THE TALES OF CHEKHOV
THE HORSE STEALERS AND OTHER STORIES
Translated by CONSTANCE GARNETT
WARD NO. 6
A DEAD BODY
A HAPPY ENDING
A STORY WITHOUT A TITLE
MINDS IN FERMENT
THE JEUNE PREMIER
A DEFENCELESS CREATURE
AN ENIGMATIC NATURE
A HAPPY MAN
A TROUBLESOME VISITOR
AN ACTOR'S END
A HOSPITAL assistant, called Yergunov, an empty-headed fellow, known
throughout the district as a great braggart and drunkard, was
returning one evening in Christmas week from the hamlet of Ryepino,
where he had been to make some purchases for the hospital. That he
might get home in good time and not be late, the doctor had lent
him his very best horse.
At first it had been a still day, but at eight o'clock a violent
snow-storm came on, and when he was only about four miles from home
Yergunov completely lost his way.
He did not know how to drive, he did not know the road, and he drove
on at random, hoping that the horse would find the way of itself.
Two hours passed; the horse was exhausted, he himself was chilled,
and already began to fancy that he was not going home, but back
towards Ryepino. But at last above the uproar of the storm he heard
the far-away barking of a dog, and a murky red blur came into sight
ahead of him: little by little, the outlines of a high gate could
be discerned, then a long fence on which there were nails with their
points uppermost, and beyond the fence there stood the slanting
crane of a well. The wind drove away the mist of snow from before
the eyes, and where there had been a red blur, there sprang up a
small, squat little house with a steep thatched roof. Of the three
little windows one, covered on the inside with something red, was
What sort of place was it? Yergunov remembered that to the right
of the road, three and a half or four miles from the hospital, there
was Andrey Tchirikov's tavern. He remembered, too, that this
Tchirikov, who had been lately killed by some sledge-drivers, had
left a wife and a daughter called Lyubka, who had come to the
hospital two years before as a patient. The inn had a bad reputation,
and to visit it late in the evening, and especially with someone
else's horse, was not free from risk. But there was no help for it.
Yergunov fumbled in his knapsack for his revolver, and, coughing
sternly, tapped at the window-frame with his whip.
"Hey! who is within?" he cried. "Hey, granny! let me come in and
With a hoarse bark a black dog rolled like a ball under the horse's
feet, then another white one, then another black one--there must
have been a dozen of them. Yergunov looked to see which was the
biggest, swung his whip and lashed at it with all his might. A
small, long-legged puppy turned its sharp muzzle upwards and set
up a shrill, piercing howl.
Yergunov stood for a long while at the window, tapping. But at last
the hoar-frost on the trees near the house glowed red, and a muffled
female figure appeared with a lantern in her hands.
"Let me in to get warm, granny," said Yergunov. "I was driving to
the hospital, and I have lost my way. It's such weather, God preserve
us. Don't be afraid; we are your own people, granny."
"All my own people are at home, and we didn't invite strangers,"
said the figure grimly. "And what are you knocking for? The gate
is not locked."
Yergunov drove into the yard and stopped at the steps.
"Bid your labourer take my horse out, granny," said he.
"I am not granny."
And indeed she was not a granny. While she was putting out the
lantern the light fell on her face, and Yergunov saw black eyebrows,
and recognized Lyubka.
"There are no labourers about now," she said as she went into the
house. "Some are drunk and asleep, and some have been gone to Ryepino
since the morning. It's a holiday. . . ."
As he fastened his horse up in the shed, Yergunov heard a neigh,
and distinguished in the darkness another horse, and felt on it a
Cossack saddle. So there must be someone else in the house besides
the woman and her daughter. For greater security Yergunov unsaddled
his horse, and when he went into the house, took with him both his
purchases and his saddle.
The first room into which he went was large and very hot, and smelt
of freshly washed floors. A short, lean peasant of about forty,
with a small, fair beard, wearing a dark blue shirt, was sitting
at the table under the holy images. It was Kalashnikov, an arrant
scoundrel and horse-stealer, whose father and uncle kept a tavern
in Bogalyovka, and disposed of the stolen horses where they could.
He too had been to the hospital more than once, not for medical
treatment, but to see the doctor about horses--to ask whether he
had not one for sale, and whether his honour would not like to swop
his bay mare for a dun-coloured gelding. Now his head was pomaded
and a silver ear-ring glittered in his ear, and altogether he had
a holiday air. Frowning and dropping his lower lip, he was looking
intently at a big dog's-eared picture-book. Another peasant lay
stretched on the floor near the stove; his head, his shoulders, and
his chest were covered with a sheepskin--he was probably asleep;
beside his new boots, with shining bits of metal on the heels, there
were two dark pools of melted snow.
Seeing the hospital assistant, Kalashnikov greeted him.
"Yes, it is weather," said Yergunov, rubbing his chilled knees with
his open hands. "The snow is up to one's neck; I am soaked to the
skin, I can tell you. And I believe my revolver is, too. . . ."
He took out his revolver, looked it all over, and put it back in
his knapsack. But the revolver made no impression at all; the peasant
went on looking at the book.
"Yes, it is weather. . . . I lost my way, and if it had not been
for the dogs here, I do believe it would have been my death. There
would have been a nice to-do. And where are the women?"
"The old woman has gone to Ryepino, and the girl is getting supper
ready . . ." answered Kalashnikov.
Silence followed. Yergunov, shivering and gasping, breathed on his
hands, huddled up, and made a show of being very cold and exhausted.
The still angry dogs could be heard howling outside. It was dreary.
"You come from Bogalyovka, don't you?" he asked the peasant sternly.
"Yes, from Bogalyovka."
And to while away the time Yergunov began to think about Bogalyovka.
It was a big village and it lay in a deep ravine, so that when one
drove along the highroad on a moonlight night, and looked down into
the dark ravine and then up at the sky, it seemed as though the
moon were hanging over a bottomless abyss and it were the end of
the world. The path going down was steep, winding, and so narrow
that when one drove down to Bogalyovka on account of some epidemic
or to vaccinate the people, one had to shout at the top of one's
voice, or whistle all the way, for if one met a cart coming up one
could not pass. The peasants of Bogalyovka had the reputation of
being good gardeners and horse-stealers. They had well-stocked
gardens. In spring the whole village was buried in white cherry-blossom,
and in the summer they sold cherries at three kopecks a pail. One
could pay three kopecks and pick as one liked. Their women were
handsome and looked well fed, they were fond of finery, and never
did anything even on working-days, but spent all their time sitting
on the ledge in front of their houses and searching in each other's
But at last there was the sound of footsteps. Lyubka, a girl of
twenty, with bare feet and a red dress, came into the room. . . .
She looked sideways at Yergunov and walked twice from one end of
the room to the other. She did not move simply, but with tiny steps,
thrusting forward her bosom; evidently she enjoyed padding about
with her bare feet on the freshly washed floor, and had taken off
her shoes on purpose.
Kalashnikov laughed at something and beckoned her with his finger.
She went up to the table, and he showed her a picture of the Prophet
Elijah, who, driving three horses abreast, was dashing up to the
sky. Lyubka put her elbow on the table; her plait fell across her
shoulder--a long chestnut plait tied with red ribbon at the end
--and it almost touched the floor. She, too, smiled.
"A splendid, wonderful picture," said Kalashnikov. "Wonderful," he
repeated, and motioned with his hand as though he wanted to take
the reins instead of Elijah.
The wind howled in the stove; something growled and squeaked as
though a big dog had strangled a rat.
"Ugh! the unclean spirits are abroad!" said Lyubka.
"That's the wind," said Kalashnikov; and after a pause he raised
his eyes to Yergunov and asked:
"And what is your learned opinion, Osip Vassilyitch--are there
devils in this world or not?"
"What's one to say, brother?" said Yergunov, and he shrugged one
shoulder. "If one reasons from science, of course there are no
devils, for it's a superstition; but if one looks at it simply, as
you and I do now, there are devils, to put it shortly. . . . I have
seen a great deal in my life. . . . When I finished my studies I
served as medical assistant in the army in a regiment of the dragoons,
and I have been in the war, of course. I have a medal and a decoration
from the Red Cross, but after the treaty of San Stefano I returned
to Russia and went into the service of the Zemstvo. And in consequence
of my enormous circulation about the world, I may say I have seen
more than many another has dreamed of. It has happened to me to see
devils, too; that is, not devils with horns and a tail--that is
all nonsense--but just, to speak precisely, something of the
"Where?" asked Kalashnikov.
"In various places. There is no need to go far. Last year I met him
here--speak of him not at night--near this very inn. I was
driving, I remember, to Golyshino; I was going there to vaccinate.
Of course, as usual, I had the racing droshky and a horse, and all
the necessary paraphernalia, and, what's more, I had a watch and
all the rest of it, so I was on my guard as I drove along, for fear
of some mischance. There are lots of tramps of all sorts. I came
up to the Zmeinoy Ravine--damnation take it--and was just going
down it, when all at once somebody comes up to me--such a fellow!
Black hair, black eyes, and his whole face looked smutted with soot
. . . . He comes straight up to the horse and takes hold of the left
rein: 'Stop!' He looked at the horse, then at me, then dropped the
reins, and without saying a bad word, 'Where are you going?' says
he. And he showed his teeth in a grin, and his eyes were spiteful-looking.
"'Ah,' thought I, 'you are a queer customer!' 'I am going to
vaccinate for the smallpox,' said I. 'And what is that to you?'
'Well, if that's so,' says he, 'vaccinate me. He bared his arm and
thrust it under my nose. Of course, I did not bandy words with him;
I just vaccinated him to get rid of him. Afterwards I looked at my
lancet and it had gone rusty."
The peasant who was asleep near the stove suddenly turned over and
flung off the sheepskin; to his great surprise, Yergunov recognized
the stranger he had met that day at Zmeinoy Ravine. This peasant's
hair, beard, and eyes were black as soot; his face was swarthy;
and, to add to the effect, there was a black spot the size of a
lentil on his right cheek. He looked mockingly at the hospital
assistant and said:
"I did take hold of the left rein--that was so; but about the
smallpox you are lying, sir. And there was not a word said about
the smallpox between us."
Yergunov was disconcerted.
"I'm not talking about you," he said. "Lie down, since you are lying
The dark-skinned peasant had never been to the hospital, and Yergunov
did not know who he was or where he came from; and now, looking at
him, he made up his mind that the man must be a gypsy. The peasant
got up and, stretching and yawning loudly, went up to Lyubka and
Kalashnikov, and sat down beside them, and he, too, began looking
at the book. His sleepy face softened and a look of envy came into
"Look, Merik," Lyubka said to him; "get me such horses and I will
drive to heaven."
"Sinners can't drive to heaven," said Kalashnikov. "That's for
Then Lyubka laid the table and brought in a big piece of fat bacon,
salted cucumbers, a wooden platter of boiled meat cut up into little
pieces, then a frying-pan, in which there were sausages and cabbage
spluttering. A cut-glass decanter of vodka, which diffused a smell
of orange-peel all over the room when it was poured out, was put
on the table also.
Yergunov was annoyed that Kalashnikov and the dark fellow Merik
talked together and took no notice of him at all, behaving exactly
as though he were not in the room. And he wanted to talk to them,
to brag, to drink, to have a good meal, and if possible to have a
little fun with Lyubka, who sat down near him half a dozen times
while they were at supper, and, as though by accident, brushed
against him with her handsome shoulders and passed her hands over
her broad hips. She was a healthy, active girl, always laughing and
never still: she would sit down, then get up, and when she was
sitting down she would keep turning first her face and then her
back to her neighbour, like a fidgety child, and never failed to
brush against him with her elbows or her knees.
And he was displeased, too, that the peasants drank only a glass
each and no more, and it was awkward for him to drink alone. But
he could not refrain from taking a second glass, all the same, then
a third, and he ate all the sausage. He brought himself to flatter
the peasants, that they might accept him as one of the party instead
of holding him at arm's length.
"You are a fine set of fellows in Bogalyovka!" he said, and wagged
"In what way fine fellows?" enquired Kalashnikov.
"Why, about horses, for instance. Fine fellows at stealing!"
"H'm! fine fellows, you call them. Nothing but thieves and drunkards."
"They have had their day, but it is over," said Merik, after a
pause. "But now they have only Filya left, and he is blind."
"Yes, there is no one but Filya," said Kalashnikov, with a sigh.
"Reckon it up, he must be seventy; the German settlers knocked out
one of his eyes, and he does not see well with the other. It is
cataract. In old days the police officer would shout as soon as he
saw him: 'Hey, you Shamil!' and all the peasants called him that
--he was Shamil all over the place; and now his only name is
One-eyed Filya. But he was a fine fellow! Lyuba's father, Andrey
Grigoritch, and he stole one night into Rozhnovo--there were
cavalry regiments stationed there--and carried off nine of the
soldiers' horses, the very best of them. They weren't frightened
of the sentry, and in the morning they sold all the horses for
twenty roubles to the gypsy Afonka. Yes! But nowadays a man contrives
to carry off a horse whose rider is drunk or asleep, and has no
fear of God, but will take the very boots from a drunkard, and then
slinks off and goes away a hundred and fifty miles with a horse,
and haggles at the market, haggles like a Jew, till the policeman
catches him, the fool. There is no fun in it; it is simply a disgrace!
A paltry set of people, I must say."
"What about Merik?" asked Lyubka.
"Merik is not one of us," said Kalashnikov. "He is a Harkov man
from Mizhiritch. But that he is a bold fellow, that's the truth;
there's no gainsaying that he is a fine fellow."
Lyubka looked slily and gleefully at Merik, and said:
"It wasn't for nothing they dipped him in a hole in the ice."
"How was that?" asked Yergunov.
"It was like this . . ." said Merik, and he laughed. "Filya carried
off three horses from the Samoylenka tenants, and they pitched upon
me. There were ten of the tenants at Samoylenka, and with their
labourers there were thirty altogether, and all of them Molokans
. . . . So one of them says to me at the market: 'Come and have a
look, Merik; we have brought some new horses from the fair.' I was
interested, of course. I went up to them, and the whole lot of them,
thirty men, tied my hands behind me and led me to the river. 'We'll
show you fine horses,' they said. One hole in the ice was there
already; they cut another beside it seven feet away. Then, to be
sure, they took a cord and put a noose under my armpits, and tied
a crooked stick to the other end, long enough to reach both holes.
They thrust the stick in and dragged it through. I went plop into
the ice-hole just as I was, in my fur coat and my high boots, while
they stood and shoved me, one with his foot and one with his stick,
then dragged me under the ice and pulled me out of the other hole."
Lyubka shuddered and shrugged.
"At first I was in a fever from the cold," Merik went on, "but when
they pulled me out I was helpless, and lay in the snow, and the
Molokans stood round and hit me with sticks on my knees and my
elbows. It hurt fearfully. They beat me and they went away . . .
and everything on me was frozen, my clothes were covered with ice.
I got up, but I couldn't move. Thank God, a woman drove by and gave
me a lift."
Meanwhile Yergunov had drunk five or six glasses of vodka; his heart
felt lighter, and he longed to tell some extraordinary, wonderful
story too, and to show that he, too, was a bold fellow and not
afraid of anything.
"I'll tell you what happened to us in Penza Province . . ." he
Either because he had drunk a great deal and was a little tipsy,
or perhaps because he had twice been detected in a lie, the peasants
took not the slightest notice of him, and even left off answering
his questions. What was worse, they permitted themselves a frankness
in his presence that made him feel uncomfortable and cold all over,
and that meant that they took no notice of him.
Kalashnikov had the dignified manners of a sedate and sensible man;
he spoke weightily, and made the sign of the cross over his mouth
every time he yawned, and no one could have supposed that this was
a thief, a heartless thief who had stripped poor creatures, who had
already been twice in prison, and who had been sentenced by the
commune to exile in Siberia, and had been bought off by his father
and uncle, who were as great thieves and rogues as he was. Merik
gave himself the airs of a bravo. He saw that Lyubka and Kalashnikov
were admiring him, and looked upon himself as a very fine fellow,
and put his arms akimbo, squared his chest, or stretched so that
the bench creaked under him. . . .
After supper Kalashnikov prayed to the holy image without getting
up from his seat, and shook hands with Merik; the latter prayed
too, and shook Kalashnikov's hand. Lyubka cleared away the supper,
shook out on the table some peppermint biscuits, dried nuts, and
pumpkin seeds, and placed two bottles of sweet wine.
"The kingdom of heaven and peace everlasting to Andrey Grigoritch,"
said Kalashnikov, clinking glasses with Merik. "When he was alive
we used to gather together here or at his brother Martin's, and--
my word! my word! what men, what talks! Remarkable conversations!
Martin used to be here, and Filya, and Fyodor Stukotey. . . . It
was all done in style, it was all in keeping. . . . And what fun
we had! We did have fun, we did have fun!"
Lyubka went out and soon afterwards came back wearing a green
kerchief and beads.
"Look, Merik, what Kalashnikov brought me to-day," she said.
She looked at herself in the looking-glass, and tossed her head
several times to make the beads jingle. And then she opened a chest
and began taking out, first, a cotton dress with red and blue flowers
on it, and then a red one with flounces which rustled and crackled
like paper, then a new kerchief, dark blue, shot with many colours
--and all these things she showed and flung up her hands, laughing
as though astonished that she had such treasures.
Kalashnikov tuned the balalaika and began playing it, but Yergunov
could not make out what sort of song he was singing, and whether
it was gay or melancholy, because at one moment it was so mournful
he wanted to cry, and at the next it would be merry. Merik suddenly
jumped up and began tapping with his heels on the same spot, then,
brandishing his arms, he moved on his heels from the table to the
stove, from the stove to the chest, then he bounded up as though
he had been stung, clicked the heels of his boots together in the
air, and began going round and round in a crouching position. Lyubka
waved both her arms, uttered a desperate shriek, and followed him.
At first she moved sideways, like a snake, as though she wanted to
steal up to someone and strike him from behind. She tapped rapidly
with her bare heels as Merik had done with the heels of his boots,
then she turned round and round like a top and crouched down, and
her red dress was blown out like a bell. Merik, looking angrily at
her, and showing his teeth in a grin, flew towards her in the same
crouching posture as though he wanted to crush her with his terrible
legs, while she jumped up, flung back her head, and waving her arms
as a big bird does its wings, floated across the room scarcely
touching the floor. . . .
"What a flame of a girl!" thought Yergunov, sitting on the chest,
and from there watching the dance. "What fire! Give up everything
for her, and it would be too little . . . ."
And he regretted that he was a hospital assistant, and not a simple
peasant, that he wore a reefer coat and a chain with a gilt key on
it instead of a blue shirt with a cord tied round the waist. Then
he could boldly have sung, danced, flung both arms round Lyubka as
Merik did. . . .
The sharp tapping, shouts, and whoops set the crockery ringing in
the cupboard and the flame of the candle dancing.
The thread broke and the beads were scattered all over the floor,
the green kerchief slipped off, and Lyubka was transformed into a
red cloud flitting by and flashing black eyes, and it seemed as
though in another second Merik's arms and legs would drop off.
But finally Merik stamped for the last time, and stood still as
though turned to stone. Exhausted and almost breathless, Lyubka
sank on to his bosom and leaned against him as against a post, and
he put his arms round her, and looking into her eyes, said tenderly
and caressingly, as though in jest:
"I'll find out where your old mother's money is hidden, I'll murder
her and cut your little throat for you, and after that I will set
fire to the inn. . . . People will think you have perished in the
fire, and with your money I shall go to Kuban. I'll keep droves of
horses and flocks of sheep. . . ."
Lyubka made no answer, but only looked at him with a guilty air,
"And is it nice in Kuban, Merik?"
He said nothing, but went to the chest, sat down, and sank into
thought; most likely he was dreaming of Kuban.
"It's time for me to be going," said Kalashnikov, getting up. "Filya
must be waiting for me. Goodbye, Lyuba."
Yergunov went out into the yard to see that Kalashnikov did not go
off with his horse. The snowstorm still persisted. White clouds
were floating about the yard, their long tails clinging to the rough
grass and the bushes, while on the other side of the fence in the
open country huge giants in white robes with wide sleeves were
whirling round and falling to the ground, and getting up again to
wave their arms and fight. And the wind, the wind! The bare birches
and cherry-trees, unable to endure its rude caresses, bowed low
down to the ground and wailed: "God, for what sin hast Thou bound
us to the earth and will not let us go free?"
"Wo!" said Kalashnikov sternly, and he got on his horse; one half
of the gate was opened, and by it lay a high snowdrift. "Well, get
on!" shouted Kalashnikov. His little short-legged nag set off, and
sank up to its stomach in the drift at once. Kalashnikov was white
all over with the snow, and soon vanished from sight with his horse.
When Yergunov went back into the room, Lyubka was creeping about
the floor picking up her beads; Merik was not there.
"A splendid girl!" thought Yergunov, as he lay down on the bench
and put his coat under his head. "Oh, if only Merik were not here."
Lyubka excited him as she crept about the floor by the bench, and
he thought that if Merik had not been there he would certainly have
got up and embraced her, and then one would see what would happen.
It was true she was only a girl, but not likely to be chaste; and
even if she were--need one stand on ceremony in a den of thieves?
Lyubka collected her beads and went out. The candle burnt down and
the flame caught the paper in the candlestick. Yergunov laid his
revolver and matches beside him, and put out the candle. The light
before the holy images flickered so much that it hurt his eyes, and
patches of light danced on the ceiling, on the floor, and on the
cupboard, and among them he had visions of Lyubka, buxom, full-bosomed:
now she was turning round like a top, now she was exhausted and
breathless. . . .
"Oh, if the devils would carry off that Merik," he thought.
The little lamp gave a last flicker, spluttered, and went out.
Someone, it must have been Merik, came into the room and sat down
on the bench. He puffed at his pipe, and for an instant lighted up
a dark cheek with a patch on it. Yergunov's throat was irritated
by the horrible fumes of the tobacco smoke.
"What filthy tobacco you have got--damnation take it!" said
Yergunov. "It makes me positively sick."
"I mix my tobacco with the flowers of the oats," answered Merik
after a pause. "It is better for the chest."
He smoked, spat, and went out again. Half an hour passed, and all
at once there was the gleam of a light in the passage. Merik appeared
in a coat and cap, then Lyubka with a candle in her hand.
"Do stay, Merik," said Lyubka in an imploring voice.
"No, Lyuba, don't keep me."
"Listen, Merik," said Lyubka, and her voice grew soft and tender.
"I know you will find mother's money, and will do for her and for
me, and will go to Kuban and love other girls; but God be with you.
I only ask you one thing, sweetheart: do stay!"
"No, I want some fun . . ." said Merik, fastening his belt.
"But you have nothing to go on. . . . You came on foot; what are
you going on?"
Merik bent down to Lyubka and whispered something in her ear; she
looked towards the door and laughed through her tears.
"He is asleep, the puffed-up devil . . ." she said.
Merik embraced her, kissed her vigorously, and went out. Yergunov
thrust his revolver into his pocket, jumped up, and ran after him.
"Get out of the way!" he said to Lyubka, who hurriedly bolted the
door of the entry and stood across the threshold. "Let me pass! Why
are you standing here?"
"What do you want to go out for?"
"To have a look at my horse."
Lyubka gazed up at him with a sly and caressing look.
"Why look at it? You had better look at me . . . ." she said, then
she bent down and touched with her finger the gilt watch-key that
hung on his chain.
"Let me pass, or he will go off on my horse," said Yergunov. "Let
me go, you devil!" he shouted, and giving her an angry blow on the
shoulder, he pressed his chest against her with all his might to
push her away from the door, but she kept tight hold of the bolt,
and was like iron.
"Let me go!" he shouted, exhausted; "he will go off with it, I tell
"Why should he? He won't." Breathing hard and rubbing her shoulder,
which hurt, she looked up at him again, flushed a little and laughed.
"Don't go away, dear heart," she said; "I am dull alone."
Yergunov looked into her eyes, hesitated, and put his arms round
her; she did not resist.
"Come, no nonsense; let me go," he begged her. She did not speak.
"I heard you just now," he said, "telling Merik that you love him.
"I dare say. . . . My heart knows who it is I love."
She put her finger on the key again, and said softly: "Give me
Yergunov unfastened the key and gave it to her. She suddenly craned
her neck and listened with a grave face, and her expression struck
Yergunov as cold and cunning; he thought of his horse, and now
easily pushed her aside and ran out into the yard. In the shed a
sleepy pig was grunting with lazy regularity and a cow was knocking
her horn. Yergunov lighted a match and saw the pig, and the cow,
and the dogs, which rushed at him on all sides at seeing the light,
but there was no trace of the horse. Shouting and waving his arms
at the dogs, stumbling over the drifts and sticking in the snow,
he ran out at the gate and fell to gazing into the darkness. He
strained his eyes to the utmost, and saw only the snow flying and
the snowflakes distinctly forming into all sorts of shapes; at one
moment the white, laughing face of a corpse would peep out of the
darkness, at the next a white horse would gallop by with an Amazon
in a muslin dress upon it, at the next a string of white swans would
fly overhead. . . . Shaking with anger and cold, and not knowing
what to do, Yergunov fired his revolver at the dogs, and did not
hit one of them; then he rushed back to the house.
When he went into the entry he distinctly heard someone scurry out
of the room and bang the door. It was dark in the room. Yergunov
pushed against the door; it was locked. Then, lighting match after
match, he rushed back into the entry, from there into the kitchen,
and from the kitchen into a little room where all the walls were
hung with petticoats and dresses, where there was a smell of
cornflowers and fennel, and a bedstead with a perfect mountain of
pillows, standing in the corner by the stove; this must have been
the old mother's room. From there he passed into another little
room, and here he saw Lyubka. She was lying on a chest, covered
with a gay-coloured patchwork cotton quilt, pretending to be asleep.
A little ikon-lamp was burning in the corner above the pillow.
"Where is my horse?" Yergunov asked.
Lyubka did not stir.
"Where is my horse, I am asking you?" Yergunov repeated still more
sternly, and he tore the quilt off her. "I am asking you, she-devil!"
She jumped up on her knees, and with one hand holding her shift and
with the other trying to clutch the quilt, huddled against the wall
. . . . She looked at Yergunov with repulsion and terror in her eyes,
and, like a wild beast in a trap, kept cunning watch on his faintest
"Tell me where my horse is, or I'll knock the life out of you,"
"Get away, dirty brute!" she said in a hoarse voice.
Yergunov seized her by the shift near the neck and tore it. And
then he could not restrain himself, and with all his might embraced
the girl. But hissing with fury, she slipped out of his arms, and
freeing one hand--the other was tangled in the torn shift--hit
him a blow with her fist on the skull.
His head was dizzy with the pain, there was a ringing and rattling
in his ears, he staggered back, and at that moment received another
blow--this time on the temple. Reeling and clutching at the
doorposts, that he might not fall, he made his way to the room where
his things were, and lay down on the bench; then after lying for a
little time, took the matchbox out of his pocket and began lighting
match after match for no object: he lit it, blew it out, and threw
it under the table, and went on till all the matches were gone.
Meanwhile the air began to turn blue outside, the cocks began to
crow, but his head still ached, and there was an uproar in his ears
as though he were sitting under a railway bridge and hearing the
trains passing over his head. He got, somehow, into his coat and
cap; the saddle and the bundle of his purchases he could not find,
his knapsack was empty: it was not for nothing that someone had
scurried out of the room when he came in from the yard.
He took a poker from the kitchen to keep off the dogs, and went out
into the yard, leaving the door open. The snow-storm had subsided
and it was calm outside. . . . When he went out at the gate, the
white plain looked dead, and there was not a single bird in the
morning sky. On both sides of the road and in the distance there
were bluish patches of young copse.
Yergunov began thinking how he would be greeted at the hospital and
what the doctor would say to him; it was absolutely necessary to
think of that, and to prepare beforehand to answer questions he
would be asked, but this thought grew blurred and slipped away. He
walked along thinking of nothing but Lyubka, of the peasants with
whom he had passed the night; he remembered how, after Lyubka struck
him the second time, she had bent down to the floor for the quilt,
and how her loose hair had fallen on the floor. His mind was in a
maze, and he wondered why there were in the world doctors, hospital
assistants, merchants, clerks, and peasants instead of simple free
men? There are, to be sure, free birds, free beasts, a free Merik,
and they are not afraid of anyone, and don't need anyone! And whose
idea was it, who had decreed that one must get up in the morning,
dine at midday, go to bed in the evening; that a doctor takes
precedence of a hospital assistant; that one must live in rooms and
love only one's wife? And why not the contrary--dine at night and
sleep in the day? Ah, to jump on a horse without enquiring whose
it is, to ride races with the wind like a devil, over fields and
forests and ravines, to make love to girls, to mock at
everyone . . . .
Yergunov thrust the poker into the snow, pressed his forehead to
the cold white trunk of a birch-tree, and sank into thought; and
his grey, monotonous life, his wages, his subordinate position, the
dispensary, the everlasting to-do with the bottles and blisters,
struck him as contemptible, sickening.
"Who says it's a sin to enjoy oneself?" he asked himself with
vexation. "Those who say that have never lived in freedom like Merik
and Kalashnikov, and have never loved Lyubka; they have been beggars
all their lives, have lived without any pleasure, and have only
loved their wives, who are like frogs."
And he thought about himself that he had not hitherto been a thief,
a swindler, or even a brigand, simply because he could not, or had
not yet met with a suitable opportunity.
A year and a half passed. In spring, after Easter, Yergunov, who
had long before been dismissed from the hospital and was hanging
about without a job, came out of the tavern in Ryepino and sauntered
aimlessly along the street.
He went out into the open country. Here there was the scent of
spring, and a warm caressing wind was blowing. The calm, starry
night looked down from the sky on the earth. My God, how infinite
the depth of the sky, and with what fathomless immensity it stretched
over the world! The world is created well enough, only why and with
what right do people, thought Yergunov, divide their fellows into
the sober and the drunken, the employed and the dismissed, and so
on. Why do the sober and well fed sleep comfortably in their homes
while the drunken and the hungry must wander about the country
without a refuge? Why was it that if anyone had not a job and did
not get a salary he had to go hungry, without clothes and boots?
Whose idea was it? Why was it the birds and the wild beasts in the
woods did not have jobs and get salaries, but lived as they pleased?
Far away in the sky a beautiful crimson glow lay quivering, stretched
wide over the horizon. Yergunov stopped, and for a long time he
gazed at it, and kept wondering why was it that if he had carried
off someone else's samovar the day before and sold it for drink in
the taverns it would be a sin? Why was it?
Two carts drove by on the road; in one of them there was a woman
asleep, in the other sat an old man without a cap on.
"Grandfather, where is that fire?" asked Yergunov.
"Andrey Tchirikov's inn," answered the old man.
And Yergunov recalled what had happened to him eighteen months
before in the winter, in that very inn, and how Merik had boasted;
and he imagined the old woman and Lyubka, with their throats cut,
burning, and he envied Merik. And when he walked back to the tavern,
looking at the houses of the rich publicans, cattle-dealers, and
blacksmiths, he reflected how nice it would be to steal by night
into some rich man's house!
WARD NO. 6
In the hospital yard there stands a small lodge surrounded by a
perfect forest of burdocks, nettles, and wild hemp. Its roof is
rusty, the chimney is tumbling down, the steps at the front-door
are rotting away and overgrown with grass, and there are only traces
left of the stucco. The front of the lodge faces the hospital; at
the back it looks out into the open country, from which it is
separated by the grey hospital fence with nails on it. These nails,
with their points upwards, and the fence, and the lodge itself,
have that peculiar, desolate, God-forsaken look which is only found
in our hospital and prison buildings.
If you are not afraid of being stung by the nettles, come by the
narrow footpath that leads to the lodge, and let us see what is
going on inside. Opening the first door, we walk into the entry.
Here along the walls and by the stove every sort of hospital rubbish
lies littered about. Mattresses, old tattered dressing-gowns,
trousers, blue striped shirts, boots and shoes no good for anything
--all these remnants are piled up in heaps, mixed up and crumpled,
mouldering and giving out a sickly smell.
The porter, Nikita, an old soldier wearing rusty good-conduct
stripes, is always lying on the litter with a pipe between his
teeth. He has a grim, surly, battered-looking face, overhanging
eyebrows which give him the expression of a sheep-dog of the steppes,
and a red nose; he is short and looks thin and scraggy, but he is
of imposing deportment and his fists are vigorous. He belongs to
the class of simple-hearted, practical, and dull-witted people,
prompt in carrying out orders, who like discipline better than
anything in the world, and so are convinced that it is their duty
to beat people. He showers blows on the face, on the chest, on the
back, on whatever comes first, and is convinced that there would
be no order in the place if he did not.
Next you come into a big, spacious room which fills up the whole
lodge except for the entry. Here the walls are painted a dirty blue,
the ceiling is as sooty as in a hut without a chimney--it is
evident that in the winter the stove smokes and the room is full
of fumes. The windows are disfigured by iron gratings on the inside.
The wooden floor is grey and full of splinters. There is a stench
of sour cabbage, of smouldering wicks, of bugs, and of ammonia, and
for the first minute this stench gives you the impression of having
walked into a menagerie.
There are bedsteads screwed to the floor. Men in blue hospital
dressing-gowns, and wearing nightcaps in the old style, are sitting
and lying on them. These are the lunatics.
There are five of them in all here. Only one is of the upper class,
the rest are all artisans. The one nearest the door--a tall, lean
workman with shining red whiskers and tear-stained eyes--sits
with his head propped on his hand, staring at the same point. Day
and night he grieves, shaking his head, sighing and smiling bitterly.
He takes a part in conversation and usually makes no answer to
questions; he eats and drinks mechanically when food is offered
him. From his agonizing, throbbing cough, his thinness, and the
flush on his cheeks, one may judge that he is in the first stage
of consumption. Next to him is a little, alert, very lively old
man, with a pointed beard and curly black hair like a negro's. By
day he walks up and down the ward from window to window, or sits
on his bed, cross-legged like a Turk, and, ceaselessly as a bullfinch
whistles, softly sings and titters. He shows his childish gaiety
and lively character at night also when he gets up to say his prayers
--that is, to beat himself on the chest with his fists, and to
scratch with his fingers at the door. This is the Jew Moiseika, an
imbecile, who went crazy twenty years ago when his hat factory was
And of all the inhabitants of Ward No. 6, he is the only one who
is allowed to go out of the lodge, and even out of the yard into
the street. He has enjoyed this privilege for years, probably because
he is an old inhabitant of the hospital--a quiet, harmless imbecile,
the buffoon of the town, where people are used to seeing him
surrounded by boys and dogs. In his wretched gown, in his absurd
night-cap, and in slippers, sometimes with bare legs and even without
trousers, he walks about the streets, stopping at the gates and
little shops, and begging for a copper. In one place they will give
him some kvass, in another some bread, in another a copper, so that
he generally goes back to the ward feeling rich and well fed.
Everything that he brings back Nikita takes from him for his own
benefit. The soldier does this roughly, angrily turning the Jew's
pockets inside out, and calling God to witness that he will not let
him go into the street again, and that breach of the regulations
is worse to him than anything in the world.
Moiseika likes to make himself useful. He gives his companions
water, and covers them up when they are asleep; he promises each
of them to bring him back a kopeck, and to make him a new cap; he
feeds with a spoon his neighbour on the left, who is paralyzed. He
acts in this way, not from compassion nor from any considerations
of a humane kind, but through imitation, unconsciously dominated
by Gromov, his neighbour on the right hand.
Ivan Dmitritch Gromov, a man of thirty-three, who is a gentleman
by birth, and has been a court usher and provincial secretary,
suffers from the mania of persecution. He either lies curled up in
bed, or walks from corner to corner as though for exercise; he very
rarely sits down. He is always excited, agitated, and overwrought
by a sort of vague, undefined expectation. The faintest rustle in
the entry or shout in the yard is enough to make him raise his head
and begin listening: whether they are coming for him, whether they
are looking for him. And at such times his face expresses the utmost
uneasiness and repulsion.
I like his broad face with its high cheek-bones, always pale and
unhappy, and reflecting, as though in a mirror, a soul tormented
by conflict and long-continued terror. His grimaces are strange and
abnormal, but the delicate lines traced on his face by profound,
genuine suffering show intelligence and sense, and there is a warm
and healthy light in his eyes. I like the man himself, courteous,
anxious to be of use, and extraordinarily gentle to everyone except
Nikita. When anyone drops a button or a spoon, he jumps up from his
bed quickly and picks it up; every day he says good-morning to his
companions, and when he goes to bed he wishes them good-night.
Besides his continually overwrought condition and his grimaces, his
madness shows itself in the following way also. Sometimes in the
evenings he wraps himself in his dressing-gown, and, trembling all
over, with his teeth chattering, begins walking rapidly from corner
to corner and between the bedsteads. It seems as though he is in a
violent fever. From the way he suddenly stops and glances at his
companions, it can be seen that he is longing to say something very
important, but, apparently reflecting that they would not listen,
or would not understand him, he shakes his head impatiently and
goes on pacing up and down. But soon the desire to speak gets the
upper hand of every consideration, and he will let himself go and
speak fervently and passionately. His talk is disordered and feverish
like delirium, disconnected, and not always intelligible, but, on
the other hand, something extremely fine may be felt in it, both
in the words and the voice. When he talks you recognize in him the
lunatic and the man. It is difficult to reproduce on paper his
insane talk. He speaks of the baseness of mankind, of violence
trampling on justice, of the glorious life which will one day be
upon earth, of the window-gratings, which remind him every minute
of the stupidity and cruelty of oppressors. It makes a disorderly,
incoherent potpourri of themes old but not yet out of date.
Some twelve or fifteen years ago an official called Gromov, a highly
respectable and prosperous person, was living in his own house in
the principal street of the town. He had two sons, Sergey and Ivan.
When Sergey was a student in his fourth year he was taken ill with
galloping consumption and died, and his death was, as it were, the
first of a whole series of calamities which suddenly showered on
the Gromov family. Within a week of Sergey's funeral the old father
was put on trial for fraud and misappropriation, and he died of
typhoid in the prison hospital soon afterwards. The house, with all
their belongings, was sold by auction, and Ivan Dmitritch and his
mother were left entirely without means.
Hitherto in his father's lifetime, Ivan Dmitritch, who was studying
in the University of Petersburg, had received an allowance of sixty
or seventy roubles a month, and had had no conception of poverty;
now he had to make an abrupt change in his life. He had to spend
his time from morning to night giving lessons for next to nothing,
to work at copying, and with all that to go hungry, as all his
earnings were sent to keep his mother. Ivan Dmitritch could not
stand such a life; he lost heart and strength, and, giving up the
university, went home.
Here, through interest, he obtained the post of teacher in the
district school, but could not get on with his colleagues, was not
liked by the boys, and soon gave up the post. His mother died. He
was for six months without work, living on nothing but bread and
water; then he became a court usher. He kept this post until he was
dismissed owing to his illness.
He had never even in his young student days given the impression
of being perfectly healthy. He had always been pale, thin, and given
to catching cold; he ate little and slept badly. A single glass of
wine went to his head and made him hysterical. He always had a
craving for society, but, owing to his irritable temperament and
suspiciousness, he never became very intimate with anyone, and had
no friends. He always spoke with contempt of his fellow-townsmen,
saying that their coarse ignorance and sleepy animal existence
seemed to him loathsome and horrible. He spoke in a loud tenor,
with heat, and invariably either with scorn and indignation, or
with wonder and enthusiasm, and always with perfect sincerity.
