatedly and fussily in the
stillness of the night.
     "That's nice," said Ostap to Vorobyaninov.  "Your caretaker is rather a
vulgar fellow. Is it possible to get as drunk as that on a rouble?"
     "Yes, it is," said the caretaker unexpectedly.
     "Listen, Tikhon," began Ippolit  Matveyevich.  "Have you any  idea what
happened to my furniture, old man ? "
     Ostap  carefully supported Tikhon  so that the words could  flow freely
from his  mouth. Ippolit  Matveyevich  waited  tensely.  But the caretaker's
mouth,  in which every  other  tooth was  missing, only produced a deafening
     "Haa-aapy daa-aays . .."
     The room was filled with an almighty  din. The  caretaker industriously
sang the whole song through. He moved  about the room bellowing,  one moment
sliding senseless  under a chair, the next moment  hitting his  head against
the  brass weights of the  clock, and  then going down on one  knee. He  was
terribly happy.
     Ippolit Matveyevich was at a loss to know what to do.
     "Cross-examination  of  the  witness will  have to be  adjourned  until
tomorrow morning," said Ostap. "Let's go to bed."
     They carried the caretaker, who was as heavy as a  chest of drawers, to
the bench.
     Vorobyaninov  and  Ostap decided  to sleep  together in the caretaker's
bed. Under his jacket, Ostap had on  a red-and-black  checked  cowboy shirt;
under  the  shirt, he was not  wearing anything. Under Ippolit Matveyevich's
yellow  waistcoat,  already familiar to  readers,  he  was  wearing  another
light-blue worsted waistcoat.
     "There's  a  waistcoat  worth buying," said  Ostap enviously. "Just  my
size. Sell it to me!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich felt it would  be  awkward to refuse  to  sell  the
waistcoat to his new friend and direct partner in the concession.
     Frowning, he agreed to sell it at its original price-eight roubles.
     "You'll have the money when we sell the  treasure," said Bender, taking
the waistcoat, still warm from Vorobyaninov's body.
     "No, I can't  do things like that," said Ippolit Matveyevich, flushing.
"Please give it back."
     Ostap's delicate nature was revulsed.
     "There's  stinginess for you," he cried. "We undertake business worth a
hundred and fifty thousand and you squabble  over eight roubles! You want to
learn to live it up!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich reddened still more, and taking a notebook from his
pocket, he wrote in neat handwriting:

     Issued to Comrade Bender

     Ostap took a look at the notebook.
     "Oho! If  you're going to open an  account for me, then at least do  it
properly. Enter the debit and credit. Under 'debit' don't forget to put down
the  sixty thousand  roubles  you  owe me, and under  'credit' put down  the
waistcoat. The balance  is  in my favour-59,992  roubles. I  can live  a bit
     Thereupon  Ostap   fell  into  a   silent,   childlike  sleep.  Ippolit
Matveyevich took off his woollen wristlets and  his baronial boots,  left on
his  darned Jaegar  underwear and crawled under the blanket, sniffling as he
went. He felt very uncomfortable. On the outside of  the bed  there  was not
enough blanket, and it was cold.  On the inside, he was warmed by the smooth
operator's body, vibrant with ideas.
     All three had bad dreams.
     Vorobyaninov  had bad dreams about microbes, the criminal investigation
department,  velvet shirts, and  Bezenchuk the  undertaker in a tuxedo,  but
     Ostap dreamed of: Fujiyama; the head of the Dairy Produce Co-operative;
and Taras Bulba selling picture postcards of the Dnieper.
     And  the  caretaker dreamed that a  horse escaped from  the  stable. He
looked for it all night in the dream and woke up in the morning worn-out and
gloomy, without having found it. For some  time he stared in surprise at the
people sleeping in his bed.
     Not understanding  anything,  he  took his broom and went out into  the
street to carry out  his  basic duties,  which were to  sweep  up the  horse
droppings and shout at the old-women pensioners.

     Ippolit Matveyevich woke up as usual at half past seven, mumbled "Guten
Morgen", and went over to the wash-basin. He washed himself with enthusiasm,
cleared his throat, noisily  rinsed his face, and  shook his head to get rid
of  the  water  which  had  run  into  his  ears.  He   dried  himself  with
satisfaction,  but  on  taking  the   towel  away  from  his  face,  Ippolit
Matveyevich noticed that it  was stained with the same  black colour that he
had  used  to   dye  his  horizontal  moustache  two  days  before.  Ippolit
Matveyevich's  heart sank. He  rushed to  get his pocket mirror.  The mirror
reflected a large nose and the left-hand side of a moustache as green as the
grass  in  spring.  He  hurriedly  shifted the  mirror  to  the  right.  The
right-hand  mustachio  was  the  same  revolting  colour. Bending  his  head
slightly, as though  trying  to  butt the  mirror, the unhappy man perceived
that the  jet  black still  reigned supreme in the centre of  his square  of
hair, but that the edges were bordered with the same green colour.
     Ippolit Matveyevich's whole  being emitted  a groan so loud that  Ostap
Bender opened his eyes.
     "You're out of your mind!" exclaimed Bender, and immediately closed his
sleepy lids.
     "Comrade Bender," whispered the victim of the Titanic imploringly.
     Ostap woke up  after a great  deal of shaking and persuasion. He looked
closely at  Ippolit Matveyevich  and  burst into a howl of laughter. Turning
away from the  founder of the concession, the chief director  of  operations
and  technical adviser rocked with laughter, seized hold of  the top of  the
bed, cried "Stop, you're killing me!" and again was convulsed with mirth.
     "That's not nice of you, Comrade  Bender," said Ippolit Matveyevich and
twitched his green moustache.
     This gave new strength  to the  almost exhausted Ostap, and his  hearty
laughter continued for ten minutes. Regaining his breath, he suddenly became
very serious.
     "Why are you glaring at me  like a  soldier at a louse? Take a  look at
     "But the chemist told me it would be jet black and  wouldn't wash  off,
with either hot water or cold water, soap or paraffin. It was contraband."
     "Contraband? All  contraband is made in Little Arnaut Street in Odessa.
Show me the bottle. . . . Look at this! Did you read this?" '-"Yes."
     "What  about  this bit  in  small print? It clearly  states  that after
washing with  hot or  cold water, soap  or paraffin, the hair should  not be
rubbed with a towel, but dried in the sun or in front of a primus stove. Why
didn't you do so? What can you do now with that greenery? "
     Ippolit Matveyevich was very depressed. Tikhon came  in  and seeing his
master with a green moustache, crossed himself and asked for money to have a
drink. "Give this hero of labour a  rouble," suggested  Ostap, "only  kindly
don't  charge  it  to me. It's a personal matter between you and your former
colleague.  Wait a minute, Dad, don't go away!  There's  a little  matter to
     Ostap  had  a  talk with the  caretaker about the  furniture, and  five
minutes later the concessionaires knew the whole story. The entire furniture
had been taken away to the  housing division  in 1919, with the exception of
one drawing-room chair that had first been in Tikhon's charge, but was later
taken from him by the assistant warden of the second social-security home.
     "Is it here in the house then?"
     "That's right."
     "Tell me, old  fellow,"  said Ippolit  Matveyevich,  his  heart beating
fast, "when you had the chair, did you . . . ever repair it?"
     "It  didn't  need  repairing. Workmanship was good in those  days.  The
chair could last another thirty years."
     "Right, off you  go, old fellow.  Here's another rouble and  don't tell
anyone I'm here."
     "I'll be a tomb, Citizen Vorobyaninov."
     Sending  the caretaker on his  way with  a  cry of "Things are moving,"
Ostap Bender again turned to Ippolit Matveyevich's moustache.
     "It will have to be dyed again. Give  me some money and I'll  go to the
chemist's. Your Titanic  is no damn  good, except for dogs. In the old  days
they  really  had good  dyes. A racing  expert once told  me  an interesting
story. Are you interested  in horse-racing? No? A pity; it's exciting. Well,
anyway  . . . there was once a well-known trickster called Count Drutsky. He
lost five  hundred thousand roubles on races. King of the losers! So when he
had nothing  left except  debts and  was thinking  about  suicide,  a  shady
character gave  him a wonderful piece of advice for fifty roubles. The count
went away and came back a  year later with a three-year-old  Orloff trotter.
From that moment on the count not only made up all his losses, but won three
hundred thousand  on  top. Broker-that  was  the  name  of the  horse-had an
excellent pedigree and always came in first. He actually beat McMahon in the
Derby  by  a whole  length.  Terrific!  . . .  But  then Kurochkin-heard  of
him?-noticed that all  the  horses  of  the Orloff breed were  losing  their
coats,  while Broker,  the darling,  stayed  the same  colour. There  was an
unheard-of scandal. The count  got three years.  It  turned out that  Broker
wasn't an Orloff  at  all, but a crossbreed that had been dyed.  Crossbreeds
are much more spirited than Orloffs and aren't allowed within yards of them!
Which? There's a dye for you! Not quite like your moustache!"
     "But what about the pedigree? You said it was a good one."
     "Just like the label on your bottle of Titanic-counterfeit! Give me the
money for the dye."
     Ostap came back with a new mixture.
     "It's called 'Naiad'. It may be better than the Titanic. Take your coat
     The  ceremony  of re-dyeing began.  But  the "Amazing  chestnut  colour
making the hair  soft and  fluffy" when mixed with the green  of the Titanic
unexpectedly turned Ippolit Matveyevich's head and moustache  all colours of
the rainbow.
     Vorobyaninov, who had not eaten since morning, furiously cursed all the
perfumeries, both those state-owned  and the illegal  ones on Little  Arnaut
Street in Odessa.
     "I don't  suppose  even Aristide Briand  had  a  moustache like  that,"
observed  Ostap cheerfully.  "However,  I  don't recommend living in  Soviet
Russia with ultra-violet hair like yours. It will have to be shaved off."
     "I can't  do that," said Ippolit Matveyevich in a deeply grieved voice.
"That's impossible."
     "Why? Has it some association or other?"
     "I can't do that," repeated Vorobyaninov, lowering his head.
     "Then you  can  stay in the caretaker's room for the rest of your life,
and I'll go for the chairs. The first one is upstairs, by the way."
     "All right, shave it then!"
     Bender found  a  pair  of scissors  and  in  a  flash  snipped off  the
moustache, which fell silently to the floor. When the hair had been cropped,
the technical adviser took  a yellowed Gillette razor from his pocket and  a
spare blade from  his wallet, and began shaving Ippolit Matveyevich, who was
almost in tears by this time.
     "I'm using my last blade on you, so don't  forget to credit me with two
roubles for the shave and haircut."
     "Why so expensive?" Ippolit managed to  ask, although  he was convulsed
with grief. "It should only cost forty kopeks."
     "For reasons  of security,  Comrade  Field Marshal!" promptly  answered
     The sufferings of a man whose head is being shaved with  a safety razor
are incredible. This  became  clear to Ippolit  Matveyevich  from  the  very
beginning of the operation. But all things come to an end.
     "There! The  hearing continues! Those  suffering  from nerves shouldn't
     Ippolit  Matveyevich shook himself free  of  the nauseating  tufts that
until  so recently had  been  distinguished  grey hair,  washed himself and,
feeling a  strong tingling sensation all over his head, looked at himself in
the mirror for the hundredth time that day.  He  was unexpectedly pleased by
what he saw. Looking at him was  the careworn, but rather  youthful, face of
an unemployed actor.
     "Right, forward march, the bugle is sounding!" cried  Ostap. "I'll make
tracks for the housing division, while you go to the old women."
     "I can't," said Ippolit Matveyevich. "It's too  painful for me to enter
my own house."
     "I see. A touching story. The  exiled  baron! All right, you go to  the
housing division, and I'll get busy here. Our rendezvous will be here in the
caretaker's room. Platoon: 'shun!"

     The Assistant Warden of  the Second  Home  of Stargorod Social Security
Administration  was a  shy little  thief.  His whole being protested against
stealing,  yet it  was impossible for  him not to  steal.  He  stole and was
ashamed  of  himself.  He stole  constantly and was  constantly  ashamed  of
himself, which was why his smoothly shaven cheeks always burned with a blush
of confusion, shame, bashfulness and embarrassment.  The assistant  warden's
name  was   Alexander  Yakovlevich,  and  his   wife's  name  was  Alexandra
Yakovlevna. He used  to call  her Sashchen, and she used to call him Alchen.
The world has never seen such a bashful chiseller as Alexander Yakovlevich.
     He was not only  the  assistant warden, but also the chief warden.  The
previous  one  had been dismissed for rudeness to the inmates,  and had been
appointed conductor of a symphony orchestra. Alchen was completely different
from  his ill-bred boss. Under the system of  fuller  workdays, he took upon
himself  the  running  of  the  home, treating  the  pensioners with  marked
courtesy, and introducing important reforms and innovations.
     Ostap Bender pulled  the heavy  oak door  of  the Vorobyaninov home and
found himself  in the  hall. There was a smell of  burnt porridge.  From the
upstairs rooms came  the confused sound of  voices, like a distant  "hooray"
from a line  of troops. There was no one  about and no one appeared.  An oak
staircase  with two flights  of once-lacquered stairs led upward.  Only  the
rings were now left; there was  no sign of the stair rods that had once held
the carpet in place.
     "The Comanche chief  lived in vulgar luxury," thought Ostap  as he went
     In the first  room, which was spacious  and light,  fifteen  or so  old
women in dresses made of the cheapest mouse-grey woollen cloth were  sitting
in a circle.
     Craning their  necks and keeping their eyes on a healthy-looking man in
the middle, the old women were singing:

     "We hear the sound of distant jingling,
     The troika's on its round;
     Far into the distant stretches
     The sparkling snowy ground."

     The choirmaster, wearing a  shirt and trousers  of the  same mouse-grey
material, was beating time with both  hands and, turning from side  to side,
kept shouting:
     "Descants, softer! Kokushkin, not so loud!"
     He caught sight  of Ostap, but  unable to restrain the movement  of his
hands, merely glanced  at  the newcomer and continued conducting. The  choir
increased its volume with an effort, as though singing through a pillow.

     "Ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta,
     Te-ro-rom, tu-ru-rum, tu-ru-rum . . ."

     "Can  you tell me where I can find  the assistant warden?" asked Ostap,
breaking into the first pause.
     "What do you want, Comrade?"
     Ostap  shook  the conductor's  hand  and  inquired  amiably:  "National
folk-songs? Very interesting! I'm the fire inspector."
     The assistant warden looked ashamed.
     "Yes, yes,"  he  said,  with  embarrassment.  "Very  opportune.  I  was
actually going to write you a report."
     "There's nothing to worry about," said Ostap magnanimously. "I'll write
the report myself. Let's take a look at the premises."
     Alchen  dismissed the choir with a wave of his hand, and  the old women
made off with little steps of delight.
     "Come this way," invited the assistant warden.
     Before going  any further, Ostap scrutinized the furniture in the first
room.  It consisted of a table, two garden benches with  iron  legs (one  of
them had the name "Nicky" carved on the back), and a light-brown harmonium.
     "Do they use primus stoves or anything of that kind in this room?"
     "No, no. This is where our recreational activities are  held. We have a
choir, and drama, painting, drawing, and music circles."
     When he reached the word "music"  Alexander Yakovlevich blushed.  First
his chin turned red, then his forehead and cheeks. Alchen felt very ashamed.
He had sold  all  the instruments  belonging to the wind section a long time
before.  The feeble  lungs of the old women had never produced anything more
than a puppy-like squeak from them, anyway. It was ridiculous  to see such a
mass of metal in so helpless a condition. Alchen had not been able to resist
selling the wind section, and now he felt very guilty.
     A slogan  written in large  letters on  a piece  of the same mouse-grey
woollen cloth spanned the wall between the windows. It said:


     "Very good,"  said Ostap. "This recreation room  does not  constitute a
fire hazard. Let's go on."
     Passing through  the front rooms of Vorobyaninov's  house, Ostap  could
see  no  sign  of  a  walnut  chair with  curved  legs  and  English  chintz
upholstery. The  iron-smooth walls were plastered with directives  issued to
the  Second  Home.  Ostap   read  them   and,  from  time  to  time,   asked
     "Are the chimneys swept regularly? Are the stoves working properly?"
     And, receiving exhaustive answers, moved on.
     The fire inspector made a  diligent  search  for at least one corner of
the  house  which  might constitute  a  fire  hazard,  but in  that  respect
everything seemed  to  be in  order.  His  second quest,  however, was  less
successful.  Ostap  went into the dormitories. As he appeared, the old women
stood up and  bowed low. The rooms contained  beds covered with blankets, as
hairy as a dog's coat, with the word "Feet" woven at one end. Below the beds
were trunks, which at the initiative of Alexander Yakovlevich, who  liked to
do  things  in a  military fashion,  projected exactly  one-third  of  their
     Everything in the Home was marked by its extreme modesty; the furniture
that consisted  solely of garden benches taken from Alexander Boulevard (now
renamed  in honour  of  the Proletarian  Voluntary Saturdays),  the paraffin
lamps  bought  at  the  local  market,  and  the  very  blankets  with  that
frightening word, "Feet". One feature of the  house, however,  had been made
to last and was developed on a grand scale-to wit, the door springs.
     Door springs were Alexander  Yakovlevich's  passion. Sparing no effort,
he  fitted all  the doors  in the house with springs of  different types and
systems.  There  were  very  simple  ones  in  the  form  of  an  iron  rod;
compressed-air ones with  cylindrical brass pistons;  there  were  ones with
pulleys that raised and lowered heavy bags of shot. There were springs which
were so  complex in design that the local mechanic could only shake his head
in  wonder.  And  all  the cylinders,  springs  and counterweights were very
powerful, slamming doors shut with the  swiftness of  a mousetrap.  Whenever
the mechanisms  operated, the whole  house shook. With pitiful  squeals, the
old women tried to  escape the onslaught of the  doors, but not always  with
success. The doors gave  the fugitives  a thump in the back, and at the same
time, a counterweight shot past their ears with a dull rasping sound.
     As Bender and the  assistant warden walked around the house, the  doors
fired a noisy salute.
     But the  feudal  magnificence had  nothing to hide: the  chair was  not
there.  As the search progressed, the fire inspector  found  himself in  the
kitchen. Porridge was cooking  in a large copper pot  and gave off the smell
that  the  smooth operator had noticed in the hall. Ostap  wrinkled his nose
and said: "What is it cooking in?  Lubricating  oil?"  "It's pure  butter, I
swear it," said Alchen, blushing to the roots of his hair. "We buy it from a
farm." He felt very ashamed.
     "Anyway, it's not a  fire risk," observed Ostap.  The  chair was not in
the kitchen, either. There was only a stool, occupied by the cook, wearing a
cap and apron of mouse-grey woollen material.
     "Why  is everybody's clothing grey? That cloth  isn't even fit  to wipe
the  windows  with!"  The shy Alchen was even more  embarrassed.  "We  don't
receive enough funds." He was disgusted with himself.
     Ostap looked at him disbelievingly and said: "That is no concern of the
fire brigade, which I am at present representing." Alchen was alarmed.
     "We've taken all the necessary fire precautions," he declared. "We even
have a fire extinguisher. An Eclair."
     The  fire inspector reluctantly proceeded in the direction of  the fire
extinguisher, peeping into the lumber rooms as he went. The red-iron nose of
the extinguisher caused the inspector particular annoyance, despite the fact
that it was the only  object in the house which had any connection with fire
precautions. "Where did you get it? At the market?" And without  waiting for
an  answer from  the  thunderstruck  Alexander Yakovlevich,  he  removed the
Eclair from the  rusty  nail  on  which it was  hanging,  broke the  capsule
without warning, and quickly pointed the nose in the air. But instead of the
expected stream of foam,  all that came out was a high-pitched hissing which
sounded like the ancient hymn "How Glorious Is Our Lord on Zion".
     "You obviously  did get it  at  the  market," said Ostap,  his  earlier
opinion confirmed.  And he put back  the fire extinguisher,  which was still
hissing, in its place.
     They moved on, accompanied by the hissing.
     Where can it be?  wondered Ostap. I don't like  the look of things. And
he made up his mind not to leave the place until he had found out the truth.
     While the fire inspector and the assistant warden were  crawling  about
the  attics, considering  fire  precautions  in  detail  and  examining  the
chimneys,  the Second Home  of the Stargorod Social  Security Administration
carried on its daily routine.
     Dinner  was  ready.  The  smell   of  burnt  porridge  had  appreciably
increased, and it overpowered all the sourish  smells inhabiting the  house.
There  was a rustling in the corridors. Holding iron  bowls full of porridge
in front of them with both hands, the old women cautiously  emerged from the
kitchen and sat down at a  large table,  trying not to look at the refectory
slogans, composed  by  Alexander Yakolevich and  painted  by his  wife.  The
slogans read:


     These sacred words aroused in the old ladies memories of teeth that had
disappeared before the revolution, eggs  that had been lost at approximately
the same time,  meat that was inferior to eggs in fat, and  perhaps even the
society that they were prevented from helping by careful mastication.
     Seated  at table  in  addition to  the  old women were Isidor, Afanasy,
Cyril and Oleg, and also Pasha  Emilevich. Neither in age  nor sex did these
young men fit into the pattern of social security, but they were the younger
brothers of Alchen,  and Pasha Emilevich was  Alexandra Yakovlevna's cousin,
once removed. The young men, the  oldest of whom was the thirty-two-year-old
Pasha Emilevich, did  not consider their life in the pensioners' home in any
way abnormal.  They lived on the  same basis as the old  women; they too had
government-property beds and  blankets  with  the  word  "Feet";  they  were
clothed in  the same mouse-grey material as the old women, but on account of
their youth  and  strength  they  ate better than  the  latter.  They  stole
everything in the house  that  Alchen did not manage to steal himself. Pasha
could  put away four pounds of fish at one go, and he once  did  so, leaving
the home dinnerless.
     Hardly had  the  old women had time to  taste  their porridge when  the
younger  brothers and  Pasha Emilevich rose from  the  table, having gobbled
down their share, and went, belching, into the kitchen to look for something
more digestible.
     The meal continued. The old women began jabbering:
     "Now they'll stuff themselves full and start bawling songs."
     "Pasha Emilevich sold the chair  from the recreation room this morning.
A second-hand dealer took it away at the back door."
     "Just you see. He'll come home drunk tonight."
     At  this  moment  the  pensioners'  conversation  was interrupted by  a
trumpeting noise that even drowned the hissing of the fire extinguisher, and
a husky voice began:
     '. . . vention .. ."
     The old women hunched their shoulders and, ignoring  the loudspeaker in
the corner on the  floor, continued eating in the hope that fate would spare
them, but the loud-speaker cheerfully went on: 
     "Evecrashshsh . . . viduso . . . valuable  invention. Railwayman of the
Murmansk Railway,  Comrade  Sokutsky, S  Samara,  O Oriel, K  Kaliningrad, U
Urals, Ts Tsaritsina, K Kaliningrad, Y York. So-kuts-ky."
     The trumpet wheezed and renewed the broadcast in a thick voice.
     ". . . vented a system of signal lights for snow ploughs. The invention
has been approved by Dorizul. . . ."
     The  old women floated  away to their  rooms like grey  ducklings.  The
loud-speaker,  jigging up and  down  by its own power, blared  away into the
empty room:
     "And we will now play some Novgorod folk music."
     Far, far away, in the centre of the earth, someone strummed a balalaika
and a black-earth Battistini broke into song:

     "On the wall the bugs were sitting,
     Blinking at the sky;
     Then they saw the tax inspector
     And crawled away to die."

     In  the  centre  of the  earth the  verses  brought  forth  a  storm of
activity.  A  horrible gurgling  was heard  from the  loud-speaker.  It  was
something between  thunderous applause and  the  eruption  of an underground
     Meanwhile the disheartened fire inspector had descended an attic ladder
backwards  and was  now  back  in the kitchen,  where  he  saw five citizens
digging  into a barrel  of  sauerkraut  and bolting it  down.  They  ate  in
silence. Pasha Emilevich alone waggled his head in the style of an epicurean
and, wiping some strings of cabbage from his moustache, observed:
     "It's a sin to eat cabbage like this without vodka."
     "Is this a new intake of women?" asked Ostap.
     "They're orphans," replied Alchen, shouldering the inspector out of the
kitchen and surreptitiously shaking his fist at the orphans.
     "Children of the Volga Region?"
     Alchen was confused.
     "A trying heritage from the Tsarist regime?"
     Alchen spread his arms as much as to say: "There's nothing  you can  do
with a heritage like that."
     "Co-education by the composite method?"
     Without  further  hesitation   the  bashful  Alchen  invited  the  fire
inspector to take pot luck and lunch with him.
     Pot  luck  that  day  happened  to  be  a  bottle  of  Zubrovka  vodka,
home-pickled  mushrooms, minced  herring,  Ukrainian  beet  soup  containing
first-grade meat, chicken and rice, and stewed apples.
     "Sashchen," said Alexander  Yakovlevich,  "I want you to meet a comrade
from the province fire-precaution administration."
     Ostap  made  his  hostess  a  theatrical  bow  and  paid  her  such  an
interminable and ambiguous compliment that he could hardly get to the end of
it.  Sashchen, a  buxom woman,  whose  good looks  were  somewhat  marred by
sideburns  of the kind  that Tsar Nicholas used to have, laughed  softly and
took a drink with the two men.
     "Here's to your communal services," exclaimed Ostap.
     The lunch went off gaily, and it was not until they reached  the stewed
fruit that Ostap remembered the point of his visit.
     "Why  is it," he asked, "that  the  furnishings  are so  skimpy in your
     "What do you mean?" said Alchen. "What about the harmonium?"
     "Yes, I know, vox humana. But you have absolutely nothing at all of any
taste to sit on. Only garden benches."
     "There's a  chair in the recreation room,"  said Alchen  in an offended
tone.  "An  English chair.  They say it  was  left  over from  the  original
     "By the way,  I  didn't see  your  recreation room. How  is it from the
point of view of  fire hazard? It won't let  you  down, I hope. I had better
see it."
     Ostap thanked his hostess for the lunch and left.
     No  primus was used in the recreation room; there was no portable stove
of any  kind; the  chimneys were in a good state  of repair and were cleaned
regularly, but the  chair, to the  incredulity of Alchen, was missing.  They
ran to look for it. They  looked under the  beds  and under the trunks;  for
some reason or  other they moved back the harmonium; they questioned the old
women, who kept looking at Pasha Emilevich timidly,  but  the chair was just
not there.  Pasha Emilevich  himself showed great  enthusiasm in the search.
When  all had calmed down,  Pasha  still kept  wandering from room  to room,
looking under decanters, shifting iron teaspoons, and muttering:
     "Where can it be? I saw it myself this morning. It's ridiculous !"
     "It's depressing, girls," said Ostap in an icy voice.
     "It's absolutely ridiculous!" repeated Pasha Emilevich impudently.
     At this point,  however,  the  Eclair fire extinguisher, which had been
hissing the  whole  time,  took  a high F,  which  only the People's Artist,
Nezhdanova, can do, stopped for a second and  then emitted its  first stream
of foam, which soaked the ceiling and knocked the cook's cap off.  The first
stream of foam was  followed by another, mouse-grey in  colour, which bowled
over young  Isidor Yakovlevich. After that  the  extinguisher began  working
smoothly. Pasha Emilevich, Alchen  and  all the surviving brothers raced  to
the spot.
     "Well done," said Ostap. "An idiotic invention!"
     As soon as  the old women were  left alone  with Ostap and without  the
boss, they at once began complaining:
     "He's brought his family into the home. They eat up everything."
     "The piglets get milk and we get porridge."
     "He's taken everything out of the house."
     "Take it easy, girls," said  Ostap, retreating. "You need  someone from
the labour-inspection department. The Senate hasn't empowered me . . ."
     The old women were not listening.
     "And that Pasha Melentevich. He went  and sold a chair today. I saw him
     "Who did he sell it to? " asked Ostap quickly.
     "He sold it. . . that's all. He was going to steal my blanket. . ."
     A  fierce struggle was  going  on  in the  corridor.  But  mind finally
triumphed over matter and the extinguisher, trampled under Pasha Emilevich's
feet of iron, gave a last dribble and was silent for ever.
     The  old women were  sent  to  clean  the floor. Lowering  his head and
waddling slightly, the fire inspector went up to Pasha Emilevich.
     "A  friend of  mine," began  Ostap  importantly,  "also  used  to  sell
government property. He now lives a monastic life in the penitentiary."
     "I find  your groundless  accusations strange," said Pasha, who smelled
strongly of foam.
     "Who did you sell the chair to?" asked Ostap in a ringing whisper.
     Pasha  Emilevich,  who had supernatural understanding, realized at this
point he was about to be beaten, if not kicked.
     "To a second-hand dealer."
     "What's his address?"
     "I'd never seen him before."
     "No, honestly."
     "I  ought  to  bust  you  in the  mouth," said  Ostap  dreamily,  "only
Zarathustra wouldn't allow it. Get to hell out of here!"
     Pasha Emilevich grinned fawningly and began walking away.
     "Come back, you abortion," cried Ostap haughtily. "What was  the dealer
     Pasha  Emilevich  described  him   in  detail,  while   Ostap  listened
carefully.  The  interview was  concluded by  Ostap with  the  words:  "This
clearly has nothing to do with fire precautions."
     In the corridor the bashful Alchen went up to Ostap and gave him a gold
     "That comes under  Article  114  of  the Criminal  Code,"  said  Ostap.
"Bribing officials in the course of their duty."
     Nevertheless  he  took  the  money  and, without  saying good-bye, went
towards the door. The door, which was fitted  with  a  powerful contraption,
opened  with  an  effort and  gave Ostap a  one-and-a-half-ton  shove in the
     "Good  shot!"  said  Ostap, rubbing  the affected part. "The hearing is

     While  Ostap  was inspecting the  pensioners' home, Ippolit Matveyevich
had left the  caretaker's room  and was wandering  along the streets of  his
home town, feeling the chill on his shaven head.
     Along  the  road  trickled clear  spring water.  There  was a  constant
splashing and plopping as diamond drops dripped  from the rooftops. Sparrows
hunted for manure,  and  the  sun  rested  on  the roofs.  Golden carthorses
drummed  their hoofs against the bare road and, turning their ears downward,
listened with pleasure to their own sound. On  the damp telegraph poles  the
wet  advertisements,  "I  teach  the  guitar   by  the  number  system"  and
"Social-science lessons for  those preparing for the People's Conservatory",
were  all  wrinkled up, and  the letters  had  run.  A platoon of  Red  Army
soldiers in winter  helmets  crossed a  puddle that began at  the  Stargorod
co-operative  shop   and  stretched  as   far  as   the   province  planning
administration,  the  pediment  of  which was crowned  with plaster  tigers,
figures of victory and cobras.
     Ippolit Matveyevich walked along, looking  with interest  at the people
passing him in  both directions. As one  who had spent the whole of his life
and also the revolution in Russia, he was able  to see how  the way  of life
was changing and acquiring  a new countenance.  He had  become used  to this
fact, but he seemed to be used to only one  point on the globe-the  regional
centre  of N. Now he was back in  his  home town,  he realized he understood
nothing. He felt just  as  awkward and  strange as though he really  were an
emigre just  back from Paris.  In the old days, whenever he rode through the
town in his  carriage, he  used invariably to meet friends or people he knew
by sight. But now he had gone some way along  Lena Massacre Street and there
was no friend to be  seen. They had vanished, or they might have changed  so
much that  they  were no  longer  recognizable, or perhaps they  had  become
unrecognizable  because  they  wore  different clothes  and  different hats.
Perhaps they had changed their walk. In any case, they were no longer there.
     Vorobyaninov  walked along, pale, cold and  lost. He completely  forgot
that he was supposed to be looking for the housing division. He crossed from
pavement  to pavement and  turned into side streets, where  the  uninhibited
carthorses were quite  intentionally drumming their hoofs. There was more of
winter in the side streets, and  rotting ice was still to be seen in places.
The whole town was a  different colour; the blue houses had become green and
the  yellow  ones  grey. The fire  indicators had disappeared  from the fire
tower, the fireman no longer climbed up  and down, and the streets were much
noisier than Ippolit Matveyevich could remember.
     On Greater Pushkin Street, Ippolit Matveyevich was amazed by the tracks
and overhead cables of the tram system, which he had never seen in Stargorod
before. He had not read the papers and did not know that the two tram routes
to the  station  and the  market were due to be  opened  on May  Day. At one
moment Ippolit Matveyevich felt he had  never left Stargorod, and  the  next
moment it was like a place completely unfamiliar to him.
     Engrossed in these thoughts, he reached Marx and Engels Street. Here he
re-experienced a childhood  feeling that at any moment a friend would appear
round the corner of  the two-storeyed house with its  long balcony. He  even
stopped  walking in anticipation.  But the friend did  not appear. The first
person to come round the corner was a  glazier with a  box of Bohemian glass
and a dollop of copper-coloured putty. Then came a swell in a suede cap with
a  yellow leather peak.  He was pursued  by some  elementary-school children
carrying books tied with straps.
     Suddenly Ippolit Matveyevich felt a hotness in his palms  and a sinking
feeling  in his stomach. A  stranger with a kindly face was  coming straight
towards  him,  carrying a  chair by  the  middle,  like a  'cello.  Suddenly
developing  hiccups  Ippolit Matveyevich  looked  closely at  the chair  and
immediately recognized it.
     Yes!  It  was  a Hambs chair  upholstered  in  flowered  English chintz
somewhat  darkened by the storms of the  revolution; it was  a  walnut chair
with  curved legs. Ippolit Matveyevich felt as  though a gun had gone off in
his ear.
     "Knives  and  scissors  sharpened! Razors  set!" cried a baritone voice
nearby. And immediately came the shrill echo;
     "Soldering and repairing!"
     "Moscow News, magazine Giggler, Red Meadow."
     Somewhere up above, a glass pane was removed with a crash. A truck from
the grain-mill-and-lift-construction  administration passed  by,  making the
town vibrate. A  militiaman  blew  his whistle. Everything brimmed over with
life. There was no time to be lost.
     With  a  leopard-like spring,  Ippolit  Matveyevich  leaped towards the
repulsive stranger and silently tugged at the chair. The stranger tugged the
other  way.  Still  holding  on  to  one  leg  with  his  left hand, Ippolit
Matveyevich  began forcibly  detaching the  stranger's fat fingers from  the
     "Thief!" hissed the stranger, gripping the chair more firmly.
     "Just a moment, just a moment!" mumbled Ippolit Matveyevich, continuing
to unstick the stranger's fingers.
     A  crowd began  to gather. Three  or four people  were already standing
nearby, watching the struggle with lively interest. They both glanced around
in  alarm  and,  without  looking  at one another or  letting  go the chair,
rapidly moved on as if nothing were the matter.
     "What's happening?" wondered Ippolit Matveyevich in dismay.
     What the  stranger  was thinking  was impossible  to say,  but  he  was
walking in a most determined way.
     They  kept walking more  and  more quickly until they  saw  a  clearing
scattered with bits of brick and  other building materials  at  the end of a
blind alley; then both turned into  it simultaneously. Ippolit Matveyevich's
strength now increased fourfold.
     "Give it to me!" he shouted, doing away with all ceremony.
     "Help!" exclaimed the stranger, almost inaudibly.
     Since both of them had their hands  occupied with the chair, they began
kicking one another. The  stranger's  boots  had  metal studs, and at  first
Ippolit Matveyevich  came  off  badly. But he soon  adjusted  himself,  and,
skipping to the left and right  as though doing a Cossack  dance, managed to
dodge his  opponents' blows, trying  at  the same  time to  catch him in the
stomach.  He  was not successful, since the  chair was  in the way,  but  he
managed to  land him a kick on the kneecap, after which the enemy could only
lash out with one leg.
     "Oh, Lord!" whispered the stranger.
     It was  at  this moment that Ippolit Matveyevich saw that the  stranger
who had carried off his chair in the most outrageous manner  was none  other
than Father Theodore, priest of the Church of St. Frol and St. Laurence.
     "Father!"  he   exclaimed,  removing   his  hands  from  the  chair  in
     Father Vostrikov turned purple and finally loosed his grip. The  chair,
no longer supported by either of them, fell on to the brick-strewn ground.
     "Where's your moustache, my dear Ippolit Matveyevich?" asked the cleric
as caustically as possible.
     "And what about your curls? You used to have curls, I believe!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich's  words conveyed utter  contempt. He  threw Father
Theodore a  look of singular disgust and, tucking the chair  under his  arm,
turned to  go. But the priest had now recovered from his  embarrassment  and
was not going to yield Vorobyaninov such an easy victory. With a cry of "No,
I'm  sorry," he grasped  hold of the chair again. Their initial position was
restored. The two opponents stood clutching the chair  and, moving from side
to side, sized one another up like cats or  boxers. The tense pause lasted a
whole minute.
     "So  you're after my property,  Holy  Father?" said Ippolit Matveyevich
through clenched teeth and kicked the holy father in the hip.
     Father Theodore feinted and viciously kicked the marshal in  the groin,
making him double up.
     "It's not your property."
     "Whose then?"
     "Not yours!"
     "Whose then?"
     "Not yours!"
     "Whose then? Whose?"
     Spitting at each other in this way, they kept kicking furiously.
     "Whose property is it then?" screeched the marshal, sinking his foot in
the holy father's stomach.
     "It's nationalized  property," said the holy  father firmly, overcoming
his pain.
     "Nationalized? "
     "Yes, nationalized."
     They were jerking out the words so quickly that they ran together.
     " Who-nationalized-it? "
     "The-Soviet-Government. The-Soviet-Government."
     "Which-government? "
     "Aha!" said Ippolit Matveyevich  icily. "The government  of workers and
     "Hmm  . . .  then maybe  you're a member of the  Communist  Party, Holy
     "Maybe I am!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich could no  longer restrain himself and with a shriek
of "Maybe  you are" spat juicily  in Father  Theodore's kindly face.  Father
Theodore immediately spat in Ippolit Matveyevich's face and also  found  his
mark. They had  nothing with which to wipe  away the spittle since they were
still holding  the  chair. Ippolit  Matveyevich made  a  noise  like  a door
opening and thrust the chair at his enemy with all his might. The enemy fell
over, dragging the panting Vorobyaninov  with him. The struggle continued in
the stalls.
     Suddenly there was a crack and both front legs broke on simultaneous'y.
The  opponents completely forgot  one another  and began tearing  the walnut
treasure-chest  to  pieces.  The  flowered  English  chintz  split  with the
heart-rending  scream of a seagull. The back was  torn off by  a mighty tug.
The  treasure  hunters ripped off the sacking together  with the brass tacks
and, grazing their hands on the springs, buried their fingers in the woollen
stuffing. The  disturbed springs hummed. Five minutes  later  the  chair had
been picked clean. Bits and pieces were all that was left. Springs rolled in
all directions, and the wind blew the rotten padding all over  the clearing.
The curved legs lay in a hole. There were no jewels.
     "Well, have you found anything?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich, panting.
     Father Theodore, covered in tufts of wool, puffed and said nothing.
     "You crook!" shouted Ippolit Matveyevich. "I'll break your neck, Father
     "I'd like to see you! " retorted  the priest. "Where are you  going all
covered in fluff? " "Mind your own business!"
     "Shame  on  you, Father! You're  nothing  but a  thief!"  "I've  stolen
nothing from you."
     "How  did you find out  about  this?  You  exploited the  sacrament  of
confession for your own ends. Very nice! Very fine!"
     With  an indignant "Fooh! " Ippolit Matveyevich left  the clearing and,
brushing his sleeve as  he  went,  made for  home.  At  the corner  of  Lena
Massacre and Yerogeyev streets he caught sight of his partner. The technical
adviser and director-general  of the concession was having the suede  uppers
of  his boots cleaned with canary polish; he  was  standing half-turned with
one  foot  slightly  raised.  Ippolit  Matveyevich  hurried up  to him.  The
director was gaily crooning the shimmy:

     "The camels used to do it,
     The barracudas used to dance it,
     Now the whole world's doing the shimmy."

     "Well,  how was the housing division?" he asked in a  businesslike way,
and immediately added:
     "Wait a  moment.  Don't tell  me now; you're  too  excited. Cool down a
     Giving the shoeshiner  seven kopeks, Ostap took Vorobyaninov by the arm
and led  him down the street. He listened very carefully  to  everything the
agitated Ippolit Matveyevich told him.
     "Aha! A  small black beard? Right!  A coat  with  a sheepskin collar? I
see. That's  the chair from the  pensioner's home. It  was  bought today for
three roubles."
     "But wait a moment. . . ."
     And  Ippolit Matveyevich told the chief concessionaire all about Father
Theodore's low tricks.
     Ostap's face clouded.
     "Too  bad," he said. "Just like a detective story. We have a mysterious
rival. We must steal a march on him. We can always break his head later."
     As the friends  were having a  snack in the  Stenka Razin beer-hall and
Ostap was asking questions about the  past and present state of  the housing
division, the day came to an end.
     The golden carthorses became  brown again. The diamond drops  grew cold
in mid-air and plopped  on to  the  ground.  In  the beer-halls  and Phoenix
restaurant the price of beer went up. Evening had come; the street lights on
Greater Pushkin Street lit up and a detachment of Pioneers went by, stamping
their feet, on the way home from their first spring outing.
     The  tigers,   figures   of  victory,  and   cobras   on  top   of  the
province-planning  administration  shone  mysteriously  in  the light of the
advancing moon.
     As  he  made  his way home  with Ostap, who  was  now suddenly  silent,
Ippolit  Matveyevich  gazed  at the  tigers  and  cobras. In his  time,  the
building had  housed the Provincial  Government  and the  citizens had  been
proud of their cobras, considering them one of the sights of Stargorod.
     "I'll find  them," thought Ippolit  Matveyevich,  looking at one of the
plaster figures of victory.
     The  tigers swished their tails  lovingly,  the cobras  contracted with
delight, and Ippolit Matveyevich's heart filled with determination.

     No. 7 Pereleshinsky  Street was not one of  Stargorod's best buildings.
Its two storeys were constructed in the style of  the Second Empire and were
embellished  with  timeworn lion heads,  singularly reminiscent of  the once
well-known  writer   Artsybashec.  There   were  exactly  seven   of   these
Artsybashevian physiognomies,  one for each of the windows  facing on to the
street. The faces had been placed at the keystone of each window.
     There were two  other embellishments on the building, though these were
of a purely commercial nature. On one side hung the radiant sign:


     The sign depicted  a  young man wearing  a  tie and ankle-length French
trousers.  Ift  one  dislocated hand he held  the fabulous  cornucopia, from
which poured an avalanche of ochre-coloured  buns; whenever necessary, these
were passed off as Moscow rolls. The young man had a sexy smile on his face.
On  the  other  side,  the  Fastpack  packing  office  announced  itself  to
prospective clients by a black board with round gold lettering.
     Despite the appreciable difference in the signs and also in the capital
possessed by  the two dissimilar enterprises, they both engaged in  the same
business,  namely, speculation in  all types of  fabrics: coarse wool,  fine
wool, cotton, and, whenever  silk of good  colour and design came their way,
silk as well.
     Passing through the tunnel-like gateway and turning right into the yard
with  its  cement well, you could see two doorways without  porches,  giving
straight on to the angular flagstones of the yard. A dulled brass plate with
a name engraved in script was fixed to the right-hand door:

     The left-hand door was fitted with a piece of whitish tin:

     This was also only for show.
     Inside the fashions-and-millinery workroom there was no esparterie,  no
trimmings, no headless dummies  with soldierly bearing, nor any large  heads
for elegant ladies' hats. Instead, the  three-room apartment was occupied by
an immaculately white parrot in red underpants. The parrot was riddled  with
fleas, but could not complain since it was unable to  talk. For days  on end
it used to crack sunflower seeds and spit  the husks through the bars of its
tall, circular  cage on to  the carpet. It only  needed a concertina and new
squeaky Wellingtons to resemble a peasant on a  spree.  Dark-brown patterned
curtains  flapped  at  the  window.  Dark-brown  hues  predominated  in  the
apartment. Above  the piano  was a reproduction of Boecklin's  "Isle  of the
Dead" in  a fancy frame of dark-green oak, covered with glass. One corner of
the glass had  been broken off some time before, and the flies  had added so
many finishing touches to the  picture at this  bared section that it merged
completely with the frame. What was going on in that section of the "Isle of
the Dead" was quite impossible to say.
     The owner herself was  sitting in  the  bedroom  and laying  out cards,
resting  her  arms  on  an  octagonal  table  covered  by a  dirty Richelieu
tablecloth. In front of her sat Widow Gritsatsuyev, in a fluffy shawl.
     "I should warn  you, young lady, that  I  don't  take  less than  fifty
kopeks per session,' said the fortune-teller.
     The  widow, whose  anxiousness  to find a new husband  knew no  bounds,
agreed to pay the price.
     "But  predict the  future as well, please,"  she said plaintively. "You
will be  represented by the  Queen of  Clubs." "I  was  always  the Queen of
Hearts," objected the widow. The fortune-teller consented  apathetically and
began manipulating  the  cards. A rough  estimation of the  widow's lot  was
ready in a  few minutes. Both  major and minor difficulties awaited her, but
near to her heart was  the King of  Clubs, who  had befriended the Queen  of
     A fair copy of the prediction was made from the widow's hand. The lines
of her hand were clean, powerful, and faultless. Her life line stretched  so
far that  it  ended  up at her pulse and,  if it told the  truth, the  widow
should  have lived till doomsday. The  head line and line of brilliancy gave
reason to believe that she would  give up  her  grocery business and present
mankind with masterpieces in the realm  of art, science, and social studies.
Her Mounts  of Venus  resembled Manchurian volcanoes and revealed incredible
reserves of love and affection. The fortune-teller explained all this to the
widow, using  the  words and  phrases current among graphologists, palmists,
and horse-traders.
     "Thank you, madame," said the widow. "Now I  know who the King of Clubs
is. And I know who the Queen of  Diamonds is, too. But  what about the King?
Does that  mean  marriage?" "It does, young lady." The widow went home  in a
dream,  while  the  fortune-teller  threw the cards into a  drawer,  yawned,
displaying the mouth  of a fifty-year-old woman, and went into the  kitchen.
There  she busied herself  with the meal that was warming on a Graetz stove;
wiping her hands on  her apron like a cook, she took a  chipped-enamel  pail
and went into the yard to fetch water.
     She  walked  across  the  yard, dragging  her  flat feet. Her  drooping
breasts wobbled lazily inside her dyed  blouse. Her  head  was  crowned with
greying hair. She  was an  old woman, she  was  dirty, she regarded everyone
with suspicion, and she had a sweet tooth. If Ippolit Matveyevich  had  seen
her  now,  he would never  have recognized Elena Bour, his former  mistress,
about whom the clerk of the court had once said in verse that "her lips were
inviting and she was so spritely!" At the well, Mrs. Bour was greeted by her
neighbour,  Victor Mikhailovich  Polesov, the mechanic-intellectual, who was
collecting water in an empty petrol tin. Polesov had the face of an operatic
Mephistopheles who is carefully rubbed with burnt cork just before  he  goes
on stage.
     As  soon as they had exchanged greetings, the neighbours  got down to a
discussion of the affair concerning the whole of Stargorod.
     "What times we live in!" said Polesov ironically. "Yesterday I went all
over the town but  couldn't find any three-eighths-inch dies anywhere. There
were none available. And to think-they're going to open a tramline!"
     Elena Stanislavovna, who had as much idea about three-eighths-inch dies
as a student of the  Leonardo da Vinci ballet school, who  thinks that cream
comes from cream tarts, expressed her sympathy.
     "The  shops we have now! Nothing but long queues.  And the names of the
shops are so dreadful. Stargiko!"
     "But I'll tell you something  else, Elena Stanislavovna. They have four
General Electric engines left. And they just about work, although the bodies
are junk. The windows  haven't any shock absorbers. I've  seen  them myself.
The  whole lot rattles. Horrible! And the  other  engines are from  Kharkov.
Made entirely by the State Non-Ferrous Metallurgy Industry."
     The mechanic stopped talking in irritation. His black face glistened in
the  sun. The whites of his eyes  were yellowish.  Among the artisans owning
cars in  Stargorod, of whom  there were many,  Victor Polesov  was  the most
gauche, and most frequently made an ass  of himself. The reason for this was
his  over-ebullient nature.  He  was  an  ebullient  idler. He  was  forever
effervescing. In his own workshop in the  second yard of no. 7 Pereleshinsky
Street,  he was never  to be  found. Extinguished  portable  furnaces  stood
deserted  in  the  middle of  his  stone shed, the  corners  of  which  were
cluttered up with punctured tyres, torn Triangle tyre covers, rusty padlocks
(so enormous you could have locked town gates with them), fuel cans with the
names  "Indian" and "Wanderer",  a  sprung  pram, a useless  dynamo,  rotted
rawhide belts, oil-stained rope, worn emery paper, an  Austrian bayonet, and
a great deal of other broken, bent and dented junk. Clients could never find
Victor Mikhailovich.  He  was  always out somewhere giving orders. He had no
time for work. It was impossible for him to stand by and watch a horse . and
cart drive  into his  or anyone else's  yard.  He immediately went  out and,
clasping his  hands  behind  his back,  watched the  carter's  actions  with
contempt. Finally he could bear it no longer.
     "Where do  you  think you're going?"  he used to shout  in a  horrified
voice. "Move over!"
     The startled carter would move the cart over.
     "Where do you think you're  moving to, wretch?"  Victor Polesov  cried,
rushing up  to the  horse.  "In  the old days you would have got a slap  for
that, then you would have moved over."
     Having given orders in this  way  for half an hour or so, Polesov would
be just about to return to his workshop, where a broken bicycle pump awaited
repair, when the peaceful life of the  town would be disturbed by some other
contretemps. Either two carts entangled their axles in the street and Victor
Mikhailovich  would  show the best  and  quickest  way to separate them,  or
workmen would be replacing a telegraph pole and  Polesov would check that it
was perpendicular  with  his  own  plumb-line  brought  specially  from  the
workshop; or, finally, the fire-engine would go past and Polesov, excited by
the noise of the siren and burned up with curiosity, would chase after it.
     But  from time  to  time  Polesov was  seized  by  a mood  of practical
activity.  For several days he used to  shut himself up in  his workshop and
toil in  silence. Children ran freely  about the yard and shouted what  they
liked,  carters described  circles in the  yard,  carts  completely  stopped
entangling  their  axles  and  fire-engines  and hearses  sped  to  the fire
unaccompanied-Victor Mikhailovich was working. One day, after a bout of this
kind, he emerged from the workshop with a motor-cycle, pulling it like a ram
by   the   horns;  the   motor-cycle   was   made  up  of   parts  of  cars,
fire-extinguishers,  bicycles  and  typewriters.  It  had  a  one-and-a-half
horsepower Wanderer  engine and Davidson wheels, while  the  other essential
parts had lost the name of the original maker. A piece of cardboard with the
words "Trial Run" hung on a cord  from the saddle. A crowd gathered. Without
looking at anyone, Victor Mikhailovich gave the pedal a twist with his hand.
There  was  no  spark  for at  least ten minutes, but then  came  a metallic
splutter and  the contraption shuddered  and enveloped itself in  a cloud of
filthy   smoke.  Polesov  jumped  into  the  saddle,  and  the  motor-cycle,
accelerating  madly, carried him through the tunnel into the  middle  of the
roadway and  stopped dead. Polesov was about to get off and  investigate the
mysterious  vehicle when  it  suddenly  reversed  and,  whisking its creator
through the same tunnel, stopped  at its  original point of departure in the
yard, grunted  peevishly,  and  blew  up. Victor  Mikhailovich escaped  by a
miracle  and  during  the  next  bout  of  activity  used  the  bits of  the
motor-cycle to make  a stationary engine, very similar to a real  one-except
that it did not work.
     The crowning glory of the mechanic-intellectual's academic activity was
the epic of the gates of building no. 5, next door. The housing co-operative
that owned the building signed a contract with Victor Polesov under which he
undertook to repair the iron gates and paint  them any colour  he liked. For
its part, the housing co-operative agreed to pay Victor Mikhailovich Polesov
the sum of twenty-one roubles, seventy-five kopeks, subject to approval by a
special committee. The official stamps were charged to the contractor.
     Victor  Mikhailovich carried off the gates like Samson. He set  to work
in  his  shop with enthusiasm. It took several days  to un-rivet the  gates.
They were  taken  to pieces. Iron  curlicues  lay in the pram; iron bars and
spikes were piled under the work-bench. It took another few days to  inspect
the damage. Then a great disaster occurred in  the town. A water  main burst
on Drovyanaya Street, and Polesov spent the rest of the week at the scene of
the  misfortune, smiling ironically, shouting at the workmen,  and every few
minutes looking into the hole in the ground.
     As soon as his  organizational  ardour  had  somewhat  abated,  Polesov
returned to his gates, but it was too late. The children from the yard  were
already playing with  the iron curlicues  and spikes of the gates of no.  5.
Seeing  the  wrathful  mechanic,  the children dropped their playthings  and
fled.  Half  the  curlicues were missing and were never  found.  After  that
Polesov lost interest in the gates.
     But then  terrible things began to happen in no.  5, which was now wide
open to all. The wet  linen  was stolen from  the  attics,  and one  evening
someone  even carried  off  a samovar that was  singing in the yard. Polesov
himself took part  in the pursuit, but the  thief ran  at quite a pace, even
though he was holding the steaming samovar in front of him, and looking over
his shoulder,  covered Victor Mikhailovich, who was in the  lead,  with foul
abuse.  The one  who suffered most, however, was the yard-keeper from no. 5.
He lost his nightly wage since there were now no gates, there was nothing to
open, and  residents returning from a spree had no one to give  a tip to. At
first  the  yard-keeper kept  coming  to  ask if  the  gates  would  soon be
finished; then he tried praying, and finally resorted to vague threats.  The
housing cooperative  sent Polesov written  reminders, and there was talk  of
taking the matter to court. The situation had grown more and more tense.
     Standing by  the well,  the fortune-teller and  the mechanic-enthusiast
continued their conversation.
     "Given the absence of seasoned sleepers," cried Victor Mikhailovich for
the whole yard to hear, "it won't be a tramway, but sheer misery!"
     "When  will  all this  end!"  said Elena  Stanislavovna. "We live  like
     "There's  no end  to  it. .  .  . Yes.  Do  you  know who I saw  today?
     In  her  amazement  Elena  Stanislavovna   leaned  against   the  wall,
continuing to hold the full pail of water in mid-air.
     "I had gone to the communal-services building to extend my contract for
the  hire of the workshop and was going down the corridor when suddenly  two
people  came  towards  me.  One of  them  seemed  familiar;  he looked  like
Vorobyaninov. Then they asked me what the building had been in the old days.
I told them  it used to be  a girls' secondary school,  and later became the
housing division. I asked them why they wanted to know, but they just  said,
Thanks' and  went off. Then I  saw clearly that it  really was Vorobyaninov,
only  without  his  moustache.  The other one  with him was  a  fine-looking
fellow. Obviously a former officer. And then I thought. . ."
     At  that  moment  Victor  Mikhailovich  noticed  something  unpleasant.
Breaking off what  he was saying, he grabbed his can and promptly hid behind
the dustbin. Into the yard  sauntered the yard-keeper from no. 5. He stopped
by the well and  began looking round at the  buildings.  Not seeing  Polesov
anywhere, he asked sadly:
     "Isn't Vick the mechanic here yet?"
     "I really don't  know," said the fortune-teller. "I don't know at all."
And  with  unusual nervousness she hurried off  to  her  apartment, spilling
water from the pail.
     The  yard-keeper stroked the  cement block at the  top of the well  and
went over to the workshop. Two paces beyond the sign:

     was another sign:


     under  which  there hung  a heavy  padlock. The  yard-keeper kicked the
padlock and said with loathing:
     "Ugh, that stinker!"
     He stood by the  workshop for another two  or  three minutes working up
the most venomous feelings, then wrenched off the sign with a crash, took it
to the well in the middle  of the yard, and standing on it  with both  feet,
began creating an unholy row.
     "You  have thieves in no. 7!" howled  the yard-keeper. "Riffraff of all
kinds! That  seven-sired  viper! Secondary education indeed! I  don't give a
damn for his secondary education! Damn stinkard!"
     During this, the seven-sired viper with secondary education was sitting
behind the  dustbin  and feeling  depressed. Window-frames flew open  with a
bang, and amused tenants poked out their heads.
     People strolled into the yard from outside in  curiosity. At the  sight
of an audience, the yard-keeper became even more heated.
     "Fitter-mechanic!" he cried. "Damn aristocrat!"
     The  yard-keeper's  parliamentary expressions were  richly interspersed
with swear words, to  which he gave  preference. The members of the fair sex
crowding around the windows were very annoyed at the yard-keeper, but stayed
where they were.
     "I'll push his face in!" he raged. "Education indeed!"
     While  the  scene was at its  height, a militiaman appeared and quietly
began hauling the fellow  off to the police station. He was assisted by Some
young  toughs  from  Fastpack.  The  yard-keeper  put  his  arms around  the
militiaman's neck and burst into tears. The danger was over.
     A weary Victor  Mikhailovich  jumped out from behind the dustbin. There
was a stir among the audience.
     "Bum!" cried Polesov in the wake of the procession. "I'll show you! You
     But the  yard-keeper  was weeping bitterly and could  not hear. He  was
carried to the police station, and the sign "Metal Workshop and Primus Stove
Repairs"  was  also  taken  along as factual  evidence. Victor  Mikhailovich
bristled with fury for some time.
     "Sons of  bitches!"  he  said, turning to  the  spectators.  "Conceited
     "That's enough, Victor Mikhailovich," called Elena  Stanislavovna  from
the window. "Come in here a moment."
     She  placed a dish of  stewed fruit in front of  Polesov and, pacing up
and down the room, began asking him questions.
     "But I tell you it was him-without his  moustache, but definitely him,"
said Polesov, shouting as usual. "I know him well. It was the spitting image
of Vorobyaninov."
     "Not so loud, for heaven's sake! Why do you think he's here?"
     An ironic smile appeared on Polesov's face.
     "Well, what do you think? "
     He chuckled with even greater irony.
     "At any rate, not to sign a treaty with the Bolsheviks."
     "Do you think he's in danger? "
     The reserves of  irony amassed by Polesov over  the ten years since the
revolution  were  inexhaustible.  A  series  of smiles of  varying force and
scepticism lit up his face.
     "Who  isn't   in  danger   in  Soviet  Russia,  especially  a  man   in
Vorobyaninov's position. Moustaches, Elena Stanislavovna, are not shaved off
for nothing."
     "Has  he  been sent from  abroad?" asked  Elena  Stanislavovna,  almost
     "Definitely," replied the brilliant mechanic.
     "What is his purpose here?"
     "Don't be childish!"
     "I must see him all the same."
     "Do you know what you're risking? "
     "I don't care. After ten years of separation I cannot do otherwise than
see Ippolit Matveyevich."
     And it actually seemed to her that fate had parted them while they were
still in love with one another.
     "I beg you to find him.  Find out where he  is. You go  everywhere;  it
won't be difficult for you. Tell him I want to see him. Do you hear?"
     The  parrot in the red underpants, which had been dozing on  its perch,
was  startled by the noisy  conversation; it turned upside down and froze in
that position.
     "Elena Stanislavovna," said  the mechanic, half-rising and pressing his
hands to his chest, "I will contact him."
     "Would  you like  some  more  stewed fruit?"  asked the fortune-teller,
deeply touched.
     Victor  Mikhailovich  consumed  the stewed fruit  irritably, gave Elena
Stanislavovna a lecture on the faulty construction of the parrot's cage, and
then left with instructions to keep everything strictly secret.

