The House with the Mezzanine and Other Stories
by Anton Tchekoff
WITH THE MEZZANINE
AND OTHER STORIES
TRANSLATED FROM THE RUSSIAN BY
S. S. KOTELIANSKY AND GILBERT CANNAN
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1917
COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published August, 1917
THE HOUSE WITH
THE LADY WITH
THE TOY DOG
MY LIFE. THE
STORY OF A
THE HOUSE WITH THE MEZZANINE
(A PAINTER'S STORY)
It happened nigh on seven years ago, when I was living in one of the
districts of the J. province, on the estate of Bielokurov, a landowner,
a young man who used to get up early, dress himself in a long overcoat,
drink beer in the evenings, and all the while complain to me that he
could nowhere find any one in sympathy with his ideas. He lived in a
little house in the orchard, and I lived in the old manor-house, in a
huge pillared hall where there was no furniture except a large divan,
on which I slept, and a table at which I used to play patience. Even in
calm weather there was always a moaning in the chimney, and in a storm
the whole house would rock and seem as though it must split, and it was
quite terrifying, especially at night, when all the ten great windows
were suddenly lit up by a flash of lightning.
Doomed by fate to permanent idleness, I did positively nothing. For
hours together I would sit and look through the windows at the sky, the
birds, the trees and read my letters over and over again, and then for
hours together I would sleep. Sometimes I would go out and wander
aimlessly until evening.
Once on my way home I came unexpectedly on a strange farmhouse. The
sun was already setting, and the lengthening shadows were thrown over
the ripening corn. Two rows of closely planted tall fir-trees stood
like two thick walls, forming a sombre, magnificent avenue. I climbed
the fence and walked up the avenue, slipping on the fir needles which
lay two inches thick on the ground. It was still, dark, and only here
and there in the tops of the trees shimmered a bright gold light
casting the colours of the rainbow on a spider's web. The smell of the
firs was almost suffocating. Then I turned into an avenue of limes. And
here too were desolation and decay; the dead leaves rustled mournfully
beneath my feet, and there were lurking shadows among the trees. To the
right, in an old orchard, a goldhammer sang a faint reluctant song, and
he too must have been old. The lime-trees soon came to an end and I
came to a white house with a terrace and a mezzanine, and suddenly a
vista opened upon a farmyard with a pond and a bathing-shed, and a row
of green willows, with a village beyond, and above it stood a tall,
slender belfry, on which glowed a cross catching the light of the
setting sun. For a moment I was possessed with a sense of enchantment,
intimate, particular, as though I had seen the scene before in my
By the white-stone gate surmounted with stone lions, which led from
the yard into the field, stood two girls. One of them, the elder, thin,
pale, very handsome, with masses of chestnut hair and a little stubborn
mouth, looked rather prim and scarcely glanced at me; the other, who
was quite youngseventeen or eighteen, no more, also thin and pale,
with a big mouth and big eyes, looked at me in surprise, as I passed,
said something in English and looked confused, and it seemed to me that
I had always known their dear faces. And I returned home feeling as
though I had awoke from a pleasant dream.
Soon after that, one afternoon, when Bielokurov and I were walking
near the house, suddenly there came into the yard a spring-carriage in
which sat one of the two girls, the elder. She had come to ask for
subscriptions to a fund for those who had suffered in a recent fire.
Without looking at us, she told us very seriously how many houses had
been burned down in Sianov, how many men, women, and children had been
left without shelter, and what had been done by the committee of which
she was a member. She gave us the list for us to write our names, put
it away, and began to say good-bye.
You have completely forgotten us, Piotr Petrovich, she said to
Bielokurov, as she gave him her hand. Come and see us, and if Mr. N.
(she said my name) would like to see how the admirers of his talent
live and would care to come and see us, then mother and I would be very
When she had gone Piotr Petrovich began to tell me about her. The
girl, he said, was of a good family and her name was Lydia Volchaninov,
and the estate, on which she lived with her mother and sister, was
called, like the village on the other side of the pond, Sholkovka. Her
father had once occupied an eminent position in Moscow and died a privy
councillor. Notwithstanding their large means, the Volchaninovs always
lived in the village, summer and winter, and Lydia was a teacher in the
Zemstvo School at Sholkovka and earned twenty-five roubles a month. She
only spent what she earned on herself and was proud of her
They are an interesting family, said Bielokurov. We ought to go
and see them. They will be very glad to see you.
One afternoon, during a holiday, we remembered the Volchaninovs and
went over to Sholkovka. They were all at home. The mother, Ekaterina
Pavlovna, had obviously once been handsome, but now she was stouter
than her age warranted, suffered from asthma, was melancholy and
absent-minded as she tried to entertain me with talk about painting.
When she heard from her daughter that I might perhaps come over to
Sholkovka, she hurriedly called to mind a few of my landscapes which
she had seen in exhibitions in Moscow, and now she asked what I had
tried to express in them. Lydia, or as she was called at home, Lyda,
talked more to Bielokurov than to me. Seriously and without a smile,
she asked him why he did not work for the Zemstvo and why up till now
he had never been to a Zemstvo meeting.
It is not right of you, Piotr Petrovich, she said reproachfully.
It is not right. It is a shame.
True, Lyda, true, said her mother. It is not right.
All our district is in Balaguin's hands, Lyda went on, turning to
me. He is the chairman of the council and all the jobs in the district
are given to his nephews and brothers-in-law, and he does exactly as he
likes. We ought to fight him. The young people ought to form a strong
party; but you see what our young men are like. It is a shame, Piotr
The younger sister, Genya, was silent during the conversation about
the Zemstvo. She did not take part in serious conversations, for by the
family she was not considered grown-up, and they gave her her
baby-name, Missyuss, because as a child she used to call her English
governess that. All the time she examined me curiously and when I
looked at the photograph-album she explained: This is my uncle....
That is my godfather, and fingered the portraits, and at the same time
touched me with her shoulder in a childlike way, and I could see her
small, undeveloped bosom, her thin shoulders, her long, slim waist
tightly drawn in by a belt.
We played croquet and lawn-tennis, walked in the garden, had tea,
and then a large supper. After the huge pillared hall, I felt out of
tune in the small cosy house, where there were no oleographs on the
walls and the servants were treated considerately, and everything
seemed to me young and pure, through the presence of Lyda and Missyuss,
and everything was decent and orderly. At supper Lyda again talked to
Bielokurov about the Zemstvo, about Balaguin, about school libraries.
She was a lively, sincere, serious girl, and it was interesting to
listen to her, though she spoke at length and in a loud voiceperhaps
because she was used to holding forth at school. On the other hand,
Piotr Petrovich, who from his university days had retained the habit of
reducing any conversation to a discussion, spoke tediously, slowly, and
deliberately, with an obvious desire to be taken for a clever and
progressive man. He gesticulated and upset the sauce with his sleeve
and it made a large pool on the table-cloth, though nobody but myself
seemed to notice it.
When we returned home the night was dark and still.
I call it good breeding, said Bielokurov, with a sigh, not so
much not to upset the sauce on the table, as not to notice it when some
one else has done it. Yes. An admirable intellectual family. I'm rather
out of touch with nice people. Ah! terribly. And all through business,
He went on to say what hard work being a good farmer meant. And I
thought: What a stupid, lazy lout! When we talked seriously he would
drag it out with his awful drawler, er, erand he works just as he
talksslowly, always behindhand, never up to time; and as for his
being businesslike, I don't believe it, for he often keeps letters
given him to post for weeks in his pocket.
The worst of it is, he murmured as he walked along by my side,
the worst of it is that you go working away and never get any sympathy
I began to frequent the Volchaninovs' house. Usually I sat on the
bottom step of the veranda. I was filled with dissatisfaction, vague
discontent with my life, which had passed so quickly and
uninterestingly, and I thought all the while how good it would be to
tear out of my breast my heart which had grown so weary. There would be
talk going on on the terrace, the rustling of dresses, the fluttering
of the pages of a book. I soon got used to Lyda receiving the sick all
day long, and distributing books, and I used often to go with her to
the village, bareheaded, under an umbrella. And in the evening she
would hold forth about the Zemstvo and schools. She was very handsome,
subtle, correct, and her lips were thin and sensitive, and whenever a
serious conversation started she would say to me drily:
This won't interest you.
I was not sympathetic to her. She did not like me because I was a
landscape-painter, and in my pictures did not paint the suffering of
the masses, and I seemed to her indifferent to what she believed in. I
remember once driving along the shore of the Baikal and I met a Bouryat
girl, in shirt and trousers of Chinese cotton, on horseback: I asked
her if she would sell me her pipe and, while we were talking, she
looked with scorn at my European face and hat, and in a moment she got
bored with talking to me, whooped and galloped away. And in exactly the
same way Lyda despised me as a stranger. Outwardly she never showed her
dislike of me, but I felt it, and, as I sat on the bottom step of the
terrace, I had a certain irritation and said that treating the peasants
without being a doctor meant deceiving them, and that it is easy to be
a benefactor when one owns four thousand acres.
Her sister, Missyuss, had no such cares and spent her time in
complete idleness, like myself. As soon as she got up in the morning
she would take a book and read it on the terrace, sitting far back in a
lounge chair so that her feet hardly touched the ground, or she would
hide herself with her book in the lime-walk, or she would go through
the gate into the field. She would read all day long, eagerly poring
over the book, and only through her looking fatigued, dizzy, and pale
sometimes, was it possible to guess how much her reading exhausted her.
When she saw me come she would blush a little and leave her book, and,
looking into my face with her big eyes, she would tell me of things
that had happened, how the chimney in the servants' room had caught
fire, or how the labourer had caught a large fish in the pond. On
week-days she usually wore a bright-coloured blouse and a dark-blue
skirt. We used to go out together and pluck cherries for jam, in the
boat, and when she jumped to reach a cherry, or pulled the oars, her
thin, round arms would shine through her wide sleeves. Or I would make
a sketch and she would stand and watch me breathlessly.
One Sunday, at the end of June, I went over to the Volchaninovs in
the morning about nine o'clock. I walked through the park, avoiding the
house, looking for mushrooms, which were very plentiful that summer,
and marking them so as to pick them later with Genya. A warm wind was
blowing. I met Genya and her mother, both in bright Sunday dresses,
going home from church, and Genya was holding her hat against the wind.
They told me they were going to have tea on the terrace.
As a man without a care in the world, seeking somehow to justify his
constant idleness, I have always found such festive mornings in a
country house universally attractive. When the green garden, still
moist with dew, shines in the sun and seems happy, and when the terrace
smells of mignonette and oleander, and the young people have just
returned from church and drink tea in the garden, and when they are all
so gaily dressed and so merry, and when you know that all these
healthy, satisfied, beautiful people will do nothing all day long, then
you long for all life to be like that. So I thought then as I walked
through the garden, quite prepared to drift like that without
occupation or purpose, all through the day, all through the summer.
Genya carried a basket and she looked as though she knew that she
would find me there. We gathered mushrooms and talked, and whenever she
asked me a question she stood in front of me to see my face.
Yesterday, she said, a miracle happened in our village.
Pelagueya, the cripple, has been ill for a whole year, and no doctors
or medicines were any good, but yesterday an old woman muttered over
her and she got better.
That's nothing, I said. One should not go to sick people and old
women for miracles. Is not health a miracle? And life itself? A miracle
is something incomprehensible.
And you are not afraid of the incomprehensible?
No. I like to face things I do not understand and I do not submit
to them. I am superior to them. Man must think himself higher than
lions, tigers, stars, higher than anything in nature, even higher than
that which seems incomprehensible and miraculous. Otherwise he is not a
man, but a mouse which is afraid of everything.
Genya thought that I, as an artist, knew a great deal and could
guess what I did not know. She wanted me to lead her into the region of
the eternal and the beautiful, into the highest world, with which, as
she thought, I was perfectly familiar, and she talked to me of God, of
eternal life, of the miraculous. And I, who did not admit that I and my
imagination would perish for ever, would reply: Yes. Men are immortal.
Yes, eternal life awaits us. And she would listen and believe me and
never asked for proof.
As we approached the house she suddenly stopped and said:
Our Lyda is a remarkable person, isn't she? I love her dearly and
would gladly sacrifice my life for her at any time. But tell meGenya
touched my sleeve with her fingerbut tell me, why do you argue with
her all the time? Why are you so irritated?
Because she is not right.
Genya shook her head and tears came to her eyes.
How incomprehensible! she muttered.
At that moment Lyda came out, and she stood by the balcony with a
riding-whip in her hand, and looked very fine and pretty in the
sunlight as she gave some orders to a farm-hand. Bustling about and
talking loudly, she tended two or three of her patients, and then with
a businesslike, preoccupied look she walked through the house, opening
one cupboard after another, and at last went off to the attic; it took
some time to find her for dinner and she did not come until we had
finished the soup. Somehow I remember all these, little details and
love to dwell on them, and I remember the whole of that day vividly,
though nothing particular happened. After dinner Genya read, lying in
her lounge chair, and I sat on the bottom step of the terrace. We were
silent. The sky was overcast and a thin fine rain began to fall. It was
hot, the wind had dropped, and it seemed the day would never end.
Ekaterina Pavlovna came out on to the terrace with a fan, looking very
O, mamma, said Genya, kissing her hand. It is not good for you to
sleep during the day.
They adored each other. When one went into the garden, the other
would stand on the terrace and look at the trees and call: Hello!
Genya! or Mamma, dear, where are you? They always prayed together
and shared the same faith, and they understood each other very well,
even when they were silent. And they treated other people in exactly
the same way. Ekaterina Pavlovna also soon got used to me and became
attached to me, and when I did not turn up for a few days she would
send to inquire if I was well. And she too used to look admiringly at
my sketches, and with the same frank loquacity she would tell me things
that happened, and she would confide her domestic secrets to me.
She revered her elder daughter. Lyda never came to her for caresses,
and only talked about serious things: she went her own way and to her
mother and sister she was as sacred and enigmatic as the admiral,
sitting in his cabin, to his sailors.
Our Lyda is a remarkable person, her mother would often say;
And, now, as the soft rain fell, we spoke of Lyda:
She is a remarkable woman, said her mother, and added in a low
voice like a conspirator's as she looked round, such as she have to be
looked for with a lamp in broad daylight, though you know, I am
beginning to be anxious. The school, pharmacies, booksall very well,
but why go to such extremes? She is twenty-three and it is time for her
to think seriously about herself. If she goes on with her books and her
pharmacies she won't know how life has passed.... She ought to marry.
Genya, pale with reading, and with her hair ruffled, looked up and
said, as if to herself, as she glanced at her mother:
Mamma, dear, everything depends on the will of God.
And once more she plunged into her book.
Bielokurov came over in a poddiovka, wearing an embroidered
shirt. We played croquet and lawn-tennis, and when it grew dark we had
a long supper, and Lyda once more spoke of her schools and Balaguin,
who had got the whole district into his own hands. As I left the
Volchaninovs that night I carried away an impression of a long, long
idle day, with a sad consciousness that everything ends, however long
it may be. Genya took me to the gate, and perhaps, because she had
spent the whole day with me from the beginning to end, I felt somehow
lonely without her, and the whole kindly family was dear to me: and for
the first time during the whole of that summer I had a desire to work.
Tell me why you lead such a monotonous life, I asked Bielokurov,
as we went home. My life is tedious, dull, monotonous, because I am a
painter, a queer fish, and have been worried all my life with envy,
discontent, disbelief in my work: I am always poor, I am a vagabond,
but you are a wealthy, normal man, a landowner, a gentlemanwhy do you
live so tamely and take so little from life? Why, for instance, haven't
you fallen in love with Lyda or Genya?
You forget that I love another woman, answered Bielokurov.
He meant his mistress, Lyabor Ivanovna, who lived with him in the
orchard house. I used to see the lady every day, very stout, podgy,
pompous, like a fatted goose, walking in the garden in a Russian
head-dress, always with a sunshade, and the servants used to call her
to meals or tea. Three years ago she rented a part of his house for the
summer, and stayed on to live with Bielokurov, apparently for ever. She
was ten years older than he and managed him very strictly, so that he
had to ask her permission to go out. She would often sob and make
horrible noises like a man with a cold, and then I used to send and
tell her that I'm if she did not stop I would go away. Then she would
When we reached home, Bielokurov sat down on the divan and frowned
and brooded, and I began to pace up and down the hall, feeling a sweet
stirring in me, exactly like the stirring of love. I wanted to talk
about the Volchaninovs.
Lyda could only fall in love with a Zemstvo worker like herself,
some one who is run off his legs with hospitals and schools, I said.
For the sake of a girl like that a man might not only become a Zemstvo
worker, but might even become worn out, like the tale of the iron
boots. And Missyuss? How charming Missyuss is!
Bielokurov began to talk at length and with his drawling er-er-ers
of the disease of the centurypessimism. He spoke confidently and
argumentatively. Hundreds of miles of deserted, monotonous, blackened
steppe could not so forcibly depress the mind as a man like that,
sitting and talking and showing no signs of going away.
The point is neither pessimism nor optimism, I said irritably,
but that ninety-nine out of a hundred have no sense.
Bielokurov took this to mean himself, was offended, and went away.
The Prince is on a visit to Malozyomov and sends you his regards,
said Lyda to her mother, as she came in and took off her gloves. He
told me many interesting things. He promised to bring forward in the
Zemstvo Council the question of a medical station at Malozyomov, but he
says there is little hope. And turning to me, she said: Forgive me, I
keep forgetting that you are not interested.
I felt irritated.
Why not? I asked and shrugged my shoulders. You don't care about
my opinion, but I assure you, the question greatly interests me.
In my opinion there is absolutely no need for a medical station at
My irritation affected her: she gave a glance at me, half closed her
eyes and said:
What is wanted then? Landscapes?
Not landscapes either. Nothing is wanted there.
She finished taking off her gloves and took up a newspaper which had
just come by post; a moment later, she said quietly, apparently
Last week Anna died in childbirth, and if a medical man had been
available she would have lived. However, I suppose landscape-painters
are entitled to their opinions.
I have a very definite opinion, I assure you, said I, and she took
refuge behind the newspaper, as though she did not wish to listen. In
my opinion medical stations, schools, libraries, pharmacies, under
existing conditions, only lead to slavery. The masses are caught in a
vast chain: you do not cut it but only add new links to it. That is my
She looked at me and smiled mockingly, and I went on, striving to
catch the thread of my ideas.
It does not matter that Anna should die in childbirth, but it does
matter that all these Annas, Mavras, Pelagueyas, from dawn to sunset
should be grinding away, ill from overwork, all their lives worried
about their starving sickly children; all their lives they are afraid
of death and disease, and have to be looking after themselves; they
fade in youth, grow old very early, and die in filth and dirt; their
children as they grow up go the same way and hundreds of years slip by
and millions of people live worse than animalsin constant dread of
never having a crust to eat; but the horror of their position is that
they have no time to think of their souls, no time to remember that
they are made in the likeness of God; hunger, cold, animal fear,
incessant work, like drifts of snow block all the ways to spiritual
activity, to the very thing that distinguishes man from the animals,
and is the only thing indeed that makes life worth living. You come to
their assistance with hospitals and schools, but you do not free them
from their fetters; on the contrary, you enslave them even more, since
by introducing new prejudices into their lives, you increase the number
of their demands, not to mention the fact that they have to pay the
Zemstvo for their drugs and pamphlets, and therefore, have to work
harder than ever.
I will not argue with you, said Lyda. I have heard all that. She
put down her paper. I will only tell you one thing, it is no good
sitting with folded hands. It is true, we do not save mankind, and
perhaps we do make mistakes, but we do what we can and we are right.
The highest and most sacred truth for an educated beingis to help his
neighbours, and we do what we can to help. You do not like it, but it
is impossible to please everybody.
True, Lyda, true, said her mother.
In Lyda's presence her courage always failed her, and as she talked
she would look timidly at her, for she was afraid of saying something
foolish or out of place: and she never contradicted, but would always
agree: True, Lyda, true.
Teaching peasants to read and write, giving them little moral
pamphlets and medical assistance, cannot decrease either ignorance or
mortality, just as the light from your windows cannot illuminate this
huge garden, I said. You give nothing by your interference in the
lives of these people. You only create new demands, and a new
compulsion to work.
Ah! My God, but we must do something! said Lyda exasperatedly, and
I could tell by her voice that she thought my opinions negligible and
It is necessary, I said, to free people from hard physical work.
It is necessary to relieve them of their yoke, to give them breathing
space, to save them from spending their whole lives in the kitchen or
the byre, in the fields; they should have time to take thought of their
souls, of God and to develop their spiritual capacities. Every human
being's salvation lies in spiritual activityin his continual search
for truth and the meaning of life. Give them some relief from rough,
animal labour, let them feel free, then you will see how ridiculous at
bottom your pamphlets and pharmacies are. Once a human being is aware
of his vocation, then he can only be satisfied with religion, service,
art, and not with trifles like that.
Free them from work? Lyda gave a smile. Is that possible?
Yes.... Take upon yourself a part of their work. If we all, in town
and country, without exception, agreed to share the work which is being
spent by mankind in the satisfaction of physical demands, then none of
us would have to work more than two or three hours a day. If all of us,
rich and poor, worked three hours a day the rest of our time would be
free. And then to be still less dependent on our bodies, we should
invent machines to do the work and we should try to reduce our demands
to the minimum. We should toughen ourselves and our children should not
be afraid of hunger and cold, and we should not be anxious about their
health, as Anna, Maria, Pelagueya were anxious. Then supposing we did
not bother about doctors and pharmacies, and did away with tobacco
factories and distillerieswhat a lot of free time we should have! We
should give our leisure to service and the arts. Just as peasants all
work together to repair the roads, so the whole community would work
together to seek truth and the meaning of life, and, I am sure of
ittruth would be found very soon, man would get rid of his continual,
poignant, depressing fear of death and even of death itself.
But you contradict yourself, said Lyda. You talk about service
and deny education.
I deny the education of a man who can only use it to read the signs
on the public houses and possibly a pamphlet which he is incapable of
understandingthe kind of education we have had from the time of
Riurik: and village life has remained exactly as it was then. Not
education is wanted but freedom for the full development of spiritual
capacities. Not schools are wanted but universities.
You deny medicine too.
Yes. It should only be used for the investigation of diseases, as
natural phenomenon, not for their cure. It is no good curing diseases
if you don't cure their causes. Remove the chief causephysical
labour, and there will be no diseases. I don't acknowledge the science
which cures, I went on excitedly. Science and art, when they are
true, are directed not to temporary or private purposes, but to the
eternal and the generalthey seek the truth and the meaning of life,
they seek God, the soul, and when they are harnessed to passing needs
and activities, like pharmacies and libraries, then they only
complicate and encumber life. We have any number of doctors,
pharmacists, lawyers, and highly educated people, but we have no
biologists, mathematicians, philosophers, poets. All our intellectual
and spiritual energy is wasted on temporary passing needs....
Scientists, writers, painters work and work, and thanks to them the
comforts of life grow greater every day, the demands of the body
multiply, but we are still a long way from the truth and man still
remains the most rapacious and unseemly of animals, and everything
tends to make the majority of mankind degenerate and more and more
lacking in vitality. Under such conditions the life of an artist has no
meaning and the more talented he is, the more strange and
incomprehensible his position is, since it only amounts to his working
for the amusement of the predatory, disgusting animal, man, and
supporting the existing state of things. And I don't want to work and
will not.... Nothing is wanted, so let the world go to hell.
Missyuss, go away, said Lyda to her sister, evidently thinking my
words dangerous to so young a girl.
Genya looked sadly at her sister and mother and went out.
People generally talk like that, said Lyda, when they want to
excuse their indifference. It is easier to deny hospitals and schools
than to come and teach.
True, Lyda, true, her mother agreed.
You say you will not work, Lyda went on. Apparently you set a
high price on your work, but do stop arguing. We shall never agree,
since I value the most imperfect library or pharmacy, of which you
spoke so scornfully just now, more than all the landscapes in the
world. And at once she turned to her mother and began to talk in quite
a different tone: The Prince has got very thin, and is much changed
since the last time he was here. The doctors are sending him to Vichy.
She talked to her mother about the Prince to avoid talking to me.
Her face was burning, and, in order to conceal her agitation, she bent
over the table as if she were short-sighted and made a show of reading
the newspaper. My presence was distasteful to her. I took my leave and
All was quiet outside: the village on the other side of the pond was
already asleep, not a single light was to be seen, and on the pond
there was only the faint reflection of the stars. By the gate with the
stone lions stood Genya, waiting to accompany me.
The village is asleep, I said, trying to see her face in the
darkness, and I could see her dark sad eyes fixed on me. The innkeeper
and the horse-stealers are sleeping quietly, and decent people like
ourselves quarrel and irritate each other.
It was a melancholy August nightmelancholy because it already
smelled of the autumn: the moon rose behind a purple cloud and hardly
lighted the road and the dark fields of winter corn on either side.
Stars fell frequently, Genya walked beside me on the road and tried not
to look at the sky, to avoid seeing the falling stars, which somehow
I believe you are right, she said, trembling in the evening chill.
If people could give themselves to spiritual activity, they would soon
Certainly. We are superior beings, and if we really knew all the
power of the human genius and lived only for higher purposes then we
should become like gods. But this will never be. Mankind will
degenerate and of their genius not a trace will be left.
When the gate was out of sight Genya stopped and hurriedly shook my
Good night, she said, trembling; her shoulders were covered only
with a thin blouse and she was shivering with cold. Come to-morrow.
I was filled with a sudden dread of being left alone with my
inevitable dissatisfaction with myself and people, and I, too, tried
not to see the falling stars.
Stay with me a little longer, I said. Please.
I loved Genya, and she must have loved me, because she used to meet
me and walk with me, and because she looked at me with tender
admiration. How thrillingly beautiful her pale face was, her thin nose,
her arms, her slenderness, her idleness, her constant reading. And her
mind? I suspected her of having an unusual intellect: I was fascinated
by the breadth of her views, perhaps because she thought differently
from the strong, handsome Lyda, who did not love me. Genya liked me as
a painter, I had conquered her heart by my talent, and I longed
passionately to paint only for her, and I dreamed of her as my little
queen, who would one day possess with me the trees, the fields, the
river, the dawn, all Nature, wonderful and fascinating, with whom, as
with them, I have felt helpless and useless.
Stay with me a moment longer, I called. I implore you.
I took off my overcoat and covered her childish shoulders. Fearing
that she would look queer and ugly in a man's coat, she began to laugh
and threw it off, and as she did so, I embraced her and began to cover
her face, her shoulders, her arms with kisses.
Till to-morrow, she whispered timidly as though she was afraid to
break the stillness of the night. She embraced me: We have no secrets
from one another. I must tell mamma and my sister.... Is it so
terrible? Mamma will be pleased. Mamma loves you, but Lyda!
She ran to the gates.
Good-bye, she called out.
For a couple of minutes I stood and heard her running. I had no
desire to go home, there was nothing there to go for. I stood for a
while lost in thought, and then quietly dragged myself back, to have
one more look at the house in which she lived, the dear, simple, old
house, which seemed to look at me with the windows of the mezzanine for
eyes, and to understand everything. I walked past the terrace, sat down
on a bench by the lawn-tennis court, in the darkness under an old
elm-tree, and looked at the house. In the windows of the mezzanine,
where Missyuss had her room, shone a bright light, and then a faint
green glow. The lamp had been covered with a shade. Shadows began to
move.... I was filled with tenderness and a calm satisfaction, to think
that I could let myself be carried away and fall in love, and at the
same time I felt uneasy at the thought that only a few yards away in
one of the rooms of the house lay Lyda who did not love me, and perhaps
hated me. I sat and waited to see if Genya would come out. I listened
attentively and it seemed to me they were sitting in the mezzanine.
An hour passed. The green light went out, and the shadows were no
longer visible. The moon hung high above the house and lit the sleeping
garden and the avenues: I could distinctly see the dahlias and roses in
the flower-bed in front of the house, and all seemed to be of one
colour. It was very cold. I left the garden, picked up my overcoat in
the road, and walked slowly home.
Next day after dinner when I went to the Volchaninovs', the glass
door was wide open. I sat down on the terrace expecting Genya to come
from behind the flower-bed or from one of the avenues, or to hear her
voice come from out of the rooms; then I went into the drawing-room and
the dining-room. There was not a soul to be seen. From the dining-room
I went down a long passage into the hall, and then back again. There
were several doors in the passage and behind one of them I could hear
To the crow somewhere ... God ...she spoke slowly and
distinctly, and was probably dictating ... God sent a piece of
cheese.... To the crow ... somewhere.... Who is there? she called out
suddenly as she heard my footsteps.
It is I.
Oh! excuse me. I can't come out just now. I am teaching Masha.
Is Ekaterina Pavlovna in the garden?
No. She and my sister left to-day for my Aunt's in Penga, and in
the winter they are probably going abroad. She added after a short
silence: To the crow somewhere God sent a pi-ece of cheese. Have you
I went out into the hall, and, without a thought in my head, stood
and looked out at the pond and the village, and still I heard:
A piece of cheese.... To the crow somewhere God sent a piece of
And I left the house by the way I had come the first time, only
reversing the order, from the yard into the garden, past the house,
then along the lime-walk. Here a boy overtook me and handed me a note:
I have told my sister everything and she insists on my parting from
you, I read. I could not hurt her by disobeying. God will give you
happiness. If you knew how bitterly mamma and I have cried.
Then through the fir avenue and the rotten fence. ...Over the fields
where the corn was ripening and the quails screamed, cows and shackled
horses now were browsing. Here and there on the hills the winter corn
was already showing green. A sober, workaday mood possessed me and I
was ashamed of all I had said at the Volchaninovs', and once more it
became tedious to go on living. I went home, packed my things, and left
that evening for Petersburg.
* * *
I never saw the Volchaninovs again. Lately on my way to the Crimea I
met Bielokurov at a station. As of old he was in a poddiovka,
wearing an embroidered shirt, and when I asked after his health, he
replied: Quite well, thanks be to God. He began to talk. He had sold
his estate and bought another, smaller one in the name of Lyabov
Ivanovna. He told me a little about the Volchaninovs. Lyda, he said,
still lived at Sholkovka and taught the children in the school; little
by little she succeeded in gathering round herself a circle of
sympathetic people, who formed a strong party, and at the last Zemstvo
election they drove out Balaguin, who up till then had had the whole
district in his hands. Of Genya Bielokurov said that she did not live
at home and he did not know where she was.
I have already begun to forget about the house with the mezzanine,
and only now and then, when I am working or reading, suddenlywithout
rhyme or reasonI remember the green light in the window, and the
sound of my own footsteps as I walked through the fields that night,
when I was in love, rubbing my hands to keep them warm. And even more
rarely, when I am sad and lonely, I begin already to recollect and it
seems to me that I, too, am being remembered and waited for, and that
we shall meet....
Missyuss, where are you?
In a smoking-compartment of the mail-train from Petrograd to Moscow
sat a young lieutenant, Klimov by name. Opposite him sat an elderly man
with a clean-shaven, shipmaster's face, to all appearances a well-to-do
Finn or Swede, who all through the journey smoked a pipe and talked
round and round the same subject.
Ha! you are an officer! My brother is also an officer, but he is a
sailor. He is a sailor and is stationed at Kronstadt. Why are you going
I am stationed there.
Ha! Are you married?
No. I live with my aunt and sister.
My brother is also an officer, but he is married and has a wife and
three children. Ha!
The Finn looked surprised at something, smiled broadly and fatuously
as he exclaimed, Ha, and every now and then blew through the stem of
his pipe. Klimov, who was feeling rather unwell, and not at all
inclined to answer questions, hated him with all his heart. He thought
how good it would be to snatch his gurgling pipe out of his hands and
throw it under the seat and to order the Finn himself into another car.
They are awful people, these Finns and ... Greeks, he thought.
Useless, good-for-nothing, disgusting people. They only cumber the
earth. What is the good of them?
And the thought of Finns and Greeks filled him with a kind of
nausea. He tried to compare them with the French and the Italians, but
the idea of those races somehow roused in him the notion of
organ-grinders, naked women, and the foreign oleographs which hung over
the chest of drawers in his aunt's house.
The young officer felt generally out of sorts. There seemed to be no
room for his arms and legs, though he had the whole seat to himself;
his mouth was dry and sticky, his head was heavy and his clouded
thoughts seemed to wander at random, not only in his head, but also
outside it among the seats and the people looming in the darkness.
Through the turmoil in his brain, as through a dream, he heard the
murmur of voices, the rattle of the wheels, the slamming of doors.
Bells, whistles, conductors, the tramp of the people on the platforms
came oftener than usual. The time slipped by quickly, imperceptibly,
and it seemed that the train stopped every minute at a station as now
and then there would come up the sound of metallic voices:
Is the post ready?
It seemed to him that the stove-neater came in too often to look at
the thermometer, and that trains never stopped passing and his own
train was always roaring over bridges. The noise, the whistle, the
Finn, the tobacco smokeall mixed with the ominous shifting of misty
shapes, weighed on Klimov like an intolerable nightmare. In terrible
anguish he lifted up his aching head, looked at the lamp whose light
was encircled with shadows and misty spots; he wanted to ask for water,
but his dry tongue would hardly move, and he had hardly strength enough
to answer the Finn's questions. He tried to lie down more comfortably
and sleep, but he could not succeed; the Finn fell asleep several
times, woke up and lighted his pipe, talked to him with his Ha! and
went to sleep again; and the lieutenant could still not find room for
his legs on the seat, and all the while the ominous figures shifted
before his eyes.
At Spirov he got out to have a drink of water. He saw some people
sitting at a table eating hurriedly.
How can they eat? he thought, trying to avoid the smell of roast
meat in the air and seeing the chewing mouths, for both seemed to him
utterly disgusting and made him feel sick.
A handsome lady was talking to a military man in a red cap, and she
showed magnificent white teeth when she smiled; her smile, her teeth,
the lady herself produced in Klimov the same impression of disgust as
the ham and the fried cutlets. He could not understand how the military
man in the red cap could bear to sit near her and look at her healthy
After he had drunk some water, he went back to his place. The Finn
sat and smoked. His pipe gurgled and sucked like a galoche full of
holes in dirty weather.
Ha! he said with some surprise. What station is this?
I don't know, said Klimov, lying down and shutting his mouth to
keep out the acrid tobacco smoke.
When do we get to Tver.
