THE PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Translated by CONSTANCE GARNETT
A WOMAN'S KINGDOM
'ANNA ON THE NECK'
THE TEACHER OF LITERATURE
A TRIFLE FROM LIFE
AFTER the festive dinner with its eight courses and its endless
conversation, Olga Mihalovna, whose husband's name-day was being
celebrated, went out into the garden. The duty of smiling and talking
incessantly, the clatter of the crockery, the stupidity of the
servants, the long intervals between the courses, and the stays she
had put on to conceal her condition from the visitors, wearied her
to exhaustion. She longed to get away from the house, to sit in the
shade and rest her heart with thoughts of the baby which was to be
born to her in another two months. She was used to these thoughts
coming to her as she turned to the left out of the big avenue into
the narrow path. Here in the thick shade of the plums and cherry-trees
the dry branches used to scratch her neck and shoulders; a spider's
web would settle on her face, and there would rise up in her mind
the image of a little creature of undetermined sex and undefined
features, and it began to seem as though it were not the spider's
web that tickled her face and neck caressingly, but that little
creature. When, at the end of the path, a thin wicker hurdle came
into sight, and behind it podgy beehives with tiled roofs; when in
the motionless, stagnant air there came a smell of hay and honey,
and a soft buzzing of bees was audible, then the little creature
would take complete possession of Olga Mihalovna. She used to sit
down on a bench near the shanty woven of branches, and fall to
This time, too, she went on as far as the seat, sat down, and began
thinking; but instead of the little creature there rose up in her
imagination the figures of the grown-up people whom she had just
left. She felt dreadfully uneasy that she, the hostess, had deserted
her guests, and she remembered how her husband, Pyotr Dmitritch,
and her uncle, Nikolay Nikolaitch, had argued at dinner about trial
by jury, about the press, and about the higher education of women.
Her husband, as usual, argued in order to show off his Conservative
ideas before his visitors--and still more in order to disagree
with her uncle, whom he disliked. Her uncle contradicted him and
wrangled over every word he uttered, so as to show the company that
he, Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch, still retained his youthful freshness
of spirit and free-thinking in spite of his fifty-nine years. And
towards the end of dinner even Olga Mihalovna herself could not
resist taking part and unskilfully attempting to defend university
education for women--not that that education stood in need of her
defence, but simply because she wanted to annoy her husband, who
to her mind was unfair. The guests were wearied by this discussion,
but they all thought it necessary to take part in it, and talked a
great deal, although none of them took any interest in trial by
jury or the higher education of women. . . .
Olga Mihalovna was sitting on the nearest side of the hurdle near
the shanty. The sun was hidden behind the clouds. The trees and the
air were overcast as before rain, but in spite of that it was hot
and stifling. The hay cut under the trees on the previous day was
lying ungathered, looking melancholy, with here and there a patch
of colour from the faded flowers, and from it came a heavy, sickly
scent. It was still. The other side of the hurdle there was a
monotonous hum of bees. . . .
Suddenly she heard footsteps and voices; some one was coming along
the path towards the beehouse.
"How stifling it is!" said a feminine voice. "What do you think--
is it going to rain, or not?"
"It is going to rain, my charmer, but not before night," a very
familiar male voice answered languidly. "There will be a good rain."
Olga Mihalovna calculated that if she made haste to hide in the
shanty they would pass by without seeing her, and she would not
have to talk and to force herself to smile. She picked up her skirts,
bent down and crept into the shanty. At once she felt upon her face,
her neck, her arms, the hot air as heavy as steam. If it had not
been for the stuffiness and the close smell of rye bread, fennel,
and brushwood, which prevented her from breathing freely, it would
have been delightful to hide from her visitors here under the
thatched roof in the dusk, and to think about the little creature.
It was cosy and quiet.
"What a pretty spot!" said a feminine voice. "Let us sit here, Pyotr
Olga Mihalovna began peeping through a crack between two branches.
She saw her husband, Pyotr Dmitritch, and Lubotchka Sheller, a girl
of seventeen who had not long left boarding-school. Pyotr Dmitritch,
with his hat on the back of his head, languid and indolent from
having drunk so much at dinner, slouched by the hurdle and raked
the hay into a heap with his foot; Lubotchka, pink with the heat
and pretty as ever, stood with her hands behind her, watching the
lazy movements of his big handsome person.
Olga Mihalovna knew that her husband was attractive to women, and
did not like to see him with them. There was nothing out of the way
in Pyotr Dmitritch's lazily raking together the hay in order to sit
down on it with Lubotchka and chatter to her of trivialities; there
was nothing out of the way, either, in pretty Lubotchka's looking
at him with her soft eyes; but yet Olga Mihalovna felt vexed with
her husband and frightened and pleased that she could listen to
"Sit down, enchantress," said Pyotr Dmitritch, sinking down on the
hay and stretching. "That's right. Come, tell me something."
"What next! If I begin telling you anything you will go to sleep."
"Me go to sleep? Allah forbid! Can I go to sleep while eyes like
yours are watching me?"
In her husband's words, and in the fact that he was lolling with
his hat on the back of his head in the presence of a lady, there
was nothing out of the way either. He was spoilt by women, knew
that they found him attractive, and had adopted with them a special
tone which every one said suited him. With Lubotchka he behaved as
with all women. But, all the same, Olga Mihalovna was jealous.
"Tell me, please," said Lubotchka, after a brief silence--"is it
true that you are to be tried for something?"
"I? Yes, I am . . . numbered among the transgressors, my charmer."
"But what for?"
"For nothing, but just . . . it's chiefly a question of politics,"
yawned Pyotr Dmitritch--"the antagonisms of Left and Right. I,
an obscurantist and reactionary, ventured in an official paper to
make use of an expression offensive in the eyes of such immaculate
Gladstones as Vladimir Pavlovitch Vladimirov and our local justice
of the peace--Kuzma Grigoritch Vostryakov."
Pytor Dmitritch yawned again and went on:
"And it is the way with us that you may express disapproval of the
sun or the moon, or anything you like, but God preserve you from
touching the Liberals! Heaven forbid! A Liberal is like the poisonous
dry fungus which covers you with a cloud of dust if you accidentally
touch it with your finger."
"What happened to you?"
"Nothing particular. The whole flare-up started from the merest
trifle. A teacher, a detestable person of clerical associations,
hands to Vostryakov a petition against a tavern-keeper, charging
him with insulting language and behaviour in a public place.
Everything showed that both the teacher and the tavern-keeper were
drunk as cobblers, and that they behaved equally badly. If there
had been insulting behaviour, the insult had anyway been mutual.
Vostryakov ought to have fined them both for a breach of the peace
and have turned them out of the court--that is all. But that's
not our way of doing things. With us what stands first is not the
person--not the fact itself, but the trade-mark and label. However
great a rascal a teacher may be, he is always in the right because
he is a teacher; a tavern-keeper is always in the wrong because he
is a tavern-keeper and a money-grubber. Vostryakov placed the
tavern-keeper under arrest. The man appealed to the Circuit Court;
the Circuit Court triumphantly upheld Vostryakov's decision. Well,
I stuck to my own opinion. . . . Got a little hot. . . . That was
Pyotr Dmitritch spoke calmly with careless irony. In reality the
trial that was hanging over him worried him extremely. Olga Mihalovna
remembered how on his return from the unfortunate session he had
tried to conceal from his household how troubled he was, and how
dissatisfied with himself. As an intelligent man he could not help
feeling that he had gone too far in expressing his disagreement;
and how much lying had been needful to conceal that feeling from
himself and from others! How many unnecessary conversations there
had been! How much grumbling and insincere laughter at what was not
laughable! When he learned that he was to be brought up before the
Court, he seemed at once harassed and depressed; he began to sleep
badly, stood oftener than ever at the windows, drumming on the panes
with his fingers. And he was ashamed to let his wife see that he
was worried, and it vexed her.
"They say you have been in the province of Poltava?" Lubotchka
"Yes," answered Pyotr Dmitritch. "I came back the day before
"I expect it is very nice there."
"Yes, it is very nice, very nice indeed; in fact, I arrived just
in time for the haymaking, I must tell you, and in the Ukraine the
haymaking is the most poetical moment of the year. Here we have a
big house, a big garden, a lot of servants, and a lot going on, so
that you don't see the haymaking; here it all passes unnoticed.
There, at the farm, I have a meadow of forty-five acres as flat as
my hand. You can see the men mowing from any window you stand at.
They are mowing in the meadow, they are mowing in the garden. There
are no visitors, no fuss nor hurry either, so that you can't help
seeing, feeling, hearing nothing but the haymaking. There is a smell
of hay indoors and outdoors. There's the sound of the scythes from
sunrise to sunset. Altogether Little Russia is a charming country.
Would you believe it, when I was drinking water from the rustic
wells and filthy vodka in some Jew's tavern, when on quiet evenings
the strains of the Little Russian fiddle and the tambourines reached
me, I was tempted by a fascinating idea--to settle down on my
place and live there as long as I chose, far away from Circuit
Courts, intellectual conversations, philosophizing women, long
dinners. . . ."
Pyotr Dmitritch was not lying. He was unhappy and really longed to
rest. And he had visited his Poltava property simply to avoid seeing
his study, his servants, his acquaintances, and everything that
could remind him of his wounded vanity and his mistakes.
Lubotchka suddenly jumped up and waved her hands about in horror.
"Oh! A bee, a bee!" she shrieked. "It will sting!"
"Nonsense; it won't sting," said Pyotr Dmitritch. "What a coward
"No, no, no," cried Lubotchka; and looking round at the bees, she
walked rapidly back.
Pyotr Dmitritch walked away after her, looking at her with a softened
and melancholy face. He was probably thinking, as he looked at her,
of his farm, of solitude, and--who knows?--perhaps he was even
thinking how snug and cosy life would be at the farm if his wife
had been this girl--young, pure, fresh, not corrupted by higher
education, not with child. . . .
When the sound of their footsteps had died away, Olga Mihalovna
came out of the shanty and turned towards the house. She wanted to
cry. She was by now acutely jealous. She could understand that her
husband was worried, dissatisfied with himself and ashamed, and
when people are ashamed they hold aloof, above all from those nearest
to them, and are unreserved with strangers; she could understand,
also, that she had nothing to fear from Lubotchka or from those
women who were now drinking coffee indoors. But everything in general
was terrible, incomprehensible, and it already seemed to Olga
Mihalovna that Pyotr Dmitritch only half belonged to her.
"He has no right to do it!" she muttered, trying to formulate her
jealousy and her vexation with her husband. "He has no right at
all. I will tell him so plainly!"
She made up her mind to find her husband at once and tell him all
about it: it was disgusting, absolutely disgusting, that he was
attractive to other women and sought their admiration as though it
were some heavenly manna; it was unjust and dishonourable that he
should give to others what belonged by right to his wife, that he
should hide his soul and his conscience from his wife to reveal
them to the first pretty face he came across. What harm had his
wife done him? How was she to blame? Long ago she had been sickened
by his lying: he was for ever posing, flirting, saying what he did
not think, and trying to seem different from what he was and what
he ought to be. Why this falsity? Was it seemly in a decent man?
If he lied he was demeaning himself and those to whom he lied, and
slighting what he lied about. Could he not understand that if he
swaggered and posed at the judicial table, or held forth at dinner
on the prerogatives of Government, that he, simply to provoke her
uncle, was showing thereby that he had not a ha'p'orth of respect
for the Court, or himself, or any of the people who were listening
and looking at him?
Coming out into the big avenue, Olga Mihalovna assumed an expression
of face as though she had just gone away to look after some domestic
matter. In the verandah the gentlemen were drinking liqueur and
eating strawberries: one of them, the Examining Magistrate--a
stout elderly man, _blagueur_ and wit--must have been telling
some rather free anecdote, for, seeing their hostess, he suddenly
clapped his hands over his fat lips, rolled his eyes, and sat down.
Olga Mihalovna did not like the local officials. She did not care
for their clumsy, ceremonious wives, their scandal-mongering, their
frequent visits, their flattery of her husband, whom they all hated.
Now, when they were drinking, were replete with food and showed no
signs of going away, she felt their presence an agonizing weariness;
but not to appear impolite, she smiled cordially to the Magistrate,
and shook her finger at him. She walked across the dining-room and
drawing-room smiling, and looking as though she had gone to give
some order and make some arrangement. "God grant no one stops me,"
she thought, but she forced herself to stop in the drawing-room to
listen from politeness to a young man who was sitting at the piano
playing: after standing for a minute, she cried, "Bravo, bravo, M.
Georges!" and clapping her hands twice, she went on.
She found her husband in his study. He was sitting at the table,
thinking of something. His face looked stern, thoughtful, and guilty.
This was not the same Pyotr Dmitritch who had been arguing at dinner
and whom his guests knew, but a different man--wearied, feeling
guilty and dissatisfied with himself, whom nobody knew but his wife.
He must have come to the study to get cigarettes. Before him lay
an open cigarette-case full of cigarettes, and one of his hands was
in the table drawer; he had paused and sunk into thought as he was
taking the cigarettes.
Olga Mihalovna felt sorry for him. It was as clear as day that this
man was harassed, could find no rest, and was perhaps struggling
with himself. Olga Mihalovna went up to the table in silence: wanting
to show that she had forgotten the argument at dinner and was not
cross, she shut the cigarette-case and put it in her husband's coat
"What should I say to him?" she wondered; "I shall say that lying
is like a forest--the further one goes into it the more difficult
it is to get out of it. I will say to him, 'You have been carried
away by the false part you are playing; you have insulted people
who were attached to you and have done you no harm. Go and apologize
to them, laugh at yourself, and you will feel better. And if you
want peace and solitude, let us go away together.'"
Meeting his wife's gaze, Pyotr Dmitritch's face immediately assumed
the expression it had worn at dinner and in the garden--indifferent
and slightly ironical. He yawned and got up.
"It's past five," he said, looking at his watch. "If our visitors
are merciful and leave us at eleven, even then we have another six
hours of it. It's a cheerful prospect, there's no denying!"
And whistling something, he walked slowly out of the study with his
usual dignified gait. She could hear him with dignified firmness
cross the dining-room, then the drawing-room, laugh with dignified
assurance, and say to the young man who was playing, "Bravo! bravo!"
Soon his footsteps died away: he must have gone out into the garden.
And now not jealousy, not vexation, but real hatred of his footsteps,
his insincere laugh and voice, took possession of Olga Mihalovna.
She went to the window and looked out into the garden. Pyotr Dmitritch
was already walking along the avenue. Putting one hand in his pocket
and snapping the fingers of the other, he walked with confident
swinging steps, throwing his head back a little, and looking as
though he were very well satisfied with himself, with his dinner,
with his digestion, and with nature. . . .
Two little schoolboys, the children of Madame Tchizhevsky, who had
only just arrived, made their appearance in the avenue, accompanied
by their tutor, a student wearing a white tunic and very narrow
trousers. When they reached Pyotr Dmitritch, the boys and the student
stopped, and probably congratulated him on his name-day. With a
graceful swing of his shoulders, he patted the children on their
cheeks, and carelessly offered the student his hand without looking
at him. The student must have praised the weather and compared it
with the climate of Petersburg, for Pyotr Dmitritch said in a loud
voice, in a tone as though he were not speaking to a guest, but to
an usher of the court or a witness:
"What! It's cold in Petersburg? And here, my good sir, we have a
salubrious atmosphere and the fruits of the earth in abundance. Eh?
And thrusting one hand in his pocket and snapping the fingers of
the other, he walked on. Till he had disappeared behind the nut
bushes, Olga Mihalovna watched the back of his head in perplexity.
How had this man of thirty-four come by the dignified deportment
of a general? How had he come by that impressive, elegant manner?
Where had he got that vibration of authority in his voice? Where
had he got these "what's," "to be sure's," and "my good sir's"?
Olga Mihalovna remembered how in the first months of her marriage
she had felt dreary at home alone and had driven into the town to
the Circuit Court, at which Pyotr Dmitritch had sometimes presided
in place of her godfather, Count Alexey Petrovitch. In the presidential
chair, wearing his uniform and a chain on his breast, he was
completely changed. Stately gestures, a voice of thunder, "what,"
"to be sure," careless tones. . . . Everything, all that was ordinary
and human, all that was individual and personal to himself that
Olga Mihalovna was accustomed to seeing in him at home, vanished
in grandeur, and in the presidential chair there sat not Pyotr
Dmitritch, but another man whom every one called Mr. President.
This consciousness of power prevented him from sitting still in his
place, and he seized every opportunity to ring his bell, to glance
sternly at the public, to shout. . . . Where had he got his short-sight
and his deafness when he suddenly began to see and hear with
difficulty, and, frowning majestically, insisted on people speaking
louder and coming closer to the table? From the height of his
grandeur he could hardly distinguish faces or sounds, so that it
seemed that if Olga Mihalovna herself had gone up to him he would
have shouted even to her, "Your name?" Peasant witnesses he addressed
familiarly, he shouted at the public so that his voice could be
heard even in the street, and behaved incredibly with the lawyers.
If a lawyer had to speak to him, Pyotr Dmitritch, turning a little
away from him, looked with half-closed eyes at the ceiling, meaning
to signify thereby that the lawyer was utterly superfluous and that
he was neither recognizing him nor listening to him; if a badly-dressed
lawyer spoke, Pyotr Dmitritch pricked up his ears and looked the
man up and down with a sarcastic, annihilating stare as though to
say: "Queer sort of lawyers nowadays!"
"What do you mean by that?" he would interrupt.
If a would-be eloquent lawyer mispronounced a foreign word, saying,
for instance, "factitious" instead of "fictitious," Pyotr Dmitritch
brightened up at once and asked, "What? How? Factitious? What does
that mean?" and then observed impressively: "Don't make use of words
you do not understand." And the lawyer, finishing his speech, would
walk away from the table, red and perspiring, while Pyotr Dmitritch;
with a self-satisfied smile, would lean back in his chair triumphant.
In his manner with the lawyers he imitated Count Alexey Petrovitch
a little, but when the latter said, for instance, "Counsel for the
defence, you keep quiet for a little!" it sounded paternally
good-natured and natural, while the same words in Pyotr Dmitritch's
mouth were rude and artificial.
There were sounds of applause. The young man had finished playing.
Olga Mihalovna remembered her guests and hurried into the drawing-room.
"I have so enjoyed your playing," she said, going up to the piano.
"I have so enjoyed it. You have a wonderful talent! But don't you
think our piano's out of tune?"
At that moment the two schoolboys walked into the room, accompanied
by the student.
"My goodness! Mitya and Kolya," Olga Mihalovna drawled joyfully,
going to meet them: "How big they have grown! One would not know
you! But where is your mamma?"
"I congratulate you on the name-day," the student began in a
free-and-easy tone, "and I wish you all happiness. Ekaterina
Andreyevna sends her congratulations and begs you to excuse her.
She is not very well."
"How unkind of her! I have been expecting her all day. Is it long
since you left Petersburg?" Olga Mihalovna asked the student. "What
kind of weather have you there now?" And without waiting for an
answer, she looked cordially at the schoolboys and repeated:
"How tall they have grown! It is not long since they used to come
with their nurse, and they are at school already! The old grow older
while the young grow up. . . . Have you had dinner?"
"Oh, please don't trouble!" said the student.
"Why, you have not had dinner?"
"For goodness' sake, don't trouble!"
"But I suppose you are hungry?" Olga Mihalovna said it in a harsh,
rude voice, with impatience and vexation--it escaped her unawares,
but at once she coughed, smiled, and flushed crimson. "How tall
they have grown!" she said softly.
"Please don't trouble!" the student said once more.
The student begged her not to trouble; the boys said nothing;
obviously all three of them were hungry. Olga Mihalovna took them
into the dining-room and told Vassily to lay the table.
"How unkind of your mamma!" she said as she made them sit down.
"She has quite forgotten me. Unkind, unkind, unkind . . . you must
tell her so. What are you studying?" she asked the student.
"Well, I have a weakness for doctors, only fancy. I am very sorry
my husband is not a doctor. What courage any one must have to perform
an operation or dissect a corpse, for instance! Horrible! Aren't
you frightened? I believe I should die of terror! Of course, you
"Please don't trouble."
"After your journey you must have something to drink. Though I am
a woman, even I drink sometimes. And Mitya and Kolya will drink
Malaga. It's not a strong wine; you need not be afraid of it. What
fine fellows they are, really! They'll be thinking of getting married
Olga Mihalovna talked without ceasing; she knew by experience that
when she had guests to entertain it was far easier and more comfortable
to talk than to listen. When you talk there is no need to strain
your attention to think of answers to questions, and to change your
expression of face. But unawares she asked the student a serious
question; the student began a lengthy speech and she was forced to
listen. The student knew that she had once been at the University,
and so tried to seem a serious person as he talked to her.
"What subject are you studying?" she asked, forgetting that she had
already put that question to him.
Olga Mihalovna now remembered that she had been away from the ladies
for a long while.
"Yes? Then I suppose you are going to be a doctor?" she said, getting
up. "That's splendid. I am sorry I did not go in for medicine myself.
So you will finish your dinner here, gentlemen, and then come into
the garden. I will introduce you to the young ladies."
She went out and glanced at her watch: it was five minutes to six.
And she wondered that the time had gone so slowly, and thought with
horror that there were six more hours before midnight, when the
party would break up. How could she get through those six hours?
What phrases could she utter? How should she behave to her husband?
There was not a soul in the drawing-room or on the verandah. All
the guests were sauntering about the garden.
"I shall have to suggest a walk in the birchwood before tea, or
else a row in the boats," thought Olga Mihalovna, hurrying to the
croquet ground, from which came the sounds of voices and laughter.
"And sit the old people down to _vint_. . . ." She met Grigory the
footman coming from the croquet ground with empty bottles.
"Where are the ladies?" she asked.
"Among the raspberry-bushes. The master's there, too."
"Oh, good heavens!" some one on the croquet lawn shouted with
exasperation. "I have told you a thousand times over! To know the
Bulgarians you must see them! You can't judge from the papers!"
Either because of the outburst or for some other reason, Olga
Mihalovna was suddenly aware of a terrible weakness all over,
especially in her legs and in her shoulders. She felt she could not
bear to speak, to listen, or to move.
"Grigory," she said faintly and with an effort, "when you have to
serve tea or anything, please don't appeal to me, don't ask me
anything, don't speak of anything. . . . Do it all yourself, and
. . . and don't make a noise with your feet, I entreat you. . . . I
can't, because . . ."
Without finishing, she walked on towards the croquet lawn, but on
the way she thought of the ladies, and turned towards the
raspberry-bushes. The sky, the air, and the trees looked gloomy
again and threatened rain; it was hot and stifling. An immense flock
of crows, foreseeing a storm, flew cawing over the garden. The paths
were more overgrown, darker, and narrower as they got nearer the
kitchen garden. In one of them, buried in a thick tangle of wild
pear, crab-apple, sorrel, young oaks, and hopbine, clouds of tiny
black flies swarmed round Olga Mihalovna. She covered her face with
her hands and began forcing herself to think of the little creature
. . . . There floated through her imagination the figures of Grigory,
Mitya, Kolya, the faces of the peasants who had come in the morning
to present their congratulations.
She heard footsteps, and she opened her eyes. Uncle Nikolay Nikolaitch
was coming rapidly towards her.
"It's you, dear? I am very glad . . ." he began, breathless. "A
couple of words. . . ." He mopped with his handkerchief his red
shaven chin, then suddenly stepped back a pace, flung up his hands
and opened his eyes wide. "My dear girl, how long is this going
on?" he said rapidly, spluttering. "I ask you: is there no limit
to it? I say nothing of the demoralizing effect of his martinet
views on all around him, of the way he insults all that is sacred
and best in me and in every honest thinking man--I will say nothing
about that, but he might at least behave decently! Why, he shouts,
he bellows, gives himself airs, poses as a sort of Bonaparte, does
not let one say a word. . . . I don't know what the devil's the
matter with him! These lordly gestures, this condescending tone;
and laughing like a general! Who is he, allow me to ask you? I ask
you, who is he? The husband of his wife, with a few paltry acres
and the rank of a titular who has had the luck to marry an heiress!
An upstart and a _junker_, like so many others! A type out of
Shtchedrin! Upon my word, it's either that he's suffering from
megalomania, or that old rat in his dotage, Count Alexey Petrovitch,
is right when he says that children and young people are a long
time growing up nowadays, and go on playing they are cabmen and
generals till they are forty!"
"That's true, that's true," Olga Mihalovna assented. "Let me pass."
"Now just consider: what is it leading to?" her uncle went on,
barring her way. "How will this playing at being a general and a
Conservative end? Already he has got into trouble! Yes, to stand
his trial! I am very glad of it! That's what his noise and shouting
has brought him to--to stand in the prisoner's dock. And it's not
as though it were the Circuit Court or something: it's the Central
Court! Nothing worse could be imagined, I think! And then he has
quarrelled with every one! He is celebrating his name-day, and look,
Vostryakov's not here, nor Yahontov, nor Vladimirov, nor Shevud,
nor the Count. . . . There is no one, I imagine, more Conservative
than Count Alexey Petrovitch, yet even he has not come. And he never
will come again. He won't come, you will see!"
"My God! but what has it to do with me?" asked Olga Mihalovna.
"What has it to do with you? Why, you are his wife! You are clever,
you have had a university education, and it was in your power to
make him an honest worker!"
"At the lectures I went to they did not teach us how to influence
tiresome people. It seems as though I should have to apologize to
all of you for having been at the University," said Olga Mihalovna
sharply. "Listen, uncle. If people played the same scales over and
over again the whole day long in your hearing, you wouldn't be able
to sit still and listen, but would run away. I hear the same thing
over again for days together all the year round. You must have pity
on me at last."
Her uncle pulled a very long face, then looked at her searchingly
and twisted his lips into a mocking smile.
"So that's how it is," he piped in a voice like an old woman's. "I
beg your pardon!" he said, and made a ceremonious bow. "If you have
fallen under his influence yourself, and have abandoned your
convictions, you should have said so before. I beg your pardon!"
"Yes, I have abandoned my convictions," she cried. "There; make the
most of it!"
"I beg your pardon!"
Her uncle for the last time made her a ceremonious bow, a little
on one side, and, shrinking into himself, made a scrape with his
foot and walked back.
"Idiot!" thought Olga Mihalovna. "I hope he will go home."
She found the ladies and the young people among the raspberries in
the kitchen garden. Some were eating raspberries; others, tired of
eating raspberries, were strolling about the strawberry beds or
foraging among the sugar-peas. A little on one side of the raspberry
bed, near a branching appletree propped up by posts which had been
pulled out of an old fence, Pyotr Dmitritch was mowing the grass.
His hair was falling over his forehead, his cravat was untied. His
watch-chain was hanging loose. Every step and every swing of the
scythe showed skill and the possession of immense physical strength.
Near him were standing Lubotchka and the daughters of a neighbour,
Colonel Bukryeev--two anaemic and unhealthily stout fair girls,
Natalya and Valentina, or, as they were always called, Nata and
Vata, both wearing white frocks and strikingly like each other.
Pyotr Dmitritch was teaching them to mow.
"It's very simple," he said. "You have only to know how to hold the
scythe and not to get too hot over it--that is, not to use more
force than is necessary! Like this. . . . Wouldn't you like to try?"
he said, offering the scythe to Lubotchka. "Come!"
Lubotchka took the scythe clumsily, blushed crimson, and laughed.
"Don't be afraid, Lubov Alexandrovna!" cried Olga Mihalovna, loud
enough for all the ladies to hear that she was with them. "Don't
be afraid! You must learn! If you marry a Tolstoyan he will make
Lubotchka raised the scythe, but began laughing again, and, helpless
with laughter, let go of it at once. She was ashamed and pleased
at being talked to as though grown up. Nata, with a cold, serious
face, with no trace of smiling or shyness, took the scythe, swung
it and caught it in the grass; Vata, also without a smile, as cold
and serious as her sister, took the scythe, and silently thrust it
into the earth. Having done this, the two sisters linked arms and
walked in silence to the raspberries.
Pyotr Dmitritch laughed and played about like a boy, and this
childish, frolicsome mood in which he became exceedingly good-natured
suited him far better than any other. Olga Mihalovna loved him when
he was like that. But his boyishness did not usually last long. It
did not this time; after playing with the scythe, he for some reason
thought it necessary to take a serious tone about it.
"When I am mowing, I feel, do you know, healthier and more normal,"
he said. "If I were forced to confine myself to an intellectual
life I believe I should go out of my mind. I feel that I was not
born to be a man of culture! I ought to mow, plough, sow, drive out
And Pyotr Dmitritch began a conversation with the ladies about the
advantages of physical labour, about culture, and then about the
pernicious effects of money, of property. Listening to her husband,
Olga Mihalovna, for some reason, thought of her dowry.
"And the time will come, I suppose," she thought, "when he will not
forgive me for being richer than he. He is proud and vain. Maybe
he will hate me because he owes so much to me."
She stopped near Colonel Bukryeev, who was eating raspberries and
also taking part in the conversation.
"Come," he said, making room for Olga Mihalovna and Pyotr Dmitritch.
"The ripest are here. . . . And so, according to Proudhon," he went
on, raising his voice, "property is robbery. But I must confess I
don't believe in Proudhon, and don't consider him a philosopher.
The French are not authorities, to my thinking--God bless them!"
"Well, as for Proudhons and Buckles and the rest of them, I am weak
in that department," said Pyotr Dmitritch. "For philosophy you must
apply to my wife. She has been at University lectures and knows all
your Schopenhauers and Proudhons by heart. . . ."
Olga Mihalovna felt bored again. She walked again along a little
path by apple and pear trees, and looked again as though she was
on some very important errand. She reached the gardener's cottage.
In the doorway the gardener's wife, Varvara, was sitting together
with her four little children with big shaven heads. Varvara, too,
was with child and expecting to be confined on Elijah's Day. After
greeting her, Olga Mihalovna looked at her and the children in
silence and asked:
"Well, how do you feel?"
"Oh, all right. . . ."
A silence followed. The two women seemed to understand each other
"It's dreadful having one's first baby," said Olga Mihalovna after
a moment's thought. "I keep feeling as though I shall not get through
it, as though I shall die."
"I fancied that, too, but here I am alive. One has all sorts of
Varvara, who was just going to have her fifth, looked down a little
on her mistress from the height of her experience and spoke in a
rather didactic tone, and Olga Mihalovna could not help feeling her
authority; she would have liked to have talked of her fears, of the
child, of her sensations, but she was afraid it might strike Varvara
as naïve and trivial. And she waited in silence for Varvara to say
"Olya, we are going indoors," Pyotr Dmitritch called from the
Olga Mihalovna liked being silent, waiting and watching Varvara.
She would have been ready to stay like that till night without
speaking or having any duty to perform. But she had to go. She had
hardly left the cottage when Lubotchka, Nata, and Vata came running
to meet her. The sisters stopped short abruptly a couple of yards
away; Lubotchka ran right up to her and flung herself on her neck.
"You dear, darling, precious," she said, kissing her face and her
neck. "Let us go and have tea on the island!"
"On the island, on the island!" said the precisely similar Nata and
Vata, both at once, without a smile.
"But it's going to rain, my dears."
"It's not, it's not," cried Lubotchka with a woebegone face. "They've
all agreed to go. Dear! darling!"
"They are all getting ready to have tea on the island," said Pyotr
Dmitritch, coming up. "See to arranging things. . . . We will all
go in the boats, and the samovars and all the rest of it must be
sent in the carriage with the servants."
He walked beside his wife and gave her his arm. Olga Mihalovna had
a desire to say something disagreeable to her husband, something
biting, even about her dowry perhaps--the crueller the better,
she felt. She thought a little, and said:
"Why is it Count Alexey Petrovitch hasn't come? What a pity!"
"I am very glad he hasn't come," said Pyotr Dmitritch, lying. "I'm
sick to death of that old lunatic."
"But yet before dinner you were expecting him so eagerly!"
Half an hour later all the guests were crowding on the bank near
the pile to which the boats were fastened. They were all talking
and laughing, and were in such excitement and commotion that they
could hardly get into the boats. Three boats were crammed with
passengers, while two stood empty. The keys for unfastening these
two boats had been somehow mislaid, and messengers were continually
running from the river to the house to look for them. Some said
Grigory had the keys, others that the bailiff had them, while others
suggested sending for a blacksmith and breaking the padlocks. And
all talked at once, interrupting and shouting one another down.
Pyotr Dmitritch paced impatiently to and fro on the bank, shouting:
"What the devil's the meaning of it! The keys ought always to be
lying in the hall window! Who has dared to take them away? The
bailiff can get a boat of his own if he wants one!"
At last the keys were found. Then it appeared that two oars were
missing. Again there was a great hullabaloo. Pyotr Dmitritch, who
was weary of pacing about the bank, jumped into a long, narrow boat
hollowed out of the trunk of a poplar, and, lurching from side to
side and almost falling into the water, pushed off from the bank.
The other boats followed him one after another, amid loud laughter
and the shrieks of the young ladies.
The white cloudy sky, the trees on the riverside, the boats with
the people in them, and the oars, were reflected in the water as
in a mirror; under the boats, far away below in the bottomless
depths, was a second sky with the birds flying across it. The bank
on which the house and gardens stood was high, steep, and covered
with trees; on the other, which was sloping, stretched broad green
water-meadows with sheets of water glistening in them. The boats
had floated a hundred yards when, behind the mournfully drooping
willows on the sloping banks, huts and a herd of cows came into
sight; they began to hear songs, drunken shouts, and the strains
of a concertina.
Here and there on the river fishing-boats were scattered about,
setting their nets for the night. In one of these boats was the
festive party, playing on home-made violins and violoncellos.
Olga Mihalovna was sitting at the rudder; she was smiling affably
and talking a great deal to entertain her visitors, while she glanced
stealthily at her husband. He was ahead of them all, standing up
punting with one oar. The light sharp-nosed canoe, which all the
guests called the "death-trap"--while Pyotr Dmitritch, for some
reason, called it _Penderaklia_--flew along quickly; it had a
brisk, crafty expression, as though it hated its heavy occupant and
was looking out for a favourable moment to glide away from under
his feet. Olga Mihalovna kept looking at her husband, and she loathed
his good looks which attracted every one, the back of his head, his
attitude, his familiar manner with women; she hated all the women
sitting in the boat with her, was jealous, and at the same time was
trembling every minute in terror that the frail craft would upset
and cause an accident.
"Take care, Pyotr!" she cried, while her heart fluttered with terror.
"Sit down! We believe in your courage without all that!"
She was worried, too, by the people who were in the boat with her.
They were all ordinary good sort of people like thousands of others,
but now each one of them struck her as exceptional and evil. In
each one of them she saw nothing but falsity. "That young man," she
thought, "rowing, in gold-rimmed spectacles, with chestnut hair and
a nice-looking beard: he is a mamma's darling, rich, and well-fed,
and always fortunate, and every one considers him an honourable,
free-thinking, advanced man. It's not a year since he left the
University and came to live in the district, but he already talks
of himself as 'we active members of the Zemstvo.' But in another
year he will be bored like so many others and go off to Petersburg,
and to justify running away, will tell every one that the Zemstvos
are good-for-nothing, and that he has been deceived in them. While
from the other boat his young wife keeps her eyes fixed on him, and
believes that he is 'an active member of the Zemstvo,' just as in
a year she will believe that the Zemstvo is good-for-nothing. And
that stout, carefully shaven gentleman in the straw hat with the
broad ribbon, with an expensive cigar in his mouth: he is fond of
saying, 'It is time to put away dreams and set to work!' He has
Yorkshire pigs, Butler's hives, rape-seed, pine-apples, a dairy, a
cheese factory, Italian bookkeeping by double entry; but every
summer he sells his timber and mortgages part of his land to spend
the autumn with his mistress in the Crimea. And there's Uncle Nikolay
Nikolaitch, who has quarrelled with Pyotr Dmitritch, and yet for
some reason does not go home."
Olga Mihalovna looked at the other boats, and there, too, she saw
only uninteresting, queer creatures, affected or stupid people. She
thought of all the people she knew in the district, and could not
remember one person of whom one could say or think anything good.
They all seemed to her mediocre, insipid, unintelligent, narrow,
false, heartless; they all said what they did not think, and did
what they did not want to. Dreariness and despair were stifling
her; she longed to leave off smiling, to leap up and cry out, "I
am sick of you," and then jump out and swim to the bank.
"I say, let's take Pyotr Dmitritch in tow!" some one shouted.
"In tow, in tow!" the others chimed in. "Olga Mihalovna, take your
husband in tow."
To take him in tow, Olga Mihalovna, who was steering, had to seize
the right moment and to catch bold of his boat by the chain at the
beak. When she bent over to the chain Pyotr Dmitritch frowned and
looked at her in alarm.
"I hope you won't catch cold," he said.
"If you are uneasy about me and the child, why do you torment me?"
thought Olga Mihalovna.
Pyotr Dmitritch acknowledged himself vanquished, and, not caring
to be towed, jumped from the _Penderaklia_ into the boat which was
overful already, and jumped so carelessly that the boat lurched
violently, and every one cried out in terror.
"He did that to please the ladies," thought Olga Mihalovna; "he
knows it's charming." Her hands and feet began trembling, as she
supposed, from boredom, vexation from the strain of smiling and the
discomfort she felt all over her body. And to conceal this trembling
from her guests, she tried to talk more loudly, to laugh, to move.
"If I suddenly begin to cry," she thought, "I shall say I have
toothache. . . ."
But at last the boats reached the "Island of Good Hope," as they
called the peninsula formed by a bend in the river at an acute
angle, covered with a copse of old birch-trees, oaks, willows, and
poplars. The tables were already laid under the trees; the samovars
were smoking, and Vassily and Grigory, in their swallow-tails and
white knitted gloves, were already busy with the tea-things. On the
other bank, opposite the "Island of Good Hope," there stood the
carriages which had come with the provisions. The baskets and parcels
of provisions were carried across to the island in a little boat
like the _Penderaklia_. The footmen, the coachmen, and even the
peasant who was sitting in the boat, had the solemn expression
befitting a name-day such as one only sees in children and servants.
While Olga Mihalovna was making the tea and pouring out the first
glasses, the visitors were busy with the liqueurs and sweet things.
Then there was the general commotion usual at picnics over drinking
tea, very wearisome and exhausting for the hostess. Grigory and
Vassily had hardly had time to take the glasses round before hands
were being stretched out to Olga Mihalovna with empty glasses. One
asked for no sugar, another wanted it stronger, another weak, a
fourth declined another glass. And all this Olga Mihalovna had to
remember, and then to call, "Ivan Petrovitch, is it without sugar
for you?" or, "Gentlemen, which of you wanted it weak?" But the
guest who had asked for weak tea, or no sugar, had by now forgotten
it, and, absorbed in agreeable conversation, took the first glass
that came. Depressed-looking figures wandered like shadows at a
little distance from the table, pretending to look for mushrooms
in the grass, or reading the labels on the boxes--these were those
for whom there were not glasses enough. "Have you had tea?" Olga
Mihalovna kept asking, and the guest so addressed begged her not
to trouble, and said, "I will wait," though it would have suited
her better for the visitors not to wait but to make haste.
Some, absorbed in conversation, drank their tea slowly, keeping
their glasses for half an hour; others, especially some who had
drunk a good deal at dinner, would not leave the table, and kept
on drinking glass after glass, so that Olga Mihalovna scarcely had
time to fill them. One jocular young man sipped his tea through a
lump of sugar, and kept saying, "Sinful man that I am, I love to
indulge myself with the Chinese herb." He kept asking with a heavy
sigh: "Another tiny dish of tea more, if you please." He drank a
great deal, nibbled his sugar, and thought it all very amusing and
original, and imagined that he was doing a clever imitation of a
Russian merchant. None of them understood that these trifles were
agonizing to their hostess, and, indeed, it was hard to understand
it, as Olga Mihalovna went on all the time smiling affably and
But she felt ill. . . . She was irritated by the crowd of people,
the laughter, the questions, the jocular young man, the footmen
harassed and run off their legs, the children who hung round the
table; she was irritated at Vata's being like Nata, at Kolya's being
like Mitya, so that one could not tell which of them had had tea
and which of them had not. She felt that her smile of forced
affability was passing into an expression of anger, and she felt
every minute as though she would burst into tears.
"Rain, my friends," cried some one.
Every one looked at the sky.
"Yes, it really is rain . . ." Pyotr Dmitritch assented, and wiped
Only a few drops were falling from the sky--the real rain had not
begun yet; but the company abandoned their tea and made haste to
get off. At first they all wanted to drive home in the carriages,
but changed their minds and made for the boats. On the pretext that
she had to hasten home to give directions about the supper, Olga
Mihalovna asked to be excused for leaving the others, and went home
in the carriage.
When she got into the carriage, she first of all let her face rest
from smiling. With an angry face she drove through the village, and
with an angry face acknowledged the bows of the peasants she met.
When she got home, she went to the bedroom by the back way and lay
down on her husband's bed.
"Merciful God!" she whispered. "What is all this hard labour for?
Why do all these people hustle each other here and pretend that
they are enjoying themselves? Why do I smile and lie? I don't
She heard steps and voices. The visitors had come back.
"Let them come," thought Olga Mihalovna; "I shall lie a little
But a maid-servant came and said:
"Marya Grigoryevna is going, madam."
Olga Mihalovna jumped up, tidied her hair and hurried out of the
"Marya Grigoryevna, what is the meaning of this?" she began in an
injured voice, going to meet Marya Grigoryevna. "Why are you in
such a hurry?"
"I can't help it, darling! I've stayed too long as it is; my children
are expecting me home."
"It's too bad of you! Why didn't you bring your children with you?"
"If you will let me, dear, I will bring them on some ordinary day,
but to-day . . ."
"Oh, please do," Olga Mihalovna interrupted; "I shall be delighted!
Your children are so sweet! Kiss them all for me. . . . But, really,
I am offended with you! I don't understand why you are in such a
"I really must, I really must. . . . Good-bye, dear. Take care of
yourself. In your condition, you know . . ."
And the ladies kissed each other. After seeing the departing guest
to her carriage, Olga Mihalovna went in to the ladies in the
drawing-room. There the lamps were already lighted and the gentlemen
were sitting down to cards.
The party broke up after supper about a quarter past twelve. Seeing
her visitors off, Olga Mihalovna stood at the door and said:
"You really ought to take a shawl! It's turning a little chilly.
Please God, you don't catch cold!"
"Don't trouble, Olga Mihalovna," the ladies answered as they got
into the carriage. "Well, good-bye. Mind now, we are expecting you;
don't play us false!"
"Wo-o-o!" the coachman checked the horses.
"Ready, Denis! Good-bye, Olga Mihalovna!"
"Kiss the children for me!"
The carriage started and immediately disappeared into the darkness.
In the red circle of light cast by the lamp in the road, a fresh
pair or trio of impatient horses, and the silhouette of a coachman
with his hands held out stiffly before him, would come into view.
Again there began kisses, reproaches, and entreaties to come again
or to take a shawl. Pyotr Dmitritch kept running out and helping
the ladies into their carriages.
"You go now by Efremovshtchina," he directed the coachman; "it's
nearer through Mankino, but the road is worse that way. You might
have an upset. . . . Good-bye, my charmer. _Mille_ compliments to
"Good-bye, Olga Mihalovna, darling! Go indoors, or you will catch
cold! It's damp!"
"Wo-o-o! you rascal!"
"What horses have you got here?" Pyotr Dmitritch asked.
"They were bought from Haidorov, in Lent," answered the coachman.
"Capital horses. . . ."
And Pyotr Dmitritch patted the trace horse on the haunch.
"Well, you can start! God give you good luck!"
The last visitor was gone at last; the red circle on the road
quivered, moved aside, contracted and went out, as Vassily carried
away the lamp from the entrance. On previous occasions when they
had seen off their visitors, Pyotr Dmitritch and Olga Mihalovna had
begun dancing about the drawing-room, facing each other, clapping
their hands and singing: "They've gone! They've gone!" But now Olga
Mihalovna was not equal to that. She went to her bedroom, undressed,
and got into bed.
She fancied she would fall asleep at once and sleep soundly. Her
legs and her shoulders ached painfully, her head was heavy from the
strain of talking, and she was conscious, as before, of discomfort
all over her body. Covering her head over, she lay still for three
or four minutes, then peeped out from under the bed-clothes at the
lamp before the ikon, listened to the silence, and smiled.
"It's nice, it's nice," she whispered, curling up her legs, which
felt as if they had grown longer from so much walking. "Sleep, sleep
. . . ."
Her legs would not get into a comfortable position; she felt uneasy
all over, and she turned on the other side. A big fly blew buzzing
about the bedroom and thumped against the ceiling. She could hear,
too, Grigory and Vassily stepping cautiously about the drawing-room,
putting the chairs back in their places; it seemed to Olga Mihalovna
that she could not go to sleep, nor be comfortable till those sounds
were hushed. And again she turned over on the other side impatiently.
She heard her husband's voice in the drawing-room. Some one must
be staying the night, as Pyotr Dmitritch was addressing some one
and speaking loudly:
"I don't say that Count Alexey Petrovitch is an impostor. But he
can't help seeming to be one, because all of you gentlemen attempt
to see in him something different from what he really is. His
craziness is looked upon as originality, his familiar manners as
good-nature, and his complete absence of opinions as Conservatism.
Even granted that he is a Conservative of the stamp of '84, what
after all is Conservatism?"
Pyotr Dmitritch, angry with Count Alexey Petrovitch, his visitors,
and himself, was relieving his heart. He abused both the Count and
his visitors, and in his vexation with himself was ready to speak
out and to hold forth upon anything. After seeing his guest to his
room, he walked up and down the drawing-room, walked through the
dining-room, down the corridor, then into his study, then again
went into the drawing-room, and came into the bedroom. Olga Mihalovna
was lying on her back, with the bed-clothes only to her waist (by
now she felt hot), and with an angry face, watched the fly that was
thumping against the ceiling.
"Is some one staying the night?" she asked.
Pyotr Dmitritch undressed and got into his bed.
Without speaking, he lighted a cigarette, and he, too, fell to
watching the fly. There was an uneasy and forbidding look in his
eyes. Olga Mihalovna looked at his handsome profile for five minutes
in silence. It seemed to her for some reason that if her husband
were suddenly to turn facing her, and to say, "Olga, I am unhappy,"
she would cry or laugh, and she would be at ease. She fancied that
her legs were aching and her body was uncomfortable all over because
of the strain on her feelings.
"Pyotr, what are you thinking of?" she said.
"Oh, nothing . . ." her husband answered.
"You have taken to having secrets from me of late: that's not right."
"Why is it not right?" answered Pyotr Dmitritch drily and not at
once. "We all have our personal life, every one of us, and we are
bound to have our secrets."
"Personal life, our secrets . . . that's all words! Understand you
are wounding me!" said Olga Mihalovna, sitting up in bed. "If you
have a load on your heart, why do you hide it from me? And why do
you find it more suitable to open your heart to women who are nothing
to you, instead of to your wife? I overheard your outpourings to
Lubotchka by the bee-house to-day."
"Well, I congratulate you. I am glad you did overhear it."
This meant "Leave me alone and let me think." Olga Mihalovna was
indignant. Vexation, hatred, and wrath, which had been accumulating
within her during the whole day, suddenly boiled over; she wanted
at once to speak out, to hurt her husband without putting it off
till to-morrow, to wound him, to punish him. . . . Making an effort
to control herself and not to scream, she said:
"Let me tell you, then, that it's all loathsome, loathsome, loathsome!
I've been hating you all day; you see what you've done."
Pyotr Dmitritch, too, got up and sat on the bed.
"It's loathsome, loathsome, loathsome," Olga Mihalovna went on,
beginning to tremble all over. "There's no need to congratulate me;
you had better congratulate yourself! It's a shame, a disgrace. You
have wrapped yourself in lies till you are ashamed to be alone in
the room with your wife! You are a deceitful man! I see through you
and understand every step you take!"
"Olya, I wish you would please warn me when you are out of humour.
Then I will sleep in the study."
Saying this, Pyotr Dmitritch picked up his pillow and walked out
of the bedroom. Olga Mihalovna had not foreseen this. For some
minutes she remained silent with her mouth open, trembling all over
and looking at the door by which her husband had gone out, and
trying to understand what it meant. Was this one of the devices to
which deceitful people have recourse when they are in the wrong,
or was it a deliberate insult aimed at her pride? How was she to
take it? Olga Mihalovna remembered her cousin, a lively young
officer, who often used to tell her, laughing, that when "his spouse
nagged at him" at night, he usually picked up his pillow and went
whistling to spend the night in his study, leaving his wife in a
foolish and ridiculous position. This officer was married to a rich,
capricious, and foolish woman whom he did not respect but simply
put up with.
Olga Mihalovna jumped out of bed. To her mind there was only one
thing left for her to do now; to dress with all possible haste and
to leave the house forever. The house was her own, but so much the
worse for Pyotr Dmitritch. Without pausing to consider whether this
was necessary or not, she went quickly to the study to inform her
husband of her intention ("Feminine logic!" flashed through her
mind), and to say something wounding and sarcastic at parting. . . .
Pyotr Dmitritch was lying on the sofa and pretending to read a
newspaper. There was a candle burning on a chair near him. His face
could not be seen behind the newspaper.
"Be so kind as to tell me what this means? I am asking you."
"Be so kind . . ." Pyotr Dmitritch mimicked her, not showing his
face. "It's sickening, Olga! Upon my honour, I am exhausted and not
up to it. . . . Let us do our quarrelling to-morrow."
"No, I understand you perfectly!" Olga Mihalovna went on. "You hate
me! Yes, yes! You hate me because I am richer than you! You will
never forgive me for that, and will always be lying to me!" ("Feminine
logic!" flashed through her mind again.) "You are laughing at me
now. . . . I am convinced, in fact, that you only married me in
order to have property qualifications and those wretched horses. . . .
Oh, I am miserable!"
Pyotr Dmitritch dropped the newspaper and got up. The unexpected
insult overwhelmed him. With a childishly helpless smile he looked
desperately at his wife, and holding out his hands to her as though
to ward off blows, he said imploringly:
And expecting her to say something else awful, he leaned back in
his chair, and his huge figure seemed as helplessly childish as his
"Olya, how could you say it?" he whispered.
Olga Mihalovna came to herself. She was suddenly aware of her
passionate love for this man, remembered that he was her husband,
Pyotr Dmitritch, without whom she could not live for a day, and who
loved her passionately, too. She burst into loud sobs that sounded
strange and unlike her, and ran back to her bedroom.
She fell on the bed, and short hysterical sobs, choking her and
making her arms and legs twitch, filled the bedroom. Remembering
there was a visitor sleeping three or four rooms away, she buried
her head under the pillow to stifle her sobs, but the pillow rolled
on to the floor, and she almost fell on the floor herself when she
stooped to pick it up. She pulled the quilt up to her face, but her
hands would not obey her, but tore convulsively at everything she
She thought that everything was lost, that the falsehood she had
told to wound her husband had shattered her life into fragments.
Her husband would not forgive her. The insult she had hurled at him
was not one that could be effaced by any caresses, by any vows. . . .
How could she convince her husband that she did not believe
what she had said?
"It's all over, it's all over!" she cried, not noticing that the
pillow had slipped on to the floor again. "For God's sake, for God's
Probably roused by her cries, the guest and the servants were now
awake; next day all the neighbourhood would know that she had been
in hysterics and would blame Pyotr Dmitritch. She made an effort
to restrain herself, but her sobs grew louder and louder every
"For God's sake," she cried in a voice not like her own, and not
knowing why she cried it. "For God's sake!"
She felt as though the bed were heaving under her and her feet were
entangled in the bed-clothes. Pyotr Dmitritch, in his dressing-gown,
with a candle in his hand, came into the bedroom.
"Olya, hush!" he said.
She raised herself, and kneeling up in bed, screwing up her eyes
at the light, articulated through her sobs:
"Understand . . . understand! . . . ."
She wanted to tell him that she was tired to death by the party,
by his falsity, by her own falsity, that it had all worked together,
but she could only articulate:
"Understand . . . understand!"
"Come, drink!" he said, handing her some water.
She took the glass obediently and began drinking, but the water
splashed over and was spilt on her arms, her throat and knees.
"I must look horribly unseemly," she thought.
Pyotr Dmitritch put her back in bed without a word, and covered her
with the quilt, then he took the candle and went out.
"For God's sake!" Olga Mihalovna cried again. "Pyotr, understand,
Suddenly something gripped her in the lower part of her body and
back with such violence that her wailing was cut short, and she bit
the pillow from the pain. But the pain let her go again at once,
and she began sobbing again.
The maid came in, and arranging the quilt over her, asked in alarm:
"Mistress, darling, what is the matter?"
"Go out of the room," said Pyotr Dmitritch sternly, going up to the
"Understand . . . understand! . . ." Olga Mihalovna began.
"Olya, I entreat you, calm yourself," he said. "I did not mean to
hurt you. I would not have gone out of the room if I had known it
would have hurt you so much; I simply felt depressed. I tell you,
on my honour . . ."
"Understand! . . . You were lying, I was lying. . . ."
"I understand. . . . Come, come, that's enough! I understand," said
Pyotr Dmitritch tenderly, sitting down on her bed. "You said that
in anger; I quite understand. I swear to God I love you beyond
anything on earth, and when I married you I never once thought of
your being rich. I loved you immensely, and that's all . . . I
assure you. I have never been in want of money or felt the value
of it, and so I cannot feel the difference between your fortune and
mine. It always seemed to me we were equally well off. And that I
have been deceitful in little things, that . . . of course, is true.
My life has hitherto been arranged in such a frivolous way that it
has somehow been impossible to get on without paltry lying. It
weighs on me, too, now. . . . Let us leave off talking about it,
for goodness' sake!"
Olga Mihalovna again felt in acute pain, and clutched her husband
by the sleeve.
"I am in pain, in pain, in pain . . ." she said rapidly. "Oh, what
"Damnation take those visitors!" muttered Pyotr Dmitritch, getting
up. "You ought not to have gone to the island to-day!" he cried.
"What an idiot I was not to prevent you! Oh, my God!"
He scratched his head in vexation, and, with a wave of his hand,
walked out of the room.
Then he came into the room several times, sat down on the bed beside
her, and talked a great deal, sometimes tenderly, sometimes angrily,
but she hardly heard him. Her sobs were continually interrupted by
fearful attacks of pain, and each time the pain was more acute and
prolonged. At first she held her breath and bit the pillow during
the pain, but then she began screaming on an unseemly piercing note.
Once seeing her husband near her, she remembered that she had
insulted him, and without pausing to think whether it were really
Pyotr Dmitritch or whether she were in delirium, clutched his hand
in both hers and began kissing it.
"You were lying, I was lying . . ." she began justifying herself.
"Understand, understand. . . . They have exhausted me, driven me
out of all patience."
"Olya, we are not alone," said Pyotr Dmitritch.
Olga Mihalovna raised her head and saw Varvara, who was kneeling
by the chest of drawers and pulling out the bottom drawer. The top
drawers were already open. Then Varvara got up, red from the strained
position, and with a cold, solemn face began trying to unlock a
"Marya, I can't unlock it!" she said in a whisper. "You unlock it,
Marya, the maid, was digging a candle end out of the candlestick
with a pair of scissors, so as to put in a new candle; she went up
to Varvara and helped her to unlock the box.
"There should be nothing locked . . ." whispered Varvara. "Unlock
this basket, too, my good girl. Master," she said, "you should send
to Father Mihail to unlock the holy gates! You must!"
"Do what you like," said Pyotr Dmitritch, breathing hard, "only,
for God's sake, make haste and fetch the doctor or the midwife! Has
Vassily gone? Send some one else. Send your husband!"
"It's the birth," Olga Mihalovna thought. "Varvara," she moaned,
"but he won't be born alive!"
"It's all right, it's all right, mistress," whispered Varvara.
"Please God, he will be alive! he will be alive!"
When Olga Mihalovna came to herself again after a pain she was no
longer sobbing nor tossing from side to side, but moaning. She could
not refrain from moaning even in the intervals between the pains.
The candles were still burning, but the morning light was coming
through the blinds. It was probably about five o'clock in the
morning. At the round table there was sitting some unknown woman
with a very discreet air, wearing a white apron. From her whole
appearance it was evident she had been sitting there a long time.
Olga Mihalovna guessed that she was the midwife.
"Will it soon be over?" she asked, and in her voice she heard a
peculiar and unfamiliar note which had never been there before. "I
must be dying in childbirth," she thought.
Pyotr Dmitritch came cautiously into the bedroom, dressed for the
day, and stood at the window with his back to his wife. He lifted
the blind and looked out of window.
"What rain!" he said.
"What time is it?" asked Olga Mihalovna, in order to hear the
unfamiliar note in her voice again.
"A quarter to six," answered the midwife.
"And what if I really am dying?" thought Olga Mihalovna, looking
at her husband's head and the window-panes on which the rain was
beating. "How will he live without me? With whom will he have tea
and dinner, talk in the evenings, sleep?"
And he seemed to her like a forlorn child; she felt sorry for him
and wanted to say something nice, caressing and consolatory. She
remembered how in the spring he had meant to buy himself some
harriers, and she, thinking it a cruel and dangerous sport, had
prevented him from doing it.
"Pyotr, buy yourself harriers," she moaned.
He dropped the blind and went up to the bed, and would have said
something; but at that moment the pain came back, and Olga Mihalovna
uttered an unseemly, piercing scream.
The pain and the constant screaming and moaning stupefied her. She
heard, saw, and sometimes spoke, but hardly understood anything,
and was only conscious that she was in pain or was just going to
be in pain. It seemed to her that the nameday party had been long,
long ago--not yesterday, but a year ago perhaps; and that her new
life of agony had lasted longer than her childhood, her school-days,
her time at the University, and her marriage, and would go on for
a long, long time, endlessly. She saw them bring tea to the midwife,
and summon her at midday to lunch and afterwards to dinner; she saw
Pyotr Dmitritch grow used to coming in, standing for long intervals
by the window, and going out again; saw strange men, the maid,
Varvara, come in as though they were at home. . . . Varvara said
nothing but, "He will, he will," and was angry when any one closed
the drawers and the chest. Olga Mihalovna saw the light change in
the room and in the windows: at one time it was twilight, then thick
like fog, then bright daylight as it had been at dinner-time the
day before, then again twilight . . . and each of these changes
lasted as long as her childhood, her school-days, her life at the
University. . . .
In the evening two doctors--one bony, bald, with a big red beard;
the other with a swarthy Jewish face and cheap spectacles--performed
some sort of operation on Olga Mihalovna. To these unknown men
touching her body she felt utterly indifferent. By now she had no
feeling of shame, no will, and any one might do what he would with
her. If any one had rushed at her with a knife, or had insulted
Pyotr Dmitritch, or had robbed her of her right to the little
creature, she would not have said a word.
They gave her chloroform during the operation. When she came to
again, the pain was still there and insufferable. It was night. And
Olga Mihalovna remembered that there had been just such a night
with the stillness, the lamp, with the midwife sitting motionless
by the bed, with the drawers of the chest pulled out, with Pyotr
Dmitritch standing by the window, but some time very, very long
ago. . . .
"I am not dead . . ." thought Olga Mihalovna when she began to
understand her surroundings again, and when the pain was over.
A bright summer day looked in at the widely open windows; in the
garden below the windows, the sparrows and the magpies never ceased
chattering for one instant.
The drawers were shut now, her husband's bed had been made. There
was no sign of the midwife or of the maid, or of Varvara in the
room, only Pyotr Dmitritch was standing, as before, motionless by
the window looking into the garden. There was no sound of a child's
crying, no one was congratulating her or rejoicing, it was evident
that the little creature had not been born alive.
Olga Mihalovna called to her husband.
Pyotr Dmitritch looked round. It seemed as though a long time must
have passed since the last guest had departed and Olga Mihalovna
had insulted her husband, for Pyotr Dmitritch was perceptibly thinner
"What is it?" he asked, coming up to the bed.
He looked away, moved his lips and smiled with childlike helplessness.
"Is it all over?" asked Olga Mihalovna.
Pyotr Dmitritch tried to make some answer, but his lips quivered
and his mouth worked like a toothless old man's, like Uncle Nikolay
"Olya," he said, wringing his hands; big tears suddenly dropping
from his eyes. "Olya, I don't care about your property qualification,
nor the Circuit Courts . . ." (he gave a sob) "nor particular views,
nor those visitors, nor your fortune. . . . I don't care about
anything! Why didn't we take care of our child? Oh, it's no good
With a despairing gesture he went out of the bedroom.
But nothing mattered to Olga Mihalovna now, there was a mistiness
in her brain from the chloroform, an emptiness in her soul. . . .
The dull indifference to life which had overcome her when the two
doctors were performing the operation still had possession of her.
My Friend's Story
DMITRI PETROVITCH SILIN had taken his degree and entered the
government service in Petersburg, but at thirty he gave up his post
and went in for agriculture. His farming was fairly successful, and
yet it always seemed to me that he was not in his proper place, and
that he would do well to go back to Petersburg. When sunburnt, grey
with dust, exhausted with toil, he met me near the gates or at the
entrance, and then at supper struggled with sleepiness and his wife
took him off to bed as though he were a baby; or when, overcoming
his sleepiness, he began in his soft, cordial, almost imploring
voice, to talk about his really excellent ideas, I saw him not as
a farmer nor an agriculturist, but only as a worried and exhausted
man, and it was clear to me that he did not really care for farming,
but that all he wanted was for the day to be over and "Thank God
I liked to be with him, and I used to stay on his farm for two or
three days at a time. I liked his house, and his park, and his big
fruit garden, and the river--and his philosophy, which was clear,
though rather spiritless and rhetorical. I suppose I was fond of
him on his own account, though I can't say that for certain, as I
have not up to now succeeded in analysing my feelings at that time.
He was an intelligent, kind-hearted, genuine man, and not a bore,
but I remember that when he confided to me his most treasured secrets
and spoke of our relation to each other as friendship, it disturbed
me unpleasantly, and I was conscious of awkwardness. In his affection
for me there was something inappropriate, tiresome, and I should
have greatly preferred commonplace friendly relations.
The fact is that I was extremely attracted by his wife, Marya
Sergeyevna. I was not in love with her, but I was attracted by her
face, her eyes, her voice, her walk. I missed her when I did not
see her for a long time, and my imagination pictured no one at that
time so eagerly as that young, beautiful, elegant woman. I had no
definite designs in regard to her, and did not dream of anything
of the sort, yet for some reason, whenever we were left alone, I
remembered that her husband looked upon me as his friend, and I
felt awkward. When she played my favourite pieces on the piano or
told me something interesting, I listened with pleasure, and yet
at the same time for some reason the reflection that she loved her
husband, that he was my friend, and that she herself looked upon
me as his friend, obtruded themselves upon me, my spirits flagged,
and I became listless, awkward, and dull. She noticed this change
and would usually say:
"You are dull without your friend. We must send out to the fields
And when Dmitri Petrovitch came in, she would say:
"Well, here is your friend now. Rejoice."
So passed a year and a half.
It somehow happened one July Sunday that Dmitri Petrovitch and I,
having nothing to do, drove to the big village of Klushino to buy
things for supper. While we were going from one shop to another the
sun set and the evening came on--the evening which I shall probably
never forget in my life. After buying cheese that smelt like soap,
and petrified sausages that smelt of tar, we went to the tavern to
ask whether they had any beer. Our coachman went off to the blacksmith
to get our horses shod, and we told him we would wait for him near
the church. We walked, talked, laughed over our purchases, while a
man who was known in the district by a very strange nickname, "Forty
Martyrs," followed us all the while in silence with a mysterious
air like a detective. This Forty Martyrs was no other than Gavril
Syeverov, or more simply Gavryushka, who had been for a short time
in my service as a footman and had been dismissed by me for
drunkenness. He had been in Dmitri Petrovitch's service, too, and
by him had been dismissed for the same vice. He was an inveterate
drunkard, and indeed his whole life was as drunk and disorderly as
himself. His father had been a priest and his mother of noble rank,
so by birth he belonged to the privileged class; but however carefully
I scrutinized his exhausted, respectful, and always perspiring face,
his red beard now turning grey, his pitifully torn reefer jacket
and his red shirt, I could not discover in him the faintest trace
of anything we associate with privilege. He spoke of himself as a
man of education, and used to say that he had been in a clerical
school, but had not finished his studies there, as he had been
expelled for smoking; then he had sung in the bishop's choir and
lived for two years in a monastery, from which he was also expelled,
but this time not for smoking but for "his weakness." He had walked
all over two provinces, had presented petitions to the Consistory,
and to various government offices, and had been four times on his
trial. At last, being stranded in our district, he had served as a
footman, as a forester, as a kennelman, as a sexton, had married a
cook who was a widow and rather a loose character, and had so
hopelessly sunk into a menial position, and had grown so used to
filth and dirt, that he even spoke of his privileged origin with a
certain scepticism, as of some myth. At the time I am describing,
he was hanging about without a job, calling himself a carrier and
a huntsman, and his wife had disappeared and made no sign.
From the tavern we went to the church and sat in the porch, waiting
for the coachman. Forty Martyrs stood a little way off and put his
hand before his mouth in order to cough in it respectfully if need
be. By now it was dark; there was a strong smell of evening dampness,
and the moon was on the point of rising. There were only two clouds
in the clear starry sky exactly over our heads: one big one and one
smaller; alone in the sky they were racing after one another like
mother and child, in the direction where the sunset was glowing.
"What a glorious day!" said Dmitri Petrovitch.
"In the extreme . . ." Forty Martyrs assented, and he coughed
respectfully into his hand. "How was it, Dmitri Petrovitch, you
thought to visit these parts?" he asked in an ingratiating voice,
evidently anxious to get up a conversation.
Dmitri Petrovitch made no answer. Forty Martyrs heaved a deep sigh
and said softly, not looking at us:
"I suffer solely through a cause to which I must answer to Almighty
God. No doubt about it, I am a hopeless and incompetent man; but
believe me, on my conscience, I am without a crust of bread and
worse off than a dog. . . . Forgive me, Dmitri Petrovitch."
Silin was not listening, but sat musing with his head propped on
his fists. The church stood at the end of the street on the high
river-bank, and through the trellis gate of the enclosure we could
see the river, the water-meadows on the near side of it, and the
crimson glare of a camp fire about which black figures of men and
horses were moving. And beyond the fire, further away, there were
other lights, where there was a little village. They were singing
there. On the river, and here and there on the meadows, a mist was
rising. High narrow coils of mist, thick and white as milk, were
trailing over the river, hiding the reflection of the stars and
hovering over the willows. Every minute they changed their form,
and it seemed as though some were embracing, others were bowing,
others lifting up their arms to heaven with wide sleeves like
priests, as though they were praying. . . . Probably they reminded
Dmitri Petrovitch of ghosts and of the dead, for he turned facing
me and asked with a mournful smile:
"Tell me, my dear fellow, why is it that when we want to tell some
terrible, mysterious, and fantastic story, we draw our material,
not from life, but invariably from the world of ghosts and of the
shadows beyond the grave."
"We are frightened of what we don't understand."
"And do you understand life? Tell me: do you understand life better
than the world beyond the grave?"
Dmitri Petrovitch was sitting quite close to me, so that I felt his
breath upon my cheek. In the evening twilight his pale, lean face
seemed paler than ever and his dark beard was black as soot. His
eyes were sad, truthful, and a little frightened, as though he were
about to tell me something horrible. He looked into my eyes and
went on in his habitual imploring voice:
"Our life and the life beyond the grave are equally incomprehensible
and horrible. If any one is afraid of ghosts he ought to be afraid,
too, of me, and of those lights and of the sky, seeing that, if you
come to reflect, all that is no less fantastic and beyond our grasp
than apparitions from the other world. Prince Hamlet did not kill
himself because he was afraid of the visions that might haunt his
dreams after death. I like that famous soliloquy of his, but, to
be candid, it never touched my soul. I will confess to you as a
friend that in moments of depression I have sometimes pictured to
myself the hour of my death. My fancy invented thousands of the
gloomiest visions, and I have succeeded in working myself up to an
agonizing exaltation, to a state of nightmare, and I assure you
that that did not seem to me more terrible than reality. What I
mean is, apparitions are terrible, but life is terrible, too. I
don't understand life and I am afraid of it, my dear boy; I don't
know. Perhaps I am a morbid person, unhinged. It seems to a sound,
healthy man that he understands everything he sees and hears, but
that 'seeming' is lost to me, and from day to day I am poisoning
myself with terror. There is a disease, the fear of open spaces,
but my disease is the fear of life. When I lie on the grass and
watch a little beetle which was born yesterday and understands
nothing, it seems to me that its life consists of nothing else but
fear, and in it I see myself."
"What is it exactly you are frightened of?" I asked.
"I am afraid of everything. I am not by nature a profound thinker,
and I take little interest in such questions as the life beyond the
grave, the destiny of humanity, and, in fact, I am rarely carried
away to the heights. What chiefly frightens me is the common routine
of life from which none of us can escape. I am incapable of
distinguishing what is true and what is false in my actions, and
they worry me. I recognize that education and the conditions of
life have imprisoned me in a narrow circle of falsity, that my whole
life is nothing else than a daily effort to deceive myself and other
people, and to avoid noticing it; and I am frightened at the thought
that to the day of my death I shall not escape from this falsity.
To-day I do something and to-morrow I do not understand why I did
it. I entered the service in Petersburg and took fright; I came
here to work on the land, and here, too, I am frightened. . . . I
see that we know very little and so make mistakes every day. We are
unjust, we slander one another and spoil each other's lives, we
waste all our powers on trash which we do not need and which hinders
us from living; and that frightens me, because I don't understand
why and for whom it is necessary. I don't understand men, my dear
fellow, and I am afraid of them. It frightens me to look at the
peasants, and I don't know for what higher objects they are suffering
and what they are living for. If life is an enjoyment, then they
are unnecessary, superfluous people; if the object and meaning of
life is to be found in poverty and unending, hopeless ignorance, I
can't understand for whom and what this torture is necessary. I
understand no one and nothing. Kindly try to understand this specimen,
for instance," said Dmitri Petrovitch, pointing to Forty Martyrs.
"Think of him!"
Noticing that we were looking at him, Forty Martyrs coughed
deferentially into his fist and said:
"I was always a faithful servant with good masters, but the great
trouble has been spirituous liquor. If a poor fellow like me were
shown consideration and given a place, I would kiss the ikon. My
word's my bond."
The sexton walked by, looked at us in amazement, and began pulling
the rope. The bell, abruptly breaking upon the stillness of the
evening, struck ten with a slow and prolonged note.
"It's ten o'clock, though," said Dmitri Petrovitch. "It's time we
were going. Yes, my dear fellow," he sighed, "if only you knew how
afraid I am of my ordinary everyday thoughts, in which one would
have thought there should be nothing dreadful. To prevent myself
thinking I distract my mind with work and try to tire myself out
that I may sleep sound at night. Children, a wife--all that seems
ordinary with other people; but how that weighs upon me, my dear
He rubbed his face with his hands, cleared his throat, and laughed.
"If I could only tell you how I have played the fool in my life!"
he said. "They all tell me that I have a sweet wife, charming
children, and that I am a good husband and father. They think I am
very happy and envy me. But since it has come to that, I will tell
you in secret: my happy family life is only a grievous misunderstanding,
and I am afraid of it." His pale face was distorted by a wry smile.
He put his arm round my waist and went on in an undertone:
"You are my true friend; I believe in you and have a deep respect
for you. Heaven gave us friendship that we may open our hearts and
escape from the secrets that weigh upon us. Let me take advantage
of your friendly feeling for me and tell you the whole truth. My
home life, which seems to you so enchanting, is my chief misery and
my chief terror. I got married in a strange and stupid way. I must
tell you that I was madly in love with Masha before I married her,
and was courting her for two years. I asked her to marry me five
times, and she refused me because she did not care for me in the
least. The sixth, when burning with passion I crawled on my knees
before her and implored her to take a beggar and marry me, she
consented. . . . What she said to me was: 'I don't love you, but I
will be true to you. . . .' I accepted that condition with rapture.
At the time I understood what that meant, but I swear to God I don't
understand it now. 'I don't love you, but I will be true to you.'
What does that mean? It's a fog, a darkness. I love her now as
intensely as I did the day we were married, while she, I believe,
is as indifferent as ever, and I believe she is glad when I go away
from home. I don't know for certain whether she cares for me or not
--I don't know, I don't know; but, as you see, we live under the
same roof, call each other 'thou,' sleep together, have children,
our property is in common. . . . What does it mean, what does it
mean? What is the object of it? And do you understand it at all,
my dear fellow? It's cruel torture! Because I don't understand our
relations, I hate, sometimes her, sometimes myself, sometimes both
at once. Everything is in a tangle in my brain; I torment myself
and grow stupid. And as though to spite me, she grows more beautiful
every day, she is getting more wonderful. . . I fancy her hair is
marvellous, and her smile is like no other woman's. I love her, and
I know that my love is hopeless. Hopeless love for a woman by whom
one has two children! Is that intelligible? And isn't it terrible?
Isn't it more terrible than ghosts?"
He was in the mood to have talked on a good deal longer, but luckily
we heard the coachman's voice. Our horses had arrived. We got into
the carriage, and Forty Martyrs, taking off his cap, helped us both
into the carriage with an expression that suggested that he had
long been waiting for an opportunity to come in contact with our
"Dmitri Petrovitch, let me come to you," he said, blinking furiously
and tilting his head on one side. "Show divine mercy! I am dying
"Very well," said Silin. "Come, you shall stay three days, and then
we shall see."
"Certainly, sir," said Forty Martyrs, overjoyed. "I'll come today,
It was a five miles' drive home. Dmitri Petrovitch, glad that he
had at last opened his heart to his friend, kept his arm round my
waist all the way; and speaking now, not with bitterness and not
with apprehension, but quite cheerfully, told me that if everything
had been satisfactory in his home life, he should have returned to
Petersburg and taken up scientific work there. The movement which
had driven so many gifted young men into the country was, he said,
a deplorable movement. We had plenty of rye and wheat in Russia,
but absolutely no cultured people. The strong and gifted among the
young ought to take up science, art, and politics; to act otherwise
meant being wasteful. He generalized with pleasure and expressed
regret that he would be parting from me early next morning, as he
had to go to a sale of timber.
And I felt awkward and depressed, and it seemed to me that I was
deceiving the man. And at the same time it was pleasant to me. I
gazed at the immense crimson moon which was rising, and pictured
the tall, graceful, fair woman, with her pale face, always well-dressed
and fragrant with some special scent, rather like musk, and for
some reason it pleased me to think she did not love her husband.
On reaching home, we sat down to supper. Marya Sergeyevna, laughing,
regaled us with our purchases, and I thought that she certainly had
wonderful hair and that her smile was unlike any other woman's. I
watched her, and I wanted to detect in every look and movement that
she did not love her husband, and I fancied that I did see it.
Dmitri Petrovitch was soon struggling with sleep. After supper he
sat with us for ten minutes and said:
"Do as you please, my friends, but I have to be up at three o'clock
tomorrow morning. Excuse my leaving you."
He kissed his wife tenderly, pressed my hand with warmth and
gratitude, and made me promise that I would certainly come the
following week. That he might not oversleep next morning, he went
to spend the night in the lodge.
Marya Sergeyevna always sat up late, in the Petersburg fashion, and
for some reason on this occasion I was glad of it.
"And now," I began when we were left alone, "and now you'll be kind
and play me something."
I felt no desire for music, but I did not know how to begin the
conversation. She sat down to the piano and played, I don't remember
what. I sat down beside her and looked at her plump white hands and
tried to read something on her cold, indifferent face. Then she
smiled at something and looked at me.
"You are dull without your friend," she said.
"It would be enough for friendship to be here once a month, but I
turn up oftener than once a week."
Saying this, I got up and walked from one end of the room to the
other. She too got up and walked away to the fireplace.
"What do you mean to say by that?" she said, raising her large,
clear eyes and looking at me.
I made no answer.
"What you say is not true," she went on, after a moment's thought.
"You only come here on account of Dmitri Petrovitch. Well, I am
very glad. One does not often see such friendships nowadays."
"Aha!" I thought, and, not knowing what to say, I asked: "Would you
care for a turn in the garden?"
I went out upon the verandah. Nervous shudders were running over
my head and I felt chilly with excitement. I was convinced now that
our conversation would be utterly trivial, and that there was nothing
particular we should be able to say to one another, but that, that
night, what I did not dare to dream of was bound to happen--that
it was bound to be that night or never.
"What lovely weather!" I said aloud.
"It makes absolutely no difference to me," she answered.
I went into the drawing-room. Marya Sergeyevna was standing, as
before, near the fireplace, with her hands behind her back, looking
away and thinking of something.
"Why does it make no difference to you?" I asked.
"Because I am bored. You are only bored without your friend, but I
am always bored. However . . . that is of no interest to you."
I sat down to the piano and struck a few chords, waiting to hear
what she would say.
"Please don't stand on ceremony," she said, looking angrily at me,
and she seemed as though on the point of crying with vexation. "If
you are sleepy, go to bed. Because you are Dmitri Petrovitch's
friend, you are not in duty bound to be bored with his wife's
company. I don't want a sacrifice. Please go."
I did not, of course, go to bed. She went out on the verandah while
I remained in the drawing-room and spent five minutes turning over
the music. Then I went out, too. We stood close together in the
shadow of the curtains, and below us were the steps bathed in
moonlight. The black shadows of the trees stretched across the
flower beds and the yellow sand of the paths.
"I shall have to go away tomorrow, too," I said.
"Of course, if my husband's not at home you can't stay here," she
said sarcastically. "I can imagine how miserable you would be if
you were in love with me! Wait a bit: one day I shall throw myself
on your neck. . . . I shall see with what horror you will run away
from me. That would be interesting."
Her words and her pale face were angry, but her eyes were full of
tender passionate love. I already looked upon this lovely creature
as my property, and then for the first time I noticed that she had
golden eyebrows, exquisite eyebrows. I had never seen such eyebrows
before. The thought that I might at once press her to my heart,
caress her, touch her wonderful hair, seemed to me such a miracle
that I laughed and shut my eyes.
"It's bed-time now. . . . A peaceful night," she said.
"I don't want a peaceful night," I said, laughing, following her
into the drawing-room. "I shall curse this night if it is a peaceful
Pressing her hand, and escorting her to the door, I saw by her face
that she understood me, and was glad that I understood her, too.
I went to my room. Near the books on the table lay Dmitri Petrovitch's
cap, and that reminded me of his affection for me. I took my stick
and went out into the garden. The mist had risen here, too, and the
same tall, narrow, ghostly shapes which I had seen earlier on the
river were trailing round the trees and bushes and wrapping about
them. What a pity I could not talk to them!
In the extraordinarily transparent air, each leaf, each drop of dew
stood out distinctly; it was all smiling at me in the stillness
half asleep, and as I passed the green seats I recalled the words
in some play of Shakespeare's: "How sweetly falls the moonlight on
There was a mound in the garden; I went up it and sat down. I was
tormented by a delicious feeling. I knew for certain that in a
moment I should hold in my arms, should press to my heart her
magnificent body, should kiss her golden eyebrows; and I wanted to
disbelieve it, to tantalize myself, and was sorry that she had cost
me so little trouble and had yielded so soon.
But suddenly I heard heavy footsteps. A man of medium height appeared
in the avenue, and I recognized him at once as Forty Martyrs. He
sat down on the bench and heaved a deep sigh, then crossed himself
three times and lay down. A minute later he got up and lay on the
other side. The gnats and the dampness of the night prevented his
"Oh, life!" he said. "Wretched, bitter life!"
Looking at his bent, wasted body and hearing his heavy, noisy sighs,
I thought of an unhappy, bitter life of which the confession had
been made to me that day, and I felt uneasy and frightened at my
blissful mood. I came down the knoll and went to the house.
"Life, as he thinks, is terrible," I thought, "so don't stand on
ceremony with it, bend it to your will, and until it crushes you,
snatch all you can wring from it."
Marya Sergeyevna was standing on the verandah. I put my arms round
her without a word, and began greedily kissing her eyebrows, her
temples, her neck. . . .
In my room she told me she had loved me for a long time, more than
a year. She vowed eternal love, cried and begged me to take her
away with me. I repeatedly took her to the window to look at her
face in the moonlight, and she seemed to me a lovely dream, and I
made haste to hold her tight to convince myself of the truth of it.
It was long since I had known such raptures. . . . Yet somewhere
far away at the bottom of my heart I felt an awkwardness, and I was
ill at ease. In her love for me there was something incongruous and
burdensome, just as in Dmitri Petrovitch's friendship. It was a
great, serious passion with tears and vows, and I wanted nothing
serious in it--no tears, no vows, no talk of the future. Let that
moonlight night flash through our lives like a meteor and--_basta!_
At three o'clock she went out of my room, and, while I was standing
in the doorway, looking after her, at the end of the corridor Dmitri
Petrovitch suddenly made his appearance; she started and stood aside
to let him pass, and her whole figure was expressive of repulsion.
He gave a strange smile, coughed, and came into my room.
"I forgot my cap here yesterday," he said without looking at me.
He found it and, holding it in both hands, put it on his head; then
he looked at my confused face, at my slippers, and said in a strange,
husky voice unlike his own:
"I suppose it must be my fate that I should understand nothing. . . .
If you understand anything, I congratulate you. It's all darkness
before my eyes."
And he went out, clearing his throat. Afterwards from the window I
saw him by the stable, harnessing the horses with his own hands.
His hands were trembling, he was in nervous haste and kept looking
round at the house; probably he was feeling terror. Then he got
into the gig, and, with a strange expression as though afraid of
being pursued, lashed the horses.
Shortly afterwards I set off, too. The sun was already rising, and
the mist of the previous day clung timidly to the bushes and the
hillocks. On the box of the carriage was sitting Forty Martyrs; he
had already succeeded in getting drunk and was muttering tipsy
"I am a free man," he shouted to the horses. "Ah, my honeys, I am
a nobleman in my own right, if you care to know!"
The terror of Dmitri Petrovitch, the thought of whom I could not
get out of my head, infected me. I thought of what had happened and
could make nothing of it. I looked at the rooks, and it seemed so
strange and terrible that they were flying.
"Why have I done this?" I kept asking myself in bewilderment and
despair. "Why has it turned out like this and not differently? To
whom and for what was it necessary that she should love me in
earnest, and that he should come into my room to fetch his cap?
What had a cap to do with it?"
I set off for Petersburg that day, and I have not seen Dmitri
Petrovitch nor his wife since. I am told that they are still living
A WOMAN'S KINGDOM
HERE was a thick roll of notes. It came from the bailiff at the
forest villa; he wrote that he was sending fifteen hundred roubles,
which he had been awarded as damages, having won an appeal. Anna
Akimovna disliked and feared such words as "awarded damages" and
"won the suit." She knew that it was impossible to do without the
law, but for some reason, whenever Nazaritch, the manager of the
factory, or the bailiff of her villa in the country, both of whom
frequently went to law, used to win lawsuits of some sort for her
benefit, she always felt uneasy and, as it were, ashamed. On this
occasion, too, she felt uneasy and awkward, and wanted to put that
fifteen hundred roubles further away that it might be out of her
She thought with vexation that other girls of her age--she was
in her twenty-sixth year--were now busy looking after their
households, were weary and would sleep sound, and would wake up
tomorrow morning in holiday mood; many of them had long been married
and had children. Only she, for some reason, was compelled to sit
like an old woman over these letters, to make notes upon them, to
write answers, then to do nothing the whole evening till midnight,
but wait till she was sleepy; and tomorrow they would all day long
be coming with Christmas greetings and asking for favours; and the
day after tomorrow there would certainly be some scandal at the
factory--some one would be beaten or would die of drinking too
much vodka, and she would be fretted by pangs of conscience; and
after the holidays Nazaritch would turn off some twenty of the
workpeople for absence from work, and all of the twenty would hang
about at the front door, without their caps on, and she would be
ashamed to go out to them, and they would be driven away like dogs.
And all her acquaintances would say behind her back, and write to
her in anonymous letters, that she was a millionaire and exploiter
--that she was devouring other men's lives and sucking the blood
of the workers.
Here there lay a heap of letters read through and laid aside already.
They were all begging letters. They were from people who were hungry,
drunken, dragged down by large families, sick, degraded, despised
. . . . Anna Akimovna had already noted on each letter, three roubles
to be paid to one, five to another; these letters would go the same
day to the office, and next the distribution of assistance would
take place, or, as the clerks used to say, the beasts would be fed.
They would distribute also in small sums four hundred and seventy
roubles--the interest on a sum bequeathed by the late Akim
Ivanovitch for the relief of the poor and needy. There would be a
hideous crush. From the gates to the doors of the office there would
stretch a long file of strange people with brutal faces, in rags,
numb with cold, hungry and already drunk, in husky voices calling
down blessings upon Anna Akimovna, their benefactress, and her
parents: those at the back would press upon those in front, and
those in front would abuse them with bad language. The clerk would
get tired of the noise, the swearing, and the sing-song whining and
blessing; would fly out and give some one a box on the ear to the
delight of all. And her own people, the factory hands, who received
nothing at Christmas but their wages, and had already spent every
farthing of it, would stand in the middle of the yard, looking on
and laughing--some enviously, others ironically.
"Merchants, and still more their wives, are fonder of beggars than
they are of their own workpeople," thought Anna Akimovna. "It's
Her eye fell upon the roll of money. It would be nice to distribute
that hateful, useless money among the workpeople tomorrow, but it
did not do to give the workpeople anything for nothing, or they
would demand it again next time. And what would be the good of
fifteen hundred roubles when there were eighteen hundred workmen
in the factory besides their wives and children? Or she might,
perhaps, pick out one of the writers of those begging letters--
some luckless man who had long ago lost all hope of anything better,
and give him the fifteen hundred. The money would come upon the
poor creature like a thunder-clap, and perhaps for the first time
in his life he would feel happy. This idea struck Anna Akimovna as
original and amusing, and it fascinated her. She took one letter
at random out of the pile and read it. Some petty official called
Tchalikov had long been out of a situation, was ill, and living in
Gushtchin's Buildings; his wife was in consumption, and he had five
little girls. Anna Akimovna knew well the four-storeyed house,
Gushtchin's Buildings, in which Tchalikov lived. Oh, it was a horrid,
foul, unhealthy house!
"Well, I will give it to that Tchalikov," she decided. "I won't
send it; I had better take it myself to prevent unnecessary talk.
Yes," she reflected, as she put the fifteen hundred roubles in her
pocket, "and I'll have a look at them, and perhaps I can do something
for the little girls."
She felt light-hearted; she rang the bell and ordered the horses
to be brought round.
When she got into the sledge it was past six o'clock in the evening.
The windows in all the blocks of buildings were brightly lighted
up, and that made the huge courtyard seem very dark: at the gates,
and at the far end of the yard near the warehouses and the workpeople's
barracks, electric lamps were gleaming.
Anna Akimovna disliked and feared those huge dark buildings,
warehouses, and barracks where the workmen lived. She had only once
been in the main building since her father's death. The high ceilings
with iron girders; the multitude of huge, rapidly turning wheels,
connecting straps and levers; the shrill hissing; the clank of
steel; the rattle of the trolleys; the harsh puffing of steam; the
faces--pale, crimson, or black with coal-dust; the shirts soaked
with sweat; the gleam of steel, of copper, and of fire; the smell
of oil and coal; and the draught, at times very hot and at times
very cold--gave her an impression of hell. It seemed to her as
though the wheels, the levers, and the hot hissing cylinders were
trying to tear themselves away from their fastenings to crush the
men, while the men, not hearing one another, ran about with anxious
faces, and busied themselves about the machines, trying to stop
their terrible movement. They showed Anna Akimovna something and
respectfully explained it to her. She remembered how in the forge
a piece of red-hot iron was pulled out of the furnace; and how an
old man with a strap round his head, and another, a young man in a
blue shirt with a chain on his breast, and an angry face, probably
one of the foremen, struck the piece of iron with hammers; and how
the golden sparks had been scattered in all directions; and how, a
little afterwards, they had dragged out a huge piece of sheet-iron
with a clang. The old man had stood erect and smiled, while the
young man had wiped his face with his sleeve and explained something
to her. And she remembered, too, how in another department an old
man with one eye had been filing a piece of iron, and how the iron
filings were scattered about; and how a red-haired man in black
spectacles, with holes in his shirt, had been working at a lathe,
making something out of a piece of steel: the lathe roared and
hissed and squeaked, and Anna Akimovna felt sick at the sound, and
it seemed as though they were boring into her ears. She looked,
listened, did not understand, smiled graciously, and felt ashamed.
To get hundreds of thousands of roubles from a business which one
does not understand and cannot like--how strange it is!
And she had not once been in the workpeople's barracks. There, she
was told, it was damp; there were bugs, debauchery, anarchy. It was
an astonishing thing: a thousand roubles were spent annually on
keeping the barracks in good order, yet, if she were to believe the
anonymous letters, the condition of the workpeople was growing worse
and worse every year.
"There was more order in my father's day," thought Anna Akimovna,
as she drove out of the yard, "because he had been a workman himself.
I know nothing about it and only do silly things."
She felt depressed again, and was no longer glad that she had come,
and the thought of the lucky man upon whom fifteen hundred roubles
would drop from heaven no longer struck her as original and amusing.
To go to some Tchalikov or other, when at home a business worth a
million was gradually going to pieces and being ruined, and the
workpeople in the barracks were living worse than convicts, meant
doing something silly and cheating her conscience. Along the highroad
and across the fields near it, workpeople from the neighbouring
cotton and paper factories were walking towards the lights of the
town. There was the sound of talk and laughter in the frosty air.
Anna Akimovna looked at the women and young people, and she suddenly
felt a longing for a plain rough life among a crowd. She recalled
vividly that far-away time when she used to be called Anyutka, when
she was a little girl and used to lie under the same quilt with her
mother, while a washerwoman who lodged with them used to wash clothes
in the next room; while through the thin walls there came from the
neighbouring flats sounds of laughter, swearing, children's crying,
the accordion, and the whirr of carpenters' lathes and sewing-machines;
while her father, Akim Ivanovitch, who was clever at almost every
craft, would be soldering something near the stove, or drawing or
planing, taking no notice whatever of the noise and stuffiness. And
she longed to wash, to iron, to run to the shop and the tavern as
she used to do every day when she lived with her mother. She ought
to have been a work-girl and not the factory owner! Her big house
with its chandeliers and pictures; her footman Mishenka, with his
glossy moustache and swallowtail coat; the devout and dignified
Varvarushka, and smooth-tongued Agafyushka; and the young people
of both sexes who came almost every day to ask her for money, and
with whom she always for some reason felt guilty; and the clerks,
the doctors, and the ladies who were charitable at her expense, who
flattered her and secretly despised her for her humble origin--
how wearisome and alien it all was to her!
Here was the railway crossing and the city gate; then came houses
alternating with kitchen gardens; and at last the broad street where
stood the renowned Gushtchin's Buildings. The street, usually quiet,
was now on Christmas Eve full of life and movement. The eating-houses
and beer-shops were noisy. If some one who did not belong to that
quarter but lived in the centre of the town had driven through the
street now, he would have noticed nothing but dirty, drunken, and
abusive people; but Anna Akimovna, who had lived in those parts all
her life, was constantly recognizing in the crowd her own father
or mother or uncle. Her father was a soft fluid character, a little
fantastical, frivolous, and irresponsible. He did not care for
money, respectability, or power; he used to say that a working man
had no time to keep the holy-days and go to church; and if it had
not been for his wife, he would probably never have gone to confession,
taken the sacrament or kept the fasts. While her uncle, Ivan
Ivanovitch, on the contrary, was like flint; in everything relating
to religion, politics, and morality, he was harsh and relentless,
and kept a strict watch, not only over himself, but also over all
his servants and acquaintances. God forbid that one should go into
his room without crossing oneself before the ikon! The luxurious
mansion in which Anna Akimovna now lived he had always kept locked
up, and only opened it on great holidays for important visitors,
while he lived himself in the office, in a little room covered with
ikons. He had leanings towards the Old Believers, and was continually
entertaining priests and bishops of the old ritual, though he had
been christened, and married, and had buried his wife in accordance
with the Orthodox rites. He disliked Akim, his only brother and his
heir, for his frivolity, which he called simpleness and folly, and
for his indifference to religion. He treated him as an inferior,
kept him in the position of a workman, paid him sixteen roubles a
month. Akim addressed his brother with formal respect, and on the
days of asking forgiveness, he and his wife and daughter bowed down
to the ground before him. But three years before his death Ivan
Ivanovitch had drawn closer to his brother, forgave his shortcomings,
and ordered him to get a governess for Anyutka.
There was a dark, deep, evil-smelling archway under Gushtchin's
Buildings; there was a sound of men coughing near the walls. Leaving
the sledge in the street, Anna Akimovna went in at the gate and
there inquired how to get to No. 46 to see a clerk called Tchalikov.
She was directed to the furthest door on the right in the third
story. And in the courtyard and near the outer door, and even on
the stairs, there was still the same loathsome smell as under the
archway. In Anna Akimovna's childhood, when her father was a simple
workman, she used to live in a building like that, and afterwards,
when their circumstances were different, she had often visited them
in the character of a Lady Bountiful. The narrow stone staircase
with its steep dirty steps, with landings at every story; the greasy
swinging lanterns; the stench; the troughs, pots, and rags on the
landings near the doors,--all this had been familiar to her long
ago. . . . One door was open, and within could be seen Jewish tailors
in caps, sewing. Anna Akimovna met people on the stairs, but it
never entered her head that people might be rude to her. She was
no more afraid of peasants or workpeople, drunk or sober, than of
her acquaintances of the educated class.
There was no entry at No. 46; the door opened straight into the
kitchen. As a rule the dwellings of workmen and mechanics smell of
varnish, tar, hides, smoke, according to the occupation of the
tenant; the dwellings of persons of noble or official class who
have come to poverty may be known by a peculiar rancid, sour smell.
This disgusting smell enveloped Anna Akimovna on all sides, and as
yet she was only on the threshold. A man in a black coat, no doubt
Tchalikov himself, was sitting in a corner at the table with his
back to the door, and with him were five little girls. The eldest,
a broad-faced thin girl with a comb in her hair, looked about
fifteen, while the youngest, a chubby child with hair that stood
up like a hedge-hog, was not more than three. All the six were
eating. Near the stove stood a very thin little woman with a yellow
face, far gone in pregnancy. She was wearing a skirt and a white
blouse, and had an oven fork in her hand.
"I did not expect you to be so disobedient, Liza," the man was
saying reproachfully. "Fie, fie, for shame! Do you want papa to
Seeing an unknown lady in the doorway, the thin woman started, and
put down the fork.
"Vassily Nikititch!" she cried, after a pause, in a hollow voice,
as though she could not believe her eyes.
The man looked round and jumped up. He was a flat-chested, bony man
with narrow shoulders and sunken temples. His eyes were small and
hollow with dark rings round them, he had a wide mouth, and a long
nose like a bird's beak--a little bit bent to the right. His beard
was parted in the middle, his moustache was shaven, and this made
him look more like a hired footman than a government clerk.
"Does Mr. Tchalikov live here?" asked Anna Akimovna.
"Yes, madam," Tchalikov answered severely, but immediately recognizing
Anna Akimovna, he cried: "Anna Akimovna!" and all at once he gasped
and clasped his hands as though in terrible alarm. "Benefactress!"
With a moan he ran to her, grunting inarticulately as though he
were paralyzed--there was cabbage on his beard and he smelt of
vodka--pressed his forehead to her muff, and seemed as though he
were in a swoon.
"Your hand, your holy hand!" he brought out breathlessly. "It's a
dream, a glorious dream! Children, awaken me!"
He turned towards the table and said in a sobbing voice, shaking
"Providence has heard us! Our saviour, our angel, has come! We are
saved! Children, down on your knees! on your knees!"
Madame Tchalikov and the little girls, except the youngest one,
began for some reason rapidly clearing the table.
"You wrote that your wife was very ill," said Anna Akimovna, and
she felt ashamed and annoyed. "I am not going to give them the
fifteen hundred," she thought.
"Here she is, my wife," said Tchalikov in a thin feminine voice,
as though his tears had gone to his head. "Here she is, unhappy
creature! With one foot in the grave! But we do not complain, madam.
Better death than such a life. Better die, unhappy woman!"
"Why is he playing these antics?" thought Anna Akimovna with
annoyance. "One can see at once he is used to dealing with merchants."
"Speak to me like a human being," she said. "I don't care for
"Yes, madam; five bereaved children round their mother's coffin
with funeral candles--that's a farce? Eh?" said Tchalikov bitterly,
and turned away.
"Hold your tongue," whispered his wife, and she pulled at his sleeve.
"The place has not been tidied up, madam," she said, addressing
Anna Akimovna; "please excuse it . . . you know what it is where
there are children. A crowded hearth, but harmony."
"I am not going to give them the fifteen hundred," Anna Akimovna
And to escape as soon as possible from these people and from the
sour smell, she brought out her purse and made up her mind to leave
them twenty-five roubles, not more; but she suddenly felt ashamed
that she had come so far and disturbed people for so little.
"If you give me paper and ink, I will write at once to a doctor who
is a friend of mine to come and see you," she said, flushing red.
"He is a very good doctor. And I will leave you some money for
Madame Tchalikov was hastening to wipe the table.
"It's messy here! What are you doing?" hissed Tchalikov, looking
at her wrathfully. "Take her to the lodger's room! I make bold to
ask you, madam, to step into the lodger's room," he said, addressing
Anna Akimovna. "It's clean there."
"Osip Ilyitch told us not to go into his room!" said one of the
little girls, sternly.
But they had already led Anna Akimovna out of the kitchen, through
a narrow passage room between two bedsteads: it was evident from
the arrangement of the beds that in one two slept lengthwise, and
in the other three slept across the bed. In the lodger's room, that
came next, it really was clean. A neat-looking bed with a red woollen
quilt, a pillow in a white pillow-case, even a slipper for the
watch, a table covered with a hempen cloth and on it, an inkstand
of milky-looking glass, pens, paper, photographs in frames--
everything as it ought to be; and another table for rough work, on
which lay tidily arranged a watchmaker's tools and watches taken
to pieces. On the walls hung hammers, pliers, awls, chisels, nippers,
and so on, and there were three hanging clocks which were ticking;
one was a big clock with thick weights, such as one sees in
As she sat down to write the letter, Anna Akimovna saw facing her
on the table the photographs of her father and of herself. That
"Who lives here with you?" she asked.
"Our lodger, madam, Pimenov. He works in your factory."
"Oh, I thought he must be a watchmaker."
"He repairs watches privately, in his leisure hours. He is an
After a brief silence during which nothing could be heard but the
ticking of the clocks and the scratching of the pen on the paper,
Tchalikov heaved a sigh and said ironically, with indignation:
"It's a true saying: gentle birth and a grade in the service won't
put a coat on your back. A cockade in your cap and a noble title,
but nothing to eat. To my thinking, if any one of humble class helps
the poor he is much more of a gentleman than any Tchalikov who has
sunk into poverty and vice."
To flatter Anna Akimovna, he uttered a few more disparaging phrases
about his gentle birth, and it was evident that he was humbling
himself because he considered himself superior to her. Meanwhile
she had finished her letter and had sealed it up. The letter would
be thrown away and the money would not be spent on medicine--that
she knew, but she put twenty-five roubles on the table all the same,
and after a moment's thought, added two more red notes. She saw the
wasted, yellow hand of Madame Tchalikov, like the claw of a hen,
dart out and clutch the money tight.
"You have graciously given this for medicine," said Tchalikov in a
quivering voice, "but hold out a helping hand to me also . . . and
the children!" he added with a sob. "My unhappy children! I am not
afraid for myself; it is for my daughters I fear! It's the hydra
of vice that I fear!"
Trying to open her purse, the catch of which had gone wrong, Anna
Akimovna was confused and turned red. She felt ashamed that people
should be standing before her, looking at her hands and waiting,
and most likely at the bottom of their hearts laughing at her. At
that instant some one came into the kitchen and stamped his feet,
knocking the snow off.
"The lodger has come in," said Madame Tchalikov.
Anna Akimovna grew even more confused. She did not want any one
from the factory to find her in this ridiculous position. As ill-luck
would have it, the lodger came in at the very moment when, having
broken the catch at last, she was giving Tchalikov some notes, and
Tchalikov, grunting as though he were paraylzed, was feeling about
with his lips where he could kiss her. In the lodger she recognized
the workman who had once clanked the sheet-iron before her in the
forge, and had explained things to her. Evidently he had come in
straight from the factory; his face looked dark and grimy, and on
one cheek near his nose was a smudge of soot. His hands were perfectly
black, and his unbelted shirt shone with oil and grease. He was a
man of thirty, of medium height, with black hair and broad shoulders,
and a look of great physical strength. At the first glance Anna
Akimovna perceived that he must be a foreman, who must be receiving
at least thirty-five roubles a month, and a stern, loud-voiced man
who struck the workmen in the face; all this was evident from his
manner of standing, from the attitude he involuntarily assumed at
once on seeing a lady in his room, and most of all from the fact
that he did not wear top-boots, that he had breast pockets, and a
pointed, picturesquely clipped beard. Her father, Akim Ivanovitch,
had been the brother of the factory owner, and yet he had been
afraid of foremen like this lodger and had tried to win their favour.
"Excuse me for having come in here in your absence," said Anna
The workman looked at her in surprise, smiled in confusion and did
"You must speak a little louder, madam . . . ." said Tchalikov
softly. "When Mr. Pimenov comes home from the factory in the evenings
he is a little hard of hearing."
But Anna Akimovna was by now relieved that there was nothing more
for her to do here; she nodded to them and went rapidly out of the
room. Pimenov went to see her out.
"Have you been long in our employment?" she asked in a loud voice,
without turning to him.
"From nine years old. I entered the factory in your uncle's time."
"That's a long while! My uncle and my father knew all the workpeople,
and I know hardly any of them. I had seen you before, but I did not
know your name was Pimenov."
Anna Akimovna felt a desire to justify herself before him, to pretend
that she had just given the money not seriously, but as a joke.
"Oh, this poverty," she sighed. "We give charity on holidays and
working days, and still there is no sense in it. I believe it is
useless to help such people as this Tchalikov."
"Of course it is useless," he agreed. "However much you give him,
he will drink it all away. And now the husband and wife will be
snatching it from one another and fighting all night," he added
with a laugh.
"Yes, one must admit that our philanthropy is useless, boring, and
absurd. But still, you must agree, one can't sit with one's hand
in one's lap; one must do something. What's to be done with the
Tchalikovs, for instance?"
She turned to Pimenov and stopped, expecting an answer from him;
he, too, stopped and slowly, without speaking, shrugged his shoulders.
Obviously he knew what to do with the Tchalikovs, but the treatment
would have been so coarse and inhuman that he did not venture to
put it into words. And the Tchalikovs were to him so utterly
uninteresting and worthless, that a moment later he had forgotten
them; looking into Anna Akimovna's eyes, he smiled with pleasure,
and his face wore an expression as though he were dreaming about
something very pleasant. Only, now standing close to him, Anna
Akimovna saw from his face, and especially from his eyes, how
exhausted and sleepy he was.
"Here, I ought to give him the fifteen hundred roubles!" she thought,
but for some reason this idea seemed to her incongruous and insulting
"I am sure you are aching all over after your work, and you come
to the door with me," she said as they went down the stairs. "Go
But he did not catch her words. When they came out into the street,
he ran on ahead, unfastened the cover of the sledge, and helping
Anna Akimovna in, said:
"I wish you a happy Christmas!"
"They have left off ringing ever so long! It's dreadful; you won't
be there before the service is over! Get up!"
"Two horses are racing, racing . . ." said Anna Akimovna, and she
woke up; before her, candle in hand, stood her maid, red-haired
Masha. "Well, what is it?"
"Service is over already," said Masha with despair. "I have called
you three times! Sleep till evening for me, but you told me yourself
to call you!"
Anna Akimovna raised herself on her elbow and glanced towards the
window. It was still quite dark outside, and only the lower edge
of the window-frame was white with snow. She could hear a low,
mellow chime of bells; it was not the parish church, but somewhere
further away. The watch on the little table showed three minutes
"Very well, Masha. . . . In three minutes . . ." said Anna Akimovna
in an imploring voice, and she snuggled under the bed-clothes.
She imagined the snow at the front door, the sledge, the dark sky,
the crowd in the church, and the smell of juniper, and she felt
dread at the thought; but all the same, she made up her mind that
she would get up at once and go to early service. And while she was
warm in bed and struggling with sleep--which seems, as though to
spite one, particularly sweet when one ought to get up--and while
she had visions of an immense garden on a mountain and then Gushtchin's
Buildings, she was worried all the time by the thought that she
ought to get up that very minute and go to church.
But when she got up it was quite light, and it turned out to be
half-past nine. There had been a heavy fall of snow in the night;
the trees were clothed in white, and the air was particularly light,
transparent, and tender, so that when Anna Akimovna looked out of
the window her first impulse was to draw a deep, deep breath. And
when she had washed, a relic of far-away childish feelings--joy
that today was Christmas--suddenly stirred within her; after that
she felt light-hearted, free and pure in soul, as though her soul,
too, had been washed or plunged in the white snow. Masha came in,
dressed up and tightly laced, and wished her a happy Christmas;
then she spent a long time combing her mistress's hair and helping
her to dress. The fragrance and feeling of the new, gorgeous,
splendid dress, its faint rustle, and the smell of fresh scent,
excited Anna Akimoyna.
"Well, it's Christmas," she said gaily to Masha. "Now we will try
"Last year, I was to marry an old man. It turned up three times the
"Well, God is merciful."
"Well, Anna Akimovna, what I think is, rather than neither one thing
nor the other, I'd marry an old man," said Masha mournfully, and
she heaved a sigh. "I am turned twenty; it's no joke."
Every one in the house knew that red-haired Masha was in love with
Mishenka, the footman, and this genuine, passionate, hopeless love
had already lasted three years.
"Come, don't talk nonsense," Anna Akimovna consoled her. "I am going
on for thirty, but I am still meaning to marry a young man."
While his mistress was dressing, Mishenka, in a new swallow-tail
and polished boots, walked about the hall and drawing-room and
waited for her to come out, to wish her a happy Christmas. He had
a peculiar walk, stepping softly and delicately; looking at his
feet, his hands, and the bend of his head, it might be imagined
that he was not simply walking, but learning to dance the first
figure of a quadrille. In spite of his fine velvety moustache and
handsome, rather flashy appearance, he was steady, prudent, and
devout as an old man. He said his prayers, bowing down to the ground,
and liked burning incense in his room. He respected people of wealth
and rank and had a reverence for them; he despised poor people, and
all who came to ask favours of any kind, with all the strength of
his cleanly flunkey soul. Under his starched shirt he wore a flannel,
winter and summer alike, being very careful of his health; his ears
were plugged with cotton-wool.
When Anna Akimovna crossed the hall with Masha, he bent his head
downwards a little and said in his agreeable, honeyed voice:
"I have the honour to congratulate you, Anna Akimovna, on the most
solemn feast of the birth of our Lord."
Anna Akimovna gave him five roubles, while poor Masha was numb with
ecstasy. His holiday get-up, his attitude, his voice, and what he
said, impressed her by their beauty and elegance; as she followed
her mistress she could think of nothing, could see nothing, she
could only smile, first blissfully and then bitterly. The upper
story of the house was called the best or visitors' half, while the
name of the business part--old people's or simply women's part
--was given to the rooms on the lower story where Aunt Tatyana
Ivanovna kept house. In the upper part the gentry and educated
visitors were entertained; in the lower story, simpler folk and the
aunt's personal friends. Handsome, plump, and healthy, still young
and fresh, and feeling she had on a magnificent dress which seemed
to her to diffuse a sort of radiance all about her, Anna Akimovna
went down to the lower story. Here she was met with reproaches for
forgetting God now that she was so highly educated, for sleeping
too late for the service, and for not coming downstairs to break
the fast, and they all clasped their hands and exclaimed with perfect
sincerity that she was lovely, wonderful; and she believed it,
laughed, kissed them, gave one a rouble, another three or five
according to their position. She liked being downstairs. Wherever
one looked there were shrines, ikons, little lamps, portraits of
ecclesiastical personages--the place smelt of monks; there was a
rattle of knives in the kitchen, and already a smell of something
savoury, exceedingly appetizing, was pervading all the rooms. The
yellow-painted floors shone, and from the doors narrow rugs with
bright blue stripes ran like little paths to the ikon corner, and
the sunshine was simply pouring in at the windows.
In the dining-room some old women, strangers, were sitting; in
Varvarushka's room, too, there were old women, and with them a deaf
and dumb girl, who seemed abashed about something and kept saying,
"Bli, bli! . . ." Two skinny-looking little girls who had been
brought out of the orphanage for Christmas came up to kiss Anna
Akimovna's hand, and stood before her transfixed with admiration
of her splendid dress; she noticed that one of the girls squinted,
and in the midst of her light-hearted holiday mood she felt a sick
pang at her heart at the thought that young men would despise the
girl, and that she would never marry. In the cook Agafya's room,
five huge peasants in new shirts were sitting round the samovar;
these were not workmen from the factory, but relations of the cook.
Seeing Anna Akimovna, all the peasants jumped up from their seats,
and from regard for decorum, ceased munching, though their mouths
were full. The cook Stepan, in a white cap, with a knife in his
hand, came into the room and gave her his greetings; porters in
high felt boots came in, and they, too, offered their greetings.
The water-carrier peeped in with icicles on his beard, but did not
venture to come in.
Anna Akimovna walked through the rooms followed by her retinue--
the aunt, Varvarushka, Nikandrovna, the sewing-maid Marfa Petrovna,
and the downstairs Masha. Varvarushka--a tall, thin, slender
woman, taller than any one in the house, dressed all in black,
smelling of cypress and coffee--crossed herself in each room
before the ikon, bowing down from the waist. And whenever one looked
at her one was reminded that she had already prepared her shroud
and that lottery tickets were hidden away by her in the same box.
"Anyutinka, be merciful at Christmas," she said, opening the door
into the kitchen. "Forgive him, bless the man! Have done with it!"
The coachman Panteley, who had been dismissed for drunkenness in
November, was on his knees in the middle of the kitchen. He was a
good-natured man, but he used to be unruly when he was drunk, and
could not go to sleep, but persisted in wandering about the buildings
and shouting in a threatening voice, "I know all about it!" Now
from his beefy and bloated face and from his bloodshot eyes it could
be seen that he had been drinking continually from November till
"Forgive me, Anna Akimovna," he brought out in a hoarse voice,
striking his forehead on the floor and showing his bull-like neck.
"It was Auntie dismissed you; ask her."
"What about auntie?" said her aunt, walking into the kitchen,
breathing heavily; she was very stout, and on her bosom one might
have stood a tray of teacups and a samovar. "What about auntie now?
You are mistress here, give your own orders; though these rascals
might be all dead for all I care. Come, get up, you hog!" she shouted
at Panteley, losing patience. "Get out of my sight! It's the last
time I forgive you, but if you transgress again--don't ask for
Then they went into the dining-room to coffee. But they had hardly
sat down, when the downstairs Masha rushed headlong in, saying with
horror, "The singers!" And ran back again. They heard some one
blowing his nose, a low bass cough, and footsteps that sounded like
horses' iron-shod hoofs tramping about the entry near the hall. For
half a minute all was hushed. . . . The singers burst out so suddenly
and loudly that every one started. While they were singing, the
priest from the almshouses with the deacon and the sexton arrived.
Putting on the stole, the priest slowly said that when they were
ringing for matins it was snowing and not cold, but that the frost
was sharper towards morning, God bless it! and now there must be
twenty degrees of frost.
"Many people maintain, though, that winter is healthier than summer,"
said the deacon; then immediately assumed an austere expression and
chanted after the priest. "Thy Birth, O Christ our Lord. . . ."
Soon the priest from the workmen's hospital came with the deacon,
then the Sisters from the hospital, children from the orphanage,
and then singing could be heard almost uninterruptedly. They sang,
had lunch, and went away.
About twenty men from the factory came to offer their Christmas
greetings. They were only the foremen, mechanicians, and their
assistants, the pattern-makers, the accountant, and so on--all
of good appearance, in new black coats. They were all first-rate
men, as it were picked men; each one knew his value--that is,
knew that if he lost his berth today, people would be glad to take
him on at another factory. Evidently they liked Auntie, as they
behaved freely in her presence and even smoked, and when they had
all trooped in to have something to eat, the accountant put his arm
round her immense waist. They were free-and-easy, perhaps, partly
also because Varvarushka, who under the old masters had wielded
great power and had kept watch over the morals of the clerks, had
now no authority whatever in the house; and perhaps because many
of them still remembered the time when Auntie Tatyana Ivanovna,
whose brothers kept a strict hand over her, had been dressed like
a simple peasant woman like Agafya, and when Anna Akimovna used to
run about the yard near the factory buildings and every one used
to call her Anyutya.
The foremen ate, talked, and kept looking with amazement at Anna
Akimovna, how she had grown up and how handsome she had become! But
this elegant girl, educated by governesses and teachers, was a
stranger to them; they could not understand her, and they instinctively
kept closer to "Auntie," who called them by their names, continually
pressed them to eat and drink, and, clinking glasses with them, had
already drunk two wineglasses of rowanberry wine with them. Anna
Akimovna was always afraid of their thinking her proud, an upstart,
or a crow in peacock's feathers; and now while the foremen were
crowding round the food, she did not leave the dining-room, but
took part in the conversation. She asked Pimenov, her acquaintance
of the previous day:
"Why have you so many clocks in your room?"
"I mend clocks," he answered. "I take the work up between times,
on holidays, or when I can't sleep."
"So if my watch goes wrong I can bring it to you to be repaired?"
Anna Akimovna asked, laughing.
"To be sure, I will do it with pleasure," said Pimenov, and there
was an expression of tender devotion in his face, when, not herself
knowing why, she unfastened her magnificent watch from its chain
and handed it to him; he looked at it in silence and gave it back.
"To be sure, I will do it with pleasure," he repeated. "I don't
mend watches now. My eyes are weak, and the doctors have forbidden
me to do fine work. But for you I can make an exception."
"Doctors talk nonsense," said the accountant. They all laughed.
"Don't you believe them," he went on, flattered by the laughing;
"last year a tooth flew out of a cylinder and hit old Kalmykov such
a crack on the head that you could see his brains, and the doctor
said he would die; but he is alive and working to this day, only
he has taken to stammering since that mishap."
"Doctors do talk nonsense, they do, but not so much," sighed Auntie.
"Pyotr Andreyitch, poor dear, lost his sight. Just like you, he
used to work day in day out at the factory near the hot furnace,
and he went blind. The eyes don't like heat. But what are we talking
about?" she said, rousing herself. "Come and have a drink. My best
wishes for Christmas, my dears. I never drink with any one else,
but I drink with you, sinful woman as I am. Please God!"
Anna Akimovna fancied that after yesterday Pimenov despised her as
a philanthropist, but was fascinated by her as a woman. She looked
at him and thought that he behaved very charmingly and was nicely
dressed. It is true that the sleeves of his coat were not quite
long enough, and the coat itself seemed short-waisted, and his
trousers were not wide and fashionable, but his tie was tied
carelessly and with taste and was not as gaudy as the others'. And
he seemed to be a good-natured man, for he ate submissively whatever
Auntie put on his plate. She remembered how black he had been the
day before, and how sleepy, and the thought of it for some reason
When the men were preparing to go, Anna Akimovna put out her hand
to Pimenov. She wanted to ask him to come in sometimes to see her,
without ceremony, but she did not know how to--her tongue would
not obey her; and that they might not think she was attracted by
Pimenov, she shook hands with his companions, too.
Then the boys from the school of which she was a patroness came.
They all had their heads closely cropped and all wore grey blouses
of the same pattern. The teacher--a tall, beardless young man
with patches of red on his face--was visibly agitated as he formed
the boys into rows; the boys sang in tune, but with harsh, disagreeable
voices. The manager of the factory, Nazaritch, a bald, sharp-eyed
Old Believer, could never get on with the teachers, but the one who
was now anxiously waving his hands he despised and hated, though
he could not have said why. He behaved rudely and condescendingly
to the young man, kept back his salary, meddled with the teaching,
and had finally tried to dislodge him by appointing, a fortnight
before Christmas, as porter to the school a drunken peasant, a
distant relation of his wife's, who disobeyed the teacher and said
rude things to him before the boys.
Anna Akimovna was aware of all this, but she could be of no help,
for she was afraid of Nazaritch herself. Now she wanted at least
to be very nice to the schoolmaster, to tell him she was very much
pleased with him; but when after the singing he began apologizing
for something in great confusion, and Auntie began to address him
familiarly as she drew him without ceremony to the table, she felt,
for some reason, bored and awkward, and giving orders that the
children should be given sweets, went upstairs.
"In reality there is something cruel in these Christmas customs,"
she said a little while afterwards, as it were to herself, looking
out of window at the boys, who were flocking from the house to the
gates and shivering with cold, putting their coats on as they ran.
"At Christmas one wants to rest, to sit at home with one's own
people, and the poor boys, the teacher, and the clerks and foremen,
are obliged for some reason to go through the frost, then to offer
their greetings, show their respect, be put to confusion . . ."
Mishenka, who was standing at the door of the drawing-room and
overheard this, said:
"It has not come from us, and it will not end with us. Of course,
I am not an educated man, Anna Akimovna, but I do understand that
the poor must always respect the rich. It is well said, 'God marks
the rogue.' In prisons, night refuges, and pot-houses you never see
any but the poor, while decent people, you may notice, are always
rich. It has been said of the rich, 'Deep calls to deep.'"
"You always express yourself so tediously and incomprehensibly,"
said Anna Akimovna, and she walked to the other end of the big
It was only just past eleven. The stillness of the big room, only
broken by the singing that floated up from below, made her yawn.
The bronzes, the albums, and the pictures on the walls, representing
a ship at sea, cows in a meadow, and views of the Rhine, were so
absolutely stale that her eyes simply glided over them without
observing them. The holiday mood was already growing tedious. As
before, Anna Akimovna felt that she was beautiful, good-natured,
and wonderful, but now it seemed to her that that was of no use to
any one; it seemed to her that she did not know for whom and for
what she had put on this expensive dress, too, and, as always
happened on all holidays, she began to be fretted by loneliness and
the persistent thought that her beauty, her health, and her wealth,
were a mere cheat, since she was not wanted, was of no use to any
one, and nobody loved her. She walked through all the rooms, humming
and looking out of window; stopping in the drawing-room, she could
not resist beginning to talk to Mishenka.
"I don't know what you think of yourself, Misha," she said, and
heaved a sigh. "Really, God might punish you for it."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. Excuse my meddling in your affairs. But it
seems you are spoiling your own life out of obstinacy. You'll admit
that it is high time you got married, and she is an excellent and
deserving girl. You will never find any one better. She's a beauty,
clever, gentle, and devoted. . . . And her appearance! . . . If she
belonged to our circle or a higher one, people would be falling in
love with her for her red hair alone. See how beautifully her hair
goes with her complexion. Oh, goodness! You don't understand anything,
and don't know what you want," Anna Akimovna said bitterly, and
tears came into her eyes. "Poor girl, I am so sorry for her! I know
you want a wife with money, but I have told you already I will give
Masha a dowry."
Mishenka could not picture his future spouse in his imagination
except as a tall, plump, substantial, pious woman, stepping like a
peacock, and, for some reason, with a long shawl over her shoulders;
while Masha was thin, slender, tightly laced, and walked with little
steps, and, worst of all, she was too fascinating and at times
extremely attractive to Mishenka, and that, in his opinion, was
incongruous with matrimony and only in keeping with loose behaviour.
When Anna Akimovna had promised to give Masha a dowry, he had
hesitated for a time; but once a poor student in a brown overcoat
over his uniform, coming with a letter for Anna Akimovna, was
fascinated by Masha, and could not resist embracing her near the
hat-stand, and she had uttered a faint shriek; Mishenka, standing
on the stairs above, had seen this, and from that time had begun
to cherish a feeling of disgust for Masha. A poor student! Who
knows, if she had been embraced by a rich student or an officer the
consequences might have been different.
"Why don't you wish it?" Anna Akimovna asked. "What more do you
Mishenka was silent and looked at the arm-chair fixedly, and raised
"Do you love some one else?"
Silence. The red-haired Masha came in with letters and visiting
cards on a tray. Guessing that they were talking about her, she
blushed to tears.
"The postmen have come," she muttered. "And there is a clerk called
Tchalikov waiting below. He says you told him to come to-day for
"What insolence!" said Anna Akimovna, moved to anger. "I gave him
no orders. Tell him to take himself off; say I am not at home!"
A ring was heard. It was the priests from her parish. They were
always shown into the aristocratic part of the house--that is,
upstairs. After the priests, Nazaritch, the manager of the factory,
came to pay his visit, and then the factory doctor; then Mishenka
announced the inspector of the elementary schools. Visitors kept
When there was a moment free, Anna Akimovna sat down in a deep
arm-chair in the drawing-room, and shutting her eyes, thought that
her loneliness was quite natural because she had not married and
never would marry. . . . But that was not her fault. Fate itself
had flung her out of the simple working-class surroundings in which,
if she could trust her memory, she had felt so snug and at home,
into these immense rooms, where she could never think what to do
with herself, and could not understand why so many people kept
passing before her eyes. What was happening now seemed to her
trivial, useless, since it did not and could not give her happiness
for one minute.
"If I could fall in love," she thought, stretching; the very thought
of this sent a rush of warmth to her heart. "And if I could escape
from the factory . . ." she mused, imagining how the weight of those
factory buildings, barracks, and schools would roll off her conscience,
roll off her mind. . . . Then she remembered her father, and thought
if he had lived longer he would certainly have married her to a
working man--to Pimenov, for instance. He would have told her to
marry, and that would have been all about it. And it would have
been a good thing; then the factory would have passed into capable
She pictured his curly head, his bold profile, his delicate, ironical
lips and the strength, the tremendous strength, in his shoulders,
in his arms, in his chest, and the tenderness with which he had
looked at her watch that day.
"Well," she said, "it would have been all right. I would have married
"Anna Akimovna," said Mishenka, coming noiselessly into the
"How you frightened me!" she said, trembling all over. "What do you
"Anna Akimovna," he said, laying his hand on his heart and raising
his eyebrows, "you are my mistress and my benefactress, and no one
but you can tell me what I ought to do about marriage, for you are
as good as a mother to me. . . . But kindly forbid them to laugh
and jeer at me downstairs. They won't let me pass without it."
"How do they jeer at you?"
"They call me Mashenka's Mishenka."
"Pooh, what nonsense!" cried Anna Akimovna indignantly. "How stupid
you all are! What a stupid you are, Misha! How sick I am of you! I
can't bear the sight of you."
Just as the year before, the last to pay her visits were Krylin,
an actual civil councillor, and Lysevitch, a well-known barrister.
It was already dark when they arrived. Krylin, a man of sixty, with
a wide mouth and with grey whiskers close to his ears, with a face
like a lynx, was wearing a uniform with an Anna ribbon, and white
trousers. He held Anna Akimovna's hand in both of his for a long
while, looked intently in her face, moved his lips, and at last
said, drawling upon one note:
"I used to respect your uncle . . . and your father, and enjoyed
the privilege of their friendship. Now I feel it an agreeable duty,
as you see, to present my Christmas wishes to their honoured heiress
in spite of my infirmities and the distance I have to come. . . .
And I am very glad to see you in good health."
The lawyer Lysevitch, a tall, handsome fair man, with a slight
sprinkling of grey on his temples and beard, was distinguished by
exceptionally elegant manners; he walked with a swaying step, bowed
as it were reluctantly, and shrugged his shoulders as he talked,
and all this with an indolent grace, like a spoiled horse fresh
from the stable. He was well fed, extremely healthy, and very well
off; on one occasion he had won forty thousand roubles, but concealed
the fact from his friends. He was fond of good fare, especially
cheese, truffles, and grated radish with hemp oil; while in Paris
he had eaten, so he said, baked but unwashed guts. He spoke smoothly,
fluently, without hesitation, and only occasionally, for the sake
of effect, permitted himself to hesitate and snap his fingers as
if picking up a word. He had long ceased to believe in anything he
had to say in the law courts, or perhaps he did believe in it, but
attached no kind of significance to it; it had all so long been
familiar, stale, ordinary. . . . He believed in nothing but what
was original and unusual. A copy-book moral in an original form
would move him to tears. Both his notebooks were filled with
extraordinary expressions which he had read in various authors; and
when he needed to look up any expression, he would search nervously
in both books, and usually failed to find it. Anna Akimovna's father
had in a good-humoured moment ostentatiously appointed him legal
adviser in matters concerning the factory, and had assigned him a
salary of twelve thousand roubles. The legal business of the factory
had been confined to two or three trivial actions for recovering
debts, which Lysevitch handed to his assistants.
Anna Akimovna knew that he had nothing to do at the factory, but
she could not dismiss him--she had not the moral courage; and
besides, she was used to him. He used to call himself her legal
adviser, and his salary, which he invariably sent for on the first
of the month punctually, he used to call "stern prose." Anna Akimovna
knew that when, after her father's death, the timber of her forest
was sold for railway sleepers, Lysevitch had made more than fifteen
thousand out of the transaction, and had shared it with Nazaritch.
When first she found out they had cheated her she had wept bitterly,
but afterwards she had grown used to it.
Wishing her a happy Christmas, and kissing both her hands, he looked
her up and down, and frowned.
"You mustn't," he said with genuine disappointment. "I have told
you, my dear, you mustn't!"
"What do you mean, Viktor Nikolaitch?"
"I have told you you mustn't get fat. All your family have an
unfortunate tendency to grow fat. You mustn't," he repeated in an
imploring voice, and kissed her hand. "You are so handsome! You are
so splendid! Here, your Excellency, let me introduce the one woman
in the world whom I have ever seriously loved."
"There is nothing surprising in that. To know Anna Akimovna at your
age and not to be in love with her, that would be impossible."
"I adore her," the lawyer continued with perfect sincerity, but
with his usual indolent grace. "I love her, but not because I am a
man and she is a woman. When I am with her I always feel as though
she belongs to some third sex, and I to a fourth, and we float away
together into the domain of the subtlest shades, and there we blend
into the spectrum. Leconte de Lisle defines such relations better
than any one. He has a superb passage, a marvellous passage. . . ."
Lysevitch rummaged in one notebook, then in the other, and, not
finding the quotation, subsided. They began talking of the weather,
of the opera, of the arrival, expected shortly, of Duse. Anna
Akimovna remembered that the year before Lysevitch and, she fancied,
Krylin had dined with her, and now when they were getting ready to
go away, she began with perfect sincerity pointing out to them in
an imploring voice that as they had no more visits to pay, they
ought to remain to dinner with her. After some hesitation the
In addition to the family dinner, consisting of cabbage soup, sucking
pig, goose with apples, and so on, a so-called "French" or "chef's"
dinner used to be prepared in the kitchen on great holidays, in
case any visitor in the upper story wanted a meal. When they heard
the clatter of crockery in the dining-room, Lysevitch began to
betray a noticeable excitement; he rubbed his hands, shrugged his
shoulders, screwed up his eyes, and described with feeling what
dinners her father and uncle used to give at one time, and a
marvellous _matelote_ of turbots the cook here could make: it was
not a _matelote_, but a veritable revelation! He was already gloating
over the dinner, already eating it in imagination and enjoying it.
When Anna Akimovna took his arm and led him to the dining-room, he
tossed off a glass of vodka and put a piece of salmon in his mouth;
he positively purred with pleasure. He munched loudly, disgustingly,
emitting sounds from his nose, while his eyes grew oily and rapacious.
The _hors d'oeuvres_ were superb; among other things, there were
fresh white mushrooms stewed in cream, and sauce _provençale_ made
of fried oysters and crayfish, strongly flavoured with some bitter
pickles. The dinner, consisting of elaborate holiday dishes, was
excellent, and so were the wines. Mishenka waited at table with
enthusiasm. When he laid some new dish on the table and lifted the
shining cover, or poured out the wine, he did it with the solemnity
of a professor of black magic, and, looking at his face and his
movements suggesting the first figure of a quadrille, the lawyer
thought several times, "What a fool!"
After the third course Lysevitch said, turning to Anna Akimovna:
"The _fin de siècle_ woman--I mean when she is young, and of
course wealthy--must be independent, clever, elegant, intellectual,
bold, and a little depraved. Depraved within limits, a little; for
excess, you know, is wearisome. You ought not to vegetate, my dear;
you ought not to live like every one else, but to get the full
savour of life, and a slight flavour of depravity is the sauce of
life. Revel among flowers of intoxicating fragrance, breathe the
perfume of musk, eat hashish, and best of all, love, love, love
. . . . To begin with, in your place I would set up seven lovers--one
for each day of the week; and one I would call Monday, one Tuesday,
the third Wednesday, and so on, so that each might know his day."
This conversation troubled Anna Akimovna; she ate nothing and only
drank a glass of wine.
"Let me speak at last," she said. "For myself personally, I can't
conceive of love without family life. I am lonely, lonely as the
moon in the sky, and a waning moon, too; and whatever you may say,
I am convinced, I feel that this waning can only be restored by
love in its ordinary sense. It seems to me that such love would
define my duties, my work, make clear my conception of life. I want
from love peace of soul, tranquillity; I want the very opposite of
musk, and spiritualism, and _fin de siècle_ . . . in short"--she
grew embarrassed--"a husband and children."
"You want to be married? Well, you can do that, too," Lysevitch
assented. "You ought to have all experiences: marriage, and jealousy,
and the sweetness of the first infidelity, and even children. . . .
But make haste and live--make haste, my dear: time is passing;
it won't wait."
"Yes, I'll go and get married!" she said, looking angrily at his
well-fed, satisfied face. "I will marry in the simplest, most
ordinary way and be radiant with happiness. And, would you believe
it, I will marry some plain working man, some mechanic or draughtsman."
"There is no harm in that, either. The Duchess Josiana loved Gwinplin,
and that was permissible for her because she was a grand duchess.
Everything is permissible for you, too, because you are an exceptional
woman: if, my dear, you want to love a negro or an Arab, don't
scruple; send for a negro. Don't deny yourself anything. You ought
to be as bold as your desires; don't fall short of them."
"Can it be so hard to understand me?" Anna Akimovna asked with
amazement, and her eyes were bright with tears. "Understand, I have
an immense business on my hands--two thousand workmen, for whom
I must answer before God. The men who work for me grow blind and
deaf. I am afraid to go on like this; I am afraid! I am wretched,
and you have the cruelty to talk to me of negroes and . . . and you
smile!" Anna Akimovna brought her fist down on the table. "To go
on living the life I am living now, or to marry some one as idle
and incompetent as myself, would be a crime. I can't go on living
like this," she said hotly, "I cannot!"
"How handsome she is!" said Lysevitch, fascinated by her. "My God,
how handsome she is! But why are you angry, my dear? Perhaps I am
wrong; but surely you don't imagine that if, for the sake of ideas
for which I have the deepest respect, you renounce the joys of life
and lead a dreary existence, your workmen will be any the better
for it? Not a scrap! No, frivolity, frivolity!" he said decisively.
"It's essential for you; it's your duty to be frivolous and depraved!
Ponder that, my dear, ponder it."
Anna Akimovna was glad she had spoken out, and her spirits rose.
She was pleased she had spoken so well, and that her ideas were so
fine and just, and she was already convinced that if Pimenov, for
instance, loved her, she would marry him with pleasure.
Mishenka began to pour out champagne.
"You make me angry, Viktor Nikolaitch," she said, clinking glasses
with the lawyer. "It seems to me you give advice and know nothing
of life yourself. According to you, if a man be a mechanic or a
draughtsman, he is bound to be a peasant and an ignoramus! But they
are the cleverest people! Extraordinary people!"
"Your uncle and father . . . I knew them and respected them . . ."
Krylin said, pausing for emphasis (he had been sitting upright as
a post, and had been eating steadily the whole time), "were people
of considerable intelligence and . . . of lofty spiritual qualities."
"Oh, to be sure, we know all about their qualities," the lawyer
muttered, and asked permission to smoke.
When dinner was over Krylin was led away for a nap. Lysevitch
finished his cigar, and, staggering from repletion, followed Anna
Akimovna into her study. Cosy corners with photographs and fans on
the walls, and the inevitable pink or pale blue lanterns in the
middle of the ceiling, he did not like, as the expression of an
insipid and unoriginal character; besides, the memory of certain
of his love affairs of which he was now ashamed was associated with
such lanterns. Anna Akimovna's study with its bare walls and tasteless
furniture pleased him exceedingly. It was snug and comfortable for
him to sit on a Turkish divan and look at Anna Akimovna, who usually
sat on the rug before the fire, clasping her knees and looking into
the fire and thinking of something; and at such moments it seemed
to him that her peasant Old Believer blood was stirring within her.
Every time after dinner when coffee and liqueurs were handed, he
grew livelier and began telling her various bits of literary gossip.
He spoke with eloquence and inspiration, and was carried away by
his own stories; and she listened to him and thought every time
that for such enjoyment it was worth paying not only twelve thousand,
but three times that sum, and forgave him everything she disliked
in him. He sometimes told her the story of some tale or novel he
had been reading, and then two or three hours passed unnoticed like
a minute. Now he began rather dolefully in a failing voice with his
"It's ages, my dear, since I have read anything," he said when she
asked him to tell her something. "Though I do sometimes read Jules
"I was expecting you to tell me something new."
"H'm! . . . new," Lysevitch muttered sleepily, and he settled himself
further back in the corner of the sofa. "None of the new literature,
my dear, is any use for you or me. Of course, it is bound to be
such as it is, and to refuse to recognize it is to refuse to recognize
--would mean refusing to recognize the natural order of things,
and I do recognize it, but . . ." Lysevitch seemed to have fallen
asleep. But a minute later his voice was heard again:
"All the new literature moans and howls like the autumn wind in the
chimney. 'Ah, unhappy wretch! Ah, your life may be likened to a
prison! Ah, how damp and dark it is in your prison! Ah, you will
certainly come to ruin, and there is no chance of escape for you!'
That's very fine, but I should prefer a literature that would tell
us how to escape from prison. Of all contemporary writers, however,
I prefer Maupassant." Lysevitch opened his eyes. "A fine writer, a
perfect writer!" Lysevitch shifted in his seat. "A wonderful artist!
A terrible, prodigious, supernatural artist!" Lysevitch got up from
the sofa and raised his right arm. "Maupassant!" he said rapturously.
"My dear, read Maupassant! one page of his gives you more than all
the riches of the earth! Every line is a new horizon. The softest,
tenderest impulses of the soul alternate with violent tempestuous
sensations; your soul, as though under the weight of forty thousand
atmospheres, is transformed into the most insignificant little bit
of some great thing of an undefined rosy hue which I fancy, if one
could put it on one's tongue, would yield a pungent, voluptuous
taste. What a fury of transitions, of motives, of melodies! You
rest peacefully on the lilies and the roses, and suddenly a thought
--a terrible, splendid, irresistible thought--swoops down upon
you like a locomotive, and bathes you in hot steam and deafens you
with its whistle. Read Maupassant, dear girl; I insist on it."
Lysevitch waved his arms and paced from corner to corner in violent
"Yes, it is inconceivable," he pronounced, as though in despair;
"his last thing overwhelmed me, intoxicated me! But I am afraid you
will not care for it. To be carried away by it you must savour it,
slowly suck the juice from each line, drink it in. . . . You must
drink it in! . . ."
After a long introduction, containing many words such as dæmonic
sensuality, a network of the most delicate nerves, simoom, crystal,
and so on, he began at last telling the story of the novel. He did
not tell the story so whimsically, but told it in minute detail,
quoting from memory whole descriptions and conversations; the
characters of the novel fascinated him, and to describe them he
threw himself into attitudes, changed the expression of his face
and voice like a real actor. He laughed with delight at one moment
in a deep bass, and at another, on a high shrill note, clasped his
hands and clutched at his head with an expression which suggested
that it was just going to burst. Anna Akimovna listened enthralled,
though she had already read the novel, and it seemed to her ever
so much finer and more subtle in the lawyer's version than in the
book itself. He drew her attention to various subtleties, and
emphasized the felicitous expressions and the profound thoughts,
but she saw in it, only life, life, life and herself, as though she
had been a character in the novel. Her spirits rose, and she, too,
laughing and clasping her hands, thought that she could not go on
living such a life, that there was no need to have a wretched life
when one might have a splendid one. She remembered her words and
thoughts at dinner, and was proud of them; and when Pimenov suddenly
rose up in her imagination, she felt happy and longed for him to
When he had finished the story, Lysevitch sat down on the sofa,
"How splendid you are! How handsome!" he began, a little while
afterwards in a faint voice as if he were ill. "I am happy near
you, dear girl, but why am I forty-two instead of thirty? Your
tastes and mine do not coincide: you ought to be depraved, and I
have long passed that phase, and want a love as delicate and
immaterial as a ray of sunshine--that is, from the point of view
of a woman of your age, I am of no earthly use."
In his own words, he loved Turgenev, the singer of virginal love
and purity, of youth, and of the melancholy Russian landscape; but
he loved virginal love, not from knowledge but from hearsay, as
something abstract, existing outside real life. Now he assured
himself that he loved Anna Akimovna platonically, ideally, though
he did not know what those words meant. But he felt comfortable,
snug, warm. Anna Akimovna seemed to him enchanting, original, and
he imagined that the pleasant sensation that was aroused in him by
these surroundings was the very thing that was called platonic love.
He laid his cheek on her hand and said in the tone commonly used
in coaxing little children:
"My precious, why have you punished me?"
"I have had no Christmas present from you."
Anna Akimovna had never heard before of their sending a Christmas
box to the lawyer, and now she was at a loss how much to give him.
But she must give him something, for he was expecting it, though
he looked at her with eyes full of love.
"I suppose Nazaritch forgot it," she said, "but it is not too late
to set it right."
She suddenly remembered the fifteen hundred she had received the
day before, which was now lying in the toilet drawer in her bedroom.
And when she brought that ungrateful money and gave it to the lawyer,
and he put it in his coat pocket with indolent grace, the whole
incident passed off charmingly and naturally. The sudden reminder
of a Christmas box and this fifteen hundred was not unbecoming in
"Merci," he said, and kissed her finger.
Krylin came in with blissful, sleepy face, but without his decorations.
Lysevitch and he stayed a little longer and drank a glass of tea
each, and began to get ready to go. Anna Akimovna was a little
embarrassed. . . . She had utterly forgotten in what department
Krylin served, and whether she had to give him money or not; and
if she had to, whether to give it now or send it afterwards in an
"Where does he serve?" she whispered to Lysevitch.
"Goodness knows," muttered Lysevitch, yawning.
She reflected that if Krylin used to visit her father and her uncle
and respected them, it was probably not for nothing: apparently he
had been charitable at their expense, serving in some charitable
institution. As she said good-bye she slipped three hundred roubles
into his hand; he seemed taken aback, and looked at her for a minute
in silence with his pewtery eyes, but then seemed to understand and
"The receipt, honoured Anna Akimovna, you can only receive on the
Lysevitch had become utterly limp and heavy, and he staggered when
Mishenka put on his overcoat.
As he went downstairs he looked like a man in the last stage of
exhaustion, and it was evident that he would drop asleep as soon
as he got into his sledge.
"Your Excellency," he said languidly to Krylin, stopping in the
middle of the staircase, "has it ever happened to you to experience
a feeling as though some unseen force were drawing you out longer
and longer? You are drawn out and turn into the finest wire.
Subjectively this finds expression in a curious voluptuous feeling
which is impossible to compare with anything."
Anna Akimovna, standing at the top of the stairs, saw each of them
give Mishenka a note.
"Good-bye! Come again!" she called to them, and ran into her bedroom.
She quickly threw off her dress, that she was weary of already, put
on a dressing-gown, and ran downstairs; and as she ran downstairs
she laughed and thumped with her feet like a school-boy; she had a
great desire for mischief.
Auntie, in a loose print blouse, Varvarushka and two old women,
were sitting in the dining-room having supper. A big piece of salt
meat, a ham, and various savouries, were lying on the table before
them, and clouds of steam were rising from the meat, which looked
particularly fat and appetizing. Wine was not served on the lower
story, but they made up for it with a great number of spirits and
home-made liqueurs. Agafyushka, the fat, white-skinned, well-fed
cook, was standing with her arms crossed in the doorway and talking
to the old women, and the dishes were being handed by the downstairs
Masha, a dark girl with a crimson ribbon in her hair. The old women
had had enough to eat before the morning was over, and an hour
before supper had had tea and buns, and so they were now eating
with effort--as it were, from a sense of duty.
"Oh, my girl!" sighed Auntie, as Anna Akimovna ran into the dining-room
and sat down beside her. "You've frightened me to death!"
Every one in the house was pleased when Anna Akimovna was in good
spirits and played pranks; this always reminded them that the old
men were dead and that the old women had no authority in the house,
and any one could do as he liked without any fear of being sharply
called to account for it. Only the two old women glanced askance
at Anna Akimovna with amazement: she was humming, and it was a sin
to sing at table.
"Our mistress, our beauty, our picture," Agafyushka began chanting
with sugary sweetness. "Our precious jewel! The people, the people
that have come to-day to look at our queen. Lord have mercy upon
us! Generals, and officers and gentlemen. . . . I kept looking out
of window and counting and counting till I gave it up."
"I'd as soon they did not come at all," said Auntie; she looked
sadly at her niece and added: "They only waste the time for my poor
Anna Akimovna felt hungry, as she had eaten nothing since the
morning. They poured her out some very bitter liqueur; she drank
it off, and tasted the salt meat with mustard, and thought it
extraordinarily nice. Then the downstairs Masha brought in the
turkey, the pickled apples and the gooseberries. And that pleased
her, too. There was only one thing that was disagreeable: there was
a draught of hot air from the tiled stove; it was stiflingly close
and every one's cheeks were burning. After supper the cloth was
taken off and plates of peppermint biscuits, walnuts, and raisins
were brought in.
"You sit down, too . . . no need to stand there!" said Auntie to
Agafyushka sighed and sat down to the table; Masha set a wineglass
of liqueur before her, too, and Anna Akimovna began to feel as
though Agafyushka's white neck were giving out heat like the stove.
They were all talking of how difficult it was nowadays to get
married, and saying that in old days, if men did not court beauty,
they paid attention to money, but now there was no making out what
they wanted; and while hunchbacks and cripples used to be left old
maids, nowadays men would not have even the beautiful and wealthy.
Auntie began to set this down to immorality, and said that people
had no fear of God, but she suddenly remembered that Ivan Ivanitch,
her brother, and Varvarushka--both people of holy life--had
feared God, but all the same had had children on the sly, and had
sent them to the Foundling Asylum. She pulled herself up and changed
the conversation, telling them about a suitor she had once had, a
factory hand, and how she had loved him, but her brothers had forced
her to marry a widower, an ikon-painter, who, thank God, had died
two years after. The downstairs Masha sat down to the table, too,
and told them with a mysterious air that for the last week some
unknown man with a black moustache, in a great-coat with an astrachan
collar, had made his appearance every morning in the yard, had
stared at the windows of the big house, and had gone on further--
to the buildings; the man was all right, nice-looking.
All this conversation made Anna Akimovna suddenly long to be married
--long intensely, painfully; she felt as though she would give
half her life and all her fortune only to know that upstairs there
was a man who was closer to her than any one in the world, that he
loved her warmly and was missing her; and the thought of such
closeness, ecstatic and inexpressible in words, troubled her soul.
And the instinct of youth and health flattered her with lying
assurances that the real poetry of life was not over but still to
come, and she believed it, and leaning back in her chair (her hair
fell down as she did so), she began laughing, and, looking at her,
the others laughed, too. And it was a long time before this causeless
laughter died down in the dining-room.
She was informed that the Stinging Beetle had come. This was a
pilgrim woman called Pasha or Spiridonovna--a thin little woman
of fifty, in a black dress with a white kerchief, with keen eyes,
sharp nose, and a sharp chin; she had sly, viperish eyes and she
looked as though she could see right through every one. Her lips
were shaped like a heart. Her viperishness and hostility to every
one had earned her the nickname of the Stinging Beetle.
Going into the dining-room without looking at any one, she made for
the ikons and chanted in a high voice "Thy Holy Birth," then she
sang "The Virgin today gives birth to the Son," then "Christ is
born," then she turned round and bent a piercing gaze upon all of
"A happy Christmas," she said, and she kissed Anna Akimovna on the
shoulder. "It's all I could do, all I could do to get to you, my
kind friends." She kissed Auntie on the shoulder. "I should have
come to you this morning, but I went in to some good people to rest
on the way. 'Stay, Spiridonovna, stay,' they said, and I did not
notice that evening was coming on."
As she did not eat meat, they gave her salmon and caviare. She ate
looking from under her eyelids at the company, and drank three
glasses of vodka. When she had finished she said a prayer and bowed
down to Anna Akimovna's feet.
They began to play a game of "kings," as they had done the year
before, and the year before that, and all the servants in both
stories crowded in at the doors to watch the game. Anna Akimovna
fancied she caught a glimpse once or twice of Mishenka, with a
patronizing smile on his face, among the crowd of peasant men and
women. The first to be king was Stinging Beetle, and Anna Akimovna
as the soldier paid her tribute; and then Auntie was king and Anna
Akimovna was peasant, which excited general delight, and Agafyushka
was prince, and was quite abashed with pleasure. Another game was
got up at the other end of the table--played by the two Mashas,
Varvarushka, and the sewing-maid Marfa Ptrovna, who was waked on
purpose to play "kings," and whose face looked cross and sleepy.
While they were playing they talked of men, and of how difficult
it was to get a good husband nowadays, and which state was to be
preferred--that of an old maid or a widow.
"You are a handsome, healthy, sturdy lass," said Stinging Beetle
to Anna Akimovna. "But I can't make out for whose sake you are
"What's to be done if nobody will have me?"
"Or maybe you have taken a vow to remain a maid?" Stinging Beetle
went on, as though she did not hear. "Well, that's a good deed. . . .
Remain one," she repeated, looking intently and maliciously at
her cards. "All right, my dear, remain one. . . . Yes . . . only
maids, these saintly maids, are not all alike." She heaved a sigh
and played the king. "Oh, no, my girl, they are not all alike! Some
really watch over themselves like nuns, and butter would not melt
in their mouths; and if such a one does sin in an hour of weakness,
she is worried to death, poor thing! so it would be a sin to condemn
her. While others will go dressed in black and sew their shroud,
and yet love rich old men on the sly. Yes, y-es, my canary birds,
some hussies will bewitch an old man and rule over him, my doves,
rule over him and turn his head; and when they've saved up money
and lottery tickets enough, they will bewitch him to his death."
Varvarushka's only response to these hints was to heave a sigh and
look towards the ikons. There was an expression of Christian meekness
on her countenance.
"I know a maid like that, my bitterest enemy," Stinging Beetle went
on, looking round at every one in triumph; "she is always sighing,
too, and looking at the ikons, the she-devil. When she used to rule
in a certain old man's house, if one went to her she would give one
a crust, and bid one bow down to the ikons while she would sing:
'In conception Thou dost abide a Virgin . . . !' On holidays she
will give one a bite, and on working days she will reproach one for
it. But nowadays I will make merry over her! I will make as merry
as I please, my jewel."
Varvarushka glanced at the ikons again and crossed herself.
"But no one will have me, Spiridonovna," said Anna Akimovna to
change the conversation. "What's to be done?"
"It's your own fault. You keep waiting for highly educated gentlemen,
but you ought to marry one of your own sort, a merchant."
"We don't want a merchant," said Auntie, all in a flutter. "Queen
of Heaven, preserve us! A gentleman will spend your money, but then
he will be kind to you, you poor little fool. But a merchant will
be so strict that you won't feel at home in your own house. You'll
be wanting to fondle him and he will be counting his money, and
when you sit down to meals with him, he'll grudge you every mouthful,
though it's your own, the lout! . . . Marry a gentleman."
They all talked at once, loudly interrupting one another, and Auntie
tapped on the table with the nutcrackers and said, flushed and
"We won't have a merchant; we won't have one! If you choose a
merchant I shall go to an almshouse."
"Sh . . . Sh! . . . Hush!" cried Stinging Beetle; when all were
silent she screwed up one eye and said: "Do you know what, Annushka,
my birdie . . . ? There is no need for you to get married really
like every one else. You're rich and free, you are your own mistress;
but yet, my child, it doesn't seem the right thing for you to be
an old maid. I'll find you, you know, some trumpery and simple-witted
man. You'll marry him for appearances and then have your fling,
bonny lass! You can hand him five thousand or ten maybe, and pack
him off where he came from, and you will be mistress in your own
house--you can love whom you like and no one can say anything to
you. And then you can love your highly educated gentleman. You'll
have a jolly time!" Stinging Beetle snapped her fingers and gave a
"It's sinful," said Auntie.
"Oh, sinful," laughed Stinging Beetle. "She is educated, she
understands. To cut some one's throat or bewitch an old man--
that's a sin, that's true; but to love some charming young friend
is not a sin at all. And what is there in it, really? There's no
sin in it at all! The old pilgrim women have invented all that to
make fools of simple folk. I, too, say everywhere it's a sin; I
don't know myself why it's a sin." Stinging Beetle emptied her glass
and cleared her throat. "Have your fling, bonny lass," this time
evidently addressing herself. "For thirty years, wenches, I have
thought of nothing but sins and been afraid, but now I see I have
wasted my time, I've let it slip by like a ninny! Ah, I have been
a fool, a fool!" She sighed. "A woman's time is short and every day
is precious. You are handsome, Annushka, and very rich; but as soon
as thirty-five or forty strikes for you your time is up. Don't
listen to any one, my girl; live, have your fling till you are
forty, and then you will have time to pray forgiveness--there
will be plenty of time to bow down and to sew your shroud. A candle
to God and a poker to the devil! You can do both at once! Well, how
is it to be? Will you make some little man happy?"
"I will," laughed Anna Akimovna. "I don't care now; I would marry
a working man."
"Well, that would do all right! Oh, what a fine fellow you would
choose then!" Stinging Beetle screwed up her eyes and shook her
"I tell her myself," said Auntie, "it's no good waiting for a
gentleman, so she had better marry, not a gentleman, but some one
humbler; anyway we should have a man in the house to look after
things. And there are lots of good men. She might have some one out
of the factory. They are all sober, steady men. . . ."
"I should think so," Stinging Beetle agreed. "They are capital
fellows. If you like, Aunt, I will make a match for her with Vassily
"Oh, Vasya's legs are so long," said Auntie seriously. "He is so
lanky. He has no looks."
There was laughter in the crowd by the door.
"Well, Pimenov? Would you like to marry Pimenov?" Stinging Beetle
asked Anna Akimovna.
"Very good. Make a match for me with Pimenov."
"Yes, do!" Anna Akimovna said resolutely, and she struck her fist
on the table. "On my honour, I will marry him."
Anna Akimovna suddenly felt ashamed that her cheeks were burning
and that every one was looking at her; she flung the cards together
on the table and ran out of the room. As she ran up the stairs and,
reaching the upper story, sat down to the piano in the drawing-room,
a murmur of sound reached her from below like the roar of the sea;
most likely they were talking of her and of Pimenov, and perhaps
Stinging Beetle was taking advantage of her absence to insult
Varvarushka and was putting no check on her language.
The lamp in the big room was the only light burning in the upper
story, and it sent a glimmer through the door into the dark
drawing-room. It was between nine and ten, not later. Anna Akimovna
played a waltz, then another, then a third; she went on playing
without stopping. She looked into the dark corner beyond the piano,
smiled, and inwardly called to it, and the idea occurred to her
that she might drive off to the town to see some one, Lysevitch for
instance, and tell him what was passing in her heart. She wanted
to talk without ceasing, to laugh, to play the fool, but the dark
corner was sullenly silent, and all round in all the rooms of the
upper story it was still and desolate.
She was fond of sentimental songs, but she had a harsh, untrained
voice, and so she only played the accompaniment and sang hardly
audibly, just above her breath. She sang in a whisper one song after
another, for the most part about love, separation, and frustrated
hopes, and she imagined how she would hold out her hands to him and
say with entreaty, with tears, "Pimenov, take this burden from me!"
And then, just as though her sins had been forgiven, there would
be joy and comfort in her soul, and perhaps a free, happy life would
begin. In an anguish of anticipation she leant over the keys, with
a passionate longing for the change in her life to come at once
without delay, and was terrified at the thought that her old life
would go on for some time longer. Then she played again and sang
hardly above her breath, and all was stillness about her. There was
no noise coming from downstairs now, they must have gone to bed.
It had struck ten some time before. A long, solitary, wearisome
night was approaching.
Anna Akimovna walked through all the rooms, lay down for a while
on the sofa, and read in her study the letters that had come that
evening; there were twelve letters of Christmas greetings and three
anonymous letters. In one of them some workman complained in a
horrible, almost illegible handwriting that Lenten oil sold in the
factory shop was rancid and smelt of paraffin; in another, some one
respectfully informed her that over a purchase of iron Nazaritch
had lately taken a bribe of a thousand roubles from some one; in a
third she was abused for her inhumanity.
The excitement of Christmas was passing off, and to keep it up Anna
Akimovna sat down at the piano again and softly played one of the
new waltzes, then she remembered how cleverly and creditably she
had spoken at dinner today. She looked round at the dark windows,
at the walls with the pictures, at the faint light that came from
the big room, and all at once she began suddenly crying, and she
felt vexed that she was so lonely, and that she had no one to talk
to and consult. To cheer herself she tried to picture Pimenov in
her imagination, but it was unsuccessful.
It struck twelve. Mishenka, no longer wearing his swallow-tail but
in his reefer jacket, came in, and without speaking lighted two
candles; then he went out and returned a minute later with a cup
of tea on a tray.
"What are you laughing at?" she asked, noticing a smile on his face.
"I was downstairs and heard the jokes you were making about Pimenov
. . ." he said, and put his hand before his laughing mouth. "If he
were sat down to dinner today with Viktor Nikolaevitch and the
general, he'd have died of fright." Mishenka's shoulders were shaking
with laughter. "He doesn't know even how to hold his fork, I bet."
The footman's laughter and words, his reefer jacket and moustache,
gave Anna Akimovna a feeling of uncleanness. She shut her eyes to
avoid seeing him, and, against her own will, imagined Pimenov dining
with Lysevitch and Krylin, and his timid, unintellectual figure
seemed to her pitiful and helpless, and she felt repelled by it.
And only now, for the first time in the whole day, she realized
clearly that all she had said and thought about Pimenov and marrying
a workman was nonsense, folly, and wilfulness. To convince herself
of the opposite, to overcome her repulsion, she tried to recall
what she had said at dinner, but now she could not see anything in
it: shame at her own thoughts and actions, and the fear that she
had said something improper during the day, and disgust at her own
lack of spirit, overwhelmed her completely. She took up a candle
and, as rapidly as if some one were pursuing her, ran downstairs,
woke Spiridonovna, and began assuring her she had been joking. Then
she went to her bedroom. Red-haired Masha, who was dozing in an
arm-chair near the bed, jumped up and began shaking up the pillows.
Her face was exhausted and sleepy, and her magnificent hair had
fallen on one side.
"Tchalikov came again this evening," she said, yawning, "but I did
not dare to announce him; he was very drunk. He says he will come
"What does he want with me?" said Anna Akimovna, and she flung her
comb on the floor. "I won't see him, I won't."
She made up her mind she had no one left in life but this Tchalikov,
that he would never leave off persecuting her, and would remind her
every day how uninteresting and absurd her life was. So all she was
fit for was to help the poor. Oh, how stupid it was!
She lay down without undressing, and sobbed with shame and depression:
what seemed to her most vexatious and stupid of all was that her
dreams that day about Pimenov had been right, lofty, honourable,
but at the same time she felt that Lysevitch and even Krylin were
nearer to her than Pimenov and all the workpeople taken together.
She thought that if the long day she had just spent could have been
represented in a picture, all that had been bad and vulgar--as,
for instance, the dinner, the lawyer's talk, the game of "kings"
--would have been true, while her dreams and talk about Pimenov
would have stood out from the whole as something false, as out of
drawing; and she thought, too, that it was too late to dream of
happiness, that everything was over for her, and it was impossible
to go back to the life when she had slept under the same quilt with
her mother, or to devise some new special sort of life.
Red-haired Masha was kneeling before the bed, gazing at her in
mournful perplexity; then she, too, began crying, and laid her face
against her mistress's arm, and without words it was clear why she
was so wretched.
"We are fools!" said Anna Akimovna, laughing and crying. "We are
fools! Oh, what fools we are!"
THE strictest measures were taken that the Uskovs' family secret
might not leak out and become generally known. Half of the servants
were sent off to the theatre or the circus; the other half were
sitting in the kitchen and not allowed to leave it. Orders were
given that no one was to be admitted. The wife of the Colonel, her
sister, and the governess, though they had been initiated into the
secret, kept up a pretence of knowing nothing; they sat in the
dining-room and did not show themselves in the drawing-room or the
Sasha Uskov, the young man of twenty-five who was the cause of all
the commotion, had arrived some time before, and by the advice of
kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch, his uncle, who was taking his part,
he sat meekly in the hall by the door leading to the study, and
prepared himself to make an open, candid explanation.
The other side of the door, in the study, a family council was being
held. The subject under discussion was an exceedingly disagreeable
and delicate one. Sasha Uskov had cashed at one of the banks a false
promissory note, and it had become due for payment three days before,
and now his two paternal uncles and Ivan Markovitch, the brother
of his dead mother, were deciding the question whether they should
pay the money and save the family honour, or wash their hands of
it and leave the case to go for trial.
To outsiders who have no personal interest in the matter such
questions seem simple; for those who are so unfortunate as to have
to decide them in earnest they are extremely difficult. The uncles
had been talking for a long time, but the problem seemed no nearer
"My friends!" said the uncle who was a colonel, and there was a
note of exhaustion and bitterness in his voice. "Who says that
family honour is a mere convention? I don't say that at all. I am
only warning you against a false view; I am pointing out the
possibility of an unpardonable mistake. How can you fail to see it?
I am not speaking Chinese; I am speaking Russian!"
"My dear fellow, we do understand," Ivan Markovitch protested mildly.
"How can you understand if you say that I don't believe in family
honour? I repeat once more: fa-mil-y ho-nour fal-sely un-der-stood
is a prejudice! Falsely understood! That's what I say: whatever may
be the motives for screening a scoundrel, whoever he may be, and
helping him to escape punishment, it is contrary to law and unworthy
of a gentleman. It's not saving the family honour; it's civic
cowardice! Take the army, for instance. . . . The honour of the
army is more precious to us than any other honour, yet we don't
screen our guilty members, but condemn them. And does the honour
of the army suffer in consequence? Quite the opposite!"
The other paternal uncle, an official in the Treasury, a taciturn,
dull-witted, and rheumatic man, sat silent, or spoke only of the
fact that the Uskovs' name would get into the newspapers if the
case went for trial. His opinion was that the case ought to be
hushed up from the first and not become public property; but, apart
from publicity in the newspapers, he advanced no other argument in
support of this opinion.
The maternal uncle, kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch, spoke smoothly,
softly, and with a tremor in his voice. He began with saying that
youth has its rights and its peculiar temptations. Which of us has
not been young, and who has not been led astray? To say nothing of
ordinary mortals, even great men have not escaped errors and mistakes
in their youth. Take, for instance, the biography of great writers.
Did not every one of them gamble, drink, and draw down upon himself
the anger of right-thinking people in his young days? If Sasha's
error bordered upon crime, they must remember that Sasha had received
practically no education; he had been expelled from the high school
in the fifth class; he had lost his parents in early childhood, and
so had been left at the tenderest age without guidance and good,
benevolent influences. He was nervous, excitable, had no firm ground
under his feet, and, above all, he had been unlucky. Even if he
were guilty, anyway he deserved indulgence and the sympathy of all
compassionate souls. He ought, of course, to be punished, but he
was punished as it was by his conscience and the agonies he was
enduring now while awaiting the sentence of his relations. The
comparison with the army made by the Colonel was delightful, and
did credit to his lofty intelligence; his appeal to their feeling
of public duty spoke for the chivalry of his soul, but they must
not forget that in each individual the citizen is closely linked
with the Christian. . . .
"Shall we be false to civic duty," Ivan Markovitch exclaimed
passionately, "if instead of punishing an erring boy we hold out
to him a helping hand?"
Ivan Markovitch talked further of family honour. He had not the
honour to belong to the Uskov family himself, but he knew their
distinguished family went back to the thirteenth century; he did
not forget for a minute, either, that his precious, beloved sister
had been the wife of one of the representatives of that name. In
short, the family was dear to him for many reasons, and he refused
to admit the idea that, for the sake of a paltry fifteen hundred
roubles, a blot should be cast on the escutcheon that was beyond
all price. If all the motives he had brought forward were not
sufficiently convincing, he, Ivan Markovitch, in conclusion, begged
his listeners to ask themselves what was meant by crime? Crime is
an immoral act founded upon ill-will. But is the will of man free?
Philosophy has not yet given a positive answer to that question.
Different views were held by the learned. The latest school of
Lombroso, for instance, denies the freedom of the will, and considers
every crime as the product of the purely anatomical peculiarities
of the individual.
"Ivan Markovitch," said the Colonel, in a voice of entreaty, "we
are talking seriously about an important matter, and you bring in
Lombroso, you clever fellow. Think a little, what are you saying
all this for? Can you imagine that all your thunderings and rhetoric
will furnish an answer to the question?"
Sasha Uskov sat at the door and listened. He felt neither terror,
shame, nor depression, but only weariness and inward emptiness. It
seemed to him that it made absolutely no difference to him whether
they forgave him or not; he had come here to hear his sentence and
to explain himself simply because kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch had
begged him to do so. He was not afraid of the future. It made no
difference to him where he was: here in the hall, in prison, or in
"If Siberia, then let it be Siberia, damn it all!"
He was sick of life and found it insufferably hard. He was inextricably
involved in debt; he had not a farthing in his pocket; his family
had become detestable to him; he would have to part from his friends
and his women sooner or later, as they had begun to be too contemptuous
of his sponging on them. The future looked black.
Sasha was indifferent, and was only disturbed by one circumstance;
the other side of the door they were calling him a scoundrel and a
criminal. Every minute he was on the point of jumping up, bursting
into the study and shouting in answer to the detestable metallic
voice of the Colonel:
"You are lying!"
"Criminal" is a dreadful word--that is what murderers, thieves,
robbers are; in fact, wicked and morally hopeless people. And Sasha
was very far from being all that. . . . It was true he owed a great
deal and did not pay his debts. But debt is not a crime, and it is
unusual for a man not to be in debt. The Colonel and Ivan Markovitch
were both in debt. . . .
"What have I done wrong besides?" Sasha wondered.
He had discounted a forged note. But all the young men he knew did
the same. Handrikov and Von Burst always forged IOU's from their
parents or friends when their allowances were not paid at the regular
time, and then when they got their money from home they redeemed
them before they became due. Sasha had done the same, but had not
redeemed the IOU because he had not got the money which Handrikov
had promised to lend him. He was not to blame; it was the fault of
circumstances. It was true that the use of another person's signature
was considered reprehensible; but, still, it was not a crime but a
generally accepted dodge, an ugly formality which injured no one
and was quite harmless, for in forging the Colonel's signature Sasha
had had no intention of causing anybody damage or loss.
"No, it doesn't mean that I am a criminal . . ." thought Sasha.
"And it's not in my character to bring myself to commit a crime. I
am soft, emotional. . . . When I have the money I help the poor. . . ."
Sasha was musing after this fashion while they went on talking the
other side of the door.
"But, my friends, this is endless," the Colonel declared, getting
excited. "Suppose we were to forgive him and pay the money. You
know he would not give up leading a dissipated life, squandering
money, making debts, going to our tailors and ordering suits in our
names! Can you guarantee that this will be his last prank? As far
as I am concerned, I have no faith whatever in his reforming!"
The official of the Treasury muttered something in reply; after him
Ivan Markovitch began talking blandly and suavely again. The Colonel
moved his chair impatiently and drowned the other's words with his
detestable metallic voice. At last the door opened and Ivan Markovitch
came out of the study; there were patches of red on his lean shaven
"Come along," he said, taking Sasha by the hand. "Come and speak
frankly from your heart. Without pride, my dear boy, humbly and
from your heart."
Sasha went into the study. The official of the Treasury was sitting
down; the Colonel was standing before the table with one hand in
his pocket and one knee on a chair. It was smoky and stifling in
the study. Sasha did not look at the official or the Colonel; he
felt suddenly ashamed and uncomfortable. He looked uneasily at Ivan
Markovitch and muttered:
"I'll pay it . . . I'll give it back. . . ."
"What did you expect when you discounted the IOU?" he heard a
"I . . . Handrikov promised to lend me the money before now."
Sasha could say no more. He went out of the study and sat down again
on the chair near the door.
He would have been glad to go away altogether at once, but he was
choking with hatred and he awfully wanted to remain, to tear the
Colonel to pieces, to say something rude to him. He sat trying to
think of something violent and effective to say to his hated uncle,
and at that moment a woman's figure, shrouded in the twilight,
appeared at the drawing-room door. It was the Colonel's wife. She
beckoned Sasha to her, and, wringing her hands, said, weeping:
"_Alexandre_, I know you don't like me, but . . . listen to me;
listen, I beg you. . . . But, my dear, how can this have happened?
Why, it's awful, awful! For goodness' sake, beg them, defend yourself,
Sasha looked at her quivering shoulders, at the big tears that were
rolling down her cheeks, heard behind his back the hollow, nervous
voices of worried and exhausted people, and shrugged his shoulders.
He had not in the least expected that his aristocratic relations
would raise such a tempest over a paltry fifteen hundred roubles!
He could not understand her tears nor the quiver of their voices.
An hour later he heard that the Colonel was getting the best of it;
the uncles were finally inclining to let the case go for trial.
"The matter's settled," said the Colonel, sighing. "Enough."
After this decision all the uncles, even the emphatic Colonel,
became noticeably depressed. A silence followed.
"Merciful Heavens!" sighed Ivan Markovitch. "My poor sister!"
And he began saying in a subdued voice that most likely his sister,
Sasha's mother, was present unseen in the study at that moment. He
felt in his soul how the unhappy, saintly woman was weeping, grieving,
and begging for her boy. For the sake of her peace beyond the grave,
they ought to spare Sasha.
The sound of a muffled sob was heard. Ivan Markovitch was weeping
and muttering something which it was impossible to catch through
the door. The Colonel got up and paced from corner to corner. The
long conversation began over again.
But then the clock in the drawing-room struck two. The family council
was over. To avoid seeing the person who had moved him to such
wrath, the Colonel went from the study, not into the hall, but into
the vestibule. . . . Ivan Markovitch came out into the hall. . . .
He was agitated and rubbing his hands joyfully. His tear-stained
eyes looked good-humoured and his mouth was twisted into a smile.
"Capital," he said to Sasha. "Thank God! You can go home, my dear,
and sleep tranquilly. We have decided to pay the sum, but on condition
that you repent and come with me tomorrow into the country and set
A minute later Ivan Markovitch and Sasha in their great-coats and
caps were going down the stairs. The uncle was muttering something
edifying. Sasha did not listen, but felt as though some uneasy
weight were gradually slipping off his shoulders. They had forgiven
him; he was free! A gust of joy sprang up within him and sent a
sweet chill to his heart. He longed to breathe, to move swiftly,
to live! Glancing at the street lamps and the black sky, he remembered
that Von Burst was celebrating his name-day that evening at the
"Bear," and again a rush of joy flooded his soul. . . .
"I am going!" he decided.
But then he remembered he had not a farthing, that the companions
he was going to would despise him at once for his empty pockets.
He must get hold of some money, come what may!
"Uncle, lend me a hundred roubles," he said to Ivan Markovitch.
His uncle, surprised, looked into his face and backed against a
"Give it to me," said Sasha, shifting impatiently from one foot to
the other and beginning to pant. "Uncle, I entreat you, give me a
His face worked; he trembled, and seemed on the point of attacking
his uncle. . . .
"Won't you?" he kept asking, seeing that his uncle was still amazed
and did not understand. "Listen. If you don't, I'll give myself up
tomorrow! I won't let you pay the IOU! I'll present another false
Petrified, muttering something incoherent in his horror, Ivan
Markovitch took a hundred-rouble note out of his pocket-book and
gave it to Sasha. The young man took it and walked rapidly away
from him. . . .
Taking a sledge, Sasha grew calmer, and felt a rush of joy within
him again. The "rights of youth" of which kind-hearted Ivan Markovitch
had spoken at the family council woke up and asserted themselves.
Sasha pictured the drinking-party before him, and, among the bottles,
the women, and his friends, the thought flashed through his mind:
"Now I see that I am a criminal; yes, I am a criminal."
AT eight o'clock on the evening of the twentieth of May all the six
batteries of the N---- Reserve Artillery Brigade halted for the
night in the village of Myestetchki on their way to camp. When the
general commotion was at its height, while some officers were busily
occupied around the guns, while others, gathered together in the
square near the church enclosure, were listening to the quartermasters,
a man in civilian dress, riding a strange horse, came into sight
round the church. The little dun-coloured horse with a good neck
and a short tail came, moving not straight forward, but as it were
sideways, with a sort of dance step, as though it were being lashed
about the legs. When he reached the officers the man on the horse
took off his hat and said:
"His Excellency Lieutenant-General von Rabbek invites the gentlemen
to drink tea with him this minute. . . ."
The horse turned, danced, and retired sideways; the messenger raised
his hat once more, and in an instant disappeared with his strange
horse behind the church.
"What the devil does it mean?" grumbled some of the officers,
dispersing to their quarters. "One is sleepy, and here this Von
Rabbek with his tea! We know what tea means."
The officers of all the six batteries remembered vividly an incident
of the previous year, when during manoeuvres they, together with
the officers of a Cossack regiment, were in the same way invited
to tea by a count who had an estate in the neighbourhood and was a
retired army officer: the hospitable and genial count made much of
them, fed them, and gave them drink, refused to let them go to their
quarters in the village and made them stay the night. All that, of
course, was very nice--nothing better could be desired, but the
worst of it was, the old army officer was so carried away by the
pleasure of the young men's company that till sunrise he was telling
the officers anecdotes of his glorious past, taking them over the
house, showing them expensive pictures, old engravings, rare guns,
reading them autograph letters from great people, while the weary
and exhausted officers looked and listened, longing for their beds
and yawning in their sleeves; when at last their host let them go,
it was too late for sleep.
Might not this Von Rabbek be just such another? Whether he were or
not, there was no help for it. The officers changed their uniforms,
brushed themselves, and went all together in search of the gentleman's
house. In the square by the church they were told they could get
to His Excellency's by the lower path--going down behind the
church to the river, going along the bank to the garden, and there
an avenue would taken them to the house; or by the upper way--
straight from the church by the road which, half a mile from the
village, led right up to His Excellency's granaries. The officers
decided to go by the upper way.
"What Von Rabbek is it?" they wondered on the way. "Surely not the
one who was in command of the N---- cavalry division at Plevna?"
"No, that was not Von Rabbek, but simply Rabbe and no 'von.'"
"What lovely weather!"
At the first of the granaries the road divided in two: one branch
went straight on and vanished in the evening darkness, the other
led to the owner's house on the right. The officers turned to the
right and began to speak more softly. . . . On both sides of the
road stretched stone granaries with red roofs, heavy and sullen-looking,
very much like barracks of a district town. Ahead of them gleamed
the windows of the manor-house.
"A good omen, gentlemen," said one of the officers. "Our setter is
the foremost of all; no doubt he scents game ahead of us! . . ."
Lieutenant Lobytko, who was walking in front, a tall and stalwart
fellow, though entirely without moustache (he was over five-and-twenty,
yet for some reason there was no sign of hair on his round, well-fed
face), renowned in the brigade for his peculiar faculty for divining
the presence of women at a distance, turned round and said:
"Yes, there must be women here; I feel that by instinct."
On the threshold the officers were met by Von Rabbek himself, a
comely-looking man of sixty in civilian dress. Shaking hands with
his guests, he said that he was very glad and happy to see them,
but begged them earnestly for God's sake to excuse him for not
asking them to stay the night; two sisters with their children,
some brothers, and some neighbours, had come on a visit to him, so
that he had not one spare room left.
The General shook hands with every one, made his apologies, and
smiled, but it was evident by his face that he was by no means so
delighted as their last year's count, and that he had invited the
officers simply because, in his opinion, it was a social obligation
to do so. And the officers themselves, as they walked up the softly
carpeted stairs, as they listened to him, felt that they had been
invited to this house simply because it would have been awkward not
to invite them; and at the sight of the footmen, who hastened to
light the lamps in the entrance below and in the anteroom above,
they began to feel as though they had brought uneasiness and
discomfort into the house with them. In a house in which two sisters
and their children, brothers, and neighbours were gathered together,
probably on account of some family festivity, or event, how could
the presence of nineteen unknown officers possibly be welcome?
At the entrance to the drawing-room the officers were met by a tall,
graceful old lady with black eyebrows and a long face, very much
like the Empress Eugénie. Smiling graciously and majestically, she
said she was glad and happy to see her guests, and apologized that
her husband and she were on this occasion unable to invite _messieurs
les officiers_ to stay the night. From her beautiful majestic smile,
which instantly vanished from her face every time she turned away
from her guests, it was evident that she had seen numbers of officers
in her day, that she was in no humour for them now, and if she
invited them to her house and apologized for not doing more, it was
only because her breeding and position in society required it of
When the officers went into the big dining-room, there were about
a dozen people, men and ladies, young and old, sitting at tea at
the end of a long table. A group of men was dimly visible behind
their chairs, wrapped in a haze of cigar smoke; and in the midst
of them stood a lanky young man with red whiskers, talking loudly,
with a lisp, in English. Through a door beyond the group could be
seen a light room with pale blue furniture.
"Gentlemen, there are so many of you that it is impossible to
introduce you all!" said the General in a loud voice, trying to
sound very cheerful. "Make each other's acquaintance, gentlemen,
without any ceremony!"
The officers--some with very serious and even stern faces, others
with forced smiles, and all feeling extremely awkward--somehow
made their bows and sat down to tea.
The most ill at ease of them all was Ryabovitch--a little officer
in spectacles, with sloping shoulders, and whiskers like a lynx's.
While some of his comrades assumed a serious expression, while
others wore forced smiles, his face, his lynx-like whiskers, and
spectacles seemed to say: "I am the shyest, most modest, and most
undistinguished officer in the whole brigade!" At first, on going
into the room and sitting down to the table, he could not fix his
attention on any one face or object. The faces, the dresses, the
cut-glass decanters of brandy, the steam from the glasses, the
moulded cornices--all blended in one general impression that
inspired in Ryabovitch alarm and a desire to hide his head. Like a
lecturer making his first appearance before the public, he saw
everything that was before his eyes, but apparently only had a dim
understanding of it (among physiologists this condition, when the
subject sees but does not understand, is called psychical blindness).
After a little while, growing accustomed to his surroundings,
Ryabovitch saw clearly and began to observe. As a shy man, unused
to society, what struck him first was that in which he had always
been deficient--namely, the extraordinary boldness of his new
acquaintances. Von Rabbek, his wife, two elderly ladies, a young
lady in a lilac dress, and the young man with the red whiskers, who
was, it appeared, a younger son of Von Rabbek, very cleverly, as
though they had rehearsed it beforehand, took seats between the
officers, and at once got up a heated discussion in which the
visitors could not help taking part. The lilac young lady hotly
asserted that the artillery had a much better time than the cavalry
and the infantry, while Von Rabbek and the elderly ladies maintained
the opposite. A brisk interchange of talk followed. Ryabovitch
watched the lilac young lady who argued so hotly about what was
unfamiliar and utterly uninteresting to her, and watched artificial
smiles come and go on her face.
Von Rabbek and his family skilfully drew the officers into the
discussion, and meanwhile kept a sharp lookout over their glasses
and mouths, to see whether all of them were drinking, whether all
had enough sugar, why some one was not eating cakes or not drinking
brandy. And the longer Ryabovitch watched and listened, the more
he was attracted by this insincere but splendidly disciplined family.
After tea the officers went into the drawing-room. Lieutenant
Lobytko's instinct had not deceived him. There were a great number
of girls and young married ladies. The "setter" lieutenant was soon
standing by a very young, fair girl in a black dress, and, bending
down to her jauntily, as though leaning on an unseen sword, smiled
and shrugged his shoulders coquettishly. He probably talked very
interesting nonsense, for the fair girl looked at his well-fed face
condescendingly and asked indifferently, "Really?" And from that
uninterested "Really?" the setter, had he been intelligent, might
have concluded that she would never call him to heel.
The piano struck up; the melancholy strains of a valse floated out
of the wide open windows, and every one, for some reason, remembered
that it was spring, a May evening. Every one was conscious of the
fragrance of roses, of lilac, and of the young leaves of the poplar.
Ryabovitch, in whom the brandy he had drunk made itself felt, under
the influence of the music stole a glance towards the window, smiled,
and began watching the movements of the women, and it seemed to him
that the smell of roses, of poplars, and lilac came not from the
garden, but from the ladies' faces and dresses.
Von Rabbek's son invited a scraggy-looking young lady to dance, and
waltzed round the room twice with her. Lobytko, gliding over the
parquet floor, flew up to the lilac young lady and whirled her away.
Dancing began. . . . Ryabovitch stood near the door among those who
were not dancing and looked on. He had never once danced in his
whole life, and he had never once in his life put his arm round the
waist of a respectable woman. He was highly delighted that a man
should in the sight of all take a girl he did not know round the
waist and offer her his shoulder to put her hand on, but he could
not imagine himself in the position of such a man. There were times
when he envied the boldness and swagger of his companions and was
inwardly wretched; the consciousness that he was timid, that he was
round-shouldered and uninteresting, that he had a long waist and
lynx-like whiskers, had deeply mortified him, but with years he had
grown used to this feeling, and now, looking at his comrades dancing
or loudly talking, he no longer envied them, but only felt touched
When the quadrille began, young Von Rabbek came up to those who
were not dancing and invited two officers to have a game at billiards.
The officers accepted and went with him out of the drawing-room.
Ryabovitch, having nothing to do and wishing to take part in the
general movement, slouched after them. From the big drawing-room
they went into the little drawing-room, then into a narrow corridor
with a glass roof, and thence into a room in which on their entrance
three sleepy-looking footmen jumped up quickly from the sofa. At
last, after passing through a long succession of rooms, young Von
Rabbek and the officers came into a small room where there was a
billiard-table. They began to play.
Ryabovitch, who had never played any game but cards, stood near the
billiard-table and looked indifferently at the players, while they
in unbuttoned coats, with cues in their hands, stepped about, made
puns, and kept shouting out unintelligible words.
The players took no notice of him, and only now and then one of
them, shoving him with his elbow or accidentally touching him with
the end of his cue, would turn round and say "Pardon!" Before the
first game was over he was weary of it, and began to feel he was
not wanted and in the way. . . . He felt disposed to return to the
drawing-room, and he went out.
On his way back he met with a little adventure. When he had gone
half-way he noticed he had taken a wrong turning. He distinctly
remembered that he ought to meet three sleepy footmen on his way,
but he had passed five or six rooms, and those sleepy figures seemed
to have vanished into the earth. Noticing his mistake, he walked
back a little way and turned to the right; he found himself in a
little dark room which he had not seen on his way to the billiard-room.
After standing there a little while, he resolutely opened the first
door that met his eyes and walked into an absolutely dark room.
Straight in front could be seen the crack in the doorway through
which there was a gleam of vivid light; from the other side of the
door came the muffled sound of a melancholy mazurka. Here, too, as
in the drawing-room, the windows were wide open and there was a
smell of poplars, lilac and roses. . . .
Ryabovitch stood still in hesitation. . . . At that moment, to his
surprise, he heard hurried footsteps and the rustling of a dress,
a breathless feminine voice whispered "At last!" And two soft,
fragrant, unmistakably feminine arms were clasped about his neck;
a warm cheek was pressed to his cheek, and simultaneously there was
the sound of a kiss. But at once the bestower of the kiss uttered
a faint shriek and skipped back from him, as it seemed to Ryabovitch,
with aversion. He, too, almost shrieked and rushed towards the gleam
of light at the door. . . .
When he went back into the drawing-room his heart was beating and
his hands were trembling so noticeably that he made haste to hide
them behind his back. At first he was tormented by shame and dread
that the whole drawing-room knew that he had just been kissed and
embraced by a woman. He shrank into himself and looked uneasily
about him, but as he became convinced that people were dancing and
talking as calmly as ever, he gave himself up entirely to the new
sensation which he had never experienced before in his life. Something
strange was happening to him. . . . His neck, round which soft,
fragrant arms had so lately been clasped, seemed to him to be
anointed with oil; on his left cheek near his moustache where the
unknown had kissed him there was a faint chilly tingling sensation
as from peppermint drops, and the more he rubbed the place the more
distinct was the chilly sensation; all over, from head to foot, he
was full of a strange new feeling which grew stronger and stronger
. . . . He wanted to dance, to talk, to run into the garden, to laugh
aloud. . . . He quite forgot that he was round-shouldered and
uninteresting, that he had lynx-like whiskers and an "undistinguished
appearance" (that was how his appearance had been described by some
ladies whose conversation he had accidentally overheard). When Von
Rabbek's wife happened to pass by him, he gave her such a broad and
friendly smile that she stood still and looked at him inquiringly.
"I like your house immensely!" he said, setting his spectacles
The General's wife smiled and said that the house had belonged to
her father; then she asked whether his parents were living, whether
he had long been in the army, why he was so thin, and so on. . . .
After receiving answers to her questions, she went on, and after
his conversation with her his smiles were more friendly than ever,
and he thought he was surrounded by splendid people. . . .
At supper Ryabovitch ate mechanically everything offered him, drank,
and without listening to anything, tried to understand what had
just happened to him. . . . The adventure was of a mysterious and
romantic character, but it was not difficult to explain it. No doubt
some girl or young married lady had arranged a tryst with some one
in the dark room; had waited a long time, and being nervous and
excited had taken Ryabovitch for her hero; this was the more probable
as Ryabovitch had stood still hesitating in the dark room, so that
he, too, had seemed like a person expecting something. . . . This
was how Ryabovitch explained to himself the kiss he had received.
"And who is she?" he wondered, looking round at the women's faces.
"She must be young, for elderly ladies don't give rendezvous. That
she was a lady, one could tell by the rustle of her dress, her
perfume, her voice. . . ."
His eyes rested on the lilac young lady, and he thought her very
attractive; she had beautiful shoulders and arms, a clever face,
and a delightful voice. Ryabovitch, looking at her, hoped that she
and no one else was his unknown. . . . But she laughed somehow
artificially and wrinkled up her long nose, which seemed to him to
make her look old. Then he turned his eyes upon the fair girl in a
black dress. She was younger, simpler, and more genuine, had a
charming brow, and drank very daintily out of her wineglass.
Ryabovitch now hoped that it was she. But soon he began to think
her face flat, and fixed his eyes upon the one next her.
"It's difficult to guess," he thought, musing. "If one takes the
shoulders and arms of the lilac one only, adds the brow of the fair
one and the eyes of the one on the left of Lobytko, then . . ."
He made a combination of these things in his mind and so formed the
image of the girl who had kissed him, the image that he wanted her
to have, but could not find at the table. . . .
After supper, replete and exhilarated, the officers began to take
leave and say thank you. Von Rabbek and his wife began again
apologizing that they could not ask them to stay the night.
"Very, very glad to have met you, gentlemen," said Von Rabbek, and
this time sincerely (probably because people are far more sincere
and good-humoured at speeding their parting guests than on meeting
them). "Delighted. I hope you will come on your way back! Don't
stand on ceremony! Where are you going? Do you want to go by the
upper way? No, go across the garden; it's nearer here by the lower
The officers went out into the garden. After the bright light and
the noise the garden seemed very dark and quiet. They walked in
silence all the way to the gate. They were a little drunk, pleased,
and in good spirits, but the darkness and silence made them thoughtful
for a minute. Probably the same idea occurred to each one of them
as to Ryabovitch: would there ever come a time for them when, like
Von Rabbek, they would have a large house, a family, a garden--
when they, too, would be able to welcome people, even though
insincerely, feed them, make them drunk and contented?
Going out of the garden gate, they all began talking at once and
laughing loudly about nothing. They were walking now along the
little path that led down to the river, and then ran along the
water's edge, winding round the bushes on the bank, the pools, and
the willows that overhung the water. The bank and the path were
scarcely visible, and the other bank was entirely plunged in darkness.
Stars were reflected here and there on the dark water; they quivered
and were broken up on the surface--and from that alone it could
be seen that the river was flowing rapidly. It was still. Drowsy
curlews cried plaintively on the further bank, and in one of the
bushes on the nearest side a nightingale was trilling loudly, taking
no notice of the crowd of officers. The officers stood round the
bush, touched it, but the nightingale went on singing.
"What a fellow!" they exclaimed approvingly. "We stand beside him
and he takes not a bit of notice! What a rascal!"
At the end of the way the path went uphill, and, skirting the church
enclosure, turned into the road. Here the officers, tired with
walking uphill, sat down and lighted their cigarettes. On the other
side of the river a murky red fire came into sight, and having
nothing better to do, they spent a long time in discussing whether
it was a camp fire or a light in a window, or something else. . . .
Ryabovitch, too, looked at the light, and he fancied that the
light looked and winked at him, as though it knew about the kiss.
On reaching his quarters, Ryabovitch undressed as quickly as possible
and got into bed. Lobytko and Lieutenant Merzlyakov--a peaceable,
silent fellow, who was considered in his own circle a highly educated
officer, and was always, whenever it was possible, reading the
"Vyestnik Evropi," which he carried about with him everywhere--
were quartered in the same hut with Ryabovitch. Lobytko undressed,
walked up and down the room for a long while with the air of a man
who has not been satisfied, and sent his orderly for beer. Merzlyakov
got into bed, put a candle by his pillow and plunged into reading
the "Vyestnik Evropi."
"Who was she?" Ryabovitch wondered, looking at the smoky ceiling.
His neck still felt as though he had been anointed with oil, and
there was still the chilly sensation near his mouth as though from
peppermint drops. The shoulders and arms of the young lady in lilac,
the brow and the truthful eyes of the fair girl in black, waists,
dresses, and brooches, floated through his imagination. He tried
to fix his attention on these images, but they danced about, broke
up and flickered. When these images vanished altogether from the
broad dark background which every man sees when he closes his eyes,
he began to hear hurried footsteps, the rustle of skirts, the sound
of a kiss and--an intense groundless joy took possession of him
. . . . Abandoning himself to this joy, he heard the orderly return
and announce that there was no beer. Lobytko was terribly indignant,
and began pacing up and down again.
"Well, isn't he an idiot?" he kept saying, stopping first before
Ryabovitch and then before Merzlyakov. "What a fool and a dummy a
man must be not to get hold of any beer! Eh? Isn't he a scoundrel?"
"Of course you can't get beer here," said Merzlyakov, not removing
his eyes from the "Vyestnik Evropi."
"Oh! Is that your opinion?" Lobytko persisted. "Lord have mercy
upon us, if you dropped me on the moon I'd find you beer and women
directly! I'll go and find some at once. . . . You may call me an
impostor if I don't!"
He spent a long time in dressing and pulling on his high boots,
then finished smoking his cigarette in silence and went out.
"Rabbek, Grabbek, Labbek," he muttered, stopping in the outer room.
"I don't care to go alone, damn it all! Ryabovitch, wouldn't you
like to go for a walk? Eh?"
Receiving no answer, he returned, slowly undressed and got into
bed. Merzlyakov sighed, put the "Vyestnik Evropi" away, and put out
"H'm! . . ." muttered Lobytko, lighting a cigarette in the dark.
Ryabovitch pulled the bed-clothes over his head, curled himself up
in bed, and tried to gather together the floating images in his
mind and to combine them into one whole. But nothing came of it.
He soon fell asleep, and his last thought was that some one had
caressed him and made him happy--that something extraordinary,
foolish, but joyful and delightful, had come into his life. The
thought did not leave him even in his sleep.
When he woke up the sensations of oil on his neck and the chill of
peppermint about his lips had gone, but joy flooded his heart just
as the day before. He looked enthusiastically at the window-frames,
gilded by the light of the rising sun, and listened to the movement
of the passers-by in the street. People were talking loudly close
to the window. Lebedetsky, the commander of Ryabovitch's battery,
who had only just overtaken the brigade, was talking to his sergeant
at the top of his voice, being always accustomed to shout.
"What else?" shouted the commander.
"When they were shoeing yesterday, your high nobility, they drove
a nail into Pigeon's hoof. The vet. put on clay and vinegar; they
are leading him apart now. And also, your honour, Artemyev got drunk
yesterday, and the lieutenant ordered him to be put in the limber
of a spare gun-carriage."
The sergeant reported that Karpov had forgotten the new cords for
the trumpets and the rings for the tents, and that their honours,
the officers, had spent the previous evening visiting General Von
Rabbek. In the middle of this conversation the red-bearded face of
Lebedetsky appeared in the window. He screwed up his short-sighted
eyes, looking at the sleepy faces of the officers, and said
good-morning to them.
"Is everything all right?" he asked.
"One of the horses has a sore neck from the new collar," answered
The commander sighed, thought a moment, and said in a loud voice:
"I am thinking of going to see Alexandra Yevgrafovna. I must call
on her. Well, good-bye. I shall catch you up in the evening."
A quarter of an hour later the brigade set off on its way. When it
was moving along the road by the granaries, Ryabovitch looked at
the house on the right. The blinds were down in all the windows.
Evidently the household was still asleep. The one who had kissed
Ryabovitch the day before was asleep, too. He tried to imagine her
asleep. The wide-open windows of the bedroom, the green branches
peeping in, the morning freshness, the scent of the poplars, lilac,
and roses, the bed, a chair, and on it the skirts that had rustled
the day before, the little slippers, the little watch on the table
--all this he pictured to himself clearly and distinctly, but the
features of the face, the sweet sleepy smile, just what was
characteristic and important, slipped through his imagination like
quicksilver through the fingers. When he had ridden on half a mile,
he looked back: the yellow church, the house, and the river, were
all bathed in light; the river with its bright green banks, with
the blue sky reflected in it and glints of silver in the sunshine
here and there, was very beautiful. Ryabovitch gazed for the last
time at Myestetchki, and he felt as sad as though he were parting
with something very near and dear to him.
And before him on the road lay nothing but long familiar, uninteresting
pictures. . . . To right and to left, fields of young rye and
buckwheat with rooks hopping about in them. If one looked ahead,
one saw dust and the backs of men's heads; if one looked back, one
saw the same dust and faces. . . . Foremost of all marched four men
with sabres--this was the vanguard. Next, behind, the crowd of
singers, and behind them the trumpeters on horseback. The vanguard
and the chorus of singers, like torch-bearers in a funeral procession,
often forgot to keep the regulation distance and pushed a long way
ahead. . . . Ryabovitch was with the first cannon of the fifth
battery. He could see all the four batteries moving in front of
him. For any one not a military man this long tedious procession
of a moving brigade seems an intricate and unintelligible muddle;
one cannot understand why there are so many people round one cannon,
and why it is drawn by so many horses in such a strange network of
harness, as though it really were so terrible and heavy. To Ryabovitch
it was all perfectly comprehensible and therefore uninteresting.
He had known for ever so long why at the head of each battery there
rode a stalwart bombardier, and why he was called a bombardier;
immediately behind this bombardier could be seen the horsemen of
the first and then of the middle units. Ryabovitch knew that the
horses on which they rode, those on the left, were called one name,
while those on the right were called another--it was extremely
uninteresting. Behind the horsemen came two shaft-horses. On one
of them sat a rider with the dust of yesterday on his back and a
clumsy and funny-looking piece of wood on his leg. Ryabovitch knew
the object of this piece of wood, and did not think it funny. All
the riders waved their whips mechanically and shouted from time to
time. The cannon itself was ugly. On the fore part lay sacks of
oats covered with canvas, and the cannon itself was hung all over
with kettles, soldiers' knapsacks, bags, and looked like some small
harmless animal surrounded for some unknown reason by men and horses.
To the leeward of it marched six men, the gunners, swinging their
arms. After the cannon there came again more bombardiers, riders,
shaft-horses, and behind them another cannon, as ugly and unimpressive
as the first. After the second followed a third, a fourth; near the
fourth an officer, and so on. There were six batteries in all in
the brigade, and four cannons in each battery. The procession covered
half a mile; it ended in a string of wagons near which an extremely
attractive creature--the ass, Magar, brought by a battery commander
from Turkey--paced pensively with his long-eared head drooping.
Ryabovitch looked indifferently before and behind, at the backs of
heads and at faces; at any other time he would have been half asleep,
but now he was entirely absorbed in his new agreeable thoughts. At
first when the brigade was setting off on the march he tried to
persuade himself that the incident of the kiss could only be
interesting as a mysterious little adventure, that it was in reality
trivial, and to think of it seriously, to say the least of it, was
stupid; but now he bade farewell to logic and gave himself up to
dreams. . . . At one moment he imagined himself in Von Rabbek's
drawing-room beside a girl who was like the young lady in lilac and
the fair girl in black; then he would close his eyes and see himself
with another, entirely unknown girl, whose features were very vague.
In his imagination he talked, caressed her, leaned on her shoulder,
pictured war, separation, then meeting again, supper with his wife,
children. . . .
"Brakes on!" the word of command rang out every time they went
He, too, shouted "Brakes on!" and was afraid this shout would disturb
his reverie and bring him back to reality. . . .
As they passed by some landowner's estate Ryabovitch looked over
the fence into the garden. A long avenue, straight as a ruler,
strewn with yellow sand and bordered with young birch-trees, met
his eyes. . . . With the eagerness of a man given up to dreaming,
he pictured to himself little feminine feet tripping along yellow
sand, and quite unexpectedly had a clear vision in his imagination
of the girl who had kissed him and whom he had succeeded in picturing
to himself the evening before at supper. This image remained in his
brain and did not desert him again.
At midday there was a shout in the rear near the string of wagons:
"Easy! Eyes to the left! Officers!"
The general of the brigade drove by in a carriage with a pair of
white horses. He stopped near the second battery, and shouted
something which no one understood. Several officers, among them
Ryabovitch, galloped up to them.
"Well?" asked the general, blinking his red eyes. "Are there any
Receiving an answer, the general, a little skinny man, chewed,
thought for a moment and said, addressing one of the officers:
"One of your drivers of the third cannon has taken off his leg-guard
and hung it on the fore part of the cannon, the rascal. Reprimand
He raised his eyes to Ryabovitch and went on:
"It seems to me your front strap is too long."
Making a few other tedious remarks, the general looked at Lobytko
"You look very melancholy today, Lieutenant Lobytko," he said. "Are
you pining for Madame Lopuhov? Eh? Gentlemen, he is pining for
The lady in question was a very stout and tall person who had long
passed her fortieth year. The general, who had a predilection for
solid ladies, whatever their ages, suspected a similar taste in his
officers. The officers smiled respectfully. The general, delighted
at having said something very amusing and biting, laughed loudly,
touched his coachman's back, and saluted. The carriage rolled on. . . .
"All I am dreaming about now which seems to me so impossible and
unearthly is really quite an ordinary thing," thought Ryabovitch,
looking at the clouds of dust racing after the general's carriage.
"It's all very ordinary, and every one goes through it. . . . That
general, for instance, has once been in love; now he is married and
has children. Captain Vahter, too, is married and beloved, though
the nape of his neck is very red and ugly and he has no waist. . . .
Salrnanov is coarse and very Tatar, but he has had a love affair
that has ended in marriage. . . . I am the same as every one else,
and I, too, shall have the same experience as every one else, sooner
or later. . . ."
And the thought that he was an ordinary person, and that his life
was ordinary, delighted him and gave him courage. He pictured her
and his happiness as he pleased, and put no rein on his imagination.
When the brigade reached their halting-place in the evening, and
the officers were resting in their tents, Ryabovitch, Merzlyakov,
and Lobytko were sitting round a box having supper. Merzlyakov ate
without haste, and, as he munched deliberately, read the "Vyestnik
Evropi," which he held on his knees. Lobytko talked incessantly and
kept filling up his glass with beer, and Ryabovitch, whose head was
confused from dreaming all day long, drank and said nothing. After
three glasses he got a little drunk, felt weak, and had an irresistible
desire to impart his new sensations to his comrades.
"A strange thing happened to me at those Von Rabbeks'," he began,
trying to put an indifferent and ironical tone into his voice. "You
know I went into the billiard-room. . . ."
He began describing very minutely the incident of the kiss, and a
moment later relapsed into silence. . . . In the course of that
moment he had told everything, and it surprised him dreadfully to
find how short a time it took him to tell it. He had imagined that
he could have been telling the story of the kiss till next morning.
Listening to him, Lobytko, who was a great liar and consequently
believed no one, looked at him sceptically and laughed. Merzlyakov
twitched his eyebrows and, without removing his eyes from the
"Vyestnik Evropi," said:
"That's an odd thing! How strange! . . . throws herself on a man's
neck, without addressing him by name. .. . She must be some sort
of hysterical neurotic."
"Yes, she must," Ryabovitch agreed.
"A similar thing once happened to me," said Lobytko, assuming a
scared expression. "I was going last year to Kovno. . . . I took a
second-class ticket. The train was crammed, and it was impossible
to sleep. I gave the guard half a rouble; he took my luggage and
led me to another compartment. . . . I lay down and covered myself
with a rug. . . . It was dark, you understand. Suddenly I felt some
one touch me on the shoulder and breathe in my face. I made a
movement with my hand and felt somebody's elbow. . . . I opened my
eyes and only imagine--a woman. Black eyes, lips red as a prime
salmon, nostrils breathing passionately--a bosom like a buffer. . . ."
"Excuse me," Merzlyakov interrupted calmly, "I understand about the
bosom, but how could you see the lips if it was dark?"
Lobytko began trying to put himself right and laughing at Merzlyakov's
unimaginativeness. It made Ryabovitch wince. He walked away from
the box, got into bed, and vowed never to confide again.
Camp life began. . . . The days flowed by, one very much like
another. All those days Ryabovitch felt, thought, and behaved as
though he were in love. Every morning when his orderly handed him
water to wash with, and he sluiced his head with cold water, he
thought there was something warm and delightful in his life.
In the evenings when his comrades began talking of love and women,
he would listen, and draw up closer; and he wore the expression of
a soldier when he hears the description of a battle in which he has
taken part. And on the evenings when the officers, out on the spree
with the setter--Lobytko--at their head, made Don Juan excursions
to the "suburb," and Ryabovitch took part in such excursions, he
always was sad, felt profoundly guilty, and inwardly begged _her_
forgiveness. . . . In hours of leisure or on sleepless nights, when
he felt moved to recall his childhood, his father and mother--
everything near and dear, in fact, he invariably thought of
Myestetchki, the strange horse, Von Rabbek, his wife who was like
the Empress Eugénie, the dark room, the crack of light at the
door. . . .
On the thirty-first of August he went back from the camp, not with
the whole brigade, but with only two batteries of it. He was dreaming
and excited all the way, as though he were going back to his native
place. He had an intense longing to see again the strange horse,
the church, the insincere family of the Von Rabbeks, the dark room.
The "inner voice," which so often deceives lovers, whispered to him
for some reason that he would be sure to see her . . . and he was
tortured by the questions, How he should meet her? What he would
talk to her about? Whether she had forgotten the kiss? If the worst
came to the worst, he thought, even if he did not meet her, it would
be a pleasure to him merely to go through the dark room and recall
the past. . . .
Towards evening there appeared on the horizon the familiar church
and white granaries. Ryabovitch's heart beat. . . . He did not hear
the officer who was riding beside him and saying something to him,
he forgot everything, and looked eagerly at the river shining in
the distance, at the roof of the house, at the dovecote round which
the pigeons were circling in the light of the setting sun.
When they reached the church and were listening to the billeting
orders, he expected every second that a man on horseback would come
round the church enclosure and invite the officers to tea, but . . .
the billeting orders were read, the officers were in haste to go
on to the village, and the man on horseback did not appear.
"Von Rabbek will hear at once from the peasants that we have come
and will send for us," thought Ryabovitch, as he went into the hut,
unable to understand why a comrade was lighting a candle and why
the orderlies were hurriedly setting samovars. . . .
A painful uneasiness took possession of him. He lay down, then got
up and looked out of the window to see whether the messenger were
coming. But there was no sign of him.
He lay down again, but half an hour later he got up, and, unable
to restrain his uneasiness, went into the street and strode towards
the church. It was dark and deserted in the square near the church
. . . . Three soldiers were standing silent in a row where the road
began to go downhill. Seeing Ryabovitch, they roused themselves and
saluted. He returned the salute and began to go down the familiar
On the further side of the river the whole sky was flooded with
crimson: the moon was rising; two peasant women, talking loudly,
were picking cabbage in the kitchen garden; behind the kitchen
garden there were some dark huts. . . . And everything on the near
side of the river was just as it had been in May: the path, the
bushes, the willows overhanging the water . . . but there was no
sound of the brave nightingale, and no scent of poplar and fresh
Reaching the garden, Ryabovitch looked in at the gate. The garden
was dark and still. . . . He could see nothing but the white stems
of the nearest birch-trees and a little bit of the avenue; all the
rest melted together into a dark blur. Ryabovitch looked and listened
eagerly, but after waiting for a quarter of an hour without hearing
a sound or catching a glimpse of a light, he trudged back. . . .
He went down to the river. The General's bath-house and the bath-sheets
on the rail of the little bridge showed white before him. . . . He
went on to the bridge, stood a little, and, quite unnecessarily,
touched the sheets. They felt rough and cold. He looked down at the
water. . . . The river ran rapidly and with a faintly audible gurgle
round the piles of the bath-house. The red moon was reflected near
the left bank; little ripples ran over the reflection, stretching
it out, breaking it into bits, and seemed trying to carry it away.
"How stupid, how stupid!" thought Ryabovitch, looking at the running
water. "How unintelligent it all is!"
Now that he expected nothing, the incident of the kiss, his impatience,
his vague hopes and disappointment, presented themselves in a clear
light. It no longer seemed to him strange that he had not seen the
General's messenger, and that he would never see the girl who had
accidentally kissed him instead of some one else; on the contrary,
it would have been strange if he had seen her. . . .
The water was running, he knew not where or why, just as it did in
May. In May it had flowed into the great river, from the great river
into the sea; then it had risen in vapour, turned into rain, and
perhaps the very same water was running now before Ryabovitch's
eyes again. . . . What for? Why?
And the whole world, the whole of life, seemed to Ryabovitch an
unintelligible, aimless jest. . . . And turning his eyes from the
water and looking at the sky, he remembered again how fate in the
person of an unknown woman had by chance caressed him, he remembered
his summer dreams and fancies, and his life struck him as extraordinarily
meagre, poverty-stricken, and colourless. . . .
When he went back to his hut he did not find one of his comrades.
