Punin and Baburin by Ivan Turgenev
PIOTR PETROVITCH'S STORY
... I am old and ill now, and my thoughts brood oftenest upon death,
every day coming nearer; rarely I think of the past, rarely I turn the
eyes of my soul behind me. Only from time to time—in winter, as I sit
motionless before the glowing fire, in summer, as I pace with slow
tread along the shady avenue—I recall past years, events, faces; but
it is not on my mature years nor on my youth that my thoughts rest at
such times. They either carry me back to my earliest childhood, or to
the first years of boyhood. Now, for instance, I see myself in the
country with my stern and wrathful grandmother—I was only twelve—and
two figures rise up before my imagination....
But I will begin my story consecutively, and in proper order.
The old footman Filippitch came in, on tiptoe, as usual, with a
cravat tied up in a rosette, with tightly compressed lips, 'lest his
breath should be smelt,' with a grey tuft of hair standing up in the
very middle of his forehead. He came in, bowed, and handed my
grandmother on an iron tray a large letter with an heraldic seal. My
grandmother put on her spectacles, read the letter through....
'Is he here?' she asked.
'What is my lady pleased ...' Filippitch began timidly.
'Imbecile! The man who brought the letter—is he here?'
'He is here, to be sure he is.... He is sitting in the
My grandmother rattled her amber rosary beads....
'Tell him to come to me.... And you, sir,' she turned to me, 'sit
As it was, I was sitting perfectly still in my corner, on the stool
assigned to me.
My grandmother kept me well in hand!
* * * * *
Five minutes later there came into the room a man of
five-and-thirty, black-haired and swarthy, with broad cheek-bones, a
face marked with smallpox, a hook nose, and thick eyebrows, from under
which the small grey eyes looked out with mournful composure. The
colour of the eyes and their expression were out of keeping with the
Oriental cast of the rest of the face. The man was dressed in a decent,
long-skirted coat. He stopped in the doorway, and bowed—only with his
'So your name's Baburin?' queried my grandmother, and she added to
herself: 'Il a l'air d'un armenien.'
'Yes, it is,' the man answered in a deep and even voice. At the
first brusque sound of my grandmother's voice his eyebrows faintly
quivered. Surely he had not expected her to address him as an equal?
'Are you a Russian? orthodox?'
My grandmother took off her spectacles, and scanned Baburin from
head to foot deliberately. He did not drop his eyes, he merely folded
his hands behind his back. What particularly struck my fancy was his
beard; it was very smoothly shaven, but such blue cheeks and chin I had
never seen in my life!
'Yakov Petrovitch,' began my grandmother, 'recommends you strongly
in his letter as sober and industrious; why, then, did you leave his
'He needs a different sort of person to manage his estate, madam.'
'A different ... sort? That I don't quite understand.'
My grandmother rattled her beads again. 'Yakov Petrovitch writes to
me that there are two peculiarities about you. What peculiarities?'
Baburin shrugged his shoulders slightly.
'I can't tell what he sees fit to call peculiarities. Possibly that
I ... don't allow corporal punishment.'
My grandmother was surprised. 'Do you mean to say Yakov Petrovitch
wanted to flog you?'
Baburin's swarthy face grew red to the roots of his hair.
'You have not understood me right, madam. I make it a rule not to
employ corporal punishment ... with the peasants.'
My grandmother was more surprised than ever; she positively threw up
'Ah!' she pronounced at last, and putting her head a little on one
side, once more she scrutinised Baburin attentively. 'So that's your
rule, is it? Well, that's of no consequence whatever to me; I don't
want an overseer, but a counting-house clerk, a secretary. What sort of
a hand do you write?'
'I write well, without mistakes in spelling.'
'That too is of no consequence to me. The great thing for me is for
it to be clear, and without any of those new copybook letters with
tails, that I don't like. And what's your other peculiarity?'
Baburin moved uneasily, coughed....
'Perhaps ... the gentleman has referred to the fact that I am not
'You are married?'
'Oh no ... but ...'
My grandmother knit her brows.
'There is a person living with me ... of the male sex ... a comrade,
a poor friend, from whom I have never parted ... for ... let me see ...
ten years now.'
'A relation of yours?'
'No, not a relation—a friend. As to work, there can be no possible
hindrance occasioned by him,' Baburin made haste to add, as though
foreseeing objections. 'He lives at my cost, occupies the same room
with me; he is more likely to be of use, as he is well
educated—speaking without flattery, extremely so, in fact—and his
morals are exemplary.'
My grandmother heard Baburin out, chewing her lips and half closing
'He lives at your expense?'
'You keep him out of charity?'
'As an act of justice ... as it's the duty of one poor man to help
another poor man.'
'Indeed! It's the first time I've heard that. I had supposed till
now that that was rather the duty of rich people.'
'For the rich, if I may venture to say so, it is an entertainment
... but for such as we ...'
'Well, well, that's enough, that's enough,' my grandmother cut him
short; and after a moment's thought she queried, speaking through her
nose, which was always a bad sign, 'And what age is he, your protege?'
'About my own age.'
'Really, I imagined that you were bringing him up.'
'Not so; he is my comrade—and besides ...'
'That's enough,' my grandmother cut him short a second time. 'You're
a philanthropist, it seems. Yakov Petrovitch is right; for a man in
your position it's something very peculiar. But now let's get to
business. I'll explain to you what your duties will be. And as regards
wages.... Que faites vous ici?' added my grandmother suddenly,
turning her dry, yellow face to me:—'Allez etudier votre devoir de
I jumped up, went up to kiss my grandmother's hand, and went
out,—not to study mythology, but simply into the garden.
* * * * *
The garden on my grandmother's estate was very old and large, and
was bounded on one side by a flowing pond, in which there were not only
plenty of carp and eels, but even loach were caught, those renowned
loach, that have nowadays disappeared almost everywhere. At the head of
this pond was a thick clump of willows; further and higher, on both
sides of a rising slope, were dense bushes of hazel, elder,
honeysuckle, and sloe-thorn, with an undergrowth of heather and clover
flowers. Here and there between the bushes were tiny clearings, covered
with emerald-green, silky, fine grass, in the midst of which squat
funguses peeped out with their comical, variegated pink, lilac, and
straw-coloured caps, and golden balls of 'hen-dazzle' blazed in light
patches. Here in spring-time the nightingales sang, the blackbirds
whistled, the cuckoos called; here in the heat of summer it was always
cool—and I loved to make my way into the wilderness and thicket, where
I had favourite secret spots, known—so, at least, I imagined—only to
On coming out of my grandmother's room I made straight for one of
these spots, which I had named 'Switzerland.' But what was my
astonishment when, before I had reached 'Switzerland,' I perceived
through the delicate network of half-dry twigs and green branches that
some one besides me had found it out! A long, long figure in a long,
loose coat of yellow frieze and a tall cap was standing in the very
spot I loved best of all! I stole up a little nearer, and made out the
face, which was utterly unknown to me, also very long and soft, with
small reddish eyes, and a very funny nose; drawn out as long as a pod
of peas, it positively over-hung the full lips; and these lips,
quivering and forming a round O, were giving vent to a shrill little
whistle, while the long fingers of the bony hands, placed facing one
another on the upper part of the chest, were rapidly moving with a
rotatory action. From time to time the motion of the hands subsided,
the lips ceased whistling and quivering, the head was bent forward as
though listening. I came still nearer, examined him still more
closely.... The stranger held in each hand a small flat cup, such as
people use to tease canaries and make them sing. A twig snapped under
my feet; the stranger started, turned his dim little eyes towards the
copse, and was staggering away ... but he stumbled against a tree,
uttered an exclamation, and stood still.
I came out into the open space. The stranger smiled.
'Good morning,' said I.
'Good morning, little master!'
I did not like his calling me little master. Such familiarity!
'What are you doing here?' I asked sternly.
'Why, look here,' he responded, never leaving off smiling, 'I'm
calling the little birds to sing.' He showed me his little cups. 'The
chaffinches answer splendidly! You, at your tender years, take delight,
no doubt, in the feathered songsters' notes! Listen, I beg; I will
begin chirping, and they'll answer me directly—it's so delightful!'
He began rubbing his little cups. A chaffinch actually did chirp in
response from a mountain ash near. The stranger laughed without a
sound, and winked at me.
The laugh and the wink—every gesture of the stranger, his weak,
lisping voice, his bent knees and thin hands, his very cap and long
frieze coat—everything about him suggested good-nature, something
innocent and droll.
'Have you been here long?' I asked.
'I came to-day.'
'Why, aren't you the person of whom ...'
'Mr. Baburin spoke to the lady here. The same, the same.'
'Your friend's name's Baburin, and what's yours?'
'I'm Punin. Punin's my name; Punin. He's Baburin and I'm Punin.' He
set the little cups humming again. 'Listen, listen to the chaffinch....
How it carols!'
This queer creature took my fancy 'awfully' all at once. Like almost
all boys, I was either timid or consequential with strangers, but I
felt with this man as if I had known him for ages.
'Come along with me,' I said to him; 'I know a place better than
this; there's a seat there; we can sit down, and we can see the dam
'By all means let us go,' my new friend responded in his singing
voice. I let him pass before me. As he walked he rolled from side to
side, tripped over his own feet, and his head fell back.
I noticed on the back of his coat, under the collar, there hung a
small tassel. 'What's that you've got hanging there?' I asked.
'Where?' he questioned, and he put his hand up to the collar to
feel. 'Ah, the tassel? Let it be! I suppose it was sewn there for
ornament! It's not in the way.'
I led him to the seat, and sat down; he settled himself beside me.
'It's lovely here!' he commented, and he drew a deep, deep sigh. 'Oh,
how lovely! You have a most splendid garden! Oh, o—oh!'
I looked at him from one side. 'What a queer cap you've got!' I
couldn't help exclaiming. 'Show it me here!'
'By all means, little master, by all means.' He took off the cap; I
was holding out my hand, but I raised my eyes, and—simply burst out
laughing. Punin was completely bald; not a single hair was to be seen
on the high conical skull, covered with smooth white skin. He passed
his open hand over it, and he too laughed. When he laughed he seemed,
as it were, to gulp, he opened his mouth wide, closed his eyes—and
vertical wrinkles flitted across his forehead in three rows, like
waves. 'Eh,' said he at last, 'isn't it quite like an egg?'
'Yes, yes, exactly like an egg!' I agreed with enthusiasm. 'And have
you been like that long?'
'Yes, a long while; but what hair I used to have!—A golden fleece
like that for which the Argonauts sailed over the watery deeps.'
Though I was only twelve, yet, thanks to my mythological studies, I
knew who the Argonauts were; I was the more surprised at hearing the
name on the lips of a man dressed almost in rags.
'You must have learned mythology, then?' I queried, as I twisted his
cap over and over in my hands. It turned out to be wadded, with a
mangy-looking fur trimming, and a broken cardboard peak.
'I have studied that subject, my dear little master; I've had time
enough for everything in my life! But now restore to me my covering, it
is a protection to the nakedness of my head.'
He put on the cap, and, with a downward slope of his whitish
eyebrows, asked me who I was, and who were my parents.
'I'm the grandson of the lady who owns this place,' I answered. 'I
live alone with her. Papa and mamma are dead.'
Punin crossed himself. 'May the kingdom of heaven be theirs! So
then, you're an orphan; and the heir, too. The noble blood in you is
visible at once; it fairly sparkles in your eyes, and plays like this
... sh ... sh ... sh ...' He represented with his fingers the play of
the blood. 'Well, and do you know, your noble honour, whether my friend
has come to terms with your grandmamma, whether he has obtained the
situation he was promised?'
'I don't know.'
Punin cleared his throat. 'Ah! if one could be settled here, if only
for a while! Or else one may wander and wander far, and find not a
place to rest one's head; the disquieting alarms of life are unceasing,
the soul is confounded....'
'Tell me,' I interrupted: 'are you of the clerical profession?'
Punin turned to me and half closed his eyelids. 'And what may be the
cause of that question, gentle youth?'
'Why, you talk so—well, as they read in church.'
'Because I use the old scriptural forms of expression? But that
ought not to surprise you. Admitting that in ordinary conversation such
forms of expression are not always in place; but when one soars on the
wings of inspiration, at once the language too grows more exalted.
Surely your teacher—the professor of Russian literature—you do have
lessons in that, I suppose?—surely he teaches you that, doesn't he?'
'No, he doesn't,' I responded. 'When we stay in the country I have
no teacher. In Moscow I have a great many teachers.'
'And will you be staying long in the country?'
'Two months, not longer; grandmother says that I'm spoilt in the
country, though I have a governess even here.'
'A French governess?'
Punin scratched behind his ear. 'A mamselle, that's to say?'
'Yes; she's called Mademoiselle Friquet.' I suddenly felt it
disgraceful for me, a boy of twelve, to have not a tutor, but a
governess, like a little girl! 'But I don't mind her,' I added
contemptuously. 'What do I care!'