     The next day the partners saw that it  was no longer convenient to live
in  the  caretaker's room. Tikhon  kept muttering away  to  himself and  had
become  completely  stupid,  having seen  his  master  first  with  a  black
moustache,  then  with a green  one, and finally  with no moustache  at all.
There was nothing to sleep  on. The room stank of rotting manure, brought in
on Tikhon's new felt  boots. His old  ones stood  in the corner  and did not
help to purify the air, either.
     "I declare the old boys' reunion over," said Ostap. "We  must move to a
     Ippolit Matveyevich trembled. "I can't."
     "Why not?"
     "I shall have to register."
     "Aren't your papers in order?"
     "My papers are in order, but my name is well known in the town. Rumours
will spread."
     The concessionaires reflected for, a while in silence.
     "How do  you  like  the  name Michelson?"  suddenly asked the  splendid
     "Which Michelson? The Senator?"
     "No. The member of the shop assistants' trade union."
     "I don't get you."
     "That's because you lack technical experience. Don't be naive!"
     Bender took  a  union card out of  his  green jacket  and  handed it to
Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "Konrad  Karlovich  Michelson,  aged  forty-eight,  non-party   member,
bachelor;  union member  since 1921 and a person of  excellent character;  a
good friend  of mine and  seems to  be  a friend of children. . .  . But you
needn't be friendly to children. The militia doesn't require that of you."
     Ippolit Matveyevich turned red. "But is it right? "
     "Compared with our" concession, this misdeed, though it does come under
the penal code, is as innocent as a children's game."
     Vorobyaninov nevertheless balked at the idea.
     "You're  an  idealist,  Konrad Karlovich. You're  lucky,  otherwise you
might have to become a Papa Christosopulo or Zlovunov."
     There followed immediate consent, and without saying goodbye to Tikhon,
the concessionaires went out into the street.
     They stopped at the Sorbonne Furnished Rooms.  Ostap threw the whole of
the small hotel  staff into confusion.  First he  looked at the seven-rouble
rooms,  but disliked  the furnishings.  The  cleanliness  of the five-rouble
rooms  pleased  him more,  but  the carpets  were  shabby  and there was  an
objectionable  smell. In the three-rouble rooms everything  was satisfactory
except for the pictures.
     "I can't live in a room with landscapes," said Ostap.
     They had to take a  room for one rouble,  eighty. It had no landscapes,
no  carpets, and the  furniture was very conservative -two  beds and a night
     "Stone-age style," observed Ostap with  approval. "I hope  there aren't
any prehistoric monsters in the mattresses."
     "Depends on  the season," replied the cunning room-cleaner. "If there's
a  provincial convention  of some kind, then  of  course  there aren't  any,
because we have many  visitors and we clean the place thoroughly before they
arrive.  But at other  times you may  find some.  They come  across from the
Livadia Rooms next door."
     That day the concessionaires  visited the  Stargorod communal services,
where they  obtained  the information they required. It turned  out that the
housing division had  been disbanded in 1921 and that its voluminous records
had been merged with those of the communal services.
     The smooth  operator got down to business. By  evening the partners had
found out the  address  of  the  head of the records department, Bartholomew
Korobeinikov, a former  clerk in the Tsarist town administration  and now an
office-employment official.
     Ostap  attired himself  in  his  worsted waistcoat,  dusted his  jacket
against the  back of a chair, demanded a rouble, twenty  kopeks from Ippolit
Matveyevich, and  set off  to visit the  record-keeper.  Ippolit Matveyevich
remained at the Sorbonne Hotel and paced up and down  the narrow gap between
the two beds in  agitation.  The  fate of the whole  enterprise was  in  the
balance  that cold, green evening. If they could get hold of copies  of  the
orders   for  the   distribution  of   the   furniture  requisitioned   from
Vorobyaninov's house, half  the  battle  had been won.  There would still be
tremendous difficulties facing them, but at least they would be on the right
     "If  only we can  get  the orders,"  whispered Ippolit  Matveyevich  to
himself, lying on the bed, "if only we can get them."
     The springs of the battered mattress nipped him like fleas, but  he did
not  feel them. He still only had a vague idea of what would follow once the
orders had been obtained, but felt sure everything would then go swimmingly.
     Engrossed in  his  rosy dream, Ippolit Matveyevich tossed about  on the
bed. The springs bleated underneath him.
     Ostap  had to go right across  town. Korobeinikov lived  in Gusishe, on
the outskirts.
     It was an area populated largely by railway workers.  From time to time
a  snuffling locomotive would  back its way along the walled-off embankment,
above the houses. For a  second the roof-tops were lit by the blaze from the
firebox.  Now and then empty goods  trains went  by,  and  from time to time
detonators  could  be heard  exploding.  Amid the  huts and temporary wooden
barracks stretched the long brick walls of still damp blocks of flats.
     Ostap passed an island of lights-the railway workers' club- checked the
address from a piece of paper, and halted  in front of  the  record-keeper's
house. He rang a bell marked "Please Ring" in embossed letters.
     After  prolonged questioning as to "Who do you want?" and "What  is  it
about?"   the  door  was   opened,  and  he   found   himself  in   a  dark,
cupboard-cluttered hallway. Someone breathed on him in the darkness, but did
not speak.
     "Is Citizen Korobeinikov here?" asked Ostap.
     The person who had been  breathing took Ostap  by  the arm and  led him
into a dining-room lit by a hanging kerosene lamp. Ostap saw in front of him
a prissy little old man with an unusually flexible spine. There was no doubt
that  this  was  Citizen  Korobeinikov  himself.  Without  waiting   for  an
invitation, Ostap moved up a chair and sat down.
     The old man looked fearlessly at  the high-handed stranger and remained
silent. Ostap amiably began the conversation.
     "I've  come on  business. You  work  at  the communal-services  records
office, don't you? "
     The old man's back started moving and arched affirmatively.
     "And you worked before that in the housing division?"
     "I have worked everywhere," he answered gaily.
     "Even in the Tsarist town administration?"
     Here  Ostap  smiled graciously.  The old man's back  contorted for some
time and finally ended up in a  position implying that his employment in the
Tsarist town administration  was something  long  passed and that it was not
possible to remember everything for sure.'
     "And may  I ask what I can  do  for you?"  said the host, regarding his
visitor with interest.
     "You may," answered the visitor. "I am Vorobyaninov's son."
     "Whose? The marshal's?"
     "Yes." . "Is he still alive?"
     "He's dead, Citizen Korobeinikov. He's gone to his rest."
     "Yes," said the old man without any particular grief, "a sad event. But
I didn't think he had any children."
     "He didn't," said Ostap amiably in confirmation.
     "What do you mean?"
     "I'm from a morganatic marriage."
     "Not by any chance Elena Stanislavovna's son? "
     "How is she?"
     "Mum's been in her grave some time."
     "I see. I see. How sad."
     And  the  old  man gazed at  Ostap  with tears of sympathy in his eyes,
although that very day he had seen Elena Stanislavovna at the meat stalls in
the market.
     "We  all  pass away," he said, "but  please tell  me  on what  business
you're here, my dear . . . I don't know your name."
     "Voldemar," promptly replied Ostap.
     "Vladimir Ippolitovich, very good."
     The  old man sat down at the table covered  with patterned oilcloth and
peered into Ostap's eyes.
     In carefully chosen words, Ostap expressed his grief at the loss of his
parents. He much regretted that  he had invaded the privacy of the respected
record-keeper so  late  at night  and disturbed  him by the visit, but hoped
that the respected record-keeper would  forgive  him  when he knew what  had
brought him.
     "I would like to have some of my dad's furniture," concluded Ostap with
inexpressible filial love, "as a keepsake. Can you tell me who was given the
furniture from dad's house?"
     "That's difficult," said the old  man after a moment's thought. "Only a
well-to-do person could manage that. What's your profession, may I ask? "
     "I have my own refrigeration plant in Samara, run on artel lines."
     The old man looked dubiously  at young  Vorobyaninov's  green suit, but
made no comment.
     "A smart young man," he thought.
     "A typical  old bastard," decided Ostap, who had  by then completed his
observation of Korobeinikov.
     "So there you are," said Ostap.
     "So there  you  are,"  said the  record-keeper.  "It's  difficult,  but
     "And  it  involves expense,"  suggested  the refrigeration-plant  owner
     "A small sum . . ."
     " 'Is nearer one's heart', as  Maupassant used  to say. The information
will be paid for."
     "All right then, seventy roubles."
     "Why so much? Are oats expensive nowadays?"
     The old man quivered slightly, wriggling his spine.
     "Joke if you will. . ."
     "I accept, dad. Cash on delivery. When shall I come?"
     "Have you the money on you? "
     Ostap eagerly slapped his pocket.
     "Then now, if you like," said Korobeinikov triumphantly.
     He  lit a  candle  and  led Ostap into the  next  room. Besides  a bed,
obviously slept in by the owner of the house himself,  the room  contained a
desk  piled with account books and a wide office cupboard with open shelves.
The printed letters A, B, C down to the rearguard letter Z were glued to the
edges  of the shelves. Bundles of orders  bound with new string  lay  on the
     "Oho!" exclaimed the delighted Ostap. "A full set of records at home."
     "A complete set," said  the record-keeper modestly.  "Just in case, you
know.  The communal services  don't need them and they might be useful to me
in  my  old age. We're living on top of a  volcano,  you  know. Anything can
happen. Then people will rush off to find their furniture, and where will it
be? It will be here. This is where it will be. In the cupboard. And who will
have  preserved  it? Who will  have looked after  it?  Korobeinikov! So  the
gentlemen will say thank you to the old man and help him in his old age. And
I don't need  very much; ten roubles  an order will do me.  Otherwise,  they
might as  well look for the wind in the field. They won't find the furniture
without me."
     Ostap looked at the old man in rapture.
     "A marvellous office,"  he  said.  "Complete  mechanization.  You're an
absolute hero of labour!"
     The  flattered  record-keeper  began  explaining  the  details  of  his
pastime. He opened the thick registers.
     "It's all  here," he said, "the whole of Stargorod. All  the furniture.
Who it was taken from and  who it was given to. And  here's the alphabetical
index-the  mirror  of  life!  Whose furniture  do  you want  to  know about?
Angelov,  first-guild merchant? Certainly.  Look  under  A.  A, Ak, Am,  Am,
Angelov. The number? Here it is-82742. Now give me the stock book. Page 142.
Where's Angelov?  Here  he is.  Taken  from Angelov  on  December  18, 1918:
Baecker grand piano, one,  no. 97012; piano stools, one, soft; bureaux, two;
wardrobes,  four (two mahogany); bookcases, one . . . and so on. And who was
it all given to?  Let's look at the  distribution register. The same number.
Issued to. The bookcase  to the town military  committee, three wardrobes to
the  Skylark boarding school, another wardrobe  for the personal use  of the
Stargorod province food  office. And where did  the piano go? The piano went
to the old-age pensioners' home, and it's there to this day."
     "I  don't  think I  saw  a  piano  there," thought  Ostap,  remembering
Alchen's shy little face.
     "Or  for instance, Murin, head of the town council. So we look under M.
It's  all here.  The  whole town.  Pianos, settees,  pier  glasses,  chairs,
divans, pouffes, chandeliers . . . even dinner services."
     "Well,"  said Ostap, "they ought to erect a monument to you.  But let's
get to the point. The letter V, for example."
     "The letter V it is," responded Korobeinikov willingly. "In one moment.
Vm, Vn. Vorotsky, no. 48238, Vorobyaninov. Ippolit Matveyevich, your father,
God  rest  his soul, was a man with  a big  heart. . . A  Baecker piano, no.
54809. Chinese vases, marked, four, from Sevres in France; Aubusson carpets,
eight, different  sizes;  a tapestry, "The  Shepherd  Boy'; a tapestry, 'The
Shepherd Girl'; Tekke  carpets, two;  Khorassan carpets,  one; stuffed bears
with dish, one; a bedroom suite  to seat twelve; a dining-room suite to seat
sixteen; a drawing-room suite to seat twelve, walnut, made by Hambs."
     "And who was given it?" asked Ostap impatiently. "We're just coming  to
that.  The  stuffed bear with  dish went  to the  police  station No. 2. The
Shepherd Boy tapestry went to the art treasure collection; the Shepherd Girl
tapestry  to  the  water-transport  club; the  Aubusson, Tekke and Khorassan
carpets  to the Ministry of  Foreign  Trade. The  bedroom suite went  to the
hunters' trade-union; the  dining-room suite to the Stargorod branch of  the
chief tea  administration.  The walnut suite was divided up. The round table
and one chair  went  to the pensioners' home, a curved-back settee was given
to the housing division (it's still  in the  hall, and  the bastards spilled
grease all over the covering); one chair went to Comrade Gritsatsuyev as  an
imperialist war invalid, at his own request, granted by Comrade Burkin, head
of the housing division. Ten chairs went  to Moscow to the furniture museum,
in accordance with  a circular sent round by the Ministry of Education . . .
Chinese vases, marked .. ."
     "Well done!" said Ostap jubilantly. "That's more  like it! Now it would
be nice to see the actual orders."
     "In  a  moment.  We'll  come to the orders in a moment.  Letter  V, No.
     The old man went up to the cupboard  and, standing on tiptoe, took down
the appropriate bundle.
     "Here you  are.  All  your  father's  furniture. Do you  want  all  the
     "What would I do with  all of  them? Just something to  remind me of my
childhood. The drawing-room suite . . . I remember how I used to play on the
Khorassan carpet in the drawing-room, looking at the Shepherd Boy tapestry .
.  .  I  had  a fine time,  a  wonderful childhood. So  let's stick  to  the
drawing-room suite, dad."
     Lovingly the old man began to open up the bundle of green  counterfoils
and searched for the orders in question. He took  out five  of them. One was
for ten chairs, two for one chair each, one for the round table, and one for
     "lust  see. They're all  in order. You know where each item is. All the
counterfoils  have  the  addresses  on  them  and  also  the  receiver's own
signature.  So no one can back out  if anything happens. Perhaps you'd  like
Madame Popov's furniture? It's very good and also made by Hambs."
     But Ostap was motivated solely  by love for his parents; he grabbed the
orders, stuffed them in the depths of his pocket  and declined the furniture
belonging to General Popov's wife.
     "May  I make  out a  receipt?"  inquired  the  record-keeper,  adroitly
arching himself.
     "You may," said Ostap amiably. "Make it out, champion of an idea!"
     "I will then."
     "Do that!"
     They  went back into the first room. Korobeinikov made out a receipt in
neat  handwriting  and  handed  it  smilingly  to  his  visitor.  The  chief
concessionaire took the piece of paper with two fingers of his right hand in
a  singularly courteous manner and put it in the same pocket as the precious
     "Well, so  long for now," he said, squinting. "I think I've given you a
lot of trouble. I won't burden you any more with my presence. Good-bye, king
of the office!"
     The dumb-founded record-keeper limply took the offered hand.
     "Good-bye!" repeated Ostap.
     He moved towards the door.
     Korobeinikov was at a loss to  understand. He even looked on  the table
to see if the visitor had left any money there. Then he asked very quietly:
     "What about the money?"
     "What  money?"  said  Ostap,  opening the door.  "Did  I hear  you  say
something about money? "
     "Of course! For the furniture; for the orders!"
     "Honestly, chum,"  crooned  Ostap, "I swear by  my late father,  I'd be
glad to, but I haven't any; I forgot to draw any from my current account."
     The old man  began to tremble and put out a puny  hand to restrain  his
nocturnal visitor.
     "Don't be a fool," said  Ostap  menacingly. "I'm  telling  you in plain
Russian-tomorrow means tomorrow. So long! Write to me!"
     The door slammed.  Korobeinikov opened it  and ran into the street, but
Ostap had gone. He was soon on his way past the bridge. A locomotive passing
overhead illuminated him with its lights and covered him with smoke.
     "Things are  moving," cried Ostap to  the driver,  "things  are moving,
gentlemen of the jury!"
     The driver could not hear;  he waved his hand, and  the wheels  of  the
locomotive began pulling  the steel elbows of the cranks with  still greater
force. The locomotive raced away.
     Korobeinikov stood for a few moments in the icy wind and then went back
into his hovel, cursing like a trooper. He stopped in the middle of the room
and  kicked  the table with rage.  The clog-shaped  ash-tray  with  the word
"Triangle"  on  it jumped up and  down,  and the glass  clinked  against the
     Never before had  Bartholomew Korobeinikov been so wretchedly deceived.
He could deceive anyone he liked, but this time he had been fooled with such
brilliant simplicity that all he could  do was stand for  some time, lashing
out at the thick legs of the table.
     In Gusishe, Korobeinikov was known as Bartholomeich. People only turned
to  him  in cases  of  extreme need. He  acted as a  pawnbroker and  charged
cannibalistic  rates of interest. He  had been doing this for  several years
and had never once been caught. But now he had been cheated at his own game,
a business from which he expected great profits and a secure old age.
     "A  fine thing!"  he cried, remembering the  lost orders.  "From now on
money  in advance.  How could I have  bungled it like that? I gave  him  the
walnut suite with my own hands. The Shepherd Boy alone is priceless. Done by
hand. . . ."
     An uncertain hand had been  ringing  the bell marked  "Please Ring" for
some time and Korobeinikov hardly had time to remember that the outside door
was  still open,  when  there was a  heavy  thud, and'  the voice  of  a man
entangled in a maze of cupboards called out:
     "How do I get in?"
     Korobeinikov went into the  hallway, took  hold of  somebody's coat (it
felt like coarse cloth), and pulled Father Theodore into the dining-room.
     "I humbly apologize," said Father Theodore.
     After ten minutes of innuendoes and sly remarks on both  sides, it came
to light that Citizen Korobeinikov definitely had some information regarding
Vorobyaninov's furniture and that Father Theodore  was  not averse to paying
for it.  Furthermore, to the record-keeper's great  amusement,  the  visitor
turned out to be the late marshal's own brother, and passionately desired to
keep something  in memory of him, for example, a  walnut drawing-room suite.
The suite had very happy boyhood associations for Vorobyaninov's brother.
     Korobeinikov  asked a  hundred roubles. The visitor rated his brother's
memory  considerably  lower than that, say  thirty  roubles. They agreed  on
     "I'd  like  the  money  first," said the record-keeper. "It's a rule of
     "Does it matter if I give it to you  in  ten-rouble gold pieces?" asked
Father Theodore, hurriedly, tearing open the lining of his coat.
     "I'll take them at the official rate of exchange.  Today's rate is nine
and a half."
     Vostrikov took five yellow coins from the sausage, added two and a half
in silver, and pushed the pile over to the record-keeper. The latter counted
the coins twice, scooped them  up into one hand and, requesting  his visitor
to wait, went to fetch the orders. Bartholomeich did not need to reflect for
long; he opened the Mirror-of-Life index at the letter P,  quickly found the
right number and took down the bundle of orders belonging to General Popov's
wife. Disembowelling  the  bundle, he selected  the order for twelve  walnut
chairs from  the Hambs  factory,  issued to  Comrade  Bruns,  resident of 34
Vineyard Street. Marvelling at his own artfulness and dexterity, he chuckled
to himself and took the order to the purchaser.
     "Are they all in one place?" asked the purchaser.
     "All  there  together. It's  a  splendid suite. It'll  make  you drool.
Anyway, I don't need to tell you, you know yourself!"
     Father  Theodore  rapturously   gave  the  record-keeper  a   prolonged
handshake  and, colliding innumerable times with the cupboards in  the hall,
fled into the darkness of the night.
     For  quite  a while longer Bartholomeich  chuckled to  himself  at  the
customer he had cheated. He spread the gold coins out in a row on  the table
and sat there for a long time, gazing dreamily at the bright yellow discs.
     "What  is  it about  Vorobyaninov's furniture that  attracts them?"  he
wondered. "They're out of their minds."
     He undressed, said his prayers without much attention, lay down on  the
narrow cot, and fell into a troubled sleep.


     During the night the  cold  was completely consumed. It became  so warm
that the  feet of early  passers-by began  to  ache.  The  sparrows  chirped
various nonsense. Even the hen that emerged from the kitchen into  the hotel
yard felt  a surge of strength and tried to  take off.  The sky was  covered
with small dumpling-like clouds  and the dustbin reeked of violets and soupe
paysanne. The wind lazed under the  eaves. Tomcats lounged  on  the rooftops
and, half closing their eyes, condescendingly watched the yard, across which
the room-cleaner, Alexander, was hurrying with a bundle of dirty washing.
     Things began stirring in the corridors of the Sorbonne. Delegates  were
arriving from other regions for the opening of the tramway. A whole crowd of
them got down from a wagon bearing the name of the Sorbonne Hotel.
     The sun was warming to its  fullest extent. Up flew the corrugated iron
shutters of the shops, and workers in Soviet government offices on their way
to work in padded coats breathed heavily and  unbuttoned themselves, feeling
the heaviness of spring.
     On  Co-operative   Street  an  overloaded  truck   belonging   to   the
grain-mill-and-lift-construction administration  broke a  spring, and Victor
Polesov arrived at the scene to give advice.
     From one of the rooms furnished with down-to-earth luxury (two beds and
a  night table) came a horse-like snorting and neighing. Ippolit Matveyevich
was happily washing himself and blowing his nose. The smooth operator lay in
bed inspecting the damage to his boots.
     "By the way," he said, "kindly settle your debt."
     Ippolit  Matveyevich surfaced  from under his towel and  looked at  his
partner with bulging, pince-nezless eyes.
     "Why are  you  staring  at me like a soldier  at a  louse? What are you
surprised about? The debt? Yes!  You owe me some money. I forgot to tell you
yesterday that I had to  pay,  with your authority, seventy roubles  for the
orders.   Herewith   the   receipt.    Sling   over   thirty-five   roubles.
Concessionaires, I hope, share the expenses on an equal footing?"
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  put  on  his  pince-nez,  read the  receipt  and,
sighing, passed over the money.  But even that could not dampen his spirits.
The riches were  in their hands. The thirty-rouble speck of dust vanished in
the glitter of a. diamond mountain.
     Smiling radiantly, Ippolit Matveyevich went out into  the corridor  and
began  strolling up and down. His plans for a new life built on a foundation
of  precious stones  brought  him  great comfort. "And  the holy father," he
gloated, "has been  taken for a ride. He'll see as much of the chairs as his
     Reaching the  end of  the  corridor,  Vorobyaninov  turned  round.  The
cracked white door of  room no.  13  opened  wide,  and out towards him came
Father Theodore in  a blue tunic  encircled by  a shabby black cord  with  a
fluffy tassel. His kindly face was beaming  with happiness. He had also come
into  the corridor to  stretch  his  legs. The rivals approached one another
several times, looking at each other triumphantly as they passed. At the two
ends of the corridor they both turned simultaneously and approached again. .
. . Ippolit Matveyevich's heart was bursting with  joy.  Father Theodore was
experiencing  a similar feeling. Each was sorry  for his defeated enemy.  By
the  time  they reached the  fifth lap,  Ippolit  Matveyevich could restrain
himself no longer.
     "Good morning, Father," he said with inexpressible sweetness.
     Father Theodore mustered all the sarcasm with which God had endowed him
and replied with:
     "Good morning, Ippolit Matveyevich."
     The enemies parted.  When their  paths next crossed,  Vorobyaninov said
     "I hope I didn't hurt you at our last meeting."
     "Not  at all, it was  very  pleasant  to  see you,"  replied the  other
     They moved apart again. Father Theodore's physiognomy began  to disgust
Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "I  don't suppose you're saying Mass any more?" he remarked at the next
     "There's nowhere to say it. The parishioners have all run off in search
of treasure."
     "Their own treasure, mark you. Their own!"
     "I don't know whose it is, but only that they're looking for it."
     Ippolit Matveyevich wanted to say something nasty  and even  opened his
mouth to do so, but was unable  to think of anything and angrily returned to
his room.  At that  moment,  the  son  of a  Turkish citizen, Ostap  Bender,
emerged from the  room in a light-blue waistcoat,  and, treading on  his own
laces,  went  towards  Vostrikov.  The  roses  on Father  Theodore's  cheeks
withered and turned to ash.
     "Do you  buy rags  and bones?"  he asked menacingly. "Chairs, entrails,
tins of boot polish?"
     "What do you want?" whispered Father Theodore.
     "I want to sell you an old pair of trousers."
     The priest stiffened and moved away.
     "Why are you silent, like an archbishop at a party?"
     Father Theodore slowly walked towards his room.
     "We buy old stuff and steal new stuff!" called Ostap after him.
     Vostrikov  lowered his head and stopped  by the door.  Ostap  continued
taunting him.
     "What about my  pants, my dear cleric? Will you take them? There's also
the sleeves of a waistcoat, the middle of a doughnut, and the ears of a dead
donkey. The  whole  lot is  going  wholesale-it's  cheaper.  And they're not
hidden in chairs, so you won't need to look for them."
     The door shut behind the cleric.
     Ostap sauntered back satisfied, his laces flopping against the carpet.
     As  soon  as  his  massive figure  was  sufficiently  far  away, Father
Theodore  quickly  poked his  head round  the door  and, with  long  pent-up
indignation, squeaked:
     "Silly old fool!"
     "What's  that?"  cried  Ostap,  promptly turning back but the  door was
already shut and the only sound was the click of the lock.
     Ostap bent down to the keyhole, cupped his hand to  his mouth, and said
     "How much is opium for the people?"
     There was silence behind the door:
     "Dad, you're a nasty old man," said Ostap loudly.
     That very moment the point of Father Theodore's pencil  shot out of the
keyhole  and wiggled  in  the  air  in  an attempt to sting his  enemy.  The
concessionaire jumped back  in time and grasped hold of it. Separated by the
door,  the adversaries  began  a tug-of-war.  Youth was victorious,  and the
pencil,  clinging like  a splinter, slowly crept  out of  the keyhole. Ostap
returned with  the trophy to his  room, where the partners  were  still more
     "And the enemy's in flight, flight, flight," he crooned.
     He  carved a rude word on the edge  of  the pencil with a pocket-knife,
ran into  the corridor, pushed the  pencil through the priest's keyhole, and
hurried back.
     The  friends  got  out  the  green  counterfoils  and  began  a careful
examination of them.
     "This one's for the Shepherd Girl  tapestry," said Ippolit  Matveyevich
dreamily. "I bought it from a St. Petersburg antique dealer."
     "To  hell with the Shepherd Girl," said  Ostap, tearing  the  order  to
     "A round table . . . probably from the suite. . ."
     "Give me the table. To hell with the table!"
     Two orders were left: one  for ten chairs transferred  to the furniture
museum in Moscow, and the other  for the chair given to Comrade Gritsatsuyev
in Plekhanov Street, Stargorod.
     "Have your money ready," said Ostap. "We may have to go to Moscow."
     "But there's a chair here!"
     "One  chance in ten. Pure mathematics. Anyway, citizen Gritsatsuyev may
have lit the stove with it."
     "Don't joke like that!"
     "Don't worry, lieber Vater Konrad Karlovich Michelson, we'll find them.
It's a sacred cause!"
     "We'll be wearing cambric footcloths and eating Margo cream."
     "I have a hunch the jewels are in that very chair."
     "Oh, you have a  hunch,  do you. What other  hunches do you have? None?
All right. Let's work the Marxist way. We'll leave the sky to the birds  and
deal with the  chairs ourselves.  I can't  wait to  meet the imperialist war
invalid, citizen  Gritsatsuyev,  at  15 Plekhanov Street. Don't lag  behind,
Konrad Karlovich. We'll plan as we go."
     As  they passed  Father Theodore's door the  vengeful son of a  Turkish
citizen  gave it a kick. There  was  a  low snarling from the harassed rival
     "Don't let him follow us!" said Ippolit Matveyevich in alarm.
     "After  today's meeting of the  foreign  ministers aboard  the yacht no
rapprochement is possible. He's afraid of me."
     The friends  did  not return till  evening. Ippolit  Matveyevich looked
worried. Ostap was beaming. He was wearing new raspberry-coloured shoes with
round  rubber heel taps,  green-and-black check  socks,  a cream  cap, and a
silk-mixture scarf of a brightly coloured Rumanian shade.
     "It's  there all right," said Vorobyaninov, reflecting on his  visit to
Widow Gritsatsuyev, "but how are we going to get hold of it? By buying it?"
     "Certainly not!"  said Ostap. "Besides  being  a  totally  unproductive
expense,  that  would start rumours. Why  one  chair, and  why that chair in
     "What shall we do?"
     Ostap lovingly inspected the heels of his new shoes.
     "Chic moderne"  he said.  "What shall we do? Don't  worry,  Judge, I'll
take on the operation myself. No chair can withstand these shoes."
     Ippolit Matveyevich brightened up.
     "You know, while you were talking to Mrs. Gritsatsuyev about the flood,
I  sat down on our chair  and I  honestly felt something hard underneath me.
They're there, I'll swear to it. They're there, I know it."
     "Don't get excited, citizen Michelson."
     "We must steal it during the night; honestly, we must steal it!"
     "For a marshal of the nobility  your methods are  too crude. Anyway, do
you know  the technique?  Maybe you  have  a  travelling  kit with a  set of
skeleton  keys.  Get rid of the idea. It's a  scummy  trick  to rob  a  poor
     Ippolit Matveyevich pulled himself together.
     "It's just that we must act quickly," he said imploringly.
     "Only  cats  are  born quickly,"  said Ostap instructively. "I'll marry
     "Madame Gritsatsuyev."
     "So that we can rummage inside the chair quietly and without any fuss."
     "But you'll tie yourself down for life!"
     "The things we do for the concession!"
     "For life!" said Ippolit Matveyevich in a whisper.
     He threw up  his hands in  amazement. His pastor-like face  was bristly
and  his bluish teeth showed they had not been cleaned since the day he left
the town of N.
     "It's a great sacrifice," whispered Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "Life!"  said  Ostap.  "Sacrifice!  What do  you  know  about life  and
sacrifices? Do you think  that just because  you were evicted from your  own
house you've tasted life? And just because  they  requisitioned one  of your
imitation Chinese vases, it's a sacrifice? Life, gentlemen of the jury, is a
complex affair,  but, gentlemen of the jury, a complex  affair  which can be
managed as  simply  as  opening a box. All you have to do is  to know how to
open it. Those who don't-have had it."
     Ostap polished his crimson shoes with the  sleeve of his jacket, played
a flourish with his lips and went off.
     Towards  morning he rolled into  the room, took off his shoes, put them
on the bedside table and, stroking the shiny leather, murmured tenderly:
     "My little friends."
     "Where were you?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich, half asleep.
     "At the widow's," replied Ostap in a dull voice.
     Ippolit Matveyevich raised himself on one elbow.
     "And are you going to marry her? "
     Ostap's eyes sparkled.
     "I'll have to make an honest woman of her now."
     Ippolit Matveyevich gave a croak of embarrassment.
     "A  passionate  woman,"  said  Ostap, "is  a  poet's dream.  Provincial
straightforwardness. Such tropical women have long vanished from the capital
of the country, but they can still be found in outlying areas."
     "When's the wedding?"
     "The day  after  tomorrow. Tomorrow's  impossible.  It's  May Day,  and
everything's shut."
     "But what  about our own business? You're getting married . . .  but we
may have to go to Moscow."
     "What are you worried about? The hearing is continued."
     "And the wife?"
     "Wife? The  little diamond  widow? She's  our  last  concern. A  sudden
summons to the  capital. A short report to be given to the Junior Council of
Ministers. A wet-eyed farewell and  a  roast chicken for the  journey. We'll
travel in comfort. Go to sleep. Tomorrow we have a holiday."


     On the morning of May Day, Victor Polesov, consumed by his usual thirst
for activity, hurried out into  the  street and  headed  for the  centre. At
first he was unable to find any suitable outlet for his talents, since there
were still few people about  and  the reviewing  stands, guarded  by mounted
militiamen,  were empty. By  nine o'clock, however, bands had begun purring,
wheezing,  and  whistling in  various  parts of  the town.  Housewives  came
running out of their gates.
     A column of musicians'-union  officials in soft collars somehow strayed
into the middle of the railway workers' contingent, getting in their way and
upsetting everyone.
     A  lorry disguised as a green plywood locomotive with the serial letter
"S"  kept running into the musicians  from behind, eliciting shouts from the
bowels  of the locomotive in  the direction of the  toilers of  the oboe and
     "Where's your supervisor? You're not supposed to be on Red Army Street!
Can't you see you're causing a traffic jam?"
     At  this  point, to  the  misfortune of the  musicians,  Victor Polesov
     "That's right! You're supposed to turn into the blind alley here.  They
can't even organize a parade! Scandalous!"
     The children were riding in lorries belonging to the Stargorod communal
services   and  the  grain-mill-and-lift-construction  administration.   The
youngest  ones stood at  the sides  of the lorry and the bigger  ones in the
middle. The junior army waved paper flags and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
It was crowded, noisy, and  hot. Every  minute there  were bottlenecks,  and
every  other  minute  they  were  cleared.  To  pass  the  time  during  the
bottlenecks the  crowd tossed old men and activists in  the air. The old men
wailed  in  squeaky voices,  while the  activists sailed  up and  down  with
serious faces in silence. One merry column of  people  mistook Polesov for a
supervisor as he was trying to squeeze  through them and began tossing  him.
Polesov thrashed about like Punchinello.
     Then came an effigy of Neville Chamberlain, being beaten on his top-hat
with  a cardboard hammer by a worker possessing a model anatomical physique.
This was followed by a truck carrying  three members  of the Communist Youth
in  tails  and   white  gloves.  They   kept  looking   at  the  crowd  with
     "Basil!" shouted someone from the pavement,  "you bourgeois ! Give back
those braces!"
     Girls  were   singing.  Alchen  was  marching   along  in  a  group  of
social-security  workers with a  large red  bow on his chest. As he  went he
crooned in a nasal voice:

     From the forests of Siberia
     To the British Sea,
     There's no one superior
     To the Red Army. . . .

     At  a  given  command,  gymnasts  disjointedly  shouted  out  something
unintelligible. Everything walked, rode and marched to  the  new tram  depot
from where  at exactly one  o'clock the first electric tram in Stargorod was
due to move off.
     No one  knew  exactly  when  the construction  of the tramline had been
begun. Some time back in 1920, when  voluntary Saturday work was introduced,
railway workers  and  ropemakers had marched to Gusishe to the accompaniment
of music  and spent the whole day digging  holes. They dug a great number of
large, deep holes.  A comrade in  an engineer's cap  had run about among the
diggers, followed by a foreman carrying coloured  poles. Work had  continued
at the  same spot the next Saturday. Two holes dug in the wrong place had to
be  filled in again.  The comrade  descended on the  foreman and demanded an
explanation. Then fresh holes had been dug that were even bigger and deeper.
Next,  the bricks  were delivered and  the real  builders arrived. They  set
about laying the foundations, but then everything  quieted down. The comrade
in the engineer's cap still  appeared now and then at the deserted  building
site and wandered round and round the brick-lined pit, muttering:
     "Cost accounting!"
     He tapped the foundations  with a stick and then hurried home, covering
his frozen ears with his hands. The engineer's name was Treukhov.
     The idea of the tram depot, the  construction of  which ceased abruptly
at the  foundation stage, was conceived by Treukhov in 1912, but the Tsarist
town council had rejected the project. Two years later Treukhov  stormed the
town council  again, but the  war prevented any headway. Then the Revolution
interfered, and  now the  New  Economic Plan,  cost accounting,  and capital
recovery were the obstacles. The foundations were overgrown with flowers  in
the summer, and in the winter children turned them into a snow-slide.
     Treukhov dreamed  of great  things. He was sick and tired of working in
the town-improvement department of the Stargorod communal services, tired of
mending  the kerbs,  and tired of estimating the  cost of hoardings. But the
great  things  did  not  pan  out. The  tramline  project,  re-submitted for
consideration, became  bogged down at the higher instances of the provincial
administration; it was approved by one and rejected by another, passed on to
the  capital, regardless of  approval or rejection,  became covered in dust,
and no money was forthcoming.
     "It's barbarous!" Treukhov shouted  at his wife. "No money, indeed! But
they have enough money to pay for cab drivers and for carting merchandise to
the station!  The  Stargorod's cab-drivers would rob their own grandmothers!
It's a pillagers' monopoly, of course. Just try  carrying your own stuff  to
the station! A tramline would pay for itself in six years."
     His withered moustache drooped  angrily, and his snub-nosed face worked
convulsively. He took some blueprints out of the desk and showed them to his
wife for  the thousandth time. They  were plans  for a  terminus,  depot and
twelve tramcar routes.
     "To hell with twelve routes! They can wait. But three! Three! Stargorod
will choke without them!"
     Treukhov snorted and went into the kitchen to chop wood. He did all the
household  chores  himself. He  designed and built a cradle for the baby and
also constructed a washing-machine. For a  while he washed the clothes in it
himself, explaining to his wife how to work the machine. At least a fifth of
Treukhov's salary went on subscriptions to foreign  technical literature. To
make ends meet he gave up smoking.
     He  took  his  project to  Gavrilin,  the  new chief of  the  Stargorod
communal  services who had  been  transferred from Samarkand. The new chief,
deeply tanned  by  the  Tunisian sun, listened  to Treukhov  for some  time,
though without particular attention, and finally said:
     "In Samarkand, you know, we don't need trams. Everyone rides donkeys. A
donkey  costs three roubles-dirt cheap-and it  can carry about three hundred
pounds. Just a little donkey; it's amazing!"
     "But  that's  Asia,"  said  Treukhov angrily.  "A  donkey  costs  three
roubles, but you need thirty roubles a year to feed it."
     "And  how many times  do you think you can  travel  on  your  trams for
thirty roubles? Three hundred. And that's not even every day for a year."
     "Then you'd better send for some of your donkeys," shouted Treukhov and
rushed out of the office, slamming  the door. Whenever he  met Treukhov from
that time on, the new chief would ask derisively: "Well, then, shall we send
for donkeys or build a tramway?"
     Gavrilin's face was like a smoothly-peeled turnip. His eyes were filled
with cunning.  About two months later  he sent for the engineer and said  to
him earnestly:
     "I have a  little plan. One thing is  clear,  though; there's no money,
and  a tramline is not like a donkey-it can't  be bought for three  roubles.
We'll  have  to  get  some  funds.  What  practical  solution  is  there?  A
shareholding  company?  What else? A loan  repayable with interest! How long
will it take for a tramline to pay for itself? "
     "Six years from the opening of the first three routes."
     "Well, let's say  ten years  then. Now,  the shareholding company.  Who
will  buy the shares? The food co-operatives and the-central  union of dairy
co-operatives.  Do  the  ropemakers  need  trams? Yes, they do.  We will  be
dispatching  freight cars to the railway station.  So that's the ropemakers.
The Ministry of Transport  may  contribute something,  and also the province
executive committee. That's  definite.  And once we've got things going, the
State Bank and the Commercial Bank will  give  us loans. So that's my little
plan. It is going  to  be discussed at  the executive  committee  meeting on
Friday, and if they agree, the rest is up to you."
     Treukhov stayed up till the early hours, excitedly  washing clothes and
explaining   to  his   wife  the   advantages  of  trams  over   horse-drawn
     The decision taken  on the Friday was favourable. But that was when the
trouble  started. It proved very difficult to form  a shareholding  company.
The  Ministry  of  Transport  kept  changing  its  mind   about  becoming  a
shareholder. The food co-operatives tried their best to avoid taking fifteen
per cent of the shares and only wanted to take ten per cent. The shares were
finally distributed, though not without a few skirmishes. Gavrilin was sent,
for  by  the  province control  commission  and  reprimanded  for using  his
position to exert pressure. But everything  came out all  right, and then it
was only a question of beginning.
     "Well, Comrade Treukhov," said  Gavrilin, "get  cracking! Do you  think
you'll manage? Well and good. It's not like buying a donkey."
     Treukhov immersed himself  in  his work.  The great things which he had
dreamed   of  for  years  had   finally  arrived.  Estimates  were  made,  a
construction programme drawn up, and the materials ordered. But difficulties
arose where they were least expected. It was found that there were no cement
experts in Stargorod, so they had to  be brought in from Leningrad. Gavrilin
tried to force the pace, but the plants could not deliver  the machinery for
eighteen months,  even though it was actually  needed within  a year, at the
latest. A threat to order the  machinery from abroad, however, brought about
the  required  effect.  Then  there were minor  difficulties.  First it  was
impossible to  find shaped iron  of the right size, then unseasoned sleepers
were  received  instead  of  seasoned  ones. The  right  ones  were  finally
delivered,  but  Treukhov, who had gone personally to  the  seasoning plant,
rejected sixty per cent of the sleepers. There were defects in the cast-iron
parts,  and  the timber  was  damp.  Gavrilin made  frequent  visits  to the
building sites in his ancient, wheezing Fiat and had rows with Treukhov.
     While  the terminus  and  depot  were  being  erected, the citizens  of
Stargorod merely made jokes.
     In  the  Stargorod Truth the tram story was reported by the "Prince  of
Denmark",  writer of humorous pieces, known to the whole  town under the pen
name of  "Flywheel".  Not  less than three times  a week, in a long account,
Flywheel  expressed his  irritation at the slowness of the construction. The
newspaper's third column -which used to bound with such sceptical  headlines
as "No sign of  a club", "Around the weak points", "Inspections  are needed,
but what is the point of shine and long tails?" "Good and . . . bad",  "What
we  like and  what  we don't",  "Deal with  the saboteurs of education", and
"It's  time to  put an  end to red tape"-began to present readers  with such
sunny and encouraging headings  at the top  of Flywheel's reports as "How we
are living and how we  are building", "Giant  will soon start work", "Modest
builder", and so on, in that vein.
     Treukhov used to open the newspaper with a shudder and, feeling disgust
for the brotherhood of writers, read such cheerful lines about himself as:
     . . . I'm climbing over the rafters with the wind whistling in my ears.
     Above me is the invisible builder  of our powerful tramway, that  thin,
pug-nosed man in a shabby cap with crossed hammers.
     It  brings  to mind Pushkin's poem: "There  he  stood,  full  of  great
thoughts, on the bank. . . ."
     I approach him. Not a breath of air. The rafters do not stir.
     I ask him:  How  is the work progressing? Engineer Treukhov's ugly face
brightens up. . . .
     He  shakes my hand and says: "Seventy per  cent of the target  has been
reached." [The article ended like this]:
     He shakes my hand  in farewell.  The rafters  creak behind me. Builders
scurry to and fro. Who could  forget the  feverish activity of the  building
site or the homely face of our builder?

     The only thing  that saved Treukhov was that he had no time to read the
papers and usually managed to miss Comrade Flywheel's jottings.
     On one occasion  Treukhov  could not restrain himself,  and  he wrote a
carefully worded and malicious reply.

     "Of course [he wrote], you can  call  a bolt a transmission, but people
who do so know nothing  about building. And  I would like  to  point out  to
Comrade  Flywheel that the only  time rafters creak is when the  building is
about  to fall down. To speak  of  rafters in this way  is much the same  as
claiming that a 'cello can give birth to children.
     "Yours, [etc.]"

     After that the indefatigable prince stopped visiting the building site,
but his reports continued to grace  the  third column, standing  out sharply
against  a background of such  prosaic  headlines as "15,000 Roubles Growing
Rusty", "Housing Hitches",  "Materials Are  Weeping",  and  "Curiosities and
     The construction was nearing its end. Rails were welded by the thermite
method,  and  they  stretched,  without   gaps,  from  the  station  to  the
slaughterhouse, and from the market to the cemetery.
     In the beginning it was intended to time the opening of the tramway for
the Ninth Anniversary of  the October Revolution, but the car-building plant
was  unable  to supply the cars by  the promised  date and made  some excuse
about  "fittings".  The opening had  to be postponed until May Day. By  this
date everything was definitely ready.
     Wandering about,  the concessionaires reached Gusishe at the  same time
as the  processions. The  whole of  Stargorod was there.  The new depot  was
decorated  with  garlands  of  evergreen;  the flags flapped, and  the  wind
rippled the banners. A mounted militiaman galloped after an ice-cream seller
who had somehow got into the circular space cordoned off by railway workers.
A  rickety  platform, as  yet empty, with a  public-address system,  towered
between the two gates of the depot. Delegates began mounting the platform. A
combined band  of communal-service workers and ropemakers was trying out its
lungs. The drum lay on the ground.
     A  Moscow  correspondent  in  a shaggy  cap wandered around inside  the
depot, which  contained ten light-green trams  numbered 701  to  710. He was
looking for  the  chief engineer in order to ask him a  few questions on the
subject of tramlines. Although the correspondent had already prepared in his
mind  the  report  on  the opening,  with  a  summary  of  the speeches,  he
conscientiously continued  his search, his only  complaint being the absence
of a bar. The crowds sang, yelled, and  chewed sunflower seeds while waiting
for the railway to be opened.
     The presidium of the province executive committee mounted the platform.
The  Prince of Denmark  stammered out a  few  phrases to his  fellow writer.
Newsreel cameramen from Moscow were expected any moment.
     "Comrades," said Gavrilin, "I declare the official meeting to celebrate
the opening of the Stargorod tramway open."
     The  brass   trumpets  sprang  into  action,  sighed,  and  played  the
International right through three times.
     "Comrade Gavrilin will now give a report," cried Comrade Gavrilin.
     The Prince of Denmark (Flywheel) and the visitor from Moscow both wrote
in their notebooks, without collusion:
     "The ceremony opened with a report by Comrade Gavrilin, Chairman of the
Stargorod Communal Services. The crowd listened attentively."
     The  two  correspondents were people of completely different types. The
Muscovite was young and  single,  while Flywheel  was burdened  with a large
family and had passed his forties some time ago. One had lived in Moscow all
his life, while the other  had  never been  there. The Muscovite liked beer,
while Flywheel  never  let anything but  vodka pass his  lips.  Despite this
difference  in  character,  age,  habits   and   upbringing,   however,  the
impressions  of  both  the  journalists were  cast  in the  same  hackneyed,
second-hand,  dust-covered  phrases.  Their  pencils  began  scratching  and
another observation was recorded in the notebooks: "On this day of festivity
it is as though the streets of Stargorod have grown wider. . . ."
     Gavrilin  began his speech in a  good  and simple  fashion. "Building a
tramway is not like buying a donkey."
     A loud guffaw was suddenly heard from Ostap Bender in the crowd; he had
appreciated the remark. Heartened by the response, Gavrilin, without knowing
why himself, suddenly switched to the international situation. Several times
he attempted to bring  his speech back on to  the rails, but, to his horror,
found  he  was  unable to.  The  international  words  just  flowed  out  by
themselves, against the speaker's will. After Chamberlain, to whom  Gavrilin
devoted  half  an hour, the  international  arena was  taken by the American
Senator  Borah;  the  crowd  began to  wilt. Both correspondents wrote: "The
speaker  described  the  international situation in vivid language.  .  . ."
Gavrilin,  now  worked up,  made  some nasty  comments  about  the  Rumanian
nobility  and then turned to  Mussolini. It was only towards the end  of his
speech that he was able to suppress his  second international nature and say
in a good, businesslike way:
     "And so, Comrades, I think that the tram about to leave the depot . . .
is  leaving on  whose  account? Yours, of  course, Comrades-and  that of all
workers   who  have  really  worked,  not  from  fear,  Comrades,  but  from
conscience. It  is also  due, Comrades,  to  that honest  Soviet specialist,
Chief Engineer Treukhov. We must thank him as well."
     A search  for  Treukhov  was made, but he  was  not to  be  found.  The
representative  of the dairy co-operatives, who had been itching to have his
say, squeezed  through  to the front  of the platform, waved  his hand,  and
began speaking loudly  of  the international  situation. At the  end  of the
speech, both correspondents promptly jotted down, and they  listened  to the
feeble applause: "Loud applause turning into an ovation." They both wondered
whether "turning  into an ovation" wasn't too strong. The Muscovite made  up
his mind to cross it out. Flywheel sighed and left it.
     The sun rapidly rolled  down an inclined plane.  Slogans resounded from
the platform, and the band  played a flourish. The  sky  became a vivid dark
blue and the meeting went on and on. Both the speakers and the listeners had
felt  for some time  that something was  wrong, that the meeting had gone on
much too long and that the tramway should be started up as soon as possible.
But they had all become so used to talking that they could not stop.
     Treukhov was  finally found. He  was covered with dirt  and took a long
time to wash his face and hands before going on to the platform.
     "Comrade Treukhov, chief engineer, will now say a few words," announced
Gavrilin jubilantly. "Well,  say something-I said all the wrong things,"  he
added in a whisper.
     Treukhov wanted to  say a number  of things. About voluntary Saturdays,
the difficulties of his work, and about everything  that  had  been done and
remained to do. And there was  a  lot to be done: the town ought to do  away
with  the  horrible  market;  there  were  covered  glass  buildings  to  be
constructed; a permanent  bridge  could  be built  instead  of  the  present
temporary one, which was swept away each year by the ice drifts, and finally
there was the plan for a very large meat-refrigeration plant.
     Treukhov opened  his  mouth and,  stuttering, began.  "Comrades  !  The
international position of our  country . . ." And then he went on  to burble
such boring truisms that the crowd, now listening to its sixth international
speech, lost interest.
     It was only when he had finished that Treukhov realized he had not said
a  word  about the tramway.  "It's  a  shame," he said to  himself, "we have
absolutely no idea how to make speeches."
     He remembered  hearing a speech by a French Communist at  a  meeting in
Moscow. The Frenchman was talking about the bourgeois press. "Those acrobats
of the pen, those virtuosos of farce, those jackals of the rotary press," he
exclaimed. The first  part of his speech had been delivered in the key of A,
the second in C, and the final part, the pathetique, had been  in the key of
E. His gestures were moderate and elegant.
     "But  we  only  make a mess of things," decided Treukhov. "It would  be
better if we didn't talk at all."
     It was  completely  dark when the chairman  of  the  province executive
committee  snipped  the  red  tape  sealing  off  the  depot.  Workers   and
representatives of public organizations noisily began taking  their seats in
the  trams.  There  was a  tinkling  of bells and the first tram, driven  by
Treukhov himself, sailed out of the depot to the  accompaniment of deafening
shouts from the crowd and groans from the band. The  illuminated cars seemed
even more dazzling than in the  daytime. They made their way through Gusishe
in  a line;  passing  under the railway bridge, they climbed easily into the
town  and  turned into Greater Pushkin Street. The  band was  in  the second
tramcar; poking their trumpets out  of  the windows they played the Budyonny
     Gavrilin,  in a conductor's  coat and with  a bag across his shoulders,
smiled tenderly as he  jumped from one car  to another, ringing the  bell at
the wrong time and handing out invitations to:

     on May 1 at 9 p.m.
     1. Report by Comrade Mosin.
     2. Award of certificates by the Communal Service Workers' Union.
     3. Informal half: grand concert, family supper and bar.

