Saturday, May 16, 2015

[Armenian Tale] The Vacant Yard

Several days ago I wished to visit an acquaintance, but it chanced he
was not at home. I came therefore through the gate again out into the
street, and stood looking to right and left and considering where I
could go. In front of me lay a vacant yard, which was, I thought, not
wholly like other vacant yards. On it was neither house nor barn nor
stable: true, none of these was there, but it was very evident that this
yard could not have been deserted long by its tenants. The house must,
also, in my opinion, have been torn down, for of traces of fire, as, for
example, charred beams, damaged stoves, and rubbish heaps, there was no

In a word, it could be plainly perceived that the house which once stood
there had been pulled down, and its beams and timbers carried away. In
the middle of the premises, near the line hedge, stood several high
trees, acacias, fig, and plum-trees; scattered among them were
gooseberry bushes, rose-trees, and blackthorns, while near the street,
just in the place where the window of the house was probably set, stood
a high, green fig-tree.

I have seen many vacant lots, yet never before have I given a passing
thought as to whom any one of them belonged, or who might have lived
there, or indeed where its future possessor might be. But in a peculiar
way the sight of this yard called up questions of this sort; and as I
looked at it many different thoughts came into my mind. Perhaps, I
thought to myself, a childless fellow, who spoiled old age with sighs
and complaints, and as his life waned the walls mouldered. Finally, the
house was without a master; the doors and windows stood open, and when
the dark winter nights came on, the neighbors fell upon it and stripped
off its boards, one after another. Yes, various thoughts came into my
head. How hard it is to build a house, and how easy to tear it down!

While I stood there lost in thought, an old woman, leaning on a staff,
passed me. I did not immediately recognize her, but at a second glance I
saw it was Hripsime. Nurse Hripsime was a woman of five-and-seventy,
yet, from her steady gait, her lively speech, and her fiery eyes, she
appeared to be scarcely fifty. She was vigorous and hearty, expressed
her opinions like a man, and was abrupt in her speech. Had she not worn
women's garments one could easily have taken her for a man. Indeed, in
conversation she held her own with ten men.

Once, I wot not for what reason, she was summoned to court. She went
thither, placed herself before the judge, and spoke so bravely that
everyone gaped and stared at her as at a prodigy. Another time thieves
tried to get into her house at night, knowing that she was alone like an
owl in the house. The thieves began to pry open the door with a crowbar,
and when Nurse Hripsime heard it she sprang nimbly out of bed, seized
her stick from its corner, and began to shout: "Ho, there! Simon,
Gabriel, Matthew, Stephan, Aswadur, get up quickly. Get your axes and
sticks. Thieves are here; collar the rascals; bind them, skin them,
strike them dead!" The thieves probably did not know with whom they had
to deal, and, when at the outcry of the old woman they conceived that a
half-dozen stout-handed fellows might be in the house, they took
themselves off. Just such a cunning, fearless woman was Aunt Hripsime.

"Good-morning, nurse," said I.

"God greet thee," she replied.

"Where have you been?"

"I have been with the sick," she rejoined.

Oh, yes! I had wholly forgotten to say that Nurse Hripsime, though she
could neither read nor write, was a skilful physician. She laid the sick
person on the grass, administered a sherbet, cured hemorrhoids and
epilepsy; and especially with sick women was she successful. Yes, to her
skill I myself can bear witness. About four years ago my child was taken
ill in the dog-days, and for three years my wife had had a fever, so
that she was very feeble. The daughter of Arutin, the gold-worker, and
the wife of Saak, the tile-maker, said to me: "There is an excellent
physician called Hripsime. Send for her, and you will not regret it."
To speak candidly, I have never found much brains in our doctor. He
turns round on his heels and scribbles out a great many prescriptions,
but his skill is not worth a toadstool.

I sent for Hripsime, and, sure enough, not three days had passed before
my wife's fever had ceased and my children's pain was allayed. For three
years, thank God, no sickness has visited my house. Whether it can be
laid to her skill and the lightness of her hand or to the medicine I
know not. I know well, however, that Nurse Hripsime is my family
physician. And what do I pay her? Five rubles a year, no more and no
less. When she comes to us it is a holiday for my children, so sweetly
does she speak to them and so well does she know how to win their
hearts. Indeed, if I were a sultan, she should be my vezir.

"How does the city stand in regard to sickness?" I asked her.

"Of that one would rather not speak," answered Hripsime. "Ten more such
years and our whole city will become a hospital. Heaven knows what kind
of diseases they are! Moreover, they are of a very peculiar kind, and
often the people die very suddenly. The bells fly in pieces almost from
so much tolling, the grave-diggers' shovels are blunt, and from the
great demand for coffins the price of wood is risen. What will become of
us, I know not."

"Is not, then, the cause of these diseases known to you?"

"Oh, that is clear enough," answered Hripsime. "It is a punishment for
our sins. What good deeds have we done that we should expect God's
mercy? Thieves, counterfeiters, all these you find among us. They snatch
the last shirt from the poor man's back, purloin trust moneys, church
money: in a word, there is no shameless deed we will not undertake for
profit. We need not wonder if God punishes us for it. Yes, God acts
justly, praised be his holy name! Indeed, it would be marvellous if God
let us go unpunished."

Hripsime was not a little excited, and that was just what I wished. When
she once began she could no longer hold in: her words gushed forth as
from a spring, and the more she spoke the smoother her speech.

"Do you know?" I began again, "that I have been standing a long while
before this deserted yard, and cannot recall whose house stood here, why
they have pulled it down, and what has become of its inhabitants? You
are an aged woman, and have peeped into every corner of our city: you
must have something to tell about it. If you have nothing important on
hand, be kind enough to tell me what you know of the former residents of
the vanished house."

Nurse Hripsime turned her gaze to the vacant yard, and, shaking her
head, said:

"My dear son, the history of that house is as long as one of our
fairy-tales. One must tell for seven days and seven nights in order to
reach the end.