Punin shook his head. 'Ah, you gentlefolk, you gentlefolk! you're
too fond of foreigners! You have turned away from what is
Russian,—towards all that's strange. You've turned your hearts to
those that come from foreign parts....'
'Hullo! Are you talking in verse?' I asked.
'Well, and why not? I can do that always, as much as you please; for
it comes natural to me....'
But at that very instant there sounded in the garden behind us a
loud and shrill whistle. My new acquaintance hurriedly got up from the
'Good-bye, little sir; that's my friend calling me, looking for
me.... What has he to tell me? Good-bye—excuse me....'
He plunged into the bushes and vanished, while I sat on some time
longer on the seat. I felt perplexity and another feeling, rather an
agreeable one ... I had never met nor spoken to any one like this
before. Gradually I fell to dreaming, but recollected my mythology and
sauntered towards the house.
* * * * *
At home, I learned that my grandmother had arranged to take Baburin;
he had been assigned a small room in the servants' quarters,
overlooking the stable-yard. He had at once settled in there with his
When I had drunk my tea, next morning, without asking leave of
Mademoiselle Friquet, I set off to the servants' quarters. I wanted to
have another chat with the queer fellow I had seen the day before.
Without knocking at the door—the very idea of doing so would never
have occurred to us—I walked straight into the room. I found in it not
the man I was looking for, not Punin, but his protector—the
philanthropist, Baburin. He was standing before the window, without his
outer garment, his legs wide apart. He was busily engaged in rubbing
his head and neck with a long towel.
'What do you want?' he observed, keeping his hands still raised, and
knitting his brows.
'Punin's not at home, then?' I queried in the most free-and-easy
manner, without taking off my cap.
'Mr. Punin, Nikander Vavilitch, at this moment, is not at home,
truly,' Baburin responded deliberately; 'but allow me to make an
observation, young man: it's not the proper thing to come into another
person's room like this, without asking leave.'
I! ... young man! ... how dared he! ... I grew crimson with fury.
'You cannot be aware who I am,' I rejoined, in a manner no longer
free-and-easy, but haughty. 'I am the grandson of the mistress here.'
'That's all the same to me,' retorted Baburin, setting to work with
his towel again. 'Though you are the seignorial grandson, you have no
right to come into other people's rooms.'
'Other people's? What do you mean? I'm—at home here—everywhere.'
'No, excuse me: here—I'm at home; since this room has been assigned
to me, by agreement, in exchange for my work.'
'Don't teach me, if you please,' I interrupted: 'I know better than
you what ...'
'You must be taught,' he interrupted in his turn, 'for you're at an
age when you ... I know my duties, but I know my rights too very well,
and if you continue to speak to me in that way, I shall have to ask you
to go out of the room....'
There is no knowing how our dispute would have ended if Punin had
not at that instant entered, shuffling and shambling from side to side.
He most likely guessed from the expression of our faces that some
unpleasantness had passed between us, and at once turned to me with the
warmest expressions of delight.
'Ah! little master! little master!' he cried, waving his hands
wildly, and going off into his noiseless laugh: 'the little dear! come
to pay me a visit! here he's come, the little dear!' (What's the
meaning of it? I thought: can he be speaking in this familiar way to
me?) 'There, come along, come with me into the garden. I've found
something there.... Why stay in this stuffiness here! let's go!'
I followed Punin, but in the doorway I thought it as well to turn
round and fling a glance of defiance at Baburin, as though to say, I'm
not afraid of you!
He responded in the same way, and positively snorted into the
towel—probably to make me thoroughly aware how utterly he despised me!
What an insolent fellow your friend is!' I said to Punin, directly
the door had closed behind me.
Almost with horror, Punin turned his plump face to me.
'To whom did you apply that expression?' he asked me, with round
'Why, to him, of course.... What's his name? that ... Baburin.'
'Why, yes; that ... blackfaced fellow.'
'Eh ... eh ... eh ...!' Punin protested, with caressing
reproachfulness. 'How can you talk like that, little master! Paramon
Semyonevitch is the most estimable man, of the strictest principles, an
extraordinary person! To be sure, he won't allow any disrespect to him,
because—he knows his own value. That man possesses a vast amount of
knowledge—and it's not a place like this he ought to be filling! You
must, my dear, behave very courteously to him; do you know, he's ...'
here Punin bent down quite to my ear,—'a republican!'
I stared at Punin. This I had not at all expected. From Keidanov's
manual and other historical works I had gathered the fact that at some
period or other, in ancient times, there had existed republicans,
Greeks and Romans. For some unknown reason I had always pictured them
all in helmets, with round shields on their arms, and big bare legs;
but that in real life, in the actual present, above all, in Russia, in
the province of X——, one could come across republicans—that upset
all my notions, and utterly confounded them!
'Yes, my dear, yes; Paramon Semyonitch is a republican,' repeated
Punin; 'there, so you'll know for the future how one should speak of a
man like that! But now let's go into the garden. Fancy what I've found
there! A cuckoo's egg in a redstart's nest! a lovely thing!'
I went into the garden with Punin; but mentally I kept repeating:
'republican! re ... pub ... lican!'
'So,' I decided at last—'that's why he has such a blue chin!'
* * * * *
My attitude to these two persons—Punin and Baburin—took definite
shape from that very day. Baburin aroused in me a feeling of hostility
with which there was, however, in a short time, mingled something akin
to respect. And wasn't I afraid of him! I never got over being afraid
of him even when the sharp severity of his manner with me at first had
quite disappeared. It is needless to say that of Punin I had no fear; I
did not even respect him; I looked upon him—not to put too fine a
point on it—as a buffoon; but I loved him with my whole soul! To spend
hours at a time in his company, to be alone with him, to listen to his
stories, became a genuine delight to me. My grandmother was anything
but pleased at this intimite with a person of the 'lower
classes'—du commun; but, whenever I could break away, I flew at
once to my queer, amusing, beloved friend. Our meetings became more
frequent after the departure of Mademoiselle Friquet, whom my
grandmother sent back to Moscow in disgrace because, in conversation
with a military staff captain, visiting in the neighbourhood, she had
had the insolence to complain of the dulness which reigned in our
household. And Punin, for his part, was not bored by long conversations
with a boy of twelve; he seemed to seek them of himself. How often have
I listened to his stories, sitting with him in the fragrant shade, on
the dry, smooth grass, under the canopy of the silver poplars, or among
the reeds above the pond, on the coarse, damp sand of the hollow bank,
from which the knotted roots protruded, queerly interlaced, like great
black veins, like snakes, like creatures emerging from some
subterranean region! Punin told me the whole story of his life in
minute detail, describing all his happy adventures, and all his
misfortunes, with which I always felt the sincerest sympathy! His
father had been a deacon;—'a splendid man—but, under the influence of
drink, stern to the last extreme.'
Punin himself had received his education in a seminary; but, unable
to stand the severe thrashings, and feeling no inclination for the
priestly calling, he had become a layman, and in consequence had
experienced all sorts of hardships; and, finally, had become a vagrant.
'And had I not met with my benefactor, Paramon Semyonitch,' Punin
commonly added (he never spoke of Baburin except in this way), 'I
should have sunk into the miry abysses of poverty and vice.' Punin was
fond of high-sounding expressions, and had a great propensity, if not
for lying, for romancing and exaggeration; he admired everything, fell
into ecstasies over everything.... And I, in imitation of him, began to
exaggerate and be ecstatic, too. 'What a crazy fellow you've grown! God
have mercy on you!' my old nurse used to say to me. Punin's narratives
used to interest me extremely; but even better than his stories I loved
the readings we used to have together.
It is impossible to describe the feeling I experienced when,
snatching a favourable moment, suddenly, like a hermit in a tale or a
good fairy, he appeared before me with a ponderous volume under his
arm, and stealthily beckoning with his long crooked finger, and winking
mysteriously, he pointed with his head, his eyebrows, his shoulders,
his whole person, toward the deepest recesses of the garden, whither no
one could penetrate after us, and where it was impossible to find us
out. And when we had succeeded in getting away unnoticed; when we had
satisfactorily reached one of our secret nooks, and were sitting side
by side, and, at last, the book was slowly opened, emitting a pungent
odour, inexpressibly sweet to me then, of mildew and age;—with what a
thrill, with what a wave of dumb expectancy, I gazed at the face, at
the lips of Punin, those lips from which in a moment a stream of such
delicious eloquence was to flow! At last the first sounds of the
reading were heard. Everything around me vanished ... no, not vanished,
but grew far away, passed into clouds of mist, leaving behind only an
impression of something friendly and protecting. Those trees, those
green leaves, those high grasses screen us, hide us from all the rest
of the world; no one knows where we are, what we are about—while with
us is poetry, we are saturated in it, intoxicated with it, something
solemn, grand, mysterious is happening to us.... Punin, by preference,
kept to poetry, musical, sonorous poetry; he was ready to lay down his
life for poetry. He did not read, he declaimed the verse majestically,
in a torrent of rhythm, in a rolling outpour through his nose, like a
man intoxicated, lifted out of himself, like the Pythian priestess. And
another habit he had: first he would lisp the verses through softly, in
a whisper, as it were mumbling them to himself.... This he used to call
the rough sketch of the reading; then he would thunder out the same
verse in its 'fair copy,' and would all at once leap up, throw up his
hand, with a half-supplicating, half-imperious gesture.... In this way
we went through not only Lomonosov, Sumarokov, and Kantemir (the older
the poems, the more they were to Punin's taste), but even Heraskov's
Rossiad. And, to tell the truth, it was this same Rossiad
which aroused my enthusiasm most. There is in it, among others, a
mighty Tatar woman, a gigantic heroine; I have forgotten even her name
now; but in those days my hands and feet turned cold as soon as it was
mentioned. 'Yes,' Punin would say, nodding his head with great
significance, 'Heraskov, he doesn't let one off easily. At times one
comes upon a line, simply heart-breaking.... One can only stick to it,
and do one's best.... One tries to master it, but he breaks away again
and trumpets, trumpets, with the crash of cymbals. His name's been well
bestowed on him—the very word, Herrraskov!' Lomonosov Punin found
fault with for too simple and free a style; while to Derzhavin he
maintained an attitude almost of hostility, saying that he was more of
a courtier than a poet. In our house it was not merely that no
attention was given to literature, to poetry; but poetry, especially
Russian poetry, was looked upon as something quite undignified and
vulgar; my grandmother did not even call it poetry, but 'doggrel
verses'; every author of such doggrel was, in her opinion, either a
confirmed toper or a perfect idiot. Brought up among such ideas, it was
inevitable that I should either turn from Punin with disgust—he was
untidy and shabby into the bargain, which was an offence to my
seignorial habits—or that, attracted and captivated by him, I should
follow his example, and be infected by his passion for poetry.... And
so it turned out. I, too, began reading poetry, or, as my grandmother
expressed it, poring over doggrel trash.... I even tried my hand at
versifying, and composed a poem, descriptive of a barrel-organ, in
which occurred the following two lines:
'Lo, the barrel turns around,
And the cogs within resound.'
Punin commended in this effort a certain imitative melody, but
disapproved of the subject itself as low and unworthy of lyrical
Alas! all those efforts and emotions and transports, our solitary
readings, our life together, our poetry, all came to an end at once.
Trouble broke upon us suddenly, like a clap of thunder.
* * * * *
My grandmother in everything liked cleanliness and order, quite in
the spirit of the active generals of those days; cleanliness and order
were to be maintained too in our garden. And so from time to time they
'drove' into it poor peasants, who had no families, no land, no beasts
of their own, and those among the house serfs who were out of favour or
superannuated, and set them to clearing the paths, weeding the borders,
breaking up and sifting the earth in the beds, and so on. Well, one
day, in the very heat of these operations, my grandmother went into the
garden, and took me with her. On all sides, among the trees and about
the lawns, we caught glimpses of white, red, and blue smocks; on all
sides we heard the scraping and clanging of spades, the dull thud of
clods of earth on the slanting sieves. As she passed by the labourers,
my grandmother with her eagle eye noticed at once that one of them was
working with less energy than the rest, and that he took off his cap,
too, with no show of eagerness. This was a youth, still quite young,
with a wasted face, and sunken, lustreless eyes. His cotton smock, all
torn and patched, scarcely held together over his narrow shoulders.
'Who's that?' my grandmother inquired of Filippitch, who was walking
on tiptoe behind her.
'Of whom ... you are pleased ...' Filippitch stammered.
'Oh, fool! I mean the one that looked so sullenly at me. There,
standing yonder, not working.'
'Oh, him! Yes ... th ... th ... that's Yermil, son of Pavel
Afanasiitch, now deceased.'
Pavel Afanasiitch had been, ten years before, head butler in my
grandmother's house, and stood particularly high in her favour. But
suddenly falling into disgrace, he was as suddenly degraded to being
herdsman, and did not long keep even that position. He sank lower
still, and struggled on for a while on a monthly pittance of flour in a
little hut far away. At last he had died of paralysis, leaving his
family in the most utter destitution.
