Six

‘No, no, no!’ insisted Bormenthal. ‘You must tuck in vour napkin.’

‘Why the hell should I,’ grumbled Sharikov.

‘Thank you, doctor,’ said Philip Philipovich gratefully. ‘I simply haven’t the energy to reprimand him any longer.’

‘I shan’t allow you to start eating until you put on your napkin. Zina, take the mayonnaise away from Sharikov.’

‘Hey, don’t do that,’ said Sharikov plaintively. ‘I’ll put it on straight away.’

Pushing away the dish from Zina with his left hand and stuffing a napkin down his collar with the right hand, he looked exactly like a customer in a barber’s shop.

‘And eat with your fork, please,’ added Bormenthal.

Sighing long and heavily Sharikov chased slices of sturgeon around in a thick sauce.

‘Can’t I have some vodka?’ he asked.

‘Will you kindly keep quiet?’ said Bormenthal. ‘You’ve been at the vodka too often lately.’

‘Do you grudge me it?’ asked Sharikov, glowering sullenly across the table.

‘Stop talking such damn nonsense…’ Philip Philipovich broke in harshly, but Bormenthal interrupted him.

‘Don’t worry, Philip Philipovich, leave it to me. You, Sharikov are talking nonsense and the most disturbing thing of all is that you talk it with such complete confidence. Of course I don’t grudge you the vodka, especially as it’s not mine but belongs to Philip Philipovich. It’s simply that it’s harmful. That’s for a start; secondly you behave badly enough without vodka.’ Bormenthal pointed to where the sideboard had been broken and glued together.

‘Zina, dear, give me a little more fish please,’ said the professor.

Meanwhile Sharikov had stretched out his hand towards the decanter and, with a sideways glance at Bormenthal, poured himself out a glassful.

‘You should offer it to the others first,’ said Bormenthal. ‘Like this — first to Philip Philipovich, then to me, then yourself.’

A faint, sarcastic grin nickered across Sharikov’s mouth and he poured out glasses of vodka all round.

‘You act just as if you were on parade here,’ he said. ‘Put your napkin here, your tie there, “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” — why can’t you behave naturally? Honestly, you stuffed shirts act as if it was still the days oftsarism.’

‘What do you mean by “behave naturally”?’

Sharikov did not answer Philip Philipovich’s question, but raised his glass and said: ‘Here’s how…’

‘And you too,’ echoed Bormenthal with a tinge of irony.

Sharikov tossed the glassful down his throat, blinked, lifted a piece of bread to his nose, sniffed it, then swallowed it as his eyes filled with tears.

‘Phase,’ Philip Philipovich suddenly blurted out, as if preoccupied.

Bormenthal gave him an astonished look. ‘I’m sorry?…’

‘It’s a phase,’ repeated Philip Philipovich and nodded bitterly. ‘There’s nothing we can do about it. Klim.’

Deeply interested, Bormenthal glanced sharply into Philip Philipovich’s eyes: ‘Do you suppose so, Philip Philipovich?’ ‘I don’t suppose; I’m convinced.’

‘Can it be that…’ began Bormenthal, then stopped after a glance at Sharikov, who was frowning suspiciously. ‘Spdter…’ said Philip Philipovich softly. ‘Gut,’ replied his assistant.

Zina brought in the turkey. Bormenthal poured out some red wine for Philip Philipovich, then offered some to Sharikov.

‘Not for me, I prefer vodka.’ His face had grown puffy, sweat was breaking out on his forehead and he was distinctly merrier. Philip Philipovich also cheered up slightly after drinking some wine. His eyes grew clearer and he looked rather more approvingly at Sharikov, whose black head above his white napkin now shone like a fly in a pool of cream.

Bormenthal however, when fortified, seemed to want activity.

‘Well now, what are you and I going to do this evening?’ he asked Sharikov.

Sharikov winked and replied: ‘Let’s go to the circus. I like that best.’

‘Why go to the circus every day?’ remarked Philip Philipovich in a good-humoured voice. ‘It sounds so boring to me. If I were you I’d go to the theatre.’

‘I won’t go to the theatre,’ answered Sharikov nonchalantly and made the sign of the cross over his mouth.

‘Hiccuping at table takes other people’s appetites away,’ said Bormenthal automatically. ‘If you don’t mind my mentioning it… Incidentally, why don’t you like the theatre?’ Sharikov held his empty glass up to his eye and looked through it as though it were an opera glass. After some thought he pouted and said:

‘Hell, it’s just rot… talk, talk. Pure counter-revolution.’

Philip Philipovich leaned against his high, carved gothic chairback and laughed so hard that he displayed what looked like two rows of gold fence-posts. Bormenthal merely shook his head.

