In the fifth or sixth class many of Kolya’s comrades had already tasted of the tree of knowledge of evil. At that time it was considered in their corpus an especial, boastful masculine chic to call all secret things by their own names. Arkasha Shkar contracted a disease, not dangerous, but still venereal; and he became for three whole months the object of worship of all the seniors—at that time there were no squads yet. And many of them visited brothels; and, really, about their sprees they spoke far more handsomely and broadly than the hussars of the time of Denis Davidov.[Footnote: A Russian ban vivant, wit and poet (1781-1839), the overwhelming majority of whose lyrics deals with military exploits and debauches.—Trans.] These debauches were esteemed by them the last word in valour and maturity.
And so it happened once, that they did not exactly persuade Gladishev to go to Anna Markovna, but rather he himself had begged to go, so weakly had he resisted temptation. This evening he always recalled with horror, with aversion; and dimly, just like some heavy dream. With difficulty he recalled, how in the cab, to get up courage, he had drunk rum, revoltingly smelling of real bedbugs; how qualmish this beastly drink made him feel; how he had walked into the big hall, where the lights of the lustres and the candelabra on the walls were turning round in fiery wheels; where the women moved as fantastic pink, blue, violet splotches, and the whiteness of their necks, bosoms and arms flashed with a blinding, spicy, victorious splendour. Some one of the comrades whispered something in the ear of one of these fantastic figures. She ran up to Kolya and said:
“Listen, you good-looking little cadet, your comrades are saying, now, that you’re still innocent ... Let’s go ... I’ll teach you everything.”
The phrase was said in a kindly manner; but this phrase the walls of Anna Markovna’s establishment had already heard several thousand times. Further, that took place which it was so difficult and painful to recall, that in the middle of his recollections Kolya grew tired, and with an effort of the will turned back the imagination to something else. He only remembered dimly the revolving and spreading circles from the light of the lamp; persistent kisses; disconcerting contacts—then a sudden sharp pain, from which one wanted both to die in enjoyment and to cry out in terror; and then with wonder he saw his pale shaking hands, which could not, somehow, button his clothes.
Of course, all men have experienced this primordial tristia post coitus; but this great moral pain, very serious in its significance and depth, passes very rapidly, remaining, however, with the majority for a long time—sometimes for all life—in the form of wearisomeness and awkwardness after certain moments. In a short while Kolya became accustomed to it; grew bolder, became familiarized with woman, and rejoiced very much over the fact that when he came into the establishment, all the girls, and Verka before all, would call out: