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The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

A Slander
SERGE KAPITONICH AHINEEV, the writing master, was marrying his daughter to the
teacher of history and geography. The wedding festivities were going off most
successfully. In the drawing room there was singing, playing, and dancing. Waiters hired
from the club were flitting distractedly about the rooms, dressed in black swallow-tails
and dirty white ties. There was a continual hubbub and din of conversation. Sitting side
by side on the sofa, the teacher of mathematics, Tarantulov, the French teacher,
Pasdequoi, and the junior assessor of taxes, Mzda, were talking hurriedly and interrupting
one another as they described to the guests cases of persons being buried alive, and gave
their opinions on spiritualism. None of them believed in spiritualism, but all admitted that
there were many things in this world which would always be beyond the mind of man. In
the next room the literature master, Dodonsky, was explaining to the visitors the cases in
which a sentry has the right to fire on passers-by. The subjects, as you perceive, were
alarming, but very agreeable. Persons whose social position precluded them from
entering were looking in at the windows from the yard.
Just at midnight the master of the house went into the kitchen to see whether everything
was ready for supper. The kitchen from floor to ceiling was filled with fumes composed
of goose, duck, and many other odours. On two tables the accessories, the drinks and
light refreshments, were set out in artistic disorder. The cook, Marfa, a red-faced woman
whose figure was like a barrel with a belt around it, was bustling about the tables.
"Show me the sturgeon, Marfa," said Ahineev, rubbing his hands and licking his lips.
"What a perfume! I could eat up the whole kitchen. Come, show me the sturgeon."
Marfa went up to one of the benches and cautiously lifted a piece of greasy newspaper.
Under the paper on an immense dish there reposed a huge sturgeon, masked in jelly and
decorated with capers, olives, and carrots. Ahineev gazed at the sturgeon and gasped. His
face beamed, he turned his eyes up. He bent down and with his lips emitted the sound of
an ungreased wheel. After standing a moment he snapped his fingers with delight and
once more smacked his lips.
"Ah-ah! the sound of a passionate kiss. . . . Who is it you're kissing out there, little
Marfa?" came a voice from the next room, and in the doorway there appeared the
cropped head of the assistant usher, Vankin. "Who is it? A-a-h! . . . Delighted to meet
you! Sergei Kapitonich! You're a fine grandfather, I must say! Tête-à-tête with the fair
sex--tette!"
"I'm not kissing," said Ahineev in confusion. "Who told you so, you fool? I was only . . .
I smacked my lips . . . in reference to . . . as an indication of . . . pleasure . . . at the sight
of the fish."
"Tell that to the marines!" The intrusive face vanished, wearing a broad grin.
 
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