‘You should do some reading,’ he suggested, ‘and then, perhaps…’

‘But I read a lot…’ answered Sharikov, quickly and surreptitiously pouring himself half a glass of vodka.

‘Zina!’ cried Philip Philipovich anxiously. ‘Clear away the vodka, my dear. We don’t need it any more… What have you been reading?’

He suddenly had a mental picture of a desert island, palm trees, and a man dressed in goatskins. ‘I’ll bet he says Robinson Crusoe…’he thought.

‘That guy… what’s his name… Engels’ correspondence with… hell, what d’you call him… oh — Kautsky.’

Bormenthal’s forkful of turkey meat stopped in mid-air and Philip Philipovich choked on his wine. Sharikov seized this moment to gulp down his vodka.

Philip Philipovich put his elbows on the table, stared at Sharikov and asked:

‘What comment can you make on what you’ve read?’

Sharikov shrugged. ‘I don’t agree.’

‘With whom — Engels or Kautsky?’

‘With neither of ‘em,’ replied Sharikov.

‘That is most remarkable. Anybody who says that… Well, what would you suggest instead?’

‘Suggest? I dunno… They just write and write all that rot… all about some congress and some Germans… makes my head reel. Take everything away from the bosses, then divide it up…’

‘Just as I thought!’ exclaimed Philip Philipovich, slapping the tablecloth with his palm. ‘Just as I thought.’

‘And how is this to be done?’ asked Bormenthal with interest.

‘How to do it?’ Sharikov, grown loquacious with wine, explained garrulously:

‘Easy. Fr’instance — here’s one guy with seven rooms and forty pairs of trousers and there’s another guy who has to eat out of dustbins.’

‘I suppose that remark about the seven rooms is a hint about me?’ asked Philip Philipovich with a haughty raise of the eyebrows.

Sharikov hunched his shoulders and said no more. ‘All right, I’ve nothing against fair shares. How many patients did you turn away yesterday, doctor?’ ‘Thirty-nine,’ was Bormenthal’s immediate reply. ‘H’m… 390 roubles, shared between us three. I won’t count Zina and Darya Petrovna. Right, Sharikov — that means your share is 130 roubles. Kindly hand it over.’

‘Hey, wait a minute,’ said Sharikov, beginning to be scared. ‘What’s the idea? What d’you mean?’

‘I mean the cat and the tap,’ Philip Philipovich suddenly roared, dropping his mask of ironic imperturbability. ‘Philip Philipovich!’ exclaimed Bormenthal anxiously. ‘Don’t interrupt. The scene you created yesterday was intolerable, and thanks to you I had to turn away all my patients. You were leaping around in the bathroom like a savage, smashing everything and jamming the taps. Who killed Madame Polasukher’s cat? Who…’

‘The day before yesterday, Sharikov, you bit a lady you met on the staircase,’ put in Bormenthal.

‘You ought to be…’ roared Philip Philipovich.

‘But she slapped me across the mouth,’ whined Sharikov ‘She can’t go doing that to me!’

‘She slapped you because you pinched her on the bosom,’ shouted Bormenthal, knocking over a glass. ‘You stand there and…’

‘You belong to the lowest possible stage of development,’ Philip Philipovich shouted him down. ‘You are still in the formative stage. You are intellectually weak, all your actions are purely bestial. Yet you allow yourself in the presence of two university-educated men to offer advice, with quite intolerable familiarity, on a cosmic scale and of quite cosmic stupidity, on the redistribution of wealth… and at the same time you eat toothpaste…’

‘The day before yesterday,’ added Bormenthal.

‘And now,’ thundered Philip Philipovich, ‘that you have nearly got your nose scratched off — incidentally, why have you wiped the zinc ointment off it? — you can just shut up and listen to what you’re told. You are going to leam to behave and try to become a marginally acceptable member of society. By the way, who was fool enough to lend you that book?’

‘There you go again — calling everybody fools,’ replied Sharikov nervously, deafened by the attack on him from both sides.

‘Let me guess,’ exclaimed Philip Philipovich, turning red with fury.

‘Well, Shvonder gave it to me… so what? He’s not a fool… it was so I could get educated.’

‘I can see which way your education is going after reading Kautsky,’ shouted Philip Philipovich, hoarse and turning faintly yellow. With this he gave the bell a furious jab. ‘Today’s incident shows it better than anything else. Zina!’

‘Zina!’ shouted Bormenthal.

‘Zina!’ cried the terrified Sharikov.

Looking pale, Zina ran into the room.

