THE SCHOOLMISTRESS AND OTHER STORIES
By Anton Chekhov
FROM THE TALES OF CHEKHOV, VOLUME 9
A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
AFTER THE THEATRE
A LADY'S STORY
ON OFFICIAL DUTY
THE FIRST-CLASS PASSENGER
A TRAGIC ACTOR
IN THE COACH-HOUSE
THE HEAD-GARDENER'S STORY
THE SHOEMAKER AND THE DEVIL
AT half-past eight they drove out of the town.
The highroad was dry, a lovely April sun was shining warmly, but the
snow was still lying in the ditches and in the woods. Winter, dark,
long, and spiteful, was hardly over; spring had come all of a sudden.
But neither the warmth nor the languid transparent woods, warmed by the
breath of spring, nor the black flocks of birds flying over the huge
puddles that were like lakes, nor the marvelous fathomless sky, into
which it seemed one would have gone away so joyfully, presented anything
new or interesting to Marya Vassilyevna who was sitting in the cart. For
thirteen years she had been schoolmistress, and there was no reckoning
how many times during all those years she had been to the town for her
salary; and whether it were spring as now, or a rainy autumn evening, or
winter, it was all the same to her, and she always--invariably--longed
for one thing only, to get to the end of her journey as quickly as could
She felt as though she had been living in that part of the country for
ages and ages, for a hundred years, and it seemed to her that she knew
every stone, every tree on the road from the town to her school. Her
past was here, her present was here, and she could imagine no other
future than the school, the road to the town and back again, and again
the school and again the road....
She had got out of the habit of thinking of her past before she became
a schoolmistress, and had almost forgotten it. She had once had a father
and mother; they had lived in Moscow in a big flat near the Red Gate,
but of all that life there was left in her memory only something vague
and fluid like a dream. Her father had died when she was ten years old,
and her mother had died soon after.... She had a brother, an officer;
at first they used to write to each other, then her brother had given up
answering her letters, he had got out of the way of writing. Of her old
belongings, all that was left was a photograph of her mother, but it had
grown dim from the dampness of the school, and now nothing could be seen
but the hair and the eyebrows.
When they had driven a couple of miles, old Semyon, who was driving,
turned round and said:
"They have caught a government clerk in the town. They have taken him
away. The story is that with some Germans he killed Alexeyev, the Mayor,
"Who told you that?"
"They were reading it in the paper, in Ivan Ionov's tavern."
And again they were silent for a long time. Marya Vassilyevna thought of
her school, of the examination that was coming soon, and of the girl and
four boys she was sending up for it. And just as she was thinking about
the examination, she was overtaken by a neighboring landowner called
Hanov in a carriage with four horses, the very man who had been examiner
in her school the year before. When he came up to her he recognized her
"Good-morning," he said to her. "You are driving home, I suppose."
This Hanov, a man of forty with a listless expression and a face that
showed signs of wear, was beginning to look old, but was still handsome
and admired by women. He lived in his big homestead alone, and was not
in the service; and people used to say of him that he did nothing at
home but walk up and down the room whistling, or play chess with his
old footman. People said, too, that he drank heavily. And indeed at the
examination the year before the very papers he brought with him smelt of
wine and scent. He had been dressed all in new clothes on that occasion,
and Marya Vassilyevna thought him very attractive, and all the while
she sat beside him she had felt embarrassed. She was accustomed to see
frigid and sensible examiners at the school, while this one did not
remember a single prayer, or know what to ask questions about, and
was exceedingly courteous and delicate, giving nothing but the highest
"I am going to visit Bakvist," he went on, addressing Marya Vassilyevna,
"but I am told he is not at home."
They turned off the highroad into a by-road to the village, Hanov
leading the way and Semyon following. The four horses moved at a walking
pace, with effort dragging the heavy carriage through the mud. Semyon
tacked from side to side, keeping to the edge of the road, at one time
through a snowdrift, at another through a pool, often jumping out of the
cart and helping the horse. Marya Vassilyevna was still thinking
about the school, wondering whether the arithmetic questions at the
examination would be difficult or easy. And she felt annoyed with
the Zemstvo board at which she had found no one the day before. How
unbusiness-like! Here she had been asking them for the last two years
to dismiss the watchman, who did nothing, was rude to her, and hit
the schoolboys; but no one paid any attention. It was hard to find the
president at the office, and when one did find him he would say with
tears in his eyes that he hadn't a moment to spare; the inspector
visited the school at most once in three years, and knew nothing
whatever about his work, as he had been in the Excise Duties Department,
and had received the post of school inspector through influence. The
School Council met very rarely, and there was no knowing where it met;
the school guardian was an almost illiterate peasant, the head of
a tanning business, unintelligent, rude, and a great friend of the
watchman's--and goodness knows to whom she could appeal with complaints
"He really is handsome," she thought, glancing at Hanov.
The road grew worse and worse.... They drove into the wood. Here
there was no room to turn round, the wheels sank deeply in, water
splashed and gurgled through them, and sharp twigs struck them in the
"What a road!" said Hanov, and he laughed.
The schoolmistress looked at him and could not understand why this queer
man lived here. What could his money, his interesting appearance, his
refined bearing do for him here, in this mud, in this God-forsaken,
dreary place? He got no special advantages out of life, and here, like
Semyon, was driving at a jog-trot on an appalling road and enduring
the same discomforts. Why live here if one could live in Petersburg or
abroad? And one would have thought it would be nothing for a rich man
like him to make a good road instead of this bad one, to avoid enduring
this misery and seeing the despair on the faces of his coachman and
Semyon; but he only laughed, and apparently did not mind, and wanted no
better life. He was kind, soft, naive, and he did not understand this
coarse life, just as at the examination he did not know the prayers.
He subscribed nothing to the schools but globes, and genuinely regarded
himself as a useful person and a prominent worker in the cause of
popular education. And what use were his globes here?
"Hold on, Vassilyevna!" said Semyon.
The cart lurched violently and was on the point of upsetting; something
heavy rolled on to Marya Vassilyevna's feet--it was her parcel of
purchases. There was a steep ascent uphill through the clay; here in the
winding ditches rivulets were gurgling. The water seemed to have gnawed
away the road; and how could one get along here! The horses breathed
hard. Hanov got out of his carriage and walked at the side of the road
in his long overcoat. He was hot.
"What a road!" he said, and laughed again. "It would soon smash up one's
"Nobody obliges you to drive about in such weather," said Semyon
surlily. "You should stay at home."
"I am dull at home, grandfather. I don't like staying at home."
Beside old Semyon he looked graceful and vigorous, but yet in his walk
there was something just perceptible which betrayed in him a being
already touched by decay, weak, and on the road to ruin. And all at once
there was a whiff of spirits in the wood. Marya Vassilyevna was filled
with dread and pity for this man going to his ruin for no visible cause
or reason, and it came into her mind that if she had been his wife or
sister she would have devoted her whole life to saving him from ruin.
His wife! Life was so ordered that here he was living in his great house
alone, and she was living in a God-forsaken village alone, and yet
for some reason the mere thought that he and she might be close to one
another and equals seemed impossible and absurd. In reality, life was
arranged and human relations were complicated so utterly beyond all
understanding that when one thought about it one felt uncanny and one's
"And it is beyond all understanding," she thought, "why God gives
beauty, this graciousness, and sad, sweet eyes to weak, unlucky, useless
people--why they are so charming."
"Here we must turn off to the right," said Hanov, getting into his
carriage. "Good-by! I wish you all things good!"
And again she thought of her pupils, of the examination, of the
watchman, of the School Council; and when the wind brought the sound
of the retreating carriage these thoughts were mingled with others. She
longed to think of beautiful eyes, of love, of the happiness which would
His wife? It was cold in the morning, there was no one to heat the
stove, the watchman disappeared; the children came in as soon as it
was light, bringing in snow and mud and making a noise: it was all so
inconvenient, so comfortless. Her abode consisted of one little room and
the kitchen close by. Her head ached every day after her work, and
after dinner she had heart-burn. She had to collect money from the
school-children for wood and for the watchman, and to give it to
the school guardian, and then to entreat him--that overfed, insolent
peasant--for God's sake to send her wood. And at night she dreamed of
examinations, peasants, snowdrifts. And this life was making her grow
old and coarse, making her ugly, angular, and awkward, as though she
were made of lead. She was always afraid, and she would get up from
her seat and not venture to sit down in the presence of a member of
the Zemstvo or the school guardian. And she used formal, deferential
expressions when she spoke of any one of them. And no one thought her
attractive, and life was passing drearily, without affection, without
friendly sympathy, without interesting acquaintances. How awful it would
have been in her position if she had fallen in love!
"Hold on, Vassilyevna!"
Again a sharp ascent uphill....
She had become a schoolmistress from necessity, without feeling any
vocation for it; and she had never thought of a vocation, of serving the
cause of enlightenment; and it always seemed to her that what was most
important in her work was not the children, nor enlightenment, but the
examinations. And what time had she for thinking of vocation, of serving
the cause of enlightenment? Teachers, badly paid doctors, and their
assistants, with their terribly hard work, have not even the comfort of
thinking that they are serving an idea or the people, as their heads are
always stuffed with thoughts of their daily bread, of wood for the fire,
of bad roads, of illnesses. It is a hard-working, an uninteresting life,
and only silent, patient cart-horses like Mary Vassilyevna could put up
with it for long; the lively, nervous, impressionable people who talked
about vocation and serving the idea were soon weary of it and gave up
Semyon kept picking out the driest and shortest way, first by a meadow,
then by the backs of the village huts; but in one place the peasants
would not let them pass, in another it was the priest's land and they
could not cross it, in another Ivan Ionov had bought a plot from the
landowner and had dug a ditch round it. They kept having to turn back.
They reached Nizhneye Gorodistche. Near the tavern on the dung-strewn
earth, where the snow was still lying, there stood wagons that had
brought great bottles of crude sulphuric acid. There were a great many
people in the tavern, all drivers, and there was a smell of vodka,
tobacco, and sheepskins. There was a loud noise of conversation and
the banging of the swing-door. Through the wall, without ceasing for a
moment, came the sound of a concertina being played in the shop.
Marya Vassilyevna sat down and drank some tea, while at the next table
peasants were drinking vodka and beer, perspiring from the tea they had
just swallowed and the stifling fumes of the tavern.
"I say, Kuzma!" voices kept shouting in confusion. "What there!" "The
Lord bless us!" "Ivan Dementyitch, I can tell you that!" "Look out, old
A little pock-marked man with a black beard, who was quite drunk, was
suddenly surprised by something and began using bad language.
"What are you swearing at, you there?" Semyon, who was sitting some way
off, responded angrily. "Don't you see the young lady?"
"The young lady!" someone mimicked in another corner.
"We meant nothing..." said the little man in confusion. "I beg
your pardon. We pay with our money and the young lady with hers.
"Good-morning," answered the schoolmistress.
"And we thank you most feelingly."
Marya Vassilyevna drank her tea with satisfaction, and she, too,
began turning red like the peasants, and fell to thinking again about
firewood, about the watchman....
"Stay, old man," she heard from the next table, "it's the schoolmistress
from Vyazovye.... We know her; she's a good young lady."
"She's all right!"
The swing-door was continually banging, some coming in, others going
out. Marya Vassilyevna sat on, thinking all the time of the same
things, while the concertina went on playing and playing. The patches of
sunshine had been on the floor, then they passed to the counter, to the
wall, and disappeared altogether; so by the sun it was past midday. The
peasants at the next table were getting ready to go. The little man,
somewhat unsteadily, went up to Marya Vassilyevna and held out his hand
to her; following his example, the others shook hands, too, at parting,
and went out one after another, and the swing-door squeaked and slammed
"Vassilyevna, get ready," Semyon called to her.
They set off. And again they went at a walking pace.
"A little while back they were building a school here in their Nizhneye
Gorodistche," said Semyon, turning round. "It was a wicked thing that
"They say the president put a thousand in his pocket, and the school
guardian another thousand in his, and the teacher five hundred."
"The whole school only cost a thousand. It's wrong to slander people,
grandfather. That's all nonsense."
"I don't know,... I only tell you what folks say."
But it was clear that Semyon did not believe the schoolmistress. The
peasants did not believe her. They always thought she received too large
a salary, twenty-one roubles a month (five would have been enough), and
that of the money that she collected from the children for the firewood
and the watchman the greater part she kept for herself. The guardian
thought the same as the peasants, and he himself made a profit off
the firewood and received payments from the peasants for being a
guardian--without the knowledge of the authorities.
The forest, thank God! was behind them, and now it would be flat, open
ground all the way to Vyazovye, and there was not far to go now. They
had to cross the river and then the railway line, and then Vyazovye was
"Where are you driving?" Marya Vassilyevna asked Semyon. "Take the road
to the right to the bridge."
"Why, we can go this way as well. It's not deep enough to matter."
"Mind you don't drown the horse."
"Look, Hanov is driving to the bridge," said Marya Vassilyevna, seeing
the four horses far away to the right. "It is he, I think."
"It is. So he didn't find Bakvist at home. What a pig-headed fellow he
is. Lord have mercy upon us! He's driven over there, and what for? It's
fully two miles nearer this way."
They reached the river. In the summer it was a little stream easily
crossed by wading. It usually dried up in August, but now, after the
spring floods, it was a river forty feet in breadth, rapid, muddy, and
cold; on the bank and right up to the water there were fresh tracks of
wheels, so it had been crossed here.
"Go on!" shouted Semyon angrily and anxiously, tugging violently at the
reins and jerking his elbows as a bird does its wings. "Go on!"
The horse went on into the water up to his belly and stopped, but at
once went on again with an effort, and Marya Vassilyevna was aware of a
keen chilliness in her feet.
"Go on!" she, too, shouted, getting up. "Go on!"
They got out on the bank.
"Nice mess it is, Lord have mercy upon us!" muttered Semyon, setting
straight the harness. "It's a perfect plague with this Zemstvo...."
Her shoes and goloshes were full of water, the lower part of her dress
and of her coat and one sleeve were wet and dripping: the sugar and
flour had got wet, and that was worst of all, and Marya Vassilyevna
could only clasp her hands in despair and say:
"Oh, Semyon, Semyon! How tiresome you are really!..."
The barrier was down at the railway crossing. A train was coming out
of the station. Marya Vassilyevna stood at the crossing waiting till
it should pass, and shivering all over with cold. Vyazovye was in sight
now, and the school with the green roof, and the church with its crosses
flashing in the evening sun: and the station windows flashed too, and
a pink smoke rose from the engine... and it seemed to her that
everything was trembling with cold.
Here was the train; the windows reflected the gleaming light like the
crosses on the church: it made her eyes ache to look at them. On the
little platform between two first-class carriages a lady was standing,
and Marya Vassilyevna glanced at her as she passed. Her mother! What a
resemblance! Her mother had had just such luxuriant hair, just such a
brow and bend of the head. And with amazing distinctness, for the first
time in those thirteen years, there rose before her mind a vivid picture
of her mother, her father, her brother, their flat in Moscow, the
aquarium with little fish, everything to the tiniest detail; she heard
the sound of the piano, her father's voice; she felt as she had been
then, young, good-looking, well-dressed, in a bright warm room among her
own people. A feeling of joy and happiness suddenly came over her,
she pressed her hands to her temples in an ecstacy, and called softly,
And she began crying, she did not know why. Just at that instant Hanov
drove up with his team of four horses, and seeing him she imagined
happiness such as she had never had, and smiled and nodded to him as
an equal and a friend, and it seemed to her that her happiness, her
triumph, was glowing in the sky and on all sides, in the windows and on
the trees. Her father and mother had never died, she had never been a
schoolmistress, it was a long, tedious, strange dream, and now she had
"Vassilyevna, get in!"
And at once it all vanished. The barrier was slowly raised. Marya
Vassilyevna, shivering and numb with cold, got into the cart. The
carriage with the four horses crossed the railway line; Semyon followed
it. The signalman took off his cap.
"And here is Vyazovye. Here we are."
A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
A MEDICAL student called Mayer, and a pupil of the Moscow School of
Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture called Rybnikov, went one evening
to see their friend Vassilyev, a law student, and suggested that he
should go with them to S. Street. For a long time Vassilyev would not
consent to go, but in the end he put on his greatcoat and went with
He knew nothing of fallen women except by hearsay and from books, and
he had never in his life been in the houses in which they live. He
knew that there are immoral women who, under the pressure of fatal
circumstances--environment, bad education, poverty, and so on--are
forced to sell their honor for money. They know nothing of pure love,
have no children, have no civil rights; their mothers and sisters weep
over them as though they were dead, science treats of them as an evil,
men address them with contemptuous familiarity. But in spite of
all that, they do not lose the semblance and image of God. They all
acknowledge their sin and hope for salvation. Of the means that lead to
salvation they can avail themselves to the fullest extent. Society, it
is true, will not forgive people their past, but in the sight of God St.
Mary of Egypt is no lower than the other saints. When it had happened
to Vassilyev in the street to recognize a fallen woman as such, by her
dress or her manners, or to see a picture of one in a comic paper,
he always remembered a story he had once read: a young man, pure and
self-sacrificing, loves a fallen woman and urges her to become his wife;
she, considering herself unworthy of such happiness, takes poison.
Vassilyev lived in one of the side streets turning out of Tverskoy
Boulevard. When he came out of the house with his two friends it was
about eleven o'clock. The first snow had not long fallen, and all nature
was under the spell of the fresh snow. There was the smell of snow in
the air, the snow crunched softly under the feet; the earth, the roofs,
the trees, the seats on the boulevard, everything was soft, white,
young, and this made the houses look quite different from the day
before; the street lamps burned more brightly, the air was more
transparent, the carriages rumbled with a deeper note, and with the
fresh, light, frosty air a feeling stirred in the soul akin to the
white, youthful, feathery snow. "Against my will an unknown force,"
hummed the medical student in his agreeable tenor, "has led me to these
"Behold the mill..." the artist seconded him, "in ruins now...."
"Behold the mill... in ruins now," the medical student repeated,
raising his eyebrows and shaking his head mournfully.
He paused, rubbed his forehead, trying to remember the words, and then
sang aloud, so well that passers-by looked round:
"Here in old days when I was free,
Love, free, unfettered, greeted me."
The three of them went into a restaurant and, without taking off their
greatcoats, drank a couple of glasses of vodka each. Before drinking the
second glass, Vassilyev noticed a bit of cork in his vodka, raised the
glass to his eyes, and gazed into it for a long time, screwing up
his shortsighted eyes. The medical student did not understand his
expression, and said:
"Come, why look at it? No philosophizing, please. Vodka is given us to
be drunk, sturgeon to be eaten, women to be visited, snow to be walked
upon. For one evening anyway live like a human being!"
"But I haven't said anything..." said Vassilyev, laughing. "Am I
There was a warmth inside him from the vodka. He looked with softened
feelings at his friends, admired them and envied them. In these strong,
healthy, cheerful people how wonderfully balanced everything is, how
finished and smooth is everything in their minds and souls! They sing,
and have a passion for the theatre, and draw, and talk a great deal,
and drink, and they don't have headaches the day after; they are both
poetical and debauched, both soft and hard; they can work, too, and be
indignant, and laugh without reason, and talk nonsense; they are warm,
honest, self-sacrificing, and as men are in no way inferior to himself,
Vassilyev, who watched over every step he took and every word he
uttered, who was fastidious and cautious, and ready to raise every
trifle to the level of a problem. And he longed for one evening to
live as his friends did, to open out, to let himself loose from his own
control. If vodka had to be drunk, he would drink it, though his head
would be splitting next morning. If he were taken to the women he would
go. He would laugh, play the fool, gaily respond to the passing advances
of strangers in the street....
He went out of the restaurant laughing. He liked his friends--one in a
crushed broad-brimmed hat, with an affectation of artistic untidiness;
the other in a sealskin cap, a man not poor, though he affected to
belong to the Bohemia of learning. He liked the snow, the pale street
lamps, the sharp black tracks left in the first snow by the feet of the
passers-by. He liked the air, and especially that limpid, tender, naive,
as it were virginal tone, which can be seen in nature only twice in the
year--when everything is covered with snow, and in spring on bright days
and moonlight evenings when the ice breaks on the river.
"Against my will an unknown force,
Has led me to these mournful shores,"
he hummed in an undertone.
And the tune for some reason haunted him and his friends all the way,
and all three of them hummed it mechanically, not in time with one
Vassilyev's imagination was picturing how, in another ten minutes, he
and his friends would knock at a door; how by little dark passages and
dark rooms they would steal in to the women; how, taking advantage of
the darkness, he would strike a match, would light up and see the
face of a martyr and a guilty smile. The unknown, fair or dark, would
certainly have her hair down and be wearing a white dressing-jacket; she
would be panic-stricken by the light, would be fearfully confused, and
would say: "For God's sake, what are you doing! Put it out!" It would
all be dreadful, but interesting and new.
The friends turned out of Trubnoy Square into Gratchevka, and soon
reached the side street which Vassilyev only knew by reputation. Seeing
two rows of houses with brightly lighted windows and wide-open doors,
and hearing gay strains of pianos and violins, sounds which floated
out from every door and mingled in a strange chaos, as though an unseen
orchestra were tuning up in the darkness above the roofs, Vassilyev was
surprised and said:
"What a lot of houses!"
"That's nothing," said the medical student. "In London there are ten
times as many. There are about a hundred thousand such women there."
The cabmen were sitting on their boxes as calmly and indifferently as
in any other side street; the same passers-by were walking along the
pavement as in other streets. No one was hurrying, no one was hiding his
face in his coat-collar, no one shook his head reproachfully.... And
in this indifference to the noisy chaos of pianos and violins, to the
bright windows and wide-open doors, there was a feeling of something
very open, insolent, reckless, and devil-may-care. Probably it was as
gay and noisy at the slave-markets in their day, and people's faces and
movements showed the same indifference.
"Let us begin from the beginning," said the artist.
The friends went into a narrow passage lighted by a lamp with a
reflector. When they opened the door a man in a black coat, with an
unshaven face like a flunkey's, and sleepy-looking eyes, got up lazily
from a yellow sofa in the hall. The place smelt like a laundry with an
odor of vinegar in addition. A door from the hall led into a brightly
lighted room. The medical student and the artist stopped at this door
and, craning their necks, peeped into the room.
"Buona sera, signori, rigolleto--hugenotti--traviata!" began the artist,
with a theatrical bow.
"Havanna--tarakano--pistoleto!" said the medical student, pressing his
cap to his breast and bowing low.
Vassilyev was standing behind them. He would have liked to make a
theatrical bow and say something silly, too, but he only smiled, felt an
awkwardness that was like shame, and waited impatiently for what would
A little fair girl of seventeen or eighteen, with short hair, in a short
light-blue frock with a bunch of white ribbon on her bosom, appeared in
"Why do you stand at the door?" she said. "Take off your coats and come
into the drawing-room."
The medical student and the artist, still talking Italian, went into the
drawing-room. Vassilyev followed them irresolutely.
"Gentlemen, take off your coats!" the flunkey said sternly; "you can't
go in like that."
In the drawing-room there was, besides the girl, another woman, very
stout and tall, with a foreign face and bare arms. She was sitting near
the piano, laying out a game of patience on her lap. She took no notice
whatever of the visitors.
"Where are the other young ladies?" asked the medical student.
"They are having their tea," said the fair girl. "Stepan," she called,
"go and tell the young ladies some students have come!"
A little later a third young lady came into the room. She was wearing
a bright red dress with blue stripes. Her face was painted thickly
and unskillfully, her brow was hidden under her hair, and there was an
unblinking, frightened stare in her eyes. As she came in, she began
at once singing some song in a coarse, powerful contralto. After her a
fourth appeared, and after her a fifth....
In all this Vassilyev saw nothing new or interesting. It seemed to him
that that room, the piano, the looking-glass in its cheap gilt frame,
the bunch of white ribbon, the dress with the blue stripes, and the
blank indifferent faces, he had seen before and more than once. Of the
darkness, the silence, the secrecy, the guilty smile, of all that he had
expected to meet here and had dreaded, he saw no trace.
Everything was ordinary, prosaic, and uninteresting. Only one thing
faintly stirred his curiosity--the terrible, as it were intentionally
designed, bad taste which was visible in the cornices, in the absurd
pictures, in the dresses, in the bunch of ribbons. There was something
characteristic and peculiar in this bad taste.
"How poor and stupid it all is!" thought Vassilyev. "What is there in
all this trumpery I see now that can tempt a normal man and excite
him to commit the horrible sin of buying a human being for a rouble?
I understand any sin for the sake of splendor, beauty, grace, passion,
taste; but what is there here? What is there here worth sinning for?
But... one mustn't think!"
"Beardy, treat me to some porter!" said the fair girl, addressing him.
Vassilyev was at once overcome with confusion.
"With pleasure," he said, bowing politely. "Only excuse me, madam,
I.... I won't drink with you. I don't drink."
Five minutes later the friends went off into another house.
"Why did you ask for porter?" said the medical student angrily. "What
a millionaire! You have thrown away six roubles for no reason
"If she wants it, why not let her have the pleasure?" said Vassilyev,
"You did not give pleasure to her, but to the 'Madam.' They are told
to ask the visitors to stand them treat because it is a profit to the
"Behold the mill..." hummed the artist, "in ruins now...."
Going into the next house, the friends stopped in the hall and did not
go into the drawing-room. Here, as in the first house, a figure in a
black coat, with a sleepy face like a flunkey's, got up from a sofa
in the hall. Looking at this flunkey, at his face and his shabby black
coat, Vassilyev thought: "What must an ordinary simple Russian have gone
through before fate flung him down as a flunkey here? Where had he been
before and what had he done? What was awaiting him? Was he married?
Where was his mother, and did she know that he was a servant here?"
And Vassilyev could not help particularly noticing the flunkey in each
house. In one of the houses--he thought it was the fourth--there was a
little spare, frail-looking flunkey with a watch-chain on his waistcoat.
He was reading a newspaper, and took no notice of them when they went
in. Looking at his face Vassilyev, for some reason, thought that a man
with such a face might steal, might murder, might bear false witness.
But the face was really interesting: a big forehead, gray eyes, a little
flattened nose, thin compressed lips, and a blankly stupid and at the
same time insolent expression like that of a young harrier overtaking
a hare. Vassilyev thought it would be nice to touch this man's hair, to
see whether it was soft or coarse. It must be coarse like a dog's.
Having drunk two glasses of porter, the artist became suddenly tipsy and
grew unnaturally lively.
"Let's go to another!" he said peremptorily, waving his hands. "I will
take you to the best one."
When he had brought his fri ends to the house which in his opinion was
the best, he declared his firm intention of dancing a quadrille.
The medical student grumbled something about their having to pay
the musicians a rouble, but agreed to be his _vis-a-vis_. They began
It was just as nasty in the best house as in the worst. Here there were
just the same looking-glasses and pictures, the same styles of coiffure
and dress. Looking round at the furnishing of the rooms and the
costumes, Vassilyev realized that this was not lack of taste, but
something that might be called the taste, and even the style, of S.
Street, which could not be found elsewhere--something intentional in its
ugliness, not accidental, but elaborated in the course of years. After
he had been in eight houses he was no longer surprised at the color of
the dresses, at the long trains, the gaudy ribbons, the sailor dresses,
and the thick purplish rouge on the cheeks; he saw that it all had to
be like this, that if a single one of the women had been dressed like a
human being, or if there had been one decent engraving on the wall, the
general tone of the whole street would have suffered.
"How unskillfully they sell themselves!" he thought. "How can they
fail to understand that vice is only alluring when it is beautiful and
hidden, when it wears the mask of virtue? Modest black dresses, pale
faces, mournful smiles, and darkness would be far more effective than
this clumsy tawdriness. Stupid things! If they don't understand it of
themselves, their visitors might surely have taught them...."
A young lady in a Polish dress edged with white fur came up to him and
sat down beside him.
"You nice dark man, why aren't you dancing?" she asked. "Why are you so
"Because it is dull."
"Treat me to some Lafitte. Then it won't be dull."
Vassilyev made no answer. He was silent for a little, and then asked:
"What time do you get to sleep?"
"At six o'clock."
"And what time do you get up?"
"Sometimes at two and sometimes at three."
"And what do you do when you get up?"
"We have coffee, and at six o'clock we have dinner."
"And what do you have for dinner?"
"Usually soup, beefsteak, and dessert. Our madam keeps the girls well.
But why do you ask all this?"
"Oh, just to talk...."
Vassilyev longed to talk to the young lady about many things. He felt an
intense desire to find out where she came from, whether her parents were
living, and whether they knew that she was here; how she had come
into this house; whether she were cheerful and satisfied, or sad and
oppressed by gloomy thoughts; whether she hoped some day to get out of
her present position.... But he could not think how to begin or
in what shape to put his questions so as not to seem impertinent. He
thought for a long time, and asked:
"How old are you?"
"Eighty," the young lady jested, looking with a laugh at the antics of
the artist as he danced.
All at once she burst out laughing at something, and uttered a long
cynical sentence loud enough to be heard by everyone. Vassilyev was
aghast, and not knowing how to look, gave a constrained smile. He was
the only one who smiled; all the others, his friends, the musicians, the
women, did not even glance towards his neighbor, but seemed not to have
"Stand me some Lafitte," his neighbor said again.
Vassilyev felt a repulsion for her white fur and for her voice, and
walked away from her. It seemed to him hot and stifling, and his heart
began throbbing slowly but violently, like a hammer--one! two! three!
"Let us go away!" he said, pulling the artist by his sleeve.
"Wait a little; let me finish."
While the artist and the medical student were finishing the quadrille,
to avoid looking at the women, Vassilyev scrutinized the musicians. A
respectable-looking old man in spectacles, rather like Marshal Bazaine,
was playing the piano; a young man with a fair beard, dressed in the
latest fashion, was playing the violin. The young man had a face that
did not look stupid nor exhausted, but intelligent, youthful, and fresh.
He was dressed fancifully and with taste; he played with feeling. It was
a mystery how he and the respectable-looking old man had come here. How
was it they were not ashamed to sit here? What were they thinking about
when they looked at the women?
If the violin and the piano had been played by men in rags, looking
hungry, gloomy, drunken, with dissipated or stupid faces, then one could
have understood their presence, perhaps. As it was, Vassilyev could not
understand it at all. He recalled the story of the fallen woman he had
once read, and he thought now that that human figure with the guilty
smile had nothing in common with what he was seeing now. It seemed to
him that he was seeing not fallen women, but some different world quite
apart, alien to him and incomprehensible; if he had seen this world
before on the stage, or read of it in a book, he would not have believed
The woman with the white fur burst out laughing again and uttered a
loathsome sentence in a loud voice. A feeling of disgust took possession
of him. He flushed crimson and went out of the room.
"Wait a minute, we are coming too!" the artist shouted to him.
"While we were dancing," said the medical student, as they all three
went out into the street, "I had a conversation with my partner. We
talked about her first romance. He, the hero, was an accountant at
Smolensk with a wife and five children. She was seventeen, and she lived
with her papa and mamma, who sold soap and candles."
"How did he win her heart?" asked Vassilyev.
"By spending fifty roubles on underclothes for her. What next!"
"So he knew how to get his partner's story out of her," thought
Vassilyev about the medical student. "But I don't know how to."
"I say, I am going home!" he said.
"Because I don't know how to behave here. Besides, I am bored,
disgusted. What is there amusing in it? If they were human beings--but
they are savages and animals. I am going; do as you like."
"Come, Grisha, Grigory, darling..." said the artist in a tearful
voice, hugging Vassilyev, "come along! Let's go to one more together and
damnation take them!... Please do, Grisha!"
They persuaded Vassilyev and led him up a staircase. In the carpet and
the gilt banisters, in the porter who opened the door, and in the panels
that decorated the hall, the same S. Street style was apparent, but
carried to a greater perfection, more imposing.
"I really will go home!" said Vassilyev as he was taking off his coat.
"Come, come, dear boy," said the artist, and he kissed him on the neck.
"Don't be tiresome.... Gri-gri, be a good comrade! We came together,
we will go back together. What a beast you are, really!"
"I can wait for you in the street. I think it's loathsome, really!"
"Come, come, Grisha.... If it is loathsome, you can observe it! Do
you understand? You can observe!"
"One must take an objective view of things," said the medical student
Vassilyev went into the drawing-room and sat down. There were a number
of visitors in the room besides him and his friends: two infantry
officers, a bald, gray-haired gentleman in spectacles, two beardless
youths from the institute of land-surveying, and a very tipsy man who
looked like an actor. All the young ladies were taken up with these
visitors and paid no attention to Vassilyev.
Only one of them, dressed _a la Aida,_ glanced sideways at him, smiled,
and said, yawning: "A dark one has come...."
Vassilyev's heart was throbbing and his face burned. He felt ashamed
before these visitors of his presence here, and he felt disgusted and
miserable. He was tormented by the thought that he, a decent and loving
man (such as he had hitherto considered himself), hated these women and
felt nothing but repulsion towards them. He felt pity neither for the
women nor the musicians nor the flunkeys.
"It is because I am not trying to understand them," he thought. "They
are all more like animals than human beings, but of course they are
human beings all the same, they have souls. One must understand them
and then judge...."
"Grisha, don't go, wait for us," the artist shouted to him and
The medical student disappeared soon after.
"Yes, one must make an effort to understand, one mustn't be like
this...." Vassilyev went on thinking.
And he began gazing at each of the women with strained attention,
looking for a guilty smile. But either he did not know how to read their
faces, or not one of these women felt herself to be guilty; he read on
every face nothing but a blank expression of everyday vulgar boredom and
complacency. Stupid faces, stupid smiles, harsh, stupid voices, insolent
movements, and nothing else. Apparently each of them had in the past a
romance with an accountant based on underclothes for fifty roubles, and
looked for no other charm in the present but coffee, a dinner of three
courses, wines, quadrilles, sleeping till two in the afternoon....
Finding no guilty smile, Vassilyev began to look whether there was not
one intelligent face. And his attention was caught by one pale, rather
sleepy, exhausted-looking face.... It was a dark woman, not very
young, wearing a dress covered with spangles; she was sitting in an
easy-chair, looking at the floor lost in thought. Vassilyev walked from
one corner of the room to the other, and, as though casually, sat down
"I must begin with something trivial," he thought, "and pass to what is
"What a pretty dress you have," and with his finger he touched the gold
fringe of her fichu.
"Oh, is it?..." said the dark woman listlessly.
"What province do you come from?"
"I? From a distance.... From Tchernigov."
"A fine province. It's nice there."
"Any place seems nice when one is not in it."
"It's a pity I cannot describe nature," thought Vassilyev. "I might
touch her by a description of nature in Tchernigov. No doubt she loves
the place if she has been born there."
"Are you dull here?" he asked.
"Of course I am dull."
"Why don't you go away from here if you are dull?"
"Where should I go to? Go begging or what?"
"Begging would be easier than living here."
"How do you know that? Have you begged?"
"Yes, when I hadn't the money to study. Even if I hadn't anyone could
understand that. A beggar is anyway a free man, and you are a slave."
The dark woman stretched, and watched with sleepy eyes the footman who
was bringing a trayful of glasses and seltzer water.
"Stand me a glass of porter," she said, and yawned again.
"Porter," thought Vassilyev. "And what if your brother or mother walked
in at this moment? What would you say? And what would they say? There
would be porter then, I imagine...."
All at once there was the sound of weeping. From the adjoining room,
from which the footman had brought the seltzer water, a fair man with
a red face and angry eyes ran in quickly. He was followed by the tall,
stout "madam," who was shouting in a shrill voice:
"Nobody has given you leave to slap girls on the cheeks! We have
visitors better than you, and they don't fight! Impostor!"