I don't know. I am sorry, I ... I can't talk. I am not well. I have
The Finn knocked out his pipe against the window-frame and began to
talk of his brother, the sailor. Klimov paid no more attention to him
and thought in agony of his soft, comfortable bed, of the bottle of
cold water, of his sister Katy, who knew so well how to tuck him up and
cosset him. He even smiled when there flashed across his mind his
soldier-servant Pavel, taking off his heavy, close-fitting boots and
putting water on the table. It seemed to him that he would only have to
lie on his bed and drink some water and his nightmare would give way to
a sound, healthy sleep.
Is the post ready? came a dull voice from a distance.
Ready, answered a loud, bass voice almost by the very window.
It was the second or third station from Spirov.
Time passed quickly, seemed to gallop along, and there would be no
end to the bells, whistles, and stops. In despair Klimov pressed his
face into the corner of the cushion, held his head in his hands, and
again began to think of his sister Katy and his orderly Pavel; but his
sister and his orderly got mixed up with the looming figures and
whirled about and disappeared. His breath, thrown back from the
cushion, burned his face, and his legs ached and a draught from the
window poured into his back, but, painful though it was, he refused to
change his position.... A heavy, drugging torpor crept over him and
chained his limbs.
When at length he raised his head, the car was quite light. The
passengers were putting on their overcoats and moving about. The train
stopped. Porters in white aprons and number-plates bustled about the
passengers and seized their boxes. Klimov put on his greatcoat
mechanically and left the train, and he felt as though it were not
himself walking, but some one else, a stranger, and he felt that he was
accompanied by the heat of the train, his thirst, and the ominous,
lowering figures which all night long had prevented his sleeping.
Mechanically he got his luggage and took a cab. The cabman charged him
one rouble and twenty-five copecks for driving him to Povarska Street,
but he did not haggle and submissively took his seat in the sledge. He
could still grasp the difference in numbers, but money had no value to
At home Klimov was met by his aunt and his sister Katy, a girl of
eighteen. Katy had a copy-book and a pencil in her hands as she greeted
him, and he remembered that she was preparing for a teacher's
examination. He took no notice of their greetings and questions, but
gasped from the heat, and walked aimlessly through the rooms until he
reached his own, and then he fell prone on the bed. The Finn, the red
cap, the lady with the white teeth, the smell of roast meat, the
shifting spot in the lamp, filled his mind and he lost consciousness
and did not hear the frightened voices near him.
When he came to himself he found himself in bed, undressed, and
noticed the water-bottle and Pavel, but it did not make him any more
comfortable nor easy. His legs and arms, as before, felt cramped, his
tongue clove to his palate, and he could hear the chuckle of the Finn's
pipe.... By the bed, growing out of Pavel's broad back, a stout,
black-bearded doctor was bustling.
All right, all right, my lad, he murmured. Excellent,
excellent.... Jist so, jist so....
The doctor called Klimov my lad. Instead of just so, he said
jist saow, and instead of yes, yies.
Yies, yies, yies, he said. Jist saow, jist saow.... Don't be
The doctor's quick, careless way of speaking, his well-fed face, and
the condescending tone in which he said my lad exasperated Klimov.
Why do you call me 'my lad'? he moaned. Why this familiarity,
damn it all?
And he was frightened by the sound of his own voice. It was so dry,
weak, and hollow that he could hardly recognise it.
Excellent, excellent, murmured the doctor, not at all offended.
Yies, yies. You mustn't be cross.
And at home the time galloped away as alarmingly quickly as in the
train.... The light of day in his bedroom was every now and then
changed to the dim light of evening.... The doctor never seemed to
leave the bedside, and his Yies, yies, yies, could be heard at every
moment. Through the room stretched an endless row of faces; Pavel, the
Finn, Captain Taroshevich, Sergeant Maximenko, the red cap, the lady
with the white teeth, the doctor. All of them talked, waved their
hands, smoked, ate. Once in broad daylight Klimov saw his regimental
priest, Father Alexander, in his stole and with the host in his hands,
standing by the bedside and muttering something with such a serious
expression as Klimov had never seen him wear before. The lieutenant
remembered that Father Alexander used to call all the Catholic officers
Poles, and wishing to make the priest laugh, he exclaimed:
Father Taroshevich, the Poles have fled to the woods.
But Father Alexander, usually a gay, light-hearted man, did not
laugh and looked even more serious, and made the sign of the cross over
Klimov. At night, one after the other, there would come slowly creeping
in and out two shadows. They were his aunt and his sister. The shadow
of his sister would kneel down and pray; she would bow to the ikon, and
her grey shadow on the wall would bow, too, so that two shadows prayed
to God. And all the time there was a smell of roast meat and of the
Finn's pipe, but once Klimov could detect a distinct smell of incense.
He nearly vomited and cried:
Incense! Take it away.
There was no reply. He could only hear priests chanting in an
undertone and some one running on the stairs.
When Klimov recovered from his delirium there was not a soul in the
bedroom. The morning sun flared through the window and the drawn
curtains, and a trembling beam, thin and keen as a sword, played on the
water-bottle. He could hear the rattle of wheelsthat meant there was
no more snow in the streets. The lieutenant looked at the sunbeam, at
the familiar furniture and the door, and his first inclination was to
laugh. His chest and stomach trembled with a sweet, happy, tickling
laughter. From head to foot his whole body was filled with a feeling of
infinite happiness, like that which the first man must have felt when
he stood erect and beheld the world for the first time. Klimov had a
passionate longing for people, movement, talk. His body lay motionless;
he could only move his hands, but he hardly noticed it, for his whole
attention was fixed on little things. He was delighted with his
breathing and with his laughter; he was delighted with the existence of
the water-bottle, the ceiling, the sunbeam, the ribbon on the curtain.
God's world, even in such a narrow corner as his bedroom, seemed to him
beautiful, varied, great. When the doctor appeared the lieutenant
thought how nice his medicine was, how nice and sympathetic the doctor
was, how nice and interesting people were, on the whole.
Yies, yies, yies, said the doctor. Excellent, excellent. Now we
are well again. Jist saow. Jist saow.
The lieutenant listened and laughed gleefully. He remembered the
Finn, the lady with the white teeth, the train, and he wanted to eat
Doctor, he said, tell them to bring me a slice of rye bread and
salt, and some sardines....
The doctor refused. Pavel did not obey his order and refused to go
for bread. The lieutenant could not bear it and began to cry like a
Ba-by, the doctor laughed. Mamma! Hush-aby!
Klimov also began to laugh, and when the doctor had gone, he fell
sound asleep. He woke up with the same feeling of joy and happiness.
His aunt was sitting by his bed.
Oh, aunty! He was very happy. What has been the matter with me?
I say! And now I am well, quite well! Where is Katy?
She is not at home. She has probably gone to see some one after her
The old woman bent over her stocking as she said this; her lips
began to tremble; she turned her face away and suddenly began to sob.
In her grief, she forgot the doctor's orders and cried:
Oh! Katy! Katy! Our angel is gone from us! She is gone!
She dropped her stocking and stooped down for it, and her cap fell
off her head. Klimov stared at her grey hair, could not understand, was
alarmed for Katy, and asked:
But where is she, aunty?
The old woman, who had already forgotten Klimov and remembered only
her grief, said:
She caught typhus from you and ... and died. She was buried the day
This sudden appalling piece of news came home to Klimov's mind, but
dreadful and shocking though it was it could not subdue the animal joy
which thrilled through the convalescent lieutenant. He cried, laughed,
and soon began to complain that he was given nothing to eat.
Only a week later, when, supported by Pavel, he walked in a
dressing-gown to the window, and saw the grey spring sky and heard the
horrible rattle of some old rails being carried by on a lorry, then his
heart ached with sorrow and he began to weep and pressed his forehead
against the window-frame.
How unhappy I am! he murmured. My God, how unhappy I am!
And joy gave way to his habitual weariness and a sense of his
From early morning the sky had been overcast with clouds; the day
was still, cool, and wearisome, as usual on grey, dull days when the
clouds hang low over the fields and it looks like rain, which never
comes. Ivan Ivanich, the veterinary surgeon, and Bourkin, the
schoolmaster, were tired of walking and the fields seemed endless to
them. Far ahead they could just see the windmills of the village of
Mirousky, to the right stretched away to disappear behind the village a
line of hills, and they knew that it was the bank of the river;
meadows, green willows, farmhouses; and from one of the hills there
could be seen a field as endless, telegraph-posts, and the train,
looking from a distance like a crawling caterpillar, and in clear
weather even the town. In the calm weather when all Nature seemed
gentle and melancholy, Ivan Ivanich and Bourkin were filled with love
for the fields and thought how grand and beautiful the country was.
Last time, when we stopped in Prokofyi's shed, said Bourkin, you
were going to tell me a story.
Yes. I wanted to tell you about my brother.
Ivan Ivanich took a deep breath and lighted his pipe before
beginning his story, but just then the rain began to fall. And in about
five minutes it came pelting down and showed no signs of stopping. Ivan
Ivanich stopped and hesitated; the dogs, wet through, stood with their
tails between their legs and looked at them mournfully.
We ought to take shelter, said Bourkin. Let us go to Aliokhin. It
is close by.
They took a short cut over a stubble-field and then bore to the
right, until they came to the road. Soon there appeared poplars, a
garden, the red roofs of granaries; the river began to glimmer and they
came to a wide road with a mill and a white bathing-shed. It was
Sophino, where Aliokhin lived.
The mill was working, drowning the sound of the rain, and the dam
shook. Round the carts stood wet horses, hanging their heads, and men
were walking about with their heads covered with sacks. It was wet,
muddy, and unpleasant, and the river looked cold and sullen. Ivan
Ivanich and Bourkin felt wet and uncomfortable through and through;
their feet were tired with walking in the mud, and they walked past the
dam to the barn in silence as though they were angry with each other.
In one of the barns a winnowing-machine was working, sending out
clouds of dust. On the threshold stood Aliokhin himself, a man of about
forty, tall and stout, with long hair, more like a professor or a
painter than a farmer. He was wearing a grimy white shirt and rope
belt, and pants instead of trousers; and his boots were covered with
mud and straw. His nose and eyes were black with dust. He recognised
Ivan Ivanich and was apparently very pleased.
Please, gentlemen, he said, go to the house. I'll be with you in
The house was large and two-storied. Aliokhin lived down-stairs in
two vaulted rooms with little windows designed for the farm-hands; the
farmhouse was plain, and the place smelled of rye bread and vodka, and
leather. He rarely used the reception-rooms, only when guests arrived.
Ivan Ivanich and Bourkin were received by a chambermaid; such a pretty
young woman that both of them stopped and exchanged glances.
You cannot imagine how glad I am to see you, gentlemen, said
Aliokhin, coming after them into the hall. I never expected you.
Pelagueya, he said to the maid, give my friends a change of clothes.
And I will change, too. But I must have a bath. I haven't had one since
the spring. Wouldn't you like to come to the bathing-shed? And
meanwhile our things will be got ready.
Pretty Pelagueya, dainty and sweet, brought towels and soap, and
Aliokhin led his guests to the bathing-shed.
Yes, he said, it is a long time since I had a bath. My
bathing-shed is all right, as you see. My father and I put it up, but
somehow I have no time to bathe.
He sat down on the step and lathered his long hair and neck, and the
water round him became brown.
Yes. I see, said Ivan Ivanich heavily, looking at his head.
It is a long time since I bathed, said Aliokhin shyly, as he
soaped himself again, and the water round him became dark blue, like
Ivan Ivanich came out of the shed, plunged into the water with a
splash, and swam about in the rain, flapping his arms, and sending
waves back, and on the waves tossed white lilies; he swam out to the
middle of the pool and dived, and in a minute came up again in another
place and kept on swimming and diving, trying to reach the bottom. Ah!
how delicious! he shouted in his glee. How delicious! He swam to the
mill, spoke to the peasants, and came back, and in the middle of the
pool he lay on his back to let the rain fall on his face. Bourkin and
Aliokhin were already dressed and ready to go, but he kept on swimming
Delicious, he said. Too delicious!
You've had enough, shouted Bourkin.
They went to the house. And only when the lamp was lit in the large
drawing-room up-stairs, and Bourkin and Ivan Ivanich, dressed in silk
dressing-gowns and warm slippers, lounged in chairs, and Aliokhin
himself, washed and brushed, in a new frock coat, paced up and down
evidently delighting in the warmth and cleanliness and dry clothes and
slippers, and pretty Pelagueya, noiselessly tripping over the carpet
and smiling sweetly, brought in tea and jam on a tray, only then did
Ivan Ivanich begin his story, and it was as though he was being
listened to not only by Bourkin and Aliokhin, but also by the old and
young ladies and the officer who looked down so staidly and tranquilly
from the golden frames.
We are two brothers, he began, I, Ivan Ivanich, and Nicholai
Ivanich, two years younger. I went in for study and became a veterinary
surgeon, while Nicholai was at the Exchequer Court when he was
nineteen. Our father, Tchimasha-Himalaysky, was a cantonist, but he
died with an officer's rank and left us his title of nobility and a
small estate. After his death the estate went to pay his debts.
However, we spent our childhood there in the country. We were just like
peasant's children, spent days and nights in the fields and the woods,
minded the house, barked the lime-trees, fished, and so on.... And you
know once a man has fished, or watched the thrushes hovering in flocks
over the village in the bright, cool, autumn days, he can never really
be a townsman, and to the day of his death he will be drawn to the
country. My brother pined away in the Exchequer. Years passed and he
sat in the same place, wrote out the same documents, and thought of one
thing, how to get back to the country. And little by little his
distress became a definite disorder, a fixed ideato buy a small farm
somewhere by the bank of a river or a lake.
He was a good fellow and I loved him, but I never sympathised with
the desire to shut oneself up on one's own farm. It is a common saying
that a man needs only six feet of land. But surely a corpse wants that,
not a man. And I hear that our intellectuals have a longing for the
land and want to acquire farms. But it all comes down to the six feet
of land. To leave town, and the struggle and the swim of life, and go
and hide yourself in a farmhouse is not lifeit is egoism, laziness;
it is a kind of monasticism, but monasticism without action. A man
needs, not six feet of land, not a farm, but the whole earth, all
Nature, where in full liberty he can display all the properties and
qualities of the free spirit.
My brother Nicholai, sitting in his office, would dream of eating
his own schi, with its savoury smell floating across the
farmyard; and of eating out in the open air, and of sleeping in the
sun, and of sitting for hours together on a seat by the gate and gazing
at the field and the forest. Books on agriculture and the hints in
almanacs were his joy, his favourite spiritual food; and he liked
reading newspapers, but only the advertisements of land to be sold, so
many acres of arable and grass land, with a farmhouse, river, garden,
mill, and mill-pond. And he would dream of garden-walls, flowers,
fruits, nests, carp in the pond, don't you know, and all the rest of
it. These fantasies of his used to vary according to the advertisements
he found, but somehow there was always a gooseberry-bush in every one.
Not a house, not a romantic spot could he imagine without its
'Country life has its advantages,' he used to say. 'You sit on the
veranda drinking tea and your ducklings swim on the pond, and
everything smells good ... and there are gooseberries.'
He used to draw out a plan of his estate and always the same things
were shown on it: (a) Farmhouse, (b) cottage, (c)
vegetable garden, (d) gooseberry-bush. He used to live meagrely
and never had enough to eat and drink, dressed God knows how, exactly
like a beggar, and always saved and put his money into the bank. He was
terribly stingy. It used to hurt me to see him, and I used to give him
money to go away for a holiday, but he would put that away, too. Once a
man gets a fixed idea, there's nothing to be done.
Years passed; he was transferred to another province. He completed
his fortieth year and was still reading advertisements in the papers
and saving up his money. Then I heard he was married. Still with the
same idea of buying a farmhouse with a gooseberry-bush, he married an
elderly, ugly widow, not out of any feeling for her, but because she
had money. With her he still lived stingily, kept her half-starved, and
put the money into the bank in his own name. She had been the wife of a
postmaster and was used to good living, but with her second husband she
did not even have enough black bread; she pined away in her new life,
and in three years or so gave up her soul to God. And my brother never
for a moment thought himself to blame for her death. Money, like vodka,
can play queer tricks with a man. Once in our town a merchant lay
dying. Before his death he asked for some honey, and he ate all his
notes and scrip with the honey so that nobody should get it. Once I was
examining a herd of cattle at a station and a horse-jobber fell under
the engine, and his foot was cut off. We carried him into the
waiting-room, with the blood pouring downa terrible businessand all
the while he kept on asking anxiously for his foot; he had twenty-five
roubles in his boot and did not want to lose them.
Keep to your story, said Bourkin.
After the death of his wife, Ivan Ivanich continued, after a long
pause, my brother began to look out for an estate. Of course you may
search for five years, and even then buy a pig in a poke. Through an
agent my brother Nicholai raised a mortgage and bought three hundred
acres with a farmhouse, a cottage, and a park, but there was no
orchard, no gooseberry-bush, no duck-pond; there was a river but the
water in it was coffee-coloured because the estate lay between a
brick-yard and a gelatine factory. But my brother Nicholai was not
worried about that; he ordered twenty gooseberry-bushes and settled
down to a country life.
Last year I paid him a visit. I thought I'd go and see how things
were with him. In his letters my brother called his estate Tchimbarshov
Corner, or Himalayskoe. I arrived at Himalayskoe in the afternoon. It
was hot. There were ditches, fences, hedges, rows of young fir-trees,
trees everywhere, and there was no telling how to cross the yard or
where to put your horse. I went to the house and was met by a
red-haired dog, as fat as a pig. He tried to bark but felt too lazy.
Out of the kitchen came the cook, barefooted, and also as fat as a pig,
and said that the master was having his afternoon rest. I went in to my
brother and found him sitting on his bed with his knees covered with a
blanket; he looked old, stout, flabby; his cheeks, nose, and lips were
pendulous. I half expected him to grunt like a pig.
We embraced and shed a tear of joy and also of sadness to think
that we had once been young, but were now both going grey and nearing
death. He dressed and took me to see his estate.
'Well? How are you getting on?' I asked.
'All right, thank God. I am doing very well.'
He was no longer the poor, tired official, but a real landowner and
a person of consequence. He had got used to the place and liked it, ate
a great deal, took Russian baths, was growing fat, had already gone to
law with the parish and the two factories, and was much offended if the
peasants did not call him 'Your Lordship.' And, like a good landowner,
he looked after his soul and did good works pompously, never simply.
What good works? He cured the peasants of all kinds of diseases with
soda and castor-oil, and on his birthday he would have a thanksgiving
service held in the middle of the village, and would treat the peasants
to half a bucket of vodka, which he thought the right thing to do. Ah!
Those horrible buckets of vodka. One day a greasy landowner will drag
the peasants before the Zembro Court for trespass, and the next, if
it's a holiday, he will give them a bucket of vodka, and they drink and
shout Hooray! and lick his boots in their drunkenness. A change to good
eating and idleness always fills a Russian with the most preposterous
self-conceit. Nicholai Ivanich who, when he was in the Exchequer, was
terrified to have an opinion of his own, now imagined that what he said
was law. 'Education is necessary for the masses, but they are not fit
for it.' 'Corporal punishment is generally harmful, but in certain
cases it is useful and indispensable.'
'I know the people and I know how to treat them,' he would say.
'The people love me. I have only to raise my finger and they will do as
And all this, mark you, was said with a kindly smile of wisdom. He
was constantly saying: 'We noblemen,' or 'I, as a nobleman.' Apparently
he had forgotten that our grandfather was a peasant and our father a
common soldier. Even our family name, Tchimacha-Himalaysky, which is
really an absurd one, seemed to him full-sounding, distinguished, and
But my point does not concern him so much as myself. I want to tell
you what a change took place in me in those few hours while I was in
his house. In the evening, while we were having tea, the cook laid a
plateful of gooseberries on the table. They had not been bought, but
were his own gooseberries, plucked for the first time since the bushes
were planted. Nicholai Ivanich laughed with joy and for a minute or two
he looked in silence at the gooseberries with tears in his eyes. He
could not speak for excitement, then put one into his mouth, glanced at
me in triumph, like a child at last being given its favourite toy, and
'How good they are!'
He went on eating greedily, and saying all the while:
'How good they are! Do try one!'
It was hard and sour, but, as Poushkin said, the illusion which
exalts us is dearer to us than ten thousand truths. I saw a happy man,
one whose dearest dream had come true, who had attained his goal in
life, who had got what he wanted, and was pleased with his destiny and
with himself. In my idea of human life there is always some alloy of
sadness, but now at the sight of a happy man I was filled with
something like despair. And at night it grew on me. A bed was made up
for me in the room near my brother's and I could hear him, unable to
sleep, going again and again to the plate of gooseberries. I thought:
'After all, what a lot of contented, happy people there must be! What
an overwhelming power that means! I look at this life and see the
arrogance and the idleness of the strong, the ignorance and bestiality
of the weak, the horrible poverty everywhere, overcrowding,
drunkenness, hypocrisy, falsehood.... Meanwhile in all the houses, all
the streets, there is peace; out of fifty thousand people who live in
our town there is not one to kick against it all. Think of the people
who go to the market for food: during the day they eat; at night they
sleep, talk nonsense, marry, grow old, piously follow their dead to the
cemetery; one never sees or hears those who suffer, and all the horror
of life goes on somewhere behind the scenes. Everything is quiet,
peaceful, and against it all there is only the silent protest of
statistics; so many go mad, so many gallons are drunk, so many children
die of starvation.... And such a state of things is obviously what we
want; apparently a happy man only feels so because the unhappy bear
their burden in silence, but for which happiness would be impossible.
It is a general hypnosis. Every happy man should have some one with a
little hammer at his door to knock and remind him that there are
unhappy people, and that, however happy he may be, life will sooner or
later show its claws, and some misfortune will befall himillness,
poverty, loss, and then no one will see or hear him, just as he now
neither sees nor hears others. But there is no man with a hammer, and
the happy go on living, just a little fluttered with the petty cares of
every day, like an aspen-tree in the windand everything is all
That night I was able to understand how I, too, had been content
and happy, Ivan Ivanich went on, getting up. I, too, at meals or out
hunting, used to lay down the law about living, and religion, and
governing the masses. I, too, used to say that teaching is light, that
education is necessary, but that for simple folk reading and writing is
enough for the present. Freedom is a boon, I used to say, as essential
as the air we breathe, but we must wait. YesI used to say so, but now
I ask: 'Why do we wait?' Ivan Ivanich glanced angrily at Bourkin. Why
do we wait, I ask you? What considerations keep us fast? I am told that
we cannot have everything at once, and that every idea is realised in
time. But who says so? Where is the proof that it is so? You refer me
to the natural order of things, to the law of cause and effect, but is
there order or natural law in that I, a living, thinking creature,
should stand by a ditch until it fills up, or is narrowed, when I could
jump it or throw a bridge over it? Tell me, I say, why should we wait?
Wait, when we have no strength to live, and yet must live and are full
of the desire to live!
I left my brother early the next morning, and from that time on I
found it impossible to live in town. The peace and the quiet of it
oppress me. I dare not look in at the windows, for nothing is more
dreadful to see than the sight of a happy family, sitting round a
table, having tea. I am an old man now and am no good for the struggle.
I commenced late. I can only grieve within my soul, and fret and sulk.
At night my head buzzes with the rush of my thoughts and I cannot
sleep.... Ah! If I were young!
Ivan Ivanich walked excitedly up and down the room and repeated:
If I were young.
He suddenly walked up to Aliokhin and shook him first by one hand
and then by the other.
Pavel Konstantinich, he said in a voice of entreaty, don't be
satisfied, don't let yourself be lulled to sleep! While you are young,
strong, wealthy, do not cease to do good! Happiness does not exist, nor
should it, and if there is any meaning or purpose in life, they are not
in our peddling little happiness, but in something reasonable and
grand. Do good!
Ivan Ivanich said this with a piteous supplicating smile, as though
he were asking a personal favour.
Then they all three sat in different corners of the drawing-room and
were silent. Ivan Ivanich's story had satisfied neither Bourkin nor
Aliokhin. With the generals and ladies looking down from their gilt
frames, seeming alive in the firelight, it was tedious to hear the
story of a miserable official who ate gooseberries.... Somehow they had
a longing to hear and to speak of charming people, and of women. And
the mere fact of sitting in the drawing-room where everythingthe lamp
with its coloured shade, the chairs, and the carpet under their
feettold how the very people who now looked down at them from their
frames once walked, and sat and had tea there, and the fact that pretty
Pelagueya was nearwas much better than any story.
Aliokhin wanted very much to go to bed; he had to get up for his
work very early, about two in the morning, and now his eyes were
closing, but he was afraid of his guests saying something interesting
without his hearing it, so he would not go. He did not trouble to think
whether what Ivan Ivanich had been saying was clever or right; his
guests were talking of neither groats, nor hay, nor tar, but of
something which had no bearing on his life, and he liked it and wanted
them to go on....
However, it's time to go to bed, said Bourkin, getting up. I will
wish you good night.
Aliokhin said good night and went down-stairs, and left his guests.
Each had a large room with an old wooden bed and carved ornaments; in
the corner was an ivory crucifix; and their wide, cool beds, made by
pretty Pelagueya, smelled sweetly of clean linen.
Ivan Ivanich undressed in silence and lay down.
God forgive me, a wicked sinner, he murmured, as he drew the
clothes over his head.
A smell of burning tobacco came from his pipe which lay on the
table, and Bourkin could not sleep for a long time and was worried
because he could not make out where the unpleasant smell came from.
The rain beat against the windows all night long.
Old Simeon, whose nickname was Brains, and a young Tartar, whose
name nobody knew, were sitting on the bank of the river by a wood-fire.
The other three ferrymen were in the hut. Simeon who was an old man of
about sixty, skinny and toothless, but broad-shouldered and healthy,
was drunk. He would long ago have gone to bed, but he had a bottle in
his pocket and was afraid of his comrades asking him for vodka. The
Tartar was ill and miserable, and, pulling his rags about him, he went
on talking about the good things in the province of Simbirsk, and what
a beautiful and clever wife he had left at home. He was not more than
twenty-five, and now, by the light of the wood-fire, with his pale,
sorrowful, sickly face, he looked a mere boy.
Of course, it is not a paradise here, said Brains, you see,
water, the bare bushes by the river, clay everywherenothing else....
It is long past Easter and there is still ice on the water and this
morning there was snow....
Bad! Bad! said the Tartar with a frightened look.
A few yards away flowed the dark, cold river, muttering, dashing
against the holes in the clayey banks as it tore along to the distant
sea. By the bank they were sitting on, loomed a great barge, which the
ferrymen call a karbass. Far away and away, flashing out,
flaring up, were fires crawling like snakeslast year's grass being
burned. And behind the water again was darkness. Little banks of ice
could be heard knocking against the barge.... It was very damp and
The Tartar glanced at the sky. There were as many stars as at home,
and the darkness was the same, but something was missing. At home in
the Simbirsk province the stars and the sky were altogether different.
Bad! Bad! he repeated.
You will get used to it, said Brains with a laugh. You are young
yet and foolish; the milk is hardly dry on your lips, and in your folly
you imagine that there is no one unhappier than you, but there will
come a time when you will say: God give every one such a life! Just
look at me. In a week's time the floods will be gone, and we will fix
the ferry here, and all of you will go away into Siberia and I shall
stay here, going to and fro. I have been living thus for the last
two-and-twenty years, but, thank God, I want nothing. God give
everybody such a life.
The Tartar threw some branches onto the fire, crawled near to it and
My father is sick. When he dies, my mother and my wife have
promised to come here.
What do you want your mother and your wife for? asked Brains.
Just foolishness, my friend. It's the devil tempting you, plague take
him. Don't listen to the Evil One. Don't give way to him. When he talks
to you about women you should answer him sharply: 'I don't want them!'
When he talks of freedom, you should stick to it and say: 'I don't want
it. I want nothing! No father, no mother, no wife, no freedom, no home,
no love! I want nothing.' Plague take 'em all.
Brains took a swig at his bottle and went on:
My brother, I am not an ordinary peasant. I don't come from the
servile masses. I am the son of a deacon, and when I was a free man at
Rursk, I used to wear a frock coat, and now I have brought myself to
such a point that I can sleep naked on the ground and eat grass. God
give such a life to everybody. I want nothing. I am afraid of nobody
and I think there is no man richer or freer than I. When they sent me
here from Russia I set my teeth at once and said: 'I want nothing!' The
devil whispers to me about my wife and my kindred, and about freedom
and I say to him: 'I want nothing!' I stuck to it, and, you see, I live
happily and have nothing to grumble at. If a man gives the devil the
least opportunity and listens to him just once, then he is lost and has
no hope of salvation: he will be over ears in the mire and will never
get out. Not only peasants the like of you are lost, but the nobly born
and the educated also. About fifteen years ago a certain nobleman was
sent here from Russia. He had had some trouble with his brothers and
had made a forgery in a will. People said he was a prince or a baron,
but perhaps he was only a high officialwho knows? Well, he came here
and at once bought a house and land in Moukhzyink. 'I want to live by
my own work,' said he, 'in the sweat of my brow, because I am no longer
a nobleman but an exile.' 'Why,' said I. 'God help you, for that is
good.' He was a young man then, ardent and eager; he used to mow and go
fishing, and he would ride sixty miles on horseback. Only one thing was
wrong; from the very beginning he was always driving to the post-office
at Guyrin. He used to sit in my boat and sigh: 'Ah! Simeon, it is a
long time since they sent me any money from home.' 'You are better
without money, Vassili Sergnevich,' said I. 'What's the good of it? You
just throw away the past, as though it had never happened, as though it
were only a dream, and start life afresh. Don't listen to the devil,' I
said, 'he won't do you any good, and he will only tighten the noose.
You want money now, but in a little while you will want something else,
and then more and more. If,' said I, 'you want to be happy you must
want nothing. Exactly.... If,' I said, 'fate has been hard on you and
me, it is no good asking her for charity and falling at her feet. We
must ignore her and laugh at her.' That's what I said to him.... Two
years later I ferried him over and he rubbed his hands and laughed.
'I'm going,' said he, 'to Guyrin to meet my wife. She has taken pity on
me, she says, and she is coming here. She is very kind and good.' And
he gave a gasp of joy. Then one day he came with his wife, a beautiful
young lady with a little girl in her arms and a lot of luggage. And
Vassili Andreich kept turning and looking at her and could not look at
her or praise her enough. 'Yes, Simeon, my friend, even in Siberia
people live.' Well, thought I, all right, you won't be content. And
from that time on, mark you, he used to go to Guyrin every week to find
out if money had been sent from Russia. A terrible lot of money was
wasted. 'She stays here,' said he, 'for my sake, and her youth and
beauty wither away here in Siberia. She shares my bitter lot with me,'
said he, 'and I must give her all the pleasure I can for it....' To
make his wife happier he took up with the officials and any kind of
rubbish. And they couldn't have company without giving food and drink,
and they must have a piano and a fluffy little dog on the sofabad
cess to it.... Luxury, in a word, all kinds of tricks. My lady did not
stay with him long. How could she? Clay, water, cold, no vegetables, no
fruit; uneducated people and drunkards, with no manners, and she was a
pretty pampered young lady from the metropolis.... Of course she got
bored. And her husband was no longer a gentleman, but an exilequite a
different matter. Three years later, I remember, on the eve of the
Assumption, I heard shouts from the other bank. I went over in the
ferry and saw my lady, all wrapped up, with a young gentleman, a
government official, in a troika.... I ferried them across, they got
into the carriage and disappeared, and I saw no more of them. Toward
the morning Vassili Andreich came racing up in a coach and pair. 'Has
my wife been across, Simeon, with a gentleman in spectacles?' 'She
has,' said I, 'but you might as well look for the wind in the fields.'
He raced after them and kept it up for five days and nights. When he
came back he jumped on to the ferry and began to knock his head against
the side and to cry aloud. 'You see,' said I, 'there you are.' And I
laughed and reminded him: 'Even in Siberia people live.' But he went on
beating his head harder than ever.... Then he got the desire for
freedom. His wife had gone to Russia and he longed to go there to see
her and take her away from her lover. And he began to go to the
post-office every day, and then to the authorities of the town. He was
always sending applications or personally handing them to the
authorities, asking to have his term remitted and to be allowed to go,
and he told me that he had spent over two hundred roubles on telegrams.
He sold his land and mortgaged his house to the money-lenders. His hair
went grey, he grew round-shouldered, and his face got yellow and
consumptive-looking. He used to cough whenever he spoke and tears used
to come to his eyes. He spent eight years on his applications, and at
last he became happy again and lively: he had thought of a new dodge.
His daughter, you see, had grown up. He doted on her and could never
take his eyes off her. And, indeed, she was very pretty, dark and
clever. Every Sunday he used to go to church with her at Guyrin. They
would stand side by side on the ferry, and she would smile and he would
devour her with his eyes. 'Yes, Simeon,' he would say. 'Even in Siberia
people live. Even in Siberia there is happiness. Look what a fine
daughter I have. You wouldn't find one like her in a thousand miles'
journey.' 'She's a nice girl,' said I. 'Oh, yes.' ... And I thought to
myself: 'You wait.... She is young. Young blood will have its way; she
wants to live and what life is there here?' And she began to pine
away.... Wasting, wasting away, she withered away, fell ill and had to
keep to her bed.... Consumption. That's Siberian happiness, plague take
it; that's Siberian life.... He rushed all over the place after the
doctors and dragged them home with him. If he heard of a doctor or a
quack three hundred miles off he would rush off after him. He spent a
terrific amount of money on doctors and I think it would have been much
better spent on drink. All the same she had to die. No help for it.
Then it was all up with him. He thought of hanging himself, and of
trying to escape to Russia. That would be the end of him. He would try
to escape: he would be caught, tried, penal servitude, flogging.
Good! Good! muttered the Tartar with a shiver.
What is good? asked Brains.
Wife and daughter. What does penal servitude and suffering matter?
He saw his wife and his daughter. You say one should want nothing. But
nothingis evil! His wife spent three years with him. God gave him
that. Nothing is evil, and three years is good. Why don't you
Trembling and stammering as he groped for Russian words, of which he
knew only a few, the Tartar began to say: God forbid he should fall
ill among strangers, and die and be buried in the cold sodden earth,
and then, if his wife could come to him if only for one day or even for
one hour, he would gladly endure any torture for such happiness, and
would even thank God. Better one day of happiness than nothing.
