A Gentle Spirit, A Fantastic Story
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
translated by Constance Garnett
Chapter I. Who I was and who she was
Oh, while she is still here, it is still all right; I go up and
look at her every minute; but tomorrow they will take her
away - and how shall I be left alone? Now she is on the
table in the drawing-room, they put two card tables
together, the coffin will be here tomorrow - white, pure
white "gros de Naples" - but that's not it . . .
I keep walking about, trying to explain it to myself. I
have been trying for the last six hours to get it clear, but
still I can't think of it all as a whole.
The fact is I walk to and fro, and to and fro.
This is how it was. I will simply tell it in order. (Order!)
Gentlemen, I am far from being a literary man and you
will see that; but no matter, I'll tell it as I understand it
myself. The horror of it for me is that I understand it all!
It was, if you care to know, that is to take it from the
beginning, that she used to come to me simply to pawn
things, to pay for advertising in the VOICE to the effect
that a governess was quite willing to travel, to give
lessons at home, and so on, and so on. That was at the
very beginning, and I, of course, made no difference
between her and the others: "She comes," I thought, "like
any one else," and so on.
But afterwards I began to see a difference. She was
such a slender, fair little thing, rather tall, always a little
awkward with me, as though embarrassed (I fancy she
was the same with all strangers, and in her eyes, of course,
I was exactly like anybody else - that is, not as a
pawnbroker but as a man).
As soon as she received the money she would turn
round at once and go away. And always in silence. Other
women argue so, entreat, haggle for me to give them
more; this one did not ask for more. . . .
I believe I am muddling it up.
Yes; I was struck first of all by the things she brought:
poor little silver gilt earrings, a trashy little locket, things
not worth sixpence. She knew herself that they were
worth next to nothing, but I could see from her face that
they were treasures to her, and I found out afterwards as
a fact that they were all that was left her belonging to her
father and mother.
Only once I allowed myself to scoff at her things. You
see I never allow myself to behave like that. I keep up a
gentlemanly tone with my clients: few words, politeness
and severity. "Severity, severity!"
But once she ventured to bring her last rag, that is,
literally the remains of an old hareskin jacket, and I could
not resist saying something by way of a joke. My
goodness! how she flared up! Her eyes were large, blue
and dreamy but - how they blazed. But she did not drop
one word; picking up her "rags" she walked out.
It was then for the first time I noticed her particularly,
and thought something of the kind about her - that it,
something of a particular kind. Yes, I remember another
impression - that is, if you will have it, perhaps the chief
impression, that summed up everything. It was that she
was terribly young, so young that she looked just fourteen.
And yet she was within three months of sixteen. I didn't
mean that, though, that wasn't what summed it all up.
Next day she came again. I found out later that she had
been to Dobranravov's and to Mozer's with that jacket, but
they take nothing but gold and would have nothing to say
to it. I once took some stones from her (rubbishy little
ones) and, thinking it over afterwards, I wondered: I, too,
only lend on gold and silver, yet from her I accepted
stones. That was my second thought about her then; that
I remember. That time, that is when she came from
Mozer's, she brought an amber cigar-holder. It was a
connoisseur's article, not bad, but again, of no value to us,
because we only deal in gold. As it was the day after her
"mutiny", I received her sternly. Sternness with me takes
the form of dryness. As I gave her two roubles, however,
I could not resist saying, with a certain irritation, "I only
do it for you, of course; Mozer wouldn't take such a
The word "for you" I emphasised particularly, and with
a particular implication.
I was spiteful. She flushed up again when she heard
that "for you", but she did not say a word, she did not refuse
the money, she took it - that is poverty! But how hotly
she flushed! I saw I had stung her. And when she had
gone out, I suddenly asked myself whether my triumph
over her was worth two roubles. He! He!! He!!! I
remember I put that question to myself twice over, "was
is worth it? was it worth it? "
And, laughing, I inwardly answered it in the
affirmative. And I felt very much elated. But that was not
an evil feeling; I said it with design, with a motive; I
wanted to test her, because certain ideas with regard to her
had suddenly come into my mind. That was the third
thing I thought particularly about her. . . . Well, it was
from that time it all began. Of course, I tried at once to
find out all her circumstances indirectly, and awaited her
coming with a special impatience. I had a presentiment
that she would come soon. When she came, I entered into
affable conversation with her, speaking with unusual
politeness. I have not been badly brought up and have
manners. H'm. It was then I guessed that she was
soft-hearted and gentle.
The gentle and soft-hearted do not resist long, and
though they are by no means very ready to reveal
themselves, they do not know how to escape from a
conversation; they are niggardly in their answers, but they
do answer, and the more readily the longer you go on.
Only, on your side you must not flag, if you want them to
talk. I need hardly say that she did not explain anything
to me then. About the Voice and all that I found out
afterwards. She was at that time spending her last farthing
on advertising, haughtily at first, of course. "A governess
prepared to travel and will send terms on application," but,
later on: "willing to do anything, to teach, to be a
companion, to be a housekeeper, to wait on an invalid,
plain sewing, and so on, and so on", the usual thing! Of
course, all this was added to the advertisement a bit at a
time and finally, when she was reduced to despair, it came
to: "without salary in return for board." No, she could
not find a situation. I made up my mind then to test her
for the last time. I suddenly took up the Voice of the day
and showed her an advertisement. "A young person,
without friends and relations, seeks a situation as a
governess to young children, preferably in the family of a
middle-aged widower. Might be a comfort in the home."
"Look here how this lady has advertised this morning,
and by the evening she will certainly have found a
situation. That's the way to advertise."
Again she flushed crimson and her eyes blazed, she
turned round and went straight out. I was very much
pleased, though by that time I felt sure of everything and
had no apprehensions; nobody will take her cigar-holders,
I thought. Besides, she has got rid of them all. And so it
was, two days later, she came in again, such a pale little
creature, all agitation - I saw that something had happened
to her at home, and something really had. I will explain
directly what had happened, but now I only want to recall
how I did something chic, and rose in her opinion. I
suddenly decided to do it. The fact is she was pawning
the ikon (she had brought herself to pawn it!) . . Ah!
listen! listen! This is the beginning now, I've been in a
muddle. You see I want to recall all this, every detail,
every little point. I want to bring them all together and
look at them as a whole and - I cannot . . . It's these little
things, these little things. . . . It was an ikon of the
Madonna. A Madonna with the Babe, and old-fashioned,
homely one, and the setting was silver gilt, worth - well,
six roubles perhaps. I could see the ikon was precious to
her; she was pawning it whole, not taking it out of the
setting. I said to her -
"You had better take it out of the setting, and take the
ikon home; for it's not the thing to pawn."
"Why, are you forbidden to take them?"
"No, it's not that we are forbidden, but you might,
perhaps, yourself . . ."
"Well, take it out."
"I tell you what. I will not take it out, but I'll set it here
in the shrine with the other ikons," I said, on reflection.
"Under the little lamp" (I always had the lamp burning as
soon as the shop was opened), "and you simply take ten
"Don't give me ten roubles. I only want five; I shall
certainly redeem it."
"You don't want ten? The ikon's worth it," I added
noticing that her eyes flashed again.
She was silent. I brought out five roubles.
"Don't despise any one; I've been in such straits myself;
and worse too, and that you see me here in this business
. . . is owing to what I've been through in the past. . . ."
"You're revenging yourself on the world? Yes?" she
interrupted suddenly with rather sarcastic mockery, which,
however, was to a great extent innocent (that is, it was
general, because certainly at that time she did not
distinguish me from others, so that she said it almost
"Aha," thought I; "so that's what you're like. You've
got character; you belong to the new movement."
"You see!" I remarked at once, half-jestingly,
half-mysteriously, "I am part of that part of the Whole that
seeks to do ill, but does good. . . ."
Quickly and with great curiosity, in which , however,
there was something very childlike, she looked at me.
"Stay . . . what's that idea? Where does it come from?
I've heard it somewhere . . ."
"Don't rack your brains. In those words
Mephistopheles introduces himself to Faust. Have you
"Not . . . not attentively."
"That is, you have not read it at all. You must read it.
But I see an ironical look in your face again. Please don't
imagine that I've so little taste as to try to use
Mephistopheles to commend myself to you and grace the
role of pawnbroker. A pawnbroker will still be a
pawnbroker. We know."
"You're so strange . . . I didn't mean to say anything of
She meant to say: "I didn't expect to find you were an
educated man"; but she didn't say it; I knew, though, that
she thought that. I had pleased her very much.
"You see," I observed, "One may do good in any
calling - I'm not speaking of myself, of course. Let us
grant that I'm doing nothing but harm, yet . . ."
"Of course, one can do good in every position," she
said, glancing at me with a rapid, profound look. "Yes, in
any position," she added suddenly.
Oh, I remember, I remember all those moments! And
I want to add, too, that when such young creatures, such
sweet young creatures want to say something so clever
and profound, they show at once so truthfully and naively
in their faces, "Here I am saying something clever and
profound now" - and that is not from vanity, as it is with
any one like me, but one sees that she appreciates it
awfully herself, and believes in it, and thinks a lot of it,
and imagines that you think a lot of all that, just as she
does. Oh, truthfulness! it's by that they conquer us. How
exquisite it was in her!
I remember it, I have forgotten nothing! As soon as she
had gone, I made up my mind. That same day I made my
last investigations and found out every detail of her
position at the moment; every detail of her past I had
learned already from Lukerya, at that time a servant in the
family, whom I had bribed a few days before. This
position was so awful that I can't understand how she
could laugh as she had done that day and feel interest in
the words of Mephistopheles, when she was in such
horrible straits. But - that's youth! That is just what I
thought about her at the time with pride and joy; for, you
know, there's a greatness of soul in it - to be able to say,
"Though I am on the edge of the abyss, yet Goethe's grand
words are radiant with light." Youth always has some
greatness of soul, if its only a spark and that distorted.
Though it's of her I am speaking, of her alone. And,
above all, I looked upon her then as mine and did not
doubt of my power. You know, that's a voluptuous idea
when you feel no doubt of it.
But what is the matter with me? If I go on like this,
when shall I put it all together and look at it as a whole.
I must make haste, make haste - that is not what matters,
oh, my God!
Chapter II. The offer of marriage
The "details" I learned about her I will tell in one word:
her father and mother were dead, they had died three years
before, and she had been left with two disreputable aunts:
though it is saying too little to call them disreputable. One
aunt was a widow with a large family (six children, one
smaller than another), the other a horrid old maid. Both
were horrid. Her father was in the service, but only as a
copying clerk, and was only a gentleman by courtesy; in
fact, everything was in my favour. I came as though from
a higher world; I was anyway a retired lieutenant of a
brilliant regiment, a gentleman by birth, independent and
all the rest of it, and as for my pawnbroker's shop, her
aunts could only have looked on that with respect. She
had been living in slavery at her aunts' for those three
years: yet she had managed to pass an examination
somewhere - she managed to pass it, she wrung the time
for it, weighed down as a she was by the pitiless burden of
daily drudgery, and that proved something in the way of
striving for what was higher and better on her part! Why,
what made me want to marry her? Never mind me,
though; of that later on . . . As though that mattered! - She
taught her aunt's children; she made their clothes; and
towards the end not only washed the clothes, but with her
weak chest even scrubbed the floors. To put it plainly,
they used to beat her, and taunt her with eating their
bread. It ended by their scheming to sell her. Tfoo! I
omit the filthy details. She told me all about it afterwards.
All this had been watched for a whole year by a
neighbour, a fat shopkeeper, and not a humble one but the
owner of two grocer's shops. He had ill-treated two wives
and now he was looking for a third, and so he cast his eye
on her. "She's a quiet one," he thought; "she's grown up
in poverty, and I am marrying for the sake of my
He really had children. He began trying to make the
match and negotiating with the aunts. He was fifty years
old, besides. She was aghast with horror. It was then she
began coming so often to me to advertise in the Voice. At
last she began begging the aunts to give her just a little
time to think it over. They granted her that little time, but
would not let her have more; they were always at her:
"We don't know where to turn to find food for ourselves,
without an extra mouth to feed."
I had found all this out already, and the same day, after
what had happened in the morning, I made up my mind.
That evening the shopkeeper came, bringing with him a
pound of sweets from the shop; she was sitting with him,
and I called Lukerya out of the kitchen and told her to go
and whisper to her that I was at the gate and wanted to say
something to her without delay. I felt pleased with
myself. And altogether I felt awfully pleased all that day.
On the spot, at the gate, in the presence of Lukerya,
before she had recovered from her amazement at my
sending for her, I informed her that I should look upon it
as an honour and happiness . . . telling her, in the next
place, not to be surprised at the manner of my declaration
and at my speaking at the gate, saying that I was a
straightforward man and had learned the position of
affairs. And I was not lying when I said I was
straightforward. Well, hang it all. I did not only speak
with propriety - that is, showing I was a man of decent
breeding, but I spoke with originality and that was the
chief thing. After all, is there any harm in admitting it?
I want to judge myself and am judging myself. I must
speak pro and contra, and I do. I remembered afterwards
with enjoyment, though it was stupid, that I frankly
declared, without the least embarrassment, that, in the first
place, I was not particularly talented, not particularly
intelligent, not particularly good-natured, rather a cheap
egoist (I remember that expression, I thought of it on the
way and was pleased with it) and that very probably there
was a great deal that was disagreeable in me in other
respects. All this was said with a special sort of pride -
we all know how that sort of thing is said. Of course, I
had good taste enough not to proceed to enlarge on my
virtues after honourably enumerating my defects, not to
say "to make up for that I have this and that and the
other." I saw that she was still horrible frightened I
purposely exaggerated. I told her straight out that she
would have enough to eat, but that fine clothes, theatres,
balls - she would have none of, at any rate not till later on,
when I had attained my object. this severe tone was a
positive delight to me. I added as cursorily as possible,
that in adopting such a calling - that is, in keeping a
pawnbroker's shop, I had one object, hinting there was a
special circumstance . . . but I really had a right to say so:
I really had such an aim and there really was such a
circumstance. Wait a minute, gentlemen; I have always
been the first to hate this pawnbroking business, but in
reality, though it is absurd to talk about oneself in such
mysterious phrases, yet, you know, I was "revenging
myself on society," I really was, I was, I was! So that her
gibe that morning at the idea of my revenging myself was
unjust. that is, do you see, if I had said to her straight out
in words: "yes, I am revenging myself on society," she
would have laughed as she did that morning, and it would,
in fact have been absurd. But by indirect hints, but
dropping mysterious phrases, it appeared that it was
possible to work upon her imagination. Besides, I had no
fears then: I knew that the fat shopkeeper was anyway
more repulsive to her than I was, and that I, standing at
the gate, had appeared as a deliverer. I understood that, of
course. Oh, what is base a man understands particularly
well! But was it base? How can a man judge? Didn't I
love her even then?
Wait a bit: of course, I didn't breathe a word to her of
doing her a benefit; the opposite, oh, quite the opposite; I
made out that it was I that would be under an obligation to
her, not she to me. Indeed, I said as much - I couldn't
resist saying it - and it sounded stupid, perhaps, for I
noticed a shade flit across her face. But altogether I won
the day completely. Wait a bit, if I am to recall all that
vileness, then I will tell of that worst beastliness. As I
stood there what was stirring in my mind was, "You are
tall, a good figure, educated and - speaking without
conceit - good-looking." That is what was at work in my
mind. I need hardly say that, on the spot, out there at the
gate she said "yes." But . . . but I ought to add: that out
there by the gate she thought a long time before she said
"yes." She pondered for so long that I said to her, "Well?"
- and could not even refrain from asking it with a certain
"Wait a little. I'm thinking."
And her little face was so serious, so serious that even
then I might have read it! And I was mortified: "Can she
be choosing between me and the grocer!" I thought. Oh,
I did not understand then! I did not understand anything,
anything, then! I did not understand till today! I
remember Lukerya ran after me as I was going away,
stopped me on the road and said, breathlessly: "God will
reward you, sir, for taking our dear young lady; only don't
speak of that to her - she's proud."
Proud, is she! "I like proud people," I thought. Proud
people are particularly nice when . . . well, when one has
no doubt of one's power over them, eh? Oh, base, tactless
man! Oh, how pleased I was! You know, when she was
standing there at the gate, hesitating whether to say "yes"
to me, and I was wondering at it, you know, she may have
had some such thought as this: "If it is to be misery either
way, isn't it best to choose the very worst" - that is, let the
fat grocer beat her to death when he was drunk! Eh! what
do you think, could there have been a thought like that?
And, indeed, I don't understand it now, I don't
understand it at all, even now. I have only just said that
she may have had that thought: of two evils choose the
worst - that is the grocer. But which was the worst for her
then - the grocer or I? The grocer or the pawnbroker who
quoted Goethe? That's another question! What a
question! And even that you don't understand: the
answer is lying on the table and you call it a question!
Never mind me, though. It's not a question of me at all .
. . and, by the way, what is there left for me now - whether
it's a question of me or whether it is not? That's what I am
utterly unable to answer. I had better go to bed. My head
aches. . . .
Chapter III. The Noblest Of Men, Though I don't believe it myself
I could not sleep. And how should I? There is a pulse
throbbing in my head. One longs to master it all, all that
degradation. Oh, the degradation! Oh, what degradation
I dragged her out of then! Of course, she must have
realized that, she must have appreciated my action! I was
pleased, too, by various thoughts - for instance, the
reflection that I was forty-one and she was only sixteen.
that fascinated me, that feeling of inequality was very
sweet, was very sweet.
I wanted, for instance, to have a wedding a l'anglaise,
that is only the two of us, with just te two necessary
witnesses, one of them Lukerya, and from the wedding
straight to the train to Moscow (I happened to have
business there, by the way), and then a fortnight at the
hotel. She opposed it, she would not have it, and I had to
visit her aunts and treat them with respect as though they
were relations from whom I was taking her. I gave way,
and all befitting respect was paid the aunts. I even made
the creatures a present of a hundred roubles each and
promised them more - not telling her anything about it, of
course, that I might not make her feel humiliated by the
lowness of her surroundings. the aunts were as soft as silk
at once. There was a wrangle about the trousseau too; she
had nothing, almost literally, but she did not want to have
anything. I succeeded in proving to her, though, that she
must have something, and I made up the trousseau, for
who would have given her anything? But there, enough
of me. I did, however, succeed in communicating some
of my ideas to her then, so that she knew them anyway.
I was in too great a hurry, perhaps. the best of it was that,
from the very beginning, she rushed to meet me with love,
greeted me with rapture, when I went to see her in the
evening, told me in her chatter (the enchanting chatter of
innocence) all about her childhood and girlhood, her old
home, her father and mother. But I poured cold water
upon all that at once. that was my idea. I met her
enthusiasm with silence, friendly silence, of course . . .
but, all the same, she could quickly see that we were
different and that I was - an enigma. And being an
enigma was what I made a point of most of all! Why, it
was just for the sake of being an enigma, perhaps - that I
have been guilty of all this stupidity. The first thing was
sternness - it was with an air of sternness that I took her
into my house. In fact, as I went about then feeling
satisfied, I framed a complete system. Oh, it came of
itself without any effort. And it could not have been
otherwise. I was bound to create that system owing to one
inevitable fact - why should I libel myself indeed! The
system was a genuine one. yes, listen; if you must judge
a man, better judge him knowing all about it . . . listen.
How am I to begin this, for it is very difficult. When
you begin to justify yourself - then it is difficult. You see,
for instance, young people despise money - I made money
of importance at once; I laid special stress on money.
And laid such stress on it that she became more and more
silent. She opened her eyes wide, listened, gazed and said
nothing. you see, the young are heroic, that is the good
among them are heroic and impulsive, but they have little
tolerance; if the least thing is not quite right they are full
of contempt. And I wanted breadth, I wanted to instil
breadth into her very heart, to make it part of her inmost
feeling, did I not? I'll take a trivial example: how should
I explain my pawnbroker's shop to a character like that?
Of course, I did not speak of it directly, or it would have
appeared that I was apologizing, and I, so to speak,
worked it through with pride, I almost spoke without
words, and I am masterly at speaking without words. all
my life I have spoken without words, and I have passed
through whole tragedies on my own account without
words. Why, I, too, have been unhappy! I was
abandoned by every one, abandoned and forgotten, and no
one, no one knew it! And all at once this sixteen-year-old
girl picked up details about me from vulgar people and
thought she knew all about me, and, meanwhile, what was
precious remained hidden in this heart! I went on being
silent, with her especially I was silent, with her especially,
right up to yesterday - why was I silent? Because I was
proud. I wanted her to find out for herself, without my
help, and not from the tales of low people; I wanted her to
divine of herself what manner of man I was and to
understand me! Taking her into my house I wanted all her
respect, I wanted her to be standing before me in homage
for the sake of my sufferings - and I deserved it. Oh, I
have always been proud, I always wanted all or nothing!
You see it was just because I am not one who will accept
half a happiness, but always wanted all, that I was forced
to act like that then: it was a much as to say, "See into me
for yourself and appreciate me!" For you must see that if
I had begun explaining myself to her and prompting her,
ingratiating myself and asking for her respect - it would
have been as good as asking for charity . . . But . . . but
why am I talking of that!
Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid! I explained to her than,
in two words, directly, ruthlessly (and I emphasize the fact
that it was ruthlessly) that the heroism of youth was
charming, but - not worth a farthing. Why not? Because
it costs them so little, because it is not gained through life;
it is, so to say, merely "first impressions of existence," but
just let us see you at work! Cheap heroism is always
easy, and even to sacrifice life is easy too; because it is
only a case of hot blood and an overflow of energy, and
there is such a longing for what is beautiful! No, take the
deed of heroism that is labourious, obscure, without noise
or flourish, slandered, in which there is a great deal of
sacrifice and not one grain of glory - in which you, a
splendid man, are made to look like a scoundrel before
every one, though you might be the most honest man in
the world - you try that sort of heroism and you'll soon
give it up! While I - have been bearing the burden of that
all my life. At first she argued - ough, how she argued -
but afterwards she began to be silent, completely silent, in
fact, only opened her eyes wide as she listened, such big,
big eyes, so attentive. And . . . and what is more, I
suddenly saw a smile, mistrustful, silent, an evil smile.
Well, it was with that smile on her face I brought her into
my house. It is true that she had nowhere to go.
Chapter IV. Plans and Plans
Which of us began it first?
Neither. It began of itself from the very first. I have
said that with sternness i brought her into the house. From
the first step, however, I softened it. Before she was
married it was explained to her that she would have to
take pledges and pay out money, and she said nothing at
the time (note that). What is more, she set to work with
positive zeal. Well, of course, my lodging, my furniture
all remained as before. My lodging consisted of two
rooms, a large room from which the shop was partitioned
off, and a second one, also large, our living room and
bedroom. My furniture is scanty: even her aunts had
better things. My shrine of ikons with the lamp was in the
outer room where the shop is; in the inner room my
bookcase with a few books in and a trunk of which I keep
the key; married I told her that one rouble a day and not
more, was to be spent on our board - that is, on food for
me, her and Lukerya whom I had enticed to come to us.
"I must have thirty thousand in three years," said I, "and
we can't save the money if we spend more." She fell in
with this, but I raised the sum by thirty kopecks a day. It
was the same with the theatre. I told her before marriage
that she would not go to the theatre, and yet I decided
once a month to go to he theatre, and in a decent way, to
the stalls. We went together. We went three times and
saw The Hunt after Happiness, and Singing Birds, I
believe. (Oh, what does it matter!) We went in silence
and in silence we returned. Why, why, from the very
beginning, did we take to being silent? From the very
first, you know, we had no quarrels, but always the same
silence. She was always, I remember, watching me
stealthily in those days; as soon as I noticed it I became
more silent that before. It is true that it was I insisted on
the silence, not she. On her part there were one or two
outbursts, she rushed to embrace me; but as these
outbursts were hysterical, painful, and I wanted secure
happiness, with respect from her, I received them coldly.
And indeed, I was right; each time the outburst was
followed next day by a quarrel.
Though, again, there were no quarrels, but there was
silence and - and on her side a more and more defiant air.
"Rebellion and independence," that's what it was, only she
didn't know how to show it. yes, that gentle creature was
becoming more and more defiant. Would you believe it,
I was becoming revolting to her? I learned that. And
there could be no doubt that she was moved to frenzy at
times. think, for instance, of her beginning to sniff at our
poverty, after her coming from such sordidness and
destitution - from scrubbing the floors! you see, there was
no poverty; there was frugality, but there was abundance
of what was necessary, of linen, for instance, and the
greatest cleanliness. I always used to dream that
cleanliness in a husband attracts a wife. It was not our
poverty she was scornful of, but my supposed miserliness
in the housekeeping: "he has his objects," she seemed to
say, "he is showing his strength of will." She suddenly
refused to go to the theatre. And more and more often an
ironical look. . . . And I was more silent, more and more
I could not begin justifying myself, could I? What was
at the bottom of all this was the pawnbroking business.
Allow me, I knew that a woman, above all at sixteen, must
be in complete subordination to a man. Women have no
originality. That - that is an axiom; even now, even now,
for me it is an axiom! What does it prove that she is lying
there in the outer room? Truth is truth, and even Mill is
no use against it! And a woman who loves, oh, a woman
who loves idealizes even the vices, even the villainies of
the man she loves. He would not himself even succeed in
finding such justification for his villanies as she will find
for him. that is generous but not original. it is the lack of
originality alone that has been the ruin of women. and, I
repeat, what is the use of your point to that table? Why,
what is there original in her being on that table? O - O -
Listen. I was convinced of her love at that time. Why,
she used to throw herself on my neck in those days. She
loved me; that is, more accurately, she wanted to love.
Yes, that's just what it was, she wanted to love; she was
trying to love. And the point was that in this case there
were no villanies for which she had to find justification.
you will say, I'm a pawnbroker; and every one says the
same. But what if I am a pawnbroker? It follows that
there must be reasons since the most generous of men had
become a pawnbroker. You see, gentlemen, there are
ideas . . . that is, if one expresses some ideas, utters them
in words, the effect is very stupid. The effect is to make
one ashamed. For what reason? For no reason. Because
we are all wretched creatures and cannot hear the truth, or
I do not know why. I said just now, "the most generous
of men" - that is absurd, and yet that is how it was. It's the
truth, that is, the absolute, absolute truth! Yes, I had the
right to want to make myself secure and open that
pawnbroker's shop: "You have rejected me, you - people,
I mean - you have cast me out with contemptuous silence.
My passionate yearning towards you you have met with
insult all my life. Now I have the right to put up a wall
against you, to save up that thirty thousand roubles and
end my life somewhere in the Crimea, on the south coast,
among the mountains and vineyards, on my own estate
bought with that thirty thousand, and above everything,
far away from you all, living without malice against you,
with an ideal in my soul, with a beloved woman at my
heart, and a family, if God sends one, and - helping the
inhabitants all around."
Of course, it is quite right that I say this to myself now,
but what could have been more stupid than describing all
that aloud to her? That was the cause of my proud
silence, that's why we sat in silence. For what could she
have understood? Sixteen years old, the earliest youth -
yes, what could she have understood of my justification,
of my sufferings? Undeviating straightness, ignorance of
life, the cheap convictions of youth, the hen-like blindness
of those "noble hearts," and what stood for most was - the
pawnbroker's shop and - enough! (And was I a villain in
the pawnbroker's shop? Did not she see how I acted? Did
I extort too much?)