'Aha!' commented my grandmother; 'it's clear the apple's not fallen
far from the tree. Well, we shall have to make arrangements about this
fellow too. I've no need of people like that, with scowling faces.'
My grandmother went back to the house—and made arrangements. Three
hours later Yermil, completely 'equipped,' was brought under the window
of her room. The unfortunate boy was being transported to a settlement;
the other side of the fence, a few steps from him, was a little cart
loaded with his poor belongings. Such were the times then. Yermil stood
without his cap, with downcast head, barefoot, with his boots tied up
with a string behind his back; his face, turned towards the seignorial
mansion, expressed not despair nor grief, nor even bewilderment; a
stupid smile was frozen on his colourless lips; his eyes, dry and
half-closed, looked stubbornly on the ground. My grandmother was
apprised of his presence. She got up from the sofa, went, with a faint
rustle of her silken skirts, to the window of the study, and, holding
her golden-rimmed double eyeglass on the bridge of her nose, looked at
the new exile. In her room there happened to be at the moment four
other persons, the butler, Baburin, the page who waited on my
grandmother in the daytime, and I.
My grandmother nodded her head up and down....
'Madam,' a hoarse almost stifled voice was heard suddenly. I looked
round. Baburin's face was red ... dark red; under his overhanging brows
could be seen little sharp points of light.... There was no doubt about
it; it was he, it was Baburin, who had uttered the word 'Madam.'
My grandmother too looked round, and turned her eyeglass from Yermil
'Who is that ... speaking?' she articulated slowly ... through her
nose. Baburin moved slightly forward.
'Madam,' he began, 'it is I.... I venture ... I imagine ... I make
bold to submit to your honour that you are making a mistake in acting
as ... as you are pleased to act at this moment.'
'That is?' my grandmother said, in the same voice, not removing her
'I take the liberty ...' Baburin went on distinctly, uttering every
word though with obvious effort—'I am referring to the case of this
lad who is being sent away to a settlement ... for no fault of his.
Such arrangements, I venture to submit, lead to dissatisfaction, and to
other—which God forbid!—consequences, and are nothing else than a
transgression of the powers allowed to seignorial proprietors.'
'And where have you studied, pray?' my grandmother asked after a
short silence, and she dropped her eyeglass.
Baburin was disconcerted. 'What are you pleased to wish?' he
'I ask you: where have you studied? You use such learned words.'
'I ... my education ...' Baburin was beginning.
My grandmother shrugged her shoulders contemptuously. 'It seems,'
she interrupted, 'that my arrangements are not to your liking. That is
of absolutely no consequence to me—among my subjects I am sovereign,
and answerable to no one for them, only I am not accustomed to having
people criticising me in my presence, and meddling in what is not their
business. I have no need of learned philanthropists of nondescript
position; I want servants to do my will without question. So I always
lived till you came, and so I shall live after you've gone. You do not
suit me; you are discharged. Nikolai Antonov,' my grandmother turned to
the steward, 'pay this man off; and let him be gone before dinner-time
to-day! D'you hear? Don't put me into a passion. And the other too ...
the fool that lives with him—to be sent off too. What's Yermilka
waiting for?' she added, looking out of window, 'I have seen him. What
more does he want?' My grandmother shook her handkerchief in the
direction of the window, as though to drive away an importunate fly.
Then she sat down in a low chair, and turning towards us, gave the
order grimly: 'Everybody present to leave the room!'
We all withdrew—all, except the day page, to whom my grandmother's
words did not apply, because he was nobody.
My grandmother's decree was carried out to the letter. Before
dinner, both Baburin and my friend Punin were driving away from the
place. I will not undertake to describe my grief, my genuine, truly
childish despair. It was so strong that it stifled even the feeling of
awe-stricken admiration inspired by the bold action of the republican
Baburin. After the conversation with my grandmother, he went at once to
his room and began packing up. He did not vouchsafe me one word, one
look, though I was the whole time hanging about him, or rather, in
reality, about Punin. The latter was utterly distraught, and he too
said nothing; but he was continually glancing at me, and tears stood in
his eyes ... always the same tears; they neither fell nor dried up. He
did not venture to criticise his 'benefactor'—Paramon Semyonitch could
not make a mistake,—but great was his distress and dejection. Punin
and I made an effort to read something out of the Rossiad for
the last time; we even locked ourselves up in the lumber-room—it was
useless to dream of going into the garden—but at the very first line
we both broke down, and I fairly bellowed like a calf, in spite of my
twelve years, and my claims to be grown-up.
When he had taken his seat in the carriage Baburin at last turned to
me, and with a slight softening of the accustomed sternness of his
face, observed: 'It's a lesson for you, young gentleman; remember this
incident, and when you grow up, try to put an end to such acts of
injustice. Your heart is good, your nature is not yet corrupted....
Mind, be careful; things can't go on like this!' Through my tears,
which streamed copiously over my nose, my lips, and my chin, I faltered
out that I would ... I would remember, that I promised ... I would do
... I would be sure ... quite sure ...
But at this point, Punin, whom I had before this embraced twenty
times (my cheeks were burning from the contact with his unshaven beard,
and I was odoriferous of the smell that always clung to him)—at this
point a sudden frenzy came over Punin. He jumped up on the seat of the
cart, flung both hands up in the air, and began in a voice of thunder
(where he got it from!) to declaim the well-known paraphrase of the
Psalm of David by Derzhavin,—a poet for this occasion—not a courtier.
'God the All-powerful doth arise
And judgeth in the congregation of the mighty! ...
How long, how long, saith the Lord,
Will ye have mercy on the wicked?
“Ye have to keep the laws....”'
'Sit down!' Baburin said to him.
Punin sat down, but continued:
'To save the guiltless and needy,
To give shelter to the afflicted,
To defend the weak from the oppressors.'
Punin at the word 'oppressors' pointed to the seignorial abode, and
then poked the driver in the back.
'To deliver the poor out of bondage!
They know not! neither will they understand! ...'
Nikolai Antonov running out of the seignorial abode, shouted at the
top of his voice to the coachman: 'Get away with you! owl! go along!
don't stay lingering here!' and the cart rolled away. Only in the
distance could still be heard:
'Arise, O Lord God of righteousness! ...
Come forth to judge the unjust—
And be Thou the only Ruler of the nations!'
'What a clown!' remarked Nikolai Antonov.
'He didn't get enough of the rod in his young days,' observed the
deacon, appearing on the steps. He had come to inquire what hour it
would please the mistress to fix for the night service.
The same day, learning that Yermil was still in the village, and
would not till early next morning be despatched to the town for the
execution of certain legal formalities, which were intended to check
the arbitrary proceedings of the landowners, but served only as a
source of additional revenue to the functionaries in superintendence of
them, I sought him out, and, for lack of money of my own, handed him a
bundle, in which I had tied up two pocket-handkerchiefs, a shabby pair
of slippers, a comb, an old night-gown, and a perfectly new silk
cravat. Yermil, whom I had to wake up—he was lying on a heap of straw
in the back yard, near the cart—Yermil took my present rather
indifferently, with some hesitation in fact, did not thank me, promptly
poked his head into the straw and fell asleep again. I went home
somewhat disappointed. I had imagined that he would be astonished and
overjoyed at my visit, would see in it a pledge of my magnanimous
intentions for the future—and instead of that ...
'You may say what you like—these people have no feeling,' was my
reflection on my homeward way.
My grandmother, who had for some reason left me in peace the whole
of that memorable day, looked at me suspiciously when I came after
supper to say good-night to her.
'Your eyes are red,' she observed to me in French; 'and there's a
smell of the peasant's hut about you. I am not going to enter into an
examination of what you've been feeling and doing—I should not like to
be obliged to punish you—but I hope you will get over all your
foolishness, and begin to conduct yourself once more in a manner
befitting a well-bred boy. However, we are soon going back to Moscow,
and I shall get you a tutor—as I see you need a man's hand to manage
you. You can go.'
We did, as a fact, go back soon after to Moscow.
Seven years had passed by. We were living as before at Moscow—but I
was by now a student in my second year—and the authority of my
grandmother, who had aged very perceptibly in the last years, no longer
weighed upon me. Of all my fellow-students the one with whom I was on
the friendliest terms was a light-hearted and good-natured youth called
Tarhov. Our habits and our tastes were similar. Tarhov was a great
lover of poetry, and himself wrote verses; while in me the seeds sown
by Punin had not been without fruit. As is often the case with young
people who are very close friends, we had no secrets from one another.
But behold, for several days together I noticed a certain excitement
and agitation in Tarhov.... He disappeared for hours at a time, and I
did not know where he had got to—a thing which had never happened
before. I was on the point of demanding, in the name of friendship, a
full explanation.... He anticipated me.
One day I was sitting in his room.... 'Petya,' he said suddenly,
blushing gaily, and looking me straight in the face, 'I must introduce
you to my muse.'
'Your muse! how queerly you talk! Like a classicist. (Romanticism
was at that time, in 1837, at its full height.) As if I had not known
it ever so long—your muse! Have you written a new poem, or what?'
'You don't understand what I mean,' rejoined Tarhov, still laughing
and blushing. 'I will introduce you to a living muse.'
'Aha! so that's it! But how is she—yours?'
'Why, because ... But hush, I believe it's she coming here.'
There was the light click of hurrying heels, the door opened, and in
the doorway appeared a girl of eighteen, in a chintz cotton gown, with
a black cloth cape on her shoulders, and a black straw hat on her fair,
rather curly hair. On seeing me she was frightened and disconcerted,
and was beating a retreat ... but Tarhov at once rushed to meet her.
'Please, please, Musa Pavlovna, come in! This is my great friend, a
splendid fellow—and the soul of discretion. You've no need to be
afraid of him. Petya,' he turned to me, 'let me introduce my Musa—Musa
Pavlovna Vinogradov, a great friend of mine.'
'How is that ... Musa?' I was beginning.... Tarhov laughed. 'Ah, you
didn't know there was such a name in the calendar? I didn't know it
either, my boy, till I met this dear young lady. Musa! such a charming
name! And suits her so well!'
I bowed again to my comrade's great friend. She left the door, took
two steps forward and stood still. She was very attractive, but I could
not agree with Tarhov's opinion, and inwardly said to myself: 'Well,
she's a strange sort of muse!'
The features of her curved, rosy face were small and delicate; there
was an air of fresh, buoyant youth about all her slender, miniature
figure; but of the muse, of the personification of the muse, I—and not
only I—all the young people of that time had a very different
conception! First of all the muse had infallibly to be dark-haired and
pale. An expression of scornful pride, a bitter smile, a glance of
inspiration, and that 'something'—mysterious, demonic, fateful—that
was essential to our conception of the muse, the muse of Byron, who at
that time held sovereign sway over men's fancies. There was nothing of
that kind to be discerned in the face of the girl who came in. Had I
been a little older and more experienced I should probably have paid
more attention to her eyes, which were small and deep-set, with full
lids, but dark as agate, alert and bright, a thing rare in fair-haired
people. Poetical tendencies I should not have detected in their rapid,
as it were elusive, glance, but hints of a passionate soul, passionate
to self-forgetfulness. But I was very young then.
I held out my hand to Musa Pavlovna—she did not give me hers—she
did not notice my movement; she sat down on the chair Tarhov placed for
her, but did not take off her hat and cape.
She was, obviously, ill at ease; my presence embarrassed her. She
drew deep breaths, at irregular intervals, as though she were gasping
'I've only come to you for one minute, Vladimir Nikolaitch,' she
began—her voice was very soft and deep; from her crimson, almost
childish lips, it seemed rather strange;—'but our madame would not let
me out for more than half an hour. You weren't well the day before
yesterday ... and so, I thought ...'
She stammered and hung her head. Under the shade of her thick, low
brows her dark eyes darted—to and fro—elusively. There are dark,
swift, flashing beetles that flit so in the heat of summer among the
blades of dry grass.
'How good you are, Musa, Musotchka!' cried Tarhov. 'But you must
stay, you must stay a little.... We'll have the samovar in directly.'
'Oh no, Vladimir Nikolaevitch! it's impossible! I must go away this
'You must rest a little, anyway. You're out of breath.... You're
'I'm not tired. It's ... not that ... only ... give me another book;
I've finished this one.' She took out of her pocket a tattered grey
volume of a Moscow edition.
'Of course, of course. Well, did you like it? Roslavlev,'
added Tarhov, addressing me.
'Yes. Only I think Yury Miloslavsky is much better. Our
madame is very strict about books. She says they hinder our working.
For, to her thinking ...'
'But, I say, Yury Miloslavsky's not equal to Pushkin's
Gipsies? Eh? Musa Pavlovna?' Tarhov broke in with a smile.
'No, indeed! The Gipsies ...' she murmured slowly. 'Oh yes,
another thing, Vladimir Nikolaitch; don't come to-morrow ... you know
The girl shrugged her shoulders, and all at once, as though she had
received a sudden shove, got up from her chair.
