Knock, Knock, Knock and other stories
by Ivan Turgenev
Translated From The Russian By Constance Garnett
KNOCK. A STUDY
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK. A STUDY
We all settled down in a circle and our good friend Alexandr
Vassilyevitch Ridel (his surname was German but he was Russian to the
marrow of his bones) began as follows:
I am going to tell you a story, friends, of something that happened
to me in the 'thirties ... forty years ago as you see. I will be
brief—and don't you interrupt me.
I was living at the time in Petersburg and had only just left the
University. My brother was a lieutenant in the horse-guard artillery.
His battery was stationed at Krasnoe Selo—it was summer time. My
brother lodged not at Krasnoe Selo itself but in one of the
neighbouring villages; I stayed with him more than once and made the
acquaintance of all his comrades. He was living in a fairly decent
cottage, together with another officer of his battery, whose name was
Ilya Stepanitch Tyeglev. I became particularly friendly with him.
Marlinsky is out of date now—no one reads him—and even his name is
jeered at; but in the 'thirties his fame was above everyone's—and in
the opinion of the young people of the day Pushkin could not hold
candle to him. He not only enjoyed the reputation of being the foremost
Russian writer; but—something much more difficult and more rarely met
with—he did to some extent leave his mark on his generation. One came
across heroes à la Marlinsky everywhere, especially in the
provinces and especially among infantry and artillery men; they talked
and corresponded in his language; behaved with gloomy reserve in
society—“with tempest in the soul and flame in the blood” like
Lieutenant Byelosov in the “Frigate Hope.” Women's hearts were
“devoured” by them. The adjective applied to them in those days was
“fatal.” The type, as we all know, survived for many years, to the days
of Petchorin. [Footnote: The leading character in Lermontov's A Hero
of Our Time.—Translator's Note.] All sorts of elements were
mingled in that type. Byronism, romanticism, reminiscences of the
French Revolution, of the Dekabrists—and the worship of Napoleon;
faith in destiny, in one's star, in strength of will; pose and fine
phrases—and a miserable sense of the emptiness of life; uneasy pangs
of petty vanity—and genuine strength and daring; generous
impulses—and defective education, ignorance; aristocratic airs—and
delight in trivial foppery.... But enough of these general reflections.
I promised to tell you the story.
Lieutenant Tyeglev belonged precisely to the class of those “fatal"
individuals, though he did not possess the exterior commonly associated
with them; he was not, for instance, in the least like Lermontov's
“fatalist.” He was a man of medium height, fairly solid and
round-shouldered, with fair, almost white eyebrows and eyelashes; he
had a round, fresh, rosy-cheeked face, a turn-up nose, a low forehead
with the hair growing thick over the temples, and full, well-shaped,
always immobile lips: he never laughed, never even smiled. Only when he
was tired and out of heart he showed his square teeth, white as sugar.
The same artificial immobility was imprinted on all his features: had
it not been for that, they would have had a good-natured expression.
His small green eyes with yellow lashes were the only thing not quite
ordinary in his face: his right eye was very slightly higher than his
left and the left eyelid drooped a little, which made his eyes look
different, strange and drowsy. Tyeglev's countenance, which was not,
however, without a certain attractiveness, almost always wore an
expression of discontent mingled with perplexity, as though he were
chasing within himself a gloomy thought which he was never able to
catch. At the same time he did not give one the impression of being
stuck up: he might rather have been taken for an aggrieved than a
haughty man. He spoke very little, hesitatingly, in a husky voice, with
unnecessary repetitions. Unlike most “fatalists,” he did not use
particularly elaborate expressions in speaking and only had recourse to
them in writing; his handwriting was quite like a child's. His
superiors regarded him as an officer of no great merit—not
particularly capable and not over-zealous. The brigadier-general, a man
of German extraction, used to say of him: “He has punctuality but not
precision.” With the soldiers, too, Tyeglev had the character of being
neither one thing nor the other. He lived modestly, in accordance with
his means. He had been left an orphan at nine years old: his father and
mother were drowned when they were being ferried across the Oka in the
spring floods. He had been educated at a private school, where he had
the reputation of being one of the slowest and quietest of the boys,
and at his own earnest desire and through the good offices of a cousin
who was a man of influence, he obtained a commission in the
horse-guards artillery; and, though with some difficulty, passed his
examination first as an ensign and then as a second lieutenant. His
relations with other officers were somewhat strained. He was not liked,
was rarely visited—and he hardly went to see anyone. He felt the
presence of strangers a constraint; he instantly became awkward and
unnatural ... he had no instinct for comradeship and was not on really
intimate terms with anyone. But he was respected, and respected not for
his character nor for his intelligence and education—but because the
stamp which distinguishes “fatal” people was discerned in him. No one
of his fellow officers expected that Tyeglev would make a career or
distinguish himself in any way; but that Tyeglev might do something
extraordinary or that Tyeglev might become a Napoleon was not
considered impossible. For that is a matter of a man's “star”—and he
was regarded as a “man of destiny,” just as there are “men of sighs"
and “of tears.”
Two incidents that marked the first steps in his career did a great
deal to strengthen his “fatal” reputation. On the very first day after
receiving his commission—about the middle of March—he was walking
with other newly promoted officers in full dress uniform along the
embankment. The spring had come early that year, the Neva was melting;
the bigger blocks of ice had gone but the whole river was choked up
with a dense mass of thawing icicles. The young men were talking and
laughing ... suddenly one of them stopped: he saw a little dog some
twenty paces from the bank on the slowly moving surface of the river.
Perched on a projecting piece of ice it was whining and trembling all
over. “It will be drowned,” said the officer through his teeth. The dog
was slowly being carried past one of the sloping gangways that led down
to the river. All at once Tyeglev without saying a word ran down this
gangway and over the thin ice, sinking in and leaping out again,
reached the dog, seized it by the scruff of the neck and getting safely
back to the bank, put it down on the pavement. The danger to which
Tyeglev had exposed himself was so great, his action was so unexpected,
that his companions were dumbfoundered—and only spoke all at once,
when he had called a cab to drive home: his uniform was wet all over.
In response to their exclamations, Tyeglev replied coolly that there
was no escaping one's destiny—and told the cabman to drive on.
“You might at least take the dog with you as a souvenir,” cried one
of the officers. But Tyeglev merely waved his hand, and his comrades
looked at each other in silent amazement.
The second incident occurred a few days later, at a card party at the
battery commander's. Tyeglev sat in the corner and took no part in the
play. “Oh, if only I had a grandmother to tell me beforehand what cards
will win, as in Pushkin's Queen of Spades,” cried a lieutenant
whose losses had nearly reached three thousand. Tyeglev approached the
table in silence, took up a pack, cut it, and saying “the six of
diamonds,” turned the pack up: the six of diamonds was the bottom card.
“The ace of clubs!” he said and cut again: the bottom card turned out
to be the ace of clubs. “The king of diamonds!” he said for the third
time in an angry whisper through his clenched teeth—and he was right
the third time, too ... and he suddenly turned crimson. He probably had
not expected it himself. “A capital trick! Do it again,” observed the
commanding officer of the battery. “I don't go in for tricks,” Tyeglev
answered drily and walked into the other room. How it happened that he
guessed the card right, I can't pretend to explain: but I saw it with
my own eyes. Many of the players present tried to do the same—and not
one of them succeeded: one or two did guess one card but never
two in succession. And Tyeglev had guessed three! This incident
strengthened still further his reputation as a mysterious, fatal
character. It has often occurred to me since that if he had not
succeeded in the trick with the cards, there is no knowing what turn it
would have taken and how he would have looked at himself; but this
unexpected success clinched the matter.
It may well be understood that Tyeglev clutched at this reputation.
It gave him a special significance, a special colour ... “Cela le
posait,” as the French express it—and with his limited
intelligence, scanty education and immense vanity, such a reputation
just suited him. It was difficult to acquire it but to keep it up cost
nothing: he had only to remain silent and hold himself aloof. But it
was not owing to this reputation that I made friends with Tyeglev and,
I may say, grew fond of him. I liked him in the first place because I
was rather an unsociable creature myself—and saw in him one of my own
sort, and secondly, because he was a very good-natured fellow and in
reality, very simple-hearted. He aroused in me a feeling of something
like compassion; it seemed to me that apart from his affected
“fatality,” he really was weighed down by a tragic fate which he did
not himself suspect. I need hardly say I did not express this feeling
to him: could anything be more insulting to a “fatal” hero than to be
an object of pity? And Tyeglev, on his side, was well-disposed to me;
with me he felt at ease, with me he used to talk—in my presence he
ventured to leave the strange pedestal on which he had been placed
either by his own efforts or by chance. Agonisingly, morbidly vain as
he was, yet he was probably aware in the depths of his soul that there
was nothing to justify his vanity, and that others might perhaps look
down on him ... but I, a boy of nineteen, put no constraint on him; the
dread of saying something stupid, inappropriate, did not oppress his
ever-apprehensive heart in my presence. He sometimes even chattered
freely; and well it was for him that no one heard his chatter except
me! His reputation would not have lasted long. He not only knew very
little, but read hardly anything and confined himself to picking up
stories and anecdotes of a certain kind. He believed in presentiments,
predictions, omens, meetings, lucky and unlucky days, in the
persecution and benevolence of destiny, in the mysterious significance
of life, in fact. He even believed in certain “climacteric” years which
someone had mentioned in his presence and the meaning of which he did
not himself very well understand. “Fatal” men of the true stamp ought
not to betray such beliefs: they ought to inspire them in others....
But I was the only one who knew Tyeglev on that side.
One day—I remember it was St. Elijah's day, July 20th—I came to
stay with my brother and did not find him at home: he had been ordered
off for a whole week somewhere. I did not want to go back to
Petersburg; I sauntered about the neighbouring marshes, killed a brace
of snipe and spent the evening with Tyeglev under the shelter of an
empty barn where he had, as he expressed it, set up his summer
residence. We had a little conversation but for the most part drank
tea, smoked pipes and talked sometimes to our host, a Russianised Finn
or to the pedlar who used to hang about the battery selling “fi-ine
oranges and lemons,” a charming and lively person who in addition to
other talents could play the guitar and used to tell us of the unhappy
love which he cherished in his young days for the daughter of a
policeman. Now that he was older, this Don Juan in a gay cotton shirt
had no experience of unsuccessful love affairs. Before the doors of our
barn stretched a wide plain gradually sloping away in the distance; a
little river gleamed here and there in the winding hollows; low growing
woods could be seen further on the horizon. Night was coming on and we
were left alone. As night fell a fine damp mist descended upon the
earth, and, growing thicker and thicker, passed into a dense fog. The
moon rose up into the sky; the fog was soaked through and through and,
as it were, shimmering with golden light. Everything was strangely
shifting, veiled and confused; the faraway looked near, the near looked
far away, what was big looked small and what was small looked big ...
everything became dim and full of light. We seemed to be in fairyland,
in a world of whitish-golden mist, deep stillness, delicate sleep....
And how mysteriously, like sparks of silver, the stars filtered through
the mist! We were both silent. The fantastic beauty of the night worked
upon us: it put us into the mood for the fantastic.
Tyeglev was the first to speak and talked with his usual hesitating
incompleted sentences and repetitions about presentiments ... about
ghosts. On exactly such a night, according to him, one of his friends,
a student who had just taken the place of tutor to two orphans and was
sleeping with them in a lodge in the garden, saw a woman's figure
bending over their beds and next day recognised the figure in a
portrait of the mother of the orphans which he had not previously
noticed. Then Tyeglev told me that his parents had heard for several
days before their death the sound of rushing water; that his
grandfather had been saved from death in the battle of Borodino through
suddenly stooping down to pick up a simple grey pebble at the very
instant when a volley of grape-shot flew over his head and broke his
long black plume. Tyeglev even promised to show me the very pebble
which had saved his grandfather and which he had mounted into a
medallion. Then he talked of the lofty destination of every man and of
his own in particular and added that he still believed in it and that
if he ever had any doubts on that subject he would know how to be rid
of them and of his life, as life would then lose all significance for
him. “You imagine perhaps,” he brought out, glancing askance at me,
“that I shouldn't have the spirit to do it? You don't know me ... I
have a will of iron.”
“Well said,” I thought to myself.
Tyeglev pondered, heaved a deep sigh and dropping his chibouk out of
his hand, informed me that that day was a very important one for him.
“This is the prophet Elijah's day—my name day.... It is ... it is
always for me a difficult time.”
I made no answer and only looked at him as he sat facing me, bent,
round-shouldered, and clumsy, with his drowsy, lustreless eyes fixed on
“An old beggar woman” (Tyeglev never let a single beggar pass without
giving alms) “told me to-day,” he went on, “that she would pray for my
soul.... Isn't that strange?”
“Why does the man want to be always bothering about himself!” I
thought again. I must add, however, that of late I had begun noticing
an unusual expression of anxiety and uneasiness on Tyeglev's face, and
it was not a “fatal” melancholy: something really was fretting and
worrying him. On this occasion, too, I was struck by the dejected
expression of his face. Were not those very doubts of which he had
spoken to me beginning to assail him? Tyeglev's comrades had told me
that not long before he had sent to the authorities a project for some
reforms in the artillery department and that the project had been
returned to him “with a comment,” that is, a reprimand. Knowing his
character, I had no doubt that such contemptuous treatment by his
superior officers had deeply mortified him. But the change that I
fancied I saw in Tyeglev was more like sadness and there was a more
personal note about it.
“It's getting damp, though,” he brought out at last and he shrugged
his shoulders. “Let us go into the hut—and it's bed-time, too.” He had
the habit of shrugging his shoulders and turning his head from side to
side, putting his right hand to his throat as he did so, as though his
cravat were constricting it. Tyeglev's character was expressed, so at
least it seemed to me, in this uneasy and nervous movement. He, too,
felt constricted in the world.
We went back into the hut, and both lay down on benches, he in the
corner facing the door and I on the opposite side.
Tyeglev was for a long time turning from side to side on his bench
and I could not get to sleep, either. Whether his stories had excited
my nerves or the strange night had fevered my blood—anyway, I could
not go to sleep. All inclination for sleep disappeared at last and I
lay with my eyes open and thought, thought intensely, goodness knows of
what; of most senseless trifles—as always happens when one is
sleepless. Turning from side to side I stretched out my hands.... My
finger hit one of the beams of the wall. It emitted a faint but
resounding, and as it were, prolonged note.... I must have struck a
I tapped again ... this time on purpose. The same sound was repeated.
I knocked again.... All at once Tyeglev raised his head.
“Ridel!” he said, “do you hear? Someone is knocking under the
I pretended to be asleep. The fancy suddenly took me to play a trick
at the expense of my “fatal” friend. I could not sleep, anyway.
He let his head sink on the pillow. I waited for a little and again
knocked three times in succession.
Tyeglev sat up again and listened. I tapped again. I was lying facing
him but he could not see my hand.... I put it behind me under the
“Ridel!” cried Tyeglev.
I did not answer.
“Ridel!” he repeated loudly. “Ridel!”
“Eh? What is it?” I said as though just waking up.
“Don't you hear, someone keeps knocking under the window, wants to
come in, I suppose.”
“Some passer-by,” I muttered.
“Then we must let him in or find out who it is.”
But I made no answer, pretending to be asleep.
Several minutes passed.... I tapped again. Tyeglev sat up at once and
“Knock ... knock ... knock! Knock ... knock ... knock!”
Through my half-closed eyelids in the whitish light of the night I
could distinctly see every movement he made. He turned his face first
to the window then to the door. It certainly was difficult to make out
where the sound came from: it seemed to float round the room, to glide
along the walls. I had accidentally hit upon a kind of sounding board.
“Ridel!” cried Tyeglev at last, “Ridel! Ridel!”
“Why, what is it?” I asked, yawning.
“Do you mean to say you don't hear anything? There is someone
“Well, what if there is?” I answered and again pretended to be asleep
and even snored.
“Knock ... knock ... knock!”
“Who is there?” Tyeglev shouted. “Come in!”
No one answered, of course.
“Knock ... knock ... knock!”
Tyeglev jumped out of bed, opened the window and thrusting out his
head, cried wildly, “Who is there? Who is knocking?” Then he opened the
door and repeated his question. A horse neighed in the distance—that
He went back towards his bed.
“Knock ... knock ... knock!”
Tyeglev instantly turned round and sat down.
“Knock ... knock ... knock!”
He rapidly put on his boots, threw his overcoat over his shoulders
and unhooking his sword from the wall, went out of the hut. I heard him
walk round it twice, asking all the time, “Who is there? Who goes
there? Who is knocking?” Then he was suddenly silent, stood still
outside near the corner where I was lying and without uttering another
word, came back into the hut and lay down without taking off his boots
“Knock ... knock ... knock!” I began again. “Knock ... knock ...
But Tyeglev did not stir, did not ask who was knocking, and merely
propped his head on his hand.
Seeing that this no longer acted, after an interval I pretended to
wake up and, looking at Tyeglev, assumed an air of astonishment.
“Have you been out?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered unconcernedly.
“Did you still hear the knocking?”
“And you met no one?”
“And did the knocking stop?”
“I don't know. I don't care now.”
“Now? Why now?”
Tyeglev did not answer.
I felt a little ashamed and a little vexed with him. I could not
bring myself to acknowledge my prank, however.
“Do you know what?” I began, “I am convinced that it was all your
Tyeglev frowned. “Ah, you think so!”
“You say you heard a knocking?”
“It was not only knocking I heard.”
“Why, what else?”
Tyeglev bent forward and bit his lips. He was evidently hesitating.
“I was called!” he brought out at last in a low voice and turned away
“You were called? Who called you?”
“Someone....” Tyeglev still looked away. “A woman whom I had hitherto
only believed to be dead ... but now I know it for certain.”
“I swear, Ilya Stepanitch,” I cried, “this is all your imagination!”
“Imagination?” he repeated. “Would you like to hear it for yourself?”
“Then come outside.”
I hurriedly dressed and went out of the hut with Tyeglev. On the side
opposite to it there were no houses, nothing but a low hurdle fence
broken down in places, beyond which there was a rather sharp slope down
to the plain. Everything was still shrouded in mist and one could
scarcely see anything twenty paces away. Tyeglev and I went up to the
hurdle and stood still.
“Here,” he said and bowed his head. “Stand still, keep quiet and
Like him I strained my ears, and I heard nothing except the ordinary,
extremely faint but universal murmur, the breathing of the night.
Looking at each other in silence from time to time we stood motionless
for several minutes and were just on the point of going on.
“Ilyusha...” I fancied I heard a whisper from behind the hurdle.
I glanced at Tyeglev but he seemed to have heard nothing—and still
held his head bowed.
“Ilyusha ... ah, Ilyusha,” sounded more distinctly than before—so
distinctly that one could tell that the words were uttered by a woman.
We both started and stared at each other.
“Well?” Tyeglev asked me in a whisper. “You won't doubt it now, will
“Wait a minute,” I answered as quietly. “It proves nothing. We must
look whether there isn't anyone. Some practical joker....”
I jumped over the fence—and went in the direction from which, as far
as I could judge, the voice came.
I felt the earth soft and crumbling under my feet; long ridges
stretched before me vanishing into the mist. I was in the kitchen
garden. But nothing was stirring around me or before me. Everything
seemed spellbound in the numbness of sleep. I went a few steps further.
“Who is there?” I cried as wildly as Tyeglev had.
“Prrr-r-r!” a startled corn-crake flew up almost under my feet and
flew away as straight as a bullet. Involuntarily I started.... What
I looked back. Tyeglev was in sight at the spot where I left him. I
went towards him.
“You will call in vain,” he said. “That voice has come to us—to
me—from far away.”
He passed his hand over his face and with slow steps crossed the road
towards the hut. But I did not want to give in so quickly and went back
into the kitchen garden. That someone really had three times called
“Ilyusha” I could not doubt; that there was something plaintive and
mysterious in the call, I was forced to own to myself.... But who
knows, perhaps all this only appeared to be unaccountable and in
reality could be explained as simply as the knocking which had agitated
Tyeglev so much.
I walked along beside the fence, stopping from time to time and
looking about me. Close to the fence, at no great distance from our
hut, there stood an old leafy willow tree; it stood out, a big dark
patch, against the whiteness of the mist all round, that dim whiteness
which perplexes and deadens the sight more than darkness itself. All at
once it seemed to me that something alive, fairly big, stirred on the
ground near the willow. Exclaiming “Stop! Who is there?” I rushed
forward. I heard scurrying footsteps, like a hare's; a crouching figure
whisked by me, whether man or woman I could not tell.... I tried to
clutch at it but did not succeed; I stumbled, fell down and stung my
face against a nettle. As I was getting up, leaning on the ground, I
felt something rough under my hand: it was a chased brass comb on a
cord, such as peasants wear on their belt.
Further search led to nothing—and I went back to the hut with the
comb in my hand, and my cheeks tingling.
I found Tyeglev sitting on the bench. A candle was burning on the
table before him and he was writing something in a little album which
he always had with him. Seeing me, he quickly put the album in his
pocket and began filling his pipe.
“Look here, my friend,” I began, “what a trophy I have brought back
from my expedition!” I showed him the comb and told him what had
happened to me near the willow. “I must have startled a thief,” I
added. “You heard a horse was stolen from our neighbour yesterday?”
Tyeglev smiled frigidly and lighted his pipe. I sat down beside him.
“And do you still believe, Ilya Stepanitch,” I said, “that the voice
we heard came from those unknown realms....”
He stopped me with a peremptory gesture.
“Ridel,” he began, “I am in no mood for jesting, and so I beg you not
He certainly was in no mood for jesting. His face was changed. It
looked paler, longer and more expressive. His strange, “different” eyes
kept shifting from one object to another.
“I never thought,” he began again, “that I should reveal to another
... another man what you are about to hear and what ought to have died
... yes, died, hidden in my breast; but it seems it is to be—and
indeed I have no choice. It is destiny! Listen.”
And he told me a long story.
I have mentioned already that he was a poor hand at telling stories,
but it was not only his lack of skill in describing events that had
happened to him that impressed me that night; the very sound of his
voice, his glances, the movements which he made with his fingers and
his hands—everything about him, indeed, seemed unnatural, unnecessary,
false, in fact. I was very young and inexperienced in those days and
did not know that the habit of high-flown language and falsity of
intonation and manner may become so ingrained in a man that he is
incapable of shaking it off: it is a sort of curse. Later in life I
came across a lady who described to me the effect on her of her son's
death, of her “boundless” grief, of her fears for her reason, in such
exaggerated language, with such theatrical gestures, such melodramatic
movements of her head and rolling of her eyes, that I thought to
myself, “How false and affected that lady is! She did not love her son
at all!” And a week afterwards I heard that the poor woman had really
gone out of her mind. Since then I have become much more careful in my
judgments and have had far less confidence in my own impressions.
The story which Tyeglev told me was, briefly, as follows. He had
living in Petersburg, besides his influential uncle, an aunt, not
influential but wealthy. As she had no children of her own she had
adopted a little girl, an orphan, of the working class, given her a
liberal education and treated her like a daughter. She was called
Masha. Tyeglev saw her almost every day. It ended in their falling in
love with one another and Masha's giving herself to him. This was
discovered. Tyeglev's aunt was fearfully incensed, she turned the
luckless girl out of her house in disgrace, and moved to Moscow where
she adopted a young lady of noble birth and made her her heiress. On
her return to her own relations, poor and drunken people, Masha's lot
was a bitter one. Tyeglev had promised to marry her and did not keep
his promise. At his last interview with her, he was forced to speak
out: she wanted to know the truth and wrung it out of him. “Well,” she
said, “if I am not to be your wife, I know what there is left for me to
do.” More than a fortnight had passed since that last interview.
“I never for a moment deceived myself as to the meaning of her last
words,” added Tyeglev. “I am certain that she has put an end to her
life and ... and that it was her voice, that it was she
calling me ... to follow her there ... I recognised her
voice.... Well, there is but one end to it.”
“But why didn't you marry her, Ilya Stepanitch?” I asked. “You ceased
to love her?”
“No; I still love her passionately.”
At this point I stared at Tyeglev. I remembered another friend of
mine, a very intelligent man, who had a very plain wife, neither
intelligent nor rich and was very unhappy in his marriage. When someone
in my presence asked him why he had married and suggested that it was
probably for love, he answered, “Not for love at all. It simply
happened.” And in this case Tyeglev loved a girl passionately and did
not marry her. Was it for the same reason, then?
“Why don't you marry her, then?” I asked again.
Tyeglev's strange, drowsy eyes strayed over the table.
“There is ... no answering that ... in a few words,” he began,
hesitating. “There were reasons.... And besides, she was ... a
working-class girl. And then there is my uncle.... I was obliged to
consider him, too.”
“Your uncle?” I cried. “But what the devil do you want with your
uncle whom you never see except at the New Year when you go to
congratulate him? Are you reckoning on his money? But he has got a
dozen children of his own!”
I spoke with heat.... Tyeglev winced and flushed ... flushed
unevenly, in patches.
“Don't lecture me, if you please,” he said dully. “I don't justify
myself, however. I have ruined her life and now I must pay the
His head sank and he was silent. I found nothing to say, either.
So we sat for a quarter of an hour. He looked away—I looked at
him—and I noticed that the hair stood up and curled above his forehead
in a peculiar way, which, so I have heard from an army doctor who had
had a great many wounded pass through his hands, is always a symptom of
intense overheating of the brain.... The thought struck me again that
fate really had laid a heavy hand on this man and that his comrades
were right in seeing something “fatal” in him. And yet inwardly I
blamed him. “A working-class girl!” I thought, “a fine sort of
aristocrat you are yourself!”
“Perhaps you blame me, Ridel,” Tyeglev began suddenly, as though
guessing what I was thinking. “I am very ... unhappy myself. But what
to do? What to do?”
He leaned his chin on his hand and began biting the broad flat nails
of his short, red fingers, hard as iron.
“What I think, Ilya Stepanitch, is that you ought first to make
certain whether your suppositions are correct.... Perhaps your lady
love is alive and well.” (“Shall I tell him the real explanation of the
taps?” flashed through my mind. “No—later.”)
“She has not written to me since we have been in camp,” observed
“That proves nothing, Ilya Stepanitch.”
Tyeglev waved me off. “No! she is certainly not in this world. She
He suddenly turned to the window. “Someone is knocking again!”
I could not help laughing. “No, excuse me, Ilya Stepanitch! This time
it is your nerves. You see, it is getting light. In ten minutes the sun
will be up—it is past three o'clock—and ghosts have no power in the
Tyeglev cast a gloomy glance at me and muttering through his teeth
“good-bye,” lay down on the bench and turned his back on me.
I lay down, too, and before I fell asleep I remember I wondered why
Tyeglev was always hinting at ... suicide. What nonsense! What humbug!
Of his own free will he had refused to marry her, had cast her off ...
and now he wanted to kill himself! There was no sense in it! He could
not resist posing!
With these thoughts I fell into a sound sleep and when I opened my
eyes the sun was already high in the sky—and Tyeglev was not in the
He had, so his servant said, gone to the town.
I spent a very dull and wearisome day. Tyeglev did not return to
dinner nor to supper; I did not expect my brother. Towards evening a
thick fog came on again, thicker even than the day before. I went to
bed rather early. I was awakened by a knocking under the window.
It was my turn to be startled!
The knock was repeated and so insistently distinct that one could
have no doubt of its reality. I got up, opened the window and saw
Tyeglev. Wrapped in his great-coat, with his cap pulled over his eyes,
he stood motionless.
“Ilya Stepanitch!” I cried, “is that you? I gave up expecting you.
Come in. Is the door locked?”
Tyeglev shook his head. “I do not intend to come in,” he pronounced
in a hollow tone. “I only want to ask you to give this letter to the
commanding officer to-morrow.”
He gave me a big envelope sealed with five seals. I was
astonished—however, I took the envelope mechanically. Tyeglev at once
walked away into the middle of the road.
“Stop! stop!” I began. “Where are you going? Have you only just come?
And what is the letter?”
“Do you promise to deliver it?” said Tyeglev, and moved away a few
steps further. The fog blurred the outlines of his figure. “Do you
“I promise ... but first—”
Tyeglev moved still further away and became a long dark blur.
“Good-bye,” I heard his voice. “Farewell, Ridel, don't remember evil
against me.... And don't forget Semyon....”
And the blur itself vanished.
This was too much. “Oh, the damned poseur,” I thought. “You
must always be straining after effect!” I felt uneasy, however; an
involuntary fear clutched at my heart. I flung on my great-coat and ran
out into the road.
Yes; but where was I to go? The fog enveloped me on all sides. For
five or six steps all round it was a little transparent—but further
away it stood up like a wall, thick and white like cotton wool. I
turned to the right along the village street; our house was the last
but one in the village and beyond it came waste land overgrown here and
there with bushes; beyond the waste land, a quarter of a mile from the
village, there was a birch copse through which flowed the same little
stream that lower down encircled our village. The moon stood, a pale
blur in the sky—but its light was not, as on the evening before,
strong enough to penetrate the smoky density of the fog and hung, a
broad opaque canopy, overhead. I made my way out on to the open ground
and listened.... Not a sound from any direction, except the calling of
the marsh birds.
“Tyeglev!” I cried. “Ilya Stepanitch!! Tyeglev!!”
My voice died away near me without an answer; it seemed as though the
fog would not let it go further. “Tyeglev!” I repeated.
No one answered.
I went forward at random. Twice I struck against a fence, once I
nearly fell into a ditch, and almost stumbled against a peasant's horse
lying on the ground. “Tyeglev! Tyeglev!” I cried.
All at once, almost behind me, I heard a low voice, “Well, here I am.
What do you want of me?”
I turned round quickly.
Before me stood Tyeglev with his hands hanging at his sides and with
no cap on his head. His face was pale; but his eyes looked animated and
bigger than usual. His breathing came in deep, prolonged gasps through
his parted lips.
“Thank God!” I cried in an outburst of joy, and I gripped him by both
hands. “Thank God! I was beginning to despair of finding you. Aren't
you ashamed of frightening me like this? Upon my word, Ilya
“What do you want of me?” repeated Tyeglev.
“I want ... I want you, in the first place, to come back home with
me. And secondly, I want, I insist, I insist as a friend, that you
explain to me at once the meaning of your actions—and of this letter
to the colonel. Can something unexpected have happened to you in
“I found in Petersburg exactly what I expected,” answered Tyeglev,
without moving from the spot.
“That is ... you mean to say ... your friend ... this Masha....”
“She has taken her life,” Tyeglev answered hurriedly and as it were
angrily. “She was buried the day before yesterday. She did not even
leave a note for me. She poisoned herself.”
Tyeglev hurriedly uttered these terrible words and still stood
motionless as a stone.
I clasped my hands. “Is it possible? How dreadful! Your presentiment
has come true.... That is awful!”
I stopped in confusion. Slowly and with a sort of triumph Tyeglev
folded his arms.
“But why are we standing here?” I began. “Let us go home.”
“Let us,” said Tyeglev. “But how can we find the way in this fog?”
“There is a light in our windows, and we will make for it. Come
“You go ahead,” answered Tyeglev. “I will follow you.” We set off. We
walked for five minutes and our beacon light still did not appear; at
last it gleamed before us in two red points. Tyeglev stepped evenly
behind me. I was desperately anxious to get home as quickly as possible
and to learn from him all the details of his unhappy expedition to
Petersburg. Before we reached the hut, impressed by what he had said, I
confessed to him in an access of remorse and a sort of superstitious
fear, that the mysterious knocking of the previous evening had been my
doing ... and what a tragic turn my jest had taken!
Tyeglev confined himself to observing that I had nothing to do with
it—that something else had guided my hand—and this only showed how
little I knew him. His voice, strangely calm and even, sounded close to
my ear. “But you do not know me,” he added. “I saw you smile yesterday
when I spoke of the strength of my will. You will come to know me—and
you will remember my words.”
The first hut of the village sprang out of the fog before us like
some dark monster ... then the second, our hut, emerged—and my setter
dog began barking, probably scenting me.
I knocked at the window. “Semyon!” I shouted to Tyeglev's servant,
“hey, Semyon! Make haste and open the gate for us.”
The gate creaked and opened; Semyon crossed the threshold.
“Ilya Stepanitch, come in,” I said, and I looked round. But no Ilya
Stepanitch was with me. Tyeglev had vanished as though he had sunk into
I went into the hut feeling dazed.
Vexation with Tyeglev and with myself succeeded the amazement with
which I was overcome at first.
“Your master is mad!” I blurted out to Semyon, “raving mad! He
galloped off to Petersburg, then came back and is running about all
over the place! I did get hold of him and brought him right up to the
gate—and here he has given me the slip again! To go out of doors on a
night like this! He has chosen a nice time for a walk!”
“And why did I let go of his hand?” I reproached myself. Semyon
looked at me in silence, as though intending to say something—but
after the fashion of servants in those days he simply shifted from one
foot to the other and said nothing.
“What time did he set off for town?” I asked sternly.
“At six o'clock in the morning.”
“And how was he—did he seem anxious, depressed?” Semyon looked down.
“Our master is a deep one,” he began. “Who can make him out? He told me
to get out his new uniform when he was going out to town—and then he
“Curled his hair. I got the curling tongs ready for him.”
That, I confess, I had not expected. “Do you know a young lady,” I
asked Semyon, “a friend of Ilya Stepanitch's. Her name is Masha.”
“To be sure I know Marya Anempodistovna! A nice young lady.”
“Is your master in love with this Marya ... et cetera?”
Semyon heaved a sigh. “That young lady is Ilya Stepanitch's undoing.
For he is desperately in love with her—and can't bring himself to
marry her—and sorry to give her up, too. It's all his honour's
faintheartedness. He is very fond of her.”
“What is she like then, pretty?” I inquired.
Semyon assumed a grave air. “She is the sort that the gentry like.”
“She is not the right sort for us at all.”
“Very thin in the body.”
“If she died,” I began, “do you think Ilya Stepanitch would not
Semyon heaved a sigh again. “I can't venture to say that—there's no
knowing with gentlemen ... but our master is a deep one.”
I took up from the table the big, rather thick letter that Tyeglev
had given me and turned it over in my hands.... The address to “his
honour the Commanding Officer of the Battery, Colonel So and So” (the
name, patronymic, and surname) was clearly and distinctly written. The
word urgent, twice underlined, was written in the top left-hand
corner of the envelope.
“Listen, Semyon,” I began. “I feel uneasy about your master. I fancy
he has some mischief in his mind. We must find him.”
“Yes, sir,” answered Semyon.
“It is true there is such a fog that one cannot see a couple of yards
ahead; but all the same we must do our best. We will each take a
lantern and light a candle in each window—in case of need.”
“Yes, sir,” repeated Semyon. He lighted the lanterns and the candles
and we set off.
I can't describe how we wandered and lost our way! The lanterns were
of no help to us; they did not in the least dissipate the white, almost
luminous mist which surrounded us. Several times Semyon and I lost each
other, in spite of the fact that we kept calling to each other and
hallooing and at frequent intervals shouted—I: “Tyeglev! Ilya
Stepanitch!” and Semyon: “Mr. Tyeglev! Your honour!” The fog so
bewildered us that we wandered about as though in a dream; soon we were
both hoarse; the fog penetrated right into one's chest. We succeeded
somehow by help of the candles in the windows in reaching the hut
again. Our combined action had been of no use—we merely handicapped
each other—and so we made up our minds not to trouble ourselves about
getting separated but to go each our own way. He went to the left, I to
the right and I soon ceased to hear his voice. The fog seemed to have
found its way into my brain and I wandered like one dazed, simply
shouting from time to time, “Tyeglev! Tyeglev!”
“Here!” I heard suddenly in answer.
Holy saints, how relieved I was! How I rushed in the direction from
which the voice came.... A human figure loomed dark before me.... I
made for it. At last!
But instead of Tyeglev I saw another officer of the same battery,
whose name was Tyelepnev.
“Was it you answered me?” I asked him.
“Was it you calling me?” he asked in his turn.
“No; I was calling Tyeglev.”
“Tyeglev? Why, I met him a minute ago. What a fool of a night! One
can't find the way home.”
“You saw Tyeglev? Which way did he go?”
“That way, I fancy,” said the officer, waving his hand in the air.
“But one can't be sure of anything now. Do you know, for instance,
where the village is? The only hope is the dogs barking. It is a fool
of a night! Let me light a cigarette ... it will seem like a light on
The officer was, so I fancied, a little exhilarated.
“Did Tyeglev say anything to you?” I asked.
