Insulted and Injured
WE walked a long way, as far as Little Avenue. She was almost
running. At last she went into a little shop. I stood still and waited. "Surely
she doesn't live at the shop," I thought.
She did in fact come out a minute later, but without the books.
Instead of the books she had an earthenware cup in her hand.
Going on a little further she went in at the gateway of an un-
attractive-looking house. It was an old stone house of two storeys, painted a
dirty-yellow colour, and not large. In one of the three windows on the ground
floor there was a miniature red coffin - as a sign that a working coffin-maker
The windows of the upper storey were extremely small and perfectly square
with dingy-green broken panes, through which I caught a glimpse of pink cotton
curtains. I crossed the road, went up to the house, and read on an iron plate
over the gate, "Mme. Bubnov."
But I had hardly deciphered the inscription when suddenly I heard a piercing
female scream, followed by shouts of abuse in Mme. Bubnov's yard. I peeped
through the gate. On the wooden steps of the house stood a stout woman, dressed
like a working woman with a kerchief on her head, and a green shawl.
Her face was of a revolting purplish colour. Her little, puffy, bloodshot
eves were gleaming with spite. It was evident that she was not sober, though it
was so early in the day. She was shrieking at poor Elena, who stood petrified.
before her with the cup in her hand. A dishevelled female, painted and rouged,
peeped from the stairs behind the purple-faced woman.
A little later a door opened on the area steps leading to the basement, and a
poorly dressed, middle-aged woman of modest and decent appearance came out on
the steps, probably attracted by the shouting. The other inhabitants of the
basement, a decrepit-looking old man and a girl, looked out from the half-
opened door. A big, hulking peasant, probably the porter, stood still in the
middle of the yard with the broom in his hand, looking lazily at the scene.
"Ah, you damned slut, you bloodsucker, you louse!" squealed the woman,
letting out at one breath all her store of abuse, for the most part without
commas or stops, but with a sort of gasp.
So this is how you repay, me for my care of you, you ragged wench. She was
just sent for some cucumbers and off she slipped. My heart told me she'd slip
off when I sent her out! My heart ached it did! Only last night I all but pulled
her hair out for it, and here she runs off again to-day. And where have you to
go, you trollop? Where have you to go to? Who do you go to, you damned mummy,
you staring viper, you poisonous vermin, who, who is it? Speak, you rotten scum,
or I'll choke you where you stand!"
And the infuriated woman flew at the poor girl, but, seeing the woman looking
at her from the basement steps, she suddenly checked herself and, addressing
her, squealed more shrilly than ever, waving her arms as though calling her to
witness the monstrous crimes of her luckless victim.
"Her mother's hopped the twig! You all know, good neigh- bours, she's left
alone in the world. I saw she was on your hands, poor folks as you are, though
you'd nothing to eat for yourselves.
There, thought I, for St. Nikolay's sake I'll put myself out and take the
orphan. So I took her. and would you believe it, here I've been keeping her
these two months, and upon my word she's been sucking my blood and wearing me to
a shadow, the leech, the rattlesnake, the obstinate limb of Satan. You may beat
her, or you may let her alone, she won't speak. She might have a mouth full of
water, the way she holds her tongue! She breaks my heart holding her tongue!
What do you take yourself for, you saucy slut, you green monkey? If it hadn't
been for me you'd have died of hunger in the street. You ought to be ready to
wash my feet and drink the water, you monster, you black French poker! You'd
have been done for but for me!"
"But why are you upsetting yourself so, Anna Trifonovna? How's she vexed you
again?" respectfully inquired the woman who had been addressed by the raving
"You needn't ask, my good soul, that you needn't. I don't like people going
against me! I am one for having things my own way, right or wrong - I'm that
sort! She's almost sent me to my grave this morning! I sent her to the shop to
get some cucumbers, and it was three hours before she was back. I'd a feeling in
my heart when I sent her--it ached it did, didn't it ache! Where's she been?
Where did she go? What protectors has she found for herself? As though I'd not
been a good friend to her. Why, I forgave her slut of a mother a debt of
fourteen roubles, buried her at my own expense, and took the little devil to
bring up, you know that, my dear soul, you know it yourself! Why, have I no
rights over her, after that? She should feel it, but instead of feeling it she
goes against me! I wished for her good. I wanted to put her in a muslin frock,
the dirty slut! I bought her boots at the Gostiny Dvor, and decked her out like
a peacock, a sight for a holiday! And would you believe it, good friends, two
days later she'd torn up the dress, torn it into rags, and that's how she goes
about, that's how she goes about! And what do you think, she tore it on purpose
- I wouldn't tell a lie, I saw it myself; as much as to say she would go in
rags, she wouldn't wear muslin! Well, I paid, her out! I did give her a
drubbing! Then I called in the doctor afterwards and had to pay him, too. If I
throttled you, you vermin, I should be quit with not touching milk for a week;
that would be penance enough for strangling you. I made her scrub the floor for
a punishment; and what do you think, she scrubbed and scrubbed, the jade! It
vexed me to see her scrubbing. Well, thought I, she'll run away from me now. And
I'd scarcely thought it when I looked round and off she'd gone, yesterday. You
heard how I beat her for it yesterday, good friends. I made my arms ache.
