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On Thursday, since very morning, a ceaseless, fine drizzle had begun to fall, and so the leaves of the chestnuts, acacias, and poplars had at once turned green. And, suddenly, it became somehow dreamily quiet and protractedly tedious. Pensive and monotonous.
During this all the girls had gathered, as usual, in Jennka's room. But something strange was going on within her. She did not utter witticisms, did not laugh, did not read, as always, her usual yellow-back novel which was now lying aimlessly either on her breast or stomach; but was vicious, wrapped up in sadness, and in her eyes blazed a yellow fire that spoke of hatred. In vain did Little White Manka, Manka the Scandaliste, who adored her, try to turn her attention to herself--Jennka seemed not to notice her, and the conversation did not at all get on. It was depressing. But it may have been that the August drizzle, which had steadily set in for several weeks running, reacted upon all of them. Tamara sat down on Jennka's bed, gently embraced her, and, having put her mouth near her very ear, said in a whisper:
"What's the matter, Jennechka? I've seen for a long time that something strange is going on in you. And Manka feels that too. Just see, how she's wasted without your caressing. Tell me. Perhaps I'll be able to help you in some way?"
Jennka closed her eyes and shook her head in negation. Tamara moved away from her a little, but continued to stroke her shoulder gently.
"It's your affair, Jennechka. I daren't butt into your soul. I only asked because you're the only being who..."
Jennka with decision suddenly jumped out of bed, seized Tamara by the hand and said abruptly and commandingly:
"All right! Let's get out of here for a minute. I'll tell you everything. Girls, wait for us a little while."
In the light corridor Jennka laid her hands on the shoulders of her mate and with a distorted, suddenly blanched face, said:
"Well, then, listen here: some one has infected me with syphilis."
"Oh, my poor darling. Long?"
"Long. Do you remember, when the students were here? The same ones who started a row with Platonov? I found out about it for the first time then. I found out in the daytime."
"Do you know," quietly remarked Tamara, "I almost guessed about this, and particularly then, when you went down on your knees before the singer and talked quietly about something with her. But still, my dear Jennechka, you must attend to yourself."
Jennka wrathfully stamped her foot and tore in half the batiste handkerchief which she had been nervously crumpling in her hands.
"No! Not for anything! I won't infect any one of you. You may have noticed yourself, that during the last weeks I don't dine at the common table, and that I wash and wipe the dishes myself. That's why I'm trying to break Manka away from me, whom, you know, I love sincerely, in the real way. But these two-legged skunks I infect purposely, infect every evening, ten, fifteen of them. Let them rot, let them carry the syphilis on to their wives, mistresses, mothers--yes, yes, their mothers also, and their fathers, and their governesses, and even their grand-grandmothers. Let them all perish, the honest skunks!"
Tamara carefully and tenderly stroked Jennka's head. "Can it be that you'll go the limit, Jennechka?"
"Yes. And without any mercy. All of you, however, don't have to be afraid of me. I choose the man myself. The stupidest, the handsomest, the richest and the most important, but not to one of you will I let them go afterward. Oh! I make believe I'm so passionate before them, that you'd burst out laughing if you saw. I bite them, I scratch, I cry and shiver like an. insane woman. They believe it, the pack of fools."
"It's your affair, it's your affair, Jennechka," meditatively uttered Tamara, looking down. "Perhaps you're right, at that. Who knows? But tell me, how did you get away from the doctor?"
Jennka suddenly turned away from her, pressed her face against the angle of the window frame and suddenly burst into bitter, searing tears--the tears of wrath and vengefulness--and at the same time she spoke, gasping and quivering:
"Because ... because ... Because God has sent me especial luck: I am sick there where, in all probability, no doctor can see. And ours, besides that, is old and stupid..."
And suddenly, with some unusual effort of the will Jennka stopped her tears just as unexpectedly as she had started crying.
"Come to me, Tamarochka," she said. "Of course, you won't chatter too much?"
"Of course not."
And they returned into Jennka's room, both of them calm and restrained.
Simeon walked into the room. He, contrary to his usual brazenness, always bore himself with a shade of respect toward Jennka. Simeon said:
"Well, now, Jennechka, their Excellency has come to Vanda. Allow her to go away for ten minutes."
Vanda, a blue-eyed, light blonde, with a large red mouth, with the typical face of a Lithuanian, looked imploringly at Jennka. If Jennka had said "No" she would have remained in the room, but Jennka did not say anything and even shut her eyes deliberately. Vanda obediently went out of the room.
This general came accurately twice a month, every two weeks (just as to Zoe, another girl, came daily another honoured guest, nicknamed the Director in the house).
Jennka suddenly threw the old, tattered book behind her. Her brown eyes flared up with a real golden fire.
"You're wrong in despising this general," said she. "I've known worse Ethiopians. I had a certain guest once--a real blockhead. He couldn't make love to me otherwise than ... otherwise than ... well, let's say it plainly: he pricked me with pins in the breast ... While in Vilno a Polish Catholic priest used to come to me. He would dress me all in white, compel me to powder myself, lay me down on the bed. He'd light three candles near me. And then, when I seemed to him altogether like a dead woman, he'd throw himself upon me."
Little White Manka suddenly exclaimed:
"It's the truth you're telling, Jennka! I had a certain old bugger, too. He made me pretend all the time that I was an innocent girl, so's I'd cry and scream. But, Jennechka, though you're the smartest one of us, yet I'll bet you won't guess who he was ..."
"The warden of a prison?"
"A fire chief."
