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Schoolboy Mitya is in desperate need of money to repay a debt, but his father angrily denies him assistance. Dejected, under the instigation of a friend Makhin, Mitya simply changes a 2.50 note to read 12.50, but this one evil deed sets off a chain of events that affects the lives of dozens of others, when his one falsehood indirectly causes a man to murder a woman.
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The Forged Coupon
And Other Stories
LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW
PARIS ∙ MADRID ∙ BERLIN ∙ ROME ∙ MEXICO CITY ∙ MUMBAI ∙ SEOUL ∙ DOHA
TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING
Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2014
Copyright © 2014 Sovereign
Design and Artwork © 2014 www.urban-pic.co.uk
Images and Illustrations © 2014 Stocklibrary.org
All Rights Reserved.
ISBN: 9781910558256 (ebk)
THE FORGED COUPON
AFTER THE DANCE
ALYOSHA THE POT
THERE ARE NO GUILTY PEOPLE
THE YOUNG TSAR
THE FORGED COUPON
FEDOR MIHAILOVICH SMOKOVNIKOV, the president of the local Income Tax Department, a man of unswerving honesty—and proud of it, too—a gloomy Liberal, a free-thinker, and an enemy to every manifestation of religious feeling, which he thought a relic of superstition, came home from his office feeling very much annoyed. The Governor of the province had sent him an extraordinarily stupid minute, almost assuming that his dealings had been dishonest.
Fedor Mihailovich felt embittered, and wrote at once a sharp answer. On his return home everything seemed to go contrary to his wishes.
It was five minutes to five, and he expected the dinner to be served at once, but he was told it was not ready. He banged the door and went to his study. Somebody knocked at the door. “Who the devil is that?” he thought; and shouted,—”Who is there?”
The door opened and a boy of fifteen came in, the son of Fedor Mihailovich, a pupil of the fifth class of the local school.
“What do you want?”
“It is the first of the month to-day, father.”
“Well! You want your money?”
It had been arranged that the father should pay his son a monthly allowance of three roubles as pocket money. Fedor Mihailovich frowned, took out of his pocket-book a coupon of two roubles fifty kopeks which he found among the bank-notes, and added to it fifty kopeks in silver out of the loose change in his purse. The boy kept silent, and did not take the money his father proffered him.
“Father, please give me some more in advance.”
“I would not ask for it, but I have borrowed a small sum from a friend, and promised upon my word of honour to pay it off. My honour is dear to me, and that is why I want another three roubles. I don’t like asking you; but, please, father, give me another three roubles.”
“I have told you—”
“I know, father, but just for once.”
“You have an allowance of three roubles and you ought to be content. I had not fifty kopeks when I was your age.”
“Now, all my comrades have much more. Petrov and Ivanitsky have fifty roubles a month.”
“And I tell you that if you behave like them you will be a scoundrel. Mind that.”
“What is there to mind? You never understand my position. I shall be disgraced if I don’t pay my debt. It is all very well for you to speak as you do.”
“Be off, you silly boy! Be off!”
Fedor Mihailovich jumped from his seat and pounced upon his son. “Be off, I say!” he shouted. “You deserve a good thrashing, all you boys!”
His son was at once frightened and embittered. The bitterness was even greater than the fright. With his head bent down he hastily turned to the door. Fedor Mihailovich did not intend to strike him, but he was glad to vent his wrath, and went on shouting and abusing the boy till he had closed the door.
When the maid came in to announce that dinner was ready, Fedor Mihailovich rose.
“At last!” he said. “I don’t feel hungry any longer.”
He went to the dining-room with a sullen face. At table his wife made some remark, but he gave her such a short and angry answer that she abstained from further speech. The son also did not lift his eyes from his plate, and was silent all the time. The trio finished their dinner in silence, rose from the table and separated, without a word.
After dinner the boy went to his room, took the coupon and the change out of his pocket, and threw the money on the table. After that he took off his uniform and put on a jacket.
He sat down to work, and began to study Latin grammar out of a dog’s-eared book. After a while he rose, closed and bolted the door, shifted the money into a drawer, took out some cigarette papers, rolled one up, stuffed it with cotton wool, and began to smoke.
