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The Little Demon

Fyodor Sologub

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The Little Demon is a book by Russian author, Fyodor Sologub. The book is about a schoolteacher, Peredonov, who is struggling to get promoted to governmental inspector. Alongside this struggle however, is his descent into paranoia and insanity.

This book has 277 pages in the PDF version. This translation by John Cournos and Richard Aldington was originally published in 1916.

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Excerpt from 'The Little Demon'

After Mass the members of the congregation scattered to their homes. A few stopped to talk under the old maples and lindens near the white stone walls, within the enclosure. All were in holiday dress and looked at one another cheerily. It appeared as if the inhabitants of this town lived peacefully and amicably—even happily. But it was only in appearance.

Peredonov, a schoolmaster in the gymnasia, stood among his friends, and as he looked at them gravely out of his small, stealthy eyes, across the golden rims of his spectacles, he remarked:

"Princess Volchanskaya herself made the promise to Vara. 'As soon,' she said, 'as you marry him, I'll hunt up an inspector's job for him.'"

"But how can you think of marrying Varvara Dmitrievna?" asked the red-faced Falastov. "She's your first cousin."

Everyone laughed. Peredonov's usually rosy, unconcerned, somnolent face showed anger.

"Second cousin," he said gruffly, as he looked angrily past his companions.

"Did the Princess give you the promise herself?" asked Routilov, a tall, pale, smartly dressed man.

"She didn't give it to me, but to Vara," answered Peredonov.

"Of course, you are ready to believe all she tells you," said Routilov with animation. "It's easy enough to make up a tale. Why didn't you see the Princess herself?"

"This is how it was: I went with Vara, but we didn't find her in, missed her by just five minutes," explained Peredonov. "She had gone to the country, and wouldn't be back for three weeks or so. I couldn't wait for her, because I had to be back here for the exams."

"It sounds suspicious," laughed Routilov, showing his yellow teeth.

Peredonov grew thoughtful. His companions left him; Routilov alone remained.

"Of course," said Peredonov, "I can marry whom I like. Varvara is not the only one."

"You're quite right, Ardalyon Borisitch, anyone would be glad to marry you," Routilov encouraged him.

They passed out of the gate, and walked slowly in the unpaved and dusty square. Peredonov said:

"But what about the Princess? She'll be angry if I chuck Varvara."

"What's the Princess to you?" said Routilov. "You're not going with her to a kitten's christening. She ought to get you the billet first. There'll be time enough to tie yourself up—you're taking things too much on trust!"

"That's true," agreed Peredonov irresolutely.

"You ought to say to Varvara," said Routilov persuasively, "'First the billet, my dear girl, then I'll believe you.' Once you get your place, you can marry whom you like. You'd better take one of my sisters—your choice of the three. Smart, educated, young ladies, any one of them, I can say without flattery, a queen to Varvara. She's not fit to tie their shoe-strings."

"Go on," shouted Peredonov.

"It's true. What's your Varvara? Here, smell this."

Routilov bent down, broke off a fleecy stalk of henbane, crumpled it up in his hand, together with the leaves and dirty white flowers, and crushing it all between his fingers, put it under Peredonov's nose. The heavy unpleasant odour made Peredonov frown. Routilov observed:

"To crush like this, and to throw away—there's your Varvara for you; there's a big difference between her and my sisters, let me tell you, my good fellow. They are fine, lively girls—take the one you like—but you needn't be afraid of getting bored with any of them. They're quite young too—the eldest is three times younger than your Varvara."

Routilov said all this in his usual brisk and happy manner, smiling—but he was tall and narrow-chested, and seemed consumptive and frail, while from under his new and fashionable hat his scant, close-trimmed bright hair stuck out pitifully.

"No less than three times!" observed Peredonov dryly, as he took off his spectacles and began to wipe them.

"It's true enough!" exclaimed Routilov. "But you'd better look out, and don't be slow about it, while I'm alive; they too have a good opinion of themselves—if you try later you may be too late. Any one of them would have you with great pleasure."

"Yes, everyone falls in love with me here," said Peredonov with a grave boastfulness.

"There, you see, it's for you to take advantage of the moment," said Routilov persuasively.

"The chief thing is that she mustn't be lean," said Peredonov with anxiety in his voice. "I prefer a fat one."

"Don't you worry on that account," said Routilov warmly. "Even now they are plump enough girls, but they have far from reached their full growth; all this will come in good time. As soon as they marry, they'll improve, like the oldest—well, you've seen our Larissa, a regular fishpie!"

"I'd marry," said Peredonov, "but I'm afraid that Vara will make a row."

"If you're afraid of a row—I'll tell you what you ought to do," said Routilov with a sly smile. "You ought to make quick work of it; marry, say, to-day or to-morrow, and suddenly show up at home with your young wife. Say the word, and I'll arrange it for to-morrow evening? Which one do you want?"

Peredonov suddenly burst into loud, cackling laughter.

"Well, I see you like the idea—it's all settled then?" asked Routilov.

Peredonov stopped laughing quite as suddenly, and said gravely, quietly, almost in a whisper:

"She'll inform against me—that miserable jade!"

"She'll do nothing of the sort," said Routilov persuasively.

"Or she'll poison me," whispered Peredonov in fear.

"You leave it all to me," Routilov prevailed upon him, "I'll see that you are well protected——"

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