“To be sure he did! I said to him, 'good evening, brother,' and he
said, 'good-bye.' 'How good-bye? Why good-bye.' 'I mean to shoot myself
directly with a pistol.' He is a queer fish!”
My heart stood still. “You say he told you ...”
“He is a queer fish!” repeated the officer, and sauntered off.
I hardly had time to recover from what the officer had told me, when
my own name, shouted several times as it seemed with effort, caught my
ear. I recognised Semyon's voice.
I called back ... he came to me.
“Well?” I asked him. “Have you found Ilya Stepanitch?”
“Here, not far away.”
“How ... have you found him? Is he alive?”
“To be sure. I have been talking to him.” (A load was lifted from my
heart.) “His honour was sitting in his great-coat under a birch tree
... and he was all right. I put it to him, 'Won't you come home, Ilya
Stepanitch; Alexandr Vassilitch is very much worried about you.' And he
said to me, 'What does he want to worry for! I want to be in the fresh
air. My head aches. Go home,' he said, 'and I will come later.'“
“And you left him?” I cried, clasping my hands.
“What else could I do? He told me to go ... how could I stay?”
All my fears came back to me at once.
“Take me to him this minute—do you hear? This minute! O Semyon,
Semyon, I did not expect this of you! You say he is not far off?”
“He is quite close, here, where the copse begins—he is sitting
there. It is not more than five yards from the river bank. I found him
as I came alongside the river.”
“Well, take me to him, take me to him.”
Semyon set off ahead of me. “This way, sir.... We have only to get
down to the river and it is close there.”
But instead of getting down to the river we got into a hollow and
found ourselves before an empty shed.
“Hey, stop!” Semyon cried suddenly. “I must have come too far to the
right.... We must go that way, more to the left....”
We turned to the left—and found ourselves among such high, rank
weeds that we could scarcely get out.... I could not remember such a
tangled growth of weeds anywhere near our village. And then all at once
a marsh was squelching under our feet, and we saw little round
moss-covered hillocks which I had never noticed before either.... We
turned back—a small hill was sharply before us and on the top of it
stood a shanty—and in it someone was snoring. Semyon and I shouted
several times into the shanty; something stirred at the further end of
it, the straw rustled—and a hoarse voice shouted, “I am on guard.”
We turned back again ... fields and fields, endless fields.... I felt
ready to cry.... I remembered the words of the fool in King Lear
: “This night will turn us all to fools or madmen.”
“Where are we to go?” I said in despair to Semyon.
“The devil must have led us astray, sir,” answered the distracted
servant. “It's not natural ... there's mischief at the bottom of it!”
I would have checked him but at that instant my ear caught a sound,
distinct but not loud, that engrossed my whole attention. There was a
faint “pop” as though someone had drawn a stiff cork from a narrow
bottle-neck. The sound came from somewhere not far off. Why the sound
seemed to me strange and peculiar I could not say, but at once I went
Semyon followed me. Within a few minutes something tall and broad
loomed in the fog.
“The copse! here is the copse!” Semyon cried, delighted. “Yes, here
... and there is the master sitting under the birch-tree.... There he
is, sitting where I left him. That's he, surely enough!”
I looked intently. A man really was sitting with his back towards us,
awkwardly huddled up under the birch-tree. I hurriedly approached and
recognised Tyeglev's great-coat, recognised his figure, his head bowed
on his breast. “Tyeglev!” I cried ... but he did not answer.
“Tyeglev!” I repeated, and laid my hand on his shoulder. Then he
suddenly lurched forward, quickly and obediently, as though he were
waiting for my touch, and fell onto the grass. Semyon and I raised him
at once and turned him face upwards. It was not pale, but was lifeless
and motionless; his clenched teeth gleamed white—and his eyes,
motionless, too, and wide open, kept their habitual, drowsy and
“Good God!” Semyon said suddenly and showed me his hand stained
crimson with blood.... The blood was coming from under Tyeglev's
great-coat, from the left side of his chest.
He had shot himself from a small, single-barreled pistol which was
lying beside him. The faint pop I had heard was the sound made by the
Tyeglev's suicide did not surprise his comrades very much. I have
told you already that, according to their ideas, as a “fatal” man he
was bound to do something extraordinary, though perhaps they had not
expected that from him. In the letter to the colonel he asked him, in
the first place, to have the name of Ilya Tyeglev removed from the list
of officers, as he had died by his own act, adding that in his cash-box
there would be found more than sufficient money to pay his debts,—and,
secondly, to forward to the important personage at that time commanding
the whole corps of guards, an unsealed letter which was in the same
envelope. This second letter, of course, we all read; some of us took a
copy of it. Tyeglev had evidently taken pains over the composition of
“You know, Your Excellency” (so I remember the letter began), “you
are so stern and severe over the slightest negligence in uniform when a
pale, trembling officer presents himself before you; and here am I now
going to meet our universal, righteous, incorruptible Judge, the
Supreme Being, the Being of infinitely greater consequence even than
Your Excellency, and I am going to meet him in undress, in my
great-coat, and even without a cravat round my neck.”
Oh, what a painful and unpleasant impression that phrase made upon
me, with every word, every letter of it, carefully written in the dead
man's childish handwriting! Was it worth while, I asked myself, to
invent such rubbish at such a moment? But Tyeglev had evidently been
pleased with the phrase: he had made use in it of the accumulation of
epithets and amplifications à la Marlinsky, at that time in
fashion. Further on he had alluded to destiny, to persecution, to his
vocation which had remained unfulfilled, to a mystery which he would
bear with him to the grave, to people who had not cared to understand
him; he had even quoted lines from some poet who had said of the crowd
that it wore life “like a dog-collar” and clung to vice “like a
burdock”—and it was not free from mistakes in spelling. To tell the
truth, this last letter of poor Tyeglev was somewhat vulgar; and I can
fancy the contemptuous surprise of the great personage to whom it was
addressed—I can imagine the tone in which he would pronounce “a
worthless officer! ill weeds are cleared out of the field!”
Only at the very end of the letter there was a sincere note from
Tyeglev's heart. “Ah, Your Excellency,” he concluded his epistle, “I am
an orphan, I had no one to love me as a child—and all held aloof from
me ... and I myself destroyed the only heart that gave itself to me!”
Semyon found in the pocket of Tyeglev's great-coat a little album
from which his master was never separated. But almost all the pages had
been torn out; only one was left on which there was the following
Napoleon was born Ilya Tyeglev was born
on August 15th, 1769. on January 7th, 1811.
——- ——-Total 1792 Total 1819
* August—the 8th month + January—the 1st month
of the year. of the year.
—- —-Total 19! Total 19!
Napoleon died on May Ilya Tyeglev died on
5th, 1825. April 21st, 1834.
——- ——-Total 1835 Total 1862
* May—the 5th month + July—the 7th month
of the year. of the year.
Total 17! Total 17!
Poor fellow! Was not this perhaps why he became an artillery officer?
As a suicide he was buried outside the cemetery—and he was
The day after Tyeglev's burial (I was still in the village waiting
for my brother) Semyon came into the hut and announced that Ilya wanted
to see me.
“What Ilya?” I asked.
I told Semyon to call him.
He made his appearance. He expressed some regret at the death of the
lieutenant; wondered what could have possessed him....
“Was he in debt to you?” I asked.
“No, sir. He always paid punctually for everything he had. But I tell
you what,” here the pedlar grinned, “you have got something of mine.”
“What is it?”
“Why, that,” he pointed to the brass comb lying on the little toilet
table. “A thing of little value,” the fellow went on, “but as it was a
All at once I raised my head. Something dawned upon me.
“Your name is Ilya?”
“Was it you, then, I saw under the willow tree the other night?”
The pedlar winked, and grinned more broadly than ever.
“And it was your name that was called?”
“Yes, sir,” the pedlar repeated with playful modesty. “There is a
young girl here,” he went on in a high falsetto, “who, owing to the
great strictness of her parents——”
“Very good, very good,” I interrupted him, handed him the comb and
“So that was the 'Ilyusha,'“ I thought, and I sank into philosophic
reflections which I will not, however, intrude upon you as I don't want
to prevent anyone from believing in fate, predestination and such like.
When I was back in Petersburg I made inquiries about Masha. I even
discovered the doctor who had treated her. To my amazement I heard from
him that she had died not through poisoning but of cholera! I told him
what I had heard from Tyeglev.
“Eh! Eh!” cried the doctor all at once. “Is that Tyeglev an artillery
officer, a man of middle height and with a stoop, speaks with a lisp?”
“Well, I thought so. That gentleman came to me—I had never seen him
before—and began insisting that the girl had poisoned herself. 'It was
cholera,' I told him. 'Poison,' he said. 'It was cholera, I tell you,'
I said. 'No, it was poison,' he declared. I saw that the fellow was a
sort of lunatic, with a broad base to his head—a sign of obstinacy, he
would not give over easily.... Well, it doesn't matter, I thought, the
patient is dead.... 'Very well,' I said, 'she poisoned herself if you
prefer it.' He thanked me, even shook hands with me—and departed.”
I told the doctor how the officer had shot himself the same day.
The doctor did not turn a hair—and only observed that there were all
sorts of queer fellows in the world.
“There are indeed,” I assented.
Yes, someone has said truly of suicides: until they carry out their
design, no one believes them; and when they do, no one regrets them.
On the high road to B., at an equal distance from the two towns
through which it runs, there stood not long ago a roomy inn, very well
known to the drivers of troikas, peasants with trains of waggons,
merchants, clerks, pedlars and the numerous travellers of all sorts who
journey upon our roads at all times of the year. Everyone used to call
at the inn; only perhaps a landowner's coach, drawn by six home-bred
horses, would roll majestically by, which did not prevent either the
coachman or the groom on the footboard from looking with peculiar
feeling and attention at the little porch so familiar to them; or some
poor devil in a wretched little cart and with three five-kopeck pieces
in the bag in his bosom would urge on his weary nag when he reached the
prosperous inn, and would hasten on to some night's lodging in the
hamlets that lie by the high road in a peasant's hut, where he would
find nothing but bread and hay, but, on the other hand, would not have
to pay an extra kopeck. Apart from its favourable situation, the inn
with which our story deals had many attractions: excellent water in two
deep wells with creaking wheels and iron buckets on a chain; a spacious
yard with a tiled roof on posts; abundant stores of oats in the cellar;
a warm outer room with a very huge Russian stove with long horizontal
flues attached that looked like titanic shoulders, and lastly two
fairly clean rooms with the walls covered with reddish lilac paper
somewhat frayed at the lower edge with a painted wooden sofa, chairs to
match and two pots of geraniums in the windows, which were, however,
never cleaned—and were dingy with the dust of years. The inn had other
advantages: the blacksmith's was close by, the mill was just at hand;
and, lastly, one could get a good meal in it, thanks to the cook, a fat
and red-faced peasant woman, who prepared rich and appetizing dishes
and dealt out provisions without stint; the nearest tavern was reckoned
not half a mile away; the host kept snuff which though mixed with
wood-ash, was extremely pungent and pleasantly irritated the nose; in
fact there were many reasons why visitors of all sorts were never
lacking in that inn. It was liked by those who used it—and that is the
chief thing; without which nothing, of course, would succeed and it was
liked principally as it was said in the district, because the host
himself was very fortunate and successful in all his undertakings,
though he did not much deserve his good fortune; but it seems if a man
is lucky, he is lucky.
The innkeeper was a man of the working class called Naum Ivanov. He
was a man of middle height with broad, stooping shoulders; he had a big
round head and curly hair already grey, though he did not look more
than forty; a full and fresh face, a low but white and smooth forehead
and little bright blue eyes, out of which he looked in a very queer way
from under his brows and yet with an insolent expression, a combination
not often met with. He always held his head down and seemed to turn it
with difficulty, perhaps because his neck was very short. He walked at
a trot and did not swing his arms, but slowly moved them with his fists
clenched as he walked. When he smiled, and he smiled often without
laughing, as it were smiling to himself, his thick lips parted
unpleasantly and displayed a row of close-set, brilliant teeth. He
spoke jerkily and with a surly note in his voice. He shaved his beard,
but dressed in Russian style. His costume consisted of a long, always
threadbare, full coat, full breeches and shoes on his bare feet. He was
often away from home on business and he had a great deal of
business—he was a horse-dealer, he rented land, had a market garden,
bought up orchards and traded in various ways—but his absences never
lasted long; like a kite, to which he had considerable resemblance,
especially in the expression of his eyes, he used to return to his
nest. He knew how to keep that nest in order. He was everywhere, he
listened to everything and gave orders, served out stores, sent things
out and made up his accounts himself, and never knocked off a farthing
from anyone's account, but never asked more than his due.
The visitors did not talk to him, and, indeed, he did not care to
waste words. “I want your money and you want my victuals,” he used to
say, as it were, jerking out each word: “We have not met for a
christening; the traveller has eaten, has fed his beasts, no need to
sit on. If he is tired, let him sleep without chattering.” The
labourers he kept were healthy grown-up men, but docile and well broken
in; they were very much afraid of him. He never touched intoxicating
liquor and he used to give his men ten kopecks for vodka on the great
holidays; they did not dare to drink on other days. People like Naum
quickly get rich ... but to the magnificent position in which he found
himself—and he was believed to be worth forty or fifty thousand
roubles—Naum Ivanov had not arrived by the strait path....
The inn had existed on the same spot on the high road twenty years
before the time from which we date the beginning of our story. It is
true that it had not then the dark red shingle roof which made Naum
Ivanov's inn look like a gentleman's house; it was inferior in
construction and had thatched roofs in the courtyard, and a humble
fence instead of a wall of logs; nor had it been distinguished by the
triangular Greek pediment on carved posts; but all the same it had been
a capital inn—roomy, solid and warm—and travellers were glad to
frequent it. The innkeeper at that time was not Naum Ivanov, but a
certain Akim Semyonitch, a serf belonging to a neighbouring lady,
Lizaveta Prohorovna Kuntse, the widow of a staff officer. This Akim was
a shrewd trading peasant who, having left home in his youth with two
wretched nags to work as a carrier, had returned a year later with
three decent horses and had spent almost all the rest of his life on
the high roads; he used to go to Kazan and Odessa, to Orenburg and to
Warsaw and abroad to Leipsic and used in the end to travel with two
teams, each of three stout, sturdy stallions, harnessed to two huge
carts. Whether it was that he was sick of his life of homeless
wandering, whether it was that he wanted to rear a family (his wife had
died in one of his absences and what children she had borne him were
dead also), anyway, he made up his mind at last to abandon his old
calling and to open an inn. With the permission of his mistress, he
settled on the high road, bought in her name about an acre and a half
of land and built an inn upon it. The undertaking prospered. He had
more than enough money to furnish and stock it. The experience he had
gained in the course of his years of travelling from one end of Russia
to another was of great advantage to him; he knew how to please his
visitors, especially his former mates, the drivers of troikas, many of
whom he knew personally and whose good-will is particularly valued by
innkeepers, as they need so much food for themselves and their powerful
beasts. Akim's inn became celebrated for hundreds of miles round.
People were even readier to stay with him than with his successor,
Naum, though Akim could not be compared with Naum as a manager. Under
Akim everything was in the old-fashioned style, snug, but not over
clean; and his oats were apt to be light, or musty; the cooking, too,
was somewhat indifferent: dishes were sometimes put on the table which
would better have been left in the oven and it was not that he was
stingy with the provisions, but just that the cook had not looked after
them. On the other hand, he was ready to knock off something from the
price and did not refuse to trust a man's word for payment—he was a
good man and a genial host. In talking, in entertaining, he was lavish,
too; he would sometimes chatter away over the samovar till his
listeners pricked up their ears, especially when he began telling them
about Petersburg, about the Circassian steppes, or even about foreign
parts; and he liked getting a little drunk with a good companion, but
not disgracefully so, more for the sake of company, as his guests used
to say of him. He was a great favourite with merchants and with all
people of what is called the old school, who do not set off for a
journey without tightening up their belts and never go into a room
without making the sign of the cross, and never enter into conversation
with a man without first wishing him good health. Even Akim's
appearance disposed people in his favour: he was tall, rather thin, but
graceful even at his advanced years; he had a long face, with
fine-looking regular features, a high and open brow, a straight and
delicate nose and a small mouth. His brown and prominent eyes
positively shone with friendly gentleness, his soft, scanty hair curled
in little rings about his neck; he had very little left on the top of
his head. Akim's voice was very pleasant, though weak; in his youth he
had been a good singer, but continual travelling in the open air in the
winter had affected his chest. But he talked very smoothly and sweetly.
When he laughed wrinkles like rays that were very charming came round
his eyes:—such wrinkles are only to be seen in kind-hearted people.
Akim's movements were for the most part deliberate and not without a
certain confidence and dignified courtesy befitting a man of experience
who had seen a great deal in his day.
In fact, Akim—or Akim Semyonitch as he was called even in his
mistress's house, to which he often went and invariably on Sundays
after mass—would have been excellent in all respects—if he had not
had one weakness which has been the ruin of many men on earth, and was
in the end the ruin of him, too—a weakness for the fair sex. Akim's
susceptibility was extreme, his heart could never resist a woman's
glance: he melted before it like the first snow of autumn in the sun
... and dearly he had to pay for his excessive sensibility.
For the first year after he had set up on the high road Akim was so
busy with building his yard, stocking the place, and all the business
inseparable from moving into a new house that he had absolutely no time
to think of women and if any sinful thought came into his mind he
immediately drove it away by reading various devotional works for which
he cherished a profound respect (he had learned to read when first he
left home), singing the psalms in a low voice or some other pious
occupation. Besides, he was then in his forty-sixth year and at that
time of life every passion grows perceptibly calmer and cooler and the
time for marrying was past. Akim himself began to think that, as he
expressed it, this foolishness was over and done with ... But evidently
there is no escaping one's fate.
Akim's former mistress, Lizaveta Prohorovna Kuntse, the widow of an
officer of German extraction, was herself a native of Mittau, where she
had spent the first years of her childhood and where she had numerous
poor relations, about whom she concerned herself very little,
especially after a casual visit from one of her brothers, an infantry
officer of the line. On the day after his arrival he had made a great
disturbance and almost beaten the lady of the house, calling her “du
lumpenmamselle,” though only the evening before he had called her in
broken Russian: “sister and benefactor.” Lizaveta Prohorovna lived
almost permanently on her pretty estate which had been won by the
labours of her husband who had been an architect. She managed it
herself and managed it very well. Lizaveta Prohorovna never let slip
the slightest advantage; she turned everything into profit for herself;
and this, as well as her extraordinary capacity for making a farthing
do the work of a halfpenny, betrayed her German origin; in everything
else she had become very Russian. She kept a considerable number of
house serfs, especially many maids, who earned their salt, however:
from morning to night their backs were bent over their work. She liked
driving out in her carriage with grooms in livery on the footboard. She
liked listening to gossip and scandal and was a clever scandal-monger
herself; she liked to lavish favours upon someone, then suddenly crush
him with her displeasure, in fact, Lizaveta Prohorovna behaved exactly
like a lady. Akim was in her good graces; he paid her punctually every
year a very considerable sum in lieu of service; she talked graciously
to him and even, in jest, invited him as a guest... but it was
precisely in his mistress's house that trouble was in store for Akim.
Among Lizaveta Prohorovna's maidservants was an orphan girl of twenty
called Dunyasha. She was good-looking, graceful and neat-handed; though
her features were irregular, they were pleasing; her fresh complexion,
her thick flaxen hair, her lively grey eyes, her little round nose, her
rosy lips and above all her half-mocking, half-provocative
expression—were all rather charming in their way. At the same time, in
spite of her forlorn position, she was strict, almost haughty in her
deportment. She came of a long line of house serfs. Her father, Arefy,
had been a butler for thirty years, while her grandfather, Stepan had
been valet to a prince and officer of the Guards long since dead. She
dressed neatly and was vain over her hands, which were certainly very
beautiful. Dunyasha made a show of great disdain for all her admirers;
she listened to their compliments with a self-complacent little smile
and if she answered them at all it was usually some exclamation such
as: “Yes! Likely! As though I should! What next!” These exclamations
were always on her lips. Dunyasha had spent about three years being
trained in Moscow where she had picked up the peculiar airs and graces
which distinguish maidservants who have been in Moscow or Petersburg.
She was spoken of as a girl of self-respect (high praise on the lips of
house serfs) who, though she had seen something of life, had not let
herself down. She was rather clever with her needle, too, yet with all
this Lizaveta Prohorovna was not very warmly disposed toward her,
thanks to the headmaid, Kirillovna, a sly and intriguing woman, no
longer young. Kirillovna exercised great influence over her mistress
and very skilfully succeeded in getting rid of all rivals.
With this Dunyasha Akim must needs fall in love! And he fell in love
as he had never fallen in love before. He saw her first at church: she
had only just come back from Moscow.... Afterwards, he met her several
times in his mistress's house; finally he spent a whole evening with
her at the steward's, where he had been invited to tea in company with
other highly respected persons. The house serfs did not disdain him,
though he was not of their class and wore a beard; he was a man of
education, could read and write and, what was more, had money; and he
did not dress like a peasant but wore a long full coat of black cloth,
high boots of calf leather and a kerchief on his neck. It is true that
some of the house serfs did say among themselves that: “One can see
that he is not one of us,” but to his face they almost flattered him.
On that evening at the steward's Dunyasha made a complete conquest of
Akim's susceptible heart, though she said not a single word in answer
to his ingratiating speeches and only looked sideways at him from time
to time as though wondering why that peasant was there. All that only
added fuel to the flames. He went home, pondered and pondered and made
up his mind to win her hand.... She had somehow “bewitched” him. But
how can I describe the wrath and indignation of Dunyasha when five days
later Kirillovna with a friendly air invited her into her room and told
her that Akim (and evidently he knew how to set to work) that bearded
peasant Akim, to sit by whose side she considered almost an indignity,
was courting her.
Dunyasha first flushed crimson, then she gave a forced laugh, then
she burst into tears; but Kirillovna made her attack so artfully, made
the girl feel her own position in the house so clearly, so tactfully
hinted at the presentable appearance, the wealth and blind devotion of
Akim and finally mentioned so significantly the wishes of their
mistress that Dunyasha went out of the room with a look of hesitation
on her face and meeting Akim only gazed intently into his face and did
not turn away. The indescribably lavish presents of the love-sick man
dissipated her last doubts. Lizaveta Prohorovna, to whom Akim in his
joy took a hundred peaches on a large silver dish, gave her consent to
the marriage, and the marriage took place. Akim spared no expense—and
the bride, who on the eve of her wedding at her farewell party to her
girl friends sat looking a figure of misery, and who cried all the next
morning while Kirillovna was dressing her for the wedding, was soon
comforted.... Her mistress gave her her own shawl to wear in the church
and Akim presented her the same day with one like it, almost superior.
And so Akim was married, and took his young bride home.... They began
their life together.... Dunyasha turned out to be a poor housewife, a
poor helpmate to her husband. She took no interest in anything, was
melancholy and depressed unless some officer sitting by the big samovar
noticed her and paid her compliments; she was often absent, sometimes
in the town shopping, sometimes at the mistress's house, which was only
three miles from the inn. There she felt at home, there she was
surrounded by her own people; the girls envied her finery. Kirillovna
regaled her with tea; Lizaveta Prohorovna herself talked to her. But
even these visits did not pass without some bitter experiences for
Dunyasha.... As an innkeeper's wife, for instance, she could not wear a
hat and was obliged to tie up her head in a kerchief, “like a
merchant's lady,” said sly Kirillovna, “like a working woman,” thought
Dunyasha to herself.
More than once Akim recalled the words of his only relation, an uncle
who had lived in solitude without a family for years: “Well, Akimushka,
my lad,” he had said, meeting him in the street, “I hear you are
“Why, yes, what of it?”
“Ech, Akim, Akim. You are above us peasants now, there's no denying
that; but you are not on her level either.”
“In what way not on her level?”
“Why, in that way, for instance,” his uncle had answered, pointing to
Akim's beard, which he had begun to clip in order to please his
betrothed, though he had refused to shave it completely.... Akim looked
down; while the old man turned away, wrapped his tattered sheepskin
about him and walked away, shaking his head.
Yes, more than once Akim sank into thought, cleared his throat and
sighed.... But his love for his pretty wife was no less; he was proud
of her, especially when he compared her not merely with peasant women,
or with his first wife, to whom he had been married at sixteen, but
with other serf girls; “look what a fine bird we have caught,” he
thought to himself.... Her slightest caress gave him immense pleasure.
“Maybe,” he thought, “she will get used to it; maybe she will get into
the way of it.” Meanwhile her behaviour was irreproachable and no one
could say anything against her.
Several years passed like this. Dunyasha really did end by growing
used to her way of life. Akim's love for her and confidence in her only
increased as he grew older; her girl friends, who had been married not
to peasants, were suffering cruel hardships, either from poverty or
from having fallen into bad hands.... Akim went on getting richer and
richer. Everything succeeded with him—he was always lucky; only one
thing was a grief: God had not given him children. Dunyasha was by now
over five and twenty; everyone addressed her as Avdotya Arefyevna. She
never became a real housewife, however—but she grew fond of her house,
looked after the stores and superintended the woman who worked in the
house. It is true that she did all this only after a fashion; she did
not keep up a high standard of cleanliness and order; on the other
hand, her portrait painted in oils and ordered by herself from a local
artist, the son of the parish deacon, hung on the wall of the chief
room beside that of Akim. She was depicted in a white dress with a
yellow shawl with six strings of big pearls round her neck, long
earrings, and a ring on every finger. The portrait was recognisable
though the artist had painted her excessively stout and rosy—and had
made her eyes not grey but black and even slightly squinting.... Akim's
was a complete failure, the portrait had come out dark—à la
Rembrandt—so that sometimes a visitor would go up to it, look at it
and merely give an inarticulate murmur. Avdotya had taken to being
rather careless in her dress; she would fling a big shawl over her
shoulders, while the dress under it was put on anyhow: she was overcome
by laziness, that sighing apathetic drowsy laziness to which the
Russian is only too liable, especially when his livelihood is
With all that, the fortunes of Akim and his wife prospered
exceedingly; they lived in harmony and had the reputation of an
exemplary pair. But just as a squirrel will wash its face at the very
instant when the sportsman is aiming at it, man has no presentiment of
his troubles, till all of a sudden the ground gives way under him like
One autumn evening a merchant in the drapery line put up at Akim's
inn. He was journeying by various cross-country roads from Moscow to
Harkov with two loaded tilt carts; he was one of those travelling
traders whose arrival is sometimes awaited with such impatience by
country gentlemen and still more by their wives and daughters. This
travelling merchant, an elderly man, had with him two companions, or,
speaking more correctly, two workmen, one thin, pale and hunchbacked,
the other a fine, handsome young fellow of twenty. They asked for
supper, then sat down to tea; the merchant invited the innkeeper and
his wife to take a cup with him, they did not refuse. A conversation
quickly sprang up between the two old men (Akim was fifty-six); the
merchant inquired about the gentry of the neighbourhood and no one
could give him more useful information about them than Akim; the
hunchbacked workman spent his time looking after the carts and finally
went off to bed; it fell to Avdotya to talk to the other one.... She
sat by him and said little, rather listening to what he told her, but
it was evident that his talk pleased her; her face grew more animated,
the colour came into her cheeks and she laughed readily and often. The
young workman sat almost motionless with his curly head bent over the
table; he spoke quietly, without haste and without raising his voice;
but his eyes, not large but saucily bright and blue, were rivetted on
Avdotya; at first she turned away from them, then she, too, began
looking him in the face. The young fellow's face was fresh and smooth
as a Crimean apple; he often smiled and tapped with his white fingers
on his chin covered with soft dark down. He spoke like a merchant, but
very freely and with a sort of careless self-confidence and went on
looking at her with the same intent, impudent stare.... All at once he
moved a little closer to her and without the slightest change of
countenance said to her: “Avdotya Arefyevna, there's no one like you in
the world; I am ready to die for you.”
Avdotya laughed aloud.
“What is it?” asked Akim.
“Why, he keeps saying such funny things,” she said, without any
The old merchant grinned.
“Ha, ha, yes, my Naum is such a funny fellow, don't listen to him.”
“Oh! Really! As though I should,” she answered, and shook her head.
“Ha, ha, of course not,” observed the old man. “But, however,” he
went on in a singsong voice, “we will take our leave; we are thoroughly
satisfied, it is time for bed, ...” and he got up.
“We are well satisfied, too,” Akim brought out and he got up, “for
your entertainment, that is, but we wish you a good night. Avdotyushka,
Avdotya got up as it were unwillingly. Naum, too, got up after her
... the party broke up. The innkeeper and his wife went off to the
little lobby partitioned off, which served them as a bedroom. Akim was
snoring immediately. It was a long time before Avdotya could get to
sleep.... At first she lay still, turning her face to the wall, then
she began tossing from side to side on the hot feather bed, throwing
off and pulling up the quilt alternately ... then she sank into a light
doze. Suddenly she heard from the yard a loud masculine voice: it was
singing a song of which it was impossible to distinguish the words,
prolonging each note, though not with a melancholy effect. Avdotya
opened her eyes, propped herself on her elbows and listened.... The
song went on.... It rang out musically in the autumn air.
Akim raised his head.
“Who's that singing?” he asked.
“I don't know,” she answered.
“He sings well,” he added, after a brief pause. “Very well. What a
strong voice. I used to sing in my day,” he went on. “And I sang well,
too, but my voice has gone. That's a fine voice. It must be that young
fellow singing, Naum is his name, isn't it?” And he turned over on the
other side, gave a sigh and fell asleep again.
It was a long time before the voice was still ... Avdotya listened
and listened; all at once it seemed to break off, rang out boldly once
more and slowly died away.... Avdotya crossed herself and laid her head
on the pillow.... Half an hour passed.... She sat up and softly got out
“Where are you going, wife?” Akim asked in his sleep.
“To see to the little lamp,” she said, “I can't get to sleep.”
“You should say a prayer,” Akim mumbled, falling asleep.
Avdotya went up to the lamp before the ikon, began trimming it and
accidentally put it out; she went back and lay down. Everything was
Early next morning the merchant set off again on his journey with his
companions. Avdotya was asleep. Akim went half a mile with them: he had
to call at the mill. When he got home he found his wife dressed and not
alone. Naum, the young man who had been there the night before, was
with her. They were standing by the table in the window talking. When
Avdotya saw Akim, she went out of the room without a word, and Naum
said that he had come for his master's gloves which the latter, he
said, had left behind on the bench; and he, too, went away.
We will now tell the reader what he has probably guessed already:
Avdotya had fallen passionately in love with Naum. It is hard to say
how it could have happened so quickly, especially as she had hitherto
been irreproachable in her behaviour in spite of many opportunities and
temptations to deceive her husband. Later on, when her intrigue with
Naum became known, many people in the neighbourhood declared that he
had on the very first evening put a magic potion that was a love spell
in her tea (the efficacy of such spells is still firmly believed in
among us), and that this could be clearly seen from the appearance of
Avdotya who, so they said, soon after began to pine away and look
However that may have been, Naum began to be frequently seen in
Akim's yard. At first he came again with the same merchant and three
months later arrived alone, with wares of his own; then the report
spread that he had settled in one of the neighbouring district towns,
and from that time forward not a week passed without his appearing on
the high road with his strong, painted cart drawn by two sleek horses
which he drove himself. There was no particular friendship between Akim
and him, nor was there any hostility noticed between them; Akim did not
take much notice of him and only thought of him as a sharp young fellow
who was rapidly making his way in the world. He did not suspect
Avdotya's real feelings and went on believing in her as before.
Two years passed like this.
One summer day it happened that Lizaveta Prohorovna—who had somehow
suddenly grown yellow and wrinkled during those two years in spite of
all sorts of unguents, rouge and powder—about two o'clock in the
afternoon went out with her lap dog and her folding parasol for a
stroll before dinner in her neat little German garden. With a faint
rustle of her starched petticoats, she walked with tiny steps along the
sandy path between two rows of erect, stiffly tied-up dahlias, when she
was suddenly overtaken by our old acquaintance Kirillovna, who
announced respectfully that a merchant desired to speak to her on
important business. Kirillovna was still high in her mistress's favour
(in reality it was she who managed Madame Kuntse's estate) and she had
some time before obtained permission to wear a white cap, which gave
still more acerbity to the sharp features of her swarthy face.
“A merchant?” said her mistress; “what does he want?”
“I don't know what he wants,” answered Kirillovna in an insinuating
voice, “only I think he wants to buy something from you.”
Lizaveta Prohorovna went back into the drawing-room, sat down in her
usual seat—an armchair with a canopy over it, upon which a climbing
plant twined gracefully—and gave orders that the merchant should be
Naum appeared, bowed, and stood still by the door.
“I hear that you want to buy something of me,” said Lizaveta
Prohorovna, and thought to herself, “What a handsome man this merchant
“Just so, madam.”
“What is it?”
“Would you be willing to sell your inn?”
“Why, the one on the high road not far from here.”
“But that inn is not mine, it is Akim's.”
“Not yours? Why, it stands on your land.”
“Yes, the land is mine ... bought in my name; but the inn is his.”
“To be sure. But wouldn't you be willing to sell it to me?”
“How could I sell it to you?”
“Well, I would give you a good price for it.”
Lizaveta Prohorovna was silent for a space.
“It is really very queer what you are saying,” she said. “And what
would you give?” she added. “I don't ask that for myself but for Akim.”
“For all the buildings and the appurtenances, together with the land
that goes with it, of course, I would give two thousand roubles.”
“Two thousand roubles! That is not enough,” replied Lizaveta
“It's a good price.”
“But have you spoken to Akim?”
“What should I speak to him for? The inn is yours, so here I am
talking to you about it.”
“But I have told you.... It really is astonishing that you don't
“Not understand, madam? But I do understand.”
Lizaveta Prohorovna looked at Naum and Naum looked at Lizaveta
“Well, then,” he began, “what do you propose?”
“I propose...” Lizaveta Prohorovna moved in her chair. “In the first
place I tell you that two thousand is too little and in the second...”
“I'll add another hundred, then.”
Lizaveta Prohorovna got up.
“I see that you are talking quite off the point. I have told you
already that I cannot sell that inn—am not going to sell it. I cannot
... that is, I will not.”
Naum smiled and said nothing for a space.
“Well, as you please, madam,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I
beg to take leave.” He bowed and took hold of the door handle.
Lizaveta Prohorovna turned round to him.
“You need not go away yet, however,” she said, with hardly
perceptible agitation. She rang the bell and Kirillovna came in from
the study. “Kirillovna, tell them to give this gentleman some tea. I
will see you again,” she added, with a slight inclination of her head.
Naum bowed again and went out with Kirillovna. Lizaveta Prohorovna
walked up and down the room once or twice and rang the bell again. This
time a page appeared. She told him to fetch Kirillovna. A few moments
later Kirillovna came in with a faint creak of her new goatskin shoes.
“Have you heard,” Lizaveta Prohorovna began with a forced laugh,
“what this merchant has been proposing to me? He is a queer fellow,
“No, I haven't heard. What is it, madam?” and Kirillovna faintly
screwed up her black Kalmuck eyes.
“He wants to buy Akim's inn.”
“Well, why not?”
“But how could he? What about Akim? I gave it to Akim.”
“Upon my word, madam, what are you saying? Isn't the inn yours? Don't
we all belong to you? And isn't all our property yours, our
“Good gracious, Kirillovna, what are you saying?” Lizaveta Prohorovna
pulled out a batiste handkerchief and nervously blew her nose. “Akim
bought the inn with his own money.”
“His own money? But where did he get the money? Wasn't it through
your kindness? He has had the use of the land all this time as it is.
It was all through your gracious permission. And do you suppose, madam,
that he would have no money left? Why, he is richer than you are, upon
my word, he is!”
“That's all true, of course, but still I can't do it.... How could I
sell the inn?”
“And why not sell it,” Kirillovna went on, “since a purchaser has
luckily turned up? May I ask, madam, how much he offers you?”
“More than two thousand roubles,” said Lizaveta Prohorovna softly.
“He will give more, madam, if he offers two thousand straight off.
And you will arrange things with Akim afterwards; take a little off his
yearly duty or something. He will be thankful, too.”
“Of course, I must remit part of his duty. But no, Kirillovna, how
can I sell it?” and Lizaveta Prohorovna walked up and down the room.
“No, that's out of the question, that won't do ... no, please don't
speak of it again ... or I shall be angry.”
