THE TALES OF CHEKHOV
THE DARLING AND OTHER STORIES
Translated by CONSTANCE GARNETT
THE TWO VOLODYAS
AN ARTIST'S STORY
OLENKA, the daughter of the retired collegiate assessor, Plemyanniakov,
was sitting in her back porch, lost in thought. It was hot, the
flies were persistent and teasing, and it was pleasant to reflect
that it would soon be evening. Dark rainclouds were gathering from
the east, and bringing from time to time a breath of moisture in
Kukin, who was the manager of an open-air theatre called the Tivoli,
and who lived in the lodge, was standing in the middle of the garden
looking at the sky.
"Again!" he observed despairingly. "It's going to rain again! Rain
every day, as though to spite me. I might as well hang myself! It's
ruin! Fearful losses every day."
He flung up his hands, and went on, addressing Olenka:
"There! that's the life we lead, Olga Semyonovna. It's enough to
make one cry. One works and does one's utmost, one wears oneself
out, getting no sleep at night, and racks one's brain what to do
for the best. And then what happens? To begin with, one's public
is ignorant, boorish. I give them the very best operetta, a dainty
masque, first rate music-hall artists. But do you suppose that's
what they want! They don't understand anything of that sort. They
want a clown; what they ask for is vulgarity. And then look at the
weather! Almost every evening it rains. It started on the tenth of
May, and it's kept it up all May and June. It's simply awful! The
public doesn't come, but I've to pay the rent just the same, and
pay the artists."
The next evening the clouds would gather again, and Kukin would say
with an hysterical laugh:
"Well, rain away, then! Flood the garden, drown me! Damn my luck
in this world and the next! Let the artists have me up! Send me to
prison!--to Siberia!--the scaffold! Ha, ha, ha!"
And next day the same thing.
Olenka listened to Kukin with silent gravity, and sometimes tears
came into her eyes. In the end his misfortunes touched her; she
grew to love him. He was a small thin man, with a yellow face, and
curls combed forward on his forehead. He spoke in a thin tenor; as
he talked his mouth worked on one side, and there was always an
expression of despair on his face; yet he aroused a deep and genuine
affection in her. She was always fond of some one, and could not
exist without loving. In earlier days she had loved her papa, who
now sat in a darkened room, breathing with difficulty; she had loved
her aunt who used to come every other year from Bryansk; and before
that, when she was at school, she had loved her French master. She
was a gentle, soft-hearted, compassionate girl, with mild, tender
eyes and very good health. At the sight of her full rosy cheeks,
her soft white neck with a little dark mole on it, and the kind,
naïve smile, which came into her face when she listened to anything
pleasant, men thought, "Yes, not half bad," and smiled too, while
lady visitors could not refrain from seizing her hand in the middle
of a conversation, exclaiming in a gush of delight, "You darling!"
The house in which she had lived from her birth upwards, and which
was left her in her father's will, was at the extreme end of the
town, not far from the Tivoli. In the evenings and at night she
could head the band playing, and the crackling and banging of
fireworks, and it seemed to her that it was Kukin struggling with
his destiny, storming the entrenchments of his chief foe, the
indifferent public; there was a sweet thrill at her heart, she had
no desire to sleep, and when he returned home at day-break, she
tapped softly at her bedroom window, and showing him only her face
and one shoulder through the curtain, she gave him a friendly
smile. . . .
He proposed to her, and they were married. And when he had a closer
view of her neck and her plump, fine shoulders, he threw up his
hands, and said:
He was happy, but as it rained on the day and night of his wedding,
his face still retained an expression of despair.
They got on very well together. She used to sit in his office, to
look after things in the Tivoli, to put down the accounts and pay
the wages. And her rosy cheeks, her sweet, naïve, radiant smile,
were to be seen now at the office window, now in the refreshment
bar or behind the scenes of the theatre. And already she used to
say to her acquaintances that the theatre was the chief and most
important thing in life and that it was only through the drama that
one could derive true enjoyment and become cultivated and humane.
"But do you suppose the public understands that?" she used to say.
"What they want is a clown. Yesterday we gave 'Faust Inside Out,'
and almost all the boxes were empty; but if Vanitchka and I had
been producing some vulgar thing, I assure you the theatre would
have been packed. Tomorrow Vanitchka and I are doing 'Orpheus in
Hell.' Do come."
And what Kukin said about the theatre and the actors she repeated.
Like him she despised the public for their ignorance and their
indifference to art; she took part in the rehearsals, she corrected
the actors, she kept an eye on the behaviour of the musicians, and
when there was an unfavourable notice in the local paper, she shed
tears, and then went to the editor's office to set things right.
The actors were fond of her and used to call her "Vanitchka and I,"
and "the darling"; she was sorry for them and used to lend them
small sums of money, and if they deceived her, she used to shed a
few tears in private, but did not complain to her husband.
They got on well in the winter too. They took the theatre in the
town for the whole winter, and let it for short terms to a Little
Russian company, or to a conjurer, or to a local dramatic society.
Olenka grew stouter, and was always beaming with satisfaction, while
Kukin grew thinner and yellower, and continually complained of their
terrible losses, although he had not done badly all the winter. He
used to cough at night, and she used to give him hot raspberry tea
or lime-flower water, to rub him with eau-de-Cologne and to wrap
him in her warm shawls.
"You're such a sweet pet!" she used to say with perfect sincerity,
stroking his hair. "You're such a pretty dear!"
Towards Lent he went to Moscow to collect a new troupe, and without
him she could not sleep, but sat all night at her window, looking
at the stars, and she compared herself with the hens, who are awake
all night and uneasy when the cock is not in the hen-house. Kukin
was detained in Moscow, and wrote that he would be back at Easter,
adding some instructions about the Tivoli. But on the Sunday before
Easter, late in the evening, came a sudden ominous knock at the
gate; some one was hammering on the gate as though on a barrel--
boom, boom, boom! The drowsy cook went flopping with her bare feet
through the puddles, as she ran to open the gate.
"Please open," said some one outside in a thick bass. "There is a
telegram for you."
Olenka had received telegrams from her husband before, but this
time for some reason she felt numb with terror. With shaking hands
she opened the telegram and read as follows:
"IVAN PETROVITCH DIED SUDDENLY TO-DAY. AWAITING IMMATE INSTRUCTIONS
That was how it was written in the telegram--"fufuneral," and the
utterly incomprehensible word "immate." It was signed by the stage
manager of the operatic company.
"My darling!" sobbed Olenka. "Vanka, my precious, my darling! Why
did I ever meet you! Why did I know you and love you! Your poor
heart-broken Olenka is alone without you!"
Kukin's funeral took place on Tuesday in Moscow, Olenka returned
home on Wednesday, and as soon as she got indoors, she threw herself
on her bed and sobbed so loudly that it could be heard next door,
and in the street.
"Poor darling!" the neighbours said, as they crossed themselves.
"Olga Semyonovna, poor darling! How she does take on!"
Three months later Olenka was coming home from mass, melancholy and
in deep mourning. It happened that one of her neighbours, Vassily
Andreitch Pustovalov, returning home from church, walked back beside
her. He was the manager at Babakayev's, the timber merchant's. He
wore a straw hat, a white waistcoat, and a gold watch-chain, and
looked more a country gentleman than a man in trade.
"Everything happens as it is ordained, Olga Semyonovna," he said
gravely, with a sympathetic note in his voice; "and if any of our
dear ones die, it must be because it is the will of God, so we ought
have fortitude and bear it submissively."
After seeing Olenka to her gate, he said good-bye and went on. All
day afterwards she heard his sedately dignified voice, and whenever
she shut her eyes she saw his dark beard. She liked him very much.
And apparently she had made an impression on him too, for not long
afterwards an elderly lady, with whom she was only slightly acquainted,
came to drink coffee with her, and as soon as she was seated at
table began to talk about Pustovalov, saying that he was an excellent
man whom one could thoroughly depend upon, and that any girl would
be glad to marry him. Three days later Pustovalov came himself. He
did not stay long, only about ten minutes, and he did not say much,
but when he left, Olenka loved him--loved him so much that she
lay awake all night in a perfect fever, and in the morning she sent
for the elderly lady. The match was quickly arranged, and then came
Pustovalov and Olenka got on very well together when they were
Usually he sat in the office till dinner-time, then he went out on
business, while Olenka took his place, and sat in the office till
evening, making up accounts and booking orders.
"Timber gets dearer every year; the price rises twenty per cent,"
she would say to her customers and friends. "Only fancy we used to
sell local timber, and now Vassitchka always has to go for wood to
the Mogilev district. And the freight!" she would add, covering her
cheeks with her hands in horror. "The freight!"
It seemed to her that she had been in the timber trade for ages and
ages, and that the most important and necessary thing in life was
timber; and there was something intimate and touching to her in the
very sound of words such as "baulk," "post," "beam," "pole,"
"scantling," "batten," "lath," "plank," etc.
At night when she was asleep she dreamed of perfect mountains of
planks and boards, and long strings of wagons, carting timber
somewhere far away. She dreamed that a whole regiment of six-inch
beams forty feet high, standing on end, was marching upon the
timber-yard; that logs, beams, and boards knocked together with the
resounding crash of dry wood, kept falling and getting up again,
piling themselves on each other. Olenka cried out in her sleep, and
Pustovalov said to her tenderly: "Olenka, what's the matter, darling?
Her husband's ideas were hers. If he thought the room was too hot,
or that business was slack, she thought the same. Her husband did
not care for entertainments, and on holidays he stayed at home. She
"You are always at home or in the office," her friends said to her.
"You should go to the theatre, darling, or to the circus."
"Vassitchka and I have no time to go to theatres," she would answer
sedately. "We have no time for nonsense. What's the use of these
On Saturdays Pustovalov and she used to go to the evening service;
on holidays to early mass, and they walked side by side with softened
faces as they came home from church. There was a pleasant fragrance
about them both, and her silk dress rustled agreeably. At home they
drank tea, with fancy bread and jams of various kinds, and afterwards
they ate pie. Every day at twelve o'clock there was a savoury smell
of beet-root soup and of mutton or duck in their yard, and on
fast-days of fish, and no one could pass the gate without feeling
hungry. In the office the samovar was always boiling, and customers
were regaled with tea and cracknels. Once a week the couple went
to the baths and returned side by side, both red in the face.
"Yes, we have nothing to complain of, thank God," Olenka used to
say to her acquaintances. "I wish every one were as well off as
Vassitchka and I."
When Pustovalov went away to buy wood in the Mogilev district, she
missed him dreadfully, lay awake and cried. A young veterinary
surgeon in the army, called Smirnin, to whom they had let their
lodge, used sometimes to come in in the evening. He used to talk
to her and play cards with her, and this entertained her in her
husband's absence. She was particularly interested in what he told
her of his home life. He was married and had a little boy, but was
separated from his wife because she had been unfaithful to him, and
now he hated her and used to send her forty roubles a month for the
maintenance of their son. And hearing of all this, Olenka sighed
and shook her head. She was sorry for him.
"Well, God keep you," she used to say to him at parting, as she
lighted him down the stairs with a candle. "Thank you for coming
to cheer me up, and may the Mother of God give you health."
And she always expressed herself with the same sedateness and
dignity, the same reasonableness, in imitation of her husband. As
the veterinary surgeon was disappearing behind the door below, she
"You know, Vladimir Platonitch, you'd better make it up with your
wife. You should forgive her for the sake of your son. You may be
sure the little fellow understands."
And when Pustovalov came back, she told him in a low voice about
the veterinary surgeon and his unhappy home life, and both sighed
and shook their heads and talked about the boy, who, no doubt,
missed his father, and by some strange connection of ideas, they
went up to the holy ikons, bowed to the ground before them and
prayed that God would give them children.
And so the Pustovalovs lived for six years quietly and peaceably
in love and complete harmony.
But behold! one winter day after drinking hot tea in the office,
Vassily Andreitch went out into the yard without his cap on to see
about sending off some timber, caught cold and was taken ill. He
had the best doctors, but he grew worse and died after four months'
illness. And Olenka was a widow once more.
"I've nobody, now you've left me, my darling," she sobbed, after
her husband's funeral. "How can I live without you, in wretchedness
and misery! Pity me, good people, all alone in the world!"
She went about dressed in black with long "weepers," and gave up
wearing hat and gloves for good. She hardly ever went out, except
to church, or to her husband's grave, and led the life of a nun.
It was not till six months later that she took off the weepers and
opened the shutters of the windows. She was sometimes seen in the
mornings, going with her cook to market for provisions, but what
went on in her house and how she lived now could only be surmised.
People guessed, from seeing her drinking tea in her garden with the
veterinary surgeon, who read the newspaper aloud to her, and from
the fact that, meeting a lady she knew at the post-office, she said
"There is no proper veterinary inspection in our town, and that's
the cause of all sorts of epidemics. One is always hearing of
people's getting infection from the milk supply, or catching diseases
from horses and cows. The health of domestic animals ought to be
as well cared for as the health of human beings."
She repeated the veterinary surgeon's words, and was of the same
opinion as he about everything. It was evident that she could not
live a year without some attachment, and had found new happiness
in the lodge. In any one else this would have been censured, but
no one could think ill of Olenka; everything she did was so natural.
Neither she nor the veterinary surgeon said anything to other people
of the change in their relations, and tried, indeed, to conceal it,
but without success, for Olenka could not keep a secret. When he
had visitors, men serving in his regiment, and she poured out tea
or served the supper, she would begin talking of the cattle plague,
of the foot and mouth disease, and of the municipal slaughterhouses.
He was dreadfully embarrassed, and when the guests had gone, he
would seize her by the hand and hiss angrily:
"I've asked you before not to talk about what you don't understand.
When we veterinary surgeons are talking among ourselves, please
don't put your word in. It's really annoying."
And she would look at him with astonishment and dismay, and ask him
in alarm: "But, Voloditchka, what _am_ I to talk about?"
And with tears in her eyes she would embrace him, begging him not
to be angry, and they were both happy.
But this happiness did not last long. The veterinary surgeon departed,
departed for ever with his regiment, when it was transferred to a
distant place--to Siberia, it may be. And Olenka was left alone.
Now she was absolutely alone. Her father had long been dead, and
his armchair lay in the attic, covered with dust and lame of one
leg. She got thinner and plainer, and when people met her in the
street they did not look at her as they used to, and did not smile
to her; evidently her best years were over and left behind, and now
a new sort of life had begun for her, which did not bear thinking
about. In the evening Olenka sat in the porch, and heard the band
playing and the fireworks popping in the Tivoli, but now the sound
stirred no response. She looked into her yard without interest,
thought of nothing, wished for nothing, and afterwards, when night
came on she went to bed and dreamed of her empty yard. She ate and
drank as it were unwillingly.
And what was worst of all, she had no opinions of any sort. She saw
the objects about her and understood what she saw, but could not
form any opinion about them, and did not know what to talk about.
And how awful it is not to have any opinions! One sees a bottle,
for instance, or the rain, or a peasant driving in his cart, but
what the bottle is for, or the rain, or the peasant, and what is
the meaning of it, one can't say, and could not even for a thousand
roubles. When she had Kukin, or Pustovalov, or the veterinary
surgeon, Olenka could explain everything, and give her opinion about
anything you like, but now there was the same emptiness in her brain
and in her heart as there was in her yard outside. And it was as
harsh and as bitter as wormwood in the mouth.
Little by little the town grew in all directions. The road became
a street, and where the Tivoli and the timber-yard had been, there
were new turnings and houses. How rapidly time passes! Olenka's
house grew dingy, the roof got rusty, the shed sank on one side,
and the whole yard was overgrown with docks and stinging-nettles.
Olenka herself had grown plain and elderly; in summer she sat in
the porch, and her soul, as before, was empty and dreary and full
of bitterness. In winter she sat at her window and looked at the
snow. When she caught the scent of spring, or heard the chime of
the church bells, a sudden rush of memories from the past came over
her, there was a tender ache in her heart, and her eyes brimmed
over with tears; but this was only for a minute, and then came
emptiness again and the sense of the futility of life. The black
kitten, Briska, rubbed against her and purred softly, but Olenka
was not touched by these feline caresses. That was not what she
needed. She wanted a love that would absorb her whole being, her
whole soul and reason--that would give her ideas and an object
in life, and would warm her old blood. And she would shake the
kitten off her skirt and say with vexation:
"Get along; I don't want you!"
And so it was, day after day and year after year, and no joy, and
no opinions. Whatever Mavra, the cook, said she accepted.
One hot July day, towards evening, just as the cattle were being
driven away, and the whole yard was full of dust, some one suddenly
knocked at the gate. Olenka went to open it herself and was dumbfounded
when she looked out: she saw Smirnin, the veterinary surgeon,
grey-headed, and dressed as a civilian. She suddenly remembered
everything. She could not help crying and letting her head fall on
his breast without uttering a word, and in the violence of her
feeling she did not notice how they both walked into the house and
sat down to tea.
"My dear Vladimir Platonitch! What fate has brought you?" she
muttered, trembling with joy.
"I want to settle here for good, Olga Semyonovna," he told her. "I
have resigned my post, and have come to settle down and try my luck
on my own account. Besides, it's time for my boy to go to school.
He's a big boy. I am reconciled with my wife, you know."
"Where is she?' asked Olenka.
"She's at the hotel with the boy, and I'm looking for lodgings."
"Good gracious, my dear soul! Lodgings? Why not have my house? Why
shouldn't that suit you? Why, my goodness, I wouldn't take any
rent!" cried Olenka in a flutter, beginning to cry again. "You live
here, and the lodge will do nicely for me. Oh dear! how glad I am!"
Next day the roof was painted and the walls were whitewashed, and
Olenka, with her arms akimbo walked about the yard giving directions.
Her face was beaming with her old smile, and she was brisk and alert
as though she had waked from a long sleep. The veterinary's wife
arrived--a thin, plain lady, with short hair and a peevish
expression. With her was her little Sasha, a boy of ten, small for
his age, blue-eyed, chubby, with dimples in his cheeks. And scarcely
had the boy walked into the yard when he ran after the cat, and at
once there was the sound of his gay, joyous laugh.
"Is that your puss, auntie?" he asked Olenka. "When she has little
ones, do give us a kitten. Mamma is awfully afraid of mice."
Olenka talked to him, and gave him tea. Her heart warmed and there
was a sweet ache in her bosom, as though the boy had been her own
child. And when he sat at the table in the evening, going over his
lessons, she looked at him with deep tenderness and pity as she
murmured to herself:
"You pretty pet! . . . my precious! . . . Such a fair little thing,
and so clever."
"'An island is a piece of land which is entirely surrounded by
water,'" he read aloud.
"An island is a piece of land," she repeated, and this was the first
opinion to which she gave utterance with positive conviction after
so many years of silence and dearth of ideas.
Now she had opinions of her own, and at supper she talked to Sasha's
parents, saying how difficult the lessons were at the high schools,
but that yet the high school was better than a commercial one, since
with a high-school education all careers were open to one, such as
being a doctor or an engineer.
Sasha began going to the high school. His mother departed to Harkov
to her sister's and did not return; his father used to go off every
day to inspect cattle, and would often be away from home for three
days together, and it seemed to Olenka as though Sasha was entirely
abandoned, that he was not wanted at home, that he was being starved,
and she carried him off to her lodge and gave him a little room
And for six months Sasha had lived in the lodge with her. Every
morning Olenka came into his bedroom and found him fast asleep,
sleeping noiselessly with his hand under his cheek. She was sorry
to wake him.
"Sashenka," she would say mournfully, "get up, darling. It's time
He would get up, dress and say his prayers, and then sit down to
breakfast, drink three glasses of tea, and eat two large cracknels
and a half a buttered roll. All this time he was hardly awake and
a little ill-humoured in consequence.
"You don't quite know your fable, Sashenka," Olenka would say,
looking at him as though he were about to set off on a long journey.
"What a lot of trouble I have with you! You must work and do your
best, darling, and obey your teachers."
"Oh, do leave me alone!" Sasha would say.
Then he would go down the street to school, a little figure, wearing
a big cap and carrying a satchel on his shoulder. Olenka would
follow him noiselessly.
"Sashenka!" she would call after him, and she would pop into his
hand a date or a caramel. When he reached the street where the
school was, he would feel ashamed of being followed by a tall, stout
woman, he would turn round and say:
"You'd better go home, auntie. I can go the rest of the way alone."
She would stand still and look after him fixedly till he had
disappeared at the school-gate.
Ah, how she loved him! Of her former attachments not one had been
so deep; never had her soul surrendered to any feeling so spontaneously,
so disinterestedly, and so joyously as now that her maternal instincts
were aroused. For this little boy with the dimple in his cheek and
the big school cap, she would have given her whole life, she would
have given it with joy and tears of tenderness. Why? Who can tell
When she had seen the last of Sasha, she returned home, contented
and serene, brimming over with love; her face, which had grown
younger during the last six months, smiled and beamed; people meeting
her looked at her with pleasure.
"Good-morning, Olga Semyonovna, darling. How are you, darling?"
"The lessons at the high school are very difficult now," she would
relate at the market. "It's too much; in the first class yesterday
they gave him a fable to learn by heart, and a Latin translation
and a problem. You know it's too much for a little chap."
And she would begin talking about the teachers, the lessons, and
the school books, saying just what Sasha said.
At three o'clock they had dinner together: in the evening they
learned their lessons together and cried. When she put him to bed,
she would stay a long time making the Cross over him and murmuring
a prayer; then she would go to bed and dream of that far-away misty
future when Sasha would finish his studies and become a doctor or
an engineer, would have a big house of his own with horses and a
carriage, would get married and have children. . . . She would fall
asleep still thinking of the same thing, and tears would run down
her cheeks from her closed eyes, while the black cat lay purring
beside her: "Mrr, mrr, mrr."
Suddenly there would come a loud knock at the gate.
Olenka would wake up breathless with alarm, her heart throbbing.
Half a minute later would come another knock.
"It must be a telegram from Harkov," she would think, beginning to
tremble from head to foot. "Sasha's mother is sending for him from
Harkov. . . . Oh, mercy on us!"
She was in despair. Her head, her hands, and her feet would turn
chill, and she would feel that she was the most unhappy woman in
the world. But another minute would pass, voices would be heard:
it would turn out to be the veterinary surgeon coming home from the
"Well, thank God!" she would think.
And gradually the load in her heart would pass off, and she would
feel at ease. She would go back to bed thinking of Sasha, who lay
sound asleep in the next room, sometimes crying out in his sleep:
"I'll give it you! Get away! Shut up!"
ON the deck of a steamer sailing from Odessa to Sevastopol, a rather
good-looking gentleman, with a little round beard, came up to me
to smoke, and said:
"Notice those Germans sitting near the shelter? Whenever Germans
or Englishmen get together, they talk about the crops, the price
of wool, or their personal affairs. But for some reason or other
when we Russians get together we never discuss anything but women
and abstract subjects--but especially women."
This gentleman's face was familiar to me already. We had returned
from abroad the evening before in the same train, and at Volotchisk
when the luggage was being examined by the Customs, I saw him
standing with a lady, his travelling companion, before a perfect
mountain of trunks and baskets filled with ladies' clothes, and I
noticed how embarrassed and downcast he was when he had to pay duty
on some piece of silk frippery, and his companion protested and
threatened to make a complaint. Afterwards, on the way to Odessa,
I saw him carrying little pies and oranges to the ladies' compartment.
It was rather damp; the vessel swayed a little, and the ladies had
retired to their cabins.
The gentleman with the little round beard sat down beside me and
"Yes, when Russians come together they discuss nothing but abstract
subjects and women. We are so intellectual, so solemn, that we utter
nothing but truths and can discuss only questions of a lofty order.
The Russian actor does not know how to be funny; he acts with
profundity even in a farce. We're just the same: when we have got
to talk of trifles we treat them only from an exalted point of view.
It comes from a lack of boldness, sincerity, and simplicity. We
talk so often about women, I fancy, because we are dissatisfied.
We take too ideal a view of women, and make demands out of all
proportion with what reality can give us; we get something utterly
different from what we want, and the result is dissatisfaction,
shattered hopes, and inward suffering, and if any one is suffering,
he's bound to talk of it. It does not bore you to go on with this
"No, not in the least."
"In that case, allow me to introduce myself," said my companion,
rising from his seat a little:
"Ivan Ilyitch Shamohin, a Moscow landowner of a sort. . . . You I
know very well."
He sat down and went on, looking at me with a genuine and friendly
"A mediocre philosopher, like Max Nordau, would explain these
incessant conversations about women as a form of erotic madness,
or would put it down to our having been slave-owners and so on; I
take quite a different view of it. I repeat, we are dissatisfied
because we are idealists. We want the creatures who bear us and our
children to be superior to us and to everything in the world. When
we are young we adore and poeticize those with whom we are in love:
love and happiness with us are synonyms. Among us in Russia marriage
without love is despised, sensuality is ridiculed and inspires
repulsion, and the greatest success is enjoyed by those tales and
novels in which women are beautiful, poetical, and exalted; and if
the Russian has been for years in ecstasies over Raphael's Madonna,
or is eager for the emancipation of women, I assure you there is
no affectation about it. But the trouble is that when we have been
married or been intimate with a woman for some two or three years,
we begin to feel deceived and disillusioned: we pair off with others,
and again--disappointment, again--repulsion, and in the long
run we become convinced that women are lying, trivial, fussy, unfair,
undeveloped, cruel--in fact, far from being superior, are
immeasurably inferior to us men. And in our dissatisfaction and
disappointment there is nothing left for us but to grumble and talk
about what we've been so cruelly deceived in."
While Shamohin was talking I noticed that the Russian language and
our Russian surroundings gave him great pleasure. This was probably
because he had been very homesick abroad. Though he praised the
Russians and ascribed to them a rare idealism, he did not disparage
foreigners, and that I put down to his credit. It could be seen,
too, that there was some uneasiness in his soul, that he wanted to
talk more of himself than of women, and that I was in for a long
story in the nature of a confession. And when we had asked for a
bottle of wine and had each of us drunk a glass, this was how he
did in fact begin:
"I remember in a novel of Weltmann's some one says, 'So that's the
story!' and some one else answers, 'No, that's not the story--
that's only the introduction to the story.' In the same way what
I've said so far is only the introduction; what I really want to
tell you is my own love story. Excuse me, I must ask you again; it
won't bore you to listen?"
I told him it would not, and he went on:
The scene of my story is laid in the Moscow province in one of its
northern districts. The scenery there, I must tell you, is exquisite.
Our homestead is on the high bank of a rapid stream, where the water
chatters noisily day and night: imagine a big old garden, neat
flower-beds, beehives, a kitchen-garden, and below it a river with
leafy willows, which, when there is a heavy dew on them, have a
lustreless look as though they had turned grey; and on the other
side a meadow, and beyond the meadow on the upland a terrible, dark
pine forest. In that forest delicious, reddish agarics grow in
endless profusion, and elks still live in its deepest recesses.
When I am nailed up in my coffin I believe I shall still dream of
those early mornings, you know, when the sun hurts your eyes: or
the wonderful spring evenings when the nightingales and the landrails
call in the garden and beyond the garden, and sounds of the harmonica
float across from the village, while they play the piano indoors
and the stream babbles . . . when there is such music, in fact,
that one wants at the same time to cry and to sing aloud.
We have not much arable land, but our pasture makes up for it, and
with the forest yields about two thousand roubles a year. I am the
only son of my father; we are both modest persons, and with my
father's pension that sum was amply sufficient for us.
The first three years after finishing at the university I spent in
the country, looking after the estate and constantly expecting to
be elected on some local assembly; but what was most important, I
was violently in love with an extraordinarily beautiful and fascinating
girl. She was the sister of our neighbour, Kotlovitch, a ruined
landowner who had on his estate pine-apples, marvellous peaches,
lightning conductors, a fountain in the courtyard, and at the same
time not a farthing in his pocket. He did nothing and knew how to
do nothing. He was as flabby as though he had been made of boiled
turnip; he used to doctor the peasants by homeopathy and was
interested in spiritualism. He was, however, a man of great delicacy
and mildness, and by no means a fool, but I have no fondness for
these gentlemen who converse with spirits and cure peasant women
by magnetism. In the first place, the ideas of people who are not
intellectually free are always in a muddle, and it's extremely
difficult to talk to them; and, secondly, they usually love no one,
and have nothing to do with women, and their mysticism has an
unpleasant effect on sensitive people. I did not care for his
appearance either. He was tall, stout, white-skinned, with a little
head, little shining eyes, and chubby white fingers. He did not
shake hands, but kneaded one's hands in his. And he was always
apologising. If he asked for anything it was "Excuse me"; if he
gave you anything it was "Excuse me" too.
As for his sister, she was a character out of a different opera. I
must explain that I had not been acquainted with the Kotlovitches
in my childhood and early youth, for my father had been a professor
at N., and we had for many years lived away. When I did make their
acquaintance the girl was twenty-two, had left school long before,
and had spent two or three years in Moscow with a wealthy aunt who
brought her out into society. When I was introduced and first had
to talk to her, what struck me most of all was her rare and beautiful
name--Ariadne. It suited her so wonderfully! She was a brunette,
very thin, very slender, supple, elegant, and extremely graceful,
with refined and exceedingly noble features. Her eyes were shining,
too, but her brother's shone with a cold sweetness, mawkish as
sugar-candy, while hers had the glow of youth, proud and beautiful.
She conquered me on the first day of our acquaintance, and indeed
it was inevitable. My first impression was so overwhelming that to
this day I cannot get rid of my illusions; I am still tempted to
imagine that nature had some grand, marvellous design when she
created that girl.
Ariadne's voice, her walk, her hat, even her footprints on the sandy
bank where she used to angle for gudgeon, filled me with delight
and a passionate hunger for life. I judged of her spiritual being
from her lovely face and lovely figure, and every word, every smile
of Ariadne's bewitched me, conquered me and forced me to believe
in the loftiness of her soul. She was friendly, ready to talk, gay
and simple in her manners. She had a poetic belief in God, made
poetic reflections about death, and there was such a wealth of
varying shades in her spiritual organisation that even her faults
seemed in her to carry with them peculiar, charming qualities.
Suppose she wanted a new horse and had no money--what did that
matter? Something might be sold or pawned, or if the steward swore
that nothing could possibly be sold or pawned, the iron roofs might
be torn off the lodges and taken to the factory, or at the very
busiest time the farm-horses might be driven to the market and sold
there for next to nothing. These unbridled desires reduced the whole
household to despair at times, but she expressed them with such
refinement that everything was forgiven her; all things were permitted
her as to a goddess or to Cæsar's wife. My love was pathetic and
was soon noticed by every one--my father, the neighbours, and the
peasants--and they all sympathised with me. When I stood the
workmen vodka, they would bow and say: "May the Kotlovitch young
lady be your bride, please God!"
And Ariadne herself knew that I loved her. She would often ride
over on horseback or drive in the char-à-banc to see us, and would
spend whole days with me and my father. She made great friends with
the old man, and he even taught her to bicycle, which was his
I remember helping her to get on the bicycle one evening, and she
looked so lovely that I felt as though I were burning my hands when
I touched her. I shuddered with rapture, and when the two of them,
my old father and she, both looking so handsome and elegant, bicycled
side by side along the main road, a black horse ridden by the steward
dashed aside on meeting them, and it seemed to me that it dashed
aside because it too was overcome by her beauty. My love, my worship,
touched Ariadne and softened her; she had a passionate longing to
be captivated like me and to respond with the same love. It was so
But she was incapable of really loving as I did, for she was cold
and already somewhat corrupted. There was a demon in her, whispering
to her day and night that she was enchanting, adorable; and, having
no definite idea for what object she was created, or for what purpose
life had been given her, she never pictured herself in the future
except as very wealthy and distinguished, she had visions of balls,
races, liveries, of sumptuous drawing-rooms, of a salon of her own,
and of a perfect swarm of counts, princes, ambassadors, celebrated
painters and artists, all of them adoring her and in ecstasies over
her beauty and her dresses. . . .
This thirst for personal success, and this continual concentration
of the mind in one direction, makes people cold, and Ariadne was
cold--to me, to nature, and to music. Meanwhile time was passing,
and still there were no ambassadors on the scene. Ariadne went on
living with her brother, the spiritualist: things went from bad to
worse, so that she had nothing to buy hats and dresses with, and
had to resort to all sorts of tricks and dodges to conceal her
As luck would have it, a certain Prince Maktuev, a wealthy man but
an utterly insignificant person, had paid his addresses to her when
she was living at her aunt's in Moscow. She had refused him,
point-blank. But now she was fretted by the worm of repentance that
she had refused him; just as a peasant pouts with repulsion at a
mug of kvass with cockroaches in it but yet drinks it, so she frowned
disdainfully at the recollection of the prince, and yet she would
say to me: "Say what you like, there is something inexplicable,
fascinating, in a title. . . ."
She dreamed of a title, of a brilliant position, and at the same
time she did not want to let me go. However one may dream of
ambassadors one's heart is not a stone, and one has wistful feelings
for one's youth. Ariadne tried to fall in love, made a show of being
in love, and even swore that she loved me. But I am a highly strung
and sensitive man; when I am loved I feel it even at a distance,
without vows and assurances; at once I felt as it were a coldness
in the air, and when she talked to me of love, it seemed to me as
though I were listening to the singing of a metal nightingale.
Ariadne was herself aware that she was lacking in something. She
was vexed and more than once I saw her cry. Another time--can you
imagine it?--all of a sudden she embraced me and kissed me. It
happened in the evening on the river-bank, and I saw by her eyes
that she did not love me, but was embracing me from curiosity, to
test herself and to see what came of it. And I felt dreadful. I
took her hands and said to her in despair: "These caresses without
love cause me suffering!"
"What a queer fellow you are!" she said with annoyance, and walked
Another year or two might have passed, and in all probability I
should have married her, and so my story would have ended, but fate
was pleased to arrange our romance differently. It happened that a
new personage appeared on our horizon. Ariadne's brother had a visit
from an old university friend called Mihail Ivanitch Lubkov, a
charming man of whom coachmen and footmen used to say: "An entertaining
gentleman." He was a man of medium height, lean and bald, with a
face like a good-natured bourgeois, not interesting, but pale and
presentable, with a stiff, well-kept moustache, with a neck like
gooseskin, and a big Adam's apple. He used to wear pince-nez on a
wide black ribbon, lisped, and could not pronounce either _r_ or
_l_. He was always in good spirits, everything amused him.
He had made an exceedingly foolish marriage at twenty, and had
acquired two houses in Moscow as part of his wife's dowry. He began
doing them up and building a bath-house, and was completely ruined.
Now his wife and four children lodged in Oriental Buildings in great
poverty, and he had to support them--and this amused him. He was
thirty-six and his wife was by now forty-two, and that, too, amused
him. His mother, a conceited, sulky personage, with aristocratic
pretensions, despised his wife and lived apart with a perfect
menagerie of cats and dogs, and he had to allow her seventy-five
roubles a month also; he was, too, a man of taste, liked lunching
at the Slavyansky Bazaar and dining at the Hermitage; he needed a
great deal of money, but his uncle only allowed him two thousand
roubles a year, which was not enough, and for days together he would
run about Moscow with his tongue out, as the saying is, looking for
some one to borrow from--and this, too, amused him. He had come
to Kotlovitch to find in the lap of nature, as he said, a rest from
family life. At dinner, at supper, and on our walks, he talked about
his wife, about his mother, about his creditors, about the bailiffs,
and laughed at them; he laughed at himself and assured us that,
thanks to his talent for borrowing, he had made a great number of
agreeable acquaintances. He laughed without ceasing and we laughed
too. Moreover, in his company we spent our time differently. I was
more inclined to quiet, so to say idyllic pleasures; I liked fishing,
evening walks, gathering mushrooms; Lubkov preferred picnics,
fireworks, hunting. He used to get up picnics three times a week,
and Ariadne, with an earnest and inspired face, used to write a
list of oysters, champagne, sweets, and used to send me into Moscow
to get them, without inquiring, of course, whether I had money. And
at the picnics there were toasts and laughter, and again mirthful
descriptions of how old his wife was, what fat lap-dogs his mother
had, and what charming people his creditors were.
Lubkov was fond of nature, but he regarded it as something long
familiar and at the same time, in reality, infinitely beneath himself
and created for his pleasure. He would sometimes stand still before
some magnificent landscape and say: "It would be nice to have tea
One day, seeing Ariadne walking in the distance with a parasol, he
nodded towards her and said:
"She's thin, and that's what I like; I don't like fat women."
This made me wince. I asked him not to speak like that about women
before me. He looked at me in surprise and said:
"What is there amiss in my liking thin women and not caring for fat
I made no answer. Afterwards, being in very good spirits and a
trifle elevated, he said:
"I've noticed Ariadne Grigoryevna likes you. I can't understand why
you don't go in and win."
His words made me feel uncomfortable, and with some embarrassment
I told him how I looked at love and women.
"I don't know," he sighed; "to my thinking, a woman's a woman and
a man's a man. Ariadne Grigoryevna may be poetical and exalted, as
you say, but it doesn't follow that she must be superior to the
laws of nature. You see for yourself that she has reached the age
when she must have a husband or a lover. I respect women as much
as you do, but I don't think certain relations exclude poetry.
Poetry's one thing and love is another. It's just the same as it
is in farming. The beauty of nature is one thing and the income
from your forests or fields is quite another."
When Ariadne and I were fishing, Lubkov would lie on the sand close
by and make fun of me, or lecture me on the conduct of life.
"I wonder, my dear sir, how you can live without a love affair,"
he would say. "You are young, handsome, interesting--in fact,
you're a man not to be sniffed at, yet you live like a monk. Och!
I can't stand these fellows who are old at twenty-eight! I'm nearly
ten years older than you are, and yet which of us is the younger?
Ariadne Grigoryevna, which?"
"You, of course," Ariadne answered him.
And when he was bored with our silence and the attention with which
we stared at our floats he went home, and she said, looking at me
"You're really not a man, but a mush, God forgive me! A man ought
to be able to be carried away by his feelings, he ought to be able
to be mad, to make mistakes, to suffer! A woman will forgive you
audacity and insolence, but she will never forgive your reasonableness!"
She was angry in earnest, and went on:
"To succeed, a man must be resolute and bold. Lubkov is not so
handsome as you are, but he is more interesting. He will always
succeed with women because he's not like you; he's a man. . . ."
And there was actually a note of exasperation in her voice.
One day at supper she began saying, not addressing me, that if she
were a man she would not stagnate in the country, but would travel,
would spend the winter somewhere aboard--in Italy, for instance.
Oh, Italy! At this point my father unconsciously poured oil on the
flames; he began telling us at length about Italy, how splendid it
was there, the exquisite scenery, the museums. Ariadne suddenly
conceived a burning desire to go to Italy. She positively brought
her fist down on the table and her eyes flashed as she said: "I
After that came conversations every day about Italy: how splendid
it would be in Italy--ah, Italy!--oh, Italy! And when Ariadne
looked at me over her shoulder, from her cold and obstinate expression
I saw that in her dreams she had already conquered Italy with all
its salons, celebrated foreigners and tourists, and there was no
holding her back now. I advised her to wait a little, to put off
her tour for a year or two, but she frowned disdainfully and said:
"You're as prudent as an old woman!"
Lubkov was in favour of the tour. He said it could be done very
cheaply, and he, too, would go to Italy and have a rest there from
I behaved, I confess, as naïvely as a schoolboy.
Not from jealousy, but from a foreboding of something terrible and
extraordinary, I tried as far as possible not to leave them alone
together, and they made fun of me. For instance, when I went in
they would pretend they had just been kissing one another, and so
on. But lo and behold, one fine morning, her plump, white-skinned
brother, the spiritualist, made his appearance and expressed his
desire to speak to me alone.
He was a man without will; in spite of his education and his delicacy
he could never resist reading another person's letter, if it lay
before him on the table. And now he admitted that he had by chance
read a letter of Lubkov's to Ariadne.
"From that letter I learned that she is very shortly going abroad.
My dear fellow, I am very much upset! Explain it to me for goodness'
sake. I can make nothing of it!"
As he said this he breathed hard, breathing straight in my face and
smelling of boiled beef.
"Excuse me for revealing the secret of this letter to you, but you
are Ariadne's friend, she respects you. Perhaps you know something
of it. She wants to go away, but with whom? Mr. Lubkov is proposing
to go with her. Excuse me, but this is very strange of Mr. Lubkov;
he is a married man, he has children, and yet he is making a
declaration of love; he is writing to Ariadne 'darling.' Excuse me,
but it is so strange!"
I turned cold all over; my hands and feet went numb and I felt an
ache in my chest, as if a three-cornered stone had been driven into
it. Kotlovitch sank helplessly into an easy-chair, and his hands
fell limply at his sides.
"What can I do?" I inquired.
"Persuade her. . . . Impress her mind. . . . Just consider, what
is Lubkov to her? Is he a match for her? Oh, good God! How awful
it is, how awful it is!" he went on, clutching his head. "She has
had such splendid offers--Prince Maktuev and . . . and others.
