a detailed summary of:
It is a rainy November morning in Moscow. Filip Stepanovich Prokhorov, the chief bookkeeper of a large commercial trust, arrives at work. A courier named Nikita brings Prokhorov some tea, then discusses the latest news. There has been a rash of embezzlements from establishments in Moscow. In October alone, 1,500 embezzlers have absconded with cash and fled the city. In fact, Nikita reports, of the six establishments in this very building, Prokhorov's is the only one not to have suffered such a loss. Prokhorov dismisses Nikita's talk as nonsense.
Later that day, Prokhorov goes to visit the company cashier, a short and humble man called simply Vanechka. Prokhorov tells Vanechka that they’ll have to pay the workers tomorrow. The messenger who normally goes to the bank for cash is out, so Vanechka will have to go collect the 12,000 rubles.
Prokhorov goes to see the Director of Finances to get the official authorization to make the bank withdrawal. The Director doesn’t completely trust Vanechka and tells Prokhorov to accompany Vanechka to the bank.
After Prokhorov and Vanechka leave for the bank, Nikita, still worried about the rash of embezzlements, goes to see the cleaning lady, Sergeevna. He tells her to write out an authorization for him to collect her salary on her behalf.
At the bank, Prokhorov and Vanechka collect the 12,000 rubles cash. Prokhorov says that carrying the cash in a briefcase is dangerous. Instead, he says they should carry it in their inside jacket pockets. They split the money evenly between them.
Nikita suddenly appears, asking to be given his and Sergeevna’s pay right here and now. Prokhorov is insulted by this brazen effrontery. He says that Nikita and Sergeevna will be paid tomorrow like everyone else.
Prokhorov and Vanechka march out into the rainy evening. Nikita follows them, still insisting on payment. Prokhorov says it’s impossible to make official payment on the street in the rain. Nikita deftly maneuvers Prokhorov and Vanechka into a nearby bar.
Agreeing to stay and dry out for a bit, Prokhorov orders beer and crabs for the group.
Prokhorov magnanimously agrees to pay Nikita, and Vanechka counts out the sum. Pleased now, Nikita buys a few more beers for the group. Vanechka disappears for a short while and returns with some vodka. Champagne flows, and soon everyone is happy and drunk.
As the group leaves the bar, Nikita bids farewell and good luck to Prokhorov and Vanechka, assuming that they intend to abscond with all the remaining money.
The drunken Prokhorov, in no mood to end the evening’s festivities, invites Vanechka home with him for dinner.
Prokhorov and Vanechka—bearing various foods and drinks they have purchased on the way—show up at Prokhorov’s apartment. Prokhorov’s wife, Yaninochka, gets one look at them, spits on Prokhorov, calls him a drunken louse and slams the door in his face.
Prokhorov and Vanechka sit out on the steps for a while, then Prokhorov’s 12-year-old son, Kolka, opens the door and lets them in. While Vanechka waits in the main room, Prokhorov goes into the kitchen to speak to his wife. They shriek at one another. Yaninochka slaps Prokhorov. He tosses all her decorative knickknacks on the floor and crushes them underfoot.
After much yelling and screaming, Prokhorov emerges from the kitchen and apologizes, saying that his wife is slightly indisposed and will not be able to join them for dinner.
Prokhorov and Vanechka drink some cognac. Prokhorov starts crying, complaining about his domestic fate as Yaninochka again shouts out, “Drunken louse!”.
Prokhorov gets angry and declares that he is leaving. He snatches some underwear off a clothesline and slaps Yaninochka with it to get past her, with Vanechka following close behind.
On the way out of the building they pass Zoika, Prokhorov’s attractive step-daughter. Vanechka, smiles goofily at her, unable to say a word.
Prokhorov and Vanechka get in a carriage and ride to the center of town. Two women quickly scoop up the pair and coax them into a restaurant named Chateau des fleurs
The next morning, Prokhorov, with a terrible hangover, wakes up, keeping his eyes closed. He tries to recall the events of the previous evening, but it’s all a blur: food and drink, champagne, dancing Jews, and a woman named Isabella.
