“M-m? ...” drawled out the Georgian, half questioningly, half expectantly, and squinted his eyes to one side.
“Well, then I thought: why, now, any blackguard, any whippersnapper, any shattered ancient can take any one of these women to himself for a minute or for a night, as a momentary whim; and indifferently, one superfluous time more—the thousand and first—profane and defile in her that which is the most precious in a human being—love... Do you understand—revile, trample it underfoot, pay for the visit and walk away in peace, his hands in his pockets, whistling. But the most horrible of all is that all this has come to be a habit with them; it’s all one to her, and it’s all one to him. The feelings have dulled, the soul has dimmed. That’s so, isn’t it? And yet, in every one of them perishes both a splendid sister and a sainted mother. Eh? Isn’t that the truth?”
“N-na? ....” mumbled Nijeradze and again shifted his eyes to one side.
“And so I thought: wherefore words and superfluous exclamations! To the devil with hypocritical speeches during conventions. To the devil with abolition, regulation (suddenly, involuntarily, the recent words of the reporter came to his mind), Magdalene asylums and all these distributions of holy books in the establishments! Here, I’ll up and act as a really honest man, snatch a girl out of this slough, implant her in real firm soil, calm her, encourage her, treat her kindly.”
“H-hm!” grunted Nijeradze with a grin.
“Eh, prince! You always have salacious things on your mind. For you understand that I’m not talking about a woman, but about a human being; not about flesh, but about a soul.”
“All right, all right, me soul, go on!”
“Futhermore, as I thought, so did I act. I took her to-day from Anna Markovna’s and brought her for the present to me. And later— whatever God may grant. I’ll teach her in the beginning to read, and write; then open up for her a little cook-shop, or a grocery store, let’s say. I think that the comrades won’t refuse to help me. The human heart, prince, my brother—every heart—is in need of cordiality, of warmth. And lo and behold! in a year, in two, I will return to society a good, industrious, worthy member, with a virgin soul, open to all sorts of great possibilities... For she has given only her body, while her soul is pure and innocent.”
“Tse, tse, tse,” the prince smacked his tongue.
“What does this mean, you Tifflissian he-mule?”
“And will you buy her a sewing machine?”
“Why a sewing machine, in particular? I don’t understand.”
“It’s always that way in the novels, me soul. Just as soon as the hero has saved the poor, but lost, creature, he at once sets up a sewing machine for her.”
“Stop talking nonsense,” Lichonin waved him away angrily with his hand. “Clown!”
The Georgian suddenly grew heated, his black eyes began to sparkle, and immediately Caucasian intonations could be heard in his voice.