Abram Yelov

The more they loved each other, the ruder they were to each other. But under this rudeness was hidden such a tender love that anyone who saw it could not fail to be touched to the depths of his heart. Several times I, who knew what was beneath some rudeness or other, was so moved that I could not hold back the tears which involuntarily came to my eyes.

For instance, a scene such as the following would occur. Yelov would happen to be a guest in some house where he was offered candy. According to convention he would be obliged to eat it so as not to offend the person who offered it. However, even though very fond of candy, he would not eat it for anything in the world but would hide it in his pocket to take to Pogossian. And then he would not give it to him simply, but with every kind of mockery and a volley of insults.

He usually did so as follows: during conversation at dinner, he would, as if unexpectedly, find the candy in his pocket and would offer it to Pogossian saying: ‘How the devil did this garbage happen to be in my pocket? Here, gobble up this muck; you’re an expert in swallowing everything that’s no good to anyone else.’ Pogossian would take it, also scolding: ‘Such a delicacy is not for a snout like yours. You can only gorge yourself on acorns like your brothers, the pigs.’ And while Pogossian was eating the candy, Yelov with a disdainful expression would say: ‘Look how he is gobbling the sweet stuff: how he relishes it like a Karabakh ass munching thistles! Now, after this, he’ll be running after me like a little dog merely because I gave him this loathsome rubbish.’ And the talk would continue in this fashion.

Besides being a phenomenon in the knowledge of books and authors, Yelov later on became a phenomenon in the knowledge of languages. I, who then spoke eighteen languages, felt a greenhorn in comparison with him. Before I knew a single word of any European language, he already spoke almost all of them so perfectly that it was hard to tell that the language he was speaking was not his own. For example, the following incident occurred:

Skridlov, the professor of archaeology (about whom we will speak later), had to take a certain Afghan holy relic across the river Amu Darya, but to do this was impossible since a close watch was kept on all persons crossing the Russian border in either direction, both by the Afghan guards and by the British soldiers who, for some reason or other, were there at that time in great numbers.