But in spite of her agitated mistress's warning, Kirillovna did
continue speaking of it and half an hour later she went back to Naum,
whom she had left in the butler's pantry at the samovar.
“What have you to tell me, good madam?” said Naum, jauntily turning
his tea-cup wrong side upwards in the saucer.
“What I have to tell you is that you are to go in to the mistress;
she wants you.”
“Certainly,” said Naum, and he got up and followed Kirillovna into
The door closed behind them.... When the door opened again and Naum
walked out backwards, bowing, the matter was settled: Akim's inn
belonged to him. He had bought it for 2800 paper roubles. It was
arranged that the legal formalities should take place as quickly as
possible and that till then the matter should not be made public.
Lizaveta Prohorovna received a deposit of a hundred roubles and two
hundred went to Kirillovna for her assistance. “It has not cost me
much,” thought Naum as he got into his coat, “it was a lucky chance.”
While the transaction we have described was going forward in the
mistress's house, Akim was sitting at home alone on the bench by the
window, stroking his beard with a discontented expression. We have said
already that he did not suspect his wife's feeling for Naum, although
kind friends had more than once hinted to him that it was time he
opened his eyes; it is true that he had noticed himself that of late
his wife had become rather difficult, but we all know that the female
sex is capricious and changeable. Even when it really did strike him
that things were not going well in his house, he merely dismissed the
thought with a wave of his hand; he did not like the idea of a
squabble; his good nature had not lessened with years and indolence was
asserting itself, too. But on that day he was very much out of humour;
the day before he had overheard quite by chance in the street a
conversation between their servant and a neighbouring peasant woman.
The peasant woman asked the servant why she had not come to see her
on the holiday the day before. “I was expecting you,” she said.
“I did set off,” replied the servant, “but as ill-luck would have it,
I ran into the mistress ... botheration take her.”
“Ran into her?” repeated the peasant woman in a sing-song voice and
she leaned her cheek on her hand. “And where did you run into her, my
“Beyond the priest's hemp-patch. She must have gone to the hemp-patch
to meet her Naum, but I could not see them in the dusk, owing to the
moon, maybe, I don't know; I simply dashed into them.”
“Dashed into them?” the other woman repeated. “Well, and was she
standing with him, my good girl?”
“Yes, she was. He was standing there and so was she. She saw me and
said, 'Where are you running to? Go home.' So I went home.”
“You went home?” The peasant woman was silent. “Well, good-bye,
Fetinyushka,” she brought out at last, and trudged off.
This conversation had an unpleasant effect on Akim. His love for
Avdotya had cooled, but still he did not like what the servant had
said. And she had told the truth: Avdotya really had gone out that
evening to meet Naum, who had been waiting for her in the patch of
dense shade thrown on the road by the high motionless hemp. The dew
bathed every stalk of it from top to bottom; the strong, almost
overpowering fragrance hung all about it. A huge crimson moon had just
risen in the dingy, blackish mist. Naum heard the hurried footsteps of
Avdotya a long way off and went to meet her. She came up to him, pale
with running; the moon lighted up her face.
“Well, have you brought it?” he asked.
“Brought it—yes, I have,” she answered in an uncertain voice. “But,
“Give it me, since you have brought it,” he interrupted her, and held
out his hand.
She took a parcel from under her shawl. Naum took it at once and
thrust it in his bosom.
“Naum Ivanitch,” Avdotya said slowly, keeping her eyes fixed on him,
“oh, Naum Ivanitch, you will bring my soul to ruin.”
It was at that instant that the servant came up to them.
And so Akim was sitting on the bench discontentedly stroking his
beard. Avdotya kept coming into the room and going out again. He simply
followed her with his eyes. At last she came into the room and after
taking a jerkin from the lobby was just crossing the threshold, when he
could not restrain himself and said, as though speaking to himself:
“I wonder,” he began, “why it is women are always in a fuss? It's no
good expecting them to sit still. That's not in their line. But running
out morning or evening, that's what they like. Yes.”
Avdotya listened to her husband's words without changing her
position; only at the word “evening,” she moved her head slightly and
seemed to ponder.
“Once you begin talking, Semyonitch,” she commented at last with
vexation, “there is no stopping you.”
And with a wave of her hand she went away and slammed the door.
Avdotya certainly did not appreciate Akim's eloquence and often in the
evenings when he indulged in conversation with travellers or fell to
telling stories she stealthily yawned or went out of the room. Akim
looked at the closed door. “Once you begin talking,” he repeated in an
undertone.... “The fact is, I have not talked enough to you. And who is
it? A peasant like any one of us, and what's more....” And he got up,
thought a little and tapped the back of his head with his fist.
Several days passed in a rather strange way. Akim kept looking at his
wife as though he were preparing to say something to her, and she, for
her part, looked at him suspiciously; meanwhile, they both preserved a
strained silence. This silence, however, was broken from time to time
by some peevish remark from Akim in regard to some oversight in the
housekeeping or in regard to women in general. For the most part
Avdotya did not answer one word. But in spite of Akim's good-natured
weakness, it certainly would have come to a decisive explanation
between him and Avdotya, if it had not been for an event which rendered
any explanation useless.
One morning Akim and wife were just beginning lunch (owing to the
summer work in the fields there were no travellers at the inn) when
suddenly a cart rattled briskly along the road and pulled up sharply at
the front door. Akim peeped out of window, frowned and looked down:
Naum got deliberately out of the cart. Avdotya had not seen him, but
when she heard his voice in the entry the spoon trembled in her hand.
He told the labourers to put up the horse in the yard. At last the door
opened and he walked into the room.
“Good-day,” he said, and took off his cap.
“Good-day,” Akim repeated through his teeth. “Where has God brought
“I was in the neighbourhood,” replied Naum, and he sat down on the
bench. “I have come from your lady.”
“From the lady,” said Akim, not getting up from his seat. “On
“Yes, on business. My respects to you, Avdotya Arefyevona.”
“Good morning, Naum Ivanitch,” she answered. All were silent.
“What have you got, broth, is it?” began Naum.
“Yes, broth,” replied Akim and all at once he turned pale, “but not
Naum glanced at Akim with surprise.
“Not for me?”
“Not for you, and that's all about it.” Akim's eyes glittered and he
brought his fist on the table. “There is nothing in my house for you,
do you hear?”
“What's this, Semyonitch, what is the matter with you?”
“There's nothing the matter with me, but I am sick of you, Naum
Ivanitch, that's what it is.” The old man got up, trembling all over.
“You poke yourself in here too often, I tell you.”
Naum, too, got up.
“You've gone clean off your head, old man,” he said with a jeer.
“Avdotya Arefyevna, what's wrong with him?”
“I tell you,” shouted Akim in a cracked voice, “go away, do you hear?
... You have nothing to do with Avdotya Arefyevna ... I tell you, do
you hear, get out!”
“What's that you are saying to me?” Naum asked significantly.
“Go out of the house, that's what I am telling to you. Here's God and
here's the door ... do you understand? Or there will be trouble.”
Naum took a step forward.
“Good gracious, don't fight, my dears,” faltered Avdotya, who till
then had sat motionless at the table.
Naum glanced at her.
“Don't be uneasy, Avdotya Arefyevna, why should we fight? Fie,
brother, what a hullabaloo you are making!” he went on, addressing
Akim. “Yes, really. You are a hasty one! Has anyone ever heard of
turning anyone out of his house, especially the owner of it?” Naum
added with slow deliberateness.
“Out of his house?” muttered Akim. “What owner?”
“Me, if you like.”
And Naum screwed up his eyes and showed his white teeth in a grin.
“You? Why, it's my house, isn't it?”
“What a slow-witted fellow you are! I tell you it's mine.”
Akim gazed at him open-eyed.
“What crazy stuff is it you are talking? One would think you had gone
silly,” he said at last. “How the devil can it be yours?”
“What's the good of talking to you?” cried Naum impatiently. “Do you
see this bit of paper?” he went on, pulling out of his pocket a sheet
of stamped paper, folded in four, “do you see? This is the deed of
sale, do you understand, the deed of sale of your land and your house;
I have bought them from the lady, from Lizaveta Prohorovna; the deed
was drawn up at the town yesterday; so I am master here, not you. Pack
your belongings today,” he added, putting the document back in his
pocket, “and don't let me see a sign of you here to-morrow, do you
Akim stood as though struck by a thunderbolt.
“Robber,” he moaned at last, “robber.... Heigh, Fedka, Mitka, wife,
wife, seize him, seize him—hold him.”
He lost his head completely.
“Mind now, old man,” said Naum menacingly, “mind what you are about,
don't play the fool....”
“Beat him, wife, beat him!” Akim kept repeating in a tearful voice,
trying helplessly and in vain to get up. “Murderer, robber.... She is
not enough for you, you want to take my house, too, and everything....
But no, stop a bit ... that can't be.... I'll go myself, I'll speak
myself ... how ... why should she sell it? Wait a bit, wait a bit.”
And he dashed out bareheaded.
“Where are you off to, Akim Ivanitch?” said the servant Fetinya,
running into him in the doorway.
“To our mistress! Let me pass! To our mistress!” wailed Akim, and
seeing Naum's cart which had not yet been taken into the yard, he
jumped into it, snatched the reins and lashing the horse with all his
might set off at full speed to his mistress's house.
“My lady, Lizaveta Prohorovna,” he kept repeating to himself all the
way, “how have I lost your favour? I should have thought I had done my
And meantime he kept lashing and lashing the horse. Those who met him
moved out of his way and gazed after him.
In a quarter of an hour Akim had reached Lizaveta Prohorovna's house,
had galloped up to the front door, jumped out of the cart and dashed
straight into the entry.
“What do you want?” muttered the frightened footman who was sleeping
sweetly on the hall bench.
“The mistress, I want to see the mistress,” said Akim loudly.
The footman was amazed.
“Has anything happened?” he began.
“Nothing has happened, but I want to see the mistress.”
“What, what,” said the footman, more and more astonished, and he
slowly drew himself up.
Akim pulled himself up.... He felt as though cold water had been
poured on him.
“Announce to the mistress, please, Pyotr Yevgrafitch,” he said with a
low bow, “that Akim asks leave to see her.”
“Very good ... I'll go ... I'll tell her ... but you must be drunk,
wait a bit,” grumbled the footman, and he went off.
Akim looked down and seemed confused.... His determination had
evaporated as soon as he went into the hall.
Lizaveta Prohorovna was confused, too, when she was informed that
Akim had come. She immediately summoned Kirillovna to her boudoir.
“I can't see him,” she began hurriedly, as soon as the latter
appeared. “I absolutely cannot. What am I to say to him? I told you he
would be sure to come and complain,” she added in annoyance and
agitation. “I told you.”
“But why should you see him?” Kirillovna answered calmly, “there is
no need to. Why should you be worried! No, indeed!”
“What is to be done then?”
“If you will permit me, I will speak to him.”
Lizaveta Prohorovna raised her head.
“Please do, Kirillovna. Talk to him. You tell him ... that I found it
necessary ... but that I will compensate him ... say what you think
best. Please, Kirillovna.”
“Don't you worry yourself, madam,” answered Kirillovna, and she went
out, her shoes creaking.
A quarter of an hour had not elapsed when their creaking was heard
again and Kirillovna walked into the boudoir with the same unruffled
expression on her face and the same sly shrewdness in her eyes.
“Well?” asked her mistress, “how is Akim?”
“He is all right, madam. He says that it must all be as you
graciously please; that if only you have good health and prosperity he
can get along very well.”
“And he did not complain?”
“No, madam. Why should he complain?”
“What did he come for, then?” Lizaveta Prohorovna asked in some
“He came to ask whether you would excuse his yearly payment for next
year, that is, until he has been compensated.”
“Of course, of course,” Lizaveta Prohorovna caught her up eagerly.
“Of course, with pleasure. And tell him, in fact, that I will make it
up to him. Thank you, Kirillovna. I see he is a good-hearted man.
Stay,” she added, “give him this from me,” and she took a three-rouble
note out of her work-table drawer, “Here, take this, give it to him.”
“Certainly, madam,” answered Kirillovna, and going calmly back to her
room she locked the note in an iron-cased box which stood at the head
of her bed; she kept in it all her spare cash, and there was a
considerable amount of it.
Kirillovna had reassured her mistress by her report but the
conversation between herself and Akim had not been quite what she
represented. She had sent for him to the maid's room. At first he had
not come, declaring that he did not want to see Kirillovna but Lizaveta
Prohorovna herself; he had, however, at last obeyed and gone by the
back door to see Kirillovna. He found her alone. He stopped at once on
getting into the room and leaned against the wall by the door; he would
have spoken but he could not.
Kirillovna looked at him intently.
“You want to see the mistress, Akim Semyonitch?” she began.
He simply nodded.
“It's impossible, Akim Semyonitch. And what's the use? What's done
can't be undone, and you will only worry the mistress. She can't see
you now, Akim Semyonitch.”
“She cannot,” he repeated and paused. “Well, then,” he brought out at
last, “so then my house is lost?”
“Listen, Akim Semyonitch. I know you have always been a sensible man.
Such is the mistress's will and there is no changing it. You can't
alter that. Whatever you and I might say about it would make no
difference, would it?”
Akim put his arm behind his back.
“You'd better think,” Kirillovna went on, “shouldn't you ask the
mistress to let you off your yearly payment or something?”
“So my house is lost?” repeated Akim in the same voice.
“Akim Semyonitch, I tell you, it's no use. You know that better than
“Yes. Anyway, you might tell me what the house went for?”
“I don't know, Akim Semyonitch, I can't tell you.... But why are you
standing?” she added. “Sit down.”
“I'd rather stand, I am a peasant. I thank you humbly.”
“You a peasant, Akim Semyonitch? You are as good as a merchant, let
alone a house-serf! What do you mean? Don't distress yourself for
nothing. Won't you have some tea?”
“No, thank you, I don't want it. So you have got hold of my house
between you,” he added, moving away from the wall. “Thank you for that.
I wish you good-bye, my lady.”
And he turned and went out. Kirillovna straightened her apron and
went to her mistress.
“So I am a merchant, it seems,” Akim said to himself, standing before
the gate in hesitation. “A nice merchant!” He waved his hand and
laughed bitterly. “Well, I suppose I had better go home.”
And entirely forgetting Naum's horse with which he had come, he
trudged along the road to the inn. Before he had gone the first mile he
suddenly heard the rattle of a cart beside him.
“Akim, Akim Semyonitch,” someone called to him.
He raised his eyes and saw a friend of his, the parish clerk, Yefrem,
nicknamed the Mole, a little, bent man with a sharp nose and
dim-sighted eyes. He was sitting on a bundle of straw in a wretched
little cart, and leaning forward against the box.
“Are you going home?” he asked Akim.
“Shall I give you a lift?”
Yefrem moved to one side and Akim climbed into the cart. Yefrem, who
seemed to be somewhat exhilarated, began lashing at his wretched little
horse with the ends of his cord reins; it set off at a weary trot
continually tossing its unbridled head.
They drove for nearly a mile without saying one word to each other.
Akim sat with his head bent while Yefrem muttered to himself,
alternately urging on and holding back his horse.
“Where have you been without your cap, Semyonitch?” he asked Akim
suddenly and, without waiting for an answer, went on, “You've left it
at some tavern, that's what you've done. You are a drinking man; I know
you and I like you for it, that you are a drinker; you are not a
murderer, not a rowdy, not one to make trouble; you are a good manager,
but you are a drinker and such a drinker, you ought to have been pulled
up for it long ago, yes, indeed; for it's, a nasty habit.... Hurrah!”
he shouted suddenly at the top of his voice, “Hurrah! Hurrah!”
“Stop! Stop!” a woman's voice sounded close by, “Stop!”
Akim looked round. A woman so pale and dishevelled that at first he
did not recognise her, was running across the field towards the cart.
“Stop! Stop!” she moaned again, gasping for breath and waving her
Akim started: it was his wife.
He snatched up the reins.
“What's the good of stopping?” muttered Yefrem. “Stopping for a
But Akim pulled the horse up sharply. At that instant Avdotya ran up
to the road and flung herself down with her face straight in the dust.
“Akim Semyonitch,” she wailed, “he has turned me out, too!”
Akim looked at her and did not stir; he only gripped the reins
“Hurrah!” Yefrem shouted again.
“So he has turned you out?” said Akim.
“He has turned me out, Akim Semyonitch, dear,” Avdotya answered,
sobbing. “He has turned me out. The house is mine, he said, so you can
“Capital! That's a fine thing ... capital,” observed Yefrem.
“So I suppose you thought to stay on?” Akim brought out bitterly,
still sitting in the cart.
“How could I! But, Akim Semyonitch,” went on Avdotya, who had raised
her head but let it sink to the earth again, “you don't know, I ...
kill me, Akim Semyonitch, kill me here on the spot.”
“Why should I kill you, Arefyevna?” said Akim dejectedly, “you've
been your own ruin. What's the use?”
“But do you know what, Akim Semyonitch, the money ... your money ...
your money's gone.... Wretched sinner as I am, I took it from under the
floor, I gave it all to him, to that villain Naum.... Why did you tell
me where you hid your money, wretched sinner as I am? ... It's with
your money he has bought the house, the villain.”
Sobs choked her voice.
Akim clutched his head with both hands.
“What!” he cried at last, “all the money, too ... the money and the
house, and you did it.... Ah! You took it from under the floor, you
took it.... I'll kill you, you snake in the grass!” And he leapt out of
“Semyonitch, Semyonitch, don't beat her, don't fight,” faltered
Yefrem, on whom this unexpected adventure began to have a sobering
“No, Akim Semyonitch, kill me, wretched sinner as I am; beat me,
don't heed him,” cried Avdotya, writhing convulsively at Akim's feet.
He stood a moment, looked at her, moved a few steps away and sat down
on the grass beside the road.
A brief silence followed. Avdotya turned her head in his direction.
“Semyonitch! hey, Semyonitch,” began Yefrem, sitting up in the cart,
“give over ... you know ... you won't make things any better. Tfoo,
what a business,” he went on as though to himself. “What a damnable
woman.... Go to him,” he added, bending down over the side of the cart
to Avdotya, “you see, he's half crazy.”
Avdotya got up, went nearer to Akim and again fell at his feet.
“Akim Semyonitch!” she began, in a faint voice.
Akim got up and went back to the cart. She caught at the skirt of his
“Get away!” he shouted savagely, and pushed her off.
“Where are you going?” Yefrem asked, seeing that he was getting in
beside him again.
“You were going to take me to my home,” said Akim, “but take me to
yours ... you see, I have no home now. They have bought mine.”
“Very well, come to me. And what about her?”
Akim made no answer.
“And me? Me?” Avdotya repeated with tears, “are you leaving me all
alone? Where am I to go?”
“You can go to him,” answered Akim, without turning round, “the man
you have given my money to.... Drive on, Yefrem!”
Yefrem lashed the horse, the cart rolled off, Avdotya set up a
Yefrem lived three-quarters of a mile from Akim's inn in a little
house close to the priest's, near the solitary church with five cupolas
which had been recently built by the heirs of a rich merchant in
accordance with the latter's will. Yefrem said nothing to Akim all the
way; he merely shook his head from time to time and uttered such
ejaculations as “Dear, dear!” and “Upon my soul!” Akim sat without
moving, turned a little away from Yefrem. At last they arrived. Yefrem
was the first to get out of the cart. A little girl of six in a smock
tied low round the waist ran out to meet him and shouted,
“And where is your mother?” asked Yefrem.
“She is asleep in the shed.”
“Well, let her sleep. Akim Semyonitch, won't you get out, sir, and
(It must be noted that Yefrem addressed him familiarly only when he
was drunk. More important persons than Yefrem spoke to Akim with formal
Akim went into the sacristan's hut.
“Here, sit on the bench,” said Yefrem. “Run away, you little
rascals,” he cried to three other children who suddenly came out of
different corners of the room together with two lean cats covered with
wood ashes. “Get along! Sh-sh! Come this way, Akim Semyonitch, this
way!” he went on, making his guest sit down, “and won't you take
“I tell you what, Yefrem,” Akim articulated at last, “could I have
Yefrem pricked up his ears.
“Vodka? You can. I've none in the house, but I will run this minute
to Father Fyodor's. He always has it.... I'll be back in no time.”
And he snatched up his cap with earflaps.
“Bring plenty, I'll pay for it,” Akim shouted after him. “I've still
money enough for that.”
“I'll be back in no time,” Yefrem repeated again as he went out of
the door. He certainly did return very quickly with two bottles under
his arm, of which one was already uncorked, put them on the table,
brought two little green glasses, part of a loaf and some salt.
“Now this is what I like,” he kept repeating, as he sat down opposite
Akim. “Why grieve?” He poured out a glass for Akim and another for
himself and began talking freely. Avdotya's conduct had perplexed him.
“It's a strange business, really,” he said, “how did it happen? He must
have bewitched her, I suppose? It shows how strictly one must look
after a wife! You want to keep a firm hand over her. All the same it
wouldn't be amiss for you to go home; I expect you have got a lot of
belongings there still.” Yefrem added much more to the same effect; he
did not like to be silent when he was drinking.
This is what was happening an hour later in Yefrem's house. Akim, who
had not answered a word to the questions and observations of his
talkative host but had merely gone on drinking glass after glass, was
sleeping on the stove, crimson in the face, a heavy, oppressive sleep;
the children were looking at him in wonder, and Yefrem ... Yefrem,
alas, was asleep, too, but in a cold little lumber room in which he had
been locked by his wife, a woman of very masculine and powerful
physique. He had gone to her in the shed and begun threatening her or
telling her some tale, but had expressed himself so unintelligibly and
incoherently that she instantly saw what was the matter, took him by
the collar and deposited him in a suitable place. He slept in the
lumber room, however, very soundly and even serenely. Such is the
effect of habit.
* * * * *
Kirillovna had not quite accurately repeated to Lizaveta Prohorovna
her conversation with Akim ... the same may be said of Avdotya. Naum
had not turned her out, though she had told Akim that he had; he had no
right to turn her out. He was bound to give the former owners time to
pack up. An explanation of quite a different character took place
between him and Avdotya.
When Akim had rushed out crying that he would go to the mistress,
Avdotya had turned to Naum, stared at him open-eyed and clasped her
“Good heavens!” she cried, “Naum Ivanitch, what does this mean?
You've bought our inn?”
“Well, what of it?” he replied. “I have.”
Avdotya was silent for a while; then she suddenly started.
“So that is what you wanted the money for?”
“You are quite right there. Hullo, I believe your husband has gone
off with my horse,” he added, hearing the rumble of the wheels. “He is
a smart fellow!”
“But it's robbery!” wailed Avdotya. “Why, it's our money, my
husband's money and the inn is ours....”
“No, Avdotya Arefyevna,” Naum interrupted her, “the inn was not
yours. What's the use of saying that? The inn was on your mistress's
land, so it was hers. The money was yours, certainly; but you were, so
to say, so kind as to present it to me; and I am grateful to you and
will even give it back to you on occasion—if occasion arises; but you
wouldn't expect me to remain a beggar, would you?”
Naum said all this very calmly and even with a slight smile.
“Holy saints!” cried Avdotya, “it's beyond everything! Beyond
everything! How can I look my husband in the face after this? You
villain,” she added, looking with hatred at Naum's fresh young face.
“I've ruined my soul for you, I've become a thief for your sake, why,
you've turned us into the street, you villain! There's nothing left for
me but to hang myself, villain, deceiver! You've ruined me, you
monster!” And she broke into violent sobbing.
“Don't excite yourself, Avdotya Arefyevna,” said Naum. “I'll tell you
one thing: charity begins at home, and that's what the pike is in the
sea for, to keep the carp from going to sleep.”
“Where are we to go now. What's to become of us?” Avdotya faltered,
“That I can't say.”
“But I'll cut your throat, you villain, I'll cut your throat.”
“No, you won't do that, Avdotya Arefyevna; what's the use of talking
like that? But I see I had better leave you for a time, for you are
very much upset.... I'll say good-bye, but I shall be back to-morrow
for certain. But you must allow me to send my workmen here today,” he
added, while Avdotya went on repeating through her tears that she would
cut his throat and her own.
“Oh, and here they are,” he observed, looking out of the window. “Or,
God forbid, some mischief might happen.... It will be safer so. Will
you be so kind as to put your belongings together to-day and they'll
keep guard here and help you, if you like. I'll say goodbye.”
He bowed, went out and beckoned the workmen to him.
Avdotya sank on the bench, then bent over the table, wringing her
hands, then suddenly leapt up and ran after her husband.... We have
described their meeting.
When Akim drove away from her with Yefrem, leaving her alone in the
field, for a long time she remained where she was, weeping. When she
had wept away all her tears she went in the direction of her mistress's
house. It was very bitter for her to go into the house, still more
bitter to go into the maids' room. All the maids flew to meet her with
sympathy and consideration. Seeing them, Avdotya could not restrain her
tears; they simply spurted from her red and swollen eyes. She sank,
helpless, on the first chair that offered itself. Someone ran to fetch
Kirillovna. Kirillovna came, was very friendly to her, but kept her
from seeing the mistress just as she had Akim. Avdotya herself did not
insist on seeing Lizaveta Prohorovna; she had come to her old home
simply because she had nowhere else to go.
Kirillovna ordered the samovar to be brought in. For a long while
Avdotya refused to take tea, but yielded at last to the entreaties and
persuasion of all the maids and after the first cup drank another four.
When Kirillovna saw that her guest was a little calmer and only
shuddered and gave a faint sob from time to time, she asked her where
they meant to move to and what they thought of doing with their things.
Avdotya began crying again at this question, and protesting that she
wanted nothing but to die; but Kirillovna as a woman with a head on her
shoulders, checked her at once and advised her without wasting time to
set to work that very day to move their things to the hut in the
village which had been Akim's and in which his uncle (the old man who
had tried to dissuade him from his marriage) was now living; she told
her that with their mistress's permission men and horses should be sent
to help them in packing and moving. “And as for you, my love,” added
Kirillovna, twisting her cat-like lips into a wry smile, “there will
always be a place for you with us and we shall be delighted if you stay
with us till you are settled in a house of your own again. The great
thing is not to lose heart. The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away
and will give again. Lizaveta Prohorovna, of course, had to sell your
inn for reasons of her own but she will not forget you and will make up
to you for it; she told me to tell Akim Semyonitch so. Where is he
Avdotya answered that when he met her he had been very unkind to her
and had driven off to Yefrem's.
“Oh, to that fellow's!” Kirillovna replied significantly. “Of course,
I understand that it's hard for him now. I daresay you won't find him
to-day; what's to be done? I must make arrangements. Malashka,” she
added, turning to one of the maids, “ask Nikanop Ilyitch to come here:
we will talk it over with him.”
Nikanop Ilyitch, a feeble-looking man who was bailiff or something of
the sort, made his appearance at once, listened with servility to all
that Kirillovna said to him, said, “it shall be done,” went out and
gave orders. Avdotya was given three waggons and three peasants; a
fourth who said that he was “more competent than they were,”
volunteered to join them and she went with them to the inn where she
found her own labourers and the servant Fetinya in a state of great
confusion and alarm.
Naum's newly hired labourers, three very stalwart young men, had come
in the morning and had not left the place since. They were keeping very
zealous guard, as Naum had said they would—so zealous that the iron
tyres of a new cart were suddenly found to be missing.
It was a bitter, bitter task for poor Avdotya to pack. In spite of
the help of the “competent” man, who turned out, however, only capable
of walking about with a stick in his hand, looking at the others and
spitting on the ground, she was not able to get it finished that day
and stayed the night at the inn, begging Fetinya to spend the night in
her room. But she only fell into a feverish doze towards morning and
the tears trickled down her cheeks even in her sleep.
Meanwhile Yefrem woke up earlier than usual in his lumber room and
began knocking and asking to be let out. At first his wife was
unwilling to release him and told him through the door that he had not
yet slept long enough; but he aroused her curiosity by promising to
tell her of the extraordinary thing that had happened to Akim; she
unbolted the door. Yefrem told her what he knew and ended by asking “Is
he awake yet, or not?”
“The Lord only knows,” answered his wife. “Go and look yourself; he
hasn't got down from the stove yet. How drunk you both were yesterday!
You should look at your face—you don't look like yourself. You are as
black as a sweep and your hair is full of hay!”
“That doesn't matter,” answered Yefrem, and, passing his hand over
his head, he went into the room. Akim was no longer asleep; he was
sitting on the stove with his legs hanging down; he, too, looked
strange and unkempt. His face showed the effects the more as he was not
used to drinking much.
“Well, how have you slept, Akim Semyonitch?” Yefrem began.
Akim looked at him with lustreless eyes.
“Well, brother Yefrem,” he said huskily, “could we have some again?”
Yefrem took a swift glance at Akim.... He felt a slight tremor at
that moment; it was a tremor such as is felt by a sportsman when he
hears the yap of his dog at the edge of the wood from which he had
fancied all the game had been driven.
“What, more?” he asked at last.
“My wife will see,” thought Yefrem, “she won't let me out, most
“All right,” he pronounced aloud, “have a little patience.”
He went out and, thanks to skilfully taken precautions, succeeded in
bringing in unseen a big bottle under his coat.
Akim took the bottle. But Yefrem did not sit down with him as he had
the day before—he was afraid of his wife—and informing Akim that he
would go and have a look at what was going on at the inn and would see
that his belongings were being packed and not stolen—at once set off,
riding his little horse which he had neglected to feed—but judging
from the bulging front of his coat he had not forgotten his own needs.
Soon after he had gone, Akim was on the stove again, sleeping like
the dead.... He did not wake up, or at least gave no sign of waking
when Yefrem returned four hours later and began shaking him and trying
to rouse him and muttering over him some very muddled phrases such as
that “everything was moved and gone, and the ikons have been taken out
and driven away and that everything was over, and that everyone was
looking for him but that he, Yefrem, had given orders and not allowed
them, ...” and so on. But his mutterings did not last long. His wife
carried him off to the lumber room again and, very indignant both with
her husband and with the visitor, owing to whom her husband had been
drinking, lay down herself in the room on the shelf under the
ceiling.... But when she woke up early, as her habit was, and glanced
at the stove, Akim was not there. The second cock had not crowed and
the night was still so dark that the sky hardly showed grey overhead
and at the horizon melted into the darkness when Akim walked out of the
gate of the sacristan's house. His face was pale but he looked keenly
around him and his step was not that of a drunken man.... He walked in
the direction of his former dwelling, the inn, which had now completely
passed into the possession of its new owner—Naum.
Naum, too, was awake when Akim stole out of Yefrem's house. He was
not asleep; he was lying on a bench with his sheepskin coat under him.
It was not that his conscience was troubling him—no! he had with
amazing coolness been present all day at the packing and moving of all
Akim's possessions and had more than once addressed Avdotya, who was so
downcast that she did not even reproach him ... his conscience was at
rest but he was disturbed by various conjectures and calculations. He
did not know whether he would be lucky in his new career; he had never
before kept an inn, nor had a home of his own at all; he could not
sleep. “The thing has begun well,” he thought, “how will it go on?” ...
Towards evening, after seeing off the last cart with Akim's belongings
(Avdotya walked behind it, weeping), he looked all over the yard, the
cellars, sheds, and barns, clambered up into the loft, more than once
instructed his labourers to keep a very, very sharp look-out and when
he was left alone after supper could not go to sleep. It so happened
that day that no visitor stayed at the inn for the night; this was a
great relief to him. “I must certainly buy a dog from the miller
to-morrow, as fierce a one as I can get; they've taken theirs away,” he
said to himself, as he tossed from side to side, and all at once he
raised his head quickly ... he fancied that someone had passed by the
window ... he listened ... there was nothing. Only a cricket from time
to time gave a cautious churr, and a mouse was scratching somewhere; he
could hear his own breathing. Everything was still in the empty room
dimly lighted by the little glass lamp which he had managed to hang up
and light before the ikon in the corner.... He let his head sink; again
he thought he heard the gate creak ... then a faint snapping sound from
the fence.... He could not refrain from jumping up; he opened the door
of the room and in a low voice called, “Fyodor! Fyodor!” No one
answered.... He went out into the passage and almost fell over Fyodor,
who was lying on the floor. The man stirred in his sleep with a faint
grunt; Naum roused him.
“What's there? What do you want?” Fyodor began.
“What are you bawling for, hold your tongue!” Naum articulated in a
whisper. “How you sleep, you damned fellows! Have you heard nothing?”
“Nothing,” answered the man.... “What is it?”
“Where are the others sleeping?”
“Where they were told to sleep.... Why, is there anything ...”
“Hold your tongue—come with me.”
Naum stealthily opened the door and went out into the yard. It was
very dark outside.... The roofed-in parts and the posts could only be
distinguished because they were a still deeper black in the midst of
the black darkness.
“Shouldn't we light a lantern?” said Fyodor in a low voice.
But Naum waved his hand and held his breath.... At first he could
hear nothing but those nocturnal sounds which can almost always be
heard in an inhabited place: a horse was munching oats, a pig grunted
faintly in its sleep, a man was snoring somewhere; but all at once his
ear detected a suspicious sound coming from the very end of the yard,
near the fence.
Someone seemed to be stirring there, and breathing or blowing. Naum
looked over his shoulder towards Fyodor and cautiously descending the
steps went towards the sound.... Once or twice he stopped, listened and
stole on further.... Suddenly he started.... Ten paces from him, in the
thick darkness there came the flash of a bright light: it was a glowing
ember and close to it there was visible for an instant the front part
of a face with lips thrust out.... Quickly and silently, like a cat at
a mouse, Naum darted to the fire.... Hurriedly rising up from the
ground a long body rushed to meet him and, nearly knocking him off his
feet, almost eluded his grasp; but Naum hung on to it with all his
“Fyodor! Andrey! Petrushka!” he shouted at the top of his voice.
“Make haste! here! here! I've caught a thief trying to set fire to the
The man whom he had caught fought and struggled violently ... but
Naum did not let him go. Fyodor at once ran to his assistance.
“A lantern! Make haste, a lantern! Run for a lantern, wake the
others!” Naum shouted to him. “I can manage him alone for a time—I am
sitting on him.... Make haste! And bring a belt to tie his hands.”
Fyodor ran into the house.... The man whom Naum was holding suddenly
left off struggling.
“So it seems wife and money and home are not enough for you, you want
to ruin me, too,” he said in a choking voice.
Naum recognised Akim's voice.
“So that's you, my friend,” he brought out; “very good, you wait a
“Let me go,” said Akim, “aren't you satisfied?”
“I'll show you before the judge to-morrow whether I am satisfied,”
and Naum tightened his grip of Akim.
The labourers ran up with two lanterns and cords. “Tie his arms,”
Naum ordered sharply. The men caught hold of Akim, stood him up and
twisted his arms behind his back.... One of them began abusing him, but
recognising the former owner of the inn lapsed into silence and only
exchanged glances with the others.
“Do you see, do you see!” Naum kept repeating, meanwhile throwing the
light of the lantern on the ground, “there are hot embers in the pot;
look, there's a regular log alight here! We must find out where he got
this pot ... here, he has broken up twigs, too,” and Naum carefully
stamped out the fire with his foot. “Search him, Fyodor,” he added,
“see if he hasn't got something else on him.”
Fyodor rummaged Akim's pockets and felt him all over while the old
man stood motionless, with his head drooping on his breast as though he
“Here's a knife,” said Fyodor, taking an old kitchen knife out of the
front of Akim's coat.
“Aha, my fine gentleman, so that's what you were after,” cried Naum.
“Lads, you are witnesses ... here he wanted to murder me and set fire
to the house.... Lock him up for the night in the cellar, he can't get
out of that.... I'll keep watch all night myself and to-morrow as soon
as it is light we will take him to the police captain ... and you are
witnesses, do you hear!”
Akim was thrust into the cellar and the door was slammed.... Naum set
two men to watch it and did not go to bed himself.
Meanwhile, Yefrem's wife having convinced herself that her uninvited
guest had gone, set about her cooking though it was hardly daylight....
It was a holiday. She squatted down before the stove to get a hot ember
and saw that someone had scraped out the hot ashes before her; then she
wanted her knife and searched for it in vain; then of her four cooking
pots one was missing. Yefrem's wife had the reputation of being a woman
with brains, and justly so. She stood and pondered, then went to the
lumber room, to her husband. It was not easy to wake him—and still
more difficult to explain to him why he was being awakened.... To all
that she said to him Yefrem made the same answer.
“He's gone away—well, God bless him.... What business is it of mine?
He's taken our knife and our pot—well, God bless him, what has it to
do with me?”