Then once more he said what a beautiful clever wife he had left at
home, and with his head in his hands he began to cry and assured Simeon
that he was innocent, and had been falsely accused. His two brothers
and his uncle had stolen some horses from a peasant and beat the old
man nearly to death, and the community never looked into the matter at
all, and judgment was passed by which all three brothers were exiled to
Siberia, while his uncle, a rich man, remained at home.
You will get used to it, said Simeon.
The Tartar relapsed into silence and stared into the fire with his
eyes red from weeping; he looked perplexed and frightened, as if he
could not understand why he was in the cold and the darkness, among
strangers, and not in the province of Simbirsk. Brains lay down near
the fire, smiled at something, and began to say in an undertone:
But what a joy she must be to your father, he muttered after a
pause. He loves her and she is a comfort to him, eh? But, my man,
don't tell me. He is a strict, harsh old man. And girls don't want
strictness; they want kisses and laughter, scents and pomade. Yes....
Ah! What a life! Simeon swore heavily. No more vodka! That means
bedtime. What? I'm going, my man.
Left alone, the Tartar threw more branches on the fire, lay down,
and, looking into the blaze, began to think of his native village and
of his wife; if she could come if only for a month, or even a day, and
then, if she liked, go back again! Better a month or even a day, than
nothing. But even if his wife kept her promise and came, how could he
provide for her? Where was she to live?
If there is nothing to eat; how are we to live? asked the Tartar
For working at the oars day and night he was paid two copecks a day;
the passengers gave tips, but the ferrymen shared them out and gave
nothing to the Tartar, and only laughed at him. And he was poor, cold,
hungry, and fearful.... With his whole body aching and shivering he
thought it would be good to go into the hut and sleep; but there was
nothing to cover himself with, and it was colder there than on the
bank. He had nothing to cover himself with there, but he could make up
In a week's time, when the floods had subsided and the ferry would
be fixed up, all the ferrymen except Simeon would not be wanted any
longer and the Tartar would have to go from village to village, begging
and looking for work. His wife was only seventeen; beautiful, soft, and
shy.... Could she go unveiled begging through the villages? No. The
idea of it was horrible.
It was already dawn. The barges, the bushy willows above the water,
the swirling flood began to take shape, and up above in a clayey cliff
a hut thatched with straw, and above that the straggling houses of the
village, where the cocks had begun to crow.
The ginger-coloured clay cliff, the barge, the river, the strange
wild people, hunger, cold, illnessperhaps all these things did not
really exist. Perhaps, thought the Tartar, it was only a dream. He felt
that he must be asleep, and he heard his own snoring.... Certainly he
was at home in the Simbirsk province; he had but to call his wife and
she would answer; and his mother was in the next room.... But what
awful dreams there are! Why? The Tartar smiled and opened his eyes.
What river was that? The Volga?
It was snowing.
Hi! Ferry! some one shouted on the other bank. Karba-a-ass!
The Tartar awoke and went to fetch his mates to row over to the
other side. Hurrying into their sheepskins, swearing sleepily in hoarse
voices, and shivering from the cold, the four men appeared on the bank.
After their sleep, the river from which there came a piercing blast,
seemed to them horrible and disgusting. They stepped slowly into the
barge.... The Tartar and the three ferrymen took the long, broad-bladed
oars, which in the dim light looked like a crab's claw, and Simeon
flung himself with his belly against the tiller. And on the other side
the voice kept on shouting, and a revolver was fired twice, for the man
probably thought the ferrymen were asleep or gone to the village inn.
All right. Plenty of time! said Brains in the tone of one who was
convinced that there is no need for hurry in this worldand indeed
there is no reason for it.
The heavy, clumsy barge left the bank and heaved through the
willows, and by the willows slowly receding it was possible to tell
that the barge was moving. The ferrymen plied the oars with a slow
measured stroke; Brains hung over the tiller with his stomach pressed
against it and swung from side to side. In the dim light they looked
like men sitting on some antediluvian animal with long limbs, swimming
out to a cold dismal nightmare country.
They got clear of the willows and swung out into mid-stream. The
thud of the oars and the splash could be heard on the other bank and
shouts came: Quicker! Quicker! After another ten minutes the barge
bumped heavily against the landing-stage.
And it is still snowing, snowing all the time, Simeon murmured,
wiping the snow off his face. God knows where it comes from!
On the other side a tall, lean old man was waiting in a short
fox-fur coat and a white astrachan hat. He was standing some distance
from his horses and did not move; he had a stern concentrated
expression as if he were trying to remember something and were furious
with his recalcitrant memory. When Simeon went up to him and took off
his hat with a smile he said:
I'm in a hurry to get to Anastasievka. My daughter is worse again
and they tell me there's a new doctor at Anastasievka.
The coach was clamped onto the barge and they rowed back. All the
while as they rowed the man, whom Simeon called Vassili Andreich, stood
motionless, pressing his thick lips tight and staring in front of him.
When the driver craved leave to smoke in his presence, he answered
nothing, as if he did not hear. And Simeon hung over the rudder and
looked at him mockingly and said:
Even in Siberia people live. L-i-v-e!
On Brains's face was a triumphant expression as if he were proving
something, as if pleased that things had happened just as he thought
they would. The unhappy, helpless look of the man in the fox-fur coat
seemed to give him great pleasure.
The roads are now muddy, Vassili Andreich, he said, when the
horses had been harnessed on the bank. You'd better wait a couple of
weeks, until it gets dryer.... If there were any point in goingbut
you know yourself that people are always on the move day and night and
there's no point in it. Sure!
Vassili Andreich said nothing, gave him a tip, took his seat in the
coach and drove away.
Look! He's gone galloping after the doctor! said Simeon, shivering
in the cold. Yes. To look for a real doctor, trying to overtake the
wind in the fields, and catch the devil by the tail, plague take him!
What queer fish there are! God forgive me, a miserable sinner.
The Tartar went up to Brains, and, looking at him with mingled
hatred and disgust, trembling, and mixing Tartar words up with his
broken Russian, said:
He good ... good. And you ... bad! You are bad! The gentleman is a
good soul, very good, and you are a beast, you are bad! The gentleman
is alive and you are dead.... God made man that he should be alive,
that he should have happiness, sorrow, grief, and you want nothing, so
you are not alive, but a stone! A stone wants nothing and so do you....
You are a stoneand God does not love you and the gentleman he does.
They all began to laugh: the Tartar furiously knit his brows, waved
his hand, drew his rags round him and went to the fire. The ferrymen
and Simeon went slowly to the hut.
It's cold, said one of the ferrymen hoarsely, as he stretched
himself on the straw with which the damp, clay floor was covered.
Yes. It's not warm, another agreed.... It's a hard life.
All of them lay down. The wind blew the door open. The snow drifted
into the hut. Nobody could bring himself to get up and shut the door;
it was cold, but they put up with it.
And I am happy, muttered Simeon as he fell asleep. God give such
a life to everybody.
You certainly are the devil's own. Even the devil don't need to
Sounds like the barking of a dog came from outside.
Who is that? Who is there?
It's the Tartar crying.
Oh! he's a queer fish.
He'll get used to it! said Simeon, and at once he fell asleep.
Soon the others slept too and the door was left open.
THE LADY WITH THE TOY DOG
It was reported that a new face had been seen on the quay; a lady
with a little dog. Dimitri Dimitrich Gomov, who had been a fortnight at
Talta and had got used to it, had begun to show an interest in new
faces. As he sat in the pavilion at Verné's he saw a young lady, blond
and fairly tall, and wearing a broad-brimmed hat, pass along the quay.
After her ran a white Pomeranian.
Later he saw her in the park and in the square several times a day.
She walked by herself, always in the same broad-brimmed hat, and with
this white dog. Nobody knew who she was, and she was spoken of as the
lady with the toy dog.
If, thought Gomov, if she is here without a husband or a friend,
it would be as well to make her acquaintance.
He was not yet forty, but he had a daughter of twelve and two boys
at school. He had married young, in his second year at the University,
and now his wife seemed half as old again as himself. She was a tall
woman, with dark eyebrows, erect, grave, stolid, and she thought
herself an intellectual woman. She read a great deal, called her
husband not Dimitri, but Demitri, and in his private mind he thought
her short-witted, narrow-minded, and ungracious. He was afraid of her
and disliked being at home. He had begun to betray her with other women
long ago, betrayed her frequently, and, probably for that reason nearly
always spoke ill of women, and when they were discussed in his presence
he would maintain that they were an inferior race.
It seemed to him that his experience was bitter enough to give him
the right to call them any name he liked, but he could not live a
couple of days without the inferior race. With men he was bored and
ill at ease, cold and unable to talk, but when he was with women, he
felt easy and knew what to talk about, and how to behave, and even when
he was silent with them he felt quite comfortable. In his appearance as
in his character, indeed in his whole nature, there was something
attractive, indefinable, which drew women to him and charmed them; he
knew it, and he, too, was drawn by some mysterious power to them.
His frequent, and, indeed, bitter experiences had taught him long
ago that every affair of that kind, at first a divine diversion, a
delicious smooth adventure, is in the end a source of worry for a
decent man, especially for men like those at Moscow who are slow to
move, irresolute, domesticated, for it becomes at last an acute and
extraordinary complicated problem and a nuisance. But whenever he met
and was interested in a new woman, then his experience would slip away
from his memory, and he would long to live, and everything would seem
so simple and amusing.
And it so happened that one evening he dined in the gardens, and the
lady in the broad-brimmed hat came up at a leisurely pace and sat at
the next table. Her expression, her gait, her dress, her coiffure told
him that she belonged to society, that she was married, that she was
paying her first visit to Talta, that she was alone, and that she was
bored.... There is a great deal of untruth in the gossip about the
immorality of the place. He scorned such tales, knowing that they were
for the most part concocted by people who would be only too ready to
sin if they had the chance, but when the lady sat down at the next
table, only a yard or two away from him, his thoughts were filled with
tales of easy conquests, of trips to the mountains; and he was suddenly
possessed by the alluring idea of a quick transitory liaison, a
moment's affair with an unknown woman whom he knew not even by name.
He beckoned to the little dog, and when it came up to him, wagged
his finger at it. The dog began to growl. Gomov again wagged his
The lady glanced at him and at once cast her eyes down.
He won't bite, she said and blushed.
May I give him a bone?and when she nodded emphatically, he asked
affably: Have you been in Talta long?
About five days.
And I am just dragging through my second week.
They were silent for a while.
Time goes quickly, she said, and it is amazingly boring here.
It is the usual thing to say that it is boring here. People live
quite happily in dull holes like Bieliev or Zhidra, but as soon as they
come here they say: 'How boring it is! The very dregs of dullness!' One
would think they came from Spain.
She smiled. Then both went on eating in silence as though they did
not know each other; but after dinner they went off togetherand then
began an easy, playful conversation as though they were perfectly
happy, and it was all one to them where they went or what they talked
of. They walked and talked of how the sea was strangely luminous; the
water lilac, so soft and warm, and athwart it the moon cast a golden
streak. They said how stifling it was after the hot day. Gomov told her
how he came from Moscow and was a philologist by education, but in a
bank by profession; and how he had once wanted to sing in opera, but
gave it up; and how he had two houses in Moscow.... And from her he
learned that she came from Petersburg, was born there, but married at
S. where she had been living for the last two years; that she would
stay another month at Talta, and perhaps her husband would come for
her, because, he too, needed a rest. She could not tell him what her
husband wasProvincial Administration or Zemstvo Counciland she
seemed to think it funny. And Gomov found out that her name was Anna
In his room at night, he thought of her and how they would meet next
day. They must do so. As he was going to sleep, it struck him that she
could only lately have left school, and had been at her lessons even as
his daughter was then; he remembered how bashful and gauche she was
when she laughed and talked with a strangerit must be, he thought,
the first time she had been alone, and in such a place with men walking
after her and looking at her and talking to her, all with the same
secret purpose which she could not but guess. He thought of her slender
white neck and her pretty, grey eyes.
There is something touching about her, he thought as he began to
A week passed. It was a blazing day. Indoors it was stifling, and in
the streets the dust whirled along. All day long he was plagued with
thirst and he came into the pavilion every few minutes and offered Anna
Sergueyevna an iced drink or an ice. It was impossibly hot.
In the evening, when the air was fresher, they walked to the jetty
to see the steamer come in. There was quite a crowd all gathered to
meet somebody, for they carried bouquets. And among them were clearly
marked the peculiarities of Talta: the elderly ladies were youngly
dressed and there were many generals.
The sea was rough and the steamer was late, and before it turned
into the jetty it had to do a great deal of manoeuvring. Anna
Sergueyevna looked through her lorgnette at the steamer and the
passengers as though she were looking for friends, and when she turned
to Gomov, her eyes shone. She talked much and her questions were
abrupt, and she forgot what she had said; and then she lost her
lorgnette in the crowd.
The well-dressed people went away, the wind dropped, and Gomov and
Anna Sergueyevna stood as though they were waiting for somebody to come
from the steamer. Anna Sergueyevna was silent. She smelled her flowers
and did not look at Gomov.
The weather has got pleasanter toward evening, he said. Where
shall we go now? Shall we take a carriage?
She did not answer.
He fixed his eyes on her and suddenly embraced her and kissed her
lips, and he was kindled with the perfume and the moisture of the
flowers; at once he started and looked round; had not some one seen?
Let us go to your he murmured.
And they walked quickly away.
Her room was stifling, and smelled of scents which she had bought at
the Japanese shop. Gomov looked at her and thought: What strange
chances there are in life! From the past there came the memory of
earlier good-natured women, gay in their love, grateful to him for
their happiness, short though it might be; and of otherslike his
wifewho loved without sincerity, and talked overmuch and affectedly,
hysterically, as though they were protesting that it was not love, nor
passion, but something more important; and of the few beautiful cold
women, into whose eyes there would flash suddenly a fierce expression,
a stubborn desire to take, to snatch from life more than it can give;
they were no longer in their first youth, they were capricious,
unstable, domineering, imprudent, and when Gomov became cold toward
them then their beauty roused him to hatred, and the lace on their
lingerie reminded him of the scales of fish.
But here there was the shyness and awkwardness of inexperienced
youth, a feeling of constraint; an impression of perplexity and wonder,
as though some one had suddenly knocked at the door. Anna Sergueyevna,
the lady with the toy dog took what had happened somehow seriously,
with a particular gravity, as though thinking that this was her
downfall and very strange and improper. Her features seemed to sink and
wither, and on either side of her face her long hair hung mournfully
down; she sat crestfallen and musing, exactly like a woman taken in sin
in some old picture.
It is not right, she said. You are the first to lose respect for
There was a melon on the table. Gomov cut a slice and began to eat
it slowly. At least half an hour passed in silence.
Anna Sergueyevna was very touching; she irradiated the purity of a
simple, devout, inexperienced woman; the solitary candle on the table
hardly lighted her face, but it showed her very wretched.
Why should I cease to respect you? asked Gomov. You don't know
what you are saying.
God forgive me! she said, and her eyes filled with tears. It is
You seem to want to justify yourself.
How can I justify myself? I am a wicked, low woman and I despise
myself. I have no thought of justifying myself. It is not my husband
that I have deceived, but myself. And not only now but for a long time
past. My husband may be a good honest man, but he is a lackey. I do not
know what work he does, but I do know that he is a lackey in his soul.
I was twenty when I married him. I was overcome by curiosity. I longed
for something. 'Surely,' I said to myself, 'there is another kind of
life.' I longed to live! To live, and to live.... Curiosity burned me
up.... You do not understand it, but I swear by God, I could no longer
control myself. Something strange was going on in me. I could not hold
myself in. I told my husband that I was ill and came here.... And here
I have been walking about dizzily, like a lunatic.... And now I have
become a low, filthy woman whom everybody may despise.
Gomov was already bored; her simple words irritated him with their
unexpected and inappropriate repentance; but for the tears in her eyes
he might have thought her to be joking or playing a part.
I do not understand, he said quietly. What do you want?
She hid her face in his bosom and pressed close to him.
Believe, believe me, I implore you, she said. I love a pure,
honest life, and sin is revolting to me. I don't know myself what I am
doing. Simple people say: 'The devil entrapped me,' and I can say of
myself: 'The Evil One tempted me.'
Don't, don't, he murmured.
He looked into her staring, frightened eyes, kissed her, spoke
quietly and tenderly, and gradually quieted her and she was happy
again, and they both began to laugh.
Later, when they went out, there was not a soul on the quay; the
town with its cypresses looked like a city of the dead, but the sea
still roared and broke against the shore; a boat swung on the waves;
and in it sleepily twinkled the light of a lantern.
They found a cab and drove out to the Oreanda.
Just now in the hall, said Gomov, I discovered your name written
on the boardvon Didenitz. Is your husband a German?
No. His grandfather, I believe, was a German, but he himself is an
At Oreanda they sat on a bench, not far from the church, looked down
at the sea and were silent. Talta was hardly visible through the
morning mist. The tops of the hills were shrouded in motionless white
clouds. The leaves of the trees never stirred, the cicadas trilled, and
the monotonous dull sound of the sea, coming up from below, spoke of
the rest, the eternal sleep awaiting us. So the sea roared when there
was neither Talta nor Oreanda, and so it roars and will roar, dully,
indifferently when we shall be no more. And in this continual
indifference to the life and death of each of us, lives pent up, the
pledge of our eternal salvation, of the uninterrupted movement of life
on earth and its unceasing perfection. Sitting side by side with a
young woman, who in the dawn seemed so beautiful, Gomov, appeased and
enchanted by the sight of the fairy scene, the sea, the mountains, the
clouds, the wide sky, thought how at bottom, if it were thoroughly
explored, everything on earth was beautiful, everything, except what we
ourselves think and do when we forget the higher purposes of life and
our own human dignity.
A man came upa coast-guardgave a look at them, then went away.
He, too, seemed mysterious and enchanted. A steamer came over from
Feodossia, by the light of the morning star, its own lights already put
There is dew on the grass, said Anna Sergueyevna after a silence.
Yes. It is time to go home.
They returned to the town.
Then every afternoon they met on the quay, and lunched together,
dined, walked, enjoyed the sea. She complained that she slept badly,
that her heart beat alarmingly. She would ask the same question over
and over again, and was troubled now by jealousy, now by fear that he
did not sufficiently respect her. And often in the square or the
gardens, when there was no one near, he would draw her close and kiss
her passionately. Their complete idleness, these kisses in the full
daylight, given timidly and fearfully lest any one should see, the
heat, the smell of the sea and the continual brilliant parade of
leisured, well-dressed, well-fed people almost regenerated him. He
would tell Anna Sergueyevna how delightful she was, how tempting. He
was impatiently passionate, never left her side, and she would often
brood, and even asked him to confess that he did not respect her, did
not love her at all, and only saw in her a loose woman. Almost every
evening, rather late, they would drive out of the town, to Oreanda, or
to the waterfall; and these drives were always delightful, and the
impressions won during them were always beautiful and sublime.
They expected her husband to come. But he sent a letter in which he
said that his eyes were bad and implored his wife to come home. Anna
Sergueyevna began to worry.
It is a good thing I am going away, she would say to Gomov. It is
She went in a carriage and he accompanied her. They drove for a
whole day. When she took her seat in the car of an express-train and
when the second bell sounded, she said:
Let me have another look at you.... Just one more look. Just as you
She did not cry, but was sad and low-spirited, and her lips
I will think of youoften, she said. Good-bye. Good-bye. Don't
think ill of me. We part for ever. We must, because we ought not to
have met at all. Now, good-bye.
The train moved off rapidly. Its lights disappeared, and in a minute
or two the sound of it was lost, as though everything were agreed to
put an end to this sweet, oblivious madness. Left alone on the
platform, looking into the darkness, Gomov heard the trilling of the
grasshoppers and the humming of the telegraph-wires, and felt as though
he had just woke up. And he thought that it had been one more
adventure, one more affair, and it also was finished and had left only
a memory. He was moved, sad, and filled with a faint remorse; surely
the young woman, whom he would never see again, had not been happy with
him; he had been kind to her, friendly, and sincere, but still in his
attitude toward her, in his tone and caresses, there had always been a
thin shadow of raillery, the rather rough arrogance of the successful
male aggravated by the fact that he was twice as old as she. And all
the time she had called him kind, remarkable, noble, so that he was
never really himself to her, and had involuntarily deceived her....
Here at the station, the smell of autumn was in the air, and the
evening was cool.
It is time for me to go North, thought Gomov, as he left the
platform. It is time.
At home in Moscow, it was already like winter; the stoves were
heated, and in the mornings, when the children were getting ready to go
to school, and had their tea, it was dark and their nurse lighted the
lamp for a short while. The frost had already begun. When the first
snow falls, the first day of driving in sledges, it is good to see the
white earth, the white roofs; one breathes easily, eagerly, and then
one remembers the days of youth. The old lime-trees and birches, white
with hoarfrost, have a kindly expression; they are nearer to the heart
than cypresses and palm-trees, and with the dear familiar trees there
is no need to think of mountains and the sea.
Gomov was a native of Moscow. He returned to Moscow on a fine frosty
day, and when he donned his fur coat and warm gloves, and took a stroll
through Petrovka, and when on Saturday evening he heard the
church-bells ringing, then his recent travels and the places he had
visited lost all their charm. Little by little he sank back into Moscow
life, read eagerly three newspapers a day, and said that he did not
read Moscow papers as a matter of principle. He was drawn into a round
of restaurants, clubs, dinner-parties, parties, and he was flattered to
have his house frequented by famous lawyers and actors, and to play
cards with a professor at the University club. He could eat a whole
plateful of hot sielianka.
So a month would pass, and Anna Sergueyevna, he thought, would be
lost in the mists of memory and only rarely would she visit his dreams
with her touching smile, just as other women had done. But more than a
month passed, full winter came, and in his memory everything was clear,
as though he had parted from Anna Sergueyevna only yesterday. And his
memory was lit by a light that grew ever stronger. No matter how,
through the voices of his children saying their lessons, penetrating to
the evening stillness of his study, through hearing a song, or the
music in a restaurant, or the snow-storm howling in the chimney,
suddenly the whole thing would come to life again in his memory: the
meeting on the jetty, the early morning with the mists on the
mountains, the steamer from Feodossia and their kisses. He would pace
up and down his room and remember it all and smile, and then his
memories would drift into dreams, and the past was confused in his
imagination with the future. He did not dream at night of Anna
Sergueyevna, but she followed him everywhere, like a shadow, watching
him. As he shut his eyes, he could see her, vividly, and she seemed
handsomer, tenderer, younger than in reality; and he seemed to himself
better than he had been at Talta. In the evenings she would look at him
from the bookcase, from the fireplace, from the corner; he could hear
her breathing and the soft rustle of her dress. In the street he would
gaze at women's faces to see if there were not one like her....
He was filled with a great longing to share his memories with some
one. But at home it was impossible to speak of his love, and away from
homethere was no one. Impossible to talk of her to the other people
in the house and the men at the bank. And talk of what? Had he loved
then? Was there anything fine, romantic, or elevating or even
interesting in his relations with Anna Sergueyevna? And he would speak
vaguely of love, of women, and nobody guessed what was the matter, and
only his wife would raise her dark eyebrows and say:
Demitri, the rôle of coxcomb does not suit you at all.
One night, as he was coming out of the club with his partner, an
official, he could not help saying:
If only I could tell what a fascinating woman I met at Talta.
The official seated himself in his sledge and drove off, but
You were right. The sturgeon was tainted.
These banal words suddenly roused Gomov's indignation. They seemed
to him degrading and impure. What barbarous customs and people!
What preposterous nights, what dull, empty days! Furious
card-playing, gourmandising, drinking, endless conversations about the
same things, futile activities and conversations taking up the best
part of the day and all the best of a man's forces, leaving only a
stunted, wingless life, just rubbish; and to go away and escape was
impossibleone might as well be in a lunatic asylum or in prison with
Gomov did not sleep that night, but lay burning with indignation,
and then all next day he had a headache. And the following night he
slept badly, sitting up in bed and thinking, or pacing from corner to
corner of his room. His children bored him, the bank bored him, and he
had no desire to go out or to speak to any one.
In December when the holidays came he prepared to go on a journey
and told his wife he was going to Petersburg to present a petition for
a young friend of hisand went to S. Why? He did not know. He wanted
to see Anna Sergueyevna, to talk to her, and if possible to arrange an
He arrived at S. in the morning and occupied the best room in the
hotel, where the whole floor was covered with a grey canvas, and on the
table there stood an inkstand grey with dust, adorned with a horseman
on a headless horse holding a net in his raised hand. The porter gave
him the necessary information: von Didenitz; Old Goucharno Street, his
own housenot far from the hotel; lives well, has his own horses,
every one knows him.
Gomov walked slowly to Old Goucharno Street and found the house. In
front of it was a long, grey fence spiked with nails.
No getting over a fence like that, thought Gomov, glancing from
the windows to the fence.
He thought: To-day is a holiday and her husband is probably at
home. Besides it would be tactless to call and upset her. If he sent a
note then it might fall into her husband's hands and spoil everything.
It would be better to wait for an opportunity. And he kept on walking
up and down the street, and round the fence, waiting for his
opportunity. He saw a beggar go in at the gate and the dogs attack him.
He heard a piano and the sounds came faintly to his ears. It must be
Anna Sergueyevna playing. The door suddenly opened and out of it came
an old woman, and after her ran the familiar white Pomeranian. Gomov
wanted to call the dog, but his heart suddenly began to thump and in
his agitation he could not remember the dog's name.
He walked on, and more and more he hated the grey fence and thought
with a gust of irritation that Anna Sergueyevna had already forgotten
him, and was perhaps already amusing herself with some one else, as
would be only natural in a young woman forced from morning to night to
behold the accursed fence. He returned to his room and sat for a long
time on the sofa, not knowing what to do. Then he dined and afterward
slept for a long while.
How idiotic and tiresome it all is, he thought as he awoke and saw
the dark windows; for it was evening. I've had sleep enough, and what
shall I do to-night?
He sat on his bed which was covered with a cheap, grey blanket,
exactly like those used in a hospital, and tormented himself.
So much for the lady with the toy dog.... So much for the great
adventure.... Here you sit.
However, in the morning, at the station, his eye had been caught by
a poster with large letters: First Performance of 'The Geisha.' He
remembered that and went to the theatre.
It is quite possible she will go to the first performance, he
The theatre was full and, as usual in all provincial theatres, there
was a thick mist above the lights, the gallery was noisily restless; in
the first row before the opening of the performance stood the local
dandies with their hands behind their backs, and there in the
governor's box, in front, sat the governor's daughter, and the governor
himself sat modestly behind the curtain and only his hands were
visible. The curtain quivered; the orchestra tuned up for a long time,
and while the audience were coming in and taking their seats, Gomov
gazed eagerly round.
At last Anna Sergueyevna came in. She took her seat in the third
row, and when Gomov glanced at her his heart ached and he knew that for
him there was no one in the whole world nearer, dearer, and more
important than she; she was lost in this provincial rabble, the little
undistinguished woman, with a common lorgnette in her hands, yet she
filled his whole life; she was his grief, his joy, his only happiness,
and he longed for her; and through the noise of the bad orchestra with
its tenth-rate fiddles, he thought how dear she was to him. He thought
With Anna Sergueyevna there came in a young man with short
side-whiskers, very tall, stooping; with every movement he shook and
bowed continually. Probably he was the husband whom in a bitter mood at
Talta she had called a lackey. And, indeed, in his long figure, his
side-whiskers, the little bald patch on the top of his head, there was
something of the lackey; he had a modest sugary smile and in his
buttonhole he wore a University badge exactly like a lackey's number.
In the first entr'acte the husband went out to smoke, and she was
left alone. Gomov, who was also in the pit, came up to her and said in
a trembling voice with a forced smile:
How do you do?
She looked up at him and went pale. Then she glanced at him again in
terror, not believing her eyes, clasped her fan and lorgnette tightly
together, apparently struggling to keep herself from fainting. Both
were silent. She sat, he stood; frightened by her emotion, not daring
to sit down beside her. The fiddles and flutes began to play and
suddenly it seemed to them as though all the people in the boxes were
looking at them. She got up and walked quickly to the exit; he
followed, and both walked absently along the corridors, down the
stairs, up the stairs, with the crowd shifting and shimmering before
their eyes; all kinds of uniforms, judges, teachers, crown-estates, and
all with badges; ladies shone and shimmered before them, like fur coats
on moving rows of clothes-pegs, and there was a draught howling through
the place laden with the smell of tobacco and cigar-ends. And Gomov,
whose heart was thudding wildly, thought:
Oh, Lord! Why all these men and that beastly orchestra?
At that very moment he remembered how when he had seen Anna
Sergueyevna off that evening at the station he had said to himself that
everything was over between them, and they would never meet again. And
now how far off they were from the end!
On a narrow, dark staircase over which was written: This Way to the
Amphitheatre, she stopped:
How you frightened me! she said, breathing heavily, still pale and
apparently stupefied. Oh! how you frightened me! I am nearly dead. Why
did you come? Why?
Understand me, Anna, he whispered quickly. I implore you to
She looked at him fearfully, in entreaty, with love in her eyes,
gazing fixedly to gather up in her memory every one of his features.
I suffer so! she went on, not listening to him. All the time, I
thought only of you. I lived with thoughts of you.... And I wanted to
forget, to forget, but why, why did you come?
A little above them, on the landing, two schoolboys stood and smoked
and looked down at them, but Gomov did not care. He drew her to him and
began to kiss her cheeks, her hands.
What are you doing? What are you doing? she said in terror,
thrusting him away.... We were both mad. Go away to-night. You must go
away at once.... I implore you, by everything you hold sacred, I
implore you.... The people are coming-
Some one passed them on the stairs.
You must go away, Anna Sergueyevna went on in a whisper. Do you
hear, Dimitri Dimitrich? I'll come to you in Moscow. I never was happy.
Now I am unhappy and I shall never, never be happy, never! Don't make
me suffer even more! I swear, I'll come to Moscow. And now let us part.
My dear, dearest darling, let us part!
She pressed his hand and began to go quickly down-stairs, all the
while looking back at him, and in her eyes plainly showed that she was
most unhappy. Gomov stood for a while, listened, then, when all was
quiet he found his coat and left the theatre.
And Anna Sergueyevna began to come to him in Moscow. Once every two
or three months she would leave S., telling her husband that she was
going to consult a specialist in women's diseases. Her husband half
believed and half disbelieved her. At Moscow she would stay at the
Slaviansky Bazaar and send a message at once to Gomov. He would come
to her, and nobody in Moscow knew.
Once as he was going to her as usual one winter morninghe had not
received her message the night beforehe had his daughter with him,
for he was taking her to school which was on the way. Great wet flakes
of snow were falling.
Three degrees above freezing, he said, and still the snow is
falling. But the warmth is only on the surface of the earth. In the
upper strata of the atmosphere there is quite a different temperature.
Yes, papa. Why is there no thunder in winter?
He explained this too, and as he spoke he thought of his
assignation, and that not a living soul knew of it, or ever would know.
He had two lives; one obvious, which every one could see and know, if
they were sufficiently interested, a life full of conventional truth
and conventional fraud, exactly like the lives of his friends and
acquaintances; and another, which moved underground. And by a strange
conspiracy of circumstances, everything that was to him important,
interesting, vital, everything that enabled him to be sincere and
denied self-deception and was the very core of his being, must dwell
hidden away from others, and everything that made him false, a mere
shape in which he hid himself in order to conceal the truth, as for
instance his work in the bank, arguments at the club, his favourite
gibe about women, going to parties with his wifeall this was open.
And, judging others by himself, he did not believe the things he saw,
and assumed that everybody else also had his real vital life passing
under a veil of mystery as under the cover of the night. Every man's
intimate existence is kept mysterious, and perhaps, in part, because of
that civilised people are so nervously anxious that a personal secret
should be respected.
When he had left his daughter at school, Gomov went to the
Slaviansky Bazaar. He took off his fur coat down-stairs, went up and
knocked quietly at the door. Anna Sergueyevna, wearing his favourite
grey dress, tired by the journey, had been expecting him to come all
night. She was pale, and looked at him without a smile, and flung
herself on his breast as soon as he entered. Their kiss was long and
lingering as though they had not seen each other for a couple of years.
Well, how are you getting on down there? he asked. What is your
Wait. I'll tell you presently.... I cannot.
She could not speak, for she was weeping. She turned her face from
him and dried her eyes.
Well, let her cry a bit.... I'll wait, he thought, and sat down.
Then he rang and ordered tea, and then, as he drank it, she stood
and gazed out of the window.... She was weeping in distress, in the
bitter knowledge that their life had fallen out so sadly; only seeing
each other in secret, hiding themselves away like thieves! Was not
their life crushed?
Don't cry.... Don't cry, he said.
It was clear to him that their love was yet far from its end, which
there was no seeing. Anna Sergueyevna was more and more passionately
attached to him; she adored him and it was inconceivable that he should
tell her that their love must some day end; she would not believe it.
He came up to her and patted her shoulder fondly and at that moment
he saw himself in the mirror.
His hair was already going grey. And it seemed strange to him that
in the last few years he should have got so old and ugly. Her shoulders
were warm and trembled to his touch. He was suddenly filled with pity
for her life, still so warm and beautiful, but probably beginning to
fade and wither, like his own. Why should she love him so much? He
always seemed to women not what he really was, and they loved in him,
not himself, but the creature of their imagination, the thing they
hankered for in life, and when they had discovered their mistake, still
they loved him. And not one of them was happy with him. Time passed; he
met women and was friends with them, went further and parted, but never
once did he love; there was everything but love.
And now at last when his hair was grey he had fallen in love, real
lovefor the first time in his life.
Anna Sergueyevna and he loved one another, like dear kindred, like
husband and wife, like devoted friends; it seemed to them that Fate had
destined them for one another, and it was inconceivable that he should
have a wife, she a husband; they were like two birds of passage, a male
and a female, which had been caught and forced to live in separate
cages. They had forgiven each other all the past of which they were
ashamed; they forgave everything in the present, and they felt that
their love had changed both of them.
Formerly, when he felt a melancholy compunction, he used to comfort
himself with all kinds of arguments, just as they happened to cross his
mind, but now he was far removed from any such ideas; he was filled
with a profound pity, and he desired to be tender and sincere....
Don't cry, my darling, he said. You have cried enough.... Now let
us talk and see if we can't find some way out.
Then they talked it all over, and tried to discover some means of
avoiding the necessity for concealment and deception, and the torment
of living in different towns, and of not seeing each other for a long
time. How could they shake off these intolerable fetters?