     On the  platform of the last car stood Victor Polesov, who had  somehow
or other been included among the guests  of honour. He sniffed the motor. To
his extreme surprise, it looked perfectly all right and seemed to be working
normally. The glass in  the  windows was not  rattling,  and, looking at the
panes closely, he saw that they were padded with rubber. He had already made
several comments to the driver and was now considered by the public to be an
expert on trams in the West.
     "The  pneumatic brake isn't  working too well,"  said  Polesov, looking
triumphantly at the passengers. "It's not sucking!"
     "Nobody asked  you," replied  the  driver. "It  will no  doubt suck all
     Having  made a  festive round of  the town,  the  cars returned  to the
depot, where a crowd was  waiting for them. Treukhov  was tossed in  the air
beneath the full glare of electric lights. They also tried tossing Gavrilin,
but since he  weighed almost  216 pounds and did not  soar very high, he was
quickly set  down  again. Comrade Mosin and  various  technicians were  also
tossed. Victor  Polesov was then tossed  for the second time  that day. This
time he did not kick  with his  legs, but soared up and down, gazing sternly
and seriously at  the starry sky. As he soared up for the last time, Polesov
noticed that  the person holding him  by the  foot  and laughing nastily was
none other than the  former  marshal of  the  nobility, Ippolit  Matveyevich
Vorobyaninov. Polesov politely freed himself and went a short distance away,
still keeping the marshal in sight. Observing  that Ippolit  Matveyevich and
the  young  stranger  with  him,  clearly an  ex-officer,  were leaving,  he
cautiously started to follow them.
     As soon as everything was over, and Comrade Gavrilin was sitting in his
lilac Fiat  waiting  for Treukhov to  issue final instructions so  that they
could then drive  together  to  the club,  a  Ford  station-wagon containing
newsreel cameramen drove up to the depot gates.
     A  man wearing  twelve-sided horn-rimmed  spectacles  and  a sleeveless
leather coat  was  the first to spring nimbly  out  of the vehicle.  A  long
pointed beard grew straight  out of his  Adam's apple. A second man  carried
the camera and kept tripping over a long scarf of the kind that Ostap Bender
usually called chic moderne.  Next  came  assistants,  lights and girls. The
whole group tore into the depot with loud shouts.
     "Attention!"  cried the bearded  owner  of the leather coat. "Nick, set
the lights up!"
     Treukhov turned crimson and went over to the late arrivals.
     "Are you the newsreel reporters?" he asked. "Why didn't you come during
the day? "
     "When is the tramway going to be opened? "
     "It has already been opened."
     "Yes, yes, we are a little late. We came across some good nature shots.
There was loads of work. A sunset! But, anyway,  we'll manage. Nick, lights!
Close-up of  a turning  wheel. Close-up  of  the  feet of  the moving crowd.
Lyuda, Milochka, start walking! Nick, action! Off you go! Keep walking, keep
walking  !  That's  it,  thank  you!  Now we'll  take the  builder.  Comrade
Treukhov?  Would   you   mind,  Comrade   Treukhov?   No,   not  like  that.
Three-quarters. Like this, it's  more original!  Against a tram  . . . Nick!
Action! Say something! "
     "I. . . I. . . honestly, I feel so awkward!"
     "Splendid! Good! Say something else!  Now you're talking to  the  first
passenger. Lyuda, come into the picture! That's it.  Breathe  deeper, you're
excited!  .  . . Nick! A close-up  of their legs!  Action! That's it. Thanks
very much. Cut! "
     Gavrilin clambered  out of the  throbbing Fiat and went  to  fetch  his
missing friend. The producer with the hairy Adam's apple came to life.
     "Nick!  Over  here!  A  marvellous character type.  A  worker!  A  tram
passenger.  Breathe  deeper, you're excited! You've  never been  in  a  tram
before. Breathe! "
     Gavrilin wheezed malevolently.
     "Marvellous!  Milochka, come here! Greetings from  the Communist Youth!
Breathe deeper, you're excited! That's it! Swell! Nick, cut!"
     "Aren't you going to film the tramway?" asked Treukhov shyly.
     "You see," lowed the leather producer, "the lighting conditions make it
difficult. We'll have to fill in the shots in Moscow. 'Bye-'bye!"
     The newsreel reporters disappeared quicker than lightning.
     "Well,  let's  go and  relax, pal,"  said  Gavrilin. "What's this?  You
     "I've begun smoking," confessed Treukhov. "I couldn't stop myself."
     At the family gathering, the hungry Treukhov smoked one cigarette after
another,  drank  three  glasses  of  vodka,  and became hopelessly drunk. He
kissed everyone and  they kissed him. He tried to say  something nice to his
wife, but only burst into laughter. Then he shook Gavrilin's hand for a long
time and said:
     "You're a strange one! You should learn to  build railway bridges. It's
a wonderful science, and the  chief thing is that  it's so simple.  A bridge
across the Hudson . . ."
     Half an hour later he was  completely gone and made a Philippic against
the bourgeois press.
     "Those acrobats of the press, those hyenas of the pen!  Those virtuosos
of the rotary printing machine!" he cried.
     His wife took him home in a horse-cab.
     "I want to go by tram," he said to his wife.  "Can't you understand? If
there's  a  tramway system, we should use  it.  Why? First, because it's  an
     Polesov  followed  the concessionaires, spent  some  time mustering his
courage,  and  finally,  waiting until there was  no  one  about, went up to
     "Good evening, Mr. Ippolit Matveyevich!" he said respectfully.
     Vorobyaninov turned pale. "I don't think I know you," he mumbled.
     Ostap   stuck  out   his   right   shoulder  and   went   up   to   the
mechanic-intellectual. "Come on  now, what is  it  that you want  to tell my
     "Don't be alarmed," whispered Polesov, "Elena Stanislavovna sent me."
     "What! Is she here?"
     "Yes, and she wants to see you."
     "Why?" asked Ostap. "And who are you?"
     "I . . . Don't you think anything of the sort, Ippolit Matveyevich. You
don't know me, but I remember you very well."
     "I'd   like   to   visit  Elena   Stanislavovna,"   said   Vorobyaninov
     "She's very anxious to see you."
     "Yes, but how did she find out? "
     "I  saw  you in  the  corridor  of the  communal  services building and
thought to myself for  a long time:  'I know that face.'  Then I remembered.
Don't  worry  about anything, Ippolit Matveyevich. It will all be absolutely
     "Do you know the woman?" asked Ostap in a business-like tone.
     "Mm . . . yes. An old friend."
     "Then we might go  and have  supper with your  old friend. I'm famished
and all the shops are shut."
     "We probably can."
     "Let's go, then. Lead the way, mysterious stranger."
     And  Victor  Mikhailovich,  continually  looking behind  him,  led  the
partners  through   the   back  yards  to  the   fortune-teller's  house  on
Pereleshinsky Street.

     When a woman grows old, many unpleasant things may happen to  her:  her
teeth may  fall out, her hair may  thin out and  turn grey, she  may  become
short-winded, she may unexpectedly  develop fat or  grow extremely thin, but
her  voice  never  changes.  It  remains  just as  it was  when  she  was  a
schoolgirl, a bride, or some young rake's mistress.
     That was why Vorobyaninov trembled when Polesov knocked at the door and
Elena Stanislavovna  answered:  "Who's that?" His mistress's  voice  was the
same as it had been in 1899 just before the opening  of the Paris Fair.  But
as soon as he entered  the  room, squinting from  the glare of the light, he
saw that there was not a trace of her former beauty left.
     "How you've changed," he said involuntarily.
     The old woman threw  herself on to his neck. "Thank you,"  she said. "I
know  what you risk by coming  here  to see  me.  You're the same chivalrous
knight.  I'm not  going-  to  ask you  why you're here  from Paris. I'm  not
curious, you see."
     "But  I haven't come from Paris  at all," said  Ippolit  Matveyevich in
     "My colleague  and  I  have come from  Berlin,"  Ostap  corrected  her,
nudging Ippolit Matveyevich, "but it's  not advisable to  talk about it  too
     "Oh, how pleased I am  to see you," shrilled the  fortune-teller. "Come
in here,  into this room. And I'm sorry, Victor Mikhailovich,  but  couldn't
you come back in half an hour?"
     "Oh!" Ostap remarked. "The first meeting.  Difficult  moments! Allow me
to withdraw as well. May I come with you, dear Victor Mikhailovich?"
     The  mechanic  trembled  with  joy.  They  both  went off  to Polesov's
apartment, where Ostap, sitting  on a piece of  one of  the gates  of No.  5
Pereleshinsky Street, outlined his phantasmagoric ideas for the salvation of
the motherland to the  dumbstruck artisan.  An  hour  later they returned to
find the old couple lost in reminiscence.
     "And do you remember, Elena  Stanislavovna?"  Ippolit  Matveyevich  was
     "And  do you remember,  Ippolit Matveyevich?"  Elena  Stanislavovna was
     "The  psychological moment for supper  seems  to have arrived," thought
Ostap,  and,  interrupting  Ippolit  Matveyevich,  who  was  recalling   the
elections  to  the Tsarist  town council, said: "They  have  a  very strange
custom in Berlin. They eat so late that you can't tell whether it's an early
supper or a late lunch."
     Elena  Stanislavovna  gave  a  start,   took   her  rabbit's  eyes  off
Vorobyaninov, and dragged herself into the kitchen.
     "And now we must act, act, and act," said Ostap, lowering  his voice to
a conspiratorial whisper.  He took Polesov  by the  arm.  "The  old woman is
reliable, isn't she, and won't give us away?"
     Polesov joined his hands as though praying.
     "What's your political credo?"
     "Always!" replied Polesov delightedly.
     "You support Kirillov, I hope?"
     "Yes, indeed." Polesov stood at attention.
     "Russia will not forget you," Ostap rapped out.
     Holding a pastry in his hand, Ippolit Matveyevich listened in dismay to
Ostap, but there was no holding the smooth operator. He was carried away. He
felt inspired and ecstatically  pleased at  this above-average blackmail. He
paced up and down like a leopard.
     This was the state in which Elena Stanislavovna found him as she carted
in the  samovar from the kitchen. Ostap gallantly  ran over to her, took the
samovar without  stopping, and  placed  it on the table. The samovar  gave a
peep and Ostap decided to act.
     "Madame," he said, "we are happy to see in you . . ."
     He did not know whom he was happy to see in Elena Stanislavovna. He had
to  start again. Of all the flowery expressions of  the Tsarist regime, only
one kept coming to mind-"has graciously commanded". This was  out  of place,
so he began in a businesslike way.
     "Strict secrecy. A  state secret." He pointed  to Vorobyaninov. "Who do
you  think this  powerful old man  is? Don't  say  you don't  know. He's the
master-mind,  the father  of Russian  democracy and  a person  close  to the
     Ippolit  Matveyevich drew himself up to his splendid height and goggled
in  confusion. He  had no  idea  of what  was happening,  but  knowing  from
experience that  Ostap Bender never  did anything  without good reason, kept
silent. Polesov was thrilled. He stood with his chin tucked in, like someone
about to begin a parade.
     Elena Stanislavovna sat down in a chair and looked at Ostap in fright.
     "Are there  many of us in the  town?" he asked  outright.  "What's  the
general feeling?"
     "Given the absence .  . ." said Polesov, and began a muddled account of
his troubles. These included that conceited bum, the yard-keeper from no. 5,
the three-eighths-inch dies, the tramway, and so on.
     "Good!" snapped  Ostap. "Elena Stanislavovna!  With your  assistance we
want to contact the best people in the town who have been forced underground
by a cruel fate. Who can we ask to come here?"
     "Who can we ask! Maxim Petrovich and his wife."
     "No women,"  Ostap  corrected  her.  "You  will  be  the only  pleasant
exception. Who else?"
     From the discussion, in which Polesov also took an active part, it came
to light that they could ask Maxim Petrovich Charushnikov,  a former Tsarist
town councillor, who had now in some miraculous  way been raised to the rank
of a Soviet official; Dyadyev, owner of Fastpack; Kislarsky, chairman of the
Odessa  Roll  Bakery  of  the  Moscow Bun Artel; and two young  men who were
nameless but fully reliable.
     "In that  case,  please  ask them  to  come here at once  for  a  small
conference. In the greatest secrecy."
     Polesov  began speaking.  "I'll  fetch  Maxim  Petrovich,  Nikesha, and
Vladya, and you, Elena Stanislavovna,  be so good as to run down to Fastpack
for Kislarsky."
     Polesov  sped  off.  The  fortune-teller  looked  reverently at Ippolit
Matveyevich and also went off.
     "What does this mean?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "It means," retorted Ostap, "that you're behind the times."
     "Because! Excuse a vulgar question, but how much money do you have?"
     "What money?"
     "All kinds-including silver and copper."
     "Thirty-five roubles."
     "And I  suppose  you  intended  to  recover the  entire outlay  on  the
enterprise with that much money? "
     Ippolit Matveyevich was silent.
     "Here's the point, dear boss. I reckon you understand me. You will have
to be the master-mind and person close to the emperor for an hour or so."
     "Because  we need capital.  Tomorrow's my wedding. I'm  not a beggar. I
want to have a good time on that memorable day."
     "What do T have to do?" groaned Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "You  have to keep quiet. Puff  out your  cheeks  now and then to  look
     "But that's. . .fraud!"
     "Who are you  to talk-Count Tolstoy or Darwin?  That comes  well from a
man who was only yesterday preparing to break  into Gritsatsuyev's apartment
at night and steal her furniture.  Don't think too much. Just keep quiet and
don't forget to puff out your cheeks."
     "Why  involve  ourselves in  such  a  dangerous business. We  might  be
     "Don't worry  about that.  I don't  bet on poor  odds. We'll work it so
that none of them understands anything. Let's have some tea."
     While the concessionaires were eating and drinking,  and the parrot was
cracking sunflower seeds, the guests began arriving at the apartment.
     Nikesha and  Vladya came with  Victor Mikhailovich. He was  hesitant to
introduce the young men to the master-mind. They  sat  down in a  corner and
watched the father of Russian democracy eating cold veal. Nikesha and Vladya
were complete and utter  gawks.  Both were  in their late twenties and  were
apparently very pleased at being invited to the meeting.
     Charusknikov, the former  Tsarist  town councillor, was a fat,  elderly
man. He gave Ippolit Matveyevich a prolonged handshake  and  peered into his
     Under  the  supervision  of  Ostap,  the  old-timers  began  exchanging
     As  soon  as the  conversation was moving  smoothly,  Ostap  turned  to
Charushnikov. "Which regiment were you in?"
     Charushnikov  took a deep breath. "I . . . I . . . wasn't, so to speak,
in any, since I was entrusted with the confidence of society and was elected
to office."
     "Are you a member of the upper class?"
     "Yes, I was."
     "I hope you still are. Stand firm! We shall need your help. Has Polesov
told you?  We will  be helped from abroad.  It's only a  question of  public
opinion. The organization is strictly secret. Be careful!"
     Ostap chased Polesov away  from Nikesha and Vladya and  asked them with
genuine severity: "Which regiment were you in? You  will have  to serve your
fatherland.  Are you  members of  the upper class? Very good. The West  will
help us. Stand firm! Contributions-I mean the organization-will  be strictly
secret. Be careful!"
     Ostap was on  form. Things seemed to be going well. Ostap led the owner
of Fastpack into a corner as soon as Elena Stanislavovna had introduced him,
advised  him to  stand firm, inquired  which  regiment he had served in, and
promised  him   assistance   from  abroad   and   complete  secrecy  of  the
organization.  The first  reaction of the owner of Fastpack was a  desire to
run away from the conspiratorial apartment as soon as possible. He felt that
his firm was too solvent to  engage in such a risky business.  But  taking a
look at Ostap's athletic figure, he hesitated and began thinking: "Supposing
. . . Anyway, it all depends on what kind of sauce this thing will be served
     The tea-party conversation livened up. Those initiated religiously kept
the secret and chatted about the town.
     Last to arrive was citizen  Kislarsky, who, being neither a  member  of
the upper class nor a former guardsman, quickly sized up the situation after
a brief talk with Ostap.
     "Stand firm!" said Ostap instructively.
     Kislarsky promised he would.
     "As a representative of private enterprise, you cannot ignore the cries
of the people."
     Kislarsky saddened sympathetically.
     "Do  you  know who  that is  sitting there?"  asked Ostap,  pointing to
Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "Of course," said Kislarsky. "It's Mr. Vorobyaninov."
     "That,"  said  Ostap,  "is  the  master-mind,  the  father  of  Russian
democracy and a person close to the emperor."
     Two years' solitary confinement at best, thought  Kislarsky,  beginning
to tremble. Why did I have to come here?
     "The  secret  Alliance of the  Sword and Ploughshare," whispered  Ostap
     Ten years, flashed through Kislarsky's mind.
     "You can leave, by the way, but I warn you, we have a long reach." I'll
show  you, you son of a bitch, thought  Ostap. You'll not get away from here
for less than a hundred roubles.
     Kislarsky became like marble.  That  day he had had  such a good, quiet
dinner of  chicken gizzards  and soup  with nuts, and  knew nothing  of  the
terrible "Alliance of the Sword and Ploughshare". He stayed. The words "long
reach" made an unfavourable impression on him.
     "Citizens,"  said  Ostap, opening  the meeting, "life dictates  its own
laws,  its  own cruel  laws. I am not going to  talk about  the  aim of  our
gathering-you all know it. Our aim is sacred. From everywhere we hear cries.
From every corner of our huge  country people are calling for help.  We must
extend a helping hand and we will do so. Some of you have work and eat bread
and butter;  others earn on the side  and eat  caviar sandwiches. All of you
sleep in your own beds and wrap yourselves in warm blankets. It  is only the
young  children, the waifs  and  strays,  who  are not  looked  after. These
flowers of  the  street,  or, as the white-collar  proletarians  call  them,
'flowers in asphalt', deserve a better lot. We must help  them, gentlemen of
the jury, and, gentlemen of the jury, we will do so."
     The  smooth  operator's  speech  caused different  reactions  among the
     Polesov  could  not understand  his  young friend,  the guards officer.
"What children?" he wondered. "Why children?"
     Ippolit Matveyevich did not even try to understand. He was utterly sick
and tired with the whole business and sat there in silence, puffing out  his
     Elena Stanislavovna  became  melancholy.  Nikesha  and  Vladya gazed in
devotion at Ostap's sky-blue waistcoat.
     The  owner  of Fastpack was extremely pleased. Nicely put,  he decided.
With that  sauce I might even contribute some  money. If  it's successful, I
get the  credit. If it's not,  I don't know anything about it. I just helped
the children, and that's all.
     Charushnikov  exchanged a significant look with Dyadyev and, giving the
speaker his  due  for  conspiratorial ability, continued rolling  pellets of
bread across the table.
     Kislarsky was in seventh heaven. What a brain,  he thought. He  felt he
had never loved waifs and strays as much as that evening.
     "Comrades," Ostap continued, "immediate help is required.  We must tear
these  children from the clutches  of the street, and we will do so. We will
help  these children. Let us remember that they are  the  flowers of life. I
now invite you to make your contributions and help the children-the children
alone and no one else. Do you understand me? "
     Ostap took a receipt book from his side pocket.
     "Please make your contributions. Ippolit Matveyevich will  vouch for my
     Ippolit Matveyevich puffed out his cheeks  and bowed his head. At this,
even the dopey Nikesha and Vladya, and the fidgety  mechanic, too,  realized
the point of Ostap's allusions.
     "In  order of seniority, gentlemen," said Ostap. "We'll begin with dear
Maxim Petrovich."
     Maxim Petrovich fidgeted and forced himself to give thirty roubles. "In
better times I'd give more," he declared.
     "Better  times will soon  be  coming,"  said  Ostap. "Anyway,  that has
nothing to do with the children who I am at present representing."
     Nikesha and Vladya gave eight roubles. "That's not much, young men."
     The young men reddened. Polesov ran home  and brought back fifty. "Well
done, hussar,"  said  Ostap. "For  a  car-owning  hussar working by  himself
that's enough for the first time. What say the merchants?"
     Dyadyev and Kislarsky haggled for some time and complained about taxes.
     Ostap was unmoved. "I consider such talk  out of  place in the presence
of Ippolit Matveyevich."
     Ippolit  Matveyevich bowed  his  head.  The merchants  contributed  two
hundred roubles each for the benefit of the children.
     "Four hundred and eighty-five roubles in all," announced Ostap. "Hm . .
. twelve roubles short of a round figure."
     Elena Stanislavovna, who  had been trying to stand firm for some  time,
went into  the  bedroom and  brought back the necessary twelve roubles  in a
     The remaining part of the meeting was more subdued  and less festive in
nature. Ostap began to get frisky.  Elena Stanislavovna drooped  completely.
The guests gradually dispersed, respectfully taking leave of the organizers.
     "You  will be  given special notice  of the date  of our next meeting,"
said Ostap  as they left. "It's  strictly  secret. The  cause must  be  kept
secret. It's also in your own interests, by the way."
     At these words,  Kislarsky  felt the urge to give another fifty roubles
and not to come to any more meetings. He only just restrained himself.
     "Right,"  said  Ostap, "let's get moving.  Ippolit Matveyevich,  you, I
hope, will take advantage of Elena Stanislavovna's hospitality and spend the
night here. It will be a  good thing for the conspiracy if we separate for a
time, anyway, as a blind. I'm off."
     Ippolit Matveyevich was winking broadly, but Ostap pretended he had not
noticed and went out into the street. Having gone a block, he remembered the
five hundred honestly earned roubles in his pocket.
     "Cabby! " he cried. "Take me to the Phoenix."
     The cabby leisurely drove Ostap to a closed restaurant.
     "What's this! Shut?"
     "On account of May Day."
     "Damn them! All the money in the world and nowhere to have a good time.
All right, then, take me to Plekhanov Street. Do you know it?"
     "What was the street called before? " asked the cabby.
     "I don't know."
     "How can I get there? I don't know it, either."
     Ostap nevertheless ordered him to drive on and find it.
     For an  hour  and a half they cruised  around the dark  and empty town,
asking watchmen and militiamen the way. One militiaman racked his brains and
at length informed them that Plekhanov Street was none other than the former
Governor Street.
     "Governor  Street!  I've been  taking  people  to  Governor  Street for
twenty-five years."
     "Then drive there!"
     They arrived at Governor Street, but  it turned out to be Karl Marx and
not Plekhanov Street.
     The frustrated Ostap  renewed his search for the  lost  street, but was
not able to find  it. Dawn cast  a pale  light  on  the  face of the moneyed
martyr who had been prevented from disporting himself.
     "Take me to the Sorbonne Hotel!" he  shouted.  "A fine  driver you are!
You don't even know Plekhanov! "
     Widow Gritsatsuyev's palace glittered. At the head of the banquet table
sat the  King  of Clubs-the son  of a Turkish citizen. He  was  elegant  and
drunk. All the guests were talking loudly.
     The  young bride  was no longer young. She was  at  least  thirty-five.
Nature  had  endowed  her  generously.  She  had  everything:  breasts  like
watermelons,  a bulging  nose, brightly coloured cheeks and a powerful neck.
She adored her new husband and was afraid of him. She did not therefore call
him by  his first name, or  by his patronymic, which she had not managed  to
find out, anyway, but by his surname-Comrade Bender.
     Ippolit Matveyevich was sitting on his cherished chair. All through the
wedding  feast he bounced up and down, trying to  feel something hard.  From
time to time he did. Whenever this happened, the people present pleased him,
and he began shouting "Kiss the bride" furiously.
     Ostap kept  making speeches and proposing toasts. They  drank to public
education and the irrigation of  Uzbekistan. Later on the  guests  began  to
depart. Ippolit Matveyevich lingered in the hall and whispered to Bender:
     "Don't waste time, they're there."
     "You're a moneygrubber," replied the drunken Ostap. "Wait for me at the
hotel. Don't go anywhere. I may  come at any  moment. Settle  the hotel bill
and have everything ready. Adieu, Field Marshal! Wish me good night!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich did so and went back to the Sorbonne to worry.
     Ostap turned up at five in the morning carrying the chair. Vorobyaninov
was speechless. Ostap put down the chair in the middle of  the room  and sat
on it.
     "How did you manage it? " Vorobyaninov finally got out.
     "Very simple. Family style. The widow was asleep and dreaming. It was a
pity to wake her. 'Don't wake her at dawn!' Too bad! I had to leave  a note.
'Going to Novokhopersk to make a  report. Won't be back to dinner. Your  own
Bunny.' And I  took the chair from the dining-room.  There aren't  any trams
running at this time of the morning, so I rested on the chair on the way."
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  flung himself towards  the  chair with a burbling
     "Go easy," said Ostap, "we must avoid making a  noise." He took  a pair
of pliers out of his pocket, and work soon  began to hum.  "Did you lock the
door?" he asked.
     Pushing  aside  the impatient Vorobyaninov,  he  neatly  laid  open the
chair, trying not to damage the flowered chintz.
     "This kind  of cloth isn't to be had  any more; it should be preserved.
There's a dearth of consumer goods and nothing can be done about it."
     Ippolit Matveyevich was driven to a state of extreme irritation.
     "There,"  said Ostap  quietly. He raised the covering  and groped among
the  springs with  both  his hands. The  veins  stood out like a  "V" on his
     "Well?" Ippolit  Matveyevich  kept repeating  in  various  keys. "Well?
     "Well  and well," said Ostap irritably. "One chance in eleven . . ." He
thoroughly examined the inside  of the chair and concluded: "And this chance
isn't ours."
     He stood up  straight and  dusted his knees. Ippolit  Matveyevich flung
himself  on the  chair.  The  jewels  were not there.  Vorobyaninov's  hands
dropped, but Ostap was in good spirits as before.
     "Our chances have now increased."
     He began walking up and down the room.
     "It doesn't matter.  The chair cost the widow twice as  much  as it did
     He took out of  his side pocket a gold brooch set with coloured stones,
a hollow bracelet  of  imitation gold,  half-a-dozen  gold teaspoons, and  a
     In  his grief Ippolit Matveyevich  did not  even realize  that  he  had
become an accomplice in common or garden theft.
     "A shabby trick," said Ostap, "but you must  agree I couldn't leave  my
beloved without something to remember her by.  However, we haven't  any time
to  lose. This  is  only the beginning.  The  end will  be in Moscow.  And a
furniture museum is not like a widow-it'll be a bit more difficult."
     The partners  stuffed the pieces of the chair under the bed and, having
counted  their  money  (together  with the contributions  for the children's
benefit, they  had five  hundred  and  thirty-five  roubles),  drove to  the
station to catch the Moscow train.
     They had to drive right across the town.
     On Co-operative  Street they caught sight of  Polesov running along the
pavement like a startled  antelope. He was being pursued by  the yard-keeper
from  No. 5  Pereleshinsky  Street.  Turning the corner, the concessionaires
just had time  to  see the yard-keeper  catch him up  and begin bashing him.
Polesov was shouting "Help!" and "Bum!"
     Until the train departed they sat  in  the gentlemen's to avoid meeting
the beloved.
     The train whisked the friends towards the  noisy  capital. They pressed
against the window. The cars were speeding over Gusishe.
     Suddenly Ostap let out a  roar and seized Vorobyaninov by  the  biceps.
"Look, look!" he cried. "Quick! It's Alchen, that son of a bitch!"
     Ippolit  Matveyevich looked downward. At the bottom of the embankment a
tough-looking young  man  with  a moustache was pulling a wheelbarrow loaded
with a light-brown harmonium and five window frames. A shamefaced citizen in
a mouse-grey shirt was pushing the barrow from behind.
     The sun forced its way through the dark clouds, and on the churches the
crosses glittered.
     "Pashka! Going to market?"
     Pasha  Emilevich raised his head but only saw  the  buffers of the last
coach; he began working even harder with his legs.
     "Did you see that?" asked  Ostap delightedly. "Terrific! That's the way
to work! "
     Ostap slapped the mournful Vorobyaninov on the back.
     "Don't worry,  dad! Never  say die! The hearing  is continued. Tomorrow
evening we'll be in Moscow."

     Statistics know everything.
     It has been calculated with precision how much  ploughland there is  in
the USSR, with subdivision into black earth, loam and loess. All citizens of
both sexes have been recorded in those neat, thick registers-so  familiar to
Ippolit  Matveyevich Vorobyaninov-the registry office ledgers.  It  is known
how much of a  certain food is consumed yearly by the average citizen in the
Republic.  It  is known  how  much vodka is imbibed as  an  average  by this
average citizen, with a rough indication of the titbits consumed with it. It
is known how many hunters, ballerinas, revolving lathes, dogs of all breeds,
bicycles, monuments, girls, lighthouses and sewing machines there are in the
     How much life, full of fervour, emotion  and thought, there is in those
statistical tables!
     Who  is  this rosy-cheeked individual  sitting at a table with a napkin
tucked into his  collar and  putting away the  steaming  victuals with  such
relish? He  is surrounded with herds  of miniature bulls. Fattened pigs have
congregated  in one  corner  of the statistical  table. Countless numbers of
sturgeon,  burbot and chekhon  fish splash about  in  a special  statistical
pool. There are hens sitting on  the individual's head, hands and shoulders.
Tame geese, ducks  and turkeys  fly  through cirrus clouds. Two  rabbits are
hiding  under the table.  Pyramids  and  Towers  of Babel made of bread rise
above the horizon. A small fortress of  jam is washed by a river of  milk. A
pickle the  size of  the  leaning  tower of  Pisa  appears on  the  horizon.
Platoons of wines, spirits and  liqueurs  march behind  ramparts of salt and
pepper. Tottering along in  the rear in  a  miserable  bunch  come  the soft
drinks: the non-combatant soda waters, lemonades and wire-encased syphons.
     Who is  this rosy-cheeked individual-a  gourmand and  a  tosspot-with a
sweet  tooth? Gargantua,  King  of the Dipsodes?  Silaf Voss? The  legendary
soldier, Jacob Redshirt? Lucullus?
     It is not  Lucullus. It is Ivan  Ivanovich Sidorov or Sidor  Sidorovich
Ivanov-an average citizen who  consumes  all the victuals  described in  the
statistical table as an average throughout his life. He is a normal consumer
of calories and  vitamins, a quiet forty-year-old  bachelor, who works in  a
haberdashery and knitwear shop.
     You  can never hide  from  statistics. They  have exact information not
only  on the number of dentists, sausage  shops, syringes, caretakers,  film
directors, prostitutes, thatched roofs, widows, cab-drivers and bells;  they
even know how many statisticians there are in the country.
     But there is one thing that they do not know.
     They do not know how many chairs there are in the USSR.
     There are many chairs.
     The  census calculated  the  population of  the  Union Republics  at  a
hundred  and forty-three  million people.  If we leave  aside ninety million
peasants  who prefer benches, boards and  earthen seats, and  in the east of
the country, shabby carpets and rugs, we still have fifty million people for
whom  chairs are  objects of prime  necessity in their everyday lives. If we
take  into account possible  errors in calculation and  the habit of certain
citizens  in the Soviet Union of sitting  on the fence,  and then halve  the
figure just in case, we find that there cannot be less than twenty-six and a
half million  chairs in the country. To  make the figure truer we  will take
off another six and  a  half million. The twenty million left is the minimum
possible number.
     Amid this sea of chairs made of  walnut,  oak,  ash, rosewood, mahogany
and Karelian  birch,  amid  chairs made  of fir and pine-wood, the heroes of
this novel are to find  one Hambs walnut chair with curved  legs, containing
Madame Petukhov's treasure inside its chintz-upholstered belly.
     The  concessionaires lay on the upper berths  still asleep as the train
cautiously  crossed the Oka river and, increasing  its speed, began  nearing

     Leaning against one another, Ippolit Matveyevich and Ostap stood at the
open window  of the unupholstered railway  carriage and  gazed at  the  cows
slowly descending the  embankment, the pine needles and the  plank platforms
of the country stations.
     The traveller's  stories had  all  been  told.  Tuesday's copy  of the,
Stargorod Truth had been read right through,  including  the advertisements,
and  was now covered in  grease spots. The chickens, eggs and olives had all
been consumed.
     All that remained was the most  wearisome  lap of the journey -the last
hour before Moscow.
     Merry  little country houses  came  bounding up to the  embankment from
areas of sparse woodland and clumps of  trees.  Some  of  them  were  wooden
palaces with verandahs of shining glass  and newly  painted iron roofs. Some
were  simple  log  cabins  with  tiny square  windows,  real  box-traps  for
     While the passengers scanned the  horizon  with the air of  experts and
told each other  about the  history of Moscow, muddling up what they vaguely
remembered about  the battle  of  Kalka, Ippolit Matveyevich  was trying  to
picture the furniture museum. He imagined a tremendously long corridor lined
with chairs. He saw himself walking rapidly along between them.
     "We still don't know what the museum will be like . . . how things will
turn out," he was saying nervously.
     "It's time you had some shock treatment, Marshal. Stop having premature
hysterics! If you can't help suffering, at least suffer in silence."
     The train bounced over the switches and the signals opened their mouths
as they watched it. The railway  tracks multiplied constantly and proclaimed
the approach of a huge junction. Grass  disappeared from  the sides and  was
replaced  by cinder;  goods trains whistled and  signalmen  hooted. The  din
suddenly  increased as  the train dived in between two lines of  empty goods
trucks and, clicking like a turnstile, began counting them off.
     The tracks kept dividing.
     The train  leapt out  of  the  corridor of trucks and the sun came out.
Down  below, by the very ground, point signals like  hatchets  moved rapidly
backward  and forward. There  came  a shriek  from  a turntable where  depot
workers were herding a locomotive into its stall.
     The  train's  joints  creaked  as the  brakes  were  suddenly  applied.
Everything squealed and set Ippolit Matveyevich's teeth  on edge.  The train
came to a halt by an asphalt platform.
     It was Moscow. It was Ryazan  Station, the freshest  and newest  of all
the Moscow termini.
     None of  the eight other Moscow stations had  such vast, high-ceilinged
halls  as   the   Ryazan.  The  entire  Yaroslavl  station   with   all  its
pseudo-Russian heraldic  ornamentation  could easily have  fitted  into  the
large buffet-restaurant of the Ryazan.
     The concessionaires  pushed their  way through to  the  exit and  found
themselves on Kalanchev Square. On their right towered the heraldic birds of
Yaroslavl Station. Directly in front of them was October Station, painted in
two colours dully reflecting the light. The clock showed  five past ten. The
clock  on top of the Yaroslavl said exactly ten o'clock.  Looking  up at the
Ryazan Station clock, with its zodiac dial, the travellers noted that it was
five to ten.
     "Very convenient for dates," said Ostap. "You  always have ten minutes'
     The coachman made a kissing  sound with his lips  and they passed under
the bridge. A majestic panorama of the capital unfolded before them.
     "Where are we going, by the way?" Ippolit Matveyevich asked.
     "To visit nice  people," Ostap replied. "There  are masses  of them  in
Moscow and they're all my friends."
     "And we're staying with them?"
     "It's  a hostel.  If we  can't  stay  with one, we  can  always  go  to
     On Hunter's Row there was  confusion.  Unlicensed hawkers were  running
about in disorder like geese, with their trays  on their heads. A militiaman
trotted along lazily after them. Some waifs  were sitting beside  an asphalt
vat, breathing in the pleasant smell of boiling tar.
     They came  out  on  Arbat Square, passed  along Prechistenka Boulevard,
and, turning right, stopped in a small street called Sivtsev Vrazhek.
     "What building is that?" Ippolit Matveyevich asked.
     Ostap looked at  the  pink house with a projecting attic  and answered:
"The Brother Berthold Schwartz Hostel for chemistry students."
     "Was he really a monk? "
     "No, no I'm only joking. It's the Semashko hostel."
     As befits  the normal run of student hostels in  Moscow,  this building
had long  been  lived  in by  people  whose connections  with chemistry were
somewhat remote.  The  students  had  gone  their  ways;  some of  them  had
completed  their  studies and gone off  to take  up  jobs, and some had been
expelled for failing their exams. It was the latter group  which, growing in
number  from   year  to  year,  had  formed  something   between  a  housing
co-operative  and a feudal settlement in the little pink house. In vain  had
ranks of freshmen sought to invade the hostel; the  ex-chemists  were highly
resourceful and repulsed all assaults. Finally the  house was  given up as a
bad  job  and  disappeared from  the housing programmes  of the Moscow  real
estate  administration. It was as though it had never existed. It did exist,
however, and there were people living in it.
     The concessionaires went upstairs to the second floor and turned into a
corridor cloaked in complete darkness.
     "Light and airy!" said Ostap.
     Suddenly someone wheezed in the darkness, just by Ippolit Matveyevich's
     "Don't be alarmed,"  Ostap observed. "That wasn't in  the corridor, but
behind the  wall.  Plyboard,  as  you  know  from physics, is  an  excellent
conductor of sound. Careful!  Hold on to me! There should  be a cabinet here
     The cry  uttered  at that moment by  Ippolit  Matveyevich as he hit his
chest against  a  sharp  steel corner showed that there was indeed a cabinet
there somewhere.
     "Did  you  hurt  yourself?"  Ostap inquired.  "That's  nothing.  That's
physical pain. I'd hate to think how much mental suffering has gone on here.
There used to be a skeleton in here belonging to a student called Ivanopulo.
He bought it  at  the market, but was afraid  to keep  it  in  his  room. So
visitors first bumped into the cabinet and then the skeleton fell on top  of
them. Pregnant women were always very annoyed."
     The partners wound their way up a spiral staircase to the  large attic,
which was divided  by plyboard partitions  into long slices  five feet wide.
The rooms  were like pencil boxes,  the  only difference being that  besides
pens and pencils they contained people and primus stoves as well.
     "Are  you  there,  Nicky?" Ostap asked  quietly, stopping at  a central
     The response  was an  immediate stirring  and chattering  in  all  five
pencil boxes.
     "Yes," came the answer from behind the door.
     "That fool's guests have  arrived too early again!" whispered a woman's
voice in the last box on the left.
     "Let a fellow sleep, can't you!" growled box no. 2.
     There was a delighted hissing from the third box.
     "It's the militia to see Nicky about that window he smashed yesterday."
     No one spoke in the fifth pencil box;  instead came the hum of a primus
and the sound of kissing.
     Ostap  pushed open  the door  with his foot. The whole of the  plyboard
erection gave a shake and the concessionaires entered Nicky's cell.
     The scene that  met Ostap's  eye was horrible, despite all its  outward
innocence. The only furniture in the room was a red-striped mattress resting
on four bricks. But it was not that which disturbed Ostap, who had long been
aware  of the state of Nicky's furniture;  nor was he surprised to see Nicky
himself, sitting  on  the  legged  mattress. It  was the  heavenly  creature
sitting beside him who made Ostap's face cloud over immediately. Such  girls
never make good business  associates. Their eyes are too blue and the  lines
of  their necks too clean for  that sort of thing. They  make mistresses or,
what  is  worse,  wives-beloved wives. And,  indeed,  Nicky  addressed  this
creature as Liza and made funny faces at her.
     Ippolit Matveyevich took off  his  beaver cap, and Ostap  led Nicky out
into the corridor, where they conversed in whispers for some time.
     "A splendid morning, madam," said Ippolit Matveyevich.
     The blue-eyed  madam  laughed  and, without  any  apparent  bearing  on
Ippolit Matveyevich's remark, began telling him what fools the people in the
next box were.
     "They light the primus on purpose so  that they won't be heard kissing.
But think how silly that is. We can all hear.  The point is they  don't hear
anything themselves because of the primus. Look, I'll show you."
     And Nicky's wife, who had mastered all the secrets of the primus stove,
said loudly: "The Zveryevs are fools!"
     From behind the  wall came the infernal hissing of the primus stove and
the sound of kisses.
     "You see! They can't hear  anything. The Zveryevs are fools, asses  and
cranks! You see!"
     "Yes," said Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "We don't have a  primus, though. Why? Because we eat at the vegetarian
canteen, although I'm against a vegetarian  diet. But  when Nicky and I were
married, he was longing for us to eat together in the vegetarian canteen, so
that's  why we go there. I'm actually  very fond of meat,  but all  you  get
there is rissoles made of noodles. Only please don't say anything to Nicky."
     At this point Nicky and Ostap returned.
     "Well, then,  since we definitely can't stay with you, we'll go and see
     "That's right,  fellows," cried Nicky, "go and see  Ivanopulo.  He's  a
good sport."
     "Come and visit us," said Nicky's  wife. "My  husband and I will always
be glad to see you."
     "There they go inviting  people again!" said an indignant voice in  the
last pencil box. "As though they didn't have enough visitors!"
     "Mind your own business,  you fools, asses  and  cranks!"  said Nicky's
wife without raising her voice.
     "Do you  hear that, Ivan Andreyevich?"  said an agitated  voice  in the
last box. "They insult your wife and you say nothing."
     Invisible commentators  from the other boxes  added their voices to the
fray and the verbal  cross-fire increased. The partners went  downstairs  to
     The student  was  not at home. Ippolit  Matveyevich lit a match and saw
that  a note was pinned to the door. It read: "Will not be back before nine.
     "That's no  harm," said Ostap.  "I know  where  the key is." He  groped
underneath the cabinet, produced a key, and unlocked the door.
     Ivanopulo's  room was exactly of the same size as Nicky's, but, being a
corner room, had one wall made of brick;  the student was very proud  of it.
Ippolit Matveyevich noted with dismay that he did not even have a mattress.
     "This will do nicely," said Ostap. "Quite a  decent size for Moscow. If
we all three  lie on  the  floor, there  will even be some  room to spare. I
wonder what that son of a bitch, Pantelei, did with the mattress."
     The window looked out on to a narrow street.  A  militiaman was walking
up and  down  outside the  little house opposite, built  in  the style of  a
Gothic tower, which housed the embassy of  a  minor  power. Behind  the iron
gates some people could be seen playing tennis. The white ball flew backward
and forward accompanied by short exclamations.
     "Out!"  said  Ostap. "And  the standard of play  is not good.  However,
let's have a rest."
     The  concessionaires  spread   newspapers  on  the  floor  and  Ippolit
Matveyevich brought out the cushion which he carried with him.
     Ostap dropped down  on  to  the papers and  dozed off. Vorobyaninov was
already asleep.

     "Liza, let's go and have dinner!"
     "I don't feel like it. I had dinner yesterday."
     "I don't get you."
     "I'm not going to eat mock rabbit."
     "Oh, don't be silly!"
     "I can't exist on vegetarian sausages."
     "Today you can have apple pie."
     "I just don't feel like it."
     "Not so loud. Everything can be heard."
     The young couple changed voices to a stage whisper.
     Two minutes later Nicky realized for the  first time in three months of
married life that his beloved liked sausages of  carrots, potatoes, and peas
less than he did.
     "So  you  prefer  dog  meat  to  a  vegetarian  diet,"   cried   Nicky,
disregarding the eavesdropping neighbours in his burst of anger.
     "Not so loud, I say!" shouted Liza. "And then you're nasty  to me! Yes,
I do like meat. At times. What's so bad about that?"
     Nicky said  nothing in  his amazement. This  was an unexpected turn  of
events.  Meat would  make an enormous,  unfillable  hole  in his budget. The
young  husband strolled  up  and  down  beside  the mattress  on  which  the
red-faced  Liza was sitting curled  up into a ball,  and made some desperate
     His job of tracing blueprints at the Technopower  design office brought
Nicky Kalachov no more than forty roubles,  even in the  best months. He did
not  pay any rent  for the apartment for there  was no housing  authority in
that jungle settlement and rent was an abstract concept. Ten roubles went on
Liza's dressmaking lessons. Dinner for the two of them (one first  course of
monastery beet soup and a second course of phoney rabbit or genuine noodles)
consumed  in  two  honestly  halved  portions  in  the  Thou-Shalt-Not-Steal
vegetarian canteen  took  thirteen  roubles  each  month  from  the  married
couple's budget. The rest of their money dwindled away  heavens knows where.
This  disturbed  Nicky most  of all. "Where does the  money go?" he  used to
wonder, drawing a thin line with a  special pen on sky-blue tracing paper. A
change to meat-eating under these  circumstances would  mean  ruin. That was
why Nicky had spoken so heatedly.
     "Just  think  of eating the  bodies of dead animals. Cannibalism in the
guise of culture. All diseases stern from meat."
     "Of  course  they  do,"  said  Liza  with modest  irony,  "angina,  for
     "Yes, they do-including angina. Don't you believe  me? The organism  is
weakened  by  the  continual consumption of meat  and  is  unable to  resist
     "How stupid!"
     "It's not stupid. It's the stupid person who tries to stuff his stomach
full without bothering about the quantity of vitamins."
     Nicky suddenly became quiet. An enormous pork chop had loomed up before
his inner eye, driving  the insipid,  uninteresting baked  noodles, porridge
and potato  nonsense further  and further into the  background. It seemed to
have  just come out of the pan. It was  sizzling, bubbling,  and giving  off
spicy fumes. The bone stuck out like the barrel of a duelling pistol.
     "Try to understand," said Nicky, "a pork chop reduces a man's life by a
     "Let it," said  Liza. "Mock rabbit reduces  it by six months. Yesterday
when  we were eating  that carrot  entree I  felt I was going to die. Only I
didn't want to tell you."
     "Why didn't you want to tell me?"
     "I hadn't the strength. I was afraid of crying."
     "And aren't you afraid now?"
     "Now I don't care." Liza began sobbing.
     "Leo  Tolstoy,"  said  Nicky  in  a  quavering  voice, "didn't eat meat
     "No," retorted  Liza,  hiccupping  through her  tears,  "the count  ate
     "Asparagus isn't meat."
     "But when he was writing War and Peace he did eat meat. He did! He did!
And  when  he was  writing Anna  Karenina  he  stuffed himself  and  stuffed
     "Do shut up!"
     "Stuffed himself! Stuffed himself!"
     "And I suppose while he was writing The Kreutzer Sonata he also stuffed
himself?" asked Nicky venomously.
     "The Kreutzer Sonata is short. Just imagine him trying to write War and
Peace on vegetarian sausages! "
     "Anyway, why do you keep nagging me about your Tolstoy?"
     "Me nag you about Tolstoy! I like that. Me nag you!"
     There was  loud merriment in the pencil boxes. Liza hurriedly pulled  a
blue knitted hat on to her head.
     "Where are you going?"
     "Leave me alone. I have something to do."
     And she fled.
     "Where can she have gone?" Nicky wondered. He listened hard.
     "Women like you have a lot of freedom under the Soviet regime," said  a
voice in the last pencil box on  the left.  "She's gone  to drown  herself,"
decided the third pencil  box. The  fifth pencil box  lit the primus and got
down to the routine kissing. Liza ran from street to street in agitation.
     It  was that Sunday hour  when lucky people  carry mattresses along the
Arbat and from the market.
     Newly-married couples and  Soviet farmers are the principal  purchasers
of spring mattresses. They carry them upright, clasping them with both arms.
Indeed, how can they help clasping those blue, shiny-flowered foundations of
their happiness!
     Citizens!  have  respect for  a blue-flowered  spring mattress.  It's a
family hearth. The be-all and the end-all of furnishings and the essence  of
domestic  comfort;  a base for love-making; the  father of  the primus.  How
sweet it  is to sleep to the democratic hum of  its springs. What marvellous
dreams a man may have when he falls asleep on its blue hessian. How great is
the respect enjoyed by a mattress owner.
     A man without a mattress is pitiful. He does not exist. He does not pay
taxes; he has  no wife; friends will not  lend him money "until  Wednesday";
cab-drivers  shout  rude words after him and girls laugh at him. They do not
like idealists.
     People without mattresses largely write such verse as:

     It's nice to rest in a rocking-chair
     To the quiet tick of a Bouret clock.
     When snow flakes swirling fill the air
     And the daws pass, like dreams, In a flock.

     They compose the verse at high desks in  the post  office, delaying the
efficient mattress owners who come to send telegrams.
     A  mattress  changes  a  man's  life.  There is  a  certain attractive,
unfathomed force hidden in its  covering and springs. People and things come
together  to the alluring ring of its  springs. It  summons  the  income-tax
collector and girls.  They both want to be friends with the1 mattress owner.
The  tax collector  does  so for fiscal reasons and  for  the benefit of the
state, and the girls do so unselfishly, obeying the laws of nature.
     Youth  begins  to  bloom.  Having collected  his  tax  like a bumblebee
gathering spring honey,  the tax  collector flies away  with a joyful hum to
his district hive. And the fast-retking girls are replaced by a wife  and  a
Jewel No. 1 primus.
     A mattress is insatiable.  It demands sacrifices. At night it makes the
sound  of a bouncing  ball. It needs a bookcase. It needs a table with thick
stupid  legs. Creaking its  springs,  it demands drapes, a door curtain, and
pots and pans for the kitchen. It shoves people and says to them:
     "Goon! Buy a washboard and rolling-pin!"
     "I'm ashamed of you, man. You haven't yet got a carpet."
     "Work! I'll soon give  you children. You need  money for nappies and  a
     A mattress remembers and does everything in its own way.
     Not even a poet  can escape the common lot. Here he comes, carrying one
from the market, hugging it to his soft belly with horror.
     "I'll break  down your resistance,  poet," says the mattress.  "You  no
longer need  to run to the post  office to  write poetry. And, anyway, is it
worth  writing? Work and the balance will always  be  in your  favour. Think
about your wife and children!"
     "I haven't  a wife," cries  the  poet, staggering back  from his sprung
     "You will have! But I don't guarantee she will be the loveliest girl on
earth. I don't even know whether she will be kind. Be prepared for anything.
You will have children."
     "I don't like children."
     "You will."
     "You frighten me, citizen mattress."
     "Shut up, you fool.  You  don't know  everything.  You'll  also  obtain
credit from the Moscow woodworking factory."
     "I'll kill you, mattress!"
     "Puppy! If you dare to, the neighbours will denounce you to the housing
     So  every Sunday lucky people cruise around Moscow to the joyful  sound
of mattresses.  But  that is not the only  thing, of  course,  which makes a
Moscow Sunday. Sunday is museum day.
     There is a  special  group of people  in  Moscow who know nothing about
art,  are  not  interested  in  architecture,  and do  not  like  historical
monuments.  These  people visit  museums solely  because they are  housed in
splendid buildings.  These people stroll through  the  dazzling rooms,  look
enviously at the frescoes, touch the things they are requested not to touch,
and mutter continually:
     "My, how they used to live!"
     They are not concerned with the  fact that the murals were  painted  by
the Frenchman Puvis de Chavannes. They are only concerned with how much they
cost the  former  owner of the  house. They go  up  staircases  with  marble
statues  on the landings and try to imagine how many footmen  used to  stand
there,  what wages were  paid to  them, and how much they received in  tips.
There is china on the mantelpiece,  but they disregard  it and decide that a
fireplace  is not such a good thing, as it  uses up a  lot  of wood. In  the
oak-panelled dining-room they do not examine the wonderful carving. They are
troubled by  one thought: what used the  former merchant-owner  to eat there
and how much would it cost at present prices.
     People like this can be found in any museum.  While the conducted tours
are cheerfully moving from one work of art  to  another, this kind of person
stands in the middle of the room and, looking in front of him, sadly moans:
     "My, how they used to live!"
     Liza ran along the street, stifling her tears. Her thoughts spurred her
on. She was thinking about her poor, unhappy life.
     "If  we  just  had a table and two more chairs, it would be  fine.  And
we'll have a primus in the long run. We must get organized."
     She  slowed  down,  suddenly  remembering   her  quarrel   with  Nicky.
Furthermore,  she felt  hungry. Hatred for her husband suddenly welled up in
     "It's simply disgraceful," she said aloud.
     She felt even more hungry.
     "Very well, then, I know what I'll do."
     And Liz blushingly bought a slice of  bread and sausage  from a vendor.
Hungry as she was, it was awkward eating in the street. She  was, after all,
a mattress-owner and understood the subtleties of life. Looking around,  she
turned into the entrance to a large two-storeyed house. Inside, she attacked
the  slice  of  bread  and  sausage  with  great  avidity.  The  sausage was
delicious.  A  large  group  of tourists entered the doorway. They looked at
Liza by the wall as they passed.
     Let them look! decided the infuriated girl.