At last, however, he got up and after listening attentively to his
wife came to the conclusion that it was a bad business, that something
must be done.
“Yes,” his wife repeated, “it is a bad business; maybe he will be
doing mischief in his despair.... I saw last night that he was not
asleep but was just lying on the stove; it would be as well for you to
go and see, Yefrem Alexandritch.”
“I tell you what, Ulyana Fyodorovna,” Yefrem began, “I'll go myself
to the inn now, and you be so kind, mother, as to give me just a drop
to sober me.”
“Well,” she decided at last, “I'll give you the vodka, Yefrem
Alexandritch; but mind now, none of your pranks.”
“Don't you worry, Ulyana Fyodorovna.”
And fortifying himself with a glass, Yefrem made his way to the inn.
It was only just getting light when he rode up to the inn but,
already a cart and a horse were standing at the gate and one of Naum's
labourers was sitting on the box holding the reins.
“Where are you off to?” asked Yefrem.
“To the town,” the man answered reluctantly.
The man simply shrugged his shoulders and did not answer. Yefrem
jumped off his horse and went into the house. In the entry he came upon
Naum, fully dressed and with his cap on.
“I congratulate the new owner on his new abode,” said Yefrem, who
knew him. “Where are you off to so early?”
“Yes, you have something to congratulate me on,” Naum answered
grimly. “On the very first day the house has almost been burnt down.”
Yefrem started. “How so?”
“Oh, a kind soul turned up who tried to set fire to it. Luckily I
caught him in the act; now I am taking him to the town.”
“Was it Akim, I wonder?” Yefrem asked slowly.
“How did you know? Akim. He came at night with a burning log in a pot
and got into the yard and was setting fire to it ... all my men are
witnesses. Would you like to see him? It's time for us to take him, by
“My good Naum Ivanitch,” Yefrem began, “let him go, don't ruin the
old man altogether. Don't take that sin upon your soul, Naum Ivanitch.
Only think—the man was in despair—he didn't know what he was doing.”
“Give over that nonsense,” Naum cut him short. “What! Am I likely to
let him go! Why, he'd set fire to the house to-morrow if I did.”
“He wouldn't, Naum Ivanitch, believe me. Believe me you will be
easier yourself for it—you know there will be questions asked, a
trial—you can see that for yourself.”
“Well, what if there is a trial? I have no reason to be afraid of
“My good Naum Ivanitch, one must be afraid of a trial.”
“Oh, that's enough. I see you are drunk already, and to-day a saint's
Yefrem all at once, quite unexpectedly, burst into tears.
“I am drunk but I am speaking the truth,” he muttered. “And for the
sake of the holiday you ought to forgive him.”
“Well, come along, you sniveller.”
And Naum went out on to the steps.
“Forgive him, for Avdotya Arefyevna's sake,” said Yefrem following
him on to the steps.
Naum went to the cellar and flung the door wide open. With timid
curiosity Yefrem craned his neck from behind Naum and with difficulty
made out the figure of Akim in the corner of the cellar. The once
well-to-do innkeeper, respected all over the neighbourhood, was sitting
on straw with his hands tied behind him like a criminal. Hearing a
noise he raised his head.... It seemed as though he had grown fearfully
thin in those last few days, especially during the previous night—his
sunken eyes could hardly be seen under his high, waxen-yellow forehead,
his parched lips looked dark ... his whole face was changed and wore a
strange expression—savage and frightened.
“Get up and come along,” said Naum.
Akim got up and stepped over the threshold.
“Akim Semyonitch!” Yefrem wailed, “you've brought ruin on yourself,
Akim glanced at him without speaking.
“If I had known why you asked for vodka I would not have given it to
you, I really would not. I believe I would have drunk it all myself!
Eh, Naum Ivanitch,” he added clutching at Naum's arm, “have mercy upon
him, let him go!”
“What next!” Naum replied with a grin. “Well, come along,” he added
addressing Akim again. “What are you waiting for?”
“Naum Ivanitch,” Akim began.
“What is it?”
“Naum Ivanitch,” Akim repeated, “listen: I am to blame; I wanted to
settle my accounts with you myself; but God must be the judge between
us. You have taken everything from me, you know yourself, everything I
had. Now you can ruin me, only I tell you this: if you let me go now,
then—so be it—take possession of everything! I agree and wish you all
success. I promise you as before God, if you let me go you will not
regret it. God be with you.”
Akim shut his eyes and ceased speaking.
“A likely story!” retorted Naum, “as though one could believe you!”
“But, by God, you can,” said Yefrem, “you really can. I'd stake my
life on Akim Semyonitch's good faith—I really would.”
“Nonsense,” cried Naum. “Come along.”
Akim looked at him.
“As you think best, Naum Ivanitch. It's for you to decide. But you
are laying a great burden on your soul. Well, if you are in such a
hurry, let us start.”
Naum in his turn looked keenly at Akim.
“After all,” he thought to himself, “hadn't I better let him go? Or
people will never have done pestering me about him. Avdotya will give
me no peace.” While Naum was reflecting, no one uttered a word. The
labourer in the cart who could see it all through the gate did nothing
but toss his head and flick the horse's sides with the reins. The two
other labourers stood on the steps and they too were silent.
“Well, listen, old man,” Naum began, “when I let you go and tell
these fellows” (he motioned with his head towards the labourers) “not
to talk, shall we be quits—do you understand me—quits ... eh?”
“I tell you, you can have it all.”
“You won't consider me in your debt?”
“You won't be in my debt, I shall not be in yours.”
Naum was silent again.
“And will you swear it?”
“Yes, as God is holy,” answered Akim.
“Well, I know I shall regret it,” said Naum, “but there, come what
may! Give me your hands.”
Akim turned his back to him; Naum began untying him.
“Now, mind, old man,” he added as he pulled the cord off his wrists,
“remember, I have spared you, mind that!”
“Naum Ivanitch, my dear,” faltered Yefrem, “the Lord will have mercy
Akim freed his chilled and swollen hands and was moving towards the
Naum suddenly “showed the Jew” as the saying is—he must have
regretted that he had let Akim off.
“You've sworn now, mind!” he shouted after him. Akim turned, and
looking round the yard, said mournfully, “Possess it all, so be it
forever! ... Good-bye.”
And he went slowly out into the road accompanied by Yefrem. Naum
ordered the horse to be unharnessed and with a wave of his hand went
back into the house.
“Where are you off to, Akim Semyonitch? Aren't you coming back to
me?” cried Yefrem, seeing that Akim was hurrying to the right out of
the high road.
“No, Yefremushka, thank you,” answered Akim. “I am going to see what
my wife is doing.”
“You can see afterwards.... But now we ought to celebrate the
“No, thank you, Yefrem.... I've had enough. Good-bye.”
And Akim walked off without looking round.
“Well! 'I've had enough'!” the puzzled sacristan pronounced. “And I
pledged my word for him! Well, I never expected this,” he added, with
vexation, “after I had pledged my word for him, too!”
He remembered that he had not thought to take his knife and his pot
and went back to the inn.... Naum ordered his things to be given to him
but never even thought of offering him a drink. He returned home
thoroughly annoyed and thoroughly sober.
“Well?” his wife inquired, “found?”
“Found what?” answered Yefrem, “to be sure I've found it: here is
“Akim?” asked his wife with especial emphasis.
Yefrem nodded his head.
“Yes. But he is a nice one! I pledged my word for him; if it had not
been for me he'd be lying in prison, and he never offered me a drop!
Ulyana Fyodorovna, you at least might show me consideration and give me
But Ulyana Fyodorovna did not show him consideration and drove him
out of her sight.
Meanwhile, Akim was walking with slow steps along the road to
Lizaveta Prohorovna's house. He could not yet fully grasp his position;
he was trembling all over like a man who had just escaped from a
certain death. He seemed unable to believe in his freedom. In dull
bewilderment he gazed at the fields, at the sky, at the larks quivering
in the warm air. From the time he had woken up on the previous morning
at Yefrem's he had not slept, though he had lain on the stove without
moving; at first he had wanted to drown in vodka the insufferable pain
of humiliation, the misery of frenzied and impotent anger ... but the
vodka had not been able to stupefy him completely; his anger became
overpowering and he began to think how to punish the man who had
wronged him.... He thought of no one but Naum; the idea of Lizaveta
Prohorovna never entered his head and on Avdotya he mentally turned his
back. By the evening his thirst for revenge had grown to a frenzy, and
the good-natured and weak man waited with feverish impatience for the
approach of night and ran, like a wolf to its prey, to destroy his old
home.... But then he had been caught ... locked up.... The night had
followed. What had he not thought over during that cruel night! It is
difficult to put into words all that a man passes through at such
moments, all the tortures that he endures; more difficult because those
tortures are dumb and inarticulate in the man himself.... Towards
morning, before Naum and Yefrem had come to the door, Akim had begun to
feel as it were more at ease. Everything is lost, he thought,
everything is scattered and gone ... and he dismissed it all. If he had
been naturally bad-hearted he might at that moment have become a
criminal; but evil was not natural to Akim. Under the shock of
undeserved and unexpected misfortune, in the delirium of despair he had
brought himself to crime; it had shaken him to the depths of his being
and, failing, had left in him nothing but intense weariness.... Feeling
his guilt in his mind he mentally tore himself from all things earthly
and began praying, bitterly but fervently. At first he prayed in a
whisper, then perhaps by accident he uttered a loud “Oh, God!” and
tears gushed from his eyes.... For a long time he wept and at last grew
quieter.... His thoughts would probably have changed if he had had to
pay the penalty of his attempted crime ... but now he had suddenly been
set free ... and he was walking to see his wife, feeling only half
alive, utterly crushed but calm.
Lizaveta Prohorovna's house stood about a mile from her village to
the left of the cross road along which Akim was walking. He was about
to stop at the turning that led to his mistress's house ... but he
walked on instead. He decided first to go to what had been his hut,
where his uncle lived.
Akim's small and somewhat dilapidated hut was almost at the end of
the village; Akin walked through the whole street without meeting a
soul. All the people were at church. Only one sick old woman raised a
little window to look after him and a little girl who had run out with
an empty pail to the well gaped at him, and she too looked after him.
The first person he met was the uncle he was looking for. The old man
had been sitting all the morning on the ledge under his window taking
pinches of snuff and warming himself in the sun; he was not very well,
so he had not gone to church; he was just setting off to visit another
old man, a neighbour who was also ailing, when he suddenly saw Akim....
He stopped, let him come up to him and glancing into his face, said:
“Good-day,” answered Akim, and passing the old man went in at the
gate. In the yard were standing his horses, his cow, his cart; his
poultry, too, were there.... He went into the hut without a word. The
old man followed him. Akim sat down on the bench and leaned his fists
on it. The old man standing at the door looked at him compassionately.
“And where is my wife?” asked Akim.
“At the mistress's house,” the old man answered quickly. “She is
there. They put your cattle here and what boxes there were, and she has
gone there. Shall I go for her?”
Akim was silent for a time.
“Yes, do,” he said at last.
“Oh, uncle, uncle,” he brought out with a sigh while the old man was
taking his hat from a nail, “do you remember what you said to me the
day before my wedding?”
“It's all God's will, Akimushka.”
“Do you remember you said to me that I was above you peasants, and
now you see what times have come.... I'm stripped bare myself.”
“There's no guarding oneself from evil folk,” answered the old man,
“if only someone such as a master, for instance, or someone in
authority, could give him a good lesson, the shameless fellow—but as
it is, he has nothing to be afraid of. He is a wolf and he behaves like
one.” And the old man put on his cap and went off.
Avdotya had just come back from church when she was told that her
husband's uncle was asking for her. Till then she had rarely seen him;
he did not come to see them at the inn and had the reputation of being
queer altogether: he was passionately fond of snuff and was usually
She went out to him.
“What do you want, Petrovitch? Has anything happened?”
“Nothing has happened, Avdotya Arefyevna; your husband is asking for
“Has he come back?”
“Where is he, then?”
“He is in the village, sitting in his hut.”
Avdotya was frightened.
“Well, Petrovitch,” she inquired, looking straight into his face, “is
“He does not seem so.”
Avdotya looked down.
“Well, let us go,” she said. She put on a shawl and they set off
together. They walked in silence to the village. When they began to get
close to the hut, Avdotya was so overcome with terror that her knees
began to tremble.
“Good Petrovitch,” she said, “go in first.... Tell him that I have
The old man went into the hut and found Akim lost in thought, sitting
just as he had left him.
“Well?” said Akim raising his head, “hasn't she come?”
“Yes,” answered the old man, “she is at the gate....”
“Well, send her in here.”
The old man went out, beckoned to Avdotya, said to her, “go in,” and
sat down again on the ledge. Avdotya in trepidation opened the door,
crossed the threshold and stood still.
Akim looked at her.
“Well, Arefyevna,” he began, “what are we going to do now?”
“I am guilty,” she faltered.
“Ech Arefyevna, we are all sinners. What's the good of talking about
“It's he, the villain, has ruined us both,” said Avdotya in a
cringing voice, and tears flowed down her face. “You must not leave it
like that, Akim Semyonitch, you must get the money back. Don't think of
me. I am ready to take my oath that I only lent him the money. Lizaveta
Prohorovna could sell our inn if she liked, but why should he rob
us.... Get your money back.”
“There's no claiming the money back from him,” Akim replied grimly,
“we have settled our accounts.”
Avdotya was amazed. “How is that?”
“Why, like this. Do you know,” Akim went on and his eyes gleamed, “do
you know where I spent the night? You don't know? In Naum's cellar,
with my arms and legs tied like a sheep—that's where I spent the
night. I tried to set fire to the place, but he caught me—Naum did; he
is too sharp! And to-day he meant to take me to the town but he let me
off; so I can't claim the money from him.... 'When did I borrow money
from you?' he would say. Am I to say to him, 'My wife took it from
under the floor and brought it to you'? 'Your wife is telling lies,' he
will say. Hasn't there been scandal enough for you, Arefyevna? You'd
better say nothing, I tell you, say nothing.”
“I am guilty, Semyonitch, I am guilty,” Avdotya, terrified, whispered
“That's not what matters,” said Akim, after a pause. “What are we
going to do? We have no home or no money.”
“We shall manage somehow, Akim Semyonitch. We'll ask Lizaveta
Prohorovna, she will help us, Kiriliovna has promised me.”
“No, Arefyenva, you and your Kirillovna had better ask her together;
you are berries off the same bush. I tell you what: you stay here and
good luck to you; I shall not stay here. It's a good thing we have no
children, and I shall be all right, I dare say, alone. There's always
enough for one.”
“What will you do, Semyonitch? Take up driving again?”
Akim laughed bitterly.
“I should be a fine driver, no mistake! You have pitched on the right
man for it! No, Arefyenva, that's a job not like getting married, for
instance; an old man is no good for the job. I don't want to stay here,
just because I don't want them to point the finger at me—do you
understand? I am going to pray for my sins, Arefyevna, that's what I am
going to do.”
“What sins have you, Semyonitch?” Avdotya pronounced timidly.
“Of them I know best myself, wife.”
“But are you leaving me all alone, Semyonitch? How can I live without
“Leaving you alone? Oh, Arefyevna, how you do talk, really! Much you
need a husband like me, and old, too, and ruined as well! Why, you got
on without me in the past, you can get on in the future. What property
is left us, you can take; I don't want it.”
“As you like, Semyonitch,” Avdotya replied mournfully. “You know
“That's better. Only don't you suppose that I am angry with you,
Arefyevna. No, what's the good of being angry when ... I ought to have
been wiser before. I've been to blame. I am punished.” (Akim sighed.)
“As you make your bed so you must lie on it. I am old, it's time to
think of my soul. The Lord himself has brought me to understanding.
Like an old fool I wanted to live for my own pleasure with a young
wife.... No, the old man had better pray and beat his head against the
earth and endure in patience and fast.... And now go along, my dear. I
am very weary, I'll sleep a little.”
And Akim with a groan stretched himself on the bench.
Avdotya wanted to say something, stood a moment, looked at him,
turned away and went out.
“Well, he didn't beat you then?” asked Petrovitch sitting bent up on
the ledge when she was level with him. Avdotya passed by him without
speaking. “So he didn't beat her,” the old man said to himself; he
smiled, ruffled up his beard and took a pinch of snuff.
* * * * *
Akim carried out his intention. He hurriedly arranged his affairs and
a few days after the conversation we have described went, dressed ready
for his journey, to say goodbye to his wife who had settled for a time
in a little lodge in the mistress's garden. His farewell did not take
long. Kirillovna, who happened to be present, advised Akim to see his
mistress; he did so, Lizaveta Prohorovna received him with some
confusion but graciously let him kiss her hand and asked him where he
meant to go. He answered he was going first to Kiev and after that
where it would please the Lord. She commended his decision and
dismissed him. From that time he rarely appeared at home, though he
never forgot to bring his mistress some holy bread.... But wherever
Russian pilgrims gather his thin and aged but always dignified and
handsome face could be seen: at the relics of St. Sergey; on the shores
of the White Sea, at the Optin hermitage, and at the far-away Valaam;
he went everywhere.
This year he has passed by you in the ranks of the innumerable people
who go in procession behind the ikon of the Mother of God to the
Korennaya; last year you found him sitting with a wallet on his
shoulders with other pilgrims on the steps of Nikolay, the
wonder-worker, at Mtsensk ... he comes to Moscow almost every spring.
From land to land he has wandered with his quiet, unhurried, but
never-resting step—they say he has been even to Jerusalem. He seems
perfectly calm and happy and those who have chanced to converse with
him have said much of his piety and humility. Meanwhile, Naum's
fortunes prospered exceedingly. He set to work with energy and good
sense and got on, as the saying is, by leaps and bounds. Everyone in
the neighbourhood knew by what means he had acquired the inn, they knew
too that Avdotya had given him her husband's money; nobody liked Naum
because of his cold, harsh disposition.... With censure they told the
story of him that once when Akim himself had asked alms under his
window he answered that God would give, and had given him nothing; but
everyone agreed that there never had been a luckier man; his corn came
better than other people's, his bees swarmed more frequently; even his
hens laid more eggs; his cattle were never ill, his horses did not go
lame.... It was a long time before Avdotya could bear to hear his name
(she had accepted Lizaveta Prohorovna's invitation and had reentered
her service as head sewing-maid), but in the end her aversion was
somewhat softened; it was said that she had been driven by poverty to
appeal to him and he had given her a hundred roubles.... She must not
be too severely judged: poverty breaks any will and the sudden and
violent change in her life had greatly aged and humbled her: it was
hard to believe how quickly she lost her looks, how completely she let
herself go and lost heart....
How did it all end? the reader will ask. Why, like this: Naum, after
having kept the inn successfully for about fifteen years, sold it
advantageously to another townsman. He would never have parted from the
inn if it had not been for the following, apparently insignificant,
circumstance: for two mornings in succession his dog, sitting before
the windows, had kept up a prolonged and doleful howl. He went out into
the road the second time, looked attentively at the howling dog, shook
his head, went up to town and the same day agreed on the price with a
man who had been for a long time anxious to purchase it. A week later
he had moved to a distance—out of the province; the new owner settled
in and that very evening the inn was burnt to ashes; not a single
outbuilding was left and Naum's successor was left a beggar. The reader
can easily imagine the rumours that this fire gave rise to in the
neighbourhood.... Evidently he carried his “luck” away with him,
everyone repeated. Of Naum it is said that he has gone into the corn
trade and has made a great fortune. But will it last long? Stronger
pillars have fallen and evil deeds end badly sooner or later. There is
not much to say about Lizaveta Prohorovna. She is still living and, as
is often the case with people of her sort, is not much changed, she has
not even grown much older—she only seems to have dried up a little; on
the other hand, her stinginess has greatly increased though it is
difficult to say for whose benefit she is saving as she has no children
and no attachments. In conversation she often speaks of Akim and
declares that since she has understood his good qualities she has begun
to feel great respect for the Russian peasant. Kirillovna bought her
freedom for a considerable sum and married for love a fair-haired young
waiter who leads her a dreadful life; Avdotya lives as before among the
maids in Lizaveta Prohorovna's house, but has sunk to a rather lower
position; she is very poorly, almost dirtily dressed, and there is no
trace left in her of the townbred airs and graces of a fashionable maid
or of the habits of a prosperous innkeeper's wife.... No one takes any
notice of her and she herself is glad to be unnoticed; old Petrovitch
is dead and Akim is still wandering, a pilgrim, and God only knows how
much longer his pilgrimage will last!
LIEUTENANT YERGUNOV'S STORY
That evening Kuzma Vassilyevitch Yergunov told us his story again. He
used to repeat it punctually once a month and we heard it every time
with fresh satisfaction though we knew it almost by heart, in all its
details. Those details overgrew, if one may so express it, the original
trunk of the story itself as fungi grow over the stump of a tree.
Knowing only too well the character of our companion, we did not
trouble to fill in his gaps and incomplete statements. But now Kuzma
Vassilyevitch is dead and there will be no one to tell his story and so
we venture to bring it before the notice of the public.
It happened forty years ago when Kuzma Vassilyevitch was young. He
said of himself that he was at that time a handsome fellow and a dandy
with a complexion of milk and roses, red lips, curly hair, and eyes
like a falcon's. We took his word for it, though we saw nothing of that
sort in him; in our eyes Kuzma Vassilyevitch was a man of very ordinary
exterior, with a simple and sleepy-looking face and a heavy, clumsy
figure. But what of that? There is no beauty the years will not mar!
The traces of dandyism were more clearly preserved in Kuzma
Vassilyevitch. He still in his old age wore narrow trousers with
straps, laced in his corpulent figure, cropped the back of his head,
curled his hair over his forehead and dyed his moustache with Persian
dye, which had, however, a tint rather of purple, and even of green,
than of black. With all that Kuzma Vassilyevitch was a very worthy
gentleman, though at preference he did like to “steal a peep,” that is,
look over his neighbour's cards; but this he did not so much from greed
as carefulness, for he did not like wasting his money. Enough of these
parentheses, however; let us come to the story itself.
It happened in the spring at Nikolaev, at that time a new town, to
which Kuzma Vassilyevitch had been sent on a government commission. (He
was a lieutenant in the navy.) He had, as a trustworthy and prudent
officer, been charged by the authorities with the task of looking after
the construction of ship-yards and from time to time received
considerable sums of money, which for security he invariably carried in
a leather belt on his person. Kuzma Vassilyevitch certainly was
distinguished by his prudence and, in spite of his youth, his behaviour
was exemplary; he studiously avoided every impropriety of conduct, did
not touch cards, did not drink and, even fought shy of society so that
of his comrades, the quiet ones called him “a regular girl” and the
rowdy ones called him a muff and a noodle. Kuzma Vassilyevitch had only
one failing, he had a tender heart for the fair sex; but even in that
direction he succeeded in restraining his impulses and did not allow
himself to indulge in any “foolishness.” He got up and went to bed
early, was conscientious in performing his duties and his only
recreation consisted in rather long evening walks about the outskirts
of Nikolaev. He did not read as he thought it would send the blood to
his head; every spring he used to drink a special decoction because he
was afraid of being too full-blooded. Putting on his uniform and
carefully brushing himself Kuzma Vassilyevitch strolled with a sedate
step alongside the fences of orchards, often stopped, admired the
beauties of nature, gathered flowers as souvenirs and found a certain
pleasure in doing so; but he felt acute pleasure only when he happened
to meet “a charmer,” that is, some pretty little workgirl with a shawl
flung over her shoulders, with a parcel in her ungloved hand and a gay
kerchief on her head. Being as he himself expressed it of a susceptible
but modest temperament Kuzma Vassilyevitch did not address the
“charmer,” but smiled ingratiatingly at her and looked long and
attentively after her.... Then he would heave a deep sigh, go home with
the same sedate step, sit down at the window and dream for half an
hour, carefully smoking strong tobacco out of a meerschaum pipe with an
amber mouthpiece given him by his godfather, a police superintendent of
German origin. So the days passed neither gaily nor drearily.
Well, one day, as he was returning home along an empty side-street at
dusk Kuzma Vassilyevitch heard behind him hurried footsteps and
incoherent words mingled with sobs. He looked round and saw a girl
about twenty with an extremely pleasing but distressed and tear-stained
face. She seemed to have been overtaken by some great and unexpected
grief. She was running and stumbling as she ran, talking to herself,
exclaiming, gesticulating; her fair hair was in disorder and her shawl
(the burnous and the mantle were unknown in those days) had slipped off
her shoulders and was kept on by one pin. The girl was dressed like a
young lady, not like a workgirl.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch stepped aside; his feeling of compassion
overpowered his fear of doing something foolish and, when she caught
him up, he politely touched the peak of his shako, and asked her the
cause of her tears.
“For,” he added, and he laid his hand on his cutlass, “I, as an
officer, may be able to help you.”
The girl stopped and apparently for the first moment did not clearly
understand what he wanted of her; but at once, as though glad of the
opportunity of expressing herself, began speaking in slightly imperfect
“Oh, dear, Mr. Officer,” she began and tears rained down her charming
cheeks, “it is beyond everything! It's awful, it is beyond words! We
have been robbed, the cook has carried off everything, everything,
everything, the dinner service, the lock-up box and our clothes....
Yes, even our clothes, and stockings and linen, yes ... and aunt's
reticule. There was a twenty-five-rouble note and two appliqué spoons
in it ... and her pelisse, too, and everything.... And I told all that
to the police officer and the police officer said, 'Go away, I don't
believe you, I don't believe you. I won't listen to you. You are the
same sort yourselves.' I said, 'Why, but the pelisse ...' and he, 'I
won't listen to you, I won't listen to you.' It was so insulting, Mr.
Officer! 'Go away,' he said, 'get along,' but where am I to go?”
The girl sobbed convulsively, almost wailing, and utterly distracted
leaned against Kuzma Vassilyevitch's sleeve.... He was overcome with
confusion in his turn and stood rooted to the spot, only repeating from
time to time, “There, there!” while he gazed at the delicate nape of
the dishevelled damsel's neck, as it shook from her sobs.
“Will you let me see you home?” he said at last, lightly touching her
shoulder with his forefinger, “here in the street, you understand, it
is quite impossible. You can explain your trouble to me and of course I
will make every effort ... as an officer.”
The girl raised her head and seemed for the first time to see the
young man who might be said to be holding her in his arms. She was
disconcerted, turned away, and still sobbing moved a little aside.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch repeated his suggestion. The girl looked at him
askance through her hair which had fallen over her face and was wet
with tears. (At this point Kuzma Vassilyevitch always assured us that
this glance pierced through him “like an awl,” and even attempted once
to reproduce this marvellous glance for our benefit) and laying her
hand within the crooked arm of the obliging lieutenant, set off with
him for her lodging.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch had had very little to do with ladies and so was
at a loss how to begin the conversation, but his companion chattered
away very fluently, continually drying her eyes and shedding fresh
tears. Within a few minutes Kuzma Vassilyevitch had learnt that her
name was Emilie Karlovna, that she came from Riga and that she had come
to Nikolaev to stay with her aunt who was from Riga, too, that her papa
too had been in the army but had died from “his chest,” that her aunt
had a Russian cook, a very good and inexpensive cook but she had not a
passport and that this cook had that very day robbed them and run away.
She had had to go to the police—in die Polizei.... But here the
memories of the police superintendent, of the insult she had received
from him, surged up again ... and sobs broke out afresh. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was once more at a loss what to say to comfort her. But
the girl, whose impressions seemed to come and go very rapidly, stopped
suddenly and holding out her hand, said calmly:
“And this is where we live!”
It was a wretched little house that looked as though it had sunk into
the ground, with four little windows looking into the street. The dark
green of geraniums blocked them up within; a candle was burning in one
of them; night was already coming on. A wooden fence with a hardly
visible gate stretched from the house and was almost of the same
height. The girl went up to the gate and finding it locked knocked on
it impatiently with the iron ring of the padlock. Heavy footsteps were
audible behind the fence as though someone in slippers trodden down at
heel were carelessly shuffling towards the gate, and a husky female
voice asked some question in German which Kuzma Vassilyevitch did not
understand: like a regular sailor he knew no language but Russian. The
girl answered in German, too; the gate opened a very little, admitted
the girl and then was slammed almost in the face of Kuzma Vassilyevitch
who had time, however, to make out in the summer twilight the outline
of a stout, elderly woman in a red dress with a dimly burning lantern
in her hand. Struck with amazement Kuzma Vassilyevitch remained for
some time motionless in the street; but at the thought that he, a naval
officer (Kuzma Vassilyevitch had a very high opinion of his rank) had
been so discourteously treated, he was moved to indignation and turning
on his heel he went homewards. He had not gone ten paces when the gate
opened again and the girl, who had had time to whisper to the old
woman, appeared in the gateway and called out aloud:
“Where are you going, Mr. Officer! Please come in.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch hesitated a little; he turned back, however.
This new acquaintance, whom we will call Emilie, led him through a
dark, damp little lobby into a fairly large but low-pitched and untidy
room with a huge cupboard against the further wall and a sofa covered
with American leather; above the doors and between the windows hung
three portraits in oils with the paint peeling off, two representing
bishops in clerical caps and one a Turk in a turban; cardboard boxes
were lying about in the corners; there were chairs of different sorts
and a crooked legged card table on which a man's cap was lying beside
an unfinished glass of kvass. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was followed into the
room by the old woman in the red dress, whom he had noticed at the
gate, and who turned out to be a very unprepossessing Jewess with
sullen pig-like eyes and a grey moustache over her puffy upper lip.
Emilie indicated her to Kuzma Vassilyevitch and said:
“This is my aunt, Madame Fritsche.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was a little surprised but thought it his duty to
introduce himself. Madame Fritsche looked at him from under her brows,
made no response, but asked her niece in Russian whether she would like
“Ah, yes, tea!” answered Emilie. “You will have some tea, won't you,
Mr. Officer? Yes, auntie, give us some tea! But why are you standing,
Mr. Officer? Sit down! Oh, how ceremonious you are! Let me take off my
When Emilie talked she continually turned her head from one side to
another and jerked her shoulders; birds make similar movements when
they sit on a bare branch with sunshine all round them.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch sank into a chair and assuming a becoming air of
dignity, that is, leaning on his cutlass and fixing his eyes on the
floor, he began to speak about the theft. But Emilie at once
“Don't trouble yourself, it's all right. Auntie has just told me that
the principal things have been found.” (Madame Fritsche mumbled
something to herself and went out of the room.) “And there was no need
to go to the police at all; but I can't control myself because I am so
... You don't understand German? ... So quick, immer so rasch!
But I think no more about it ... aber auch gar nicht!“
Kuzma Vassilyevitch looked at Emilie. Her face indeed showed no trace
of care now. Everything was smiling in that pretty little face: the
eyes, fringed with almost white lashes, and the lips and the cheeks and
the chin and the dimples in the chin, and even the tip of her turned-up
nose. She went up to the little looking glass beside the cupboard and,
screwing up her eyes and humming through her teeth, began tidying her
hair. Kuzma Vassilyevitch followed her movements intently.... He found
her very charming.
“You must excuse me,” she began again, turning from side to side
before the looking glass, “for having so ... brought you home with me.
Perhaps you dislike it?”
“Oh, not at all!”
“As I have told you already, I am so quick. I act first and think
afterwards, though sometimes I don't think at all.... What is your
name, Mr. Officer? May I ask you?” she added going up to him and
folding her arms.
“My name is Kuzma Vassilyevitch Yergunov.”
“Yergu.... Oh, it's not a nice name! I mean it's difficult for me. I
shall call you Mr. Florestan. At Riga we had a Mr. Florestan. He sold
capital gros-de-Naples in his shop and was a handsome man, as
good-looking as you. But how broad-shouldered you are! A regular sturdy
Russian! I like the Russians.... I am a Russian myself ... my papa was
an officer. But my hands are whiter than yours!” She raised them above
her head, waved them several times in the air, so as to drive the blood
from them, and at once dropped them. “Do you see? I wash them with
Greek scented soap.... Sniff! Oh, but don't kiss them.... I did not do
it for that.... Where are you serving?”
“In the fleet, in the nineteenth Black Sea company.”
“Oh, you are a sailor! Well, do you get a good salary?”
“No ... not very.”
“You must be very brave. One can see it at once from your eyes. What
thick eyebrows you've got! They say you ought to grease them with lard
overnight to make them grow. But why have you no moustache?”
“It's against the regulations.”
“Oh, that's not right! What's that you've got, a dagger?”
“It's a cutlass; a cutlass, so to say, is the sailor's weapon.”
“Ah, a cutlass! Is it sharp? May I look?” With an effort, biting her
lip and screwing up her eyes, she drew the blade out of the scabbard
and put it to her nose.
“Oh, how blunt! I can kill you with it in a minute!”
She waved it at Kuzma Vassilyevitch. He pretended to be frightened
and laughed. She laughed too.
“Ihr habt pardon, you are pardoned,” she pronounced, throwing
herself into a majestic attitude. “There, take your weapon! And how old
are you?” she asked suddenly.
“And I am nineteen! How funny that is! Ach!” And Emilie went off into
such a ringing laugh that she threw herself back in her chair. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch did not get up from his chair and looked still more
intently at her rosy face which was quivering with laughter and he felt
more and more attracted by her.
All at once Emilie was silent and humming through her teeth, as her
habit was, went back to the looking glass.
“Can you sing, Mr. Florestan?”
“No, I have never been taught.”
“Do you play on the guitar? Not that either? I can. I have a guitar
set with perlenmutter but the strings are broken. I must buy
some new ones. You will give me the money, won't you, Mr. Officer? I'll
sing you a lovely German song.” She heaved a sigh and shut her eyes.
“Ah, such a lovely one! But you can dance? Not that, either?
Unmöglich! I'll teach you. The schottische and the
valse-cosaque. Tra-la-la, tra-la-la,” Emilie pirouetted once or
twice. “Look at my shoes! From Warsaw. Oh, we will have some dancing,
Mr. Florestan! But what are you going to call me?”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch grinned and blushed to his ears.
“I shall call you: lovely Emilie!”
“No, no! You must call me: Mein Schätzchen, mein Zuckerpüppchen!
Repeat it after me.”
“With the greatest pleasure, but I am afraid I shall find it
“Never mind, never mind. Say: Mein.”
“Püppchen! Püppchen! Püppchen!“
“Poop ... poop.... That I can't manage. It doesn't sound nice.”
“No! You must ... you must! Do you know what it means? That's the
very nicest word for a young lady in German. I'll explain it to you
afterwards. But here is auntie bringing us the samovar. Bravo! Bravo!
auntie, I will have cream with my tea.... Is there any cream?”
“So schweige doch,” answered the aunt.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch stayed at Madame Fritsche's till midnight. He had
not spent such a pleasant evening since his arrival at Nikolaev. It is
true that it occurred to him that it was not seemly for an officer and
a gentleman to be associating with such persons as this native of Riga
and her auntie, but Emilie was so pretty, babbled so amusingly and
bestowed such friendly looks upon him, that he dismissed his rank and
family and made up his mind for once to enjoy himself. Only one
circumstance disturbed him and left an impression that was not quite
agreeable. When his conversation with Emilie and Madame Fritsche was in
full swing, the door from the lobby opened a crack and a man's hand in
a dark cuff with three tiny silver buttons on it was stealthily thrust
in and stealthily laid a big bundle on the chair near the door. Both
ladies instantly darted to the chair and began examining the bundle.
“But these are the wrong spoons!” cried Emilie, but her aunt nudged her
with her elbow and carried away the bundle without tying up the ends.
It seemed to Kuzma Vassilyevitch that one end was spattered with
something red, like blood.
“What is it?” he asked Emilie. “Is it some more stolen things
returned to you?”
“Yes,” answered Emilie, as it were, reluctantly. “Some more.”
“Was it your servant found them?”
“What servant? We haven't any servant.”
“Some other man, then?”
“No men come to see us.”
“But excuse me, excuse me.... I saw the cuff of a man's coat or
jacket. And, besides, this cap....”
“Men never, never come to see us,” Emilie repeated emphatically.
“What did you see? You saw nothing! And that cap is mine.”
“How is that?”
“Why, just that. I wear it for dressing up.... Yes, it is mine,
“Who brought you the bundle, then?”
Emilie made no answer and, pouting, followed Madame Fritsche out of
the room. Ten minutes later she came back alone, without her aunt and
when Kuzma Vassilyevitch tried to question her again, she gazed at his
forehead, said that it was disgraceful for a gentleman to be so
inquisitive (as she said this, her face changed a little, as it were,
darkened), and taking a pack of old cards from the card table drawer,
asked him to tell fortunes for her and the king of hearts.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch laughed, took the cards, and all evil thoughts
immediately slipped out of his mind.
