The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories HTML version

The Old House
(A Story told by a Houseowner)
THE old house had to be pulled down that a new one might be built in its place. I led the
architect through the empty rooms, and between our business talk told him various
stories. The tattered wallpapers, the dingy windows, the dark stoves, all bore the traces of
recent habitation and evoked memories. On that staircase, for instance, drunken men
were once carrying down a dead body when they stumbled and flew headlong downstairs
together with the coffin; the living were badly bruised, while the dead man looked very
serious, as though nothing had happened, and shook his head when they lifted him up
from the ground and put him back in the coffin. You see those three doors in a row: in
there lived young ladies who were always receiving visitors, and so were better dressed
than any other lodgers, and could pay their rent regularly. The door at the end of the
corridor leads to the wash-house, where by day they washed clothes and at night made an
uproar and drank beer. And in that flat of three rooms everything is saturated with
bacteria and bacilli. It's not nice there. Many lodgers have died there, and I can positively
assert that that flat was at some time cursed by someone, and that together with its human
lodgers there was always another lodger, unseen, living in it. I remember particularly the
fate of one family. Picture to yourself an ordinary man, not remarkable in any way, with a
wife, a mother, and four children. His name was Putohin; he was a copying clerk at a
notary's, and received thirty-five roubles a month. He was a sober, religious, serious man.
When he brought me his rent for the flat he always apologised for being badly dressed;
apologised for being five days late, and when I gave him a receipt he would smile good-
humouredly and say: "Oh yes, there's that too, I don't like those receipts." He lived poorly
but decently. In that middle room, the grandmother used to be with the four children;
there they used to cook, sleep, receive their visitors, and even dance. This was Putohin's
own room; he had a table in it, at which he used to work doing private jobs, copying parts
for the theatre, advertisements, and so on. This room on the right was let to his lodger,
Yegoritch, a locksmith--a steady fellow, but given to drink; he was always too hot, and so
used to go about in his waistcoat and barefoot. Yegoritch used to mend locks, pistols,
children's bicycles, would not refuse to mend cheap clocks and make skates for a quarter-
rouble, but he despised that work, and looked on himself as a specialist in musical
instruments. Amongst the litter of steel and iron on his table there was always to be seen
a concertina with a broken key, or a trumpet with its sides bent in. He paid Putohin two
and a half roubles for his room; he was always at his work-table, and only came out to
thrust some piece of iron into the stove.
On the rare occasions when I went into that flat in the evening, this was always the
picture I came upon: Putohin would be sitting at his little table, copying something; his
mother and his wife, a thin woman with an exhausted-looking face, were sitting near the
lamp, sewing; Yegoritch would be making a rasping sound with his file. And the hot, still
smouldering embers in the stove filled the room with heat and fumes; the heavy air smelt
of cabbage soup, swaddling-clothes, and Yegoritch. It was poor and stuffy, but the
working-class faces, the children's little drawers hung up along by the stove, Yegoritch's