A hubbub arose. Vassilyev was frightened and turned pale. In the next
room there was the sound of bitter, genuine weeping, as though of
someone insulted. And he realized that there were real people living
here who, like people everywhere else, felt insulted, suffered, wept,
and cried for help. The feeling of oppressive hate and disgust gave way
to an acute feeling of pity and anger against the aggressor. He rushed
into the room where there was weeping. Across rows of bottles on a
marble-top table he distinguished a suffering face, wet with tears,
stretched out his hands towards that face, took a step towards the
table, but at once drew back in horror. The weeping girl was drunk.
As he made his way though the noisy crowd gathered about the fair man,
his heart sank and he felt frightened like a child; and it seemed to him
that in this alien, incomprehensible world people wanted to pursue him,
to beat him, to pelt him with filthy words.... He tore down his coat
from the hatstand and ran headlong downstairs.
Leaning against the fence, he stood near the house waiting for his
friends to come out. The sounds of the pianos and violins, gay,
reckless, insolent, and mournful, mingled in the air in a sort of chaos,
and this tangle of sounds seemed again like an unseen orchestra tuning
up on the roofs. If one looked upwards into the darkness, the black
background was all spangled with white, moving spots: it was snow
falling. As the snowflakes came into the light they floated round lazily
in the air like down, and still more lazily fell to the ground. The
snowflakes whirled thickly round Vassilyev and hung upon his beard,
his eyelashes, his eyebrows.... The cabmen, the horses, and the
passers-by were white.
"And how can the snow fall in this street!" thought Vassilyev.
"Damnation take these houses!"
His legs seemed to be giving way from fatigue, simply from having run
down the stairs; he gasped for breath as though he had been climbing
uphill, his heart beat so loudly that he could hear it. He was consumed
by a desire to get out of the street as quickly as possible and to go
home, but even stronger was his desire to wait for his companions and
vent upon them his oppressive feeling.
There was much he did not understand in these houses, the souls of
ruined women were a mystery to him as before; but it was clear to him
that the thing was far worse than could have been believed. If that
sinful woman who had poisoned herself was called fallen, it was
difficult to find a fitting name for all these who were dancing now to
this tangle of sound and uttering long, loathsome sentences. They were
not on the road to ruin, but ruined.
"There is vice," he thought, "but neither consciousness of sin nor
hope of salvation. They are sold and bought, steeped in wine and
abominations, while they, like sheep, are stupid, indifferent, and don't
understand. My God! My God!"
It was clear to him, too, that everything that is called human dignity,
personal rights, the Divine image and semblance, were defiled to their
very foundations--"to the very marrow," as drunkards say--and that not
only the street and the stupid women were responsible for it.
A group of students, white with snow, passed him laughing and talking
gaily; one, a tall thin fellow, stopped, glanced into Vassilyev's face,
and said in a drunken voice:
"One of us! A bit on, old man? Aha-ha! Never mind, have a good time!
Don't be down-hearted, old chap!"
He took Vassilyev by the shoulder and pressed his cold wet mustache
against his cheek, then he slipped, staggered, and, waving both hands,
"Hold on! Don't upset!"
And laughing, he ran to overtake his companions.
Through the noise came the sound of the artist's voice:
"Don't you dare to hit the women! I won't let you, damnation take you!
The medical student appeared in the doorway. He looked from side to
side, and seeing Vassilyev, said in an agitated voice:
"You here! I tell you it's really impossible to go anywhere with Yegor!
What a fellow he is! I don't understand him! He has got up a scene! Do
you hear? Yegor!" he shouted at the door. "Yegor!"
"I won't allow you to hit women!" the artist's piercing voice sounded
from above. Something heavy and lumbering rolled down the stairs. It was
the artist falling headlong. Evidently he had been pushed downstairs.
He picked himself up from the ground, shook his hat, and, with an angry
and indignant face, brandished his fist towards the top of the stairs
"Scoundrels! Torturers! Bloodsuckers! I won't allow you to hit them! To
hit a weak, drunken woman! Oh, you brutes!..."
"Yegor!... Come, Yegor!..." the medical student began imploring
him. "I give you my word of honor I'll never come with you again. On my
word of honor I won't!"
Little by little the artist was pacified and the friends went homewards.
"Against my will an unknown force," hummed the medical student, "has led
me to these mournful shores."
"Behold t he mill," the artist chimed in a little later, "in ruins now.
What a lot of snow, Holy Mother! Grisha, why did you go? You are a funk,
a regular old woman."
Vassilyev walked behind his companions, looked at their backs, and
"One of two things: either we only fancy prostitution is an evil, and
we exaggerate it; or, if prostitution really is as great an evil as is
generally assumed, these dear friends of mine are as much slaveowners,
violators, and murderers, as the inhabitants of Syria and Cairo, that
are described in the 'Neva.' Now they are singing, laughing, talking
sense, but haven't they just been exploiting hunger, ignorance, and
stupidity? They have--I have been a witness of it. What is the use of
their humanity, their medicine, their painting? The science, art, and
lofty sentiments of these soul-destroyers remind me of the piece of
bacon in the story. Two brigands murdered a beggar in a forest; they
began sharing his clothes between them, and found in his wallet a piece
of bacon. 'Well found,' said one of them, 'let us have a bit.' 'What do
you mean? How can you?' cried the other in horror. 'Have you forgotten
that to-day is Wednesday?' And they would not eat it. After murdering a
man, they came out of the forest in the firm conviction that they were
keeping the fast. In the same way these men, after buying women, go
their way imagining that they are artists and men of science...."
"Listen!" he said sharply and angrily. "Why do you come here? Is it
possible--is it possible you don't understand how horrible it is? Your
medical books tell you that every one of these women dies prematurely of
consumption or something; art tells you that morally they are dead even
earlier. Every one of them dies because she has in her time to entertain
five hundred men on an average, let us say. Each one of them is killed
by five hundred men. You are among those five hundred! If each of you in
the course of your lives visits this place or others like it two hundred
and fifty times, it follows that one woman is killed for every two of
you! Can't you understand that? Isn't it horrible to murder, two of you,
three of you, five of you, a foolish, hungry woman! Ah! isn't it awful,
"I knew it would end like that," the artist said frowning. "We ought not
to have gone with this fool and ass! You imagine you have grand notions
in your head now, ideas, don't you? No, it's the devil knows what, but
not ideas. You are looking at me now with hatred and repulsion, but I
tell you it's better you should set up twenty more houses like those
than look like that. There's more vice in your expression than in the
whole street! Come along, Volodya, let him go to the devil! He's a fool
and an ass, and that's all...."
"We human beings do murder each other," said the medical student. "It's
immoral, of course, but philosophizing doesn't help it. Good-by!"
At Trubnoy Square the friends said good-by and parted. When he was left
alone, Vassilyev strode rapidly along the boulevard. He felt frightened
of the darkness, of the snow which was falling in heavy flakes on the
ground, and seemed as though it would cover up the whole world; he
felt frightened of the street lamps shining with pale light through
the clouds of snow. His soul was possessed by an unaccountable,
faint-hearted terror. Passers-by came towards him from time to time,
but he timidly moved to one side; it seemed to him that women, none but
women, were coming from all sides and staring at him....
"It's beginning," he thought, "I am going to have a breakdown."
At home he lay on his bed and said, shuddering all over: "They are
alive! Alive! My God, those women are alive!"
He encouraged his imagination in all sorts of ways to picture himself
the brother of a fallen woman, or her father; then a fallen woman
herself, with her painted cheeks; and it all moved him to horror.
It seemed to him that he must settle the question at once at all costs,
and that this question was not one that did not concern him, but was his
own personal problem. He made an immense effort, repressed his despair,
and, sitting on the bed, holding his head in his hands, began thinking
how one could save all the women he had seen that day. The method for
attacking problems of all kinds was, as he was an educated man, well
known to him. And, however excited he was, he strictly adhered to that
method. He recalled the history of the problem and its literature, and
for a quarter of an hour he paced from one end of the room to the other
trying to remember all the methods practiced at the present time for
saving women. He had very many good friends and acquaintances who lived
in lodgings in Petersburg.... Among them were a good many honest and
self-sacrificing men. Some of them had attempted to save women....
"All these not very numerous attempts," thought Vassilyev, "can be
divided into three groups. Some, after buying the woman out of the
brothel, took a room for her, bought her a sewing-machine, and she
became a semptress. And whether he wanted to or not, after having bought
her out he made her his mistress; then when he had taken his degree, he
went away and handed her into the keeping of some other decent man as
though she were a thing. And the fallen woman remained a fallen woman.
Others, after buying her out, took a lodging apart for her, bought the
inevitable sewing-machine, and tried teaching her to read, preaching at
her and giving her books. The woman lived and sewed as long as it was
interesting and a novelty to her, then getting bored, began receiving
men on the sly, or ran away and went back where she could sleep till
three o'clock, drink coffee, and have good dinners. The third class, the
most ardent and self-sacrificing, had taken a bold, resolute step.
They had married them. And when the insolent and spoilt, or stupid and
crushed animal became a wife, the head of a household, and afterwards a
mother, it turned her whole existence and attitude to life upside down,
so that it was hard to recognize the fallen woman afterwards in the wife
and the mother. Yes, marriage was the best and perhaps the only means."
"But it is impossible!" Vassilyev said aloud, and he sank upon his bed.
"I, to begin with, could not marry one! To do that one must be a saint
and be unable to feel hatred or repulsion. But supposing that I,
the medical student, and the artist mastered ourselves and did marry
them--suppose they were all married. What would be the result? The
result would be that while here in Moscow they were being married, some
Smolensk accountant would be debauching another lot, and that lot would
be streaming here to fill the vacant places, together with others from
Saratov, Nizhni-Novgorod, Warsaw.... And what is one to do with the
hundred thousand in London? What's one to do with those in Hamburg?"
The lamp in which the oil had burnt down began to smoke. Vassilyev did
not notice it. He began pacing to and fro again, still thinking. Now he
put the question differently: what must be done that fallen women should
not be needed? For that, it was essential that the men who buy them
and do them to death should feel all the immorality of their share in
enslaving them and should be horrified. One must save the men.
"One won't do anything by art and science, that is clear..." thought
Vassilyev. "The only way out of it is missionary work."
And he began to dream how he would the next evening stand at the corner
of the street and say to every passer-by: "Where are you going and what
for? Have some fear of God!"
He would turn to the apathetic cabmen and say to them: "Why are you
staying here? Why aren't you revolted? Why aren't you indignant? I
suppose you believe in God and know that it is a sin, that people go to
hell for it? Why don't you speak? It is true that they are strangers
to you, but you know even they have fathers, brothers like
One of Vassilyev's friends had once said of him that he was a talented
man. There are all sorts of talents--talent for writing, talent for
the stage, talent for art; but he had a peculiar talent--a talent for
_humanity_. He possessed an extraordinarily fine delicate scent for pain
in general. As a good actor reflects in himself the movements and voice
of others, so Vassilyev could reflect in his soul the sufferings of
others. When he saw tears, he wept; beside a sick man, he felt sick
himself and moaned; if he saw an act of violence, he felt as though he
himself were the victim of it, he was frightened as a child, and in his
fright ran to help. The pain of others worked on his nerves, excited
him, roused him to a state of frenzy, and so on.
Whether this friend were right I don't know, but what Vassilyev
experienced when he thought this question was settled was something like
inspiration. He cried and laughed, spoke aloud the words that he should
say next day, felt a fervent love for those who would listen to him and
would stand beside him at the corner of the street to preach; he sat
down to write letters, made vows to himself....
All this was like inspiration also from the fact that it did not last
long. Vassilyev was soon tired. The cases in London, in Hamburg, in
Warsaw, weighed upon him by their mass as a mountain weighs upon the
earth; he felt dispirited, bewildered, in the face of this mass; he
remembered that he had not a gift for words, that he was cowardly
and timid, that indifferent people would not be willing to listen
and understand him, a law student in his third year, a timid and
insignificant person; that genuine missionary work included not only
teaching but deeds...
When it was daylight and carriages were already beginning to rumble in
the street, Vassilyev was lying motionless on the sofa, staring into
space. He was no longer thinking of the women, nor of the men, nor of
missionary work. His whole attention was turned upon the spiritual agony
which was torturing him. It was a dull, vague, undefined anguish akin to
misery, to an extreme form of terror and to despair. He could point
to the place where the pain was, in his breast under his heart; but
he could not compare it with anything. In the past he had had acute
toothache, he had had pleurisy and neuralgia, but all that was
insignificant compared with this spiritual anguish. In the presence of
that pain life seemed loathsome. The dissertation, the excellent work
he had written already, the people he loved, the salvation of fallen
women--everything that only the day before he had cared about or been
indifferent to, now when he thought of them irritated him in the same
way as the noise of the carriages, the scurrying footsteps of the
waiters in the passage, the daylight.... If at that moment someone
had performed a great deed of mercy or had committed a revolting
outrage, he would have felt the same repulsion for both actions. Of all
the thoughts that strayed through his mind only two did not irritate
him: one was that at every moment he had the power to kill himself, the
other that this agony would not last more than three days. This last he
knew by experience.
After lying for a while he got up and, wringing his hands, walked about
the room, not as usual from corner to corner, but round the room beside
the walls. As he passed he glanced at himself in the looking-glass. His
face looked pale and sunken, his temples looked hollow, his eyes were
bigger, darker, more staring, as though they belonged to someone else,
and they had an expression of insufferable mental agony.
At midday the artist knocked at the door.
"Grigory, are you at home?" he asked.
Getting no answer, he stood for a minute, pondered, and answered
himself in Little Russian: "Nay. The confounded fellow has gone to the
And he went away. Vassilyev lay down on the bed and, thrusting his head
under the pillow, began crying with agony, and the more freely his tears
flowed the more terrible his mental anguish became. As it began to get
dark, he thought of the agonizing night awaiting him, and was overcome
by a horrible despair. He dressed quickly, ran out of his room, and,
leaving his door wide open, for no object or reason, went out into the
street. Without asking himself where he should go, he walked quickly
along Sadovoy Street.
Snow was falling as heavily as the day before; it was thawing. Thrusting
his hands into his sleeves, shuddering and frightened at the noises,
at the trambells, and at the passers-by, Vassilyev walked along Sadovoy
Street as far as Suharev Tower; then to the Red Gate; from there he
turned off to Basmannya Street. He went into a tavern and drank off
a big glass of vodka, but that did not make him feel better. When he
reached Razgulya he turned to the right, and strode along side streets
in which he had never been before in his life. He reached the old bridge
by which the Yauza runs gurgling, and from which one can see long rows
of lights in the windows of the Red Barracks. To distract his spiritual
anguish by some new sensation or some other pain, Vassilyev, not knowing
what to do, crying and shuddering, undid his greatcoat and jacket and
exposed his bare chest to the wet snow and the wind. But that did not
lessen his suffering either. Then he bent down over the rail of the
bridge and looked down into the black, yeasty Yauza, and he longed to
plunge down head foremost; not from loathing for life, not for the sake
of suicide, but in order to bruise himself at least, and by one pain to
ease the other. But the black water, the darkness, the deserted banks
covered with snow were terrifying. He shivered and walked on. He walked
up and down by the Red Barracks, then turned back and went down to a
copse, from the copse back to the bridge again.
"No, home, home!" he thought. "At home I believe it's better..."
And he went back. When he reached home he pulled off his wet coat and
cap, began pacing round the room, and went on pacing round and round
without stopping till morning.
When next morning the artist and the medical student went in to him,
he was moving about the room with his shirt torn, biting his hands and
moaning with pain.
"For God's sake!" he sobbed when he saw his friends, "take me where you
please, do what you can; but for God's sake, save me quickly! I shall
The artist turned pale and was helpless. The medical student, too,
almost shed tears, but considering that doctors ought to be cool and
composed in every emergency said coldly:
"It's a nervous breakdown. But it's nothing. Let us go at once to the
"Wherever you like, only for God's sake, make haste!"
"Don't excite yourself. You must try and control yourself."
The artist and the medical student with trembling hands put Vassilyev's
coat and hat on and led him out into the street.
"Mihail Sergeyitch has been wanting to make your acquaintance for a long
time," the medical student said on the way. "He is a very nice man and
thoroughly good at his work. He took his degree in 1882, and he has
an immense practice already. He treats students as though he were one
"Make haste, make haste!..." Vassilyev urged.
Mihail Sergeyitch, a stout, fair-haired doctor, received the friends
with politeness and frigid dignity, and smiled only on one side of his
"Rybnikov and Mayer have spoken to me of your illness already," he said.
"Very glad to be of service to you. Well? Sit down, I beg...."
He made Vassilyev sit down in a big armchair near the table, and moved a
box of cigarettes towards him.
"Now then!" he began, stroking his knees. "Let us get to work.... How
old are you?"
He asked questions and the medical student answered them. He asked
whether Vassilyev's father had suffered from certain special diseases,
whether he drank to excess, whether he were remarkable for cruelty or
any peculiarities. He made similar inquiries about his grandfather,
mother, sisters, and brothers. On learning that his mother had a
beautiful voice and sometimes acted on the stage, he grew more animated
at once, and asked:
"Excuse me, but don't you remember, perhaps, your mother had a passion
for the stage?"
Twenty minutes passed. Vassilyev was annoyed by the way the docto r kept
stroking his knees and talking of the same thing.
"So far as I understand your questions, doctor," he said, "you want to
know whether my illness is hereditary or not. It is not."
The doctor proceeded to ask Vassilyev whether he had had any secret
vices as a boy, or had received injuries to his head; whether he had had
any aberrations, any peculiarities, or exceptional propensities. Half
the questions usually asked by doctors of their patients can be left
unanswered without the slightest ill effect on the health, but Mihail
Sergeyitch, the medical student, and the artist all looked as though
if Vassilyev failed to answer one question all would be lost. As he
received answers, the doctor for some reason noted them down on a slip
of paper. On learning that Vassilyev had taken his degree in natural
science, and was now studying law, the doctor pondered.
"He wrote a first-rate piece of original work last year,..." said the
"I beg your pardon, but don't interrupt me; you prevent me from
concentrating," said the doctor, and he smiled on one side of his
face. "Though, of course, that does enter into the diagnosis. Intense
intellectual work, nervous exhaustion.... Yes, yes.... And do you
drink vodka?" he said, addressing Vassilyev.
Another twenty minutes passed. The medical student began telling the
doctor in a low voice his opinion as to the immediate cause of
the attack, and described how the day before yesterday the artist,
Vassilyev, and he had visited S. Street.
The indifferent, reserved, and frigid tone in which his friends and the
doctor spoke of the women and that miserable street struck Vassilyev as
strange in the extreme....
"Doctor, tell me one thing only," he said, controlling himself so as not
to speak rudely. "Is prostitution an evil or not?"
"My dear fellow, who disputes it?" said the doctor, with an expression
that suggested that he had settled all such questions for himself long
ago. "Who disputes it?"
"You are a mental doctor, aren't you?" Vassilyev asked curtly.
"Yes, a mental doctor."
"Perhaps all of you are right!" said Vassilyev, getting up and beginning
to walk from one end of the room to the other. "Perhaps! But it all
seems marvelous to me! That I should have taken my degree in two
faculties you look upon as a great achievement; because I have written
a work which in three years will be thrown aside and forgotten, I am
praised up to the skies; but because I cannot speak of fallen women as
unconcernedly as of these chairs, I am being examined by a doctor, I am
called mad, I am pitied!"
Vassilyev for some reason felt all at once unutterably sorry for
himself, and his companions, and all the people he had seen two days
before, and for the doctor; he burst into tears and sank into a chair.
His friends looked inquiringly at the doctor. The latter, with the
air of completely comprehending the tears and the despair, of feeling
himself a specialist in that line, went up to Vassilyev and, without
a word, gave him some medicine to drink; and then, when he was calmer,
undressed him and began to investigate the degree of sensibility of the
skin, the reflex action of the knees, and so on.
And Vassilyev felt easier. When he came out from the doctor's he
was beginning to feel ashamed; the rattle of the carriages no longer
irritated him, and the load at his heart grew lighter and lighter as
though it were melting away. He had two prescriptions in his hand:
one was for bromide, one was for morphia.... He had taken all these
In the street he stood still and, saying good-by to his friends, dragged
himself languidly to the University.
"To whom shall I tell my grief?"
THE twilight of evening. Big flakes of wet snow are whirling lazily
about the street lamps, which have just been lighted, and lying in a
thin soft layer on roofs, horses' backs, shoulders, caps. Iona Potapov,
the sledge-driver, is all white like a ghost. He sits on the box without
stirring, bent as double as the living body can be bent. If a regular
snowdrift fell on him it seems as though even then he would not think it
necessary to shake it off.... His little mare is white and motionless
too. Her stillness, the angularity of her lines, and the stick-like
straightness of her legs make her look like a halfpenny gingerbread
horse. She is probably lost in thought. Anyone who has been torn away
from the plough, from the familiar gray landscapes, and cast into this
slough, full of monstrous lights, of unceasing uproar and hurrying
people, is bound to think.
It is a long time since Iona and his nag have budged. They came out of
the yard before dinnertime and not a single fare yet. But now the shades
of evening are falling on the town. The pale light of the street lamps
changes to a vivid color, and the bustle of the street grows noisier.
"Sledge to Vyborgskaya!" Iona hears. "Sledge!"
Iona starts, and through his snow-plastered eyelashes sees an officer in
a military overcoat with a hood over his head.
"To Vyborgskaya," repeats the officer. "Are you asleep? To Vyborgskaya!"
In token of assent Iona gives a tug at the reins which sends cakes of
snow flying from the horse's back and shoulders. The officer gets into
the sledge. The sledge-driver clicks to the horse, cranes his neck like
a swan, rises in his seat, and more from habit than necessity brandishes
his whip. The mare cranes her neck, too, crooks her stick-like legs, and
hesitatingly sets of....
"Where are you shoving, you devil?" Iona immediately hears shouts from
the dark mass shifting to and fro before him. "Where the devil are you
going? Keep to the r-right!"
"You don't know how to drive! Keep to the right," says the officer
A coachman driving a carriage swears at him; a pedestrian crossing
the road and brushing the horse's nose with his shoulder looks at him
angrily and shakes the snow off his sleeve. Iona fidgets on the box as
though he were sitting on thorns, jerks his elbows, and turns his eyes
about like one possessed as though he did not know where he was or why
he was there.
"What rascals they all are!" says the officer jocosely. "They are simply
doing their best to run up against you or fall under the horse's feet.
They must be doing it on purpose."
Iona looks as his fare and moves his lips.... Apparently he means to
say something, but nothing comes but a sniff.
"What?" inquires the officer.
Iona gives a wry smile, and straining his throat, brings out huskily:
"My son... er... my son died this week, sir."
"H'm! What did he die of?"
Iona turns his whole body round to his fare, and says:
"Who can tell! It must have been from fever.... He lay three days in
the hospital and then he died.... God's will."
"Turn round, you devil!" comes out of the darkness. "Have you gone
cracked, you old dog? Look where you are going!"
"Drive on! drive on!..." says the officer. "We shan't get there till
to-morrow going on like this. Hurry up!"
The sledge-driver cranes his neck again, rises in his seat, and with
heavy grace swings his whip. Several times he looks round at the
officer, but the latter keeps his eyes shut and is apparently
disinclined to listen. Putting his fare down at Vyborgskaya, Iona stops
by a restaurant, and again sits huddled up on the box.... Again
the wet snow paints him and his horse white. One hour passes, and then
Three young men, two tall and thin, one short and hunchbacked, come up,
railing at each other and loudly stamping on the pavement with their
"Cabby, to the Police Bridge!" the hunchback cries in a cracked voice.
"The three of us,... twenty kopecks!"
Iona tugs at the reins and clicks to his horse. Twenty kopecks is not a
fair price, but he has no thoughts for that. Whether it is a rouble or
whether it is five kopecks does not matter to him now so long as he
has a fare.... The three young men, shoving each other and using bad
language, go up to the sledge, and all three try to sit down at once.
The question remains to be settled: Which are to sit down and which one
is to stand? After a long altercation, ill-temper, and abuse, they
come to the conclusion that the hunchback must stand because he is the
"Well, drive on," says the hunchback in his cracked voice, settling
himself and breathing down Iona's neck. "Cut along! What a cap you've
got, my friend! You wouldn't find a worse one in all Petersburg...."
"He-he!... he-he!..." laughs Iona. "It's nothing to boast of!"
"Well, then, nothing to boast of, drive on! Are you going to drive like
this all the way? Eh? Shall I give you one in the neck?"
"My head aches," says one of the tall ones. "At the Dukmasovs' yesterday
Vaska and I drank four bottles of brandy between us."
"I can't make out why you talk such stuff," says the other tall one
angrily. "You lie like a brute."
"Strike me dead, it's the truth!..."
"It's about as true as that a louse coughs."
"He-he!" grins Iona. "Me-er-ry gentlemen!"
"Tfoo! the devil take you!" cries the hunchback indignantly. "Will you
get on, you old plague, or won't you? Is that the way to drive? Give her
one with the whip. Hang it all, give it her well."
Iona feels behind his back the jolting person and quivering voice of
the hunchback. He hears abuse addressed to him, he sees people, and the
feeling of loneliness begins little by little to be less heavy on his
heart. The hunchback swears at him, till he chokes over some elaborately
whimsical string of epithets and is overpowered by his cough. His tall
companions begin talking of a certain Nadyezhda Petrovna. Iona looks
round at them. Waiting till there is a brief pause, he looks round once
more and says:
"This week... er... my... er... son died!"
"We shall all die,..." says the hunchback with a sigh, wiping his
lips after coughing. "Come, drive on! drive on! My friends, I simply
cannot stand crawling like this! When will he get us there?"
"Well, you give him a little encouragement... one in the neck!"
"Do you hear, you old plague? I'll make you smart. If one stands on
ceremony with fellows like you one may as well walk. Do you hear, you
old dragon? Or don't you care a hang what we say?"
And Iona hears rather than feels a slap on the back of his neck.
"He-he!..." he laughs. "Merry gentlemen.... God give you
"Cabman, are you married?" asks one of the tall ones.
"I? He he! Me-er-ry gentlemen. The only wife for me now is the damp
earth.... He-ho-ho!.... The grave that is!... Here my son's dead
and I am alive.... It's a strange thing, death has come in at the
wrong door.... Instead of coming for me it went for my son...."
And Iona turns round to tell them how his son died, but at that point
the hunchback gives a faint sigh and announces that, thank God! they
have arrived at last. After taking his twenty kopecks, Iona gazes for a
long while after the revelers, who disappear into a dark entry. Again he
is alone and again there is silence for him.... The misery which has
been for a brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more
cruelly than ever. With a look of anxiety and suffering Iona's eyes
stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro on both sides of the
street: can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen
to him? But the crowds flit by heedless of him and his misery.... His
misery is immense, beyond all bounds. If Iona's heart were to burst and
his misery to flow out, it would flood the whole world, it seems, but
yet it is not seen. It has found a hiding-place in such an insignificant
shell that one would not have found it with a candle by daylight....
Iona sees a house-porter with a parcel and makes up his mind to address
"What time will it be, friend?" he asks.
"Going on for ten.... Why have you stopped here? Drive on!"
Iona drives a few paces away, bends himself double, and gives himself
up to his misery. He feels it is no good to appeal to people. But before
five minutes have passed he draws himself up, shakes his head as though
he feels a sharp pain, and tugs at the reins.... He can bear it no
"Back to the yard!" he thinks. "To the yard!"
And his little mare, as though she knew his thoughts, falls to trotting.
An hour and a half later Iona is sitting by a big dirty stove. On the
stove, on the floor, and on the benches are people snoring. The air
is full of smells and stuffiness. Iona looks at the sleeping figures,
scratches himself, and regrets that he has come home so early....
"I have not earned enough to pay for the oats, even," he thinks. "That's
why I am so miserable. A man who knows how to do his work,... who has
had enough to eat, and whose horse has had enough to eat, is always at
In one of the corners a young cabman gets up, clears his throat
sleepily, and makes for the water-bucket.
"Want a drink?" Iona asks him.
"May it do you good.... But my son is dead, mate.... Do you hear?
This week in the hospital.... It's a queer business...."
Iona looks to see the effect produced by his words, but he sees nothing.
The young man has covered his head over and is already asleep. The old
man sighs and scratches himself.... Just as the young man had been
thirsty for water, he thirsts for speech. His son will soon have been
dead a week, and he has not really talked to anybody yet.... He
wants to talk of it properly, with deliberation.... He wants to tell
how his son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died,
how he died.... He wants to describe the funeral, and how he went to
the hospital to get his son's clothes. He still has his daughter Anisya
in the country.... And he wants to talk about her too.... Yes, he
has plenty to talk about now. His listener ought to sigh and exclaim and
lament.... It would be even better to talk to women. Though they are
silly creatures, they blubber at the first word.
"Let's go out and have a look at the mare," Iona thinks. "There is
always time for sleep.... You'll have sleep enough, no fear...."
He puts on his coat and goes into the stables where his mare is
standing. He thinks about oats, about hay, about the weather.... He
cannot think about his son when he is alone.... To talk about
him with someone is possible, but to think of him and picture him is
"Are you munching?" Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining eyes. "There,
munch away, munch away.... Since we have not earned enough for oats,
we will eat hay.... Yes,... I have grown too old to drive....
My son ought to be driving, not I.... He was a real cabman.... He
ought to have lived...."
Iona is silent for a while, and then he goes on:
"That's how it is, old girl.... Kuzma Ionitch is gone.... He said
good-by to me.... He went and died for no reason.... Now, suppose
you had a little colt, and you were own mother to that little colt.
... And all at once that same little colt went and died.... You'd
be sorry, wouldn't you?..."
The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master's hands.
Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.
A WAYFARER'S STORY
IN the year in which my story begins I had a job at a little station on
one of our southwestern railways. Whether I had a gay or a dull life
at the station you can judge from the fact that for fifteen miles
round there was not one human habitation, not one woman, not one decent
tavern; and in those days I was young, strong, hot-headed, giddy, and
foolish. The only distraction I could possibly find was in the windows
of the passenger trains, and in the vile vodka which the Jews drugged
with thorn-apple. Sometimes there would be a glimpse of a woman's
head at a carriage window, and one would stand like a statue without
breathing and stare at it until the train turned into an almost
invisible speck; or one would drink all one could of the loathsome vodka
till one was stupefied and did not feel the passing of the long hours
and days. Upon me, a native of the north, the steppe produced the
effect of a deserted Tatar cemetery. In the summer the steppe with its
solemn calm, the monotonous chur of the grasshoppers, the transparent
moonlight from which one could not hide, reduced me to listless
melancholy; and in the winter the irreproachable whiteness of the
steppe, its cold distance, long nights, and howling wolves oppressed me
like a heavy nightmare. There were several people living at the
station: my wife and I, a deaf and scrofulous telegraph clerk, and three
watchmen. My assistant, a young man who was in consumption, used to go
for treatment to the town, where he stayed for months at a time, leaving
his duties to me together with the right of pocketing his salary. I had
no children, no cake would have tempted visitors to come and see me, and
I could only visit other officials on the line, and that no oftener than
once a month.
I remember my wife and I saw the New Year in. We sat at table, chewed
lazily, and heard the deaf telegraph clerk monotonously tapping on his
apparatus in the next room. I had already drunk five glasses of
drugged vodka, and, propping my heavy head on my fist, thought of my
overpowering boredom from which there was no escape, while my wife sat
beside me and did not take her eyes off me. She looked at me as no
one can look but a woman who has nothing in this world but a handsome
husband. She loved me madly, slavishly, and not merely my good looks,
or my soul, but my sins, my ill-humor and boredom, and even my cruelty
when, in drunken fury, not knowing how to vent my ill-humor, I tormented
her with reproaches.
In spite of the boredom which was consuming me, we were preparing to see
the New Year in with exceptional festiveness, and were awaiting midnight
with some impatience. The fact is, we had in reserve two bottles of
champagne, the real thing, with the label of Veuve Clicquot; this
treasure I had won the previous autumn in a bet with the station-master
of D. when I was drinking with him at a christening. It sometimes
happens during a lesson in mathematics, when the very air is still with
boredom, a butterfly flutters into the class-room; the boys toss their
heads and begin watching its flight with interest, as though they saw
before them not a butterfly but something new and strange; in the same
way ordinary champagne, chancing to come into our dreary station,
roused us. We sat in silence looking alternately at the clock and at the
When the hands pointed to five minutes to twelve I slowly began
uncorking a bottle. I don't know whether I was affected by the vodka,
or whether the bottle was wet, but all I remember is that when the cork
flew up to the ceiling with a bang, my bottle slipped out of my hands
and fell on the floor. Not more than a glass of the wine was spilt, as I
managed to catch the bottle and put my thumb over the foaming neck.
"Well, may the New Year bring you happiness!" I said, filling two
My wife took her glass and fixed her frightened eyes on me. Her face was
pale and wore a look of horror.
"Did you drop the bottle?" she asked.
"Yes. But what of that?"
"It's unlucky," she said, putting down her glass and turning paler
still. "It's a bad omen. It means that some misfortune will happen to us
"What a silly thing you are," I sighed. "You are a clever woman, and yet
you talk as much nonsense as an old nurse. Drink."
"God grant it is nonsense, but... something is sure to happen! You'll
She did not even sip her glass, she moved away and sank into thought.
I uttered a few stale commonplaces about superstition, drank half a
bottle, paced up and down, and then went out of the room.
Outside there was the still frosty night in all its cold, inhospitable
beauty. The moon and two white fluffy clouds beside it hung just over
the station, motionless as though glued to the spot, and looked as
though waiting for something. A faint transparent light came from them
and touched the white earth softly, as though afraid of wounding
her modesty, and lighted up everything--the snowdrifts, the
embankment.... It was still.
I walked along the railway embankment.
"Silly woman," I thought, looking at the sky spangled with brilliant
stars. "Even if one admits that omens sometimes tell the truth, what
evil can happen to us? The misfortunes we have endured already, and
which are facing us now, are so great that it is difficult to imagine
anything worse. What further harm can you do a fish which has been
caught and fried and served up with sauce?"
A poplar covered with hoar frost looked in the bluish darkness like a
giant wrapt in a shroud. It looked at me sullenly and dejectedly, as
though like me it realized its loneliness. I stood a long while looking
"My youth is thrown away for nothing, like a useless cigarette end,"
I went on musing. "My parents died when I was a little child; I was
expelled from the high school, I was born of a noble family, but I have
received neither education nor breeding, and I have no more knowledge
than the humblest mechanic. I have no refuge, no relations, no friends,
no work I like. I am not fitted for anything, and in the prime of my
powers I am good for nothing but to be stuffed into this little station;
I have known nothing but trouble and failure all my life. What can
Red lights came into sight in the distance. A train was moving towards
me. The slumbering steppe listened to the sound of it. My thoughts were
so bitter that it seemed to me that I was thinking aloud and that the
moan of the telegraph wire and the rumble of the train were expressing
"What can happen worse? The loss of my wife?" I wondered. "Even that is
not terrible. It's no good hiding it from my conscience: I don't love my
wife. I married her when I was only a wretched boy; now I am young and
vigorous, and she has gone off and grown older and sillier, stuffed from
her head to her heels with conventional ideas. What charm is there in
her maudlin love, in her hollow chest, in her lusterless eyes? I put
up with her, but I don't love her. What can happen? My youth is being
wasted, as the saying is, for a pinch of snuff. Women flit before my
eyes only in the carriage windows, like falling stars. Love I never had
and have not. My manhood, my courage, my power of feeling are going to
ruin.... Everything is being thrown away like dirt, and all my wealth
here in the steppe is not worth a farthing."
The train rushed past me with a roar and indifferently cast the glow
of its red lights upon me. I saw it stop by the green lights of the
station, stop for a minute and rumble off again. After walking a mile
and a half I went back. Melancholy thoughts haunted me still. Painful
as it was to me, yet I remember I tried as it were to make my thoughts
still gloomier and more melancholy. You know people who are vain and not
very clever have moments when the consciousness that they are miserable
affords them positive satisfaction, and they even coquet with their
misery for their own entertainment. There was a great deal of truth
in what I thought, but there was also a great deal that was absurd and
conceited, and there was something boyishly defiant in my question:
"What could happen worse?"
"And what is there to happen?" I asked myself. "I think I have endured
everything. I've been ill, I've lost money, I get reprimanded by my
superiors every day, and I go hungry, and a mad wolf has run into the
station yard. What more is there? I have been insulted, humiliated,...
and I have insulted others in my time. I have not been a criminal,
it is true, but I don't think I am capable of crime--I am not afraid of
being hauled up for it."
The two little clouds had moved away from the moon and stood at a little
distance, looking as though they were whispering about something which
the moon must not know. A light breeze was racing across the steppe,
bringing the faint rumble of the retreating train.
My wife met me at the doorway. Her eyes were laughing gaily and her
whole face was beaming with good-humor.
"There is news for you!" she whispered. "Make haste, go to your room and
put on your new coat; we have a visitor."
"Aunt Natalya Petrovna has just come by the train."
"What Natalya Petrovna?"
"The wife of my uncle Semyon Fyodoritch. You don't know her. She is a
very nice, good woman."
Probably I frowned, for my wife looked grave and whispered rapidly:
"Of course it is queer her having come, but don't be cross, Nikolay, and
don't be hard on her. She is unhappy, you know; Uncle Semyon Fyodoritch
really is ill-natured and tyrannical, it is difficult to live with him.
She says she will only stay three days with us, only till she gets a
letter from her brother."
My wife whispered a great deal more nonsense to me about her despotic
uncle; about the weakness of mankind in general and of young wives in
particular; about its being our duty to give shelter to all, even great
sinners, and so on. Unable to make head or tail of it, I put on my new
coat and went to make acquaintance with my "aunt."
A little woman with large black eyes was sitting at the table. My table,
the gray walls, my roughly-made sofa, everything to the tiniest grain of
dust seemed to have grown younger and more cheerful in the presence
of this new, young, beautiful, and dissolute creature, who had a most
subtle perfume about her. And that our visitor was a lady of easy virtue
I could see from her smile, from her scent, from the peculiar way in
which she glanced and made play with her eyelashes, from the tone in
which she talked with my wife--a respectable woman. There was no need to
tell me she had run away from her husband, that her husband was old and
despotic, that she was good-natured and lively; I took it all in at
the first glance. Indeed, it is doubtful whether there is a man in
all Europe who cannot spot at the first glance a woman of a certain
"I did not know I had such a big nephew!" said my aunt, holding out her
hand to me and smiling.
"And I did not know I had such a pretty aunt," I answered.
Supper began over again. The cork flew with a bang out of the second
bottle, and my aunt swallowed half a glassful at a gulp, and when my
wife went out of the room for a moment my aunt did not scruple to drain
a full glass. I was drunk both with the wine and with the presence of a
woman. Do you remember the song?
"Eyes black as pitch, eyes full of passion,
Eyes burning bright and beautiful,
How I love you,
How I fear you!"
I don't remember what happened next. Anyone who wants to know how love
begins may read novels and long stories; I will put it shortly and in
the words of the same silly song:
"It was an evil hour
When first I met you."
Everything went head over heels to the devil. I remember a fearful,
frantic whirlwind which sent me flying round like a feather. It lasted
a long while, and swept from the face of the earth my wife and my aunt
herself and my strength. From the little station in the steppe it has
flung me, as you see, into this dark street.
Now tell me what further evil can happen to me?
AFTER THE THEATRE
NADYA ZELENIN had just come back with her mamma from the theatre where
she had seen a performance of "Yevgeny Onyegin." As soon as she reached
her own room she threw off her dress, let down her hair, and in her
petticoat and white dressing-jacket hastily sat down to the table to
write a letter like Tatyana's.
"I love you," she wrote, "but you do not love me, do not love me!"
She wrote it and laughed.
She was only sixteen and did not yet love anyone. She knew that an
officer called Gorny and a student called Gruzdev loved her, but now
after the opera she wanted to be doubtful of their love. To be unloved
and unhappy--how interesting that was. There is something beautiful,
touching, and poetical about it when one loves and the other is
indifferent. Onyegin was interesting because he was not in love at all,
and Tatyana was fascinating because she was so much in love; but if they
had been equally in love with each other and had been happy, they would
perhaps have seemed dull.
"Leave off declaring that you love me," Nadya went on writing, thinking
of Gorny. "I cannot believe it. You are very clever, cultivated,
serious, you have immense talent, and perhaps a brilliant future awaits
you, while I am an uninteresting girl of no importance, and you know
very well that I should be only a hindrance in your life. It is true
that you were attracted by me and thought you had found your ideal in
me, but that was a mistake, and now you are asking yourself in despair:
'Why did I meet that girl?' And only your goodness of heart prevents you
from owning it to yourself...."
Nadya felt sorry for herself, she began to cry, and went on:
"It is hard for me to leave my mother and my brother, or I should take a
nun's veil and go whither chance may lead me. And you would be left free
and would love another. Oh, if I were dead!"
She could not make out what she had written through her tears; little
rainbows were quivering on the table, on the floor, on the ceiling, as
though she were looking through a prism. She could not write, she sank
back in her easy-chair and fell to thinking of Gorny.
My God! how interesting, how fascinating men were! Nadya recalled the
fine expression, ingratiating, guilty, and soft, which came into the
officer's face when one argued about music with him, and the effort he
made to prevent his voice from betraying his passion. In a society where
cold haughtiness and indifference are regarded as signs of good breeding
and gentlemanly bearing, one must conceal one's passions. And he did
try to conceal them, but he did not succeed, and everyone knew very well
that he had a passionate love of music. The endless discussions about
music and the bold criticisms of people who knew nothing about it kept
him always on the strain; he was frightened, timid, and silent. He
played the piano magnificently, like a professional pianist, and if he
had not been in the army he would certainly have been a famous musician.
The tears on her eyes dried. Nadya remembered that Gorny had declared
his love at a Symphony concert, and again downstairs by the hatstand
where there was a tremendous draught blowing in all directions.
"I am very glad that you have at last made the acquaintance of Gruzdev,
our student friend," she went on writing. "He is a very clever man, and
you will be sure to like him. He came to see us yesterday and stayed
till two o'clock. We were all delighted with him, and I regretted that
you had not come. He said a great deal that was remarkable."
Nadya laid her arms on the table and leaned her head on them, and her
hair covered the letter. She recalled that the student, too, loved her,
and that he had as much right to a letter from her as Gorny. Wouldn't it
be better after all to write to Gruzdev? There was a stir of joy in her
bosom for no reason whatever; at first the joy was small, and rolled
in her bosom like an india-rubber ball; then it became more massive,
bigger, and rushed like a wave. Nadya forgot Gorny and Gruzdev; her
thoughts were in a tangle and her joy grew and grew; from her bosom it
passed into her arms and legs, and it seemed as though a light, cool
breeze were breathing on her head and ruffling her hair. Her shoulders
quivered with subdued laughter, the table and the lamp chimney shook,
too, and tears from her eyes splashed on the letter. She could not
stop laughing, and to prove to herself that she was not laughing about
nothing she made haste to think of something funny.
"What a funny poodle," she said, feeling as though she would choke with
laughter. "What a funny poodle!"
She thought how, after tea the evening before, Gruzdev had played with
Maxim the poodle, and afterwards had told them about a very intelligent
poodle who had run after a crow in the yard, and the crow had looked
round at him and said: "Oh, you scamp!"
The poodle, not knowing he had to do with a learned crow, was fearfully
confused and retreated in perplexity, then began barking....
"No, I had better love Gruzdev," Nadya decided, and she tore up the
letter to Gorny.
She fell to thinking of the student, of his love, of her love; but the
thoughts in her head insisted on flowing in all directions, and she
thought about everything--about her mother, about the street, about the
pencil, about the piano.... She thought of them joyfully, and felt
that everything was good, splendid, and her joy told her that this was
not all, that in a little while it would be better still. Soon it would
be spring, summer, going with her mother to Gorbiki. Gorny would come
for his furlough, would walk about the garden with her and make love
to her. Gruzdev would come too. He would play croquet and skittles with
her, and would tell her wonderful things. She had a passionate longing
for the garden, the darkness, the pure sky, the stars. Again her
shoulders shook with laughter, and it seemed to her that there was a
scent of wormwood in the room and that a twig was tapping at the window.
She went to her bed, sat down, and not knowing what to do with the
immense joy which filled her with yearning, she looked at the holy image
hanging at the back of her bed, and said:
"Oh, Lord God! Oh, Lord God!"
A LADY'S STORY
NINE years ago Pyotr Sergeyitch, the deputy prosecutor, and I were
riding towards evening in hay-making time to fetch the letters from the
The weather was magnificent, but on our way back we heard a peal of
thunder, and saw an angry black storm-cloud which was coming straight
towards us. The storm-cloud was approaching us and we were approaching
Against the background of it our house and church looked white and the
tall poplars shone like silver. There was a scent of rain and mown hay.
My companion was in high spirits. He kept laughing and talking all sorts
of nonsense. He said it would be nice if we could suddenly come upon a
medieval castle with turreted towers, with moss on it and owls, in
which we could take shelter from the rain and in the end be killed by a
Then the first wave raced through the rye and a field of oats, there
was a gust of wind, and the dust flew round and round in the air. Pyotr
Sergeyitch laughed and spurred on his horse.
"It's fine!" he cried, "it's splendid!"
Infected by his gaiety, I too began laughing at the thought that in
a minute I should be drenched to the skin and might be struck by
Riding swiftly in a hurricane when one is breathless with the wind, and
feels like a bird, thrills one and puts one's heart in a flutter. By the
time we rode into our courtyard the wind had gone down, and big drops of
rain were pattering on the grass and on the roofs. There was not a soul
near the stable.
Pyotr Sergeyitch himself took the bridles off, and led the horses to
their stalls. I stood in the doorway waiting for him to finish, and
watching the slanting streaks of rain; the sweetish, exciting scent of
hay was even stronger here than in the fields; the storm-clouds and the
rain made it almost twilight.
"What a crash!" said Pyotr Sergeyitch, coming up to me after a very loud
rolling peal of thunder when it seemed as though the sky were split in
two. "What do you say to that?"
He stood beside me in the doorway and, still breathless from his rapid
ride, looked at me. I could see that he was admiring me.
"Natalya Vladimirovna," he said, "I would give anything only to stay
here a little longer and look at you. You are lovely to-day."
His eyes looked at me with delight and supplication, his face was pale.
On his beard and mustache were glittering raindrops, and they, too,
seemed to be looking at me with love.
"I love you," he said. "I love you, and I am happy at seeing you. I know
you cannot be my wife, but I want nothing, I ask nothing; only know that
I love you. Be silent, do not answer me, take no notice of it, but only
know that you are dear to me and let me look at you."
His rapture affected me too; I looked at his enthusiastic face, listened
to his voice which mingled with the patter of the rain, and stood as
though spellbound, unable to stir.
I longed to go on endlessly looking at his shining eyes and listening.
"You say nothing, and that is splendid," said Pyotr Sergeyitch. "Go on
I felt happy. I laughed with delight and ran through the drenching rain
to the house; he laughed too, and, leaping as he went, ran after me.
Both drenched, panting, noisily clattering up the stairs like children,
we dashed into the room. My father and brother, who were not used to
seeing me laughing and light-hearted, looked at me in surprise and began
The storm-clouds had passed over and the thunder had ceased, but the
raindrops still glittered on Pyotr Sergeyitch's beard. The whole evening
till supper-time he was singing, whistling, playing noisily with the dog
and racing about the room after it, so that he nearly upset the servant
with the samovar. And at supper he ate a great deal, talked nonsense,
and maintained that when one eats fresh cucumbers in winter there is the
fragrance of spring in one's mouth.
When I went to bed I lighted a candle and threw my window wide open, and
an undefined feeling took possession of my soul. I remembered that I was
free and healthy, that I had rank and wealth, that I was beloved; above
all, that I had rank and wealth, rank and wealth, my God! how nice that
was!... Then, huddling up in bed at a touch of cold which reached me
from the garden with the dew, I tried to discover whether I loved Pyotr
Sergeyitch or not,... and fell asleep unable to reach any conclusion.
And when in the morning I saw quivering patches of sunlight and the
shadows of the lime trees on my bed, what had happened yesterday rose
vividly in my memory. Life seemed to me rich, varied, full of charm.
Humming, I dressed quickly and went out into the garden....
And what happened afterwards? Why--nothing. In the winter when we lived
in town Pyotr Sergeyitch came to see us from time to time. Country
acquaintances are charming only in the country and in summer; in the
town and in winter they lose their charm. When you pour out tea for them
in the town it seems as though they are wearing other people's coats,
and as though they stirred their tea too long. In the town, too, Pyotr
Sergeyitch spoke sometimes of love, but the effect was not at all the
same as in the country. In the town we were more vividly conscious of
the wall that stood between us. I had rank and wealth, while he was
poor, and he was not even a nobleman, but only the son of a deacon and
a deputy public prosecutor; we both of us--I through my youth and he for
some unknown reason--thought of that wall as very high and thick, and
when he was with us in the town he would criticize aristocratic society
with a forced smile, and maintain a sullen silence when there was
anyone else in the drawing-room. There is no wall that cannot be broken
through, but the heroes of the modern romance, so far as I know them,
are too timid, spiritless, lazy, and oversensitive, and are too ready to
resign themselves to the thought that they are doomed to failure, that
personal life has disappointed them; instead of struggling they merely
criticize, calling the world vulgar and forgetting that their criticism
passes little by little into vulgarity.
I was loved, happiness was not far away, and seemed to be almost
touching me; I went on living in careless ease without trying to
understand myself, not knowing what I expected or what I wanted from
life, and time went on and on.... People passed by me with their
love, bright days and warm nights flashed by, the nightingales sang, the
hay smelt fragrant, and all this, sweet and overwhelming in remembrance,
passed with me as with everyone rapidly, leaving no trace, was not
prized, and vanished like mist.... Where is it all?
My father is dead, I have grown older; everything that delighted me,
caressed me, gave me hope--the patter of the rain, the rolling of
the thunder, thoughts of happiness, talk of love--all that has become
nothing but a memory, and I see before me a flat desert distance; on
the plain not one living soul, and out there on the horizon it is dark
A ring at the bell.... It is Pyotr Sergeyitch. When in the winter I
see the trees and remember how green they were for me in the summer I
"Oh, my darlings!"
And when I see people with whom I spent my spring-time, I feel sorrowful
and warm and whisper the same thing.
He has long ago by my father's good offices been transferred to town.
He looks a little older, a little fallen away. He has long given up
declaring his love, has left off talking nonsense, dislikes his official
work, is ill in some way and disillusioned; he has given up trying to
get anything out of life, and takes no interest in living. Now he has
sat down by the hearth and looks in silence at the fire....
Not knowing what to say I ask him:
"Well, what have you to tell me?"
"Nothing," he answers.
And silence again. The red glow of the fire plays about his melancholy
I thought of the past, and all at once my shoulders began quivering, my
head dropped, and I began weeping bitterly. I felt unbearably sorry for
myself and for this man, and passionately longed for what had passed
away and what life refused us now. And now I did not think about rank
I broke into loud sobs, pressing my temples, and muttered:
"My God! my God! my life is wasted!"
And he sat and was silent, and did not say to me: "Don't weep." He
understood that I must weep, and that the time for this had come.
I saw from his eyes that he was sorry for me; and I was sorry for him,
too, and vexed with this timid, unsuccessful man who could not make a
life for me, nor for himself.
When I saw him to the door, he was, I fancied, purposely a long while
putting on his coat. Twice he kissed my hand without a word, and looked
a long while into my tear-stained face. I believe at that moment he
recalled the storm, the streaks of rain, our laughter, my face that day;
he longed to say something to me, and he would have been glad to say it;
but he said nothing, he merely shook his head and pressed my hand. God
After seeing him out, I went back to my study and again sat on the
carpet before the fireplace; the red embers were covered with ash and
began to grow dim. The frost tapped still more angrily at the windows,
and the wind droned in the chimney.
The maid came in and, thinking I was asleep, called my name.
OLD SEMYON, nicknamed Canny, and a young Tatar, whom no one knew by
name, were sitting on the river-bank by the camp-fire; the other
three ferrymen were in the hut. Semyon, an old man of sixty, lean and
toothless, but broad shouldered and still healthy-looking, was drunk;
he would have gone in to sleep long before, but he had a bottle in his
pocket and he was afraid that the fellows in the hut would ask him for
vodka. The Tatar was ill and weary, and wrapping himself up in his rags
was describing how nice it was in the Simbirsk province, and what a
beautiful and clever wife he had left behind at home. He was not more
than twenty five, and now by the light of the camp-fire, with his pale
and sick, mournful face, he looked like a boy.
"To be sure, it is not paradise here," said Canny. "You can see for
yourself, the water, the bare banks, clay, and nothing else....
Easter has long passed and yet there is ice on the river, and this
morning there was snow..."
"It's bad! it's bad!" said the Tatar, and looked round him in terror.
The dark, cold river was flowing ten paces away; it grumbled, lapped
against the hollow clay banks and raced on swiftly towards the far-away
sea. Close to the bank there was the dark blur of a big barge, which the
ferrymen called a "karbos." Far away on the further bank, lights, dying
down and flickering up again, zigzagged like little snakes; they were
burning last year's grass. And beyond the little snakes there was
darkness again. There little icicles could be heard knocking against the
barge It was damp and cold....
The Tatar glanced at the sky. There were as many stars as at home, and
the same blackness all round, but something was lacking. At home in the
Simbirsk province the stars were quite different, and so was the sky.
"It's bad! it's bad!" he repeated.
"You will get used to it," said Semyon, and he laughed. "Now you are
young and foolish, the milk is hardly dry on your lips, and it seems to
you in your foolishness that you are more wretched than anyone; but the
time will come when you will say to yourself: 'I wish no one a better
life than mine.' You look at me. Within a week the floods will be over
and we shall set up the ferry; you will all go wandering off about
Siberia while I shall stay and shall begin going from bank to bank. I've
been going like that for twenty-two years, day and night. The pike and
the salmon are under the water while I am on the water. And thank God
for it, I want nothing; God give everyone such a life."
The Tatar threw some dry twigs on the camp-fire, lay down closer to the
blaze, and said:
"My father is a sick man. When he dies my mother and wife will come
here. They have promised."
"And what do you want your wife and mother for?" asked Canny. "That's
mere foolishness, my lad. It's the devil confounding you, damn his soul!
Don't you listen to him, the cursed one. Don't let him have his way. He
is at you about the women, but you spite him; say, 'I don't want them!'
He is on at you about freedom, but you stand up to him and say: 'I
don't want it!' I want nothing, neither father nor mother, nor wife, nor
freedom, nor post, nor paddock; I want nothing, damn their souls!"
Semyon took a pull at the bottle and went on:
"I am not a simple peasant, not of the working class, but the son of
a deacon, and when I was free I lived at Kursk; I used to wear a
frockcoat, and now I have brought myself to such a pass that I can sleep
naked on the ground and eat grass. And I wish no one a better life. I
want nothing and I am afraid of nobody, and the way I look at it is that
there is nobody richer and freer than I am. When they sent me here from
Russia from the first day I stuck it out; I want nothing! The devil was
at me about my wife and about my home and about freedom, but I told him:
'I want nothing.' I stuck to it, and here you see I live well, and I
don't complain, and if anyone gives way to the devil and listens to him,
if but once, he is lost, there is no salvation for him: he is sunk in
the bog to the crown of his head and will never get out.
"It is not only a foolish peasant like you, but even gentlemen,
well-educated people, are lost. Fifteen years ago they sent a gentleman
here from Russia. He hadn't shared something with his brothers and had
forged something in a will. They did say he was a prince or a baron, but
maybe he was simply an official--who knows? Well, the gentleman
arrived here, and first thing he bought himself a house and land in
Muhortinskoe. 'I want to live by my own work,' says he, 'in the sweat
of my brow, for I am not a gentleman now,' says he, 'but a settler.'
'Well,' says I, 'God help you, that's the right thing.' He was a young
man then, busy and careful; he used to mow himself and catch fish and
ride sixty miles on horseback. Only this is what happened: from the very
first year he took to riding to Gyrino for the post; he used to stand on
my ferry and sigh: 'Ech, Semyon, how long it is since they sent me any
money from home!' 'You don't want money, Vassily Sergeyitch,' says I.
'What use is it to you? You cast away the past, and forget it as though
it had never been at all, as though it had been a dream, and begin to
live anew. Don't listen to the devil,' says I; 'he will bring you to no
good, he'll draw you into a snare. Now you want money,' says I, 'but in
a very little while you'll be wanting something else, and then more and
more. If you want to be happy,' says I, the chief thing is not to
want anything. Yes.... If,' says I, 'if Fate has wronged you and me
cruelly it's no good asking for her favor and bowing down to her, but
you despise her and laugh at her, or else she will laugh at you.' That's
what I said to him....
"Two years later I ferried him across to this side, and he was rubbing
his hands and laughing. 'I am going to Gyrino to meet my wife,' says
he. 'She was sorry for me,' says he; 'she has come. She is good and
kind.' And he was breathless with joy. So a day later he came with his
wife. A beautiful young lady in a hat; in her arms was a baby girl.
And lots of luggage of all sorts. And my Vassily Sergeyitch was fussing
round her; he couldn't take his eyes off her and couldn't say enough in
praise of her. 'Yes, brother Semyon, even in Siberia people can live!'
'Oh, all right,' thinks I, 'it will be a different tale presently.'
And from that time forward he went almost every week to inquire whether
money had not come from Russia. He wanted a lot of money. 'She is losing
her youth and beauty here in Siberia for my sake,' says he, 'and sharing
my bitter lot with me, and so I ought,' says he, 'to provide her with
"To make it livelier for the lady he made acquaintance with the
officials and all sorts of riff-raff. And of course he had to give food
and drink to all that crew, and there had to be a piano and a
shaggy lapdog on the sofa--plague take it!... Luxury, in fact,
self-indulgence. The lady did not stay with him long. How could she? The
clay, the water, the cold, no vegetables for you, no fruit. All around
you ignorant and drunken people and no sort of manners, and she was
a spoilt lady from Petersburg or Moscow.... To be sure she moped.
Besides, her husband, say what you like, was not a gentleman now, but a
settler--not the same rank.
"Three years later, I remember, on the eve of the Assumption, there was
shouting from the further bank. I went over with the ferry, and what do
I see but the lady, all wrapped up, and with her a young gentleman, an
official. A sledge with three horses.... I ferried them across here,
they got in and away like the wind. They were soon lost to sight. And
towards morning Vassily Sergeyitch galloped down to the ferry. 'Didn't
my wife come this way with a gentleman in spectacles, Semyon?' 'She
did,' said I; 'you may look for the wind in the fields!' He galloped in
pursuit of them. For five days and nights he was riding after them. When
I ferried him over to the other side afterwards, he flung himself on
the ferry and beat his head on the boards of the ferry and howled. 'So
that's how it is,' says I. I laughed, and reminded him 'people can live
even in Siberia!' And he beat his head harder than ever....
"Then he began longing for freedom. His wife had slipped off to Russia,
and of course he was drawn there to see her and to get her away from her
lover. And he took, my lad, to galloping almost every day, either to
the post or the town to see the commanding officer; he kept sending in
petitions for them to have mercy on him and let him go back home; and
he used to say that he had spent some two hundred roubles on telegrams
alone. He sold his land and mortgaged his house to the Jews. He grew
gray and bent, and yellow in the face, as though he was in consumption.
If he talked to you he would go, khee--khee--khee,... and there were
tears in his eyes. He kept rushing about like this with petitions for
eight years, but now he has grown brighter and more cheerful again: he
has found another whim to give way to. You see, his daughter has grown
up. He looks at her, and she is the apple of his eye. And to tell the
truth she is all right, good-looking, with black eyebrows and a lively
disposition. Every Sunday he used to ride with her to church in Gyrino.
They used to stand on the ferry, side by side, she would laugh and he
could not take his eyes off her. 'Yes, Semyon,' says he, 'people can
live even in Siberia. Even in Siberia there is happiness. Look,' says
he, 'what a daughter I have got! I warrant you wouldn't find another
like her for a thousand versts round.' 'Your daughter is all right,'
says I, 'that's true, certainly.' But to myself I thought: 'Wait a bit,
the wench is young, her blood is dancing, she wants to live, and there
is no life here.' And she did begin to pine, my lad.... She faded and
faded, and now she can hardly crawl about. Consumption.
"So you see what Siberian happiness is, damn its soul! You see how
people can live in Siberia.... He has taken to going from one doctor
to another and taking them home with him. As soon as he hears that two
or three hundred miles away there is a doctor or a sorcerer, he will
drive to fetch him. A terrible lot of money he spent on doctors, and to
my thinking he had better have spent the money on drink.... She'll
die just the same. She is certain to die, and then it will be all over
with him. He'll hang himself from grief or run away to Russia--that's a
sure thing. He'll run away and they'll catch him, then he will be tried,
sent to prison, he will have a taste of the lash...."
"Good! good!" said the Tatar, shivering with cold.
"What is good?" asked Canny.
"His wife, his daughter.... What of prison and what of
sorrow!--anyway, he did see his wife and his daughter.... You say,
want nothing. But 'nothing' is bad! His wife lived with him three
years--that was a gift from God. 'Nothing' is bad, but three years is
good. How not understand?"
Shivering and hesitating, with effort picking out the Russian words of
which he knew but few, the Tatar said that God forbid one should fall
sick and die in a strange land, and be buried in the cold and dark
earth; that if his wife came to him for one day, even for one hour, that
for such happiness he would be ready to bear any suffering and to thank
God. Better one day of happiness than nothing.
Then he described again what a beautiful and clever wife he had left
at home. Then, clutching his head in both hands, he began crying and
assuring Semyon that he was not guilty, and was suffering for nothing.
His two brothers and an uncle had carried off a peasant's horses, and
had beaten the old man till he was half dead, and the commune had not
judged fairly, but had contrived a sentence by which all the three
brothers were sent to Siberia, while the uncle, a rich man, was left at
"You will get used to it!" said Semyon.
The Tatar was silent, and stared with tear-stained eyes at the fire;
his face expressed bewilderment and fear, as though he still did
not understand why he was here in the darkness and the wet, beside
strangers, and not in the Simbirsk province.
Canny lay near the fire, chuckled at something, and began humming a song
in an undertone.
"What joy has she with her father?" he said a little later. "He loves
her and he rejoices in her, that's true; but, mate, you must mind your
ps and qs with him, he is a strict old man, a harsh old man. And young
wenches don't want strictness. They want petting and ha-ha-ha! and
ho-ho-ho! and scent and pomade. Yes.... Ech! life, life," sighed
Semyon, and he got up heavily. "The vodka is all gone, so it is time to
sleep. Eh? I am going, my lad...."
Left alone, the Tatar put on more twigs, lay down and stared at the
fire; he began thinking of his own village and of his wife. If his wife
could only come for a month, for a day; and then if she liked she might
go back again. Better a month or even a day than nothing. But if his
wife kept her promise and came, what would he have to feed her on? Where
could she live here?
"If there were not something to eat, how could she live?" the Tatar
He was paid only ten kopecks for working all day and all night at the
oar; it is true that travelers gave him tips for tea and for vodkas but
the men shared all they received among themselves, and gave nothing
to the Tatar, but only laughed at him. And from poverty he was hungry,
cold, and frightened.... Now, when his whole body was aching and
shivering, he ought to go into the hut and lie down to sleep; but he had
nothing to cover him there, and it was colder than on the river-bank;
here he had nothing to cover him either, but at least he could make up
In another week, when the floods were quite over and they set the ferry
going, none of the ferrymen but Semyon would be wanted, and the Tatar
would begin going from village to village begging for alms and for work.
His wife was only seventeen; she was beautiful, spoilt, and shy; could
she possibly go from village to village begging alms with her face
unveiled? No, it was terrible even to think of that....
It was already getting light; the barge, the bushes of willow on the
water, and the waves could be clearly discerned, and if one looked round
there was the steep clay slope; at the bottom of it the hut thatched
with dingy brown straw, and the huts of the village lay clustered higher
up. The cocks were already crowing in the village.
The rusty red clay slope, the barge, the river, the strange, unkind
people, hunger, cold, illness, perhaps all that was not real. Most
likely it was all a dream, thought the Tatar. He felt that he was
asleep and heard his own snoring.... Of course he was at home in the
Simbirsk province, and he had only to call his wife by name for her to
answer; and in the next room was his mother.... What terrible dreams
there are, though! What are they for? The Tatar smiled and opened his
eyes. What river was this, the Volga?
Snow was falling.
"Boat!" was shouted on the further side. "Boat!"
The Tatar woke up, and went to wake his mates and row over to the other
side. The ferrymen came on to the river-bank, putting on their torn
sheepskins as they walked, swearing with voices husky from sleepiness
and shivering from the cold. On waking from their sleep, the river, from
which came a breath of piercing cold, seemed to strike them as revolting
and horrible. They jumped into the barge without hurrying themselves....
The Tatar and the three ferrymen took the long, broad-bladed oars,
which in the darkness looked like the claws of crabs; Semyon leaned his
stomach against the tiller. The shout on the other side still continued,
and two shots were fired from a revolver, probably with the idea that
the ferrymen were asleep or had gone to the pot-house in the village.
"All right, you have plenty of time," said Semyon in the tone of a man
convinced that there was no necessity in this world to hurry--that it
would lead to nothing, anyway.
The heavy, clumsy barge moved away from the bank and floated between the
willow-bushes, and only the willows slowly moving back showed that the
barge was not standing still but moving. The ferrymen swung the
oars evenly in time; Semyon lay with his stomach on the tiller and,
describing a semicircle in the air, flew from one side to the other.
In the darkness it looked as though the men were sitting on some
antediluvian animal with long paws, and were moving on it through
a cold, desolate land, the land of which one sometimes dreams in
They passed beyond the willows and floated out into the open. The creak
and regular splash of the oars was heard on the further shore, and a
shout came: "Make haste! make haste!"
Another ten minutes passed, and the barge banged heavily against the
"And it keeps sprinkling and sprinkling," muttered Semyon, wiping the
snow from his face; "and where it all comes from God only knows."
On the bank stood a thin man of medium height in a jacket lined with fox
fur and in a white lambskin cap. He was standing at a little distance
from his horses and not moving; he had a gloomy, concentrated
expression, as though he were trying to remember something and angry
with his untrustworthy memory. When Semyon went up to him and took off
his cap, smiling, he said:
"I am hastening to Anastasyevka. My daughter's worse again, and they say
that there is a new doctor at Anastasyevka."
They dragged the carriage on to the barge and floated back. The man whom
Semyon addressed as Vassily Sergeyitch stood all the time motionless,
tightly compressing his thick lips and staring off into space; when his
coachman asked permission to smoke in his presence he made no answer, as
though he had not heard. Semyon, lying with his stomach on the tiller,
looked mockingly at him and said:
"Even in Siberia people can live--can li-ive!"
There was a triumphant expression on Canny's face, as though he had
proved something and was delighted that things had happened as he
had foretold. The unhappy helplessness of the man in the foxskin coat
evidently afforded him great pleasure.
"It's muddy driving now, Vassily Sergeyitch," he said when the horses
were harnessed again on the bank. "You should have put off going for
another fortnight, when it will be drier. Or else not have gone at all.
... If any good would come of your going--but as you know yourself,
people have been driving about for years and years, day and night, and
it's alway's been no use. That's the truth."
Vassily Sergeyitch tipped him without a word, got into his carriage and
"There, he has galloped off for a doctor!" said Semyon, shrinking from
the cold. "But looking for a good doctor is like chasing the wind in the
fields or catching the devil by the tail, plague take your soul! What a
queer chap, Lord forgive me a sinner!"
The Tatar went up to Canny, and, looking at him with hatred and
repulsion, shivering, and mixing Tatar words with his broken Russian,
said: "He is good... good; but you are bad! You are bad! The
gentleman is a good soul, excellent, and you are a beast, bad! The
gentleman is alive, but you are a dead carcass.... God created man to
be alive, and to have joy and grief and sorrow; but you want nothing,
so you are not alive, you are stone, clay! A stone wants nothing and you
want nothing. You are a stone, and God does not love you, but He loves
Everyone laughed; the Tatar frowned contemptuously, and with a wave
of his hand wrapped himself in his rags and went to the campfire. The
ferrymen and Semyon sauntered to the hut.
"It's cold," said one ferryman huskily as he stretched himself on the
straw with which the damp clay floor was covered.
"Yes, its not warm," another assented. "It's a dog's life...."
They all lay down. The door was thrown open by the wind and the snow
drifted into the hut; nobody felt inclined to get up and shut the door:
they were cold, and it was too much trouble.
"I am all right," said Semyon as he began to doze. "I wouldn't wish
anyone a better life."
"You are a tough one, we all know. Even the devils won't take you!"
Sounds like a dog's howling came from outside.
"What's that? Who's there?"
"It's the Tatar crying."
"I say.... He's a queer one!"
"He'll get u-used to it!" said Semyon, and at once fell asleep.
The others were soon asleep too. The door remained unclosed.
THE long goods train has been standing for hours in the little station.
The engine is as silent as though its fire had gone out; there is not a
soul near the train or in the station yard.
A pale streak of light comes from one of the vans and glides over the
rails of a siding. In that van two men are sitting on an outspread cape:
one is an old man with a big gray beard, wearing a sheepskin coat and a
high lambskin hat, somewhat like a busby; the other a beardless youth
in a threadbare cloth reefer jacket and muddy high boots. They are the
owners of the goods. The old man sits, his legs stretched out before
him, musing in silence; the young man half reclines and softly strums
on a cheap accordion. A lantern with a tallow candle in it is hanging on
the wall near them.
The van is quite full. If one glances in through the dim light of
the lantern, for the first moment the eyes receive an impression of
something shapeless, monstrous, and unmistakably alive, something very
much like gigantic crabs which move their claws and feelers, crowd
together, and noiselessly climb up the walls to the ceiling; but if
one looks more closely, horns and their shadows, long lean backs, dirty
hides, tails, eyes begin to stand out in the dusk. They are cattle and
their shadows. There are eight of them in the van. Some turn round and
stare at the men and swing their tails. Others try to stand or lie down
more comfortably. They are crowded. If one lies down the others must
stand and huddle closer. No manger, no halter, no litter, not a wisp of
At last the old man pulls out of his pocket a silver watch and looks at
the time: a quarter past two.
"We have been here nearly two hours," he says, yawning. "Better go and
stir them up, or we may be here till morning. They have gone to sleep,
or goodness knows what they are up to."
The old man gets up and, followed by his long shadow, cautiously gets
down from the van into the darkness. He makes his way along beside the
train to the engine, and after passing some two dozen vans sees a red
open furnace; a human figure sits motionless facing it; its peaked cap,
nose, and knees are lighted up by the crimson glow, all the rest is
black and can scarcely be distinguished in the darkness.
"Are we going to stay here much longer?" asks the old man.
No answer. The motionless figure is evidently asleep. The old man clears
his throat impatiently and, shrinking from the penetrating damp, walks
round the engine, and as he does so the brilliant light of the two
engine lamps dazzles his eyes for an instant and makes the night even
blacker to him; he goes to the station.
The platform and steps of the station are wet. Here and there are white
patches of freshly fallen melting snow. In the station itself it is
light and as hot as a steam-bath. There is a smell of paraffin. Except
for the weighing-machine and a yellow seat on which a man wearing a
guard's uniform is asleep, there is no furniture in the place at all.
On the left are two wide-open doors. Through one of them the telegraphic
apparatus and a lamp with a green shade on it can be seen; through the
other, a small room, half of it taken up by a dark cupboard. In
this room the head guard and the engine-driver are sitting on the
window-sill. They are both feeling a cap with their fingers and
"That's not real beaver, it's imitation," says the engine-driver. "Real
beaver is not like that. Five roubles would be a high price for the
whole cap, if you care to know!"
"You know a great deal about it,..." the head guard says, offended.
"Five roubles, indeed! Here, we will ask the merchant. Mr. Malahin," he
says, addressing the old man, "what do you say: is this imitation beaver
Old Malahin takes the cap into his hand, and with the air of a
connoisseur pinches the fur, blows on it, sniffs at it, and a
contemptuous smile lights up his angry face.
"It must be imitation!" he says gleefully. "Imitation it is."
A dispute follows. The guard maintains that the cap is real beaver, and
the engine-driver and Malahin try to persuade him that it is not. In the
middle of the argument the old man suddenly remembers the object of his
"Beaver and cap is all very well, but the train's standing still,
gentlemen!" he says. "Who is it we are waiting for? Let us start!"
"Let us," the guard agrees. "We will smoke another cigarette and go on.
But there is no need to be in a hurry.... We shall be delayed at the
next station anyway!"
"Why should we?"
"Oh, well.... We are too much behind time.... If you are late at
one station you can't help being delayed at the other stations to let
the trains going the opposite way pass. Whether we set off now or in
the morning we shan't be number fourteen. We shall have to be number
"And how do you make that out?"
"Well, there it is."
Malahin looks at the guard, reflects, and mutters mechanically as though
"God be my judge, I have reckoned it and even jotted it down in a
notebook; we have wasted thirty-four hours standing still on the
journey. If you go on like this, either the cattle will die, or they
won't pay me two roubles for the meat when I do get there. It's not
traveling, but ruination."
The guard raises his eyebrows and sighs with an air that seems to say:
"All that is unhappily true!" The engine-driver sits silent, dreamily
looking at the cap. From their faces one can see that they have a secret
thought in common, which they do not utter, not because they want to
conceal it, but because such thoughts are much better expressed by signs
than by words. And the old man understands. He feels in his pocket,
takes out a ten-rouble note, and without preliminary words, without any
change in the tone of his voice or the expression of his face, but with
the confidence and directness with which probably only Russians give and
take bribes, he gives the guard the note. The latter takes it, folds it
in four, and without undue haste puts it in his pocket. After that all
three go out of the room, and waking the sleeping guard on the way, go
on to the platform.
"What weather!" grumbles the head guard, shrugging his shoulders. "You
can't see your hand before your face."
"Yes, it's vile weather."
From the window they can see the flaxen head of the telegraph clerk
appear beside the green lamp and the telegraphic apparatus; soon after
another head, bearded and wearing a red cap, appears beside it--no doubt
that of the station-master. The station-master bends down to the table,
reads something on a blue form, rapidly passing his cigarette along the
lines.... Malahin goes to his van.
The young man, his companion, is still half reclining and hardly audibly
strumming on the accordion. He is little more than a boy, with no
trace of a mustache; his full white face with its broad cheek-bones is
childishly dreamy; his eyes have a melancholy and tranquil look unlike
that of a grown-up person, but he is broad, strong, heavy and rough like
the old man; he does not stir nor shift his position, as though he is
not equal to moving his big body. It seems as though any movement he
made would tear his clothes and be so noisy as to frighten both him and
the cattle. From under his big fat fingers that clumsily pick out the
stops and keys of the accordion comes a steady flow of thin, tinkling
sounds which blend into a simple, monotonous little tune; he listens to
it, and is evidently much pleased with his performance.
A bell rings, but with such a muffled note that it seems to come from
far away. A hurried second bell soon follows, then a third and the
guard's whistle. A minute passes in profound silence; the van does not
move, it stands still, but vague sounds begin to come from beneath it,
like the crunch of snow under sledge-runners; the van begins to shake
and the sounds cease. Silence reigns again. But now comes the clank of
buffers, the violent shock makes the van start and, as it were, give a
lurch forward, and all the cattle fall against one another.
"May you be served the same in the world to come," grumbles the old man,
setting straight his cap, which had slipped on the back of his head from
the jolt. "He'll maim all my cattle like this!"
Yasha gets up without a word and, taking one of the fallen beasts by the
horns, helps it to get on to its legs.... The jolt is followed by a
stillness again. The sounds of crunching snow come from under the van
again, and it seems as though the train had moved back a little.
"There will be another jolt in a minute," says the old man. And the
convulsive quiver does, in fact, run along the train, there is a
crashing sound and the bullocks fall on one another again.
"It's a job!" says Yasha, listening. "The train must be heavy. It seems
it won't move."
"It was not heavy before, but now it has suddenly got heavy. No, my
lad, the guard has not gone shares with him, I expect. Go and take him
something, or he will be jolting us till morning."
Yasha takes a three-rouble note from the old man and jumps out of the
van. The dull thud of his heavy footsteps resounds outside the van and
gradually dies away. Stillness.... In the next van a bullock utters a
prolonged subdued "moo," as though it were singing.
Yasha comes back. A cold damp wind darts into the van.
"Shut the door, Yasha, and we will go to bed," says the old man. "Why
burn a candle for nothing?"
Yasha moves the heavy door; there is a sound of a whistle, the engine
and the train set off.
"It's cold," mutters the old man, stretching himself on the cape and
laying his head on a bundle. "It is very different at home! It's warm
and clean and soft, and there is room to say your prayers, but here
we are worse off than any pigs. It's four days and nights since I have
taken off my boots."
Yasha, staggering from the jolting of the train, opens the lantern and
snuffs out the wick with his wet fingers. The light flares up, hisses
like a frying pan and goes out.
"Yes, my lad," Malahin goes on, as he feels Yasha lie down beside him
and the young man's huge back huddle against his own, "it's cold. There
is a draught from every crack. If your mother or your sister were to
sleep here for one night they would be dead by morning. There it is, my
lad, you wouldn't study and go to the high school like your brothers, so
you must take the cattle with your father. It's your own fault, you have
only yourself to blame.... Your brothers are asleep in their beds
now, they are snug under the bedclothes, but you, the careless and lazy
one, are in the same box as the cattle.... Yes.... "
The old man's words are inaudible in the noise of the train, but for a
long time he goes on muttering, sighing and clearing his throat....
The cold air in the railway van grows thicker and more stifling The
pungent odor of fresh dung and smoldering candle makes it so repulsive
and acrid that it irritates Yasha's throat and chest as he falls asleep.
He coughs and sneezes, while the old man, being accustomed to it,
breathes with his whole chest as though nothing were amiss, and merely
clears his throat.
To judge from the swaying of the van and the rattle of the wheels the
train is moving rapidly and unevenly. The engine breathes heavily,
snorting out of time with the pulsation of the train, and altogether
there is a medley of sounds. The bullocks huddle together uneasily and
knock their horns against the walls.
When the old man wakes up, the deep blue sky of early morning is peeping
in at the cracks and at the little uncovered window. He feels unbearably
cold, especially in the back and the feet. The train is standing still;
Yasha, sleepy and morose, is busy with the cattle.
The old man wakes up out of humor. Frowning and gloomy, he clears his
throat angrily and looks from under his brows at Yasha who, supporting a
bullock with his powerful shoulder and slightly lifting it, is trying to
disentangle its leg.
"I told you last night that the cords were too long," mutters the old
man; "but no, 'It's not too long, Daddy.' There's no making you do
anything, you will have everything your own way.... Blockhead!"
He angrily moves the door open and the light rushes into the van. A
passenger train is standing exactly opposite the door, and behind it a
red building with a roofed-in platform--a big station with a refreshment
bar. The roofs and bridges of the trains, the earth, the sleepers, all
are covered with a thin coating of fluffy, freshly fallen snow. In the
spaces between the carriages of the passenger train the passengers can
be seen moving to and fro, and a red-haired, red-faced gendarme walking
up and down; a waiter in a frock-coat and a snow-white shirt-front,
looking cold and sleepy, and probably very much dissatisfied with his
fate, is running along the platform carrying a glass of tea and two
rusks on a tray.
The old man gets up and begins saying his prayers towards the east.
Yasha, having finished with the bullock and put down the spade in the
corner, stands beside him and says his prayers also. He merely moves
his lips and crosses himself; the father prays in a loud whisper and
pronounces the end of each prayer aloud and distinctly.
"... And the life of the world to come. Amen," the old man says aloud,
draws in a breath, and at once whispers another prayer, rapping out
clearly and firmly at the end: "... and lay calves upon Thy altar!"
After saying his prayers, Yasha hurriedly crosses himself and says:
"Five kopecks, please."
And on being given the five-kopeck piece, he takes a red copper teapot
and runs to the station for boiling water. Taking long jumps over
the rails and sleepers, leaving huge tracks in the feathery snow,
and pouring away yesterday's tea out of the teapot he runs to the
refreshment room and jingles his five-kopeck piece against his teapot.
From the van the bar-keeper can be seen pushing away the big teapot and
refusing to give half of his samovar for five kopecks, but Yasha
turns the tap himself and, spreading wide his elbows so as not to be
interfered with fills his teapot with boiling water.
"Damned blackguard!" the bar-keeper shouts after him as he runs back to
the railway van.
The scowling face of Malahin grows a little brighter over the tea.
"We know how to eat and drink, but we don't remember our work. Yesterday
we could do nothing all day but eat and drink, and I'll be bound we
forgot to put down what we spent. What a memory! Lord have mercy on us!"
The old man recalls aloud the expenditure of the day before, and writes
down in a tattered notebook where and how much he had given to guards,
Meanwhile the passenger train has long ago gone off, and an engine
runs backwards and forwards on the empty line, apparently without any
definite object, but simply enjoying its freedom. The sun has risen and
is playing on the snow; bright drops are falling from the station roof
and the tops of the vans.
Having finished his tea, the old man lazily saunters from the van to the
station. Here in the middle of the first-class waiting-room he sees the
familiar figure of the guard standing beside the station-master, a young
man with a handsome beard and in a magnificent rough woollen overcoat.
The young man, probably new to his position, stands in the same place,
gracefully shifting from one foot to the other like a good racehorse,
looks from side to side, salutes everyone that passes by, smiles and
screws up his eyes.... He is red-cheeked, sturdy, and good-humored;
his face is full of eagerness, and is as fresh as though he had just
fallen from the sky with the feathery snow. Seeing Malahin, the guard
sighs guiltily and throws up his hands.
"We can't go number fourteen," he says. "We are very much behind time.
Another train has gone with that number."
The station-master rapidly looks through some forms, then turns his
beaming blue eyes upon Malahin, and, his face radiant with smiles and
freshness, showers questions on him:
"You are Mr. Malahin? You have the cattle? Eight vanloads? What is to be
done now? You are late and I let number fourteen go in the night. What
are we to do now?"
The young man discreetly takes hold of the fur of Malahin's coat with
two pink fingers and, shifting from one foot to the other, explains
affably and convincingly that such and such numbers have gone already,
and that such and such are going, and that he is ready to do for Malahin
everything in his power. And from his face it is evident that he is
ready to do anything to please not only Malahin, but the whole world--he
is so happy, so pleased, and so delighted! The old man listens, and
though he can make absolutely nothing of the intricate system of
numbering the trains, he nods his head approvingly, and he, too, puts
two fingers on the soft wool of the rough coat. He enjoys seeing and
hearing the polite and genial young man. To show goodwill on his side
also, he takes out a ten-rouble note and, after a moment's thought, adds
a couple of rouble notes to it, and gives them to the station-master.
The latter takes them, puts his finger to his cap, and gracefully
thrusts them into his pocket.
"Well, gentlemen, can't we arrange it like this?" he says, kindled by a
new idea that has flashed on him. "The troop train is late,... as you
see, it is not here,... so why shouldn't you go as the troop train?**
And I will let the troop train go as twenty-eight. Eh?"
"If you like," agrees the guard.
"Excellent!" the station-master says, delighted. "In that case there is
no need for you to wait here; you can set off at once. I'll dispatch you
He salutes Malahin and runs off to his room, reading forms as he goes.
The old man is very much pleased by the conversation that has just
taken place; he smiles and looks about the room as though looking for
something else agreeable.
"We'll have a drink, though," he says, taking the guard's arm.
"It seems a little early for drinking."
"No, you must let me treat you to a glass in a friendly way."
They both go to the refreshment bar. After having a drink the guard
spends a long time selecting something to eat.
He is a very stout, elderly man, with a puffy and discolored face. His
fatness is unpleasant, flabby-looking, and he is sallow as people are
who drink too much and sleep irregularly.
"And now we might have a second glass," says Malahin. "It's cold now,
it's no sin to drink. Please take some. So I can rely upon you, Mr.
Guard, that there will be no hindrance or unpleasantness for the rest
of the journey. For you know in moving cattle every hour is precious.
To-day meat is one price; and to-morrow, look you, it will be another.
If you are a day or two late and don't get your price, instead of a
profit you get home--excuse my saying it--with out your breeches. Pray
take a little.... I rely on you, and as for standing you something or
what you like, I shall be pleased to show you my respect at any time."
After having fed the guard, Malahin goes back to the van.
"I have just got hold of the troop train," he says to his son. "We shall
go quickly. The guard says if we go all the way with that number we
shall arrive at eight o'clock to-morrow evening. If one does not bestir
oneself, my boy, one gets nothing.... That's so.... So you watch
After the first bell a man with a face black with soot, in a blouse and
filthy frayed trousers hanging very slack, comes to the door of the van.
This is the oiler, who had been creeping under the carriages and tapping
the wheels with a hammer.
"Are these your vans of cattle?" he asks.
"Why, because two of the vans are not safe. They can't go on, they must
stay here to be repaired."
"Oh, come, tell us another! You simply want a drink, to get something
out of me.... You should have said so."
"As you please, only it is my duty to report it at once."
Without indignation or protest, simply, almost mechanically, the old man
takes two twenty-kopeck pieces out of his pocket and gives them to the
oiler. He takes them very calmly, too, and looking good-naturedly at the
old man enters into conversation.
"You are going to sell your cattle, I suppose.... It's good
Malahin sighs and, looking calmly at the oiler's black face, tells him
that trading in cattle used certainly to be profitable, but now it has
become a risky and losing business.
"I have a mate here," the oiler interrupts him. "You merchant gentlemen
might make him a little present...."
Malahin gives something to the mate too. The troop train goes quickly
and the waits at the stations are comparatively short. The old man is
pleased. The pleasant impression made by the young man in the rough
overcoat has gone deep, the vodka he has drunk slightly clouds his
brain, the weather is magnificent, and everything seems to be going
well. He talks without ceasing, and at every stopping place runs to the
refreshment bar. Feeling the need of a listener, he takes with him first
the guard, and then the engine-driver, and does not simply drink, but
makes a long business of it, with suitable remarks and clinking of
"You have your job and we have ours," he says with an affable smile.
"May God prosper us and you, and not our will but His be done."
The vodka gradually excites him and he is worked up to a great pitch of
energy. He wants to bestir himself, to fuss about, to make inquiries,
to talk incessantly. At one minute he fumbles in his pockets and bundles
and looks for some form. Then he thinks of something and cannot remember
it; then takes out his pocketbook, and with no sort of object counts
over his money. He bustles about, sighs and groans, clasps his hands....
Laying out before him the letters and telegrams from the meat
salesmen in the city, bills, post office and telegraphic receipt forms,
and his note book, he reflects aloud and insists on Yasha's listening.
And when he is tired of reading over forms and talking about prices, he
gets out at the stopping places, runs to the vans where his cattle are,
does nothing, but simply clasps his hands and exclaims in horror.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" he says in a complaining voice. "Holy Martyr
Vlassy! Though they are bullocks, though they are beasts, yet they want
to eat and drink as men do.... It's four days and nights since they
have drunk or eaten. Oh, dear! oh, dear!"
Yasha follows him and does what he is told like an obedient son. He does
not like the old man's frequent visits to the refreshment bar. Though he
is afraid of his father, he cannot refrain from remarking on it.
"So you have begun already!" he says, looking sternly at the old man.
"What are you rejoicing at? Is it your name-day or what?"
"Don't you dare teach your father."
"Fine goings on!"
When he has not to follow his father along the other vans Yasha sits on
the cape and strums on the accordion. Occasionally he gets out and walks
lazily beside the train; he stands by the engine and turns a prolonged,
unmoving stare on the wheels or on the workmen tossing blocks of wood
into the tender; the hot engine wheezes, the falling blocks come down
with the mellow, hearty thud of fresh wood; the engine-driver and
his assistant, very phlegmatic and imperturbable persons, perform
incomprehensible movements and don't hurry themselves. After standing
for a while by the engine, Yasha saunters lazily to the station; here
he looks at the eatables in the refreshment bar, reads aloud some quite
uninteresting notice, and goes back slowly to the cattle van. His face
expresses neither boredom nor desire; apparently he does not care where
he is, at home, in the van, or by the engine.
Towards evening the train stops near a big station. The lamps have only
just been lighted along the line; against the blue background in the
fresh limpid air the lights are bright and pale like stars; they are
only red and glowing under the station roof, where it is already dark.
All the lines are loaded up with carriages, and it seems that if another
train came in there would be no place for it. Yasha runs to the station
for boiling water to make the evening tea. Well-dressed ladies and
high-school boys are walking on the platform. If one looks into the
distance from the platform there are far-away lights twinkling in the
evening dusk on both sides of the station--that is the town. What town?
Yasha does not care to know. He sees only the dim lights and wretched
buildings beyond the station, hears the cabmen shouting, feels a
sharp, cold wind on his face, and imagines that the town is probably
disagreeable, uncomfortable, and dull.
While they are having tea, when it is quite dark and a lantern is
hanging on the wall again as on the previous evening, the train quivers
from a slight shock and begins moving backwards. After going a little
way it stops; they hear indistinct shouts, someone sets the chains
clanking near the buffers and shouts, "Ready!" The train moves and goes
forward. Ten minutes later it is dragged back again.
Getting out of the van, Malahin does not recognize his train. His eight
vans of bullocks are standing in the same row with some trolleys which
were not a part of the train before. Two or three of these are loaded
with rubble and the others are empty. The guards running to and fro on
the platform are strangers. They give unwilling and indistinct answers
to his questions. They have no thoughts to spare for Malahin; they are
in a hurry to get the train together so as to finish as soon as possible
and be back in the warmth.
"What number is this?" asks Malahin
"And where is the troop train? Why have you taken me off the troop
Getting no answer, the old man goes to the station. He looks first for
the familiar figure of the head guard and, not finding him, goes to
the station-master. The station-master is sitting at a table in his own
room, turning over a bundle of forms. He is busy, and affects not to
see the newcomer. His appearance is impressive: a cropped black head,
prominent ears, a long hooked nose, a swarthy face; he has a forbidding
and, as it were, offended expression. Malahin begins making his
complaint at great length.
"What?" queries the station-master. "How is this?" He leans against the
back of his chair and goes on, growing indignant: "What is it? and
why shouldn't you go by number eighteen? Speak more clearly, I don't
understand! How is it? Do you want me to be everywhere at once?"
He showers questions on him, and for no apparent reason grows
sterner and sterner. Malahin is already feeling in his pocket for his
pocketbook, but in the end the station-master, aggrieved and indignant,
for some unknown reason jumps up from his seat and runs out of the room.
Malahin shrugs his shoulders, and goes out to look for someone else to
From boredom or from a desire to put the finishing stroke to a busy day,
or simply that a window with the inscription "Telegraph!" on it catches
his eye, he goes to the window and expresses a desire to send off a
telegram. Taking up a pen, he thinks for a moment, and writes on a blue
form: "Urgent. Traffic Manager. Eight vans of live stock. Delayed at
every station. Kindly send an express number. Reply paid. Malahin."
Having sent off the telegram, he goes back to the station-master's
room. There he finds, sitting on a sofa covered with gray cloth, a
benevolent-looking gentleman in spectacles and a cap of raccoon fur; he
is wearing a peculiar overcoat very much like a lady's, edged with fur,
with frogs and slashed sleeves. Another gentleman, dried-up and sinewy,
wearing the uniform of a railway inspector, stands facing him.
"Just think of it," says the inspector, addressing the gentleman in the
queer overcoat. "I'll tell you an incident that really is A1! The Z.
railway line in the coolest possible way stole three hundred trucks
from the N. line. It's a fact, sir! I swear it! They carried them off,
repainted them, put their letters on them, and that's all about it. The
N. line sends its agents everywhere, they hunt and hunt. And then--can
you imagine it?--the Company happen to come upon a broken-down carriage
of the Z. line. They repair it at their depot, and all at once, bless my
soul! see their own mark on the wheels What do you say to that? Eh? If
I did it they would send me to Siberia, but the railway companies simply
snap their fingers at it!"
It is pleasant to Malahin to talk to educated, cultured people. He
strokes his beard and joins in the conversation with dignity.
"Take this case, gentlemen, for instance," he says. "I am transporting
cattle to X. Eight vanloads. Very good.... Now let us say they charge
me for each vanload as a weight of ten tons; eight bullocks don't weigh
ten tons, but much less, yet they don't take any notice of that...."
At that instant Yasha walks into the room looking for his father. He
listens and is about to sit down on a chair, but probably thinking of
his weight goes and sits on the window-sill.
"They don't take any notice of that," Malahin goes on, "and charge me
and my son the third-class fare, too, forty-two roubles, for going in
the van with the bullocks. This is my son Yakov. I have two more at
home, but they have gone in for study. Well and apart from that it is my
opinion that the railways have ruined the cattle trade. In old days when
they drove them in herds it was better."
The old man's talk is lengthy and drawn out. After every sentence he
looks at Yasha as though he would say: "See how I am talking to clever
"Upon my word!" the inspector interrupts him. "No one is indignant, no
one criticizes. And why? It is very simple. An abomination strikes
the eye and arouses indignation only when it is exceptional, when the
established order is broken by it. Here, where, saving your presence, it
constitutes the long-established program and forms and enters into the
basis of the order itself, where every sleeper on the line bears the
trace of it and stinks of it, one too easily grows accustomed to it!
The second bell rings, the gentlemen in the queer overcoat gets up. The
inspector takes him by the arm and, still talking with heat, goes off
with him to the platform. After the third bell the station-master runs
into his room, and sits down at his table.
"Listen, with what number am I to go?" asks Malahin.
The station-master looks at a form and says indignantly:
"Are you Malahin, eight vanloads? You must pay a rouble a van and
six roubles and twenty kopecks for stamps. You have no stamps. Total,
fourteen roubles, twenty kopecks."
Receiving the money, he writes something down, dries it with sand, and,
hurriedly snatching up a bundle of forms, goes quickly out of the room.
At ten o'clock in the evening Malahin gets an answer from the traffic
manager: "Give precedence."
Reading the telegram through, the old man winks significantly and, very
well pleased with himself, puts it in his pocket.
"Here," he says to Yasha, "look and learn."
At midnight his train goes on. The night is dark and cold like the
previous one; the waits at the stations are long. Yasha sits on the cape
and imperturbably strums on the accordion, while the old man is still
more eager to exert himself. At one of the stations he is overtaken by
a desire to lodge a complaint. At his request a gendarme sits down and
"November 10, 188-.--I, non-commissioned officer of the Z. section of
the N. police department of railways, Ilya Tchered, in accordance with
article II of the statute of May 19, 1871, have drawn up this protocol
at the station of X. as herewith follows.... "
"What am I to write next?" asks the gendarme.
Malahin lays out before him forms, postal and telegraph receipts,
accounts.... He does not know himself definitely what he wants of the
gendarme; he wants to describe in the protocol not any separate episode
but his whole journey, with all his losses and conversations with
station-masters--to describe it lengthily and vindictively.
"At the station of Z.," he says, "write that the station-master unlinked
my vans from the troop train because he did not like my countenance."
And he wants the gendarme to be sure to mention his countenance. The
latter listens wearily, and goes on writing without hearing him to the
end. He ends his protocol thus:
"The above deposition I, non-commissioned officer Tchered, have written
down in this protocol with a view to present it to the head of the Z.
section, and have handed a copy thereof to Gavril Malahin."
The old man takes the copy, adds it to the papers with which his side
pocket is stuffed, and, much pleased, goes back to his van.
In the morning Malahin wakes up again in a bad humor, but his wrath
vents itself not on Yasha but the cattle.
"The cattle are done for!" he grumbles. "They are done for! They are at
the last gasp! God be my judge! they will all die. Tfoo!"
The bullocks, who have had nothing to drink for many days, tortured by
thirst, are licking the hoar frost on the walls, and when Malachin goes
up to them they begin licking his cold fur jacket. From their clear,
tearful eyes it can be seen that they are exhausted by thirst and the
jolting of the train, that they are hungry and miserable.
"It's a nice job taking you by rail, you wretched brutes!" mutters
Malahin. "I could wish you were dead to get it over! It makes me sick to
look at you!"
At midday the train stops at a big station where, according to the
regulations, there was drinking water provided for cattle.
Water is given to the cattle, but the bullocks will not drink it: the
water is too cold....
* * * * *
Two more days and nights pass, and at last in the distance in the murky
fog the city comes into sight. The journey is over. The train comes
to a standstill before reaching the town, near a goods' station. The
bullocks, released from the van, stagger and stumble as though they were
walking on slippery ice.
Having got through the unloading and veterinary inspection, Malahin and
Yasha take up their quarters in a dirty, cheap hotel in the outskirts
of the town, in the square in which the cattle-market is held. Their
lodgings are filthy and their food is disgusting, unlike what they
ever have at home; they sleep to the harsh strains of a wretched steam
hurdy-gurdy which plays day and night in the restaurant under their
The old man spends his time from morning till night going about looking
for purchasers, and Yasha sits for days in the hotel room, or goes out
into the street to look at the town. He sees the filthy square heaped
up with dung, the signboards of restaurants, the turreted walls of a
monastery in the fog. Sometimes he runs across the street and looks into
the grocer's shop, admires the jars of cakes of different colors, yawns,
and lazily saunters back to his room. The city does not interest him.
At last the bullocks are sold to a dealer. Malahin hires drovers. The
cattle are divided into herds, ten in each, and driven to the other end
of the town. The bullocks, exhausted, go with drooping heads through the
noisy streets, and look indifferently at what they see for the first and
last time in their lives. The tattered drovers walk after them, their
heads drooping too. They are bored.... Now and then some drover
starts out of his brooding, remembers that there are cattle in front
of him intrusted to his charge, and to show that he is doing his duty
brings a stick down full swing on a bullock's back. The bullock staggers
with the pain, runs forward a dozen paces, and looks about him as though
he were ashamed at being beaten before people.
After selling the bullocks and buying for his family presents such as
they could perfectly well have bought at home, Malahin and Yasha get
ready for their journey back. Three hours before the train goes the old
man, who has already had a drop too much with the purchaser and so is
fussy, goes down with Yasha to the restaurant and sits down to drink
tea. Like all provincials, he cannot eat and drink alone: he must have
company as fussy and as fond of sedate conversation as himself.
"Call the host!" he says to the waiter; "tell him I should like to
The hotel-keeper, a well-fed man, absolutely indifferent to his lodgers,
comes and sits down to the table.
"Well, we have sold our stock," Malahin says, laughing. "I have swapped
my goat for a hawk. Why, when we set off the price of meat was three
roubles ninety kopecks, but when we arrived it had dropped to three
roubles twenty-five. They tell us we are too late, we should have been
here three days earlier, for now there is not the same demand for meat,
St. Philip's fast has come.... Eh? It's a nice how-do-you-do! It
meant a loss of fourteen roubles on each bullock. Yes. But only think
what it costs to bring the stock! Fifteen roubles carriage, and you must
put down six roubles for each bullock, tips, bribes, drinks, and one
thing and another...."
The hotel-keeper listens out of politeness and reluctantly drinks tea.
Malahin sighs and groans, gesticulates, jests about his ill-luck, but
everything shows that the loss he has sustained does not trouble him
much. He doesn't mind whether he has lost or gained as long as he has
listeners, has something to make a fuss about, and is not late for his
An hour later Malahin and Yasha, laden with bags and boxes, go
downstairs from the hotel room to the front door to get into a sledge
and drive to the station. They are seen off by the hotel-keeper, the
waiter, and various women. The old man is touched. He thrusts ten-kopeck
pieces in all directions, and says in a sing-song voice:
"Good by, good health to you! God grant that all may be well with
you. Please God if we are alive and well we shall come again in Lent.
Good-by. Thank you. God bless you!"
Getting into the sledge, the old man spends a long time crossing himself
in the direction in which the monastery walls make a patch of darkness
in the fog. Yasha sits beside him on the very edge of the seat with his
legs hanging over the side. His face as before shows no sign of emotion
and expresses neither boredom nor desire. He is not glad that he is
going home, nor sorry that he has not had time to see the sights of the
The cabman whips up the horse and, turning round, begins swearing at the
heavy and cumbersome luggage.
* On many railway lines, in order to avoid accidents, it is
against the regulations to carry hay on the trains, and so
live stock are without fodder on the journey.--Author's
**The train destined especially for the transport of troops
is called the troop train; when they are no troops it takes
goods, and goes more rapidly than ordinary goods train.
THE turner, Grigory Petrov, who had been known for years past as a
splendid craftsman, and at the same time as the most senseless peasant
in the Galtchinskoy district, was taking his old woman to the hospital.
He had to drive over twenty miles, and it was an awful road. A
government post driver could hardly have coped with it, much less an
incompetent sluggard like Grigory. A cutting cold wind was blowing
straight in his face. Clouds of snowflakes were whirling round and
round in all directions, so that one could not tell whether the snow was
falling from the sky or rising from the earth. The fields, the telegraph
posts, and the forest could not be seen for the fog of snow. And when a
particularly violent gust of wind swooped down on Grigory, even the yoke
above the horse's head could not be seen. The wretched, feeble little
nag crawled slowly along. It took all its strength to drag its legs out
of the snow and to tug with its head. The turner was in a hurry. He kept
restlessly hopping up and down on the front seat and lashing the horse's
"Don't cry, Matryona,..." he muttered. "Have a little patience.
Please God we shall reach the hospital, and in a trice it will be the
right thing for you.... Pavel Ivanitch will give you some little
drops, or tell them to bleed you; or maybe his honor will be pleased to
rub you with some sort of spirit--it'll... draw it out of your side.
Pavel Ivanitch will do his best. He will shout and stamp about, but he
will do his best.... He is a nice gentleman, affable, God give him
health! As soon as we get there he will dart out of his room and will
begin calling me names. 'How? Why so?' he will cry. 'Why did you not
come at the right time? I am not a dog to be hanging about waiting on
you devils all day. Why did you not come in the morning? Go away! Get
out of my sight. Come again to-morrow.' And I shall say: 'Mr. Doctor!
Pavel Ivanitch! Your honor!' Get on, do! plague take you, you devil! Get
The turner lashed his nag, and without looking at the old woman went on
muttering to himself:
"'Your honor! It's true as before God.... Here's the Cross for you,
I set off almost before it was light. How could I be here in time if
the Lord.... The Mother of God... is wroth, and has sent such a
snowstorm? Kindly look for yourself.... Even a first-rate horse could
not do it, while mine--you can see for yourself--is not a horse but a
disgrace.' And Pavel Ivanitch will frown and shout: 'We know you! You
always find some excuse! Especially you, Grishka; I know you of old!
I'll be bound you have stopped at half a dozen taverns!' And I shall
say: 'Your honor! am I a criminal or a heathen? My old woman is giving
up her soul to God, she is dying, and am I going to run from tavern to
tavern! What an idea, upon my word! Plague take them, the taverns!' Then
Pavel Ivanitch will order you to be taken into the hospital, and I shall
fall at his feet.... 'Pavel Ivanitch! Your honor, we thank you most
humbly! Forgive us fools and anathemas, don't be hard on us peasants! We
deserve a good kicking, while you graciously put yourself out and mess
your feet in the snow!' And Pavel Ivanitch will give me a look as
though he would like to hit me, and will say: 'You'd much better not be
swilling vodka, you fool, but taking pity on your old woman instead
of falling at my feet. You want a thrashing!' 'You are right there--a
thrashing, Pavel Ivanitch, strike me God! But how can we help bowing
down at your feet if you are our benefactor, and a real father to us?
Your honor! I give you my word,... here as before God,... you
may spit in my face if I deceive you: as soon as my Matryona, this same
here, is well again and restored to her natural condition, I'll make
anything for your honor that you would like to order! A cigarette-case,
if you like, of the best birchwood,... balls for croquet, skittles of
the most foreign pattern I can turn.... I will make anything for you!
I won't take a farthing from you. In Moscow they would charge you four
roubles for such a cigarette-case, but I won't take a farthing.' The
doctor will laugh and say: 'Oh, all right, all right.... I see! But
it's a pity you are a drunkard....' I know how to manage the gentry,
old girl. There isn't a gentleman I couldn't talk to. Only God grant we
don't get off the road. Oh, how it is blowing! One's eyes are full of
And the turner went on muttering endlessly. He prattled on mechanically
to get a little relief from his depressing feelings. He had plenty of
words on his tongue, but the thoughts and questions in his brain
were even more numerous. Sorrow had come upon the turner unawares,
unlooked-for, and unexpected, and now he could not get over it, could
not recover himself. He had lived hitherto in unruffled calm, as though
in drunken half-consciousness, knowing neither grief nor joy, and now he
was suddenly aware of a dreadful pain in his heart. The careless idler
and drunkard found himself quite suddenly in the position of a busy man,
weighed down by anxieties and haste, and even struggling with nature.
The turner remembered that his trouble had begun the evening before.
When he had come home yesterday evening, a little drunk as usual, and
from long-established habit had begun swearing and shaking his fists,
his old woman had looked at her rowdy spouse as she had never looked
at him before. Usually, the expression in her aged eyes was that of a
martyr, meek like that of a dog frequently beaten and badly fed; this
time she had looked at him sternly and immovably, as saints in the holy
pictures or dying people look. From that strange, evil look in her eyes
the trouble had begun. The turner, stupefied with amazement, borrowed a
horse from a neighbor, and now was taking his old woman to the hospital
in the hope that, by means of powders and ointments, Pavel Ivanitch
would bring back his old woman's habitual expression.
"I say, Matryona,..." the turner muttered, "if Pavel Ivanitch asks
you whether I beat you, say, 'Never!' and I never will beat you again. I
swear it. And did I ever beat you out of spite? I just beat you without
thinking. I am sorry for you. Some men wouldn't trouble, but here I am
taking you.... I am doing my best. And the way it snows, the way it
snows! Thy Will be done, O Lord! God grant we don't get off the road....
Does your side ache, Matryona, that you don't speak? I ask you,
does your side ache?"
It struck him as strange that the snow on his old woman's face was not
melting; it was queer that the face itself looked somehow drawn, and had
turned a pale gray, dingy waxen hue and had grown grave and solemn.
"You are a fool!" muttered the turner.... "I tell you on my
conscience, before God,... and you go and... Well, you are a fool!
I have a good mind not to take you to Pavel Ivanitch!"
The turner let the reins go and began thinking. He could not bring
himself to look round at his old woman: he was frightened. He was
afraid, too, of asking her a question and not getting an answer. At
last, to make an end of uncertainty, without looking round he felt his
old woman's cold hand. The lifted hand fell like a log.
"She is dead, then! What a business!"
And the turner cried. He was not so much sorry as annoyed. He thought
how quickly everything passes in this world! His trouble had hardly
begun when the final catastrophe had happened. He had not had time to
live with his old woman, to show her he was sorry for her before she
died. He had lived with her for forty years, but those forty years had
passed by as it were in a fog. What with drunkenness, quarreling, and
poverty, there had been no feeling of life. And, as though to spite him,
his old woman died at the very time when he felt he was sorry for her,
that he could not live without her, and that he had behaved dreadfully
badly to her.
"Why, she used to go the round of the village," he remembered. "I sent
her out myself to beg for bread. What a business! She ought to have
lived another ten years, the silly thing; as it is I'll be bound she
thinks I really was that sort of man.... Holy Mother! but where the
devil am I driving? There's no need for a doctor now, but a burial. Turn
Grigory turned back and lashed the horse with all his might. The road
grew worse and worse every hour. Now he could not see the yoke at
all. Now and then the sledge ran into a young fir tree, a dark object
scratched the turner's hands and flashed before his eyes, and the field
of vision was white and whirling again.
"To live over again," thought the turner.
He remembered that forty years ago Matryona had been young, handsome,
merry, that she had come of a well-to-do family. They had married her
to him because they had been attracted by his handicraft. All the
essentials for a happy life had been there, but the trouble was that,
just as he had got drunk after the wedding and lay sprawling on the
stove, so he had gone on without waking up till now. His wedding he
remembered, but of what happened after the wedding--for the life of him
he could remember nothing, except perhaps that he had drunk, lain on the
stove, and quarreled. Forty years had been wasted like that.
The white clouds of snow were beginning little by little to turn gray.
It was getting dusk.
"Where am I going?" the turner suddenly bethought him with a start.
"I ought to be thinking of the burial, and I am on the way to the
hospital.... It as is though I had gone crazy."
Grigory turned round again, and again lashed his horse. The little nag
strained its utmost and, with a snort, fell into a little trot. The
turner lashed it on the back time after time.... A knocking was
audible behind him, and though he did not look round, he knew it was the
dead woman's head knocking against the sledge. And the snow kept turning
darker and darker, the wind grew colder and more cutting....
"To live over again!" thought the turner. "I should get a new lathe,
take orders,... give the money to my old woman...."
And then he dropped the reins. He looked for them, tried to pick them
up, but could not--his hands would not work....
"It does not matter," he thought, "the horse will go of itself, it knows
the way. I might have a little sleep now.... Before the funeral or
the requiem it would be as well to get a little rest...."
The turner closed his eyes and dozed. A little later he heard the horse
stop; he opened his eyes and saw before him something dark like a hut or
He would have got out of the sledge and found out what it was, but he
felt overcome by such inertia that it seemed better to freeze than move,
and he sank into a peaceful sleep.
He woke up in a big room with painted walls. Bright sunlight was
streaming in at the windows. The turner saw people facing him, and his
first feeling was a desire to show himself a respectable man who knew
how things should be done.
"A requiem, brothers, for my old woman," he said. "The priest should be
"Oh, all right, all right; lie down," a voice cut him short.
"Pavel Ivanitch!" the turner cried in surprise, seeing the doctor before
him. "Your honor, benefactor!"
He wanted to leap up and fall on his knees before the doctor, but felt
that his arms and legs would not obey him.
"Your honor, where are my legs, where are my arms!"
"Say good-by to your arms and legs.... They've been frozen off. Come,
come!... What are you crying for? You've lived your life, and thank
God for it! I suppose you have had sixty years of it--that's enough for
"I am grieving.... Graciously forgive me! If I could have another
five or six years!..."
"The horse isn't mine, I must give it back.... I must bury my old
woman.... How quickly it is all ended in this world! Your honor,
Pavel Ivanitch! A cigarette-case of birchwood of the best! I'll turn you
The doctor went out of the ward with a wave of his hand. It was all over
with the turner.
ON OFFICIAL DUTY
THE deputy examining magistrate and the district doctor were going to an
inquest in the village of Syrnya. On the road they were overtaken by a
snowstorm; they spent a long time going round and round, and arrived,
not at midday, as they had intended, but in the evening when it was
dark. They put up for the night at the Zemstvo hut. It so happened
that it was in this hut that the dead body was lying--the corpse of the
Zemstvo insurance agent, Lesnitsky, who had arrived in Syrnya three days
before and, ordering the samovar in the hut, had shot himself, to the
great surprise of everyone; and the fact that he had ended his life
so strangely, after unpacking his eatables and laying them out on the
table, and with the samovar before him, led many people to suspect that
it was a case of murder; an inquest was necessary.
In the outer room the doctor and the examining magistrate shook the snow
off themselves and knocked it off their boots. And meanwhile the old
village constable, Ilya Loshadin, stood by, holding a little tin lamp.
There was a strong smell of paraffin.
"Who are you?" asked the doctor.
"Conshtable,..." answered the constable.
He used to spell it "conshtable" when he signed the receipts at the post
"And where are the witnesses?"
"They must have gone to tea, your honor."
On the right was the parlor, the travelers' or gentry's room; on the
left the kitchen, with a big stove and sleeping shelves under the
rafters. The doctor and the examining magistrate, followed by the
constable, holding the lamp high above his head, went into the parlor.
Here a still, long body covered with white linen was lying on the floor
close to the table-legs. In the dim light of the lamp they could clearly
see, besides the white covering, new rubber goloshes, and everything
about it was uncanny and sinister: the dark walls, and the silence, and
the goloshes, and the stillness of the dead body. On the table stood a
samovar, cold long ago; and round it parcels, probably the eatables.
"To shoot oneself in the Zemstvo hut, how tactless!" said the doctor.
"If one does want to put a bullet through one's brains, one ought to do
it at home in some outhouse."
He sank on to a bench, just as he was, in his cap, his fur coat, and his
felt overboots; his fellow-traveler, the examining magistrate, sat down
"These hysterical, neurasthenic people are great egoists," the doctor
went on hotly. "If a neurasthenic sleeps in the same room with you, he
rustles his newspaper; when he dines with you, he gets up a scene
with his wife without troubling about your presence; and when he feels
inclined to shoot himself, he shoots himself in a village in a Zemstvo
hut, so as to give the maximum of trouble to everybody. These gentlemen
in every circumstance of life think of no one but themselves! That's why
the elderly so dislike our 'nervous age.'"
"The elderly dislike so many things," said the examining magistrate,
yawning. "You should point out to the elder generation what the
difference is between the suicides of the past and the suicides of
to-day. In the old days the so-called gentleman shot himself because he
had made away with Government money, but nowadays it is because he is
sick of life, depressed.... Which is better?"
"Sick of life, depressed; but you must admit that he might have shot
himself somewhere else."
"Such trouble!" said the constable, "such trouble! It's a real
affliction. The people are very much upset, your honor; they haven't
slept these three nights. The children are crying. The cows ought to be
milked, but the women won't go to the stall--they are afraid... for
fear the gentleman should appear to them in the darkness. Of course they
are silly women, but some of the men are frightened too. As soon as
it is dark they won't go by the hut one by one, but only in a flock
together. And the witnesses too...."
Dr. Startchenko, a middle-aged man in spectacles with a dark beard, and
the examining magistrate Lyzhin, a fair man, still young, who had only
taken his degree two years before and looked more like a student than an
official, sat in silence, musing. They were vexed that they were late.
Now they had to wait till morning, and to stay here for the night,
though it was not yet six o'clock; and they had before them a long
evening, a dark night, boredom, uncomfortable beds, beetles, and cold
in the morning; and listening to the blizzard that howled in the chimney
and in the loft, they both thought how unlike all this was the life
which they would have chosen for themselves and of which they had once
dreamed, and how far away they both were from their contemporaries, who
were at that moment walking about the lighted streets in town without
noticing the weather, or were getting ready for the theatre, or sitting
in their studies over a book. Oh, how much they would have given now
only to stroll along the Nevsky Prospect, or along Petrovka in Moscow,
to listen to decent singing, to sit for an hour or so in a restaurant!
"Oo-oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm in the loft, and something outside slammed
viciously, probably the signboard on the hut. "Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
"You can do as you please, but I have no desire to stay here," said
Startchenko, getting up. "It's not six yet, it's too early to go to bed;
I am off. Von Taunitz lives not far from here, only a couple of
miles from Syrnya. I shall go to see him and spend the evening there.
Constable, run and tell my coachman not to take the horses out. And what
are you going to do?" he asked Lyzhin.
"I don't know; I expect I shall go to sleep."
The doctor wrapped himself in his fur coat and went out. Lyzhin could
hear him talking to the coachman and the bells beginning to quiver on
the frozen horses. He drove off.
"It is not nice for you, sir, to spend the night in here," said the
constable; "come into the other room. It's dirty, but for one night it
won't matter. I'll get a samovar from a peasant and heat it directly.
I'll heap up some hay for you, and then you go to sleep, and God bless
you, your honor."
A little later the examining magistrate was sitting in the kitchen
drinking tea, while Loshadin, the constable, was standing at the door
talking. He was an old man about sixty, short and very thin, bent and
white, with a naive smile on his face and watery eyes, and he kept
smacking with his lips as though he were sucking a sweetmeat. He was
wearing a short sheepskin coat and high felt boots, and held his stick
in his hands all the time. The youth of the examining magistrate aroused
his compassion, and that was probably why he addressed him familiarly.
"The elder gave orders that he was to be informed when the police
superintendent or the examining magistrate came," he said, "so I suppose
I must go now.... It's nearly three miles to the _volost_, and the
storm, the snowdrifts, are something terrible--maybe one won't get there
before midnight. Ough! how the wind roars!"
"I don't need the elder," said Lyzhin. "There is nothing for him to do
He looked at the old man with curiosity, and asked:
"Tell me, grandfather, how many years have you been constable?"
"How many? Why, thirty years. Five years after the Freedom I began going
as constable, that's how I reckon it. And from that time I have been
going every day since. Other people have holidays, but I am always
going. When it's Easter and the church bells are ringing and Christ has
risen, I still go about with my bag--to the treasury, to the post, to
the police superintendent's lodgings, to the rural captain, to the tax
inspector, to the municipal office, to the gentry, to the peasants, to
all orthodox Christians. I carry parcels, notices, tax papers, letters,
forms of different sorts, circulars, and to be sure, kind gentleman,
there are all sorts of forms nowadays, so as to note down the
numbers--yellow, white, and red--and every gentleman or priest or
well-to-do peasant must write down a dozen times in the year how much
he has sown and harvested, how many quarters or poods he has of rye, how
many of oats, how many of hay, and what the weather's like, you know,
and insects, too, of all sorts. To be sure you can write what you like,
it's only a regulation, but one must go and give out the notices and
then go again and collect them. Here, for instance, there's no need to
cut open the gentleman; you know yourself it's a silly thing, it's only
dirtying your hands, and here you have been put to trouble, your honor;
you have come because it's the regulation; you can't help it. For thirty
years I have been going round according to regulation. In the summer
it is all right, it is warm and dry; but in winter and autumn it's
uncomfortable At times I have been almost drowned and almost frozen; all
sorts of things have happened--wicked people set on me in the forest and
took away my bag; I have been beaten, and I have been before a court of
"What were you accused of?"
"How do you mean?"
"Why, you see, Hrisanf Grigoryev, the clerk, sold the contractor some
boards belonging to someone else--cheated him, in fact. I was mixed up
in it. They sent me to the tavern for vodka; well, the clerk did not
share with me--did not even offer me a glass; but as through my poverty
I was--in appearance, I mean--not a man to be relied upon, not a man of
any worth, we were both brought to trial; he was sent to prison, but,
praise God! I was acquitted on all points. They read a notice, you know,
in the court. And they were all in uniforms--in the court, I mean. I
can tell you, your honor, my duties for anyone not used to them are
terrible, absolutely killing; but to me it is nothing. In fact, my feet
ache when I am not walking. And at home it is worse for me. At home one
has to heat the stove for the clerk in the _volost_ office, to fetch
water for him, to clean his boots."
"And what wages do you get?" Lyzhin asked.
"Eighty-four roubles a year."
"I'll bet you get other little sums coming in. You do, don't you?"
"Other little sums? No, indeed! Gentlemen nowadays don't often give
tips. Gentlemen nowadays are strict, they take offense at anything.
If you bring them a notice they are offended, if you take off your cap
before them they are offended. 'You have come to the wrong entrance,'
they say. 'You are a drunkard,' they say. 'You smell of onion; you are a
blockhead; you are the son of a bitch.' There are kind-hearted ones, of
course; but what does one get from them? They only laugh and call one
all sorts of names. Mr. Altuhin, for instance, he is a good-natured
gentleman; and if you look at him he seems sober and in his right mind,
but so soon as he sees me he shouts and does not know what he means
himself. He gave me such a name 'You,' said he,..." The constable
uttered some word, but in such a low voice that it was impossible to
make out what he said.
"What?" Lyzhin asked. "Say it again."
"'Administration,'" the constable repeated aloud. "He has been
calling me that for a long while, for the last six years. 'Hullo,
Administration!' But I don't mind; let him, God bless him! Sometimes a
lady will send one a glass of vodka and a bit of pie and one drinks to
her health. But peasants give more; peasants are more kind-hearted,
they have the fear of God in their hearts: one will give a bit of bread,
another a drop of cabbage soup, another will stand one a glass. The
village elders treat one to tea in the tavern. Here the witnesses have
gone to their tea. 'Loshadin,' they said, 'you stay here and keep watch
for us,' and they gave me a kopeck each. You see, they are frightened,
not being used to it, and yesterday they gave me fifteen kopecks and
offered me a glass."
"And you, aren't you frightened?"
"I am, sir; but of course it is my duty, there is no getting away from
it. In the summer I was taking a convict to the town, and he set upon
me and gave me such a drubbing! And all around were fields, forest--how
could I get away from him? It's just the same here. I remember the
gentleman, Mr. Lesnitsky, when he was so high, and I knew his father and
mother. I am from the village of Nedoshtchotova, and they, the Lesnitsky
family, were not more than three-quarters of a mile from us and less
than that, their ground next to ours, and Mr. Lesnitsky had a sister, a
God-fearing and tender-hearted lady. Lord keep the soul of Thy servant
Yulya, eternal memory to her! She was never married, and when she was
dying she divided all her property; she left three hundred acres to the
monastery, and six hundred to the commune of peasants of Nedoshtchotova
to commemorate her soul; but her brother hid the will, they do say burnt
it in the stove, and took all this land for himself. He thought, to be
sure, it was for his benefit; but--nay, wait a bit, you won't get on
in the world through injustice, brother. The gentleman did not go to
confession for twenty years after. He kept away from the church, to be
sure, and died impenitent. He burst. He was a very fat man, so he
burst lengthways. Then everything was taken from the young master, from
Seryozha, to pay the debts--everything there was. Well, he had not gone
very far in his studies, he couldn't do anything, and the president of
the Rural Board, his uncle--'I'll take him'--Seryozha, I mean--thinks
he, 'for an agent; let him collect the insurance, that's not a difficult
job,' and the gentleman was young and proud, he wanted to be living on
a bigger scale and in better style and with more freedom. To be sure it
was a come-down for him to be jolting about the district in a wretched
cart and talking to the peasants; he would walk and keep looking on the
ground, looking on the ground and saying nothing; if you called his name
right in his ear, 'Sergey Sergeyitch!' he would look round like this,
'Eh?' and look down on the ground again, and now you see he has laid
hands on himself. There's no sense in it, your honor, it's not right,
and there's no making out what's the meaning of it, merciful Lord! Say
your father was rich and you are poor; it is mortifying, there's no
doubt about it, but there, you must make up your mind to it. I used to
live in good style, too; I had two horses, your honor, three cows, I
used to keep twenty head of sheep; but the time has come, and I am
left with nothing but a wretched bag, and even that is not mine but
Government property. And now in our Nedoshtchotova, if the truth is to
be told, my house is the worst of the lot. Makey had four footmen, and
now Makey is a footman himself. Petrak had four laborers, and now Petrak
is a laborer himself."
"How was it you became poor?" asked the examining magistrate.
"My sons drink terribly. I could not tell you how they drink, you
wouldn't believe it."
Lyzhin listened and thought how he, Lyzhin, would go back sooner or
later to Moscow, while this old man would stay here for ever, and would
always be walking and walking. And how many times in his life he would
come across such battered, unkempt old men, not "men of any worth," in
whose souls fifteen kopecks, glasses of vodka, and a profound belief
that you can't get on in this life by dishonesty, were equally firmly
Then he grew tired of listening, and told the old man to bring him some
hay for his bed, There was an iron bedstead with a pillow and a quilt in
the traveler's room, and it could be fetched in; but the dead man had
been lying by it for nearly three days (and perhaps sitting on it just
before his death), and it would be disagreeable to sleep upon it
"It's only half-past seven," thought Lyzhin, glancing at his watch. "How
awful it is!"
He was not sleepy, but having nothing to do to pass away the time,
he lay down and covered himself with a rug. Loshadin went in and out
several times, clearing away the tea-things; smacking his lips and
sighing, he kept tramping round the table; at last he took his little
lamp and went out, and, looking at his long, gray-headed, bent figure
from behind, Lyzhin thought:
"Just like a magician in an opera."
It was dark. The moon must have been behind the clouds, as the windows
and the snow on the window-frames could be seen distinctly.
"Oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm, "Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
"Ho-ho-ly sa-aints!" wailed a woman in the loft, or it sounded like it.
"B-booh!" something outside banged against the wall. "Trah!"
The examining magistrate listened: there was no woman up there, it was
the wind howling. It was rather cold, and he put his fur coat over his
rug. As he got warm he thought how remote all this--the storm, and the
hut, and the old man, and the dead body lying in the next room--how
remote it all was from the life he desired for himself, and how alien
it all was to him, how petty, how uninteresting. If this man had killed
himself in Moscow or somewhere in the neighborhood, and he had had to
hold an inquest on him there, it would have been interesting, important,
and perhaps he might even have been afraid to sleep in the next room to
the corpse. Here, nearly a thousand miles from Moscow, all this was
seen somehow in a different light; it was not life, they were not human
beings, but something only existing "according to the regulation," as
Loshadin said; it would leave not the faintest trace in the memory, and
would be forgotten as soon as he, Lyzhin, drove away from Syrnya. The
fatherland, the real Russia, was Moscow, Petersburg; but here he was in
the provinces, the colonies. When one dreamed of playing a leading
part, of becoming a popular figure, of being, for instance, examining
magistrate in particularly important cases or prosecutor in a circuit
court, of being a society lion, one always thought of Moscow. To live,
one must be in Moscow; here one cared for nothing, one grew easily
resigned to one's insignificant position, and only expected one thing of
life--to get away quickly, quickly. And Lyzhin mentally moved about
the Moscow streets, went into the familiar houses, met his kindred, his
comrades, and there was a sweet pang at his heart at the thought that
he was only twenty-six, and that if in five or ten years he could break
away from here and get to Moscow, even then it would not be too late
and he would still have a whole life before him. And as he sank into
unconsciousness, as his thoughts began to be confused, he imagined the
long corridor of the court at Moscow, himself delivering a speech, his
sisters, the orchestra which for some reason kept droning: "Oo-oo-oo-oo!
"Booh! Trah!" sounded again. "Booh!"
And he suddenly recalled how one day, when he was talking to the
bookkeeper in the little office of the Rural Board, a thin, pale
gentleman with black hair and dark eyes walked in; he had a disagreeable
look in his eyes such as one sees in people who have slept too long
after dinner, and it spoilt his delicate, intelligent profile; and
the high boots he was wearing did not suit him, but looked clumsy. The
bookkeeper had introduced him: "This is our insurance agent."
"So that was Lesnitsky,... this same man," Lyzhin reflected now.
He recalled Lesnitsky's soft voice, imagined his gait, and it seemed
to him that someone was walking beside him now with a step like
All at once he felt frightened, his head turned cold.
"Who's there?" he asked in alarm.
"What do you want here?"
"I have come to ask, your honor--you said this evening that you did not
want the elder, but I am afraid he may be angry. He told me to go to
him. Shouldn't I go?"
"That's enough, you bother me," said Lyzhin with vexation, and he
covered himself up again.
"He may be angry.... I'll go, your honor. I hope you will be
comfortable," and Loshadin went out.
In the passage there was coughing and subdued voices. The witnesses must
"We'll let those poor beggars get away early to-morrow,..." thought
the examining magistrate; "we'll begin the inquest as soon as it is
He began sinking into forgetfulness when suddenly there were steps
again, not timid this time but rapid and noisy. There was the slam of a
door, voices, the scratching of a match....
"Are you asleep? Are you asleep?" Dr. Startchenko was asking him
hurriedly and angrily as he struck one match after another; he was
covered with snow, and brought a chill air in with him. "Are you asleep?
Get up! Let us go to Von Taunitz's. He has sent his own horses for you.
Come along. There, at any rate, you will have supper, and sleep like
a human being. You see I have come for you myself. The horses are
splendid, we shall get there in twenty minutes."
"And what time is it now?"
"A quarter past ten."
Lyzhin, sleepy and discontented, put on his felt overboots, his furlined
coat, his cap and hood, and went out with the doctor. There was not
a very sharp frost, but a violent and piercing wind was blowing and
driving along the street the clouds of snow which seemed to be racing
away in terror: high drifts were heaped up already under the fences and
at the doorways. The doctor and the examining magistrate got into the
sledge, and the white coachman bent over them to button up the cover.
They were both hot.
They drove through the village. "Cutting a feathery furrow," thought
the examining magistrate, listlessly watching the action of the trace
horse's legs. There were lights in all the huts, as though it were the
eve of a great holiday: the peasants had not gone to bed because they
were afraid of the dead body. The coachman preserved a sullen silence,
probably he had felt dreary while he was waiting by the Zemstvo hut, and
now he, too, was thinking of the dead man.
"At the Von Taunitz's," said Startchenko, "they all set upon me when
they heard that you were left to spend the night in the hut, and asked
me why I did not bring you with me."
As they drove out of the village, at the turning the coachman suddenly
shouted at the top of his voice: "Out of the way!"
They caught a glimpse of a man: he was standing up to his knees in
the snow, moving off the road and staring at the horses. The examining
magistrate saw a stick with a crook, and a beard and a bag, and he
fancied that it was Loshadin, and even fancied that he was smiling. He
flashed by and disappeared.
The road ran at first along the edge of the forest, then along a broad
forest clearing; they caught glimpses of old pines and a young birch
copse, and tall, gnarled young oak trees standing singly in the
clearings where the wood had lately been cut; but soon it was all merged
in the clouds of snow. The coachman said he could see the forest; the
examining magistrate could see nothing but the trace horse. The wind
blew on their backs.
All at once the horses stopped.
"Well, what is it now?" asked Startchenko crossly.
The coachman got down from the box without a word and began running
round the sledge, treading on his heels; he made larger and larger
circles, getting further and further away from the sledge, and it looked
as though he were dancing; at last he came back and began to turn off to
"You've got off the road, eh?" asked Startchenko.
"It's all ri-ight...."
Then there was a little village and not a single light in it. Again the
forest and the fields. Again they lost the road, and again the coachman
got down from the box and danced round the sledge. The sledge flew
along a dark avenue, flew swiftly on. And the heated trace horse's hoofs
knocked against the sledge. Here there was a fearful roaring sound from
the trees, and nothing could be seen, as though they were flying on into
space; and all at once the glaring light at the entrance and the windows
flashed upon their eyes, and they heard the good-natured, drawn-out
barking of dogs. They had arrived.
While they were taking off their fur coats and their felt boots below,
"Un Petit Verre de Clicquot" was being played upon the piano overhead,
and they could hear the children beating time with their feet.
Immediately on going in they were aware of the snug warmth and special
smell of the old apartments of a mansion where, whatever the weather
outside, life is so warm and clean and comfortable.
"That's capital!" said Von Taunitz, a fat man with an incredibly thick
neck and with whiskers, as he shook the examining magistrate's
hand. "That's capital! You are very welcome, delighted to make your
acquaintance. We are colleagues to some extent, you know. At one time I
was deputy prosecutor; but not for long, only two years. I came here to
look after the estate, and here I have grown old--an old fogey, in fact.
You are very welcome," he went on, evidently restraining his voice so as
not to speak too loud; he was going upstairs with his guests. "I have no
wife, she's dead. But here, I will introduce my daughters," and turning
round, he shouted down the stairs in a voice of thunder: "Tell Ignat to
have the sledge ready at eight o'clock to-morrow morning."
His four daughters, young and pretty girls, all wearing gray dresses and
with their hair done up in the same style, and their cousin, also young
and attractive, with her children, were in the drawingroom. Startchenko,
who knew them already, began at once begging them to sing something, and
two of the young ladies spent a long time declaring they could not sing
and that they had no music; then the cousin sat down to the piano, and
with trembling voices, they sang a duet from "The Queen of Spades."
Again "Un Petit Verre de Clicquot" was played, and the children skipped
about, beating time with their feet. And Startchenko pranced about too.
Then the children said good-night and went off to bed. The examining
magistrate laughed, danced a quadrille, flirted, and kept wondering
whether it was not all a dream? The kitchen of the Zemstvo hut, the
heap of hay in the corner, the rustle of the beetles, the revolting
poverty-stricken surroundings, the voices of the witnesses, the wind,
the snow storm, the danger of being lost; and then all at once this
splendid, brightly lighted room, the sounds of the piano, the lovely
girls, the curly-headed children, the gay, happy laughter--such a
transformation seemed to him like a fairy tale, and it seemed incredible
that such transitions were possible at the distance of some two miles in
the course of one hour. And dreary thoughts prevented him from enjoying
himself, and he kept thinking this was not life here, but bits of life
fragments, that everything here was accidental, that one could draw no
conclusions from it; and he even felt sorry for these girls, who were
living and would end their lives in the wilds, in a province far away
from the center of culture, where nothing is accidental, but everything
is in accordance with reason and law, and where, for instance, every
suicide is intelligible, so that one can explain why it has happened and
what is its significance in the general scheme of things. He imagined
that if the life surrounding him here in the wilds were not intelligible
to him, and if he did not see it, it meant that it did not exist at all.
At supper the conversation turned on Lesnitsky
"He left a wife and child," said Startchenko. "I would forbid
neurasthenics and all people whose nervous system is out of order to
marry, I would deprive them of the right and possibility of multiplying
their kind. To bring into the world nervous, invalid children is a
"He was an unfortunate young man," said Von Taunitz, sighing gently and
shaking his head. "What a lot one must suffer and think about before
one brings oneself to take one's own life,... a young life! Such a
misfortune may happen in any family, and that is awful. It is hard to
bear such a thing, insufferable...."
And all the girls listened in silence with grave faces, looking at their
father. Lyzhin felt that he, too, must say something, but he couldn't
think of anything, and merely said:
"Yes, suicide is an undesirable phenomenon."
He slept in a warm room, in a soft bed covered with a quilt under
which there were fine clean sheets, but for some reason did not feel
comfortable: perhaps because the doctor and Von Taunitz were, for a long
time, talking in the adjoining room, and overhead he heard, through the
ceiling and in the stove, the wind roaring just as in the Zemstvo hut,
and as plaintively howling: "Oo-oo-oo-oo!"
Von Taunitz's wife had died two years before, and he was still unable
to resign himself to his loss and, whatever he was talking about, always
mentioned his wife; and there was no trace of a prosecutor left about
"Is it possible that I may some day come to such a condition?" thought
Lyzhin, as he fell asleep, still hearing through the wall his host's
subdued, as it were bereaved, voice.
The examining magistrate did not sleep soundly. He felt hot and
uncomfortable, and it seemed to him in his sleep that he was not at
Von Taunitz's, and not in a soft clean bed, but still in the hay at the
Zemstvo hut, hearing the subdued voices of the witnesses; he fancied
that Lesnitsky was close by, not fifteen paces away. In his dreams he
remembered how the insurance agent, black-haired and pale, wearing
dusty high boots, had come into the bookkeeper's office. "This is our
Then he dreamed that Lesnitsky and Loshadin the constable were walking
through the open country in the snow, side by side, supporting each
other; the snow was whirling about their heads, the wind was blowing on
their backs, but they walked on, singing: "We go on, and on, and
The old man was like a magician in an opera, and both of them were
singing as though they were on the stage:
"We go on, and on, and on!... You are in the warmth, in the light
and snugness, but we are walking in the frost and the storm, through the
deep snow.... We know nothing of ease, we know nothing of joy....
We bear all the burden of this life, yours and ours.... Oo-oo-oo! We
go on, and on, and on...."
Lyzhin woke and sat up in bed. What a confused, bad dream! And why did
he dream of the constable and the agent together? What nonsense! And now
while Lyzhin's heart was throbbing violently and he was sitting on his
bed, holding his head in his hands, it seemed to him that there really
was something in common between the lives of the insurance agent and the
constable. Don't they really go side by side holding each other up? Some
tie unseen, but significant and essential, existed between them, and
even between them and Von Taunitz and between all men--all men; in this
life, even in the remotest desert, nothing is accidental, everything
is full of one common idea, everything has one soul, one aim, and to
understand it it is not enough to think, it is not enough to reason, one
must have also, it seems, the gift of insight into life, a gift which is
evidently not bestowed on all. And the unhappy man who had broken
down, who had killed himself--the "neurasthenic," as the doctor called
him--and the old peasant who spent every day of his life going from one
man to another, were only accidental, were only fragments of life for
one who thought of his own life as accidental, but were parts of one
organism--marvelous and rational--for one who thought of his own life as
part of that universal whole and understood it. So thought Lyzhin, and
it was a thought that had long lain hidden in his soul, and only now it
was unfolded broadly and clearly to his consciousness.
He lay down and began to drop asleep; and again they were going along
together, singing: "We go on, and on, and on.... We take from life
what is hardest and bitterest in it, and we leave you what is easy and
joyful; and sitting at supper, you can coldly and sensibly discuss why
we suffer and perish, and why we are not as sound and as satisfied as
What they were singing had occurred to his mind before, but the thought
was somewhere in the background behind his other thoughts, and flickered
timidly like a faraway light in foggy weather. And he felt that this
suicide and the peasant's sufferings lay upon his conscience, too; to
resign himself to the fact that these people, submissive to their fate,
should take up the burden of what was hardest and gloomiest in life--how
awful it was! To accept this, and to desire for himself a life full
of light and movement among happy and contented people, and to be
continually dreaming of such, means dreaming of fresh suicides of men
crushed by toil and anxiety, or of men weak and outcast whom people only
talk of sometimes at supper with annoyance or mockery, without going to
their help.... And again:
"We go on, and on, and on..." as though someone were beating with a
hammer on his temples.
He woke early in the morning with a headache, roused by a noise; in the
next room Von Taunitz was saying loudly to the doctor:
"It's impossible for you to go now. Look what's going on outside.
Don't argue, you had better ask the coachman; he won't take you in such
weather for a million."
"But it's only two miles," said the doctor in an imploring voice.
"Well, if it were only half a mile. If you can't, then you can't.
Directly you drive out of the gates it is perfect hell, you would be off
the road in a minute. Nothing will induce me to let you go, you can say
what you like."
"It's bound to be quieter towards evening," said the peasant who was
heating the stove.
And in the next room the doctor began talking of the rigorous climate
and its influence on the character of the Russian, of the long
winters which, by preventing movement from place to place, hinder
the intellectual development of the people; and Lyzhin listened with
vexation to these observations and looked out of window at the snow
drifts which were piled on the fence. He gazed at the white dust which
covered the whole visible expanse, at the trees which bowed their heads
despairingly to right and then to left, listened to the howling and the
banging, and thought gloomily:
"Well, what moral can be drawn from it? It's a blizzard and that is all
At midday they had lunch, then wandered aimlessly about the house; they
went to the windows.
"And Lesnitsky is lying there," thought Lyzhin, watching the whirling
snow, which raced furiously round and round upon the drifts. "Lesnitsky
is lying there, the witnesses are waiting...."
They talked of the weather, saying that the snowstorm usually lasted
two days and nights, rarely longer. At six o'clock they had dinner, then
they played cards, sang, danced; at last they had supper. The day was
over, they went to bed.
In the night, towards morning, it all subsided. When they got up and
looked out of window, the bare willows with their weakly drooping
branches were standing perfectly motionless; it was dull and still, as
though nature now were ashamed of its orgy, of its mad nights, and the
license it had given to its passions. The horses, harnessed tandem, had
been waiting at the front door since five o'clock in the morning. When
it was fully daylight the doctor and the examining magistrate put on
their fur coats and felt boots, and, saying good-by to their host, went
At the steps beside the coachman stood the familiar figure of the
constable, Ilya Loshadin, with an old leather bag across his shoulder
and no cap on his head, covered with snow all over, and his face was
red and wet with perspiration. The footman who had come out to help the
gentlemen and cover their legs looked at him sternly and said:
"What are you standing here for, you old devil? Get away!"
"Your honor, the people are anxious," said Loshadin, smiling naively all
over his face, and evidently pleased at seeing at last the people he
had waited for so long. "The people are very uneasy, the children are
crying.... They thought, your honor, that you had gone back to the
town again. Show us the heavenly mercy, our benefactors!..."
The doctor and the examining magistrate said nothing, got into the
sledge, and drove to Syrnya.
THE FIRST-CLASS PASSENGER
A FIRST-CLASS passenger who had just dined at the station and drunk a
little too much lay down on the velvet-covered seat, stretched himself
out luxuriously, and sank into a doze. After a nap of no more than five
minutes, he looked with oily eyes at his _vis-a-vis,_ gave a smirk, and
"My father of blessed memory used to like to have his heels tickled by
peasant women after dinner. I am just like him, with this difference,
that after dinner I always like my tongue and my brains gently
stimulated. Sinful man as I am, I like empty talk on a full stomach.
Will you allow me to have a chat with you?"
"I shall be delighted," answered the _vis-a-vis._
"After a good dinner the most trifling subject is sufficient to arouse
devilishly great thoughts in my brain. For instance, we saw just now
near the refreshment bar two young men, and you heard one congratulate
the other on being celebrated. 'I congratulate you,' he said; 'you are
already a celebrity and are beginning to win fame.' Evidently actors or
journalists of microscopic dimensions. But they are not the point. The
question that is occupying my mind at the moment, sir, is exactly what
is to be understood by the word _fame_ or _charity_. What do you
think? Pushkin called fame a bright patch on a ragged garment; we all
understand it as Pushkin does--that is, more or less subjectively--but
no one has yet given a clear, logical definition of the word.... I
would give a good deal for such a definition!"
"Why do you feel such a need for it?"
"You see, if we knew what fame is, the means of attaining it might
also perhaps be known to us," said the first-class passenger, after a
moment's thought. "I must tell you, sir, that when I was younger I strove
after celebrity with every fiber of my being. To be popular was my
craze, so to speak. For the sake of it I studied, worked, sat up at
night, neglected my meals. And I fancy, as far as I can judge without
partiality, I had all the natural gifts for attaining it. To begin with,
I am an engineer by profession. In the course of my life I have built
in Russia some two dozen magnificent bridges, I have laid aqueducts
for three towns; I have worked in Russia, in England, in Belgium....
Secondly, I am the author of several special treatises in my own
line. And thirdly, my dear sir, I have from a boy had a weakness for
chemistry. Studying that science in my leisure hours, I discovered
methods of obtaining certain organic acids, so that you will find my
name in all the foreign manuals of chemistry. I have always been in the
service, I have risen to the grade of actual civil councilor, and I have
an unblemished record. I will not fatigue your attention by enumerating
my works and my merits, I will only say that I have done far more than
some celebrities. And yet here I am in my old age, I am getting ready
for my coffin, so to say, and I am as celebrated as that black dog
yonder running on the embankment."
"How can you tell? Perhaps you are celebrated."
"H'm! Well, we will test it at once. Tell me, have you ever heard the
The _vis-a-vis_ raised his eyes to the ceiling, thought a minute, and
"No, I haven't heard it,..." he said.
"That is my surname. You, a man of education, getting on in years, have
never heard of me--a convincing proof! It is evident that in my efforts
to gain fame I have not done the right thing at all: I did not know the
right way to set to work, and, trying to catch fame by the tail, got on
the wrong side of her."
"What is the right way to set to work?"