Whatever one talked to him about he always brought it round to the
same subject: that life was dull and stifling in the town; that the
townspeople had no lofty interests, but lived a dingy, meaningless
life, diversified by violence, coarse profligacy, and hypocrisy;
that scoundrels were well fed and clothed, while honest men lived
from hand to mouth; that they needed schools, a progressive local
paper, a theatre, public lectures, the co-ordination of the
intellectual elements; that society must see its failings and be
horrified. In his criticisms of people he laid on the colours thick,
using only black and white, and no fine shades; mankind was divided
for him into honest men and scoundrels: there was nothing in between.
He always spoke with passion and enthusiasm of women and of love,
but he had never been in love.
In spite of the severity of his judgments and his nervousness, he
was liked, and behind his back was spoken of affectionately as
Vanya. His innate refinement and readiness to be of service, his
good breeding, his moral purity, and his shabby coat, his frail
appearance and family misfortunes, aroused a kind, warm, sorrowful
feeling. Moreover, he was well educated and well read; according
to the townspeople's notions, he knew everything, and was in their
eyes something like a walking encyclopedia.
He had read a great deal. He would sit at the club, nervously pulling
at his beard and looking through the magazines and books; and from
his face one could see that he was not reading, but devouring the
pages without giving himself time to digest what he read. It must
be supposed that reading was one of his morbid habits, as he fell
upon anything that came into his hands with equal avidity, even
last year's newspapers and calendars. At home he always read lying
One autumn morning Ivan Dmitritch, turning up the collar of his
greatcoat and splashing through the mud, made his way by side-streets
and back lanes to see some artisan, and to collect some payment
that was owing. He was in a gloomy mood, as he always was in the
morning. In one of the side-streets he was met by two convicts in
fetters and four soldiers with rifles in charge of them. Ivan
Dmitritch had very often met convicts before, and they had always
excited feelings of compassion and discomfort in him; but now this
meeting made a peculiar, strange impression on him. It suddenly
seemed to him for some reason that he, too, might be put into fetters
and led through the mud to prison like that. After visiting the
artisan, on the way home he met near the post office a police
superintendent of his acquaintance, who greeted him and walked a
few paces along the street with him, and for some reason this seemed
to him suspicious. At home he could not get the convicts or the
soldiers with their rifles out of his head all day, and an unaccountable
inward agitation prevented him from reading or concentrating his
mind. In the evening he did not light his lamp, and at night he
could not sleep, but kept thinking that he might be arrested, put
into fetters, and thrown into prison. He did not know of any harm
he had done, and could be certain that he would never be guilty of
murder, arson, or theft in the future either; but was it not easy
to commit a crime by accident, unconsciously, and was not false
witness always possible, and, indeed, miscarriage of justice? It
was not without good reason that the agelong experience of the
simple people teaches that beggary and prison are ills none can be
safe from. A judicial mistake is very possible as legal proceedings
are conducted nowadays, and there is nothing to be wondered at in
it. People who have an official, professional relation to other
men's sufferings--for instance, judges, police officers, doctors
--in course of time, through habit, grow so callous that they
cannot, even if they wish it, take any but a formal attitude to
their clients; in this respect they are not different from the
peasant who slaughters sheep and calves in the back-yard, and does
not notice the blood. With this formal, soulless attitude to human
personality the judge needs but one thing--time--in order to
deprive an innocent man of all rights of property, and to condemn
him to penal servitude. Only the time spent on performing certain
formalities for which the judge is paid his salary, and then--it
is all over. Then you may look in vain for justice and protection
in this dirty, wretched little town a hundred and fifty miles from
a railway station! And, indeed, is it not absurd even to think of
justice when every kind of violence is accepted by society as a
rational and consistent necessity, and every act of mercy--for
instance, a verdict of acquittal--calls forth a perfect outburst
of dissatisfied and revengeful feeling?
In the morning Ivan Dmitritch got up from his bed in a state of
horror, with cold perspiration on his forehead, completely convinced
that he might be arrested any minute. Since his gloomy thoughts of
yesterday had haunted him so long, he thought, it must be that there
was some truth in them. They could not, indeed, have come into his
mind without any grounds whatever.
A policeman walking slowly passed by the windows: that was not for
nothing. Here were two men standing still and silent near the house.
Why were they silent? And agonizing days and nights followed for
Ivan Dmitritch. Everyone who passed by the windows or came into the
yard seemed to him a spy or a detective. At midday the chief of the
police usually drove down the street with a pair of horses; he was
going from his estate near the town to the police department; but
Ivan Dmitritch fancied every time that he was driving especially
quickly, and that he had a peculiar expression: it was evident that
he was in haste to announce that there was a very important criminal
in the town. Ivan Dmitritch started at every ring at the bell and
knock at the gate, and was agitated whenever he came upon anyone
new at his landlady's; when he met police officers and gendarmes
he smiled and began whistling so as to seem unconcerned. He could
not sleep for whole nights in succession expecting to be arrested,
but he snored loudly and sighed as though in deep sleep, that his
landlady might think he was asleep; for if he could not sleep it
meant that he was tormented by the stings of conscience--what a
piece of evidence! Facts and common sense persuaded him that all
these terrors were nonsense and morbidity, that if one looked at
the matter more broadly there was nothing really terrible in arrest
and imprisonment--so long as the conscience is at ease; but the
more sensibly and logically he reasoned, the more acute and agonizing
his mental distress became. It might be compared with the story of
a hermit who tried to cut a dwelling-place for himself in a virgin
forest; the more zealously he worked with his axe, the thicker the
forest grew. In the end Ivan Dmitritch, seeing it was useless, gave
up reasoning altogether, and abandoned himself entirely to despair
He began to avoid people and to seek solitude. His official work
had been distasteful to him before: now it became unbearable to
him. He was afraid they would somehow get him into trouble, would
put a bribe in his pocket unnoticed and then denounce him, or that
he would accidentally make a mistake in official papers that would
appear to be fraudulent, or would lose other people's money. It is
strange that his imagination had never at other times been so agile
and inventive as now, when every day he thought of thousands of
different reasons for being seriously anxious over his freedom and
honour; but, on the other hand, his interest in the outer world,
in books in particular, grew sensibly fainter, and his memory began
to fail him.
In the spring when the snow melted there were found in the ravine
near the cemetery two half-decomposed corpses--the bodies of an
old woman and a boy bearing the traces of death by violence. Nothing
was talked of but these bodies and their unknown murderers. That
people might not think he had been guilty of the crime, Ivan Dmitritch
walked about the streets, smiling, and when he met acquaintances
he turned pale, flushed, and began declaring that there was no
greater crime than the murder of the weak and defenceless. But this
duplicity soon exhausted him, and after some reflection he decided
that in his position the best thing to do was to hide in his
landlady's cellar. He sat in the cellar all day and then all night,
then another day, was fearfully cold, and waiting till dusk, stole
secretly like a thief back to his room. He stood in the middle of
the room till daybreak, listening without stirring. Very early in
the morning, before sunrise, some workmen came into the house. Ivan
Dmitritch knew perfectly well that they had come to mend the stove
in the kitchen, but terror told him that they were police officers
disguised as workmen. He slipped stealthily out of the flat, and,
overcome by terror, ran along the street without his cap and coat.
Dogs raced after him barking, a peasant shouted somewhere behind
him, the wind whistled in his ears, and it seemed to Ivan Dmitritch
that the force and violence of the whole world was massed together
behind his back and was chasing after him.
He was stopped and brought home, and his landlady sent for a doctor.
Doctor Andrey Yefimitch, of whom we shall have more to say hereafter,
prescribed cold compresses on his head and laurel drops, shook his
head, and went away, telling the landlady he should not come again,
as one should not interfere with people who are going out of their
minds. As he had not the means to live at home and be nursed, Ivan
Dmitritch was soon sent to the hospital, and was there put into the
ward for venereal patients. He could not sleep at night, was full
of whims and fancies, and disturbed the patients, and was soon
afterwards, by Andrey Yefimitch's orders, transferred to Ward No.
Within a year Ivan Dmitritch was completely forgotten in the town,
and his books, heaped up by his landlady in a sledge in the shed,
were pulled to pieces by boys.
Ivan Dmitritch's neighbour on the left hand is, as I have said
already, the Jew Moiseika; his neighbour on the right hand is a
peasant so rolling in fat that he is almost spherical, with a blankly
stupid face, utterly devoid of thought. This is a motionless,
gluttonous, unclean animal who has long ago lost all powers of
thought or feeling. An acrid, stifling stench always comes from
Nikita, who has to clean up after him, beats him terribly with all
his might, not sparing his fists; and what is dreadful is not his
being beaten--that one can get used to--but the fact that this
stupefied creature does not respond to the blows with a sound or a
movement, nor by a look in the eyes, but only sways a little like
a heavy barrel.
The fifth and last inhabitant of Ward No. 6 is a man of the artisan
class who had once been a sorter in the post office, a thinnish,
fair little man with a good-natured but rather sly face. To judge
from the clear, cheerful look in his calm and intelligent eyes, he
has some pleasant idea in his mind, and has some very important and
agreeable secret. He has under his pillow and under his mattress
something that he never shows anyone, not from fear of its being
taken from him and stolen, but from modesty. Sometimes he goes to
the window, and turning his back to his companions, puts something
on his breast, and bending his head, looks at it; if you go up to
him at such a moment, he is overcome with confusion and snatches
something off his breast. But it is not difficult to guess his
"Congratulate me," he often says to Ivan Dmitritch; "I have been
presented with the Stanislav order of the second degree with the
star. The second degree with the star is only given to foreigners,
but for some reason they want to make an exception for me," he says
with a smile, shrugging his shoulders in perplexity. "That I must
confess I did not expect."
"I don't understand anything about that," Ivan Dmitritch replies
"But do you know what I shall attain to sooner or later?" the former
sorter persists, screwing up his eyes slyly. "I shall certainly get
the Swedish 'Polar Star.' That's an order it is worth working for,
a white cross with a black ribbon. It's very beautiful."
Probably in no other place is life so monotonous as in this ward.
In the morning the patients, except the paralytic and the fat
peasant, wash in the entry at a big tab and wipe themselves with
the skirts of their dressing-gowns; after that they drink tea out
of tin mugs which Nikita brings them out of the main building.
Everyone is allowed one mugful. At midday they have soup made out
of sour cabbage and boiled grain, in the evening their supper
consists of grain left from dinner. In the intervals they lie down,
sleep, look out of window, and walk from one corner to the other.
And so every day. Even the former sorter always talks of the same
Fresh faces are rarely seen in Ward No. 6. The doctor has not taken
in any new mental cases for a long time, and the people who are
fond of visiting lunatic asylums are few in this world. Once every
two months Semyon Lazaritch, the barber, appears in the ward. How
he cuts the patients' hair, and how Nikita helps him to do it, and
what a trepidation the lunatics are always thrown into by the arrival
of the drunken, smiling barber, we will not describe.
No one even looks into the ward except the barber. The patients are
condemned to see day after day no one but Nikita.
A rather strange rumour has, however, been circulating in the
hospital of late.
It is rumoured that the doctor has begun to visit Ward No. 6.
A strange rumour!
Dr. Andrey Yefimitch Ragin is a strange man in his way. They say
that when he was young he was very religious, and prepared himself
for a clerical career, and that when he had finished his studies
at the high school in 1863 he intended to enter a theological
academy, but that his father, a surgeon and doctor of medicine,
jeered at him and declared point-blank that he would disown him if
he became a priest. How far this is true I don't know, but Andrey
Yefimitch himself has more than once confessed that he has never
had a natural bent for medicine or science in general.
However that may have been, when he finished his studies in the
medical faculty he did not enter the priesthood. He showed no special
devoutness, and was no more like a priest at the beginning of his
medical career than he is now.
His exterior is heavy--coarse like a peasant's, his face, his
beard, his flat hair, and his coarse, clumsy figure, suggest an
overfed, intemperate, and harsh innkeeper on the highroad. His face
is surly-looking and covered with blue veins, his eyes are little
and his nose is red. With his height and broad shoulders he has
huge hands and feet; one would think that a blow from his fist would
knock the life out of anyone, but his step is soft, and his walk
is cautious and insinuating; when he meets anyone in a narrow passage
he is always the first to stop and make way, and to say, not in a
bass, as one would expect, but in a high, soft tenor: "I beg your
pardon!" He has a little swelling on his neck which prevents him
from wearing stiff starched collars, and so he always goes about
in soft linen or cotton shirts. Altogether he does not dress like
a doctor. He wears the same suit for ten years, and the new clothes,
which he usually buys at a Jewish shop, look as shabby and crumpled
on him as his old ones; he sees patients and dines and pays visits
all in the same coat; but this is not due to niggardliness, but to
complete carelessness about his appearance.
When Andrey Yefimitch came to the town to take up his duties the
"institution founded to the glory of God" was in a terrible condition.
One could hardly breathe for the stench in the wards, in the passages,
and in the courtyards of the hospital. The hospital servants, the
nurses, and their children slept in the wards together with the
patients. They complained that there was no living for beetles,
bugs, and mice. The surgical wards were never free from erysipelas.
There were only two scalpels and not one thermometer in the whole
hospital; potatoes were kept in the baths. The superintendent, the
housekeeper, and the medical assistant robbed the patients, and of
the old doctor, Andrey Yefimitch's predecessor, people declared
that he secretly sold the hospital alcohol, and that he kept a
regular harem consisting of nurses and female patients. These
disorderly proceedings were perfectly well known in the town, and
were even exaggerated, but people took them calmly; some justified
them on the ground that there were only peasants and working men
in the hospital, who could not be dissatisfied, since they were
much worse off at home than in the hospital--they couldn't be fed
on woodcocks! Others said in excuse that the town alone, without
help from the Zemstvo, was not equal to maintaining a good hospital;
thank God for having one at all, even a poor one. And the newly
formed Zemstvo did not open infirmaries either in the town or the
neighbourhood, relying on the fact that the town already had its
After looking over the hospital Andrey Yefimitch came to the
conclusion that it was an immoral institution and extremely prejudicial
to the health of the townspeople. In his opinion the most sensible
thing that could be done was to let out the patients and close the
hospital. But he reflected that his will alone was not enough to
do this, and that it would be useless; if physical and moral impurity
were driven out of one place, they would only move to another; one
must wait for it to wither away of itself Besides, if people open
a hospital and put up with having it, it must be because they need
it; superstition and all the nastiness and abominations of daily
life were necessary, since in process of time they worked out to
something sensible, just as manure turns into black earth. There
was nothing on earth so good that it had not something nasty about
its first origin.
When Andrey Yefimitch undertook his duties he was apparently not
greatly concerned about the irregularities at the hospital. He only
asked the attendants and nurses not to sleep in the wards, and had
two cupboards of instruments put up; the superintendent, the
housekeeper, the medical assistant, and the erysipelas remained
Andrey Yefimitch loved intelligence and honesty intensely, but he
had no strength of will nor belief in his right to organize an
intelligent and honest life about him. He was absolutely unable to
give orders, to forbid things, and to insist. It seemed as though
he had taken a vow never to raise his voice and never to make use
of the imperative. It was difficult for him to say. "Fetch" or
"Bring"; when he wanted his meals he would cough hesitatingly and
say to the cook, "How about tea?. . ." or "How about dinner? . . ."
To dismiss the superintendent or to tell him to leave off stealing,
or to abolish the unnecessary parasitic post altogether, was
absolutely beyond his powers. When Andrey Yefimitch was deceived
or flattered, or accounts he knew to be cooked were brought him to
sign, he would turn as red as a crab and feel guilty, but yet he
would sign the accounts. When the patients complained to him of
being hungry or of the roughness of the nurses, he would be confused
and mutter guiltily: "Very well, very well, I will go into it later
. . . . Most likely there is some misunderstanding. . ."
At first Andrey Yefimitch worked very zealously. He saw patients
every day from morning till dinner-time, performed operations, and
even attended confinements. The ladies said of him that he was
attentive and clever at diagnosing diseases, especially those of
women and children. But in process of time the work unmistakably
wearied him by its monotony and obvious uselessness. To-day one
sees thirty patients, and to-morrow they have increased to thirty-five,
the next day forty, and so on from day to day, from year to year,
while the mortality in the town did not decrease and the patients
did not leave off coming. To be any real help to forty patients
between morning and dinner was not physically possible, so it could
but lead to deception. If twelve thousand patients were seen in a
year it meant, if one looked at it simply, that twelve thousand men
were deceived. To put those who were seriously ill into wards, and
to treat them according to the principles of science, was impossible,
too, because though there were principles there was no science; if
he were to put aside philosophy and pedantically follow the rules
as other doctors did, the things above all necessary were cleanliness
and ventilation instead of dirt, wholesome nourishment instead of
broth made of stinking, sour cabbage, and good assistants instead
of thieves; and, indeed, why hinder people dying if death is the
normal and legitimate end of everyone? What is gained if some
shop-keeper or clerk lives an extra five or ten years? If the aim
of medicine is by drugs to alleviate suffering, the question forces
itself on one: why alleviate it? In the first place, they say that
suffering leads man to perfection; and in the second, if mankind
really learns to alleviate its sufferings with pills and drops, it
will completely abandon religion and philosophy, in which it has
hitherto found not merely protection from all sorts of trouble, but
even happiness. Pushkin suffered terrible agonies before his death,
poor Heine lay paralyzed for several years; why, then, should not
some Andrey Yefimitch or Matryona Savishna be ill, since their lives
had nothing of importance in them, and would have been entirely
empty and like the life of an amoeba except for suffering?
Oppressed by such reflections, Andrey Yefimitch relaxed his efforts
and gave up visiting the hospital every day.
His life was passed like this. As a rule he got up at eight o'clock
in the morning, dressed, and drank his tea. Then he sat down in his
study to read, or went to the hospital. At the hospital the
out-patients were sitting in the dark, narrow little corridor waiting
to be seen by the doctor. The nurses and the attendants, tramping
with their boots over the brick floors, ran by them; gaunt-looking
patients in dressing-gowns passed; dead bodies and vessels full of
filth were carried by; the children were crying, and there was a
cold draught. Andrey Yefimitch knew that such surroundings were
torture to feverish, consumptive, and impressionable patients; but
what could be done? In the consulting-room he was met by his
assistant, Sergey Sergeyitch--a fat little man with a plump,
well-washed shaven face, with soft, smooth manners, wearing a new
loosely cut suit, and looking more like a senator than a medical
assistant. He had an immense practice in the town, wore a white
tie, and considered himself more proficient than the doctor, who
had no practice. In the corner of the consulting-room there stood
a large ikon in a shrine with a heavy lamp in front of it, and near
it a candle-stand with a white cover on it. On the walls hung
portraits of bishops, a view of the Svyatogorsky Monastery, and
wreaths of dried cornflowers. Sergey Sergeyitch was religious, and
liked solemnity and decorum. The ikon had been put up at his expense;
at his instructions some one of the patients read the hymns of
praise in the consulting-room on Sundays, and after the reading
Sergey Sergeyitch himself went through the wards with a censer and
There were a great many patients, but the time was short, and so
the work was confined to the asking of a few brief questions and
the administration of some drugs, such as castor-oil or volatile
ointment. Andrey Yefimitch would sit with his cheek resting in his
hand, lost in thought and asking questions mechanically. Sergey
Sergeyitch sat down too, rubbing his hands, and from time to time
putting in his word.
"We suffer pain and poverty," he would say, "because we do not pray
to the merciful God as we should. Yes!"
Andrey Yefimitch never performed any operation when he was seeing
patients; he had long ago given up doing so, and the sight of blood
upset him. When he had to open a child's mouth in order to look at
its throat, and the child cried and tried to defend itself with its
little hands, the noise in his ears made his head go round and
brought tears to his eyes. He would make haste to prescribe a drug,
and motion to the woman to take the child away.
He was soon wearied by the timidity of the patients and their
incoherence, by the proximity of the pious Sergey Sergeyitch, by
the portraits on the walls, and by his own questions which he had
asked over and over again for twenty years. And he would go away
after seeing five or six patients. The rest would be seen by his
assistant in his absence.
With the agreeable thought that, thank God, he had no private
practice now, and that no one would interrupt him, Andrey Yefimitch
sat down to the table immediately on reaching home and took up a
book. He read a great deal and always with enjoyment. Half his
salary went on buying books, and of the six rooms that made up his
abode three were heaped up with books and old magazines. He liked
best of all works on history and philosophy; the only medical
publication to which he subscribed was _The Doctor_, of which he
always read the last pages first. He would always go on reading for
several hours without a break and without being weary. He did not
read as rapidly and impulsively as Ivan Dmitritch had done in the
past, but slowly and with concentration, often pausing over a passage
which he liked or did not find intelligible. Near the books there
always stood a decanter of vodka, and a salted cucumber or a pickled
apple lay beside it, not on a plate, but on the baize table-cloth.
Every half-hour he would pour himself out a glass of vodka and drink
it without taking his eyes off the book. Then without looking at
it he would feel for the cucumber and bite off a bit.
At three o'clock he would go cautiously to the kitchen door; cough,
and say, "Daryushka, what about dinner? . ."
After his dinner--a rather poor and untidily served one--Andrey
Yefimitch would walk up and down his rooms with his arms folded,
thinking. The clock would strike four, then five, and still he would
be walking up and down thinking. Occasionally the kitchen door would
creak, and the red and sleepy face of Daryushka would appear.
"Andrey Yefimitch, isn't it time for you to have your beer?" she
would ask anxiously.
"No, it's not time yet . . ." he would answer. "I'll wait a little
. . . . I'll wait a little. . ."
Towards the evening the postmaster, Mihail Averyanitch, the only
man in town whose society did not bore Andrey Yefimitch, would come
in. Mihail Averyanitch had once been a very rich landowner, and had
served in the calvary, but had come to ruin, and was forced by
poverty to take a job in the post office late in life. He had a
hale and hearty appearance, luxuriant grey whiskers, the manners
of a well-bred man, and a loud, pleasant voice. He was good-natured
and emotional, but hot-tempered. When anyone in the post office
made a protest, expressed disagreement, or even began to argue,
Mihail Averyanitch would turn crimson, shake all over, and shout
in a voice of thunder, "Hold your tongue!" so that the post office
had long enjoyed the reputation of an institution which it was
terrible to visit. Mihail Averyanitch liked and respected Andrey
Yefimitch for his culture and the loftiness of his soul; he treated
the other inhabitants of the town superciliously, as though they
were his subordinates.
"Here I am," he would say, going in to Andrey Yefimitch. "Good
evening, my dear fellow! I'll be bound, you are getting sick of me,
"On the contrary, I am delighted," said the doctor. "I am always
glad to see you."
The friends would sit on the sofa in the study and for some time
would smoke in silence.
"Daryushka, what about the beer?" Andrey Yefimitch would say.
They would drink their first bottle still in silence, the doctor
brooding and Mihail Averyanitch with a gay and animated face, like
a man who has something very interesting to tell. The doctor was
always the one to begin the conversation.
"What a pity," he would say quietly and slowly, not looking his
friend in the face (he never looked anyone in the face)--"what a
great pity it is that there are no people in our town who are capable
of carrying on intelligent and interesting conversation, or care
to do so. It is an immense privation for us. Even the educated class
do not rise above vulgarity; the level of their development, I
assure you, is not a bit higher than that of the lower orders."
"Perfectly true. I agree."
"You know, of course," the doctor went on quietly and deliberately,
"that everything in this world is insignificant and uninteresting
except the higher spiritual manifestations of the human mind.
Intellect draws a sharp line between the animals and man, suggests
the divinity of the latter, and to some extent even takes the place
of the immortality which does not exist. Consequently the intellect
is the only possible source of enjoyment. We see and hear of no
trace of intellect about us, so we are deprived of enjoyment. We
have books, it is true, but that is not at all the same as living
talk and converse. If you will allow me to make a not quite apt
comparison: books are the printed score, while talk is the singing."
A silence would follow. Daryushka would come out of the kitchen and
with an expression of blank dejection would stand in the doorway
to listen, with her face propped on her fist.
"Eh!" Mihail Averyanitch would sigh. "To expect intelligence of
And he would describe how wholesome, entertaining, and interesting
life had been in the past. How intelligent the educated class in
Russia used to be, and what lofty ideas it had of honour and
friendship; how they used to lend money without an IOU, and it was
thought a disgrace not to give a helping hand to a comrade in need;
and what campaigns, what adventures, what skirmishes, what comrades,
what women! And the Caucasus, what a marvellous country! The wife
of a battalion commander, a queer woman, used to put on an officer's
uniform and drive off into the mountains in the evening, alone,
without a guide. It was said that she had a love affair with some
princeling in the native village.
"Queen of Heaven, Holy Mother..." Daryushka would sigh.
"And how we drank! And how we ate! And what desperate liberals we
Andrey Yefimitch would listen without hearing; he was musing as he
sipped his beer.
"I often dream of intellectual people and conversation with them,"
he said suddenly, interrupting Mihail Averyanitch. "My father gave
me an excellent education, but under the influence of the ideas of
the sixties made me become a doctor. I believe if I had not obeyed
him then, by now I should have been in the very centre of the
intellectual movement. Most likely I should have become a member
of some university. Of course, intellect, too, is transient and not
eternal, but you know why I cherish a partiality for it. Life is a
vexatious trap; when a thinking man reaches maturity and attains
to full consciousness he cannot help feeling that he is in a trap
from which there is no escape. Indeed, he is summoned without his
choice by fortuitous circumstances from non-existence into life
. . . what for? He tries to find out the meaning and object of his
existence; he is told nothing, or he is told absurdities; he knocks
and it is not opened to him; death comes to him--also without his
choice. And so, just as in prison men held together by common
misfortune feel more at ease when they are together, so one does
not notice the trap in life when people with a bent for analysis
and generalization meet together and pass their time in the interchange
of proud and free ideas. In that sense the intellect is the source
of an enjoyment nothing can replace."
Not looking his friend in the face, Andrey Yefimitch would go on,
quietly and with pauses, talking about intellectual people and
conversation with them, and Mihail Averyanitch would listen attentively
and agree: "Perfectly true."
"And you do not believe in the immortality of the soul?" he would
"No, honoured Mihail Averyanitch; I do not believe it, and have no
grounds for believing it."
"I must own I doubt it too. And yet I have a feeling as though I
should never die. Oh, I think to myself: 'Old fogey, it is time you
were dead!' But there is a little voice in my soul says: 'Don't
believe it; you won't die.'"
Soon after nine o'clock Mihail Averyanitch would go away. As he put
on his fur coat in the entry he would say with a sigh:
"What a wilderness fate has carried us to, though, really! What's
most vexatious of all is to have to die here. Ech! . ."
After seeing his friend out Andrey Yefimitch would sit down at the
table and begin reading again. The stillness of the evening, and
afterwards of the night, was not broken by a single sound, and it
seemed as though time were standing still and brooding with the
doctor over the book, and as though there were nothing in existence
but the books and the lamp with the green shade. The doctor's coarse
peasant-like face was gradually lighted up by a smile of delight
and enthusiasm over the progress of the human intellect. Oh, why
is not man immortal? he thought. What is the good of the brain
centres and convolutions, what is the good of sight, speech,
self-consciousness, genius, if it is all destined to depart into
the soil, and in the end to grow cold together with the earth's
crust, and then for millions of years to fly with the earth round
the sun with no meaning and no object? To do that there was no need
at all to draw man with his lofty, almost godlike intellect out of
non-existence, and then, as though in mockery, to turn him into
clay. The transmutation of substances! But what cowardice to comfort
oneself with that cheap substitute for immortality! The unconscious
processes that take place in nature are lower even than the stupidity
of man, since in stupidity there is, anyway, consciousness and will,
while in those processes there is absolutely nothing. Only the
coward who has more fear of death than dignity can comfort himself
with the fact that his body will in time live again in the grass,
in the stones, in the toad. To find one's immortality in the
transmutation of substances is as strange as to prophesy a brilliant
future for the case after a precious violin has been broken and
When the clock struck, Andrey Yefimitch would sink back into his
chair and close his eyes to think a little. And under the influence
of the fine ideas of which he had been reading he would, unawares,
recall his past and his present. The past was hateful--better not
to think of it. And it was the same in the present as in the past.
He knew that at the very time when his thoughts were floating
together with the cooling earth round the sun, in the main building
beside his abode people were suffering in sickness and physical
impurity: someone perhaps could not sleep and was making war upon
the insects, someone was being infected by erysipelas, or moaning
over too tight a bandage; perhaps the patients were playing cards
with the nurses and drinking vodka. According to the yearly return,
twelve thousand people had been deceived; the whole hospital rested
as it had done twenty years ago on thieving, filth, scandals, gossip,
on gross quackery, and, as before, it was an immoral institution
extremely injurious to the health of the inhabitants. He knew that
Nikita knocked the patients about behind the barred windows of Ward
No. 6, and that Moiseika went about the town every day begging alms.
On the other hand, he knew very well that a magical change had taken
place in medicine during the last twenty-five years. When he was
studying at the university he had fancied that medicine would soon
be overtaken by the fate of alchemy and metaphysics; but now when
he was reading at night the science of medicine touched him and
excited his wonder, and even enthusiasm. What unexpected brilliance,
what a revolution! Thanks to the antiseptic system operations were
performed such as the great Pirogov had considered impossible even
_in spe_. Ordinary Zemstvo doctors were venturing to perform the
resection of the kneecap; of abdominal operations only one per cent.
was fatal; while stone was considered such a trifle that they did
not even write about it. A radical cure for syphilis had been
discovered. And the theory of heredity, hypnotism, the discoveries
of Pasteur and of Koch, hygiene based on statistics, and the work
of Zemstvo doctors!
Psychiatry with its modern classification of mental diseases, methods
of diagnosis, and treatment, was a perfect Elborus in comparison
with what had been in the past. They no longer poured cold water
on the heads of lunatics nor put strait-waistcoats upon them; they
treated them with humanity, and even, so it was stated in the papers,
got up balls and entertainments for them. Andrey Yefimitch knew
that with modern tastes and views such an abomination as Ward No.
6 was possible only a hundred and fifty miles from a railway in a
little town where the mayor and all the town council were half-illiterate
tradesmen who looked upon the doctor as an oracle who must be
believed without any criticism even if he had poured molten lead
into their mouths; in any other place the public and the newspapers
would long ago have torn this little Bastille to pieces.
"But, after all, what of it?" Andrey Yefimitch would ask himself,
opening his eyes. "There is the antiseptic system, there is Koch,
there is Pasteur, but the essential reality is not altered a bit;
ill-health and mortality are still the same. They get up balls and
entertainments for the mad, but still they don't let them go free;
so it's all nonsense and vanity, and there is no difference in
reality between the best Vienna clinic and my hospital." But
depression and a feeling akin to envy prevented him from feeling
indifferent; it must have been owing to exhaustion. His heavy head
sank on to the book, he put his hands under his face to make it
softer, and thought: "I serve in a pernicious institution and receive
a salary from people whom I am deceiving. I am not honest, but then,
I of myself am nothing, I am only part of an inevitable social evil:
all local officials are pernicious and receive their salary for
doing nothing. . . . And so for my dishonesty it is not I who am
to blame, but the times.... If I had been born two hundred years
later I should have been different. . ."
When it struck three he would put out his lamp and go into his
bedroom; he was not sleepy.
Two years before, the Zemstvo in a liberal mood had decided to allow
three hundred roubles a year to pay for additional medical service
in the town till the Zemstvo hospital should be opened, and the
district doctor, Yevgeny Fyodoritch Hobotov, was invited to the
town to assist Andrey Yefimitch. He was a very young man--not yet
thirty--tall and dark, with broad cheek-bones and little eyes;
his forefathers had probably come from one of the many alien races
of Russia. He arrived in the town without a farthing, with a small
portmanteau, and a plain young woman whom he called his cook. This
woman had a baby at the breast. Yevgeny Fyodoritch used to go about
in a cap with a peak, and in high boots, and in the winter wore a
sheepskin. He made great friends with Sergey Sergeyitch, the medical
assistant, and with the treasurer, but held aloof from the other
officials, and for some reason called them aristocrats. He had only
one book in his lodgings, "The Latest Prescriptions of the Vienna
Clinic for 1881." When he went to a patient he always took this
book with him. He played billiards in the evening at the club: he
did not like cards. He was very fond of using in conversation such
expressions as "endless bobbery," "canting soft soap," "shut up
with your finicking. . ."
He visited the hospital twice a week, made the round of the wards,
and saw out-patients. The complete absence of antiseptic treatment
and the cupping roused his indignation, but he did not introduce
any new system, being afraid of offending Andrey Yefimitch. He
regarded his colleague as a sly old rascal, suspected him of being
a man of large means, and secretly envied him. He would have been
very glad to have his post.
On a spring evening towards the end of March, when there was no
snow left on the ground and the starlings were singing in the
hospital garden, the doctor went out to see his friend the postmaster
as far as the gate. At that very moment the Jew Moiseika, returning
with his booty, came into the yard. He had no cap on, and his bare
feet were thrust into goloshes; in his hand he had a little bag of
"Give me a kopeck!" he said to the doctor, smiling, and shivering
with cold. Andrey Yefimitch, who could never refuse anyone anything,
gave him a ten-kopeck piece.
"How bad that is!" he thought, looking at the Jew's bare feet with
their thin red ankles. "Why, it's wet."
And stirred by a feeling akin both to pity and disgust, he went
into the lodge behind the Jew, looking now at his bald head, now
at his ankles. As the doctor went in, Nikita jumped up from his
heap of litter and stood at attention.
"Good-day, Nikita," Andrey Yefimitch said mildly. "That Jew should
be provided with boots or something, he will catch cold."
"Certainly, your honour. I'll inform the superintendent."
"Please do; ask him in my name. Tell him that I asked."
The door into the ward was open. Ivan Dmitritch, lying propped on
his elbow on the bed, listened in alarm to the unfamiliar voice,
and suddenly recognized the doctor. He trembled all over with anger,
jumped up, and with a red and wrathful face, with his eyes starting
out of his head, ran out into the middle of the road.
"The doctor has come!" he shouted, and broke into a laugh. "At last!
Gentlemen, I congratulate you. The doctor is honouring us with a
visit! Cursed reptile!" he shrieked, and stamped in a frenzy such
as had never been seen in the ward before. "Kill the reptile! No,
killing's too good. Drown him in the midden-pit!"
Andrey Yefimitch, hearing this, looked into the ward from the entry
and asked gently: "What for?"
"What for?" shouted Ivan Dmitritch, going up to him with a menacing
air and convulsively wrapping himself in his dressing-gown. "What
for? Thief!" he said with a look of repulsion, moving his lips as
though he would spit at him. "Quack! hangman!"
"Calm yourself," said Andrey Yefimitch, smiling guiltily. "I assure
you I have never stolen anything; and as to the rest, most likely
you greatly exaggerate. I see you are angry with me. Calm yourself,
I beg, if you can, and tell me coolly what are you angry for?"
"What are you keeping me here for?"
"Because you are ill."
"Yes, I am ill. But you know dozens, hundreds of madmen are walking
about in freedom because your ignorance is incapable of distinguishing
them from the sane. Why am I and these poor wretches to be shut up
here like scapegoats for all the rest? You, your assistant, the
superintendent, and all your hospital rabble, are immeasurably
inferior to every one of us morally; why then are we shut up and
you not? Where's the logic of it?"
"Morality and logic don't come in, it all depends on chance. If
anyone is shut up he has to stay, and if anyone is not shut up he
can walk about, that's all. There is neither morality nor logic in
my being a doctor and your being a mental patient, there is nothing
but idle chance."
"That twaddle I don't understand. . ." Ivan Dmitritch brought out
in a hollow voice, and he sat down on his bed.
Moiseika, whom Nikita did not venture to search in the presence of
the doctor, laid out on his bed pieces of bread, bits of paper, and
little bones, and, still shivering with cold, began rapidly in a
singsong voice saying something in Yiddish. He most likely imagined
that he had opened a shop.
"Let me out," said Ivan Dmitritch, and his voice quivered.
"But why, why?"
"Because it is not in my power. Think, what use will it be to you
if I do let you out? Go. The townspeople or the police will detain
you or bring you back."
"Yes, yes, that's true," said Ivan Dmitritch, and he rubbed his
forehead. "It's awful! But what am I to do, what?"
Andrey Yefimitch liked Ivan Dmitritch's voice and his intelligent
young face with its grimaces. He longed to be kind to the young man
and soothe him; he sat down on the bed beside him, thought, and
"You ask me what to do. The very best thing in your position would
be to run away. But, unhappily, that is useless. You would be taken
up. When society protects itself from the criminal, mentally deranged,
or otherwise inconvenient people, it is invincible. There is only
one thing left for you: to resign yourself to the thought that your
presence here is inevitable."
"It is no use to anyone."
"So long as prisons and madhouses exist someone must be shut up in
them. If not you, I. If not I, some third person. Wait till in the
distant future prisons and madhouses no longer exist, and there
will be neither bars on the windows nor hospital gowns. Of course,
that time will come sooner or later."
Ivan Dmitritch smiled ironically.
"You are jesting," he said, screwing up his eyes. "Such gentlemen
as you and your assistant Nikita have nothing to do with the future,
but you may be sure, sir, better days will come! I may express
myself cheaply, you may laugh, but the dawn of a new life is at
hand; truth and justice will triumph, and--our turn will come! I
shall not live to see it, I shall perish, but some people's
great-grandsons will see it. I greet them with all my heart and
rejoice, rejoice with them! Onward! God be your help, friends!"
With shining eyes Ivan Dmitritch got up, and stretching his hands
towards the window, went on with emotion in his voice:
"From behind these bars I bless you! Hurrah for truth and justice!
"I see no particular reason to rejoice," said Andrey Yefimitch, who
thought Ivan Dmitritch's movement theatrical, though he was delighted
by it. "Prisons and madhouses there will not be, and truth, as you
have just expressed it, will triumph; but the reality of things,
you know, will not change, the laws of nature will still remain the
same. People will suffer pain, grow old, and die just as they do
now. However magnificent a dawn lighted up your life, you would yet
in the end be nailed up in a coffin and thrown into a hole."
"Oh, come, now!"
"You don't believe in it, but I do. Somebody in Dostoevsky or
Voltaire said that if there had not been a God men would have
invented him. And I firmly believe that if there is no immortality
the great intellect of man will sooner or later invent it."
"Well said," observed Andrey Yefimitch, smiling with pleasure; its
a good thing you have faith. With such a belief one may live happily
even shut up within walls. You have studied somewhere, I presume?"
"Yes, I have been at the university, but did not complete my studies."
"You are a reflecting and a thoughtful man. In any surroundings you
can find tranquillity in yourself. Free and deep thinking which
strives for the comprehension of life, and complete contempt for
the foolish bustle of the world--those are two blessings beyond
any that man has ever known. And you can possess them even though
you lived behind threefold bars. Diogenes lived in a tub, yet he
was happier than all the kings of the earth."
"Your Diogenes was a blockhead," said Ivan Dmitritch morosely. "Why
do you talk to me about Diogenes and some foolish comprehension of
life?" he cried, growing suddenly angry and leaping up. "I love
life; I love it passionately. I have the mania of persecution, a
continual agonizing terror; but I have moments when I am overwhelmed
by the thirst for life, and then I am afraid of going mad. I want
dreadfully to live, dreadfully!"