'Why, Musa, Musotchka,' Tarhov expostulated plaintively. 'Stay a
'No, no, I can't.' She went quickly to the door, took hold of the
'Well, at least, take the book!'
Tarhov rushed towards the girl, but at that instant she darted out
of the room. He almost knocked his nose against the door. 'What a girl!
She's a regular little viper!' he declared with some vexation, and then
sank into thought.
I stayed at Tarhov's. I wanted to find out what was the meaning of
it all. Tarhov was not disposed to be reserved. He told me that the
girl was a milliner; that he had seen her for the first time three
weeks before in a fashionable shop, where he had gone on a commission
for his sister, who lived in the provinces, to buy a hat; that he had
fallen in love with her at first sight, and that next day he had
succeeded in speaking to her in the street; that she had herself, it
seemed, taken rather a fancy to him.
'Only, please, don't you suppose,' he added with warmth,—'don't you
imagine any harm of her. So far, at any rate, there's been nothing of
that sort between us.
'Harm!' I caught him up; 'I've no doubt of that; and I've no doubt
either that you sincerely deplore the fact, my dear fellow! Have
patience—everything will come right'
'I hope so,' Tarhov muttered through his teeth, though with a laugh.
'But really, my boy, that girl ... I tell you—it's a new type, you
know. You hadn't time to get a good look at her. She's a shy
thing!—oo! such a shy thing! and what a will of her own! But that very
shyness is what I like in her. It's a sign of independence! I'm simply
over head and ears, my boy!'
Tarhov fell to talking of his 'charmer,' and even read me the
beginning of a poem entitled: 'My Muse.' His emotional outpourings were
not quite to my taste. I felt secretly jealous of him. I soon left him.
* * * * *
A few days after I happened to be passing through one of the arcades
of the Gostinny Dvor. It was Saturday; there were crowds of people
shopping; on all sides, in the midst of the pushing and crushing, the
shopmen kept shouting to people to buy. Having bought what I wanted, I
was thinking of nothing but getting away from their teasing importunity
as soon as possible—when all at once I halted involuntarily: in a
fruit shop I caught sight of my comrade's charmer—Musa, Musa Pavlovna!
She was standing, profile to me, and seemed to be waiting for
something. After a moment's hesitation I made up my mind to go up to
her and speak. But I had hardly passed through the doorway of the shop
and taken off my cap, when she tottered back dismayed, turned quickly
to an old man in a frieze cloak, for whom the shopman was weighing out
a pound of raisins, and clutched at his arm, as though fleeing to put
herself under his protection. The latter, in his turn, wheeled round
facing her—and, imagine my amazement, I recognised him as Punin!
Yes, it was he; there were his inflamed eyes, his full lips, his
soft, overhanging nose. He had, in fact, changed little during the last
seven years; his face was a little flabbier, perhaps.
'Nikander Vavilitch!' I cried. 'Don't you know me?' Punin started,
opened his mouth, stared at me....
'I haven't the honour,' he was beginning—and all at once he piped
out shrilly: 'The little master of Troitsky (my grandmother's property
was called Troitsky)! Can it be the little master of Troitsky?'
The pound of raisins tumbled out of his hands.
'It really is,' I answered, and, picking up Punin's purchase from
the ground, I kissed him.
He was breathless with delight and excitement; he almost cried,
removed his cap—which enabled me to satisfy myself that the last
traces of hair had vanished from his 'egg'—took a handkerchief out of
it, blew his nose, poked the cap into his bosom with the raisins, put
it on again, again dropped the raisins.... I don't know how Musa was
behaving all this time, I tried not to look at her. I don't imagine
Punin's agitation proceeded from any extreme attachment to my person;
it was simply that his nature could not stand the slightest unexpected
shock. The nervous excitability of these poor devils!
'Come and see us, my dear boy,' he faltered at last; 'you won't be
too proud to visit our humble nest? You're a student, I see ...'
'On the contrary, I shall be delighted, really.'
'Are you independent now?'
'That's capital! How pleased Paramon Semyonitch will be! To-day
he'll be home earlier than usual, and madame lets her, too, off for
Saturdays. But, stop, excuse me, I am quite forgetting myself. Of
course, you don't know our niece!'
I hastened to slip in that I had not yet had the pleasure.
'Of course, of course! How could you know her! Musotchka ... Take
note, my dear sir, this girl's name is Musa—and it's not a nickname,
but her real name ... Isn't that a predestination? Musotchka, I want to
introduce you to Mr. ... Mr. ...'
'B.,' I prompted.
'B.,' he repeated. 'Musotchka, listen! You see before you the most
excellent, most delightful of young men. Fate threw us together when he
was still in years of boyhood! I beg you to look on him as a friend!'
I swung off a low bow. Musa, red as a poppy, flashed a look on me
from under her eyelids, and dropped them immediately.
'Ah!' thought I, 'you 're one of those who in difficult moments
don't turn pale, but red; that must be made a note of.'
'You must be indulgent, she's not a fine lady,' observed Punin, and
he went out of the shop into the street; Musa and I followed him.
* * * * *
The house in which Punin lodged was a considerable distance from the
Gostinny Dvor, being, in fact, in Sadovoy Street. On the way my former
preceptor in poetry had time to communicate a good many details of his
mode of existence. Since the time of our parting, both he and Baburin
had been tossed about holy Russia pretty thoroughly, and had not
long—only a year and a half before—found a permanent home in Moscow.
Baburin had succeeded in becoming head-clerk in the office of a rich
merchant and manufacturer. 'Not a lucrative berth,' Punin observed with
a sigh,—'a lot of work, and not much profit ... but what's one to do?
One must be thankful to get that! I, too, am trying to earn something
by copying and lessons; only my efforts have so far not been crowned
with success. My writing, you perhaps recollect, is old-fashioned, not
in accordance with the tastes of the day; and as regards lessons—what
has been a great obstacle is the absence of befitting attire; moreover,
I greatly fear that in the matter of instruction—in the subject of
Russian literature—I am also not in harmony with the tastes of the
day; and so it comes about that I am turned away.' (Punin laughed his
sleepy, subdued laugh. He had retained his old, somewhat high-flown
manner of speech, and his old weakness for falling into rhyme.) 'All
run after novelties, nothing but innovations! I dare say you, too, do
not honour the old divinities, and fall down before new idols?'
'And you, Nikander Vavilitch, do you really still esteem Heraskov?'
Punin stood still and waved both hands at once. 'In the highest
degree, sir! in the high ... est de ... gree, I do!'
'And you don't read Pushkin? You don't like Pushkin?'
Punin again flung his hands up higher than his head.
'Pushkin? Pushkin is the snake, lying hid in the grass, who is
endowed with the note of the nightingale!'
While Punin and I talked like this, cautiously picking our way over
the unevenly laid brick pavement of so-called 'white-stoned' Moscow—in
which there is not one stone, and which is not white at all—Musa
walked silently beside us on the side further from me. In speaking of
her, I called her 'your niece.' Punin was silent for a little,
scratched his head, and informed me in an undertone that he had called
her so ... merely as a manner of speaking; that she was really no
relation; that she was an orphan picked up and cared for by Baburin in
the town of Voronezh; but that he, Punin, might well call her daughter,
as he loved her no less than a real daughter. I had no doubt that,
though Punin intentionally dropped his voice, Musa could hear all he
said very well; and she was at once angry, and shy, and embarrassed;
and the lights and shades chased each other over her face, and
everything in it was slightly quivering, the eyelids and brows and lips
and narrow nostrils. All this was very charming, and amusing, and
* * * * *
But at last we reached the 'modest nest.' And modest it certainly
was, the nest. It consisted of a small, one-storied house, that seemed
almost sunk into the ground, with a slanting wooden roof, and four
dingy windows in the front. The furniture of the rooms was of the
poorest, and not over tidy, indeed. Between the windows and on the
walls hung about a dozen tiny wooden cages containing larks, canaries,
and siskins. 'My subjects!' Punin pronounced triumphantly, pointing his
finger at them. We had hardly time to get in and look about us, Punin
had hardly sent Musa for the samovar, when Baburin himself came in. He
seemed to me to have aged much more than Punin, though his step was as
firm as ever, and the expression of his face altogether was unchanged;
but he had grown thin and bent, his cheeks were sunken, and his thick
black shock of hair was sprinkled with grey. He did not recognise me,
and showed no particular pleasure when Punin mentioned my name; he did
not even smile with his eyes, he barely nodded; he asked—very
carelessly and drily—whether my granny were living—and that
was all. 'I'm not over-delighted at a visit from a nobleman,' he seemed
to say; 'I don't feel flattered by it.' The republican was a republican
Musa came back; a decrepit little old woman followed her, bringing
in a tarnished samovar. Punin began fussing about, and pressing me to
take things; Baburin sat down to the table, leaned his head on his
hands, and looked with weary eyes about him. At tea, however, he began
to talk. He was dissatisfied with his position. 'A screw—not a man,'
so he spoke of his employer; 'people in a subordinate position are so
much dirt to him, of no consequence whatever; and yet it's not so long
since he was under the yoke himself. Nothing but cruelty and
covetousness. It's a bondage worse than the government's! And all the
trade here rests on swindling and flourishes on nothing else!'
Hearing such dispiriting utterances, Punin sighed expressively,
assented, shook his head up and down, and from side to side; Musa
maintained a stubborn silence.... She was obviously fretted by the
doubt, what I was, whether I was a discreet person or a gossip. And if
I were discreet, whether it was not with some afterthought in my mind.
Her dark, swift, restless eyes fairly flashed to and fro under their
half-drooping lids. Only once she glanced at me, but so inquisitively,
so searchingly, almost viciously ... I positively started. Baburin
scarcely talked to her at all; but whenever he did address her, there
was a note of austere, hardly fatherly, tenderness in his voice.
Punin, on the contrary, was continually joking with Musa; she
responded unwillingly, however. He called her little snow-maiden,
'Why do you give Musa Pavlovna such names?' I asked.
Punin laughed. 'Because she's such a chilly little thing.'
'Sensible,' put in Baburin: 'as befits a young girl.'
'We may call her the mistress of the house,' cried Punin. 'Hey?
Paramon Semyonitch?' Baburin frowned; Musa turned away ... I did not
understand the hint at the time.
So passed two hours ... in no very lively fashion, though Punin did
his best to 'entertain the honourable company.' For instance, he
squatted down in front of the cage of one of the canaries, opened the
door, and commanded: 'On the cupola! Begin the concert!' The canary
fluttered out at once, perched on the cupola, that is to say, on
Punin's bald pate, and turning from side to side, and shaking its
little wings, carolled with all its might. During the whole time the
concert lasted, Punin kept perfectly still, only conducting with his
finger, and half closing his eyes. I could not help roaring with
laughter ... but neither Baburin nor Musa laughed.
Just as I was leaving, Baburin surprised me by an unexpected
question. He wished to ask me, as a man studying at the university,
what sort of person Zeno was, and what were my ideas about him.
'What Zeno?' I asked, somewhat puzzled.
'Zeno, the sage of antiquity. Surely he cannot be unknown to you?'
I vaguely recalled the name of Zeno, as the founder of the school of
Stoics; but I knew absolutely nothing more about him.
'Yes, he was a philosopher,' I pronounced, at last.
'Zeno,' Baburin resumed in deliberate tones, 'was that wise man, who
declared that suffering was not an evil, since fortitude overcomes all
things, and that the good in this world is one: justice; and virtue
itself is nothing else than justice.'
Punin turned a reverent ear.
'A man living here who has picked up a lot of old books, told me
that saying,' continued Baburin; 'it pleased me much. But I see you are
not interested in such subjects.'
Baburin was right. In such subjects I certainly was not interested.
Since I had entered the university, I had become as much of a
republican as Baburin himself. Of Mirabeau, of Robespierre, I would
have talked with zest. Robespierre, indeed ... why, I had hanging over
my writing-table the lithographed portraits of Fouquier-Tinville and
Chalier! But Zeno! Why drag in Zeno?
As he said good-bye to me, Punin insisted very warmly on my visiting
them next day, Sunday; Baburin did not invite me at all, and even
remarked between his teeth, that talking to plain people of nondescript
position could not give me any great pleasure, and would most likely be
disagreeable to my granny. At that word I interrupted him,
however, and gave him to understand that my grandmother had no longer
any authority over me.
'Why, you've not come into possession of the property, have you?'
'No, I haven't,' I answered.
'Well, then, it follows ...' Baburin did not finish his sentence;
but I mentally finished it for him: 'it follows that I'm a boy.'
'Good-bye,' I said aloud, and I retired.
