THE FORGED COUPON
FEDOR MIHAILOVICH SMOKOVNIKOV, the presi- dent of the local Income Tax Department, a man of unswerving honesty--and proud of it, too-- a gloomy Liberal, a free-thinker, and an enemy to every manifestation of religious feeling, which he thought a relic of superstition, came home from his office feeling very much annoyed. The Gov- ernor of the province had sent him an extraordi- narily stupid minute, almost assuming that his dealings had been dishonest.
Fedor Mihailovich felt embittered, and wrote at once a sharp answer. On his return home everything seemed to go contrary to his wishes.
It was five minutes to five, and he expected the dinner to be served at once, but he was told it was not ready. He banged the door and went to his study. Somebody knocked at the door. "Who the devil is that?" he thought; and shouted,--
"Who is there?"
The door opened and a boy of fifteen came in, the son of Fedor Mihailovich, a pupil of the fifth class of the local school.
"What do you want?"
"It is the first of the month to-day, father."
"Well! You want your money?"
It had been arranged that the father should pay his son a monthly allowance of three roubles as pocket money. Fedor Mihailovich frowned, took out of his pocket-book a coupon of two roubles fifty kopeks which he found among the bank- notes, and added to it fifty kopeks in silver out of the loose change in his purse. The boy kept si- lent, and did not take the money his father prof- fered him.
"Father, please give me some more in ad- vance."
"I would not ask for it, but I have borrowed a small sum from a friend, and promised upon my word of honour to pay it off. My honour is dear to me, and that is why I want another three rou- bles. I don't like asking you; but, please, father, give me another three roubles."
"I have told you--"
"I know, father, but just for once."
"You have an allowance of three roubles and you ought to be content. I had not fifty kopeks when I was your age."
"Now, all my comrades have much more.
Petrov and Ivanitsky have fifty roubles a month."
"And I tell you that if you behave like them you will be a scoundrel. Mind that."
"What is there to mind? You never under- stand my position. I shall be disgraced if I don't pay my debt. It is all very well for you to speak as you do."
"Be off, you silly boy! Be off!"
Fedor Mihailovich jumped from his seat and pounced upon his son. "Be off, I say!" he shouted. "You deserve a good thrashing, all you boys!"
His son was at once frightened and embittered. The bitterness was even greater than the fright. With his head bent down he hastily turned to the door. Fedor Mihailovich did not intend to strike him, but he was glad to vent his wrath, and went on shouting and abusing the boy till he had closed the door.
When the maid came in to announce that din- ner was ready, Fedor Mihailovich rose.
"At last!" he said. "I don't feel hungry any longer."
He went to the dining-room with a sullen face. At table his wife made some remark, but he gave her such a short and angry answer that she ab- stained from further speech. The son also did not lift his eyes from his plate, and was silent all the time. The trio finished their dinner in si- lence, rose from the table and separated, without a word.
After dinner the boy went to his room, took the coupon and the change out of his pocket, and threw the money on the table. After that he took off his uniform and put on a jacket.
He sat down to work, and began to study Latin grammar out of a dog's-eared book. After a while he rose, closed and bolted the door, shifted the money into a drawer, took out some ciga- rette papers, rolled one up, stuffed it with cotton wool, and began to smoke.
He spent nearly two hours over his grammar and writing books without understanding a word
of what he saw before him; then he rose and be- gan to stamp up and down the room, trying to recollect all that his father had said to him. All the abuse showered upon him, and worst of all his father's angry face, were as fresh in his mem- ory as if he saw and heard them all over again. "Silly boy! You ought to get a good thrash- ing!" And the more he thought of it the angrier be grew. He remembered also how his father said: "I see what a scoundrel you will turn out. I know you will. You are sure to become a cheat, if you go on like that. . . " He had cer- tainly forgotten how he felt when he was young! "What crime have I committed, I wonder? I wanted to go to the theatre, and having no money borrowed some from Petia Grouchetsky. Was that so very wicked of me? Another father would have been sorry for me; would have asked how it all happened; whereas he just called me names. He never thinks of anything but himself. When it is he who has not got something he wants --that is a different matter! Then all the house is upset by his shouts. And I--I am a scoundrel, a cheat, he says. No, I don't love him, although he is my father. It may be wrong, but I hate him."
There was a knock at the door. The servant brought a letter--a message from his friend. They want an answer," said the servant.
The letter ran as follows: " I ask you now for the third time to pay me back the six roubles you have borrowed; you are trying to avoid me. That is not the way an honest man ought to be- have. Will you please send the amount by my messenger? I am myself in a frightful fix. Can you not get the money somewhere?--Yours, ac- cording to whether you send the money or not, with scorn, or love, Grouchetsky."
"There we have it! Such a pig! Could he
not wait a while? I will have another try."
Mitia went to his mother. This was his last hope. His mother was very kind, and hardly ever refused him anything. She would probably have helped him this time also out of his trouble, but she was in great anxiety: her younger child, Petia, a boy of two, had fallen ill. She got angry with Mitia for rushing so noisily into the nursery, and refused him almost without listening to what he had to say. Mitia muttered something to him- self and turned to go. The mother felt sorry for him. "Wait, Mitia,"" she said; "I have not got the money you want now, but I will get it for you to-morrow."
But Mitia was still raging against his father.
"What is the use of having it to-morrow, when I want it to-day? I am going to see a friend. That is all I have got to say."
He went out, banging the door. . . .
"Nothing else is left to me. He will tell me how to pawn my watch," he thought, touching his watch in his pocket.
Mitia went to his room, took the coupon and the watch from the drawer, put on his coat, and went to Mahin.
