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Short stories: Bargamot and Garaska by Leonid Andreyev

 

Bargamot and Garaska
by Leonid Andreyev

 

IT would be unjust to say that Nature had injured Ivan Akindinich Bargamotov, who in his official capacity was called “Constable No. 20,” and unofficially simply Bargamotov. The inhabitants of one of the outskirts of the provincial towns of Orel, who in their turn were nicknamed “gunners,” from the name of their abode (Gunner Street) and, from the moral side were characterized as “broken-headed gunners,” when they dubbed Ivan Akindinovich “Bargamot,” were without doubt not thinking of the qualities which belong to such a delicate and delicious fruit as the bergamot. By his exterior Bargamot reminded one rather of the mastodon, or of any of those engaging, but extinct creatures, which for want of room have long ago deserted a world already filling up with flaccid little humans. Tall, stout, strong, loud-voiced Bargamot loomed big on the police horizon, and certainly would long ago have attained notable rank, if only his soul, compressed within those stout walls, had not been sunk in an heroic sleep.
Outward impressions in passing to Bargamot’s soul by means of his little fat-encased eyes, lost all their sharpness and force, and arrived at their destination only in the form of feeble echoes and reflexions. A person of sublime requirements would have called him a lump of flesh; his su- perior officers called him a “stock,” but a useful one — while to the “gunners,” the persons most interested in this question, he was a staid, serious matter-of-fact man, one worthy of every respect and consideration. What Bargamot knew he knew well, were it only a policeman’s instructions, which he had assimilated some time or other with all the energy of his mighty frame, and which had sunk so deep into his sluggish brain, that it would have been impossible to rout them out again, even with vitriol. Nevertheless certain truths occupied a permanent position in his soul, truths acquired by way of life’s experience, and unconditionally dominating the situation. Of that which Bargamot did not know he kept such an imperturbably stolid silence, that people who did know it became somehow or other some- what ashamed of their knowledge. But the chief point was this that Bargamot was enormously powerful; and might was right in Gunner Street, a slum inhabited by shoemakers, tailors who worked at home, and the representatives of other “liberal” professions. Owning two public houses, uproarious on Sundays and Mondays, Gunner Street devoted all its leisure hours to Homeric fights, in which the women, bare-headed and disheveled, took immediate part (as they separated their husbands), and also the little children, who gazed with delight on the daring of their papas. All this rough wave of drunken “gunners” beat against the immovable Bargamot as against a stone breakwater, while he would deliberately seize with his mighty hands a pair of the most desperate rowdies and personally conduct them to the “lock-up,” and the rowdies would obediently submit their fate to the hands of Bargamot, pro- testing merely for the sake of appearances. Such was Bargamot in the domain of inter- national relations. In the sphere of home politics he held himself with no less dignity. The small tumble-down cottage, in which Bargamot lived with his wife and two young children, and which with difficulty afforded room for his mighty body, and trembled with craziness and with fear for its own existence whenever Bargamot turned round, might be at ease, if not with regard to its own wooden structure, at all events in respect of the family unity. Domestic, careful, and fond of digging in his garden on free days, Bargamot was severe. He instructed his wife and children through the same medium of physical influence, not conforming so much to the actual requirement of science as to certain indefinite prescriptions on that score which existed in the ramifications of his big head. This did not prevent his wife Marya, who was still a young and handsome woman, on the one hand from respecting her husband as a steady, sober man, and on the other, in spite of all his massiveness, from twisting him round her finger with that ease and force of which only weak women are capable. At about ten o’clock on a warm spring evening Bargamot stood at his usual post at the corner of Gunner Street and the 3rd Garden Street. He was in a bad humour. To-morrow was Easter Day, and soon people would be going to church, while he would have to stand on duty till 3 o’clock in the morning, and would only get home in time for the conclusion of the fast. Bargamot did not feel any need of prayer, but the bright holiday air which permeated the unusually peaceful and quiet street affected even him. He did not like the spot on which he had stood still every day for a matter of ten years. He felt a desire to do something of a holiday character such as others were doing. And in view of these uneasy feelings there arose within him a certain discontent and impatience. Moreover he was hungry. His wife had given him no dinner at all that day, and so he had had to put up with a few sups of kvass and bread. His great stomach was insistently demanding food; and how long it was still to the conclusion of the fast! Ptu! — spat Bargamot, as he made a cigarette and began reluctantly to suck at it. At home he had some good cigarettes, presented to him by a local shop-keeper, but he was reserving them till the conclusion of the fast. Soon the gunners” drew along towards the church, clean and respectable in jackets and waistcoats over red and blue flannel shirts, and in long boots with innumerable creases, and high pointed heels. To-morrow all this splendour was destined to disappear behind the counter of the “pub,” or to be torn in pieces in a friendly struggle for harmony. But for to-day the “gunners” were resplendent. Each one carefully carried a parcel of paschal cakes. None took any notice of Bargamot, neither did he look with especial love on his “god-children,” and uneasily prognosticated how many times he would have to make a journey to- morrow to the police station. In fact, he was jealous that they were free and could go where it was bright, noisy and cheerful, while he was stuck there like a penitent. “Here I have to stand because of you, drunkards,” muttered he, summing up his thoughts, and spat once more — he felt a hollow in the pit of his stomach. The street was becoming empty. The Eucharistic bell had ceased. Then the joyful changes of the treble peal, so cheerful after the melancholy tolling of the Lenten bells, spread over the world the joyful news of Christ’s resurrection. Bargamot took off his hat and crossed himself. Soon he would be going home. He became more cheerful as he imagined to himself the table laid with a clean cloth, the paschal cakes and the eggs. He would without hurry give to all the Easter salutation. They would wake up Jack and bring him in, and he would at once demand the coloured egg, about which he had held circumstantial conversations the whole week through with his more experienced little sister. Oh, how he’ll open wide his mouth when his father brings him, not the bright dyed egg, but the real marble one, which the same obliging shop-keeper had presented to Bargamot! “Dear little chap!” said Bargamot with a smile, feeling a sort of paternal tenderness welling up from the depths of his soul. But Bargamot ‘s placidity was broken in on in the most abject manner. Round the corner were heard uneven footsteps and low mutterings. “Who the devil is coming here?” thought Bargamot, looking round the corner and feeling injured in his very soul. “Garaska! Yes, drunk as usual! Well, that’s a finisher!” It was a mystery to Bargamot how Garaska could have managed to get drunk before day- light, but of the fact of his drunkenness there was no doubt. His behaviour, mysterious as it would have been to an outsider, was perfectly clear to Bargamot,who was well acquainted with the “Gunner” soul in general, and with the low nature of Garaska in particular. Attracted by an irresistible force from the middle of the street, in which he had the habit of walking, he was pressed close to the hoarding. Supporting himself with both hands, and contemplating the wall with a concentrated air of inquiry, Garaska staggered, while he gathered up his strength for a fresh struggle with any unexpected inpediments he might meet with. After a short but intense meditation he pushed himself energetically from the wall, and staggered backwards into the middle of the street, made a deliberate turn, and set out with long strides into space, which turned out to be not quite so endless as it has been said to be, but was in fact bounded by a mass of lamps. With the first of these, Garaska came into the closest relations, and clasped it in the firm embrace of friendship. A lamp! Stop!” said he curtly, as he established the accomplished fact. Quite unusually, of course, Garaska was in an excessively good humour. Instead of heaping well-deserved obligations upon the lamp-post he turned to it with mild reproaches, which contained some touches of familiarity. “Stand still, you silly ass, where are you going to?” he muttered as he staggered away from the lamp-post, and again fell with his whole chest upon it, almost flattening his nose against its cold damp surface. That’s right! eh?” and by clinging with half his length along the post he managed to hold on, and sank into a reverie. Bargamot contemptuously compressed his lips, as he looked down on Garaska from his superior height. Nobody annoyed him so much in the whole of Gunner Street as this wretched toper. To look at him — one would not have thought there was any strength in him, and yet he was the greatest scandal in the whole neighbourhood. He’s not a man, but an ulcer! A “gunner” gets drunk, makes a disturbance, spends the night in the lock-up, and he gets over all this like a gentlem.an — but Garaska always does it stealthily, and of malice presence. He may be beaten half to death or nearly starved at the police station, still they can never