He walked up and down the ward in agitation, and said, dropping his
"When I dream I am haunted by phantoms. People come to me, I hear
voices and music, and I fancy I am walking through woods or by the
seashore, and I long so passionately for movement, for interests
. . . . Come, tell me, what news is there?" asked Ivan Dmitritch;
"Do you wish to know about the town or in general?"
"Well, tell me first about the town, and then in general."
"Well, in the town it is appallingly dull. . . . There's no one to
say a word to, no one to listen to. There are no new people. A young
doctor called Hobotov has come here recently."
"He had come in my time. Well, he is a low cad, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is a man of no culture. It's strange, you know. . . .
Judging by every sign, there is no intellectual stagnation in our
capital cities; there is a movement--so there must be real people
there too; but for some reason they always send us such men as I
would rather not see. It's an unlucky town!"
"Yes, it is an unlucky town," sighed Ivan Dmitritch, and he laughed.
"And how are things in general? What are they writing in the papers
It was by now dark in the ward. The doctor got up, and, standing,
began to describe what was being written abroad and in Russia, and
the tendency of thought that could be noticed now. Ivan Dmitritch
listened attentively and put questions, but suddenly, as though
recalling something terrible, clutched at his head and lay down on
the bed with his back to the doctor.
"What's the matter?" asked Andrey Yefimitch.
"You will not hear another word from me," said Ivan Dmitritch rudely.
"Leave me alone."
"I tell you, leave me alone. Why the devil do you persist?"
Andrey Yefimitch shrugged his shoulders, heaved a sigh, and went
out. As he crossed the entry he said: "You might clear up here,
Nikita . . . there's an awfully stuffy smell."
"Certainly, your honour."
"What an agreeable young man!" thought Andrey Yefimitch, going back
to his flat. "In all the years I have been living here I do believe
he is the first I have met with whom one can talk. He is capable
of reasoning and is interested in just the right things."
While he was reading, and afterwards, while he was going to bed,
he kept thinking about Ivan Dmitritch, and when he woke next morning
he remembered that he had the day before made the acquaintance of
an intelligent and interesting man, and determined to visit him
again as soon as possible.
Ivan Dmitritch was lying in the same position as on the previous
day, with his head clutched in both hands and his legs drawn up.
His face was not visible.
"Good-day, my friend," said Andrey Yefimitch. "You are not asleep,
"In the first place, I am not your friend," Ivan Dmitritch articulated
into the pillow; "and in the second, your efforts are useless; you
will not get one word out of me."
"Strange," muttered Andrey Yefimitch in confusion. "Yesterday we
talked peacefully, but suddenly for some reason you took offence
and broke off all at once. . . . Probably I expressed myself
awkwardly, or perhaps gave utterance to some idea which did not fit
in with your convictions. . . ."
"Yes, a likely idea!" said Ivan Dmitritch, sitting up and looking
at the doctor with irony and uneasiness. His eyes were red. "You
can go and spy and probe somewhere else, it's no use your doing it
here. I knew yesterday what you had come for."
"A strange fancy," laughed the doctor. "So you suppose me to be a
"Yes, I do. . . . A spy or a doctor who has been charged to test
me--it's all the same ----"
"Oh excuse me, what a queer fellow you are really!"
The doctor sat down on the stool near the bed and shook his head
"But let us suppose you are right," he said, "let us suppose that
I am treacherously trying to trap you into saying something so as
to betray you to the police. You would be arrested and then tried.
But would you be any worse off being tried and in prison than you
are here? If you are banished to a settlement, or even sent to penal
servitude, would it be worse than being shut up in this ward? I
imagine it would be no worse. . . . What, then, are you afraid of?"
These words evidently had an effect on Ivan Dmitritch. He sat down
It was between four and five in the afternoon--the time when
Andrey Yefimitch usually walked up and down his rooms, and Daryushka
asked whether it was not time for his beer. It was a still, bright
"I came out for a walk after dinner, and here I have come, as you
see," said the doctor. "It is quite spring."
"What month is it? March?" asked Ivan Dmitritch.
"Yes, the end of March."
"Is it very muddy?"
"No, not very. There are already paths in the garden."
"It would be nice now to drive in an open carriage somewhere into
the country," said Ivan Dmitritch, rubbing his red eyes as though
he were just awake, "then to come home to a warm, snug study, and
. . . and to have a decent doctor to cure one's headache. . . .
It's so long since I have lived like a human being. It's disgusting
here! Insufferably disgusting!"
After his excitement of the previous day he was exhausted and
listless, and spoke unwillingly. His fingers twitched, and from his
face it could be seen that he had a splitting headache.
"There is no real difference between a warm, snug study and this
ward," said Andrey Yefimitch. "A man's peace and contentment do not
lie outside a man, but in himself."
"What do you mean?"
"The ordinary man looks for good and evil in external things--
that is, in carriages, in studies--but a thinking man looks for
it in himself."
"You should go and preach that philosophy in Greece, where it's
warm and fragrant with the scent of pomegranates, but here it is
not suited to the climate. With whom was it I was talking of Diogenes?
Was it with you?"
"Yes, with me yesterday."
"Diogenes did not need a study or a warm habitation; it's hot there
without. You can lie in your tub and eat oranges and olives. But
bring him to Russia to live: he'd be begging to be let indoors in
May, let alone December. He'd be doubled up with the cold."
"No. One can be insensible to cold as to every other pain. Marcus
Aurelius says: 'A pain is a vivid idea of pain; make an effort of
will to change that idea, dismiss it, cease to complain, and the
pain will disappear.' That is true. The wise man, or simply the
reflecting, thoughtful man, is distinguished precisely by his
contempt for suffering; he is always contented and surprised at
"Then I am an idiot, since I suffer and am discontented and surprised
at the baseness of mankind."
"You are wrong in that; if you will reflect more on the subject you
will understand how insignificant is all that external world that
agitates us. One must strive for the comprehension of life, and in
that is true happiness."
"Comprehension . . ." repeated Ivan Dmitritch frowning. "External,
internal. . . . Excuse me, but I don t understand it. I only know,"
he said, getting up and looking angrily at the doctor--"I only
know that God has created me of warm blood and nerves, yes, indeed!
If organic tissue is capable of life it must react to every stimulus.
And I do! To pain I respond with tears and outcries, to baseness
with indignation, to filth with loathing. To my mind, that is just
what is called life. The lower the organism, the less sensitive it
is, and the more feebly it reacts to stimulus; and the higher it
is, the more responsively and vigorously it reacts to reality. How
is it you don't know that? A doctor, and not know such trifles! To
despise suffering, to be always contented, and to be surprised at
nothing, one must reach this condition"--and Ivan Dmitritch pointed
to the peasant who was a mass of fat--"or to harden oneself by
suffering to such a point that one loses all sensibility to it--
that is, in other words, to cease to live. You must excuse me, I
am not a sage or a philosopher," Ivan Dmitritch continued with
irritation, "and I don't understand anything about it. I am not
capable of reasoning."
"On the contrary, your reasoning is excellent."
"The Stoics, whom you are parodying, were remarkable people, but
their doctrine crystallized two thousand years ago and has not
advanced, and will not advance, an inch forward, since it is not
practical or living. It had a success only with the minority which
spends its life in savouring all sorts of theories and ruminating
over them; the majority did not understand it. A doctrine which
advocates indifference to wealth and to the comforts of life, and
a contempt for suffering and death, is quite unintelligible to the
vast majority of men, since that majority has never known wealth
or the comforts of life; and to despise suffering would mean to it
despising life itself, since the whole existence of man is made up
of the sensations of hunger, cold, injury, and a Hamlet-like dread
of death. The whole of life lies in these sensations; one may be
oppressed by it, one may hate it, but one cannot despise it. Yes,
so, I repeat, the doctrine of the Stoics can never have a future;
from the beginning of time up to to-day you see continually increasing
the struggle, the sensibility to pain, the capacity of responding
Ivan Dmitritch suddenly lost the thread of his thoughts, stopped,
and rubbed his forehead with vexation.
"I meant to say something important, but I have lost it," he said.
"What was I saying? Oh, yes! This is what I mean: one of the Stoics
sold himself into slavery to redeem his neighbour, so, you see,
even a Stoic did react to stimulus, since, for such a generous act
as the destruction of oneself for the sake of one's neighbour, he
must have had a soul capable of pity and indignation. Here in prison
I have forgotten everything I have learned, or else I could have
recalled something else. Take Christ, for instance: Christ responded
to reality by weeping, smiling, being sorrowful and moved to wrath,
even overcome by misery. He did not go to meet His sufferings with
a smile, He did not despise death, but prayed in the Garden of
Gethsemane that this cup might pass Him by."
Ivan Dmitritch laughed and sat down.
"Granted that a man's peace and contentment lie not outside but in
himself," he said, "granted that one must despise suffering and not
be surprised at anything, yet on what ground do you preach the
theory? Are you a sage? A philosopher?"
"No, I am not a philosopher, but everyone ought to preach it because
it is reasonable."
"No, I want to know how it is that you consider yourself competent
to judge of 'comprehension,' contempt for suffering, and so on.
Have you ever suffered? Have you any idea of suffering? Allow me
to ask you, were you ever thrashed in your childhood?"
"No, my parents had an aversion for corporal punishment."
"My father used to flog me cruelly; my father was a harsh, sickly
Government clerk with a long nose and a yellow neck. But let us
talk of you. No one has laid a finger on you all your life, no one
has scared you nor beaten you; you are as strong as a bull. You
grew up under your father's wing and studied at his expense, and
then you dropped at once into a sinecure. For more than twenty years
you have lived rent free with heating, lighting, and service all
provided, and had the right to work how you pleased and as much as
you pleased, even to do nothing. You were naturally a flabby, lazy
man, and so you have tried to arrange your life so that nothing
should disturb you or make you move. You have handed over your work
to the assistant and the rest of the rabble while you sit in peace
and warmth, save money, read, amuse yourself with reflections, with
all sorts of lofty nonsense, and" (Ivan Dmitritch looked at the
doctor's red nose) "with boozing; in fact, you have seen nothing
of life, you know absolutely nothing of it, and are only theoretically
acquainted with reality; you despise suffering and are surprised
at nothing for a very simple reason: vanity of vanities, the external
and the internal, contempt for life, for suffering and for death,
comprehension, true happiness--that's the philosophy that suits
the Russian sluggard best. You see a peasant beating his wife, for
instance. Why interfere? Let him beat her, they will both die sooner
or later, anyway; and, besides, he who beats injures by his blows,
not the person he is beating, but himself. To get drunk is stupid
and unseemly, but if you drink you die, and if you don't drink you
die. A peasant woman comes with toothache . . . well, what of it?
Pain is the idea of pain, and besides 'there is no living in this
world without illness; we shall all die, and so, go away, woman,
don't hinder me from thinking and drinking vodka.' A young man asks
advice, what he is to do, how he is to live; anyone else would think
before answering, but you have got the answer ready: strive for
'comprehension' or for true happiness. And what is that fantastic
'true happiness'? There's no answer, of course. We are kept here
behind barred windows, tortured, left to rot; but that is very good
and reasonable, because there is no difference at all between this
ward and a warm, snug study. A convenient philosophy. You can do
nothing, and your conscience is clear, and you feel you are wise
. . . . No, sir, it is not philosophy, it's not thinking, it's not
breadth of vision, but laziness, fakirism, drowsy stupefaction.
Yes," cried Ivan Dmitritch, getting angry again, "you despise
suffering, but I'll be bound if you pinch your finger in the door
you will howl at the top of your voice."
"And perhaps I shouldn't howl," said Andrey Yefimitch, with a gentle
"Oh, I dare say! Well, if you had a stroke of paralysis, or supposing
some fool or bully took advantage of his position and rank to insult
you in public, and if you knew he could do it with impunity, then
you would understand what it means to put people off with comprehension
and true happiness."
"That's original," said Andrey Yefimitch, laughing with pleasure
and rubbing his hands. "I am agreeably struck by your inclination
for drawing generalizations, and the sketch of my character you
have just drawn is simply brilliant. I must confess that talking
to you gives me great pleasure. Well, I've listened to you, and now
you must graciously listen to me."
The conversation went on for about an hour longer, and apparently
made a deep impression on Andrey Yefimitch. He began going to the
ward every day. He went there in the mornings and after dinner, and
often the dusk of evening found him in conversation with Ivan
Dmitritch. At first Ivan Dmitritch held aloof from him, suspected
him of evil designs, and openly expressed his hostility. But
afterwards he got used to him, and his abrupt manner changed to one
of condescending irony.
Soon it was all over the hospital that the doctor, Andrey Yefimitch,
had taken to visiting Ward No. 6. No one--neither Sergey Sergevitch,
nor Nikita, nor the nurses--could conceive why he went there, why
he stayed there for hours together, what he was talking about, and
why he did not write prescriptions. His actions seemed strange.
Often Mihail Averyanitch did not find him at home, which had never
happened in the past, and Daryushka was greatly perturbed, for the
doctor drank his beer now at no definite time, and sometimes was
even late for dinner.
One day--it was at the end of June--Dr. Hobotov went to see
Andrey Yefimitch about something. Not finding him at home, he
proceeded to look for him in the yard; there he was told that the
old doctor had gone to see the mental patients. Going into the lodge
and stopping in the entry, Hobotov heard the following conversation:
"We shall never agree, and you will not succeed in converting me
to your faith," Ivan Dmitritch was saying irritably; "you are utterly
ignorant of reality, and you have never known suffering, but have
only like a leech fed beside the sufferings of others, while I have
been in continual suffering from the day of my birth till to-day.
For that reason, I tell you frankly, I consider myself superior to
you and more competent in every respect. It's not for you to teach
"I have absolutely no ambition to convert you to my faith," said
Andrey Yefimitch gently, and with regret that the other refused to
understand him. "And that is not what matters, my friend; what
matters is not that you have suffered and I have not. Joy and
suffering are passing; let us leave them, never mind them. What
matters is that you and I think; we see in each other people who
are capable of thinking and reasoning, and that is a common bond
between us however different our views. If you knew, my friend, how
sick I am of the universal senselessness, ineptitude, stupidity,
and with what delight I always talk with you! You are an intelligent
man, and I enjoyed your company."
Hobotov opened the door an inch and glanced into the ward; Ivan
Dmitritch in his night-cap and the doctor Andrey Yefimitch were
sitting side by side on the bed. The madman was grimacing, twitching,
and convulsively wrapping himself in his gown, while the doctor sat
motionless with bowed head, and his face was red and look helpless
and sorrowful. Hobotov shrugged his shoulders, grinned, and glanced
at Nikita. Nikita shrugged his shoulders too.
Next day Hobotov went to the lodge, accompanied by the assistant.
Both stood in the entry and listened.
"I fancy our old man has gone clean off his chump!" said Hobotov
as he came out of the lodge.
"Lord have mercy upon us sinners!" sighed the decorous Sergey
Sergeyitch, scrupulously avoiding the puddles that he might not
muddy his polished boots. "I must own, honoured Yevgeny Fyodoritch,
I have been expecting it for a long time."
After this Andrey Yefimitch began to notice a mysterious air in all
around him. The attendants, the nurses, and the patients looked at
him inquisitively when they met him, and then whispered together.
The superintendent's little daughter Masha, whom he liked to meet
in the hospital garden, for some reason ran away from him now when
he went up with a smile to stroke her on the head. The postmaster
no longer said, "Perfectly true," as he listened to him, but in
unaccountable confusion muttered, "Yes, yes, yes . . ." and looked
at him with a grieved and thoughtful expression; for some reason
he took to advising his friend to give up vodka and beer, but as a
man of delicate feeling he did not say this directly, but hinted
it, telling him first about the commanding officer of his battalion,
an excellent man, and then about the priest of the regiment, a
capital fellow, both of whom drank and fell ill, but on giving up
drinking completely regained their health. On two or three occasions
Andrey Yefimitch was visited by his colleague Hobotov, who also
advised him to give up spirituous liquors, and for no apparent
reason recommended him to take bromide.
In August Andrey Yefimitch got a letter from the mayor of the town
asking him to come on very important business. On arriving at the
town hall at the time fixed, Andrey Yefimitch found there the
military commander, the superintendent of the district school, a
member of the town council, Hobotov, and a plump, fair gentleman
who was introduced to him as a doctor. This doctor, with a Polish
surname difficult to pronounce, lived at a pedigree stud-farm twenty
miles away, and was now on a visit to the town.
"There's something that concerns you," said the member of the town
council, addressing Andrey Yefimitch after they had all greeted one
another and sat down to the table. "Here Yevgeny Fyodoritch says
that there is not room for the dispensary in the main building, and
that it ought to be transferred to one of the lodges. That's of no
consequence--of course it can be transferred, but the point is
that the lodge wants doing up."
"Yes, it would have to be done up," said Andrey Yefimitch after a
moment's thought. "If the corner lodge, for instance, were fitted
up as a dispensary, I imagine it would cost at least five hundred
roubles. An unproductive expenditure!"
Everyone was silent for a space.
"I had the honour of submitting to you ten years ago," Andrey
Yefimitch went on in a low voice, "that the hospital in its present
form is a luxury for the town beyond its means. It was built in the
forties, but things were different then. The town spends too much
on unnecessary buildings and superfluous staff. I believe with a
different system two model hospitals might be maintained for the
"Well, let us have a different system, then!" the member of the
town council said briskly.
"I have already had the honour of submitting to you that the medical
department should be transferred to the supervision of the Zemstvo."
"Yes, transfer the money to the Zemstvo and they will steal it,"
laughed the fair-haired doctor.
"That's what it always comes to," the member of the council assented,
and he also laughed.
Andrey Yefimitch looked with apathetic, lustreless eyes at the
fair-haired doctor and said: "One should be just."
Again there was silence. Tea was brought in. The military commander,
for some reason much embarrassed, touched Andrey Yefimitch's hand
across the table and said: "You have quite forgotten us, doctor.
But of course you are a hermit: you don't play cards and don't like
women. You would be dull with fellows like us."
They all began saying how boring it was for a decent person to live
in such a town. No theatre, no music, and at the last dance at the
club there had been about twenty ladies and only two gentlemen. The
young men did not dance, but spent all the time crowding round the
refreshment bar or playing cards.
Not looking at anyone and speaking slowly in a low voice, Andrey
Yefimitch began saying what a pity, what a terrible pity it was
that the townspeople should waste their vital energy, their hearts,
and their minds on cards and gossip, and should have neither the
power nor the inclination to spend their time in interesting
conversation and reading, and should refuse to take advantage of
the enjoyments of the mind. The mind alone was interesting and
worthy of attention, all the rest was low and petty. Hobotov listened
to his colleague attentively and suddenly asked:
"Andrey Yefimitch, what day of the month is it?"
Having received an answer, the fair-haired doctor and he, in the
tone of examiners conscious of their lack of skill, began asking
Andrey Yefimitch what was the day of the week, how many days there
were in the year, and whether it was true that there was a remarkable
prophet living in Ward No. 6.
In response to the last question Andrey Yefimitch turned rather red
and said: "Yes, he is mentally deranged, but he is an interesting
They asked him no other questions.
When he was putting on his overcoat in the entry, the military
commander laid a hand on his shoulder and said with a sigh:
"It's time for us old fellows to rest!"
As he came out of the hall, Andrey Yefimitch understood that it had
been a committee appointed to enquire into his mental condition.
He recalled the questions that had been asked him, flushed crimson,
and for some reason, for the first time in his life, felt bitterly
grieved for medical science.
"My God. . ." he thought, remembering how these doctors had just
examined him; "why, they have only lately been hearing lectures on
mental pathology; they had passed an examination--what's the
explanation of this crass ignorance? They have not a conception of
And for the first time in his life he felt insulted and moved to
In the evening of the same day Mihail Averyanitch came to see him.
The postmaster went up to him without waiting to greet him, took
him by both hands, and said in an agitated voice:
"My dear fellow, my dear friend, show me that you believe in my
genuine affection and look on me as your friend!" And preventing
Andrey Yefimitch from speaking, he went on, growing excited: "I
love you for your culture and nobility of soul. Listen to me, my
dear fellow. The rules of their profession compel the doctors to
conceal the truth from you, but I blurt out the plain truth like a
soldier. You are not well! Excuse me, my dear fellow, but it is the
truth; everyone about you has been noticing it for a long time. Dr.
Yevgeny Fyodoritch has just told me that it is essential for you
to rest and distract your mind for the sake of your health. Perfectly
true! Excellent! In a day or two I am taking a holiday and am going
away for a sniff of a different atmosphere. Show that you are a
friend to me, let us go together! Let us go for a jaunt as in the
good old days."
"I feel perfectly well," said Andrey Yefimitch after a moment's
thought. "I can't go away. Allow me to show you my friendship in
some other way."
To go off with no object, without his books, without his Daryushka,
without his beer, to break abruptly through the routine of life,
established for twenty years--the idea for the first minute struck
him as wild and fantastic, but he remembered the conversation at
the Zemstvo committee and the depressing feelings with which he had
returned home, and the thought of a brief absence from the town in
which stupid people looked on him as a madman was pleasant to him.
"And where precisely do you intend to go?" he asked.
"To Moscow, to Petersburg, to Warsaw. . . . I spent the five happiest
years of my life in Warsaw. What a marvellous town! Let us go, my
A week later it was suggested to Andrey Yefimitch that he should
have a rest--that is, send in his resignation--a suggestion he
received with indifference, and a week later still, Mihail Averyanitch
and he were sitting in a posting carriage driving to the nearest
railway station. The days were cool and bright, with a blue sky and
a transparent distance. They were two days driving the hundred and
fifty miles to the railway station, and stayed two nights on the
way. When at the posting station the glasses given them for their
tea had not been properly washed, or the drivers were slow in
harnessing the horses, Mihail Averyanitch would turn crimson, and
quivering all over would shout:
"Hold your tongue! Don't argue!"
And in the carriage he talked without ceasing for a moment, describing
his campaigns in the Caucasus and in Poland. What adventures he had
had, what meetings! He talked loudly and opened his eyes so wide
with wonder that he might well be thought to be lying. Moreover,
as he talked he breathed in Andrey Yefimitch's face and laughed
into his ear. This bothered the doctor and prevented him from
thinking or concentrating his mind.
In the train they travelled, from motives of economy, third-class
in a non-smoking compartment. Half the passengers were decent people.
Mihail Averyanitch soon made friends with everyone, and moving from
one seat to another, kept saying loudly that they ought not to
travel by these appalling lines. It was a regular swindle! A very
different thing riding on a good horse: one could do over seventy
miles a day and feel fresh and well after it. And our bad harvests
were due to the draining of the Pinsk marshes; altogether, the way
things were done was dreadful. He got excited, talked loudly, and
would not let others speak. This endless chatter to the accompaniment
of loud laughter and expressive gestures wearied Andrey Yefimitch.
"Which of us is the madman?" he thought with vexation. "I, who try
not to disturb my fellow-passengers in any way, or this egoist who
thinks that he is cleverer and more interesting than anyone here,
and so will leave no one in peace?"
In Moscow Mihail Averyanitch put on a military coat without epaulettes
and trousers with red braid on them. He wore a military cap and
overcoat in the street, and soldiers saluted him. It seemed to
Andrey Yefimitch, now, that his companion was a man who had flung
away all that was good and kept only what was bad of all the
characteristics of a country gentleman that he had once possessed.
He liked to be waited on even when it was quite unnecessary. The
matches would be lying before him on the table, and he would see
them and shout to the waiter to give him the matches; he did not
hesitate to appear before a maidservant in nothing but his underclothes;
he used the familiar mode of address to all footmen indiscriminately,
even old men, and when he was angry called them fools and blockheads.
This, Andrey Yefimitch thought, was like a gentleman, but disgusting.
First of all Mihail Averyanitch led his friend to the Iversky
Madonna. He prayed fervently, shedding tears and bowing down to the
earth, and when he had finished, heaved a deep sigh and said:
"Even though one does not believe it makes one somehow easier when
one prays a little. Kiss the ikon, my dear fellow."
Andrey Yefimitch was embarrassed and he kissed the image, while
Mihail Averyanitch pursed up his lips and prayed in a whisper, and
again tears came into his eyes. Then they went to the Kremlin and
looked there at the Tsar-cannon and the Tsar-bell, and even touched
them with their fingers, admired the view over the river, visited
St. Saviour's and the Rumyantsev museum.
They dined at Tyestov's. Mihail Averyanitch looked a long time at
the menu, stroking his whiskers, and said in the tone of a gourmand
accustomed to dine in restaurants:
"We shall see what you give us to eat to-day, angel!"
The doctor walked about, looked at things, ate and drank, but he
had all the while one feeling: annoyance with Mihail Averyanitch.
He longed to have a rest from his friend, to get away from him, to
hide himself, while the friend thought it was his duty not to let
the doctor move a step away from him, and to provide him with as
many distractions as possible. When there was nothing to look at
he entertained him with conversation. For two days Andrey Yefimitch
endured it, but on the third he announced to his friend that he was
ill and wanted to stay at home for the whole day; his friend replied
that in that case he would stay too--that really he needed rest,
for he was run off his legs already. Andrey Yefimitch lay on the
sofa, with his face to the back, and clenching his teeth, listened
to his friend, who assured him with heat that sooner or later France
would certainly thrash Germany, that there were a great many
scoundrels in Moscow, and that it was impossible to judge of a
horse's quality by its outward appearance. The doctor began to have
a buzzing in his ears and palpitations of the heart, but out of
delicacy could not bring himself to beg his friend to go away or
hold his tongue. Fortunately Mihail Averyanitch grew weary of sitting
in the hotel room, and after dinner he went out for a walk.
As soon as he was alone Andrey Yefimitch abandoned himself to a
feeling of relief. How pleasant to lie motionless on the sofa and
to know that one is alone in the room! Real happiness is impossible
without solitude. The fallen angel betrayed God probably because
he longed for solitude, of which the angels know nothing. Andrey
Yefimitch wanted to think about what he had seen and heard during
the last few days, but he could not get Mihail Averyanitch out of
"Why, he has taken a holiday and come with me out of friendship,
out of generosity," thought the doctor with vexation; "nothing could
be worse than this friendly supervision. I suppose he is good-natured
and generous and a lively fellow, but he is a bore. An insufferable
bore. In the same way there are people who never say anything but
what is clever and good, yet one feels that they are dull-witted
For the following days Andrey Yefimitch declared himself ill and
would not leave the hotel room; he lay with his face to the back
of the sofa, and suffered agonies of weariness when his friend
entertained him with conversation, or rested when his friend was
absent. He was vexed with himself for having come, and with his
friend, who grew every day more talkative and more free-and-easy;
he could not succeed in attuning his thoughts to a serious and lofty
"This is what I get from the real life Ivan Dmitritch talked about,"
he thought, angry at his own pettiness. "It's of no consequence,
though. . . . I shall go home, and everything will go on as
before . . . ."
It was the same thing in Petersburg too; for whole days together
he did not leave the hotel room, but lay on the sofa and only got
up to drink beer.
Mihail Averyanitch was all haste to get to Warsaw.
"My dear man, what should I go there for?" said Andrey Yefimitch
in an imploring voice. "You go alone and let me get home! I entreat
"On no account," protested Mihail Averyanitch. "It's a marvellous
Andrey Yefimitch had not the strength of will to insist on his own
way, and much against his inclination went to Warsaw. There he did
not leave the hotel room, but lay on the sofa, furious with himself,
with his friend, and with the waiters, who obstinately refused to
understand Russian; while Mihail Averyanitch, healthy, hearty, and
full of spirits as usual, went about the town from morning to night,
looking for his old acquaintances. Several times he did not return
home at night. After one night spent in some unknown haunt he
returned home early in the morning, in a violently excited condition,
with a red face and tousled hair. For a long time he walked up and
down the rooms muttering something to himself, then stopped and
"Honour before everything."
After walking up and down a little longer he clutched his head in
both hands and pronounced in a tragic voice: "Yes, honour before
everything! Accursed be the moment when the idea first entered my
head to visit this Babylon! My dear friend," he added, addressing
the doctor, "you may despise me, I have played and lost; lend me
five hundred roubles!"
Andrey Yefimitch counted out five hundred roubles and gave them to
his friend without a word. The latter, still crimson with shame and
anger, incoherently articulated some useless vow, put on his cap,
and went out. Returning two hours later he flopped into an easy-chair,
heaved a loud sigh, and said:
"My honour is saved. Let us go, my friend; I do not care to remain
another hour in this accursed town. Scoundrels! Austrian spies!"
By the time the friends were back in their own town it was November,
and deep snow was lying in the streets. Dr. Hobotov had Andrey
Yefimitch's post; he was still living in his old lodgings, waiting
for Andrey Yefimitch to arrive and clear out of the hospital
apartments. The plain woman whom he called his cook was already
established in one of the lodges.
Fresh scandals about the hospital were going the round of the town.
It was said that the plain woman had quarrelled with the superintendent,
and that the latter had crawled on his knees before her begging
forgiveness. On the very first day he arrived Andrey Yefimitch had
to look out for lodgings.
"My friend," the postmaster said to him timidly, "excuse an indiscreet
question: what means have you at your disposal?"
Andrey Yefimitch, without a word, counted out his money and said:
"I don't mean that," Mihail Averyanitch brought out in confusion,
misunderstanding him; "I mean, what have you to live on?"
"I tell you, eighty-six roubles . . . I have nothing else."
Mihail Averyanitch looked upon the doctor as an honourable man, yet
he suspected that he had accumulated a fortune of at least twenty
thousand. Now learning that Andrey Yefimitch was a beggar, that he
had nothing to live on he was for some reason suddenly moved to
tears and embraced his friend.
Andrey Yefimitch now lodged in a little house with three windows.
There were only three rooms besides the kitchen in the little house.
The doctor lived in two of them which looked into the street, while
Daryushka and the landlady with her three children lived in the
third room and the kitchen. Sometimes the landlady's lover, a drunken
peasant who was rowdy and reduced the children and Daryushka to
terror, would come for the night. When he arrived and established
himself in the kitchen and demanded vodka, they all felt very
uncomfortable, and the doctor would be moved by pity to take the
crying children into his room and let them lie on his floor, and
this gave him great satisfaction.
He got up as before at eight o'clock, and after his morning tea sat
down to read his old books and magazines: he had no money for new
ones. Either because the books were old, or perhaps because of the
change in his surroundings, reading exhausted him, and did not grip
his attention as before. That he might not spend his time in idleness
he made a detailed catalogue of his books and gummed little labels
on their backs, and this mechanical, tedious work seemed to him
more interesting than reading. The monotonous, tedious work lulled
his thoughts to sleep in some unaccountable way, and the time passed
quickly while he thought of nothing. Even sitting in the kitchen,
peeling potatoes with Daryushka or picking over the buckwheat grain,
seemed to him interesting. On Saturdays and Sundays he went to
church. Standing near the wall and half closing his eyes, he listened
to the singing and thought of his father, of his mother, of the
university, of the religions of the world; he felt calm and melancholy,
and as he went out of the church afterwards he regretted that the
service was so soon over. He went twice to the hospital to talk to
Ivan Dmitritch. But on both occasions Ivan Dmitritch was unusually
excited and ill-humoured; he bade the doctor leave him in peace,
as he had long been sick of empty chatter, and declared, to make
up for all his sufferings, he asked from the damned scoundrels only
one favour--solitary confinement. Surely they would not refuse
him even that? On both occasions when Andrey Yefimitch was taking
leave of him and wishing him good-night, he answered rudely and
"Go to hell!"
And Andrey Yefimitch did not know now whether to go to him for the
third time or not. He longed to go.
In old days Andrey Yefimitch used to walk about his rooms and think
in the interval after dinner, but now from dinner-time till evening
tea he lay on the sofa with his face to the back and gave himself
up to trivial thoughts which he could not struggle against. He was
mortified that after more than twenty years of service he had been
given neither a pension nor any assistance. It is true that he had
not done his work honestly, but, then, all who are in the Service
get a pension without distinction whether they are honest or not.
Contemporary justice lies precisely in the bestowal of grades,
orders, and pensions, not for moral qualities or capacities, but
for service whatever it may have been like. Why was he alone to be
an exception? He had no money at all. He was ashamed to pass by the
shop and look at the woman who owned it. He owed thirty-two roubles
for beer already. There was money owing to the landlady also.
Daryushka sold old clothes and books on the sly, and told lies to
the landlady, saying that the doctor was just going to receive a
large sum of money.
He was angry with himself for having wasted on travelling the
thousand roubles he had saved up. How useful that thousand roubles
would have been now! He was vexed that people would not leave him
in peace. Hobotov thought it his duty to look in on his sick colleague
from time to time. Everything about him was revolting to Andrey
Yefimitch--his well-fed face and vulgar, condescending tone, and
his use of the word "colleague," and his high top-boots; the most
revolting thing was that he thought it was his duty to treat Andrey
Yefimitch, and thought that he really was treating him. On every
visit he brought a bottle of bromide and rhubarb pills.
Mihail Averyanitch, too, thought it his duty to visit his friend
and entertain him. Every time he went in to Andrey Yefimitch with
an affectation of ease, laughed constrainedly, and began assuring
him that he was looking very well to-day, and that, thank God, he
was on the highroad to recovery, and from this it might be concluded
that he looked on his friend's condition as hopeless. He had not
yet repaid his Warsaw debt, and was overwhelmed by shame; he was
constrained, and so tried to laugh louder and talk more amusingly.
His anecdotes and descriptions seemed endless now, and were an agony
both to Andrey Yefimitch and himself.
In his presence Andrey Yefimitch usually lay on the sofa with his
face to the wall, and listened with his teeth clenched; his soul
was oppressed with rankling disgust, and after every visit from his
friend he felt as though this disgust had risen higher, and was
mounting into his throat.
To stifle petty thoughts he made haste to reflect that he himself,
and Hobotov, and Mihail Averyanitch, would all sooner or later
perish without leaving any trace on the world. If one imagined some
spirit flying by the earthly globe in space in a million years he
would see nothing but clay and bare rocks. Everything--culture
and the moral law--would pass away and not even a burdock would
grow out of them. Of what consequence was shame in the presence of
a shopkeeper, of what consequence was the insignificant Hobotov or
the wearisome friendship of Mihail Averyanitch? It was all trivial
But such reflections did not help him now. Scarcely had he imagined
the earthly globe in a million years, when Hobotov in his high
top-boots or Mihail Averyanitch with his forced laugh would appear
from behind a bare rock, and he even heard the shamefaced whisper:
"The Warsaw debt. . . . I will repay it in a day or two, my dear
fellow, without fail. . . ."
One day Mihail Averyanitch came after dinner when Andrey Yefimitch
was lying on the sofa. It so happened that Hobotov arrived at the
same time with his bromide. Andrey Yefimitch got up heavily and sat
down, leaning both arms on the sofa.
"You have a much better colour to-day than you had yesterday, my
dear man," began Mihail Averyanitch. "Yes, you look jolly. Upon my
soul, you do!"
"It's high time you were well, dear colleague," said Hobotov,
yawning. "I'll be bound, you are sick of this bobbery."
"And we shall recover," said Mihail Averyanitch cheerfully. "We
shall live another hundred years! To be sure!"
"Not a hundred years, but another twenty," Hobotov said reassuringly.
"It's all right, all right, colleague; don't lose heart. . . . Don't
go piling it on!"
"We'll show what we can do," laughed Mihail Averyanitch, and he
slapped his friend on the knee. "We'll show them yet! Next summer,
please God, we shall be off to the Caucasus, and we will ride all
over it on horseback--trot, trot, trot! And when we are back from
the Caucasus I shouldn't wonder if we will all dance at the wedding."
Mihail Averyanitch gave a sly wink. "We'll marry you, my dear boy,
we'll marry you. . . ."
Andrey Yefimitch felt suddenly that the rising disgust had mounted
to his throat, his heart began beating violently.
"That's vulgar," he said, getting up quickly and walking away to
the window. "Don't you understand that you are talking vulgar
He meant to go on softly and politely, but against his will he
suddenly clenched his fists and raised them above his head.
"Leave me alone," he shouted in a voice unlike his own, blushing
crimson and shaking all over. "Go away, both of you!"
Mihail Averyanitch and Hobotov got up and stared at him first with
amazement and then with alarm.
"Go away, both!" Andrey Yefimitch went on shouting. "Stupid people!
Foolish people! I don't want either your friendship or your medicines,
stupid man! Vulgar! Nasty!"
Hobotov and Mihail Averyanitch, looking at each other in bewilderment,
staggered to the door and went out. Andrey Yefimitch snatched up
the bottle of bromide and flung it after them; the bottle broke
with a crash on the door-frame.
"Go to the devil!" he shouted in a tearful voice, running out into
the passage. "To the devil!"
When his guests were gone Andrey Yefimitch lay down on the sofa,
trembling as though in a fever, and went on for a long while
repeating: "Stupid people! Foolish people!"
When he was calmer, what occurred to him first of all was the thought
that poor Mihail Averyanitch must be feeling fearfully ashamed and
depressed now, and that it was all dreadful. Nothing like this had
ever happened to him before. Where was his intelligence and his
tact? Where was his comprehension of things and his philosophical
The doctor could not sleep all night for shame and vexation with
himself, and at ten o'clock next morning he went to the post office
and apologized to the postmaster.
"We won't think again of what has happened," Mihail Averyanitch,
greatly touched, said with a sigh, warmly pressing his hand. "Let
bygones be bygones. Lyubavkin," he suddenly shouted so loud that
all the postmen and other persons present started, "hand a chair;
and you wait," he shouted to a peasant woman who was stretching out
a registered letter to him through the grating. "Don't you see that
I am busy? We will not remember the past," he went on, affectionately
addressing Andrey Yefimitch; "sit down, I beg you, my dear fellow."
For a minute he stroked his knees in silence, and then said:
"I have never had a thought of taking offence. Illness is no joke,
I understand. Your attack frightened the doctor and me yesterday,
and we had a long talk about you afterwards. My dear friend, why
won't you treat your illness seriously? You can't go on like this
. . . . Excuse me speaking openly as a friend," whispered Mihail
Averyanitch. "You live in the most unfavourable surroundings, in a
crowd, in uncleanliness, no one to look after you, no money for
proper treatment. . . . My dear friend, the doctor and I implore
you with all our hearts, listen to our advice: go into the hospital!
There you will have wholesome food and attendance and treatment.
Though, between ourselves, Yevgeny Fyodoritch is _mauvais ton_, yet
he does understand his work, you can fully rely upon him. He has
promised me he will look after you."
Andrey Yefimitch was touched by the postmaster's genuine sympathy
and the tears which suddenly glittered on his cheeks.
"My honoured friend, don't believe it!" he whispered, laying his
hand on his heart; "don't believe them. It's all a sham. My illness
is only that in twenty years I have only found one intelligent man
in the whole town, and he is mad. I am not ill at all, it's simply
that I have got into an enchanted circle which there is no getting
out of. I don't care; I am ready for anything."
"Go into the hospital, my dear fellow."
"I don't care if it were into the pit."
"Give me your word, my dear man, that you will obey Yevgeny Fyodoritch
"Certainly I will give you my word. But I repeat, my honoured friend,
I have got into an enchanted circle. Now everything, even the genuine
sympathy of my friends, leads to the same thing--to my ruin. I
am going to my ruin, and I have the manliness to recognize it."
"My dear fellow, you will recover."
"What's the use of saying that?" said Andrey Yefimitch, with
irritation. "There are few men who at the end of their lives do not
experience what I am experiencing now. When you are told that you
have something such as diseased kidneys or enlarged heart, and you
begin being treated for it, or are told you are mad or a criminal
--that is, in fact, when people suddenly turn their attention to
you--you may be sure you have got into an enchanted circle from
which you will not escape. You will try to escape and make things
worse. You had better give in, for no human efforts can save you.
So it seems to me."
Meanwhile the public was crowding at the grating. That he might not
be in their way, Andrey Yefimitch got up and began to take leave.
Mihail Averyanitch made him promise on his honour once more, and
escorted him to the outer door.
Towards evening on the same day Hobotov, in his sheepskin and his
high top-boots, suddenly made his appearance, and said to Andrey
Yefimitch in a tone as though nothing had happened the day before:
"I have come on business, colleague. I have come to ask you whether
you would not join me in a consultation. Eh?"
Thinking that Hobotov wanted to distract his mind with an outing,
or perhaps really to enable him to earn something, Andrey Yefimitch
put on his coat and hat, and went out with him into the street. He
was glad of the opportunity to smooth over his fault of the previous
day and to be reconciled, and in his heart thanked Hobotov, who did
not even allude to yesterday's scene and was evidently sparing him.
One would never have expected such delicacy from this uncultured
"Where is your invalid?" asked Andrey Yefimitch.
"In the hospital. . . . I have long wanted to show him to you. A
very interesting case."
They went into the hospital yard, and going round the main building,
turned towards the lodge where the mental cases were kept, and all
this, for some reason, in silence. When they went into the lodge
Nikita as usual jumped up and stood at attention.
"One of the patients here has a lung complication." Hobotov said
in an undertone, going into the yard with Andrey Yefimitch. "You
wait here, I'll be back directly. I am going for a stethoscope."
And he went away.
It was getting dusk. Ivan Dmitritch was lying on his bed with his
face thrust unto his pillow; the paralytic was sitting motionless,
crying quietly and moving his lips. The fat peasant and the former
sorter were asleep. It was quiet.
Andrey Yefimitch sat down on Ivan Dmitritch's bed and waited. But
half an hour passed, and instead of Hobotov, Nikita came into the
ward with a dressing-gown, some underlinen, and a pair of slippers
in a heap on his arm.
"Please change your things, your honour," he said softly. "Here is
your bed; come this way," he added, pointing to an empty bedstead
which had obviously recently been brought into the ward. "It's all
right; please God, you will recover."
Andrey Yefimitch understood it all. Without saying a word he crossed
to the bed to which Nikita pointed and sat down; seeing that Nikita
was standing waiting, he undressed entirely and he felt ashamed.
Then he put on the hospital clothes; the drawers were very short,
the shirt was long, and the dressing-gown smelt of smoked fish.
"Please God, you will recover," repeated Nikita, and he gathered
up Andrey Yefimitch's clothes into his arms, went out, and shut the
door after him.
"No matter . . ." thought Andrey Yefimitch, wrapping himself in his
dressing-gown in a shamefaced way and feeling that he looked like
a convict in his new costume. "It's no matter. . . . It does not
matter whether it's a dress-coat or a uniform or this dressing-gown."
But how about his watch? And the notebook that was in the side-pocket?
And his cigarettes? Where had Nikita taken his clothes? Now perhaps
to the day of his death he would not put on trousers, a waistcoat,
and high boots. It was all somehow strange and even incomprehensible
at first. Andrey Yefimitch was even now convinced that there was
no difference between his landlady's house and Ward No. 6, that
everything in this world was nonsense and vanity of vanities. And
yet his hands were trembling, his feet were cold, and he was filled
with dread at the thought that soon Ivan Dmitritch would get up and
see that he was in a dressing-gown. He got up and walked across the
room and sat down again.
Here he had been sitting already half an hour, an hour, and he was
miserably sick of it: was it really possible to live here a day, a
week, and even years like these people? Why, he had been sitting
here, had walked about and sat down again; he could get up and look
out of window and walk from corner to corner again, and then what?
Sit so all the time, like a post, and think? No, that was scarcely
Andrey Yefimitch lay down, but at once got up, wiped the cold sweat
from his brow with his sleeve and felt that his whole face smelt
of smoked fish. He walked about again.
"It's some misunderstanding . . ." he said, turning out the palms
of his hands in perplexity. "It must be cleared up. There is a
Meanwhile Ivan Dmitritch woke up; he sat up and propped his cheeks
on his fists. He spat. Then he glanced lazily at the doctor, and
apparently for the first minute did not understand; but soon his
sleepy face grew malicious and mocking.
"Aha! so they have put you in here, too, old fellow?" he said in a
voice husky from sleepiness, screwing up one eye. "Very glad to see
you. You sucked the blood of others, and now they will suck yours.
"It's a misunderstanding . . ." Andrey Yefimitch brought out,
frightened by Ivan Dmitritch's words; he shrugged his shoulders and
repeated: "It's some misunderstanding."
Ivan Dmitritch spat again and lay down.
"Cursed life," he grumbled, "and what's bitter and insulting, this
life will not end in compensation for our sufferings, it will not
end with apotheosis as it would in an opera, but with death; peasants
will come and drag one's dead body by the arms and the legs to the
cellar. Ugh! Well, it does not matter. . . . We shall have our good
time in the other world. . . . I shall come here as a ghost from
the other world and frighten these reptiles. I'll turn their hair
Moiseika returned, and, seeing the doctor, held out his hand.
"Give me one little kopeck," he said.
Andrey Yefimitch walked away to the window and looked out into the
open country. It was getting dark, and on the horizon to the right
a cold crimson moon was mounting upwards. Not far from the hospital
fence, not much more than two hundred yards away, stood a tall white
house shut in by a stone wall. This was the prison.
"So this is real life," thought Andrey Yefimitch, and he felt
The moon and the prison, and the nails on the fence, and the far-away
flames at the bone-charring factory were all terrible. Behind him
there was the sound of a sigh. Andrey Yefimitch looked round and
saw a man with glittering stars and orders on his breast, who was
smiling and slyly winking. And this, too, seemed terrible.
Andrey Yefimitch assured himself that there was nothing special
about the moon or the prison, that even sane persons wear orders,
and that everything in time will decay and turn to earth, but he
was suddenly overcome with desire; he clutched at the grating with
both hands and shook it with all his might. The strong grating did
Then that it might not be so dreadful he went to Ivan Dmitritch's
bed and sat down.
"I have lost heart, my dear fellow," he muttered, trembling and
wiping away the cold sweat, "I have lost heart."
"You should be philosophical," said Ivan Dmitritch ironically.
"My God, my God. . . . Yes, yes. . . . You were pleased to say once
that there was no philosophy in Russia, but that all people, even
the paltriest, talk philosophy. But you know the philosophizing of
the paltriest does not harm anyone," said Andrey Yefimitch in a
tone as if he wanted to cry and complain. "Why, then, that malignant
laugh, my friend, and how can these paltry creatures help philosophizing
if they are not satisfied? For an intelligent, educated man, made
in God's image, proud and loving freedom, to have no alternative
but to be a doctor in a filthy, stupid, wretched little town, and
to spend his whole life among bottles, leeches, mustard plasters!
Quackery, narrowness, vulgarity! Oh, my God!"
"You are talking nonsense. If you don't like being a doctor you
should have gone in for being a statesman."
"I could not, I could not do anything. We are weak, my dear friend
. . . . I used to be indifferent. I reasoned boldly and soundly, but
at the first coarse touch of life upon me I have lost heart. . . .
Prostration. . . . . We are weak, we are poor creatures . . . and
you, too, my dear friend, you are intelligent, generous, you drew
in good impulses with your mother's milk, but you had hardly entered
upon life when you were exhausted and fell ill. . . . Weak, weak!"
Andrey Yefimitch was all the while at the approach of evening
tormented by another persistent sensation besides terror and the
feeling of resentment. At last he realized that he was longing for
a smoke and for beer.
"I am going out, my friend," he said. "I will tell them to bring a
light; I can't put up with this. . . . I am not equal to it. . . ."
Andrey Yefimitch went to the door and opened it, but at once Nikita
jumped up and barred his way.
"Where are you going? You can't, you can't!" he said. "It's bedtime."
"But I'm only going out for a minute to walk about the yard," said
"You can't, you can't; it's forbidden. You know that yourself."
"But what difference will it make to anyone if I do go out?" asked
Andrey Yefimitch, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't understand.
Nikita, I must go out!" he said in a trembling voice. "I must."
"Don't be disorderly, it's not right," Nikita said peremptorily.
"This is beyond everything," Ivan Dmitritch cried suddenly, and he
jumped up. "What right has he not to let you out? How dare they
keep us here? I believe it is clearly laid down in the law that no
one can be deprived of freedom without trial! It's an outrage! It's
"Of course it's tyranny," said Andrey Yefimitch, encouraged by Ivan
Dmitritch's outburst. "I must go out, I want to. He has no right!
Open, I tell you."
"Do you hear, you dull-witted brute?" cried Ivan Dmitritch, and he
banged on the door with his fist. "Open the door, or I will break
it open! Torturer!"
"Open the door," cried Andrey Yefimitch, trembling all over; "I
"Talk away!" Nikita answered through the door, "talk away. . . ."
"Anyhow, go and call Yevgeny Fyodoritch! Say that I beg him to come
for a minute!"
"His honour will come of himself to-morrow."
"They will never let us out," Ivan Dmitritch was going on meanwhile.
"They will leave us to rot here! Oh, Lord, can there really be no
hell in the next world, and will these wretches be forgiven? Where
is justice? Open the door, you wretch! I am choking!" he cried in
a hoarse voice, and flung himself upon the door. "I'll dash out my
Nikita opened the door quickly, and roughly with both his hands and
his knee shoved Andrey Yefimitch back, then swung his arm and punched
him in the face with his fist. It seemed to Andrey Yefimitch as
though a huge salt wave enveloped him from his head downwards and
dragged him to the bed; there really was a salt taste in his mouth:
most likely the blood was running from his teeth. He waved his arms
as though he were trying to swim out and clutched at a bedstead,
and at the same moment felt Nikita hit him twice on the back.
Ivan Dmitritch gave a loud scream. He must have been beaten too.
Then all was still, the faint moonlight came through the grating,
and a shadow like a net lay on the floor. It was terrible. Andrey
Yefimitch lay and held his breath: he was expecting with horror to
be struck again. He felt as though someone had taken a sickle,
thrust it into him, and turned it round several times in his breast
and bowels. He bit the pillow from pain and clenched his teeth, and
all at once through the chaos in his brain there flashed the terrible
unbearable thought that these people, who seemed now like black
shadows in the moonlight, had to endure such pain day by day for
years. How could it have happened that for more than twenty years
he had not known it and had refused to know it? He knew nothing of
pain, had no conception of it, so he was not to blame, but his
conscience, as inexorable and as rough as Nikita, made him turn
cold from the crown of his head to his heels. He leaped up, tried
to cry out with all his might, and to run in haste to kill Nikita,
and then Hobotov, the superintendent and the assistant, and then
himself; but no sound came from his chest, and his legs would not
obey him. Gasping for breath, he tore at the dressing-gown and the
shirt on his breast, rent them, and fell senseless on the bed.
Next morning his head ached, there was a droning in his ears and a
feeling of utter weakness all over. He was not ashamed at recalling
his weakness the day before. He had been cowardly, had even been
afraid of the moon, had openly expressed thoughts and feelings such
as he had not expected in himself before; for instance, the thought
that the paltry people who philosophized were really dissatisfied.
But now nothing mattered to him.
He ate nothing; he drank nothing. He lay motionless and silent.
"It is all the same to me," he thought when they asked him questions.
"I am not going to answer. . . . It's all the same to me."
After dinner Mihail Averyanitch brought him a quarter pound of tea
and a pound of fruit pastilles. Daryushka came too and stood for a
whole hour by the bed with an expression of dull grief on her face.
Dr. Hobotov visited him. He brought a bottle of bromide and told
Nikita to fumigate the ward with something.
Towards evening Andrey Yefimitch died of an apoplectic stroke. At
first he had a violent shivering fit and a feeling of sickness;
something revolting as it seemed, penetrating through his whole
body, even to his finger-tips, strained from his stomach to his
head and flooded his eyes and ears. There was a greenness before
his eyes. Andrey Yefimitch understood that his end had come, and
remembered that Ivan Dmitritch, Mihail Averyanitch, and millions
of people believed in immortality. And what if it really existed?
But he did not want immortality--and he thought of it only for
one instant. A herd of deer, extraordinarily beautiful and graceful,
of which he had been reading the day before, ran by him; then a
peasant woman stretched out her hand to him with a registered letter
. . . . Mihail Averyanitch said something, then it all vanished, and
Andrey Yefimitch sank into oblivion for ever.
The hospital porters came, took him by his arms and legs, and carried
him away to the chapel.
There he lay on the table, with open eyes, and the moon shed its
light upon him at night. In the morning Sergey Sergeyitch came,
prayed piously before the crucifix, and closed his former chief's
Next day Andrey Yefimitch was buried. Mihail Averyanitch and Daryushka
were the only people at the funeral.
IVAN ABRAMITCH ZHMUHIN, a retired Cossack officer, who had once
served in the Caucasus, but now lived on his own farm, and who had
once been young, strong, and vigorous, but now was old, dried up,
and bent, with shaggy eyebrows and a greenish-grey moustache, was
returning from the town to his farm one hot summer's day. In the
town he had confessed and received absolution, and had made his
will at the notary's (a fortnight before he had had a slight stroke),
and now all the while he was in the railway carriage he was haunted
by melancholy, serious thoughts of approaching death, of the vanity
of vanities, of the transitoriness of all things earthly. At the
station of Provalye--there is such a one on the Donetz line--a
fair-haired, plump, middle-aged gentleman with a shabby portfolio
stepped into the carriage and sat down opposite. They got into
"Yes," said Ivan Abramitch, looking pensively out of window, "it
is never too late to marry. I myself married when I was forty-eight;
I was told it was late, but it has turned out that it was not late
or early, but simply that it would have been better not to marry
at all. Everyone is soon tired of his wife, but not everyone tells
the truth, because, you know, people are ashamed of an unhappy home
life and conceal it. It's 'Manya this' and 'Manya that' with many
a man by his wife's side, but if he had his way he'd put that Manya
in a sack and drop her in the water. It's dull with one's wife,
it's mere foolishness. And it's no better with one's children, I
make bold to assure you. I have two of them, the rascals. There's
nowhere for them to be taught out here in the steppe; I haven't the
money to send them to school in Novo Tcherkask, and they live here
like young wolves. Next thing they will be murdering someone on the
The fair-haired gentleman listened attentively, answered questions
briefly in a low voice, and was apparently a gentleman of gentle
and modest disposition. He mentioned that he was a lawyer, and that
he was going to the village Dyuevka on business.
"Why, merciful heavens, that is six miles from me!" said Zhmuhin
in a tone of voice as though someone were disputing with him. "But
excuse me, you won't find horses at the station now. To my mind,
the very best thing you can do, you know, is to come straight to
me, stay the night, you know, and in the morning drive over with
The lawyer thought a moment and accepted the invitation.
When they reached the station the sun was already low over the
steppe. They said nothing all the way from the station to the farm:
the jolting prevented conversation. The trap bounded up and down,
squeaked, and seemed to be sobbing, and the lawyer, who was sitting
very uncomfortably, stared before him, miserably hoping to see the
farm. After they had driven five or six miles there came into view
in the distance a low-pitched house and a yard enclosed by a fence
made of dark, flat stones standing on end; the roof was green, the
stucco was peeling off, and the windows were little narrow slits
like screwed-up eyes. The farm stood in the full sunshine, and there
was no sign either of water or trees anywhere round. Among the
neighbouring landowners and the peasants it was known as the
Petchenyegs' farm. Many years before, a land surveyor, who was
passing through the neighbourhood and put up at the farm, spent the
whole night talking to Ivan Abramitch, was not favourably impressed,
and as he was driving away in the morning said to him grimly:
"You are a Petchenyeg,* my good sir!"
* The Petchenyegs were a tribe of wild Mongolian nomads who made
frequent inroads upon the Russians in the tenth and eleventh
From this came the nickname, the Petchenyegs' farm, which stuck to
the place even more when Zhmuhin's boys grew up and began to make
raids on the orchards and kitchen-gardens. Ivan Abramitch was called
"You Know," as he usually talked a very great deal and frequently
made use of that expression.
In the yard near a barn Zhmuhin's sons were standing, one a young
man of nineteen, the other a younger lad, both barefoot and bareheaded.
Just at the moment when the trap drove into the yard the younger
one flung high up a hen which, cackling, described an arc in the
air; the elder shot at it with a gun and the hen fell dead on the
"Those are my boys learning to shoot birds flying," said Zhmuhin.
In the entry the travellers were met by a little thin woman with a
pale face, still young and beautiful; from her dress she might have
been taken for a servant.
"And this, allow me to introduce her," said Zhmuhin, "is the mother
of my young cubs. Come, Lyubov Osipovna," he said, addressing her,
"you must be spry, mother, and get something for our guest. Let us
have supper. Look sharp!"
The house consisted of two parts: in one was the parlour and beside
it old Zhmuhin's bedroom, both stuffy rooms with low ceilings and
multitudes of flies and wasps, and in the other was the kitchen in
which the cooking and washing was done and the labourers had their
meals; here geese and turkey-hens were sitting on their eggs under
the benches, and here were the beds of Lyubov Osipovna and her two
sons. The furniture in the parlour was unpainted and evidently
roughly made by a carpenter; guns, game-bags, and whips were hanging
on the walls, and all this old rubbish was covered with the rust
of years and looked grey with dust. There was not one picture; in
the corner was a dingy board which had at one time been an ikon.
A young Little Russian woman laid the table and handed ham, then
beetroot soup. The visitor refused vodka and ate only bread and
"How about ham?" asked Zhmuhin.
"Thank you, I don't eat it," answered the visitor, "I don't eat
meat at all."
"Why is that?"
"I am a vegetarian. Killing animals is against my principles."
Zhmuhin thought a minute and then said slowly with a sigh:
"Yes . . . to be sure. . . . I saw a man who did not eat meat in
town, too. It's a new religion they've got now. Well, it's good.
We can't go on always shooting and slaughtering, you know; we must
give it up some day and leave even the beasts in peace. It's a sin
to kill, it's a sin, there is no denying it. Sometimes one kills a
hare and wounds him in the leg, and he cries like a child. . . .
So it must hurt him!"
"Of course it hurts him; animals suffer just like human beings."
"That's true," Zhmuhin assented. "I understand that very well," he
went on, musing, "only there is this one thing I don't understand:
suppose, you know, everyone gave up eating meat, what would become
of the domestic animals--fowls and geese, for instance?"
"Fowls and geese would live in freedom like wild birds."
"Now I understand. To be sure, crows and jackdaws get on all right
without us. Yes. . . . Fowls and geese and hares and sheep, all
will live in freedom, rejoicing, you know, and praising God; and
they will not fear us, peace and concord will come. Only there is
one thing, you know, I can't understand," Zhmuhin went on, glancing
at the ham. "How will it be with the pigs? What is to be done with
"They will be like all the rest--that is, they will live in
"Ah! Yes. But allow me to say, if they were not slaughtered they
would multiply, you know, and then good-bye to the kitchen-gardens
and the meadows. Why, a pig, if you let it free and don't look after
it, will ruin everything in a day. A pig is a pig, and it is not
for nothing it is called a pig. . . ."
They finished supper. Zhmuhin got up from the table and for a long
while walked up and down the room, talking and talking. . . . He
was fond of talking of something important or serious and was fond
of meditating, and in his old age he had a longing to reach some
haven, to be reassured, that he might not be so frightened of dying.
He had a longing for meekness, spiritual calm, and confidence in
himself, such as this guest of theirs had, who had satisfied his
hunger on cucumbers and bread, and believed that doing so made him
more perfect; he was sitting on a chest, plump and healthy, keeping
silent and patiently enduring his boredom, and in the dusk when one
glanced at him from the entry he looked like a big round stone which
one could not move from its place. If a man has something to lay
hold of in life he is all right.
Zhmuhin went through the entry to the porch, and then he could be
heard sighing and saying reflectively to himself: "Yes. . . . To
be sure. . . . By now it was dark, and here and there stars could
be seen in the sky. They had not yet lighted up indoors. Someone
came into the parlour as noiselessly as a shadow and stood still
near the door. It was Lyubov Osipovna, Zhmuhin's wife.
"Are you from the town?" she asked timidly, not looking at her
"Yes, I live in the town."
"Perhaps you are something in the learned way, sir; be so kind as
to advise us. We ought to send in a petition."
"To whom?" asked the visitor.
"We have two sons, kind gentleman, and they ought to have been sent
to school long ago, but we never see anyone and have no one to
advise us. And I know nothing. For if they are not taught they will
have to serve in the army as common Cossacks. It's not right, sir!
They can't read and write, they are worse than peasants, and Ivan
Abramitch himself can't stand them and won't let them indoors. But
they are not to blame. The younger one, at any rate, ought to be
sent to school, it is such a pity!" she said slowly, and there was
a quiver in her voice; and it seemed incredible that a woman so
small and so youthful could have grown-up children. "Oh, it's such
"You don't know anything about it, mother, and it is not your
affair," said Zhmuhin, appearing in the doorway. "Don't pester our
guest with your wild talk. Go away, mother!"
Lyubov Osipovna went out, and in the entry repeated once more in a
thin little voice: "Oh, it's such a pity!"
A bed was made up for the visitor on the sofa in the parlour, and
that it might not be dark for him they lighted the lamp before the
ikon. Zhmuhin went to bed in his own room. And as he lay there he
thought of his soul, of his age, of his recent stroke which had so
frightened him and made him think of death. He was fond of
philosophizing when he was in quietness by himself, and then he
fancied that he was a very earnest, deep thinker, and that nothing
in this world interested him but serious questions. And now he kept
thinking and he longed to pitch upon some one significant thought
unlike others, which would be a guide to him in life, and he wanted
to think out principles of some sort for himself so as to make his
life as deep and earnest as he imagined that he felt himself to be.
It would be a good thing for an old man like him to abstain altogether
from meat, from superfluities of all sorts. The time when men give
up killing each other and animals would come sooner or later, it
could not but be so, and he imagined that time to himself and clearly
pictured himself living in peace with all the animals, and suddenly
he thought again of the pigs, and everything was in a tangle in his
"It's a queer business, Lord have mercy upon us," he muttered,
sighing heavily. "Are you asleep?" he asked.
Zhmuhin got out of bed and stopped in the doorway with nothing but
his shirt on, displaying to his guest his sinewy legs, that looked
as dry as sticks.
"Nowadays, you know," he began, "all sorts of telegraphs, telephones,
and marvels of all kinds, in fact, have come in, but people are no
better than they were. They say that in our day, thirty or forty
years ago, men were coarse and cruel; but isn't it just the same
now? We certainly did not stand on ceremony in our day. I remember
in the Caucasus when we were stationed by a little river with nothing
to do for four whole months--I was an under-officer at that time
--something queer happened, quite in the style of a novel. Just
on the banks of that river, you know, where our division was encamped,
a wretched prince whom we had killed not long before was buried.
And at night, you know, the princess used to come to his grave and
weep. She would wail and wail, and moan and moan, and make us so
depressed we couldn't sleep, and that's the fact. We couldn't sleep
one night, we couldn't sleep a second; well, we got sick of it. And
from a common-sense point of view you really can't go without your
sleep for the devil knows what (excuse the expression). We took
that princess and gave her a good thrashing, and she gave up coming.
There's an instance for you. Nowadays, of course, there is not the
same class of people, and they are not given to thrashing and they
live in cleaner style, and there is more learning, but, you know,
the soul is just the same: there is no change. Now, look here,
there's a landowner living here among us; he has mines, you know;
all sorts of tramps without passports who don't know where to go
work for him. On Saturdays he has to settle up with the workmen,
but he doesn't care to pay them, you know, he grudges the money.
So he's got hold of a foreman who is a tramp too, though he does
wear a hat. 'Don't you pay them anything,' he says, 'not a kopeck;
they'll beat you, and let them beat you,' says he, 'but you put up
with it, and I'll pay you ten roubles every Saturday for it.' So
on the Saturday evening the workmen come to settle up in the usual
way; the foreman says to them: 'Nothing!' Well, word for word, as
the master said, they begin swearing and using their fists. . . .
They beat him and they kick him . . . you know, they are a set of
men brutalized by hunger--they beat him till he is senseless, and
then they go each on his way. The master gives orders for cold water
to be poured on the foreman, then flings ten roubles in his face.
And he takes it and is pleased too, for indeed he'd be ready to be
hanged for three roubles, let alone ten. Yes . . . and on Monday a
new gang of workmen arrive; they work, for they have nowhere to go
. . . . On Saturday it is the same story over again."
The visitor turned over on the other side with his face to the back
of the sofa and muttered something.
"And here's another instance," Zhmuhin went on. "We had the Siberian
plague here, you know--the cattle die off like flies, I can tell
you--and the veterinary surgeons came here, and strict orders
were given that the dead cattle were to be buried at a distance
deep in the earth, that lime was to be thrown over them, and so on,
you know, on scientific principles. My horse died too. I buried it
with every precaution, and threw over three hundredweight of lime
over it. And what do you think? My fine fellows--my precious sons,
I mean--dug it up, skinned it, and sold the hide for three roubles;
there's an instance for you. So people have grown no better, and
however you feed a wolf he will always look towards the forest;
there it is. It gives one something to think about, eh? How do you
look at it?"
On one side a flash of lightning gleamed through a chink in the
window-blinds. There was the stifling feeling of a storm coming,
the gnats were biting, and Zhmuhin, as he lay in his bedroom
meditating, sighed and groaned and said to himself: "Yes, to be
sure ----" and there was no possibility of getting to sleep. Somewhere
far, far away there was a growl of thunder.
"Are you asleep?"
"No," answered the visitor.
Zhmuhin got up, and thudding with his heels walked through the
parlour and the entry to the kitchen to get a drink of water.
"The worst thing in the world, you know, is stupidity," he said a
little later, coming back with a dipper. "My Lyubov Osipovna is on
her knees saying her prayers. She prays every night, you know, and
bows down to the ground, first that her children may be sent to
school; she is afraid her boys will go into the army as simple
Cossacks, and that they will be whacked across their backs with
sabres. But for teaching one must have money, and where is one to
get it? You may break the floor beating your head against it, but
if you haven't got it you haven't. And the other reason she prays
is because, you know, every woman imagines there is no one in the
world as unhappy as she is. I am a plain-spoken man, and I don't
want to conceal anything from you. She comes of a poor family, a
village priest's daughter. I married her when she was seventeen,
and they accepted my offer chiefly because they hadn't enough to
eat; it was nothing but poverty and misery, while I have anyway
land, you see--a farm--and after all I am an officer; it was a
step up for her to marry me, you know. On the very first day when
she was married she cried, and she has been crying ever since, all
these twenty years; she has got a watery eye. And she's always
sitting and thinking, and what do you suppose she is thinking about?
What can a woman think about? Why, nothing. I must own I don't
consider a woman a human being."
The visitor got up abruptly and sat on the bed.
"Excuse me, I feel stifled," he said; "I will go outside."
Zhmuhin, still talking about women, drew the bolt in the entry and
they both went out. A full moon was floating in the sky just over
the yard, and in the moonlight the house and barn looked whiter
than by day; and on the grass brilliant streaks of moonlight, white
too, stretched between the black shadows. Far away on the right
could be seen the steppe, above it the stars were softly glowing
--and it was all mysterious, infinitely far away, as though one
were gazing into a deep abyss; while on the left heavy storm-clouds,
black as soot, were piling up one upon another above the steppe;
their edges were lighted up by the moon, and it looked as though
there were mountains there with white snow on their peaks, dark
forests, the sea. There was a flash of lightning, a faint rumble
of thunder, and it seemed as though a battle were being fought in
Quite close to the house a little night-owl screeched monotonously:
"What time is it now?" asked the visitor.
"Just after one."
"How long it is still to dawn!"
They went back to the house and lay down again. It was time to
sleep, and one can usually sleep so splendidly before rain; but the
old man had a hankering after serious, weighty thoughts; he wanted
not simply to think but to meditate, and he meditated how good it
would be, as death was near at hand, for the sake of his soul to
give up the idleness which so imperceptibly swallowed up day after
day, year after year, leaving no trace; to think out for himself
some great exploit--for instance, to walk on foot far, far away,
or to give up meat like this young man. And again he pictured to
himself the time when animals would not be killed, pictured it
clearly and distinctly as though he were living through that time
himself; but suddenly it was all in a tangle again in his head and
all was muddled.
The thunderstorm had passed over, but from the edges of the
storm-clouds came rain softly pattering on the roof. Zhmuhin got
up, stretching and groaning with old age, and looked into the
parlour. Noticing that his visitor was not asleep, he said:
"When we were in the Caucasus, you know, there was a colonel there
who was a vegetarian, too; he didn't eat meat, never went shooting,
and would not let his servants catch fish. Of course, I understand
that every animal ought to live in freedom and enjoy its life; only
I don't understand how a pig can go about where it likes without
being looked after. . . ."
The visitor got up and sat down. His pale, haggard face expressed
weariness and vexation; it was evident that he was exhausted, and
only his gentleness and the delicacy of his soul prevented him from
expressing his vexation in words.
"It's getting light," he said mildly. "Please have the horse brought
round for me."
"Why so? Wait a little and the rain will be over."
"No, I entreat you," said the visitor in horror, with a supplicating
voice; "it is essential for me to go at once."
And he began hurriedly dressing.
By the time the horse was harnessed the sun was rising. It had just
left off raining, the clouds were racing swiftly by, and the patches
of blue were growing bigger and bigger in the sky. The first rays
of the sun were timidly reflected below in the big puddles. The
visitor walked through the entry with his portfolio to get into the
trap, and at that moment Zhmuhin's wife, pale, and it seemed paler
than the day before, with tear-stained eyes, looked at him intently
without blinking, with the naïve expression of a little girl, and
it was evident from her dejected face that she was envying him his
freedom--oh, with what joy she would have gone away from there!
--and she wanted to say something to him, most likely to ask advice
about her children. And what a pitiable figure she was! This was
not a wife, not the head of a house, not even a servant, but more
like a dependent, a poor relation not wanted by anyone, a nonentity
. . . . Her husband, fussing about, talking unceasingly, was seeing
his visitor off, continually running in front of him, while she
huddled up to the wall with a timid, guilty air, waiting for a
convenient minute to speak.
"Please come again another time," the old man kept repeating
incessantly; "what we have we are glad to offer, you know."
The visitor hurriedly got into the trap, evidently with relief, as
though he were afraid every minute that they would detain him. The
trap lurched about as it had the day before, squeaked, and furiously
rattled the pail that was tied on at the back. He glanced round at
Zhmuhin with a peculiar expression; it looked as though he wanted
to call him a Petchenyeg, as the surveyor had once done, or some
such name, but his gentleness got the upper hand. He controlled
himself and said nothing. But in the gateway he suddenly could not
restrain himself; he got up and shouted loudly and angrily:
"You have bored me to death."
And he disappeared through the gate.
Near the barn Zhmuhin's sons were standing; the elder held a gun,
while the younger had in his hands a grey cockerel with a bright
red comb. The younger flung up the cockerel with all his might; the
bird flew upwards higher than the house and turned over in the air
like a pigeon. The elder boy fired and the cockerel fell like a
The old man, overcome with confusion, not knowing how to explain
the visitor's strange, unexpected shout, went slowly back into the
house. And sitting down at the table he spent a long while meditating
on the intellectual tendencies of the day, on the universal immorality,
on the telegraph, on the telephone, on velocipedes, on how unnecessary
it all was; little by little he regained his composure, then slowly
had a meal, drank five glasses of tea, and lay down for a nap.
A DEAD BODY
A STILL August night. A mist is rising slowly from the fields and
casting an opaque veil over everything within eyesight. Lighted up
by the moon, the mist gives the impression at one moment of a calm,
boundless sea, at the next of an immense white wall. The air is
damp and chilly. Morning is still far off. A step from the bye-road
which runs along the edge of the forest a little fire is gleaming.
A dead body, covered from head to foot with new white linen, is
lying under a young oak-tree. A wooden ikon is lying on its breast.
Beside the corpse almost on the road sits the "watch"--two peasants
performing one of the most disagreeable and uninviting of peasants'
duties. One, a tall young fellow with a scarcely perceptible moustache
and thick black eyebrows, in a tattered sheepskin and bark shoes,
is sitting on the wet grass, his feet stuck out straight in front
of him, and is trying to while away the time with work. He bends
his long neck, and breathing loudly through his nose, makes a spoon
out of a big crooked bit of wood; the other--a little scraggy,
pock-marked peasant with an aged face, a scanty moustache, and a
little goat's beard--sits with his hands dangling loose on his
knees, and without moving gazes listlessly at the light. A small
camp-fire is lazily burning down between them, throwing a red glow
on their faces. There is perfect stillness. The only sounds are the
scrape of the knife on the wood and the crackling of damp sticks
in the fire.
"Don't you go to sleep, Syoma . . ." says the young man.
"I . . . I am not asleep . . ." stammers the goat-beard.
"That's all right. . . . It would be dreadful to sit here alone,
one would be frightened. You might tell me something, Syoma."
"You are a queer fellow, Syomushka! Other people will laugh and
tell a story and sing a song, but you--there is no making you
out. You sit like a scarecrow in the garden and roll your eyes at
the fire. You can't say anything properly . . . when you speak you
seem frightened. I dare say you are fifty, but you have less sense
than a child. Aren't you sorry that you are a simpleton?"
"I am sorry," the goat-beard answers gloomily.
"And we are sorry to see your foolishness, you may be sure. You are
a good-natured, sober peasant, and the only trouble is that you
have no sense in your head. You should have picked up some sense
for yourself if the Lord has afflicted you and given you no
understanding. You must make an effort, Syoma. . . . You should
listen hard when anything good's being said, note it well, and keep
thinking and thinking. . . . If there is any word you don't understand,
you should make an effort and think over in your head in what meaning
the word is used. Do you see? Make an effort! If you don't gain
some sense for yourself you'll be a simpleton and of no account at
all to your dying day."
All at once a long drawn-out, moaning sound is heard in the forest.
Something rustles in the leaves as though torn from the very top
of the tree and falls to the ground. All this is faintly repeated
by the echo. The young man shudders and looks enquiringly at his
"It's an owl at the little birds," says Syoma, gloomily.
"Why, Syoma, it's time for the birds to fly to the warm countries!"
"To be sure, it is time."
"It is chilly at dawn now. It is co-old. The crane is a chilly
creature, it is tender. Such cold is death to it. I am not a crane,
but I am frozen. . . . Put some more wood on!"
Syoma gets up and disappears in the dark undergrowth. While he is
busy among the bushes, breaking dry twigs, his companion puts his
hand over his eyes and starts at every sound. Syoma brings an armful
of wood and lays it on the fire. The flame irresolutely licks the
black twigs with its little tongues, then suddenly, as though at
the word of command, catches them and throws a crimson light on the
faces, the road, the white linen with its prominences where the
hands and feet of the corpse raise it, the ikon. The "watch" is
silent. The young man bends his neck still lower and sets to work
with still more nervous haste. The goat-beard sits motionless as
before and keeps his eyes fixed on the fire. . . .
"Ye that love not Zion . . . shall be put to shame by the Lord." A
falsetto voice is suddenly heard singing in the stillness of the
night, then slow footsteps are audible, and the dark figure of a
man in a short monkish cassock and a broad-brimmed hat, with a
wallet on his shoulders, comes into sight on the road in the crimson
"Thy will be done, O Lord! Holy Mother!" the figure says in a husky
falsetto. "I saw the fire in the outer darkness and my soul leapt
for joy. . . . At first I thought it was men grazing a drove of
horses, then I thought it can't be that, since no horses were to
be seen. 'Aren't they thieves,' I wondered, 'aren't they robbers
lying in wait for a rich Lazarus? Aren't they the gypsy people
offering sacrifices to idols? And my soul leapt for joy. 'Go,
Feodosy, servant of God,' I said to myself, 'and win a martyr's
crown!' And I flew to the fire like a light-winged moth. Now I stand
before you, and from your outer aspect I judge of your souls: you
are not thieves and you are not heathens. Peace be to you!"
"Good orthodox people, do you know how to reach the Makuhinsky
Brickyards from here?"
"It's close here. You go straight along the road; when you have
gone a mile and a half there will be Ananova, our village. From the
village, father, you turn to the right by the river-bank, and so
you will get to the brickyards. It's two miles from Ananova."
"God give you health. And why are you sitting here?
"We are sitting here watching. You see, there is a dead body. . . ."
"What? what body? Holy Mother!"
The pilgrim sees the white linen with the ikon on it, and starts
so violently that his legs give a little skip. This unexpected sight
has an overpowering effect upon him. He huddles together and stands
as though rooted to the spot, with wide-open mouth and staring eyes.
For three minutes he is silent as though he could not believe his
eyes, then begins muttering:
"O Lord! Holy Mother! I was going along not meddling with anyone,
and all at once such an affliction."
"What may you be?" enquires the young man. "Of the clergy?"
"No . . . no. . . . I go from one monastery to another. . . . Do
you know Mi . . . Mihail Polikarpitch, the foreman of the brickyard?
Well, I am his nephew. . . . Thy will be done, O Lord! Why are you
"We are watching . . . we are told to."
"Yes, yes . . ." mutters the man in the cassock, passing his hand
over his eyes. "And where did the deceased come from?"
"He was a stranger."
"Such is life! But I'll . . . er . . . be getting on, brothers. . . .
I feel flustered. I am more afraid of the dead than of anything,
my dear souls! And only fancy! while this man was alive he wasn't
noticed, while now when he is dead and given over to corruption we
tremble before him as before some famous general or a bishop. . . .
Such is life; was he murdered, or what?"
"The Lord knows! Maybe he was murdered, or maybe he died of himself."
"Yes, yes. . . . Who knows, brothers? Maybe his soul is now tasting
the joys of Paradise."
"His soul is still hovering here, near his body," says the young
man. "It does not depart from the body for three days."
"H'm, yes! . . . How chilly the nights are now! It sets one's teeth
chattering. . . . So then I am to go straight on and on? . . ."
"Till you get to the village, and then you turn to the right by the
"By the river-bank. . . . To be sure. . . . Why am I standing still?
I must go on. Farewell, brothers."
The man in the cassock takes five steps along the road and stops.
"I've forgotten to put a kopeck for the burying," he says. "Good
orthodox friends, can I give the money?"
"You ought to know best, you go the round of the monasteries. If
he died a natural death it would go for the good of his soul; if
it's a suicide it's a sin."
"That's true. . . . And maybe it really was a suicide! So I had
better keep my money. Oh, sins, sins! Give me a thousand roubles
and I would not consent to sit here. . . . Farewell, brothers."
The cassock slowly moves away and stops again.
"I can't make up my mind what I am to do," he mutters. "To stay
here by the fire and wait till daybreak. . . . I am frightened; to
go on is dreadful, too. The dead man will haunt me all the way in
the darkness. . . . The Lord has chastised me indeed! Over three
hundred miles I have come on foot and nothing happened, and now I
am near home and there's trouble. I can't go on. . . ."