Oh, how awful is truth on earth! That exquisite
creature, that gentle spirit, that heaven - she was a tyrant,
she was the insufferable tyrant and torture of my soul! I
should be unfair to myself if I didn't say so! You imagine
I didn't love her? Who can say that I did not love her! Do
you see, it was a case of irony, the malignant irony of fate
and nature! We were under a curse, the life of men in
general is under a curse! (mine in particular). Of course,
I understand now that I made some mistake! Something
went wrong. Everything was clear, my plan was clear as
daylight: "Austere and proud, asking for no moral
comfort, but suffering in silence." And that was how it
was. I was not lying, I was not lying! "She will see for
herself, later on, that it was heroic, only that she had not
known how to see it, and when, some day, she divines, it
she will prize me ten times more and will abase herself in
the dust and fold her hands in homage" - that was my
plan. But I forgot something or lost sight of it. There was
something I failed to manage. But, enough, enough! And
whose forgiveness am I to ask now? What is done is
done. By bolder, man, and have some pride! It is not
your fault! . . .
Well, I will tell the truth, I am not afraid to face the
truth; it was her fault, her fault!
Chapter V. A Gentle Spirit in Revolt
Quarrels began from her suddenly beginning to pay out
loans on her own account, to price things above their
worth, and even, on two occasions, she deigned to enter
into a dispute about it with me. I did not agree. But then
the captain's widow turned up.
This old widow brought a medallion - a present from
her dead husband, a souvenir, of course. I lent her thirty
roubles on it. She fell to complaining, begged me to keep
the thing for her - of course we do keep things. Well, in
short, she came again to exchange it for a bracelet that
was not worth eight roubles; I, of course, refused. She
must have guessed something from my wife's eyes,
anyway she came again when I was not there and my wife
changed it for the medallion.
Discovering it the same day, I spoke mildly but firmly
and reasonably. She was sitting on the bed, looking at the
ground and tapping with her right foot on the carpet (her
characteristic movement); there was an ugly smile on her
lips. Then, without raising my voice in the least, I
explained calmly that the money was mine, that I had a
right to look at life with my own eyes and - and that when
I had offered to take her into my house, I had hidden
nothing from her.
She suddenly leapt up, suddenly began shaking all over
and - what do you think - she suddenly stamped her foot
at me; it was a wild animal, it was a frenzy, it was the
frenzy of a wild animal. I was petrified with
astonishment; I had never expected such an outburst. But
I did not lose my head. I made no movement even, and
again, in the same calm voice, I announced plainly that
from that time forth I should deprive her of the part she
took in my work. She laughed in my face, and walked out
of the house.
The fact is, she had not the right to walk out of the
house. Nowhere without me, such was the agreement
before she was married. In the evening she returned; I did
not utter a word.
The next day, too, she went out in the morning, and the
day after again. I shut the shop and went off to her aunts.
I had cut off all relations with them from the time of the
wedding - I would not have them to see me, and I would
not go to see them. But it turned out that she had not been
with them. They listened to me with curiosity and
laughed in my face: "It serves you right," they said. But
I expected their laughter. At that point, then I bought over
the younger aunt, the unmarried one, for a hundred
roubles, giving her twenty-five in advance. Two days
later she came to me: "There's an officer called
Efimovitch mixed up in this," she said; "a lieutenant who
was a comrade of yours in the regiment."
I was greatly amazed. That Efimovitch had done me
more harm than any one in the regiment, and about a
month ago, being a shameless fellow, he once or twice
came into the shop with a pretence of pawning something,
and I remember, began laughing with my wife. I went up
at the time and told him not to dare to come to me,
recalling our relations; but there was no thought of
anything in my head, I simply thought that he was
insolent. Now the aunt suddenly informed me that she
had already appointed to see him and that the whole
business had been arranged by a former friend of the
aunt's, the widow of a colonel, called Yulia Samsonovna.
"It's to her," she said, "your wife goes now."
I will cut the story short. The business cost me three
hundred roubles, but in a couple of days it had been
arranged that I should stand in an adjoining room, behind
closed doors, and listen to the first rendezvous between
my wife and Efimovitch, tete-a-tete. Meanwhile, the
evening before, a scene, brief but very memorable for me,
took place between us.
She returned towards evening, sat down on the bed,
looked at me sarcastically, and tapped on the carpet with
her foot. Looking at her, the idea suddenly came into my
mind that for the whole of the last month, or rather, the
last fortnight, her character had not been her own; one
might even say that it had been the opposite of her own;
she had suddenly shown herself a mutinous, aggressive
creature; I cannot say shameless, but regardless of
decorum and eager for trouble. She went out of her way
to stir up trouble. Her gentleness hindered her, though.
When a girl like that rebels, however outrageously she
may behave, one can always see that she is forcing herself
to do it, that she is driving herself to do it, and that it is
impossible for her to master and overcome her own
modesty and shamefacedness. That is why such people
go such lengths at times, so that one can hardly believe
one's eyes. One who is accustomed to depravity, on the
contrary, always softens things, acts more disgustingly,
but with a show of decorum and seemliness by which she
claims to be superior to you.
"Is it true that you were turned out of the regiment
because you were afraid to fight a duel?" she asked
suddenly, apropos of nothing - and her eyes flashed.
"It is true that by the sentence of the officers I was
asked to give up my commission, though, as a fact, I had
sent in my papers before that."
"You were turned out as a coward?"
"Yes, they sentenced me as a coward. But I refused to
fight a duel, not from cowardice, but because I would not
submit to their tyrannical decision and send a challenge
when I did not consider myself insulted. You know," I
could not refrain from adding, "that to resist such tyranny
and to accept the consequences meant showing far more
manliness than fighting any kind of duel."
I could not resist it. I dropped the phrase, as it were, in
self-defence, and that was all she wanted, this fresh
humiliation for me.
She laughed maliciously.
"And is it true that for three years afterwards you
wandered about the streets of Petersburg like a tramp,
begging for coppers and spending your nights in
"I even spent the night in Vyazemsky's House in the
Haymarket. Yes, it is true; there was much disgrace and
degradation in my life after I left the regiment, but not
moral degradation, because even at the time I hated what
I did more than any one. It was only the degradation of
my will and my mind, and it was only caused by the
desperateness of my position. But that is over. . . ."
"Oh, now you are a personage - a financier!"
A hint at the pawnbroker's shop. But by then I had
succeeded in recovering my mastery of myself. I saw that
she was thirsting for explanations that be humiliating to
me and - I did not give them. A customer rang the bell
very opportunely, and I went out into the shop. An hour
later, when she was dressed to go out, she stood still,
facing me, and said -
"You didn't tell me anything about that, though, before
I made no answer and she went away.
And so next day I was standing in that room, the other
side of the door, listening to hear how my fate was being
decided, and in my pocket I had a revolver. She was
dressed better than usual and sitting at a the table, and
Efimovitch was showing off before her. And after all, it
turned out exactly (I say it to my credit) as I had foreseen
and had assumed it would, though I was not conscious of
having foreseen and assumed it. I do not know whether I
express myself intelligibly.
This is what happened.
I listened for a whole hour. For a whole hour I was
present at a duel between a noble, lofty woman and a
worldly, corrupt, dense man with a crawling soul. And
how, I wondered in amazement, how could that naive,
gentle, silent girl have come to know all that? The
wittiest author of a society comedy could not have created
such a scene of mockery, of naive laughter, and of the
holy contempt of virtue for vice. And how brilliant her
sayings, her little phrases were: what wit there was in her
rapid answers, what truths in her condemnation. And, at
the same time, what almost girlish simplicity. She
laughed in his face at his declarations of love, at his
gestures, at his proposals. Coming coarsely to the point
at once, and not expecting to meet with opposition, he was
utterly nonplussed. At first I might have imagined that it
was simply coquetry on her part - "the coquetry of a witty,
though depraved creature to enhance her own value." But
no, the truth shone out like the sun, and to doubt was
impossible. It was only an exaggerated and impulsive
hatred for me that had led her, in her inexperience, to
arrange this interview, but, when it came off - her eyes
were opened at once. She was simply in desperate haste
to mortify me, come what might, but though she had
brought herself to do something so low she could not
endure unseemliness. And could she, so pure and sinless,
with an ideal in her heart, have been seduced by
Efimovitch or any worthless snob? On the contrary, she
was only moved to laughter by him. All her goodness
rose up from her soul and her indignation roused her to
sarcasm. I repeat, the buffoon was completely nonplussed
at last and sat frowning, scarcely answering, so much so
that I began to be afraid that he might insult her, from a
mean desire for revenge. And I repeat again: to my
credit, I listened to that scene almost without surprise. I
met, as it were, nothing but what I knew well. I had gone,
as it were, on purpose to meet it, believing not a word of
it, not a word said against her, though I did take the
revolver in my pocket - that is the truth. And could I have
imagined her different? For what did I love her, for what
did I prize her, for what had I married her? Oh, of course,
I was quite convinced of her hate for me, but at the same
time I was quite convinced of her sinlessness. I suddenly
cut short the scene by opening the door. Efimovitch leapt
up. I took her by the hand and suggested she should go
home with me. Efimovitch recovered himself and
suddenly burst into loud peals of laughter.
"Oh, to sacred conjugal rights I offer no opposition;
take her away, take her away! And you know," he
shouted after me, "though no decent man could fight you,
yet from respect to your lady I am at your service . . . If
you are ready to risk yourself."