Prokhorov opens his eyes and is shocked to find that he is in the private compartment of a moving train. Sitting opposite him is the very same portly Isabella. Vanechka is sleeping on the upper berth. The train is moving at full speed toward Leningrad.
Isabella advises Prokhorov not to disturb Vanechka, because Vanechka just had a lovers’ quarrel with his “wife”, who got off at a previous station. Astounded, Prokhorov wants to know what “wife”? A wife just as she (Isabella) is to Prokhorov, Isabella responds.
Vanechka groggily wakes up. Isabella helps them recall that during the evening Nikita joined their group celebration and squandered Sergeevna’s money. Later, Nikita suggested that Prokhorov and Vanechka get on the train. It was even Nikita who bought the tickets.
Prokhorov grabs Vanechka and hurries off to the washroom with him. Vanechka says that his “wife”, before getting off the train, stole 100 rubles from his briefcase.
Prokhorov and Vanechka count the remaining money: 10,740 rubles and change, meaning that they’re missing 1,296 rubles. Vanechka whines, worrying about what will happen to them. Prokhorov, with a calm that surprises even himself, tells Vanechka not to worry, that nothing will happen to them. And since they've never been to Leningrad before, they should go see the city, even make the acquaintance of some former countesses and princesses.
Do as embezzlers do.
Virtual Tour of Leningrad
(currently disguised as
Prokhorov and Vanechka return to their compartment. Afraid that the light of day might diminish her allure to Prokhorov, Isabella fusses over him excessively, feeding him chicken, etc. They all have some "hair of the dog" vodka, which improves their mood. Settling up with the train conductor for their tickets and food, Prokhorov tells Vanechka to keep the receipts as if this were an important business trip.
The train arrives in Leningrad. The trio gets into a carriage and, at Isabella's suggestion, they set off for the Hotel Hygiene. Prokhorov and Vanechka hope to rid themselves of Isabella somehow. Isabella is sure that once she gets them to the hotel, she will never lose them.
After arriving at the Hotel Hygiene, Isabella acquires a girlfriend for Vanechka--an old acquaintance of hers named Murka, who is very bony and absurdly tall. They spend the next three days going to restaurants, eating, drinking, gambling, etc.
Prokhorov and Vanechka become bored. While Isabella is out shopping, the decide to dump the women and go explore the town. Murka, whom Isabella left to guard the men, tries to stop them, but they get past her. Just as the men are emerging from the hotel, Isabella arrives in a carriage, laden with her many purchases. Prokhorov and Vanechka elude her, get in a carriage, and hurry off.
Prokhorov and Vanechka tour various sites--Nevsky Prospect, Palace Square, the Winter Palace, the Bronze Horseman, etc., etc. Afterwards, they stop in the bar at the European Hotel. An hour later, Prokhorov, Vanechka, and a young man with a pipe [named Zhorzhik] come bursting out of the bar, pursued by a gaggle of women, begging to come with the men. Zhorzhik tears free of the women, proclaiming that they will take no one. Vanechka whines, wanting to take along a supposed baroness; but Zhorzhik discounts the woman’s claim to lineage.
Prokhorov, Vanechka, and Zhorzhik jump into a car and are whisked away.
Zhorzhik's car takes the trio to a mansion. Prokhorov pays an admission fee, and they are admitted to a high-society salon, filled with generals, admirals, princes, princesses, and the deceased emperor Nikolai II himself. While Prokhorov joins the deceased emperor and the others in the buffet room, Vanechka finds himself alone with a former princess.
Meanwhile, Isabella mounts a search for Prokhorov. She trawls through all the bars, eventually coming to the one at the European Hotel. There, other girls tell her about two drunken men with lots of cash who showed up shouting that they wanted to meet former princesses, etc. The girl also tells Isabella about Zhorzhik’s swindlers trust, which consists of former admirals, generals, etc., who have discovered that they can gain profit by putting on their old uniforms. The deceased emperor, however, is merely a look-alike baker.
Isabella manages to discover the location of the swindlers trust and sneaks in through a back way. She discovers Prokhorov in the ballroom, wearing a jacket with epaulets and dancing with a dagger in his teeth. Isabella incites a scandal, denouncing the former royalty as swindlers and bandits and threatening to call the police. What’s more, she proclaims that she is pregnant. She grabs Prokhorov and starts to drag him out. Zhorzhik and the royals surround them, demanding payment for the drinks, orchestra, etc., but Isabella fends them off with her fists and her umbrella. In the tussle, she yanks off a third of the deceased emperor’s beard.
In case you were wondering
How the Deceased Emperor
a participant's account
Vanechka is still in seclusion with his princess, smitten with her. Hearing the scandal erupt in the other room, the princess first makes sure that Vanechka has the money with him, then she spirits him out a back door.
Vanechka and his princess get into a carriage and ride off. The woman identifies herself as Princess Agabekova, but she says Vanechka can call her Irene. Vanechka embraces Irene and tries to kiss her. But she extricates herself, saying only, “Not now”.
At Irene’s suggestion, they are soon in the restaurant at the European Hotel. A cabaret show begins. Vanechka orders food and drink without restraint. There is much drunkenness and dancing with Germans.
Afterwards, Vanechka and Irene get into a carriage. Vanechka wants to go to the Hotel Hygiene, but the carriage driver ignores him and follows Irene’s directions. After a seemingly interminable ride, they arrive at a dingy, cockroach-infested wooden house. Inside, someone is snoring behind a curtain. Irene says it is her sickly mother. Irene plays the innocent girl, saying she is not a professional, but she needs money to care for her elderly parents. She will be Vanechka’s for 100 rubles. He tries to bargain her down to 50 rubles, but in the end pays.
Vanechka comes to embrace and kiss Irene. She pushes him away. They fall to the floor with a resounding clatter. The snoring on the other side of the curtain stops. A strapping lad in underwear emerges. He grabs Vanechka by the scruff of the neck and tosses him outside.
Ashamed and humiliated, Vanechka trudges home as dawn begins to break. He passes a mirror and sees the dirty and disgusting state into which he has descended. He wants to buy clean clothes, but all the stores are closed. He hops in a carriage and rides back to the Hotel Hygiene.
A rather official-looking man named Kashkadomov approaches the Hotel Hygiene. He has one artificial arm and one artificial leg. He asks the doorman if there’s anybody new in the hotel. The doorman says there are two embezzlers from Moscow in room 16, and he proceeds to tell Kashkadomov all about Prokhorov and Vanechka.
Meanwhile, in room 16, Prokhorov is just waking up from his night of carousing. Isabella subjects him to a typical domestic scandal. Vanechka drags himself into the room, and Isabella aims some barbs at him as well.
There is a knock at the door and Kashkadomov enters, carrying a briefcase. He looks around the entire room seriously, then greets Prokhorov and Vanechka by name. They sigh, fearing doom. Kashkadomov asks Isabella her name. Isabella hurriedly says this has nothing to do with her. She claims she just dropped in for five minutes to visit an acquaintance but she now must leave, and she quickly exits.
Kashkadomov produces papers identifying himself as a traveling representation of a publishing house. He suggests that they buy two complete sets (1,000 copies each) of: (1) an artistic portrayal of the composer Moniuszko; and (2) a popular agricultural brochure in verse and pictures about pig breeding. Each set costs 200 rubles.
Polish Composer Moniuszko
Relieved that things have taken this turn, Prokhorov and Vanechka immediately agree to the purchase and hand over the money. Prokhorov then suggests that Kashkadomov join them for a drink. Kashkadomov expresses a preference for Chateau d’Yquem wine, and Prokhorov has the porter bring up several bottles.
As the three men drink, Kashkadomov waxes eloquent on the provinces, saying his work there is so much simpler. If the local executive committee building is one-storied, he knows not to waste his time. But if it is a two-storied building, success is almost in hand. Likewise, a thin chairman is a tough nut to crack, while a fat one almost always immediately agrees to the purchase. Kashkadomov also says there are many pretty girls in the provinces, and there one is treated like a king if he has even just a little bit of money.
After consuming several bottles, Prokhorov and Vanechka agree to accompany Kashkadomov on a trip to the provincial town of Ukrmutsk. They go to the station and get on an outbound train. As the train pulls away from the platform, Prokhorov thinks he sees Isabella running along the platform waving and shouting, but in his drunken state, the impression is murky and indistinct.
No sooner does the train leave the station than Kashkadomov pulls out a pack of cards and gets a game going. Despite Vanechka’s advice, Prokhorov plays, and soon loses 300 rubles.
The train pulls into the station at the provincial town of Kalinov. Vanechka suddenly recalls that his mother lives in a nearby village. He tries to convince Prokhorov that they should get off here. Given his loses in the card game, Prokhorov agrees, and the two leave the train.
Prokhorov and Vanechka go to the station buffet expecting to get some food and drink. To their dismay they learn that, in connection with the upcoming draft, spirits have been banned in the town for three days. Vodka won’t be on sale again till noon tomorrow.
They hire a carriage to take them into the town. There they find streets, buildings, clubs, etc., all named after “former comrade Dedushkin”. The carriage driver, Aleshka, informs them that the local head of the militia, a comrade Dedushkin, was so admired that many things were named after him. Unfortunately, just after the all the signs went up, Dedushkin was arrested and given a sentence of three years. Instead of going to the expense of getting new signs again, the town just decided to add “former” in front of Dedushkin’s name.
Prokhorov and Vanechka check into the local inn. Everyone there is excited that “embezzlers” from out of town have arrived.
Prokhorov asks Aleshka driver if there’s any way to get a drink. The driver excitedly volunteers to drive to the nearest village to get some moonshine for them. Vanechka suggests, instead, that they go to the village of Verkhnaya Beryozka, where his mother lives. They can get some fresh moonshine there and spend the night with his mother. Prokhorov agrees to the suggestion.
As they start to leave town, Prokhorov says they need to take a gift for Vanechka’s mother. He looks around and sees a peasant standing nearby with a cow. Prokhorov purchases the cow so quickly, the peasant is left standing there dumbfounded.
Our heroes enter the village of Verkhnaya Beryozka, dragging the cow behind them. They pass an old peasant woman. Vanechka leaps out of the carriage, shouting, “Mama!” The woman reacts excitedly, not because she recognizes Vanechka, but because she recognizes the cow. A second woman emerges from the home and the two of them fuss over the cow, saying that it is there cow which has been gone for three days.
Finally, Vanechka gets his mother to recognize him. The other woman is Vanechka’s sister, Grusha.
A few days ago, Vanechka’s mother had send Grusha’s fiancé (Danil) into town to sell the cow so that they could finance a wedding party for Grusha and Danil.
Everyone goes into the hut, and Vanechka’s mother describes their difficult financial position.
Word quickly spreads that Vanechka has returned, accompanied by an apparent boss, and that they intend to tour the area for an as-yet-unknown reason.
That evening, practically the whole village gathers in the hut to see the visitors and, hopefully, hear some wise words. They pepper Prokhorov with questions, and he, loving the attention and respect, answers them all whether he knows what he’s talking about or not. He says there will be war with France, but he confidently predicts a Soviet victory.
The peasants ask if it’s right for the miller to take six pounds from every pood of grain he grinds. Prokhorov sternly says this is immoral. Losing all restraint, Prokhorov promises to buy the peasants their own mill.
Moonshine vodka shows up, and soon everyone is tipsy.
Later, the chairman of the village Soviet, Sazonov, shows up. He has a drink with everyone, listens to Prokhorov ramble on bombastically for a bit, then departs.
After midnight, the crowd disperses. Aleshka has hooked up with some woman, and goes to spend the night with her on the other side of the village.
Vanechka is depressed, finally realizing that there is no escape for him. He goes into the shed, makes a noose and tries to hang himself. The chickens raise a ruckus, which alerts Vanechka’s mother, so she is able to rush into the shed and save Vanechka.
Later, after everyone is asleep, Aleshka comes, knocking urgently on the window. He says that they must flee--Sazonov has gone for the militia.
Prokhorov and Vanechka get into the carriage with Aleshka and ride off into the forest.
The get to Kalinov around evening. Alcohol sales have resumed, so there is much drunkenness in the bars and inns. People are singing, playing accordions, fighting. The frightened policeman tiptoes around the edge of the square, trying to remain unobserved and avoid any unpleasantness for himself. The police chief, however, joins in the fun, bombastically proclaiming a national holiday on a regional level.