"This yard was not always so desolate as you see it now," she went on.
"Once there stood here a house, not very large, but pretty and
attractive, and made of wood. The wooden houses of former days pleased
me much better than the present stone houses, which look like cheese
mats outside and are prisons within. An old proverb says, 'In stone or
brick houses life goes on sadly,'

"Here, on this spot, next to the fig-tree," she continued, "stood
formerly a house with a five-windowed front, green blinds, and a red
roof. Farther back there by the acacias stood the stable, and between
the house and the stable, the kitchen and the hen-house. Here to the
right of the gate a spring." With these words Nurse Hripsime took a step
forward, looked about, and said: "What is this? the spring gone, too! I
recollect as if to-day that there was a spring of sweet water on the
very spot where I am standing. What can have happened to it! I know that
everything can be lost--but a spring, how can that be lost?" Hripsime
stooped and began to scratch about with her stick. "Look here," she said
suddenly, "bad boys have filled up the beautiful spring with earth and
stones. Plague take it! Well, if one's head is cut off, he weeps not for
his beard. For the spring I care not, but for poor Sarkis and his family
I am very sorry."

"Are you certain that the house of Sarkis, the grocer, stood here? I had
wholly forgotten it. Now tell me, I pray, what has become of him? Does
he still live, or is he dead? Where is his family? I remember now that
he had a pretty daughter and also a son."

Nurse Hripsime gave no heed to my questions, but stood silently, poking
about with her stick near the choked-up spring.

The picture of Grocer Sarkis, as we called him, took form vividly in my
memory, and with it awoke many experiences of my childhood. I remembered
that when I was a child a dear old lady often visited us, who was
continually telling us about Grocer Sarkis, and used to hold up his
children as models. In summer, when the early fruit was ripe, she used
to visit his house, gather fruit in his garden, and would always come to
us with full pockets, bringing us egg-plums, saffron apples, fig-pears,
and many other fruits. From that time we knew Sarkis, and when my mother
wanted any little thing for the house I got it for her at his store. I
loved him well, this Sarkis; he was a quiet, mild man, around whose
mouth a smile hovered. "What do you want, my child?" he always asked
when I entered his store.

"My mother sends you greeting," I would answer. "She wants this or

"Well, well, my child, you shall have it," he usually answered, and
always gave me a stick of sugar candy, with the words, "That is for you;
it is good for the cough." It never happened that I went out of the
store without receiving something from him. In winter-time he treated me
to sugar candy, and in summer-time he always had in his store great
baskets full of apricots, plums, pears, and apples, or whatever was in
season in his garden. His garden at that time--some thirty or
thirty-five years ago--was very famous. One time my mother sent me to
Sarkis's store to procure, as I remember, saffron for the pillau. Sarkis
gave me what I desired, and then noticing, probably, how longingly I
looked toward the fruit-baskets, he said:

"Now, you shall go and have a good time in my garden. Do you know where
my house is?"

"Yes, I know. Not far from the Church of Our Lady."

"Right, my son, you have found it. It has green blinds, and a fig-tree
stands in front of it. Now take this basket and carry it to Auntie, and
say that I sent word that she was to let you go into the garden with my
son Toros. There you two may eat what you will."

He handed me a neat-looking basket. I peeped into it and saw a sheep's
liver. I was as disgusted with this as though it were a dead dog, for at
that time liver-eaters were abhorred not less than thieves and
counterfeiters; they with their whole family were held in derision, and
people generally refused to associate with them. In a moment I forgot
entirely what a good man Sarkis was; I forgot his fruit-garden and his
pretty daughter, of whom the good old lady had told me so many beautiful
things. The liver had spoiled everything in a trice. Sarkis noticed
this, and asked me smiling:

"What is the matter?"

"Have you a dog in your yard?" I asked, without heeding his words.

"No," he said.

"For whom, then, is the liver?"

"For none other than ourselves. We will eat it."

I looked at Sarkis to see if he were jesting with me, but no sign of
jesting was to be seen in his face.

"You will really eat the liver yourselves?" I asked.

"What astonishes you, my boy? Is not liver to be eaten, then?"

"Dogs eat liver," I said, deeply wounded, and turned away, for Sarkis
appeared to me at that moment like a ghoul.

Just then there came into the store a pretty, pleasing boy. "Mamma sent
me to get what you have bought at the Bazaar, and the hearth-fire has
been lit a long time." I concluded that this was Sarkis's son, Toros. I
perceived immediately from his face that he was a good boy, and I was
very much taken with him.

"Here, little son, take that," Sarkis said, and handed him the basket
which I had set down.

Toros peeped in, and when he spied the liver he said, "We will have a
pie for dinner." Then he put on his cap and turned to go.

"Toros," called his father to him, "take Melkon with you to our house
and play with him as a brother."

I was exceedingly pleased with the invitation, and went out with Toros.
When we arrived at Sarkis's house and entered the garden it seemed as
though I were in an entirely new world. The yard was very pretty, no
disorder was to be seen anywhere. Here and there pretty chickens,
geese, and turkeys ran about with their chicks. On the roof sat doves of
the best kinds. The yard was shaded in places by pretty green trees, the
house had a pretty balcony, and under the eaves stood green-painted tubs
for catching rain-water. In the windows different flowers were growing,
and from the balcony hung cages of goldfinches, nightingales, and canary
birds; in a word, everything I saw was pretty, homelike, and pleasant.

In the kitchen cooking was going on, for thick smoke rose from the
chimney. At the kitchen-door stood Sarkis's wife, a healthy,
red-cheeked, and vigorous woman, apparently about thirty years old. From
the fire that burned on the hearth her cheeks were still more reddened,
so that it seemed, as they say, the redness sprang right out of her. On
a little stool on the balcony sat a little girl, who wore, according to
the prevailing fashion, a red satin fez on her head. This was Toros's
sister. I have seen many beautiful girls in my time, but never a
prettier one. Her name was Takusch.