"Do you hear?" I said, stopping her for a second in the
After which not a word was said all the way home. I
led her by the arm and she did not resist. On the contrary,
she was greatly impressed, and this lasted after she got
home. On reaching home she sat down in a chair and
fixed her eyes upon me. She was extremely pale; though
her lips were compressed ironically yet she looked at me
with solemn nd austere defiance and seemed convinced in
earnest, for the minute, that I should kill her with the
revolver. But I took the revolver from my pocket without
a word and laid it on the table! She looked at me and at
the revolver (note that the revolver was already an object
familiar to her. I had kept one loaded ever since I opened
the shop. I made up my mind when I set up the shop that
I would not keep a huge dog or a strong manservant, as
Mozer does, for instance. My cook opens the doors to my
visitors. But in our trade it is impossible to be without
means of self-defence in case of emergency, and I kept a
loaded revolver. In early days, when first she was living
in my house, she took great interest in that revolver, and
asked questions about it, and I even explained its
construction and working; I even persuaded her once to
fire at a target. Note all that). Taking no notice of her
frightened eyes, I lay down on the bed, half-undressed. I
felt very much exhausted; it was by then about eleven
o'clock. She went on sitting in the same place, not
stirring, for another hour. Then she put out the candle and
she, too, without undressing, lay down on the sofa near
the wall. For the first time she did not sleep with me -
note that too. . . .
Chapter VI. A Terrible Reminiscence
Now for a terrible reminiscence. . . .
I woke up, I believe, before eight o'clock, and it was
very nearly broad daylight. I woke up completely to full
consciousness and opened my eyes. She was standing at
the table holding the revolver in her hand. She did not see
that I had woken up and was looking at her. And
suddenly I saw that she had begun moving towards me
with the revolver in her hand. I quickly closed my eyes
and pretended to be still asleep.
She came up to the bed and stood over me. I heard
everything; though a dead silence had fallen I heard that
silence. All at once there was a convulsive movement
and, irresistibly, against my will, I suddenly opened my
eyes. She was looking straight at me, straight into my
eyes, and the revolver was at my temple. Our eyes met.
But we looked at each other for no more than a moment.
With an effort I shut my eyes again, and at the same
instant I resolved that I would not stir and would not open
my eyes, whatever might be awaiting me.
It does sometimes happen that people who are sound
asleep suddenly open their eyes, even raise their heads for
a second and look about the room, then, a moment later,
they lay their heads again on the pillow unconscious, and
fall asleep without understanding anything. When
meeting her eyes and feeling the revolver on my forehead,
I closed my eyes and remained motionless, as though in a
deep sleep - she certainly might have supposed that I
really was asleep, and that I had seen nothing, especially
as it was utterly improbable that, after seeing what I had
seen, I should shut my eyes again at such a moment.
Yes, it was improbable. But she might guess the truth
all the same - that thought flashed upon my mind at once,
all at the same instant. Oh, what a whirl of thoughts and
sensations rushed into my mind in less than a minute.
Hurrah for the electric speed of thought! In that case (so
I felt), if she guessed the truth and knew that I was awake,
I should crush her by my readiness to accept death, and
her hand might tremble. Her determination might be
shaken by a new, overwhelming impression. They say
that people standing on a height have an impulse to throw
themselves down. I imagine that many suicides and
murders have been committed simply because the
revolver has been in the hand. It is like a precipice, with
an incline of an angle of forty-five degrees, down which
you cannot help sliding, and something impels you
irresistibly to pull the trigger. But the knowledge that I
had seen, that I knew it all, and was waiting for death at
her hands without a word - might hold her back on the
The stillness was prolonged, and all at once I felt on my
temple, on my hair, the cold contact of iron. You will ask:
did I confidently expect to escape? I will answer you as
God is my judge: I had no hope of it, except one chance
in a hundred. Why did I accept death? But I will ask,
what use was life to me after that revolver had been raised
against me by the being I adored? Besides, I knew with
the whole strength of my being that there was a struggle
going on between us, a fearful duel for life and death, the
duel fought be the coward of yesterday, rejected by his
comrades for cowardice. I knew that and she knew it, if
only she guessed the truth that I was not asleep.
Perhaps that was not so, perhaps I did not think that
then, but yet it must have been so, even without conscious
thought, because I've done nothing but think of it every
hour of my life since.
But you will ask me again: why did you not save her
from such wickedness? Oh! I've asked myself that
question a thousand times since - every time that, with a
shiver down my back, I recall that second. But at that
moment my soul was plunged in dark despair! I was lost,
I myself was lost - how could I save any one? And how
do you know whether I wanted to save any one then?
How can one tell what I could be feeling then?
My mind was in a ferment, though; the seconds passed;
she still stood over me - and suddenly I shuddered with
hope! I quickly opened my eyes. She was no longer in
the room: I got out of bed: I had conquered - and she was
conquered for ever!
I went to the samovar. We always had the samovar
brought into the outer room and she always poured out the
tea. I sat down at the table without a word and took a
glass of tea from her. Five minutes later I looked at her.
She was fearfully pale, even paler than the day before, and
she looked at me. And suddenly . . . and suddenly, seeing
that I was looking at her, she gave a pale smile with her
pale lips, with a timid question in her eyes. "So she still
doubts and is asking herself: does he know or doesn't he
know; did he see or didn't he?" I turned my eyes away
indifferently. After tea I close the shop, went to the
market and bought an iron bedstead and a screen.
Returning home, I directed that the bed should be put in
the front room and shut off with a screen. It was a bed for
her, but I did not say a word to her. She understood
without words, through that bedstead, that I "had seen and
knew all," and that all doubt was over. At night I left the
revolver on the table, as I always did. At night she got
into her new bed without a word: our marriage bond was
broken, "she was conquered but not forgiven." At night
she began to be delirious, and in the morning she had
brain-fever. She was in bed for six weeks.
Chapter I. The Dream of Pride
Lukerya has just announced that she can't go on living
here and that she is going away as soon as her lady is
buried. I knelt down and prayed for five minutes. I
wanted to pray for an hour, but I keep thinking and
thinking, and always sick thoughts, and my head aches -
what is the use of praying? - it's only a sin! It is strange,
too, that I am not sleepy: in great, too great sorrow, after
the first outbursts one is always sleepy. Men condemned
to death, they say, sleep very soundly on the last night.
And so it must be, it si the law of nature, otherwise their
strength would not hold out . . . I lay down on the sofa but
I did not sleep. . . .
. . . For the six weeks of her illness we were looking
after her day and night - Lukerya and I together with a
trained nurse whom I had engaged from the hospital. I
spared no expense - in fact, I was eager to spend my
money for her. I called in Dr. Shreder and paid him ten
roubles a visit. When she began to get better I did not
show myself so much. But why am I describing it? When
she got up again, she sat quietly and silently in my room
at a special table, which I had bought for her, too, about
that time. . . . Yes, that's the truth, we were absolutely
silent; that is, we began talking afterwards, but only of the
daily routine. I purposely avoided expressing myself, but
I noticed that she, too, was glad not to have to say a word
more than was necessary. It seemed to me that this was
perfectly normal on her part: "She is too much shattered,
too completely conquered," I thought, "and I must let her
forget and grow used to it." In this way we were silent,
but every minute I was preparing myself for the future. I
thought that she was too, and it was fearfully interesting
to me to guess what she was thinking about to herself
I will say more: oh! of course, no one knows what I
went through, moaning over her in her illness. But I
stifled my moans in my own heart, even from Lukerya. I
could not imagine, could not even conceive of her dying
without knowing the whole truth. When she was out of
danger and began to regain her health, I very quickly and
completely, I remember, recovered my tranquillity. What
is more, I made up my mind to defer out future as long as
possible, and meanwhile to leave things just as they were.
Yes, something strange and peculiar happened to me then,
I cannot call it anything else: I had triumphed, and the
mere consciousness of that was enough for me. So the
whole winter passes. Oh! I was satisfied as I had never
been before, and it lasted the whole winter.
You see, there had been a terrible external circumstance
in my life which, up till then - that is, up to the catastrophe
with my wife - had weighed upon me every day and every
hour. I mean the loss of my reputation and my leaving the
regiment. In two words, I was treated with tyrannical
injustice. It is true my comrades did not love me because
of my difficult character, and perhaps because of my
absurd character, though it often happens that what is
exalted, precious and of value to one, for some reason
amuses the herd of one's companions. Oh, I was never
liked, not even at school! I was always and everywhere
disliked. Even Lukerya cannot like me. What happened
in the regiment, though it was the result of their dislike to
me, was in a sense accidental. I mention this because
nothing is more mortifying and insufferable than to be
ruined by an accident, which might have happened or not
have happened, from an unfortunate accumulation of
circumstances which might have passed over like a cloud.
For an intelligent being it is humiliating. This is what
In an interval, at a theatre, I went out to the refreshment
bar. A hussar called A------ came in and began, before all
the officers present and the public, loudly talking to two
other hussars, telling them that Captain Bezumtsev, of our
regiment, was making a disgraceful scene in the passage
and was, "he believed, drunk." The conversation did not
go further and, indeed, it was a mistake, for Captain
Bezumtsev was not drunk and the "disgraceful scene" was
not really disgraceful. The hussars began talking of
something else, and the matter ended there, but the next
day the story reached our regiment, and then they began
saying at once that I was the only officer of our regiment
in the refreshment bar at the time, and that when A----- the
hussar, had spoken insolently of Captain Bezumtsev, I had
not gone up to A----- and stopped him by remonstrating.
