An Unsuccessful Dbut
One fine evening the master came into the room with the dirty
wall-paper, and, rubbing his hands, said:
"Well. . . ."
He meant to say something more, but went away without saying it.
Auntie, who during her lessons had thoroughly studied his face
and intonations, divined that he was agitated, anxious and, she
fancied, angry. Soon afterwards he came back and said:
"To-day I shall take with me Auntie and F'yodor Timofeyitch.
To-day, Auntie, you will take the place of poor Ivan Ivanitch in
the 'Egyptian Pyramid.' Goodness knows how it will be! Nothing
is ready, nothing has been thoroughly studied, there have been
few rehearsals! We shall be disgraced, we shall come to grief!"
Then he went out again, and a minute later, came back in his
fur-coat and top hat. Going up to the cat he took him by the
fore-paws and put him inside the front of his coat, while Fyodor
Timofeyitch appeared completely unconcerned, and did not even
trouble to open his eyes. To him it was apparently a matter of
absolute indifference whether he remained lying down, or were
lifted up by his paws, whether he rested on his mattress or
under his master's fur-coat.
"Come along, Auntie," said her master.
Wagging her tail, and understanding nothing, Auntie followed
him. A minute later she was sitting in a sledge by her master's
feet and heard him, shrinking with cold and anxiety, mutter to
"We shall be disgraced! We shall come to grief!"
The sledge stopped at a big strange-looking house, like a
soup-ladle turned upside down. The long entrance to this house,
with its three glass doors, was lighted up with a dozen
brilliant lamps. The doors opened with a resounding noise and,
like jaws, swallowed up the people who were moving to and fro at
the entrance. There were a great many people, horses, too, often
ran up to the entrance, but no dogs were to be seen.
The master took Auntie in his arms and thrust her in his coat,
where Fyodor Timofeyirch already was. It was dark and stuffy
there, but warm. For an instant two green sparks flashed at her;
it was the cat, who opened his eyes on being disturbed by his
neighbour's cold rough paws. Auntie licked his ear, and, trying
to settle herself as comfortably as possible, moved uneasily,
crushed him under her cold paws, and casually poked her head out
from under the coat, but at once growled angrily, and tucked it
in again. It seemed to her that she had seen a huge, badly
lighted room, full of monsters; from behind screens and
gratings, which stretched on both sides of the room, horrible
faces looked out: faces of horses with horns, with long ears,
and one fat, huge countenance with a tail instead of a nose, and
two long gnawed bones sticking out of his mouth.
The cat mewed huskily under Auntie's paws, but at that moment
the coat was flung open, the master said, "Hop!" and Fyodor
Timofeyitch and Auntie jumped to the floor. They were now in a
little room with grey plank walls; there was no other furniture
in it but a little table with a looking-glass on it, a stool,
and some rags hung about the corners, and instead of a lamp or
candles, there was a bright fan-shaped light attached to a
little pipe fixed in the wall. Fyodor Timofeyitch licked his
coat which had been ruffled by Auntie, went under the stool, and
lay down. Their master, still agitated and rubbing his hands,
began undressing. . . . He undressed as he usually did at home
when he was preparing to get under the rug, that is, took off
everything but his underlinen, then he sat down on the stool,
and, looking in the looking-glass, began playing the most
surprising tricks with himself. . . . First of all he put on his
head a wig, with a parting and with two tufts of hair standing
up like horns, then he smeared his face thickly with something
white, and over the white colour painted his eyebrows, his
moustaches, and red on his cheeks. His antics did not end with
that. After smearing his face and neck, he began putting himself
into an extraordinary and incongruous costume, such as Auntie
had never seen before, either in houses or in the street.
Imagine very full trousers, made of chintz covered with big
flowers, such as is used in working-class houses for curtains
and covering furniture, trousers which buttoned up just under
his armpits. One trouser leg was made of brown chintz, the other
of bright yellow. Almost lost in these, he then put on a short
chintz jacket, with a big scalloped collar, and a gold star on
the back, stockings of different colours, and green slippers.
Everything seemed going round before Auntie's eyes and in her
soul. The white-faced, sack-like figure smelt like her master,
its voice, too, was the familiar master's voice, but there were
moments when Auntie was tortured by doubts, and then she was
ready to run away from the parti-coloured figure and to bark.
The new place, the fan-shaped light, the smell, the
transformation that had taken place in her master -- all this
aroused in her a vague dread and a foreboding that she would
certainly meet with some horror such as the big face with the
tail instead of a nose. And then, somewhere through the wall,
some hateful band was playing, and from time to time she heard
an incomprehensible roar. Only one thing reassured her -- that
was the imperturbability of Fyodor Timofeyitch. He dozed with
the utmost tranquillity under the stool, and did not open his
eyes even when it was moved.
A man in a dress coat and a white waistcoat peeped into the
little room and said:
"Miss Arabella has just gone on. After her -- you."
Their master made no answer. He drew a small box from under the
table, sat down, and waited. From his lips and his hands it
could be seen that he was agitated, and Auntie could hear how
his breathing came in gasps.
"Monsieur George, come on!" someone shouted behind the door.
Their master got up and crossed himself three times, then took
the cat from under the stool and put him in the box.