     Liza wiped her mouth with a handkerchief and brushed the crumbs off her
blouse. She felt happier. She was standing in front of a notice that read:

     To return home would be awkward. She  had  no one she could go and see.
There were twenty kopeks in her pocket. So Liza decided to begin her life of
independence with a visit to the museum. Checking her cash in hand, she went
into the lobby.
     Inside  she immediately bumped into a  man  with a shabby beard who was
staring  at  a  malachite column  with  a grieved expression  and  muttering
through his moustache:
     "People certainly lived well!"
     Liza looked respectfully at the column and went upstairs.
     For  ten minutes or so she  sauntered through small  square rooms  with
ceilings so low that people entering them looked like giants.
     The rooms  were furnished in the  style of  the period of Emperor  Paul
with mahogany  and Karelian birch furniture  that was  austere, magnificent,
and militant. Two square dressers, the doors of which were crisscrossed with
spears, stood  opposite a writing  desk.  The  desk was  vast. Sitting at it
would have been like sitting at  the Theatre Square with the Bolshoi Theatre
with its colonnade and four bronze horses  drawing Apollo to the first night
of "The Red Poppy"  as an inkwell. At least, that is how it  seemed to Liza,
who was being reared on carrots like a rabbit. There were high-backed chairs
in the corners of the room with tops twisted to resemble the horns of a ram.
The sunshine lay on their peach-coloured covers.
     The chairs looked very inviting, but it was forbidden to sit on them.
     Liza made a mental comparison to see how a priceless Empire chair would
look beside her red-striped mattress. The result was not too bad.  She  read
the plate on the wall which gave a  scientific and ideological justification
of the period, and,  regretting that she  and Nicky  did not  have a room in
this  palatial  building,  went  out,  unexpectedly  finding  herself  in  a
     Along the left-hand-side, at floor  level,  was a line  of semicircular
windows. Through them Liza could see below her a huge columned hall with two
rows of large windows. The  hall was  also full of  furniture, and  visitors
strolled about inspecting it. Liza stood still.  Never before had she seen a
room under her feet.
     Marvelling and  thrilling at the sight, she stood for some  time gazing
downward. Suddenly she noticed the friends she had made that day, Bender and
his travelling companion, the distinguished-looking old man with the  shaven
head; they were moving from the chairs towards the desks.
     "Good," said Liza. "Now I won't be so bored."
     She brightened  up considerably, ran downstairs,  and immediately  lost
her way. She  came  to a  red drawing-room in which there were  about  forty
pieces of furniture. It was walnut furniture with curved  legs. There was no
exit  from the drawing-room, so she had to run back through a circular  room
with windows  at the  top,  apparently  furnished with nothing but  flowered
     She  hurried past Renaissance  brocade chairs,  Dutch dressers, a large
Gothic bed with a canopy resting on four twisted columns. In a bed like that
a person would have looked no larger than a nut.
     At length Liza heard the  drone of a batch of tourists as they listened
inattentively to  the guide unmasking the imperialistic designs of Catherine
II in connection with the deceased empress's love of Louis Quinze furniture.
     This  was in fact the large  columned  hall with the two  rows of large
windows. Liza made  towards  the far  end, where  her  acquaintance, Comrade
Bender, was talking heatedly to his shaven-headed companion.
     As she approached, she could hear a sonorous voice saying:
     "The furniture is chic moderne, but not apparently what we want."
     "No,  but there  are  other rooms as well. We  must examine  everything
     "Hello!" said Liza.
     They both turned around and immediately frowned.
     "Hello, Comrade Bender. I'm glad I've found you. It's boring by myself.
Let's look at everything together."
     The  concessionaires exchanged  glances. Ippolit Matveyevich  assumed a
dignified air, although  the  idea  that  Liza  might delay  their important
search for the chair with the jewels was not a pleasant one.
     "We are typical provincials," said Bender impatiently. "But how did you
get here, Miss Moscow?"
     "Quite by accident. I had a row with Nicky."
     "Really?" Ippolit Matveyevich observed.
     "Well, let's leave this room," said Ostap.
     "But I haven't looked at it yet. It's so nice."
     "That's done  it!" Ostap  whispered  to Vorobyaninov.  And,  turning to
Liza, he  added:  "There's  absolutely  nothing to  see here.  The style  is
decadent. The Kerensky period."
     "I'm  told  there's  some  Hambs  furniture  somewhere  here,"  Ippolit
Matveyevich declared. "Maybe we should see that."
     Liza  agreed  and,  taking  Vorobyaninov's   arm  (she  thought  him  a
remarkably  nice  representative of science), went towards the exit. Despite
the  seriousness of the  situation, at this decisive  moment in the treasure
hunt, Bender  laughed good-humouredly as he walked behind the couple. He was
amused at the chief of the Comanche in the role of a cavalier.
     Liza was a  great hindrance to  the concessionaires. Whereas they could
determine at a glance whether or  not the room contained  the furniture they
were after,  and if  not, automatically make for the next,  Liza  browsed at
length in  each section. She read all the printed tags, made cutting remarks
about the  other visitors, and dallied at  each exhibit. Completely  without
realizing it, she was mentally adapting all the furniture she saw to her own
room and  requirements. She did not like the Gothic bed  at all. It  was too
big. Even if Nicky in some miraculous way acquired a room six yards  square,
the mediaeval couch would still not fit into it. Liza walked round and round
the bed, measuring  its true area  in paces. She was very happy. She did not
notice the sour faces of her companions, whose chivalrous  natures prevented
them from heading for the Hambs room at full pelt.
     "Let's be patient," Ostap whispered. "The furniture won't run away. And
don't squeeze the girl, Marshal, I'm jealous!" Vorobyaninov laughed smugly.
     The rooms went on  and on. There was no  end to them. The furniture  of
the Alexander  period  was  displayed in batches. Its relatively  small size
delighted Liza.
     "Look,  look!"  she cried, seizing Ippolit  Matveyevich by  the sleeve.
"You see that bureau? That would suit our room wonderfully, wouldn't it?"
     "Charming furniture," said Ostap testily. "But decadent." "I've been in
here already," said Liza as she entered the red drawing-room. "I don't think
it's worth stopping here."
     To   her  astonishment,   the   indifferent  companions  were  standing
stock-still by the door like sentries.
     "Why have you stopped? Let's go on. I'm tired."
     "Wait," said Ippolit Matveyevich, freeing his arm. "One moment."
     The large room was  crammed  with furniture. Hambs chairs were arranged
along the  wall and  around  a  table.  The  couch in  the  corner  was also
encircled by chairs. Their curved legs and comfortable backs were excitingly
familiar  to  Ippolit  Matveyevich.   Ostap  looked  at  him  questioningly.
Vorobyaninov was flushed.
     "You're tired, young lady," he said to Liza. "Sit down here a moment to
rest  while  he and I  walk around a bit.  This seems to  be an  interesting
     They sat Liza down. Then the concessionaires went over to the window.
     "Are they the ones?" Ostap asked.
     "It looks like it. I must have a closer look."
     "Are they all here?"
     "I'll  just count them. Wait a moment." Vorobyaninov began shifting his
eyes from one  chair to another. "Just a second," he said at length. "Twenty
chairs! That can't be right. There are only supposed to be twelve."
     "Take a good look. They may not be the right ones."
     They began walking among the chairs.
     "Well?" Ostap asked impatiently.
     "The back doesn't seem to be the same as in mine."
     "So they aren't the ones?"
     "No, they're not."
     "What a waste of time it was taking up with you!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich was completely crushed.
     "All right,"  said  Ostap, "the hearing is continued.  A chair isn't  a
needle in a haystack. We'll find it.  Give me  the orders.  We will  have to
establish unpleasant contact with the museum  curators. Sit  down beside the
girl and wait. I'll be back soon."
     "Why are you so depressed?" asked Liza, "Are you tired?"
     Ippolit Matveyevich tried not to answer.
     "Does your head ache?"
     "Yes, slightly. I have worries,  you know. Lack  of a woman's affection
has an effect on one's tenor of life."
     Liza  was at first  surprised, and  then,  looking at  her  bald-headed
companion,  felt  truly sorry for  him.  Vorobyaninov's  eyes  were full  of
suffering. His pince-nez could not hide the sharply outlined bags underneath
them. The rapid change from the quiet life of a clerk in a district registry
office  to  the uncomfortable,  irksome  existence  of a  diamond hunter and
adventurer had left its mark. Ippolit Matveyevich had become extremely  thin
and  his  liver  had started  paining  him.  Under the strict supervision of
Bender he was losing his  own personality  and rapidly being absorbed by the
powerful intellect of the son  of a Turkish citizen. Now  that he  was  left
alone for a minute with the charming Liza, he felt an urge to tell her about
his trials and tribulations, but did not dare to do so.
     "Yes," he said, gazing tenderly at  his companion, "that's  how  it is.
How are you, Elizabeth. . ."
     "Petrovna. And what's your name?"
     They exchanged names  and  patronymics. "A tale of  true love," thought
Ippolit Matveyevich, peering into Liza's simple face. So passionately and so
irresistibly  did  the   old  marshal  want  a  woman's  affection  that  he
immediately  seized  Liza's  tiny hand  in his own  wrinkled hands and began
talking  enthusiastically of Paris. He wanted to be  rich,  extravagant  and
irresistible. He wanted to captivate a beauty  from  the all-women orchestra
and drink champagne with her in a private dining-room to the sound of music.
What  was the  use of talking  to a girl who knew absolutely  nothing  about
women's orchestras or  wine,  and  who  by  nature would not appreciate  the
delights of  that  kind of  life?  But  he  so much wanted to be attractive!
Ippolit Matveyevich enchanted Liza  with his  account of Paris.  "Are  you a
scientist?" asked Liza.
     "Yes, to a certain extent,", replied  Ippolit Matveyevich, feeling that
since first meeting Bender  he had  regained some of the  nerve  that he had
lost in recent years.
     "And how old are you, if it's not an indiscreet question?"
     "That  has  nothing  to do  with  the  science  which  I am at  present
     Liza  was  squashed  by the prompt and apt reply. "But,  anyway-thirty,
forty, fifty?"
     "Almost. Thirty-seven."
     "Oh! You look much younger."
     Ippolit Matveyevich felt happy.  "When will you give me the pleasure of
seeing you again? " he asked through his nose.
     Liza  was  very  ashamed.  She  wriggled about  on  her seat  and  felt
miserable. "Where has Comrade Bender got to?" she asked in a thin voice.
     "So when,  then?" asked Vorobyaninov impatiently. "When and where shall
we meet?"
     "Well, I don't know. Whenever you like."
     "Is today all right?"
     "Well, all right. Today, if you like. Come and see us."
     "No, let's meet outside.  The weather's so wonderful at present. Do you
know the poem 'It's mischievous May, it's magical May, who is waving his fan
of freshness'?"
     "Is that Zharov?"
     "Mmm . . . I think so. Today, then? And where?"
     "How strange you are. Anywhere you like. By the cabinet if you want. Do
you know it? As soon as it's dark."
     Hardly had Ippolit Matveyevich time to kiss  Liza's hand, which he  did
solemnly  and  in  three  instalments,  when Ostap  returned.  He  was  very
     "I'm sorry, mademoiselle," he said quickly, "but my friend and I cannot
see you home.  A small  but important  matter  has  arisen. We  have  to  go
somewhere urgently."
     Ippolit Matveyevich caught his breath.  "Good-bye, Elizabeth Petrovna,"
he said hastily. "I'm very, very sorry, but we're in a terrible hurry."
     The  partners  ran  off, leaving  the astonished  Liza in  the room  so
abundantly furnished with Hambs chairs.
     "If it weren't for me," said Ostap as they went downstairs, "not a damn
thing would get done. Take your hat off to me!  Go on! Don't be afraid! Your
head won't  fall off!  Listen! The museum has no use for your furniture. The
right  place  for  it is  not  a  museum, but the  barracks of a  punishment
battalion. Are you satisfied with the situation?"
     "What nerve!"  exclaimed  Vorobyaninov, who had begun to  free  himself
from the other's powerful intellect.
     "Silence!" said Ostap  coldly. "You don't know what's happening.  If we
don't get hold of your furniture, everything's lost. We'll never  see  it. I
have just had a depressing conversation with the curator of  this historical
     "Well, and what did he say,"  cried Ippolit  Matveyevich, "this curator
of yours? "
     "He said all he  needed to. Don't worry. Tell me,' I said to him,  'how
do  you explain the fact that the  furniture requisitioned in  Stargorod and
sent  to your  museum  isn't here?" I asked him  politely,  of course, as  a
comrade.  'Which  furniture?'  he  asks. 'Such things  do  not  occur  in my
museum.' I immediately shoved the orders under his  nose. He began rummaging
in the  files. He  searched for  about half  an hour and finally  came back.
Well,  guess  what  happened  to  the  furniture!"  "Not  lost?  "  squeaked
     "No, just imagine! Just imagine, it remained safe and sound through all
the confusion.  As I told you, it  has no museum  value.  It was dumped in a
storehouse  and  only  yesterday, mind  you,  only  yesterday,  after  seven
years-it had been in the storehouse seven years-it was sent to be auctioned.
The auction is  being  held  by  the  chief  scientific  administration. And
provided  no  one bought it  either  yesterday or this morning,  it's ours."
"Quick!" Ippolit Matveyevich shouted. "Taxi! "Ostap yelled.
     They got in without even arguing about the price. "Take your hat off to
me! Don't  be  afraid, Hofmarshal! Wine,  women and cards  will be provided.
Then we'll settle for the light-blue waistcoat as well."
     As  friskily  as foals, the concessionaires  tripped into  the Petrovka
arcade where the auction rooms were located.
     In  the first auction room they caught sight of what they had long been
chasing. All ten chairs  were lined along the wall.  The  upholstery had not
even become darker, nor had it faded or been in any way  spoiled. The chairs
were as  fresh and  clean  as when  they  had first  been  removed from  the
supervision  of  the zealous Claudia Ivanovna.  "Are  those the ones?" asked
     "My God,  my God," Vorobyaninov kept repeating. "They're the ones.  The
very ones. There's no doubt this time."
     "Let's make certain, just in case," said Ostap, trying to remain calm.
     They went up to an auctioneer.
     "These chairs are from the furniture museum, aren't they? "
     "These? Yes, they are."
     "And they're for sale?"
     "At what price?"
     "No price yet. They're up for auction."
     "Aha! Today?"
     "No. The auction has finished for today. Tomorrow at five."
     "And they're not for sale at the moment? "
     "No. Tomorrow at five."
     They could not leave the chairs at once, just like that.
     "Do you mind if we have a look at them?" Ippolit Matveyevich stammered.
     The concessionaires examined  the chairs at great length, sat on  them,
and, for the sake of appearances, looked at the other lots. Vorobyaninov was
breathing hard and kept nudging Ostap.
     "Take your hat off to me, Marshal!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich was not only prepared to take his hat off to Ostap;
he was even ready to kiss the soles of his crimson boots.
     "Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow," he kept saying.
     He felt an urge to sing.

     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

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

     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
     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
     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,
     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

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

     You're always roaming
     As though with all the life outside
     Your appendix will be satisfied,
     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:

     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
     "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

     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:

     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
     Ostap  looked  in  surprise  at   the  bedraggled  figure  of   Ippolit
Matveyevich for some  time  but  said  nothing.  He  was cold and  ready for

     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
     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
     Ippolit Matveyevich made no reply;  he could not take  his eyes off the
     "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
     "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
     "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
     "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
     "Was it you who bought the chairs?"
     "Yes, us!" Ippolit Matveyevich burst out.  "Us!  Us!  When can  we have
     "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
     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
     "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
     "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
     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!"
     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
     "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
     "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
     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
     "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
     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
     "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
     "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
     "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."
     "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? "

     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.

     There  followed a  busy  time for the  concessionaires. Ostap contended
that the chairs should be struck while the iron was hot. Ippolit Matveyevich
was  granted  an amnesty,  although Ostap, from time to  time, would ask him
such questions as:
     "Why the  hell did I ever take  up with  you?  What do I need  you for,
anyway?  You ought to go home  to your registry office where the corpses and
newborn babes are  waiting for  you. Don't make  the infants suffer. Go back
     But  in  his heart the smooth operator had become very much attached to
the wild marshal. "Life wouldn't be such  fun without  him," he thought. And
he would glance now and then at  Ippolit  Matveyevich, whose  head was  just
beginning to sprout a new crop of silvery hair.
     Ippolit Matveyevich's initiative was allotted a fair share of the  work
schedule. As soon as the placid Ivanopulo had gone out, Bender  would try to
drum into his partner's head the surest way to get the treasure.
     "Act boldly. Don't ask too many questions. Be more cynical- people like
it. Don't  do  anything  through a  third party. People are  smart. No one's
going to hand you the jewels  on  a  plate.  But don't do anything criminal.
We've got to keep on the right side of the law."
     Their  search progressed, however, without  much success.  The criminal
code plus a large number of bourgeois prejudices retained by the citizens of
the capital made things difficult. People just would  not tolerate nocturnal
visits through  their windows,  for  instance. The work could only  be  done
     The  same  day  that  Ostap  visited  Ellochka  Shukin a new  piece  of
furniture appeared in Ivanopulo's  room.  It was the  chair bartered for the
tea-strainer-their  third  trophy of the  expedition. The partners had  long
since passed the stage where the hunt for the jewels aroused strong feelings
in them, where they clawed open the chairs and gnawed the springs.
     "Even  if there's nothing inside,"  Ostap said, "you must realize we've
gained  at  least  ten thousand roubles.  Every  chair opened increases  our
chances. What does it matter if there's nothing  in the little lady's chair?
We don't have to break it to pieces. Let Ivanopulo furnish his room with it.
It will be pleasanter for us too."
     That day  the concessionaires trooped out of the  little pink house and
went off in different directions. Ippolit Matveyevich was entrusted with the
stranger  with  the  bleat  from Sadovaya  Spasskaya  Street;  he  was given
twenty-five roubles to cover expenses, ordered to keep out of beer-halls and
not to come back  without the chair. For  himself the smooth operator  chose
Ellochka's husband.
     Ippolit Matveyevich crossed  the  city in a no. 6 bus. As he bounced up
and down on the leather seat,  almost hitting his head against the  roof, he
wondered how he  would find out the bleating stranger's name, what excuse to
make for visiting him, what his first words should be, and how to get to the
     Alighting at Red Gates, he found the right house from the address Ostap
had written down, and began  walking up and down outside. He could not bring
himself  to go  in. It  was  an  old,  dirty Moscow  hotel, which  had  been
converted into a housing co-operative, and was resided in, to judge from the
shabby frontage, by tenants who persistently avoided their payments.
     For  a  long  time  Ippolit   Matveyevich  remained  by  the  entrance,
continually approaching  and  reading  the  handwritten  notice  threatening
neglectful tenants until he knew it by heart; then, finally, still unable to
think of anything, he went up the stairs to  the  second  floor.  There were
several  doors  along  the  corridor.  Slowly,  as though going  up  to  the
blackboard at school to prove a theorem he had not properly learned, Ippolit
Matveyevich  approached Room 41.  A visiting card  was pinned upside-down to
the door by one drawing-pin.

     Absalom Vladimirovich

     In a complete daze,  Ippolit Matveyevich forgot to knock. He opened the
door, took  three zombie-like steps forward and found himself in  the middle
of the room.
     "Excuse  me,"  he said  in  a  strangled  voice,  "can  I  see  Comrade
     Absalom Vladimirovich did  not  reply. Vorobyaninov raised his head and
saw there was no one in the room.
     It  was not possible to guess the proclivities of the occupant from the
outward appearance of the  room. The only  thing that was clear was  that he
was a bachelor and had no domestic help. On  the window-sill lay a  piece of
paper containing bits of sausage skin. The low  divan by the wall was  piled
with  newspapers.  There  were  a few dusty books on  the  small  bookshelf.
Photographs  of tomcats,  little cats, and female cats looked down  from the
walls. In the middle of the room,  next to a pair  of dirty shoes which  had
toppled  over sideways, was  a walnut chair.  Crimson wax seals dangled from
all the pieces of furniture, including the chair from the Stargorod mansion.
Ippolit Matveyevich  paid no attention to this. He  immediately forgot about
the criminal code and Ostap's admonition, and ran towards the chair.
     At  this  moment  the  papers  on  the  divan  began  to stir.  Ippolit
Matveyevich  started back in fright. The papers  moved a little way and fell
on to the floor; from beneath them emerged a small, placid tomcat. It looked
uninterestedly at  Ippolit Matveyevich and began to wash itself, catching at
its ear, face and whiskers with its paw.
     "Bah!" said Ippolit Matveyevich and dragged the chair towards the door.
The door opened for him and there on the threshold stood the occupant of the
room, the  stranger with the bleat. He  was wearing a coat under which could
be seen a pair of lilac underpants. He was carrying his trousers in Ms hand.
     It could be said  that  there  was  no  one  like Absalom Vladimirovich
Iznurenkov  in the whole Republic.  The Republic valued his services. He was
of great use to it. But, for  all  that, he remained unknown,  though he was
just  as skilled in  his art as Chaliapin was  in singing, Gorky in writing,
Capablanca in chess, Melnikov in ice-skating, and that  very large-nosed and
brown  Assyrian occupying  the best place  on  the  corner of Tverskaya  and
Kamerger streets was in cleaning black boots with brown polish.
     Chaliapin sang. Gorky wrote great  novels. Capablanca prepared for  his
match against Alekhine. Melnikov broke  records. The Assyrian made citizens'
shoes shine like mirrors. Absalom Iznurenkov made jokes.
     He never made them without reason, just for the effect. He made them to
order for humorous journals. On his shoulders he bore the responsibility for
highly  important  campaigns,  and  supplied most  of the  Moscow  satirical
journals with subjects for cartoons and humorous anecdotes.
     Great men make  jokes twice in  their lifetime.  The jokes  boost their
fame  and  go  down  in  history.  Iznurenkov  produced  no less  than sixty
first-rate jokes  a  month,  which everyone  retold with  a  smile,  but  he
nonetheless  remained  in obscurity. Whenever one of Iznurenkov's witticisms
was  used as a caption for  a  cartoon, the  glory went  to  the artist. The
artist's name was  placed  above  the  cartoon. Iznurenkov's  name  did  not
     "It's terrible," he used  to cry.  "It's impossible for  me to sign  my
name. What am I supposed to sign? Two lines?"
     And he  continued with  his virulent campaign  against the  enemies  of
society-dishonest  members of  co-operatives,  embezzlers,  Chamberlain  and
bureaucrats.   He   aimed   his   sting  at   bootlickers,   apartment-block
superintendents,  owners of  private property, hooligans, citizens reluctant
to lower their prices, and industrial  executives who tried to avoid economy
     As soon as the journals came out, the jokes were repeated in the circus
arena,  reprinted  in the evening press without reference to the source, and
offered to audiences  from the variety stage by  "entertainers writing their
own words and music".
     Iznurenkov  managed  to be funny about fields of activity  in which you
would not have thought it was possible to say anything humorous at all. From
the arid desert of  excessive increases in the cost of production Iznurenkov
managed to  extract a  hundred or  so masterpieces of wit. Heine  would have
given up in despair had he been asked to say something funny and at the same
time  socially useful about the unfair tariff rates on  slow-delivery  goods
consignments; Mark  Twain would have  fled  from the subject, but Iznurenkov
remained at his  post.  He  chased  from one editorial  office  to  another,
bumping into ash-tray  stands and  bleating. In ten minutes the  subject had
been worked out, the cartoon devised, and the caption added.
     When he saw a man in his room just about to remove  the  chair with the
seal,  Absalom Iznurenkov waved his trousers, which had just been pressed at
the tailor's, gave a jump, and screeched: "That's ridiculous! I protest! You
have no  right.  There's a law, after all. It's not  intended for fools, but
you  may  have  heard  the furniture  can stay  another  two weeks!  I shall
complain to the Public Prosecutor. After all, I'm going to pay!"
     Ippolit  Matveyevich stood motionless, while  Iznurenkov  threw off his
coat and, without moving away from the door, pulled on the trousers over his
fat, Chichickovian legs. Iznurenkov was portly, but his face was thin.
     Vorobyaninov  had no  doubt in his mind that he was about  to be seized
and  hauled off  to  the  police. He was  therefore very  surprised when the
occupant of the room, having adjusted his dress, suddenly became calmer.
     "You must  understand,"  he  said in a tone of conciliation, "I  cannot
agree to it."
     Had  he been in Iznurenkov's shoes, Ippolit Matveyevich would certainly
not have agreed to his chairs being stolen in broad daylight either.  But he
did not know what to say, so he kept silent.
     "It's not my fault. It's the fault of the musicians' organization. Yes,
I admit I didn't  pay for the  hired piano for eight months. But at least  I
didn't sell it, although  there was plenty of opportunity. I was honest, but
they behaved like crooks. They  took away the piano,  and then went to court
about it and had an  inventory  of my furniture made. There's nothing to put
on  the inventory. All this furniture constitutes work tools. The chair is a
work tool as well."
     Ippolit Matveyevich was beginning to see the light.
     "Put that chair down!" screeched Iznurenkov suddenly. "Do you hear, you
     Ippolit Matveyevich  obediently put down  the chair  and mumbled:  "I'm
sorry, there's been a misunderstanding.  It often happens  in  this kind  of
     At this Iznurenkov  brightened up tremendously.  He began running about
the room singing: "And in the  morning she smiled  again before her window."
He did not know what to  do with his hands. They flew all over the place. He
started  tying his tie,  then  left  off without  finishing.  He took  up  a
newspaper, then threw it on the floor without reading anything.
     "So you aren't going to take away the furniture  today? . . .' Good.  .
.Ah! Ah!"
     Taking advantage of this favourable turn of events, Ippolit Matveyevich
moved towards the door.
     "Wait!"  called Iznurenkov  suddenly.  "Have you ever seen  such a cat?
Tell me, isn't it really extraordinarily fluffy?"
     Ippolit Matveyevich found the cat in his trembling hands.
     "First-rate," babbled  Absalom  Vladimirovich, not knowing what  to  do
with this excess of energy. "Ah! Ah!"
     He rushed to the window, clapped his hands, and began making slight but
frequent bows to two girls who were watching him from a window  of the house
opposite. He stamped his feet and gave sighs of longing.
     "Girls from the suburbs! The finest fruit! .  . . First-rate! . . . Ah!
. . . 'And in the morning she smiled again before her window'."
     "I'm leaving now, Citizen," said Ippolit Matveyevich stupidly.
     "Wait, wait!" Iznurenkov suddenly became excited. "Just one moment! Ah!
Ah! The cat . . . Isn't  it extraordinarily fluffy? Wait. .  .  I'll be with
you in a moment."
     He dug into  all his pockets with embarrassment, ran to the  side, came
back, looked out of the window, ran aside, and again returned.
     "Forgive me,  my dear fellow," he said  to Vorobyaninov, who stood with
folded  arms like a soldier during all these operations. With these words he
handed the marshal a half-rouble piece.
     "No, no, please don't refuse. All labour must be rewarded."
     "Much  obliged,"  said  Ippolit  Matveyevich,  surprised   at  his  own
     "Thank you, dear fellow. Thank you, dear friend."
     As he went down the corridor, Ippolit Matveyevich could  hear bleating,
screeching, and shouts of delight coming from Iznurenkov's room.
     Outside in the street, Vorobyaninov remembered Ostap, and trembled with
     Ernest  Pavlovich  Shukin  was  wandering  about  the  empty  apartment
obligingly loaned  to  him  by a  friend for the  summer,  trying  to decide
whether or not to have a bath.
     The three-room apartment was at the very top of a nine-storey building.
The  only thing  in it  besides  a desk and Vorobyaninov's chair  was a pier
glass.  It reflected the sun and hurt his eyes. The engineer lay down on the
desk and immediately jumped up again. It was red-hot.
     "I'll go and have a wash," he decided.
     He undressed,  felt cooler, inspected himself in the  mirror, and  went
into  the bathroom.  A coolness enveloped  him.  He  climbed into the  bath,
doused himself  with  water from  a  blue enamel  mug,  and  soaped  himself
generously. Covered in lather, he looked like a Christmas-tree decoration.
     "Feels good," said Ernest Pavlovich.
     Everything  was  fine.  It was  cool. His  wife  was not there. He  had
complete freedom ahead of him. The engineer knelt down and turned on the tap
in order to wash  off the  soap. The tap gave a gasp and began  making slow,
undecipherable  noises.  No  water  came  out. Ernest  Pavlovich inserted  a
slippery  little finger into the hole. Out poured a thin stream of water and
then  nothing  more.  Ernest Pavlovich  frowned,  stepped out of  the  bath,
lifting each leg in turn, and went into the kitchen. Nothing was forthcoming
from the tap in there, either.
     Ernest Pavlovich shuffled through the rooms and stopped in front of the
mirror. The  soap  was stinging his eyes,  his back  itched,  and  suds were
dripping on to the floor. Listening to make certain there was still no water
running in the bath, he decided to call the caretaker.
     He can at least bring up some water, thought the  engineer, wiping  his
eyes and slowly getting furious, or else I'm in a mess.
     He looked out of the window. Down below, at  the  bottom of the well of
the building, there were some children playing.
     "Caretaker!" shouted Ernest Pavlovich. "Caretaker!"
     No one answered.
     Then Ernest Pavlovich remembered  that the caretaker lived at the front
of the building  under the  stairway. He  stepped  out  on to the cold tiled
floor  and, keeping  the door  open with one arm, leaned over the  banister.
There  was only one apartment  on that landing, so  Ernest Pavlovich was not
afraid of being seen in his strange suit of soapsuds.
     "Caretaker!" he shouted downstairs.
     The word rang out and reverberated noisily down the stairs.
     "Hoo-hoo!" they echoed.
     "Caretaker! Caretaker!"
     "Hum-hum! Hum-hum!"
     It was at this point that the engineer,  impatiently  shifting from one
bare foot  to the other, suddenly slipped and, to regain his balance, let go
of the door.
     The  brass  bolt of the Yale lock clicked into place and the door  shut
fast.  The wall shook. Not  appreciating the irrevocable nature  of what had
happened, Ernest  Pavlovich pulled  at the door  handle. The  door  did  not
     In dismay  the engineer  pulled  the  handle  again several  times  and
listened,  his heart beating fast. There was a churchlike evening stillness.
A little  light still  filtered  through the multicoloured glass of the high
     A fine  thing to happen, thought  Shukin. "You son of a bitch," he said
to the  door.  Downstairs, voices broke through  the  silence like exploding
squibs. Then came the muffled bark of a dog in one of the rooms. Someone was
pushing a  pram upstairs. Ernest Pavlovich  walked timidly  up and down  the
landing. "Enough to drive you crazy!"
     It all seemed too outrageous to have actually  happened. He went  up to
the door and listened again. Suddenly he heard a different sort of noise. At
first he thought it was someone walking about in the apartment.
     Somebody may have got in through the back door, he thought, although he
knew that the back door was locked and that no one could have got in.
     The  monotonous  sound  continued. The  engineer  held  his  breath and
suddenly realized that the sound was that of running water. It was evidently
pouring  from all the taps  in the apartment. Ernest  Pavlovich almost began
     The situation was awful.  A full-grown man with a  moustache and higher
education  was standing  on a  ninth-floor  landing in the centre of Moscow,
naked except for a covering of bursting soapsuds. There was nowhere he could
go. He would rather have gone to jail than show himself in that state. There
was only one thing to do-hide. The bubbles were bursting and making his back
itch. The  lather on his face had already dried; it made him look  as though
he had the mange and puckered his skin like a hone.
     Half  an hour  passed. The  engineer kept rubbing  himself against  the
whitewashed walls  and groaning, and  made several unsuccessful attempts  to
break in the door. He became dirty and horrible.
     Shukin decided to go downstairs to the caretaker  at any price. There's
no  other way  out. None. The  only thing to do is hide 10  the  caretaker's
     Breathing  heavily and  covering  himself with his  hand as men do when
they enter the water, Ernest Pavlovich  began  creeping  downstairs close to
the banister. He reached the landing between the eighth and ninth floors.
     His body reflected  multicoloured rhombuses  and squares of light  from
the  window. He looked like  Harlequin secretly listening to a  conversation
between Columbine and Pierrot. He had just turned to go down the next flight
when the  lock of an apartment door  below snapped  open and a girl came out
carrying a ballet  dancer's attache  case. Ernest Pavlovich  was back on his
landing before the girl had taken one step. He was practically  deafened  by
the terrible beating of his heart.
     It was half an hour before the engineer  recovered sufficiently to make
another sortie. This time he  was fully  determined to  hurtle  down at full
speed, ignoring  everything, and  make  it  to  the  promised  land  of  the
caretaker's room.
     He started  off. Silently taking four stairs at a  time,  the  engineer
raced downstairs. On the landing of the sixth floor he stopped for a moment.
This was his undoing. Someone was coming up.
     "Insufferable brat!" said a woman's voice, amplified many times  by the
stairway. "How many times do I have to tell him!"
     Obeying instinct rather than  reason, like a cat pursued by dogs Ernest
Pavlovich tore up to the ninth floor again.
     Back on his own land, all covered with wet footmarks, he silently burst
into  tears,  tearing his hair and  swaying convulsively. The hot  tears ran
through the coating of soap and formed two wavy furrows.
     "Oh, my God!" moaned the engineer. "Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord!"
     There was no sign of  life. Then he heard the noise of a truck going up
the  street. So there was life somewhere! Several  times more  he  tried  to
bring himself to go downstairs, but his  nerve gave way each  time. He might
as well have been in a burial vault.
     "Someone's left a  trail behind  him, the pig!" he heard an old woman's
voice say from the landing below.
     The engineer ran to the wall and butted it several times with his head.
The  most sensible thing to do, of course, would  have been to keep shouting
until  someone  came,  and  then  put himself at  their  mercy.  But  Ernest
Pavlovich had  completely lost his  ability to  reason; breathing heavily he
wandered round and round the landing.
     There was no way out.

     In the editorial offices of the large daily newspaper Lathe, located on
the second  floor of the House of the Peoples, material was  hurriedly being
got ready for the typesetters.
     News items and articles were  selected from the reserve (material which
had been set up  but not included in the previous number) and  the number of
lines occupied were counted up; then began the daily haggling for space.
     The newspaper was able to print forty-four  hundred lines in all on its
four pages. This had to include everything: cables, articles, social events,
letters from  correspondents, advertisements, one  satirical sketch in verse
and two in prose,  cartoons,  photographs, as well as special sections, such
as theatre, sports,  chess, the  editorial, second  editorial,  reports from
Soviet Party and trade-union  organizations, serialized novels,  features on
life  in  the  capital, subsidiary  items  under  the title  of  "Snippets",
popular-science articles, radio programmes, and other odds-and-ends. In all,
about ten thousand lines of material from all sections was set up, hence the
distribution of space was usually accompanied by dramatic scenes.
     The first  person to run  to the editor  was the  chess  correspondent,
Maestro Sudeikin.  He posed a polite though bitter question. "What? No chess
     "No  room," replied the editor. "There's a long special  feature. Three
hundred lines."
     "But today's Saturday. Readers are expecting the Sunday section. I have
the  answers to problems.  I have a splendid study by Neunyvako, and  I also
     "All right, how much do you want?"
     "Not less than a hundred and fifty."
     "All right, if it's answers to problems, we'll give you sixty lines."
     The maestro tried for  another thirty so  that at  least  the Neunyvako
could  go in  (the wonderful Tartokover vs. Bogolyubov game  had  been lying
about for a month), but was rebuffed.
     Persidsky, the reporter, arrived.  "Do you want some impressions of the
Plenum?" he asked softly.
     "Of  course," cried  the editor. "It was held the day before yesterday,
after all!"
     "I  have  the  Plenum,"  said  Persidsky  even  more softly,  "and  two
sketches, but they won't give me any room."
     "Why won't they? Who did you talk to? Have they gone crazy?"
     The  editor hurried  off  to  have  an argument.  He  was  followed  by
Persidsky, intriguing  as he went; behind  them  both ran  a member  of  the
advertisement section.
     "We have the Sekarov fluid to go in," he cried gloomily.
     The office manager  trailed along  after them, dragging a chair he  had
bought at an auction for the editor.
     "The  fluid  can   go   in  on  Thursday.  Today  we're  printing   our
     "You won't make  much from free advertisements, and the fluid  has been
paid for."
     "Very  well,  we'll clear up the matter in the  night  editor's office.
Give the advertisements to Pasha. He's just going over there."
     The  editor  sat  down  to  read  the  editorial.  He  was  immediately
interrupted  from  that  entertaining  occupation. Next  to  arrive  was the
     "Aha!" said the  editor, "very good! I have  a subject for a cartoon in
view of the latest cable from Germany."
     "What about this?" said the artist. '"The Steel Helmet  and the General
Situation in Germany'?"
     "All right, you work something out and then show it to me."
     The  artist  went  back  to  his  department.  He  took   a  square  of
drawing-paper and  made  a  pencil sketch of  an emaciated dog. On the dog's
head he drew a German helmet with a spike. Then he turned to the wording. On
the  animal's  body he  printed the word 'Germany', then  he printed 'Danzig
Corridor' on its curly tail, 'Dreams of Revenge' on its jaw, 'Dawes Plan' on
its  collar, and  'Stresemann' on its protruding tongue. In front of the dog
the artist drew a picture of  Poincare holding a piece of meat in  his hand.
He thought of something to write on the piece of meat, but the meat was  too
small and the word would not fit. Anyone less quick-witted than a cartoonist
would have  lost his head, but, without  a second thought, the artist drew a
shape like a label of the  kind found on necks  of bottles near the piece of
meat and wrote 'French Guarantees of Security' in tiny letters inside it. So
that  Poincare should not  be confused  with any other French  statesman, he
wrote the word 'Poincare' on his stomach. The drawing was ready.
     The desks of the art  department were covered with  foreign  magazines,
large-size  pairs  of scissors, bottles  of  India ink  and whiting. Bits of
photographs-a  shoulder, a  pair of legs, and a section  of  countryside-lay
about on the floor.
     There were five artists who scraped the photographs with Gillette razor
blades to brighten them up; they also improved the contrast by touching them
up  with  India ink  and  whiting, and wrote  their  names and the size  (3?
squares, 2 columns, and so on) on the reverse side,  since these  directions
are required in zincography.
     There  was a foreign delegation sitting  in the  chief editor's office.
The office interpreter  looked into the  speaker's face  and, turning to the
chief editor, said: "Comrade Arnaud would like to know .. ."
     They  were  discussing the running  of  a Soviet  newspaper. While  the
interpreter was explaining to the chief editor what Comrade Arnaud wanted to
know, Arnaud, in  velvet  plus  fours,  and all the other foreigners  looked
curiously at a red pen with a No.  86 nib which was leaning against the wall
in the corner. The nib almost touched the ceiling and the holder was as wide
as an  average man's body  at the  thickest part. It  was quite possible  to
write with it; the nib was a real one although it was actually bigger than a
large pike.
     "Hohoho!  " laughed  the  foreigners.  "Kolossal! "  The pen  had  been
presented to the editorial office by a correspondents' congress.
     Sitting on Vorobyaninov's chair, the chief  editor  smiled and, nodding
first  towards the pen  and then at his guests, happily explained  things to
     The  clamour in the offices continued. Persidsky brought  in an article
by Semashko and the editor promptly deleted the chess section from the third
page. Maestro Sudeikin no longer battled for Neunyvako's wonderful study; he
was only concerned about saving the solutions. After a  struggle more  tense
than his match with Lasker  at the San Sebastian tournament, he won a  place
at the expense of Life-and-the-Law.
     Semashko  was sent to  the compositors.  The editor buried himself once
more in  the editorial. He had decided to read it at all costs, just for the
sporting interest.
     He had just  reached the bit  that said ". .  . but the contents of the
pact are such that, if the League of Nations registers  it, we  will have to
admit that . . ." when Life-and-the-Law, a hairy man, came  up  to  him. The
editor continued reading,  avoiding the eyes of Life-and-the-Law, and making
unnecessary notes on the editorial.
     Life-and-the-Law  went  around to the  other  side of him and said in a
hurt voice: "I don't understand."
     "Uhunh," said the editor, trying to play for time. "What's the matter?"
     "The matter is  that on  Wednesday  there was  no Life-and-the-Law,  on
Friday there was no Life-and-the-Law, on Thursday you carried only a case of
alimony which you had in reserve, and on Saturday you're leaving out a trial
which has  been written up for  some time in all other papers. It's  only us
     "Which other papers?" cried the editor. "I haven't seen it."
     "It will appear again tomorrow and we'll be too late."
     "But when you  were asked to report  the  Chubarov case,  what did  you
write?  It  was  impossible to get  a  line out  of you. I  know.  You  were
reporting the case for an evening paper."
     "How do you know?"
     "I know. I was told."
     "In that case I know who told you. It was Persidsky. The same Persidsky
who  blatantly  uses the  editorial-office  services  to  send  material  to
     "Pasha," said the editor quietly, "fetch Persidsky."
     Life-and-the-Law sat indifferently on the  window  ledge. In the garden
behind him  birds and  young  skittle players could  be  seen busily  moving
about. They litigated  for some time.  The  editor ended the hearing  with a
smart  move:  he deleted the chess  and  replaced it with  Life-and-the-Law.
Persidsky was given a warning.
     It was five o'clock, the busiest time for the office.
     Smoke curled above the over-heated typewriters.  The reporters dictated
in  voices harshened by haste. The senior typist  shouted at the rascals who
slipped in their material unobserved and out of turn.
     Down the corridor came the office poet. He was courting a typist, whose
modest hips unleashed his poetic emotions. He used to lead her to the end of
the corridor by the window and  murmur words of  love  to her,  to which she
usually replied: "I'm working overtime today and I'm very busy."
     That meant she loved another.
     The  poet got in  everyone's  way and  asked all  his friends  the same
favour with monotonous regularity. "Let me have ten kopeks for the tram."
     He sauntered into the local correspondents' room in  search of the sum.
Wandering about between the desks at which the  readers  were  working,  and
fingering the piles of despatches, he renewed his efforts. The readers,  the
most hardboiled people in the office (they were made that way by the need to
read through a hundred letters a day, scrawled by hands which were more used
to axes, paint-brushes and wheelbarrows than a pen), were silent.
     The  poet  visited the despatch  office  and  finally  migrated  to the
clerical section. But besides not getting the ten kopeks, he was buttonholed
by Avdotyev,  a member of the Young  Communist League, who proposed that the
poet  should  join  the  Automobile  Club.  The  poet's enamoured  soul  was
enveloped in a cloud of petrol fumes. He took two paces to the side, changed
into third gear, and disappeared from sight.
     Avdotyev was not a bit discouraged. He believed  in the triumph  of the
car idea. In the editor's room he carried on the struggle, on the sly, which
also prevented the editor from finishing the editorial.
     "Listen, Alexander  Josifovich,  wait a moment, it's a serious matter,"
said  Avdotyev,  sitting  down  on  the  editor's  desk.  "We've  formed  an
automobile club.  Would the editorial office give us a loan  of five hundred
roubles for eight months?"
     "Like hell it would."
     "Why? Do you think it's a dead duck?"
     "I don't think, I know. How many members are there?"
     "A large number already."
     For the moment the club only consisted of  the organizer,  but Avdotyev
did not enlarge on this.
     "For  five hundred roubles we can buy a car at the 'graveyard'. Yegorov
has already picked one out  there. He  says the repairs  won't come to  more
than five hundred.  That's a thousand altogether. So I thought of recruiting
twenty  people, each of whom will give fifty. Anyway,  it'll be  fun.  We'll
learn to drive. Yegorov will be the instructor and in three months' time, by
August,  we'll all be able to drive.  We'll have a car and each one  in turn
can go where he likes."
     "What about the five hundred for the purchase?"
     "The mutual-assistance fund will provide that on interest. We'll pay it
off. So I'll put you down, shall I?"
     But the editor was rather bald, hard-worked, and enslaved by his family
and apartment, liked  to have a  rest  after dinner  on the settee, and read
Pravda before going to sleep. He thought for a moment and then declined.
     Avdotyev approached each desk in  turn and repeated  his  fiery speech.
His  words  had a dubious  effect on the old men, which meant for him anyone
above the age of twenty. They snapped at him, excusing themselves by  saying
they were already friends of  children and regularly  paid twenty  kopeks  a
year for the benefit of the poor mites. They would like to join, but. . .
     "But what?"  cried  Avdotyev.  "Supposing  we had  a  car  today?  Yes,
supposing  we put down  a  blue six-cylinder Packard  in  front of  you  for
fifteen kopeks a year, with petrol and oil paid for by the government?"
     "Go away," said the old men. "It's the last call,  you're preventing us
from working." The car idea was fading and beginning  to give off fumes when
a champion of the  new  enterprise was finally found. Persidsky jumped  back
from the telephone with a  crash  and,  having listened to  Avdotyev,  said:
"You're tackling it the  wrong  way. Give  me the sheet. Let's  begin at the
     Accompanied by Avdotyev, Persidsky began a new round.
     "You, you old mattress,"  he said to  a blue-eyed boy,  "you don't even
have to give any money. You have bonds from  '27,  don't you?  For how much?
For five  hundred? All the better. You hand over  the bonds to the club. The
capital comes from the  bonds.  By August we will have cashed all the  bonds
and bought the car."
     "What happens if my bond wins a prize?" asked the boy defiantly.
     "How much do you expect to win?"
     "Fifty thousand."
     "We'll buy cars with the money. And  the  same thing if I win.  And the
same  if Avdotyev wins. In other words, no matter whose bonds win, the money
will be spent on cars.  Do you understand now? You crank! You'll drive along
the  Georgian Military Highway  in your  own car. Mountains, you  idiot! And
Life-and-the-Law,  social events, accidents, and  the  young lady -you know,
the one who does the films-will all go zooming along behind you in their own
cars as well. Well? Well? You'll be courting!"
     In the depths of  his  heart no bond-holder believes in the possibility
of a win. At the same  time he is  jealous  of his neighbours' and  friends'
bonds.  He is dead scared that they will win and that he, the eternal loser,
will be left out in the cold.  Hence the  hope of  a win  on the  part of an
office  colleague  drew  the  bond-holders  into  the  new  club.  The  only
disturbing thought was that none  of their  bonds  would  win.  That  seemed
rather  unlikely, though, and, furthermore, the Automobile  Club had nothing
to lose,  since  one car  from the  graveyard was guaranteed by the  capital
earned from the bonds.
     In five minutes twenty people had been recruited. As soon as it was all
over, the editor arrived, having heard about the club's alluring prospects.
     "Well,  fellows,"  he  said, "why shouldn't I put  my name down on  the
     "Why not, old man," replied Avdotyev, "only not on our list. We have  a
full  complement  and  no new members  are being admitted  for the next five
years. You'd do better to enrol yourself as a friend of children. It's cheap
and sure. Twenty kopeks a year and no need to drive anywhere."
     The editor looked sheepish, remembered  that he  was indeed on the  old
side, sighed, and went back to finish reading the entertaining editorial.
     He was stopped  in the corridor by a good-looking man with a Circassian
     "Say, Comrade, where's the editorial office of the Lathe!"
     It was the smooth operator.

     Ostap's appearance in the editorial offices was preceded by a number of
events of some importance.
     Not finding Ernest Pavlovich at home (the apartment was  locked and the
owner probably at work), the  smooth operator decided to visit him later on,
and in the meantime he  wandered  about the  town. Tortured by  a thirst for
action, he  crossed  streets, stopped  in squares, made eyes  at militiamen,
helped ladies  into buses, and generally  gave the impression  by his manner
that  the whole  of  Moscow with  its monuments,  trams, vegetable  vendors,
churches, stations  and hoardings  had  gathered at his home for a party. He
walked among the guests, spoke courteously to them, and found something nice
to say to  each one.  So many guests at one party somewhat  tired the smooth
operator. Furthermore,  it was after six o'clock and  time to visit engineer
     But fate had  decided that before seeing Ernest Pavlovich, Ostap had to
be delayed a couple of hours in order to sign a statement for the militia.
     On Sverdlov Square the smooth operator  was  knocked down by a horse. A
timid white animal  descended on  him  out  of the blue and gave him a shove
with its bony chest. Bender fell down, breaking out in  a sweat. It was very
hot. The white  horse loudly  apologized  and  Ostap briskly jumped  up. His
powerful frame was undamaged. This was all the more reason for a scene.
     The  hospitable and  friendly  host of  Moscow was  unrecognisable.  He
waddled up to the embarrassed old man driving the cab and punched him in his
padded back.  The old man  took his  punishment patiently. A militiaman came
running up.
     "I insist you report the matter," cried Ostap with emotion.
     His voice had the metallic ring of a man whose most sacred feelings had
been hurt. And, standing by the  wall of the Maly Theatre, on the very  spot
where  there was  later to be a statue  to  the Russian dramatist Ostrovsky,
Ostap signed a statement and granted a brief interview to Perdidsky, who had
come hurrying over. Persidsky did not shirk his arduous duties. He carefully
noted down the victim's name and sped on his way.
     Ostap majestically set off again.  Still  feeling  the  effects of  the
clash with the white horse, and experiencing a belated regret for not having
been able  to give the cab-driver a belt on the neck  as well, Ostap reached
Shukin's  house and went up to the  seventh floor,  taking  two stairs  at a
time. A heavy drop of liquid struck him on the head. He looked up and a thin
trickle of dirty water caught him right in the eye.
     Someone needs his nose punching for tricks like that, decided Ostap.
     He hurried upward. A naked man covered with white fungus was sitting by
the door of  Shukin's apartment  with his back to the stairs. He was sitting
on the tiled floor, holding his head in his  hands  and rocking from side to
     The naked man was surrounded  by water oozing  from under the apartment
     "Oh-oh-oh," groaned the naked man. "Oh-oh-oh."
     "Is it you splashing water about?" asked Ostap irritably. "What a place
to take a bath. You must be crazy!"
     The naked man looked at Ostap and burst into tears.
     "Listen, citizen, instead of  crying, you ought to go  to the bathroom.
Just look at yourself. You look like a picador."
     "The key," moaned the engineer.
     "What key?" asked Ostap.
     "Of the ap-ap-apartment."
     "Where the money is?"
     The naked man was hiccupping at an incredible rate.
     Nothing  could daunt  Ostap. He began to see the light.  And,  finally,
when he realized  what had  happened, he almost fell over the  banister with
     "So you can't get into the apartment. But it's so simple."
     Trying not  to dirty himself against the  naked engineer, Ostap went up
to the door, slid a long yellow fingernail into the Yale lock, and carefully
began moving it up and down, and left and right.
     The door opened  noiselessly and the naked man rushed into  the flooded
apartment with a howl of delight.
     The  taps  were  gushing.  In  the dining-room the water had  formed  a
whirlpool. In  the bedroom  it  had  made  a calm lake,  on  which a pair of
slippers  floated  about as  serenely  as  swans.  Some  cigarette ends  had
collected together in a corner like a shoal of sleepy fish.
     Vorobyaninov's chair was  standing in  the dining-room, where the flood
of water was greatest. Small  white waves lapped  against all four legs. The
chair was rocking slightly  and appeared to  be about to float away from its
pursuer. Ostap sat down  on it and drew  up his feet. Ernest  Pavlovich, now
himself again,  turned off all the  taps with a cry of "Pardon me! !  Pardon
me!", rinsed himself, and appeared before Bender stripped  to the waist in a
pair of wet slacks rolled up to the knee.
     "You absolutely saved my life," he exclaimed with feeling. "I apologize
for not shaking your hand, but I'm all wet. You know, I almost went crazy."
     "You seemed to be getting on that way."
     "I found myself in a horrible situation."
     And  Ernest Pavlovich  gave the  smooth operator full  details  of  the
misfortune  which had  befallen  him,  first  laughing  nervously  and  then
becoming more sober as he relived the awful experience.
     "Had you not come, I would have died," he said in conclusion.
     "Yes," said Ostap, "something similar once happened to me, too.  Even a
bit worse."
     The  engineer  was  now so interested  in  anything concerned with such
situations  that he put down the pail in which  he was collecting water, and
began listening attentively.
     "It  was just like what  happened to  you," began Bender, "only it  was
winter,  and not  in Moscow, but  Mirgorod during one of those merry  little
periods of  occupation, between  Makhno and  Tyunuynik in '19. I was  living
with  a family.  Terrible Ukrainians ! Typical property-owners. A one-storey
house  and  loads of different junk. You  should  note that  with  regard to
sewage and other facilities, they have only cesspools in Mirgorod. Well, one
night I nipped out  in my underclothes, right into the snow. I wasn't afraid
of catching  cold-it  was only  going  to  take  a moment. I  nipped out and
automatically closed the door behind me. It was about twenty  degrees below.
I knocked, but got  no answer. You can't stand in one spot  or you freeze. I
knocked, ran  about,  knocked, and ran around, but there was  no answer. And
the  thing is that not one of those devils  was  asleep. It was  a  terrible
night;  the dogs  were  howling and there  was  a sound  of shots  somewhere
nearby. And there's me  running about the snowdrifts in  my summer shorts. I
kept knocking for  almost an hour. I  was  nearly done. And why  didn't they
open the door-  what do you think? They were busy hiding  their property and
sewing  up their  money in cushions. They thought it  was a  police raid.  I
nearly slaughtered them afterwards."
     This was all very close to the engineer's heart.
     "Yes," said Ostap, "so you are engineer Shukin."
     "Yes, but please don't tell anyone about this. It would be awkward."
     "Oh, sure! Entre nous and tete a tete, as the French say. But I came to
see you for a reason, Comrade Shukin."
     "I'll be extremely pleased to help you."
     "Grand merci!.  It's a  piddling matter. Your wife  asked me to stop by
and collect this  chair.  She said she needed it  to  make  a pair.  And she
intends sending you instead an armchair."
     "Certainly,"  exclaimed  Ernest  Pavlovich. "Only  too happy.  But  why
should you bother yourself? I can take it for you. I can do it today."
     "No, no. It's no bother at all for me. I live nearby."
     The  engineer fussed  about and saw the  smooth operator as  far as the
door, beyond which he was  afraid to  go, despite  the fact that the key had
been carefully placed in the pocket of his wet slacks.
     Former  student  Ivanopulo  was  presented  with  another  chair.   The
upholstery  was  admittedly  somewhat  the  worse  for  wear,  but   it  was
nevertheless a splendid chair and exactly like the first one.
     Ostap was not worried by the  failure of the chair, the fourth in line.
He was familiar with all the tricks of fate.
     It  was the  chair that  had vanished  into the  goods yard of  October
Station which cut like a huge dark mass through the well-knit pattern of his
deductions. His thoughts about that chair were  depressing  and raised grave
     The smooth  operator was in the position of a  roulette player who only
bets  on numbers; one  of  that  breed of  people who want to win thirty-six
times their stake all at once. The  situation was  even worse than that. The
concessionaires were  playing a kind of roulette in which zero could come up
eleven out  of  twelve times. And, what was more, the twelfth number was out
of sight, heaven knows where, and possibly contained a marvellous win.
     The chain  of distressing thoughts was interrupted by the advent of the
director-in-chief. His appearance alone aroused forebodings in Ostap.
     "Oho!" said the technical adviser. "I see you're making  progress. Only
don't joke with me. Why have  you left the chair outside? To have a laugh at
my expense? "
     "Comrade Bender," muttered the marshal.
     "Why are you trying to unnerve me? Bring it here at once. Don't you see
that the new chair that I am sitting on has made your acquisition many times
more valuable? "
     Ostap leaned his head to one side and squinted.
     "Don't  torment the  child,"  he  said  at length in  his  deep  voice.
"Where's the chair? Why haven't you brought it?"
     Ippolit Matveyevich's muddled report was interrupted by shouts from the
floor, sarcastic applause and cunning questions. Vorobyaninov concluded  his
report to the unanimous laughter of his audience.
     "What about  my  instructions?" said Ostap menacingly. "How many  times
have  I told you it's  a sin to steal.  Even back in Stargorod you wanted to
rob my wife, Madame Gritsatsuyev; even then I realized you had the character
of  a petty criminal.  The most  this propensity will ever get  you  is  six
months inside.  For a master-mind, and  father  of  Russian democracy,  your
scale of  operations  isn't very grand.  And here are the results. The chair
has slipped through your fingers. Not only that, you've spoiled an easy job.
Just  try making another visit there. That Absalom will tear your head  off.
It's  lucky  for you that you  were helped by that ridiculous fluke, or else
you'd have been behind bars, misguidedly waiting for me to bring you things.
I  shan't bring you  anything, so  keep  that in mind.  What's Hecuba to me?
After all, you're not my mother, sister, or lover."
     Ippolit Matveyevich  stood  looking at the ground in acknowledgment  of
his worthlessness.
     "The point is this, chum. I see the complete uselessness of our working
together. At any rate, working with as uncultured a partner as you for forty
per cent is absurd. Volens, nevolens, I must state new conditions."
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  began breathing. Up to that  moment  he  had been
trying not to breathe.
     "Yes,  my  ancient  friend,  you   are  suffering  from  organizational
impotence and greensickness. Accordingly, your share is decreased. Honestly,
do you want twenty per cent?"
     Ippolit Matveyevich shook his head firmly.
     "Why not? Too little for you?"
     "T-too little."
     "But after all, that's thirty thousand roubles. How much do you want?"
     "I'll accept forty."
     "Daylight  robbery!" cried  Ostap, imitating  the marshal's  intonation
during their historic haggling in  the caretaker's room. "Is thirty thousand
too little for you? You want the key of the apartment as well?"
     "It's you  who  wants  the  key  of  the  apartment,"  babbled  Ippolit
     "Take twenty  before it's  too late, or I might change  my  mind.  Take
advantage of my good mood."
     Vorobyaninov had long since lost the air of smugness with which he  had
begun the search for the jewels.
     The ice that had started moving in the caretaker's  room, the ice  that
had  crackled,  cracked, and smashed  against  the  granite embankment,  had
broken  up  and melted. It  was no  longer there. Instead there was  a  wide
stretch  of rushing water  which bore  Ippolit  Matveyevich along  with  it,
'buffeting him  from side to side, first  knocking him against  a beam, then
tossing him  against the  chairs, then carrying him away from them. He  felt
inexpressible fear.  Everything  frightened  him.  Along  the river  floated
refuse, patches of  oil, broken hen-coops,  dead fish, and a ghastly-looking
cap. Perhaps it  belonged  to Father Theodore, a  duck-bill cap blown off by
the wind  in Rostov. Who  knows? The  end of the path was not  in sight. The
former marshal of  the nobility was not being washed ashore, nor had he  the
strength or wish to swim against the stream.
     He was being carried out into the open sea of adventure.