He spent nearly two hours over his grammar and writing books without understanding a word of what he saw before him; then he rose and began to stamp up and down the room, trying to recollect all that his father had said to him. All the abuse showered upon him, and worst of all his father’s angry face, were as fresh in his memory as if he saw and heard them all over again. “Silly boy! You ought to get a good thrashing!” And the more he thought of it the angrier he grew. He remembered also how his father said: “I see what a scoundrel you will turn out. I know you will. You are sure to become a cheat, if you go on like that.” He had certainly forgotten how he felt when he was young! “What crime have I committed, I wonder? I wanted to go to the theatre, and having no money borrowed some from Petia Grouchetsky. Was that so very wicked of me? Another father would have been sorry for me; would have asked how it all happened; whereas he just called me names. He never thinks of anything but himself. When it is he who has not got something he wants—that is a different matter! Then all the house is upset by his shouts. And I—I am a scoundrel, a cheat, he says. No, I don’t love him, although he is my father. It may be wrong, but I hate him.”
There was a knock at the door. The servant brought a letter—a message from his friend. “They want an answer,” said the servant.
The letter ran as follows: “I ask you now for the third time to pay me back the six roubles you have borrowed; you are trying to avoid me. That is not the way an honest man ought to behave. Will you please send the amount by my messenger? I am myself in a frightful fix. Can you not get the money somewhere?—Yours, according to whether you send the money or not, with scorn, or love, Grouchetsky.”
“There we have it! Such a pig! Could he not wait a while? I will have another try.”
Mitia went to his mother. This was his last hope. His mother was very kind, and hardly ever refused him anything. She would probably have helped him this time also out of his trouble, but she was in great anxiety: her younger child, Petia, a boy of two, had fallen ill. She got angry with Mitia for rushing so noisily into the nursery, and refused him almost without listening to what he had to say. Mitia muttered something to himself and turned to go. The mother felt sorry for him. “Wait, Mitia,” she said; “I have not got the money you want now, but I will get it for you to-morrow.”
But Mitia was still raging against his father.
“What is the use of having it to-morrow, when I want it to-day? I am going to see a friend. That is all I have got to say.”
He went out, banging the door. . . .
“Nothing else is left to me. He will tell me how to pawn my watch,” he thought, touching his watch in his pocket.
Mitia went to his room, took the coupon and the watch from the drawer, put on his coat, and went to Mahin.
MAHIN was his schoolfellow, his senior, a grown-up young man with a moustache. He gambled, had a large feminine acquaintance, and always had ready cash. He lived with his aunt. Mitia quite realised that Mahin was not a respectable fellow, but when he was in his company he could not help doing what he wished. Mahin was in when Mitia called, and was just preparing to go to the theatre. His untidy room smelt of scented soap and eau-de-Cologne.
“That’s awful, old chap,” said Mahin, when Mitia telling him about his troubles, showed the coupon and the fifty kopeks, and added that he wanted nine roubles more. “We might, of course, go and pawn your watch. But we might do something far better.” And Mahin winked an eye.
“Something quite simple.” Mahin took the coupon in his hand. “Put ONE before the 2.50 and it will be 12.50.”
“But do such coupons exist?”
“Why, certainly; the thousand roubles notes have coupons of 12.50. I have cashed one in the same way.”
“You don’t say so?”
“Well, yes or no?” asked Mahin, taking the pen and smoothing the coupon with the fingers of his left hand.
“But it is wrong.”
“Nonsense, indeed,” thought Mitia, and again his father’s hard words came back to his memory. “Scoundrel! As you called me that, I might as well be it.” He looked into Mahin’s face. Mahin looked at him, smiling with perfect ease.
“Well?” he said.
“All right. I don’t mind.”
Mahin carefully wrote the unit in front of 2.50.
“Now let us go to the shop across the road; they sell photographers’ materials there. I just happen to want a frame—for this young person here.” He took out of his pocket a photograph of a young lady with large eyes, luxuriant hair, and an uncommonly well-developed bust.
“Is she not sweet? Eh?”
“Yes, yes . . . of course . . .”
“Well, you see.—But let us go.”
Mahin took his coat, and they left the house.
THE two boys, having rung the door-bell, entered the empty shop, which had shelves along the walls and photographic appliances on them, together with show-cases on the counters. A plain woman, with a kind face, came through the inner door and asked from behind the counter what they required.
“A nice frame, if you please, madam.”
“At what price?” asked the woman; she wore mittens on her swollen fingers with which she rapidly handled picture-frames of different shapes.
“These are fifty kopeks each; and these are a little more expensive. There is rather a pretty one, of quite a new style; one rouble and twenty kopeks.”
“All right, I will have this. But could not you make it cheaper? Let us say one rouble.”
“We don’t bargain in our shop,” said the shopkeeper with a dignified air.
“Well, I will take it,” said Mahin, and put the coupon on the counter. “Wrap up the frame and give me change. But please be quick. We must be off to the theatre, and it is getting late.”