"It is dreadful, that is true."
"I am not afraid of wolves, of thieves, or of darkness, but I am
afraid of the dead. I am afraid of them, and that is all about it.
Good orthodox brothers, I entreat you on my knees, see me to the
"We've been told not to go away from the body."
"No one will see, brothers. Upon my soul, no one will see! The Lord
will reward you a hundredfold! Old man, come with me, I beg! Old
man! Why are you silent?"
"He is a bit simple," says the young man.
"You come with me, friend; I will give you five kopecks."
"For five kopecks I might," says the young man, scratching his head,
"but I was told not to. If Syoma here, our simpleton, will stay
alone, I will take you. Syoma, will you stay here alone?"
"I'll stay," the simpleton consents.
"Well, that's all right, then. Come along!" The young man gets up,
and goes with the cassock. A minute later the sound of their steps
and their talk dies away. Syoma shuts his eyes and gently dozes.
The fire begins to grow dim, and a big black shadow falls on the
A HAPPY ENDING
LYUBOV GRIGORYEVNA, a substantial, buxom lady of forty who undertook
matchmaking and many other matters of which it is usual to speak
only in whispers, had come to see Stytchkin, the head guard, on a
day when he was off duty. Stytchkin, somewhat embarrassed, but, as
always, grave, practical, and severe, was walking up and down the
room, smoking a cigar and saying:
"Very pleased to make your acquaintance. Semyon Ivanovitch recommended
you on the ground that you may be able to assist me in a delicate
and very important matter affecting the happiness of my life. I
have, Lyubov Grigoryevna, reached the age of fifty-two; that is a
period of life at which very many have already grown-up children.
My position is a secure one. Though my fortune is not large, yet I
am in a position to support a beloved being and children at my side.
I may tell you between ourselves that apart from my salary I have
also money in the bank which my manner of living has enabled me to
save. I am a practical and sober man, I lead a sensible and consistent
life, so that I may hold myself up as an example to many. But one
thing I lack--a domestic hearth of my own and a partner in life,
and I live like a wandering Magyar, moving from place to place
without any satisfaction. I have no one with whom to take counsel,
and when I am ill no one to give me water, and so on. Apart from
that, Lyubov Grigoryevna, a married man has always more weight in
society than a bachelor. . . . I am a man of the educated class,
with money, but if you look at me from a point of view, what am I?
A man with no kith and kin, no better than some Polish priest. And
therefore I should be very desirous to be united in the bonds of
Hymen--that is, to enter into matrimony with some worthy person."
"An excellent thing," said the matchmaker, with a sigh.
"I am a solitary man and in this town I know no one. Where can I
go, and to whom can I apply, since all the people here are strangers
to me? That is why Semyon Ivanovitch advised me to address myself
to a person who is a specialist in this line, and makes the arrangement
of the happiness of others her profession. And therefore I most
earnestly beg you, Lyubov Grigoryevna, to assist me in ordering my
future. You know all the marriageable young ladies in the town, and
it is easy for you to accommodate me."
"I can. . . ."
"A glass of wine, I beg you. . . ."
With an habitual gesture the matchmaker raised her glass to her
mouth and tossed it off without winking.
"I can," she repeated. "And what sort of bride would you like,
"Should I like? The bride fate sends me."
"Well, of course it depends on your fate, but everyone has his own
taste, you know. One likes dark ladies, the other prefers fair
"You see, Lyubov Grigoryevna," said Stytchkin, sighing sedately,
"I am a practical man and a man of character; for me beauty and
external appearance generally take a secondary place, for, as you
know yourself, beauty is neither bowl nor platter, and a pretty
wife involves a great deal of anxiety. The way I look at it is,
what matters most in a woman is not what is external, but what lies
within--that is, that she should have soul and all the qualities.
A glass of wine, I beg. . . . Of course, it would be very agreeable
that one's wife should be rather plump, but for mutual happiness
it is not of great consequence; what matters is the mind. Properly
speaking, a woman does not need mind either, for if she has brains
she will have too high an opinion of herself, and take all sorts
of ideas into her head. One cannot do without education nowadays,
of course, but education is of different kinds. It would be pleasing
for one's wife to know French and German, to speak various languages,
very pleasing; but what's the use of that if she can't sew on one's
buttons, perhaps? I am a man of the educated class: I am just as
much at home, I may say, with Prince Kanitelin as I am with you
here now. But my habits are simple, and I want a girl who is not
too much a fine lady. Above all, she must have respect for me and
feel that I have made her happiness."
"To be sure."
"Well, now as regards the essential. . . . I do not want a wealthy
bride; I would never condescend to anything so low as to marry for
money. I desire not to be kept by my wife, but to keep her, and
that she may be sensible of it. But I do not want a poor girl either.
Though I am a man of means, and am marrying not from mercenary
motives, but from love, yet I cannot take a poor girl, for, as you
know yourself, prices have gone up so, and there will be children."
"One might find one with a dowry," said the matchmaker.
"A glass of wine, I beg. . . ."
There was a pause of five minutes.
The matchmaker heaved a sigh, took a sidelong glance at the guard,
"Well, now, my good sir . . . do you want anything in the bachelor
line? I have some fine bargains. One is a French girl and one is a
Greek. Well worth the money."
The guard thought a moment and said:
"No, I thank you. In view of your favourable disposition, allow me
to enquire now how much you ask for your exertions in regard to a
"I don't ask much. Give me twenty-five roubles and the stuff for a
dress, as is usual, and I will say thank you . . . but for the
dowry, that's a different account."
Stytchkin folded his arms over his chest and fell to pondering in
silence. After some thought he heaved a sigh and said:
"That's dear. . . ."
"It's not at all dear, Nikolay Nikolayitch! In old days when there
were lots of weddings one did do it cheaper, but nowadays what are
our earnings? If you make fifty roubles in a month that is not a
fast, you may be thankful. It's not on weddings we make our money,
my good sir."
Stytchkin looked at the matchmaker in amazement and shrugged his
"H'm! . . . Do you call fifty roubles little?" he asked.
"Of course it is little! In old days we sometimes made more than a
"H'm! I should never have thought it was possible to earn such a
sum by these jobs. Fifty roubles! It is not every man that earns
as much! Pray drink your wine. . . ."
The matchmaker drained her glass without winking. Stytchkin looked
her over from head to foot in silence, then said:
"Fifty roubles. . . . Why, that is six hundred roubles a year. . . .
Please take some more. . . With such dividends, you know, Lyubov
Grigoryevna, you would have no difficulty in making a match for
yourself. . . ."
"For myself," laughed the matchmaker, "I am an old woman."
"Not at all. . . . You have such a figure, and your face is plump
and fair, and all the rest of it."
The matchmaker was embarrassed. Stytchkin was also embarrassed and
sat down beside her.
"You are still very attractive," said he; "if you met with a
practical, steady, careful husband, with his salary and your earnings
you might even attract him very much, and you'd get on very well
together. . . ."
"Goodness knows what you are saying, Nikolay Nikolayitch."
"Well, I meant no harm. . . ."
A silence followed. Stytchkin began loudly blowing his nose, while
the matchmaker turned crimson, and looking bashfully at him, asked:
"And how much do you get, Nikolay Nikolayitch?"
"I? Seventy-five roubles, besides tips. . . . Apart from that we
make something out of candles and hares."
"You go hunting, then?"
"No. Passengers who travel without tickets are called hares with
Another minute passed in silence. Stytchkin got up and walked about
the room in excitement.
"I don't want a young wife," said he. "I am a middle-aged man, and
I want someone who . . . as it might be like you . . . staid and
settled and a figure something like yours. . . ."
"Goodness knows what you are saying . . ." giggled the matchmaker,
hiding her crimson face in her kerchief.
"There is no need to be long thinking about it. You are after my
own heart, and you suit me in your qualities. I am a practical,
sober man, and if you like me . . . what could be better? Allow me
to make you a proposal!"
The matchmaker dropped a tear, laughed, and, in token of her consent,
clinked glasses with Stytchkin.
"Well," said the happy railway guard, "now allow me to explain to
you the behaviour and manner of life I desire from you. . . . I am
a strict, respectable, practical man. I take a gentlemanly view of
everything. And I desire that my wife should be strict also, and
should understand that to her I am a benefactor and the foremost
person in the world."
He sat down, and, heaving a deep sigh, began expounding to his
bride-elect his views on domestic life and a wife's duties.
NEW YEAR'S EVE. Nellie, the daughter of a landowner and general, a
young and pretty girl, dreaming day and night of being married, was
sitting in her room, gazing with exhausted, half-closed eyes into
the looking-glass. She was pale, tense, and as motionless as the
The non-existent but apparent vista of a long, narrow corridor with
endless rows of candles, the reflection of her face, her hands, of
the frame--all this was already clouded in mist and merged into
a boundless grey sea. The sea was undulating, gleaming and now and
then flaring crimson. . . .
Looking at Nellie's motionless eyes and parted lips, one could
hardly say whether she was asleep or awake, but nevertheless she
was seeing. At first she saw only the smile and soft, charming
expression of someone's eyes, then against the shifting grey
background there gradually appeared the outlines of a head, a face,
eyebrows, beard. It was he, the destined one, the object of long
dreams and hopes. The destined one was for Nellie everything, the
significance of life, personal happiness, career, fate. Outside
him, as on the grey background of the looking-glass, all was dark,
empty, meaningless. And so it was not strange that, seeing before
her a handsome, gently smiling face, she was conscious of bliss,
of an unutterably sweet dream that could not be expressed in speech
or on paper. Then she heard his voice, saw herself living under the
same roof with him, her life merged into his. Months and years flew
by against the grey background. And Nellie saw her future distinctly
in all its details.
Picture followed picture against the grey background. Now Nellie
saw herself one winter night knocking at the door of Stepan Lukitch,
the district doctor. The old dog hoarsely and lazily barked behind
the gate. The doctor's windows were in darkness. All was silence.
"For God's sake, for God's sake!" whispered Nellie.
But at last the garden gate creaked and Nellie saw the doctor's
"Is the doctor at home?"
"His honour's asleep," whispered the cook into her sleeve, as though
afraid of waking her master.
"He's only just got home from his fever patients, and gave orders
he was not to be waked."
But Nellie scarcely heard the cook. Thrusting her aside, she rushed
headlong into the doctor's house. Running through some dark and
stuffy rooms, upsetting two or three chairs, she at last reached
the doctor's bedroom. Stepan Lukitch was lying on his bed, dressed,
but without his coat, and with pouting lips was breathing into his
open hand. A little night-light glimmered faintly beside him. Without
uttering a word Nellie sat down and began to cry. She wept bitterly,
shaking all over.
"My husband is ill!" she sobbed out. Stepan Lukitch was silent. He
slowly sat up, propped his head on his hand, and looked at his
visitor with fixed, sleepy eyes. "My husband is ill!" Nellie
continued, restraining her sobs. "For mercy's sake come quickly.
Make haste. . . . Make haste!"
"Eh?" growled the doctor, blowing into his hand.
"Come! Come this very minute! Or . . . it's terrible to think! For
And pale, exhausted Nellie, gasping and swallowing her tears, began
describing to the doctor her husband's illness, her unutterable
terror. Her sufferings would have touched the heart of a stone, but
the doctor looked at her, blew into his open hand, and--not a
"I'll come to-morrow!" he muttered.
"That's impossible!" cried Nellie. "I know my husband has typhus!
At once . . . this very minute you are needed!"
"I . . . er . . . have only just come in," muttered the doctor.
"For the last three days I've been away, seeing typhus patients,
and I'm exhausted and ill myself. . . . I simply can't! Absolutely!
I've caught it myself! There!"
And the doctor thrust before her eyes a clinical thermometer.
"My temperature is nearly forty. . . . I absolutely can't. I can
scarcely sit up. Excuse me. I'll lie down. . . ."
The doctor lay down.
"But I implore you, doctor," Nellie moaned in despair. "I beseech
you! Help me, for mercy's sake! Make a great effort and come! I
will repay you, doctor!"
"Oh, dear! . . . Why, I have told you already. Ah!"
Nellie leapt up and walked nervously up and down the bedroom. She
longed to explain to the doctor, to bring him to reason. . . . She
thought if only he knew how dear her husband was to her and how
unhappy she was, he would forget his exhaustion and his illness.
But how could she be eloquent enough?
"Go to the Zemstvo doctor," she heard Stepan Lukitch's voice.
"That's impossible! He lives more than twenty miles from here, and
time is precious. And the horses can't stand it. It is thirty miles
from us to you, and as much from here to the Zemstvo doctor. No,
it's impossible! Come along, Stepan Lukitch. I ask of you an heroic
deed. Come, perform that heroic deed! Have pity on us!"
"It's beyond everything. . . . I'm in a fever . . . my head's in a
whirl . . . and she won't understand! Leave me alone!"
"But you are in duty bound to come! You cannot refuse to come! It's
egoism! A man is bound to sacrifice his life for his neighbour, and
you . . . you refuse to come! I will summon you before the Court."
Nellie felt that she was uttering a false and undeserved insult,
but for her husband's sake she was capable of forgetting logic,
tact, sympathy for others. . . . In reply to her threats, the doctor
greedily gulped a glass of cold water. Nellie fell to entreating
and imploring like the very lowest beggar. . . . At last the doctor
gave way. He slowly got up, puffing and panting, looking for his
"Here it is!" cried Nellie, helping him. "Let me put it on to you.
Come along! I will repay you. . . . All my life I shall be grateful
to you. . . ."
But what agony! After putting on his coat the doctor lay down again.
Nellie got him up and dragged him to the hall. Then there was an
agonizing to-do over his goloshes, his overcoat. . . . His cap was
lost. . . . But at last Nellie was in the carriage with the doctor.
Now they had only to drive thirty miles and her husband would have
a doctor's help. The earth was wrapped in darkness. One could not
see one's hand before one's face. . . . A cold winter wind was
blowing. There were frozen lumps under their wheels. The coachman
was continually stopping and wondering which road to take.
Nellie and the doctor sat silent all the way. It was fearfully
jolting, but they felt neither the cold nor the jolts.
"Get on, get on!" Nellie implored the driver.
At five in the morning the exhausted horses drove into the yard.
Nellie saw the familiar gates, the well with the crane, the long
row of stables and barns. At last she was at home.
"Wait a moment, I will be back directly," she said to Stepan Lukitch,
making him sit down on the sofa in the dining-room. "Sit still and
wait a little, and I'll see how he is going on."
On her return from her husband, Nellie found the doctor lying down.
He was lying on the sofa and muttering.
"Doctor, please! . . . doctor!"
"Eh? Ask Domna!" muttered Stepan Lukitch.
"They said at the meeting . . . Vlassov said . . . Who? . . . what?"
And to her horror Nellie saw that the doctor was as delirious as
her husband. What was to be done?
"I must go for the Zemstvo doctor," she decided.
Then again there followed darkness, a cutting cold wind, lumps of
frozen earth. She was suffering in body and in soul, and delusive
nature has no arts, no deceptions to compensate these sufferings. . . .
Then she saw against the grey background how her husband every
spring was in straits for money to pay the interest for the mortgage
to the bank. He could not sleep, she could not sleep, and both
racked their brains till their heads ached, thinking how to avoid
being visited by the clerk of the Court.
She saw her children: the everlasting apprehension of colds, scarlet
fever, diphtheria, bad marks at school, separation. Out of a brood
of five or six one was sure to die.
The grey background was not untouched by death. That might well be.
A husband and wife cannot die simultaneously. Whatever happened one
must bury the other. And Nellie saw her husband dying. This terrible
event presented itself to her in every detail. She saw the coffin,
the candles, the deacon, and even the footmarks in the hall made
by the undertaker.
"Why is it, what is it for?" she asked, looking blankly at her
And all the previous life with her husband seemed to her a stupid
prelude to this.
Something fell from Nellie's hand and knocked on the floor. She
started, jumped up, and opened her eyes wide. One looking-glass she
saw lying at her feet. The other was standing as before on the
She looked into the looking-glass and saw a pale, tear-stained face.
There was no grey background now.
"I must have fallen asleep," she thought with a sigh of relief.
UZELKOV, an architect with the rank of civil councillor, arrived
in his native town, to which he had been invited to restore the
church in the cemetery. He had been born in the town, had been at
school, had grown up and married in it. But when he got out of the
train he scarcely recognized it. Everything was changed. . . .
Eighteen years ago when he had moved to Petersburg the street-boys
used to catch marmots, for instance, on the spot where now the
station was standing; now when one drove into the chief street, a
hotel of four storeys stood facing one; in old days there was an
ugly grey fence just there; but nothing--neither fences nor houses
--had changed as much as the people. From his enquiries of the
hotel waiter Uzelkov learned that more than half of the people he
remembered were dead, reduced to poverty, forgotten.
"And do you remember Uzelkov?" he asked the old waiter about himself.
"Uzelkov the architect who divorced his wife? He used to have a
house in Svirebeyevsky Street . . . you must remember."
"I don't remember, sir."
"How is it you don't remember? The case made a lot of noise, even
the cabmen all knew about it. Think, now! Shapkin the attorney
managed my divorce for me, the rascal . . . the notorious cardsharper,
the fellow who got a thrashing at the club. . . ."
"Yes, yes. . . . Well, is he alive? Is he dead?"
"Alive, sir, thank God. He is a notary now and has an office. He
is very well off. He has two houses in Kirpitchny Street. . . . His
daughter was married the other day."
Uzelkov paced up and down the room, thought a bit, and in his boredom
made up his mind to go and see Shapkin at his office. When he walked
out of the hotel and sauntered slowly towards Kirpitchny Street it
was midday. He found Shapkin at his office and scarcely recognized
him. From the once well-made, adroit attorney with a mobile, insolent,
and always drunken face Shapkin had changed into a modest, grey-headed,
decrepit old man.
"You don't recognize me, you have forgotten me," began Uzelkov. "I
am your old client, Uzelkov."
"Uzelkov, what Uzelkov? Ah!" Shapkin remembered, recognized, and
was struck all of a heap. There followed a shower of exclamations,
"This is a surprise! This is unexpected!" cackled Shapkin. "What
can I offer you? Do you care for champagne? Perhaps you would like
oysters? My dear fellow, I have had so much from you in my time
that I can't offer you anything equal to the occasion. . . ."
"Please don't put yourself out . . ." said Uzelkov. "I have no time
to spare. I must go at once to the cemetery and examine the church;
I have undertaken the restoration of it."
"That's capital! We'll have a snack and a drink and drive together.
I have capital horses. I'll take you there and introduce you to the
church-warden; I will arrange it all. . . . But why is it, my angel,
you seem to be afraid of me and hold me at arm's length? Sit a
little nearer! There is no need for you to be afraid of me nowadays.
He-he! . . . At one time, it is true, I was a cunning blade, a dog
of a fellow . . . no one dared approach me; but now I am stiller
than water and humbler than the grass. I have grown old, I am a
family man, I have children. It's time I was dead."
The friends had lunch, had a drink, and with a pair of horses drove
out of the town to the cemetery.
"Yes, those were times!" Shapkin recalled as he sat in the sledge.
"When you remember them you simply can't believe in them. Do you
remember how you divorced your wife? It's nearly twenty years ago,
and I dare say you have forgotten it all; but I remember it as
though I'd divorced you yesterday. Good Lord, what a lot of worry
I had over it! I was a sharp fellow, tricky and cunning, a desperate
character. . . . Sometimes I was burning to tackle some ticklish
business, especially if the fee were a good one, as, for instance,
in your case. What did you pay me then? Five or six thousand! That
was worth taking trouble for, wasn't it? You went off to Petersburg
and left the whole thing in my hands to do the best I could, and,
though Sofya Mihailovna, your wife, came only of a merchant family,
she was proud and dignified. To bribe her to take the guilt on
herself was difficult, awfully difficult! I would go to negotiate
with her, and as soon as she saw me she called to her maid: 'Masha,
didn't I tell you not to admit that scoundrel?' Well, I tried one
thing and another. . . . I wrote her letters and contrived to meet
her accidentally--it was no use! I had to act through a third
person. I had a lot of trouble with her for a long time, and she
only gave in when you agreed to give her ten thousand. . . . She
couldn't resist ten thousand, she couldn't hold out. . . . She
cried, she spat in my face, but she consented, she took the guilt
"I thought it was fifteen thousand she had from me, not ten," said
"Yes, yes . . . fifteen--I made a mistake," said Shapkin in
confusion. "It's all over and done with, though, it's no use
concealing it. I gave her ten and the other five I collared for
myself. I deceived you both. . . . It's all over and done with,
it's no use to be ashamed. And indeed, judge for yourself, Boris
Petrovitch, weren't you the very person for me to get money out of?
. . . You were a wealthy man and had everything you wanted. . . .
Your marriage was an idle whim, and so was your divorce. You were
making a lot of money. . . . I remember you made a scoop of twenty
thousand over one contract. Whom should I have fleeced if not you?
And I must own I envied you. If you grabbed anything they took off
their caps to you, while they would thrash me for a rouble and slap
me in the face at the club. . . . But there, why recall it? It is
high time to forget it."
"Tell me, please, how did Sofya Mihailovna get on afterwards?"
"With her ten thousand? Very badly. God knows what it was--she
lost her head, perhaps, or maybe her pride and her conscience
tormented her at having sold her honour, or perhaps she loved you;
but, do you know, she took to drink. . . . As soon as she got her
money she was off driving about with officers. It was drunkenness,
dissipation, debauchery. . . . When she went to a restaurant with
officers she was not content with port or anything light, she must
have strong brandy, fiery stuff to stupefy her."
"Yes, she was eccentric. . . . I had a lot to put up with from her
. . . sometimes she would take offence at something and begin being
hysterical. . . . And what happened afterwards?"
"One week passed and then another. . . . I was sitting at home,
writing something. All at once the door opened and she walked in
. . . drunk. 'Take back your cursed money,' she said, and flung a
roll of notes in my face. . . . So she could not keep it up. I
picked up the notes and counted them. It was five hundred short of
the ten thousand, so she had only managed to get through five
"Where did you put the money?"
"It's all ancient history . . . there's no reason to conceal it
now. . . . In my pocket, of course. Why do you look at me like that?
Wait a bit for what will come later. . . . It's a regular novel, a
pathological study. A couple of months later I was going home one
night in a nasty drunken condition. . . . I lighted a candle, and
lo and behold! Sofya Mihailovna was sitting on my sofa, and she was
drunk, too, and in a frantic state--as wild as though she had run
out of Bedlam. 'Give me back my money,' she said, 'I have changed
my mind; if I must go to ruin I won't do it by halves, I'll have
my fling! Be quick, you scoundrel, give me my money!' A disgraceful
"And you . . . gave it her?"
"I gave her, I remember, ten roubles."
"Oh! How could you?" cried Uzelkov, frowning. "If you couldn't or
wouldn't have given it her, you might have written to me. . . . And
I didn't know! I didn't know!"
"My dear fellow, what use would it have been for me to write,
considering that she wrote to you herself when she was lying in the
"Yes, but I was so taken up then with my second marriage. I was in
such a whirl that I had no thoughts to spare for letters. . . . But
you were an outsider, you had no antipathy for Sofya. . . why didn't
you give her a helping hand? . . ."
"You can't judge by the standards of to-day, Boris Petrovitch;
that's how we look at it now, but at the time we thought very
differently. . . . Now maybe I'd give her a thousand roubles, but
then even that ten-rouble note I did not give her for nothing. It
was a bad business! . . . We must forget it. . . . But here we
are. . . ."
The sledge stopped at the cemetery gates. Uzelkov and Shapkin got
out of the sledge, went in at the gate, and walked up a long, broad
avenue. The bare cherry-trees and acacias, the grey crosses and
tombstones, were silvered with hoar-frost, every little grain of
snow reflected the bright, sunny day. There was the smell there
always is in cemeteries, the smell of incense and freshly dug
earth. . . .
"Our cemetery is a pretty one," said Uzelkov, "quite a garden!"
"Yes, but it is a pity thieves steal the tombstones. . . . And over
there, beyond that iron monument on the right, Sofya Mihailovna is
buried. Would you like to see?"
The friends turned to the right and walked through the deep snow
to the iron monument.
"Here it is," said Shapkin, pointing to a little slab of white
marble. "A lieutenant put the stone on her grave."
Uzelkov slowly took off his cap and exposed his bald head to the
sun. Shapkin, looking at him, took off his cap too, and another
bald patch gleamed in the sunlight. There was the stillness of the
tomb all around as though the air, too, were dead. The friends
looked at the grave, pondered, and said nothing.
"She sleeps in peace," said Shapkin, breaking the silence. "It's
nothing to her now that she took the blame on herself and drank
brandy. You must own, Boris Petrovitch . . . ."
"Own what?" Uzelkov asked gloomily.
"Why. . . . However hateful the past, it was better than this."
And Shapkin pointed to his grey head.
"I used not to think of the hour of death. . . . I fancied I could
have given death points and won the game if we had had an encounter;
but now. . . . But what's the good of talking!"
Uzelkov was overcome with melancholy. He suddenly had a passionate
longing to weep, as once he had longed for love, and he felt those
tears would have tasted sweet and refreshing. A moisture came into
his eyes and there was a lump in his throat, but . . . Shapkin was
standing beside him and Uzelkov was ashamed to show weakness before
a witness. He turned back abruptly and went into the church.
Only two hours later, after talking to the churchwarden and looking
over the church, he seized a moment when Shapkin was in conversation
with the priest and hastened away to weep. . . . He stole up to the
grave secretly, furtively, looking round him every minute. The
little white slab looked at him pensively, mournfully, and innocently
as though a little girl lay under it instead of a dissolute, divorced
"To weep, to weep!" thought Uzelkov.
But the moment for tears had been missed; though the old man blinked
his eyes, though he worked up his feelings, the tears did not flow
nor the lump come in his throat. After standing for ten minutes,
with a gesture of despair, Uzelkov went to look for Shapkin.
A YOUNG peasant, with white eyebrows and eyelashes and broad
cheekbones, in a torn sheepskin and big black felt overboots, waited
till the Zemstvo doctor had finished seeing his patients and came
out to go home from the hospital; then he went up to him, diffidently.
"Please, your honour," he said.
"What do you want?"
The young man passed the palm of his hand up and over his nose,
looked at the sky, and then answered:
"Please, your honour. . . . You've got my brother Vaska the blacksmith
from Varvarino in the convict ward here, your honour. . . ."
"Yes, what then?"
"I am Vaska's brother, you see. . . . Father has the two of us:
him, Vaska, and me, Kirila; besides us there are three sisters, and
Vaska's a married man with a little one. . . . There are a lot of
us and no one to work. . . . In the smithy it's nearly two years
now since the forge has been heated. I am at the cotton factory, I
can't do smith's work, and how can father work? Let alone work, he
can't eat properly, he can't lift the spoon to his mouth."
"What do you want from me?"
"Be merciful! Let Vaska go!"
The doctor looked wonderingly at Kirila, and without saying a word
walked on. The young peasant ran on in front and flung himself in
a heap at his feet.
"Doctor, kind gentleman!" he besought him, blinking and again passing
his open hand over his nose. "Show heavenly mercy; let Vaska go
home! We shall remember you in our prayers for ever! Your honour,
let him go! They are all starving! Mother's wailing day in, day
out, Vaska's wife's wailing . . . it's worse than death! I don't
care to look upon the light of day. Be merciful; let him go, kind
"Are you stupid or out of your senses?" asked the doctor angrily.
"How can I let him go? Why, he is a convict."
Kirila began crying. "Let him go!"
"Tfoo, queer fellow! What right have I? Am I a gaoler or what? They
brought him to the hospital for me to treat him, but I have as much
right to let him out as I have to put you in prison, silly fellow!
"But they have shut him up for nothing! He was in prison a year
before the trial, and now there is no saying what he is there for.
It would have been a different thing if he had murdered someone,
let us say, or stolen horses; but as it is, what is it all about?"
"Very likely, but how do I come in?"
"They shut a man up and they don't know themselves what for. He was
drunk, your honour, did not know what he was doing, and even hit
father on the ear and scratched his own cheek on a branch, and two
of our fellows-they wanted some Turkish tobacco, you see-began
telling him to go with them and break into the Armenian's shop at
night for tobacco. Being drunk, he obeyed them, the fool. They broke
the lock, you know, got in, and did no end of mischief; they turned
everything upside down, broke the windows, and scattered the flour
about. They were drunk, that is all one can say! Well, the constable
turned up . . . and with one thing and another they took them off
to the magistrate. They have been a whole year in prison, and a
week ago, on the Wednesday, they were all three tried in the town.
A soldier stood behind them with a gun . . . people were sworn in.
Vaska was less to blame than any, but the gentry decided that he
was the ringleader. The other two lads were sent to prison, but
Vaska to a convict battalion for three years. And what for? One
should judge like a Christian!"
"I have nothing to do with it, I tell you again. Go to the authorities."
"I have been already! I've been to the court; I have tried to send
in a petition--they wouldn't take a petition; I have been to the
police captain, and I have been to the examining magistrate, and
everyone says, 'It is not my business!' Whose business is it, then?
But there is no one above you here in the hospital; you do what you
like, your honour."
"You simpleton," sighed the doctor, "once the jury have found him
guilty, not the governor, not even the minister, could do anything,
let alone the police captain. It's no good your trying to do
"And who judged him, then?"
"The gentlemen of the jury. . . ."
"They weren't gentlemen, they were our peasants! Andrey Guryev was
one; Aloshka Huk was one."
"Well, I am cold talking to you. . . ."
The doctor waved his hand and walked quickly to his own door. Kirila
was on the point of following him, but, seeing the door slam, he
For ten minutes he stood motionless in the middle of the hospital
yard, and without putting on his cap stared at the doctor's house,
then he heaved a deep sigh, slowly scratched himself, and walked
towards the gate.
"To whom am I to go?" he muttered as he came out on to the road.
"One says it is not his business, another says it is not his business.
Whose business is it, then? No, till you grease their hands you
will get nothing out of them. The doctor says that, but he keeps
looking all the while at my fist to see whether I am going to give
him a blue note. Well, brother, I'll go, if it has to be to the
Shifting from one foot to the other and continually looking round
him in an objectless way, he trudged lazily along the road and was
apparently wondering where to go. . . . It was not cold and the
snow faintly crunched under his feet. Not more than half a mile in
front of him the wretched little district town in which his brother
had just been tried lay outstretched on the hill. On the right was
the dark prison with its red roof and sentry-boxes at the corners;
on the left was the big town copse, now covered with hoar-frost.
It was still; only an old man, wearing a woman's short jacket and
a huge cap, was walking ahead, coughing and shouting to a cow which
he was driving to the town.
"Good-day, grandfather," said Kirila, overtaking him.
"Good-day. . . ."
"Are you driving it to the market?"
"No," the old man answered lazily.
"Are you a townsman?"
They got into conversation; Kirila told him what he had come to the
hospital for, and what he had been talking about to the doctor.
"The doctor does not know anything about such matters, that is a
sure thing," the old man said to him as they were both entering the
town; "though he is a gentleman, he is only taught to cure by every
means, but to give you real advice, or, let us say, write out a
petition for you--that he cannot do. There are special authorities
to do that. You have been to the justice of the peace and to the
police captain--they are no good for your business either."
"Where am I to go?"
"The permanent member of the rural board is the chief person for
peasants' affairs. Go to him, Mr. Sineokov."
"The one who is at Zolotovo?"
"Why, yes, at Zolotovo. He is your chief man. If it is anything
that has to do with you peasants even the police captain has no
authority against him."
"It's a long way to go, old man. . . . I dare say it's twelve miles
and may be more."
"One who needs something will go seventy."
"That is so. . . . Should I send in a petition to him, or what?"
"You will find out there. If you should have a petition the clerk
will write you one quick enough. The permanent member has a clerk."
After parting from the old man Kirila stood still in the middle of
the square, thought a little, and walked back out of the town. He
made up his mind to go to Zolotovo.
Five days later, as the doctor was on his way home after seeing his
patients, he caught sight of Kirila again in his yard. This time
the young peasant was not alone, but with a gaunt, very pale old
man who nodded his head without ceasing, like a pendulum, and mumbled
with his lips.
"Your honour, I have come again to ask your gracious mercy," began
Kirila. "Here I have come with my father. Be merciful, let Vaska
go! The permanent member would not talk to me. He said: 'Go away!'"
"Your honour," the old man hissed in his throat, raising his twitching
eyebrows, "be merciful! We are poor people, we cannot repay your
honour, but if you graciously please, Kiryushka or Vaska can repay
you in work. Let them work."
"We will pay with work," said Kirila, and he raised his hand above
his head as though he would take an oath. "Let him go! They are
starving, they are crying day and night, your honour!"
The young peasant bent a rapid glance on his father, pulled him by
the sleeve, and both of them, as at the word of command, fell at
the doctor's feet. The latter waved his hand in despair, and, without
looking round, walked quickly in at his door.
"KIND sir, be so good as to notice a poor, hungry man. I have not
tasted food for three days. I have not a five-kopeck piece for a
night's lodging. I swear by God! For five years I was a village
schoolmaster and lost my post through the intrigues of the Zemstvo.
I was the victim of false witness. I have been out of a place for
a year now."
Skvortsov, a Petersburg lawyer, looked at the speaker's tattered
dark blue overcoat, at his muddy, drunken eyes, at the red patches
on his cheeks, and it seemed to him that he had seen the man before.
"And now I am offered a post in the Kaluga province," the beggar
continued, "but I have not the means for the journey there. Graciously
help me! I am ashamed to ask, but . . . I am compelled by circumstances."
Skvortsov looked at his goloshes, of which one was shallow like a
shoe, while the other came high up the leg like a boot, and suddenly
"Listen, the day before yesterday I met you in Sadovoy Street," he
said, "and then you told me, not that you were a village schoolmaster,
but that you were a student who had been expelled. Do you remember?"
"N-o. No, that cannot be so!" the beggar muttered in confusion. "I
am a village schoolmaster, and if you wish it I can show you documents
to prove it."
"That's enough lies! You called yourself a student, and even told
me what you were expelled for. Do you remember?"
Skvortsov flushed, and with a look of disgust on his face turned
away from the ragged figure.
"It's contemptible, sir!" he cried angrily. "It's a swindle! I'll
hand you over to the police, damn you! You are poor and hungry, but
that does not give you the right to lie so shamelessly!"
The ragged figure took hold of the door-handle and, like a bird in
a snare, looked round the hall desperately.
"I . . . I am not lying," he muttered. "I can show documents."
"Who can believe you?" Skvortsov went on, still indignant. "To
exploit the sympathy of the public for village schoolmasters and
students--it's so low, so mean, so dirty! It's revolting!"
Skvortsov flew into a rage and gave the beggar a merciless scolding.
The ragged fellow's insolent lying aroused his disgust and aversion,
was an offence against what he, Skvortsov, loved and prized in
himself: kindliness, a feeling heart, sympathy for the unhappy. By
his lying, by his treacherous assault upon compassion, the individual
had, as it were, defiled the charity which he liked to give to the
poor with no misgivings in his heart. The beggar at first defended
himself, protested with oaths, then he sank into silence and hung
his head, overcome with shame.
"Sir!" he said, laying his hand on his heart, "I really was . . .
lying! I am not a student and not a village schoolmaster. All that's
mere invention! I used to be in the Russian choir, and I was turned
out of it for drunkenness. But what can I do? Believe me, in God's
name, I can't get on without lying--when I tell the truth no one
will give me anything. With the truth one may die of hunger and
freeze without a night's lodging! What you say is true, I understand
that, but . . . what am I to do?"
"What are you to do? You ask what are you to do?" cried Skvortsov,
going close up to him. "Work--that's what you must do! You must
"Work. . . . I know that myself, but where can I get work?"
"Nonsense. You are young, strong, and healthy, and could always
find work if you wanted to. But you know you are lazy, pampered,
drunken! You reek of vodka like a pothouse! You have become false
and corrupt to the marrow of your bones and fit for nothing but
begging and lying! If you do graciously condescend to take work,
you must have a job in an office, in the Russian choir, or as a
billiard-marker, where you will have a salary and have nothing to
do! But how would you like to undertake manual labour? I'll be
bound, you wouldn't be a house porter or a factory hand! You are
too genteel for that!"
"What things you say, really . . ." said the beggar, and he gave a
bitter smile. "How can I get manual work? It's rather late for me
to be a shopman, for in trade one has to begin from a boy; no one
would take me as a house porter, because I am not of that class
. . . . And I could not get work in a factory; one must know a trade,
and I know nothing."
"Nonsense! You always find some justification! Wouldn't you like
to chop wood?"
"I would not refuse to, but the regular woodchoppers are out of
"Oh, all idlers argue like that! As soon as you are offered anything
you refuse it. Would you care to chop wood for me?"
"Certainly I will. . ."
"Very good, we shall see. . . . Excellent. We'll see!" Skvortsov,
in nervous haste; and not without malignant pleasure, rubbing his
hands, summoned his cook from the kitchen.
"Here, Olga," he said to her, "take this gentleman to the shed and
let him chop some wood."
The beggar shrugged his shoulders as though puzzled, and irresolutely
followed the cook. It was evident from his demeanour that he had
consented to go and chop wood, not because he was hungry and wanted
to earn money, but simply from shame and _amour propre_, because
he had been taken at his word. It was clear, too, that he was
suffering from the effects of vodka, that he was unwell, and felt
not the faintest inclination to work.
Skvortsov hurried into the dining-room. There from the window which
looked out into the yard he could see the woodshed and everything
that happened in the yard. Standing at the window, Skvortsov saw
the cook and the beggar come by the back way into the yard and go
through the muddy snow to the woodshed. Olga scrutinized her companion
angrily, and jerking her elbow unlocked the woodshed and angrily
banged the door open.
"Most likely we interrupted the woman drinking her coffee," thought
Skvortsov. "What a cross creature she is!"
Then he saw the pseudo-schoolmaster and pseudo-student seat himself
on a block of wood, and, leaning his red cheeks upon his fists,
sink into thought. The cook flung an axe at his feet, spat angrily
on the ground, and, judging by the expression of her lips, began
abusing him. The beggar drew a log of wood towards him irresolutely,
set it up between his feet, and diffidently drew the axe across it.
The log toppled and fell over. The beggar drew it towards him,
breathed on his frozen hands, and again drew the axe along it as
cautiously as though he were afraid of its hitting his golosh or
chopping off his fingers. The log fell over again.
Skvortsov's wrath had passed off by now, he felt sore and ashamed
at the thought that he had forced a pampered, drunken, and perhaps
sick man to do hard, rough work in the cold.
"Never mind, let him go on . . ." he thought, going from the
dining-room into his study. "I am doing it for his good!"
An hour later Olga appeared and announced that the wood had been
"Here, give him half a rouble," said Skvortsov. "If he likes, let
him come and chop wood on the first of every month. . . . There
will always be work for him."
On the first of the month the beggar turned up and again earned
half a rouble, though he could hardly stand. From that time forward
he took to turning up frequently, and work was always found for
him: sometimes he would sweep the snow into heaps, or clear up the
shed, at another he used to beat the rugs and the mattresses. He
always received thirty to forty kopecks for his work, and on one
occasion an old pair of trousers was sent out to him.
