Reginald in Russia and Other Stories
The Soul Of Laploshka
Laploshka was one of the meanest men I have ever met, and quite one of the most
entertaining. He said horrid things about other people in such a charming way that one
forgave him for the equally horrid things he said about oneself behind one's back. Hating
anything in the way of ill-natured gossip ourselves, we are always grateful to those who
do it for us and do it well. And Laploshka did it really well.
Naturally Laploshka had a large circle of acquaintances, and as he exercised some care in
their selection it followed that an appreciable proportion were men whose bank balances
enabled them to acquiesce indulgently in his rather one-sided views on hospitality. Thus,
although possessed of only moderate means, he was able to live comfortably within his
income, and still more comfortably within those of various tolerantly disposed associates.
But towards the poor or to those of the same limited resources as himself his attitude was
one of watchful anxiety; he seemed to be haunted by a besetting fear lest some fraction of
a shilling or franc, or whatever the prevailing coinage might be, should be diverted from
his pocket or service into that of a hard-up companion. A two-franc cigar would be
cheerfully offered to a wealthy patron, on the principle of doing evil that good may come,
but I have known him indulge in agonies of perjury rather than admit the incriminating
possession of a copper coin when change was needed to tip a waiter. The coin would
have been duly returned at the earliest opportunity--he would have taken means to insure
against forgetfulness on the part of the borrower--but accidents might happen, and even
the temporary estrangement from his penny or sou was a calamity to be avoided.
The knowledge of this amiable weakness offered a perpetual temptation to play upon
Laploshka's fears of involuntary generosity. To offer him a lift in a cab and pretend not to
have enough money to pay the fair, to fluster him with a request for a sixpence when his
hand was full of silver just received in change, these were a few of the petty torments that
ingenuity prompted as occasion afforded. To do justice to Laploshka's resourcefulness it
must be admitted that he always emerged somehow or other from the most embarrassing
dilemma without in any way compromising his reputation for saying "No." But the gods
send opportunities at some time to most men, and mine came one evening when
Laploshka and I were supping together in a cheap boulevard restaurant. (Except when he
was the bidden guest of some one with an irreproachable income, Laploshka was wont to
curb his appetite for high living; on such fortunate occasions he let it go on an easy
snaffle.) At the conclusion of the meal a somewhat urgent message called me away, and
without heeding my companion's agitated protest, I called back cruelly, "Pay my share;
I'll settle with you to-morrow." Early on the morrow Laploshka hunted me down by
instinct as I walked along a side street that I hardly ever frequented. He had the air of a
man who had not slept.
"You owe me two francs from last night," was his breathless greeting.