MAHIN was his schoolfellow, his senior, a grown- up young man with a moustache. He gambled, had a large feminine acquaintance, and always had ready cash. He lived with his aunt. Mitia quite realised that Mahin was not a respectable fellow, but when he was in his company he could not help doing what he wished. Mahin was in when Mitia called, and was just preparing to go to the theatre. His untidy room smelt of scented soap and eau-de-Cologne.
"That's awful, old chap," said Mahin, when Mitia telling him about his troubles, showed the coupon and the fifty kopeks, and added that he wanted nine roubles more. "We might, of course, go and pawn your watch. But we might do something far better " And Mahin winked an eye.
"Something quite simple " Mahin took the coupon in his hand. " Put ONE before the 2.50 and it will be 12.50."
"But do such coupons exist?"
"Why, certainly; the thousand roubles notes have coupons of 12.50. I have cashed one in the same way."
"You don't say so?"
"Well, yes or no?" asked Mahin, taking the pen and smoothing the coupon with the fingers of his left hand.
"But it is wrong."
"Nonsense, indeed," thought Mitia, and again his father's hard words came back to his memory. "Scoundrel! As you called me that, I might as well be it " He looked into Mahin's face. Mahin looked at him, smiling with perfect ease.
"Well?" he said.
"All right. I don't mind."
Mahin carefully wrote the unit in front of 2.50.
"Now let us go to the shop across the road;
they sell photographers' materials there. I just happen to want a frame--for this young person here " He took out of his pocket a photograph of a young lady with large eyes, luxuriant hair, and an uncommonly well-developed bust.
"Is she not sweet? Eh?"
"Yes, yes. . .of course. . ."
"Well, you see.--But let us go."
Mahin took his coat, and they left the house.
THE two boys, having rung the door-bell, entered the empty shop, which had shelves along the walls and photographic appliances on them, together with show-cases on the counters. A plain woman, with a kind face, came through the inner door and asked from behind the counter what they required.
"A nice frame, if you please, madam."
"At what price?" asked the woman; she wore mittens on her swollen fingers with which she rap- idly handled picture-frames of different shapes.
"These are fifty kopeks each; and these are a little more expensive. There is rather a pretty one, of quite a new style; one rouble and twenty kopeks."
"All right, I will have this. But could not you make it cheaper? Let us say one rouble."
"We don't bargain in our shop," said the shopkeeper with a dignified air.
"Well, I will take it," said Mahin, and put the coupon on the counter. "Wrap up the frame and give me change. But please be quick. We
must be off to the theatre, and it is getting late."
"You have plenty of time," said the shop- keeper, examining the coupon very closely because of her shortsightedness.
"It will look lovely in that frame, don't you think so? " said Mahin, turning to Mitia.
"Have you no small change? " asked the shop- woman.
"I am sorry, I have not. My father gave me that, so I have to cash it."
"But surely you have one rouble twenty?"
"I have only fifty kopeks in cash. But what are you afraid of? You don't think, I suppose, that we want to cheat you and give you bad money? "
"Oh, no; I don't mean anything of the sort."
"You had better give it to me back. We will cash it somewhere else."
"How much have I to pay you back? Eleven and something."
She made a calculation on the counter, opened the desk, took out a ten-roubles note, looked for change and added to the sum six twenty-kopeks coins and two five-kopek pieces.
"Please make a parcel of the frame," said Mahin, taking the money in a leisurely fashion.
"Yes, sir " She made a parcel and tied it with a string.
Mitia only breathed freely when the door bell rang behind them, and they were again in the
"There are ten roubles for you, and let me have the rest. I will give it back to you."
Mahin went off to the theatre, and Mitia called on Grouchetsky to repay the money he had bor- rowed from him.
AN hour after the boys were gone Eugene Mihail- ovich, the owner of the shop, came home, and be- gan to count his receipts.
"Oh, you clumsy fool! Idiot that you are!" he shouted, addressing his wife, after having seen the coupon and noticed the forgery.
"But I have often seen you, Eugene, accepting coupons in payment, and precisely twelve rouble ones," retorted his wife, very humiliated, grieved, and all but bursting into tears. "I really don't know how they contrived to cheat me," she went on. "They were pupils of the school, in uni- form. One of them was quite a handsome boy, and looked so comme il faut."
"A comme il faut fool, that is what you are!" The husband went on scolding her, while he counted the cash. . . . When I accept
coupons, I see what is written on them. And you probably looked only at the boys' pretty faces. You had better behave yourself in your old age."
His wife could not stand this, and got into a fury.
"That is just like you men! Blaming every- body around you. But when it is you who lose fifty-four roubles at cards--that is of no conse- quence in your eyes."
"That is a different matter
"I don't want to talk to you," said his wife, and went to her room. There she began to re- mind herself that her family was opposed to her marriage, thinking her present husband far below her in social rank, and that it was she who insisted on marrying him. Then she went on thinking of the child she had lost, and how indifferent her husband had been to their loss. She hated him so intensely at that moment that she wished for his death. Her wish frightened her, however, and she hurriedly began to dress and left the house. When her husband came from the shop to the inner rooms of their flat she was gone. Without waiting for him she had dressed and gone off to friends--a teacher of French in the school, a Russified Pole, and his wife--who had invited her and her husband to a party in their house that evening.
THE guests at the party had tea and cakes offered to them, and sat down after that to play whist at a number of card-tables.
The partners of Eugene Mihailovich's wife were the host himself, an officer, and an old and very stupid lady in a wig, a widow who owned a music-shop; she loved playing cards and played remarkably well. But it was Eugene Mihailo- vich's wife who was the winner all the time. The best cards were continually in her hands. At her side she had a plate with grapes and a pear and was in the best of spirits.
"And Eugene Mihailovich? Why is he so
late?" asked the hostess, who played at another table.
"Probably busy settling accounts," said Eugene Mihailovich's wife. "He has to pay off the