How? How? he asked, holding his head in his hands. How?
And it seemed that but a little while and the solution would be
found and there would begin a lovely new life; and to both of them it
was clear that the end was still very far off, and that their hardest
and most difficult period was only just beginning.
It was already dark and would soon be night.
Goussiev, a private on long leave, raised himself a little in his
hammock and said in a whisper:
Can you hear me, Pavel Ivanich? A soldier at Souchan told me that
their boat ran into an enormous fish and knocked a hole in her bottom.
The man of condition unknown whom he addressed, and whom everybody
in the hospital-ship called Pavel Ivanich, was silent, as if he had not
And once more there was silence.... The wind whistled through the
rigging, the screw buzzed, the waves came washing, the hammocks
squeaked, but to all these sounds their ears were long since accustomed
and it seemed as though everything were wrapped in sleep and silence.
It was very oppressive. The three patientstwo soldiers and a
sailorwho had played cards all day were now asleep and tossing to and
The vessel began to shake. The hammock under Goussiev slowly heaved
up and down, as though it were breathingone, two, three.... Something
crashed on the floor and began to tinkle: the jug must have fallen
The wind has broken loose.... said Goussiev, listening
This time Pavel Ivanich coughed and answered irritably:
You spoke just now of a ship colliding with a large fish, and now
you talk of the wind breaking loose.... Is the wind a dog to break
That's what people say.
Then people are as ignorant as you.... But what do they not say?
You should keep a head on your shoulders and think. Silly idiot!
Pavel Ivanich was subject to seasickness. When the ship rolled he
would get very cross, and the least trifle would upset him, though
Goussiev could never see anything to be cross about. What was there
unusual in his story about the fish or in his saying that the wind had
broken loose? Suppose the fish were as big as a mountain and its back
were as hard as a sturgeon's, and suppose that at the end of the wood
there were huge stone walls with the snarling winds chained up to
them.... If they do not break loose, why then do they rage over the sea
as though they were possessed, and rush about like dogs? If they are
not chained, what happens to them when it is calm?
Goussiev thought for a long time of a fish as big as a mountain, and
of thick rusty chains; then he got tired of that and began to think of
his native place whither he was returning after five years' service in
the Far East. He saw with his mind's eye the great pond covered with
snow.... On one side of the pond was a brick-built pottery, with a tall
chimney belching clouds of black smoke, and on the other side was the
village.... From the yard of the fifth house from the corner came his
brother Alency in a sledge; behind him sat his little son Vanka in
large felt boots, and his daughter Akulka, also in felt boots. Alency
is tipsy, Vanka laughs, and Akulka's face is hiddenshe is well
The children will catch cold ... thought Goussiev. God grant
them, he whispered, a pure right mind that they may honour their
parents and be better than their father and mother....
The boots want soling, cried the sick sailor in a deep voice.
The thread of Goussiev's thoughts was broken, and instead of the
pond, suddenlywithout rhyme or reasonhe saw a large bull's head
without eyes, and the horse and sledge did not move on, but went round
and round in a black mist. But still he was glad he had seen his dear
ones. He gasped for joy, and his limbs tingled and his fingers
God suffered me to see them! he muttered, and opened his eyes and
looked round in the darkness for water.
He drank, then lay down again, and once more the sledge skimmed
along, and he saw the bull's head without eyes, black smoke, clouds of
it. And so on till dawn.
At first through the darkness there appeared only a blue circle, the
port-hole, then Goussiev began slowly to distinguish the man in the
next hammock, Pavel Ivanich. He was sleeping in a sitting position, for
if he lay down he could not breathe. His face was grey; his nose long
and sharp, and his eyes were huge, because he was so thin; his temples
were sunk, his beard scanty, the hair on his head long.... By his face
it was impossible to tell his class: gentleman, merchant, or peasant;
judging by his appearance and long hair he looked almost like a
recluse, a lay-brother, but when he spokehe was not at all like a
monk. He was losing strength through his cough and his illness and the
suffocating heat, and he breathed heavily and was always moving his dry
lips. Noticing that Goussiev was looking at him, he turned toward him
I'm beginning to understand.... Yes.... Now I understand.
What do you understand, Pavel Ivanich?
Yes.... It was strange to me at first, why you sick men, instead of
being kept quiet, should be on this steamer, where the heat is
stifling, and stinking, and pitching and tossing, and must be fatal to
you; but now it is all clear to me.... Yes. The doctors sent you to the
steamer to get rid of you. They got tired of all the trouble you gave
them, brutes like you.
...You don't pay them; you only give a lot of trouble, and if you
die you spoil their reports. Therefore you are just cattle, and there
is no difficulty in getting rid of you.... They only need to lack
conscience and humanity, and to deceive the owners of the steamer. We
needn't worry about the first, they are experts by nature; but the
second needs a certain amount of practice. In a crowd of four hundred
healthy soldiers and sailorsfive sick men are never noticed; so you
were carried up to the steamer, mixed with a healthy lot who were
counted in such a hurry that nothing wrong was noticed, and when the
steamer got away they saw fever-stricken and consumptive men lying
helpless on the deck....
Goussiev could not make out what Pavel Ivanich was talking about;
thinking he was being taken to task, he said by way of excusing
I lay on the deck because when we were taken off the barge I caught
Shocking! said Pavel Ivanich. They know quite well that you can't
last out the voyage, and yet they send you here! You may get as far as
the Indian Ocean, but what then? It is awful to think of.... And that's
all the return you get for faithful unblemished service!
Pavel Ivanich looked very angry, and smote his forehead and gasped:
They ought to be shown up in the papers. There would be an awful
The two sick soldiers and the sailor were already up and had begun
to play cards, the sailor propped up in his hammock, and the soldiers
squatting uncomfortably on the floor. One soldier had his right arm in
a sling and his wrist was tightly bandaged so that he had to hold the
cards in his left hand or in the crook of his elbow. The boat was
rolling violently so that it was impossible to get up or to drink tea
or to take medicine.
You were an orderly? Pavel Ivanich asked Goussiev.
That's it. An orderly.
My God, my God! said Pavel Ivanich sorrowfully. To take a man
from his native place, drag him fifteen thousand miles, drive him into
consumption ... and what for? I ask you. To make him an orderly to some
Captain Farthing or Midshipman Hole! Where's the sense of it?
It's not a bad job, Pavel Ivanich. You get up in the morning, clean
the boots, boil the samovar, tidy up the room, and then there is
nothing to do. The lieutenant draws plans all day long, and you can
pray to God if you likeor read booksor go out into the streets.
It's a good enough life.
Yes. Very good! The lieutenant draws plans, and you stay in the
kitchen all day long and suffer from homesickness.... Plans.... Plans
don't matter. It's human life that matters! Life doesn't come again.
One should be sparing of it.
Certainly Pavel Ivanich. A bad man meets no quarter, either at
home, or in the army, but if you live straight, and do as you are told,
then no one will harm you. They are educated and they understand....
For five years now I've never been in the cells and I've only been
thrashed oncetouch wood!
What was that for?
Fighting. I have a heavy fist, Pavel Ivanich. Four Chinamen came
into our yard: they were carrying wood, I think, but I don't remember.
Well, I was bored. I went for them and one of them got a bloody nose.
The lieutenant saw it through the window and gave me a thick ear.
You poor fool, muttered Pavel Ivanich. You don't understand
He was completely exhausted with the tossing of the boat and shut
his eyes; his head fell back and then flopped forward onto his chest.
He tried several times to lie down, but in vain, for he could not
And why did you go for the four Chinamen? he asked after a while.
For no reason. They came into the yard and I went for them.
Silence fell.... The gamblers played for a couple of hours, absorbed
and cursing, but the tossing of the ship tired even them; they threw
the cards away and laid down. Once more Goussiev thought of the big
pond, the pottery, the village. Once more the sledges skimmed along,
once more Vanka laughed, and that fool of an Akulka opened her fur
coat, and stretched out her feet; look, she seemed to say, look, poor
people, my felt boots are new and not like Vanka's.
She's getting on for six and still she has no sense! said
Goussiev. Instead of showing your boots off, why don't you bring some
water to your soldier-uncle? I'll give you a present.
Then came Andrea, with his firelock on his shoulder, carrying a hare
he had shot, and he was followed by Tsaichik the cripple, who offered
him a piece of soap for the hare; and there was the black heifer in the
yard, and Domna sewing a shirt and crying over something, and there was
the eyeless bull's head and the black smoke....
Overhead there was shouting, sailors running; the sound of something
heavy being dragged along the deck, or something had broken.... More
running. Something wrong? Goussiev raised his head, listened and saw
the two soldiers and the sailor playing cards again; Pavel Ivanich
sitting up and moving his lips. It was very close, he could hardly
breathe, he wanted a drink, but the water was warm and disgusting....
The pitching of the boat was now better.
Suddenly something queer happened to one of the soldiers.... He
called ace of diamonds, lost his reckoning and dropped his cards. He
started and laughed stupidly and looked round.
In a moment, you fellows, he said and lay down on the floor.
All were at a loss. They shouted at him but he made no reply.
Stiepan, are you ill? asked the other soldier with the bandaged
hand. Perhaps we'd better call the priest, eh?
Stiepan, drink some water, said the sailor. Here, mate, have a
What's the good of breaking his teeth with the jug, shouted
Goussiev angrily. Don't you see, you fatheads?
What! cried Goussiev. He's snuffed it, dead. That's what! Good
God, what fools!...
The rolling stopped and Pavel Ivanich cheered up. He was no longer
peevish. His face had an arrogant, impetuous, and mocking expression.
He looked as if he were on the point of saying: I'll tell you a story
that will make you die of laughter. Their port-hole was open and a
soft wind blew in on Pavel Ivanich. Voices could be heard and the
splash of oars in the water.... Beneath the window some one was howling
in a thin, horrible voice; probably a Chinaman singing.
Yes. We are in harbour, said Pavel Ivanich, smiling mockingly.
Another month and we shall be in Russia. It's true; my gallant
warriors, I shall get to Odessa and thence I shall go straight to
Kharkhov. At Kharkhov I have a friend, a literary man. I shall go to
him and I shall say, 'now, my friend, give up your rotten little
love-stories and descriptions of nature, and expose the vileness of the
human biped.... There's a subject for you.'
He thought for a moment and then he said:
Goussiev, do you know how I swindled them?
Who, Pavel Ivanich?
The lot out there.... You see there's only first and third class on
the steamer, and only peasants are allowed to go third. If you have a
decent suit, and look like a nobleman or a bourgeois, at a distance,
then you must go first. It may break you, but you have to lay down your
five hundred roubles. 'What's the point of such an arrangement?' I
asked. 'Is it meant to raise the prestige of Russian intellectuals?'
'Not a bit,' said they. 'We don't let you go, simply because it is
impossible for a decent man to go third. It is so vile and disgusting.'
'Yes,' said I. 'Thanks for taking so much trouble about decent people.
Anyhow, bad or no, I haven't got five hundred roubles as I have neither
robbed the treasury nor exploited foreigners, nor dealt in contraband,
nor flogged any one to death, and, therefore, I think I have a right to
go first-class and to take rank with the intelligentsia of Russia.' But
there's no convincing them by logic.... I had to try fraud. I put on a
peasant's coat and long boots, and a drunken, stupid expression and
went to the agent and said: 'Give me a ticket, your Honour.'
'What's your position?' says the agent.
'Clerical,' said I. 'My father was an honest priest. He always told
the truth to the great ones of the earth, and so he suffered much.'
Pavel Ivanich got tired with talking, and his breath failed him, but
he went on:
Yes. I always tell the truth straight out.... I am afraid of nobody
and nothing. There's a great difference between myself and you in that
respect. You are dull, blind, stupid, you see nothing, and you don't
understand what you do see. You are told that the wind breaks its
chain, that you are brutes and worse, and you believe; you are thrashed
and you kiss the hand that thrashes you; a swine in a raccoon pelisse
robs you, and throws you sixpence for tea, and you say: 'Please, your
Honour, let me kiss your hand.' You are pariahs, skunks.... I am
different. I live consciously. I see everything, as an eagle or a hawk
sees when it hovers over the earth, and I understand everything. I am a
living protest. I see injusticeI protest; I see bigotry and
hypocrisyI protest; I see swine triumphantI protest, and I am
unconquerable. No Spanish inquisition can make me hold my tongue.
Aye.... Cut my tongue out. I'll protest by gesture.... Shut me up in a
dungeonI'll shout so loud that I shall be heard for a mile round, or
I'll starve myself, so that there shall be a still heavier weight on
their black consciences. Kill meand my ghost will return. All my
acquaintances tell me: 'You are a most insufferable man, Pavel
Ivanich!' I am proud of such a reputation. I served three years in the
Far East, and have got bitter memories enough for a hundred years. I
inveighed against it all. My friends write from Russia: 'Do not come.'
But I'm going, to spite them.... Yes.... That is life. I understand.
You can call that life.
Goussiev was not listening, but lay looking out of the port-hole; on
the transparent lovely turquoise water swung a boat all shining in the
shimmering light; a fat Chinaman was sitting in it eating rice with
chop-sticks. The water murmured softly, and over it lazily soared white
It would be fun to give that fat fellow one on the back of his
neck.... thought Goussiev, watching the fat Chinaman and yawning.
He dozed, and it seemed to him that all the world was slumbering.
Time slipped swiftly away. The day passed imperceptibly; imperceptibly
the twilight fell.... The steamer was still no longer but was moving
Two days passed. Pavel Ivanich no longer sat up, but lay full
length; his eyes were closed and his nose seemed to be sharper than
Pavel Ivanich! called Goussiev, Pavel Ivanich.
Pavel Ivanich opened his eyes and moved his lips.
Aren't you well?
It's nothing, answered Pavel Ivanich, breathing heavily. It's
nothing. No. I'm much better. You see I can lie down now. I'm much
Thank God for it, Pavel Ivanich.
When I compare myself with you, I am sorry for you ... poor devils.
My lungs are all right; my cough comes from indigestion ... I can
endure this hell, not to mention the Red Sea! Besides, I have a
critical attitude toward my illness, as well as to my medicine. But you
... you are ignorant.... It's hard lines on you, very hard.
The ship was running smoothly; it was calm but still stifling and
hot as a Turkish bath; it was hard not only to speak but even to listen
without an effort. Goussiev clasped his knees, leaned his head on them
and thought of his native place. My God, in such heat it was a pleasure
to think of snow and cold! He saw himself driving on a sledge, and
suddenly the horses were frightened and bolted.... Heedless of roads,
dikes, ditches they rushed like mad through the village, across the
pond, past the works, through the fields.... Hold them in! cried the
women and the passers-by. Hold them in! But why hold them in? Let the
cold wind slap your face and cut your hands; let the lumps of snow
thrown up by the horses' hoofs fall on your hat, down your neck and
chest; let the runners of the sledge be buckled, and the traces and
harness be torn and be damned to it! What fun when the sledge topples
over and you are flung hard into a snow-drift; with your face slap into
the snow, and you get up all white with your moustaches covered with
icicles, hatless, gloveless, with your belt undone.... People laugh and
Pavel Ivanich, with one eye half open looked at Goussiev and asked
Goussiev, did your commander steal?
How do I know, Pavel Ivanich? The likes of us don't hear of it.
A long time passed in silence. Goussiev thought, dreamed, drank
water; it was difficult to speak, difficult to hear, and he was afraid
of being spoken to. One hour passed, a second, a third; evening came,
then night; but he noticed nothing as he sat dreaming of the snow.
He could hear some one coming into the ward; voices, but five
minutes passed and all was still.
God rest his soul! said the soldier with the bandaged hand. He
was a restless man.
What? asked Goussiev. Who?
He's dead. He has just been taken up-stairs.
Oh, well, muttered Goussiev with a yawn. God rest his soul.
What do you think, Goussiev? asked the bandaged soldier after some
time. Will he go to heaven?
He will. He suffered much. Besides, he was a priest's son, and
priests have many relations. They will pray for his soul.
The bandaged soldier sat down on Goussiev's hammock and said in an
You won't live much longer, Goussiev. You'll never see Russia.
Did the doctor or the nurse tell you that? asked Goussiev.
No one told me, but I can see it. You can always tell when a man is
going to die soon. You neither eat nor drink, and you have gone very
thin and awful to look at. Consumption. That's what it is. I'm not
saying this to make you uneasy, but because I thought you might like to
have the last sacrament. And if you have any money, you had better give
it to the senior officer.
I have not written home, said Goussiev. I shall die and they will
They will know, said the sailor in his deep voice. When you die
they will put you down in the log, and at Odessa they will give a note
to the military governor, and he will send it to your parish or
wherever it is....
This conversation made Goussiev begin to feel unhappy and a vague
desire began to take possession of him. He drank waterit was not
that; he stretched out to the port-hole and breathed the hot, moist
airit was not that; he tried to think of his native place and the
snowit was not that.... At last he felt that he would choke if he
stayed a moment longer in the hospital.
I feel poorly, mates, he said. I want to go on deck. For Christ's
sake take me on deck.
Goussiev flung his arms round the soldier's neck and the soldier
held him with his free arm and supported him up the gangway. On deck
there were rows and rows of sleeping soldiers and sailors; so many of
them that it was difficult to pick a way through them.
Stand up, said the bandaged soldier gently. Walk after me slowly
and hold on to my shirt....
It was dark. There was no light on deck or on the masts or over the
sea. In the bows a sentry stood motionless as a statue, but he looked
as if he were asleep. It was as though the steamer had been left to its
own sweet will, to go where it liked.
They are going to throw Pavel Ivanich into the sea, said the
bandaged soldier. They will put him in a sack and throw him
Yes. That's the way they do.
But it's better to lie at home in the earth. Then the mother can go
to the grave and weep over it.
There was a smell of dung and hay. With heads hanging there were
oxen standing by the bulwarkone, two, three ... eight beasts. And
there was a little horse. Goussiev put out his hand to pat it, but it
shook its head, showed its teeth and tried to bite his sleeve.
Damn you, said Goussiev angrily.
He and the soldier slowly made their way to the bows and stood
against the bulwark and looked silently up and down. Above them was the
wide sky, bright with stars, peace and tranquillityexactly as it was
at home in his village; but belowdarkness and turbulence. Mysterious
towering waves. Each wave seemed to strive to rise higher than the
rest; and they pressed and jostled each other and yet others came,
fierce and ugly, and hurled themselves into the fray.
There is neither sense nor pity in the sea. Had the steamer been
smaller, and not made of tough iron, the waves would have crushed it
remorselessly and all the men in it, without distinction of good and
bad. The steamer too seemed cruel and senseless. The large-nosed
monster pressed forward and cut its way through millions of waves; it
was afraid neither of darkness, nor of the wind, nor of space, nor of
loneliness; it cared for nothing, and if the ocean had its people, the
monster would crush them without distinction of good and bad.
Where are we now? asked Goussiev.
I don't know. Must be the ocean.
There's no land in sight.
Why, they say we shan't see land for another seven days.
The two soldiers looked at the white foam gleaming with
phosphorescence. Goussiev was the first to break the silence.
Nothing is really horrible, he said. You feel uneasy, as if you
were in a dark forest. Suppose a boat were lowered and I was ordered to
go a hundred miles out to sea to fishI would go. Or suppose I saw a
soul fall into the waterI would go in after him. I wouldn't go in for
a German or a Chinaman, but I'd try to save a Russian.
Aren't you afraid to die?
Yes. I'm afraid. I'm sorry for the people at home. I have a brother
at home, you know, and he is not steady; he drinks, beats his wife for
nothing at all, and my old father and mother may be brought to ruin.
But my legs are giving way, mate, and it is hot here.... Let me go to
Goussiev went back to the ward and lay down in his hammock. As
before, a vague desire tormented him and he could not make out what it
was. There was a congestion in his chest; a noise in his head, and his
mouth was so dry that he could hardly move his tongue. He dozed and
dreamed, and, exhausted by the heat, his cough and the nightmares that
haunted him, toward morning he fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed he
was in barracks, and the bread had just been taken out of the oven, and
he crawled into the oven and lathered himself with a birch broom. He
slept for two days and on the third day in the afternoon two sailors
came down and carried him out of the ward.
He was sewn up in sail-cloth, and to make him heavier two iron bars
were sewn up with him. In the sail-cloth he looked like a carrot or a
radish, broad at the top, narrow at the bottom.... Just before sunset
he was taken on deck and laid on a board one end of which lay on the
bulwark, the other on a box, raised up by a stool. Round him stood the
Blessed is our God, began the priest; always, now and for ever
Amen! said three sailors.
The soldiers and the crew crossed themselves and looked askance at
the waves. It was strange that a man should be sewn up in sail-cloth
and dropped into the sea. Could it happen to any one?
The priest sprinkled Goussiev with earth and bowed. A hymn was sung.
The guard lifted up the end of the board, Goussiev slipped down it;
shot headlong, turned over in the air, then plop! The foam covered him,
for a moment it looked as though he was swathed in lace, but the moment
passedand he disappeared beneath the waves.
He dropped down to the bottom. Would he reach it? The bottom is
miles down, they say. He dropped down almost sixty or seventy feet,
then began to go slower and slower, swung to and fro as though he were
thinking; then, borne along by the current; he moved more sideways than
But soon he met a shoal of pilot-fish. Seeing a dark body, the fish
stopped dead and sudden, all together, turned and went back. Less than
a minute later, like arrows they darted at Goussiev, zigzagging through
the water around him....
Later came another dark body, a shark. Gravely and leisurely, as
though it had not noticed Goussiev, it swam up under him, and he rolled
over on its back; it turned its belly up, taking its ease in the warm,
translucent water, and slowly opened its mouth with its two rows of
teeth. The pilot-fish were wildly excited; they stopped to see what was
going to happen. The shark played with the body, then slowly opened its
mouth under it, touched it with its teeth, and the sail-cloth was
ripped open from head to foot; one of the bars fell out, frightening
the pilot-fish and striking the shark on its side, and sank to the
And above the surface, the clouds were huddling up about the setting
sun; one cloud was like a triumphal arch, another like a lion, another
like a pair of scissors.... From behind the clouds came a broad green
ray reaching up to the very middle of the sky; a little later a violet
ray was flung alongside this, and then others gold and pink.... The sky
was soft and lilac, pale and tender. At first beneath the lovely,
glorious sky the ocean frowned, but soon the ocean also took on
coloursweet, joyful, passionate colours, almost impossible to name in
MY LIFE. THE STORY OF A PROVINCIAL
The director said to me: I only keep you out of respect for your
worthy father, or you would have gone long since. I replied: You
flatter me, your Excellency, but I suppose I am in a position to go.
And then I heard him saying: Take the fellow away, he is getting on my
Two days later I was dismissed. Ever since I had been grown up, to
the great sorrow of my father, the municipal architect, I had changed
my position nine times, going from one department to another, but all
the departments were as like each other as drops of water; I had to sit
and write, listen to inane and rude remarks, and just wait until I was
When I told my father, he was sitting back in his chair with his
eyes shut. His thin, dry face, with a dove-coloured tinge where he
shaved (his face was like that of an old Catholic organist), wore an
expression of meek submission. Without answering my greeting or opening
his eyes, he said:
If my dear wife, your mother, were alive, your life would be a
constant grief to her. I can see the hand of Providence in her untimely
death. Tell me, you unhappy boy, he went on, opening his eyes, what
am I to do with you?
When I was younger my relations and friends knew what to do with me;
some advised me to go into the army as a volunteer, others were for
pharmacy, others for the telegraph service; but now that I was
twenty-four and was going grey at the temples and had already tried the
army and pharmacy and the telegraph service, and every possibility
seemed to be exhausted, they gave me no more advice, but only sighed
and shook their heads.
What do you think of yourself? my father went on. At your age
other young men have a good social position, and just look at yourself:
a lazy lout, a beggar, living on your father!
And, as usual, he went on to say that young men were going to the
dogs through want of faith, materialism, and conceit, and that amateur
theatricals should be prohibited because they seduce young people from
religion and their duty.
To-morrow we will go together, and you shall apologise to the
director and promise to do your work conscientiously, he concluded.
You must not be without a position in society for a single day.
Please listen to me, said I firmly, though I did not anticipate
gaining anything by speaking. What you call a position in society is
the privilege of capital and education. But people who are poor and
uneducated have to earn their living by hard physical labour, and I see
no reason why I should be an exception.
It is foolish and trivial of you to talk of physical labour, said
my father with some irritation. Do try to understand, you idiot, and
get it into your brainless head, that in addition to physical strength
you have a divine spirit; a sacred fire, by which you are distinguished
from an ass or a reptile and bringing you nigh to God. This sacred fire
has been kept alight for thousands of years by the best of mankind.
Your great-grandfather, General Pologniev, fought at Borodino; your
grandfather was a poet, an orator, and a marshal of the nobility; your
uncle was an educationalist; and I, your father, am an architect! Have
all the Polognievs kept the sacred fire alight for you to put it out?
There must be justice, said I. Millions of people have to do
Let them. They can do nothing else! Even a fool or a criminal can
do manual labour. It is the mark of a slave and a barbarian, whereas
the sacred fire is given only to a few!
It was useless to go on with the conversation. My father worshipped
himself and would not be convinced by anything unless he said it
himself. Besides, I knew quite well that the annoyance with which he
spoke of unskilled labour came not so much from any regard for the
sacred fire, as from a secret fear that I should become a working man
and the talk of the town. But the chief thing was that all my
schoolfellows had long ago gone through the University and were making
careers for themselves, and the son of the director of the State Bank
was already a collegiate assessor, while I, an only son, was nothing!
It was useless and unpleasant to go on with the conversation, but I
still sat there and raised objections in the hope of making myself
understood. The problem was simple and clear: how was I to earn my
living? But he could not see its simplicity and kept on talking with
sugary rounded phrases about Borodino and the sacred fire, and my
uncle, and the forgotten poet who wrote bad, insincere verses, and he
called me a brainless fool. But how I longed to be understood! In spite
of everything, I loved my father and my sister, and from boyhood I have
had a habit of considering them, so strongly rooted that I shall
probably never get rid of it; whether I am right or wrong I am always
afraid of hurting them, and go in terror lest my father's thin neck
should go red with anger and he should have an apoplectic fit.
It is shameful and degrading for a man of my age to sit in a stuffy
room and compete with a typewriting-machine, I said. What has that to
do with the sacred fire?
Still, it is intellectual work, said my father. But that's
enough. Let us drop the conversation and I warn you that if you refuse
to return to your office and indulge your contemptible inclinations,
then you will lose my love and your sister's. I shall cut you out of my
willthat I swear, by God!
With perfect sincerity, in order to show the purity of my motives,
by which I hope to be guided all through my life, I said:
The matter of inheritance does not strike me as important. I
renounce any rights I may have.
For some unexpected reason these words greatly offended my father.
He went purple in the face.
How dare you talk to me like that, you fool! he cried to me in a
thin, shrill voice. You scoundrel! And he struck me quickly and
dexterously with a familiar movement; oncetwice. You forget
When I was a boy and my father struck me, I used to stand bolt
upright like a soldier and look him straight in the face; and, exactly
as if I were still a boy, I stood erect, and tried to look into his
eyes. My father was old and very thin, but his spare muscles must have
been as strong as whip-cord, for he hit very hard.
I returned to the hall, but there he seized his umbrella and struck
me several times over the head and shoulders; at that moment my sister
opened the drawing-room door to see what the noise was, but immediately
drew back with an expression of pity and horror, and said not one word
in my defence.
My intention not to return to the office, but to start a new working
life, was unshakable. It only remained to choose the kind of workand
there seemed to be no great difficulty about that, because I was
strong, patient, and willing. I was prepared to face a monotonous,
laborious life, of semi-starvation, filth, and rough surroundings,
always overshadowed with the thought of finding a job and a living.
Andwho knowsreturning from work in the Great Gentry Street, I might
often envy Dolyhikov, the engineer, who lives by intellectual work, but
I was happy in thinking of my coming troubles. I used to dream of
intellectual activity, and to imagine myself a teacher, a doctor, a
writer, but my dreams remained only dreams. A liking for intellectual
pleasureslike the theatre and readinggrew into a passion with me,
but I did not know whether I had any capacity for intellectual work. At
school I had an unconquerable aversion for the Greek language, so that
I had to leave when I was in the fourth class. Teachers were got to
coach me up for the fifth class, and then I went into various
departments, spending most of my time in perfect idleness, and this, I
was told, was intellectual work.
My activity in the education department or in the municipal office
required neither mental effort, nor talent, nor personal ability, nor
creative spiritual impulse; it was purely mechanical, and such
intellectual work seemed to me lower than manual labour. I despise it
and I do not think that it for a moment justifies an idle, careless
life, because it is nothing but a swindle, and only a kind of idleness.
In all probability I have never known real intellectual work.
It was evening. We lived in Great Gentry Streetthe chief street in
the townand our rank and fashion walked up and down it in the
evenings, as there were no public gardens. The street was very
charming, and was almost as good as a garden, for it had two rows of
poplar-trees, which smelt very sweet, especially after rain, and
acacias, and tall trees, and apple-trees hung over the fences and
hedges. May evenings, the scent of the lilac, the hum of the
cockchafers, the warm, still airhow new and extraordinary it all is,
though spring comes every year! I stood by the gate and looked at the
passers-by. With most of them I had grown up and had played with them,
but now my presence might upset them, because I was poorly dressed, in
unfashionable clothes, and people made fun of my very narrow trousers
and large, clumsy boots, and called them macaroni-on-steamboats. And I
had a bad reputation in the town because I had no position and went to
play billiards in low cafés, and had once been taken up, for no
particular offence, by the political police.
In a large house opposite, Dolyhikov's, the engineer's, some one was
playing the piano. It was beginning to get dark and the stars were
beginning to shine. And slowly, answering people's salutes, my father
passed with my sister on his arm. He was wearing an old top hat with a
broad curly brim.
Look! he said to my sister, pointing to the sky with the very
umbrella with which he had just struck me. Look at the sky! Even the
smallest stars are worlds! How insignificant man is in comparison with
And he said this in a tone that seemed to convey that he found it
extremely flattering and pleasant to be so insignificant. What an
untalented man he was! Unfortunately, he was the only architect in the
town, and during the last fifteen or twenty years I could not remember
one decent house being built. When he had to design a house, as a rule
he would draw first the hall and the drawing-room; as in olden days
schoolgirls could only begin to dance by the fireplace, so his artistic
ideas could only evolve from the hall and drawing-room. To them he
would add the dining-room, nursery, study, connecting them with doors,
so that in the end they were just so many passages, and each room had
two or three doors too many. His houses were obscure, extremely
confused, and limited. Every time, as though he felt something was
missing, he had recourse to various additions, plastering them one on
top of the other, and there would be various lobbies, and passages, and
crooked staircases leading to the entresol, where it was only possible
to stand in a stooping position, and where instead of a floor there
would be a thin flight of stairs like a Russian bath, and the kitchen
would always be under the house with a vaulted ceiling and a brick
floor. The front of his houses always had a hard, stubborn expression,
with stiff, French lines, low, squat roofs, and fat, pudding-like
chimneys surmounted with black cowls and squeaking weathercocks. And
somehow all the houses built by my father were like each other, and
vaguely reminded me of a top hat, and the stiff, obstinate back of his
head. In the course of time the people of the town grew used to my
father's lack of talent, which took root and became our style.
My father introduced the style into my sister's life. To begin with,
he gave her the name of Cleopatra (and he called me Misail). When she
was a little girl he used to frighten her by telling her about the
stars and our ancestors; and explained the nature of life and duty to
her at great length; and now when she was twenty-six he went on in the
same way, allowing her to take no one's arm but his own, and somehow
imagining that sooner or later an ardent young man would turn up and
wish to enter into marriage with her out of admiration for his
qualities. And she adored my father, was afraid of him, and believed in
his extraordinary intellectual powers.
It got quite dark and the street grew gradually empty. In the house
opposite the music stopped. The gate was wide open and out into the
street, careering with all its bells jingling, came a troika. It was
the engineer and his daughter going for a drive. Time to go to bed!
I had a room in the house, but I lived in the courtyard in a hut,
under the same roof as the coach-house, which had been built probably
as a harness-roomfor there were big nails in the wallsbut now it
was not used, and my father for thirty years had kept his newspapers
there, which for some reason he had bound half-yearly and then allowed
no one to touch. Living there I was less in touch with my father and
his guests, and I used to think that if I did not live in a proper room
and did not go to the house every day for meals, my father's reproach
that I was living on him lost some of its sting.
My sister was waiting for me. She had brought me supper unknown to
my father; a small piece of cold veal and a slice of bread. In the
family there were sayings: Money loves an account, or A copeck saves
a rouble, and so on, and my sister, impressed by such wisdom, did her
best to cut down expenses and made us feed rather meagrely. She put the
plate on the table, sat on my bed, and began to cry.
Misail, she said, what are you doing to us?
She did not cover her face, her tears ran down her cheeks and hands,
and her expression was sorrowful. She fell on the pillow, gave way to
her tears, trembling all over and sobbing.
You have left your work again! she said. How awful!
Do try to understand, sister! I said, and because she cried I was
filled with despair.
As though it were deliberately arranged, the paraffin in my little
lamp ran out, and the lamp smoked and guttered, and the old hooks in
the wall looked terrible and their shadows flickered.
Spare us! said my sister, rising up. Father is in an awful state,
and I am ill. I shall go mad. What will become of you? she asked,
sobbing and holding out her hands to me. I ask you, I implore you, in
the name of our dear mother, to go back to your work.
I cannot, Cleopatra, I said, feeling that only a little more would
make me give in. I cannot.
Why? insisted my sister, why? If you have not made it up with
your chief, look for another place. For instance, why shouldn't you
work on the railway? I have just spoken to Aniuta Blagovo, and she
assures me you would be taken on, and she even promised to do what she
could for you. For goodness sake, Misail, think! Think it over, I
We talked a little longer and I gave in. I said that the thought of
working on the railway had never come into my head, and that I was
ready to try.