Getting the mother's consent, we entered the garden, where we helped
ourselves freely to the good fruit and enjoyed the fragrance of many
flowers. At noon, Sarkis came home from the store, and invited me to
dinner. My gaze was continually directed toward the beautiful Takusch.
Oh, well-remembered years! What a pity it is that they pass by so
quickly! Two or three months later I journeyed to the Black Sea, where I
was apprenticed to a merchant, and since that time I have not been in my
native city--for some twenty-four years--and all that I have told was
awakened in my memory in a trice by my meeting with Hripsime.

The old woman was still standing on the site of the choked-up spring,
scratching around on the ground with her stick.

"Nurse Hripsime, where is Sarkis and his family now?" I asked.

"Did you know him, then?" she asked, astonished.

"Yes, a little," I replied.

"Your parents were acquainted with him?"

"No. I was only once in his house, and then as a boy."

"Oh, then! That was his happiest time. What pleasant times we had in his
garden! Formerly it was not as it is now--not a trace of their pleasant
garden remains. The house has disappeared. Look again: yonder was the
kitchen, there the hen-house, there the barn, and here the spring."

As she spoke she pointed out with her stick each place, but of the
buildings she named not a trace was to be seen.

"Ah, my son," she went on, "he who destroyed the happiness of these
good, pious people, who tore down their house and scattered the whole
family to the winds, may that man be judged by God! He fell like a wolf
upon their goods and chattels. I wish no evil to him, but if there is a
God in heaven may he find no peace in his house, may his children bring
no joy to him, and may no happiness find its way within his four walls.
As he ruined those four poor wretches and was guilty of their early
death, so may he roam over the wide world without rest nor find in sleep
any comfort! Yes, may his trouble and sorrow increase with the abundance
of his wealth!

"I knew Sarkis when he was still a boy. When you knew him he must have
been about forty years old. He was always just as you saw him: reserved,
discreet, pious, beneficent to the poor, and hospitable. It never
occurred that he spoke harshly to his wife or raised his hand against
his children. He was ever satisfied with what he had; never complained
that he had too little, or coveted the possessions of others. Yes, a
pious man was Sarkis, and his wife had the same virtues. Early in
childhood she lost her parents, and relatives of her mother adopted her,
but treated her badly. Yes, bitter is the lot of the orphan, for even if
they have means they are no better off than the poor! They said that
when her father died he left her a store with goods worth about 3,000
rubles, and beside that 2,000 ducats in cash; but he was hardly dead
when the relations came and secured the stock and gold as guardians of
the orphan. When she was fourteen years old, one after another wooed
her, but when the go-betweens found out that there was nothing left of
her property they went away and let the girl alone.

"Happily for her, Sarkis appeared, and said: 'I want a wife; I seek no
riches,' Of course, the relations gave her to him at once, and with her
all sorts of trumpery, some half-ruined furniture, and a few gold
pieces. 'That is all her father left,' they said, and demanded from him
a receipt for the whole legacy from her father. That was the way they
shook her off!

"At that time Sarkis himself had nothing, and was just as poor as his
wife. He was clerk in a store, and received not more than 150 rubles in
notes yearly, which were worth in current money scarcely one-third their
face value. Yes, they were both poor, but God's mercy is great and no
one can fathom his purposes! In the same year the merchant whom he
served suddenly died after making over to Sarkis the whole store and all
that was in it, on condition that a certain sum should be paid every
year to the widow.

"Sarkis took the business, and after three years he was sole owner of
it. He increased it continually, and on the plot of ground he had
inherited from his father he built a pretty house and moved into it. In
the same year God gave him a daughter, whom he named Takusch, and four
years later his son Toros came into the world.

"So these two orphans established a household and became somebodies;
people who had laughed at them now sought their society, and began to
vie with each other in praising Sarkis. But Sarkis remained the same
God-fearing Sarkis. He spoke evil of no one, and even of his wife's
relatives, who had robbed him, he said nothing. Indeed, when they had
gone through that inheritance and were in want he even helped them out.

"As I have said, Sarkis refused no one his assistance, but his wife had
also a good heart. The good things she did cannot be told. How often she
baked cracknel, cakes, rolls, and sweet biscuit, and sent great plates
full of them to those who could not have such things, for she said, 'May
those who pass by and smell the fragrance of my cakes never desire them
in vain.'

"About this time my husband died--may God bless him!--and I was living
alone. Sarkis's wife came to me and said, 'Why will you live so lonely
in your house? Rent it and come to us.' Of course, I did not hesitate
long. I laid my things away in a large chest and moved over to their
house, and soon we lived together like two sisters. Takusch was at that
time four years old, and Toros was still a baby in arms. I lived ten
years at their house, and heard not a single harsh word from them. Not
once did they say to me, 'You eat our bread, you drink our water, you
wear our clothing,' They never indulged in such talk: on the contrary,
they placed me in the seat of honor. Yes, so they honored me. And, good
heavens! what was I to them! Neither mother nor sister nor aunt, in no
way related to them. I was a stranger taken from the streets.

"Yes, such God-fearing people were Sarkis and his wife. The poor
wretches believed that all mankind were as pure in heart as they were. I
had even at that time a presentiment that they would not end well, and
often remonstrated with them, begging them to be on their guard with
people. But it was useless for me to talk, for they sang the old songs

"Like a sweet dream my years with the good people passed. Surely pure
mother's milk had nourished them! I knew neither pain nor grief, nor did
I think of what I should eat to-morrow, nor of how I could clothe myself.
As bounteous as the hand of God was their house to me. Twelve months in
every year I sat peacefully at my spinning-wheel and carried on my own

"Once during dog-days--Takusch was at that time fifteen years old and
beginning her sixteenth year--toward evening, according to an old
custom, we spread a carpet in the garden and placed a little table there
for tea. Near us steamed and hissed the clean shining tea-urn, and
around us roses and pinks shed their sweet odors. It was a beautiful
evening, and it became more beautiful when the full moon rose in the
heavens like a golden platter. I remember that evening as clearly as
though it were yesterday. Takusch poured out the tea, and Auntie Mairam,
Sarkis's wife, took a cup; but as she lifted it to her lips it fell out
of her hand and the tea was spilled over her dress.