"Well, the devil only knows! Talent, you say? Genius? Originality? Not
a bit of it, sir!... People have lived and made a career side by side
with me who were worthless, trivial, and even contemptible compared with
me. They did not do one-tenth of the work I did, did not put themselves
out, were not distinguished for their talents, and did not make
an effort to be celebrated, but just look at them! Their names are
continually in the newspapers and on men's lips! If you are not tired of
listening I will illustrate it by an example. Some years ago I built
a bridge in the town of K. I must tell you that the dullness of that
scurvy little town was terrible. If it had not been for women and cards
I believe I should have gone out of my mind. Well, it's an old story:
I was so bored that I got into an affair with a singer. Everyone was
enthusiastic about her, the devil only knows why; to my thinking she
was--what shall I say?--an ordinary, commonplace creature, like lots
of others. The hussy was empty-headed, ill-tempered, greedy, and what's
more, she was a fool.
"She ate and drank a vast amount, slept till five o clock in the
afternoon--and I fancy did nothing else. She was looked upon as a
cocotte, and that was indeed her profession; but when people wanted to
refer to her in a literary fashion, they called her an actress and
a singer. I used to be devoted to the theatre, and therefore this
fraudulent pretense of being an actress made me furiously indignant. My
young lady had not the slightest right to call herself an actress or
a singer. She was a creature entirely devoid of talent, devoid of
feeling--a pitiful creature one may say. As far as I can judge she sang
disgustingly. The whole charm of her 'art' lay in her kicking up her
legs on every suitable occasion, and not being embarrassed when
people walked into her dressing-room. She usually selected translated
vaudevilles, with singing in them, and opportunities for disporting
herself in male attire, in tights. In fact it was--ough! Well, I ask
your attention. As I remember now, a public ceremony took place to
celebrate the opening of the newly constructed bridge. There was a
religious service, there were speeches, telegrams, and so on. I hung
about my cherished creation, you know, all the while afraid that my
heart would burst with the excitement of an author. Its an old story and
there's no need for false modesty, and so I will tell you that my bridge
was a magnificent work! It was not a bridge but a picture, a perfect
delight! And who would not have been excited when the whole town came to
the opening? 'Oh,' I thought, 'now the eyes of all the public will be
on me! Where shall I hide myself?' Well, I need not have worried myself,
sir--alas! Except the official personages, no one took the slightest
notice of me. They stood in a crowd on the river-bank, gazed like sheep
at the bridge, and did not concern themselves to know who had built
it. And it was from that time, by the way, that I began to hate our
estimable public--damnation take them! Well, to continue. All at once
the public became agitated; a whisper ran through the crowd,... a
smile came on their faces, their shoulders began to move. 'They must
have seen me,' I thought. A likely idea! I looked, and my singer, with a
train of young scamps, was making her way through the crowd. The eyes of
the crowd were hurriedly following this procession. A whisper began in a
thousand voices: 'That's so-and-so.... Charming! Bewitching!' Then it
was they noticed me.... A couple of young milksops, local amateurs
of the scenic art, I presume, looked at me, exchanged glances,
and whispered: 'That's her lover!' How do you like that? And an
unprepossessing individual in a top-hat, with a chin that badly needed
shaving, hung round me, shifting from one foot to the other, then turned
to me with the words:
"'Do you know who that lady is, walking on the other bank? That's
so-and-so.... Her voice is beneath all criticism, but she has a most
perfect mastery of it!...'
"'Can you tell me,' I asked the unprepossessing individual, 'who built
"'I really don't know,' answered the individual; some engineer, I
"'And who built the cathedral in your town?' I asked again.
"'I really can't tell you.'
"Then I asked him who was considered the best teacher in K., who the
best architect, and to all my questions the unprepossessing individual
answered that he did not know.
"'And tell me, please,' I asked in conclusion, with whom is that singer
"'With some engineer called Krikunov.'
"Well, how do you like that, sir? But to proceed. There are no
minnesingers or bards nowadays, and celebrity is created almost
exclusively by the newspapers. The day after the dedication of the
bridge, I greedily snatched up the local _Messenger,_ and looked for
myself in it. I spent a long time running my eyes over all the four
pages, and at last there it was--hurrah! I began reading: 'Yesterday in
beautiful weather, before a vast concourse of people, in the presence
of His Excellency the Governor of the province, so-and-so, and other
dignitaries, the ceremony of the dedication of the newly constructed
bridge took place,' and so on.... Towards the end: Our talented
actress so-and-so, the favorite of the K. public, was present at the
dedication looking very beautiful. I need not say that her arrival
created a sensation. The star was wearing...' and so on. They might
have given me one word! Half a word. Petty as it seems, I actually cried
"I consoled myself with the reflection that the provinces are stupid,
and one could expect nothing of them and for celebrity one must go
to the intellectual centers--to Petersburg and to Moscow. And as it
happened, at that very time there was a work of mine in Petersburg which
I had sent in for a competition. The date on which the result was to be
declared was at hand.
"I took leave of K. and went to Petersburg. It is a long journey from
K. to Petersburg, and that I might not be bored on the journey I took a
reserved compartment and--well--of course, I took my singer. We set off,
and all the way we were eating, drinking champagne, and--tra-la--la! But
behold, at last we reach the intellectual center. I arrived on the very
day the result was declared, and had the satisfaction, my dear sir, of
celebrating my own success: my work received the first prize. Hurrah!
Next day I went out along the Nevsky and spent seventy kopecks on
various newspapers. I hastened to my hotel room, lay down on the sofa,
and, controlling a quiver of excitement, made haste to read. I ran
through one newspaper--nothing. I ran through a second--nothing either;
my God! At last, in the fourth, I lighted upon the following paragraph:
'Yesterday the well-known provincial actress so-and-so arrived by
express in Petersburg. We note with pleasure that the climate of the
South has had a beneficial effect on our fair friend; her charming stage
appearance...' and I don't remember the rest! Much lower down than
that paragraph I found, printed in the smallest type: first prize in the
competition was adjudged to an engineer called so-and-so.' That was
all! And to make things better, they even misspelt my name: instead of
Krikunov it was Kirkutlov. So much for your intellectual center! But
that was not all.... By the time I left Petersburg, a month later,
all the newspapers were vying with one another in discussing our
incomparable, divine, highly talented actress, and my mistress was
referred to, not by her surname, but by her Christian name and her
"Some years later I was in Moscow. I was summoned there by a letter, in
the mayor's own handwriting, to undertake a work for which Moscow, in
its newspapers, had been clamoring for over a hundred years. In
the intervals of my work I delivered five public lectures, with a
philanthropic object, in one of the museums there. One would have
thought that was enough to make one known to the whole town for three
days at least, wouldn't one? But, alas! not a single Moscow gazette
said a word about me There was something about houses on fire, about
an operetta, sleeping town councilors, dr unken shop keepers--about
everything; but about my work, my plans, my lectures--mum. And a nice
set they are in Moscow! I got into a tram.... It was packed full;
there were ladies and military men and students of both sexes, creatures
of all sorts in couples.
"'I am told the town council has sent for an engineer to plan such and
such a work!' I said to my neighbor, so loudly that all the tram could
hear. 'Do you know the name of the engineer?'
"My neighbor shook his head. The rest of the public took a cursory
glance at me, and in all their eyes I read: 'I don't know.'
"'I am told that there is someone giving lectures in such and such a
museum?' I persisted, trying to get up a conversation. 'I hear it is
"No one even nodded. Evidently they had not all of them heard of the
lectures, and the ladies were not even aware of the existence of the
museum. All that would not have mattered, but imagine, my dear sir, the
people suddenly leaped to their feet and struggled to the windows. What
was it? What was the matter?
"'Look, look!' my neighbor nudged me. 'Do you see that dark man getting
into that cab? That's the famous runner, King!'
"And the whole tram began talking breathlessly of the runner who was
then absorbing the brains of Moscow.
"I could give you ever so many other examples, but I think that is
enough. Now let us assume that I am mistaken about myself, that I am
a wretchedly boastful and incompetent person; but apart from myself
I might point to many of my contemporaries, men remarkable for their
talent and industry, who have nevertheless died unrecognized.
Are Russian navigators, chemists, physicists, mechanicians, and
agriculturists popular with the public? Do our cultivated masses know
anything of Russian artists, sculptors, and literary men? Some old
literary hack, hard-working and talented, will wear away the doorstep of
the publishers' offices for thirty-three years, cover reams of paper, be
had up for libel twenty times, and yet not step beyond his ant-heap. Can
you mention to me a single representative of our literature who would
have become celebrated if the rumor had not been spread over the earth
that he had been killed in a duel, gone out of his mind, been sent into
exile, or had cheated at cards?"
The first-class passenger was so excited that he dropped his cigar out
of his mouth and got up.
"Yes," he went on fiercely, "and side by side with these people I can
quote you hundreds of all sorts of singers, acrobats, buffoons, whose
names are known to every baby. Yes!"
The door creaked, there was a draught, and an individual of forbidding
aspect, wearing an Inverness coat, a top-hat, and blue spectacles,
walked into the carriage. The individual looked round at the seats,
frowned, and went on further.
"Do you know who that is?" there came a timid whisper from the furthest
corner of the compartment.
"That is N. N., the famous Tula cardsharper who was had up in connection
with the Y. bank affair."
"There you are!" laughed the first-class passenger. "He knows a Tula
cardsharper, but ask him whether he knows Semiradsky, Tchaykovsky, or
Solovyov the philosopher--he'll shake his head.... It swinish!"
Three minutes passed in silence.
"Allow me in my turn to ask you a question," said the _vis-a-vis_
timidly, clearing his throat. "Do you know the name of Pushkov?"
"Pushkov? H'm! Pushkov.... No, I don't know it!"
"That is my name,..." said the _vis-a-vis,_, overcome with
embarrassment. "Then you don't know it? And yet I have been a professor
at one of the Russian universities for thirty-five years,... a member
of the Academy of Sciences,... have published more than one work...."
The first-class passenger and the _vis-a-vis_ looked at each other and
burst out laughing.
A TRAGIC ACTOR
IT was the benefit night of Fenogenov, the tragic actor. They were
acting "Prince Serebryany." The tragedian himself was playing Vyazemsky;
Limonadov, the stage manager, was playing Morozov; Madame Beobahtov,
Elena. The performance was a grand success. The tragedian accomplished
wonders indeed. When he was carrying off Elena, he held her in one hand
above his head as he dashed across the stage. He shouted, hissed, banged
with his feet, tore his coat across his chest. When he refused to fight
Morozov, he trembled all over as nobody ever trembles in reality, and
gasped loudly. The theatre shook with applause. There were endless
calls. Fenogenov was presented with a silver cigarette-case and a
bouquet tied with long ribbons. The ladies waved their handkerchiefs and
urged their men to applaud, many shed tears.... But the one who was
the most enthusiastic and most excited was Masha, daughter of Sidoretsky
the police captain. She was sitting in the first row of the stalls
beside her papa; she was ecstatic and could not take her eyes off the
stage even between the acts. Her delicate little hands and feet were
quivering, her eyes were full of tears, her cheeks turned paler and
paler. And no wonder--she was at the theatre for the first time in her
"How well they act! how splendidly!" she said to her papa the police
captain, every time the curtain fell. "How good Fenogenov is!"
And if her papa had been capable of reading faces he would have read
on his daughter's pale little countenance a rapture that was
almost anguish. She was overcome by the acting, by the play, by the
surroundings. When the regimental band began playing between the acts,
she closed her eyes, exhausted.
"Papa!" she said to the police captain during the last interval, "go
behind the scenes and ask them all to dinner to-morrow!"
The police captain went behind the scenes, praised them for all their
fine acting, and complimented Madame Beobahtov.
"Your lovely face demands a canvas, and I only wish I could wield the
And with a scrape, he thereupon invited the company to dinner.
"All except the fair sex," he whispered. "I don't want the actresses,
for I have a daughter."
Next day the actors dined at the police captain's. Only three turned
up, the manager Limonadov, the tragedian Fenogenov, and the comic
man Vodolazov; the others sent excuses. The dinner was a dull affair.
Limonadov kept telling the police captain how much he respected him, and
how highly he thought of all persons in authority; Vodolazov mimicked
drunken merchants and Armenians; and Fenogenov (on his passport his name
was Knish), a tall, stout Little Russian with black eyes and frowning
brow, declaimed "At the portals of the great," and "To be or not to
be." Limonadov, with tears in his eyes, described his interview with the
former Governor, General Kanyutchin. The police captain listened, was
bored, and smiled affably. He was well satisfied, although Limonadov
smelt strongly of burnt feathers, and Fenogenov was wearing a hired
dress coat and boots trodden down at heel. They pleased his daughter and
made her lively, and that was enough for him. And Masha never took her
eyes off the actors. She had never before seen such clever, exceptional
In the evening the police captain and Masha were at the theatre again.
A week later the actors dined at the police captain's again, and after
that came almost every day either to dinner or supper. Masha became more
and more devoted to the theatre, and went there every evening.
She fell in love with the tragedian. One fine morning, when the police
captain had gone to meet the bishop, Masha ran away with Limonadov's
company and married her hero on the way. After celebrating the wedding,
the actors composed a long and touching letter and sent it to the police
It was the work of their combined efforts.
"Bring out the motive, the motive!" Limonadov kept saying as he dictated
to the comic man. "Lay on the respect.... These official chaps like
it. Add something of a sort... to draw a tear."
The answer to this letter was most discomforting. The police captain
disowned his daughter for marrying, as he said, "a stupid, idle Little
Russian with no fixed home or occupation."
And the day after this answer was received M asha was writing to her
"Papa, he beats me! Forgive us!"
He had beaten her, beaten her behind the scenes, in the presence of
Limonadov, the washerwoman, and two lighting men. He remembered how,
four days before the wedding, he was sitting in the London Tavern with
the whole company, and all were talking about Masha. The company were
advising him to "chance it," and Limonadov, with tears in his
eyes urged: "It would be stupid and irrational to let slip such an
opportunity! Why, for a sum like that one would go to Siberia, let alone
getting married! When you marry and have a theatre of your own, take me
into your company. I shan't be master then, you'll be master."
Fenogenov remembered it, and muttered with clenched fists:
"If he doesn't send money I'll smash her! I won't let myself be made a
fool of, damn my soul!"
At one provincial town the company tried to give Masha the slip, but
Masha found out, ran to the station, and got there when the second bell
had rung and the actors had all taken their seats.
"I've been shamefully treated by your father," said the tragedian; "all
is over between us!"
And though the carriage was full of people, she went down on her knees
and held out her hands, imploring him:
"I love you! Don't drive me away, Kondraty Ivanovitch," she besought
him. "I can't live without you!"
They listened to her entreaties, and after consulting together, took
her into the company as a "countess"--the name they used for the minor
actresses who usually came on to the stage in crowds or in dumb parts.
To begin with Masha used to play maid-servants and pages, but when
Madame Beobahtov, the flower of Limonadov's company, eloped, they made
her _ingenue_. She acted badly, lisped, and was nervous. She soon grew
used to it, however, and began to be liked by the audience. Fenogenov
was much displeased.
"To call her an actress!" he used to say. "She has no figure, no
deportment, nothing whatever but silliness."
In one provincial town the company acted Schiller's "Robbers."
Fenogenov played Franz, Masha, Amalie. The tragedian shouted and
quivered. Masha repeated her part like a well-learnt lesson, and the
play would have gone off as they generally did had it not been for
a trifling mishap. Everything went well up to the point where Franz
declares his love for Amalie and she seizes his sword. The tragedian
shouted, hissed, quivered, and squeezed Masha in his iron embrace. And
Masha, instead of repulsing him and crying "Hence!" trembled in his
arms like a bird and did not move,... she seemed petrified.
"Have pity on me!" she whispered in his ear. "Oh, have pity on me! I am
"You don't know your part! Listen to the prompter!" hissed the
tragedian, and he thrust his sword into her hand.
After the performance, Limonadov and Fenogenov were sitting in the
ticket box-office engaged in conversation.
"Your wife does not learn her part, you are right there," the manager
was saying. "She doesn't know her line.... Every man has his own
line,... but she doesn't know hers...."
Fenogenov listened, sighed, and scowled and scowled.
Next morning, Masha was sitting in a little general shop writing:
"Papa, he beats me! Forgive us! Send us some money!"
A COLLEGIATE assessor called Miguev stopped at a telegraph-post in the
course of his evening walk and heaved a deep sigh. A week before, as he
was returning home from his evening walk, he had been overtaken at that
very spot by his former housemaid, Agnia, who said to him viciously:
"Wait a bit! I'll cook you such a crab that'll teach you to ruin
innocent girls! I'll leave the baby at your door, and I'll have the law
of you, and I'll tell your wife, too...."
And she demanded that he should put five thousand roubles into the
bank in her name. Miguev remembered it, heaved a sigh, and once
more reproached himself with heartfelt repentance for the momentary
infatuation which had caused him so much worry and misery.
When he reached his bungalow, he sat down to rest on the doorstep. It
was just ten o'clock, and a bit of the moon peeped out from behind
the clouds. There was not a soul in the street nor near the bungalows;
elderly summer visitors were already going to bed, while young ones were
walking in the wood. Feeling in both his pockets for a match to light
his cigarette, Miguev brought his elbow into contact with something
soft. He looked idly at his right elbow, and his face was instantly
contorted by a look of as much horror as though he had seen a snake
beside him. On the step at the very door lay a bundle. Something oblong
in shape was wrapped up in something--judging by the feel of it,
a wadded quilt. One end of the bundle was a little open, and the
collegiate assessor, putting in his hand, felt something damp and warm.
He leaped on to his feet in horror, and looked about him like a criminal
trying to escape from his warders....
"She has left it!" he muttered wrathfully through his teeth, clenching
his fists. "Here it lies.... Here lies my transgression! O Lord!"
He was numb with terror, anger, and shame... What was he to do now?
What would his wife say if she found out? What would his colleagues at
the office say? His Excellency would be sure to dig him in the ribs,
guffaw, and say: "I congratulate you!... He-he-he! Though your beard
is gray, your heart is gay.... You are a rogue, Semyon Erastovitch!"
The whole colony of summer visitors would know his secret now, and
probably the respectable mothers of families would shut their doors to
him. Such incidents always get into the papers, and the humble name of
Miguev would be published all over Russia....
The middle window of the bungalow was open and he could distinctly hear
his wife, Anna Filippovna, laying the table for supper; in the yard
close to the gate Yermolay, the porter, was plaintively strumming on the
balalaika. The baby had only to wake up and begin to cry, and the secret
would be discovered. Miguev was conscious of an overwhelming desire to
"Haste, haste!..." he muttered, "this minute, before anyone sees.
I'll carry it away and lay it on somebody's doorstep...."
Miguev took the bundle in one hand and quietly, with a deliberate step
to avoid awakening suspicion, went down the street....
"A wonderfully nasty position!" he reflected, trying to assume an air of
unconcern. "A collegiate assessor walking down the street with a baby!
Good heavens! if anyone sees me and understands the position, I am
done for.... I'd better put it on this doorstep.... No, stay, the
windows are open and perhaps someone is looking. Where shall I put it?
I know! I'll take it to the merchant Myelkin's.... Merchants are rich
people and tenderhearted; very likely they will say thank you and adopt
And Miguev made up his mind to take the baby to Myelkin's, although the
merchant's villa was in the furthest street, close to the river.
"If only it does not begin screaming or wriggle out of the bundle,"
thought the collegiate assessor. "This is indeed a pleasant surprise!
Here I am carrying a human being under my arm as though it were a
portfolio. A human being, alive, with soul, with feelings like anyone
else.... If by good luck the Myelkins adopt him, he may turn out
somebody.... Maybe he will become a professor, a great general, an
author.... Anything may happen! Now I am carrying him under my arm
like a bundle of rubbish, and perhaps in thirty or forty years I may not
dare to sit down in his presence...."
As Miguev was walking along a narrow, deserted alley, beside a long
row of fences, in the thick black shade of the lime trees, it suddenly
struck him that he was doing something very cruel and criminal.
"How mean it is really!" he thought. "So mean that one can't imagine
anything meaner.... Why are we shifting this poor baby from door to
door? It's not its fault that it's been born. It's done us no harm. We
are scoundrels.... We take our pleasure, and the innocent babies have
to pay the penalty. Only to think of all this wretched business! I've
done wrong and the child has a cruel fate before it. If I lay it at the
Myelkins' door, they'll send it to the foundling hospital, and there it
will grow up among strangers, in mechanical routine,... no love,
no petting, no spoiling.... And then he'll be apprenticed to a
shoemaker,... he'll take to drink, will learn to use filthy language,
will go hungry. A shoemaker! and he the son of a collegiate assessor, of
good family.... He is my flesh and blood,... "
Miguev came out of the shade of the lime trees into the bright moonlight
of the open road, and opening the bundle, he looked at the baby.
"Asleep!" he murmured. "You little rascal! why, you've an aquiline nose
like your father's.... He sleeps and doesn't feel that it's his own
father looking at him!... It's a drama, my boy... Well, well, you
must forgive me. Forgive me, old boy.... It seems it's your fate...."
The collegiate assessor blinked and felt a spasm running down his
cheeks.... He wrapped up the baby, put him under his arm, and strode
on. All the way to the Myelkins' villa social questions were swarming in
his brain and conscience was gnawing in his bosom.
"If I were a decent, honest man," he thought, "I should damn everything,
go with this baby to Anna Filippovna, fall on my knees before her,
and say: 'Forgive me! I have sinned! Torture me, but we won't ruin an
innocent child. We have no children; let us adopt him!' She's a good
sort, she'd consent.... And then my child would be with me....
He reached the Myelkins' villa and stood still hesitating. He imagined
himself in the parlor at home, sitting reading the paper while a little
boy with an aquiline nose played with the tassels of his dressing gown.
At the same time visions forced themselves on his brain of his winking
colleagues, and of his Excellency digging him in the ribs and
guffawing.... Besides the pricking of his conscience, there was
something warm, sad, and tender in his heart....
Cautiously the collegiate assessor laid the baby on the verandah step
and waved his hand. Again he felt a spasm run over his face....
"Forgive me, old fellow! I am a scoundrel," he muttered. "Don't remember
evil against me."
He stepped back, but immediately cleared his throat resolutely and said:
"Oh, come what will! Damn it all! I'll take him, and let people say what
Miguev took the baby and strode rapidly back.
"Let them say what they like," he thought. "I'll go at once, fall on
my knees, and say: 'Anna Filippovna!' Anna is a good sort, she'll
understand.... And we'll bring him up.... If it's a boy we'll call
him Vladimir, and if it's a girl we'll call her Anna! Anyway, it will be
a comfort in our old age."
And he did as he determined. Weeping and almost faint with shame and
terror, full of hope and vague rapture, he went into his bungalow, went
up to his wife, and fell on his knees before her.
"Anna Filippovna!" he said with a sob, and he laid the baby on the
floor. "Hear me before you punish.... I have sinned! This is my
child.... You remember Agnia? Well, it was the devil drove me to it.
And, almost unconscious with shame and terror, he jumped up without
waiting for an answer, and ran out into the open air as though he had
received a thrashing....
"I'll stay here outside till she calls me," he thought. "I'll give her
time to recover, and to think it over...."
The porter Yermolay passed him with his balalaika, glanced at him and
shrugged his shoulders. A minute later he passed him again, and again he
shrugged his shoulders.
"Here's a go! Did you ever!" he muttered grinning. "Aksinya, the
washer-woman, was here just now, Semyon Erastovitch. The silly woman
put her baby down on the steps here, and while she was indoors with me,
someone took and carried off the baby... Who'd have thought it!"
"What? What are you saying?" shouted Miguev at the top of his voice.
Yermolay, interpreting his master's wrath in his own fashion, scratched
his head and heaved a sigh.
"I am sorry, Semyon Erastovitch," he said, "but it's the summer
holidays,... one can't get on without... without a woman, I mean...."
And glancing at his master's eyes glaring at him with anger and
astonishment, he cleared his throat guiltily and went on:
"It's a sin, of course, but there--what is one to do?... You've
forbidden us to have strangers in the house, I know, but we've none of
our own now. When Agnia was here I had no women to see me, for I had one
at home; but now, you can see for yourself, sir,... one can't
help having strangers. In Agnia's time, of course, there was nothing
"Be off, you scoundrel!" Miguev shouted at him, stamping, and he went
back into the room.
Anna Filippovna, amazed and wrathful, was sitting as before, her
tear-stained eyes fixed on the baby....
"There! there!" Miguev muttered with a pale face, twisting his lips
into a smile. "It was a joke.... It's not my baby,... it's
the washer-woman's!... I... I was joking.... Take it to the
"HONORED Sir, Father and Benefactor!" a petty clerk called Nevyrazimov
was writing a rough copy of an Easter congratulatory letter. "I trust
that you may spend this Holy Day even as many more to come, in good
health and prosperity. And to your family also I..."
The lamp, in which the kerosene was getting low, was smoking and
smelling. A stray cockroach was running about the table in alarm near
Nevyrazimov's writing hand. Two rooms away from the office Paramon the
porter was for the third time cleaning his best boots, and with such
energy that the sound of the blacking-brush and of his expectorations
was audible in all the rooms.
"What else can I write to him, the rascal?" Nevyrazimov wondered,
raising his eyes to the smutty ceiling.
On the ceiling he saw a dark circle--the shadow of the lamp-shade. Below
it was the dusty cornice, and lower still the wall, which had once been
painted a bluish muddy color. And the office seemed to him such a place
of desolation that he felt sorry, not only for himself, but even for the
"When I am off duty I shall go away, but he'll be on duty here all his
cockroach-life," he thought, stretching. "I am bored! Shall I clean my
And stretching once more, Nevyrazimov slouched lazily to the porter's
room. Paramon had finished cleaning his boots. Crossing himself with
one hand and holding the brush in the other, he was standing at the open
"They're ringing," he whispered to Nevyrazimov, looking at him with eyes
intent and wide open. "Already!"
Nevyrazimov put his ear to the open pane and listened. The Easter chimes
floated into the room with a whiff of fresh spring air. The booming of
the bells mingled with the rumble of carriages, and above the chaos
of sounds rose the brisk tenor tones of the nearest church and a loud
"What a lot of people!" sighed Nevyrazimov, looking down into
the street, where shadows of men flitted one after another by the
illumination lamps. "They're all hurrying to the midnight service....
Our fellows have had a drink by now, you may be sure, and are strolling
about the town. What a lot of laughter, what a lot of talk! I'm the
only unlucky one, to have to sit here on such a day: And I have to do it
"Well, nobody forces you to take the job. It's not your turn to be on
duty today, but Zastupov hired you to take his place. When other folks
are enjoying themselves you hire yourself out. It's greediness!"
"Devil a bit of it! Not much to be greedy over--two roubles is all he
gives me; a necktie as an extra.... It's poverty, not greediness.
And it would be jolly, now, you know, to be going with a party to the
service, and then to break the fast.... To drink and to have a bit
of supper and tumble off to sleep.... One sits down to the table,
there's an Easter cake and the samovar hissing, and some charming little
thing beside you.... You drink a glass and chuck her under the chin,
and it's first-rate.... You feel you're somebody.... Ech h-h!...
I've made a mess of things! Look at that hussy driving by in her
carriage, while I have to sit here and brood."
"We each have our lot in life, Ivan Danilitch. Please God, you'll be
promoted and drive about in your carriage one day."
"I? No, brother, not likely. I shan't get beyond a 'titular,' not if I
try till I burst. I'm not an educated man."
"Our General has no education either, but..."
"Well, but the General stole a hundred thousand before he got his
position. And he's got very different manners and deportment from me,
brother. With my manners and deportment one can't get far! And such a
scoundrelly surname, Nevyrazimov! It's a hopeless position, in fact. One
may go on as one is, or one may hang oneself..."
He moved away from the window and walked wearily about the rooms. The
din of the bells grew louder and louder.... There was no need to
stand by the window to hear it. And the better he could hear the bells
and the louder the roar of the carriages, the darker seemed the muddy
walls and the smutty cornice and the more the lamp smoked.
"Shall I hook it and leave the office?" thought Nevyrazimov.
But such a flight promised nothing worth having.... After coming out
of the office and wandering about the town, Nevyrazimov would have gone
home to his lodging, and in his lodging it was even grayer and more
depressing than in the office.... Even supposing he were to spend
that day pleasantly and with comfort, what had he beyond? Nothing but
the same gray walls, the same stop-gap duty and complimentary
Nevyrazimov stood still in the middle of the office and sank into
thought. The yearning for a new, better life gnawed at his heart with an
intolerable ache. He had a passionate longing to find himself suddenly
in the street, to mingle with the living crowd, to take part in the
solemn festivity for the sake of which all those bells were clashing
and those carriages were rumbling. He longed for what he had known in
childhood--the family circle, the festive faces of his own people, the
white cloth, light, warmth...! He thought of the carriage in which
the lady had just driven by, the overcoat in which the head clerk was
so smart, the gold chain that adorned the secretary's chest....
He thought of a warm bed, of the Stanislav order, of new boots, of
a uniform without holes in the elbows.... He thought of all those
things because he had none of them.
"Shall I steal?" he thought. "Even if stealing is an easy matter,
hiding is what's difficult. Men run away to America, they say, with what
they've stolen, but the devil knows where that blessed America is. One
must have education even to steal, it seems."
The bells died down. He heard only a distant noise of carriages and
Paramon's cough, while his depression and anger grew more and more
intense and unbearable. The clock in the office struck half-past twelve.
"Shall I write a secret report? Proshkin did, and he rose rapidly."
Nevyrazimov sat down at his table and pondered. The lamp in which the
kerosene had quite run dry was smoking violently and threatening to go
out. The stray cockroach was still running about the table and had found
"One can always send in a secret report, but how is one to make it up?
I should want to make all sorts of innuendoes and insinuations, like
Proshkin, and I can't do it. If I made up anything I should be the first
to get into trouble for it. I'm an ass, damn my soul!"
And Nevyrazimov, racking his brain for a means of escape from his
hopeless position, stared at the rough copy he had written. The letter
was written to a man whom he feared and hated with his whole soul, and
from whom he had for the last ten years been trying to wring a post
worth eighteen roubles a month, instead of the one he had at sixteen
"Ah, I'll teach you to run here, you devil!" He viciously slapped the
palm of his hand on the cockroach, who had the misfortune to catch his
eye. "Nasty thing!"
The cockroach fell on its back and wriggled its legs in despair.
Nevyrazimov took it by one leg and threw it into the lamp. The lamp
flared up and spluttered.
And Nevyrazimov felt better.
IN the village church of Verhny Zaprudy mass was just over. The people
had begun moving and were trooping out of church. The only one who
did not move was Andrey Andreyitch, a shopkeeper and old inhabitant of
Verhny Zaprudy. He stood waiting, with his elbows on the railing of the
right choir. His fat and shaven face, covered with indentations left
by pimples, expressed on this occasion two contradictory feelings:
resignation in the face of inevitable destiny, and stupid, unbounded
disdain for the smocks and striped kerchiefs passing by him. As it was
Sunday, he was dressed like a dandy. He wore a long cloth overcoat with
yellow bone buttons, blue trousers not thrust into his boots, and sturdy
goloshes--the huge clumsy goloshes only seen on the feet of practical
and prudent persons of firm religious convictions.
His torpid eyes, sunk in fat, were fixed upon the ikon stand. He saw the
long familiar figures of the saints, the verger Matvey puffing out his
cheeks and blowing out the candles, the darkened candle stands, the
threadbare carpet, the sacristan Lopuhov running impulsively from the
altar and carrying the holy bread to the churchwarden.... All these
things he had seen for years, and seen over and over again like the five
fingers of his hand.... There was only one thing, however, that was
somewhat strange and unusual. Father Grigory, still in his vestments,
was standing at the north door, twitching his thick eyebrows angrily.
"Who is it he is winking at? God bless him!" thought the shopkeeper.
"And he is beckoning with his finger! And he stamped his foot! What
next! What's the matter, Holy Queen and Mother! Whom does he mean it
Andrey Andreyitch looked round and saw the church completely deserted.
There were some ten people standing at the door, but they had their
backs to the altar.
"Do come when you are called! Why do you stand like a graven image?" he
heard Father Grigory's angry voice. "I am calling you."
The shopkeeper looked at Father Grigory's red and wrathful face, and
only then realized that the twitching eyebrows and beckoning finger
might refer to him. He started, left the railing, and hesitatingly
walked towards the altar, tramping with his heavy goloshes.
"Andrey Andreyitch, was it you asked for prayers for the rest of
Mariya's soul?" asked the priest, his eyes angrily transfixing the
shopkeeper's fat, perspiring face.
"Then it was you wrote this? You?" And Father Grigory angrily thrust
before his eyes the little note.
And on this little note, handed in by Andrey Andreyitch before mass, was
written in big, as it were staggering, letters:
"For the rest of the soul of the servant of God, the harlot Mariya."
"Yes, certainly I wrote it,..." answered the shopkeeper.
"How dared you write it?" whispered the priest, and in his husky whisper
there was a note of wrath and alarm.
The shopkeeper looked at him in blank amazement; he was perplexed, and
he, too, was alarmed. Father Grigory had never in his life spoken in
such a tone to a leading resident of Verhny Zaprudy. Both were silent
for a minute, staring into each other's face. The shopkeeper's amazement
was so great that his fat face spread in all directions like spilt
"How dared you?" repeated the priest.
"Wha... what?" asked Andrey Andreyitch in bewilderment.
"You don't understand?" whispered Father Grigory, stepping back
in astonishment and clasping his hands. "What have you got on your
shoulders, a head or some other object? You send a note up to the altar,
and write a word in it which it would be unseemly even to utter in the
street! Why are you rolling your eyes? Surely you know the meaning of
"Are you referring to the word harlot?" muttered the shopkeeper,
flushing crimson and blinking. "But you know, the Lord in His mercy...
forgave this very thing,... forgave a harlot.... He has prepared
a place for her, and indeed from the life of the holy saint, Mariya of
Egypt, one may see in what sense the word is used--excuse me..."
The shopkeeper wanted to bring forward some other argument in his
justification, but took fright and wiped his lips with his sleeve.
"So that's what you make of it!" cried Father Grigory, clasping his
hands. "But you see God has forgiven her--do you understand? He has
forgiven, but you judge her, you slander her, call her by an unseemly
name, and whom! Your own deceased daughter! Not only in Holy Scripture,
but even in worldly literature you won't read of such a sin! I tell
you again, Andrey, you mustn't be over-subtle! No, no, you mustn't be
over-subtle, brother! If God has given you an inquiring mind, and if you
cannot direct it, better not go into things.... Don't go into things,
and hold your peace!"
"But you know, she,... excuse my mentioning it, was an actress!"
articulated Andrey Andreyitch, overwhelmed.
"An actress! But whatever she was, you ought to forget it all now she is
dead, instead of writing it on the note."
"Just so,..." the shopkeeper assented.
"You ought to do penance," boomed the deacon from the depths of the
altar, looking contemptuously at Andrey Andreyitch's embarrassed face,
"that would teach you to leave off being so clever! Your daughter was
a well-known actress. There were even notices of her death in the
"To be sure,... certainly," muttered the shopkeeper, "the word is not
a seemly one; but I did not say it to judge her, Father Grigory, I only
meant to speak spiritually,... that it might be clearer to you for
whom you were praying. They write in the memorial notes the various
callings, such as the infant John, the drowned woman Pelagea, the
warrior Yegor, the murdered Pavel, and so on.... I meant to do the
"It was foolish, Andrey! God will forgive you, but beware another time.
Above all, don't be subtle, but think like other people. Make ten bows
and go your way."
"I obey," said the shopkeeper, relieved that the lecture was over, and
allowing his face to resume its expression of importance and dignity.
"Ten bows? Very good, I understand. But now, Father, allow me to ask
you a favor.... Seeing that I am, anyway, her father,... you know
yourself, whatever she was, she was still my daughter, so I was,...
excuse me, meaning to ask you to sing the requiem today. And allow me to
ask you, Father Deacon!"