But they came back to him that very day. When he had got out of the
gate into the street, had said good-bye to Emilie, shouted to her for
the last time, “Adieu, Zuckerpüppchen!” a short man darted by
him and turning for a minute in his direction (it was past midnight but
the moon was shining rather brightly), displayed a lean gipsy face with
thick black eyebrows and moustache, black eyes and a hooked nose. The
man at once rushed round the corner and it struck Kuzma Vassilyevitch
that he recognised—not his face, for he had never seen it before—but
the cuff of his sleeve. Three silver buttons gleamed distinctly in the
moonlight. There was a stir of uneasy perplexity in the soul of the
prudent lieutenant; when he got home he did not light as usual his
meerschaum pipe. Though, indeed, his sudden acquaintance with charming
Emilie and the agreeable hours spent in her company would alone have
induced his agitation.
Whatever Kuzma Vassilyevitch's apprehensions may have been, they were
quickly dissipated and left no trace. He took to visiting the two
ladies from Riga frequently. The susceptible lieutenant was soon on
friendly terms with Emilie. At first he was ashamed of the acquaintance
and concealed his visits; later on he got over being ashamed and no
longer concealed his visits; it ended by his being more eager to spend
his time with his new friends than with anyone and greatly preferring
their society to the cheerless solitude of his own four walls. Madame
Fritsche herself no longer made the same unpleasant impression upon
him, though she still treated him morosely and ungraciously. Persons in
straitened circumstances like Madame Fritsche particularly appreciate a
liberal expenditure in their visitors, and Kuzma Vassilyevitch was a
little stingy and his presents for the most part took the shape of
raisins, walnuts, cakes.... Only once he let himself go and presented
Emilie with a light pink fichu of real French material, and that very
day she had burnt a hole in his gift with a candle. He began to upbraid
her; she fixed the fichu to the cat's tail; he was angry; she laughed
in his face. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was forced at last to admit to himself
that he had not only failed to win the respect of the ladies from Riga,
but had even failed to gain their confidence: he was never admitted at
once, without preliminary scrutinising; he was often kept waiting;
sometimes he was sent away without the slightest ceremony and when they
wanted to conceal something from him they would converse in German in
his presence. Emilie gave him no account of her doings and replied to
his questions in an offhand way as though she had not heard them; and,
worst of all, some of the rooms in Madame Fritsche's house, which was a
fairly large one, though it looked like a hovel from the street, were
never opened to him. For all that, Kuzma Vassilyevitch did not give up
his visits; on the contrary, he paid them more and more frequently: he
was seeing living people, anyway. His vanity was gratified by Emilie's
continuing to call him Florestan, considering him exceptionally
handsome and declaring that he had eyes like a bird of paradise, “
wie die Augen eines Paradiesvogels!“
One day in the very height of summer, Kuzma Vassilyevitch, who had
spent the whole morning in the sun with contractors and workmen,
dragged himself tired and exhausted to the little gate that had become
so familiar to him. He knocked and was admitted. He shambled into the
so-called drawing-room and immediately lay down on the sofa. Emilie
went up to him and mopped his wet brow with a handkerchief.
“How tired he is, poor pet! How hot he is!” she said commiseratingly.
“Good gracious! You might at least unbutton your collar. My goodness,
how your throat is pulsing!”
“I am done up, my dear,” groaned Kuzma Vassilyevitch. “I've been on
my feet all the morning, in the baking sun. It's awful! I meant to go
home. But there those vipers, the contractors, would find me! While
here with you it is cool.... I believe I could have a nap.”
“Well, why not? Go to sleep, my little chick; no one will disturb you
“But I am really ashamed.”
“What next! Why ashamed? Go to sleep. And I'll sing you ... what do
you call it? ... I'll sing you to bye-bye, 'Schlaf, mein Kindchen,
Schlafe!'” She began singing.
“I should like a drink of water first.”
“Here is a glass of water for you. Fresh as crystal! Wait, I'll put a
pillow under your head.... And here is this to keep the flies off.”
She covered his face with a handkerchief.
“Thank you, my little cupid.... I'll just have a tiny doze ... that's
Kuzma Vassilyevitch closed his eyes and fell asleep immediately.
“Schlaf, mein Kindchen, schlafe,” sang Emilie, swaying from
side to side and softly laughing at her song and her movements.
“What a big baby I have got!” she thought. “A boy!”
An hour and a half later the lieutenant awoke. He fancied in his
sleep that someone touched him, bent over him, breathed over him. He
fumbled, and pulled off the kerchief. Emilie was on her knees close
beside him; the expression of her face struck him as queer. She jumped
up at once, walked away to the window and put something away in her
Kuzma Vassilyevitch stretched.
“I've had a good long snooze, it seems!” he observed, yawning. “Come
here, meine züsse Fräulein!”
Emilie went up to him. He sat up quickly, thrust his hand into her
pocket and took out a small pair of scissors.
“Ach, Herr Je!” Emilie could not help exclaiming.
“It's ... it's a pair of scissors?” muttered Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
“Why, of course. What did you think it was ... a pistol? Oh, how
funny you look! You're as rumpled as a pillow and your hair is all
standing up at the back.... And he doesn't laugh.... Oh, oh! And his
eyes are puffy.... Oh!”
Emilie went off into a giggle.
“Come, that's enough,” muttered Kuzma Vassilyevitch, and he got up
from the sofa. “That's enough giggling about nothing. If you can't
think of anything more sensible, I'll go home.... I'll go home,” he
repeated, seeing that she was still laughing.
“Come, stay; I won't.... Only you must brush your hair.”
“No, never mind.... Don't trouble. I'd better go,” said Kuzma
Vassilyevitch, and he took up his cap.
“Fie, how cross he is! A regular Russian! All Russians are cross. Now
he is going. Fie! Yesterday he promised me five roubles and today he
gives me nothing and goes away.”
“I haven't any money on me,” Kuzma Vassilyevitch muttered grumpily in
the doorway. “Good-bye.”
Emilie looked after him and shook her finger.
“No money! Do you hear, do you hear what he says? Oh, what deceivers
these Russians are! But wait a bit, you pug.... Auntie, come here, I
have something to tell you.”
That evening as Kuzma Vassilyevitch was undressing to go to bed, he
noticed that the upper edge of his leather belt had come unsewn for
about three inches. Like a careful man he at once procured a needle and
thread, waxed the thread and stitched up the hole himself. He paid,
however, no attention to this apparently trivial circumstance.
The whole of the next day Kuzma Vassilyevitch devoted to his official
duties; he did not leave the house even after dinner and right into the
night was scribbling and copying out his report to his superior
officer, mercilessly disregarding the rules of spelling, always putting
an exclamation mark after the word but and a semi-colon after
however. Next morning a barefoot Jewish boy in a tattered gown
brought him a letter from Emilie—the first letter that Kuzma
Vassilyevitch had received from her.
“Mein allerliebstep Florestan,” she wrote to him, “can you really so
cross with your Zuckerpüppchen be that you came not yesterday? Please
be not cross if you wish not your merry Emilie to weep very bitterly
and come, be sure, at 5 o'clock to-day.” (The figure 5 was surrounded
with two wreaths.) “I will be very, very glad. Your amiable Emilie.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was inwardly surprised at the accomplishments of
his charmer, gave the Jew boy a copper coin and told him to say, “Very
well, I will come.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch kept his word: five o'clock had not struck when
he was standing before Madame Fritsche's gate. But to his surprise he
did not find Emilie at home; he was met by the lady of the house
herself who—wonder of wonders!—dropping a preliminary curtsey,
informed him that Emilie had been obliged by unforeseen circumstances
to go out but she would soon be back and begged him to wait. Madame
Fritsche had on a neat white cap; she smiled, spoke in an ingratiating
voice and evidently tried to give an affable expression to her morose
countenance, which was, however, none the more prepossessing for that,
but on the contrary acquired a positively sinister aspect.
“Sit down, sit down, sir,” she said, putting an easy chair for him,
“and we will offer you some refreshment if you will permit it.”
Madame Fritsche made another curtsey, went out of the room and
returned shortly afterwards with a cup of chocolate on a small iron
tray. The chocolate turned out to be of dubious quality; Kuzma
Vassilyevitch drank the whole cup with relish, however, though he was
at a loss to explain why Madame Fritsche was suddenly so affable and
what it all meant. For all that Emilie did not come back and he was
beginning to lose patience and feel bored when all at once he heard
through the wall the sounds of a guitar. First there was the sound of
one chord, then a second and a third and a fourth—the sound
continually growing louder and fuller. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was
surprised: Emilie certainly had a guitar but it only had three strings:
he had not yet bought her any new ones; besides, Emilie was not at
home. Who could it be? Again a chord was struck and so loudly that it
seemed as though it were in the room.... Kuzma Vassilyevitch turned
round and almost cried out in a fright. Before him, in a low doorway
which he had not till then noticed—a big cupboard screened it—stood a
strange figure ... neither a child nor a grown-up girl. She was wearing
a white dress with a bright-coloured pattern on it and red shoes with
high heels; her thick black hair, held together by a gold fillet, fell
like a cloak from her little head over her slender body. Her big eyes
shone with sombre brilliance under the soft mass of hair; her bare,
dark-skinned arms were loaded with bracelets and her hands covered with
rings, held a guitar. Her face was scarcely visible, it looked so small
and dark; all that was seen was the crimson of her lips and the outline
of a straight and narrow nose. Kuzma Vassilyevitch stood for some time
petrified and stared at the strange creature without blinking; and she,
too, gazed at him without stirring an eyelid. At last he recovered
himself and moved with small steps towards her.
The dark face began gradually smiling. There was a sudden gleam of
white teeth, the little head was raised, and lightly flinging back the
curls, displayed itself in all its startling and delicate beauty.
“What little imp is this?” thought Kuzma Vassilyevitch, and,
advancing still closer, he brought out in a low voice:
“Hey, little image! Who are you?”
“Come here, come here,” the “little image” responded in a rather
husky voice, with a halting un-Russian intonation and incorrect accent,
and she stepped back two paces.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch followed her through the doorway and found
himself in a tiny room without windows, the walls and floor of which
were covered with thick camel's-hair rugs. He was overwhelmed by a
strong smell of musk. Two yellow wax candles were burning on a round
table in front of a low sofa. In the corner stood a bedstead under a
muslin canopy with silk stripes and a long amber rosary with a red
tassle at the end hung by the pillow.
“But excuse me, who are you?” repeated Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
“Sister ... sister of Emilie.”
“You are her sister? And you live here?”
“Yes ... yes.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch wanted to touch “the image.” She drew back.
“How is it she has never spoken of you?”
“Could not ... could not.”
“You are in concealment then ... in hiding?”
“Are there reasons?”
“Reasons ... reasons.”
“Hm!” Again Kuzma Vassilyevitch would have touched the figure, again
she stepped back. “So that's why I never saw you. I must own I never
suspected your existence. And the old lady, Madame Fritsche, is your
“Yes ... aunt.”
“Hm! You don't seem to understand Russian very well. What's your
name, allow me to ask?”
“Colibri! That's an out-of-the-way name! There are insects like that
in Africa, if I remember right?”
Colibri gave a short, queer laugh ... like a clink of glass in her
throat. She shook her head, looked round, laid her guitar on the table
and going quickly to the door, abruptly shut it. She moved briskly and
nimbly with a rapid, hardly audible sound like a lizard; at the back
her hair fell below her knees.
“Why have you shut the door?” asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
Colibri put her fingers to her lips.
“Emilie ... not want ... not want her.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch grinned.
“I say, you are not jealous, are you?”
Colibri raised her eyebrows.
“Jealous ... angry,” Kuzma Vassilyevitch explained.
“Really! Much obliged.... I say, how old are you?”
“Seventeen, you mean?”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch scrutinised his fantastic companion closely.
“What a beautiful creature you are!” he said, emphatically.
“Marvellous! Really marvellous! What hair! What eyes! And your eyebrows
Colibri laughed again and again looked round with her magnificent
“Yes, I am a beauty! Sit down, and I'll sit down ... beside.”
“By all means! But say what you like, you are a strange sister for
Emilie! You are not in the least like her.”
“Yes, I am sister ... cousin. Here ... take ... a flower. A nice
flower. It smells.” She took out of her girdle a sprig of white lilac,
sniffed it, bit off a petal and gave him the whole sprig. “Will you
have jam? Nice jam ... from Constantinople ... sorbet?” Colibri took
from the small chest of drawers a gilt jar wrapped in a piece of
crimson silk with steel spangles on it, a silver spoon, a cut glass
decanter and a tumbler like it. “Eat some sorbet, sir; it is fine. I
will sing to you.... Will you?” She took up the guitar.
“You sing, then?” asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch, putting a spoonful of
really excellent sorbet into his mouth.
“Oh, yes!” She flung back her mane of hair, put her head on one side
and struck several chords, looking carefully at the tips of her fingers
and at the top of the guitar ... then suddenly began singing in a voice
unexpectedly strong and agreeable, but guttural and to the ears of
Kuzma Vassilyevitch rather savage. “Oh, you pretty kitten,” he thought.
She sang a mournful song, utterly un-Russian and in a language quite
unknown to Kuzma Vassilyevitch. He used to declare that the sounds
“Kha, gha” kept recurring in it and at the end she repeated a long
drawn-out “sintamar” or “sintsimar,” or something of the sort, leaned
her head on her hand, heaved a sigh and let the guitar drop on her
knee. “Good?” she asked, “want more?”
“I should be delighted,” answered Kuzma Vassilyevitch. “But why do
you look like that, as though you were grieving? You'd better have some
“No ... you. And I will again.... It will be more merry.” She sang
another song, that sounded like a dance, in the same unknown language.
Again Kuzma Vassilyevitch distinguished the same guttural sounds. Her
swarthy fingers fairly raced over the strings, “like little spiders,”
and she ended up this time with a jaunty shout of “Ganda” or “Gassa,”
and with flashing eyes banged on the table with her little fist.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat as though he were in a dream. His head was
going round. It was all so unexpected.... And the scent, the singing
... the candles in the daytime ... the sorbet flavoured with vanilla.
And Colibri kept coming closer to him, too; her hair shone and rustled,
and there was a glow of warmth from her—and that melancholy face....
“A russalka!” thought Kuzma Vassilyevitch. He felt somewhat awkward.
“Tell me, my pretty, what put it into your head to invite me to-day?”
“You are young, pretty ... such I like.”
“So that's it! But what will Emilie say? She wrote me a letter: she
is sure to be back directly.”
“You not tell her ... nothing! Trouble! She will kill!”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch laughed.
“As though she were so fierce!”
Colibri gravely shook her head several times.
“And to Madame Fritsche, too, nothing. No, no, no!” She tapped
herself lightly on the forehead. “Do you understand, officer?”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch frowned.
“It's a secret, then?”
“Yes ... yes.”
“Very well.... I won't say a word. Only you ought to give me a kiss
“No, afterwards ... when you are gone.”
“That's a fine idea!” Kuzma Vassilyevitch was bending down to her but
she slowly drew herself back and stood stiffly erect like a snake
startled in the grass. Kuzma Vassilyevitch stared at her. “Well!” he
said at last, “you are a spiteful thing! All right, then.”
Colibri pondered and turned to the lieutenant.... All at once there
was the muffled sound of tapping repeated three times at even intervals
somewhere in the house. Colibri laughed, almost snorted.
“To-day—no, to-morrow—yes. Come to-morrow.”
“At what time?”.
“Seven ... in the evening.”
“And what about Emilie?”
“Emilie ... no; will not be here.”
“You think so? Very well. Only, to-morrow you will tell me?”
“What?” (Colibri's face assumed a childish expression every time she
asked a question.)
“Why you have been hiding away from me all this time?”
“Yes ... yes; everything shall be to-morrow; the end shall be.”
“Mind now! And I'll bring you a present.”
“No ... no need.”
“Why not? I see you like fine clothes.”
“No need. This ... this ... this ...” she pointed to her dress, her
rings, her bracelets, and everything about her, “it is all my own. Not
a present. I do not take.”
“As you like. And now must I go?”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch got up. Colibri got up, too.
“Good-bye, pretty little doll! And when will you give me a kiss?”
Colibri suddenly gave a little jump and swiftly flinging both arms
round his neck, gave him not precisely a kiss but a peck at his lips.
He tried in his turn to kiss her but she instantly darted back and
stood behind the sofa.
“To-morrow at seven o'clock, then?” he said with some confusion.
She nodded and taking a tress of her long hair with her two fingers,
bit it with her sharp teeth.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch kissed his hand to her, went out and shut the
door after him. He heard Colibri run up to it at once.... The key
clicked in the lock.
There was no one in Madame Fritsche's drawing-room. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch made his way to the passage at once. He did not want to
meet Emilie. Madame Fritsche met him on the steps.
“Ah, you are going, Mr. Lieutenant?” she said, with the same affected
and sinister smile. “You won't wait for Emilie?”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put on his cap.
“I haven't time to wait any longer, madam. I may not come to-morrow,
either. Please tell her so.”
“Very good, I'll tell her. But I hope you haven't been dull, Mr.
“No, I have not been dull.”
“I thought not. Good-bye.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch returned home and stretching himself on his bed
sank into meditation. He was unutterably perplexed. “What marvel is
this?” he cried more than once. And why did Emilie write to him? She
had made an appointment and not come! He took out her letter, turned it
over in his hands, sniffed it: it smelt of tobacco and in one place he
noticed a correction. But what could he deduce from that? And was it
possible that Madame Fritsche knew nothing about it? And she....
Who was she? Yes, who was she? The fascinating Colibri, that “pretty
doll,” that “little image,” was always before him and he looked forward
with impatience to the following evening, though secretly he was almost
afraid of this “pretty doll” and “little image.”
Next day Kuzma Vassilyevitch went shopping before dinner, and, after
persistent haggling, bought a tiny gold cross on a little velvet
ribbon. “Though she declares,” he thought, “that she never takes
presents, we all know what such sayings mean; and if she really is so
disinterested, Emilie won't be so squeamish.” So argued this Don Juan
of Nikolaev, who had probably never heard of the original Don Juan and
knew nothing about him. At six o'clock in the evening Kuzma
Vassilyevitch shaved carefully and sending for a hairdresser he knew,
told him to pomade and curl his topknot, which the latter did with
peculiar zeal, not sparing the government note paper for curlpapers;
then Kuzma Vassilyevitch put on a smart new uniform, took into his
right hand a pair of new wash-leather gloves, and, sprinkling himself
with lavender water, set off. Kuzma Vassilyevitch took a great deal
more trouble over his personal appearance on this occasion than when he
went to see his “Zuckerpüppchen", not because he liked Colibri better
than Emilie but in the “pretty little doll” there was something
enigmatic, something which stirred even the sluggish imagination of the
Madame Fritsche greeted him as she had done the day before and as
though she had conspired with him in a plan of deception, informed him
again that Emilie had gone out for a short time and asked him to wait.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch nodded in token of assent and sat down on a chair.
Madame Fritsche smiled again, that is, showed her yellow tusks and
withdrew without offering him any chocolate.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch instantly fixed his eyes on the mysterious door.
It remained closed. He coughed loudly once or twice so as to make known
his presence.... The door did not stir. He held his breath, strained
his ears.... He heard not the faintest sound or rustle; everything was
still as death. Kuzma Vassilyevitch got up, approached the door on
tiptoe and, fumbling in vain with his fingers, pressed his knee against
it. It was no use. Then he bent down and once or twice articulated in a
loud whisper, “Colibri! Colibri! Little doll!” No one responded. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch drew himself up, straightened his uniform—and, after
standing still a little while, walked with more resolute steps to the
window and began drumming on the pane. He began to feel vexed,
indignant; his dignity as an officer began to assert itself. “What
nonsense is this?” he thought at last; “whom do they take me for? If
they go on like this, I'll knock with my fists. She will be forced to
answer! The old woman will hear.... What of it? That's not my fault.”
He turned swiftly on his heel ... the door stood half open.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch immediately hastened into the secret room again
on tiptoe. Colibri was lying on the sofa in a white dress with a broad
red sash. Covering the lower part of her face with a handkerchief, she
was laughing, a noiseless but genuine laugh. She had done up her hair,
this time plaiting it into two long, thick plaits intertwined with red
ribbon; the same slippers adorned her tiny, crossed feet but the feet
themselves were bare and looking at them one might fancy that she had
on dark, silky stockings. The sofa stood in a different position,
nearer the wall; and on the table he saw on a Chinese tray a
bright-coloured, round-bellied coffee pot beside a cut glass sugar bowl
and two blue China cups. The guitar was lying there, too, and blue-grey
smoke rose in a thin coil from a big, aromatic candle.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch went up to the sofa and bent over Colibri, but
before he had time to utter a word she held out her hand and, still
laughing in her handkerchief, put her little, rough fingers into his
hair and instantly ruffled the well-arranged curls on the top of his
“What next?” exclaimed Kuzma Vassilyevitch, not altogether pleased by
such unceremoniousness. “Oh, you naughty girl!”
Colibri took the handkerchief from her face.
“Not nice so; better now.” She moved away to the further end of the
sofa and drew her feet up under her. “Sit down ... there.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat down on the spot indicated.
“Why do you move away?” he said, after a brief silence. “Surely you
are not afraid of me?”
Colibri curled herself up and looked at him sideways.
“I am not afraid ... no.”
“You must not be shy with me,” Kuzma Vassilyevitch said in an
admonishing tone. “Do you remember your promise yesterday to give me a
Colibri put her arms round her knees, laid her head on them and
looked at him again.
“I should hope so. And you must keep your word.”
“Yes ... I must.”
“In that case,” Kuzma Vassilyevitch was beginning, and he moved
Colibri freed her plaits which she was holding tight with her knees
and with one of them gave him a flick on his hand.
“Not so fast, sir!”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch was embarrassed.
“What eyes she has, the rogue!” he muttered, as though to himself.
“But,” he went on, raising his voice, “why did you call me ... if that
is how it is?”
Colibri craned her neck like a bird ... she listened. Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was alarmed.
“Emilie?” he asked.
Colibri shrugged her shoulder.
“Do you hear something?”
“Nothing.” With a birdlike movement, again Colibri drew back her
little oval-shaped head with its pretty parting and the short growth of
tiny curls on the nape of her neck where her plaits began, and again
curled herself up into a ball. “Nothing.”
“Nothing! Then now I'll ...” Kuzma Vassilyevitch craned forward
towards Colibri but at once pulled back his hand. There was a drop of
blood on his finger. “What foolishness is this!” he cried, shaking his
finger. “Your everlasting pins! And the devil of a pin it is!” he
added, looking at the long, golden pin which Colibri slowly thrust into
her sash. “It's a regular dagger, it's a sting.... Yes, yes, it's your
sting, and you are a wasp, that's what you are, a wasp, do you hear?”
Apparently Colibri was much pleased at Kuzma Vasselyevitch's
comparison; she went off into a thin laugh and repeated several times
“Yes, I will sting ... I will sting.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch looked at her and thought: “She is laughing but
her face is melancholy.
“Look what I am going to show you,” he said aloud.
“Why do you say tso? Are you a Pole?”
“Now you say nee! But there, it's no matter.” Kuzma
Vassilyevitch got out his present and waved it in the air. “Look at
it.... Isn't it nice?”
Colibri raised her eyes indifferently.
“Ah! A cross! We don't wear.”
“What? You don't wear a cross? Are you a Jewess then, or what?”
“We don't wear,” repeated Colibri, and, suddenly starting, looked
back over her shoulder. “Would you like me to sing?” she asked
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put the cross in the pocket of his uniform and
he, too, looked round.
“What is it?” he muttered.
“A mouse ... a mouse,” Colibri said hurriedly, and suddenly to Kuzma
Vassilyevitch's complete surprise, flung her smooth, supple arms round
his neck and a rapid kiss burned his cheek ... as though a red-hot
ember had been pressed against it.
He pressed Colibri in his arms but she slipped away like a snake—her
waist was hardly thicker than the body of a snake—and leapt to her
“Wait,” she whispered, “you must have some coffee first.”
“Nonsense! Coffee, indeed! Afterwards.”
“No, now. Now hot, after cold.” She took hold of the coffee pot by
the handle and, lifting it high, began pouring out two cups. The coffee
fell in a thin, as it were, twirling stream; Colibri leaned her head on
her shoulder and watched it fall. “There, put in the sugar ... drink
... and I'll drink.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch put a lump of sugar in the cup and drank it off
at one draught. The coffee struck him as very strong and bitter.
Colibri looked at him, smiling, and faintly dilated her nostrils over
the edge of her cup. She slowly put it down on the table.
“Why don't you drink it?” asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
“Not all, now.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch got excited.
“Do sit down beside me, at least.”
“In a minute.” She bent her head and, still keeping her eyes fixed on
Kuzma Vassilyevitch, picked up the guitar. “Only I will sing first.”
“Yes, yes, only sit down.”
“And I will dance. Shall I?”
“You dance? Well, I should like to see that. But can't that be
“No, now.... But I love you very much.”
“You love? Mind now ... dance away, then, you queer creature.”
Colibri stood on the further side of the table and running her
fingers several times over the strings of the guitar and to the
surprise of Kuzma Vassilyevitch, who was expecting a lively, merry
song, began singing a slow, monotonous air, accompanying each separate
sound, which seemed as though it were wrung out of her by force, with a
rhythmical swaying of her body to right and left. She did not smile,
and indeed knitted her brows, her delicate, high, rounded eyebrows,
between which a dark blue mark, probably burnt in with gunpowder, stood
out sharply, looking like some letter of an oriental alphabet. She
almost closed her eyes but their pupils glimmered dimly under the
drooping lids, fastened as before on Kuzma Vassilyevitch. And he, too,
could not look away from those marvellous, menacing eyes, from that
dark-skinned face that gradually began to glow, from the half-closed
and motionless lips, from the two black snakes rhythmically moving on
both sides of her graceful head. Colibri went on swaying without moving
from the spot and only her feet were working; she kept lightly shifting
them, lifting first the toe and then the heel. Once she rotated rapidly
and uttered a piercing shriek, waving the guitar high in the air....
Then the same monotonous movement accompanied by the same monotonous
singing, began again. Kuzma Vassilyevitch sat meanwhile very quietly on
the sofa and went on looking at Colibri; he felt something strange and
unusual in himself: he was conscious of great lightness and freedom,
too great lightness, in fact; he seemed, as it were, unconscious of his
body, as though he were floating and at the same time shudders ran down
him, a sort of agreeable weakness crept over his legs, and his lips and
eyelids tingled with drowsiness. He had no desire now, no thought of
anything ... only he was wonderfully at ease, as though someone were
lulling him, “singing him to bye-bye,” as Emilie had expressed it, and
he whispered to himself, “little doll!” At times the face of the
“little doll” grew misty. “Why is that?” Kuzma Vassilyevitch wondered.
“From the smoke,” he reassured himself. “There is such a blue smoke
here.” And again someone was lulling him and even whispering in his ear
something so sweet ... only for some reason it was always unfinished.
But then all of a sudden in the little doll's face the eyes opened till
they were immense, incredibly big, like the arches of a bridge.... The
guitar dropped, and striking against the floor, clanged somewhere at
the other end of the earth.... Some very near and dear friend of Kuzma
Vassilyevitch's embraced him firmly and tenderly from behind and set
his cravat straight. Kuzma Vassilyevitch saw just before his own face
the hooked nose, the thick moustache and the piercing eyes of the
stranger with the three buttons on his cuff ... and although the eyes
were in the place of the moustache and the nose itself seemed upside
down, Kuzma Vassilyevitch was not in the least surprised, but, on the
contrary, thought that this was how it ought to be; he was even on the
point of saying to the nose, “Hullo, brother Grigory,” but he changed
his mind and preferred ... preferred to set off with Colibri to
Constantinople at once for their forthcoming wedding, as she was a Turk
and the Tsar promoted him to be an actual Turk.
And opportunely a little boat appeared: he lifted his foot to get
into it and though through clumsiness he stumbled and hurt himself
rather badly, so that for some time he did not know where anything was,
yet he managed it and getting into the boat, floated on the big river,
which, as the River of Time, flows to Constantinople in the map on the
walls of the Nikolaevsky High School. With great satisfaction he
floated down the river and watched a number of red ducks which
continually met him; they would not let him come near them, however,
and, diving, changed into round, pink spots. And Colibri was going with
him, too, but to escape the sultry heat she hid, under the boat and
from time to time knocked on the bottom of it.... And here at last was
Constantinople. The houses, as houses should, looked like Tyrolese
hats; and the Turks had all big, sedate faces; only it did not do to
look at them too long: they began wriggling, making faces and at last
melted away altogether like thawing snow. And here was the palace in
which he would live with Colibri.... And how well everything was
arranged in it! Walls with generals' gold lace on it, everywhere
epaulettes, people blowing trumpets in the corners and one could float
into the drawing-room in the boat. Of course, there was a portrait of
Mahomet.... Only Colibri kept running ahead through the rooms and her
plaits trailed after her on the floor and she would not turn round, and
she kept growing smaller and smaller.... And now it was not Colibri but
a boy in a jacket and he was the boy's tutor and he had to climb after
the boy into a telescope, and the telescope got narrower and narrower,
till at last he could not move ... neither backwards nor forwards, and
something fell on his back ... there was earth in his mouth.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch opened his eyes. It was daylight and everything
was still ... there was a smell of vinegar and mint. Above him and at
his sides there was something white; he looked more intently: it was
the canopy of a bed. He wanted to raise his head ... he could not; his
hand ... he could not do that, either. What was the meaning of it? He
dropped his eyes.... A long body lay stretched before him and over it a
yellow blanket with a brown edge. The body proved to be his, Kuzma
Vassilyevitch's. He tried to cry out ... no sound came. He tried again,
did his very utmost ... there was the sound of a feeble moan quavering
under his nose. He heard heavy footsteps and a sinewy hand parted the
bed curtains. A grey-headed pensioner in a patched military overcoat
stood gazing at him.... And he gazed at the pensioner. A big tin mug
was put to Kuzma Vassilyevitch's lips. He greedily drank some cold
water. His tongue was loosened. “Where am I?” The pensioner glanced at
him once more, went away and came back with another man in a dark
uniform. “Where am I?” repeated Kuzma Vassilyevitch. “Well, he will
live now,” said the man in the dark uniform. “You are in the hospital,”
he added aloud, “but you must go to sleep. It is bad for you to talk.”
Kuzma Vassilyevitch began to feel surprised, but sank into
Next morning the doctor appeared. Kuzma Vassilyevitch came to
himself. The doctor congratulated him on his recovery and ordered the
bandages round his head to be changed.
“What? My head? Why, am I ...”
“You mustn't talk, you mustn't excite yourself,” the doctor
interrupted. “Lie still and thank the Almighty. Where are the
“But where is the money ... the government money ...”
“There! He is lightheaded again. Some more ice, Poplyovkin.”
Another week passed. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was so much better that the
doctors found it possible to tell him what had happened to him. This is
what he learned.
At seven o'clock in the evening on the 16th of June he had visited
the house of Madame Fritsche for the last time and on the 17th of June
at dinner time, that is, nearly twenty-four hours later, a shepherd had
found him in a ravine near the Herson high road, a mile and a half from
Nikolaev, with a broken head and crimson bruises on his neck. His
uniform and waistcoat had been unbuttoned, all his pockets turned
inside out, his cap and cutlass were not to be found, nor his leather
money belt. From the trampled grass, from the broad track upon the
grass and the clay, it could be inferred that the luckless lieutenant
had been dragged to the bottom of the ravine and only there had been
gashed on his head, not with an axe but with a sabre—probably his own
cutlass: there were no traces of blood on his track from the high road
while there was a perfect pool of blood round his head. There could be
no doubt that his assailants had first drugged him, then tried to
strangle him and, taking him out of the town by night, had dragged him
to the ravine and there given him the final blow. It was only thanks to
his truly iron constitution that Kuzma Vassilyevitch had not died. He
had returned to consciousness on July 22nd, that is, five weeks later.
Kuzma Vassilyevitch immediately informed the authorities of the
misfortune that had happened to him; he stated all the circumstances of
the case verbally and in writing and gave the address of Madame
Fritsche. The police raided the house but they found no one there; the
birds had flown. They got hold of the owner of the house. But they
could not get much sense out of the latter, a very old and deaf
workman. He lived in a different part of the town and all he knew was
that four months before he had let his house to a Jewess with a
passport, whose name was Schmul or Schmulke, which he had immediately
registered at the police station. She had been joined by another woman,
so he stated, who also had a passport, but what was their calling did
not know; and whether they had other people living with them had not
heard and did not know; the lad whom he used to keep as porter or
watchman in the house had gone away to Odessa or Petersburg, and the
new porter had only lately come, on the 1st of July.
Inquiries were made at the police station and in the neighbourhood;
it appeared that Madame Schmulke, together with her companion, whose
real name was Frederika Bengel, had left Nikolaev about the 20th of
June, but where they had gone was unknown. The mysterious man with a
gipsy face and three buttons on his cuff and the dark-skinned foreign
girl with an immense mass of hair, no one had seen. As soon as Kuzma
Vassilyevitch was discharged from the hospital, he visited the house
that had been so fateful for him. In the little room where he had
talked to Colibri and where there was still a smell of musk, there was
a second secret door; the sofa had been moved in front of it on his
second visit and through it no doubt the murderer had come and seized
him from behind. Kuzma Vassilyevitch lodged a formal complaint;
proceedings were taken. Several numbered reports and instructions were
dispatched in various directions; the appropriate acknowledgments and
replies followed in due course.... There the incident closed. The
suspicious characters had disappeared completely and with them the
stolen government money had vanished, too, one thousand, nine hundred
and seventeen roubles and some kopecks, in paper and gold. Not an
inconsiderable sum in those days! Kuzma Vassilyevitch was paying back
instalments for ten years, when, fortunately for him, an act of
clemency from the Throne cancelled the debt.
He was himself at first firmly convinced that Emilie, his treacherous
Zuckerpüppchen, was to blame for all his trouble and had originated the
plot. He remembered how on the last day he had seen her he had
incautiously dropped asleep on the sofa and how when he woke he had
found her on her knees beside him and how confused she had been, and
how he had found a hole in his belt that evening—a hole evidently made
by her scissors. “She saw the money,” thought Kuzma Vassilyevitch, “she
told the old hag and those other two devils, she entrapped me by
writing me that letter ... and so they cleaned me out. But who could
have expected it of her!” He pictured the pretty, good-natured face of
Emilie, her clear eyes.... “Women! women!” he repeated, gnashing his
teeth, “brood of crocodiles!” But when he had finally left the hospital
and gone home, he learned one circumstance which perplexed and
nonplussed him. On the very day when he was brought half dead to the
town, a girl whose description corresponded exactly to that of Emilie
had rushed to his lodging with tear-stained face and dishevelled hair
and inquiring about him from his orderly, had dashed off like mad to
the hospital. At the hospital she had been told that Kuzma
Vassilyevitch would certainly die and she had at once disappeared,
wringing her hands with a look of despair on her face. It was evident
that she had not foreseen, had not expected the murder. Or perhaps she
had herself been deceived and had not received her promised share? Had
she been overwhelmed by sudden remorse? And yet she had left Nikolaev
afterwards with that loathsome old woman who had certainly known all
about it. Kuzma Vassilyevitch was lost in conjecture and bored his
orderly a good deal by making him continually describe over and over
again the appearance of the girl and repeat her words.
A year and a half later Kuzma Vassilyevitch received a letter in
German from Emilie, alias Frederika Bengel, which he promptly
had translated for him and showed us more than once in later days. It
was full of mistakes in spelling and exclamation marks; the postmark on
the envelope was Breslau. Here is the translation, as correct as may
be, of the letter:
“My precious, unforgettable and incomparable Florestan! Mr.