"My spirits fell when I saw this, for my heart told me that it meant
something bad was coming. 'Keep away, evil; come, good,' I whispered,
and crossed myself in silence. I glanced at Takusch and saw that the
poor child had changed color. Then her innocent soul also felt that
something evil was near! Sarkis and Mairam, however, remained in merry
mood and thought of nothing of that sort. But if you believe not a
thousand times that something is to come, it comes just the same!
Mairam took her napkin and wiped off her dress and Takusch poured her a
fresh cup. 'There will come a guest with a sweet tongue,' said Sarkis,
smiling. 'Mairam, go and put another dress on. You will certainly be
ashamed if anyone comes.'

"'Who can come to-day, so late?' said Mairam, smiling; 'and, beside, the
dress will dry quickly.'

"Scarcely had she spoken when the garden door opened with a rush and a
gentleman entered the enclosure. He had hardly stepped into the garden
when he began to blab with his goat's voice like a windmill.

"'Good-evening. How are you? You are drinking tea? That is very fine for
you. What magnificent air you have here! Good-evening, Mr. Sarkis.
Good-evening, Mrs. Mairam, Good-evening, Hripsime. What are you doing? I
like to drink tea in the open air. What a beautiful garden you have.
Dare I taste these cherries? Well--they are not bad; no, indeed, they
are splendid cherries. If you will give me a napkin full of these
cherries I will carry them home to my wife. And what magnificent
apricots! Mr. Sarkis, do you know what! Sell me your house. No, I will
say something better to you. Come to my store--you know where it
is--yonder in the new two-storied house. Yes, yes, come over there and
we will sit down pleasantly by the desk and gossip about Moscow

"We were as if turned to stone. There are in the world many kinds of
madmen, chatterboxes, and braggarts, but such a creature as this I saw
for the first time in my life, and do you know who it was? Hemorrhoid

"Have you heard of him? Have you seen this hostage of God? Hripsime

"No, I do not know him," I said.

"What! and you live in our city? Is there anyone who does not know the
scoundrel? Go to the brokers, and they will tell you many he has thrown
out of house and home by fraud and hunted out of the city. Have you ever
seen how a bird-catcher lures the birds into his net--how he whistles to
them? That's the way this John gets the people into his traps. To-day he
will act as if altogether stupid. To-morrow he is suddenly shrewd, and
understands the business well. Then he is simple again and a pure lamb.
Now he is avaricious, now generous. And so he goes on. Yes, he slips
around among the people like a fox with his tail wagging, and when he
picks out his victim, he fastens his teeth in his neck and the poor
beggar is lost. He gets him in his debt and never lets him get his
breath between interest payments, or he robs him almost of his last
shirt and lets him run. But see how I run away from my story!

"'Good-evening,' said Sarkis, as soon as he perceived Hemorrhoid Jack,
and offered him his hand. 'What wind has blown you here? Mairam, a cup
of tea for our honored Mr. John.'

"'Mr. Sarkis, do you know why I have come to you?' began Jack. 'The
whole world is full of your praise; everywhere they are talking about
you, and I thought to myself, "I must go there and see what kind of a
man this Sarkis is." And so here I am. Excuse my boldness. I cannot help
it: I resemble in no way your stay-at-home.

"'I am somewhat after the European fashion, you know. Who pleases me, I
visit him quite simply. Present myself and make his acquaintance. Then I
invite him to my house, go again to his and bring my family with me.
Yes, such a fellow am I, let them laugh at me who will,'

"'Oh,' I thought, 'poor Sarkis is already fallen into the net, and his
family with him.'

"Meanwhile, Mairam had poured the tea, placed the cup on a tray, and
Takusch had put it before Jack.

"'Where did you buy the tea?' he began, taking the cup. 'When you want
tea, buy it of me, I pray. You know, I am sure, where my store is. I can
give you every desirable brand, and at low price. The tea that cost two
rubles I will give to you for one ruble ninety-five kopecks. Yes, I will
sell it to you at a loss. Oh, what bad tea you drink!' At the same time
he began to sip and in a moment emptied the cup. 'Be so good as to give
me another cup,' he said. 'In the fresh air one gets an appetite. If I
am to enjoy tea-drinking, let me hitch up my carriage and drive out to
the Monastery Gardens. There, out-of-doors, I drink two or three glasses
and settle for them. Yes, such European customs please me,'

"'May it benefit you!' said Sarkis.

"'Now, now, Mr. Sarkis, are you coming to my house to-morrow?' asked
Hemorrhoid Jack.

"'I will see,' answered Sarkis.

"'What is there to see? If you want to come, come then. We will sit
behind the counter, drink our glass of tea, and chat. Now and then, we
will talk about European affairs, bookkeeping, news, and other things,'

"'All right, I shall surely come. I shall not forget.'

"'Good. And now it is time for me to be gone, for I must make two more
visits to-day,' remarked Hemorrhoid Jack.

"'Do they pay visits at this hour?' responded Sarkis. 'It must be
nearly ten o'clock. Takusch, get a light.'

"Takusch went into the room, and soon returned with a light. Sarkis took
out his watch, and coming near the light said: 'Look, it is already a
quarter to ten.'

"John looked, and at once cried out: 'Oh, Mr. Sarkis, what a magnificent
watch you have! Where did you get it? It appears to me to be a costly
one. Let me see it.'

"'This watch I received as a gift from our late Czar. You know that
several years ago our late Czar visited Taganrog. On this occasion the
people of Taganrog wished to give him a magnificent horse, but they
could not find an appropriate saddle. It happened that I had one that
would do, and when they heard of it, they came to me and told me for
what they needed the saddle. Who would not be ready to make such a
sacrifice for the Czar? Indeed, who would not only sacrifice a costly
saddle (and this one was not worth much), but even his life, gladly, if
need be? Therefore, I immediately hired a wagon, and taking this
extraordinary saddle with me and then on to Taganrog to the governor's.

