“And it’s all nonsense!” he said, wiping his tears. “Yes, by Jove, it’s nonsense!”
The deacon was very easily amused, and laughed at every trifle till he got a stitch in his side, till he was helpless. It seemed as though he only liked to be in people’s company because there was a ridiculous side to them, and because they might be given ridiculous nicknames. He had nicknamed Samoylenko “the tarantula,” his orderly “the drake,” and was in ecstasies when on one occasion Von Koren spoke of Laevsky and Nadyezhda Fyodorovna as “Japanese monkeys.” He watched people’s faces greedily, listened without blinking, and it could be seen that his eyes filled with laughter and his face was tense with expectation of the moment when he could let himself go and burst into laughter.
“He is a corrupt and depraved type,” the zoologist continued, while the deacon kept his eyes riveted on his face, expecting he would say something funny. “It is not often one can meet with such a nonentity. In body he is inert, feeble, prematurely old, while in intellect he differs in no respect from a fat shopkeeper’s wife who does nothing but eat, drink, and sleep on a feather-bed, and who keeps her coachman as a lover.”
The deacon began guffawing again.
“Don’t laugh, deacon,” said Von Koren. “It grows stupid, at last. I should not have paid attention to his insignificance,” he went on, after waiting till the deacon had left off laughing; “I should have passed him by if he were not so noxious and dangerous. His noxiousness lies first of all in the fact that he has great success with women, and so threatens to leave descendants—that is, to present the world with a dozen Laevskys as feeble and as depraved as himself. Secondly, he is in the highest degree contaminating. I have spoken to you already of vint and beer. In another year or two he will dominate the whole Caucasian coast. You know how the mass, especially its middle stratum, believe in intellectuality, in a university education, in gentlemanly manners, and in literary language. Whatever filthy thing he did, they would all believe that it was as it should be, since he is an intellectual man, of liberal ideas and university education. What is more, he is a failure, a superfluous man, a neurasthenic, a victim of the age, and that means he can do anything. He is a charming fellow, a regular good sort, he is so genuinely indulgent to human weaknesses; he is compliant, accommodating, easy and not proud; one can drink with him and gossip and talk evil of people. . . . The masses, always inclined to anthropomorphism in religion and morals, like best of all the little gods who have the same weaknesses as themselves. Only think what a wide field he has for contamination! Besides, he is not a bad actor and is a clever hypocrite, and knows very well how to twist things round. Only take his little shifts and dodges, his attitude