     Like  an unswaddled babe that  clenches and unclenches  its waxen fists
without stopping, moves its legs, waggles its cap-covered head, the size  of
a  large Antonov  apple, and blows bubbles, Absalom Vladimirovich Iznurenkov
was eternally in a state of unrest. He moved  his  plump  legs, waggled  his
shaven chin,  produced sighing noises, and made gestures with his hairy arms
as though doing gymnastics on the end of strings.
     He  led a  very busy  life,  appeared everywhere, and made  suggestions
while  tearing down  the street like a  frightened  chicken;  he  talked  to
himself very rapidly as if working out  the premium on  a stone, iron-roofed
building.  The  whole  secret of  his  life  and activity was  that  he  was
organically incapable of concerning himself with any one matter, subject, or
thought for longer than a minute.
     If  his  joke  was  not successful and did  not  cause  instant  mirth,
Iznurenkov, unlike others, did not attempt to persuade the chief editor that
the  joke was  good and  required reflection  for complete appreciation;  he
immediately suggested another one.
     "What's bad is bad," he used to say, "and that's the end of it."
     When  in  shops,  Iznurenkov  caused  a  commotion  by   appearing  and
disappearing  so  rapidly in  front of the sales people, and buying boxes of
chocolates so grandly, that the cashier expected  to receive at least thirty
roubles. But Iznurenkov, dancing up and down by the cash desk and pulling at
his tie as though  it choked him, would throw down a  crumpled  three-rouble
note on to the glass plate and make off, bleating gracefully.
     If  this man  had  been able  to stay still for  even as little  as two
hours, the most unexpected things might have happened.
     He might  have sat down  at a desk  and written  a marvellous novel, or
perhaps  an application to the mutual-assistance  fund for a permanent loan,
or a new  clause in  the  law on the utilization of housing space, or a book
entitled How to Dress Well and Behave in Society.
     But he was unable to do so. His madly working legs carried him off, the
pencil flew out of his gesticulating hands, and his thoughts jumped from one
thing to another.
     Iznurenkov  ran about the  room, and  the seals on  the furniture shook
like the earrings on a gypsy dancer. A giggling girl from the suburbs sat on
the chair.
     "Ah! Ah!" cried Absalom Vladimirovich, "divine! Ah! Ah! First rate! You
are Queen Margot."
     The queen from the suburbs laughed respectfully, though she  understood
     "Have some chocolate, do! Ah! Ah! Charming."
     He kept  kissing her hands, admiring her modest attire, pushing the cat
into  her lap, and asking,  fawningly: "He's just like a parrot, isn't he? A
lion. A real lion. Tell me, isn't he  extraordinarily fluffy? And his  tail.
It really is a huge tail, isn't it?"
     The cat then went  flying into the corner, and,  pressing  his hands to
his milk-white chest,  Absalom Vladimirovich began bowing to someone outside
the window. Suddenly a valve popped open in his  madcap mind and he began to
be witty about his visitor's physical and spiritual attributes.
     "Is  that  brooch  really  made  of glass?  Ah!  Ah!  What  brilliance.
Honestly, you dazzle me. And tell me,  is  Paris really a big city? Is there
really an Eiffel Tower there? Ah! What hands! What a nose!"
     He did not kiss the girl. It was enough for him to pay her compliments.
And he talked without end. The flow  of compliments was interrupted  by  the
unexpected appearance of Ostap.
     The smooth operator fiddled  with  a piece of paper and asked  sternly:
"Does Iznurenkov live here? Is that you? "
     Absalom  Vladimirovich peered uneasily into  the stranger s stony face.
He tried to  read in his eyes exactly what demands were forthcoming; whether
it was a fine for breaking  a  tram  window during a conversation, a summons
for not paying his rent, or a contribution to a magazine for the blind.
     "Come  on, Comrade," said  Ostap  harshly,  "that's not  the  way to do
things-kicking out a bailiff."
     "What bailiff? " Iznurenkov was horrified.
     "You  know very well. I'm  now  going  to  remove the furniture. Kindly
remove yourself from that chair, citizeness," said Ostap sternly.
     The  young citizeness, who only a  moment before  had been listening to
verse by the most lyrical of poets, rose from her seat.
     "No, don't move," cried Iznurenkov, sheltering the chair with his body.
"They have no right."
     "You'd  better  not talk  about rights,  citizen.  You  should  be more
conscientious. Let go of the furniture! The law must be obeyed."
     With these words, Ostap seized the chair and shook it in the air.
     "I'm removing the furniture," said Ostap resolutely.
     "No, you're not."
     "What do you mean, I'm not, when I am?"  Ostap chuckled,  carrying  the
chair into the corridor.
     Absalom kissed  his lady's hand and, inclining his head,  ran after the
severe judge. The latter was already on his way downstairs.
     "And I say you have no right. By law the furniture can stay another two
weeks, and it's only three days so far. I may pay!"
     Iznurenkov buzzed  around  Ostap like a bee,  and in this  manner  they
reached  the street. Absalom Vladimirovich chased the chair right  up to the
end of the street. There he caught sight of some sparrows hopping about by a
pile of manure.  He looked  at  them with twinkling eyes, began muttering to
himself, clapped his hands, and, bubbling with laughter, said:
     "First rate! Ah! Ah! What a subject!"
     Engrossed in working out the subject, he gaily turned around and rushed
home, bouncing as he went. He only remembered the chair when he arrived back
and found the girl from the suburbs standing up in the middle of the room.
     Ostap took the chair away by cab.
     "Take note,"  he said to  Ippolit  Matveyevich, "the chair was obtained
with my bare hands. For nothing. Do you understand?"
     When they had opened the chair, Ippolit Matveyevich's spirits were low.
     "The  chances are continually improving," said Ostap, "but we haven't a
kopek. Tell me, was your  late mother-in-law fond of practical  jokes by any
chance? "
     "Maybe there aren't any jewels at all."
     Ippolit Matveyevich waved his hands about  so violently that his jacket
rode up.
     "In  that  case everything's fine. Let's hope  that  Ivanopulo's estate
need only be increased by one more chair."
     "There  was  something in the  paper about you  today, Comrade Bender,"
said Ippolit Matveyevich obsequiously.
     Ostap frowned. He did not like the idea of being front-page news. "What
are you blathering about? Which newspaper?"
     Ippolit Matveyevich  triumphantly opened the Lathe. "Here it is. In the
section 'What Happened Today'."
     Ostap  became  a  little  calmer;  he  was  only  worried about  public
denouncements  in  the   sections  "Our  Caustic  Comments"  and  "Take  the
Malefactors to Court".
     Sure  enough, there in  nonpareil type  in the  section "What  Happened
Today" was the item:


     "It was the cab-driver who suffered slight shock, not me," grumbled  O.
Bender.  "The  idiots!  They write and write,  and  don't know what  they're
writing  about.  Aha!  So  that's  the Lathe.  Very, very  pleasant.  Do you
realize, Vorobyaninov, that this report might have  been written  by someone
sitting on our chair? A fine thing that is!"
     The smooth  operator  lapsed  into thought. He had  found an excuse  to
visit the newspaper office.
     Having found out  from the  editor that all the rooms  on both sides of
the corridor were occupied  by the editorial offices, Ostap assumed a  naive
air  and made  a  round  of the premises.  He had  to find  out  which  room
contained the chair.
     He strode into the union committee room, where  a  meeting of the young
motorists was in progress, but saw  at once  there  was  no chair  there and
moved on to the next room. In the clerical office he pretended to be waiting
for a resolution; in the reporters'  room he  asked where  it  was they were
selling the wastepaper, as advertised; in the editor's office he asked about
subscriptions, and in the humorous-sketch section  he wanted  to  know where
they accepted notices concerning lost documents.
     By this  method he  eventually arrived at  the  chief  editor's office,
where  the  chief  editor  was sitting on the concessionaires' chair bawling
into a telephone.
     Ostap needed time to reconnoitre the terrain.
     "Comrade editor,  you  have  published a downright libellous  statement
about me."
     "What libellous statement?"
     Taking his time, Ostap unfolded a copy of  the Lathe. Glancing round at
the door, he saw it had a Yale lock.  By removing a  small piece of glass in
the door it would be possible to slip a hand through and unlock it  from the
     The chief editor read the item which Ostap pointed out to him.
     "Where do you see a libellous statement there?"
     "Of course, this bit:
     The victim was unhurt except
     for slight shock.'"
     "I don't understand."
     Ostap looked tenderly at the chief editor and the chair.
     "Am I likely to be shocked by some cab-driver? You have disgraced me in
the eyes of the world. You must publish an apology."
     "Listen, citizen," said  the chief  editor, "no one has disgraced  you.
And we don't publish apologies for such minor points."
     "Well, I shall not let  the matter rest, at any rate," replied Ostap as
he left the room.
     He had seen all he wanted.

     The  Stargorod branch of  the  ephemeral Sword and Ploughshare and  the
young  toughs from Fastpack formed  a  queue outside  the Grainproducts meal
     Passers-by kept stopping.
     "What's the queue for?" asked the citizens.
     In a tiresome queue outside a  shop  there  is  always one person whose
readiness to chatter increases  with his distance from the shop doorway. And
furthest of all stood Polesov.
     "Things have reached a pretty pitch,"  said the fire chief. "We'll soon
be eating oilcake. Even 1919 was better than this. There's only enough flour
in the town for four days."
     The citizens twirled their moustaches disbelievingly  and  argued  with
Polesov, quoting the Stargorod Truth.
     Having  proved  to him as easily as  pie that  there was as  much flour
available as they required and that there was no need to panic, the citizens
ran home, collected all their ready cash, and joined the flour queue.
     When they had  bought  up  all the  flour in the shop, the toughs  from
Fastpack switched to groceries and formed a queue for tea and sugar.
     In three days Stargorod was in the grip  of an acute food and commodity
shortage.  Representatives  from the co-operatives and  state-owned  trading
organizations proposed that until the arrival of food  supplies,  already on
their way,  the sale of comestibles should be restricted to a pound of sugar
and five pounds of flour a head.
     The next day an antidote to this was found.
     At  the  head of the sugar queue stood Alchen. Behind him was his wife,
Sashchen,  Pasha Emilevich,  four  Yakovleviches  and all fifteen  old-women
pensioners in  their woollen  dresses. As  soon as he had bled the  shop  of
twenty-two  pounds of  sugar,  Alchen  led his  queue  across to  the  other
co-operatives, cursing Pasha Emilevich as he went for gobbling up his ration
of one  pound of granulated sugar. Pasha was pouring the sugar into his palm
and transferring it to his enormous mouth. Alchen  fussed about all  day. To
avoid such unforeseen losses, he took Pasha from the queue and put him on to
carrying the  goods  purchased to the  local market. There Alchen slyly sold
the booty of sugar, tea and marquisette to the privately-owned stalls.
     Polesov stood in the queue chiefly for  reasons of principle. He had no
money, so  he  could  not buy  anything.  He  wandered from queue  to queue,
listening  to the conversations,  made  nasty  remarks, raised  his eyebrows
knowingly, and complained about conditions. The result  of  his insinuations
was  that  rumours  began  to  go  around  that  some  sort  of  underground
organization had arrived with a supply of swords and ploughshares.
     Governor  Dyadyev  made ten thousand  roubles  in  one  day.  What  the
chairman of the stock-exchange committee made, even his wife did not know.
     The  idea that he belonged to a secret  society gave Kislarsky no rest.
The rumours  in the  town were the  last straw. After a sleepless night, the
chairman of  the stock-exchange  committee made up  his  mind that  the only
thing that could shorten ms term of  imprisonment was to make a clean breast
of it.
     "Listen, Henrietta," he said to his  wife,  "it's time  to transfer the
textiles to your brother-in-law."
     "Why,  will the secret police  really come for  you?"  asked  Henrietta
     "They  might. Since there  isn't  any freedom of trade  in the country,
I'll have to go to jail some time or other,"
     "Shall I prepare  your  underwear? What misery for  me to  have to keep
taking you things. But why don't you become a Soviet employee? After all, my
brother-in-law is a trade-union member and he doesn't do too badly."
     Henrietta  did not know that fate had promoted her  husband to the rank
of chairman of the stock-exchange committee. She was therefore calm.
     "I may not come back tonight," said Kislarsky, "in which case bring  me
some things tomorrow to the jail. But please  don't bring  any cream  puffs.
What kind of fun is it eating cold tarts?"
     "Perhaps you ought to take the primus?"
     "Do you think  I would  be  allowed  a primus in my  cell?  Give  me my
     Kislarsky  had  a special prison basket.  Made to  order, it was  fully
adapted for all purposes. When opened out, it acted as a  bed, and when half
open it  could be  used as a table. Moreover,  it could be substituted for a
cupboard; it  had shelves, hooks and drawers. His  wife put some cold supper
and fresh underwear into the all-purpose basket.
     "You don't need  to see me  off,"  said  her experienced  husband.  "If
Rubens comes for  the money,  tell him there isn't any. Goodbye!  Rubens can
     And Kislarsky walked  sedately out into the street, carrying the prison
basket by the handle.
     "Where are you going, citizen Kislarsky? " Polesov hailed him.
     He  was standing by a telegraph  pole  and shouting encouragement to  a
post-office  worker who was clambering up  towards the  insulators, gripping
the pole with iron claws.
     "I'm going to confess," answered Kislarsky.
     "What about?"
     "The Sword and Ploughshare."
     Victor Mikhailovich  was speechless.  Kislarsky sauntered  towards  the
province public  prosecutor's  office,  sticking out his  little  egg-shaped
belly, which was encircled by a wide belt with an outside pocket.
     Victor Mikhailovich napped his wings and flew off to see Dyadyev.
     "Kislarsky's a stooge," cried Polesov. "He's just gone to squeal on us.
He's even still in sight."
     "What? And with his basket?" said the  horrified governor of Stargorod.
     Dyadyev kissed his wife, shouted to her that if Rubens  came he was not
to get any money, and raced out into the  street. Victor Mikhailovich turned
a circle, clucked  like a hen that had just laid an egg, and  rushed to find
Nikesha and Vladya.
     In the meantime, Kislarsky sauntered slowly along  in  the direction of
the prosecutor's office. On the way he met Rubens  and had a  long talk with
him.  "And what about  the money?" asked  Rubens.  "My  wife will give it to
     "And why are you carrying that basket?" Rubens inquired suspiciously.
     "I'm going to the steam baths." "Well, have a good steam!"
     Kislarsky then  called  in  at the state-owned  sweetshop, formerly the
Bonbons de Varsovie, drank a  cup  of coffee, and ate a piece of layer cake.
It was time  to  repent. The  chairman of the  stock-exchange committee went
into the reception room of the  prosecutor's office. It was empty. Kislarsky
went up  to a door marked "Province Public Prosecutor" and knocked politely.
"Come in," said a familiar voice.
     Kislarsky went  inside  and halted in amazement.  His  egg-shaped belly
immediately  collapsed and  wrinkled like a  date. What he  saw was  totally
     The  desk behind  which  the  prosecutor was sitting was  surrounded by
members of the  powerful Sword  and Ploughshare organization.  Judging  from
their gestures and plaintive voices, they had confessed to everything.
     "Here he is," said Dyadyev, "the ringleader  and Octobrist."  "First of
all," said Kislarsky,  putting down the basket on the floor and  approaching
the desk,  "I am not  an  Octobrist;  next,  I have always been  sympathetic
towards the Soviet regime, and third, the ringleader is not  me, but Comrade
Charushnikov, whose address is-"
     "Red  Army Street!" shouted  Dyadyev. "Number three!"  chorused Nikesha
and Vladya. "Inside the yard on the right!" added Polesov. "I can show you."
     Twenty minutes  later they brought in Charushnikov, who promptly denied
ever having seen any of the persons present in the room before in his  life,
and then, without pausing, went  on to denounce Elena  Stanislavovna. It was
only when he was in  his cell, wearing  clean underwear and stretched out on
his  prison basket, that the chairman of  the stock-exchange committee  felt
happy and at ease.
     During  the crisis  Madame Gritsatsuyev-Bender managed to stock up with
enough provisions and commodities for her shop to last at least four months.
Regaining  her calm, she began pining once more  for  her young husband, who
was languishing at meetings of the Junior Council  of Ministers.  A visit to
the fortune-teller brought no reassurance.
     Alarmed  by  the  disappearance  of   the  Stargorod  Areopagus,  Elena
Stanislavovna  dealt  the cards with outrageous negligence.  The cards first
predicted  the end  of  the  world,  then  a meeting with  her husband  in a
government institution in the presence of an enemy-the King of Spades.
     What  is more, the actual  fortune-telling ended up rather  oddly, too.
Police agents arrived (Kings of  Spades) and took away  the prophetess to  a
government institution (the public prosecutor's office).
     Left  alone  with the parrot, the widow was about to leave in confusion
when the parrot struck the bars of its cage with its  beak and spoke for the
first time in its life.
     "The times we live in!" it said sardonically,  covering its  head  with
one wing and pulling a feather from underneath.
     Madame Gritsatsuyev-Bender made for the door in fright.
     A stream of heated, muddled words followed her. The ancient bird was so
upset by the  visit of the police and the removal of its owner that it began
shrieking out all the words it knew. A prominent place in its repertoire was
occupied by Victor Polesov.
     "Given the absence . . ." said the parrot testily.
     And, turning upside-down on its perch, it winked at  the widow, who had
stopped motionless by the  door,  as much as to say: "Well, how do  you like
it, widow?"
     "Mother!" gasped Gritsatsuyev.
     "Which  regiment  were you  in?" asked the parrot  in  Bender's  voice.
"Cr-r-r-rash! Europe will help us."
     As soon as the widow had fled, the parrot  straightened its shirt front
and uttered the words which people had  been trying unsuccessfully for years
to make it say:
     "Pretty Polly!"
     The  widow fled howling down  the street. At her house an agile old man
was waiting for her. It was Bartholomeich.
     "It's about the advertisement," said Bartholomeich. "I've been here for
two hours."
     The heavy hoof of presentiment struck the widow a blow in the heart.
     "Oh," she intoned, "it's been a gruelling experience."
     "Citizen  Bender  left  you,  didn't  he?  It  was  you   who  put  the
advertisement in, wasn't it?"
     The widow sank on to the sacks of flour.
     "How weak your constitution is," said Bartholomeich sweetly. "I'd first
like to find out about the reward. . . ."
     "Oh, take  everything.  I need  nothing  any more . .  ."  burbled  the
sensitive widow.
     "Right, then. I  know the whereabouts of your sonny boy, O. Bender. How
much is the reward?"
     "Take everything," repeated the widow.
     "Twenty roubles," said Bartholomeich dryly.
     The  widow  rose  from  the  sacks.  She  was  covered with  flour. Her
flour-dusted eyelashes flapped frenziedly. "How much?" she asked.
     "Fifteen roubles." Bartholomeich lowered  his price. He sensed it would
be difficult making the wretched woman cough up as much as three roubles.
     Trampling  the  sacks underfoot, the  widow advanced  on  the  old man,
called  upon the heavenly  powers to bear witness, and with their assistance
drove a hard bargain.
     "Well,  all right,  make  it  five  roubles. Only I want  the  money in
advance, please: it's a rule of mine."
     Bartholomeich took  two newspaper  clippings from  his  notebook,  and,
without letting go of them, began reading.
     "Take a look  at  these in  order. You wrote 'Missing from home . . . I
implore, etc.' That's right, isn't it? That's the Stargorod Truth. And  this
is what they wrote about  your little boy in the Moscow newspapers. Here . .
.  'Knocked down  by  a horse.' No, don't smile, Madame, just listen  . .  .
'Knocked down by a horse.' But alive.  Alive, I tell you. Would I ask  money
for a corpse? So that's it . . . 'Knocked down by a horse. Citizen O. Bender
was  knocked down yesterday on Sverdlov Square by horse-cab number 8974. The
victim was unhurt except for slight shock.' So I'll give you these documents
and you give me the money in advance. It's a rule of mine."
     Sobbing, the widow handed over the money. Her husband, her dear husband
in  yellow  boots  lay on distant  Moscow  soil  and a  cab-horse, breathing
flames, was kicking his blue worsted chest.
     Bartholomeich's  sensitive  nature  was  satisfied  with  the  adequate
reward.  He went  away, having explained to  the widow that further clues to
her  husband's whereabouts could be  found for sure  at the  offices of  the
Lathe, where, naturally, everything was known.
     Letter  from  Father Theodore  written  in  Rostov  at  the  Milky  Way
hot-water stall to his wife in the regional centre of N.

     My darling Kate,
     A fresh disaster has befallen me, but I'll come to that. I received the
money in good time, for which sincere thanks. On arrival in Rostov I went at
once to the address.  New-Ros-Cement  is an enormous  establishment;  no one
there had ever  heard of Engineer Bruns. I was about to  despair  completely
when they gave me an idea. Try the personnel office, they said. I did.  Yes,
they  told me, we  did  have someone of that name;  he was doing responsible
work, but left  us  last  year  to go to  Baku  to  work  for  As-Oil as  an
accident-prevention specialist.
     Well, my dear, my journey will not be as brief as I expected. You write
that the  money is running  out.  It can't be helped, Catherine. It won't be
long now.  Have patience, pray to God, and sell my diagonal-cloth  student's
uniform. And there'll soon be other expenses to be  borne of another nature.
Be ready for everything.
     The  cost of living in Rostov  is awful. I  paid Rs.  2.25  for a hotel
room.  I  haven't enough  to get to Baku. I'll cable  you from there  if I'm
     The  weather here  is very  hot.  I carry  my  coat around with me. I'm
afraid to leave anything in my  room-they'd steal it before  you had time to
turn around. The people here are sharp.
     I  don't  like  Rostov.  It  is  considerably inferior  to  Kharkov  in
population and geographical position. But don't worry, Mother. God  willing,
we'll take a trip to Moscow together. Then you'll see it's a completely West
European city. And then we will go to live in Samara near our factory.
     Has Vorobyaninov come back? Where can he be? Is Estigneyev still having
meals? How's  my cassock since it was cleaned? Make  all our friends believe
I'm at my aunt's deathbed. Write the same thing to Gulenka.
     Yes! I forgot  to  tell you about a terrible thing that happened  to me
     I was  gazing  at the  quiet  Don,  standing by the bridge and thinking
about our future  possessions.  Suddenly a wind came up and blew my cap into
the river. It was your brother's, the baker's, I was the only one to see it.
I had to  make a new outlay  and buy an English cap for Rs. 2.50. Don't tell
your brother anything about what happened. Tell him I'm in Voronezh.
     I'm having trouble with my underwear. I wash  it in the  evening and if
it  hasn't dried by the morning, I put it on damp. It's even pleasant in the
present heat.
     With love and kisses,
     Your husband eternally,

     Persidsky  the  reporter  was  busily  preparing for  the two-hundredth
anniversary of the great mathematician Isaac Newton.
     While the work  was in full swing, Steve came in from Science and Life.
A plump citizeness trailed after him.
     "Listen, Persidsky," said  Steve,  "this citizeness has come to see you
about something. This way, please, lady. The comrade will explain to you."
     Chuckling to himself, Steve left.
     "Well?" asked Persidsky. "What can I do for you?"
     Madame Gritsatsuyev  (it  was  she)  fixed her  yearning  eyes  on  the
reporter and silently handed him a piece of paper.
     "So," said Persidsky, "knocked down by a horse . . . What about it?"
     "The  address," beseeched the widow, "wouldn't it  be possible to  have
the address?"
     "Whose address?"
     "O. Bender's."
     "How should I know it? "
     "But the comrade said you would."
     "I have no idea of it. Ask the receptionist."
     "Couldn't you remember, Comrade? He was wearing yellow boots."
     "I'm wearing  yellow  boots  myself.  In Moscow there are  two  hundred
thousand  people  wearing  yellow   boots.  Perhaps  you'd  like  all  their
addresses? By all means. I'll leave what I'm doing and do it for you. In six
months' time you'll know them all. I'm busy, citizeness."
     But the widow  felt great respect for Persidsky and  followed him  down
the corridor, rustling her starched petticoat and repeating her requests.
     That son of a  bitch, Steve, thought Persidsky. All  right, then,  I'll
set the inventor of perpetual motion on him. That will make him jump.
     "What can I do about it?" said Persidsky irritably, halting in front of
the widow. "How  do I know the  address  of Citizen O. Bender? Who am I, the
horse that  knocked him down? Or the cab-driver he punched in the back-in my
     The  widow  answered  with a  vague  rumbling from  which it  was  only
possible to decipher the words "Comrade" and "Please".
     Activities  in  the House of  the  Peoples  had already  finished.  The
offices and corridors had emptied. Somewhere  a typewriter was polishing off
a final page.
     "Sorry, madam, can't you see I'm busy?"
     With these words  Persidsky hid in the lavatory.  Ten minutes  later he
gaily emerged. Widow Gritsatsuyev  was patiently rustling  her  petticoat at
the  corner  of  two corridors. As Persidsky approached, she  began  talking
     The reporter grew furious.
     "All right,  auntie," he  said, "I'll tell you where your Bender is. Go
straight  down the corridor, turn right, and then continue  straight. You'll
see a door. Ask Cherepennikov. He ought to know."
     And, satisfied with his fabrication, Persidsky  disappeared  so quickly
that  the  starched  widow had  no time  to  ask  for  further  information.
Straightening her petticoat, Madame Gritsatsuyev went down the corridor.
     The  corridors of the  House of  the Peoples were so  long and | narrow
that people walking  down  them inevitably  quickened their pace. You  could
tell from  anyone  who passed how far they had come. If they walked slightly
faster than normal, it meant the marathon had only just begun. Those who had
already completed two  or three corridors developed a fairly fast  trot. And
from time to  time  it was  possible  to see someone running  along  at full
speed; he had reached the  five-corridor stage. A citizen who had gone eight
corridors could  easily  compete  with a bird, racehorse or Nurmi, the world
champion runner.
     Turning to the  right, the  widow Gritsatsuyev began running. The floor
     Coming  towards her  at  a  rapid  pace  was  a brown-haired  man in  a
light-blue waistcoat and crimson boots.  From Ostap's  face it was clear his
visit to the House of the Peoples at  so late  an hour I was necessitated by
the  urgent affairs  of the concession.  The | technical adviser's plans had
evidently not envisaged an encounter with his loved one.
     At the  sight  of the widow,  Ostap about-faced  and,  without  looking
around, went back, keeping close to the wall.
     "Comrade Bender," cried the widow in delight. "Where are you going? "
     The smooth operator increased his speed. So did the widow.
     "Listen to me," she called.
     But her words  did not  reach  Ostap's ears.  He heard the sighing  and
whistling  of the wind.  He tore  down the fourth corridor and  hurtled down
flights of  iron  stairs. All he left for his  loved  one  was an echo which
repeated the starcase noises for some time.
     "Thanks,"  muttered  Ostap,  sitting down on the  ground  on the  fifth
floor. "A fine time for a rendezvous. Who invited the  passionate lady here?
It's  time to liquidate the Moscow branch of the concession, or else I might
find that self-employed mechanic here as well."
     At that  moment,  Widow Gritsatsuyev,  separated from  Ostap  by  three
storeys, thousands of doors and dozens of corridors, wiped her hot face with
the edge of  her petticoat and  set off again.  She  intended  to  find  her
husband as quickly as possible and  have it out with him. The corridors were
lit with dim lights. All the lights,  corridors and doors were the same. But
soon she began to feel terrified and only wanted to get away.
     Conforming  to  the  corridor progression,  she  hurried  along  at  an
ever-increasing rate. Half an hour later  it was impossible to stop her. The
doors  of  presidiums, secretariats, union  committee  rooms, administration
sections and editorial offices flew open with a crash on  either side of her
bulky body. She upset ash-trays as she went with her iron skirts.  The trays
rolled after her with the clatter  of  saucepans.  Whirlwinds and whirlpools
formed at the ends of  the  corridors. Ventilation windows flapped. Pointing
fingers stencilled on the walls dug into the poor widow.
     She finally found herself on a  stairway landing. It was dark,  but the
widow  overcame her fear, ran down, and pulled at a glass door. The door was
locked. The widow hurried back, but the door through which she had just come
had just been locked by someone's thoughtful hand.
     In Moscow they like to lock doors.
     Thousands of  front  entrances  are  boarded up  from  the inside,  and
thousands of citizens find their  way into their apartments through the back
door.  The year 1918 has long  since  passed; the concept of a "raid on  the
apartment" has long since become something vague; the apartment-house guard,
organized  for  purposes  of  security,  has  long  since vanished;  traffic
problems are being solved; enormous power stations are being built  and very
great scientific discoveries are  being made, but there is  no one to devote
his life to studying the problem of the closed door.
     Where is the man who  will solve the enigma of  the  cinemas, theatres,
and circuses?
     Three thousand members of the public have ten minutes in which to enter
the  circus through  one  single  doorway,  half  of  which  is closed.  The
remaining ten doors designed to accommodate large crowds of people are shut.
Who knows why they are shut? It  may be that twenty years  ago  a performing
donkey  was stolen from the circus stable and ever since the  management has
been walling up convenient entrances and exits in  fear. Or  perhaps at some
time  a famous queen  of the air  felt  a draught  and  the closed doors are
merely a repercussion of the scene she caused.
     The  public is  allowed  into  theatres and  cinemas in  small batches,
supposedly to avoid bottlenecks.  It is quite easy to avoid bottlenecks; all
you  have  to do is  open  the  numerous  exits.  But  instead of  that  the
management  uses  force; the attendants link arms and form a living barrier,
and in this way keep the public at bay for at  least half an hour. While the
doors, the cherished doors, closed as far back as Peter the Great, are still
     Fifteen thousand football fans elated  by  the superb  play  of a crack
Moscow team are forced  to squeeze their way to  the tram through a crack so
narrow  that  one  lightly  armed  warrior  could  hold  off  forty thousand
barbarians supported by two battering rams.
     A sports stadium  does not have a roof, but it does have several exits.
All that is open is a wicket gate. You can get out  only by breaking through
the main gates. They are always broken after every great sporting event. But
so great is the  desire  to keep up the sacred tradition, they are carefully
repaired each time and firmly shut again.
     If there is no  chance  of hanging a door (which happens when  there is
nothing on which to hang it), hidden doors of all kinds come into play:
     1. Rails
     2. Barriers
     3. Upturned benches
     4. Warning signs
     5. Rope
     Rails are very common in government offices.
     They prevent access to the official you want to see.
     The visitor walks up and down the rail like a tiger, trying  to attract
attention by making signs. This  does not always  work. The visitor may have
brought  a  useful invention! He might  only want to pay his income tax. But
the rail is in  the way. The unknown invention is  left outside; and the tax
is left unpaid.
     Barriers are used on the street.
     They  are set up in spring on a noisy main street, supposedly to  fence
off the part of the pavement  being repaired. And the noisy street instantly
becomes deserted.  Pedestrians  filter through to their  destinations  along
other streets. Each day they have to go an extra half-mile, but hope springs
eternal.  The summer  passes. The leaves  wither.  And the  barrier is still
there. The repairs have not been done. And the street is deserted.
     Upturned benches  are used to block  the  entrances to gardens  in  the
centre of the Moscow squares, which on account of the disgraceful negligence
of the builders have not been fitted with strong gateways.
     A whole book could be written about warning signs, but that  is not the
intention of the authors at present.
     The signs are of two types-direct and indirect:

     These notices are sometimes hung on the  doors  of  government  offices
visited by the public in particularly great numbers.
     The indirect signs are more insidious. They do not  prohibit entry; but
rare is the adventurer  who will risk exercising his rights. Here they  are,
those shameful signs:

     Wherever it  is  impossible  to  place rails or  barriers, to  overturn
benches or hang up warning signs, ropes are used. They  are stretched across
your path according to mood, and in the  most unexpected places. If they are
stretched  at chest level they cause no  more  than slight shock and nervous
laughter. But when stretched at ankle level they can cripple you for life.
     To hell with doors! To hell with queues outside theatres.  Allow us  to
go in without business. We implore you to  remove the barrier set up by  the
thoughtless  apartment superintendent on the pavement by his door. There are
the upturned  benches!  Put  them  the right  side  up!  It  is precisely at
night-time that it is so nice to sit in the gardens in the squares. The  air
is clear and clever thoughts come to mind.
     Sitting on the  landing by the locked glass  door in the very centre of
the House of the  Peoples,  Mrs. Gritsatsuyev contemplated her widow's  lot,
dozed off from time to time, and waited for morning.
     The yellow light of  the  ceiling lamps poured on to the widow  through
the glass door from the illuminated corridor. The ashen morn made its way in
through the window of the stairway.
     It was that  quiet hour when the morning is fresh  and young. It was at
this hour that the widow heard footsteps  in the  corridor. The widow jumped
up and pressed against the  glass.  She caught a glimpse of a blue waistcoat
at the end of the corridor.  The crimson  boots were dusty with plaster. The
flighty son of a Turkish citizen approached the glass door, brushing a speck
of dust from the sleeve of his jacket.
     "Bunny!" called the widow. "Bun-ny!"
     She breathed on the glass with unspeakable tenderness. The glass misted
over and made rainbow circles. Beyond  the mistiness and  rainbows glimmered
blue and raspberry-coloured spectres.
     Ostap did not hear the widow's cooing. He scratched his back and turned
his head anxiously. Another second and he would have been around the corner.
     With  a groan of  "Comrade Bender", the poor wife began drumming on the
window. The smooth operator turned around.
     "Oh,"  he said, seeing he was separated from the widow by a glass door,
"are you here, too?"
     "Yes, here, here," uttered the widow joyfully.
     "Kiss me, honey,"  the technical adviser invited. "We haven't seen each
other for such a long time!"
     The widow was in a frenzy. She hopped up  and down behind the door like
a finch  in a cage. The petticoat which had been silent for  the night began
to rustle loudly. Ostap spread his arms.
     "Why don't you  come to  me,  my little hen? Your Pacific rooster is so
tired after the meeting of the Junior Council of Ministers."
     The widow had no imagination.
     "Bunny,"  she  called  for  the fifth time,  "open  the  door,  Comrade
     "Hush, girl!  Modesty becomes a  woman.  What's  all the  jumping about
     The widow was in agony.
     "Why are  you torturing yourself?" asked Ostap.  "Who's  preventing you
from living? "
     The widow burst into tears.
     "Wipe your eyes, Citizeness. Every  one  of your tears is a molecule in
the cosmos."
     "But I've  been waiting and waiting. I closed  down the shop. I've come
for you, Comrade Bender."
     "And how does it feel on the stairs? Not draughty, I hope?"
     The widow slowly began to seethe like a huge monastery samovar. ,
     "Traitor!" she spat out with a shudder.
     Ostap  had a little time left.  He  clicked  his fingers  and,  swaying
rhythmically, crooned:

     "We all go through times
     When the devil's beside us,
     When a young woman's charms
     Arouse passion inside us."

     "Drop dead!" advised the  widow at the end of the dance. "You  stole my
bracelet, a present from my husband. And why did you take the chair? "
     "Now you're getting personal," Ostap observed coldly.
     "You stole, you stole!" repeated the widow.
     "Listen,  girl. Just remember  for future  reference that  Ostap Bender
never stole anything in his life."
     "Then who took the tea-strainer?"
     "Ah, the tea-strainer! From your non-liquid fund. And you consider that
theft? In that case our views on life are diametrically opposed."
     "You took it," clucked the widow.
     "So if a young and healthy man borrows  from a provincial grandmother a
kitchen utensil for  which she has no need on account of poor health, he's a
thief, is he? Is that what you mean?"
     "Thief! Thief!"
     The widow threw  herself  against  the door.  The  glass rattled. Ostap
realized it was time to go.
     "I've no  time to kiss you," he said. "Good-bye,  beloved. We've parted
like ships at sea."
     "Help!" screeched the widow.
     But Ostap was already at the end of the corridor.  He climbed on to the
windowsill  and dropped heavily to the ground,  moist after the night  rain,
and hid in the glistening playgrounds.
     The  widow's  cries  brought  the  night  watchman.  He  let  her  out,
threatening to have her fined.

     As Madame  Gritsatsuyev  was leaving the  block of  offices,  the  more
modest  ranks of employees were  beginning to arrive at  the  House  of  the
Peoples:  there  were messengers, in-and-out girls, duty telephonists, young
assistant accountants, and state-sponsored apprentices.
     Among them was Nikifor Lapis,  a  very  young man with  a  sheep's-head
haircut and a cheeky face.
     The  ignorant, the stubborn, and those making their first visit  to the
House of the Peoples entered through the front entrance.  Nikifor Lapis made
his  way  into the  building through  the  dispensary. At  the  House of the
Peoples he was completely at home  and knew the  quickest  ways to the oases
where, under the leafy shade of departmental journals, royalties gushed from
clear springs.
     First of all, Nikifor went to the snack-bar. The nickel-plated register
made  a  musical  sound  and  ejected  three  checks. Nikifor consumed  some
yoghurt, having opened the paper-covered jar, then a cream puff which looked
like  a miniature flower-bed. He washed  it  all down  with tea. Then  Lapis
leisurely began making the round of his possessions.
     His  first  visit  was to the editorial office of the monthly  sporting
magazine Gerasim and  Mumu.  Comrade  Napernikov  had  not yet  arrived,  so
Nikifor moved  on to  the Hygroscopic Herald, the weekly mouthpiece by which
pharmaceutical workers communicated with the outside world.
     "Good morning!" said Nikifor. "I've written a marvellous poem."
     "What about?" asked the editor  of the literary page. "On what subject?
You know, Trubetskoi, our magazine . . ."
     To  give a  more subtle definition  of the essence of  the  Hygroscopic
Herald, the editor gestured with his fingers.
     Trubetskoi-Lapis  looked  at  his   white  sailcloth  trousers,  leaned
backward, and said in a singsong voice: "The Ballad of the Gangrene".
     '.'That's  interesting," said the hygroscopic  individual. "It's  about
time we introduced prophylaxis in popular form."
     Lapis immediately began declaiming:

     "Gavrila took to bed with gangrene.
     The gangrene made Gavrila sick . . ."

     The poem went  on in the same heroic  iambic tetrameter to  relate how,
through ignorance, Gavrila  failed to go to the chemist's  in time  and died
because he had not put iodine on a scratch.
     "You're making progress, Trubetskoi," said the editor in approval. "But
we'd like something a bit longer. Do you understand?"
     He  began  moving  his fingers, but  nevertheless took  the  terrifying
ballad, promising to pay on Tuesday.
     In the magazine Telegraphist's Week Lapis was greeted hospitably.
     "A good thing you've come,  Trubetskoi. We need some  verse right away.
But it must be about life, life, and  life.  No lyrical stuff. Do  you hear,
Trubetskoi? Something about the everyday life of post-office workers, but at
the same time . . . Do you get me?"
     "Only  yesterday I was thinking about  the everyday life of post-office
workers,  and I concocted the following poem. It's called 'The Last Letter'.
Here it is:

     "Gavrila had a job as postman.
     Gavrila took the letters round . . ."

     The story of Gavrila was contained in seventy-two lines. At the  end of
the  poem, Gavrila, although wounded by a fascist bullet, managed to deliver
the letter to the right address.
     "Where does it take place? " they asked Lapis.
     It was  a good question.  There  were no fascists in  the  USSR, and no
Gavrilas or members of the post-office union abroad.
     "What's  wrong?" asked Lapis. "It takes place here, of course, and  the
fascist is disguised."
     "You know, Trubetskoi, you'd do better to write about a radio station."
     "Why don't you want the postman? "
     "Let's wait a bit. We'll take it conditionally.
     The crestfallen Nikifor Trubetskoi-Lapis went back to Gerasim and Mumu.
Napernikov  was already at  his desk. On  the wall  hung  a greatly enlarged
picture of Turgenev with a pince-nez, waders,  and a  double-barrel  shotgun
across his shoulders. Beside Napernikov stood Lapis's rival, a poet from the
     The same old story  of Gavrila  was begun again, but this time  with  a
hunting  twist  to  it.  The work  went under  the  title  of "The Poacher's

     Gavrila lay in wait for rabbits.
     Gavrila shot and winged a doe . . .

     "Very  good!"  said  the kindly  Napernikov. "You have surpassed Entich
himself  in  this  poem, Trubetskoi. Only there are one or two things to  be
changed. The first thing is to get rid of the word 'prayer'."
     "And 'rabbit'," said the rival.
     "Why 'rabbit'?" asked Nikifor in surprise.
     "It's the wrong season."
     "You hear that, Trubetskoi! Change the word 'rabbit' as well."
     After transformation the poem bore the title "The Poacher's Lesson" and
the rabbits  were  changed to snipe. It then turned out that  snipe were not
game birds in the summer, either. In its final form the poem read:

     Gavrila lay in wait for sparrows.
     Gavrila shot and winged a bird . . .

     After lunch in the canteen, Lapis set to work again. His white trousers
flashed up  and down the corridor. He entered various editorial offices  and
sold the many-faced Gavrila.
     In the Co-operative Flute Gavrila was submitted under the title of "The
Eolean Recorder".
     Gavrila worked behind the counter. Gavrila did a trade in flutes . . .
     The simpletons in the voluminous magazine The  Forest as It Is bought a
short poem by Lapis entitled "On the Verge". It began like this:

     Gavrila passed through virgin forest,
     Hacking at the thick bamboo . . .

     The last Gavrila for that day  worked in a bakery. He was found a place
in the editorial  office of The Cake Worker. The  poem had the long  and sad
title of "Bread, Standards of Output, and  One's  Sweetheart". The  poem was
dedicated to a mysterious Hina Chlek. The beginning was as epic as before:

     Gavrila had a job as baker.
     Gavrila baked the cakes and bread . . .

     After a delicate argument, the dedication was deleted.
     The saddest thing of all  was that  no one gave  Lapis any  money. Some
promised to  pay him  on  Tuesday,  others said Thursday,  or  Friday in two
weeks' time.  He was forced to go  and  borrow money from the enemy camp-the
place where he was never published.
     Lapis  went  down to the second floor  and  entered the office  of  the
Lathe. To his misfortune he immediately bumped into Persidsky, the slogger.
     "Ah!" exclaimed Persidsky, "Lapsus!"
     "Listen,"  said Nikifor Lapis, lowering his  voice. "Let me  have three
roubles. Gerasim and Mumu owes me a pile of cash."
     "I'll give you half a rouble. Wait a moment. I'm just coming."
     And  Persidsky returned with a dozen employees of the  Lathe.  Everyone
joined in the conversation.
     "Well, how have you been making out?" asked Persidsky.
     "I've written a marvellous poem!"
     "About Gavrila? Something peasanty? 'Gavrila ploughed the fields early.
Gavrila just adored his plough'?"
     "Not about Gavrila. That's a pot-boiler," said Lapis defensively. "I've
written about the Caucasus."
     "Have you ever been to the Caucasus?"
     "I'm going in two weeks."
     "Aren't you afraid, Lapis? There are jackals there."
     "Takes more than that  to frighten me. Anyway, the ones in the Caucasus
aren't poisonous."
     They all pricked up their ears at this reply.
     "Tell me, Lapis," said Persidsky, "what do you think jackals are?"
     "I know what they are. Leave me alone."
     "All right, tell us then if you know."
     "Well, they're sort of . . . like . . . snakes."
     "Yes, of course,  right as  usual. You  think  a wild-goat's saddle  is
served at table together with the spurs."
     "I never said that," cried Trubetskoi. . .
     "You didn't say it, you wrote  it. Napernikov told me you tried to palm
off  some doggerel on Gerasim and  Mumu, supposed  to  be about the everyday
life of hunters. Honestly, Lapis, why do you write about things you've never
seen  and haven't the first  idea about? Why  is the peignoir in  your  poem
'Canton' an evening dress? Why?"
     "You philistine!" said Lapis boastfully.
     "Why is it that  in your poem 'The Budyonny Stakes' the jockey tightens
the hame strap and then gets into the  coach  box? Have you ever seen a hame
     "What's it like?"
     "Leave me alone. You're nuts!" ,
     "Have you ever seen a coach box or been to the races?"
     "You  don't have to go everywhere!"  cried Lapis. "Pushkin wrote  poems
about Turkey without ever having been there."
     "Oh, yes. Erzerum is in Tula province, of course."
     Lapis did not appreciate the sarcasm. He  continued heatedly.  "Pushkin
wrote from material he  read. He read the history of the Pugachov revolt and
then wrote about it. It was Entich who told me about the races."
     After this masterly defence, Persidsky dragged the resisting Lapis into
the next  room.  The onlookers followed.  On the wall hung a large newspaper
clipping edged in black like an obituary notice.
     "Did you write this piece for the Captain's Bridge!"
     "Yes, I did."
     "I  believe it  was your first attempt  at prose. Congratulations! 'The
waves rolled across the pier and  fell headlong below like a jack.' A lot of
help to the Captain's  Bridge you are!' The Bridge won't forget you for some
     "What's the matter?"
     "The matter is . . . do you know what a jack is?"
     "Of course I know. Leave me alone."
     "How do you envisage a jack? Describe it in your own words."
     "It. . . sort of. . . falls."
     "A  jack  falls. Note  that,  everyone. A jack  falls headlong. Just  a
moment, Lapis, I'll bring you half a rouble. Don't let him go."
     But this time, too, there  was  no  half-rouble forthcoming.  Persidsky
brought back the twenty-first volume of the Brockhaus encyclopaedia.
     "Listen! 'Jack: a machine for lifting heavy weights. A simple jack used
for lifting carriages, etc., consists of  a mobile toothed bar gripped  by a
rod which is turned by means of a lever'  . . . And here . . . 'In 1879 John
Dixon set  up  the  obelisk  known  as Cleopatra's Needle by means  of  four
workers  operating  four  hydraulic  jacks.' And  this  instrument, in  your
opinion, can fall  headlong? So  Brockhaus  has deceived humanity  for fifty
years?  Why do you write such rubbish instead of  learning? Answer!" "I need
the money."
     "But you never have any. You're always trying to cadge half-roubles."
     "I bought  some furniture and  went through  my budget."  "And how much
furniture did you  buy? You get paid for your pot-boilers as much as they're
worth-a kopek."  "A kopek be damned. I bought a  chair at an auction which-"
"Is sort of like a snake? "
     "No,  from a palace. But I had some bad  luck. Yesterday when I arrived
back from-"
     "Hina Chlek's," cried  everyone present in one voice. "Hina!  I haven't
lived with Hina for years. I was returning from a discussion on  Mayakovsky.
I went in. The window was open. I felt at once something had happened."
     "Dear,  dear,"  said  Persidsky,  covering his face  with his hands. "I
feel, Comrades, that Lapis's greatest masterpiece has been stolen.  'Gavrila
had a job as doorman; Gavrila used to open doors.'"
     "Let  me finish.  Absolute vandalism! Some  wretches  had got into  the
apartment  and  ripped open the entire chair covering. Could anyone lend  me
five roubles for the repairs?"
     "Compose  a  new  Gavrila  for  the repairs. I'll  even  give  you  the
beginning. Wait  a moment.  Yes, I know.  'Gavrila hastened  to the  market,
Gavrila  bought  a rotten chair.' Write it down  quickly. You can make  some
money on that in  the Chest-of-Drawers Gazette.  Oh, Trubetskoi, Trubetskoi!
Anyway, why  are you called Trubetskoi? Why don't you  choose a better name?
Niki for Dolgoruky. Or Nikifor  Valois. Or,  still  better, Citizen Niki-for
Sumarokov-Elston. If  ever you  manage to get some easy  job,  then you  can
write three  lines for Gerasim right away and you  have a marvellous way  to
save  yourself. One piece of rubbish is signed Sumarokov, the second Elston,
and the third Yusupov. God, you hack!"