The orderly informed him that they had all gone to "General von
Rabbek's, who had sent a messenger on horseback to invite them. . . ."
For an instant there was a flash of joy in Ryabovitch's heart, but
he quenched it at once, got into bed, and in his wrath with his
fate, as though to spite it, did not go to the General's.
'ANNA ON THE NECK'
AFTER the wedding they had not even light refreshments; the happy
pair simply drank a glass of champagne, changed into their travelling
things, and drove to the station. Instead of a gay wedding ball and
supper, instead of music and dancing, they went on a journey to
pray at a shrine a hundred and fifty miles away. Many people commended
this, saying that Modest Alexeitch was a man high up in the service
and no longer young, and that a noisy wedding might not have seemed
quite suitable; and music is apt to sound dreary when a government
official of fifty-two marries a girl who is only just eighteen.
People said, too, that Modest Alexeitch, being a man of principle,
had arranged this visit to the monastery expressly in order to make
his young bride realize that even in marriage he put religion and
morality above everything.
The happy pair were seen off at the station. The crowd of relations
and colleagues in the service stood, with glasses in their hands,
waiting for the train to start to shout "Hurrah!" and the bride's
father, Pyotr Leontyitch, wearing a top-hat and the uniform of a
teacher, already drunk and very pale, kept craning towards the
window, glass in hand and saying in an imploring voice:
"Anyuta! Anya, Anya! one word!"
Anna bent out of the window to him, and he whispered something to
her, enveloping her in a stale smell of alcohol, blew into her ear
--she could make out nothing--and made the sign of the cross
over her face, her bosom, and her hands; meanwhile he was breathing
in gasps and tears were shining in his eyes. And the schoolboys,
Anna's brothers, Petya and Andrusha, pulled at his coat from behind,
whispering in confusion:
"Father, hush! . . . Father, that's enough. . . ."
When the train started, Anna saw her father run a little way after
the train, staggering and spilling his wine, and what a kind, guilty,
pitiful face he had:
"Hurra--ah!" he shouted.
The happy pair were left alone. Modest Alexeitch looked about the
compartment, arranged their things on the shelves, and sat down,
smiling, opposite his young wife. He was an official of medium
height, rather stout and puffy, who looked exceedingly well nourished,
with long whiskers and no moustache. His clean-shaven, round, sharply
defined chin looked like the heel of a foot. The most characteristic
point in his face was the absence of moustache, the bare, freshly
shaven place, which gradually passed into the fat cheeks, quivering
like jelly. His deportment was dignified, his movements were
deliberate, his manner was soft.
"I cannot help remembering now one circumstance," he said, smiling.
"When, five years ago, Kosorotov received the order of St. Anna of
the second grade, and went to thank His Excellency, His Excellency
expressed himself as follows: 'So now you have three Annas: one in
your buttonhole and two on your neck.' And it must be explained
that at that time Kosorotov's wife, a quarrelsome and frivolous
person, had just returned to him, and that her name was Anna. I
trust that when I receive the Anna of the second grade His Excellency
will not have occasion to say the same thing to me."
He smiled with his little eyes. And she, too, smiled, troubled at
the thought that at any moment this man might kiss her with his
thick damp lips, and that she had no right to prevent his doing so.
The soft movements of his fat person frightened her; she felt both
fear and disgust. He got up, without haste took off the order from
his neck, took off his coat and waistcoat, and put on his dressing-gown.
"That's better," he said, sitting down beside Anna.
Anna remembered what agony the wedding had been, when it had seemed
to her that the priest, and the guests, and every one in church had
been looking at her sorrowfully and asking why, why was she, such
a sweet, nice girl, marrying such an elderly, uninteresting gentleman.
Only that morning she was delighted that everything had been
satisfactorily arranged, but at the time of the wedding, and now
in the railway carriage, she felt cheated, guilty, and ridiculous.
Here she had married a rich man and yet she had no money, her
wedding-dress had been bought on credit, and when her father and
brothers had been saying good-bye, she could see from their faces
that they had not a farthing. Would they have any supper that day?
And tomorrow? And for some reason it seemed to her that her father
and the boys were sitting tonight hungry without her, and feeling
the same misery as they had the day after their mother's funeral.
"Oh, how unhappy I am!" she thought. "Why am I so unhappy?"
With the awkwardness of a man with settled habits, unaccustomed to
deal with women, Modest Alexeitch touched her on the waist and
patted her on the shoulder, while she went on thinking about money,
about her mother and her mother's death. When her mother died, her
father, Pyotr Leontyitch, a teacher of drawing and writing in the
high school, had taken to drink, impoverishment had followed, the
boys had not had boots or goloshes, their father had been hauled
up before the magistrate, the warrant officer had come and made an
inventory of the furniture. . . . What a disgrace! Anna had had to
look after her drunken father, darn her brothers' stockings, go to
market, and when she was complimented on her youth, her beauty, and
her elegant manners, it seemed to her that every one was looking
at her cheap hat and the holes in her boots that were inked over.
And at night there had been tears and a haunting dread that her
father would soon, very soon, be dismissed from the school for his
weakness, and that he would not survive it, but would die, too,
like their mother. But ladies of their acquaintance had taken the
matter in hand and looked about for a good match for Anna. This
Modest Alexevitch, who was neither young nor good-looking but had
money, was soon found. He had a hundred thousand in the bank and
the family estate, which he had let on lease. He was a man of
principle and stood well with His Excellency; it would be nothing
to him, so they told Anna, to get a note from His Excellency to the
directors of the high school, or even to the Education Commissioner,
to prevent Pyotr Leontyitch from being dismissed.
While she was recalling these details, she suddenly heard strains
of music which floated in at the window, together with the sound
of voices. The train was stopping at a station. In the crowd beyond
the platform an accordion and a cheap squeaky fiddle were being
briskly played, and the sound of a military band came from beyond
the villas and the tall birches and poplars that lay bathed in the
moonlight; there must have been a dance in the place. Summer visitors
and townspeople, who used to come out here by train in fine weather
for a breath of fresh air, were parading up and down on the platform.
Among them was the wealthy owner of all the summer villas--a tall,
stout, dark man called Artynov. He had prominent eyes and looked
like an Armenian. He wore a strange costume; his shirt was unbuttoned,
showing his chest; he wore high boots with spurs, and a black cloak
hung from his shoulders and dragged on the ground like a train. Two
boar-hounds followed him with their sharp noses to the ground.
Tears were still shining in Anna's eyes, but she was not thinking
now of her mother, nor of money, nor of her marriage; but shaking
hands with schoolboys and officers she knew, she laughed gaily and
"How do you do? How are you?"
She went out on to the platform between the carriages into the
moonlight, and stood so that they could all see her in her new
splendid dress and hat.
"Why are we stopping here?" she asked.
"This is a junction. They are waiting for the mail train to pass."
Seeing that Artynov was looking at her, she screwed up her eyes
coquettishly and began talking aloud in French; and because her
voice sounded so pleasant, and because she heard music and the moon
was reflected in the pond, and because Artynov, the notorious Don
Juan and spoiled child of fortune, was looking at her eagerly and
with curiosity, and because every one was in good spirits--she
suddenly felt joyful, and when the train started and the officers
of her acquaintance saluted her, she was humming the polka the
strains of which reached her from the military band playing beyond
the trees; and she returned to her compartment feeling as though
it had been proved to her at the station that she would certainly
be happy in spite of everything.
The happy pair spent two days at the monastery, then went back to
town. They lived in a rent-free flat. When Modest Alexevitch had
gone to the office, Anna played the piano, or shed tears of depression,
or lay down on a couch and read novels or looked through fashion
papers. At dinner Modest Alexevitch ate a great deal and talked
about politics, about appointments, transfers, and promotions in
the service, about the necessity of hard work, and said that, family
life not being a pleasure but a duty, if you took care of the kopecks
the roubles would take care of themselves, and that he put religion
and morality before everything else in the world. And holding his
knife in his fist as though it were a sword, he would say:
"Every one ought to have his duties!"
And Anna listened to him, was frightened, and could not eat, and
she usually got up from the table hungry. After dinner her husband
lay down for a nap and snored loudly, while Anna went to see her
own people. Her father and the boys looked at her in a peculiar
way, as though just before she came in they had been blaming her
for having married for money a tedious, wearisome man she did not
love; her rustling skirts, her bracelets, and her general air of a
married lady, offended them and made them uncomfortable. In her
presence they felt a little embarrassed and did not know what to
talk to her about; but yet they still loved her as before, and were
not used to having dinner without her. She sat down with them to
cabbage soup, porridge, and fried potatoes, smelling of mutton
dripping. Pyotr Leontyitch filled his glass from the decanter with
a trembling hand and drank it off hurriedly, greedily, with repulsion,
then poured out a second glass and then a third. Petya and Andrusha,
thin, pale boys with big eyes, would take the decanter and say
"You mustn't, father. . . . Enough, father. . . ."
And Anna, too, was troubled and entreated him to drink no more; and
he would suddenly fly into a rage and beat the table with his fists:
"I won't allow any one to dictate to me!" he would shout. "Wretched
boys! wretched girl! I'll turn you all out!"
But there was a note of weakness, of good-nature in his voice, and
no one was afraid of him. After dinner he usually dressed in his
best. Pale, with a cut on his chin from shaving, craning his thin
neck, he would stand for half an hour before the glass, prinking,
combing his hair, twisting his black moustache, sprinkling himself
with scent, tying his cravat in a bow; then he would put on his
gloves and his top-hat, and go off to give his private lessons. Or
if it was a holiday he would stay at home and paint, or play the
harmonium, which wheezed and growled; he would try to wrest from
it pure harmonious sounds and would sing to it; or would storm at
"Wretches! Good-for-nothing boys! You have spoiled the instrument!"
In the evening Anna's husband played cards with his colleagues, who
lived under the same roof in the government quarters. The wives of
these gentlemen would come in--ugly, tastelessly dressed women,
as coarse as cooks--and gossip would begin in the flat as tasteless
and unattractive as the ladies themselves. Sometimes Modest Alexevitch
would take Anna to the theatre. In the intervals he would never let
her stir a step from his side, but walked about arm in arm with her
through the corridors and the foyer. When he bowed to some one, he
immediately whispered to Anna: "A civil councillor . . . visits at
His Excellency's"; or, "A man of means . . . has a house of his
own." When they passed the buffet Anna had a great longing for
something sweet; she was fond of chocolate and apple cakes, but she
had no money, and she did not like to ask her husband. He would
take a pear, pinch it with his fingers, and ask uncertainly:
"I say!" he would reply, and put it down; but as it was awkward to
leave the buffet without buying anything, he would order some
seltzer-water and drink the whole bottle himself, and tears would
come into his eyes. And Anna hated him at such times.
And suddenly flushing crimson, he would say to her rapidly:
"Bow to that old lady!"
"But I don't know her."
"No matter. That's the wife of the director of the local treasury!
Bow, I tell you," he would grumble insistently. "Your head won't
Anna bowed and her head certainly did not drop off, but it was
agonizing. She did everything her husband wanted her to, and was
furious with herself for having let him deceive her like the veriest
idiot. She had only married him for his money, and yet she had less
money now than before her marriage. In old days her father would
sometimes give her twenty kopecks, but now she had not a farthing.
To take money by stealth or ask for it, she could not; she was
afraid of her husband, she trembled before him. She felt as though
she had been afraid of him for years. In her childhood the director
of the high school had always seemed the most impressive and
terrifying force in the world, sweeping down like a thunderstorm
or a steam-engine ready to crush her; another similar force of which
the whole family talked, and of which they were for some reason
afraid, was His Excellency; then there were a dozen others, less
formidable, and among them the teachers at the high school, with
shaven upper lips, stern, implacable; and now finally, there was
Modest Alexeitch, a man of principle, who even resembled the director
in the face. And in Anna's imagination all these forces blended
together into one, and, in the form of a terrible, huge white bear,
menaced the weak and erring such as her father. And she was afraid
to say anything in opposition to her husband, and gave a forced
smile, and tried to make a show of pleasure when she was coarsely
caressed and defiled by embraces that excited her terror. Only once
Pyotr Leontyitch had the temerity to ask for a loan of fifty roubles
in order to pay some very irksome debt, but what an agony it had
"Very good; I'll give it to you," said Modest Alexeitch after a
moment's thought; "but I warn you I won't help you again till you
give up drinking. Such a failing is disgraceful in a man in the
government service! I must remind you of the well-known fact that
many capable people have been ruined by that passion, though they
might possibly, with temperance, have risen in time to a very high."
And long-winded phrases followed: "inasmuch as . . .", "following
upon which proposition . . .", "in view of the aforesaid contention
. . ."; and Pyotr Leontyitch was in agonies of humiliation and felt
an intense craving for alcohol.
And when the boys came to visit Anna, generally in broken boots and
threadbare trousers, they, too, had to listen to sermons.
"Every man ought to have his duties!" Modest Alexeitch would say
And he did not give them money. But he did give Anna bracelets,
rings, and brooches, saying that these things would come in useful
for a rainy day. And he often unlocked her drawer and made an
inspection to see whether they were all safe.
Meanwhile winter came on. Long before Christmas there was an
announcement in the local papers that the usual winter ball would
take place on the twenty-ninth of December in the Hall of Nobility.
Every evening after cards Modest Alexeitch was excitedly whispering
with his colleagues' wives and glancing at Anna, and then paced up
and down the room for a long while, thinking. At last, late one
evening, he stood still, facing Anna, and said:
"You ought to get yourself a ball dress. Do you understand? Only
please consult Marya Grigoryevna and Natalya Kuzminishna."
And he gave her a hundred roubles. She took the money, but she did
not consult any one when she ordered the ball dress; she spoke to
no one but her father, and tried to imagine how her mother would
have dressed for a ball. Her mother had always dressed in the latest
fashion and had always taken trouble over Anna, dressing her elegantly
like a doll, and had taught her to speak French and dance the mazurka
superbly (she had been a governess for five years before her
marriage). Like her mother, Anna could make a new dress out of an
old one, clean gloves with benzine, hire jewels; and, like her
mother, she knew how to screw up her eyes, lisp, assume graceful
attitudes, fly into raptures when necessary, and throw a mournful
and enigmatic look into her eyes. And from her father she had
inherited the dark colour of her hair and eyes, her highly-strung
nerves, and the habit of always making herself look her best.
When, half an hour before setting off for the ball, Modest Alexeitch
went into her room without his coat on, to put his order round his
neck before her pier-glass, dazzled by her beauty and the splendour
of her fresh, ethereal dress, he combed his whiskers complacently
"So that's what my wife can look like . . . so that's what you can
look like! Anyuta!" he went on, dropping into a tone of solemnity,
"I have made your fortune, and now I beg you to do something for
mine. I beg you to get introduced to the wife of His Excellency!
For God's sake, do! Through her I may get the post of senior reporting
They went to the ball. They reached the Hall of Nobility, the
entrance with the hall porter. They came to the vestibule with the
hat-stands, the fur coats; footmen scurrying about, and ladies with
low necks putting up their fans to screen themselves from the
draughts. There was a smell of gas and of soldiers. When Anna,
walking upstairs on her husband's arm, heard the music and saw
herself full length in the looking-glass in the full glow of the
lights, there was a rush of joy in her heart, and she felt the same
presentiment of happiness as in the moonlight at the station. She
walked in proudly, confidently, for the first time feeling herself
not a girl but a lady, and unconsciously imitating her mother in
her walk and in her manner. And for the first time in her life she
felt rich and free. Even her husband's presence did not oppress
her, for as she crossed the threshold of the hall she had guessed
instinctively that the proximity of an old husband did not detract
from her in the least, but, on the contrary, gave her that shade
of piquant mystery that is so attractive to men. The orchestra was
already playing and the dances had begun. After their flat Anna was
overwhelmed by the lights, the bright colours, the music, the noise,
and looking round the room, thought, "Oh, how lovely!" She at once
distinguished in the crowd all her acquaintances, every one she had
met before at parties or on picnics--all the officers, the teachers,
the lawyers, the officials, the landowners, His Excellency, Artynov,
and the ladies of the highest standing, dressed up and very
_décollettées_, handsome and ugly, who had already taken up their
positions in the stalls and pavilions of the charity bazaar, to
begin selling things for the benefit of the poor. A huge officer
in epaulettes--she had been introduced to him in Staro-Kievsky
Street when she was a schoolgirl, but now she could not remember
his name--seemed to spring from out of the ground, begging her
for a waltz, and she flew away from her husband, feeling as though
she were floating away in a sailing-boat in a violent storm, while
her husband was left far away on the shore. She danced passionately,
with fervour, a waltz, then a polka and a quadrille, being snatched
by one partner as soon as she was left by another, dizzy with music
and the noise, mixing Russian with French, lisping, laughing, and
with no thought of her husband or anything else. She excited great
admiration among the men--that was evident, and indeed it could
not have been otherwise; she was breathless with excitement, felt
thirsty, and convulsively clutched her fan. Pyotr Leontyitch, her
father, in a crumpled dress-coat that smelt of benzine, came up to
her, offering her a plate of pink ice.
"You are enchanting this evening," he said, looking at her rapturously,
"and I have never so much regretted that you were in such a hurry
to get married. . . . What was it for? I know you did it for our
sake, but . . ." With a shaking hand he drew out a roll of notes
and said: "I got the money for my lessons today, and can pay your
husband what I owe him."
She put the plate back into his hand, and was pounced upon by some
one and borne off to a distance. She caught a glimpse over her
partner's shoulder of her father gliding over the floor, putting
his arm round a lady and whirling down the ball-room with her.
"How sweet he is when he is sober!" she thought.
She danced the mazurka with the same huge officer; he moved gravely,
as heavily as a dead carcase in a uniform, twitched his shoulders
and his chest, stamped his feet very languidly--he felt fearfully
disinclined to dance. She fluttered round him, provoking him by her
beauty, her bare neck; her eyes glowed defiantly, her movements
were passionate, while he became more and more indifferent, and
held out his hands to her as graciously as a king.
"Bravo, bravo!" said people watching them.
But little by little the huge officer, too, broke out; he grew
lively, excited, and, overcome by her fascination, was carried away
and danced lightly, youthfully, while she merely moved her shoulders
and looked slyly at him as though she were now the queen and he
were her slave; and at that moment it seemed to her that the whole
room was looking at them, and that everybody was thrilled and envied
them. The huge officer had hardly had time to thank her for the
dance, when the crowd suddenly parted and the men drew themselves
up in a strange way, with their hands at their sides.
His Excellency, with two stars on his dress-coat, was walking up
to her. Yes, His Excellency was walking straight towards her, for
he was staring directly at her with a sugary smile, while he licked
his lips as he always did when he saw a pretty woman.
"Delighted, delighted . . ." he began. "I shall order your husband
to be clapped in a lock-up for keeping such a treasure hidden from
us till now. I've come to you with a message from my wife," he went
on, offering her his arm. "You must help us. . . . M-m-yes. . . .
We ought to give you the prize for beauty as they do in America
. . . . M-m-yes. . . . The Americans. . . . My wife is expecting you
He led her to a stall and presented her to a middle-aged lady, the
lower part of whose face was disproportionately large, so that she
looked as though she were holding a big stone in her mouth.
"You must help us," she said through her nose in a sing-song voice.
"All the pretty women are working for our charity bazaar, and you
are the only one enjoying yourself. Why won't you help us?"
She went away, and Anna took her place by the cups and the silver
samovar. She was soon doing a lively trade. Anna asked no less than
a rouble for a cup of tea, and made the huge officer drink three
cups. Artynov, the rich man with prominent eyes, who suffered from
asthma, came up, too; he was not dressed in the strange costume in
which Anna had seen him in the summer at the station, but wore a
dress-coat like every one else. Keeping his eyes fixed on Anna, he
drank a glass of champagne and paid a hundred roubles for it, then
drank some tea and gave another hundred--all this without saying
a word, as he was short of breath through asthma. . . . Anna invited
purchasers and got money out of them, firmly convinced by now that
her smiles and glances could not fail to afford these people great
pleasure. She realized now that she was created exclusively for
this noisy, brilliant, laughing life, with its music, its dancers,
its adorers, and her old terror of a force that was sweeping down
upon her and menacing to crush her seemed to her ridiculous: she
was afraid of no one now, and only regretted that her mother could
not be there to rejoice at her success.
Pyotr Leontyitch, pale by now but still steady on his legs, came
up to the stall and asked for a glass of brandy. Anna turned crimson,
expecting him to say something inappropriate (she was already ashamed
of having such a poor and ordinary father); but he emptied his
glass, took ten roubles out of his roll of notes, flung it down,
and walked away with dignity without uttering a word. A little later
she saw him dancing in the grand chain, and by now he was staggering
and kept shouting something, to the great confusion of his partner;
and Anna remembered how at the ball three years before he had
staggered and shouted in the same way, and it had ended in the
police-sergeant's taking him home to bed, and next day the director
had threatened to dismiss him from his post. How inappropriate that
When the samovars were put out in the stalls and the exhausted
ladies handed over their takings to the middle-aged lady with the
stone in her mouth, Artynov took Anna on his arm to the hall where
supper was served to all who had assisted at the bazaar. There were
some twenty people at supper, not more, but it was very noisy. His
Excellency proposed a toast:
"In this magnificent dining-room it will be appropriate to drink
to the success of the cheap dining-rooms, which are the object of
The brigadier-general proposed the toast: "To the power by which
even the artillery is vanquished," and all the company clinked
glasses with the ladies. It was very, very gay.
When Anna was escorted home it was daylight and the cooks were going
to market. Joyful, intoxicated, full of new sensations, exhausted,
she undressed, dropped into bed, and at once fell asleep. . . .
It was past one in the afternoon when the servant waked her and
announced that M. Artynov had called. She dressed quickly and went
down into the drawing-room. Soon after Artynov, His Excellency
called to thank her for her assistance in the bazaar. With a sugary
smile, chewing his lips, he kissed her hand, and asking her permission
to come again, took his leave, while she remained standing in the
middle of the drawing-room, amazed, enchanted, unable to believe
that this change in her life, this marvellous change, had taken
place so quickly; and at that moment Modest Alexeitch walked in
. . . and he, too, stood before her now with the same ingratiating,
sugary, cringingly respectful expression which she was accustomed
to see on his face in the presence of the great and powerful; and
with rapture, with indignation, with contempt, convinced that no
harm would come to her from it, she said, articulating distinctly
"Be off, you blockhead!"
From this time forward Anna never had one day free, as she was
always taking part in picnics, expeditions, performances. She
returned home every day after midnight, and went to bed on the floor
in the drawing-room, and afterwards used to tell every one, touchingly,
how she slept under flowers. She needed a very great deal of money,
but she was no longer afraid of Modest Alexeitch, and spent his
money as though it were her own; and she did not ask, did not demand
it, simply sent him in the bills. "Give bearer two hundred roubles,"
or "Pay one hundred roubles at once."
At Easter Modest Alexeitch received the Anna of the second grade.
When he went to offer his thanks, His Excellency put aside the paper
he was reading and settled himself more comfortably in his chair.
"So now you have three Annas," he said, scrutinizing his white hands
and pink nails--"one on your buttonhole and two on your neck."
Modest Alexeitch put two fingers to his lips as a precaution against
laughing too loud and said:
"Now I have only to look forward to the arrival of a little Vladimir.
I make bold to beg your Excellency to stand godfather."
He was alluding to Vladimir of the fourth grade, and was already
imagining how he would tell everywhere the story of this pun, so
happy in its readiness and audacity, and he wanted to say something
equally happy, but His Excellency was buried again in his newspaper,
and merely gave him a nod.
And Anna went on driving about with three horses, going out hunting
with Artynov, playing in one-act dramas, going out to supper, and
was more and more rarely with her own family; they dined now alone.
Pyotr Leontyitch was drinking more heavily than ever; there was no
money, and the harmonium had been sold long ago for debt. The boys
did not let him go out alone in the street now, but looked after
him for fear he might fall down; and whenever they met Anna driving
in Staro-Kievsky Street with a pair of horses and Artynov on the
box instead of a coachman, Pyotr Leontyitch took off his top-hat,
and was about to shout to her, but Petya and Andrusha took him by
the arm, and said imploringly:
"You mustn't, father. Hush, father!"
THE TEACHER OF LITERATURE
THERE was the thud of horses' hoofs on the wooden floor; they brought
out of the stable the black horse, Count Nulin; then the white,
Giant; then his sister Maika. They were all magnificent, expensive
horses. Old Shelestov saddled Giant and said, addressing his daughter
"Well, Marie Godefroi, come, get on! Hopla!"
Masha Shelestov was the youngest of the family; she was eighteen,
but her family could not get used to thinking that she was not a
little girl, and so they still called her Manya and Manyusa; and
after there had been a circus in the town which she had eagerly
visited, every one began to call her Marie Godefroi.
"Hop-la!" she cried, mounting Giant. Her sister Varya got on Maika,
Nikitin on Count Nulin, the officers on their horses, and the long
picturesque cavalcade, with the officers in white tunics and the
ladies in their riding habits, moved at a walking pace out of the
Nikitin noticed that when they were mounting the horses and afterwards
riding out into the street, Masha for some reason paid attention
to no one but himself. She looked anxiously at him and at Count
Nulin and said:
"You must hold him all the time on the curb, Sergey Vassilitch.
Don't let him shy. He's pretending."
And either because her Giant was very friendly with Count Nulin,
or perhaps by chance, she rode all the time beside Nikitin, as she
had done the day before, and the day before that. And he looked at
her graceful little figure sitting on the proud white beast, at her
delicate profile, at the chimney-pot hat, which did not suit her
at all and made her look older than her age--looked at her with
joy, with tenderness, with rapture; listened to her, taking in
little of what she said, and thought:
"I promise on my honour, I swear to God, I won't be afraid and I'll
speak to her today."
It was seven o'clock in the evening--the time when the scent of
white acacia and lilac is so strong that the air and the very trees
seem heavy with the fragrance. The band was already playing in the
town gardens. The horses made a resounding thud on the pavement,
on all sides there were sounds of laughter, talk, and the banging
of gates. The soldiers they met saluted the officers, the schoolboys
bowed to Nikitin, and all the people who were hurrying to the gardens
to hear the band were pleased at the sight of the party. And how
warm it was! How soft-looking were the clouds scattered carelessly
about the sky, how kindly and comforting the shadows of the poplars
and the acacias, which stretched across the street and reached as
far as the balconies and second stories of the houses on the other
They rode on out of the town and set off at a trot along the highroad.
Here there was no scent of lilac and acacia, no music of the band,
but there was the fragrance of the fields, there was the green of
young rye and wheat, the marmots were squeaking, the rooks were
cawing. Wherever one looked it was green, with only here and there
black patches of bare ground, and far away to the left in the
cemetery a white streak of apple-blossom.
They passed the slaughter-houses, then the brewery, and overtook a
military band hastening to the suburban gardens.
"Polyansky has a very fine horse, I don't deny that," Masha said
to Nikitin, with a glance towards the officer who was riding beside
Varya. "But it has blemishes. That white patch on its left leg ought
not to be there, and, look, it tosses its head. You can't train it
not to now; it will toss its head till the end of its days."
Masha was as passionate a lover of horses as her father. She felt
a pang when she saw other people with fine horses, and was pleased
when she saw defects in them. Nikitin knew nothing about horses;
it made absolutely no difference to him whether he held his horse
on the bridle or on the curb, whether he trotted or galloped; he
only felt that his position was strained and unnatural, and that
consequently the officers who knew how to sit in their saddles must
please Masha more than he could. And he was jealous of the officers.
As they rode by the suburban gardens some one suggested their going
in and getting some seltzer-water. They went in. There were no trees
but oaks in the gardens; they had only just come into leaf, so that
through the young foliage the whole garden could still be seen with
its platform, little tables, and swings, and the crows' nests were
visible, looking like big hats. The party dismounted near a table
and asked for seltzer-water. People they knew, walking about the
garden, came up to them. Among them the army doctor in high boots,
and the conductor of the band, waiting for the musicians. The doctor
must have taken Nikitin for a student, for he asked: "Have you come
for the summer holidays?"
"No, I am here permanently," answered Nikitin. "I am a teacher at
"You don't say so?" said the doctor, with surprise. "So young and
already a teacher?"
"Young, indeed! My goodness, I'm twenty-six!
"You have a beard and moustache, but yet one would never guess you
were more than twenty-two or twenty-three. How young-looking you
"What a beast!" thought Nikitin. "He, too, takes me for a
He disliked it extremely when people referred to his youth, especially
in the presence of women or the schoolboys. Ever since he had come
to the town as a master in the school he had detested his own
youthful appearance. The schoolboys were not afraid of him, old
people called him "young man," ladies preferred dancing with him
to listening to his long arguments, and he would have given a great
deal to be ten years older.
From the garden they went on to the Shelestovs' farm. There they
stopped at the gate and asked the bailiff's wife, Praskovya, to
bring some new milk. Nobody drank the milk; they all looked at one
another, laughed, and galloped back. As they rode back the band was
playing in the suburban garden; the sun was setting behind the
cemetery, and half the sky was crimson from the sunset.
Masha again rode beside Nikitin. He wanted to tell her how passionately
he loved her, but he was afraid he would be overheard by the officers
and Varya, and he was silent. Masha was silent, too, and he felt
why she was silent and why she was riding beside him, and was so
happy that the earth, the sky, the lights of the town, the black
outline of the brewery--all blended for him into something very
pleasant and comforting, and it seemed to him as though Count Nulin
were stepping on air and would climb up into the crimson sky.
They arrived home. The samovar was already boiling on the table,
old Shelestov was sitting with his friends, officials in the Circuit
Court, and as usual he was criticizing something.
"It's loutishness!" he said. "Loutishness and nothing more. Yes!"
Since Nikitin had been in love with Masha, everything at the
Shelestovs' pleased him: the house, the garden, and the evening
tea, and the wickerwork chairs, and the old nurse, and even the
word "loutishness," which the old man was fond of using. The only
thing he did not like was the number of cats and dogs and the
Egyptian pigeons, who moaned disconsolately in a big cage in the
verandah. There were so many house-dogs and yard-dogs that he had
only learnt to recognize two of them in the course of his acquaintance
with the Shelestovs: Mushka and Som. Mushka was a little mangy dog
with a shaggy face, spiteful and spoiled. She hated Nikitin: when
she saw him she put her head on one side, showed her teeth, and
began: "Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga . . . rrr . . . !" Then she would get
under his chair, and when he would try to drive her away she would
go off into piercing yaps, and the family would say: "Don't be
frightened. She doesn't bite. She is a good dog."
Som was a tall black dog with long legs and a tail as hard as a
stick. At dinner and tea he usually moved about under the table,
and thumped on people's boots and on the legs of the table with his
tail. He was a good-natured, stupid dog, but Nikitin could not
endure him because he had the habit of putting his head on people's
knees at dinner and messing their trousers with saliva. Nikitin had
more than once tried to hit him on his head with a knife-handle,
to flip him on the nose, had abused him, had complained of him, but
nothing saved his trousers.
After their ride the tea, jam, rusks, and butter seemed very nice.
They all drank their first glass in silence and with great relish;
over the second they began an argument. It was always Varya who
started the arguments at tea; she was good-looking, handsomer than
Masha, and was considered the cleverest and most cultured person
in the house, and she behaved with dignity and severity, as an
eldest daughter should who has taken the place of her dead mother
in the house. As the mistress of the house, she felt herself entitled
to wear a dressing-gown in the presence of her guests, and to call
the officers by their surnames; she looked on Masha as a little
girl, and talked to her as though she were a schoolmistress. She
used to speak of herself as an old maid--so she was certain she
Every conversation, even about the weather, she invariably turned
into an argument. She had a passion for catching at words, pouncing
on contradictions, quibbling over phrases. You would begin talking
to her, and she would stare at you and suddenly interrupt: "Excuse
me, excuse me, Petrov, the other day you said the very opposite!"
Or she would smile ironically and say: "I notice, though, you begin
to advocate the principles of the secret police. I congratulate
If you jested or made a pun, you would hear her voice at once:
"That's stale," "That's pointless." If an officer ventured on a
joke, she would make a contemptuous grimace and say, "An army joke!"
And she rolled the _r_ so impressively that Mushka invariably
answered from under a chair, "Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga . . . !"
On this occasion at tea the argument began with Nikitin's mentioning
the school examinations.
"Excuse me, Sergey Vassilitch," Varya interrupted him. "You say
it's difficult for the boys. And whose fault is that, let me ask
you? For instance, you set the boys in the eighth class an essay
on 'Pushkin as a Psychologist.' To begin with, you shouldn't set
such a difficult subject; and, secondly, Pushkin was not a psychologist.
Shtchedrin now, or Dostoevsky let us say, is a different matter,
but Pushkin is a great poet and nothing more."
"Shtchedrin is one thing, and Pushkin is another," Nikitin answered
"I know you don't think much of Shtchedrin at the high school, but
that's not the point. Tell me, in what sense is Pushkin a psychologist?"
"Why, do you mean to say he was not a psychologist? If you like,
I'll give you examples."
And Nikitin recited several passages from "Onyegin" and then from
"I see no psychology in that." Varya sighed. "The psychologist is
the man who describes the recesses of the human soul, and that's
fine poetry and nothing more."
"I know the sort of psychology you want," said Nikitin, offended.
"You want some one to saw my finger with a blunt saw while I howl
at the top of my voice--that's what you mean by psychology."
"That's poor! But still you haven't shown me in what sense Pushkin
is a psychologist?"
When Nikitin had to argue against anything that seemed to him narrow,
conventional, or something of that kind, he usually leaped up from
his seat, clutched at his head with both hands, and began with a
moan, running from one end of the room to another. And it was the
same now: he jumped up, clutched his head in his hands, and with a
moan walked round the table, then he sat down a little way off.
The officers took his part. Captain Polyansky began assuring Varya
that Pushkin really was a psychologist, and to prove it quoted two
lines from Lermontov; Lieutenant Gernet said that if Pushkin had
not been a psychologist they would not have erected a monument to
him in Moscow.
"That's loutishness!" was heard from the other end of the table.
"I said as much to the governor: 'It's loutishness, your Excellency,'
"I won't argue any more," cried Nikitin. "It's unending. . . .
Enough! Ach, get away, you nasty dog!" he cried to Som, who laid
his head and paw on his knee.
"Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga!" came from under the table.
"Admit that you are wrong!" cried Varya. "Own up!"
But some young ladies came in, and the argument dropped of itself.
They all went into the drawing-room. Varya sat down at the piano
and began playing dances. They danced first a waltz, then a polka,
then a quadrille with a grand chain which Captain Polyansky led
through all the rooms, then a waltz again.
During the dancing the old men sat in the drawing-room, smoking and
looking at the young people. Among them was Shebaldin, the director
of the municipal bank, who was famed for his love of literature and
dramatic art. He had founded the local Musical and Dramatic Society,
and took part in the performances himself, confining himself, for
some reason, to playing comic footmen or to reading in a sing-song
voice "The Woman who was a Sinner." His nickname in the town was
"the Mummy," as he was tall, very lean and scraggy, and always had
a solemn air and a fixed, lustreless eye. He was so devoted to the
dramatic art that he even shaved his moustache and beard, and this
made him still more like a mummy.
After the grand chain, he shuffled up to Nikitin sideways, coughed,
"I had the pleasure of being present during the argument at tea. I
fully share your opinion. We are of one mind, and it would be a
great pleasure to me to talk to you. Have you read Lessing on the
dramatic art of Hamburg?"
"No, I haven't."
Shebaldin was horrified, and waved his hands as though he had burnt
his fingers, and saying nothing more, staggered back from Nikitin.
Shebaldin's appearance, his question, and his surprise, struck
Nikitin as funny, but he thought none the less:
"It really is awkward. I am a teacher of literature, and to this
day I've not read Lessing. I must read him."
Before supper the whole company, old and young, sat down to play
"fate." They took two packs of cards: one pack was dealt round to
the company, the other was laid on the table face downwards.
"The one who has this card in his hand," old Shelestov began solemnly,
lifting the top card of the second pack, "is fated to go into the
nursery and kiss nurse."
The pleasure of kissing the nurse fell to the lot of Shebaldin.
They all crowded round him, took him to the nursery, and laughing
and clapping their hands, made him kiss the nurse. There was a great
uproar and shouting.
"Not so ardently!" cried Shelestov with tears of laughter. "Not so
It was Nikitin's "fate" to hear the confessions of all. He sat on
a chair in the middle of the drawing-room. A shawl was brought and
put over his head. The first who came to confess to him was Varya.
"I know your sins," Nikitin began, looking in the darkness at her
stern profile. "Tell me, madam, how do you explain your walking
with Polyansky every day? Oh, it's not for nothing she walks with
"That's poor," said Varya, and walked away.
Then under the shawl he saw the shine of big motionless eyes, caught
the lines of a dear profile in the dark, together with a familiar,
precious fragrance which reminded Nikitin of Masha's room.
"Marie Godefroi," he said, and did not know his own voice, it was
so soft and tender, "what are your sins?"
Masha screwed up her eyes and put out the tip of her tongue at him,
then she laughed and went away. And a minute later she was standing
in the middle of the room, clapping her hands and crying:
"Supper, supper, supper!"
And they all streamed into the dining-room. At supper Varya had
another argument, and this time with her father. Polyansky ate
stolidly, drank red wine, and described to Nikitin how once in a
winter campaign he had stood all night up to his knees in a bog;
the enemy was so near that they were not allowed to speak or smoke,
the night was cold and dark, a piercing wind was blowing. Nikitin
listened and stole side-glances at Masha. She was gazing at him
immovably, without blinking, as though she was pondering something
or was lost in a reverie. . . . It was pleasure and agony to him
both at once.
"Why does she look at me like that?" was the question that fretted
him. "It's awkward. People may notice it. Oh, how young, how naïve
The party broke up at midnight. When Nikitin went out at the gate,
a window opened on the first-floor, and Masha showed herself at it.
"Sergey Vassilitch!" she called.
"What is it?"
"I tell you what . . ." said Masha, evidently thinking of something
to say. "I tell you what. . . Polyansky said he would come in a day
or two with his camera and take us all. We must meet here."
Masha vanished, the window was slammed, and some one immediately
began playing the piano in the house.
"Well, it is a house!" thought Nikitin while he crossed the street.
"A house in which there is no moaning except from Egyptian pigeons,
and they only do it because they have no other means of expressing
But the Shelestovs were not the only festive household. Nikitin had
not gone two hundred paces before he heard the strains of a piano
from another house. A little further he met a peasant playing the
balalaika at the gate. In the gardens the band struck up a potpourri
of Russian songs.
Nikitin lived nearly half a mile from the Shelestoys' in a flat of
eight rooms at the rent of three hundred roubles a year, which he
shared with his colleague Ippolit Ippolititch, a teacher of geography
and history. When Nikitin went in this Ippolit Ippolititch, a
snub-nosed, middle-aged man with a reddish beard, with a coarse,
good-natured, unintellectual face like a workman's, was sitting at
the table correcting his pupils' maps. He considered that the most
important and necessary part of the study of geography was the
drawing of maps, and of the study of history the learning of dates:
he would sit for nights together correcting in blue pencil the maps
drawn by the boys and girls he taught, or making chronological
"What a lovely day it has been!" said Nikitin, going in to him. "I
wonder at you--how can you sit indoors?"
Ippolit Ippolititch was not a talkative person; he either remained
silent or talked of things which everybody knew already. Now what
he answered was:
"Yes, very fine weather. It's May now; we soon shall have real
summer. And summer's a very different thing from winter. In the
winter you have to heat the stoves, but in summer you can keep warm
without. In summer you have your window open at night and still are
warm, and in winter you are cold even with the double frames in."
Nikitin had not sat at the table for more than one minute before
he was bored.
"Good-night!" he said, getting up and yawning. "I wanted to tell
you something romantic concerning myself, but you are--geography!
If one talks to you of love, you will ask one at once, 'What was
the date of the Battle of Kalka?' Confound you, with your battles
and your capes in Siberia!"
"What are you cross about?"
"Why, it is vexatious!"
And vexed that he had not spoken to Masha, and that he had no one
to talk to of his love, he went to his study and lay down upon the
sofa. It was dark and still in the study. Lying gazing into the
darkness, Nikitin for some reason began thinking how in two or three
years he would go to Petersburg, how Masha would see him off at the
station and would cry; in Petersburg he would get a long letter
from her in which she would entreat him to come home as quickly as
possible. And he would write to her. . . . He would begin his letter
like that: "My dear little rat!"
"Yes, my dear little rat!" he said, and he laughed.
He was lying in an uncomfortable position. He put his arms under
his head and put his left leg over the back of the sofa. He felt
more comfortable. Meanwhile a pale light was more and more perceptible
at the windows, sleepy cocks crowed in the yard. Nikitin went on
thinking how he would come back from Petersburg, how Masha would
meet him at the station, and with a shriek of delight would fling
herself on his neck; or, better still, he would cheat her and come
home by stealth late at night: the cook would open the door, then
he would go on tiptoe to the bedroom, undress noiselessly, and jump
into bed! And she would wake up and be overjoyed.