But on what grounds could I have done so? If he had a
grudge against Bezumtsev, it was their personal affair and
why should I interfere? Meanwhile, the officers began to
declare that it was not a personal affair, but that it
concerned the regiment, and as I was the only officer of
the regiment present I had thereby shown all the officers
and other people in the refreshment bar that there could be
officers in our regiment who were not over-sensitive on
the score of their own honour and the honour of their
regiment. I could not agree with this view. they let me
know that I could set everything right if I were willing,
even now, late as it was, to demand a formal explanation
from A-----. I was not willing to do this, and as I was
irritated I refused with pride. And thereupon I forthwith
resigned my commission - that is the whole story. I left
the regiment, proud but crushed in spirit. I was depressed
in will and mind. Just then it was that my sister's husband
in Moscow squandered all our little property and my
portion of it, which was tiny enough, but the loss of it left
me homeless, without a farthing. I might have taken a job
in a private business, but I did not. After wearing a
distinguished uniform I could not take work in a railway
office. And so - if it must be shame, let it be shame; if it
must be disgrace, let it be disgrace; if it must be
degradation, let it be degradation - (the worse it is, the
better) that was my choice. Then followed three years of
gloomy memories, and even Vyazemsky's House. A year
and a half ago my godmother, a wealthy old lady, died in
Moscow, and to my surprise left me three thousand in her
will. I thought a little and immediately decided on my
course of action. I determined on setting up as a
pawnbroker, without apologizing to any one: money, then
a home, as far as possible from memories of the past, that
was my plan. Nevertheless, the gloomy past and my
ruined reputation fretted me every day, every hour. But
then I married. Whether it was by chance or not I don't
know. but when I brought her into my home I thought I
was bringing a friend, and I needed a friend so much. But
I saw clearly that the friend must be trained, schooled,
even conquered. Could I have explained myself straight
off to a girl of sixteen with her prejudices? How, for
instance, could I, without the chance help of the horrible
incident with the revolver, have made her believe I was
not a coward, and that I had been unjustly accused of
cowardice in the regiment? But that terrible incident
came just in the nick of time. Standing the test of the
revolver, I scored off all my gloomy past. And though no
one knew about it, she knew, and for me that was
everything, because she was everything for me, all the
hope of the future that I cherished in my dreams! She was
the one person I had prepared for myself, and I needed no
one else - and here she knew everything; she knew, at any
rate, that she had been in haste to join my enemies against
me unjustly. That thought enchanted me. In her eyes I
could not be a scoundrel now, but at most a strange
person, and that thought after all that had happened was
by no means displeasing to me; strangeness is not a vice
- on the contrary, it sometimes attracts the feminine heart.
In fact, I purposely deferred the climax: what had
happened was meanwhile, enough for my peace of mind
and provided a great number of pictures and materials for
my dreams. That is what is wrong, that I am a dreamer:
I had enough material for my dreams, and about her, I
thought she could wait.
So the whole winter passed in a sort of expectation. I
liked looking at her on the sly, when she was sitting at her
little table. She was busy at her needlework, and
sometimes in the evening she read books taken from my
bookcase. The choice of books in the bookcase must have
had an influence in my favour too. She hardly ever went
out. Just before dusk, after dinner, I used to take her out
every day for a walk. We took a constitutional, but we
were not absolutely silent, as we used to be. I tried, in
fact, to make a show of our not being silent, but talking
harmoniously, but as I have said already, we both avoided
letting ourselves go. I did it purposely, I thought it was
essential to "give her time." Of course, it was strange that
almost till the end of the winter it did not once strike me
that, though I love to watch her stealthily, I had never
once, all the winter, caught her glancing at me! I thought
it was timidity in her. Besides, she had an air of such
timid gentleness, such weakness after her illness. Yes,
better to wait and - "she will come to you all at once of
herself. . . ."
That thought fascinated me beyond all words. I will
add one thing; sometimes, as it were purposely, I worked
myself up and brought my mind and spirit to the point of
believing she had injured me. And so it went on for some
time. But my anger could never be very real or violent.
And I felt myself as though it were only acting. And
though I had broken off out marriage by buying that
bedstead and screen, I could never, never look upon her as
a criminal. And not that I took a frivolous view of her
crime, but because I had the sense to forgive her
completely, from the very first day, even before I bought
the bedstead. In fact, it is strange on my part, for I am
strict in moral questions. On the contrary, in my eyes, she
was so conquered, so humiliated, so crushed, that
sometimes I felt agonies of pity for her, though sometimes
the thought of her humiliation was actually pleasing to
me. The thought of our inequality pleased me. . . .
I intentionally performed several acts of kindness that
winter. I excused two debts, I have one poor woman
money without any pledge. And I said nothing to my wife
about it, and I didn't do it in order that she should know;
but the woman came to thank me, almost on her knees.
And in that way it became public property; it seemed to
me that she heard about the woman with pleasure.
But spring was coming, it was mid-April, we took out
the double windows and the sun began lighting up our
silent room with its bright beams. but there was, as it
were, a veil before my eyes and a blindness over my
mind. A fatal, terrible veil! How did it happen that the
scales suddenly fell from my eyes, and I suddenly saw and
understood? Was it a chance, or had the hour come, or
did the ray of sunshine kindle a thought, a conjecture, in
my dull mind? No, it was not a thought, not a conjecture.
But a chord suddenly vibrated, a feeling that had long
been dead was stirred and came to life, flooding all my
darkened soul and devilish pride with light. It was as
though I had suddenly leaped up from my place. And,
indeed, it happened suddenly and abruptly. It happened
towards evening, at five o'clock, after dinner. . . .
Chapter II. The Veil Suddenly Falls
Two words first. A month ago I noticed a strange
melancholy in her, not simply silence, but melancholy.
That, too, I noticed suddenly. She was sitting at her work,
her head bent over her sewing, and she did not see that I
was looking at her. And it suddenly struck me that she
had grown so delicate-looking, so thin, that her face was
pale, her lips were white. All this, together with her
melancholy, struck me all at once. I had already heard a
little dry cough, especially at night. I got up at once and
went off to ask Shreder to come, saying nothing to her.
Shreder came next day. She was very much surprised
and looked first at Shreder and then at me.
"But I am well," she said, with an uncertain smile.
Shreder did not examine her very carefully (these
doctors are sometimes superciliously careless), he only
said to me in the other room, that it was just the result of
her illness, and that it wouldn't be amiss to go for a trip to
the sea in the spring, or, if that were impossible to take a
cottage out of town for the summer. In fact, he said
nothing except that there was weakness, or something of
that sort. When Shreder had gone, she said again, looking
at me very earnestly -
"I am quite well, quite well."
But as she said this she suddenly flushed, apparently
from shame. Apparently it was shame. Oh! now I
understand: she was ashamed that I was still her husband,
that I was looking after her still as though I were a real
husband. But at the time I did not understand and put
down her blush to humility (the veil!).
And so, a month later, in April, at five o'clock on a
bright sunny day, I was sitting in the shop making up my
accounts. Suddenly I heard her, sitting in our room, at
work at her table, begin softly, softly . . . singing. This
novelty made an overwhelming impression upon me, and
to this day I don't understand it. Till then I had hardly
ever heard her sing, unless, perhaps, in those first days,
when we were still able to be playful and practise
shooting at a target. Then her voice was rather strong,
resonant; though not quit true it was very sweet and
healthy. now her little song was so faint - it was not that
it was melancholy (it was some sort of ballad), but in her
voice there was something jangled, broken, as though her
voice were not equal to it, as though the song itself were
sick. She sang in an undertone, and suddenly, as her
voice rose, it broke - such a poor little voice, it broke so
pitifully; she cleared her throat and again began softly,
softly singing. . . .
My emotions will be ridiculed, but no one will
understand why I was so moved! No, I was still not sorry
for her, it was still something quite different. At the
beginning, for the first minute, at any rate, I was filled
with sudden perplexity and terrible amazement - a terrible
and strange, painful and almost vindictive amazement:
"She is singing, and before me; has she forgotten about
Completely overwhelmed, I remained where I was, then
I suddenly got up, took my hat and went out, as it were,
without thinking. At least I don't know why or where I
was going. Lukerya began giving me my overcoat.
"She is singing?" I said to Lukerya involuntarily. She
did not understand, and looked at me still without
understanding; and, indeed, I was really unintelligible.
"Is it the first time she is singing?"
"No, she sometimes does sing when you are out,"
I remember everything. I went downstairs, went out
into the street and walked along at random. I walked to
the corner and began looking into the distance. People
were passing by, the pushed against me. I did not feel it.
I called a cab and told the man, I don't know why, to drive
to Politseysky Bridge. Then suddenly changed my mind
and gave him twenty kopecks.
"That's for my having troubled you," I said, with a
meaningless laugh, but a sort of ecstasy was suddenly
shining within me.
I returned home, quickening my steps. The poor little
jangled, broken note was ringing in my heart again. My
breath failed me. The veil was falling, was falling from
my eyes! Since she sang before me, she had forgotten me
- that is what was clear and terrible. My heart felt it. But
rapture was glowing in my soul and it overcame my
Oh! the irony of fate! Why, there had been nothing
else, and could have been nothing else but that rapture in
my soul all the winter, but where had I been myself all the
winter? Had I been there together with my soul? I ran up
the stairs in great haste, I don't know whether I went in
timidly. I only remember that the whole floor seemed to
be rocking and I felt as though I were floating on a river.