Prokhorov and Vanechka join in the debauchery, spending two entire days immersed in it. At one point, they buy a huge supply of cooked crabs and start distributing them to everyone in the town square. People fight over this free food, slapping each other in the face with crabs. Later, our heroes hire every carriage driver in town and have them parade around the square singing folk songs.
Aleshka then gets the news that the village soviet chairman Sazonov is approaching with some Komsomolers. He manages to put Prokhorov and Vanechka on a departing train, where they pass out.
When Prokhorov wakes up on the train, he finds himself sharing a compartment with an engineer named Nikolai Nikolaievich Sholte.
After a hearty breakfast, Sholte takes out a book and reads for a bit, making notes. Prokhorov asks what the book is, perhaps the latest work by Zoshchenko. Sholte says, no, it’s the Criminal Code. Being without a knowledge of the criminal code is like being without hands, Sholte adds.
Sholte politely inquires if Prokhorov is traveling for business or pleasure. Prokhorov says it’s a business trip. Sholte asks how much money Prokhorov was given for expenses. Prokhorov says 12,000 rubles. Sholte is impressed. For the past four months, Sholte has also been on a business trip. But he had only 1,500 rubles. Still, Sholte says, he has been able to travel comfortably, even enjoying a bottle of foreign wine occasionally.
Sholte describes the Kavkaz and the women there in very glowing terms. Since Prokhorov has such a large sum at his disposal, Sholte suggests that Prokhorov travel to the restort area of Mineralniye Vody in the Kavkaz.
Prokhorov likes this idea. He and Vanechka get off the train at Kharkov. After stopping at the buffet for some vodka, Prokhorov sends Vanechka to buy international-class tickets to Mineralniye Vody.
Vanechka returns with some shocking news: they don’t have enough money. Vanechka has only 11 rubles 40 kopecks. Prokhorov turns out his pockets and only finds a fiver. Prokhorov is dumbfounded and tries to calculate where all the money went. He descends into insane raving for a bit, but then calms down and accepts Vanechka’s suggestion that they buy third-class tickets back to Moscow.
When they try to buy the tickets, however, they are two rubles short. To raise the extra cash, they go to the market. Vanechka tries to sell his coat. Buyers turn up their noses, offering, at most, one ruble. Prokhorov offers his own coat, which he has always regarded as prestigious and expensive. He gets a mere 3 and a half rubles for it.
On the way back to the station, it is cold and a heavy rain is falling. Then, another shock: heading straight toward them in a carriage is Isabella! Prokhorov flees in terror, and Vanechka can barely keep up with him. They manage to escape.
The next morning, they are in a crowded third-class car. The woman opposite Prokhorov loudly tells everyone her life’s story. Thirty years ago, it seems, a nobleman took advantage of her, and the result was a son. The nobleman refused to marry the woman or provide for the child. Then came Soviet power and the new rules on child support. The woman decided to sun the ex-nobleman, demanding 30 years of back child support payments. Her case was denied, because the law had no retroactive provisions. She made several appeals, all of which were denied. Now she is on her way to Moscow to appeal directly to Kalinin.
Chairman of the All-Union
The woman talks non-stop for the entire trip. Prokhorov gets a temperature and aches all over. When they arrive in Moscow, Prokhorov can barely keep on his feet. Prokhorov tells Vanechka to go straight to the office and act as if nothing happened. He should say nothing to anyone and, above all, remain calm.
Prokhorov heads home, intending to write up a report on the trip expenses. He promises that he will be at the office by noon.
Instead of going to the office, Vanechka marches over to the militia station and turns himself in.
Prokhorov returns home. Yaninochka is relieved and terrified to see him. Prokhorov doesn’t see the signs of incipient poverty in the apartment: the sewing machine and curtains are missing, etc. Soon, Prokhorov collapses.
In the evening, police come to take him away.
Some months later, Vanechka and Prokhorov are led onto the street from the courtroom. Nikita is standing on the street watching as Vanechka gestures with five fingers, indicating that they’ve received a sentence of five years. Vanechka feels the weight of the five years he will lose, but he smiles when he thinks of that day, five years in the future, when he will again be free.
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