It was beginning to get quite light. By now there were no windows,
no study. On the steps of the brewery by which they had ridden that
day Masha was sitting, saying something. Then she took Nikitin by
the arm and went with him to the suburban garden. There he saw the
oaks and, the crows' nests like hats. One of the nests rocked; out
of it peeped Shebaldin, shouting loudly: "You have not read Lessing!"
Nikitin shuddered all over and opened his eyes. Ippolit Ippolititch
was standing before the sofa, and throwing back his head, was putting
on his cravat.
"Get up; it's time for school," he said. "You shouldn't sleep in
your clothes; it spoils your clothes. You should sleep in your bed,
And as usual he began slowly and emphatically saying what everybody
Nikitin's first lesson was on Russian language in the second class.
When at nine o'clock punctually he went into the classroom, he saw
written on the blackboard two large letters--_M. S._ That, no
doubt, meant Masha Shelestov.
"They've scented it out already, the rascals . . ." thought Nikitin.
"How is it they know everything?"
The second lesson was in the fifth class. And there two letters,
_M. S._, were written on the blackboard; and when he went out of
the classroom at the end of the lesson, he heard the shout behind
him as though from a theatre gallery:
"Hurrah for Masha Shelestov!"
His head was heavy from sleeping in his clothes, his limbs were
weighted down with inertia. The boys, who were expecting every day
to break up before the examinations, did nothing, were restless,
and so bored that they got into mischief. Nikitin, too, was restless,
did not notice their pranks, and was continually going to the window.
He could see the street brilliantly lighted up with the sun; above
the houses the blue limpid sky, the birds, and far, far away, beyond
the gardens and the houses, vast indefinite distance, the forests
in the blue haze, the smoke from a passing train. . . .
Here two officers in white tunics, playing with their whips, passed
in the street in the shade of the acacias. Here a lot of Jews, with
grey beards, and caps on, drove past in a waggonette. . . . The
governess walked by with the director's granddaughter. Som ran by
in the company of two other dogs. . . . And then Varya, wearing a
simple grey dress and red stockings, carrying the "Vyestnik Evropi"
in her hand, passed by. She must have been to the town library. . . .
And it would be a long time before lessons were over at three
o'clock! And after school he could not go home nor to the Shelestovs',
but must go to give a lesson at Wolf's. This Wolf, a wealthy Jew
who had turned Lutheran, did not send his children to the high
school, but had them taught at home by the high-school masters, and
paid five roubles a lesson.
He was bored, bored, bored.
At three o'clock he went to Wolf's and spent there, as it seemed
to him, an eternity. He left there at five o'clock, and before seven
he had to be at the high school again to a meeting of the masters
--to draw up the plan for the _viva voce_ examination of the fourth
and sixth classes.
When late in the evening he left the high school and went to the
Shelestovs', his heart was beating and his face was flushed. A month
before, even a week before, he had, every time that he made up his
mind to speak to her, prepared a whole speech, with an introduction
and a conclusion. Now he had not one word ready; everything was in
a muddle in his head, and all he knew was that today he would
_certainly_ declare himself, and that it was utterly impossible to
wait any longer.
"I will ask her to come to the garden," he thought; "we'll walk
about a little and I'll speak."
There was not a soul in the hall; he went into the dining-room and
then into the drawing-room. . . . There was no one there either.
He could hear Varya arguing with some one upstairs and the clink
of the dressmaker's scissors in the nursery.
There was a little room in the house which had three names: the
little room, the passage room, and the dark room. There was a big
cupboard in it where they kept medicines, gunpowder, and their
hunting gear. Leading from this room to the first floor was a narrow
wooden staircase where cats were always asleep. There were two doors
in it--one leading to the nursery, one to the drawing-room. When
Nikitin went into this room to go upstairs, the door from the nursery
opened and shut with such a bang that it made the stairs and the
cupboard tremble; Masha, in a dark dress, ran in with a piece of
blue material in her hand, and, not noticing Nikitin, darted towards
"Stay . . ." said Nikitin, stopping her. "Good-evening, Godefroi
. . . . Allow me. . . ."
He gasped, he did not know what to say; with one hand he held her
hand and with the other the blue material. And she was half frightened,
half surprised, and looked at him with big eyes.
"Allow me . . ." Nikitin went on, afraid she would go away. "There's
something I must say to you. . . . Only . . . it's inconvenient
here. I cannot, I am incapable. . . . Understand, Godefroi, I can't
--that's all . . . ."
The blue material slipped on to the floor, and Nikitin took Masha
by the other hand. She turned pale, moved her lips, then stepped
back from Nikitin and found herself in the corner between the wall
and the cupboard.
"On my honour, I assure you . . ." he said softly. "Masha, on my
honour. . . ."
She threw back her head and he kissed her lips, and that the kiss
might last longer he put his fingers to her cheeks; and it somehow
happened that he found himself in the corner between the cupboard
and the wall, and she put her arms round his neck and pressed her
head against his chin.
Then they both ran into the garden. The Shelestoys had a garden of
nine acres. There were about twenty old maples and lime-trees in
it; there was one fir-tree, and all the rest were fruit-trees:
cherries, apples, pears, horse-chestnuts, silvery olive-trees. . . .
There were heaps of flowers, too.
Nikitin and Masha ran along the avenues in silence, laughed, asked
each other from time to time disconnected questions which they did
not answer. A crescent moon was shining over the garden, and drowsy
tulips and irises were stretching up from the dark grass in its
faint light, as though entreating for words of love for them, too.
When Nikitin and Masha went back to the house, the officers and the
young ladies were already assembled and dancing the mazurka. Again
Polyansky led the grand chain through all the rooms, again after
dancing they played "fate." Before supper, when the visitors had
gone into the dining-room, Masha, left alone with Nikitin, pressed
close to him and said:
"You must speak to papa and Varya yourself; I am ashamed."
After supper he talked to the old father. After listening to him,
Shelestov thought a little and said:
"I am very grateful for the honour you do me and my daughter, but
let me speak to you as a friend. I will speak to you, not as a
father, but as one gentleman to another. Tell me, why do you want
to be married so young? Only peasants are married so young, and
that, of course, is loutishness. But why should you? Where's the
satisfaction of putting on the fetters at your age?"
"I am not young!" said Nikitin, offended. "I am in my twenty-seventh
"Papa, the farrier has come!" cried Varya from the other room.
And the conversation broke off. Varya, Masha, and Polyansky saw
Nikitin home. When they reached his gate, Varya said:
"Why is it your mysterious Metropolit Metropolititch never shows
himself anywhere? He might come and see us."
The mysterious Ippolit Ippolititch was sitting on his bed, taking
off his trousers, when Nikitin went in to him.
"Don't go to bed, my dear fellow," said Nikitin breathlessly. "Stop
a minute; don't go to bed!"
Ippolit Ippolititch put on his trousers hurriedly and asked in a
"What is it?"
"I am going to be married."
Nikitin sat down beside his companion, and looking at him wonderingly,
as though surprised at himself, said:
"Only fancy, I am going to be married! To Masha Shelestov! I made
an offer today."
"Well? She seems a good sort of girl. Only she is very young."
"Yes, she is young," sighed Nikitin, and shrugged his shoulders
with a careworn air. "Very, very young!"
"She was my pupil at the high school. I know her. She wasn't bad
at geography, but she was no good at history. And she was inattentive
in class, too."
Nikitin for some reason felt suddenly sorry for his companion, and
longed to say something kind and comforting to him.
"My dear fellow, why don't you get married?" he asked. "Why don't
you marry Varya, for instance? She is a splendid, first-rate girl!
It's true she is very fond of arguing, but a heart . . . what a
heart! She was just asking about you. Marry her, my dear boy! Eh?"
He knew perfectly well that Varya would not marry this dull,
snub-nosed man, but still persuaded him to marry her--why?
"Marriage is a serious step," said Ippolit Ippolititch after a
moment's thought. "One has to look at it all round and weigh things
thoroughly; it's not to be done rashly. Prudence is always a good
thing, and especially in marriage, when a man, ceasing to be a
bachelor, begins a new life."
And he talked of what every one has known for ages. Nikitin did not
stay to listen, said goodnight, and went to his own room. He undressed
quickly and quickly got into bed, in order to be able to think the
sooner of his happiness, of Masha, of the future; he smiled, then
suddenly recalled that he had not read Lessing.
"I must read him," he thought. "Though, after all, why should I?
And exhausted by his happiness, he fell asleep at once and went on
smiling till the morning.
He dreamed of the thud of horses' hoofs on a wooden floor; he dreamed
of the black horse Count Nulin, then of the white Giant and its
sister Maika, being led out of the stable.
"It was very crowded and noisy in the church, and once some one
cried out, and the head priest, who was marrying Masha and me,
looked through his spectacles at the crowd, and said severely:
'Don't move about the church, and don't make a noise, but stand
quietly and pray. You should have the fear of God in your hearts.'
"My best men were two of my colleagues, and Masha's best men were
Captain Polyansky and Lieutenant Gernet. The bishop's choir sang
superbly. The sputtering of the candles, the brilliant light, the
gorgeous dresses, the officers, the numbers of gay, happy faces,
and a special ethereal look in Masha, everything together--the
surroundings and the words of the wedding prayers--moved me to
tears and filled me with triumph. I thought how my life had blossomed,
how poetically it was shaping itself! Two years ago I was still a
student, I was living in cheap furnished rooms, without money,
without relations, and, as I fancied then, with nothing to look
forward to. Now I am a teacher in the high school in one of the
best provincial towns, with a secure income, loved, spoiled. It is
for my sake, I thought, this crowd is collected, for my sake three
candelabra have been lighted, the deacon is booming, the choir is
doing its best; and it's for my sake that this young creature, whom
I soon shall call my wife, is so young, so elegant, and so joyful.
I recalled our first meetings, our rides into the country, my
declaration of love and the weather, which, as though expressly,
was so exquisitely fine all the summer; and the happiness which at
one time in my old rooms seemed to me possible only in novels and
stories, I was now experiencing in reality--I was now, as it were,
holding it in my hands.
"After the ceremony they all crowded in disorder round Masha and
me, expressed their genuine pleasure, congratulated us and wished
us joy. The brigadier-general, an old man of seventy, confined
himself to congratulating Masha, and said to her in a squeaky, aged
voice, so loud that it could be heard all over the church:
"'I hope that even after you are married you may remain the rose
you are now, my dear.'
"The officers, the director, and all the teachers smiled from
politeness, and I was conscious of an agreeable artificial smile
on my face, too. Dear Ippolit Ippolititch, the teacher of history
and geography, who always says what every one has heard before,
pressed my hand warmly and said with feeling:
"'Hitherto you have been unmarried and have lived alone, and now
you are married and no longer single.'
"From the church we went to a two-storied house which I am receiving
as part of the dowry. Besides that house Masha is bringing me twenty
thousand roubles, as well as a piece of waste land with a shanty
on it, where I am told there are numbers of hens and ducks which
are not looked after and are turning wild. When I got home from the
church, I stretched myself at full length on the low sofa in my new
study and began to smoke; I felt snug, cosy, and comfortable, as I
never had in my life before. And meanwhile the wedding party were
shouting 'Hurrah!' while a wretched band in the hall played flourishes
and all sorts of trash. Varya, Masha's sister, ran into the study
with a wineglass in her hand, and with a queer, strained expression,
as though her mouth were full of water; apparently she had meant
to go on further, but she suddenly burst out laughing and sobbing,
and the wineglass crashed on the floor. We took her by the arms and
led her away.
"'Nobody can understand!' she muttered afterwards, lying on the
old nurse's bed in a back room. 'Nobody, nobody! My God, nobody can
"But every one understood very well that she was four years older
than her sister Masha, and still unmarried, and that she was crying,
not from envy, but from the melancholy consciousness that her time
was passing, and perhaps had passed. When they danced the quadrille,
she was back in the drawing-room with a tear-stained and heavily
powdered face, and I saw Captain Polyansky holding a plate of ice
before her while she ate it with a spoon.
"It is past five o'clock in the morning. I took up my diary to
describe my complete and perfect happiness, and thought I would
write a good six pages, and read it tomorrow to Masha; but, strange
to say, everything is muddled in my head and as misty as a dream,
and I can remember vividly nothing but that episode with Varya, and
I want to write, 'Poor Varya!' I could go on sitting here and writing
'Poor Varya!' By the way, the trees have begun rustling; it will
rain. The crows are cawing, and my Masha, who has just gone to
sleep, has for some reason a sorrowful face."
For a long while afterwards Nikitin did not write his diary. At the
beginning of August he had the school examinations, and after the
fifteenth the classes began. As a rule he set off for school before
nine in the morning, and before ten o'clock he was looking at his
watch and pining for his Masha and his new house. In the lower forms
he would set some boy to dictate, and while the boys were writing,
would sit in the window with his eyes shut, dreaming; whether he
dreamed of the future or recalled the past, everything seemed to
him equally delightful, like a fairy tale. In the senior classes
they were reading aloud Gogol or Pushkin's prose works, and that
made him sleepy; people, trees, fields, horses, rose before his
imagination, and he would say with a sigh, as though fascinated by
At the midday recess Masha used to send him lunch in a snow-white
napkin, and he would eat it slowly, with pauses, to prolong the
enjoyment of it; and Ippolit Ippolititch, whose lunch as a rule
consisted of nothing but bread, looked at him with respect and envy,
and gave expression to some familiar fact, such as:
"Men cannot live without food."
After school Nikitin went straight to give his private lessons, and
when at last by six o'clock he got home, he felt excited and anxious,
as though he had been away for a year. He would run upstairs
breathless, find Masha, throw his arms round her, and kiss her and
swear that he loved her, that he could not live without her, declare
that he had missed her fearfully, and ask her in trepidation how
she was and why she looked so depressed. Then they would dine
together. After dinner he would lie on the sofa in his study and
smoke, while she sat beside him and talked in a low voice.
His happiest days now were Sundays and holidays, when he was at
home from morning till evening. On those days he took part in the
naïve but extraordinarily pleasant life which reminded him of a
pastoral idyl. He was never weary of watching how his sensible and
practical Masha was arranging her nest, and anxious to show that
he was of some use in the house, he would do something useless--
for instance, bring the chaise out of the stable and look at it
from every side. Masha had installed a regular dairy with three
cows, and in her cellar she had many jugs of milk and pots of sour
cream, and she kept it all for butter. Sometimes, by way of a joke,
Nikitin would ask her for a glass of milk, and she would be quite
upset because it was against her rules; but he would laugh and throw
his arms round her, saying:
"There, there; I was joking, my darling! I was joking!"
Or he would laugh at her strictness when, finding in the cupboard
some stale bit of cheese or sausage as hard as a stone, she would
"They will eat that in the kitchen."
He would observe that such a scrap was only fit for a mousetrap,
and she would reply warmly that men knew nothing about housekeeping,
and that it was just the same to the servants if you were to send
down a hundredweight of savouries to the kitchen. He would agree,
and embrace her enthusiastically. Everything that was just in what
she said seemed to him extraordinary and amazing; and what did not
fit in with his convictions seemed to him naïve and touching.
Sometimes he was in a philosophical mood, and he would begin to
discuss some abstract subject while she listened and looked at his
face with curiosity.
"I am immensely happy with you, my joy," he used to say, playing
with her fingers or plaiting and unplaiting her hair. "But I don't
look upon this happiness of mine as something that has come to me
by chance, as though it had dropped from heaven. This happiness is
a perfectly natural, consistent, logical consequence. I believe
that man is the creator of his own happiness, and now I am enjoying
just what I have myself created. Yes, I speak without false modesty:
I have created this happiness myself and I have a right to it. You
know my past. My unhappy childhood, without father or mother; my
depressing youth, poverty--all this was a struggle, all this was
the path by which I made my way to happiness. . . ."
In October the school sustained a heavy loss: Ippolit Ippolititch
was taken ill with erysipelas on the head and died. For two days
before his death he was unconscious and delirious, but even in his
delirium he said nothing that was not perfectly well known to every
"The Volga flows into the Caspian Sea. . . . Horses eat oats and
hay. . . ."
There were no lessons at the high school on the day of his funeral.
His colleagues and pupils were the coffin-bearers, and the school
choir sang all the way to the grave the anthem "Holy God." Three
priests, two deacons, all his pupils and the staff of the boys'
high school, and the bishop's choir in their best kaftans, took
part in the procession. And passers-by who met the solemn procession,
crossed themselves and said:
"God grant us all such a death."
Returning home from the cemetery much moved, Nikitin got out his
diary from the table and wrote:
"We have just consigned to the tomb Ippolit Ippolititch Ryzhitsky.
Peace to your ashes, modest worker! Masha, Varya, and all the women
at the funeral, wept from genuine feeling, perhaps because they
knew this uninteresting, humble man had never been loved by a woman.
I wanted to say a warm word at my colleague's grave, but I was
warned that this might displease the director, as he did not like
our poor friend. I believe that this is the first day since my
marriage that my heart has been heavy."
There was no other event of note in the scholastic year.
The winter was mild, with wet snow and no frost; on Epiphany Eve,
for instance, the wind howled all night as though it were autumn,
and water trickled off the roofs; and in the morning, at the ceremony
of the blessing of the water, the police allowed no one to go on
the river, because they said the ice was swelling up and looked
dark. But in spite of bad weather Nikitin's life was as happy as
in summer. And, indeed, he acquired another source of pleasure; he
learned to play _vint_. Only one thing troubled him, moved him to
anger, and seemed to prevent him from being perfectly happy: the
cats and dogs which formed part of his wife's dowry. The rooms,
especially in the morning, always smelt like a menagerie, and nothing
could destroy the odour; the cats frequently fought with the dogs.
The spiteful beast Mushka was fed a dozen times a day; she still
refused to recognize Nikitin and growled at him: "Rrr . . .
One night in Lent he was returning home from the club where he had
been playing cards. It was dark, raining, and muddy. Nikitin had
an unpleasant feeling at the bottom of his heart and could not
account for it. He did not know whether it was because he had lost
twelve roubles at cards, or whether because one of the players,
when they were settling up, had said that of course Nikitin had
pots of money, with obvious reference to his wife's portion. He did
not regret the twelve roubles, and there was nothing offensive in
what had been said; but, still, there was the unpleasant feeling.
He did not even feel a desire to go home.
"Foo, how horrid!" he said, standing still at a lamp-post.
It occurred to him that he did not regret the twelve roubles because
he got them for nothing. If he had been a working man he would have
known the value of every farthing, and would not have been so
careless whether he lost or won. And his good-fortune had all, he
reflected, come to him by chance, for nothing, and really was as
superfluous for him as medicine for the healthy. If, like the vast
majority of people, he had been harassed by anxiety for his daily
bread, had been struggling for existence, if his back and chest had
ached from work, then supper, a warm snug home, and domestic
happiness, would have been the necessity, the compensation, the
crown of his life; as it was, all this had a strange, indefinite
significance for him.
"Foo, how horrid!" he repeated, knowing perfectly well that these
reflections were in themselves a bad sign.
When he got home Masha was in bed: she was breathing evenly and
smiling, and was evidently sleeping with great enjoyment. Near her
the white cat lay curled up, purring. While Nikitin lit the candle
and lighted his cigarette, Masha woke up and greedily drank a glass
"I ate too many sweets," she said, and laughed. "Have you been
home?" she asked after a pause.
Nikitin knew already that Captain Polyansky, on whom Varya had been
building great hopes of late, was being transferred to one of the
western provinces, and was already making his farewell visits in
the town, and so it was depressing at his father-in-law's.
"Varya looked in this evening," said Masha, sitting up. "She did
not say anything, but one could see from her face how wretched she
is, poor darling! I can't bear Polyansky. He is fat and bloated,
and when he walks or dances his cheeks shake. . . . He is not a man
I would choose. But, still, I did think he was a decent person."
"I think he is a decent person now," said Nikitin.
"Then why has he treated Varya so badly?"
"Why badly?" asked Nikitin, beginning to feel irritation against
the white cat, who was stretching and arching its back. "As far as
I know, he has made no proposal and has given her no promises."
"Then why was he so often at the house? If he didn't mean to marry
her, he oughtn't to have come."
Nikitin put out the candle and got into bed. But he felt disinclined
to lie down and to sleep. He felt as though his head were immense
and empty as a barn, and that new, peculiar thoughts were wandering
about in it like tall shadows. He thought that, apart from the soft
light of the ikon lamp, that beamed upon their quiet domestic
happiness, that apart from this little world in which he and this
cat lived so peacefully and happily, there was another world. . . .
And he had a passionate, poignant longing to be in that other
world, to work himself at some factory or big workshop, to address
big audiences, to write, to publish, to raise a stir, to exhaust
himself, to suffer. . . . He wanted something that would engross
him till he forgot himself, ceased to care for the personal happiness
which yielded him only sensations so monotonous. And suddenly there
rose vividly before his imagination the figure of Shebaldin with
his clean-shaven face, saying to him with horror: "You haven't even
read Lessing! You are quite behind the times! How you have gone to
Masha woke up and again drank some water. He glanced at her neck,
at her plump shoulders and throat, and remembered the word the
brigadier-general had used in church--"rose."
"Rose," he muttered, and laughed.
His laugh was answered by a sleepy growl from Mushka under the bed:
"Rrr . . . nga-nga-nga . . . !"
A heavy anger sank like a cold weight on his heart, and he felt
tempted to say something rude to Masha, and even to jump up and hit
her; his heart began throbbing.
"So then," he asked, restraining himself, "since I went to your
house, I was bound in duty to marry you?"
"Of course. You know that very well."
"That's nice." And a minute later he repeated: "That's nice."
To relieve the throbbing of his heart, and to avoid saying too much,
Nikitin went to his study and lay down on the sofa, without a pillow;
then he lay on the floor on the carpet.
"What nonsense it is!" he said to reassure himself. "You are a
teacher, you are working in the noblest of callings. . . . What
need have you of any other world? What rubbish!"
But almost immediately he told himself with conviction that he was
not a real teacher, but simply a government employé, as commonplace
and mediocre as the Czech who taught Greek. He had never had a
vocation for teaching, he knew nothing of the theory of teaching,
and never had been interested in the subject; he did not know how
to treat children; he did not understand the significance of what
he taught, and perhaps did not teach the right things. Poor Ippolit
Ippolititch had been frankly stupid, and all the boys, as well as
his colleagues, knew what he was and what to expect from him; but
he, Nikitin, like the Czech, knew how to conceal his stupidity and
cleverly deceived every one by pretending that, thank God, his
teaching was a success. These new ideas frightened Nikitin; he
rejected them, called them stupid, and believed that all this was
due to his nerves, that he would laugh at himself.
And he did, in fact, by the morning laugh at himself and call himself
an old woman; but it was clear to him that his peace of mind was
lost, perhaps, for ever, and that in that little two-story house
happiness was henceforth impossible for him. He realized that the
illusion had evaporated, and that a new life of unrest and clear
sight was beginning which was incompatible with peace and personal
Next day, which was Sunday, he was at the school chapel, and there
met his colleagues and the director. It seemed to him that they
were entirely preoccupied with concealing their ignorance and
discontent with life, and he, too, to conceal his uneasiness, smiled
affably and talked of trivialities. Then he went to the station and
saw the mail train come in and go out, and it was agreeable to him
to be alone and not to have to talk to any one.
At home he found Varya and his father-in-law, who had come to dinner.
Varya's eyes were red with crying, and she complained of a headache,
while Shelestov ate a great deal, saying that young men nowadays
were unreliable, and that there was very little gentlemanly feeling
"It's loutishness!" he said. "I shall tell him so to his face: 'It's
loutishness, sir,' I shall say."
Nikitin smiled affably and helped Masha to look after their guests,
but after dinner he went to his study and shut the door.
The March sun was shining brightly in at the windows and shedding
its warm rays on the table. It was only the twentieth of the month,
but already the cabmen were driving with wheels, and the starlings
were noisy in the garden. It was just the weather in which Masha
would come in, put one arm round his neck, tell him the horses were
saddled or the chaise was at the door, and ask him what she should
put on to keep warm. Spring was beginning as exquisitely as last
spring, and it promised the same joys. . . . But Nikitin was thinking
that it would be nice to take a holiday and go to Moscow, and stay
at his old lodgings there. In the next room they were drinking
coffee and talking of Captain Polyansky, while he tried not to
listen and wrote in his diary: "Where am I, my God? I am surrounded
by vulgarity and vulgarity. Wearisome, insignificant people, pots
of sour cream, jugs of milk, cockroaches, stupid women. . . . There
is nothing more terrible, mortifying, and distressing than vulgarity.
I must escape from here, I must escape today, or I shall go out of
BETWEEN six and seven o'clock on a July evening, a crowd of summer
visitors--mostly fathers of families--burdened with parcels,
portfolios, and ladies' hat-boxes, was trailing along from the
little station of Helkovo, in the direction of the summer villas.
They all looked exhausted, hungry, and ill-humoured, as though the
sun were not shining and the grass were not green for them.
Trudging along among the others was Pavel Matveyitch Zaikin, a
member of the Circuit Court, a tall, stooping man, in a cheap cotton
dust-coat and with a cockade on his faded cap. He was perspiring,
red in the face, and gloomy. . . .
"Do you come out to your holiday home every day?" said a summer
visitor, in ginger-coloured trousers, addressing him.
"No, not every day," Zaikin answered sullenly. "My wife and son are
staying here all the while, and I come down two or three times a
week. I haven't time to come every day; besides, it is expensive."
"You're right there; it is expensive," sighed he of the ginger
trousers. "In town you can't walk to the station, you have to take
a cab; and then, the ticket costs forty-two kopecks; you buy a paper
for the journey; one is tempted to drink a glass of vodka. It's all
petty expenditure not worth considering, but, mind you, in the
course of the summer it will run up to some two hundred roubles.
Of course, to be in the lap of Nature is worth any money--I don't
dispute it . . . idyllic and all the rest of it; but of course,
with the salary an official gets, as you know yourself, every
farthing has to be considered. If you waste a halfpenny you lie
awake all night. . . . Yes. . . I receive, my dear sir--I haven't
the honour of knowing your name--I receive a salary of very nearly
two thousand roubles a year. I am a civil councillor, I smoke
second-rate tobacco, and I haven't a rouble to spare to buy Vichy
water, prescribed me by the doctor for gall-stones."
"It's altogether abominable," said Zaikin after a brief silence.
"I maintain, sir, that summer holidays are the invention of the
devil and of woman. The devil was actuated in the present instance
by malice, woman by excessive frivolity. Mercy on us, it is not
life at all; it is hard labour, it is hell! It's hot and stifling,
you can hardly breathe, and you wander about like a lost soul and
can find no refuge. In town there is no furniture, no servants. . .
everything has been carried off to the villa: you eat what you
can get; you go without your tea because there is no one to heat
the samovar; you can't wash yourself; and when you come down here
into this 'lap of Nature' you have to walk, if you please, through
the dust and heat. . . . Phew! Are you married?"
"Yes. . . three children," sighs Ginger Trousers.
"It's abominable altogether. . . . It's a wonder we are still alive."
At last the summer visitors reached their destination. Zaikin said
good-bye to Ginger Trousers and went into his villa. He found a
death-like silence in the house. He could hear nothing but the
buzzing of the gnats, and the prayer for help of a fly destined for
the dinner of a spider. The windows were hung with muslin curtains,
through which the faded flowers of the geraniums showed red. On the
unpainted wooden walls near the oleographs flies were slumbering.
There was not a soul in the passage, the kitchen, or the dining-room.
In the room which was called indifferently the parlour or the
drawing-room, Zaikin found his son Petya, a little boy of six. Petya
was sitting at the table, and breathing loudly with his lower lip
stuck out, was engaged in cutting out the figure of a knave of
diamonds from a card.
"Oh, that's you, father!" he said, without turning round. "Good-evening."
"Good-evening. . . . And where is mother?"
"Mother? She is gone with Olga Kirillovna to a rehearsal of the
play. The day after tomorrow they will have a performance. And they
will take me, too. . . . And will you go?"
"H'm! . . . When is she coming back?"
"She said she would be back in the evening."
"And where is Natalya?"
"Mamma took Natalya with her to help her dress for the performance,
and Akulina has gone to the wood to get mushrooms. Father, why is
it that when gnats bite you their stomachs get red?"
"I don't know. . . . Because they suck blood. So there is no one
in the house, then?"
"No one; I am all alone in the house."
Zaikin sat down in an easy-chair, and for a moment gazed blankly
at the window.
"Who is going to get our dinner?" he asked.
"They haven't cooked any dinner today, father. Mamma thought you
were not coming today, and did not order any dinner. She is going
to have dinner with Olga Kirillovna at the rehearsal."
"Oh, thank you very much; and you, what have you to eat?"
"I've had some milk. They bought me six kopecks' worth of milk.
And, father, why do gnats suck blood?"
Zaikin suddenly felt as though something heavy were rolling down
on his liver and beginning to gnaw it. He felt so vexed, so aggrieved,
and so bitter, that he was choking and tremulous; he wanted to jump
up, to bang something on the floor, and to burst into loud abuse;
but then he remembered that his doctor had absolutely forbidden him
all excitement, so he got up, and making an effort to control
himself, began whistling a tune from "Les Huguenots."
"Father, can you act in plays?" he heard Petya's voice.
"Oh, don't worry me with stupid questions!" said Zaikin, getting
angry. "He sticks to one like a leaf in the bath! Here you are, six
years old, and just as silly as you were three years ago. . . .
Stupid, neglected child! Why are you spoiling those cards, for
instance? How dare you spoil them?"
"These cards aren't yours," said Petya, turning round. "Natalya
gave them me."
"You are telling fibs, you are telling fibs, you horrid boy!" said
Zaikin, growing more and more irritated. "You are always telling
fibs! You want a whipping, you horrid little pig! I will pull your
Petya leapt up, and craning his neck, stared fixedly at his father's
red and wrathful face. His big eyes first began blinking, then were
dimmed with moisture, and the boy's face began working.
"But why are you scolding?" squealed Petya. "Why do you attack me,
you stupid? I am not interfering with anybody; I am not naughty; I
do what I am told, and yet . . . you are cross! Why are you scolding
The boy spoke with conviction, and wept so bitterly that Zaikin
"Yes, really, why am I falling foul of him?" he thought. "Come,
come," he said, touching the boy on the shoulder. "I am sorry, Petya
. . . forgive me. You are my good boy, my nice boy, I love you."
Petya wiped his eyes with his sleeve, sat down, with a sigh, in the
same place and began cutting out the queen. Zaikin went off to his
own room. He stretched himself on the sofa, and putting his hands
behind his head, sank into thought. The boy's tears had softened
his anger, and by degrees the oppression on his liver grew less.
He felt nothing but exhaustion and hunger.
"Father," he heard on the other side of the door, "shall I show you
my collection of insects?"
"Yes, show me."
Petya came into the study and handed his father a long green box.
Before raising it to his ear Zaikin could hear a despairing buzz
and the scratching of claws on the sides of the box. Opening the
lid, he saw a number of butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers, and
flies fastened to the bottom of the box with pins. All except two
or three butterflies were still alive and moving.
"Why, the grasshopper is still alive!" said Petya in surprise. "I
caught him yesterday morning, and he is still alive!"
"Who taught you to pin them in this way?"
"Olga Kirillovna ought to be pinned down like that herself!" said
Zaikin with repulsion. "Take them away! It's shameful to torture
"My God! How horribly he is being brought up!" he thought, as Petya
Pavel Matveyitch forgot his exhaustion and hunger, and thought of
nothing but his boy's future. Meanwhile, outside the light was
gradually fading. . . . He could hear the summer visitors trooping
back from the evening bathe. Some one was stopping near the open
dining-room window and shouting: "Do you want any mushrooms?" And
getting no answer, shuffled on with bare feet. . . . But at last,
when the dusk was so thick that the outlines of the geraniums behind
the muslin curtain were lost, and whiffs of the freshness of evening
were coming in at the window, the door of the passage was thrown
open noisily, and there came a sound of rapid footsteps, talk, and
laughter. . . .
"Mamma!" shrieked Petya.
Zaikin peeped out of his study and saw his wife, Nadyezhda Stepanovna,
healthy and rosy as ever; with her he saw Olga Kirillovna, a spare
woman with fair hair and heavy freckles, and two unknown men: one
a lanky young man with curly red hair and a big Adam's apple; the
other, a short stubby man with a shaven face like an actor's and a
bluish crooked chin.
"Natalya, set the samovar," cried Nadyezhda Stepanovna, with a loud
rustle of her skirts. "I hear Pavel Matveyitch is come. Pavel, where
are you? Good-evening, Pavel!" she said, running into the study
breathlessly. "So you've come. I am so glad. . . . Two of our
amateurs have come with me. . . . Come, I'll introduce you. . . .
Here, the taller one is Koromyslov . . . he sings splendidly; and
the other, the little one . . . is called Smerkalov: he is a real
actor . . . he recites magnificently. Oh, how tired I am! We have
just had a rehearsal. . . . It goes splendidly. We are acting 'The
Lodger with the Trombone' and 'Waiting for Him.' . . . The performance
is the day after tomorrow. . . ."
"Why did you bring them?" asked Zaikin.
"I couldn't help it, Poppet; after tea we must rehearse our parts
and sing something. . . . I am to sing a duet with Koromyslov. . . .
Oh, yes, I was almost forgetting! Darling, send Natalya to get
some sardines, vodka, cheese, and something else. They will most
likely stay to supper. . . . Oh, how tired I am!"
"H'm! I've no money."
"You must, Poppet! It would be awkward! Don't make me blush."
Half an hour later Natalya was sent for vodka and savouries; Zaikin,
after drinking tea and eating a whole French loaf, went to his
bedroom and lay down on the bed, while Nadyezhda Stepanovna and her
visitors, with much noise and laughter, set to work to rehearse
their parts. For a long time Pavel Matveyitch heard Koromyslov's
nasal reciting and Smerkalov's theatrical exclamations. . . . The
rehearsal was followed by a long conversation, interrupted by the
shrill laughter of Olga Kirillovna. Smerkalov, as a real actor,
explained the parts with aplomb and heat. . . .
Then followed the duet, and after the duet there was the clatter
of crockery. . . . Through his drowsiness Zaikin heard them persuading
Smerkalov to read "The Woman who was a Sinner," and heard him, after
affecting to refuse, begin to recite. He hissed, beat himself on
the breast, wept, laughed in a husky bass. . . . Zaikin scowled and
hid his head under the quilt.
"It's a long way for you to go, and it's dark," he heard Nadyezhda
Stepanovna's voice an hour later. "Why shouldn't you stay the night
here? Koromyslov can sleep here in the drawing-room on the sofa,
and you, Smerkalov, in Petya's bed. . . . I can put Petya in my
husband's study. . . . Do stay, really!"
At last when the clock was striking two, all was hushed, the bedroom
door opened, and Nadyezhda Stepanovna appeared.
"Pavel, are you asleep?" she whispered.
"Go into your study, darling, and lie on the sofa. I am going to
put Olga Kirillovna here, in your bed. Do go, dear! I would put her
to sleep in the study, but she is afraid to sleep alone. . . . Do
Zaikin got up, threw on his dressing-gown, and taking his pillow,
crept wearily to the study. . . . Feeling his way to his sofa, he
lighted a match, and saw Petya lying on the sofa. The boy was not
asleep, and, looking at the match with wide-open eyes:
"Father, why is it gnats don't go to sleep at night?" he asked.
"Because . . . because . . . you and I are not wanted. . . . We
have nowhere to sleep even."
"Father, and why is it Olga Kirillovna has freckles on her face?"
"Oh, shut up! I am tired of you."
After a moment's thought, Zaikin dressed and went out into the
street for a breath of air. . . . He looked at the grey morning
sky, at the motionless clouds, heard the lazy call of the drowsy
corncrake, and began dreaming of the next day, when he would go to
town, and coming back from the court would tumble into bed. . . .
Suddenly the figure of a man appeared round the corner.
"A watchman, no doubt," thought Zaikin. But going nearer and looking
more closely he recognized in the figure the summer visitor in the
"You're not asleep?" he asked.
"No, I can't sleep," sighed Ginger Trousers. "I am enjoying Nature
. . . . A welcome visitor, my wife's mother, arrived by the night
train, you know. She brought with her our nieces . . . splendid
girls! I was delighted to see them, although . . . it's very damp!
And you, too, are enjoying Nature?"
"Yes," grunted Zaikin, "I am enjoying it, too. . . . Do you know
whether there is any sort of tavern or restaurant in the neighbourhood?"
Ginger Trousers raised his eyes to heaven and meditated profoundly.
A YOUNG lieutenant called Klimov was travelling from Petersburg to
Moscow in a smoking carriage of the mail train. Opposite him was
sitting an elderly man with a shaven face like a sea captain's, by
all appearances a well-to-do Finn or Swede. He pulled at his pipe
the whole journey and kept talking about the same subject:
"Ha, you are an officer! I have a brother an officer too, only he
is a naval officer. . . . He is a naval officer, and he is stationed
at Kronstadt. Why are you going to Moscow?"
"I am serving there."
"Ha! And are you a family man?"
"No, I live with my sister and aunt."
"My brother's an officer, only he is a naval officer; he has a wife
and three children. Ha!"
The Finn seemed continually surprised at something, and gave a broad
idiotic grin when he exclaimed "Ha!" and continually puffed at his
stinking pipe. Klimov, who for some reason did not feel well, and
found it burdensome to answer questions, hated him with all his
heart. He dreamed of how nice it would be to snatch the wheezing
pipe out of his hand and fling it under the seat, and drive the
Finn himself into another compartment.
"Detestable people these Finns and . . . Greeks," he thought.
"Absolutely superfluous, useless, detestable people. They simply
fill up space on the earthly globe. What are they for?"
And the thought of Finns and Greeks produced a feeling akin to
sickness all over his body. For the sake of comparison he tried to
think of the French, of the Italians, but his efforts to think of
these people evoked in his mind, for some reason, nothing but images
of organ-grinders, naked women, and the foreign oleographs which
hung over the chest of drawers at home, at his aunt's.
Altogether the officer felt in an abnormal state. He could not
arrange his arms and legs comfortably on the seat, though he had
the whole seat to himself. His mouth felt dry and sticky; there was
a heavy fog in his brain; his thoughts seemed to be straying, not
only within his head, but outside his skull, among the seats and
the people that were shrouded in the darkness of night. Through the
mist in his brain, as through a dream, he heard the murmur of voices,
the rumble of wheels, the slamming of doors. The sounds of the
bells, the whistles, the guards, the running to and fro of passengers
on the platforms, seemed more frequent than usual. The time flew
by rapidly, imperceptibly, and so it seemed as though the train
were stopping at stations every minute, and metallic voices crying
"Is the mail ready?"
"Yes!" was repeatedly coming from outside.
It seemed as though the man in charge of the heating came in too
often to look at the thermometer, that the noise of trains going
in the opposite direction and the rumble of the wheels over the
bridges was incessant. The noise, the whistles, the Finn, the tobacco
smoke--all this mingling with the menace and flickering of the
misty images in his brain, the shape and character of which a man
in health can never recall, weighed upon Klimov like an unbearable
nightmare. In horrible misery he lifted his heavy head, looked at
the lamp in the rays of which shadows and misty blurs seemed to be
dancing. He wanted to ask for water, but his parched tongue would
hardly move, and he scarcely had strength to answer the Finn's
questions. He tried to lie down more comfortably and go to sleep,
but he could not succeed. The Finn several times fell asleep, woke
up again, lighted his pipe, addressed him with his "Ha!" and went
to sleep again; and still the lieutenant's legs could not get into
a comfortable position, and still the menacing images stood facing
At Spirovo he went out into the station for a drink of water. He
saw people sitting at the table and hurriedly eating.
"And how can they eat!" he thought, trying not to sniff the air,
that smelt of roast meat, and not to look at the munching mouths
--they both seemed to him sickeningly disgusting.
A good-looking lady was conversing loudly with a military man in a
red cap, and showing magnificent white teeth as she smiled; and the
smile, and the teeth, and the lady herself made on Klimov the same
revolting impression as the ham and the rissoles. He could not
understand how it was the military man in the red cap was not ill
at ease, sitting beside her and looking at her healthy, smiling
When after drinking some water he went back to his carriage, the
Finn was sitting smoking; his pipe was wheezing and squelching like
a golosh with holes in it in wet weather.
"Ha!" he said, surprised; "what station is this?"
"I don't know," answered Klimov, lying down and shutting his mouth
that he might not breathe the acrid tobacco smoke.
"And when shall we reach Tver?"
