Madame Blanchard, a sixty-one year old woman, met Ivan Nedachin, a former lieutenant colonel, in a café on the Boulevard des Italiens. They fell in love. Their love was more a matter of sensuality than common sense. Within three months the lieutenant colonel had disappeared with Madame Blanchard’s stocks and the jewelry she had given him to be appraised by a jeweler on the rue de la Paix.
“Accès de folie passagère,”1 the doctor diagnosed Madame Blanchard’s ensuing fit.
Regaining consciousness, the old woman confessed everything to her daughter-in-law. Her daughter-in-law went to the police. Nedachin was arrested in a wine cellar in Montparnasse where Moscow gypsies sang. In prison Nedachin turned yellow and flabby. He was tried in chamber number fourteen of the criminal court. First there was a case involving an automobile matter, followed by the case of sixteen-year-old Raymond Lepique, who had shot his girlfriend out of jealousy. The lieutenant colonel came after the boy. The gendarme pushed him out into the light, as a bear is pushed into a circus arena. Frenchmen in badly sewn jackets were shouting loudly at each other, and submissively rouged women fanned their teary faces. In front of them, on the podium beneath the Republic’s marble coat of arms, sat a red-cheeked man with a Gallic mustache, wearing a toga and a little hat.
“Eh bien, Nedachin,” he said, on seeing the accused man, “eh bien, mon ami.” And his fast burred speech washed over the shuddering lieutenant colonel.
“As a descendant of the noble line of the Nedachins,” the presiding judge loudly proclaimed, “you, my friend, are listed in the heraldic books of the Province of Tambov. An officer of the Czar’s army, you immigrated with Wrangel2 and became a policeman in Zagreb. Discrepancies in the question of what was government property and what was private property,” the presiding judge continued sonorously, the tips of his patent leather shoes darting in and out under the hem of his gown, “these discrepancies, my friend, forced you to bid the hospitable Kingdom of Yugoslavia farewell and set your sights on Paris.”
“In Paris,”—here the judge ran his eyes over some papers lying before him—“in Paris, my friend, the taxi-driver test proved a fortress you could not conquer, at which point you concentrated all the powers left to you on Madame Blanchard, who is absent from this hearing.”
The foreign words poured over Nedachin like a summer shower. He towered over the crowd—helpless, large, with dangling arms—like an animal from another world.
“Voyons,”3 the presiding judge said unexpectedly. “From where I am sitting, I can see the daughter-in-law of the esteemed Madame Blanchard.”
A fat, neckless woman, looking like a fish jammed into a frock coat, hurried with lowered head over to the witness box. Panting, lifting her short little arms to heaven, she began listing the stocks stolen from Madame Blanchard.
“Thank you very much, Madame,” the presiding judge interrupted her, nodding to a gaunt man with a well-bred, sunken face, who was sitting next to him.
The public prosecutor, rising slightly, muttered a few words and sat down again, clasping his hands. He was followed by the defense attorney, a naturalized Kiev Jew, who ranted about the Golgotha of the Russian military officers in an offended tone, as if he were in the middle of an argument. Incomprehensibly pronounced French words came sputtering out of his mouth, sounding increasingly Yiddish toward the end of his speech. The presiding judge peered blankly at the attorney for a few moments without saying a word, and then suddenly lunged to the side—toward the gaunt old man in the toga and the little hat—then lunged to the other side, to another old man just like the first.
“Ten years, my friend,” the presiding judge said meekly, nodding his head at Nedachin, and hurriedly grabbed the papers for the next case, which his secretary slid over to him.
Nedachin stood rigidly to attention. His colorless eyes blinked, his small forehead was covered with sweat.
“T’a encaissé dix ans,” the gendarme behind him said. “C’est fini, mon vieux.”4 And, quietly pushing the crowd out of the way, the gendarme led the convicted man toward the exit.
1. “A fit of temporary insanity.”
2. Baron Peter Nikolayevich Wrangel, 1878–1928, commander of the “White” anti-Bolshevik army, was forced to evacuate 150,000 soldiers and civilians by sea from the Crimea to Constantinople in November 1920, which marked the end of the Russian Civil War.
3. “Let’s see.”
4. “He’s locked you up for ten years. It’s over, old boy.”