     Ippolit Matveyevich  was slowly becoming  a  boot-licker.  Whenever  he
looked at Ostap, his eyes acquired a blue lackeyish tinge.
     It was so hot in Ivanopulo's  room  that Vorobyaninov's  chairs creaked
like logs in the fireplace. The  smooth operator  was having a nap with  the
light-blue waistcoat under his head.
     Ippolit Matveyevich  looked out  of the window.  A carriage  emblazoned
with a coat of arms  was moving along the curved side street,  past the tiny
Moscow gardens. The black gloss reflected the passers-by one after  another,
a horseguard in  a brass  helmet, society  ladies, and  fluffy white clouds.
Drumming the roadway with their  hooves, the horses drew  the  carriage past
Ippolit Matveyevich. He winced with disappointment.
     The carriage bore the initials  of the Moscow communal services and was
being used to carry away refuse; its slatted sides reflected nothing at all.
     In the coachman's seat sat a fine-looking  old  man with a fluffy white
beard. If Ippolit Matveyevich had known that this was  none other than Count
Alexei Bulanov, the famous hermit hussar, he would  probably have hailed the
old man and chatted with him about the good old days.
     Count Bulanov was  deeply troubled. As  he  whipped  up  the horses, he
mused  about  the  red  tape  that  was  strangling  the  sub-department  of
sanitation, and on account of which he  had not received for  six months the
apron he was entitled to under his contract.
     "Listen," said the smooth operator suddenly. "What did they call you as
a boy?"
     "What do you want to know for?"
     "I just  want to  know  what  to  call  you.  I'm  sick of calling  you
Vorobyaninov, and  Ippolit Matveyevich is  too stuffy. What were you called?
     "Pussy," replied Ippolit Matveyevich with a snicker.
     "That's more like it. So look, Pussy, see what's wrong with my back. It
hurts between the shoulder-blades."
     Ostap pulled the cowboy shirt over  his head. Before Pussy Vorobyaninov
was  revealed the broad back of a provincial Antinous;  a back of enchanting
shape, but rather dirty.
     "Aha! I see some redness."
     Between  the  smooth  operator's shoulders were  some strangely  shaped
mauve bruises which reflected colours like a rainbow in oil.
     "Honestly, it's the number  eight," exclaimed Vorobyaninov. "First time
I've ever seen a bruise like that."
     "Any other number?" asked Ostap.
     "There seems to be a letter P."
     "I have no more questions. It's quite clear. That damned  pen! You  see
how  I  suffer,  Pussy,  and  what  risks  I  run  for  your  chairs.  These
arithmetical figures were branded  on me by the huge self-falling pen with a
No. 86 nib. I should point out to you that the damned pen fell on my back at
the very moment  I inserted  my hands  inside the chief  editor's chair. But
you! You can't do anything right! Who was it messed up Iznurenkov's chair so
that I had to go and do your work for you? I won't even mention the auction.
A fine time to  go woman-chasing.  It's simply bad for you at your age to do
that. Look after your health. Take me,  on the other hand. I got the widow's
chair.  I got the two Shukin chairs.  It was me who finally got Iznurenkov's
chair. It was me who went to the newspaper office and to  Lapis's. There was
only one chair that you managed to run down,  and that was  with the help of
your holy enemy, the archbishop."
     Silently  walking  up and down in his bare  feet, the technical adviser
reasoned with the submissive Pussy.
     The chair which had vanished into the goods yard of October Station was
still a blot on the glossy schedule  of  the concession. The four  chairs in
the Columbus  Theatre  were a sure bet, but the theatre was about to make  a
trip  down the  Volga  aboard  the lottery  ship,  S.S.  Scriabin,  and  was
presenting the premiere of The Marriage that  day as the last  production of
the  season. The partners had to decide whether to stay in  Moscow and  look
for the chair lost in the wilds of Kalanchev Square, or  go on tour with the
troupe. Ostap was in favour of the latter.
     "Or perhaps we should split up?" he  suggested.  "I'll go  off with the
theatre and you stay and find out about the chair in the goods yard."
     Pussy's grey eyelashes flickered so fearfully, however, that Ostap  did
not bother to continue.
     "Of the two birds," said Ostap, "the meatier should be chosen. Let's go
together. But the expenses will be considerable. We shall need money. I have
sixty roubles left. How much have you? Oh,  I forgot. At your age a maiden's
love is so expensive! I decree  that we go  together to the premiere  of The
Marriage.  Don't forget  to  wear tails. If the  chairs  are still there and
haven't been sold  to  pay  social-security  debts,  we  can leave tomorrow.
Remember,  Vorobyaninov,  we've now reached the  final act of the  comedy My
Mother-in-Low's  Treasure.  The  Finita  la  Comedia  is  fast  approaching,
Vorobyaninov. Don't gasp, my old friend. The call of the footlights!  Oh, my
younger  days!  Oh,  the  smell  of  the wings!  So many memories!  So  many
intrigues and affairs I How talented I was in my time in the role of Hamlet!
In short, the hearing is continued."
     For the  sake of economy they went to the theatre on foot. It was still
quite light, but the  street lamps  were  already casting their lemon light.
Spring was dying before  everyone's eyes. Dust chased it from  the  squares,
and a warm breeze drove it from  the  side  streets.  Old women fondled  the
beauty  and drank  tea  with  it  at little  round tables in  the yards. But
spring's span of life had ended and it could not reach the people. And it so
much wanted to be at the Pushkin monument where  the  young men were already
strolling about in their jazzy caps, drainpipe trousers, "dog's-delight" bow
ties, and boots.
     Mauve-powdered  girls circulated  between the  holy  of  holies  of the
Moscow Consumers'  Union  and the  'Commune'  cooperative.  The  girls  were
swearing audibly. This was the hour when pedestrians slowed down their pace,
though not because Tverskaya Street was becoming crowded. Moscow horses were
no better than the Stargorod ones. They stamped their hooves just as much on
the edges of the roadway.  Cyclists  rode  noiselessly by  from their  first
large  international  match  at the Young Pioneer stadium. The ice-cream man
trundled along his green trolley full of May Thunder ice-cream, and squinted
timorously  at the militiaman; but the latter was chained to the spot by the
flashing signal with which he regulated the traffic, and was not dangerous.
     The  two  friends  made  their  way  through  the  hustle  and  bustle.
Temptation lay  in wait for them  at every  step. Different types of meat on
skewers were being  roasted in  full  view of the street in the  tiny eating
plates. Hot, appetizing fumes rose up to the bright sky. The sound of string
music  was  wafted from beer halls, small restaurants, and the 'Great Silent
Film' cinema. A loud-speaker raved away at a tram-stop.
     It was time  to put a spurt on. The  friends  reached  the foyer of the
Columbus Theatre.
     Vorobyaninov rushed to the box office and read the list of seat prices.
"Rather expensive,  I'm afraid," he said. "Three roubles  for  the sixteenth
     "How I  dislike these provincial  philistines,"  Ostap observed. "Where
are you going? Can't you see that's the box office?"
     "Where else? We won't get in without tickets."
     "Pussy,  you're  vulgar.  In  every well-built  theatre there  are  two
windows.  Only  courting  couples  and wealthy heirs  go  to the  box-office
window. The other citizens (they make up the majority, you  may observe)  go
straight to the manager's window."
     And, indeed,  at the box-office window  were  only about  five modestly
dressed people. They may have been wealthy heirs or courting couples. At the
manager's  window, however,  there  was great activity. A colourful line had
formed. Young men in fashioned jackets and trousers of the same cut (which a
provincial could never have dreamed of owning) were confidently waving notes
from  friendly   directors,  actors,  editors,  theatrical  costumiers,  the
district  militia  chief,  and other  persons  closely  connected  with  the
theatre,  such as members of the theatre and film  critics' association, the
'Poor Mothers' Tears' society, the school council of the Experimental Circus
Workshop, and some extraordinary name,  like Fortinbras at Umslopogas. About
eight people had notes from Espere Eclairovich.
     Ostap barged into the line, jostled aside the Fortinbrasites, and, with
a cry of "I only want some  information: can't  you  see I haven't taken  my
galoshes off!" pushed his way to the window and peered inside.
     The  manager  was  working  like  a  slave.   Bright  diamonds  of   __
perspiration irrigated his fat face. The  telephone interrupted him all  the
time  and  rang with the  obstinacy  of a  tram trying  to pass  through the
Smolensk market.
     "Hurry up and give me the note!" he shouted at Ostap.
     "Two seats," said Ostap quietly, "in the stalls."
     "Who for?"
     "And who might you be?"
     "Now surely you know me?"
     "No, I don't."
     But  the stranger's  gaze was  so innocent and open that the  manager's
hand by itself gave Ostap two seats in the eleventh row,
     "All kinds come here," said  the manager, shrugging his shoulders. "Who
knows who  they are? They may  be from the Ministry of  Education. I seem to
have seen him at the Ministry. Where else could it have been? "
     And mechanically issuing passes  to the lucky film and theatre critics,
the manager went on quietly trying to remember where he had seen those clear
eyes before.
     When  all the  passes had  been issued and the lights went down  in the
foyer,  he remembered he had seen them in the Taganka prison  in 1922, while
he was doing time for some trivial matter.
     Laughter echoed  from  the eleventh  row where the concessionaires were
sitting. Ostap liked the musical  introduction performed by the orchestra on
bottles, Esmarch douches, saxophones, and large bass drums. A flute whistled
and the curtain went up, wafting a breath of cool air.
     To  the   surprise  of  Vorobyaninov,  who  was  used  to  a  classical
interpretation of The  Marriage, Podkolesin was not on the stage.  Searching
around with his eyes, he perceived some plyboard  triangles hanging from the
ceiling  and painted the primary colours of  the spectrum.  There  "were  no
doors or blue muslin  windows. Beneath  the  multicoloured triangles  danced
young  ladies in  large hats  from black  cardboard. The clinking of bottles
brought forth  Podkolesin, who  charged  into the  crowd riding on  Stepan's
back. Podkolesin was arrayed in courier's dress. Having dispersed  the young
ladies with words which were not in the play, he bawled out :
     At the same time he leaped to one side and froze  in a  difficult pose.
The Esmarch douches began to clatter.
     "Stepan!" repeated Podkolesin, taking another leap.
     But since Stepan, who was  standing right  there in a leopard skin, did
not respond, Podkolesin asked tragically:
     "Why are you silent, like the League of Nations?"
     "I'm obviously afraid of Chamberlain,"  replied Stepan,  scratching his
     There was  a  general  feeling that  Stepan would  oust Podkolesin  and
become the chief character in this modernized version of the play.
     "Well, is the tailor making a coat?"
     A leap. A blow on the Esmarch douches. Stepan stood  on his hands  with
an effort and, still in that position, answered:
     "Yes, he is."
     The orchestra played a potpourri from Madam Butterfly.  Stepan stood on
his hands the whole time. His face flooded with colour.
     "And didn't the tailor ask what the master wanted such good cloth for?"
     Stepan,  who  by this time  was pitting  in the orchestra  cuddling the
conductor,  answered:  "No,  he didn't. He's not a  member  of  the  British
Parliament, is he?"
     "And didn't the tailor ask whether the master wished to get married?"
     "The tailor asked whether the master wanted to pay alimony."
     At this point the lights went out and the audience began stamping their
feet. They kept  up  the stamping until  Podkolesin's voice could  be  heard
saying from the stage:

     The Marriage

     Text. . . N. V. Gogol
     Verse . . . M. Cherchezlafemmov
     Adaptation. . . I. Antiokhiisky
     Musical accompaniment. . . Kh. Ivanov
     Producer . . . Nich. Sestrin
     Scenic effects . . . Simbievich-Sindievich
     Lighting . . . Platon Plashuk. Sound effects . . . Galkin,
     Palkin, Malkin, Chalkin and Zalkind.
     Make-up. . . Krult workshops; wigs by Foma Kochur
     Furniture by the Fortinbras woodwork shops attached to the
     Balthazar Umslopogas
     Acrobatics instructress: Georgetta Tiraspolskikh
     Hydraulic press operated by Fitter Mechnikov

     Programme composed, imposed
     and printed by the

     "Citizens! Don't be alarmed! The lights went out on purpose, as part of
the act. It's required for the scenic effects."
     The audience  gave in. The lights did not  go up again until the end of
the act. The drums rolled in complete darkness. A squad of soldiers  dressed
as  hotel doormen  passed  by,  carrying torches.  Then  Kochkarev  arrived,
apparently  on a  camel. This  could  only  be  judged  from  the  following
     "Ouch, how you frightened me! And you came on a camel, too."
     "Ah,  so you  noticed,  despite the darkness. I  wanted to bring  you a
fragrant camellia!"
     During the intermission the concessionaires read the programme.
     "Do you like it?" Ippolit Matveyevich asked timidly.
     "Do you?"
     "It's very interesting-only Stepan is rather odd."
     "No,  I don't like it," said Ostap.  "Particularly  the  fact  that the
furniture is from some  Vogopas workshops or other. I hope those aren't  our
chairs adapted to the new style."
     Their fears were  unjustified. At the beginning of  the second  act all
four chairs were brought on to the stage by Negroes in top hats.
     The matchmaking scene aroused the greatest interest among the audience.
At the moment Agafya Tikhonovna was coming down a rope  stretched across the
entire width of the theatre, the  terrifying orchestra  let out such a noise
that she nearly  fell off  into the audience.  But on the stage she balanced
perfectly. She was  wearing flesh-coloured  tights and a bowler. Maintaining
her  balance  by  means of  a green parasol  on which  was  written  "I want
Podkolesin",  she stepped along  the wire and everyone below immediately saw
that her  feet were dirty. She leaped from the wire straight  on to a chair,
whereupon  the Negroes, Podkolesin, Kochkarev in a  tutu, and the matchmaker
in a  bus driver's uniform all turned backward  somersaults. Then they had a
five-minute rest, to hide which the lights were turned out again.
     The suitors were  also very comic, particularly Omlette. In his place a
huge pan of fried  eggs was brought  on to the stage. The sailor wore a mast
with a sail.
     In vain did Starikov the merchant cry out that he was being crippled by
taxes.  Agafaya Tikhonovna did not like him.  She married Stepan.  They both
dived  into  the  fried eggs served  by Podkolesin,  who  had turned into  a
footman.  Kochkarev  and  Fekla  sang  ditties  about  Chamberlain  and  the
repayment he hoped to extort from Germany. The Esmarch douches played a hymn
for the dying and the curtain came down, wafting a breath of cool air.
     "I'm satisfied with the  performance,"  said  Ostap.  "The  chairs  are
intact. But we've no time to lose. If Agafya Tikhonovna  is going to land on
those chairs each day, they won't last very long."
     Jostling and  laughing,  the  young  men  in  their  fashioned  jackets
discussed the finer points of the scenic effects.
     "You need some shut-eye, Pussy," said Ostap. "We have  to stand in line
for tickets early tomorrow  morning. The theatre  is leaving by express  for
Nizhni tomorrow evening at seven. So get two seats in a hard coach to Nizhni
on the Kursk Railway. We'll sit it out. It's only one night."
     The next day the  Columbus Theatre was sitting in  the  buffet at Kursk
Station.  Having taken steps to see that the scenic effects went by the same
train,  Simbievich-Sindievich was having a  snack  at  one  of  the  tables.
Dipping his moustache into the beer, he asked the fitter nervously:
     "The hydraulic press won't get broken on the way, will it?"
     "It's not the press that's the trouble," said fitter Mechnikov.
     "It's that it only works for five minutes and we have to cart it around
the whole summer."
     "Was it any easier with the 'time projector' from the Ideology Powder!"
     "Of course it was. The projector was big, but not so fragile."
     At the next  table sat Agafya Tikhonovna, a  youngish  woman with  hard
shiny  legs, like  skittles.  The  sound  effects  -Galkin,  Palkin, Malkin,
Chalkin and Zalkind-fussed around her.
     "You didn't keep in time  with me  yesterday," she complained. "I might
have fallen off."
     "What can we do?" clamoured the sound effects. "Two douches broke."
     "You  think it's easy to get an Esmarch douche from abroad  nowadays? "
cried Galkin.
     "Just try going to the  State Medical Supply Office. It's impossible to
buy a thermometer, let alone an Esmarch douche," added Palkin.
     "Do you play thermometers as well?" asked the girl, horrified.
     "It's not  that we play  thermometers," observed Zalkind, "but that the
damned douches are enough  to drive you out of your mind and we have to take
our own temperatures."
     Nich. Sestrin,  stage  manager and  producer, was strolling  along  the
platform with his wife. Podkolesin and Kochkarev had downed three vodkas and
were wooing Georgetta Tiraspolskikh, each trying to outdo the other.
     The concessionaires  had arrived two hours  before the train was due to
depart and were now on their sixth round of the garden laid out in front  of
the station.
     Ippolit Matveyevich's head was  whirling. The hunt for  the chairs  was
entering the last lap.  Long  shadows  fell on  the  scorching roadway. Dust
settled on  their wet, sweaty faces. Cabs rattled past them and there  was a
smell of petrol. Hired vehicles set down their passengers. Porters ran up to
them  and carried off the bags, while their badges glittered in the sun. The
Muse of Travel had people by the throat.
     "Let's get going as well," said Ostap.
     Ippolit Matveyevich meekly consented. All of a sudden he  came face  to
face with Bezenchuk, the undertaker.
     "Bezenchuk!" he exclaimed in amazement. "How did you get here?"
     Bezenchuk   doffed  his  cap   and  was  speechless   with   joy.  "Mr.
Vorobyaninov," he cried. "Greetin's to an honoured guest."
     "Well, how are things?"
     "Bad," answered the undertaker.
     "Why is that?"
     "I'm lookin' for clients. There ain't none about."
     "Is the Nymph doing better than you?"
     "Likely!  Could  they  do  better  than  me?  No  chance.   Since  your
mother-in-law, only Tierre and Constantine' has croaked."
     "You don't say! Did he really die?"
     "He croaked,  Ippolit  Matveyevich.  He  croaked at  his  post.  He was
shavin'  Leopold the chemist when he croaked. People said it was his insides
that bust, but I think it was the smell of medicine from the chemist that he
couldn't take."
     "Dear  me, dear me," muttered  Ippolit Matveyevich. "So you buried him,
did you?"
     "I buried him. Who else could? Does the Nymph, damn 'em, give tassels?"
     "You got in ahead of them, then? "
     "Yes,  I did, but  they beat me up afterwards. Almost beat the guts out
of me. The militia  took me away. I was in bed for two days.  I cured myself
with spirits."
     "You massaged yourself?"
     "No, I don't do that with spirits."
     "But what made you come here? "
     "I've brought my stock."
     "What stock?"
     "My  own. A guard I know helped  me bring it  here free in  the guard's
van. Did it as a friend."
     It  was  only  then that  Ippolit  Matveyevich noticed  a neat pile  of
coffins on the ground a little way from Bezenchuk. Some had tassels,  others
did not.  One of them Ippolit Matveyevich recognized immediately. It was the
large, dusty oak coffin from Bezenchuk's shop window.
     "Eight of them," said Bezenchuk smugly. "Like gherkins."
     "But who  needs  your  coffins  here?  They have  plenty  of  their own
     "What about the flu?"
     "What flu?"
     "The  epidemic. Prusis told me  flu was ragin'  in Moscow and there was
nothin' to bury people in. All the coffins were used up. So I decided to put
thin's right."
     Ostap,  who had been  listening  to  the  conversation  with curiosity,
intervened. "Listen, dad, the flu epidemic is in Paris."
     "In Paris?"
     "Yes,  go to  Paris.  You'll make  money. Admittedly, there may be some
trouble with the visa,  but don't give up.  If Briand  likes you, you'll  do
pretty   well.  They'll  set  you  up  as  undertaker-royal  to  the   Paris
municipality. Here they have enough of their own undertakers."
     Bezenchuk  looked around him  wildly. Despite the assurances of Prusis,
there  were certainly no bodies  lying about;  people were cheerfully moving
about on their feet, and some were even laughing.
     Long  after the train had carried off the concessionaires, the Columbus
Theatre, and various other people, Bezenchuk was still standing in a daze by
his  coffins. His  eyes shone  in the approaching darkness with  an unfading


     The smooth  operator stood with his friend and closest associate, Pussy
Vorobyaninov, on the  left of the passenger landing-stage of the state-owned
Volga  River Transport  System under a  sign  which said: "Use the rings for
mooring, mind the grating, and keep clear of the wall".
     Flags fluttered  above the quay. Smoke as curly as a cauliflower poured
from the funnels. The S.S. Anton Rubinstein was being  loaded at pier No. 2.
Dock workers dug their iron claws  into  bales  of  cotton;  iron  pots were
stacked in a square on the quayside, which was littered  with treated hides,
bundles of wire, crates of sheet glass, rolls  of cord  for binding sheaves,
mill-stones,   two-colour   bony  agricultural  implements,  wooden   forks,
sack-lined baskets of early cherries, and casks of herrings.
     The Scriabin was not in, which greatly disturbed Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "Why worry about it?" asked Ostap. "Suppose the Scriabin were here. How
would you  get aboard?  Even if you had the money to buy  a ticket, it still
wouldn't be any use. The boat doesn't take passengers."
     While still on the  train, Ostap had  already had a  chance  to talk to
Mechnikov, the fitter in  charge of  the  hydraulic press, and had found out
everything. The S.S. Scriabin had been chartered by the  Ministry of Finance
and was due to sail  from Nizhni to Tsaritsin,  calling at every river port,
and holding a government-bond  lottery. A complete government department had
left Moscow for the trip, including a lottery committee, an office  staff, a
brass band, a cameraman, reporters from  the central press and the  Columbus
Theatre. The theatre was there to perform  plays  which popularised the idea
of  government loans.  Up  to  Stalingrad  the Columbus Theatre  was  on the
establishment of the lottery committee, after which the  theatre had decided
to tour the Caucasus and the Crimea with The Marriage at its own risk.
     The Scriabin  was  late.  A promise was given that  she would leave the
backwater, where  last-minute preparations were  being made, by evening.  So
the whole department from Moscow set up  camp on the quayside and waited  to
go aboard.
     Tender creatures  with attache1  cases and hold-alls sat on the bundles
of wire,  guarding  their Underwoods, and  glancing  apprehensively  at  the
stevedores.  A  citizen  with a  violet  imperial  positioned  himself on  a
mill-stone. On his knees was a pile of enamel plates. A curious person could
have read the uppermost one:

     Mutual Settlement Department

     Desks with ornamental  legs and other,  more modest, desks stood on top
of one another. A guard sauntered up and down  by a  sealed safe. Persidsky,
who  was representing  the  Lathe, gazed  at the  fairground  through  Zeiss
binoculars with eightfold magnification.
     The  S.S.  Scriabin approached, turning  against the  stream. Her sides
were  decked  with plyboard sheets  showing  brightly  coloured  pictures of
giant-sized bonds.  The ship gave a roar, imitating  the sound of a mammoth,
or possibly some other animal used in prehistoric times, as a substitute for
the sound of a ship's hooter.
     The finance-and-theatre camp came  to life. Down the slopes to the quay
came the lottery  employees.  Platon Plashuk, a fat little man, toddled down
to the ship in a cloud  of dust. Galkin, Palkin, Malkin, Chalkin and Zalkind
flew out of  the  Raft beer-hall.  Dockers  were already loading  the  safe.
Georgetta Tiraspolskikh, the acrobatics instructress, hurried up the gangway
with  a  springy walk,  while Simbievich-Sindievich, still worried about the
scenic effects, raised his hands, at one moment to the  Kremlin heights, and
at another towards the captain standing on the bridge. The cameraman carried
his camera  high above the heads of  the crowd, and as he went he demanded a
separate cabin in which to set up a darkroom.
     Amid the  general confusion, Ippolit  Matveyevich made  his way over to
the chairs and was about to drag one away to one side.
     "Leave the chair  alone!" snarled Bender.  "Are  you  crazy? Even if we
take  one, the others will disappear for good. You'd do better to think of a
way to get aboard the ship."
     Belted with brass tubes, the band passed  along the landing-stage.  The
musicians looked with  distaste  at the saxophones, flexotones, beer bottles
and Esmarch douches, with which the sound effects were armed.
     The  lottery wheels arrived in a Ford  station wagon. They  were  built
into a  complicated device composed of  six  rotating cylinders with shining
brass and glass. It  took some  time to  set them up on  the lower deck. The
stamping about and exchange of abuse continued until late evening.
     In the lottery hall  people were erecting  a stage,  fixing notices and
slogans to  the  walls,  arranging  benches  for the  visitors, and  joining
electric cables to the lottery wheels. The desks were in the stern,  and the
tapping of typewriters, interspersed with laughter,  could be heard from the
typists' cabin. The pale man in the violet imperial walked the length of the
ship, hanging his enamel plates on the relevant doors.

     Mutual Settlement Department
     Personnel Department
     Engine Room

     To the larger plates the man with the imperial added smaller plates.

     No entry except on business
     No consultations
     No admittance to outsiders
     All inquiries at the registry

     The first-class  saloon had  been fitted up  for an exhibition of  bank
notes and bonds.  This  aroused a wave  of indignation  from Galkin, Palkin,
Malkin, Chalkin and Zalkind.
     "Where are  we  going  to eat?" they fretted. "And what  happens if  it
     "This  is too much," said  Nich. Sestrin to his assistant. "What do you
think, Seryozha? Can we do without the sound effects?"
     "Lord, no, Nicholas Constantinovich. The actors  are used to the rhythm
by now."
     A fresh racket broke  out. The "Five" had found that  the stage manager
had taken all four chairs to his cabin.
     "So that's it," said the "Five" ironically. "We're supposed to rehearse
sitting on our berths, while Sestrin and his wife, Gusta, who has nothing to
do with  our group, sit on the  four chairs. Perhaps  we should have brought
our own wives with us on this trip."
     The lottery ship was  watched malevolently from the  bank by the smooth
operator. A fresh outbreak of shouting reached the concessionaires' ears.
     "Why didn't you tell me before?" cried a committee member.
     "How was I to know he would fall ill."
     "A  hell of a mess we're in! Then go to  the  artists'-union office and
insist that an artist be sent here immediately."
     "How  can  I? It's now six o'clock. The union office closed  long  ago.
Anyway, the ship is leaving in half an hour."
     "Then you  can do the painting yourself. Since you're  responsible  for
the decorations on the ship, get out of the mess any way you like!"
     Ostap was already  running up  the  gangplank, elbowing his way through
the dockers, young ladies, and idle onlookers. He was stopped at the top.
     "Your pass?'
     "Comrade!"  roared Bender.  "You! You! The  little fat man! The one who
needs an artist!"
     Five minutes later the smooth operator was sitting  in the  white cabin
occupied by  the fat little assistant manager of  the  floating lottery, and
discussing terms.
     "So  we  want you to  do  the following, Comrade," said  fatty.  "Paint
notices,  inscriptions, and  complete the transparent. Our  artist began the
work,  but  is  now ill.  We've left  him at the  hospital. And, of  course,
general supervision of the art department.
     Can you take that on? I warn you, incidentally, there's a great deal of
     "Yes,  I can undertake that. I've had occasion  to do that kind of work
     "And you can come along with us now?"
     "That will be difficult, but I'll try."
     A large  and heavy  burden fell from  the  shoulders  of the  assistant
manager. With a feeling of relief, the fat man looked at the new artist with
shining eyes.
     "Your terms?" asked Ostap  sharply.  "Remember,  I'm not from a funeral
     "It's piecework. At union rates."
     Ostap frowned, which was very hard for him.
     "But free meals as  well," added the tubby man hastily. "And a separate
     "All right," said  Ostap,  "I  accept. But I have a boy, an  assistant,
with me."
     "I don't know about the  boy. There are no funds for a boy. But at your
own expense by all means. He can live in your cabin."
     "As you like. The kid is smart. He's used to Spartan conditions."
     Ostap was given  a pass for himself  and for the smart boy; he put  the
key of the cabin in his pocket and went out onto the hot deck. He felt great
satisfaction as he fingered the key. For the first time  in  his stormy life
he had both a key and an apartment. It  was  only  the money  he lacked. But
there was some right next to him  in  the chairs. The smooth operator walked
up and down the deck with his hands in his pockets, ignoring Vorobyaninov on
the quayside.
     At first Ippolit Matveyevich made signs; then he was even daring enough
to whistle.  But Bender  paid no heed. Turning his back on the  president of
the concession, he watched with interest as the  hydraulic press was lowered
into the hold.
     Final preparations  for casting off were being made. Agafya Tikhonovna,
alias Mura, ran with  clattering feet from her cabin to the stern, looked at
the  water,  loudly  shared her delight with  the  balalaika  virtuoso,  and
generally  caused  confusion  among  the  honoured officials of  the lottery
     The ship gave a second hoot.  At the terrifying sound the clouds  moved
aside. The  sun turned crimson and sank below the  horizon. Lamps and street
lights came on  in  the  town above. From the  market  in Pochayevsky Ravine
there  came  the  hoarse  voices  of  gramophones  competing  for  the  last
customers. Dismayed and lonely, Ippolit Matveyevich kept shouting something,
but no one heard him. The clanking of winches drowned all other sounds.
     Ostap Bender  liked  effects. It  was only just  before the third hoot,
when Ippolit Matveyevich no longer doubted that he had been abandoned to the
mercy of fate, that Ostap noticed him.
     "What are you standing there like a coy suitor for?  I thought you were
aboard  long ago. They're just going to raise the  gangplank. Hurry  up! Let
this citizen board. Here's his pass."
     Ippolit Matveyevich hurried aboard almost in tears.
     "Is this your boy?" asked the boss suspiciously.
     "That's  the one,"  said Ostap. "If  anyone  says he's  a girl,  I'm  a
     The fat man glumly went away.
     "Well, Pussy," declared Ostap, "we'll have to get down  to  work in the
morning.  I hope you can  mix paints.  And, incidentally,  I'm  an artist, a
graduate of the Higher Art and Technical Workshops, and you're my assistant.
If you don't like the idea, go back ashore at once."
     Black-green  foam surged up from  under the stern. The  ship shuddered;
cymbals clashed together, flutes, cornets, trombones and tubas thundered out
a  wonderful march, and  the town,  swinging around and trying  to  balance,
shifted to the left bank. Continuing to throb, the ship moved into midstream
and was soon swallowed up in the darkness. A minute later it was so far away
that the lights of the town looked like sparks from a rocket that had frozen
in space.
     The murmuring of typewriters could still  be heard, but nature and  the
Volga were gaining the upper hand. A cosiness enveloped all those aboard the
S.S. Scriabin. The members  of the lottery committee  drowsily  sipped their
tea. The  first meeting of the union committee, held in the prow, was marked
by tenderness. The warm wind  breathed so heavily, the water  lapped against
the sides of the ship so gently, and the dark outline of the shore sped past
the ship so  rapidly that when the  chairman  of the union committee, a very
positive  man, opened his  mouth  to  speak about working conditions  in the
unusual situation, he unexpectedly for himself, and for everyone else, began

     "A ship sailed down the Volga,
     Mother Volga, River Volga. . ."

     And the other, stern-faced  members taking part in  the meeting rumbled
the chorus:

     "The lilac bloo-ooms. . ."

     The resolution on the chairman's report was just  not recorded. A piano
began  to play. Kh. Ivanov, head of the musical accompaniment, drew the most
lyrical  notes from  the instrument. The  balalaika  virtuoso  trailed after
Murochka and, not finding any words of his own to express his love, murmured
the words of a love song.
     "Don't go  away! Your  kisses  still fire me,  your passionate embraces
never tire me.  The  clouds have not awakened in  the mountain  passes,  the
distant sky has not yet faded as a pearly star."
     Grasping  the  rail,  Simbievich-Sindievich contemplated  the  infinite
heavens. Compared  with  them,  his  scenic  effects  appeared  a  piece  of
disgusting vulgarity. He looked with revulsion at his hands, which had taken
such an eager part in arranging the scenic effects for the classical comedy.
     At the moment the languor was greatest, Galkin, Palkin, Malkin, Chalkin
and Zalkind, who  were in the stern of the ship, began banging away at their
surgical and  brewery appliances. They were rehearsing. Instantly the mirage
was  dispelled.  Agafya   Tikhonovna  yawned  and,  ignoring  the  balalaika
virtuoso, went to bed. The minds of  the trade  unionists were again full of
working conditions,  and  they  dealt  with  the resolution.  After  careful
consideration,  Simbievich-Sindievich  came  to  the  conclusion   that  the
production  of  The Marriage was not  really so bad. An irate voice from the
darkness  called Georgetta  Tiraspolskikh  to a  producer's conference. Dogs
began barking in the villages and it became chilly.
     Ostap  lay  in  a first-class cabin on  a leather  divan,  thoughtfully
staring at a green canvas work belt and questioning Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "Can you draw? That's a pity. Unfortunately, I can't, either."
     He thought for a while and then continued.
     "What about lettering? Can't do that either? Too bad. We're supposed to
be artists. Well, we'll manage for a day or so before  they kick  us out. In
the time  we're here we  can do everything  we  need  to. The  situation has
become a bit  more complicated. I've  found out that  the  chairs are in the
producer's cabin. But that's not so bad in the long run. The important thing
is that we're aboard.  All the chairs must be examined before they  throw us
off. It's too late for today. The producer's already asleep in his cabin."

     People were still asleep, but the river was as alive as in the daytime.
Rafts floated up and  down-huge fields of  logs with little wooden houses on
them. A  small, vicious tug with the name Storm Conqueror written in a curve
over  the paddle cover towed  along three  oil  barges  in a line.  The  Red
Latvia, a fast mail boat, came up the river. The Scriabin  overtook a convoy
of dredgers and, having measured her depth with a striped pole, began making
a circle, turning against the stream.
     Aboard ship people began to wake up. A weighted cord was sent flying on
to the Bramino quayside. With this line  the shoremen hauled over  the thick
end of the mooring rope. The screws  began turning the opposite way and half
the  river was covered  with seething  foam.  The Scriabin  shook  from  the
cutting strokes of the screw and sidled up to the pier. It was too early for
the lottery, which did not start until ten.
     Work began aboard the Scriabin just as it would  have  done  on land-at
nine sharp. No one changed his  habits. Those who were late for work on land
were late here, too, although they  slept on  the very  premises.  The field
staff of the Ministry of Finance adjusted themselves to the new routine very
quickly. Office-boys swept  out  their cabins with the same lack of interest
as  they swept out the offices in  Moscow. The cleaners took around tea, and
hurried with notes from  the registry to the personnel department, not a bit
surprised that the latter was in the stern and  the registry in the prow. In
the mutual  settlement  cabin the abacuses clicked like  castanets  and  the
adding machine made a grinding sound. In front of the wheelhouse someone was
being hauled over the coals.
     Scorching his  bare feet on the  hot  deck, the smooth  operator walked
round and round a long strip of bunting, painting some words on it, which he
kept comparing with a piece of paper: "Everyone to the lottery! Every worker
should have government bonds in his pocket."
     The smooth  operator  was doing  his  best, but his lack of  talent was
painfully obvious. The  words slanted downward and, at one stage,  it looked
as though the cloth had been completely spoiled. Then,  with the boy Pussy's
help, Ostap turned the strip the other way round and began again. He was now
more careful. Before  daubing on the letters, he had made two parallel lines
with  string  and chalk,  and  was now painting in  the letters, cursing the
innocent Vorobyaninov.
     Vorobyaninov  carried out his  duties  as  boy  conscientiously. He ran
below for  hot water, melted the glue,  sneezing as  he did so,  poured  the
paints into a bucket, and looked fawningly  into the exacting artist's eyes.
When the slogan was dry, the concessionaires took it below and fixed  it  on
the side.
     The fat little man who had hired Ostap ran ashore to see  what  the new
artist's  work looked  like from there. The  letters  of  the  words were of
different  sizes and  slightly cockeyed, but nothing could be done about it.
He had to be content.
     The brass band went ashore and began blaring out some stirring marches.
The  sound of the  music brought children  running from the whole of Bramino
and, after  them, the peasant men and women from the orchards. The band went
on blaring until all the members of the lottery committee had gone ashore. A
meeting began. From the porch steps of  Korobkov's tea-house came the  first
sounds of a report on the international situation.
     From the ship the Columbus Theatre goggled at the crowd. They could see
the  white kerchiefs of the women, who were standing hesitantly a little way
from the steps, a motionless throng of peasant men listening to the speaker,
and the speaker himself, from time to time waving his hands.  Then the music
began again. The band turned around and marched towards the gangway, playing
as it went. A crowd of people poured after it.
     The lottery device mechanically threw  up its combination  of  figures.
Its wheels went around, the numbers were announced, and the Bramino citizens
watched and listened.
     Ostap hurried  down  for a moment, made  certain all the inmates of the
ship were in the lottery hall, and ran up on deck again.
     "Vorobyaninov," he whispered. "I have an urgent task for you in the art
department. Stand by the entrance to the  first-class corridor  and sing. If
anyone comes, sing louder."
     The old man was aghast. "What shall I sing? "
     "Whatever  else,  don't make it  'God Save  the Tsar'.  Something  with
feeling.  'The Apple' or 'A  Beauty's  Heart'. But I warn you, if you  don't
come out with your aria in time .  . .  This isn't the experimental theatre.
I'll wring your neck."
     The smooth operator padded  into the cherry-panelled  corridor  in  his
bare feet. For a brief moment the large mirror in the corridor reflected his
figure. He read the plate on the door:

     Nich. Sestrin
     Columbus Theatre

     The  mirror cleared. Then the smooth operator reappeared in it carrying
a  chair with curved legs. He  sped  along the corridor, out on to the deck,
and,  glancing   at  Ippolit  Matveyevich,  took  the  chair  aloft  to  the
wheelhouse.  There was no one in the glass wheelhouse. Ostap took the  chair
to the back and said warningly:
     "The chair will stay here until tonight. I've worked it all out. Hardly
anyone comes here except us. We'll cover the chair with notices and as  soon
as it's dark we'll quietly take a look at its contents."
     A minute later the chair  was  covered up with sheets  of ply-board and
bunting, and was no longer visible.
     Ippolit Matveyevich was again seized with gold-fever.
     "Why don't you take it to your cabin? " he asked impatiently. "We could
open it  on the spot. And if we find the jewels, we can go ashore right away
     "And if we don't? Then what? Where are we going to put it? Or should we
perhaps  take it back  to  Citizen Sestrin and say politely: 'Sorry  we took
your chair, but  unfortunately  we didn't find anything in it, so here it is
back somewhat the worse for wear.' Is that what you'd do?"
     As always,  the smooth  operator  was right.  Ippolit  Matveyevich only
recovered from his embarrassment at the sound of  the overture played on the
Esmarch douches and batteries of beer bottles resounding from the deck.
     The lottery operations were  over for the day. The onlookers spread out
on the sloping banks and, above all expectation, noisily acclaimed the Negro
minstrels. Galkin,  Palkin,  Malkin, Chalkin and  Zalkind  kept  looking  up
proudly as though to say: 'There,  you see! And you said the  popular masses
would not understand. But art finds a way!'
     After this the  Colombus troupe gave a  short variety show with singing
and dancing  on an improvised  stage, the point of which  was to demonstrate
how Vavila the peasant boy won  fifty thousand  roubles and what came of it.
The actors, who  had  now  freed  themselves  from the chains  of  Sestrin's
constructivism, acted with spirit, danced energetically, and sang in tuneful
voices. The river-bank audience was thoroughly satisfied.
     Next came the balalaika virtuoso. The river bank broke into smiles.
     The balalaika was set in motion.  It  went  flying behind the  player's
back and from there came the "If the master has  a chain, it means he has no
watch". Then it went flying up in the air and, during the short flight, gave
forth quite a few difficult variations.
     It was then the turn of Georgetta Tiraspolskikh. She led  out a herd of
girls in sarafans. The concert ended with some Russian folk dances.
     While the Scriabin made preparations to continue its  voyage, while the
captain  talked  with the  engine-room  through the  speaking-tube,  and the
boilers blazed, heating the water, the brass band went ashore again and,  to
everyone's  delight, began  playing dances.  Picturesque  groups of  dancers
formed, full of movement. The setting sun sent down  a  soft, apricot light.
It  was an  ideal moment for  some newsreel shots. And, indeed,  Polkan  the
cameraman emerged  yawning from his cabin. Vorobyaninov, who had  grown used
to his part as  general office  boy,  followed him, cautiously  carrying the
camera. Polkan approached the side and glared at the bank. A soldier's polka
was being danced on the grass. The boys were stamping  their feet as  though
they wanted to split the planet. The  girls sailed around. Onlookers crowded
the  terraces and slopes.  An avant-garde French cameraman  would have found
enough  material here  to keep  him busy for  three  days.  Polkan, however,
having run his piggy eyes  along the bank, immediately turned around, ambled
to the  committee chairman, stood  him against a white  wall,  pushed a book
into his hand, and, asking  him not to move,  smoothly  turned the handle of
his cine-camera  for some minutes. He then led the bashful  chairman aft and
took him against the setting sun.
     Having  completed his shots,  Polkan retired pompously to his cabin and
locked himself in.
     Once more  the hooter sounded and once  more the sun hid in terror. The
second night fell and the steamer was ready to leave.
     Ostap thought with trepidation of the  coming morning. Ahead of him was
the job of making a cardboard figure of a sower sowing  bonds. This artistic
ordeal was too much for the smooth operator. He had managed to cope with the
lettering, but he had no resources left for painting a sower.
     "Keep  it  in mind," warned  the  fat man, "from  Vasyuki onward we are
holding evening lotteries, so we can't do without the transparent."
     "Don't worry at all,"  said Ostap,  basing his  hopes on that  evening,
rather than the next day. "You'll have the transparent."
     It was  a starry, windy night.  The  animals  in  the  lottery arc were
lulled to sleep. The lions from the  lottery  committee were asleep. So were
the  lambs from personnel, the goats from accounts, the  rabbits from mutual
settlement, the hyenas and jackals from sound  effects, and the pigeons from
the typistry.
     Only the shady couple lay  awake. The smooth  operator emerged from his
cabin  after  midnight.  He  was  followed  by the noiseless  shadow  of the
faithful Pussy.  They went  up  on deck  and  silently approached the chair,
covered with plyboard  sheets. Carefully removing the  covering, Ostap stood
the chair upright and, tightening his jaw, ripped open the upholstery with a
pair of pliers and inserted his hand.
     "Got it!" said Ostap in a hushed voice.

     Letter from Theodore
     written at the Good-Value Furnished Rooms in Baku to his wife
     In the regional centre of N.

     My dear and precious Kate,
     Every hour brings us nearer our happiness. I am writing to you from the
Good-Value Furnished  Rooms, having finished  all my  business. The city  of
Baku is very large. They say  kerosene is extracted here, but you still have
to go by electric train and I  haven't  any money. This  picturesque city is
washed  by the  Caspian. It really is very large in  size. The  heat here is
awful. I carry  my  coat in one  hand  and my jacket in the  other, and it's
still too hot. My hands sweat. I keep indulging in tea, and I've practically
no  money. But  no harm,  my dear,  we'll soon  have  plenty.  We'll  travel
everywhere and settle properly in Samara,  near our factory, and we'll  have
liqueurs to drink. But to get to the point.
     In its geographical position and size of population the city of Baku is
considerably greater than Rostov. But it is inferior  to Kharkov in traffic.
There  are  many  people  from  other parts  here.  Especially Armenians and
Persians. It's not far from Turkey, either, Mother. I went to the bazaar and
saw many  Turkish clothes  and shawls.  I wanted to buy  you a  present of a
Mohammedan blanket, but I didn't have any money. Then I thought that when we
are rich (it's only a matter  of days) we'll be able  to buy the  Mohammedan
     Oh, I forgot to tell you about two frightful things that happened to me
here in Baku: (1) I accidentally dropped your brother's coat in the Caspian;
and (2) I  was spat on in  the bazaar by a dromedary.  Both these happenings
greatly amazed me. Why do the authorities allows  such scandalous  behaviour
towards travellers, all the more since I had not  touched the dromedary, but
had  actually been  nice to it and tickled its nose with a twig. As for  the
jacket, everybody helped to fish it out and we only just managed it;  it was
covered with  kerosene, believe it or not. Don't mention a word about it, my
dearest. Is Estigneyev still having meals?
     I  have just  read through this letter and I see I haven't had a chance
to say anything. Bruns the engineer definitely works in As-Oil. But he's not
here  just  now.  He's  gone  to  Batumi on vacation. His  family  is living
permanently  in  Batumi.  I  spoke  to some people and  they  said  all  his
furniture  is  there in  Batumi.  He has  a little house there, at the Green
Cape-that's the  name of the summer resort (expensive, I hear). It costs Rs.
15 from here to Batumi. Cable me twenty here and I'll cable you all the news
from Batumi. Spread the  rumour  that  I'm  still  at my aunt's  deathbed in

     Your husband ever,

     P.S. While I was taking this letter to the post-box, someone stole your
brother's  coat from my  room  at the Good-Value. I'm very  grieved. A  good
thing it's summer. Don't say anything to your brother.

     While some of the characters in our book were convinced that time would
wait, and  others that it would not, time passed in its usual way. The dusty
Moscow  May was followed by a dusty June. In  the regional centre of N., the
Gos. No. 1 motor-car had been standing at the corner of Staropan  Square and
Comrade Gubernsky Street for two days,  now and then enveloping the vicinity
in desperate quantities of  smoke. One by one the shamefaced members  of the
Sword and Ploughshare conspiracy left the Stargorod prison,  having signed a
statement  that they would  not leave  the  town.  Widow  Gritsatsuyev  (the
passionate woman and poet's  dream) returned to her grocery business and was
fined only fifteen roubles for not placing the  price list of  soap, pepper,
blueing and other items in a conspicuous place-forgetfulness forgivable in a
big-hearted woman.

     "Got it!" said Ostap in a strangled voice. "Hold this!"
     Ippolit  Matveyevich took a fiat wooden box into  his  quivering hands.
Ostap continued to grope inside the chair in the darkness.
     A  beacon flashed  on the bank; a golden pencil spread across the river
and swam after the ship.
     "Damn it!" swore Ostap. "Nothing else."
     "There m-m-must be," stammered Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "Then you have a look as well."
     Scarcely breathing, Vorobyaninov knelt down and thrust his  arm as  far
as he could inside the chair. He  could feel the ends of the springs between
his fingers, but nothing else that was hard. There was a dry, stale smell of
disturbed dust from the chair.
     Ostap picked up the chair and  hurled it far over the side. There was a
heavy splash. Shivering in the damp night air, the concessionaires went back
to their cabin filled with doubts.
     "Well, at any rate we found something," said Bender.
     Ippolit Matveyevich took the box from his pocket and looked at it in  a
     "Come on, come on! What are you goggling at?"
     The box  was opened. On  the bottom lay a copper plate, green with age,
which said:

     begins a new batch of furniture
     St. Petersburg 1865

     Ostap read the inscription aloud.
     "But where are the jewels?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "You're remarkably  shrewd,  my  dear chair-hunter. As  you see,  there
aren't any."
     Vorobyaninov  was pitiful to look at. His slightly sprouting  moustache
twitched and the lenses of his pince-nez were misty. He  looked as though he
was about to beat his face with his ears in desperation.
     The  cold, sober  voice of  the smooth operator  had  its  usual  magic
effect.  Vorobyaninov  stretched his  hands  along  the  seams  of his  worn
trousers and kept quiet.
     "Shut up, sadness. Shut up, Pussy. Some day we'll have the laugh on the
stupid  eighth chair  in which we  found  the silly box. Cheer up! There are
three more chairs aboard; ninety-nine chances out of a hundred."
     During the  night a  volcanic pimple erupted on  the  aggrieved Ippolit
Matveyevich's cheek.  All his sufferings, all  his  setbacks, and the  whole
ordeal  of the jewel hunt seemed  to be  summed up in the  pimple, which was
tinged with mother-of-pearl, sunset cherry and blue.
     "Did you do that on purpose? " asked Ostap.
     Ippolit Matveyevich sighed convulsively and  went to  fetch the paints,
his tall  figure  slightly  bent,  like a fishing  rod. The  transparent was
begun. The concessionaires worked on the upper deck.
     And the third day of the voyage commenced.
     It  commenced with a brief clash  between the  brass band and the sound
effects over a place to rehearse.
     After  breakfast,  the  toughs  with  the brass tubes and  the  slender
knights with the Esmarch douches both  made  their way to the stern  at  the
same  time. Galkin  managed to get to  the bench first. A clarinet  from the
brass band came second.
     "The seat's taken," said Galkin sullenly.
     "Who by?" asked the clarinet ominously.
     "Me, Galkin."
     "Who else?"
     "Palkin, Malkin, Chalkin and Zalkind."
     "Haven't you got a Yolkin as well? This is our seat."
     Reinforcements were brought up on both sides. The most powerful machine
in the band was the helicon, encircled three times by a  brass  serpent. The
French horn swayed to and fro,  looking like a human  ear, and the trombones
were in a  state of readiness for  action. The sun  was reflected a thousand
times in their armour. Beside them the sound effects looked  dark and small.
Here and  there a  bottle glinted, the  enema douches glimmered faintly, and
the saxophone, that outrageous take-off of a musical instrument, was pitiful
to see.
     "The enema  battalion," said the bullying clarinet, "lays claim to this
     "You," said Zalkind,  trying  to find the  most cutting  expression  he
could, "you are the conservatives of music!"
     "Don't prevent us rehearsing."
     "It's  you  who're preventing  us.  The  less  you  rehearse  on  those
chamber-pots of yours, the nicer it sounds."
     "Whether you rehearse on those samovars  of yours or not makes  no damn
     Unable to reach any agreement, both sides remained where they were  and
obstinately began  playing  their own music. Down the  river  floated sounds
that could only have been made by a tram  passing  slowly over broken glass.
The  brass  played the Kexholm Lifeguards'  march, while  the sound  effects
rendered a  Negro dance,  "An Antelope at the  Source  of the  Zambesi". The
shindy was ended by the personal intervention of the chairman of the lottery
     At  eleven o'clock the  magnum opus was  completed. Walking  backwards,
Ostap and  Vorobyaninov  dragged their transparent up to the bridge. The fat
little man in charge ran in front with his hands in the air. By joint effort
the transparent was tied  to  the rail. It towered  above the passenger deck
like a cinema screen. In half an hour the electrician had laid cables to the
back  of the  transparent  and fitted  up  three lights  inside it. All that
remained was to turn the switch.
     Off the starboard bow the lights of  Vasyuki could  already be made out
through the darkness.
     The chief  summoned everyone  to  the  ceremonial illumination  of  the
transparent.  Ippolit  Matveyevich  and  the  smooth  operator  watched  the
proceedings from above, standing beside the dark screen.
     Every event  on board was  taken seriously  by the floating  government
department.  Typists,  messengers, executives,  the  Columbus  Theatre,  and
members  of the ship's company crowded  on  to the  passenger  deck, staring
     "Switch it on!" ordered the fat man.
     The transparent lit up.
     Ostap looked down at the crowd. Their  faces were bathed in pink light.
The onlookers  began laughing; then there was silence and a stern voice from
below said:
     "Where's the second-in-command?"
     The voice  was  so peremptory that  the  second-in-command rushed  down
without counting the steps.
     "Just have a look," said the voice, "and admire your work!"
     "We're about to be booted off," whispered Ostap to Ippolit Matveyevich.
     And,  indeed, the little fat man came flying up to  the top deck like a
     "Well,  how's  the transparent?"  asked  Ostap  cheekily.  "Is it  long
     "Collect your things!" shouted the fat man.
     "What's the hurry?"
     "Collect  your things! You're going to court! Our boss doesn't like  to
     "Throw him out!" came the peremptory voice from below.
     "But, seriously, don't you  like  our transparent? Isn't it really  any
     There  was  no point in continuing  the game. The  Scriabin had already
heaved  to,  and the faces  of the bewildered Vasyuki citizens  crowding the
pier could be seen from the  ship. Payment  was categorically refused.  They
were given five minutes to collect their things.
     "Incompetent fool," said Simbievich-Sindievich  as  the partners walked
down on to the pier. "They should have given the  transparent to me to do. I
would have done it so that no Meyer-hold would have had a look-in!"
     On  the  quayside  the  concessionaires  stopped  and  looked  up.  The
transparent shone bright against the dark sky.
     "Hm, yes,"  said Ostap, "the transparent is rather  outlandish. A lousy
     Compared with  Ostap's  work, any picture  drawn with  the  tail  of an
unruly  donkey  would have  been a  masterpiece.  Instead of a  sower sowing
bonds,  Ostap's mischievous hand  had  drawn a stumpy body with a sugar-loaf
head and thin whiplike arms.
     Behind the  concessionaires  the  ship blazed  with light and resounded
with music, while in front of them,  on the high bank,  was the darkness  of
provincial midnight, the barking of a dog, and a distant accordion.
     "I will sum up the situation," said Ostap light-heartedly.  "Debit: not
a cent of money; three chairs sailing down the river;  nowhere to go; and no
SPCC badge. Credit: a 1926 edition of a guidebook to the Volga (I was forced
to borrow it from Monsieur  Simbievich's cabin).  To balance  that without a
deficit would be very difficult. We'll have to spend the night on the quay."
     The  concessionaires arranged  themselves on the  riverside benches. By
the light of a battered kerosene lamp Ostap read the guide-book:

     On  the  right-hand  bank  is  the  town  of  Vasyuki. The  commodities
despatched from  here are  timber, resin, bark  and bast; consumer goods are
delivered  here for  the region,  which is  fifty  miles  from  the  nearest
     The  town has  a population  of 8,000; it has a  state-owned  cardboard
factory employing  520 workers, a  small foundry, a brewery  and  a tannery.
Besides normal academic establishments, there is also a forestry school.

     "The  situation is more  serious than I thought,"  observed  Ostap. "It
seems out of the question that we'll be able to squeeze any money out of the
citizens of Vasyuki. We nevertheless need thirty  roubles. First, we have to
eat, and, second, we have to catch up the lottery ship and meet the Columbus
Theatre in Stalingrad."
     Ippolit  Matveyevich curled up like  an  old  emaciated tomcat after  a
skirmish  with a younger  rival, an ebullient conqueror of roofs, penthouses
and dormer windows.
     Ostap walked up and  down the benches,  thinking and scheming.  By  one
o'clock a  magnificent  plan was ready. Bender  lay down by the side of  his
partner and went to sleep.