She smiled happily through her tears and clasped my hand, and still
she cried, because she could not stop, and I went into the kitchen for
Among the supporters of amateur theatricals, charity concerts, and
tableaux vivants the leaders were the Azhoguins, who lived in their
own house in Great Gentry house the Street. They used to lend their
house and assume the necessary trouble and expense. They were a rich
landowning family, and had about three thousand urskins, with a
magnificent farm in the neighbourhood, but they did not care for
village life and lived in the town summer and winter. The family
consisted of a mother, a tall, spare, delicate lady, who had short
hair, wore a blouse and a plain skirt à l'Anglais, and three daughters,
who were spoken of, not by their names, but as the eldest, the middle,
and the youngest; they all had ugly, sharp chins, and they were
short-sighted, high-shouldered, dressed in the same style as their
mother, had an unpleasant lisp, and yet they always took part in every
play and were always doing something for charityacting, reciting,
singing. They were very serious and never smiled, and even in burlesque
operettas they acted without gaiety and with a businesslike air, as
though they were engaged in bookkeeping.
I loved our plays, especially the rehearsals, which were frequent,
rather absurd, and noisy, and we were always given supper after them. I
had no part in the selection of the pieces and the casting of the
characters. I had to look after the stage. I used to design the scenery
and copy out the parts, and prompt and make up. And I also had to look
after the various effects such as thunder, the singing of a
nightingale, and so on. Having no social position, I had no decent
clothes, and during rehearsals had to hold aloof from the others in the
darkened wings and shyly say nothing.
I used to paint the scenery in the Azhoguins' coach-house or yard. I
was assisted by a house-painter, or, as he called himself, a decorating
contractor, named Andrey Ivanov, a man of about fifty, tall and very
thin and pale, with a narrow chest, hollow temples, and dark rings
under his eyes, he was rather awful to look at. He had some kind of
wasting disease, and every spring and autumn he was said to be on the
point of death, but he would go to bed for a while and then get up and
say with surprise: I'm not dead this time!
In the town he was called Radish, and people said it was his real
name. He loved the theatre as much as I, and no sooner did he hear that
a play was in hand than he gave up all his work and went to the
Azhoguins' to paint scenery.
The day after my conversation with my sister I worked from morning
till night at the Azhoguins'. The rehearsal was fixed for seven
o'clock, and an hour before it began all the players were assembled,
and the eldest, the middle, and the youngest Miss Azhoguin were reading
their parts on the stage. Radish, in a long, brown overcoat with a
scarf wound round his neck, was standing, leaning with his head against
the wall, looking at the stage with a rapt expression. Mrs. Azhoguin
went from guest to guest saying something pleasant to every one. She
had a way of gazing into one's face and speaking in a hushed voice as
though she were telling a secret.
It must be difficult to paint scenery, she said softly, coming up
to me. I was just talking to Mrs. Mufke about prejudice when I saw you
come in. Mon Dieu! All my life I have struggled against prejudice. To
convince the servants that all their superstitions are nonsense I
always light three candles, and I begin all my important business on
The daughter of Dolyhikov, the engineer, was there, a handsome,
plump, fair girl, dressed, as people said in our town, in Parisian
style. She did not act, but at rehearsals a chair was put for her on
the stage, and the plays did not begin until she appeared in the front
row, to astonish everybody with the brilliance of her clothes. As
coming from the metropolis, she was allowed to make remarks during
rehearsals, and she did so with an affable, condescending smile, and it
was clear that she regarded our plays as a childish amusement. It was
said that she had studied singing at the Petersburg conservatoire and
had sung for a winter season in opera. I liked her very much, and
during rehearsals or the performance, I never took my eyes off her.
I had taken the book and began to prompt when suddenly my sister
appeared. Without taking off her coat and hat she came up to me and
I went. Behind the stage in the doorway stood Aniuta Blagovo, also
wearing a hat with a dark veil. She was the daughter of the
vice-president of the Court, who had been appointed to our town years
ago, almost as soon as the High Court was established. She was tall and
had a good figure, and was considered indispensable for the tableaux
vivants, and when she represented a fairy or a muse, her face would
burn with shame; but she took no part in the plays, and would only look
in at rehearsals, on some business, and never enter the hall. And it
was evident now that she had only looked in for a moment.
My father has mentioned you, she said drily, not looking at me and
blushing.... Dolyhikov has promised to find you something to do on the
railway. If you go to his house to-morrow, he will see you.
I bowed and thanked her for her kindness.
And you must leave this, she said, pointing to my book.
She and my sister went up to Mrs. Azhoguin and began to whisper,
looking at me.
Indeed, said Mrs. Azhoguin, coming up to me, and gazing into my
face. Indeed, if it takes you from your more serious businessshe
took the book out of my handsthen you must hand it over to some one
else. Don't worry, my friend. It will be all right.
I said good-bye and left in some confusion. As I went down-stairs I
saw my sister and Aniuta Blagovo going away; they were talking
animatedly, I suppose about my going on the railway, and they hurried
away. My sister had never been to a rehearsal before, and she was
probably tortured by her conscience and by her fear of my father
finding out that she had been to the Azhoguins' without permission.
The next day I went to see Dolyhikov at one o'clock. The man servant
showed me into a charming room, which was the engineer's drawing-room
and study. Everything in it was charming and tasteful, and to a man
like myself, unused to such things, very strange. Costly carpets, huge
chairs, bronzes, pictures in gold and velvet frames; photographs on the
walls of beautiful women, clever, handsome faces, and striking
attitudes; from the drawing-room a door led straight into the garden,
by a veranda, and I saw lilac and a table laid for breakfast, rolls,
and a bunch of roses; and there was a smell of spring, and good cigars,
and happinessand everything seemed to say, here lives a man who has
worked and won the highest happiness here on earth. At the table the
engineer's daughter was sitting reading a newspaper.
Do you want my father? she asked. He is having a shower-bath. He
will be down presently. Please take a chair.
I sat down.
I believe you live opposite? she asked after a short silence.
When I have nothing to do I look out of the window. You must excuse
me, she added, turning to her newspaper, and I often see you and your
sister. She has such a kind, wistful expression.
Dolyhikov came in. He was wiping his neck with a towel.
Papa, this is Mr. Pologniev, said his daughter.
Yes, yes. Blagovo spoke to me. He turned quickly to me, but did
not hold out his hand. But what do you think I can give you? I'm not
bursting with situations. You are queer people! he went on in a loud
voice and as though he were scolding me. I get about twenty people
every day, as though I were a Department of State. I run a railway,
sir. I employ hard labour; I need mechanics, navvies, joiners,
well-sinkers, and you can only sit and write. That's all! You are all
And he exhaled the same air of happiness as his carpets and chairs.
He was stout, healthy, with red cheeks and a broad chest; he looked
clean in his pink shirt and wide trousers, just like a china figure of
a post-boy. He had a round, bristling beardand not a single grey
hairand a nose with a slight bridge, and bright, innocent, dark eyes.
What can you do? he went on. Nothing! I am an engineer and
well-to-do, but before I was given this railway I worked very hard for
a long time. I was an engine-driver for two years, I worked in Belgium
as an ordinary lubricator. Now, my dear man, just thinkwhat work can
I offer you?
I quite agree, said I, utterly abashed, not daring to meet his
bright, innocent eyes.
Are you any good with the telegraph? he asked after some thought.
Yes. I have been in the telegraph service.
Hm.... Well, we'll see. Go to Dubechnia. There's a fellow there
already. But he is a scamp.
And what will my duties be? I asked.
We'll see to that later. Go there now. I'll give orders. But please
don't drivel and don't bother me with petitions or I'll kick you out.
He turned away from me without even a nod. I bowed to him and his
daughter, who was reading the newspaper, and went out. I felt so
miserable that when my sister asked how the engineer had received me, I
could not utter a single word.
To go to Dubechnia I got up early in the morning at sunrise. There
was not a soul in the street, the whole town was asleep, and my
footsteps rang out with a hollow sound. The dewy poplars filled the air
with a soft scent. I was sad and had no desire to leave the town. It
seemed so nice and warm! I loved the green trees, the quiet sunny
mornings, the ringing of the bells, but the people in the town were
alien to me, tiresome and sometimes even loathsome. I neither liked nor
I did not understand why or for what purpose those thirty-five
thousand people lived. I knew that Kimry made a living by manufacturing
boots, that Tula made samovars and guns, that Odessa was a port; but I
did not know what our town was or what it did. The people in Great
Gentry Street and two other clean streets had independent means and
salaries paid by the Treasury, but how the people lived in the other
eight streets which stretched parallel to each other for three miles
and then were lost behind the hillthat was always an insoluble
problem to me. And I am ashamed to think of the way they lived. They
had neither public gardens, nor a theatre, nor a decent orchestra; the
town and club libraries are used only by young Jews, so that books and
magazines would lie for months uncut. The rich and the intelligentsia
slept in close, stuffy bedrooms, with wooden beds infested with bugs;
the children were kept in filthy, dirty rooms called nurseries, and the
servants, even when they were old and respectable, slept on the kitchen
floor and covered themselves with rags. Except in Lent all the houses
smelt of bortsch, and during Lent of sturgeon fried in sunflower
oil. The food was unsavoury, the water unwholesome. On the town
council, at the governor's, at the archbishop's, everywhere there had
been talk for years about there being no good, cheap water-supply and
of borrowing two hundred thousand roubles from the Treasury. Even the
very rich people, of whom there were about thirty in the town, people
who would lose a whole estate at cards, used to drink the bad water and
talk passionately about the loanand I could never understand this,
for it seemed to me it would be simpler for them to pay up the two
I did not know a single honest man in the whole town. My father took
bribes, and imagined they were given to him out of respect for his
spiritual qualities; the boys at the high school, in order to be
promoted, went to lodge with the masters and paid them large sums; the
wife of the military commandant took levies from the recruits during
the recruiting, and even allowed them to stand her drinks, and once she
was so drunk in church that she could not get up from her knees; during
the recruiting the doctors also took bribes, and the municipal doctor
and the veterinary surgeon levied taxes on the butcher shops and public
houses; the district school did a trade in certificates which gave
certain privileges in the civil service; the provosts took bribes from
the clergy and church-wardens whom they controlled, and on the town
council and various committees every one who came before them was
pursued with: One expects thanks!and thereby forty copecks had to
change hands. And those who did not take bribes, like the High Court
officials, were stiff and proud, and shook hands with two fingers, and
were distinguished by their indifference and narrow-mindedness. They
drank and played cards, married rich women, and always had a bad,
insidious influence on those round them. Only the girls had any moral
purity; most of them had lofty aspirations and were pure and honest at
heart; but they knew nothing of life, and believed that bribes were
given to honour spiritual qualities; and when they married, they soon
grew old and weak, and were hopelessly lost in the mire of that vulgar,
A railway was being built in our district. On holidays and
thereabouts the town was filled with crowds of ragamuffins called
railies, of whom the people were afraid. I used often to see a
miserable wretch with a bloody face, and without a hat, being dragged
off by the police, and behind him was the proof of his crime, a samovar
or some wet, newly washed linen. The railies used to collect near the
public houses and on the squares; and they drank, ate, and swore
terribly, and whistled after the town prostitutes. To amuse these
ruffians our shopkeepers used to make the cats and dogs drink vodka, or
tie a kerosene-tin to a dog's tail, and whistle to make the dog come
tearing along the street with the tin clattering after him, and making
him squeal with terror and think he had some frightful monster hard at
his heels, so that he would rush out of the town and over the fields
until he could run no more. We had several dogs in the town which were
left with a permanent shiver and used to crawl about with their tails
between their legs, and people said that they could not stand such
tricks and had gone mad.
The station was being built five miles from the town. It was said
that the engineer had asked for a bribe of fifty thousand roubles to
bring the station nearer, but the municipality would only agree to
forty; they would not give in to the extra ten thousand, and now the
townspeople are sorry because they had to make a road to the station
which cost them more. Sleepers and rails were fixed all along the line,
and service-trains were running to carry building materials and
labourers, and they were only waiting for the bridges upon which
Dolyhikov was at work, and here and there the stations were not ready.
Dubechniathe name of our first stationwas seventeen versts from
the town. I went on foot. The winter and spring corn was bright green,
shining in the morning sun. The road was smooth and bright, and in the
distance I could see in outline the station, the hills, and the remote
farmhouses.... How good it was out in the open! And how I longed to be
filled with the sense of freedom, if only for that morning, to stop
thinking of what was going on in the town, or of my needs, or even of
eating! Nothing has so much prevented my living as the feeling of acute
hunger, which make my finest thoughts get mixed up with thoughts of
porridge, cutlets, and fried fish. When I stand alone in the fields and
look up at the larks hanging marvellously in the air, and bursting with
hysterical song, I think: It would be nice to have some bread and
butter. Or when I sit in the road and shut my eyes and listen to the
wonderful sounds of a May-day, I remember how good hot potatoes smell.
Being big and of a strong constitution I never have quite enough to
eat, and so my chief sensation during the day is hunger, and so I can
understand why so many people who are working for a bare living, can
talk of nothing but food.
At Dubechnia the station was being plastered inside, and the upper
story of the water-tank was being built. It was close and smelt of
lime, and the labourers were wandering lazily over piles of chips and
rubbish. The signalman was asleep near his box with the sun pouring
straight into his face. There was not a single tree. The telephone gave
a faint hum, and here and there birds had alighted on it. I wandered
over the heaps, not knowing what to do, and remembered how when I asked
the engineer what my duties would be, he had replied: We will see
there. But what was there to see in such a wilderness? The plasterers
were talking about the foreman and about one Fedot Vassilievich. I
could not understand and was filled with embarrassmentphysical
embarrassment. I felt conscious of my arms and legs, and of the whole
of my big body, and did not know what to do with them or where to go.
After walking for at least a couple of hours I noticed that from the
station to the right of the line there were telegraph-poles which after
about one and a half or two miles ended in a white stone wall. The
labourers said it was the office, and I decided at last that I must go
It was a very old farmhouse, long unused. The wall of rough, white
stone was decayed, and in places had crumbled away, and the roof of the
wing, the blind wall of which looked toward the railway, had perished,
and was patched here and there with tin. Through the gates there was a
large yard, overgrown with tall grass, and beyond that, an old house
with Venetian blinds in the windows, and a high roof, brown with rot.
On either side of the house, to right and left, were two symmetrical
wings; the windows of one were boarded up, while by the other, the
windows of which were open, there were a number of calves grazing. The
last telegraph-pole stood in the yard, and the wire went from it to the
wing with the blind wall. The door was open and I went in. By the table
at the telegraph was sitting a man with a dark, curly head in a canvas
coat; he glared at me sternly and askance, but he immediately smiled
How do you do, Profit?
It was Ivan Cheprakov, my school friend, who was expelled, when he
was in the second class, for smoking. Once, during the autumn, we were
out catching goldfinches, starlings, and hawfinches, to sell them in
the market early in the morning when our parents were still asleep.
We beat up flocks of starlings and shot at them with pellets, and
then picked up the wounded, and some died in terrible agonyI can
still remember how they moaned at night in my caseand some recovered.
And we sold them, and swore black and blue that they were male birds.
Once in the market I had only one starling left, which I hawked about
and finally sold for a copeck. A little profit! I said to console
myself, and from that time at school I was always known as Little
Profit, and even now, schoolboys and the townspeople sometimes use the
name to tease me, though no one but myself remembers how it came about.
Cheprakov never was strong. He was narrow-chested, round-shouldered,
long-legged. His tie looked like a piece of string, he had no
waistcoat, and his boots were worse than minewith the heels worn
down. He blinked with his eyes and had an eager expression as though he
were trying to catch something and he was in a constant fidget.
You wait, he said, bustling about. Look here!... What was I
saying just now?
We began to talk. I discovered that the estate had till recently
belonged to the Cheprakovs and only the previous autumn had passed to
Dolyhikov, who thought it more profitable to keep his money in land
than in shares, and had already bought three big estates in our
district with the transfer of all mortgages. When Cheprakov's mother
sold, she stipulated for the right to live in one of the wings for
another two years and got her son a job in the office.
Why shouldn't he buy? said Cheprakov of the engineer. He gets a
lot from the contractors. He bribes them all.
Then he took me to dinner, deciding in his emphatic way that I was
to live with him in the wing and board with his mother.
She is a screw, he said, but she will not take much from you.
In the small rooms where his mother lived there was a queer jumble;
even the hall and the passage were stacked with furniture, which had
been taken from the house after the sale of the estate; and the
furniture was old, and of redwood. Mrs. Cheprakov, a very stout elderly
lady, with slanting, Chinese eyes, sat by the window, in a big chair,
knitting a stocking. She received me ceremoniously.
It is Pologniev, mother, said Cheprakov, introducing me. He is
going to work here.
Are you a nobleman? she asked in a strange, unpleasant voice as
though she had boiling fat in her throat.
Yes, I answered.
The dinner was bad. It consisted only of a pie with unsweetened
curds and some milk soup. Elena Nikifirovna, my hostess, was
perpetually winking, first with one eye, then with the other. She
talked and ate, but in her whole aspect there was a deathlike quality,
and one could almost detect the smell of a corpse. Life hardly stirred
in her, yet she had the air of being the lady of the manor, who had
once had her serfs, and was the wife of a general, whose servants had
to call him Your Excellency, and when these miserable embers of life
flared up in her for a moment, she would say to her son:
Ivan, that is not the way to hold your knife!
Or she would say, gasping for breath, with the preciseness of a
hostess labouring to entertain her guest:
We have just sold our estate, you know. It is a pity, of course, we
have got so used to being here, but Dolyhikov promised to make Ivan
station-master at Dubechnia, so that we shan't have to leave. We shall
live here on the station, which is the same as living on the estate.
The engineer is such a nice man! Don't you think him very handsome?
Until recently the Cheprakovs had been very well-to-do, but with the
general's death everything changed. Elena Nikifirovna began to quarrel
with the neighbours and to go to law, and she did not pay her bailiffs
and labourers; she was always afraid of being robbedand in less than
ten years Dubechnia changed completely.
Behind the house there was an old garden run wild, overgrown with
tall grass and brushwood. I walked along the terrace which was still
well-kept and beautiful; through the glass door I saw a room with a
parquet floor, which must have been the drawing-room. It contained an
ancient piano, some engravings in mahogany frames on the wallsand
nothing else. There was nothing left of the flower-garden but peonies
and poppies, rearing their white and scarlet heads above the ground; on
the paths, all huddled together, were young maples and elm-trees, which
had been stripped by the cows. The growth was dense and the garden
seemed impassable, and only near the house, where there still stood
poplars, firs, and some old bricks, were there traces of the former
avenues, and further on the garden was being cleared for a hay-field,
and here it was no longer allowed to run wild, and one's mouth and eyes
were no longer filled with spiders' webs, and a pleasant air was
stirring. The further out one went, the more open it was, and there
were cherry-trees, plum-trees, wide-spreading old apple-trees, lichened
and held up with props, and the pear-trees were so tall that it was
incredible that there could be pears on them. This part of the garden
was let to the market-women of our town, and it was guarded from
thieves and starlings by a peasantan idiot who lived in a hut.
The orchard grew thinner and became a mere meadow running down to
the river, which was overgrown with reeds and withy-beds. There was a
pool by the mill-dam, deep and full of fish, and a little mill with a
straw roof ground and roared, and the frogs croaked furiously. On the
water, which was as smooth as glass, circles appeared from time to
time, and water-lilies trembled on the impact of a darting fish. The
village of Dubechnia was on the other side of the river. The calm,
azure pool was alluring with its promise of coolness and rest. And now
all this, the pool, the mill, the comfortable banks of the river,
belonged to the engineer!
And here my new work began. I received and despatched telegrams, I
wrote out various accounts and copied orders, claims, and reports, sent
in to the office by our illiterate foremen and mechanics. But most of
the day I did nothing, walking up and down the room waiting for
telegrams, or I would tell the boy to stay in the wing, and go into the
garden until the boy came to say the bell was ringing. I had dinner
with Mrs. Cheprakov. Meat was served very rarely; most of the dishes
were made of milk, and on Wednesdays and Fridays we had Lenten fare,
and the food was served in pink plates, which were called Lenten. Mrs.
Cheprakov was always blinkingthe habit grew on her, and I felt
awkward and embarrassed in her presence.
As there was not enough work for one, Cheprakov did nothing, but
slept or went down to the pool with his gun to shoot ducks. In the
evenings he got drunk in the village, or at the station, and before
going to bed he would look in the glass and say:
How are you, Ivan Cheprakov?
When he was drunk, he was very pale and used to rub his hands and
laugh, or rather neigh, He-he-he! Out of bravado he would undress
himself and run naked through the fields, and he used to eat flies and
say they were a bit sour.
Once after dinner he came running into the wing, panting, to say:
Your sister has come to see you.
I went out and saw a fly standing by the steps of the house. My
sister had brought Aniuta Blagovo and a military gentleman in a summer
uniform. As I approached I recognised the military gentleman as
Aniuta's brother, the doctor.
We've come to take you for a picnic, he said, if you've no
My sister and Aniuta wanted to ask how I was getting on, but they
were both silent and only looked at me. They felt that I didn't like my
job, and tears came into my sister's eyes and Aniuta Blagovo blushed.
We went into the orchard, the doctor first, and he said ecstatically:
What air! By Jove, what air!
He was just a boy to look at. He talked and walked like an
undergraduate, and the look in his grey eyes was as lively, simple, and
frank as that of a nice boy. Compared with his tall, handsome sister he
looked weak and slight, and his little beard was thin and so was his
voicea thin tenor, though quite pleasant. He was away somewhere with
his regiment and had come home on leave, and said that he was going to
Petersburg in the autumn to take his M.D. He already had a familya
wife and three children; he had married young, in his second year at
the University, and people said he was unhappily married and was not
living with his wife.
What is the time? My sister was uneasy. We must go back soon, for
my father would only let me have until six o'clock.
Oh, your father, sighed the doctor.
I made tea, and we drank it sitting on a carpet in front of the
terrace, and the doctor, kneeling, drank from his saucer, and said that
he was perfectly happy. Then Cheprakov fetched the key and unlocked the
glass door and we all entered the house. It was dark and mysterious and
smelled of mushrooms, and our footsteps made a hollow sound as though
there were a vault under the floor. The doctor stopped by the piano and
touched the keys and it gave out a faint, tremulous, cracked but still
melodious sound. He raised his voice and began to sing a romance,
frowning and impatiently stamping his foot when he touched a broken
key. My sister forgot about going home, but walked agitatedly up and
down the room and said:
I am happy! I am very, very happy!
There was a note of surprise in her voice as though it seemed
impossible to her that she should be happy. It was the first time in my
life that I had seen her so gay. She even looked handsome. Her profile
was not good, her nose and mouth somehow protruded and made her look as
if she was always blowing, but she had beautiful, dark eyes, a pale,
very delicate complexion, and a touching expression of kindness and
sadness, and when she spoke she seemed very charming and even
beautiful. Both she and I took after our mother; we were
broad-shouldered, strong, and sturdy, but her paleness was a sign of
sickness, she often coughed, and in her eyes I often noticed the
expression common to people who are ill, but who for some reason
conceal it. In her present cheerfulness there was something childish
and naïve, as though all the joy which had been suppressed and dulled
during our childhood by a strict upbringing, had suddenly awakened in
her soul and rushed out into freedom.
But when evening came and the fly was brought round, my sister
became very quiet and subdued, and sat in the fly as though it were a
Soon they were all gone. The noise of the fly died away.... I
remembered that Aniuta Blagovo had said not a single word to me all
A wonderful girl! I thought A wonderful girl.
Lent came and every day we had Lenten dishes. I was greatly
depressed by my idleness and the uncertainty of my position, and,
slothful, hungry, dissatisfied with myself, I wandered over the estate
and only waited for an energetic mood to leave the place.
Once in the afternoon when Radish was sitting in our wing, Dolyhikov
entered unexpectedly, very sunburnt, and grey with dust. He had been
out on the line for three days and had come to Dubechnia on a
locomotive and walked over. While he waited for the carriage which he
had ordered to come out to meet him he went over the estate with his
bailiff, giving orders in a loud voice, and then for a whole hour he
sat in our wing and wrote letters. When telegrams came through for him,
he himself tapped out the answers, while we stood there stiff and
What a mess! he said, looking angrily through the accounts. I
shall transfer the office to the station in a fortnight and I don't
know what I shall do with you then.
I've done my best, sir, said Cheprakov.
Quite so. I can see what your best is. You can only draw your
wages. The engineer looked at me and went on. You rely on getting
introductions to make a career for yourself with as little trouble as
possible. Well, I don't care about introductions. Nobody helped me.
Before I had this line, I was an engine-driver. I worked in Belgium as
an ordinary lubricator. And what are you doing here, Panteley? he
asked, turning to Radish. Going out drinking?
For some reason or other he called all simple people Panteley, while
he despised men like Cheprakov and myself, and called us drunkards,
beasts, canaille. As a rule he was hard on petty officials, and paid
and dismissed them ruthlessly without any explanation.
At last the carriage came for him. When he left he promised to
dismiss us all in a fortnight; called the bailiff a fool, stretched
himself out comfortably in the carriage, and drove away.
Andrey Ivanich, I said to Radish, will you take me on as a
We went together toward the town, and when the station and the farm
were far behind us, I asked:
Andrey Ivanich, why did you come to Dubechnia?
Firstly because some of my men are working on the line, and
secondly to pay interest to Mrs. Cheprakov. I borrowed fifty roubles
from her last summer, and now I pay her one rouble a month.
The decorator stopped and took hold of my coat.
Misail Alereich, my friend, he went on, I take it that if a
common man or a gentleman takes interest, he is a wrong-doer. The truth
is not in him.
Radish, looking thin, pale, and rather terrible, shut his eyes,
shook his head, and muttered in a philosophic tone:
The grub eats grass, rust eats iron, lies devour the soul. God save
us miserable sinners!
Radish was unpractical and he was no business man; he undertook more
work than he could do, and when he came to payment he always lost his
reckoning and so was always out on the wrong side. He was a painter, a
glazier, a paper-hanger, and would even take on tiling, and I remember
how he used to run about for days looking for tiles to make an
insignificant profit. He was an excellent workman and would sometimes
earn ten roubles a day, and but for his desire to be a master and to
call himself a contractor, he would probably have made quite a lot of
He himself was paid by contract and paid me and the others by the
day, between seventy-five copecks and a rouble per day. When the
weather was hot and dry he did various outside jobs, chiefly painting
roofs. Not being used to it, my feet got hot, as though I were walking
over a red-hot oven, and when I wore felt boots my feet swelled. But
this was only at the beginning. Later on I got used to it and
everything went all right. I lived among the people, to whom work was
obligatory and unavoidable, people who worked like dray-horses, and
knew nothing of the moral value of labour, and never even used the word
labour in their talk. Among them I also felt like a dray-horse, more
and more imbued with the necessity and inevitability of what I was
doing, and this made my life easier, and saved me from doubt.
At first everything amused me, everything was new. It was like being
born again. I could sleep on the ground and go barefootand found it
exceedingly pleasant. I could stand in a crowd of simple folks, without
embarrassing them, and when a cab-horse fell down in the street, I used
to run and help it up without being afraid of soiling my clothes. But,
best of all, I was living independently and was not a burden on any
The painting of roofs, especially when we mixed our own paint, was
considered a very profitable business, and, therefore, even such good
workmen as Radish did not shun this rough and tiresome work. In short
trousers, showing his lean, muscular legs, he used to prowl over the
roof like a stork, and I used to hear him sigh wearily as he worked his
Woe, woe to us, miserable sinners!
He could walk as easily on a roof as on the ground. In spite of his
looking so ill and pale and corpse-like, his agility was extraordinary;
like any young man he would paint the cupola and the top of the church
without scaffolding, using only ladders and a rope, and it was queer
and strange when, standing there, far above the ground, he would rise
to his full height and cry to the world at large:
Grubs eat grass, rust eats iron, lies devour the soul!
Or, thinking of something, he would suddenly answer his own thought:
Anything may happen! Anything may happen!
When I went home from work all the people sitting outside their
doors, the shop assistants, dogs, and their masters, used to shout
after me and jeer spitefully, and at first it seemed monstrous and
distressed me greatly.
Little Profit, they used to shout. House-painter! Yellow ochre!
And no one treated me so unmercifully as those who had only just
risen above the people and had quite recently had to work for their
living. Once in the market-place as I passed the ironmonger's a can of
water was spilled over me as if by accident, and once a stick was
thrown at me. And once a fishmonger, a grey-haired old man, stood in my
way and looked at me morosely and said:
It isn't you I'm sorry for, you fool, it's your father.
And when my acquaintances met me they got confused. Some regarded me
as a queer fish and a fool, and they were sorry for me; others did not
know how to treat me and it was difficult to understand them. Once, in
the daytime, in one of the streets off Great Gentry Street, I met
Aniuta Blagovo. I was on my way to my work and was carrying two long
brushes and a pot of paint. When she recognised me, Aniuta blushed.
Please do not acknowledge me in the street, she said nervously,
sternly, in a trembling voice, without offering to shake hands with me,
and tears suddenly gleamed in her eyes. If you must be like this,
then, soso be it, but please avoid me in public!
I had left Great Gentry Street and was living in a suburb called
Makarikha with my nurse Karpovna, a good-natured but gloomy old woman
who was always looking for evil, and was frightened by her dreams, and
saw omens and ill in the bees and wasps which flew into her room. And
in her opinion my having become a working man boded no good.
You are lost! she said mournfully, shaking her head. Lost!
With her in her little house lived her adopted son, Prokofyi, a
butcher, a huge, clumsy fellow, of about thirty, with ginger hair and
scrubby moustache. When he met me in the hall, he would silently and
respectfully make way for me, and when he was drunk he would salute me
with his whole hand. In the evenings he used to have supper, and
through the wooden partition I could hear him snorting and snuffling as
he drank glass after glass.
Mother, he would say in an undertone.
Well, Karpovna would reply. She was passionately fond of him.
What is it, my son?
I'll do you a favour, mother. I'll feed you in your old age in this
vale of tears, and when you die I'll bury you at my own expense. So I
say and so I'll do.
I used to get up every day before sunrise and go to bed early. We
painters ate heavily and slept soundly, and only during the night would
we have any excitement. I never quarrelled with my comrades. All day
long there was a ceaseless stream of abuse, cursing and hearty good
wishes, as, for instance, that one's eyes should burst, or that one
might be carried off by cholera, but, all the same, among ourselves we
were very friendly. The men suspected me of being a religious crank and
used to laugh at me good-naturedly, saying that even my own father
denounced me, and they used to say that they very seldom went to church
and that many of them had not been to confession for ten years, and
they justified their laxness by saying that a decorator is among men
like a jackdaw among birds.
My mates respected me and regarded me with esteem; they evidently
liked my not drinking or smoking, and leading a quiet, steady life.
They were only rather disagreeably surprised at my not stealing the
oil, or going with them to ask our employers for a drink. The stealing
of the employers' oil and paint was a custom with house-painters, and
was not regarded as theft, and it was remarkable that even so honest a
man as Radish would always come away from work with some white lead and
oil. And even respectable old men who had their own houses in Makarikha
were not ashamed to ask for tips, and when the men, at the beginning or
end of a job, made up to some vulgar fool and thanked him humbly for a
few pence, I used to feel sick and sorry.
With the customers they behaved like sly courtiers, and almost every
day I was reminded of Shakespeare's Polonius.
There will probably be rain, a customer would say, staring at the
It is sure to rain, the painters would agree.
But the clouds aren't rain-clouds. Perhaps it won't rain.
No, sir. It won't rain. It won't rain, sure.
Behind their backs they generally regarded the customers ironically,
and when, for instance, they saw a gentleman sitting on his balcony
with a newspaper, they would say:
He reads newspapers, but he has nothing to eat.
I never visited my people. When I returned from work I often found
short, disturbing notes from my sister about my father; how he was very
absent-minded at dinner, and then slipped away and locked himself in
his study and did not come out for a long time. Such news upset me. I
could not sleep, and I would go sometimes at night and walk along Great
Gentry Street by our house, and look up at the dark windows, and try to
guess if all was well within. On Sundays my sister would come to see
me, but by stealth, as though she came not to see me, but my nurse. And
if she came into my room she would look pale, with her eyes red, and at
once she would begin to weep.
Father cannot bear it much longer, she would say. If, as God
forbid, something were to happen to him, it would be on your conscience
all your life. It is awful, Misail! For mother's sake I implore you to
mend your ways.
My dear sister, I replied. How can I reform when I am convinced
that I am acting according to my conscience? Do try to understand me!
I know you are obeying your conscience, but it ought to be possible
to do so without hurting anybody.
Oh, saints above! the old woman would sigh behind the door. You
are lost. There will be a misfortune, my dear. It is bound to come.
On Sunday, Doctor Blagovo came to see me unexpectedly. He was
wearing a white summer uniform over a silk shirt, and high glacé boots.
I came to see you! he began, gripping my hand in his hearty,
undergraduate fashion. I hear of you every day and I have long
intended to go and see you to have a heart-to-heart, as they say.
Things are awfully boring in the town; there is not a living soul worth
talking to. How hot it is, by Jove! he went on, taking off his tunic
and standing in his silk shirt. My dear fellow, let us have a talk.
I was feeling bored and longing for other society than that of the
decorators. I was really glad to see him.
To begin with, he said, sitting on my bed, I sympathise with you
heartily, and I have a profound respect for your present way of living.
In the town you are misunderstood and there is nobody to understand
you, because, as you know, it is full of Gogolian pig-faces. But I
guessed what you were at the picnic. You are a noble soul, an honest,
high-minded man! I respect you and think it an honour to shake hands
with you. To change your life so abruptly and suddenly as you did, you
must have passed through a most trying spiritual process, and to go on
with it now, to live scrupulously by your convictions, you must have to
toil incessantly both in mind and in heart. Now, please tell me, don't
you think that if you spent all this force of will, intensity, and
power on something else, like trying to be a great scholar or an
artist, that your life would be both wider and deeper, and altogether
We talked and when we came to speak of physical labour, I expressed
this idea: that it was necessary that the strong should not enslave the
weak, and that the minority should not be a parasite on the majority,
always sucking up the finest sap, i. e., it was necessary that
all without exceptionthe strong and the weak, the rich and the
poorshould share equally in the struggle for existence, every man for
himself, and in that respect there was no better means of levelling
than physical labour and compulsory service for all.
You think, then, said the doctor, that all, without, exception,
should be employed in physical labour?
But don't you think that if everybody, including the best people,
thinkers and men of science, were to take part in the struggle for
existence, each man for himself, and took to breaking stones and
painting roofs, it would be a serious menace to progress?
Where is the danger? I asked. Progress consists in deeds of love,
in the fulfilment of the moral law. If you enslave no one, and are a
burden upon no one, what further progress do you want?