When he moved, Skvortsov engaged him to assist in packing and moving
the furniture. On this occasion the beggar was sober, gloomy, and
silent; he scarcely touched the furniture, walked with hanging head
behind the furniture vans, and did not even try to appear busy; he
merely shivered with the cold, and was overcome with confusion when
the men with the vans laughed at his idleness, feebleness, and
ragged coat that had once been a gentleman's. After the removal
Skvortsov sent for him.
"Well, I see my words have had an effect upon you," he said, giving
him a rouble. "This is for your work. I see that you are sober and
not disinclined to work. What is your name?"
"I can offer you better work, not so rough, Lushkov. Can you write?"
"Then go with this note to-morrow to my colleague and he will give
you some copying to do. Work, don't drink, and don't forget what I
said to you. Good-bye."
Skvortsov, pleased that he had put a man in the path of rectitude,
patted Lushkov genially on the shoulder, and even shook hands with
him at parting.
Lushkov took the letter, departed, and from that time forward did
not come to the back-yard for work.
Two years passed. One day as Skvortsov was standing at the ticket-office
of a theatre, paying for his ticket, he saw beside him a little man
with a lambskin collar and a shabby cat's-skin cap. The man timidly
asked the clerk for a gallery ticket and paid for it with kopecks.
"Lushkov, is it you?" asked Skvortsov, recognizing in the little
man his former woodchopper. "Well, what are you doing? Are you
getting on all right?"
"Pretty well. . . . I am in a notary's office now. I earn thirty-five
"Well, thank God, that's capital. I rejoice for you. I am very,
very glad, Lushkov. You know, in a way, you are my godson. It was
I who shoved you into the right way. Do you remember what a scolding
I gave you, eh? You almost sank through the floor that time. Well,
thank you, my dear fellow, for remembering my words."
"Thank you too," said Lushkov. "If I had not come to you that day,
maybe I should be calling myself a schoolmaster or a student still.
Yes, in your house I was saved, and climbed out of the pit."
"I am very, very glad."
"Thank you for your kind words and deeds. What you said that day
was excellent. I am grateful to you and to your cook, God bless
that kind, noble-hearted woman. What you said that day was excellent;
I am indebted to you as long as I live, of course, but it was your
cook, Olga, who really saved me."
"How was that?"
"Why, it was like this. I used to come to you to chop wood and she
would begin: 'Ah, you drunkard! You God-forsaken man! And yet death
does not take you!' and then she would sit opposite me, lamenting,
looking into my face and wailing: 'You unlucky fellow! You have no
gladness in this world, and in the next you will burn in hell, poor
drunkard! You poor sorrowful creature!' and she always went on in
that style, you know. How often she upset herself, and how many
tears she shed over me I can't tell you. But what affected me most
--she chopped the wood for me! Do you know, sir, I never chopped
a single log for you--she did it all! How it was she saved me,
how it was I changed, looking at her, and gave up drinking, I can't
explain. I only know that what she said and the noble way she behaved
brought about a change in my soul, and I shall never forget it.
It's time to go up, though, they are just going to ring the bell."
Lushkov bowed and went off to the gallery.
A STORY WITHOUT A TITLE
IN the fifth century, just as now, the sun rose every morning and
every evening retired to rest. In the morning, when the first rays
kissed the dew, the earth revived, the air was filled with the
sounds of rapture and hope; while in the evening the same earth
subsided into silence and plunged into gloomy darkness. One day was
like another, one night like another. From time to time a storm-cloud
raced up and there was the angry rumble of thunder, or a negligent
star fell out of the sky, or a pale monk ran to tell the brotherhood
that not far from the monastery he had seen a tiger--and that was
all, and then each day was like the next.
The monks worked and prayed, and their Father Superior played on
the organ, made Latin verses, and wrote music. The wonderful old
man possessed an extraordinary gift. He played on the organ with
such art that even the oldest monks, whose hearing had grown somewhat
dull towards the end of their lives, could not restrain their tears
when the sounds of the organ floated from his cell. When he spoke
of anything, even of the most ordinary things--for instance of
the trees, of the wild beasts, or of the sea--they could not
listen to him without a smile or tears, and it seemed that the same
chords vibrated in his soul as in the organ. If he were moved to
anger or abandoned himself to intense joy, or began speaking of
something terrible or grand, then a passionate inspiration took
possession of him, tears came into his flashing eyes, his face
flushed, and his voice thundered, and as the monks listened to him
they felt that their souls were spell-bound by his inspiration; at
such marvellous, splendid moments his power over them was boundless,
and if he had bidden his elders fling themselves into the sea, they
would all, every one of them, have hastened to carry out his wishes.
His music, his voice, his poetry in which he glorified God, the
heavens and the earth, were a continual source of joy to the monks.
It sometimes happened that through the monotony of their lives they
grew weary of the trees, the flowers, the spring, the autumn, their
ears were tired of the sound of the sea, and the song of the birds
seemed tedious to them, but the talents of their Father Superior
were as necessary to them as their daily bread.
Dozens of years passed by, and every day was like every other day,
every night was like every other night. Except the birds and the
wild beasts, not one soul appeared near the monastery. The nearest
human habitation was far away, and to reach it from the monastery,
or to reach the monastery from it, meant a journey of over seventy
miles across the desert. Only men who despised life, who had renounced
it, and who came to the monastery as to the grave, ventured to cross
What was the amazement of the monks, therefore, when one night there
knocked at their gate a man who turned out to be from the town, and
the most ordinary sinner who loved life. Before saying his prayers
and asking for the Father Superior's blessing, this man asked for
wine and food. To the question how he had come from the town into
the desert, he answered by a long story of hunting; he had gone out
hunting, had drunk too much, and lost his way. To the suggestion
that he should enter the monastery and save his soul, he replied
with a smile: "I am not a fit companion for you!"
When he had eaten and drunk he looked at the monks who were serving
him, shook his head reproachfully, and said:
"You don't do anything, you monks. You are good for nothing but
eating and drinking. Is that the way to save one's soul? Only think,
while you sit here in peace, eat and drink and dream of beatitude,
your neighbours are perishing and going to hell. You should see
what is going on in the town! Some are dying of hunger, others, not
knowing what to do with their gold, sink into profligacy and perish
like flies stuck in honey. There is no faith, no truth in men. Whose
task is it to save them? Whose work is it to preach to them? It is
not for me, drunk from morning till night as I am. Can a meek spirit,
a loving heart, and faith in God have been given you for you to sit
here within four walls doing nothing?"
The townsman's drunken words were insolent and unseemly, but they
had a strange effect upon the Father Superior. The old man exchanged
glances with his monks, turned pale, and said:
"My brothers, he speaks the truth, you know. Indeed, poor people
in their weakness and lack of understanding are perishing in vice
and infidelity, while we do not move, as though it did not concern
us. Why should I not go and remind them of the Christ whom they
The townsman's words had carried the old man away. The next day he
took his staff, said farewell to the brotherhood, and set off for
the town. And the monks were left without music, and without his
speeches and verses. They spent a month drearily, then a second,
but the old man did not come back. At last after three months had
passed the familiar tap of his staff was heard. The monks flew to
meet him and showered questions upon him, but instead of being
delighted to see them he wept bitterly and did not utter a word.
The monks noticed that he looked greatly aged and had grown thinner;
his face looked exhausted and wore an expression of profound sadness,
and when he wept he had the air of a man who has been outraged.
The monks fell to weeping too, and began with sympathy asking him
why he was weeping, why his face was so gloomy, but he locked himself
in his cell without uttering a word. For seven days he sat in his
cell, eating and drinking nothing, weeping and not playing on his
organ. To knocking at his door and to the entreaties of the monks
to come out and share his grief with them he replied with unbroken
At last he came out. Gathering all the monks around him, with a
tear-stained face and with an expression of grief and indignation,
he began telling them of what had befallen him during those three
months. His voice was calm and his eyes were smiling while he
described his journey from the monastery to the town. On the road,
he told them, the birds sang to him, the brooks gurgled, and sweet
youthful hopes agitated his soul; he marched on and felt like a
soldier going to battle and confident of victory; he walked on
dreaming, and composed poems and hymns, and reached the end of his
journey without noticing it.
But his voice quivered, his eyes flashed, and he was full of wrath
when he came to speak of the town and of the men in it. Never in
his life had he seen or even dared to imagine what he met with when
he went into the town. Only then for the first time in his life,
in his old age, he saw and understood how powerful was the devil,
how fair was evil and how weak and faint-hearted and worthless were
men. By an unhappy chance the first dwelling he entered was the
abode of vice. Some fifty men in possession of much money were
eating and drinking wine beyond measure. Intoxicated by the wine,
they sang songs and boldly uttered terrible, revolting words such
as a God-fearing man could not bring himself to pronounce; boundlessly
free, self-confident, and happy, they feared neither God nor the
devil, nor death, but said and did what they liked, and went whither
their lust led them. And the wine, clear as amber, flecked with
sparks of gold, must have been irresistibly sweet and fragrant, for
each man who drank it smiled blissfully and wanted to drink more.
To the smile of man it responded with a smile and sparkled joyfully
when they drank it, as though it knew the devilish charm it kept
hidden in its sweetness.
The old man, growing more and more incensed and weeping with wrath,
went on to describe what he had seen. On a table in the midst of
the revellers, he said, stood a sinful, half-naked woman. It was
hard to imagine or to find in nature anything more lovely and
fascinating. This reptile, young, longhaired, dark-skinned, with
black eyes and full lips, shameless and insolent, showed her
snow-white teeth and smiled as though to say: "Look how shameless,
how beautiful I am." Silk and brocade fell in lovely folds from her
shoulders, but her beauty would not hide itself under her clothes,
but eagerly thrust itself through the folds, like the young grass
through the ground in spring. The shameless woman drank wine, sang
songs, and abandoned herself to anyone who wanted her.
Then the old man, wrathfully brandishing his arms, described the
horse-races, the bull-fights, the theatres, the artists' studios
where they painted naked women or moulded them of clay. He spoke
with inspiration, with sonorous beauty, as though he were playing
on unseen chords, while the monks, petrified, greedily drank in his
words and gasped with rapture. . . .
After describing all the charms of the devil, the beauty of evil,
and the fascinating grace of the dreadful female form, the old man
cursed the devil, turned and shut himself up in his cell. . . .
When he came out of his cell in the morning there was not a monk
left in the monastery; they had all fled to the town.
PYOTR SEMYONITCH, the bank manager, together with the book-keeper,
his assistant, and two members of the board, were taken in the night
to prison. The day after the upheaval the merchant Avdeyev, who was
one of the committee of auditors, was sitting with his friends in
the shop saying:
"So it is God's will, it seems. There is no escaping your fate.
Here to-day we are eating caviare and to-morrow, for aught we know,
it will be prison, beggary, or maybe death. Anything may happen.
Take Pyotr Semyonitch, for instance. . . ."
He spoke, screwing up his drunken eyes, while his friends went on
drinking, eating caviare, and listening. Having described the
disgrace and helplessness of Pyotr Semyonitch, who only the day
before had been powerful and respected by all, Avdeyev went on with
"The tears of the mouse come back to the cat. Serve them right, the
scoundrels! They could steal, the rooks, so let them answer for
"You'd better look out, Ivan Danilitch, that you don't catch it
too!" one of his friends observed.
"What has it to do with me?"
"Why, they were stealing, and what were you auditors thinking about?
I'll be bound, you signed the audit."
"It's all very well to talk!" laughed Avdeyev: "Signed it, indeed!
They used to bring the accounts to my shop and I signed them. As
though I understood! Give me anything you like, I'll scrawl my name
to it. If you were to write that I murdered someone I'd sign my
name to it. I haven't time to go into it; besides, I can't see
without my spectacles."
After discussing the failure of the bank and the fate of Pyotr
Semyonitch, Avdeyev and his friends went to eat pie at the house
of a friend whose wife was celebrating her name-day. At the name-day
party everyone was discussing the bank failure. Avdeyev was more
excited than anyone, and declared that he had long foreseen the
crash and knew two years before that things were not quite right
at the bank. While they were eating pie he described a dozen illegal
operations which had come to his knowledge.
"If you knew, why did you not give information?" asked an officer
who was present.
"I wasn't the only one: the whole town knew of it," laughed Avdeyev.
"Besides, I haven't the time to hang about the law courts, damn
He had a nap after the pie and then had dinner, then had another
nap, then went to the evening service at the church of which he was
a warden; after the service he went back to the name-day party and
played preference till midnight. Everything seemed satisfactory.
But when Avdeyev hurried home after midnight the cook, who opened
the door to him, looked pale, and was trembling so violently that
she could not utter a word. His wife, Elizaveta Trofimovna, a flabby,
overfed woman, with her grey hair hanging loose, was sitting on the
sofa in the drawing-room quivering all over, and vacantly rolling
her eyes as though she were drunk. Her elder son, Vassily, a
high-school boy, pale too, and extremely agitated, was fussing round
her with a glass of water.
"What's the matter?" asked Avdeyev, and looked angrily sideways at
the stove (his family was constantly being upset by the fumes from
"The examining magistrate has just been with the police," answered
Vassily; "they've made a search."
Avdeyev looked round him. The cupboards, the chests, the tables--
everything bore traces of the recent search. For a minute Avdeyev
stood motionless as though petrified, unable to understand; then
his whole inside quivered and seemed to grow heavy, his left leg
went numb, and, unable to endure his trembling, he lay down flat
on the sofa. He felt his inside heaving and his rebellious left leg
tapping against the back of the sofa.
In the course of two or three minutes he recalled the whole of his
past, but could not remember any crime deserving of the attention
of the police.
"It's all nonsense," he said, getting up. "They must have slandered
me. To-morrow I must lodge a complaint of their having dared to do
such a thing."
Next morning after a sleepless night Avdeyev, as usual, went to his
shop. His customers brought him the news that during the night the
public prosecutor had sent the deputy manager and the head-clerk
to prison as well. This news did not disturb Avdeyev. He was convinced
that he had been slandered, and that if he were to lodge a complaint
to-day the examining magistrate would get into trouble for the
search of the night before.
Between nine and ten o'clock he hurried to the town hall to see the
secretary, who was the only educated man in the town council.
"Vladimir Stepanitch, what's this new fashion?" he said, bending
down to the secretary's ear. "People have been stealing, but how
do I come in? What has it to do with me? My dear fellow," he
whispered, "there has been a search at my house last night! Upon
my word! Have they gone crazy? Why touch me?"
"Because one shouldn't be a sheep," the secretary answered calmly.
"Before you sign you ought to look."
"Look at what? But if I were to look at those accounts for a thousand
years I could not make head or tail of them! It's all Greek to me!
I am no book-keeper. They used to bring them to me and I signed
"Excuse me. Apart from that you and your committee are seriously
compromised. You borrowed nineteen thousand from the bank, giving
"Lord have mercy upon us!" cried Avdeyev in amazement. "I am not
the only one in debt to the bank! The whole town owes it money. I
pay the interest and I shall repay the debt. What next! And besides,
to tell the honest truth, it wasn't I myself borrowed the money.
Pyotr Semyonitch forced it upon me. 'Take it,' he said, 'take it.
If you don't take it,' he said, 'it means that you don't trust us
and fight shy of us. You take it,' he said, 'and build your father
a mill.' So I took it."
"Well, you see, none but children or sheep can reason like that.
In any case, _signor_, you need not be anxious. You can't escape
trial, of course, but you are sure to be acquitted."
The secretary's indifference and calm tone restored Avdeyev's
composure. Going back to his shop and finding friends there, he
again began drinking, eating caviare, and airing his views. He
almost forgot the police search, and he was only troubled by one
circumstance which he could not help noticing: his left leg was
strangely numb, and his stomach for some reason refused to do its
That evening destiny dealt another overwhelming blow at Avdeyev:
at an extraordinary meeting of the town council all members who
were on the staff of the bank, Avdeyev among them, were asked to
resign, on the ground that they were charged with a criminal offence.
In the morning he received a request to give up immediately his
duties as churchwarden.
After that Avdeyev lost count of the blows dealt him by fate, and
strange, unprecedented days flitted rapidly by, one after another,
and every day brought some new, unexpected surprise. Among other
things, the examining magistrate sent him a summons, and he returned
home after the interview, insulted and red in the face.
"He gave me no peace, pestering me to tell him why I had signed. I
signed, that's all about it. I didn't do it on purpose. They brought
the papers to the shop and I signed them. I am no great hand at
Young men with unconcerned faces arrived, sealed up the shop, and
made an inventory of all the furniture of the house. Suspecting
some intrigue behind this, and, as before, unconscious of any
wrongdoing, Avdeyev in his mortification ran from one Government
office to another lodging complaints. He spent hours together in
waiting-rooms, composed long petitions, shed tears, swore. To his
complaints the public prosecutor and the examining magistrate made
the indifferent and rational reply: "Come to us when you are summoned:
we have not time to attend to you now." While others answered: "It
is not our business."
The secretary, an educated man, who, Avdeyev thought, might have
helped him, merely shrugged his shoulders and said:
"It's your own fault. You shouldn't have been a sheep."
The old man exerted himself to the utmost, but his left leg was
still numb, and his digestion was getting worse and worse. When he
was weary of doing nothing and was getting poorer and poorer, he
made up his mind to go to his father's mill, or to his brother, and
begin dealing in corn. His family went to his father's and he was
left alone. The days flitted by, one after another. Without a family,
without a shop, and without money, the former churchwarden, an
honoured and respected man, spent whole days going the round of his
friends' shops, drinking, eating, and listening to advice. In the
mornings and in the evenings, to while away the time, he went to
church. Looking for hours together at the ikons, he did not pray,
but pondered. His conscience was clear, and he ascribed his position
to mistake and misunderstanding; to his mind, it was all due to the
fact that the officials and the examining magistrates were young
men and inexperienced. It seemed to him that if he were to talk it
over in detail and open his heart to some elderly judge, everything
would go right again. He did not understand his judges, and he
fancied they did not understand him.
The days raced by, and at last, after protracted, harassing delays,
the day of the trial came. Avdeyev borrowed fifty roubles, and
providing himself with spirit to rub on his leg and a decoction of
herbs for his digestion, set off for the town where the circuit
court was being held.
The trial lasted for ten days. Throughout the trial Avdeyev sat
among his companions in misfortune with the stolid composure and
dignity befitting a respectable and innocent man who is suffering
for no fault of his own: he listened and did not understand a word.
He was in an antagonistic mood. He was angry at being detained so
long in the court, at being unable to get Lenten food anywhere, at
his defending counsel's not understanding him, and, as he thought,
saying the wrong thing. He thought that the judges did not understand
their business. They took scarcely any notice of Avdeyev, they only
addressed him once in three days, and the questions they put to him
were of such a character that Avdeyev raised a laugh in the audience
each time he answered them. When he tried to speak of the expenses
he had incurred, of his losses, and of his meaning to claim his
costs from the court, his counsel turned round and made an
incomprehensible grimace, the public laughed, and the judge announced
sternly that that had nothing to do with the case. The last words
that he was allowed to say were not what his counsel had instructed
him to say, but something quite different, which raised a laugh
During the terrible hour when the jury were consulting in their
room he sat angrily in the refreshment bar, not thinking about the
jury at all. He did not understand why they were so long deliberating
when everything was so clear, and what they wanted of him.
Getting hungry, he asked the waiter to give him some cheap Lenten
dish. For forty kopecks they gave him some cold fish and carrots.
He ate it and felt at once as though the fish were heaving in a
chilly lump in his stomach; it was followed by flatulence, heartburn,
Afterwards, as he listened to the foreman of the jury reading out
the questions point by point, there was a regular revolution taking
place in his inside, his whole body was bathed in a cold sweat, his
left leg was numb; he did not follow, understood nothing, and
suffered unbearably at not being able to sit or lie down while the
foreman was reading. At last, when he and his companions were allowed
to sit down, the public prosecutor got up and said something
unintelligible, and all at once, as though they had sprung out of
the earth, some police officers appeared on the scene with drawn
swords and surrounded all the prisoners. Avdeyev was told to get
up and go.
Now he understood that he was found guilty and in charge of the
police, but he was not frightened nor amazed; such a turmoil was
going on in his stomach that he could not think about his guards.
"So they won't let us go back to the hotel?" he asked one of his
companions. "But I have three roubles and an untouched quarter of
a pound of tea in my room there."
He spent the night at the police station; all night he was aware
of a loathing for fish, and was thinking about the three roubles
and the quarter of a pound of tea. Early in the morning, when the
sky was beginning to turn blue, he was told to dress and set off.
Two soldiers with bayonets took him to prison. Never before had the
streets of the town seemed to him so long and endless. He walked
not on the pavement but in the middle of the road in the muddy,
thawing snow. His inside was still at war with the fish, his left
leg was numb; he had forgotten his goloshes either in the court or
in the police station, and his feet felt frozen.
Five days later all the prisoners were brought before the court
again to hear their sentence. Avdeyev learnt that he was sentenced
to exile in the province of Tobolsk. And that did not frighten nor
amaze him either. He fancied for some reason that the trial was not
yet over, that there were more adjournments to come, and that the
final decision had not been reached yet. . . . He went on in the
prison expecting this final decision every day.
Only six months later, when his wife and his son Vassily came to
say good-bye to him, and when in the wasted, wretchedly dressed old
woman he scarcely recognized his once fat and dignified Elizaveta
Trofimovna, and when he saw his son wearing a short, shabby
reefer-jacket and cotton trousers instead of the high-school uniform,
he realized that his fate was decided, and that whatever new
"decision" there might be, his past would never come back to him.
And for the first time since the trial and his imprisonment the
angry expression left his face, and he wept bitterly.
A "POPULAR" fête with a philanthropic object had been arranged on
the Feast of Epiphany in the provincial town of N----. They had
selected a broad part of the river between the market and the
bishop's palace, fenced it round with a rope, with fir-trees and
with flags, and provided everything necessary for skating, sledging,
and tobogganing. The festivity was organized on the grandest scale
possible. The notices that were distributed were of huge size and
promised a number of delights: skating, a military band, a lottery
with no blank tickets, an electric sun, and so on. But the whole
scheme almost came to nothing owing to the hard frost. From the eve
of Epiphany there were twenty-eight degrees of frost with a strong
wind; it was proposed to put off the fête, and this was not done
only because the public, which for a long while had been looking
forward to the fête impatiently, would not consent to any postponement.
"Only think, what do you expect in winter but a frost!" said the
ladies persuading the governor, who tried to insist that the fête
should be postponed. "If anyone is cold he can go and warm himself."
The trees, the horses, the men's beards were white with frost; it
even seemed that the air itself crackled, as though unable to endure
the cold; but in spite of that the frozen public were skating.
Immediately after the blessing of the waters and precisely at one
o'clock the military band began playing.
Between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, when the festivity
was at its height, the select society of the place gathered together
to warm themselves in the governor's pavilion, which had been put
up on the river-bank. The old governor and his wife, the bishop,
the president of the local court, the head master of the high school,
and many others, were there. The ladies were sitting in armchairs,
while the men crowded round the wide glass door, looking at the
"Holy Saints!" said the bishop in surprise; "what flourishes they
execute with their legs! Upon my soul, many a singer couldn't do a
twirl with his voice as those cut-throats do with their legs. Aie!
he'll kill himself!"
"That's Smirnov. . . . That's Gruzdev . . ." said the head master,
mentioning the names of the schoolboys who flew by the pavilion.
"Bah! he's all alive-oh!" laughed the governor. "Look, gentlemen,
our mayor is coming. . . . He is coming this way. . . . That's a
nuisance, he will talk our heads off now."
A little thin old man, wearing a big cap and a fur-lined coat hanging
open, came from the opposite bank towards the pavilion, avoiding
the skaters. This was the mayor of the town, a merchant, Eremeyev
by name, a millionaire and an old inhabitant of N----. Flinging
wide his arms and shrugging at the cold, he skipped along, knocking
one golosh against the other, evidently in haste to get out of the
wind. Half-way he suddenly bent down, stole up to some lady, and
plucked at her sleeve from behind. When she looked round he skipped
away, and probably delighted at having succeeded in frightening
her, went off into a loud, aged laugh.
"Lively old fellow," said the governor. "It's a wonder he's not
As he got near the pavilion the mayor fell into a little tripping
trot, waved his hands, and, taking a run, slid along the ice in his
huge golosh boots up to the very door.
"Yegor Ivanitch, you ought to get yourself some skates!" the governor
"That's just what I am thinking," he answered in a squeaky, somewhat
nasal tenor, taking off his cap. "I wish you good health, your
Excellency! Your Holiness! Long life to all the other gentlemen and
ladies! Here's a frost! Yes, it is a frost, bother it! It's deadly!"
Winking with his red, frozen eyes, Yegor Ivanitch stamped on the
floor with his golosh boots and swung his arms together like a
"Such a damnable frost, worse than any dog!" he went on talking,
smiling all over his face. "It's a real affliction!"
"It's healthy," said the governor; "frost strengthens a man and
makes him vigorous. . . ."
"Though it may be healthy, it would be better without it at all,"
said the mayor, wiping his wedge-shaped beard with a red handkerchief.
"It would be a good riddance! To my thinking, your Excellency, the
Lord sends it us as a punishment--the frost, I mean. We sin in
the summer and are punished in the winter. . . . Yes!"
Yegor Ivanitch looked round him quickly and flung up his hands.
"Why, where's the needful . . . to warm us up?" he asked, looking
in alarm first at the governor and then at the bishop. "Your
Excellency! Your Holiness! I'll be bound, the ladies are frozen
too! We must have something, this won't do!"
Everyone began gesticulating and declaring that they had not come
to the skating to warm themselves, but the mayor, heeding no one,
opened the door and beckoned to someone with his crooked finger. A
workman and a fireman ran up to him.
"Here, run off to Savatin," he muttered, "and tell him to make haste
and send here . . . what do you call it? . . . What's it to be?
Tell him to send a dozen glasses . . . a dozen glasses of mulled
wine, the very hottest, or punch, perhaps. . . ."
There was laughter in the pavilion.
"A nice thing to treat us to!"
"Never mind, we will drink it," muttered the mayor; "a dozen glasses,
then . . . and some Benedictine, perhaps . . . and tell them to
warm two bottles of red wine. . . . Oh, and what for the ladies?
Well, you tell them to bring cakes, nuts . . . sweets of some sort,
perhaps. . . . There, run along, look sharp!"
The mayor was silent for a minute and then began again abusing the
frost, banging his arms across his chest and thumping with his
"No, Yegor Ivanitch," said the governor persuasively, "don't be
unfair, the Russian frost has its charms. I was reading lately that
many of the good qualities of the Russian people are due to the
vast expanse of their land and to the climate, the cruel struggle
for existence . . . that's perfectly true!"
"It may be true, your Excellency, but it would be better without
it. The frost did drive out the French, of course, and one can
freeze all sorts of dishes, and the children can go skating--
that's all true! For the man who is well fed and well clothed the
frost is only a pleasure, but for the working man, the beggar, the
pilgrim, the crazy wanderer, it's the greatest evil and misfortune.
It's misery, your Holiness! In a frost like this poverty is twice
as hard, and the thief is more cunning and evildoers more violent.
There's no gainsaying it! I am turned seventy, I've a fur coat now,
and at home I have a stove and rums and punches of all sorts. The
frost means nothing to me now; I take no notice of it, I don't care
to know of it, but how it used to be in old days, Holy Mother! It's
dreadful to recall it! My memory is failing me with years and I
have forgotten everything; my enemies, and my sins and troubles of
all sorts--I forget them all, but the frost--ough! How I remember
it! When my mother died I was left a little devil--this high--
a homeless orphan . . . no kith nor kin, wretched, ragged, little
clothes, hungry, nowhere to sleep--in fact, 'we have here no
abiding city, but seek the one to come.' In those days I used to
lead an old blind woman about the town for five kopecks a day . . .
the frosts were cruel, wicked. One would go out with the old woman
and begin suffering torments. My Creator! First of all you would
be shivering as in a fever, shrugging and dancing about. Then your
ears, your fingers, your feet, would begin aching. They would ache
as though someone were squeezing them with pincers. But all that
would have been nothing, a trivial matter, of no great consequence.
The trouble was when your whole body was chilled. One would walk
for three blessed hours in the frost, your Holiness, and lose all
human semblance. Your legs are drawn up, there is a weight on your
chest, your stomach is pinched; above all, there is a pain in your
heart that is worse than anything. Your heart aches beyond all
endurance, and there is a wretchedness all over your body as though
you were leading Death by the hand instead of an old woman. You are
numb all over, turned to stone like a statue; you go on and feel
as though it were not you walking, but someone else moving your
legs instead of you. When your soul is frozen you don't know what
you are doing: you are ready to leave the old woman with no one to
guide her, or to pull a hot roll from off a hawker's tray, or to
fight with someone. And when you come to your night's lodging into
the warmth after the frost, there is not much joy in that either!
You lie awake till midnight, crying, and don't know yourself what
you are crying for. . . ."
"We must walk about the skating-ground before it gets dark," said
the governor's wife, who was bored with listening. "Who's coming
The governor's wife went out and the whole company trooped out of
the pavilion after her. Only the governor, the bishop, and the mayor
"Queen of Heaven! and what I went through when I was a shopboy in
a fish-shop!" Yegor Ivanitch went on, flinging up his arms so that
his fox-lined coat fell open. "One would go out to the shop almost
before it was light . . . by eight o'clock I was completely frozen,
my face was blue, my fingers were stiff so that I could not fasten
my buttons nor count the money. One would stand in the cold, turn
numb, and think, 'Lord, I shall have to stand like this right on
till evening!' By dinner-time my stomach was pinched and my heart
was aching. . . . Yes! And I was not much better afterwards when I
had a shop of my own. The frost was intense and the shop was like
a mouse-trap with draughts blowing in all directions; the coat I
had on was, pardon me, mangy, as thin as paper, threadbare. . . .
One would be chilled through and through, half dazed, and turn as
cruel as the frost oneself: I would pull one by the ear so that I
nearly pulled the ear off; I would smack another on the back of the
head; I'd glare at a customer like a ruffian, a wild beast, and be
ready to fleece him; and when I got home in the evening and ought
to have gone to bed, I'd be ill-humoured and set upon my family,
throwing it in their teeth that they were living upon me; I would
make a row and carry on so that half a dozen policemen couldn't
have managed me. The frost makes one spiteful and drives one to
Yegor Ivanitch clasped his hands and went on:
"And when we were taking fish to Moscow in the winter, Holy Mother!"
And spluttering as he talked, he began describing the horrors he
endured with his shopmen when he was taking fish to Moscow. . . .
"Yes," sighed the governor, "it is wonderful what a man can endure!
You used to take wagon-loads of fish to Moscow, Yegor Ivanitch,
while I in my time was at the war. I remember one extraordinary
instance. . . ."
And the governor described how, during the last Russo-Turkish War,
one frosty night the division in which he was had stood in the snow
without moving for thirteen hours in a piercing wind; from fear of
being observed the division did not light a fire, nor make a sound
or a movement; they were forbidden to smoke. . . .
Reminiscences followed. The governor and the mayor grew lively and
good-humoured, and, interrupting each other, began recalling their
experiences. And the bishop told them how, when he was serving in
Siberia, he had travelled in a sledge drawn by dogs; how one day,
being drowsy, in a time of sharp frost he had fallen out of the
sledge and been nearly frozen; when the Tunguses turned back and
found him he was barely alive. Then, as by common agreement, the
old men suddenly sank into silence, sat side by side, and mused.
"Ech!" whispered the mayor; "you'd think it would be time to forget,
but when you look at the water-carriers, at the schoolboys, at the
convicts in their wretched gowns, it brings it all back! Why, only
take those musicians who are playing now. I'll be bound, there is
a pain in their hearts; a pinch at their stomachs, and their trumpets
are freezing to their lips. . . . They play and think: 'Holy Mother!
we have another three hours to sit here in the cold.'"
The old men sank into thought. They thought of that in man which
is higher than good birth, higher than rank and wealth and learning,
of that which brings the lowest beggar near to God: of the helplessness
of man, of his sufferings and his patience. . . .
Meanwhile the air was turning blue . . . the door opened and two
waiters from Savatin's walked in, carrying trays and a big muffled
teapot. When the glasses had been filled and there was a strong
smell of cinnamon and clove in the air, the door opened again, and
there came into the pavilion a beardless young policeman whose nose
was crimson, and who was covered all over with frost; he went up
to the governor, and, saluting, said: "Her Excellency told me to
inform you that she has gone home."
Looking at the way the policeman put his stiff, frozen fingers to
his cap, looking at his nose, his lustreless eyes, and his hood
covered with white frost near the mouth, they all for some reason
felt that this policeman's heart must be aching, that his stomach
must feel pinched, and his soul numb. . . .
"I say," said the governor hesitatingly, "have a drink of mulled
"It's all right . . . it's all right! Drink it up!" the mayor urged
him, gesticulating; "don't be shy!"
The policeman took the glass in both hands, moved aside, and, trying
to drink without making any sound, began discreetly sipping from
the glass. He drank and was overwhelmed with embarrassment while
the old men looked at him in silence, and they all fancied that the
pain was leaving the young policeman's heart, and that his soul was
thawing. The governor heaved a sigh.
"It's time we were at home," he said, getting up. "Good-bye! I say,"
he added, addressing the policeman, "tell the musicians there to
. . . leave off playing, and ask Pavel Semyonovitch from me to see
they are given . . . beer or vodka."
The governor and the bishop said good-bye to the mayor and went out
of the pavilion.
Yegor Ivanitch attacked the mulled wine, and before the policeman
had finished his glass succeeded in telling him a great many
interesting things. He could not be silent.
SERGE KAPITONICH AHINEEV, the writing master, was marrying his
daughter to the teacher of history and geography. The wedding
festivities were going off most successfully. In the drawing room
there was singing, playing, and dancing. Waiters hired from the
club were flitting distractedly about the rooms, dressed in black
swallow-tails and dirty white ties. There was a continual hubbub
and din of conversation. Sitting side by side on the sofa, the
teacher of mathematics, Tarantulov, the French teacher, Pasdequoi,
and the junior assessor of taxes, Mzda, were talking hurriedly and
interrupting one another as they described to the guests cases of
persons being buried alive, and gave their opinions on spiritualism.
None of them believed in spiritualism, but all admitted that there
were many things in this world which would always be beyond the
mind of man. In the next room the literature master, Dodonsky, was
explaining to the visitors the cases in which a sentry has the right
to fire on passers-by. The subjects, as you perceive, were alarming,
but very agreeable. Persons whose social position precluded them
from entering were looking in at the windows from the yard.
Just at midnight the master of the house went into the kitchen to
see whether everything was ready for supper. The kitchen from floor
to ceiling was filled with fumes composed of goose, duck, and many
other odours. On two tables the accessories, the drinks and light
refreshments, were set out in artistic disorder. The cook, Marfa,
a red-faced woman whose figure was like a barrel with a belt around
it, was bustling about the tables.
"Show me the sturgeon, Marfa," said Ahineev, rubbing his hands and
licking his lips. "What a perfume! I could eat up the whole kitchen.
Come, show me the sturgeon."
Marfa went up to one of the benches and cautiously lifted a piece
of greasy newspaper. Under the paper on an immense dish there reposed
a huge sturgeon, masked in jelly and decorated with capers, olives,
and carrots. Ahineev gazed at the sturgeon and gasped. His face
beamed, he turned his eyes up. He bent down and with his lips emitted
the sound of an ungreased wheel. After standing a moment he snapped
his fingers with delight and once more smacked his lips.
"Ah-ah! the sound of a passionate kiss. . . . Who is it you're
kissing out there, little Marfa?" came a voice from the next room,
and in the doorway there appeared the cropped head of the assistant
usher, Vankin. "Who is it? A-a-h! . . . Delighted to meet you!
Sergei Kapitonich! You're a fine grandfather, I must say! _Tête-à-tête_
with the fair sex--tette!"
"I'm not kissing," said Ahineev in confusion. "Who told you so, you
fool? I was only . . . I smacked my lips . . . in reference to . . .
as an indication of . . . pleasure . . . at the sight of the fish."
"Tell that to the marines!" The intrusive face vanished, wearing a
"Hang it!" he thought, "the beast will go now and talk scandal.
He'll disgrace me to all the town, the brute."
Ahineev went timidly into the drawing-room and looked stealthily
round for Vankin. Vankin was standing by the piano, and, bending
down with a jaunty air, was whispering something to the inspector's
sister-in-law, who was laughing.
"Talking about me!" thought Ahineev. "About me, blast him! And she
believes it . . . believes it! She laughs! Mercy on us! No, I can't
let it pass . . . I can't. I must do something to prevent his being
believed. . . . I'll speak to them all, and he'll be shown up for
a fool and a gossip."
Ahineev scratched his head, and still overcome with embarrassment,
went up to Pasdequoi.
"I've just been in the kitchen to see after the supper," he said
to the Frenchman. "I know you are fond of fish, and I've a sturgeon,
my dear fellow, beyond everything! A yard and a half long! Ha, ha,
ha! And, by the way . . . I was just forgetting. . . . In the kitchen
just now, with that sturgeon . . . quite a little story! I went
into the kitchen just now and wanted to look at the supper dishes.
I looked at the sturgeon and I smacked my lips with relish . . .
at the piquancy of it. And at the very moment that fool Vankin came
in and said: . . . 'Ha, ha, ha! . . . So you're kissing here!'
Kissing Marfa, the cook! What a thing to imagine, silly fool! The
woman is a perfect fright, like all the beasts put together, and
he talks about kissing! Queer fish!"
"Who's a queer fish?" asked Tarantulov, coming up.
"Why he, over there--Vankin! I went into the kitchen . . ."
And he told the story of Vankin. ". . . He amused me, queer fish!
I'd rather kiss a dog than Marfa, if you ask me," added Ahineev.
He looked round and saw behind him Mzda.
"We were talking of Vankin," he said. "Queer fish, he is! He went
into the kitchen, saw me beside Marfa, and began inventing all sorts
of silly stories. 'Why are you kissing?' he says. He must have had
a drop too much. 'And I'd rather kiss a turkeycock than Marfa,' I
said, 'And I've a wife of my own, you fool,' said I. He did amuse
"Who amused you?" asked the priest who taught Scripture in the
school, going up to Ahineev.
"Vankin. I was standing in the kitchen, you know, looking at the
sturgeon. . . ."
And so on. Within half an hour or so all the guests knew the incident
of the sturgeon and Vankin.
"Let him tell away now!" thought Ahineev, rubbing his hands. "Let
him! He'll begin telling his story and they'll say to him at once,
'Enough of your improbable nonsense, you fool, we know all about
And Ahineev was so relieved that in his joy he drank four glasses
too many. After escorting the young people to their room, he went
to bed and slept like an innocent babe, and next day he thought no
more of the incident with the sturgeon. But, alas! man proposes,
but God disposes. An evil tongue did its evil work, and Ahineev's
strategy was of no avail. Just a week later--to be precise, on
Wednesday after the third lesson--when Ahineev was standing in
the middle of the teacher's room, holding forth on the vicious
propensities of a boy called Visekin, the head master went up to
him and drew him aside:
"Look here, Sergei Kapitonich," said the head master, "you must
excuse me. . . . It's not my business; but all the same I must make
you realize. . . . It's my duty. You see, there are rumors that you
are romancing with that . . . cook. . . . It's nothing to do with
me, but . . . flirt with her, kiss her . . . as you please, but
don't let it be so public, please. I entreat you! Don't forget that
you're a schoolmaster."