“How often I felt impelled to write to you! And I have always
unfortunately put it off, though the thought that you may regard me as
having had a hand in that awful crime has always been the most
appalling thought to me! Oh, dear Mr. Lieutenant! Believe me, the day
when I learnt that you were alive and well, was the happiest day of my
life! But I do not mean to justify myself altogether! I will not tell a
lie! I was the first to discover your habit of carrying your money
round your waist! (Though indeed in our part of the world all the
butchers and meat salesmen do the same!) And I was so incautious as to
let drop a word about it! I even said in joke that it wouldn't be bad
to take a little of your money! But the old wretch (Mr. Florestan! she
was not my aunt) plotted with that godless monster Luigi and his
accomplice! I swear by my mother's tomb, I don't know to this day who
those people were! I only know that his name was Luigi and that they
both came from Bucharest and were certainly great criminals and were
hiding from the police and had money and precious things! Luigi was a
dreadful individual (ein schröckliches Subject), to kill a
fellow-man (einen Mitmenschen) meant nothing at all to him! He
spoke every language—and it was he who that time got our things
back from the cook! Don't ask how! He was capable of anything, he was
an awful man! He assured the old woman that he would only drug you a
little and then take you out of town and put you down somewhere and
would say that he knew nothing about it but that it was your
fault—that you had taken too much wine somewhere! But even then the
wretch had it in his mind that it would be better to kill you so that
there would be no one to tell the tale! He wrote you that letter,
signed with my name and the old woman got me away by craft! I suspected
nothing and I was awfully afraid of Luigi! He used to say to me, 'I'll
cut your throat, I'll cut your throat like a chicken's!' And he used to
twitch his moustache so horribly as he said it! And they dragged me
into a bad company, too.... I am very much ashamed, Mr. Lieutenant! And
even now I shed bitter tears at these memories! ... It seems to me ...
ah! I was not born for such doings.... But there is no help for it; and
this is how it all happened! Afterwards I was horribly frightened and
could not help going away, for if the police had found us, what would
have happened to us then? That accursed Luigi fled at once as soon as
he heard that you were alive. But I soon parted from them all and
though now I am often without a crust of bread, my heart is at peace!
You will ask me perhaps why I came to Nikolaev? But I can give you no
answer! I have sworn! I will finish by asking of you a favour, a very,
very important one: whenever you remember your little friend Emilie, do
not think of her as a black-hearted criminal! The eternal God sees my
heart. I have a bad morality (Ich habe eine schlechte moralität)
and I am feather-headed, but I am not a criminal. And I shall always
love and remember you, my incomparable Florestan, and shall always wish
you everything good on this earthly globe (auf diesem Erdenrund!
). I don't know whether my letter will reach you, but if it does, write
me a few lines that I may see you have received it. Thereby you will
make very happy your ever-devoted Emilie.
“P. S. Write to F. E. poste restante, Breslau, Silesia.
“P. S. S. I have written to you in German; I could not express my
feelings otherwise; but you write to me in Russian.”
“Well, did you answer her?” we asked Kuzma Vassilyevitch.
“I meant to, I meant to many times. But how was I to write? I don't
know German ... and in Russian, who would have translated it? And so I
did not write.”
And always as he finished his story, Kuzma Vassilyevitch sighed,
shook his head and said, “that's what it is to be young!” And if among
his audience was some new person who was hearing the famous story for
the first time, he would take his hand, lay it on his skull and make
him feel the scar of the wound.... It really was a fearful wound and
the scar reached from one ear to the other.
“But if one admits the possibility of the supernatural, the
possibility of its participation in real life, then allow me to ask
what becomes of common sense?” Anton Stepanitch pronounced and he
folded his arms over his stomach.
Anton Stepanitch had the grade of a civil councillor, served in some
incomprehensible department and, speaking emphatically and stiffly in a
bass voice, enjoyed universal respect. He had not long before, in the
words of those who envied him, “had the Stanislav stuck on to him.”
“That's perfectly true,” observed Skvorevitch.
“No one will dispute that,” added Kinarevitch.
“I am of the same opinion,” the master of the house, Finoplentov,
chimed in from the corner in falsetto.
“Well, I must confess, I cannot agree, for something supernatural has
happened to me myself,” said a bald, corpulent middle-aged gentleman of
medium height, who had till then sat silent behind the stove. The eyes
of all in the room turned to him with curiosity and surprise, and there
was a silence.
The man was a Kaluga landowner of small means who had lately come to
Petersburg. He had once served in the Hussars, had lost money at cards,
had resigned his commission and had settled in the country. The recent
economic reforms had reduced his income and he had come to the capital
to look out for a suitable berth. He had no qualifications and no
connections, but he confidently relied on the friendship of an old
comrade who had suddenly, for no visible reason, become a person of
importance, and whom he had once helped in thrashing a card sharper.
Moreover, he reckoned on his luck—and it did not fail him: a few days
after his arrival in town he received the post of superintendent of
government warehouses, a profitable and even honourable position, which
did not call for conspicuous abilities: the warehouses themselves had
only a hypothetical existence and indeed it was not very precisely
known with what they were to be filled—but they had been invented with
a view to government economy.
Anton Stepanitch was the first to break the silence.
“What, my dear sir,” he began, “do you seriously maintain that
something supernatural has happened to you? I mean to say, something
inconsistent with the laws of nature?”
“I do maintain it,” replied the gentleman addressed as “My dear sir,”
whose name was Porfiry Kapitonitch.
“Inconsistent with the laws of nature!” Anton Stepanitch repeated
angrily; apparently he liked the phrase.
“Just so ... yes; it was precisely what you say.”
“That's amazing! What do you think of it, gentlemen?” Anton
Stepanitch tried to give his features an ironical expression, but
without effect—or to speak more accurately, merely with the effect of
suggesting that the dignified civil councillor had detected an
unpleasant smell. “Might we trouble you, dear sir,” he went on,
addressing the Kaluga landowner, “to give us the details of so
interesting an incident?”
“Certainly, why not?” answered the landowner and, moving in a
free-and-easy way to the middle of the room, he spoke as follows:
“I have, gentlemen, as you are probably aware, or perhaps are not
aware, a small estate in the Kozelsky district. In old days I used to
get something out of it, though now, of course, I have nothing to look
forward to but unpleasantness. But enough of politics. Well, in that
district I have a little place: the usual kitchen garden, a little pond
with carp in it, farm buildings of a sort and a little lodge for my own
sinful person ... I am a bachelor. Well, one day—some six years ago—I
came home rather late; I had had a game of cards at a neighbour's and I
was—I beg you to note—the least little bit elevated, as they say; I
undressed, got into bed and put out the candle. And only fancy,
gentlemen: as soon as I put out the candle there was something moving
under my bed! I wondered whether it was a rat; no, it was not a rat: it
moved about, scratched on the floor and scratched itself.... At last it
flapped its ears!
“There was no mistake about it; it was a dog. But where could a dog
have come from? I did not keep one; could some stray dog have run in, I
wondered. I called my servant; Filka was his name. He came in with a
“'How's this,' I said, 'Filka, my lad? Is that how you look after
things? A dog has got under my bed?' 'What dog?' said he. 'How do I
know,' said I, 'that's your business—to save your master from
disturbance.' My Filka bent down, and began moving the candle under the
bed. 'But there's no dog here,' said he. I bent down, too; there
certainly was no dog there. What a queer thing!—I glanced at Filka and
he was smiling. 'You stupid,' I said to him, 'why are you grinning.
When you opened the door the dog must have whisked out into the
passage. And you, gaping idiot, saw nothing because you are always
asleep. You don't suppose I am drunk, do you?' He would have answered,
but I sent him out, curled up and that night heard nothing more.
“But the next night—only fancy—the thing was repeated. As soon as I
blew out the candle, he scratched himself and flapped his ears again.
Again I called Filka; again he looked under the bed—again there was
nothing! I sent him away, blew out the candle—and, damn it all, the
dog was there again and it was a dog right enough: one could hear it
breathing, biting its coat, looking for fleas.... It was so
distinct—'Filka,' I said, 'come here without the candle!' He came in.
'Well, now,' I said, 'do you hear?' 'Yes,' he said. I could not see
him, but I felt that the fellow was scared. 'What do you make of it?'
said I. 'What do you bid me make of it, Porfiry Kapitonitch? It's
sorcery!' 'You are a foolish fellow,' I said, 'hold your tongue with
your sorcery....' And our voices quavered like a bird's and we were
trembling in the dark as though we were in a fever. I lighted a candle,
no dog, no sound, only us two, as white as chalk. So I kept a candle
burning till morning and I assure you, gentlemen, you may believe me or
you may not, but from that night for six weeks the same thing was
repeated. In the end I actually got used to it and began putting out
the candle, because I couldn't get to sleep in the light. 'Let him
fidget,' I thought, 'he doesn't do me any harm.'“
“Well, I see you are not one of the chicken-hearted brigade,” Anton
Stepanitch interrupted in a half-contemptuous, half-condescending tone!
“One can see the Hussar at once!”
“I shouldn't be afraid of you in any case,” Porfiry Kapitonitch
observed, and for an instant he really did look like a Hussar.
“But listen to the rest. A neighbour came to see me, the very one
with whom I used to play cards. He dined with me on what luck provided
and dropped some fifty roubles for his visit; night came on, it was
time for him to be off. But I had my own idea. 'Stay the night with
me,' I said, 'Vassily Vassilitch; tomorrow, please God, you will win it
back.' Vassily Vassilitch considered and stayed. I had a bed put up for
him in my room.... Well, we went to bed, smoked, chatted—about the
fair sex for the most part, as is only suitable in bachelor company—we
laughed, of course; I saw Vassily Vassilitch put out his candle and
turn his back towards me: as much as to say: 'Good night.' I waited a
little, then I, too, put out my candle. And, only fancy, I had hardly
time to wonder what sort of trick would be played this time, when the
sweet creature was moving again. And moving was not all; it came out
from under the bed, walked across the room, tapped on the floor with
its paws, shook its ears and all of a sudden pushed against the very
chair that was close by Vassily Vassilitch's bed. 'Porfiry
Kapitonitch,' said the latter, and in such an unconcerned voice, you
know, 'I did not know you had a dog. What sort is it, a setter?' 'I
haven't a dog,' I said, 'and never have had one!' 'You haven't? Why,
what's this?' 'What's this?' said I, 'why, light the candle and
then you will see for yourself.' 'Isn't it a dog?' 'No.' Vassily
Vassilitch turned over in bed. 'But you are joking, dash it all.' 'No,
I am not joking.' I heard him go strike, strike, with a match, while
the creature persisted in scratching its ribs. The light flared up ...
and, hey presto! not a trace remained! Vassily Vassilitch looked at me
and I looked at him. 'What trick is this?' he said. 'It's a trick,' I
said, 'that, if you were to set Socrates himself on one side and
Frederick the Great on the other, even they could not make it out.' And
then I told him all about it. Didn't my Vassily Vassilitch jump out of
bed! As though he had been scalded! He couldn't get into his boots.
'Horses,' he cried, 'horses!' I began trying to persuade him, but it
was no use! He positively gasped! 'I won't stay,' he said, 'not a
minute! You must be a man under a curse! Horses.' However, I prevailed
upon him. Only his bed was dragged into another room and nightlights
were lighted everywhere. At our tea in the morning he had regained his
equanimity; he began to give me advice. 'You should try being away from
home for a few days, Porfiry Kapitonitch,' he said, 'perhaps this
abomination would leave you.' And I must tell you: my neighbour was a
man of immense intellect. He managed his mother-in-law wonderfully: he
fastened an I. O. U. upon her; he must have chosen a sentimental
moment! She became as soft as silk, she gave him an authorisation for
the management of all her estate—what more would you have? You know it
is something to get the better of one's mother-in-law. Eh! You can
judge for yourselves. However, he took leave of me in some displeasure;
I'd stripped him of a hundred roubles again. He actually abused me.
'You are ungrateful.' he said, 'you have no feeling'; but how was I to
blame? Well, be that as it may, I considered his advice. That very day
I drove off to the town and put up at an inn, kept by an old man I
knew, a Dissenter. He was a worthy old fellow, though a little morose
from living in solitude, all his family were dead. But he disliked
tobacco and had the greatest loathing for dogs; I believe he would have
been torn to pieces rather than consent to let a dog into his room.
'For how can one?' he would say, 'the Queen of Heaven herself is
graciously pleased to be on my wall there, and is an unclean dog to put
his infidel nose there?' Of course, it was lack of education! However,
to my thinking, whatever wisdom a man has he had better stick to that.”
“I see you are a great philosopher,” Anton Stepanitch interrupted a
second time with the same sarcastic smile.
This time Porfiry Kapitonitch actually frowned.
“How much I know of philosophy I cannot tell,” he observed, tugging
grimly at his moustache, “but I would be glad to give you a lesson in
We all simply stared at Anton Stepanitch. Every one of us expected a
haughty reply, or at least a glance like a flash of lightning.... But
the civil councillor turned his contemptuous smile into one of
indifference, then yawned, swung his foot and—that was all!
“Well, I stayed at that old fellow's,” Porfiry Kapitonitch went on.
“He gave me a little room, not one of the best, as we were old friends;
his own was close by, the other side of the partition—and that was
just what I wanted. The tortures I faced that night! A little room, a
regular oven, stuffiness, flies, and such sticky ones; in the corner an
extraordinarily big shrine with ancient ikons, with dingy setting in
relief on them. It fairly reeked of oil and some other stuff, too;
there were two featherbeds on the beds. If you moved the pillow a black
beetle would run from under it.... I had drunk an incredible quantity
of tea, feeling so dreary—it was simply dreadful! I got into bed;
there was no possibility of sleeping—and, the other side of the
partition, my host was sighing, clearing his throat, repeating his
prayers. However, he subsided at last. I heard him begin to snore, but
only faintly, in the old-fashioned polite way. I had put my candle out
long ago, but the little lamp was burning before the ikons.... That
prevented it, I suppose. So I got up softly with bare feet, climbed up
to the lamp, and blew it out.... Nothing happened. 'Oho!' I thought,
'so it doesn't come off in other people's houses.'
“But I had no sooner got into bed than there was a commotion again.
He was scraping on the floor and scratching himself and shaking his
ears ... the usual thing, in fact. Very good! I lay still and waited to
see what would happen. I heard the old man wake up. 'Sir,' he said,
'hey, sir.' 'What is it?' 'Did you put out the lamp?' But without
waiting for my answer, he burst out all at once. 'What's that? What's
that, a dog? A dog! Ah, you vile heretic!' 'Wait a bit, old man, before
you scold,' I said. 'You had better come here yourself. Things are
happening,' I said, 'that may well make you wonder.' The old man
stirred behind the partition and came in to me, with a candle, a very,
very thin one, made of yellow wax; I was surprised when I looked at
him! He looked bristling all over, with hairy ears and eyes as fierce
as a weasel's; he had on a white woollen night cap, a beard to his
waist, white; too, and a waistcoat with copper buttons on it over his
shirt and fur boots on his feet and he smelt of juniper. In this attire
he approached the ikons, crossed himself three times with his two
fingers crossed, lighted the lamp, crossed himself again and, turning
to me, just grunted: 'Explain!' And thereupon, without delay, I told
him all that had happened. The old man listened to my account and did
not drop one word, simply shook his head. Then he sat down on my bed
and still said nothing. He scratched his chest, the back of his head
and so on and said nothing. 'Well,' I said, 'Fedul Ivanitch, what do
you think? Is it some devil's sorcery or what?' The old man looked at
me. 'What an idea! Devil's sorcery! A tobacco-smoker like you might
well have that at home, but not here. Only think what holiness there is
here! Sorcery, indeed!' 'And if it is not sorcery, what is it, then?'
The old man was silent again; again he scratched himself and said at
last, but in a muffled voice, for his moustache was all over his mouth:
'You go to the town of Belyov. There is no one who can help you but one
man. And that man lives in Belyov. He is one of our people. If he is
willing to help you, you are lucky; if he is not, nothing can be done.'
'And how am I to find this man?' I said. 'I can direct you about that,'
he answered; 'but how can it be sorcery? It is an apparition, or rather
an indication; but you cannot comprehend it, it is beyond your
understanding. Lie down to sleep now with the blessing of our Lord
Christ; I will burn incense and in the morning we will converse.
Morning, you know, brings wisdom.'
“Well, we did converse in the morning, only I was almost stifled by
that incense. And this was the counsel the old man gave me: that when I
reached Belyov I should go into the market place and ask in the second
shop on the right for one Prohoritch, and when I had found Prohoritch,
put into his hand a writing and the writing consisted of a scrap of
paper, on which stood the following words: 'In the name of the Father,
the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen. To Sergey Prohorovitch Pervushin.
Trust this man. Feduly Ivanitch.' And below, 'Send the cabbages, for
“I thanked the old man and without further discussion ordered my
carriage and drove to Belyov. For I reflected, that though I suffered
no harm from my nocturnal visitor, yet it was uncanny and in fact not
quite the thing for a nobleman and an officer—what do you think?”
“And did you really go to Belyov?” murmured Finoplentov.
“Straight to Belyov. I went into the market place and asked at the
second shop on the right for Prohoritch. 'Is there such a person?' I
asked. 'Yes,' they told me. 'And where does he live?' 'By the Oka,
beyond the market gardens.' 'In whose house?' 'In his own.' I went to
the Oka, found his house, though it was really not a house but simply a
hovel. I saw a man wearing a blue patched coat and a ragged cap, well
... he looked like a working-man, he was standing with his back to me,
digging among his cabbages. I went up to him. 'Are you so and so?' I
said. He turned round and, I tell you the truth, I have never seen such
piercing eyes in my life. Yet the whole face was shrunk up like a
little fist with a little wedge-shaped beard and sunken lips. He was an
old man. 'I am so and so,' he said. 'What are you needing?'
'Why, this is what I am needing,' I said, and put the writing in
his hand. He looked at me intently and said: 'Come indoors, I can't
read without spectacles.'
“Well, I went with him into his hut—and a hut it certainly was:
poor, bare, crooked; only just holding together. On the wall there was
an ikon of old workmanship as black as a coal; only the whites of the
eyes gleamed in the faces. He took some round spectacles in iron frames
out of a little table, put them on his nose, read the writing and
looked at me again through the spectacles. 'You have need of me?' 'I
certainly have,' I answered. 'Well,' said he, 'if you have, tell it and
we will listen.' And, only fancy, he sat down and took a checked
handkerchief out of his pocket, and spread it out on his knee, and the
handkerchief was full of holes, and he looked at me with as much
dignity as though he were a senator or a minister, and he did not ask
me to sit down. And what was still stranger, I felt all at once
awe-stricken, so awe-stricken ... my soul sank into my heels. He
pierced me through with his eyes and that's the fact! I pulled myself
together, however, and told him all my story. He was silent for a
space, shrank into himself, chewed his lips and then questioned me just
like a senator again, majestically, without haste. 'What is your name?'
he asked. 'Your age? What were your parents? Are you single or
married?' Then again he munched his lips, frowned, held up his finger
and spoke: 'Bow down to the holy ikon, to the honourable Saints Zossima
and Savvaty of Solovki.' I bowed down to the earth and did not get up
in a hurry; I felt such awe for the man and such submission that I
believe that whatever he had told me to do I should have done it on the
spot! ... I see you are grinning, gentlemen, but I was in no laughing
mood then, I assure you. 'Get up, sir,' said he at last. 'I can help
you. This is not sent you as a chastisement, but as a warning; it is
for your protection; someone is praying for your welfare. Go to the
market now and buy a young dog and keep it by you day and night. Your
visions will leave you and, moreover, that dog will be of use to you.'
“I felt as though light dawned upon me, all at once; how those words
delighted me. I bowed down to Prohoritch and would have gone away, when
I bethought me that I could not go away without rewarding him. I got a
three rouble note out of my pocket. But he thrust my hand away and
said, 'Give it to our chapel, or to the poor; the service I have done
you is not to be paid for.' I bowed down to him again almost to the
ground, and set off straight for the market! And only fancy: as soon as
I drew near the shops, lo and behold, a man in a frieze overcoat comes
sauntering towards me carrying under his arm a two months' old setter
puppy with a reddish brown coat, white lips and white forepaws. 'Stay,'
I said to the man in the overcoat, 'what will you sell it for?' 'For
two roubles.' Take three!' The man looked at me in amazement, thought
the gentleman had gone out of his wits, but I flung the notes in his
face, took the pup under my arm and made for my carriage! The coachman
quickly had the horses harnessed and that evening I reached home. The
puppy sat inside my coat all the way and did not stir; and I kept
calling him, 'Little Trésor! Little Trésor!' I gave him food and drink
at once. I had some straw brought in, settled him and whisked into bed!
I blew out the candle: it was dark. 'Well, now begin,' said I. There
was silence. 'Begin,' said I, 'you so and so!'... Not a sound, as
though to mock me. Well, I began to feel so set up that I fell to
calling it all sorts of names. But still there was not a sound! I could
only hear the puppy panting! Filka,' I cried, 'Filka! Come here, you
stupid!' He came in. 'Do you hear the dog?' 'No, sir,' said he, 'I hear
nothing,' and he laughed. 'And you won't hear it ever again,' said I.
'Here's half a rouble for vodka!' 'Let me kiss your hand,' said the
foolish fellow, and he stooped down to me in the darkness.... It was a
great relief, I must tell you.”
“And was that how it all ended?” asked Anton Stepanitch, this time
“The apparitions ended certainly and I was not disturbed in any way,
but wait a bit, the whole business was not over yet. My Trésor grew, he
turned into a fine fellow. He was heavy, with flopping ears and
overhanging lip and a thick tail; a regular sporting dog. And he was
extremely attached to me, too. The shooting in our district is poor,
however, as I had set up a dog, I got a gun, too. I took to sauntering
round the neighbourhood with my Trésor: sometimes one would hit a hare
(and didn't he go after that hare, upon my soul), sometimes a quail, or
a duck. But the great thing was that Trésor was never a step away from
me. Where I went, he went; I even took him to the bath with me, I did
really! One lady actually tried to get me turned out of her
drawing-room on account of Trésor, but I made such an uproar! The
windows I broke! Well, one day ... it was in summer ... and I must tell
you there was a drought at the time such as nobody remembered. The air
was full of smoke or haze. There was a smell of burning, the sun was
like a molten bullet, and as for the dust there was no getting it out
of one's nose and throat. People walked with their mouths wide open
like crows. I got weary of sitting at home in complete deshabille, with
shutters closed; and luckily the heat was beginning to abate a
little.... So I went off, gentlemen, to see a lady, a neighbour of
mine. She lived about three-quarters of a mile away—and she certainly
was a benevolent lady. She was still young and blooming and of most
prepossessing appearance; but she was of rather uncertain temper.
Though that is no harm in the fair sex; it even gives me pleasure....
Well, I reached her door, and I did feel that I had had a hot time of
it getting there! Well, I thought, Nimfodora Semyonovna will regale me
now with bilberry water and other cooling drinks—and I had already
taken hold of the doorhandle when all at once there was the tramping of
feet and shrieking, and shouting of boys from round the corner of a hut
in the courtyard.... I looked round. Good heavens! A huge reddish beast
was rushing straight towards me; at the first glance I did not
recognise it as a dog: its jaws were open, its eyes were bloodshot, its
coat was bristling.... I had not time to take breath before the monster
bounded up the steps, stood upon its hind legs and made straight for my
chest—it was a position! I was numb with terror and could not lift my
arms. I was completely stupefied.... I could see nothing but the
terrible white tusks just before my nose, the red tongue all covered
with white foam. But at the same instant, another dark body was
whisking before me like a ball—it was my darling Trésor defending me;
and he hung like a leech on the brute's throat! The creature wheezed,
grated its teeth and staggered back. I instantly flung open the door
and got into the hall.... I stood hardly knowing what I was doing with
my whole weight on the door, and heard a desperate battle going on
outside. I began shouting and calling for help; everyone in the house
was terribly upset. Nimfodora Semyonovna ran out with her hair down,
the voices in the yard grew louder—and all at once I heard: 'Hold the
gate, hold it, fasten it!' I opened the door—just a crack, and looked
out: the monster was no longer on the steps, the servants were rushing
about the yard in confusion waving their hands and picking up bits of
wood from the ground; they were quite crazy. 'To the village, it has
run off to the village,' shrieked a peasant woman in a cap of
extraordinary size poking her head out of a dormer window. I went out
of the house.
“'Where is my Trésor?' I asked and at once I saw my saviour. He was
coming from the gate limping, covered with wounds and with blood....
'What's the meaning of it?' I asked the servants who were dashing about
the yard as though possessed. 'A mad dog!' they answered, 'the count's;
it's been hanging about here since yesterday.'
“We had a neighbour, a count, who bred very fierce foreign dogs. My
knees shook; I rushed to a looking-glass and looked to see whether I
had been bitten. No, thank God, there was nothing to be seen; only my
countenance naturally looked green; while Nimfodora Semyonovna was
lying on the sofa and cackling like a hen. Well, that one could quite
understand, in the first place nerves, in the second sensibility. She
came to herself at last, though, and asked me whether I were alive. I
answered that I was and that Trésor had saved me. 'Ah,' she said, 'what
a noble creature! and so the mad dog has strangled him?' 'No,' I said,
'it has not strangled him, but has wounded him seriously.' 'Oh,' she
said, 'in that case he must be shot this minute!' 'Oh, no,' I said, 'I
won't agree to that. I shall try to cure him....' At that moment Trésor
began scratching at the door. I was about to go and open it for him.
'Oh,' she said, 'what are you doing, why, it will bite us all.' 'Upon
my word,' I said, 'the poison does not act so quickly.' 'Oh, how can
you?' she said. 'Why, you have taken leave of your senses!'
'Nimfotchka,' I said, 'calm yourself, be reasonable....' But she
suddenly cried, 'Go away at once with your horrid dog.' 'I will go
away,' said I. 'At once,' she said, 'this second! Get along with you,'
she said, 'you villain, and never dare to let me set eyes on you again.
You may go mad yourself!' 'Very good,' said I, 'only let me have a
carriage for I am afraid to go home on foot now.' 'Give him the
carriage, the coach, the chaise, what he likes, only let him be gone
quickly. Oh, what eyes! Oh, what eyes he has!' and with those words she
whisked out of the room and gave a maid who met her a slap in the
face—and I heard her in hysterics again.
“And you may not believe me, gentlemen, but that very day I broke off
all acquaintance with Nimfodora Semyonovna; on mature consideration of
everything, I am bound to add that for that circumstance, too, I shall
owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Trésor to the hour of my death.
“Well, I had the carriage brought round, put my Trésor in and drove
home. When I got home I looked him over and washed his wounds, and
thought I would take him next day as soon as it was light to the wise
man in the Yefremovsky district. And this wise man was an old peasant,
a wonderful man: he would whisper over some water—and some people made
out that he dropped some snake spittle into it—would give it as a
draught, and the trouble would be gone completely. I thought, by the
way, I would be bled myself at Yefremovo: it's a good thing as a
precaution against fright, only not from the arm, of course, but from
“What place is that, the falcon?” Mr. Finoplentov asked with demure
“Why, don't you know? It is here on the fist near the thumb, the spot
on which one shakes the snuff from one's horn, just here. It's the best
place for letting blood. For only consider, the blood from the arm
comes from the vein, but here it is of no consequence. The doctors
don't know that and don't understand it, how should they, the idle
drones, the wretched Germans? It's the blacksmiths who go in for it.
And aren't they skilful! They get a chisel, give it a tap with a hammer
and it's done! ... Well, while I was thinking it over, it got quite
dark, it was time for bed. I went to bed and Trésor, of course, was
close by me. But whether it was from the fight, from the stuffiness,
from the fleas or from my thoughts, I could not get to sleep, do what I
would! I can't describe the depression that came over me; I sipped
water, opened the window and played the 'Kamarinsky' with Italian
variations on the guitar.... No good! I felt I must get out of the
room—and that was all about it! I made up my mind at last: I took my
pillow, my quilt and my sheet and made my way across the garden to the
hayloft; and settled myself there. And how pleasant I felt in there,
gentlemen: it was a still, still night, only from time to time a breath
of air like a woman's hand caressed one's cheek; it was so fresh; the
hay smelt as sweet as tea; among the apple trees' the grasshoppers were
chirping; then all at once came the cry of the quail—and one felt that
he, too, the rogue, was happy, sitting in the dew with his little
lady.... And the sky was magnificent.... The stars were glowing, or a
cloud would float by, white as cotton wool, scarcely moving....”
At this point in the story Skvorevitch sneezed; Kinarevitch sneezed,
too—he never failed in anything to follow his colleague's example.
Anton Stepanitch looked approvingly at both of them.
“Well,” Porfiry Kapitonitch went on, “well, so I lay there and again
could not go to sleep. I fell to musing, and what I thought of most was
the strangeness of it all: how correctly Prohoritch had explained it as
a warning and I wondered why it was to me such marvels had happened....
I marvelled—particularly because I could make nothing of it—and
Trésor kept whining, as he twisted round in the hay; his wounds hurt
him. And I will tell you what else prevented me from sleeping—you
won't believe it—the moon. It was just facing me, so big and round and
yellow and flat, and it seemed to me that it was staring at me, it
really did. And so insolently, so persistently.... I put out my tongue
at it at last, I really did. What are you so inquisitive about? I
thought. I turned away from it and it seemed to be creeping into my ear
and shining on the back of my head, so that I felt caught in it as in
rain; I opened my eyes and every blade of grass, every paltry being in
the hay, the most flimsy spider's web—all were standing out as though
they were chiselled! As though asking to be looked at! There was no
help for it: I leaned my head on my hand and began gazing. And I
couldn't help it: would you believe it: my eyes bulged out like a
hare's; they opened so wide—as though they did not know what sleep
was! It seemed as though I would devour it all with my eyes. The doors
of the barn were wide open; I could see for four miles into the open
country, distinctly and yet not, as it always is on a moonlight night.
I gazed and gazed without blinking.... And all at once it seemed as
though something were moving, far, far away ... like a faint glimmer in
the distance. A little time passed: again the shadow stirred—now a
little nearer; then again nearer still. 'What can it be?' I wondered,
'a hare, no,' I thought, 'it is bigger than a hare and its action is
not the same.' I looked, and again the shadow came in sight, and was
moving across the grazing meadow (the meadow looked whitish in the
moonlight) like a big blur; it was clear that it was a wild animal, a
fox or a wolf. My heart seemed to stand still ... though one might
wonder why I was frightened. All sorts of wild creatures run about the
fields at night. But curiosity was even stronger than fear. I sat up, I
opened my eyes wide and I turned cold all over. I felt frozen, as
though I had been thrust into the ice, up to my ears, and why? The Lord
only knows! And I saw the shadow growing and growing, so it was running
straight towards the barn. And I began to realise that it certainly was
a wild beast, big, with a huge head.... He flew like a whirlwind, like
a bullet.... Holy saints! what was it? He stopped all at once, as
though he scented something.... Why it was ... the same mad dog! It was
... it was! Heavens! And I could not stir, I could not cry out.... It
darted to the doors, with glittering eyes, howled and dashed through
the hay straight at me!
“Out of the hay like a lion leapt my Trésor, here he was. They hung
on to each other's jaws and rolled on the ground. What happened then I
don't remember; all I remember is that I flew headlong between them
into the garden, and home and into my bedroom and almost crept under
the bed—why not make a clean breast of it? And what leaps, what bounds
I took in the garden! The prémiere danseuse dancing before the
Emperor Napoleon on his nameday couldn't have kept pace with me.
However, when I had recovered myself a little, I roused the whole
household; I ordered them all to arm themselves, I myself took a sword
and a revolver (I bought that revolver, I must own, soon after the
emancipation, you know, in case anything should happen, but it turned
out the man who sold it was such a rogue—it would be sure to miss fire
twice out of every three shots). Well, I took all this and so we went,
a regular horde of us with stakes and lanterns, to the barn. We
approached and called—there was not a sound; at last we went into the
barn.... And what did we see? My poor Trésor lay dead with his throat
torn open, and of the other, the damned brute, not a trace to be seen!
“And then, gentlemen, I howled like a calf and I am not ashamed to
say so; I stooped down to the friend who had saved my life twice over
and kissed his head, again and again. And I stayed in that position
until my old housekeeper, Praskovya (she, too, had run in at the
uproar), brought me to my senses. 'How can you, Porfiry Kapitonitch,'
she said, 'distress yourself so about a dog? And you will catch cold,
too, God forbid.' (I was very lightly clad.) 'And if this dog has lost
his life in saving you, it may be taken as a great blessing vouchsafed
“Though I did not agree with Praskovya, I went home. And next day a
soldier of the garrison shot the mad dog. And it must have been its
destined end: it was the first time in his life that the soldier had
fired a gun, though he had a medal for service in 1812. So this was the
supernatural incident that happened to me.”
The speaker ceased and began filling his pipe. We all looked at each
other in amazement.
“Well, perhaps, you have led a very virtuous life,” Mr. Finoplentov
began, “so in recompense...”
But he broke off at that word, for he saw Porfiry Kapitonitch's
cheeks grow round and flushed while his eyes screwed up—he was on the
point of breaking into a guffaw.
“But if one admits the possibility of the supernatural, the
possibility of its participation in everyday life, so to say,” Anton
Stepanitch began again, “then allow me to ask, what becomes of common
None of us found anything to say in reply and we remained in
perplexity as before.
AN OLD MAN'S STORY
I will tell you my adventures with a watch. It is a curious story.
It happened at the very beginning of this century, in 1801. I had
just reached my sixteenth year. I was living at Ryazan in a little
wooden house not far from the bank of the river Oka with my father, my
aunt and my cousin; my mother I do not remember; she died three years
after her marriage; my father had no other children. His name was
Porfiry Petrovitch. He was a quiet man, sickly and unattractive in
appearance; he was employed in some sort of legal and—other—business.
In old days such were called attorneys, sharpers, nettle-seeds; he
called himself a lawyer. Our domestic life was presided over by his
sister, my aunt, an old maiden lady of fifty; my father, too, had
passed his fourth decade. My aunt was very pious, or, to speak bluntly,
she was a canting hypocrite and a chattering magpie, who poked her nose
into everything; and, indeed, she had not a kind heart like my father.
We were not badly off, but had nothing to spare. My father had a
brother called Yegor; but he had been sent to Siberia in the year 1797
for some “seditious acts and Jacobin tendencies” (those were the words
of the accusation).
Yegor's son David, my cousin, was left on my father's hands and lived
with us. He was only one year older than I; but I respected him and
obeyed him as though he were quite grown up. He was a sensible fellow
with character; in appearance, thick-set and broad-shouldered with a
square face covered with freckles, with red hair, small grey eyes,
thick lips, a short nose, and short fingers—a sturdy lad, in fact—and
strong for his age! My aunt could not endure him; my father was
positively afraid of him ... or perhaps he felt himself to blame
towards him. There was a rumour that, if my father had not given his
brother away, David's father would not have been sent to Siberia. We
were both at the high school and in the same class and both fairly high
up in it; I was, indeed, a little better at my lessons than David. I
had a good memory but boys—as we all know!—do not think much of such
superiority, and David remained my leader.
My name—you know—is Alexey. I was born on the seventh of March and
my name-day is the seventeenth. In accordance with the old-fashioned
custom, I was given the name of the saint whose festival fell on the
tenth day after my birth. My godfather was a certain Anastasy
Anastasyevitch Putchkov, or more exactly Nastasey Nastasyeitch, for
that was what everyone called him. He was a terribly shifty,
pettifogging knave and bribe-taker—a thoroughly bad man; he had been
turned out of the provincial treasury and had had to stand his trial on
more than one occasion; he was often of use to my father.... They used
to “do business” together. In appearance he was a round, podgy figure;
and his face was like a fox's with a nose like an owl's. His eyes were
brown, bright, also like a fox's, and he was always moving them, those
eyes, to right and to left, and he twitched his nose, too, as though he
were sniffing the air. He wore shoes without heels, and wore powder
every day, which was looked upon as very exceptional in the provinces.
He used to declare that he could not go without powder as he had to
associate with generals and their ladies. Well, my name-day had come.
Nastasey Nastasyeitch came to the house and said:
“I have never made you a present up to now, godson, but to make up
for that, look what a fine thing I have brought you to-day.”
And he took out of his pocket a silver watch, a regular turnip, with
a rose tree engraved on the face and a brass chain. I was overwhelmed
with delight, while my aunt, Pelageya Petrovna, shouted at the top of
“Kiss his hand, kiss his hand, dirty brat!”
I proceeded to kiss my godfather's hand, while my aunt went piping
“Oh, Nastasey Nastasyeitch! Why do you spoil him like this? How can
he take care of a watch? He will be sure to drop it, break it, or spoil
My father walked in, looked at the watch, thanked Nastasey
Nastasyeitch—somewhat carelessly, and invited him to his study. And I
heard my father say, as though to himself:
“If you think to get off with that, my man....” But I could
not stay still. I put on the watch and rushed headlong to show my
present to David.