"'"Your Highness seeks a saddle?" I asked.

"'"Yes, indeed," he answered.

"'"Here it is," said I.

"'"Thank you," he said, and pressed my hand. Then he led me into his own
room. By George! it looked like one in a king's castle. He had me sit
down, served me with tea, invited me to dine at his table: in a word, he
treated me well. At my departure, he took out of a drawer a ring set
with genuine brilliants, gave it to me, and said, "Take this from me as
a gift, and what I receive from the Czar I will give to you also." And
he kept his word. The Czar really came, and they gave him the horse with
my saddle. His Majesty thanked me for it and gave me this watch. Look,
now, what a beautiful one it is!'

"'Yes, truly, it is a pretty thing. Show me it again. I wish to see what
kind of a watch it is,' said Hemorrhoid Jack, examining the watch. 'And
have you the ring by you? Can I see it? Oh, let me see what kind of a
thing it is. I like to see such things, particularly if they come from
persons of high rank.'

"'Is the ring not in the chest of drawers?' said Sarkis, looking around
toward his wife.

"'Yes, I keep it there,' answered Mairam, faintly, for she might well
foresee something evil. 'Who is it routs about in the chest of drawers
in the night?'

"'Good Auntie Mairam,' began Jack, in a wheedling tone, 'I beg of you,
bring the ring, that I may see it. Be so kind! When I see such a rare
thing my heart leaps in my breast with delight. It is true joy for me to
hold such things in my hand and look at them. Bring me the ring, I beg
of you.'

"I looked at him at that moment, and he seemed to me like a veritable
gypsy. Had I not been obliged to consider those present, I should
certainly have spit in his face, so great was my aversion to this
scoundrel. Yes, what the proverb says is true: 'If a rich man becomes
poor, he is scented for years with his wealth; if a poor man grows rich
he stinks of poverty for forty years!' That was the way with this
Hemorrhoid Jack. Oh, if it had been in my power I would have seized the
scoundrel by the collar and thrown him out of the gate. But Sarkis was
not of my temperament; he had a gentle heart and was meek as a lamb. I
went up to him, pushed his elbow, and whispered:

"'What are you doing, you good-natured fool? Why did you let him take
the watch in his hand? And are you going to show the ring, too? You will
see, he has bad intentions. I'll bet my head he will bring misfortune on
yours. Do you not see his greedy eyes? He will ruin you altogether, you
and house, and ground,' I said.

"I had my trouble for my pains. Although a man of ripe years, Sarkis was
nevertheless like a mere boy, believing all people as honest as
himself. Heaven knows! perhaps such a fate was destined for him, and it
was impossible for him to get out of the way of misfortune.

"Mairam brought the ring, and as soon as the scoundrel saw it he grabbed
it from her hand and put it on his finger.

"'What a pretty thing it is!' he said, smirking. 'How it glistens! What
a precious ring! What wonderfully beautiful brilliants! What ought I to
give you for such a ring? Tell me. It pleases me exceedingly. Yes,
without joking, sell it to me. No, we will arrange it otherwise: I will
give you all kinds of goods out of my store at a very low price, yes,
very cheap. May the apoplexy strike me if I make anything out of you! I
will sell you everything at cost price, and if you wish, will give you
ten kopecks rebate on the ruble.'

"'No, my dear sir,' said Mairam, embarrassed. 'Can one sell a souvenir
of the Czar, and one of such great value? We have no occasion to do it.
We are no Jews, to sell off everything, to turn into money whatever
comes into our hands. Are we such poor beggars that we cannot have
something good and valuable in our chest? No, Mr. John, what you say
seems to me to be very singular. You are rich, yet you say that you have
never in your life seen a gold watch nor a ring set with brilliants. It
seems to me a fine new custom that one must immediately have what one
sees. No, dear sir, cast not your eyes upon our property; be content
with what you have.'

"'Mrs. Mairam,' said the scoundrel, smirking, 'why are you so angry? May
one not joke with you?'

"'A fine joke!' I said, putting in my oar. 'You looked at the trees, and
you will at once tear them down. You fell on the fruit like a wolf. You
saw the garden, and at once wanted to buy. Now you want the ring, and
will exchange for it your wares. What sort of tomfoolery are you talking
to us? You are either crazy yourself or will make others so. The apple
falls not far from the stem--one sees that in you.'

"'Aunt Hripsime, why are you so cross? Dare one not jest?'

"'Enough, enough; I understand your joke very well,' I cried

"Yes, we women scolded him right well, but Sarkis said no earthly word.
He sat there dumb and speechless as the stick in my hand. The Lord God
gave him a tongue to speak with, but, dear heaven, he sat there like a
clod and never uttered a syllable. I was like to burst with wrath.

"Then that unscrupulous fellow repeated his speech. 'Don't you
understand a joke? Have you, then, no sense of fun?' He would have
struck us over the ear, and that the fellow called a joke! And how the
creature looked! His face was like a drum-skin. It was as though someone
had wiped off the holy oil from this grimacing mask with a butcher's
sponge. Yes, here you see how people become rich; how they get hold of
other people's property. Conscience hunts the scoundrel to the deuce: he
lets his skin grow thick; feigns outwardly to be dull; if anyone spits
in his face he regards it only as a May-shower; if anyone goes for him
for his rascality, he takes it as a joke. And so the rascals become
rich! One must be born to those things, that's the way I see it.

"If you knew all that we said to this scoundrel's face! We all but
seized him by the collar and threw him out the gate. We belabored him
well, but the fellow stood as if dumb, remained silent, and laughed in
our faces as if we had been speaking to each other and not to him. He
neither took the watch out of his pocket nor the ring from his finger.
Finally, I thought to myself, 'I will wait a little and see what will

"And do you know what this bad fellow said to our Sarkis after a short
silence? 'Your watch and ring please me well, old fellow. Let me take
them for a month or two. I will send them to Moscow and have some like
them made for myself. As soon as I get them back I will give them back
to you unhurt.'