Ahineev turned cold and faint. He went home like a man stung by a
whole swarm of bees, like a man scalded with boiling water. As he
walked home, it seemed to him that the whole town was looking at
him as though he were smeared with pitch. At home fresh trouble
"Why aren't you gobbling up your food as usual?" his wife asked him
at dinner. "What are you so pensive about? Brooding over your amours?
Pining for your Marfa? I know all about it, Mohammedan! Kind friends
have opened my eyes! O-o-o! . . . you savage!"
And she slapped him in the face. He got up from the table, not
feeling the earth under his feet, and without his hat or coat, made
his way to Vankin. He found him at home.
"You scoundrel!" he addressed him. "Why have you covered me with
mud before all the town? Why did you set this slander going about
"What slander? What are you talking about?"
"Who was it gossiped of my kissing Marfa? Wasn't it you? Tell me
that. Wasn't it you, you brigand?"
Vankin blinked and twitched in every fibre of his battered countenance,
raised his eyes to the icon and articulated, "God blast me! Strike
me blind and lay me out, if I said a single word about you! May I
be left without house and home, may I be stricken with worse than
Vankin's sincerity did not admit of doubt. It was evidently not he
who was the author of the slander.
"But who, then, who?" Ahineev wondered, going over all his acquaintances
in his mind and beating himself on the breast. "Who, then?"
Who, then? We, too, ask the reader.
MINDS IN FERMENT
_(FROM THE ANNALS OF A TOWN)_
THE earth was like an oven. The afternoon sun blazed with such
energy that even the thermometer hanging in the excise officer's
room lost its head: it ran up to 112.5 and stopped there, irresolute.
The inhabitants streamed with perspiration like overdriven horses,
and were too lazy to mop their faces.
Two of the inhabitants were walking along the market-place in front
of the closely shuttered houses. One was Potcheshihin, the local
treasury clerk, and the other was Optimov, the agent, for many years
a correspondent of the _Son of the Fatherland_ newspaper. They
walked in silence, speechless from the heat. Optimov felt tempted
to find fault with the local authorities for the dust and disorder
of the market-place, but, aware of the peace-loving disposition and
moderate views of his companion, he said nothing.
In the middle of the market-place Potcheshihin suddenly halted and
began gazing into the sky.
"What are you looking at?"
"Those starlings that flew up. I wonder where they have settled.
Clouds and clouds of them. . . . If one were to go and take a shot
at them, and if one were to pick them up . . . and if . . . They
have settled in the Father Prebendary's garden!"
"Oh no! They are not in the Father Prebendary's, they are in the
Father Deacon's. If you did have a shot at them from here you
wouldn't kill anything. Fine shot won't carry so far; it loses its
force. And why should you kill them, anyway? They're birds destructive
of the fruit, that's true; still, they're fowls of the air, works
of the Lord. The starling sings, you know. . . . And what does it
sing, pray? A song of praise. . . . 'All ye fowls of the air, praise
ye the Lord.' No. I do believe they have settled in the Father
Three old pilgrim women, wearing bark shoes and carrying wallets,
passed noiselessly by the speakers. Looking enquiringly at the
gentlemen who were for some unknown reason staring at the Father
Prebendary's house, they slackened their pace, and when they were
a few yards off stopped, glanced at the friends once more, and then
fell to gazing at the house themselves.
"Yes, you were right; they have settled in the Father Prebendary's,"
said Optimov. "His cherries are ripe now, so they have gone there
to peck them."
From the garden gate emerged the Father Prebendary himself, accompanied
by the sexton. Seeing the attention directed upon his abode and
wondering what people were staring at, he stopped, and he, too, as
well as the sexton, began looking upwards to find out.
"The father is going to a service somewhere, I suppose," said
Potcheshihin. "The Lord be his succour!"
Some workmen from Purov's factory, who had been bathing in the
river, passed between the friends and the priest. Seeing the latter
absorbed in contemplation of the heavens and the pilgrim women,
too, standing motionless with their eyes turned upwards, they stood
still and stared in the same direction.
A small boy leading a blind beggar and a peasant, carrying a tub
of stinking fish to throw into the market-place, did the same.
"There must be something the matter, I should think," said Potcheshihin,
"a fire or something. But there's no sign of smoke anywhere. Hey!
Kuzma!" he shouted to the peasant, "what's the matter?"
The peasant made some reply, but Potcheshihin and Optimov did not
catch it. Sleepy-looking shopmen made their appearance at the doors
of all the shops. Some plasterers at work on a warehouse near left
their ladders and joined the workmen.
The fireman, who was describing circles with his bare feet, on the
watch-tower, halted, and, after looking steadily at them for a few
minutes, came down. The watch-tower was left deserted. This seemed
"There must be a fire somewhere. Don't shove me! You damned swine!"
"Where do you see the fire? What fire? Pass on, gentlemen! I ask
"It must be a fire indoors!"
"Asks us civilly and keeps poking with his elbows. Keep your hands
to yourself! Though you are a head constable, you have no sort of
right to make free with your fists!"
"He's trodden on my corn! Ah! I'll crush you!"
"Crushed? Who's crushed? Lads! a man's been crushed!
"What's the meaning of this crowd? What do you want?"
"A man's been crushed, please your honour!"
"Where? Pass on! I ask you civilly! I ask you civilly, you blockheads!"
"You may shove a peasant, but you daren't touch a gentleman! Hands
"Did you ever know such people? There's no doing anything with them
by fair words, the devils! Sidorov, run for Akim Danilitch! Look
sharp! It'll be the worse for you, gentlemen! Akim Danilitch is
coming, and he'll give it to you! You here, Parfen? A blind man,
and at his age too! Can't see, but he must be like other people and
won't do what he's told. Smirnov, put his name down!"
"Yes, sir! And shall I write down the men from Purov's? That man
there with the swollen cheek, he's from Purov's works."
"Don't put down the men from Purov's. It's Purov's birthday to-morrow."
The starlings rose in a black cloud from the Father Prebendary's
garden, but Potcheshihin and Optimov did not notice them. They stood
staring into the air, wondering what could have attracted such a
crowd, and what it was looking at.
Akim Danilitch appeared. Still munching and wiping his lips, he cut
his way into the crowd, bellowing:
"Firemen, be ready! Disperse! Mr. Optimov, disperse, or it'll be
the worse for you! Instead of writing all kinds of things about
decent people in the papers, you had better try to behave yourself
more conformably! No good ever comes of reading the papers!"
"Kindly refrain from reflections upon literature!" cried Optimov
hotly. "I am a literary man, and I will allow no one to make
reflections upon literature! though, as is the duty of a citizen,
I respect you as a father and benefactor!"
"Firemen, turn the hose on them!"
"There's no water, please your honour!"
"Don't answer me! Go and get some! Look sharp!"
"We've nothing to get it in, your honour. The major has taken the
fire-brigade horses to drive his aunt to the station.
"Disperse! Stand back, damnation take you! Is that to your taste?
Put him down, the devil!"
"I've lost my pencil, please your honour!"
The crowd grew larger and larger. There is no telling what proportions
it might have reached if the new organ just arrived from Moscow had
not fortunately begun playing in the tavern close by. Hearing their
favourite tune, the crowd gasped and rushed off to the tavern. So
nobody ever knew why the crowd had assembled, and Potcheshihin and
Optimov had by now forgotten the existence of the starlings who
were innocently responsible for the proceedings.
An hour later the town was still and silent again, and only a
solitary figure was to be seen--the fireman pacing round and round
on the watch-tower.
The same evening Akim Danilitch sat in the grocer's shop drinking
_limonade gaseuse_ and brandy, and writing:
"In addition to the official report, I venture, your Excellency,
to append a few supplementary observations of my own. Father and
benefactor! In very truth, but for the prayers of your virtuous
spouse in her salubrious villa near our town, there's no knowing
what might not have come to pass. What I have been through to-day
I can find no words to express. The efficiency of Krushensky and
of the major of the fire brigade are beyond all praise! I am proud
of such devoted servants of our country! As for me, I did all that
a weak man could do, whose only desire is the welfare of his
neighbour; and sitting now in the bosom of my family, with tears
in my eyes I thank Him Who spared us bloodshed! In absence of
evidence, the guilty parties remain in custody, but I propose to
release them in a week or so. It was their ignorance that led them
A COUNTRY village wrapped in the darkness of night. One o'clock
strikes from the belfry. Two lawyers, called Kozyavkin and Laev,
both in the best of spirits and a little unsteady on their legs,
come out of the wood and turn towards the cottages.
"Well, thank God, we've arrived," says Kozyavkin, drawing a deep
breath. "Tramping four miles from the station in our condition is
a feat. I am fearfully done up! And, as ill-luck would have it, not
a fly to be seen."
"Petya, my dear fellow. . . . I can't. . . . I feel like dying if
I'm not in bed in five minutes."
"In bed! Don't you think it, my boy! First we'll have supper and a
glass of red wine, and then you can go to bed. Verotchka and I will
wake you up. . . . Ah, my dear fellow, it's a fine thing to be
married! You don't understand it, you cold-hearted wretch! I shall
be home in a minute, worn out and exhausted. . . . A loving wife
will welcome me, give me some tea and something to eat, and repay
me for my hard work and my love with such a fond and loving look
out of her darling black eyes that I shall forget how tired I am,
and forget the burglary and the law courts and the appeal division
. . . . It's glorious!"
"Yes--I say, I feel as though my legs were dropping off, I can
scarcely get along. . . . I am frightfully thirsty. . . ."
"Well, here we are at home."
The friends go up to one of the cottages, and stand still under the
"It's a jolly cottage," said Kozyavkin. "You will see to-morrow
what views we have! There's no light in the windows. Verotchka must
have gone to bed, then; she must have got tired of sitting up. She's
in bed, and must be worrying at my not having turned up." (He pushes
the window with his stick, and it opens.) "Plucky girl! She goes
to bed without bolting the window." (He takes off his cape and
flings it with his portfolio in at the window.) "I am hot! Let us
strike up a serenade and make her laugh!" (He sings.) "The moon
floats in the midnight sky. . . . Faintly stir the tender breezes
. . . . Faintly rustle in the treetops. . . . Sing, sing, Alyosha!
Verotchka, shall we sing you Schubert's Serenade?" (He sings.)
His performance is cut short by a sudden fit of coughing. "Tphoo!
Verotchka, tell Aksinya to unlock the gate for us!" (A pause.)
"Verotchka! don't be lazy, get up, darling!" (He stands on a stone
and looks in at the window.) "Verotchka, my dumpling; Verotchka,
my poppet . . . my little angel, my wife beyond compare, get up and
tell Aksinya to unlock the gate for us! You are not asleep, you
know. Little wife, we are really so done up and exhausted that we're
not in the mood for jokes. We've trudged all the way from the
station! Don't you hear? Ah, hang it all!" (He makes an effort to
climb up to the window and falls down.) "You know this isn't a nice
trick to play on a visitor! I see you are just as great a schoolgirl
as ever, Vera, you are always up to mischief!"
"Perhaps Vera Stepanovna is asleep," says Laev.
"She isn't asleep! I bet she wants me to make an outcry and wake
up the whole neighbourhood. I'm beginning to get cross, Vera! Ach,
damn it all! Give me a leg up, Alyosha; I'll get in. You are a
naughty girl, nothing but a regular schoolgirl. . . Give me a hoist."
Puffing and panting, Laev gives him a leg up, and Kozyavkin climbs
in at the window and vanishes into the darkness within.
"Vera!" Laev hears a minute later, "where are you? . . . D--damnation!
Tphoo! I've put my hand into something! Tphoo!"
There is a rustling sound, a flapping of wings, and the desperate
cackling of a fowl.
"A nice state of things," Laev hears. "Vera, where on earth did
these chickens come from? Why, the devil, there's no end of them!
There's a basket with a turkey in it. . . . It pecks, the nasty
Two hens fly out of the window, and cackling at the top of their
voices, flutter down the village street.
"Alyosha, we've made a mistake!" says Kozyavkin in a lachrymose
voice. "There are a lot of hens here. . . . I must have mistaken
the house. Confound you, you are all over the place, you cursed
"Well, then, make haste and come down. Do you hear? I am dying of
"In a minute. . . . I am looking for my cape and portfolio."
"Light a match."
"The matches are in the cape. . . . I was a crazy idiot to get into
this place. The cottages are exactly alike; the devil himself
couldn't tell them apart in the dark. Aie, the turkey's pecked my
cheek, nasty creature!"
"Make haste and get out or they'll think we are stealing the
"In a minute. . . . I can't find my cape anywhere. . . . There are
lots of old rags here, and I can't tell where the cape is. Throw
me a match."
"I haven't any."
"We are in a hole, I must say! What am I to do? I can't go without
my cape and my portfolio. I must find them."
"I can't understand a man's not knowing his own cottage," says Laev
indignantly. "Drunken beast. . . . If I'd known I was in for this
sort of thing I would never have come with you. I should have been
at home and fast asleep by now, and a nice fix I'm in here. . . .
I'm fearfully done up and thirsty, and my head is going round."
"In a minute, in a minute. . . . You won't expire."
A big cock flies crowing over Laev's head. Laev heaves a deep sigh,
and with a hopeless gesture sits down on a stone. He is beset with
a burning thirst, his eyes are closing, his head drops forward. . . .
Five minutes pass, ten, twenty, and Kozyavkin is still busy among
"Petya, will you be long?"
"A minute. I found the portfolio, but I have lost it again."
Laev lays his head on his fists, and closes his eyes. The cackling
of the fowls grows louder and louder. The inhabitants of the empty
cottage fly out of the window and flutter round in circles, he
fancies, like owls over his head. His ears ring with their cackle,
he is overwhelmed with terror.
"The beast!" he thinks. "He invited me to stay, promising me wine
and junket, and then he makes me walk from the station and listen
to these hens. . . ."
In the midst of his indignation his chin sinks into his collar, he
lays his head on his portfolio, and gradually subsides. Weariness
gets the upper hand and he begins to doze.
"I've found the portfolio!" he hears Kozyavkin cry triumphantly.
"I shall find the cape in a minute and then off we go!"
Then through his sleep he hears the barking of dogs. First one dog
barks, then a second, and a third. . . . And the barking of the
dogs blends with the cackling of the fowls into a sort of savage
music. Someone comes up to Laev and asks him something. Then he
hears someone climb over his head into the window, then a knocking
and a shouting. . . . A woman in a red apron stands beside him with
a lantern in her hand and asks him something.
"You've no right to say so," he hears Kozyavkin's voice. "I am a
lawyer, a bachelor of laws--Kozyavkin--here's my visiting card."
"What do I want with your card?" says someone in a husky bass.
"You've disturbed all my fowls, you've smashed the eggs! Look what
you've done. The turkey poults were to have come out to-day or
to-morrow, and you've smashed them. What's the use of your giving
me your card, sir?"
"How dare you interfere with me! No! I won't have it!"
"I am thirsty," thinks Laev, trying to open his eyes, and he feels
somebody climb down from the window over his head.
"My name is Kozyavkin! I have a cottage here. Everyone knows me."
"We don't know anyone called Kozyavkin."
"What are you saying? Call the elder. He knows me."
"Don't get excited, the constable will be here directly. . . . We
know all the summer visitors here, but I've never seen you in my
"I've had a cottage in Rottendale for five years."
"Whew! Do you take this for the Dale? This is Sicklystead, but
Rottendale is farther to the right, beyond the match factory. It's
three miles from here."
"Bless my soul! Then I've taken the wrong turning!"
The cries of men and fowls mingle with the barking of dogs, and the
voice of Kozyavkin rises above the chaos of confused sounds:
"You shut up! I'll pay. I'll show you whom you have to deal with!"
Little by little the voices die down. Laev feels himself being
shaken by the shoulder. . . .
SHORTLY after finding his wife _in flagrante delicto_ Fyodor
Fyodorovitch Sigaev was standing in Schmuck and Co.'s, the gunsmiths,
selecting a suitable revolver. His countenance expressed wrath,
grief, and unalterable determination.
"I know what I must do," he was thinking. "The sanctities of the
home are outraged, honour is trampled in the mud, vice is triumphant,
and therefore as a citizen and a man of honour I must be their
avenger. First, I will kill her and her lover and then myself."
He had not yet chosen a revolver or killed anyone, but already in
imagination he saw three bloodstained corpses, broken skulls, brains
oozing from them, the commotion, the crowd of gaping spectators,
the post-mortem. . . . With the malignant joy of an insulted man
he pictured the horror of the relations and the public, the agony
of the traitress, and was mentally reading leading articles on the
destruction of the traditions of the home.
The shopman, a sprightly little Frenchified figure with rounded
belly and white waistcoat, displayed the revolvers, and smiling
respectfully and scraping with his little feet observed:
". . . I would advise you, M'sieur, to take this superb revolver,
the Smith and Wesson pattern, the last word in the science of
firearms: triple-action, with ejector, kills at six hundred paces,
central sight. Let me draw your attention, M'sieu, to the beauty
of the finish. The most fashionable system, M'sieu. We sell a dozen
every day for burglars, wolves, and lovers. Very correct and powerful
action, hits at a great distance, and kills wife and lover with one
bullet. As for suicide, M'sieu, I don't know a better pattern."
The shopman pulled and cocked the trigger, breathed on the barrel,
took aim, and affected to be breathless with delight. Looking at
his ecstatic countenance, one might have supposed that he would
readily have put a bullet through his brains if he had only possessed
a revolver of such a superb pattern as a Smith-Wesson.
"And what price?" asked Sigaev.
"Forty-five roubles, M'sieu."
"Mm! . . . that's too dear for me."
"In that case, M'sieu, let me offer you another make, somewhat
cheaper. Here, if you'll kindly look, we have an immense choice,
at all prices. . . . Here, for instance, this revolver of the
Lefaucher pattern costs only eighteen roubles, but . . ." (the
shopman pursed up his face contemptuously) ". . . but, M'sieu, it's
an old-fashioned make. They are only bought by hysterical ladies
or the mentally deficient. To commit suicide or shoot one's wife
with a Lefaucher revolver is considered bad form nowadays. Smith-Wesson
is the only pattern that's correct style."
"I don't want to shoot myself or to kill anyone," said Sigaev, lying
sullenly. "I am buying it simply for a country cottage . . . to
frighten away burglars. . . ."
"That's not our business, what object you have in buying it." The
shopman smiled, dropping his eyes discreetly. "If we were to
investigate the object in each case, M'sieu, we should have to close
our shop. To frighten burglars Lefaucher is not a suitable pattern,
M'sieu, for it goes off with a faint, muffled sound. I would suggest
Mortimer's, the so-called duelling pistol. . . ."
"Shouldn't I challenge him to a duel?" flashed through Sigaev's
mind. "It's doing him too much honour, though. . . . Beasts like
that are killed like dogs. . . ."
The shopman, swaying gracefully and tripping to and fro on his
little feet, still smiling and chattering, displayed before him a
heap of revolvers. The most inviting and impressive of all was the
Smith and Wesson's. Sigaev picked up a pistol of that pattern, gazed
blankly at it, and sank into brooding. His imagination pictured how
he would blow out their brains, how blood would flow in streams
over the rug and the parquet, how the traitress's legs would twitch
in her last agony. . . . But that was not enough for his indignant
soul. The picture of blood, wailing, and horror did not satisfy
him. He must think of something more terrible.
"I know! I'll kill myself and him," he thought, "but I'll leave her
alive. Let her pine away from the stings of conscience and the
contempt of all surrounding her. For a sensitive nature like hers
that will be far more agonizing than death."
And he imagined his own funeral: he, the injured husband, lies in
his coffin with a gentle smile on his lips, and she, pale, tortured
by remorse, follows the coffin like a Niobe, not knowing where to
hide herself to escape from the withering, contemptuous looks cast
upon her by the indignant crowd.
"I see, M'sieu, that you like the Smith and Wesson make," the shopman
broke in upon his broodings. "If you think it too dear, very well,
I'll knock off five roubles. . . . But we have other makes, cheaper."
The little Frenchified figure turned gracefully and took down another
dozen cases of revolvers from the shelf.
"Here, M'sieu, price thirty roubles. That's not expensive, especially
as the rate of exchange has dropped terribly and the Customs duties
are rising every hour. M'sieu, I vow I am a Conservative, but even
I am beginning to murmur. Why, with the rate of exchange and the
Customs tariff, only the rich can purchase firearms. There's nothing
left for the poor but Tula weapons and phosphorus matches, and Tula
weapons are a misery! You may aim at your wife with a Tula revolver
and shoot yourself through the shoulder-blade."
Sigaev suddenly felt mortified and sorry that he would be dead, and
would miss seeing the agonies of the traitress. Revenge is only
sweet when one can see and taste its fruits, and what sense would
there be in it if he were lying in his coffin, knowing nothing about
"Hadn't I better do this?" he pondered. "I'll kill him, then I'll
go to his funeral and look on, and after the funeral I'll kill
myself. They'd arrest me, though, before the funeral, and take away
my pistol. . . . And so I'll kill him, she shall remain alive, and
I . . . for the time, I'll not kill myself, but go and be arrested.
I shall always have time to kill myself. There will be this advantage
about being arrested, that at the preliminary investigation I shall
have an opportunity of exposing to the authorities and to the public
all the infamy of her conduct. If I kill myself she may, with her
characteristic duplicity and impudence, throw all the blame on me,
and society will justify her behaviour and will very likely laugh
at me. . . . If I remain alive, then . . ."
A minute later he was thinking:
"Yes, if I kill myself I may be blamed and suspected of petty
feeling. . . . Besides, why should I kill myself? That's one thing.
And for another, to shoot oneself is cowardly. And so I'll kill him
and let her live, and I'll face my trial. I shall be tried, and she
will be brought into court as a witness. . . . I can imagine her
confusion, her disgrace when she is examined by my counsel! The
sympathies of the court, of the Press, and of the public will
certainly be with me."
While he deliberated the shopman displayed his wares, and felt it
incumbent upon him to entertain his customer.
"Here are English ones, a new pattern, only just received," he
prattled on. "But I warn you, M'sieu, all these systems pale beside
the Smith and Wesson. The other day--as I dare say you have read--an
officer bought from us a Smith and Wesson. He shot his wife's lover,
and-would you believe it?-the bullet passed through him, pierced
the bronze lamp, then the piano, and ricochetted back from the
piano, killing the lap-dog and bruising the wife. A magnificent
record redounding to the honour of our firm! The officer is now
under arrest. He will no doubt be convicted and sent to penal
servitude. In the first place, our penal code is quite out of date;
and, secondly, M'sieu, the sympathies of the court are always with
the lover. Why is it? Very simple, M'sieu. The judges and the jury
and the prosecutor and the counsel for the defence are all living
with other men's wives, and it'll add to their comfort that there
will be one husband the less in Russia. Society would be pleased
if the Government were to send all the husbands to Sahalin. Oh,
M'sieu, you don't know how it excites my indignation to see the
corruption of morals nowadays. To love other men's wives is as much
the regular thing to-day as to smoke other men s cigarettes and to
read other men's books. Every year our trade gets worse and worse
--it doesn't mean that wives are more faithful, but that husbands
resign themselves to their position and are afraid of the law and
The shopman looked round and whispered: "And whose fault is it,
M'sieu? The Government's."
"To go to Sahalin for the sake of a pig like that--there's no
sense in that either," Sigaev pondered. "If I go to penal servitude
it will only give my wife an opportunity of marrying again and
deceiving a second husband. She would triumph. . . . And so I will
leave _her_ alive, I won't kill myself, _him_ . . . I won't kill
either. I must think of something more sensible and more effective.
I will punish them with my contempt, and will take divorce proceedings
that will make a scandal."
"Here, M'sieu, is another make," said the shopman, taking down
another dozen from the shelf. "Let me call your attention to the
original mechanism of the lock."
In view of his determination a revolver was now of no use to Sigaev,
but the shopman, meanwhile, getting more and more enthusiastic,
persisted in displaying his wares before him. The outraged husband
began to feel ashamed that the shopman should be taking so much
trouble on his account for nothing, that he should be smiling,
wasting time, displaying enthusiasm for nothing.
"Very well, in that case," he muttered, "I'll look in again later
on . . . or I'll send someone."
He didn't see the expression of the shopman's face, but to smooth
over the awkwardness of the position a little he felt called upon
to make some purchase. But what should he buy? He looked round the
walls of the shop to pick out something inexpensive, and his eyes
rested on a green net hanging near the door.
"That's . . . what's that?" he asked.
"That's a net for catching quails."
"And what price is it?"
"Eight roubles, M'sieu."
"Wrap it up for me. . . ."
The outraged husband paid his eight roubles, took the net, and,
feeling even more outraged, walked out of the shop.
THE JEUNE PREMIER
YEVGENY ALEXEYITCH PODZHAROV, the _jeune premier_, a graceful,
elegant young man with an oval face and little bags under his eyes,
had come for the season to one of the southern towns of Russia, and
tried at once to make the acquaintance of a few of the leading
families of the place. "Yes, signor," he would often say, gracefully
swinging his foot and displaying his red socks, "an artist ought
to act upon the masses, both directly and indirectly; the first aim
is attained by his work on the stage, the second by an acquaintance
with the local inhabitants. On my honour, _parole d'honneur_, I
don't understand why it is we actors avoid making acquaintance with
local families. Why is it? To say nothing of dinners, name-day
parties, feasts, _soirées fixes_, to say nothing of these entertainments,
think of the moral influence we may have on society! Is it not
agreeable to feel one has dropped a spark in some thick skull? The
types one meets! The women! _Mon Dieu_, what women! they turn one's
head! One penetrates into some huge merchant's house, into the
sacred retreats, and picks out some fresh and rosy little peach--
it's heaven, _parole d'honneur!_"
In the southern town, among other estimable families he made the
acquaintance of that of a manufacturer called Zybaev. Whenever he
remembers that acquaintance now he frowns contemptuously, screws
up his eyes, and nervously plays with his watch-chain.
One day--it was at a name-day party at Zybaev's--the actor was
sitting in his new friends' drawing-room and holding forth as usual.
Around him "types" were sitting in armchairs and on the sofa,
listening affably; from the next room came feminine laughter and
the sounds of evening tea. . . . Crossing his legs, after each
phrase sipping tea with rum in it, and trying to assume an expression
of careless boredom, he talked of his stage triumphs.
"I am a provincial actor principally," he said, smiling condescendingly,
"but I have played in Petersburg and Moscow too. . . . By the way,
I will describe an incident which illustrates pretty well the state
of mind of to-day. At my benefit in Moscow the young people brought
me such a mass of laurel wreaths that I swear by all I hold sacred
I did not know where to put them! _Parole d'honneur!_ Later on, at
a moment when funds were short, I took the laurel wreaths to the
shop, and . . . guess what they weighed. Eighty pounds altogether.
Ha, ha! you can't think how useful the money was. Artists, indeed,
are often hard up. To-day I have hundreds, thousands, tomorrow
nothing. . . . To-day I haven't a crust of bread, to-morrow I have
oysters and anchovies, hang it all!"
The local inhabitants sipped their glasses decorously and listened.
The well-pleased host, not knowing how to make enough of his cultured
and interesting visitor, presented to him a distant relative who
had just arrived, one Pavel Ignatyevitch Klimov, a bulky gentleman
about forty, wearing a long frock-coat and very full trousers.
"You ought to know each other," said Zybaev as he presented Klimov;
"he loves theatres, and at one time used to act himself. He has an
estate in the Tula province."
Podzharov and Klimov got into conversation. It appeared, to the
great satisfaction of both, that the Tula landowner lived in the
very town in which the _jeune premier_ had acted for two seasons
in succession. Enquiries followed about the town, about common
acquaintances, and about the theatre. . . .
"Do you know, I like that town awfully," said the jeune premier,
displaying his red socks. "What streets, what a charming park, and
what society! Delightful society!"
"Yes, delightful society," the landowner assented.
"A commercial town, but extremely cultured. . . . For instance,
er-er-er . . . the head master of the high school, the public
prosecutor . . . the officers. . . . The police captain, too, was
not bad, a man, as the French say, enchanté, and the women, Allah,
"Yes, the women . . . certainly. . . ."
"Perhaps I am partial; the fact is that in your town, I don't know
why, I was devilishly lucky with the fair sex! I could write a dozen
novels. To take this episode, for instance. . . . I was staying in
Yegoryevsky Street, in the very house where the Treasury is. . . ."
"The red house without stucco?"
"Yes, yes . . . without stucco. . . . Close by, as I remember now,
lived a local beauty, Varenka. . . ."
"Not Varvara Nikolayevna?" asked Klimov, and he beamed with
satisfaction. "She really is a beauty . . . the most beautiful girl
in the town."
"The most beautiful girl in the town! A classic profile, great black
eyes . . . . and hair to her waist! She saw me in 'Hamlet,' she
wrote me a letter _à la_ Pushkin's 'Tatyana.' . . . I answered, as
you may guess. . . ."
Podzharov looked round, and having satisfied himself that there
were no ladies in the room, rolled his eyes, smiled mournfully, and
heaved a sigh.
"I came home one evening after a performance," he whispered, "and
there she was, sitting on my sofa. There followed tears, protestations
of love, kisses. . . . Oh, that was a marvellous, that was a divine
night! Our romance lasted two months, but that night was never
repeated. It was a night, parole d'honneur!"
"Excuse me, what's that?" muttered Klimov, turning crimson and
gazing open-eyed at the actor. "I know Varvara Nikolayevna well:
she's my niece."
Podzharov was embarrassed, and he, too, opened his eyes wide.
"How's this?" Klimov went on, throwing up his hands. "I know the
girl, and . . . and . . . I am surprised. . . ."
"I am very sorry this has come up," muttered the actor, getting up
and rubbing something out of his left eye with his little finger.
"Though, of course . . . of course, you as her uncle . . ."
The other guests, who had hitherto been listening to the actor with
pleasure and rewarding him with smiles, were embarrassed and dropped
"Please, do be so good . . . take your words back . . ." said Klimov
in extreme embarrassment. "I beg you to do so!"
"If . . . er-er-er . . . it offends you, certainly," answered the
actor, with an undefined movement of his hand.
"And confess you have told a falsehood."
"I, no . . . er-er-er. . . . It was not a lie, but I greatly regret
having spoken too freely. . . . And, in fact . . . I don't understand
Klimov walked up and down the room in silence, as though in uncertainty
and hesitation. His fleshy face grew more and more crimson, and the
veins in his neck swelled up. After walking up and down for about
two minutes he went up to the actor and said in a tearful voice:
"No, do be so good as to confess that you told a lie about Varenka!
Have the goodness to do so!"
"It's queer," said the actor, with a strained smile, shrugging his
shoulders and swinging his leg. "This is positively insulting!"
"So you will not confess it?"
"I do-on't understand!"
"You will not? In that case, excuse me . . . I shall have to resort
to unpleasant measures. Either, sir, I shall insult you at once on
the spot, or . . . if you are an honourable man, you will kindly
accept my challenge to a duel. . . . We will fight!"
"Certainly!" rapped out the jeune premier, with a contemptuous
Extremely perturbed, the guests and the host, not knowing what to
do, drew Klimov aside and began begging him not to get up a scandal.
Astonished feminine countenances appeared in the doorway. . . . The
jeune premier turned round, said a few words, and with an air of
being unable to remain in a house where he was insulted, took his
cap and made off without saying good-bye.
On his way home the jeune premier smiled contemptuously and shrugged
his shoulders, but when he reached his hotel room and stretched
himself on his sofa he felt exceedingly uneasy.
"The devil take him!" he thought. "A duel does not matter, he won't
kill me, but the trouble is the other fellows will hear of it, and
they know perfectly well it was a yarn. It's abominable! I shall
be disgraced all over Russia. . . ."
Podzharov thought a little, smoked, and to calm himself went out
into the street.
"I ought to talk to this bully, ram into his stupid noddle that he
is a blockhead and a fool, and that I am not in the least afraid
of him. . . ."
The jeune premier stopped before Zybaev's house and looked at the
windows. Lights were still burning behind the muslin curtains and
figures were moving about.
"I'll wait for him!" the actor decided.
It was dark and cold. A hateful autumn rain was drizzling as though
through a sieve. Podzharov leaned his elbow on a lamp-post and
abandoned himself to a feeling of uneasiness.
He was wet through and exhausted.
At two o'clock in the night the guests began coming out of Zybaev's
house. The landowner from Tula was the last to make his appearance.
He heaved a sigh that could be heard by the whole street and scraped
the pavement with his heavy overboots.
"Excuse me!" said the jeune premier, overtaking him. "One minute."
Klimov stopped. The actor gave a smile, hesitated, and began,
stammering: "I . . . I confess . . . I told a lie."
"No, sir, you will please confess that publicly," said Klimov, and
he turned crimson again. "I can't leave it like that. . . ."
"But you see I am apologizing! I beg you . . . don't you understand?
I beg you because you will admit a duel will make talk, and I am
in a position. . . . My fellow-actors . . . goodness knows what
they may think. . . ."
The jeune premier tried to appear unconcerned, to smile, to stand
erect, but his body would not obey him, his voice trembled, his
eyes blinked guiltily, and his head drooped. For a good while he
went on muttering something. Klimov listened to him, thought a
little, and heaved a sigh.
"Well, so be it," he said. "May God forgive you. Only don't lie in
future, young man. Nothing degrades a man like lying . . . yes,
indeed! You are a young man, you have had a good education. . . ."
The landowner from Tula, in a benignant, fatherly way, gave him a
lecture, while the jeune premier listened and smiled meekly. . . .
When it was over he smirked, bowed, and with a guilty step and a
crestfallen air set off for his hotel.
As he went to bed half an hour later he felt that he was out of
danger and was already in excellent spirits. Serene and satisfied
that the misunderstanding had ended so satisfactorily, he wrapped
himself in the bedclothes, soon fell asleep, and slept soundly till
ten o'clock next morning.
A DEFENCELESS CREATURE
IN spite of a violent attack of gout in the night and the nervous
exhaustion left by it, Kistunov went in the morning to his office
and began punctually seeing the clients of the bank and persons who
had come with petitions. He looked languid and exhausted, and spoke
in a faint voice hardly above a whisper, as though he were dying.
"What can I do for you?" he asked a lady in an antediluvian mantle,
whose back view was extremely suggestive of a huge dung-beetle.
"You see, your Excellency," the petitioner in question began,
speaking rapidly, "my husband Shtchukin, a collegiate assessor, was
ill for five months, and while he, if you will excuse my saying so,
was laid up at home, he was for no sort of reason dismissed, your
Excellency; and when I went for his salary they deducted, if you
please, your Excellency, twenty-four roubles thirty-six kopecks
from his salary. 'What for?' I asked. 'He borrowed from the club
fund,' they told me, 'and the other clerks had stood security for
him.' How was that? How could he have borrowed it without my consent?
It's impossible, your Excellency. What's the reason of it? I am a
poor woman, I earn my bread by taking in lodgers. I am a weak,
defenceless woman . . . I have to put up with ill-usage from everyone
and never hear a kind word. . ."
The petitioner was blinking, and dived into her mantle for her
handkerchief. Kistunov took her petition from her and began reading
"Excuse me, what's this?" he asked, shrugging his shoulders. "I can
make nothing of it. Evidently you have come to the wrong place,
madam. Your petition has nothing to do with us at all. You will
have to apply to the department in which your husband was employed."
"Why, my dear sir, I have been to five places already, and they
would not even take the petition anywhere," said Madame Shtchukin.
"I'd quite lost my head, but, thank goodness--God bless him for
it--my son-in-law, Boris Matveyitch, advised me to come to you.
'You go to Mr. Kistunov, mamma: he is an influential man, he can
do anything for you. . . .' Help me, your Excellency!"
"We can do nothing for you, Madame Shtchukin. You must understand:
your husband served in the Army Medical Department, and our
establishment is a purely private commercial undertaking, a bank.
Surely you must understand that!"
Kistunov shrugged his shoulders again and turned to a gentleman in
a military uniform, with a swollen face.
"Your Excellency," piped Madame Shtchukin in a pitiful voice, "I
have the doctor's certificate that my husband was ill! Here it is,
if you will kindly look at it."
"Very good, I believe you," Kistunov said irritably, "but I repeat
it has nothing to do with us. It's queer and positively absurd!
Surely your husband must know where you are to apply?"
"He knows nothing, your Excellency. He keeps on: 'It's not your
business! Get away!'--that's all I can get out of him. . . . Whose
business is it, then? It's I have to keep them all!"
Kistunov again turned to Madame Shtchukin and began explaining to
her the difference between the Army Medical Department and a private
bank. She listened attentively, nodded in token of assent, and said:
"Yes . . . yes . . . yes . . . I understand, sir. In that case,
your Excellency, tell them to pay me fifteen roubles at least! I
agree to take part on account!
"Ough!" sighed Kistunov, letting his head drop back. "There's no
making you see reason. Do understand that to apply to us with such
a petition is as strange as to send in a petition concerning divorce,
for instance, to a chemist's or to the Assaying Board. You have not
been paid your due, but what have we to do with it?"
"Your Excellency, make me remember you in my prayers for the rest
of my days, have pity on a lone, lorn woman," wailed Madame Shtchukin;
"I am a weak, defenceless woman. . . . I am worried to death, I've
to settle with the lodgers and see to my husband's affairs and fly
round looking after the house, and I am going to church every day
this week, and my son-in-law is out of a job. . . . I might as well
not eat or drink. . . . I can scarcely keep on my feet. . . . I
haven't slept all night. . . ."
Kistunov was conscious of the palpitation of his heart. With a face
of anguish, pressing his hand on his heart, he began explaining to
Madame Shtchukin again, but his voice failed him.
"No, excuse me, I cannot talk to you," he said with a wave of his
hand. "My head's going round. You are hindering us and wasting your
time. Ough! Alexey Nikolaitch," he said, addressing one of his
clerks, "please will you explain to Madame Shtchukin?"
Kistunov, passing by all the petitioners, went to his private room
and signed about a dozen papers while Alexey Nikolaitch was still
engaged with Madame Shtchukin. As he sat in his room Kistunov heard
two voices: the monotonous, restrained bass of Alexey Nikolaitch
and the shrill, wailing voice of Madame Shtchukin.
"I am a weak, defenceless woman, I am a woman in delicate health,"
said Madame Shtchukin. "I look strong, but if you were to overhaul
me there is not one healthy fibre in me. I can scarcely keep on my
feet, and my appetite is gone. . . . I drank my cup of coffee this
morning without the slightest relish. . . ."
Alexey Nikolaitch explained to her the difference between the
departments and the complicated system of sending in papers. He was
soon exhausted, and his place was taken by the accountant.
"A wonderfully disagreeable woman!" said Kistunov, revolted, nervously
cracking his fingers and continually going to the decanter of water.
"She's a perfect idiot! She's worn me out and she'll exhaust them,
the nasty creature! Ough! . . . my heart is throbbing."
Half an hour later he rang his bell. Alexey Nikolaitch made his
"How are things going?" Kistunov asked languidly.
"We can't make her see anything, Pyotr Alexandritch! We are simply
done. We talk of one thing and she talks of something else."
"I . . . I can't stand the sound of her voice. . . . I am ill
. . . . I can't bear it."
"Send for the porter, Pyotr Alexandritch, let him put her out."
"No, no," cried Kistunov in alarm. "She will set up a squeal, and
there are lots of flats in this building, and goodness knows what
they would think of us. . . . Do try and explain to her, my dear
fellow. . . ."