I was just going out of the courtyard into the street ... Musa
suddenly ran out of the house, and slipping a piece of crumpled paper
into my hand, disappeared at once. At the first lamp-post I unfolded
the paper. It turned out to be a note. With difficulty I deciphered the
pale pencil-marks. 'For God's sake,' Musa had written, 'come to-morrow
after matins to the Alexandrovsky garden near the Kutafia tower I shall
wait for you don't refuse me don't make me miserable I simply must see
you.' There were no mistakes in spelling in this note, but neither was
there any punctuation. I returned home in perplexity.
* * * * *
When, a quarter of an hour before the appointed time, next day, I
began to get near the Kutafia tower (it was early in April, the buds
were swelling, the grass was growing greener, and the sparrows were
noisily chirrupping and quarrelling in the bare lilac bushes),
considerably to my surprise, I caught sight of Musa a little to one
side, not far from the fence. She was there before me. I was going
towards her; but she herself came to meet me.
'Let's go to the Kreml wall,' she whispered in a hurried voice,
running her downcast eyes over the ground; 'there are people here.'
We went along the path up the hill.
'Musa Pavlovna,' I was beginning.... But she cut me short at once.
'Please,' she began, speaking in the same jerky and subdued voice,
'don't criticise me, don't think any harm of me. I wrote a letter to
you, I made an appointment to meet you, because ... I was afraid.... It
seemed to me yesterday,—you seemed to be laughing all the time.
Listen,' she added, with sudden energy, and she stopped short and
turned towards me: 'listen; if you tell with whom ... if you mention at
whose room you met me, I'll throw myself in the water, I'll drown
myself, I'll make an end of myself!'
At this point, for the first time, she glanced at me with the
inquisitive, piercing look I had seen before.
'Why, she, perhaps, really ... would do it,' was my thought.
'Really, Musa Pavlovna,' I protested, hurriedly: 'how can you have
such a bad opinion of me? Do you suppose I am capable of betraying my
friend and injuring you? Besides, come to that, there's nothing in your
relations, as far as I'm aware, deserving of censure.... For goodness'
sake, be calm.'
Musa heard me out, without stirring from the spot, or looking at me
'There's something else I ought to tell you,' she began, moving
forward again along the path, 'or else you may think I'm quite mad! I
ought to tell you, that old man wants to marry me!'
'What old man? The bald one? Punin?'
'No—not he! The other ... Paramon Semyonitch.'
'Is it possible? Has he made you an offer?'
'But you didn't consent, of course?'
'Yes, I did consent ... because I didn't understand what I was about
then. Now it's a different matter.'
I flung up my hands. 'Baburin—and you! Why, he must be fifty!'
'He says forty-three. But that makes no difference. If he were
five—and—twenty I wouldn't marry him. Much happiness I should find in
it! A whole week will go by without his smiling once! Paramon
Semyonitch is my benefactor, I am deeply indebted to him; he took care
of me, educated me; I should have been utterly lost but for him; I'm
bound to look on him as a father.... But be his wife! I'd rather die!
I'd rather be in my coffin!'
'Why do you keep talking about death, Musa Pavlovna?'
Musa stopped again.
'Why, is life so sweet, then? Even your friend Vladimir Nikolaitch,
I may say, I've come to love from being wretched and dull: and then
Paramon Semyonitch with his offers of marriage.... Punin, though he
bores me with his verses, he doesn't scare me, anyway; he doesn't make
me read Karamzin in the evenings, when my head's ready to drop off my
shoulders for weariness! And what are these old men to me? They call me
cold, too. With them, is it likely I should be warm? If they try to
make me—I shall go. Paramon Semyonitch himself's always saying:
Freedom! freedom! All right, I want freedom too. Or else it comes to
this! Freedom for every one else, and keeping me in a cage! I'll tell
him so myself. But if you betray me, or drop a hint—remember; they'll
never set eyes on me again!'
Musa stood in the middle of the path.
'They'll never set eyes on me again!' she repeated sharply. This
time, too, she did not raise her eyes to me; she seemed to be aware
that she would infallibly betray herself, would show what was in her
heart, if any one looked her straight in the face.... And that was just
why she did not lift her eyes, except when she was angry or annoyed,
and then she stared straight at the person she was speaking to.... But
her small pretty face was aglow with indomitable resolution.
'Why, Tarhov was right,' flashed through my head; 'this girl is a
'You've no need to be afraid of me,' I declared, at last.
'Truly? Even, if ... You said something about our relations.... But
even if there were ...' she broke off.
'Even in that case, you would have no need to be afraid, Musa
Pavlovna. I am not your judge. Your secret is buried here.' I pointed
to my bosom. 'Believe me, I know how to appreciate ...'
'Have you got my letter?' Musa asked suddenly.
'In my pocket.'
'Give it here ... quick, quick!'
I got out the scrap of paper. Musa snatched it in her rough little
hand, stood still a moment facing me, as though she were going to thank
me; but suddenly started, looked round, and without even a word at
parting, ran quickly down the hill.
I looked in the direction she had taken. At no great distance from
the tower I discerned, wrapped in an 'Almaviva' ('Almavivas' were then
in the height of fashion), a figure which I recognised at once as
'Aha, my boy,' thought I, 'you must have had notice, then, since
you're on the look-out.'
And whistling to myself, I started homewards.
* * * * *
Next morning I had only just drunk my morning tea, when Punin made
his appearance. He came into my room with rather an embarrassed face,
and began making bows, looking about him, and apologising for his
intrusion, as he called it. I made haste to reassure him. I, sinful
man, imagined that Punin had come with the intention of borrowing
money. But he confined himself to asking for a glass of tea with rum in
it, as, luckily, the samovar had not been cleared away. 'It's with some
trepidation and sinking of heart that I have come to see you,' he said,
as he nibbled a lump of sugar. 'You I do not fear; but I stand in awe
of your honoured grandmother! I am abashed too by my attire, as I have
already communicated to you.' Punin passed his finger along the frayed
edge of his ancient coat. 'At home it's no matter, and in the street,
too, it's no harm; but when one finds one's self in gilded palaces,
one's poverty stares one in the face, and one feels confused!' I
occupied two small rooms on the ground floor, and certainly it would
never have entered any one's head to call them palaces, still less
gilded; but Punin apparently was referring to the whole of my
grandmother's house, though that too was by no means conspicuously
sumptuous. He reproached me for not having been to see them the
previous day; 'Paramon Semyonitch,' said he, 'expected you, though he
did declare that you would be sure not to come. And Musotchka, too,
'What? Musa Pavlovna too?' I queried.
'She too. She's a charming girl we have got with us, isn't she? What
do you say?'
'Very charming,' I assented. Punin rubbed his bare head with
'She's a beauty, sir, a pearl or even a diamond—it's the truth I am
telling you.' He bent down quite to my ear. 'Noble blood, too,' he
whispered to me, 'only—you understand—left-handed; the forbidden
fruit was eaten. Well, the parents died, the relations would do nothing
for her, and flung her to the hazards of destiny, that's to say,
despair, dying of hunger! But at that point Paramon Semyonitch steps
forward, known as a deliverer from of old! He took her, clothed her and
cared for her, brought up the poor nestling; and she has blossomed into
our darling! I tell you, a man of the rarest qualities!'
Punin subsided against the back of the armchair, lifted his hands,
and again bending forward, began whispering again, but still more
mysteriously: 'You see Paramon Semyonitch himself too.... Didn't you
know? he too is of exalted extraction—and on the left side, too. They
do say—his father was a powerful Georgian prince, of the line of King
David.... What do you make of that? A few words—but how much is said?
The blood of King David! What do you think of that? And according to
other accounts, the founder of the family of Paramon Semyonitch was an
Indian Shah, Babur. Blue blood! That's fine too, isn't it? Eh?'
'Well?' I queried, 'and was he too, Baburin, flung to the hazards of
Punin rubbed his pate again. 'To be sure he was! And with even
greater cruelty than our little lady! From his earliest childhood
nothing but struggling! And, in fact, I will confess that, inspired by
Ruban, I composed in allusion to this fact a stanza for the portrait of
Paramon Semyonitch. Wait a bit ... how was it? Yes!
'E'en from the cradle fate's remorseless blows
Baburin drove towards the abyss of woes!
But as in darkness gleams the light, so now
The conqueror's laurel wreathes his noble brow!'
Punin delivered these lines in a rhythmic, sing-song voice, with
full rounded vowels, as verses should be read.
'So that's how it is he's a republican!' I exclaimed.
'No, that's not why,' Punin answered simply. 'He forgave his father
long ago; but he cannot endure injustice of any sort; it's the sorrows
of others that trouble him!'
I wanted to turn the conversation on what I had learned from Musa
the day before, that is to say, on Baburin's matrimonial project,—but
I did not know how to proceed. Punin himself got me out of the
'Did you notice nothing?' he asked me suddenly, slily screwing up
his eyes, 'while you were with us? nothing special?'
'Why, was there anything to notice?' I asked in my turn.
Punin looked over his shoulder, as though anxious to satisfy himself
that no one was listening. 'Our little beauty, Musotchka, is shortly to
be a married lady!'
'Madame Baburin,' Punin announced with an effort, and slapping his
knees several times with his open hands, he nodded his head, like a
'Impossible!' I cried, with assumed astonishment. Punin's head
slowly came to rest, and his hands dropped down. 'Why impossible, allow
me to ask?'
'Because Paramon Semyonitch is more fit to be your young lady's
father; because such a difference in age excludes all likelihood of
love—on the girl's side.'
'Excludes?' Punin repeated excitedly. 'But what about gratitude? and
pure affection? and tenderness of feeling? Excludes! You must consider
this: admitting that Musa's a splendid girl; but then to gain Paramon
Semyonitch's affection, to be his comfort, his prop—his spouse, in
short! is that not the loftiest possible happiness even for such a
girl? And she realises it! You should look, turn an attentive eye! In
Paramon Semyonitch's presence Musotchka is all veneration, all tremor
'That's just what's wrong, Nikander Vavilitch, that she is, as you
say, all tremor. If you love any one you don't feel tremors in their
'But with that I can't agree! Here am I, for instance; no one, I
suppose, could love Paramon Semyonitch more than I, but I ... tremble
'Oh, you—that's a different matter.'
'How is it a different matter? how? how?' interrupted Punin. I
simply did not know him; he got hot, and serious, almost angry, and
quite dropped his rhythmic sing-song in speaking. 'No,' he declared; 'I
notice that you have not a good eye for character! No; you can't read
people's hearts!' I gave up contradicting him ... and to give another
turn to the conversation, proposed, for the sake of old times, that we
should read something together.
Punin was silent for a while.
'One of the old poets? The real ones?' he asked at last.
'No; a new one.'
'A new one?' Punin repeated mistrustfully.
'Pushkin,' I answered. I suddenly thought of the Gypsies
which Tarhov had mentioned not long before. There, by the way, is the
ballad about the old husband. Punin grumbled a little, but I sat him
down on the sofa, so that he could listen more comfortably, and began
to read Pushkin's poem. The passage came at last, 'old husband, cruel
husband'; Punin heard the ballad through to the end, and all at once he
got up impulsively.
'I can't,' he pronounced, with an intense emotion, which impressed
even me;—'excuse me; I cannot hear more of that author. He is an
immoral slanderer; he is a liar ... he upsets me. I cannot! Permit me
to cut short my visit to-day.'
I began trying to persuade Punin to remain; but he insisted on
having his own way with a sort of stupid, scared obstinacy: he repeated
several times that he felt upset, and wished to get a breath of fresh
air—and all the while his lips were faintly quivering and his eyes
avoided mine, as though I had wounded him. So he went away. A little
while after, I too went out of the house and set off to see Tarhov.
* * * * *
Without inquiring of any one, with a student's usual lack of
ceremony, I walked straight into his lodgings. In the first room there
was no one. I called Tarhov by name, and receiving no answer, was just
going to retreat; but the door of the adjoining room opened, and my
friend appeared. He looked at me rather queerly, and shook hands
without speaking. I had come to him to repeat all I had heard from
Punin; and though I felt at once that I had called on Tarhov at the
wrong moment, still, after talking a little about extraneous matters, I
ended by informing him of Baburin's intentions in regard to Musa. This
piece of news did not, apparently, surprise him much; he quietly sat
down at the table, and fixing his eyes intently upon me, and keeping
silent as before, gave to his features an expression ... an expression,
as though he would say: 'Well, what more have you to tell? Come, out
with your ideas!' I looked more attentively into his face.... It struck
me as eager, a little ironical, a little arrogant even. But that did
not hinder me from bringing out my ideas. On the contrary. 'You're
showing off,' was my thought; 'so I am not going to spare you!' And
there and then I proceeded straightway to enlarge upon the mischief of
yielding to impulsive feelings, upon the duty of every man to respect
the freedom and personal life of another man—in short, I proceeded to
enunciate useful and appropriate counsel. Holding forth in this manner,
I walked up and down the room, to be more at ease. Tarhov did not
interrupt me, and did not stir from his seat; he only played with his
fingers on his chin.