"Come, Auntie," he said softly.
Auntie, who could make nothing out of it, went up to his hands,
he kissed her on the head, and put her beside Fyodor Timofeyitch.
Then followed darkness. . . . Auntie trampled on the cat,
scratched at the walls of the box, and was so frightened that
she could not utter a sound, while the box swayed and quivered,
as though it were on the waves. . . .
"Here we are again!" her master shouted aloud: "here we are
Auntie felt that after that shout the box struck against
something hard and left off swaying. There was a loud deep roar,
someone was being slapped, and that someone, probably the
monster with the tail instead of a nose, roared and laughed so
loud that the locks of the box trembled. In response to the
roar, there came a shrill, squeaky laugh from her master, such
as he never laughed at home.
"Ha!" he shouted, trying to shout above the roar. "Honoured
friends! I have only just come from the station! My granny's
kicked the bucket and left me a fortune! There is something very
heavy in the box, it must be gold, ha! ha! I bet there's a
million here! We'll open it and look. . . ."
The lock of the box clicked. The bright light dazzled Auntie's
eyes, she jumped out of the box, and, deafened by the roar, ran
quickly round her master, and broke into a shrill bark.
"Ha!" exclaimed her master. "Uncle Fyodor Timofeyitch! Beloved
Aunt, dear relations! The devil take you!"
He fell on his stomach on the sand, seized the cat and Auntie,
and fell to embracing them. While he held Auntie tight in his
arms, she glanced round into the world into which fate had
brought her and, impressed by its immensity, was for a minute
dumbfounded with amazement and delight, then jumped out of her
master's arms, and to express the intensity of her emotions,
whirled round and round on one spot like a top. This new world
was big and full of bright light; wherever she looked, on all
sides, from floor to ceiling there were faces, faces, faces, and
"Auntie, I beg you to sit down!" shouted her master. Remembering
what that meant, Auntie jumped on to a chair, and sat down. She
looked at her master. His eyes looked at her gravely and kindly
as always, but his face, especially his mouth and teeth, were
made grotesque by a broad immovable grin. He laughed, skipped
about, twitched his shoulders, and made a show of being very
merry in the presence of the thousands of faces. Auntie believed
in his merriment, all at once felt all over her that those
thousands of faces were looking at her, lifted up her fox-like
head, and howled joyously.
"You sit there, Auntie," her master said to her., "while Uncle
and I will dance the Kamarinsky."
Fyodor Timofeyitch stood looking about him indifferently,
waiting to be made to do something silly. He danced listlessly,
carelessly, sullenly, and one could see from his movements, his
tail and his ears, that he had a profound contempt for the
crowd, the bright light, his master and himself. When he had
performed his allotted task, he gave a yawn and sat down.
"Now, Auntie!" said her master, "we'll have first a song, and
then a dance, shall we?"
He took a pipe out of his pocket, and began playing. Auntie, who
could not endure music, began moving uneasily in her chair and
howled. A roar of applause rose from all sides. Her master
bowed, and when all was still again, went on playing. . . . Just
as he took one very high note, someone high up among the
audience uttered a loud exclamation:
"Auntie!" cried a child's voice, "why it's Kashtanka!"
"Kashtanka it is!" declared a cracked drunken tenor. "Kashtanka!
Strike me dead, Fedyushka, it is Kashtanka. Kashtanka! here!"
Someone in the gallery gave a whistle, and two voices, one a
boy's and one a man's, called loudly: "Kashtanka! Kashtanka!"
Auntie started, and looked where the shouting came from. Two
faces, one hairy, drunken and grinning, the other chubby,
rosy-cheeked and frightened-looking, dazed her eyes as the
bright light had dazed them before. . . . She remembered, fell
off the chair, struggled on the sand, then jumped up, and with a
delighted yap dashed towards those faces. There was a deafening
roar, interspersed with whistles and a shrill childish shout: "Kashtanka!
Auntie leaped over the barrier, then across someone's shoulders.
She found herself in a box: to get into the next tier she had to
leap over a high wall. Auntie jumped, but did not jump high
enough, and slipped back down the wall. Then she was passed from
hand to hand, licked hands and faces, kept mounting higher and
higher, and at last got into the gallery. . . .
Half an hour afterwards, Kashtanka was in the street, following
the people who smelt of glue and varnish. Luka Alexandritch
staggered and instinctively, taught by experience, tried to keep
as far from the gutter as possible.
"In sin my mother bore me," he muttered. "And you, Kashtanka,
are a thing of little understanding. Beside a man, you are like
a joiner beside a cabinetmaker."
Fedyushka walked beside him, wearing his father's cap. Kashtanka
looked at their backs, and it seemed to her that she had been
following them for ages, and was glad that there had not been a
break for a minute in her life.
She remembered the little room with dirty wall-paper, the
gander, Fyodor Timofeyitch, the delicious dinners, the lessons,
the circus, but all that seemed to her now like a long, tangled,
trains: horse-drawn streetcars
in sin my mother bore me: cf. Psalms 51:5
Kamarinsky: the Kamarinskaya, a Russian folk dance
whistle: Russian audiences whistle to express disapproval