I took away her shoes and stockings - she won't go off barefoot, thought I;
yet she gave me the slip to-day, too! Where have you been? Speak! Who have you
been complaining of me to, you nettle-seed? Who have you been telling tales to?
Speak, you gipsy, you foreign mask! Speak!
And in her frenzy, she rushed at the little girl, who stood petrified with
horror, clutched her by the hair, and flung her on the ground. The cup with the
cucumbers in it was dashed aside and broken. This only increased the drunken
fury's rage. She beat her victim about the face and the head; but Elena remained
obstinately mute; not a sound, not a cry, not a complaint escaped her, even
under the blows.
I rushed into the yard, almost beside myself with indignation, and went
straight to the drunken woman.
"What are you about? How dare you treat a poor orphan like that?" I cried,
seizing the fury by her arm.
"What's this? Why, who are you?" she screamed, leaving Elena, and putting her
arms akimbo. "What do you want in my house?"
"To tell you you're a heartless woman." I cried. "How dare you bully a poor
child like that? She's not yours. I've just heard that she's only adopted, a
"Lord Jesus!" cried the fury. "But who are you, poking your nose in! Did you
come with her, eh? I'll go straight to the police-captain! Andrey Timofeyitch
himself treats me like a lady. Why, is it to see you she goes, eh? Who is it?
He's come to make an upset in another person's house. Police!"
And she flew at me, brandishing her fists. But at that instant we heard a
piercing, inhuman shriek. I looked. Elena, who had been standing as though
unconscious, uttering a strange, unnatural scream, fell with a thud on the
ground, writhing in awful convulsions. Her face was working. She was in an
epileptic fit. The dishevelled female and the woman from the basement ran,
lifted her up, and hurriedly carried her up the steps.
"She may choke for me, the damned slut the woman shrieked after her. "That's
the third fit this month! ... Get off, you pickpocket" and she rushed at me
again. "Why are you standing there, porter? What do you get your wages for?"
"Get along, get along! Do you want a smack on the head?" the porter boomed
out lazily, apparently only as a matter of form. "Two's company and three's
none. Make your bow and take your hook!"
There was no help for it. I went out at the gate, feeling that my
interference had been useless. But I was boiling with indig- nation. I stood on,
the pavement facing the gateway, and looked through the gate. As soon as I had
gone out the woman rushed up the steps, and the porter having done his duty
vanished. Soon after, the woman who had helped to carry up Elena hurried down
the steps on the way to the basement. Seeing me she stood still and looked at me
with curiosity. Her quiet, good-natured face encouraged me. I went back into the
yard and straight up to her.
"Allow me to ask," I said, "who is that girl and what is that horrible woman
doing with her? Please don't imagine that I ask simply from curiosity. I've met
the girl, and owing to special circumstances I am much interested in her."
"If you're interested in her you'd better take her home or find some place
for her than let her come to ruin here," said the woman with apparent
reluctance, making a movement to get away from me.
"But if you don't tell me, what can I do? I tell you I know nothing about
her. I suppose that's Mme. Bubnov herself, the woman of the house?"
"Then how did the girl fall into her hands? Did her mother die here?"
"Oh, I can't say. It's not our business."
And again she would have moved away.
"But please do me a kindness. I tell you it's very interesting to me. Perhaps
I may be able to do something. Who is the girl? What was her mother? Do you
"She looked like a foreigner of some sort; she lived down below with us; but
she was ill; she died of consumption."
"Then she must have been very poor if she shared a room in the basement?"
"Ough ! she was poor! My heart was always aching for her.
We simply live from hand to mouth, yet she owed us six roubles in the five
months she lived with us. We buried her, too. My husband made the coffin."
"How was it then that woman said she'd buried her?"
"As though she'd buried her!"
"And what was her surname?"
"I can't pronounce it, sir. It's difficult. It must have been German."
"No, not quite that. Well, Anna Trifonovna took charge of the orphan, to
bring her up, she says. But it's not the right thing at all."
"I suppose she took her for some object?"
"She's a woman who's up to no good," answered the woman, seeming to ponder
and hesitate whether to speak or not. "What is it to us? We're outsiders."
"You'd better keep a check on your tongue," I heard a man's voice say behind
It was a middle-aged man in a dressing-gown, with a full-coat over the
dressing-gown, who looked like an artisan, the woman's husband.
"She's no call to be talking to you, sir; it's not our business," he said,
looking askance at me. "And you go in. Good-bye, sir; we're coffin-makers. If
you ever need anything in our way we shall be pleased . . . but apart from that
we've nothing to say.
I went out, musing, and greatly excited. I could do nothing, but I felt that
it was hard for me to leave it like this. Some words dropped by the
coffin-maker's wife revolted me particularly.
There was something wrong here; I felt that.
I was walking away, looking down and meditating, when suddenly a sharp voice
called me by my surname. I looked up.
Before me stood a man who had been drinking and was almost staggering,
dressed fairly neatly, though he had a shabby over- coat and a greasy cap. His
face was very familiar. I looked more closely at it. He winked at me and smiled
"Don't you know me?"