A minute later the deep drone of Alexey Nikolaitch's voice was
audible again. A quarter of an hour passed, and instead of his bass
there was the murmur of the accountant's powerful tenor."
"Re-mark-ably nasty woman," Kistunov thought indignantly, nervously
shrugging his shoulders. "No more brains than a sheep. I believe
that's a twinge of the gout again. . . . My migraine is coming
back. . . ."
In the next room Alexey Nikolaitch, at the end of his resources,
at last tapped his finger on the table and then on his own forehead.
"The fact of the matter is you haven't a head on your shoulders,"
he said, "but this."
"Come, come," said the old lady, offended. "Talk to your own wife
like that. . . . You screw! . . . Don't be too free with your hands."
And looking at her with fury, with exasperation, as though he would
devour her, Alexey Nikolaitch said in a quiet, stifled voice:
"Wha-at?" squealed Madame Shtchukin. "How dare you? I am a weak,
defenceless woman; I won't endure it. My husband is a collegiate
assessor. You screw! . . . I will go to Dmitri Karlitch, the lawyer,
and there will be nothing left of you! I've had the law of three
lodgers, and I will make you flop down at my feet for your saucy
words! I'll go to your general. Your Excellency, your Excellency!"
"Be off, you pest," hissed Alexey Nikolaitch.
Kistunov opened his door and looked into the office.
"What is it?" he asked in a tearful voice.
Madame Shtchukin, as red as a crab, was standing in the middle of
the room, rolling her eyes and prodding the air with her fingers.
The bank clerks were standing round red in the face too, and,
evidently harassed, were looking at each other distractedly.
"Your Excellency," cried Madame Shtchukin, pouncing upon Kistunov.
"Here, this man, he here . . . this man . . ." (she pointed to
Alexey Nikolaitch) "tapped himself on the forehead and then tapped
the table. . . . You told him to go into my case, and he's jeering
at me! I am a weak, defenceless woman. . . . My husband is a
collegiate assessor, and I am a major's daughter myself!"
"Very good, madam," moaned Kistunov. "I will go into it . . . I
will take steps. . . . Go away . . . later!"
"And when shall I get the money, your Excellency? I need it to-day!"
Kistunov passed his trembling hand over his forehead, heaved a sigh,
and began explaining again.
"Madam, I have told you already this is a bank, a private commercial
establishment. . . . What do you want of us? And do understand that
you are hindering us."
Madame Shtchukin listened to him and sighed.
"To be sure, to be sure," she assented. "Only, your Excellency, do
me the kindness, make me pray for you for the rest of my life, be
a father, protect me! If a medical certificate is not enough I can
produce an affidavit from the police. . . . Tell them to give me
Everything began swimming before Kistunov's eyes. He breathed out
all the air in his lungs in a prolonged sigh and sank helpless on
"How much do you want?" he asked in a weak voice.
"Twenty-four roubles and thirty-six kopecks."
Kistunov took his pocket-book out of his pocket, extracted a
twenty-five rouble note and gave it to Madame Shtchukin.
"Take it and . . . and go away!"
Madame Shtchukin wrapped the money up in her handkerchief, put it
away, and pursing up her face into a sweet, mincing, even coquettish
"Your Excellency, and would it be possible for my husband to get a
"I am going . . . I am ill . . ." said Kistunov in a weary voice.
"I have dreadful palpitations."
When he had driven home Alexey Nikolaitch sent Nikita for some
laurel drops, and, after taking twenty drops each, all the clerks
set to work, while Madame Shtchukin stayed another two hours in the
vestibule, talking to the porter and waiting for Kistunov to
return. . . .
She came again next day.
AN ENIGMATIC NATURE
ON the red velvet seat of a first-class railway carriage a pretty
lady sits half reclining. An expensive fluffy fan trembles in her
tightly closed fingers, a pince-nez keeps dropping off her pretty
little nose, the brooch heaves and falls on her bosom, like a boat
on the ocean. She is greatly agitated.
On the seat opposite sits the Provincial Secretary of Special
Commissions, a budding young author, who from time to time publishes
long stories of high life, or "Novelli" as he calls them, in the
leading paper of the province. He is gazing into her face, gazing
intently, with the eyes of a connoisseur. He is watching, studying,
catching every shade of this exceptional, enigmatic nature. He
understands it, he fathoms it. Her soul, her whole psychology lies
open before him.
"Oh, I understand, I understand you to your inmost depths!" says
the Secretary of Special Commissions, kissing her hand near the
bracelet. "Your sensitive, responsive soul is seeking to escape
from the maze of ---- Yes, the struggle is terrific, titanic. But
do not lose heart, you will be triumphant! Yes!"
"Write about me, Voldemar!" says the pretty lady, with a mournful
smile. "My life has been so full, so varied, so chequered. Above
all, I am unhappy. I am a suffering soul in some page of Dostoevsky.
Reveal my soul to the world, Voldemar. Reveal that hapless soul.
You are a psychologist. We have not been in the train an hour
together, and you have already fathomed my heart."
"Tell me! I beseech you, tell me!"
"Listen. My father was a poor clerk in the Service. He had a good
heart and was not without intelligence; but the spirit of the age
--of his environment--_vous comprenez?_--I do not blame my
poor father. He drank, gambled, took bribes. My mother--but why
say more? Poverty, the struggle for daily bread, the consciousness
of insignificance--ah, do not force me to recall it! I had to
make my own way. You know the monstrous education at a boarding-school,
foolish novel-reading, the errors of early youth, the first timid
flutter of love. It was awful! The vacillation! And the agonies of
losing faith in life, in oneself! Ah, you are an author. You know
us women. You will understand. Unhappily I have an intense nature.
I looked for happiness--and what happiness! I longed to set my
soul free. Yes. In that I saw my happiness!"
"Exquisite creature!" murmured the author, kissing her hand close
to the bracelet. "It's not you I am kissing, but the suffering of
humanity. Do you remember Raskolnikov and his kiss?"
"Oh, Voldemar, I longed for glory, renown, success, like every--
why affect modesty?--every nature above the commonplace. I yearned
for something extraordinary, above the common lot of woman! And
then--and then--there crossed my path--an old general--very
well off. Understand me, Voldemar! It was self-sacrifice, renunciation!
You must see that! I could do nothing else. I restored the family
fortunes, was able to travel, to do good. Yet how I suffered, how
revolting, how loathsome to me were his embraces--though I will
be fair to him--he had fought nobly in his day. There were moments
--terrible moments--but I was kept up by the thought that from
day to day the old man might die, that then I would begin to live
as I liked, to give myself to the man I adore--be happy. There
is such a man, Voldemar, indeed there is!"
The pretty lady flutters her fan more violently. Her face takes a
lachrymose expression. She goes on:
"But at last the old man died. He left me something. I was free as
a bird of the air. Now is the moment for me to be happy, isn't it,
Voldemar? Happiness comes tapping at my window, I had only to let
it in--but--Voldemar, listen, I implore you! Now is the time
for me to give myself to the man I love, to become the partner of
his life, to help, to uphold his ideals, to be happy--to find
rest--but--how ignoble, repulsive, and senseless all our life
is! How mean it all is, Voldemar. I am wretched, wretched, wretched!
Again there is an obstacle in my path! Again I feel that my happiness
is far, far away! Ah, what anguish!--if only you knew what anguish!"
"But what--what stands in your way? I implore you tell me! What
"Another old general, very well off----"
The broken fan conceals the pretty little face. The author props
on his fist his thought--heavy brow and ponders with the air of
a master in psychology. The engine is whistling and hissing while
the window curtains flush red with the glow of the setting sun.
A HAPPY MAN
THE passenger train is just starting from Bologoe, the junction on
the Petersburg-Moscow line. In a second-class smoking compartment
five passengers sit dozing, shrouded in the twilight of the carriage.
They had just had a meal, and now, snugly ensconced in their seats,
they are trying to go to sleep. Stillness.
The door opens and in there walks a tall, lanky figure straight as
a poker, with a ginger-coloured hat and a smart overcoat, wonderfully
suggestive of a journalist in Jules Verne or on the comic stage.
The figure stands still in the middle of the compartment for a long
while, breathing heavily, screwing up his eyes and peering at the
"No, wrong again!" he mutters. "What the deuce! It's positively
revolting! No, the wrong one again!"
One of the passengers stares at the figure and utters a shout of
"Ivan Alexyevitch! what brings you here? Is it you?"
The poker-like gentleman starts, stares blankly at the passenger,
and recognizing him claps his hands with delight.
"Ha! Pyotr Petrovitch," he says. "How many summers, how many winters!
I didn't know you were in this train."
"How are you getting on?"
"I am all right; the only thing is, my dear fellow, I've lost my
compartment and I simply can't find it. What an idiot I am! I ought
to be thrashed!"
The poker-like gentleman sways a little unsteadily and sniggers.
"Queer things do happen!" he continues. "I stepped out just after
the second bell to get a glass of brandy. I got it, of course. Well,
I thought, since it's a long way to the next station, it would be
as well to have a second glass. While I was thinking about it and
drinking it the third bell rang. . . . I ran like mad and jumped
into the first carriage. I am an idiot! I am the son of a hen!"
"But you seem in very good spirits," observes Pyotr Petrovitch.
"Come and sit down! There's room and a welcome."
"No, no. . . . I'm off to look for my carriage. Good-bye!"
"You'll fall between the carriages in the dark if you don't look
out! Sit down, and when we get to a station you'll find your own
compartment. Sit down!"
Ivan Alexyevitch heaves a sigh and irresolutely sits down facing
Pyotr Petrovitch. He is visibly excited, and fidgets as though he
were sitting on thorns.
"Where are you travelling to?" Pyotr Petrovitch enquires.
"I? Into space. There is such a turmoil in my head that I couldn't
tell where I am going myself. I go where fate takes me. Ha-ha! My
dear fellow, have you ever seen a happy fool? No? Well, then, take
a look at one. You behold the happiest of mortals! Yes! Don't you
see something from my face?"
"Well, one can see you're a bit . . . a tiny bit so-so."
"I dare say I look awfully stupid just now. Ach! it's a pity I
haven't a looking-glass, I should like to look at my counting-house.
My dear fellow, I feel I am turning into an idiot, honour bright.
Ha-ha! Would you believe it, I'm on my honeymoon. Am I not the son
of a hen?"
"You? Do you mean to say you are married?"
"To-day, my dear boy. We came away straight after the wedding."
Congratulations and the usual questions follow. "Well, you are a
fellow!" laughs Pyotr Petrovitch. "That's why you are rigged out
such a dandy."
"Yes, indeed. . . . To complete the illusion, I've even sprinkled
myself with scent. I am over my ears in vanity! No care, no thought,
nothing but a sensation of something or other . . . deuce knows
what to call it . . . beatitude or something? I've never felt so
grand in my life!"
Ivan Alexyevitch shuts his eyes and waggles his head.
"I'm revoltingly happy," he says. "Just think; in a minute I shall
go to my compartment. There on the seat near the window is sitting
a being who is, so to say, devoted to you with her whole being. A
little blonde with a little nose . . . little fingers. . . . My
little darling! My angel! My little poppet! Phylloxera of my soul!
And her little foot! Good God! A little foot not like our
beetle-crushers, but something miniature, fairylike, allegorical.
I could pick it up and eat it, that little foot! Oh, but you don't
understand! You're a materialist, of course, you begin analyzing
at once, and one thing and another. You are cold-hearted bachelors,
that's what you are! When you get married you'll think of me.
'Where's Ivan Alexyevitch now?' you'll say. Yes; so in a minute I'm
going to my compartment. There she is waiting for me with impatience
. . . in joyful anticipation of my appearance. She'll have a smile
to greet me. I sit down beside her and take her chin with my two
Ivan Alexyevitch waggles his head and goes off into a chuckle of
"Then I lay my noddle on her shoulder and put my arm round her
waist. Around all is silence, you know . . . poetic twilight. I
could embrace the whole world at such a moment. Pyotr Petrovitch,
allow me to embrace you!"
"Delighted, I'm sure." The two friends embrace while the passengers
laugh in chorus. And the happy bridegroom continues:
"And to complete the idiocy, or, as the novelists say, to complete
the illusion, one goes to the refreshment-room and tosses off two
or three glasses. And then something happens in your head and your
heart, finer than you can read of in a fairy tale. I am a man of
no importance, but I feel as though I were limitless: I embrace the
The passengers, looking at the tipsy and blissful bridegroom, are
infected by his cheerfulness and no longer feel sleepy. Instead of
one listener, Ivan Alexyevitch has now an audience of five. He
wriggles and splutters, gesticulates, and prattles on without
ceasing. He laughs and they all laugh.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, don't think so much! Damn all this analysis!
If you want a drink, drink, no need to philosophize as to whether
it's bad for you or not. . . . Damn all this philosophy and
The guard walks through the compartment.
"My dear fellow," the bridegroom addresses him, "when you pass
through the carriage No. 209 look out for a lady in a grey hat with
a white bird and tell her I'm here!"
"Yes, sir. Only there isn't a No. 209 in this train; there's 219!"
"Well, 219, then! It's all the same. Tell that lady, then, that her
husband is all right!"
Ivan Alexyevitch suddenly clutches his head and groans:
"Husband. . . . Lady. . . . All in a minute! Husband. . . . Ha-ha!
I am a puppy that needs thrashing, and here I am a husband! Ach,
idiot! But think of her! . . . Yesterday she was a little girl, a
midget . . . it s simply incredible!"
"Nowadays it really seems strange to see a happy man," observes one
of the passengers; "one as soon expects to see a white elephant."
"Yes, and whose fault is it?" says Ivan Alexyevitch, stretching his
long legs and thrusting out his feet with their very pointed toes.
"If you are not happy it's your own fault! Yes, what else do you
suppose it is? Man is the creator of his own happiness. If you want
to be happy you will be, but you don't want to be! You obstinately
turn away from happiness."
"Why, what next! How do you make that out?"
"Very simply. Nature has ordained that at a certain stage in his
life man should love. When that time comes you should love like a
house on fire, but you won't heed the dictates of nature, you keep
waiting for something. What's more, it's laid down by law that the
normal man should enter upon matrimony. There's no happiness without
marriage. When the propitious moment has come, get married. There's
no use in shilly-shallying. . . . But you don't get married, you
keep waiting for something! Then the Scriptures tell us that 'wine
maketh glad the heart of man.' . . . If you feel happy and you want
to feel better still, then go to the refreshment bar and have a
drink. The great thing is not to be too clever, but to follow the
beaten track! The beaten track is a grand thing!"
"You say that man is the creator of his own happiness. How the devil
is he the creator of it when a toothache or an ill-natured mother-in-law
is enough to scatter his happiness to the winds? Everything depends
on chance. If we had an accident at this moment you'd sing a different
"Stuff and nonsense!" retorts the bridegroom. "Railway accidents
only happen once a year. I'm not afraid of an accident, for there
is no reason for one. Accidents are exceptional! Confound them! I
don't want to talk of them! Oh, I believe we're stopping at a
"Where are you going now?" asks Pyotr Petrovitch. "To Moscow or
somewhere further south?
"Why, bless you! How could I go somewhere further south, when I'm
on my way to the north?"
"But Moscow isn't in the north."
"I know that, but we're on our way to Petersburg," says Ivan
"We are going to Moscow, mercy on us!"
"To Moscow? What do you mean?" says the bridegroom in amazement.
"It's queer. . . . For what station did you take your ticket?"
"In that case I congratulate you. You've got into the wrong train."
There follows a minute of silence. The bridegroom gets up and looks
blankly round the company.
"Yes, yes," Pyotr Petrovitch explains. "You must have jumped into
the wrong train at Bologoe. . . . After your glass of brandy you
succeeded in getting into the down-train."
Ivan Alexyevitch turns pale, clutches his head, and begins pacing
rapidly about the carriage.
"Ach, idiot that I am!" he says in indignation. "Scoundrel! The
devil devour me! Whatever am I to do now? Why, my wife is in that
train! She's there all alone, expecting me, consumed by anxiety.
Ach, I'm a motley fool!"
The bridegroom falls on the seat and writhes as though someone had
trodden on his corns.
"I am un-unhappy man!" he moans. "What am I to do, what am I to
"There, there!" the passengers try to console him. "It's all right
. . . . You must telegraph to your wife and try to change into the
Petersburg express. In that way you'll overtake her."
"The Petersburg express!" weeps the bridegroom, the creator of his
own happiness. "And how am I to get a ticket for the Petersburg
express? All my money is with my wife."
The passengers, laughing and whispering together, make a collection
and furnish the happy man with funds.
A TROUBLESOME VISITOR
IN the low-pitched, crooked little hut of Artyom, the forester, two
men were sitting under the big dark ikon--Artyom himself, a short
and lean peasant with a wrinkled, aged-looking face and a little
beard that grew out of his neck, and a well-grown young man in a
new crimson shirt and big wading boots, who had been out hunting
and come in for the night. They were sitting on a bench at a little
three-legged table on which a tallow candle stuck into a bottle was
Outside the window the darkness of the night was full of the noisy
uproar into which nature usually breaks out before a thunderstorm.
The wind howled angrily and the bowed trees moaned miserably. One
pane of the window had been pasted up with paper, and leaves torn
off by the wind could be heard pattering against the paper.
"I tell you what, good Christian," said Artyom in a hoarse little
tenor half-whisper, staring with unblinking, scared-looking eyes
at the hunter. "I am not afraid of wolves or bears, or wild beasts
of any sort, but I am afraid of man. You can save yourself from
beasts with a gun or some other weapon, but you have no means of
saving yourself from a wicked man."
"To be sure, you can fire at a beast, but if you shoot at a robber
you will have to answer for it: you will go to Siberia."
"I've been forester, my lad, for thirty years, and I couldn't tell
you what I have had to put up with from wicked men. There have been
lots and lots of them here. The hut's on a track, it's a cart-road,
and that brings them, the devils. Every sort of ruffian turns up,
and without taking off his cap or making the sign of the cross,
bursts straight in upon one with: 'Give us some bread, you old
so-and-so.' And where am I to get bread for him? What claim has he?
Am I a millionaire to feed every drunkard that passes? They are
half-blind with spite. . . . They have no cross on them, the devils
. . . . They'll give you a clout on the ear and not think twice about
it: 'Give us bread!' Well, one gives it. . . . One is not going to
fight with them, the idols! Some of them are two yards across the
shoulders, and a great fist as big as your boot, and you see the
sort of figure I am. One of them could smash me with his little
finger. . . . Well, one gives him bread and he gobbles it up, and
stretches out full length across the hut with not a word of thanks.
And there are some that ask for money. 'Tell me, where is your
money?' As though I had money! How should I come by it?"
"A forester and no money!" laughed the hunter. "You get wages every
month, and I'll be bound you sell timber on the sly."
Artyom took a timid sideway glance at his visitor and twitched his
beard as a magpie twitches her tail.
"You are still young to say a thing like that to me," he said. "You
will have to answer to God for those words. Whom may your people
be? Where do you come from?"
"I am from Vyazovka. I am the son of Nefed the village elder."
"You have gone out for sport with your gun. I used to like sport,
too, when I was young. H'm! Ah, our sins are grievous," said Artyom,
with a yawn. "It's a sad thing! There are few good folks, but
villains and murderers no end--God have mercy upon us."
"You seem to be frightened of me, too. . . ."
"Come, what next! What should I be afraid of you for? I see. . . .
I understand. . . . You came in, and not just anyhow, but you made
the sign of the cross, you bowed, all decent and proper. . . . I
understand. . . . One can give you bread. . . . I am a widower, I
don't heat the stove, I sold the samovar. . . . I am too poor to
keep meat or anything else, but bread you are welcome to."
At that moment something began growling under the bench: the growl
was followed by a hiss. Artyom started, drew up his legs, and looked
enquiringly at the hunter.
"It's my dog worrying your cat," said the hunter. "You devils!" he
shouted under the bench. "Lie down. You'll be beaten. I say, your
cat's thin, mate! She is nothing but skin and bone."
"She is old, it is time she was dead. . . . So you say you are from
"I see you don't feed her. Though she's a cat she's a creature . . .
every breathing thing. You should have pity on her!"
"You are a queer lot in Vyazovka," Artyom went on, as though not
listening. "The church has been robbed twice in one year. . . To
think that there are such wicked men! So they fear neither man nor
God! To steal what is the Lord's! Hanging's too good for them! In
old days the governors used to have such rogues flogged."
"However you punish, whether it is with flogging or anything else,
it will be no good, you will not knock the wickedness out of a
"Save and preserve us, Queen of Heaven!" The forester sighed abruptly.
"Save us from all enemies and evildoers. Last week at Volovy
Zaimishtchy, a mower struck another on the chest with his scythe
. . . he killed him outright! And what was it all about, God bless
me! One mower came out of the tavern . . . drunk. The other met
him, drunk too."
The young man, who had been listening attentively, suddenly started,
and his face grew tense as he listened.
"Stay," he said, interrupting the forester. "I fancy someone is
The hunter and the forester fell to listening with their eyes fixed
on the window. Through the noise of the forest they could hear
sounds such as the strained ear can always distinguish in every
storm, so that it was difficult to make out whether people were
calling for help or whether the wind was wailing in the chimney.
But the wind tore at the roof, tapped at the paper on the window,
and brought a distinct shout of "Help!"
"Talk of your murderers," said the hunter, turning pale and getting
up. "Someone is being robbed!"
"Lord have mercy on us," whispered the forester, and he, too, turned
pale and got up.
The hunter looked aimlessly out of window and walked up and down
"What a night, what a night!" he muttered. "You can't see your hand
before your face! The very time for a robbery. Do you hear? There
is a shout again."
The forester looked at the ikon and from the ikon turned his eyes
upon the hunter, and sank on to the bench, collapsing like a man
terrified by sudden bad news.
"Good Christian," he said in a tearful voice, "you might go into
the passage and bolt the door. And we must put out the light."
"By ill-luck they may find their way here. . . . Oh, our sins!"
"We ought to be going, and you talk of bolting the door! You are a
clever one! Are you coming?"
The hunter threw his gun over his shoulder and picked up his cap.
"Get ready, take your gun. Hey, Flerka, here," he called to his
A dog with long frayed ears, a mongrel between a setter and a
house-dog, came out from under the bench. He stretched himself by
his master's feet and wagged his tail.
"Why are you sitting there?" cried the hunter to the forester. "You
mean to say you are not going?"
"How can I?" said the forester with a wave of his hand, shuddering
all over. "I can't bother about it!"
"Why won't you come?"
"After talking of such dreadful things I won't stir a step into the
darkness. Bless them! And what should I go for?"
"What are you afraid of? Haven't you got a gun? Let us go, please
do. It's scaring to go alone; it will be more cheerful, the two of
us. Do you hear? There was a shout again. Get up!"
"Whatever do you think of me, lad?" wailed the forester. "Do you
think I am such a fool to go straight to my undoing?"
"So you are not coming?"
The forester did not answer. The dog, probably hearing a human cry,
gave a plaintive whine.
"Are you coming, I ask you?" cried the hunter, rolling his eyes
"You do keep on, upon my word," said the forester with annoyance.
"Ugh! . . . low cur," growled the hunter, turning towards the door.
He went out and left the door open. The wind flew into the hut. The
flame of the candle flickered uneasily, flared up, and went out.
As he bolted the door after the hunter, the forester saw the puddles
in the track, the nearest pine-trees, and the retreating figure of
his guest lighted up by a flash of lightning. Far away he heard the
rumble of thunder.
"Holy, holy, holy," whispered the forester, making haste to thrust
the thick bolt into the great iron rings. "What weather the Lord
has sent us!"
Going back into the room, he felt his way to the stove, lay down,
and covered himself from head to foot. Lying under the sheepskin
and listening intently, he could no longer hear the human cry, but
the peals of thunder kept growing louder and more prolonged. He
could hear the big wind-lashed raindrops pattering angrily on the
panes and on the paper of the window.
"He's gone on a fool's errand," he thought, picturing the hunter
soaked with rain and stumbling over the tree-stumps. "I bet his
teeth are chattering with terror!"
Not more than ten minutes later there was a sound of footsteps,
followed by a loud knock at the door.
"Who's there?" cried the forester.
"It's I," he heard the young man's voice. "Unfasten the door."
The forester clambered down from the stove, felt for the candle,
and, lighting it, went to the door. The hunter and his dog were
drenched to the skin. They had come in for the heaviest of the
downpour, and now the water ran from them as from washed clothes
before they have been wrung out.
"What was it?" asked the forester.
"A peasant woman driving in a cart; she had got off the road . . ."
answered the young man, struggling with his breathlessness. "She
was caught in a thicket."
"Ah, the silly thing! She was frightened, then. . . . Well, did you
put her on the road?"
"I don't care to talk to a scoundrel like you."
The young man flung his wet cap on the bench and went on:
"I know now that you are a scoundrel and the lowest of men. And you
a keeper, too, getting a salary! You blackguard!"
The forester slunk with a guilty step to the stove, cleared his
throat, and lay down. The young man sat on the bench, thought a
little, and lay down on it full length. Not long afterwards he got
up, put out the candle, and lay down again. During a particularly
loud clap of thunder he turned over, spat on the floor, and growled
"He's afraid. . . . And what if the woman were being murdered? Whose
business is it to defend her? And he an old man, too, and a Christian
. . . . He's a pig and nothing else."
The forester cleared his throat and heaved a deep sigh. Somewhere
in the darkness Flerka shook his wet coat vigorously, which sent
drops of water flying about all over the room.
"So you wouldn't care if the woman were murdered?" the hunter went
on. "Well--strike me, God--I had no notion you were that sort of
man. . . ."
A silence followed. The thunderstorm was by now over and the thunder
came from far away, but it was still raining.
"And suppose it hadn't been a woman but you shouting 'Help!'?" said
the hunter, breaking the silence. "How would you feel, you beast,
if no one ran to your aid? You have upset me with your meanness,
plague take you!"
After another long interval the hunter said:
"You must have money to be afraid of people! A man who is poor is
not likely to be afraid. . . ."
"For those words you will answer before God," Artyom said hoarsely
from the stove. "I have no money."
"I dare say! Scoundrels always have money. . . . Why are you afraid
of people, then? So you must have! I'd like to take and rob you for
spite, to teach you a lesson! . . ."
Artyom slipped noiselessly from the stove, lighted a candle, and
sat down under the holy image. He was pale and did not take his
eyes off the hunter.
"Here, I'll rob you," said the hunter, getting up. "What do you
think about it? Fellows like you want a lesson. Tell me, where is
your money hidden?"
Artyom drew his legs up under him and blinked. "What are you wriggling
for? Where is your money hidden? Have you lost your tongue, you
fool? Why don't you answer?"
The young man jumped up and went up to the forester.
"He is blinking like an owl! Well? Give me your money, or I will
shoot you with my gun."
"Why do you keep on at me?" squealed the forester, and big tears
rolled from his eyes. "What's the reason of it? God sees all! You
will have to answer, for every word you say, to God. You have no
right whatever to ask for my money."
The young man looked at Artyom's tearful face, frowned, and walked
up and down the hut, then angrily clapped his cap on his head and
picked up his gun.
"Ugh! . . . ugh! . . . it makes me sick to look at you," he filtered
through his teeth. "I can't bear the sight of you. I won't sleep
in your house, anyway. Good-bye! Hey, Flerka!"
The door slammed and the troublesome visitor went out with his dog.
. . . Artyom bolted the door after him, crossed himself, and lay
AN ACTOR'S END
SHTCHIPTSOV, the "heavy father" and "good-hearted simpleton," a
tall and thick-set old man, not so much distinguished by his talents
as an actor as by his exceptional physical strength, had a desperate
quarrel with the manager during the performance, and just when the
storm of words was at its height felt as though something had snapped
in his chest. Zhukov, the manager, as a rule began at the end of
every heated discussion to laugh hysterically and to fall into a
swoon; on this occasion, however, Shtchiptsov did not remain for
this climax, but hurried home. The high words and the sensation of
something ruptured in his chest so agitated him as he left the
theatre that he forgot to wash off his paint, and did nothing but
take off his beard.
When he reached his hotel room, Shtchiptsov spent a long time pacing
up and down, then sat down on the bed, propped his head on his
fists, and sank into thought. He sat like that without stirring or
uttering a sound till two o'clock the next afternoon, when Sigaev,
the comic man, walked into his room.
"Why is it you did not come to the rehearsal, Booby Ivanitch?" the
comic man began, panting and filling the room with fumes of vodka.
"Where have you been?"
Shtchiptsov made no answer, but simply stared at the comic man with
lustreless eyes, under which there were smudges of paint.
"You might at least have washed your phiz!" Sigaev went on. "You
are a disgraceful sight! Have you been boozing, or . . . are you
ill, or what? But why don't you speak? I am asking you: are you
Shtchiptsov did not speak. In spite of the paint on his face, the
comic man could not help noticing his striking pallor, the drops
of sweat on his forehead, and the twitching of his lips. His hands
and feet were trembling too, and the whole huge figure of the
"good-natured simpleton" looked somehow crushed and flattened. The
comic man took a rapid glance round the room, but saw neither bottle
nor flask nor any other suspicious vessel.
"I say, Mishutka, you know you are ill!" he said in a flutter.
"Strike me dead, you are ill! You don't look yourself!"
Shtchiptsov remained silent and stared disconsolately at the floor.
"You must have caught cold," said Sigaev, taking him by the hand.
"Oh, dear, how hot your hands are! What's the trouble?"
"I wa-ant to go home," muttered Shtchiptsov.
"But you are at home now, aren't you?"
"No. . . . To Vyazma. . . ."
"Oh, my, anywhere else! It would take you three years to get to
your Vyazma. . . . What? do you want to go and see your daddy and
mummy? I'll be bound, they've kicked the bucket years ago, and you
won't find their graves. . . ."
"My ho-ome's there."
"Come, it's no good giving way to the dismal dumps. These neurotic
feelings are the limit, old man. You must get well, for you have
to play Mitka in 'The Terrible Tsar' to-morrow. There is nobody
else to do it. Drink something hot and take some castor-oil? Have
you got the money for some castor-oil? Or, stay, I'll run and buy
The comic man fumbled in his pockets, found a fifteen-kopeck piece,
and ran to the chemist's. A quarter of an hour later he came back.
"Come, drink it," he said, holding the bottle to the "heavy father's"
mouth. "Drink it straight out of the bottle. . . . All at a go!
That's the way. . . . Now nibble at a clove that your very soul
mayn't stink of the filthy stuff."
The comic man sat a little longer with his sick friend, then kissed
him tenderly, and went away. Towards evening the _jeune premier_,
Brama-Glinsky, ran in to see Shtchiptsov. The gifted actor was
wearing a pair of prunella boots, had a glove on his left hand, was
smoking a cigar, and even smelt of heliotrope, yet nevertheless he
strongly suggested a traveller cast away in some land in which there
were neither baths nor laundresses nor tailors. . . .
"I hear you are ill?" he said to Shtchiptsov, twirling round on his
heel. "What's wrong with you? What's wrong with you, really? . . ."
Shtchiptsov did not speak nor stir.
"Why don't you speak? Do you feel giddy? Oh well, don't talk, I
won't pester you . . . don't talk. . . ."
Brama-Glinsky (that was his stage name, in his passport he was
called Guskov) walked away to the window, put his hands in his
pockets, and fell to gazing into the street. Before his eyes stretched
an immense waste, bounded by a grey fence beside which ran a perfect
forest of last year's burdocks. Beyond the waste ground was a dark,
deserted factory, with windows boarded up. A belated jackdaw was
flying round the chimney. This dreary, lifeless scene was beginning
to be veiled in the dusk of evening.
"I must go home!" the _jeune premier_ heard.
"Where is home?"
"To Vyazma . . . to my home. . . ."
"It is a thousand miles to Vyazma . . . my boy," sighed Brama-Glinsky,
drumming on the window-pane. "And what do you want to go to Vyazma
"I want to die there."
"What next! Now he's dying! He has fallen ill for the first time
in his life, and already he fancies that his last hour is come. . . .
No, my boy, no cholera will carry off a buffalo like you. You'll
live to be a hundred. . . . Where's the pain?"
"There's no pain, but I . . . feel . . ."
"You don't feel anything, it all comes from being too healthy. Your
surplus energy upsets you. You ought to get jolly tight--drink,
you know, till your whole inside is topsy-turvy. Getting drunk is
wonderfully restoring. . . . Do you remember how screwed you were
at Rostov on the Don? Good Lord, the very thought of it is alarming!
Sashka and I together could only just carry in the barrel, and you
emptied it alone, and even sent for rum afterwards. . . . You got
so drunk you were catching devils in a sack and pulled a lamp-post
up by the roots. Do you remember? Then you went off to beat the
Greeks. . . ."
Under the influence of these agreeable reminiscences Shtchiptsov's
face brightened a little and his eyes began to shine.
"And do you remember how I beat Savoikin the manager?" he muttered,
raising his head. "But there! I've beaten thirty-three managers in
my time, and I can't remember how many smaller fry. And what managers
they were! Men who would not permit the very winds to touch them!
I've beaten two celebrated authors and one painter!"
"What are you crying for?"
"At Kherson I killed a horse with my fists. And at Taganrog some
roughs fell upon me at night, fifteen of them. I took off their
caps and they followed me, begging: 'Uncle, give us back our caps.'
That's how I used to go on."
"What are you crying for, then, you silly?"
"But now it's all over . . . I feel it. If only I could go to
A pause followed. After a silence Shtchiptsov suddenly jumped up
and seized his cap. He looked distraught.
"Good-bye! I am going to Vyazma!" he articulated, staggering.
"And the money for the journey?"
"H'm! . . . I shall go on foot!"
"You are crazy. . . ."
The two men looked at each other, probably because the same thought
--of the boundless plains, the unending forests and swamps--
struck both of them at once.
"Well, I see you have gone off your head," the _jeune premier_
commented. "I'll tell you what, old man. . . . First thing, go to
bed, then drink some brandy and tea to put you into a sweat. And
some castor-oil, of course. Stay, where am I to get some brandy?"
Brama-Glinsky thought a minute, then made up his mind to go to a
shopkeeper called Madame Tsitrinnikov to try and get it from her
on tick: who knows? perhaps the woman would feel for them and let
them have it. The _jeune premier_ went off, and half an hour later
returned with a bottle of brandy and some castor-oil. Shtchiptsov
was sitting motionless, as before, on the bed, gazing dumbly at the
floor. He drank the castor-oil offered him by his friend like an
automaton, with no consciousness of what he was doing. Like an
automaton he sat afterwards at the table, and drank tea and brandy;
mechanically he emptied the whole bottle and let the _jeune premier_
put him to bed. The latter covered him up with a quilt and an
overcoat, advised him to get into a perspiration, and went away.
The night came on; Shtchiptsov had drunk a great deal of brandy,
but he did not sleep. He lay motionless under the quilt and stared
at the dark ceiling; then, seeing the moon looking in at the window,
he turned his eyes from the ceiling towards the companion of the
earth, and lay so with open eyes till the morning. At nine o'clock
in the morning Zhukov, the manager, ran in.
"What has put it into your head to be ill, my angel?" he cackled,
wrinkling up his nose. "Aie, aie! A man with your physique has no
business to be ill! For shame, for shame! Do you know, I was quite
frightened. 'Can our conversation have had such an effect on him?'
I wondered. My dear soul, I hope it's not through me you've fallen
ill! You know you gave me as good . . . er . . . And, besides,
comrades can never get on without words. You called me all sorts
of names . . . and have gone at me with your fists too, and yet I
am fond of you! Upon my soul, I am. I respect you and am fond of
you! Explain, my angel, why I am so fond of you. You are neither
kith nor kin nor wife, but as soon as I heard you had fallen ill
it cut me to the heart."
Zhukov spent a long time declaring his affection, then fell to
kissing the invalid, and finally was so overcome by his feelings
that he began laughing hysterically, and was even meaning to fall
into a swoon, but, probably remembering that he was not at home nor
at the theatre, put off the swoon to a more convenient opportunity
and went away.
Soon after him Adabashev, the tragic actor, a dingy, short-sighted
individual who talked through his nose, made his appearance. . . .
For a long while he looked at Shtchiptsov, for a long while he
pondered, and at last he made a discovery.
"Do you know what, Mifa?" he said, pronouncing through his nose "f"
instead of "sh," and assuming a mysterious expression. "Do you know
what? You ought to have a dose of castor-oil!"
Shtchiptsov was silent. He remained silent, too, a little later as
the tragic actor poured the loathsome oil into his mouth. Two hours
later Yevlampy, or, as the actors for some reason called him,
Rigoletto, the hairdresser of the company, came into the room. He
too, like the tragic man, stared at Shtchiptsov for a long time,
then sighed like a steam-engine, and slowly and deliberately began
untying a parcel he had brought with him. In it there were twenty
cups and several little flasks.
"You should have sent for me and I would have cupped you long ago,"
he said, tenderly baring Shtchiptsov's chest. "It is easy to neglect
Thereupon Rigoletto stroked the broad chest of the "heavy father"
and covered it all over with suction cups.
"Yes . . ." he said, as after this operation he packed up his
paraphernalia, crimson with Shtchiptsov's blood. "You should have
sent for me, and I would have come. . . . You needn't trouble about
payment. . . . I do it from sympathy. Where are you to get the money
if that idol won't pay you? Now, please take these drops. They are
nice drops! And now you must have a dose of this castor-oil. It's
the real thing. That's right! I hope it will do you good. Well,
now, good-bye. . . ."
Rigoletto took his parcel and withdrew, pleased that he had been
of assistance to a fellow-creature.
The next morning Sigaev, the comic man, going in to see Shtchiptsov,
found him in a terrible condition. He was lying under his coat,
breathing in gasps, while his eyes strayed over the ceiling. In his
hands he was crushing convulsively the crumpled quilt.
"To Vyazma!" he whispered, when he saw the comic man. "To Vyazma."
"Come, I don't like that, old man!" said the comic man, flinging
up his hands. "You see . . . you see . . . you see, old man, that's
not the thing! Excuse me, but . . . it's positively stupid. . . ."
"To go to Vyazma! My God, to Vyazma!"
"I . . . I did not expect it of you," the comic man muttered, utterly
distracted. "What the deuce do you want to collapse like this for?
Aie . . . aie . . . aie! . . . that's not the thing. A giant as
tall as a watch-tower, and crying. Is it the thing for actors to
"No wife nor children," muttered Shtchiptsov. "I ought not to have
gone for an actor, but have stayed at Vyazma. My life has been
wasted, Semyon! Oh, to be in Vyazma!"
"Aie . . . aie . . . aie! . . . that's not the thing! You see, it's
stupid . . . contemptible indeed!"
Recovering his composure and setting his feelings in order, Sigaev
began comforting Shtchiptsov, telling him untruly that his comrades
had decided to send him to the Crimea at their expense, and so on,
but the sick man did not listen and kept muttering about Vyazma
. . . . At last, with a wave of his hand, the comic man began talking
about Vyazma himself to comfort the invalid.
"It's a fine town," he said soothingly, "a capital town, old man!
It's famous for its cakes. The cakes are classical, but--between
ourselves--h'm!--they are a bit groggy. For a whole week after
eating them I was . . . h'm! . . . But what is fine there is the
merchants! They are something like merchants. When they treat you
they do treat you!"
The comic man talked while Shtchiptsov listened in silence and
nodded his head approvingly.
Towards evening he died.