"Our stupid Sarkis dared not say no, and he had his way.

"'Take them,' said Sarkis, 'but take care that they do not go astray,

"'But what are you thinking about?' answered the scoundrel. 'Am I
then--. Where do you buy your calico?' the scoundrel began after a
pause. 'How much do you pay an ell? Where do you buy your linen cloth?
How high does it come by the ell? Where do you buy your silk and satin?'

"Heaven knows what all he prated about, and Sarkis answered him and told
everything just as it really was.

"'We buy our manufactured goods of Yellow Pogos,' and told the prices
of everything without reserve.

"'Have you lost your wits, man?' cried Hemorrhoid Jack. 'Can any man in
his full senses buy anything of Yellow Pogos? Don't you know that he is
a swindler? Why don't you buy your goods of me? I will give them to you
cheaper by half,'

"To this Sarkis answered, 'When I need something again I will buy it of

"I knew well enough that Sarkis needed nothing at the time, and that he
said this only to get rid of the fellow. But Jack did not or would not
understand, and began again.

"'No, do not put it that way,' he said. 'Come to-morrow and pick out
what pleases you. Do not think for a minute that I wish to make money
out of you. Let the goods lie in your closet, for, between ourselves,
goods were very cheap in Moscow this year, and I cleverly threw out my
line and bought everything at half price. This year is a lucky one for
my customers. If one of them will let his goods lie a little while he
will certainly double his money on them. Yes, buy, I tell you, but not
by the ell. Buy by the piece and you will not regret it, I assure you. I
will send you in the morning five or six different kinds of goods.'

"'But why such haste?' said Mairam. 'My chest of drawers is full of
stuff for clothes, and what I am wearing is still quite new. If we need
anything we will come to you.'

"'What are you talking about, Auntie Mairam?' answered Hemorrhoid Jack.
'Do you not believe me? I tell you, you can get double for the goods,
and if you cannot use everything yourself, give it to your neighbors.
You will do good business. On my word of honor, I swear to you, you will
make double on it. Would I lie for the sake of such a trifle? Whom do
you think you have here? But that is a small matter: I have still
something better to propose. You must take a shipment of tea from me. In
the winter the price will rise, and you can make enormous profits out of
it. To-morrow I will send you one chest--for the present. Well? Now,
really, I will send it to you.'

"'My dear John,' exclaimed Sarkis, 'you must know how risky it is to
begin a new business. I have never handled tea, and the thing appears
to me somewhat daring. I know no customers for tea, and understand
nothing about the goods. If it remains lying by me and spoils--'

"'What empty straw are you threshing now?' cried Hemorrhoid Jack. 'As
soon as the people know that you have tea to sell they will of their own
accord come running into your store. Do you think that you will have to
look up customers? In a week or two not a trace of your tea will remain.
I speak from practical experience. This year little tea has been brought
from Siberia, and what they have brought has almost all fallen into my
hands. Do not think that I seek a buyer in you! God forbid! When I
learned what a good man you were, I thought to myself, "I must give him
a chance to make something. Yes, I want him to make a few kopecks." Do
you think I am in need of purchasers? Now, Sarkis, to-morrow I will send
you the goods. What?'

"'By heaven, I know not how I ought to answer you. Do you know, I am
afraid,' said Sarkis.

"The poor fellow could say nothing farther, for he was such an honest,
good-natured fellow that it was hard for him to refuse anybody anything.
The word 'no' did not exist for him.

"'You are talking nonsense,' began Hemorrhoid Jack anew. 'Give up your
grocery and set up a wholesale business. Manage it according to the
European plan, and you shall see how thankful to me you will be in time.
Do you believe that I am your enemy? Would I advise you badly? Now, the
matter is settled. In the morning I will send you several chests of tea
and put them in your store. You will find out that Hemorrhoid Jack
wishes you no ill. Yes, I will say something even better. You know what
machorka is?--a cheap tobacco that the poor folk smoke. What do you
think of this stuff? Do you think that there is a class of goods more
profitable than this? People make thousands from it, and build
themselves fine houses. And what expenses have they with it? Put the
tobacco in an empty stable or shed and it may lie there. A chest of it
put on sale in your store and I tell you, if you do not make ruble for
ruble out of it, then spit in my face.

"'Last spring most of this stuff was in the hands of a Cossack. The
stupid fellow didn't know what he ought to expect for it, and he needed
money--this gander! I brought him home with me; had brandy, bread, and
ham set out; and, after a little talk back and forth, I bought 400
chests at half price. Half I paid in cash, the rest in eighteen months.
Now, wasn't that a good trade? If I don't make my 3,000 rubles out of
it, I shall be a fool. If you like, I will send you some of these goods.
Put it in your shop or in your shed and let it lie there; it eats and
drinks nothing. Now, I tell you, if you do not make 100 per cent, out of
it, spit in my face. Shall I send you a few chests of it?'

"'By heaven, I cannot go into it,' answered Sarkis. 'Do you know, I am
afraid to undertake a new trade? If the stuff does not go off or spoils
on my hands or the price falls, what shall I do? You know that our
capital consists of only a few kopecks. We spend as we earn. If I run
after the rubles and lose the kopecks thereby, who will give me
something to eat?' concluded the poor wretch, as if he scented some

"But could he free himself from that Satan of a Hemorrhoid Jack? Like a
leech he had fastened himself on his neck and demanded that he should
buy the goods.

"'Now, Sarkis,' he began again, 'the thing is settled. I am to send you
in the morning manufactured goods, tea, and tobacco. Well?'

"'I will see; I must turn it over in my mind,' stammered Sarkis. He
wanted to be rid of him, but he knew not how to begin.