‘Zina, there’s a book in the waiting-room… It is in the waiting-room, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, it is,’ said Sharikov obediently. ‘Green, the colour of copper sulphate.’

‘A green book…’

‘Bum it if you like,’ cried Sharikov in desperation. ‘It’s only a public library book.’

‘It’s called Correspondence… between, er, Engels and that other man, what’s his name… Anyway, throw it into the stove!’

Zina flew out.

‘I’d like to hang that Shvonder, on my word of honour, on the first tree,’ said Philip Philipovich, with a furious lunge at a turkey-wing. ‘There’s a gang of poisonous people in this house — it’s just like an abscess. To say nothing of his idiotic newspapers…’

Sharikov gave the professor a look of malicious sarcasm. Philip Philipovich in his turn shot him a sideways glance and said no more.

‘Oh, dear, it looks as if nothing’s going to go right,’ came Bormenthal’s sudden and prophetic thought.

Zina brought in a layer cake on a dish and a coffee pot.

‘I’m not eating any of that,’ Sharikov growled threateningly.

‘No one has offered you any. Behave yourself. Please have some, doctor.’

Dinner ended in silence.

Sharikov pulled a crumpled cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. Having drunk his coffee, Philip Philipovich looked at the clock. He pressed his repeater and it gently struck a quarter past eight. As was his habit Philip Philipovich leaned against his gothic chairback and turned to the newspaper on a side-table.

‘Would you like to go to the circus with him tonight, doctor? Only do check the programme in advance and make sure there are no cats in it.’

‘I don’t know how they let such filthy beasts into the circus at all,’ said Sharikov sullenly, shaking his head.

‘Well never mind what filthy beasts they let into the circus for the moment,’ said Philip Philipovich ambiguously. ‘What’s on tonight?’

‘At Solomon’s,’ Bormenthal began to read out, ‘there’s something called the Four… . the Four Yooshems and the Human Ball-Bearing.’

‘What are Yooshems?’ enquired Philip Philipovich suspiciously.

‘God knows. First time I’ve ever come across the word.’

‘Well in that case you’d better look at Nikita’s. We must be absolutely sure about what we’re going to see.’

‘Nikita’s… Nikita’s… h’m… elephants and the Ultimate in Human Dexterity.’

‘I see. What is your attitude to elephants, my dear Sharikov?’ enquired Philip Philipovich mistrustfully. Sharikov was immediately offended.

‘Hell — I don’t know. Cats are a special case. Elephants are useful animals,’ replied Sharikov.

‘Excellent. As long as you think they’re useful you can go and watch them. Do as Ivan Arnoldovich tells you. And don’t get talking to anyone in the bar! I beg you, Ivan Arnoldovich, not to offer Sharikov beer to drink.’

Ten minutes later Ivan Arnoldovich and Sharikov, dressed in a peaked cap and a raglan overcoat with turned-up collar, set off for the circus. Silence descended on the flat. Philip Philipovich went into his study. He switched on the lamp under its heavy green shade, which gave the study a great sense of calm, and began to pace the room. The tip of his cigar glowed long and hard with its pale green fire. The professor put his hands into his pockets and deep thoughts racked his balding, learned brow. Now and again he smacked his lips, hummed ‘to the banks of the sacred Nile…’ and muttered something. Finally he put his cigar into the ashtray, went over to the glass cabinet and lit up the entire study with the three powerful lamps in the ceiling. From the third glass shelf Philip Philipovich took out a narrow jar and began, frowning, to examine it by the lamplight. Suspended in a transparent, viscous liquid there swam a little white blob that had been extracted from the depths of Sharik’s brain. With a shrug of his shoulders, twisting his lips and murmuring to himself, Philip Philipovich devoured it with his eyes as though the floating white blob might unravel the secret of the curious events which had turned life upside down in that flat on Prechistenka.

It could be that this most learned man did succeed in divining the secret. At any rate, having gazed his full at this cerebral appendage he returned the jar to the cabinet, locked it, put the key into his waistcoat pocket and collapsed, head pressed down between his shoulders and hands thrust deep into his jacket pockets, on to the leather-covered couch. He puffed long and hard at another cigar, chewing its end to fragments. Finally, looking like a greying Faust in the greentinged lamplight, he exclaimed aloud:

‘Yes, by God, I will.’

There was no one to reply. Every sound in the flat was hushed. By eleven o’clock the traffic in Obukhov Street always died down. The rare footfall of a belated walker echoed in the distance, ringing out somewhere beyond the lowered blinds, then dying away. In Philip Philipovich’s study his repeater chimed gently beneath his fingers in his waistcoat pocket… Impatiently the professor waited for Doctor Bormenthal and Sharikov to return from the circus.

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