During this all the girls had gathered, as usual, in Jennka’s room. But something strange was going on within her. She did not utter witticisms, did not laugh, did not read, as always, her usual yellow-back novel which was now lying aimlessly either on her breast or stomach; but was vicious, wrapped up in sadness, and in her eyes blazed a yellow fire that spoke of hatred. In vain did Little White Manka, Manka the Scandaliste, who adored her, try to turn her attention to herself—Jennka seemed not to notice her, and the conversation did not at all get on. It was depressing. But it may have been that the August drizzle, which had steadily set in for several weeks running, reacted upon all of them. Tamara sat down on Jennka’s bed, gently embraced her, and, having put her mouth near her very ear, said in a whisper:
“What’s the matter, Jennechka? I’ve seen for a long time that something strange is going on in you. And Manka feels that too. Just see, how she’s wasted without your caressing. Tell me. Perhaps I’ll be able to help you in some way?”
Jennka closed her eyes and shook her head in negation. Tamara moved away from her a little, but continued to stroke her shoulder gently.
“It’s your affair, Jennechka. I daren’t butt into your soul. I only asked because you’re the only being who...”
Jennka with decision suddenly jumped out of bed, seized Tamara by the hand and said abruptly and commandingly:
“All right! Let’s get out of here for a minute. I’ll tell you everything. Girls, wait for us a little while.”
In the light corridor Jennka laid her hands on the shoulders of her mate and with a distorted, suddenly blanched face, said:
“Well, then, listen here: some one has infected me with syphilis.”
“Oh, my poor darling. Long?”
“Long. Do you remember, when the students were here? The same ones who started a row with Platonov? I found out about it for the first time then. I found out in the daytime.”
“Do you know,” quietly remarked Tamara, “I almost guessed about this, and particularly then, when you went down on your knees before the singer and talked quietly about something with her. But still, my dear Jennechka, you must attend to yourself.”
Jennka wrathfully stamped her foot and tore in half the batiste handkerchief which she had been nervously crumpling in her hands.
“No! Not for anything! I won’t infect any one of you. You may have noticed yourself, that during the last weeks I don’t dine at the common table, and that I wash and wipe the dishes myself. That’s why I’m trying to break Manka away from me, whom, you know, I love sincerely, in the real way. But these two-legged skunks I infect purposely, infect every evening, ten, fifteen of them. Let them rot, let them carry the syphilis on to their wives, mistresses, mothers—yes, yes, their mothers also, and their fathers, and their governesses, and even their grand-grandmothers. Let them all perish, the honest skunks!”