David took the watch, opened it and examined it attentively. He had
great mechanical ability; he liked having to do with iron, copper, and
metals of all sorts; he had provided himself with various instruments,
and it was nothing for him to mend or even to make a screw, a key or
anything of that kind.
David turned the watch about in his hands and muttering through his
teeth (he was not talkative as a rule):
“Oh ... poor ...” added, “where did you get it?”
I told him that my godfather had given it me.
David turned his little grey eyes upon me:
“Yes, Nastasey Nastasyeitch.”
David laid the watch on the table and walked away without a word.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
“Well, it isn't that.... But if I were you, I would not take any sort
of present from Nastasey.”
“Because he is a contemptible person; and you ought not to be under
an obligation to a contemptible person. And to say thank you to him,
too. I suppose you kissed his hand?”
“Yes, Aunt made me.”
David grinned—a peculiar grin—to himself. That was his way. He
never laughed aloud; he considered laughter a sign of feebleness.
David's words, his silent grin, wounded me deeply. “So he inwardly
despises me,” I thought. “So I, too, am contemptible in his eyes. He
would never have stooped to this himself! He would not have accepted
presents from Nastasey. But what am I to do now?”
Give back the watch? Impossible!
I did try to talk to David, to ask his advice. He told me that he
never gave advice to anyone and that I had better do as I thought best.
As I thought best!! I remember I did not sleep all night afterwards: I
was in agonies of indecision. I was sorry to lose the watch—I had laid
it on the little table beside my bed; its ticking was so pleasant and
amusing ... but to feel that David despised me (yes, it was useless to
deceive myself, he did despise me) ... that seemed to me unbearable.
Towards morning a determination had taken shape in me ... I wept, it is
true—but I fell asleep upon it, and as soon as I woke up, I dressed in
haste and ran out into the street. I had made up my mind to give my
watch to the first poor person I met.
I had not run far from home when I hit upon what I was looking for. I
came across a barelegged boy of ten, a ragged urchin, who was often
hanging about near our house. I dashed up to him at once and, without
giving him or myself time to recover, offered him my watch.
The boy stared at me round-eyed, put one hand before his mouth, as
though he were afraid of being scalded—and held out the other.
“Take it, take it,” I muttered, “it's mine, I give it you, you can
sell it, and buy yourself ... something you want.... Good-bye.”
I thrust the watch into his hand—and went home at a gallop. Stopping
for a moment at the door of our common bedroom to recover my breath, I
went up to David who had just finished dressing and was combing his
“Do you know what, David?” I said in as unconcerned a tone as I
could, “I have given away Nastasey's watch.”
David looked at me and passed the brush over his temples.
“Yes,” I added in the same businesslike voice, “I have given it away.
There is a very poor boy, a beggar, you know, so I have given it to
David put down the brush on the washing-stand.
“He can buy something useful,” I went on, “with the money he can get
for it. Anyway, he will get something for it.”
“Well,” David said at last, “that's a good thing,” and he went off to
the schoolroom. I followed him.
“And if they ask you what you have done with it?” he said, turning to
“I shall tell them I've lost it,” I answered carelessly.
No more was said about the watch between us that day; but I had the
feeling that David not only approved of what I had done but ... was to
some extent surprised by it. He really was!
Two days more passed. It happened that no one in the house thought of
the watch. My father was taken up with a very serious unpleasantness
with one of his clients; he had no attention to spare for me or my
watch. I, on the other hand, thought of it without ceasing! Even the
approval ... the presumed approval of David did not quite comfort me.
He did not show it in any special way: the only thing he said, and that
casually, was that he hadn't expected such recklessness of me.
Certainly I was a loser by my sacrifice: it was not counter-balanced by
the gratification afforded me by my vanity.
And what is more, as ill-luck would have it, another schoolfellow of
ours, the son of the town doctor, must needs turn up and begin boasting
of a new watch, a present from his grandmother, and not even a silver,
but a pinch-back one....
I could not bear it, at last, and, without a word to anyone, slipped
out of the house and proceeded to hunt for the beggar boy to whom I had
given my watch.
I soon found him; he was playing knucklebones in the churchyard with
some other boys.
I called him aside—and, breathless and stammering, told him that my
family were angry with me for having given away the watch—and that if
he would consent to give it back to me I would gladly pay him for
it.... To be ready for any emergency, I had brought with me an
old-fashioned rouble of the reign of Elizabeth, which represented the
whole of my fortune.
“But I haven't got it, your watch,” answered the boy in an angry and
tearful voice; “my father saw it and took it away from me; and he was
for thrashing me, too. 'You must have stolen it from somewhere,' he
said. 'What fool is going to make you a present of a watch?'“
“And who is your father?”
“My father? Trofimitch.”
“But what is he? What's his trade?”
“He is an old soldier, a sergeant. And he has no trade at all. He
mends old shoes, he re-soles them. That's all his trade. That's what he
“Where do you live? Take me to him.”
“To be sure I will. You tell my father that you gave me the watch.
For he keeps pitching into me, and calling me a thief! And my mother,
too. 'Who is it you are taking after,' she says, 'to be a thief?'“
I set off with the boy to his home. They lived in a smoky hut in the
back-yard of a factory, which had long ago been burnt down and not
rebuilt. We found both Trofimitch and his wife at home. The discharged
sergeant was a tall old man, erect and sinewy, with yellowish grey
whiskers, an unshaven chin and a perfect network of wrinkles on his
cheeks and forehead. His wife looked older than he. Her red eyes, which
looked buried in her unhealthily puffy face, kept blinking dejectedly.
Some sort of dark rags hung about them by way of clothes.
I explained to Trofimitch what I wanted and why I had come. He
listened to me in silence without once winking or moving from me his
stupid and strained—typically soldierly—eyes.
“Whims and fancies!” he brought out at last in a husky, toothless
bass. “Is that the way gentlemen behave? And if Petka really did not
steal the watch—then I'll give him one for that! To teach him not to
play the fool with little gentlemen! And if he did steal it, then I
would give it to him in a very different style, whack, whack, whack!
With the flat of a sword; in horseguard's fashion! No need to think
twice about it! What's the meaning of it? Eh? Go for them with sabres!
Here's a nice business! Tfoo!”
This last interjection Trofimitch pronounced in a falsetto. He was
“If you are willing to restore the watch to me,” I explained to
him—I did not dare to address him familiarly in spite of his being a
soldier—“I will with pleasure pay you this rouble here. The watch is
not worth more, I imagine.”
“Well!” growled Trofimitch, still amazed and, from old habit,
devouring me with his eyes as though I were his superior officer. “It's
a queer business, eh? Well, there it is, no understanding it. Ulyana,
hold your tongue!” he snapped out at his wife who was opening her
mouth. “Here's the watch,” he added, opening the table drawer; “if it
really is yours, take it by all means; but what's the rouble for? Eh?”
“Take the rouble, Trofimitch, you senseless man,” wailed his wife.
“You have gone crazy in your old age! We have not a half-rouble between
us, and then you stand on your dignity! It was no good their cutting
off your pigtail, you are a regular old woman just the same! How can
you go on like that—when you know nothing about it? ... Take the
money, if you have a fancy to give back the watch!”
“Ulyana, hold your tongue, you dirty slut!” Trofimitch repeated.
“Whoever heard of such a thing, talking away? Eh? The husband is the
head; and yet she talks! Petka, don't budge, I'll kill you.... Here's
Trofimitch held out the watch to me, but did not let go of it.
He pondered, looked down, then fixed the same intent, stupid stare
upon me. Then all at once bawled at the top of his voice:
“Where is it? Where's your rouble?”
“Here it is, here it is,” I responded hurriedly and I snatched the
coin out of my pocket.
But he did not take it, he still stared at me. I laid the rouble on
the table. He suddenly brushed it into the drawer, thrust the watch
into my hand and wheeling to the left with a loud stamp, he hissed at
his wife and his son:
“Get along, you low wretches!”
Ulyana muttered something, but I had already dashed out into the yard
and into the street. Thrusting the watch to the very bottom of my
pocket and clutching it tightly in my hand, I hurried home.
I had regained the possession of my watch but it afforded me no
satisfaction whatever. I did not venture to wear it, it was above all
necessary to conceal from David what I had done. What would he think of
me, of my lack of will? I could not even lock up the luckless watch in
a drawer: we had all our drawers in common. I had to hide it, sometimes
on the top of the cupboard, sometimes under my mattress, sometimes
behind the stove.... And yet I did not succeed in hoodwinking David.
One day I took the watch from under a plank in the floor of our room
and proceeded to rub the silver case with an old chamois leather glove.
David had gone off somewhere in the town; I did not at all expect him
to be back quickly.... Suddenly he was in the doorway.
I was so overcome that I almost dropped the watch, and, utterly
disconcerted, my face painfully flushing crimson, I fell to fumbling
about my waistcoat with it, unable to find my pocket.
David looked at me and, as usual, smiled without speaking.
“What's the matter?” he brought out at last. “You imagined I didn't
know you had your watch again? I saw it the very day you brought it
“I assure you,” I began, almost on the point of tears....
David shrugged his shoulders.
“The watch is yours, you are free to do what you like with it.”
Saying these cruel words, he went out.
I was overwhelmed with despair. This time there could be no doubt!
David certainly despised me.
I could not leave it so.
“I will show him,” I thought, clenching my teeth, and at once with a
firm step I went into the passage, found our page-boy, Yushka, and
presented him with the watch!
Yushka would have refused it, but I declared that if he did not take
the watch from me I would smash it that very minute, trample it under
foot, break it to bits and throw it in the cesspool! He thought a
moment, giggled, and took the watch. I went back to our room and seeing
David reading there, I told him what I had done.
David did not take his eyes off the page and, again shrugging his
shoulder and smiling to himself, repeated that the watch was mine and
that I was free to do what I liked with it.
But it seemed to me that he already despised me a little less.
I was fully persuaded that I should never again expose myself to the
reproach of weakness of character, for the watch, the disgusting
present from my disgusting godfather, had suddenly grown so distasteful
to me that I was quite incapable of understanding how I could have
regretted it, how I could have begged for it back from the wretched
Trofimitch, who had, moreover, the right to think that he had treated
me with generosity.
Several days passed.... I remember that on one of them the great news
reached our town that the Emperor Paul was dead and his son Alexandr,
of whose graciousness and humanity there were such favourable rumours,
had ascended the throne. This news excited David intensely: the
possibility of seeing—of shortly seeing—his father occurred to him at
once. My father was delighted, too.
“They will bring back all the exiles from Siberia now and I expect
brother Yegor will not be forgotten,” he kept repeating, rubbing his
hands, coughing and, at the same time, seeming rather nervous.
David and I at once gave up working and going to the high school; we
did not even go for walks but sat in a corner counting and reckoning in
how many months, in how many weeks, in how many days “brother Yegor"
ought to come back and where to write to him and how to go to meet him
and in what way we should begin to live afterwards. “Brother Yegor” was
an architect: David and I decided that he ought to settle in Moscow and
there build big schools for poor people and we would go to be his
assistants. The watch, of course, we had completely forgotten; besides,
David had new cares.... Of them I will speak later, but the watch was
destined to remind us of its existence again.
One morning we had only just finished lunch—I was sitting alone by
the window thinking of my uncle's release—outside there was the steam
and glitter of an April thaw—when all at once my aunt, Pelageya
Petrovna, walked into the room. She was at all times restless and
fidgetty, she spoke in a shrill voice and was always waving her arms
about; on this occasion she simply pounced on me.
“Go along, go to your father at once, sir!” she snapped out. “What
pranks have you been up to, you shameless boy! You will catch it, both
of you. Nastasey Nastasyeitch has shown up all your tricks! Go along,
your father wants you.... Go along this very minute.”
Understanding nothing, I followed my aunt, and, as I crossed the
threshold of the drawing-room, I saw my father, striding up and down
and ruffling up his hair, Yushka in tears by the door and, sitting on a
chair in the corner, my godfather, Nastasey Nastasyeitch, with an
expression of peculiar malignancy in his distended nostrils and in his
fiery, slanting eyes.
My father swooped down upon me as soon as I walked in.
“Did you give your watch to Yushka? Tell me!”
I glanced at Yushka.
“Tell me,” repeated my father, stamping.
“Yes,” I answered, and immediately received a stinging slap in the
face, which afforded my aunt great satisfaction. I heard her gulp, as
though she had swallowed some hot tea. From me my father ran to Yushka.
“And you, you rascal, ought not to have dared to accept such a
present,” he said, pulling him by the hair: “and you sold it, too, you
Yushka, as I learned later had, in the simplicity of his heart, taken
my watch to a neighbouring watchmaker's. The watchmaker had displayed
it in his shop-window; Nastasey Nastasyeitch had seen it, as he passed
by, bought it and brought it along with him.
However, my ordeal and Yushka's did not last long: my father gasped
for breath, and coughed till he choked; indeed, it was not in his
character to be angry long.
“Brother, Porfiry Petrovitch,” observed my aunt, as soon as she
noticed not without regret that my father's anger had, so to speak,
flickered out, “don't you worry yourself further: it's not worth
dirtying your hands over. I tell you what I suggest: with the consent
of our honoured friend, Nastasey Nastasyeitch, in consideration of the
base ingratitude of your son—I will take charge of the watch; and
since he has shown by his conduct that he is not worthy to wear it and
does not even understand its value, I will present it in your name to a
person who will be very sensible of your kindness.”
“Whom do you mean?” asked my father.
“To Hrisanf Lukitch,” my aunt articulated, with slight hesitation.
“To Hrisashka?” asked my father, and with a wave of his hand, he
added: “It's all one to me. You can throw it in the stove, if you
He buttoned up his open vest and went out, writhing from his
“And you, my good friend, do you agree?” said my aunt, addressing
“I am quite agreeable,” responded the latter. During the whole
proceedings he had not stirred and only snorting stealthily and
stealthily rubbing the ends of his fingers, had fixed his foxy eyes by
turns on me, on my father, and on Yushka. We afforded him real
My aunt's suggestion revolted me to the depths of my soul. It was not
that I regretted the watch; but the person to whom she proposed to
present it was absolutely hateful to me. This Hrisanf Lukitch (his
surname was Trankvillitatin), a stalwart, robust, lanky divinity
student, was in the habit of coming to our house—goodness knows what
for!—to help the children with their lessons, my aunt asserted;
but he could not help us with our lessons because he had never learnt
anything himself and was as stupid as a horse. He was rather like a
horse altogether: he thudded with his feet as though they had been
hoofs, did not laugh but neighed, opening his jaws till you could see
right down his throat—and he had a long face, a hooked nose and big,
flat jaw-bones; he wore a shaggy frieze, full-skirted coat, and smelt
of raw meat. My aunt idolised him and called him a good-looking man, a
cavalier and even a grenadier. He had a habit of tapping children on
the forehead with the nails of his long fingers, hard as stones (he
used to do it to me when I was younger), and as he tapped he would
chuckle and say with surprise: “How your head resounds, it must be
empty.” And this lout was to possess my watch!—No, indeed, I
determined in my own mind as I ran out of the drawing-room and flung
myself on my bed, while my cheek glowed crimson from the slap I had
received and my heart, too, was aglow with the bitterness of the insult
and the thirst for revenge—no, indeed! I would not allow that cursed
Hrisashka to jeer at me.... He would put on the watch, let the chain
hang over his stomach, would neigh with delight; no, indeed!
“Quite so, but how was it to be done, how to prevent it?”
I determined to steal the watch from my aunt.
Luckily Trankvillitatin was away from the town at the time: he could
not come to us before the next day; I must take advantage of the night!
My aunt did not lock her bedroom door and, indeed, none of the keys in
the house would turn in the locks; but where would she put the watch,
where would she hide it? She kept it in her pocket till the evening and
even took it out and looked at it more than once; but at night—where
would it be at night?—Well, that was just my work to find out, I
thought, shaking my fists.
I was burning with boldness and terror and joy at the thought of the
approaching crime. I was continually nodding to myself; I knitted my
brows. I whispered: “Wait a bit!” I threatened someone, I was wicked, I
was dangerous ... and I avoided David!—no one, not even he, must have
the slightest suspicion of what I meant to do....
I would act alone and alone I would answer for it!
Slowly the day lagged by, then the evening, at last the night came. I
did nothing; I even tried not to move: one thought was stuck in my head
like a nail. At dinner my father, who was, as I have said, naturally
gentle, and who was a little ashamed of his harshness—boys of sixteen
are not slapped in the face—tried to be affectionate to me; but I
rejected his overtures, not from slowness to forgive, as he imagined at
the time, but simply that I was afraid of my feelings getting the
better of me; I wanted to preserve untouched all the heat of my
vengeance, all the hardness of unalterable determination. I went to bed
very early; but of course I did not sleep and did not even shut my
eyes, but on the contrary opened them wide, though I did pull the quilt
over my head. I did not consider beforehand how to act. I had no plan
of any kind; I only waited till everything should be quiet in the
house. I only took one step: I did not remove my stockings. My aunt's
room was on the second floor. One had to pass through the dining-room
and the hall, go up the stairs, pass along a little passage and there
... on the right was the door! I must not on any account take with me a
candle or a lantern; in the corner of my aunt's room a little lamp was
always burning before the ikon shrine; I knew that. So I should be able
to see. I still lay with staring eyes and my mouth open and parched;
the blood was throbbing in my temples, in my ears, in my throat, in my
back, all over me! I waited ... but it seemed as though some demon were
mocking me; time passed and passed but still silence did not reign.
Never, I thought, had David been so late getting to sleep.... David,
the silent David, even began talking to me! Never had they gone on so
long banging, talking, walking about the house! And what could they be
talking about? I wondered; as though they had not had the whole day to
talk in! Sounds outside persisted, too; first a dog barked on a shrill,
obstinate note; then a drunken peasant was making an uproar somewhere
and would not be pacified; then gates kept creaking; then a wretched
cart on racketty wheels kept passing and passing and seeming as though
it would never pass! However, these sounds did not worry me: on the
contrary, I was glad of them; they seemed to distract my attention. But
now at last it seemed as though all were tranquil. Only the pendulum of
our old clock ticked gravely and drowsily in the dining-room and there
was an even drawn-out sound like the hard breathing of people asleep. I
was on the point of getting up, then again something rustled ... then
suddenly sighed, something soft fell down ... and a whisper glided
along the walls.
Or was there nothing of the sort—and was it only imagination mocking
At last all was still. It was the very heart, the very dead of night.
The time had come! Chill with anticipation, I threw off the bedclothes,
let my feet down to the floor, stood up ... one step; a second.... I
stole along, my feet, heavy as though they did not belong to me, trod
feebly and uncertainly. Stay! what was that sound? Someone sawing,
somewhere, or scraping ... or sighing? I listened ... I felt my cheeks
twitching and cold watery tears came into my eyes. Nothing! ... I stole
on again. It was dark but I knew the way. All at once I stumbled
against a chair.... What a bang and how it hurt! It hit me just on my
leg.... I stood stock still. Well, did that wake them? Ah! here goes!
Suddenly I felt bold and even spiteful. On! On! Now the dining-room was
crossed, then the door was groped for and opened at one swing. The
cursed hinge squeaked, bother it! Then I went up the stairs, one! two!
one! two! A step creaked under my foot; I looked at it spitefully, just
as though I could see it. Then I stretched for the handle of another
door. This one made not the slightest sound! It flew open so easily, as
though to say, “Pray walk in.” ... And now I was in the corridor!
In the corridor there was a little window high up under the ceiling,
a faint light filtered in through the dark panes. And in that glimmer
of light I could see our little errand girl lying on the floor on a
mat, both arms behind her tousled head; she was sound asleep, breathing
rapidly and the fatal door was just behind her head. I stepped across
the mat, across the girl ... who opened that door? ... I don't know,
but there I was in my aunt's room. There was the little lamp in one
corner and the bed in the other and my aunt in her cap and night jacket
on the bed with her face towards me. She was asleep, she did not stir,
I could not even hear her breathing. The flame of the little lamp
softly flickered, stirred by the draught of fresh air, and shadows
stirred all over the room, even over the motionless wax-like yellow
face of my aunt....
And there was the watch! It was hanging on a little embroidered
cushion on the wall behind the bed. What luck, only think of it!
Nothing to delay me! But whose steps were those, soft and rapid behind
my back? Oh! no! it was my heart beating! ... I moved my legs
forward.... Good God! something round and rather large pushed against
me below my knee, once and again! I was ready to scream, I was ready to
drop with horror.... A striped cat, our own cat, was standing before me
arching his back and wagging his tail. Then he leapt on the bed—softly
and heavily—turned round and sat without purring, exactly like a
judge; he sat and looked at me with his golden pupils. “Puss, puss,” I
whispered, hardly audibly. I bent across my aunt, I had already
snatched the watch. She suddenly sat up and opened her eyelids wide....
Heavenly Father, what next? ... but her eyelids quivered and closed and
with a faint murmur her head sank on the pillow.
A minute later I was back again in my own room, in my own bed and the
watch was in my hands....
More lightly than a feather I flew back! I was a fine fellow, I was a
thief, I was a hero, I was gasping with delight, I was hot, I was
gleeful—I wanted to wake David at once to tell him all about it—and,
incredible as it sounds, I fell asleep and slept like the dead! At last
I opened my eyes.... It was light in the room, the sun had risen.
Luckily no one was awake yet. I jumped up as though I had been scalded,
woke David and told him all about it. He listened, smiled. “Do you know
what?” he said to me at last, “let's bury the silly watch in the earth,
so that it may never be seen again.” I thought his idea best of all. In
a few minutes we were both dressed; we ran out into the orchard behind
our house and under an old apple tree in a deep hole, hurriedly scooped
out in the soft, springy earth with David's big knife, my godfather's
hated present was hidden forever, so that it never got into the hands
of the disgusting Trankvillitatin after all! We stamped down the hole,
strewed rubbish over it and, proud and happy, unnoticed by anyone, went
home again, got into our beds and slept another hour or two—and such a
light and blissful sleep!
You can imagine the uproar there was that morning, as soon as my aunt
woke up and missed the watch! Her piercing shriek is ringing in my ears
to this day. “Help! Robbed! Robbed!” she squealed, and alarmed the
whole household. She was furious, while David and I only smiled to
ourselves and sweet was our smile to us. “Everyone, everyone must be
well thrashed!” bawled my aunt. “The watch has been stolen from under
my head, from under my pillow!” We were prepared for anything, we
expected trouble.... But contrary to our expectations we did not get
into trouble at all. My father certainly did fume dreadfully at first,
he even talked of the police; but I suppose he was bored with the
enquiry of the day before and suddenly, to my aunt's indescribable
amazement, he flew out not against us but against her.
“You sicken me worse than a bitter radish, Pelageya Petrovna,” he
shouted, “with your watch. I don't want to hear any more about it! It
can't be lost by magic, you say, but what's it to do with me? It may be
magic for all I care! Stolen from you? Well, good luck to it then! What
will Nastasey Nastasyeitch say? Damnation take him, your Nastasyeitch!
I get nothing but annoyances and unpleasantness from him! Don't dare to
worry me again! Do you hear?”
My father slammed the door and went off to his own room. David and I
did not at first understand the allusion in his last words; but
afterwards we found out that my father was just then violently
indignant with my godfather, who had done him out of a profitable job.
So my aunt was left looking a fool. She almost burst with vexation, but
there was no help for it. She had to confine herself to repeating in a
sharp whisper, twisting her mouth in my direction whenever she passed
me, “Thief, thief, robber, scoundrel.” My aunt's reproaches were a
source of real enjoyment to me. It was very agreeable, too, as I
crossed the flower-garden, to let my eye with assumed indifference
glide over the very spot where the watch lay at rest under the
apple-tree; and if David were close at hand to exchange a meaning
grimace with him....
My aunt tried setting Trankvillitatin upon me; but I appealed to
David. He told the stalwart divinity student bluntly that he would rip
up his belly with a knife if he did not leave me alone....
Trankvillitatin was frightened; though, according to my aunt, he was a
grenadier and a cavalier he was not remarkable for valour. So passed
five weeks.... But do you imagine that the story of the watch ended
there? No, it did not; only to continue my story I must introduce a new
character; and to introduce that new character I must go back a little.
My father had for many years been on very friendly, even intimate
terms with a retired government clerk called Latkin, a lame little man
in poor circumstances with queer, timid manners, one of those creatures
of whom it is commonly said that they are crushed by God Himself. Like
my father and Nastasey, he was engaged in the humbler class of legal
work and acted as legal adviser and agent. But possessing neither a
presentable appearance nor the gift of words and having little
confidence in himself, he did not venture to act independently but
attached himself to my father. His handwriting was “regular beadwork,”
he knew the law thoroughly and had mastered all the intricacies of the
jargon of petitions and legal documents. He had managed various cases
with my father and had shared with him gains and losses and it seemed
as though nothing could shake their friendship, and yet it broke down
in one day and forever. My father quarrelled with his colleague for
good. If Latkin had snatched a profitable job from my father, after the
fashion of Nastasey, who replaced him later on, my father would have
been no more indignant with him than with Nastasey, probably less. But
Latkin, under the influence of an unexplained, incomprehensible
feeling, envy, greed—or perhaps even a momentary fit of honesty—“gave
away” my father, betrayed him to their common client, a wealthy young
merchant, opening this careless young man's eyes to a certain—well,
piece of sharp practice, destined to bring my father considerable
profit. It was not the money loss, however great—no—but the betrayal
that wounded and infuriated my father; he could not forgive treachery.
“So he sets himself up for a saint!” he repeated, trembling all over
with anger, his teeth chattering as though he were in a fever. I
happened to be in the room and was a witness of this ugly scene. “Good.
Amen, from today. It's all over between us. There's the ikon and
there's the door! Neither you in my house nor I in yours. You are too
honest for us. How can we keep company with you? But may you have no
house nor home!”
It was in vain that Latkin entreated my father and bowed down before
him; it was in vain that he tried to explain to him what filled his own
soul with painful perplexity. “You know it was with no sort of profit
to myself, Porfiry Petrovitch,” he faltered: “why, I cut my own
throat!” My father remained implacable. Latkin never set foot in our
house again. Fate itself seemed determined to carry out my father's
last cruel words. Soon after the rupture (which took place two years
before the beginning of my story), Latkin's wife, who had, it is true,
been ill for a long time, died; his second daughter, a child three
years old, became deaf and dumb in one day from terror; a swarm of bees
had settled on her head; Latkin himself had an apoplectic stroke and
sank into extreme and hopeless poverty. How he struggled on, what he
lived upon—it is hard to imagine. He lived in a dilapidated hovel at
no great distance from our house. His elder daughter Raissa lived with
him and kept house, so far as that was possible. This Raissa is the
character whom I must now introduce into our story.
When her father was on friendly terms with mine, we used to see her
continually. She would sit with us for hours at a time, either sewing,
or spinning with her delicate, rapid, clever fingers. She was a
well-made, rather thin girl, with intelligent brown eyes and a long,
white, oval face. She talked little but sensibly in a soft, musical
voice, barely opening her mouth and not showing her teeth. When she
laughed—which happened rarely and never lasted long—they were all
suddenly displayed, big and white as almonds. I remember her gait, too,
light, elastic, with a little skip at each step. It always seemed to me
that she was going down a flight of steps, even when she was walking on
level ground. She held herself erect with her arms folded tightly over
her bosom. And whatever she was doing, whatever she undertook, if she
were only threading a needle or ironing a petticoat—the effect was
always beautiful and somehow—you may not believe it—touching. Her
Christian name was Raissa, but we used to call her Black-lip: she had
on her upper lip a birthmark; a little dark-bluish spot, as though she
had been eating blackberries; but that did not spoil her: on the
contrary. She was just a year older than David. I cherished for her a
feeling akin to respect, but we were not great friends. But between her
and David a friendship had sprung up, a strange, unchildlike but good
friendship. They somehow suited each other.
Sometimes they did not exchange a word for hours together, but both
felt that they were happy and happy because they were together. I had
never met a girl like her, really. There was something attentive and
resolute about her, something honest and mournful and charming. I never
heard her say anything very intelligent, but I never heard her say
anything commonplace, and I have never seen more intelligent eyes.
After the rupture between her family and mine I saw her less
frequently: my father sternly forbade my visiting the Latkins, and she
did not appear in our house again. But I met her in the street, in
church and Black-lip always aroused in me the same feeling—respect and
even some wonder, rather than pity. She bore her misfortunes very well
indeed. “The girl is flint,” even coarse-witted, Trankvillitatin said
about her once, but really she ought to have been pitied: her face
acquired a careworn, exhausted expression, her eyes were hollow and
sunken, a burden beyond her strength lay on her young shoulders. David
saw her much oftener than I did; he used to go to their house. My
father gave him up in despair: he knew that David would not obey him,
anyway. And from time to time Raissa would appear at the hurdle fence
of our garden which looked into a lane and there have an interview with
David; she did not come for the sake of conversation, but told him of
some new difficulty or trouble and asked his advice. The paralysis that
had attacked Latkin was of a rather peculiar kind. His arms and legs
had grown feeble, but he had not lost the use of them, and his brain
indeed worked perfectly; but his speech was muddled and instead of one
word he would pronounce another: one had to guess what it was he wanted
to say.... “Tchoo—tchoo—tchoo,” he would stammer with an effort—he
began every sentence with “Tchoo—tchoo—tchoo, some scissors, some
scissors,” ... and the word scissors meant bread.... My father, he
hated with all the strength left him—he attributed all his misfortunes
to my father's curse and called him alternately the butcher and the
diamond-merchant. “Tchoo, tchoo, don't you dare to go to the butcher's,
Vassilyevna.” This was what he called his daughter though his own name
was Martinyan. Every day he became more exacting; his needs
increased.... And how were those needs to be satisfied? Where could the
money be found? Sorrow soon makes one old: but it was horrible to hear
some words on the lips of a girl of seventeen.
I remember I happened to be present at a conversation with David over
the fence, on the very day of her mother's death.
“Mother died this morning at daybreak,” she said, first looking round
with her dark expressive eyes and then fixing them on the ground.
“Cook undertook to get a coffin cheap but she's not to be trusted;
she may spend the money on drink, even. You might come and look after
her, Davidushka, she's afraid of you.”
“I will come,” answered David. “I will see to it. And how's your
“He cries; he says: 'you must spoil me, too.' Spoil must mean bury.
Now he has gone to sleep.” Raissa suddenly gave a deep sigh. “Oh,
Davidushka, Davidushka!” She passed her half-clenched fist over her
forehead and her eyebrows, and the action was so bitter ... and as
sincere and beautiful as all her actions.
“You must take care of yourself, though,” David observed; “you
haven't slept at all, I expect.... And what's the use of crying? It
doesn't help trouble.”
“I have no time for crying,” answered Raissa.
“That's a luxury for the rich, crying,” observed David.
Raissa was going, but she turned back.
“The yellow shawl's being sold, you know; part of mother's dowry.
They are giving us twelve roubles; I think that is not much.”
“It certainly is not much.”
“We shouldn't sell it,” Raissa said after a brief pause, “but you see
we must have money for the funeral.”
“Of course you must. Only you mustn't spend money at random. Those
priests are awful! But I say, wait a minute. I'll come. Are you going?
I'll be with you soon. Goodbye, darling.”
“Good-bye, Davidushka, darling.”
“Mind now, don't cry!”
“As though I should cry! It's either cooking the dinner or crying.
One or the other.”
“What! does she cook the dinner?” I said to David, as soon as Raissa
was out of hearing, “does she do the cooking herself?”
“Why, you heard that the cook has gone to buy a coffin.”
“She cooks the dinner,” I thought, “and her hands are always so clean
and her clothes so neat.... I should like to see her there at work in
the kitchen.... She is an extraordinary girl!”
I remember another conversation at the fence. That time Raissa
brought with her her little deaf and dumb sister. She was a pretty
child with immense, astonished-looking eyes and a perfect mass of dull,
black hair on her little, head (Raissa's hair, too, was black and hers,
too, was without lustre). Latkin had by then been struck down by
“I really don't know what to do,” Raissa began. “The doctor has
written a prescription. We must go to the chemist's; and our peasant
(Latkin had still one serf) has brought us wood from the village and a
goose. And the porter has taken it away, 'you are in debt to me,' he
“Taken the goose?” asked David.
“No, not the goose. He says it is an old one; it is no good for
anything; he says that is why our peasant brought it us, but he is
taking the wood.”
“But he has no right to,” exclaimed David.
“He has no right to, but he has taken it. I went up to the garret,
there we have got a very, very old trunk. I began rummaging in it and
what do you think I found? Look!”
She took from under her kerchief a rather large field glass in a
copper setting, covered with morocco, yellow with age. David, as a
connoisseur of all sorts of instruments, seized upon it at once.
“It's English,” he pronounced, putting it first to one eye and then
to the other. “A marine glass.”
“And the glasses are perfect,” Raissa went on. “I showed it to
father; he said, 'Take it and pawn it to the diamond-merchant'! What do
you think, would they give us anything for it? What do we want a
telescope for? To look at ourselves in the looking-glass and see what
beauties we are? But we haven't a looking-glass, unluckily.”
And Raissa suddenly laughed aloud. Her sister, of course, could not
hear her. But most likely she felt the shaking of her body: she clung
to Raissa's hand and her little face worked with a look of terror as
she raised her big eyes to her sister and burst into tears.
“That's how she always is,” said Raissa, “she doesn't like one to
“Come, I won't, Lyubotchka, I won't,” she added, nimbly squatting on
her heels beside the child and passing her fingers through her hair.
The laughter vanished from Raissa's face and her lips, the corners of
which twisted upwards in a particularly charming way, became motionless
again. The child was pacified. Raissa got up.
“So you will do what you can, about the glass I mean, Davidushka. But
I do regret the wood, and the goose, too, however old it may be.”
“They would certainly give you ten roubles,” said David, turning the
telescope in all directions. “I will buy it of you, what could be
better? And here, meanwhile, are fifteen kopecks for the chemist's....
Is that enough?”
“I'll borrow that from you,” whispered Raissa, taking the fifteen
kopecks from him.
“What next? Perhaps you would like to pay interest? But you see I
have a pledge here, a very fine thing.... First-rate people, the
“They say we are going to war with them.”
“No,” answered David, “we are fighting the French now.”
“Well, you know best. Take care of it, then. Good-bye, friends.”
Here is another conversation that took place beside the same fence.
Raissa seemed more worried than usual.
“Five kopecks for a cabbage, and a tiny little one, too,” she said,
propping her chin on her hand. “Isn't it dear? And I haven't had the
money for my sewing yet.”
“Who owes it you?” asked David.
“Why, the merchant's wife who lives beyond the rampart.”
“The fat woman who goes about in a green blouse?”
“I say, she is fat! She can hardly breathe for fat. She positively
steams in church, and doesn't pay her debts!”
“She will pay, only when? And do you know, Davidushka, I have fresh
troubles. Father has taken it into his head to tell me his dreams—you
know he cannot say what he means: if he wants to say one word, it comes
out another. About food or any everyday thing we have got used to it
and understand; but it is not easy to understand the dreams even of
healthy people, and with him, it's awful! 'I am very happy,' he says;
'I was walking about all among white birds to-day; and the Lord God
gave me a nosegay and in the nosegay was Andryusha with a little
knife,' he calls our Lyubotchka, Andryusha; 'now we shall both be quite
well,' he says. 'We need only one stroke with the little knife, like
this!' and he points to his throat. I don't understand him, but I say,
'All right, dear, all right,' but he gets angry and tries to explain
what he means. He even bursts into tears.”
“But you should have said something to him,” I put in; “you should
have made up some lie.”
“I can't tell lies,” answered Raissa, and even flung up her hands.
And indeed she could not tell lies.
“There is no need to tell lies,” observed David, “but there is no
need to kill yourself, either. No one will say thank you for it, you
Raissa looked at him intently.
“I wanted to ask you something, Davidushka; how ought I to spell
“What sort of 'while'?”
“Why, for instance: I hope you will live a long while.”
“No,” I put in, “w-h-i-l-e.”
“Well, it does not matter. Spell it with an h, then! What does matter
is, that you should live a long while.”
“I should like to write correctly,” observed Raissa, and she flushed
When she flushed she was amazingly pretty at once.
“It may be of use.... How father wrote in his day ... wonderfully! He
taught me. Well, now he can hardly make out the letters.”
“You only live, that's all I want,” David repeated, dropping his
voice and not taking his eyes off her. Raissa glanced quickly at him
and flushed still more.