But look here! said Blagovo, suddenly losing his temper and
getting up. I say! If a snail in its shell is engaged in
self-perfection in obedience to the moral lawwould you call that
But why? I was nettled. If you make your neighbours feed you,
clothe you, carry you, defend you from your enemies, their life is
built up on slavery, and that is not progress. My view is that that is
the most real and, perhaps, the only possible, the only progress
The limits of universal progress, which is common to all men, are
in infinity, and it seems to me strange to talk of a 'possible'
progress limited by our needs and temporal conceptions.
If the limits of peoples are in infinity, as you say, then it means
that its goal is indefinite, I said. Think of living without knowing
definitely what for!
Why not? Your 'not knowing' is not so boring as your 'knowing.' I
am walking up a ladder which is called progress, civilisation, culture.
I go on and on, not knowing definitely where I am going to, but surely
it is worth while living for the sake of the wonderful ladder alone.
And you know exactly what you are living forthat some should not
enslave others, that the artist and the man who mixes his colours for
him should dine together. But that is the bourgeois, kitchen side of
life, and isn't it disgusting only to live for that? If some insects
devour others, devil take them, let them! We need not think of them,
they will perish and rot, however you save them from slaverywe must
think of that great Cross which awaits all mankind in the distant
Blagovo argued hotly with me, but it was noticeable that he was
disturbed by some outside thought.
Your sister is not coming, he said, consulting his watch.
Yesterday she was at our house and said she was going to see you. You
go on talking about slavery, slavery, he went on, but it is a special
question, and all these questions are solved by mankind gradually.
We began to talk of evolution. I said that every man decides the
question of good and evil for himself, and does not wait for mankind to
solve the question by virtue of gradual development. Besides, evolution
is a stick with two ends. Side by side with the gradual development of
humanitarian ideas, there is the gradual growth of ideas of a different
kind. Serfdom is past, and capitalism is growing. And with ideas of
liberation at their height the majority, just as in the days of Baty,
feeds, clothes, and defends the minority; and is left hungry, naked,
and defenceless. The state of things harmonises beautifully with all
your tendencies and movements, because the art of enslaving is also
being gradually developed. We no longer flog our servants in the
stables, but we give slavery more refined forms; at any rate, we are
able to justify it in each separate case. Ideas remain ideas with us,
but if we could, now, at the end of the nineteenth century, throw upon
the working classes all our most unpleasant physiological functions, we
should do so, and, of course, we should justify ourselves by saying
that if the best people, thinkers and great scholars, had to waste
their time on such functions, progress would be in serious jeopardy.
Just then my sister entered. When she saw the doctor, she was
flurried and excited, and at once began to say that it was time for her
to go home to her father.
Cleopatra Alexeyevna, said Blagovo earnestly, laying his hands on
his heart, what will happen to your father if you spend half an hour
with your brother and me?
He was a simple kind of man and could communicate his cheerfulness
to others. My sister thought for a minute and began to laugh, and
suddenly got very happy, suddenly, unexpectedly, just as she did at the
picnic. We went out into the fields and lay on the grass, and went on
with our conversation and looked at the town, where all the windows
facing the west looked golden in the setting sun.
After that Blagovo appeared every time my sister came to see me, and
they always greeted each other as though their meeting was unexpected.
My sister used to listen while the doctor and I argued, and her face
was always joyful and rapturous, admiring and curious, and it seemed to
me that a new world was slowly being discovered before her eyes, a
world which she had not seen before even in her dreams, which now she
was trying to divine; when the doctor was not there she was quiet and
sad, and if, as she sat on my bed, she sometimes wept, it was for
reasons of which she did not speak.
In August Radish gave us orders to go to the railway. A couple of
days before we were driven out of town, my father came to see me. He
sat down and, without looking at me, slowly wiped his red face, then
took out of his pocket our local paper and read out with deliberate
emphasis on each word that a schoolfellow of my own age, the son of the
director of the State Bank, had been appointed chief clerk of the Court
of the Exchequer.
And now, look at yourself, he said, folding up the newspaper. You
are a beggar, a vagabond, a scoundrel! Even the bourgeoisie and other
peasants get education to make themselves decent people, while you, a
Pologniev, with famous, noble ancestors, go wallowing in the mire! But
I did not come here to talk to you. I have given you up already. He
went on in a choking voice, as he stood up: I came here to find out
where your sister is, you scoundrel! She left me after dinner. It is
now past seven o'clock and she is not in. She has been going out lately
without telling me, and she has been disrespectfuland I see your
filthy, abominable influence at work. Where is she?
He had in his hands the familiar umbrella, and I was already taken
aback, and I stood stiff and erect, like a schoolboy, waiting for my
father to thrash me, but he saw the glance I cast at the umbrella and
this probably checked him.
Live as you like! he said. My blessing is gone from you.
Good God! muttered my old nurse behind the door. You are lost.
Oh! my heart feels some misfortune coming. I can feel it.
I went to work on the railway. During the whole of August there was
wind and rain. It was damp and cold; the corn had now been gathered in
the fields, and on the big farms where the reaping was done with
machines, the wheat lay not in stacks, but in heaps; and I remember how
those melancholy heaps grew darker and darker every day, and the grain
sprouted. It was hard work; the pouring rain spoiled everything that we
succeeded in finishing. We were not allowed either to live or to sleep
in the station buildings and had to take shelter in dirty, damp, mud
huts where the railies had lived during the summer, and at night I
could not sleep from the cold and the bugs crawling over my face and
hands. And when we were working near the bridges, then the railies
used to come out in a crowd to fight the painterswhich they regarded
as sport. They used to thrash us, steal our trousers, and to infuriate
us and provoke us to a fight; they used to spoil our work, as when they
smeared the signal-boxes with green paint. To add to all our miseries
Radish began to pay us very irregularly. All the painting on the line
was given to one contractor, who subcontracted with another, and he
again with Radish, stipulating for twenty per cent commission. The job
itself was unprofitable; then came the rains; time was wasted; we did
no work and Radish had to pay his men every day. The starving painters
nearly came to blows with him, called him a swindler, a bloodsucker, a
Judas, and he, poor man, sighed and in despair raised his hands to the
heavens and was continually going to Mrs. Cheprakov to borrow money.
Came the rainy, muddy, dark autumn, bringing a slack time, and I
used to sit at home three days in the week without work, or did various
jobs outside painting; such as digging earth for ballast for twenty
copecks a day. Doctor Blagovo had gone to Petersburg. My sister did not
come to see me. Radish lay at home ill, expecting to die every day.
And my mood was also autumnal; perhaps because when I became a
working man I saw only the seamy side of the life of our town, and
every day made fresh discoveries which brought me to despair. My fellow
townsmen, both those of whom I had had a low opinion before, and those
whom I had thought fairly decent, now seemed to me base, cruel, and up
to any dirty trick. We poor people were tricked and cheated in the
accounts, kept waiting for hours in cold passages or in the kitchen,
and we were insulted and uncivilly treated. In the autumn I had to
paper the library and two rooms at the club. I was paid seven copecks a
piece, but was told to give a receipt for twelve copecks, and when I
refused to do it, a respectable gentleman in gold spectacles, one of
the stewards of the club, said to me:
If you say another word, you scoundrel, I'll knock you down.
And when a servant whispered to him that I was the son of Pologniev,
the architect, then I got flustered and blushed, but he recovered
himself at once and said:
In the shops we working men were sold bad meat, musty flour, and
coarse tea. In church we were jostled by the police, and in the
hospitals we were mulcted by the assistants and nurses, and if we could
not give them bribes through poverty, we were given food in dirty
dishes. In the post-office the lowest official considered it his duty
to treat us as animals and to shout rudely and insolently: Wait! Don't
you come pushing your way in here! Even the dogs, even they were
hostile to us and hurled themselves at us with a peculiar malignancy.
But what struck me most of all in my new position was the entire lack
of justice, what the people call forgetting God. Rarely a day went by
without some swindle. The shopkeeper, who sold us oil, the contractor,
the workmen, the customers themselves, all cheated. It was an
understood thing that our rights were never considered, and we always
had to pay for the money we had earned, going with our hats off to the
I was paper-hanging in one of the club-rooms, next the library,
when, one evening as I was on the point of leaving, Dolyhikov's
daughter came into the room carrying a bundle of books.
I bowed to her.
Ah! How are you? she said, recognising me at once and holding out
her hand. I am very glad to see you.
She smiled and looked with a curious puzzled expression at my blouse
and the pail of paste and the papers lying on the floor; I was
embarrassed and she also felt awkward.
Excuse my staring at you, she said. I have heard so much about
you. Especially from Doctor Blagovo. He is enthusiastic about you. I
have met your sister; she is a dear, sympathetic girl, but I could not
make her see that there is nothing awful in your simple life. On the
contrary, you are the most interesting man in the town.
Once more she glanced at the pail of paste and the paper and said:
I asked Doctor Blagovo to bring us together, but he either forgot
or had no time. However, we have met now. I should be very pleased if
you would call on me. I do so want to have a talk. I am a simple
person, she said, holding out her hand, and I hope you will come and
see me without ceremony. My father is away, in Petersburg.
She went into the reading-room, with her dress rustling, and for a
long time after I got home I could not sleep.
During that autumn some kind soul, wishing to relieve my existence,
sent me from time to time presents of tea and lemons, or biscuits, or
roast pigeons. Karpovna said the presents were brought by a soldier,
though from whom she did not know; and the soldier used to ask if I was
well, if I had dinner every day, and if I had warm clothes. When the
frost began the soldier came while I was out and brought a soft knitted
scarf, which gave out a soft, hardly perceptible scent, and I guessed
who my good fairy had been. For the scarf smelled of
lily-of-the-valley, Aniuta Blagovo's favourite scent.
Toward winter there was more work and things became more cheerful.
Radish came to life again and we worked together in the cemetery
church, where we scraped the holy shrine for gilding. It was a clean,
quiet, and, as our mates said, a specially good job. We could do a
great deal in one day, and so time passed quickly, imperceptibly. There
was no swearing, nor laughing, nor loud altercations. The place
compelled quiet and decency, and disposed one for tranquil, serious
thoughts. Absorbed in our work, we stood or sat immovably, like
statues; there was a dead silence, very proper to a cemetery, so that
if a tool fell down, or the oil in the lamp spluttered, the sound would
be loud and startling, and we would turn to see what it was. After a
long silence one could hear a humming like that of a swarm of bees; in
the porch, in an undertone, the funeral service was being read over a
dead baby; or a painter painting a moon surrounded with stars on the
cupola would begin to whistle quietly, and remembering suddenly that he
was in a church, would stop; or Radish would sigh at his own thoughts:
Anything may happen! Anything may happen! or above our heads there
would be the slow, mournful tolling of a bell, and the painters would
say it must be a rich man being brought to the church....
The days I spent in the peace of the little church, and during the
evenings I played billiards, or went to the gallery of the theatre in
the new serge suit I had bought with my own hard-earned money. They
were already beginning plays and concerts at the Azhoguins', and Radish
did the scenery by himself. He told me about the plays and tableaux
vivants at the Azhoguins', and I listened to him enviously. I had a
great longing to take part in the rehearsals, but I dared not go to the
A week before Christmas Doctor Blagovo arrived, and we resumed our
arguments and played billiards in the evenings. When he played
billiards he used to take off his coat, and unfasten his shirt at the
neck, and generally try to look like a debauchee. He drank a little,
but rowdily, and managed to spend in a cheap tavern like the Volga as
much as twenty roubles in an evening.
Once more my sister came to see me, and when they met they expressed
surprise, but I could see by her happy, guilty face that these meetings
were not accidental. One evening when we were playing billiards the
doctor said to me:
I say, why don't you call on Miss Dolyhikov? You don't know Maria
Victorovna. She is a clever, charming, simple creature.
I told him how the engineer had received me in the spring.
Nonsense! laughed the doctor. The engineer is one thing and she
is another. Really, my good fellow, you mustn't offend her. Go and see
her some time. Let us go to-morrow evening. Will you?
He persuaded me. Next evening I donned my serge suit and with some
perturbation set out to call on Miss Dolyhikov. The footman did not
seem to me so haughty and formidable, or the furniture so oppressive,
as on the morning when I had come to ask for work. Maria Victorovna was
expecting me and greeted me as an old friend and gave my hand a warm,
friendly grip. She was wearing a grey dress with wide sleeves, and had
her hair done in the style which when it became the fashion a year
later in our town, was called dog's ears. The hair was combed back
over the ears, and it made Maria Victorovna's face look broader, and
she looked very like her father, whose face was broad and red and
rather like a coachman's. She was handsome and elegant, but not young;
about thirty to judge by her appearance, though she was not more than
Dear doctor! she said, making me sit down. How grateful I am to
him. But for him, you would not have come. I am bored to death! My
father has gone and left me alone, and I do not know what to do with
Then she began to ask where I was working, how much I got, and where
Do you only spend what you earn on yourself? she asked.
You are a happy man, she replied. All the evil in life, it seems
to me, comes from boredom and idleness, and spiritual emptiness, which
are inevitable when one lives at other people's expense. Don't think
I'm showing off. I mean it sincerely. It is dull and unpleasant to be
rich. Win friends by just riches, they say, because as a rule there is
and can be no such thing as just riches.
She looked at the furniture with a serious, cold expression, as
though she was making an inventory of it, and went on:
Ease and comfort possess a magic power. Little by little they
seduce even strong-willed people. Father and I used to live poorly and
simply, and now you see how we live. Isn't it strange? she said with a
shrug. We spend twenty thousand roubles a year! In the provinces!
Ease and comfort must not be regarded as the inevitable privilege
of capital and education, I said. It seems to me possible to unite
the comforts of life with work, however hard and dirty it may be. Your
father is rich, but, as he says, he used to be a mechanic, and just a
She smiled and shook her head thoughtfully.
Papa sometimes eats tiurya, she said, but only out of
A bell rang and she got up.
The rich and the educated ought to work like the rest, she went
on, and if there is to be any comfort, it should be accessible to all.
There should be no privileges. However, that's enough philosophy. Tell
me something cheerful. Tell me about the painters. What are they like?
The doctor came. I began to talk about the painters, but, being
unused to it, I felt awkward and talked solemnly and ponderously like
an ethnographist. The doctor also told a few stories about working
people. He rocked to and fro and cried, and fell on his knees, and when
he was depicting a drunkard, lay flat on the floor. It was as good as a
play, and Maria Victorovna laughed until she cried. Then he played the
piano and sang in his high-pitched tenor, and Maria Victorovna stood by
him and told him what to sing and corrected him when he made a mistake.
I hear you sing, too, said I.
Too? cried the doctor. She is a wonderful singer, an artist, and
you saytoo! Careful, careful!
I used to study seriously, she replied, but I have given it up
She sat on a low stool and told us about her life in Petersburg, and
imitated famous singers, mimicking their voices and mannerisms; then
she sketched the doctor and myself in her album, not very well, but
both were good likenesses. She laughed and made jokes and funny faces,
and this suited her better than talking about unjust riches, and it
seemed to me that what she had said about riches and comfort came not
from herself, but was just mimicry. She was an admirable comedian. I
compared her mentally with the girls of our town, and not even the
beautiful, serious Aniuta Blagovo could stand up against her; the
difference was as vast as that between a wild and a garden rose.
We stayed to supper. The doctor and Maria Victorovna drank red wine,
champagne, and coffee with cognac; they touched glasses and drank to
friendship, to wit, to progress, to freedom, and never got drunk, but
went rather red and laughed for no reason until they cried. To avoid
being out of it I, too, drank red wine.
People with talent and with gifted natures, said Miss Dolyhikov,
know how to live and go their own way; but ordinary people like myself
know nothing and can do nothing by themselves; there is nothing for
them but to find some deep social current and let themselves be borne
along by it.
Is it possible to find that which does not exist? asked the
It doesn't exist because we don't see it.
Is that so? Social currents are the invention of modern literature.
They don't exist here.
A discussion began.
We have no profound social movements; nor have we had them, said
the doctor. Modern literature has invented a lot of things, and modern
literature invented intellectual working men in village life, but go
through all our villages and you will only find Mr. Cheeky Snout in a
jacket or black frock coat, who will make four mistakes in the word
'one.' Civilised life has not begun with us yet. We have the same
savagery, the same slavery, the same nullity as we had five hundred
years ago. Movements, currentsall that is so wretched and puerile
mixed up with such vulgar, catch-penny interestsand one cannot take
it seriously. You may think you have discovered a large social
movement, and you may follow it and devote your life in the modern
fashion to such problems as the liberation of vermin from slavery, or
the abolition of meat cutletsand I congratulate you, madam. But we
have to learn, learn, learn, and there will be plenty of time for
social movements; we are not up to them yet, and upon my soul, we don't
understand anything at all about them.
You don't understand, but I do, said Maria Victorovna. Good
Heavens! What a bore you are to-night.
It is our business to learn and learn, to try and accumulate as
much knowledge as possible, because serious social movements come where
there is knowledge, and the future happiness of mankind lies in
science. Here's to science!
One thing is certain. Life must somehow be arranged differently,
said Maria Victorovna, after some silence and deep thought, and life
as it has been up to now is worthless. Don't let us talk about it.
When we left her the Cathedral clock struck two.
Did you like her? asked the doctor. Isn't she a dear girl?
We had dinner at Maria Victorovna's on Christmas Day, and then we
went to see her every day during the holidays. There was nobody besides
ourselves, and she was right when she said she had no friends in the
town but the doctor and me. We spent most of the time talking, and
sometimes the doctor would bring a book or a magazine and read aloud.
After all, he was the first cultivated man I had met. I could not tell
if he knew much, but he was always generous with his knowledge because
he wished others to know too. When he talked about medicine, he was not
like any of our local doctors, but he made a new and singular
impression, and it seemed to me that if he had wished he could have
become a genuine scientist. And perhaps he was the only person at that
time who had any real influence over me. Meeting him and reading the
books he gave me, I began gradually to feel a need for knowledge to
inspire the tedium of my work. It seemed strange to me that I had not
known before such things as that the whole world consisted of sixty
elements. I did not know what oil or paint was, and I could do without
knowing. My acquaintance with the doctor raised me morally too. I used
to argue with him, and though I usually stuck to my opinion, yet,
through him, I came gradually to perceive that everything was not clear
to me, and I tried to cultivate convictions as definite as possible so
that the promptings of my conscience should be precise and have nothing
vague about them. Nevertheless, educated and fine as he was, far and
away the best man in the town, he was by no means perfect. There was
something rather rude and priggish in his ways and in his trick of
dragging talk down to discussion, and when he took off his coat and sat
in his shirt and gave the footman a tip, it always seemed to me that
culture was just a part of him, with the rest untamed Tartar.
After the holidays he left once more for Petersburg. He went in the
morning and after dinner my sister came to see me. Without taking off
her furs, she sat silent, very pale, staring in front of her. She began
to shiver and seemed to be fighting against some illness.
You must have caught a cold, I said.
Her eyes filled with tears. She rose and went to Karpovna without a
word to me, as though I had offended her. And a little later I heard
her speaking in a tone of bitter reproach.
Nurse, what have I been living for, up to now? What for? Tell me;
haven't I wasted my youth? During the last years I have had nothing but
making up accounts, pouring out tea, counting the copecks, entertaining
guests, without a thought that there was anything better in the world!
Nurse, try to understand me, I too have human desires and I want to
live and they have made a housekeeper of me. It is awful, awful!
She flung her keys against the door and they fell with a clatter in
my room. They were the keys of the side-board, the larder, the cellar,
and the tea-chestthe keys my mother used to carry.
Oh! Oh! Saints above! cried my old nurse in terror. The blessed
When she left, my sister came into my room for her keys and said:
Forgive me. Something strange has been going on in me lately.
One evening when I came home late from Maria Victorovna's I found a
young policeman in a new uniform in my room; he was sitting by the
At last! he said getting up and stretching himself. This is the
third time I have been to see you. The governor has ordered you to go
and see him to-morrow at nine o'clock sharp. Don't be late.
He made me give him a written promise to comply with his
Excellency's orders and went away. This policeman's visit and the
unexpected invitation to see the governor had a most depressing effect
on me. From my early childhood I have had a dread of gendarmes, police,
legal officials, and I was tormented with anxiety as though I had
really committed a crime and I could not sleep. Nurse and Prokofyi were
also upset and could not sleep. And, to make things worse, nurse had an
earache, and moaned and more than once screamed out. Hearing that I
could not sleep Prokofyi came quietly into my room with a little lamp
and sat by the table.
You should have a drop of pepper-brandy.... he said after some
thought. In this vale of tears things go on all right when you take a
drop. And if mother had some pepper-brandy poured into her ear she
would be much better.
About three he got ready to go to the slaughter-house to fetch some
meat. I knew I should not sleep until morning, and to use up the time
until nine, I went with him. We walked with a lantern, and his boy,
Nicolka, who was about thirteen, and had blue spots on his face and an
expression like a murderer's, drove behind us in a sledge, urging the
horse on with hoarse cries.
You will probably be punished at the governor's, said Prokofyi as
we walked. There is a governor's rank, and an archimandrite's rank,
and an officer's rank, and a doctor's rank, and every profession has
its own rank. You don't keep to yours and they won't allow it.
The slaughter-house stood behind the cemetery, and till then I had
only seen it at a distance. It consisted of three dark sheds surrounded
by a grey fence, from which, when the wind was in that direction in
summer, there came an overpowering stench. Now, as I entered the yard,
I could not see the sheds in the darkness; I groped through horses and
sledges, both empty and laden with meat; and there were men walking
about with lanterns and swearing disgustingly. Prokofyi and Nicolka
swore as filthily and there was a continuous hum from the swearing and
coughing and the neighing of the horses.
The place smelled of corpses and offal, the snow was thawing and
already mixed with mud, and in the darkness it seemed to me that I was
walking through a pool of blood.
When we had filled the sledge with meat, we went to the butcher's
shop in the market-place. Day was beginning to dawn. One after another
the cooks came with baskets and old women in mantles. With an axe in
his hand, wearing a white, blood-stained apron, Prokofyi swore
terrifically and crossed himself, turning toward the church, and
shouted so loud that he could be heard all over the market, avowing
that he sold his meat at cost price and even at a loss. He cheated in
weighing and reckoning, the cooks saw it, but, dazed by his shouting,
they did not protest, but only called him a gallows-bird.
Raising and dropping his formidable axe, he assumed picturesque
attitudes and constantly uttered the sound Hak! with a furious
expression, and I was really afraid of his cutting off some one's head
I stayed in the butcher's shop the whole morning, and when at last I
went to the governor's my fur coat smelled of meat and blood. My state
of mind would have been appropriate for an encounter with a bear armed
with no more than a staff. I remember a long staircase with a striped
carpet, and a young official in a frock coat with shining buttons, who
silently indicated the door with both hands and went in to announce me.
I entered the hall, where the furniture was most luxurious, but cold
and tasteless, forming a most unpleasant impressionthe tall, narrow
pier-glasses, and the bright, yellow hangings over the windows; one
could see that, though governors changed, the furniture remained the
same. The young official again pointed with both hands to the door and
went toward a large, green table, by which stood a general with the
Order of Vladimir at his neck.
Mr. Pologniev, he began, holding a letter in his hand and opening
his mouth wide so that it made a round O. I asked you to come to say
this to you: 'Your esteemed father has applied verbally and in writing
to the provincial marshal of nobility, to have you summoned and made to
see the incongruity of your conduct with the title of nobleman which
you have the honour to bear. His Excellency Alexander Pavlovich, justly
thinking that your conduct may be subversive, and finding that
persuasion may not be sufficient, without serious intervention on the
part of the authorities, has given me his decision as to your case, and
I agree with him.'
He said this quietly, respectfully, standing erect as if I was his
superior, and his expression was not at all severe. He had a flabby,
tired face, covered with wrinkles, with pouches under his eyes; his
hair was dyed, and it was hard to guess his age from his
appearancefifty or sixty.
I hope, he went on, that you will appreciate Alexander
Pavlovich's delicacy in applying to me, not officially, but privately.
I have invited you unofficially not as a governor, but as a sincere
admirer of your father's. And I ask you to change your conduct and to
return to the duties proper to your rank, or, to avoid the evil effects
of your example, to go to some other place where you are not known and
where you may do what you like. Otherwise I shall have to resort to
For half a minute he stood in silence staring at me open-mouthed.
Are you a vegetarian? he asked.
No, your Excellency, I eat meat.
He sat down and took up a document, and I bowed and left.
It was not worth while going to work before dinner. I went home and
tried to sleep, but could not because of the unpleasant, sickly feeling
from the slaughter-house and my conversation with the governor. And so
I dragged through till the evening and then, feeling gloomy and out of
sorts, I went to see Maria Victorovna. I told her about my visit to the
governor and she looked at me in bewilderment, as if she did not
believe me, and suddenly she began to laugh merrily, heartily,
stridently, as only good-natured, light-hearted people can.
If I were to tell this in Petersburg! she cried, nearly dropping
with laughter, bending over the table. If I could tell them in
Now we saw each other often, sometimes twice a day. Almost every
day, after dinner, she drove up to the cemetery and, as she waited for
me, read the inscriptions on the crosses and monuments. Sometimes she
came into the church and stood by my side and watched me working. The
silence, the simple industry of the painters and gilders, Radish's good
sense, and the fact that outwardly I was no different from the other
artisans and worked as they did, in a waistcoat and old shoes, and that
they addressed me familiarlywere new to her, and she was moved by it
all. Once in her presence a painter who was working, at a door on the
roof, called down to me:
Misail, fetch me the white lead.
I fetched him the white lead and as I came down the scaffolding she
was moved to tears and looked at me and smiled:
What a dear you are! she said.
I have always remembered how when I was a child a green parrot got
out of its cage in one of the rich people's houses and wandered about
the town for a whole month, flying from one garden to another, homeless
and lonely. And Maria Victorovna reminded me of the bird.
Except to the cemetery, she said with a laugh, I have absolutely
nowhere to go. The town bores me to tears. People read, sing, and
twitter at the Azhoguins', but I cannot bear them lately. Your sister
is shy, Miss Blagovo for some reason hates me. I don't like the
theatre. What can I do with myself?
When I was at her house I smelled of paint and turpentine, and my
hands were stained. She liked that. She wanted me to come to her in my
ordinary working-clothes; but I felt awkward in them in her
drawing-room, and as if I were in uniform, and so I always wore my new
serge suit. She did not like that.
You must confess, she said once, that you have not got used to
your new rôle. A working-man's suit makes you feel awkward and
embarrassed. Tell me, isn't it because you are not sure of yourself and
are unsatisfied? Does this work you have chosen, this painting of
yours, really satisfy you? she asked merrily. I know paint makes
things look nicer and wear better, but the things themselves belong to
the rich and after all they are a luxury. Besides you have said more
than once that everybody should earn his living with his own hands and
you earn money, not bread. Why don't you keep to the exact meaning of
what you say? You must earn bread, real bread, you must plough, sow,
reap, thrash, or do something which has to do directly with
agriculture, such as keeping cows, digging, or building houses....
She opened a handsome bookcase which stood by the writing-table and
I'm telling you all this because I'm going to let you into my
secret. Voilà. This is my agricultural library. Here are books on
arable land, vegetable-gardens, orchard-keeping, cattle-keeping,
bee-keeping: I read them eagerly and have studied the theory of
everything thoroughly. It is my dream to go to Dubechnia as soon as
March begins. It is wonderful there, amazing; isn't it? The first year
I shall only be learning the work and getting used to it, and in the
second year I shall begin to work thoroughly, without sparing myself.
My father promised to give me Dubechnia as a present, and I am to do
anything I like with it.
She blushed and with mingled laughter and tears she dreamed aloud of
her life at Dubechnia and how absorbing it would be. And I envied her.
March would soon be here. The days were drawing out, and in the bright
sunny afternoons the snow dripped from the roofs, and the smell of
spring was in the air. I too longed for the country.
And when she said she was going to live at Dubechnia, I saw at once
that I should be left alone in the town, and I felt jealous of the
bookcase with her books about farming. I knew and cared nothing about
farming and I was on the point of telling her that agriculture was work
for slaves, but I recollected that my father had once said something of
the sort and I held my peace.
Lent began. The engineer, Victor Ivanich, came home from Petersburg.
I had begun to forget his existence. He came unexpectedly, not even
sending a telegram. When I went there as usual in the evening, he was
walking up and down the drawing-room, after a bath, with his hair cut,
looking ten years younger, and talking. His daughter was kneeling by
his trunks and taking out boxes, bottles, books, and handing them to
Pavel the footman. When I saw the engineer, I involuntarily stepped
back and he held out both his hands and smiled and showed his strong,
white, cab-driver's teeth.
Here he is! Here he is! I'm very pleased to see you, Mr.
House-painter! Maria told me all about you and sang your praises. I
quite understand you and heartily approve. He took me by the arm and
went on: It is much cleverer and more honest to be a decent workman
than to spoil State paper and to wear a cockade. I myself worked with
my hands in Belgium. I was an engine-driver for five years....
He was wearing a short jacket and comfortable slippers, and he
shuffled along like a gouty man waving and rubbing his hands; humming
and buzzing and shrugging with pleasure at being at home again with his
There's no denying, he said at supper, there's no denying that
you are kind, sympathetic people, but somehow as soon as you gentlefolk
take on manual labour or try to spare the peasants, you reduce it all
to sectarianism. You are a sectarian. You don't drink vodka. What is
that but sectarianism?
To please him I drank vodka. I drank wine, too. We ate cheese,
sausages, pastries, pickles, and all kinds of dainties that the
engineer had brought with him, and we sampled wines sent from abroad
during his absence. They were excellent. For some reason the engineer
had wines and cigars sent from abroadduty free; somebody sent him
caviare and baliki gratis; he did not pay rent for his house
because his landlord supplied the railway with kerosene, and generally
he and his daughter gave me the impression of having all the best
things in the world at their service free of charge.
I went on visiting them, but with less pleasure than before. The
engineer oppressed me and I felt cramped in his presence. I could not
endure his clear, innocent eyes; his opinions bored me and were
offensive to me, and I was distressed by the recollection that I had so
recently been subordinate to this ruddy, well-fed man, and that he had
been mercilessly rude to me. True he would put his arm round my waist
and clap me kindly on the shoulder and approve of my way of living, but
I felt that he despised my nullity just as much as before and only
suffered me to please his daughter, but I could no longer laugh and
talk easily, and I thought myself ill-mannered, and all the time was
expecting him to call me Panteley as he did his footman Pavel. How my
provincial, bourgeois pride rode up against him! I, a working man, a
painter, going every day to the house of rich strangers, whom the whole
town regarded as foreigners, and drinking their expensive wines and
outlandish dishes! I could not reconcile this with my conscience. When
I went to see them I sternly avoided those whom I met on the way, and
looked askance at them like a real sectarian, and when I left the
engineer's house I was ashamed of feeling so well-fed.
But chiefly I was afraid of falling in love. Whether walking in the
street, or working, or talking to my mates, I thought all the time of
going to Maria Victorovna's in the evening, and always had her voice,
her laughter, her movements with me. And always as I got ready to go to
her, I would stand for a long time in front of the cracked mirror tying
my necktie; my serge suit seemed horrible to me, and I suffered, but at
the same time, despised myself for feeling so small. When she called to
me from another room to say that she was not dressed yet and to ask me
to wait a bit, and I could hear her dressing, I was agitated and felt
as though the floor was sinking under me. And when I saw a woman in the
street, even at a distance, I fell to comparing her figure with hers,
and it seemed to me that all our women and girls were vulgar, absurdly
dressed, and without manners; and such comparisons roused in me a
feeling of pride; Maria Victorovna was better than all of them. And at
night I dreamed of her and myself.
Once at supper the engineer and I ate a whole lobster. When I
reached home I remember that the engineer had twice called me my dear
fellow, and I thought that they treated me as they might have done a
big, unhappy dog, separated from his master, and that they were amusing
themselves with me, and that they would order me away like a dog when
they were bored with me. I began to feel ashamed and hurt; went to the
point of tears, as though I had been insulted, and, raising my eyes to
the heavens, I vowed to put an end to it all.
Next day I did not go to the Dolyhikovs'. Late at night, when it was
quite dark and pouring with rain, I walked up and down Great Gentry
Street, looking at the windows. At the Azhoguins' everybody was asleep
and the only light was in one of the top windows; old Mrs. Azhoguin was
sitting in her room embroidering by candle-light and imagining herself
to be fighting against prejudice. It was dark in our house and
opposite, at the Dolyhikovs' the windows were lit up, but it was
impossible to see anything through the flowers and curtains. I kept on
walking up and down the street; I was soaked through with the cold
March rain. I heard my father come home from the club; he knocked at
the door; in a minute a light appeared at a window and I saw my sister
walking quickly with her lamp and hurriedly arranging her thick hair.
Then my father paced up and down the drawing-room, talking and rubbing
his hands, and my sister sat still in a corner, lost in thought, not
listening to him....
But soon they left the room and the light was put out.... I looked
at the engineer's house and that too was now dark. In the darkness and
the rain I felt desperately lonely. Cast out at the mercy of Fate, and
I felt how, compared with my loneliness, and my suffering, actual and
to come, all my work and all my desires and all that I had hitherto
thought and read, were vain and futile. Alas! The activities and
thoughts of human beings are not nearly so important as their sorrows!
And not knowing exactly what I was doing I pulled with all my might at
the bell at the Dolyhikovs' gate, broke it, and ran away down the
street like a little boy, full of fear, thinking they would rush out at
once and recognise me. When I stopped to take breath at the end of the
street, I could hear nothing but the falling rain and far away a
night-watchman knocking on a sheet of iron.
For a whole week I did not go to the Dolyhikovs'. I sold my serge
suit. I had no work and I was once more half-starved, earning ten or
twenty copecks a day, when possible, by disagreeable work. Floundering
knee-deep in the mire, putting out all my strength, I tried to drown my
memories and to punish myself for all the cheeses and pickles to which
I had been treated at the engineer's. Still, no sooner did I go to bed,
wet and hungry, than my untamed imagination set to work to evolve
wonderful, alluring pictures, and to my amazement I confessed that I
was in love, passionately in love, and I fell sound asleep feeling that
the hard life had only made my body stronger and younger.
One evening it began, most unseasonably, to snow, and the wind blew
from the north, exactly as if winter had begun again. When I got home
from work I found Maria Victorovna in my room. She was in her furs with
her hands in her muff.