"Well, that's good," said Father Grigory, taking off his vestments.
"That I commend. I can approve of that! Well, go your way. We will come
Andrey Andreyitch walked with dignity from the altar, and with a solemn,
requiem-like expression on his red face took his stand in the middle
of the church. The verger Matvey set before him a little table with the
memorial food upon it, and a little later the requiem service began.
There was perfect stillness in the church. Nothing could be heard but
the metallic click of the censer and slow singing.... Near Andrey
Andreyitch stood the verger Matvey, the midwife Makaryevna, and her
one-armed son Mitka. There was no one else. The sacristan sang badly in
an unpleasant, hollow bass, but the tune and the words were so mournful
that the shopkeeper little by little lost the expression of dignity and
was plunged in sadness. He thought of his Mashutka,... he remembered
she had been born when he was still a lackey in the service of the owner
of Verhny Zaprudy. In his busy life as a lackey he had not noticed
how his girl had grown up. That long period during which she was being
shaped into a graceful creature, with a little flaxen head and dreamy
eyes as big as kopeck-pieces passed unnoticed by him. She had been
brought up like all the children of favorite lackeys, in ease and
comfort in the company of the young ladies. The gentry, to fill up their
idle time, had taught her to read, to write, to dance; he had had no
hand in her bringing up. Only from time to time casually meeting her at
the gate or on the landing of the stairs, he would remember that she was
his daughter, and would, so far as he had leisure for it, begin teaching
her the prayers and the scripture. Oh, even then he had the reputation
of an authority on the church rules and the holy scriptures! Forbidding
and stolid as her father's face was, yet the girl listened readily. She
repeated the prayers after him yawning, but on the other hand, when he,
hesitating and trying to express himself elaborately, began telling her
stories, she was all attention. Esau's pottage, the punishment of Sodom,
and the troubles of the boy Joseph made her turn pale and open her blue
Afterwards when he gave up being a lackey, and with the money he had
saved opened a shop in the village, Mashutka had gone away to Moscow
with his master's family....
Three years before her death she had come to see her father. He had
scarcely recognized her. She was a graceful young woman with the manners
of a young lady, and dressed like one. She talked cleverly, as though
from a book, smoked, and slept till midday. When Andrey Andreyitch asked
her what she was doing, she had announced, looking him boldly straight
in the face: "I am an actress." Such frankness struck the former flunkey
as the acme of cynicism. Mashutka had begun boasting of her successes
and her stage life; but seeing that her father only turned crimson and
threw up his hands, she ceased. And they spent a fortnight together
without speaking or looking at one another till the day she went away.
Before she went away she asked her father to come for a walk on the bank
of the river. Painful as it was for him to walk in the light of day, in
the sight of all honest people, with a daughter who was an actress, he
yielded to her request.
"What a lovely place you live in!" she said enthusiastically. "What
ravines and marshes! Good heavens, how lovely my native place is!"
And she had burst into tears.
"The place is simply taking up room,..." Andrey Andreyvitch
had thought, looking blankly at the ravines, not understanding his
daughter's enthusiasm. "There is no more profit from them than milk from
And she had cried and cried, drawing her breath greedily with her whole
chest, as though she felt she had not a long time left to breathe.
Andrey Andreyitch shook his head like a horse that has been bitten, and
to stifle painful memories began rapidly crossing himself....
"Be mindful, O Lord," he muttered, "of Thy departed servant, the harlot
Mariya, and forgive her sins, voluntary or involuntary...."
The unseemly word dropped from his lips again, but he did not notice
it: what is firmly imbedded in the consciousness cannot be driven out by
Father Grigory's exhortations or even knocked out by a nail. Makaryevna
sighed and whispered something, drawing in a deep breath, while
one-armed Mitka was brooding over something....
"Where there is no sickness, nor grief, nor sighing," droned the
sacristan, covering his right cheek with his hand.
Bluish smoke coiled up from the censer and bathed in the broad, slanting
patch of sunshine which cut across the gloomy, lifeless emptiness of the
church. And it seemed as though the soul of the dead woman were soaring
into the sunlight together with the smoke. The coils of smoke like a
child's curls eddied round and round, floating upwards to the window
and, as it were, holding aloof from the woes and tribulations of which
that poor soul was full.
IN THE COACH-HOUSE
IT was between nine and ten o'clock in the evening. Stepan the coachman,
Mihailo the house-porter, Alyoshka the coachman's grandson, who had come
up from the village to stay with his grandfather, and Nikandr, an old
man of seventy, who used to come into the yard every evening to sell
salt herrings, were sitting round a lantern in the big coach-house,
playing "kings." Through the wide-open door could be seen the whole
yard, the big house, where the master's family lived, the gates, the
cellars, and the porter's lodge. It was all shrouded in the darkness of
night, and only the four windows of one of the lodges which was let
were brightly lit up. The shadows of the coaches and sledges with their
shafts tipped upwards stretched from the walls to the doors, quivering
and cutting across the shadows cast by the lantern and the players....
On the other side of the thin partition that divided the coach-house
from the stable were the horses. There was a scent of hay, and a
disagreeable smell of salt herrings coming from old Nikandr.
The porter won and was king; he assumed an attitude such as was in his
opinion befitting a king, and blew his nose loudly on a red-checked
"Now if I like I can chop off anybody's head," he said. Alyoshka, a
boy of eight with a head of flaxen hair, left long uncut, who had only
missed being king by two tricks, looked angrily and with envy at the
porter. He pouted and frowned.
"I shall give you the trick, grandfather," he said, pondering over his
cards; "I know you have got the queen of diamonds."
"Well, well, little silly, you have thought enough!"
Alyoshka timidly played the knave of diamonds. At that moment a ring was
heard from the yard.
"Oh, hang you!" muttered the porter, getting up. "Go and open the gate,
When he came back a little later, Alyoshka was already a prince, the
fish-hawker a soldier, and the coachman a peasant.
"It's a nasty business," said the porter, sitting down to the cards
again. "I have just let the doctors out. They have not extracted it."
"How could they? Just think, they would have to pick open the brains. If
there is a bullet in the head, of what use are doctors?"
"He is lying unconscious," the porter went on. "He is bound to die.
Alyoshka, don't look at the cards, you little puppy, or I will pull your
ears! Yes, I let the doctors out, and the father and mother in... They
have only just arrived. Such crying and wailing, Lord preserve us! They
say he is the only son.... It's a grief!"
All except Alyoshka, who was absorbed in the game, looked round at the
brightly lighted windows of the lodge.
"I have orders to go to the police station tomorrow," said the porter.
"There will be an inquiry... But what do I know about it? I saw
nothing of it. He called me this morning, gave me a letter, and said:
'Put it in the letter-box for me.' And his eyes were red with crying.
His wife and children were not at home. They had gone out for a walk. So
when I had gone with the letter, he put a bullet into his forehead from
a revolver. When I came back his cook was wailing for the whole yard to
"It's a great sin," said the fish-hawker in a husky voice, and he shook
his head, "a great sin!"
"From too much learning," said the porter, taking a trick; "his wits
outstripped his wisdom. Sometimes he would sit writing papers all
night.... Play, peasant!... But he was a nice gentleman. And so white
skinned, black-haired and tall!... He was a good lodger."
"It seems the fair sex is at the bottom of it," said the coachman,
slapping the nine of trumps on the king of diamonds. "It seems he was
fond of another man's wife and disliked his own; it does happen."
"The king rebels," said the porter.
At that moment there was again a ring from the yard. The rebellious king
spat with vexation and went out. Shadows like dancing couples flitted
across the windows of the lodge. There was the sound of voices and
hurried footsteps in the yard.
"I suppose the doctors have come again," said the coachman. "Our Mihailo
is run off his legs...."
A strange wailing voice rang out for a moment in the air. Alyoshka
looked in alarm at his grandfather, the coachman; then at the windows,
"He stroked me on the head at the gate yesterday, and said, 'What
district do you come from, boy?' Grandfather, who was that howled just
His grandfather trimmed the light in the lantern and made no answer.
"The man is lost," he said a little later, with a yawn. "He is lost, and
his children are ruined, too. It's a disgrace for his children for the
rest of their lives now."
The porter came back and sat down by the lantern.
"He is dead," he said. "They have sent to the almshouse for the old
women to lay him out."
"The kingdom of heaven and eternal peace to him!" whispered the
coachman, and he crossed himself.
Looking at him, Alyoshka crossed himself too.
"You can't pray for such as him," said the fish-hawker.
"It's a sin."
"That's true," the porter assented. "Now his soul has gone straight to
hell, to the devil...."
"It's a sin," repeated the fish-hawker; "such as he have no funeral, no
requiem, but are buried like carrion with no respect."
The old man put on his cap and got up.
"It was the same thing at our lady's," he said, pulling his cap on
further. "We were serfs in those days; the younger son of our mistress,
the General's lady, shot himself through the mouth with a pistol, from
too much learning, too. It seems that by law such have to be buried
outside the cemetery, without priests, without a requiem service; but to
save disgrace our lady, you know, bribed the police and the doctors,
and they gave her a paper to say her son had done it when delirious, not
knowing what he was doing. You can do anything with money. So he had
a funeral with priests and every honor, the music played, and he was
buried in the church; for the deceased General had built that church
with his own money, and all his family were buried there. Only this is
what happened, friends. One month passed, and then another, and it was
all right. In the third month they informed the General's lady that the
watchmen had come from that same church. What did they want? They were
brought to her, they fell at her feet. 'We can't go on serving, your
excellency,' they said. 'Look out for other watchmen and graciously
dismiss us.' 'What for?' 'No,' they said, 'we can't possibly; your son
howls under the church all night.'"
Alyoshka shuddered, and pressed his face to the coachman's back so as
not to see the windows.
"At first the General's lady would not listen," continued the old man.
"'All this is your fancy, you simple folk have such notions,' she said.
'A dead man cannot howl.' Some time afterwards the watchmen came to her
again, and with them the sacristan. So the sacristan, too, had heard
him howling. The General's lady saw that it was a bad job; she locked
herself in her bedroom with the watchmen. 'Here, my friends, here are
twenty-five roubles for you, and for that go by night in secret, so that
no one should hear or see you, dig up my unhappy son, and bury him,' she
said, 'outside the cemetery.' And I suppose she stood them a glass...
And the watchmen did so. The stone with the inscription on it is there
to this day, but he himself, the General's son, is outside the
cemetery.... O Lord, forgive us our transgressions!" sighed the
fish-hawker. "There is only one day in the year when one may pray for
such people: the Saturday before Trinity.... You mustn't give alms to
beggars for their sake, it is a sin, but you may feed the birds for the
rest of their souls. The General's lady used to go out to the crossroads
every three days to feed the birds. Once at the cross-roads a black dog
suddenly appeared; it ran up to the bread, and was such a... we all know
what that dog was. The General's lady was like a half-crazy creature for
five days afterwards, she neither ate nor drank.... All at once she fell
on her knees in the garden, and prayed and prayed.... Well, good-by,
friends, the blessing of God and the Heavenly Mother be with you. Let us
go, Mihailo, you'll open the gate for me."
The fish-hawker and the porter went out. The coachman and Alyoshka went
out too, so as not to be left in the coach-house.
"The man was living and is dead!" said the coachman, looking towards the
windows where shadows were still flitting to and fro. "Only this morning
he was walking about the yard, and now he is lying dead."
"The time will come and we shall die too," said the porter, walking away
with the fish-hawker, and at once they both vanished from sight in the
The coachman, and Alyoshka after him, somewhat timidly went up to the
lighted windows. A very pale lady with large tear stained eyes, and a
fine-looking gray headed man were moving two card-tables into the middle
of the room, probably with the intention of laying the dead man upon
them, and on the green cloth of the table numbers could still be seen
written in chalk. The cook who had run about the yard wailing in the
morning was now standing on a chair, stretching up to try and cover the
looking glass with a towel.
"Grandfather what are they doing?" asked Alyoshka in a whisper.
"They are just going to lay him on the tables," answered his
grandfather. "Let us go, child, it is bedtime."
The coachman and Alyoshka went back to the coach-house. They said their
prayers, and took off their boots. Stepan lay down in a corner on the
floor, Alyoshka in a sledge. The doors of the coach house were shut,
there was a horrible stench from the extinguished lantern. A little
later Alyoshka sat up and looked about him; through the crack of the
door he could still see a light from those lighted windows.
"Grandfather, I am frightened!" he said.
"Come, go to sleep, go to sleep!..."
"I tell you I am frightened!"
"What are you frightened of? What a baby!"
They were silent.
Alyoshka suddenly jumped out of the sledge and, loudly weeping, ran to
"What is it? What's the matter?" cried the coachman in a fright, getting
"Who is howling?"
"I am frightened, grandfather, do you hear?"
The coachman listened.
"It's their crying," he said. "Come! there, little silly! They are sad,
so they are crying."
"I want to go home,..." his grandson went on sobbing and trembling
all over. "Grandfather, let us go back to the village, to mammy; come,
grandfather dear, God will give you the heavenly kingdom for it...."
"What a silly, ah! Come, be quiet, be quiet! Be quiet, I will light the
The coachman fumbled for the matches and lighted the lantern. But the
light did not comfort Alyoshka.
"Grandfather Stepan, let's go to the village!" he besought him, weeping.
"I am frightened here; oh, oh, how frightened I am! And why did you
bring me from the village, accursed man?"
"Who's an accursed man? You mustn't use such disrespectable words to
your lawful grandfather. I shall whip you."
"Do whip me, grandfather, do; beat me like Sidor's goat, but only take
me to mammy, for God's mercy!..."
"Come, come, grandson, come!" the coachman said kindly. "It's all
right, don't be frightened....I am frightened myself.... Say your
The door creaked and the porter's head appeared. "Aren't you asleep,
Stepan?" he asked. "I shan't get any sleep all night," he said, coming
in. "I shall be opening and shutting the gates all night.... What are
you crying for, Alyoshka?"
"He is frightened," the coachman answered for his grandson.
Again there was the sound of a wailing voice in the air. The porter
"They are crying. The mother can't believe her eyes.... It's dreadful
how upset she is."
"And is the father there?"
"Yes.... The father is all right. He sits in the corner and says
nothing. They have taken the children to relations.... Well, Stepan,
shall we have a game of trumps?"
"Yes," the coachman agreed, scratching himself, "and you, Alyoshka, go
to sleep. Almost big enough to be married, and blubbering, you rascal.
Come, go along, grandson, go along...."
The presence of the porter reassured Alyoshka. He went, not very
resolutely, towards the sledge and lay down. And while he was falling
asleep he heard a half-whisper.
"I beat and cover," said his grandfather.
"I beat and cover," repeated the porter.
The bell rang in the yard, the door creaked and seemed also saying: "I
beat and cover." When Alyoshka dreamed of the gentleman and, frightened
by his eyes, jumped up and burst out crying, it was morning, his
grandfather was snoring, and the coach-house no longer seemed terrible.
DURING all the years I have been living in this world I have only three
times been terrified.
The first real terror, which made my hair stand on end and made shivers
run all over me, was caused by a trivial but strange phenomenon. It
happened that, having nothing to do one July evening, I drove to the
station for the newspapers. It was a still, warm, almost sultry evening,
like all those monotonous evenings in July which, when once they have
set in, go on for a week, a fortnight, or sometimes longer, in
regular unbroken succession, and are suddenly cut short by a violent
thunderstorm and a lavish downpour of rain that refreshes everything for
a long time.
The sun had set some time before, and an unbroken gray dusk lay all over
the land. The mawkishly sweet scents of the grass and flowers were heavy
in the motionless, stagnant air.
I was driving in a rough trolley. Behind my back the gardener's son
Pashka, a boy of eight years old, whom I had taken with me to look after
the horse in case of necessity, was gently snoring, with his head on a
sack of oats. Our way lay along a narrow by-road, straight as a ruler,
which lay hid like a great snake in the tall thick rye. There was a
pale light from the afterglow of sunset; a streak of light cut its way
through a narrow, uncouth-looking cloud, which seemed sometimes like a
boat and sometimes like a man wrapped in a quilt....
I had driven a mile and a half, or two miles, when against the pale
background of the evening glow there came into sight one after another
some graceful tall poplars; a river glimmered beyond them, and a
gorgeous picture suddenly, as though by magic, lay stretched before me.
I had to stop the horse, for our straight road broke off abruptly and
ran down a steep incline overgrown with bushes. We were standing on the
hillside and beneath us at the bottom lay a huge hole full of twilight,
of fantastic shapes, and of space. At the bottom of this hole, in a wide
plain guarded by the poplars and caressed by the gleaming river, nestled
a village. It was now sleeping.... Its huts, its church with
the belfry, its trees, stood out against the gray twilight and were
reflected darkly in the smooth surface of the river.
I waked Pashka for fear he should fall out and began cautiously going
"Have we got to Lukovo?" asked Pashka, lifting his head lazily.
"Yes. Hold the reins!..."
I led the horse down the hill and looked at the village. At the first
glance one strange circumstance caught my attention: at the very top of
the belfry, in the tiny window between the cupola and the bells, a light
was twinkling. This light was like that of a smoldering lamp, at one
moment dying down, at another flickering up. What could it come from?
Its source was beyond my comprehension. It could not be burning at the
window, for there were neither ikons nor lamps in the top turret of
the belfry; there was nothing there, as I knew, but beams, dust, and
spiders' webs. It was hard to climb up into that turret, for the passage
to it from the belfry was closely blocked up.
It was more likely than anything else to be the reflection of some
outside light, but though I strained my eyes to the utmost, I could not
see one other speck of light in the vast expanse that lay before
me. There was no moon. The pale and, by now, quite dim streak of the
afterglow could not have been reflected, for the window looked not to
the west, but to the east. These and other similar considerations were
straying through my mind all the while that I was going down the slope
with the horse. At the bottom I sat down by the roadside and looked
again at the light. As before it was glimmering and flaring up.
"Strange," I thought, lost in conjecture. "Very strange."
And little by little I was overcome by an unpleasant feeling. At first
I thought that this was vexation at not being able to explain a simple
phenomenon; but afterwards, when I suddenly turned away from the light
in horror and caught hold of Pashka with one hand, it became clear that
I was overcome with terror....
I was seized with a feeling of loneliness, misery, and horror, as though
I had been flung down against my will into this great hole full of
shadows, where I was standing all alone with the belfry looking at me
with its red eye.
"Pashka!" I cried, closing my eyes in horror.
"Pashka, what's that gleaming on the belfry?"
Pashka looked over my shoulder at the belfry and gave a yawn.
"Who can tell?"
This brief conversation with the boy reassured me for a little, but not
for long. Pashka, seeing my uneasiness, fastened his big eyes upon the
light, looked at me again, then again at the light....
"I am frightened," he whispered.
At this point, beside myself with terror, I clutched the boy with one
hand, huddled up to him, and gave the horse a violent lash.
"It's stupid!" I said to myself. "That phenomenon is only terrible
because I don't understand it; everything we don't understand is
I tried to persuade myself, but at the same time I did not leave off
lashing the horse. When we reached the posting station I purposely
stayed for a full hour chatting with the overseer, and read through two
or three newspapers, but the feeling of uneasiness did not leave me.
On the way back the light was not to be seen, but on the other hand the
silhouettes of the huts, of the poplars, and of the hill up which I had
to drive, seemed to me as though animated. And why the light was there I
don't know to this day.
The second terror I experienced was excited by a circumstance no less
trivial.... I was returning from a romantic interview. It was one
o'clock at night, the time when nature is buried in the soundest,
sweetest sleep before the dawn. That time nature was not sleeping,
and one could not call the night a still one. Corncrakes, quails,
nightingales, and woodcocks were calling, crickets and grasshoppers
were chirruping. There was a light mist over the grass, and clouds were
scurrying straight ahead across the sky near the moon. Nature was awake,
as though afraid of missing the best moments of her life.
I walked along a narrow path at the very edge of a railway embankment.
The moonlight glided over the lines which were already covered with dew.
Great shadows from the clouds kept flitting over the embankment. Far
ahead, a dim green light was glimmering peacefully.
"So everything is well," I thought, looking at them.
I had a quiet, peaceful, comfortable feeling in my heart. I was
returning from a tryst, I had no need to hurry; I was not sleepy, and
I was conscious of youth and health in every sigh, every step I took,
rousing a dull echo in the monotonous hum of the night. I don't know
what I was feeling then, but I remember I was happy, very happy.
I had gone not more than three-quarters of a mile when I suddenly heard
behind me a monotonous sound, a rumbling, rather like the roar of a
great stream. It grew louder and louder every second, and sounded nearer
and nearer. I looked round; a hundred paces from me was the dark copse
from which I had only just come; there the embankment turned to the
right in a graceful curve and vanished among the trees. I stood still in
perplexity and waited. A huge black body appeared at once at the turn,
noisily darted towards me, and with the swiftness of a bird flew past
me along the rails. Less than half a minute passed and the blur had
vanished, the rumble melted away into the noise of the night.
It was an ordinary goods truck. There was nothing peculiar about it in
itself, but its appearance without an engine and in the night puzzled
me. Where could it have come from and what force sent it flying so
rapidly along the rails? Where did it come from and where was it flying
If I had been superstitious I should have made up my mind it was a party
of demons and witches journeying to a devils' sabbath, and should
have gone on my way; but as it was, the phenomenon was absolutely
inexplicable to me. I did not believe my eyes, and was entangled in
conjectures like a fly in a spider's web....
I suddenly realized that I was utterly alone on the whole vast plain;
that the night, which by now seemed inhospitable, was peeping into my
face and dogging my footsteps; all the sounds, the cries of the birds,
the whisperings of the trees, seemed sinister, and existing simply to
alarm my imagination. I dashed on like a madman, and without realizing
what I was doing I ran, trying to run faster and faster. And at once I
heard something to which I had paid no attention before: that is, the
plaintive whining of the telegraph wires.
"This is beyond everything," I said, trying to shame myself. "It's
cowardice! it's silly!"
But cowardice was stronger than common sense. I only slackened my pace
when I reached the green light, where I saw a dark signal-box, and near
it on the embankment the figure of a man, probably the signalman.
"Did you see it?" I asked breathlessly.
"See whom? What?"
"Why, a truck ran by."
"I saw it,..." the peasant said reluctantly. "It broke away from the
goods train. There is an incline at the ninetieth mile...; the train
is dragged uphill. The coupling on the last truck gave way, so it broke
off and ran back.... There is no catching it now!..."
The strange phenomenon was explained and its fantastic character
vanished. My panic was over and I was able to go on my way.
My third fright came upon me as I was going home from stand shooting in
early spring. It was in the dusk of evening. The forest road was covered
with pools from a recent shower of rain, and the earth squelched
under one's feet. The crimson glow of sunset flooded the whole forest,
coloring the white stems of the birches and the young leaves. I was
exhausted and could hardly move.
Four or five miles from home, walking along the forest road, I suddenly
met a big black dog of the water spaniel breed. As he ran by, the dog
looked intently at me, straight in my face, and ran on.
"A nice dog!" I thought. "Whose is it?"
I looked round. The dog was standing ten paces off with his eyes fixed
on me. For a minute we scanned each other in silence, then the dog,
probably flattered by my attention, came slowly up to me and wagged his
I walked on, the dog following me.
"Whose dog can it be?" I kept asking myself. "Where does he come from?"
I knew all the country gentry for twenty or thirty miles round, and knew
all their dogs. Not one of them had a spaniel like that. How did he
come to be in the depths of the forest, on a track used for nothing
but carting timber? He could hardly have dropped behind someone passing
through, for there was nowhere for the gentry to drive to along that
I sat down on a stump to rest, and began scrutinizing my companion. He,
too, sat down, raised his head, and fastened upon me an intent stare. He
gazed at me without blinking. I don't know whether it was the influence
of the stillness, the shadows and sounds of the forest, or perhaps a
result of exhaustion, but I suddenly felt uneasy under the steady gaze
of his ordinary doggy eyes. I thought of Faust and his bulldog, and
of the fact that nervous people sometimes when exhausted have
hallucinations. That was enough to make me get up hurriedly and
hurriedly walk on. The dog followed me.
"Go away!" I shouted.
The dog probably liked my voice, for he gave a gleeful jump and ran
about in front of me.
"Go away!" I shouted again.
The dog looked round, stared at me intently, and wagged his tail
good-humoredly. Evidently my threatening tone amused him. I ought to
have patted him, but I could not get Faust's dog out of my head, and the
feeling of panic grew more and more acute... Darkness was coming on,
which completed my confusion, and every time the dog ran up to me and
hit me with his tail, like a coward I shut my eyes. The same thing
happened as with the light in the belfry and the truck on the railway: I
could not stand it and rushed away.
At home I found a visitor, an old friend, who, after greeting me, began
to complain that as he was driving to me he had lost his way in the
forest, and a splendid valuable dog of his had dropped behind.
IT WAS a dark autumn night. The old banker was walking up and down his
study and remembering how, fifteen years before, he had given a party
one autumn evening. There had been many clever men there, and there had
been interesting conversations. Among other things they had talked of
capital punishment. The majority of the guests, among whom were many
journalists and intellectual men, disapproved of the death penalty. They
considered that form of punishment out of date, immoral, and unsuitable
for Christian States. In the opinion of some of them the death penalty
ought to be replaced everywhere by imprisonment for life.
"I don't agree with you," said their host the banker. "I have not tried
either the death penalty or imprisonment for life, but if one may
judge _a priori_, the death penalty is more moral and more humane than
imprisonment for life. Capital punishment kills a man at once, but
lifelong imprisonment kills him slowly. Which executioner is the more
humane, he who kills you in a few minutes or he who drags the life out
of you in the course of many years?"
"Both are equally immoral," observed one of the guests, "for they both
have the same object--to take away life. The State is not God. It has
not the right to take away what it cannot restore when it wants to."
Among the guests was a young lawyer, a young man of five-and-twenty.
When he was asked his opinion, he said:
"The death sentence and the life sentence are equally immoral, but if
I had to choose between the death penalty and imprisonment for life, I
would certainly choose the second. To live anyhow is better than not at
A lively discussion arose. The banker, who was younger and more nervous
in those days, was suddenly carried away by excitement; he struck the
table with his fist and shouted at the young man:
"It's not true! I'll bet you two millions you wouldn't stay in solitary
confinement for five years."
"If you mean that in earnest," said the young man, "I'll take the bet,
but I would stay not five but fifteen years."
"Fifteen? Done!" cried the banker. "Gentlemen, I stake two millions!"
"Agreed! You stake your millions and I stake my freedom!" said the young
And this wild, senseless bet was carried out! The banker, spoilt and
frivolous, with millions beyond his reckoning, was delighted at the bet.
At supper he made fun of the young man, and said:
"Think better of it, young man, while there is still time. To me two
millions are a trifle, but you are losing three or four of the best
years of your life. I say three or four, because you won't stay longer.
Don't forget either, you unhappy man, that voluntary confinement is a
great deal harder to bear than compulsory. The thought that you have
the right to step out in liberty at any moment will poison your whole
existence in prison. I am sorry for you."
And now the banker, walking to and fro, remembered all this, and asked
himself: "What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that
man's losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two
millions? Can it prove that the death penalty is better or worse than
imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all nonsensical and meaningless.
On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple
greed for money...."
Then he remembered what followed that evening. It was decided that the
young man should spend the years of his captivity under the strictest
supervision in one of the lodges in the banker's garden. It was agreed
that for fifteen years he should not be free to cross the threshold of
the lodge, to see human beings, to hear the human voice, or to receive
letters and newspapers. He was allowed to have a musical instrument and
books, and was allowed to write letters, to drink wine, and to smoke.
By the terms of the agreement, the only relations he could have with the
outer world were by a little window made purposely for that object. He
might have anything he wanted--books, music, wine, and so on--in any
quantity he desired by writing an order, but could only receive them
through the window. The agreement provided for every detail and every
trifle that would make his imprisonment strictly solitary, and bound the
young man to stay there _exactly_ fifteen years, beginning from twelve
o'clock of November 14, 1870, and ending at twelve o'clock of November
14, 1885. The slightest attempt on his part to break the conditions, if
only two minutes before the end, released the banker from the obligation
to pay him two millions.
For the first year of his confinement, as far as one could judge from
his brief notes, the prisoner suffered severely from loneliness and
depression. The sounds of the piano could be heard continually day
and night from his lodge. He refused wine and tobacco. Wine, he wrote,
excites the desires, and desires are the worst foes of the prisoner; and
besides, nothing could be more dreary than drinking good wine and seeing
no one. And tobacco spoilt the air of his room. In the first year the
books he sent for were principally of a light character; novels with a
complicated love plot, sensational and fantastic stories, and so on.
In the second year the piano was silent in the lodge, and the prisoner
asked only for the classics. In the fifth year music was audible again,
and the prisoner asked for wine. Those who watched him through the
window said that all that year he spent doing nothing but eating and
drinking and lying on his bed, frequently yawning and angrily talking to
himself. He did not read books. Sometimes at night he would sit down to
write; he would spend hours writing, and in the morning tear up all that
he had written. More than once he could be heard crying.
In the second half of the sixth year the prisoner began zealously
studying languages, philosophy, and history. He threw himself eagerly
into these studies--so much so that the banker had enough to do to get
him the books he ordered. In the course of four years some six hundred
volumes were procured at his request. It was during this period that the
banker received the following letter from his prisoner:
"My dear Jailer, I write you these lines in six languages. Show them to
people who know the languages. Let them read them. If they find not one
mistake I implore you to fire a shot in the garden. That shot will show
me that my efforts have not been thrown away. The geniuses of all ages
and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in
them all. Oh, if you only knew what unearthly happiness my soul feels
now from being able to understand them!" The prisoner's desire was
fulfilled. The banker ordered two shots to be fired in the garden.
Then after the tenth year, the prisoner sat immovably at the table and
read nothing but the Gospel. It seemed strange to the banker that a man
who in four years had mastered six hundred learned volumes should waste
nearly a year over one thin book easy of comprehension. Theology and
histories of religion followed the Gospels.
In the last two years of his confinement the prisoner read an immense
quantity of books quite indiscriminately. At one time he was busy with
the natural sciences, then he would ask for Byron or Shakespeare. There
were notes in which he demanded at the same time books on chemistry, and
a manual of medicine, and a novel, and some treatise on philosophy or
theology. His reading suggested a man swimming in the sea among the
wreckage of his ship, and trying to save his life by greedily clutching
first at one spar and then at another.
The old banker remembered all this, and thought:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock he will regain his freedom. By our
agreement I ought to pay him two millions. If I do pay him, it is all
over with me: I shall be utterly ruined."
Fifteen years before, his millions had been beyond his reckoning; now he
was afraid to ask himself which were greater, his debts or his assets.
Desperate gambling on the Stock Exchange, wild speculation and the
excitability which he could not get over even in advancing years, had
by degrees led to the decline of his fortune and the proud, fearless,
self-confident millionaire had become a banker of middling rank,
trembling at every rise and fall in his investments. "Cursed bet!"
muttered the old man, clutching his head in despair "Why didn't the man
die? He is only forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will
marry, will enjoy life, will gamble on the Exchange; while I shall look
at him with envy like a beggar, and hear from him every day the same
sentence: 'I am indebted to you for the happiness of my life, let
me help you!' No, it is too much! The one means of being saved from
bankruptcy and disgrace is the death of that man!"
It struck three o'clock, the banker listened; everyone was asleep in the
house and nothing could be heard outside but the rustling of the chilled
trees. Trying to make no noise, he took from a fireproof safe the key
of the door which had not been opened for fifteen years, put on his
overcoat, and went out of the house.
It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A damp cutting
wind was racing about the garden, howling and giving the trees no rest.
The banker strained his eyes, but could see neither the earth nor the
white statues, nor the lodge, nor the trees. Going to the spot where the
lodge stood, he twice called the watchman. No answer followed. Evidently
the watchman had sought shelter from the weather, and was now asleep
somewhere either in the kitchen or in the greenhouse.
"If I had the pluck to carry out my intention," thought the old man,
"Suspicion would fall first upon the watchman."
He felt in the darkness for the steps and the door, and went into the
entry of the lodge. Then he groped his way into a little passage and
lighted a match. There was not a soul there. There was a bedstead with
no bedding on it, and in the corner there was a dark cast-iron stove.
The seals on the door leading to the prisoner's rooms were intact.
When the match went out the old man, trembling with emotion, peeped
through the little window. A candle was burning dimly in the prisoner's
room. He was sitting at the table. Nothing could be seen but his back,
the hair on his head, and his hands. Open books were lying on the table,
on the two easy-chairs, and on the carpet near the table.
Five minutes passed and the prisoner did not once stir. Fifteen years'
imprisonment had taught him to sit still. The banker tapped at the
window with his finger, and the prisoner made no movement whatever in
response. Then the banker cautiously broke the seals off the door and
put the key in the keyhole. The rusty lock gave a grating sound and the
door creaked. The banker expected to hear at once footsteps and a cry
of astonishment, but three minutes passed and it was as quiet as ever in
the room. He made up his mind to go in.
At the table a man unlike ordinary people was sitting motionless. He
was a skeleton with the skin drawn tight over his bones, with long curls
like a woman's and a shaggy beard. His face was yellow with an earthy
tint in it, his cheeks were hollow, his back long and narrow, and the
hand on which his shaggy head was propped was so thin and delicate
that it was dreadful to look at it. His hair was already streaked with
silver, and seeing his emaciated, aged-looking face, no one would have
believed that he was only forty. He was asleep.... In front of his
bowed head there lay on the table a sheet of paper on which there was
something written in fine handwriting.
"Poor creature!" thought the banker, "he is asleep and most likely
dreaming of the millions. And I have only to take this half-dead man,
throw him on the bed, stifle him a little with the pillow, and the most
conscientious expert would find no sign of a violent death. But let us
first read what he has written here...."
The banker took the page from the table and read as follows:
"To-morrow at twelve o'clock I regain my freedom and the right to
associate with other men, but before I leave this room and see the
sunshine, I think it necessary to say a few words to you. With a clear
conscience I tell you, as before God, who beholds me, that I despise
freedom and life and health, and all that in your books is called the
good things of the world.
"For fifteen years I have been intently studying earthly life. It is
true I have not seen the earth nor men, but in your books I have drunk
fragrant wine, I have sung songs, I have hunted stags and wild boars
in the forests, have loved women.... Beauties as ethereal as clouds,
created by the magic of your poets and geniuses, have visited me at
night, and have whispered in my ears wonderful tales that have set my
brain in a whirl. In your books I have climbed to the peaks of Elburz
and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the sun rise and have watched
it at evening flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountain-tops with gold
and crimson. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my
head and cleaving the storm-clouds. I have seen green forests, fields,
rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the singing of the sirens, and the
strains of the shepherds' pipes; I have touched the wings of comely
devils who flew down to converse with me of God.... In your books I
have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain,
burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms....
"Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man
has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain.
I know that I am wiser than all of you.
"And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the blessings of this
world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a
mirage. You may be proud, wise, and fine, but death will wipe you off
the face of the earth as though you were no more than mice burrowing
under the floor, and your posterity, your history, your immortal
geniuses will burn or freeze together with the earthly globe.
"You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies
for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would marvel if, owing to
strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple
and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a
sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I
don't want to understand you.
"To prove to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I
renounce the two millions of which I once dreamed as of paradise and
which now I despise. To deprive myself of the right to the money I shall
go out from here five hours before the time fixed, and so break the
When the banker had read this he laid the page on the table, kissed the
strange man on the head, and went out of the lodge, weeping. At no other
time, even when he had lost heavily on the Stock Exchange, had he felt
so great a contempt for himself. When he got home he lay on his bed, but
his tears and emotion kept him for hours from sleeping.
Next morning the watchmen ran in with pale faces, and told him they had
seen the man who lived in the lodge climb out of the window into the
garden, go to the gate, and disappear. The banker went at once with the
servants to the lodge and made sure of the flight of his prisoner. To
avoid arousing unnecessary talk, he took from the table the writing in
which the millions were renounced, and when he got home locked it up in
the fireproof safe.