“You live and as for spelling, spell as you like.... Oh, the devil,
the witch is coming!” (David called my aunt the witch.) “What ill-luck
has brought her this way? You must go, darling.”
Raissa glanced at David once more and ran away.
David talked to me of Raissa and her family very rarely and
unwillingly, especially from the time when he began to expect his
father's return. He thought of nothing but him and how we should live
together afterwards. He had a vivid memory of him and used to describe
him to me with particular pleasure.
“He is big and strong; he can lift three hundred-weight with one
hand.... When he shouted: 'Where's the lad?' he could be heard all over
the house. He's so jolly and kind ... and a brave man! Nobody can
intimidate him. We lived so happily together before we were ruined.
They say he has gone quite grey, and in old days his hair was as red as
mine. He was a strong man.”
David would never admit that we might remain in Ryazan.
“You will go away,” I observed, “but I shall stay.”
“Nonsense, we shall take you with us.”
“And how about my father?”
“You will cast off your father. You will be ruined if you don't.”
David made me no answer but merely knitted his white brows.
“So when we go away with father,” he began again, “he will get a good
situation and I shall marry.”
“Well, that won't be just directly,” I said.
“No, why not? I shall marry soon.”
“Yes, I; why not?”
“You haven't fixed on your wife, I suppose.”
“Of course, I have.”
“Who is she?”
“What a senseless fellow you are, really? Raissa, of course.”
“Raissa!” I repeated in amazement; “you are joking!”
“I am not given to joking, and don't like it.”
“Why, she is a year older than you are.”
“What of it? but let's drop the subject.”
“Let me ask one question,” I said. “Does she know that you mean to
“But haven't you declared your feelings?”
“What is there to declare? When the time comes I shall tell her.
Come, that's enough.”
David got up and went out of the room. When I was alone, I pondered
... and pondered ... and came to the conclusion that David would act
like a sensible and practical man; and indeed I felt flattered at the
thought of being the friend of such a practical man!
And Raissa in her everlasting black woollen dress suddenly seemed to
me charming and worthy of the most devoted love.
David's father still did not come and did not even send a letter. It
had long been summer and June was drawing to its end. We were wearing
ourselves out in suspense.
Meanwhile there began to be rumours that Latkin had suddenly become
much worse, and that his family were likely to die of hunger or else
the house would fall in and crush them all under the roof.
David's face even looked changed and he became so ill-tempered and
surly that there was no going near him. He began to be more often
absent from home, too. I did not meet Raissa at all. From time to time,
I caught a glimpse of her in the distance, rapidly crossing the street
with her beautiful, light step, straight as an arrow, with her arms
crossed, with her dark, clever eyes under her long brows, with an
anxious expression on her pale, sweet face—that was all. My aunt with
the help of her Trankvillitatin pitched into me as before, and as
before reproachfully whispered in my ear: “You are a thief, sir, a
thief!” But I took no notice of her; and my father was very busy, and
occupied with his writing and driving all over the place and did not
want to hear anything.
One day, passing by the familiar apple-tree, more from habit than
anything I cast a furtive glance in the direction of the little spot I
knew so well, and it suddenly struck me that there was a change in the
surface of the soil that concealed our treasure ... as though there
were a little protuberance where there had been a hollow, and the bits
of rubbish were disarranged. “What does that mean?” I wondered. “Can
someone have guessed our secret and dug up the watch?”
I had to make certain with my own eyes. I felt, of course, the most
complete indifference in regard to the watch that lay rusting in the
bosom of the earth; but was not prepared to let anyone else make use of
it! And so next day I got up before dawn again and arming myself with a
knife went into the orchard, sought out the marked spot under the
apple-tree, began digging—and after digging a hole a yard deep was
forced to the conviction that the watch was gone, that someone had got
hold of it, taken it away, stolen it!
But who could have dug it up except David?
Who else knew where it was?
I filled in the hole and went back to the house. I felt deeply
“Supposing,” I thought, “that David needs the watch to save his
future wife or her father from dying of starvation.... Say what you
like, the watch was worth something.... Why did he not come to me and
say: 'Brother' (in David's place I should have certainly begun by
saying brother), 'brother, I need money; you have none, I know, but let
me make use of that watch which we buried together under the old
apple-tree? It is of no use to anyone and I shall be so grateful to
you, brother!' With what joy I should have consented. But to act
secretly, treacherously, not to trust his friend.... No! No passion, no
necessity would justify that!”
I repeat, I felt horribly injured. I began by a display of coldness
But David was not one of the sort to notice this and be upset by it.
I began dropping hints.
But David appeared not to understand my hints in the least!
I said before him how base in my eyes was the man who having a friend
and understanding all that was meant by that sacred sentiment
“friendship,” was yet so devoid of generosity as to have recourse to
deception; as though it were possible to conceal anything.
As I uttered these last words I laughed scornfully.
But David did not turn a hair. At last I asked him straight out:
“What did he think, had our watch gone for some time after being buried
in the earth or had it stopped at once?”
He answered me: “The devil only knows! What a thing to wonder about!”
I did not know what to think! David evidently had something on his
mind ... but not the abduction of the watch. An unexpected incident
showed me his innocence.
One day I came home by a side lane which I usually avoided as the
house in which my enemy Trankvillitatin lodged was in it; but on this
occasion Fate itself led me that way. Passing the open window of an
eating-house, I suddenly heard the voice of our servant, Vassily, a
young man of free and easy manners, “a lazy fellow and a scamp,” as my
father called him, but also a great conqueror of female hearts which he
charmed by his wit, his dancing and his playing on the tambourine.
“And what do you suppose they've been up to?” said Vassily, whom I
could not see but heard distinctly; he was, most likely, sitting close
by, near the window with a companion over the steaming tea—and as
often happens with people in a closed room, spoke in a loud voice
without suspecting that anyone passing in the street could hear every
word: “They buried it in the ground!”
“Nonsense!” muttered another voice.
“I tell you they did, our young gentlemen are extraordinary!
Especially that Davidka, he's a regular Aesop! I got up at daybreak and
went to the window.... I looked out and, what do you think! Our two
little dears were coming along the orchard bringing that same watch and
they dug a hole under the apple-tree and there they buried it, as
though it had been a baby! And they smoothed the earth over afterwards,
upon my soul they did, the young rakes!”
“Ah! plague take them,” Vassily's companion commented. “Too well off,
I suppose. Well, did you dig up the watch?”
“To be sure I did. I have got it now. Only it won't do to show it for
a time. There's been no end of a fuss over it. Davidka stole it that
very night from under our old lady's back.”
“I tell you, he did. He's a desperate fellow. So it won't do to show
it. But when the officers come down I shall sell it or stake it at
I didn't stay to hear more: I rushed headlong home and straight to
“Brother!” I began, “brother, forgive me! I have wronged you! I
suspected you! I blamed you! You see how agitated I am! Forgive me!”
“What's the matter with you?” asked David. “Explain!”
“I suspected that you had dug up our watch under the apple-tree.”
“The watch again! Why, isn't it there?”
“It's not there; I thought you had taken it, to help your friends.
And it was all Vassily.”
I repeated to David all that I had overheard under the window of the
But how to describe my amazement! I had, of course, expected David to
be indignant, but I had not for a moment anticipated the effect it
produced on him! I had hardly finished my story when he flew into an
indescribable fury! David, who had always taken up a scornful attitude
to the whole “vulgar,” as he called it, business of the watch; David,
who had more than once declared that it wasn't worth a rotten egg,
jumped up from his seat, got hot all over, ground his teeth and
clenched his fists. “We can't let this pass!” he said at last; “how
dare he take someone else's property? Wait a bit, I'll show him. I
won't let thieves off so easily!”
I confess I don't understand to this day what can have so infuriated
David. Whether he had been irritated before and Vassily's action had
simply poured oil on the flames, or whether my suspicions had wounded
him, I cannot say, but I had never seen him in such excitement. I stood
before him with my mouth open merely wondering how it was that his
breathing was so hard and laboured.
“What do you intend to do?” I asked at last.
“You shall see after dinner, when your father lies down. I'll find
this scoffer, I'll talk to him.”
“Well,” thought I, “I should not care to be in that scoffer's shoes!
What will happen? Merciful heavens?”
This is what did happen:
As soon as that drowsy, stifling stillness prevailed, which to this
day lies like a feather bed on the Russian household and the Russian
people in the middle of the day after dinner is eaten, David went to
the servants' rooms (I followed on his heels with a sinking heart) and
called Vassily out. The latter was at first unwilling to come, but
ended by obeying and following us into the garden.
David stood close in front of him. Vassily was a whole head taller.
“Vassily Terentyev,” my comrade began in a firm voice, “six weeks ago
you took from under this very apple-tree the watch we hid there. You
had no right to do so; it does not belong to you. Give it back at
Vassily was taken aback, but at once recovered himself.
“What watch? What are you talking about? God bless you! I have no
“I know what I am saying and don't tell lies. You've got the watch,
give it back.”
“I've not got your watch.”
“Then how was it that in the eating-house, you...” I began, but David
“Vassily Terentyev!” he pronounced in a hollow, threatening voice,
“we know for a fact that you have the watch. You are told honourably to
give it back and if you don't...”
Vassily sniggered insolently.
“Then what will you do with me then? Eh?”
“What will we do? We will both fight with you till you beat us or we
“Fight? That's not for a gentleman! To fight with a servant!”
David suddenly caught hold of Vassily's waistcoat.
“But we are not going to fight you with our fists,” he articulated,
grinding his teeth. “Understand that! I'll give you a knife and take
one myself.... And then we shall see who does for which? Alexey!” he
began commanding me, “run for my big knife, you know the one with the
bone handle—it's lying on the table and the other's in my pocket.”
Vassily positively collapsed. David stood holding him by the
“Mercy on us! ... Mercy on us, David Yegoritch!” he muttered; tears
actually came into his eyes. “What do you mean, what are you saying?
Let me go.”
“I won't let you go. And we shall have no mercy on you! If you get
away from us today, we shall begin again to-morrow. Alyoshka, where's
“David Yegoritch,” wailed Vassily, “don't commit murder.... What are
you doing! The watch ... I certainly ... I was joking. I'll give it to
you this minute. What a thing, to be sure! First you are going to slit
Hrisanf Lukitch's belly, then mine. Let me go, David Yegoritch....
Kindly take the watch. Only don't tell your papa.”
David let go his hold of Vassily's waistcoat. I looked into his face:
certainly not only Vassily might have been frightened by it. It looked
so weary ... and cold ... and angry....
Vassily dashed into the house and promptly returned with the watch in
his hand. He gave it to David without a word and only on going back
into the house exclaimed aloud in the doorway:
“Tfoo! here's a go.”
He still looked panic-stricken. David tossed his head and walked into
our room. Again I followed on his heels. “A Suvorov! He's a regular
Suvorov!” I thought to myself. In those days, in 1801, Suvorov was our
great national hero.
David shut the door after him, put the watch on the table, folded his
arms and—oh, wonder!—laughed. Looking at him I laughed, too.
“What a wonderful performance!” he began. “We can't get rid of this
watch anyway. It's bewitched, really. And why was I so furious about
“Yes, why?” I repeated. “You ought to have let Vassily keep it....”
“Well, no,” interposed David. “That's nonsense. But what are we to do
We both stared at the watch and pondered. Adorned with a chain of
pale blue beads (the luckless Vassily in his haste had not removed this
chain which belonged to him) it was calmly doing its work: ticking
somewhat irregularly, it is true, and slowly moving its copper minute
“Shall we bury it again? Or put it in the stove,” I suggested at
last. “Or, I tell you what: shouldn't we take it to Latkin?”
“No,” answered David. “That's not the thing. I know what: they have
set up a committee at the governor's office and are collecting
subscriptions for the benefit of the people of Kasimov. The town has
been burnt to ashes with all its churches. And I am told they take
anything, not only bread and money, but all sorts of things. Shall we
send the watch there?”
“Yes! yes!” I answered. “A splendid idea. But I thought that since
your friends are in want....”
“No, no; to the committee; the Latkins will manage without it. To the
“Well, if it is to be the committee, let it be. Only, I imagine, we
must write something to the governor.”
David glanced at me. “Do you think so?”
“Yes, of course; there is no need to write much. But just a few
“For instance ... begin like this: 'Being' ... or better: 'Moved by'
“'Moved by' ... very good.”
“Then we must say: 'herewith our mite' ...”
“'Mite' ... that's good, too. Well, take your pen, sit down and
write, fire away!”
“First I must make a rough copy,” I observed.
“All right, a rough copy, only write, write.... And meanwhile I will
clean it with some whitening.”
I took a sheet of paper, mended a pen, but before I had time to write
at the top of the sheet “To His Excellency, the illustrious Prince"
(our governer was at that time Prince X), I stopped, struck by the
extraordinary uproar ... which had suddenly arisen in the house. David
noticed the hubbub, too, and he, too, stopped, holding the watch in his
left hand and a rag with whitening in his right. We looked at each
other. What was that shrill cry. It was my aunt shrieking ... and that?
It was my father's voice, hoarse with anger. “The watch! the watch!”
bawled someone, surely Trankvillitatin. We heard the thud of feet, the
creak of the floor, a regular rabble running ... moving straight upon
us. I was numb with terror and David was as white as chalk, but he
looked proud as an eagle. “Vassily, the scoundrel, has betrayed us,” he
whispered through his teeth. The door was flung wide open, and my
father in his dressing gown and without his cravat, my aunt in her
dressing jacket, Trankvillitatin, Vassily, Yushka, another boy, and the
cook, Agapit—all burst into the room.
“Scoundrels!” shouted my father, gasping for breath.... “At last we
have found you out!” And seeing the watch in David's hands: “Give it
here!” yelled my father, “give me the watch!”
But David, without uttering a word, dashed to the open window and
leapt out of it into the yard and then off into the street.
Accustomed to imitate my paragon in everything, I jumped out, too,
and ran after David....
“Catch them! Hold them!” we heard a medley of frantic shouts behind
But we were already racing along the street bareheaded, David in
advance and I a few paces behind him, and behind us the clatter and
uproar of pursuit.
Many years have passed since the date of these events; I have
reflected over them more than once—and to this day I can no more
understand the cause of the fury that took possession of my father (who
had so lately been so sick of the watch that he had forbidden it to be
mentioned in his hearing) than I can David's rage at its having been
stolen by Vassily! One is tempted to imagine that there was some
mysterious power connected with it. Vassily had not betrayed us as
David assumed—he was not capable of it: he had been too much
scared—it was simply that one of our maids had seen the watch in his
hands and had promptly informed our aunt. The fat was in the fire!
And so we darted down the street, keeping to the very middle of it.
The passers-by who met us stopped or stepped aside in amazement. I
remember a retired major craned out of the window of his flat—and,
crimson in the face, his bulky person almost overbalancing, hallooed
furiously. Shouts of “Stop! hold them” still resounded behind us.
David ran flourishing the watch over his head and from time to time
leaping into the air; I jumped, too, whenever he did.
“Where?” I shouted to David, seeing that he was turning into a side
street—and I turned after him.
“To the Oka!” he shouted. “To throw it into the water, into the
river. To the devil!”
“Stop! stop!” they shouted behind.
But we were already flying along the side street, already a whiff of
cool air was meeting us—and the river lay before us, and the steep
muddy descent to it, and the wooden bridge with a train of waggons
stretching across it, and a garrison soldier with a pike beside the
flagstaff; soldiers used to carry pikes in those days. David reached
the bridge and darted by the soldier who tried to give him a blow on
the legs with his pike and hit a passing calf. David instantly leaped
on to the parapet; he uttered a joyful exclamation.... Something white,
something blue gleamed in the air and shot into the water—it was the
silver watch with Vassily's blue bead chain flying into the water....
But then something incredible happened. After the watch David's feet
flew upwards—and head foremost, with his hands thrust out before him
and the lapels of his jacket fluttering, he described an arc in the air
(as frightened frogs jump on hot days from a high bank into a pond) and
instantly vanished behind the parapet of the bridge ... and then flop!
and a tremendous splash below.
What happened to me I am utterly unable to describe. I was some steps
from David when he leapt off the parapet ... but I don't even remember
whether I cried out; I don't think that I was even frightened: I was
stunned, stupefied. I could not stir hand or foot. People were running
and hustling round me; some of them seemed to be people I knew. I had a
sudden glimpse of Trofimitch, the soldier with the pike dashed off
somewhere, the horses and the waggons passed by quickly, tossing up
their noses covered with string. Then everything was green before my
eyes and someone gave me a violent shove on my head and all down my
back ... I fell fainting.
I remember that I came to myself afterwards and seeing that no one
was paying any attention to me went up to the parapet but not on the
side that David had jumped. It seemed terrible to me to approach it,
and as I began gazing into the dark blue muddy swollen river, I
remember that I noticed a boat moored to the bridge not far from the
bank, and several people in the boat, and one of these, who was
drenched all over and sparkling in the sun, bending over the edge of
the boat was pulling something out of the water, something not very
big, oblong, a dark thing which at first I took to be a portmanteau or
a basket; but when I looked more intently I saw that the thing
was—David. Then in violent excitement I shouted at the top of my voice
and ran towards the boat, pushing my way through the people, but when I
had run down to it I was overcome with timidity and began looking about
me. Among the people who were crowding about it I recognised
Trankvillitatin, the cook Agapit with a boot in his hand, Yushka,
Vassily ... the wet and shining man held David's body under the arms,
drew him out of the boat and laid him on his back on the mud of the
bank. Both David's hands were raised to the level of his face as though
he were trying to hide himself from strange eyes; he did not stir but
lay as though standing at attention, with his heels together and his
stomach out. His face was greenish—his eyes were staring and water was
dripping from his hair. The wet man who had pulled him out, a factory
hand, judging by his clothes, began describing how he had done it,
shivering with cold and continually throwing back his hair from his
forehead as he talked. He told his story in a very proper and
“What do I see, friends? This young lad go flying from the bridge....
Well! ... I ran down at once the way of the current for I knew he had
fallen into mid-stream and it would carry him under the bridge and
there ... talk of the devil! ... I looked: something like a fur cap was
floating and it was his head. Well, quick as thought, I was in the
water and caught hold of him.... It didn't need much cleverness for
Two or three words of approval were audible in the crowd.
“You ought to have something to warm you now. Come along and we will
have a drink,” said someone.
But at this point all at once somebody pushed forward abruptly: it
“What are you doing, good Christians?” he cried, tearfully. “We must
bring him to by rolling him; it's our young gentleman!”
“Roll him, roll him,” shouted the crowd, which was continually
“Hang him up by the feet! it's the best way!”
“Lay him with his stomach on the barrel and roll him backwards and
forwards.... Take him, lads.”
“Don't dare to touch him,” put in the soldier with the pike. “He must
be taken to the police station.”
“Low brute,” Trofimitch's bass voice rang out.
“But he is alive,” I shouted at the top of my voice and almost with
horror. I had put my face near to his. “So that is what the drowned
look like,” I thought, with a sinking heart.... And all at once I saw
David's lips stir and a little water oozed from them....
At once I was pushed back and dragged away; everyone rushed up to
“Roll him, roll him,” voices clamoured.
“No, no, stay,” shouted Vassily. “Take him home.... Take him home!”
“Take him home,” Trankvillitatin himself chimed in.
“We will bring him to. We can see better there,” Vassily went on....
(I have liked him from that day.) “Lads, haven't you a sack? If not we
must take him by his head and his feet....”
“Stay! Here's a sack! Lay him on it! Catch hold! Start! That's fine.
As though he were driving in a chaise.”
A few minutes later David, borne in triumph on the sack, crossed the
threshold of our house again.
He was undressed and put to bed. He began to give signs of life while
in the street, moaned, moved his hands.... Indoors he came to himself
completely. But as soon as all anxiety for his life was over and there
was no reason to worry about him, indignation got the upper hand again:
everyone shunned him, as though he were a leper.
“May God chastise him! May God chastise him!” my aunt shrieked, to be
heard all over the house. “Get rid of him, somehow, Porfiry Petrovitch,
or he will do some mischief beyond all bearing.”
“Upon my word, he is a viper; he is possessed with a devil,”
Trankvillitatin chimed in.
“The wickedness, the wickedness!” cackled my aunt, going close to the
door of our room so that David might be sure to hear her. “First of all
he stole the watch and then flung it into the water ... as though to
say, no one should get it....”
Everyone, everyone was indignant.
“David,” I asked him as soon as we were left alone, “what did you do
“So you are after that, too,” he answered in a voice that was still
weak; his lips were blue and he looked as though he were swollen all
over. “What did I do?”
“But what did you jump into the water for?”
“Jump! I lost my balance on the parapet, that was all. If I had known
how to swim I should have jumped on purpose. I shall certainly learn.
But the watch now—ah....”
But at that moment my father walked with a majestic step into our
“You, my fine fellow,” he said, addressing me, “I shall certainly
whip, you need have no doubt about that, though you are too big to lie
on the bench now.”
Then he went up to the bed on which David was lying. “In Siberia,” he
began in an impressive and dignified tone, “in Siberia, sir, in penal
servitude, in the mines, there are people living and dying who are less
guilty, less criminal than you. Are you a suicide or simply a thief or
altogether a fool? Be so kind as to tell me just that!”
“I am not a suicide and I am not a thief,” answered David, “but the
truth's the truth: there are good men in Siberia, better than you or I
... who should know that, if not you?”
My father gave a subdued gasp, drew back a step, looked intently at
David, spat on the floor and, slowly crossing himself, walked away.
“Don't you like that?” David called after him and put his tongue out.
Then he tried to get up but could not.
“I must have hurt myself somehow,” he said, gasping and frowning. “I
remember the water dashed me against a post.”
“Did you see Raissa?” he added suddenly.
“No. I did not.... Stay, stay, stay! Now I remember, wasn't it she
standing on the bank by the bridge? ... Yes ... yes ... a dark dress...
a yellow kerchief on her head, yes it must have been Raissa.”
“Well, and afterwards.... Did you see her?”
“Afterwards ... I don't know, I had no thought to spare for her....
You jumped in ...”
David was suddenly roused. “Alyosha, darling, go to her at once, tell
her I am all right, that there's nothing the matter with me. Tomorrow I
shall be with them. Go as quickly as you can, brother, for my sake!”
David held out both hands to me.... His red hair, by now dry, stuck
up in amusing tufts.... But the softened expression of his face seemed
the more genuine for that. I took my cap and went out of the house,
trying to avoid meeting my father and reminding him of his promise.
“Yes, indeed,” I reflected as I walked towards the Latkins', “how was
it that I did not notice Raissa? What became of her? She must have
And all at once I remembered that the very moment of David's fall, a
terrible piercing shriek had rung in my ears.
“Was not that Raissa? But how was it I did not see her afterwards?”
Before the little house in which Latkin lodged there stretched a
waste-ground overgrown with nettles and surrounded by a broken hurdle.
I had scarcely clambered over the hurdle (there was no gate anywhere)
when the following sight met my eyes: Raissa, with her elbows on her
knees and her chin propped on her clasped hands, was sitting on the
lowest step in front of the house; she was looking fixedly straight
before her; near her stood her little dumb sister with the utmost
composure brandishing a little whip, while, facing the steps with his
back to me, old Latkin, in torn and shabby drawers and high felt boots,
was trotting and prancing up and down, capering and jerking his elbows.
Hearing my footsteps he suddenly turned round and squatted on his
heels—then at once, skipping up to me, began speaking very rapidly in
a trembling voice, incessantly repeating, “Tchoo—tchoo—tchoo!” I was
dumbfoundered. I had not seen him for a long time and should not, of
course, have known him if I had met him anywhere else. That red,
wrinkled, toothless face, those lustreless round eyes and touzled grey
hair, those jerks and capers, that senseless halting speech! What did
it mean? What inhuman despair was torturing this unhappy creature? What
dance of death was this?
“Tchoo—tchoo,” he muttered, wriggling incessantly. “See Vassilyevna
here came in tchoo—tchoo, just now.... Do you hear? With a trough on
the roof” (he slapped himself on the head with his hand), “and there
she sits like a spade, and she is cross-eyed, cross-eyed, like
Andryushka; Vassilyevna is cross-eyed” (he probably meant to say dumb),
“tchoo! My Vassilyevna is cross-eyed! They are both on the same cork
now. You may wonder, good Christians! I have only these two little
Latkin was evidently conscious that he was not saying the right thing
and made terrible efforts to explain to me what was the matter. Raissa
did not seem to hear what her father was saying and the little sister
went on lashing the whip.
“Good-bye, diamond-merchant, good-bye, good-bye,” Latkin drawled
several times in succession, making a low bow, seeming delighted at
having at last got hold of an intelligible word.
My head began to go round.
“What does it all mean?” I asked of an old woman who was looking out
of the window of the little house.
“Well, my good gentleman,” she answered in a sing-song voice, “they
say some man—the Lord only knows who—went and drowned himself and she
saw it. Well, it gave her a fright or something; when she came home she
seemed all right though; but when she sat down on the step—here, she
has been sitting ever since like an image, it's no good talking to her.
I suppose she has lost her speech, too. Oh, dear! Oh, dear!”
“Good-bye, good-bye,” Latkin kept repeating, still with the same bow.
I went up to Raissa and stood directly facing her.
“Raissa, dear, what's the matter with you?”
She made no answer, she seemed not to notice me. Her face had not
grown pale, had not changed—but had turned somehow stony and there was
a look in it as though she were just falling asleep.
“She is cross-eyed, cross-eyed,” Latkin muttered in my ear.
I took Raissa by the hand. “David is alive,” I cried, more loudly
than before. “Alive and well; David's alive, do you understand? He was
pulled out of the water; he is at home now and told me to say that he
will come to you to-morrow; he is alive!” As it were with effort Raissa
turned her eyes on me; she blinked several times, opening them wider
and wider, then leaned her head on one side and flushed slightly all
over while her lips parted ... she slowly drew in a deep breath, winced
as though in pain and with fearful effort articulated:
“Da ... Dav ... a ... alive,” got up impulsively and rushed away.
“Where are you going?” I exclaimed. But with a faint laugh she ran
staggering across the waste-ground....
I, of course, followed her, while behind me a wail rose up in unison
from the old man and the child.... Raissa darted straight to our house.
“Here's a day!” I thought, trying not to lose sight of the black
dress that was fluttering before me. “Well!”
Passing Vassily, my aunt, and even Trankvillitatin, Raissa ran into
the room where David was lying and threw herself on his neck. “Oh... oh
... Da ... vidushka,” her voice rang out from under her loose curls,
Flinging wide his arms David embraced her and nestled his head
“Forgive me, my heart,” I heard his voice saying.
And both seemed swooning with joy.
“But why did you go home, Raissa, why didn't you stay?” I said to
her.... She still kept her head bowed. “You would have seen that he was
“Ah, I don't know! Ah, I don't know. Don't ask. I don't know, I don't
remember how I got home. I only remember: I saw you in the air ...
something seemed to strike me... and what happened afterwards...”
“Seemed to strike you,” repeated David, and we all three suddenly
burst out laughing together. We were very happy.
“What may be the meaning of this, may I ask,” we heard behind us a
threatening voice, the voice of my father. He was standing in the
doorway. “Will there ever be an end to these fooleries? Where are we
living? Are we in the Russian Empire or the French Republic?”
He came into the room.
“Anyone who wants to be rebellious and immoral had better go to
France! And how dare you come here?” he said, turning to Raissa,
who, quietly sitting up and turning to face him, was evidently taken
aback but still smiled as before, a friendly and blissful smile.
“The daughter of my sworn enemy! How dare you? And hugging him, too!
Away with you at once, or ...”
“Uncle,” David brought out, and he sat up in bed. “Don't insult
Raissa. She is going away, only don't insult her.”
“And who are you to teach me? I am not insulting her, I am not in ...
sul ... ting her! I am simply turning her out of the house. I have an
account to settle with you, too, presently. You have made away with
other people's property, have attempted to take your own life, have put
me to expense.”
“To what expense?” David interrupted.
“What expense? You have ruined your clothes. Do you count that as
nothing? And I had to tip the men who brought you. You have given the
whole family a fright and are you going to be unruly now? And if this
young woman, regardless of shame and honour itself ...”
David made a dash as though to get out of bed.
“Don't insult her, I tell you.”
“Hold your tongue.”
“Don't dare ...”
“Hold your tongue!”
“Don't dare to insult my betrothed,” cried David at the top of his
voice, “my future wife!”
“Betrothed!” repeated my father, with round eyes. “Betrothed! Wife!
Ho, ho, ho! ...” (“Ha, ha, ha,” my aunt echoed behind the door.) “Why,
how old are you? He's been no time in the world, the milk is hardly dry
on his lips, he is a mere babe and he is going to be married! But I ...
but you ...”
“Let me go, let me go,” whispered Raissa, and she made for the door.
She looked more dead than alive.
“I am not going to ask permission of you,” David went on shouting,
propping himself up with his fists on the edge of the bed, “but of my
own father who is bound to be here one day soon; he is a law to me, but
you are not; but as for my age, if Raissa and I are not old enough ...
we will bide our time whatever you may say....”
“Aië, aië, Davidka, don't forget yourself,” my father interrupted.
“Just look at yourself. You are not fit to be seen. You have lost all
sense of decency.”
David put his hand to the front of his shirt.
“Whatever you may say...” he repeated. “Oh, shut his mouth, Porfiry
Petrovitch,” piped my aunt from behind the door, “shut his mouth, and
as for this hussy, this baggage ... this ...”
But something extraordinary must have cut short my aunt's eloquence
at that moment: her voice suddenly broke off and in its place we heard
another, feeble and husky with old age....
“Brother,” this weak voice articulated, “Christian soul.”
We all turned round.... In the same costume in which I had just seen
him, thin, pitiful and wild looking, Latkin stood before us like an
“God!” he pronounced in a sort of childish way, pointing upwards with
a bent and trembling finger and gazing impotently at my father, “God
has chastised me, but I have come for Va ... for Ra ... yes, yes, for
Raissotchka.... What ... tchoo! what is there for me? Soon
underground—and what do you call it? One little stick, another ...
cross-beam—that's what I ... want, but you, brother, diamond-merchant
... mind ... I'm a man, too!”
Raissa crossed the room without a word and taking his arm buttoned
“Let us go, Vassilyevna,” he said; “they are all saints here, don't
come to them and he lying there in his case”—he pointed to David—“is
a saint, too, but you and I are sinners, brother. Come. Tchoo....
Forgive an old man with a pepper pot, gentleman! We have stolen
together!” he shouted suddenly; “stolen together, stolen together!” he
repeated, with evident satisfaction that his tongue had obeyed him at
Everyone in the room was silent. “And where is ... the ikon here,” he
asked, throwing back his head and turning up his eyes; “we must cleanse
ourselves a bit.”
He fell to praying to one of the corners, crossing himself fervently
several times in succession, tapping first one shoulder and then the
other with his fingers and hurriedly repeating:
“Have mercy me, oh, Lor ... me, oh, Lor ... me, oh, Lor ...” My
father, who had not taken his eyes off Latkin, and had not uttered a
word, suddenly started, stood beside him and began crossing himself,
too. Then he turned to him, bowed very low so that he touched the floor
with one hand, saying, “You forgive me, too, Martinyan Gavrilitch,”
kissed him on the shoulder. Latkin in response smacked his lips in the
air and blinked: I doubt whether he quite knew what he was doing. Then
my father turned to everyone in the room, to David, to Raissa and to
“Do as you like, act as you think best,” he brought out in a soft and
mournful voice, and he withdrew.
My aunt was running up to him, but he cried out sharply and gruffly
to her. He was overwhelmed.
“Me, oh, Lor ... me, oh, Lor ... mercy!” Latkin repeated. “I am a
“Good-bye, Davidushka,” said Raissa, and she, too, went out of the
room with the old man.
“I will be with you tomorrow,” David called after her, and, turning
his face to the wall, he whispered: “I am very tired; it will be as
well to have some sleep now,” and was quiet.
It was a long while before I went out of the room. I kept in hiding.
I could not forget my father's threats. But my apprehensions turned out
to be unnecessary. He met me and did not utter a word. He seemed to
feel awkward himself. But night soon came on and everything was quiet
in the house.
Next morning David got up as though nothing were the matter and not
long after, on the same day, two important events occurred: in the
morning old Latkin died, and towards evening my uncle, Yegor, David's
father, arrived in Ryazan. Without sending any letter in advance,
without warning anyone, he descended on us like snow on our heads. My
father was completely taken aback and did not know what to offer to his
dear guest and where to make him sit. He rushed about as though
delirious, was flustered as though he were guilty; but my uncle did not
seem to be much touched by his brother's fussy solicitude; he kept
repeating: “What's this for?” or “I don't want anything.” His manner
with my aunt was even colder; she had no great liking for him, indeed.
In her eyes he was an infidel, a heretic, a Voltairian ... (he had in
fact learnt French to read Voltaire in the original). I found my Uncle
Yegor just as David had described him. He was a big heavy man with a
broad pock-marked face, grave and serious. He always wore a hat with
feathers in it, cuffs, a frilled shirt front and a snuff-coloured vest
and a sword at his side. David was unspeakably delighted to see him—he
actually looked brighter in the face and better looking, and his eyes
looked different: merrier, keener, more shining; but he did his utmost
to moderate his joy and not to show it in words: he was afraid of being
too soft. The first night after Uncle Yegor's arrival, father and son
shut themselves up in the room that had been assigned to my uncle and
spent a long time talking together in a low voice; next morning I saw
that my uncle looked particularly affectionately and trustfully at his
son: he seemed very much pleased with him. David took him to the
requiem service for Latkin; I went to it, too, my father did not hinder
my going but remained at home himself. Raissa impressed me by her calm:
she looked pale and much thinner but did not shed tears and spoke and
behaved with perfect simplicity; and with all that, strange to say, I
saw a certain grandeur in her; the unconscious grandeur of sorrow
forgetful of itself! Uncle Yegor made her acquaintance on the spot, in
the church porch; from his manner to her, it was evident that David had
already spoken of her. He was as pleased with her as with his son: I
could read that in David's eyes when he looked at them both. I remember
how his eyes sparkled when his father said, speaking of her: “She's a
clever girl; she'll make a capable woman.” At the Latkins' I was told
that the old man had quietly expired like a candle that has burnt out,
and that until he had lost power and consciousness, he kept stroking
his daughter's head and saying something unintelligible but not gloomy,
and he was smiling to the end. My father went to the funeral and to the
service in the church and prayed very devoutly; Trankvillitatin
actually sang in the choir.
Beside the grave Raissa suddenly broke into sobs and sank forward on
the ground; but she soon recovered herself. Her little deaf and dumb
sister stared at everyone and everything with big, bright, rather
wild-looking eyes; from time to time she huddled up to Raissa, but
there was no sign of terror about her. The day after the funeral Uncle
Yegor, who, judging from appearances, had not come back from Siberia
with empty hands (he paid for the funeral and liberally rewarded
David's rescuer) but who told us nothing of his doings there or of his
plans for the future, Uncle Yegor suddenly informed my father that he
did not intend to remain in Ryazan, but was going to Moscow with his
son. My father, from a feeling of propriety, expressed regret and even
tried—very faintly it is true—to induce my uncle to alter his
decision, but at the bottom of his heart, I think he was really much
The presence of his brother with whom he had very little in common,
who did not even condescend to reproach him, whose feeling for him was
more one of simple disgust than disdain—oppressed him ... and parting
with David could not have caused him much regret. I, of course, was
utterly crushed by the separation; I was utterly desolate at first and
lost all support in life and all interest in it.
And so my uncle went away and took with him not only David but, to
the great astonishment and even indignation of our whole street, Raissa
and her little sister, too.... When she heard of this, my aunt promptly
called him a Turk, and called him a Turk to the end of her days.
And I was left alone, alone ... but this story is not about me.
So this is the end of my tale of the watch. What more have I to tell
you? Five years after David was married to his Black-lip, and in 1812,
as a lieutenant of artillery, he died a glorious death on the
battlefield of Borodino in defence of the Shevardinsky redoubt.
Much water has flowed by since then and I have had many watches; I
have even attained the dignity of a real repeater with a second hand
and the days of the week on it. But in a secret drawer of my writing
table there is preserved an old-fashioned silver watch with a rose on
the face; I bought it from a Jewish pedlar, struck by its likeness to
the watch which was once presented to me by my godfather. From time to
time, when I am alone and expect no one, I take it out of the drawer
and looking at it remember my young days and the companion of those
days that have fled never to return.