break him of bad language, of his most offensively foul tongue. He w411 stand under the windows of any of the most respectable people in Gunner Street, and begin to swear without rhyme or reason. The shopmen seize Garaska and beat him — the crowd laughs and advises them to give it him hot. Garaska would revile even Bargamot himself in such fantastically realistic language, that without understanding all the subtleties of his wit, he felt himself more insulted, than if he had been whipped. How Garaska got his living, remained to the “gunners” one of those mysteries which enveloped his whole existence. Certainly no one had ever seen him sober. He lived, or rather camped about in the orchards, or the river-bank, or under shrubs. In winter he disappeared to somewhere or other, and with the first breath of spring he reappeared. What attracted him to Gunner Street, where it was every one’s business to beat him, was again a profound mystery of Garaska’s soul, but get rid of him they could not. They strongly suspected, and that not without reason, that he was a thief, but they could not take him in the act, so he was beaten on merely circumstantial evidence. On this occasion Garaska had evidently a dif- ficult path to negotiate. The rags, which made a pretense of seriously covering his emaciated body, were all over still undried mud. His face, with its big, bulbous red nose, which was incontestably one of the causes of his unstable equilibrium, was covered with an irregularly distributed watery growth, and gave substantial evidence of its close relations with alcohol and a neighbour’s fist. On his cheek near the eye was a scratch of evidently recent origin. He succeeded at last in parting company with the lamp-post, and when he observed the dignified silent figure of Bargamot he was over- joyed. ^’Our best respects to you, Bargamot Bargamo- tich — we hope we see you well!” said he with a polite wave of his hand, but he staggered, and was fain to prop himself up with his back against the lamp-post. ^ ‘Where are you going to?” growled Bargamot saturninely. “We’re allright’!” “On the old lay, eh? Or do you want a doss in the cells. You wretch, I’ll run you in at once.” “No, you don’t!” Garaska was just going to make a gesture of defiance, when he wisely restrained himself, spat and rubbed his foot about on the ground, as though to rub out the spittle. “You can talk when you get to the police station! March!” Bargamot’s mighty hand stretched out to Garaska’s collar, so greasy in fact that it was evident that Bargamot was not his first guide on the thorny path of welldoing. Giving the drunken man a slight shake, and propelling his body in the required direction, and at the same time giving it a certain stability, Bargamot dragged him towards the above-mentioned goal, just as a strong hawser might tow after it a very light schooner, which had met with an accident outside the harbour. He considered himself deeply injured, instead of enjoying his well-earned rest, to have to drag himself with this drunkard to the station. Ugh! Bargamot’s hands itched — but the consciousness that on such a high festival it would be unseemly to let them have their way, re- strained him. Garaska strode on bravely, mingling in a remarkable manner self-confidence, and even insolence, with meekness. He evidently harboured some thought of his own, which he began to approach by the Socratic method. “Tell me, Mr. Policeman, what is to-day?” “Won’t you shut up!” Bargamot replied in contempt. “Drunk before daylight!” “Has the bell at Michael the Archangel’s rung yet?” “Yes, what’s that to you?” “Then Christ is risen!” “Well, He is risen.” “Then allow me ” Garaska was carrying on this conversation half twisted towards Bargamot, and with his face resolutely turned to him. Bargamot, interested by the strange questions, mechanically let go the greasy collar. Garaska, losing his support, staggered and fell before he could show to Bargamot an object which he had just taken out of his pocket. Raising his great shoulders, as he supported himself on his hands, Garaska looked on the ground, then fell face downwards, and began to wail, as a peasant woman wails for the dead. Garaska howling! Bargamot was surprised, but deciding that it must be some new joke of his, he still felt interested as to developments. The development was that Garaska continued howling without words, just like a dog. “What’s up now? Off your nut, eh?” said Bargamot as he gave him a shove with his foot. He went on howling. Bargamot was in a dilemma. What’s got year, eh?’ ‘The egg.” “Well?” Garaska went on howling, but less noisily, he sat down and lifted up his hand. The hand was covered with something sticky, to which adhered pieces of coloured egg-shell. Bargamot, still in doubt, began to have an inkling that something untoward had taken place. “I like a gentleman —to present Easter egg but you ” blubbered Garaska disconnectedly; but Bargamot understood. It was evident what had been Garaska ‘s intention. He wished to present him with an Easter egg according to Christian usage, and Bargamot was for taking him to goal. Perhaps he had brought the egg a long way, and now it was broken — and he was crying. Bargamot imagined to himself that the marble egg he was keeping for Jack was broken, and how sorry it made him. ” ‘here’s a go!” said Bargamot shaking his head, as he looked at the wallowing drunkard, and pitied him as intensely as he would have pitied a man cruelly wronged by his own brother. “He was going to present ” “He is also a living soul,” muttered the policeman, striving albeit clumsily to render the state of affairs clear to himself, and feeling a mixture of shame and pity, which became more and more oppressive. “And you would have run him in! Shame on you!” Sighing heavily as he bent down he knocked his short sword against a stone, and sat down on his heels near to Garaska. Well,” he muttered in confusion, “perhaps it is not broken.” “Not broken! Why yer was ready to break my snout for me. Brute!” “But what did you shove for!” “What for ” mimicked Garaska. “I was going like a gentleman to and him to the lock up. Think that’s my last egg? Yer lump!” Bargamot sniffed. He did not feel in the least hurt by Garaska’s abuse; through his whole ill- organized interior he felt a sort of half pity, half shame, while in the remotest depths of his stout body something kept tiresomely wimbling and torturing. “Can one help giving you a thrashing?” said Bargamot, more to himself than to Garaska. “Not you, you garden scarecrow! Now look ‘ere.” Garaska was evidently falling into his usual groove. In his somewhat clearing brain he was picturing to himself a whole perspective of the most compromising terms of abuse, and most insulting epithets, when Bargamot cleared his throat with a sound which left not the slightest doubt as to the firmness of his determination and declared : “We’ll go to my house, and break the fast.” “What! go to your house, you tubby devil!”
“Let’s go, I say.”
Garaska’s surprise was boundless. Quite passively he allowed himself to be lifted up and led by the hand, and he went — but whither? Not to the lock-up, but to the house of Bargamot himself — actually to eat his Easter breakfast there! A seductive thought came into his head — to give Bargamot the slip, but though his head had become cleared by the very unusualness of the situation his feet still remained in such evil case, that they seemed sworn to perpetually cling to one another, and to prevent each other from walking.
Then, too, Bargamot was such a wonder that Garaska, truth to tell, did not want to get away.
Bargamot, twisting his tongue, and searching for words and stuttering, now propounded to him the instructions for a policeman, and now reverting to the special question of thrashing, and the lock-up, deciding in his own mind in the positive, and at the same time in the negative.
“You say truly, Ivan Akindinich, we must be beaten,” acknowledged Garaska, feeling even a sort of awkwardness. Bargamot was a sore wonder!
“No, I don’t mean to do that,” mumbled Bargamot, evidently understanding, even less than Garaska, what his woolly tongue was babbling.
They arrived at last at Bargamot’s house — and Garaska had already ceased to wonder. Marya at first opened her eyes wide at the sight of the unwonted couple, but she guessed from her husband’s perturbed look, that there was no room for objections, and in her womanly kind-heartedness quickly understood what she was expected to do.
Quieted and confused, Garaska sat down at the decorated table. He felt ashamed enough to sink into the ground. Ashamed of his rags, of his dirty hands, ashamed of his whole self, torn, drunken, disgusting as he was. Scalding himself with the deuced hot soup, swimming with fat, he spilt it on the tablecloth, and although the hostess with delicacy pretended not to have noticed it, he grew confused and spilt still more; so unbearably did those shriveled fingers tremble with those great dirty nails, which Garaska now noticed for the first time.
“Ivan Akindinich, what surprise have you for Jacky?” asked Marya.
“Never mind——later on,” hurriedly replied Bargamot. He was scalding himself with the soup, blew on his spoon, and stolidly wiped his moustache—but through all this solidity the same amazement was apparent, as in the case of Garaska.
Marya hospitably pressed her guest to eat.
“Garasim,” she said, “how are you called after your father’s name?”
“Andreich.”
“Welcome, Garasim Andreich.”
Garaska, in endeavouring to swallow, choked, and throwing down his spoon, dropped his head on the table, right on the greasy spot which he had just made. From his breast there escaped again that rough, piteous howl, which had before so disturbed Bargamot.
The children, who had almost left off taking any notice of the guest, dropped their spoons and joined their treble to his tenor. Bargamot looked at his wife with a troubled and woeful expression.
“Now, what’s the matter with you, Garasim Andreich. Leave off,” said she, trying to quiet the perturbed guest.
“By my father’s name! Since I was born no one ever called me so!”

 

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