'I know,' said I ... (Exactly what was my motive in speaking so, I
have no clear idea myself—envy, most likely; it was not devotion to
morality, anyway!) 'I know,' said I, 'that it's no easy matter, no
joking matter; I am sure you love Musa, and that Musa loves you—that
it is not a passing fancy on your part.... But, see, let us suppose!
(Here I folded my arms on my breast.) ... Let us suppose you gratify
your passion—what is to follow? You won't marry her, you know. And at
the same time you are wrecking the happiness of an excellent, honest
man, her benefactor—and—who knows? (here my face expressed at the
same time penetration and sorrow)—possibly her own happiness too....'
And so on, and so on!
For about a quarter of an hour my discourse flowed on. Tarhov was
still silent. I began to be disconcerted by this silence. I glanced at
him from time to time, not so much to satisfy myself as to the
impression my words were making on him, as to find out why he neither
objected nor agreed, but sat like a deaf mute. At last I fancied that
there was ... yes, there certainly was a change in his face. It began
to show signs of uneasiness, agitation, painful agitation.... Yet,
strange to say, the eager, bright, laughing something, which had struck
me at my first glance at Tarhov, still did not leave that agitated,
that troubled face! I could not make up my mind whether or no to
congratulate myself on the success of my sermon, when Tarhov suddenly
got up, and pressing both my hands, said, speaking very quickly, 'Thank
you, thank you. You're right, of course, ... though, on the other side,
one might observe ... What is your Baburin you make so much of, after
all? An honest fool—and nothing more! You call him a republican—and
he's simply a fool! Oo! That's what he is! All his republicanism simply
means that he can never get on anywhere!'
'Ah! so that's your idea! A fool! can never get on!—but let me tell
you,' I pursued, with sudden heat, 'let me tell you, my dear Vladimir
Nikolaitch, that in these days to get on nowhere is a sign of a fine, a
noble nature! None but worthless people—bad people—get on anywhere
and accommodate themselves to everything. You say Baburin is an honest
fool! Why, is it better, then, to your mind, to be dishonest and
'You distort my words!' cried Tarhov. 'I only wanted to explain how
I understand that person. Do you think he's such a rare specimen? Not a
bit of it! I've met other people like him in my time. A man sits with
an air of importance, silent, obstinate, angular.... O-ho-ho! say you.
It shows that there's a great deal in him! But there's nothing in him,
not one idea in his head—nothing but a sense of his own dignity.'
'Even if there is nothing else, that's an honourable thing,' I broke
in. 'But let me ask where you have managed to study him like this? You
don't know him, do you? Or are you describing him ... from what Musa
Tarhov shrugged his shoulders. 'Musa and I ... have other things to
talk of. I tell you what,' he added, his whole body quivering with
impatience,—'I tell you what: if Baburin has such a noble and honest
nature, how is it he doesn't see that Musa is not a fit match for him?
It's one of two things: either he knows that what he's doing to her is
something of the nature of an outrage, all in the name of gratitude ...
and if so, what about his honesty?—or he doesn't realise it ... and in
that case, what can one call him but a fool?'
I was about to reply, but Tarhov again clutched my hands, and again
began talking in a hurried voice. 'Though ... of course ... I confess
you are right, a thousand times right.... You are a true friend ... but
now leave me alone, please.'
I was puzzled. 'Leave you alone?'
'Yes. I must, don't you see, think over all you've just said,
thoroughly.... I have no doubt you are right ... but now leave me
'You 're in such a state of excitement ...' I was beginning.
'Excitement? I?' Tarhov laughed, but instantly pulled himself up.
'Yes, of course I am. How could I help being? You say yourself it's no
joking matter. Yes; I must think about it ... alone.' He was still
squeezing my hands. 'Good-bye, my dear fellow, good-bye!'
'Good-bye,' I repeated. 'Good-bye, old boy!' As I was going away I
flung a last glance at Tarhov. He seemed pleased. At what? At the fact
that I, like a true friend and comrade, had pointed out the danger of
the way upon which he had set his foot—or that I was going? Ideas of
the most diverse kind were floating in my head the whole day till
evening—till the very instant when I entered the house occupied by
Punin and Baburin, for I went to see them the same day. I am bound to
confess that some of Tarhov's phrases had sunk deep into my soul ...
and were ringing in my ears.... In truth, was it possible Baburin ...
was it possible he did not see she was not a fit match for him?
But could this possibly be: Baburin, the self-sacrificing
Baburin—an honest fool!
* * * * *
Punin had said, when he came to see me, that I had been expected
there the day before. That may have been so, but on this day, it is
certain, no one expected me.... I found every one at home, and every
one was surprised at my visit. Baburin and Punin were both unwell:
Punin had a headache, and he was lying curled up on the sofa, with his
head tied up in a spotted handkerchief, and strips of cucumber applied
to his temples. Baburin was suffering from a bilious attack; all
yellow, almost dusky, with dark rings round his eyes, with scowling
brow and unshaven chin—he did not look much like a bridegroom! I tried
to go away.... But they would not let me go, and even made tea. I spent
anything but a cheerful evening. Musa, it is true, had no ailment, and
was less shy than usual too, but she was obviously vexed, angry.... At
last she could not restrain herself, and, as she handed me a cup of
tea, she whispered hurriedly: 'You can say what you like, you may try
your utmost, you won't make any difference.... So there!' I looked at
her in astonishment, and, seizing a favourable moment, asked her, also
in a whisper, 'What's the meaning of your words?' 'I'll tell you,' she
answered, and her black eyes, gleaming angrily under her frowning
brows, were fastened for an instant on my face, and turned away at
once: 'the meaning is that I heard all you said there to-day, and thank
you for nothing, and things won't be as you 'd have them, anyway.' 'You
were there,' broke from me unconsciously.... But at this point
Baburin's attention was caught, and he glanced in our direction. Musa
walked away from me.
Ten minutes later she managed to come near me again. She seemed to
enjoy saying bold and dangerous things to me, and saying them in the
presence of her protector, under his vigilant eye, only exercising
barely enough caution not to arouse his suspicions. It is well known
that walking on the brink, on the very edge, of the precipice is
woman's favourite pastime. 'Yes, I was there,' whispered Musa, without
any change of countenance, except that her nostrils were faintly
quivering and her lips twitching. 'Yes, and if Paramon Semyonitch asks
me what I am whispering about with you, I'd tell him this minute. What
do I care?'
'Be more careful,' I besought her. 'I really believe they are
'I tell you, I'm quite ready to tell them everything. And who's
noticing? One's stretching his neck off the pillow, like a sick duck,
and hears nothing; and the other's deep in philosophy. Don't you be
afraid!' Musa's voice rose a little, and her cheeks gradually flushed a
sort of malignant, dusky red; and this suited her marvellously, and
never had she been so pretty. As she cleared the table, and set the
cups and saucers in their places, she moved swiftly about the room;
there was something challenging about her light, free and easy
movement. 'You may criticise me as you like,' she seemed to say; 'but
I'm going my own way, and I'm not afraid of you.'
I cannot disguise the fact that I found Musa bewitching just that
evening. 'Yes,' I mused; 'she's a little spitfire—she's a new type....
She's—exquisite. Those hands know how to deal a blow, I dare say....
What of it! No matter!'
'Paramon Semyonitch,' she cried suddenly, 'isn't a republic an
empire in which every one does as he chooses?'
'A republic is not an empire,' answered Baburin, raising his head,
and contracting his brows; 'it is a ... form of society in which
everything rests on law and justice.'
'Then,' Musa pursued, 'in a republic no one can oppress any one
'And every one is free to dispose of himself?'
'Ah! that's all I wanted to know.'
'Why do you want to know?'
'Oh, I wanted to—I wanted you to tell me that.'
'Our young lady is anxious to learn,' Punin observed from the sofa.
When I went out into the passage Musa accompanied me, not, of
course, from politeness, but with the same malicious intent. I asked
her, as I took leave, 'Can you really love him so much?'
'Whether I love him, or whether I don't, that's my affair,'
she answered. 'What is to be, will be.'
'Mind what you're about; don't play with fire ... you'll get burnt.'
'Better be burnt than frozen. You ... with your good advice! And how
can you tell he won't marry me? How do you know I so particularly want
to get married? If I am ruined ... what business is it of yours?'
She slammed the door after me.
I remember that on the way home I reflected with some pleasure that
my friend Vladimir Tarhov might find things rather hot for him with his
new type.... He ought to have to pay something for his happiness!
That he would be happy, I was—regretfully—unable to doubt.
Three days passed by. I was sitting in my room at my writing-table,
and not so much working as getting myself ready for lunch.... I heard a
rustle, lifted my head, and I was stupefied. Before me—rigid,
terrible, white as chalk, stood an apparition ... Punin. His
half-closed eyes were looking at me, blinking slowly; they expressed a
senseless terror, the terror of a frightened hare, and his arms hung at
his sides like sticks.
'Nikander Vavilitch! what is the matter with you? How did you come
here? Did no one see you? What has happened? Do speak!'
'She has run away,' Punin articulated in a hoarse, hardly audible
'What do you say?'
'She has run away,' he repeated.
'Musa. She went away in the night, and left a note.'
'Yes. “I thank you,” she said, “but I am not coming back again.
Don't look for me.” We ran up and down; we questioned the cook; she
knew nothing. I can't speak loud; you must excuse me. I've lost my
'Musa Pavlovna has left you!' I exclaimed. 'Nonsense! Mr. Baburin
must be in despair. What does he intend to do now?'
'He has no intention of doing anything. I wanted to run to the
Governor-general: he forbade it. I wanted to give information to the
police; he forbade that too, and got very angry. He says, “She's free.”
He says, “I don't want to constrain her.” He has even gone to work, to
his office. But he looks more dead than alive. He loved her
terribly....Oh, oh, we both loved her!'
Here Punin for the first time showed that he was not a wooden image,
but a live man; he lifted both his fists in the air, and brought them
down on his pate, which shone like ivory.
'Ungrateful girl!' he groaned; 'who was it gave you food and drink,
clothed you, and brought you up? who cared for you, would have given
all his life, all his soul ... And you have forgotten it all? To cast
me off, truly, were no great matter, but Paramon Semyonitch, Paramon
I begged him to sit down, to rest.
Punin shook his head. 'No, I won't. I have come to you ... I don't
know what for. I'm like one distraught; to stay at home alone is
fearful; what am I to do with myself? I stand in the middle of the
room, shut my eyes, and call, “Musa! Musotchka!” That's the way to go
out of one's mind. But no, why am I talking nonsense? I know why I have
come to you. You know, the other day you read me that thrice-accursed
poem ... you remember, where there is talk of an old husband. What did
you do that for? Did you know something then ... or guessed something?'
Punin glanced at me. 'Piotr Petrovitch,' he cried suddenly, and he
began trembling all over, 'you know, perhaps, where she is. Kind
friend, tell me whom she has gone to!'
I was disconcerted, and could not help dropping my eyes....
'Perhaps she said something in her letter,' I began....
'She said she was leaving us because she loved some one else! Dear,
good friend, you know, surely, where she is? Save her, let us go to
her; we will persuade her. Only think what a man she's bringing to
Punin all at once flushed crimson, the blood seemed to rush to his
head, he plumped heavily down on his knees. 'Save us, friend, let us go
My servant appeared in the doorway, and stood still in amazement.
I had no little trouble to get Punin on to his feet again, to
convince him that, even if I did suspect something, still it would not
do to act like that, on the spur of the moment, especially both
together—that would only spoil all our efforts—that I was ready to do
my best, but would not answer for anything. Punin did not oppose me,
nor did he indeed hear me; he only repeated from time to time in his
broken voice, 'Save her, save her and Paramon Semyonitch.' At last he
began to cry. 'Tell me at least one thing,' he asked ... 'is he
'Yes, he is young,' I answered.
'He is young,' repeated Punin, smearing the tears over his cheeks;
'and she is young.... It's from that that all the trouble's sprung!'
This rhyme came by chance; poor Punin was in no mood for versifying.
I would have given a good deal to hear his rhapsodical eloquence again,
or even his almost noiseless laugh.... Alas! his eloquence was quenched
for ever, and I never heard his laugh again.
I promised to let him know, as soon as I should find out anything
positive.... Tarhov's name I did not, however, mention. Punin suddenly
collapsed completely. 'Very good, very good, sir, thank you,' he said
with a pitiful face, using the word 'sir,' which he had never done
before; 'only mind, sir, do not say anything to Paramon Semyonitch ...
or he'll be angry. In one word, he has forbidden it. Good-bye, sir.'
As he got up and turned his back to me, Punin struck me as such a
poor feeble creature, that I positively marvelled; he limped with both
legs, and doubled up at each step....