"'What does that "I will see!" mean? Nothing,' the other continued. 'You
may see a thousand times and you will not find again such good goods and
such a favorable opportunity. I speak from experience. You must not let
this chance slip by or you will throw gold out of the window with your
own hands. I am talking about great gains, great profits; do you think
it is a joke?'

"'We shall see,' said poor Sarkis. 'We have many days before us. Yes, we
will surely do something.'

"'What you do now is not worth much,' cried Hemorrhoid Jack. 'I see that
if I leave the thing to your decision, in five years you will not have
reached one. Isn't that true? In the morning I will send you one load of
goods and the rest later.'

"With these words he seized his cap, quickly made his adieus, and went

"It was nearly one o'clock; Mairam and Takusch were sitting there asleep
and I also was very sleepy, but I fought against my sleepiness to watch
that devil of a Hemorrhoid Jack. Mankind can be a priest to
mankind--also a Satan!

"When he was in the street, Sarkis said to me: 'What a wonderful
conversation we have had this evening. Of all this man has said, I
understand nothing. His purposes are not exactly bad, but I don't know
how it happens--my heart presages something of evil.'

"I was just going to answer him when suddenly I sneezed; but only once.

"'See now,' I said to Sarkis; 'I was right in saying he was going to
trick you. Now it has proved itself.'

"'If one sneezes only once by day that is a bad sign, but at night it
means something good,' he interrupted me.

"'Oh,' I said, 'do not, I pray, give me lessons; don't teach me what a
sneeze is the sign of. Whether it is in the daytime or at night it is a
bad sign, and if one just made up his mind to do anything, he should let
it drop.'

"Sarkis would not give in that I was right, but began to chatter about a
sneeze at night being a good thing. I said no and he said yes, and so it
went on until I finally gave it up."

"'Oh, 'I said, 'have your own way, but when misfortune comes to you do
not blame me for it.'

"'I have really begun nothing,' he observed. 'That was only a talk. We
have only discussed something. I have really no desire to try my hand
with the tea and tobacco.'

"That he said to me, but heaven only knows! perhaps in his thoughts he
was already counting the thousands he hoped to earn. Money has such
power that my blessed grandmother always said that the devil had
invented it. He had racked his brains to find a way to lead mankind into
wickedness and did not succeed until he invented money. Then he was
master of our souls. How many men money has deprived of reason! Sarkis
was not of so firm a mind that he would be able to stand out against
such rosy hopes.

"The next day, early in the morning, the shop-boy came running into the
house in a great hurry, and said that nine cart-loads of goods were
standing at the gate. The man who was in charge of them was asking for

"'What kind of an invasion is this!' cried Sarkis. 'I must go and see
who it is. Perhaps the loads are not for me at all. God knows for whom
they are!'

"He went out, and we after him. Although I had not seen the loads of
goods, I knew the whole story in a moment.

"Before we had reached the gate a man met us and said:

"'My master sends you greeting and begs you to take these nine
wagon-loads of goods and sign for them.'

"'Who is your master?' we asked, all together.

"'Hemorrhoid Jack. Don't you know him? He was at your house last

"I was ready to burst with anger.

"'You fellow,' I said, 'who told your master to send these goods here?
Have we ordered anything? Turn at once and get out of the room.'

"'Is that so!' said the man. 'After a thing is settled you can't take
back your word. Where shall I put the goods now?'

"'Where you brought them from, take them back there!'

"'The coach-house is closed.'

"'That does not concern us; that is your master's affair.'

"'If he were here I would tell him, but he is not here.'

"'Where is he then?' I asked.

"'He has gone to Taganrog.'

"'When did he start?'

"'About two hours ago. He will not be back for two months, for he has
very important business in the courts.'

"It could not be doubted now that this villain of a John had already
begun his tricks; but that innocent Sarkis did not see through his
devilish purposes. Had I been in his place I would have run immediately
to the City Hall and told every detail of the business, and the thing
would have come out all right. But Sarkis was not the man for that.

"'Well, if that is the case drive into the yard and unload. The goods
cannot stand in the street. When Jack comes back from Taganrog I will
arrange things with him in some way.'

"The wagons came into the yard with a clatter and the driver unloaded
the goods and piled them up in the coach-house. I stood as if turned to
stone and silently watched this move in their game. 'What will come of
it?' I thought to myself.

"Ah, but I would rather have died than see what did come of it!

"When the goods were unloaded the clerk demanded a receipt, which Sarkis
gave him without hesitation, whereupon the clerk went away satisfied.

"Later we heard that Jack had not gone to Taganrog at all, and had only
ordered the clerk to say so.

"That same day when we were sitting at dinner, Sarkis turned to me and
said: 'See, Hripsime, your sneeze has cheated you. Did you not say that
Jack was going to play a trick on me? You see something very different
has happened. This forenoon four or five persons came into my shop who
wished to buy tea and tobacco. I told them the matter was not yet
settled; that we had not agreed on the price; as soon as the agreement
was made I would begin business. Do you see? I have not advertised that
I was going to handle the goods, yet everybody knows it and one customer
after another comes into my store. How will it be when the goods are put
on sale?--they will fight for them. It will give me a great deal to do;
I must only go to John and settle on the terms. Yes, little mother, such
a wholesale trade is not to be despised; the wholesaler can often make
more money in a moment than the retailer makes in two years. Yes, my
love, in business that is really so!'

"'God grant that it may be so!' I said, and nothing more was said about

"Several months passed by and November came. One evening we were sitting
together chatting comfortably when the door opened softly and an old
woman entered. I knew immediately that she was a matchmaker. In three
days Takusch was betrothed to a plain, middle-rate man. The wedding was
to take place the next winter on her father's name-day. As a dowry her
parents promised 3,000 rubles--1,500 in cash, and the rest in jewels.

"Tagusch was at that time fifteen years old. Although I had lived in her
parents' house I had never looked right attentively at her face,
scarcely knew, in fact, whether she was beautiful or ugly; but when on
her betrothal day she put on a silk dress and adorned herself as is
customary at such a festive time; when she had put on her head a satin
fez with gold tassels and a flower set with brilliants, I fairly gaped
with admiration. I am almost eighty years old, but in all my life I have
never seen a more beautiful girl.