THE HEAD-GARDENER'S STORY
A SALE of flowers was taking place in Count N.'s greenhouses. The
purchasers were few in number--a landowner who was a neighbor of mine,
a young timber-merchant, and myself. While the workmen were carrying out
our magnificent purchases and packing them into the carts, we sat at the
entry of the greenhouse and chatted about one thing and another. It
is extremely pleasant to sit in a garden on a still April morning,
listening to the birds, and watching the flowers brought out into the
open air and basking in the sunshine.
The head-gardener, Mihail Karlovitch, a venerable old man with a full
shaven face, wearing a fur waistcoat and no coat, superintended the
packing of the plants himself, but at the same time he listened to
our conversation in the hope of hearing something new. He was an
intelligent, very good-hearted man, respected by everyone. He was
for some reason looked upon by everyone as a German, though he was in
reality on his father's side Swedish, on his mother's side Russian, and
attended the Orthodox church. He knew Russian, Swedish, and German. He
had read a good deal in those languages, and nothing one could do gave
him greater pleasure than lending him some new book or talking to him,
for instance, about Ibsen.
He had his weaknesses, but they were innocent ones: he called himself
the head gardener, though there were no under-gardeners; the expression
of his face was unusually dignified and haughty; he could not endure to
be contradicted, and liked to be listened to with respect and attention.
"That young fellow there I can recommend to you as an awful rascal,"
said my neighbor, pointing to a laborer with a swarthy, gipsy face, who
drove by with the water-barrel. "Last week he was tried in the town for
burglary and was acquitted; they pronounced him mentally deranged, and
yet look at him, he is the picture of health. Scoundrels are very often
acquitted nowadays in Russia on grounds of abnormality and aberration,
yet these acquittals, these unmistakable proofs of an indulgent attitude
to crime, lead to no good. They demoralize the masses, the sense of
justice is blunted in all as they become accustomed to seeing vice
unpunished, and you know in our age one may boldly say in the words of
Shakespeare that in our evil and corrupt age virtue must ask forgiveness
"That's very true," the merchant assented. "Owing to these frequent
acquittals, murder and arson have become much more common. Ask the
Mihail Karlovitch turned towards us and said:
"As far as I am concerned, gentlemen, I am always delighted to meet with
these verdicts of not guilty. I am not afraid for morality and justice
when they say 'Not guilty,' but on the contrary I feel pleased. Even
when my conscience tells me the jury have made a mistake in acquitting
the criminal, even then I am triumphant. Judge for yourselves,
gentlemen; if the judges and the jury have more faith in _man_ than in
evidence, material proofs, and speeches for the prosecution, is not that
faith _in man_ in itself higher than any ordinary considerations? Such
faith is only attainable by those few who understand and feel Christ."
"A fine thought," I said.
"But it's not a new one. I remember a very long time ago I heard a
legend on that subject. A very charming legend," said the gardener,
and he smiled. "I was told it by my grandmother, my father's mother, an
excellent old lady. She told me it in Swedish, and it does not sound so
fine, so classical, in Russian."
But we begged him to tell it and not to be put off by the coarseness of
the Russian language. Much gratified, he deliberately lighted his pipe,
looked angrily at the laborers, and began:
"There settled in a certain little town a solitary, plain, elderly
gentleman called Thomson or Wilson--but that does not matter; the
surname is not the point. He followed an honorable profession: he was
a doctor. He was always morose and unsociable, and only spoke when
required by his profession. He never visited anyone, never extended his
acquaintance beyond a silent bow, and lived as humbly as a hermit. The
fact was, he was a learned man, and in those days learned men were not
like other people. They spent their days and nights in contemplation, in
reading and in healing disease, looked upon everything else as trivial,
and had no time to waste a word. The inhabitants of the town understood
this, and tried not to worry him with their visits and empty chatter.
They were very glad that God had sent them at last a man who could heal
diseases, and were proud that such a remarkable man was living in their
town. 'He knows everything,' they said about him.
"But that was not enough. They ought to have also said, 'He loves
everyone.' In the breast of that learned man there beat a wonderful
angelic heart. Though the people of that town were strangers and not his
own people, yet he loved them like children, and did not spare himself
for them. He was himself ill with consumption, he had a cough, but when
he was summoned to the sick he forgot his own illness he did not spare
himself and, gasping for breath, climbed up the hills however high they
might be. He disregarded the sultry heat and the cold, despised thirst
and hunger. He would accept no money and strange to say, when one of his
patients died, he would follow the coffin with the relations, weeping.
"And soon he became so necessary to the town that the inhabitants
wondered how they could have got on before without the man. Their
gratitude knew no bounds. Grown-up people and children, good and bad
alike, honest men and cheats--all in fact, respected him and knew his
value. In the little town and all the surrounding neighborhood there
was no man who would allow himself to do anything disagreeable to him;
indeed, they would never have dreamed of it. When he came out of his
lodging, he never fastened the doors or windows, in complete confidence
that there was no thief who could bring himself to do him wrong.
He often had in the course of his medical duties to walk along the
highroads, through the forests and mountains haunted by numbers of
hungry vagrants; but he felt that he was in perfect security.
"One night he was returning from a patient when robbers fell upon him
in the forest, but when they recognized him, they took off their hats
respectfully and offered him something to eat. When he answered that he
was not hungry, they gave him a warm wrap and accompanied him as far as
the town, happy that fate had given them the chance in some small way
to show their gratitude to the benevolent man. Well, to be sure, my
grandmother told me that even the horses and the cows and the dogs knew
him and expressed their joy when they met him.
"And this man who seemed by his sanctity to have guarded himself from
every evil, to whom even brigands and frenzied men wished nothing but
good, was one fine morning found murdered. Covered with blood, with
his skull broken, he was lying in a ravine, and his pale face wore an
expression of amazement. Yes, not horror but amazement was the emotion
that had been fixed upon his face when he saw the murderer before him.
You can imagine the grief that overwhelmed the inhabitants of the town
and the surrounding districts. All were in despair, unable to believe
their eyes, wondering who could have killed the man. The judges who
conducted the inquiry and examined the doctor's body said: 'Here we
have all the signs of a murder, but as there is not a man in the world
capable of murdering our doctor, obviously it was not a case of murder,
and the combination of evidence is due to simple chance. We must suppose
that in the darkness he fell into the ravine of himself and was mortally
"The whole town agreed with this opinion. The doctor was buried, and
nothing more was said about a violent death. The existence of a man
who could have the baseness and wickedness to kill the doctor seemed
incredible. There is a limit even to wickedness, isn't there?
"All at once, would you believe it, chance led them to discovering the
murderer. A vagrant who had been many times convicted, notorious for his
vicious life, was seen selling for drink a snuff-box and watch that
had belonged to the doctor. When he was questioned he was confused,
and answered with an obvious lie. A search was made, and in his bed was
found a shirt with stains of blood on the sleeves, and a doctor's lancet
set in gold. What more evidence was wanted? They put the criminal in
prison. The inhabitants were indignant, and at the same time said:
"'It's incredible! It can't be so! Take care that a mistake is not
made; it does happen, you know, that evidence tells a false tale.'
"At his trial the murderer obstinately denied his guilt. Everything was
against him, and to be convinced of his guilt was as easy as to believe
that this earth is black; but the judges seem to have gone mad: they
weighed every proof ten times, looked distrustfully at the witnesses,
flushed crimson and sipped water.... The trial began early in the
morning and was only finished in the evening.
"'Accused!' the chief judge said, addressing the murderer, 'the court
has found you guilty of murdering Dr. So-and-so, and has sentenced you
"The chief judge meant to say 'to the death penalty,' but he dropped
from his hands the paper on which the sentence was written, wiped the
cold sweat from his face, and cried out:
"'No! May God punish me if I judge wrongly, but I swear he is not
guilty. I cannot admit the thought that there exists a man who would
dare to murder our friend the doctor! A man could not sink so low!'
"'There cannot be such a man!' the other judges assented.
"'No,' the crowd cried. 'Let him go!'
"The murderer was set free to go where he chose, and not one soul blamed
the court for an unjust verdict. And my grandmother used to say that for
such faith in humanity God forgave the sins of all the inhabitants of
that town. He rejoices when people believe that man is His image and
semblance, and grieves if, forgetful of human dignity, they judge worse
of men than of dogs. The sentence of acquittal may bring harm to the
inhabitants of the town, but on the other hand, think of the beneficial
influence upon them of that faith in man--a faith which does not remain
dead, you know; it raises up generous feelings in us, and always impels
us to love and respect every man. Every man! And that is important."
Mihail Karlovitch had finished. My neighbor would have urged some
objection, but the head-gardener made a gesture that signified that he
did not like objections; then he walked away to the carts, and, with an
expression of dignity, went on looking after the packing.
I REMEMBER, when I was a high school boy in the fifth or sixth class, I
was driving with my grandfather from the village of Bolshoe Kryepkoe in
the Don region to Rostov-on-the-Don. It was a sultry, languidly dreary
day of August. Our eyes were glued together, and our mouths were parched
from the heat and the dry burning wind which drove clouds of dust to
meet us; one did not want to look or speak or think, and when our drowsy
driver, a Little Russian called Karpo, swung his whip at the horses
and lashed me on my cap, I did not protest or utter a sound, but only,
rousing myself from half-slumber, gazed mildly and dejectedly into the
distance to see whether there was a village visible through the dust.
We stopped to feed the horses in a big Armenian village at a rich
Armenian's whom my grandfather knew. Never in my life have I seen a
greater caricature than that Armenian. Imagine a little shaven head with
thick overhanging eyebrows, a beak of a nose, long gray mustaches, and
a wide mouth with a long cherry-wood chibouk sticking out of it. This
little head was clumsily attached to a lean hunch-back carcass attired
in a fantastic garb, a short red jacket, and full bright blue trousers.
This figure walked straddling its legs and shuffling with its slippers,
spoke without taking the chibouk out of its mouth, and behaved with
truly Armenian dignity, not smiling, but staring with wide-open eyes and
trying to take as little notice as possible of its guests.
There was neither wind nor dust in the Armenian's rooms, but it was just
as unpleasant, stifling, and dreary as in the steppe and on the road.
I remember, dusty and exhausted by the heat, I sat in the corner on a
green box. The unpainted wooden walls, the furniture, and the floors
colored with yellow ocher smelt of dry wood baked by the sun. Wherever
I looked there were flies and flies and flies.... Grandfather and the
Armenian were talking about grazing, about manure, and about oats....
I knew that they would be a good hour getting the samovar; that
grandfather would be not less than an hour drinking his tea, and then
would lie down to sleep for two or three hours; that I should waste a
quarter of the day waiting, after which there would be again the heat,
the dust, the jolting cart. I heard the muttering of the two voices, and
it began to seem to me that I had been seeing the Armenian, the cupboard
with the crockery, the flies, the windows with the burning sun beating
on them, for ages and ages, and should only cease to see them in the
far-off future, and I was seized with hatred for the steppe, the sun,
A Little Russian peasant woman in a kerchief brought in a tray of
tea-things, then the samovar. The Armenian went slowly out into the
passage and shouted: "Mashya, come and pour out tea! Where are you,
Hurried footsteps were heard, and there came into the room a girl of
sixteen in a simple cotton dress and a white kerchief. As she washed the
crockery and poured out the tea, she was standing with her back to me,
and all I could see was that she was of a slender figure, barefooted,
and that her little bare heels were covered by long trousers.
The Armenian invited me to have tea. Sitting down to the table, I
glanced at the girl, who was handing me a glass of tea, and felt all at
once as though a wind were blowing over my soul and blowing away all
the impressions of the day with their dust and dreariness. I saw the
bewitching features of the most beautiful face I have ever met in real
life or in my dreams. Before me stood a beauty, and I recognized that at
the first glance as I should have recognized lightning.
I am ready to swear that Masha--or, as her father called her,
Mashya--was a real beauty, but I don't know how to prove it. It
sometimes happens that clouds are huddled together in disorder on the
horizon, and the sun hiding behind them colors them and the sky with
tints of every possible shade--crimson, orange, gold, lilac, muddy pink;
one cloud is like a monk, another like a fish, a third like a Turk in a
turban. The glow of sunset enveloping a third of the sky gleams on
the cross on the church, flashes on the windows of the manor house, is
reflected in the river and the puddles, quivers on the trees; far, far
away against the background of the sunset, a flock of wild ducks is
flying homewards.... And the boy herding the cows, and the surveyor
driving in his chaise over the dam, and the gentleman out for a walk,
all gaze at the sunset, and every one of them thinks it terribly
beautiful, but no one knows or can say in what its beauty lies.
I was not the only one to think the Armenian girl beautiful. My
grandfather, an old man of seventy, gruff and indifferent to women and
the beauties of nature, looked caressingly at Masha for a full minute,
"Is that your daughter, Avert Nazaritch?"
"Yes, she is my daughter," answered the Armenian.
"A fine young lady," said my grandfather approvingly.
An artist would have called the Armenian girl's beauty classical and
severe, it was just that beauty, the contemplation of which--God
knows why!--inspires in one the conviction that one is seeing correct
features; that hair, eyes, nose, mouth, neck, bosom, and every movement
of the young body all go together in one complete harmonious accord in
which nature has not blundered over the smallest line. You fancy for
some reason that the ideally beautiful woman must have such a nose as
Masha's, straight and slightly aquiline, just such great dark eyes, such
long lashes, such a languid glance; you fancy that her black curly hair
and eyebrows go with the soft white tint of her brow and cheeks as
the green reeds go with the quiet stream. Masha's white neck and her
youthful bosom were not fully developed, but you fancy the sculptor
would need a great creative genius to mold them. You gaze, and little
by little the desire comes over you to say to Masha something
extraordinarily pleasant, sincere, beautiful, as beautiful as she
At first I felt hurt and abashed that Masha took no notice of me, but
was all the time looking down; it seemed to me as though a peculiar
atmosphere, proud and happy, separated her from me and jealously
screened her from my eyes.
"That's because I am covered with dust," I thought, "am sunburnt, and am
still a boy."
But little by little I forgot myself, and gave myself up entirely to the
consciousness of beauty. I thought no more now of the dreary steppe, of
the dust, no longer heard the buzzing of the flies, no longer tasted the
tea, and felt nothing except that a beautiful girl was standing only the
other side of the table.
I felt this beauty rather strangely. It was not desire, nor ecstacy,
nor enjoyment that Masha excited in me, but a painful though pleasant
sadness. It was a sadness vague and undefined as a dream. For some
reason I felt sorry for myself, for my grandfather and for the Armenian,
even for the girl herself, and I had a feeling as though we all four
had lost something important and essential to life which we should never
find again. My grandfather, too, grew melancholy; he talked no more
about manure or about oats, but sat silent, looking pensively at Masha.
After tea my grandfather lay down for a nap while I went out of the
house into the porch. The house, like all the houses in the Armenian
village stood in the full sun; there was not a tree, not an awning, no
shade. The Armenian's great courtyard, overgrown with goosefoot and
wild mallows, was lively and full of gaiety in spite of the great heat.
Threshing was going on behind one of the low hurdles which intersected
the big yard here and there. Round a post stuck into the middle of the
threshing-floor ran a dozen horses harnessed side by side, so that they
formed one long radius. A Little Russian in a long waistcoat and full
trousers was walking beside them, cracking a whip and shouting in a tone
that sounded as though he were jeering at the horses and showing off his
power over them.
"A--a--a, you damned brutes!... A--a--a, plague take you! Are you
The horses, sorrel, white, and piebald, not understanding why they
were made to run round in one place and to crush the wheat straw, ran
unwillingly as though with effort, swinging their tails with an offended
air. The wind raised up perfect clouds of golden chaff from under their
hoofs and carried it away far beyond the hurdle. Near the tall fresh
stacks peasant women were swarming with rakes, and carts were moving,
and beyond the stacks in another yard another dozen similar horses were
running round a post, and a similar Little Russian was cracking his whip
and jeering at the horses.
The steps on which I was sitting were hot; on the thin rails and here
and there on the window-frames sap was oozing out of the wood from the
heat; red ladybirds were huddling together in the streaks of shadow
under the steps and under the shutters. The sun was baking me on my
head, on my chest, and on my back, but I did not notice it, and was
conscious only of the thud of bare feet on the uneven floor in the
passage and in the rooms behind me. After clearing away the tea-things,
Masha ran down the steps, fluttering the air as she passed, and like
a bird flew into a little grimy outhouse--I suppose the kitchen--from
which came the smell of roast mutton and the sound of angry talk in
Armenian. She vanished into the dark doorway, and in her place there
appeared on the threshold an old bent, red-faced Armenian woman wearing
green trousers. The old woman was angry and was scolding someone. Soon
afterwards Masha appeared in the doorway, flushed with the heat of
the kitchen and carrying a big black loaf on her shoulder; swaying
gracefully under the weight of the bread, she ran across the yard to the
threshing-floor, darted over the hurdle, and, wrapt in a cloud of golden
chaff, vanished behind the carts. The Little Russian who was driving the
horses lowered his whip, sank into silence, and gazed for a minute in
the direction of the carts. Then when the Armenian girl darted again by
the horses and leaped over the hurdle, he followed her with his
eyes, and shouted to the horses in a tone as though he were greatly
"Plague take you, unclean devils!"
And all the while I was unceasingly hearing her bare feet, and seeing
how she walked across the yard with a grave, preoccupied face. She ran
now down the steps, swishing the air about me, now into the kitchen, now
to the threshing-floor, now through the gate, and I could hardly turn my
head quickly enough to watch her.
And the oftener she fluttered by me with her beauty, the more acute
became my sadness. I felt sorry both for her and for myself and for the
Little Russian, who mournfully watched her every time she ran through
the cloud of chaff to the carts. Whether it was envy of her beauty, or
that I was regretting that the girl was not mine, and never would be,
or that I was a stranger to her; or whether I vaguely felt that her rare
beauty was accidental, unnecessary, and, like everything on earth,
of short duration; or whether, perhaps, my sadness was that peculiar
feeling which is excited in man by the contemplation of real beauty, God
The three hours of waiting passed unnoticed. It seemed to me that I had
not had time to look properly at Masha when Karpo drove up to the river,
bathed the horse, and began to put it in the shafts. The wet horse
snorted with pleasure and kicked his hoofs against the shafts. Karpo
shouted to it: "Ba--ack!" My grandfather woke up. Masha opened the
creaking gates for us, we got into the chaise and drove out of the yard.
We drove in silence as though we were angry with one another.
When, two or three hours later, Rostov and Nahitchevan appeared in
the distance, Karpo, who had been silent the whole time, looked round
quickly, and said:
"A fine wench, that at the Armenian's."
And he lashed his horses.
Another time, after I had become a student, I was traveling by rail to
the south. It was May. At one of the stations, I believe it was between
Byelgorod and Harkov, I got out of the tram to walk about the platform.
The shades of evening were already lying on the station garden, on the
platform, and on the fields; the station screened off the sunset, but on
the topmost clouds of smoke from the engine, which were tinged with rosy
light, one could see the sun had not yet quite vanished.
As I walked up and down the platform I noticed that the greater
number of the passengers were standing or walking near a second-class
compartment, and that they looked as though some celebrated person were
in that compartment. Among the curious whom I met near this compartment
I saw, however, an artillery officer who had been my fellow-traveler, an
intelligent, cordial, and sympathetic fellow--as people mostly are
whom we meet on our travels by chance and with whom we are not long
"What are you looking at there?" I asked.
He made no answer, but only indicated with his eyes a feminine figure.
It was a young girl of seventeen or eighteen, wearing a Russian dress,
with her head bare and a little shawl flung carelessly on one
shoulder; not a passenger, but I suppose a sister or daughter of the
station-master. She was standing near the carriage window, talking to an
elderly woman who was in the train. Before I had time to realize what
I was seeing, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling I had once
experienced in the Armenian village.
The girl was remarkably beautiful, and that was unmistakable to me and
to those who were looking at her as I was.
If one is to describe her appearance feature by feature, as the practice
is, the only really lovely thing was her thick wavy fair hair, which
hung loose with a black ribbon tied round her head; all the other
features were either irregular or very ordinary. Either from a peculiar
form of coquettishness, or from short-sightedness, her eyes were screwed
up, her nose had an undecided tilt, her mouth was small, her profile was
feebly and insipidly drawn, her shoulders were narrow and undeveloped
for her age--and yet the girl made the impression of being really
beautiful, and looking at her, I was able to feel convinced that the
Russian face does not need strict regularity in order to be lovely; what
is more, that if instead of her turn-up nose the girl had been given a
different one, correct and plastically irreproachable like the Armenian
girl's, I fancy her face would have lost all its charm from the change.
Standing at the window talking, the girl, shrugging at the evening damp,
continually looking round at us, at one moment put her arms akimbo, at
the next raised her hands to her head to straighten her hair, talked,
laughed, while her face at one moment wore an expression of wonder, the
next of horror, and I don't remember a moment when her face and body
were at rest. The whole secret and magic of her beauty lay just in these
tiny, infinitely elegant movements, in her smile, in the play of her
face, in her rapid glances at us, in the combination of the subtle grace
of her movements with her youth, her freshness, the purity of her soul
that sounded in her laugh and voice, and with the weakness we love so
much in children, in birds, in fawns, and in young trees.
It was that butterfly's beauty so in keeping with waltzing, darting
about the garden, laughter and gaiety, and incongruous with serious
thought, grief, and repose; and it seemed as though a gust of wind
blowing over the platform, or a fall of rain, would be enough to wither
the fragile body and scatter the capricious beauty like the pollen of a
"So--o!..." the officer muttered with a sigh when, after the second
bell, we went back to our compartment.
And what that "So--o" meant I will not undertake to decide.
Perhaps he was sad, and did not want to go away from the beauty and
the spring evening into the stuffy train; or perhaps he, like me, was
unaccountably sorry for the beauty, for himself, and for me, and for all
the passengers, who were listlessly and reluctantly sauntering back to
their compartments. As we passed the station window, at which a pale,
red-haired telegraphist with upstanding curls and a faded, broad-cheeked
face was sitting beside his apparatus, the officer heaved a sigh and
"I bet that telegraphist is in love with that pretty girl. To live out
in the wilds under one roof with that ethereal creature and not fall in
love is beyond the power of man. And what a calamity, my friend! what an
ironical fate, to be stooping, unkempt, gray, a decent fellow and not a
fool, and to be in love with that pretty, stupid little girl who would
never take a scrap of notice of you! Or worse still: imagine that
telegraphist is in love, and at the same time married, and that his wife
is as stooping, as unkempt, and as decent a person as himself."
On the platform between our carriage and the next the guard was
standing with his elbows on the railing, looking in the direction of
the beautiful girl, and his battered, wrinkled, unpleasantly beefy face,
exhausted by sleepless nights and the jolting of the train, wore a look
of tenderness and of the deepest sadness, as though in that girl he saw
happiness, his own youth, soberness, purity, wife, children; as though
he were repenting and feeling in his whole being that that girl was not
his, and that for him, with his premature old age, his uncouthness, and
his beefy face, the ordinary happiness of a man and a passenger was as
far away as heaven....
The third bell rang, the whistles sounded, and the train slowly moved
off. First the guard, the station-master, then the garden, the beautiful
girl with her exquisitely sly smile, passed before our windows....
Putting my head out and looking back, I saw how, looking after the
train, she walked along the platform by the window where the telegraph
clerk was sitting, smoothed her hair, and ran into the garden. The
station no longer screened off the sunset, the plain lay open before us,
but the sun had already set and the smoke lay in black clouds over the
green, velvety young corn. It was melancholy in the spring air, and in
the darkening sky, and in the railway carriage.
The familiar figure of the guard came into the carriage, and he began
lighting the candles.
THE SHOEMAKER AND THE DEVIL
IT was Christmas Eve. Marya had long been snoring on the stove; all the
paraffin in the little lamp had burnt out, but Fyodor Nilov still sat at
work. He would long ago have flung aside his work and gone out into the
street, but a customer from Kolokolny Lane, who had a fortnight before
ordered some boots, had been in the previous day, had abused him
roundly, and had ordered him to finish the boots at once before the
"It's a convict's life!" Fyodor grumbled as he worked. "Some people have
been asleep long ago, others are enjoying themselves, while you sit here
like some Cain and sew for the devil knows whom...."
To save himself from accidentally falling asleep, he kept taking a
bottle from under the table and drinking out of it, and after every pull
at it he twisted his head and said aloud:
"What is the reason, kindly tell me, that customers enjoy themselves
while I am forced to sit and work for them? Because they have money and
I am a beggar?"
He hated all his customers, especially the one who lived in Kolokolny
Lane. He was a gentleman of gloomy appearance, with long hair, a yellow
face, blue spectacles, and a husky voice. He had a German name which one
could not pronounce. It was impossible to tell what was his calling
and what he did. When, a fortnight before, Fyodor had gone to take his
measure, he, the customer, was sitting on the floor pounding something
in a mortar. Before Fyodor had time to say good-morning the contents of
the mortar suddenly flared up and burned with a bright red flame; there
was a stink of sulphur and burnt feathers, and the room was filled
with a thick pink smoke, so that Fyodor sneezed five times; and as he
returned home afterwards, he thought: "Anyone who feared God would not
have anything to do with things like that."
When there was nothing left in the bottle Fyodor put the boots on the
table and sank into thought. He leaned his heavy head on his fist and
began thinking of his poverty, of his hard life with no glimmer of
light in it. Then he thought of the rich, of their big houses and their
carriages, of their hundred-rouble notes.... How nice it would be
if the houses of these rich men--the devil flay them!--were smashed,
if their horses died, if their fur coats and sable caps got shabby! How
splendid it would be if the rich, little by little, changed into beggars
having nothing, and he, a poor shoemaker, were to become rich, and were
to lord it over some other poor shoemaker on Christmas Eve.
Dreaming like this, Fyodor suddenly thought of his work, and opened his
"Here's a go," he thought, looking at the boots. "The job has been
finished ever so long ago, and I go on sitting here. I must take the
boots to the gentleman."
He wrapped up the work in a red handkerchief, put on his things, and
went out into the street. A fine hard snow was falling, pricking the
face as though with needles. It was cold, slippery, dark, the gas-lamps
burned dimly, and for some reason there was a smell of paraffin in the
street, so that Fyodor coughed and cleared his throat. Rich men were
driving to and fro on the road, and every rich man had a ham and a
bottle of vodka in his hands. Rich young ladies peeped at Fyodor out of
the carriages and sledges, put out their tongues and shouted, laughing:
Students, officers, and merchants walked behind Fyodor, jeering at him
"Drunkard! Drunkard! Infidel cobbler! Soul of a boot-leg! Beggar!"
All this was insulting, but Fyodor held his tongue and only spat in
disgust. But when Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw, a master-bootmaker, met
him and said: "I've married a rich woman and I have men working under
me, while you are a beggar and have nothing to eat," Fyodor could not
refrain from running after him. He pursued him till he found himself in
Kolokolny Lane. His customer lived in the fourth house from the corner
on the very top floor. To reach him one had to go through a long, dark
courtyard, and then to climb up a very high slippery stair-case which
tottered under one's feet. When Fyodor went in to him he was sitting
on the floor pounding something in a mortar, just as he had been the
"Your honor, I have brought your boots," said Fyodor sullenly.
The customer got up and began trying on the boots in silence. Desiring
to help him, Fyodor went down on one knee and pulled off his old, boot,
but at once jumped up and staggered towards the door in horror. The
customer had not a foot, but a hoof like a horse's.
"Aha!" thought Fyodor; "here's a go!"
The first thing should have been to cross himself, then to leave
everything and run downstairs; but he immediately reflected that he was
meeting a devil for the first and probably the last time, and not to
take advantage of his services would be foolish. He controlled himself
and determined to try his luck. Clasping his hands behind him to avoid
making the sign of the cross, he coughed respectfully and began:
"They say that there is nothing on earth more evil and impure than the
devil, but I am of the opinion, your honor, that the devil is highly
educated. He has--excuse my saying it--hoofs and a tail behind, but he
has more brains than many a student."
"I like you for what you say," said the devil, flattered. "Thank you,
shoemaker! What do you want?"
And without loss of time the shoemaker began complaining of his lot. He
began by saying that from his childhood up he had envied the rich. He
had always resented it that all people did not live alike in big houses
and drive with good horses. Why, he asked, was he poor? How was he worse
than Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw, who had his own house, and whose wife
wore a hat? He had the same sort of nose, the same hands, feet, head,
and back, as the rich, and so why was he forced to work when others
were enjoying themselves? Why was he married to Marya and not to a
lady smelling of scent? He had often seen beautiful young ladies in
the houses of rich customers, but they either took no notice of him
whatever, or else sometimes laughed and whispered to each other: "What
a red nose that shoemaker has!" It was true that Marya was a good, kind,
hard-working woman, but she was not educated; her hand was heavy and
hit hard, and if one had occasion to speak of politics or anything
intellectual before her, she would put her spoke in and talk the most
"What do you want, then?" his customer interrupted him.
"I beg you, your honor Satan Ivanitch, to be graciously pleased to make
me a rich man."
"Certainly. Only for that you must give me up your soul! Before the
cocks crow, go and sign on this paper here that you give me up your
"Your honor," said Fyodor politely, "when you ordered a pair of boots
from me I did not ask for the money in advance. One has first to carry
out the order and then ask for payment."
"Oh, very well!" the customer assented.
A bright flame suddenly flared up in the mortar, a pink thick smoke came
puffing out, and there was a smell of burnt feathers and sulphur. When
the smoke had subsided, Fyodor rubbed his eyes and saw that he was no
longer Fyodor, no longer a shoemaker, but quite a different man, wearing
a waistcoat and a watch-chain, in a new pair of trousers, and that he
was sitting in an armchair at a big table. Two foot men were handing him
dishes, bowing low and saying:
"Kindly eat, your honor, and may it do you good!"
What wealth! The footmen handed him a big piece of roast mutton and a
dish of cucumbers, and then brought in a frying-pan a roast goose, and
a little afterwards boiled pork with horse-radish cream. And how
dignified, how genteel it all was! Fyodor ate, and before each dish
drank a big glass of excellent vodka, like some general or some count.
After the pork he was handed some boiled grain moistened with goose fat,
then an omelette with bacon fat, then fried liver, and he went on eating
and was delighted. What more? They served, too, a pie with onion and
steamed turnip with kvass.
"How is it the gentry don't burst with such meals?" he thought.
In conclusion they handed him a big pot of honey. After dinner the devil
appeared in blue spectacles and asked with a low bow:
"Are you satisfied with your dinner, Fyodor Pantelyeitch?"
But Fyodor could not answer one word, he was so stuffed after his
dinner. The feeling of repletion was unpleasant, oppressive, and to
distract his thoughts he looked at the boot on his left foot.
"For a boot like that I used not to take less than seven and a half
roubles. What shoemaker made it?" he asked.
"Kuzma Lebyodkin," answered the footman.
"Send for him, the fool!"
Kuzma Lebyodkin from Warsaw soon made his appearance. He stopped in a
respectful attitude at the door and asked:
"What are your orders, your honor?"
"Hold your tongue!" cried Fyodor, and stamped his foot. "Don't dare to
argue; remember your place as a cobbler! Blockhead! You don't know how
to make boots! I'll beat your ugly phiz to a jelly! Why have you come?"
"What money? Be off! Come on Saturday! Boy, give him a cuff!"
But he at once recalled what a life the customers used to lead him, too,
and he felt heavy at heart, and to distract his attention he took a fat
pocketbook out of his pocket and began counting his money. There was a
great deal of money, but Fyodor wanted more still. The devil in the blue
spectacles brought him another notebook fatter still, but he wanted even
more; and the more he counted it, the more discontented he became.
In the evening the evil one brought him a full-bosomed lady in a red
dress, and said that this was his new wife. He spent the whole evening
kissing her and eating gingerbreads, and at night he went to bed on a
soft, downy feather-bed, turned from side to side, and could not go to
sleep. He felt uncanny.
"We have a great deal of money," he said to his wife; "we must look
out or thieves will be breaking in. You had better go and look with a
He did not sleep all night, and kept getting up to see if his box was
all right. In the morning he had to go to church to matins. In church
the same honor is done to rich and poor alike. When Fyodor was poor he
used to pray in church like this: "God, forgive me, a sinner!" He said
the same thing now though he had become rich. What difference was
there? And after death Fyodor rich would not be buried in gold, not
in diamonds, but in the same black earth as the poorest beggar. Fyodor
would burn in the same fire as cobblers. Fyodor resented all this, and,
too, he felt weighed down all over by his dinner, and instead of prayer
he had all sorts of thoughts in his head about his box of money, about
thieves, about his bartered, ruined soul.
He came out of church in a bad temper. To drive away his unpleasant
thoughts as he had often done before, he struck up a song at the top of
his voice. But as soon as he began a policeman ran up and said, with his
fingers to the peak of his cap:
"Your honor, gentlefolk must not sing in the street! You are not a
Fyodor leaned his back against a fence and fell to thinking: what could
he do to amuse himself?
"Your honor," a porter shouted to him, "don't lean against the fence,
you will spoil your fur coat!"
Fyodor went into a shop and bought himself the very best concertina,
then went out into the street playing it. Everybody pointed at him and
"And a gentleman, too," the cabmen jeered at him; "like some
"Is it the proper thing for gentlefolk to be disorderly in the street?"
a policeman said to him. "You had better go into a tavern!"
"Your honor, give us a trifle, for Christ's sake," the beggars wailed,
surrounding Fyodor on all sides.
In earlier days when he was a shoemaker the beggars took no notice of
him, now they wouldn't let him pass.
And at home his new wife, the lady, was waiting for him, dressed in a
green blouse and a red skirt. He meant to be attentive to her, and had
just lifted his arm to give her a good clout on the back, but she said
"Peasant! Ignorant lout! You don't know how to behave with ladies! If
you love me you will kiss my hand; I don't allow you to beat me."
"This is a blasted existence!" thought Fyodor. "People do lead a life!
You mustn't sing, you mustn't play the concertina, you mustn't have a
lark with a lady.... Pfoo!"
He had no sooner sat down to tea with the lady when the evil spirit in
the blue spectacles appeared and said:
"Come, Fyodor Pantelyeitch, I have performed my part of the bargain. Now
sign your paper and come along with me!"
And he dragged Fyodor to hell, straight to the furnace, and devils flew
up from all directions and shouted:
"Fool! Blockhead! Ass!"
There was a fearful smell of paraffin in hell, enough to suffocate one.
And suddenly it all vanished. Fyodor opened his eyes and saw his table,
the boots, and the tin lamp. The lamp-glass was black, and from the
faint light on the wick came clouds of stinking smoke as from a chimney.
Near the table stood the customer in the blue spectacles, shouting
"Fool! Blockhead! Ass! I'll give you a lesson, you scoundrel! You took
the order a fortnight ago and the boots aren't ready yet! Do you suppose
I want to come trapesing round here half a dozen times a day for my
boots? You wretch! you brute!"
Fyodor shook his head and set to work on the boots. The customer went on
swearing and threatening him for a long time. At last when he subsided,
Fyodor asked sullenly:
"And what is your occupation, sir?"
"I make Bengal lights and fireworks. I am a pyrotechnician."
They began ringing for matins. Fyodor gave the customer the boots, took
the money for them, and went to church.
Carriages and sledges with bearskin rugs were dashing to and fro in
the street; merchants, ladies, officers were walking along the pavement
together with the humbler folk.... But Fyodor did not envy them nor
repine at his lot. It seemed to him now that rich and poor were equally
badly off. Some were able to drive in a carriage, and others to sing
songs at the top of their voice and to play the concertina, but one and
the same thing, the same grave, was awaiting all alike, and there was
nothing in life for which one would give the devil even a tiny scrap of