Why don't you come to see me? she asked, looking at me with her
bright sagacious eyes, and I was overcome with joy and stood stiffly in
front of her, just as I had done with my father when he was going to
thrash me; she looked straight into my face and I could see by her eyes
that she understood why I was overcome.
Why don't you come to see me? she repeated. You don't want to
come? I had to come to you.
She got up and came close to me.
Don't leave me, she said, and her eyes filled with tears. I am
lonely, utterly lonely.
She began to cry and said, covering her face with her muff:
Alone! Life is hard, very hard, and in the whole world I have no
one but you. Don't leave me!
Looking for her handkerchief to dry her tears, she gave a smile; we
were silent for some time, then I embraced and kissed her, and the pin
in her hat scratched my face and drew blood.
And we began to talk as though we had been dear to each other for a
long, long time.
In a couple of days she sent me to Dubechnia and I was beyond words
delighted with it. As I walked to the station, and as I sat in the
train, I laughed for no reason and people thought me drunk. There were
snow and frost in the mornings still, but the roads were getting dark,
and there were rooks cawing above them.
At first I thought of arranging the side wing opposite Mrs.
Cheprakov's for myself and Masha, but it appeared that doves and
pigeons had taken up their abode there and it would be impossible to
cleanse it without destroying a great number of nests. We would have to
live willy-nilly in the uncomfortable rooms with Venetian blinds in the
big house. The peasants called it a palace; there were more than twenty
rooms in it, and the only furniture was a piano and a child's chair,
lying in the attic, and even if Masha brought all her furniture from
town we should not succeed in removing the impression of frigid
emptiness and coldness. I chose three small rooms with windows looking
on to the garden, and from early morning till late at night I was at
work in them, glazing the windows, hanging paper, blocking up the
chinks and holes in the floor. It was an easy, pleasant job. Every now
and then I would run to the river to see if the ice was breaking and
all the while I dreamed of the starlings returning. And at night when I
thought of Masha I would be filled with an inexpressibly sweet feeling
of an all-embracing joy to listen to the rats and the wind rattling and
knocking above the ceiling; it was like an old hobgoblin coughing in
The snow was deep; there was a heavy fall at the end of March, but
it thawed rapidly, as if by magic, and the spring floods rushed down so
that by the beginning of April the starlings were already chattering
and yellow butterflies fluttered in the garden. The weather was
wonderful. Every day toward evening I walked toward the town to meet
Masha, and how delightful it was to walk along the soft, drying road
with bare feet! Half-way I would sit down and look at the town, not
daring to go nearer. The sight of it upset me, I was always wondering
how my acquaintances would behave toward me when they heard of my love.
What would my father say? I was particularly worried by the idea that
my life was becoming more complicated, and that I had entirely lost
control of it, and that she was carrying me off like a balloon, God
knows whither. I had already given up thinking how to make a living,
and I thoughtindeed, I cannot remember what I thought.
Masha used to come in a carriage. I would take a seat beside her and
together, happy and free, we used to drive to Dubechnia. Or, having
waited till sunset, I would return home, weary and disconsolate,
wondering why Masha had not come, and then by the gate or in the garden
I would find my darling. She would come by the railway and walk over
from the station. What a triumph she had then! In her plain, woollen
dress, with a simple umbrella, but keeping a trim, fashionable figure
and expensive, Parisian bootsshe was a gifted actress playing the
country girl. We used to go over the house, and plan out the rooms, and
the paths, and the vegetable-garden, and the beehives. We already had
chickens and ducks and geese which we loved because they were ours. We
had oats, clover, buckwheat, and vegetable seeds all ready for sowing,
and we used to examine them all and wonder what the crops would be
like, and everything Masha said to me seemed extraordinarily clever and
fine. This was the happiest time of my life.
Soon after Easter we were married in the parish church in the
village of Kurilovka three miles from Dubechnia. Masha wanted
everything to be simple; by her wish our bridesmen were peasant boys,
only one deacon sang, and we returned from the church in a little,
shaky cart which she drove herself. My sister was the only guest from
the town. Masha had sent her a note a couple of days before the
wedding. My sister wore a white dress and white gloves.... During the
ceremony she cried softly for joy and emotion, and her face had a
maternal expression of infinite goodness. She was intoxicated with our
happiness and smiled as though she were breathing a sweet perfume, and
when I looked at her I understood that there was nothing in the world
higher in her eyes than love, earthly love, and that she was always
dreaming of love, secretly, timidly, yet passionately. She embraced
Masha and kissed her, and, not knowing how to express her ecstasy, she
said to her of me:
He is a good man! A very good man.
Before she left us, she put on her ordinary clothes, and took me
into the garden to have a quiet talk.
Father is very hurt that you have not written to him, she said.
You should have asked for his blessing. But, at heart, he is very
pleased. He says that this marriage will raise you in the eyes of
society, and that under Maria Victorovna's influence you will begin to
adopt a more serious attitude toward life. In the evening now we talk
about nothing but you; and yesterday he even said, 'our Misail.' I was
delighted. He has evidently thought of a plan and I believe he wants to
set you an example of magnanimity, and that he will be the first to
talk of reconciliation. It is quite possible that one of these days he
will come and see you here.
She made the sign of the cross over me and said:
Well, God bless you. Be happy. Aniuta Blagovo is a very clever
girl. She says of your marriage that God has sent you a new ordeal.
Well? Married life is not made up only of joy but of suffering as well.
It is impossible to avoid it.
Masha and I walked about three miles with her, and then walked home
quietly and silently, as though it were a rest for both of us. Masha
had her hand on my arm. We were at peace and there was no need to talk
of love; after the wedding we grew closer to each other and dearer, and
it seemed as though nothing could part us.
Your sister is a dear, lovable creature, said Masha, but looks as
though she had lived in torture. Your father must be a terrible man.
I began to tell her how my sister and I had been brought up and how
absurd and full of torture our childhood had been. When she heard that
my father had thrashed me quite recently she shuddered and clung to me:
Don't tell me any more, she said. It is too horrible.
And now she did not leave me. We lived in the big house, in three
rooms, and in the evenings we bolted the door that led to the empty
part of the house, as though some one lived there whom we did not know
and feared. I used to get up early, at dawn, and begin working. I
repaired the carts; made paths in the garden, dug the beds, painted the
roofs. When the time came to sow oats, I tried to plough and harrow,
and sow and did it all conscientiously, and did not leave it all to the
labourer. I used to get tired, and my face and feet used to burn with
the rain and the sharp cold wind. But work in the fields did not
attract me. I knew nothing about agriculture and did not like it;
perhaps because my ancestors were not tillers of the soil and pure town
blood ran in my veins. I loved nature dearly; I loved the fields and
the meadows and the garden, but the peasant who turns the earth with
his plough, shouting at his miserable horse, ragged and wet, with bowed
shoulders, was to me an expression of wild, rude, ugly force, and as I
watched his clumsy movements I could not help thinking of the
long-passed legendary life, when men did not yet know the use of fire.
The fierce bull which led the herd, and the horses that stampeded
through the village, filled me with terror, and all the large
creatures, strong and hostile, a ram with horns, a gander, or a
watch-dog seemed to me to be symbolical of some rough, wild force.
These prejudices used to be particularly strong in me in bad weather,
when heavy clouds hung over the black plough-lands. But worst of all
was that when I was ploughing or sowing, and a few peasants stood and
watched how I did it, I no longer felt the inevitability and necessity
of the work and it seemed to me that I was trifling my time away.
I used to go through the gardens and the meadow to the mill. It was
leased by Stiepan, a Kurilovka peasant; handsome, swarthy, with a black
beardan athletic appearance. He did not care for mill work and
thought it tiresome and unprofitable, and he only lived at the mill to
escape from home. He was a saddler and always smelled of tan and
leather. He did not like talking, was slow and immovable, and used to
hum U-lu-lu-lu, sitting on the bank or in the doorway of the mill.
Sometimes his wife and mother-in-law used to come from Kurilovka to see
him; they were both fair, languid, soft, and they used to bow to him
humbly and call him Stiepan Petrovich. And he would not answer their
greeting with a word or a sign, but would turn where he sat on the bank
and hum quietly: U-lu-lu-lu. There would be a silence for an hour or
two. His mother-in-law and his wife would whisper to each other, get up
and look expectantly at him for some time, waiting for him to look at
them, and then they would bow humbly and say in sweet, soft voices:
Good-bye, Stiepan Petrovich.
And they would go away. After that, Stiepan would put away the
bundle of cracknels or the shirt they had left for him and sigh and
give a wink in their direction and say:
The female sex!
The mill was worked with both wheels day and night. I used to help
Stiepan, I liked it, and when he went away I was glad to take his
After a spell of warm bright weather we had a season of bad roads.
It rained and was cold all through May. The grinding of the millstones
and the drip of the rain induced idleness and sleep. The floor shook,
the whole place smelled of flour, and this too made one drowsy. My wife
in a short fur coat and high rubber boots used to appear twice a day
and she always said the same thing:
Call this summer! It is worse than October!
We used to have tea together and cook porridge, or sit together for
hours in silence thinking the rain would never stop. Once when Stiepan
went away to a fair, Masha stayed the night in the mill. When we got up
we could not tell what time it was for the sky was overcast; the sleepy
cocks at Dubechnia were crowing, and the corncrakes were trilling in
the meadow; it was very, very early.... My wife and I walked down to
the pool and drew up the bow-net that Stiepan had put out in our
presence the day before. There was one large perch in it and a crayfish
angrily stretched out his claws.
Let them go, said Masha. Let them be happy too.
Because we got up very early and had nothing to do, the day seemed
very long, the longest in my life. Stiepan returned before dusk and I
went back to the farmhouse.
Your father came here to-day, said Masha.
Where is he?
He has gone. I did not receive him.
Seeing my silence and feeling that I was sorry for my father, she
We must be logical. I did not receive him and sent a message to ask
him not to trouble us again and not to come and see us.
In a moment I was outside the gates, striding toward the town to
make it up with my father. It was muddy, slippery, cold. For the first
time since our marriage I suddenly felt sad, and through my brain,
tired with the long day, there flashed the thought that perhaps I was
not living as I ought; I got more and more tired and was gradually
overcome with weakness, inertia; I had no desire to move or to think,
and after walking for some time, I waved my hand and went home.
In the middle of the yard stood the engineer in a leather coat with
a hood. He was shouting:
Where's the furniture? There was some good Empire furniture,
pictures, vases. There's nothing left! Damn it, I bought the place with
Near him stood Moissey, Mrs. Cheprakov's bailiff, fumbling with his
cap; a lank fellow of about twenty-five, with a spotty face and little,
impudent eyes; one side of his face was larger than the other as though
he had been lain on.
Yes, Right Honourable Sir, you bought it without the furniture, he
said sheepishly. I remember that clearly.
Silence! shouted the engineer, going red in the face, and
beginning to shake, and his shout echoed through the garden.
When I was busy in the garden or the yard, Moissey would stand with
his hands behind his back and stare at me impertinently with his little
eyes. And this used to irritate me to such an extent that I would put
aside my work and go away.
We learned from Stiepan that Moissey had been Mrs. Cheprakov's
lover. I noticed that when people went to her for money they used to
apply to Moissey first, and once I saw a peasant, a charcoal-burner,
black all over, grovel at his feet. Sometimes after a whispered
conversation Moissey would hand over the money himself without saying
anything to his mistress, from which I concluded that the transaction
was settled on his own account.
He used to shoot in our garden, under our very windows, steal food
from our larder, borrow our horses without leave, and we were furious,
feeling that Dubechnia was no longer ours, and Masha used to go pale
Have we to live another year and a half with these creatures?
Ivan Cheprakov, the son, was a guard on the railway. During the
winter he got very thin and weak, so that he got drunk on one glass of
vodka, and felt cold out of the sun. He hated wearing his guard's
uniform and was ashamed of it, but found his job profitable because he
could steal candles and sell them. My new position gave him a mixed
feeling of astonishment, envy, and vague hope that something of the
sort might happen to him. He used to follow Masha with admiring eyes,
and to ask me what I had for dinner nowadays, and his ugly, emaciated
face used to wear a sweet, sad expression, and he used to twitch his
fingers as though he could feel my happiness with them.
I say, Little Profit, he would say excitedly, lighting and
relighting his cigarette; he always made a mess wherever he stood
because he used to waste a whole box of matches on one cigarette. I
say, my life is about as beastly as it could be. Every little squirt of
a soldier can shout: 'Here guard! Here!' I have such a lot in the
trains and you know, mine's a rotten life! My mother has ruined me! I
heard a doctor say in the train, if the parents are loose, their
children become drunkards or criminals. That's it.
Once he came staggering into the yard. His eyes wandered aimlessly
and he breathed heavily; he laughed and cried, and said something in a
kind of frenzy, and through his thickly uttered words I could only
hear: My mother? Where is my mother? and he wailed like a child
crying, because it has lost its mother in a crowd. I led him away into
the garden and laid him down under a tree, and all that day and through
the night Masha and I took it in turns to stay with him. He was sick
and Masha looked with disgust at his pale, wet face and said:
Are we to have these creatures on the place for another year and a
half? It is awful! Awful!
And what a lot of trouble the peasants gave us! How many
disappointments we had at the outset, in the spring, when we so longed
to be happy! My wife built a school. I designed the school for sixty
boys, and the Zemstvo Council approved the design, but recommended our
building the school at Kurilovka, the big village, only three miles
away; besides the Kurilovka school, where the children of four
villages, including that of Dubechnia, were taught, was old and
inadequate and the floor was so rotten that the children were afraid to
walk on it. At the end of March Masha, by her own desire, was appointed
trustee of the Kurilovka school, and at the beginning of April we
called three parish meetings and persuaded the peasants that the school
was old and inadequate, and that it was necessary to build a new one. A
member of the Zemstvo Council and the elementary school inspector came
down too and addressed them. After each meeting we were mobbed and
asked for a pail of vodka; we felt stifled in the crowd and soon got
tired and returned home dissatisfied and rather abashed. At last the
peasants allotted a site for the school and undertook to cart the
materials from the town. And as soon as the spring corn was sown, on
the very first Sunday, carts set out from Kurilovka and Dubechnia to
fetch the bricks for the foundations. They went at dawn and returned
late in the evening. The peasants were drunk and said they were tired
The rain and the cold continued, as though deliberately, all through
May. The roads were spoiled and deep in mud. When the carts came from
town they usually drove to our horror, into our yard! A horse would
appear in the gate, straddling its fore legs, with its big belly
heaving; before it came into the yard it would strain and heave and
after it would come a ten-yard beam in a four-wheeled wagon, wet and
slimy; alongside it, wrapped up to keep the rain out, never looking
where he was going and splashing through the puddles, a peasant would
walk with the skirt of his coat tucked up in his belt. Another cart
would appear with planks; then a third with a beam; then a fourth ...
and the yard in front of the house would gradually be blocked up with
horses, beams, planks. Peasants, men and women with their heads wrapped
up and their skirts tucked up, would stare morosely at our windows,
kick up a row and insist on the lady of the house coming out to them;
and they would curse and swear. And in a corner Moissey would stand,
and it seemed to us that he delighted in our discomfiture.
We won't cart any more! the peasants shouted. We are tired to
death! Let her go and cart it herself!
Pale and scared, thinking they would any minute break into the
house, Masha would send them money for a pail of vodka; after which the
noise would die down and the long beams would go jolting out of the
When I went to look at the building my wife would get agitated and
The peasants are furious. They might do something to you. No. Wait.
I'll go with you.
We used to drive over to Kurilovka together and then the carpenters
would ask for tips. The framework was ready for the foundations to be
laid, but the masons never came and when at last the masons did come it
was apparent that there was no sand; somehow it had been forgotten that
sand was wanted. Taking advantage of our helplessness, the peasants
asked thirty copecks a load, although it was less than a quarter of a
mile from the building to the river where the sand was to be fetched,
and more than five hundred loads were needed. There were endless
misunderstandings, wrangles, and continual begging. My wife was
indignant and the building contractor, Petrov, an old man of seventy,
took her by the hand and said:
You look here! Look here! Just get me sand and I'll find ten men
and have the work done in two days. Look here!
Sand was brought, but two, four days, a week passed and still there
yawned a ditch where the foundations were to be.
I shall go mad, cried my wife furiously. What wretches they are!
During these disturbances Victor Ivanich used to come and see us. He
used to bring hampers of wine and dainties, and eat for a long time,
and then go to sleep on the terrace and snore so that the labourers
shook their heads and said:
He's all right!
Masha took no pleasure in his visits. She did not believe in him,
and yet she used to ask his advice; when, after a sound sleep after
dinner, he got up out of humour, and spoke disparagingly of our
domestic arrangements, and said he was sorry he had ever bought
Dubechnia which had cost him so much, and poor Masha looked miserably
anxious and complained to him, he would yawn and say the peasants ought
to be flogged.
He called our marriage and the life we were living a comedy, and
used to say it was a caprice, a whimsy.
She did the same sort of thing once before, he told me. She
fancied herself as an opera singer, and ran away from me. It took me
two months to find her, and my dear fellow, I wasted a thousand roubles
on telegrams alone.
He had dropped calling me a sectarian or the House-painter; and no
longer approved of my life as a working man, but he used to say:
You are a queer fish! An abnormality. I don't venture to prophesy,
but you will end badly!
Masha slept poorly at nights and would sit by the window of our
bedroom thinking. She no longer laughed and made faces at supper. I
suffered, and when it rained, every drop cut into my heart like a
bullet, and I could have gone on my knees to Masha and apologised for
the weather. When the peasants made a row in the yard, I felt that it
was my fault. I would sit for hours in one place, thinking only how
splendid and how wonderful Masha was. I loved her passionately, and I
was enraptured by everything she did and said. Her taste was for quiet
indoor occupation; she loved to read for hours and to study; she who
knew about farm-work only from books, surprised us all by her knowledge
and the advice she gave was always useful, and when applied was never
in vain. And in addition she had the fineness, the taste, and the good
sense, the very sound sense which only very well-bred people possess!
To such a woman, with her healthy, orderly mind, the chaotic
environment with its petty cares and dirty tittle-tattle, in which we
lived, was very painful. I could see that, and I, too, could not sleep
at night. My brain whirled and I could hardly choke back my tears. I
tossed about, not knowing what to do.
I used to rush to town and bring Masha books, newspapers, sweets,
flowers, and I used to go fishing with Stiepan, dragging for hours,
neck-deep in cold water, in the rain, to catch an eel by way of varying
our fare. I used humbly to ask the peasants not to shout, and I gave
them vodka, bribed them, promised them anything they asked. And what a
lot of other foolish things I did!
* * *
At last the rain stopped. The earth dried up. I used to get up in
the morning and go into the gardendew shining on the flowers, birds
and insects shrilling, not a cloud in the sky, and the garden, the
meadow, the river were so beautiful, perfect but for the memory of the
peasants and the carts and the engineer. Masha and I used to drive out
in a car to see how the oats were coming on. She drove and I sat
behind; her shoulders were always a little hunched, and the wind would
play with her hair.
Keep to the right! she shouted to the passers-by.
You are like a coachman! I once said to her.
Perhaps. My grandfather, my father's father, was a coachman. Didn't
you know? she asked, turning round, and immediately she began to mimic
the way the coachmen shout and sing.
Thank God! I thought, as I listened to her. Thank God!
And again I remember the peasants, the carts, the engineer....
Doctor Blagovo came over on a bicycle. My sister began to come
often. Once more we talked of manual labour and progress, and the
mysterious Cross awaiting humanity in the remote future. The doctor did
not like our life, because it interfered with our discussions and he
said it was unworthy of a free man to plough, and reap, and breed
cattle, and that in time all such elementary forms of the struggle for
existence would be left to animals and machines, while men would devote
themselves exclusively to scientific investigation. And my sister
always asked me to let her go home earlier, and if she stayed late, or
for the night, she was greatly distressed.
Good gracious, what a baby you are, Masha used to say
reproachfully. It is quite ridiculous.
Yes, it is absurd, my sister would agree. I admit it is absurd,
but what can I do if I have not the power to control myself. It always
seems to me that I am doing wrong.
During the haymaking my body, not being used to it, ached all over;
sitting on the terrace in the evening, I would suddenly fall asleep and
they would all laugh at me. They would wake me up and make me sit down
to supper. I would be overcome with drowsiness and in a stupor saw
lights, faces, plates, and heard voices without understanding what they
were saying. And I used to get up early in the morning and take my
scythe, or go to the school and work there all day.
When I was at home on holidays I noticed that my wife and sister
were hiding something from me and even seemed to be avoiding me. My
wife was tender with me as always, but she had some new thought of her
own which she did not communicate to me. Certainly her exasperation
with the peasants had increased and life was growing harder and harder
for her, but she no longer complained to me. She talked more readily to
the doctor than to me, and I could not understand why.
It was the custom in our province for the labourers to come to the
farm in the evenings to be treated to vodka, even the girls having a
glass. We did not keep the custom; the haymakers and the women used to
come into the yard and stay until late in the evening, waiting for
vodka, and then they went away cursing. And then Masha used to frown
and relapse into silence or whisper irritably to the doctor:
Newcomers to the villages were received ungraciously, almost with
hostility; like new arrivals at a school. At first we were looked upon
as foolish, soft-headed people who had bought the estate because we did
not know what to do with our money. We were laughed at. The peasants
grazed their cattle in our pasture and even in our garden, drove our
cows and horses into the village and then came and asked for
compensation. The whole village used to come into our yard and declare
loudly that in mowing we had cut the border of common land which did
not belong to us; and as we did not know our boundaries exactly we used
to take their word for it and pay a fine. But afterward it appeared
that we had been in the right. They used to bark the young lime-trees
in our woods. A Dubechnia peasant, a money-lender, who sold vodka
without a licence, bribed our labourers to help him cheat us in the
most treacherous way; he substituted old wheels for the new on our
wagons, stole our ploughing yokes and sold them back to us, and so on.
But worst of all was the building at Kurilovka. There the women at
night stole planks, bricks, tiles, iron; the bailiff and his assistants
made a search; the women were each fined two roubles by the village
council, and then the whole lot of them got drunk on the money.
When Masha found out, she would say to the doctor and my sister:
What beasts! It is horrible! Horrible!
And more than once I heard her say she was sorry she had decided to
build the school.
You must understand, the doctor tried to point out, that if you
build a school or undertake any good work, it is not for the peasants,
but for the sake of culture and the future. The worse the peasants are
the more reason there is for building a school. Do understand!
There was a loss of confidence in his voice, and it seemed to me
that he hated the peasants as much as Masha.
Masha used often to go to the mill with my sister and they would say
jokingly that they were going to have a look at Stiepan because he was
so handsome. Stiepan it appeared was reserved and silent only with men,
and in the company of women was free and talkative. Once when I went
down to the river to bathe I involuntarily overheard a conversation.
Masha and Cleopatra, both in white, were sitting on the bank under the
broad shade of a willow and Stiepan was standing near with his hands
behind his back, saying:
But are peasants human beings? Not they; they are, excuse me,
brutes, beasts, and thieves. What does a peasant's life consist of?
Eating and drinking, crying for cheaper food, bawling in taverns,
without decent conversation, or behaviour or manners. Just an ignorant
beast! He lives in filth, his wife and children live in filth; he
sleeps in his clothes; takes the potatoes out of the soup with his
fingers, drinks down a black beetle with his kvassbecause he
won't trouble to fish it out!
It is because of their poverty! protested my sister.
What poverty? Of course there is want, but there are different
kinds of necessity. If a man is in prison, or is blind, say, or has
lost his legs, then he is in a bad way and God help him; but if he is
at liberty and in command of his senses, if he has eyes and hands and
strength, then, good God, what more does he want? It is lamentable, my
lady, ignorance, but not poverty. If you kind people, with your
education, out of charity try to help him, then he will spend your
money in drink, like the swine he is, or worse still, he will open a
tavern and begin to rob the people on the strength of your money. You
saypoverty. But does a rich peasant live any better? He lives like a
pig, too, excuse me, a clodhopper, a blusterer, a big-bellied
blockhead, with a swollen red mugmakes me want to hit him in the eye,
the blackguard. Look at Larion of Dubechniahe is rich, but all the
same he barks the trees in your woods just like the poor; and he is a
foul-mouthed brute, and his children are foul-mouthed, and when he is
drunk he falls flat in the mud and goes to sleep. They are all
worthless, my lady. It is just hell to live with them in the village.
The village sticks in my gizzard, and I thank God, the King of heaven,
that I am well fed and clothed, and that I am a free man; I can live
where I like, I don't want to live in the village and nobody can force
me to do it. They say: 'You have a wife.' They say: 'You are obliged to
live at home with your wife.' Why? I have not sold myself to her.
Tell me, Stiepan. Did you marry for love? asked Masha.
What love is there in a village? Stiepan answered with a smile.
If you want to know, my lady, it is my second marriage. I do not come
from Kurilovka, but from Zalegosch, and I went to Kurilovka when I
married. My father did not want to divide the land up between usthere
are five of us. So I bowed to it and cut adrift and went to another
village to my wife's family. My first wife died when she was young.
What did she die of?
Foolishness. She used to sit and cry. She was always crying for no
reason at all and so she wasted away. She used to drink herbs to make
herself prettier and it must have ruined her inside. And my second wife
at Kurilovkawhat about her? A village woman, a peasant; that's all.
When the match was being made I was nicely had; I thought she was
young, nice to look at and clean. Her mother was clean enough, drank
coffee and, chiefly because they were a clean lot, I got married. Next
day we sat down to dinner and I told my mother-in-law to fetch me a
spoon. She brought me a spoon and I saw her wipe it with her finger. So
that, thought I, is their cleanliness! I lived with them for a year and
went away. Perhaps I ought to have married a town girlhe went on
after a silence. They say a wife is a helpmate to her husband. What do
I want with a helpmate? I can look after myself. But you talk to me
sensibly and soberly, without giggling all the while. Hehehe! What
is life without a good talk?
Stiepan suddenly stopped and relapsed into his dreary, monotonous
U-lu-lu-lu. That meant that he had noticed me.
Masha used often to visit the mill, she evidently took pleasure in
her talks with Stiepan; he abused the peasants so sincerely and
convincinglyand this attracted her to him. When she returned from the
mill the idiot who looked after the garden used to shout after her:
Paloshka! Hullo, Paloshka! And he would bark at her like a dog:
And she would stop and stare at him as if she found in the idiot's
barking an answer to her thought, and perhaps he attracted her as much
as Stiepan's abuse. And at home she would find some unpleasant news
awaiting her, as that the village geese had ruined the cabbages in the
kitchen-garden, or that Larion had stolen the reins, and she would
shrug her shoulders with a smile and say:
What can you expect of such people?
She was exasperated and a fury was gathering in her soul, and I, on
the other hand, was getting used to the peasants and more and more
attracted to them. For the most part, they were nervous, irritable,
absurd people; they were people with suppressed imaginations, ignorant,
with a bare, dull outlook, always dazed by the same thought of the grey
earth, grey days, black bread; they were people driven to cunning, but,
like birds, they only hid their heads behind the treesthey could not
reason. They did not come to us for the twenty roubles earned by
haymaking, but for the half-pail of vodka, though they could buy four
pails of vodka for the twenty roubles. Indeed they were dirty, drunken,
and dishonest, but for all that one felt that the peasant life as a
whole was sound at the core. However clumsy and brutal the peasant
might look as he followed his antiquated plough, and however he might
fuddle himself with vodka, still, looking at him more closely, one felt
that there was something vital and important in him, something that was
lacking in Masha and the doctor, for instance, namely, that he believes
that the chief thing on earth is truth, that his and everybody's
salvation lies in truth, and therefore above all else on earth he loves
justice. I used to say to my wife that she was seeing the stain on the
window, but not the glass itself; and she would be silent or, like
Stiepan, she would hum, U-lu-lu-lu.... When she, good, clever actress
that she was, went pale with fury and then harangued the doctor in a
trembling voice about drunkenness and dishonesty; her blindness
confounded and appalled me. How could she forget that her father, the
engineer, drank, drank heavily, and that the money with which he bought
Dubechnia was acquired by means of a whole series of impudent,
dishonest swindles? How could she forget?
And my sister, too, was living with her own private thoughts which
she hid from me. She used often to sit whispering with Masha. When I
went up to her, she would shrink away, and her eyes would look guilty
and full of entreaty. Evidently there was something going on in her
soul of which she was afraid or ashamed. To avoid meeting me in the
garden or being left alone with me she clung to Masha and I hardly ever
had a chance to talk to her except at dinner.
One evening, on my way home from the school, I came quietly through
the garden. It had already begun to grow dark. Without noticing me or
hearing footsteps, my sister walked round an old wide-spreading
apple-tree, perfectly noiselessly like a ghost. She was in black, and
walked very quickly, up and down, up and down, with her eyes on the
ground. An apple fell from the tree, she started at the noise, stopped
and pressed her hands to her temples. At that moment I went up to her.
In an impulse of tenderness, which suddenly came rushing to my
heart, with tears in my eyes, somehow remembering our mother and our
childhood, I took hold of her shoulders and kissed her.
What is the matter? I asked. You are suffering. I have seen it
for a long time now. Tell me, what is the matter?
I am afraid.... she murmured, with a shiver.
What's the matter with you? I inquired. For God's sake, be
I will, I will be frank. I will tell you the whole truth. It is so
hard, so painful to conceal anything from you!... Misail, I am in
love. She went on in a whisper. Love, love.... I am happy, but I am
I heard footsteps and Doctor Blagovo appeared among the trees. He
was wearing a silk shirt and high boots. Clearly they had arranged a
rendezvous by the apple-tree. When she saw him she flung herself
impulsively into his arms with a cry of anguish, as though he was being
taken away from her:
She clung to him, and gazed eagerly at him and only then I noticed
how thin and pale she had become. It was especially noticeable through
her lace collar, which I had known for years, for it now hung loosely
about her slim neck. The doctor was taken aback, but controlled himself
at once, and said, as he stroked her hair:
That's enough. Enough!... Why are you so nervous? You see, I have
We were silent for a time, bashfully glancing at each other. Then we
all moved away and I heard the doctor saying to me:
Civilised life has not yet begun with us. The old console
themselves with saying that, if there is nothing now, there was
something in the forties and the sixties; that is all right for the old
ones, but we are young and our brains are not yet touched with senile
decay. We cannot console ourselves with such illusions. The beginning
of Russia was in 862, and civilised Russia, as I understand it, has not
But I could not bother about what he was saying. It was very
strange, but I could not believe that my sister was in love, that she
had just been walking with her hand on the arm of a stranger and gazing
at him tenderly. My sister, poor, frightened, timid, downtrodden
creature as she was, loved a man who was already married and had
children! I was full of pity without knowing why; the doctor's presence
was distasteful to me and I could not make out what was to come of such
Masha and I drove over to Kurilovka for the opening of the school.
Autumn, autumn, autumn.... said Masha, looking about her. Summer
had passed. There were no birds and only the willows were green.
Yes. Summer had passed. The days were bright and warm, but it was
fresh in the mornings; the shepherds went out in their sheepskins, and
the dew never dried all day on the asters in the garden. There were
continual mournful sounds and it was impossible to tell whether it was
a shutter creaking on its rusty hinges or the cranes flyingand one
felt so well and so full of the desire for life!
Summer has passed.... said Masha. Now we can both make up our
accounts. We have worked hard and thought a great deal and we are the
better for itall honour and praise to us; we have improved ourselves;
but have our successes had any perceptible influence on the life around
us, have they been of any use to a single person? No! Ignorance, dirt,
drunkenness, a terribly high rate of infant mortalityeverything is
just as it was, and no one is any the better for your having ploughed
and sown and my having spent money and read books. Evidently we have
only worked and broadened our minds for ourselves.
I was abashed by such arguments and did not know what to think.
From beginning to end we have been sincere, I said, and if a man
is sincere, he is right.
Who denies that? We have been right but we have been wrong in our
way of setting about it. First of all, are not our very ways of living
wrong? You want to be useful to people, but by the mere fact of buying
an estate you make it impossible to be so. Further, if you work, dress,
and eat like a peasant you lend your authority and approval to the
clumsy clothes, and their dreadful houses and their dirty beards.... On
the other hand, suppose you work for a long, long time, all you life,
and in the end obtain some practical resultswhat will your results
amount to, what can they do against such elemental forces as wholesale
ignorance, hunger, cold, and degeneracy? A drop in the ocean! Other
methods of fighting are necessary, strong, bold, quick! If you want to
be useful then you must leave the narrow circle of common activity and
try to act directly on the masses! First of all, you need vigorous,
noisy, propaganda. Why are art and music, for instance, so much alive
and so popular and so powerful? Because the musician or the singer
influences thousands directly. Art, wonderful art! She looked
wistfully at the sky and went on: Art gives wings and carries you far,
far away. If you are bored with dirt and pettifogging interests, if you
are exasperated and outraged and indignant, rest and satisfaction are
only to be found in beauty.
As we approached Kurilovka the weather was fine, clear, and joyous.
In the yards the peasants were thrashing and there was a smell of corn
and straw. Behind the wattled hedges the fruit-trees were reddening and
all around the trees were red or golden. In the church-tower the bells
were ringing, the children were carrying ikons to the school and
singing the Litany of the Virgin. And how clear the air was, and how
high the doves soared!
The Te Deum was sung in the schoolroom. Then the Kurilovka peasants
presented Masha with an ikon, and the Dubechnia peasants gave her a
large cracknel and a gilt salt-cellar. And Masha began to weep.
And if we have said anything out of the way or have been
discontented, please forgive us, said an old peasant, bowing to us
As we drove home Masha looked back at the school. The green roof
which I had painted glistened in the sun, and we could see it for a
long time. And I felt that Masha's glances were glances of farewell.
In the evening she got ready to go to town.
She had often been to town lately to stay the night. In her absence
I could not work, and felt listless and disheartened; our big yard
seemed dreary, disgusting, and deserted; there were ominous noises in
the garden, and without her the house, the trees, the horses were no
I never went out but sat all the time at her writing-table among her
books on farming and agriculture, those deposed favourites, wanted no
more, which looked out at me so shamefacedly from the bookcase. For
hours together, while it struck seven, eight, nine, and the autumn
night crept up as black as soot to the windows, I sat brooding over an
old glove of hers, or the pen she always used, and her little scissors.
