Not so long ago a man of about forty by the name of Vaska, nicknamed Red, was employed in a house of prostitution in a city on the Volga. He owed his nickname to the fact that he had bright red hair and a heavy face the color of raw meat.
Thick-lipped, with big ears that struck out from his skull like handles on a wash-basin, he struck people by the cruel expression of his small colorless eyes. Sunk in fat, they shone like icicles, and in spite of his well-filled, stocky frame, they always had a ravenously hungry look. Short and thick-set, he wore a blue Cossack coat, wide woolen trousers and brightly shined top-boots with fine creases. His red hair grew in curls, and when he put on his smart cap, they showed from under it and fringed the band, and then it seemed as though Red were wearing a ruddy wreath.
He was called Red by his comrades; the girls called him the Hangman, because he liked to torture them.
There were several institutions of higher learning in the city, and many young people. For that reason, the houses of prostitution formed a whole districta long street and several alleys. Vaska was known in all the houses. His name struck terror into the hearts of all the girls and when they quarreled among themselves, or with the madam, she would threaten them:
Look out! Dont try my patience or Ill call Red!
Sometimes this threat alone was sufficient to quiet the girls and make them give up their demands, often quite just and reasonable ones, as, for example, the demand for better food or for the right to leave the house to take a walk. But if the threat was not enough to subdue the girls, the proprietress called Vaska.
He would come walking with the slow gait of a man who is in no hurry, lock himself up with the proprietress in her room, and there she would name the girls who were to be punished.
He would listen to her complaint without a word, and simply say:
Then he would go to the girls. They blanched and quailed at the sight of him. He saw this, and relished their fear. If the scene took place in the kitchen, where the girls dined and took their tea, he would stand for a long time at the door, looking at them, as silent and motionless as a statue, and these moments were no less painful than the tortures to which he subjected them.
After watching them for a while, he would say in an indifferent, husky voice:
Mashka, come here.
Vasily Mironych! the girl would sometimes say imploringly and firmly. Dont touch me! Dont touch me. If you do, Ill strangle myself.
Come here, you fool, Ill give you the rope. Vaska would say indifferently, without even a sneer.
He always insisted that the culprits should come to him of their own accord.
Ill call for help! Ill break the windows! The girl, choking with fear, would enumerate all the things she might do.
Break the windows! Ill make you eat the glass, Vaska would say.
And in most cases the stubborn girl would give in and go over to the Hangman. If she refused, Vaska would walk up to her, take her by the hair and throw her to the floor. Her own friendsoften those who felt as she didwould tie her hands and feet, gag her, and right there, on the kitchen floor and before
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