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A Desperate Character
by [?]

‘God I fear always, and do not forget,’ he broke in…. ‘But He is good, you know–God is…. He will forgive! And I am good too…. I have never yet hurt any one in my life. And drink is good too; and as for hurting,… it never hurt any one either. And my get-up is quite the most correct thing…. Uncle, would you like me to show you I can walk straight? Or to do a little dance?’

‘Oh, spare me, please! A dance, indeed! You’d better sit down.’

‘As to that, I’ll sit down with pleasure…. But why do you say nothing of my greys? Just look at them, they’re perfect lions! I’ve got them on hire for the time, but I shall buy them for certain, … and the coachman too…. It’s ever so much cheaper to have one’s own horses. And I had the money, but I lost it yesterday at faro. It’s no matter, I’ll make it up to-morrow. Uncle, … how about that little glass?’

I was still unable to get over my amazement. ‘Really, Misha, how old are you? You ought not to be thinking about horses or cards, … but going into the university or the service.’

Misha first laughed again, then gave vent to a prolonged whistle.

‘Well, uncle, I see you’re in a melancholy humour to-day. I’ll come back another time. But I tell you what: you come in the evening to Sokolniki. I’ve a tent pitched there. The gypsies sing, … such goings-on…. And there’s a streamer on the tent, and on the streamer, written in large letters: “The Troupe of Poltyev’s Gypsies.” The streamer coils like a snake, the letters are of gold, attractive for every one to read. A free entertainment–whoever likes to come! … No refusal! I’m making the dust fly in Moscow … to my glory! … Eh? will you come? Ah, I’ve one girl there … a serpent! Black as your boot, spiteful as a dog, and eyes … like living coals! One can never tell what she’s going to do–kiss or bite! … Will you come, uncle? … Well, good-bye, till we meet!’

And with a sudden embrace, and a smacking kiss on my shoulder, Misha darted away into the courtyard, and into the carriage, waved his cap over his head, hallooed,–the monstrous coachman leered at him over his beard, the greys dashed off, and all vanished!

The next day I–like a sinner–set off to Sokolniki, and did actually see the tent with the streamer and the inscription. The drapery of the tent was raised; from it came clamour, creaking, and shouting. Crowds of people were thronging round it. On a carpet spread on the ground sat gypsies, men and women, singing and beating drums, and in the midst of them, in a red silk shirt and velvet breeches, was Misha, holding a guitar, dancing a jig. ‘Gentlemen! honoured friends! walk in, please! the performance is just beginning! Free to all!’ he was shouting in a high, cracked voice. ‘Hey! champagne! pop! a pop on the head! pop up to the ceiling! Ha! you rogue there, Paul de Kock!’

Luckily he did not see me, and I hastily made off.

I won’t enlarge on my astonishment at the spectacle of this transformation. But, how was it actually possible for that quiet and modest boy to change all at once into a drunken buffoon? Could it all have been latent in him from childhood, and have come to the surface directly the yoke of his parents’ control was removed? But that he had made the dust fly in Moscow, as he expressed it–of that, certainly, there could be no doubt. I have seen something of riotous living in my day; but in this there was a sort of violence, a sort of frenzy of self-destruction, a sort of desperation!


For two months these diversions continued…. And once more I was standing at my drawing-room window, looking into the courtyard…. All of a sudden–what could it mean? … there came slowly stepping in at the gate a pilgrim … a squash hat pulled down on his forehead, his hair combed out straight to right and left below it, a long gown, a leather belt … Could it be Misha? He it was!