“You have plenty of time,” said the shopkeeper, examining the coupon very closely because of her shortsightedness.
“It will look lovely in that frame, don’t you think so?” said Mahin, turning to Mitia.
“Have you no small change?” asked the shop-woman.
“I am sorry, I have not. My father gave me that, so I have to cash it.”
“But surely you have one rouble twenty?”
“I have only fifty kopeks in cash. But what are you afraid of? You don’t think, I suppose, that we want to cheat you and give you bad money?”
“Oh, no; I don’t mean anything of the sort.”
“You had better give it to me back. We will cash it somewhere else.”
“How much have I to pay you back? Eleven and something.”
She made a calculation on the counter, opened the desk, took out a ten-roubles note, looked for change and added to the sum six twenty-kopeks coins and two five-kopek pieces.
“Please make a parcel of the frame,” said Mahin, taking the money in a leisurely fashion.
“Yes, sir.” She made a parcel and tied it with a string.
Mitia only breathed freely when the door bell rang behind them, and they were again in the street.
“There are ten roubles for you, and let me have the rest. I will give it back to you.”
Mahin went off to the theatre, and Mitia called on Grouchetsky to repay the money he had borrowed from him.
AN hour after the boys were gone Eugene Mihailovich, the owner of the shop, came home, and began to count his receipts.
“Oh, you clumsy fool! Idiot that you are!” he shouted, addressing his wife, after having seen the coupon and noticed the forgery.
“But I have often seen you, Eugene, accepting coupons in payment, and precisely twelve rouble ones,” retorted his wife, very humiliated, grieved, and all but bursting into tears. “I really don’t know how they contrived to cheat me,” she went on. “They were pupils of the school, in uniform. One of them was quite a handsome boy, and looked so comme il faut.”
“A comme il faut fool, that is what you are!” The husband went on scolding her, while he counted the cash. . . . When I accept coupons, I see what is written on them. And you probably looked only at the boys’ pretty faces. “You had better behave yourself in your old age.”
His wife could not stand this, and got into a fury.
“That is just like you men! Blaming everybody around you. But when it is you who lose fifty-four roubles at cards—that is of no consequence in your eyes.”
“That is a different matter
“I don’t want to talk to you,” said his wife, and went to her room. There she began to remind herself that her family was opposed to her marriage, thinking her present husband far below her in social rank, and that it was she who insisted on marrying him. Then she went on thinking of the child she had lost, and how indifferent her husband had been to their loss. She hated him so intensely at that moment that she wished for his death. Her wish frightened her, however, and she hurriedly began to dress and left the house. When her husband came from the shop to the inner rooms of their flat she was gone. Without waiting for him she had dressed and gone off to friends—a teacher of French in the school, a Russified Pole, and his wife—who had invited her and her husband to a party in their house that evening.
THE guests at the party had tea and cakes offered to them, and sat down after that to play whist at a number of card-tables.
The partners of Eugene Mihailovich’s wife were the host himself, an officer, and an old and very stupid lady in a wig, a widow who owned a music-shop; she loved playing cards and played remarkably well. But it was Eugene Mihailovich’s wife who was the winner all the time. The best cards were continually in her hands. At her side she had a plate with grapes and a pear and was in the best of spirits.
“And Eugene Mihailovich? Why is he so late?” asked the hostess, who played at another table.
“Probably busy settling accounts,” said Eugene Mihailovich’s wife. “He has to pay off the tradesmen, to get in firewood.” The quarrel she had with her husband revived in her memory; she frowned, and her hands, from which she had not taken off the mittens, shook with fury against him.
“Oh, there he is.—We have just been speaking of you,” said the hostess to Eugene Mihailovich, who came in at that very moment. “Why are you so late?”
“I was busy,” answered Eugene Mihailovich, in a gay voice, rubbing his hands. And to his wife’s surprise he came to her side and said,—”You know, I managed to get rid of the coupon.”
“No! You don’t say so!”
“Yes, I used it to pay for a cartload of firewood I bought from a peasant.”
And Eugene Mihailovich related with great indignation to the company present—his wife adding more details to his narrative—how his wife had been cheated by two unscrupulous schoolboys.
“Well, and now let us sit down to work,” he said, taking his place at one of the whist-tables when his turn came, and beginning to shuffle the cards.
EUGENE MIHAILOVICH had actually used the coupon to buy firewood from the peasant Ivan Mironov, who had thought of setting up in business on the seventeen roubles he possessed. He hoped in this way to earn another eight roubles, and with the twenty-five roubles thus amassed he intended to buy a good strong horse, which he would want in the spring for work in the fields and for driving on the roads, as his old horse was almost played out.