I did nothing and saw clearly that everything I had done before,
ploughing, sowing, and felling trees, had only been because she wanted
it. And if she told me to clean out a well, when I had to stand
waist-deep in water, I would go and do it, without trying to find out
whether the well wanted cleaning or not. And now, when she was away,
Dubechnia with its squalor, its litter, its slamming shutters, with
thieves prowling about it day and night, seemed to me like a chaos in
which work was entirely useless. And why should I work, then? Why
trouble and worry about the future, when I felt that the ground was
slipping away from under me, that my position at Dubechnia was hollow,
that, in a word, the same fate awaited me as had befallen the books on
agriculture? Oh! what anguish it was at night, in the lonely hours,
when I lay listening uneasily, as though I expected some one any minute
to call out that it was time for me to go away. I was not sorry to
leave Dubechnia, my sorrow was for my love, for which it seemed that
autumn had already begun. What a tremendous happiness it is to love and
to be loved, and what a horror it is to feel that you are beginning to
topple down from that lofty tower!
Masha returned from town toward evening on the following day. She
was dissatisfied with something, but concealed it and said only: Why
have the winter windows been put in? It will be stifling. I opened two
of the windows. We did not feel like eating, but we sat down and had
Go and wash your hands, she said. You smell of putty.
She had brought some new illustrated magazines from town and we both
read them after supper. They had supplements with fashion-plates and
patterns. Masha just glanced at them and put them aside to look at them
carefully later on; but one dress, with a wide, bell-shaped skirt and
big sleeves interested her, and for a moment she looked at it seriously
That's not bad, she said.
Yes, it would suit you very well, said I. Very well.
And I admired the dress, only because she liked it, and went on
A wonderful, lovely dress! Lovely, wonderful, Masha. My dear
And tears began to drop on the fashion-plate.
Wonderful Masha.... I murmured. Dear, darling Masha....
She went and lay down and I sat still for an hour and looked at the
You should not have opened the windows, she called from the
bedroom. I'm afraid it will be cold. Look how the wind is blowing in!
I read the miscellany, about the preparation of cheap fish, and the
size of the largest diamond in the world. Then I chanced on the picture
of the dress she had liked and I imagined her at a ball, with a fan,
and bare shoulders, a brilliant, dazzling figure, well up in music and
painting and literature, and how insignificant and brief my share in
her life seemed to be!
Our coming together, our marriage, was only an episode, one of many
in the life of this lively, highly gifted creature. All the best things
in the world, as I have said, were at her service, and she had them for
nothing; even ideas and fashionable intellectual movements served her
pleasure, a diversion in her existence, and I was only the coachman who
drove her from one infatuation to another. Now I was no longer
necessary to her; she would fly away and I should be left alone.
As if in answer to my thoughts a desperate scream suddenly came from
It was a shrill female voice, and exactly as though it were trying
to imitate it, the wind also howled dismally in the chimney. Half a
minute passed and again it came through the sound of the wind, but as
though from the other end of the yard:
Misail, did you hear that? said my wife in a hushed voice. Did
She came out of the bedroom in her nightgown, with her hair down,
and stood listening and staring out of the dark window.
Somebody is being murdered! she muttered. It only wanted that!
I took my gun and went out; it was very dark outside; a violent wind
was blowing so that it was hard to stand up. I walked to the gate and
listened; the trees were moaning; the wind went whistling through them,
and in the garden the idiot's dog was howling. Beyond the gate it was
pitch dark; there was not a light on the railway. And just by the wing,
where the offices used to be, I suddenly heard a choking cry:
Who is there? I called.
Two men were locked in a struggle. One had nearly thrown the other,
who was resisting with all his might. And both were breathing heavily.
Let go! said one of them and I recognised Ivan Cheprakov. It was
he who had cried out in a thin, falsetto voice. Let go, damn you, or
I'll bite your hands!
The other man I recognised as Moissey. I parted them and could not
resist hitting Moissey in the face twice. He fell down, then got up,
and I struck him again.
He tried to kill me, he muttered. I caught him creeping to his
mother's drawer.... I tried to shut him up in the wing for safety.
Cheprakov was drunk and did not recognise me. He stood gasping for
breath as though trying to get enough wind to shriek again.
I left them and went back to the house. My wife was lying on the
bed, fully dressed. I told her what had happened in the yard and did
not keep back the fact that I had struck Moissey.
Living in the country is horrible, she said. And what a long
night it is!
Mur-der! we heard again, a little later.
I'll go and part them, I said.
No. Let them kill each other, she said with an expression of
She lay staring at the ceiling, listening, and I sat near her, not
daring to speak and feeling that it was my fault that screams of
murder came from the yard and the night was so long.
We were silent and I waited impatiently for the light to peep in at
the window. And Masha looked as though she had wakened from a long
sleep and was astonished to find herself, so clever, so educated, so
refined, cast away in this miserable provincial hole, among a lot of
petty, shallow people, and to think that she could have so far
forgotten herself as to have been carried away by one of them and to
have been his wife for more than half a year. It seemed to me that we
were all the same to hermyself, Moissey, Cheprakov; all swept
together into the drunken, wild scream of murdermyself, our
marriage, our work, and the muddy roads of autumn; and when she
breathed or stirred to make herself more comfortable I could read in
her eyes: Oh, if the morning would come quicker!
In the morning she went away.
I stayed at Dubechnia for another three days, waiting for her; then
I moved all our things into one room, locked it, and went to town. When
I rang the bell at the engineer's, it was evening, and the lamps were
alight in Great Gentry Street. Pavel told me that nobody was at home;
Victor Ivanich had gone to Petersburg and Maria Victorovna must be at a
rehearsal at the Azhoguins'. I remember the excitement with which I
went to the Azhoguins', and how my heart thumped and sank within me, as
I went up-stairs and stood for a long while on the landing, not daring
to enter that temple of the Muses! In the hall, on the table, on the
piano, on the stage, there were candles burning; all in threes, for the
first performance was fixed for the thirteenth, and the dress rehearsal
was on Mondaythe unlucky day. A fight against prejudice! All the
lovers of dramatic art were assembled; the eldest, the middle, and the
youngest Miss Azhoguin were walking about the stage, reading their
parts. Radish was standing still in a corner all by himself, with his
head against the wall, looking at the stage with adoring eyes, waiting
for the beginning of the rehearsal. Everything was just the same!
I went toward my hostess to greet her, when suddenly everybody began
to say Ssh and to wave their hands to tell me not to make such a
noise. There was a silence. The top of the piano was raised, a lady sat
down, screwing up her short-sighted eyes at the music, and Masha stood
by the piano, dressed up, beautiful, but beautiful in an odd new way,
not at all like the Masha who used to come to see me at the mill in the
spring. She began to sing:
Why do I love thee, straight night?
It was the first time since I had known her that I had heard her
sing. She had a fine, rich, powerful voice, and to hear her sing was
like eating a ripe, sweet-scented melon. She finished the song and was
applauded. She smiled and looked pleased, made play with her eyes,
stared at the music, plucked at her dress exactly like a bird which has
broken out of its cage and preens its wings at liberty. Her hair was
combed back over her ears, and she had a sly defiant expression on her
face, as though she wished to challenge us all, or to shout at us, as
though we were horses: Gee up, old things!
And at that moment she must have looked very like her grandfather,
You here, too? she asked, giving me her hand. Did you hear me
sing? How did you like it? And, without waiting for me to answer she
went on: You arrived very opportunely. I'm going to Petersburg for a
short time to-night. May I?
At midnight I took her to the station. She embraced me tenderly,
probably out of gratitude, because I did not pester her with useless
questions, and she promised to write to me, and I held her hands for a
long time and kissed them, finding it hard to keep back my tears, and
not saying a word.
And when the train moved, I stood looking at the receding lights,
kissed her in my imagination and whispered:
Masha dear, wonderful Masha!...
I spent the night at Mikhokhov, at Karpovna's, and in the morning I
worked with Radish, upholstering the furniture at a rich merchant's,
who had married his daughter to a doctor.
On Sunday afternoon my sister came to see me and had tea with me.
I read a great deal now, she said, showing me the books she had
got out of the town library on her way. Thanks to your wife and
Vladimir. They awakened my self-consciousness. They saved me and have
made me feel that I am a human being. I used not to sleep at night for
worrying: 'What a lot of sugar has been wasted during the week.' 'The
cucumbers must not be oversalted!' I don't sleep now, but I have quite
different thoughts. I am tormented with the thought that half my life
has passed so foolishly and half-heartedly. I despise my old life. I am
ashamed of it. And I regard my father now as an enemy. Oh, how grateful
I am to your wife! And Vladimir. He is such a wonderful man! They
opened my eyes.
It is not good that you can't sleep, I said.
You think I am ill? Not a bit. Vladimir sounded me and says I am
perfectly healthy. But health is not the point. That doesn't matter so
much.... Tell me, am I right?
She needed moral support. That was obvious. Masha had gone, Doctor
Blagovo was in Petersburg, and there was no one except myself in the
town, who could tell her that she was right. She fixed her eyes on me,
trying to read my inmost thoughts, and if I were sad in her presence,
she always took it upon herself and was depressed. I had to be
continually on my guard, and when she asked me if she was right, I
hastened to assure her that she was right and that I had a profound
respect for her.
You know, they have given me a part at the Azhoguins', she went
on. I wanted to act. I want to live. I want to drink deep of life; I
have no talent whatever, and my part is only ten lines, but it is
immeasurably finer and nobler than pouring out tea five times a day and
watching to see that the cook does not eat the sugar left over. And
most of all I want to let father see that I too can protest.
After tea she lay down on my bed and stayed there for some time,
with her eyes closed, and her face very pale.
Just weakness! she said, as she got up. Vladimir said all town
girls and women are anæmic from lack of work. What a clever man
Vladimir is! He is right; wonderfully right! We do need work!
Two days later she came to rehearsal at the Azhoguins' with her part
in her hand. She was in black, with a garnet necklace, and a brooch
that looked at a distance like a pasty, and she had enormous earrings,
in each of which sparkled a diamond. I felt uneasy when I saw her; I
was shocked by her lack of taste. The others noticed too that she was
unsuitably dressed and that her earrings and diamonds were out of
place. I saw their smiles and heard some one say jokingly:
Cleopatra of Egypt!
She was trying to be fashionable, and easy, and assured, and she
seemed affected and odd. She lost her simplicity and her charm.
I just told father that I was going to a rehearsal, she began,
coming up to me, and he shouted that he would take his blessing from
me, and he nearly struck me. Fancy, she added, glancing at her part,
I don't know my part. I'm sure to make a mistake. Well, the die is
cast, she said excitedly; the die is cast.
She felt that all the people were looking at her and were all amazed
at the important step she had taken and that they were all expecting
something remarkable from her, and it was impossible to convince her
that nobody took any notice of such small uninteresting persons as she
She had nothing to do until the third act, and her part, a guest, a
country gossip, consisted only in standing by the door, as if she were
overhearing something, and then speaking a short monologue. For at
least an hour and a half before her cue, while the others were walking,
reading, having tea, quarrelling, she never left me and kept on
mumbling her part, and dropping her written copy, imagining that
everybody was looking at her, and waiting for her to come on, and she
patted her hair with a trembling hand and said:
I'm sure to make a mistake.... You don't know how awful I feel! I
am as terrified as if I were going to the scaffold.
At last her cue came.
Cleopatra Alexeyevnayour cue! said the manager.
She walked on to the middle of the stage with an expression of
terror on her face; she looked ugly and stiff, and for half a minute
was speechless, perfectly motionless, except for her large earrings
which wabbled on either side of her face.
You can read your part, the first time, said some one.
I could see that she was trembling so that she could neither speak
nor open her part, and that she had entirely forgotten the words and I
had just made up my mind to go up and say something to her when she
suddenly dropped down on her knees in the middle of the stage and
There was a general stir and uproar. And I stood quite still by the
wings, shocked by what had happened, not understanding at all, not
knowing what to do. I saw them lift her up and lead her away. I saw
Aniuta Blagovo come up to me. I had not seen her in the hall before and
she seemed to have sprung up from the floor. She was wearing a hat and
veil, and as usual looked as if she had only dropped in for a minute.
I told her not to try to act, she said angrily, biting out each
word, with her cheeks blushing. It is folly! You ought to have stopped
Mrs. Azhoguin came up in a short jacket with short sleeves. She had
tobacco ash on her thin, flat bosom.
My dear, it is too awful! she said, wringing her hands, and as
usual, staring into my face. It is too awful!... Your sister is in a
condition.... She is going to have a baby! You must take her away at
In her agitation she breathed heavily. And behind her, stood her
three daughters, all thin and flat-chested like herself, and all
huddled together in their dismay. They were frightened, overwhelmed
just as if a convict had been caught in the house. What a shame! How
awful! And this was the family that had been fighting the prejudices
and superstitions of mankind all their lives; evidently they thought
that all the prejudices and superstitions of mankind were to be found
in burning three candles and in the number thirteen, or the unlucky
I must request ... request ... Mrs. Azhoguin kept on saying,
compressing her lips and accentuating the quest. I must request
you to take her away.
A little later my sister and I were walking along the street. I
covered her with the skirt of my overcoat; we hurried along through
by-streets, where there were no lamps, avoiding the passers-by, and it
was like a flight. She did not weep any more, but stared at me with dry
eyes. It was about twenty minutes' walk to Mikhokhov, whither I was
taking her, and in that short time we went over the whole of our lives,
and talked over everything, and considered the position and
We decided that we could not stay in the town, and that when I could
get some money, we would go to some other place. In some of the houses
the people were asleep already, and in others they were playing cards;
we hated those houses, were afraid of them, and we talked of the
fanaticism, callousness, and nullity of these respectable families,
these lovers of dramatic art whom we had frightened so much, and I
wondered how those stupid, cruel, slothful, dishonest people were
better than the drunken and superstitious peasants of Kurilovka, or how
they were better than animals, which also lose their heads when some
accident breaks the monotony of their lives, which are limited by their
instincts. What would happen to my sister if she stayed at home? What
moral torture would she have to undergo, talking to my father and
meeting acquaintances every day? I imagined it all and there came into
my memory people I had known who had been gradually dropped by their
friends and relations, and I remember the tortured dogs which had gone
mad, and sparrows plucked alive and thrown into the waterand a whole
long series of dull, protracted sufferings which I had seen going on in
the town since my childhood; and I could not conceive what the sixty
thousand inhabitants lived for, why they read the Bible, why they
prayed, why they skimmed books and magazines. What good was all that
had been written and said, if they were in the same spiritual darkness
and had the same hatred of freedom, as if they were living hundreds and
hundreds of years ago? The builder spends his time putting up houses
all over the town, and yet would go down to his grave saying galdary
for gallery. And the sixty thousand inhabitants had read and heard of
truth and mercy and freedom for generations, but to the bitter end they
would go on lying from morning to night, tormenting one another,
fearing and hating freedom as a deadly enemy.
And so, my fate is decided, said my sister when we reached home.
After what has happened I can never go there again. My God, how
good it is! I feel at peace.
She lay down at once. Tears shone on her eyelashes, but her
expression was happy. She slept soundly and softly, and it was clear
that her heart was easy and that she was at rest. For a long, long time
she had not slept so well.
So we began to live together. She was always singing and said she
felt very well, and I took back the books we had borrowed from the
library unread, because she gave up reading; she only wanted to dream
and to talk of the future. She would hum as she mended my clothes or
helped Karpovna with the cooking, or talk of her Vladimir, of his mind,
and his goodness, and his fine manners, and his extraordinary learning.
And I agreed with her, though I no longer liked the doctor. She wanted
to work, to be independent, and to live by herself, and she said she
would become a school-teacher or a nurse as soon as her health allowed,
and she would scrub the floors and do her own washing. She loved her
unborn baby passionately, and she knew already the colour of his eyes
and the shape of his hands and how he laughed. She liked to talk of his
upbringing, and since the best man on earth was Vladimir, all her ideas
were reduced to making the boy as charming as his father. There was no
end to her chatter, and everything she talked about filled her with a
lively joy. Sometimes I, too, rejoiced, though I knew not why.
She must have infected me with her dreaminess, for I, too, read
nothing and just dreamed. In the evenings, in spite of being tired, I
used to pace up and down the room with my hands in my pockets, talking
When do you think she will return? I used to ask my sister. I
think she'll be back at Christmas. Not later. What is she doing there?
If she doesn't write to you, it means she must be coming soon.
True, I would agree, though I knew very well that there was
nothing to make Masha return to our town.
I missed her very much, but I could not help deceiving myself and
wanted others to deceive me. My sister was longing for her doctor, I
for Masha, and we both laughed and talked and never saw that we were
keeping Karpovna from sleeping. She would lie on the stove and murmur:
The samovar tinkled this morning. Tink-led! That bodes nobody any
good, my merry friends!
Nobody came to the house except the postman who brought my sister
letters from the doctor, and Prokofyi, who used to come in sometimes in
the evening and glance secretly at my sister, and then go into the
kitchen and say:
Every class has its ways, and if you're too proud to understand
that, the worse for you in this vale of tears.
He loved the expressionvale of tears. Andabout Christmas
timewhen I was going through the market, he called me into his shop,
and without giving me his hand, declared that he had some important
business to discuss. He was red in the face with the frost and with
vodka; near him by the counter stood Nicolka of the murderous face,
holding a bloody knife in his hand.
I want to be blunt with you, began Prokofyi. This business must
not happen because, as you know, people will neither forgive you nor us
for such a vale of tears. Mother, of course, is too dutiful to say
anything unpleasant to you herself, and tell you that your sister must
go somewhere else because of her condition, but I don't want it either,
because I do not approve of her behaviour.
I understood and left the shop. That very day my sister and I went
to Radish's. We had no money for a cab, so we went on foot; I carried a
bundle with all our belongings on my back, my sister had nothing in her
hands, and she was breathless and kept coughing and asking if we would
soon be there.
At last there came a letter from Masha.
My dear, kind M. A., she wrote, my brave, sweet angel, as the old
painter calls you, good-bye. I am going to America with my father for
the exhibition. In a few days I shall be on the oceanso far from
Dubechnia. It is awful to think of! It is vast and open like the sky
and I long for it and freedom. I rejoice and dance about and you see
how incoherent my letter is. My dear Misail, give me my freedom. Quick,
tear the thread which still holds and binds us. My meeting and knowing
you was a ray from heaven, which brightened my existence. But, you
know, my becoming your wife was a mistake, and the knowledge of the
mistake weighs me down, and I implore you on my knees, my dear,
generous friend, quickquickbefore I go over the seawire that you
will agree to correct our mutual mistake, remove then the only burden
on my wings, and my father, who will be responsible for the whole
business, has promised me not to overwhelm you with formalities. So,
then, I am free of the whole world? Yes?
Be happy. God bless you. Forgive my wickedness.
I am alive and well. I am squandering money on all sorts of
follies, and every minute I thank God that such a wicked woman as I am
has no children. I am singing and I am a success, but it is not a
passing whim. No. It is my haven, my convent cell where I go for rest.
King David had a ring with an inscription: 'Everything passes.' When
one is sad, these words make one cheerful; and when one is cheerful,
they make one sad. And I have got a ring with the words written in
Hebrew, and this talisman will keep me from losing my heart and head.
Or does one need nothing but consciousness of freedom, because, when
one is free, one wants nothing, nothing, nothing. Snap the thread then.
I embrace you and your sister warmly. Forgive and forget your M.
My sister had one room. Radish, who had been ill and was recovering,
was in the other. Just as I received this letter, my sister went into
the painter's room and sat by his side and began to read to him. She
read Ostrovsky or Gogol to him every day, and he used to listen,
staring straight in front of him, never laughing, shaking his head, and
every now and then muttering to himself:
Anything may happen! Anything may happen!
If there was anything ugly in what she read, he would say
vehemently, pointing to the book:
There it is! Lies! That's what lies do!
Stories used to attract him by their contents as well as by their
moral and their skilfully complicated plot, and he used to marvel at
him, though he never called him by his name.
How well he has managed it.
Now my sister read a page quickly and then stopped, because her
breath failed her. Radish held her hand, and moving his dry lips he
said in a hoarse, hardly audible voice:
The soul of the righteous is white and smooth as chalk; and the
soul of the sinner is as a pumice-stone. The soul of the righteous is
clear oil, and the soul of the sinner is coal-tar. We must work and
sorrow and pity, he went on. And if a man does not work and sorrow he
will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Woe, woe to the well fed, woe to
the strong, woe to the rich, woe to the usurers! They will not see the
kingdom of heaven. Grubs eat grass, rust eats iron....
And lies devour the soul, said my sister, laughing.
I read the letter once more. At that moment the soldier came into
the kitchen who had brought in twice a week, without saying from whom,
tea, French bread, and pigeons, all smelling of scent. I had no work
and used to sit at home for days together, and probably the person who
sent us the bread knew that we were in want.
I heard my sister talking to the soldier and laughing merrily. Then
she lay down and ate some bread and said to me:
When you wanted to get away from the office and become a
house-painter, Aniuta Blagovo and I knew from the very beginning that
you were right, but we were afraid to say so. Tell me what power is it
that keeps us from saying what we feel? There's Aniuta Blagovo. She
loves you, adores you, and she knows that you are right. She loves me,
too, like a sister, and she knows that I am right, and in her heart she
envies me, but some power prevents her coming to see us. She avoids us.
She is afraid.
My sister folded her hands across her bosom and said rapturously:
If you only knew how she loves you! She confessed it to me and to
no one else, very hesitatingly, in the dark. She used to take me out
into the garden, into the dark, and begin to tell me in a whisper how
dear you were to her. You will see that she will never marry because
she loves you. Are you sorry for her?
It was she sent the bread. She is funny. Why should she hide
herself? I used to be silly and stupid, but I left all that and I am
not afraid of any one, and I think and say aloud what I likeand I am
happy. When I lived at home I had no notion of happiness, and now I
would not change places with a queen.
Doctor Blagovo came. He had got his diploma and was now living in
the town, at his father's, taking a rest. After which he said he would
go back to Petersburg. He wanted to devote himself to vaccination
against typhus, and, I believe, cholera; he wanted to go abroad to
increase his knowledge and then to become a University professor. He
had already left the army and wore serge clothes, with well-cut coats,
wide trousers, and expensive ties. My sister was enraptured with his
pins and studs and his red-silk handkerchief, which, out of swagger, he
wore in his outside breast-pocket. Once, when we had nothing to do, she
and I fell to counting up his suits and came to the conclusion that he
must have at least ten. It was clear that he still loved my sister, but
never once, even in joke, did he talk of taking her to Petersburg or
abroad with him, and I could not imagine what would happen to her if
she lived, or what was to become of her child. But she was happy in her
dreams and would not think seriously of the future. She said he could
go wherever he liked and even cast her aside, if only he were happy
himself, and what had been was enough for her.
Usually when he came to see us he would sound her very carefully,
and ask her to drink some milk with some medicine in it. He did so now.
He sounded her and made her drink a glass of milk, and the room began
to smell of creosote.
That's a good girl, he said, taking the glass from her. You must
not talk much, and you have been chattering like a magpie lately.
Please, be quiet.
She began to laugh and he came into Radish's room, where I was
sitting, and tapped me affectionately on the shoulder.
Well, old man, how are you? he asked, bending over the patient.
Sir, said Radish, only just moving his lips. Sir, I make so
bold.... We are all in the hands of God, and we must all die.... Let me
tell you the truth, sir.... You will never enter the kingdom of
And suddenly I lost consciousness and was caught up into a dream: it
was winter, at night, and I was standing in the yard of the
slaughter-house with Prokofyi by my side, smelling of pepper-brandy; I
pulled myself together and rubbed my eyes and then I seemed to be going
to the governor's for an explanation. Nothing of the kind ever happened
to me, before or after, and I can only explain these strange dreams
like memories, by ascribing them to overstrain of the nerves. I lived
again through the scene in the slaughter-house and the conversation
with the governor, and at the same time I was conscious of its
When I came to myself I saw that I was not at home, but standing
with the doctor by a lamp in the street.
It is sad, sad, he was saying with tears running down his cheeks.
She is happy and always laughing and full of hope. But, poor darling,
her condition is hopeless. Old Radish hates me and keeps trying to make
me understand that I have wronged her. In his way he is right, but I
have my point of view, too, and I do not repent of what has happened.
It is necessary to love. We must all love. That's true, isn't it?
Without love there would be no life, and a man who avoids and fears
love is not free.
We gradually passed to other subjects. He began to speak of science
and his dissertation which had been very well received in Petersburg.
He spoke enthusiastically and thought no more of my sister, or of his
going, or of myself. Life was carrying him away. She has America and a
ring with an inscription, I thought, and he has his medical degree and
his scientific career, and my sister and I are left with the past.
When we parted I stood beneath the lamp and read my letter again.
And I remembered vividly how she came to me at the mill that spring
morning and lay down and covered herself with my fur coatpretending
to be just a peasant woman. And another timealso in the early
morningwhen we pulled the bow-net out of the water, and the willows
on the bank showered great drops of water on us and we laughed....
All was dark in our house in Great Gentry Street. I climbed the
fence, and, as I used to do in old days, I went into the kitchen by the
back door to get a little lamp. There was nobody in the kitchen. On the
stove the samovar was singing merrily, all ready for my father. Who
pours out my father's tea now? I thought. I took the lamp and went on
to the shed and made a bed of old newspapers and lay down. The nails in
the wall looked ominous as before and their shadows flickered. It was
cold. I thought I saw my sister coming in with my supper, but I
remembered at once that she was ill at Radish's, and it seemed strange
to me that I should have climbed the fence and be lying in the cold
shed. My mind was blurred and filled with fantastic imaginations.
A bell rang; sounds familiar from childhood; first the wire rustled
along the wall, and then there was a short, melancholy tinkle in the
kitchen. It was my father returning from the club. I got up and went
into the kitchen. Akhsinya, the cook, clapped her hands when she saw me
and began to cry:
Oh, my dear, she said in a whisper. Oh, my dear! My God!
And in her agitation she began to pluck at her apron. On the
window-sill were two large bottles of berries soaking in vodka. I
poured out a cup and gulped it down, for I was very thirsty. Akhsinya
had just scrubbed the table and the chairs, and the kitchen had the
good smell which kitchens always have when the cook is clean and tidy.
This smell and the trilling of the cricket used to entice us into the
kitchen when we were children, and there we used to be told
fairy-tales, and we played at kings and queens....
And where is Cleopatra? asked Akhsinya hurriedly, breathlessly.
And where is your hat, sir? And they say your wife has gone to
She had been with us in my mother's time and used to bathe Cleopatra
and me in a tub, and we were still children to her, and it was her duty
to correct us. In a quarter of an hour or so she laid bare all her
thoughts, which she had been storing up in her quiet kitchen all the
time I had been away. She said the doctor ought to be made to marry
Cleopatrawe would only have to frighten him a bit and make him send
in a nicely written application, and then the archbishop would dissolve
his first marriage, and it would be a good thing to sell Dubechnia
without saying anything to my wife, and to bank the money in my own
name; and if my sister and I went on our knees to our father and asked
him nicely, then perhaps he would forgive us; and we ought to pray to
the Holy Mother to intercede for us....
Now, sir, go and talk to him, she said, when we heard my father's
cough. Go, speak to him, and beg his pardon. He won't bite your head
I went in. My father was sitting at his desk working on the plan of
a bungalow with Gothic windows and a stumpy tower like the lookout of a
fire-stationan immensely stiff and inartistic design. As I entered
the study I stood so that I could not help seeing the plan. I did not
know why I had come to my father, but I remember that when I saw his
thin face, red neck, and his shadow on the wall, I wanted to throw my
arms round him and, as Akhsinya had bid me, to beg his pardon humbly;
but the sight of the bungalow with the Gothic windows and the stumpy
tower stopped me.
Good evening, I said.
He glanced at me and at once cast his eyes down on his plan.
What do you want? he asked after a while.
I came to tell you that my sister is very ill. She is dying, I
Well? My father sighed, took off his spectacles and laid them on
the table. As you have sown, so you must reap. I want you to remember
how you came to me two years ago, and on this very spot I asked you to
give up your delusions, and I reminded you of your honour, your duty,
your obligations to your ancestors, whose traditions must be kept
sacred. Did you listen to me? You spurned my advice and clung to your
wicked opinions; furthermore, you dragged your sister into your
abominable delusions and brought about her downfall and her shame. Now
you are both suffering for it. As you have sown, so you must reap.
He paced up and down the study as he spoke. Probably he thought that
I had come to him to admit that I was wrong, and probably he was
waiting for me to ask his help for my sister and myself. I was cold,
but I shook as though I were in a fever, and I spoke with difficulty in
a hoarse voice.
And I must ask you to remember, I said, that on this very spot I
implored you to try to understand me, to reflect, and to think what we
were living for and to what end, and your answer was to talk about my
ancestors and my grandfather who wrote verses. Now you are told that
your only daughter is in a hopeless condition and you talk of ancestors
and traditions!... And you can maintain such frivolity when death is
near and you have only five or ten years left to live!
Why did you come here? asked my father sternly, evidently
affronted at my reproaching him with frivolity.
I don't know. I love you. I am more sorry than I can say that we
are so far apart. That is why I came. I still love you, but my sister
has finally broken with you. She does not forgive you and will never
forgive you. Your very name fills her with hatred of her past life.
And who is to blame? cried my father. You, you scoundrel!
Yes. Say that I am to blame, I said. I admit that I am to blame
for many things, but why is your life, which you have tried to force on
us, so tedious and frigid, and ungracious, why are there no people in
any of the houses you have built during the last thirty years from whom
I could learn how to live and how to avoid such suffering? These houses
of yours are infernal dungeons in which mothers and daughters are
persecuted, children are tortured.... My poor mother! My unhappy
sister! One needs to drug oneself with vodka, cards, scandal; cringe,
play the hypocrite, and go on year after year designing rotten houses,
not to see the horror that lurks in them. Our town has been in
existence for hundreds of years, and during the whole of that time it
has not given the country one useful mannot one! You have strangled
in embryo everything that was alive and joyous! A town of shopkeepers,
publicans, clerks, and hypocrites, an aimless, futile town, and not a
soul would be the worse if it were suddenly razed to the ground.
I don't want to hear you, you scoundrel, said my father, taking a
ruler from his desk. You are drunk! You dare come into your father's
presence in such a state! I tell you for the last time, and you can
tell this to your strumpet of a sister, that you will get nothing from
me. I have torn my disobedient children out of my heart, and if they
suffer through their disobedience and obstinacy I have no pity for
them. You may go back where you came from! God has been pleased to
punish me through you. I will humbly bear my punishment and, like Job,
I find consolation in suffering and unceasing toil. You shall not cross
my threshold until you have mended your ways. I am a just man, and
everything I say is practical good sense, and if you had any regard for
yourself, you would remember what I have said, and what I am saying
I threw up my hands and went out; I do not remember what happened
that night or next day.
They say that I went staggering through the street without a hat,
singing aloud, with crowds of little boys shouting after me:
Little Profit! Little Profit!
If I wanted to order a ring, I would have it inscribed: Nothing
passes. I believe that nothing passes without leaving some trace, and
that every little step has some meaning for the present and the future
What I lived through was not in vain. My great misfortunes, my
patience, moved the hearts of the people of the town and they no longer
call me Little Profit, they no longer laugh at me and throw water
over me as I walk through the market. They got used to my being a
working man and see nothing strange in my carrying paint-pots and
glazing windows; on the contrary, they give me orders, and I am
considered a good workman and the best contractor, after Radish, who,
though he recovered and still paints the cupolas of the church without
scaffolding, is not strong enough to manage the men, and I have taken
his place and go about the town touting for orders, and take on and
sack the men, and lend money at exorbitant interest. And now that I am
a contractor I can understand how it is possible to spend several days
hunting through the town for slaters to carry out a trifling order.
People are polite to me, and address me respectfully and give me tea in
the houses where I work, and send the servant to ask me if I would like
dinner. Children and girls often come and watch me with curious, sad
Once I was working in the governor's garden, painting the
summer-house marble. The governor came into the summer-house, and
having nothing better to do, began to talk to me, and I reminded him
how he had once sent for me to caution me. For a moment he stared at my
face, opened his mouth like a round O, waved his hands, and said:
I don't remember.
I am growing old, taciturn, crotchety, strict; I seldom laugh, and
people say I am growing like Radish, and, like him, I bore the men with
my aimless moralising.
Maria Victorovna, my late wife, lives abroad, and her father is
making a railway somewhere in the Eastern provinces and buying land
there. Doctor Blagovo is also abroad. Dubechnia has passed to Mrs.
Cheprakov, who bought it from the engineer after haggling him into a
twenty-per-cent reduction in the price. Moissey walks about in a bowler
hat; he often drives into town in a trap and stops outside the bank.
People say he has already bought an estate on a mortgage, and is always
inquiring at the bank about Dubechnia, which he also intends to buy.
Poor Ivan Cheprakov used to hang about the town, doing nothing and
drinking. I tried to give him a job in our business, and for a time he
worked with us painting roofs and glazing, and he rather took to it,
and, like a regular house-painter, he stole the oil, and asked for
tips, and got drunk. But it soon bored him. He got tired of it and went
back to Dubechnia, and some time later I was told by the peasants that
he had been inciting them to kill Moissey one night and rob Mrs.
My father has got very old and bent, and just takes a little walk in
the evening near his house.
When we had the cholera, Prokofyi cured the shopkeepers with
pepper-brandy and tar and took money for it, and as I read in the
newspaper, he was flogged for libelling the doctors as he sat in his
shop. His boy Nicolka died of cholera. Karpovna is still alive, and
still loves and fears her Prokofyi. Whenever she sees me she sadly
shakes her head and says with a sigh:
Poor thing. You are lost!
On week-days I am busy from early morning till late at night. And on
Sundays and holidays I take my little niece (my sister expected a boy,
but a girl was born) and go with her to the cemetery, where I stand or
sit and look at the grave of my dear one, and tell the child that her
mother is lying there.
Sometimes I find Aniuta Blagovo by the grave. We greet each other
and stand silently, or we talk of Cleopatra, and the child, and the
sadness of this life. Then we leave the cemetery and walk in silence
and she lags behindon purpose, to avoid staying with me. The little
girl, joyful, happy, with her eyes half-closed against the brilliant
sunlight, laughs and holds out her little hands to her, and we stop and
together we fondle the darling child.
And when we reach the town, Aniuta Blagovo, blushing and agitated,
says good-bye, and walks on alone, serious and circumspect.... And, to
look at her, none of the passers-by could imagine that she had just
been walking by my side and even fondling the child.