The prince adores her, and only last Wednesday week his late
grandfather, Ilarion, declared positively that Ariadne would be his
wife--positively! His grandfather Ilarion is dead, but he is a
wonderfully intelligent person; we call up his spirit every day."
After this conversation I lay awake all night and thought of shooting
myself. In the morning I wrote five letters and tore them all up.
Then I sobbed in the barn. Then I took a sum of money from my father
and set off for the Caucasus without saying good-bye.
Of course, a woman's a woman and a man's a man, but can all that
be as simple in our day as it was before the Flood, and can it be
that I, a cultivated man endowed with a complex spiritual organisation,
ought to explain the intense attraction I feel towards a woman
simply by the fact that her bodily formation is different from mine?
Oh, how awful that would be! I want to believe that in his struggle
with nature the genius of man has struggled with physical love too,
as with an enemy, and that, if he has not conquered it, he has at
least succeeded in tangling it in a net-work of illusions of
brotherhood and love; and for me, at any rate, it is no longer a
simple instinct of my animal nature as with a dog or a toad, but
is real love, and every embrace is spiritualised by a pure impulse
of the heart and respect for the woman. In reality, a disgust for
the animal instinct has been trained for ages in hundreds of
generations; it is inherited by me in my blood and forms part of
my nature, and if I poetize love, is not that as natural and
inevitable in our day as my ears' not being able to move and my not
being covered with fur? I fancy that's how the majority of civilised
people look at it, so that the absence of the moral, poetical element
in love is treated in these days as a phenomenon, as a sign of
atavism; they say it is a symptom of degeneracy, of many forms of
insanity. It is true that, in poetizing love, we assume in those
we love qualities that are lacking in them, and that is a source
of continual mistakes and continual miseries for us. But to my
thinking it is better, even so; that is, it is better to suffer
than to find complacency on the basis of woman being woman and man
In Tiflis I received a letter from my father. He wrote that Ariadne
Grigoryevna had on such a day gone abroad, intending to spend the
whole winter away. A month later I returned home. It was by now
autumn. Every week Ariadne sent my father extremely interesting
letters on scented paper, written in an excellent literary style.
It is my opinion that every woman can be a writer. Ariadne described
in great detail how it had not been easy for her to make it up with
her aunt and induce the latter to give her a thousand roubles for
the journey, and what a long time she had spent in Moscow trying
to find an old lady, a distant relation, in order to persuade her
to go with her. Such a profusion of detail suggested fiction, and
I realised, of course, that she had no chaperon with her.
Soon afterwards I, too, had a letter from her, also scented and
literary. She wrote that she had missed me, missed my beautiful,
intelligent, loving eyes. She reproached me affectionately for
wasting my youth, for stagnating in the country when I might, like
her, be living in paradise under the palms, breathing the fragrance
of the orange-trees. And she signed herself "Your forsaken Ariadne."
Two days later came another letter in the same style, signed "Your
forgotten Ariadne." My mind was confused. I loved her passionately,
I dreamed of her every night, and then this "your forsaken," "your
forgotten"--what did it mean? What was it for? And then the
dreariness of the country, the long evenings, the disquieting
thoughts of Lubkov. . . . The uncertainty tortured me, and poisoned
my days and nights; it became unendurable. I could not bear it and
Ariadne summoned me to Abbazzia. I arrived there on a bright warm
day after rain; the rain-drops were still hanging on the trees and
glistening on the huge, barrack-like dépendance where Ariadne and
Lubkov were living.
They were not at home. I went into the park; wandered about the
avenues, then sat down. An Austrian General, with his hands behind
him, walked past me, with red stripes on his trousers such as our
generals wear. A baby was wheeled by in a perambulator and the
wheels squeaked on the damp sand. A decrepit old man with jaundice
passed, then a crowd of Englishwomen, a Catholic priest, then the
Austrian General again. A military band, only just arrived from
Fiume, with glittering brass instruments, sauntered by to the
bandstand--they began playing.
Have you ever been at Abbazzia? It's a filthy little Slav town with
only one street, which stinks, and in which one can't walk after
rain without goloshes. I had read so much and always with such
intense feeling about this earthly paradise that when afterwards,
holding up my trousers, I cautiously crossed the narrow street, and
in my ennui bought some hard pears from an old peasant woman who,
recognising me as a Russian, said: "Tcheeteery" for "tchetyry"
(four)--"davadtsat" for "dvadtsat" (twenty), and when I wondered
in perplexity where to go and what to do here, and when I inevitably
met Russians as disappointed as I was, I began to feel vexed and
ashamed. There is a calm bay there full of steamers and boats with
coloured sails. From there I could see Fiume and the distant islands
covered with lilac mist, and it would have been picturesque if the
view over the bay had not been hemmed in by the hotels and their
dépendances--buildings in an absurd, trivial style of architecture,
with which the whole of that green shore has been covered by greedy
money grubbers, so that for the most part you see nothing in this
little paradise but windows, terraces, and little squares with
tables and waiters black coats. There is a park such as you find
now in every watering-place abroad. And the dark, motionless, silent
foliage of the palms, and the bright yellow sand in the avenue, and
the bright green seats, and the glitter of the braying military
horns--all this sickened me in ten minutes! And yet one is obliged
for some reason to spend ten days, ten weeks, there!
Having been dragged reluctantly from one of these watering-places
to another, I have been more and more struck by the inconvenient
and niggardly life led by the wealthy and well-fed, the dulness and
feebleness of their imagination, the lack of boldness in their
tastes and desires. And how much happier are those tourists, old
and young, who, not having the money to stay in hotels, live where
they can, admire the view of the sea from the tops of the mountains,
lying on the green grass, walk instead of riding, see the forests
and villages at close quarters, observe the customs of the country,
listen to its songs, fall in love with its women. . . .
While I was sitting in the park, it began to get dark, and in the
twilight my Ariadne appeared, elegant and dressed like a princess;
after her walked Lubkov, wearing a new loose-fitting suit, bought
probably in Vienna.
"Why are you cross with me?" he was saying. "What have I done to
Seeing me, she uttered a cry of joy, and probably, if we had not
been in the park, would have thrown herself on my neck. She pressed
my hands warmly and laughed; and I laughed too and almost cried
with emotion. Questions followed, of the village, of my father,
whether I had seen her brother, and so on. She insisted on my looking
her straight in the face, and asked if I remembered the gudgeon,
our little quarrels, the picnics. . . .
"How nice it all was really!" she sighed. "But we're not having a
slow time here either. We have a great many acquaintances, my dear,
my best of friends! To-morrow I will introduce you to a Russian
family here, but please buy yourself another hat." She scrutinised
me and frowned. "Abbazzia is not the country," she said; "here one
must be _comme il faut_."
Then we went to the restaurant. Ariadne was laughing and mischievous
all the time; she kept calling me "dear," "good," "clever," and
seemed as though she could not believe her eyes that I was with
her. We sat on till eleven o'clock, and parted very well satisfied
both with the supper and with each other.
Next day Ariadne presented me to the Russian family as: "The son
of a distinguished professor whose estate is next to ours."
She talked to this family about nothing but estates and crops, and
kept appealing to me. She wanted to appear to be a very wealthy
landowner, and did, in fact, succeed in doing so. Her manner was
superb like that of a real aristocrat, which indeed she was by
"But what a person my aunt is!" she said suddenly, looking at me
with a smile. "We had a slight tiff, and she has bolted off to
Meran. What do you say to that?"
Afterwards when we were walking in the park I asked her:
"What aunt were you talking of just now? What aunt is that?"
"That was a saving lie," laughed Ariadne. "They must not know I'm
without a chaperon."
After a moment's silence she came closer to me and said:
"My dear, my dear, do be friends with Lubkov. He is so unhappy! His
wife and mother are simply awful."
She used the formal mode of address in speaking to Lubkov, and when
she was going up to bed she said good-night to him exactly as she
did to me, and their rooms were on different floors. All this made
me hope that it was all nonsense, and that there was no sort of
love affair between them, and I felt at ease when I met him. And
when one day he asked me for the loan of three hundred roubles, I
gave it to him with the greatest pleasure.
Every day we spent in enjoying ourselves and in nothing but enjoying
ourselves; we strolled in the park, we ate, we drank. Every day
there were conversations with the Russian family. By degrees I got
used to the fact that if I went into the park I should be sure to
meet the old man with jaundice, the Catholic priest, and the Austrian
General, who always carried a pack of little cards, and wherever
it was possible sat down and played patience, nervously twitching
his shoulders. And the band played the same thing over and over
At home in the country I used to feel ashamed to meet the peasants
when I was fishing or on a picnic party on a working day; here too
I was ashamed at the sight of the footmen, the coachmen, and the
workmen who met us. It always seemed to me they were looking at me
and thinking: "Why are you doing nothing?" And I was conscious of
this feeling of shame every day from morning to night. It was a
strange, unpleasant, monotonous time; it was only varied by Lubkov's
borrowing from me now a hundred, now fifty guldens, and being
suddenly revived by the money as a morphia-maniac is by morphia,
beginning to laugh loudly at his wife, at himself, at his creditors.
At last it began to be rainy and cold. We went to Italy, and I
telegraphed to my father begging him for mercy's sake to send me
eight hundred roubles to Rome. We stayed in Venice, in Bologna, in
Florence, and in every town invariably put up at an expensive hotel,
where we were charged separately for lights, and for service, and
for heating, and for bread at lunch, and for the right of having
dinner by ourselves. We ate enormously. In the morning they gave
us _café complet_; at one o'clock lunch: meat, fish, some sort of
omelette, cheese, fruits, and wine. At six o'clock dinner of eight
courses with long intervals, during which we drank beer and wine.
At nine o'clock tea. At midnight Ariadne would declare she was
hungry, and ask for ham and boiled eggs. We would eat to keep her
In the intervals between meals we used to rush about the museums
and exhibitions in continual anxiety for fear we should be late for
dinner or lunch. I was bored at the sight of the pictures; I longed
to be at home to rest; I was exhausted, looked about for a chair
and hypocritically repeated after other people: "How exquisite,
what atmosphere!" Like overfed boa constrictors, we noticed only
the most glaring objects. The shop windows hypnotised us; we went
into ecstasies over imitation brooches and bought a mass of useless
The same thing happened in Rome, where it rained and there was a
cold wind. After a heavy lunch we went to look at St. Peter's, and
thanks to our replete condition and perhaps the bad weather, it
made no sort of impression on us, and detecting in each other an
indifference to art, we almost quarrelled.
The money came from my father. I went to get it, I remember, in the
morning. Lubkov went with me.
"The present cannot be full and happy when one has a past," said
he. "I have heavy burdens left on me by the past. However, if only
I get the money, it's no great matter, but if not, I'm in a fix.
Would you believe it, I have only eight francs left, yet I must
send my wife a hundred and my mother another. And we must live here
too. Ariadne's like a child; she won't enter into the position, and
flings away money like a duchess. Why did she buy a watch yesterday?
And, tell me, what object is there in our going on playing at being
good children? Why, our hiding our relations from the servants and
our friends costs us from ten to fifteen francs a day, as I have
to have a separate room. What's the object of it?"
I felt as though a sharp stone had been turned round in my chest.
There was no uncertainty now; it was all clear to me. I turned cold
all over, and at once made a resolution to give up seeing them, to
run away from them, to go home at once. . . .
"To get on terms with a woman is easy enough," Lubkov went on. "You
have only to undress her; but afterwards what a bore it is, what a
When I counted over the money I received he said:
"If you don't lend me a thousand francs, I am faced with complete
ruin. Your money is the only resource left to me."
I gave him the money, and he at once revived and began laughing
about his uncle, a queer fish, who could never keep his address
secret from his wife. When I reached the hotel I packed and paid
my bill. I had still to say good-bye to Ariadne.
I knocked at the door.
In her room was the usual morning disorder: tea-things on the table,
an unfinished roll, an eggshell; a strong overpowering reek of
scent. The bed had not been made, and it was evident that two had
slept in it.
Ariadne herself had only just got out of bed and was now with her
hair down in a flannel dressing-jacket.
I said good-morning to her, and then sat in silence for a minute
while she tried to put her hair tidy, and then I asked her, trembling
"Why . . . why . . . did you send for me here?"
Evidently she guessed what I was thinking; she took me by the hand
"I want you to be here, you are so pure."
I felt ashamed of my emotion, of my trembling. And I was afraid I
might begin sobbing, too! I went out without saying another word,
and within an hour I was sitting in the train. All the journey, for
some reason, I imagined Ariadne with child, and she seemed disgusting
to me, and all the women I saw in the trains and at the stations
looked to me, for some reason, as if they too were with child, and
they too seemed disgusting and pitiable. I was in the position of
a greedy, passionate miser who should suddenly discover that all
his gold coins were false. The pure, gracious images which my
imagination, warmed by love, had cherished for so long, my plans,
my hopes, my memories, my ideas of love and of woman--all now
were jeering and putting out their tongues at me. "Ariadne," I kept
asking with horror, "that young, intellectual, extraordinarily
beautiful girl, the daughter of a senator, carrying on an intrigue
with such an ordinary, uninteresting vulgarian? But why should she
not love Lubkov?" I answered myself. "In what is he inferior to me?
Oh, let her love any one she likes, but why lie to me? But why is
she bound to be open with me?" And so I went on over and over again
till I was stupefied.
It was cold in the train; I was travelling first class, but even
so there were three on a side, there were no double windows, the
outer door opened straight into the compartment, and I felt as
though I were in the stocks, cramped, abandoned, pitiful, and my
legs were fearfully numb, and at the same time I kept recalling how
fascinating she had been that morning in her dressing-jacket and
with her hair down, and I was suddenly overcome by such acute
jealousy that I leapt up in anguish, so that my neighbours stared
at me in wonder and positive alarm.
At home I found deep snow and twenty degrees of frost. I'm fond of
the winter; I'm fond of it because at that time, even in the hardest
frosts, it's particularly snug at home. It's pleasant to put on
one's fur jacket and felt overboots on a clear frosty day, to do
something in the garden or in the yard, or to read in a well warmed
room, to sit in my father's study before the open fire, to wash in
my country bath-house. . . . Only if there is no mother in the
house, no sister and no children, it is somehow dreary on winter
evenings, and they seem extraordinarily long and quiet. And the
warmer and snugger it is, the more acutely is this lack felt. In
the winter when I came back from abroad, the evenings were endlessly
long, I was intensely depressed, so depressed that I could not even
read; in the daytime I was coming and going, clearing away the snow
in the garden or feeding the chickens and the calves, but in the
evening it was all up with me.
I had never cared for visitors before, but now I was glad of them,
for I knew there was sure to be talk of Ariadne. Kotlovitch, the
spiritualist, used often to come to talk about his sister, and
sometimes he brought with him his friend Prince Maktuev, who was
as much in love with Ariadne as I was. To sit in Ariadne's room,
to finger the keys of her piano, to look at her music was a necessity
for the prince--he could not live without it; and the spirit of
his grandfather Ilarion was still predicting that sooner or later
she would be his wife. The prince usually stayed a long time with
us, from lunch to midnight, saying nothing all the time; in silence
he would drink two or three bottles of beer, and from time to time,
to show that he too was taking part in the conversation, he would
laugh an abrupt, melancholy, foolish laugh. Before going home he
would always take me aside and ask me in an undertone: "When did
you see Ariadne Grigoryevna last? Was she quite well? I suppose
she's not tired of being out there?"
Spring came on. There was the harrowing to do and then the sowing
of spring corn and clover. I was sad, but there was the feeling of
spring. One longed to accept the inevitable. Working in the fields
and listening to the larks, I asked myself: "Couldn't I have done
with this question of personal happiness once and for all? Couldn't
I lay aside my fancy and marry a simple peasant girl?"
Suddenly when we were at our very busiest, I got a letter with the
Italian stamp, and the clover and the beehives and the calves and
the peasant girl all floated away like smoke. This time Ariadne
wrote that she was profoundly, infinitely unhappy. She reproached
me for not holding out a helping hand to her, for looking down upon
her from the heights of my virtue and deserting her at the moment
of danger. All this was written in a large, nervous handwriting
with blots and smudges, and it was evident that she wrote in haste
and distress. In conclusion she besought me to come and save her.
Again my anchor was hauled up and I was carried away. Ariadne was
in Rome. I arrived late in the evening, and when she saw me, she
sobbed and threw herself on my neck. She had not changed at all
that winter, and was just as young and charming. We had supper
together and afterwards drove about Rome until dawn, and all the
time she kept telling me about her doings. I asked where Lubkov
"Don't remind me of that creature!" she cried. "He is loathsome and
disgusting to me!"
"But I thought you loved him," I said.
"Never," she said. "At first he struck me as original and aroused
my pity, that was all. He is insolent and takes a woman by storm.
And that's attractive. But we won't talk about him. That is a
melancholy page in my life. He has gone to Russia to get money.
Serve him right! I told him not to dare to come back."
She was living then, not at an hotel, but in a private lodging of
two rooms which she had decorated in her own taste, frigidly and
After Lubkov had gone away she had borrowed from her acquaintances
about five thousand francs, and my arrival certainly was the one
salvation for her.
I had reckoned on taking her back to the country, but I did not
succeed in that. She was homesick for her native place, but her
recollections of the poverty she had been through there, of privations,
of the rusty roof on her brother's house, roused a shudder of
disgust, and when I suggested going home to her, she squeezed my
hands convulsively and said:
"No, no, I shall die of boredom there!"
Then my love entered upon its final phase.
"Be the darling that you used to be; love me a little," said Ariadne,
bending over to me. "You're sulky and prudent, you're afraid to
yield to impulse, and keep thinking of consequences, and that's
dull. Come, I beg you, I beseech you, be nice to me! . . . My pure
one, my holy one, my dear one, I love you so!"
I became her lover. For a month anyway I was like a madman, conscious
of nothing but rapture. To hold in one's arms a young and lovely
body, with bliss to feel her warmth every time one waked up from
sleep, and to remember that she was there--she, my Ariadne!--
oh, it was not easy to get used to that! But yet I did get used to
it, and by degrees became capable of reflecting on my new position.
First of all, I realised, as before, that Ariadne did not love me.
But she wanted to be really in love, she was afraid of solitude,
and, above all, I was healthy, young, vigorous; she was sensual,
like all cold people, as a rule--and we both made a show of being
united by a passionate, mutual love. Afterwards I realised something
We stayed in Rome, in Naples, in Florence; we went to Paris, but
there we thought it cold and went back to Italy. We introduced
ourselves everywhere as husband and wife, wealthy landowners. People
readily made our acquaintance and Ariadne had great social success
everywhere. As she took lessons in painting, she was called an
artist, and only imagine, that quite suited her, though she had not
the slightest trace of talent.
She would sleep every day till two or three o'clock; she had her
coffee and lunch in bed. At dinner she would eat soup, lobster,
fish, meat, asparagus, game, and after she had gone to bed I used
to bring up something, for instance roast beef, and she would eat
it with a melancholy, careworn expression, and if she waked in the
night she would eat apples and oranges.
The chief, so to say fundamental, characteristic of the woman was
an amazing duplicity. She was continually deceitful every minute,
apparently apart from any necessity, as it were by instinct, by an
impulse such as makes the sparrow chirrup and the cockroach waggle
its antennæ. She was deceitful with me, with the footman, with the
porter, with the tradesmen in the shops, with her acquaintances;
not one conversation, not one meeting, took place without affectation
and pretence. A man had only to come into our room--whoever it
might be, a waiter, or a baron--for her eyes, her expression, her
voice to change, even the contour of her figure was transformed.
At the very first glance at her then, you would have said there
were no more wealthy and fashionable people in Italy than we. She
never met an artist or a musician without telling him all sorts of
lies about his remarkable talent.
"You have such a talent!" she would say, in honeyed cadences, "I'm
really afraid of you. I think you must see right through people."
And all this simply in order to please, to be successful, to be
fascinating! She waked up every morning with the one thought of
"pleasing"! It was the aim and object of her life. If I had told
her that in such a house, in such a street, there lived a man who
was not attracted by her, it would have caused her real suffering.
She wanted every day to enchant, to captivate, to drive men crazy.
The fact that I was in her power and reduced to a complete nonentity
before her charms gave her the same sort of satisfaction that
visitors used to feel in tournaments. My subjection was not enough,
and at nights, stretched out like a tigress, uncovered--she was
always too hot--she would read the letters sent her by Lubkov;
he besought her to return to Russia, vowing if she did not he would
rob or murder some one to get the money to come to her. She hated
him, but his passionate, slavish letters excited her. She had an
extraordinary opinion of her own charms; she imagined that if
somewhere, in some great assembly, men could have seen how beautifully
she was made and the colour of her skin, she would have vanquished
all Italy, the whole world. Her talk of her figure, of her skin,
offended me, and observing this, she would, when she was angry, to
vex me, say all sorts of vulgar things, taunting me. One day when
we were at the summer villa of a lady of our acquaintance, and she
lost her temper, she even went so far as to say: "If you don't leave
off boring me with your sermons, I'll undress this minute and lie
naked here on these flowers."
Often looking at her asleep, or eating, or trying to assume a naïve
expression, I wondered why that extraordinary beauty, grace, and
intelligence had been given her by God. Could it simply be for
lolling in bed, eating and lying, lying endlessly? And was she
intelligent really? She was afraid of three candles in a row, of
the number thirteen, was terrified of spells and bad dreams. She
argued about free love and freedom in general like a bigoted old
woman, declared that Boleslav Markevitch was a better writer than
Turgenev. But she was diabolically cunning and sharp, and knew how
to seem a highly educated, advanced person in company.
Even at a good-humoured moment, she could always insult a servant
or kill an insect without a pang; she liked bull-fights, liked to
read about murders, and was angry when prisoners were acquitted.
For the life Ariadne and I were leading, we had to have a great
deal of money. My poor father sent me his pension, all the little
sums he received, borrowed for me wherever he could, and when one
day he answered me: "Non habeo," I sent him a desperate telegram
in which I besought him to mortgage the estate. A little later I
begged him to get money somehow on a second mortgage. He did this
too without a murmur and sent me every farthing. Ariadne despised
the practical side of life; all this was no concern of hers, and
when flinging away thousands of francs to satisfy her mad desires
I groaned like an old tree, she would be singing "Addio bella Napoli"
with a light heart.
Little by little I grew cold to her and began to be ashamed of our
tie. I am not fond of pregnancy and confinements, but now I sometimes
dreamed of a child who would have been at least a formal justification
of our life. That I might not be completely disgusted with myself,
I began reading and visiting museums and galleries, gave up drinking
and took to eating very little. If one keeps oneself well in hand
from morning to night, one's heart seems lighter. I began to bore
Ariadne too. The people with whom she won her triumphs were, by the
way, all of the middling sort; as before, there were no ambassadors,
there was no salon, the money did not run to it, and this mortified
her and made her sob, and she announced to me at last that perhaps
she would not be against our returning to Russia.
And here we are on our way. For the last few months she has been
zealously corresponding with her brother; she evidently has some
secret projects, but what they are--God knows! I am sick of trying
to fathom her underhand schemes! But we're going, not to the country,
but to Yalta and afterwards to the Caucasus. She can only exist now
at watering-places, and if you knew how I hate all these watering-places,
how suffocated and ashamed I am in them. If I could be in the country
now! If I could only be working now, earning my bread by the sweat
of my brow, atoning for my follies. I am conscious of a superabundance
of energy and I believe that if I were to put that energy to work
I could redeem my estate in five years. But now, as you see, there
is a complication. Here we're not abroad, but in mother Russia; we
shall have to think of lawful wedlock. Of course, all attraction
is over; there is no trace left of my old love, but, however that
may be, I am bound in honour to marry her.
Shamohin, excited by his story, went below with me and we continued
talking about women. It was late. It appeared that he and I were
in the same cabin.
"So far it is only in the village that woman has not fallen behind
man," said Shamohin. "There she thinks and feels just as man does,
and struggles with nature in the name of culture as zealously as
he. In the towns the woman of the bourgeois or intellectual class
has long since fallen behind, and is returning to her primitive
condition. She is half a human beast already, and, thanks to her,
a great deal of what had been won by human genius has been lost
again; the woman gradually disappears and in her place is the
primitive female. This dropping-back on the part of the educated
woman is a real danger to culture; in her retrogressive movement
she tries to drag man after her and prevents him from moving forward.
That is incontestable."
I asked: "Why generalise? Why judge of all women from Ariadne alone?
The very struggle of women for education and sexual equality, which
I look upon as a struggle for justice, precludes any hypothesis of
a retrograde movement."
But Shamohin scarcely listened to me and he smiled distrustfully.
He was a passionate, convinced misogynist, and it was impossible
to alter his convictions.
"Oh, nonsense!" he interrupted. "When once a woman sees in me, not
a man, not an equal, but a male, and her one anxiety all her life
is to attract me--that is, to take possession of me--how can
one talk of their rights? Oh, don't you believe them; they are very,
very cunning! We men make a great stir about their emancipation,
but they don't care about their emancipation at all, they only
pretend to care about it; they are horribly cunning things, horribly
I began to feel sleepy and weary of discussion. I turned over with
my face to the wall.
"Yes," I heard as I fell asleep--"yes, and it's our education
that's at fault, sir. In our towns, the whole education and bringing
up of women in its essence tends to develop her into the human beast
--that is, to make her attractive to the male and able to vanquish
him. Yes, indeed"--Shamohiri sighed--"little girls ought to be
taught and brought up with boys, so that they might be always
together. A woman ought to be trained so that she may be able, like
a man, to recognise when she's wrong, or she always thinks she's
in the right. Instil into a little girl from her cradle that a man
is not first of all a cavalier or a possible lover, but her neighbour,
her equal in everything. Train her to think logically, to generalise,
and do not assure her that her brain weighs less than a man's and
that therefore she can be indifferent to the sciences, to the arts,
to the tasks of culture in general. The apprentice to the shoemaker
or the house painter has a brain of smaller size than the grown-up
man too, yet he works, suffers, takes his part in the general
struggle for existence. We must give up our attitude to the
physiological aspect, too--to pregnancy and childbirth, seeing
that in the first place women don't have babies every month; secondly,
not all women have babies; and, thirdly, a normal countrywoman works
in the fields up to the day of her confinement and it does her no
harm. Then there ought to be absolute equality in everyday life.
If a man gives a lady his chair or picks up the handkerchief she
has dropped, let her repay him in the same way. I have no objection
if a girl of good family helps me to put on my coat or hands me a
glass of water--"
I heard no more, for I fell asleep.
Next morning when we were approaching Sevastopol, it was damp,
unpleasant weather; the ship rocked. Shamohin sat on deck with me,
brooding and silent. When the bell rang for tea, men with their
coat-collars turned up and ladies with pale, sleepy faces began
going below; a young and very beautiful lady, the one who had been
so angry with the Customs officers at Volotchisk, stopped before
Shamohin and said with the expression of a naughty, fretful child:
"Jean, your birdie's been sea-sick."
Afterwards when I was at Yalta I saw the same beautiful lady dashing
about on horseback with a couple of officers hardly able to keep
up with her. And one morning I saw her in an overall and a Phrygian
cap, sketching on the sea-front with a great crowd admiring her a
little way off. I too was introduced to her. She pressed my hand
with great warmth, and looking at me ecstatically, thanked me in
honeyed cadences for the pleasure I had given her by my writings.
"Don't you believe her," Shamohin whispered to me, "she has never
read a word of them."
When I was walking on the sea-front in the early evening Shamohin
met me with his arms full of big parcels of fruits and dainties.
"Prince Maktuev is here!" he said joyfully. "He came yesterday with
her brother, the spiritualist! Now I understand what she was writing
to him about! Oh, Lord!" he went on, gazing up to heaven, and
pressing his parcels to his bosom. "If she hits it off with the
prince, it means freedom, then I can go back to the country with
And he ran on.
"I begin to believe in spirits," he called to me, looking back.
"The spirit of grandfather Ilarion seems to have prophesied the
truth! Oh, if only it is so!"
The day after this meeting I left Yalta and how Shamohin's story
ended I don't know.
IT is one o'clock in the afternoon. Shopping is at its height at
the "Nouveauté's de Paris," a drapery establishment in one of the
Arcades. There is a monotonous hum of shopmen's voices, the hum one
hears at school when the teacher sets the boys to learn something
by heart. This regular sound is not interrupted by the laughter of
lady customers nor the slam of the glass door, nor the scurrying
of the boys.
Polinka, a thin fair little person whose mother is the head of a
dressmaking establishment, is standing in the middle of the shop
looking about for some one. A dark-browed boy runs up to her and
asks, looking at her very gravely:
"What is your pleasure, madam?"
"Nikolay Timofeitch always takes my order," answers Polinka.
Nikolay Timofeitch, a graceful dark young man, fashionably dressed,
with frizzled hair and a big pin in his cravat, has already cleared
a place on the counter and is craning forward, looking at Polinka
with a smile.
"Morning, Pelagea Sergeevna!" he cries in a pleasant, hearty baritone
voice. "What can I do for you?"
"Good-morning!" says Polinka, going up to him. "You see, I'm back
again. . . . Show me some gimp, please."
"Gimp--for what purpose?"
"For a bodice trimming--to trim a whole dress, in fact."
Nickolay Timofeitch lays several kinds of gimp before Polinka; she
looks at the trimmings languidly and begins bargaining over them.
"Oh, come, a rouble's not dear," says the shopman persuasively,
with a condescending smile. "It's a French trimming, pure silk. . . .
We have a commoner sort, if you like, heavier. That's forty-five
kopecks a yard; of course, it's nothing like the same quality."
"I want a bead corselet, too, with gimp buttons," says Polinka,
bending over the gimp and sighing for some reason. "And have you
any bead motifs to match?"
Polinka bends still lower over the counter and asks softly:
"And why did you leave us so early on Thursday, Nikolay Timofeitch?"
"Hm! It's queer you noticed it," says the shopman, with a smirk.
"You were so taken up with that fine student that . . . it's queer
you noticed it!"
Polinka flushes crimson and remains mute. With a nervous quiver in
his fingers the shopman closes the boxes, and for no sort of object
piles them one on the top of another. A moment of silence follows.
"I want some bead lace, too," says Polinka, lifting her eyes guiltily
to the shopman.
"What sort? Black or coloured? Bead lace on tulle is the most
"And how much is it?"
"The black's from eighty kopecks and the coloured from two and a
half roubles. I shall never come and see you again," Nikolay
Timofeitch adds in an undertone.
"Why? It's very simple. You must understand that yourself. Why
should I distress myself? It's a queer business! Do you suppose
it's a pleasure to me to see that student carrying on with you? I
see it all and I understand. Ever since autumn he's been hanging
about you and you go for a walk with him almost every day; and when
he is with you, you gaze at him as though he were an angel. You are
in love with him; there's no one to beat him in your eyes. Well,
all right, then, it's no good talking."
Polinka remains dumb and moves her finger on the counter in
"I see it all," the shopman goes on. "What inducement have I to
come and see you? I've got some pride. It's not every one likes to
play gooseberry. What was it you asked for?"
"Mamma told me to get a lot of things, but I've forgotten. I want
some feather trimming too."
"What kind would you like?"
"The best, something fashionable."
"The most fashionable now are real bird feathers. If you want the
most fashionable colour, it's heliotrope or _kanak_--that is,
claret with a yellow shade in it. We have an immense choice. And
what all this affair is going to lead to, I really don't understand.
Here you are in love, and how is it to end?"
Patches of red come into Nikolay Timofeitch's face round his eyes.
He crushes the soft feather trimming in his hand and goes on
"Do you imagine he'll marry you--is that it? You'd better drop
any such fancies. Students are forbidden to marry. And do you suppose
he comes to see you with honourable intentions? A likely idea! Why,
these fine students don't look on us as human beings . . . they
only go to see shopkeepers and dressmakers to laugh at their ignorance
and to drink. They're ashamed to drink at home and in good houses,
but with simple uneducated people like us they don't care what any
one thinks; they'd be ready to stand on their heads. Yes! Well,
which feather trimming will you take? And if he hangs about and
carries on with you, we know what he is after. . . . When he's a
doctor or a lawyer he'll remember you: 'Ah,' he'll say, 'I used to
have a pretty fair little thing! I wonder where she is now?' Even
now I bet you he boasts among his friends that he's got his eye on
a little dressmaker."
Polinka sits down and gazes pensively at the pile of white boxes.
"No, I won't take the feather trimming," she sighs. "Mamma had
better choose it for herself; I may get the wrong one. I want six
yards of fringe for an overcoat, at forty kopecks the yard. For the
same coat I want cocoa-nut buttons, perforated, so they can be sown
on firmly. . . ."
Nikolay Timofeitch wraps up the fringe and the buttons. She looks
at him guiltily and evidently expects him to go on talking, but he
remains sullenly silent while he tidies up the feather trimming.
"I mustn't forget some buttons for a dressing-gown . . ." she says
after an interval of silence, wiping her pale lips with a handkerchief.
"It's for a shopkeeper's wife, so give me something rather striking."
"Yes, if it's for a shopkeeper's wife, you'd better have something
bright. Here are some buttons. A combination of colours--red,
blue, and the fashionable gold shade. Very glaring. The more refined
prefer dull black with a bright border. But I don't understand.
Can't you see for yourself? What can these . . . walks lead to?"
"I don't know," whispers Polinka, and she bends over the buttons;
"I don't know myself what's come to me, Nikolay Timofeitch."
A solid shopman with whiskers forces his way behind Nikolay
Timofeitch's back, squeezing him to the counter, and beaming with
the choicest gallantry, shouts:
"Be so kind, madam, as to step into this department. We have three
kinds of jerseys: plain, braided, and trimmed with beads! Which may
I have the pleasure of showing you?"
At the same time a stout lady passes by Polinka, pronouncing in a
rich, deep voice, almost a bass:
"They must be seamless, with the trade mark stamped in them, please."
"Pretend to be looking at the things," Nikolay Timofeitch whispers,
bending down to Polinka with a forced smile. "Dear me, you do look
pale and ill; you are quite changed. He'll throw you over, Pelagea
Sergeevna! Or if he does marry you, it won't be for love but from
hunger; he'll be tempted by your money. He'll furnish himself a
nice home with your dowry, and then be ashamed of you. He'll keep
you out of sight of his friends and visitors, because you're
uneducated. He'll call you 'my dummy of a wife.' You wouldn't know
how to behave in a doctor's or lawyer's circle. To them you're a
dressmaker, an ignorant creature."
"Nikolay Timofeitch!" somebody shouts from the other end of the
shop. "The young lady here wants three yards of ribbon with a metal
stripe. Have we any?"
Nikolay Timofeitch turns in that direction, smirks and shouts:
"Yes, we have! Ribbon with a metal stripe, ottoman with a satin
stripe, and satin with a moiré stripe!"
"Oh, by the way, I mustn't forget, Olga asked me to get her a pair
of stays!" says Polinka.
"There are tears in your eyes," says Nikolay Timofeitch in dismay.
"What's that for? Come to the corset department, I'll screen you
--it looks awkward."
With a forced smile and exaggeratedly free and easy manner, the
shopman rapidly conducts Polinka to the corset department and
conceals her from the public eye behind a high pyramid of boxes.
"What sort of corset may I show you?" he asks aloud, whispering
immediately: "Wipe your eyes!"
"I want . . . I want . . . size forty-eight centimetres. Only she
wanted one, lined . . . with real whalebone . . . I must talk to
you, Nikolay Timofeitch. Come to-day!"
"Talk? What about? There's nothing to talk about."
"You are the only person who . . . cares about me, and I've no one
to talk to but you."
"These are not reed or steel, but real whalebone. . . . What is
there for us to talk about? It's no use talking. . . . You are going
for a walk with him to-day, I suppose?"
"Yes; I . . . I am."
"Then what's the use of talking? Talk won't help. . . . You are in
love, aren't you?"
"Yes . . ." Polinka whispers hesitatingly, and big tears gush from
"What is there to say?" mutters Nikolay Timofeitch, shrugging his
shoulders nervously and turning pale. "There's no need of talk. . . .
Wipe your eyes, that's all. I . . . I ask for nothing."
At that moment a tall, lanky shopman comes up to the pyramid of
boxes, and says to his customer:
"Let me show you some good elastic garters that do not impede the
circulation, certified by medical authority . . ."
Nikolay Timofeitch screens Polinka, and, trying to conceal her
emotion and his own, wrinkles his face into a smile and says aloud:
"There are two kinds of lace, madam: cotton and silk! Oriental,
English, Valenciennes, crochet, torchon, are cotton. And rococo,
soutache, Cambray, are silk. . . . For God's sake, wipe your eyes!
They're coming this way!"
And seeing that her tears are still gushing he goes on louder than
"Spanish, Rococo, soutache, Cambray . . . stockings, thread, cotton,
silk . . ."
IN the cheapest room of a big block of furnished apartments Stepan
Klotchkov, a medical student in his third year, was walking to and
fro, zealously conning his anatomy. His mouth was dry and his
forehead perspiring from the unceasing effort to learn it by heart.
In the window, covered by patterns of frost, sat on a stool the
girl who shared his room--Anyuta, a thin little brunette of
five-and-twenty, very pale with mild grey eyes. Sitting with bent
back she was busy embroidering with red thread the collar of a man's
shirt. She was working against time. . . . The clock in the passage
struck two drowsily, yet the little room had not been put to rights
for the morning. Crumpled bed-clothes, pillows thrown about, books,
clothes, a big filthy slop-pail filled with soap-suds in which
cigarette ends were swimming, and the litter on the floor--all
seemed as though purposely jumbled together in one confusion. . . .
"The right lung consists of three parts . . ." Klotchkov repeated.
"Boundaries! Upper part on anterior wall of thorax reaches the
fourth or fifth rib, on the lateral surface, the fourth rib . . .
behind to the _spina scapulæ_. . ."
Klotchkov raised his eyes to the ceiling, striving to visualise
what he had just read. Unable to form a clear picture of it, he
began feeling his upper ribs through his waistcoat.
"These ribs are like the keys of a piano," he said. "One must
familiarise oneself with them somehow, if one is not to get muddled
over them. One must study them in the skeleton and the living body
. . . . I say, Anyuta, let me pick them out."
Anyuta put down her sewing, took off her blouse, and straightened
herself up. Klotchkov sat down facing her, frowned, and began
counting her ribs.
"H'm! . . . One can't feel the first rib; it's behind the shoulder-blade
. . . . This must be the second rib. . . . Yes . . . this is the third
. . . this is the fourth. . . . H'm! . . . yes. . . . Why are you
"Your fingers are cold!"
"Come, come . . . it won't kill you. Don't twist about. That must
be the third rib, then . . . this is the fourth. . . . You look
such a skinny thing, and yet one can hardly feel your ribs. That's
the second . . . that's the third. . . . Oh, this is muddling, and
one can't see it clearly. . . . I must draw it. . . . Where's my
Klotchkov took his crayon and drew on Anyuta's chest several parallel
lines corresponding with the ribs.
"First-rate. That's all straightforward. . . . Well, now I can sound
you. Stand up!"
Anyuta stood up and raised her chin. Klotchkov began sounding her,
and was so absorbed in this occupation that he did not notice how
Anyuta's lips, nose, and fingers turned blue with cold. Anyuta
shivered, and was afraid the student, noticing it, would leave off
drawing and sounding her, and then, perhaps, might fail in his exam.
"Now it's all clear," said Klotchkov when he had finished. "You sit
like that and don't rub off the crayon, and meanwhile I'll learn
up a little more."
And the student again began walking to and fro, repeating to himself.
Anyuta, with black stripes across her chest, looking as though she
had been tattooed, sat thinking, huddled up and shivering with cold.
She said very little as a rule; she was always silent, thinking and
thinking. . . .
In the six or seven years of her wanderings from one furnished room
to another, she had known five students like Klotchkov. Now they
had all finished their studies, had gone out into the world, and,
of course, like respectable people, had long ago forgotten her. One
of them was living in Paris, two were doctors, the fourth was an
artist, and the fifth was said to be already a professor. Klotchkov
was the sixth. . . . Soon he, too, would finish his studies and go
out into the world. There was a fine future before him, no doubt,
and Klotchkov probably would become a great man, but the present
was anything but bright; Klotchkov had no tobacco and no tea, and
there were only four lumps of sugar left. She must make haste and
finish her embroidery, take it to the woman who had ordered it, and
with the quarter rouble she would get for it, buy tea and tobacco.
"Can I come in?" asked a voice at the door.
Anyuta quickly threw a woollen shawl over her shoulders. Fetisov,
the artist, walked in.
"I have come to ask you a favour," he began, addressing Klotchkov,
and glaring like a wild beast from under the long locks that hung
over his brow. "Do me a favour; lend me your young lady just for a
couple of hours! I'm painting a picture, you see, and I can't get
on without a model."
"Oh, with pleasure," Klotchkov agreed. "Go along, Anyuta."
"The things I've had to put up with there," Anyuta murmured softly.
"Rubbish! The man's asking you for the sake of art, and not for any
sort of nonsense. Why not help him if you can?"
Anyuta began dressing.
"And what are you painting?" asked Klotchkov.
"Psyche; it's a fine subject. But it won't go, somehow. I have to
keep painting from different models. Yesterday I was painting one
with blue legs. 'Why are your legs blue?' I asked her. 'It's my
stockings stain them,' she said. And you're still grinding! Lucky
fellow! You have patience."
"Medicine's a job one can't get on with without grinding."
"H'm! . . . Excuse me, Klotchkov, but you do live like a pig! It's
awful the way you live!"
"How do you mean? I can't help it. . . . I only get twelve roubles
a month from my father, and it's hard to live decently on that."
"Yes . . . yes . . ." said the artist, frowning with an air of
disgust; "but, still, you might live better. . . . An educated man
is in duty bound to have taste, isn't he? And goodness knows what
it's like here! The bed not made, the slops, the dirt . . . yesterday's
porridge in the plates. . . Tfoo!"
"That's true," said the student in confusion; "but Anyuta has had
no time to-day to tidy up; she's been busy all the while."
When Anyuta and the artist had gone out Klotchkov lay down on the
sofa and began learning, lying down; then he accidentally dropped
asleep, and waking up an hour later, propped his head on his fists
and sank into gloomy reflection. He recalled the artist's words
that an educated man was in duty bound to have taste, and his
surroundings actually struck him now as loathsome and revolting.
He saw, as it were in his mind's eye, his own future, when he would
see his patients in his consulting-room, drink tea in a large
dining-room in the company of his wife, a real lady. And now that
slop-pail in which the cigarette ends were swimming looked incredibly
disgusting. Anyuta, too, rose before his imagination--a plain,
slovenly, pitiful figure . . . and he made up his mind to part with
her at once, at all costs.
When, on coming back from the artist's, she took off her coat, he
got up and said to her seriously:
"Look here, my good girl . . . sit down and listen. We must part!
The fact is, I don't want to live with you any longer."
Anyuta had come back from the artist's worn out and exhausted.
Standing so long as a model had made her face look thin and sunken,
and her chin sharper than ever. She said nothing in answer to the
student's words, only her lips began to tremble.
"You know we should have to part sooner or later, anyway," said the
student. "You're a nice, good girl, and not a fool; you'll
understand. . . ."
Anyuta put on her coat again, in silence wrapped up her embroidery
in paper, gathered together her needles and thread: she found the
screw of paper with the four lumps of sugar in the window, and laid
it on the table by the books.
"That's . . . your sugar . . ." she said softly, and turned away
to conceal her tears.
"Why are you crying?" asked Klotchkov.
He walked about the room in confusion, and said:
"You are a strange girl, really. . . . Why, you know we shall have
to part. We can't stay together for ever."
She had gathered together all her belongings, and turned to say
good-bye to him, and he felt sorry for her.
"Shall I let her stay on here another week?" he thought. "She really
may as well stay, and I'll tell her to go in a week;" and vexed at
his own weakness, he shouted to her roughly:
"Come, why are you standing there? If you are going, go; and if you
don't want to, take off your coat and stay! You can stay!"
Anyuta took off her coat, silently, stealthily, then blew her nose
also stealthily, sighed, and noiselessly returned to her invariable
position on her stool by the window.
The student drew his textbook to him and began again pacing from
corner to corner. "The right lung consists of three parts," he
repeated; "the upper part, on anterior wall of thorax, reaches the
fourth or fifth rib . . . ."
In the passage some one shouted at the top of his voice: "Grigory!
THE TWO VOLODYAS
"LET me; I want to drive myself! I'll sit by the driver!" Sofya
Lvovna said in a loud voice. "Wait a minute, driver; I'll get up
on the box beside you."
She stood up in the sledge, and her husband, Vladimir Nikititch,
and the friend of her childhood, Vladimir Mihalovitch, held her
arms to prevent her falling. The three horses were galloping fast.
"I said you ought not to have given her brandy," Vladimir Nikititch
whispered to his companion with vexation. "What a fellow you are,
The Colonel knew by experience that in women like his wife, Sofya
Lvovna, after a little too much wine, turbulent gaiety was followed
by hysterical laughter and then tears. He was afraid that when they
got home, instead of being able to sleep, he would have to be
administering compresses and drops.
"Wo!" cried Sofya Lvovna. "I want to drive myself!"
She felt genuinely gay and triumphant. For the last two months,
ever since her wedding, she had been tortured by the thought that
she had married Colonel Yagitch from worldly motives and, as it is
said, _par dépit_; but that evening, at the restaurant, she had
suddenly become convinced that she loved him passionately. In spite
of his fifty-four years, he was so slim, agile, supple, he made
puns and hummed to the gipsies' tunes so charmingly. Really, the
older men were nowadays a thousand times more interesting than the
young. It seemed as though age and youth had changed parts. The
Colonel was two years older than her father, but could there be any
importance in that if, honestly speaking, there were infinitely
more vitality, go, and freshness in him than in herself, though she
was only twenty-three?
"Oh, my darling!" she thought. "You are wonderful!"
She had become convinced in the restaurant, too, that not a spark
of her old feeling remained. For the friend of her childhood,
Vladimir Mihalovitch, or simply Volodya, with whom only the day
before she had been madly, miserably in love, she now felt nothing
but complete indifference. All that evening he had seemed to her
spiritless, torpid, uninteresting, and insignificant, and the
_sangfroid_ with which he habitually avoided paying at restaurants
on this occasion revolted her, and she had hardly been able to
resist saying, "If you are poor, you should stay at home." The
Colonel paid for all.
Perhaps because trees, telegraph posts, and drifts of snow kept
flitting past her eyes, all sorts of disconnected ideas came rushing
into her mind. She reflected: the bill at the restaurant had been
a hundred and twenty roubles, and a hundred had gone to the gipsies,
and to-morrow she could fling away a thousand roubles if she liked;
and only two months ago, before her wedding, she had not had three
roubles of her own, and had to ask her father for every trifle.
What a change in her life!
Her thoughts were in a tangle. She recalled, how, when she was a
child of ten, Colonel Yagitch, now her husband, used to make love
to her aunt, and every one in the house said that he had ruined
her. And her aunt had, in fact, often come down to dinner with her
eyes red from crying, and was always going off somewhere; and people
used to say of her that the poor thing could find no peace anywhere.
He had been very handsome in those days, and had an extraordinary
reputation as a lady-killer. So much so that he was known all over
the town, and it was said of him that he paid a round of visits to
his adorers every day like a doctor visiting his patients. And even
now, in spite of his grey hair, his wrinkles, and his spectacles,
his thin face looked handsome, especially in profile.
Sofya Lvovna's father was an army doctor, and had at one time served
in the same regiment with Colonel Yagitch. Volodya's father was an
army doctor too, and he, too, had once been in the same regiment
as her father and Colonel Yagitch. In spite of many amatory adventures,
often very complicated and disturbing, Volodya had done splendidly
at the university, and had taken a very good degree. Now he was
specialising in foreign literature, and was said to be writing a
thesis. He lived with his father, the army doctor, in the barracks,
and had no means of his own, though he was thirty. As children Sofya
and he had lived under the same roof, though in different flats.
He often came to play with her, and they had dancing and French
lessons together. But when he grew up into a graceful, remarkably
handsome young man, she began to feel shy of him, and then fell
madly in love with him, and had loved him right up to the time when
she was married to Yagitch. He, too, had been renowned for his
success with women almost from the age of fourteen, and the ladies
who deceived their husbands on his account excused themselves by
saying that he was only a boy. Some one had told a story of him
lately that when he was a student living in lodgings so as to be
near the university, it always happened if one knocked at his door,
that one heard his footstep, and then a whispered apology: "_Pardon,
je ne suis pas setul._" Yagitch was delighted with him, and blessed
him as a worthy successor, as Derchavin blessed Pushkin; he appeared
to be fond of him. They would play billiards or picquet by the hour
together without uttering a word, if Yagitch drove out on any
expedition he always took Volodya with him, and Yagitch was the
only person Volodya initiated into the mysteries of his thesis. In
earlier days, when Yagitch was rather younger, they had often been
in the position of rivals, but they had never been jealous of one
another. In the circle in which they moved Yagitch was nicknamed
Big Volodya, and his friend Little Volodya.
Besides Big Volodya, Little Volodya, and Sofya Lvovna, there was a
fourth person in the sledge--Margarita Alexandrovna, or, as every
one called her, Rita, a cousin of Madame Yagitch--a very pale
girl over thirty, with black eyebrows and a pince-nez, who was for
ever smoking cigarettes, even in the bitterest frost, and who always
had her knees and the front of her blouse covered with cigarette
ash. She spoke through her nose, drawling every word, was of a cold
temperament, could drink any amount of wine and liquor without being
drunk, and used to tell scandalous anecdotes in a languid and
tasteless way. At home she spent her days reading thick magazines,
covering them with cigarette ash, or eating frozen apples.
"Sonia, give over fooling," she said, drawling. "It's really silly."
As they drew near the city gates they went more slowly, and began
to pass people and houses. Sofya Lvovna subsided, nestled up to her
husband, and gave herself up to her thoughts. Little Volodya sat
opposite. By now her light-hearted and cheerful thoughts were mingled
with gloomy ones. She thought that the man sitting opposite knew
that she loved him, and no doubt he believed the gossip that she
married the Colonel _par dépit_. She had never told him of her love;
she had not wanted him to know, and had done her best to hide her
feeling, but from her face she knew that he understood her perfectly
--and her pride suffered. But what was most humiliating in her
position was that, since her wedding, Volodya had suddenly begun
to pay her attention, which he had never done before, spending hours
with her, sitting silent or chattering about trifles; and even now
in the sledge, though he did not talk to her, he touched her foot
with his and pressed her hand a little. Evidently that was all he
wanted, that she should be married; and it was evident that he
despised her and that she only excited in him an interest of a
special kind as though she were an immoral and disreputable woman.
And when the feeling of triumph and love for her husband were mingled
in her soul with humiliation and wounded pride, she was overcome
by a spirit of defiance, and longed to sit on the box, to shout and
whistle to the horses.
Just as they passed the nunnery the huge hundred-ton bell rang out.
Rita crossed herself.
"Our Olga is in that nunnery," said Sofya Lvovna, and she, too,
crossed herself and shuddered.
"Why did she go into the nunnery?" said the Colonel.
"_Par dépit_," Rita answered crossly, with obvious allusion to
Sofya's marrying Yagitch. "_Par dépit_ is all the fashion nowadays.
Defiance of all the world. She was always laughing, a desperate
flirt, fond of nothing but balls and young men, and all of a sudden
off she went--to surprise every one!"
"That's not true," said Volodya, turning down the collar of his fur
coat and showing his handsome face. "It wasn't a case of _par dépit_;
it was simply horrible, if you like. Her brother Dmitri was sent
to penal servitude, and they don't know where he is now. And her
mother died of grief."
He turned up his collar again.
"Olga did well," he added in a muffled voice. "Living as an adopted
child, and with such a paragon as Sofya Lvovna,--one must take
that into consideration too!"
Sofya Lvovna heard a tone of contempt in his voice, and longed to
say something rude to him, but she said nothing. The spirit of
defiance came over her again; she stood up again and shouted in a
"I want to go to the early service! Driver, back! I want to see
They turned back. The nunnery bell had a deep note, and Sofya Lvovna
fancied there was something in it that reminded her of Olga and her
life. The other church bells began ringing too. When the driver
stopped the horses, Sofya Lvovna jumped out of the sledge and,
unescorted and alone, went quickly up to the gate.
"Make haste, please!" her husband called to her. "It's late already."
She went in at the dark gateway, then by the avenue that led from
the gate to the chief church. The snow crunched under her feet, and
the ringing was just above her head, and seemed to vibrate through
her whole being. Here was the church door, then three steps down,
and an ante-room with ikons of the saints on both sides, a fragrance
of juniper and incense, another door, and a dark figure opening it
and bowing very low. The service had not yet begun. One nun was
walking by the ikon-screen and lighting the candles on the tall
standard candlesticks, another was lighting the chandelier. Here
and there, by the columns and the side chapels, there stood black,
motionless figures. "I suppose they must remain standing as they
are now till the morning," thought Sofya Lvovna, and it seemed to
her dark, cold, and dreary--drearier than a graveyard. She looked
with a feeling of dreariness at the still, motionless figures and
suddenly felt a pang at her heart. For some reason, in one short
nun, with thin shoulders and a black kerchief on her head, she
recognised Olga, though when Olga went into the nunnery she had
been plump and had looked taller. Hesitating and extremely agitated,
Sofya Lvovna went up to the nun, and looking over her shoulder into
her face, recognised her as Olga.
"Olga!" she cried, throwing up her hands, and could not speak from
The nun knew her at once; she raised her eyebrows in surprise, and
her pale, freshly washed face, and even, it seemed, the white
headcloth that she wore under her wimple, beamed with pleasure.
"What a miracle from God!" she said, and she, too, threw up her
thin, pale little hands.
Sofya Lvovna hugged her and kissed her warmly, and was afraid as
she did so that she might smell of spirits.
"We were just driving past, and we thought of you," she said,
breathing hard, as though she had been running. "Dear me! How pale
you are! I . . . I'm very glad to see you. Well, tell me how are
you? Are you dull?"
Sofya Lvovna looked round at the other nuns, and went on in a subdued
"There've been so many changes at home . . . you know, I'm married
to Colonel Yagitch. You remember him, no doubt. . . . I am very
happy with him."
"Well, thank God for that. And is your father quite well?
"Yes, he is quite well. He often speaks of you. You must come and
see us during the holidays, Olga, won't you?"
"I will come," said Olga, and she smiled. "I'll come on the second
Sofya Lvovna began crying, she did not know why, and for a minute
she shed tears in silence, then she wiped her eyes and said:
"Rita will be very sorry not to have seen you. She is with us too.
And Volodya's here. They are close to the gate. How pleased they'd
be if you'd come out and see them. Let's go out to them; the service
hasn't begun yet.''
"Let us," Olga agreed. She crossed herself three times and went out
with Sofya Lvovna to the entrance.
"So you say you're happy, Sonitchka?" she asked when they came out
at the gate.
"Well, thank God for that."
The two Volodyas, seeing the nun, got out of the sledge and greeted
her respectfully. Both were visibly touched by her pale face and
her black monastic dress, and both were pleased that she had
remembered them and come to greet them. That she might not be cold,
Sofya Lvovna wrapped her up in a rug and put one half of her fur
coat round her. Her tears had relieved and purified her heart, and
she was glad that this noisy, restless, and, in reality, impure
night should unexpectedly end so purely and serenely. And to keep
Olga by her a little longer she suggested:
"Let us take her for a drive! Get in, Olga; we'll go a little way."
The men expected the nun to refuse--saints don't dash about in
three-horse sledges; but to their surprise, she consented and got
into the sledge. And while the horses were galloping to the city
gate all were silent, and only tried to make her warm and comfortable,
and each of them was thinking of what she had been in the past and
what she was now. Her face was now passionless, inexpressive, cold,
pale, and transparent, as though there were water, not blood, in
her veins. And two or three years ago she had been plump and rosy,
talking about her suitors and laughing at every trifle.
Near the city gate the sledge turned back; when it stopped ten
minutes later near the nunnery, Olga got out of the sledge. The
bell had begun to ring more rapidly.
"The Lord save you," said Olga, and she bowed low as nuns do.
"Mind you come, Olga."
"I will, I will."
She went and quickly disappeared through the gateway. And when after
that they drove on again, Sofya Lvovna felt very sad. Every one was
silent. She felt dispirited and weak all over. That she should have
made a nun get into a sledge and drive in a company hardly sober
seemed to her now stupid, tactless, and almost sacrilegious. As the
intoxication passed off, the desire to deceive herself passed away
also. It was clear to her now that she did not love her husband,
and never could love him, and that it all had been foolishness and
nonsense. She had married him from interested motives, because, in
the words of her school friends, he was madly rich, and because she
was afraid of becoming an old maid like Rita, and because she was
sick of her father, the doctor, and wanted to annoy Volodya.
If she could have imagined when she got married, that it would be
so oppressive, so dreadful, and so hideous, she would not have
consented to the marriage for all the wealth in the world. But now
there was no setting it right. She must make up her mind to it.
They reached home. Getting into her warm, soft bed, and pulling the
bed-clothes over her, Sofya Lvovna recalled the dark church, the
smell of incense, and the figures by the columns, and she felt
frightened at the thought that these figures would be standing there
all the while she was asleep. The early service would be very, very
long; then there would be "the hours," then the mass, then the
service of the day.
"But of course there is a God--there certainly is a God; and I
shall have to die, so that sooner or later one must think of one's
soul, of eternal life, like Olga. Olga is saved now; she has settled
all questions for herself. . . . But if there is no God? Then her
life is wasted. But how is it wasted? Why is it wasted?"
And a minute later the thought came into her mind again:
"There is a God; death must come; one must think of one's soul. If
Olga were to see death before her this minute she would not be
afraid. She is prepared. And the great thing is that she has already
solved the problem of life for herself. There is a God . . . yes
. . . . But is there no other solution except going into a monastery?
To go into the monastery means to renounce life, to spoil it . . . ."
Sofya Lvovna began to feel rather frightened; she hid her head under
"I mustn't think about it," she whispered. "I mustn't. . . ."
Yagitch was walking about on the carpet in the next room with a
soft jingle of spurs, thinking about something. The thought occurred
to Sofya Lvovna that this man was near and dear to her only for one
reason--that his name, too, was Vladimir. She sat up in bed and
"What is it?" her husband responded.
She lay down again. She heard a bell, perhaps the same nunnery bell.
Again she thought of the vestibule and the dark figures, and thoughts
of God and of inevitable death strayed through her mind, and she
covered her ears that she might not hear the bell. She thought that
before old age and death there would be a long, long life before
her, and that day by day she would have to put up with being close
to a man she did not love, who had just now come into the bedroom
and was getting into bed, and would have to stifle in her heart her
hopeless love for the other young, fascinating, and, as she thought,
exceptional man. She looked at her husband and tried to say good-night
to him, but suddenly burst out crying instead. She was vexed with
"Well, now then for the music!" said Yagitch.
She was not pacified till ten o'clock in the morning. She left off
crying and trembling all over, but she began to have a splitting
headache. Yagitch was in haste to go to the late mass, and in the
next room was grumbling at his orderly, who was helping him to
dress. He came into the bedroom once with the soft jingle of his
spurs to fetch something, and then a second time wearing his
epaulettes, and his orders on his breast, limping slightly from
rheumatism; and it struck Sofya Lvovna that he looked and walked
like a bird of prey.
She heard Yagitch ring the telephone bell.
"Be so good as to put me on to the Vassilevsky barracks," he said;
and a minute later: "Vassilevsky barracks? Please ask Doctor
Salimovitch to come to the telephone . . ." And a minute later:
"With whom am I speaking? Is it you, Volodya? Delighted. Ask your
father to come to us at once, dear boy; my wife is rather shattered
after yesterday. Not at home, you say? H'm! . . . Thank you. Very
good. I shall be much obliged . . . _Merci_."
Yagitch came into the bedroom for the third time, bent down to his
wife, made the sign of the cross over her, gave her his hand to
kiss (the women who had been in love with him used to kiss his hand
and he had got into the habit of it), and saying that he should be
back to dinner, went out.
At twelve o'clock the maid came in to announce that Vladimir
Mihalovitch had arrived. Sofya Lvovna, staggering with fatigue and
headache, hurriedly put on her marvellous new lilac dressing-gown
trimmed with fur, and hastily did up her hair after a fashion. She
was conscious of an inexpressible tenderness in her heart, and was
trembling with joy and with fear that he might go away. She wanted
nothing but to look at him.
Volodya came dressed correctly for calling, in a swallow-tail coat
and white tie. When Sofya Lvovna came in he kissed her hand and
expressed his genuine regret that she was ill. Then when they had
sat down, he admired her dressing-gown.
"I was upset by seeing Olga yesterday," she said. "At first I felt
it dreadful, but now I envy her. She is like a rock that cannot be
shattered; there is no moving her. But was there no other solution
for her, Volodya? Is burying oneself alive the only solution of the
problem of life? Why, it's death, not life!"
At the thought of Olga, Volodya's face softened.
"Here, you are a clever man, Volodya," said Sofya Lvovna. "Show me
how to do what Olga has done. Of course, I am not a believer and
should not go into a nunnery, but one can do something equivalent.
Life isn't easy for me," she added after a brief pause. "Tell me
what to do. . . . Tell me something I can believe in. Tell me
something, if it's only one word."
"One word? By all means: tararaboomdeeay."
"Volodya, why do you despise me?" she asked hotly. "You talk to me
in a special, fatuous way, if you'll excuse me, not as one talks
to one's friends and women one respects. You are so good at your
work, you are fond of science; why do you never talk of it to me?
Why is it? Am I not good enough?"
Volodya frowned with annoyance and said:
"Why do you want science all of a sudden? Don't you perhaps want
constitutional government? Or sturgeon and horse-radish?"
"Very well, I am a worthless, trivial, silly woman with no convictions.
I have a mass, a mass of defects. I am neurotic, corrupt, and I
ought to be despised for it. But you, Volodya, are ten years older
than I am, and my husband is thirty years older. I've grown up
before your eyes, and if you would, you could have made anything
you liked of me--an angel. But you"--her voice quivered--
"treat me horribly. Yagitch has married me in his old age, and
you . . ."
"Come, come," said Volodya, sitting nearer her and kissing both her
hands. "Let the Schopenhauers philosophise and prove whatever they
like, while we'll kiss these little hands."
"You despise me, and if only you knew how miserable it makes me,"
she said uncertainly, knowing beforehand that he would not believe
her. "And if you only knew how I want to change, to begin another
life! I think of it with enthusiasm!" and tears of enthusiasm
actually came into her eyes. "To be good, honest, pure, not to be
lying; to have an object in life."
"Come, come, come, please don't be affected! I don't like it!" said
Volodya, and an ill-humoured expression came into his face. "Upon
my word, you might be on the stage. Let us behave like simple
To prevent him from getting cross and going away, she began defending
herself, and forced herself to smile to please him; and again she
began talking of Olga, and of how she longed to solve the problem
of her life and to become something real.
"Ta-ra-ra-boomdee-ay," he hummed. "Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay!"
And all at once he put his arm round her waist, while she, without
knowing what she was doing, laid her hands on his shoulders and for
a minute gazed with ecstasy, almost intoxication, at his clever,
ironical face, his brow, his eyes, his handsome beard.
"You have known that I love you for ever so long," she confessed
to him, and she blushed painfully, and felt that her lips were
twitching with shame. "I love you. Why do you torture me?"
She shut her eyes and kissed him passionately on the lips, and for
a long while, a full minute, could not take her lips away, though
she knew it was unseemly, that he might be thinking the worse of
her, that a servant might come in.
"Oh, how you torture me!" she repeated.
When half an hour later, having got all that he wanted, he was
sitting at lunch in the dining-room, she was kneeling before him,
gazing greedily into his face, and he told her that she was like a
little dog waiting for a bit of ham to be thrown to it. Then he sat
her on his knee, and dancing her up and down like a child, hummed:
"Tara-raboom-dee-ay. . . . Tara-raboom-dee-ay." And when he was
getting ready to go she asked him in a passionate whisper:
"When? To-day? Where?" And held out both hands to his mouth as
though she wanted to seize his answer in them.
"To-day it will hardly be convenient," he said after a minute's
thought. "To-morrow, perhaps."
And they parted. Before dinner Sofya Lvovna went to the nunnery to
see Olga, but there she was told that Olga was reading the psalter
somewhere over the dead. From the nunnery she went to her father's
and found that he, too, was out. Then she took another sledge and
drove aimlessly about the streets till evening. And for some reason
she kept thinking of the aunt whose eyes were red with crying, and
who could find no peace anywhere.
And at night they drove out again with three horses to a restaurant
out of town and listened to the gipsies. And driving back past the
nunnery again, Sofya Lvovna thought of Olga, and she felt aghast
at the thought that for the girls and women of her class there was
no solution but to go on driving about and telling lies, or going
into a nunnery to mortify the flesh. . . . And next day she met her
lover, and again Sofya Lvovna drove about the town alone in a hired
sledge thinking about her aunt.
A week later Volodya threw her over. And after that life went on
as before, uninteresting, miserable, and sometimes even agonising.
The Colonel and Volodya spent hours playing billiards and picquet,
Rita told anecdotes in the same languid, tasteless way, and Sofya
Lvovna went about alone in hired sledges and kept begging her husband
to take her for a good drive with three horses.
Going almost every day to the nunnery, she wearied Olga, complaining
of her unbearable misery, weeping, and feeling as she did so that
she brought with her into the cell something impure, pitiful, shabby.
And Olga repeated to her mechanically as though a lesson learnt by
rote, that all this was of no consequence, that it would all pass
and God would forgive her.
I HAVE seen a great many houses in my time, little and big, new and
old, built of stone and of wood, but of one house I have kept a
very vivid memory. It was, properly speaking, rather a cottage than
a house--a tiny cottage of one story, with three windows, looking
extraordinarily like a little old hunchback woman with a cap on.
Its white stucco walls, its tiled roof, and dilapidated chimney,
were all drowned in a perfect sea of green. The cottage was lost
to sight among the mulberry-trees, acacias, and poplars planted by
the grandfathers and great-grandfathers of its present occupants.
And yet it is a town house. Its wide courtyard stands in a row with
other similar green courtyards, and forms part of a street. Nothing
ever drives down that street, and very few persons are ever seen
walking through it.
The shutters of the little house are always closed; its occupants
do not care for sunlight--the light is no use to them. The windows
are never opened, for they are not fond of fresh air. People who
spend their lives in the midst of acacias, mulberries, and nettles
have no passion for nature. It is only to the summer visitor that
God has vouchsafed an eye for the beauties of nature. The rest of
mankind remain steeped in profound ignorance of the existence of
such beauties. People never prize what they have always had in
abundance. "What we have, we do not treasure," and what's more we
do not even love it.
The little house stands in an earthly paradise of green trees with
happy birds nesting in them. But inside . . . alas . . . ! In summer,
it is close and stifling within; in winter, hot as a Turkish bath,
not one breath of air, and the dreariness! . . .
The first time I visited the little house was many years ago on
business. I brought a message from the Colonel who was the owner
of the house to his wife and daughter. That first visit I remember
very distinctly. It would be impossible, indeed, to forget it.
Imagine a limp little woman of forty, gazing at you with alarm and
astonishment while you walk from the passage into the parlour. You
are a stranger, a visitor, "a young man"; that's enough to reduce
her to a state of terror and bewilderment. Though you have no dagger,
axe, or revolver in your hand, and though you smile affably, you
are met with alarm.
"Whom have I the honour and pleasure of addressing?" the little
lady asks in a trembling voice.
I introduced myself and explained why I had come. The alarm and
amazement were at once succeeded by a shrill, joyful "Ach!" and she
turned her eyes upwards to the ceiling. This "Ach!" was caught up
like an echo and repeated from the hall to the parlour, from the
parlour to the kitchen, and so on down to the cellar. Soon the whole
house was resounding with "Ach!" in various voices.
Five minutes later I was sitting on a big, soft, warm lounge in the
drawing-room listening to the "Ach!" echoing all down the street.
There was a smell of moth powder, and of goatskin shoes, a pair of
which lay on a chair beside me wrapped in a handkerchief. In the
windows were geraniums, and muslin curtains, and on the curtains
were torpid flies. On the wall hung the portrait of some bishop,
painted in oils, with the glass broken at one corner, and next to
the bishop a row of ancestors with lemon-coloured faces of a gipsy
type. On the table lay a thimble, a reel of cotton, and a half-knitted
stocking, and paper patterns and a black blouse, tacked together,
were lying on the floor. In the next room two alarmed and fluttered
old women were hurriedly picking up similar patterns and pieces of
tailor's chalk from the floor.
"You must, please, excuse us; we are dreadfully untidy," said the
While she talked to me, she stole embarrassed glances towards the
other room where the patterns were still being picked up. The door,
too, seemed embarrassed, opening an inch or two and then shutting
"What's the matter?" said the little lady, addressing the door.
_"Où est mon cravatte lequel mon père m'avait envoyé de Koursk?"_
asked a female voice at the door.
_"Ah, est-ce que, Marie . . . que_. . . Really, it's impossible
. . . . _Nous avons donc chez nous un homme peu connu de nous._ Ask
"How well we speak French, though!" I read in the eyes of the little
lady, who was flushing with pleasure.
Soon afterwards the door opened and I saw a tall, thin girl of
nineteen, in a long muslin dress with a gilt belt from which, I
remember, hung a mother-of-pearl fan. She came in, dropped a curtsy,
and flushed crimson. Her long nose, which was slightly pitted with
smallpox, turned red first, and then the flush passed up to her
eyes and her forehead.
"My daughter," chanted the little lady, "and, Manetchka, this is a
young gentleman who has come," etc.
I was introduced, and expressed my surprise at the number of paper
patterns. Mother and daughter dropped their eyes.
"We had a fair here at Ascension," said the mother; "we always buy
materials at the fair, and then it keeps us busy with sewing till
the next year's fair comes around again. We never put things out
to be made. My husband's pay is not very ample, and we are not able
to permit ourselves luxuries. So we have to make up everything
"But who will ever wear such a number of things? There are only two
"Oh . . . as though we were thinking of wearing them! They are not
to be worn; they are for the trousseau!"
"Ah, _mamam_, what are you saying?" said the daughter, and she
crimsoned again. "Our visitor might suppose it was true. I don't
intend to be married. Never!"
She said this, but at the very word "married" her eyes glowed.
Tea, biscuits, butter, and jam were brought in, followed by raspberries
and cream. At seven o'clock, we had supper, consisting of six
courses, and while we were at supper I heard a loud yawn from the
next room. I looked with surprise towards the door: it was a yawn
that could only come from a man.
"That's my husband's brother, Yegor Semyonitch," the little lady
explained, noticing my surprise. "He's been living with us for the
last year. Please excuse him; he cannot come in to see you. He is
such an unsociable person, he is shy with strangers. He is going
into a monastery. He was unfairly treated in the service, and the
disappointment has preyed on his mind."
After supper the little lady showed the vestment which Yegor
Semyonitch was embroidering with his own hands as an offering for
the Church. Manetchka threw off her shyness for a moment and showed
me the tobacco-pouch she was embroidering for her father. When I
pretended to be greatly struck by her work, she flushed crimson and
whispered something in her mother's ear. The latter beamed all over,
and invited me to go with her to the store-room. There I was shown
five large trunks, and a number of smaller trunks and boxes.
"This is her trousseau," her mother whispered; "we made it all
After looking at these forbidding trunks I took leave of my hospitable
hostesses. They made me promise to come and see them again some
It happened that I was able to keep this promise. Seven years after
my first visit, I was sent down to the little town to give expert
evidence in a case that was being tried there.
As I entered the little house I heard the same "Ach!" echo through
it. They recognised me at once. . . . Well they might! My first
visit had been an event in their lives, and when events are few
they are long remembered.
I walked into the drawing-room: the mother, who had grown stouter
and was already getting grey, was creeping about on the floor,
cutting out some blue material. The daughter was sitting on the
There was the same smell of moth powder; there were the same patterns,
the same portrait with the broken glass. But yet there was a change.
Beside the portrait of the bishop hung a portrait of the Colonel,
and the ladies were in mourning. The Colonel's death had occurred
a week after his promotion to be a general.
Reminiscences began. . . . The widow shed tears.
"We have had a terrible loss," she said. "My husband, you know, is
dead. We are alone in the world now, and have no one but ourselves
to look to. Yegor Semyonitch is alive, but I have no good news to
tell of him. They would not have him in the monastery on account
of--of intoxicating beverages. And now in his disappointment he
drinks more than ever. I am thinking of going to the Marshal of
Nobility to lodge a complaint. Would you believe it, he has more
than once broken open the trunks and . . . taken Manetchka's trousseau
and given it to beggars. He has taken everything out of two of the
trunks! If he goes on like this, my Manetchka will be left without
a trousseau at all."
"What are you saying, _mamam_?" said Manetchka, embarrassed. "Our
visitor might suppose . . . there's no knowing what he might suppose
. . . . I shall never--never marry."
Manetchka cast her eyes up to the ceiling with a look of hope and
aspiration, evidently not for a moment believing what she said.
A little bald-headed masculine figure in a brown coat and goloshes
instead of boots darted like a mouse across the passage and
disappeared. "Yegor Semyonitch, I suppose," I thought.
I looked at the mother and daughter together. They both looked much
older and terribly changed. The mother's hair was silvered, but the
daughter was so faded and withered that her mother might have been
taken for her elder sister, not more than five years her senior.
"I have made up my mind to go to the Marshal," the mother said to
me, forgetting she had told me this already. "I mean to make a
complaint. Yegor Semyonitch lays his hands on everything we make,
and offers it up for the sake of his soul. My Manetchka is left
without a trousseau."
Manetchka flushed again, but this time she said nothing.
"We have to make them all over again. And God knows we are not so
well off. We are all alone in the world now."
"We are alone in the world," repeated Manetchka.
A year ago fate brought me once more to the little house.
Walking into the drawing-room, I saw the old lady. Dressed all in
black with heavy crape _pleureuses_, she was sitting on the sofa
sewing. Beside her sat the little old man in the brown coat and the
goloshes instead of boots. On seeing me, he jumped up and ran out
of the room.
In response to my greeting, the old lady smiled and said:
_"Je suis charmée de vous revoir, monsieur."_
"What are you making?" I asked, a little later.
"It's a blouse. When it's finished I shall take it to the priest's
to be put away, or else Yegor Semyonitch would carry it off. I store
everything at the priest's now," she added in a whisper.
And looking at the portrait of her daughter which stood before her
on the table, she sighed and said:
"We are all alone in the world."
And where was the daughter? Where was Manetchka? I did not ask. I
did not dare to ask the old mother dressed in her new deep mourning.
And while I was in the room, and when I got up to go, no Manetchka
came out to greet me. I did not hear her voice, nor her soft, timid
footstep. . . .
I understood, and my heart was heavy.
"I'VE asked you not to tidy my table," said Nikolay Yevgrafitch.
"There's no finding anything when you've tidied up. Where's the
telegram? Where have you thrown it? Be so good as to look for it.
It's from Kazan, dated yesterday."
The maid--a pale, very slim girl with an indifferent expression
--found several telegrams in the basket under the table, and handed
them to the doctor without a word; but all these were telegrams
from patients. Then they looked in the drawing-room, and in Olga
It was past midnight. Nikolay Yevgrafitch knew his wife would not
be home very soon, not till five o'clock at least. He did not trust
her, and when she was long away he could not sleep, was worried,
and at the same time he despised his wife, and her bed, and her
looking-glass, and her boxes of sweets, and the hyacinths, and the
lilies of the valley which were sent her every day by some one or
other, and which diffused the sickly fragrance of a florist's shop
all over the house. On such nights he became petty, ill-humoured,
irritable, and he fancied now that it was very necessary for him
to have the telegram he had received the day before from his brother,
though it contained nothing but Christmas greetings.
On the table of his wife's room under the box of stationery he found
a telegram, and glanced at it casually. It was addressed to his
wife, care of his mother-in-law, from Monte Carlo, and signed Michel
. . . . The doctor did not understand one word of it, as it was in
some foreign language, apparently English.
"Who is this Michel? Why Monte Carlo? Why directed care of her
During the seven years of his married life he had grown used to
being suspicious, guessing, catching at clues, and it had several
times occurred to him, that his exercise at home had qualified him
to become an excellent detective. Going into his study and beginning
to reflect, he recalled at once how he had been with his wife in
Petersburg a year and a half ago, and had lunched with an old
school-fellow, a civil engineer, and how that engineer had introduced
to him and his wife a young man of two or three and twenty, called
Mihail Ivanovitch, with rather a curious short surname--Riss. Two
months later the doctor had seen the young man's photograph in his
wife's album, with an inscription in French: "In remembrance of the
present and in hope of the future." Later on he had met the young
man himself at his mother-in-law's. And that was at the time when
his wife had taken to being very often absent and coming home at
four or five o'clock in the morning, and was constantly asking him
to get her a passport for abroad, which he kept refusing to do; and
a continual feud went on in the house which made him feel ashamed
to face the servants.
Six months before, his colleagues had decided that he was going
into consumption, and advised him to throw up everything and go to
the Crimea. When she heard of this, Olga Dmitrievna affected to be
very much alarmed; she began to be affectionate to her husband, and
kept assuring him that it would be cold and dull in the Crimea, and
that he had much better go to Nice, and that she would go with him,
and there would nurse him, look after him, take care of him.
Now, he understood why his wife was so particularly anxious to go
to Nice: her Michel lived at Monte Carlo.
He took an English dictionary, and translating the words, and
guessing their meaning, by degrees he put together the following
sentence: "I drink to the health of my beloved darling, and kiss
her little foot a thousand times, and am impatiently expecting her
arrival." He pictured the pitiable, ludicrous part he would play
if he had agreed to go to Nice with his wife. He felt so mortified
that he almost shed tears and began pacing to and fro through all
the rooms of the flat in great agitation. His pride, his plebeian
fastidiousness, was revolted. Clenching his fists and scowling with
disgust, he wondered how he, the son of a village priest, brought
up in a clerical school, a plain, straightforward man, a surgeon
by profession--how could he have let himself be enslaved, have
sunk into such shameful bondage to this weak, worthless, mercenary,
"'Little foot'!" he muttered to himself, crumpling up the telegram;
Of the time when he fell in love and proposed to her, and the seven
years that he had been living with her, all that remained in his
memory was her long, fragrant hair, a mass of soft lace, and her
little feet, which certainly were very small, beautiful feet; and
even now it seemed as though he still had from those old embraces
the feeling of lace and silk upon his hands and face--and nothing
more. Nothing more--that is, not counting hysterics, shrieks,
reproaches, threats, and lies--brazen, treacherous lies. He
remembered how in his father's house in the village a bird would
sometimes chance to fly in from the open air into the house and
would struggle desperately against the window-panes and upset things;
so this woman from a class utterly alien to him had flown into his
life and made complete havoc of it. The best years of his life had
been spent as though in hell, his hopes for happiness shattered and
turned into a mockery, his health gone, his rooms as vulgar in their
atmosphere as a cocotte's, and of the ten thousand he earned every
year he could never save ten roubles to send his old mother in the
village, and his debts were already about fifteen thousand. It
seemed that if a band of brigands had been living in his rooms his
life would not have been so hopelessly, so irremediably ruined as
by the presence of this woman.
He began coughing and gasping for breath. He ought to have gone to
bed and got warm, but he could not. He kept walking about the rooms,
or sat down to the table, nervously fidgeting with a pencil and
scribbling mechanically on a paper.
"Trying a pen. . . . A little foot."
By five o'clock he grew weaker and threw all the blame on himself.
It seemed to him now that if Olga Dmitrievna had married some one
else who might have had a good influence over her--who knows?--
she might after all have become a good, straightforward woman. He
was a poor psychologist, and knew nothing of the female heart;
besides, he was churlish, uninteresting. . . .
"I haven't long to live now," he thought. "I am a dead man, and
ought not to stand in the way of the living. It would be strange
and stupid to insist upon one's rights now. I'll have it out with
her; let her go to the man she loves. . . . I'll give her a divorce.
I'll take the blame on myself."
Olga Dmitrievna came in at last, and she walked into the study and
sank into a chair just as she was in her white cloak, hat, and
"The nasty, fat boy," she said with a sob, breathing hard. "It's
really dishonest; it's disgusting." She stamped. "I can't put up
with it; I can't, I can't!"
"What's the matter?" asked Nikolay Yevgrafitch, going up to her.
"That student, Azarbekov, was seeing me home, and he lost my bag,
and there was fifteen roubles in it. I borrowed it from mamma."
She was crying in a most genuine way, like a little girl, and not
only her handkerchief, but even her gloves, were wet with tears.
"It can't be helped!" said the doctor. "If he's lost it, he's lost
it, and it's no good worrying over it. Calm yourself; I want to
talk to you."
"I am not a millionaire to lose money like that. He says he'll pay
it back, but I don't believe him; he's poor . . ."
Her husband begged her to calm herself and to listen to him, but
she kept on talking of the student and of the fifteen roubles she
"Ach! I'll give you twenty-five roubles to-morrow if you'll only
hold your tongue!" he said irritably.
"I must take off my things!" she said, crying. "I can't talk seriously
in my fur coat! How strange you are!"
He helped her off with her coat and overboots, detecting as he did
so the smell of the white wine she liked to drink with oysters (in
spite of her etherealness she ate and drank a great deal). She went
into her room and came back soon after, having changed her things
and powdered her face, though her eyes still showed traces of tears.
She sat down, retreating into her light, lacy dressing-gown, and
in the mass of billowy pink her husband could see nothing but her
hair, which she had let down, and her little foot wearing a slipper.
"What do you want to talk about?" she asked, swinging herself in a
"I happened to see this;" and he handed her the telegram.
She read it and shrugged her shoulders.
"Well?" she said, rocking herself faster. "That's the usual New
Year's greeting and nothing else. There are no secrets in it."
"You are reckoning on my not knowing English. No, I don't know it;
but I have a dictionary. That telegram is from Riss; he drinks to
the health of his beloved and sends you a thousand kisses. But let
us leave that," the doctor went on hurriedly. "I don't in the least
want to reproach you or make a scene. We've had scenes and reproaches
enough; it's time to make an end of them. . . . This is what I want
to say to you: you are free, and can live as you like."
There was a silence. She began crying quietly.
"I set you free from the necessity of lying and keeping up pretences,"
Nikolay Yevgrafitch continued. "If you love that young man, love
him; if you want to go abroad to him, go. You are young, healthy,
and I am a wreck, and haven't long to live. In short . . . you
He was agitated and could not go on. Olga Dmitrievna, crying and
speaking in a voice of self-pity, acknowledged that she loved Riss,
and used to drive out of town with him and see him in his rooms,
and now she really did long to go abroad.
"You see, I hide nothing from you," she added, with a sigh. "My
whole soul lies open before you. And I beg you again, be generous,
get me a passport."
"I repeat, you are free."
She moved to another seat nearer him to look at the expression of
his face. She did not believe him and wanted now to understand his
secret meaning. She never did believe any one, and however generous
were their intentions, she always suspected some petty or ignoble
motive or selfish object in them. And when she looked searchingly
into his face, it seemed to him that there was a gleam of green
light in her eyes as in a cat's.
"When shall I get the passport?" she asked softly.
He suddenly had an impulse to say "Never"; but he restrained himself
"When you like."
"I shall only go for a month."
"You'll go to Riss for good. I'll get you a divorce, take the blame
on myself, and Riss can marry you."
"But I don't want a divorce!" Olga Dmitrievna retorted quickly,
with an astonished face. "I am not asking you for a divorce! Get
me a passport, that's all."
"But why don't you want the divorce?" asked the doctor, beginning
to feel irritated. "You are a strange woman. How strange you are!
If you are fond of him in earnest and he loves you too, in your
position you can do nothing better than get married. Can you really
hesitate between marriage and adultery?"
"I understand you," she said, walking away from him, and a spiteful,
vindictive expression came into her face. "I understand you perfectly.
You are sick of me, and you simply want to get rid of me, to force
this divorce on me. Thank you very much; I am not such a fool as
you think. I won't accept the divorce and I won't leave you--I
won't, I won't! To begin with, I don't want to lose my position in
society," she continued quickly, as though afraid of being prevented
from speaking. "Secondly, I am twenty-seven and Riss is only
twenty-three; he'll be tired of me in a year and throw me over. And
what's more, if you care to know, I'm not certain that my feeling
will last long . . . so there! I'm not going to leave you."
"Then I'll turn you out of the house!" shouted Nikolay Yevgrafitch,
stamping. "I shall turn you out, you vile, loathsome woman!"
"We shall see!" she said, and went out.
It was broad daylight outside, but the doctor still sat at the table
moving the pencil over the paper and writing mechanically.
"My dear Sir. . . . Little foot."
Or he walked about and stopped in the drawing-room before a photograph
taken seven years ago, soon after his marriage, and looked at it
for a long time. It was a family group: his father-in-law, his
mother-in-law, his wife Olga Dmitrievna when she was twenty, and
himself in the rôle of a happy young husband. His father-in-law, a
clean-shaven, dropsical privy councillor, crafty and avaricious;
his mother-in-law, a stout lady with small predatory features like
a weasel, who loved her daughter to distraction and helped her in
everything; if her daughter were strangling some one, the mother
would not have protested, but would only have screened her with her
skirts. Olga Dmitrievna, too, had small predatory-looking features,
but more expressive and bolder than her mother's; she was not a
weasel, but a beast on a bigger scale! And Nikolay Yevgrafitch
himself in the photograph looked such a guileless soul, such a
kindly, good fellow, so open and simple-hearted; his whole face was
relaxed in the naïve, good-natured smile of a divinity student, and
he had had the simplicity to believe that that company of beasts
of prey into which destiny had chanced to thrust him would give him
romance and happiness and all he had dreamed of when as a student
he used to sing the song "Youth is wasted, life is nought, when the
heart is cold and loveless."
And once more he asked himself in perplexity how he, the son of a
village priest, with his democratic bringing up--a plain, blunt,
straightforward man--could have so helplessly surrendered to the
power of this worthless, false, vulgar, petty creature, whose nature
was so utterly alien to him.
When at eleven o'clock he put on his coat to go to the hospital the
servant came into his study.
"What is it?" he asked.
"The mistress has got up and asks you for the twenty-five roubles
you promised her yesterday."
AN artist called Yegor Savvitch, who was spending his summer holidays
at the house of an officer's widow, was sitting on his bed, given
up to the depression of morning. It was beginning to look like
autumn out of doors. Heavy, clumsy clouds covered the sky in thick
layers; there was a cold, piercing wind, and with a plaintive wail
the trees were all bending on one side. He could see the yellow
leaves whirling round in the air and on the earth. Farewell, summer!
This melancholy of nature is beautiful and poetical in its own way,
when it is looked at with the eyes of an artist, but Yegor Savvitch
was in no humour to see beauty. He was devoured by ennui and his
only consolation was the thought that by to-morrow he would not be
there. The bed, the chairs, the tables, the floor, were all heaped
up with cushions, crumpled bed-clothes, boxes. The floor had not
been swept, the cotton curtains had been taken down from the windows.
Next day he was moving, to town.
His landlady, the widow, was out. She had gone off somewhere to
hire horses and carts to move next day to town. Profiting by the
absence of her severe mamma, her daughter Katya, aged twenty, had
for a long time been sitting in the young man's room. Next day the
painter was going away, and she had a great deal to say to him. She
kept talking, talking, and yet she felt that she had not said a
tenth of what she wanted to say. With her eyes full of tears, she
gazed at his shaggy head, gazed at it with rapture and sadness. And
Yegor Savvitch was shaggy to a hideous extent, so that he looked
like a wild animal. His hair hung down to his shoulder-blades, his
beard grew from his neck, from his nostrils, from his ears; his
eyes were lost under his thick overhanging brows. It was all so
thick, so matted, that if a fly or a beetle had been caught in his
hair, it would never have found its way out of this enchanted
thicket. Yegor Savvitch listened to Katya, yawning. He was tired.
When Katya began whimpering, he looked severely at her from his
overhanging eyebrows, frowned, and said in a heavy, deep bass:
"I cannot marry."
"Why not?" Katya asked softly.
"Because for a painter, and in fact any man who lives for art,
marriage is out of the question. An artist must be free."
"But in what way should I hinder you, Yegor Savvitch?"
"I am not speaking of myself, I am speaking in general. . . . Famous
authors and painters have never married."
"And you, too, will be famous--I understand that perfectly. But
put yourself in my place. I am afraid of my mother. She is stern
and irritable. When she knows that you won't marry me, and that
it's all nothing . . . she'll begin to give it to me. Oh, how
wretched I am! And you haven't paid for your rooms, either! . . . ."
"Damn her! I'll pay."
Yegor Savvitch got up and began walking to and fro.
"I ought to be abroad!" he said. And the artist told her that nothing
was easier than to go abroad. One need do nothing but paint a picture
and sell it.
"Of course!" Katya assented. "Why haven't you painted one in the
"Do you suppose I can work in a barn like this?" the artist said
ill-humouredly. "And where should I get models?"
Some one banged the door viciously in the storey below. Katya, who
was expecting her mother's return from minute to minute, jumped up
and ran away. The artist was left alone. For a long time he walked
to and fro, threading his way between the chairs and the piles of
untidy objects of all sorts. He heard the widow rattling the crockery
and loudly abusing the peasants who had asked her two roubles for
each cart. In his disgust Yegor Savvitch stopped before the cupboard
and stared for a long while, frowning at the decanter of vodka.
"Ah, blast you!" he heard the widow railing at Katya. "Damnation
The artist drank a glass of vodka, and the dark cloud in his soul
gradually disappeared, and he felt as though all his inside was
smiling within him. He began dreaming. . . . His fancy pictured how
he would become great. He could not imagine his future works but
he could see distinctly how the papers would talk of him, how the
shops would sell his photographs, with what envy his friends would
look after him. He tried to picture himself in a magnificent
drawing-room surrounded by pretty and adoring women; but the picture
was misty, vague, as he had never in his life seen a drawing-room.
The pretty and adoring women were not a success either, for, except
Katya, he knew no adoring woman, not even one respectable girl.
People who know nothing about life usually picture life from books,
but Yegor Savvitch knew no books either. He had tried to read Gogol,
but had fallen asleep on the second page.
"It won't burn, drat the thing!" the widow bawled down below, as
she set the samovar. "Katya, give me some charcoal!"
The dreamy artist felt a longing to share his hopes and dreams with
some one. He went downstairs into the kitchen, where the stout widow
and Katya were busy about a dirty stove in the midst of charcoal
fumes from the samovar. There he sat down on a bench close to a big
pot and began:
"It's a fine thing to be an artist! I can go just where I like, do
what I like. One has not to work in an office or in the fields.
I've no superiors or officers over me. . . . I'm my own superior.
And with all that I'm doing good to humanity!"
And after dinner he composed himself for a "rest." He usually slept
till the twilight of evening. But this time soon after dinner he
felt that some one was pulling at his leg. Some one kept laughing
and shouting his name. He opened his eyes and saw his friend Ukleikin,
the landscape painter, who had been away all the summer in the
"Bah!" he cried, delighted. "What do I see?"
There followed handshakes, questions.
"Well, have you brought anything? I suppose you've knocked off
hundreds of sketches?" said Yegor Savvitch, watching Ukleikin taking
his belongings out of his trunk.
"H'm! . . . Yes. I have done something. And how are you getting on?
Have you been painting anything?"
Yegor Savvitch dived behind the bed, and crimson in the face,
extracted a canvas in a frame covered with dust and spider webs.
"See here. . . . A girl at the window after parting from her
betrothed. In three sittings. Not nearly finished yet."
The picture represented Katya faintly outlined sitting at an open
window, from which could be seen a garden and lilac distance.
Ukleikin did not like the picture.
"H'm! . . . There is air and . . . and there is expression," he
said. "There's a feeling of distance, but . . . but that bush is
screaming . . . screaming horribly!"
The decanter was brought on to the scene.
Towards evening Kostyliov, also a promising beginner, an historical
painter, came in to see Yegor Savvitch. He was a friend staying at
the next villa, and was a man of five-and-thirty. He had long hair,
and wore a blouse with a Shakespeare collar, and had a dignified
manner. Seeing the vodka, he frowned, complained of his chest, but
yielding to his friends' entreaties, drank a glass.
"I've thought of a subject, my friends," he began, getting drunk.
"I want to paint some new . . . Herod or Clepentian, or some
blackguard of that description, you understand, and to contrast
with him the idea of Christianity. On the one side Rome, you
understand, and on the other Christianity. . . . I want to represent
the spirit, you understand? The spirit!"
And the widow downstairs shouted continually:
"Katya, give me the cucumbers! Go to Sidorov's and get some kvass,
Like wolves in a cage, the three friends kept pacing to and fro
from one end of the room to the other. They talked without ceasing,
talked, hotly and genuinely; all three were excited, carried away.
To listen to them it would seem they had the future, fame, money,
in their hands. And it never occurred to either of them that time
was passing, that every day life was nearing its close, that they
had lived at other people's expense a great deal and nothing yet
was accomplished; that they were all bound by the inexorable law
by which of a hundred promising beginners only two or three rise
to any position and all the others draw blanks in the lottery,
perish playing the part of flesh for the cannon. . . . They were
gay and happy, and looked the future boldly in the face!
At one o'clock in the morning Kostyliov said good-bye, and smoothing
out his Shakespeare collar, went home. The landscape painter remained
to sleep at Yegor Savvitch's. Before going to bed, Yegor Savvitch
took a candle and made his way into the kitchen to get a drink of
water. In the dark, narrow passage Katya was sitting, on a box,
and, with her hands clasped on her knees, was looking upwards. A
blissful smile was straying on her pale, exhausted face, and her
eyes were beaming.
"Is that you? What are you thinking about?" Yegor Savvitch asked
"I am thinking of how you'll be famous," she said in a half-whisper.
"I keep fancying how you'll become a famous man. . . . I overheard
all your talk. . . . I keep dreaming and dreaming. . . ."
Katya went off into a happy laugh, cried, and laid her hands
reverently on her idol's shoulders.
AN ARTIST'S STORY
IT was six or seven years ago when I was living in one of the
districts of the province of T----, on the estate of a young landowner
called Byelokurov, who used to get up very early, wear a peasant
tunic, drink beer in the evenings, and continually complain to me
that he never met with sympathy from any one. He lived in the lodge
in the garden, and I in the old seigniorial house, in a big room
with columns, where there was no furniture except a wide sofa on
which I used to sleep, and a table on which I used to lay out
patience. There was always, even in still weather, a droning noise
in the old Amos stoves, and in thunder-storms the whole house shook
and seemed to be cracking into pieces; and it was rather terrifying,
especially at night, when all the ten big windows were suddenly lit
up by lightning.
Condemned by destiny to perpetual idleness, I did absolutely nothing.
For hours together I gazed out of window at the sky, at the birds,
at the avenue, read everything that was brought me by post, slept.
Sometimes I went out of the house and wandered about till late in
One day as I was returning home, I accidentally strayed into a place
I did not know. The sun was already sinking, and the shades of
evening lay across the flowering rye. Two rows of old, closely
planted, very tall fir-trees stood like two dense walls forming a
picturesque, gloomy avenue. I easily climbed over the fence and
walked along the avenue, slipping over the fir-needles which lay
two inches deep on the ground. It was still and dark, and only here
and there on the high tree-tops the vivid golden light quivered and
made rainbows in the spiders' webs. There was a strong, almost
stifling smell of resin. Then I turned into a long avenue of limes.
Here, too, all was desolation and age; last year's leaves rusted
mournfully under my feet and in the twilight shadows lurked between
the trees. From the old orchard on the right came the faint, reluctant
note of the golden oriole, who must have been old too. But at last
the limes ended. I walked by an old white house of two storeys with
a terrace, and there suddenly opened before me a view of a courtyard,
a large pond with a bathing-house, a group of green willows, and a
village on the further bank, with a high, narrow belfry on which
there glittered a cross reflecting the setting sun.
For a moment it breathed upon me the fascination of something near
and very familiar, as though I had seen that landscape at some time
in my childhood.
At the white stone gates which led from the yard to the fields,
old-fashioned solid gates with lions on them, were standing two
girls. One of them, the elder, a slim, pale, very handsome girl
with a perfect haystack of chestnut hair and a little obstinate
mouth, had a severe expression and scarcely took notice of me, while
the other, who was still very young, not more than seventeen or
eighteen, and was also slim and pale, with a large mouth and large
eyes, looked at me with astonishment as I passed by, said something
in English, and was overcome with embarrassment. And it seemed to
me that these two charming faces, too, had long been familiar to
me. And I returned home feeling as though I had had a delightful
One morning soon afterwards, as Byelokurov and I were walking near
the house, a carriage drove unexpectedly into the yard, rustling
over the grass, and in it was sitting one of those girls. It was
the elder one. She had come to ask for subscriptions for some
villagers whose cottages had been burnt down. Speaking with great
earnestness and precision, and not looking at us, she told us how
many houses in the village of Siyanovo had been burnt, how many
men, women, and children were left homeless, and what steps were
proposed, to begin with, by the Relief Committee, of which she was
now a member. After handing us the subscription list for our
signatures, she put it away and immediately began to take leave of
"You have quite forgotten us, Pyotr Petrovitch," she said to
Byelokurov as she shook hands with him. "Do come, and if Monsieur
N. (she mentioned my name) cares to make the acquaintance of admirers
of his work, and will come and see us, mother and I will be delighted."
When she had gone Pyotr Petrovitch began to tell me about her. The
girl was, he said, of good family, and her name was Lidia Voltchaninov,
and the estate on which she lived with her mother and sister, like
the village on the other side of the pond, was called Shelkovka.
Her father had once held an important position in Moscow, and had
died with the rank of privy councillor. Although they had ample
means, the Voltchaninovs lived on their estate summer and winter
without going away. Lidia was a teacher in the Zemstvo school in
her own village, and received a salary of twenty-five roubles a
month. She spent nothing on herself but her salary, and was proud
of earning her own living.
"An interesting family," said Byelokurov. "Let us go over one day.
They will be delighted to see you."
One afternoon on a holiday we thought of the Voltchaninovs, and
went to Shelkovka to see them. They--the mother and two daughters
--were at home. The mother, Ekaterina Pavlovna, who at one time
had been handsome, but now, asthmatic, depressed, vague, and
over-feeble for her years, tried to entertain me with conversation
about painting. Having heard from her daughter that I might come
to Shelkovka, she had hurriedly recalled two or three of my landscapes
which she had seen in exhibitions in Moscow, and now asked what I
meant to express by them. Lidia, or as they called her Lida, talked
more to Byelokurov than to me. Earnest and unsmiling, she asked him
why he was not on the Zemstvo, and why he had not attended any of
"It's not right, Pyotr Petrovitch," she said reproachfully. "It's
not right. It's too bad."
"That's true, Lida--that's true," the mother assented. "It isn't
"Our whole district is in the hands of Balagin," Lida went on,
addressing me. "He is the chairman of the Zemstvo Board, and he has
distributed all the posts in the district among his nephews and
sons-in-law; and he does as he likes. He ought to be opposed. The
young men ought to make a strong party, but you see what the young
men among us are like. It's a shame, Pyotr Petrovitch!"
The younger sister, Genya, was silent while they were talking of
the Zemstvo. She took no part in serious conversation. She was not
looked upon as quite grown up by her family, and, like a child, was
always called by the nickname of Misuce, because that was what she
had called her English governess when she was a child. She was all
the time looking at me with curiosity, and when I glanced at the
photographs in the album, she explained to me: "That's uncle . . .
that's god-father," moving her finger across the photograph. As she
did so she touched me with her shoulder like a child, and I had a
close view of her delicate, undeveloped chest, her slender shoulders,
her plait, and her thin little body tightly drawn in by her sash.
We played croquet and lawn tennis, we walked about the garden, drank
tea, and then sat a long time over supper. After the huge empty
room with columns, I felt, as it were, at home in this small snug
house where there were no oleographs on the walls and where the
servants were spoken to with civility. And everything seemed to me
young and pure, thanks to the presence of Lida and Misuce, and there
was an atmosphere of refinement over everything. At supper Lida
talked to Byelokurov again of the Zemstvo, of Balagin, and of school
libraries. She was an energetic, genuine girl, with convictions,
and it was interesting to listen to her, though she talked a great
deal and in a loud voice--perhaps because she was accustomed to
talking at school. On the other hand, Pyotr Petrovitch, who had
retained from his student days the habit of turning every conversation
into an argument, was tedious, flat, long-winded, and unmistakably
anxious to appear clever and advanced. Gesticulating, he upset a
sauce-boat with his sleeve, making a huge pool on the tablecloth,
but no one except me appeared to notice it.
It was dark and still as we went home.
"Good breeding is shown, not by not upsetting the sauce, but by not
noticing it when somebody else does," said Byelokurov, with a sigh.
"Yes, a splendid, intellectual family! I've dropped out of all
decent society; it's dreadful how I've dropped out of it! It's all
through work, work, work!"
He talked of how hard one had to work if one wanted to be a model
farmer. And I thought what a heavy, sluggish fellow he was! Whenever
he talked of anything serious he articulated "Er-er with intense
effort, and worked just as he talked--slowly, always late and
behind-hand. I had little faith in his business capacity if only
from the fact that when I gave him letters to post he carried them
about in his pocket for weeks together.
"The hardest thing of all," he muttered as he walked beside me--
"the hardest thing of all is that, work as one may, one meets with
no sympathy from any one. No sympathy!"
I took to going to see the Voltchaninovs. As a rule I sat on the
lower step of the terrace; I was fretted by dissatisfaction with
myself; I was sorry at the thought of my life passing so rapidly
and uninterestingly, and felt as though I would like to tear out
of my breast the heart which had grown so heavy. And meanwhile I
heard talk on the terrace, the rustling of dresses, the pages of a
book being turned. I soon grew accustomed to the idea that during
the day Lida received patients, gave out books, and often went into
the village with a parasol and no hat, and in the evening talked
aloud of the Zemstvo and schools. This slim, handsome, invariably
austere girl, with her small well-cut mouth, always said dryly when
the conversation turned on serious subjects:
"That's of no interest to you."
She did not like me. She disliked me because I was a landscape
painter and did not in my pictures portray the privations of the
peasants, and that, as she fancied, I was indifferent to what she
put such faith in. I remember when I was travelling on the banks
of Lake Baikal, I met a Buriat girl on horseback, wearing a shirt
and trousers of blue Chinese canvas; I asked her if she would sell
me her pipe. While we talked she looked contemptuously at my European
face and hat, and in a moment she was bored with talking to me; she
shouted to her horse and galloped on. And in just the same way Lida
despised me as an alien. She never outwardly expressed her dislike
for me, but I felt it, and sitting on the lower step of the terrace,
I felt irritated, and said that doctoring peasants when one was not
a doctor was deceiving them, and that it was easy to be benevolent
when one had six thousand acres.
Meanwhile her sister Misuce had no cares, and spent her life in
complete idleness just as I did. When she got up in the morning she
immediately took up a book and sat down to read on the terrace in
a deep arm-chair, with her feet hardly touching the ground, or hid
herself with her book in the lime avenue, or walked out into the
fields. She spent the whole day reading, poring greedily over her
book, and only from the tired, dazed look in her eyes and the extreme
paleness of her face one could divine how this continual reading
exhausted her brain. When I arrived she would flush a little, leave
her book, and looking into my face with her big eyes, would tell
me eagerly of anything that had happened--for instance, that the
chimney had been on fire in the servants' hall, or that one of the
men had caught a huge fish in the pond. On ordinary days she usually
went about in a light blouse and a dark blue skirt. We went for
walks together, picked cherries for making jam, went out in the
boat. When she jumped up to reach a cherry or sculled in the boat,
her thin, weak arms showed through her transparent sleeves. Or I
painted a sketch, and she stood beside me watching rapturously.
One Sunday at the end of July I came to the Voltchaninovs about
nine o clock in the morning. I walked about the park, keeping a
good distance from the house, looking for white mushrooms, of which
there was a great number that summer, and noting their position so
as to come and pick them afterwards with Genya. There was a warm
breeze. I saw Genya and her mother both in light holiday dresses
coming home from church, Genya holding her hat in the wind. Afterwards
I heard them having tea on the terrace.
For a careless person like me, trying to find justification for my
perpetual idleness, these holiday mornings in our country-houses
in the summer have always had a particular charm. When the green
garden, still wet with dew, is all sparkling in the sun and looks
radiant with happiness, when there is a scent of mignonette and
oleander near the house, when the young people have just come back
from church and are having breakfast in the garden, all so charmingly
dressed and gay, and one knows that all these healthy, well-fed,
handsome people are going to do nothing the whole long day, one
wishes that all life were like that. Now, too, I had the same
thought, and walked about the garden prepared to walk about like
that, aimless and unoccupied, the whole day, the whole summer.
Genya came out with a basket; she had a look in her face as though
she knew she would find me in the garden, or had a presentiment of
it. We gathered mushrooms and talked, and when she asked a question
she walked a little ahead so as to see my face.
"A miracle happened in the village yesterday," she said. "The lame
woman Pelagea has been ill the whole year. No doctors or medicines
did her any good; but yesterday an old woman came and whispered
something over her, and her illness passed away."
"That's nothing much," I said. "You mustn't look for miracles only
among sick people and old women. Isn't health a miracle? And life
itself? Whatever is beyond understanding is a miracle."
"And aren't you afraid of what is beyond understanding?"
"No. Phenomena I don't understand I face boldly, and am not overwhelmed
by them. I am above them. Man ought to recognise himself as superior
to lions, tigers, stars, superior to everything in nature, even
what seems miraculous and is beyond his understanding, or else he
is not a man, but a mouse afraid of everything."
Genya believed that as an artist I knew a very great deal, and could
guess correctly what I did not know. She longed for me to initiate
her into the domain of the Eternal and the Beautiful--into that
higher world in which, as she imagined, I was quite at home. And
she talked to me of God, of the eternal life, of the miraculous.
And I, who could never admit that my self and my imagination would
be lost forever after death, answered: "Yes, men are immortal";
"Yes, there is eternal life in store for us." And she listened,
believed, and did not ask for proofs.
As we were going home she stopped suddenly and said:
"Our Lida is a remarkable person--isn't she? I love her very
dearly, and would be ready to give my life for her any minute. But
tell me"--Genya touched my sleeve with her finger--"tell me,
why do you always argue with her? Why are you irritated?"
"Because she is wrong."
Genya shook her head and tears came into her eyes.
"How incomprehensible that is!" she said. At that minute Lida had
just returned from somewhere, and standing with a whip in her hand,
a slim, beautiful figure in the sunlight, at the steps, she was
giving some orders to one of the men. Talking loudly, she hurriedly
received two or three sick villagers; then with a busy and anxious
face she walked about the rooms, opening one cupboard after another,
and went upstairs. It was a long time before they could find her
and call her to dinner, and she came in when we had finished our
soup. All these tiny details I remember with tenderness, and that
whole day I remember vividly, though nothing special happened. After
dinner Genya lay in a long arm-chair reading, while I sat upon the
bottom step of the terrace. We were silent. The whole sky was
overcast with clouds, and it began to spot with fine rain. It was
hot; the wind had dropped, and it seemed as though the day would
never end. Ekaterina Pavlovna came out on the terrace, looking
drowsy and carrying a fan.
"Oh, mother," said Genya, kissing her hand, "it's not good for you
to sleep in the day."
They adored each other. When one went into the garden, the other
would stand on the terrace, and, looking towards the trees, call
"Aa--oo, Genya!" or "Mother, where are you?" They always said their
prayers together, and had the same faith; and they understood each
other perfectly even when they did not speak. And their attitude
to people was the same. Ekaterina Pavlovna, too, grew quickly used
to me and fond of me, and when I did not come for two or three days,
sent to ask if I were well. She, too, gazed at my sketches with
enthusiasm, and with the same openness and readiness to chatter as
Misuce, she told me what had happened, and confided to me her
She had a perfect reverence for her elder daughter. Lida did not
care for endearments, she talked only of serious matters; she lived
her life apart, and to her mother and sister was as sacred and
enigmatic a person as the admiral, always sitting in his cabin, is
to the sailors.
"Our Lida is a remarkable person," the mother would often say.
Now, too, while it was drizzling with rain, we talked of Lida.
"She is a remarkable girl," said her mother, and added in an
undertone, like a conspirator, looking about her timidly: "You
wouldn't easily find another like her; only, do you know, I am
beginning to be a little uneasy. The school, the dispensary, books
--all that's very good, but why go to extremes? She is three-and-twenty,
you know; it's time for her to think seriously of herself. With her
books and her dispensary she will find life has slipped by without
having noticed it. . . . She must be married."
Genya, pale from reading, with her hair disarranged, raised her
head and said as it were to herself, looking at her mother:
"Mother, everything is in God's hands."
And again she buried herself in her book.
Byelokurov came in his tunic and embroidered shirt. We played croquet
and tennis, then when it got dark, sat a long time over supper and
talked again about schools, and about Balagin, who had the whole
district under his thumb. As I went away from the Voltchaninovs
that evening, I carried away the impression of a long, long idle
day, with a melancholy consciousness that everything ends in this
world, however long it may be.
Genya saw us out to the gate, and perhaps because she had been with
me all day, from morning till night, I felt dull without her, and
that all that charming family were near and dear to me, and for the
first time that summer I had a yearning to paint.
"Tell me, why do you lead such a dreary, colourless life?" I asked
Byelokurov as I went home. "My life is dreary, difficult, and
monotonous because I am an artist, a strange person. From my earliest
days I've been wrung by envy, self-dissatisfaction, distrust in my
work. I'm always poor, I'm a wanderer, but you--you're a healthy,
normal man, a landowner, and a gentleman. Why do you live in such
an uninteresting way? Why do you get so little out of life? Why
haven't you, for instance, fallen in love with Lida or Genya?"
"You forget that I love another woman," answered Byelokurov.
He was referring to Liubov Ivanovna, the lady who shared the lodge
with him. Every day I saw this lady, very plump, rotund, and
dignified, not unlike a fat goose, walking about the garden, in the
Russian national dress and beads, always carrying a parasol; and
the servant was continually calling her in to dinner or to tea.
Three years before she had taken one of the lodges for a summer
holiday, and had settled down at Byelokurov's apparently forever.
She was ten years older than he was, and kept a sharp hand over
him, so much so that he had to ask her permission when he went out
of the house. She often sobbed in a deep masculine note, and then
I used to send word to her that if she did not leave off, I should
give up my rooms there; and she left off.
When we got home Byelokurov sat down on the sofa and frowned
thoughtfully, and I began walking up and down the room, conscious
of a soft emotion as though I were in love. I wanted to talk about
"Lida could only fall in love with a member of the Zemstvo, as
devoted to schools and hospitals as she is," I said. "Oh, for the
sake of a girl like that one might not only go into the Zemstvo,
but even wear out iron shoes, like the girl in the fairy tale. And
Misuce? What a sweet creature she is, that Misuce!"
Byelokurov, drawling out "Er--er," began a long-winded disquisition
on the malady of the age--pessimism. He talked confidently, in a
tone that suggested that I was opposing him. Hundreds of miles of
desolate, monotonous, burnt-up steppe cannot induce such deep
depression as one man when he sits and talks, and one does not know
when he will go.
"It's not a question of pessimism or optimism," I said irritably;
"its simply that ninety-nine people out of a hundred have no sense."
Byelokurov took this as aimed at himself, was offended, and went
"The prince is staying at Malozyomovo, and he asks to be remembered
to you," said Lida to her mother. She had just come in, and was
taking off her gloves. "He gave me a great deal of interesting news
. . . . He promised to raise the question of a medical relief centre
at Malozyomovo again at the provincial assembly, but he says there
is very little hope of it." And turning to me, she said: "Excuse
me, I always forget that this cannot be interesting to you."
I felt irritated.
"Why not interesting to me?" I said, shrugging my shoulders. "You
do not care to know my opinion, but I assure you the question has
great interest for me."
"Yes. In my opinion a medical relief centre at Malozyomovo is quite
My irritation infected her; she looked at me, screwing up her eyes,
"What is necessary? Landscapes?"
"Landscapes are not, either. Nothing is."
She finished taking off her gloves, and opened the newspaper, which
had just been brought from the post. A minute later she said quietly,
evidently restraining herself:
"Last week Anna died in childbirth, and if there had been a medical
relief centre near, she would have lived. And I think even
landscape-painters ought to have some opinions on the subject."
"I have a very definite opinion on that subject, I assure you," I
answered; and she screened herself with the newspaper, as though
unwilling to listen to me. "To my mind, all these schools, dispensaries,
libraries, medical relief centres, under present conditions, only
serve to aggravate the bondage of the people. The peasants are
fettered by a great chain, and you do not break the chain, but only
add fresh links to it--that's my view of it."
She raised her eyes to me and smiled ironically, and I went on
trying to formulate my leading idea.
"What matters is not that Anna died in childbirth, but that all
these Annas, Mavras, Pelageas, toil from early morning till dark,
fall ill from working beyond their strength, all their lives tremble
for their sick and hungry children, all their lives are being
doctored, and in dread of death and disease, fade and grow old
early, and die in filth and stench. Their children begin the same
story over again as soon as they grow up, and so it goes on for
hundreds of years and milliards of men live worse than beasts--
in continual terror, for a mere crust of bread. The whole horror
of their position lies in their never having time to think of their
souls, of their image and semblance. Cold, hunger, animal terror,
a burden of toil, like avalanches of snow, block for them every way
to spiritual activity--that is, to what distinguishes man from
the brutes and what is the only thing which makes life worth living.
You go to their help with hospitals and schools, but you don't free
them from their fetters by that; on the contrary, you bind them in
closer bonds, as, by introducing new prejudices, you increase the
number of their wants, to say nothing of the fact that they've got
to pay the Zemstvo for drugs and books, and so toil harder than
"I am not going to argue with you," said Lida, putting down the
paper. "I've heard all that before. I will only say one thing: one
cannot sit with one's hands in one's lap. It's true that we are not
saving humanity, and perhaps we make a great many mistakes; but we
do what we can, and we are right. The highest and holiest task for
a civilised being is to serve his neighbours, and we try to serve
them as best we can. You don't like it, but one can't please every
"That's true, Lida," said her mother--"that's true."
In Lida's presence she was always a little timid, and looked at her
nervously as she talked, afraid of saying something superfluous or
inopportune. And she never contradicted her, but always assented:
"That's true, Lida--that's true."
"Teaching the peasants to read and write, books of wretched precepts
and rhymes, and medical relief centres, cannot diminish either
ignorance or the death-rate, just as the light from your windows
cannot light up this huge garden," said I. "You give nothing. By
meddling in these people's lives you only create new wants in them,
and new demands on their labour."
"Ach! Good heavens! But one must do something!" said Lida with
vexation, and from her tone one could see that she thought my
arguments worthless and despised them.
"The people must be freed from hard physical labour," said I. "We
must lighten their yoke, let them have time to breathe, that they
may not spend all their lives at the stove, at the wash-tub, and
in the fields, but may also have time to think of their souls, of
God--may have time to develop their spiritual capacities. The
highest vocation of man is spiritual activity--the perpetual
search for truth and the meaning of life. Make coarse animal labour
unnecessary for them, let them feel themselves free, and then you
will see what a mockery these dispensaries and books are. Once a
man recognises his true vocation, he can only be satisfied by
religion, science, and art, and not by these trifles."
"Free them from labour?" laughed Lida. "But is that possible?"
"Yes. Take upon yourself a share of their labour. If all of us,
townspeople and country people, all without exception, would agree
to divide between us the labour which mankind spends on the
satisfaction of their physical needs, each of us would perhaps need
to work only for two or three hours a day. Imagine that we all,
rich and poor, work only for three hours a day, and the rest of our
time is free. Imagine further that in order to depend even less
upon our bodies and to labour less, we invent machines to replace
our work, we try to cut down our needs to the minimum. We would
harden ourselves and our children that they should not be afraid
of hunger and cold, and that we shouldn't be continually trembling
for their health like Anna, Mavra, and Pelagea. Imagine that we
don't doctor ourselves, don't keep dispensaries, tobacco factories,
distilleries--what a lot of free time would be left us after all!
All of us together would devote our leisure to science and art.
Just as the peasants sometimes work, the whole community together
mending the roads, so all of us, as a community, would search for
truth and the meaning of life, and I am convinced that the truth
would be discovered very quickly; man would escape from this
continual, agonising, oppressive dread of death, and even from death
"You contradict yourself, though," said Lida. "You talk about
science, and are yourself opposed to elementary education."
"Elementary education when a man has nothing to read but the signs
on public houses and sometimes books which he cannot understand--
such education has existed among us since the times of Rurik; Gogol's
Petrushka has been reading for ever so long, yet as the village was
in the days of Rurik so it has remained. What is needed is not
elementary education, but freedom for a wide development of spiritual
capacities. What are wanted are not schools, but universities."
"You are opposed to medicine, too."
"Yes. It would be necessary only for the study of diseases as natural
phenomena, and not for the cure of them. If one must cure, it should
not be diseases, but the causes of them. Remove the principal cause
--physical labour, and then there will be no disease. I don't
believe in a science that cures disease," I went on excitedly. "When
science and art are real, they aim not at temporary private ends,
but at eternal and universal--they seek for truth and the meaning
of life, they seek for God, for the soul, and when they are tied
down to the needs and evils of the day, to dispensaries and libraries,
they only complicate and hamper life. We have plenty of doctors,
chemists, lawyers, plenty of people can read and write, but we are
quite without biologists, mathematicians, philosophers, poets. The
whole of our intelligence, the whole of our spiritual energy, is
spent on satisfying temporary, passing needs. Scientific men,
writers, artists, are hard at work; thanks to them, the conveniences
of life are multiplied from day to day. Our physical demands increase,
yet truth is still a long way off, and man still remains the most
rapacious and dirty animal; everything is tending to the degeneration
of the majority of mankind, and the loss forever of all fitness for
life. In such conditions an artist's work has no meaning, and the
more talented he is, the stranger and the more unintelligible is
his position, as when one looks into it, it is evident that he is
working for the amusement of a rapacious and unclean animal, and
is supporting the existing order. And I don't care to work and I
won't work. . . . Nothing is any use; let the earth sink to perdition!"
"Misuce, go out of the room!" said Lida to her sister, apparently
thinking my words pernicious to the young girl.
Genya looked mournfully at her mother and sister, and went out of
"These are the charming things people say when they want to justify
their indifference," said Lida. "It is easier to disapprove of
schools and hospitals, than to teach or heal."
"That's true, Lida--that's true," the mother assented.
"You threaten to give up working," said Lida. "You evidently set a
high value on your work. Let us give up arguing; we shall never
agree, since I put the most imperfect dispensary or library of which
you have just spoken so contemptuously on a higher level than any
landscape." And turning at once to her mother, she began speaking
in quite a different tone: "The prince is very much changed, and
much thinner than when he was with us last. He is being sent to
She told her mother about the prince in order to avoid talking to
me. Her face glowed, and to hide her feeling she bent low over the
table as though she were short-sighted, and made a show of reading
the newspaper. My presence was disagreeable to her. I said good-bye
and went home.
It was quite still out of doors; the village on the further side
of the pond was already asleep; there was not a light to be seen,
and only the stars were faintly reflected in the pond. At the gate
with the lions on it Genya was standing motionless, waiting to
"Every one is asleep in the village," I said to her, trying to make
out her face in the darkness, and I saw her mournful dark eyes fixed
upon me. "The publican and the horse-stealers are asleep, while we,
well-bred people, argue and irritate each other."
It was a melancholy August night--melancholy because there was
already a feeling of autumn; the moon was rising behind a purple
cloud, and it shed a faint light upon the road and on the dark
fields of winter corn by the sides. From time to time a star fell.
Genya walked beside me along the road, and tried not to look at the
sky, that she might not see the falling stars, which for some reason
"I believe you are right," she said, shivering with the damp night
air. "If people, all together, could devote themselves to spiritual
ends, they would soon know everything."
"Of course. We are higher beings, and if we were really to recognise
the whole force of human genius and lived only for higher ends, we
should in the end become like gods. But that will never be--mankind
will degenerate till no traces of genius remain."
When the gates were out of sight, Genya stopped and shook hands
"Good-night," she said, shivering; she had nothing but her blouse
over her shoulders and was shrinking with cold. "Come to-morrow."
I felt wretched at the thought of being left alone, irritated and
dissatisfied with myself and other people; and I, too, tried not
to look at the falling stars. "Stay another minute," I said to her,
"I entreat you."
I loved Genya. I must have loved her because she met me when I came
and saw me off when I went away; because she looked at me tenderly
and enthusiastically. How touchingly beautiful were her pale face,
slender neck, slender arms, her weakness, her idleness, her reading.
And intelligence? I suspected in her intelligence above the average.
I was fascinated by the breadth of her views, perhaps because they
were different from those of the stern, handsome Lida, who disliked
me. Genya liked me, because I was an artist. I had conquered her
heart by my talent, and had a passionate desire to paint for her
sake alone; and I dreamed of her as of my little queen who with me
would possess those trees, those fields, the mists, the dawn, the
exquisite and beautiful scenery in the midst of which I had felt
myself hopelessly solitary and useless.
"Stay another minute," I begged her. "I beseech you."
I took off my overcoat and put it over her chilly shoulders; afraid
of looking ugly and absurd in a man's overcoat, she laughed, threw
it off, and at that instant I put my arms round her and covered her
face, shoulders, and hands with kisses.
"Till to-morrow," she whispered, and softly, as though afraid of
breaking upon the silence of the night, she embraced me. "We have
no secrets from one another. I must tell my mother and my sister
at once. . . . It's so dreadful! Mother is all right; mother likes
She ran to the gates.
"Good-bye!" she called.
And then for two minutes I heard her running. I did not want to go
home, and I had nothing to go for. I stood still for a little time
hesitating, and made my way slowly back, to look once more at the
house in which she lived, the sweet, simple old house, which seemed
to be watching me from the windows of its upper storey, and
understanding all about it. I walked by the terrace, sat on the
seat by the tennis ground, in the dark under the old elm-tree, and
looked from there at the house. In the windows of the top storey
where Misuce slept there appeared a bright light, which changed to
a soft green--they had covered the lamp with the shade. Shadows
began to move. . . . I was full of tenderness, peace, and satisfaction
with myself--satisfaction at having been able to be carried away
by my feelings and having fallen in love, and at the same time I
felt uncomfortable at the thought that only a few steps away from
me, in one of the rooms of that house there was Lida, who disliked
and perhaps hated me. I went on sitting there wondering whether
Genya would come out; I listened and fancied I heard voices talking
About an hour passed. The green light went out, and the shadows
were no longer visible. The moon was standing high above the house,
and lighting up the sleeping garden and the paths; the dahlias and
the roses in front of the house could be seen distinctly, and looked
all the same colour. It began to grow very cold. I went out of the
garden, picked up my coat on the road, and slowly sauntered home.
When next day after dinner I went to the Voltchaninovs, the glass
door into the garden was wide open. I sat down on the terrace,
expecting Genya every minute, to appear from behind the flower-beds
on the lawn, or from one of the avenues, or that I should hear her
voice from the house. Then I walked into the drawing-room, the
dining-room. There was not a soul to be seen. From the dining-room
I walked along the long corridor to the hall and back. In this
corridor there were several doors, and through one of them I heard
the voice of Lida:
"'God . . . sent . . . a crow,'" she said in a loud, emphatic
voice, probably dictating--"'God sent a crow a piece of cheese
. . . . A crow . . . a piece of cheese.' . . . Who's there?" she
called suddenly, hearing my steps.
"Ah! Excuse me, I cannot come out to you this minute; I'm giving
Dasha her lesson."
"Is Ekaterina Pavlovna in the garden?"
"No, she went away with my sister this morning to our aunt in the
province of Penza. And in the winter they will probably go abroad,"
she added after a pause. "'God sent . . . the crow . . . a piece
. . . of cheese.' . . . Have you written it?"
I went into the hall, and stared vacantly at the pond and the
village, and the sound reached me of "A piece of cheese. . . . God
sent the crow a piece of cheese."
And I went back by the way I had come here for the first time--
first from the yard into the garden past the house, then into the
avenue of lime-trees. . . . At this point I was overtaken by a small
boy who gave me a note:
"I told my sister everything and she insists on my parting from
you," I read. "I could not wound her by disobeying. God will give
you happiness. Forgive me. If only you knew how bitterly my mother
and I are crying!"
Then there was the dark fir avenue, the broken-down fence. . . .
On the field where then the rye was in flower and the corncrakes
were calling, now there were cows and hobbled horses. On the slope
there were bright green patches of winter corn. A sober workaday
feeling came over me and I felt ashamed of all I had said at the
Voltchaninovs', and felt bored with life as I had been before. When
I got home, I packed and set off that evening for Petersburg.
I never saw the Voltchaninovs again. Not long ago, on my way to the
Crimea, I met Byelokurov in the train. As before, he was wearing a
jerkin and an embroidered shirt, and when I asked how he was, he
replied that, God be praised, he was well. We began talking. He had
sold his old estate and bought another smaller one, in the name of
Liubov Ivanovna. He could tell me little about the Voltchaninovs.
Lida, he said, was still living in Shelkovka and teaching in the
school; she had by degrees succeeded in gathering round her a circle
of people sympathetic to her who made a strong party, and at the
last election had turned out Balagin, who had till then had the
whole district under his thumb. About Genya he only told me that
she did not live at home, and that he did not know where she was.
I am beginning to forget the old house, and only sometimes when I
am painting or reading I suddenly, apropos of nothing, remember the
green light in the window, the sound of my footsteps as I walked
home through the fields in the night, with my heart full of love,
rubbing my hands in the cold. And still more rarely, at moments
when I am sad and depressed by loneliness, I have dim memories, and
little by little I begin to feel that she is thinking of me, too
--that she is waiting for me, and that we shall meet. . . .
Misuce, where are you?
IT was dark, and already lights had begun to gleam here and there
in the houses, and a pale moon was rising behind the barracks at
the end of the street. Laptev was sitting on a bench by the gate
waiting for the end of the evening service at the Church of St.
Peter and St. Paul. He was reckoning that Yulia Sergeyevna would
pass by on her way from the service, and then he would speak to
her, and perhaps spend the whole evening with her.
He had been sitting there for an hour and a half already, and all
that time his imagination had been busy picturing his Moscow rooms,
his Moscow friends, his man Pyotr, and his writing-table. He gazed
half wonderingly at the dark, motionless trees, and it seemed strange
to him that he was living now, not in his summer villa at Sokolniki,
but in a provincial town in a house by which a great herd of cattle
was driven every morning and evening, accompanied by terrible clouds
of dust and the blowing of a horn. He thought of long conversations
in which he had taken part quite lately in Moscow--conversations
in which it had been maintained that one could live without love,
that passionate love was an obsession, that finally there is no
such love, but only a physical attraction between the sexes--and
so on, in the same style; he remembered them and thought mournfully
that if he were asked now what love was, he could not have found
The service was over, the people began to appear. Laptev strained
his eyes gazing at the dark figures. The bishop had been driven by
in his carriage, the bells had stopped ringing, and the red and
green lights in the belfry were one after another extinguished--
there had been an illumination, as it was dedication day--but the
people were still coming out, lingering, talking, and standing under
the windows. But at last Laptev heard a familiar voice, his heart
began beating violently, and he was overcome with despair on seeing
that Yulia Sergeyevna was not alone, but walking with two ladies.
"It's awful, awful!" he whispered, feeling jealous. "It's awful!"
At the corner of the lane, she stopped to say good-bye to the ladies,
and while doing so glanced at Laptev.
"I was coming to see you," he said. "I'm coming for a chat with
your father. Is he at home?"
"Most likely," she answered. "It's early for him to have gone to
There were gardens all along the lane, and a row of lime-trees
growing by the fence cast a broad patch of shadow in the moonlight,
so that the gate and the fences were completely plunged in darkness
on one side, from which came the sounds of women whispering, smothered
laughter, and someone playing softly on a balalaika. There was a
fragrance of lime-flowers and of hay. This fragrance and the murmur
of the unseen whispers worked upon Laptev. He was all at once
overwhelmed with a passionate longing to throw his arms round his
companion, to shower kisses on her face, her hands, her shoulders,
to burst into sobs, to fall at her feet and to tell her how long
he had been waiting for her. A faint scarcely perceptible scent of
incense hung about her; and that scent reminded him of the time
when he, too, believed in God and used to go to evening service,
and when he used to dream so much of pure romantic love. And it
seemed to him that, because this girl did not love him, all possibility
of the happiness he had dreamed of then was lost to him forever.
She began speaking sympathetically of the illness of his sister,
Nina Fyodorovna. Two months before his sister had undergone an
operation for cancer, and now every one was expecting a return of
"I went to see her this morning," said Yulia Sergeyevna, "and it
seemed to me that during the last week she has, not exactly grown
thin, but has, as it were, faded."
"Yes, yes," Laptev agreed. "There's no return of the symptoms, but
every day I notice she grows weaker and weaker, and is wasting
before my eyes. I don't understand what's the matter with her."
"Oh dear! And how strong she used to be, plump and rosy!" said Yulia
Sergeyevna after a moment's silence. "Every one here used to call
her the Moscow lady. How she used to laugh! On holidays she used
to dress up like a peasant girl, and it suited her so well."
Doctor Sergey Borisovitch was at home; he was a stout, red-faced
man, wearing a long coat that reached below his knees, and looking
as though he had short legs. He was pacing up and down his study,
with his hands in his pockets, and humming to himself in an undertone,
"Ru-ru-ru-ru." His grey whiskers looked unkempt, and his hair was
unbrushed, as though he had just got out of bed. And his study with
pillows on the sofa, with stacks of papers in the corners, and with
a dirty invalid poodle lying under the table, produced the same
impression of unkemptness and untidiness as himself.
"M. Laptev wants to see you," his daughter said to him, going into
"Ru-ru-ru-ru," he hummed louder than ever, and turning into the
drawing-room, gave his hand to Laptev, and asked: "What good news
have you to tell me?"
It was dark in the drawing-room. Laptev, still standing with his
hat in his hand, began apologising for disturbing him; he asked
what was to be done to make his sister sleep at night, and why she
was growing so thin; and he was embarrassed by the thought that he
had asked those very questions at his visit that morning.
"Tell me," he said, "wouldn't it be as well to send for some
specialist on internal diseases from Moscow? What do you think of
The doctor sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and made a vague gesture
with his hands.
It was evident that he was offended. He was a very huffy man, prone
to take offence, and always ready to suspect that people did not
believe in him, that he was not recognised or properly respected,
that his patients exploited him, and that his colleagues showed him
ill-will. He was always jeering at himself, saying that fools like
him were only made for the public to ride rough-shod over them.
Yulia Sergeyevna lighted the lamp. She was tired out with the
service, and that was evident from her pale, exhausted face, and
her weary step. She wanted to rest. She sat down on the sofa, put
her hands on her lap, and sank into thought. Laptev knew that he
was ugly, and now he felt as though he were conscious of his ugliness
all over his body. He was short, thin, with ruddy cheeks, and his
hair had grown so thin that his head felt cold. In his expression
there was none of that refined simplicity which makes even rough,
ugly faces attractive; in the society of women, he was awkward,
over-talkative, affected. And now he almost despised himself for
it. He must talk that Yulia Sergeyevna might not be bored in his
company. But what about? About his sister's illness again?
And he began to talk about medicine, saying what is usually said.
He approved of hygiene, and said that he had long ago wanted to
found a night-refuge in Moscow--in fact, he had already calculated
the cost of it. According to his plan the workmen who came in the
evening to the night-refuge were to receive a supper of hot cabbage
soup with bread, a warm, dry bed with a rug, and a place for drying
their clothes and their boots.
Yulia Sergeyevna was usually silent in his presence, and in a strange
way, perhaps by the instinct of a lover, he divined her thoughts
and intentions. And now, from the fact that after the evening service
she had not gone to her room to change her dress and drink tea, he
deduced that she was going to pay some visit elsewhere.
"But I'm in no hurry with the night-refuge," he went on, speaking
with vexation and irritability, and addressing the doctor, who
looked at him, as it were, blankly and in perplexity, evidently
unable to understand what induced him to raise the question of
medicine and hygiene. "And most likely it will be a long time, too,
before I make use of our estimate. I fear our night-shelter will
fall into the hands of our pious humbugs and philanthropic ladies,
who always ruin any undertaking."
Yulia Sergeyevna got up and held out her hand to Laptev.
"Excuse me," she said, "it's time for me to go. Please give my love
to your sister."
"Ru-ru-ru-ru," hummed the doctor. "Ru-ru-ru-ru."
Yulia Sergeyevna went out, and after staying a little longer, Laptev
said good-bye to the doctor and went home. When a man is dissatisfied
and feels unhappy, how trivial seem to him the shapes of the
lime-trees, the shadows, the clouds, all the beauties of nature,
so complacent, so indifferent! By now the moon was high up in the
sky, and the clouds were scudding quickly below. "But how naïve and
provincial the moon is, how threadbare and paltry the clouds!"
thought Laptev. He felt ashamed of the way he had talked just now
about medicine, and the night-refuge. He felt with horror that next
day he would not have will enough to resist trying to see her and
talk to her again, and would again be convinced that he was nothing
to her. And the day after--it would be the same. With what object?
And how and when would it all end?
At home he went in to see his sister. Nina Fyodorovna still looked
strong and gave the impression of being a well-built, vigorous
woman, but her striking pallor made her look like a corpse, especially
when, as now, she was lying on her back with her eyes closed; her
eldest daughter Sasha, a girl of ten years old, was sitting beside
her reading aloud from her reading-book.
"Alyosha has come," the invalid said softly to herself.
There had long been established between Sasha and her uncle a tacit
compact, to take turns in sitting with the patient. On this occasion
Sasha closed her reading-book, and without uttering a word, went
softly out of the room. Laptev took an historical novel from the
chest of drawers, and looking for the right page, sat down and began
reading it aloud.
Nina Fyodorovna was born in Moscow of a merchant family. She and
her two brothers had spent their childhood and early youth, living
at home in Pyatnitsky Street. Their childhood was long and wearisome;
her father treated her sternly, and had even on two or three occasions
flogged her, and her mother had had a long illness and died. The
servants were coarse, dirty, and hypocritical; the house was
frequented by priests and monks, also hypocritical; they ate and
drank and coarsely flattered her father, whom they did not like.
The boys had the good-fortune to go to school, while Nina was left
practically uneducated. All her life she wrote an illegible scrawl,
and had read nothing but historical novels. Seventeen years ago,
when she was twenty-two, on a summer holiday at Himki, she made the
acquaintance of her present husband, a landowner called Panaurov,
had fallen in love with him, and married him secretly against her
father's will. Panaurov, a handsome, rather impudent fellow, who
whistled and lighted his cigarette from the holy lamp, struck the
father as an absolutely worthless person. And when the son-in-law
began in his letters demanding a dowry, the old man wrote to his
daughter that he would send her furs, silver, and various articles
that had been left at her mother's death, as well as thirty thousand
roubles, but without his paternal blessing. Later he sent another
twenty thousand. This money, as well as the dowry, was spent; the
estate had been sold and Panaurov moved with his family to the town
and got a job in a provincial government office. In the town he
formed another tie, and had a second family, and this was the subject
of much talk, as his illicit family was not a secret.
Nina Fyodorovna adored her husband. And now, listening to the
historical novel, she was thinking how much she had gone through
in her life, how much she had suffered, and that if any one were
to describe her life it would make a very pathetic story. As the
tumour was in her breast, she was persuaded that love and her
domestic grief were the cause of her illness, and that jealousy and
tears had brought her to her hopeless state.
At last Alexey Fyodorovitch closed the book and said:
"That's the end, and thank God for it. To-morrow we'll begin a new
Nina Fyodorovna laughed. She had always been given to laughter, but
of late Laptev had begun to notice that at moments her mind seemed
weakened by illness, and she would laugh at the smallest trifle,
and even without any cause at all.
"Yulia came before dinner while you were out," she said. "So far
as I can see, she hasn't much faith in her papa. 'Let papa go on
treating you,' she said, 'but write in secret to the holy elder to
pray for you, too.' There is a holy man somewhere here. Yulia forgot
her parasol here; you must take it to her to-morrow," she went on
after a brief pause. "No, when the end comes, neither doctors nor
holy men are any help."
"Nina, why can't you sleep at night?" Laptev asked, to change the
"Oh, well, I don't go to sleep--that's all. I lie and think."
"What do you think about, dear?"
"About the children, about you . . . about my life. I've gone through
a great deal, Alyosha, you know. When one begins to remember and
remember. . . . My God!" She laughed. "It's no joke to have borne
five children as I have, to have buried three. . . Sometimes I was
expecting to be confined while my Grigory Nikolaitch would be sitting
at that very time with another woman. There would be no one to send
for the doctor or the midwife. I would go into the passage or the
kitchen for the servant, and there Jews, tradesmen, moneylenders,
would be waiting for him to come home. My head used to go round
. . . . He did not love me, though he never said so openly. Now I've
grown calmer--it doesn't weigh on my heart; but in old days, when
I was younger, it hurt me--ach! how it hurt me, darling! Once--
while we were still in the country--I found him in the garden
with a lady, and I walked away. . . I walked on aimlessly, and I
don't know how, but I found myself in the church porch. I fell on
my knees: 'Queen of Heaven!' I said. And it was night, the moon was
shining. . . ."
She was exhausted, she began gasping for breath. Then, after resting
a little, she took her brother's hand and went on in a weak, toneless
"How kind you are, Alyosha! . . . And how clever! . . . What a good
man you've grown up into!"
At midnight Laptev said good-night to her, and as he went away he
took with him the parasol that Yulia Sergeyevna had forgotten. In
spite of the late hour, the servants, male and female, were drinking
tea in the dining-room. How disorderly! The children were not in
bed, but were there in the dining-room, too. They were all talking
softly in undertones, and had not noticed that the lamp was smoking
and would soon go out. All these people, big and little, were
disturbed by a whole succession of bad omens and were in an oppressed
mood. The glass in the hall had been broken, the samovar had been
buzzing every day, and, as though on purpose, was even buzzing now.
They were describing how a mouse had jumped out of Nina Fyodorovna's
boot when she was dressing. And the children were quite aware of
the terrible significance of these omens. The elder girl, Sasha, a
thin little brunette, was sitting motionless at the table, and her
face looked scared and woebegone, while the younger, Lida, a chubby
fair child of seven, stood beside her sister looking from under her
brows at the light.
Laptev went downstairs to his own rooms in the lower storey, where
under the low ceilings it was always close and smelt of geraniums.
In his sitting-room, Panaurov, Nina Fyodorovna's husband, was sitting
reading the newspaper. Laptev nodded to him and sat down opposite.
Both sat still and said nothing. They used to spend whole evenings
like this without speaking, and neither of them was in the least
put out by this silence.
The little girls came down from upstairs to say good-night.
Deliberately and in silence, Panaurov made the sign of the cross
over them several times, and gave them his hand to kiss. They dropped
curtsies, and then went up to Laptev, who had to make the sign of
the cross and give them his hand to kiss also. This ceremony with
the hand-kissing and curtsying was repeated every evening.
When the children had gone out Panaurov laid aside the newspaper
"It's not very lively in our God-fearing town! I must confess, my
dear fellow," he added with a sigh, "I'm very glad that at last
you've found some distraction."
"What do you mean?" asked Laptev.
"I saw you coming out of Dr. Byelavin's Just now. I expect you don't
go there for the sake of the papa."
"Of course not," said Laptev, and he blushed.
"Well, of course not. And by the way, you wouldn't find such another
old brute as that papa if you hunted by daylight with a candle. You
can't imagine what a foul, stupid, clumsy beast he is! You cultured
people in the capitals are still interested in the provinces only
on the lyrical side, only from the _paysage_ and _Poor Anton_ point
of view, but I can assure you, my boy, there's nothing logical about
it; there's nothing but barbarism, meanness, and nastiness--that's
all. Take the local devotees of science--the local intellectuals,
so to speak. Can you imagine there are here in this town twenty-eight
doctors? They've all made their fortunes, and they are living in
houses of their own, and meanwhile the population is in just as
helpless a condition as ever. Here, Nina had to have an operation,
quite an ordinary one really, yet we were obliged to get a surgeon
from Moscow; not one doctor here would undertake it. It's beyond
all conception. They know nothing, they understand nothing. They
take no interest in anything. Ask them, for instance, what cancer
is--what it is, what it comes from."
And Panaurov began to explain what cancer was. He was a specialist
on all scientific subjects, and explained from a scientific point
of view everything that was discussed. But he explained it all in
his own way. He had a theory of his own about the circulation of
the blood, about chemistry, about astronomy. He talked slowly,
"It's beyond all conception," he pronounced in an imploring voice,
screwing up his eyes, sighing languidly, and smiling as graciously
as a king, and it was evident that he was very well satisfied with
himself, and never gave a thought to the fact that he was fifty.
"I am rather hungry," said Laptev. "I should like something savoury."
"Well, that can easily be managed."
Not long afterwards Laptev and his brother-in-law were sitting
upstairs in the dining-room having supper. Laptev had a glass of
vodka, and then began drinking wine. Panaurov drank nothing. He
never drank, and never gambled, yet in spite of that he had squandered
all his own and his wife's property, and had accumulated debts. To
squander so much in such a short time, one must have, not passions,
but a special talent. Panaurov liked dainty fare, liked a handsome
dinner service, liked music after dinner, speeches, bowing footmen,
to whom he would carelessly fling tips of ten, even twenty-five
roubles. He always took part in all lotteries and subscriptions,
sent bouquets to ladies of his acquaintance on their birthdays,
bought cups, stands for glasses, studs, ties, walking-sticks, scents,
cigarette-holders, pipes, lap-dogs, parrots, Japanese bric-à-brac,
antiques; he had silk nightshirts, and a bedstead made of ebony
inlaid with mother-of-pearl. His dressing-gown was a genuine Bokhara,
and everything was to correspond; and on all this there went every
day, as he himself expressed, "a deluge" of money.
At supper he kept sighing and shaking his head.
"Yes, everything on this earth has an end," he said softly, screwing
up his dark eyes. "You will fall in love and suffer. You will fall
out of love; you'll be deceived, for there is no woman who will not
deceive; you will suffer, will be brought to despair, and will be
faithless too. But the time will come when all this will be a memory,
and when you will reason about it coldly and look upon it as utterly
trivial. . . ."
Laptev, tired, a little drunk, looked at his handsome head, his
clipped black beard, and seemed to understand why women so loved
this pampered, conceited, and physically handsome creature.
After supper Panaurov did not stay in the house, but went off to
his other lodgings. Laptev went out to see him on his way. Panaurov
was the only man in the town who wore a top-hat, and his elegant,
dandified figure, his top-hat and tan gloves, beside the grey fences,
the pitiful little houses, with their three windows and the thickets
of nettles, always made a strange and mournful impression.
After saying good-bye to him Laptev returned home without hurrying.
The moon was shining brightly; one could distinguish every straw
on the ground, and Laptev felt as though the moonlight were caressing
his bare head, as though some one were passing a feather over his
"I love!" he pronounced aloud, and he had a sudden longing to run
to overtake Panaurov, to embrace him, to forgive him, to make him
a present of a lot of money, and then to run off into the open
country, into a wood, to run on and on without looking back.
At home he saw lying on the chair the parasol Yulia Sergeyevna had
forgotten; he snatched it up and kissed it greedily. The parasol
was a silk one, no longer new, tied round with old elastic. The
handle was a cheap one, of white bone. Laptev opened it over him,
and he felt as though there were the fragrance of happiness about
He settled himself more comfortably in his chair, and still keeping
hold of the parasol, began writing to Moscow to one of his friends:
"DEAR PRECIOUS KOSTYA,
"Here is news for you: I'm in love again! I say _again_, because
six years ago I fell in love with a Moscow actress, though I didn't
even succeed in making her acquaintance, and for the last year and
a half I have been living with a certain person you know--a woman
neither young nor good-looking. Ah, my dear boy, how unlucky I am
in love. I've never had any success with women, and if I say _again_
it's simply because it's rather sad and mortifying to acknowledge
even to myself that my youth has passed entirely without love, and
that I'm in love in a real sense now for the first time in my life,
at thirty-four. Let it stand that I love _again_.
"If only you knew what a girl she was! She couldn't be called a
beauty--she has a broad face, she is very thin, but what a wonderful
expression of goodness she has when she smiles! When she speaks,
her voice is as clear as a bell. She never carries on a conversation
with me--I don't know her; but when I'm beside her I feel she's
a striking, exceptional creature, full of intelligence and lofty
aspirations. She is religious, and you cannot imagine how deeply
this touches me and exalts her in my eyes. On that point I am ready
to argue with you endlessly. You may be right, to your thinking;
but, still, I love to see her praying in church. She is a provincial,
but she was educated in Moscow. She loves our Moscow; she dresses
in the Moscow style, and I love her for that--love her, love her
. . . . I see you frowning and getting up to read me a long lecture
on what love is, and what sort of woman one can love, and what sort
one cannot, and so on, and so on. But, dear Kostya, before I was
in love I, too, knew quite well what love was.
"My sister thanks you for your message. She often recalls how she
used to take Kostya Kotchevoy to the preparatory class, and never
speaks of you except as _poor Kostya_, as she still thinks of you
as the little orphan boy she remembers. And so, poor orphan, I'm
in love. While it's a secret, don't say anything to a 'certain
person.' I think it will all come right of itself, or, as the footman
says in Tolstoy, will 'come round.'"
When he had finished his letter Laptev went to bed. He was so tired
that he couldn't keep his eyes open, but for some reason he could
not get to sleep; the noise in the street seemed to prevent him.
The cattle were driven by to the blowing of a horn, and soon
afterwards the bells began ringing for early mass. At one minute a
cart drove by creaking; at the next, he heard the voice of some
woman going to market. And the sparrows twittered the whole time.
The next morning was a cheerful one; it was a holiday. At ten o'clock
Nina Fyodorovna, wearing a brown dress and with her hair neatly
arranged, was led into the drawing-room, supported on each side.
There she walked about a little and stood by the open window, and
her smile was broad and naïve, and, looking at her, one recalled a
local artist, a great drunkard, who wanted her to sit to him for a
picture of the Russian carnival. And all of them--the children,
the servants, her brother, Alexey Fyodorovitch, and she herself--
were suddenly convinced, that she was certainly going to get well.
With shrieks of laughter the children ran after their uncle, chasing
him and catching him, and filling the house with noise.
People called to ask how she was, brought her holy bread, told her
that in almost all the churches they were offering up prayers for
her that day. She had been conspicuous for her benevolence in the
town, and was liked. She was very ready with her charity, like her
brother Alexey, who gave away his money freely, without considering
whether it was necessary to give it or not. Nina Fyodorovna used
to pay the school fees for poor children; used to give away tea,
sugar, and jam to old women; used to provide trousseaux for poor
brides; and if she picked up a newspaper, she always looked first
of all to see if there were any appeals for charity or a paragraph
about somebody's being in a destitute condition.
She was holding now in her hand a bundle of notes, by means of which
various poor people, her protégés, had procured goods from a grocer's
They had been sent her the evening before by the shopkeeper with a
request for the payment of the total--eighty-two roubles.
"My goodness, what a lot they've had! They've no conscience!" she
said, deciphering with difficulty her ugly handwriting. "It's no
joke! Eighty-two roubles! I declare I won't pay it."
"I'll pay it to-day," said Laptev.
"Why should you? Why should you?" cried Nina Fyodorovna in agitation.
"It's quite enough for me to take two hundred and fifty every month
from you and our brother. God bless you!" she added, speaking softly,
so as not to be overheard by the servants.
"Well, but I spend two thousand five hundred a month," he said. "I
tell you again, dear: you have just as much right to spend it as I
or Fyodor. Do understand that, once for all. There are three of us,
and of every three kopecks of our father's money, one belongs to
But Nina Fyodorovna did not understand, and her expression looked
as though she were mentally solving some very difficult problem.
And this lack of comprehension in pecuniary matters, always made
Laptev feel uneasy and troubled. He suspected that she had private
debts in addition which worried her and of which she scrupled to
Then came the sound of footsteps and heavy breathing; it was the
doctor coming up the stairs, dishevelled and unkempt as usual.
"Ru-ru-ru," he was humming. "Ru-ru."
To avoid meeting him, Laptev went into the dining-room, and then
went downstairs to his own room. It was clear to him that to get
on with the doctor and to drop in at his house without formalities
was impossible; and to meet the "old brute," as Panaurov called
him, was distasteful. That was why he so rarely saw Yulia. He
reflected now that the father was not at home, that if he were to
take Yulia Sergeyevna her parasol, he would be sure to find her at
home alone, and his heart ached with joy. Haste, haste!
He took the parasol and, violently agitated, flew on the wings of
love. It was hot in the street. In the big courtyard of the doctor's
house, overgrown with coarse grass and nettles, some twenty urchins
were playing ball. These were all the children of working-class
families who tenanted the three disreputable-looking lodges, which
the doctor was always meaning to have done up, though he put it off
from year to year. The yard resounded with ringing, healthy voices.
At some distance on one side, Yulia Sergeyevna was standing at her
porch, her hands folded, watching the game.
"Good-morning!" Laptev called to her.
She looked round. Usually he saw her indifferent, cold, or tired
as she had been the evening before. Now her face looked full of
life and frolic, like the faces of the boys who were playing ball.
"Look, they never play so merrily in Moscow," she said, going to
meet him. "There are no such big yards there, though; they've no
place to run there. Papa has only just gone to you," she added,
looking round at the children.
"I know; but I've not come to see him, but to see you," said Laptev,
admiring her youthfulness, which he had not noticed till then, and
seemed only that day to have discovered in her; it seemed to him
as though he were seeing her slender white neck with the gold chain
for the first time. "I've come to see you . . ." he repeated. "My
sister has sent you your parasol; you forgot it yesterday."
She put out her hand to take the parasol, but he pressed it to his
bosom and spoke passionately, without restraint, yielding again to
the sweet ecstasy he had felt the night before, sitting under the
"I entreat you, give it me. I shall keep it in memory of you . . .
of our acquaintance. It's so wonderful!"
"Take it," she said, and blushed; "but there's nothing wonderful
He looked at her in ecstasy, in silence, not knowing what to say.
"Why am I keeping you here in the heat?" she said after a brief
pause, laughing. "Let us go indoors."
"I am not disturbing you?"
They went into the hall. Yulia Sergeyevna ran upstairs, her white
dress with blue flowers on it rustling as she went.
"I can't be disturbed," she answered, stopping on the landing. "I
never do anything. Every day is a holiday for me, from morning till
"What you say is inconceivable to me," he said, going up to her.
"I grew up in a world in which every one without exception, men and
women alike, worked hard every day."
"But if one has nothing to do?" she asked. "One has to arrange one's
life under such conditions, that work is inevitable. There can be
no clean and happy life without work."
Again he pressed the parasol to his bosom, and to his own surprise
spoke softly, in a voice unlike his own:
"If you would consent to be my wife I would give everything--I
would give everything. There's no price I would not pay, no sacrifice
I would not make."
She started and looked at him with wonder and alarm.
"What are you saying!" she brought out, turning pale. "It's impossible,
I assure you. Forgive me."
Then with the same rustle of her skirts she went up higher, and
vanished through the doorway.
Laptev grasped what this meant, and his mood was transformed,
completely, abruptly, as though a light in his soul had suddenly
been extinguished. Filled with the shame of a man humiliated, of a
man who is disdained, who is not liked, who is distasteful, perhaps
disgusting, who is shunned, he walked out of the house.
"I would give everything," he thought, mimicking himself as he went
home through the heat and recalled the details of his declaration.
"I would give everything--like a regular tradesman. As though she
wanted your _everything_!"
All he had just said seemed to him repulsively stupid. Why had he
lied, saying that he had grown up in a world where every one worked,
without exception? Why had he talked to her in a lecturing tone
about a clean and happy life? It was not clever, not interesting;
it was false--false in the Moscow style. But by degrees there
followed that mood of indifference into which criminals sink after
a severe sentence. He began thinking that, thank God! everything
was at an end and that the terrible uncertainty was over; that now
there was no need to spend whole days in anticipation, in pining,
in thinking always of the same thing. Now everything was clear; he
must give up all hope of personal happiness, live without desires,
without hopes, without dreams, or expectations, and to escape that
dreary sadness which he was so sick of trying to soothe, he could
busy himself with other people's affairs, other people's happiness,
and old age would come on imperceptibly, and life would reach its
end--and nothing more was wanted. He did not care, he wished for
nothing, and could reason about it coolly, but there was a sort of
heaviness in his face especially under his eyes, his forehead felt
drawn tight like elastic--and tears were almost starting into his
eyes. Feeling weak all over, he lay down on his bed, and in five
minutes was sound asleep.
The proposal Laptev had made so suddenly threw Yulia Sergeyevna
She knew Laptev very little, had made his acquaintance by chance;
he was a rich man, a partner in the well-known Moscow firm of "Fyodor
Laptev and Sons"; always serious, apparently clever, and anxious
about his sister's illness. It had seemed to her that he took no
notice of her whatever, and she did not care about him in the least
--and then all of a sudden that declaration on the stairs, that
pitiful, ecstatic face. . . .
The offer had overwhelmed her by its suddenness and by the fact
that the word wife had been uttered, and by the necessity of rejecting
it. She could not remember what she had said to Laptev, but she
still felt traces of the sudden, unpleasant feeling with which she
had rejected him. He did not attract her; he looked like a shopman;
he was not interesting; she could not have answered him except with
a refusal, and yet she felt uncomfortable, as though she had done
"My God! without waiting to get into the room, on the stairs," she
said to herself in despair, addressing the ikon which hung over her
pillow; "and no courting beforehand, but so strangely, so
oddly. . . ."
In her solitude her agitation grew more intense every hour, and it
was beyond her strength to master this oppressive feeling alone.
She needed some one to listen to her story and to tell her that she
had done right. But she had no one to talk to. She had lost her
mother long before; she thought her father a queer man, and could
not talk to him seriously. He worried her with his whims, his extreme
readiness to take offence, and his meaningless gestures; and as
soon as one began to talk to him, he promptly turned the conversation
on himself. And in her prayer she was not perfectly open, because
she did not know for certain what she ought to pray for.
The samovar was brought in. Yulia Sergeyevna, very pale and tired,
looking dejected, came into the dining-room to make tea--it was
one of her duties--and poured out a glass for her father. Sergey
Borisovitch, in his long coat that reached below his knees, with
his red face and unkempt hair, walked up and down the room with his
hands in his pockets, pacing, not from corner to corner, but backwards
and forwards at random, like a wild beast in its cage. He would
stand still by the table, sip his glass of tea with relish, and
pace about again, lost in thought.
"Laptev made me an offer to-day," said Yulia Sergeyevna, and she
The doctor looked at her and did not seem to understand.
"Laptev?" he queried. "Panaurov's brother-in-law?"
He was fond of his daughter; it was most likely that she would
sooner or later be married, and leave him, but he tried not to think
about that. He was afraid of being alone, and for some reason
fancied, that if he were left alone in that great house, he would
have an apoplectic stroke, but he did not like to speak of this
"Well, I'm delighted to hear it," he said, shrugging his shoulders.
"I congratulate you with all my heart. It offers you a splendid
opportunity for leaving me, to your great satisfaction. And I quite
understand your feelings. To live with an old father, an invalid,
half crazy, must be very irksome at your age. I quite understand
you. And the sooner I'm laid out and in the devil's clutches, the
better every one will be pleased. I congratulate you with all my
"I refused him."
The doctor felt relieved, but he was unable to stop himself and
"I wonder, I've long wondered, why I've not yet been put into a
madhouse--why I'm still wearing this coat instead of a strait-waistcoat?
I still have faith in justice, in goodness. I am a fool, an idealist,
and nowadays that's insanity, isn't it? And how do they repay me
for my honesty? They almost throw stones at me and ride rough-shod
over me. And even my nearest kith and kin do nothing but try to get
the better of me. It's high time the devil fetched an old fool like
me. . . ."
"There's no talking to you like a rational being!" said Yulia.
She got up from the table impulsively, and went to her room in great
wrath, remembering how often her father had been unjust to her. But
a little while afterwards she felt sorry for her father, too, and
when he was going to the club she went downstairs with him, and
shut the door after him. It was a rough and stormy night; the door
shook with the violence of the wind, and there were draughts in all
directions in the passage, so that the candle was almost blown out.
In her own domain upstairs Yulia Sergeyevna went the round of all
the rooms, making the sign of the cross over every door and window;
the wind howled, and it sounded as though some one were walking on
the roof. Never had it been so dreary, never had she felt so lonely.
She asked herself whether she had done right in rejecting a man,
simply because his appearance did not attract her. It was true he
was a man she did not love, and to marry him would mean renouncing
forever her dreams, her conceptions of happiness in married life,
but would she ever meet the man of whom she dreamed, and would he
love her? She was twenty-one already. There were no eligible young
men in the town. She pictured all the men she knew--government
clerks, schoolmasters, officers, and some of them were married
already, and their domestic life was conspicuous for its dreariness
and triviality; others were uninteresting, colourless, unintelligent,
immoral. Laptev was, anyway, a Moscow man, had taken his degree at
the university, spoke French. He lived in the capital, where there
were lots of clever, noble, remarkable people; where there was noise
and bustle, splendid theatres, musical evenings, first-rate
dressmakers, confectioners. . . . In the Bible it was written that
a wife must love her husband, and great importance was given to
love in novels, but wasn't there exaggeration in it? Was it out of
the question to enter upon married life without love? It was said,
of course, that love soon passed away, and that nothing was left
but habit, and that the object of married life was not to be found
in love, nor in happiness, but in duties, such as the bringing up
of one's children, the care of one's household, and so on. And
perhaps what was meant in the Bible was love for one's husband as
one's neighbour, respect for him, charity.
At night Yulia Sergeyevna read the evening prayers attentively,
then knelt down, and pressing her hands to her bosom, gazing at the
flame of the lamp before the ikon, said with feeling:
"Give me understanding, Holy Mother, our Defender! Give me
understanding, O Lord!"
She had in the course of her life come across elderly maiden ladies,
poor and of no consequence in the world, who bitterly repented and
openly confessed their regret that they had refused suitors in the
past. Would not the same thing happen to her? Had not she better
go into a convent or become a Sister of Mercy?
She undressed and got into bed, crossing herself and crossing the
air around her. Suddenly the bell rang sharply and plaintively in
"Oh, my God!" she said, feeling a nervous irritation all over her
at the sound. She lay still and kept thinking how poor this provincial
life was in events, monotonous and yet not peaceful. One was
constantly having to tremble, to feel apprehensive, angry or guilty,
and in the end one's nerves were so strained, that one was afraid
to peep out of the bedclothes.
A little while afterwards the bell rang just as sharply again. The
servant must have been asleep and had not heard. Yulia Sergeyevna
lighted a candle, and feeling vexed with the servant, began with a
shiver to dress, and when she went out into the corridor, the maid
was already closing the door downstairs.
"I thought it was the master, but it's some one from a patient,"
Yulia Sergeyevna went back to her room. She took a pack of cards
out of the chest of drawers, and decided that if after shuffling
the cards well and cutting, the bottom card turned out to be a red
one, it would mean _yes_--that is, she would accept Laptev's
offer; and that if it was a black, it would mean _no_. The card
turned out to be the ten of spades.
That relieved her mind--she fell asleep; but in the morning, she
was wavering again between _yes_ and _no_, and she was dwelling on
the thought that she could, if she chose, change her life. The
thought harassed her, she felt exhausted and unwell; but yet, soon
after eleven, she dressed and went to see Nina Fyodorovna. She
wanted to see Laptev: perhaps now he would seem more attractive to
her; perhaps she had been wrong about him hitherto. . . .
She found it hard to walk against the wind. She struggled along,
holding her hat on with both hands, and could see nothing for the
Going into his sister's room, and seeing to his surprise Yulia
Sergeyevna, Laptev had again the humiliating sensation of a man who
feels himself an object of repulsion. He concluded that if after
what had happened yesterday she could bring herself so easily to
visit his sister and meet him, it must be because she was not
concerned about him, and regarded him as a complete nonentity. But
when he greeted her, and with a pale face and dust under her eyes
she looked at him mournfully and remorsefully, he saw that she,
too, was miserable.
She did not feel well. She only stayed ten minutes, and began saying
good-bye. And as she went out she said to Laptev:
"Will you see me home, Alexey Fyodorovitch?"
They walked along the street in silence, holding their hats, and
he, walking a little behind, tried to screen her from the wind. In
the lane it was more sheltered, and they walked side by side.
"Forgive me if I was not nice yesterday;" and her voice quavered
as though she were going to cry. "I was so wretched! I did not sleep
"I slept well all night," said Laptev, without looking at her; "but
that doesn't mean that I was happy. My life is broken. I'm deeply
unhappy, and after your refusal yesterday I go about like a man
poisoned. The most difficult thing was said yesterday. To-day I
feel no embarrassment and can talk to you frankly. I love you more
than my sister, more than my dead mother. . . . I can live without
my sister, and without my mother, and I have lived without them,
but life without you--is meaningless to me; I can't face it. . . ."
And now too, as usual, he guessed her intention.
He realised that she wanted to go back to what had happened the day
before, and with that object had asked him to accompany her, and
now was taking him home with her. But what could she add to her
refusal? What new idea had she in her head? From everything, from
her glances, from her smile, and even from her tone, from the way
she held her head and shoulders as she walked beside him, he saw
that, as before, she did not love him, that he was a stranger to
her. What more did she want to say?
Doctor Sergey Borisovitch was at home.
"You are very welcome. I'm always glad to see you, Fyodor Alexeyitch,"
he said, mixing up his Christian name and his father's. "Delighted,
He had never been so polite before, and Laptev saw that he knew of
his offer; he did not like that either. He was sitting now in the
drawing-room, and the room impressed him strangely, with its poor,
common decorations, its wretched pictures, and though there were
arm-chairs in it, and a huge lamp with a shade over it, it still
looked like an uninhabited place, a huge barn, and it was obvious
that no one could feel at home in such a room, except a man like
the doctor. The next room, almost twice as large, was called the
reception-room, and in it there were only rows of chairs, as though
for a dancing class. And while Laptev was sitting in the drawing-room
talking to the doctor about his sister, he began to be tortured by
a suspicion. Had not Yulia Sergeyevna been to his sister Nina's,
and then brought him here to tell him that she would accept him?
Oh, how awful it was! But the most awful thing of all was that his
soul was capable of such a suspicion. And he imagined how the father
and the daughter had spent the evening, and perhaps the night before,
in prolonged consultation, perhaps dispute, and at last had come
to the conclusion that Yulia had acted thoughtlessly in refusing a
rich man. The words that parents use in such cases kept ringing in
"It is true you don't love him, but think what good you could do!"
The doctor was going out to see patients. Laptev would have gone
with him, but Yulia Sergeyevna said:
"I beg you to stay."
She was distressed and dispirited, and told herself now that to
refuse an honourable, good man who loved her, simply because he was
not attractive, especially when marrying him would make it possible
for her to change her mode of life, her cheerless, monotonous, idle
life in which youth was passing with no prospect of anything better
in the future--to refuse him under such circumstances was madness,
caprice and folly, and that God might even punish her for it.
The father went out. When the sound of his steps had died away, she
suddenly stood up before Laptev and said resolutely, turning horribly
white as she did so:
"I thought for a long time yesterday, Alexey Fyodorovitch. . . . I
accept your offer."
He bent down and kissed her hand. She kissed him awkwardly on the
head with cold lips.
He felt that in this love scene the chief thing--her love--was
lacking, and that there was a great deal that was not wanted; and
he longed to cry out, to run away, to go back to Moscow at once.
But she was close to him, and she seemed to him so lovely, and he
was suddenly overcome by passion. He reflected that it was too late
for deliberation now; he embraced her passionately, and muttered
some words, calling her _thou_; he kissed her on the neck, and then
on the cheek, on the head. . . .
She walked away to the window, dismayed by these demonstrations,
and both of them were already regretting what they had said and
both were asking themselves in confusion:
"Why has this happened?"
"If only you knew how miserable I am!" she said, wringing her hands.
"What is it?" he said, going up to her, wringing his hands too. "My
dear, for God's sake, tell me--what is it? Only tell the truth,
I entreat you--nothing but the truth!"
"Don't pay any attention to it," she said, and forced herself to
smile. "I promise you I'll be a faithful, devoted wife. . . . Come
Sitting afterwards with his sister and reading aloud an historical
novel, he recalled it all and felt wounded that his splendid, pure,
rich feeling was met with such a shallow response. He was not loved,
but his offer had been accepted--in all probability because he
was rich: that is, what was thought most of in him was what he
valued least of all in himself. It was quite possible that Yulia,
who was so pure and believed in God, had not once thought of his
money; but she did not love him--did not love him, and evidently
she had interested motives, vague, perhaps, and not fully thought
out--still, it was so. The doctor's house with its common furniture
was repulsive to him, and he looked upon the doctor himself as a
wretched, greasy miser, a sort of operatic Gaspard from "Les Cloches
de Corneville." The very name "Yulia" had a vulgar sound. He imagined
how he and his Yulia would stand at their wedding, in reality
complete strangers to one another, without a trace of feeling on
her side, just as though their marriage had been made by a professional
matchmaker; and the only consolation left him now, as commonplace
as the marriage itself, was the reflection that he was not the
first, and would not be the last; that thousands of people were
married like that; and that with time, when Yulia came to know him
better, she would perhaps grow fond of him.
"Romeo and Juliet!" he said, as he shut the novel, and he laughed.
"I am Romeo, Nina. You may congratulate me. I made an offer to Yulia
Nina Fyodorovna thought he was joking, but when she believed it,
she began to cry; she was not pleased at the news.
"Well, I congratulate you," she said. "But why is it so sudden?"
"No, it's not sudden. It's been going on since March, only you don't
notice anything. . . . I fell in love with her last March when I
made her acquaintance here, in your rooms."
"I thought you would marry some one in our Moscow set," said Nina
Fyodorovna after a pause. "Girls in our set are simpler. But what
matters, Alyosha, is that you should be happy--that matters most.
My Grigory Nikolaitch did not love me, and there's no concealing
it; you can see what our life is. Of course any woman may love you
for your goodness and your brains, but, you see, Yulitchka is a
girl of good family from a high-class boarding-school; goodness and
brains are not enough for her. She is young, and, you, Alyosha, are
not so young, and are not good-looking."
To soften the last words, she stroked his head and said:
"You're not good-looking, but you're a dear."
She was so agitated that a faint flush came into her cheeks, and
she began discussing eagerly whether it would be the proper thing
for her to bless Alyosha with the ikon at the wedding. She was, she
reasoned, his elder sister, and took the place of his mother; and
she kept trying to convince her dejected brother that the wedding
must be celebrated in proper style, with pomp and gaiety, so that
no one could find fault with it.
Then he began going to the Byelavins' as an accepted suitor, three
or four times a day; and now he never had time to take Sasha's place
and read aloud the historical novel. Yulia used to receive him in
her two rooms, which were at a distance from the drawing-room and
her father's study, and he liked them very much. The walls in them
were dark; in the corner stood a case of ikons; and there was a
smell of good scent and of the oil in the holy lamp. Her rooms were
at the furthest end of the house; her bedstead and dressing-table
were shut off by a screen. The doors of the bookcase were covered
on the inside with a green curtain, and there were rugs on the
floor, so that her footsteps were noiseless--and from this he
concluded that she was of a reserved character, and that she liked
a quiet, peaceful, secluded life. In her own home she was treated
as though she were not quite grown up. She had no money of her own,
and sometimes when they were out for walks together, she was overcome
with confusion at not having a farthing. Her father allowed her
very little for dress and books, hardly ten pounds a year. And,
indeed, the doctor himself had not much money in spite of his good
practice. He played cards every night at the club, and always lost.
Moreover, he bought mortgaged houses through a building society,
and let them. The tenants were irregular in paying the rent, but
he was convinced that such speculations were profitable. He had
mortgaged his own house in which he and his daughter were living,
and with the money so raised had bought a piece of waste ground,
and had already begun to build on it a large two-storey house,
meaning to mortgage it, too, as soon as it was finished.
Laptev now lived in a sort of cloud, feeling as though he were not
himself, but his double, and did many things which he would never
have brought himself to do before. He went three or four times to
the club with the doctor, had supper with him, and offered him money
for house-building. He even visited Panaurov at his other establishment.
It somehow happened that Panaurov invited him to dinner, and without
thinking, Laptev accepted. He was received by a lady of five-and-thirty.
She was tall and thin, with hair touched with grey, and black
eyebrows, apparently not Russian. There were white patches of powder
on her face. She gave him a honeyed smile and pressed his hand
jerkily, so that the bracelets on her white hands tinkled. It seemed
to Laptev that she smiled like that because she wanted to conceal
from herself and from others that she was unhappy. He also saw two
little girls, aged five and three, who had a marked likeness to
Sasha. For dinner they had milk-soup, cold veal, and chocolate. It
was insipid and not good; but the table was splendid, with gold
forks, bottles of Soyer, and cayenne pepper, an extraordinary bizarre
cruet-stand, and a gold pepper-pot.
It was only as he was finishing the milk-soup that Laptev realised
how very inappropriate it was for him to be dining there. The lady
was embarrassed, and kept smiling, showing her teeth. Panaurov
expounded didactically what being in love was, and what it was due
"We have in it an example of the action of electricity," he said
in French, addressing the lady. "Every man has in his skin microscopic
glands which contain currents of electricity. If you meet with a
person whose currents are parallel with your own, then you get
When Laptev went home and his sister asked him where he had been
he felt awkward, and made no answer.
He felt himself in a false position right up to the time of the
wedding. His love grew more intense every day, and Yulia seemed to
him a poetic and exalted creature; but, all the same, there was no
mutual love, and the truth was that he was buying her and she was
selling herself. Sometimes, thinking things over, he fell into
despair and asked himself: should he run away? He did not sleep for
nights together, and kept thinking how he should meet in Moscow the
lady whom he had called in his letters "a certain person," and what
attitude his father and his brother, difficult people, would take
towards his marriage and towards Yulia. He was afraid that his
father would say something rude to Yulia at their first meeting.
And something strange had happened of late to his brother Fyodor.
In his long letters he had taken to writing of the importance of
health, of the effect of illness on the mental condition, of the
meaning of religion, but not a word about Moscow or business. These
letters irritated Laptev, and he thought his brother's character
was changing for the worse.
The wedding was in September. The ceremony took place at the Church
of St. Peter and St. Paul, after mass, and the same day the young
couple set off for Moscow. When Laptev and his wife, in a black
dress with a long train, already looking not a girl but a married
woman, said good-bye to Nina Fyodorovna, the invalid's face worked,
but there was no tear in her dry eyes. She said:
"If--which God forbid--I should die, take care of my little
"Oh, I promise!" answered Yulia Sergeyevna, and her lips and eyelids
began quivering too.
"I shall come to see you in October," said Laptev, much moved. "You
must get better, my darling."
They travelled in a special compartment. Both felt depressed and
uncomfortable. She sat in the corner without taking off her hat,
and made a show of dozing, and he lay on the seat opposite, and he
was disturbed by various thoughts--of his father, of "a certain
person," whether Yulia would like her Moscow flat. And looking at
his wife, who did not love him, he wondered dejectedly "why this
The Laptevs had a wholesale business in Moscow, dealing in fancy
goods: fringe, tape, trimmings, crochet cotton, buttons, and so on.
The gross receipts reached two millions a year; what the net profit
was, no one knew but the old father. The sons and the clerks estimated
the profits at approximately three hundred thousand, and said that
it would have been a hundred thousand more if the old man had not
"been too free-handed"--that is, had not allowed credit
indiscriminately. In the last ten years alone the bad debts had
mounted up to the sum of a million; and when the subject was referred
to, the senior clerk would wink slyly and deliver himself of sentences
the meaning of which was not clear to every one:
"The psychological sequences of the age."
Their chief commercial operations were conducted in the town market
in a building which was called the warehouse. The entrance to the
warehouse was in the yard, where it was always dark, and smelt of
matting and where the dray-horses were always stamping their hoofs
on the asphalt. A very humble-looking door, studded with iron, led
from the yard into a room with walls discoloured by damp and scrawled
over with charcoal, lighted up by a narrow window covered by an
iron grating. Then on the left was another room larger and cleaner
with an iron stove and a couple of chairs, though it, too, had a
prison window: this was the office, and from it a narrow stone
staircase led up to the second storey, where the principal room
was. This was rather a large room, but owing to the perpetual
darkness, the low-pitched ceiling, the piles of boxes and bales,
and the numbers of men that kept flitting to and fro in it, it made
as unpleasant an impression on a newcomer as the others. In the
offices on the top storey the goods lay in bales, in bundles and
in cardboard boxes on the shelves; there was no order nor neatness
in the arrangement of it, and if crimson threads, tassels, ends of
fringe, had not peeped out here and there from holes in the paper
parcels, no one could have guessed what was being bought and sold
here. And looking at these crumpled paper parcels and boxes, no one
would have believed that a million was being made out of such trash,
and that fifty men were employed every day in this warehouse, not
counting the buyers.
When at midday, on the day after his arrival at Moscow, Laptev went
into the warehouse, the workmen packing the goods were hammering
so loudly that in the outer room and the office no one heard him
come in. A postman he knew was coming down the stairs with a bundle
of letters in his hand; he was wincing at the noise, and he did not
notice Laptev either. The first person to meet him upstairs was his
brother Fyodor Fyodorovitch, who was so like him that they passed
for twins. This resemblance always reminded Laptev of his own
personal appearance, and now, seeing before him a short, red-faced
man with rather thin hair, with narrow plebeian hips, looking so
uninteresting and so unintellectual, he asked himself: "Can I really
look like that?"
"How glad I am to see you!" said Fyodor, kissing his brother and
pressing his hand warmly. "I have been impatiently looking forward
to seeing you every day, my dear fellow. When you wrote that you
were getting married, I was tormented with curiosity, and I've
missed you, too, brother. Only fancy, it's six months since we saw
each other. Well? How goes it? Nina's very bad? Awfully bad?"
"It's in God's hands," sighed Fyodor. "Well, what of your wife?
She's a beauty, no doubt? I love her already. Of course, she is my
little sister now. We'll make much of her between us."
Laptev saw the broad, bent back--so familiar to him--of his
father, Fyodor Stepanovitch. The old man was sitting on a stool
near the counter, talking to a customer.
"Father, God has sent us joy!" cried Fyodor. "Brother has come!"
Fyodor Stepanovitch was a tall man of exceptionally powerful build,
so that, in spite of his wrinkles and eighty years, he still looked
a hale and vigorous man. He spoke in a deep, rich, sonorous voice,
that resounded from his broad chest as from a barrel. He wore no
beard, but a short-clipped military moustache, and smoked cigars.
As he was always too hot, he used all the year round to wear a
canvas coat at home and at the warehouse. He had lately had an
operation for cataract. His sight was bad, and he did nothing in
the business but talk to the customers and have tea and jam with
Laptev bent down and kissed his head and then his lips.
"It's a good long time since we saw you, honoured sir," said the
old man--"a good long time. Well, am I to congratulate you on
entering the state of holy matrimony? Very well, then; I congratulate
And he put his lips out to be kissed. Laptev bent down and kissed
"Well, have you brought your young lady?" the old man asked, and
without waiting for an answer, he said, addressing the customer:"
'Herewith I beg to inform you, father, that I'm going to marry such
and such a young lady.' Yes. But as for asking for his father's
counsel or blessing, that's not in the rules nowadays. Now they go
their own way. When I married I was over forty, but I went on my
knees to my father and asked his advice. Nowadays we've none of
The old man was delighted to see his son, but thought it unseemly
to show his affection or make any display of his joy. His voice and
his manner of saying "your young lady" brought back to Laptev the
depression he had always felt in the warehouse. Here every trifling
detail reminded him of the past, when he used to be flogged and put
on Lenten fare; he knew that even now boys were thrashed and punched
in the face till their noses bled, and that when those boys grew
up they would beat others. And before he had been five minutes in
the warehouse, he always felt as though he were being scolded or
punched in the face.
Fyodor slapped the customer on the shoulder and said to his brother:
"Here, Alyosha, I must introduce our Tambov benefactor, Grigory
Timofeitch. He might serve as an example for the young men of the
day; he's passed his fiftieth birthday, and he has tiny children."
The clerks laughed, and the customer, a lean old man with a pale
face, laughed too.
"Nature above the normal capacity," observed the head-clerk, who
was standing at the counter close by. "It always comes out when
The head-clerk--a tall man of fifty, in spectacles, with a dark
beard, and a pencil behind his ear--usually expressed his ideas
vaguely in roundabout hints, while his sly smile betrayed that he
attached particular significance to his words. He liked to obscure
his utterances with bookish words, which he understood in his own
way, and many such words he used in a wrong sense. For instance,
the word "except." When he had expressed some opinion positively
and did not want to be contradicted, he would stretch out his hand
And what was most astonishing, the customers and the other clerks
understood him perfectly. His name was Ivan Vassilitch Potchatkin,
and he came from Kashira. Now, congratulating Laptev, he expressed
himself as follows:
"It's the reward of valour, for the female heart is a strong
Another important person in the warehouse was a clerk called
Makeitchev--a stout, solid, fair man with whiskers and a perfectly
bald head. He went up to Laptev and congratulated him respectfully
in a low voice:
"I have the honour, sir. . . The Lord has heard your parent's prayer.
Then the other clerks began coming up to congratulate him on his
marriage. They were all fashionably dressed, and looked like perfectly
well-bred, educated men. Since between every two words they put in
a "sir," their congratulations--something like "Best wishes, sir,
for happiness, sir," uttered very rapidly in a low voice--sounded
rather like the hiss of a whip in the air--"Shshsh-s s s s s!"
Laptev was soon bored and longing to go home, but it was awkward
to go away. He was obliged to stay at least two hours at the warehouse
to keep up appearances. He walked away from the counter and began
asking Makeitchev whether things had gone well while he was away,
and whether anything new had turned up, and the clerk answered him
respectfully, avoiding his eyes. A boy with a cropped head, wearing
a grey blouse, handed Laptev a glass of tea without a saucer; not
long afterwards another boy, passing by, stumbled over a box, and
almost fell down, and Makeitchev's face looked suddenly spiteful
and ferocious like a wild beast's, and he shouted at him:
"Keep on your feet!"
The clerks were pleased that their young master was married and had
come back at last; they looked at him with curiosity and friendly
feeling, and each one thought it his duty to say something agreeable
when he passed him. But Laptev was convinced that it was not genuine,
and that they were only flattering him because they were afraid of
him. He never could forget how fifteen years before, a clerk, who
was mentally deranged, had run out into the street with nothing on
but his shirt and shaking his fists at the windows, shouted that
he had been ill-treated; and how, when the poor fellow had recovered,
the clerks had jeered at him for long afterwards, reminding him how
he had called his employers "planters" instead of "exploiters."
Altogether the employees at Laptevs' had a very poor time of it,
and this fact was a subject of conversation for the whole market.
The worst of it was that the old man, Fyodor Stepanovitch, maintained
something of an Asiatic despotism in his attitude to them. Thus,
no one knew what wages were paid to the old man's favourites,
Potchatkin and Makeitchev. They received no more than three thousand
a year, together with bonuses, but he made out that he paid then
seven. The bonuses were given to all the clerks every year, but
privately, so that the man who got little was bound from vanity to
say he had got more. Not one boy knew when he would be promoted to
be a clerk; not one of the men knew whether his employer was satisfied
with him or not. Nothing was directly forbidden, and so the clerks
never knew what was allowed, and what was not. They were not forbidden
to marry, but they did not marry for fear of displeasing their
employer and losing their place. They were allowed to have friends
and pay visits, but the gates were shut at nine o'clock, and every
morning the old man scanned them all suspiciously, and tried to
detect any smell of vodka about them:
"Now then, breathe," he would say.
Every clerk was obliged to go to early service, and to stand in
church in such a position that the old man could see them all. The
fasts were strictly observed. On great occasions, such as the
birthday of their employer or of any member of his family, the
clerks had to subscribe and present a cake from Fley's, or an album.
The clerks lived three or four in a room in the lower storey, and
in the lodges of the house in Pyatnitsky Street, and at dinner ate
from a common bowl, though there was a plate set before each of
them. If one of the family came into the room while they were at
dinner, they all stood up.
Laptev was conscious that only, perhaps, those among them who had
been corrupted by the old man's training could seriously regard him
as their benefactor; the others must have looked on him as an enemy
and a "planter." Now, after six months' absence, he saw no change
for the better; there was indeed something new which boded nothing
good. His brother Fyodor, who had always been quiet, thoughtful,
and extremely refined, was now running about the warehouse with a
pencil behind his ear making a show of being very busy and businesslike,
slapping customers on the shoulder and shouting "Friends!" to the
clerks. Apparently he had taken up a new role, and Alexey did not
recognise him in the part.
The old man's voice boomed unceasingly. Having nothing to do, he
was laying down the law to a customer, telling him how he should
order his life and his business, always holding himself up as an
example. That boastfulness, that aggressive tone of authority,
Laptev had heard ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. The old man adored
himself; from what he said it always appeared that he had made his
wife and all her relations happy, that he had been munificent to
his children, and a benefactor to his clerks and employés, and that
every one in the street and all his acquaintances remembered him
in their prayers. Whatever he did was always right, and if things
went wrong with people it was because they did not take his advice;
without his advice nothing could succeed. In church he stood in the
foremost place, and even made observations to the priests, if in
his opinion they were not conducting the service properly, and
believed that this was pleasing God because God loved him.
At two o'clock every one in the warehouse was hard at work, except
the old man, who still went on booming in his deep voice. To avoid
standing idle, Laptev took some trimmings from a workgirl and let
her go; then listened to a customer, a merchant from Vologda, and
told a clerk to attend to him.
"T. V. A.!" resounded on all sides (prices were denoted by letters
in the warehouse and goods by numbers). "R. I. T.!" As he went away,
Laptev said good-bye to no one but Fyodor.
"I shall come to Pyatnitsky Street with my wife to-morrow," he said;
"but I warn you, if father says a single rude thing to her, I shall
not stay there another minute."
"You're the same as ever," sighed Fyodor. "Marriage has not changed
you. You must be patient with the old man. So till eleven o'clock,
then. We shall expect you impatiently. Come directly after mass,
"I don't go to mass."
"That does not matter. The great thing is not to be later than
eleven, so you may be in time to pray to God and to lunch with us.
Give my greetings to my little sister and kiss her hand for me. I
have a presentiment that I shall like her," Fyodor added with perfect
sincerity. "I envy you, brother!" he shouted after him as Alexey
"And why does he shrink into himself in that shy way as though he
fancied he was naked?" thought Laptev, as he walked along Nikolsky
Street, trying to understand the change that had come over his
brother. "And his language is new, too: 'Brother, dear brother, God
has sent us joy; to pray to God'--just like Iudushka in Shtchedrin."
At eleven o'clock the next day, which was Sunday, he was driving
with his wife along Pyatnitsky Street in a light, one-horse carriage.
He was afraid of his father's doing something outrageous, and was
already ill at ease. After two nights in her husband's house Yulia
Sergeyevna considered her marriage a mistake and a calamity, and
if she had had to live with her husband in any other town but Moscow,
it seemed to her that she could not have endured the horror of it.
Moscow entertained her--she was delighted with the streets, the
churches; and if it had been possible to drive about Moscow in those
splendid sledges with expensive horses, to drive the whole day from
morning till night, and with the swift motion to feel the cold
autumn air blowing upon her, she would perhaps not have felt herself
Near a white, lately stuccoed two-storey house the coachman pulled
up his horse, and began to turn to the right. They were expected,
and near the gate stood two policemen and the porter in a new
full-skirted coat, high boots, and goloshes. The whole space, from
the middle of the street to the gates and all over the yard from
the porch, was strewn with fresh sand. The porter took off his hat,
the policemen saluted. Near the entrance Fyodor met them with a
very serious face.
"Very glad to make your acquaintance, little sister," he said,
kissing Yulia's hand. "You're very welcome."
He led her upstairs on his arm, and then along a corridor through
a crowd of men and women. The anteroom was crowded too, and smelt
"I will introduce you to our father directly," whispered Fyodor in
the midst of a solemn, deathly silence. "A venerable old man,
In the big drawing-room, by a table prepared for service, Fyodor
Stepanovitch stood, evidently waiting for them, and with him the
priest in a calotte, and a deacon. The old man shook hands with
Yulia without saying a word. Every one was silent. Yulia was overcome
The priest and the deacon began putting on their vestments. A censer
was brought in, giving off sparks and fumes of incense and charcoal.
The candles were lighted. The clerks walked into the drawing-room
on tiptoe and stood in two rows along the wall. There was perfect
stillness, no one even coughed.
"The blessing of God," began the deacon. The service was read with
great solemnity; nothing was left out and two canticles were sung
--to sweetest Jesus and the most Holy Mother of God. The singers
sang very slowly, holding up the music before them. Laptev noticed
how confused his wife was. While they were singing the canticles,
and the singers in different keys brought out "Lord have mercy on
us," he kept expecting in nervous suspense that the old man would
make some remark such as, "You don't know how to cross yourself,"
and he felt vexed. Why this crowd, and why this ceremony with priests
and choristers? It was too bourgeois. But when she, like the old
man, put her head under the gospel and afterwards several times
dropped upon her knees, he realised that she liked it all, and was
At the end of the service, during "Many, many years," the priest
gave the old man and Alexey the cross to kiss, but when Yulia went
up, he put his hand over the cross, and showed he wanted to speak.
Signs were made to the singers to stop.
"The prophet Samuel," began the priest, "went to Bethlehem at the
bidding of the Lord, and there the elders of the town with fear and
trembling asked him: 'Comest thou peaceably?' And the prophet
answered: 'Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord: sanctify
yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.' Even so, Yulia,
servant of God, shall we ask of thee, Dost thou come bringing peace
into this house?"
Yulia flushed with emotion. As he finished, the priest gave her the
cross to kiss, and said in quite a different tone of voice:
"Now Fyodor Fyodorovitch must be married; it's high time."
The choir began singing once more, people began moving, and the
room was noisy again. The old man, much touched, with his eyes full
of tears, kissed Yulia three times, made the sign of the cross over
her face, and said:
"This is your home. I'm an old man and need nothing."
The clerks congratulated her and said something, but the choir was
singing so loud that nothing else could be heard. Then they had
lunch and drank champagne. She sat beside the old father, and he
talked to her, saying that families ought not to be parted but live
together in one house; that separation and disunion led to permanent
"I've made money and the children only do the spending of it," he
said. "Now, you live with me and save money. It's time for an old
man like me to rest."
Yulia had all the time a vision of Fyodor flitting about so like
her husband, but shyer and more restless; he fussed about her and
often kissed her hand.
"We are plain people, little sister," he said, and patches of red
came into his face as he spoke. "We live simply in Russian style,
like Christians, little sister."
As they went home, Laptev felt greatly relieved that everything had
gone off so well, and that nothing outrageous had happened as he
had expected. He said to his wife:
"You're surprised that such a stalwart, broad-shouldered father
should have such stunted, narrow-chested sons as Fyodor and me.
Yes; but it's easy to explain! My father married my mother when he
was forty-five, and she was only seventeen. She turned pale and
trembled in his presence. Nina was born first--born of a comparatively
healthy mother, and so she was finer and sturdier than we were.
Fyodor and I were begotten and born after mother had been worn out
by terror. I can remember my father correcting me--or, to speak
plainly, beating me--before I was five years old. He used to
thrash me with a birch, pull my ears, hit me on the head, and every
morning when I woke up my first thought was whether he would beat
me that day. Play and childish mischief was forbidden us. We had
to go to morning service and to early mass. When we met priests or
monks we had to kiss their hands; at home we had to sing hymns.
Here you are religious and love all that, but I'm afraid of religion,
and when I pass a church I remember my childhood, and am overcome
with horror. I was taken to the warehouse as soon as I was eight
years old. I worked like a working boy, and it was bad for my health,
for I used to be beaten there every day. Afterwards when I went to
the high school, I used to go to school till dinner-time, and after
dinner I had to sit in that warehouse till evening; and things went
on like that till I was twenty-two, till I got to know Yartsev, and
he persuaded me to leave my father's house. That Yartsev did a great
deal for me. I tell you what," said Laptev, and he laughed with
pleasure: "let us go and pay Yartsev a visit at once. He's a very
fine fellow! How touched he will be!"
On a Saturday in November Anton Rubinstein was conducting in a
symphony concert. It was very hot and crowded. Laptev stood behind
the columns, while his wife and Kostya Kotchevoy were sitting in
the third or fourth row some distance in front. At the very beginning
of an interval a "certain person," Polina Nikolaevna Razsudin, quite
unexpectedly passed by him. He had often since his marriage thought
with trepidation of a possible meeting with her. When now she looked
at him openly and directly, he realised that he had all this time
shirked having things out with her, or writing her two or three
friendly lines, as though he had been hiding from her; he felt
ashamed and flushed crimson. She pressed his hand tightly and
impulsively and asked:
"Have you seen Yartsev?"
And without waiting for an answer she went striding on impetuously
as though some one were pushing her on from behind.
She was very thin and plain, with a long nose; her face always
looked tired, and exhausted, and it seemed as though it were an
effort to her to keep her eyes open, and not to fall down. She had
fine, dark eyes, and an intelligent, kind, sincere expression, but
her movements were awkward and abrupt. It was hard to talk to her,
because she could not talk or listen quietly. Loving her was not
easy. Sometimes when she was alone with Laptev she would go on
laughing for a long time, hiding her face in her hands, and would
declare that love was not the chief thing in life for her, and would
be as whimsical as a girl of seventeen; and before kissing her he
would have to put out all the candles. She was thirty. She was
married to a schoolmaster, but had not lived with her husband for
years. She earned her living by giving music lessons and playing
During the ninth symphony she passed again as though by accident,
but the crowd of men standing like a thick wall behind the columns
prevented her going further, and she remained beside him. Laptev
saw that she was wearing the same little velvet blouse she had worn
at concerts last year and the year before. Her gloves were new, and
her fan, too, was new, but it was a common one. She was fond of
fine clothes, but she did not know how to dress, and grudged spending
money on it. She dressed so badly and untidily that when she was
going to her lessons striding hurriedly down the street, she might
easily have been taken for a young monk.
The public applauded and shouted encore.
"You'll spend the evening with me," said Polina Nikolaevna, going
up to Laptev and looking at him severely. "When this is over we'll
go and have tea. Do you hear? I insist on it. You owe me a great
deal, and haven't the moral right to refuse me such a trifle."
"Very well; let us go," Laptev assented.
Endless calls followed the conclusion of the concert. The audience
got up from their seats and went out very slowly, and Laptev could
not go away without telling his wife. He had to stand at the door
"I'm dying for some tea," Polina Nikolaevna said plaintively. "My
very soul is parched."
"You can get something to drink here," said Laptev. "Let's go to
"Oh, I've no money to fling away on waiters. I'm not a shopkeeper."
He offered her his arm; she refused, in a long, wearisome sentence
which he had heard many times, to the effect that she did not class
herself with the feebler fair sex, and did not depend on the services
As she talked to him she kept looking about at the audience and
greeting acquaintances; they were her fellow-students at the higher
courses and at the conservatorium, and her pupils. She gripped their
hands abruptly, as though she were tugging at them. But then she
began twitching her shoulders, and trembling as though she were in
a fever, and at last said softly, looking at Laptev with horror:
"Who is it you've married? Where were your eyes, you mad fellow?
What did you see in that stupid, insignificant girl? Why, I loved
you for your mind, for your soul, but that china doll wants nothing
but your money!"
"Let us drop that, Polina," he said in a voice of supplication.
"All that you can say to me about my marriage I've said to myself
many times already. Don't cause me unnecessary pain."
Yulia Sergeyevna made her appearance, wearing a black dress with a
big diamond brooch, which her father-in-law had sent her after the
service. She was followed by her suite--Kotchevoy, two doctors
of their acquaintance, an officer, and a stout young man in student's
uniform, called Kish.
"You go on with Kostya," Laptev said to his wife. "I'm coming later."
Yulia nodded and went on. Polina Nikolaevna gazed after her, quivering
all over and twitching nervously, and in her eyes there was a look
of repulsion, hatred, and pain.
Laptev was afraid to go home with her, foreseeing an unpleasant
discussion, cutting words, and tears, and he suggested that they
should go and have tea at a restaurant. But she said:
"No, no. I want to go home. Don't dare to talk to me of restaurants."
She did not like being in a restaurant, because the atmosphere of
restaurants seemed to her poisoned by tobacco smoke and the breath
of men. Against all men she did not know she cherished a strange
prejudice, regarding them all as immoral rakes, capable of attacking
her at any moment. Besides, the music played at restaurants jarred
on her nerves and gave her a headache.
Coming out of the Hall of Nobility, they took a sledge in Ostozhenka
and drove to Savelovsky Lane, where she lodged. All the way Laptev
thought about her. It was true that he owed her a great deal. He
had made her acquaintance at the flat of his friend Yartsev, to
whom she was giving lessons in harmony. Her love for him was deep
and perfectly disinterested, and her relations with him did not
alter her habits; she went on giving her lessons and wearing herself
out with work as before. Through her he came to understand and love
music, which he had scarcely cared for till then.
"Half my kingdom for a cup of tea!" she pronounced in a hollow
voice, covering her mouth with her muff that she might not catch
cold. "I've given five lessons, confound them! My pupils are as
stupid as posts; I nearly died of exasperation. I don't know how
long this slavery can go on. I'm worn out. As soon as I can scrape
together three hundred roubles, I shall throw it all up and go to
the Crimea, to lie on the beach and drink in ozone. How I love the
sea--oh, how I love the sea!"
"You'll never go," said Laptev. "To begin with, you'll never save
the money; and, besides, you'd grudge spending it. Forgive me, I
repeat again: surely it's quite as humiliating to collect the money
by farthings from idle people who have music lessons to while away
their time, as to borrow it from your friends."
"I haven't any friends," she said irritably. "And please don't talk
nonsense. The working class to which I belong has one privilege:
the consciousness of being incorruptible--the right to refuse to
be indebted to wretched little shopkeepers, and to treat them with
scorn. No, indeed, you don't buy me! I'm not a Yulitchka!"
Laptev did not attempt to pay the driver, knowing that it would
call forth a perfect torrent of words, such as he had often heard
before. She paid herself.
She had a little furnished room in the flat of a solitary lady who
provided her meals. Her big Becker piano was for the time at Yartsev's
in Great Nikitsky Street, and she went there every day to play on
it. In her room there were armchairs in loose covers, a bed with a
white summer quilt, and flowers belonging to the landlady; there
were oleographs on the walls, and there was nothing that would have
suggested that there was a woman, and a woman of university education,
living in it. There was no toilet table; there were no books; there
was not even a writing-table. It was evident that she went to bed
as soon as she got home, and went out as soon as she got up in the
The cook brought in the samovar. Polina Nikolaevna made tea, and,
still shivering--the room was cold--began abusing the singers
who had sung in the ninth symphony. She was so tired she could
hardly keep her eyes open. She drank one glass of tea, then a second,
and then a third.
"And so you are married," she said. "But don't be uneasy; I'm not
going to pine away. I shall be able to tear you out of my heart.
Only it's annoying and bitter to me that you are just as contemptible
as every one else; that what you want in a woman is not brains or
intellect, but simply a body, good looks, and youth. . . . Youth!"
she pronounced through her nose, as though mimicking some one, and
she laughed. "Youth! You must have purity, _reinheit! reinheit!_"
she laughed, throwing herself back in her chair. "_Reinheit!_"
When she left off laughing her eyes were wet with tears.
"You're happy, at any rate?" she asked.
"Does she love you?"
Laptev, agitated, and feeling miserable, stood up and began walking
about the room.
"No," he repeated. "If you want to know, Polina, I'm very unhappy.
There's no help for it; I've done the stupid thing, and there's no
correcting it now. I must look at it philosophically. She married
me without love, stupidly, perhaps with mercenary motives, but
without understanding, and now she evidently sees her mistake and
is miserable. I see it. At night we sleep together, but by day she
is afraid to be left alone with me for five minutes, and tries to
find distraction, society. With me she feels ashamed and frightened."
"And yet she takes money from you?"
"That's stupid, Polina!" cried Laptev. "She takes money from me
because it makes absolutely no difference to her whether she has
it or not. She is an honest, pure girl. She married me simply because
she wanted to get away from her father, that's all."
"And are you sure she would have married you if you had not been
rich?" asked Polina.
"I'm not sure of anything," said Laptev dejectedly. "Not of anything.
I don't understand anything. For God's sake, Polina, don't let us
talk about it."
"Do you love her?"
A silence followed. She drank a fourth glass, while he paced up and
down, thinking that by now his wife was probably having supper at
the doctors' club.
"But is it possible to love without knowing why?" asked Polina,
shrugging her shoulders. "No; it's the promptings of animal passion!
You are poisoned, intoxicated by that beautiful body, that _reinheit!_
Go away from me; you are unclean! Go to her!"
She brandished her hand at him, then took up his hat and hurled it
at him. He put on his fur coat without speaking and went out, but
she ran after him into the passage, clutched his arm above the
elbow, and broke into sobs.
"Hush, Polina! Don't!" he said, and could not unclasp her fingers.
"Calm yourself, I entreat you."
She shut her eyes and turned pale, and her long nose became an
unpleasant waxy colour like a corpse's, and Laptev still could not
unclasp her fingers. She had fainted. He lifted her up carefully,
laid her on her bed, and sat by her for ten minutes till she came
to herself. Her hands were cold, her pulse was weak and uneven.
"Go home," she said, opening her eyes. "Go away, or I shall begin
howling again. I must take myself in hand."
When he came out, instead of going to the doctors' club where his
friends were expecting him, he went home. All the way home he was
asking himself reproachfully why he had not settled down to married
life with that woman who loved him so much, and was in reality his
wife and friend. She was the one human being who was devoted to
him; and, besides, would it not have been a grateful and worthy
task to give happiness, peace, and a home to that proud, clever,
overworked creature? Was it for him, he asked himself, to lay claim
to youth and beauty, to that happiness which could not be, and
which, as though in punishment or mockery, had kept him for the
last three months in a state of gloom and oppression. The honeymoon
was long over, and he still, absurd to say, did not know what sort
of person his wife was. To her school friends and her father she
wrote long letters of five sheets, and was never at a loss for
something to say to them, but to him she never spoke except about
the weather or to tell him that dinner was ready, or that it was
supper-time. When at night she said her lengthy prayers and then
kissed her crosses and ikons, he thought, watching her with hatred,
"Here she's praying. What's she praying about? What about?" In his
thoughts he showered insults on himself and her, telling himself
that when he got into bed and took her into his arms, he was taking
what he had paid for; but it was horrible. If only it had been a
healthy, reckless, sinful woman; but here he had youth, piety,
meekness, the pure eyes of innocence. . . . While they were engaged
her piety had touched him; now the conventional definiteness of her
views and convictions seemed to him a barrier, behind which the
real truth could not be seen. Already everything in his married
life was agonising. When his wife, sitting beside him in the theatre,
sighed or laughed spontaneously, it was bitter to him that she
enjoyed herself alone and would not share her delight with him. And
it was remarkable that she was friendly with all his friends, and
they all knew what she was like already, while he knew nothing about
her, and only moped and was dumbly jealous.
When he got home Laptev put on his dressing-gown and slippers, and
sat down in his study to read a novel. His wife was not at home.
But within half an hour there was a ring at the hall door, and he
heard the muffled footsteps of Pyotr running to open it. It was
Yulia. She walked into the study in her fur coat, her cheeks rosy
with the frost,
"There's a great fire in Pryesnya," she said breathlessly. "There's
a tremendous glow. I'm going to see it with Konstantin Ivanovitch."
"Well, do, dear!"
The sight of her health, her freshness, and the childish horror in
her eyes, reassured Laptev. He read for another half-hour and went
Next day Polina Nikolaevna sent to the warehouse two books she had
borrowed from him, all his letters and his photographs; with them
was a note consisting of one word--_"basta."_
Towards the end of October Nina Fyodorovna had unmistakable symptoms
of a relapse. There was a change in her face, and she grew rapidly
thinner. In spite of acute pain she still imagined that she was
getting better, and got up and dressed every morning as though she
were well, and then lay on her bed, fully dressed, for the rest of
the day. And towards the end she became very talkative. She would
lie on her back and talk in a low voice, speaking with an effort
and breathing painfully. She died suddenly under the following
It was a clear moonlight evening. In the street people were tobogganing
in the fresh snow, and their clamour floated in at the window. Nina
Fyodorovna was lying on her back in bed, and Sasha, who had no one
to take turns with her now, was sitting beside her half asleep.
"I don't remember his father's name," Nina Fyodorovna was saying
softly, "but his name was Ivan Kotchevoy--a poor clerk. He was a
sad drunkard, the Kingdom of Heaven be his! He used to come to us,
and every month we used to give him a pound of sugar and two ounces
of tea. And money, too, sometimes, of course. Yes. . . . And then,
this is what happened. Our Kotchevoy began drinking heavily and
died, consumed by vodka. He left a little son, a boy of seven. Poor
little orphan! . . . We took him and hid him in the clerk's quarters,
and he lived there for a whole year, without father's knowing. And
when father did see him, he only waved his hand and said nothing.
When Kostya, the little orphan, was nine years old--by that time
I was engaged to be married--I took him round to all the day
schools. I went from one to the other, and no one would take him.
And he cried. . . . 'What are you crying for, little silly?' I said.
I took him to Razgulyay to the second school, where--God bless
them for it!--they took him, and the boy began going every day
on foot from Pyatnitsky Street to Razgulyay Street and back again
. . . . Alyosha paid for him. . . . By God's grace the boy got on,
was good at his lessons, and turned out well. . . . He's a lawyer
now in Moscow, a friend of Alyosha's, and so good in science. Yes,
we had compassion on a fellow-creature and took him into our house,
and now I daresay, he remembers us in his prayers. . . Yes. . . ."
Nina Fyodorovna spoke more and more slowly with long pauses, then
after a brief silence she suddenly raised herself and sat up.
"There's something the matter with me . . . something seems wrong,"
she said. "Lord have mercy on me! Oh, I can't breathe!"
Sasha knew that her mother would soon die; seeing now how suddenly
her face looked drawn, she guessed that it was the end, and she was
"Mother, you mustn't!" she began sobbing. "You mustn't."
"Run to the kitchen; let them go for father. I am very ill indeed."
Sasha ran through all the rooms calling, but there were none of the
servants in the house, and the only person she found was Lida asleep
on a chest in the dining-room with her clothes on and without a
pillow. Sasha ran into the yard just as she was without her goloshes,
and then into the street. On a bench at the gate her nurse was
sitting watching the tobogganing. From beyond the river, where the
tobogganing slope was, came the strains of a military band.
"Nurse, mother's dying!" sobbed Sasha. "You must go for father! . . ."
The nurse went upstairs, and, glancing at the sick woman, thrust a
lighted wax candle into her hand. Sasha rushed about in terror and
besought some one to go for her father, then she put on a coat and
a kerchief, and ran into the street. From the servants she knew
already that her father had another wife and two children with whom
he lived in Bazarny Street. She ran out of the gate and turned to
the left, crying, and frightened of unknown people. She soon began
to sink into the snow and grew numb with cold.
She met an empty sledge, but she did not take it: perhaps, she
thought, the man would drive her out of town, rob her, and throw
her into the cemetery (the servants had talked of such a case at
tea). She went on and on, sobbing and panting with exhaustion. When
she got into Bazarny Street, she inquired where M. Panaurov lived.
An unknown woman spent a long time directing her, and seeing that
she did not understand, took her by the hand and led her to a house
of one storey that stood back from the street. The door stood open.
Sasha ran through the entry, along the corridor, and found herself
at last in a warm, lighted room where her father was sitting by the
samovar with a lady and two children. But by now she was unable to
utter a word, and could only sob. Panaurov understood.
"Mother's worse?" he asked. "Tell me, child: is mother worse?"
He was alarmed and sent for a sledge.
When they got home, Nina Fyodorovna was sitting propped up with
pillows, with a candle in her hand. Her face looked dark and her
eyes were closed. Crowding in the doorway stood the nurse, the cook,
the housemaid, a peasant called Prokofy and a few persons of the
humbler class, who were complete strangers. The nurse was giving
them orders in a whisper, and they did not understand. Inside the
room at the window stood Lida, with a pale and sleepy face, gazing
severely at her mother.
Panaurov took the candle out of Nina Fyodorovna's hand, and, frowning
contemptuously, flung it on the chest of drawers.
"This is awful!" he said, and his shoulders quivered. "Nina, you
must lie down," he said affectionately. "Lie down, dear."
She looked at him, but did not know him. They laid her down on her
When the priest and the doctor, Sergey Borisovitch, arrived, the
servants crossed themselves devoutly and prayed for her.
"What a sad business!" said the doctor thoughtfully, coming out
into the drawing-room. "Why, she was still young--not yet forty."
They heard the loud sobbing of the little girls. Panaurov, with a
pale face and moist eyes, went up to the doctor and said in a faint,
"Do me a favour, my dear fellow. Send a telegram to Moscow. I'm not
equal to it."
The doctor fetched the ink and wrote the following telegram to his
"Madame Panaurov died at eight o'clock this evening. Tell your
husband: a mortgaged house for sale in Dvoryansky Street, nine
thousand cash. Auction on twelfth. Advise him not miss opportunity."
Laptev lived in one of the turnings out of Little Dmitrovka. Besides
the big house facing the street, he rented also a two-storey lodge
in the yard at the back of his friend Kotchevoy, a lawyer's assistant
whom all the Laptevs called Kostya, because he had grown up under
their eyes. Facing this lodge stood another, also of two storeys,
inhabited by a French family consisting of a husband and wife and
There was a frost of twenty degrees. The windows were frozen over.
Waking up in the morning, Kostya, with an anxious face, took twenty
drops of a medicine; then, taking two dumb-bells out of the bookcase,
he did gymnastic exercises. He was tall and thin, with big reddish
moustaches; but what was most noticeable in his appearance was the
length of his legs.
Pyotr, a middle-aged peasant in a reefer jacket and cotton breeches
tucked into his high boots, brought in the samovar and made the
"It's very nice weather now, Konstantin Ivanovitch," he said.
"It is, but I tell you what, brother, it's a pity we can't get on,
you and I, without such exclamations."
Pyotr sighed from politeness.
"What are the little girls doing?" asked Kotchevoy.
"The priest has not come. Alexey Fyodorovitch is giving them their
Kostya found a spot in the window that was not covered with frost,
and began looking through a field-glass at the windows of the house
where the French family lived.
"There's no seeing," he said.
Meanwhile Alexey Fyodorovitch was giving Sasha and Lida a scripture
lesson below. For the last six weeks they had been living in Moscow,
and were installed with their governess in the lower storey of the
lodge. And three times a week a teacher from a school in the town,
and a priest, came to give them lessons. Sasha was going through
the New Testament and Lida was going through the Old. The time
before Lida had been set the story up to Abraham to learn by heart.
"And so Adam and Eve had two sons," said Laptev. "Very good. But
what were they called? Try to remember them!"
Lida, still with the same severe face, gazed dumbly at the table.
She moved her lips, but without speaking; and the elder girl, Sasha,
looked into her face, frowning.
"You know it very well, only you mustn't be nervous," said Laptev.
"Come, what were Adam's sons called?"
"Abel and Canel," Lida whispered.
"Cain and Abel," Laptev corrected her.
A big tear rolled down Lida's cheek and dropped on the book. Sasha
looked down and turned red, and she, too, was on the point of tears.
Laptev felt a lump in his throat, and was so sorry for them he could
not speak. He got up from the table and lighted a cigarette. At
that moment Kotchevoy came down the stairs with a paper in his hand.
The little girls stood up, and without looking at him, made curtsies.
"For God's sake, Kostya, give them their lessons," said Laptev,
turning to him. "I'm afraid I shall cry, too, and I have to go to
the warehouse before dinner."
Alexey Fyodorovitch went away. Kostya, with a very serious face,
sat down to the table and drew the Scripture history towards him.
"Well," he said; "where have you got to?"
"She knows about the Flood," said Sasha.
"The Flood? All right. Let's peg in at the Flood. Fire away about
the Flood." Kostya skimmed through a brief description of the Flood
in the book, and said: "I must remark that there really never was
a flood such as is described here. And there was no such person as
Noah. Some thousands of years before the birth of Christ, there was
an extraordinary inundation of the earth, and that's not only
mentioned in the Jewish Bible, but in the books of other ancient
peoples: the Greeks, the Chaldeans, the Hindoos. But whatever the
inundation may have been, it couldn't have covered the whole earth.
It may have flooded the plains, but the mountains must have remained.
You can read this book, of course, but don't put too much faith in
Tears trickled down Lida's face again. She turned away and suddenly
burst into such loud sobs, that Kostya started and jumped up from
his seat in great confusion.
"I want to go home," she said, "to papa and to nurse."
Sasha cried too. Kostya went upstairs to his own room, and spoke
on the telephone to Yulia Sergeyevna.
"My dear soul," he said, "the little girls are crying again; there's
no doing anything with them."
Yulia Sergeyevna ran across from the big house in her indoor dress,
with only a knitted shawl over her shoulders, and chilled through
by the frost, began comforting the children.
"Do believe me, do believe me," she said in an imploring voice,
hugging first one and then the other. "Your papa's coming to-day;
he has sent a telegram. You're grieving for mother, and I grieve
too. My heart's torn, but what can we do? We must bow to God's
When they left off crying, she wrapped them up and took them out
for a drive. They stopped near the Iverskoy chapel, put up candles
at the shrine, and, kneeling down, prayed. On the way back they
went in Filippov's, and had cakes sprinkled with poppy-seeds.
The Laptevs had dinner between two and three. Pyotr handed the
dishes. This Pyotr waited on the family, and by day ran to the post,
to the warehouse, to the law courts for Kostya; he spent his evenings
making cigarettes, ran to open the door at night, and before five
o'clock in the morning was up lighting the stoves, and no one knew
where he slept. He was very fond of opening seltzer-water bottles
and did it easily, without a bang and without spilling a drop.
"With God's blessing," said Kostya, drinking off a glass of vodka
before the soup.
At first Yulia Sergeyevna did not like Kostya; his bass voice, his
phrases such as "Landed him one on the beak," "filth," "produce the
samovar," etc., his habit of clinking glasses and making sentimental
speeches, seemed to her trivial. But as she got to know him better,
she began to feel very much at home with him. He was open with her;
he liked talking to her in a low voice in the evening, and even
gave her novels of his own composition to read, though these had
been kept a secret even from such friends as Laptev and Yartsev.
She read these novels and praised them, so that she might not
disappoint him, and he was delighted because he hoped sooner or
later to become a distinguished author.
In his novels he described nothing but country-house life, though
he had only seen the country on rare occasions when visiting friends
at a summer villa, and had only been in a real country-house once
in his life, when he had been to Volokolamsk on law business. He
avoided any love interest as though he were ashamed of it; he put
in frequent descriptions of nature, and in them was fond of using
such expressions as, "the capricious lines of the mountains, the
miraculous forms of the clouds, the harmony of mysterious rhythms
. . . ." His novels had never been published, and this he attributed
to the censorship.
He liked the duties of a lawyer, but yet he considered that his
most important pursuit was not the law but these novels. He believed
that he had a subtle, æsthetic temperament, and he always had
leanings towards art. He neither sang nor played on any musical
instrument, and was absolutely without an ear for music, but he
attended all the symphony and philharmonic concerts, got up concerts
for charitable objects, and made the acquaintance of singers. . . .
They used to talk at dinner.
"It's a strange thing," said Laptev, "my Fyodor took my breath away
again! He said we must find out the date of the centenary of our
firm, so as to try and get raised to noble rank; and he said it
quite seriously. What can be the matter with him? I confess I begin
to feel worried about him."
They talked of Fyodor, and of its being the fashion nowadays to
adopt some pose or other. Fyodor, for instance, tried to appear
like a plain merchant, though he had ceased to be one; and when the
teacher came from the school, of which old Laptev was the patron,
to ask Fyodor for his salary, the latter changed his voice and
deportment, and behaved with the teacher as though he were some one
There was nothing to be done; after dinner they went into the study.
They talked about the decadents, about "The Maid of Orleans," and
Kostya delivered a regular monologue; he fancied that he was very
successful in imitating Ermolova. Then they sat down and played
whist. The little girls had not gone back to the lodge but were
sitting together in one arm-chair, with pale and mournful faces,
and were listening to every noise in the street, wondering whether
it was their father coming. In the evening when it was dark and the
candles were lighted, they felt deeply dejected. The talk over the
whist, the footsteps of Pyotr, the crackling in the fireplace,
jarred on their nerves, and they did not like to look at the fire.
In the evenings they did not want to cry, but they felt strange,
and there was a load on their hearts. They could not understand how
people could talk and laugh when their mother was dead.
"What did you see through the field-glasses today?" Yulia Sergeyevna
"Nothing to-day, but yesterday I saw the old Frenchman having his
At seven o'clock Yulia and Kostya went to the Little Theatre. Laptev
was left with the little girls.
"It's time your father was here," he said, looking at his watch.
"The train must be late."
The children sat in their arm-chair dumb and huddling together like
animals when they are cold, while he walked about the room looking
impatiently at his watch. It was quiet in the house. But just before
nine o'clock some one rang at the bell. Pyotr went to open the door.
Hearing a familiar voice, the children shrieked, burst into sobs,
and ran into the hall. Panaurov was wearing a sumptuous coat of
antelope skin, and his head and moustaches were white with hoar
frost. "In a minute, in a minute," he muttered, while Sasha and
Lida, sobbing and laughing, kissed his cold hands, his hat, his
antelope coat. With the languor of a handsome man spoilt by too
much love, he fondled the children without haste, then went into
the study and said, rubbing his hands:
"I've not come to stay long, my friends. I'm going to Petersburg
to-morrow. They've promised to transfer me to another town."
He was staying at the Dresden Hotel.
A friend who was often at the Laptevs' was Ivan Gavrilitch Yartsev.
He was a strong, healthy man with black hair and a clever, pleasant
face. He was considered to be handsome, but of late he had begun
to grow stout, and that rather spoilt his face and figure; another
thing that spoilt him was that he wore his hair cut so close that
the skin showed through.
At the University his tall figure and physical strength had won him
the nickname of "the pounder" among the students. He had taken his
degree with the Laptev brothers in the faculty of philology--then
he went in for science and now had the degree of _magister_ in
chemistry. But he had never given a lecture or even been a demonstrator.
He taught physics and natural history in the modern school, and in
two girls' high schools. He was enthusiastic over his pupils,
especially the girls, and used to maintain that a remarkable
generation was growing up. At home he spent his time studying
sociology and Russian history, as well as chemistry, and he sometimes
published brief notes in the newspapers and magazines, signing them
"Y." When he talked of some botanical or zoological subject, he
spoke like an historian; when he was discussing some historical
question, he approached it as a man of science.
Kish, nicknamed "the eternal student," was also like one of the
family at the Laptevs'. He had been for three years studying medicine.
Then he took up mathematics, and spent two years over each year's
course. His father, a provincial druggist, used to send him forty
roubles a month, to which his mother, without his father's knowledge,
added another ten. And this sum was not only sufficient for his
board and lodging, but even for such luxuries as an overcoat lined
with Polish beaver, gloves, scent, and photographs (he often had
photographs taken of himself and used to distribute them among his
friends). He was neat and demure, slightly bald, with golden
side-whiskers, and he had the air of a man nearly always ready to
oblige. He was always busy looking after other people's affairs.
At one time he would be rushing about with a subscription list; at
another time he would be freezing in the early morning at a ticket
office to buy tickets for ladies of his acquaintance, or at somebody's
request would be ordering a wreath or a bouquet. People simply said
of him: "Kish will go, Kish will do it, Kish will buy it." He was
usually unsuccessful in carrying out his commissions. Reproaches
were showered upon him, people frequently forgot to pay him for the
things he bought, but he simply sighed in hard cases and never
protested. He was never particularly delighted nor disappointed;
his stories were always long and boring; and his jokes invariably
provoked laughter just because they were not funny. Thus, one day,
for instance, intending to make a joke, he said to Pyotr: "Pyotr,
you're not a sturgeon;" and this aroused a general laugh, and he,
too, laughed for a long time, much pleased at having made such a
successful jest. Whenever one of the professors was buried, he
walked in front with the mutes.
Yartsev and Kish usually came in the evening to tea. If the Laptevs
were not going to the theatre or a concert, the evening tea lingered
on till supper. One evening in February the following conversation
"A work of art is only significant and valuable when there are some
serious social problems contained in its central idea," said Kostya,
looking wrathfully at Yartsev. "If there is in the work a protest
against serfdom, or the author takes up arms against the vulgarity
of aristocratic society, the work is significant and valuable. The
novels that are taken up with 'Ach!' and 'Och!' and 'she loved him,
while he ceased to love her,' I tell you, are worthless, and damn
them all, I say!"
"I agree with you, Konstantin Ivanovitch," said Yulia Sergeyevna.
"One describes a love scene; another, a betrayal; and the third,
meeting again after separation. Are there no other subjects? Why,
there are many people sick, unhappy, harassed by poverty, to whom
reading all that must be distasteful."
It was disagreeable to Laptev to hear his wife, not yet twenty-two,
speaking so seriously and coldly about love. He understood why this
"If poetry does not solve questions that seem so important," said
Yartsev, "you should turn to works on technical subjects, criminal
law, or finance, read scientific pamphlets. What need is there to
discuss in 'Romeo and Juliet,' liberty of speech, or the disinfecting
of prisons, instead of love, when you can find all that in special
articles and textbooks?"
"That's pushing it to the extreme," Kostya interrupted. "We are not
talking of giants like Shakespeare or Goethe; we are talking of the
hundreds of talented mediocre writers, who would be infinitely more
valuable if they would let love alone, and would employ themselves
in spreading knowledge and humane ideas among the masses."
Kish, lisping and speaking a little through his nose, began telling
the story of a novel he had lately been reading. He spoke
circumstantially and without haste. Three minutes passed, then five,
then ten, and no one could make out what he was talking about, and
his face grew more and more indifferent, and his eyes more and more
"Kish, do be quick over it," Yulia Sergeyevna could not resist
saying; "it's really agonizing!"
"Shut up, Kish!" Kostya shouted to him.
They all laughed, and Kish with them.
Fyodor came in. Flushing red in patches, he greeted them all in a
nervous flurry, and led his brother away into the study. Of late
he had taken to avoiding the company of more than one person at
"Let the young people laugh, while we speak from the heart in here,"
he said, settling himself in a deep arm-chair at a distance from
the lamp. "It's a long time, my dear brother, since we've seen each
other. How long is it since you were at the warehouse? I think it
must be a week."
"Yes, there's nothing for me to do there. And I must confess that
the old man wearies me."
"Of course, they could get on at the warehouse without you and me,
but one must have some occupation. 'In the sweat of thy brow thou
shalt eat bread,' as it is written. God loves work."
Pyotr brought in a glass of tea on a tray. Fyodor drank it without
sugar, and asked for more. He drank a great deal of tea, and could
get through as many as ten glasses in the evening.
"I tell you what, brother," he said, getting up and going to his
brother. "Laying aside philosophic subtleties, you must get elected
on to the town council, and little by little we will get you on to
the local Board, and then to be an alderman. And as time goes on
--you are a clever man and well-educated--you will be noticed
in Petersburg and asked to go there--active men on the provincial
assemblies and town councils are all the fashion there now--and
before you are fifty you'll be a privy councillor, and have a ribbon
across your shoulders."
Laptev made no answer; he knew that all this--being a privy
councillor and having a ribbon over his shoulder--was what Fyodor
desired for himself, and he did not know what to say.
The brothers sat still and said nothing. Fyodor opened his watch
and for a long, long time gazed into it with strained attention,
as though he wanted to detect the motion of the hand, and the
expression of his face struck Laptev as strange.
They were summoned to supper. Laptev went into the dining-room,
while Fyodor remained in the study. The argument was over and Yartsev
was speaking in the tones of a professor giving a lecture:
"Owing to differences of climate, of energy, of tastes, of age,
equality among men is physically impossible. But civilised man can
make this inequality innocuous, as he has already done with bogs
and bears. A learned man succeeded in making a cat, a mouse, a
falcon, a sparrow, all eat out of one plate; and education, one
must hope, will do the same thing with men. Life continually
progresses, civilisation makes enormous advances before our eyes,
and obviously a time will come when we shall think, for instance,
the present condition of the factory population as absurd as we now
do the state of serfdom, in which girls were exchanged for dogs."
"That won't be for a long while, a very long while," said Kostya,
with a laugh, "not till Rothschild thinks his cellars full of gold
absurd, and till then the workers may bend their backs and die of
hunger. No; that's not it. We mustn't wait for it; we must struggle
for it. Do you suppose because the cat eats out of the same saucer
as the mouse--do you suppose that she is influenced by a sense
of conscious intelligence? Not a bit of it! She's made to do it by
"Fyodor and I are rich; our father's a capitalist, a millionaire.
You will have to struggle with us," said Laptev, rubbing his forehead
with his hand. "Struggle with me is an idea I cannot grasp. I am
rich, but what has money given me so far? What has this power given
me? In what way am I happier than you? My childhood was slavery,
and money did not save me from the birch. When Nina was ill and
died, my money did not help her. If people don't care for me, I
can't make them like me if I spend a hundred million."
"But you can do a great deal of good," said Kish.
"Good, indeed! You spoke to me yesterday of a mathematical man who
is looking for a job. Believe me, I can do as little for him as you
can. I can give money, but that's not what he wants--I asked a
well-known musician to help a poor violinist, and this is what he
answered: 'You apply to me just because you are not a musician
yourself.' In the same way I say to you that you apply for help to
me so confidently because you've never been in the position of a
"Why you bring in the comparison with a well-known musician I don't
understand!" said Yulia Sergeyevna, and she flushed crimson. "What
has the well-known musician to do with it!"
Her face was quivering with hatred, and she dropped her eyes to
conceal the feeling. And not only her husband, but all the men
sitting at the table, knew what the look in her face meant.
"What has the well-known musician got to do with it?" she said
slowly. "Why, nothing's easier than helping some one poor."
Silence followed. Pyotr handed the woodcock, but they all refused
it, and ate nothing but salad. Laptev did not remember what he had
said, but it was clear to him that it was not his words that were
hateful, but the fact of his meddling in the conversation at all.
After supper he went into his study; intently, with a beating heart,
expecting further humiliation, he listened to what was going on in
the hall. An argument had sprung up there again. Then Yartsev sat
down to the piano and played a sentimental song. He was a man of
varied accomplishments; he could play and sing, and even perform
"You may please yourselves, my friends, but I'm not going to stay
at home," said Yulia. "We must go somewhere."
They decided to drive out of town, and sent Kish to the merchant's
club to order a three-horse sledge. They did not ask Laptev to go
with them because he did not usually join these expeditions, and
because his brother was sitting with him; but he took it to mean
that his society bored them, and that he was not wanted in their
light-hearted youthful company. And his vexation, his bitter feeling,
was so intense that he almost shed tears. He was positively glad
that he was treated so ungraciously, that he was scorned, that he
was a stupid, dull husband, a money-bag; and it seemed to him, that
he would have been even more glad if his wife were to deceive him
that night with his best friend, and were afterwards to acknowledge
it, looking at him with hatred. . . . He was jealous on her account
of their student friends, of actors, of singers, of Yartsev, even
of casual acquaintances; and now he had a passionate longing for
her really to be unfaithful to him. He longed to find her in another
man's arms, and to be rid of this nightmare forever. Fyodor was
drinking tea, gulping it noisily. But he, too, got up to go.
"Our old father must have got cataract," he said, as he put on his
fur coat. "His sight has become very poor."
Laptev put on his coat, too, and went out. After seeing his brother
part of the way home, he took a sledge and drove to Yar's.
"And this is family happiness!" he said, jeering at himself. "This
His teeth were chattering, and he did not know if it were jealousy
or something else. He walked about near the tables; listened to a
comic singer in the hall. He had not a single phrase ready if he
should meet his own party; and he felt sure beforehand that if he
met his wife, he would only smile pitifully and not cleverly, and
that every one would understand what feeling had induced him to
come here. He was bewildered by the electric light, the loud music,
the smell of powder, and the fact that the ladies he met looked at
him. He stood at the doors trying to see and to hear what was going
on in the private rooms, and it seemed to him that he was somehow
playing a mean, contemptible part on a level with the comic singers
and those ladies. Then he went to Strelna, but he found none of his
circle there, either; and only when on the way home he was again
driving up to Yar's, a three-horse sledge noisily overtook him. The
driver was drunk and shouting, and he could hear Yartsev laughing:
"Ha, ha, ha!"
Laptev returned home between three and four. Yulia Sergeyevna was
in bed. Noticing that she was not asleep, he went up to her and
"I understand your repulsion, your hatred, but you might spare me
before other people; you might conceal your feelings."
She got up and sat on the bed with her legs dangling. Her eyes
looked big and black in the lamplight.
"I beg your pardon," she said.
He could not utter a single word from excitement and the trembling
of his whole body; he stood facing her and was dumb. She trembled,
too, and sat with the air of a criminal waiting for explanations.
"How I suffer!" he said at last, and he clutched his head. "I'm in
hell, and I'm out of my mind."
"And do you suppose it's easy for me?" she asked, with a quiver in
her voice. "God alone knows what I go through."
"You've been my wife for six months, but you haven't a spark of
love for me in your heart. There's no hope, not one ray of light!
Why did you marry me?" Laptev went on with despair. "Why? What demon
thrust you into my arms? What did you hope for? What did you want?"
She looked at him with terror, as though she were afraid he would
"Did I attract you? Did you like me?" he went on, gasping for breath.
"No. Then what? What? Tell me what?" he cried. "Oh, the cursed
money! The cursed money!"
"I swear to God, no!" she cried, and she crossed herself. She seemed
to shrink under the insult, and for the first time he heard her
crying. "I swear to God, no!" she repeated. "I didn't think about
your money; I didn't want it. I simply thought I should do wrong
if I refused you. I was afraid of spoiling your life and mine. And
now I am suffering for my mistake. I'm suffering unbearably!"
She sobbed bitterly, and he saw that she was hurt; and not knowing
what to say, dropped down on the carpet before her.
"That's enough; that's enough," he muttered. "I insulted you because
I love you madly." He suddenly kissed her foot and passionately
hugged it. "If only a spark of love," he muttered. "Come, lie to
me; tell me a lie! Don't say it's a mistake! . . ."
But she went on crying, and he felt that she was only enduring his
caresses as an inevitable consequence of her mistake. And the foot
he had kissed she drew under her like a bird. He felt sorry for
She got into bed and covered her head over; he undressed and got
into bed, too. In the morning they both felt confused and did not
know what to talk about, and he even fancied she walked unsteadily
on the foot he had kissed.
Before dinner Panaurov came to say good-bye. Yulia had an irresistible
desire to go to her own home; it would be nice, she thought, to go
away and have a rest from married life, from the embarrassment and
the continual consciousness that she had done wrong. It was decided
at dinner that she should set off with Panaurov, and stay with her
father for two or three weeks until she was tired of it.
She travelled with Panaurov in a reserved compartment; he had on
his head an astrachan cap of peculiar shape.
"Yes, Petersburg did not satisfy me," he said, drawling, with a
sigh. "They promise much, but nothing definite. Yes, my dear girl.
I have been a Justice of the Peace, a member of the local Board,
chairman of the Board of Magistrates, and finally councillor of the
provincial administration. I think I have served my country and
have earned the right to receive attention; but--would you believe
it?--I can never succeed in wringing from the authorities a post
in another town. . . ."
Panaurov closed his eyes and shook his head.
"They don't recognise me," he went on, as though dropping asleep.
"Of course I'm not an administrator of genius, but, on the other
hand, I'm a decent, honest man, and nowadays even that's something
rare. I regret to say I have not been always quite straightforward
with women, but in my relations with the Russian government I've
always been a gentleman. But enough of that," he said, opening his
eyes; "let us talk of you. What put it into your head to visit your
papa so suddenly?"
"Well. . . . I had a little misunderstanding with my husband," said
Yulia, looking at his cap.
"Yes. What a queer fellow he is! All the Laptevs are queer. Your
husband's all right--he's nothing out of the way, but his brother
Fyodor is a perfect fool."
Panaurov sighed and asked seriously:
"And have you a lover yet?"
Yulia looked at him in amazement and laughed.
"Goodness knows what you're talking about."
It was past ten o'clock when they got out at a big station and had
supper. When the train went on again Panaurov took off his greatcoat
and his cap, and sat down beside Yulia.
"You are very charming, I must tell you," he began. "Excuse me for
the eating-house comparison, but you remind me of fresh salted
cucumber; it still smells of the hotbed, so to speak, and yet has
a smack of the salt and a scent of fennel about it. As time goes
on you will make a magnificent woman, a wonderful, exquisite woman.
If this trip of ours had happened five years ago," he sighed, "I
should have felt it my duty to join the ranks of your adorers, but
now, alas, I'm a veteran on the retired list."
He smiled mournfully, but at the same time graciously, and put his
arm round her waist.
"You must be mad!" she said; she flushed crimson and was so frightened
that her hands and feet turned cold.
"Leave off, Grigory Nikolaevitch!"
"What are you afraid of, dear?" he asked softly. "What is there
dreadful about it? It's simply that you're not used to it."
If a woman protested he always interpreted it as a sign that he had
made an impression on her and attracted her. Holding Yulia round
the waist, he kissed her firmly on the cheek, then on the lips, in
the full conviction that he was giving her intense gratification.
Yulia recovered from her alarm and confusion, and began laughing.
He kissed her once more and said, as he put on his ridiculous cap:
"That is all that the old veteran can give you. A Turkish Pasha, a
kind-hearted old fellow, was presented by some one--or inherited,
I fancy it was--a whole harem. When his beautiful young wives
drew up in a row before him, he walked round them, kissed each one
of them, and said: 'That is all that I am equal to giving you.' And
that's just what I say, too."
All this struck her as stupid and extraordinary, and amused her.
She felt mischievous. Standing up on the seat and humming, she got
a box of sweets from the shelf, and throwing him a piece of chocolate,
He caught it. With a loud laugh she threw him another sweet, then
a third, and he kept catching them and putting them into his mouth,
looking at her with imploring eyes; and it seemed to her that in
his face, his features, his expression, there was a great deal that
was feminine and childlike. And when, out of breath, she sat down
on the seat and looked at him, laughing, he tapped her cheek with
two fingers, and said as though he were vexed:
"Take it," she said, giving him the box. "I don't care for sweet
He ate up the sweets--every one of them, and locked the empty box
in his trunk; he liked boxes with pictures on them.
"That's mischief enough, though," he said. "It's time for the veteran
to go bye-bye."
He took out of his hold-all a Bokhara dressing-gown and a pillow,
lay down, and covered himself with the dressing-gown.
"Good-night, darling!" he said softly, and sighed as though his
whole body ached.
And soon a snore was heard. Without the slightest feeling of
constraint, she, too, lay down and went to sleep.
When next morning she drove through her native town from the station
homewards, the streets seemed to her empty and deserted. The snow
looked grey, and the houses small, as though some one had squashed
them. She was met by a funeral procession: the dead body was carried
in an open coffin with banners.
"Meeting a funeral, they say, is lucky," she thought.
There were white bills pasted in the windows of the house where
Nina Fyodorovna used to live.
With a sinking at her heart she drove into her own courtyard and
rang at the door. It was opened by a servant she did not know--a
plump, sleepy-looking girl wearing a warm wadded jacket. As she
went upstairs Yulia remembered how Laptev had declared his love
there, but now the staircase was unscrubbed, covered with foot-marks.
Upstairs in the cold passage patients were waiting in their out-door
coats. And for some reason her heart beat violently, and she was
so excited she could scarcely walk.
The doctor, who had grown even stouter, was sitting with a brick-red
face and dishevelled hair, drinking tea. Seeing his daughter, he
was greatly delighted, and even lacrymose. She thought that she was
the only joy in this old man's life, and much moved, she embraced
him warmly, and told him she would stay a long time--till Easter.
After taking off her things in her own room, she went back to the
dining-room to have tea with him. He was pacing up and down with
his hands in his pockets, humming, "Ru-ru-ru"; this meant that he
was dissatisfied with something.
"You have a gay time of it in Moscow," he said. "I am very glad for
your sake. . . . I'm an old man and I need nothing. I shall soon
give up the ghost and set you all free. And the wonder is that my
hide is so tough, that I'm alive still! It's amazing!"
He said that he was a tough old ass that every one rode on. They
had thrust on him the care of Nina Fyodorovna, the worry of her
children, and of her burial; and that coxcomb Panaurov would not
trouble himself about it, and had even borrowed a hundred roubles
from him and had never paid it back.
"Take me to Moscow and put me in a madhouse," said the doctor. "I'm
mad; I'm a simple child, as I still put faith in truth and justice."
Then he found fault with her husband for his short-sightedness in
not buying houses that were being sold so cheaply. And now it seemed
to Yulia that she was not the one joy in this old man's life. While
he was seeing his patients, and afterwards going his rounds, she
walked through all the rooms, not knowing what to do or what to
think about. She had already grown strange to her own town and her
own home. She felt no inclination to go into the streets or see her
friends; and at the thought of her old friends and her life as a
girl, she felt no sadness nor regret for the past.
In the evening she dressed a little more smartly and went to the
evening service. But there were only poor people in the church, and
her splendid fur coat and hat made no impression. And it seemed to
her that there was some change in the church as well as in herself.
In old days she had loved it when they read the prayers for the day
at evening service, and the choir sang anthems such as "I will open
my lips." She liked moving slowly in the crowd to the priest who
stood in the middle of the church, and then to feel the holy oil
on her forehead; now she only waited for the service to be over.
And now, going out of the church, she was only afraid that beggars
would ask for alms; it was such a bore to have to stop and feel for
her pockets; besides, she had no coppers in her pocket now--nothing
She went to bed early, and was a long time in going to sleep. She
kept dreaming of portraits of some sort, and of the funeral procession
she had met that morning. The open coffin with the dead body was
carried into the yard, and brought to a standstill at the door;
then the coffin was swung backwards and forwards on a sheet, and
dashed violently against the door. Yulia woke and jumped up in
alarm. There really was a bang at the door, and the wire of the
bell rustled against the wall, though no ring was to be heard.
The doctor coughed. Then she heard the servant go downstairs, and
then come back.
"Madam!" she said, and knocked at the door. "Madam!"
"What is it?" said Yulia.
"A telegram for you!"
Yulia went out to her with a candle. Behind the servant stood the
doctor, in his night-clothes and greatcoat, and he, too, had a
candle in his hand. "Our bell is broken," he said, yawning sleepily.
"It ought to have been mended long ago."
Yulia broke open the telegram and read:
"We drink to your health.--YARTSEV, KOTCHEVOY."
"Ah, what idiots!" she said, and burst out laughing; and her heart
felt light and gay.
Going back into her room, she quietly washed and dressed, then she
spent a long time in packing her things, until it was daylight, and
at midday she set off for Moscow.
In Holy Week the Laptevs went to an exhibition of pictures in the
school of painting. The whole family went together in the Moscow
fashion, the little girls, the governess, Kostya, and all.
Laptev knew the names of all the well-known painters, and never
missed an exhibition. He used sometimes to paint little landscape
paintings when he was in the country in the summer, and he fancied
he had a good deal of taste, and that if he had studied he might
have made a good painter. When he was abroad he sometimes used to
go to curio shops, examining the antiques with the air of a connoisseur
and giving his opinion on them. When he bought any article he gave
just what the shopkeeper liked to ask for it and his purchase
remained afterwards in a box in the coach-house till it disappeared
altogether. Or going into a print shop, he would slowly and attentively
examine the engravings and the bronzes, making various remarks on
them, and would buy a common frame or a box of wretched prints. At
home he had pictures always of large dimensions but of inferior
quality; the best among them were badly hung. It had happened to
him more than once to pay large sums for things which had afterwards
turned out to be forgeries of the grossest kind. And it was remarkable
that, though as a rule timid in the affairs of life, he was exceedingly
bold and self-confident at a picture exhibition. Why?
Yulia Sergeyevna looked at the pictures as her husband did, through
her open fist or an opera-glass, and was surprised that the people
in the pictures were like live people, and the trees like real
trees. But she did not understand art, and it seemed to her that
many pictures in the exhibition were alike, and she imagined that
the whole object in painting was that the figures and objects should
stand out as though they were real, when you looked at the picture
through your open fist.
"That forest is Shiskin's," her husband explained to her. "He always
paints the same thing. . . . But notice snow's never such a lilac
colour as that. . . . And that boy's left arm is shorter than his
When they were all tired and Laptev had gone to look for Kostya,
that they might go home, Yulia stopped indifferently before a small
landscape. In the foreground was a stream, over it a little wooden
bridge; on the further side a path that disappeared in the dark
grass; a field on the right; a copse; near it a camp fire--no
doubt of watchers by night; and in the distance there was a glow
of the evening sunset.
Yulia imagined walking herself along the little bridge, and then
along the little path further and further, while all round was
stillness, the drowsy landrails calling and the fire flickering in
the distance. And for some reason she suddenly began to feel that
she had seen those very clouds that stretched across the red part
of the sky, and that copse, and that field before, many times before.
She felt lonely, and longed to walk on and on along the path; and
there, in the glow of sunset was the calm reflection of something
"How finely that's painted!" she said, surprised that the picture
had suddenly become intelligible to her.
"Look, Alyosha! Do you see how peaceful it is?"
She began trying to explain why she liked the landscape so much,
but neither Kostya nor her husband understood her. She kept looking
at the picture with a mournful smile, and the fact that the others
saw nothing special in it troubled her. Then she began walking
through the rooms and looking at the pictures again. She tried to
understand them and no longer thought that a great many of them
were alike. When, on returning home, for the first time she looked
attentively at the big picture that hung over the piano in the
drawing-room, she felt a dislike for it, and said:
"What an idea to have pictures like that!"
And after that the gilt cornices, the Venetian looking-glasses with
flowers on them, the pictures of the same sort as the one that hung
over the piano, and also her husband's and Kostya's reflections
upon art, aroused in her a feeling of dreariness and vexation, even
Life went on its ordinary course from day to day with no promise
of anything special. The theatrical season was over, the warm days
had come. There was a long spell of glorious weather. One morning
the Laptevs attended the district court to hear Kostya, who had
been appointed by the court to defend some one. They were late in
starting, and reached the court after the examination of the witnesses
had begun. A soldier in the reserve was accused of theft and
housebreaking. There were a great number of witnesses, washerwomen;
they all testified that the accused was often in the house of their
employer--a woman who kept a laundry. At the Feast of the Exaltation
of the Cross he came late in the evening and began asking for money;
he wanted a pick-me-up, as he had been drinking, but no one gave
him anything. Then he went away, but an hour afterwards he came
back, and brought with him some beer and a soft gingerbread cake
for the little girl. They drank and sang songs almost till daybreak,
and when in the morning they looked about, the lock of the door
leading up into the attic was broken, and of the linen three men's
shirts, a petticoat, and two sheets were missing. Kostya asked each
witness sarcastically whether she had not drunk the beer the accused
had brought. Evidently he was insinuating that the washerwomen had
stolen the linen themselves. He delivered his speech without the
slightest nervousness, looking angrily at the jury.
He explained what robbery with housebreaking meant, and the difference
between that and simple theft. He spoke very circumstantially and
convincingly, displaying an unusual talent for speaking at length
and in a serious tone about what had been know to every one long
before. And it was difficult to make out exactly what he was aiming
at. From his long speech the foreman of the jury could only have
deduced "that it was housebreaking but not robbery, as the washerwomen
had sold the linen for drink themselves; or, if there had been
robbery, there had not been housebreaking." But obviously, he said
just what was wanted, as his speech moved the jury and the audience,
and was very much liked. When they gave a verdict of acquittal,
Yulia nodded to Kostya, and afterwards pressed his hand warmly.
In May the Laptevs moved to a country villa at Sokolniki. By that
time Yulia was expecting a baby.
More than a year had passed. Yulia and Yartsev were lying on the
grass at Sokolniki not far from the embankment of the Yaroslav
railway; a little distance away Kotchevoy was lying with hands under
his head, looking at the sky. All three had been for a walk, and
were waiting for the six o'clock train to pass to go home to tea.
"Mothers see something extraordinary in their children, that is
ordained by nature," said Yulia. "A mother will stand for hours
together by the baby's cot looking at its little ears and eyes and
nose, and fascinated by them. If any one else kisses her baby the
poor thing imagines that it gives him immense pleasure. And a mother
talks of nothing but her baby. I know that weakness in mothers, and
I keep watch over myself, but my Olga really is exceptional. How
she looks at me when I'm nursing her! How she laughs! She's only
eight months old, but, upon my word, I've never seen such intelligent
eyes in a child of three."
"Tell me, by the way," asked Yartsev: "which do you love most--
your husband or your baby?"
Yulia shrugged her shoulders.
"I don't know," she said. "I never was so very fond of my husband,
and Olga is in reality my first love. You know that I did not marry
Alexey for love. In old days I was foolish and miserable, and thought
that I had ruined my life and his, and now I see that love is not
necessary--that it is all nonsense."
"But if it is not love, what feeling is it that binds you to your
husband? Why do you go on living with him?"
"I don't know. . . . I suppose it must be habit. I respect him, I
miss him when he's away for long, but that's--not love. He is a
clever, honest man, and that's enough to make me happy. He is very
kind and good-hearted. . . ."
"Alyosha's intelligent, Alyosha's good," said Kostya, raising his
head lazily; "but, my dear girl, to find out that he is intelligent,
good, and interesting, you have to eat a hundredweight of salt with
him. . . . And what's the use of his goodness and intelligence? He
can fork out money as much as you want, but when character is needed
to resist insolence or aggressiveness, he is faint-hearted and
overcome with nervousness. People like your amiable Alyosha are
splendid people, but they are no use at all for fighting. In fact,
they are no use for anything."
At last the train came in sight. Coils of perfectly pink smoke from
the funnels floated over the copse, and two windows in the last
compartment flashed so brilliantly in the sun, that it hurt their
eyes to look at it.
"Tea-time!" said Yulia Sergeyevna, getting up.
She had grown somewhat stouter of late, and her movements were
already a little matronly, a little indolent.
"It's bad to be without love though," said Yartsev, walking behind
her. "We talk and read of nothing else but love, but we do very
little loving ourselves, and that's really bad."
"All that's nonsense, Ivan Gavrilitch," said Yulia. "That's not
what gives happiness."
They had tea in the little garden, where mignonette, stocks, and
tobacco plants were in flower, and spikes of early gladiolus were
just opening. Yartsev and Kotchevoy could see from Yulia's face
that she was passing through a happy period of inward peace and
serenity, that she wanted nothing but what she had, and they, too,
had a feeling of peace and comfort in their hearts. Whatever was
said sounded apt and clever; the pines were lovely--the fragrance
of them was exquisite as it had never been before; and the cream
was very nice; and Sasha was a good, intelligent child.
After tea Yartsev sang songs, accompanying himself on the piano,
while Yulia and Kotchevoy sat listening in silence, though Yulia
got up from time to time, and went softly indoors, to take a look
at the baby and at Lida, who had been in bed for the last two days
feverish and eating nothing.
"My friend, my tender friend," sang Yartsev. "No, my friends, I'll
be hanged if I understand why you are all so against love!" he said,
flinging back his head. "If I weren't busy for fifteen hours of the
twenty-four, I should certainly fall in love."
Supper was served on the verandah; it was warm and still, but Yulia
wrapped herself in a shawl and complained of the damp. When it got
dark, she seemed not quite herself; she kept shivering and begging
her visitors to stay a little longer. She regaled them with wine,
and after supper ordered brandy to keep them from going. She didn't
want to be left alone with the children and the servants.