Ivan Mironov’s commercial method consisted in buying from the stores a cord of wood and dividing it into five cartloads, and then driving about the town, selling each of these at the price the stores charged for a quarter of a cord. That unfortunate day Ivan Mironov drove out very early with half a cartload, which he soon sold. He loaded up again with another cartload which he hoped to sell, but he looked in vain for a customer; no one would buy it. It was his bad luck all that day to come across experienced towns-people, who knew all the tricks of the peasants in selling firewood, and would not believe that he had actually brought the wood from the country as he assured them. He got hungry, and felt cold in his ragged woollen coat. It was nearly below zero when evening came on; his horse which he had treated without mercy, hoping soon to sell it to the knacker’s yard, refused to move a step. So Ivan Mironov was quite ready to sell his firewood at a loss when he met Eugene Mihailovich, who was on his way home from the tobacconist.
“Buy my cartload of firewood, sir. I will give it to you cheap. My poor horse is tired, and can’t go any farther.”
“Where do you come from?”
“From the country, sir. This firewood is from our place. Good dry wood, I can assure you.”
“Good wood indeed! I know your tricks. Well, what is your price?”
Ivan Mironov began by asking a high price, but reduced it once, and finished by selling the cartload for just what it had cost him.
“I’m giving it to you cheap, just to please you, sir.—Besides, I am glad it is not a long way to your house,” he added.
Eugene Mihailovich did not bargain very much. He did not mind paying a little more, because he was delighted to think he could make use of the coupon and get rid of it. With great difficulty Ivan Mironov managed at last, by pulling the shafts himself, to drag his cart into the courtyard, where he was obliged to unload the firewood unaided and pile it up in the shed. The yard-porter was out. Ivan Mironov hesitated at first to accept the coupon, but Eugene Mihailovich insisted, and as he looked a very important person the peasant at last agreed.
He went by the backstairs to the servants’ room, crossed himself before the ikon, wiped his beard which was covered with icicles, turned up the skirts of his coat, took out of his pocket a leather purse, and out of the purse eight roubles and fifty kopeks, and handed the change to Eugene Mihailovich. Carefully folding the coupon, he put it in the purse. Then, according to custom, he thanked the gentleman for his kindness, and, using the whip-handle instead of the lash, he belaboured the half-frozen horse that he had doomed to an early death, and betook himself to a public-house.
Arriving there, Ivan Mironov called for vodka and tea for which he paid eight kopeks. Comfortable and warm after the tea, he chatted in the very best of spirits with a yard-porter who was sitting at his table. Soon he grew communicative and told his companion all about the conditions of his life. He told him he came from the village Vassilievsky, twelve miles from town, and also that he had his allotment of land given to him by his family, as he wanted to live apart from his father and his brothers; that he had a wife and two children; the elder boy went to school, and did not yet help him in his work. He also said he lived in lodgings and intended going to the horse-fair the next day to look for a good horse, and, may be, to buy one. He went on to state that he had now nearly twenty-five roubles—only one rouble short—and that half of it was a coupon. He took the coupon out of his purse to show to his new friend. The yard-porter was an illiterate man, but he said he had had such coupons given him by lodgers to change; that they were good; but that one might also chance on forged ones; so he advised the peasant, for the sake of security, to change it at once at the counter. Ivan Mironov gave the coupon to the waiter and asked for change. The waiter, however, did not bring the change, but came back with the manager, a bald-headed man with a shining face, who was holding the coupon in his fat hand.
“Your money is no good,” he said, showing the coupon, but apparently determined not to give it back.
“The coupon must be all right. I got it from a gentleman.”
“It is bad, I tell you. The coupon is forged.”
“Forged? Give it back to me.”
“I will not. You fellows have got to be punished for such tricks. Of course, you did it yourself—you and some of your rascally friends.”
“Give me the money. What right have you—”
“Sidor! Call a policeman,” said the barman to the waiter. Ivan Mironov was rather drunk, and in that condition was hard to manage. He seized the manager by the collar and began to shout.
“Give me back my money, I say. I will go to the gentleman who gave it to me. I know where he lives.”
The manager had to struggle with all his force to get loose from Ivan Mironov, and his shirt was torn,—”Oh, that’s the way you behave! Get hold of him.”
The waiter took hold of Ivan Mironov; at that moment the policeman arrived. Looking very important, he inquired what had happened, and unhesitatingly gave his orders:
“Take him to the police-station.”