"I am no dwarf, but she was a few inches taller than I. She was slender
as a sweet-pine tree. Her hands were delicate and soft, her fingers were
like wax. Hair and eyebrows were black, and her face like snow. Her
cheeks were tinged rose-red, and her glance! that I cannot forget even
to this day. It was brighter than a genuine Holland diamond. Her
eyelashes were so long that they cast shadows on her cheeks. No, such a
charming creature I have never seen in dreams, let alone reality. She
was--God forgive my sins--the pure image of the Mother of God in our
church; yes, she was even more beautiful. When I looked at her I could
not turn my eyes away again. I gazed at her and could not look enough.
On the betrothal day I sat in the corner of the room with my eyes nailed
on Takusch.

"'How sorry I am,' thought I, 'that you with that angel face are to be
the wife of a commonplace man, to be the mother of a family and go into
a dirty, smoky kitchen. Shall your tender hands become hard as leather
with washing, ironing, kneading, and who knows what housework beside?
Shall your angel cheeks fade from the heat of the oven and your eyes
lose their diamond-shine from sewing?' Yes, so thought I, and my heart
bled within me for this girl who ought to wear a queen's crown and live
in a palace. Surely, if this rose maiden had lived in olden times she
would certainly have married a king or a king's son. And the poor thing
stood there like a lamb, for she did not understand what life was. She
thought marriage would be nothing more than a change in her
dwelling-place. Oh, but I was sorry that evening that she was going to
marry only an ordinary, but still eligible, young man, and yet it would
have been a great good fortune for her if this had come to pass. Had we
thought at that time that great misfortunes were in store for the poor
child! And that cursed Hemorrhoid Jack was the cause of them all!

"That betrothal day was the last happy day of the poor wretches. I
never afterward saw smiles on their faces, for from that day their
circumstances grew worse and worse and their business became very bad.
They lost house and ground, moved about for several months from one
rented house to another, until finally they disappeared from the city.

"The day after the betrothal Hemorrhoid Jack sent word to Sarkis by his
clerk that Sarkis must pay 2,700 rubles for the tobacco and tea and 184
rubles for the manufactured goods. I have forgotten to tell you that
among the latter were old-fashioned dress-goods, taxed cloth, linen,
satin, and some silk. The clerk also said that if Sarkis did not pay the
184 rubles the ring and watch would be retained.

"Poor Sarkis was completely dazed.

"'Have I bought the goods?' he asked.

"'Certainly you have bought them,' answered the unscrupulous clerk.
'Otherwise you would not have sold a chest of tea and a bale of tobacco.
Beside, the coat your boy is wearing was made from our cloth.'

"This was true. On the third day after receiving the goods, Sarkis had
sold a bale of tobacco and a chest of tea, and had cut off several yards
of cloth. It was very singular that in the course of three months Sarkis
had not once caught sight of Hemorrhoid Jack to call him to account for
the delivery of the goods. He had been several times to his house, where
they said, 'He is at the store.' At the store they said Jack was at
home. It was very evident that he wished to defraud Sarkis. After much
talk back and forth the matter came into the courts, and since Sarkis
had sold part of the goods and had given a receipt for them, he had to
pay the sum demanded.

"For several months past business had been going very badly with the
poor fellow and he could not raise the required sum, so he had to give
up his property. First they drove the poor man out of his house and
emptied his store and his storehouse. Then they sold the tobacco and the
tea, for which no one would give more than fifty rubles, for both were
half rotten. The store and all that was in it were then auctioned off
for a few hundred rubles, and finally the house was offered for sale. No
one would buy it, for among our people the praiseworthy custom rules
that they never buy a house put up at auction till they convince
themselves that the owner sells it of his own free-will. The household
furniture was also sold, and Sarkis became almost a beggar, and was
obliged, half naked, to leave his house, with his wife and children.

"I proposed that they should occupy my house, but he would not have it.
'From to-day the black earth is my dwelling-place,' he said, and rented
a small house at the edge of the town near where the fields begin.

"When the neighbors found out the treachery of Hemorrhoid Jack, they
were terribly angry, and one of them threw a note into his yard in which
was written: that if he took possession of poor Sarkis's house they
would tear or burn it down. That was just what John wished, and he
immediately sent carpenters to tear down the house and stable and then
he sold the wood.

"At this time I became very sick and lay two months in bed. When I got
up again I thought to myself, 'I must go and visit the poor wretches!' I
went to their little house, but found the door locked and the windows
boarded up. I asked a boy, 'My child, do you know where the people of
this house are?' 'Two weeks ago they got into a wagon and drove away,'
answered the lad. 'Where are they gone?' I asked. 'That I don't know,'
he said.

"I would not have believed it, but an old woman came up to me on the
street, of her own accord, and said:

"'They all got into a wagon and have moved away into a Russian village.'

"What the village was called she could not tell me, and so every trace
of them was lost.

"Many years later a gentleman came from Stavropol to our city, who gave
me some news of the poor wretches. They had settled in a Cossack
village--he told me the name, but I have forgotten--where at first they
suffered great want; and just as things were going a little better with
them, Mairam and Sarkis died of the cholera and Takusch and Toros were
left alone. Soon after, a Russian officer saw Takusch and was greatly
pleased with her. After a few months she married him. Toros carried on
his father's business for a time, then gave it up and joined the army.
So much I found out from the gentleman from Stavropol.

"Some time later I met again one who knew Takusch. He told me that she
was now a widow. Her husband had been a drunkard, spent his whole nights
in inns, often struck his poor wife, and treated her very badly. Finally
they brought him home dead. Toros's neck had been broken at a horse-race
and he was dead. He said also that Takusch had almost forgotten the
Armenian language and had changed her faith.

"'That is the history of the Vacant Yard."

Translated by E.B. Collins, B.S.

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