'It's a bad look-out. It's the end of him, that's what it means,' I
* * * * *
Though I had promised Punin to trace Musa, yet as I set off the same
day to Tarhov's, I had not the slightest expectation of learning
anything, as I considered it certain that either I should not find him
at home, or that he would refuse to see me. My supposition turned out
to be a mistaken one. I found Tarhov at home; he received me, and I
found out indeed all I wanted to know; but there was nothing gained by
that. Directly I crossed the threshold of his door, Tarhov came
resolutely, rapidly, to meet me, and his eyes sparkling and glowing,
his face grown handsomer and radiant, he said firmly and briskly:
'Listen, Petya, my boy; I guess what you've come for, and what you want
to talk about; but I give you warning, if you say a single word about
her, or about her action, or about what, according to you, is the
course dictated to me by common sense, we're friends no longer, we're
not even acquainted, and I shall beg you to treat me as a stranger.'
I looked at Tarhov; he was quivering all over inwardly, like a
tightly drawn harpstring; he was tingling all over, hardly could he
hold back the tide of brimming youth and passion; violent, ecstatic
happiness had burst into his soul, and had taken full possession of
him—and he of it.
* * * * *
'Is that your final decision?' I pronounced mournfully.
'Yes, Petya, my boy, it's final.'
'In that case, there's nothing for me but to say good-bye.'
Tarhov faintly dropped his eyelids.... He was too happy at that
'Good-bye, Petya, old boy,' he said, a little through his nose, with
a candid smile and a gay flash of all his white teeth.
What was I to do? I left him to his 'happiness.' As I slammed the
door after me, the other door of the room slammed also—I heard it.
* * * * *
It was with a heavy heart that I trudged off next day to see my
luckless acquaintances. I secretly hoped—such is human weakness—that
I should not find them at home, and again I was mistaken. Both were at
home. The change that had taken place in them during the last three
days must have struck any one. Punin looked ghastly white and flabby.
His talkativeness had completely vanished. He spoke listlessly, feebly,
still in the same husky voice, and looked somehow lost and bewildered.
Baburin, on the contrary, seemed shrunk into himself, and blacker than
ever; taciturn at the best of times, he uttered nothing now but a few
abrupt sounds; an expression of stony severity seemed to have frozen on
I felt it impossible to be silent; but what was there to say? I
confined myself to whispering to Punin, 'I have discovered nothing, and
my advice to you is to give up all hope.' Punin glanced at me with his
swollen, red little eyes—the only red left in his face—muttered
something inaudible, and hobbled away. Baburin most likely guessed what
I had been speaking about to Punin, and opening his lips, which were
tightly compressed, as though glued together, he pronounced, in a
deliberate voice, 'My dear sir, since your last visit to us, something
disagreeable has happened to us; our young friend, Musa Pavlovna
Vinogradov, finding it no longer convenient to live with us, has
decided to leave us, and has given us a written communication to that
effect. Not considering that we have any right to hinder her doing so,
we have left her to act according to her own views of what is best. We
trust that she may be happy,' he added, with some effort; 'and I humbly
beg you not to allude to the subject, as any such references are
useless, and even painful.'
'So he too, like Tarhov, forbids my speaking of Musa,' was the
thought that struck me, and I could not help wondering inwardly. He
might well prize Zeno so highly. I wished to impart to him some facts
about that sage, but my tongue would not form the words, and it did
I soon went about my business. At parting neither Punin nor Baburin
said, 'Till we meet!' both with one voice pronounced, 'Good-bye.'
Punin even returned me a volume of the Telegraph I had
brought him, as much as to say, 'he had no need of anything of that
A week later I had a curious encounter. An early spring had set in
abruptly; at midday the heat rose to eighteen degrees Reaumur.
Everything was turning green, and shooting up out of the spongy, damp
earth. I hired a horse at the riding-school, and went out for a ride
into the outskirts of the town, towards the Vorobyov hills. On the road
I was met by a little cart, drawn by a pair of spirited ponies,
splashed with mud up to their ears, with plaited tails, and red ribbons
in their manes and forelocks. Their harness was such as sportsmen
affect, with copper discs and tassels; they were being driven by a
smart young driver, in a blue tunic without sleeves, a yellow striped
silk shirt, and a low felt hat with peacock's feathers round the crown.
Beside him sat a girl of the artisan or merchant class, in a flowered
silk jacket, with a big blue handkerchief on her head—and she was
simply bubbling over with mirth. The driver was laughing too. I drew my
horse on one side, but did not, however, take particular notice of the
swiftly passing, merry couple, when, all at once, the young man shouted
to his ponies.... Why, that was Tarhov's voice! I looked round.... Yes,
it was he; unmistakably he, dressed up as a peasant, and beside
him—wasn't it Musa?
But at that instant their ponies quickened their pace, and they were
out of my sight in a minute. I tried to put my horse into a gallop in
pursuit of them, but it was an old riding school hack, that shambled
from side to side as it moved; it went more slowly galloping than
'Enjoy yourselves, my dear friends!' I muttered through my teeth.
I ought to observe that I had not seen Tarhov during the whole week,
though I had been three times to his rooms. He was never at home.
Baburin and Punin I had not seen either.... I had not been to see them.
I caught cold on my ride; though it was very warm, there was a
piercing wind. I was dangerously ill, and when I recovered I went with
my grandmother into the country 'to feed up,' by the doctor's advice. I
did not get to Moscow again; in the autumn I was transferred to the
Not seven, but fully twelve years had passed by, and I was in my
thirty-second year. My grandmother had long been dead; I was living in
Petersburg, with a post in the Department of Home Affairs. Tarhov I had
lost sight of; he had gone into the army, and lived almost always in
the provinces. We had met twice, as old friends, glad to see each
other; but we had not touched on the past in our talk. At the time of
our last meeting he was, if I remember right, already a married man.
One sultry summer day I was sauntering along Gorohov Street, cursing
my official duties for keeping me in Petersburg, and the heat and
stench and dust of the city. A funeral barred my way. It consisted of a
solitary car, that is, to be accurate, of a decrepit hearse, on which a
poor-looking wooden coffin, half-covered with a threadbare black cloth,
was shaking up and down as it was jolted violently over the uneven
pavement. An old man with a white head was walking alone after the
I looked at him.... His face seemed familiar.... He too turned his
eyes upon me.... Merciful heavens! it was Baburin! I took off my hat,
went up to him, mentioned my name, and walked along beside him.
'Whom are you burying?' I asked.
'Nikander Vavilitch Punin,' he answered.
I felt, I knew beforehand, that he would utter that name, and yet it
set my heart aching. I felt melancholy, and yet I was glad that chance
had enabled me to pay my last respects to my old friend....
'May I go with you, Paramon Semyonitch?'
'You may.... I was following him alone; now there'll be two of us.'
Our walk lasted more than an hour. My companion moved forward,
without lifting his eyes or opening his lips. He had become quite an
old man since I had seen him last; his deeply furrowed, copper-coloured
face stood out sharply against his white hair. Signs of a life of toil
and suffering, of continual struggle, could be seen in Baburin's whole
figure; want and poverty had worked cruel havoc with him. When
everything was over, when what was Punin had disappeared for ever in
the damp ... yes, undoubtedly damp earth of the Smolensky cemetery,
Baburin, after standing a couple of minutes with bowed, uncovered head
before the newly risen mound of sandy clay, turned to me his emaciated,
as it were embittered, face, his dry, sunken eyes, thanked me grimly,
and was about to move away; but I detained him.
'Where do you live, Paramon Semyonitch? Let me come and see you. I
had no idea you were living in Petersburg. We could recall old days,
and talk of our dead friend.'
Baburin did not answer me at once.
'It's two years since I found my way to Petersburg,' he observed at
last; 'I live at the very end of the town. However, if you really care
to visit me, come.' He gave me his address. 'Come in the evening; in
the evening we are always at home ... both of us.'
'Both of you?'
'I am married. My wife is not very well to-day, and that's why she
did not come too. Though, indeed, it's quite enough for one person to
go through this empty formality, this ceremony. As if anybody believed
in it all!'
I was a little surprised at Baburin's last words, but I said
nothing, called a cab, and proposed to Baburin to take him home; but he
* * * * *
The same day I went in the evening to see him. All the way there I
was thinking of Punin. I recalled how I had met him the first time, and
how ecstatic and amusing he was in those days; and afterwards in Moscow
how subdued he had grown—especially the last time I saw him; and now
he had made his last reckoning with life;—life is in grim earnest, it
seems! Baburin was living in the Viborgsky quarter, in a little house
which reminded me of the Moscow 'nest': the Petersburg abode was almost
shabbier in appearance. When I went into his room he was sitting on a
chair in a corner with his hands on his knees; a tallow candle, burning
low, dimly lighted up his bowed, white head. He heard the sound of my
footsteps, started up, and welcomed me more warmly than I had expected.
A few moments later his wife came in; I recognised her at once as
Musa—and only then understood why Baburin had invited me to come; he
wanted to show me that he had after all come by his own.
Musa was greatly changed—in face, in voice, and in manners; but her
eyes were changed most of all. In old times they had darted about like
live creatures, those malicious, beautiful eyes; they had gleamed
stealthily, but brilliantly; their glance had pierced, like a
pin-prick.... Now they looked at one directly, calmly, steadily; their
black centres had lost their lustre. 'I am broken in, I am tame, I am
good,' her soft and dull gaze seemed to say. Her continued, submissive
smile told the same story. And her dress, too, was subdued; brown, with
little spots on it. She came up to me, asked me whether I knew her. She
obviously felt no embarrassment, and not because she had lost a sense
of shame or memory of the past, but simply because all petty
self-consciousness had left her.
Musa talked a great deal about Punin, talked in an even voice, which
too had lost its fire. I learned that of late years he had become very
feeble, had almost sunk into childishness, so much so that he was
miserable if he had not toys to play with; they persuaded him, it is
true, that he made them out of waste stuff for sale ... but he really
played with them himself. His passion for poetry, however, never died
out, and he kept his memory for nothing but verses; a few days before
his death he recited a passage from the Rossiad; but Pushkin he
feared, as children fear bogies. His devotion to Baburin had also
remained undiminished; he worshipped him as much as ever, and even at
the last, wrapped about by the chill and dark of the end, he had
faltered with halting tongue, 'benefactor!' I learned also from Musa
that soon after the Moscow episode, it had been Baburin's fate once
more to wander all over Russia, continually tossed from one private
situation to another; that in Petersburg, too, he had been again in a
situation, in a private business, which situation he had, however, been
obliged to leave a few days before, owing to some unpleasantness with
his employer: Baburin had ventured to stand up for the workpeople....
The invariable smile, with which Musa accompanied her words, set me
musing mournfully; it put the finishing touch to the impression made on
me by her husband's appearance. They had hard work, the two of them, to
make a bare living—there was no doubt of it. He took very little part
in our conversation; he seemed more preoccupied than grieved....
Something was worrying him.
'Paramon Semyonitch, come here,' said the cook, suddenly appearing
in the doorway.
'What is it? what's wanted?' he asked in alarm.
'Come here,' the cook repeated insistently and meaningly. Baburin
buttoned up his coat and went out.
When I was left alone with Musa, she looked at me with a somewhat
changed glance, and observed in a voice which was also changed, and
with no smile: 'I don't know, Piotr Petrovitch, what you think of me
now, but I dare say you remember what I used to be.... I was
self-confident, light-hearted ... and not good; I wanted to live for my
own pleasure. But I want to tell you this: when I was abandoned, and
was like one lost, and was only waiting for God to take me, or to pluck
up spirit to make an end of myself,—once more, just as in Voronezh, I
met with Paramon Semyonitch—and he saved me once again.... Not a word
that could wound me did I hear from him, not a word of reproach; he
asked nothing of me—I was not worthy of that; but he loved me ... and
I became his wife. What was I to do? I had failed of dying; and I could
not live either after my own choice....What was I to do with myself?
Even so—it was a mercy to be thankful for. That is all.'
She ceased, turned away for an instant ... the same submissive smile
came back to her lips. 'Whether life's easy for me, you needn't ask,'
was the meaning I fancied now in that smile.
The conversation passed to ordinary subjects. Musa told me that
Punin had left a cat that he had been very fond of, and that ever since
his death she had gone up to the attic and stayed there, mewing
incessantly, as though she were calling some one ... the neighbours
were very much scared, and fancied that it was Punin's soul that had
passed into the cat.
'Paramon Semyonitch is worried about something,' I said at last.
'Oh, you noticed it?'—Musa sighed. 'He cannot help being worried. I
need hardly tell you that Paramon Semyonitch has remained faithful to
his principles.... The present condition of affairs can but strengthen
them.' (Musa expressed herself quite differently now from in the old
days in Moscow; there was a literary, bookish flavour in her phrases.)
'I don't know, though, whether I can rely upon you, and how you will
'Why should you imagine you cannot rely upon me?'
'Well, you are in the government service—you are an official.'
'Well, what of that?'
'You are, consequently, loyal to the government.'
I marvelled inwardly ... at Musa's innocence. 'As to my attitude to
the government, which is not even aware of my existence, I won't
enlarge upon that,' I observed; 'but you may set your mind at rest. I
will make no bad use of your confidence. I sympathise with your
husband's ideas ... more than you suppose.'