     A  tall,  thin,  elderly  man  in  a  gold  pince-nez  and  very  dirty
paint-splashed  boots had been walking about the town of Vasyuki since early
morning, attaching hand-written notices to walls. The notices read:

     On June 22,1927,
     a lecture entitled

     will be given at the Cardboardworker Club
     by Grossmeister (Grand Chess Master) O. Bender
     after which he will play

     on 160 boards

     Admission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 kopeks
     Participation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 kopeks
     Commencement at 6 p.m. sharp
     Bring your own chessboards
     MANAGER : K. Michelson

     The Grossmeister had  not been wasting his  time, either. Having rented
the club for three  roubles, he hurried across  to  the chess section, which
for some reason or  other was located in the corridor of the  horse-breeding
     In the chess section sat a one-eyed man reading a Panteleyev edition of
one of Spielhagen's novels.
     "Grossmeister O. Bender!"  announced Bender, sitting down on the table.
"I'm organizing a simultaneous chess match here."
     The Vasyuki chess player's one eye opened as wide as its natural limits
would allow.
     "One second, Comrade  Grossmeister," he cried. "Take a seat, won't you?
I'll be back in a moment."
     And the one-eyed man disappeared. Ostap looked around the chess-section
room. The walls were hung with photographs of racehorses; on the table lay a
dusty register marked "Achievements of the Vasyuki Chess Section for 1925".
     The one-eyed man returned  with a dozen citizens of varying ages.  They
all  introduced  themselves  in turn  and respectfully shook hands  with the
     "I'm on my way to Kazan," said Ostap abruptly. "Yes, yes, the  match is
this evening.  Do come along.  I'm sorry, I'm not in form at the moment. The
Carlsbad tournament was tiring."
     The Vasyuki  chess players listened  to him with  filial love  in their
eyes. Ostap was inspired, and felt a flood of new strength and chess ideas.
     "You wouldn't believe how far chess thinking has  advanced,"  he  said.
"Lasker, you know,  has gone as far as trickery. It's impossible to play him
any more. He blows cigar smoke over his opponents and smokes cheap cigars so
that the smoke will be fouler. The chess world is greatly concerned."
     The Grossmeister then turned to more local affairs.
     "Why  aren't there any  new ideas  about  in  the  province? Take,  for
instance,  your chess  section. That's what  it's called-the  chess section.
That's boring, girls! Why don't you call  it something else,  in true  chess
style?  It  would  attract  the trade-union  masses  into  the  section. For
example,  you could  call  it  The  Four Knights Chess  Club',  or  The  Red
End-game', or 'A Decline in the Standard of Play  with a Gain in Pace'. That
would be good. It has the right kind of sound."
     The idea was successful.
     "Indeed," exclaimed  the citizens, "why shouldn't we rename our section
The Four Knights Chess Club'?"
     Since the  chess committee was  there on the  spot,  Ostap  organized a
one-minute meeting under his  honorary  chairmanship, and the chess  section
was  unanimously renamed The Four Knights Chess  Club'. Benefiting  from his
lessons aboard the Scriabin, the Grossmeister artistically drew four knights
and the appropriate caption on a sheet of cardboard.
     This important step promised the flowering of chess thought in Vasyuki.
     "Chess!" said  Ostap. "Do you  realize  what chess  is? It promotes the
advance of  culture and  also  the economy.  Do  you realize  that  The Four
Knights   Chess  Club',  given  the  right  organization,  could  completely
transform the town of Vasyuki?"
     Ostap  had not  eaten  since  the day  before, which  accounted for his
unusual eloquence.
     "Yes," he cried, "chess  enriches a country! If  you agree to my  plan,
you'll soon be descending marble steps  to the quay! Vasyuki will become the
centre  of ten provinces! What  did you ever hear of  the town of  Semmering
before? Nothing! But now that miserable little town  is rich and famous just
because an international  tournament was  held  there. That's why I  say you
should organize an international chess tournament in Vasyuki."
     "How?" they all cried.
     "It's a  perfectly  practical  plan,"  replied  the  Grossmeister.  "My
connections and your activity are all that are required for an international
tournament in  Vasyuki.  Just  think  how  fine that  would  sound-The  1927
International Tournament to be held in  Vasyuki!' Such players as Jose-Raoul
Capablanca,  Lasker,  Alekhine,  Reti, Rubinstein, Tarrasch, Widmar  and Dr.
Grigoryev are bound to come. What's more, I'll take part myself!"
     "But what about the money?" groaned  the citizens. "They would all have
to be paid. Many thousands of roubles! Where would we get it?"
     "A powerful hurricane takes everything into account,"  said Ostap. "The
money will come from collections."
     "And who do you think is going to pay that kind of money? The people of
     "What do you mean, the people of Vasyuki? The people of Vasyuki are not
going to  pay money, they're going to receive it. It's all extremely simple.
After all, chess enthusiasts will come from all over the world  to attend  a
tournament   with   such   great  champions.   Hundreds  of   thousands   of
people-well-to-do  people-will  head  for  Vasyuki.  Naturally,  the   river
transport will not be able  to cope with such  a large number of passengers.
So the Ministry of Railways will  have  to build a main  line from Moscow to
Vasyuki. That's one thing.  Another is hotels and skyscrapers to accommodate
the  visitors.  The  third  thing is  improvement of the  agriculture over a
radius of five  hundred miles; the visitors  have to be provided with fruit,
vegetables,  caviar and chocolate. The building for the actual tournament is
the  next  thing.  Then  there's  construction  of garages  to  house  motor
transport  for the visitors. An extra-high power radio station will  have to
be built to broadcast the sensational  results of the tournament to the rest
of the world. Now about the Vasyuki railway. It most likely won't be able to
carry all the passengers wanting to come to Vasyuki, so we will have to have
a 'Greater Vasyuki' airport  with regular nights by mail planes and airships
to all parts of the globe, including Los Angeles and Melbourne."
     Dazzling  vistas  unfolded  before  the  Vasyuki chess enthusiasts. The
walls of the room melted away. The rotting walls of the stud-farm  collapsed
and in their  place  a thirty-storey building towered  into the  sky.  Every
hall,  every  room, and  even the lightning-fast  lifts  were full of people
thoughtfully playing chess on malachite encrusted boards.
     Marble  steps  led down to  the  blue Volga. Ocean-going  steamers were
moored on the river. Cablecars communicating with the town centre carried up
heavy-faced  foreigners,  chess-playing ladies, Australian advocates of  the
Indian  defence, Hindus in turbans, devotees of the Spanish gambit, Germans,
Frenchmen,  New Zealanders, inhabitants  of the  Amazon  basin,  and finally
Muscovites, citizens of Leningrad and Kiev, Siberians and natives of Odessa,
all envious of the citizens of Vasyuki.
     Lines  of  cars  moved  in  between the  marble hotels.  Then  suddenly
everything stopped. From out  of  the fashionable  Pass Pawn  Hotel came the
world champion Capablanca. He was surrounded by  women. A militiaman dressed
in  special chess uniform (check breeches and bishops in his lapels) saluted
smartly.  The  one-eyed president  of the  "Four  Knights  Club" of  Vasyuki
approached the champion in a dignified manner.
     The conversation  between the two luminaries, conducted in English, was
interrupted by  the arrival  by  air  of  Dr. Grigoryev and the future world
champion, Alekhine.
     Cries of  welcome shook the  town.  Capablanca glowered.  At a wave  of
one-eye's hand, a set of marble steps was run up to the plane. Dr. Grigoryev
came down,  waving his hat and commenting, as he went, on a possible mistake
by Capablanca in his forthcoming match with Alekhine.
     Suddenly a black dot was noticed on the horizon. It approached rapidly,
growing larger and  larger until  it  finally turned  into a  large  emerald
parachute. A man with an attache case  was hanging from  the harness, like a
huge radish.
     "Here he is!" shouted one-eye. "Hooray,  hooray, I recognize  the great
philosopher and chess player Dr. Lasker. He is the only person  in the world
who wears those green socks." Capablanca glowered again.
     The marble steps  were quickly  brought up for Lasker to alight on, and
the cheerful  ex-champion, blowing from his sleeve a speck of dust which had
settled on him over Silesia f ell into  the arms of  one-eye. The latter put
his arm around Lasker's waist and walked him over to the champion, saying:
     "Make up your quarrel!  On  behalf of the  popular masses of Vasyuki, I
urge you to make up your quarrel."
     Capablanca sighed loudly and, shaking hands with the veteran,  said: "I
always admired your idea of moving QK5 to QB3 in the Spanish gambit."
     "Hooray!"  exclaimed one-eye. "Simple and convincing in the style of  a
     And the incredible crowd joined in with: "Hooray! Vivat! Banzai! Simple
and convincing in the style of a champion!"
     Express trains sped into the twelve  Vasyuki stations,  depositing ever
greater crowds of chess enthusiasts.
     Hardly had the sky begun to glow from the brightly lit  advertisements,
when a white horse was led  through the streets of the town. It was the only
horse  left after the mechanization of the town's transportation. By special
decree it had been renamed a  stallion, although it had actually been a mare
the whole of its life. The lovers of chess acclaimed it with palm leaves and
     "Don't worry,"  continued Ostap,  "my scheme will guarantee the town an
unprecedented  boom in your production forces. Just  think what will  happen
when  the tournament  is over and the  visitors  have  left. The citizens of
Moscow,  crowded  together  on account of  the  housing shortage, will  come
flocking  to  your   beautiful  town.  The  capital  will  be  automatically
transferred  to  Vasyuki. The  government  will move here.  Vasyuki  will be
renamed  New  Moscow, and  Moscow  will become  Old  Vasyuki. The  people of
Leningrad and Kharkov will gnash their teeth in fury but won't be able to do
a  thing about  it.  New Moscow  will  soon become the  most elegant city in
Europe and, soon afterwards, in the whole world."
     "The whole world!! I" gasped the citizens of Vasyuki in a daze.
     "Yes, and, later on, in the universe. Chess thinking-which has turned a
regional centre into the capital of the world-will become an applied science
and will invent ways of  interplanetary communication. Signals  will be sent
from Vasyuki to Mars, Jupiter and Neptune. Communications with Venus will be
as easy as going  from Rybinsk  to Yaroslavl.  And then  who  knows what may
happen? In maybe eight or so years the first interplanetary chess tournament
in the history of the world will be held in Vasyuki."
     Ostap wiped his noble brow.  He  was  so hungry he  could have eaten  a
roasted knight from the chessboard.
     "Ye-es,"  said the one-eyed man with  a sigh, looking  around the dusty
room with an insane light in  his eye, "but how are we to  put the plan into
effect, to lay the basis, so to say?"
     They all looked at the Grossmelster tensely.
     "As I say, in practice the plan depends entirely  on  your activity.  I
will do all  the  organizing myself. There will be no actual expense, except
for the cost of the telegrams."
     One-eyed nudged his companions. "Well?" he asked, "what do you say?"
     "Let's do it, let's do it!" cried the citizens.
     "How much money is needed for the . . . er . . . telegrams?"
     "A mere bagatelle. A hundred roubles."
     "We  only  have twenty-one roubles  in  the  cash box. We  realize,  of
course, that it is by no means enough . . ."
     But the Grossmeister proved to  be accommodating. "All right," he said,
"give me the twenty roubles."
     "Will it be enough?" asked one-eye.
     "It'll  be enough  for the  initial telegrams. Later  on  we can  start
collecting contributions. Then there'll be so much money we shan't know what
to do with it."
     Putting  the money away in  his  green field  jacket, the  Grossmeister
reminded the gathered citizens of his lecture  and simultaneous match on one
hundred  and sixty boards, and, taking leave of them until evening, made his
way to the Cardboard-worker Club to find Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "I'm starving," said Vorobyaninov in a tremulous voice.
     He was  already sitting  at the window of the box office, but  had  not
collected one kopek; he could not even buy a hunk of bread. In  front of him
lay a green wire basket intended for the money. It was the kind that is used
in middle-class houses to hold the cutlery.
     "Listen, Vorobyaninov," said Ostap, "stop your cash transactions for an
hour and  come and  eat  at  the  caterers' union canteen. I'll describe the
situation as we go. By the way, you need a shave and brush-up. You look like
a tramp. A Grossmeister cannot have such suspicious-looking associates."
     "I haven't sold a single ticket," Ippolit Matveyevich informed him.
     "Don't worry. People will  come  flocking  in towards evening. The town
has  already  contributed  twenty  roubles  for   the   organization  of  an
international chess tournament."
     "Then why bother about the simultaneous match?" whispered his  manager.
"You may lose the games anyway. With twenty roubles we can  now  buy tickets
for  the  ship-the  Karl  Liebknecht  has just  come  in-travel  quietly  to
Stalingrad and  wait for  the  theatre  to arrive. We can probably  open the
chairs there. Then we'll be rich and the world will belong to us."
     "You shouldn't say such silly things on an empty stomach. It has a  bad
effect on the brain. We might  reach Stalingrad on twenty  roubles, but what
are we going  to eat with?  Vitamins, my dear comrade marshal, are not given
away  free. On the other hand, we can get  thirty roubles  out of the locals
for the lecture and match."
     "They'll slaughter us!" said Vorobyaninov.
     "It's a risk, certainly. We may be manhandled a bit. But anyway, I have
a nice little plan which will save you, at least. But we can talk about that
later on. Meanwhile, let's go and try the local dishes."
     Towards six  o'clock  the  Grossmeister,  replete,  freshly shaven, and
smelling of  eau-de-Cologne, went into the box office of the Cardboardworker
     Vorobyaninov, also freshly shaven, was busily selling tickets.
     "How's it going? " asked the Grossmeister quietly.
     "Thirty have gone  in and  twenty  have  paid  to  play," answered  his
     "Sixteen roubles. That's bad, that's bad!" -
     "What do you mean, Bender?  Just look  at the number of people standing
in line. They're bound to beat us up."
     "Don't think about it. When they hit you, you can cry. In the meantime,
don't dally. Learn to do business."
     An  hour  later  there  were thirty-five roubles  in  the cash box. The
people in the clubroom were getting restless.
     "Close  the window and  give me the  money!" said Bender.  "Now listen!
Here's five roubles. Go down to the quay, hire a boat for a couple of hours,
and wait for me by the riverside just below  the warehouse. We're going  for
an evening boat trip. Don't worry about me. I'm in good form today."
     The Grossmeister entered the clubroom. He felt in good spirits and knew
for certain that the first  move-pawn  to  king four-would not cause him any
complications. The remaining  moves were, admittedly,  rather  more obscure,
but that did not disturb the smooth operator in the least. He had worked out
a surprise plan to extract him from the most hopeless game.
     The Grossmeister was greeted  with  applause.  The small  club-room was
decorated with  coloured flags left over from an  evening held a week before
by  the lifeguard rescue service. This  was  clear,  furthermore,  from  the
slogan on the wall:


     Ostap bowed, stretched  out his hands as though  restraining the public
from undeserved applause, and went up on to the dais.
     "Comrades and brother chess players," he said in a fine speaking voice:
"the  subject  of  my lecture  today is  one on which  I spoke, not  without
certain success, I may add, in Nizhni-Novgorod a week ago. The subject of my
lecture is 'A Fruitful Opening Idea'.
     "What,  Comrades,  is  an opening? And  what,  Comrades, is an idea? An
opening, Comrades, is quasi una fantasia. And what, Comrades, is an idea? An
idea,  Comrades, is a human thought moulded in logical chess form. Even with
insignificant forces  you  can master  the whole of  the chessboard.  It all
depends on each  separate individual.  Take,  for example,  the  fair-haired
young man sitting in the third  row. Let's assume he plays well. .  . ." The
fair-haired young man turned red.
     "And let's suppose that the brown-haired fellow over there doesn't play
very well."
     Everyone turned around and looked at the brown-haired fellow.
     "What do  we see, Comrades?  We see  that the fair-haired fellow  plays
well and  that the other one  plays badly. And no  amount  of lecturing  can
change  this correlation of  forces  unless each  separate  individual keeps
practising his dra-I mean chess. And now, Comrades, I would like to tell you
some  instructive stories  about  our esteemed ultramodernists,  Capablanca,
Lasker and Dr Grigoryev."
     Ostap  told  the  audience  a  few  antiquated  anecdotes,  gleaned  in
childhood  from the Blue Magazine, and this completed the first  half of the
     The brevity  of  the lecture caused certain surprise. The  one-eyed man
was keeping his single peeper firmly fixed on the Grossmeister.
     The beginning of  the  simultaneous chess  match,  however, allayed the
one-eyed chess player's growing  suspicions. Together  with the rest, he set
up the tables along three sides of the room. Thirty enthusiasts in  all took
their  places  to play  the  Grossmeister. Many  of  them  were  in complete
confusion  and kept glancing at books on chess to refresh their knowledge of
complicated variations, with the  help  of which they hoped  not to have  to
resign before the twenty-second move, at least.
     Ostap ran his eyes along  the line of black chessmen surrounding him on
three sides,  looked at the door, and then began the game. He went up to the
one-eyed man, who was sitting at the first  board, and moved the king's pawn
forward two squares.
     One-eye immediately seized hold of his ears and began thinking hard.
     A whisper  passed  along the  line of players.  "The  Grossmeister  has
played pawn to king four."
     Ostap  did not pamper his opponents with a  variety of openings. On the
remaining twenty-nine boards he  made  the same  move-pawn to king four. One
after another the enthusiasts seized their heads and  launched into feverish
discussions. Those who were not playing followed the Grossmeister with their
eyes. The only amateur photographer in the town was about to clamber on to a
chair and light  his magnesium  flare when Ostap waved his arms angrily and,
breaking off his drift along the boards, shouted loudly:
     "Remove the photographer! He is disturbing my chess thought!"
     What  would  be the point of  leaving a photograph of  myself  in  this
miserable  town, thought Ostap to himself. I don't much like having dealings
with the militia.
     Indignant  hissing  from  the  enthusiasts  forced the  photographer to
abandon  his attempt. In  fact, their annoyance was  so  great  that he  was
actually put outside the, door.
     At  the  third  move  it  became  clear  that  in  eighteen  games  the
Grossmeister  was playing  a Spanish gambit. In the other twelve the  blacks
played the old-fashioned, though fairly reliable, Philidor defence. If Ostap
had  known  he was  using such cunning gambits  and countering  such  tested
defences,  he would  have been most surprised.  The  truth of the matter was
that he was playing chess for the second time in his life.
     At  first  the  enthusiasts,  and  first  and  foremost  one-eye,  were
terrified at the Grossmeister's obvious craftiness.
     With   singular   ease,  and  no  doubt  scoffing  to  himself  at  the
backwardness of the  Vasyuki enthusiasts, the Grossmeister sacrificed  pawns
and  other  pieces  left  and  right.  He even  sacrificed his queen  to the
brown-haired fellow  whose skill had  been so belittled during  the lecture.
The man was horrified and  about to resign; it was only by a terrific effort
of will that he was able to continue.
     The  storm  broke  about  five   minutes  later.  "Mate!"  babbled  the
brown-haired  fellow, terrified out of his wits. "You're checkmate,  Comrade
     Ostap analysed the  situation, shamefully called a rook  a "castle" and
pompously  congratulated the fellow on his win.  A hum  broke out  among the
     Time to push off, thought Ostap, serenely wandering  up  and  down  the
rows of tables and casually moving pieces about.
     "You've  moved the knight wrong, Comrade  Grossmeister,"  said one-eye,
cringing. "A knight doesn't go like that."
     "So  sorry,"  said  the  Grossmeister,  "I'm  rather  tired  after  the
     During the next ten minutes the Grossmeister lost a further ten games.
     Cries  of  surprise  echoed  through  the   Cardboardworker  club-room.
Conflict was near. Ostap lost fifteen  games in succession, and then another
     Only one-eye was left. At the beginning of the game he had made a large
number of mistakes  from nervousness and was only now bringing the game to a
victorious conclusion. Unnoticed  by  those around, Ostap  removed the black
rook from the board and hid it in his pocket.
     A crowd of people pressed tightly around the players.
     "I had a rook on  this  square a moment ago,"  cried  one-eye,  looking
round, "and now it's gone!"
     "If  it's not there now, it wasn't there  at all,"  said  Ostap, rather
     "Of course it was. I remember it distinctly!"
     "Of course it wasn't!"
     "Where's it gone, then? Did you take it?"
     "Yes, I took it."
     "At which move?"
     "Don't try to confuse me  with your  rook.  If  you want to resign, say
     "Wait a moment, Comrades, I have all the moves written down."
     "Written down my foot!"
     "This is disgraceful!" yelled one-eye. "Give me back the rook!"
     "Come on, resign, and stop this fooling about."
     "Give me back my rook!"
     At this point  the Grossmeister, realizing that procrastination was the
thief of  time, seized a handful of chessmen and  threw them in his one-eyed
opponent's face.
     "Comrades!"  shrieked   one-eye.   "Look,  everyone,  he's  hitting  an
     The chess players of Vasyuki were aghast.
     Without wasting  valuable time,  Ostap hurled  a chessboard at the lamp
and, hitting out at jaws and faces in the ensuing darkness, ran out into the
street. The Vasyuki chess enthusiasts,  falling over each other, tore  after
     It was a moonlit  evening.  Ostap  bounded along the silvery street  as
lightly  as an angel  repelled  from  the sinful  earth.  On account  of the
interrupted transformation of Vasyuki into the centre  of the world, it  was
not between  palaces that Ostap had  to run, but wooden houses  with outside
     The chess enthusiasts raced along behind.
     "Catch the Grossmeister!" howled one-eye.
     "Twister!" added the others.
     "Jerks!" snapped back the Grossmeister, increasing his speed.
     "Stop him!" cried the outraged chess players.
     Ostap began  running  down the steps  leading down to  the quay. He had
four  hundred steps to go. Two enthusiasts, who had  taken a short cut  down
the hillside, were waiting for him at the bottom of the sixth  flight. Ostap
looked  over his shoulder. The advocates of Philidor's  defence were pouring
down the steps like a pack of wolves. There  was no  way back, so he kept on
     "Just wait till I  get you, you  bastards!" he shouted at  the  two-man
advance party, hurtling down from the sixth flight.
     The frightened troopers gasped,  fell over  the balustrade, and  rolled
down into the darkness of mounds and slopes. The path was clear.
     "Stop the Grossmeister !" echoed shouts from above.
     The pursuers clattered down the wooden steps with  a noise like falling
skittle balls.
     Reaching  the river  bank, Ostap  made to the right, searching with his
eyes for the boat containing his faithful manager.
     Ippolit Matveyevich  was  sitting serenely in the  boat.  Ostap dropped
heavily into a seat and began rowing for all he was worth. A minute  later a
shower of stones  flew in  the direction  of the boat,  one of  them hitting
Ippolit Matveyevich. A yellow bruise appeared  on the side  of his face just
above  the  volcanic pimple.  Ippolit Matveyevich hunched his shoulders  and
began whimpering.
     "You are a softie! They practically lynched me, but I'm still happy and
cheerful.  And if you  take the  fifty roubles net profit  into account, one
bump on the head isn't such an unreasonable price to pay."
     In the meantime, the  pursuers, who had only just  realized that  their
plans  to  turn  Vasyuki  into   New  Moscow  had  collapsed  and  that  the
Grossmeister was absconding with fifty vital Vasyukian roubles, piled into a
barge and, with  loud shouts, rowed out  into midstream. Thirty people  were
crammed into the boat, all of  whom were  anxious to take a personal part in
settling  the score with the Grossmeister. The  expedition was  commanded by
one-eye, whose single peeper shone in the night like a lighthouse.
     "Stop the Grossmeister!" came shouts from the overloaded barge.
     "We must step on it, Pussy!" said  Ostap. "If they catch up  with us, I
won't be responsible for the state of your pince-nez."
     Both boats were moving downstream. The gap  between them was narrowing.
Ostap was going all out.
     "You won't escape, you rats!" people were shouting from the barge.
     Ostap had no time to answer. His oars flashed in and out of  the water,
churning it up so that it came down in floods in the boat.
     Keep going! whispered Ostap to himself.
     Ippolit Matveyevich had  given up hope. The larger boat was  gaining on
them and its long  hull was already flanking  them to port in an attempt  to
force  the  Grossmeister  over  to  the  bank.  A  sorry  fate  awaited  the
concessionaires.  The  jubilance of the chess  players in the  barge  was so
great that they all moved across to the sides to  be in a better position to
attack the villainous  Grossmeister in superior  forces as soon as they drew
alongside the smaller boat.
     "Watch  out  for  your  pince-nez,  Pussy," shouted  Ostap  in despair,
throwing aside the oars. "The fun is about to begin."
     "Gentlemen!"  cried  Ippolit  Matveyevich  in  a  croaking voice,  "you
wouldn't hit us, would you? "
     "You'll see!" roared the enthusiasts, getting  ready  to leap  into the
     But  at that  moment  something  happened which will outrage all honest
chess players throughout the world. The barge  listed  heavily  and  took in
water on the starboard side.
     "Careful!" squealed the one-eyed captain.
     But it was too late. There were too many enthusiasts on one side of the
Vasyuki dreadnought.  As the  centre of  gravity shifted, the  boat  stopped
rocking, and, in full conformity with the laws of physics, capsized.
     A concerted wailing disturbed the tranquillity of the river.
     "Ooooooh!" groaned the chess players.
     All thirty  enthusiasts disappeared  under the water. They quickly came
up one by  one and seized hold of the upturned boat. The last to surface was
     "You jerks!" cried Ostap in  delight. "Why  don't you come and get your
Grossmeister? If I'm not mistaken, you intended to trounce me, didn't you? "
     Ostap made a circle around the shipwrecked mariners.
     "You realize, individuals of Vasyuki, that I could drown you all one by
one, don't you? But I'm going to spare your lives.
     Live on, citizens! Only  don't  play chess  any more, for  God's  sake.
You're just no good at it, you  jerks! Come  on, Ippolit  Matveyevich, let's
go. Good-bye, you one-eyed amateurs! I'm afraid Vasyuki will never become  a
world centre. I doubt whether the  masters of chess  would  ever visit fools
like you, even if I asked them to.  Good-bye,  lovers of chess thrills! Long
live the 'Four Knights Chess Club'!"

     Morning  found  the concessionaires  in sight of  Chebokary. Ostap  was
dozing at  the  rudder  while Ippolit Matveyevich  sleepily  moved the  oars
through the  water. Both were  shivering from the chilliness of  the  night.
Pink buds  blossomed in the east. Ippolit Matveyevich's pince-nez was all of
a glitter. The oval lenses caught  the  light and  alternately reflected one
bank  and then the other. A signal beacon from the left bank arched  in  the
biconcave glass.  The blue domes  of Chebokary sailed  past like  ships. The
garden in the east grew larger, and the buds changed into volcanoes, pouring
out  lava of the best sweetshop colours.  Birds on the  bank were  causing a
noisy  scene. The  gold  nosepiece of the pince-nez flashed and  dazzled the
Grossmeister. The  sun  rose. Ostap opened  his eyes  and stretched himself,
tilting the boat and cracking his joints.
     "Good morning,  Pussy," he  said, suppressing a yawn. "I come  to bring
greetings and to tell you the sun  is up and is  making something over there
glitter with  a  bright, burning light. . ."  "The  pier.  .  . ."  reported
Ippolit Matveyevich. Ostap took out the guide-book and  consulted  it. "From
all  accounts it's  Chebokary. I see: 'Let  us note the pleasantly  situated
town  of Chebokary.' "Do you really think it's pleasantly  situated,  Pussy?
'At the present time Chebokary  has 7,702 inhabitants' "Pussy! Let's give up
our hunt for the jewels and increase the population to 7,704. What about it?
It would be  very effective.  We'll open a 'Petits Chevaux' gaming-house and
from the 'Petits Chevaux' we'll have une grande income. Anyway, to continue:
     'Founded  in  1555,  the  town  has  preserved  some  very  interesting
churches. Besides the administrative institutions  of  the Chuvash Republic,
Chebokary also has a workers' school, a Party school, a teachers' institute,
two middle-grade  schools, a museum, a scientific society, and a library. On
the quayside  and in  the bazaar it is possible  to see Chuvash and Cheremis
nationals, distinguishable by their dress. . . .'"
     But before the friends were able to reach  the quay, where  the Chuvash
and Cheremis nationals were to be  seen, their  attention  was caught by  an
object floating downstream ahead of the boat.
     "The chair!" cried Ostap. "Manager! It's our chair!"
     The  partners rowed  over to the  chair. It  bobbed up and down, turned
over, went  under,  and came  up farther away from the  boat.  Water  poured
freely into its slashed belly.
     It was the chair opened aboard  the  Scriabin, and  it was now floating
slowly towards the Caspian Sea.
     "Hi  there,  friend!"  called  Ostap.  "Long  time  no  see. You  know,
Vorobyaninov, that chair reminds me of our  life. We're  also  floating with
the  tide. People push us under and we  come up  again, although they aren't
too pleased about it. No one likes us, except for the criminal investigation
department,  which doesn't  like us, either. Nobody has any time for us.  If
the chess enthusiasts had managed to drown us yesterday, the only thing left
of us would have been the coroner's report. 'Both bodies lay with their feet
to  the south-east  and their  heads  to the  north-west. There  were jagged
wounds  in  the  bodies,  apparently inflicted  by a  blunt instrument.' The
enthusiasts  would  have  beaten  us  with chessboards,  I  imagine.  That's
certainly a  blunt  instrument. The  first body belonged  to a man  of about
fifty-five, dressed in a torn silk  jacket, old trousers,  and old boots. In
the jacket  pocket  was  an identification  card  bearing  the  name  Konrad
Karlovich Michelson  . ..'  That's what they would have  written about  you,
     "And what would they have written about you?" asked Ippolit Matveyevich
     "Ah! They would have written  something  quite different  about  me. It
would have gone like  this:  'The second corpse belonged to a  man of  about
twenty-seven years  of  age.  He  loved  and suffered.  He  loved  money and
suffered from a lack of it. His head  with its  high  forehead fringed  with
raven-black  curls  was  turned  towards the  sun. His  elegant  feet,  size
forty-two boots, were  pointing  towards the northern  lights. The body  was
dressed in  immaculate white clothes,  and on  the breast  was  a  gold harp
encrusted with mother-of-pearl, bearing the words of the song "Farewell, New
Village!" The deceased youth engaged in poker-work, which was clear from the
permit  No.  86/1562,  issued   on  8/23/24   by   the  Pegasus-and-Parnasus
craftsmen's  artel, found  in the pocket of  his tails.' And they would have
buried  me, Pussy, with  pomp  and circumstance,  speeches,  a  band, and my
grave-stone  would   have  had  the  inscription  'Here  lies  the   unknown
central-heating engineer and  conqueror,  Ostap-Suleiman-Bertha-Maria Bender
Bey, whose  father,  a  Turkish  citizen,  died  without  leaving  his  son,
Ostap-Suleiman, a cent. The deceased's  mother was a countess of independent
     Conversing along  these  lines, the  concessionaires nosed their way to
the bank.
     That evening, having increased their capital by  five  roubles from the
sale of the Vasyuki boat, the friends  went  aboard  the diesel ship Uritsky
and sailed for Stalingrad,  hoping  to overtake the slow-moving lottery ship
and meet the Columbus Theatre troupe in Stalingrad.
     The Scriabin reached Stalingrad  at the beginning  of July. The friends
met it, hiding behind crates on the quayside.  Before the ship was unloaded,
a lottery was held aboard and some big prizes were won.
     They had to wait four hours  for the chairs. First to  come  ashore was
the theatre group and then  the lottery employees. Persidsky's shining  face
stood  out among  them. As they lay in wait, the concessionaires could  hear
him shouting:
     "Yes,  I'll  come to  Moscow immediately. I've already sent a telegram.
And do you know  which one? 'Celebrating with you.' Let them guess who  it's
     Then  Persidsky  got  into  a  hired  car,  having  first  inspected it
thoroughly,  and  drove  off,  accompanied  for  some  reason by  shouts  of
     As soon as  the hydraulic press had been unloaded,  the  scenic effects
were brought ashore. Darkness had already fallen  by the  time they unloaded
the chairs. The troupe piled into five two-horse  carts and, gaily shouting,
went straight to the station.
     "I  don't think  they're  going  to play in  Stalingrad," said  Ippolit
     Ostap was in a quandary.
     "We'll have to travel with them,"  he decided.  "But where's the money?
Let's go to the station, anyway, and see what happens."
     At the station it turned out that the  theatre  was going to Pyatigorsk
via Tikhoretsk. The concessionaires only had enough money for one ticket.
     "Do you know how to travel without a ticket?" Ostap asked Vorobyaninov.
     "I'll try," said Vorobyaninov timidly.
     "Damn you! Better  not try. I'll forgive you once more. Let it be. I'll
do the bilking."
     Ippolit  Matveyevich was bought a  ticket in an  upholstered  coach and
with it  travelled  to  the  station Mineral Waters  on  the North  Caucasus
Railway.  Keeping  out  of sight  of the  troupe  alighting  at  the station
(decorated with oleander  shrubs in  green tubs), the former marshal went to
look for Ostap.
     Long after the theatre had left for Pyatigorsk in new little local-line
coaches, Ostap was  still not to be seen. He finally arrived in  the evening
and found Vorobyaninov completely distraught.
     "Where were you?" whimpered the marshal. "I was in such a state?"
     "You  were in a state,  and you  had a  ticket in your  pocket!  And  I
wasn't, I suppose! Who was kicked off the buffers of  the last coach of your
train?  Who  spent three hours  waiting like an idiot for a goods train with
empty mineral-water bottles?  You're  a swine, citizen marshal! Where's  the
theatre? "
     "In Pyatigorsk."
     "Let's go. I managed to pick up something on the way. The net income is
three roubles. It  isn't much, of course, but  enough for the first purchase
of mineral water and railway tickets."
     Creaking like a cart, the train left for  Pyatigorsk and, fifty minutes
later,  passing Zmeika and  Beshtau, brought the concessionaires to the foot
of Mashuk.

     It  was Sunday evening. Everything was clean and  washed.  Even Mashuk,
overgrown with shrubbery and small clumps of trees, was carefully combed and
exuded a smell of toilet water.
     White trousers of the most  varied  types flashed up and down  the  toy
platform: there  were trousers  made of twill, moleskin, calamanco, duck and
soft  flannel.  People were walking about  in sandals  and Apache shirts. In
their  heavy,  dirty boots,  heavy dusty  trousers,  heated  waistcoats  and
scorching jackets, the  concessionaires  felt very  out of place. Among  the
great variety of  gaily coloured  cottons in which  the girls  of the resort
were parading themselves,  the brightest and most elegant was the uniform of
the stationmaster.
     To the surprise of all newcomers, the stationmaster was a woman. Auburn
curls peeped  from  under her  red peaked cap with  its two lines of  silver
braid around the band. She wore a white tunic and a white skirt.
     As soon  as the travellers had  had a  good look at the station-master,
had  read the freshly pasted  notices  advertising  the tour of the Columbus
Theatre and drunk two five-kopek glasses of mineral  water, they  went  into
the town on the Station-Flower Garden  tram  route.  They were  charged  ten
kopeks to go into the Flower Garden.
     In the Flower Garden there was a great deal of music, a large number of
happy people,  and  very  few  flowers.  A  symphony orchestra  in  a  white
shell-like construction was playing the "Dance of the Gnats"; narzan mineral
water  was  on sale in the  Lermontov gallery, and was also obtainable  from
kiosks and vendors walking around.
     No one had time for the two grimy jewel-hunters.
     "My, Pussy," said Ostap, "we're out of place in all this festivity."
     The  concessionaires spent their  first night at  the spa  by a  narzan
     It  was only  there, in  Pyatigorsk,  when  the  Columbus  Theatre  had
performed  their  version  of  The Marriage  to  an  audience  of  astounded
town-dwellers  for the  third  time,  that the  partners  realized the  real
difficulties  involved  in their treasure hunt. To  find their way  into the
theatre as  they  had  planned proved  impossible.  Galkin,  Palkin, Malkin,
Chalkin  and  Zalkind  slept  in  the wings,  since  their  modest  earnings
prevented them from living in a hotel.
     The days passed, and the friends were slowly reaching the end of  their
tether,  spending  their  nights  'at  the  site  of  Lermontov's  duel  and
subsisting by carrying the baggage of peasant tourists.
     On  the  sixth  day Ostap  managed to  strike up an  acquaintance  with
Mechnikov,  the  fitter in  charge  of  the  hydraulic  press. By this time,
Mechnikov, who had no money and was forced to get rid of his daily hang-over
by drinking mineral water, was in a terrible state and had  been observed by
Ostap to sell  some of the theatre props at the market. Final  agreement was
reached during  the morning libation by a spring.  The fitter  called  Ostap
"Palsie" and seemed about to consent.
     "That's possible," he  said.  "That's  always possible, palsie. It's my
pleasure, palsie."
     Ostap realized at once that the fitter knew his stuff.
     The contracting  parties  looked  one another  in  the  eye,  embraced,
slapped each other's backs and laughed politely.
     "Well," said Ostap, "ten for the whole deal."
     "Palsie!" exclaimed  the astonished  fitter, "don't  make me mad. I'm a
man who's suffering from the narzan."
     "How much do you want then?"
     "Make  it  fifty. After all, it's government  property. I'm a man who's
     "All right, accept twenty. Agreed? I see from your eyes you agree."
     "Agreement is the result of complete non-objection on both sides."
     "There are no  flies  on this one,"  whispered  Ostap to  Vorobyaninov.
"Take a lesson."
     "When will you bring the chairs?"
     "You'll get the chairs when I get the money."
     "That's fine," said Ostap without thinking.
     "Money in advance," declared the fitter. "The money in the morning, the
chairs in the evening; or, the money  in  the evening,  the chairs the  next
     "What about the chairs this morning, the money tomorrow evening," tried
     "Palsie, I'm a man who's suffering. Such terms are revolting."
     "But  the  point  is,  I  won't receive  my  money  by telegraph  until
tomorrow," said Ostap.
     "Then  we'll  discuss the  matter tomorrow,"  concluded  the  obstinate
fitter.  "And in the  meantime, palsie, have a nice  time at the spring. I'm
off. Simbievich has me by the throat. I've no strength left. Can  you expect
a man to thrive on mineral water?"
     And resplendent in the sunlight, Mechnikov went off.
     Ostap looked severely at Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "The time  we  have," he said, "is  the money we don't have.  Pussy, we
must decide  on a career. A hundred and  fifty  thousand  roubles, zero zero
kopeks awaits  us. We only need twenty  roubles for the treasure to be ours.
We must not be squeamish. It's sink or swim. I choose swim."
     Ostap walked around Ippolit Matveyevich thoughtfully.
     "OS with your jacket, marshal," he said suddenly, "and make it snappy."
     He  took the  jacket from the surprised Vorobyaninov,  threw it  on the
ground, and began stamping on it with his dusty boots.
     "What  are  you  doing?"  howled Vorobyaninov. "I've  been wearing that
jacket for fifteen years, and it's as good as new."
     "Don't get excited, it soon won't be. Give me your  hat. Now,  sprinkle
your trousers with  dust  and  pour  some mineral  water over them. Be quick
about it."
     In  a  few  moments  Ippolit  Matveyevich  was  dirty  to  the point of
     "Now you're all set and have every chance of earning honest money."
     "What  am I supposed to do?" asked  Ippolit Matveyevich tearfully. "You
know French, I hope? "
     "Not very well. What I learned at school." "Hm . . . then we'll have to
operate with what you learned at school. Can you say  in French, 'Gentleman,
I haven't eaten for six days'?"
     "M'sieu," began Ippolit Matveyevich, stuttering, "m'sieu . . . er . . .
je ne mange .. , that's right, isn't it? Je ne mange pas . . . er How do you
say 'six'? Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq,  six.  It's: 'Je  ne mange pas six
jours' "
     "What an accent,  Pussy! Anyway, what do you expect from  a  beggar. Of
course a  beggar  in  European  Russia  wouldn't  speak  French as  well  as
Milerand. Right, pussy, and how much German do you know?"
     "Why  all this?"  exclaimed Ippolit  Matveyevich. "Because," said Ostap
weightily, "you're now going to the Flower Garden, you're  going to stand in
the shade and beg for alms in French,  German  and Russian,  emphasizing the
fact that you are an ex-member of the Cadet faction of the Tsarist Duma. The
net profit will go to Mechnikov. Understand?"
     Ippolit  Matveyevich was transfigured.  His chest  swelled  up like the
Palace  bridge  in Leningrad, his eyes flashed fire,  and his nose seemed to
Ostap to be pouring forth smoke. His moustache slowly began to rise.
     "Dear  me," said the smooth operator, not  in  the least alarmed. "Just
look at him! Not a man, but a dragon."
     "Never,"  suddenly  said Ippolit  Matveyevich, "never has  Vorobyaninov
held out his hand."
     "Then you can stretch out your feet, you silly old ass!" shouted Ostap.
"So you've never held out your hand?"
     "No, I have not."
     "Spoken  like a true  gigolo. You've been living  off me for  the  last
three months. For three months I've been providing  you  with food and drink
and educating you, and now you stand like a gigolo in the third position and
say . . . Come off it, Comrade! You've got two choices. Either you  go right
away  to the Flower Garden and bring back ten roubles by nightfall, or  else
I'm  automatically  removing  you  from  the  list  of  shareholders in  the
concession. I'll give you five to decide yes or no. One. . ."
     "Yes," mumbled the marshal.
     "In that case, repeat the words."
     "M'sieu, je ne mange pas six jours. Geben Sie mir bitte etwas Kopek fur
ein Stuck Brot. Give something to an ex-member of the Duma."
     "Once again. Make it more heart-rending."
     Ippolit Matveyevich repeated the words.
     "All right. You have a latent talent for begging. Off you go.
     The rendezvous  is  at midnight  here  by  the  spring. That's  not for
romantic  reasons,  mind you,  but  simply because people  give more in  the
     "What about you?" asked Vorobyaninov. "Where are you going?"
     "Don't worry  about me.  As  usual, I  shall  be where things  are most
     The friends went their ways.
     Ostap hurried  to a  small stationery shop, bought a  book of  receipts
with  his last  ten-kopek bit, and sat on a stone block for  an  hour or so,
numbering the receipts and scribbling something on each one.
     "System above all," he muttered to himself. "Every public kopek must be
accounted for."
     The smooth operator marched up the mountain road  that led round Mashuk
to the site of Lermontov's duel with Martynov, passing sanatoriums  and rest
     Constantly overtaken  by buses  and two-horse carriages, he  arrived at
the Drop.
     A narrow path cut in the cliff led to a conical drop. At the end of the
path was a parapet from which  one could see a puddle of  stinking malachite
at the bottom  of  the  Drop. This  Drop is considered one of the  sights of
Pyatigorsk and is  visited by  a large number of tourists in the course of a
     Ostap had seen at once that for a man without prejudice  the Drop could
be a source of income.
     "What a  remarkable thing,"  mused  Ostap, "that  the  town  has  never
thought  of charging ten kopeks  to see the Drop.  It seems to  be the  only
place where the people of Pyatigorsk  allow  the sightseers  in free. I will
remove that  blemish on  the town's escutcheon and  rectify the  regrettable
     And  Ostap  acted as his  reason, instinct,  and the  situation in hand
     He stationed  himself at the  entrance  to  the Drop and,  rustling the
receipt book, called out from time to time:
     "Buy your tickets here, citizens.  Ten kopeks.  Children and servicemen
free. Students, five kopeks. Non-union members, thirty kopeks!"
     It was a sure bet.  The citizens of Pyatigorsk never went  to the Drop,
and to fleece the Soviet tourists ten kopeks to see "Something" was no great
difficulty. The non-union  members,  of  whom there were many in Pyatigorsk,
were a great help.
     They all trustingly passed over their ten kopeks, and one ruddy-cheeked
tourist, seeing Ostap, said triumphantly to his wife:
     "You  see,  Tanyusha,  what did I tell you? And you said  there  was no
charge to see the Drop. That couldn't have been right, could it, Comrade?"
     "You're  absolutely right.  It would be quite impossible not to  charge
for entry. Ten kopeks for union members and thirty for non-members."
     Towards evening, an excursion of militiamen from Kharkov arrived at the
Drop in two  wagons.  Ostap was alarmed and was  about to pretend to  be  an
innocent sightseer, but the militiamen crowded  round the smooth operator so
timidly that there was no retreat. So he shouted in a rather harsh voice:
     "Union  members, ten  kopeks;  but since representatives of the militia
can be classed as students and children, they pay five kopeks."
     The militiamen paid up, having tactfully inquired for what  purpose the
money was being collected.
     "For general repairs  to the Drop," answered Ostap boldly. "So it won't
drop too much."
     While the smooth operator was briskly selling a view of  the  malachite
puddle, Ippolit Matveyevich,  hunching his shoulders and wallowing in shame,
stood under an acacia and, avoiding the eyes  of the passers-by, mumbled his
three phrases. "M'sieu, je ne mange pas six jours. . . . Geben Sle Mir. . ."
People  not only  gave  little, they somehow gave unwillingly.  However,  by
exploiting  his purely Parisian pronunciation of the  word mange and pulling
at  their  heart-strings  by  his desperate position  as an ex-member of the
Tsarist Duma, he was able to pick up three roubles in copper coins.
     The  gravel crunched under the feet of the holidaymakers. The orchestra
played Strauss,  Brahms and  Grieg  with  long  pauses in  between. Brightly
coloured  crowds drifted past  the old marshal, chattering as they went, and
came back again. Lermontov's spirit hovered unseen above the citizens trying
matsoni on the verandah of  the buffet. There was an odour of eau-de-Cologne
and sulphur gas.
     "Give to a former member of the Duma," mumbled the marshal.
     "Tell me, were you really a  member of the  State  Duma?" asked a voice
right by Ippolit Matveyevich's ear. "And did you really attend meetings? Ah!
Ah! First rate!"
     Ippolit  Matveyevich raised  his eyes and almost fainted. Hopping about
in front of him like a sparrow was Absalom Vladimirovich  Iznurenkov. He had
changed  his brown  Lodz  suit  for a  white  coat and grey trousers with  a
playful spotted pattern. He  was in unusual  spirits and  from time to  time
jumped as  much as  five  or six inches off the ground. Iznurenkov  did  not
recognize Ippolit Matveyevich and continued to shower him with questions.
     "Tell me, did you actually see Rodzyanko? Was Purishkevich really bald?
Ah! Ah! What a subject! First rate!"
     Continuing to gyrate, Iznurenkov shoved three roubles into the confused
marshal's  hand and ran off. But  for some time afterwards his thick  thighs
could  be glimpsed  in  various parts of  the Flower  Garden, and  his voice
seemed to float down from the trees.
     "Ah! Ah! 'Don't  sing to me,  my beauty, of  sad Georgia.' Ah! Ah! They
remind me  of another  life and  a distant shore.'  'And in the  morning she
smiled again.' First rate!"
     Ippolit Matveyevich remained standing, staring at the ground. A pity he
did so. He missed a lot.
     In  the enchanting darkness  of the Pyatigorsk  night,  Ellochka Shukin
strolled through  the  park, dragging  after her the  submissive  and  newly
reconciled Ernest Pavlovich.  The trip to the spa was the finale of the hard
battle with Vanderbilt's daughter. The proud  American girl had recently set
sail on a pleasure cruise to the Sandwich Isles in her own yacht.
     "Hoho!" echoed through the darkness. "Great, Ernestula! Ter-r-rific!"
     In  the lamp-lit buffet sat Alchen and his wife, Sashchen.  Her  cheeks
were still adorned  with sideburns.  Alchen was bashfully eating shishkebab,
washing  it down with  Kahetinsky  wine  no. 2, while Sashchen, stroking her
sideburns, waited for the sturgeon she had ordered.
     After the liquidation  of the second  pensioners' home  (everything had
been  sold,  including  the  cook's  cap   and  the  slogan,  "By  carefully
masticating  your  food  you  help society"),  Alchen had decided  to have a
holiday  and  enjoy  himself. Fate itself had  saved the full-bellied little
crook. He had decided to see the Drop that day, but did not have time. Ostap
would certainly not have let him get away for less than thirty roubles.
     Ippolit Matveyevich wandered off to  the spring  as the musicians  were
folding up their stands, the holidaymakers were dispersing, and the courting
couples alone breathed heavily in the narrow lanes of the Flower Garden.
     "How  much  did you collect?"  asked Ostap  as  soon  as  the marshal's
hunched figure appeared at the spring.
     "Seven  roubles, twenty-nine  kopeks. Three roubles in notes. The rest,
copper and silver."
     "For  the first go-terrific! An executive's rate!  You amaze me, Pussy.
But what  fool gave you three roubles, I'd like to know? You didn't give him
change, I hope?"
     "It was Iznurenkov."
     "What, really? Absalom! Why,  that  rolling stone. Where has he  rolled
to! Did you talk to him? Oh, he didn't recognize you!"
     "He asked all sorts of questions about the Duma. And laughed."
     "There, you  see,  marshal, it's not  really so  bad  being  a  beggar,
particularly with  a  moderate  education and a  feeble voice. And  you were
stubborn about  it, tried to give yourself airs as though you were  the Lord
Privy Seal.  Well, Pussy my lad,  I haven't been  wasting  my  time, either.
Fifteen roubles. Altogether that's enough."
     The next morning the fitter  received  his money and  brought them  two
chairs in the evening. He claimed it was not possible to get the third chair
as the sound effects were playing cards on it.
     For  greater  security the friends  climbed practically to the  top  of
     Beneath,  the  lights  of  Pyatigorsk  shone strong  and  steady. Below
Pyatigorsk more  feeble lights marked  Goryachevodsk village. On the horizon
Kislovodsk stood out from behind a mountain in two parallel dotted lines.
     Ostap glanced up  at  the starry sky and took the familiar  pliers from
his pocket.

     Engineer Bruns  was sitting on  the stone verandah of his little wooden
house at the Green  Cape,  under a large palm,  the starched leaves of which
cast narrow, pointed shadows  on  the back  of his  shaven neck,  his  white
shirt, and the Hambs chair from Madame  Popov's suite, on which the engineer
was restlessly awaiting his dinner.
     Bruns  pouted  his thick, juicy  lips  and called in  the  voice  of  a
petulant, chubby little boy:
     The house was silent.
     The tropical flora fawned  on the engineer. Cacti  stretched out  their
spiky mittens towards  him.  Dracaena  shrubs rustled their  leaves.  Banana
trees and sago  palms chased the flies from  his face,  and  the roses  with
which the verandah was woven fell at his feet.
     But all  in  vain.  Bruns was  hungry. He  glowered  petulantly at  the
mother-of-pearl bay, and the distant  cape at Batumi, and called  out  in  a
singsong voice:
     "Moosie, moosie!"
     The sound quickly died away in the moist sub-tropical air. There was no
answer. Bruns  had visions  of  a  large  golden-brown goose with  sizzling,
greasy skin, and, unable to control himself, yelled out:
     "Moosie, where's the goosie?"
     "Andrew Mikhailovich," said a woman's voice from inside, "don't keep on
at me."
     The  engineer, who  was already  pouting  his lips  into the accustomed
shape, promptly answered:
     "Moosie, you haven't any pity for your little hubby."
     "Get out, you glutton," came the reply from inside.
     The engineer did not  give in, however. He  was just  about to continue
his  appeals for the  goose, which had been going on unsuccessfully  for two
hours, when a sudden rustling made him turn round.
     From the black-green clumps  of  bamboo there had emerged a man in torn
blue tunic-shirt-belted  with a shabby twisted  cord with tassels-and frayed
striped  trousers.  The  stranger's  kindly  face  was  covered with  ragged
stubble. He was carrying his jacket in his hand.
     The man approached and asked in a pleasant voice:
     "Where can I find Engineer Bruns?"
     "I'm Engineer  Bruns,"  said the goose-charmer  in an unexpectedly deep
voice. "What can I do for you?"
     The man silently fell to his knees. It was Father Theodore.
     "Have you gone crazy? " cried the engineer. "Stand up, please."
     "I  won't," said Father Theodore, following the  engineer with his head
and gazing at him with bright eyes.
     "Stand up."
     "I won't."
     And carefully, so that it would not hurt, the priest  began beating his
head against the gravel.
     "Moosie, come  here!"  shouted the frightened  engineer.  "Look  what's
happening! Please get up. I implore you."
     "I won't," repeated Father Theodore.
     Moosie ran out  on to the verandah;  she was very  good at interpreting
her husband's intonation.
     Seeing  the lady, Father  Theodore promptly crawled  over  to her  and,
bowing to her feet, rattled off:
     "On you, Mother, on you, my dear, on you I lay my hopes."
     Engineer Bruns thereupon  turned red in the face, seized the petitioner
under  the arms and,  straining hard,  tried to lift him to his feet. Father
Theodore  was crafty, however, and  tucked up  his legs. The disgusted Bruns
dragged his  extraordinary visitor into a corner  and forcibly sat him  in a
chair (a  Hambs chair, not from  Vorobyaninov's house,  but one belonging to
General Popov's wife).
     "I  dare not  sit in the presence  of  high-ranking  persons,"  mumbled
Father  Theodore,  throwing  the  baker's jacket, which  smelt  of kerosene,
across his knees.
     And he made another attempt to go down on his knees.
     With a pitiful cry the engineer restrained him by the shoulders.
     "Moosie,"  he said, breathing heavily,  "talk  to this citizen. There's
been some misunderstanding."
     Moosie at once assumed a businesslike tone.
     "In my house," she said  menacingly, "kindly  don't go down on anyone's
     "Dear lady," said Father Theodore humbly, "Mother!"
     "I'm not your mother. What do you want? "
     The priest  began burbling something incoherent, but apparently  deeply
moving. It was only after lengthy questioning that they  were able to gather
that he was asking them to do him a special favour and sell him the suite of
twelve chairs, one of which he was sitting on at that moment.
     The  engineer let go of  Father Theodore  with  surprise, whereupon the
latter immediately  plumped down on his knees again and began creeping after
the engineer like a tortoise.
     "But why," cried the engineer, trying to  dodge Father Theodore's  long
arms, "why should I sell my chairs? It's no use how much you go down on your
knees like that, I just don't understand anything."
     "But they're my chairs," groaned the holy father.
     "What do you mean, they're yours? How can they be  yours? You're crazy.
Moosie, I see it all. This man's a crackpot."
     "They're mine," repeated the priest in humiliation.
     "Do  you  think  I stole  them  from  you,  then?" asked  the  engineer
furiously. "Did I steal them? Moosie, this is blackmail."
     "Oh, Lord," whispered Father Theodore.
     "If I stole  them from you, then take  the  matter to court, but  don't
cause pandemonium in  my house. Did  you hear that, Moosie? How impudent can
you get? They don't even let a man have his dinner in peace."
     No,  Father Theodore did not want to recover "his" chairs by taking the
matter  to  court. By  no means. He  knew that Engineer Bruns had not stolen
them  from him. Oh, no. That was  the last idea he had in his mind. But  the
chairs had nevertheless belonged to him before the revolution, and his wife,
who was on her deathbed in Voronezh,  was very attached  to  them. It was to
comply with  her wishes and not on his own initiative that he had taken  the
liberty  of finding  out the whereabouts  of the chairs  and coming  to  see
Citizen Bruns. Father Theodore  was not asking for charity.  Oh, no.  He was
sufficiently well off (he owned a small candle factory in Samara) to sweeten
his  wife's  last  few  minutes  by buying the  old chairs. He was  ready to
splurge and pay twenty roubles for the whole set of chairs.
     "What?"  cried the  engineer,  growing purple.  "Twenty roubles? For  a
splended drawing-room suite? Moosie, did you hear that? He  really is a nut.
Honestly he is."
     "I'm  not  a nut, but  merely complying with the wishes of my  wife who
sent me."
     "Oh, hell!" said the engineer. "Moosie, he's at it again. He's crawling
around again."
     "Name your price,"  moaned Father Theodore, cautiously beating his head
against the trunk of an araucaria.
     "Don't spoil the tree, you crazy man. Moosie, I don't think he's a nut.
He's  simply distraught at his wife's illness. Shall we sell  him the chairs
and get rid of him? Otherwise, he'll crack his skull."
     "And what are we going to sit on?" asked Moosie.
     "We'll buy some more."
     "For twenty roubles?"
     "Suppose I don't  sell them for  twenty. Suppose I  don't sell them for
two hundred, but supposing I do sell them for two-fifty?"
     In response came the sound of a head against a tree.
     "Moosie, I'm fed up with this!"
     The  engineer went over to Father Theodore,  with his mind  made up and
began issuing an ultimatum.
     "First, move back  from the palm at least three paces; second, stand up
at once; third, I'll sell you the chairs for two hundred and fifty and not a
kopek less."
     "It's not for personal gain," chanted  Father Theodore,  "but merely in
compliance with my sick wife's wishes."
     "Well, old boy,  my wife's also  sick. That's  right, isn't it, Moosie?
Your lungs aren't in too good a state, are they? But on the strength of that
I'm not asking you to . . . er . . . sell me your jacket for thirty kopeks."
     "Have it for nothing," exclaimed Father Theodore.
     The engineer waved him aside in irritation and then said coldly:
     "Stop your tricks. I'm not going to argue with you any more.
     I've assessed the worth of the chairs at  two hundred and fifty roubles
and I'm not shifting one cent." "Fifty," offered the priest.
     "Moosie,"  said the engineer, "call Bagration. Let him see this citizen
off the premises." "Not for personal gain. . . ." "Bagration!"
     Father  Theodore  fled  in terror, while  the  engineer  went  into the
dining-room and sat down to the goose. Bruns's favourite bird had a soothing
effect on him. He began to calm down.
     Just as  the engineer was about to pop a goose leg into his pink mouth,
having first wrapped a piece of cigarette paper around the bone, the face of
the priest appeared appealingly at the window.
     "Not for personal gain," said a soft  voice.  "Fifty-five roubles." The
engineer let out a roar without turning around. Father Theodore disappeared.
     The whole  of that  day  Father  Theodore's  figure  kept appearing  at
different points near the house. At one moment it was seen coming out of the
shade of the cryptomeria, at another it  rose from a mandarin grove; then it
raced  across the  back yard  and,  fluttering, dashed towards the botanical
     The whole day  the engineer  kept calling for Moosie, complaining about
the crackpot and his own headache. From time to time Father Theodore's voice
could be heard echoing through the dusk.
     "A hundred and eight," he called from  somewhere  in the  sky. A moment
later his voice came from the direction of Dumbasoc's house.
     "A hundred and forty-one.  Not for personal gain, Mr. Brans, but merely
. . ."
     At length the engineer could stand it  no longer; he came out on to the
verandah and, peering into the darkness, began shouting very clearly:
     "Damn you! Two hundred roubles then. Only leave us alone."  There was a
rustle  of disturbed bamboo, the sound of a soft groan and fading footsteps,
then all was quiet.
     Stars floundered in the bay. Fireflies chased after Father Theodore and
circled round his head, casting a greenish medicinal glow on his face.
     "Now  the  goose  is  flown,"  muttered  the  engineer,  going  inside.
Meanwhile, Father Theodore  was speeding along the  coast in the last bus in
the direction of Batumi. A  slight surf  washed right up to the side of him;
the wind blew in  his  face, and the  bus hooted  in  reply to  the  whining

     That evening Father Theodore sent a telegram to his wife in the town of


     For  two  days he  loafed about  elatedly near Bruns's house, bowing to
Moosie in the distance, and even making the  tropical distances resound with
shouts of  "Not for personal gain, but merely at the wishes  of my  wife who
sent me."
     Two  days later the  money  was  received  together  with  a  desperate


     Father Theodore  counted the money, crossed himself frenziedly, hired a
cart, and drove to the Green Cape.
     The  weather  was  dull.  A wind from the Turkish  frontier blew across
thunderclouds. The  strip of blue sky became narrower and narrower. The wind
was  near gale force. It was forbidden  to take boats to sea  and  to bathe.
Thunder rumbled above Batumi. The gale shook the coast.
     Reaching Bruns's house, the priest ordered  the Adzhar  driver to  wait
and went to fetch the furniture.
     "I've  brought the  money," said Father  Theodore.  "You ought to lower
your price a bit."
     "Moosie," groaned the engineer, "I can't stand any more of this."
     "No, no, I've  brought the  money,"  said Father Theodore hastily, "two
hundred, as you said."
     "Moosie, take the money and give him the chairs, and let's get it  over
with. I've a headache."
     His life  ambition  was  achieved. The candle  factory  in  Samara  was
falling into his lap. The jewels were pouring into his pocket like seeds.
     Twelve chairs were  loaded into the  cart  one after another. They were
very like  Vorobyaninov's chairs, except that the covering was not  flowered
chintz, but rep with blue and pink stripes.
     Father Theodore was  overcome with impatience. Under his shirt behind a
twisted  cord  he had tucked  a  hatchet.  He  sat next to  the  driver and,
constantly looking round at the chairs, drove to Batumi. The spirited horses
carried the holy  father and his treasure  down along  the highway  past the
Finale  restaurant, where the  wind  swept  across  the  bamboo  tables  and
arbours, past a tunnel  that was swallowing up the last few tank  cars of an
oil  train, past the photographer, deprived that  overcast day of his  usual
clientele, past a  sign reading "Batumi Botanical Garden",  and carried him,
not too quickly, along the very line of surf.  At  the point  where the road
touched the  rocks, Father Theodore was soaked with salty spray. Rebuffed by
the rocks,  the  waves turned  into waterspouts and, rising up  to the  sky,
slowly fell back again.
     The  jolting and the spray  from the  surf  whipped  Father  Theodore's
troubled spirit  into a frenzy. Struggling  against  the  wind,  the  horses
slowly approached  Makhinjauri.  From every  side  the  turbid green  waters
hissed and swelled. Right up to Batumi the white surf swished like the  edge
of a petticoat peeking from under the skirt of a slovenly woman.
     "Stop!"  Father   Theodore   suddenly  ordered   the   driver.   "Stop,
     Trembling and stumbling, he  started to  unload the  chairs  on  to the
deserted shore. The apathetic Adzhar  received his five roubles,  whipped up
the horses and rode off. Making sure there was no one about, Father Theodore
carried the  chairs down  from the rocks on  to a dry patch of sand and took
out his hatchet.
     For a moment he hesitated, not knowing where to start. Then, like a man
walking in his sleep, he went over to the third chair and  struck the back a
ferocious blow with the hatchet. The chair toppled over undamaged.
     "Aha!" shouted Father Theodore. "I'll show you!"
     And he flung himself on the chair as though it had  been a live animal.
In a trice the  chair had been hacked to ribbons.  Father Theodore could not
hear the sound of the hatchet against the wood, cloth covering, and springs.
All sounds were drowned by the powerful roar of the gale.
     "Aha! Aha! Aha!" cried the priest, swinging from the shoulder.
     One by one the chairs were  put  out of action. Father Theodore's  fury
increased more and more. So did the fury of the gale. Some of the waves came
up to his feet.
     From  Batumi to Sinop there was a great din.  The sea raged  and vented
its  spite on  every little ship. The S.S. Lenin  sailed towards Novorossisk
with its  two funnels  smoking and its stern plunging  low in the water. The
gale  roared across the Black  Sea, hurling thousand-ton  breakers on to the
shore of Trebizond, Yalta,  Odessa  and  Konstantsa. Beyond the still in the
Bosporus and the Dardanelles surged the Mediterranean. Beyond the Straits of
Gibraltar,  the  Atlantic smashed against  the shores of Europe.  A belt  of
angry water encircled the world.
     And on  the Batumi  shore stood  Father Theodore, bathed in  sweat  and
hacking  at the  final  chair. A  moment later  it was all over. Desperation
seized him.  With  a dazed look at the mountain of legs, backs, and springs,
he turned back. The water grabbed  him by the feet. He  lurched forward  and
ran  soaked to the road. A  huge wave broke on the spot where he had been  a
moment  before  and,  swirling  back,  washed away the mutilated  furniture.
Father Theodore no longer saw anything. He staggered along the road, hunched
and hugging his fist to his chest.
     He went into Batumi, unable to see anything about him. His position was
the most  terrible thing of all.  Three thousand miles from home and  twenty
roubles in his pocket-getting home was definitely out of the question.
     Father  Theodore passed the Turkish bazaar-where he  was advised  in  a
perfect stage whisper to buy some Coty powder, silk stockings and contraband
Batumi tobacco-dragged himself to the station, and lost himself in the crowd
of porters.