"I don't know. Excuse me, I . . . I can't answer. I am ill. I caught
The Finn knocked his pipe against the window-frame and began talking
of his brother, the naval officer. Klimov no longer heard him; he
was thinking miserably of his soft, comfortable bed, of a bottle
of cold water, of his sister Katya, who was so good at making one
comfortable, soothing, giving one water. He even smiled when the
vision of his orderly Pavel, taking off his heavy stifling boots
and putting water on the little table, flitted through his imagination.
He fancied that if he could only get into his bed, have a drink of
water, his nightmare would give place to sound healthy sleep.
"Is the mail ready?" a hollow voice reached him from the distance.
"Yes," answered a bass voice almost at the window.
It was already the second or third station from Spirovo.
The time was flying rapidly in leaps and bounds, and it seemed as
though the bells, whistles, and stoppings would never end. In despair
Klimov buried his face in the corner of the seat, clutched his head
in his hands, and began again thinking of his sister Katya and his
orderly Pavel, but his sister and his orderly were mixed up with
the misty images in his brain, whirled round, and disappeared. His
burning breath, reflected from the back of the seat, seemed to scald
his face; his legs were uncomfortable; there was a draught from the
window on his back; but, however wretched he was, he did not want
to change his position. . . . A heavy nightmarish lethargy gradually
gained possession of him and fettered his limbs.
When he brought himself to raise his head, it was already light in
the carriage. The passengers were putting on their fur coats and
moving about. The train was stopping. Porters in white aprons and
with discs on their breasts were bustling among the passengers and
snatching up their boxes. Klimov put on his great-coat, mechanically
followed the other passengers out of the carriage, and it seemed
to him that not he, but some one else was moving, and he felt that
his fever, his thirst, and the menacing images which had not let
him sleep all night, came out of the carriage with him. Mechanically
he took his luggage and engaged a sledge-driver. The man asked him
for a rouble and a quarter to drive to Povarsky Street, but he did
not haggle, and without protest got submissively into the sledge.
He still understood the difference of numbers, but money had ceased
to have any value to him.
At home Klimov was met by his aunt and his sister Katya, a girl of
eighteen. When Katya greeted him she had a pencil and exercise book
in her hand, and he remembered that she was preparing for an
examination as a teacher. Gasping with fever, he walked aimlessly
through all the rooms without answering their questions or greetings,
and when he reached his bed he sank down on the pillow. The Finn,
the red cap, the lady with the white teeth, the smell of roast meat,
the flickering blurs, filled his consciousness, and by now he did
not know where he was and did not hear the agitated voices.
When he recovered consciousness he found himself in bed, undressed,
saw a bottle of water and Pavel, but it was no cooler, nor softer,
nor more comfortable for that. His arms and legs, as before, refused
to lie comfortably; his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and
he heard the wheezing of the Finn's pipe. . . . A stalwart,
black-bearded doctor was busy doing something beside the bed,
brushing against Pavel with his broad back.
"It's all right, it's all right, young man," he muttered. "Excellent,
excellent . . . goo-od, goo-od . . . !"
The doctor called Klimov "young man," said "goo-od" instead of
"good" and "so-o" instead of "so."
"So-o . . . so-o . . . so-o," he murmured. "Goo-od, goo-od . . . !
Excellent, young man. You mustn't lose heart!"
The doctor's rapid, careless talk, his well-fed countenance, and
condescending "young man," irritated Klimov.
"Why do you call me 'young man'?" he moaned. "What familiarity!
Damn it all!"
And he was frightened by his own voice. The voice was so dried up,
so weak and peevish, that he would not have known it.
"Excellent, excellent!" muttered the doctor, not in the least
offended. . . . "You mustn't get angry, so-o, so-o, so-s. . . ."
And the time flew by at home with the same startling swiftness as
in the railway carriage. The daylight was continually being replaced
by the dusk of evening. The doctor seemed never to leave his bedside,
and he heard at every moment his "so-o, so-o, so-o." A continual
succession of people was incessantly crossing the bedroom. Among
them were: Pavel, the Finn, Captain Yaroshevitch, Lance-Corporal
Maximenko, the red cap, the lady with the white teeth, the doctor.
They were all talking and waving their arms, smoking and eating.
Once by daylight Klimov saw the chaplain of the regiment, Father
Alexandr, who was standing before the bed, wearing a stole and with
a prayer-book in his hand. He was muttering something with a grave
face such as Klimov had never seen in him before. The lieutenant
remembered that Father Alexandr used in a friendly way to call all
the Catholic officers "Poles," and wanting to amuse him, he cried:
"Father, Yaroshevitch the Pole has climbed up a pole!"
But Father Alexandr, a light-hearted man who loved a joke, did not
smile, but became graver than ever, and made the sign of the cross
over Klimov. At night-time by turn two shadows came noiselessly in
and out; they were his aunt and sister. His sister's shadow knelt
down and prayed; she bowed down to the ikon, and her grey shadow
on the wall bowed down too, so that two shadows were praying. The
whole time there was a smell of roast meat and the Finn's pipe, but
once Klimov smelt the strong smell of incense. He felt so sick he
could not lie still, and began shouting:
"The incense! Take away the incense!"
There was no answer. He could only hear the subdued singing of the
priest somewhere and some one running upstairs.
When Klimov came to himself there was not a soul in his bedroom.
The morning sun was streaming in at the window through the lower
blind, and a quivering sunbeam, bright and keen as the sword's edge,
was flashing on the glass bottle. He heard the rattle of wheels--
so there was no snow now in the street. The lieutenant looked at
the ray, at the familiar furniture, at the door, and the first thing
he did was to laugh. His chest and stomach heaved with delicious,
happy, tickling laughter. His whole body from head to foot was
overcome by a sensation of infinite happiness and joy in life, such
as the first man must have felt when he was created and first saw
the world. Klimov felt a passionate desire for movement, people,
talk. His body lay a motionless block; only his hands stirred, but
that he hardly noticed, and his whole attention was concentrated
on trifles. He rejoiced in his breathing, in his laughter, rejoiced
in the existence of the water-bottle, the ceiling, the sunshine,
the tape on the curtains. God's world, even in the narrow space of
his bedroom, seemed beautiful, varied, grand. When the doctor made
his appearance, the lieutenant was thinking what a delicious thing
medicine was, how charming and pleasant the doctor was, and how
nice and interesting people were in general.
"So-o, so, so. . . Excellent, excellent! . . . Now we are well
again. . . . Goo-od, goo-od!" the doctor pattered.
The lieutenant listened and laughed joyously; he remembered the
Finn, the lady with the white teeth, the train, and he longed to
smoke, to eat.
"Doctor," he said, "tell them to give me a crust of rye bread and
salt, and . . . and sardines."
The doctor refused; Pavel did not obey the order, and did not go
for the bread. The lieutenant could not bear this and began crying
like a naughty child.
"Baby!" laughed the doctor. "Mammy, bye-bye!"
Klimov laughed, too, and when the doctor went away he fell into a
sound sleep. He woke up with the same joyfulness and sensation of
happiness. His aunt was sitting near the bed.
"Well, aunt," he said joyfully. "What has been the matter?"
"Really. But now I am well, quite well! Where is Katya?"
"She is not at home. I suppose she has gone somewhere from her
The old lady said this and looked at her stocking; her lips began
quivering, she turned away, and suddenly broke into sobs. Forgetting
the doctor's prohibition in her despair, she said:
"Ah, Katya, Katya! Our angel is gone! Is gone!"
She dropped her stocking and bent down to it, and as she did so her
cap fell off her head. Looking at her grey head and understanding
nothing, Klimov was frightened for Katya, and asked:
"Where is she, aunt?"
The old woman, who had forgotten Klimov and was thinking only of
her sorrow, said:
"She caught typhus from you, and is dead. She was buried the day
This terrible, unexpected news was fully grasped by Klimov's
consciousness; but terrible and startling as it was, it could not
overcome the animal joy that filled the convalescent. He cried and
laughed, and soon began scolding because they would not let him
Only a week later when, leaning on Pavel, he went in his dressing-gown
to the window, looked at the overcast spring sky and listened to
the unpleasant clang of the old iron rails which were being carted
by, his heart ached, he burst into tears, and leaned his forehead
against the window-frame.
"How miserable I am!" he muttered. "My God, how miserable!"
And joy gave way to the boredom of everyday life and the feeling
of his irrevocable loss.
SOFYA PETROVNA, the wife of Lubyantsev the notary, a handsome young
woman of five-and-twenty, was walking slowly along a track that had
been cleared in the wood, with Ilyin, a lawyer who was spending the
summer in the neighbourhood. It was five o'clock in the evening.
Feathery-white masses of cloud stood overhead; patches of bright
blue sky peeped out between them. The clouds stood motionless, as
though they had caught in the tops of the tall old pine-trees. It
was still and sultry.
Farther on, the track was crossed by a low railway embankment on
which a sentinel with a gun was for some reason pacing up and down.
Just beyond the embankment there was a large white church with six
domes and a rusty roof.
"I did not expect to meet you here," said Sofya Petrovna, looking
at the ground and prodding at the last year's leaves with the tip
of her parasol, "and now I am glad we have met. I want to speak to
you seriously and once for all. I beg you, Ivan Mihalovitch, if you
really love and respect me, please make an end of this pursuit of
me! You follow me about like a shadow, you are continually looking
at me not in a nice way, making love to me, writing me strange
letters, and . . . and I don't know where it's all going to end!
Why, what can come of it?"
Ilyin said nothing. Sofya Petrovna walked on a few steps and
"And this complete transformation in you all came about in the
course of two or three weeks, after five years' friendship. I don't
know you, Ivan Mihalovitch!"
Sofya Petrovna stole a glance at her companion. Screwing up his
eyes, he was looking intently at the fluffy clouds. His face looked
angry, ill-humoured, and preoccupied, like that of a man in pain
forced to listen to nonsense.
"I wonder you don't see it yourself," Madame Lubyantsev went on,
shrugging her shoulders. "You ought to realize that it's not a very
nice part you are playing. I am married; I love and respect my
husband. . . . I have a daughter . . . . Can you think all that
means nothing? Besides, as an old friend you know my attitude to
family life and my views as to the sanctity of marriage."
Ilyin cleared his throat angrily and heaved a sigh.
"Sanctity of marriage . . ." he muttered. "Oh, Lord!"
"Yes, yes. . . . I love my husband, I respect him; and in any case
I value the peace of my home. I would rather let myself be killed
than be a cause of unhappiness to Andrey and his daughter. . . .
And I beg you, Ivan Mihalovitch, for God's sake, leave me in peace!
Let us be as good, true friends as we used to be, and give up these
sighs and groans, which really don't suit you. It's settled and
over! Not a word more about it. Let us talk of something else."
Sofya Petrovna again stole a glance at Ilyin's face. Ilyin was
looking up; he was pale, and was angrily biting his quivering lips.
She could not understand why he was angry and why he was indignant,
but his pallor touched her.
"Don't be angry; let us be friends," she said affectionately.
"Agreed? Here's my hand."
Ilyin took her plump little hand in both of his, squeezed it, and
slowly raised it to his lips.
"I am not a schoolboy," he muttered. "I am not in the least tempted
by friendship with the woman I love."
"Enough, enough! It's settled and done with. We have reached the
seat; let us sit down."
Sofya Petrovna's soul was filled with a sweet sense of relief: the
most difficult and delicate thing had been said, the painful question
was settled and done with. Now she could breathe freely and look
Ilyin straight in the face. She looked at him, and the egoistic
feeling of the superiority of the woman over the man who loves her,
agreeably flattered her. It pleased her to see this huge, strong
man, with his manly, angry face and his big black beard--clever,
cultivated, and, people said, talented--sit down obediently beside
her and bow his head dejectedly. For two or three minutes they sat
"Nothing is settled or done with," began Ilyin. "You repeat copy-book
maxims to me. 'I love and respect my husband . . . the sanctity of
marriage. . . .' I know all that without your help, and I could
tell you more, too. I tell you truthfully and honestly that I
consider the way I am behaving as criminal and immoral. What more
can one say than that? But what's the good of saying what everybody
knows? Instead of feeding nightingales with paltry words, you had
much better tell me what I am to do."
"I've told you already--go away."
"As you know perfectly well, I have gone away five times, and every
time I turned back on the way. I can show you my through tickets
--I've kept them all. I have not will enough to run away from you!
I am struggling. I am struggling horribly; but what the devil am I
good for if I have no backbone, if I am weak, cowardly! I can't
struggle with Nature! Do you understand? I cannot! I run away from
here, and she holds on to me and pulls me back. Contemptible,
Ilyin flushed crimson, got up, and walked up and down by the seat.
"I feel as cross as a dog," he muttered, clenching his fists. "I
hate and despise myself! My God! like some depraved schoolboy, I
am making love to another man's wife, writing idiotic letters,
degrading myself . . . ugh!"
Ilyin clutched at his head, grunted, and sat down. "And then your
insincerity!" he went on bitterly. "If you do dislike my disgusting
behaviour, why have you come here? What drew you here? In my letters
I only ask you for a direct, definite answer--yes or no; but
instead of a direct answer, you contrive every day these 'chance'
meetings with me and regale me with copy-book maxims!"
Madame Lubyantsev was frightened and flushed. She suddenly felt the
awkwardness which a decent woman feels when she is accidentally
"You seem to suspect I am playing with you," she muttered. "I have
always given you a direct answer, and . . . only today I've begged
you . . ."
"Ough! as though one begged in such cases! If you were to say
straight out 'Get away,' I should have been gone long ago; but
you've never said that. You've never once given me a direct answer.
Strange indecision! Yes, indeed; either you are playing with me,
or else . . ."
Ilyin leaned his head on his fists without finishing. Sofya Petrovna
began going over in her own mind the way she had behaved from
beginning to end. She remembered that not only in her actions, but
even in her secret thoughts, she had always been opposed to Ilyin's
love-making; but yet she felt there was a grain of truth in the
lawyer's words. But not knowing exactly what the truth was, she
could not find answers to make to Ilyin's complaint, however hard
she thought. It was awkward to be silent, and, shrugging her
shoulders, she said:
So I am to blame, it appears."
"I don't blame you for your insincerity," sighed Ilyin. "I did not
mean that when I spoke of it. . . . Your insincerity is natural and
in the order of things. If people agreed together and suddenly
became sincere, everything would go to the devil."
Sofya Petrovna was in no mood for philosophical reflections, but
she was glad of a chance to change the conversation, and asked:
"Because only savage women and animals are sincere. Once civilization
has introduced a demand for such comforts as, for instance, feminine
virtue, sincerity is out of place. . . ."
Ilyin jabbed his stick angrily into the sand. Madame Lubyantsev
listened to him and liked his conversation, though a great deal of
it she did not understand. What gratified her most was that she,
an ordinary woman, was talked to by a talented man on "intellectual"
subjects; it afforded her great pleasure, too, to watch the working
of his mobile, young face, which was still pale and angry. She
failed to understand a great deal that he said, but what was clear
to her in his words was the attractive boldness with which the
modern man without hesitation or doubt decides great questions and
draws conclusive deductions.
She suddenly realized that she was admiring him, and was alarmed.
"Forgive me, but I don't understand," she said hurriedly. "What
makes you talk of insincerity? I repeat my request again: be my
good, true friend; let me alone! I beg you most earnestly!"
"Very good; I'll try again," sighed Ilyin. "Glad to do my best. . . .
Only I doubt whether anything will come of my efforts. Either
I shall put a bullet through my brains or take to drink in an idiotic
way. I shall come to a bad end! There's a limit to everything--
to struggles with Nature, too. Tell me, how can one struggle against
madness? If you drink wine, how are you to struggle against
intoxication? What am I to do if your image has grown into my soul,
and day and night stands persistently before my eyes, like that
pine there at this moment? Come, tell me, what hard and difficult
thing can I do to get free from this abominable, miserable condition,
in which all my thoughts, desires, and dreams are no longer my own,
but belong to some demon who has taken possession of me? I love
you, love you so much that I am completely thrown out of gear; I've
given up my work and all who are dear to me; I've forgotten my God!
I've never been in love like this in my life."
Sofya Petrovna, who had not expected such a turn to their conversation,
drew away from Ilyin and looked into his face in dismay. Tears came
into his eyes, his lips were quivering, and there was an imploring,
hungry expression in his face.
"I love you!" he muttered, bringing his eyes near her big, frightened
eyes. "You are so beautiful! I am in agony now, but I swear I would
sit here all my life, suffering and looking in your eyes. But . . .
be silent, I implore you!"
Sofya Petrovna, feeling utterly disconcerted, tried to think as
quickly as possible of something to say to stop him. "I'll go away,"
she decided, but before she had time to make a movement to get up,
Ilyin was on his knees before her. . . . He was clasping her knees,
gazing into her face and speaking passionately, hotly, eloquently.
In her terror and confusion she did not hear his words; for some
reason now, at this dangerous moment, while her knees were being
agreeably squeezed and felt as though they were in a warm bath, she
was trying, with a sort of angry spite, to interpret her own
sensations. She was angry that instead of brimming over with
protesting virtue, she was entirely overwhelmed with weakness,
apathy, and emptiness, like a drunken man utterly reckless; only
at the bottom of her soul a remote bit of herself was malignantly
taunting her: "Why don't you go? Is this as it should be? Yes?"
Seeking for some explanation, she could not understand how it was
she did not pull away the hand to which Ilyin was clinging like a
leech, and why, like Ilyin, she hastily glanced to right and to
left to see whether any one was looking. The clouds and the pines
stood motionless, looking at them severely, like old ushers seeing
mischief, but bribed not to tell the school authorities. The sentry
stood like a post on the embankment and seemed to be looking at the
"Let him look," thought Sofya Petrovna.
"But . . . but listen," she said at last, with despair in her voice.
"What can come of this? What will be the end of this?"
"I don't know, I don't know," he whispered, waving off the disagreeable
They heard the hoarse, discordant whistle of the train. This cold,
irrelevant sound from the everyday world of prose made Sofya Petrovna
"I can't stay . . . it's time I was at home," she said, getting up
quickly. "The train is coming in. . . Andrey is coming by it! He
will want his dinner."
Sofya Petrovna turned towards the embankment with a burning face.
The engine slowly crawled by, then came the carriages. It was not
the local train, as she had supposed, but a goods train. The trucks
filed by against the background of the white church in a long string
like the days of a man's life, and it seemed as though it would
But at last the train passed, and the last carriage with the guard
and a light in it had disappeared behind the trees. Sofya Petrovna
turned round sharply, and without looking at Ilyin, walked rapidly
back along the track. She had regained her self-possession. Crimson
with shame, humiliated not by Ilyin--no, but by her own cowardice,
by the shamelessness with which she, a chaste and high-principled
woman, had allowed a man, not her husband, to hug her knees--she
had only one thought now: to get home as quickly as possible to her
villa, to her family. The lawyer could hardly keep pace with her.
Turning from the clearing into a narrow path, she turned round and
glanced at him so quickly that she saw nothing but the sand on his
knees, and waved to him to drop behind.
Reaching home, Sofya Petrovna stood in the middle of her room for
five minutes without moving, and looked first at the window and
then at her writing-table.
"You low creature!" she said, upbraiding herself. "You low creature!"
To spite herself, she recalled in precise detail, keeping nothing
back--she recalled that though all this time she had been opposed
to Ilyin's lovemaking, something had impelled her to seek an interview
with him; and what was more, when he was at her feet she had enjoyed
it enormously. She recalled it all without sparing herself, and
now, breathless with shame, she would have liked to slap herself
in the face.
"Poor Andrey!" she said to herself, trying as she thought of her
husband to put into her face as tender an expression as she could.
"Varya, my poor little girl, doesn't know what a mother she has!
Forgive me, my dear ones! I love you so much . . . so much!"
And anxious to prove to herself that she was still a good wife and
mother, and that corruption had not yet touched that "sanctity of
marriage" of which she had spoken to Ilyin, Sofya Petrovna ran to
the kitchen and abused the cook for not having yet laid the table
for Andrey Ilyitch. She tried to picture her husband's hungry and
exhausted appearance, commiserated him aloud, and laid the table
for him with her own hands, which she had never done before. Then
she found her daughter Varya, picked her up in her arms and hugged
her warmly; the child seemed to her cold and heavy, but she was
unwilling to acknowledge this to herself, and she began explaining
to the child how good, kind, and honourable her papa was.
But when Andrey Ilyitch arrived soon afterwards she hardly greeted
him. The rush of false feeling had already passed off without proving
anything to her, only irritating and exasperating her by its falsity.
She was sitting by the window, feeling miserable and cross. It is
only by being in trouble that people can understand how far from
easy it is to be the master of one's feelings and thoughts. Sofya
Petrovna said afterwards that there was a tangle within her which
it was as difficult to unravel as to count a flock of sparrows
rapidly flying by. From the fact that she was not overjoyed to see
her husband, that she did not like his manner at dinner, she concluded
all of a sudden that she was beginning to hate her husband.
Andrey Ilyitch, languid with hunger and exhaustion, fell upon the
sausage while waiting for the soup to be brought in, and ate it
greedily, munching noisily and moving his temples.
"My goodness!" thought Sofya Petrovna. "I love and respect him, but
. . . why does he munch so repulsively?"
The disorder in her thoughts was no less than the disorder in her
feelings. Like all persons inexperienced in combating unpleasant
ideas, Madame Lubyantsev did her utmost not to think of her trouble,
and the harder she tried the more vividly Ilyin, the sand on his
knees, the fluffy clouds, the train, stood out in her imagination.
"And why did I go there this afternoon like a fool?" she thought,
tormenting herself. "And am I really so weak that I cannot depend
Fear magnifies danger. By the time Andrey Ilyitch was finishing the
last course, she had firmly made up her mind to tell her husband
everything and to flee from danger!
"I've something serious to say to you, Andrey," she began after
dinner while her husband was taking off his coat and boots to lie
down for a nap.
"Let us leave this place!"
"H'm! . . . Where shall we go? It's too soon to go back to town."
"No; for a tour or something of that sort.
"For a tour . . ." repeated the notary, stretching. "I dream of
that myself, but where are we to get the money, and to whom am I
to leave the office?"
And thinking a little he added:
"Of course, you must be bored. Go by yourself if you like."
Sofya Petrovna agreed, but at once reflected that Ilyin would be
delighted with the opportunity, and would go with her in the same
train, in the same compartment. . . . She thought and looked at her
husband, now satisfied but still languid. For some reason her eyes
rested on his feet--miniature, almost feminine feet, clad in
striped socks; there was a thread standing out at the tip of each
Behind the blind a bumble-bee was beating itself against the
window-pane and buzzing. Sofya Petrovna looked at the threads on
the socks, listened to the bee, and pictured how she would set off
. . . . _vis-à-vis_ Ilyin would sit, day and night, never taking his
eyes off her, wrathful at his own weakness and pale with spiritual
agony. He would call himself an immoral schoolboy, would abuse her,
tear his hair, but when darkness came on and the passengers were
asleep or got out at a station, he would seize the opportunity to
kneel before her and embrace her knees as he had at the seat in the
wood. . . .
She caught herself indulging in this day-dream.
"Listen. I won't go alone," she said. "You must come with me."
"Nonsense, Sofotchka!" sighed Lubyantsev. "One must be sensible and
not want the impossible."
"You will come when you know all about it," thought Sofya Petrovna.
Making up her mind to go at all costs, she felt that she was out
of danger. Little by little her ideas grew clearer; her spirits
rose and she allowed herself to think about it all, feeling that
however much she thought, however much she dreamed, she would go
away. While her husband was asleep, the evening gradually came on.
She sat in the drawing-room and played the piano. The greater
liveliness out of doors, the sound of music, but above all the
thought that she was a sensible person, that she had surmounted her
difficulties, completely restored her spirits. Other women, her
appeased conscience told her, would probably have been carried off
their feet in her position, and would have lost their balance, while
she had almost died of shame, had been miserable, and was now running
out of the danger which perhaps did not exist! She was so touched
by her own virtue and determination that she even looked at herself
two or three times in the looking-glass.
When it got dark, visitors arrived. The men sat down in the dining-room
to play cards; the ladies remained in the drawing-room and the
verandah. The last to arrive was Ilyin. He was gloomy, morose, and
looked ill. He sat down in the corner of the sofa and did not move
the whole evening. Usually good-humoured and talkative, this time
he remained silent, frowned, and rubbed his eyebrows. When he had
to answer some question, he gave a forced smile with his upper lip
only, and answered jerkily and irritably. Four or five times he
made some jest, but his jests sounded harsh and cutting. It seemed
to Sofya Petrovna that he was on the verge of hysterics. Only now,
sitting at the piano, she recognized fully for the first time that
this unhappy man was in deadly earnest, that his soul was sick, and
that he could find no rest. For her sake he was wasting the best
days of his youth and his career, spending the last of his money
on a summer villa, abandoning his mother and sisters, and, worst
of all, wearing himself out in an agonizing struggle with himself.
From mere common humanity he ought to be treated seriously.
She recognized all this clearly till it made her heart ache, and
if at that moment she had gone up to him and said to him, "No,"
there would have been a force in her voice hard to disobey. But she
did not go up to him and did not speak--indeed, never thought of
doing so. The pettiness and egoism of youth had never been more
patent in her than that evening. She realized that Ilyin was unhappy,
and that he was sitting on the sofa as though he were on hot coals;
she felt sorry for him, but at the same time the presence of a man
who loved her to distraction, filled her soul with triumph and a
sense of her own power. She felt her youth, her beauty, and her
unassailable virtue, and, since she had decided to go away, gave
herself full licence for that evening. She flirted, laughed
incessantly, sang with peculiar feeling and gusto. Everything
delighted and amused her. She was amused at the memory of what had
happened at the seat in the wood, of the sentinel who had looked
on. She was amused by her guests, by Ilyin's cutting jests, by the
pin in his cravat, which she had never noticed before. There was a
red snake with diamond eyes on the pin; this snake struck her as
so amusing that she could have kissed it on the spot.
Sofya Petrovna sang nervously, with defiant recklessness as though
half intoxicated, and she chose sad, mournful songs which dealt
with wasted hopes, the past, old age, as though in mockery of
another's grief. "'And old age comes nearer and nearer' . . ." she
sang. And what was old age to her?
"It seems as though there is something going wrong with me," she
thought from time to time through her laughter and singing.
The party broke up at twelve o'clock. Ilyin was the last to leave.
Sofya Petrovna was still reckless enough to accompany him to the
bottom step of the verandah. She wanted to tell him that she was
going away with her husband, and to watch the effect this news would
produce on him.
The moon was hidden behind the clouds, but it was light enough for
Sofya Petrovna to see how the wind played with the skirts of his
overcoat and with the awning of the verandah. She could see, too,
how white Ilyin was, and how he twisted his upper lip in the effort
"Sonia, Sonitchka . . . my darling woman!" he muttered, preventing
her from speaking. "My dear! my sweet!"
In a rush of tenderness, with tears in his voice, he showered
caressing words upon her, that grew tenderer and tenderer, and even
called her "thou," as though she were his wife or mistress. Quite
unexpectedly he put one arm round her waist and with the other hand
took hold of her elbow.
"My precious! my delight!" he whispered, kissing the nape of her
neck; "be sincere; come to me at once!"
She slipped out of his arms and raised her head to give vent to her
indignation and anger, but the indignation did not come off, and
all her vaunted virtue and chastity was only sufficient to enable
her to utter the phrase used by all ordinary women on such occasions:
"You must be mad."
"Come, let us go," Ilyin continued. "I felt just now, as well as
at the seat in the wood, that you are as helpless as I am, Sonia
. . . . You are in the same plight! You love me and are fruitlessly
trying to appease your conscience. . . ."
Seeing that she was moving away, he caught her by her lace cuff and
"If not today, then tomorrow you will have to give in! Why, then,
this waste of time? My precious, darling Sonia, the sentence is
passed; why put off the execution? Why deceive yourself?"
Sofya Petrovna tore herself from him and darted in at the door.
Returning to the drawing-room, she mechanically shut the piano,
looked for a long time at the music-stand, and sat down. She could
not stand up nor think. All that was left of her excitement and
recklessness was a fearful weakness, apathy, and dreariness. Her
conscience whispered to her that she had behaved badly, foolishly,
that evening, like some madcap girl--that she had just been
embraced on the verandah, and still had an uneasy feeling in her
waist and her elbow. There was not a soul in the drawing-room; there
was only one candle burning. Madame Lubyantsev sat on the round
stool before the piano, motionless, as though expecting something.
And as though taking advantage of the darkness and her extreme
lassitude, an oppressive, overpowering desire began to assail her.
Like a boa-constrictor it gripped her limbs and her soul, and grew
stronger every second, and no longer menaced her as it had done,
but stood clear before her in all its nakedness.
She sat for half an hour without stirring, not restraining herself
from thinking of Ilyin, then she got up languidly and dragged herself
to her bedroom. Andrey Ilyitch was already in bed. She sat down by
the open window and gave herself up to desire. There was no "tangle"
now in her head; all her thoughts and feelings were bent with one
accord upon a single aim. She tried to struggle against it, but
instantly gave it up. . . . She understood now how strong and
relentless was the foe. Strength and fortitude were needed to combat
him, and her birth, her education, and her life had given her nothing
to fall back upon.
"Immoral wretch! Low creature!" she nagged at herself for her
weakness. "So that's what you're like!"
Her outraged sense of propriety was moved to such indignation by
this weakness that she lavished upon herself every term of abuse
she knew, and told herself many offensive and humiliating truths.
So, for instance, she told herself that she never had been moral,
that she had not come to grief before simply because she had had
no opportunity, that her inward conflict during that day had all
been a farce. . . .
"And even if I have struggled," she thought, "what sort of struggle
was it? Even the woman who sells herself struggles before she brings
herself to it, and yet she sells herself. A fine struggle! Like
milk, I've turned in a day! In one day!"
She convicted herself of being tempted, not by feeling, not by Ilyin
personally, but by sensations which awaited her . . . an idle lady,
having her fling in the summer holidays, like so many!
"'Like an unfledged bird when the mother has been slain,'" sang
a husky tenor outside the window.
"If I am to go, it's time," thought Sofya Petrovna. Her heart
suddenly began beating violently.
"Andrey!" she almost shrieked. "Listen! we . . . we are going? Yes?"
"Yes, I've told you already: you go alone."
"But listen," she began. "If you don't go with me, you are in danger
of losing me. I believe I am . . . in love already."
"With whom?" asked Andrey Ilyitch.
"It can't make any difference to you who it is!" cried Sofya Petrovna.
Andrey Ilyitch sat up with his feet out of bed and looked wonderingly
at his wife's dark figure.
"It's a fancy!" he yawned.
He did not believe her, but yet he was frightened. After thinking
a little and asking his wife several unimportant questions, he
delivered himself of his opinions on the family, on infidelity . . .
spoke listlessly for about ten minutes and got into bed again.
His moralizing produced no effect. There are a great many opinions
in the world, and a good half of them are held by people who have
never been in trouble!
In spite of the late hour, summer visitors were still walking
outside. Sofya Petrovna put on a light cape, stood a little, thought
a little. . . . She still had resolution enough to say to her
"Are you asleep? I am going for a walk. . . . Will you come with
That was her last hope. Receiving no answer, she went out. . . .
It was fresh and windy. She was conscious neither of the wind nor
the darkness, but went on and on. . . . An overmastering force drove
her on, and it seemed as though, if she had stopped, it would have
pushed her in the back.
"Immoral creature!" she muttered mechanically. "Low wretch!"
She was breathless, hot with shame, did not feel her legs under
her, but what drove her on was stronger than shame, reason, or fear.
A TRIFLE FROM LIFE
A WELL-FED, red-cheeked young man called Nikolay Ilyitch Belyaev,
of thirty-two, who was an owner of house property in Petersburg,
and a devotee of the race-course, went one evening to see Olga
Ivanovna Irnin, with whom he was living, or, to use his own expression,
was dragging out a long, wearisome romance. And, indeed, the first
interesting and enthusiastic pages of this romance had long been
perused; now the pages dragged on, and still dragged on, without
presenting anything new or of interest.
Not finding Olga Ivanovna at home, my hero lay down on the lounge
chair and proceeded to wait for her in the drawing-room.
"Good-evening, Nikolay Ilyitch!" he heard a child's voice. "Mother
will be here directly. She has gone with Sonia to the dressmaker's."
Olga Ivanovna's son, Alyosha--a boy of eight who looked graceful
and very well cared for, who was dressed like a picture, in a black
velvet jacket and long black stockings--was lying on the sofa in
the same room. He was lying on a satin cushion and, evidently
imitating an acrobat he had lately seen at the circus, stuck up in
the air first one leg and then the other. When his elegant legs
were exhausted, he brought his arms into play or jumped up impulsively
and went on all fours, trying to stand with his legs in the air.
All this he was doing with the utmost gravity, gasping and groaning
painfully as though he regretted that God had given him such a
"Ah, good-evening, my boy," said Belyaev. "It's you! I did not
notice you. Is your mother well?"
Alyosha, taking hold of the tip of his left toe with his right hand
and falling into the most unnatural attitude, turned over, jumped
up, and peeped at Belyaev from behind the big fluffy lampshade.
"What shall I say?" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "In reality
mother's never well. You see, she is a woman, and women, Nikolay
Ilyitch, have always something the matter with them."
Belyaev, having nothing better to do, began watching Alyosha's face.
He had never before during the whole of his intimacy with Olga
Ivanovna paid any attention to the boy, and had completely ignored
his existence; the boy had been before his eyes, but he had not
cared to think why he was there and what part he was playing.
In the twilight of the evening, Alyosha's face, with his white
forehead and black, unblinking eyes, unexpectedly reminded Belyaev
of Olga Ivanovna as she had been during the first pages of their
romance. And he felt disposed to be friendly to the boy.
"Come here, insect," he said; "let me have a closer look at you."
The boy jumped off the sofa and skipped up to Belyaev.
"Well," began Nikolay Ilyitch, putting a hand on the boy's thin
shoulder. "How are you getting on?"
"How shall I say! We used to get on a great deal better."
"It's very simple. Sonia and I used only to learn music and reading,
and now they give us French poetry to learn. Have you been shaved
"Yes, I see you have. Your beard is shorter. Let me touch it. . . .
Does that hurt?"
"Why is it that if you pull one hair it hurts, but if you pull a
lot at once it doesn't hurt a bit? Ha, ha! And, you know, it's a
pity you don't have whiskers. Here ought to be shaved . . . but
here at the sides the hair ought to be left. . . ."
The boy nestled up to Belyaev and began playing with his watch-chain.
"When I go to the high-school," he said, "mother is going to buy
me a watch. I shall ask her to buy me a watch-chain like this. . . .
Wh-at a lo-ket! Father's got a locket like that, only yours has
little bars on it and his has letters. . . . There's mother's
portrait in the middle of his. Father has a different sort of chain
now, not made with rings, but like ribbon. . . ."
"How do you know? Do you see your father?"
"I? M'm . . . no . . . I . . ."
Alyosha blushed, and in great confusion, feeling caught in a lie,
began zealously scratching the locket with his nail. . . . Belyaev
looked steadily into his face and asked:
"Do you see your father?"
"Come, speak frankly, on your honour. . . . I see from your face
you are telling a fib. Once you've let a thing slip out it's no
good wriggling about it. Tell me, do you see him? Come, as a friend."
"You won't tell mother?" he said.
"As though I should!"
"On your honour?"
"On my honour."
"Do you swear?"
"Ah, you provoking boy! What do you take me for?"
Alyosha looked round him, then with wide-open eyes, whispered to
"Only, for goodness' sake, don't tell mother. . . . Don't tell any
one at all, for it is a secret. I hope to goodness mother won't
find out, or we should all catch it--Sonia, and I, and Pelagea
. . . . Well, listen. . . Sonia and I see father every Tuesday and
Friday. When Pelagea takes us for a walk before dinner we go to the
Apfel Restaurant, and there is father waiting for us. . . . He is
always sitting in a room apart, where you know there's a marble
table and an ash-tray in the shape of a goose without a back. . . ."
"What do you do there?"
"Nothing! First we say how-do-you-do, then we all sit round the
table, and father treats us with coffee and pies. You know Sonia
eats the meat-pies, but I can't endure meat-pies! I like the pies
made of cabbage and eggs. We eat such a lot that we have to try
hard to eat as much as we can at dinner, for fear mother should
"What do you talk about?"
"With father? About anything. He kisses us, he hugs us, tells us
all sorts of amusing jokes. Do you know, he says when we are grown
up he is going to take us to live with him. Sonia does not want to
go, but I agree. Of course, I should miss mother; but, then, I
should write her letters! It's a queer idea, but we could come and
visit her on holidays--couldn't we? Father says, too, that he
will buy me a horse. He's an awfully kind man! I can't understand
why mother does not ask him to come and live with us, and why she
forbids us to see him. You know he loves mother very much. He is
always asking us how she is and what she is doing. When she was ill
he clutched his head like this, and . . . and kept running about.
He always tells us to be obedient and respectful to her. Listen.
Is it true that we are unfortunate?"
"H'm! . . . Why?"
"That's what father says. 'You are unhappy children,' he says. It's
strange to hear him, really. 'You are unhappy,' he says, 'I am
unhappy, and mother's unhappy. You must pray to God,' he says; 'for
yourselves and for her.'"
Alyosha let his eyes rest on a stuffed bird and sank into thought.
"So . . ." growled Belyaev. "So that's how you are going on. You
arrange meetings at restaurants. And mother does not know?"
"No-o. . . . How should she know? Pelagea would not tell her for
anything, you know. The day before yesterday he gave us some pears.
As sweet as jam! I ate two."
"H'm! . . . Well, and I say . . Listen. Did father say anything
"About you? What shall I say?"
Alyosha looked searchingly into Belyaev's face and shrugged his
"He didn't say anything particular."
"For instance, what did he say?"
"You won't be offended?"
"What next? Why, does he abuse me?"
"He doesn't abuse you, but you know he is angry with you. He says
mother's unhappy owing to you . . . and that you have ruined mother.
You know he is so queer! I explain to him that you are kind, that
you never scold mother; but he only shakes his head."
"So he says I have ruined her?"
"Yes; you mustn't be offended, Nikolay Ilyitch."
Belyaev got up, stood still a moment, and walked up and down the
"That's strange and . . . ridiculous!" he muttered, shrugging his
shoulders and smiling sarcastically. "He's entirely to blame, and
I have ruined her, eh? An innocent lamb, I must say. So he told you
I ruined your mother?"
"Yes, but . . . you said you would not be offended, you know."
"I am not offended, and . . . and it's not your business. Why, it's
. . . why, it's positively ridiculous! I have been thrust into it
like a chicken in the broth, and now it seems I'm to blame!"
A ring was heard. The boy sprang up from his place and ran out. A
minute later a lady came into the room with a little girl; this was
Olga Ivanovna, Alyosha's mother. Alyosha followed them in, skipping
and jumping, humming aloud and waving his hands. Belyaev nodded,
and went on walking up and down.
"Of course, whose fault is it if not mine?" he muttered with a
snort. "He is right! He is an injured husband."
"What are you talking about?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"What about? . . . Why, just listen to the tales your lawful spouse
is spreading now! It appears that I am a scoundrel and a villain,
that I have ruined you and the children. All of you are unhappy,
and I am the only happy one! Wonderfully, wonderfully happy!"
"I don't understand, Nikolay. What's the matter?"
"Why, listen to this young gentleman!" said Belyaev, pointing to
Alyosha flushed crimson, then turned pale, and his whole face began
working with terror.
"Nikolay Ilyitch," he said in a loud whisper. "Sh-sh!"
Olga Ivanovna looked in surprise at Alyosha, then at Belyaev, then
at Alyosha again.
"Just ask him," Belyaev went on. "Your Pelagea, like a regular fool,
takes them about to restaurants and arranges meetings with their
papa. But that's not the point: the point is that their dear papa
is a victim, while I'm a wretch who has broken up both your lives. . ."
"Nikolay Ilyitch," moaned Alyosha. "Why, you promised on your word
"Oh, get away!" said Belyaev, waving him off. "This is more important
than any word of honour. It's the hypocrisy revolts me, the lying!
. . ."
"I don't understand it," said Olga Ivanovna, and tears glistened
in her eyes. "Tell me, Alyosha," she turned to her son. "Do you see
Alyosha did not hear her; he was looking with horror at Belyaev.
"It's impossible," said his mother; "I will go and question Pelagea."
Olga Ivanovna went out.
"I say, you promised on your word of honour!" said Alyosha, trembling
Belyaev dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and went on walking
up and down. He was absorbed in his grievance and was oblivious of
the boy's presence, as he always had been. He, a grownup, serious
person, had no thought to spare for boys. And Alyosha sat down in
the corner and told Sonia with horror how he had been deceived. He
was trembling, stammering, and crying. It was the first time in his
life that he had been brought into such coarse contact with lying;
till then he had not known that there are in the world, besides
sweet pears, pies, and expensive watches, a great many things for
which the language of children has no expression.