"We summer visitors are getting up a performance for the children,"
she said. "We have got everything--a stage and actors; we are
only at a loss for a play. Two dozen plays of different sorts have
been sent us, but there isn't one that is suitable. Now, you are
fond of the theatre, and are so good at history," she said, addressing
Yartsev. "Write an historical play for us."
"Well, I might."
The men drank up all the brandy, and prepared to go.
It was past ten, and for summer-villa people that was late.
"How dark it is! One can't see a bit," said Yulia, as she went with
them to the gate. "I don't know how you'll find your way. But, isn't
She wrapped herself up more closely and walked back to the porch.
"I suppose my Alexey's playing cards somewhere," she called to them.
After the lighted rooms nothing could be seen. Yartsev and Kostya
groped their way like blind men to the railway embankment and crossed
"One can't see a thing," said Kostya in his bass voice, standing
still and gazing at the sky. "And the stars, the stars, they are
like new three-penny-bits. Gavrilitch!"
"Ah?" Yartsev responded somewhere in the darkness.
"I say, one can't see a thing. Where are you?"
Yartsev went up to him whistling, and took his arm.
"Hi, there, you summer visitors!" Kostya shouted at the top of his
voice. "We've caught a socialist."
When he was exhilarated he was always very rowdy, shouting, wrangling
with policemen and cabdrivers, singing, and laughing violently.
"Nature be damned," he shouted.
"Come, come," said Yartsev, trying to pacify him. "You mustn't.
Soon the friends grew accustomed to the darkness, and were able to
distinguish the outlines of the tall pines and telegraph posts.
From time to time the sound of whistles reached them from the station
and the telegraph wires hummed plaintively. From the copse itself
there came no sound, and there was a feeling of pride, strength,
and mystery in its silence, and on the right it seemed that the
tops of the pines were almost touching the sky. The friends found
their path and walked along it. There it was quite dark, and it was
only from the long strip of sky dotted with stars, and from the
firmly trodden earth under their feet, that they could tell they
were walking along a path. They walked along side by side in silence,
and it seemed to both of them that people were coming to meet them.
Their tipsy exhilaration passed off. The fancy came into Yartsev's
mind that perhaps that copse was haunted by the spirits of the
Muscovite Tsars, boyars, and patriarchs, and he was on the point
of telling Kostya about it, but he checked himself.
When they reached the town gate there was a faint light of dawn in
the sky. Still in silence, Yartsev and Kotchevoy walked along the
wooden pavement, by the cheap summer cottages, eating-houses,
timber-stacks. Under the arch of interlacing branches, the damp air
was fragrant of lime-trees, and then a broad, long street opened
before them, and on it not a soul, not a light. . . . When they
reached the Red Pond, it was daylight.
"Moscow--it's a town that will have to suffer a great deal more,"
said Yartsev, looking at the Alexyevsky Monastery.
"What put that into your head?"
"I don't know. I love Moscow."
Both Yartsev and Kostya had been born in Moscow, and adored the
town, and felt for some reason antagonistic to every other town.
Both were convinced that Moscow was a remarkable town, and Russia
a remarkable country. In the Crimea, in the Caucasus, and abroad,
they felt dull, uncomfortable, and ill at ease, and they thought
their grey Moscow weather very pleasant and healthy. And when the
rain lashed at the window-panes and it got dark early, and when the
walls of the churches and houses looked a drab, dismal colour, days
when one doesn't know what to put on when one is going out--such
days excited them agreeably.
At last near the station they took a cab.
"It really would be nice to write an historical play," said Yartsev,
"but not about the Lyapunovs or the Godunovs, but of the times of
Yaroslav or of Monomach. . . . I hate all historical plays except
the monologue of Pimen. When you have to do with some historical
authority or even read a textbook of Russian history, you feel that
every one in Russia is exceptionally talented, gifted, and interesting;
but when I see an historical play at the theatre, Russian life
begins to seem stupid, morbid, and not original."
Near Dmitrovka the friends separated, and Yartsev went on to his
lodging in Nikitsky Street. He sat half dozing, swaying from side
to side, and pondering on the play. He suddenly imagined a terrible
din, a clanging noise, and shouts in some unknown language, that
might have been Kalmuck, and a village wrapped in flames, and forests
near covered with hoarfrost and soft pink in the glow of the fire,
visible for miles around, and so clearly that every little fir-tree
could be distinguished, and savage men darting about the village
on horseback and on foot, and as red as the glow in the sky.
"The Polovtsy," thought Yartsev.
One of them, a terrible old man with a bloodstained face all scorched
from the fire, binds to his saddle a young girl with a white Russian
face, and the girl looks sorrowful, understanding. Yartsev flung
back his head and woke up.
"My friend, my tender friend . . ." he hummed.
As he paid the cabman and went up his stairs, he could not shake
off his dreaminess; he saw the flames catching the village, and the
forest beginning to crackle and smoke. A huge, wild bear frantic
with terror rushed through the village. . . . And the girl tied to
the saddle was still looking.
When at last he went into his room it was broad daylight. Two candles
were burning by some open music on the piano. On the sofa lay Polina
Razsudin wearing a black dress and a sash, with a newspaper in her
hand, fast asleep. She must have been playing late, waiting for
Yartsev to come home, and, tired of waiting, fell asleep.
"Hullo, she's worn out," he thought.
Carefully taking the newspaper out of her hands, he covered her
with a rug. He put out the candles and went into his bedroom. As
he got into bed, he still thought of his historical play, and the
tune of "My friend, my tender friend" was still ringing in his
head. . . .
Two days later Laptev looked in upon him for a moment to tell him
that Lida was ill with diphtheria, and that Yulia Sergeyevna and
her baby had caught it from her, and five days later came the news
that Lida and Yulia were recovering, but the baby was dead, and
that the Laptevs had left their villa at Sokolniki and had hastened
back to Moscow.
It had become distasteful to Laptev to be long at home. His wife
was constantly away in the lodge declaring that she had to look
after the little girls, but he knew that she did not go to the lodge
to give them lessons but to cry in Kostya's room. The ninth day
came, then the twentieth, and then the fortieth, and still he had
to go to the cemetery to listen to the requiem, and then to wear
himself out for a whole day and night thinking of nothing but that
unhappy baby, and trying to comfort his wife with all sorts of
commonplace expressions. He went rarely to the warehouse now, and
spent most of his time in charitable work, seizing upon every pretext
requiring his attention, and he was glad when he had for some trivial
reason to be out for the whole day. He had been intending of late
to go abroad, to study night-refuges, and that idea attracted him
It was an autumn day. Yulia had just gone to the lodge to cry, while
Laptev lay on a sofa in the study thinking where he could go. Just
at that moment Pyotr announced Polina Razsudin. Laptev was delighted;
he leapt up and went to meet the unexpected visitor, who had been
his closest friend, though he had almost begun to forget her. She
had not changed in the least since that evening when he had seen
her for the last time, and was just the same as ever.
"Polina," he said, holding out both hands to her. "What ages! If
you only knew how glad I am to see you! Do come in!"
Polina greeted him, jerked him by the hand, and without taking off
her coat and hat, went into the study and sat down.
"I've come to you for one minute," she said. "I haven't time to
talk of any nonsense. Sit down and listen. Whether you are glad to
see me or not is absolutely nothing to me, for I don't care a straw
for the gracious attentions of you lords of creation. I've only
come to you because I've been to five other places already to-day,
and everywhere I was met with a refusal, and it's a matter that
can't be put off. Listen," she went on, looking into his face. "Five
students of my acquaintance, stupid, unintelligent people, but
certainly poor, have neglected to pay their fees, and are being
excluded from the university. Your wealth makes it your duty to go
straight to the university and pay for them."
"With pleasure, Polina."
"Here are their names," she said, giving him a list. "Go this minute;
you'll have plenty of time to enjoy your domestic happiness
At that moment a rustle was heard through the door that led into
the drawing-room; probably the dog was scratching itself. Polina
turned crimson and jumped up.
"Your Dulcinea's eavesdropping," she said. "That's horrid!"
Laptev was offended at this insult to Yulia.
"She's not here; she's in the lodge," he said. "And don't speak of
her like that. Our child is dead, and she is in great distress."
"You can console her," Polina scoffed, sitting down again; "she'll
have another dozen. You don't need much sense to bring children
into the world."
Laptev remembered that he had heard this, or something very like
it, many times in old days, and it brought back a whiff of the
romance of the past, of solitary freedom, of his bachelor life,
when he was young and thought he could do anything he chose, when
he had neither love for his wife nor memory of his baby.
"Let us go together," he said, stretching.
When they reached the university Polina waited at the gate, while
Laptev went into the office; he came back soon afterwards and handed
Polina five receipts.
"Where are you going now?" he asked.
"I'll come with you."
"But you'll prevent him from writing."
"No, I assure you I won't," he said, and looked at her imploringly.
She had on a black hat trimmed with crape, as though she were in
mourning, and a short, shabby coat, the pockets of which stuck out.
Her nose looked longer than it used to be, and her face looked
bloodless in spite of the cold. Laptev liked walking with her, doing
what she told him, and listening to her grumbling. He walked along
thinking about her, what inward strength there must be in this
woman, since, though she was so ugly, so angular, so restless,
though she did not know how to dress, and always had untidy hair,
and was always somehow out of harmony, she was yet so fascinating.
They went into Yartsev's flat by the back way through the kitchen,
where they were met by the cook, a clean little old woman with grey
curls; she was overcome with embarrassment, and with a honeyed smile
which made her little face look like a pie, said:
"Please walk in."
Yartsev was not at home. Polina sat down to the piano, and beginning
upon a tedious, difficult exercise, told Laptev not to hinder her.
And without distracting her attention by conversation, he sat on
one side and began turning over the pages of a "The Messenger of
Europe." After practising for two hours--it was the task she set
herself every day--she ate something in the kitchen and went out
to her lessons. Laptev read the continuation of a story, then sat
for a long time without reading and without being bored, glad to
think that he was too late for dinner at home.
"Ha, ha, ha!" came Yartsev's laugh, and he walked in with ruddy
cheeks, looking strong and healthy, wearing a new coat with bright
buttons. "Ha, ha, ha!"
The friends dined together. Then Laptev lay on the sofa while Yartsev
sat near and lighted a cigar. It got dark.
"I must be getting old," said Laptev. "Ever since my sister Nina
died, I've taken to constantly thinking of death."
They began talking of death, of the immortality of the soul, of how
nice it would be to rise again and fly off somewhere to Mars, to
be always idle and happy, and, above all, to think in a new special
way, not as on earth.
"One doesn't want to die," said Yartsev softly. "No sort of philosophy
can reconcile me to death, and I look on it simply as annihilation.
One wants to live."
"You love life, Gavrilitch?"
"Yes, I love it."
"Do you know, I can never understand myself about that. I'm always
in a gloomy mood or else indifferent. I'm timid, without self-confidence;
I have a cowardly conscience; I never can adapt myself to life, or
become its master. Some people talk nonsense or cheat, and even so
enjoy life, while I consciously do good, and feel nothing but
uneasiness or complete indifference. I explain all that, Gavrilitch,
by my being a slave, the grandson of a serf. Before we plebeians
fight our way into the true path, many of our sort will perish on
"That's all quite right, my dear fellow," said Yartsev, and he
sighed. "That only proves once again how rich and varied Russian
life is. Ah, how rich it is! Do you know, I feel more convinced
every day that we are on the eve of the greatest triumph, and I
should like to live to take part in it. Whether you like to believe
it or not, to my thinking a remarkable generation is growing up.
It gives me great enjoyment to teach the children, especially the
girls. They are wonderful children!"
Yartsev went to the piano and struck a chord.
"I'm a chemist, I think in chemical terms, and I shall die a chemist,"
he went on. "But I am greedy, and I am afraid of dying unsatisfied;
and chemistry is not enough for me, and I seize upon Russian history,
history of art, the science of teaching music. . . . Your wife asked
me in the summer to write an historical play, and now I'm longing
to write and write. I feel as though I could sit for three days and
three nights without moving, writing all the time. I am worn out
with ideas--my brain's crowded with them, and I feel as though
there were a pulse throbbing in my head. I don't in the least want
to become anything special, to create something great. I simply
want to live, to dream, to hope, to be in the midst of everything
. . . . Life is short, my dear fellow, and one must make the most of
After this friendly talk, which was not over till midnight, Laptev
took to coming to see Yartsev almost every day. He felt drawn to
him. As a rule he came towards evening, lay down on the sofa, and
waited patiently for Yartsev to come in, without feeling in the
least bored. When Yartsev came back from his work, he had dinner,
and sat down to work; but Laptev would ask him a questions a
conversation would spring up, and there was no more thought of work
and at midnight the friends parted very well pleased with one
But this did not last long. Arriving one day at Yartsev's, Laptev
found no one there but Polina, who was sitting at the piano practising
her exercises. She looked at him with a cold, almost hostile
expression, and asked without shaking hands:
"Tell me, please: how much longer is this going on?"
"This? What?" asked Laptev, not understanding.
"You come here every day and hinder Yartsev from working. Yartsev
is not a tradesman; he is a scientific man, and every moment of his
life is precious. You ought to understand and to have some little
"If you think that I hinder him," said Laptev, mildly, disconcerted,
"I will give up my visits."
"Quite right, too. You had better go, or he may be home in a minute
and find you here."
The tone in which this was said, and the indifference in Polina's
eyes, completely disconcerted him. She had absolutely no sort of
feeling for him now, except the desire that he should go as soon
as possible--and what a contrast it was to her old love for him!
He went out without shaking hands with her, and he fancied she would
call out to him, bring him back, but he heard the scales again, and
as he slowly went down the stairs he realised that he had become a
stranger to her now.
Three days later Yartsev came to spend the evening with him.
"I have news," he said, laughing. "Polina Nikolaevna has moved into
my rooms altogether." He was a little confused, and went on in a
low voice: "Well, we are not in love with each other, of course,
but I suppose that . . . that doesn't matter. I am glad I can give
her a refuge and peace and quiet, and make it possible for her not
to work if she's ill. She fancies that her coming to live with me
will make things more orderly, and that under her influence I shall
become a great scientist. That's what she fancies. And let her fancy
it. In the South they have a saying: 'Fancy makes the fool a rich
man.' Ha, ha, ha!"
Laptev said nothing. Yartsev walked up and down the study, looking
at the pictures he had seen so many times before, and said with a
"Yes, my dear fellow, I am three years older than you are, and it's
too late for me to think of real love, and in reality a woman like
Polina Nikolaevna is a godsend to me, and, of course, I shall get
on capitally with her till we're both old people; but, goodness
knows why, one still regrets something, one still longs for something,
and I still feel as though I am lying in the Vale of Daghestan and
dreaming of a ball. In short, man's never satisfied with what he
He went into the drawing-room and began singing as though nothing
had happened, and Laptev sat in his study with his eyes shut, and
tried to understand why Polina had gone to live with Yartsev. And
then he felt sad that there were no lasting, permanent attachments.
And he felt vexed that Polina Nikolaevna had gone to live with
Yartsev, and vexed with himself that his feeling for his wife was
not what it had been.
Laptev sat reading and swaying to and fro in a rocking-chair; Yulia
was in the study, and she, too, was reading. It seemed there was
nothing to talk about; they had both been silent all day. From time
to time he looked at her from over his book and thought: "Whether
one marries from passionate love, or without love at all, doesn't
it come to the same thing?" And the time when he used to be jealous,
troubled, distressed, seemed to him far away. He had succeeded in
going abroad, and now he was resting after the journey and looking
forward to another visit in the spring to England, which he had
very much liked.
And Yulia Sergeyevna had grown used to her sorrow, and had left off
going to the lodge to cry. That winter she had given up driving out
shopping, had given up the theatres and concerts, and had stayed
at home. She never cared for big rooms, and always sat in her
husband's study or in her own room, where she had shrines of ikons
that had come to her on her marriage, and where there hung on the
wall the landscape that had pleased her so much at the exhibition.
She spent hardly any money on herself, and was almost as frugal now
as she had been in her father's house.
The winter passed cheerlessly. Card-playing was the rule everywhere
in Moscow, and if any other recreation was attempted, such as
singing, reading, drawing, the result was even more tedious. And
since there were few talented people in Moscow, and the same singers
and reciters performed at every entertainment, even the enjoyment
of art gradually palled and became for many people a tiresome and
monotonous social duty.
Moreover, the Laptevs never had a day without something vexatious
happening. Old Laptev's eyesight was failing; he no longer went to
the warehouse, and the oculist told them that he would soon be
blind. Fyodor had for some reason given up going to the warehouse
and spent his time sitting at home writing something. Panaurov had
got a post in another town, and had been promoted an actual civil
councillor, and was now staying at the Dresden. He came to the
Laptevs' almost every day to ask for money. Kish had finished his
studies at last, and while waiting for Laptev to find him a job,
used to spend whole days at a time with them, telling them long,
tedious stories. All this was irritating and exhausting, and made
daily life unpleasant.
Pyotr came into the study, and announced an unknown lady. On the
card he brought in was the name "Josephina Iosefovna Milan."
Yulia Sergeyevna got up languidly and went out limping slightly,
as her foot had gone to sleep. In the doorway appeared a pale, thin
lady with dark eyebrows, dressed altogether in black. She clasped
her hands on her bosom and said supplicatingly:
"M. Laptev, save my children!"
The jingle of her bracelets sounded familiar to him, and he knew
the face with patches of powder on it; he recognised her as the
lady with whom he had once so inappropriately dined before his
marriage. It was Panaurov's second wife.
"Save my children," she repeated, and her face suddenly quivered
and looked old and pitiful. "You alone can save us, and I have spent
my last penny coming to Moscow to see you! My children are starving!"
She made a motion as though she were going to fall on her knees.
Laptev was alarmed, and clutched her by the arm.
"Sit down, sit down . . ." he muttered, making her sit down. "I beg
you to be seated."
"We have no money to buy bread," she said. "Grigory Nikolaevitch
is going away to a new post, but he will not take the children and
me with him, and the money which you so generously send us he spends
only on himself. What are we to do? What? My poor, unhappy children!"
"Calm yourself, I beg. I will give orders that that money shall be
made payable to you."
She began sobbing, and then grew calmer, and he noticed that the
tears had made little pathways through the powder on her cheeks,
and that she was growing a moustache.
"You are infinitely generous, M. Laptev. But be our guardian angel,
our good fairy, persuade Grigory Nikolaevitch not to abandon me,
but to take me with him. You know I love him--I love him insanely;
he's the comfort of my life."
Laptev gave her a hundred roubles, and promised to talk to Panaurov,
and saw her out to the hall in trepidation the whole time, for fear
she should break into sobs or fall on her knees.
After her, Kish made his appearance. Then Kostya came in with his
photographic apparatus. Of late he had been attracted by photography
and took photographs of every one in the house several times a day.
This new pursuit caused him many disappointments, and he had actually
Before evening tea Fyodor arrived. Sitting in a corner in the study,
he opened a book and stared for a long time at a page, obviously
not reading. Then he spent a long time drinking tea; his face turned
red. In his presence Laptev felt a load on his heart; even his
silence was irksome to him.
"Russia may be congratulated on the appearance of a new author,"
said Fyodor. "Joking apart, though, brother, I have turned out a
little article--the firstfruits of my pen, so to say--and I've
brought it to show you. Read it, dear boy, and tell me your opinion
He took a manuscript out of his pocket and gave it to his brother.
The article was called "The Russian Soul"; it was written tediously,
in the colourless style in which people with no talent, but full
of secret vanity, usually write. The leading idea of it was that
the intellectual man has the right to disbelieve in the supernatural,
but it is his duty to conceal his lack of faith, that he may not
be a stumbling-block and shake the faith of others. Without faith
there is no idealism, and idealism is destined to save Europe and
guide humanity into the true path.
"But you don't say what Europe has to be saved from," said Laptev.
"That's intelligible of itself."
"Nothing is intelligible," said Laptev, and he walked about the
room in agitation. "It's not intelligible to me why you wrote it.
But that's your business."
"I want to publish it in pamphlet form."
"That's your affair."
They were silent for a minute. Fyodor sighed and said:
"It's an immense regret to me, dear brother, that we think differently.
Oh, Alyosha, Alyosha, my darling brother! You and I are true Russians,
true believers, men of broad nature; all of these German and Jewish
crochets are not for us. You and I are not wretched upstarts, you
know, but representatives of a distinguished merchant family."
"What do you mean by a distinguished family?" said Laptev, restraining
his irritation. "A distinguished family! The landowners beat our
grandfather and every low little government clerk punched him in
the face. Our grandfather thrashed our father, and our father
thrashed us. What has your distinguished family done for us? What
sort of nerves, what sort of blood, have we inherited? For nearly
three years you've been arguing like an ignorant deacon, and talking
all sorts of nonsense, and now you've written--this slavish drivel
here! While I, while I! Look at me. . . . No elasticity, no boldness,
no strength of will; I tremble over every step I take as though I
should be flogged for it. I am timid before nonentities, idiots,
brutes, who are immeasurably my inferiors mentally and morally; I
am afraid of porters, doorkeepers, policemen, gendarmes. I am afraid
of every one, because I was born of a mother who was terrified, and
because from a child I was beaten and frightened! . . . You and I
will do well to have no children. Oh, God, grant that this distinguished
merchant family may die with us!"
Yulia Sergeyevna came into the study and sat down at the table.
"Are you arguing about something here?" she asked. "Am I interrupting?"
"No, little sister," answered Fyodor. "Our discussion was of
principles. Here, you are abusing the family," he added, turning
to his brother. "That family has created a business worth a million,
though. That stands for something, anyway!"
"A great distinction--a business worth a million! A man with no
particular brains, without abilities, by chance becomes a trader,
and then when he has grown rich he goes on trading from day to day,
with no sort of system, with no aim, without having any particular
greed for money. He trades mechanically, and money comes to him of
itself, without his going to meet it. He sits all his life at his
work, likes it only because he can domineer over his clerks and get
the better of his customers. He's a churchwarden because he can
domineer over the choristers and keep them under his thumb; he's
the patron of a school because he likes to feel the teacher is his
subordinate and enjoys lording it over him. The merchant does not
love trading, he loves dominating, and your warehouse is not so
much a commercial establishment as a torture chamber! And for a
business like yours, you want clerks who have been deprived of
individual character and personal life--and you make them such
by forcing them in childhood to lick the dust for a crust of bread,
and you've trained them from childhood to believe that you are their
benefactors. No fear of your taking a university man into your
"University men are not suitable for our business."
"That's not true," cried Laptev. "It's a lie!"
"Excuse me, it seems to me you spit into the well from which you
drink yourself," said Fyodor, and he got up. "Our business is hateful
to you, yet you make use of the income from it."
"Aha! We've spoken our minds," said Laptev, and he laughed, looking
angrily at his brother. "Yes, if I didn't belong to your distinguished
family--if I had an ounce of will and courage, I should long ago
have flung away that income, and have gone to work for my living.
But in your warehouse you've destroyed all character in me from a
child! I'm your product."
Fyodor looked at the clock and began hurriedly saying good-bye. He
kissed Yulia's hand and went out, but instead of going into the
hall, walked into the drawing-room, then into the bedroom.
"I've forgotten how the rooms go," he said in extreme confusion.
"It's a strange house. Isn't it a strange house!"
He seemed utterly overcome as he put on his coat, and there was a
look of pain on his face. Laptev felt no more anger; he was frightened,
and at the same time felt sorry for Fyodor, and the warm, true love
for his brother, which seemed to have died down in his heart during
those three years, awoke, and he felt an intense desire to express
"Come to dinner with us to-morrow, Fyodor," he said, and stroked
him on the shoulder. "Will you come?"
"Yes, yes; but give me some water."
Laptev ran himself to the dining-room to take the first thing he
could get from the sideboard. This was a tall beer-jug. He poured
water into it and brought it to his brother. Fyodor began drinking,
but bit a piece out of the jug; they heard a crunch, and then sobs.
The water ran over his fur coat and his jacket, and Laptev, who had
never seen men cry, stood in confusion and dismay, not knowing what
to do. He looked on helplessly while Yulia and the servant took off
Fyodor's coat and helped him back again into the room, and went
with him, feeling guilty.
Yulia made Fyodor lie down on the sofa and knelt beside him.
"It's nothing," she said, trying to comfort him. "It's your
nerves. . . ."
"I'm so miserable, my dear!" he said. "I am so unhappy, unhappy
. . . but all the time I've been hiding it, I've been hiding it!"
He put his arm round her neck and whispered in her ear:
"Every night I see my sister Nina. She comes and sits in the chair
near my bed. . . ."
When, an hour later, he put on his fur coat in the hall, he was
smiling again and ashamed to face the servant. Laptev went with him
to Pyatnitsky Street.
"Come and have dinner with us to-morrow," he said on the way, holding
him by the arm, "and at Easter we'll go abroad together. You
absolutely must have a change, or you'll be getting quite morbid."
When he got home Laptev found his wife in a state of great nervous
agitation. The scene with Fyodor had upset her, and she could not
recover her composure. She wasn't crying but kept tossing on the
bed, clutching with cold fingers at the quilt, at the pillows, at
her husband's hands. Her eyes looked big and frightened.
"Don't go away from me, don't go away," she said to her husband.
"Tell me, Alyosha, why have I left off saying my prayers? What has
become of my faith? Oh, why did you talk of religion before me?
You've shaken my faith, you and your friends. I never pray now."
He put compresses on her forehead, chafed her hands, gave her tea
to drink, while she huddled up to him in terror. . . .
Towards morning she was worn out and fell asleep, while Laptev sat
beside her and held her hand. So that he could get no sleep. The
whole day afterwards he felt shattered and dull, and wandered
listlessly about the rooms without a thought in his head.
The doctor said that Fyodor's mind was affected. Laptev did not
know what to do in his father's house, while the dark warehouse in
which neither his father nor Fyodor ever appeared now seemed to him
like a sepulchre. When his wife told him that he absolutely must
go every day to the warehouse and also to his father's, he either
said nothing, or began talking irritably of his childhood, saying
that it was beyond his power to forgive his father for his past,
that the warehouse and the house in Pyatnitsky Street were hateful
to him, and so on.
One Sunday morning Yulia went herself to Pyatnitsky Street. She
found old Fyodor Stepanovitch in the same big drawing-room in which
the service had been held on her first arrival. Wearing slippers,
and without a cravat, he was sitting motionless in his arm-chair,
blinking with his sightless eyes.
"It's I--your daughter-in-law," she said, going up to him. "I've
come to see how you are."
He began breathing heavily with excitement.
Touched by his affliction and his loneliness, she kissed his hand;
and he passed his hand over her face and head, and having satisfied
himself that it was she, made the sign of the cross over her.
"Thank you, thank you," he said. "You know I've lost my eyes and
can see nothing. . . . I can dimly see the window and the fire, but
people and things I cannot see at all. Yes, I'm going blind, and
Fyodor has fallen ill, and without the master's eye things are in
a bad way now. If there is any irregularity there's no one to look
into it; and folks soon get spoiled. And why is it Fyodor has fallen
ill? Did he catch cold? Here I have never ailed in my life and never
taken medicine. I never saw anything of doctors."
And, as he always did, the old man began boasting. Meanwhile the
servants hurriedly laid the table and brought in lunch and bottles
Ten bottles were put on the table; one of them was in the shape of
the Eiffel Tower. There was a whole dish of hot pies smelling of
jam, rice, and fish.
"I beg my dear guest to have lunch," said the old man.
She took him by the arm, led him to the table, and poured him out
a glass of vodka.
"I will come to you again to-morrow," she said, "and I'll bring
your grandchildren, Sasha and Lida. They will be sorry for you, and
"There's no need. Don't bring them. They are illegitimate."
"Why are they illegitimate? Why, their father and mother were
"Without my permission. I do not bless them, and I don't want to
know them. Let them be."
"You speak strangely, Fyodor Stepanovitch," said Yulia, with a sigh.
"It is written in the Gospel: children must fear and honour their
"Nothing of the sort. The Gospel tells us that we must forgive even
"One can't forgive in our business. If you were to forgive every
one, you would come to ruin in three years."
"But to forgive, to say a kind, friendly word to any one, even a
sinner, is something far above business, far above wealth."
Yulia longed to soften the old man, to awaken a feeling of compassion
in him, to move him to repentance; but he only listened condescendingly
to all she said, as a grown-up person listens to a child.
"Fyodor Stepanovitch," said Yulia resolutely, "you are an old man,
and God soon will call you to Himself. He won't ask you how you
managed your business, and whether you were successful in it, but
whether you were gracious to people; or whether you were harsh to
those who were weaker than you, such as your servants, your clerks."
"I was always the benefactor of those that served me; they ought
to remember me in their prayers forever," said the old man, with
conviction, but touched by Yulia's tone of sincerity, and anxious
to give her pleasure, he said: "Very well; bring my grandchildren
to-morrow. I will tell them to buy me some little presents for
The old man was slovenly in his dress, and there was cigar ash on
his breast and on his knees; apparently no one cleaned his boots,
or brushed his clothes. The rice in the pies was half cooked, the
tablecloth smelt of soap, the servants tramped noisily about the
room. And the old man and the whole house had a neglected look, and
Yulia, who felt this, was ashamed of herself and of her husband.
"I will be sure to come and see you to-morrow," she said.
She walked through the rooms, and gave orders for the old man's
bedroom to be set to rights, and the lamp to be lighted under the
ikons in it. Fyodor, sitting in his own room, was looking at an
open book without reading it. Yulia talked to him and told the
servants to tidy his room, too; then she went downstairs to the
clerks. In the middle of the room where the clerks used to dine,
there was an unpainted wooden post to support the ceiling and to
prevent its coming down. The ceilings in the basement were low, the
walls covered with cheap paper, and there was a smell of charcoal
fumes and cooking. As it was a holiday, all the clerks were at home,
sitting on their bedsteads waiting for dinner. When Yulia went in
they jumped up, and answered her questions timidly, looking up at
her from under their brows like convicts.
"Good heavens! What a horrid room you have!" she said, throwing up
her hands. "Aren't you crowded here?"
"Crowded, but not aggrieved," said Makeitchev. "We are greatly
indebted to you, and will offer up our prayers for you to our
"The congruity of life with the conceit of the personality," said
And noticing that Yulia did not understand Potchatkin, Makeitchev
hastened to explain:
"We are humble people and must live according to our position."
She inspected the boys' quarters, and then the kitchen, made
acquaintance with the housekeeper, and was thoroughly dissatisfied.
When she got home she said to her husband:
"We ought to move into your father's house and settle there for
good as soon as possible. And you will go every day to the warehouse."
Then they both sat side by side in the study without speaking. His
heart was heavy, and he did not want to move into Pyatnitsky Street
or to go into the warehouse; but he guessed what his wife was
thinking, and could not oppose her. He stroked her cheek and said:
"I feel as though our life is already over, and that a grey half-life
is beginning for us. When I knew that my brother Fyodor was hopelessly
ill, I shed tears; we spent our childhood and youth together, when
I loved him with my whole soul. And now this catastrophe has come,
and it seems, too, as though, losing him, I am finally cut away
from my past. And when you said just now that we must move into the
house in Pyatnitsky Street, to that prison, it began to seem to me
that there was no future for me either."
He got up and walked to the window.
"However that may be, one has to give up all thoughts of happiness,"
he said, looking out into the street. "There is none. I never have
had any, and I suppose it doesn't exist at all. I was happy once
in my life, though, when I sat at night under your parasol. Do you
remember how you left your parasol at Nina's?" he asked, turning
to his wife. "I was in love with you then, and I remember I spent
all night sitting under your parasol, and was perfectly blissful."
Near the book-case in the study stood a mahogany chest with bronze
fittings where Laptev kept various useless things, including the
parasol. He took it out and handed it to his wife.
"Here it is."
Yulia looked for a minute at the parasol, recognised it, and smiled
"I remember," she said. "When you proposed to me you held it in
your hand." And seeing that he was preparing to go out, she said:
"Please come back early if you can. I am dull without you."
And then she went into her own room, and gazed for a long time at
In spite of the complexity of the business and the immense turnover,
there were no bookkeepers in the warehouse, and it was impossible
to make anything out of the books kept by the cashier in the office.
Every day the warehouse was visited by agents, German and English,
with whom the clerks talked politics and religion. A man of noble
birth, ruined by drink, an ailing, pitiable creature, used to come
to translate the foreign correspondence in the office; the clerks
used to call him a midge, and put salt in his tea. And altogether
the whole concern struck Laptev as a very queer business.
He went to the warehouse every day and tried to establish a new
order of things; he forbade them to thrash the boys and to jeer at
the buyers, and was violently angry when the clerks gleefully
despatched to the provinces worthless shop-soiled goods as though
they were new and fashionable. Now he was the chief person in the
warehouse, but still, as before, he did not know how large his
fortune was, whether his business was doing well, how much the
senior clerks were paid, and so on. Potchatkin and Makeitchev looked
upon him as young and inexperienced, concealed a great deal from
him, and whispered mysteriously every evening with his blind old
It somehow happened at the beginning of June that Laptev went into
the Bubnovsky restaurant with Potchatkin to talk business with him
over lunch. Potchatkin had been with the Laptevs a long while, and
had entered their service at eight years old. He seemed to belong
to them--they trusted him fully; and when on leaving the warehouse
he gathered up all the takings from the till and thrust them into
his pocket, it never aroused the slightest suspicion. He was the
head man in the business and in the house, and also in the church,
where he performed the duties of churchwarden in place of his old
master. He was nicknamed Malyuta Skuratov on account of his cruel
treatment of the boys and clerks under him.
When they went into the restaurant he nodded to a waiter and said:
"Bring us, my lad, half a bodkin and twenty-four unsavouries."
After a brief pause the waiter brought on a tray half a bottle of
vodka and some plates of various kinds of savouries.
"Look here, my good fellow," said Potchatkin. "Give us a plateful
of the source of all slander and evil-speaking, with mashed potatoes."
The waiter did not understand; he was puzzled, and would have said
something, but Potchatkin looked at him sternly and said:
The waiter thought intently, then went to consult with his colleagues,
and in the end guessing what was meant, brought a plateful of tongue.
When they had drunk a couple of glasses and had had lunch, Laptev
"Tell me, Ivan Vassilitch, is it true that our business has been
dropping off for the last year?"
"Not a bit of it."
"Tell me frankly and honestly what income we have been making and
are making, and what our profits are. We can't go on in the dark.
We had a balancing of the accounts at the warehouse lately, but,
excuse me, I don't believe in it; you think fit to conceal something
from me and only tell the truth to my father. You have been used
to being diplomatic from your childhood, and now you can't get on
without it. And what's the use of it? So I beg you to be open. What
is our position?"
"It all depends upon the fluctuation of credit," Potchatkin answered
after a moment's pause.
"What do you understand by the fluctuation of credit?"
Potchatkin began explaining, but Laptev could make nothing of it,
and sent for Makeitchev. The latter promptly made his appearance,
had some lunch after saying grace, and in his sedate, mellow baritone
began saying first of all that the clerks were in duty bound to
pray night and day for their benefactors.
"By all means, only allow me not to consider myself your benefactor,"
"Every man ought to remember what he is, and to be conscious of his
station. By the grace of God you are a father and benefactor to us,
and we are your slaves."
"I am sick of all that!" said Laptev, getting angry. "Please be a
benefactor to me now. Please explain the position of our business.
Give up looking upon me as a boy, or to-morrow I shall close the
business. My father is blind, my brother is in the asylum, my nieces
are only children. I hate the business; I should be glad to go away,
but there's no one to take my place, as you know. For goodness'
sake, drop your diplomacy!"
They went to the warehouse to go into the accounts; then they went
on with them at home in the evening, the old father himself assisting.
Initiating his son into his commercial secrets, the old man spoke
as though he were engaged, not in trade, but in sorcery. It appeared
that the profits of the business were increasing approximately ten
per cent. per annum, and that the Laptevs' fortune, reckoning only
money and paper securities, amounted to six million roubles.
When at one o'clock at night, after balancing the accounts, Laptev
went out into the open air, he was still under the spell of those
figures. It was a still, sultry, moonlight night. The white walls
of the houses beyond the river, the heavy barred gates, the stillness
and the black shadows, combined to give the impression of a fortress,
and nothing was wanting to complete the picture but a sentinel with
a gun. Laptev went into the garden and sat down on a seat near the
fence, which divided them from the neighbour's yard, where there
was a garden, too. The bird-cherry was in bloom. Laptev remembered
that the tree had been just as gnarled and just as big when he was
a child, and had not changed at all since then. Every corner of the
garden and of the yard recalled the far-away past. And in his
childhood, too, just as now, the whole yard bathed in moonlight
could be seen through the sparse trees, the shadows had been
mysterious and forbidding, a black dog had lain in the middle of
the yard, and the clerks' windows had stood wide open. And all these
were cheerless memories.
The other side of the fence, in the neighbour's yard, there was a
sound of light steps.
"My sweet, my precious . . ." said a man's voice so near the fence
that Laptev could hear the man's breathing.
Now they were kissing. Laptev was convinced that the millions and
the business which was so distasteful to him were ruining his life,
and would make him a complete slave. He imagined how, little by
little, he would grow accustomed to his position; would, little by
little, enter into the part of the head of a great firm; would begin
to grow dull and old, die in the end, as the average man usually
does die, in a decrepit, soured old age, making every one about him
miserable and depressed. But what hindered him from giving up those
millions and that business, and leaving that yard and garden which
had been hateful to him from his childhood?
The whispering and kisses the other side of the fence disturbed
him. He moved into the middle of the yard, and, unbuttoning his
shirt over his chest, looked at the moon, and it seemed to him that
he would order the gate to be unlocked, and would go out and never
come back again. His heart ached sweetly with the foretaste of
freedom; he laughed joyously, and pictured how exquisite, poetical,
and even holy, life might be. . . .
But he still stood and did not go away, and kept asking himself:
"What keeps me here?" And he felt angry with himself and with the
black dog, which still lay stretched on the stone yard, instead of
running off to the open country, to the woods, where it would have
been free and happy. It was clear that that dog and he were prevented
from leaving the yard by the same thing; the habit of bondage, of
servitude. . . .
At midday next morning he went to see his wife, and that he might
not be dull, asked Yartsev to go with him. Yulia Sergeyevna was
staying in a summer villa at Butovo, and he had not been to see her
for five days. When they reached the station the friends got into
a carriage, and all the way there Yartsev was singing and in raptures
over the exquisite weather. The villa was in a great park not far
from the station. At the beginning of an avenue, about twenty paces
from the gates, Yulia Sergeyevna was sitting under a broad, spreading
poplar, waiting for her guests. She had on a light, elegant dress
of a pale cream colour trimmed with lace, and in her hand she had
the old familiar parasol. Yartsev greeted her and went on to the
villa from which came the sound of Sasha's and Lida's voices, while
Laptev sat down beside her to talk of business matters.
"Why is it you haven't been for so long?" she said, keeping his
hand in hers. "I have been sitting here for days watching for you
to come. I miss you so when you are away!"
She stood up and passed her hand over his hair, and scanned his
face, his shoulders, his hat, with interest.
"You know I love you," she said, and flushed crimson. "You are
precious to me. Here you've come. I see you, and I'm so happy I
can't tell you. Well, let us talk. Tell me something."
She had told him she loved him, and he could only feel as though
he had been married to her for ten years, and that he was hungry
for his lunch. She had put her arm round his neck, tickling his
cheek with the silk of her dress; he cautiously removed her hand,
stood up, and without uttering a single word, walked to the villa.
The little girls ran to meet him.
"How they have grown!" he thought. "And what changes in these three
years. . . . But one may have to live another thirteen years, another
thirty years. . . . What is there in store for us in the future?
If we live, we shall see."
He embraced Sasha and Lida, who hung upon his neck, and said:
"Grandpapa sends his love. . . . Uncle Fyodor is dying. Uncle Kostya
has sent a letter from America and sends you his love in it. He's
bored at the exhibition and will soon be back. And Uncle Alyosha
Then he sat on the verandah and saw his wife walking slowly along
the avenue towards the house. She was deep in thought; there was a
mournful, charming expression in her face, and her eyes were bright
with tears. She was not now the slender, fragile, pale-faced girl
she used to be; she was a mature, beautiful, vigorous woman. And
Laptev saw the enthusiasm with which Yartsev looked at her when he
met her, and the way her new, lovely expression was reflected in
his face, which looked mournful and ecstatic too. One would have
thought that he was seeing her for the first time in his life. And
while they were at lunch on the verandah, Yartsev smiled with a
sort of joyous shyness, and kept gazing at Yulia and at her beautiful
neck. Laptev could not help watching them while he thought that he
had perhaps another thirteen, another thirty years of life before
him. . . . And what would he have to live through in that time?
What is in store for us in the future?
And he thought:
"Let us live, and we shall see."