     Three  days  after the concessionaires' deal with Mechnikov the fitter,
the  Columbus Theatre left by railway via Makhacha-Kala and  Baku. The whole
of these three days  the concessionaires, frustrated  by the contents of the
two chairs opened on Mashuk, waited for Mechnikov to bring them the third of
the Columbus chairs.  But the narzan-tortured  fitter converted the whole of
the  twenty roubles into the purchase of plain  vodka and drank himself into
such a state that he was kept locked up in the props room.
     "That's Mineral  Waters  for you!" said Ostap, when  he heard about the
theatre's  departure. "A useful fool, that fitter. Catch  me having dealings
with theatre people after this!"
     Ostap became much more nervy  than before.  The chances  of finding the
treasure had increased infinitely.
     "We  need money to get  to  Vladikavkaz," said Ostap. "From there we'll
drive  by  car  to  Tiflis  along  the  Georgian Military  Highway. Glorious
scenery!  Magnificent  views! Wonderful mountain air! And at the end  of  it
all-one hundred and fifty thousand roubles, zero zero kopeks.  There is some
point in continuing the hearing."
     But it  was  not quite so  easy to  leave Mineral Waters.  Vorobyaninov
proved to have absolutely no talent for bilking the railway, and so when all
attempts to get him aboard a train had failed he had to perform again in the
Flower  Garden, this time as an educational district ward. This  was not  at
all a success. Two roubles for twelve hours' hard and degrading work, though
it was a large enough sum for the fare to Vladikavkaz.
     At Beslan, Ostap, who was travelling without  a  ticket, was thrown off
the train, and the  smooth  operator impudently ran behind it for a  mile or
so, shaking his fist at the innocent Ippolit Matveyevich.
     Soon after, Ostap  managed  to jump on to a train slowly making its way
to the Caucasian ridge. From his position on the steps  Ostap surveyed  with
great curiosity the panorama of the mountain range that unfolded before him.
     It was between three and  four  in the morning. The  mountain-tops were
lit by dark pink sunlight. Ostap did not like the mountains.
     "Too showy," he said. "Weird kind of beauty. An idiot's imagination. No
use at all."
     At  Vladikavkaz station the passengers were met by  a  large  open  bus
belonging  to the  Transcaucasian  car-hire-and-manufacturing  society,  and
nice, kind people said:
     "Those travelling by  the Georgian Military  Highway will be taken into
the town free."
     "Hold on, Pussy," said Ostap. "We want the bus. Let them take us free."
     When the bus had given  him a lift to the  centre of the town, however,
Ostap was in  no hurry to put  his  name down for a seat  in a  car. Talking
enthusiastically to Ippolit Matveyevich, he gazed admiringly at  the view of
the cloud-enveloped Table Mountain, but  finding  that it really  was like a
table, promptly retired.
     They had  to spend several days  in Vladikavkaz. None of their attempts
to obtain money  for the road  fare met with any success, nor  provided them
with enough money to buy food. An attempt to make the citizens pay ten-kopek
bits failed.  The  mountain  ridge was  so  high and clear that  it was  not
possible to charge for looking at it. It  was visible from practically every
point, and  there were no other  beauty spots in  Vladikavkaz. There was the
Terek, which flowed  past the "Trek", but the town charged for entry to that
without Ostap's  assistance.  The  alms collected  in  two  days by  Ippolit
Matveyevich only amounted to thirteen kopeks.
     "There's only one thing  to  do," said Ostap.  "We'll go to  Tiflis  on
foot.  We can  cover the hundred miles in five  days.  Don't worry, dad, the
mountain view is delightful and the air is bracing  . . . We only need money
for  bread  and salami sausage. You  can  add a few  Italian phrases to your
vocabulary, or  not, as you  like; but  by evening you've  got to collect at
least two  roubles. We won't  have  a chance to eat today, dear chum.  Alas!
What bad luck!"
     Early in the morning the partners crossed the little bridge across  the
Terek river, went around the barracks,  and disappeared  deep into the green
valley along which ran the Georgian Military Highway.
     "We're in luck,  Pussy," said Ostap. "It rained  last night so we won't
have to swallow the dust. Breathe in the fresh air, marshal. Sing something.
Recite some Caucasian poetry and behave as befits the occasion."
     But Ippolit  Matveyevich did not sing or  recite  poetry. The road went
uphill.  The nights spent  in the open made themselves felt by  pains in his
side and heaviness in his legs, and the salami sausage made itself felt by a
constant and  griping  indigestion. He walked  along, holding in his  hand a
five-pound  loaf  of  bread  wrapped in  newspaper,  his left foot  dragging
     On  the move again! But  this  time towards Tiflis; this time along the
most beautiful road in the world. Ippolit Matveyevich could  not  have cared
less. He did not  look around him as Ostap did. He  certainly did not notice
the  Terek,  which now could  just  be  heard rumbling at the  bottom of the
valley. It was only the ice-capped mountain-tops glistening in the sun which
somehow reminded  him of a sort of cross between the sparkle of diamonds and
the best brocade coffins of Bezenchuk the undertaker.
     After Balta the road entered and continued as a narrow ledge cut in the
dark  overhanging  cliff. The  road spiralled  upwards, and  by  evening the
concessionaires reached the village of Lars, about three thousand feet above
sea level.
     They  passed the  night in a poor native hotel without charge  and were
even given a glass of milk each for delighting the owner and his guests with
card tricks.
     The  morning was  so  glorious that Ippolit Matveyevich,  braced by the
mountain air, began to  stride  along more  cheerfully than the day  before.
Just behind Lars rose the impressive rock wall of the Bokovoi ridge. At this
point the Terek valley closed up into a series of narrow gorges. The scenery
became more and more sombre, while  the inscriptions on the cliffs grew more
frequent At the point where  the  cliffs squeezed  the Terek's flow  between
them to the extent that the  span  of  the bridge was no more than ten feet,
the concessionaires saw so many inscriptions  on  the side of the gorge that
Ostap forgot  the majestic sight of the Daryal gorge and shouted out, trying
to drown the rumble and rushing of the Terek:
     "Great  people!  Look at  that, marshal!  Do you see it?  Just a little
higher than the  cloud and  slightly lower  than the eagle!  An  inscription
which says, 'Micky and Mike, July 1914'. An unforgettable sight! Notice  the
artistry with which it was  done. Each letter  is three feet high,  and they
used oil paints. Where are you now, Nicky and Mike?"
     "Pussy," continued Ostap, "let's record ourselves for prosperity,  too.
I have some chalk,  by the  way. Honestly, I'll go  up and  write 'Pussy and
Ossy were here'."
     And  without giving  it  much  thought,  Ostap put down the  supply  of
sausage on the  wall  separating the  road from the  seething  depths of the
Terek  and began  clambering  up  the rocks.  At  first Ippolit  Matveyevich
watched  the smooth  operator's ascent, but then lost  interest and began to
survey the  base of Tamara's  castle, which stood on a rock like  a  horse's
     Just at this time, about a mile  away from  the concessionaires, Father
Theodore entered the Daryal gorge from  the direction  of Tiflis. He marched
along like a soldier with his eyes, as hard as diamonds, fixed ahead of him,
supporting himself on a large crook.
     With his last remaining money  Father Theodore  had  reached Tiflis and
was now walking home, subsisting on charity. While crossing the Cross gap he
had been  bitten  by an eagle. Father Theodore hit out at the insolent  bird
with his crook and continued on his way.
     As he went along, intermingling with the clouds, he muttered:
     "Not for personal gain, but at the wishes of my wife who sent me."
     The distance between the enemies narrowed. Turning a sharp bend, Father
Theodore came across an old man in a gold pince-nez.
     The  gorge split asunder  before  Father  Theodore's  eyes.  The  Terek
stopped its thousand-year-old roar.
     Father Theodore recognized Vorobyaninov. After  the terrible  fiasco in
Batumi, after  all his  hopes had been dashed,  this new  chance of  gaining
riches had  an  extraordinary  effect  on  the  priest.  He grabbed  Ippolit
Matveyevich by his scraggy Adam's apple, squeezed his fingers  together, and
shouted hoarsely:
     "What  have you done with the treasure that you slew your mother-in-law
to obtain?" Ippolit Matveyevich, who had not been expecting anything of this
nature, said nothing, but his  eyes bulged  so  far that they almost touched
the lenses of his pince-nez.
     "Speak!" ordered the priest. "Repent, you sinner!"
     Vorobyaninov felt himself losing his senses.
     Suddenly Father  Theodore caught sight of  Bender leaping from rock  to
rock; the  technical adviser  was coining down, shouting at the  top  of his
     "Against the  sombre  rocks  they  dash,  Those  waves,  they foam  and
     A  terrible  fear  gripped Father  Theodore. He continued  mechanically
holding the marshal by the throat, but his knees began to knock.
     "Well,  of  all people!" cried  Ostap  in  a  friendly tone. "The rival
     Father  Theodore  did not  dally. Obeying his healthy  instinct,  '  he
grabbed the concessionaires' bread and sausage and fled.
     "Hit him,  Comrade Bender!" cried  Ippolit Matveyevich, who was sitting
on the ground recovering his breath. "Catch him!. Stop him I"
     Ostap began whistling and whooping.
     "Wooh-wooh,"  he  warbled,  starting  in pursuit.  "The  Battle of  the
Pyramids or  Bender  goes hunting. Where are you  going, client? I can offer
you a well-gutted chair."
     This persecution was too much for Father Theodore and he began climbing
up a  perpendicular wall of rock.  He was spurred on by his heart, which was
in his mouth, and an itch in his heels known only to cowards. His legs moved
over the granite by themselves, carrying their master aloft.
     "Wooooh-woooh!" yelled Ostap from below. "Catch him!"
     "He's taken our supplies," screeched Vorobyaninov, running up.
     "Stop!" roared Ostap. "Stop, I tell you."
     But this only lent new strength to the exhausted priest. He wove about,
making  several  leaps,  and  finally  ended  ten  feet  above  the  highest
     "Give  back our sausage!"  howled Ostap.  "Give  back  the sausage, you
fool, and we'll forget everything."
     Father  Theodore no longer heard anything. He  found himself on a  flat
ledge,  on  to  which no  man  had ever climbed before. Father  Theodore was
seized by a sickening dread.  He realized he  could never  get down again by
himself. The cliff face dropped vertically to the road.
     He looked below. Ostap was gesticulating  furiously, and  the marshal's
gold pince-nez glittered at the bottom of the gorge.
     "I'll give back the  sausage," cried  the  holy father,  "only  get  me
     He could  see  all  the  movements of  the  concessionaires.  They were
running  about  below  and,  judging  from  their  gestures,  swearing  like
     An hour later,  lying on his stomach and peering over the  edge, Father
Theodore saw Bender and Vorobyaninov going off in the direction of the Cross
     Night fell  quickly. Surrounded  by pitch darkness and  deafened by the
infernal roar,  Father Theodore trembled and wept up in the  very clouds. He
no longer wanted earthly treasures, he only wanted one thing-to  get down on
to the ground.
     During the night he  howled so loudly  that at  times the sound of  the
Terek was drowned, and when morning came,  he fortified himself with sausage
and bread and  roared with demoniac laughter at the cars passing underneath.
The rest of the day was spent contemplating the mountains and  that heavenly
body, the sun. The  next night he saw the Tsaritsa  Tamara. She  came flying
over to him from her castle and said coquettishly:
     "Let's be neighbours! "
     "Mother!" said Father Theodore with feeling. "Not for personal gain . .
     "I know, I know,"  observed the Tsaritsa, "but merely at the  wishes of
your wife who sent you."
     "How did you know?" asked the astonished priest.
     "I just know. Why don't you  stop  by, neighbour? We'll play sixty-six.
What about it?"
     She gave a laugh and flew off, letting  off firecrackers into the night
sky as she went.
     The day after, Father  Theodore began preaching to the birds. For  some
reason he tried to sway them towards Lutheranism.
     "Birds," he said in a sonorous voice, "repent your sins publicly."
     On the fourth day he was pointed out to tourists from below.
     "On  the  right we have  Tamara's castle,"  explained  the  experienced
guides, "and on the left is a live human being, but it is not  known what he
lives on or how he got there."
     "My,  what  a  wild  people!"  exclaimed  the  tourists  in  amazement.
"Children of the mountains!"
     Clouds  drifted  by. Eagles cruised above Father Theodore's  head.  The
bravest of them stole the remains of the sausage  and with its wings swept a
pound and a half of bread into the foaming Terek.
     Father Theodore wagged his finger at the  eagle and, smiling radiantly,
     "God's  bird does not know Either  toil  or unrest, He leisurely builds
His long-lasting nest."
     The eagle  looked sideways at Father Theodore, squawked  cockadoodledoo
and flew away.
     "Oh, eagle, you eagle, you bitch of a bird!"
     Ten  days later  the  Vladikavkaz  fire  brigade  arrived with suitable
equipment and brought Father Theodore down.
     As they were lowering him,  he clapped his hands and sang in a tuneless
     "And you will be queen of all the world, My lifelo-ong frie-nd!"
     And the rugged Caucuses re-echoed Rubinstein's setting of the Lermontov
poem many times.
     "Not for personal gain, but merely at the wishes . . ." Father Theodore
told the fire chief.
     The cackling priest was  taken on  the  end  of  a  fire ladder to  the
psychiatric hospital.

     "What  do  you  think, marshal,"  said  Ostap  as  the  concessionaires
approached the settlement  of Sioni,  "how can we earn money in  a  dried-up
spot like this?"
     Ippolit Matveyevich said nothing. The only occupation by which he could
have kept himself going was  begging, but here in  the  mountain spirals and
ledges there was no one to beg from.
     Anyway,  there was begging going on already-alpine  begging, a  special
kind.  Every  bus  and  passenger  car  passing through the  settlement  was
besieged by children who performed a few  steps of a local folk dance to the
mobile audience, after which they ran after the vehicle with shouts of:
     "Give us money! Give money!"
     The passengers flung five-kopek pieces at them and  continued on  their
way to the Cross gap.
     "A noble cause,"  said Ostap. "No capital  outlay needed. The income is
small, but in our case, valuable."
     By two o'clock of the second  day of their journey, Ippolit Matveyevich
had  performed  his  first  dance  for  the  aerial  passengers,  under  the
supervision of the smooth operator. The dance was rather like a mazurka; the
passengers, drunk with  the exotic beauty  of the  Caucasus, took  it  for a
native  lezginka  and  rewarded him with  three  five-kopek  bits.  The next
vehicle, which  was a bus going from Tiflis  to Vladikavkaz, was entertained
by the smooth operator himself.
     "Give me money! Give money," he shouted angrily.
     The  amused  passengers richly  rewarded  his capering about, and Ostap
collected thirty kopeks from the dusty road. But the Sioni children showered
their  competitors  with  stones,  and,  fleeing  from  the  onslaught,  the
travellers made  off at the double  for  the next village,  where they spent
their earnings on cheese and local flat bread.
     The  concessionaires passed  their days  in  this way. They  spent  the
nights  in  mountain-dwellers'  huts.  On the fourth day they went down  the
hairpin  bends of the road and arrived in the  Kaishaur valley.  The sun was
shining brightly, and the partners, who had been frozen to the marrow in the
Cross gap, soon warmed up their bones again.
     The Daryal cliffs, the gloom and the  chill  of the gap gave way to the
greenery  and luxury  of a very deep valley. The companions passed above the
Aragva river and  went down into the valley, settled  by people and  teeming
with cattle and  food. There it was possible to scrounge something, earn, or
simply steal. It was the Transcaucasus.
     The heartened concessionaires increased their pace.
     In Passanaur,  in that hot and thriving settlement with two hotels  and
several taverns, the friends cadged some bread and lay down under the bushes
opposite  the  Hotel France,  with its garden  and two chained-up bear cubs.
They relaxed in the warmth, enjoying the tasty bread and a well-earned rest.
     Their  rest, however, was soon disturbed by the tooting of a car  horn,
the slither of tyres on the flinty road, and cries of merriment. The friends
peeped out. Three identical new  cars were driving up to the Hotel France in
line. The cars stopped without any noise.
     Out   of   the  first   one  jumped  Persidsky;   he  was  followed  by
Life-and-the-Law  smoothing  down  his dusty  hair.  Out of  the other  cars
tumbled the members of the Lathe automobile club.
     "A halt," cried Persidsky. "Waiter, fifteen shishkebabs!"
     The sleepy figures  staggered into the Hotel France, and there came the
bleating of a ram being dragged into the kitchen by the hind legs.
     "Do you recognize that young fellow?" asked Ostap. "He's  the  reporter
from  the  Scriabin, one  of  those who  criticized our transparent. They've
certainly arrived in style. What's it all about?"
     Ostap approached the kebab guzzlers and bowed to  Persidsky in the most
elegant fashion.
     "Bonjour!"  said  the  reporter. "Where  have  I  seen you before, dear
friend? Aha! I remember. The artist from the Scriabin, aren't you?"
     Ostap put his hand to his heart and bowed politely.
     "Wait  a  moment,  wait  a  moment," continued  Persidsky,  who  had  a
reporter's retentive memory.  "Wasn't  it  you who  was knocked  down  by  a
carthorse in Sverdlov Square? "
     "That's  right. And as you so  neatly  expressed  it, I  also  suffered
slight shock."
     "What are you doing here? Working as an artist?"
     "No, I'm on a sightseeing trip."
     "On foot?"
     "Yes, on foot.  The experts say a car trip along  the Georgian Military
Highway is simply ridiculous."
     "Not always  ridiculous, my dear fellow, not always. For instance,  our
trip isn't exactly ridiculous. We have our own cars; I stress, our own cars,
collectively owned. A direct  link between Moscow and  Tiflis. Petrol hardly
costs anything. Comfort and speed. Soft springs. Europe!"
     "How did  you come by  it all?"  asked Ostap  enviously. "Did you win a
hundred thousand? "
     "Not a hundred, but we won fifty."
     "With a bond belonging to the automobile club."
     "I see," said Ostap, "and with the money you bought the cars."
     "That's right."
     "I  see. Maybe you  need a  manager?  I  know a young  man.  He doesn't
     "What sort of manager?"
     "Well, you know . . . general management, business  advice, instruction
with visual aids by the complex method. . ."
     "I see what you mean. No, we don't need a manager."
     "You don't?"
     "Unfortunately not. Nor an artist."
     "In that case let me have ten roubles."
     "Avdotyin," said Persidsky, "kindly give this citizen ten roubles on my
account. I don't need a receipt. This person is unaccountable."
     "That's extraordinarily little," observed Ostap, "but I'll accept it. I
realize  the great difficulty  of your position. Naturally, if you had won a
hundred thousand, you might have loaned me a whole five roubles. But you won
only fifty thousand roubles, zero kopeks. In any case, many thanks."
     Bender  politely raised  his hat.  Persidsky  politely raised  his hat.
Bender bowed most courteously. Persidsky  replied with a most courteous bow.
Bender waved his hand in farewell. Persidsky, sitting at the wheel, did  the
same. Persidsky drove off in his splendid  car into the glittering distances
in the company of his gay friends, while the smooth operator was left on the
dusty road with his fool of a partner.
     "Did you see that swank? "
     "The  Transcaucasian car service,  or the  private  'Motor' company?  "
asked  Ippolit  Matveyevich  in a  businesslike way;  he was now  thoroughly
acquainted with all types of transportation on  the road. "I was  just about
to do a dance for them."
     "You'll soon be completely  dotty, my poor friend.  How could it be the
Transcaucasian car  service? Those people have won  fifty  thousand roubles,
Pussy. You saw yourself how  happy they were and how much of that mechanical
junk they had bought.  When we find our money, we'll spend it more sensibly,
won't we?"
     And  imagining what they would buy when  they became rich,  the friends
left  Passanaur.  Ippolit  Matveyevich vividly saw himself buying  some  new
socks and travellirig abroad. Ostap's visions were more ambitious. Something
between  damming the  Blue  Nile and opening  a  gaming-house  in Riga  with
branches in the other Baltic states.
     The travellers reached Mtskhet,  the ancient capital of Georgia, on the
third day, before lunch. Here the Kura river turned towards Tiflis.
     In the evening they passed the Zerno-Avchal hydro-electric station. The
glass, water and electricity all shone with different-coloured light. It was
reflected and scattered by the fast-flowing Kura.
     It was there  the  concessionaires made friends with a peasant who gave
them a lift into Tiflis in his cart; they arrived at 11 p.m., that very hour
when the cool of the evening  summons  into the streets the citizens  of the
Georgian capital, limp after their sultry day.
     "Not  a bad  little  town,"  remarked  Ostap,  as they  came  out  into
Rustavelli Boulevard. "You know, Pussy. . ."
     Without  finishing what  he  was saying,  Ostap suddenly darted after a
citizen, caught him up after ten  paces, and began an  animated conversation
with him.
     Then he quickly returned and poked Ippolit Matveyevich in the side.
     "Do you know who that is?" he whispered. "It's Citizen Kislarsky of the
Odessa Roll-Moscow Bun. Let's  go and see him. However paradoxical it seems,
you are now  the master-mind  and father  of Russian  democracy again. Don't
forget to puff out your cheeks and wiggle your moustache. It's grown quite a
bit, by the way. A hell of a  piece of good luck. If he isn't good for fifty
roubles, you can spit in my eye. Come on!"
     And  indeed,  a short  distance away  from  the  concessionaires  stood
Kislarsky  in a tussore-silk suit and a  boater;  he was a milky blue colour
with fright.
     "I think  you know each other," whispered Ostap. "This is the gentleman
close to the Emperor, the master-mind and father of Russian democracy. Don't
pay attention  to  his  suit; that's  part of our security measures. Take us
somewhere right away. We've got to have a talk."
     Kislarsky, who  had come to the Caucasus to  recover from his gruelling
experiences in Stargorod, was completely crushed. Burbling something about a
recession in the  roll-bun trade, Kislarsky set his old friend in a carriage
with silver-plated spokes and footboards and drove them to Mount David. They
went up  to  the top  of the restaurant mountain by cable-car. Tiflis slowly
disappeared into the  depths  in  a  thousand  lights. The conspirators were
ascending to the very stars.
     At the  restaurant  the tables were set up  on a lawn. A Caucasian band
made a dull drumming noise, and a little girl did a dance between the tables
of her own accord, watched happily by her parents.
     "Order something," suggested Bender.
     The experienced Kislarsky ordered wine, salad, and Georgian cheese.
     "And something  to  eat," said  Ostap. "If  you  only  knew,  dear  Mr.
Kislarsky, the things  that  Ippolit Matveyevich  and I have had to  suffer,
you'd be amazed at our courage."
     There he  goes again, thought Kislarsky in dismay. Now my troubles will
start all over again. Why didn't I go to  the Crimea? I definitely wanted to
go to the Crimea, and Henrietta advised me to go, too.
     But  he  ordered  two  shishkebabs without  a  murmur,  and  turned his
unctuous face towards Ostap.
     "Here's the  point," said Ostap, looking around and lowering his voice.
"They've  been  following  us  for  two months and will  probably ambush  us
tomorrow at the secret meeting-place. We may have to shoot our way out."
     Kislarsky's cheeks turned the colour of lead.
     "Under the circumstances," continued Ostap, "we're glad to meet a loyal
     "Mmm  ..  .  yes," said  Ippolit Matveyevich  proudly, remembering  the
hungry ardour with which he had danced the lezginka not far from Sioni.
     "Yes," whispered  Ostap, "we're  hoping-with  your  aid-to  defeat  the
enemy. I'll give you a pistol."
     "There's no need," said Kislarsky firmly.
     The   next  moment  it  was   made  clear  that  the  chairman  of  the
stock-exchange  committee would  not  have the opportunity of taking part in
the  coming battle.  He regretted  it very much. He was  not  familiar  with
warfare, and it was just for this  reason that  he had been elected chairman
of  the  stock-exchange  committee. He  was very  much disappointed, but was
prepared  to offer  financial assistance to save the life  of the  father of
Russian democracy (he was himself an Octobrist).
     "You're a true friend  of society,"  said Ostap  triumphantly,  washing
down the  spicy  kebab  with sweetish  Kipiani  wine.  "Fifty can  save  the
     "Won't twenty save the master-mind?" asked Kislarsky dolefully.
     Ostap  could not restrain himself and kicked Ippolit Matveyevich  under
the table in delight.
     "I consider that haggling," said Ippolit  Matveyevich, "is somewhat out
of place here."
     He immediately  received  a kick on the thigh  which meant-  Well done,
Pussy, that's the stuff!
     It  was the  first time  in  his  life  that Kislarsky  had  heard  the
master-mind's  voice. He was  so  overcome  that he immediately handed  over
fifty roubles. Then he paid  the bill and, leaving the friends at the table,
departed with  the  excuse  that  he had  a headache. Half an hour  later he
dispatched a telegram to his wife in Stargorod:

     The  many  privations  which  Ostap  had  suffered  demanded  immediate
compensation. That evening the  smooth operator  drank himself into a stupor
and practically fell out of the cable-car  on the way back to the hotel. The
next  day he  realized  a  long-cherished dream  and bought a  heavenly grey
polka-dot suit. It was  hot wearing it, but he nevertheless did so, sweating
profusely.  In  the  Tif-Co-Op men's shop, Vorobyaninov  was bought a  white
pique" suit and a  yachting cap with the gold insignia of some unknown yacht
club. In  this  attire Ippolit Matveyevich looked like an amateur admiral in
the merchant navy. His figure straightened up and his gait became firmer.
     "Ah," said Bender,  "first rate! If I were a girl, I'd give  a handsome
he-man like you an eight  per cent reduction off  my usual price. My, we can
certainly get around like this. Do you know how to get around, Pussy? "
     "Comrade  Bender," Vorobyaninov  kept saying,  "what about  the chairs?
We've got to find out what happened to the theatre."
     "Hoho," retorted Ostap, dancing with a  chair  in a large Moorish-style
room in the Hotel Orient.  "Don't tell me how to live. I'm now evil.  I have
money, but I'm magnanimous. I'll give you twenty  roubles  and three days to
loot  the city.  I'm  like  Suvorov. .  .  . Loot  the  city,  Pussy!  Enjoy
     And swaying his hips, Ostap sang in quick time:
     "The evening bells, the evening bells, How  many thoughts they bring. .
. ."
     The  friends caroused  wildly  for a whole  week. Vorobyaninov's  naval
uniform became covered with apple-sized wine  spots of different colours; on
Ostap's suit the stains suffused into one large rainbow-like apple.
     "Hi!"  said  Ostap  on the  eighth morning,  so  hung-over that  he was
reading the  newspaper  Dawn of the East. "Listen, you  drunken sot, to what
clever people are writing in the press! Listen!

     The  Moscow  Columbus Theatre left  yesterday, Sept. 3, for  a tour  of
Yalta, having  completed its stay in Tiflis.  The  theatre  is  planning  to
remain in the Crimea until the opening of the winter season in Moscow.'"

     "What did I tell you!" said Vorobyaninov.
     "What did you tell me!" snapped back Ostap.
     He  was  nevertheless  embarrassed.  The  careless  mistake  was   very
unpleasant. Instead of ending the  treasure hunt in Tiflis, they  now had to
move on to  the Crimean peninsula. Ostap  immediately  set to  work. Tickets
were bought to  Batumi and  second-class-berths reserved on the  S.S. Pestel
leaving Batumi for Odessa at 11 p.m. Moscow time on September 7.
     On  the night  of September 10, as the Pestel turned out to sea and set
sail for  Yalta  without calling at Anapa  on account of  the gale,  Ippolit
Matveyevich had a dream.
     He dreamed he  was standing in his admiral's  uniform on the balcony of
his house in  Stargorod, while the crowd gathered below waited for him to do
something. A large crane deposited a black-spotted pig at his feet.
     Tikhon  the caretaker appeared and, grabbing the pig by  the hind legs,
     "Durn it. Does the Nymph really provide tassels?"
     Ippolit Matveyevich found a dagger in  his hand.  He stuck it into  the
pig's side, and jewels came pouring out  of the large wound and rolled on to
the cement floor. They jumped about and clattered  more and more loudly. The
noise finally became unbearable and terrifying,
     Ippolit  Matveyevich was wakened  by the sound of waves dashing against
the porthole.
     They  reached Yalta  in  calm weather on  an enervating  sunny morning.
Having recovered  from his seasickness, the marshal was standing at the prow
near the ship's bell with its embossed Old Slavonic lettering. Gay Yalta had
lined up its tiny stalls and  floating  restaurants along  the shore. On the
quayside there were  waiting carriages  with velvet-covered  seats and linen
awnings,  motor-cars  and  buses belonging to  the "Krymkurso"  and "Crimean
Driver"   societies.   Brick-coloured  girls  twirled  parasols   and  waved
     The  friends  were  the  first  to  go  ashore,  on  to  the  scorching
embankment. At the sight of the concessionaires, a citizen in a tussore-silk
suit dived out of  the crowd of people  meeting the ship and  idle onlookers
and began walking quickly towards the exit to  the dockyard. But  too  late.
The smooth operator's eagle eye had quickly recognized the silken citizen.
     "Wait a moment, Vorobyaninov," cried Ostap.
     And  he raced off at such a pace that  he caught up  the silken citizen
about ten feet from the exit. He returned instantly with a hundred roubles.
     "He wouldn't give me any more. Anyway,  I  didn't insist;  otherwise he
won't be able to get home."
     And indeed, at that very moment  Kislarsky  was  fleeing in  a bus  for
Sebastopol, and from there went home to Stargorod by third class.
     The concessionaires spent the whole day  in the  hotel sitting naked on
the floor and every  few moments running under  the shower  in the bathroom.
But the water there was like warm weak  tea. They could not  escape from the
heat. It felt as though Yalta was just about to melt and flow into the sea.
     Towards  eight that evening the  partners struggled  into their red-hot
shoes, cursing all the chairs in the world, and went to the theatre.
     The Marriage was being shown. Exhausted by the heat, Stepan almost fell
over while  standing  on his hands. Agafya ran along the  wire,  holding the
parasol marked "I  want Podkolesin"  in her dripping  hands.  All she really
wanted at that moment  was a drink  of ice water.  The audience was thirsty,
too. For this reason and perhaps also  because the sight of Stepan gorging a
pan of hot fried eggs was revolting, the performance did not go over.
     The concessionaires were  satisfied  as soon as  they  saw  that  their
chair, together with three new rococo armchairs, was safe.
     Hiding  in one  of the boxes, they patiently waited for the end  of the
performance; it dragged on  interminably.  Then, finally, the audience  left
and the actors hurried away to try to cool off. The theatre was empty except
for  the shareholders in  the concession. Every living thing had hurried out
into the street where fresh rain was, at last, falling fast.
     "Follow me, Pussy," ordered Ostap. "Just in case, we're provincials who
couldn't find the exit."
     They  made their way on to the stage and, striking matches, though they
still collided with the hydraulic press, searched the whole stage.
     The smooth operator ran up a staircase into the props room.
     "Up here! "he called.
     Waving his arms, Vorobyaninov raced upstairs.
     "Do you see?" said Ostap, lighting a match.
     Through the darkness showed the corner of a Hambs chair and part of the
parasol with the word "want".
     "There it  is! There  is our past,  present and future. Light a  match,
Pussy, and I'll open it up."
     Ostap dug into his pockets for the tools.
     "Right," he said, reaching towards the chair. "Another match, marshal."
     The match flared  up, and then a strange thing happened. The chair gave
a jump and  suddenly, before  the  very eyes of the amazed  concessionaires,
disappeared through the floor.
     "Mama!" cried Vorobyaninov, and went flying over  to the wall, although
he had not the least desire to do so.
     The window-panes came out  with a crash and the parasol with  the words
"I want Podkolesin" flew out  of the window, towards the  sea. Ostap lay  on
the floor, pinned down by sheets of cardboard.
     It was fourteen minutes past midnight. This  was the first shock of the
great Crimean earthquake of 1927.
     A severe earthquake, wreaking untold disaster throughout the peninsula,
had plucked the treasure from the hands of the concessionaires.
     "Comrade  Bender,  what's  happening?"  cried  Ippolit  Matveyevich  in
     Ostap was beside  himself. The earthquake had  blocked his path. It was
the only time it had happened in his entire, extensive practice.
     "What is it?" screech Vorobyaninov.
     Screaming, ringing, and trampling feet could be heard from the street.
     "We've got to get outside immediately before the wall caves  in  on us.
Quick! Give me your hand, softie."
     They raced to the door. To their surprise, the Hambs chair was lying on
its back, undamaged, at the exit from the stage to the street. Growling like
a dog, Ippolit Matveyevich seized it in a death-grip.
     "Give  me the pliers," he shouted to  Bender. "Don't be a stupid fool,"
gasped  Ostap. "The ceiling is about to collapse, and you stand there  going
out of your mind! Let's get out quickly."
     "The pliers,"  snarled the  crazed Vorobyaninov.  "To  hell  with  you.
Perish here with your chair, then. I value my life, if you don't."
     With these words Ostap ran  for the door. Ippolit Matveyevich picked up
the chair with a snarl and ran after him.
     Hardly had they reached the middle of the street when the ground heaved
sickeningly under their feet; tiles came  off  the roof of  the theatre, and
the spot where the concessionakes had just been standing was strewn with the
remains of the hydraulic press.
     "Right, give me the  chair now," said  Bender coldly. "You're  tired of
holding it, I see." "I won't!" screeched  Ippolit Matveyevich. "What's this?
Mutiny aboard? Give me the chair, do you hear?"
     "It's my chair," clucked Vorobyaninov,  drowning the  weeping, shouting
and  crashing  on all  sides.,  "In that case, here's your  reward,  you old
goat!" And Ostap hit Vorobyaninov on the neck with his bronze fist. At  that
moment a  fire engine  hurtled  down  the  street and in the  lights of  its
headlamps  Ippolit  Matveyevich  glimpsed such a  terrifying  expression  on
Ostap's face that he instantly obeyed and gave up the chair.
     "That's better," said Ostap, regaining his breath. "The mutiny has been
suppressed. Now,  take the chair and follow me. You  are responsible for the
state of  the  chair. The  chair  must be  preserved  even if  there are ten
earthquakes. Do you understand?"
     The   whole  night   the   concessionaires  wandered  about   with  the
panic-stricken crowds, unable to decide, like  everyone else, whether or not
to enter the abandoned buildings, and expecting new shocks.
     At dawn, when the terror had died down somewhat, Ostap  selected a spot
near  which  there was no  wall  likely  to collapse,  or  people likely  to
interfere, and set about opening the chair.
     The results of the autopsy staggered both of them-there  was nothing in
the  chair. The effect of the ordeal of the night  and morning was 'too much
for Ippolit Matveyevich; he burst into a vicious, high-pitched cackle.
     Immediately after this came the  third shock.  The  ground  heaved  and
swallowed up the Hambs chair;  its flowered pattern smiled  at the  sun that
was rising in a dusty sky.
     Ippolit Matveyevich went  down on all  fours  and, turning  his haggard
face to  the dark purple disc of the sun, began howling. The smooth operator
fainted as he listened to him. When he regained consciousness, he saw beside
him Vorobyaninov's lilac-stubble chin. Vorobyaninov was unconscious.
     "At last," said Ostap, like a patient recovering  from typhus, "we have
a dead certainty. The last chair [at the word  "chair",  Ippolit Matveyevich
stirred] may have vanished into  the goods yard  of October Station, but has
by no means been  swallowed  up by  the ground. What's wrong? The hearing is
     Bricks  came crashing down nearby. A  ship's  siren  gave  a protracted

     On  a  rainy  day  in  October,  Ippolit  Matveyevich,  in  his  silver
star-spangled  waistcoat  and  without  a  jacket,  was  working  busily  in
Ivanopulo's room. He was working at the windowsill, since there still was no
table in  the  room. The  smooth  operator had been commissioned to paint  a
large number  of address  plates  for  various  housing  co-operatives.  The
stencilling  of the plates  had been passed on to Vorobyaninov, while Ostap,
for almost the whole of the month since  their return to Moscow, had cruised
round  the area of  the October Station looking with  incredible avidity for
clues  to  the last  chair, which  undoubtedly  contained  Madame Petukhov's
jewels. Wrinkling his brow, Ippolit  Matveyevich stencilled away at the iron
plates. During the six  months of the  jewel race he had lost certain of his
     At night Ippolit Matveyevich dreamed about mountain ridges adorned with
weird transparents, Iznurenkov, who hovered  in  front  of him, shaking  his
brown thighs, boats that capsized, people who drowned, bricks falling out of
the sky, and ground that heaved and poured smoke into his eyes.
     Ostap had not observed the change in Vorobyaninov, for he  was with him
every day. Ippolit  Matveyevich, however,  had changed in  a remarkable way.
Even his gait was different; the expression  of his eyes had become wild and
his long moustache  was  no  longer  parallel  to the earth's  surface,  but
drooped almost vertically, like that of an aged cat.
     He  had  also altered  inwardly.  He  had  developed  determination and
cruelty,  which  were  traits  of  character  unknown to him  before.  Three
episodes had  gradually  brought  out these streaks  in him: the  miraculous
escape from the  hard fists  of the  Vasyuki  enthusiasts,  his debut in the
field of  begging  in  the Flower Garden at  Pyatigorsk,  and, finally,  the
earthquake, since which Ippolit Matveyevich had become somewhat unhinged and
harboured a secret loathing for his partner.
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  had   recently  been   seized  by  the  strongest
suspicions. He was afraid that  Ostap would  open the chair  without him and
make off with the treasure, abandoning him to his  own fate. He did not dare
voice these  suspicions, knowing Ostap's strong  arm and iron will. But each
day, as he sat at the window scraping off surplus paint with an  old, jagged
razor, Ippolit  Matveyevich wondered. Every day he  feared that  Ostap would
not come  back and that he, a former marshal of the  nobility, would die  of
starvation under some wet Moscow wall.
     Ostap nevertheless returned  each  evening, though he never brought any
good  news. His  energy  and  good  spirits were inexhaustible.  Hope  never
deserted him for a moment.
     There was  a sound  of  running  footsteps in the corridor  and someone
crashed into the cabinet; the plywood door flew open with the ease of a page
turned  by  the  wind, and in the doorway  stood the  smooth  operator.  His
clothes were soaked, and his  cheeks  glowed  like apples. He  was  panting.
"Ippolit  Matveyevich!"  he shouted. "Ippolit Matveyevich!" Vorobyaninov was
startled. Never before had the technical adviser called him by his first two
names. Then he cottoned on. . . .
     "It's there?" he gasped.
     "You're dead right, it's there, Pussy. Damn you."
     "Don't shout. Everyone will hear."
     "That's  right, they might hear,"  whispered Ostap. "It's there, Pussy,
and  if  you  want,  I  can  show  it  to   you  right  away.  It's  in  the
railway-workers' club, a  new one.  It was opened  yesterday. How did I find
it? Was  it  child's  play? It was singularly difficult. A stroke of genius,
brilliantly carried through  to  the end. An  ancient adventure. In a  word,
first rate!"
     Without waiting  for Ippolit Matveyevich to pull  on his  jacket, Ostap
ran  to  the corridor. Vorobyaninov  joined him  on  the landing.  Excitedly
shooting  questions at one another, they both  hurried along the wet streets
to Kalanchev Square. They did not even think of taking a tram.
     "You're dressed  like a navvy,"  said Ostap jubilantly. "Who goes about
like that, Pussy?  You  should have starched underwear, silk socks,  and, of
course,  a  top hat.  There's something noble about your face. Tell me, were
you really a marshal of the nobility?"
     Pointing  out  the chair, which was  standing  in the  chess-room,  and
looked  a  perfectly normal Hambs chair, although  it contained  such untold
wealth, Ostap pulled Ippolit Matveyevich into the corridor. There was no one
about. Ostap went up to a window that had not yet been sealed for the winter
and drew back the bolts on both sets of frames.
     "Through this window," he said, "we can easily get into the club at any
time  of  the  night.  Remember,  Pussy,  the  third window  from the  front
     For a while longer the friends wandered  about  the club, pretending to
be railway-union  representatives, and  were more  and  more  amazed by  the
splendid halls and rooms.
     "If I had played the match in Vasyuki," said Ostap, "sitting on a chair
like  this, I wouldn't have lost  a  single game.  My enthusiasm would  have
prevented  it. Anyway, let's go, old man.  I  have  twenty-five  roubles. We
ought to have a glass of beer and relax before our nocturnal visitation. The
idea of beer doesn't shock you, does it, marshal? No  harm. Tomorrow you can
lap up champagne in unlimited quantities."
     By the  time  they emerged  from the beer-hall, Bender  was  thoroughly
enjoying  himself and  made taunting remarks  at the passers-by. He embraced
the  slightly  tipsy  Ippolit  Matveyevich  round  the  shoulders  and  said
     "You're an extremely nice old man, Pussy, but I'm not going to give you
more than ten per cent. Honestly, I'm not. What would you want with all that
money? "
     "What do you mean, what would I want?" Ippolit Matveyevich seethed with
     Ostap laughed  heartily and rubbed his  cheek against his partner's wet
     "Well,  what  would  you  buy,  Pussy?  You  haven't  any  imagination.
Honestly, fifteen  thousand is more  than enough for  you.  You'll soon die,
you're so old.  You don't need  any money at all.  You know, Pussy, I  don't
think I'll give you anything. I don't want to spoil you. I'll take you on as
a secretary, Pussy  my lad. What do  you  say? Forty roubles a month and all
your grub. You  get  work clothes, tips, and national health. Well,  is it a
     Ippolit Matveyevich  tore his arm free  and quickly walked ahead. Jokes
like that exasperated him. Ostap caught him up at the entrance to the little
pink house. "Are you  really mad  at  me?" asked  Ostap. "I was only joking.
You'll  get your three per  cent. Honestly,  three per cent is all you need,
     Ippolit Matveyevich sullenly entered the room. "Well, Pussy, take three
per cent."  Ostap was having fun.  "Come on,  take three. Anyone else would.
You don't have any rooms to rent. It's a blessing Ivanopulo has gone to Tver
for a whole year. Anyway, come and be my valet. . . an easy job."
     Seeing that  Ippolit Matveyevich  could not  be  baited,  Ostap  yawned
sweetly, stretched himself,  almost touching  the ceiling as he  filled  his
broad chest with air, and said:
     "Well,  friend,  make  your  pockets ready.  We'll go to  the club just
before  dawn. That's  the best  time. The  watchmen are asleep, having sweet
dreams,  for  which they get fired without  severance  pay. In the meantime,
chum, I advise you to have a nap."
     Ostap  stretched  himself  out  on  the  three  chairs,  acquired  from
different corners of Moscow, and said, as he dozed off:
     "Or  my valet . . . a decent  salary.  No,  I  was  joking. .  . .  The
hearing's continued. Things are moving, gentlemen of the jury."
     Those  were the smooth  operator's  last  words. He  fell  into a deep,
refreshing sleep, untroubled by dreams.
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  went  out   into  the  street.  He  was  full  of
desperation and cold fury. The moon  hopped about among  the banks of cloud.
The  wet  railings of  the  houses glistened  greasily.  In  the street  the
flickering gas lamps were encircled by halos  of moisture. A drunk was being
thrown out  of the  Eagle  beer-hall. He began bawling.  Ippolit Matveyevich
frowned and went back inside. His one wish was to finish the whole  business
as soon as possible.
     He went back into the room, looked  grimly at the sleeping Ostap, wiped
his pince-nez and took up the  razor  from the window sill. There were still
some dried  scales of oil paint on its  jagged edge. He put the razor in his
pocket, walked past  Ostap  again, without looking at him, but listening  to
his  breathing, and then went  out into the corridor. It was dark and sleepy
out there. Everyone had evidently gone to bed. In  the pitch darkness of the
corridor Ippolit Matveyevich suddenly smiled in the most  evil way, and felt
the skin creep on his forehead. To test this new sensation he  smiled again.
He suddenly remembered a boy at school who had been able to move his ears.
     Ippolit  Matveyevich went as far as the stairs and  listened carefully.
There was  no one there. From the street came the  drumming of a carthorse's
hooves, intentionally loud and clear as  though someone was  counting on  an
abacus. As stealthily as a cat, the marshal went back into the room, removed
twenty-five roubles and the  pair  of pliers from Ostap's jacket  hanging on
the  back  of  a chair,  put on  his  own yachting cap,  and again  listened
     Ostap was sleeping quietly.  His nose and lungs were working perfectly,
smoothly inhaling  and exhaling air. A brawny  arm hung  down to  the floor.
Conscious  of  the  second-long pulses  in  his  temple, Ippolit Matveyevich
slowly  rolled  up  his  right   sleeve   above  the   elbow   and  bound  a
wafer-patterned towel around his bare arm; he stepped back to the door, took
the razor out of his  pocket, and gauging  the position of  the furniture in
the room turned the  switch. The light went  out, but the room was still lit
by a bluish aquarium-like light from the street lamps.
     "So much the better," whispered Ippolit Matveyevich.
     He approached the back of the chair and, drawing back his hand with the
razor, plunged the blade slantways into Ostap's throat,  pulled it  out, and
jumped backward towards the wall. The smooth operator  gave a  gurgle like a
kitchen sink  sucking  down the  last water.  Ippolit Matveyevich managed to
avoid being splashed with blood. Wiping the  wall with his  jacket, he stole
towards the blue door, and for a brief moment looked back at Ostap. His body
had arched twice and slumped against the backs of the chairs. The light from
the street moved across a black puddle forming on the floor.
     What  is  that  puddle?  wondered  Vorobyaninov.  Oh, yes,  it's blood.
Comrade Bender is dead.
     He  unwound the slightly stained  towel, threw it  aside, carefully put
the razor on the floor, and left, closing the door quietly.
     Finding himself in the street, Vorobyaninov scowled and, muttering "The
jewels are all mine, not just six per cent," went off to Kalanchev Square.
     He stopped at the  third window from the front entrance  to the railway
club.  The  mirrorlike windows of  the  new club  shone  pearl-grey  in  the
approaching  dawn.  Through  the damp air came  the muffled voices  of goods
trains. Ippolit  Matveyevich  nimbly scrambled on  to the  ledge, pushed the
frames, and silently dropped into the corridor.
     Finding his way  without difficulty through  the grey pre-dawn halls of
the club, he reached the chess-room and went over to the  chair, bumping his
head on a  portrait of Lasker hanging on the wall. He was in no hurry. There
was no point in it. No one was after him. Grossmeister Bender was asleep for
ever in the little pink house.
     Ippolit  Matveyevich  sat down on the  floor, gripped the chair between
his sinewy legs, and  with the  coolness of  a dentist, began extracting the
tacks, not  missing a single  one. His work was complete at the sixty-second
tack. The English chintz and canvas lay loosely on top of the stuffing.
     He had  only  to lift  them  to  see  the  caskets,  boxes,  and  cases
containing the precious stones.
     Straight  into a  car, thought Ippolit Matveyevich, who had learned the
facts of  life from the smooth  operator, then to the station, and on to the
Polish frontier. For a small gem they should get me across, then . . .
     And desiring to find out  as soon  as possible what would happen  then,
Ippolit Matveyevich pulled away the covering from the chair. Before his eyes
were springs, beautiful  English springs, and  stuffing,  wonderful  pre-war
stuffing, the like of  which you  never see nowadays. But there was  nothing
else in the chair. Ippolit  Matveyevich mechanically turned the chair inside
out and sat for  a whole hour clutching it between his legs and repeating in
a dull voice:
     "Why  isn't there anything there?  It can't be right. It can't  be." It
was almost  light when  Vorobyaninov, leaving everything as  it  was in  the
chess-room and forgetting  the pliers  and  his  yachting  cap with the gold
insignia of a non-existent yacht club,  crawled tired,  heavy and unobserved
through the window into the street.
     "It can't be right," he kept repeating, having walked a block away. "It
can't be right."
     Then  he returned to the club  and  began wandering  up and down by the
large windows, mouthing the words: "It can't be right. It can't be."
     From time to time he let out a shriek and  seized hold of his head, wet
from the morning  mist. Remembering the events of  that night, he shook  his
dishevelled grey hair. The excitement of the jewels was too much for him; he
had withered in five minutes. "There's all kinds come here!" said a voice by
his ear,
     He  saw  in  front of him a watchman  in  canvas work-clothes and  poor
quality boots. He was very old and evidently friendly.
     "They keep comin'," said the  old man politely, tired of  his nocturnal
solitude. "And  you,  comrade, are interested. That's right. Our club's kind
of unusual."
     Ippolit Matveyevich looked ruefully at the red-cheeked old man.
     "Yes, sir," said the old man, "a very unusual club; there ain't another
like it."
     "And what's so unusual about it?"  asked Ippolit Matveyevich, trying to
gather his wits.
     The little old man  beamed at  Vorobyaninov. The story of  the  unusual
club seemed to please him, and he liked to retell it.
     "Well, it's  like this," began the old man, "I've  been a watchman here
for  more'n ten years, and nothing like that ever happened.  Listen, soldier
boy! Well, there used to be a  club  here,  you know the one, for workers in
the first transportation division. I used to be the watchman. A no-good club
it was. They  heated  and  heated and  couldn't  do  anythin'. Then  Comrade
Krasilnikov comes to me and asks,  'Where's all that firewood goin'?' Did he
think I was eatin' it or somethin"? Comrade  Krasilnikov had a job with that
club, he did. They asked for five years' credit  for a new club, but I don't
know what became of it. They  didn't allow the credit. Then,  in the spring,
Comrade Krasilnikov bought a new chair for the stage, a good soft'n."
     With his  whole  body  close  to the  watchman's,  Ippolit  Matveyevich
listened.  He  was  only half  conscious,  as  the watchman,  cackling  with
laughter,  told how he had once clambered  on  to the chair to put in  a new
bulb and missed his footing.
     "I slipped off the chair and the coverin' was torn off. So I look round
and see bits of glass and beads on a string come pouring out."
     "Beads?" repeated Ippolit Matveyevich.
     "Beads!" hooted the old man with delight. "And I look, soldier boy, and
there are all  sorts of little boxes. I didn't touch 'em. I went straight to
Comrade Krasilnikov and reported it.  And that's  what I told the  committee
afterwards. I didn't touch the boxes, I didn't.  And a  good thing I didn't,
soldier boy. Because jewellery was found  in 'em, hidden by the bourgeois. .
. ."
     "Where are the jewels?" cried the marshal.
     "Where, where?" the watchman imitated him. "Here they are, soldier boy,
use your imagination! Here they are."
     "Here  they are!"  cried  the ruddy-faced old man, enjoying the effect.
"Wipe your eyes. The club was  built with  them, soldier boy. You  see? It's
the club. Central heating, draughts with timing-clocks, a  buffet,  theatre;
you aren't allowed inside in your galoshes."
     Ippolit Matveyevich stiffened and,  without moving, ran  his eyes  over
the ledges.
     So that was where it was. Madame Petukhov's treasure. There. All of it.
A  hundred  and fifty thousand roubles, zero  zero kopeks, as Ostap Suleiman
Bertha Maria Bender used to say.
     The jewels had turned  into a solid frontage of glass and ferroconcrete
floors. Cool gymnasiums had  been made  from the pearls. The diamond  diadem
had  become a theatre-auditorium with  a revolving stage; the ruby  pendants
had grown into chandeliers;  the serpent bracelets had been transformed into
a beautiful library, and the clasp had metamorphosed into a creche, a glider
workshop, a chess and billiards room.
     The  treasures remained; it had been preserved  and had even grown.  It
could be touched with the hand, though not  taken away. It had gone into the
service of new  people. Ippolit Matveyevich  felt  the  granite  facing. The
coldness of the stone penetrated deep into his heart.
     And he gave a cry.
     It was an insane, impassioned wild cry-the cry of a vixen  shot through
the body-it flew into  the  centre of the square, streaked under the bridge,
and, rebuffed everywhere by the sounds of the waking city, began fading  and
died away  in a moment.  A marvellous  autumn  morning slipped from  the wet
roof-tops into the Moscow streets. The city set off on its daily routine.


     The writers who used  the  pen names "Ilf" and "Petrov" were natives of
Odessa. Ilf, born  into  a poor Jewish family named Fainzilberg, worked as a
machine-shop  assembler,  bookkeeper, and stable manager before  becoming  a
journalist. He began as  a humorist in 1919, at the height of the civil war.
Not long afterward he joined  the  staff  of the  Train  Whistle in  Moscow,
forming  his  partnership  with Petrov, another staff member. Still  another
member  of  the Train  Whistle  was  Petrov's  brother,  the famous novelist
Valeritin Katayev. Subsequently Ilf  and  Petrov joined Pravda,  winning  an
audience of millions for their satires " against bureaucratism written under
the  pen  names of Tolstoyevsky and the Chill Philosopher.  They wrote  film
scenarios as well as The  Little Golden Calf and The Twelve Chairs. In  1936
the  two made a  10,000-mile motor tour through the United States collecting
material for their book One-Storey-High America. Ilf died of tuberculosis in
1937 in Moscow, where his body  was cremated. Petrov edited several humorous
periodicals, as well as the popular Little Flame, a weekly which contributed
toward  making  the  U.S.A.  and Great  Britain  better  understood  by  the
Russians. During World War II he was a correspondent at the  front,  and was
killed at his post in 1942 during the  defence of Sebastopol. Concerning the
official Soviet attitude toward Ilf and Petrov, Bernard Guilbert Guerney has
said: "The most  painstaking  research  shows  no indication that  these two
satirists ever  received as  much as a slap  on  the wrist  throughout their
careers." [See  An Anthology of  Russian  Literature in  the  Soviet Period,
edited by B. G. Guerney.]

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