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"The Aristocrat"

Grigorii Ivanovich inhaled noisily, wiped his chin with his sleeve, and began to tell the story: Brothers, I don't like women who wear hates. If a woman's wearing a hat, or if she's got silk stockings on her, or a little pug-dog in her arms, or if she's got a gold tooth, then to me she's an aristocrat, and not a woman at all buy an empty space.

In my time, of course, I once courted an aristocrat like that. I went strolling with her and took her to the theater. It was in the theater, in fact, that it all came out. It was in the theater that the exposed her ideology in its full measure.

I met her in the courtyard at home. At a house meeting. I look, and there stands just such a big deal. Stockings on her, gold tooth.

"Where are you from, citizen?" I say. "What number?"

"I am," she says, "from number seven."

"Please," says I, "good luck to you."

And all at once I found I liked her terribly. I began to go see her often. To Apartment Number seven. As it happened, I'd go in a kind of official capacity. Like this: "Anything wrong here, citizen, in the way of a broken pipe or toilet? Everything working?"

"Yes," she replies. "Everything's working."

And she wraps herself up in a woolen shawl and there's not a whisper more. Only with her eyes she's devouring away. And the tooth flashes in her mouth. I came to her fro a month--she got used to it. She began to answer in more detail. Like, for example, "the pipe's working, thank you, Grigorii Ivanovich."

To get on, we began to take strolls along the streets. We'd go out on the street, and she'd ask me to take her by the arm. I was embarrassed, but i'd take her arm and tag along like a fish out of water. And what to say, I don't know, and in front of people I'm ashamed.

Well, and once she says to me: "Why," she says, "do you always take me out on the streets? My head's gotten all twisted. You could," she says, "if you're a man and a gentleman, take me to the theater, for example."

"Can do," says I.

And all at once on the following day the party cell distributed tickets for the opera. One ticket I received myself, and the other one I got from Vas'ka the locksmith, who gave his up to me.

I never look at the tickets, but they were different. Mine was in the orchestra and his was in the balcony.

Anyway, we got there. We took our seats in the theater. She took a seat on my ticket, and I on Vas'ka's. I was sitting in the 1st balcony and couldn't see a horse-radish. But if I leaned way out over the balcony rail I could see her. But not too well.

I was getting more and more bored, and went downstairs. I look--it's intermission. And she's coming out for intermission.

"Hello," says I.

"Hello."

"it's interesting," says I. "Is the pipe working here?"

"I don't know," she says.

And she goes to the buffet. I follow her. She walks along the buffet and looks at the counter. And on the counter there's a plate. On the plate some pastries.

And I'm such a goose, such an uncut bourgeois, I creep around her and offer: "If you would like," says I, "to eat one of those pastries, don't hesitate. I'll pay."

"Merci," she says.

And suddenly she maneuvers herself around to the plate with a vicious movement, grabs the one with whipped cream, and laps it up.

The money I had on me was damn little. At most enough for three pastries. She eats, and I go whisking nervously through my pockets. I look in my hand. How much do I have? About a pigeon's droppings' worth.

She ate the one with whipped cream and grabbed another. I let out with a quack. And then I kept quiet. Such a bourgeois kind of embarrassment took hold of me. Like this, a gentleman, and no money on him.

I walked around her like a rooster, and she giggles waiting for compliments.

I say: "Isn't it time to go back to our seats? Maybe they rang."

but she says: "No."

And takes a third.

"On an empty stomach--isn't that a lot? You might throw up."

And she: "No," she says, "I'm used to it."

And takes a fourth.

Then the blood runs to my head.

"Put it," says I, "back!"

And she got scared. She opened her mouth, and in her mouth the tooth flashed.

It seemed to me as though someone had touched a whip to my rear. It's all one, think I, there'll be no strolling with her now.

"Put it back," says I, "you damn bitch!"

She stepped back. And I say to the attendant: "How much for the three pastries we ate?"

The attendant takes it all indifferently--he takes his time.

"You owe me," says he, "for eating four pieces, so-and-so much."

"How," says I, "for four? When the fourth is still on the plate."

"No," says he, "though it's still on the plate, it was nibbled and it's been smutched by a finger."

"How," says I, "nibbled, if you please. It's your cockeyed fantasies."

But he still takes it indifferently--he wrings his hands in front of his mug.

Well, of course, people gathered around. Experts. Some say a nibble was taken, others--no.

And I emptied out my pockets--something, of course, spilled out on the floor and rolled away--the crowd laughs. But to me it's not funny. I am counting my change.

I counted the money--enough for four pieces and a little over.

Dear mother, I'd picked a quarrel for nothing.

I paid. I turn to the lady: "Eat," says I. "It's paid for."

The lady doesn't move. She's embarrassed to eat it. And here some old joker butted in.

"Give it here," says he. "I'll eat it."

And he ate it, the scum. With my money.

We took our seats in the theater. We watched the opera. Then home.

And at home she says to me in that bourgeois tone of hers: "Enough swinery on your part. Those who don't have money shouldn't go out with ladies."

And I say: "Money isn't happiness. Pardon the information."

So I left her.

I don't like aristocrats.