I went into the room. She was sitting in the same place as
before, with her head cursorily and without interest at me;
it was hardly a look but just a habitual and indifferent
movement upon somebody's coming into the room.
I went straight up and sat down beside her in a chair
abruptly, as though I were mad. She looked at me
quickly, seeming frightened; I took her hand and I don't
remember what I said to her - that is, tried to say, for I
could not even speak properly. My voice broke and
would not obey me and I did not know what to say. I
could only gasp for breath.
"Let us talk . . . you know . . . tell me something!" I
muttered something stupid. Oh! how could I help being
stupid? She started again and drew back in great alarm,
looking at my face, but suddenly there was an expression
of stern surprise in her eyes. Yes, surprise and stern. She
looked at me with wide-open eyes. That sternness, that
stern surprise shattered me at once: "So you still expect
love? Love?" that surprise seemed to be asking, though
she said nothing. But I read it all, I read it all. Everything
within me seemed quivering, and I simply fell down at her
feet. Yes, I grovelled at her feet. She jumped up quickly,
but I held her forcibly by both hands.
And I fully understood my despair - I understood it!
But, would you believe it? ecstasy was surging up in my
head so violently that I thought I should die. I kissed her
feet in delirium and rapture. Yes, in immense, infinite
rapture, and that, in spite of understanding all the
hopelessness of my despair. I wept, said something, but
could not speak. Her alarm and amazement were
followed by some uneasy misgiving, some grave question,
and she looked at me strangely, wildly even; she wanted
to understand something quickly and she smiled. She was
horribly ashamed at my kissing her feet and she drew
them back. But I kissed the place on the floor where her
foot had rested. She saw it and suddenly began laughing
with shame (you know how it is when people laugh with
shame). She became hysterical, I saw that her hands
trembled - I did not think about that but went on muttering
that I loved her, that I would not get up. "Let me kiss
your dress . . . and worship you like this all my life." . . .
I don't know, I don't remember - but suddenly she broke
into sobs and trembled all over. A terrible fit of hysterics
followed. I had frightened her.
I carried her to the bed. When the attack had passed
off, sitting on the edge of the bed, with a terribly
exhausted look, she took my two hands and begged me to
calm myself: "Come, come, don't distress yourself, be
calm!" and she began crying again. All that evening I did
not leave her side. I kept telling her I should take her to
Boulogne to bathe in the sea now, at once, in a fortnight,
that she had such a broken voice, I had heard it that
afternoon, that I would shut up the shop, that I would sell
it Dobronravov, that everything should begin afresh and,
above all, Boulogne, Boulogne! She listened and was still
afraid. She grew more and more afraid. But that was not
what mattered most for me: what mattered most to me was
the more and more irresistible longing to fall at her feet
again, and again to kiss and kiss the spot where her foot
had rested, and to worship her; and - "I ask nothing,
nothing more of you," I kept repeating, "do not answer
me, take no notice of me, only let me watch you from my
corner, treat me as your dog, your thing. . . ." She was
"I thought you would let me go on like that," suddenly
broke from her unconsciously, so unconsciously that,
perhaps, she did not notice what she had said, and yet -
oh, that was the most significant, momentous phrase she
uttered that evening, the easiest for me to understand, and
it stabbed my heart as though with a knife! It explained
everything to me, everything, but while she was beside
me, before my eyes, I could not help hoping and was
fearfully happy. Oh, I exhausted her fearfully that
evening. I understood that, but I kept thinking that I
should alter everything directly. At last, towards night,
she utterly exhausted. I persuaded her to go to sleep and
she fell sound asleep at once. I expected her to be
delirious, she was a little delirious, but very slightly. I
kept getting up every minute in the night and going softly
in my slippers to look at her. I wrung my hands over her,
looking at that frail creature in that wretched little iron
bedstead which I had bought for three roubles. I knelt
down, but did not dare to kiss her feet in her sleep
(without her consent). I began praying but leapt up again.
Lukerya kept watch over me and came in and out from the
kitchen. I went in to her, and told her to go to bed, and
that to-morrow "things would be quite different."
And I believed in this, blindly, madly.
Oh, I was brimming over with rapture, rapture! I was
eager for the next day. Above all, I did not believe that
anything could go wrong, in spite of the symptoms.
Reason had not altogether come back to me, though the
veil had fallen from my eyes, and for a long, long time it
did not come back - not till today, not till this very day!
Yes, and how could it have come back then: why, she was
still alive then; why, she was here before my eyes, and I
was before her eyes: "Tomorrow she will wake up and I
will tell her all this, and she will see it all." That was how
I reasoned then, simply and clearly, because I was in an
ecstasy! My great idea was the trip to Boulogne. I kept
thinking for some reason that Boulogne would be
everything, that there was something final and decisive
about Boulogne. "To Boulogne, to Boulogne!" . . . I
waited frantically for the morning.
Chapter III. I Understand Too Well
But you know that was only a few days ago, five days,
only five days ago, last Tuesday! Yes, yes, if there had
only been a little longer, if she had only waited a little -
and I would have dissipated the darkness! - It was not as
though she had not recovered her calmness. The very
next day she listened to me with a smile, in spite of her
confusion. . . . All this time, all these five days, she was
either confused or ashamed. She was afraid, too, very
much afraid. I don't dispute it, I am not so mad as to deny
it. It was terror, but how could she help being frightened?
We had so long been strangers to one another, had grown
so alienated from one another, and suddenly all this. . . .
But I did not look at her terror. I was dazzled by the new
life beginning! . . . It is true, it is undoubtedly true that I
made a mistake. There were even, perhaps, many
mistakes. When I woke up next day, the first thing in the
morning (that was on Wednesday), I made a mistake: I
suddenly made her my friend. I was in too great a hurry,
but a confession was necessary, inevitable - more than a
confession! I did not even hide what I had hidden from
myself all my life. I told her straight out that the whole
winter I had been doing nothing but brood over the
certainty of her love. I made clear to her that my
money-lending had been simply the degradation of my
will and my mind, my personal idea of self-castigation
and self-exaltation. I explained to her that I really had
been cowardly that time in the refreshment bar, that it was
owing to my temperament, to my self-consciousness. I
was impressed by the surroundings, by the theatre: I was
doubtful how I should succeed and whether it would be
stupid. I was not afraid of a duel, but of its being stupid
. . . and afterwards I would not own it and tormented
every one and had tormented her for it, and had married
her so as to torment her for it. In fact, for the most part I
talked as though in delirium. She herself took my hands
and made me leave off. "You are exaggerating . . . you
are distressing yourself," ad again there were tears, again
almost hysterics! She kept begging me not to say all this,
not to recall it.
I took no notice of her entreaties, or hardly noticed
them: "Spring, Boulogne! There there would be sunshine,
there our new sunshine," I kept saying that! I shut up the
shop and transferred it to Dobronravov. I suddenly
suggested to her giving all our money to the poor except
the three thousand left me by my godmother, which we
would spend on going to Boulogne, and then we would
come back and begin a new life of real work. So we
decided, for she said nothing. . . . She only smiled. And
I believe she smiled chiefly from delicacy, for fear of
disappointing me. I saw, of course, that I was
burdensome to her, don't imagine I was so stupid or
egoistic as not to see it. I saw it all, all, to the smallest
detail, I saw better than any one; all the hopelessness of
my position stood revealed.
I told her everything about myself and about her. And
about Lukerya. I told her that I had wept. . . . Oh, of
course, I changed the conversation. I tried, too, not to say
a word more about certain things. And, indeed, she did
revive once or twice - I remember it, I remember it! Why
do you say I looked at her and saw nothing? And if only
this had not happened, everything would have come to life
again. Why, only the day before yesterday, when we
were talking of reading and what she had been reading
that winter, she told me something herself, and laughed as
she told me, recalling the scene of Gil Blas and the
Archbishop of Granada. And with that sweet, childish
laughter, just as in old days when we were eager (one
instant! one instant!); how glad I was! I was awfully
struck, though, by the story of the Archbishop; so she had
found peace of mind and happiness enough to laugh at
that literary masterpiece while she was sitting there in the
winter. So then she had begun to be fully at rest, had
begun to believe confidently "that I should leave her like
that. I thought you would leave me like that," those were
the word she uttered then on Tuesday! Oh! the thought of
a child of ten! And you know she believed it, she
believed that really everything would remain like that: she
at her table and I at mine, and we both should go on like
that till we were sixty. And all at once - I come forward,
her husband, and the husband wants love! Oh, the
delusion! Oh, my blindness!
It was a mistake, too, that I looked at her with rapture;
I ought to have controlled myself, as it was my rapture
frightened her. But, indeed, I did control myself, I did not
kiss her feet again. I never made a sign of . . . well, that
I was her husband - oh, there was no thought of that in my
mind, I only worshipped her! But, you know, I couldn't
be quite silent, I could not refrain from speaking
altogether! I suddenly said to her frankly, that I enjoyed
her conversation and that I thought her incomparably
more cultured and developed than I. She flushed crimson
and said in confusion that I exaggerated. Then, like a
fool, I could not resist telling her how delighted I had been
when I had stood behind the door listening to her duel, the
duel of innocence with that low cad, and how I had
enjoyed her cleverness, the brilliance of her wit, and, at
the same time, her childlike simplicity. She seemed to
shudder all over, was murmuring again that I exaggerated,
but suddenly her whole face darkened, she hit it in her
hands and broke into sobs. . . . Then I could not restrain
myself: again I fell at her feet, again I began kissing her
feet, and again it ended in a fit of hysterics, just as on
Tuesday. That was yesterday evening - and - in the
morning. . . .