As to the coupon, the policeman put it in his pocket; Ivan Mironov, together with his horse, was brought to the nearest station.
IVAN MIRONOV had to spend the night in the police-station, in the company of drunkards and thieves. It was noon of the next day when he was summoned to the police officer; put through a close examination, and sent in the care of a policeman to Eugene Mihailovich’s shop. Ivan Mironov remembered the street and the house.
The policeman asked for the shopkeeper, showed him the coupon and confronted him with Ivan Mironov, who declared that he had received the coupon in that very place. Eugene Mihailovich at once assumed a very severe and astonished air.
“You are mad, my good fellow,” he said. “I have never seen this man before in my life,” he added, addressing the policeman.
“It is a sin, sir,” said Ivan Mironov. “Think of the hour when you will die.”
“Why, you must be dreaming! You have sold your firewood to some one else,” said Eugene Mihailovich. “But wait a minute. I will go and ask my wife whether she bought any firewood yesterday.” Eugene Mihailovich left them and immediately called the yard-porter Vassily, a strong, handsome, quick, cheerful, well-dressed man.
He told Vassily that if any one should inquire where the last supply of firewood was bought, he was to say they’d got it from the stores, and not from a peasant in the street.
“A peasant has come,” he said to Vassily, “who has declared to the police that I gave him a forged coupon. He is a fool and talks nonsense, but you, are a clever man. Mind you say that we always get the firewood from the stores. And, by the way, I’ve been thinking some time of giving you money to buy a new jacket,” added Eugene Mihailovich, and gave the man five roubles. Vassily looking with pleasure first at the five rouble note, then at Eugene Mihailovich’s face, shook his head and smiled.
“I know, those peasant folks have no brains. Ignorance, of course. Don’t you be uneasy. I know what I have to say.”
Ivan Mironov, with tears in his eyes, implored Eugene Mihailovich over and over again to acknowledge the coupon he had given him, and the yard-porter to believe what he said, but it proved quite useless; they both insisted that they had never bought firewood from a peasant in the street. The policeman brought Ivan Mironov back to the police-station, and he was charged with forging the coupon. Only after taking the advice of a drunken office clerk in the same cell with him, and bribing the police officer with five roubles, did Ivan Mironov get out of jail, without the coupon, and with only seven roubles left out of the twenty-five he had the day before.
Of these seven roubles he spent three in the public-house and came home to his wife dead drunk, with a bruised and swollen face.
His wife was expecting a child, and felt very ill. She began to scold her husband; he pushed her away, and she struck him. Without answering a word he lay down on the plank and began to weep bitterly.
Not till the next day did he tell his wife what had actually happened. She believed him at once, and thoroughly cursed the dastardly rich man who had cheated Ivan. He was sobered now, and remembering the advice a workman had given him, with whom he had many a drink the day before, decided to go to a lawyer and tell him of the wrong the owner of the photograph shop had done him.
THE lawyer consented to take proceedings on behalf of Ivan Mironov, not so much for the sake of the fee, as because he believed the peasant, and was revolted by the wrong done to him.
Both parties appeared in the court when the case was tried, and the yard-porter Vassily was summoned as witness. They repeated in the court all they had said before to the police officials. Ivan Mironov again called to his aid the name of the Divinity, and reminded the shopkeeper of the hour of death. Eugene Mihailovich, although quite aware of his wickedness, and the risks he was running, despite the rebukes of his conscience, could not now change his testimony, and went on calmly to deny all the allegations made against him.
The yard-porter Vassily had received another ten roubles from his master, and, quite unperturbed, asserted with a smile that he did not know anything about Ivan Mironov. And when he was called upon to take the oath, he overcame his inner qualms, and repeated with assumed ease the terms of the oath, read to him by the old priest appointed to the court. By the holy Cross and the Gospel, he swore that he spoke the whole truth.
The case was decided against Ivan Mironov, who was sentenced to pay five roubles for expenses. This sum Eugene Mihailovich generously paid for him. Before dismissing Ivan Mironov, the judge severely admonished him, saying he ought to take care in the future not to accuse respectable people, and that he also ought to be thankful that he was not forced to pay the costs, and that he had escaped a prosecution for slander, for which he would have been condemned to three months’ imprisonment.
“I offer my humble thanks,” said Ivan Mironov; and, shaking his head, left the court with a heavy sigh.
The whole thing seemed to have ended well for Eugene Mihailovich and the yard-porter Vassily. But only in appearance. Something had happened which was not noticed by any one, but which was much more important than all that had been exposed to view.
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