Musa shook her head.
'Yes; that's all so,' she began, not without hesitation; 'but you
see it's like this. Paramon Semyonitch's ideas will shortly, it may be,
find expression in action. They can no longer be hidden under a bushel.
There are comrades whom we cannot now abandon ...'
Musa suddenly ceased speaking, as though she had bitten her tongue.
Her last words had amazed and a little alarmed me. Most likely my face
showed what I was feeling—and Musa noticed it.
As I have said already, our interview took place in the year 1849.
Many people still remember what a disturbed and difficult time that
was, and by what incidents it was signalised in St. Petersburg. I had
been struck myself by certain peculiarities in Baburin's behaviour, in
his whole demeanour. Twice he had referred to governmental action, to
personages in high authority, with such intense bitterness and hatred,
with such loathing, that I had been dumbfoundered....
'Well?' he asked me suddenly: 'did you set your peasants free?'
I was obliged to confess I had not.
'Why, I suppose your granny's dead, isn't she?'
I was obliged to admit that she was.
'To be sure, you noble gentlemen,' Baburin muttered between his
teeth, '... use other men's hands ... to poke up your fire ... that's
what you like.'
In the most conspicuous place in his room hung the well-known
lithograph portrait of Belinsky; on the table lay a volume of the old
Polar Star, edited by Bestuzhev.
A long time passed, and Baburin did not come back after the cook had
called him away. Musa looked several times uneasily towards the door by
which he had gone out. At last she could bear it no longer; she got up,
and with an apology she too went out by the same door. A quarter of an
hour later she came back with her husband; the faces of both, so at
least I thought, looked troubled. But all of a sudden Baburin's face
assumed a different, an intensely bitter, almost frenzied expression.
'What will be the end of it?' he began all at once in a jerky,
sobbing voice, utterly unlike him, while his wild eyes shifted
restlessly about him. 'One goes on living and living, and hoping that
maybe it'll be better, that one will breathe more freely; but it's
quite the other way—everything gets worse and worse! They have
squeezed us right up to the wall! In my youth I bore all with
patience; they ... maybe ... beat me ... even ... yes!' he added,
turning sharply round on his heels and swooping down as it were, upon
me: 'I, a man of full age, was subjected to corporal punishment ...
yes;—of other wrongs I will not speak.... But is there really nothing
before us but to go back to those old times again? The way they are
treating the young people now! ... Yes, it breaks down all endurance at
last.... It breaks it down! Yes! Wait a bit!'
I had never seen Baburin in such a condition. Musa turned positively
white.... Baburin suddenly cleared his throat, and sank down into a
seat. Not wishing to constrain either him or Musa by my presence, I
decided to go, and was just saying good-bye to them, when the door into
the next room suddenly opened, and a head appeared.... It was not the
cook's head, but the dishevelled and terrified-looking head of a young
'Something's wrong, Baburin, something's wrong!' he faltered
hurriedly, then vanished at once on perceiving my unfamiliar figure.
Baburin rushed after the young man. I pressed Musa's hand warmly,
and withdrew, with presentiments of evil in my heart.
'Come to-morrow,' she whispered anxiously.
'I certainly will come,' I answered.
* * * * *
I was still in bed next morning, when my man handed me a letter from
'Dear Piotr Petrovitch!' she wrote: 'Paramon Semyonitch has been
this night arrested by the police and carried off to the fortress, or I
don't know where; they did not tell me. They ransacked all our papers,
sealed up a great many, and took them away with them. It has been the
same with our books and letters. They say a mass of people have been
arrested in the town. You can fancy how I feel. It is well Nikander
Vavilitch did not live to see it! He was taken just in time. Advise me
what I am to do. For myself I am not afraid—I shall not die of
starvation—but the thought of Paramon Semyonitch gives me no rest.
Come, please, if only you are not afraid to visit people in our
* * * * *
Half an hour later I was with Musa. On seeing me she held out her
hand, and, though she did not utter a word, a look of gratitude flitted
over her face. She was wearing the same clothes as on the previous day;
there was every sign that she had not been to bed or slept all night.
Her eyes were red, but from sleeplessness, not from tears. She had not
been crying. She was in no mood for weeping. She wanted to act, wanted
to struggle with the calamity that had fallen upon them: the old,
energetic, self-willed Musa had risen up in her again. She had no time
even to be indignant, though she was choking with indignation. How to
assist Baburin, to whom to appeal so as to soften his lot—she could
think of nothing else. She wanted to go instantly, ... to petition, ...
demand.... But where to go, whom to petition, what to demand—this was
what she wanted to hear from me, this was what she wanted to consult me
I began by counselling her ... to have patience. For the first
moment there was nothing left to be done but to wait, and, as far as
might be, to make inquiries; and to take any decisive step now when the
affair had scarcely begun, and hardly yet taken shape, would be simply
senseless, irrational. To hope for any success was irrational, even if
I had been a person of much more importance and influence, ... but what
could I, a petty official, do? As for her, she was absolutely without
any powerful friends....
It was no easy matter to make all this plain to her ... but at last
she understood my arguments; she understood, too, that I was not
prompted by egoistic feeling, when I showed her the uselessness of all
efforts. 'But tell me, Musa Pavlovna,' I began, when she sank at last
into a chair (till then she had been standing up, as though on the
point of setting off at once to the aid of Baburin),'how Paramon
Semyonitch, at his age, comes to be mixed up in such an affair? I feel
sure that there are none but young people implicated in it, like the
one who came in yesterday to warn you....'
'Those young people are our friends!' cried Musa, and her eyes
flashed and darted as of old. Something strong, irrepressible, seemed,
as it were, to rise up from the bottom of her soul, ... and I suddenly
recalled the expression 'a new type,' which Tarhov had once used of
her. 'Years are of no consequence when it is a matter of political
principles!' Musa laid a special stress on these last two words. One
might fancy that in all her sorrow it was not unpleasing to her to show
herself before me in this new, unlooked-for character—in the character
of a cultivated and mature woman, fit wife of a republican! ... 'Some
old men are younger than some young ones,' she pursued, 'more capable
of sacrifice.... But that's not the point.'
'I think, Musa Pavlovna,' I observed, 'that you are exaggerating a
little. Knowing the character of Paramon Semyonitch, I should have felt
sure beforehand that he would sympathise with every ... sincere
impulse; but, on the other hand, I have always regarded him as a man of
sense.... Surely he cannot fail to realise all the impracticability,
all the absurdity of conspiracies in Russia? In his position, in his
'Oh, of course,' Musa interrupted, with bitterness in her voice, 'he
is a working man; and in Russia it is only permissible for noblemen to
take part in conspiracies, ... as, for instance, in that of the
fourteenth of December, ... that's what you meant to say.'
'In that case, what do you complain of now?' almost broke from my
lips, ... but I restrained myself. 'Do you consider that the result of
the fourteenth of December was such as to encourage other such
attempts?' I said aloud.
Musa frowned. 'It is no good talking to you about it,' was what I
read in her downcast face.
'Is Paramon Semyonitch very seriously compromised?' I ventured to
ask her. Musa made no reply.... A hungry, savage mewing was heard from
Musa started. 'Ah, it is a good thing Nikander Vavilitch did not see
all this!' she moaned almost despairingly. 'He did not see how
violently in the night they seized his benefactor, our
benefactor—maybe, the best and truest man in the whole world,—he did
not see how they treated that noble man at his age, how rudely they
addressed him, ... how they threatened him, and the threats they used
to him!—only because he was a working man! That young officer, too,
was no doubt just such an unprincipled, heartless wretch as I have
known in my life....'
Musa's voice broke. She was quivering all over like a leaf.
Her long-suppressed indignation broke out at last; old memories
stirred up, brought to the surface by the general tumult of her soul,
showed themselves alive within her.... But the conviction I carried off
at that moment was that the 'new type' was still the same, still the
same passionate, impulsive nature.... Only the impulses by which Musa
was carried away were not the same as in the days of her youth. What on
my first visit I had taken for resignation, for meekness, and what
really was so—the subdued, lustreless glance, the cold voice, the
quietness and simplicity—all that had significance only in relation to
the past, to what would never return....
Now it was the present asserted itself.
I tried to soothe Musa, tried to put our conversation on a more
practical level. Some steps must be taken that could not be postponed;
we must find out exactly where Baburin was; and then secure both for
him and for Musa the means of subsistence. All this presented no
inconsiderable difficulty; what was needed was not to find money, but
work, which is, as we all know, a far more complicated problem....
I left Musa with a perfect swarm of reflections in my head.
I soon learned that Baburin was in the fortress.
The proceedings began, ... dragged on. I saw Musa several times
every week. She had several interviews with her husband. But just at
the moment of the decision of the whole melancholy affair, I was not in
Petersburg. Unforeseen business had obliged me to set off to the south
of Russia. During my absence I heard that Baburin had been acquitted at
the trial; it appeared that all that could be proved against him was,
that young people regarding him as a person unlikely to awaken
suspicion, had sometimes held meetings at his house, and he had been
present at their meetings; he was, however, by administrative order
sent into exile in one of the western provinces of Siberia. Musa went
'Paramon Semyonitch did not wish it,' she wrote to me; 'as,
according to his ideas, no one ought to sacrifice self for another
person, and not for a cause; but I told him there was no question of
sacrifice at all. When I said to him in Moscow that I would be his
wife, I thought to myself—for ever, indissolubly! So indissoluble it
must be till the end of our days....'
Twelve more years passed by.... Every one in Russia knows, and will
ever remember, what passed between the years 1849 and 1861. In my
personal life, too, many changes took place, on which, however, there
is no need to enlarge. New interests came into it, new cares.... The
Baburin couple first fell into the background, then passed out of my
mind altogether. Yet I kept up a correspondence with Musa—at very long
intervals, however. Sometimes more than a year passed without any
tidings of her or of her husband. I heard that soon after 1855 he
received permission to return to Russia; but that he preferred to
remain in the little Siberian town, where he had been flung by destiny,
and where he had apparently made himself a home, and found a haven and
a sphere of activity....
And, lo and behold! towards the end of March in 1861, I received the
following letter from Musa:—
'It is so long since I have written to you, most honoured Piotr
Petrovitch, that I do not even know whether you are still living; and
if you are living, have you not forgotten our existence? But no matter;
I cannot resist writing to you to-day. Everything till now has gone on
with us in the same old way: Paramon Semyonitch and I have been always
busy with our schools, which are gradually making good progress;
besides that, Paramon Semyonitch was taken up with reading and
correspondence and his usual discussions with the Old-believers,
members of the clergy, and Polish exiles; his health has been fairly
good.... So has mine. But yesterday! the manifesto of the 19th of
February reached us! We had long been on the look-out for it. Rumours
had reached us long before of what was being done among you in
Petersburg, ... but yet I can't describe what it was! You know my
husband well; he was not in the least changed by his misfortune; on the
contrary, he has grown even stronger and more energetic, and has a will
as strong as iron, but at this he could not restrain himself! His hands
shook as he read it; then he embraced me three times, and three times
he kissed me, tried to say something—but no! he could not! and ended
by bursting into tears, which was very astounding to see, and suddenly
he shouted, “Hurrah! hurrah! God save the Tsar!” Yes, Piotr Petrovitch,
those were his very words! Then he went on: “Now lettest Thou Thy
servant depart” ... and again: “This is the first step, others are
bound to follow it”; and, just as he was, bareheaded, ran to tell the
great news to our friends. There was a bitter frost, and even a
snowstorm coming on. I tried to prevent him, but he would not listen to
me. And when he came home, he was all covered with snow, his hair, his
face, and his beard—he has a beard right down to his chest now—and
the tears were positively frozen on his cheeks! But he was very lively
and cheerful, and told me to uncork a bottle of home-made champagne,
and he drank with our friends that he had brought back with him, to the
health of the Tsar and of Russia, and all free Russians; and taking the
glass, and fixing his eyes on the ground, he said: “Nikander, Nikander,
do you hear? There are no slaves in Russia any more! Rejoice in the
grave, old comrade!” And much more he said; to the effect that his
“expectations were fulfilled!” He said, too, that now there could be no
turning back; that this was in its way a pledge or promise.... I don't
remember everything, but it is long since I have seen him so happy. And
so I made up my mind to write to you, so that you might know how we
have been rejoicing and exulting in the remote Siberian wilds, so that
you might rejoice with us....'
This letter I received at the end of March. At the beginning of May
another very brief letter arrived from Musa. She informed me that her
husband, Paramon Semyonitch Baburin, had taken cold on the very day of
the arrival of the manifesto, and died on the 12th of April of
inflammation of the lungs, in the 67th year of his age. She added that
she intended to remain where his body lay at rest, and to go on with
the work he had bequeathed her, since such was the last wish of Paramon
Semyonitch, and that was her only law.
Since then I have heard no more of Musa.