In the morning! Madman! why, that morning was
today, just now, only just now!
Listen and try to understand: why, when we met by the
samovar (it was after yesterday's hysterics), I was actually
struck by her calmness, that is the actual fact! And all
night I had been trembling with terror over what happened
yesterday. But suddenly she came up to me and, clasping
her hands (this morning, this morning!) began telling me
that she was a criminal, that she knew it, that her crime
had been torturing her all the winter, was torturing her
now. . . . That she appreciated my generosity. . . . "I will
be your faithful wife, I will respect you . . ."
Then I leapt up and embraced her like a madman. I
kissed her, kissed her face, kissed her lips like a husband
for the first time after a long separation. And why did I go
out this morning, only two hours . . . our passports for
abroad. . . . Oh, God! if only I had come back five
minutes, only five minutes earlier! . . . That crowd at our
gates, those eyes all fixed upon me. Oh, God!
Lukerya says (oh! I will not let Lukerya go now for
anything. She knows all about it, she has been here all the
winter, she will tell me everything!), she says that when
I had gone out of the house and only about twenty minutes
before I came back - she suddenly went into our room to
her mistress to ask her something, I don't remember what,
and saw that her ikon (that same ikon of the Mother of
God) had been taken down and was standing before her
on the table, and her mistress seemed to have only just
been praying before it. "What are you doing, mistress?"
"Nothing, Lukerya, run along." "Wait a minute,
Lukerya." "She came up and kissed me." "Are you
happy, mistress?" I said. "Yes, Lukerya," and she smiled,
but so strangely. So strangely that Lukerya went back ten
minutes later to have a look at her.
"She was standing by the wall, close to the window, she
had laid her arm against the wall, and her head was
pressed on her arm, she was standing like that thinking.
And she was standing so deep in thought that she did not
hear me come and look at her from the other room. She
seemed to be smiling - standing, thinking and smiling. I
looked at her, turned softly and went out wondering to
myself, and suddenly I heard the window opened. I went
in at once to say: 'It's fresh, mistress; mind you don't catch
cold,' and suddenly I saw she had got on the window and
was standing there, her full height, in the open window,
with her back to me, holding the ikon in her hand. My
heart sank on the spot. I cried, 'Mistress, mistress.' She
heard, made a movement to turn back to me, but, instead
of turning back, took a step forward, pressed the ikon to
her bosom, and flung herself out of window."
I only remember that when I went in at the gate she was
still warm. The worst of it was they were all looking at
me. At first they shouted and then suddenly they were
silent, and then all of them moved away from me . . . and
she was lying there with the ikon. I remember, as it were,
in a darkness, that I went up to her in silence and looked
at her a long while. But all came round me and said
something to me. Lukerya was there too, but I did not see
her. She says she said something to me. I only remember
that workman. He kept shouting to me that, "Only a
handful of blood came from her mouth, a handful, a
handful!" and he pointed to the blood on a stone. I believe
I touched the blood with my finger, I smeared my finger,
I looked at my finger (that I remember), and he kept
repeating: "a handful, a handful!"
"What do you mean by a handful?" I yelled with all my
might, I am told, and I lifted up my hands and rushed at
Oh, wild! wild! Delusion! Monstrous! Impossible!
Chapter IV. I Was Only Five Minutes Too Late
Is it not so? Is it likely? Can one really say it was
possible? What for, why did this woman die?
Oh, believe me, I understand, but why she dies is still
a question. She was frightened of my love, asked herself
seriously whether to accept it or not, could not bear the
question and preferred to die. I know, I know, no need to
rack my brains: she had made too many promises, she was
afraid she could not keep them - it is clear. There are
circumstances about it quite awful.
For why did she die? That is still a question, after all.
The question hammers, hammers at my brain. I would
have left her like that if she had wanted to remain like
that. She did not believe it, that's what it was! No - no.
I am talking nonsense, it was not that at all. It was simply
because with me she had to be honest - if she loved me,
she would have had to love me altogether, and not as she
would have loved the grocer. And as she was too chaste,
too pure, to consent to such love as the grocer wanted she
did not want to deceive me. Did not want to deceive me
with half love, counterfeiting love, or a quarter love.
They are honest, too honest, that is what it is! I wanted to
instil breadth of heart in her, in those days, do you
remember? A strange idea.
It is awfully interesting to know: did she respect me or
not? I don't know whether she despised me or not. I don't
believe she did despise me. It is awfully strange: why did
it never once enter my head all the winter that she
despised me? I was absolutely convinced of the contrary
up to that moment when she looked at me with stern
surprise. Stern it was. I understood once for all, for ever!
Ah, let her, let her despise me all her life even, only let
her be living! Only yesterday she was walking about,
talking. I simply can't understand how she threw herself
out of window! And how could I have imagined it five
minutes before? I have called Lukerya. I won't let
Lukerya go now for anything!
Oh, we might still have understood each other! We had
simply become terribly estranged from one another during
the winter, but couldn't we have grown used to each other
again? Why, why, couldn't we have come together again
and begun a new life again? I am generous, she was too
- that was a point in common! Only a few more words,
another two days - no more, and she would have
What is most mortifying of all is that it is chance -
simply a barbarous, lagging chance. that is what is
mortifying! Five minutes, only five minutes too late!
Had I come five minutes earlier, the moment would have
passed away like a cloud, and it would never have entered
her head again. And it would have ended by her
understanding it all. But now again empty rooms, and me
alone. Here the pendulum is ticking; it does not care, it
has no pity. . . . There is no one - that's the misery of it!
I keep walking about, I keep walking about. I know, I
know, you need not tell me; it amuses you, you think it
absurd that I complain of chance and those five minutes.
But it is evident. Consider one thing: she did not even
leave a note, to say, "Blame no one for my death," as
people always do. Might she not have thought that
Lukerya might get into trouble. "She was alone with her,"
might have been said, "and pushed her out." In any case
she would have been taken up by the police if it had not
happened that four people, from the windows, from the
lodge, and from the yard, had seen her stand with the ikon
in her hands and jump out of herself. But that, too, was a
chance, that te people were standing there and saw her.
No, it was all a moment, only an irresponsible moment.
A sudden impulse, a fantasy! What if she did pray before
the ikon? It does not follow that she was facing death.
The whole impulse lasted, perhaps, only some ten
minutes; it was all decided, perhaps, while she stood
against the wall with her head on her arm, smiling. The
idea darted into her brain, she turned giddy and - and
could not resist it.
Say what you will, it was clearly misunderstanding. It
could have been possible to live with me. And what if it
were anaemia? Was it simply from poorness of blood,
from the flagging of vital energy? She had grown tired
during the winter, that was what it was. . . .
I was too late ! ! !
How thin she is in her coffin, how sharp her nose has
grown! Her eyelashes lie straight as arrows. And, you
know, when she fell, nothing was crushed, nothing was
broken! Nothing but that "handful of blood." A
dessertspoonful, that is. From internal injury. A strange
thought: if only it were possible not to bury her? For if
they take her away, then . . . oh, no, it is almost incredible
that they take her away! I am not mad and I am not raving
- on the contrary, my mind was never so lucid - but what
shall I do when again there is no one, only the two rooms,
and me alone with the pledges? Madness, madness,
madness! I worried her to death, that is what it is!
What are your laws to me now? What do I car for your
customs, your morals, your life, your state, your faith!
Let your judge judge me, let me be brought before your
court, let me be tried by jury, and I shall say that I admit
nothing. the judge will shout, "Be silent, officer." And I
will shout to him, "What power have you now that I will
obey? Why did blind, inert force destroy that which was
dearest of all? What are your laws to me now? They are
nothing to me." Oh, I don't care!
She was blind, blind! She is dead, she does not hear!
You do not know with what paradise I would have
surrounded you. There was paradise in my soul, I would
have made it blossom around you! Well, you wouldn't
have loved me - so be it, what of it? Things should still
have been like that, everything should have remained like
that. You should only have talked to me as a friend - we
could have rejoiced and laughed with joy looking at one
another. And so we should have lived. And if you had
loved another - well, so be it, so be it! You should have
walked with him laughing, and I should have watched you
from the other side of the street. . . . Oh, anything,
anything, if only she would open her eyes just once! For
one instant, only one! If she would look at me as she did
this morning, when she stood before me and made a vow
to be a faithful wife! Oh, in one look she would have
understood it all!
Oh, blind force! Oh, nature! Men are alone on earth -
that is what is dreadful! "Is there a living man in the
country?" cried the Russian hero. I cry the same, though
I am not a hero, and no one answers my cry. They say the
sun gives life to the universe. The sun is rising and - look
at it, is it not dead? Everything is dead and everywhere
there are dead. Men are alone - around them is silence -
that is the earth! "Men, love one another" - who said that?
Whose commandment is that? The pendulum ticks
callously, heartlessly. Two o'clock at night. Her little
shoes are standing by the little bed, as though waiting for
her. . . . No, seriously, when they take her away
tomorrow, what will become of me?