Suddenly Katie burst into laughter in her bass:
"Well, now, I had a certain teacher. He taught some kind of arithmetic, I disremember which. He always made me believe, that I was the man, and he the woman, and that I should do it to him ... by force ... And what a fool! Just imagine, girls, he'd yell all the time: 'I'm your woman! I'm all yours! Take me! Take me!'"
"Loony!" said the blue-eyed, spry Verka in a positive and unexpectedly contralto voice: "Loony."
"No, why?" suddenly retorted the kindly and modest Tamara. "Not crazy at all, but simply, like all men, a libertine. At home it's tiresome for him, while here for his money he can receive whatever pleasure he desires. That's plain, it seems?"
Jennka, who had been silent up to now, suddenly, with one quick movement sat up in bed.
"You're all fools!" she cried. "Why do you forgive them all this? Before I used to be foolish myself, too, but now I compel them to walk before me on all fours, compel them to kiss my soles, and they do this with delight ... You all know, girlies, that I don't love money, but I pluck the men in whatever way I can. They, the nasty beasts, present me with the portraits of their wives, brides, mothers, daughters ... However, you've seen, I think, the photographs in our water-closet? But now, just think of it, my children ... A woman loves only once, but for always, while a man loves like a he-greyhound... That he's unfaithful is nothing; but he never has even the commonest feeling of gratitude left either for the old, or the new, mistress. I've heard it said, that now there are many clean boys among the young people. I believe this, though I haven't seen, haven't met them, myself. But all those I have seen are all vagabonds, nasty brutes and skunks. Not so long ago I read some novel of our miserable life. It's almost the same thing as I'm telling you now."
Vanda came back. She slowly, carefully, sat down on the edge of Jennka's bed; there, where the shadow of the lamp fell. Out of that deep, though deformed psychical delicacy, which is peculiar to people sentenced to death, prisoners at hard labour, and prostitutes, none had the courage to ask her how she had passed this hour and a half. Suddenly she threw upon the table twenty- five roubles and said:
"Bring me white wine and a watermelon."
And, burying her face in her arms, which had sunk on the table, she began to sob inaudibly. And again no one took the liberty of putting any question to her. Only Jennka grew pale from wrath and bit her lower lip so that a row of white spots was left upon it.
"Yes," she said; "here, now, I understand Tamara. You hear, Tamara, I apologize before you. I've often laughed over your being in love with your thief Senka. But here, now, I'll say that of all the men the most decent is a thief or a murderer. He doesn't hide the fact that he loves a girlie, and, if need be, will commit a crime for her--a theft or a murder. But these--the rest of them! All lying, falsehood, petty cunning, depravity on the sly. The nasty beast has three families, a wife and five children. A governess and two children abroad. The eldest daughter from the first marriage, and a child by her. And this everybody, everybody in town knows, save his little children. And even they, perhaps, guess it and whisper among themselves. And, just imagine, he's a respected person, honoured by the whole world ... My children, it seems we've never had occasion to enter into confidences with each other, and yet I'll tell you, that I when I was ten and a half, was sold by my own mother in the city of Zhitomir to Doctor Tarabukin. I kissed his hands, implored him to spare me, I cried out to him: 'I'm little!' But he'd answer me: 'That's nothing, that's nothing: you'll grow up.' Well, of course, there was pain, aversion, nastiness ... And he afterwards spread it around as a current anecdote. The desperate cry of my soul."
"Well, as long as we do speak, let's speak to the end," suddenly and calmly said Zoe, and smiled negligently and sadly. "I was deprived of innocence by a teacher in the ministerial school, Ivan Petrovich Sus. He simply called me over to his rooms, and his wife at that time had gone to market for a suckling pig--it was Christmas. Treated me with candies, and then said it was going to be one of two things: either I must obey him in everything, or he'd at once expel me out of school for bad conduct. But then you know yourselves, girls, how we feared the teachers. Here they aren't terrible to us, because we do with them whatever we want-- but at that time! For then he seemed to us greater than Czar and God."
"And me a stewdent. He was teaching the master's boys in our place. There, where I was a servant ..."
"No, but I ..." exclaimed Niura, but, turning around unexpectedly, remained as she was with her mouth open. Looking in the direction of her gaze, Jennka had to wring her hands. In the doorway stood Liubka, grown thin, with dark rings under her eyes, and, just like a somnambulist, was searching with her hand for the door-knob, as a point of support.
"Liubka, you fool, what's the matter with you?' yelled Jennka loudly. "What is it?"
"Well, of course, what: he took and chased me out."
No one said a word. Jennka hid her eyes with her hands and started breathing hard, and it could be seen how under the skin of her cheeks the taut muscles of the jaws were working.
"Jennechka, all my hope is only in you," said Liubka with a deep expression of weary helplessness. "Everybody respects you so. Talk it over, dearie, with Anna Markovna or with Simeon ... Let them take me back."
Jennka straightened up on the bed, fixed Liubka with her dry, burning, yet seemingly weeping eyes, and asked brokenly:
"Have you eaten anything to-day?"
"No. Neither yesterday, nor to-day. Nothing."
"Listen, Jennechka," asked Vanda quietly, "suppose I give her some white wine? And Verka meanwhile will run to the kitchen for meat? What?"
"Do as you know best. Of course, that's all right. And give a look, girlies, why, she's all wet. Oh, what a booby! Well! Lively! Undress yourself! Little White Manka, or you, Tamarochka, give her dry drawers, warm stockings and slippers. Well, now," she turned to Liubka, "tell us, you idiot, all that happened to you!"
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